While reading this book by Mr. Vinen, I couldn’t help but be somewhat confused by the absence of structure – though I’ve come to realize that in reality, it is probably more conducive to our understanding of this time, than if this work was to be organized in a coherent fashion. The amount of subjects this book attempts to cover is as broad as the concept of “68” itself, and I feel it does do a surprisingly good job of detailing some of the more important issues that culminated in “68”
Something that caught my interest was the Black Panthers and their affection for firearms – as an avid enthusiast of the 2nd amendment, I am well versed in the legal history of gun control – particularly its racist origins – this example of California repealing its open carry laws after the Black Panther Party marched with rifles is simply another example of this tactic being used by the government to oppress certain groups within society. MLK and W.E.B. Dubois were well known proponents of gun ownership, and in a society where the powers that be could not be relied upon to protect ones property and family, the 2nd amendment was truly an African American’s greatest friend. The racist history of gun control dates back to the 1751 French “Black Codes” forbade any slave from possessing any form of weapon, including a cane – In the colony of Louisiana, free blacks were repeatedly barred from purchasing firearms under a myriad of gun control laws enacted by suspicious administrations.
Overall, I found this passage to be one that not only affirms my belief in the 2nd Amendment, but reiterates its importance in todays political climate. With many left of center political activists characterizing the current commander in chief as “fascist” and the police both federal and local as his jackbooted thugs, it would seem evermore important for everyday Americans to exercise their first and second amendment rights to the utmost of their abilities. After all, if the police and Mr. Trump are truly fascist demagogues rife with intent to destroy our democracy, is it not each and every citizens responsibility to arm themselves in defence of our great republic?
So far in the course it seems that there are many similarities with our situation in the world and America currently and with the long ’68. I am interested in viewing these similarities in closer detail and really seeing the parallels that can be drawn between these two eras in time. I am also curious to see if we can use the long ’68 to predict what may possibly happen in 2020 and beyond. It seems to have been noticed already that history does repeat itself, so how come we were unable to stop this long ’68 from occurring again? Were there indicators that told us this is where we were headed? Would we have been able to stop this from happening again? Obviously Coronavirus came seemingly out of nowhere for many of us, but would we maybe have been able to handle it differently and perhaps better had we changed history earlier on? Throughout the course of this class I really would like to see these parallels in closer detail, and maybe make it so when this inevitably happens again, we can be ready and possibly have the power to prevent it.
This class has already been so eye-opening to me. As a History Major, I have been so enthralled with the concept of history itself and how it encapsulates everything that we do as societies,. History molds us and our way of living. I have been so engrossed in military history throughout my life and time and time again I see the same themes shine through. For example that life and history repeat themselves, the same mistakes are made time and time again., this is seen in so many areas of military history like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 in which they (the Soviets) were soundly beaten by the Mujahideen, this was subsequently followed by the United States in 2001; and while the reasons for the two invasions were completely dissimilar the tactics and mistakes made in 2001 and beyond echoed those of the Soviets from 1979 to 1989. One thing that I wish to come away with from this class is a better understanding of why this happens, I have already been utterly intrigued by the readings that this class has offered me in these two short weeks, I have been amazed to uncover the ways in which 2020 has begun to echo 1968 and the social conflicts that characterized that year. While 2020 has not and I expect will not be characterized by enormous amounts of violence, the revolution that has occurred is the revolution of the 21st century and that is social change through mobile media platforms. I would love for this class to allow me to open my mind to new understandings, new history that I never understood before and how I can learn from 1968 to better understand this year and the years that are to come.
One of the things that popped into my mind on the first day of class when we were discussing the overview of the class was, strangely enough, a Don Henley lyric. It came from “The Boys of Summer,” which is his famous post-Eagles song that has been overplayed so much to the point where it is, quite frankly, exceedingly irritating. However, I still recalled the phrase, “out on the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.” As we further discussed the class and started moving into the material, this lyric still stood out to me because it matches a really interesting theme that seems to apply to so many “68ers.” Henley himself was a young person during the “long 68” and experienced, “The Thing,” as Enoch Powell called it. “The Thing” can be interpreted in many different ways, but it seems to fundamentally mean the movement across the world, especially in the western world during that time. This ranged anywhere from civil rights, political movements, violence, and counter-culture that help define the dynamic nature of ’68. Of course, Henley is referring more to the counter-culture aspect of “The Thing” by mentioning “Deadheads,” a term used by some lovingly and by others with disdain to describe the followers of the Grateful Dead.
When you think of the the late 60s, Deadheads are kind of the epitome of counter-culture, with many of them emphasizing lifestyles of anti-materialism, free love, and (not always, but often) drugs. Henley points out a glaring contradiction he observed in the 80s. The very ideals of being a Deadhead just don’t seem to be compatible with owning a Cadillac. Henley points out that the 68ers have grown up, and in the end they wind up living the life they tried so hard to avoid in their youth. However, they still carry on the memory of ’68 and the impact on their lives. This seemed especially profound considering Vinen’s discussion of how impacts of ’68 extend decades later, with people like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, whose lives were shaped by ’68, even though they seem to be living a contradiction. While so many people seemed to live on past the “long ’68,” its impact is still clearly relevant and present decades later.
I’ve always been a strong believer that history repeats itself. Hitler’s failed invasion of Russia in 1941 mirrors Napoleon’s blunder in 1812. Massive amounts of consumer debt helped lead to the Great Depression, and within 80 years the Great Recession followed a similar path. Sure, there are coincidences, but I believe the underlying cause of why we see so many “déjà vu” events is because humans at their core share values and tendencies that don’t change with the times. One of which is the desire to see change, and revolt, when they believe something is fundamentally wrong with society. To understand trends like these is why I believe studying history has so much value. I’d love to leave this class with a better grasp of the mindsets of different groups during the ’68 period, in particular the marginalized of the era. In achieving this, I hope to gain clarity about our current time, and begin see society from the eyes of those who continue to be marginalized. So far we’ve talked about 2020 being another 1968. Whether or not this year is looked back upon, and studied, along the same vein as ’68, I have no doubt that the political and social upheaval of 1968 will be repeated at some point in the near future. If this class helps me broaden my viewpoint, so that I can understand violence, demonstration, strike and movement from more than just my current vantage point, I would consider the journey of this class a success.
Personally, I have really found the idea of political polarization in the 1960s to be something that today’s climate is nearing (although I would argue that the American Right has become much more radicalized than the left). It feels like my entire life I’ve been listening to my parents and those of their generation describe the present as times of unrest, of uncertainty, and of political divide; after hearing all those things said so many times, I’ve come to think of them as just something that people say all the time. However, after reading in Vinen and discussing in class how the gap between left and right slowly widened towards the extremes, I’ve come to question if, as has been discussed in class numerous times, we’re living today in a modern 68. While tensions are certainly not to that height yet, I think it’s fair to say we’re living in a time ripe with opportunity for change, and I think the growing political divide of the past years that I’ve heard so much about has likely been a necessary precursor. Without the early 1960s you never could’ve had the protests and the impact of 1968, and perhaps I should view the past 5-10 years of my life in a similar light and understand that there could be something special about this “political polarization” I’ve heard mentioned countless times.
By drawing this comparison, it also helps me to use my personal experience as a political moderate to better understand the thought processes of the people of the late 1960s. I personally grew up in a very conservative household, so it is no surprise that I would’ve considered myself a conservative (although not as conservative as my parents) as late as my high school years. However, as I’ve watched the Republican party move farther and farther right, I’ve felt alienated and have swung the other way, aligning much more with the American left than the right. Applying my experience in the reverse, I can understand how more moderate leftists in 1968 ended up swinging to the right as they sought alignment with a more moderate party that they felt represented them.
One of my goals for this class is to take a more active role in how I process history. Our class discussions about political theatricality and the importance of perception has led me to reflect more on my background and my education. In the same way that implicit biases affect how we process new information, I am realizing that my biases and those of the system in which I was educated have impacted my view of history. As elementary-school aged children, most of us are inclined to accept the information we are given without much thought. I don’t think it would have occurred to me when I was young to question how the source can introduce subjectivity. Perhaps this was innocence or simply that this kind of critical analysis was a little beyond my abilities at the time. This class can be, for those of us who need it, the opportunity to revisit the major historical events we are discussing prepared to take a harder look.
Before I started this class, I had no idea how significant the year of 1968 was for so many people in so many different places. I’ve taken a few history and classical literature classes in my life, but I had never encountered the type of attitude that has appeared in this class. From our first readings of Vinen, the year 1968 is treated almost as some mythical creature or extraterrestrial being. It is important to note that Vinen, a distinguished scholar of the time period, refers to 1968 as “The Thing.” When someone such as him calls a certain year by a name like that, the awe which people still have for it is clear. It’s almost as if he doesn’t know what else to call it. However, each of my grandparents was a young adult in that particular year, and I have never heard any of them wax poetic about that year as Vinen has. But, I am certainly looking forward to learning about why a year can constitute the stuff of legend for so many different people.
Whenever I encounter a new or unfamiliar term, one of the first things I do is look up its definition. The long 68 is something I had never heard of prior to this class, and its elusive nature and lack of a set definition make understanding the time period and its events more difficult for me. When I’m learning, I like having rules and definitions and order—68 is the exact opposite. Enoch Powell referred to it simply as “The Thing,” and leaders of student, political, and racial protests of the time period often loosely defined their movements by what they opposed rather than what they supported. Even Richard Vinen, as a historian who has extensively studied 68, struggles to define the “what,” “when,” and “where” of this period of rebellion and sustained conflict. While 68 has an incredibly complicated and nuanced history, our discussions in class so far have demonstrated that it can also be somewhat defined by the strong labels that mark its conflicts: anti-Vietnam, student, Black vs. white, Catholic vs. Protestant, the New Left and the counterculture. What I find interesting about 68 is the effect of labels on the conflicts of 68 and on the literature produced during and in response to it. I’m curious about how the polarizing language of these labels, often with ambiguous or shifting meanings, plays into the rise of the memoir and autobiography of young people involved in 68 in the U.S. and Ireland, as they seek to define and redefine themselves amidst the chaos of the time period. I look forward to exploring how the emphasis on personal storytelling by key players of 68—from Huey P. Newton and Bernadette Devlin to the Catonsville Nine and Chicago Eight—is shaped by the confusion and ambiguity surrounding the events and language of 68, and how these memoirs then shape our understanding of 68 and its implications today.
If I were asked to compile a list of my academic strengths, writing and literary analysis are two concepts that would not be present. In light of this, I am entering this class with simultaneous excitement and nervousness. Despite writing being a weakness of mine, I am excited to see how this class can enhance my skills as well as allow me to explore a connection I didn’t know existed between Ireland and African Americans in the United States. The first couple of classes have been a whirlwind of information. I am not very familiar with history during the period surrounding 1968, so I have learned plenty of new things already. What has stood out to me the most, however, is the theatrical nature surrounding the protests. The public’s perception of a certain group or event may be fairly different than the truth. For example, the civil rights movement is normally associated with peaceful protesting and the Black Panthers with violence. In reality, however, the civil rights movement was more violent and the Black Panthers less violent than the public believed. Perception is just as important in today’s world regarding politics and movements. That being said, along with improving my ability to analyze a literary work, I would like to explore the importance of perception and theatrics throughout the 68 era.