The drama of the year had run its course. We were a people who should have felt purged of pity and terror, but it seems we were purged instead of judgment and memory. The distressing thing, as we now look back from a decades distance, is that the possible lessons of that searing year seem to have been denied entry to our minds.
About their past, the optimistic American people have always been ignorant, wary, proud, and quickly forgetful - especially forgetful of error, violence, rapacity. Through all this amnesia, however, they have held fast to their Dream, and what is immensely puzzling is the extent to which, and the speed with which, the country seems willfully to have turned its back on the Sixties - a time when there was, along with all the violence, such a vivid sense of American possibilities.
One of the lessons of 1968, surely, should have been that America cannot do without heroes; that the old human need for larger-than-life models, for striking examples of courage and compassion and aspiration, still persists in our country, fashionable though it may have become for neo-Freudians, revisionist historians, and investigative journalists to remind us that heroism often has a dark and shabby side. We lost our last heroes in '68 - either through glimpses of failure of nerve, such as those given us, in very different ways, by Lloyd Bucher of the Pueblo , by Grayson Kirk of Columbia, by Lyndon Johnson, by Hubert Humphrey, by the plastic-masked policemen of Chicago; or through a refrain of violent removal which led us to feel that all our paragons must die by the gun, as Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy did.
If we survey the survivors of 1968, it is a bleak picture we get, of Existentialist anti-heroes, grubbing out their years, currying publicity, paying moral rent for pride and being paid big dollars for shame.
Lloyd Boucher, once the Pueblo's captain, five years retired, lives in a ranch house in Poway, a suburb of San Diego, grows avocados, studies art, and paints. He earned $90,000 from a book, My Story . He is bitter and reactionary. =What has the Navy learned? What has the government learned? Very little. . . . "
Rusty Calley, sent to prison for life for the murder of 22 civilians in My Lai, had his sentence reduced twice, served a bit more than three years, was released on parole. He shared $100,000 with a ghost writer for his book, Lieutenant Calley - His Own Story . He calls himself a marketing adviser, drives a blue Mercedes, speaks at colleges at $2,000 an utterance. "You know what war is? It's killing people. 'Let's put people in gas chambers.' 'Let's line 'em up in ditches.' . . . The only thing I've even seen that bothered me was anyone who was non-Professional about [killing]. Anyone who raped a woman and then shot her. Who would blow a person away and then look at her breast. That's sick. . . . "
Columbia students, making a TV documentary, could find no lasting effects of the '68 uprising. Only eight of 100 students whom they polled could identify Mark Rudd - who surfaced from underground last September and turned himself in to New York authorities, answering misdemeanor charges, and looking cheerful about it.
Bob Dylan lived in Los Angeles, aging, trying to hustle a buck, doing promotion he would never have done in the old days. "I don't know what the '70s are all about. . . . "
James Earl Ray, serving a 99-year term at Brushy Mountain State Prison, in Tennessee, having escaped last year, only to be caught after 54 hours, has kept asking for a new trial, saying it would exonerate him from the murder of Martin Luther King. This summer Russell G. Byers, a former auto dealer, acknowledged that two businessmen from Imperial, Mo., had offered him $50,000 to arrange to kill King; Byers then had a brother-in-law, John Spica, serving a murder term in the same prison where Ray was also doing time. The FBI ackbowledged that in 1973 Byers told the Bureau one of the two businessmen had paid Ray off, after Ray escaped and did the job; but that the Bureau had not bothered to follow up on the tip. . . .
Sirhan Sirhan, serving a life sentence at Soledad Prison, in California, keeps asking to be allowed to return to the Ambassador Hotel to find out for himself whether he killed Robert Kennedy; he says he blacked out before the killing and does not remember anything until Rafer Johnson and Roosevelt Grier wrestled the gun away from him. Perhaps by going back. . . .
Tiny tim was married on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" to 18-year-old Victoria Budinger, and he fathereda child by her, but the marriage lasted only a year. Miss Vickie said he "had a thing about being young . . . He'd buy crates and crates of skin cream, and he would spend hours using it. . . . "
Spiro Agnew, freed two years ago from unsupervised probation, published a novel, The Canfield Decision, which sold 70,000 hard-cover copies; and became a wheeler and dealer for Arabs, Greeks, South Koreans. "Israeli imperialism . . . Jewish cabal . . . Zionist influence in the United States. . . . "
NO, those models are not good enough. Some of us can remember images of heroes: the jaunty up-tilted cigarette holder and the defiant grin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his wheel chair behind his desk; or (though we may think these men made mistakes) the cocky "give-'emhell" ramrod spine of Harry Truman on back platforms of railroad observation cars, campaigning in '48, or the ebullient, hand-chopping, mischief-primed press-conference manner of John F. Kennedy, persuading us to try a little harder. Since '68 we have chosen to e cynical; and no one, on any level, seems to have dared to be heroic - for fear, perhaps, of hearing a chilling echo of the mocking laughter and the abusive Hair 'language of 1968.
The most far-reaching lesson of that year obviously should have been that when illusions are lost, the hot light of reality must rush in to take their place, lest new illusions rise up, like curling ground mists. The illusions we lost then were grandiose ones, deepset and long-held notions about the nature and uses of American power in the world, about the length and weight of the Big Stick.The Pueblo, Tet, My Lai, Biafra, the Middle East, the United Nations - there went the illusions. The reality, which we have not entirely faced ten years later, is that effective power is not just a matter of weaponry, nor of technology, nor of oil, nor of appropriations, but rather of moral fiber, and for Americans that means either that physical forve> to be armed with that fiber, must be used in harmony with the Dream; or that the Dream is badly in need of overhauling, and that power in far reaches has to be abjured, at least until effective power is again at our command, revived by heroes and a modified Dream. With these choices unresolved, we have seen a distinct ambiguity - a new style of caution, truth-seeking, and peaceableness, on the one hand, alternating with straightout, cold-war Vietnam-style, We're-Number-One bluster, on the other - in our dealings with Russia, in Angola, in the Horn of Africa, and with the parties in the Middle East.
One of the lessons we thought we were learning during 1968 had to do with the streak of violence in our culture - the hideous gunsmoke legacy of the frontier. Remember the television producers' scramble to reduce violence in their programs after the year's two assassinations? where has that lesson gone? By 1975-76, more than 80 percent of all programs contained some form of violence, and last year, though the overall total had declined to 75.5 percent, the proportion of violence during the "family hour," from 8 to 9 p.m. had increased. A study concluded this year by the American Medical Association and the National Institute of Mental Health showed that heavy viewers of violent programs agreed with the following statements:
"In spite of what some people say, the lot of the average man is getting worse."
It's hardly fair to bring a child into the world, the way things look for the future."
"Most public officials are not really interested in the problems of the average man."
No, those views are not good enough. Surely there could have been more impelling lessons than those for us in what happened in '68 to the high social aims of Lyndon Johnson and to the idealistic goals of the diverse Movements of that epoch. But where have the lessons gone? Bearing in mind that shifting history has intervened since '68 - an end, at last> to the Vietnam war; the harrowing, cleansing ordeal of Watergate* the testing of Jimmy Carter - we can see that the tides that were flooding then have turned now toward the ebb. If there is a Movement today, it is backward! California's Proposition 13 has started a widespread tax revolt which is bound to hurst the poor. The Equal Rights Amendment, which was to be the flower of the women's movement, has had to be given more time to eke out ratification! The courts enable abortion for the affluent but not for the needy. Referenda and baseball bats on dark paths harass homosexuals anew. The death penalty has been revived. Big-Brotherly powers of surveillance have been restored to the F.B.I. "Affirmative action" has turned into "reverse discrimination." School desegregation - long accepted, whether happily or not, in the South - has not passed primitive barriers in many primitive barriers in many northern cities. Curbs on pollution are postponed as bad for business. The Bikinians are told they must again leave the atoll, because radiation still lurks in the lagoon. Beer bottles are still made of glass!
And so the lessons of 1968 still lie as if in hiding, waiting for us to discover them and do something about them.
Yet it must be said that there are trace elements of '68 around today which lighten our lives. Mostly they are qualities that the young of that time opened up to us, cantankerous and sometimes ugly as they were. A directness of speech, an ease of touch of body to body, casual dress, a new sort of wit; a spirit of cooperation and a wish that everybody could help decide everything; a regard for the dignity of the individual; a fiery sensitivity to injustice; a fiery sensitivity to injustice; a sibling loyalty to one's friends.
A paradox is that these qualities were also manifested, in his best moments, by the figure the young chose, above all other, to despise and vilify in '68: Hubert Humphrey. His courageous and cheerful campaign this year against his final adversary conjured up, for all who were able to remember, vivid and unsettling memories of 1968 - memories of the restless fevers of the historic Dream as it was shared by many imperfect characters in that year, by Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan, Lyndon Johnson, Otto Kerner Stokely Carmichael, Benjamin Spock, Mark Rudd, Tom Hayden, Major Hugh C. Thompson (D.F.C.), the Berrigans, Bobby Kennedy, Tiny Tim, Hubert Humphrey; reminders of the year's repeated affronts to the old ideals of the Enlightenment which had so long informed our best hopes; echoes of the repeated blows that nearly split the rocks we stand on: justice for disequality of opportunity, familial trust among citizens.
That year fell far short. This year falls far short.