, Newburyport, MA


April 15, 2013

These were the darkest days I can remember

I opened the newspaper this sunny day in April looking for news to coincide with the weather. Headlines precluded that happy thought, however: North Korea’s president was racheting up his vitriol with nuclear threats, six Americans, including a young female diplomat, were killed by Afghan militants as they traveled to donate books to students in a school in the southern province of Zabul and lastly, a reminder that on this day, 45 years ago, April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It struck me like a punch in the gut — 1968 was a tough year!

For those of us in our “twilight years,” remembrances of what was happening in our country are stark and horror-filled, but for at least two generations not yet born, they represent only footnotes in a history book. It was a tragic year, perhaps one of our worst since the founding of our country.

That year saw a continuation of the Vietnam War. What had started in 1960, the last year of Eisenhower’s presidency, with a handful of military advisers, became a full-blown war with over 100,000 U.S. troops fighting a phantom enemy by 1968. Who were the enemy, why didn’t they wear uniforms, why didn’t they stand and fight a “fair war”?

By 1968, we were still six years from ending that long war, “declaring victory” and leaving. Richard Nixon had promised in 1968 that he had a “plan” to win the war, but the military had other plans that included an eventual 500,000 troops in the waning days of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency. Today, in retrospect, it seems strange to think, just like a “Twilight Zone” episode, we are reliving the past, especially when you consider that the Afghan War is now our country’s longest war.

I remember vividly hearing that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn., where he had gone to lead a march in sympathy with striking garbage drivers. The year had marches in many cities against discrimination and the war. There was a general feeling that somehow, we were losing our way.

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