We have reached the 50th anniversary of one of the most tumultuous years of the 20th century, with many events happening across the globe that helped shape the world we live in. 1968 has often been characterised as a year of painful transition, revolt and chaos, with post-World War II youth of the West finding their voice and demanding change from what they saw as a corrupt and unjust establishment amidst a background of war and revolts brewing all over the globe. Winnipeg Public Library has plenty of material for those interested in learning about or remembering the important events that marked the year.
In Canada, 1968 saw the implementation of Medicare laws, and the growing protests in Quebec in favour of independence from the rest of the country, which would culminate in the FLQ Crisis two years later. This was also the year Pierre Trudeau was elected Prime Minister, and his personal appeal to wide swaths of Canadian society (notably the younger generation) would coin the term “Trudeaumania.” Robert Wright’s recent book Trudeaumania: The Rise to Power of Pierre Elliott Trudeau chronicles the phenomenon while also trying to correct some of the myths and over-simplifications surrounding the election that started his 15 years as Prime Minister of Canada. Like John F. Kennedy in the States, Trudeau’s appeal was a mix of personal charisma and strength of conviction (skillfully wielded through his televised appearances), but even then, the author notes, he only won the Liberal party leadership by a slim majority and the Liberals won the election with 45.5 percent of the popular vote against relatively weak opponents (Conservative Robert Stanfield and Tommy Douglas of the NDP). Wright credits Trudeau’s lasting appeal on his pragmatic policies that he implemented to fight for a Canada that was unified (in direct opposition to Rene Levesque’s sovereignist movement), modern and multicultural.
The Vietnam War reached its peak in 1968 and its effects were felt globally, with movements both for and against the involvement of the U.S. military spreading all over the world. (Canada became a safe haven for thousands of Americans seeking to avoid the draft, while at the same time hundreds of Canadians volunteered in the U.S. army to fight in Vietnam.) The recently released documentary The Vietnam War (both the DVD series and companion book) produced by the always-excellent Ken Burns is one of the best retrospectives of this grim conflict. Both the book and the 10-part DVD series are filled with testimonials from survivors from all sides who took part in the conflict, on the battlefield or on the homefront, and they offer not only their memories but also reflections on how the conflict has changed them fifty years later. It is highly recommended for those interested in a fresh, introspective look into this not-so distant part of history.
In a more hopeful conclusion after a year marred by much violence and rancor, the end of 1968 also saw the first manned spacecraft, Apollo 8, to travel and orbit around the moon, paving the way for Neil Armstrong’s voyage a year later.