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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 24 April 2004

Topic: In these times...

Looking Back and Looking Forward

On January 25, 2004 in Just Above Sunset there is a review of a new book - see 1968 - Annus Mirabilis - except for the riots and assassinations...

The book is this:

1968: The Year That Rocked the World
Mark Kurlansky, Ballantine Books; 1st edition (December 30, 2003)
Hardcover: 464 pages ISBN: 0345455819

David Aaronovitch just read the book and seems to think we're there again.

See this:

Year the music died
In 1968 we thought we could change the world. But we didn't change that much.
David Aaronovitch, The Observer (UK), Sunday April 25, 2004

Here's take on the year...
These days, 1968 is principally remembered as a year of street demonstrations and hipness. It was the year of the Guevara icon, the year that the Yippies turned up to the Democratic convention in Chicago planning party games such as 'Pin the Rubber on the Pope'. It is fascinating now to see how, in so many places, the cause was different but the cast was similar.

In France the May student revolts (which killed practically nobody) seem in retrospect, says Kurlansky, to have been as much about the boredom of life in a wealthy, provincial democracy, run by an elderly, arrogant war hero. The 'revolution' was sexy, creative and largely without demands. It was as much about the end of deference as anything else. Over in China students were also having fun at the expense of their professors, tying hats to them, covering them in paint and forcing them to denounce themselves as part of the great Cultural Revolution.

Forty-nine per cent of the French, one year after the Six-Day War, thought that Israel should annex all the land it had conquered. Only 19 per cent thought that it should give everything back. In Poland protesters waved Israeli flags, because their government was pro-Arab - in Berlin they burned them because their government was pro-Israeli. In London we protested against an American war, in Cairo students demonstrated in favour of an Arab one. Only in Czechoslovakia that spring was anybody demonstrating in favour of their government.

Just as in 1956, there was a cold war symmetry. The Russians suppressed the quiet Czech revolt, and put an end to the illusion that there was any radical potential remaining in states ruled by 'existing socialism'. And the Americans began 1968 to the sound of the Tet Offensive, which showed that there would never be a settlement on their terms of the conflict in Vietnam; 14,000 Americans were killed that year.
Yep, that's how I remember it too.

Aaronovitch says that reading Kurlansky one sees both the parallels and non-parallels with Iraq.


There's "the danger of believing what you want to believe, that all opposition is communist or Baathist, that if you just hold out a while then things will come good."

I wish that didn't sound so familiar. But Aaronovitch points out there is no North Iraq, no coherent Iraq Liberation Front, and no great desire on the part of Iraqi people that there should be one. "The lesson could be that Iraq isn't Vietnam, but if the coalition does all the wrong things, it could become Vietnam, complete with its own My Lai massacres. In its consequences at least, Fallujah has come close."

Is this our Vietnam and is this 1968 all over again?

Man, this is all a bad dream.
The year ended, not with an anti-war Democrat, but with Richard Nixon in the White House, and with Cambodia yet to come.

It ended with the French Right winning a landslide in the post-?v?nement elections, with Labour entering a period of crisis which culminated, 18 months later, in a Conservative government.

Twenty-one more years had to pass before a new Prague spring, and Mikhail Gorbachev blamed 1968 for putting the cause of reform in the Soviet Union back by more than a decade. It saw the death of liberal republicanism in the States, and the beginning of the process whereby the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland was to be supplanted by 30 years of killings and murder. It was the year of Enoch Powell and a 30-year fear of even the word 'immigration'. It was the year that the great hopes of non-violent change, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, were murdered. This violence found its way into the language. As Kurlansky puts it: '"Motherfucker" was everybody's word that year'.
Okay, then... here we go again.

Plus ?a change, plus c'est la m?me chose.... ? boire ou je tue le chien!

Posted by Alan at 20:54 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 25 April 2004 16:10 PDT home

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