1968 was a tumultuous year. It's hard not to look back forty years later and wonder how America and the world would have been different if 1968 hadn't unfolded the way it did. What if Martin Luther King hadn't been shot or Bobby Kennedy hadn't been assassinated? Would the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention have happened? Would the Vietnam War have turned out different? All of these questions will never really be answered but they seem to come up whenever 1968 is discussed.
The History Channel documentary 1968 With Tom Brokaw takes a look at the year conservative commentator and former Nixon speech writer Patrick J. Buchanan calls, "the worst year in this nation's history." Brokaw, the former NBC Nightly News anchor starts the program standing at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets. The area commonly known as the Haight was the epicenter of the sixties counterculture.
Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation, a book of stories about the individual sacrifices people made during the Second World War, is clearly most comfortable talking about the Vietnam War that was affecting the United States so greatly back in 1968. Brokaw admits that he tried to enlist in the military during the early years of the Vietnam War. (Brokaw was rejected. He had flat feet.) He then goes on to talk about his friendship with a Marine fighter pilot named Gene Kimmel, and stands at Gene's grave as he tells of being told Gene had been killed after his plane was shot down in October of 1968. It was Gene's second tour of duty.
Brokaw also interviews Jeffry House, who fled to Canada back in the 1960s to avoid the draft. Today, as a lawyer in Toronto he works with soldiers who have fled to Canada over the Iraq war. After the Vietnam War segment, 1968 seems to move along at supersonic speed. However, trying to cover the civil rights movement, women's liberation, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and several other social issues in just over ninety minutes is an all but impossible task. 1968 barely touches on one issue before hurriedly moving onto the next.
1968 includes interviews with such famous faces as singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Michelle Phillips, and comedian Lewis Black. Most of their comments don't add much to the historical perspective. However, Rafer Johnson, the 1960 Olympic decathlon champion, tells how he gave up a promising career as a sportscaster to work on the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy. On June 5, 1968, Johnson helped to wrestle Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan to the ground. In the struggle, Rafer grabbed the gun and put it in his suit pocket. When he woke up the next morning, Johnson discovered that the gun was still in his suit pocket.
By the time the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago rolled around in August, tempers were at the boiling point. The Vietnam War was raging and two important figures in the political fabric of America had been killed. Clashes between protesters and police outside the convention center were widely covered by the media. Many FDR Democrats were stunned and ashamed by what they saw. Those voters began to vote Republican in large numbers. It seems to me that this turn of events might have been the start of the whole blue state/red state political breakdown that is so commonplace today.
The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, who was only five at the time, says in 1968, "the anti-war protest against Vietnam was galvanized by the draft and by diligent reporting of the war which was reflected in bloody, uncensored television coverage." Without a doubt and one has to wonder if the response to the Iraq war would be different if a draft were instituted.
Despite 1968: With Tom Brokaw's lack of depth and new material for those who are familiar with or lived through 1968, the documentary can serve as a good primer for the generation of Americans who know very little or nothing about that time in our nation's history. Anything that will get people interested in learning more about our history is a good thing.
The DVD is presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen format. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo. No subtitles are provided. The DVD includes: Tom Brokaw´s Personal Perspectives (4 min.) where he gives additional thoughts on 1968. There are also seven additional interviews (13 min.) with some of the interviewees from the documentary.
One note: As is often the case, the back of the DVD case warns that "the music contained in the broadcast of this program has been replaced for the DVD release."Powered by Sidelines