Echoes from 1968 are still being felt today
by Robert Fulford

(The National Post, 17 November 2018)

In 1968, around half a century ago, the U.S. and Canada were both changing, dealing with two different forms of rebellion among the young. In America, draft-age men resisted being sent to Vietnam to fight in a war that was misguided and was apparently being lost. In Canada, the young were exceptionally feisty, for the first time challenging their elders in everything from education to religion. No doubt influenced by the Americans, they began to believe they should have more power. They campaigned passionately for a role in managing the universities, and sometimes won.

One human fact connected the two countries. When young Americans discovered that Canada had no draft, they began to think of emigrating. Soon they were flooding into Canada, welcomed by most Canadians. A Toronto publisher issued a guidebook for them, with a section on "Canadian language."

They soon became embedded in Canada's culture, taking part in theatre, broadcasting and journalism. Many of these Dodgers settled in a small piece of Toronto, near the Art Gallery of Ontario. I found myself on a committee charged with finding them work, and in a few cases we succeeded. When the U.S. eliminated the draft, most went home, but some were permanently absorbed by Canada, their origin forgotten.

Perhaps because of the Dodgers, anti-Americanism became a strong current of opinion in Canada for the first time in the 20th century. Canadians resented so many Americans taking the best jobs in the universities, and made their resentment known. One poet earned a reputation by being vehemently anti-American. An art critic once told me, in total seriousness, that the Americans, through the CIA, were plotting to take over Canada.

This didn't disturb the remaining Dodgers. They declared themselves glad to abandon the U.S., where two national figures, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, had been assassinated recently, and a highly dislikable president, Lyndon B. Johnson, dominated political life.

Watching TV, the Dodgers found Canada just like home. The appearance of the Beatles had provided a record-size audience for the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, in Canada as in America. In 1968 a new political note was struck, when Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate for president, appeared as a joke on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. The nervous restraints of American public life were emphasized when Star Trek's William Shatner (as Captain Kirk) kissed Nichelle Nichols (as Lt. Uhura). It was discussed as the first interracial kiss in TV history. Captain Kirk had an appropriate line: "Where I come from, size, shape or colour makes no difference."

The major event of January 1968 was a dismal defeat and yet a hope for the end of the Vietnam War: the Tet Offensive. Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, 85,000 in strength, attacked 36 major cities and towns in South Vietnam. The Americans, who had considered many of those places well secured, were surprised and overrun. It convinced Americans back home that all the optimistic reports on the war were untrue. This was the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement in the war. Many Americans who had supported the war changed their minds. Even Walter Cronkite said there was now no hope for anything except a stalemate. President Johnson soon announced he would not run for re-election.

But from the American standpoint, there was one grand success at the end of the year. On Dec. 24, 1968, Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. As it emerged from the dark side of the moon before heading back to Earth, one of the astronauts, Jim Lovell, declared: "Houston, please be informed there is a Santa Claus." The astronauts received many telegrams after they returned home, but one stuck out from the rest: "You saved 1968."

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