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For the American people, the astronauts' triumph came as a particularly welcome gift after a year of disruption and despond. Seldom had the nation been confronted with such a congeries of doubts and discontents. On their TV screens, Americans had watched in horror as Martin Luther King lay dead on a Memphis balcony and as an assassin's bullet pierced Robert Kennedy's brain in Los Angeles. While U.S. prestige declined abroad, the nation's own self-confidence sank to a nadir at which it became a familiar litany that American society was afflicted with some profound malaise of spirit and will.

The Paradoxical Planet

The principal focus, if not the prime cause, of American frustrations was the cruel, inconclusive war in Viet Nam. It had divided and demoralized the American people as had no other issue in this century. And it continued to divert a disproportionate amount of the national treasure and energy.

On March 31, the tide of opposition to his policies and personality led Lyndon Johnson to renounce another term as President and call for a partial bombing halt over North Viet Nam. On October 31, President Johnson ordered a total suspension of aerial attacks on the North. Yet by year's end the haggling still droned on in Paris, and the bloodshed continued on the battlefields.

Celebrating Mao Tse-tung's 75th birthday, Communist China exploded its second successful thermonuclear device.

Even so puny a state as North Korea showed that it could humiliate the U.S.

by pirating the intelligence ship Pueblo

on the broad seas. It seemed a cruel paradox of the times that man could conquer alien space but could not master

his native planet.

The U.S. and the Soviet Union still faced a perilous confrontation in the Middle East. In August, five years to the month after Khrushchev and Kennedy concluded the test-ban treaty, the long and delicate approach to a Soviet-American detente was reversed by Moscow's heavy-handed repression of a progressive regime in Czechoslovakia. For a few months it seemed as if Alexander Dubcek, the Czechoslovak party boss, might succeed in his breathtaking attempt to defy Moscow and build a humane, relatively liberal and more efficient Marxist regime in his country; the Soviet tanks that ended this attempt for the time being did not end the hopes he had expressed. But Moscow may have made eventual solutions more painful, not only for the nations of Eastern Europe but for Russia as well. While Russian troops policed the streets of Prague, a hardy band of Moscow intellectuals protested the invasion in the very shadow of the Kremlin.

Virus of Dissent

Mankind could be thankful at least that at no time in 1968 did the superpowers come close to an irreconcilable conflict. Yet nations around the world were confronted with a new kind of crisis, a virus of internal dissent.

The spirit of protest leaped from country to country like an ideological variant of Hong Kong flu. Protest marches, sit-ins and riots attacked every kind of structure, society and regime.

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