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The following events occurred in May 1968:

May 10, 1968: France protests grow and demonstrators barricade the streets (as seen in Bourdeaux)
May 10, 1968: France protests grow and demonstrators barricade the streets (as seen in Bourdeaux)
May 22, 1968: USS Scorpion nuclear submarine lost with all 99 crew
May 22, 1968: USS Scorpion nuclear submarine lost with all 99 crew

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  • ✪ 23. May 1968
  • ✪ (Paris, May 1968) Beauty is in the Street
  • ✪ May 1968 events in France


Professor John Merriman: All right, I want to today talk about 1968, which I can even remember, though I wasn't in France in 1968. First of all 1968 has to be put in the context of mobilization across Western Europe, and indeed in some places in the United States, that had more to do with than simply reform in universities, but had a lot to do with the world, as people like me saw it in 1968. It was a time when the Americans were at war in Vietnam and student protests had begun to expand. The first teach-in against the War in Vietnam was in the University of Michigan, in Haven Hall, in about 1966, or maybe '65 or '66. And the movement spread in the United States, and of course you've read about 1970 at Yale when people, the exams never happened, and it was the time of the Bobby Seale trial. And, so, this sort of generation, this sort of baby boom generation, whether it was in Rome, or in Athens, or in Berlin, or Bruxelles, or in even Munich, though less so in Munich, or in Madison, Wisconsin or in Berkeley, California, where the Free Speech Movement had started a couple of years before that--it was all sort of linked together as people thought about what the downsides of the new prosperity that had come in France and other countries, and the expansion of the university system to include more people. And, so, the sort of waves of protest were linked. And in the case of France, which is what we're talking about, there were really two aspects of it. There were the strikes-- more about that in a minute--and then there were the student demonstrations, the riots, the aggressive reaction by the so-called "forces of order," which is what they liked to call themselves, and leading eventually to the resignation of Charles de Gaulle. So, it was at a time, rather like 1936, when everything seemed possible and it was a time of great optimism. And there are all sorts of books published of the graffiti of 1968, as students, most of whom smoked in those days, went into the Odéon theater and unfortunately burned, with their cigarettes, the beautiful chairs of the Odéon theater, and when speeches went on and on in the Sorbonne. The war of words was written on the walls of the subways, as I guess Simon and Garfunkle once sang, but of the métro in Paris and on the walls of the Quartier Latin. "Long live communication, down with telecommunication," reflected the great uncertainty that technology and push-button remote controls and all of this was not enough in life. "The more I make love the more I make the revolution; the more I make the revolution the more I make love." "Every view of things which is not strange is false." "Amnesty, an act through which sovereigns forgive the injustices they have committed"--that's not a bad one. "Mankind will not live free until the last capitalist has been hanged in the entrails of the last bureaucrat"--not a very nice one, that, nor very original because that came from the French Revolution, the radical phase of the French Revolution, that "we all be safe only when the last priest has been hung in the entrails--or strangled in the entrails of the last noble." So, there was--as they quarreled, and they debated, and they battled, everybody didn't agree on everything, and it was like the Paris Commune, and there were a lot of childish aspects to it. It was a youthful resonance; people my age, though most of them were older than me, that in those days, "Professors, you are old," was one. And one I can remember, and I believed it at the time, "Never trust anybody over thirty." Thirty seems awfully young to me now. It was in the wake of the consumer revolution, it was in the wake of the thirty glorious years of the French economy expanding; and the same thing happened, the West German economic miracle as well. It was a reaction to the kind of technocratic society that seemed unfulfilling, that seemed to have turned capitalism and the State, that dynamic duo, loose on ordinary people. And here it was tied to the war in Vietnam and a verbally, rhetorically violent reaction against an American way of sort of splitting up the world with the Soviet Union; and it has to be seen in all of that. And it generated resistance. At the end--we'll come into this in while--but there was a huge march down the Champs-Elysées, and of the prosperous people. And you could see them from the 16th arrondissement and there were ladies in their fur coats and they're flashing rings, and they were there to express their solidarity with the General, to whom all of this seemed something just strange, from another planet, that he couldn't comprehend, didn't want to deal with, just wished it was all going to go away. In terms of--also you have to put it--it is linked to America. Because you have to remember--and you weren't even born then; one of you was in this room, besides me--Martin Luther King had just been murdered in Memphis, Tennessee. And that was an enormous, enormous event for people of my generation. And it seemed that if you--the harder you worked for social justice--people believed in social justice and we believed in associations and organizations, and then when people went out, down to Mississippi, to work on the civil rights march, and then they got murdered. And I remember going with a couple of friends of mine from Jesuit High School and we joined--went out to North Portland and joined the NAACP, and we were sixteen-years-old, we'd just learned how to drive. And if you believed in social justice-- and we weren't big militants, though certainly during the war we were, we all were, or many of us were. But then every time you took a big step forward, then it just seemed like we were confronted with the Lyndon Johnsons and the Richard Nixons of the world; and with the murder of Martin Luther King. And, so, these things did reflect a globalization, just as the Algerian War--one of the arguments that I made, which is Matt Connolly's argument, is that the Algerian War reflected the globalization of technology and newspapers, and the rebels getting the newspapers on their side about French torture. Well, the globalization of news with "Got Live from Vietnam" and all this business meant that issues, the murder of Martin Luther King and the Americans plunging more and more money and more and more bodies into wars, in other places, had ramifications from Nanterre--which I'll talk about in a minute--which is the university, one of them, to the west of Paris, and the Sorbonne which had been there for centuries and centuries and centuries, since the Medieval Period, in the Latin Quarter. So, the problems seemed, did generate simplistic answers that if you thought hard and you went out and worked that you could abolish the excesses of capitalism, you could abolish the excesses of the State. And it would be a more reasonable world, wouldn't it, that the Lyndon Johnsons…? I remember, March 31st, 1968, announced he would not run for office. And the Richard Nixons, that "people power"--that was a phrase that was used in France and in the United States in Berkley, at Columbia, in Ann Arbor and all sorts of places. But specifically in France it had to do with a crisis of education, a crisis in education, that education in a society that was still class-based, and to an extent is still class-based, had remained the privilege of the upper classes, even as the numbers of people in the university system in France had increased dramatically, as all across Europe this had happened. In 1938 there were 79,000 university students in France. In 1958/59 there were 192,000, in the same buildings. In 1967/'68, there were 478,000--that is a huge number. And in 1968, just since 1967, the number had increased by 50,000 more, in one year. Now, this is the baby boom. If you go back eighteen, twenty years, before that, you have the la fin de la guerre, you have the end of World War Two. So, you've got all these little babies who had grown up, like me, and were in universities. But the university structure could not possibly welcome all of these folks. I have these really good friends in Lyon, they actually now they live in Paris and they--I met a Greek professor, a long time ago, and she was teaching in one of these huge Greek universities in Athens where she had 1,000 students in her class, 1,000, and no TAs. You better come up with a question that you can grade 1,000 answers to--name three people, name three nineteenth-century Greeks. You better come up with... It was an impossible situation for students and for faculty. And as now, as in the issues now, there wasn't light at the end of the tunnel because compounding the fact that there weren't jobs--unless you were in one of the grandes écoles, that is the big, fancy schools; unless you were an anarque, one of these people in the administration school who was going to just slide into some party post, in a Gaullist government, what was there at the end? And you also had this extraordinary ambiguity, in thinking about this, or ambivalence, because if you were basically against the sort of technological, super-powered society of fast cars, and the Americanization of European culture, if you believed strongly against that, what kind of job is there going to be at the end of the tunnel for you? You can't be a professional militant your entire life. What are you going to do? And the people, by the way, who were, who invested their careers, or lost their careers, in this mobilization were toast because they refused to sit for their exams, and they committed professional suicide, right on stage, because they did it. And it all starts with the latter, when Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who was a militant, when he was expelled from the University of Nanterre, because of his militancy. So, there was a lack of jobs, particularly for those people studying the life of the mind, studying arts, the literature, history. And the structure had changed very little since Napoleon bragged that when he created the académie that he knew what everybody was studying at any given time; it had not changed and to some extent it still hasn't changed now--more about that maybe in a minute. The structures of the universities were extremely rigid. In 1964 two percent of the university students were sons or daughters of workers and peasants, two percent in 1964. This is what's called a class society, and it had not changed very much by 1968--and people blamed the state for the rigidity. I have a friend, in fact a Gaullist with whom I waited in line to get into Notre Dame for the Charles de Gaulle affair, who was supposed to take--he's a lawyer and he was taking an advanced degree, and he lived in the suburbs and he stayed in--the prosperous suburbs, fairly prosperous--but he stayed in Paris one night because the metros closed, the buses closed, and if you didn't make the 12:32 then you had a long walk; and I've walked back to that suburb and hitchhiked back and all of that--some funny stories about that but now is not the time. And he got back on Saturday to find a pneumatique--which was a way of communicating, these little things that shot around and then were delivered to your--in tubes and they were delivered to your house--saying that he was supposed to show up for the exam; and it had arrived on Friday, when he was at work, and was supposed to take his exam on Saturday. And of course he got it on Saturday at about noon, when he got home, after his long night in Paris; and that was the end of that. Then you'd just simply say, "well, I guess I'll take it next time around, if I happen to be here." It was a rigid system that was unforgiving and seemed to be perpetuating the kind of elitism and the kind of unfair sociopolitical world against which people struggled. And 1967, in the worst economic year of the '60s, as I've just said, de Gaulle's response was typical. He said, "well we need to have more participation." Qu'est-ce que a veut dire, what does this mean to have more participation, what do you mean by that? Well he meant nothing by that. In October 1966 his workers were getting increasingly militant and he said, "you know, the changes that we must bring to the working-class condition is the active association of work and the active association of the economy which we all want to accomplish, all of us." What does this mean? It means nothing, it means nothing. And, so, phrases like that, sentences like that are reassuring for the upper classes in Paris or Lyon, in the sixth arrondissement of Lyon, or wherever, who don't want to be bousculer, they don't want to be bothered by the militancy of students and of workers. They want the metros to run, they want the buses to run, they don't want the students building barricades and all this stuff. So it's reassuring to them but it didn't mean anything. De Gaulle was so completely out of it, he said, "je suis coupé des Francais;" "I'm adrift from the French, I'm cut off from the French," because he had no understanding--that the nationalism of French should be enough, that the mystical body of himself should certainly be enough. But of course it wasn't. And the demonstrations, many of them organized by the National Union of Students, which had begun--which was militant, had begun in the 1950s, or maybe the '40s, I don't remember--its militancy had declined after the Algerian War, but then you have the students leaders, whose names you don't remember, but they were young, often young sociologists, or one was in physics, Alain Jeanmaire, names don't matter--well they did to them and they did to people of my generation but they don't necessarily to you--they were in sociology or mostly in literature and history, and they all committed together professional suicide. And, so, it begins with demonstrations in Nanterre. Now, the French university system began with the Sorbonne, and the Latin Quarter is so called, as you know, because that's what people spoke in the Middle Ages. Students conversed in Latin, Latin was a living language. And the second medical school in Europe is Montpellier; the first was Bologne. And there was already a very strong university in Lyon, and there was X and there were other universities. But the big expansion of even the Paris system and of provincial universities has come in response, in part, to these big events, in this heady time. But they haven't necessarily brought many changes, as we'll see later. And, so, there's also lack of a campus. I've taught at Lyon, at Lyon II, and I teach in Rouen sometimes, and there's, with the exception of Grenoble, which has a fairly nice campus, maybe Montpellier a little bit, most of the places, students don't, most of them don't live in dormitories, and so they're just places where they go--they're essentially all-commuter colleges. If you go to Lyon, University of Lyon, I, II or II--they're also named in such a not terribly poetic way. University of Paris has 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, 9,10,11,12,13,14. So, you say, "where are you a student?" "Moi je suis à Paris VII" "Moi je suis à Paris XIV"--good luck if you're at Paris XIV, that's Villetaneuse, and oh my god it's just unbelievable. These are buildings that were built, already falling apart and they're just out there, and they're soulless and it's a… You're privileged, you've worked very hard to be privileged. In Michigan we were privileged. But you can't--there's no sense of solidarity. There's nothing to do. There are no sports really basically; there's the equivalent of club sports. They would just sit around and smoke cigarettes. And there's just not much to do, there's no sense of esprit de corps, there's no sense of being a former student of that place. It's part of your existence for three years--unless you're one of the grandes écoles or the fancy folks and all that. So, even trying to get people to mobilize against the structure isn't very easy. But the conditions, they start out with these demonstrations against these conditions. This is also tied--and this is a point I stupidly forgot to mention early--the women's movement, although not terribly dominant in France, still essentially limited--this is probably an exaggeration, but to the middle class feminists, influenced by Simone de Beauvoir, the women's movement also meant that lots of women put forth their claims; and again, as I said, that the vast majority of the students are bourgeois students, they're upper class students and so--but that still was part of it. And the way society is structured in the United States then where sexism was even more endemic then than it is now, that for militant females this was part of the problem too. There was so much that seemed to have to be changed that it was very frustrating. And, so, there are occupations. People in the United States occupied administrative buildings. Unfortunately they often destroyed books. It happened at Columbia and places like that. But there was lots of student occupations--at Yale there were too, I wasn't around, but there were too. And the National Guard, if you can imagine the National Guard tanks coming up--John Blum has told me about that, my colleague, former colleague, now long retired. But Branford College was le college rouge, and I guess they had a red flag up or something and tanks were coming down--if you can imagine tanks coming up York Street, between J.E. and Pearson or between Davenport and Branford, and they were setting up little welcome centers and possible places to treat people that are injured by the National Guard who wanted nothing of militant privileged students, and then May 4th^(,) 1970, gunned them down at Kent State with great pleasure. These were different times. But, anyway, so in France they start occupying buildings, and on May--the Sorbonne is closed down on May 2nd. And on May 3rd the police move in. Now, the police, the CRS were hated, were hated. The CRS, many of them were southerners, and the rumors--and I can remember these rumors, that they were kept in their barracks and not fed enough and given special sections on why militant workers and militant students represented the end of civilization as they had known it. And they had their big--you can still see this now because many of them feel they have free reign now with Sarkozy--their big shields, and their big helmets, and what you call in French paniers à salade, these big trucks that have grills on them, like if you're shaking lettuce. And they would suddenly come tearing along the place; and it wasn't just circulez, like move along, move along, they'd just beat the hell out of you. And we're still not sure how many people died in all of this, how many people were battered by these folks. But you can tell--I grew up just hating these people, just hating them. You'd walk along, in the '70s even, they'd be down in their trucks on Boulevard Saint-Germain or they'd be clustered around the Hôtel de Ville. It's just a very contentious age, and you just grew up--if you're my generation, I guess my politics, you just hated these people. And nobody hated them, had reason more to hate them--and this may be unfair but it's not unfair--than minorities, because those are the ones that these white, many of them Corsican but it's not just Corsicans, but white people from the south who were moved into northern posts and they didn't want to see North Africans, or West Africans, or folks like that around. But, anyway, they move in, they evacuate the Sorbonne and things spin out of control. And May 10th to May 11th is the night of the barricades. And the barricades go up in streets that had not had Haussmann's boulevards plowed through them. It was harder-- they do make some attempts and they do, I guess if I remember right across the--see that was the only year I wasn't there; that's sort of odd isn't it? But I first started going to France when I was a kid in 1967, and I've been there at least every four months since then, and I wasn't there in 1968. But there were barricades built between Rue Saint-Jacques and the Boulevard Saint-Michel, in that sort of now touristy, overrun with McDonald's quarter there, tourist quarter; and all around Rue Monsieur le Prince and all around the Odéon. And the barricades were built, unfortunately many of them with trees that were ripped down on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, and they did a lot of damage there and they ripped up cobblestones, where streets still had cobblestones and they... Deux-Chevaux were these little, very unsafe, flimsy cars that you could-- I, with this friend of mined, picked up the front of a Deux-Chevaux to move, to park; you could just sort of literally--this guy and I--you could pick it up and kind of move the front along. And these things were easily transformed into barricades. And this was the night of the barricades and there was a lot of violence. These were real barricades. And this was rather one-sided violence, but still. So, there are 367 wounded; several killed, we still don't know how many; and about 460 arrests. Before that even, on May 6th during the fighting, there were 1,422 arrests, et cetera, et cetera. And the middle-class was shocked by the brutality of the fighting, but they were more shocked by the fact that you had workers and students who had not yet really coalesced, that were defying the State. And one of the obvious, C-R-S S-S, CRS SS, as the SS, as in Hitler's organization, and this is what was chanted. And it was all the way up to the Jardin de Luxembourg, from which they could get materials also for these barricades. How did the government react? The prime minister was Georges Pompidou, a pure kind of Gaullist whose only resistance in World War Two, incidentally--this is a bit mean to say--but he once refused to sit next to a Gestapo officer, in the opera, in a loge at the opera. But Pompidou had been in Afghanistan and he came back on May 11th and orders the university reopening, without the police, and then he went off to Rumania, as planned, and then he came back and found that strikes had spread. Now, the strikes themselves were both a separate but related movement. And the strikes came in the large industries, and there were no plants in Boulogne-Billancourt. These same kinds of occupations that had happened in 1936, in a way rather festive occupations--as Lenin had once said, with considerable reason, about the Commune, he called it a "festival of the oppressed"--and there was good humor in these occupations, again the same kind of guerrilla theater and all of this; great attention not to destroy the machinery that the workers, when this all had settled, would come back. But on May 14th^( )there an aircraft plant near Nantes was occupied and then the sit-down strike spread, as in 1936. On May 16th workers occupied the giant Renault Billancourt, Renault plant there, and then it spread to other areas. It was the largest mobilization of workers in French history, without any question, even more than 1936. And rather like 1936 it left the Communist Party confused and uncertain, because once again it seemed to be that the tail was wagging the dog. Workers are striking on their own, and they had slogans that weren't really big communist slogans. One was "autogestión," that is workers self-management, that workers would run their own factories. Now, in the Soviet Union, after the Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik, the Communist Party had crushed like grapes workers who attempted to run their own factories and who wanted to have strikes; and working the power of the proletariat in the Soviet Union, to an extent of Lenin but above all of Stalin, became the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Workers self-management simply didn't exist, it was run by the party. In theory it existed. The Communist Party was supposed to represent the Russian, the Soviet working class, but in fact the Communist Party had existence of its own. And, so, suddenly they're confused because here's the workers saying, "we want to run--we want to go out on strike now. And they said, "well, wait, wait"--it was the same thing as 1936--"everything is not possible, everything is not possible." But for workers occupying their plants it seemed to be--this seemed to be the moment to do it; and there was a strong link between big strike movements and political opportunity, as in 1936. So, it's a very, very good comparison to make--trent-six, '36 and '68. And the workers wanted participation in industrial decision-making, they wanted control over the pace of work. Again they were against Taylorism, that they're being measured, their performance is being measured by the number of units of whatever--car handles, whatever they're making, that they do. They want to have the right, which they eventually won, to have a union office in the factory and to collect fees from workers for the union and make--get collects, to pass the hat on behalf of the union and on behalf of workers in the union, during work. And, so, the political goals can't really be separated from the worker's movement, it was all part of this huge mobilization. And workers and students had really had a lot more in common than they did in the United States, because people of my generation can remember students at the University of Michigan going down to the Ford plants in Ypsilanti, and in other places, and up in Flint. And the workers there they didn't want to hear anything about these privileged white students opposing the war in Vietnam, they wanted to have a boat and go out on Lake Michigan or Lake Huron. And they were, "if the United States government is fighting a war in Vietnam then it must be--the United States government knows what it's doing"; and they didn't want any part of it. And, so, it was a total--talk about a failure to comprehend, it just didn't work, and to an extent--this is probably not a fair comparison-- but it would rather be like militants at Columbia, and Yale, and Harvard, and Michigan, and Madison activists, some white and some black, going down to Alabama and Mississippi and trying to talk to people down there, because it just, it didn't work. But in France because the state structure seemed to be, in a very centralized structure, not a federalized structure, so you could find common cause, because you're the factory worker who is occupying a factory. His enemy is the CRS, and the students who are afraid they're going to get gunned down by the CRS, they have things that they had in common. And they're both fighting against the brutalization, as they would have put it, of human relations, is that capitalism seemed to be simply perpetuating this favored society in which the rich do very, very well, thank you very much, and the grandes écoles are full of only people who are well connected; basically that was always the case, the big, fancy schools. And the brutalization of human relations on the shop floor, with the bosses sort of dictating the rhythm of work. So, it seemed to be--there seemed to be this sort of moment where some progress could be made; and in a sense you're powerless within the system. In the French educational system you were, and to an extent still are, powerless. And in the factory you were powerless. And you're probably arguably more powerless now because the role of the unions has declined, in France, as in the United States. And in the end the government had to pass laws giving legal status within each factory, to the union, that they could collect funds, as I said--I guess I already said that--and could have an office there. But the education reforms basically scratch the surface. They're beginning--creating new universities all over the place. Now there's only a couple of départements in France that don't have at least branches of universities. The most recently created were La Rochelle, which is going very nicely, and the Pays-de-Calais, in Arras. But even these lead to problems because, for example, when they create a university in La Rochelle, then you are hurting an old established university, Poitiers, which becomes this sort of instant rival, La Rochelle does, for students from the area around La Rochelle. And the Pas-de-Calais, that is up in Arras, what does that hurt? Well that is resisted by Lille, obviously; in Lille there are three universities in Lille; Lille is a big student center. So, even in places that are major university towns. And Toulouse is a good example, they create more universities, they can expand the University of Toulouse, more branches and stuff like that. But does this solve the problem? It really doesn't because French universities remain woefully under-funded, and that's why this issue of this law that's been proposed, or it'd be passed, I guess, the loi, the Pécresse Law, p-e-c-r-e-s-s-e, which is to make these budgets autonomous of universities, represents a kind of an Americanization of the French system where--that the favored will do even better--Paris I, Paris IV, which are very different. Paris I is associated more, a leftwing university, more progressive; Paris IV, quatre, is a more rightwing university. Lyon II, places like Lyon II, as opposed to Lyon I and Lyon III, is going to do very, very well; Toulouse is going to do very well under this system. Montpellier will do very well, maybe they'll be able to raise money from alumni. There's not even--it doesn't even exist, an alumni association for these places, they don't even exit. It's just totally different. Even a public university in the United States, like Michigan, even in hard times, just does so very, very well because the University of Michigan is so identified with--I'm a little proud but--identified with the State of Michigan; or Wisconsin or Berkley; Berkley might have hard times but the California system, it's so part of the State of California. But it doesn't do much good to argue that the Besançon University is associated with the Department of the Doubs, which is the Département of Besançon, because unless the state gives them money there ain't going to be any money coming in. And, so, you have more and more people. Has anybody here been to a French university? Yes, where were you? Barkley, you were in Paris, weren't you? Student: In Paris [inaudible] Professor John Merriman: At Paris IV, and you went to the lectures and all that. Student: Yes. Professor John Merriman: Were there enormous numbers of people? Student: Lectures, so-so. I guess 100 to 200. But then we had TD as well. Professor John Merriman: Travaux dirigés are sections and things like that. But the way that these are done is you have these huge lectures. You know what? I taught in--I should get back to de Gaulle, but in a minute--but when I taught at Lyon II I was supposed to--I didn't pick my courses; here, I'm lucky enough at Yale to be able to pick my courses. They said, "well, you can do history of urban France," because I've written books on urban France, "and then you can do the 1920s and '30s." And I thought, "oh man, I don't want to do that." "And then you can do"--because we live part-time in North America--"you can do history of North America." And I don't know anything about that. And, so, I'm calling my friends, like David Davis and I'm calling my editors at OUP and Norton saying please send me all your books on American history. And, so, I'm sitting around, the night before--I did ridiculous lectures on Quebec. I don't know anything about that. I must have repeated three times about Louis XIV sending a boatload of prostitutes, because that's about all that I could remember, when I got up there in front of 250 people, speaking about the history of North America--I don't know a damn thing about it; I know a little bit about it but not to teach it effectively. But that's just it. And then also because of the politics, the person--the dean was at war with my friends there, so they gave me the worst conceivable schedule. I had to go all the way up on Friday for an afternoon class and my other classes were on Monday and Wednesday, and all this. But you're teaching these people. And there were three courses on the 1920s and '30s, three lecture courses, and we would get together and say, "What are you going to do?" And we were smart enough to say, "Well I'll tell you what, you do the economy stuff and I'll do the political stuff, and we'll kind of help each other out." And you put down a reading list of books that you might hope that they would read, and maybe ten, eight books maybe, or something like that, a reasonable amount. But there are bookstores but there are no such thing as course readings. And what they used to do at the Sorbonne is they would--professors would print out their lectures and you could buy, at one of these bookstores, their lectures. So, they used to say, "well, the hell with it, I'm not going to go to the lecture if they're going to do that." But we took it more seriously and so we put out these books. And now--because students, French students don't have any money, they have no money, I mean no money, most of them--unless they're at fancy grandes écoles, that their checkbooks are like Kleenex boxes--that they have no money and so they can't afford to buy the books. Now, in our three classes on the 1920s and '30s there were 400 students. And you know how many copies of the books there were, available? One, in the library. And there was another one in the municipal library in Lyon. So, how are you going to read the books? You're not going to read the books. How are you going to do on the test? Not very well, because you hadn't read the books, and the whole course can't be built on lecture. But it's good, but I mean it's bad, because you had--Lyon II is very good. So, I had students who were comparable to you nice people. But then some of them were just totally clueless, and they used to do things like--there was one who would bring--a couple of them would bring these little stars that you have that you used to put on--you have in Catholic first grade, little stars you'd put on the big points you want to have, and they'd bring these little stars, and they thought they were still in high school, and they'd say, "can I borrow the glue of my neighbor?" or "can I borrow the eraser of my neighbor?" And then everything in France has to be three, so you'd have one, you'd give them a question and say one, two three, and some of them would have three points, and none of them made any sense at all, but there were always three points. But then some were just brilliant and some were terrible. But the thing that was so sad about this whole system, and this is what really got me, is that I had to do the travaux dirigés, also, of one of the courses. And so somebody wouldn't be there and you'd say "Madame"--you couldn't tutoie them, though I finally ended up doing it, the hell with it--and you'd say, "whatever happened to Mademoiselle X, here's Mademoiselle X?" "Je ne sais pas." "Well, she's not here anymore." "No, I guess not." And you never know. There would be a nurse available for twenty minutes a week, and so if somebody was having serious problems you would never know; no one ever followed it up and they just would disappear into the night, and there was no structure. Here, if you get the sniffles we know about it and you're taken very care of. And even at places that aren't fancy like this that's the way it is. And so the system has never been reformed. Even for the simple task--oh here, I go, boy, this I'm getting--what happened to my lecture?--the hell with it. But waiting in line to Xerox something, have you ever waited in line behind ten geographers, all Xeroxing the fourteen biggest volcanoes in the Puy-de-Dôme? It's just mind-boggling. And then you're looking at your bell, and then you sort of struggle through this cigarette smoke. Hopefully you'll see your amphitheater B will be somewhere through there, and you sort of stagger along through the smoke. And then people talk too, the other thing, people talk, and they used to drive me nuts. And they all-and they drague too, they're all, these guys are always hitting on these women, and in your class this stuff is going on. And I once got so mad, I got to kind of control myself, this was in amphitheater B, as it's called so poetically, I was talking about some damn thing about nouvelle France--I didn't know what I was talking about, zero, zero. And I was going on anyway, that doesn't stop me, and I walked up the stairs and these people are talking, they're just talking. And I stood right in front of them, and then they said, "oh, excusez-moi." And then I left and went back down and they start talking again. Or sometimes they'd be talking and you say, "Est-ce que vous voulez la parole, vous?" "Do you want to talk?" And they say, "oh no, no, excuse me," and then they go back to their email or they go back to hitting on their neighbor or whatever. It was just mind-blowing. But the very good students--but the way that you teach--and Da-ihn knows all about this system too, you should ask her, but she was in very good schools and all that there. But it just is, it's an incredible thing. So, it didn't really change very much after de Gaulle. So, what happened to old Charles de Gaulle, back to 1968, what happens to him? Well he takes a mysterious trip. He first, he goes to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, probably to finish those feuilles tendres, those serials on TV, that he was watching, and then he disappears and he goes to Baden-Baden in Germany. Why did he go to Baden-Baden in Germany? Well, nobody really knows. Probably the best explanation is he wanted to make sure that he had the support of the French Army. Why is the French Army in Baden-Baden? Well, the French Army is in Baden-Baden because that's part of French territory in the après guerre, and they're still occupying. And, so, he announces that they're going to have participation, and this necessity of participation in overcoming this crisis--that's the word he uses, participation. He comes back. And so in the meantime there's this huge march down the Champs-Elysées to support him. The upper classes are clear that they will support the Gaullist response, no matter what it is; that if it's the Army just shooting down students, which they aren't ever going to do, but the brutality of the repression, they will support that. They were quite happy to see people like Cohn-Bendit and the others who committed professional suicide go, and basically things calm down. But the point is that the reforms were never really--meaningful reforms, I think it's safe to say, really don't come to the French university system. Now the French university system is more open to people who are not just following their parents along in the university structure. There are more workers' sons and daughters-- and daughters, above all now--daughters and sons of very ordinary people. We know a good number of people your age or a little older who are at university now who are the first people in the whole history of their families to go to university; and happily still at Yale and other places one can give thanks to various changes that Yale and these other places, one can find that now. This has changed, but the problem is that as long as the economy is not able to absorb all these young people, when they get done, there is no sense that they're going to be able to go anywhere anyway, particularly if they want to stay in the region where we live, in which there's not a lot of economic activity. Thus we have one friend who got her Master's at Grenoble, and the only job that she could find for the next two years was working at McDonald's, in Grenoble, or near Grenoble, and now she's working for her parents. So, to make universities more open to all kinds of people does not necessarily solve the problem of what's going to happen to them in the long run. Now, one of the things that has done that is of course the bac itself. And you know that in France you take the baccalaureate exam, you take what they call the bac blanc, after the equivalent of your junior year in high school, which includes the French bac, and then you take the real bac at the end. Now, back--I can't tell you what the percentage of the people who passed the bac in 1968 is, I don't know that. It's probably--was probably about half, or maybe even less. Of course it's steamed upwards over the last fifteen years, and it now approaches eighty percent. That is still big pressure, because it's your one exam and it's you bet your life, because you can't go to university if you don't pass the bac, and there's big, big pressure. And if you get pretty close, by a couple of points, then you can do it again, that there's a possibility of doing it again within the next couple of weeks, if you're very, very close. We had a friend whose mother died and she was obviously very upset, and she just barely missed it, and so they let her do it again. So, this puts a lot of pressure. But also, as I've said before, because of streaming there are lots of people--kids who are taken out of the line toward university and toward passing the bac, quite early on, because their teachers will convoke the parents and say, "your daughter and son has no business being in a school." Just like that, cruelty of it all. And then they go off into a different line. And there are no--and I've said this before but there are no second chances, in this system, which can be a very, very cruel system. And not everybody passes the bac. My son has a buddy who managed to get a 1 on the bac, which is very difficult, because it's graded from 0 to 20, and he managed to get a 0,25 in one thing earlier on, in his brevet, which is an earlier exam. And so university life isn't cut out for everybody. But I couldn't in all honesty, as much as I love teaching in France, and I do, and it's not just because of the--I love the ambiance in French universities, I really do, and I feel useful, and it just--it's a lot of fun but it's not--and we've had chances to be there forever, teaching there, but it's just the conditions, they're tough, they're challenging conditions. And basically it wasn't enough for de Gaulle to say "we want more participation" and to announce an election, a referendum on regional decentralization; and that's how he walks off the stage. In 1969 he just goes back to--stomps of to Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, because it's a referendum on his leadership and that participation isn't enough, that his--this big gap between talking a good game about grandeur and all that are not following through with any kind of meaningful reforms, help generate this crisis. And one cannot--it's pointless, it's silly to look back and say this was the revolution manquée, this was the missed revolution. It's like in 1936 Léon Blum had said, "workers of the world take over your factories, all of them; peasants occupy the fields that you work." But ultimately this wasn't going to happen, and who knows if nothing probably good would have come out of that anyway. But 1968 was not a revolution that was going to be a meaningful revolution. In the end that generation was right, I would like to say, in opposing U.S. policies, in trying to create or insist on a more human world, humane world, in industrial relations and in the university. Professors and administrators learned something after all of that. But in a very centralized state where more and more people, because they passed the bac, have access to universities, that isn't necessarily going to resolve the problem, which fundamentally comes down to the fact that there are not enough--that there's a real crisis of young people, for young people now, in France, but no light at the end of the tunnel. And as I'll argue on Wednesday, that's part of what's going on in the French suburbs as well. So, if you go to Paris and you walk up the Boulevard Saint-Michel, which is my least favorite boulevard in Paris because it's been destroyed by bad zoning and has McDonald's all over the place, and just tourist hoards, that if you go up there, think about these battles, pitched battles were fought in 1968 in that merry month of May and of barricades. And part of--revolution is part of French culture, the memory of revolution. But this revolution really--days of running down to the prefecture and declaring a new regime were pretty much over, and this revolution, well intentioned, full of color, full of integrity, full of character, full of wit--it was a witty revolution, full of irony and appreciation of the human condition. In the end, for better or for worse, and I think probably for worse, it didn't get very far. And to an extent one can look longingly back, as you can probably tell I still do. See you on Wednesday.


May 1, 1968 (Wednesday)

May 2, 1968 (Thursday)

Staff Sgt. Benavidez
Staff Sgt. Benavidez
  • Staff Sergeant Roy Benavidez of the U.S. Army's 5th Special Forces Group distinguished himself in battle near Loc Ninh in South Vietnam when he rescued 8 survivors of a 12-man Special Forces team that was surrounded by 1,000 enemy troops. Despite being off duty, Benavidez volunteered to travel by helicopter with the rescue team and was wounded four different times in the course of an 8-hour exchange of gunfire, but administered first aid to the other wounded officers, held off attackers by firing back and calling in airstrikes, secured classified documents, and dragged and carried wounded men to a safety. It would not be until 1981 that Benavidez would receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism.[9]
  • John Boozer of the Philadelphia Phillies became the first Major League Baseball player since 1944 (and only the second in MLB history) to be ejected from a game for violation of the spitball rule, after coming in briefly as a relief pitcher in a 3 to 0 loss to the host New York Mets.[10] Only three other players (Nels Potter in 1944, Phil Regan later in 1968, and Gaylord Perry in 1982) have been ejected from an MLB game under the spitball rule.[11]
  • Protocol 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights went into effect for member nations of the Council of Europe, with the signatory nations agreeing to prohibit debtor's prisons, to not restrict their populations from traveling inside or outside their country, to prohibit the expulsion of a citizen, and to prohibit the deportation of groups of foreigners on the basis of nationality. Four nations— the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Turkey and Greece—have never ratified the protocol.[12]
  • At the University of Oxford, the Christ Church Picture Gallery, designed by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya, was opened.

May 3, 1968 (Friday)

  • Braniff Flight 352 crashed near Dawson, Texas, killing all 85 persons on board. The turboprop Lockheed L-188A Electra took off on a scheduled flight from Houston to Dallas at 4:11 p.m. but flew into a severe thunderstorm 90 miles from its destination and broke up in midair. There were no survivors.[13][14] Investigations would later reveal that the accident was caused by structural over-stress and failure of the airframe while attempting recovery from loss of control during a steep 180-degree turn executed in an attempt to escape the weather.[15]
  • A group of 500 students at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, protested against the closure of Paris University at Nanterre and the proposed expulsion of some students.[16] Police arrived to disperse the protesters, and "the first riot of mai 68 ensued" and led to riots and university closures across the country.[17]
  • The first heart transplant in the United Kingdom was performed by Dr. Donald Ross and a team of surgeons at the National Heart Hospital in London. The patient, Frederick West, would survive for 46 days until dying from complications of an infection.[18]
  • The United States and North Vietnam agreed that their representatives would meet in Paris on May 10 to begin the first discussions on the format for peace talks to end the Vietnam War.[19]
  • Died: Leonid Sabaneyev, 86, Russian mathematician and classical composer

May 4, 1968 (Saturday)

May 5, 1968 (Sunday)

  • The May Offensive was launched after midnight by North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, initiating a second phase of January's Tet Offensive, with an attack on 119 targets throughout South Vietnam, including the capital, Saigon.[25][26][27]
  • Four journalists— three from Australia and one from England— were murdered in Saigon by Viet Cong guerrillas after their mini-jeep drove into a trap in the city's Cholon sector. Killed in an execution were Reuters reporters Ron Lamary of England and Bruce Pigott; Michael Birch of the Australian Associated Press; and John Cantwell, Australian correspondent for Time magazine. A fifth journalist, free lancer Frank Palmos of Australia, pretended to be dead and would survive to tell what happened.[28]
  • A Grumman Gulfstream II became the first executive jet to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Died: Albert Dekker, 62, American character actor on stage, film and television was found hanged in his apartment in Hollywood.

May 6, 1968 (Monday)

Abolition de la société de classe.jpg
  • In Paris, the Union Nationale des Étudiants de France (UNEF), France's largest student union, along with the union of university teachers, staged a march to protest against police actions at the Sorbonne. More than 20,000 protesters marched towards the Sorbonne, and the police charged the crowd with batons. When some protesters created barricades and threw paving stones, the police respond with tear gas. Hundreds were arrested.
  • The sudden flooding of a coal mine at Hominy Falls, West Virginia trapped 25 miners underground[29] Fifteen were rescued after being trapped for five days,[30] but the other 10, who had not been heard from since the accident, were believed to have died.[31] To the surprise of rescue workers, six of the 10 men had survived nearly for a week and a half in the flooded mine after they had built a barricade and rationed what food that they had left.[32]
  • The Argentine tanker MV Islas Orcadas exploded, caught fire and sank at Ensenada, Buenos Aires Province. Burning oil set two other tankers, MV Fray Luis Beltran and MV Cutral Co, on fire, sinking them as well.[33]

May 7, 1968 (Tuesday)

  • The first of thousands of May 7 Cadre Schools, intended to "re-educate" party members, government bureaucrats, college students and professors, and other professionals with forced labor alongside peasant workers, was opened in Liuhe, a village in the Qing'an County section of China's Heilongjiang Province. On October 5, Mao Zedong would publish a directive to require all able-bodied persons to perform agricultural labor. At the height of China's Cultural Revolution, millions of Chinese professionals were sent to cadre schools for at least a year. After the death of Lin Biao in 1971, many of the labor camps would be closed, and the remaining schools would be abolished on February 17, 1979.[34]
  • In Paris, students, teachers and young workers gathered at the Arc de Triomphe to demand that criminal charges against arrested students be dropped and that the authorities reopen Nanterre and Sorbonne universities.
  • Forward Pass, who had crossed the finish line second in the Kentucky Derby, was declared the winner after a urinalysis by the Kentucky State Racing Commission found traces of the painkiller phenylbutazone in Dancer's Image. The $122,600 first prize and the $5,000 gold cup were ordered returned by Peter Fuller, the owner of Dancer's Image, and transferred to the Calumet Farm.[35]
  • Born: Traci Lords, American actress and singer, in Steubenville, Ohio
  • Died:

May 8, 1968 (Wednesday)

  • Jim "Catfish" Hunter of the Oakland A's hurled the ninth perfect game in Major League Baseball history, and the first in an American League game in more than 45 years. Playing at home in a 4-0 win over the Minnesota Twins, Hunter threw 11 strikeouts, including the last two players he faced, Bruce Look and Rich Reese. The feat was witnessed by only 6,298 paying customers.[39] The feat of not allowing an opposing player to reach first base had last been accomplished in the majors by Sandy Koufax on September 9, 1965. For the next 13 years, including the entire 1970s, no more perfect games would be hurled in the American major leagues until May 15, 1981, by Len Barker.
  • The possibility of a coup to overthrow the British government was suggested in a meeting arranged by newspaper publisher Cecil King, and would be recounted eight years later in book by King's editor-in-chief at the Daily Mirror, Hugh Cudlipp. According to Cudlipp's 1976 memoir Walking on Water, King met with British war hero Lord Mountbatten and outlined the problems with the administration of Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Cudlipp, who was present at the meeting, reported King's belief that there would be civil disorder and said that King asked Mountbatten "whether he would agree to be titular head of a new administration". Government adviser Solly Zuckerman, according to Cudlipp, told King that the idea was "rank treachery" and added, "I am a public servant and will have nothing to do with it", and that Mountbatten ended the meeting.[40]
  • Communist Party leaders from five of Eastern Europe's nations met in Moscow to discuss a response to the liberal reforms going on in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev expressed his opinion that the situation was "exceptionally dangerous" and that counterrevolutionary party members were taking control of that Communist nation because of the indecisiveness of Czechoslovakia's Party Central Committee. "We must make sure that in the press in our countries", Brezhnev said, "in all our speeches, and in works put out by artistic unions and other organizations, nothing appears that might be construed as even slightly encouraging to the 'new model of socialism' which the anti-socialist elements in the CSSR claim to be creating."[41] Walter Ulbricht (East Germany), Wladyslaw Gomulka (Poland) and Todor Zhivkov (Bulgaria) agreed with Brezhnev's assessment, while János Kádár of Hungary felt that Czechoslovakia's Action Program was a correction of its Party's mistakes rather than a counterrevolution.
  • Officials at Arlington National Cemetery announced that the burial ground for American veterans would run out of space by 1985, even with a recent 192-acre expansion that had provided space for 60,000 more gravesites. The plan for 17-years in the future was to provide burial only for national heroes after 1985, and to limit interment at Arlington to the placement of cremated remains inside marble vaults.[42]
  • Born: Chris Lighty, American music executive and founder of Violator Records; in the Bronx (committed suicide, 2012)
  • Died: Laurence M. Klauber, 84, American herpetologist and the world's foremost authority on rattlesnakes

May 9, 1968 (Thursday)

  • Candidates for from the United Kingdom's Conservative Party overwhelmingly won municipal elections held in cities and towns in England and Wales in what was seen as an indication of a loss of confidence in the Labour Party and the government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson.[43]
  • William Deng Nhial, an opposition leader and president of the Sudan African National Union, was assassinated a few days after the SANU had gained five seats in parliamentary elections.[44]
  • Born: Marie-José Pérec, French Olympic athlete, in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe
  • Died:
    • Harold Gray, 74, American comic strip artist known for creating "Little Orphan Annie", which first appeared on August 5, 1924.
    • Arthur Wergs Mitchell, 84, African-American U.S. Representative who served Illinois' 1st District from 1935 to 1943. He was the first black Democrat to be elected to Congress, and the only black Congressman during his eight years in office.
    • Marion Lorne, 82, American actress best known for her portrayal of "Aunt Clara", the confused witch, on the situation comedy Bewitched. She would posthumously receive the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.
    • Mercedes de Acosta, 75, American poet, playwright, costume designer, and socialite
    • Finlay Currie, 90, Scottish stage, film and television actor

May 10, 1968 (Friday)

  • Representatives of the United States and of North Vietnam met at Paris for the first time to discuss peace talks, and agreed that discussions would take place at the International Conference Center of the French Foreign Ministry, located in the former Hotel Majestic. W. Averell Harriman led the American delegation with the assistance of Cyrus Vance, and former North Vietnamese foreign minister Xuan Thuy was assisted by Colonel Ha Van Lau.[45]
  • The government of France issued an order prohibiting the state run ORTF from televising the student demonstrations in France, but ORTF radio correspondents were allowed to make live reports. The independent Radio Luxembourg sent its own journalists to France and kept them there despite harassment from the French police.[46] Because of the live broadcasts, news of the rebellion spread from Paris to the rest of France and to media around the world.[47]
  • At nightfall, college and high school students began erecting makeshift barricades to seal off the streets around the Latin Quarter of Paris and to keep the police from entering the area. The action was imitative of the history lessons taught about the barricades erected by the crowds of the Paris Commune in 1871 and by the French Resistance fighters against the German occupation in 1944.[47]
  • Born: Al Murray, English stand-up comedian, in Stewkley, Buckinghamshire
  • Died: Marshal Vasily Sokolovsky, 70 Soviet Red Army general who commanded occupation troops in the Eastern sector of Germany after World War II and who unsuccessfully conducted the Berlin Blockade of 1948 in an attempt to take control of West Berlin.

May 11, 1968 (Saturday)

  • French police stormed the Latin Quarter of Paris in order to clear away the demonstrators in a chaotic end to the "Night of the barricades" that called worldwide attention to the chaos in France.[48][47]
  • A crowd of 30,000 students marched to the parliamentary building in Bonn, the capital of West Germany, where members of the Bundestag were going to vote on the "Emergency Laws" (Notstandgesetze) which would authorize the West German executive branch to suspend basic rights during a national crisis. The "Sternmarsch" would be unsuccessful in blocking the enactment of the emergency measure.[49]
  • Fifty-eight people were killed and more than 200 injured when fire broke out at a wedding pavilion near the Indian city of Vijayawada in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Most of the dead were trampled when the guests rushed toward the few available exits in the pavilion, which was surrounded by a six-foot high fence. The bride and the bridegroom were able to escape.[50]
  • In England, Manchester City F.C. and Manchester United finished first and second in the regular season of England's The Football League, in a race that ended on the last day of the season. In the penultimate week, City (25-6-10) and United (24-8-9) had identical 56 point records. City beat Newcastle United, 4-3, on the road, but United lost at home, 2-1, to Sunderland.[51][52][53]
  • The Montreal Canadiens swept the best-of-seven National Hockey League championship and the Stanley Cup, beating the new St. Louis Blues 3 to 2 in Game 4. [54] The playoffs were the first since the 1967 NHL expansion, pitting the champion of the East Division (composed of all six of the NHL's original teams) against the champ from the West Division (made up of the six new teams). Despite being new, the Blues had lost two of the first three games only after the matches had gone into overtime.
  • The psychedelic rock band H. P. Lovecraft performed at The Fillmore in San Francisco . A recording of the event would be released 23 years later, in 1991.[55]

May 12, 1968 (Sunday)

  • Reginald Dwight, who played the piano for the English R & B group Bluesology, chose the stage name that would make him famous while on an airplane flight back to London after his final concert with Bluesology in Edinburgh. After a discussion with his bandmates, Dwight chose to use the first names of saxophonist Elton Dean and lead vocalist John Baldry to coin the pseudonym Elton John.[56]
  • North Vietnamese soldiers overran the U.S. Special Forces camp at Kham Duc and shot down an American C-130 transport as it was evacuating the area, killing all 156 men on board. All but six of the persons on the C-130 were South Vietnamese civilians who were being taken to safety.[57] The disaster remains the worst air crash in Vietnamese history.[58] In all, 500 survivors of Kham Duc were saved before the cam pwas overrun. U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joe M. Jackson would receive the Medal of Honor for his daring rescue of the last three Americans to remain at Kham Duc, saving the USAF Combat Control Team after the last of the civilians had been evacuated.[59]
  • Elections took place in Panama for a new President and for a new National Assembly. Former President Arnulfo Arias received the most votes in a landslide over David Samudio Ávila, the candidate sponsored by outgoing president Marco Aurelio Robles. "Despite the all-out effort by the Robles administration to steal the election", a historian would later write, the victory of Arias "had been made official only after National Guard Commander Bolivar Vallarino insisted on a reasonably honest count of the ballots."[60] Arias, however, would decline to honor the agreements that he had made with the Panamanian National Guard after being inaugurated on October 1, and would be removed from office by the Guard only 10 days later.[61]
  • In the West African nation of Dahomey (now Benin), the ruling military junta annulled the results of the May 5 presidential election because nearly three-quarters of the eligible voters didn't participate.[62] Basile Adjou Moumouni had won the overwhelming majority of the votes cast (241,273 out of 295,667 or 84%) the junta leader, Colonel Alphonse Alley, refused to recognize the result because most of the 1.13 million registered voters had not shown up on election day. The junta picked its own civilian candidate, Dr.Émile Zinsou and scheduled a referendum for July 28 with the choice of yes or no for Zinsou to be elected.
  • The Israeli government declared the 28th of Iyar (which fell on May 31 in 1968) as the national holiday Jerusalem Day, to commemorate the June 7, 1967 (28 Iyar 5727 on the Hebrew Calendar) capture of East Jerusalem.
  • AS Saint-Étienne, which had won the 196–-68 regular season in French soccer football, defeated Girondins de Bordeaux, 2-1, in the championship final of the Coupe de France tournament.
  • Born:

May 13, 1968 (Monday)

May 14, 1968 (Tuesday)

  • Workers at the Sud Aviation aircraft factory near Nantes followed the example of France's university students and went on a sit-down strike, becoming "the very first of the French factories to go on strike" and setting a precedent that would soon spread to the Renault automobile factories, then to western France and eventually to the entire nation.[67]
  • Algeria's President Houari Boumédiène ordered the nationalization of 14 foreign energy companies operating in the North African nation and assigned their assets to the government monopoly Sonatrach (Société Nationale pour la Recherche, la Production, le Transport, la Transformation, et la Commercialisation des Hydrocarbures) (National Society for the Research, Production, Transport, Refining and Marketing of Hydrocarbons).[68]
  • The United Kingdom's 37-year-old National Liberal Party, led by M.P. David Renton, voted for its dissolution, and merged into the Conservative Party. In the 1966 election, NLP candidates won just 3 of the 630 seats in the House of Commons.[69]
  • In Tokyo, Japan's Matsushita Electric Industrial Company (now Panasonic) introduced what was, at the time, the world's smallest television set. The tiny device, "so small it can be slipped into a coat pocket", had a 1 1⁄2 inch (3.8 cm) screen and weighed 1 1/3 pounds (600 grams).[70]
  • The Beatles announced the creation of Apple Records, a division of Apple Corps Ltd, at a press conference in New York City.'
  • The 56-story tall Toronto-Dominion Bank Tower, the first of six office buildings in the Toronto-Dominion Centre on Wellington Street West, was opened.
  • Died: Husband E. Kimmel, 86, retired U.S. Navy Admiral who was blamed for failing to prevent the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.[71][72]

May 15, 1968 (Wednesday)

May 16, 1968 (Thursday)

  • Two weeks after students in France had closed most of the nation's universities with a student strike, employees seized control of the automobile factories owned by the nationalized Renault company, taking control at Boulogne-Billancourt, Rouen, Le Havre, Le Mans and Flins.[77] Employees of Sud-Aviation, the state operated aircraft factory at Nantes, welded the factory gates shut. Workers struck two factories at Lyon, several newspapers in Paris, and shut down Orly, the Paris international airport.[78]
  • An 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck northern Japan at 9:49 in the morning, killing at least 47 people through a combination of collapsed buildings and a tsunami. The heaviest damage was at the city of Aomori, and the quake was the strongest in more than four years.[79]
  • The United Auto Workers was ousted from the AFL-CIO labor union conglomerate. UAW President Walter P. Reuther, a longtime foe of AFL-CIO President George Meany, received a letter of expulsion because the UAW had not paid its $90,000 per month dues for three months.[80]
  • ESRO 2B, a satellite built in Europe for the European Space Research Organisation, was launched into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.[81]
  • Ronan Point, a 23-storey tower block in Canning Town, east London, UK, partially collapsed after a gas explosion, killing five people. The disaster would highlight an area of design which had not previously been considered and which would lead to changes in legislation in the UK and other countries.[82]
  • Born: Chingmy Yau, Hong Kong film actress

May 17, 1968 (Friday)

May 18, 1968 (Saturday)

May 19, 1968 (Sunday)

May 20, 1968 (Monday)

  • Financed by a group of wealthy exiles from Haiti, a poorly handled attempt was made to overthrow the dictatorship of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, starting with an attempt at aerial bombardment of Port-au-Prince. According to one account, a B-25 dropped a single explosive "which blew one more hole in an eroded road", followed by a package of leaflets "which did not scatter because the invaders had not untied the bundle before dropping it".[106][107] An invasion force came ashore and temporarily captured the port city of Cap-Haïtien. One bomb dropped on Port-au-Prince destroyed some private rooms in Duvalier's residence, and "an undetermined number of persons were killed".[108] The 35-man invasion force would be defeated the next day[109]
  • The 1968 Giro d'Italia cycle race began in Campione with ten 13-man teams. Eddy Merckx and Vittorio Adorni of the Faema team would finish first and second on June 11 in the race's conclusion in Naples.
  • Born:

May 21, 1968 (Tuesday)

  • A massive rescue operation by ships from four nations saved all 178 passengers and crew of the Norwegian cruise ship Blenheim after the vessel caught fire in the North Sea, midway through its voyage from Newcastle to Oslo. Two fishing trawlers from Denmark, the Gine Wulf and the Taily, arrived first, and the supply ship Smith Lloyd from the Netherlands saved others and towed the ship to a safe port. Ships from West Germany and destroyers and helicopters from the United Kingdom's Royal Navy saved the others.[110]
  • France's President Charles de Gaulle exercised his constitutional power to grant amnesty for the leaders of the students who led the strike against French universities, but the number of French workers on strike increased to 8,000,000 as two million people walked off of their jobs during the day. Banks were closed as panicking depositors sought to withdraw their money, and the stock marked in Paris did not open for trading.[111]
  • Born: Julie Vega, Filipina child actress who died of illness at the age of 16; as Julie Pearl Apostol Postigo in Quezon City (d. 1985)
  • Died: Arturo Basile, 54, Italian symphony orchestra conductor, was killed in a single car accident along with his passenger, opera soprano Marika Galli, while driving near the Italian city of Vercelli.

May 22, 1968 (Wednesday)

  • The American nuclear-powered submarine USS Scorpion sank 400 miles from the Azores, killing all 99 of its crew.[112] A search would be abandoned on June 5; the remains of the Scorpion would not be located for another four months.[113] It would later be revealed that at 1844 UTC,[114] eight listening stations had recorded "a major acoustic event" below the sea surface "followed by lesser acoustic events". The U.S. Navy's classified investigative report would be released on October 25, 1993, revealing its conclusion that the Scorpion was probably destroyed by one of its own torpedoes.[115]
  • All 23 people on board Los Angeles Airways Flight 841, a Sikorsky S-61L were killed in the worst helicopter accident in American history as the aircraft crashed onto Minnesota Avenue in Paramount, California. The 20 passengers were being shuttled by the crew of three from Disneyland to the Los Angeles International Airport and were halfway through their 32-mile trip when the helicopter exploded and broke apart at 5:47 in the afternoon. The dead included the mayor of Red Bluff, California[116] and eight members of a family from Canton and Steubenville, Ohio who were on vacation.[117] An 20-month investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board would conclude that one of the five blades on the main rotor came loose from the damper that held it to the spinning rotor head, then became entangled in the rotor, throwing the other blades "entirely out of balance"; "The aircraft, completely uncontrollable, crashed in a near-vertical descent," the NTSB concluded, and added that "It was a one-in-a-million accident, with no precedent." [118]
  • The pro-British United Bermuda Party won 30 of the seats in Bermuda's new, 40-seat House of Assembly, while the Progressive Labour Party, which advocated independence for the British colony, got the remainder. The election was the first under a new one-man, one-vote law. The winners were 26 white and 14 black candidates (7 of whom were UBP members.[119]
  • By 11 votes, the government of Prime Minister Pompidou of France survived a vote on another censure motion, as 233 of the members of the 485 seat National Assembly voted in favor, but fell short of the 244 required.[120]
  • Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the leader of France's protests, was barred from re-entering the country after completing a tour of Europe to talk with other student protesters. When he tried to cross into Forbach from the border station shared with Saarbrücken, West Germany, "Danny the Red" found that he had been declared an "undesirable" by the Interior Ministry.[121]
  • Born: Graham Linehan, Irish comedian and writer, in Dublin
  • Died: USMC Lieutenant David Westphall, 28, was killed along with 16 other United States Marines in a Viet Cong ambush near An Dinh in South Vietnam. His parents, Victor and Jeanne Westphall, would use the life insurance proceeds for their son to build the first memorial to Americans killed in the Vietnam War, and built a white chapel on land that they owned near Angel Fire, New Mexico.[122]

May 23, 1968 (Thursday)

May 24, 1968 (Friday)

  • President Charles de Gaulle appeared on national television in France and made a plea to viewers for help in ending the strike by 10,000,000 workers and rioting in French cities. He announced a referendum for June and asked for voters to approve a grant of emergency power to force reforms and to halt the "roll to civil war". "Frenchmen, French women", he said, "you will deliver your verdict by a vote. In case your reply is 'no', it follows that I would no longer assume my functions."[131] In the hours leading up to the speech, thousands of demonstrators, many from outside the city, were converging on the center of Paris, while riot police prepared to contain the violence.[132] One historian would observe later that De Gaulle "did not come over as a man in charge of the situation, but a mere mortal struggling to for a way out... for the first time in his career de Gaulle seemed an anachronism.[133]
  • North Vietnam activated a new prisoner-of-war camp at Sơn Tây, 23 miles (37 km) northwest of Hanoi, and began the relocation of 55 of the 356 American POWs. The site, codenamed "Camp Hope", would be the object of an ultimately unsuccessful attempt (on November 21, 1970) by a Special Operations force to rescue the prisoners.[134]

May 25, 1968 (Saturday)

  • The world's 17th human heart transplant was performed at the Medical College of Virginia by Dr. David M. Hume and Dr. Richard Lower, but the hospital initially refused to disclose the name of the recipient or the donor, and an armed guard was kept on the floor where the patient was recovering.[135] Reporters soon learned from other sources that the recipient was a white man, Joseph G. Klett, and that the heart came from an African-American, Bruce O. Tucker, who had suffered a traumatic brain injury the day before the surgery and whose body was unclaimed;[136] and then found the reason for the secrecy. William Tucker, the donor's brother, brought a lawsuit on behalf of the family on grounds that the heart had been removed without consent and that Bruce was technically alive when he had been was taken off of life support.[137] The suit, Tucker v. Lower would be "the first case to present the question of the 'definition of death' in the context of organ transplantation".[138] Four years to the day after Tucker's death, a Virginia jury would become "the first anywhere to accept the new medical concept of brain death, the idea that a man is no longer living if his brain is dead."[139]
  • In France, negotiations began between the Pompidou government, trade unions, and the Organisation patronale, leading to the Grenelle agreements.[140]
  • The incorporation of a new city with 30,000 residents, Sterling Heights, Michigan, was approved by voters in the Sterling Township of Macomb County. The election result was 3,492 in favor and 2,614 against, with the city to come into existence on July 1.[141][142]
  • Died: Charles K. Feldman, 63, American screen agent who formed the Famous Artists Corporation, and who later became a successful film producer, including The Seven Year Itch and the screen adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire

May 26, 1968 (Sunday)

May 27, 1968 (Monday)

1st Lt. Bush
1st Lt. Bush

May 28, 1968 (Tuesday)

May 29, 1968 (Wednesday)

May 30, 1968 (Thursday)

  • West Germany enacted the controversial "Emergency Laws" (Notstandgesetze) a day after the third reading of the legislation, authorizing its government the power to revoke civil liberties during a national crisis.[157]
  • France's Prime Minister, Georges Pompidou suggested that President Charles de Gaulle dissolve the National Assembly, call a new election, and then resign. President de Gaulle refused to resign, but called an election for June 23, and threatened to declare a state of emergency. Opposition parties agreed to the call for an election.[158]
  • French politician Charles Pasqua organized a counterdemonstration of support for President de Gaulle, with at least over 300,000 Gaullist supporters (and perhaps as many as one million) marching down the Champs-Élysées in Paris.[159]
  • The Indianapolis 500 was run on Thursday rather than on Memorial Day because rain had repeatedly postponed qualifying trials. Bobby Unser, driving a turbocharged Offenhauser-powered car, won the race with a record speed of 152.882 miles per hour and Dan Gurney finished second.[160] By the time of the finish, all but 11 of the 33 cars had been put out of the race by mishaps.
  • Born: Zacarias Moussaoui, French-born terrorist who had received pilot training but who was arrested 26 days before he could become one of the participants in the September 11 attacks; in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

May 31, 1968 (Friday)


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  3. ^ "Methodists End Ban On Clergy Drinking", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 2, 1968, p. 2
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  44. ^ "Leader Ambushed", Ottawa Journal, May 10, 1968, p. 1
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  71. ^ "Kimmel Is Dead; Pearl Harbor Goat", Chicago Tribune, May 15, 1968, p.1
  72. ^ "'Scapegoat' of P.H. Attack Dies", Honolulu Advertiser, May 15, 1968, p. 1
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  110. ^ "178 Saves As Norwegian Ship Burns", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 22, 1968, p. 2
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  127. ^ "Echo I Goes Down In Flames, As Expected", Pittsburgh Press, May 24, 1968, p. 1
  128. ^ "SIU Counselor Killed by New York City Policeman", Alton (IL) Evening Telegraph, May 27, 1968, p. 10
  129. ^ "A Tragic End To a Career", Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, New Jersey), May 23, 1968, p. 14
  130. ^ "Dumas, Henry", by Trudier Harris, in The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature (Oxford University Press) pp. 118–119
  131. ^ "DE GAULLE THREATENS TO QUIT— He asks Full Powers To Cope With Crisis"], Pittsburgh Press, May 24, 1968, p. 1
  132. ^ "PARIS SETS UP FOR MASSIVE RIOT— De Gaulle Lays Down Peace Plea", El Paso (TX) Herald-Post, May 24, 1968, p. 1
  133. ^ Nicholas Atkin, The Fifth French Republic (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) p. 107
  134. ^ William H. McRaven, Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice (Random House Publishing Group, 2009) p. 287
  135. ^ "Richmond Doctors Mum After Heart Transplant", UPI report in Montgomery (AL) Advertiser, May 26, 1968, p. 1
  136. ^ "MCV Heart Patient Alert In 5 Minutes", The Progress-Index (Petersburg VA), May 31, 1968, p. 1
  137. ^ "Donor's Brother: 'No Donation'", Tampa Bay Times, June 16, 1968, p. 3
  138. ^ A Statutory Definition of the Standards for Determining Human Death, by Alexander M. Capron and Leon R. Kass, in Biomedical Ethics and the Law, ed. by James M. Humber (Springer, 2013) p. 567
  139. ^ The Courier-Journal (Louisville KY), May 26, 1972, p. 9
  140. ^ Michael Seidman, 'Workers in a Repressive Society of Seductions: Parisian Metallurgists in May–June 1968', French Historical Studies 18:1 (1993), p. 264.
  141. ^ "State Gets New City", Traverse City (MI) Record-Eagle, May 27, 1968, pp. 2–11
  142. ^ Images of Modern America: Sterling Heights (Arcadia Publishing, 2017) p. 7
  143. ^ "Aussies Win Tennis Cup", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 27, 1968, p. 33
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