Bob Herbert draws some parallels between 1968 and 2008 today but it seems to me that his message is incomplete.
The Vietnam/Iraq comparison is obvious, of course, and somewhat appropriate. But there’s not going to be the equivalent of Tet in Iraq or even Afghanistan, unless we completely take our eye off the ball again, always a possibility, I know. Different wars, different outcomes.
No, what’s missing from Herbert’s recounting of the death of political hope for half a generation of Americans – those of an age with John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King – is an explanation of how the dreams of a nation can die and what the effects can be.
JFK and RFK represented, to paraphrase Eric Segal, the opportunity for the (relatively) young people of America to take control of their country and lead it while they were still in the primes of their lives. When the Kennedy sons were gunned down that opportunity was lost and the old men took over again.
Hope died with them, but not because either Kennedy was a genius of unique ability or because their messages were so transcendent. Hope died when my father’s generation realized that the blind hatred of a single mental defective could, in a single split second, undo the good works of so many more deserving people.
It’s difficult to recover from such a blow. In a way Jimmy Carter was the beneficiary of the sickly rejuvenation of the dream that died in 1968, a pale imitation doomed to failure.
Today we see Pakistan reeling from a blow of even greater proportions. Benazir Bhutto, gunned down in the streets in similar fashion to the Kennedys, represented the best hope of a nation to leave behind the aged baggage of a millennia-old repression and move into the future in concert with the free people of the west.
Hope may have died with her. In response to her killing the Musharraf government clamped down, putting boots in the street and closing off the truth from the people, even in regards to the manner of their flawed but courageous champion’s death.
Both Musharraf and Sharif represent Pakistan’s past. They are the country’s old men who, if America’s example holds true, will hold on to power long after they are wanted.
The future there is even less certain than ours was in 1968, for though some of America’s best were killed by our worst Americans knew and still know that our system of government allows the people to demand course corrections when needed.
That is the kind of hope that the people of Pakistan need right now.