Module 05: 1968 — A Generation in Revolt?
As you have now seen, the ideas, motivations,
and actions of those involved in the chaotic
challenges of 1968 differed significantly,
yet drew from a common well of grievances.
The outcomes of the events in each location
were also both similar and different.
In the last thirty years, significant
debate has ensued over the legacies of 1968. Indeed, many would argue that the so-called "culture
wars" that emerged from the conflicts
of the seventies have become a defining
aspect of current national and international
Yet we can draw several conclusions from our study of the "revolutions" of 1968. First, most governments responded during the late 1960s and 1970s to protesters' demands for access
to higher education, one of the greater causes of contention. In the United States, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe,
authorities increased funding for existing
universities, opened admission to
larger portions of the electorate, and embarked on extensive building sprees. Although the reforms
did increase enrollment, they did not
fundamentally restructure higher education.
Second, if 1968 can be viewed as a component of the Cold
War, the legacies of the year of protest prove more divergent, more subterranean, and
perhaps more profound. Although Humphrey lost the 1968 election
to Richard Nixon, the crises of 1968 meant that America's
time in Vietnam was limited. In 1973, the United States finally withdrew from Vietnam, an act that precipitated the collapse of South Vietnam
in 1975. Czechoslovakia returned to the Socialist fold after
the invasion of 1968, yet many have argued since that the ideological
roots of the fall of the Berlin Wall took shape in
the fertile soil of Prague Spring.
Finally, while the revolutionary dreams of students in Paris
and Chicago failed
to come true at the time, many of the protest movements of the
last 30 years trace their roots
to the calls for revolution by the student revolutionaries of '68. The feminist
movement, the modern environmental
movement, the squatters movement, and the human
rights movement all trace their intellectual
heritage, at least in part, to the barricades constructed in the sixties.
In Prague, dissidents continued to act as a
thorn in the side of the Communist Party throughout
the seventies and eighties. One such participant of Prague Spring, Vaclev Havel, even rose to
lead the country after the fall of communism.