New York panorama
1968 through the eyes of an Englishman

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The BEV Retrospective - 1968.

Topics this year are:
  • Vietnam war,
  • Politics and happenings in the US,
  • Politics and happenings in the UK,
  • Other world events.

Vietnam War.

The year got off to an early start. On January 21, PAVN and NLF forces - possibly up to 3 divisions - began to attack Marine, ARVN, and US Special Forces in the Battle of Khe Sanh, this was in the north of South Vietnam, just a few kilometres away from the demilitarised zone between north and south. The forces around Khe Sanh were isolated, and had to be supplied by air for some time before a ground relief column reached them in early April.

The puzzling thing about this action is why it occurred at all. The Marines occupying the base there did not believe that it was of any tactical or strategic value, and just a few days later the PAVN and NLF forces would launch the Tet Offensive. Scholars of the subject have remarked "Either the Tet offensive was a diversion intended to facilitate PAVN/NLF preparations for a war-winning battle at Khe Sanh, or Khe Sanh was a diversion to mesmerize [General] Westmoreland in the days before Tet."

It's tempting to think that the PAVN wanted to do a repeat performance of the battle at Dien Bien Phu that effectively broke the French hold on Vietnam. On the other hand, if they had been serious, they could have easily cut the water supply and land line telephone connections to the Khe Sanh area, and they didn't. We won't know until the Vietnamese release the appropriate historical documents.

An NLF officer summarily executed.
If the attack was designed to preoccupy Westmorland, then it would probably have to be marked as a success!

On the 30th of January, the Tet Offensive began, with PAVN and NLF forces launching a series of surprise attacks all over South Vietnam, including Saigon. Militarily, Tet was, in terms of its objective, something of a failure for the communist forces. It was essentially halted by early March, and massive casualties were suffered by the NLF. However, public reaction in the USA made it something of a strategic victory, and one of its consequences was that the NLF became stronger in the country regions, particularly the Mekong delta.

The Johnson administration had been adopting the policy of saying as little as possible about the war, usually mentioning just the good things. Consequently it came as a considerable shock to the US public when the communists were able to launch an attack on this scale. There were also leaks of troop requests being made by senior US officers in Vietnam, bad news such as the worst single week casualty figures of the war, and a further draft of 48,000 men. The execution picture, which was widely published, did not help - what sort of people was the US defending?

As if to answer this question, in July, South Vietnamese opposition leader Truong Dinh Dzu was sentenced to 5 years hard labour, for advocating the formation of a coalition government as a way to move toward an end to the war. Go figure.

On the up-side, on April 3rd, North Vietnam announced that it would conduct negotiations, which started in Paris in May.

In the tail end of the year, US and ARVN forces would launch an operation to attempt to regain some control in the Mekong delta region, and a further attempt was made to block PAVN/NLF movements along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. 3 million tons of bombs would be dropped on Laos without significantly disrupting operations on the trail.

On October 31st, stating that some progress was being made in the Paris talks, LBJ ordered an end to the bombing of North Vietnam.

Turmoil in the US.

Protests against outstanding civil rights restrictions and abuses, and against the war continued unabated. The state of the nation's division over the war was pointed out in March, when LBJ only narrowly defeated the anti-war Democratic candidate in the New Hampshire primary. A few days later, Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced that he would enter the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, and at the end of the month LBJ said he would call it quits, and not seek re-election.

Also in March, Congress repealed the requirement that the US must maintain a gold reserve to back the US currency. At that time, the US authorities were bound by the 'Gold Standard' to supply an ounce of gold to anyone who turned in $35. Some bodies, notably the French government, were prone to doing this on a large scale, and this was pulling down the US reserves. The repeal was the beginning of a sequence of events that would quite quickly completely decouple the value of the US dollar from that of gold.

Robert F. Kennedy announces the assassination of MLK.
On April 4, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated, shot dead while standing on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Robert Kennedy announced the shooting in a brief speech in Indianapolis later that day, saying that the country needed to "go beyond these rather difficult times". Nonetheless, there was rioting in some 60 cities over the next few days. 300,000 people attended King's funeral. Ironically, on the 11th, LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, giving further teeth to the existing laws.

Protests over the Vietnam war continued. Later in April students at Columbia University in NY City took over administration buildings and shut down the university. In May, a group known as the Catonsville Nine entered the Selective Service offices in Catonsville, Maryland, took many selective service draft records, and burned them with napalm. In August, there were clashes between war protestors in Chicago, outside the Democratic National Convention. the city's Mayor, Richard J. Daley mobilized large forces of police and National Guardsmen to rough-up the demonstrators

Before that, there was a further body blow to democracy and the rule of law when on June 5th Robert Kennedy himself was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles by self-styled Arab nationalist Sirhan Sirhan. Kennedy died from his injuries the next day.
At their respective conventions, the Republicans then nominated Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, while the Democrats chose Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie. At the election in November, Nixon beat Humphrey by a narrow popular vote majority, despite a spoiling run by Alabama governor George Wallace. Nixon promised to restore law and order.

Campaign badge.
Politics and Happenings in the UK.

Early in 1968 a group of secretaries in Surbiton volunteered to work half an hour extra each day on the premise that doing so would increase their productivity in proportion to the extra time. The idea became a hit, intended to transform the British economy, and was endorsed by Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

The whole idea could of course, only have worked if there was productive work available for the extra half hour, and people didn't simply stretch the work they had for the day over the time. It petered out over the next few months as an embarrassing failure.

Interestingly, the campaign's 'T' shirts were made in Portugal.

Police violence against civil rights marchers in LondonDerry.
In April, as a slight indicator that Britain was prepared to change, decimal coins reached the high street. Several of the older coins had equivalent values and the two sets intermingled for some time to the confusion of many older people, who had to translate everything back into 'shillings and pence' before they could understand what things cost.

In May, UK surgeons caught up with a number of other countries and conducted the UK's first heart transplant.

On July 4, yachtsman Alec Rose, aged 59, received a hero's welcome when he sailed into Portsmouth after a 354-day round-the-world single-handed trip.

In August, the last steam passenger train service ran in Britain. A selection of British Rail steam locomotives made the 120-mile journey from Liverpool to Carlisle and back. This trip was known as the Fifteen Guinea Special.

As a darker note, on October 5 Police used baton charges and water cannon against civil rights demonstrators in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. This action was widely broadcast throughout the world, and can probably be considered to mark the beginning of 'The Troubles' in Ulster.

Resistance to the Warsaw Pact invasion in Prague.
Other World Events.

In January of this year, a sequence of events to be known as "The Prague Spring" occurred. Slovak leader Alexander Dubcek replaced the current leader of the Czechoslovakian communist party, actually with the complicity of the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

In a masterly display of political double-speak, Dubcek spoke of the need to "enforce the leading role of the party more effectively", at the same time embarking on an an actual program of liberal reforms. His "Action Program" included increasing freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of movement.

By August, Brezhnev became dismayed at the reality of what was happening. He drummed up support from more hard-line Warsaw Pact leaders, and on the 20th, 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 5000 tanks appeared in Czechoslovakia to correct the problem - nice try Alexander

Less noticeably, an Iraqi army officer, Saddam Hussein, became Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Council after a coup d'état.

In China, Mao Zedong found that the Red Guard had outlived their usefulness, and that they could actually pose a danger to the Communist Party. He agreed to a move revoking the control of the army that had been granted to the Red Guard, and started the "Down to the Countryside Movement".
This required graduating students to move to the countryside to learn from the people there, and thus effectively weakened the Red Guard in the cities.

Earth seen from Apollo 8.

The NASA Apollo program continued inexorably on its journey toward the moon. In April, Apollo-Saturn mission 502 (Apollo 6) was launched. This was the second and last unmanned test-flight of the Saturn V launch vehicle, and it was in its way very successful. Several problems occurred that were isolated and fixed, and none of the subsequent Saturn V flights experienced any serious problems.

It was duly followed in October by the launch of Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission (Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele, Walter Cunningham). This somewhat grumpy mission achieved the first live television broadcast from orbit and tested the lunar module docking manoeuvre.

On a roll in December, Apollo 8 entered orbit around the Moon, exceeding escape velocity and taking men out of the primary influence of the Earth's gravity. Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William A. Anders become the first humans to see the far side of the Moon and planet Earth as a whole.

In the converging world of computers and microelectronics, a company called Intel was founded by Robert Noyce and a few friends in Santa Clara, California. Initially it would develop and manufacture Silicon memory chips.
Already intellectually prepared from an outcome that was still 20 years away for the masses, Douglas Engelbart at Stanford Research Institute demonstrated interactive computing at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco. His setup included mouse, on-screen windows, hypertext and full-screen word processing. 1968 - now that's what you call 'be prepared'.


Well, as you'd guess from the events of the previous year, these were not the happiest of times. There was lots of sympathy all round, but the loss of a child is hurtful in many ways. It can turn you away from the rest of the world, and after the initial shock and grief, it makes you depressed. The event also robbed me of any remaining inclination to believe in god.

Our parents did what they could to cheer us up. The principal manifestation of this was that they got together and bought a small car for us. The 'in' small car of the times was the Mini, which had appeared in 1959, but they were still holding their price well enough to be outside the budget. Our car was older, from some time in the early 50s.

There was a small problem, in that neither Elaine or I had a drivers license. I had failed a driving test back in 1959 before I went to Harwell, and the need had not arisen since then. My father now had a Mini, and I renewed my provisional license, and revised my driving test skills in that. I booked a test in February with a waiting list time of about a month. On the day of the test I forgot all about it and went off to work on the bus. Elaine phoned me in the late morning to say I should be taking it early that afternoon.

Morris Minor 1000 convertible.

A simple PERT/Critical Path analysis diagram.

ASR-33 teletype.
I dragged my father out of work, and he came part of the way toward Leeds and picked me up at a convenient bus stop. Then we dashed into Bradford where we reached the test centre with about five minutes to spare. Of course by then I'd worked myself into a proper tizzy, and had more or less written the test off as a bad job. The test man appeared and we set off, and I just drove round the course assuming the day was doomed and I'd have to wait another month or whatever. To my surprise, at the end of the test, after I'd answered the statutory few questions, the man said "right Mr Teale, you've passed, you can drive by yourself now", and gave me the piece of paper I needed to get my full drivers license.

The Morris 1000 was not a bad little car. It was simple and reliable, and parts were readily available and also quite cheap. I could do things like maintaining the brakes and engine fluids myself. It's canvas canopy leaked a little bit, but generally it was serviceable and reliable even if not very cool.

I started to use it to go to work, and was then able to use it to go out on site to power stations, for which trips I could claim expenses that were quite generous and helped to pay for upkeep and fuel for the vehicle. As you'd guess, my interest in aspects of the job that involved travel suddenly jumped. A good opportunity arose when I became involved in a job that required the installation of steam samplers for chemical analysis purposed on the main high pressure steam pipes of the new power station that was being constructed to the south east of Leeds at Eggborough. To get that done, you had to haggle with numerous people to get this non-trivial piece of work included on the project plan and the PERT charts. This involved quite a number of visits.

Of course, at that time, I knew nothing of these planning techniques, so I had to get a book from the library, and read up on them. At the same time, by some strange coincidence, an ASR-33 teletype machine appeared in one of the labs at the SSD at Kirkstall. On enquiry I determined that the head of the Combustion Division - Arnold Read - had rented it to communicate with some time-sharing mainframe in Manchester, since he was trying to solve some problem that required computing power.

I borrowed the manuals for the service, and determined that this system could be programmed in two languages, FORTRAN, and a supposedly simple language called Dartmouth BASCIC. I looked at the programming languages, and decided that FORTRAN made most sense to me, though I tried Basic as well. From that point, any time I could squeeze in, I spent learning the rudiments of programming on the otherwise underused system. It was an intellectual puzzle that could take your mind off the realities of life.

After a few months, Arnold Read, and his boss, the head of the SSD - Leslie Young - noticed that I was interested in both critical path analysis, and computers. By then, Arnold had gravitated away from the time sharing system, and was using the region's IBM Mainframe to attempt to solve his problem. He needed a body to do some of the grunt work, so I was duly pulled out of the Chemistry Division work, and attached to Arnold.

The problem was one related to Linear Programing, so I taught myself about that as well. Linear Programming is a mathematical technique used to determine optimal solutions to problems governed by constraints expressed as equality, or less than/greater than constraints.
The classic sort of example is making say fertilizers. I need to make a mixture that contains not less than 30% of Nitrogen, 20% of Potassium, and 20% of Phosphorus. I have a list of potential ingredients - chicken shit, sewage sludge, guano, phosphate rock, ammonium nitrate, and so on. Each of these contains some amount of the required ingredients, and each has a price per kilo or whatever. I have to determine what mixture of these ingredients will form the required fertilizer at the minimum cost. Solving such problems is a bit like solving sets of linear equations using Gaussian Elimination - there's an algorithm called Simplex.

Leslie Young was a fan of Operational Research. He encouraged me in these interests, and lent me a book - "Decision and Control" - by some guru called Stafford Beer, which I read, but only partly understood. He had set Arnold the problem of maximizing the benefit of allocating his research manpower to projects so as to maximize the return on their salaries. It was to be assumed that there were a number of potential projects, the potential return on which had been determined by Cost/Benefit Analysis. These were the ingredients, like the chicken shit etc. Other constraints were the availability of scientific manpower to undertake these projects. However, there's a difference. In this analysis, you either do the project or you don't. It's not like the chicken shit where you can use just as much of it as you need to achieve minimum cost.

So the amount of a project you can use is either 0, or 1, and the problem becomes one in Integer Programming. This is a different kettle of fish. There were algorithms, but there was no guarantee that they would ever come to a conclusion. The grunt work was in putting together different formulations of the problem to see if we could find a tabulation that was solvable. This was in the days before computational complexity was properly understood.

The reading involved in learning about all this stuff took my mind of things I didn't want to be thinking about, and also sent me off in a completely new direction. Bye bye chemistry, bye bye the old Steve.

At home, Elaine quite quickly determined that the way forward for her was to have another child ASAP. We must have made a successful start to this endeavour in July of that year.

The car also made it easier to get over to Shipley and Bingley where we had friends, and to decent pub in the area where we lived. I had never found anywhere I particularly liked within reasonable walking distance in Guiseley, though I had discovered one that I liked at the small village of Esholt possibly a mile from where we lived. I could now go out sometimes on weekday evenings, and sit in the corner of the snug at the Commercial Inn. In those days I'd probably have a book with me, and was probably not much inclined to talk to anyone, but the regulars got used to seeing me around, and I got to know a lad of about my own age - maybe a year older - called Brian Mayes, who would become a close friend for several years.

I'm not at all sure that I ever went to a movie in 1968, however, there were some notable ones around. The US top grossing movies I'd mention were:

Preparing for the car chase in Bullitt.
Although at the bottom of this list, "Oliver!" was the award winner. The Brits produced three of these, "2001: A Space Odyssey", "Romeo and Juliet", and "Oliver!", but also "The Lion in Winter" which if I did see a film, was probably the one, and "if.."

This years number ones in the UK, and the odd number two or three were as follows:

ArtistTitleMonth Comment
Love AffairEverlasting LoveJan
Manfred MannMighty QuinnJan
Louis ArmstrongWhat A Wonderful WorldFeb
Esther & Abi OfarimCinderella RockefellaFeb
Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & TichLegend Of XanaduFeb
Cliff RichardCongratulationsMar
BeatlesLady MadonnaMar
Tommy James & The ShondellsMony MonyApr
Union Gap featuring Gary PuckettYoung GirlApr
Des O'ConnorI PretendMay
EqualsBaby Come BackMay
Rolling StonesJumping Jack FlashMay
Crazy World Of Arthur BrownFireJun
Beach BoysDo It AgainJul
Bee GeesI've Gotta Get A Message To YouAug
BeatlesHey JudeSep
Mary HopkinThose Were The DaysSep
Hugo MontenegroThe Good The Bad And The UglySep
Joe CockerWith A Little Help From My FriendsOct
Isley BrothersThis Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)OctNumber 3 but ...
ScaffoldLily The PinkNovThe novelty song strikes again
Fleetwood MacAlbatrossDec
MarmaladeOb-La-Di Ob-La-DaDec
Stevie WonderFor Once In My LifeDecNumber 3 but ...
MoveBlackberry WayDec

I don't know what to pick out of the other stuff that year. Although I remember most if not all of these songs. I think I was in a different world that year. Factually this was the year when Cream broke up, with "Sunshine Of Your Love" as their last hit. Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs Robinson" emerged, along with Aretha Franklin's "Say a little prayer for you", and Hendrix's "All along the watchtower". The Beatles released their "White Album", which broke a lot of records. Led Zeppelin was formed, Fleetwood Mac recorded the guitar theme Albatross, the Bee Gees thrived - yada yada. I think I'll settle for the most enigmatic lyric I can remember.


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