Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tomorrow, 40 Years Ago

Tomorrow, 40 years ago, Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia and Alexander Dubček, architect of the liberalizing "Prague Spring," was hustled to Moscow for what I imagine must have been some very high intensity conversations. The world of 2008 was unimaginable then.

The snake-shaped Czechoslovakia has recently been in the news thanks to John McCain, who apparently doesn't know its two ethnic and linguistic regions split up peacefully in 1992. To be fair, what I know about the country is just enough for this one post.

For example, years ending in 8 were fateful for Czechoslovakia:
  • 1918, foreign powers gathered in Versailles carved it out as an independent republic from the carcass of the Austro-Hungarian Empire;
  • 1938, Neville Chamberlain famously handed over the Sudetenland and Bohemia (aka, the head of the snake) to one Adolf Hitler, who proceeded to invade it;
  • 1948, the Communist Party staged a coup d'etat in February and took over the government; and
  • 1968, Dubček, the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion.
These last three were the last events of the Cold War era that I observed through my parents' anticommunist lenses with the thought of crafting some of my own.

It was my last year of secondary school, the year of the French student-worker general strike in May, the year they killed the dreams of a Martin and a Bobbie, the year of Khe Sahn and the Tet Offensive when the possibility of the first military defeat of the United States in history became possible.

It was the year that, in my unending quest to define historical periods, I decided that the World War II postwar era -- that epoch, the heyday of my parents', always recalled in grainy black-and-white celluloid -- had ended in front of my very eyes.

I lived the Prague Spring in the movie houses of Buenos Aires, which were modern Plato's caves for me as I watched the still highly redarded majestic Czech film Closely Watched Trains and it's much less well-known Loves Of a Blonde.

Could socialism have a human face, after all, Mr. Dubček? Why were the students and workers of Paris troublemakers while youths throwing stones at Soviet tanks in Prague were heroes?

These were the questions I could no longer avoid 40 years ago tomorrow, when near midnight Soviet tanks slipped into Prague.
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