Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

May 1968

on March 18, 2014

I looked forward to graduating from elementary school, but as destiny would have it, I never would attend a graduating ceremony from any of the milestones of grade school, not elementary, not junior high school, and not senior high school.

We were to graduate in June of 1968. But before June, May 1968 happened.

poster May 1968

Very few people outside of France still remember May 1968. It was a movement that started locally in February in Nanterre, a suburb of Paris,  and could have ended up in a blood bath like the 1832 June Rebellion depicted in Les Miserables. It was something that started as student unrest, morphed into a nation-wide workers’ unions strike,  and ended up nearly toppling the government of Charles de Gaulle, the WWII hero who led the government in exile, the founder of the Fifth Republic, who was then serving his second term as President of the Republic (at that time, a French presidential term lasted seven years.)

Then French President, Charles de Gaulle

Then French President, Charles de Gaulle

Little children see very little beyond their world of school and home. So in my memories, I only see snippets of my uncle excitedly or gloomily relating the news over dinner; workers chanting and holding placards walking down the Avenue de la Republique (me, trying to stick my nose on the glass panes to view the excitement, and Aunt Lily restraining me and telling me to step away from the window); the school closing down and sending all the students home for an indefinite period of time; Saadia, Therese and I playing school in the previously taboo front sitting room. Then, the most striking piece of memory: the trash piling up in all the streets, which finally had to be removed by the army after a couple of weeks.

protesters marching during May 1968

Student unrest during May 1968

Student unrest during May 1968

Another image stands out strikingly: photos on the newspapers of university students holding up the Little Red Book, that quasi-Bible authored by Mao Tse-Tung. I couldn’t believe it. Did they not know what hell the people of China were living through because of that Little Red Book? Why would they want to bring that here?

Pro-socialist and pro-communist fervor during May 1968

Pro-socialist and pro-communist fervor during May 1968

Reading now, 46 years later, accounts and analyses of the events during those two weeks, I can see a perfect example of a teenage rebellion, or one of those restless phases that releases itself as a sudden storm, then if allowed to brew and gather energy, may find enough discontented and disgruntled souls to energize it, give it direction, and eventually focus into a revolution. If not nipped in the bud. De Gaulle had enough clout and strength to do so, dismissing the entire cabinet and calling for new elections. In other times and countries, things might not end up so quickly and quietly, witness the massacre of TianAnMen.




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