Obviously the social,political, and economic impacts were unparalleled and valid. I want to know how these experiences altered the definition of 'what is means to be an American'?
It's viewed as a turning point by many historians (as well as being the year of my birth). 1968 shattered the ideas that we were invincible as a military empire, that we were united by any stretch of the imagination, or that we were done making racial progress in our society. The deaths of RFK and MLK were heavy blows to a society already short on hope.
There was a huge rift among Americans, too. Part of the society was all free love, drugs, rock and roll, and the hippie movement. The other was very conservative in behavior, dress, attitude, and opinions.
There was extreme disillusionment in the atmosphere due to the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.
I think 1968 was a year when America lost its innocence and post-World War II optimism. The year began with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, This showed the world that the U.S. was vulnerable to attack from North Vietnam and not everything was as rosy as the generals were painting the war. The loss of optimism continued with the public discovery of the My Lai Massacre, when U.S. soldiers lined up over 300 Vietnamese civilians and shot them in cold blood. Not only were U.S. troops vulnerable to attack, but they were also no longer the "good guys". This loss was compounded by the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Added to the earlier loss of John Kennedy, it seems as if no American leader was safe. In addition, the social unrest demonstrated during the Chicago riots at the Democratic Convention made citizens feel that the country was becoming unstable and was no longer "pillar of democracy " for the rest of the world. Finally, even the "most trusted man in America, Walter Cronkite, decided he could no longer trust what the government was telling Americans about the Vietnamese War. President Lyndon Johnson declared that if he had lost Walter Cronkite, he had lost the rest of the country. He decided not to even run for another term. By the end of 1968, Americans had lost their trust in our military, our government plus two major political leaders to assassination and one to lose of confidence. Any post war optimism was gone and we were forced to be realists.