Mexico and the ’68 Olympics

In October 1968 the Summer Olympics would take place in Mexico City amidst student protests and violence and the Vietnam War looked like it was approaching the beginning of the end.

The Mexican government, to prepare for the Olympics, invested about $150 million to promote Mexico, shield the world from its own social tensions, and suppress unions. Students in universities across the country were outraged at the denial of their civil liberties, and their inability to protest.

On October 2 10 000 university and high school students gathered peacefully to protest the government’s actions. At roughly 6:00pm a shot was fired from a helicopter, 5 000 soldiers and 200 tanks and trucks surrounded the plaza and began firing. Much of what happened is unknown because the Mexican government hid the records. But upwards of 30 people were killed, hundreds were wounded and hundreds were arrested. Only in 2001 was it disclosed that government snipers were ordered to fire on military forces so the military would have justification to fire on the protestors.

10 days to go until the Olympics

After the 200m race, black Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who had both medalled, took off their shoes, placed black gloves on their hands and raised one arm during the medal presentation in the black power salute. The men were booed and forced out of the games by IOC President Avery Brundage. Brundage approved giving the Nazi salute during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Carlos and Smith were suspended from the US Olympic Team and received death threats in the mail.

What has gotten lost in history is that Peter Norman, a white Australian who won silver, participated in the protest. Wanting Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa excluded from the games, Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight belt restored, Avery Brundage removed as head of the IOC, and more African-Americans in coaching, he joined Carlos and Smith in the protests, going barefoot, and wearing beads to protest poverty and lynchings.

It is the most controversial single act at an Olympics since Jesse Owens in Nazi Germany in 1936. Within the racial state of the U.S. and world at the time, it sparked outrage at home and abroad.

Meanwhile, President Johnson announced on October 31 that he wanted a complete stoppage of all bombardments by November 1. But after Nixon was elected President, he immediately started bombing Laos and the Ho Chi Minh Trail. By the end of Operation Commando Hunt 3 million tones of bombs were dropped on Laos, without any affect.

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