Great Events From History: The 20th Century, 1941-1970 (Great Events from History)
Oxford Research Encyclopedias American History. Search within subject: Select Read More. Back to results. Subscriber sign in. Forgot password? Don't have an account? Sign in via your Institution. Sign in with your library card. Search within Bolstered by his success during the Cuban Missile Crisis of , Kennedy gave every indication that he would begin withdrawing American troops after the election. But after the assassination, Lyndon Johnson, far less experienced than Kennedy, believed he had to resist Communist insurrection in Vietnam at all costs.
By July Johnson had begun escalating American involvement in Vietnam, and the number of troops soon reached , Initial protest against the war was moderate.
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It began with "teach-ins," where opponents of the war debated representatives of the State Department in the hope that reason would prevail. But intellectual argument changed nothing. Student activists quickly intensified their protests. They demonstrated against universities that had defense industry contracts or that hosted recruitment visits from companies like Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of napalm. Soon, anti-war protestors started burning draft cards and calling the police who opposed them "capitalist pigs.
As the presidential election year of dawned, the nation was split apart more severely than at any time since the Civil War. Radical student groups threatened to take over campuses. The "Weathermen," a break-off group from SDS, called for violent revolution. More moderate reformers rallied behind the anti-war presidential candidacy of Senator Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota, who contested Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire primary. A rapid-fire succession of explosive developments made the world seem dramatically different with each passing month.
In January, Vietnamese insurgents launched the Tet offensive during the Vietnamese new year , assaulting every major South Vietnamese city, even briefly occupying the US Embassy in Saigon. The next week, Robert F. Kennedy, also an anti-war senator, joined the presidential campaign. On March 31, Lyndon Johnson announced a halt in the bombing of North Vietnam, then stunned the nation by declaring he would not run for re-election. In May, students occupied the main administration buildings at Columbia University protesting racist policies.
Then on June 5, Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down after winning the California primary, seemingly on his way to the Democratic presidential nomination. In August, the Democratic National Convention was racked by violence, and Chicago police engaged in brutal attacks against journalists and student protestors. The presidential race was dominated by a sense of domestic crisis.
Alabama Governor George Wallace, a third-party candidate, lambasted all protestors as traitors.
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Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, called for a return to law and order, claiming to speak for the "silent majority" who believed in patriotism, hard work, and reverence for God. Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey sought to find a middle ground in vain, though he did almost win. The election of Richard Nixon inaugurated a new era of conservatism, based on rallying mainstream Americans against social experimentation and protest groups.
Although he had dedicated his presidency to "bringing us together," Nixon practiced a politics of polarization. His "Southern strategy" sought to use racial conflict as a basis for creating a new Solid South, this time dominated by white Republicans.
Spiro Agnew, his alliterative vice president, gave repeated speeches denouncing the "nattering nabobs of negativism" who insisted on criticizing rather than celebrating America. While Nixon had spoken of a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War, he chose a strange way of executing it, engaging in secret bombing of Cambodia and then invading the country, a course that prompted renewed student protests and led to the killing of four student demonstrators by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio.
Although Nixon finally ended the war in on terms virtually identical to those he could have had in , he did so by such excessive bombing of Hanoi that he seemed to be out to prove that he was the "mad man" that he wanted his enemies to think he was.
A person who detested most of his own Cabinet and the daily routine of presidential meetings, Nixon spent as much time as he could by himself in a small study off the Oval Office. As one of the most inveterate anti-Communists to ever walk the halls of Congress, Nixon was ideally situated to reverse nearly a quarter century of hostility and open relations with Peking. After all, no one could accuse him of being soft on Communism.
Plotting with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger he never told his secretary of state about his China plans , Nixon secretly arranged the dramatic breakthrough. It was a master stroke. While Nixon could be a visionary on foreign policy, he also engaged in petty, self-destructive, and vindictive efforts to squash his political adversaries.
Going into the presidential election, it was clear that Nixon would easily defeat his opponent, George McGovern. But for Nixon that was not enough; he wanted to destroy his foes. Nixon created "the Plumbers," a group of secret operatives who broke into offices of the political opposition and sought to sabotage their campaigns. When the Plumbers entered the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate apartment complex for the second time the first effort was botched , an alert security guard noticed the break-in and the burglars were arrested.
Although it took nearly two years, the full story finally came out.
The President of the United States not only helped to create the Plumbers, he also schemed to pay them off if they stayed quiet and explicitly ordered a campaign to obstruct justice. Ironically, all this was taped by ubiquitous tape recorders set up by Nixon himself to document his presidency.
Eventually, Watergate led Republicans and Democrats alike to conclude that Nixon had to go, and in the summer of Richard Nixon, faced with impeachment, resigned the office of the presidency. Gerald Ford assumed the presidency. Watergate inaugurated an era of malaise in America. A series of developments in the s caused the American people to doubt that the nation could continue to reign, unchallenged, as ruler of the world.
For the first time, high unemployment went hand in hand with high inflation rates, both in double digits.
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Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion Roe v. Wade, and other rulings such as the outlawing of school prayer in the s enraged millions of conservatives. But Carter did not know how to deal with Congress. The energy crisis overwhelmed him.
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So too did inflation rates nearing 20 percent. Although he represented a breath of fresh air in foreign policy, especially in espousing democratic regimes in Africa and Latin America, Carter ultimately fell victim to one of the most humiliating defeats America had experienced—the seizure of the American embassy in Teheran, Iran, and the holding of more than sixty American hostages for over a year. An actor, Reagan exuded leadership and strength.
He operated on a simple creed: Capitalism was the only economic system that worked; people had to free themselves of the burdens of government—especially taxation—to manifest their creativity; no one should be allowed to challenge America militarily; and with these in hand, the nation would bounce back. Once again it would be "morning time in America. He cut taxes, created new jobs, increased the military budget dramatically, called the Soviet Union an "evil empire," and won back the confidence of the people. Walter Mondale, the Democratic candidate for president in , never stood a chance.
Reagan swept forty-nine of the fifty states. Regan lacked the finesse of Baker. Unfortunately, aiding the "Contras" was a direct violation of the Boland Amendment, a Congressional act that prohibited such aid. Reagan, never a "hands-on" president, was oblivious to the entire disaster.
With poor staff, he blundered badly and, once more, it seemed that America was doomed to be afflicted with a failed chief executive. Yet in the end, Reagan pulled off a miracle. He also recognized the futility of pursuing policies of Stalinist repression within his own country. As a result, Gorbachev and Reagan arrived at a dramatic arms control treaty and set the world on a path that signified the end of the Cold War. Returning from a triumphant final visit to Moscow, Reagan told the press that what he had just done was like being in a Cecil B.
DeMille movie. It was, he said "the role of a lifetime. Using his experience to brilliant effect, Bush presided masterfully over the end of the Cold War. To the astonishment of the world, the Berlin Wall came down in after twenty-eight years.