Exam preparation materials

Chapter 20

Rockin' with the '60s, Rollin' with the '70s: 1961-1979

In This Chapter

● Navigating the Cold War with JFK

● Fighting for civil rights

● Storming into (and crawling out of) Vietnam

● Surviving social unrest and protest

Contrary to what you may have heard from your elders, the 1960s and 1970s were neither the dawn of a hippie age of Aquarius nor the beginning of the downfall of society. America changed, but then if you’ve read the other chapters in Parts III and IV of this book, you know that America had always been changing.

The youth counterculture hippie movement often associated with the 1960s lasted from the arrival of the Beatles in 1963 until the departure of Richard Nixon in 1974. Actually, the hippies never really left; they just settled down with mortgages and kids, much like their GI fathers and flapper grandmothers had done.

The 1960s and 1970s pushed social changes into the lives of everyone — changes that had been on the way for a century. These social updates included further expansion of the role of women, more-equal treatment for African Americans and other minorities, and social freedom in dress and behavior. America got more choices and managed to roll over the rocky ground of Vietnam, assassinations, demonstrations, Woodstock, riots, peace, love, and Watergate. What a trip!

Although the AP test doesn’t cover current events, questions from several decades ago are common.

Kennedy: Progressing Under Cold War Clouds

John F. Kennedy (1960) was only 43 years old when he was sworn in as the youngest elected president in American history. To add to the movie-star freshness of his administration, he appointed his 35-year-old brother, Bobby, as attorney general and surrounded himself with a cabinet of the best and brightest advisers. This strategy was quite a change from the grandfa-therly President Eisenhower.

Kennedy was handsome and eloquent; at his inauguration, he uttered still-famous lines like “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country” and “Whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.”

Trouble in Cuba

It was a good start, but within weeks of his inauguration, Kennedy was embarrassed by the failed Bay of Pigs (1961) invasion of Cuba, which the Eisenhower administration had planned.

Ever since Communist Fidel Castro had taken over Cuba two years before, the American CIA and right-wing Cuban exiles had wanted to kick him out. The exiles stormed ashore, but their invasion was stopped on the beach. It was an international black eye for the U.S., and Kennedy took full responsibility.

Round Two of the Cuban standoff took place a year and a half later with the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). The Soviets had taken advantage of their alliance with Communist Cuba to install nuclear missiles on the island that could hit the United States (only 90 miles away) in the blink of an eye.

When Kennedy found out about the missiles, he ordered the U.S. Navy to blockade all shipments to Cuba. After a tense standoff on the high seas, Soviet ships turned around. Kennedy reached an agreement with the Soviets that they would remove the Cuban missiles if the U.S. publicly promised never to invade Cuba and quietly packed up U.S. rockets stationed in Turkey.

The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world closer to nuclear war than it had been at any time before or since — one false move on either side could have touched off the bombs.

After the crisis, both sides in the Cold War were more cautious about stirring up surprise threats.

Peace Corps

Kennedy had a small Democratic majority in Congress, but given that the Southern Democrats were about as loyal as the South had been during the Civil War, he couldn’t get much legislation passed. Kennedy did manage to start the Peace Corps (1961), which began within months to send American volunteers overseas to help developing nations.

The Peace Corps still has about 10,000 volunteers (far less than the U.S. military of more than a million), but it continues its humanitarian work in countries around the world. Kennedy-proposed programs for civil rights, health care, and tax reform stalled but would later pass after his death.

The Space Race

Continuing the U.S. response to earlier Soviet space launches, Kennedy declared that America would land a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. With focused scientific research and billions of dollars, the U.S. sent the first astronauts to the moon in 1969, faster than anybody thought possible before Kennedy became president.

Kennedy in Berlin

Back on Earth, the Soviets wanted the Western allies out of the democratic outpost of West Berlin because people kept defecting from Communist East Germany through Berlin, and it made the Communists look as bad as they really were. The Berlin Airlift had foiled the Soviets’ plan to starve the West out of the city (see Chapter 19), so the Communists built the Berlin Wall (1961), a jagged fence through the middle of the city.

"Ich bin ein Berliner"

The story that Kennedy's words unintentionally meant that he was a Berliner jelly donut is an urban legend — funny, but untrue. Nobody misunderstood President Kennedy during his dramatic speech face-to-face with Communist repression in 1963; he was speaking in German, which he didn't understand, but he said the words correctly.

A too-fancy false reading by a non-German-speaking New York Times reporter in the 1980s led to the jelly donut story being later repeated by the BBC, The Guardian, MSNBC, CNN, and Time magazine. It will remain false, as any German-speaker knows, no matter how many times it gets repeated by journalists who don't bother to check their sources.

The same is true for legends that the U.S. somehow faked the moon landings. Few people believe that now, but a new urban legend pops up whenever any wild but unsubstantiated rumor comes along. Usually, these rumors involve what a mysterious group called "they" are up to; people love conspiracy theories. As with urban legends about 9/11, it's worth doing real research before passing along a rumor that only proves how gullible some people can be. For more information, check out Conspiracy Theories & Secret Societies For Dummies (Wiley).

Kennedy flew to Berlin in 1963 and declared that he stood so firmly behind the freedom of West Berlin that “Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am a Berliner”). Kennedy’s speech electrified the surrounded Berliners; almost the whole population was in the streets to cheer him.

First Steps Toward a European Union

Europe was getting itself together on its way to becoming the European Union (1993), an international European country with common laws and currency.

Congress took a positive step to back European togetherness and free trade throughout the world with the Trade Expansion Act (1962). The act allowed import tariffs to be lowered if reciprocal agreements could be reached with other nations. International negotiations under the Trade Expansion Act were called the Kennedy round in honor of President Kennedy.

The lowering of tariffs was part of the decades long General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (abbreviated GATT) originally created by the Bretton Woods Conference (1944) as part of a larger plan for economic recovery after World War II. The GATT’s main objective was the reduction of barriers to international trade.

The functions of the GATT were taken over by the World Trade Organization (1995), which was established during the final round of international tariff-lowering in the 1990s.

The United States' Role as World Cop

The U.S. under Eisenhower had been leaning on its huge nuclear arsenal in eye-to-eye confrontations with the Soviet Union, under the horrifying doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (aptly known as MAD). The MAD idea was that neither side could start a war because they knew both sides would be destroyed.

Under Kennedy, the United States started to play the role of world policeman, even if nobody had actually called the cops. America largely paid for a U.N. force to police violence in the newly independent Congo and helped work out an international agreement to prop up a shaky truce in Laos. These peacekeeping actions called into question the limited military

options of the United States; the U.S. military was set up more to shoot other armies than to keep the peace.

Non-nuclear brushfire wars demanded a more flexible response, so Kennedy began to build up elite combat forces such as the Green Berets. These soldiers were supposed to be tough enough to fight anywhere at a moment’s notice. They were, but that didn’t mean they could control other countries. In the end, having a ready army and a belief that America could do anything led to no-win wars like Vietnam.

American troops could go anywhere, but it was just a waste of life to have them stay if the local government they supported couldn’t win the backing of its own people.

Trouble brewing in Vietnam

Bad local government number one in a parade of anti-Communist losers supported by the United States was the corrupt Diem regime in South Vietnam. Kennedy ordered increasing numbers of U.S. advisers to South Vietnam. By the time of his death, more than 15,000 U.S. troops were in South Vietnam, too many to advise but not enough to fight.

Kennedy’s successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, upped the ante to more than 500,000 troops, enough to fight, but not nearly enough to win against a popular revolution.

If the Big AP has an essay question about Vietnam, it may be looking for trends in U.S. foreign involvement. The U.S. has had a hard time learning the same lesson it taught the British during America’s own fight for independence: The very presence of a foreign army creates a cause for local rebels. Modern armies can go anywhere, but their weapons let them control — only the ground they’re standing on, not the minds of the people who live there.

The Alliance for Progress

Along with chest-beating confrontation, however, the U.S. under Kennedy also tried some peacemaking moves. The Alliance for Progress (1961) was an ambitious attempt to offer Marshall Program-like support to Latin American governments. It failed to transform the area because unlike Europe, Latin America contained rich elites (including U.S. companies) unwilling to make room for progress by poorer citizens.

Dictatorships took over 13 Latin American countries during the 1960s, and the Alliance for Progress was later forgotten under President Nixon. Only in the 1990s did Latin America see the rise of democratic governments able to remain in power despite the opposition of economic interests in their own countries and the United States.

Linking up with the Soviet Union

President Kennedy signed the first Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963) with the Soviet Union that stopped polluting bomb tests. A Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1996, although several nations still don’t go along with the agreement.

Kennedy pushed for a live-and-let-live approach to the Soviet Union and Communist China, a policy that would later be called detente (1975), a French word that means “relaxation of tensions.” In another move for peace, Kennedy installed a hot line between the White House and the Soviet Kremlin, so that the leaders could talk directly to defuse dangerous confrontations.

The Supreme Court: Expanding Freedom and Responsibility

Throughout the 1960s, the Supreme Court was active in the changes that brought about more American freedom and responsibility:

● In Engel v. Vitale (1962), the Court ruled that officials can’t require prayers and Bible-reading in public schools because they may go against the beliefs of some of the students.

● In the New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), the Court held that news media could be sued for libel only if they wrongly attacked a public official out of malice, thus completing a long chain of free-press decisions that went back to the Peter Zenger case before the American Revolution.

● With Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and Roe v. Wade (1973), the Court made birth control and abortion legal.

● In the case of Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the Court ordered that state legislatures regularly redraw their voting districts to reflect changes in population, thus taking power away from rural counties and giving it to the places where people actually lived.

● In Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the Court ordered police departments to read defendants their rights to remain silent and be represented by an attorney when they’re arrested.

Widespread quoting of the Miranda warning in police TV shows and movies has led people in other countries to demand to be read their rights when they’re arrested. They find out the hard way that they don’t have American rights yet, but what other countries see in the widespread U.S. media helps spread social ideas.

The Assassination of JFK

President and Mrs. Kennedy were riding in a 1963 motorcade in Dallas when an assassin named Lee Harvey Oswald shot him in the head from an office building window.

Oswald was a 24-year-old mentally unbalanced former Marine who defected to the Soviet Union and later returned to the United States. He never stood trial for the assassination because he himself was shot by an enraged night club owner while in custody. President Kennedy was so respected and his death was so sudden that most people believed the shooting must have been a conspiracy to get rid of him.

After more than 40 years, during which hundreds of honest and intelligent people have devoted lifetimes’ worth of research and scientific investigation to Kennedy’s assassination, no credible proof of a conspiracy has ever surfaced. Although human nature impels people to look for a conspiracy to explain any major tragedy, sometimes the explanation is just that tragedy happens when scared or angry individuals think they can change history by killing a leader.

Although it’s tempting to rely on conspiracy rumors to explain tragic events, it’s up to people to make sad events meaningful by the work they do in memory of those who die. That’s what Vice President Lyndon Johnson set out to do after he was sworn in as president; I discuss LBJ later in this chapter.

The Civil Rights Movement Hits a Crescendo

The fight for civil rights that started with Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott in the Eisenhower administration kept rolling with sit-in demonstrations (1960) (see Chapter 19).

Civil rights activists called Freedom Riders (1961) risked a trip on interstate buses into the segregated South to test the Supreme Court decision Boynton v. Virginia (1960), which made it illegal to discriminate on transportation that crossed state lines.

Near the beginning of the Kennedy Administration, buses of Freedom Riders were attacked in the South and riders beaten. Although Kennedy couldn’t get the civil rights legislation he wanted through Congress, he used his personal clout to support black rights and voter registration. When a 29-year-old African American air force veteran faced violent mobs when he tried to register to attend the then-all-white University of Mississippi, Kennedy ordered out the National Guard to protect him.

Taking a stand in Birmingham

Martin Luther King Jr. led a series of demonstrations in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, in the spring of 1963. After King and other peacefully demonstrating citizens were beaten and thrown in jail, thousands of students left school to join the protests.

With the news full of pictures of children being blasted with high-pressure hoses and attacked by police dogs, the white leaders of Birmingham decided they’d better grant blacks some rights.

A few weeks later, President Kennedy had to use troops again to move Alabama Governor George Wallace, who was personally blocking the door of the University of Alabama against two black students. That evening, Kennedy went on national television to talk about civil rights, a cause he said was “as old as the Scriptures” and “as clear as the American Constitution.”

The next day, civil rights worker Medgar Evers was murdered in Mississippi. A few months later, Ku Klux Klan members bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four little black girls.

Speaking for peace: Martin Luther King Jr.

In August of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a peaceful demonstration of 200,000 black and white Americans in Washington, D.C.: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’”

Separation versus integration

Both black and white people were beaten and killed in the South as they worked to register voters and integrate services. With the rise of the Black Power separatist movement in the mid-1960s and riots in black urban neighborhoods, whites became less interested in pushing for civil rights for blacks — they seemed to be pushing hard enough on their own. The fiery Black Muslim leader Malcolm X called for blacks to separate themselves from whites; he was assassinated by a black man from another sect. Other separatist leaders included Black

Panther Huey Newton and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader Stokely Carmichael. Working for integration, not separation was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), chaired by Roy Wilkins.

Question: What was the Black Power movement?

Answer: The Black Power movement of the ’60s was some African Americans’ rejection of integration in favor of black control over their own communities.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy

In 1968, a white racist assassin killed Martin Luther King Jr. King left a legacy of inspiration and solid progress that is now as much a part of the U.S. as freedom and independence.

In the time since King’s death, black income, education, and community participation has risen steadily. After 200 years of slavery and another hundred years of racist discrimination, America still has miles to go, but Martin Luther King Jr. showed the way.

Question: What were the leading black organizations (and their leaders) of the civil rights movement?

Answer: Important black civil rights organizations include the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (led by Martin Luther King Jr.), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (headed by Stokely Carmichael), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (chaired by Roy Wilkins), the Black Muslims (led by Malcolm X) and the Black Panthers (led by Huey Newton).

From Reform to Quagmire with LBJ

Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office on a plane back to Washington while standing next to the wife of just-murdered President Kennedy. He had been only two cars behind in the motorcade when Kennedy was shot.

As soon as he could, President Johnson began to work to pass legislation. He told Congress that he knew no better way to “honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the Civil Rights Bill for which he fought so long.”

Over continuing Southern opposition, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act prohibited discrimination in public facilities, in government, and in employment, invalidating the Jim Crow laws in the South. Forcing segregation of the races in schools, housing, or hiring became illegal. Opponents argued that the government couldn’t legislate morality on the race issue; supporters countered that they didn’t care what people thought in their minds as long as what they did was fair.

Legislating for the Great Society

A year after Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson ran for president against the conservative Republican Barry Goldwater. When Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act, he said that it would cost the Democrats the votes of the South for a generation. Five states from the old South did vote for Goldwater, but except for his home state of Arizona, that was all Goldwater won; the rest of the country was for LBJ. Johnson’s landslide helped sweep the Democrats to a two-to-one majority over the Republicans in both houses of Congress.

Johnson lacked Kennedy’s charm, but he knew how to get things done; he may have been the most successful legislative president in U.S. history. When he was really rolling after his reelection, he got almost all of the bills he wanted passed by Congress. These laws included the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed unfair qualifications tests that kept minorities from the polls, and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which created programs to help poor people. The road seemed opened to creating what Johnson called the Great Society (1965). Great Society programs still in effect today include the Job Corps (1965), Head Start (1965), and Food Stamps (1964). These and other War on Poverty (1965) programs were designed to help lower the poverty rate in the United States. During the Great Depression, the poverty rate was 40 percent; when Johnson became President it was 15 percent, and it’s now about 12 percent.

Women's liberation

The 1960s saw a progressive tide that included a second wave of women’s rights often called women’s liberation. Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique (1963) about unfulfilled women, and helped found the National Organization of Women (NOW) in 1966.

Question: What was the second wave of women’s liberation?

Answer: The second wave focused on equal rights for women in the workplace and home and was supported by author Betty Friedan and the National Organization of Women (NOW).

Medicare, Medicaid, and the 24th Amendment

The most extensive benefit program passed by Johnson was the Medicare Program (1965), which pays for health care for older people, and the Medicaid Program (1965), which covers health care for poor people. These programs faced diehard opposition from both Republicans and the American Medical Association, but Johnson maneuvered around the foes of government-sponsored medical care to bring coverage to millions of people.

Question: What was LBJ’s Great Society plan?

Answer: A set of training and social assistance programs designed to lower the poverty rate in the U.S.

Johnson appointed the first black Supreme Court justice and the first black Cabinet member. He guided the ratification of the Twenty-fourth Amendment (1964), which banned the use of a poll tax to limit voting in federal elections. The Immigration and Nationality Act (1965) abolished the national origins qualifications for immigrants and doubled the number of new Americans admitted to the country.

Vietnam Explodes into Full-Scale War

As President Johnson was winning battles to control domestic legislation, he was losing battles to control Vietnam. Kennedy had limited U.S. involvement to a few thousand so-called advisers, but all the advice in the world couldn’t get the corrupt South Vietnamese regime to defeat a dedicated group of South Vietnamese Communist rebels and their North Vietnamese allies.

Just before the 1964 election (which Johnson won by playing a peacemaker), the U.S. Navy had traded a few shots with North Vietnamese patrol boats when the U.S. ships pushed too close to the North Vietnamese shore. This Gulf of Tonkin (1964) attack got Congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (1964), authorizing the use of direct American force in Vietnam. When the Vietnamese rebels attacked an American adviser base after the elections, Johnson declared war.

By the end of 1965, almost 200,000 U.S. troops were in Vietnam, and Johnson was in a major macho-off with the Communist leaders. Over Johnson’s presidency, the troop levels grew: 200,000 became 300,000, which grew to 400,000 and finally 500,000 soldiers. It always seemed like just a few more troops ought to be enough to win, but it never was.

Question: What was the Gulf of Tonkin resolution?

Answer: In response to a minor naval confrontation, LBJ got Congress to authorize the use of direct U.S. force in Vietnam.

Hard fighting in Vietnam

The battle in Vietnam was like a war between an elephant and a fly: The fly couldn’t kill the elephant, but the elephant couldn’t fly. American soldiers had a hard time fighting with no front line, in steaming jungles where the enemy could be anywhere. A young man in street clothes could shoot you in the back and then hide in a group of civilians.

Vietnamese farmers and their wives and kids were in the middle of the war — millions of them got killed, both by the rebels and the U.S. side. Desperate to stop the rebels, the U.S. dropped thousands of tons of bombs, some with chemicals to kill the trees the Vietnamese hid under.

Protesting against the War

With the draft hanging over their heads, hundreds of thousands of students marched in protest demonstrations against the war. Demonstrators showed up wherever President Johnson tried to speak, chanting “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” They ignored his attempts to change the subject to the War on Poverty and instead shouted against the real war in Vietnam that was killing the people of their generation at a rate of more than 20 deaths a day.

LBJ’s Vietnam was eating up LBJ’s Great Society. In violation of the law, Johnson used the CIA and the FBI to spy on antiwar protestors.

Question: How did the war in Vietnam affect LBJ’s domestic Great Society program?

Answer: By taking money and political support, the war made Johnson’s Great Society program less effective.

Losing heart after the Tet Offensive

Believers in the war kept saying that they could see the light at the end of the tunnel; they believed that the U.S. had almost won. The light at the end of the tunnel went out during the huge Vietnamese Tet offensive in early 1968.

Although the U.S. was hoping that the rebels were almost beaten, the Communists launched a simultaneous attack on most major South Vietnamese cities beginning during the New Year’s holiday Tet. The rebels penetrated the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon; a few of them even made it to the grounds of the U.S. embassy.

Although the rebels were pushed back with heavy losses, the very fact that they could mount such a wide attack destroyed American confidence. The long road to a negotiated peace began.

Question: What was the Tet Offensive?

Answer: Widespread rebel attacks during the Vietnamese new year that led to increased U.S. opposition to the war.

LBJ bows out; Robert Kennedy is assassinated

With the U.S. population turning against the war, LBJ knew he stood little chance of reelection. Even though he had won by a huge landslide in 1964 and had passed the most legislation, he hardly beat an obscure challenger from his own party in an early primary.

What was worse, he was finally opposed by Robert Kennedy, the younger brother of the now-sainted President Kennedy. In a surprise announcement, LBJ declared he wouldn’t run again. Vietnam had ruined him.

Robert Kennedy swept the primaries but was assassinated by an Arab immigrant only a month after Martin Luther King died.

As with the JFK assassination, no real evidence of a conspiracy in the second Kennedy killing has ever come to light.

In the midst of demonstrations and police violence a few weeks later, the Democrats nominated Johnson’s loyal Vice President Hubert Humphrey. With a Southern segregationist running as a third-party candidate, Humphrey narrowly lost the presidential election to Republican former Vice President Richard Nixon.

Nixon, the Experienced One

Richard Nixon was elected on the promise that he was the experienced one who could bring an honorable peace both to Vietnam and to the demonstration-thronged streets of America.

The U.S. was deeply divided between the established order and a counterculture of mostly younger people who opposed the war and supported a rights revolution of liberation for women, blacks, and other minorities, as well as free personal behavior and expression. The counterculture included a small violent fringe of Black Panthers who advocated armed defense of African American interests and mostly white radical Weathermen who were willing to be violent because they thought the times demanded force. The Weathermen took their name from the words of a Bob Dylan song that went: “You don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows . . .” Most of the counterculture was a large peaceful tribe of flower-wearing hippies.

The U.S. actually has an unbroken and under-reported tradition of small group opposition to established power that limits any of the rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence. During the 1960s and ’70s, the opposition got bigger; a lot of changes that had been in the works for hundreds of years came to the forefront. After much conflict, the social revolutionaries settled down to work in a new order that was freer than the old.

During the height of the demonstrations, Richard Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew called the youthful protestors “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Several of the young people cut off their easily identified long hair and sent it to Agnew in a pillow, neatly embroidered with the words “Now we could be anywhere.”

Increasing the fight for peace

The rapid economic growth of the 1950s slowed in the 1960s and ’70s. As the U.S. spent more money on military campaigns, it had less to invest in business growth and social programs. More research and development went into bombs, not cars and other consumer products. Unburdened with big military expenses, the World War II losers Japan and Germany became economic winners by producing products people wanted to buy. The U.S. economy slid into inflation and slow growth.

Richard Nixon said he would end the war in Vietnam, but he didn’t. As the war dragged on and deaths mounted, antiwar demonstrations increased. Frustrated young soldiers in Vietnam became more disorderly, sometimes attacking their own officers. Desperate to win, Nixon expanded the war to neighboring Cambodia.

Protests get violent

In the United States, hard-pressed National Guard troops killed four student demonstrators at Kent State University in 1970; police got into shootouts with black nationalists. Young war protestors got some official reprieve as military draft calls were reduced, and the Twenty-sixth Amendment (1971) allowed young people to vote starting at age eighteen.

Question: What happened at Kent State University?

Answer: Protesting students were shot by the National Guard in 1970.

China and the SALT talks

President Nixon’s 20 years of experience in international affairs finally began to pay off with visits to China and the Soviet Union. Nixon normalized previously frozen U.S. relations with China and set the stage for further detente. Nixon arranged the sale of much-needed American food to the U.S.S.R, and started U.S.-Soviet SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) (1972) that limited missile deployment.

Question: What are some examples of detente in Nixon’s foreign relations policies?

Answer: Nixon reestablished relations with China, sent food to the Soviet Union, and initiated the SALT talks.

Nixon's social programs

Conservative Nixon was surprisingly liberal with social programs. He expanded welfare, Medicaid, and Food Stamps and created a new Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program (1974) to help the disabled. In addition, he indexed Social Security payments to rise with inflation. As the U.S. moved toward being a modern welfare state, the portion of the national budget tied up in entitlement programs to pay for benefits rose. Nixon supported affirmative action for the hiring of minorities but opposed busing to achieve racial balance in schools.

He actively managed the economy by briefly imposing a wage and price freeze and taking the U.S. off the gold standard.

Perhaps most important in the long run, Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (1970) to attempt to clean up damage to the natural world. The need for urgent action was first made clear by author Rachel Carson in the book Silent Spring, which warned that pesticides and pollution were poisoning song birds and other animals. The Clean Air Act (1970) and the Endangered Species Act (1973) began to set environmental standards for the country.

Pulling out of Vietnam

Nixon, who had managed to get 95 percent of the troops out of Vietnam, won reelection in a landslide over the Democratic antiwar candidate George McGovern. He ended the war with a face-saving peace treaty in 1973; by 1975 the Communists had overrun the South Vietnamese government supported by the United States.

A murderous Communist tyrant called Pol Pot seized power during the postwar instability in Cambodia and ended up killing a quarter of his own people. He was finally stopped by the very Communists the U.S. had been fighting.

The War Powers Act

The controversy over the war also led to the War Powers Act (1973), which limited the president’s ability to send troops into combat without Congressional approval. If the long war with its 56,000 American and millions of Vietnamese deaths proved anything, it showed Communists that the U.S. was willing to fight and die to oppose Communist beliefs. Twenty years later, militant Communism was all but gone from the world.

Question: Who ended active U.S. participation in the war in Vietnam?

Answer: President Richard Nixon signed a treaty and withdrew U.S. troops.


Richard Nixon got caught in dirty tricks that cost him his job only months after a landslide reelection. Back in 1972, burglars hired by the president’s associates had broken into a local Democratic office in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington. A long investigation proved that Nixon had been involved in this and a number of other illegal actions against political opponents.

Meanwhile, Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to resign in 1973 after being caught taking bribes. When Agnew went off to repay some of the money he stole, the Twenty-fifth Amendment (1967) handily provided for a replacement vice president. Congress gave the deeply-in-trouble Nixon only one choice: good old reliable Gerald Ford. Ford would assume the presidency when Nixon, faced with impeachment, resigned it in 1974.

Gerald Ford Steps In

Gerald Ford had been a congressman for 25 years without ticking people off (or even writing any legislation). Ford barely had time to warm up his vice president’s chair before he became president upon Nixon’s resignation.

Ford pardoned the departing Nixon, which made him almost as unpopular as Tricky Dick himself. He also signed the Helsinki Accords, marking a move toward detente in the Cold War, and supported women’s rights and education for handicapped children. Despite President Ford’s support, a proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution that would have legally prohibited discrimination against women fell three states short of passing.

Ford stood by without intervening as South Vietnam finally fell to the Communists; eventually half a million Vietnamese would escape to live in the U.S. Even though he was the sitting president, Ford barely won re-nomination in 1976.

During the Ford era, Congress passed Title IX (1972), making colleges give money to support women as well as men in sports. In Milliken v. Bradley (1974), the Court put a cap on the very school integration they had started 30 years before by holding that students couldn’t be bused across school district lines to meet integration goals.

A few years later, in University of California v. Bakke (1978), the Court found that universities can’t have separate, easier admissions programs for minorities; race and underprivileged status can be a factor but not the only factor for getting into school.

Too-Good President Carter

Jimmy Carter won the presidency in America’s bicentennial year of 1976 by promising to be a good and honest leader. He may have been too good. Carter was a peanut farmer who had served a term as governor of Georgia. With no Washington political experience, he ruffled the feathers of congressmen used to feathering their own nests.

Carter tried to get America to cut down on its energy gulping habit by turning the thermostat down in federal buildings and even requesting a ban on Christmas lights. He signed the SALT II (1979) arms limitation treaty and patched up Social Security. Carter brokered a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in the Camp David Agreement (1978). Putting human rights at the forefront of American policy, Carter began to withdraw support for brutal dictators, even if they were friendly to the U.S. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 led to an American boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

The Iranian hostage crisis

One repressive guy Carter continued to support came back to haunt him. The United States’ buddy, the Shah of Iran, was overthrown by Muslim fundamentalists, who seized the U.S. embassy and held its staff hostage for over a year. Faced with an unhappy American public, Carter decided to tell the truth: “We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.” That made Americans feel guilty; they weren’t willing to stop piling up the goods just yet.

Carter's problems mount

The mood of the people wasn’t improved when the Three Mile Island (1979) nuclear power plant experienced a near meltdown, and opposition to nuclear power increased. Carter’s bad luck got worse when a swimming rabbit actually attacked him while he was out fishing. Americans were beginning to feel like maybe a tough-guy action hero would be a better choice than their good-guy President Carter.

Question: What was the result of trouble at Three Mile Island?

Answer: Opposition increased to the development of nuclear power plants.

Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan, a former actor who did a much better job looking the part of a president than Jimmy Carter (more on that in Chapter 21). Jimmy Carter went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, working tirelessly for peace and democracy. America took a turn toward conservative politics and an uncertain future as world leader.

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