The Stormy Sixties
Kennedy's "New Frontier" Spirit
The New Frontier at Home
Southern Democrats and Republicans despised the president's New Frontier plan. Kennedy had campaigned on the theme of revitalizing the economy after the recessions of the Eisenhower years. To do this, the president tried to curb inflation. In 1962, he negotiated a noninflationary wage agreement with the steel industry. When the steel industry announced significant price increases, promoting inflation, President Kennedy erupted in wrath, causing the industry to lower its prices. Kennedy rejected the advice of those who wished greater government spending and instead chose to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes and putting more money directly into private hands. Kennedy also proposed a multibillion-dollar plan to land an American on the moon.
Rumblings in Europe
President Kennedy met with Soviet leader Khrushchev at Vienna in June 1961. After making numerous threats, the Soviets finally acted. In August 1961, the Soviets began to construct the Berlin Wall, which was designed to stop the large population drain from East Germany to West Germany through Berlin.
Western Europe was prospering after the Marshall Plan aid and the growth of the Common Market, the free-trade area later called the European Union. Focusing on Western Europe, Kennedy secured passage of the Trade Expansion Act in 1962, authorizing tariff cuts of up to 50% to promote trade with Common Market countries.
American policymakers were dedicated to an economically and militarily united "Atlantic Community" with the United States the dominant partner.
President of France, Charles de Gaulle, was suspicious of American intentions in Europe and in 1963, vetoed British application for Common Market membership, fearing that the British "special relationship" with the United States would allow the U.S. to indirectly control European affairs.
Foreign Flare-ups and "Flexible Response"
In 1960, the African Congo received its independence from Belgium and immediately exploded in violence. The U.N. sent in troops while the United States paid for it.
In 1954, Laos gained its independence from France and it, too erupted in violence. Kennedy, avoiding sending troops, sought diplomatic means in the Geneva conference in 1962, which imposed a peace on Laos.
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara pushed the strategy of "flexible response" - that is, developing an array of military options that could be precisely matched to the necessities of the crisis at hand. President Kennedy increased spending on conventional military forces.
Stepping into the Vietnam Quagmire
The doctrine of "flexible response" provided a mechanism for a progressive, and possibly endless, stepping-up of the use of force (Vietnam).
In 1961, Kennedy increased the number of "military advisors" in South Vietnam in order to help protect Diem from the communists long enough to allow him to enact basic social reforms favored by the Americans.
In November 1963, after being fed up with U.S. economic aid being embezzled by Diem, the Kennedy encouraged a successful coup and killed Diem.
In 1961, President Kennedy extended the American hand of friendship to Latin America with the Alliance for Progress, called the Marshall Plan for Latin America. A primary goal was to help the Latin American countries close the gap between the rich and the poor, and thus quiet communist agitation. Results were disappointing as America had few positive impacts on Latin America's immense social problems.
On April 17, 1961, 1,200 exiles landed at Cuba's Bay of Pigs. President Kennedy was against the direct intervention of the overthrow of Fidel Castro in Cuba, failing to provide air support for the exiles. The invasion therefore failed as the exiles were forced to surrender.
The Bay of Pigs blunder pushed the Cuban leader further into the Soviet embrace. In October 1962, it was discovered that the Soviets were secretly installing nuclear missiles in Cuba. Kennedy rejected air force proposals for a bombing strike against the missile sites. Instead, on October 22, 1962, he ordered a naval "quarantine" of Cuba and demanded immediate removal of the weapons. For a week, Americans waited while Soviet ships approached the patrol line established by the U.S. Navy off the island of Cuba. On October 28, Khrushchev agreed to a compromise in which he would pull the missiles out of Cuba. The American government also agreed to end the quarantine and not invade the island.
In late 1963, a pact prohibiting trial nuclear explosions in the atmosphere was signed.
In June 1963, President Kennedy gave a speech at American University, Washington, D.C. encouraging Americans to abandon the negative views of the Soviet Union. He tried to lay the foundations for a realistic policy of peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union.
The Struggle for Civil Rights
During his campaign, JFK had gained the black vote by stating that he would pass civil rights legislation.
In 1960, groups of Freedom Riders spread out across the South to end segregation in facilities serving interstate bus passengers. A white mob torched a Freedom Ride bus near Anniston, Alabama in May 1961. When southern officials proved unwilling to stop the violence, federal marshals were dispatched to protect the freedom riders.
For the most part, the Kennedy family and the King family (Martin Luther King, Jr.) had a good relationship.
SNCC and other civil rights groups inaugurated a Voter Education Project to register the South's historically disfranchised blacks.
In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. launched a campaign against discrimination in Birmingham, Alabama, the most segregated big city in America. Civil rights marchers were repelled by police with attack dogs and high-pressure water hoses. In shock, President Kennedy delivered a speech to the nation on June 11, 1963 in which he dedicated himself to finding a solution to the racial problems.
In August 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. led 200,000 black and white demonstrators on a peaceful "March on Washington" in support of the proposed new civil rights legislation.
The Killing of Kennedy
On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot and killed as he was riding in an open limousine in Dallas, Texas. The alleged gunman was Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was shot and killed by self-appointed avenger, Jack Ruby. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn into office, retaining most of Kennedy's cabinet. Kennedy was acclaimed more for the ideals he had spoken and the spirit he had kindled for the goals he had achieved.
The LBJ Brand on the Presidency
After prodding from President Johnson, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning racial discrimination in most private facilities open to the public. It strengthened the federal government's power to end segregation in schools and other public places. It also created the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to eliminate discrimination in hiring. Part of the act's Title VII passed with sexual clause ensuring some special attention for women. In 1965, President Johnson issued an executive order requiring all federal contractors to take "affirmative action" against discrimination.
Johnson added proposals of his own to Kennedy's stalled tax bill to allow for a billion-dollar "War on Poverty." He dubbed his domestic program the "Great Society" - a sweeping set of New Dealish economic and welfare measures aimed at transforming the American way of life.
Johnson Battles Goldwater in 1964
The Democrats nominated Lyndon Johnson to run for president for the election of 1964. The Republicans chose Senator Barry Goldwater. Goldwater attacked the federal income tax, the Social Security System, the Tennessee Valley Authority, civil rights legislation, the nuclear test-ban treaty, and the Great Society.
In August 1964 in the Gulf of Tonkin, U.S. Navy ships had been cooperating with the South Vietnamese in raids along the coast of North Vietnam. On August 2th and August 4th, two U.S. ships were allegedly fired upon. Johnson called the attack "unprovoked" and moved to make political gains out of the incident. He ordered a "limited" retaliatory air raid against the North Vietnamese bases. He also used the event to spur congressional passage of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution; lawmakers virtually gave up their war-declaring powers and handed the president a blank check to use further force in Southeast Asia. Lyndon Johnson overwhelmingly won the election of 1964.
The Great Society Congress
Congress passed a flood of legislation, comparable to output of the Hundred Days Congress. Escalating the War on Poverty, Congress doubled the funding of the Office of Economic Opportunity to $2 billion. Congress also created two new cabinet offices: the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities was designed to lift the level of American cultural life.
The Big Four legislative achievements that crowned LBJ's Great Society program were: aid to education, medical care for the elderly and poor, immigration reform, and a new voting rights bill. Johnson gave educational aid to students, not schools, avoiding the issue of separation of church and state. In 1965 came Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the quota system that had been in place since 1921. It also doubled the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country annually. The sources of immigration shifted from Europe to Latin American and Asia. Conservatives charged that the problem of poverty could not be fixed with money spent by the Great Society programs, yet the poverty rate did decline in the following decade.
Battling for Black Rights
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave the federal government more power to enforce school-desegregation orders and to prohibit racial discrimination in all kinds of public accommodations and employment.
President Johnson realized the problem that few blacks were registered to vote. The 24th Amendment, passed in 1964, abolished the poll tax in federal elections, yet blacks were still severely hampered from voting. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, banning literacy tests and sending federal voter registers into several southern states.
Days after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, a bloody riot erupted in Watts, a black ghetto in Los Angeles. Blacks were enraged by police brutality and burned and looted their own neighborhoods for a week. The Watts explosion marked increasing militant confrontation in the black struggle. Malcolm X deepened the division among black leaders. He was first inspired by the militant clack nationalists in the Nation of Islam. He rallied black separatism and disapproved of the "blue-eyed white devils." In 1965, he was shot and killed by a rival Nation of Islam.
The violence or threat of violence increased as the Black Panther party emerged, openly carrying weapons in the streets of Oakland, California. Just as the civil rights movement had achieved its greatest legal and political triumphs, more riots erupted. Black unemployment was nearly double than for whites.
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed by a sniper in Memphis, Tennessee. Black voter registration eventually increased, and by the late 1960s, several hundred blacks held elected office in the Old South.
Combating Communism in Two Hemispheres
In April 1965, President Johnson sent 25,000 troops to the Dominican Republic to restore order after a revolt against the military government started. Johnson claimed, with shaky evidence, that the Dominican Republic was the target of a Castrolike coup. He was widely condemned for his actions.
In February 1965, Viet Cong guerrillas attacked an American air base at Pleiku, South Vietnam, prompting Johnson to send retaliatory bomb raids and, for the first time, order attacking U.S. troops to land. By the middle of March 1965, "Operation Rolling Thunder" was in full swing - regular full-scale bombing attacks against North Vietnam.
The South Vietnamese watched as their own war became more Americanized. Corrupt and collapsible governments fell one after another in Saigon, yet American officials continued to talk of defending a faithful democratic ally. Pro-war hawks argued that if the United Sates were to leave Vietnam, other nations would doubt America's word and crumble to communism. By 1968, Johnson had put more than 500,000 troops in Southeast Asia, and the annual cost for the war was exceeding $30 billion.
Overcommitment in Southeast Asia tied America's hands
Antiwar demonstrations increased significantly as more and more American soldiers died in the Vietnam War. Protesters' sayings included, "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" Senator William Fulbright staged a series of televised hearings in 1966 and 1967 in which he convinced the public that it had been deceived about the causes and "winnability" of the war.
When Defense Secretary McNamara expressed discomfort about the war, he was quietly removed from office.
By early 1968, the war had become the longest and most unpopular foreign war in the nation's history. The government failed to explain to the people what was supposed to be at stake in Vietnam. Casualties, killed, and wounded had exceeded 100,000, and more bombs had been dropped in Vietnam than in World War II.
In 1967, Johnson ordered the CIA to spy on domestic antiwar activists. He also encouraged the FBI to turn its counterintelligence program, code-named "Cointelpro," against the peace movement.
Vietnam Topples Johnson
In January 1968, the Viet Cong attacked 27 key South Vietnamese cities, including Saigon. The Tet Offensive ended in a military defeat for the VC, but it caused the American public to demand an immediate end to the war. American military leaders responded to the attacks for a request of 200,000 more troops. President Johnson himself now began to seriously doubt the wisdom of continuing to raise the stakes.
Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy both entered the race for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination.
On March 31, 1968, President Johnson issued an address to the nation stating that he would freeze American troop levels and gradually shift more responsibility to the South Vietnamese themselves. Bombing would also be scaled down. He also declared that he would not be a candidate for the presidency in 1968.
The Presidential Sweepstakes of 1968
On June 5, 1968, the night of the California primary, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed by an Arab immigrant resentful of the candidate's pro-Israel views. When the Democrats met in Chicago in August 1968, angry antiwar zealots, protesting outside the convention hall, violently clashed with police.
Hubert H. Humphrey, vice president of Johnson, won the Democratic nomination.
The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon for president and Spiro T. Agnew for vice president. The Republican platform called for a victory in Vietnam and a strong anticrime policy.
The American Independent party, headed by George C. Wallace, entered the race and called for the continuation of segregation of blacks.
Victory for Nixon
Richard Nixon won the election of 1968 as Humphrey was scorched by the LBJ brand. Nixon did not win a single major city, attesting to the continuing urban strength of the Democrats, who also won about 95% of the black vote.
The Obituary of Lyndon Johnson
No president since Lincoln had done more for civil rights than LBJ. By 1966, the Vietnam War brought dissent to Johnson, and as war costs sucked tax dollars, Great Society programs began to wither. LBJ was persuaded by his advisors that an easy victory in Vietnam would be achieved by massive aerial bombing and large troop commitments. His decision to not escalate the fighting offended the "hawks," and his refusal to back off altogether provoked the "doves."
The Cultural Upheaval of the 1960s
Everywhere in 1960s America, a newly negative attitude toward all kinds of authority took hold. Disillusioned by the discovery that American society was not free of racism, sexism, imperialism, and oppression, many young people lost their morals.
One of the first organized protests against established authority took place at the University of California at Berkeley in 1964, in the Free Speech Movement. Leader Mario Savio condemned the impersonal university "machine." Angered by the war in Vietnam, some middle class sons and daughters became radical political rebels.
The 1960s also witnessed a "sexual revolution." The introduction of the birth control pill made unwanted pregnancies easy to avoid. By the 1960s, gay men and lesbians were increasingly emerging and demanding sexual tolerance. The Mattachine Society, founded in 1951, was an advocate for gay rights. Worries in the 1980s of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases finally slowed the sexual revolution.
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), had, by the end of the 1960s, spawned an underground terrorist group called the Weathermen.
The upheavals of the 1960s could be largely attributed to the three Ps: the youthful population bulge, protest against racism and the Vietnam War, and the apparent permanence of prosperity.