Chapter 37

The Stormy Sixties



The LBJ Brand on the Presidency

President Johnson convinced Congress to pass the 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 (race, national origin, gender).

In 1965, President Johnson issued an executive order requiring all federal contractors to take "affirmative action" against discrimination. 

Johnson started a "War on Poverty."  His domestic program, called the "Great Society", was a set of New Dealish economic and welfare measures tried to reduce poverty and racial discrimination.


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.

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 used the event to get Congress to pass the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. This basically let the president use unrestricted force (at his discretion) in Southeast Asia. 

Lyndon Johnson overwhelmingly won the election of 1964.


The Great Society Congress

Congress passed many bills in support of the Great Society plan. In the War on Poverty, Congress gave more money to the Office of Economic Opportunity and it 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 raise the level of American cultural life.

In regards to the Great Society plan, LBJ's big four legislative achievements 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.  In 1965, Congress created 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 America and Asia. Conservatives said that poverty could not be fixed by the Great Society programs, but 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 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. In response to racial violence across the South, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which sought to prohibit minorities from being disenfranchised (through poll taxes, literacy tests, etc).


Black Power

Days after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, a bloody riot erupted in Watts, a black ghetto in Los Angeles.  The Watts explosion marked increasing militant confrontation in the black struggle. 

Malcolm X was an African-American Muslim minister who rallied black separatism. In 1965, he was shot and killed by a rival Nation of Islam.

Racially-motivated violence continued to spread as the militant Black Panther party emerged. It openly carried weapons in the streets of Oakland, California.  Stokely Carmichael preached the doctrine of Black Power, which emphasized racial pride and the creation of black political and cultural parties.

 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 positions in the South.


Vietnam Vexations

By the middle of March 1965, "Operation Rolling Thunder" had begun. This involved regular bombing attacks against North Vietnam. LBJ believed that an orderly escalation of American force in Vietnam would defeat the enemy.

The conflict in Vietnam became very Americanized. Pro-war hawks argued that if the United Sates left Vietnam, other nations would doubt America's word and succumb to communism.  By 1968, Johnson had put more than 500,000 troops in Southeast Asia, and the annual cost for the war was over $30 billion.

In June 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive attack on Egypt's airforce, starting the Six-Day War. Following the war, Israel gained the territories of the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank.

Antiwar demonstrations increased significantly as more and more American soldiers died in the Vietnam War. Senator William Fulbright held 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 Vietnam War had become the longest and most unpopular foreign war in the nation's history. The government failed to justify the war. Casualties 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 use its counterintelligence program, code-named "Cointelpro," to investigate members of the peace movement.


Vietnam Topples Johnson

In January 1968, the Viet Cong (VC) 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. President Johnson began to doubt the wisdom of continuing to send troops to Vietnam.

Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy entered the race for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination.

On March 31, 1968, President Johnson stated that he would freeze American troop levels and gradually shift more responsibility to the South Vietnamese.  Bombings 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, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed by an Arab immigrant resentful of the Kennedy's pro-Israel views. 

Hubert H. Humphrey, vice president of Johnson, won the Democratic nomination. Humphrey supported the increased use of force in Vietnam.

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, called for the of segregation of blacks.

The Republican and Democrat candidates supported the Vietnam War in the election of 1968.

Despite winning most major cities and about 95% of the black vote, the Democrats lost the election; Richard Nixon won the election of 1968.

No president since Lincoln had done more for civil rights than LBJ.  The Vietnam War sucked tax dollars away from LBJ's Great Society programs, though.

LBJ was persuaded by his advisors that an easy victory in Vietnam could be achieved by massive aerial bombing and large troop commitments. He did not want to continue to escalate the fighting, though, and this offended the war "hawks." His refusal to end the war also offended the war "doves."


The Cultural Upheaval of the 1960s

In 1960s in America, a negative attitude toward all kinds of authority took hold. The Free Speech Movement was one of the first organized protests against established authority. It took place at the University of California at Berkeley in 1964. Leader Mario Savio condemned the impersonal university "machine." 

From the 1950s to the 1970s, educated people became more secular and uneducated people became more religious.

Protests against government took place around the world, including France, China, and Czechoslovakia.

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 Stonewall Rebellion was a series of riots that emerged when off-duty police officers attacked gay men. Worries in the 1980s of AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases slowed the sexual revolution.

By the end of the 1960s, students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had created an underground terrorist group called the Weathermen.

The upheavals of the 1960s could be attributed to the three Ps:  the youthful population bulge, protest against racism and the Vietnam War, and the apparent permanence of prosperity.


Nixon "Vietnamizes" the War

President Nixon brought knowledge and expertise in foreign affairs to the presidency. Nixon started a policy called "Vietnamization," which was to withdraw 540,000 U.S. troops from South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese, with American money, weapons, training, and advice, would then gradually take over the war. Nixon did not want to end the war; he wanted to win it by other means.

Nixon Doctrine: the United States would honor its existing defense commitments but in the future, Asians and other countries would have to fight their own wars without the support of large numbers of American troops.

On November 3, 1969, Nixon delivered a televised speech to the "silent majority," who presumably supported the war; he hoped to gain supporters.


Cambodianizing the Vietnam War

Cambodia, which was officially neutral in the war, bordered South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese had been using Cambodia as a springboard for troops, weapons, and supplies. On April 29, 1970, President Nixon ordered American forces to attack the enemy in Cambodia. Protests erupted at Kent State University, in which the National Guard shot 4 students. Nixon withdrew the troops from Cambodia on June 29, 1970, although the bitterness between the "hawks" and the "doves" increased.

In 1971, the 26th Amendment was passed, lowering the voting age to 18.

Pentagon Papers: a leaked, top-secret Pentagon study that documented the deceptions of the previous presidential administrations, in regards to the Vietnam War.


Nixon's Détente with Beijing (Peking) and Moscow

The two great communist powers, the Soviet Union and China, disagreed over their interpretations of Marxism.  Nixon and his national security advisor, Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, used the Chinese-Soviet tension to play off one country against the other. Nixon and Kissinger wanted to get the Soviet Union and China to pressure North Vietnam into peace.

In 1972, Nixon visited China and paved the way for improved relations between the United States and Beijing.  In May 1972, Nixon traveled to Moscow and negotiated détente, or relaxed tensions between the Soviet Union and China. The United States agreed to sell the Soviets at least $750 million worth of wheat, corn, and other cereals. Two agreements also slowed the arms race between America and the Soviets: 1) An anti-ballistic missile (AMB) treaty limited the U.S. and the Soviet Union to two clusters of defensive missiles. 2) SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) froze the numbers of long-range nuclear missiles for 5 years.


A New Team on the Supreme Bench

Earl Warren was appointed as a Justice to the Supreme Court in 1953 and he made many controversial rulings:

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) struck down a state law that banned the use of contraceptives, even by married couples, creating a "right to privacy."

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) ruled that all criminals were entitled to legal counsel, even if they were unable to afford it.

Escobedo (1964) and Miranda (1966) ruled that those who were arrested had to the "right to remain silent." (Miranda warning)

Engel v. Vitale (1962) and School District of Abington Township vs. Schempp (1963) ruled that public schools could not require prayers or Bible reading.

Reynolds vs. Sims (1964) ruled that the state legislatures would be required to be reapportioned according to population.

In an attempt to end the liberal rulings, President Nixon set Warren E. Burger to replace the retiring Earl Warren in 1969.  The Supreme Court had four new Nixon-appointed members by the end of 1971.


Nixon on the Home Front

Nixon expanded the Great Society programs by increasing funding for Medicare, Medicaid, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).  He also created the Supplemental Security Income (SSI), giving benefits to the poor aged, blind, and disabled.

Nixon's Philadelphia Plan of 1969 required construction-trade unions to establish quotas for hiring black employees.  This plan changed the definition of "affirmative action" to include preferable treatment on groups, not individuals; the Supreme Court's ruling on Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971) upheld this.  Whites protested this decision, calling it "reverse discrimination."

Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). These agencies gave the federal government more control over businesses.

In 1962, Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring exposed the harmful effects of pesticides.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 both aimed at protecting and preserving the environment.

Worried about inflation, Nixon imposed a 90-day wage freeze and then took the nation off the gold standard (devaluing the dollar). This ended the "Bretton Woods" system of international currency stabilization, which was the agreement that each country would tie its monetary exchange rate to gold.

Nixon's southern strategy helped him win the Southern vote. This strategy consisted of opposing civil rights for African-Americans.


The Nixon Landslide of 1972

In the spring of 1972, the North Vietnamese burst through the demilitarized zone separating the two Vietnams.  Nixon ordered massive bombing attacks on strategic centers, halting the North Vietnamese offensive.

Senator George McGovern won the 1972 Democratic nomination.  He based his campaign on pulling out of Vietnam in 90 days.  President Nixon, though, won the election of 1972 in a landslide.

Nixon ordered a two-week bombing campaign of North Vietnam in an attempt to force the North Vietnamese to the peace table.

On January 23, 1973, North Vietnamese negotiators agreed to a cease-fire agreement.  This agreement was really just a disguised American retreat.


The Secret Bombing of Cambodia and the War Powers Act

Despite assurances to the American public that Cambodia's neutrality was being respected, it was discovered that secret bombing raids on North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia had taken place since March of 1969; this caused the public to question trust of the government.  Nixon ended the bombings in June 1973.

Cambodia was taken over by the cruel dictator Pol Pot, who later committed genocide of over 2 million people over a span of a few years.

In November 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Act. It required the president to tell Congress within 48 hours about all commitments of U.S. troops to foreign conflicts.  A new feeling of "New Isolationism" that discouraged U.S. troops from being used in other countries' wars began to take hold.


The Arab Oil Embargo and the Energy Crisis

During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Syria and Egypt tried to regain the territory that they had lost to Israel during the Six-Day War. American support helped Israel win the war, but it caused the Arab nations (OPEC) to impose an oil embargo on the United States.  To conserve oil, a speed limit of 55 MPH was imposed. An oil pipeline in Alaska was approved in 1974 and other forms of energy were researched.

The embargo caused an economic recession in America and several other countries.

OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) lifted the embargo in 1974, but it quadrupled the price of oil.


Next Chapter >>

(Or use arrow key)