The Stormy Sixties
Kennedy's "New Frontier" Spirit
President Kennedy was the youngest president to take office. He assembled one of the youngest cabinets, which included his brother Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General, who planned to reform the priorities of the FBI.
Kennedy's pushed his "New Frontier" plans, which included trying to fix unemployment and inflation and keeping wages high for workers. This plan inspired patriotism. Kennedy proposed the Peace Corps, an army of idealistic and mostly youthful volunteers to bring American skills to underdeveloped countries.
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 lambasted the steel industry's executives. This caused the industry to lower its prices.
Kennedy stimulated the economy by cutting taxes and putting more money directly into private hands (instead of spending more government money). Kennedy also proposed a multibillion-dollar plan to land an American on the moon (Apollo Program).
Rumblings in Europe
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 European Economic Community (EEC) (also known as Common Market). The EEC was the free-trade area that evolved into the European Union. Kennedy secured passage of the Trade Expansion Act in 1962, authorizing tariff cuts of up to 50% to promote trade between America and the Common Market countries.
American policymakers were dedicated to an economically and militarily united "Atlantic Community" with the United States the dominant partner.
In 1963, president of France, Charles de Gaulle, vetoed Britain's application for Common Market membership. He feared that Britain's "special relationship" with the United States would allow the U.S. to indirectly control European affairs.
Foreign Flare-ups and "Flexible Response"
In 1954, Laos gained its independence from France and it erupted in violence. Kennedy avoided sending troops, and peace was ultimately achieved at the Geneva conference in 1962.
Defense Secretary Robert McNamara pushed the strategy of "flexible response". This was the idea that America would deploy military options around the world that could match the necessities of the crisis at hand. President Kennedy increased spending on the Special Forces.
Stepping into the Vietnam Quagmire
The doctrine of "flexible response" lowered the level at which diplomacy would give way to troops. It provided a way for a progressively and increasing use of force (ex: Vietnam).
In 1961, Kennedy increased the number of "military advisors" in South Vietnam to protect Diem (president of South Vietnam) from the communists.
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 signed the Alliance for Progress, which was essentially the Marshall Plan for Latin America. Its primary goal was to help the Latin American countries close the gap between the rich and the poor, thus quieting communist politicians. Results were disappointing as America's money did not impact Latin America's social problems.
On April 17, 1961, 1,200 American-supported Cuban exiles landed at Cuba's Bay of Pigs. This was an attempt by America to overthrow the Castro regime. President Kennedy was against the direct intervention of the overthrow of Castro, so he did not provide sufficient support for the exiles. Hence, the invasion failed after the exiles were forced to surrender.
Continued American attempt to overthrow Castro caused Castro to further support the Soviets. In October 1962, it was discovered that the Soviets were secretly installing nuclear missiles in Cuba. Kennedy 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 Americans also agreed to end the quarantine and not invade the island. This ended the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In late 1963, a pact prohibiting trial nuclear explosions in the atmosphere was signed.
In June 1963, President Kennedy gave a speecin which he encouraged 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, but he was slow to pass legislation during his presidency (he didn't want to lose support from southern Congressmen).
In 1960, groups of Freedom Riders in the South tried to end segregation in facilities serving interstate bus passengers. When southern officials did nothing to stop violence that had erupted at these protests, 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.
The Voter Education Project sought 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 praised more for his ideals than what he had actually achieved.
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).
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.
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 Castro-like coup. He was widely condemned for his actions.
In February 1965, Viet Cong guerrillas attacked an American air base at Pleiku, South Vietnam. By the middle of March 1965, "Operation Rolling Thunder" was in full swing. 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.
Victory for Nixon
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.
The Obituary of Lyndon Johnson
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.
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 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.