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Chapter 38 - The Stormy Sixties

I. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” Spirit

  1. In 1960, young, energetic John F. Kennedy was elected as president
    of the United States—the youngest man ever elected to that office.
  2. The 1960s would bring a sexual revolution, a civil rights
    revolution, the emergence of a “youth culture,” a
    devastating war in Vietnam, and the beginnings of a feminist revolution.
  3. JFK delivered a stirring inaugural address (“Ask not, what
    your country can do for you…”), and he also assembled a
    very young cabinet, including his brother, Robert Kennedy, as attorney
    • Robert Kennedy tried to recast the priorities of the FBI, but was resisted by J. Edgar Hoover.
    • Business whiz Robert S. McNamara took over the Defense Department.
  4. Early on, JFK proposed the Peace Corps, an army of idealist and
    mostly youthful volunteers to bring American skills to underdeveloped
  5. A graduate of Harvard and with a young family, JFK was very vibrant and charming to everyone.

II. The New Frontier at Home

  1. Kennedy’s social program was known as the New Frontier, but
    conservative Democrats and Republicans threatened to kill many of its
    • JFK did expand the House Rules Committee, but his program
      didn’t expand quickly, as medical and education bills remained
      stalled in Congress.
    • JFK also had to keep a lid on inflation and maintain a good economy.
    • However, almost immediately into his term, steel management
      announced great price increases, igniting the fury of the president,
      but JFK also earned fiery attacks by big business against the New
  2. Kennedy’s tax-cut bill chose to stimulate the economy through price-cutting.

iii. Kennedy also promoted a project to land Americans on the moon, though apathetic Americans often ridiculed this goal.

III. Rumblings in Europe

  1. JFK met Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev and was threatened, but didn’t back down.
  2. In August of the 1961, the Soviets began building the Berlin Wall to separate East and West Germany.
  3. Western Europe, though, was now prospering after help from the super-successful Marshall Plan.
    • America had also encouraged a Common Market (to keep trade barriers
      and tariff low in Europe), which later became the European Union (EU).
    • The so-called Kennedy Round of tariff negotiations eased trade between Europe and the U.S.
  4. Unfortunately, French leader Charles de Gaulle was one who was
    suspicious of the U.S., and he rejected Britain’s application
    into the Common Market.

IV. Foreign Flare-Ups and “Flexible Response”

  1. There were many world problems at this time:
    • The African Congo got its independence from Belgium in 1960 and
      then erupted into violence, but the United Nations sent a peacekeeping
    • Laos, freed of its French overlords in 1954, was being threatened
      by communism, but at the Geneva Conference of 1962, peace was shakily
    • Defense Secretary McNamara pushed a strategy of “flexible
      response,” which developed an array of military options that
      could match the gravity of whatever crises came to hand.
      • One of these was the Green Berets, AKA, the “Special Forces”.

V. Stepping into the Vietnam Quagmire

  1. The American-backed Diem government had shakily and corruptly ruled
    Vietnam since 1954, but it was threatened by the communist Viet Cong
    movement led by Ho Chi Minh.
  2. JFK slowly sent more and more U.S. troops to Vietnam to
    “maintain order,” but they usually fought and died, despite
    the fact that it was “Vietnam’s war.”

VI. Cuban Confrontations

  1. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress was dubbed the
    “Marshall Plan for Latin America,” and it aimed to close
    the rich-poor gap in Latin American and thus stem communism.
    • However, too many Latin Americans felt that it was too little, too late.
  2. Kennedy also backed a U.S.-aided invasion of Cuba by rebels, but
    when the Bay of Pigs Invasion occurred, on April 17, 1961, it was a
    disaster, as Kennedy did not bring in the air support, and the revolt
    • This event pushed recently imposed Cuban leader Fidel Castro closer to the communist camp.
    • JFK took full responsibility for the attack, and his popularity actually went up.
  3. Then, in 1962, U.S. spy planes recorded missile installations in
    Cuba. It was later revealed that these were, in fact, nuclear missiles
    aimed at America.
    • The Cuban Missile Crisis lasted 13 nerve-racking days and put the
      U.S., the U.S.S.R., and the world at the brink of nuclear war. But in
      the end, Khrushchev blinked, backed off of a U.S. naval blockade,
      looked very weak and indecisive, and lost his power soon afterwards.
    • The Soviets agreed to remove their missiles if the U.S. vowed to
      never invade Cuba again; the U.S. also removed their own Russia-aimed
      nuclear missiles in Turkey.
    • There was also a direct phone call line (the “hot
      line”) installed between Washington D.C. and Moscow, in case of
      any crisis.
    • In June, 1963, Kennedy spoke, urging better feelings toward the
      Soviets and beginning the modest policy of détente, or relaxed
      tension in the Cold War.

VII. The Struggle for Civil Rights

  1. While Kennedy had campaigned a lot to appeal to black voters, when
    it came time to help them, he was hesitant and seemingly unwilling,
    taking much action.
  2. In the 1960s, groups of Freedom Riders chartered buses to tour
    through the South to try to end segregation, but white mobs often
    reacted violently towards them. This drew more attention to the
    segregation and what went on down South.
  3. Slowly but surely, Kennedy urged civil rights along, encouraging
    the establishment of the SNCC, a Voter Education Project to register
    the South’s blacks to vote.
  4. Some places desegregated painlessly, but others were volcanoes.
    • 29 year-old James Meredith tried to enroll at the University of
      Mississippi, but white students didn’t let him, so Kennedy had to
      send some 400 federal marshals and 3,000 troops to ensure that Meredith
      could enroll in his first class.
  5. In spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. launched a peaceful
    campaign against discrimination in Birmingham, Alabama, but police and
    authorities responded viciously, often using extremely high-pressured
    water hoses to “hose down” the sit-in protesters.
    • The entire American public watched in horror as the black
      protesters were treated with such contempt, since the actions were
      shown on national TV.
    • Later, on June 11, 1963, JFK made a speech urging immediate action towards this “moral issue” in a passionate plea.
  6. Still, more violence followed, as in September 1963, a bomb
    exploded in a Birmingham church, killing four black girls who had just
    finished their church lesson.

VIII. The Killing of Kennedy

  1. On November 22, 1963, while riding down a street in Dallas, Texas,
    JFK was shot and killed, allegedly by Lee Harvey Oswald, who was
    himself shot by self-proclaimed avenger Jack Ruby, and there was much
    controversy and scandal and conspiracy in the assassination.
  2. Lyndon B. Johnson became the new president of the United States as
    only the fourth president to succeed an assassinated president.
  3. It was only after Kennedy’s death that America realized what
    a charismatic, energetic, and vibrant president they had lost.

IX. The LBJ Brand on the Presidency

  1. Lyndon Johnson had been a senator in the 1940s and 50s, his idol
    was Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he could manipulate Congress very well
    (through his in-your-face “Johnson treatment”); also, he
    was very vain and egotistical.
  2. As a president, LBJ went from conservative to liberal, helping pass
    a Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned all racial discrimination in
    most private facilities open to the public, including theaters,
    hospitals, and restaurants.
    • Also created was the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was aimed at eliminating discriminatory hiring.
  3. Johnson’s program was dubbed the “Great Society,” and it reflected its New Deal inspirations.
    • Public support for the program was aroused by Michael
      Harrington’s The Other America, which revealed that over 20% of
      American suffered in poverty.

X. Johnson Battles Goldwater in 1964

  1. In 1964, LBJ was opposed by Republican Arizona senator Barry
    Goldwater who 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.
  2. However, Johnson used the Tonkin Gulf Incident, in which North
    Vietnamese ships allegedly fired on American ships, to attack (at least
    partially) Vietnam, and he also got approval for the Tonkin Gulf
    Resolution, which gave him a virtual blank check on what he could do in
    affairs in Vietnam.
  3. But on election day, Johnson won a huge landslide over Goldwater to stay president.

XI. The Great Society Congress

  1. Johnson’s win was also coupled by sweeping Democratic wins that enabled him to pass his Great Society programs.
  2. Congress doubled the appropriation on the Office of Economic
    Opportunity to $2 billion and granted more than $1 billion to refurbish
    Appalachia, which had been stagnant.
  3. Johnson also created the Department of Transportation and the
    Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), headed by Robert C.
    Weaver, the first black cabinet secretary in the United States’
  4. LBJ also wanted aid to education, medical care for the elderly and indigent, immigration reform, and a new voting rights bill.
    • Johnson gave money to students, not schools, thus avoiding the
      separation of church and state by not technically giving money to
      Christian schools.
    • In 1965, new programs called Medicare and Medicaid were installed,
      which gave certain rights to the elderly and the needy in terms of
      medicine and health maintenance.
    • The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the
      “national origin” quota and doubled the number of
      immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. annually, up to 290,000.
    • An antipoverty program called Project Head Start improved the
      performance of the underprivileged in education. It was
      “pre-school” for the poor.

XII. Battling for Black Rights

  1. Johnson’s Voting Rights Act of 1965 attacked racial
    discrimination at the polls by outlawing literacy tests and sending
    voting registrars to the polls.
  2. The 24th Amendment eliminated poll taxes, and in the “freedom
    summer” of 1964, both blacks and white students joined to combat
    discrimination and racism.
    • However, in June of 1964, a black and two white civil rights
      workers were found murdered, and 21 white Mississippians were arrested
      for the murders, but the all-white jury refused to convict the suspects.
    • Also, an integrated “Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party” was denied its seat.
  3. Early in 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. resumed a voter-registration
    campaign in Selma, Alabama, but was assaulted with tear gas by state
    • LBJ’s responded by calling for America to overcome bigotry, racism, and discrimination.

XIII. Black Power

  1. 1965 began a period of violent black protests, such as the one in
    the Watts area of L.A., as black leaders, mocking Martin Luther King,
    Jr., like Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little), who was inspired by the
    Nation of Islam and its founder, Elijah Muhammed. They urged action
    now, even if it required violence, to the tune of his battle cry,
    “by any means necessary.” But, Malcolm X was killed in 1965
    by an assassin.
  2. The Black Panthers openly brandished weapons in Oakland, California.
  3. Trinidad-born Stokely Carmichael led the Student Non-Violent
    Coordinating Committee and urged an abandonment of peaceful
  4. Black power became a rallying cry by blacks seeking more rights,
    but just as they were getting them, more riots broke out, and nervous
    whites threatened with retaliation.
  5. Tragically, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
    • Quietly, though, thousands of blacks registered to vote and went
      into integrated classrooms, and they slowly built themselves into a
      politically powerful group.

XIV. Combating Communism in Two Hemispheres

  1. Johnson sent men to put down a supposedly communist coup in the
    Dominican Republic and was denounced as over-anxious and too hyper.
  2. In Vietnam, though, he slowly sent more and more U.S. men to fight
    the war, and the South Vietnamese became spectators in their own war.
    Meanwhile, more and more Americans died.
  3. By 1968, he had sent more than half a million troops to Asia, and
    was pouring in $30 billion annually, yet the end was nowhere in sight.

XV. Vietnam Vexations

  1. America was floundering in Vietnam and was being condemned for its
    actions there, and French leader Charles de Gaulle also ordered NATO
    off French soil in 1966.
  2. In the Six-Day War, Israel stunned the world by defeating Egypt
    (and its Soviet backers) and gaining new territory in the Sinai
    Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank of the
    Jordan River, including Jerusalem.
  3. Meanwhile, numerous protests in America went against the Vietnam War and the draft.
    • Opposition was headed by the influential Senate Committee of
      Foreign Relations, headed by Senator William Fullbright of Arkansas.
    • “Doves” (peace lovers) and “Hawks” (war supporters) clashed.
  4. Both sides (the U.S. and North Vietnam) did try to have intervals
    of quiet time in bombings, but they merely used those as excuses to
    funnel more troops into the area.
  5. Johnson also ordered the CIA to spy on domestic antiwar activists,
    and he encouraged the FBI to use its Counterintelligence Program
    (“Cointelpro”) against the peace movement.
  6. More and more, America was trapped in an awful Vietnam War, and it
    couldn’t get out, thus feeding more and more hatred and
    resentment to the American public.

XVI. Vietnam Topples Johnson

  1. Johnson was personally suffering at the American casualties, and he
    wept as he signed condolence letters and even prayed with Catholic
    monks in a nearby church—at night, secretly. And, the fact that
    North Vietnam had almost taken over Saigon in a blistering attack
    called the Tet Offensive didn’t help either.
  2. Johnson also saw a challenge for the Democratic ticket from Eugene
    McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, and the nation, as well as the Democratic
    party, was starting to be split by Vietnam.
    • LBJ refused to sign an order for more troops to Vietnam.
  3. Then, on March 31, 1968, Johnson declared that he would stop
    sending in troops to Vietnam and that he would not run in 1968,
    shocking America.

XVII. The Presidential Sweepstakes of 1968

  1. On June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy was shot fatally, and the
    Democratic ticket went to Hubert Humphrey, Johnson’s
  2. The Republicans responded with Richard Nixon, paired with Spiro
    Agnew, and there was also a third-party candidate: George C. Wallace,
    former governor of Alabama, a segregationist who wanted to bomb the
    Vietnamese to death.
  3. Nixon won a nail-biter, and Wallace didn’t do that badly either, though worse than expected.
  4. A minority president, he owed his presidency to protests over the war, the unfair draft, crime, and rioting.

XVIII. The Obituary of Lyndon Johnson

  1. Poor Lyndon Johnson returned to his Texas ranch and died there in 1973.
  2. He had committed Americans into Vietnam with noble intentions, and
    he really wasn’t a bad guy, but he was stuck in a time when he
    was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

XIX. The Cultural Upheaval of the 1960s

  1. In the 60s, the youth of America experimented with sex, drugs, and defiance.
  2. They protested against conventional wisdom, authority, and traditional beliefs.
  3. Poets like Allen Ginsberg and novelists like Jack Kerouac (who
    wrote On the Road) voiced these opinions of the Beatnik generation.
  4. Movies like The Wild One with Marlon Brando and Rebel without a
    Cause starring James Dean also showed this belief. Essentially, they
    championed the “ne’er-do-well” and the outcast.
  5. At the UC-Berkeley, in 1964, a so-called Free Speech Movement began.
    • Kids tried drugs, “did their own thing” in new institutions, and rejected patriotism.
  6. In 1948, Indiana University “sexologist” Dr. Alfred
    Kinsey had published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and had
    followed that book five years later with a female version. His findings
    about the incidence of premarital sex and adultery were very
    • He also estimated that 10% of all American males were gay.
    • The Manhattan Society, founded in L.A. in 1951, pioneered gay rights.
  7. Students for a Democratic Society, once against war, later spawned an underground terrorist group called the Weathermen.
  8. The upheavals of the 1960s and the anti-establishment movement can
    largely be attributed to the three P’s: the youthful population
    bulge, the protest against racism and the Vietnam War, and the apparent
    permanence of prosperity, but as the 1970s rolled around, this
    prosperity gave way to stagnation.
  9. However, the “counterculture” of the youths of the
    1960s did significantly weaken existing values, ideas, and beliefs.
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