African Americans, Native Americans, gays and lesbians

WEEK #13 – 11/15 – 11/21 – CRISES OF THE
’70s – CHAP 27
The 1970s were a tumultuous time. It encompassed a continuation of the
1960s, in which women, African Americans, Native Americans, gays and
lesbians, and other marginalized people continued their fight for recognition
and equality under the law, as well as many Americans joining protests
against the seemingly never-to-end Vietnam War. But the ’70s also gave
rise to a newly emerging contingent of the population as a backlash to the
Counterculture ambitions of the ’60s and ’70s called the “New Right. ” Its
adherents mobilized in defense of political conservatism and traditional
family roles, which they felt had been rejected by the “special interest”
groups of the previous decade. When President Richard Nixon’s felonious
behavior during the Watergate Scandal mid-decade undermined many
people’s faith in the good intentions of the federal government, these
divisions and disappointments had set a tone for public life that many would
argue is still with us today. The administration of Gerald Ford, Nixon’s
un-elected Presidential replacement, was short-lived as the nation rejected
the New Right government for a new “compassionate” direction led by a
southern Democrat peanut-farmer from Georgia, Jimmy Carter. The
decade ended with the Carter Administration failing helplessly with an
international diplomatic crisis and domestic economic disasters.
Recorded Lecture on the 1970s Nixon-Ford-Carter
THE 1970S
PowerPoint Lecture Decade of Decline – the ’70s
The Vietnam War ~ What Was It About, Really?
Was America’s war in Vietnam a justified and noble struggle against
Communist aggression, embodied in the invasion of a-yet-to-be-named
South Vietnam by North Vietnamese forces? Or was it really a tragic
intervention in a civil conflict, one in which the US had no business
intervening? Could it even have been an imperialist counterrevolution to
crush a movement of national liberation? Those competing interpretations
not only ignited fiery arguments in the 1960s and ’70s, but they remain as
unresolved debates still today.
(Tet Offensive 1968. This image is a work of a U.S. Army soldier or employee, taken or
made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government,
the image is in the public domain. The Tet Offensive was a coordinated series of North
Vietnamese attacks on more than 100 cities and outposts in South Vietnam. The
offensive was an attempt to foment rebellion among the South Vietnamese population
and encourage the United States to scale back its involvement in the Vietnam War.
Though U.S. and South Vietnamese forces managed to hold off the attacks, news
coverage of the massive offensive shocked the American public and eroded support for
the war effort. Despite heavy casualties, North Vietnam achieved a strategic victory with
the Tet Offensive, as the attacks marked a turning point in the Vietnam War and the
beginning of the slow, painful American withdrawal from the region. Overall, our
involvement in Vietnam began in 1950 and didn’t end until 1974.)
“The VIETNAM WAR was the second-longest war in United States history,
after the war in Afghanistan. Promises and commitments to the people and
government of South Vietnam to keep communist forces from overtaking
them reached back into the Truman Administration. Eisenhower placed
military advisers and CIA operatives in Vietnam, and John F. Kennedy sent
American soldiers to Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson ordered the first real
combat by American troops, and Richard Nixon concluded the war.
Despite the decades of resolve, billions and billions of dollars, nearly
60,000 American lives, and many more injuries, the United States failed to
achieve its objectives. One factor that influenced the failure of the United
States in Vietnam was lack of public support. However, the notion that the
war initially was prosecuted by the government against the wishes of the
American people is false. The notion that the vast majority of American
youths took to the streets to end the Vietnam War is equally false. Early
initiatives by the United States under Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy
received broad support.
Only two members of the United States Congress voted against granting
Johnson broad authority to wage the war in Vietnam, and most Americans
supported this measure as well. The antiwar movement in 1965 was small,
and news of its activities was buried in the inner pages of newspapers if
there was any mention at all. Only later in the war did public opinion sour.
The enemy was hard to identify. The war was not fought between
conventional army forces. The Viet Cong blended in with the native
population and struck by ambush, often at night. Massive American
bombing campaigns hit their targets but failed to make the North
Vietnamese concede. Promises made by American military and political
leaders that the war would soon be over were broken. And night after night,
Americans turned on the news to see the bodies of their young flown home
in bags. Draft injustices like college deferments surfaced, hearkening back
to the similar controversies of the Civil War. The average age of the
American soldier in Vietnam was nineteen. As the months of the war
became years, the public became impatient.
Only a small percentage of Americans believed their government was evil
or sympathized with the Viet Cong. But many began to feel it was time to
cut losses. Even the iconic CBS newscaster WALTER CRONKITE
questioned aloud the efficacy of pursuing the war. President Nixon signed a
ceasefire in January 1973 that formally ended the hostilities. In 1975,
communist forces from the north overran the south and unified the nation.
Neighboring CAMBODIA and LAOS also became communist dictatorships.
At home, returning Vietnamese veterans found readjustment and even
acceptance difficult. The scars of Vietnam would not heal quickly for the
United States. The legacy of bitterness divided the American citizenry and
influenced foreign policy into the 21st century.” (See US History, “The Vietnam
(Links to an external site.)
America in the 1970s
“Starting as early as the late 1960s, many Americans, particularly
working-class and middle-class whites, responded to the turbulence of the
late 1960s – the urban riots, the antiwar protests, the alienating
counterculture – by embracing a new kind of conservative populism. Sick of
what they interpreted as spoiled hippies and whining protestors, tired of an
interfering government that, in their view, coddled poor people and black
people at taxpayer expense, these individuals formed what political
strategists called a “silent majority.” This silent majority swept President
Richard Nixon into office in 1968. Almost immediately, Nixon began to
dismantle the welfare state that had fostered such resentment. He
abolished as many parts of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty
as he could, and he made a show of his resistance to mandatory school
desegregation plans such as busing. On the other hand, some of Nixon’s
domestic policies seem remarkably liberal today: For instance, he proposed
a Family Assistance Plan that would have guaranteed every American
family an income of $1,600 a year (about $10,000 in today’s money), and
he urged Congress to pass a Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan that
would have guaranteed affordable health care to all Americans. Some
maintain, though, that Nixon’s policies favored the interests of the
middle-class people who felt slighted by the Great Society of the 1960s.
(The 1970s was a turbulent decade, skillfully depicted in this jigsaw puzzle by artist
James Mellett. He has done an excellent job in featuring the fashion and sports, the
celebrities and politicians of the seventies era. This jigsaw puzzle salutes the 70s with a
tribute to the headline grabbers of the decade including the champion Pittsburgh
Steelers, the Bee Gees, Patty Hearst, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Watergate Hotel,
Saturday Night Fever, Animal House, The Godfather, Jack Nicklaus, the Ford Pinto, The
Muppet Show, and so many more.)
As the 1970s continued, some of these people helped shape a new political
movement known as the “New Right.” This movement, rooted in the
suburban “Sun Belt,” celebrated the free market and lamented the decline
of “traditional” social values and roles. New Right conservatives resented
and resisted what they saw as government meddling. For example, they
fought against high taxes, environmental regulations, highway speed limits,
national park policies in the West (the so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion”),
and affirmative action and school desegregation plans. Their anti-taxism
emerged most notably in California in 1978, when the Proposition 13
referendum–“a primal scream by The People against Big Government,”
said The New York Times–tried to limit the size of government by restricting
the amount of property tax that the state could collect from individual
In some ways, though, the 1960s liberalism continued to flourish. For
example, the crusade to protect the environment from all sorts of
assaults–toxic industrial waste in places like Love Canal, New York;
dangerous meltdowns at nuclear power plants such as the one at Three
Mile Island in Pennsylvania; highways through city neighborhoods–really
took off during the 1970s. Americans celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970,
and Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act that same
year. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act followed two years later.
The oil crisis of the late 1970s drew further attention to the issue of
conservation. By then, environmentalism was so mainstream that the U.S.
Forest Service’s Woodsy Owl interrupted Saturday morning cartoons to
remind kids to “Give a Hoot; Don’t Pollute.”
(US Equal Rights Amendment Map [with color for states ratifying after 1982-06-30]
Legend: [melon] Ratified; [ purple] Ratified after June 30, 1982; [orange] Ratified,
then revoked; [green] Not ratified (having been approved in only 1 house of
legislature); [blue] Not ratified. US Equal Rights Amendment Map.svg. Created: 9 July
2018. CC BY-SA 4.0. Public Domain.)
During the 1970s, many groups of Americans continued to fight for
expanded social and political rights. In 1972, after years of campaigning by
feminists, Congress approved the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the
Constitution, which reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be
denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
It seemed that the Amendment would pass easily. Twenty-two of the
necessary 38 states ratified it right away, and the remaining states seemed
close behind. However, the ERA alarmed many conservative activists, who
feared that it would undermine traditional gender roles. These activists
mobilized against the Amendment and managed to defeat it. In 1977,
Indiana became the 35th–and last–state to ratify the ERA. Disappointments
like these encouraged many women’s rights activists to turn away from
politics. They began to build feminist communities and organizations of
their own: art galleries and bookstores, consciousness-raising groups,
daycare and women’s health collectives (such as the Boston Women’s
Health Book Collective, which published “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in 1973),
rape crisis centers and abortion clinics.
Even though very few people continued to support the war in Indochina,
President Nixon feared that a retreat would make the United States look
weak. As a result, instead of ending the war, Nixon and his aides devised
ways to make it more palatable, such as limiting the draft and shifting the
burden of combat onto South Vietnamese soldiers. This policy seemed to
work at the beginning of Nixon’s term in office. When the United States
invaded Cambodia in 1970, however, hundreds of thousands of protestors
clogged city streets and shut down college campuses. On May 4, National
Guardsmen shot four student demonstrators at an antiwar rally at Kent
State University in Ohio in what came to be known as the Kent State
Shooting. Ten days later, police officers killed two black student protestors
at Mississippi’s Jackson State University. Members of Congress tried to
limit the president’s power by revoking the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
authorizing the use of military force in Southeast Asia, but Nixon simply
ignored them. Even after the New York Times published the Pentagon
Papers, which called the government’s justifications for war into question,
the bloody and inconclusive conflict continued. American troops did not
leave the region until 1973.
As his term in office wore on, President Nixon grew increasingly paranoid
and defensive. Though he won reelection by a landslide in 1972, he
resented any challenge to his authority and approved of attempts to
discredit those who opposed him. In June 1972, police found five burglars
from Nixon’s own Committee to Re-Elect the President in the office of the
Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate office building.
Soon, they found that Nixon himself was involved in the crime: He had
demanded that the Federal Bureau of Investigation stop investigating the
break-in and told his aides to cover up the scandal. In April 1974, a
Congressional committee approved three articles of impeachment:
obstruction of justice, misuse of federal agencies, and defying the authority
of Congress. Before Congress could impeach him, however, President
Nixon announced that he would resign. Gerald Ford took over his office,
and–to the distaste of many Americans–pardoned Nixon right away. . . .
For many people in the United States, the late 1970s were a troubled and
troubling time. The radical and countercultural movements of the 1960s
and early 1970s, the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War, uncertainty in
the Middle East, and economic crisis at home had undermined Americans’
confidence in their fellow citizens and in their government. By the end of
Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the idealistic dreams of the 1960s were worn
down by inflation, foreign policy turmoil, and rising crime. In response,
many Americans embraced a new conservatism in social, economic, and
political life during the 1980s, characterized by the policies of President
Ronald Reagan.” (See,
(Links to an external site.)

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