US History/Nixon and Indochina
Violence and the Election of 1968
There were 3 major assassinations in the 60s, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Many conspiracy theories regarding the assassinations are still popular, especially those suspecting government interference, which had a profound effect on how some Americans viewed their government, helping further divide Americans.
After the assassination of Dr. King in Memphis, riots broke out in over 100 cities. Troops were called in to control the mobs of people. Stunned and saddened by Dr. King's death, the nation worried about renewed homeland violence.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a number of significant mobilizations against racism. The first sizable demonstration of Asians took place in 1972 over yet more anti-immigration laws. There were increasing numbers of protests against the National Front (NF), which was slowly building support by 1974. There was also a host of protests and campaigns against police harassment and racist educational policies. It was the concentration of anti-racist forces in a campaign against the NF, led by the Anti Nazi League (ANL), that shattered the upsurge of racism. In alliance with Rock Against Racism it was able to put on not just two huge carnivals, but countless events that drew black and white young people together.
Robert Kennedy is Assassinated
In the race for the Democratic nomination, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, and Robert Francis Kennedy (brother of John F.) were competing in a close match. In most primaries, Kennedy edged out McCarthy, and meanwhile, Humphrey garnered the support of Democratic party leaders, who chose the delegates to the national convention. In June 1968, Kennedy won the primary in California, the state with the most delegates to the convention.Bobby Kennedy was trying to become president and follow in his brother's foot steps. At a celebration rally on the night of the victory, Kennedy was shot and killed by Sirhan B. Sirhan, who claimed that he did not remember shooting Bobby Kennedy. Sirhan shot Kennedy with .22 pistol. Kennedy was hit multiple times and five others were wounded. The nation was sent reeling into another shock from the new violence. Kennedy's body lay in repose at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York for two days before a funeral mass was held on June 8. His body was interred near his brother John at Arlington National Cemetery. His death prompted the protection of presidential candidates by the United States Secret Service. Hubert Humphrey went on to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency, but ultimately narrowly lost the election to Richard Nixon.
The Democratic Convention
Because of his support among leaders and delegates from the Democratic Party, it appeared that Humphrey had enough votes to win the nomination at the convention in Chicago. Humphrey, however, was a supporter of Johnson's policy in Vietnam, so he was perceived as a war supporter.
Anti-war Democrats, most of whom had supported Kennedy, felt left out of the convention. Angry, they flocked to Chicago to protest Humphrey's nomination. On the first and second nights of the convention, the protesters were generally subdued and the Chicago police made few arrests. On the third night, however, protesters planned to march to the convention site to protest.
Fearing another outbreak of violence, the mayor of Chicago made the police block the protesters at the hall. When they tried a different route, protesters were blocked again. Outraged, protesters started throwing objects at the police. The police threw tear gas into the crowd and charged the protesters, beating some and taking others into custody.
Humphrey won the nomination, but the violence hurt his campaign. The nation saw all the anger and outrage on television. It seemed that Democrats could not control their own party.
Nixon, the former Vice President, had quietly been nominated by the Republicans as their candidate. Nixon claimed to represent the "silent majority" in America; that is, those that had begun to take on a more conservative approach to politics and disliked the "hippie" and civil rights movements. Nixon also promised to end the war in Vietnam, although he never said he would win it.
Because of his promises about Vietnam, Nixon was able to gain support from antiwar Democrats and Republicans alike. In a huge political comeback (Nixon was defeated in the election of 1960 and lost the race for the governor of California in 1962), Nixon barely won the popular vote, gaining only 500,000 more votes than Humphrey. He won by a larger margin in the electoral college, gaining 301 votes, while Humphrey only had 191.
Also note that Nixon made the statement on November 3rd 1969, almost a year after his election. He cribbed it from a speech his vice president, Spiro Agnew, had made on May 9th of that year. Agnew's writers may have been taking it from President Kennedy's 1956 book Profiles in Courage. The original phrase goes back to Edward Young's 1721 poem "The Revenge":
"Life is the desert, life the solitude;
Death joins us to the great majority."
It became an in-joke among Democrats and protesters to hear Agnew and Nixon claim to represent the dead, perhaps as envoys of the Undead. This was only two years after Caesar Romero's Night of the Living Dead came out.
Nixon, in an attempt to bring stability to the nation, made many changes in foreign policy. He appointed Henry Kissinger as his national security advisor and later as his Secretary of State. Both believed in the philosophy of realpolitik, which put national interests in front of leaders' political ideologies and reasoned that peace could only come from negotiations, not war. During Nixon's presidency, he and Kissinger would work to try to ease the cold war.
Nixon promised to ease the United States out of the Vietnam war, and for the most part, he kept his promise. He and Kissinger called their plan to hand the war over to the South Vietnamese: Vietnamization. By the end of 1970, the number of troops in Vietnam had fallen from 540,000 in the beginning of 1969 to 335,000. By January of 1970, the Vietnam conflict had become the longest in American history and, with 40,000 killed and over 250,000 wounded, the third most costly foreign war in the nation's experience. In 1971 there were only 60,000 troops in Vietnam.
In order to compensate for the loss of troops in Vietnam, Nixon hiked up the bombing campaign. The Ho Chi Minh Trail, which bordered and sometimes ran into the countries of Laos and Cambodia, was bombed. Nixon wanted to keep his public image as a peace President, so the bombing of Cambodia was kept a secret. The Vietnam War was one of the first wars to be publicized on television. This raised awareness to Americans around the country because they were more aware of the inhumane acts of war.
The war seemed to be fought both over in Asia and back in the states. Thousands of protesters mostly young college students were against the war and were beginning to get war weariness during the later years of the war. Many of the youth were drafted to fight overseas during this war, the lucky ones were able to escape if they could afford a college education.
The Vietnam War polarized opinion in the United States. Some people believed the war was immoral, others that it would not serve US interests while some felt it was necessary to stop the advance (as they saw it) of communism.
The Vietnam war brought both violence but also opened up many job opportunities as well both at home and overseas. The draft was issued and thousands of men were sent to go fight in Vietnam along with thousands of other volunteer soldiers. With all these men fighting overseas many small businesses and factories were in need of employing new workers which opened up many job opportunities for other Americans at this time.
The End of the War
In the fall of 1972, it seemed that peace was at hand. But at the last minute, the negotiations fell through because the South Vietnamese refused to have North Vietnamese forces in their country. Nixon decided to launch a last aggressive bombing campaign to try to scare the North Vietnamese into stopping the war, but they were persistent and continued to fight. In the beginning of 1975, the North Vietnamese launched a final major offensive. The South Vietnamese army collapsed, and soon, Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, was in the Vietcong's grasp. Americans scrambled to evacuate from the country, and on April 29, Americans were evacuating by helicopter off the roof of the American embassy. In the early hours of April 30, 1975, Saigon fell to the Vietcong. Soon after, South Vietnam surrendered.
Upon return, the American troops had no welcome. Many Americans, angered at the outcome of the war or just angry that the war ever had to happen, just wanted to forget the ordeal. Vietnam lay in ruins, and almost 1.4 million Vietnamese lives (on either side) were claimed. Also, 58,000 Americans had died, 300,000 were wounded, and the U.S. had wasted $150 billion on the war.
In 1969, Nixon wanted to ease the tensions of the Cold War to help the nation heal from the tragedy of Vietnam. He and Kissinger used realpolitik, the practice of basing decisions on the interests of the nation rather than the leaders' beliefs, to shape a new foreign policy. Nixon formed a foreign policy plan of détente, a plan of relaxing international tensions. Nixon's ultimate goal in his new plan was to achieve a so-called "balance of power" between the U.S., Europe, Soviet Union, China, and Japan so that no one nation could grow too strong.
To kick off his new plan, Nixon began to express friendliness to the People's Republic of China. The United States had severed ties with China after communists took control of the government in a political coup d'etat (a sudden change of government by force) in 1949. In 1970, Nixon began hinting at new relations with China, and he stopped referring to the country as "Red China," which was an offensive term for the nation. By increasing relations with China, Nixon hoped that the Soviets would become more cooperative in talks with the U.S. because it would fear a U.S.-China alliance.
Realizing the change in U.S. sentiment, China invited a U.S. table tennis team to visit the country in April 1971, and a week later, the U.S. opened trade between the two countries. After sending Kissinger on a secret visit to China, Nixon announced that he would go to Beijing, the Chinese capital. In February 1972, Nixon finally came to Beijing. Pictures of him at the Great Wall and attending Chinese banquets were in international news. In another seven years, Chinese relations would be fully restored.
The Soviet Union
Nixon was right about the Soviet Union. Fearing a Chinese alliance with America, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev agreed to meet with Nixon in Moscow in May of 1972. Again, pictures of Nixon with communist leaders filled the news. While in Moscow, Nixon signed the SALT I Treaty, or the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. The treaty limited the number of nuclear arms that the Soviet Union and the U.S. could possess.
Feeling that the Soviet Union was in scientific decline, Brezhnev agreed with the U.S. to work with it in trade and information. This way, the Soviet Union could also gain access to desperately needed American grain. As a result of the talk, the Arms Race slowed and international tensions eased.
Home Front of the Vietnam War
Kent Four and Jackson Two
Nixon tried to end the war through peace talks with North Vietnam, but generally, these stalled because the North Vietnamese had a wait and see attitude towards the war. They believed that opposition to the war within America would eventually grow so strong that Nixon would be forced to remove American troops from the country.
Nixon tried to appeal to his "silent majority" and renew support for the war, but then, Cambodia fell into a civil war between Communist and non-Communist forces. Nixon decided to send troops into Cambodia to destroy Communist strongholds, and Americans were outraged that their leader, who had strived for an end to the war, had attacked a neutral country. Opposition, especially in colleges, grew stronger.
This was especially true in Kent State University in Ohio. On May 1st, Students began protesting, resulting in some broken windows downtown, and riot police retaliating with tear gas. When students burned down the ROTC building on the Kent State campus, and then cut the hoses of firemen to prevent them from extinguishing it on May 2nd, the Ohio governor declared martial law, or emergency military rule. The national guard responded by forcing everyone on campus, including non-students, into dorms. By May 3rd, many outsiders had arrived to observe the protests. On the night of May 3rd protests resumed in hopes of meeting with officials, instead they were met with more tear gas.
They’re worse than the "Brown Shirts" and the communist element and also the “night riders” in the Vigilantes. They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America
Classes resumed on Monday May 4th, where two thousand people staged an initially peaceful rally on the Kent commons, despite the rally being banned. The National Guard troops told the students to disband, and shot tear gas into the crowd, though the winds that day made it ineffective, and the agitated crowd had begun to throw rocks at the guardsmen. Thus the troops thus advanced with bayonets to push the majority of protestors into a fenced in field, while taking a position on a hilltop. For unknown reasons, the troops then turned around and 28 guardsmen fired for 13 seconds on a smaller group, taking between 61 and 67 shots in total. Four students were killed and thirteen others were wounded.
Furious and in disbelief at the attack, several hundred protestors regrouped as National Guardsmen retreated to the commons. By this point, it was clear that those remaining were willing to die for their cause, and the National Guardsmen were willing to fire on students. Fearing the worst, Faculty pleaded with the National Guard to allow them to speak to the remaining students, and after 20 minutes of impassioned pleas were able to disperse those remaining.
I am begging you right now, if you don’t disperse right now they’re going to move in and it can only be a slaughter!—Professor Glenn Frank, Plea following the shootings
The University President and the County Prosecutor both ordered the campus closed following the shooting. Despite this, Professors secretly finished the semester using facilities at other nearby colleges, and by using their own homes to house and teach students.
Initially, much of the American public sided with the National Guardsmen.
Violence again struck at Jackson State in Mississippi. After a night of campus violence, police were called in to control the students, but eventually police opened fire on the students and two were killed. Witnesses recalled the police recklessly blasting the school's residence hall with their guns. The police claimed to be defending themselves from snipers.
Because people's homes and fields were destroyed in the war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos thousands of refugees flooded out of the country on boats. Many came to the United States, but they weren't met with open arms by most Americans.
The Hmong people of Laos had sided with America in the war effort against communists, and had to flee following communist retaliation for their involvement in the war effort. The Hmong began significant immigration to America in 1976, mostly to California and Minnesota. Their culture of traditional agriculture did not translate well to modern mechanized agriculture, but over time they slowly began to adapt. Hmong did not initially fare well in American Hospitals, but their initial poor experiences lead to medical professionals improving communication between doctors and patients.
The Women's Movement
In the 1970s, women in “The Women’s Movement” claimed that they had achieved a great deal through all their efforts in the past decades. These achievements consisted of: married women receiving the right to have their own credit in their own name instead of just in their husband’s name, unmarried women receiving the right to get birth control, women receiving the right to serve on a jury panel, and women receiving the right to list their help wanted ads alongside men’s help wanted ads.
One of the goals these feminists had set was to change the view and laws on rape. Before this time, psychiatrists would claim that “A woman sometimes plays a big part in provoking her attacker by . . . her overall attitude and appearance.” Statements and beliefs like this made it easy for people to have a less sympathetic view towards victims of rape. However, by the end of the 1970s, activists worked on state levels to create crisis centers for rape victims, educate people such as police and hospital security about how to handle and take care of women who have been raped. These women even succeeded in changing some laws.
Roe v. Wade
In March 1970, a Texas woman by the name of Norma McCorvey, unmarried and pregnant, decided to sue the state of Texas by the recommendation of Sarah Weddington, a young attorney. At the time, the vast majority of the other states had similar laws. At the time, Texas had a law in place that banned abortion, with the exception of women with life-threatening pregnancies. As part of standard court procedure, McCorvey was renamed Jane Roe, because she did not want her identity to be known by the court.
With rulings favoring both Roe and Dallas Country district attorney Henry Wade in various levels of the courts, the case eventually landed in the Supreme Court. Argued first on December 13, 1971 and again on October 11, 1972 (at the court's request), Weddington contended that the Texas law (and therefore all abortion banning laws) were in violation of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments, which gave a citizen the right to privacy, and that abortion laws violated the privacy of women.
The case was decided on January 22, 1973, with Harry Blackmun writing the ruling. With a 7-2 majority, the Court ruled that the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments did indeed collectively give a citizen the right to privacy, and that abortion laws did indeed violate the right to privacy of women.
Roe v. Wade was decided primarily on the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a part of the Bill of Rights. The Court's decision in this case was that the Ninth Amendment, in stating that "the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people," protected a person's right to privacy.
Having recently appointed Warren Burger (the Chief Justice), Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist, Nixon was disappointed in the ruling. All of them Republicans, Nixon had presumed that the judges would rule conservatively. Only Rehnquist would dissent with the majority. The other dissenting vote was Byron White, who had been appointed by John F. Kennedy.
The ruling continued the abortion divide that still exists today. It gave the general pro-choice sentiment among the more liberal and progressive Democratic Party and the pro-life sentiment among more conservative and religious Republican Party. The case was reopened in 1992, only to reaffirm the ruling.
Roe vs Wade was not only a turning point in the legalization of abortion, it was a turning point in many other debates. It caused people to ask when a person becomes a person. To some, it was a symbol of liberation and freedom because women could control when or if they had a full pregnancy, which is no small burden, and by extension women could have more control over her life. To others allowing abortions was a violation of the teachings taught by their religion, with many critics of abortion calling the procedure murder, and protesting outside clinics that performed it or lobbying for laws that limited the ability of clinics to operate.
Many American Indians, especially those who were a part of the American Indian Movement conducted a number of protests and occupations, notably occupying Alcatraz Island in 1969 and Plymouth Rock on Thanksgiving Day, 1970.
The Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970 during the Nixon Administration to help more responsibly manage environmental resources.
The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 transformed the Post Office Department into the United States Postal Service.
Watergate and the Election of 1972
In 1971, Nixon had many doubts about the 1972 election. But this was before Nixon and Kissinger had vastly improved relations with the Soviet Union and China. By the time those tasks had been accomplished, much of the nation approved of Nixon. Even more in his favor was the Democratic disunity and the controversial nomination of George McGovern. The positions of McGovern, including immediately ending the Vietnam War, and creating a guaranteed minimum income, were seen by many at the time as too radical. Southern Democrats went so far as to form an "Anybody but McGovern" coalition during the Democratic Party primaries.
The White House Plumbers
Even so, Nixon's paranoia and the stress of the presidential campaign would conspire to send the nation reeling and his administration into crisis. Much later, it would be found that Nixon's campaign would stretch the truth, the law, and ethics.
To start his campaign, Nixon asked a group of only the most loyal aides to create an "enemies list," a list of political opponents to the Nixon administration. Then, Nixon asked the IRS and the FBI to investigate those on the enemies list, and justified his actions by saying that he believed that those investigated were a threat to national security. Nixon was slowly changing his campaign from a campaign for the presidency to a campaign against enemies. Nixon was the renominated Republican nominee running with Sprio T. Agnew. They were running against the democratic nominee, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. McGovern was running with Senator Thomas Eagleton for vice president. Eagleton was shortly replaced with Sargent Shriver after the press discovering Eagleton had been treated for psychological problems. Nixon was also running against longtime segregationist, George Wallace. On May 15, 1972, Wallace became a victim of an assassination attempt that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Wallace was shot by twenty-one year old, Arthur Bremer. Bremer had also shot three others and was sentenced to 63 years in prison.
Using some of the money allotted for his campaign, Nixon funded a secret group of "plumbers," who "plugged" information leaks that were damaging to the administration. Money also funded dirty tricks against Nixon's Democratic opponents.
In November of 1972, an unknowing public headed to the polls to cast votes for the President. Nixon won the election by a landslide, with almost 61 percent of the popular vote and 520 out of 537 electoral votes.
Things were quiet for a while after the election. In late 1973, countries in the Middle East imposed an embargo, or refusal to trade, on oil to the U.S. after the U.S. supported Israel in a short war against Egypt (the most powerful country in the region) and Syria. Prices for gas shot up in the U.S. and stations had to ration the gas, putting restrictions like "ten gallons per customer." Many people were laid off. Nixon worked to help relations with the Middle East, and in March 1974, the embargo was lifted. He was also able to get the U.S. out of Vietnam. Because of his work, Americans generally approved of Nixon.
Voters did not know that a little while after midnight on June 17, 1972, a security guard named Frank Wills had been patrolling in the parking garage of the Wartergate complex, the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, and found tape on the locks to doors leading into the building. He removed the tape and thought little of it, but an hour later, he would find it replaced. He would call the police, and they would arrest five robbers inside the complex.
The subsequent arrests of "plumbers" Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt would slowly but surely send tremors through the presidency. Initially, the Nixon administration denied that it had anything to do with the two plumbers or the bugs that the five men were trying to plant in the telephones of the Democratic headquarters (bugs are telephone listening devices, commonly used by spies and others in the field of espionage) when investigators gathered info that suggested it did. Ronald Ziegler, Nixon's press secretary, decried the break-in a "third rate burglary."
Hearing of the incident at the Watergate complex, the Washington Post, a prominent Washington D.C. newspaper with a national circulation, started publishing a series of articles linking Nixon to the burglary. Also, after questioning, one of the burglars confessed that the White House lied about its involvement in the break-in. Still, only about half of Americans had even heard of the robbery.
The Saturday Night Massacre
In early 1973, the Senate voted to hold hearings on the Watergate break-in. They asked the Department of Justice to hire a special prosecutor outside of the Nixon-influenced department to investigate Watergate. Slowly, Cox and Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina would reveal the massive scandal going on in the White house. In May, former deputy White House counsel John Dean, a source close to Nixon, would testify that there indeed had been a cover up and that it had been directed by Nixon himself.
The extent of Nixon's desperation would become evident in October 1973 when Cox ordered that Nixon hand over tapes from a secret taping system that recorded conversations in the President's office. He refused on executive privilege grounds, contending that the release of the tapes would compromise national security.
When Cox tried to get an injunction for the release of the tapes, Nixon ordered Elliot Richardson, the attorney general, to fire Cox (after all, it was the Justice Department that had hired Cox), but Richardson refused and resigned. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Rickelshaus to fire Cox, but he, like Richardson, refused and resigned. Finally, Nixon got a minor Justice Department official, Solicitor General Robert Bork, to fire Cox. The series of resignations and the firing of Cox became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. The public was outraged.
At the height of the Watergate scandal, the Department of Justice uncovered another: Vice President Spiro Agnew had accepted bribes as the governor of Maryland. He resigned on October 10, 1973. Nixon nominated Michigan congressman Gerald Ford as his Vice President, who was quickly confirmed.
Impeachment Proceedings & Resignation
The House of Representatives decided to initiate the impeachment process as public outrage mounted over the Saturday Night Massacre. If a majority voted to charge the President of high crimes and misdemeanors, he would be tried by the Senate and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would preside over the trial. If 67 of the 100 senators voted to find Nixon guilty, he would be expelled from office.
In April of 1974, Nixon decided to release heavily edited transcripts of the tapes to try to improve his image. This only led to more public protest, and the Supreme Court eventually ruled that Nixon had to hand over the tapes. After a conversation on one of the tapes revealed that Nixon had ordered a cover up of the robbery, the public was stunned and the House mulled impeachment. Before any more damage could be done, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. He would be the first and (so far) only president to resign and Gerald Ford would become the only president not elected to the office of president or vice president.
The impact of the scandal was wide and far-reaching. Among other things, Congress passed a series of laws sharply limiting a president's power to wage undeclared war, limiting campaign spending and strengthening public access to government information. Also, it proved that the Constitution's system of checks and balances could work to bring an abusive or tyrannical president out of power. But by far the biggest impact of the crisis was the loss of the public's faith and trust in politicians and elected officials; cynicism concerning the ethics, behavior, and motives of elected officials would be deep and lasting. Because of Nixon's party affiliation and the outrage over a preemptive pardon that Ford granted Nixon after he became president, people associated corruption with the Republican party. Decades of gerrymandering by New Dealers and their successors had assured nearly-impregnable overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress since the 1930s. Fallout from Watergate assured that this trend would continue in the midterm elections of November 1974. The Republicans would pay the ultimate price for Watergate in 1976, with Ford losing the White House to a relative political newcomer.
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