The Turbulent Sixties – Politics and Social ChangeThe 1960 Presidential Election pitted Vice President Richard Nixon against Senator John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts.
·Richard Milhous Nixon had earned a name for himself as an ardent Anti-Communist. He occasionally engaged in dirty politics, accusing opponents of being soft on communism and engaging in nasty character attacks. One of these efforts enabled him to defeat Helen Gohagan Douglas; his win was considered the result of dirty politics, and lent itself to his reputation of being shady and underhanded. He even looked shifty. As a result, he had earned the nickname of "Tricky Dick." Campaign Ads in the 960’s showed his picture and asked: "Would you buy a used car from this man?"
·John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born into a prosperous and influential Massachusetts family. Although he was bright, handsome, and had married well, he owed his political rise primarily to his father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, a self-made business tycoon whom Franklin Roosevelt had appointed ambassador to Great Britain. He was obsessed with the idea that one of his four sons should be President, and had planned to "buy" the office for his eldest, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Joe Kennedy was killed in World War II (shot down), so he turned to Number Two Son, and set about "buying" the office for him.
Kennedy was typical of the hypocrisy that delineates "Kennedy Democrats" to this day. He bathed in the publicity of his book Profiles in Courage, which was actually ghost-written under his name by an aide. He represented himself to be the typical family man with charming wife and beautiful kids; yet was a notorious adulterer, who often used White House bedrooms for sexual escapades. When imposing the embargo on Cuba, he made sure his own personal supply of Cuban Cigars was well stocked beforehand. His younger brother, Robert F. Kennedy, who was also his campaign manager, called a Judge who had sentenced Martin Luther King, Jr. to jail for four months to secure his release on bail. It was not that Kennedy or his brother were committed to civil rights for blacks – they weren’t—they were willing to do whatever was necessary to get the black vote, inasmuch as they feared the loss of the Southern protestant vote because Kennedy was a Roman Catholic.
Kennedy had commanded a PT boat during World War II, PT – 109 which was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. He should have been court-martialed for losing his boat; but managed to turn it around and make himself appear to be a war hero, which he clearly was not. His record and character were so dubious that Eleanor Roosevelt refused to endorse him, a stinging rebuke for a Democratic candidate.
Three events characterized the 1960 Presidential Election:
·Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic since Al Smith to run for President. In a speech to a group of ministers, he commented that "no Catholic prelate would tell the President—should he be a Catholic—how to act and no Protestant minister should tell his parishioners for him to vote.
The Democrats have since "forgotten" this latter principal.
·Nixon agreed to televised debates with Kennedy. This may well have proved his undoing. Kennedy, the decided underdog, appeared cool and suave; Nixon, who was ill, looked pale, perspired heavily, and his "five-o’clock shadow" was evident. He refused to wear television makeup and as a result looked pale and uneasy. Women voted for the handsome Kennedy overwhelmingly. Nixon had violated one of the cardinal rules of politics, and thereby managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
·In order to offset concerns about Kennedy’s Catholicism, Democrats set out to woo Black voters. It was in this vein that Robert Kennedy intervened on behalf of Martin Luther King, Jr., not because of any commitment to the cause; but rather to secure Black votes. Over 2 million pamphlets were distributed in black neighborhoods trumpeting Kennedy’s efforts on behalf of Dr. King.
Kennedy’s running mate was Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas, the Senate Majority Leader. Johnson had himself been a candidate for the nomination; but concerns about his health after a serious heart attack had interfered. Robert Kennedy was staunchly opposed to having Johnson on the ticket, primarily because he was a Southerner. He openly insulted Johnson to his face. His brother ultimately overruled him, as he felt he needed the Southern vote; plus Johnson was strongly committed to Civil Rights. As Vice President, Johnson was ignored as much as possible by the Kennedy’s. He had planned to ask to be removed from the ticket in 1964; but history intervened.
Kennedy and Johnson won the closest election since 1888. The margin in the popular vote was 118,574 votes out of 68 million. Nixon actually carried more states than Kennedy; but Kennedy carried the states with the greater electoral votes. The winning margin was provided by the Chicago vote, largely controlled by the Democratic Machine, headed by Mayor Richard J. Daley. Daley fancied himself a king-maker, and delivered Cook County for Kennedy, and thereby Illinois, giving him the victory. The honesty of Kennedy’s win will forever be a matter of speculation.
The election ended cracks in the formerly Solid South: Fifteen electors from three different Southern States defied the ticket and cast their electoral votes for Sen. Harry F. Byrd of Virginia, a segregationist.
In his speech to the Convention, Kennedy had spoken of a "New Frontier." This became the name of his Presidential program. Kennedy did not enjoy popular support, and Congress was largely dominated by Conservatives. Kennedy had little political experience, and was rather adept at getting legislation passed by Congress. Few of his programs were ever enacted. One of the few was the Peace Corps, (1961) which supplied volunteers for educational and technical service abroad.
Unknown to most Americans, Kennedy was a very sick man. He was prone to violent headaches, and also suffered from Addison’s disease and, secretly, venereal disease from some of his sexual escapades. The public were kept in the dark, and were told that the President had a bad back. His personal physician recommended a rocking chair for his back, and he was often seen in Oval Office meetings in a rocking chair. Many cartoons and caricatures of him after that point showed him in the chair rocking.
The Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, was judicially active during the 1960’s, rendering several landmark decisions:
·Murray vs. Board of Education: Held States could not mandate public prayer in public schools.
·Gideon vs. Wainwright: Held every felony defendant was entitled to a lawyer regardless of his ability to pay.
·Escobedo vs. Illinois: A person accused of a crime must be allowed to consult a lawyer before being interrogated by Police.
·Miranda vs. Arizona: A person in custody must be informed of his right to remain silent and that anything he says will be used against him as well as the right to have an attorney present during questioning.
Expansion of the Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights movement gained momentum in early 1960 when several black college students sat down and demanded service at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. They refused to leave, and the lunch counter closed. This was the beginning of the "sit-in" movement, which spread quickly to many cities over nine states, including Columbia, S.C.
Sit-ins became "wade ins" at public swimming pools, and "kneel ins" at churches. The protesters organized the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the movement spread. They were often met with hostile crowds and police. Over 3600 went to jail. The Chief of Police in Birmingham, Eugene "Bull" Connor released German Shepherd police dogs on them. (This was witnessed in disgust by millions on national television). In Richmond, Va., they were poked with cattle prods. In Orangeburg, S.C. they were doused with fire hoses in temperature well below freezing. When a group went on busses in Alabama to test a court ruling that banned segregation on busses and in terminals, they were attacked with fists and pipes.
Despite the opposition that they encountered, protesters never responded with violence. They simply refused to retaliate. A White newspaper editor of a conservative newspaper, the Richmond News Leader wrote:
Here were the colored students, in coats, white shirts, ties, and one of them was reading Goethe, and one was taking notes from a biology test. And here, on the sidewalk, was a gang of white boys come to heckle, a rag-tail rabble, slack-jawed, black-jacketed, grinning fit to kill, and some of them, God save the mark, were waving the proud and honored flag of the Southern States in the last war fought by gentlemen.
In 1962, the Governor of Mississippi refused to allow James H. Meredith to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Attorney General Robert Kennedy dispatched federal marshals to enforce the law. The marshals were attacked by a white mob, and federal troops intervened.
During protests in Birmingham, Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed. While there, he wrote his "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," in which he said, "One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty."King’s strategy had changed from educating Southern whites to using federal enforcement and new legislation. This angered J. Edgar Hoover, who called him "the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation." Hoover ordered King’s telephones and motel rooms wiretapped. In 1963, Kennedy finally stated publicly that segregation had no place in American life, and proposed a Civil Rights Bill which was blocked by Southerners in Congress. In the fall, George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to block the enrollment of black students. The same night, following a speech by Kennedy in which he said that segregation was wrong, Medgar Evers, a Mississippi NAACP leader was shot to death outside his home in Jackson. The Evers case remained unsolved for many years until the late 1990’s when Byron de la Beckwith was convicted of the murder. August 28, 1963, after a march on the Mall in Washington, D.C., King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Sadly, the racial harmony of which he spoke was not yet a reality. Two weeks later, in Birmingham, Alabama, four black girls were killed when a bomb was exploded in their church. They had come early for Sunday school. This act of violence appalled even ardent Southerners. As with the Evers slaying, the murder of the four girls remained unsolved for many years. Mississippi juries refused to convict those responsible, and juries were hung. Finally, in the early 21st century, the felons were convicted.
Foreign AffairsKennedy’s record in foreign relations was mixed, as was his record on Civil Rights; although it had more exciting twists and turns.
Kennedy supported an invasion of Cuba by 1,500 Cuban exiles trained by the CIA. It was believed that once the rebellion began, Cubans on the mainland would rise up against Castro and overthrow him. It was a major league fiasco. The invasion force landed at the Bay of Pigs, and was quickly subdued by Cuban forces. There was no uprising, and the U.S. looked incompetent.
Later, Kennedy met with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna Austria, and Khrushchev browbeat him unmercifully, threatening to limit Western access to Berlin. When Kennedy returned home, he called up Army Reserve Units to show his resolve. Khrushchev responded by erecting the Berlin Wall, shutting off East Berlin from the West.
When Kennedy did not challenge the Soviet action in Berlin, Khrushchev assumed Kennedy was a wimp, and ordered the installation of missiles in Cuba, ostensibly to protect Cuba from a foreign invasion. A U-2 flight photographed the missiles, and Kennedy had a major diplomatic problem on hand. Discussion was held with his cabinet whether to bomb the missile sites or blockade Cuba to prevent more missiles from being deployed. He decided on the blockade, but called it a "quarantine" since a blockade was technically an act of war. He informed the American public of his decision in a televised address on October 22, 1962.
Khrushchev said Kennedy had pushed the world to the brink of war, but ultimately backed down in exchange for the removal of American missiles from Turkey. Later, tensions eased, and several moves were made to improve relationships between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.:
·An agreement was made to sell surplus U.S. wheat to the Russians.
·A "hotline" telephone was installed to allow instant access between the two heads of state.
·A treaty was signed which stopped nuclear testing in the atmosphere. (Nuclear testing in the atmosphere released dangerous amounts of radiation into the air.)
In the meantime, the situation in Vietnam worsened. Both the Russians and Americans agreed to stop sending aid to the country’s belligerents, but neither side honored the obligation. North Vietnam supplied the Viet Cong in South Vietnam by means of the Ho Chi Minh Trail through southern Laos.
In the meantime, South Vietnam was more and more unstable. President Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic, had not produced reforms, and instead had attempted to repress both the Communists and the Buddhists, who were a majority. Military emissaries to Vietnam urged Kennedy to increase American military presence, but he refused. Instead, he sent "advisers" to stabilize the country.When Kennedy took office in 1961, there were 2,000 "advisors in Vietnam. By the end of 1963, there were 16,000; none of whom were officially committed to battle.
Conflicting reports from Vietnam were coming in by 1963. Military advisers believed inflated kill reports by the South Vietnamese army and reported that things were going well; at the same time, political reporters saw the situation going downhill. More and more Buddhists were demonstrating against the Diem government. Many Buddhist Monks doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves on fire in protest. Finally, in late 1963, the U.S. let it be known that it would not stop a coup to replace Diem. He was murdered, and a military government took over; but it was no more stable. Kennedy soon realized that the situation was not tenable, and announced he would withdraw all American forces from Vietnam by 1965. One of the great mysteries of history is what would have happened had he survived.
Dallas: Kennedy traveled to Dallas on November 22, 1963 on a campaign trip. While in a motorcade with the Vice President and Texas Governor John Connelly, he was shot in the neck and head by Lee Harvey Oswald, and died shortly. Three shots were fired. The first struck Kennedy in the back of the neck and exited his windpipe. The second missed; the third blew the back of his skull away. Even with modern medicine, there is no way he could have survived the wound.
Oswald was a former Marine sharpshooter who had traveled to Russia, and had attempted to renounce his American citizenship. He had, in fact, married a Russian woman. He was arrested shortly after the shooting, and tests on a weapon found at the Texas School Book Depository tested positive. The Assassination occurred on Friday at 12:30 p.m. Texas time. On Sunday morning, when Oswald was being moved from the City jail to the County Jail (and paraded before reporters), he was shot by Jack Ruby, a girlie club owner who often hung around the police department. Oswald died several hours later from his wounds.
Ruby was convicted of murder by a Texas Jury, and sentenced to death. He died in prison from cancer before he could be executed. In a deathbed confession, he stated that he had acted alone. A Commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded also that Oswald had acted alone in the assassination. Even so, the peculiar circumstances of Oswald’s death led to speculation that Oswald had not acted alone.At the time of the assassination, there was no Federal law dealing with the assassination of the President. Had Oswald lived to be tried, he would have been tried under Texas State law. After Kennedy’s death, his widow portrayed an image of the perfect American family with two children. The Kennedy favorite song, "Camelot," was used to describe this "typical" family with two children, a boy and a girl. (Two boys had died in infancy; including one born to the Kennedy’s while he was President). This image led to Kennedy’s idolization, and his bust was emblazoned on the American Half Dollar. Later, information arose of his numerous sexual escapades, including an affair with Marilyn Monroe, and his boy scout image soon dissipated. Immediately following Kennedy’s death, Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as President on board Air Force One while the plane was still on the ground in Dallas. An old friend who was a Justice of the Peace in Dallas swore him in. The same plane carried Kennedy’s body back to Washington. At Johnson’s side was Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, still wearing the bloodstained pink suit she had worn at the time of the assassination.
Johnson was a Texan, fifty-five at the time he took office. He was very capable as a politician, and an admirer of Franklin Roosevelt, but at the same time could be ruthless and deceitful. He was extremely tall, (6’4") and used his tremendous size at times to be overbearing and to get his way. He had won election to the Senate in a questionable election in which he allegedly bribed local political bosses to stuff the ballot box. The result was he won by a mere 87 votes; which led him to jokingly refer to himself as "landslide Lyndon." In 1951 he became the youngest Senate majority leader in Democratic party history (age 44). As majority leader, he had engaged in horse-trading and backroom deals, and managed to get 1,300 bills passed. He carried this ability with him to the White House. For all his talents, Kennedy had no respect for him; he asked him to run on the ticket simply because he needed Johnson to help him carry the South.Johnson was very embarrassed that the Kennedy Assassination had occurred in his state. Rumors circulated quickly after the assassination that Johnson had been one of the conspirators who planned Kennedy’s murder. There is no evidence that this is true, and it would have been out of character for Johnson. He would have been much more likely to challenge Kennedy for re-nomination in 1964. Kennedy was not popular in the polls, and could conceivably have been unseated. As previously noted, Johnson had already planned to ask Kennedy to take him off the ticket; as he disliked the "do-nothing" office of Vice President in which he basically did nothing but attend funerals. As President, Johnson loved the political wrangling and detail that Kennedy hated. He loved a good scrap, and was good at it. He was famous for the "Johnson Treatment" in which he would invite a recalcitrant congressman to the Oval Office, get right in his face, pull newspaper clippings and statistics from his pocket, and lean in so hard that one couldn’t argue with him. He was an extremely forceful man whom many people found it difficult to face. He used this forcefulness to break the logjam in Congress and passed tremendous amounts of legislation that had been bogged down in Kennedy’s administration.
In his state of the Union address in 1964, Johnson told Congress, "This Administration, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America." The War on Poverty thus became an important domestic issue for the Johnson administration.The issue of Poverty in America had been brought to the forefront by The Other America by Michael Harrington. He had argued that, while most Americans celebrated the rising affluence of the 1950’s, millions of people were "mired in a culture of poverty," with no hope, locked in an endless cycle which constantly reproduced itself. Said he: "To be impoverished is to be an internal alien, to grow up in a culture that is radically different fro the one that dominates the society" He argued that television made it worse because it accentuated the differences between the poor and the "middle class," and left the poor with a fatalistic attitude about their condition. They were completely without hope. Johnson’s War on Poverty was to create what Johnson called "The Great Society." As part of the program several programs were born:
·Job Corps for inner city youth aged 16 – 21.
·Project Head Start for disadvantaged preschoolers.
·Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA) a domestic Peace Corps program.
·The Community Action Program – to help the poor direct neighborhood programs designed for their benefit.
In the election of 1964, Johnson nominated Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota as his running mate. Johnson’s reform programs produced the predictable response from Republicans. Many Republicans felt the party had become too much "me-too," producing candidates who never offered departures from the same-old same-old.
The end result was a dramatic shift to the Right, including members of the John Birch Society. As a result of this movement, Republicans nominated Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona for President. In his acceptance speech to the nominating convention in Los Angeles, Goldwater told the delegates: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." This was music to the ears of the John Birchers.
The John Birch Society is still alive and well. It was founded by Robert Welch, a New England candy manufacturer in 1958, and was named for Captain John Birch, a missionary slain by Chinese Communists in the last days of World War II. In the sixties, the organization claimed that Eisenhower, Dulles, and Chief Justice Earl Warren, and the National Council of Churches supported Communism. Billboards proclaimed either "Help Impeach Chief Justice Earl Warren," or "Get Us OUT of the United Nations" followed by the request to: "Join the John Birch Society. The organization is alive and well, and maintains a website atwww.jbs.org.
The campaign of 1964 was one of the nastiest in modern history. Democrats passed out literature that said Goldwater had suffered a nervous breakdown and was medically unfit to be President. Goldwater accused Johnson of being "soft" on communism. Goldwater said that Johnson was waging a "no-win" policy in Viet Nam and said he favored wholesale bombing of the North to bring the commies around. This led to the Democratic accusation that Goldwater was "trigger-happy." When Goldwater grew more and more bellicose about Vietnam, Johnson took a page from Franklin Roosevelt’s notebook and said, "We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves."
Goldwater was perhaps his own worst enemy. He even went so far as to question the value of Social Security to an audience of retired people in St. Petersburg, Florida. He even proposed to a Tennessee audience that the TVA be abolished.
Many interesting slogans were bandied about during the campaign. Johnson’s campaign slogan was "All the Way with LBJ," which many low-minded Republicans twisted into sexual innuendo. Goldwater Bumper Stickers read: "AuH²O." His campaign slogan was "In your heart, you know he’s right." Democrats countered, "In your guts, you know he’s nuts." Johnson openly accused Goldwater of planning on dropping an H-Bomb on the Kremlin. It was during the 1964 election that Strom Thurmond announced he could no longer support the Democratic party (no doubt because of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and proclaimed himself a Republican.
I had occasion to see Johnson personally in this campaign when he came to Columbia. I remember him saying, "there’s not a boy here who would not go to the railroad station right now if called upon to defend that flag," pointing to the American flag at his shoulder."
Johnson was elected by a landslide, carrying all but six states. Notably, South Carolina went Republican for the first time since Reconstruction. A substantial factor in this swing was Thurmond’s switch (many people considered the vote to be one of support for Thurmond) and a reaction to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Johnson also won substantial majorities in both houses of Congress. He understood that the rosy glow wouldn’t last long. He told his aides, "We’ve got to get this legislation fast. You’ve got to get it during my honeymoon." The result was the most legislation passed in a single term of Congress since Franklin Roosevelt’s "Hundred Days"
·Medicare – providing medical payments for the elderly.
·Medicaid – federal grants to states for medical payments for indigents.
·The Appalachian Development Act of 1966 – provided money for development of remote mountain areas.
·Housing and Development Act – created the Department of Housing and Urban Development, funds for construction of 240, 000 new housing units, and rent supplements for low-income families.
*** Robert C. Weaver, the first Secretary of Housing and Urban Development was the first Black to hold a Cabinet position. Johnson also nominated Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, the first Black Justice. He was heavily criticized for doing so by the conservative press which said he was not interested in a quality judge as he was placing a Negro on the Supreme Court.
·The Highway Safety Act and Traffic Safety Act – provided safety standards for highway construction and automobile manufacture.
·The Immigration Act of 1965 –abolished quotas based on national origin, and instead established "hemispheric ceilings." All nationalities and races would be treated equally. The primary beneficiaries were Latin Americans and non-Chinese Asians. Few Western Europeans sought to emigrate; and people living under Communist governments could not leave.
Earl Warren announced his retirement from the Court in the latter days of Johnson’s administration. This was interesting, as Justices normally do not retire except during the tenure of a President of the same political party as the president who appointed them. Warren had been appointed by Eisenhower, a Republican. He chose to retire in the term of Johnson, a Democrat.
Johnson nominated Abe Fortas, an associate Justice to replace Warren, and Homer Thornberry, an old Texas friend to replace Fortas. He had previously nominated Arthur Goldberg, a Jewish labor lawyer to the "Jewish seat," but, using typical Johnson techniques, had persuaded him to resign to accept appointment as Ambassador to the United Nations. He had replaced Goldberg with Thurgood Marshall.
Fortas had successfully argued Gideon vs. Wainwright before the Supreme Court; and later had been named an Associate Justice; however, questionable financial dealings came to the surface, and he not only saw his nomination withdrawn, he was forced to withdraw from the Court. Richard Nixon ultimately filled Warren’s vacancy, appointed Warren Earl Burger as Chief Justice.
Many Great Society programs were costly and wasteful. Medicare removed any incentive for hospitals to control costs, and many took advantage of it to milk the government. Welfare fraud became rampant. As a result, by 1966, there was a tremendous middle-class backlash against Johnson’s programs.
Note: Ask me about Johnson Jokes.
By far the most important legislation passed in Johnson’s Administration was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed into law on July 2, 1964:
·Outlawed discrimination in hotels, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation.
·Required that literacy tests for voting be administered in writing; and that literacy be set at a sixth grade level.
·Provided the Attorney general could bring suits for school desegregation.
·Established the Equal Opportunity Commission which prohibited job discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or sex.
Also, following a moving speech by Johnson, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965:
·Suspended literacy tests and other devices used to prevent citizens from voting fraudulently in states or counties where fewer than half the registered voters had voted in 1964.
·Authorized the Attorney General to send federal examiners to register voters.
These were the greatest legislative victories for black Americans since reconstruction; yet in spite of it, violence erupted:
·August, 1965, less than a week after passage of the Voting Rights Act, riots broke out in Watts, a predominantly poor black neighborhood in Los Angeles that left 34 people dead and 4,000 in jail.
·Forty other cities, including Chicago and Cleveland experienced racial riots in 1966/.
·In the Summer of 1967, Detroit and Newark, N.J. burned. Tanks and soldiers with machine guns were called into Detroit to guard against snipers in tenements.
*** It is important to note that all of the above disturbances occurred outside the South. In these areas, blacks faced de facto segregation based on residential problems, not de jure segregation which could be changed by a change of law. It has been pointed out that northern white ethnic groups did not share the cultural heritage that was shared by southern blacks and whites. Esquire Magazine described it as similar to "a body, despairing of the indifferences of doctors sought to rip a cancer out of itself."
It is important to note also that the racial violence of this period was begun by the blacks themselves, not whites in opposition to blacks. Sadly, it played nicely into the hands of whites opposed to peaceful integration of the races; yet it shows that racial prejudice and intolerance were not the sole province of the South, as many of Northern persuasion would love to proclaim.
The resulting movement became known as "Black Power." Radical members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee abandoned Martin Luther King’s strategy of nonviolent resistance, and preached violent reaction.
·Stokely Carmichael expelled all whites from the SNCC and attempted to turn it into a black separatist organization.
·In 1967, H. Rap Brown succeeded Carmichael and urged blacks to "get you some guns," and "kill the honkies."
·Carmichael moved on to the Black Panther movement, headed by Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. It’s members wore bandoleras and carried rifles; but eventually disintegrated.
·Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little, but dropped his last name to signify his lost African surname), a follower of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Black Muslim movement. Malcolm X once said "You show me a black man who isn’t an extremist, and I’ll show you one who needs psychiatric attention." He was the most effective voice for black militancy since Marcus Garvey.
Malcolm X was the first to insist that Blacks take pride in themselves and their African roots. He was the first to advocate Blacks calling themselves African Americans. He broke with Muhammad, and founded his own organization , but was gunned down by agents of Muhammad’s organization. Sadly, just before his death, he had abandoned anti-white rhetoric, and spoke of social change.
The black power movement was rampant with hyperbole and violence, but it did bring about two positive changes:
·It helped African Americans take pride in their racial heritage. Blacks had long suffered from low self esteem brought about from slavery and continued repression.
·It forced Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders to focus on the problems of poor inner-city blacks.
Sadly, all this came about when the country’s attention was focused on it’s longest, and most problematical foreign war:
The War in Viet Nam
Every American President since Truman had done just enough to keep from "losing" Vietnam to the Communists. Johnson tried to do the same, calling it a "raggedy-ass fourth rate country." Even so, American presence slowly but surely escalated. At the time of John F. Kennedy’s death, there were 16,000 American "advisors" in Vietnam. By 1969, (the height of the war) 542,000 Americans were fighting there. By March, 1973, 58,000 Americans had died in the war and 300,000 had been wounded. Over 570,000 people were branded as draft offenders, and 563,000 American soldiers received less-than-honorable discharges. The war ultimately ended Johnson’s chances to be reelected in 1968, and divided the country more than any conflict since the Civil War.
Escalation was the result of an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin in August, 1964. Two American Destroyers, the U.S.S. Maddox and the C. Turner Joy were attacked by North Vietnamese vessels. Johnson described the attack as unprovoked in a message to a national television audience. (Actually, the destroyers were monitoring South Vietnamese attacks against two North Vietnamese Islands in an action planned by U.S. advisors. Editorials at the time suggested that neither destroyer was displaying the colors at the time, a violation of military protocol).
There was no damage from the attacks, but it was considered an attack upon America. There had been no American blood shed, but they had come darn near close. (For those uninformed on matters of international law, a ship is considered an extension of the nation under whose flag it sails; hence an attack on an American ship resulting in death would, quite legally, be "American blood shed on American soil." On August 7, 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the President to "take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression." Only two Senators voted against the resolution. Johnson interpreted the resolution as being tantamount to a Congressional Declaration of War.
Johnson’s decision to involve the U.S. in Vietnam was consistent with all American Presidents since World War II; to "contain" communism. In a speech at Johns Hopkins University in 1965, Johnson said "We are there because we have a promise to keep…. To leave Vietnam to its fate would shake the confidence of all these people in the value of American commitment." The belief was that if Vietnam fell to the Communists, Thailand, Burma, and the rest of Southeast Asia would fall like dominoes.
***Johnson and his advisors knew that they could not allow American involvement to reach the point that China and Russia would intervene on behalf of the North Vietnamese; the end result would have been World War III. Therefore, the United States had to fight a "limited" war, in which victory was never an option. The goal was not to win the war, but to prevent the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong from winning. America would have to stay involved as long as the enemy had the will to fight. An American military victory in Vietnam was never a possibility.
Attacks on Americans led Johnson to order Operation Rolling Thunder, sustained bombing of North Vietnam to stop the flow of soldiers and supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail. A study six months later concluded there was no way to stop the traffic.
The first American forces were engaged in "search and destroy" operations in the South. They were commanded by General William C. "Westy" Westmoreland, of Columbia, S.C. Casualty figures and "body counts" continued to grow, and the war soon became a war of attrition, very similar to World War I.
North Vietnam had something of a home team advantage. Ho Chi Minh had warned the French in the 1940’s, "You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose and I will win." The U.S. planned to fight a limited war, but the North Vietnamese were willing to sacrifice everything for the cause. They were fighting for their very survival.
General Westmoreland constantly assured Johnson and Americans that he was always on the verge of turning the corner, and an American victory was close at hand. He deceived Johnson and through Johnson the American public.
American support for the war eroded rather quickly: The erosion began, as have many political developments, on college campuses.
·George Kennan, founder of the Containment theory, testified before a Senate Committee that containment was appropriate for Europe, but not for Southeast Asia.
·A respected military general testified that Westmoreland’s battle strategy had no chance of success.
·Nightly television accounts made Vietnam the first "living room war," and saw hundreds of noncombatants killed each week.
American support finally turned against the war on January 31, 1968 when the Viet Cong defied a holiday truce during Tet (the Vietnamese New Year), captured Hue, and briefly occupied the American embassy in Saigon. Westmoreland defeated them, and declared it a major victory; but the offensive indicated that the U.S. was not, in fact winning the war. Time and Newsweek ran editorials urging American withdrawal from the war; and Walter Cronkite on CBS News told his viewers he no longer believed the war was winnable.
Upon hearing this, Johnson remarked, "IF I’ve lost Walter, I’ve lost Mr. Average Citizen."
Johnson’s popularity nose-dived. It reached 35 per cent, lower than Truman’s in his darkest hour. Civil rights leaders also felt betrayed. In 1968 the U.S. was spending $322,000 for every Communist killed in Vietnam; but only $53 per person in the war on Poverty.
Early in 1968, Clark Clifford, Johnson’s Secretary of Defense, told the President that a military victory was impossible. Robert Kennedy was thinking of running for the Democratic nomination, and Eugene McCarthy of Wisconsin, a left-wing liberal, openly challenged Johnson for the nomination, and won the New Hampshire primary. Every primary was obviously a referendum on Johnson’s handling of the war, and he was taking a severe beating.
March 31, 1968, Johnson appeared on National Television and to announce a limited halt to the bombing of the North and efforts toward a cease-fire. Towards the end, he took off his glasses, put down his prepared text, looked directly into the Camera and said: "I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President." The war had brought down an American president; but it was five more years before America could extricate itself from the morass.
Johnson’s announcement was totally unexpected, and was a shock. I watched it on television; and my Dad immediately proclaimed it a ploy by Johnson to win votes, and said with calm assurance, "You watch; he’ll run." The next day, my economics professor, who hated Johnson, walked into the room and wrote the word "happy" on the blackboard.
The most traumatic year of the entire 60’s decade was 1968, the year that Johnson announced he would not seek re-election:
·April 4, 1963, four days after Johnson’s announcement, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee. James Earl Ray, a racist white was arrested in London later, and confessed to the killing. He later claimed that he didn’t do it, and if he did, he didn’t act alone. He briefly escaped from Brushy Mountain State Prison in Tennessee, but was recaptured. He died of liver cancer still maintaining his innocence. The King family backed his claim, but there is no substantial evidence to indicate he was telling the truth.
·June 1969, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in a Los Angeles Hotel minutes after he was declared the winner of the California Democratic Primary. This would have virtually guaranteed him the Democratic nomination. His Assassin was a Palestinian, Sirhan Sirhan, who resented Kennedy’s support of Israel.
David Halberstam, of the New York Times commented, remarking on the numerous political assassinations of the Sixties: "We could make a calendar of the decade by marking where we were at the hours of those violent deaths.
August, 1969, at the Democratic Convention, Hubert Humphrey was nominated to run for President. His running mate was Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine. Outside the Hotel, anti-war protesters rioted and battled with police, who tear-gassed them. This didn’t help the reputation of the Democrats at all, and helped the Republicans who nominated Richard Nixon in Miami. His running mate was Gov. Spiro Agnew of Maryland.
Six years earlier, Nixon had lost the California gubernatorial race, and had blamed his loss on the press. In a "farewell" speech, he told the press, "You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference." His comeback was remarkable, and primarily due to his claim to represent "Middle America," the group who wanted nothing more than peace and stability, whom he called the "silent majority."
Meantime, George Wallace, Democratic Governor of Alabama began a third party campaign. Wallace had no chance of winning, but was on the ballot in all 50 states. His only hope was to throw the race into the House of Representatives, which many people (myself included) expected to happen. Many people in South Carolina openly supported Wallace as he offered an alternative to Johnson’s Great Society, which many Southern Whites hated.
An interesting political cartoon of the day showed Humphrey and Nixon standing outside a large columned building which bore the title "Electoral College." Standing on the steps with his arm pointed upward was George Wallace proclaiming, "I shall stand in the doorway," an obvious reference to his attempts to prevent the integration of the University of Alabama.
When Nixon nominated Spiro Agnew, the typical comment heard was: "Who?" It soon appeared the Agnew had a reputation for speaking his mind, although he was more eloquent than Wallace. I wrote a letter to the State Newspaper (which was published) stating that Nixon nominated Agnew to offer an alternative to Wallace. I was 20 at the time, not old enough to vote under the current law. Later, Time Magazine, responding to Agnew’s characterization of a group of anti-war protesters as "an effete corps of impudent snobs," commented that he sounded like "George Wallace armed with Roget’s."
Nixon had an early lead, and Wallace hurt his chances of throwing the race into the House when he nominated General Curtis LeMay, a retired World War II hero as his running mate. Gen. LeMay openly advocated using nuclear weapons in Vietnam to end the war.
Nixon won the election by a slim margin. He carried 301 electoral votes to Humphrey’s 191. Wallace carried five Southern States (Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia) and 46 electoral votes. He was much closer to throwing the race into the House than one might have thought: Nixon needed 269 votes to win; his margin was a mere 32 votes.
Nixon promised "peace with honor" in Vietnam. As a representative of the complacent fifties, it was hoped he could restore calm and purpose to a violent decade.