Chapter 30: The Turbulent Sixties, 1960-1969 (#3) Johnson Escalates the Vietnam War



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The Return of Richard Nixon

  • 1968 – two dominant events of the decade take place

    • the war in Vietnam

    • the cultural insurgency at home

  • Richard Nixon – would stage a remarkable comeback to win the post denied him in 1960

  • Vietnam Undermines Lyndon Johnson

    • North Vietnamese – began a prolonged siege of an American base at Khe Sanh

      • Westmoreland – rushed in reinforcements – more than 40% of all American infantry and armor battalions

      • Tet – Vietnamese New Year, Vietcong launched a surprise attack in the heavily populated cities on January 30, 1968

        • American and South Vietnamese forces succeeded in repulsing the Tet offensive quickly everywhere except in Hue – the old imperial capital

    • Tet – proved to be the turning point of the Vietnam War

      • communists failed to win control of the cities – still held on to the most of the rural areas and had scored an impressive political victory

        • Walter Cronkite – the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in stalemate

    • group of experienced cold warriors advised the president – decided to limit the bombing of North Vietnam in an effort to open up peace negotiations with Hanoi

      • three years of inconclusive fighting and a steadily mounting loss of American lives had disillusioned the American people and finally cost LBJ the presidency

    • full price was still unknown – the Vietnam experience would continue to cast a shadow over American life for years to come

  • The Democrats Divide

    • Senate Foreign Relations Committee – held probing hearings on the war – broadcast on the television to the entire USA

    • Eugene McCarthy – challenged LBJ for the party’s presidential nomination

    • Robert Kennedy – had been weighing the risks in challenging Johnson on whether he should enter the presidential race

      • attracted strong support among blue-collar workers, African Americans, Chicanos, and other minorities who formed the nucleus of the continuing New Deal coalition

    • LBJ’s dramatic withdrawal caused an uproar

      • Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey – immediately declared his candidacy

        • he was totally unacceptable to the antiwar movement

          • decided to avoid the primaries and work for the nomination within the framework of the party

    • Kennedy and McCarthy – the two antiwar candidates were left to compete in the spring primaries

      • Kennedy – won everywhere, except in Oregon

        • narrow victory in California ended in tragedy when a Palestinian immigrant (Sirhan Sirhan) assassinated him in a Los Angeles hotel

    • Hubert Humphrey – had little difficulty at the Chicago convention

      • triumph was marred by violence outside the heavily guarded convention hall

        • radical groups had urged their members to come to Chicago to agitate

          • the bitter fumes of tear gas hung in the streets for days afterward – battered heads and bodies of demonstrators and innocent bystanders alike flooded the city’s hospital emergency rooms

      • the Democratic party itself had become the next victim of the Vietnam War

  • The Republican Resurgence

    • primary beneficiary of the Democratic debacle was Richard Nixon

      • Nixon – had slowly rebuilt his place within the party by working loyally for Barry Goldwater

        • positioning himself squarely in the middle – quickly became the front-runner for the Republican nomination

        • Nixon – opened up a wide lead by avoiding controversy and reaping the benefits of discontent with the Vietnam War

          • chose the role of reconciler for a nation torn by emotion – leader who promised to bring a divided country together again

    • Humphrey – found himself hounded by antiwar demonstrators who heckled him constantly

      • a third-party candidate cut deeply into the normal Democratic majority

      • George Wallace – attacked both black leaders and their liberal white allies – appealed to the sense of powerlessness among the urban working classes

        • American Independent Party

    • Nixon – won the election with the smallest share of the popular vote of any winning candidate since 1916

    • silent majority that was fed up with violence and confrontation

      • growing concern over psychedelic drugs, rock music, long hair, and sexual permissiveness had offset the usual Democratic advantage on economic issues and led to the election of a Republican president

    • civil rights, Medicare, and federal aid to education would continue in place

      • Nixon’s triumph – signaled a strong reaction against the growth of federal power

      • Vietnam fiasco – spelled the end of activist foreign policy that had begun with American entry into World War II

      • containment – had proved a disastrous failure when applied on a global scale

    • last three decades of the 20th century – struggle to replace outmoded liberal internationalism with new policies at home and abroad


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