Chapter 31 Disaster and Détente: The Cold War, Vietnam, and the Third World, 1961–1989 Learning Objectives



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Disaster and Détente: The Cold War, Vietnam, and the Third World, 1961–1989


Chapter 31

Disaster and Détente: The Cold War, Vietnam,
and the Third World, 1961–1989

Learning Objectives

After you have studied Chapter 31 in your textbook and worked through this study guide chapter, you should be able to:

1. Examine, evaluate, and discuss the consequences of the defense and foreign policy views, goals, and actions of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

2. Discuss Cuban-American relations from 1959 to October 1962; explain the causes, outcome, and consequences of the Cuban missile crisis, and evaluate President John Kennedy’s handling of the crisis.

3. Examine and evaluate the events and decisions that led to deepening United States involvement in Vietnam from 1961 to 1965.

4. Discuss the nature of the Vietnam War, the characteristics of American soldiers who served in the war, and the war’s impact on those soldiers.

5. Explain the factors that contributed to the emergence of anti-Vietnam War sentiment and protests within the United States.

6. Discuss the course of the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1975; explain the war’s impact on Southeast Asia and American society; and discuss the debate in the United States over the meaning of the American experience in Vietnam.

7. Explain the theories on which the Nixon-Kissinger “grand strategy” was based; examine and evaluate the policies and actions inspired by those theories; and examine the international crises and issues that placed the grand strategy in jeopardy.

8. Examine, evaluate, and discuss the consequences of the defense and foreign policy views, goals, and actions of the Carter administration.

9. Examine, evaluate, and discuss the consequences of the defense and foreign policy views, goals, and actions of the Reagan administration.

10. Discuss the activities that constituted the Iran-contra scandal, and explain the scandal’s impact on the presidency of Ronald Reagan.



Thematic Guide

Chapter 31 continues the survey of the Cold War, begun in Chapter 29, and carries the story from the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to the end of President Reagan’s term in 1989. As can be seen in the discussion of U.S. foreign policy during this period, the containment doctrine, formulated during the Truman administration, continued to be the guiding force behind American foreign policy from the Kennedy administration through the Reagan administration. Furthermore, the action-reaction relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union that was so much a part of the early Cold War persists into the 1961 to 1989 period.

In its quest for friends in the Third World and ultimate victory in the Cold War, the Kennedy administration adopted the goal of nation building, to be accomplished, for example, through the Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps as well as through the techniques of counterinsurgency. Such methods perpetuated an idea that had long been part of American foreign policy: that other people cannot solve their own problems and that the American economic and governmental model can be transferred intact to other societies. Historian William Appleman Williams believed that such thinking led to “the tragedy of American diplomacy,” and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., refers to it as “a ghastly illusion.” The idea is further evidenced in the CIA’s intervention in the Congo (Zaire) from 1960 to 1961 and in Brazil from 1962 to 1964.

Despite the strategic superiority of the United States over the Soviet Union in 1960, President Kennedy’s presidential campaign was based, in part, on the false premise that the Eisenhower administration had allowed a “missile gap” to develop between the United States and its arch-rival. Once elected, President Kennedy oversaw a significant military buildup based on the principle of “flexible response,” and his policies and actions in the field of foreign policy were shaped by his acceptance of the containment doctrine and his preference for a bold, interventionist foreign policy. His activist approach not only helped bring the world to the brink of nuclear disaster in the Cuban missile crisis but also led to a significant acceleration of the nuclear arms race—a trend that continued through the administration of Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson.

The authors trace the course of American involvement in Vietnam from deepening U.S. involvement during the Kennedy administration to the collapse of South Vietnam in April 1975. This discussion is based on the thesis that disaster befell the United States in Vietnam because of the U.S. belief that it had a right to influence the internal affairs of Third World countries. This theme runs through the discussion of United States involvement in Vietnam in several variations: the United States decision to sabotage the Geneva accords (see Chapter 29), United States support of the overthrow of the Diem regime, Johnson’s view of Vietnam as a “damn little pissant country,” the arrogance of power on the part of the United States, and Nixon’s “jugular diplomacy.”

Several subthemes remind us of the sources of the Cold War, discussed in Chapter 29. It is within this context that the authors state: “Overlooking the native roots of the nationalist rebellion against France, Washington officials took a globalist view of Vietnam, interpreting events through a Cold War lens.” And in a review of the material we find that the following sources of the Cold War discussed in Chapter 29 fit the war in Vietnam:


1. The unsettled international environment at the end of World War II encouraged competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Empires were disintegrating (France’s attempt to reinstate its authority in Indochina ended in disaster at Dienbienphu); nations were being born (Ho Chi Minh attempted to create an independent Vietnam); and civil wars were raging within nations (the National Liberation Front emerged against Ngo Dinh Diem’s South Vietnamese regime).

2. United States fear of the Soviet system led to economic expansionism (the United States recognized Southeast Asia as an economic asset) and globalist diplomacy (Southeast Asia seemed vital to the defense of Japan and the Philippines).

3. United States officials exaggerated the Soviet threat because of their belief in a monolithic communist enemy bent on world revolution. (American presidents from Truman through Nixon failed to recognize the nationalist roots of the problem in Vietnam. Instead, they saw Ho Chi Minh as a Communist and Vietnam as an “Asian Berlin,” and they accepted the tenets of the domino theory.)
In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Americans began to debate its causes and consequences. Just as they had disagreed over the course and conduct of the war, they were now unable to reach any real consensus on its lessons for the nation.

Although a great deal of energy was expended on questions relating to the Vietnam War during Richard M. Nixon’s presidency, Nixon considered other foreign policy matters, especially the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, to be more important. In an attempt to create a global balance of power, Nixon and Henry Kissinger (Nixon’s national security adviser and later his secretary of state) adopted a “grand strategy.” By means of détente with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, Nixon and Kissinger sought to achieve the same goals as those of the old containment doctrine, but through accommodation rather than confrontation. Despite détente, the United States still had to respond to crises rooted in instability. Nowhere was the fragility of world stability via the grand strategy more apparent than in the Middle East, where war again broke out between the Arab states and Israel in 1973. While the Soviet Union and the United States positioned themselves by putting their armed forces on alert, OPEC imposed an oil embargo against the United States. Kissinger was able to persuade the warring parties to agree to a cease-fire; OPEC ended its embargo; and, through “shuttle diplomacy,” Kissinger persuaded Egypt and Israel to agree to a United Nations peacekeeping force in the Sinai. But many problems remained, and the instability of the region continued to be a source of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

President Nixon believed, just as previous presidents had believed, in America’s right to influence the internal affairs of Third World countries. It was out of this belief and the concomitant belief that the United States should curb revolution and radicalism in the Third World, that Nixon accepted the Johnson Doctrine in Latin America, as evidenced by the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile.

As Nixon and Kissinger sought world order through the grand strategy, global economic issues highlighted the differences between the rich and poor nations of the world and heightened the animosity of Third World nations toward what they perceived to be the exploitive industrialized nations of the world. The United States, the richest nation on Earth, exports large quantities of goods to developing nations as well as importing raw materials from those nations. This important trade, along with America’s worldwide investments, in part explains the interventionist nature of United States foreign policy, a policy accepted and continued by Presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford, and by their foreign-policy overseer, Henry Kissinger. Therefore, during the Nixon-Ford-Kissinger years America’s global watch against forces that threatened its far-flung economic and strategic interests continued.

When Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency in 1977, he and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance at first pledged a new course for the United States. However, this course was challenged by Carter’s national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, by Democratic and Republican critics, and by the Soviet Union, which reacted in anger and fear to the human rights aspect of Carter’s policies. The Cold War seemed to have its own momentum. Despite the Carter administration’s successful negotiation of the SALT-II treaty and its achievements in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, it was overwhelmed by critics at home, the Iranian hostage crisis, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The grain embargo, the 1980 Olympics boycott, and the Carter Doctrine all seemed more reminiscent of the containment doctrine and the sources of the Cold War than of a new course in American foreign policy. Furthermore, the excesses in which the United States had engaged in the past in its attempts to create stability, protect American economic interests, and contain the Communist threat rained down on the Carter administration in the form of the Iranian hostage crisis. In this crisis America’s missiles, submarines, tanks, and bombers ultimately meant nothing if the lives of the hostages were to be saved. But many Americans wished for a return to the immediate postwar world, a world in which the United States had a monopoly on economic and military power. In this spirit of nostalgia, the electorate chose Ronald Reagan as its president in the 1980 election.

Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 marked a return to foreign-policy themes rooted in America’s past and reminiscent of the early days of the Cold War. As a result, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated and arms talks between the two nations broke down. The questioning of U.S. intervention in Third World nations, so apparent in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam disaster, was absent in the Reagan administration. Fearing communism, Reagan simplistically blamed unrest in the world on the Soviets, failed to see the local roots of problems, and formed alliances with antirevolutionary regimes, which tended to be unrepresentative. American relations with the Third World during the 1980s evoke memories of the sources of the Cold War, of the containment policy, and of attempts to protect American economic interests against the force of revolutionary nationalism. Therefore, in the name of protecting private American companies, the Reagan administration rejected the Law of the Sea Treaty. In the same vein, American policies toward El Salvador and Nicaragua recall phrases used to describe American policy in previous eras; and Reagan’s desire for victory rather than negotiation, seen especially in his policies toward Central America, brings to mind the early years of the Kennedy administration. However, since the Kennedy years the American people had been through the traumas of Vietnam and Watergate, and the power of Congress, relative to that of the president, had increased. Therefore, Congress in the mid-1980s was much more willing to play an active role in foreign policy decisions than it had been in the 1960s. But Congress, reflecting the debate among the American people over the nation’s policy toward Nicaragua, vacillated between ending aid to the contras in mid-1984 and again extending aid in 1986. During the period when aid was prohibited, the executive branch of the government, through the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency, acted to circumvent the will of Congress. These actions came to light in 1986 in the Iran-contra scandal, a scandal that deeply wounded Ronald Reagan’s ability to lead during his last two years in office.

From this discussion of the Iran-contra scandal, the authors turn their attention to continuing problems in the Middle East, the problem of terrorism against United States citizens and property, America’s ill-fated 1983 mission in Lebanon, and to a discussion of Congress’s ability to force the Reagan administration to alter its policy of “constructive engagement” toward South Africa. At the close of the 1980s major problems continued to face the United States in the Third World.

Public concern over the Reagan administration’s anti-Soviet stance and propensity toward confrontation led to international concern and to massive support for a freeze in the nuclear arms race. Public pressure, combined with other forces, led to a resumption of arms talks in 1985. In the same year Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power in the Soviet Union. Perhaps President Reagan was right when he said that he was “dropped into a grand historical moment,” because under Gorbachev’s leadership the Soviet Union undertook an ambitious domestic reform program and Soviet foreign policy underwent significant changes. These dramatic changes helped reduce international tensions and, in 1987, led to a Soviet-American agreement to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe.



Building Vocabulary

Listed below are important words and terms that you need to know to get the most out of Chapter 31. They are listed in the order in which they occur in the chapter. After carefully looking through the list, refer to a dictionary and jot down the definition of words that you do not know or of which you are unsure.

imbue

protracted



acrimonious

diffuse


quell

exemplary

bipolar

ardent


disparaging

reprisal


attrition

volatile


aghast

vengeful


quash

venerable

inordinate

reproach


tenacious

languish


malevolent

strident


Identification and Significance

After studying Chapter 31 of A People and a Nation, you should be able to identify fully and explain the historical significance of each item listed below.

1. Identify each item in the space provided. Give an explanation or description of the item. Answer the questions who, what, where, and when.

2. Explain the historical significance of each item in the space provided. Establish the historical context in which the item exists. Establish the item as the result of or as the cause of other factors existing in the society under study. Answer this question: What were the political, social, economic, and/or cultural consequences of this item?

John F. Kennedy

Identification

Significance

the concept of nation building

Identification

Significance

the Alliance for Progress

Identification

Significance

the Peace Corps

Identification

Significance

the doctrine of counterinsurgency

Identification

Significance

Patrice Lumumba and João Goulart

Identification

Significance

the principle of flexible response

Identification

Significance

the 1961 Berlin crisis

Identification

Significance

the Bay of Pigs invasion

Identification

Significance

Operation Mongoose

Identification

Significance

the Cuban missile crisis

Identification

Significance

the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons

Identification

Significance

Project Beef-up

Identification

Significance

the Strategic Hamlet Program

Identification

Significance

the Tonkin Gulf incident and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution

Identification

Significance

Johnson’s bombing campaign in Laos

Identification

Significance

Operation Rolling Thunder

Identification

Significance

the My Lai massacre

Identification

Significance

draft resisters

Identification

Significance

the Tet offensive

Identification

Significance

the Nixon Doctrine

Identification

Significance

Vietnamization

Identification

Significance

the invasion of Cambodia

Identification

Significance

the Pentagon Papers

Identification

Significance

the Christmas bombing

Identification

Significance

the Vietnam cease-fire agreement

Identification

Significance

the “boat people”

Identification

Significance

Vietnam syndrome

Identification

Significance

post-traumatic stress disorder

Identification

Significance

Henry A. Kissinger

Identification

Significance

the Nixon-Kissinger grand strategy

Identification

Significance

détente


Identification

Significance

the SALT-I agreements

Identification

Significance

MIRVs


Identification

Significance

Nixon’s China trip

Identification

Significance

the Six-Day War

Identification

Significance

the Palestine Liberation Organization

Identification

Significance

the 1973 Middle East war

Identification

Significance

the OPEC oil embargo

Identification

Significance

shuttle diplomacy

Identification

Significance

Salvador Allende

Identification

Significance

Nixon’s policy toward Africa

Identification

Significance

the “dollar glut” of the early 1970s

Identification

Significance

economic competition with Japan

Identification

Significance

the 1972 environmental conference in Stockholm

Identification

Significance

Jimmy Carter

Identification

Significance

Carter’s human rights policy

Identification

Significance

Zbigniew Brzezinski vs. Cyrus Vance

Identification

Significance

the SALT-II treaty

Identification

Significance

the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

Identification

Significance

the Carter Doctrine

Identification

Significance

the Camp David Accords

Identification

Significance

the Iranian hostage crisis

Identification

Significance

the Iranian rescue mission

Identification

Significance

the Panama Canal treaties of 1977

Identification

Significance

Ronald Reagan

Identification

Significance

Reagan’s “devil theory”

Identification

Significance

the Reagan Doctrine

Identification

Significance

the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

Identification

Significance

the Reagan defense buildup

Identification

Significance

the Salvadoran civil war

Identification

Significance

the contra war in Nicaragua

Identification

Significance

the Iran-contra scandal

Identification

Significance

the Lebanese crisis of 1982–1983

Identification

Significance

intifada

Identification

Significance

the policy of constructive engagement

Identification

Significance

the Third World debt crisis

Identification

Significance

the nuclear weapons debate

Identification

Significance

the nuclear freeze movement

Identification

Significance

“nuclear winter”

Identification

Significance

Mikhail S. Gorbachev

Identification

Significance

perestroika and glasnost

Identification

Significance

the 1987 INF treaty

Identification

Significance


Organizing Information

You have two organizing jobs to do in this exercise, the first a continuation of the Organizing Information exercise for Chapter 29 in which you gathered information about the impact of American fears of the Soviet Union and the second the job of organizing information from Chapter 31 concerning Americans’ changing political ideology on the home front.

American Fears of the Soviet Union

Gather evidence from Chapter 31 and your class notes concerning how much the United States continued to fear the U.S.S.R. from 1961 through 1989, how it showed its fear, and how its fear affected American policies and the attitudes of both the American public and the nation’s policy-makers. Record specific indications of American fear of the power and behavior of the Soviet Union during the specific periods suggested by the column headings.

In the bottom or final row of the chart, draw a conclusion about how much and in what way the country’s activities on the world stage reflected the national concern about the power, influence, and threat of the Soviet Union. (Does the concern seem reasonable to you?)

In the chart’s final column, draw a conclusion about whether American fears of the Soviet Union seemed to be increasing or decreasing and the significance of the increase or decrease in terms of the kinds of activities the United States was focusing on abroad as the 1990s opened.






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