The American Republic Since 1877 Video

Reading Check Explaining What led to the passage of the Twenty sixth Amendment?

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Reading Check Explaining What led to the passage of the Twenty sixth Amendment?

Fact Fiction Folklore

The Peace Symbol This familiar symbol of the 1960s was originally designed to stand for the fight for nuclear disarmament. Created by British artist Gerald Holtom in 1958, the symbol was first used at a British demonstration against a research center for the development of nuclear weapons. It combined the semaphore for the letters "N" and "D," standing for nuclear disarmament. Semaphore is a system of visual signaling using two flags, one held in each hand. N is two flags held in an upside  down V, and D is one flag pointed straight up and the other pointed straight down.

1968: The Pivotal Year

The most turbulent year of the chaotic 1960s was 1968. The year saw a shocking political announce­ment, a pair of traumatic assassinations, and a vio­lent political convention. First, however, the nation endured a surprise attack in Vietnam.


The Tet Offensive On January 30, 1968, during let the Vietnamese New Year, the Vietcong and North Vietnamese launched a massive surprise attack. In this Tet offensive, the guerrilla fighters attacked virtually all American airbases in South Vietnam and most of the South's major cities and provincial capitals. The bloodiest battle took place at Hue, South Vietnam's third largest city. The Communist tortes seized much of the city, and it took American and South Vietnamese troops almost four weeks to drive them out. Afterward, American troops round mass graves. The Communist forces had massacred the city's political and religious leaders as well ac many foreigners, intellectuals, and others associ­ated with South Vietnam's government Nearly 3,000 bodies were found. Thousands more remained missing.

Militarily, Tet turned out to he a disaster for the Communist forces. After about a month of fighting, the American and South Vietnamese soldiers repelled the enemy troops, indicting heavy losses on them. General Westmoreland boasted that the Communists' "well-laid plans went afoul," while President Johnson triumphantly added that the enemy's effort had ended in "complete failure."

In fact, the North Vietnamese had scored a major political victory. The American people were shocked that an enemy supposedly on the verge of defeat could launch such a large-scale attack. When General Westmoreland requested 206,000 troops in addition to the 500,000 already in Vietnam, it seemed to be an admission that the United States could not win the war

To make mailers worse, the mainstream media, which had tried to remain balanced in their war cover­age, now openly criticized the effort. Walter Cronkite, then the nation's most respected television newscaster, announced after let that it seemed "more certain than ever that the bloody experience in Vietnam is to end in a stalemate."

Public opinion no longer favored the president. In the weeks following the Tet offensive, the president's approval rating plummeted to a dismal 35 percent, while support for his handling of the war tell even lower, to 26 percent.

Johnson Leaves the Presidential Race With the war growing increasingly unpopular and Johnson’s credibility all but gone, some Democrats began look­ing for an alternative candidate to nominate for presi­dent in 1968. In November 1967, even before the Tet disaster, a little-known liberal senator from Minnesota, Eugene McCarthy, became the first dove to announce his candidacy against Johnson. In March 1968, McCarthy stunned the nation by winning more than 10 percent of the votes in the New Hampshire primary


and almost defeating the president. Realizing that Johnson was vulnerable, Senator Robert Kennedy, who also opposed the war, quickly entered the race au the Democratic nomination.

With the division in the country and within his own party growing, Johnson addressed the public on televi­sion on March 31, 1968. He stunned viewers by stating, "I have concluded that I should not permit the presi­dency to become involved in the partisan divisions that am developing in this political year. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my part' for another term as your President."

A Season of Violence Following Johnson's announcement, the nation endured even more shocking events. In April James Earl Ray was arrested for killing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an event which led to riots in several major cities. Just two months later, another assassination rocked the country—that of Robert Kennedy. Kennedy, who appeared to be on his Way to winning the Democratic nomination, was gunned down on Junes in a California hotel just after winning the state's Democratic primary. The assassin was Sirhan Sirhan, an Arab nationalist apparently angry over the candidate's pro-Israeli remarks a few nights before.

The violence that seemed to plague the country at every turn in 1968 culminated with a chaotic and well-publicized clash between protesters and police at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Thousands of protesters descended on the August convention, demanding that the Democrats adopt an antiwar platform.

On the third day of the convention, the delegates chose Hubert Humphrey, President Johnson's vice president, as their presidential nominee. Meanwhile, in a park not far from the convention hall, the pro­testers and police began fighting. A full-scale riot soon engulfed the streets of downtown Chicago. As officers tried to disperse demonstrators with tear gas and billy clubs, demonstrators taunted the authori­ties with the chant, "I he whole world is watching!"

---Refer to NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC The Tet Offensive, 1968 map on page 788 in your textbook.

Geography Skills

1. Interpreting Maps. Most of the Ho Chi Minh Trail lies within which countries?

2. Applying Geography Skills. How broad was the Tet offensive, and why did this shock Americans?


Nixon Wins the Presidency the violence and chaos now associated with the Democratic Party ben­efited the 1968 Republican presidential candidate, Richard Nixon. Although defeated in the 1960 elec­tion, Nixon had remained active in national politics. A third candidate, Governor George Wallace of Alabama, also decided to run in 1968 as an indepen­dent. Wallace, an outspoken segregationist, sought to attract those Americans who felt threatened by the civil rights movement and urban social unrest.

Public opinion polls gave Nixon a wide lead over Humphrey and Wallace. Nixon's campaign promise to unity the nation and restore law and order appealed to Americans who feared their country was spinning out of control. Nixon also declared that he had a plan for ending the war in Vietnam, although he did not specify how the plan would work.

At first Humphrey's support of President Johnson's Vietnam policies hurt his campaign. After Humphrey broke with the president and called for a complete end to the bombing of North Vietnam, he began to move up in the polls. A week before the election, President Johnson helped Humphrey by announcing that the bombing of North Vietnam had halted and that a cease-fire would follow.

Johnson's announcement had come too late. In the end, Nixon's promises to end the war and restore order at home were enough to sway the American people. On Election Day, Nixon defeated Humphrey by more than 100 electoral rotes, although he won the popular vote by a slim margin of just over 43 per­cent to Humphrey's 42.7. Wallace helped account for the razor-thin margin by winning 46 electoral votes and more than 13 percent of the popular vote.

Speaking to reporters after his election, Nixon recalled seeing a young girl carrying a sign at one of his rallies that said: "Bring Us Together." This, he promised, would be his chief goal as president. Nixon also vowed to implement his plan to end the Vietnam War.

---Refer to Opposition to the Vietnam War graph on page 789 in your textbook.

Graph Skills

1. Interpreting Graphs. During what two years was opposition to the war lowest? What event occurred around that time?

2. Generalizing. In what year did opposition to the Vietnam War peak? How was this sentiment logically related to the withdrawal of American troops?

Reading Check Explaining Why did President Johnson not run for re-election in 1968?


Checking for Understanding

1. Define: credibility gap, teach-in, dove, hawk.

2. Identify: William Westmoreland, Tet offensive.

3. Summarize three important events that occurred in 1968.

Reviewing Themes

4. Civic Rights and Responsibilities Why did many people believe that the Vietnam War reflected racial and eco­nomic injustices in the United States?

Critical Thinking

5. Synthesizing Why did support of the Vietnam War begin to dwindle by the late 1960s?

6. Organizing Use a graphic organizer similar to the one below to list the effects of the Tet offensive.

Analyzing Visuals

7. Analyzing Photographs Study the photograph on page 786. The phrase "flower power" was a slogan of the hip­pie movement. Explain what you think the phrase meant to hippies and how the slogan was used to express opposi­tion to the war.

Writing About History

8. Expository Writing Imagine that you are living in 1968. Write a paragraph for the local newspaper in which you explain your reasons for either supporting or opposing the Vietnam War.



The War Winds Down

Guide to Reading

Main Idea

After nearly eight years of fighting in Vietnam, the United States withdrew its forces.

Key Terms and Names

Henry Kissinger, linkage, Vietnamization, Pentagon Papers, War Powers Act

Reading Strategy

Organizing As you read about the end of the Vietnam War, complete a graphic organizer similar to the one below by list­ing the steps that President Nixon took to end American involvement in Vietnam.

Reading Objectives

Explain the events of Nixon's first administration that inspired more antiwar protests.

Summarize the major lessons the United States learned from the Vietnam War experience.

Section Theme

Government and Democracy The Vietnam War led to changes in the way the U.S. military is deployed.

Preview of Events

1973 Cease-fire signed

1969 Secret peace negotiations between the U.S. and North Vietnam begin

1972 Nixon initiates Christmas bombings

1975 Evacuation of the last Americans from Vietnam

An American Story

On the evening of April 29, 1975, Frank Snepp, a young CIA officer, scrambled up to the American embassy rooftop to catch one of the last helicopters out of Saigon. Throughout that day, Snepp had witnessed the desperation of the South Vietnamese people as they besieged the embassy grounds in an to effort escape the approaching Communist army. Now he was leaving. Later, he recalled the scene:

“The roof of the Embassy was a vision out of a nightmare. In the center of the dimly lit helo-pad a CH-47 was already waiting for us, its engines setting up a roar like a primeval scream. The crew and controllers all wore what looked like oversized football helmets, and in the blinking under-light of the landing signals they reminded me of grotesque insects rearing on their hindquarters. Out beyond the edge of the building a Phantom jet streaked across the horizon as tracers darted up here and there into the night sky."

quoted in Decent Interval

Nixon Moves to End the War

Frank Snepp was one of the last Americans to leave Vietnam. Shortly after taking office, President Nixon had taken steps to end the nation's in involvement in the wary but the final years of the conflict would yield much more bloodshed and turmoil.

As a first step, Nixon appointed Harvard professor Henry Kissinger as special assis­tant for national security affairs and gate him wide authority to use diplomacy to end the conflict Kissinger embarked upon a polio he called linkage, which meant improving


relations with the Soviet Union and China—suppliers of aid to North Vietnam—so he could persuade them to cut hack on their aid.

Kissinger also rekindled peace talks with the North Vietnamese. In August 1969, Kissinger entered into secret negotiations with North Vietnam's negotiator, Le Duc Tho. In their talks, which dragged on for four years, Kissinger and Le Duc Tho argued over a possible cease-lire, the return of American prisoners of war, and the ultimate fate of South Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Nixon cut back the number of Amer­ican troops in Vietnam. Known as Vietnamization, this process involved the gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops while South Vietnam assumed more of the fighting. On June 8, 1969, Nixon announced the with­drawal of 25,000 soldiers. Nixon refused to view this troop withdrawal as a form of surrender. He was determined to maintain a strong American presence in Vietnam to ensure bargaining power during peace negotiations. In support of that goal, the president increased airstrikes against North Vietnam and began bombing Vietcong sanctuaries in neighboring Cambodia.

Reading Check Identifying When did secret negoti­ations with the North Vietnamese begin?

Turmoil at Home Continues

Even though the United States had begun scaling back its involvement in Vietnam, the American home front remained divided and volatile as Nixon's war policies stirred up new waves of protest.

Massacre at My Lai In November 1969, Americans learned of a horrifying event. That Month, the media reported that in the spring of 1968, an American platoon under the command of Lieutenant William Calley had massacred possibly more than 200 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians in the hamlet of My Lai. Most of the vic­tims were old men, women, and children Caney eventually went to prison for his role in the killings.

Most American soldiers acted responsibly and honorably throughout the war. The actions of one soldier, however, increased the feeling among many citizens that this was a brutal and senseless conflict Jan Barry, a founder of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, viewed the massacre at My Lai as a symbol of the dilemma his generation laced in the conflict:

“To kill on military orders and be a criminal, or to refuse to kill and be a criminal is the moral agony of America's Vietnam war generation. It is what has forced upward of sixty thousand young Americans, draft resisters and deserters to Canada, and created one hundred thousand military deserters a year in this country and abroad.”

-quoted in Who Spoke Up?

The Invasion of Cambodia Sparks Protest Americans heard more startling news when Nixon announced in April 1970 that American Mops had invaded Cambodia. The troops wanted to destroy Vietcong military bases there.

Many Viewed the Cambodian invasion as a widen­ing of the war, and it set off many protests. At Kent State University on May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guard soldiers, armed with tear gas and rifles, tired on demonstrators without an order to do so. The soldiers killed four students and wounded at least nine others. Ten days later, police killed two African American stu­dents during a demonstration at Jackson Stale College in Mississippi.

Picturing History

National Trauma When members of The Ohio National Guard fired on Kent State University demonstrators, the event triggered a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close. How does this image connect with the phrase “the war at home”?


The Pentagon Papers In addi­tion to sparking violence on cam­puses, the invasion of Cambodia cost Nixon significant congres­sional support. Numerous legisla­tors expressed outrage over the president's failure to notify them of the action. In December 1970, an angry Congress repealed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which had given the president near com­plete power in directing the war in Vietnam.

Support for the war weakened further in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg, a disillusioned former Defense Department worker, leaked what became known as the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. The documents re­vealed that many government officials during the Johnson administration privately ques­tioned the war while publicly defending it.

The documents contained details of decisions that were made by the presidents and their advisers with­out the consent of Congress. They also showed how the various administrations acted to deceive Congress, the press, and the public about the situation in Vietnam. The Pentagon Papers confirmed what many Americans had long believed: The gov­ernment had not been honest with them.

Reading Check Evaluating What did the Pentagon Papers confirm for many Americans?

The United States Pulls Out of Vietnam

By 1971 polls showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans wanted to end the Vietnam War as quickly as possible. In April 1972, President Nixon dropped his longtime insistence that North Vietnamese troops had to withdraw from South Vietnam before an v peace treaty could be signed. In October, less than a month before the 1972 presidential election, Henry Kissinger emerged from his secret talks with Le Duc Tho to announce that "peace is at hand."

A month later, Americans went to the polls to decide on a president. Senator George McGovern, the Democratic candidate, was an outspoken critic of the war. He did not appeal to many middle-class Americans, however, who were tired of antiwar protesters. When the votes were cast, Nixon won re­election in a landslide.

The Two Sides Reach Peace Just weeks after the presidential election, the peace negotiations broke down. South Vietnam's president, Nguyen Van Thieu, refused to agree to any plan that left North Vietnamese troops in the South. Kissinger tried to win additional concessions from the Communists, but talks broke oft in mid-December.

The next day, lo force North Vietnam to resume negotiations, the Nixon administration began the most destructive air raids of the entire war. In what became known as the "Christmas bombings," American B-52s dropped thousands of tons of bombs on North Vietnamese targets for 12 straight days, pausing only on Christmas day.

In the wake of the bombing campaign, the United States and North Vietnam returned to the bargaining table. Thieu finally gave in to American pressure and allowed North Vietnamese troops to remain in the South. On January 27, 1973, the warring sides signed an agreement "ending the war and restoring the peace in Vietnam"

Profiles in HISTORY

Roy P. Benavidez


Roy P. Benavidez received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for heroism, for his actions in the Vietnam War. Growing up, Benavidez worked on the streets selling empty soda bottles and cleaning a local stockyard. His father's family had been vaqueros (cowboys from Mexico), immigrating in the 1830s during the Texas War for Independence. His mother, a Yaqui Native American, was born in northern Mexico. Both parents died by the time Benavidez was seven, and he was raised by his uncle.

A tough life made Benavidez a fighter. In May 1968 while fighting in Vietnam, Benavidez rescued members of his Special Forces group who were surrounded by the enemy. Wounded three times while getting to the men by helicopter, he stayed with them some eight hours, preparing an evacuation. Then while carrying the men to the rescue helicopters, he was attacked from behind but managed to kill his attacker. Only after loading all the dead and wounded did Benavidez himself board a helicopter.


The United States promised to withdraw the rest of its troops, and both sides agreed to an exchange of prisoners of war. The parties did not resolve the issue of South Vietnam's future, however. After almost eight years of war—the longest war in American his­tory—the nation ended its direct involvement in Vietnam.

South Vietnam Falls the United States had barely pulled out its last troops from Vietnam when the peace agreement collapsed. In March 1975, the North Vietnamese army launched a full-scale invasion of the South. Thieu desperately appealed to Washington. D.C., for help.

President Nixon had assured Thieu during the peace negotiations that the United States “[would] respond with full force should the settlement be violated by North Vietnam" Nixon, however, had resigned under pressure following the Watergate scan­dal. The new president, Gerald Ford, asked for funds to aid the South Vietnamese, but Congress refused.

On April 30, the North Vietnamese captured Saigon, South Vietnam's capital, and united Vietnam under Communist rule. They then renamed Saigon Ho Chi Minh City.

Reading Check Explaining Why did the peace talks break down in December 1972?

Picturing History

Desperate Pleas When President Ford ordered all Americans to leave Vietnam immediately in April 1975, many Saigon residents starred the U.S. embassy pleading for rescue. When did the North Vietnamese take control of Saigon?

The Legacy of Vietnam

"The lessons of the past in Vietnam," President Ford declared in 1975. "have already been learned—learned by Presidents, learned by Congress, learned by the American people and we should have our focus on the future." Although Americans tried to put the war behind them, Vietnam left a deep and lasting impact on American society.

The War's Human Toll The United States paid a heavy price for its involvement in Vietnam. The war had cost the nation over $170 billion in direct costs and much more in indirect economic expenses. More significantly, it had resulted in the deaths of approxi­mately 58,000 young Americans and the injury of more than 300,000. In Vietnam, around one million North and South Vietnamese soldiers died in the con­flict, as did countless civilians.

Even after they returned home from fighting, some American veterans, as in other wars, found it hard to escape the war's psychological impact. Army Specialist Doug Johnson recalled the problems he faced on returning home:

“It took a while for me to recognize that I did suf­fer some psychological problems in trying to deal with my experience in Vietnam. The first recollection I have of the effect took place shortly after I arrived back in the States. One evening…I went to see a movie on post. I don't recall the name of the movie or what it was about, but I remember there was a sad part, and that I started crying uncontrollably. It hadn't dawned on me before this episode that I had ... suc­ceeded in burying my emotions.”

—quoted in Touched by the Dragon

One reason it May have been harder for many Vietnam veterans to readjust to civilian life was that many considered the war a defeat. Many Americans wanted to forget the war. Thus, the sacrifices of many veterans often went unrecognized. There were rela­tively few welcome-home parades and celebrations after the war.

The war also lingered for the American families whose relatives and friends were classified as


prisoners of war (POWs) or missing in action (MIA). Despite many official investigations, these Families were not convinced that the government had told the truth about POW /MIA policies in the last years of the war.

The nation finally began to come to terms with the war almost a decade later. In 1982 the nation dedi­cated the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., a large black stone wall inscribed with the names of those killed and missing in action in the war. "It's a first step to remind America of what we did,” veteran Larry Cox of Virginia said at the dedication of the monument.

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