Opposition to the war in Vietnam became the centerpiece of a wide-ranging political and cultural challenge to traditional American society. During this turbulent era, African Americans, women, Hispanics, and Native Americans organized to assert their rights. Richard Nixon inherited the war in Vietnam, and he brought it to an end. The cost of Nixon's four years of war was thousands of American lives and many more thousands of Asian lives, plus continued social unrest at home and an enduring strain on the economy. The end of American involvement did not mean that the goal of an independent, non communist South Vietnam had been secured. Nixon was more successful in his other foreign policy initiatives, opening meaningful contacts with China and somewhat easing tensions with the Soviet Union. He managed to stake out a solid constituency of conservative voters with his attacks on liberal programs and ideas. He never quite decided how to deal with a troubled economy that faced the unusual dual problem of slowed growth and rapidly rising prices. Less than two years after his overwhelming reelection in 1972, Nixon resigned from office under fire from a nation horrified by his arrogant misuse of presidential power for personal political purposes in the Watergate affair. Meanwhile, with the Vietnam War behind them, Americans began to look to other issues, particularly the environment, and raise more questions about the quality of life on our planet.
Brinkley, Alan (2007). American history: A survey. New York, New York: McGraw Hill.
The Reagan Revolution: 1980-1988
1981?88 Ronald Reagan?s presidency.
1981 Reagan survives assassination attempt. Reagan's initial tax cut implemented. Sandra Day O'Connor appointed to the Supreme Court.
CIA begins aiding Nicaraguan Contras. Reagan fires striking air traffic controllers. Betty Friedan publishes Second Stage.
1982 Unemployment peaks at nearly 10 percent. Federal judge orders breakup of AT&T. Nuclear freeze movement stages rally in Central Park.
1983 Secretary of the Interior James Watt resigns. Reagan announces Strategic Defense Initiative. Suicide truck bomber in Beirut kills 241 marines.
United States invades Grenada.
1984 U.S. and French researchers identify HIV as cause of AIDS.
1985 United States becomes a debtor nation for first time since 1914.
Reagan and Gorbachev meet at Geneva summit.
1986 Iran-Contra scandal breaks. Condemning apartheid, Congress bans all imports from South Africa. Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos flees to the United States. Reykjavik Summit ends in disappointment. Gorbachev introduces glasnost and perestroika. Reagan's Tax Reform Act passed. Supreme Court rules against sexual harassment in the workplace. Congress passes Immigration Reform and Control Act. Space shuttle Challenger explodes after lift-off.
1987 Stock market crash. Palestinians launch the first intifada.
Reagan and Gorbachev sign INF Treaty.
1988 Bomb downs Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland.
1989-92 George Bush's presidency.
1989 Supreme Court allows broader state regulation of abortion.
Culture: The United States underwent a significant cultural shift in the late 1960s, one in which American youth challenged many of the accepted cultural norms and values of previous decades. Many young people challenged traditional conventions in areas such as dress, personal behavior, and morality, while also offering a deeper critique of the values of consumerism, conformity, and militarism that they believed dominated American society. This emergence of youth culture proved deeply polarizing, as many older Americans (and young ones as well) reacted negatively to the threats that they saw to the society around them.
American Diversity: The mobilization of minorities proved to be one of the most far-reaching movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Building on the example of the African-American civil rights movement, women, Latinos, Native Americans, and gays and lesbians all sought greater rights and recognition in American society. The efforts by these groups resulted in a number of gains, although some observers have argued that the new "rights-consciousness" of the 1960s resulted in the emergence of a fragmented society in which the search for common values is subordinated to the desire of various groups to advocate their own goals and interests.
War and Diplomacy: Richard Nixon and his closest foreign policy adviser, Henry Kissinger, came into office looking for a way to extricate the United States from Vietnam while also maintaining American credibility before both our allies and enemies. They sought to turn the war effort over to the South Vietnamese, while at the same time continuing a policy of heavy bombing of North Vietnam and spreading the war into neighboring areas. Nixon's "Vietnamization" policy was part of a larger "Grand Design" in foreign policy, in which he and Kissinger hoped to improve relations with the Soviet Union and China and gradually allow the United States to expend fewer resources in costly interventions throughout the globe.
Politics and Citizenship: Richard Nixon's administration ended with his resignation in one of the biggest scandals in the nation's history, Watergate. While evidence showed that Nixon and members of his administration had been engaged in a series of unsavory activities meant to discredit opponents and undermine the democratic process, a number of historians and commentators have placed his actions in the context of the trend toward an "imperial presidency," beginning with FDR in the 1930s. Nixon's resignation and the events around it bred (or confirmed) the mistrust many Americans felt and still feel toward politics and government.
The Environment: While Americans' consciousness of the need to protect the world's natural environment had developed in fits and starts throughout the twentieth century, the 1960s and 1970s witnessed a growing awareness of the dangers posed by unchecked economic development and consumption of natural resources. Spurred by the new science of ecology, environmental groups promoted the need for both legislative measures and private efforts to preserve the nation's natural heritage.
George, J. & Brown, J. (2007). AP achiever: Advanced placement american history exam preparation guide. McGraw Hill.
The three decades of the 20th century were shaped by three fundamental challenges that arose in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The first was a crisis of political leadership. Public cynicism toward politicians intensified, political party discipline declined, and lobbies and special interest groups grew in power. The second challenge involved wrenching economic transformations. Economic growth slowed, productivity flagged, inflation and oil prices soared, family income stagnated, and major industries faltered in the face of foreign competition. The third challenge involved growing uncertainty over America's proper role in the world. A major challenge facing policymakers was how to preserve the nation's international prestige and influence in the face of mounting public opposition to direct overseas interventions. Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter attempted to strengthen the United States' influence in foreign affairs through détente and arms control negotiations. President Reagan emphasized sharp increases in military spending and an assertive foreign policy. Reagan addressed economic stagnation and inflation through deregulation, tax cuts, reductions in government budget deficits, and the development of new computer and communication technologies. The collapse of Eastern European Communism and the Soviet Union made the United States the only superpower.
Biography of America
Contemporary History (series 25)
The entire team of historians joins Professor Miller in examining the last quarter of the twentieth century. A montage of events opens the program and sets the stage for a discussion of the period -- and of the difficulty of examining contemporary history with true historical perspective. Television critic John Leonard offers a footnote about the impact of television on the way we experience recent events.