1/To what extent has the American role in the world changed or not changed since the end of the Cold War?2/What are the key social, economic, and political problems facing the United States today?Part One -Please submits a thoughtful response to at least ONE of the questions listed above. Each response should be at least one substantial paragraph, which includes specific details and historical evidence. Please be sure to use your own words – don’t just copy material from the textbook or some other source. Part Two-In a SEPARATE post please indicate FIRST what interested you the most about this week’s topic and SECOND a question for other students to answer about something that confused you or something you want to know more about.Part three -Answer classmates’ by responding to their question from last week. This may require you to do a little research. However, don’t just post a link. You should respond with a small substantial paragraph in your own words and where possible you should offer details and specific historical evidence. Here is last week post and the question that need a response;What interested me most about this week’s topic was how much the social structure of the country changed, especially civil rights. Slavery had been abolished long before but it took a very long time to see these positive changes to come about. My question for the class is: If it weren’t for the Cold War going on, do you think these changes would have happened as fast as they did or even at all, or would we still be a racist, segregated nation?
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The Crisis of the Liberal State
By the early 1960s the liberal style of government modeled by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had
enjoyed many triumphs. Not only had New Deal programs like Social Security been gradually
expanded, but the Great Society program of President Johnson had added several new features to the
social welfare state, most notably the Medicare/Medicaid system. At the same time, the national
government had, for the first time since Reconstruction, taken strong steps to protect the civil rights of
African-Americans. Yet, for all these successes, there were also signs that liberal politics were in trouble.
The Vietnam conflict was one factor in the erosion of confidence in the government. American
involvement went back to the period immediately following World War Two. The U.S. had assisted
France in its efforts to reclaim Vietnam as part of its Southeast Asian colonial possessions, but the
French military was unable to defeat the communist dominated Vietnamese nationalist forces. In 1954
an international conference in Geneva temporarily divided the country between the North, controlled
by a Communist government, and the South, controlled by a regime friendly to the United States. The
Geneva Accords called for free elections to be held in 1956 to reunify the country. Ultimately, however,
the President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, refused to call the elections, recognizing that the more
populous North would likely win. The Communist regime in the North, led by Ho Chi Minh, then began
to recruit and arm South Vietnamese insurgents to destabilize the South. The United States, which
supported Diem’s government, became increasingly heavily involved, providing military aid and training
to the South Vietnamese government. By the early 1960s, however, it became increasingly clear that
these efforts were not working. The key question then became whether the United States would take
the next step and become directly involved in combat operations.
The U.S. decision to take this step stemmed from several factors. Domestic political considerations
played at least a partial role in President Johnson’s decision to escalate American involvement.
Recognizing that Truman and the Democrats had been attacked for “losing” China to the Communists,
Johnson was determined that his opponents would not be able to use similar charges against him: that
he had “lost” Vietnam. There was also a belief in the “domino” theory — that if Vietnam fell to
communism then it became more likely that other nations would fall as well. Many foreign policy
makers argued that failure to support the South Vietnamese regime would be taken as a sign of
weakness by other nations, which would then be more likely to side with the Communist powers (the
Soviet Union and China). It was likewise argued that these Communist powers would become more
aggressive in their efforts to spread revolution throughout the world if they were not confronted at
every point. Others, however, pointed at the grave risks involved. They suggested that while U.S.
prestige would suffer if South Vietnam fell to communism, the ultimate damage to American prestige
and influence would be infinitely greater if it committed forces and then failed to win. They also noted
that it was extremely likely that the U.S. would fail, just as France had before.
Despite these warnings, President Johnson did take steps to escalate American involvement. In 1964
two reported incidents of clashes between American naval vessels and North Vietnam ships became the
basis for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which essentially gave Johnson a blank check to use direct
military force in Vietnam. What followed was a rapid increase in American troop levels and engagement
in direct combat operations. Very quickly, though, the problems inherent in fighting this war became
evident. In the Korean conflict the struggle had been largely fought as a conventional war with the
opposing forces pretty clearly defined. In Vietnam, however, the initial American objective was not to
stop a direct Northern invasion but to suppress the communist inspired uprising, with South Vietnamese
Viet Cong guerillas waging a covert war against the South Vietnamese army. Intrinsically this made
winning the war difficult, since there was no specific terrain to conquer or invaders to drive out. As
with most such guerilla wars, the ultimate objective of the rebels was not to win outright, but to keep
the conflict going long enough to exhaust the other side. American efforts were also intrinsically limited
by the threat of provoking a larger conflict. North Vietnamese forces (and through them the South
Vietnamese rebels) were being supplied by both the Soviets and Chinese. The U.S. launched a massive
bombing campaign against the North, but because the ultimate source of the weapons and supplies
fueling the rebellion in the South weren’t actually being produced there, it had little impact other than
infuriating the Northern population and ensuring their support for the communist regime. The U.S.
could not interdict the ultimate source of these supplies because this would mean destroying Soviet or
Chinese transport vessels and possibly provoking World War Three. Instead, the U.S. and South
Vietnamese forces attempted to stop the flow of military material from North to South by attacking the
supply routes along the Ho Chi Minh trail. At the same time, they were trying to suppress Viet Cong
activity in the South. They were successful at neither and the growing devastation to Southern society
simply fueled the chaos, creating the conditions for even more disgruntled South Vietnamese to take up
arms against their government.
As the war dragged on, the American public became increasingly disillusioned with the conflict and their
government. Year after year the addition of more American troops and resources seemed to simply
lead to greater casualties and chaos. The fact that this was also the first war to really be covered closely
by television also ensured that Americans were well aware of the constant combat operations. While
many Americans continued to support the war and its goals, the anti-war movement gained ever greater
strength, particularly on college campuses. The country was increasingly fractured and disrupted by the
war and the debate over whether the U.S. was achieving anything worthwhile through the steady
expenditure of American funds and soldiers’ lives. The majority Democratic party itself was badly
splintered by this debate, with some arguing for continuing commitment to the containment doctrine,
and others arguing for an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam.
A key turning point came in 1968 when the Viet Cong launched what became known as the Tet
Offensive. Briefly, communist insurgents were able to attack and capture some key South Vietnamese
bases and cities. On a tactical level, the offensive was disastrous for the Viet Cong. Shifting to more
conventional warfare and trying to take territory simply did not work against the well equipped
American forces. However, in a strategic sense it was a victory for the communists. It illustrated to the
American public that the opposing forces were still very much a threat, despite promises by the military
leadership that the conflict was almost over. The failure of the Democratic administration to win the
war helped ensure the victory of the Republican candidate in 1968: Richard Nixon. Indeed, Nixon had
campaigned on a platform that assured the public that he had a plan to bring the war to an end.
Democratic control of the government was also threatened by growing conflicts over social and cultural
changes in the country. The party’s shift towards supporting civil rights had badly damaged the party’s
traditional base in the white South, and this period marked the beginning of a gradual drift of white
Southern voters from the Democrats to the Republicans.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the civil rights movement continued to expand. Up to the mid 1960s
African-American activists and government focus had been on ending the legal inequalities associated
with segregation. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,
long strides had been taken to dismantle legalized racial segregation in the United States. However, this
still left the problem of informal (de facto) segregation in the North and the persistent problem of
cultural racism. Particularly in Northern cities, many African-Americans found themselves trapped in
rotting urban “ghettos”, unable to access the educational or occupational resources to work their way
out. The Great Society had tried to create programs to address these issues, but progress was very
slow. Frustration with the lack of progress encouraged the development of more radical movements
which suggested that liberal government did not offer the solutions that African-Americans needed.
Groups like the Nation of Islam suggested that black separatism was a better solution — that AfricanAmericans needed to divorce themselves from white liberal politicians and look to their own
communities for solutions. Others, like the Black Panthers, adopted Marxist rhetoric, arguing that the
entire capitalist system needed to be overthrown before racism could truly be defeated. While most
African-Americans continued to pursue civil rights progress by working within the existing political and
economic system, these high-profile groups posed a more radical challenge to American society.
The pursuit of civil rights was not limited to African-Americans. Women, for instance, continued to push
for legal changes that would eliminate persistent inequalities in areas such as education and job
opportunities through organizations such as NOW (the National Organization of Women). NativeAmericans were similarly active in seeking greater protection under the law. In the 1960s and 1970s
numerous court cases sought to reclaim land and water rights granted by treaties that had long been
ignored by the federal government. Hispanic-Americans similarly sought to achieve greater equality.
Under Cesar Chavez, for instance, the United Farm Workers pushed for equal recognition of farm
workers under existing labor laws. Most civil rights activism of this era was not particularly extreme.
Activists simply sought greater access to political and economic opportunities within the existing system.
Yet, these various civil rights movements were also trying to change American culture in a variety of
ways. The goals of the feminist movement, for instance, were not to just change the legal system, but
to challenge cultural perceptions of women. Similarly, the emerging youth movement challenged
traditional values. Groups like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) argued not only for legal
changes, such as a lower age for voting rights, but a cultural rejection of the materialistic consumer
culture. Young people, particularly on college campuses, embraced the “Counter-Culture” of “sex,
drugs, and rock n’ roll”. In part this reflected pure hedonism, but beneath this there was also a serious
critique of American society. Increasingly Americans had come to accept the benefits of a
corporate/industrial society which emphasized the joys of prosperity and consumption. The youth
movement challenged this corporate society as oppressive to the individual and ultimately superficial.
They expressed an individualistic yearning for something more than two cars in the garage in the garage
and a nice home in the suburbs.
Ironically, even as some young people were rejecting the materialistic prosperity of the industrial
society, this prosperity was beginning to slip away. American society was also increasingly troubled by
fundamental economic changes. Since the late 19th century the United States had been the great
industrial superpower of the world, but by the 1960s American industry was suffering from a number of
problems. The industrial base had been rebuilt during World War II, but during the decades that
followed re-investment in technology and more efficient production techniques had declined. At the
same time, overseas competition was growing. In 1946 the American steel industry had supplied 60% of
the world’s production: by 1978 this had fallen to 16%. Increasingly the U.S. was importing steel from
Germany and Japan, which had invested heavily in rebuilding their heavy industries after the war.
Similar competition emerged in the auto industry. For most of the 20th century U.S. car makers had
dominated global production, but by the late 1960s foreign auto manufactures, particularly in Germany
and Japan, began to produce cars that were increasingly of better quality and which offered lower gas
mileage — a factor that became particularly important because of the gas crisis of the 1970s. In many
other categories similar trends emerged. American products were being replaced by foreign imports,
leading to the slow erosion of domestic industrial jobs. These jobs were replaced by employment in a
burgeoning service sector, but these new jobs often didn’t offer the type of benefits, wages and stability
that industrial work had in the past. By the 1980s hourly wage rates had become either static or
witnessed actual decline. This decline in individual income was offset in part by the growing number of
married women working, ensuring that more families had dual incomes. Nonetheless, the underlying
reality was that Americans were working harder for less.
The turmoil of this era contributed to the political problems faced by the Democratic party. Since the
1930s the Democrats had generally been the majority party in national government, but this situation
began to change in the 1960s. The cultural upheaval of this decade frightened many Americans, leading
them to re-emphasize more traditional values. Richard Nixon would refer to this group as the “Silent
Majority”: the vast majority of Americans who weren’t out in the streets protesting for change.
Similarly, the evident failures of the Democratic administration in bringing the Vietnam conflict to a
successful conclusion increasingly eroded public confidence not only with their party, but with
government in general. After a generation which had generally trusted the government to do what was
right for the American people, an emerging generation was increasingly suspicious of government
action. There were also basic structural changes which affected the Democratic party. The New Deal
coalition had brought together racial and ethnic minorities and working-class Americans in general. The
party depended upon support from these groups for their financial base and electoral support. By the
late 1960s, however, the union movement was beginning to decline as the United States shifted from an
industrial to a service sector economy. At the same time many white working people became uneasy as
the focus of the Democratic party shifted from programs that primarily benefited them (such as support
for unions or minimum wage laws) to civil rights legislation. This particularly became an issue as a result
of the country’s growing economic problems. By the election of 1968 a significant number of white
working people would shift their allegiances from the Democratic party to the Republican party. The
erosion of the New Deal coalition helped set the stage for Richard Nixon’s victories in 1968 and 1972.
Triumph of the Liberal State
Following World War II the United States enjoyed a prolonged period of economic growth and
prosperity that lasted almost a quarter of century. From 1940 to 1970 the Gross National Product of the
United States rose from 200 billion dollars to about a trillion dollars, reflecting an average annual rate of
increase of 3.5%. Several factors helped produce this happy outcome.
American businesses continued to improve their efficiency and ability to produce large quantities of
goods. An important part of this was the ongoing perfection of automation and machinery. Factories
increasingly featured industrial “robots” that could perform basic functions more quickly and cheaper
than human hands, while agriculture benefited from large-scale adoption of sophisticated agricultural
machines. Mass production was also extended into other economic sectors. Real estate developers, for
instance, were able to take advantage of industrial techniques to mass produce housing. In these large
housing tracts a few standardized designs were used to simplify the construction process, with some
components being pre-manufactured. Using techniques similar to what was seen on factory assembly
lines, teams of specialized workers using power tools would go from house to house, completing their
assigned portion of the total design. Levittown, New York was an early example of this new “tract
housing”, but the methods quickly spread throughout the country, producing large quantities of
affordable housing. In 1940 around 43% of all American families owned their own homes, but by 1960
this had grown to 62%. The growth of “fast food” restaurants represented another application of
industrial techniques. The McDonald brothers established a successful restaurant in San Bernadino,
California, utilizing assembly line techniques to produce food quickly and cheaply.
Expansion of industrial, mass-production techniques helped provide cheaper consumer goods, but the
other side of the equation was that consumers had more money to spend. During World War Two
many consumer goods, such as automobiles and houses, had not really been available as the economy
was focused on military production. With employment high and wages good, workers were forced to
save money and differ their spending. Following the war this leads to an explosion of consumer
spending that helped cushion the transition to a civilian economy. Even after the war direct and
indirect military spending continued to influence the economy. Before World War Two the U.S. had
maintained a relatively small military establishment, but this changes in the aftermath of the war. The
U.S. had become a global power and this required significant military commitments around the world,
particularly as the Cold War conflict grew. More Americans were employed by the military and the
continuing need for military goods such as aircraft ensured that arms industries grew, providing further
employment. Because technology was increasingly important in military conflict the government also
invested heavily in basic scientific research and encouraged the development of institutions of higher
education. This expansion of scientific knowledge and education ultimately helped transform the
civilian economy as well. Another way the government invested in education was through the
Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the G.I. Bill. After World War One the
government had made little effort to help veterans transition back to civilian life or prepare the civilian
economy for the shock of re-integrating millions of working age men. Under the G.I. Bill veterans were
given generous education benefits to pay for college education as well as access to low-cost loans to
help them buy homes or start businesses. Rather than immediately entering the workforce many
veterans returned to school, helping ease the potential employment crisis caused by demobilization.
This policy also ensured an explosive growth in the number and size of institutions of higher education
in the United States and the number of college grads. National defense was also used as a rational to
expand the country’s highway system. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was justified in part to
facilitate transportation of troops within the United States and make it easier to evacuate major cities in
the event of a nuclear war. It would become the largest public works project in American history,
creating the modern interstate freeway system. This in turn would help re-shape …
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