More information. In the summer of , Khrushchev reached a secret agreement with the Cuban government to supply nuclear missiles capable of protecting the island against another US-sponsored invasion. In mid-October, American spy planes photographed the missile sites under construction. Kennedy responded by placing a naval blockade, which he referred to as a "quarantine," around Cuba. He also demanded the removal of the missiles and the destruction of the sites. Recognizing that the crisis could easily escalate into nuclear war, Khrushchev finally agreed to remove the missiles in return for an American pledge not to reinvade Cuba.
The Soviet leader decided to commit whatever resources were required for upgrading the Soviet nuclear strike force. His decision led to a major escalation of the nuclear arms race. He urged Americans to critically reexamine Cold War stereotypes and myths and called for a strategy of peace that would make the world safe for diversity. In addition, Washington and Moscow established a direct line of communication known as the "Hotline" to help reduce the possibility of war by miscalculation. They joined Americans already sent by the Eisenhower administration.
In February , the president sent an additional 12, military advisers to support the South Vietnamese army. By early November , the number of US military advisers had reached 16, Even as the military commitment in Vietnam grew, JFK told an interviewer, "In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisers, but they have to win it—the people of Vietnam against the Communists.
But I don't agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake. Now Europe is quite secure. We also have to participate—we may not like it—in the defense of Asia. Skip past main navigation. JFK in History. Life of John F. Kennedy Life of Jacqueline B. Kennedy and the Press John F. Kennedy and PT John F. The Cold War. The Worldwide Cold War.
Unconventional Warfare in the Gray Zone
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There, too, women experienced condescension from white male radicals. As such groups proliferated, a sea change occurred in the attitudes of young women. The result was a revolution in social values. No longer did most young women believe that happiness could be found solely in marriage and children. Growing numbers of women sought independence, equal relationships, and careers; they married later, had fewer children, and insisted on equal access to careers.
In , only 5 percent of all students entering medical school, law school, or business school were women. Twenty-five years later, that figure had skyrocketed to 50 percent. Protest movements in the s culminated when activists zeroed in on the Vietnam War as a primary example of what was wrong with American society. The war itself was a direct product of the Cold War. John F. Kennedy increased American troop strength from to 15,, but resisted requests for more troops. Bolstered by his success during the Cuban Missile Crisis of , Kennedy gave every indication that he would begin withdrawing American troops after the election.
But after the assassination, Lyndon Johnson, far less experienced than Kennedy, believed he had to resist Communist insurrection in Vietnam at all costs. By July Johnson had begun escalating American involvement in Vietnam, and the number of troops soon reached , Initial protest against the war was moderate. It began with "teach-ins," where opponents of the war debated representatives of the State Department in the hope that reason would prevail.
But intellectual argument changed nothing. Student activists quickly intensified their protests. They demonstrated against universities that had defense industry contracts or that hosted recruitment visits from companies like Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of napalm. Soon, anti-war protestors started burning draft cards and calling the police who opposed them "capitalist pigs.
As the presidential election year of dawned, the nation was split apart more severely than at any time since the Civil War. Radical student groups threatened to take over campuses. The "Weathermen," a break-off group from SDS, called for violent revolution. More moderate reformers rallied behind the anti-war presidential candidacy of Senator Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota, who contested Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire primary.
A rapid-fire succession of explosive developments made the world seem dramatically different with each passing month. In January, Vietnamese insurgents launched the Tet offensive during the Vietnamese new year , assaulting every major South Vietnamese city, even briefly occupying the US Embassy in Saigon. The next week, Robert F. Kennedy, also an anti-war senator, joined the presidential campaign. On March 31, Lyndon Johnson announced a halt in the bombing of North Vietnam, then stunned the nation by declaring he would not run for re-election. In May, students occupied the main administration buildings at Columbia University protesting racist policies.
Then on June 5, Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down after winning the California primary, seemingly on his way to the Democratic presidential nomination. In August, the Democratic National Convention was racked by violence, and Chicago police engaged in brutal attacks against journalists and student protestors. The presidential race was dominated by a sense of domestic crisis. Alabama Governor George Wallace, a third-party candidate, lambasted all protestors as traitors. Richard Nixon, the Republican nominee, called for a return to law and order, claiming to speak for the "silent majority" who believed in patriotism, hard work, and reverence for God.
Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey sought to find a middle ground in vain, though he did almost win. The election of Richard Nixon inaugurated a new era of conservatism, based on rallying mainstream Americans against social experimentation and protest groups. Although he had dedicated his presidency to "bringing us together," Nixon practiced a politics of polarization. His "Southern strategy" sought to use racial conflict as a basis for creating a new Solid South, this time dominated by white Republicans.
Spiro Agnew, his alliterative vice president, gave repeated speeches denouncing the "nattering nabobs of negativism" who insisted on criticizing rather than celebrating America. While Nixon had spoken of a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War, he chose a strange way of executing it, engaging in secret bombing of Cambodia and then invading the country, a course that prompted renewed student protests and led to the killing of four student demonstrators by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio.
Although Nixon finally ended the war in on terms virtually identical to those he could have had in , he did so by such excessive bombing of Hanoi that he seemed to be out to prove that he was the "mad man" that he wanted his enemies to think he was. A person who detested most of his own Cabinet and the daily routine of presidential meetings, Nixon spent as much time as he could by himself in a small study off the Oval Office.
As one of the most inveterate anti-Communists to ever walk the halls of Congress, Nixon was ideally situated to reverse nearly a quarter century of hostility and open relations with Peking. After all, no one could accuse him of being soft on Communism. Plotting with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger he never told his secretary of state about his China plans , Nixon secretly arranged the dramatic breakthrough.
1945 to the Present
It was a master stroke. While Nixon could be a visionary on foreign policy, he also engaged in petty, self-destructive, and vindictive efforts to squash his political adversaries. Going into the presidential election, it was clear that Nixon would easily defeat his opponent, George McGovern.
But for Nixon that was not enough; he wanted to destroy his foes. Nixon created "the Plumbers," a group of secret operatives who broke into offices of the political opposition and sought to sabotage their campaigns. When the Plumbers entered the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate apartment complex for the second time the first effort was botched , an alert security guard noticed the break-in and the burglars were arrested. Although it took nearly two years, the full story finally came out.
The President of the United States not only helped to create the Plumbers, he also schemed to pay them off if they stayed quiet and explicitly ordered a campaign to obstruct justice. Ironically, all this was taped by ubiquitous tape recorders set up by Nixon himself to document his presidency. Eventually, Watergate led Republicans and Democrats alike to conclude that Nixon had to go, and in the summer of Richard Nixon, faced with impeachment, resigned the office of the presidency. Gerald Ford assumed the presidency. Watergate inaugurated an era of malaise in America.
A series of developments in the s caused the American people to doubt that the nation could continue to reign, unchallenged, as ruler of the world. For the first time, high unemployment went hand in hand with high inflation rates, both in double digits. Supreme Court decisions legalizing abortion Roe v.
Wade, and other rulings such as the outlawing of school prayer in the s enraged millions of conservatives. But Carter did not know how to deal with Congress. The energy crisis overwhelmed him. So too did inflation rates nearing 20 percent. Although he represented a breath of fresh air in foreign policy, especially in espousing democratic regimes in Africa and Latin America, Carter ultimately fell victim to one of the most humiliating defeats America had experienced—the seizure of the American embassy in Teheran, Iran, and the holding of more than sixty American hostages for over a year.
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An actor, Reagan exuded leadership and strength. He operated on a simple creed: Capitalism was the only economic system that worked; people had to free themselves of the burdens of government—especially taxation—to manifest their creativity; no one should be allowed to challenge America militarily; and with these in hand, the nation would bounce back.
Once again it would be "morning time in America. He cut taxes, created new jobs, increased the military budget dramatically, called the Soviet Union an "evil empire," and won back the confidence of the people. Walter Mondale, the Democratic candidate for president in , never stood a chance. Reagan swept forty-nine of the fifty states. Regan lacked the finesse of Baker.
Unfortunately, aiding the "Contras" was a direct violation of the Boland Amendment, a Congressional act that prohibited such aid.
The History of Containment Policy
Reagan, never a "hands-on" president, was oblivious to the entire disaster. With poor staff, he blundered badly and, once more, it seemed that America was doomed to be afflicted with a failed chief executive. Yet in the end, Reagan pulled off a miracle. He also recognized the futility of pursuing policies of Stalinist repression within his own country. As a result, Gorbachev and Reagan arrived at a dramatic arms control treaty and set the world on a path that signified the end of the Cold War.
Returning from a triumphant final visit to Moscow, Reagan told the press that what he had just done was like being in a Cecil B. DeMille movie. It was, he said "the role of a lifetime. Using his experience to brilliant effect, Bush presided masterfully over the end of the Cold War. To the astonishment of the world, the Berlin Wall came down in after twenty-eight years. Shortly thereafter, the Soviet Union itself fell apart, literally, with its constituent parts breaking away to form independent republics.
Bush handled it all well, always careful to respect the sensibilities of other nations. Partly because of that skill, he shaped the most effective coalition of the post—Cold War world. Carefully putting together a military and political force of sixty-five nations under a United Nations mandate, Bush led a military drive, presided over by General Colin Powell, that removed Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi forces from the oil-rich nation of Kuwait in Bush seemed tone deaf, however, when it came to responding to the economic recession that swept the country in — In the absence of other candidates—most of whom thought Bush was unbeatable—a young governor from Arkansas, William Jefferson Clinton, proved singularly adept at forging a political coalition consisting of the old New Deal Democrats and a group of new centrist Democrats who hued to the middle and loved the idea of a charismatic, bright leader.
Pivotal to Clinton-era politics was the partnership that existed between the President and First Lady Hillary Clinton. Not since Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had there been such a political team. But unlike the Roosevelts, Bill and Hillary talked explicitly about a "co-presidency. The plan produced a surplus and a projected elimination of the national debt, while creating an economic climate that created a precedent-shattering twenty-two million jobs.
But the other main story of the first two years was a failed health care reform package, developed by a task force led by Hillary Clinton. In neither design nor execution did she display sensitivity to political realities. Indeed, so unpopular was the bill that it never even came to a Congressional vote. Moreover, disgust about the whole process led to a devastating defeat for the Democrats in , led by Newt Gingrich, who moved forward with a conservative agenda—his "Contract with America"—that threatened to cut taxes, trim Medicare, and return to an age of laissez-faire economics.
But Clinton had not earned the label of being the "comeback kid" for nothing.
During —, he masterminded a brilliant campaign to make Gingrich look like a reactionary extremist. In , in response to the devastating Oklahoma City terrorist bombing executed by right-wing militant Timothy McVeigh, Clinton drew the country together as its spiritual and political leader. Clinton even signed a bill on welfare reform that promised to "end welfare as we know it. Not surprisingly, Clinton soared to re-election in over Republican Robert Dole.
But Clinton could not avoid his personal demons. In the midst of the government shutdown, he had an affair with a twenty-two-year-old White House intern. When the information was raised by a Special Prosecutor investigating the Clintons for a real estate venture in Arkansas, Clinton chose to lie, under oath, about the affair. Soon there was another Congressional impeachment process underway, and Bill Clinton became the second president in history to be indicted by Congress and brought to trial before the United States Senate.
Nixon would have been the second, but he resigned. In the end, Clinton survived. In the view of the Senate and of over 65 percent of the American people, the affair and his perjury was not the "high crime and misdemeanor" that the Founding Fathers had in mind when they created the impeachment clause. Nevertheless, Clinton largely undermined his second term in the White House and tarnished one of the most effective presidencies of postwar America.
See a Problem?
In perhaps the most sensational and disputed election in American history, George W. Bush was elected president in Although he lost the popular vote to Al Gore by over , votes, he appeared to win the Electoral College. The state that proved decisive was Florida, with twenty-five electoral votes, although the election there was rife with voting scandals.