Vietnam War and Activism
Inclusion and Exclusion (1974-92)
Civil rights are those rights Americans possess under the Bill of Rights and other constitutional mechanisms designed to equalize our population. Between 1950 and 1980, many groups actively sought civil rights. Such movements are not easy to place within the "mainstream" focus on history.
As part of the Civil Rights movement, it was necessary to develop notions of equality, to proclaim why it was morally right to desegregate buses and lunch counters. These ideas could range from the very practical to the philosophically complex. Rosa Parks was scared but exhausted; she sat in the bus seat designated for whites because she had worked all day and refused to stand when she could sit. Ministers like those who organized the Bus Boycott, and Martin Luther King, Jr. used notions of the equality of all humans under God as a foundation. Much of the Civil Rights movement was organized by young people, who joined together for sit-ins and Freedom Rides. Many activists were women, and they gradually realized the contradiction between fighting for rights for black men, while females were still in many ways without rights.
This conflict was not new, of course. Before the Civil War, when abolitionists were discussing freeing the slaves, women had noted the contradiction. The Seneca Falls Convention had met in 1848, proclaiming the independence of women as a goal in the Declaration of Sentiments. If slaves were freed and then permitted to vote, what would happen to white women? Could Congress really intend to give the vote to illiterate black men but not educated white women? They did, and that's what happened. It wasn't until 1919 that women won the right to vote, after continual pressuring by suffragists and suffragettes, and antipathy for pushing their goals during WWI.
As in the abolitionist movement, women were major participants in the Civil Rights movement, and were often treated with disregard or disrespect. Here the issue wasn't freedom (which arguably women had more of than slaves in the 19th century). It was equality. It's important to understand the difference. Believing that there should be no slavery is not the same as believing blacks should vote, which is not the same as believing they are equal to whites. Most people believed that AfricanAmericans were biologically different from white Americans, even if they didn't say so. And of course, many southern communities believed in segregation as a way of life. As women discussed these issues of equality in an effort to desegregate society, they could not help but notice that they were also segregated.
Rosa Parks may have taken the initial action in Montgomery, but organizing was limited to men. According to Howard Zinn, one Civil Rights organizer, Ella Baker, put it this way:
I knew from the beginning that as a woman, an older woman in a group of ministers who are accustomed to having women largely as supporters, there was no place for me to have come into a leadership role.In the summer of 1964 in Mississippi, the women working at a Freedom House (a civil rights organization headquarters) went on strike because they were cooking and making beds while the men did the organizing. It is ironic that some of the most progressive organizations (in terms of black rights) relegated women to secondary roles. SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), famous for its radical actions in favor of black equality, wouldn't listen to its women members. They made coffee and did phoning while men did the "real work". Mary King protested. I can't help but notice that in this document she had a man write it with her.
As you read the document, determine for yourself:
Document: Casey Haden and Mary King: Memo on Sexual Roles in SNCC (1965)
You will read more about this conflict when we look at the women's movement of the 70's. Just know it has its roots in female dissatisfaction during the 60's.
King was an integrationist. He believed that the ultimate representation of equality would be a completely integrated society, with the same rights and freedoms accorded to all. He also believed in non-violence as the method for attaining those rights and freedoms. The history of non-violence (also known as passive resistance) as a method goes back to Henry David Thoreau. During the Mexican War, which began in 1846, the government instituted a poll tax of $1 to support the war effort. Thoreau was against the war, believing that its purpose was to gain Southwestern territory in order to expand slavery, which he felt was immoral. So he refused to pay the $1, and was willing to take the consequences in order to publicize his cause. He was arrested. Much to his humiliation, his friends bailed him out after one night, and paid his $1. But Thoreau's Essay on Civil Disobedience outlasted his publicity stunt.
The Essay explained that it was a moral imperative for an individual to act in accordance with his beliefs (I'm not going to use his/her here because I'm sure Thoreau was focused on men). If you believe a law is morally wrong, it is your moral duty to oppose it or not obey it. You must be willing to take the consequences of this opposition, but in the knowledge that you are doing the right thing. In India during the 20's and 30's, an English-educated lawyer named Mohandes Gandhi read Thoreau, and used his ideas to form a national passive resistance movement that freed India from British rule. Indian followers allowed themselves to be beaten and even killed in defiance of unfair British laws. Gandhi believed that this use of "soul-force" elevated the spirit of the individual, and degraded the spirit of the oppressor, until the oppressor's righteousness was so undermined that he could no longer bear to oppress. This mass resistance freed India in 1947.
With this background, Martin Luther King, Jr., knew the power of passive resistance. A large group of unarmed people could use their own righteousness to create change. And remember, non-violence is a technique used by the protestors, not those who persecute them. Civil rights protests in the King model were frequently broken up by police, with tear gas, firehoses, and clubs.
Document: Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream (1965)
Listen to Malcolm X (1 minute excerpt)
There were other ways to fight. Malcolm X early on believed that the use of violence was appropriate in self-defense. To a certain extent, it was possible to justify any action against the oppressors of black freedom as self-defense, and some did. But more important to this discussion is the pervasiveness of Black Power and the creation of a pride, a self-identity for AfricanAmericans that Malcolm X represents. Passive resistance prevents you from asserting your pride as a human being; you have to tolerate the beatings and oppression. Fighting back restores the kind of power that Africans had before they were transported as slaves. Many slaves had been descended from African royalty, or proud African tribes. It was time to reassert that connection to African roots, and many believed non-violence could not accomplish that.
This branch of thought can become a different kind of segregationism, which I call separatism. Like Marcus Garvey before them, Black Power advocates believed that total equality could never be achieved within the American system. Instead, black schools, black churches, black communities (in short, self-government) was the only way to insure appropriate rights and freedoms.
In 1964, President Johnson assisted in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed through Congress. You can listen to his phone conversation with NAACP leader Roy Wilkins about getting it passed, and the favors they exchanged (Nixon wasn't the first who used tapes in the White House!)
I admit, I believed in the white liberal perspective for many years, the integrationist idea. Then I went to a lecture, here at MiraCosta, by James Meredith. Meredith was one of the black students escorted into the University of Mississippi under National Guard protection after Brown v. Board of Education. He claimed that white liberals had co-opted the civil rights movement, controlling it and turning it in a direction beneficial to them. Now I know that SNCC expelled its white membership, and that many Black Power folks felt that whites contaminated their enterprise. But Meredith was looking larger, looking at why AfricanAmericans were still subject to extreme racism, why they did not have better jobs and better communities. And he placed the blame on AfricanAmericans who would not move to create their own communities and take care of themselves, but rather permitted the white liberal institutions to take care of them. He slammed welfare and affirmative action, which I'd never heard done in any speech. I think much differently now about the whole thing.
Chávez was born in Arizona to a family whose grocery store and land was repossessed during the Depression. They moved to California and became farm workers, and César had to quit school to work in the fields when his father was injured. In 1944, he refused to sit in the Mexican section in a movie theatre and was taken into police custody. After his discharge from Navy war service, he resumed farm work, joining the National Farm Labor Union in 1948. Work in unions and organizing committees, and participation in strikes of cotton and flower workers, ultimately led to his establishing the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 as a section of the AFL-CIO. He knew about Gandhi and passive resistance and adhered to principles of non-violence for the movement.
When I was growing up, several of the UFW boycotts occurred. Subjected to grueling working conditions and no job security, the UFW called for people to boycott table grapes. The first was in 1967 and lasted five years, forcing growers to sign contracts with the newly named United Farm Workers. Along with many other California families, we stopped buying grapes during the boycott. There were other boycotts during the 70's, including lettuce and wine, and many UFW picketers were shot and killed on picket lines in the Central Valley. There were attempts to outlaw farm boycotts and farm unions; one came before the voters in 1972 and was defeated. Chávez was arrested several times for his activities. Later, in 1984, another grape boycott emphasized high levels of pesticides, and in 1988 Chávez fasted in protest because the farm workers were being subjected to high levels of pesticide exposure without protection. I still cringe when I see grapes in fruit salad, and I buy organic. On the way home from Bakersfield last August, I saw the grape pickers working under big striped umbrellas and thought, "the UFW must have done that."
Farm workers have not been seen as laborers in the same sense as factory workers or mine workers or any of the skilled trades of the AFL-CIO. Farming used to be family enterprises, but now it's "agribusiness" which uses cheap labor. Because the work is often seasonal, and workers migrated from place to place depending on where they were needed, organizing these workers was a major task. Chávez himself attended over 20 elementary schools, and his career took him throughout California and Arizona, and as far away as Florida. But his historical importance is that César Chávez created a way for farm workers to bargain with agribusiness.
Our opponents in the agricultural industry are very powerful and farm workers are still weak in money and influence. But we have another kind of power that comes from the justice of our cause. So long as we are willing to sacrifice for that cause, so long as we persist in non-violence and work to spread the message of our struggle, then millions of people around the world will respond from their heart, will support our efforts...and in the end we will overcome.
Today, I look at our tertiary economy, and wonder why workers at Wal-mart aren't unionized. And it's for many of the same reasons. Work in tertiary industry is often part-time and insecure. People are hired and fired at the will of management, or hired as temporary for holidays or peak periods. And yet recent evidence has surfaced that they have been subject to abuses, such as being threatened with firing if they don't work extra hours every week without pay. Who will organize the Retail Workers (or Fast Food Workers, for that matter) of America?
Vietnam is a nation in Southeast Asia. Often dominated by China, its three regions (Tongking in the north, Annam in the center, and Cochin-China or Champa in the south) united as an empire in 1802. The French took over the area and colonized it during the mid-19th century, forming a union with Cambodia and Laos in what they called Indo-China. During World War II, the Japanese took advantage of French concerns in Europe (i.e. Hitler's occupation of France) to take over the region as part of the new Japanese Empire.
During World War II, a Vietnamese resistance formed against Japan. It was led by Ho Chi-Minh, a Vietnamese communist. This resistance was naturally supported in faith by Americans and Europeans. But after the war, the French wanted their colony back. Ho Chi-Minh's resistance group, now called the Viet Minh League, determined to fight against the French for the independence of Vietnam. After the long Indo-Chinese War (1946-54), the French withdrew, but the peace agreement divided the country between the Democratic Republic in the north (communist) and the State of Vietnam in the south (republican).
This dividing line might not make sense politically, but it did culturally. For many generations, north Vietnam had been much closer to China, practicing Confucianism and, after 1949, communism. Both Confucianism and modern communism rely heavily on a centralized state, and on a hierarchy of duties. The south tended to be closer to India and Indonesia, and many people there practiced Buddhism. Buddhism tends to encourage decentralization, since its philosophy encourages individual salvation.
It became obvious fairly quickly that the north, under Ho Chi Minh's leadership, was organized and had created effective communist government, but the southern republic (with no history of republican institutions) was floundering. Since Kennedy felt that Vietnam was the blocking post against Asian communism, he sent so many "advisors" that I can't even call them that and keep a straight face (23,000 by 1964).
North Vietnam began extensive military action to unite the country between 1963 and 1965. It's funny: the encyclopedia I'm looking at calls what happened a "civil war", which is definitely the communist perspective, right? We considered what occcurred an attempt by North Vietnam to invade South Vietnam, and after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, we entered the war officially in 1965 on the side of the South. You've read about the result. The last of the troops were evacuated in 1975.
The war itself was a disorganized shambles. The branches of the armed forces didn't work together, which sometimes led to American deaths by "friendly fire". In one operation, ground troops from Company C were told to move to an area for helicopter pickup, but were not told that the area was to be bombed within minutes. The bombing raid was cancelled at the last minute, when it was discovered the men were still on the ground.
The American military was unprepared for either a jungle war or guerilla warfare. We had never actually fought communists one-on-one. Chinese-style or peasant communism relies on winning over the "hearts and minds" of the people, making civilians a branch of the military. There were no uniforms. The North Vietnamese Army supplied the Viet Cong (northern supporters working in South Vietnam) along a trail that led through Cambodia (hence the decision to bomb Cambodia, a neutral country). It was impossible to tell who the enemy was. If you saw a Vietnamese person in the jungle, was it a southern civilian? a VC with a body bomb? "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it," General Westmoreland is reputed to have said. Entire villages were wiped out in a desperate attempt to dig out the VC.
Ordinary soldiers were ordered to, or permitted to, commit acts which in World War II would have been considered atrocities. As they returned from the war, they reported on their experiences. As you read the document, think to yourself:
Document: John Kerry: Statement on Vietnam (1971)
Many, like Kerry, became anti-war activists.
Others, who felt they did their best for American democracy, found themselves spit on and jeered at by anti-war protestors. This, unfortunately, has led to the belief on the part of many Americans that to be anti-war is to be anti-soldier, against "our brave boys". This became an aspect of the later war over Kuwait.
Although the vast majority of anti-war protestors used the peaceful methods advocated by the civil rights integrationists, there were some (like the suffragettes in the 1890s) who used violence to make their point. The Weathermen was one of these radical groups. They specialized in bombs, in office buildings and sent through the mail. Their intention was to "bring the war home". They believed that the people making decisions in Washington had no conception of what war was like, and if they had they would stop the war. They brought the war home by causing the injury and death of officials' loved ones. I bring this up only because there is a tendency to romanticize the anti-war movement; not everyone was putting flowers in gun barrels.
Document: Stephen Klinkhammer: The Evacuation of Saigon (1975)
The young people of the sixties who were in college had never known depression or war. They had come of age during a time of prosperity, and their parents had worked hard to give them everything they needed. This gave them a different perspective. It is only possible to contemplate the role of the self, and the role of society and government, when you are freed from survival tasks like gathering food and finding shelter. Having never known want, these kids were focused on the needs of others and the complexities of "finding" themselves and their way. They existed in the Progressive tradition of a middle class trying to make the system more fair.
Document: Students for a Democratic Society: Port Huron Statement (1962)
College protests focused not only on the war and domestic issues like poverty, but also on college curriculum. Many students did not see the relevance of the courses they were made to take to get a degree. They protested for "relevant" courses, which eventually led to the creation of women's and ethnic studies, and reevaluations of the history (Dead White Men) that was being taught. University rules were also changed in response to protest, although some of this protest was extreme. Although most college students were legal adults, dormitories had early curfews; at some schools students protested such rules with sit-down strikes and takeovers of administrators' offices. Such techniques evolved from and with the civil rights movement.
Governor James Rhodes of Ohio had made campus disorder an issue in his campaign, and ordered in men, declared martial law, and pledged to eradicate the violence, which he claimed was worse than the fascists or communists could create. He apparently ordered all protests and assemblies broken up, without consulting Guard commanders. The guards arrived tired after five days of duty at a Teamsters strike in Cleveland; many were young and some were attending Kent State. When noon rallies commenced on the second Monday in May, the campus police ordered dispersal. They used tear gas to move the students, and the students responded by throwing rocks and pieces of cement. Guards fired into the crowd, 35 rounds. According to the report in Newsweek magazine, "not one of the four dead had been closer than 75 feet to the troops who had killed them". They may have not even been part of the protest; one was apparently looking for a lost dog, two others were watching the march.
The Guards involved claimed they were afraid the students were going to grab their guns and fire; the situation was out of control and the troops felt they were in danger. But one said, "It's about time we showed the bastards who's in charge".
Communes are a good example. During the 60s, the 50's ideal family (a heterosexual couple living in their own home with their kids) was questioned. Living in ones separate home can be very isolating, especially in a nuclear family with the husband gone working all day. Communes made it possible for many single people, or multiple families, to share all chores, including child-rearing. In a commune, each person was assigned the work they most enjoyed doing; some went off to work during the day, others did housework and tended gardens, others raised children and did chores. Similar patterns of life existed before the Victorian age, and even in western pioneer houses, urban settlement houses, and rural homes during the Depression.
In some communes during the 60's and 70's, sex was also shared among all members, but even this wasn't new. During the 1820s and 1830s, several attempts had been made at utopian communities, and at least one permitted any heterosexual pairings to take place. Which brings up another point: as radical as the sexuality was in the 60s, homosexuality was still considered a no-no in most communes and collectives. The gay community formed its own communes and collectives.
Another aspect of hippy life that wasn't new was drugs. Narcotics and pharmaceuticals have been used recreationally, or to discover universal perceptions, throughout history and throughout cultures. In fact, it was anthropological and religious studies into these cultures that introduced the idea of drug-induced spirituality into the 60's middle class mindset. Shamans in many tribes use hallucinogens to tap into spiritual power. It made sense that, if you were seeking your own place in the cosmic order, you might consider oneself your own shaman. Drugs were not only taken to relax with friends; hallucinogens were often taken as a pathway to a more ancient or spiritual truth. I'm not sure I'd even call that recreational usage.
But ordinary recreational use and abuse of drugs isn't new either. Cocaine was popular during the 20s and 30s (for the wealthy), alcohol has been used in enormous quantities throughout American history, tobacco founded the original colonies, and heroin was a part of the jazz set for decades.
Motown Records (named after Detroit, "motor-town") came into its own during this era, producing a musical combination of jazz, gospel and popular music that came to be called soul. One of the earliest and most popular Motown groups was The Supremes, who recorded sixteen Top Ten records between 1964 and 1969. "Baby Love" is from 1964, and epitomizes the "Motown Sound". Lyrics
Many popular songs protested the Vietnam War. The theme spread to soul music; one of the best known songs was by Freda Payne, a Motown singer: "Bring the Boys Home". Lyrics
Janis Joplin was one of the greatest rock singers; like others before her, she was influenced by the blues. This is "A Piece of My Heart". It is almost a torch song in its intensity. Although Joplin considered herself to be an independent woman, the age for female independence in music was still emerging. I'll be considering this as a theme in the Seventies lecture. Lyrics
One of the most influential American bands of the late 60s and early 70s was the Grateful Dead, who still have a substantial following, even after the death of Jerry Garcia. "Deadheads" created one of the first cyberspace communities. In one of their earlier concerts, the Dead played a Beatles song, "Hey, Jude". Lyrics
In 1971, John Lennon (formerly of the Beatles) recorded "Imagine", which has become the ultimate song for peace. Lyrics
During this era, romantic pop songs were being produced with a different sound, thanks to the talents of composer Burt Bacharach and lyricist Hal David. Many of their numbers were made famous by singer Dionne Warwick, who was raised in gospel music. "Walk on By" was one of these pop tunes. Lyrics
Not surprisingly, activism extended into motion pictures as well. 1960s movies often tackle the social issues of the day.
In this clip from "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", a young woman has brought home her future husband. She has met him very recently. As she explains her love for the man to her mother, he enters the room.
The Mercury program was launched (no pun intended) to achieve the sending of a single man into space, orbiting the earth.
The first manned flight (sub-orbital) was achieved by Alan Shepard in 1961, duplicating Gagarin's mission. John Glenn achieved orbit in the spacecraft Friendship Seven in February 1962. The goal of the subsequent Gemini program was two-man teams working in space. During the mid-60s, the first two-man orbital flight, the first American spacewalk, the first rendezvous (docking to another Gemini) were all achieved by 1966.
The Apollo program, which had been created years before, had the goal of taking a man to the moon. But the Mercury and Gemini projects had been needed first to work out the problems of space flight and functions. The pressure to make a moon landing by the end of the decade led to technical shortcuts that cost lives. Apollo 1 had a fire in the cockpit that killed all three astronauts, which forced a reevaluation of the design of the spacecraft and the bureaucracy of the space program. The next few missions were unmanned, and it wasn't until Apollo 7 that the Saturn 1 spacecraft (intended for moon landing with capsule, command unit, live TV feed from space, and spacesuits) went up. At the end of 1968, Apollo 8, though originally intended just to orbit earth, ended up orbiting the moon instead, despite the lack of a lunar module. The purpose of the next two missions was to improve scouting and docking procedures.
Apollo 11 landed on the moon July 19, 1969. The crew (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins) arrived, with Armstrong and Aldrin walking the moon's surface. Now, you can see and hear the moon landing on the Internet.
Document: Ad: Kamam mama, kama binti (Afro Sheen, 1971)
The initial conspiracy involved the election of 1972. When candidates run for President (for office or reelection), it is usual for the National Committee of their party to manage their election. Thus it would have been usual for the Republican National Committee to manage Nixon's reelection, but instead he chose to use his own group. The Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) was formed of men loyal to Nixon, and created a conspiracy designed to ensure Nixon's reelection through the discrediting of Democratic candidates and the raising of large campaign contributions.
CREEP leaders obtained large contributions from business executives, in cash, by implying that government favors would be withheld without it, or by promising government contracts to those who contributed. Both types of action are illegal and violate Congressional statutes. CREEP used the money thus obtained to create false documents about Democratic candidates, and to engage in surveillance of Democratic activities, particularly the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Activities designed to sabotage the campaigns of others were referred to as "dirty tricks".
CREEP also conspired to make the FBI, IRS and Department of Justice harass members of the news media and other individuals who might oppose Nixon's reelection. Many members of the opposition were suddenly facing charges of tax evasion. CREEP used CIA methods and equipment in surveillance. On June 17, 1972, five men broke into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters. Rumor has it that they were caught because they put the duct tape designed to hold down the lock crossway across the door lock, instead of longway where it wouldn't be seen. A security guard saw the tape and called for back-up. A grand jury investigation followed the arrests; burglary was the charge.
On the day the grand jury met, the judge was a man named Sirica. The judge noticed that neither attorney asked pertinent questions of the accused, such as inquiring who they were working for. It so happened that a reporter from the Washington Post newspaper, irate at not getting a better story, was also sitting in the court room, and became suspicious. The Post teamed Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on the investigative report, and the two began to dig up information connecting the "burglars" (it turned out they were there to repair surveillance phone taps, not burgle) to CREEP.
Nixon won re-election in November 1972. By this time reporters were questioning the administration's connection to the Watergate break-in, and public statements were issued denying any connection. A Senate Select Committee was formed, ostensibly to investigate unethical activities in campaigns in general. At this time, Nixon met with CREEP leaders here at the La Costa Hotel and Spa, where they conspired to undermine the Senate investigation. In July 1973, the Committee discovered that Nixon had kept audio tapes of all Oval Office conversations, and subpeonaed the tapes. (The Oval Office taping system had been set up by Kennedy, but he had erased his tapes.) Nixon evoked "executive privilege", claiming that issues of national security were discussed on the tapes that would be damaging to the country if made public.
Nixon had some insiders listen to the tapes to see if they contained anything damning. The tape for July 23, 1972 (about a month after the break-in) had Nixon ordering the CIA to halt the FBI investigation of anything which might prevent his reelection. This would be only one example of the President obstructing justice in this case. In 1973, Nixon publicly denied that any money was unlawfully obtained, as you can hear in his speech .
You may recall that with the Second Red Scare, the Senate had the Army-McCarthy hearings while the House had HUAC. The House got involved in Watergate too, setting up the House Judiciary Committee to discuss impeachment. They were ready to recommend impeachment on the following charges: obstruction of justice, abusing presidential powers, disobeying committee subpeonas, and (I love this one) evading income tax. Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974 to avoid being impeached.
There are several important historical points to be made here. The first, analyzed in the late 70s by Bill Moyers in a film called "Essay on Watergate", involves the attitudes of CREEP leaders such as Erlichman, Haldeman, and Dean, who believed that what they were doing was right. All CREEP leaders seemed to believe that the nation was falling apart in 1972: anti-war protests, Kent State, hippies, labor disputes, riots, Vietnam. Only Nixon, they felt, could save the nation from sliding into social chaos. But they did not trust the American people to understand their point of view, so they felt they had to change the odds.
Moyers says there were three reasons why. One was that Vietnam had caused a change in thinking about winning, since it was an unwinnable war. The mentality of it being "necessary to destroy the town to save it" led to twisted thinking. He uses an example from football. Knute Rockney used to say, "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game". But by this time, Vince Lombardi of Green Bay was saying, "winning isn't everything -- it's the only thing".
The second reason was that the leaders of CREEP were second-rate men who knew they were second-rate. They felt from the beginning that they could not do a good enough job for Nixon without "cheating". And the last reason was that they had become inured to illegality. With the civil rights movement and anti-war protestors violating the laws left and right, they felt it was OK to break the law if it was for the right cause. This made it OK to violate the Constitution, and if they hadn't been caught, says Moyers, it would have made it OK for all future governments to break the law to fulfill their own ends. But, he says, the Constitution held strong.
But the ultimate effect on the American people was a loss of trust in government, and in the President. It's hard to understand the way Americans viewed their Presidents prior to 1974, but they were viewed with much more respect and awe than today. Even when they had affairs, or had questionable personal habits, it tended to be overlooked so long as they did a good job. But after Watergate, people no longer trusted the President; the idea that all politicians are crooks seemed to have been proven once and for all.
Click on the link to the right to see the trailer to the movie "All the President's Men". This was a fictionalized version of Woodward and Bernstein's work that exposed Watergate.
The first major studies on air and water pollution took place in the 60's, by ecological advocates with degrees in biology. The hippy movement also helped in showing people their role as one in harmony with "Mother Earth".
Document: Ad: 2 Great Ways You Can Help Our Environment (1974)
Even popular music took up the theme. This humorous selection is from the musical "Hair", which debuted in 1969 on Broadway.
By the 70's, pollution was so bad you could see it everywhere. Rivers that had previously been pure ran with industrial waste and overflow sewage. Nuclear waste was buried in leaky containers, as was chemical waste. Chemical and toxic waste was not separated from ordinary garbage, and when landfills were covered over, communities were built on top. Cities based on the automobile, especially Los Angeles, had an extraordinary amount of carbon monoxide and particulates in the air. People breathe in these substances, which mix with water vapor in the lungs. Sulfur dioxide, breathed in, becomes sulfuric acid, which is highly corrosive. The health risks of all this are amazing, but doctors and citizens found it impossible to fight the huge wealthy industries to create
new legislation to control pollution.
Greenpeace 1975: Video Archive of Whaling Protests
In 1971, "Silent Running" became a science fiction hit. It's the story of... well, see the clip. See any connection to environmentalism?
Pesticide use was prevalent everywhere, as it is today, and DDT was one of the most popular. DDT was developed in World War II to kill insects that were pestering American soldiers in the South Pacific. It was a broad spectrum killer, killing any insect that moved. Poisoned insects were ingested by other animals, and even when these animals died, the DDT remained in the ecosystem. All the DDT that was ever used is still on the earth today. In 1962, biologist Rachel Carson published her controversial book, Silent Spring. It told of the dangers and prevalence of DDT, including the cancer and mutations it caused. The book caused Kennedy to begin investigation of pesticide safety.
Environmental groups tended to be, as they are today, grass roots organizations formed of concerned citizens within the community. In Bakersfield where I grew up, my parents were active in the environmental movement, fighting for clean air and water in a city carved out of a desert valley. The tactics were not those of the 60's, but those of legal action: lawsuits, Environmental Impact Reports, scientific tests. You would think that the scientific basis, the proof that data provide, would have been sufficient to convince governments and businesses that things had to change. But this was often not the case. Lois Gibbs became the organizer of the Love Canal community, discovering a toxic dump in her community's backyard.
As you read the document, think to yourself:
Document: Lois Gibbs: Love Canal (1978) (audio)
I had Lois Gibbs on my mind recently on an issue involving the playground in my community. The playground was built in 1980 or so, and the equipment is made with pressure-treated CCA (chromium copper arsenate) lumber. Although pressure-treated lumber is impregnated with arsenic and other toxic compounds which can leach into soil, testing is inconclusive about the hazards to humans. Each study showing how much arsenic children can ingest by playing on the wood can be countered by others denying any leaching.
I was convinced by the studies showing leaching took place and arsenic got on kids' hands. Several years ago, when the Homeowner's Association continually refused to consider testing the wood, I conducted my own swab and soil tests (at night, with a flashlight) . The lab showed low concentrations of arsenic in the soil, but high concentrations on the wood that would rub off on children's hands. Unable to convince the HOA of the danger, I simply wrote a letter with the results, and my husband and neighbor distributed the letter among the neighborhood. I recommended that the people in my community either petition the HOA or, at least, wash their children's hands after they played at the playground and before eating.
Shortly afterward, there was a letter from the HOA to all residents denying the results of my test, but promising to seal the wood for "aesthetic purposes". This did not occur, but the following summer the largest and most hazardous structure was replaced (the HOA said because it was budgeted for replacement for anyway). As of 2003, the EPA has banned pressure-treated lumber that uses CCA.
The Arabs were furious about the presence of a Jewish state in West Asia, and attacked Israel immediately. Israel not only defended herself, but pushed the Arabs back past their designated areas. Israel then occupied these regions and declared the new nation of Israel, created first through U.N. sanction and then through victory over her attackers. The Arab nations surrounding her refused to acknowledge her existence. In 1973, the Yom Kippur War was again won by Israel, who pushed her borders even further. The U.S. had supported Israel in the war.
Most Arab states belonged to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). As punishment for the U.S. support of Israel, OPEC boycotted all exports of oil to the U.S. in 1973-74. This caused an immediate crisis, as the U.S. was completely dependent on foreign oil, most of which came from Arab states. The price of oil skyrocketed, causing an unprecedented cost increase for all transportation. Gasoline was rationed; the lines at gas stations went on for miles as people burned all their gas waiting for the few gallons they were permitted to purchase. But crude oil is not just a source of gasoline in the U.S. Petroleum is the foundation of petrochemicals, used to make modern plastics and pesticides. Oil is also the foundation for lubricants in American factory machines. It is in such common products as Vaseline and Tupperware. When the price of oil went through the roof, the cost of everything produced rose also, leading to double-digit inflation.
Inflation has its purpose in the economic sphere. By driving prices up, it forces demand down, which leads to an increase in supply. This in turn causes prices to decline and stabilize. Inflation also makes money worth less, so paying off debts should be easier so long as interest rates stay low. There had been an increase in inflation even before the OPEC boycott, primarily because American factory machinery was outdated, not producing efficiently enough for the demand in consumer goods. Also, the expenses of conducting the Vietnam war were excessive and caused inflation. Nixon had attempted to control this inflation through putting a freeze on wages and prices for 90 days. But the OPEC boycott took inflation out of control.
Since the economy was stagnating, and inflation was rising, and unemployment was at an all-time high, economists coined the term "stagflation". Simple inflation corrected itself, and if people were unemployed they should spend less and bring prices down. But that's not what happened: unemployment was high and so was inflation. Economists had no idea how to explain it.
But one way to look at it was energy usage. If we had not been dependent on foreign oil, we would not have had double-digit inflation. The OPEC boycott pointed out to all Americans that we were too dependent on foreign oil; that countries half-way around the world could throw us into a crisis, that we could not support our own lifestyle. American oil companies took advantage of the inflation to make even more money off rationed gas. President Carter and most environmentalists believed there were other solutions. Massive studies were undertaken to determine the viability of solar power, wind power, hydroelectric power and biomass (trapping methane from decomposing organic matter). Carter's administration funded not only studies, but subsidies to companies engaged in developing alternative energy sources. He put solar panels on the White House to provide power and an example. The environmentalists had always known how damaging oil use was to the environment, and for awhile it looked as though ecologically sound alternatives were the answer.But it would take awhile to develop these sources, so conservation became the buzz word in the meantime. Carter encouraged Americans to conserve energy, to put on a sweater instead of turning on the heat. Where I lived we were told to "give your appliances an afternoon break". Offices set their winter thermostats at 68 degrees for heat, and their summer ones at 78 degrees for air conditioning. Many Americans weren't happy; they felt it was their God-given right to use unrenewable resources wastefully.
Nuclear power seemed like an option that could resolve this, too. Controlling an atomic explosion, using the energy produced to create power, seemed like a great idea. Nuclear power plants were built with large reactors, plus cooling towers or ocean water to cool the reactor between fission processes. But there were problems. The first was nuclear waste; the by-product of fission is highly radioactive and remains so for many years, stored in containers that sometimes leak. The second was operational safety; during the 70's many nuclear plants got around expensive safety repairs by engaging in illegal activities, such as turning in the same photograph of a welded pipe year after year. In early 1979, a movie came out called "The China Syndrome" in which a nuclear accident occurred. Ironically, later that year an accident actually occurred at Three Mile Island plant in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Although the government and the plant managers claimed that the public was not in danger at any time, a radioactive cloud was in fact released which, luckily, floated northward on the wind over the Atlantic. The worst thing that can happen in these accidents is called a "meltdown", where the chain reaction of fission cannot be stopped and the entire reactor becomes a hot radioactive bomb which sinks into the earth. Think of this next time you drive by San Onofre.
Inflation was clearly the biggest issue as the 80's began. The Reagan plan brought in a new philosophy, called supply-side economics. Worked out by an economist named Laffer on a table napkin, it was based on increasing the supply of goods produced in order to combat inflation. The supply of consumer goods was too low, because many factories had outdated equipment and thus could not produce quickly enough for demand. If businesses had more capital at their disposal, they could retool and produce more supply. With factories more efficient and producing more supply, prices would go down. The method for doing this was business taxes. A drastic cut in business taxes would provide business with the capital it needed to retool. As prices went down, everyone would benefit. They would have more money, which they would save or invest, thus further stimulating the economy. This was referred to as the "trickle down" effect; you cut taxes at the top (business), and the prosperity "trickles down" to poor people at the bottom. At the same time, however, what was called "Reaganomics" had other aspects. The decline in business taxes would mean a decline in income for the government. So government programs would be cut in an attempt to balance the federal budget. Medical programs, food stamp programs, employment training programs were all slashed from the federal budget. Tasks that used to be federal responsibilities were farmed out to the states, such as education and roads, or to private industry, such as communications. Another trick was to raise interest rates. By raising the interest rate (it went to 20% in 1981), you encourage lenders into the money marketplace. Lending companies, banks, and credit card companies were thrilled. Everyone with any income at all got an application in the mail to apply for a credit card; all you had to do was sign on the line. This was done to encourage spending, which helps the economy. But what happened was that millions of people got credit cards and spent like crazy (me included), then couldn't pay the bill because the interest was so high (the Sears card went to 20% all by itself). The interest rate increase made it hard for people to afford credit, hard for people to buy homes, and hard for the federal government to pay off the national debt (which was supposed to decrease with budget cuts but it hadn't). Certainly the economy boomed, and wealthy people made lots more money. But ultimately, with people defaulting on loans all over the place, and a continuing high deficit, the Bush administration gradually abandoned Reaganomics.
In Iran in 1978, the Islamic Revolution occurred. The Shah of Iran, a Western-style ruler supported by the American CIA, was thrown out of power by Islamic fundamentalists, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Iranian Shi'ite terrorists captured the American embassy, and held people hostage while Khomeini solidified his regime (probably to prevent American attack by using the hostages as shields). Shi'ism is the type of Islam most popular in Iran; it is based on the idea that only descendants of Muhammed should rule the Muslims. This in fact has not been the case for hundreds of years, which makes Shi'ism a radical sect opposed to the usual political rulers in the rest of Islam.
The "hostage crisis" ruined Carter's bid for re-election, and caused most Americans to detest the Iranians. Many Iranian immigrants in this country began referring to themselves as Persians or Medians (the older regions of Iran) to distinguish themselves from the anti-American Islamic fundamentalists in Iran.Document: Press Conference on the Iran Hostage Crisis (1979)
The hostages were released in 1980, but this didn't change most Americans' perceptions. Meanwhile, in Nicaragua in 1979, the Sandinistas (communists) ousted the Somoza regime (right-wing, almost fascist). Having taken over the country, the Sandinistas began supplying arms and support to fellow Marxist rebels who were fighting their own right-wing government in El Salvador. Reagan saw this whole situation as a threat to national security, since it represented the expansion of communism in the western hemisphere. In 1981, he asked the CIA to train and arm the "Contras", Nicaraguan exiles who had opposed the Sandinista government. The goal, he said, was not to retake Nicaragua, but to stop the arms shipments to El Salvador. Congress, however, did not see this situation as a threat to national security, and refused to provide funding for covert operations designed, they felt, to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. In the two years that followed, Americans read a lot about El Salvador, in particular the "death squads", supported by the right-wing government.
Many did not want the U.S. to prolong the life of such a regime by interfering with the rebels. Then, in 1984, it was discovered that the CIA was continuing covert operations in the area, mining the harbors of Nicaragua and such. Congress passed the Boland Amendments, affirming its insistence that there be no direct or indirect operations in Nicaragua. But unofficial support continued. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, Lebanese terrorists were holding some Americans hostage, and the government had been unable to obtain their release. In November 1986, a story broke in a Lebanese paper. It claimed that the U.S. had sold arms to Iran in exchange for pressure on Lebanese terrorists (presumably because they were also Shi'ite) to release U.S. hostages in Lebanon. The profits from the arms sales had then been channeled to support the Contras. The entire time this had been going on, the American President had been insisting to the public that, "we shall make no deals with terrorists".
A Commission was set up to investigate, led by Senator John Tower. They discovered that Reagan's top advisors, his National Security Council, had been used to fulfill the goals frustrated by Congress. National Security Advisor Admiral John Poindexter, CIA Director William Casey, and Lt. Colonel Oliver North of the Marines had carried out the policy of secretly selling arms to Iran and using the profits to fund the Contras. During the investigation, Poindexter attempted to commit suicide. Casey had a brain aneurysm (the press release said) and died in the hospital. Only North was left to testify, and he did. It became obvious that he had been primed to be the "fall guy" if anything went wrong; his secretary had spent most of her time shredding official papers. North insisted that though the means had been questionable, the ends were righteous. Despite the fact that the NSC had violated the Constitution and disregarded the decisions of the representatives of the American people, North said he'd done the right thing. He became a national hero for doing what he thought was right. Need I point out that not only did others not think he was right (such as Congress), but that if anyone in power can violate the Constitution, it presents a clear and present danger to the survival of the nation as a republic?
Another interesting question, as in Watergate, involved how much the President knew. He admitted, in taped testimony, to knowing about the arms sales, and said this had occurred because Iran was strategically important to U.S. interests (I'll explain that shortly). But it wasn't at all clear that he knew what else the NSC was up to, and it seems quite likely that he didn't know much. The first reason was because the NSC was made of savvy guys who knew about Watergate and would be unlikely to deliberately repeat that mistake. The other involved the joke that went around at the time involving Reagan's mental state: if he did know, did he know that he knew? No one knew for sure.
During the 60's, the women's movement was formed and focused on political and economic equality. In this sense it imitated the first efforts toward AfricanAmerican freedoms following the Civil War. Women earned an average of 60% of the pay for men, and several states had laws permitting legal discrimination. In these states, women (especially married women) were restricted in entering a contract, selling property, controlling their earnings, and making wills. In 1961, Kennedy's Presidential Commission on the Status of Women recommended ways to tear down these barriers, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was supposed to prohibit sexual discrimination in hiring as well as racial discrimination.
In 1966, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was formed to secure against discrimination on the basis of race or sex for jobs and housing.
But in fact, the EEOC focused exclusively on race, ignoring the female issue. Politically, this was the last straw to break the connection between the "civil rights" movement (which obviously didn't care about civil rights for females) and the "feminist" movement. The National Organization of Women (NOW) was formed in response, suing the EEOC for not complying with its own rules. NOW also sued corporations engaged in sexual discrimination, and called for adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment. They pushed access to birth control and abortion information, and were successful enough that President Johnson created Executive Order 11375, forbidding government contracts from discriminating against women and urging "affirmative action" to increase the representation of women.
In 1968, feminists protested the Miss America pageant because it was seen as a representation of exploitation. Miss America wins for her beauty (especially her figure in a bathing suit), entertainment talents, and desire to help humanity. The feminists burned bras and curlers and make-up outside the pageant. TV brought the events to many sitting in their living rooms. If you recall the restrictiveness of corsets and girdles, you see the significance of what they were burning.
Document: Gloria Steinem: If Men Could Menstruate (1978)
The feminism of the 70's is known for its stridency and urgency, as feminists began to develop philosophies designed to determine how women had become, as Simone de Beauvoir put it, the "second sex". Feminist scholars (male and female) began investigating the roots of male dominance in language, history, art, psychology, and religion, and published articles and commentaries. Ideology, rather than political or economic goals, was the hallmark of the 70's. So was a distinctly anti-male attitude, which made lesbianism not just a sexual orientation, but a political statement. The lesbian movement considered itself to be the radical wing of the feminist movement, since they created a society that had no male participation at all. But "mainstream" feminists by and large treated lesbian feminists badly, creating a rift that still has not healed.
For American women, the 80s were a time of backlash against feminist values. It was also a time of reversal for many of the political and economic gains made in earlier decades, as the number of females in high-ranking positions in government and industry declined drastically. In her book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (NY: Doubleday, 1991), journalist Susan Faludi documented the forces that undermined efforts of females to be seen as autonomous individuals. Unlike some historians, Faludi does not blame the Moral Majority, but rather sees them as representative of the efforts of a larger culture, a product of the new "post-feminist" era where a female could campaign publicly (an option made easier by feminism itself) against feminist goals.
As you read her introduction, ask yourself:
How does Susan Faludi view the achievements of the feminist movement?
Document: Susan Faludi: Backlash (1991)
The insistence that women should be nurturing instead of engaged in a career is easy to document. One of Faludi's favorite examples is the movie Baby Boom, in which a successful businesswoman finds herself unexpectedly inheriting a baby. Her career immediately suffers and comedy ensues as she figures out how to change the baby and feed her. Love overcomes all as she gives up her high-stress job for a home in the country (paid for by earnings from the high-stress job)and begins making and selling baby food. She falls in love with a rural doctor and builds a family. But I find it interesting to compare this film to another 80s movie, Mr. Mom, where the father is laid off from his job and mom goes to work. As in Baby Boom, the new at-home parent has no idea what to do, which is the focus of the comedy.
But most of the feminist analysis does shed much light on the 80s, when few TV shows or movies featured strong or independent women who were not neurotic or evil, or brought down by their lack of human feelings (as in the film Working Girl, which pitted an unfeeling career woman against a less-trained but compassionate woman, who ends up with not only the career but the first woman's man). With the exception of Roseanne, few shows and movies featured a strong woman at all. When they did, as in the cop buddy show Cagney and Lacey, it took huge fan response to keep them on the air. In this case, the network responded by making the stronger character more maternal.
Faludi notes that even the fashion marketing industry played a role, desperately trying to introduce flowery prints and dresses into "career wear", which left many career women with nowhere to shop for business suits. Victoria's Secret went into business to sell Victorian-style frilly and restrictive underwear (corsets, garter belts, etc.). The chain made most of its money off of men buying for wives and girlfriends, while most women chose sensible panties from the sale table. The ultimate winnner of the underwear wars was Jockey. This company, unlike others, actually surveyed women for what they wanted and found out that comfort, durability and value were more important than frills. Nevertheless, women who wanted to be "taken seriously" had to wear high heels and stockings. And, as with the 1920s vamp image, women were also encouraged to "use" their sexuality and visual appeal to get ahead.
In seeing the dominant culture in general as the source of backlash, Faludi was bucking the 1970s trend of blaming men for women's inequality. Her approach to feminism can be compared with that of other feminists like Gloria Steinem, who emphasized self-esteem as the source of female renewal in the 80's rather than cultural transformation. Certainly the 80s was a time of "self-help" books and articles anyway, with a great emphasis on women. At the beginning of the decade, the female role model was the Superwoman, who both took great care of home/kids/man and was top-notch at the office. A 70's TV commercial for the perfume Enjoli (the first "feminist" perfume commercial) put it best: "I can bring home the bacon -- fry it up in the pan -- and never never let you forget you're a man". Not surprisingly, some Superwomen became exhausted. Advice books recommended a similar solution to that of the 1950s, encouraging females to abandon "selfish" productive work and put their energy into roles of nurturing and cultural continuance.
Feminism in Music
This feature presents a musical history of feminism. No lyrics printed here; just listen and try to determine where women are in their quest for equality by noting the tone, musical style, and lyrics. (16 minutes -- wait till it loads if you need to!)
Alternate version at Vimeo
No audio lecture for this section.
Reggae came to the United States from Jamaica.
Bob Marley based this song on a 1968 speech given by Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia (1930-36, 1941-74), founder of the Organization for African Unity, which has been instrumental in preventing war in Africa. Marley, a Jamaican Rastafarian, helped popularize the reggae music of Jamaica in the United States. Rastafarianism is based on the concepts of Marcus Garvey; many Rastafarians see Selassie as a Messiah.
Until the philosophy which holds
|the dream of lasting peace, world
citizenship and the rule of international morality
will remain in but a fleeting illusion
to be persued, but never attained
(now everywhere is war, war)
And until the ignoble and unhappy
regime that now hold our bothers
in Angola, in Mozambique, South Africa
in sub-human bondage, have been
toppled, utterly destroyed
(well, everywhere is war, is a war
war in the east, war in the west,
war up north, war down south,
war, war, rumors of a war, and)
Until that day the African continent
will not know peace
We Africans will fight, if necessary
and we know we shall win
as we are confident in the victory of
good over evil, of good over evil....
The rock music of the seventies is hard to categorize; so much of it is of novelty interest only. But one sound that remains continues in the tradition of blues: urban music expressing the life of the lower class. Bruce Springsteen emerged in this era with the sounds of the working class.
Driving in to Darlington County
Me and Wayne on the Fourth of July
Driving in to Darlington County
Looking for some work on the county line
We drove down from New York City
where the girls are pretty but they just
want to know your name
Driving in to Darlington County
Got a union connection with an uncle of Wayne's
We drove eight-hundred miles without seeing a cop
We got rock and roll music blasting off
the t-top singing
Sha la la
Sha la la
Sha la la la la la
Hey little girl standing on the corner
Today's your lucky day for sure all right
|Me and my buddy we're from New York City
We got $200, we want to rock all night
Girl, you're looking at two big spenders
Why the world don't know what me and Wayne might do
Our pa's each own one of the World Trade Centers
For a kiss and a smile I'll give mine all to you
Come on baby take a seat on my fender
It's a long night and tell me what else were you gonna do
Just me and you, we could sha la la
Little girl sitting in the window
Ain't seen my buddy in seven days
County man tells me the same thing
He don't work he don't get paid
Little girl you're so young and pretty
Walk with me and you can have your way
And we'll leavie this Darlington County for a ride down that Dixie Highway
Driving out of Darlington County
My eyes seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
Driving out of Darlington County seen
Notice how the female is an object in the song?
Disco was the ultimate dance music of the seventies. It became a craze with the release of the film "Saturday Night Fever" (1977), starring John Travolta and the music of the Bee Gees. The Oxford Companion to Popular Music calls discos (short for the French discothèque) the "Modern substitute for the dance hall and the almost extinct dance orchestra, a gathering where pop records are played at a high dynamic level and introduced by a disc-jockeying MC, for the benefit of youthful but prematurely deaf dancers; probably semi-blind, too, as the dècor is invariably dominated by banks of flashing coloured lights." They also note the opinion of many that disco music "tended to produce a somewhat debased form of pop music".
Well, OK. I hated disco at the time and still do. But it did get couples (and especially men) dancing again after all the independent "do your own thing" freestyle dancing of the sixties, and produced a culture we love to ridicule. It also provided a mainstream role for female singers.
Prior to MTV, rock bands had been filmed, but usually on stage. There were some "videos" created prior to 1980 by progressive groups, but MTV made it mandatory for any musical act desiring a mass market to produce videos. Dancing, which had decreased in popularity among young people after the disco craze, was revived as the natural mode for videos by Michael Jackson and Paula Abdul. By 1995, some artists were constructing songs with the video specifically in mind. Madonna, one of the first artists to use MTV effectively, was a master of the medium by this time.
Paul Simon, formerly with the folk duo Simon and Garfunkel during the 60's, began experimenting with music from different cultures around the world. In 1986 he released "Graceland", an album with the sound of South African urban jive. Lyrics
Seriously 80s, here's the B-52s with a bit of Rock Lobster. Lyrics
In 1989, Billy Joel put together a song where
the lyrics represent a history of his time.
The video, shown repeatedly on MTV, contained
scenes from many of the events mentioned. Certainly
it says a lot about the individual interpretation
of history. See how many of the world events
you recognize (you can check them with
annotated lyrics), and whether you can tell
what perspective the song takes about them. New student-made
We Didn't Start the Fire
'57 Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
This story actually begins centuries ago, in the division between Shi'ite and Sunni among the people who practice Islam (Muslims). During the 7th century, the Shi'ites (who believed that only descendants of Muhammad should rule Muslims) broke away from the Sunnis (who believed that anyone who was elected by the tribes was OK). Most Shi'ites live in Iran, where the sect originated, although there is a significant Shi'ite minority in Iraq, the nation next door. Similarly, there is a Sunni minority in Iran, although they are much fewer since the Islamic revolution of 1978.
After World War II, the Middle East (West Asia) became the oil producing center of the world. You already know about OPEC, and how the OPEC boycott affected American history. After OPEC resumed shipments to the U.S. in 1974, the U.S. government became determined that such a cutoff would never happen again. One way to ensure this was to provide support for whichever West Asian countries could benefit us the most, and to prevent any sort of coalition among those countries that could operate like another OPEC.
In 1980, Iran and Iraq went to war. This was only two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and the leader of Iraq (Saddam Hussein) was having trouble with his Shi'ite minority, who were rebelling as a result. Naturally the U.S. supported Iraq, since anti-Iranian feeling was still running high. But as it appeared that Iraq would win, and thus dominate Persian Gulf oil, the U.S. secretly supplied Iran as well (this was also part of Iran-Contra, you may recall). This supplying of both sides kept the war going, kept oil prices down, and prevented either power from dominating the Gulf. The war ended in stalemate in 1988.
What Iraq had needed from the war, however, was only partly achieved. Although Hussein had been able to put down Shi'ite rebellion through force, he was not able to ensure access to the Persian Gulf for his oil ships. For millenia, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers have been silting up at the Gulf, and today the silting continues, often blocking shipping from the river into the Gulf. The point at which the rivers drain into the Gulf had silted up so much by 1980 that Iraq was having trouble getting ships through, despite continual dredging. The exit point for the rivers is in the nation of Kuwait. Kuwait was a former British colony (as was Iraq). She was an autocratic kingdom with no democratic institutions, and was usually protected by her friendly neighbor Iraq.
But by 1990, the long war had made Kuwait nervous. Instead of using her ally Iraq, whose flag she had flown on her oil tankers for protection, Kuwait began using the American flag (much to the joy of the U.S. government). Hussein decided he'd had it, and invaded Kuwait August 2, 1990. The U.N. authorized a trade embargo to be put on Iraq if she did not withdraw from Kuwait by January 15. President George H. W. Bush launched Operation Desert Shield on August 7, sending troops to Saudi Arabia with the blessings of other Arab states. By the end of September, troops were made eligible for "imminent danger" pay. By November, with Bush's declaration of "an offensive military option", hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops were ready.
At this point, some people (especially in Congress) were starting to ask where Bush was getting the authority for all this. Secretary of State Baker suggested historical precedent: presidents had called up troops over 200 times before, but only 5 wars had resulted. (He neglected to mention that most of these had been against pirates and cattle rustlers, and that Congress had objected to many of the others.) Baker also used the argument that it was really a U.N. operation. The problem with this argument is that the "operation" was actually just a U.N. resolution, Resolution 678, which authorized the use of force. But Baker himself announced that this didn't oblige the U.S. to use force.
Another problem dates back to World War II and the Cold War: there is no standing army for the United Nations. Nations with an interest in the conflict join in. Our old allies, Britain and France, joined in. Many others stayed out. Naturally, the Security Council had to vote on Resolution 678, so why hadn't Communist China and the Soviet Union vetoed it, as they should have? Because the Soviet Union was falling apart. They were in the middle of perestroika (economic reorganization) and needed the U.S.'s financial support. They were also under U.S. disapproval at the time because they had suppressed democratic rebellion in the Baltic Republics. By voting yes, the USSR redeemed itself and did the U.S. a favor that they hoped would be returned with money. China was also under U.S. disapproval, because in 1989 they had conducted the Tianenmen Square massacre, killing students who wanted democracy.
The American public, watching the events on CNN, urged the government to act against China. By abstaining from the vote on Kuwait, China prevented U.S. protest against Tianenmen. So, as in Korea, the U.N. voted for war because the U.S. wanted it. Congress is supposed to declare war, but they only were given that option after 500,000 troops had already been deployed. Bush requested a declaration of war from Congress on January 8, although, as he wrote in a letter, "I don't think I need it." Some voted for war because the alternative would be an embarrassing pull-out. Senator Bob Dole is a good example. On December 30, he declared that the emir of Kuwait was not worth one American life. On January 12, he was leading the effort to vote for war. Congress voted for war. Although it was supposedly a U.N. operation, American troops were under American, not U.N., commanders. And troops flew their national flags, not the flag of the U.N., so it was a sham and everyone knew it.
The media collaborated in making the Gulf War (I find this term confusing because everywhere else in the world it's used to refer to the Iran-Iraq War of the 80s) a pleasant experience. The anti-war movement was covered only sporadically by the press, and every anti-war protestor was seen as trying to cause another Vietnam, with its protestors treating the soldiers like dirt. Once the war began, the Pentagon was careful to censor its televised coverage, to not let it become "another Vietnam". The American people were not told of civilian deaths, or of Iraqi soldiers buried alive in trenches. We saw the entire war from the air, watching long distance bombing and the eradication of targets as if it were a computer game. The war restored the autocratic government of Kuwait, but not the power of Iraq, which then turned to developing biological and nuclear weapons, efforts toward which were continually suppressed by U.N. inspections and American bombing. Right up until September 11, 2001.
The text by Lisa M. Lane is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
The voice audio by Lisa M. Lane is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
|Other materials used in this class may be subject to copyright protection, and are intended for educational and scholarly fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the TEACH Act of 2002. This page has been checked for web accessibility using WAVE.|