An Unsettled World
An Unsettled World
C ommunism was a central theme during the 1960 presidential election between the Democratic candidate, U.S. senator John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) of Massachusetts, and the Republican candidate, Vice President Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994). Since the late 1940s, Nixon had a strong record of fighting the threat of communism in the United States. Communism is a system of government in which a single political party—the Communist Party—selects government leaders and controls nearly all other aspects of society. Private ownership of property is prohibited, and the government directs all economic production. The goods produced and the accumulated wealth are, in theory, shared relatively equally by all.
During the presidential campaign, Kennedy took a tough stance against communism to match Nixon's record, and he ended up winning in a very close race. When Kennedy took office in January 1961, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) released two U.S. Air Force officers being held by the Soviets. The officers had been shot down the previous July while flying in Soviet airspace on a reconnaissancemission. Kennedy recognized Khrushchev's act as a goodwill gesture and responded by removing importation restrictions on certain Soviet food and offering to increase scientific and cultural exchanges between the two countries.
Despite this hopeful beginning, relations between the two super-powers would soon dramatically deteriorate. Kennedy's pledge to be tough on communism, along with his inexperience in foreign affairs, made him very cautious about improving relations with the Soviets, regardless of Khrushchev's offers. Yet Kennedy was determined to demonstrate his leadership capabilities, and he wanted the lead role in developing foreign policy. He appointed Dean Rusk (1909–1994), a little-known former Truman administration State Department official, as his secretary of state. Unlike previous secretaries of state, Rusk would serve as an advisor, not a policy maker. In addition to Rusk, Kennedy relied on a small inner circle of advisors, including Secretary of Defense Robert S. Mc-Namara (1916–). Historians believe the small number led to some poor decisions in the early 1960s, when the United States had to respond to serious Soviet challenges.
While Kennedy was hesitant to cooperate, Khrushchev was inconsistent in his actions. Rejecting the inflexible policies and brutal style of the previous Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin (1879–1953), Khrushchev truly desired to change the direction of the Soviet Union and improve the lives of Soviet citizens. To reach this goal, he felt he needed to ease tensions with the West. But under pressure from communist hard-liners, Khrushchev would routinely switch between being friendly and challenging the West. Despite his personal gestures to Kennedy, Khrushchev would talk tough in public. For example, to potentially expand Soviet influence, he would openly encourage revolutionary independence movements in Third World countries. (Third World countries are poor underdeveloped or developing nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Most Third World countries have economies primarily based on agriculture, with few other industries. In the 1960s, many of these countries were still under the political control of other countries, mostly Western European nations.) As a result of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry, the Third World would serve as a major stage of conflict during the 1960s. The two superpowers competed over the allegiance of various nations. They either supported existing governments or tried to install new ones friendly to either democracy or communism. The tough talk and sometimes poor decision-making of the two superpower leaders nearly made the Cold War into a nuclear war. The Cuban Missile Crisis, especially, nearly led to war. This incident was a showdown in October 1962 that brought the Soviet Union and the United States close to war over the existence of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. (See Chapter 9, Cuban Missile Crisis.)
On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas, allegedly by Lee Harvey Oswald (1939–1963), while on a campaign trip. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973) immediately took office, showing the Soviets that the U.S. power structure remained intact despite the president's sudden death. Like Kennedy, Johnson had a strong interest in domestic affairs but little foreign policy experience. He forged ahead with a sweeping social reform program, which he called the "Great Society." Under Johnson's leadership, many landmark pieces of legislation were passed, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed all discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or ethnic origin, covering employment, education, housing, and public accommodations, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ensured full political voting rights for all adults. However, Cold War confrontations consumed much of Johnson's time and energy and eventually contributed to his decision to not seek another term after just over five years in office.
Almost eleven months after Kennedy's death, Khrushchev fell from power in the Soviet Union. Having backed down in confrontations with Kennedy in Berlin and Cuba, Khrushchev was removed from office on October 15, 1964, in a bloodless coup. Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982), a Communist Party hard-liner, replaced Khrushchev as leader of the party, and Aleksey N. Kosygin (1904–1980) became the head of the Soviet government. Through the 1960s, Brezhnev would increasingly dominate Soviet affairs, overshadowing Kosygin. Brezhnev would become the longest-serving Soviet leader during the Cold War.
During his first few months in office in early 1961, Kennedy reassessed U.S. Cold War strategies. He did not favor the brinkmanship policy of his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953–61), which emphasized the threat of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to any hostile action by the Soviets. Kennedy believed that the potential for global annihilation was too great with this policy in place. He wanted other means to retaliate against hostile actions, something substantially less destructive than nuclear weapons. He sought a new strategy that would give him greater flexibility in responding to various levels of hostile actions and threats. In addition to nuclear weapons, Kennedy's new strategy included greater use of covert, or secret, operations and antiguerrilla forces (small groups of soldiers specializing in surprise attacks) and more emphasis on conventional (nonnuclear) air, ground, and naval forces.
To support this new strategy, military spending increased dramatically from $43 billion in 1961 to $56 billion by 1963. The number of naval ships doubled, and the army expanded from eleven to sixteen divisions. The number of tactical air squadrons grew from sixteen to twenty-three. For antiguerrilla operations, Kennedy created a counterinsurgency force called the Green Berets, a name Kennedy personally chose. (Counterinsurgency is organized military action designed to combat guerrilla forces, or insurgents, that are attempting to overthrow an established government.) The U.S. Army's Special Forces School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, trained 114,000 U.S. soldiers and 7,000 foreign military officers by June 1963. The Special Forces were specifically trained to perform in Latin America and Southeast Asia.
The nuclear arsenal, or weapons stockpile, also grew under Kennedy's new plan. Kennedy's goal was second-strike capability—a nuclear arsenal large enough to ensure that some U.S. missiles would survive a Soviet first strike; the surviving
missiles would destroy the Soviet Union in an automatic second strike. This differed from earlier strategies that focused on firing off as many missiles as possible before the enemy's missiles struck. Second-strike capability meant that even in the event of a surprise attack, massive retaliation was possible. To prepare for this scenario, the United States installed solid-fuel Minuteman missiles in underground silos; submarines were equipped with Polaris missiles. By the end of the decade, the United States would have over a thousand intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), seven hundred missiles for submarine launch, and more than five hundred long-range B-52 bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons. All missiles carried nuclear warheads.
The Soviets did not stand still while the United States pursued its new military defense strategy. In early 1965, Brezhnev announced a massive increase in Soviet nuclear arms development. He sought to reach the level of nuclear capability that the United States had achieved and maintain superiority over the People's Republic of China (PRC), which now had its own nuclear weapons. By the late 1960s, new missile technologies, including the antiballistic missile (ABM) defense system and multiple-warhead missiles, were being developed by both superpowers. They would be very costly for both countries to produce. Because of the cost, President Johnson and Brezhnev agreed to consider new proposals for limiting the future growth of nuclear arsenals and restricting the spread of nuclear weapons to other nations. Though progress was slow, Johnson did sign three arms agreements. One pact, the 1967 Latin American Nuclear-Free Zone Treaty, banned the spread of nuclear weapons to Latin America; another, the Outer Space Treaty, prohibited the use and deployment of nuclear weapons in space or on the Moon. The most important treaty was the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which banned the spread of nuclear weapon capabilities to nonnuclear countries worldwide.
The Berlin and Cuba crises
Two major Cold War crises came quickly for Kennedy. Soon after taking office, Kennedy personally approved a plan to invade Cuba—against Secretary of State Rusk's advice. About four years before Kennedy became president, Fidel Castro Ruz (1926–) had led a revolution in Cuba to overthrow Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar (1901–1973), a dictator the United States worked with because he was not communist. Castro did not begin his regime as a communist, but he began to lean toward the Soviet Union for support when the United States showed hostility toward his economic reform programs. The Eisenhower administration had come up with a plan to oust Castro, and following Kennedy's approval of the
plan, some fifteen hundred Cuban exiles, trained in Guatemala by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), made an amphibious (water) landing at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba on April 17, 1961. However, just before the invasion, CIA bombers failed to hit their targets in an initial air strike. Fearing impending doom for the operation, Kennedy cancelled a second strike. He ordered that the U.S. personnel not take any further active role. Without the expected air support, almost twelve hundred of the exiles were easily captured after three days of fighting. (The captured invaders were later freed in December 1962 in exchange for $53 million worth of tractors and other equipment.) The operation proved a disaster and placed the United States and President Kennedy in a very bad public light (see Chapter 9, Cuban Missile Crisis).
Shortly after the failed invasion of Cuba, Berlin once again became the focus of Cold War tension. In early June 1961, Kennedy and Khrushchev met in Vienna, Austria. The Soviet leader pressed Kennedy for a German peace treaty that would recognize the existing boundaries of Eastern Europe, where Soviet influence had become well established. Because of the rapidly escalating post–World War II (1939–45) tensions in the late 1940s between the Soviet Union and the Western allies, a peace treaty officially ending the war and resolving the future of Germany had never been signed. Khrushchev also demanded that Western military forces leave Berlin, a German city that was jointly controlled by the Western allies and the Soviets. Kennedy rejected Khrushchev's demands.
In response, on August 13, the East Germans began building a wall through the middle of Berlin. The Soviets wanted to stop the flow of approximately one thousand people a day leaving East Berlin for West Berlin. The decrease in population was hurting the East German economy. As a result of the creation of the wall, the United States and the Soviet Union resumed nuclear weapons testing, ending a three-year break. Kennedy sent an additional fifteen hundred U.S. soldiers to Germany and began preparing for a nuclear showdown. Seeing Kennedy's strong response, Khrushchev backed off his demands (see Chapter 3, Germany and Berlin).
Khrushchev faced increasing criticism from Soviet Communist Party leaders. He had backed down on his demands for a Berlin settlement in late 1961, and even though the U.S. invasion of Cuba failed, the threat of a future invasion lingered. In an effort to strengthen his leadership position, Khrushchev decided early in 1962 to deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba, only 90 miles (145 kilometers) from the U.S. coastline. Months later, on October 14, 1962, a high-altitude U.S. spy plane spotted Soviet missile bases under construction in Cuba. Two extremely tense weeks followed, during which the United States blockaded Soviet cargo ships carrying missiles to Cuba. On October 28, Khrushchev announced that he would remove the missiles in Cuba. In return, Kennedy agreed not to invade Cuba and secretly promised to remove medium-range Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Kennedy won widespread praise for his handling of the crisis and for averting military engagements. Khrushchev's defeat in Cuba was another blow to his image at home in the Soviet Union. It would cost him his leadership position less than two years later (see Chapter 9, Cuban Missile Crisis).
After experiencing firsthand a nuclear near miss in Cuba, both Kennedy and Khrushchev were ready to begin
arms control talks. Although the two superpowers could not agree on a broad test-ban treaty, they did agree to ban nuclear testing in the atmosphere, in outer space, and beneath the ocean surface. The Limited Test-Ban Treaty went into effect on October 11, 1963. This treaty provided an important foundation for future arms control talks.
Latin American challenges
Castro's increasingly pro-Soviet position would lead to further Cold War challenges for the United States in Latin America in the 1960s. Latin America encompasses all of the Western Hemisphere south of the United States. It consists of all nations in Central and South America as well as Mexico and the islands of the West Indies.
During the 1960s, all conflicts in Latin America were thrust into a Cold War framework of communist influence versus American influence. Americans viewed troubles in Latin American countries as communist-inspired; the Soviets saw U.S. intervention in Latin America as imperialism. Imperialism is the policy of expanding the rule of one nation over foreign countries.
In Panama, a Central American country, nationalists began protesting U.S. control of the Panama Canal Zone located within their country. (Nationalists have a strong loyalty to their own nation and favor independence from other nations.) The canal was built in 1903 by the United States to improve transportation between the east and west coasts of the United States. The United States had retained control over the canal and an area surrounding it known as the Canal Zone. The protests led to anti-American riots in January 1964. Four U.S. soldiers and twenty-four Panamanians were killed during four days of rioting. The Panamanian government suspended diplomatic relations with the United States. Because of his distrust of Castro, President Johnson suspected that the Cuban leader was somehow behind the unrest. Though order was soon restored, the issue remained unresolved, and agreement over the future control of the Canal Zone would not be reached until 1977, when U.S. president Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81) signed a treaty giving Panama control over the zone beginning on December 31, 1999.
The United States also became involved in other parts of Latin America. In 1964, President Johnson offered the support of a U.S. naval force to help the Brazilian military over-throw leftist (politically radical or liberal) civilian president
João Belchior Marques Goulart (1918–1976), but the Brazilian forces successfully overthrew the government without U.S. military assistance. In Chile, the Johnson administration secretly spent at least $3 million to help elect an anticommunist president, Eduardo Frei Montalva (1911–1982).
In the Dominican Republic, civil war broke out in early 1965. The country's military had overthrown the elected government in 1963 and promised elections the following year. However, the elections were postponed because the military feared the same leaders would be elected again by the people. A group of military officers who supported the ousted leaders rebelled violently, resulting in a growing civil war. Fearing that Castro may have influenced the rebels, resulting in communist influence, President Johnson sent twenty-two thousand U.S. troops to protect the military leadership in April 1965.
Though U.S. involvement had successfully ended the revolt in the Dominican Republic, demonstrations in protest of U.S. intervention broke out throughout Latin America. The U.S. military intervention violated the Good Neighbor policy established in the 1930s by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45). The policy promised that the United States would not militarily intervene in the internal politics of Latin American countries. In addition, Johnson had acted without the approval of Congress or the Organization of American States (OAS), an organization of Western Hemisphere nations established in 1948 to maintain political stability in the region by providing a forum for resolving disputes. To ease the situation in the Dominican Republic, the OAS sent a multinational military force to replace U.S. troops in September 1966. A pro-U.S. civil government, led by Joaquín Balaguer (1907–2002), was elected later that year. The mood of the population had changed enough by then to elect a right-wing pro-U.S. government.
In 1967, arms control talks turned to Latin America. The United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and the People's Republic of China (PRC) signed a treaty prohibiting the use of nuclear weapons in Latin America. All Latin American countries except for Cuba and Guyana later signed the treaty. Despite the widespread disturbances in Latin America during the 1960s, no further communist expansion occurred in the region.
Upheaval in communist China
The Far East is the easternmost part of Asia, including the communist People's Republic of China (PRC), Japan, Korea, and the democratic Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. Although the PRC had a communist government, it did not have a good relationship with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. PRC leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976) did not approve when Khrushchev denounced the policies of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Khrushchev's statements against Stalin were part of an effort called de-Stalinization, a plan to introduce reforms to the Soviet Union. These reforms included allowing greater personal freedoms for Soviet citizens, lessening the powers of the secret police, closing concentration and hard-labor camps, and restoring certain legal processes. The PRC leadership thought Khrushchev's policies weakened the original principles of communism. The PRC also resented the Soviets' lack of support during the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1958, Soviet backing of India in a border dispute with PRC, and withdrawal of Soviet nuclear technical assistance from the PRC in 1959. Furthermore, PRC did not trust the new limited test-ban treaty between the Soviet Union and the United States.
On the other hand, the PRC showed interest during this time in improving relations with the United States and easing trade restrictions. President Kennedy expressed interest as well. Having no formal diplomatic relations, the two countries communicated through the U.S. ambassador in Poland and the PRC's Warsaw representative. But a major hurdle soon arose: The PRC stated that in order to have good relations with the PRC, the United States would have to end its support of the ROC, the democratic Chinese government in Taiwan. In reaction, Congress instead passed resolutions reaffirming U.S. support for the ROC. Further, the United States opposed recognition of the PRC and its admission into the United Nations, an international peacekeeping organization. Kennedy dropped all further discussions. In October 1964, the PRC exploded its first nuclear device. Even more ominously, in June 1967, PRC exploded its first hydrogen bomb.
In an effort to maintain his position of power during the late 1960s, Mao introduced the Cultural Revolution in the PRC. It would last a year and nearly result in civil war. The Cultural Revolution included the purge of tens of thousands of technical experts and government workers who Mao claimed did not loyally support the communist government. Mao wanted to restore a radical edge to the communist movement within China; he felt it was getting too conservative with too many people of influence wanting to improve relations with the United States and the Soviet Union. Perhaps five hundred thousand Chinese people were killed, including many teachers and intellectuals. Mao closed universities and sent students to work in the fields. He also organized the Red Guards—students, peasants, and workers from around the country—to help carry out the purge. The purge consisted of murders and sending thousands of educators and leaders to remote rural regions to perform peasant labor. Red Guard activities significantly heightened anti-American and anti-Soviet sentiments in the PRC; many of
those who favored improved relations with these countries were purged or afraid to speak out any longer.
The Prague Spring: More communist upheaval
In 1966, the economy in Czechoslovakia was struggling, so the country's communist leaders began to shift control of industry from the central government to local organizations, hoping to improve the situation. However, the reform progressed too slowly, and public unrest, including student riots, increased. In January 1968, Alexander Dubcek (1921–1992) was appointed the new Czechoslovakian Communist Party leader. Dubcek wanted to modernize communism with certain democratic reforms, including greater freedom of the press. Communist leaders in other Eastern European countries and in Moscow feared that the reforms would undermine communist control, first in Czechoslovakia and then in their own countries.
In July 1968, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev demanded that Dubcek back off from these democratic reforms. When Dubcek continued his efforts, Brezhnev sent Warsaw Pact troops and tanks into Czechoslovakia to overthrow him. (The Warsaw Pact was a mutual military alliance between the Soviet Union and the Eastern European nations under Soviet influence.) Dubcek was arrested, taken to Moscow, and eventually ousted from the Communist Party. Hard-line Communist Party leaders took the place of Dubcek and other Czech government officials.
Dubcek's short period of leadership is known as the Prague Spring because it represented a brief thaw in Cold War communist policies. (Prague was the capital of Czechoslovakia.) Western countries protested the heavy-handed Soviet response but did not intervene to save Dubcek. Because the Soviets used force to suppress Dubcek's reforms, their relations with the United States chilled again. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia subdued political and economic reform movements within the Eastern bloc for over twenty years. The Eastern Bloc was a group of nations composed of the Soviet Union and its allies and satellite governments in Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa.
War in Indochina
In 1968, the United States was experiencing its own violent public unrest. Racial inequalities in the U.S. social system led to race riots in the nation's cities. In addition, outside the Chicago hotel where the Democratic National Convention was being held, police used clubs and tear gas on protesters demonstrating against the Vietnam War (1954–75). Indochina—and Vietnam in particular—proved to be the region that would consume most of America's resources and energies during the 1960s, particularly after 1964. Indochina is a peninsula in Southeast Asia that extends from the southern border of the PRC into the South China Sea. It includes, among other countries, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. These three countries had valuable natural resources, especially rubber and rice, and as a result, they were colonized by the French in the nineteenth century. However, following World War II, a communist revolutionary named Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969) led the communist Vietminh army in a war against French troops to regain Vietnam's independence. By 1954, an agreement was reached dividing Vietnam into two regions. North Vietnam would be communist, ruled by Ho Chi Minh; South Vietnam would have a pro-West, anticommunist government. However, communist forces continued waging guerrilla warfare in South Vietnam, and U.S. assistance gradually replaced the French influence.
Immediately after the failure of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, Kennedy turned to Indochina, hoping to regain public confidence in his efforts to contain communism. As a senator, Kennedy had opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the early 1950s, but on May 25, 1961, Kennedy went to Congress for additional defense funds to increase military aid to South Vietnam. South Vietnam did not serve any vital interests of the United States. However, Kennedy had become a believer in the "domino effect" theory, which maintained that if one country fell to communist influence, others would follow. If South Vietnam fell to the communists, Laos and Cambodia could be next—and perhaps other countries after that. In addition, Kennedy did not want to be considered soft on communism.
The situation in Vietnam continued to deteriorate despite increased U.S. financial aid. In October 1961, South Vietnam president Ngo Dinh Diem (1901–1963) requested U.S. combat troops. South Vietnamese communist rebels, called the Vietcong, controlled about 80 percent of South Vietnam's villages. While in control, the Vietcong pursued land reforms, taking land from the wealthy landlords and distributing it among the peasants to farm. President Kennedy was determined to fight the Vietcong's guerrilla warfare tactics with Green Beret counterinsurgency strategies (antiguerrilla warfare). He also planned to improve the South Vietnamese army: By late 1963, the number of U.S. military advisors in South Vietnam increased from 700 to 16,700. The advisors took an active role in combat and covert operations in North Vietnam as well. Kennedy approved a CIA plan to overthrow Ngo, who was declining in popularity, inhibiting the fight against the communists, and not making meaningful reforms. Ngo was assassinated less than three weeks before President Kennedy's assassination.
In August 1964, North Vietnam staged a small-scale attack on two U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. In response, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The resolution gave President Johnson sweeping powers to commit U.S. forces to the region, though he refrained from increasing U.S. military involvement until after the presidential election in November. During his campaign, Johnson portrayed his Republican challenger, U.S. senator Barry Goldwater (1909–1998) of Arizona, as one who was eager to start a nuclear war. Johnson asserted that he would not send U.S. combat troops to Vietnam, and he won the election in a landslide victory. Despite his campaign pledges, President Johnson would soon dramatically escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
On February 7, 1965, the United States began a bombing campaign called Operation Rolling Thunder—authorized by President Johnson—just inside North Vietnam's boundary. The operation began one day after eight American advisors were killed and over one hundred wounded by a Vietcong attack. The following month, Johnson sent in U.S. Marine ground troops to defend newly established U.S. air bases. Still, the Vietcong were gaining momentum, capturing more areas of South Vietnam in skirmishes against the U.S.backed South Vietnamese army. In July 1965, Johnson approved the use of fifty thousand U.S. ground troops in South Vietnam. By now, Johnson had transformed the U.S. policy on Vietnam: Instead of limited assistance, the South Vietnamese government now had a major military commitment from the United States. Johnson was determined not to have South Vietnam fall to the communists. By December 1965, two hundred thousand U.S. troops were in Vietnam; by 1968, over five hundred thousand U.S. troops were there. The American soldiers found conditions in Vietnam deplorable. They suffered from stifling heat, tropical humidity, biting insects, and tropical diseases and lived with the constant threat of sniper fire and booby traps.
With $2 billion in military aid and economic assistance from both the Soviets and the PRC between 1965 and 1968, North Vietnam was able to match the continuing escalation of U.S. involvement. The PRC also sent three hundred
thousand troops into North Vietnam to help operate antiair-craft and communications facilities. Their presence served to deter a U.S. invasion of North Vietnam. The United States did not want to draw the PRC into a larger combat role as it had in Korea in 1950 (see Chapter 2, Conflict Builds). The U.S. strategy at this point was to try to contain the battle and outlast North Vietnam. U.S. military leaders kept coming to Johnson saying that with a few more planes and troops the war could be won. But with each increase, victory seemed no closer.
By late 1967, 13,500 Americans had been killed in Vietnam combat. Public opinion was turning against Johnson and his steady escalation of U.S. war efforts. In 1967, three hundred thousand war protesters marched in New York City. Thousands of demonstrators surrounded the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. In November 1967, General William C. Westmoreland (1914–) assured Johnson that victory was close at hand. Then, on January 31, 1968, to the surprise of everyone (including U.S. intelligence), the Vietcong and the
North Vietnamese launched a massive offensive throughout South Vietnam. They attacked more than one hundred towns and villages. Intense fighting erupted in the streets of Saigon, the capital city, and extended into the U.S. embassy, where several Americans were killed. This attack is known as the Tet Offensive, named for the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration called Tet. U.S. forces repelled the North Vietnamese after several weeks, and the Vietcong suffered heavy losses. However, the American public saw this massive attack as evidence that the United States was nowhere near victory. Public protests, first seen on college campuses, spread across the nation. Johnson's domestic agenda came to a standstill as members of Congress became disillusioned with what many were now calling "Johnson's War." As a result, Johnson's Great Society plan became another casualty of Vietnam. Chanting antiwar slogans, protesters constantly encircled the White House, and Johnson could not go anywhere without facing hostile crowds.
Johnson's approval rating dropped to 30 percent in early 1968, meaning only 30 percent of Americans approved of Johnson's performance. American casualties in Vietnam were mounting, and the cost of the war undermined the nation's economy. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara resigned in opposition to continuing the war effort; he was replaced by Clark Clifford (1906–1998). On March 31, 1968, Johnson announced in a television address that he would stop the bombing of North Vietnam in order to get peace talks going. He then stunned the nation by adding that he would not run for reelection in November. Peace talks began in Paris on May 13, but no progress was made. Meanwhile, fighting intensified in South Vietnam and would continue for years.
During the Kennedy-Johnson years of 1961 to 1969, the U.S. goal of containing communism around the globe suffered two major setbacks: Soviet relations with Cuba strengthened, and the Vietnam War proved unwinnable for the United States. The period was marked by dramatic, tense, and often bloody events associated with the Cold War rivalry. Despite these events, arms control discussions between the two superpowers gained momentum, and several treaties were signed. The Republican candidate, former Vice President Richard M. Nixon, defeated the Democratic candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey (1911–1978), in the November 1968 presidential election by pledging to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Though that war did not end for several more years, Nixon and Brezhnev would adopt a policy known as détente, a mutual agreement to relax or ease tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.
For More Information
Cohen, Warren I., and Nancy B. Tucker, eds. Lyndon Johnson Confronts the World: American Foreign Policy, 1963–1968. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Divine, Robert A., ed. The Johnson Years. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1987.
Edmonds, Robin. Soviet Foreign Policy: The Brezhnev Years. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.
FitzSimons, Louise. The Kennedy Doctrine. New York: Random House, 1972.
Gelb, Norman. The Berlin Wall: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and a Showdown in the Heart of Europe. New York: Times Books, 1986.
Gelman, Harry. The Brezhnev Politburo and the Decline of Detente. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1984.
Higgins, Trumbull. The Perfect Failure: Kennedy, Eisenhower, and the CIA at the Bay of Pigs. New York: Norton, 1987.
Paterson, Thomas G., ed. Kennedy's Quest for Victory: American Foreign Policy, 1961–1963. New York: Random House, 1995.
Seaborg, Glenn T. Stemming the Tide: Arms Control and the Johnson Years. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1987.
Slusser, Robert M. The Berlin Crisis of 1961: Soviet-American Relations and the Struggle for Power in the Kremlin, June–November 1961. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.
John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.http://www.cs.umb.edu/jfklibrary/index.htm (accessed on August 6, 2003).
PBS Online. "Vietnam Online." American Experience.http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/vietnam (accessed on August 6, 2003).
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Cold War International History Project. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm? fuseaction=topics.home&topic_id=1409 (accessed on August 6, 2003).
Words to Know
Alliance for Progress: A program designed to block the spread of communism by improving the overall quality of life for Latin Americans. The Alliance attempted to reduce disease, increase literacy, and ease poverty throughout the region.
Bay of Pigs: Failed U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs by fifteen hundred Cuban exiles opposed to Fidel Castro, on April 17, 1961.
Berlin Wall: A wall dividing the Soviet-controlled sector of Berlin from the three Western-controlled zones, built in an attempt to stem the tide of refugees seeking asylum in the West.
Cold War: A prolonged conflict for world dominance from 1945 to 1991 between the two superpowers, the democratic, capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. The weapons of conflict were commonly words of propaganda and threats.
Communism: A system of government in which the nation's leaders are selected by a single political party that controls all aspects of society. Private ownership of property is eliminated and government directs all economic production. The goods produced and accumulated wealth are, in theory, shared relatively equally by all. All religious practices are banned.
Cuban Missile Crisis: A showdown in October 1962 that brought the Soviet Union and the United States close to war over the existence of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.
Imperialism: The process of expanding the authority of one government over other nations and groups of people.
Peace Corps: A U.S. program designed to promote world peace and friendship by going abroad and assisting developing nations.
Prague Spring: A brief thaw in Cold War communist policies when in 1968 Czechoslovakia's Communist Party leader, Alexander Dubcek, sought to modernize communism with certain democratic reforms, including greater freedom of the press.
Third World: Poor underdeveloped or developing nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America; most Third World countries have economies primarily based on agriculture, with few other industries.
Vietcong: Vietnamese communists engaged in warfare against the government and people of South Vietnam.
People to Know
Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982): Leader of the Soviet Union Communist Party, 1964–82.
Fidel Castro Ruz (1926–): Cuban premier/president, 1959–.
Alexander Dubcek (1921–1992): Czech-oslovakian Communist Party leader, 1968.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973): Thirty-sixth U.S. president, 1963–69.
John F. Kennedy (1917–1963): Thirty-fifth U.S. president, 1961–63.
Nikita S. Khrushchev (1894–1971): Soviet premier, 1958–64.
Robert S. McNamara (1916–): U.S. secretary of defense, 1961–68.
Ngo Dinh Diem (1901–1963): Republic of Vietnam president, 1954–63.
Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994): Republican vice president, 1953–61; Republican candidate for U.S. president, 1960; thirty-seventh U.S. president, 1969–74.
Dean Rusk (1909–1994): U.S. secretary of state, 1961–69.
On October 14, 1960, after a long day of campaigning for the upcoming presidential election, the Democratic candidate, U.S. senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, arrived at the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. It was 2 a.m., and Kennedy was ready to get some rest before another active day. However, ten thousand students turned out to greet the candidate at that late hour. In a spontaneous address before the crowd, Kennedy proposed an international volunteer organization. He challenged the youthful crowd to serve their country, to represent the United States by going abroad to assist developing nations. Three months later, the newly elected Kennedy mentioned the program again in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961. On March 1, he signed an order establishing the Peace Corps. Kennedy appointed his brother-in-law, R. Sargent Shriver (1915–), to be the first Peace Corps director. Congress passed legislation on September 22 of that year making the Peace Corps a permanent program.
The overarching goal of the Peace Corps as stated in the legislation is to "promote world peace and friendship." To accomplish this goal, the agency recruited volunteers skilled in education, agriculture, health care, and public works. Volunteers worked two-year terms and learned to speak the language of the country they were assigned to; their living conditions were similar to the living conditions of the people they assisted. Another key objective of the program is to create a better understanding of Americans among the Third World populations. One of the first groups of volunteers in the summer of 1961 was sent to the African nation of Ghana. Upon arrival at the airport, the fifty-one American volunteers quickly impressed their host country by singing the national anthem of Ghana in the local native language.
In the first year, the Peace Corps sent five hundred volunteers to eight developing countries. By 1963, seven thousand volunteers were working in forty-four countries, and in 1966, over fifteen thousand volunteers were working in fifty-two countries. As the Cold War neared its end in 1991, the Peace Corps expanded to Eastern Europe, going to Poland and Hungary in June 1990 and to the former Soviet states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1992. In 1993, Peace Corps volunteers began serving in the People's Republic of China. The Peace Corps is one of the most successful programs created during Kennedy's administration.
Just as preparation for the ill-fated U.S.-supported invasion of communist Cuba was in its last stages, U.S. president John F. Kennedy introduced a new aid program for all other Latin American countries. On March 13, 1961, the president announced the Alliance for Progress. The program was designed to block the spread of communism by improving the overall quality of life for Latin Americans. The Alliance would attempt to reduce disease, increase literacy, and ease poverty throughout the region. Kennedy believed that if these conditions could be improved, radical political movements such as communism would look less attractive to the poor. In August, the United States and twenty-two other countries agreed on a charter, or set of rules. Kennedy pledged $10 billion of U.S. money over the next ten years to match $10 billion contributed by other nations that supported the program.
The Inter-American Committee was established to guide funds from contributing nations to the appropriate Latin American programs and countries. Through the next few years, the highly ambitious program encouraged agricultural reform, health and sanitation improvements, housing projects, reading programs, better wages, and stabler prices of goods. Kennedy expressed hopes that the program would not only block communist expansion, but encourage growth of democracies. At the time, military dictatorships governed most Latin American countries.
Despite grand hopes, the Alliance for Progress was a major failure. High population growth rates in Latin America prevented the program from making meaningful headway. In fact, during the 1960s, unemployment rose and agricultural production declined. Though some new schools, hospitals, and other facilities were built, the improvements in sanitation, housing, literacy, and health care could not keep up with the population growth, so relatively few people were served. Democracies also lost ground as popularly elected presidents in Argentina, Peru, Guatemala, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras were overthrown by their militaries. Wealthy people in Latin America viewed the Alliance for Progress as a greater threat to them than communism. They believed the Alliance would improve the condition of the general population and better enable them to challenge the influence of the wealthy through such things as land reform. Tensions between Latin America and the United States actually increased.
Combating the potential spread of communism quickly took priority over improving the social, political, and economic conditions in Latin America. U.S. military assistance to Latin American dictators increased steadily during the 1960s, especially under President Lyndon Johnson, who took office after Kennedy was assassinated. The United States found that dictatorships could prevent the spread of communism better than weak democracies. With new priorities and not much progress to show for the program, Johnson and Congress significantly reduced funding for the Alliance for Progress in 1965 and 1966.