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The American Testimony, a concise history of the United States Book 7:
The Cold War Years
(1945 - 1973)

Copyright 2007 Bryan Hardesty. All rights reserved.

(NOTE: The DVD Edition of The American Testimony is available at our store.)

    Between 1929 and 1945, the people of the United States endured an economic depression and two world wars; experiences that inspired deep appreciation for peace and material comfort. The post-World War II era began as a time of prosperity and hope, tempered by gnawing fear of further loss, as tyrants in faraway lands gained access to devastating new weapons.


Arlington Hall, site of the Venona codebreaking project.    Prior to the late 1990s, there was much speculation—but very little evidence—about the secret campaign waged against the constitutional structure of the United States by pro-Soviet advocates in high-level government positions. Code-breakers on the Venona Project.More than fifty years after the fact, newly declassified National Security Agency documents shed light on America’s Venona project, an intelligence program to intercept and decipher encoded messages between the Soviet Union and its western spies during the 1940s. Since the Soviets were wartime allies of the United States, and because US intelligence personnel devoted their time and energy on Japanese and German communications, Soviet messages were not studied until the Second World War concluded. During the late 1940s and early ‘50s, American code breakers began learning of the extensive infiltration of communist spies in virtually every level of American government. However, these findings were not made public, as doing so would alert the Soviets to the fact that their code had been broken.  

    Decades passed before it was publicly revealed that many of President Franklin Roosevelt’s closest advisors were Soviet agents, and many continued to serve under his successor, Harry S. Truman. Subsequent release of intelligence archives in Moscow (following the collapse of Soviet rule) confirmed the Venona findings. Among the more influential spies were Roosevelt’s personal aides Harry Hopkins and Lauchlin Currie, Assistant Treasury Secretary Harry Dexter White, and high-ranking State Department officials Laurence Duggan and Alger Hiss. These men directed presidential policy in shaping postwar Europe to favor the Soviets. Additionally, Alger Hiss, who accompanied President Roosevelt to the strategic Allied conference at Yalta, played a prominent role in drafting the United Nations charter and bylaws, subsequently serving as interim UN Secretary General during its founding in 1945.

Elizabeth Bentley: Reformed Soviet spy.     Among communist operatives in the US were those who had grown increasingly alarmed by the brutal tactics of their Soviet handlers. Whittaker Chambers, repentant communist who became a patriot.Distraught by acts of betrayal and murder within America’s espionage underground, Connecticut-born Elizabeth Bentley surrendered to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), admitting she had managed several Soviet KGB-sponsored spy rings in New York City and Washington, DC, during the mid-1940s. Another defecting spy, Philadelphia native Whittaker Chambers, was a prominent journalist who had conducted espionage activities in the nation’s capital during much of the 1930s. His initial 1939 confession to the Roosevelt administration was largely ignored, and it was not until Elizabeth Bentley’s November 1945 defection that the FBI seriously studied Chambers’ claims.

    Nazi war criminals face the Nuremberg tribunal.With federal investigations quietly underway, the spy rings remained out of the public eye, and the primary concerns of the United States and its allies involved the reconstruction of war-torn cities and the prosecution of Axis war criminals. In November 1945, an international military tribunal assembled in Nuremberg, Germany, to conduct criminal trials for the highest ranking leaders of Germany’s Nazi regime. In addition to evidence of war related atrocities, it was revealed that the Nazis had methodically murdered millions of innocent civilians—the majority of whom were Jewish. As a result, most of the key figures in the first series of Nuremberg Trials received death sentences. Though it was later learned that Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime killed eight to ten times the number of innocent civilians as Adolf Hitler’s Nazis, the Soviets were not held accountable for their atrocities and mass genocide campaigns.

    Assisted by communist agents in the US government, Joseph Stalin drew postwar countries in eastern and central Europe under the Soviet sphere of influence without American interference. Pro-communist governments were installed, and because their votes on United Nations resolutions were dictated by Stalin, the ballots of free-world countries were often trumped. In addition to European acquisitions, the Soviet Union also gained territories in Asia and the northern Pacific, most notably the northern half of Korea.

    Postwar Germany was divided among the allied powers, and while the United States, Great Britain, and France combined their efforts to rebuild West Germany under a freely elected government, the Soviet Union imposed totalitarian rule over East Germany. Under the shroud of communism, efforts were made to impede the flight of East Germans to the West.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Japanese Emperor Hirohito in Tokyo.    Meanwhile, across the globe, postwar Japan became a model for the rehabilitation of a former enemy nation. Under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur, war crimes trials were reserved solely for Japanese military leaders, while Emperor Hirohito, the spiritual symbol of Japan’s national identity, was spared from prosecution. In turn, the appreciative emperor publicly instructed his people to cooperate with US occupational forces. Traditionally perceived as a god by the Japanese, Hirohito admitted he was no deity; then assumed a posture of subservience to MacArthur. The American general struck a balance, holding Japan accountable for wartime deeds, while allowing its civilians to maintain their dignity. With totalitarian rule abolished, Japan was given its first democratic government. Free and open elections included the right of women to vote. MacArthur also directed the rebuilding of the Japanese economy, incorporating western practices to the nation’s industrial and agricultural enterprises. Educational systems were likewise modernized, and the quality of life was elevated to heights never previously experienced. During the course of the war, Douglas MacArthur had been a hated figure in Japan, but through postwar demonstrations of strength, mercy, and compassion, the conquering general quickly gained the respect and affection of the Japanese people.

Chiang Kai-shek, Nationalist leader in China.    By all rights, China’s Nationalist government, a faithful wartime ally of the United States, should have received greater postwar assistance than former enemy Japan. Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek’s efforts to restore worn-torn China were thwarted by Soviet-armed communist insurgents under Mao Tse-tung.General George Marshall and communist revolutionary Mao Tse-Tung (also known as Mao Zedong) in China. Unbeknownst to President Truman—but later revealed by the Venona findings—the Far East section of the US State Department was extensively infiltrated by Soviet agents, and these operatives portrayed Chiang Kai-shek as corrupt and mentally unstable, while presenting Mao’s insurgents as little more than agrarian reformers seeking social justice. Trusting the slanted State Department reports, President Truman dispatched General George C. Marshall to China to compel Chiang Kai-shek to form a coalition government with Mao Tse-tung. Simultaneously, an arms and supplies embargo was imposed on Chiang’s Nationalists by the American director of the International Monetary Fund, Harry Dexter White (later exposed as a paid operative of the Soviet Union). Though arms deliveries to the Nationalists halted, the Soviets continued to deliver weapons to Mao’s communists, transforming his rag-tag band of three-thousand insurgents into the well-equipped, precision-trained Red Army of more than two million soldiers.

    Communism likewise advanced in other regions of the world. Whenever newly liberated republics in central Europe and Africa held elections, Soviet operatives were present to secure victories for Joseph Stalin’s puppet regimes. Great Britain’s elder statesman, Winston Churchill, warned the civilized nations of the encroaching menace, evoking imagery of an “iron curtain” spreading across Europe, dividing democratic republics from authoritarian communist satellites.


    On July 4, 1946, the United States formally recognized the Philippines as a sovereign nation. The independence ceremony was attended by General Douglas MacArthur, who had led the military operation to free this South Pacific island cluster from Japanese occupation. Another expanse of land liberated from Japan was the Korean peninsula, divided along the 38th latitudinal parallel, with the northern half controlled by the Soviets and the southern half by the United States. Shunning imperialism in favor of independence, the U.S. government aided the South Koreans in inaugurating their own legislative assembly in December of 1946.  

    On the domestic front, the spirit of patriotic unity between workers and employers in American industry dissipated with the cessation of global conflict. Labor unions resumed prewar tactics, attacking the very business owners who had provided them jobs. In two of the larger 1946 strikes, the United Auto Workers Union halted operations at General Motors, while U.S. Steel employees staged a similar walk-out. In 1946 alone, more than 4.5 million workers across the country participated in work stoppages, stifling manufacturing. Because the labor unions were closely associated with the Democratic party, disgusted American voters, in the 1946 midterm elections, restored a Republican majority to Congress for the first time in sixteen years.  

President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of State (later Defense Secretary) George C. Marshall.    Despite his unintentional crippling of the Nationalist government in China, General George Marshall held a reputation as a master administrator, and Harry Truman appointed him Secretary of State in January of 1947. Congressional Republicans supported the president’s efforts to prevent Greece from falling under communist rule—a fate that had befallen its central European neighbors. At the urging of Great Britain, the Truman Doctrine was issued in March of 1947, allocating 400-million dollars to bolster both Greece and Turkey. In this era of international intrigue, Congress subsequently passed the National Security Act, creating a National Military Establishment, the National Security Council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Central Intelligence Agency.

"Mr. Republican" -- Robert A. Taft, United States Senator from Ohio.    The newly-elected Republican Congress also addressed the outbreak of union-initiated work stoppages that hampered America’s postwar economic recovery. Leading the movement for labor reform was the US Senator from Ohio, Robert Taft, son of former president William Howard Taft. In 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, granting individual states the authority to pass “right-to-work” laws, overturning “closed-shop” policies that denied jobs to workers who refused union membership.

    During the summer of 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall announced plans to revitalize war-torn Europe. Through a series of legislative bills, the Marshall Plan delivered approximately thirteen billion dollars worth of surplus American goods to Europe. The program increased European dependence on US products, while turning the hearts of many postwar Europeans away from communism. Nevertheless, the Soviets soon thereafter installed a puppet government in Hungary.

    Despite the political shift in the legislative branch of government, America’s federal judiciary remained a bastion of New Deal ideology. In its 1947 decision, Everson versus Board of Education, the Supreme Court applied Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, “a wall of separation between Church and State,” to a decree restricting the free exercise of religious expression in schools and public arenas. However, Jefferson’s phrase had not come from any official policy document, but rather an 1802 personal letter written to assure a Baptist church association that the federal government would never endorse one Christian denomination over another. Nevertheless, the 1947 Court brazenly extracted Jefferson’s words from their original context and used them for opposite effect.


House Un-American Activities Committee    The American public was largely distracted by the impending threat of communism, both overseas and at home. In November of 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee, a congressional panel assigned to investigate domestic espionage and anti-American propaganda activities, summoned a group of ten Hollywood motion picture writers and directors who were purportedly engaged in subversive communist activities. After refusing to testify, the group was cited for contempt of Congress. This prompted Hollywood studio bosses to unite with the Screen Actor’s Guild in compiling a series of “blacklists” on film industry professionals identified as either communist party members or sympathizers. Though the studios initially refused to hire blacklisted professionals, popular actors eventually returned to work, and banned screenwriters wrote scripts under different names.

The Berlin Airlift, 1948-9.    Overseas, the Soviet Union installed a puppet regime in Czechoslovakia during February of 1948. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin also maintained a grip on the Eastern half of the former German empire, despite the decision of the US, France, and Great Britain to relinquish their territories, permitting the West German Republic to form. The German capital of Berlin was likewise split into two entities, with West Berlin a free democracy and East Berlin ruled under communism. Geographically, West Berlin was isolated within communist East Germany, and in June of 1948, Joseph Stalin ordered a military blockade around its perimeter, closing road and rail access to the free city. By choking off West Berlin, Stalin hoped its people would submit to communist authority. However, the United States implemented the Berlin Airlift, dispatching transport planes on an hourly basis to deliver food and supplies to the West Berliners. The airlift continued for fifteen months until the Soviets finally lifted their blockade.

    During the summer of 1948, the House Un-American Activities Committee held a series of hearings to reveal the extent of communist infiltration in the federal government. Former communist spies Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers were among the key witnesses, and hundreds of espionage agents were exposed in every government department of strategic military, diplomatic, and economic importance. Investigators also provided evidence that Klaus Fuchs, David Greenglass, and other physicists and engineers on America’s atomic bomb project had delivered atomic secrets to the Soviet Union, through the influence and assistance of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Additionally, aviation documents, spirited away by aeronautical scientist William Perl, were used by the Soviets to develop their MiG-15 jet fighter planes.

Alger Hiss denying Whittaker Chambers' accusations.    Among the many government officials exposed as Soviet espionage agents were International Monetary Fund Director Harry Dexter White, Franklin Roosevelt’s advisor Lauchlin Currie, and Maurice Halperin, head of the research section of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA. Many of the accused vehemently asserted their innocence. In a highly publicized testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Alger Hiss, the strategic State Department official and presidential advisor, directly confronted his accuser, Whittaker Chambers. Whittaker Chambers, backed into a corner by a libel suit from AlgWhittaker Chambers testifies against Alger Hiss.Hiss then followed with a slander lawsuit, finally prompting Chambers to produce evidence kept hidden since his days as a Soviet operative. Among the items were roles of microfilm showing top secret U.S. documents with Hiss’ handwritten margin notes to Soviet officials. The evidence was sufficient to convict Alger Hiss of perjury, and though he was imprisoned for this crime, he declared his innocence for the remainder of his life. During the 1990s, however, the release of Soviet intelligence archives, combined with the US declassification of the Venona findings, confirmed the charges made by Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker Chambers. Because these documents remained unseen by the public in late 1940s and early ‘50s, the credibility of the House hearings was challenged in a number of political circles.

Dean Acheson, Harry Truman, and George Marshall.    Lack of substantial evidence enabled many accused communists in the State Department to maintain their positions, and they were able to erect bureaucratic barriers to thwart the defense of China from communist insurgents. Though the Republican Congress had allocated 125 million dollars in military aid to Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government, State Department officials blocked its expenditure for nine months. Among the officials, Dean Acheson was appointed Secretary of State after George Marshall resigned the post in opposition to Harry Truman’s support for Israel. Marshall, nonetheless, remained in fair standing with the president, and was named Secretary of Defense.

    Chinese Nationalists were not alone in their struggle against communism. Though South Korea achieved full independence, holding democratic elections in 1948, its fledgling government under President Syngman Rhee was threatened by communist insurgents from North Korea. By decree of the United Nations, American troops were ordered to withdraw from South Korea.

The hazards of going to press before the votes are counted.    During the presidential election of 1948, Harry Truman issued an executive order to end racial segregation in America’s armed forces, prompting a faction of southern Democrats to break away from the party. Calling themselves Dixiecrats, the defectors named South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond their presidential candidate. The party rift imperiled Democratic incumbent Truman’s prospects of maintaining office, leaving many to assume victory was inevitable for the Republican challenger, New York Governor Thomas Dewey. Such an assumption led to embarrassment for a prominent newspaper that went to press on election night proclaiming a Dewey win. When the votes were tallied, however, Harry Truman retained the presidency by a narrow margin.

    Truman’s attempts to reinvigorate New Deal policies under his “Fair Deal” banner were thwarted by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress. In 1949, this majority passed the Organization Act to restore presidential powers within their constitutional parameters. The measure was designed to prevent Truman and future presidents from repeating the actions of the Franklin Roosevelt, who had brazenly overstepped the bounds of his authority, turning the presidency into a virtual dictatorship.

 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), founded in 1949.   On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed as a defensive alliance between the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, The Soviet Union conducts its first atomic bomb test.Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Iceland, and Canada. Its creation was largely a counter-measure to Soviet encroachments in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Military resources of member nations were pooled to discourage the communists from further conquests. On September 3, 1949, a B-29 flyer on NATO patrol in the Pacific gathered evidence that the Soviet Union had detonated an atomic bomb. For the first time, the free world faced the threat of atomic attack.

Mao Tse-tung's communist forces seized power in China.    In December of 1949, the most populous nation in the world fell to communism, as Mao Tse-tung’s forces overthrew China’s Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek. The Nationalists were forced to evacuate to the nearby island of Formosa (later known as Taiwan). In a January 1950 policy speech, Secretary of State Dean Acheson omitted Formosa and South Korea when specifying the Asian-Pacific countries the United States would defend. Many Americans concluded that the Truman administration was lax on communism, and began pressuring the government to take stronger measures to counter its spread.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed on June 19, 1952 for their role in delivering U.S. atomic bomb secrets to the Soviets.    Revelations soon emerged that the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) had established a number of pseudo-humanitarian front groups that, on the surface, appeared to support causes as noble-sounding as global peace, civil rights, and charity to the poor. But far from being a mere grassroots political organization, the CPUSA was financed and controlled by the Soviet Union. In light of these findings, Congress passed the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950, requiring all communist front organizations to register with the US Attorney General’s office. During that same period, Soviet espionage agents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted and sentenced to death for delivering atomic bomb secrets to the Soviets.

Senator Joseph McCarthy gained prominence as an anticommunist crusader.    Riding the wave of anti-communist sentiment in America, Joseph McCarthy, the US Senator from Wisconsin, gained nationwide prominence by decrying the widespread Soviet infiltration of the State Department. Although Venona and Soviet intelligence archives—released forty-five years later—verified many of McCarthy’s claims, no such evidence was available to him at that time. Democrats launched a political counteroffensive, establishing a Senate committee headed by Millard Tydings of Maryland, ultimately for the purpose of discrediting McCarthy. Amid heated political debates over the Wisconsin senator’s credibility, a new crisis erupted across the Pacific.


North Korean forces cross the 38th parallel aided by Soviet tanks.    Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s dismissive public posturing toward the defense of South Korea convinced Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin that the United States would do little to thwart a communist takeover of the entire peninsula. As Stalin’s puppet, North Korean leader Kim Il-sung was authorized to launch an invasion. On June 25, 1950, 135-thousand Soviet trained North Korean troops crossed the 38th parallel, accompanied by 150 Soviet tanks. South Korea’s 16-thousand-man constabulary force was ill-equipped to repel the invaders, and Syngman Rhee’s government was forced to vacate the capital of Seoul on June 28th.

    Instead of seeking a resolution from Congress, the Truman administration turned to the United Nations for a response to the Korean crisis. The White House then ordered General Douglas MacArthur, stationed in Tokyo, to coordinate naval and air support for American evacuations from South Korea. The US Seventh Fleet was also deployed to Formosa, preventing war from erupting between exiled Chinese Nationalists and the communists on mainland China.
Task Force Smith arrives in South Korea.
    Approximately 540 American soldiers, originally posted as clerks and sentries in Japan, hastily assembled to assist overwhelmed South Korean forces. On June 29th, this unit, Task Force Smith, arrived at the shores of Pusan along the southeastern coast of the Korean peninsula. With South Koreans fleeing in panic, the Americans faced the communist invaders alone and were quickly overwhelmed.
The United Nations Council vote to condemn North Korea.
    The United Nations Security Council ordered North Korea to withdraw from the South or face military reprisals. The Soviet ambassador was not present to veto the resolution, as he had left the assembly to protest UN recognition of the Chinese Nationalists in Formosa.

 Lieutenant General Walton Walker sets a perimeter around Pusan.   At the age of seventy, General Douglas MacArthur was commissioned by the UN to command armed forces on behalf of South Korea. Arriving at the battle front, he ordered his Eighth Army field commander, General Walton Walker, to maintain a tight perimeter in the Pusan-Taegu region in southeast Korea. US. troops were told to “stand or die.” By mid-July of 1950, American forces in South Korea grew 65-thousand strong. As these fighters held their ground, General MacArthur, en route to Inchon.MacArthur formulated an ambitious counter-invasion plan. The general set his sights on the port city of Inchon along the northwestern coast of South Korea. Though strategically located near the South Korean capital of Seoul, as well as the North Korean border, Inchon’s accessibility was difficult, as only a brief interval of high tide permitted landing craft to avoid the narrow channel’s jagged rocks and extensive mud flats. So treacherous was the port’s entry that the North Koreans considered it an unlikely target for invasion. But Douglas MacArthur was a master at coordinating complex, precision maneuvers under the most difficult circumstances.

The Inchon invasion    In the early morning hours of September 14, 1950, MacArthur’s armada of 230 warships arrived at the outlying harbor of Inchon, accompanied by scores of lighter vessels. The First Marine Division stormed the beachhead shortly thereafter. By afternoon, forty thousand Americans occupied central Inchon. Two days later, General Walker’s Eighth Army advanced from the Pusan perimeter in the southeast. In the course of the Walker’s drive, more than 100-thousand North Koreans were captured.

    By September 29th, Seoul was restored as the seat of South Korean government, and within days, all enemy forces were driven back into North Korea. Securing the blessing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, General MacArthur ordered his troops to cross the 38th parallel to pursue the North Koreans.

    Truman and MacArthur at Wake Island.The Inchon invasion was hailed as at brilliant military maneuver, and the American people were ecstatic over the news of General MacArthur’s triumph. President Truman, reeling from accusations of being soft on communism, recognized the political benefit of having photographs taken of him awarding MacArthur the Distinguished Service Medal. On October 14th, the President flew to Wake Island, greeting the general in person for the first time, largely to fulfill his public relations objective. Though the two men were able to converse privately for 96 minutes, the president offered no new military directives to his general. Thus, MacArthur proceeded with his original objective, based on an earlier UN resolution for North and South Korea to unify as a single nation under the democratic government of Syngman Rhee.

    On October 20th, more than 28-hundred paratroopers landed at the outskirts of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, killing or capturing approximately six thousand enemy troops at the cost of only one American life. Thereafter, the Eighth Army moved in, capturing Pyongyang.

American fighters in Korea    Although Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin had backed away from the Korean conflict, communist Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung could not abide the American advance. Mao ordered his forces in the Chinese province of Manchuria to amass at the North Korean border. Two small raids were conducted by the Chinese against South Korean and U.S. regiments on October 25th and November 1st, but the communists quickly retreated to Manchuria after each strike. Douglas MacArthur and Chiang Kai-shekGeneral MacArthur had no fears about China’s involvement in the conflict, as he believed the United Nations would permit Chiang Kai-shek’s thirty thousand troops in Formosa to likewise enter the battle. Together, MacArthur and Chiang had ample forces to overthrow Mao Tse-tung’s government and restore Nationalist power in China. But unbeknownst to MacArthur, Mao had entered a lucrative trade agreement with pro-socialist Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s government in Great Britain. Thus, the British ambassador to the United Nations stood ready to veto any UN resolution against communist China. Additionally, at Prime Minister Attlee’s request, Harry Truman ordered a US naval blockade of Formosa.

Jet fighter planes, like this Lockheed F-80, were first used in the Korean War.    The Yalu River served as a natural boundary between North Korea and Manchuria. In anticipation of a potential Chinese assault, General MacArthur ordered the bombing of bridges spanning the Yalu, only to have his directive countermanded by Defense Secretary George Marshall. Livid that his front-line commands were reversed by a government bureaucrat, the general contacted President Truman, who thereafter compromised by allowing bridge sections on the Korean side of the Yalu to be targeted. As bombing commenced on November 8th, an American F-80 Shooting Star shot down a Soviet-built MiG-15, marking the first aerial dogfight by jet propelled planes.

Bombing Yalu bridges. Chinese troops crossing the frozen Yalu River.   The bridges across the Yalu River were sufficiently damaged, and yet weather conditions provided an unforeseen opportunity to Chinese forces. In the coldest winter to hit Korea in decades, the Yalu froze solid, enabling communist troops to cross without bridges. Between the 25th and 27th of November, 1950, 300-thousand Chinese fighters invaded North Korea. A whole new war had begun, and General MacArthur fully expected the United Nations to respond accordingly by allowing Formosa—now called Taiwan—to join the fight. However, UN member nations Great Britain, France, and Canada blocked Taiwan’s participation.

    While Chinese losses were three times that of the Americans, US forces nonetheless sustained 13-thousand casualties during the new communist offensive. MacArthur’s men were forced to withdraw and regroup at the Pusan perimeter in December of 1950. MacArthur and Gen. Matthew Bunker RidgwayDuring the retreat, Eighth Army commander, General Walton Walker, was killed in a jeep accident. Walker's replacement, General Matthew Ridgway, hastily reorganized forces for the retaking of Korea. On January 25, 1951, the Americans launched the first in a series of offensive operations to drive communist forces back to North Korea. By mid-March, the South Korean capital of Seoul was liberated once again, and the Chinese retreated north of the 38th parallel.

    Both the White House and United Nations Security Council remained silent about the end objectives of the war. With the enemy in retreat, Douglas MacArthur expressed to news reporters his hope for Taiwan’s participation in the conflict, leading President Truman to conclude that the general was trying to influence White House policy. During this same period, President Truman fires Gen. MacArthurCongress launched a bipartisan probe into Truman’s handling of the Korean campaign. When MacArthur received a list of written questions from Representative Joseph Martin, his carefully worded reply avoided any criticism of his superiors. Nevertheless, Congressman Martin released MacArthur’s response to the press, and the general’s closing phrase, “There is no substitute for victory,” was interpreted by the president as a veiled criticism. Convinced that the general was aiding his political opponents, Harry Truman—well known for his fiery temper—removed Douglas MacArthur from command on April 11, 1951. In a televised address to the American people, Truman insinuated that the general had made decisions outside the bounds of his authority, and his removal was a necessary step to prevent the outbreak of a new world war.

MacArthur's farewell address to Congress.    Douglas MacArthur’s departure from his Tokyo headquarters was greeted in reverence from the grateful Japanese people. Thereafter, he returned to a hero’s welcome in the United States. Appalled by the president’s actions, both houses of Congress invited the general to address the nation. His “Old Soldiers” speech would subsequently be hailed as one of the most memorable orations delivered in the House of Representatives.

    The United Nations’ original objective of eliminating communism from Korea shifted to a policy of mere containment. Gen. Matthew RidgwayThe Truman administration’s submission to UN directives marked the first time the United States government assumed a position of subservience to an outside entity. General Matthew Ridgway took command of UN forces in Korea, toning down his aggressive fighting style in the wake of his predecessor’s dismissal. Bolstered by the loss of US and UN resolve, the Chinese and North Koreans regrouped. The Korean conflict: Summer 1951 campaign.Two weeks after MacArthur’s removal, the communists launched a major assault, culminating in the largest single battle of the war. The Americans held their ground and a two month stalemate ensued. During June of 1951, General Ridgway ordered an offensive against the key staging area for enemy attacks, while Admiral Turner Joy simultaneously conducted peace negotiations with the North Koreans. When the talks collapsed, the Americans renewed their offensives from August through October of 1951. Though peace talks quickly resumed, the discussions remained slow and laborious.

    The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1951, limited a president to two elected terms of office, and Harry Truman, whose first term resulted from Franklin Roosevelt’s death, remained eligible for reelection. Nevertheless, Truman declined the opportunity in light of his diminished popularity for firing General MacArthur.  Another military leader, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, relinquished command of NATO forces in Europe to run as a Republican in the 1952 presidential race. When offered Eisenhower’s NATO post, General Matthew Ridway happily accepted, eager to escape the Korean quagmire. General Mark Clark assumed command of UN forces in Korea on May 12, 1952. From thereon, the war was characterized by a series of isolated battles and targeted bombing raids, while peace talks were sporadically conducted.

Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Taft at the 1952 Republican Convention.    For the Republican presidential nomination, Dwight Eisenhower faced strong competition from a party favorite, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio. Though a respected conservative, Taft’s public appeal could not compare to that of the successful World War II general. Map of North and South Korea.As a result, Eisenhower emerged with the party nomination. (This turned out for the best, as Taft died of cancer the following year.) The Democratic candidate, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, could not overcome his party’s image of being soft on communism, and Dwight Eisenhower won in a landslide. Following the election, he journeyed to Korea for a personal assessment of military conditions.

    Alarmed that an effective war general had become the US president, communist peace negotiators grew more cooperative, Joseph Stalin at room temperature.fearing that Eisenhower would escalate the war with the same resolve as General MacArthur. In light of the March 3, 1953 death of Joseph Stalin, the North Koreans also expected Soviet support to diminish. As a goodwill measure, the warring sides conducted a prisoner exchange on April 20th. Nevertheless, US planes continued to bomb enemy highways and railroads throughout the spring of 1953. When South Korean President Syngman Rhee denounced the peace negotiations and insisted his forces would fight without the Americans, the communists launched new offensives. Sustaining extensive casualties, the Chinese and North Korean attackers quickly withdrew.

The 1953 armistice, ending the Korean War.    On July 27, 1953, American and UN forces signed an armistice agreement with North Korea and China. The South Korean government refused to participate, merely declaring a temporary ceasefire. The serpentine battle front, starting southwest and ending northeast of the 38th parallel, served as the final border between North and South Korea. A demilitarized zone buffered each side of the border, and remaining prisoners of war were exchanged.

    The Korean conflict was over. The war had cost the lives of one million North Koreans, 900-thousand Chinese, 600-thousand South Koreans, 36-thousand Americans, and three thousand United Nations multinational allies. It was the first limited war, and it concluded with no clear winner.


    Already dismayed by China’s fall to the communists, many Americans were further bewildered by their government’s apparent unwillingness to pursue victory in Korea. In his mind, Senator Joseph McCarthy reasoned that since communists had infiltrated the highest civilian levels of government, they must have likewise embedded themselves in the military services. With an alcohol addiction clouding his judgment, the Republican senator embarked on a public inquiry of the United States Army during the autumn of 1953. Roy Cohn and Joseph McCarthyAfter berating a World War II hero, General Ralph Zwicker, McCarthy received a stinging rebuke from President Eisenhower. Army attorneys thereafter retaliated against the senator, launching the Army-McCarthy hearings in April of 1954, on charges that McCarthy’s chief council, Roy Cohn, used his influential position to obtain preferential treatment for an intimate male companion serving in the Army. The televised proceedings allowed the American people to witness Cohn’s arrogant demeanor and the alcohol-fueled belligerence of Senator McCarthy. The hearings concluded in June of 1954 with Joseph McCarthy’s credibility in shambles. As a consequence, the entire domestic anticommunist movement was branded a “witch hunt,” despite the legitimacy of many findings. The term “McCarthyism” was coined to reflect the issuance of careless, unsupported accusations. Joseph McCarthy was censured by Congress at the end of 1954.

    The increasing military might and geopolitical influence of the Soviet Union and China remained a primary concern of free-world nations. By 1954, Greece, Turkey, and West Germany were added to the NATO membership roster, solidifying the pro-democracy alliance of western nations. However, political trends remained uncertain in Southeast Asia—specifically Indochina,French forces driven out of Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh's Vietminh rebels. Ho Chi Minh.a French colony for nearly a century, except for a period of Japanese occupation during the Second World War. In the postwar era, the region was divided into the countries of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. When Moscow-trained communist insurgent Ho Chi Minh led an uprising against the French colonial government in Vietnam, neighboring countries called for peace negotiations. Emperor Bao DaiIn July of 1954, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China signed the Geneva Accords, temporarily dividing Vietnam into two regions along the seventeenth parallel. Ho Chi Minh’s coalition government was requested to withdraw north of this boundary to permit a non-communist government to organize in the South. General elections were scheduled for July 1956, at which time the Vietnamese people were supposed to determine which government would rule them all. Refusing to completely relinquish power, France sponsored a puppet government in South Vietnam, under the leadership of emperor Bao Dai. With negative feelings toward French colonialism, the South Vietnamese people refused to unify under this leader.

    To discourage the further spread of communism to the Asian-Pacific realm, the United States, Great Britain, and France entered a new defensive alliance with the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, Australia, and New Zealand. The resulting Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) served as a commitment by free world allies to intervene against communist uprisings in Southeast Asia. Noting the lack of South Vietnamese support for French puppet Bao Dai, the United States called for new elections, resulting in the emergence of western-educated Ngo Dinh Diem to power. American military advisors were sent to South Vietnam to support Diem’s fledgling government.

Nikita Khrushchev    Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev emerged from a long struggle with political rivals to fill the power void left in the wake of Joseph Stalin’s death. Though devoted to the communist cause, Khrushchev nevertheless exposed Stalin’s many atrocities against tens of millions of innocent civilians. These revelations prompted more than two-thirds of American communists to withdraw from the party. Thereafter, those who remained devoted to the ideal of Marxist socialism aligned themselves with the Progressive and Social Justice movements in the United States.


Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969), 34th president of the United States, 1953-61.    Though Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower was a Republican president, his first two appointees to the Supreme Court—Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justice William J. Brennan—liberally interpreted laws far beyond their original contexts. In terms of intentions, the Warren court endeavored to be noble, but methods to achieve some objectives vastly exceeded the constitutional limits of judicial authority. For example, the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, was virtuous in its honest assessment that educational facilities for non-whites were substandard to those of white-skinned Americans. However, instead of allowing Congress to pass laws to racially integrate schools, the Court, in 1955, took it upon itself to order law enforcement agencies to physically enforce school desegregation. The Court’s decision was based on an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s “equal protection” clause, an erroneous basis since the amendment itself had been co-authored by segregationists and ratified by states where school segregation was upheld. For his part, President Eisenhower vigorously championed civil rights, dispatching National Guard troops to protect minorities as they entered public realms formerly reserved exclusively for white Americans.

    Racism was the most profound moral stain tarnishing America’s overall greatness. Though visibly prominent in southern states where slavery had abounded a century before, racial prejudice was not limited to that region. Northern labor unions were likewise notorious for excluding minority workers from their membership rosters. Indeed, many of the same white-skinned Americans who recognized the idiocy of separating themselves from others on the basis of eye or hair color would nonetheless isolate themselves on the equally ludicrous basis of skin color.

    The arrest of Rosa Parks, December 11, 1955.When Rosa Parks of Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested on December 11, 1955, for refusing to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger, her simple demonstration of dignity inspired a nationwide movement for racial equality. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Christian pastors organized a boycott of the Montgomery bus lines, and non-white Alabamans either carpooled or walked to their destinations until the city’s public transportation system experienced severe economic hardship. The following year, Alabama and other states outlawed segregation in intrastate public transportation.


    Apart from the existence of institutionalized racism, domestic life in America improved dramatically during the 1950s. Crime rates dropped to new lows for the twentieth century, leaving families feeling safe in their homes and communities. Because divorce and illegitimate births were rare, most children, regardless of race and income level, were raised in two-parent homes. The primary worries of the nation’s people generally centered on foreign threats. Tensions between free world democracies and communist dictatorships continued to escalate, but because hostilities did not degenerate into full-scale warfare, the term “Cold War” was used to describe the era of unease.

Gamal Abdel Nasser    Complicating matters further was a growing crisis in the Middle East. After Egyptian President Gamal Nasser purchased arms from the Soviets, the United States and Great Britain backed away from their commitments to financially support the construction of the Aswan Dam on the Nile River. The Suez Crisis, 1956.Nasser retaliated by nationalizing the Suez Canal, the vital, man-made trade link between European ports and those of southern and western Asia. Nasser’s decree nullified Britain’s 44 percent investment share in the canal, prompting the British to invade Egypt in late October 1956, accompanied by French and Israeli allies. Britain and France seized the canal zone in early November, as Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. These military incursions occurred almost simultaneously to the Soviet Union’s armed assaults against supporters of democracy in Poland and Hungary. In order for President Eisenhower to maintain credibility in protesting Soviet aggression, he was forced to criticize the similar actions of British, French, and Israeli allies. In an action he would later regret, the American president threatened economic repercussions against Great Britain unless all invading forces withdrew from Egypt. The British, French, and Israeli troops cooperated, and in their place, United Nations forces occupied the region to maintain the peace. As an unintended consequence of Eisenhower’s stand, Britain’s conservative government fell in disrepute, and its military prominence was vastly diminished. Nevertheless, the Suez crisis was resolved, and most Americans remained pleased with their president. In the 1956 election, Dwight D. Eisenhower easily won a second term, again defeating Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson.

    In January 1957, the Eisenhower Doctrine was issued, proclaiming the president’s willingness to send troops to the Middle East to prevent communist aggression. Turning to domestic policies, Eisenhower established a Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department, along with a permanent Civil Rights Commission in his administration. He then called upon Congress to draft a new Civil Rights Act to further the cause of racial equality.

Sputnik, the first satellite in space.    On October 4, 1957, the American people were stunned by news that the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik, the world’s first space satellite, in orbit around the earth. By doing so, they surpassed the free world powers in a technological accomplishment. The United States was quick to follow, launching its Explorer satellite on January 31, 1958. Congress soon thereafter established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to coordinate research and development in space exploration.

    The Eisenhower administration initiated a diplomatic mission to improve relations with the Soviet Union. In October of 1958, the two superpowers agreed to suspend all atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. Despite the conciliatory efforts, U.S.-Soviet relations remained fragile.
Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
    In January of 1959, the America people celebrated Alaska’s admission as the 49th state, while, at the same time, Cuba’s government under Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by Fidel Castro’s rebels. Few Americans saw cause for alarm until Castro entered an alliance with the Soviet Union. Communism had arrived in the western hemisphere.

    President Eisenhower remained determined to continue his peace initiative with the Soviets. A series of diplomatic exchanges took place during the summer of 1959, including a tour of the Soviet Union by Vice President Richard Nixon. This was followed by Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to the United States. Although plans were made for a peace summit in Paris, US-Soviet relations collapsed following the crash of an American U-2 spy plane in Soviet territory. The pilot, Francis Gary Powers, survived, and was held captive as Nikita Khrushchev exploited the episode with great fanfare and melodrama.

    On the domestic front, Hawaii became America’s 50th state on August 24, 1959. Cultural changes occurred almost as rapidly as the transformation of the star field on the American flag.


Lunch counter sit-in.    The Civil rights issue continued to gain momentum when four students, in February 1960, staged a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, after they were refused service on the basis of their skin color. Their silent, nonviolent protest—often in the face of verbal and physical abuse—inspired similar demonstrations at discriminatory lunch counters across the nation, bringing conviction to the hearts of many Americans over the moral iniquity of racism. For its part, the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1960, enforcing the voting rights of all Americans, regardless of race. The bill came near the end of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term. His administration had seen the doubling of the country’s postwar Gross National Product, and a 50 percent increase in home ownership. The average work week shrank from six to five days, while the postwar “baby boom” contributed to a 30 percent increase in the population. All ethnic races fared better. During the New Deal era of the 1930s and ‘40s, 87 percent of Americans of African heritage had lived below the poverty line. By the end of Eisenhower’s presidency, that figure was reduced to 47 percent and continued to fall.

    It was in this setting that the presidential election of 1960 took place. While Republicans readily endorsed Vice President Richard Nixon, a number of contenders vied for the Democratic nomination, until the field was reduced to US Senators Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas and John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts. It was decided that the charismatic Kennedy was the Democrats’ best hope against Nixon, and Senator Johnson was selected as his running mate.

The televised debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.    The presidential race remained close between Kennedy and Nixon, with a televised debate becoming a determining factor. Americans listening by radio declared Nixon the winner based on the substance of his statements. Television viewers, however, were swayed by appearances. Kennedy was tanned, wearing make-up, and looking muscular from secret steroid injections to conceal a chronic medical condition. Conversely, Nixon declined make-up, and a recent illness had left him prone to perspiration outbreaks. Public appeal for the Republican candidate dropped drastically as a result. Nevertheless, John F. Kennedy won the popular vote by a narrow margin of two-tenths of one percent, and evidence of rampant voter fraud in Chicago indicated that Illinois’ electoral points—which secured Kennedy’s victory—should have rightfully gone to Nixon. To spare the American people the anxiety of a national scandal, Richard Nixon selflessly refused to challenge the election results.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-63), 35th President of the United States, 1961-63.    John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) represented a new breed of Democrat. Fervently opposed to communism, the new president and his brother Robert had been the close friends of anti-communist crusader Joseph McCarthy during the 1940s and early ‘50s. JFK had also been critical of the Truman Administration’s refusal to act against the communist takeover of China. Now that he was in charge, the new president refused to sit idly by as the shadow of communism fell over Cuba. However, the people he entrusted to oversee the mission of Cuban liberation would fail catastrophically.

    Instead of seeking the well-tested advice of experienced military leaders, Kennedy surrounded himself with corporate statisticians, longtime government bureaucrats, and university scholars; all of whom articulated lofty ideas on paper, but had little real-world logistical experience. (L-R): Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and JFK.For his Secretary of State, Kennedy appointed Dean Rusk, a former State Department official who advocated military action against Castro’s regime in Cuba. Rusk also encouraged the continuation of former President Eisenhower’s secret military training program for fifteen hundred Cuban exiles. The proposed Cuban liberation mission was then placed under the authority of the new Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, who joined the administration after serving as president of the Ford Motor Company. Though a brilliant administrator and statistician, McNamara and his staff of corporate “Whiz Kids” condescendingly dismissed the advice of top military experts and proceeded with their own Cuban invasion plan.


Prisoners from Bay of Pigs disaster     On April 16, 1961, the armed brigade of Cuban exiles departed for their homeland, but before reaching the targeted landing site at the Bay of Pigs, the operation was prematurely leaked to the press, ruining the element of surprise. During the course of the invasion, the Kennedy administration reversed its decision, canceling the air and naval support promised to the liberation brigade. Of the thirteen hundred freedom fighters that landed at the Bay of Pigs, twelve hundred were taken captive, while the remaining hundred were killed. Fidel Castro held the survivors for ransom.

Astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space.     That same month, the Soviet Union contributed to America’s humiliation by putting the first human, Yuri Gagarin, in space. The United States followed three weeks later with the launch of astronaut Alan Shepard in space aboard a Mercury capsule called Freedom 7.

    US-Soviet tensions escalated in June of 1961 after President Kennedy, The Berlin Wallin a Vienna meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, insisted that the communist isolation of East Germany violated the Soviet Union’s postwar pact with the US, Britain, and France. In response, the defiant Soviet premier ordered the construction of the Berlin Wall, a concrete and barbed-wire barrier separating the communist-controlled eastern half of former German capital from its free and democratic western half. Instead of defending the communist sector from invaders, the wall was erected for the purpose of preventing East Berliners from escaping to freedom in the West. Additionally, the Soviet Union resumed nuclear weapons tests in September of 1961, prompting the US to do the same.

    Meanwhile, the long scheduled plan to unify North and South Vietnam under a single government was abandoned, as North Vietnam’s sponsorship of widespread pro-communist uprisings in South Vietnam created a level of chaos that made it impossible to conduct fair elections. On November 11, 1961, John F. Kennedy ordered the deployment of additional U.S. military advisors to South Vietnam, exceeding the limits imposed by the 1954 Geneva Accords.


    As foreign relations debacles mounted one upon the other, the Kennedy administration embarked on projects of a more positive and hopeful nature. The Peace Corps was established in 1961 as a government sponsored, secular alternative to the work traditionally performed by Christian missionaries. In this organization, civilian volunteers were dispatched to provide assistance to impoverished and needy people in underdeveloped countries.

    Indeed, the traditionally Judeo-Christian American culture grew increasingly secular during this period. The Supreme Court, in the 1962 Engel versus Vitale case, banned any form of verbalized prayer in public schools, including those that were voluntary and denominationally neutral. Though the justices had been sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution, their decision circumvented the First Amendment prohibition against government interference with free religious expression.

James Meredith    Despite the shift toward secularism, morality remained a key component of the nation’s cultural landscape. In confronting racial discrimination, John F. Kennedy further advanced the civil rights initiatives of the Eisenhower administration, going as far as utilizing the Mississippi National Guard to protect minority student James Meredith as he enrolled for the 1962 school year at the University of Mississippi.

    The president’s domestic agenda was briefly interrupted by new crisis in Cuba. On October 11, 1962, JFK was shown Air Force reconnaissance photographs that indicated the probable presence of Soviet missiles on Cuban soil. Follow-up photographic missions supported these findings, and on October 22nd, US blockade of Cuba during the October 1962 missile crisis.Kennedy imposed a naval blockade of Cuba, demanding that Soviet Premier Khrushchev order the dismantling of the missile installations, along with the removal of all weapons capable of attacking the United States. Meanwhile, secret negotiations were conducted between the president’s brother Robert and the Soviet ambassador to the United States. To secure Soviet cooperation, the Kennedy administration agreed to remove all US Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Additionally, the White House pledged never to invade Cuba. These concessions were concealed from the American public, and when the Cuban missile crisis ended with the withdrawal of Soviet missiles, the matter was disingenuously portrayed as a triumph of the Kennedy presidency. Though boasting that “Khrushchev blinked,” the administration’s undisclosed compromises actually doomed Cuba to decades of communist oppression under Fidel Castro.

    Skillful public relations tactics elevated the account of the Cuban missile crisis to mythic proportions, and John F. Kennedy redeemed himself for the Bay of Pigs disaster. Bolstered by positive press, the president confidently turned to address the growing crisis in Southeast Asia.

South Vietnam never recovered after the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem (right).    By the summer of 1963, Kennedy had placed nearly 17-thousand US military advisors in South Vietnam. All the while, that nation’s devout Catholic leader, Ngo Dinh Diem, endured constant criticism from the international press for his heavy-handed reaction to Buddhist uprisings. In an effort to gain bipartisan support for his Vietnam policy, Kennedy assigned the US ambassador’s post in South Vietnam to former Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., a Republican who had run as Richard Nixon’s vice presidential candidate against the Kennedy-Johnson ticket in 1960. Hastily branding the South Vietnamese president as corrupt and incompetent, Lodge convinced JFK to support a covert operation to overthrow Diem’s government. With White House approval, Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated by his own officers on November 1, 1963. As an unintended consequence of the fateful decision by Ambassador Lodge and President Kennedy, South Vietnam quickly plummeted into a state of political chaos from which it would not recover.

John F. Kennedy, moments before he was assassinated.    The repercussions of the US government’s actions in South Vietnam would be faced by another president. Lyndon Johnson takes the presidential oath following the JFK assassination.On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, en route to a luncheon with Democratic party leaders. Additionally, Texas governor John Connelly was wounded in the shooting. Vice President Lyndon Johnson, also in Dallas, was quickly sworn in as the nation’s thirty-sixth president. Two days after killing Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, an attention-starved communist devotee who had briefly resided in the Soviet Union, was himself assassinated by nightclub owner Jack Ruby, amidst a throng of police escorts.


Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-73), 36th president of the United States, 1963-69.    During the weeks of national mourning that followed Kennedy’s death, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) settled into the presidency, keeping his predecessor’s advisory team intact. Determined to secure his own place in history, Johnson devoted the bulk of his time and attention toward the creation of a domestic agenda reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. In March of 1964, he declared a “war on poverty,” despite the fact that most Americans he defined as poor were healthier and had more comforts and material possessions than many affluent people in less developed nations. In May, the new president outlined his “Great Society” agenda, a series of spending programs to eliminate poverty, improve education, and alleviate urban blight. Unlike the New Deal, which addressed the Great Depression of the 1930s, Johnson’s Great Society came at a time of national prosperity. John F. Kennedy’s proposed tax cuts, implemented shortly after his death, rapidly boosted the Gross National Product by 10 percent, resulting in a 15 percent rise in personal domestic income. Business production was stimulated, bringing increased revenues into the federal treasury.

Senator Everett Dirksen    The attention of the American people resided largely with racial issues in their own country, and Lyndon Johnson’s effort to build upon the Kennedy civil rights agenda was jeopardized by uncooperative southern Democrats in Congress. Republican Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen presented the cause to his own party members, reminding them that earlier civil rights acts had been Republican initiatives, and that the party itself had been founded during the previous century for the purpose of freeing the slaves. Through the unified efforts of northern Republicans and Democrats, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed on July 2nd, expanding laws to further prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Under the provisions of the bill, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established to enforce the ban on discrimination in the workplace.

    Lyndon Johnson viewed the deteriorating situation in South Vietnam as an irritating nuisance, in that it threatened to derail his domestic agenda. The overthrow of the Diem regime depleted the South Vietnamese government of officials experienced in dealing with Vietcong guerrillas. LBJ signs the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, committing the United States to war in Vietnam.Subsequently, the communists seized power in 45 percent of South Vietnam. With the 1964 presidential campaign season underway, the president realized that although it was politically suicidal to remain passive toward the Southeast Asian crisis, decisive US military strikes would likely be condemned by the antiwar faction in his own party. An opportunity presented itself in early August, when a garbled radio message from the Gulf of Tonkin, off the eastern coast of North Vietnam, indicated that a US naval patrol had been fired upon by North Vietnamese gunboats. Without first verifying the validity of the report, Johnson publicly decried the Gulf of Tonkin incident, extracting a resolution from Congress to grant him broad powers to escalate American military presence in Southeast Asia. Limited air strikes were authorized on benign North Vietnamese targets, simply to demonstrate the president’s resolve against communism, tempered by his equivalent desire to avoid full-scale war.

Senator Barry Goldwater (Arizona), Republican presidential candidate in 1964.    Because the flow of overseas communication was severely limited by the technology of that era, the Johnson administration controlled the information coming from South Vietnam. The escalating foreign crisis remained a relatively small news item in the US during the autumn of 1964. At that time, American hearts were captured by romanticized media portrayals of John F. Kennedy, inspiring voter support for the man pledging to keep the slain leader’s vision alive. Lyndon Johnson soundly defeated Republican challenger Barry Goldwater in the election, thereafter moving to implement his Great Society programs.

 Defense Secretary Robert Strange McNamara    To gain support for his sweeping domestic agenda, the president avoided controversial decisions associated with Vietnam. On February 7, 1965, Vietcong guerrillas attacked the airfield at Pleiku, in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, killing eight US servicemen and wounding over a hundred others. The airstrip was demolished and twenty planes were destroyed. Though generals in the field requested decisive reprisals, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara interceded with his own plan to merely demonstrate American resolve without provoking full-scale war. Operation Rolling Thunder was the codename for a series of bombing raids on carefully selected enemy targets. McNamara’s idea was to apply gradual pressure to compel the North Vietnamese government to withdraw its support of Vietcong insurgents in the South. Astoundingly, American airmen were ordered to turn away at the sight of enemy fighter jets and avoid bombing North Vietnamese airfields.

Operation Rolling Thunder    When the Joint Chiefs of Staff, representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, informed the defense secretary that his strategy would only result in a long, protracted, and futile war, their warnings were met with ridicule. Under McNamara’s reign, the Joint Chiefs’ role was reduced from influencing military policy to merely fulfilling White House whims without question. With the Korean controversy between Harry Truman and Douglas MacArthur still fresh in memory, the Chiefs chose to exhibit loyalty to the president, whether they felt his decisions were right or wrong. Above all else, Lyndon Johnson wanted to present a public image of consensus among his top military and civilian advisors. Funding for his ambitious domestic programs could only be obtained either through an enormous tax increase or a substantial reduction in military expenditures. Although Johnson preferred the latter solution, he feared the political fallout that would result from South Vietnam’s fall to communism. Thus, instead of trying to win the war, the administration settled on a strategy to do only that which was necessary to avoid losing the war. Consequently, the lives of many American servicemen were sacrificed for political expediency.

    Responding to criticism from pacifists in his party, the president, in April of 1965, downgraded the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign, leaving US ground forces without sufficient air support. Bolstered by the reduction in American aerial attacks, the communists deployed additional troops to South Vietnam.

    President Lyndon Johnson prioritized his Great Society agenda above all other issues, and with an extensive career history in both houses of Congress, he skillfully maneuvered his domestic plans through the legislative process. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed in April of 1965, undermining the powers of local school districts by nationally standardizing educational resources and objectives. On July 30, 1965, the president signed his Medicare bill into law as an amendment to the Social Security Act. This taxpayer funded health insurance entitlement was originally designed to serve Americans over the age of 65, as well as those with certain disabilities. On the heels of this legislation came the Housing and Urban Development Act, allocating federal dollars toward the loosely defined cause of urban renewal. In all, eighty-nine Great Society measures were enacted by Congress. As a consequence of these meddlesome government intervention programs, the steady, fifteen-year increase in American prosperity came to a halt. Great Society legislation trapped financially struggling citizens in a web of government dependence, as incentives and rewards for self-sufficiency were stripped away. In time, poverty, urban blight, and violent crime increased.

    In August of 1965, Marxist agitators incited a six-day riot among minority urban residents in the Watts district of Los Angeles, California, prompting National Guard intervention. Thirty-four people were killed, while 850 were wounded. The Watts area sustained nearly 200-million dollars in property damage.

Student antiwar demonstrators    Modernized Marxist dogma (under the “Progressive” banner) emerged as a predominant ideology on college campuses throughout the United States during the 1960s, and many university professors convinced naïve students that North Vietnamese communists were being victimized by American imperialists. Ignorant of the ravages of communist totalitarianism, gullible students saw little need for US intervention in Southeast Asia. Antiwar protests were staged on campuses across the country, pressuring the politically savvy president to temper his resolve in the escalating Vietnam conflict.

    Because every military action in Southeast Asia required White House approval, reaction times in combat zones were delayed and largely ineffective. Opportunities to prevail in battle were missed time and again, due to the president’s insistence that every operation be cleared through his office. The 1965-6 escalation of U.S. troops in Vietnam.The fragmented, erratically executed Rolling Thunder bombing campaign did nothing to diminish the will—or the military capability—of the North Vietnamese. Although thousands of bombs were dropped, their targets were of little consequence. The United States possessed the military strength to sufficiently defeat the communist forces; yet the White House objective was to simply maintain US credibility and avoid failure, employing as few resources as necessary. Enemy forces suffered little harm and were able to continually build troop numbers and armaments. With every communist escalation, President Johnson was forced to dispatch additional US troops to prevent the collapse of  South Vietnam. By the summer of 1965, 125-thousand American troops were committed to the struggle, plunging the nation into a war that had never been declared by Congress. New troop acquisitions were largely due to the imposition of an unpopular military draft. As increasing numbers of US forces arrived, fighters from the North Vietnamese Army advanced into the South, uniting with Vietcong guerillas. Military officials insisted that it would take 500-thousand troops and nearly 13 billion dollars to bring the North Vietnamese government to its knees. The president, however, knew that Congress would not be willing to pay for both “guns and butter.” Thus, until all of his Great Society programs were enacted, Johnson limited further troop deployment, holding defense spending to one billion dollars.

Defense Secretary McNamara with General William Westmoreland in South Vietnam.    Far removed from the specter of battlefield death, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara took the least expensive course of action (in terms of money, not human life), dispatching a fraction of the weapons and personnel requested by his commander in the field, General William Westmoreland. Blinded by arrogant presumption, McNamara esteemed his own ideas far above those of experienced military experts, failing to realize that sharp business skills were no substitute for well tested battlefield methods. Refusing to strike a fatal blow on the enemy, he insisted on pursuing his strategy of graduated pressure on the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi. Unbeknownst to the American people at the time, McNamara imposed a series of self-defeating restrictions, known as the “rules of engagement,” on US forces in Vietnam. His intention was to deflect criticisms of brutality and display enough self-restraint to encourage peace negotiations with the communists. Under the rules of engagement, US troops were prohibited from shooting at the enemy until fired upon; North Vietnamese war planes were not to be destroyed while on the ground; enemy missile launchers could not be targeted while under construction; North Vietnamese government facilities could not be bombed; enemy supply vehicles could not be attacked beyond two hundred yards of the Ho Chi Minh Trail; and communist forces could not be pursued across the borders of Laos or Cambodia. From the comfort of his executive office, Defense Secretary McNamara was sheltered from the consequences of his own poor decisions, leaving American service personnel to pay the cost of his “goodwill” restrictions with their own blood. The Vietnam War was doomed from the beginning.


Peace demonstrators in the 1960s.    On the domestic front, a new spirit of cynicism swept through the United States, shepherded by a youth culture inexperienced in the hardships that had engendered maturity and self-control in the Depression-era, World War II generation. Pampered by material abundance, American youths were drawn toward pursuits of personal pleasure, and with the concurrent mockery of moral deterrents, new extremes of self gratification were pursued in the forms of rampant sexual promiscuity, drug abuse, and the overall abandonment of individual responsibility. Simplistic, childlike notions of compassion were embraced; standards of righteousness were ridiculed and vilified; and conformity to a spirit of rebellion was popularized. Though they preached love and tolerance, the youth culture of the 1960s treated their own country’s military servicemen with contempt—a position never before held by the civilian population.


Vietnam, 1967.    Lyndon Johnson’s short-term political goals were achieved at the expense of military endeavors. With Great Society programs in place, he finally escalated the war effort, raising taxes and elevating the national debt to support both domestic and military programs. By the end of 1966, 385-thousand U.S. troops were present in Southeast Asia. The following year, an additional 100-thousand American fighters were deployed to keep pace with enemy escalations. Nevertheless, Defense Secretary McNamara remained unrealistically hopeful of imposing a stalemate that would bring North Vietnam to the negotiating table.

Launch of a 2-man Gemini space mission.    Despite the increasing polarization of American attitudes toward the Johnson administration’s domestic and foreign policies, the nation’s people remained unified in their enthusiasm for the rapidly advancing American space program. Apollo One crew: Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.It had been John F. Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, and though the US trailed the Soviet Union in achieving manned orbit around the earth and space walks outside the craft, gradual strides were made through the single-astronaut Mercury missions and the dual-astronaut Gemini flights. In time, Soviet innovation was stifled by its communist bureaucracy, while the Americans took the lead in developing rocket engines with the power to take three astronauts to the moon. However, a tragic setback occurred during the first mission of the Apollo moon program, when astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a flash fire that erupted in their space capsule during a launch rehearsal in January of 1967.

U.S. Marines during the Tet Offensive in Jan-Feb 1968.    American morale fell further when the cynical news media portrayed US military strategy in Southeast Asia as a fiasco. On January 31, 1968, when the Vietnamese people celebrated Tet, the first day of the lunar new year, combined North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong guerrilla forces attempted to launch a wide-scale surprise offensive against various strategic cities in South Vietnam, including the capital, Saigon. American bases throughout the region were specifically targeted.  US intelligence operatives were able to anticipate the enemy offensive, and the only "surprise" involved the broad scope and exact timing of the attack.  Combined American and South Vietnamese forces prevailed while the North Vietnamese Army suffered catastrophic losses, failing every objective of the assault. Nevertheless, irresponsible members of the western press, steeped in bitter antiwar bias, deceptively portrayed the Tet Offensive as a US defeat.  More than four years after the event, ABC News anchor Howard K. Smith, in an interview with TV Guide magazine, admitted: “Vietcong casualties were one hundred times ours.  But we never told the public that.  We just showed pictures day after day of Americans getting hell kicked out of them.  That was enough to break America apart.”

    The American people lost confidence in their own president, who had announced a month prior to the Tet offensive that the United States was on the verge of winning the war. The total number of US troops in Vietnam exceeded the half-million mark in 1968.

    Factions in the Democratic Party refused to support Lyndon Johnson for another term. Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota was first to challenge the incumbent president for the party’s nomination, followed shortly thereafter by John F. Kennedy’s brother, Robert, the US senator from New York. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson stunned the nation by announcing he would not run for reelection.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were both slain in 1968.    With the heated campaign season just beginning, the American people were shocked by acts of violence against two men who personified cultural progress. On April 4, 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights leader who advocated a nonviolent approach in opposing racial prejudice, was fatally shot in Memphis, Tennessee. On the heels of his murder came the June 5th assassination of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, moments after winning the California Democratic primary.

    During this tumultuous period of social unrest, a group of pro-Marxist agitators plotted to incite a mass youth revolt in America. Staging a peace demonstration at the Democratic convention in Chicago, activist leaders tried to provoke the local police to commit acts of brutality before network television cameras. The ensuing riot disrupted the convention and drew widespread news coverage, but ultimately failed to radicalize the nation’s youth.

In 1968, Vice President Hubert Humphrey ran as the Democratic presidential candidate, losing to Richard Nixon.    After the brief interruption to their proceedings, the Democrats endorsed Vice President Hubert Humphrey as their presidential candidate. The Republicans, in their comparatively orderly convention, nominated Richard Nixon, the former Vice President under Dwight Eisenhower. As a third party candidate, Alabama governor George Wallace drew millions of southern Democrat votes away from Humphrey, enabling Nixon to win the election by a comfortable margin.


    The prospect of change brought a sense of relief to many Americans. Hope for the future was bolstered further in late December, 1968, as the astronauts of the Apollo Eight space mission became the first humans to orbit the moon. The nation’s space program was back on track.

Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994), 37th president of the United States, 1969-74.    By the time Richard Nixon took the oath of office as America’s thirty-seventh president, there were 550-thousand US troops in Vietnam. Realizing that all prior opportunities for victory had long been squandered by the previous administration, Nixon embarked on a transitional program to gradually reduce American troop numbers and compel the South Vietnamese people to take greater responsibility in determining their own future. In April of 1969, the new president undertook a necessary but controversial task the Johnson administration lacked the courage to execute, bombing Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army sanctuaries in neighboring Cambodia. The attacks were initially concealed from the press, as Nixon was convinced that the news media willfully undermined the safety and morale of American troops. Three months later, he journeyed overseas to meet with South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu. Twenty-five thousand US servicemen were immediately sent home, with a total of 110-thousand ordered back to America by December of 1969.

Neil A. Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon. Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. on the moon.   At a time of domestic apprehension and division, national unity and pride was briefly restored when American astronauts of the Apollo Eleven space mission landed on the surface of the moon on July 20th, 1969.  Television images were beamed into homes throughout the world as astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon. He was joined minutes later on the lunar surface by Edwin Aldrin, Jr. This would be the first of several manned US voyages to the moon.

    The Apollo Twelve mission that followed was equally successful, but during the Apollo Thirteen flight in April of 1970, an oxygen tank explosion crippled the command vessel before it reached the moon. With resourcefulness, innovation, and determination, the Apollo flight crew and ground team at Mission Control worked together under harrowing circumstances, engineering a safe return to earth.

Aftermath of the National Guard shootings at Kent State University.    Pride over the nation’s progress in space was short-lived, as the American people grew distracted by increasingly violent student antiwar protests. On May 4, 1970, National Guardsmen in Ohio were dispatched by the state governor to thwart rioters and restore order at Kent State University. When pelted by a barrage of rocks, panicked guardsmen fired into the attacking mob, killing four students and wounding eleven others. The incident triggered the torching, ransacking, and destruction of university properties across the nation, prompting the temporary closure of approximately 450 colleges.

    Concurrent with domestic unrest were the economic consequences of Great Society legislation. Facing a mounting federal deficit and monetary inflation, Richard Nixon resorted to government intervention tactics more aligned with Democrat liberalism than Republican conservatism. In August of 1971, he imposed wage and price controls, and though these measures were initially effective in halting inflation, domestic producers encountered difficulties in covering the costs to bring their goods to market. Thus, the nation was plagued by shortages in consumer products until tax cuts were enacted to revive the economy. As a further measure to reduce inflation, Nixon severed remaining links between US currency and the gold standard, using the Gross National Product as the basis for the dollar’s value.

President Nixon visits the People's Republic of China.    Richard Nixon held no illusions about the future of Vietnam. He was adamant that American troops should no longer be forced to defend a cause that even the South Vietnamese lacked the will to uphold. The president’s objective focused on preventing the spread of communism to Thailand, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Taking advantage of a growing rift between the two communist superpowers, China and the Soviet Union, Nixon stunned the world in February 1972 by traveling to China to establish diplomatic ties with the longtime Cold War adversary. The mission was a profound success, and the Chinese government encouraged North Vietnam to negotiate with the United States.

    The president followed his China mission with a journey to the Soviet Union in May of 1972. There, Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev entered preliminary talks for the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT). Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, referred to their diplomatic efforts as “détente,” a French word conveying the easing of tensions.

    In light of improved US-Soviet relations, the North Vietnamese government in Hanoi opened negotiations with the Nixon administration. The effective peace initiatives elevated the president to the height of popularity during the 1972 election season. Nevertheless, overzealous supporters within his reelection campaign resorted to illegal tactics to undermine the opposition.

    On June 17, five men were caught breaking into Democratic Party offices at the Watergate building complex in Washington, DC, in an attempt to plant electronic listening devices for spying purposes. Although it was eventually revealed that these men were employed by the Committee to Reelect the President, the full ramifications of the Watergate break-in would take more than a year to unfold. In the meantime, Richard Nixon was reelected to the presidency, overwhelmingly defeating Democratic challenger George McGovern, the US senator from South Dakota.
Apollo XVII: the final manned mission to the moon.

    In December of 1972, the American moon program concluded with the Apollo Seventeen mission. In less than four years, a total of twelve men walked the lunar surface. However, public enthusiasm over these technological triumphs had waned by this time.

The 1973 Paris Accords, ending US involvement in Vietnam.    After his reelection, Richard Nixon grew frustrated with stalled peace negotiations in Southeast Asia, ordering the resumption of bombing over North Vietnam. The tactic was effective, and on January 27, 1973, the United States entered a peace treaty with the North Vietnamese in Paris, ending America’s war with Vietnam. The war had taken 60-thousand American lives, along with the wounding of another 300-thousand, at a cost of 109-billion taxpayer dollars. On March 29, 1973, US troops withdrew from Southeast Asia, leaving South Vietnamese forces to fend for themselves against the communists.

    Cold War tensions, already eased by Nixon’s diplomatic missions to China and the Soviet Union, were further reduced with the end of US intervention in Vietnam. Though the Cold War had not completely ended, the American people no longer feared the impending threat of nuclear war with the communist superpowers. Memories of Richard Nixon’s role in securing the peace would be overshadowed by the political scandal that began with the Watergate break-in during his reelection campaign, and a new spirit of cynicism and mistrust would polarize the nation in the years ahead.

Go to Book 8: Cultural Division and the Age of Terrorism

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