- How did the 1950s contain the seeds of the rebellion and turmoil of the 1960s?
By the start of the 1950s, America had the sharpest population growth in its history. The so-called baby boom saw more than 3 million children born in 1950. This unprecedented population increase came with a steady economic prosperity in America. The post-war United States of America had grown to become the sole global superpower with an empowered postwar generation. Moreover, American citizens started to get more involved in their nation’s civics because of the enlightenment that happened with the economic boom. The public’s conscience was getting annoyed and started questioning otherwise ‘routine’ government decisions. A wave of radicalization was sweeping through America aided by the new postwar generation. In addition, profanity became a popular social trait since the laws were not regarded as supreme anymore. Government decisions like military excursions could be questioned as freedom of speech. Americans also grew agitated by the secrecy of government operations especially concerning the Cold War.
The government provided people with the reason to be radicalized with controversial government programs, most notably by McCarthyism. The firebrand Joseph McCarthy had steered a national campaign to eliminate supposed Communist spies within the government ranks. He was prejudiced and racial in implication, which made the government very unpopular among its citizens who felt like the government was leading a witch-hunt against people not deemed to have the spirit of America. Furthermore, the government increased loyalty thresholds in 1953 and, therefore, retrenched about two thousand employees of the federal government. As controversial as this was the discovery of a ruse intended to weaken McCarthy’s growing influence. Minority communities in America and the general American public were angry at the government loyalty tests (630).
The early 1950s shaped the Cold War and its accompanying rhetoric. By the start of this decade, the Soviet Union had emerged as a global superpower thanks to its newly discovered nuclear weapon capability, which only served to increase diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. President Kennedy was tough in reaffirming his country’s resolve to fight communism. A feeble attempt to end Fidel Castro’s rule in Cuba was added to Kennedy’s frustration trying to stop communism (660). The 1960s had some of the most intense moments of the Cold War, most notably the Cuban missile crisis. American spy planes had reported sites in Cuba that precariously resembled missile launch bases. As a result, the American public was very paranoid and uneasy when the news about a potential nuclear attack by the Soviets was broken. In the intense political standoff that ensued, the Soviets withdrew their commitment after taking the world to near nuclear annihilation (661).
Besides, President Kennedy faced another political quagmire, the Vietnam War of the 60s. American allies to the South of Vietnam, the Saigon, were invaded by the rebellious Viet Cong. The Vietnam War was ignited as a proxy war in the Cold War era. It started in 1955 and quickly became one of the fiercest conflicts of the 20th century. America had to support its allies, the Saigon, because they faced retaliation for their anti-communist stance. Moreover, the American death toll in Vietnam was growing by the day and many American citizens started protesting against the war in its entirety. Some saw the war as a senseless conflict that only resulted in losing American lives while the others questioned the use of public funds to fuel the American war machine (662).
The 1960s are also well-known for the peak of American civil rights protests. Minorities in America demanded constitutional, institutional reforms to uproot segregation and discrimination. Anti-racist protests rocked the entire country and not just by the minorities themselves but even some Caucasian Americans added their voice to the controversial subject. Racism had to be eliminated by the mid-1960s. The civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1950s with infamous incidents like the 1955 Montgomery city bus boycotts (647). In addition, the 1950s brought more public and international attention to the fight against racism that often turned tragic.
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Civil rights protests took a different turn with the emergence of organized groups like the Nation of Islam. This group took a more radical approach to demanding equality in America. Moreover, the black panthers were another group known for readiness to engage in armed conflict for civil liberties (668). To conclude, successive failures of the legislation to deal with the problem of racial segregation led to the emergence of such radical groups.
- How did the Cold War define American foreign policy in the 1950s and 1960s, especially in Vietnam?
The American government felt threatened by the Soviet Union because of their commitment to communism. After defeating the fascist Nazi Germany, Communism was suspected to be the next threat to democracy. By the start of the 1950s, both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. had mutually assured destruction in the case of war due to their nuclear capabilities (662). Soviet influence was, however, increasing in Eastern Europe. The domino theory was described by the U.S. as the eventual spread of communism as a wave passing through the countries that would be affected by the Soviets. Consequently, this necessitated the need to stop the Soviets in their push for a communist Europe.
The domino theory led to the adoption of containment diplomacy. The U.S. and its allies sought to keep communism ‘contained.’ Within this diplomatic setup, a communist country could not conduct business with a noncommunist nation. The countries known to associate with The U.S.S.R. faced trade and diplomatic sanctions. One of these countries was Cuba. Well-known for the trade embargo enforced by the U.S., Cuba was a pivotal country in defining the Cold War diplomacy.
Fidel Castro had led Cuba to be one of the most influential Latin American countries. Cuba’s strategic proximity to the United States did not go unnoticed in the fight against communism. Cuba seemed to become closer to the Soviet Union, resulting in the worrying of the United States. President Kennedy tried to thwart communist influence in Latin America by promising a foreign aid package. The countries to receive American help had to conform some of their laws to that of America to make sure that communism did not have a prospect of success in Central America. Moreover, these countries were expected to reform their education sector and commit to bettering their citizens’ lives. In the result, little reforms were implemented and the U.S. did not release a full aid. The relationship between America and Latin American countries was not being improved with President Kennedy leading to further distrust and paranoia and an apparent small victory by the Soviets (662).
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On April 17, 1961, Kennedy sanctioned a coup attempt to topple Fidel Castro’s government by the U.S.-trained Cuban exiles and mercenaries. Kennedy’s planned invasion became an embarrassing flop for America (663). After his admittance to sanctioning the failed coup, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba would never be cordial again during the Cold War. The U.S. did not relent in its attempts to instigate an overthrow of Castro’s regime. Moreover, the operation Mongoose was a guerrilla-style destruction of infrastructure in Cuba, which was backed by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The crisis with Cuba over the suspected nuclear missile sites in fact was the closest time the Cold War nearly escalated to the nuclear war. Suspected missile launch pads were seen by an American U-2 spy plane. Kennedy faced one of the most testing periods of his presidency in the standoff that followed. The Soviet Union withdrew their commitment ending the Cuban missile crisis. Therefore, the U.S.-Cuba relations were bruised irreparably during the 1960s, as Cuba had become a self-declared communist nation (663).
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American diplomacy was not just well defined for communist and noncommunist countries. The states that did not subscribe neither to the U.S. nor to the U.S.S.R. appeared to be classed as the third world. Many African, Asian, and South American nations were just gaining their independence from their European colonizers. Most countries declaring sovereignty were the states formerly ruled by Britain. These young nations became the new battlefront between the two global superpowers. America and the Soviet Union scrambled to secure the loyalty of these new nations with the U.S. emerging victorious on this front and most notably with African states. America had the appeal of monetary aid (632).
In June of 1961, the leaders of the two global superpowers met to seek an easing of Cold War rhetoric (663). Kennedy and his Soviet counterpart Khrushchev shook hands in Vienna but the meeting did not resolve pressing Cold War issues like the Berlin partition. In fact, the Berlin crisis stretched for decades after the division of Berlin by the Berlin Wall.
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Europe was just the start for the spread of communism as Vietnam came to highlight a far-reaching Soviet influence. The Vietnam War has been widely believed to be a war for and against communism. The American domino theory was in fact used to bolster America’s resolve to start the war against the communist Viet Cong. Thus, this proxy war was a direct retaliation to the threat of communism (662). Moreover, it was the most vivid conflict of interests between the Soviet Union and the United States of America in extending their agenda.