The 1970s were times of chaotic events held over from the chaos of the 1960s. The 70s brought Americans an end to the Vietnam War and a change in the political and social perspectives, another presidency term with Richard M. Nixon, and his policies of engagement, and the Watergate scandal, leading to the first resignation of an American President. The end of the Vietnam War led to political and social fallout around the globe, especially in America. All of the chaos of the 1970s also led Americans to have a changed perspective in their government. People were beginning to notice similarities between Nixon’s policies of engagement and strategies used during the Cold War, and the aftermath of the Watergate scandal led many American’s to doubt the role of their government and its power.
In 1969, Nixon built his presidential campaign on the idea of ending the Vietnam War. Early in his administration, the president outlined a foreign policy based on a “low profile” and on reductions in the U.S. role abroad. Many believe this was the reason for Nixon’s election. Fed up with the war in Vietnam, Americans were ready to get our soldiers home. Nixon considered his engagement strategy “peace with honor.” Nixon’s priority was the settlement of the Vietnam crisis while using the “peace with honor” code. Nixon found an ally in Henry Kissinger who was the Nation Security Advisor and working together to end the crisis in Vietnam. One strategy was called “Vietnamization,” a carrot on a stick method, which would to gradually move the troops away and force the South Vietnamese to fight for themselves in order to advance peace talks in Paris. (Davidson et al., 2002 pg 895)
The truth of the matter is that Nixon continued with the Vietnam War for nearly four more years. Nixon’s “peace with honor” code or “policy of engagement” was similar to Truman and the Cold War. Truman used the treat of nuclear arms attacks to scare the communist bloc from expanding. When the “peace with honor” code did not work, that is when Nixon took action on an earlier threat by using troops, force, and weapons. Nixon’s policy of engagement also differs somewhat from the strategies used by others during the Cold War. Where containment assumed a bipolar world, Nixon’s policy of detente saw the world as multi-polar. (Davidson et al., 2002, p. 907)
By the end of March 1973, The Vietnam War had ended. All U.S. fighting forces had been withdrawn. (“Vietnam War,” 2007) The political and social aftermath of the Vietnam War hit America almost immediately. In July 1971, for the first year in the century, it appeared that the U.S. would import more merchandise than it exported, and consequently it faced a severe deficit in its balance of payments. A federal budget deficit of about $20 billion was projected for fiscal 1971. In August, a crisis in world monetary stability was evident, and the value of the dollar was threatened for the second time in a year. (“The Vietnam War Period,” 2007) By the end of the 1970s, the National Debt was nearly $382 billion.
From spending money during the war and cutting costs to federal programs, the nation was experiencing severe recession in 40 years. This recession affected many families, which became dual income households due to necessity. The government tried to fix this spiraling problem by raising minimum wage, but with each wage increase came inflation and higher unemployment rates. To curb this growing problem, reversing his previous refusal to impose price and wage controls, Nixon announced a 3-month freeze on wages, prices, and rents. (TVWP, 2007)
Before Nixon had a chance to work on changing the economic problems in America he was surrounded by the Watergate scandal. From the fall of 1973 through the summer of 1974, the evidence steadily mounted that President Nixon himself was implicated in the Watergate burglary and its attempted cover-up, and that it was indeed only one aspect of a series of lawless acts committed by the administration. As a result, by the beginning of August 1974 the president was faced with imminent impeachment. He resigned on August 9, the first president of the U.S. to do so. (TVWP, 2007) Americans have come to believe the worst about government, politics, and politicians. It didn’t start with Watergate, but Watergate turned an erosion of public confidence into a collapse. The downturn came to a climax with Watergate.
Americans saw a presidency disintegrate before their eyes, criminal conspiracies at the highest level of government and a president driven out of office. The effect on public trust was immediate and dramatic. Watergate crushed the public’s faith in government. In 1974, a little more than a third of Americans — 36 percent — said they still trusted the government. (Americans in the 1950s and 1960s saw there government as successful. They had led the country out of a depression and won a World War. The 1970s did not carry that same prestige, instead the American public saw there elected leader in the center of a severe scandal, the worst recession in 40 years, and an embarrassing loss to an un-winnable war. Since Watergate, nothing has happened to restore public trust. (Bill, 1997).
By the end of the 1970s, Americans were ready for change. The Vietnam War had ended, Nixon had resigned from office, and there was a lack of trust in government officials. Many Americans believed the 1980s were going to be that time of change. Nixon was a professional politician when elected president. Since that did not fare well, there was heightened contempt in professional politics. This created a market for outsiders and non-professionals for the job of Presidency. Many Americans today still crave for the Eisenhower or Kennedy era, but not since then has there been that kind of support for an elected president. Only when special interests groups stay out of politics or presidents remember they are leading by example will that return. Lets all hope that day will be sooner rather then later.
Vietnam War. (2007). _World Almanac Encyclopedia,_ Retrieved November 19, 2007 from facts.com database.
Davidson, J. W., Gienapp, W. E., Heyrman, C. L., Lytle, M. H., & Stoff, M. B. (2002). _Nations of Nations: A Concise Narrative of the American Republic_ (3rd ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Bill Schneider, (1997). Cynicism Didn’t Start With Watergate. _allPolitics_. Retrieved November 19, 2007, from http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1997/
_United States of America: History–From Watergate Through the 2000 Election._ (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2007, from The World Almanac Encyclopedia @ FACTS.com database.