Chapter 41: “The Stormy Sixties”

1960 – 1968

I. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” Spirit

1. In 1960, young, energetic John F. Kennedy was elected to president of the United States—the youngest man ever elected to that office.

2. The 1960s would bring a sexual revolution, a civil rights revolutions, the emergence of a “youth culture,” a devastating war in Vietnam, and the beginnings of a feminist revolution.

3. JFK delivered a stirring inaugural address, and he also assembled a very young cabinet, including his brother, Robert Kennedy, as attorney general.

i. Robert Kennedy tried to recast the priorities of the FBI, but was resisted by J. Edgar Hoover.

ii. Business whiz Robert S. McNamara took over the Defense Department.

4. Early on, JFK proposed the Peace Corps, an army of idealist and mostly youthful volunteers to bring American skills to underdeveloped countries.

5. Graduated from Harvard, JFK was very vibrant and charming to everyone.

II. The New Frontier at Home

1. Kennedy’s social program was known as the New Frontier, but conservative Democrats and Republicans threatened to kill many of its reforms.

i. JFK did expand the House Rules Committee, but his program didn’t expand quickly, as medical and education bills remained stalled in Congress.

ii. JFK also had to keep a lid on inflation and maintain a good economy.

iii. However, almost immediately into his term, steel management announced great price increases, igniting the fury of the president, but JFK also earned fiery attacks by big business on the New Frontier.

2. Kennedy’s tax-cut bill chose to stimulate the economy through price-cutting.

3. Kennedy also promoted a project to land Americans on the moon, though apathetic Americans often ridiculed this.

III. Rumblings in Europe

1. JFK met Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev and was threatened, but didn’t back down.

2. In August of the 1961, the Soviets began building the Berlin Wall to separate East and West Germany.

3. Western Europe, though, was now prospering after help from the super-successful Marshal Plan.

i. America had also encouraged a Common Market, which later became the European Union (EU).

ii. The so-called Kennedy Round of tariff negotiations eased trade between Europe and the U.S.

4. Unfortunately, French leader Charles de Gaulle was one who was suspicious of the U.S., and he rejected British application into the Common Market.

IV. Foreign Flare-Ups and “Flexible Responses”

1. There were many world problems at this time:

i. The African Congo got its independence from Belgium in 1960 and then erupted into violence, but the United Nations sent a peacekeeping force.

ii. Laos, freed of its French overlords in 1954, was being threatened by Communism, but at the Geneva conference of 1962, peace was shakily imposed.

iii. Defense Secretary McNamara pushed a strategy of “flexible response,” which developed an array of military options that could match the gravity of whatever crises came to hand.

a. One of these was the Green Berets, aka the Special Forces.

V. Stepping into the Vietnam Quagmire

1. The American-backed Diem government had shakily and corruptly ruled Vietnam since 1954, but it was threatened by the Communist Viet Cong movement led by Ho Chi Minh.

2. JFK slowly sent more and more U.S. troops to Vietnam to “maintain order,” but they usually fought and died, despite the fact that it was “Vietnam’s war.”

VI. Cuban Confrontations

1. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress was dubbed the Marshall Plan for Latin America, and it aimed to close the rich-poor gap in Latin American and thus stem Communism.

i. However, too many Latin Americans felt that it was too little too late.

2. Kennedy also backed a U.S.-aided invasion of Cuba by rebels, but when the Bay of Pigs Invasion occurred, on April 17, 1961, it was a disaster, as Kennedy did not bring in the air support, and the revolt failed.

i. This event pushed recently imposed Cuban leader Fidel Castro closer to the Communist camp.

3. Then, in 1962, U.S. spy planes recorded missile installations in Cuba. It was later revealed that these were, in fact, nuclear missiles aimed at America.

i. The Cuban Missile Crisis lasted 13 nerve-racking days and put the U.S., the U.S.S.R., and the world at the brink of nuclear war, but in the end, Khrushchev blinked, backed off, looked very weak, and lost his power soon afterwards.

ii. The Soviets agreed to remove their missiles if the U.S. vowed to never invade Cuba again; the U.S.