Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Road to 9/11

I. Reagan's Policy

A. The Reagan Doctrine--Reagan had long been a proponent of "containment" of Soviet influence, and rejected Jimmy Carter's policy of making human rights the linchpin of foreign policy. The Reagan Doctrine was meant to rollback Soviet influence around the world.


1. Support for the Contras--Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua had overthrown longtime dictator Anastocio Somoza,  and were attempting to foster a similar revolution in neighboring Salvador. The Reagan administration began supplying arms to the Contras in the hope of destabilizing the Nicaraguan government.



2. The Enemy of My  Enemy is My Friend--despite back channel diplomatic efforts during the 1980 presidential election to free US hostages in Iran, the US supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, despite his use of weapons of mass destruction (biological and chemical weapons) against the Iranians--and dissident groups within his country.

3. Beruit--US Marines initially sent to facilitate PLO pullout, but after the assassination of Israeli -friendly Christian leader Bashir Gemayel, and Israel allowing Christian forces to retaliate by slaughtering more than 1,000 Palestinians in a refugee camp, the initial contingent was reinforced--but rather than act as an impartial arbitrator, US forces began shelling Muslim militia positions. The upshot was the suicide bomb attack that killed 241 Marines--and led to the quiet withdrawal of US forces from Lebanon.


4. Grenada--Reagan had been planning an invasion of this tiny Caribbean nation, and after the fiasco in Lebanon this gave him a quick victory to remove  the defeat from the newspapers.

5. Continued support for the mujahideen--begun under Jimmy Carter after the Soviet invasion to prop up that country's puppet regime, this policy maintained pressure on the Soviets--and kept them engaged in an increasingly unpopular war at home. Support for the mujahideen came from across the Muslim world, including the son of a prominent Saudi family by the name of Osama bin Laden.


II. Bush the Elder


A. Patrician background--Bush's father was an investment banker and senator from Connecticut. Bush, like his father before him--and his sons afterward--attended Philips Andover Academy and Yale University.


B. Public Service and Private Gain--the Bush family, more so than most, was able to make a great deal of private gain from their public service, mainly through connections made with business people.


1. Marriage and college--Bush's education was interrupted by his service, which he entered soon after graduating from Philips in 1942. Bush survived being shot down in the Pacific, and on his return to the US at the close of the war Bush married Barbara Pierce that year; the first child, George, as born in 1946.


2. George Bush, oilman--Bush used family connections to make a great deal of money in the oil business in Texas during the 1950s and early 1960s, so that he was able to retire at the age of 40 from the oil business.


3. Bush the politician--used family connections to finagle one of the few "safe" Republican seats in Texas in  the mid-1960s. Bush was not driven by any ideology to get into politics; although he voted against the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he later moderated his position on this issue. For Bush, policy positions were merely a means to get elected.

a. 1980 Election--Bush was one of a number of Republican candidate in 1980, even going so far as labeling the economic plans of opponent Ronald Reagan as "voodoo economics"--but when he has defeated by Reagan, he accepted the latter's offer to become his vice-presidential candidate.

b. Bush's foreign policy experience--Bush was unusual as a candidate for the executive branch, in that he had served both as an ambassador and as the head of he CIA. His claim to have been "out of the loop" during the Iran-Contra affair was, therefore, not very believable--and, indeed, later evidence has proven that statement to be false.


C. Operation Desert Storm--this brief and successful military operation left Iraq, already impoverished by the Iran/Iraq war of the previous decade, in even worse shape, under  stringent UN sanctions (which they regularly violated, to little effect).


III. The Clinton Years


A. William J. Clinton--Born in Hope, Arkansas, and raised in Hot Springs, Clinton was a graduate of Georgetown University, and a Rhodes Scholar. He served as an elected official in Arkansas in a variety of capacities after graduating from Yale Law School (where he met and married a fellow law student named Hilary Rodham), eventually becoming governor of Arkansas


B. Clinton's Foreign Policy--After an attack with a truck bomb on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Clinton Administration began looking for ways to strike back at Osama bin Laden, who headed up the Al Qaeda.


1. Bosnia--the break-up of Yugoslavia--into Slovakia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia--led to increased ethnic tensions, which then exploded into ethnic cleansing, as the Slovaks and Croats attempted to eliminate the ethnic Bosnians, who were Muslim.


2. Somalia--the placement of US troops in that unstable place in the world, to bring stability, began under George H.W. Bush; with the murder of US troops in Mogadishu (made famous in Black Hawk Down), led to the withdrawal of those troops.


3. Attack on the USS Cole--a suicide attack on a US warship anchored at the Yemeni port of Aden resulted in the deaths of 17 sailors.


IV. George W. Bush and 9/11


A. Early life--although born in New Haven, Connecticut, while his father was attending Yale, Bush grew up in Texas (although he returned east to attend boarding school and Yale, just like father). After graduating from Yale in 1968 (at the height of the Vietnam War), Bush was able to obtain a treasured position in the Texas Air National Guard, which meant that he would not drafted and sent to Vietnam. Although he failed to fulfill his obligation, he was still able to obtain an honorable discharge, and went off to Harvard and obtained a MBA.


B. Mid-life crisis--Bush moved back to Texas, ran for office unsuccessfully, and then failed in a series of business ventures. It was not until friends of his father gave him a stake in the Texas Rangers baseball team, and made him the public face of the team--and he was able, with their help, to threaten and cajole the local government in the city of Arlington to build the team a new stadium with tax payer dollars, that he became a "success." Bush then profited from selling his share of the team, which helped him re-launch his political career, when he beat the popular Ann Richards in the race for governor of Texas.


C. 2000 Election campaign--Bush promised "compassionate conservatism" and to return "honor" to the White House--and still lost the popular election to Albert Gore. The "Brooks Brothers" riot shut down the recount in Dade County (Miami) Florida, and the Supreme Court, in Bush v. Gore, decided that the recount should end, as well--in a 5-4 decision, along party lines.


D. George W. Bush Administration Before 9/11--largely ineffectual, in part because Bush himself was largely absent from the White House, on vacation--including the whole month of August of 2001--even after he received a briefing from his intelligence team on August 6 titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US"

Monday, December 5, 2011

Weekly Assignment 14

The Montgomery Bus Boycott, while not the event that sparked the Civil Rights Movement, remains an extremely important event. After reading the account of Rosa Parks decision, compare it to the story of Claudette Colvin. What reasons were given for choosing Mrs. Parks? Was this the right decision, or should the boycott leaders have simply chosen Colvin? Do you think Ms. Colvin would have made a good boycott focal point in 1953? Why--or, why not?

Weekly Assignments Compendium: Weekly Assignment 1-13


History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Weekly Assignment #1
Due Date: September 2, 2011


            The Black Robe, although a work of fiction, is based upon events that actually happened—as chronicled in a popularly known as Jesuit Relations. You can find an electronic version of part of this series at this link: http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/relations/relations_01.html, or from the link on the class blog (http://themesinamericanhistory.blogspot.com). After reading the section entitled “The Conversion of the Savages Who Were Baptized in New France,” compare it with the conversion account in Black Robe. What are the points of similarity, and what are the differences? “The Conversion of the Savages …” is what historians call a primary source, while Black Robe is a work of fiction. Which one do you think is a more accurate depiction of the past—and why?

            Your answer should fill at least 2 machine produced pages, using a conventional font, twelve-point type, and one-inch margins all around the paper. This should be handed in at the beginning of class on Friday, September 2.




History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Weekly Assignment #2
Due Date: September 8, 2011
            Describe the dramatic expansion of the British empire in North America in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. What role did the South Atlantic System play? Your answer to this question should cover at least two full pages, with conventional 12-point font.

History 1200
Main Themes in US History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Written assignment #3
Date due: September 16, 2011




            Historians who study immigration have long argued over the importance of “push” factors and “pull” factors in prompting immigration from Europe to the Americas. The push factors would be things like changes in landholding patterns, the evolution of industrialization, and the changing religious, political, and social climate on the European continent, while the pull factors would include the opportunity for economic advancement, the promise of religious freedom, and the promise of a less rigid social structure. In your judgment, and based upon the class lectures and your reading of the textbooks, which push factors are most important? Which pull factors are most important? Is one specific factor more important than the others? Why? Your answers should take the form of a 2-3 page, double-space, machine produced paper, with conventional 1 inch margins and a 12 point font. This assignment is due on September 16.

History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Weekly Assignment #4
Due Date: September 23, 2011

            The lectures and readings this week emphasized both the freedom created by the American Revolution, and the restrictions on freedom put in place as the revolution ended, and a new government was put in place. Was the United States a more free society after the Revolution? Who enjoyed the greatest freedoms—and who had the fewest freedoms. Please give specific examples from the class lectures and from your readings for the class

History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Weekly Assignment #5
Due Date: September 30, 2011

            The lectures, the documentary Tecumseh’s Vision, and the readings this week emphasized both the freedom created by the opening of the West, and the conflicts with Native peoples that continued white settlement created on the “frontier.” Was this conflict inevitable? Was the result (white victory, Native defeat) inevitable, as well? Please give specific examples from the class lectures and from your readings for the class. Your essay should fill at least 2 (and possibly 3) pages of printer paper, with conventional 1 inch margins, and is due at the beginning of class on September 30, 2011

 History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Weekly Assignment #6
Date Due: February 24, 2011


            Read Frederick Douglass' speech "What to the Slave in the Fourth of July" (found on pages 274-276 of your document reader, or by following this link http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h2927t.html), and then answer the following question:

How did Douglass make effective use of the Declaration of Independence to confront white Americans with their shortcomings? What sort of imagery did Douglass use, and how effective do you think his speech was?

History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Weekly Assignment #7
Date Due: October 7, 2011


Historians have long debated whether conflict between the two American societies, North and South, was inevitable, or that could have been avoided. Many of the arguments about inevitability maintain that the two societies had too many differences not to come into conflict, while those who maintain that conflict could have been avoided argue that political compromise had maintained peace since the nation had been established. Which side of the argument do you believe is more valid? Why?
History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Written assignment #8
Due date: October 28, 2011


            What was the purpose of Reconstruction? Why did Reconstruction go through several different phases? Was one phase more successful than others—and was one phase less successful than the others? Why was this so?

            The answers to the questions posed above should be addressed in a 2-3 page paper, double spaced in a 12-point font, with conventional 1 inch margins. This assignment is due at the beginning of class on Friday, October 28

History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Written assignment #9
Due date: November 4, 2011

Much of the focus of the changes in work life concentrate upon men, but women began working outside of the home in larger numbers during the time after the American Civil War, as well. After reading the excerpt of the essay “Studies of Factory Life: Among the Women”  from volume 62 of the Atlantic Monthly (courtesy of Google Books), discuss what this account of female workers’ lives reveal about the lives of their children in a 2-3 page paper, double-spaced, with conventional 1 inch margins and a conventional 12-point font, due Friday, November 4.
History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Written assignment #10
Due date: November 9, 2011

Read the 1892 People's (Populist) Party Platform, and then answer the following questions: What are the key planks of the People's Party platform? Which of these planks depart most from the major party positions (Republican Party and Democratic Party) of the time?

Your answer should fill at least two pages of 8 1/2 x 11 paper, in a conventional 12 point font, with one inch margins. This assignment is due on Wednesday, November 9, at the beginning of class.

History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Written assignment #11
Due date: November 18, 2011

For weekly assignment 11, read the excerpt from Robert S. and Helen M. Lynd's Middletown ( by clicking on the link), and then answer the following question.

Cars, movies, and advertising--were the residents of Middletown right to feel uneasy about the changes in their community? Why or why not?

History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Written assignment #12—Plus a bonus
Due date: November 18, 2011
Although the New Deal did not end the Great Depression, the policies it promoted about the use of government spending to "prime the pump" of the economy is the reason that government spending on the war effort did. Why was there so much resistance to spending on domestic programs, but no resistance to spending on the war effort? You should find more than one answer for this question.

In addition, you may choose to substitute (or add) this assignment. With the Thanksgiving holiday, and the time away from school, many choose to spend the time in front of the television or at the movie theater (the reviews of Clint Eastwood's new film J. Edgar have been very good, I hear). If you intend to do either, and choose to write a review of the movie that places it in its historical context, you may hand that in sometime before the end of the semester. You may want to consult this list of 100 movies reviewed by historians before venturing to the video store or checking your Netflix queue.

History 1200
Main Themes in American History
Instructor: Gregory Miller
Written assignment #13
Due date: December 2, 2011
Was the Vietnam War necessary? Was it a tragic blunder, a noble cause, or a disguised form of anti-democratic imperialism? How did it affect the American people and the American presidency

Sunday, December 4, 2011

America's Second Reconstruction


I) The Beginning of the Civil Rights Movement

To speak of a "beginning" of the Civil Rights Movement is something of a misnomer; for African Americans, the "beginning" of the civil rights movement dates from the end of slavery, when agitation for the extension of poltical rights began. This struggle moved on and off the radar screen of white historians
A) New Deal – from 1935-1936, African Americans were an important part of the “New Deal Coalition,” which demanded, like other members of that coalition (white ethnics, labor, etc.) made demands upon the government which they expected would be met.

B) 1943 March on Washington – although this march never really took place, the fact that the President (FDR) reacted by creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) was a victory for African American activists.

C) NAACP – from the outset of the New Deal, the NAACP had been pursuing a number of lawsuits in order to overturn the practice of “separate but equal” that had been institutionalized since Plessy v. Ferguson.


1) Brown v. Board of Education – in 1954, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in a case in which an African American parent had sued the Topeka (KS) board of education over the maintenance of separate schools for white and black students. The Court agreed with plaintiff Brown that separate school systems were inherently unequal, and directed that the practice be ended with “all deliberate speed.”

II) Southern White Reaction – Brown v. Board of Education has long been held as the beginning of the of the modern civil rights movement; but what the decision really signaled was the recognition on a part of some whites in government that African Americans should be accorded full rights as citizens. Not all whites were willing to recognize this fact, however, inside or outside of government.

A) Massive Resistance – the vow on the part of most southern white politicians to resist any and all efforts on the part of the federal government to integrate southern institutions.


1) Little Rock Arkansas – one of the earliest integration efforts was at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. Central High School was, to this point, attended largely by white working-class students (the integration of working-class schools is a practice that would be repeated around the country—including places like Boston). The governor of Arkansas, Orville Faubus, promised to resist the federal government order to integrate Little Rock schools. A huge crowd of whites turned out to jeer and threaten and throw rocks at the ten African American students who attempted to enter the school the first day. Reluctantly, President Eisenhower called out the 101st Airborne Division to ensure that students in Little Rock could attend school.



2) University of Mississippi – rioting broke out, with whites going on a rampage that again had to be quelled by the 101st Airborne, when James Meredith attempted to enroll at the University.

3) University of Alabama – George C. Wallace proclaimed that he would stand in the school house door to prevent any African American students from enrolling at the university—which he did, although he quickly stepped aside once his point had been made.

III) African American Action – the white reaction of massive resistance did not come mainly from government action, but from the pressure that African Americans, mainly young people (college and high school students), placed on the government to live up to the promise of equal opportunity.

A) Lunch counter sit-ins

1) Greensboro, NC – Greensboro was a city that prided itself on its progressive race relations; when 4 North Carolina A & T freshmen—Ezell Blair, Jr., David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain—decided to sit at the Woolworth’s lunch counter on February 1, 1960. The next day, these four were joined by twenty more; and eventually hundreds more (including a contingent of white female students from the nearby North Carolina Women’s College)

(a) Inspired black students throughout the south to similar actions.

2) Nashville, TN – led by students from the American Baptist Theological Seminary and Fisk University like John Lewis, Marion Berry, and Diane Nash, who were in turn led by a northern born black minister named James Lawson, who was committed to using Gahndian non-violent methods to foster social change.

3) Atlanta University – the “Black Ivy League;” led by Lonnie King and Julian Bond, who attempted to integrate public facilities in Atlanta; group was quickly arrested and they spent most of the day in jail—but this action turned middle-class blacks into freedom fighters.

B) Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) – at a meeting on April 16, 1960 in Raleigh, NC SNCC was formed; decided to remain independent from other civil rights organizations like NAACP, CORE, and SCLC.

C) Freedom Rides (1961)

1) Nonviolent confrontations – attempt to integrate interstate bus transportation

(a) Birmingham, AL –1st bus was allowed to leave but the KKK firebombed the bus on the highway, and the passengers were beaten as they tried to escape the inferno, until the US Marshall accompanying them drew his pistol and fired it into the air; 2nd bus of riders was set upon the group of whites at the bus station in Birmingham, and were allowed to beat passengers for five minutes before police showed up (by pre-arrangement).

(b) Mississippi – less violence then in Alabama, but the passengers were arrested and charged with “inflammatory riding,” saddled with high bails and eventually with unreasonably long jail terms (some even served time at Parchman Farm)

D) Montgomery bus boycott (1955)

1) Rosa Parks – Mrs. Parks was much more than the popularly portrayed old woman who was tired from a day at work; she was secretary of the local NAACP chapter, and had had regular run-ins with the Montgomery Bus Company over her treatment on the buses.

2) E.D. Nixon – Nixon was an official in the local chapter of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the president of the NAACP chapter; at the beginning of the boycott, he sought out all the local black ministers to lead the boycott, feeling that this would make it seem less radical to other blacks; he first asked the new minister at the Third Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, who declined; after all other ministers also declined, Nixon was able to persuade King to assume the responsibility.

(a) Nixon and others coordinated the car pool service, which replaced the bus service in the black community; many of the drivers were college students who stayed home to provide the service

3) Martin Luther King, Jr. – feared about maintaining his new pastorate, with this high-profile task, and about the safety of his family (rightly, as it turned out, since shortly after his assuming leadership of the boycott his home was firebombed)

(a) After nearly a year, the Montgomery Bus Company capitulated, and agreed to remove the boards that segregated the riders.

(b) Result of the success of the boycott guided King into a new role

E) Albany (GA) Movement (1962) – an attempt by local African Americans to integrate public facilities, and to open bi-racial talks; the movement was led by SNCC until a local group called in King, which led to a sometimes bitter internal struggle. Albany police chief Laurie Pritchett restrained his officers from publicly abusing the protesters; the lack of conflict led to an overwhelming defeat.

F) Birmingham – after the lesson of Albany, King realized that he for nonviolent tactics to be successful, he needed a foil that would be more physically active than Pritchett.

1) Television – the violence of the Birmingham police, and their attack dogs and high-pressure hoses, repulsed much of the nation—and won a great deal of sympathy for the civil rights movement

2) Youth join the Movement – as more adults were arrested in Birmingham during the protests, King okayed the use of teenagers (and younger children) who faced Bull Connors’ police and dogs and fire hoses, which increased the impact for viewers on television.

3) “Letter from Birmingham jail” – King’s most famous writing distilled the aims of civil rights movement.

G) March on Washington – King’s “I have a Dream” speech, which was predated by a much angrier speech by SNCC leader John Lewis (which was less angry then it was originally intended, because the UAW’s Walter Reuther threatened to pull the union’s funding from the March).

H) Civil Rights Act (1964) – LBJ’s greatest moment, despite the rift it caused with former Senate colleagues.

I) Freedom Summer (1964) – the program created by SNCC to register black Mississippians to vote; recruited black and white college students, who were trained in nonviolent tactics at Miami University in Oxford in the spring of 1964.

1) White volunteers – SNCC first recruited a large number of white volunteers in 1963, in an early voter registration drive.

2) 1964 – more whites joined the effort; the hope of SNCC leaders was that by having prominent whites involved (including the son of California governor Pat Brown—Jerry Brown) there would be less danger for all involved

3) “Mississippi Burning” – three SNCC volunteers—one black and two whites—were kidnapped and murdered by the KKK

(a) Inordinate attention paid to the deaths of the white volunteers, which caused resentment among SNCC members; from this point white members are asked to leave the organization, and the black pride attitude becomes more prevalent.

J) Voting Rights Act (1965)

1) Selma – home to another reactionary racist, Sheriff Jim Clark; the police chief Wilson Baker maintained peace in the city early on—which hindered the voting rights campaign greatly.

(a) Decided to begin marching registrants to the Dallas County Courthouse, which Clark found provoking; Clark responded by ordering his deputies to beat protestors, despite the presence of television cameras.

(b) “Bloody Sunday” – March 7, 1965; Hosea Williams and John Lewis led marchers, who were met at the Pettis bridge by the combined force of the Dallas County deputies an the Alabama State Troopers, who descended upon the marchers with a rebel yell and club all marchers they could reach senseless; ABC interrupted the movie “Judgment at Nuremberg” (the trial of another group of racists) to broadcast footage of the carnage.

(c) Presidential address – LBJ addressed a joint session of Congress calling for the passage of the Voting rights act, and quoted the famous song of the Movement “We Shall Overcome.”

(d) March 21—march to Montgomery resumes; Wallace was called to Washington and given the “Johnson treatment.”

(e) Bill signed into law August 6, 1965.

IV) Poor People's Campaign

A. Marion Wright--the head of the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund suggested to King that only by providing more economic opportunities to poor people would true equality be achieved. King had himself been thinking in this same vein, and from this came the idea in late 1967 to launch the Poor People's Campaign. King planned for an initial group of 2,000 poor people to descend on Washington, D.C., southern states and northern cities to meet with government offïcials to demand jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage, and education for poor adults and children designed to improve their self-image and self-esteem.

B. Memphis Sanitation Strike (1968)--although the ostensible reason for the strike was the deaths of two sanitation workers in the previous weeks, sanitation workers in Memphis--all African American--suffered from discrimination, dangerous working conditions, and low pay--but for workers, it was also a struggle for simple human dignity

1. I AM A MAN--the strike began on February 11, 1968, and quickly attracted a number of veteran civil rights workers, including by early April Dr. Martin Luther King

2. Early morning, April 4--After giving a speech in Memphis in support of the strike, King returned to the Lorraine Motel, and was standing on the balcony at 6:00pm when he was shot and killed by James Earl Ray, a fugitive from the Missouri State Penitentiary.

C. Failure of the Poor People's Campaign

1. African American reaction to King's assassination--125 riots broke out in the days immediately following Dr. King's assassination--including Washington, D.C. and Chicago--but is also significant to note the cities that rioting did not take place.

a. Indianapolis
b. Detroit

2. Resurrection City--with King's right-hand-man taking over leadership of SCLC, the decison was made to go ahead with the campaign, but much of the momentum was lost with King's assassination--and what little momementum there was was lost when Robert Kennedy was himself was assassinated just after midnight on June 5, 1968.

V) Conclusion

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Weekly Assignment 13

Was the Vietnam War necessary? Was it a tragic blunder, a noble cause, or a disguised form of anti-democratic imperialism? How did it affect the American people and the American presidency?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

America and the War in Vietnam


A)   Vietminh and the OSS

1)     Ho Chi Minh – Ho was a Vietnamese nationalist who admired the works of Marx, and wanted to establish a socialist state in his country

2)     Vietminh armed forces – with military supplies from the US, the Vietminh fought an effective guerilla war against the Japanese.

B)   Japanese surrender – when the Japanese surrendered, the Vietminh expected the US to continue to support them in their effort to establish an independent country

II)               French attempt to re-colonize – the Vichy government (the government which controlled France during the Nazi occupation of that country) had surrendered to the invading Japanese, but many French rubber plantation owners had in fact cooperated with the Japanese, and were allowed to maintain their property.

A)   Vietminh resistance – not surprisingly, the Vietminh resisted the attempted French re-colonization, and maintained their guerilla war against the occupying forces.

B)   US aid to France – the US provided some military assistance to their NATO alliance partners, in the form of credits and some military advisers

1)     Geo-political decision – the officials of the US government decided that it was more politically important, in our “Cold War” against the Soviet Union, to make nice with France in their struggle to re-assert colonial control, than to ally with a small, insignificant country with which we had no economic interest, nor any real political interest.

C)   French military offensive

1)     1946 – while the Vietminh were still expecting the US to side with them in the dispute, the French forces in Vietnam were able to drive the Vietminh forces out of most of the cities in the country

D)   French military defeats – after their initial victories against the Vietminh, the French suffered a series of devastating defeats; in response, the French government changed military commanders in the country.

1)     “The light at the end of the tunnel” – soon after taking command of French forces, commander Gen. Henri Navarre declared that “Now we can see victory clearly, like the light at the end of the tunnel.”  That is not the last time that phrase is heard in relation to conflicts in Vietnam.

2)     Dien Bien Phu – in the jungle near this small hamlet, a large French force was surrounded by Vietminh forces, and after an extensive two-month siege, the Vietminh forced the French survivors to surrender on May 7, 1954.

3)     Geneva Accords – at the insistence of the United States, the country of Vietnam was divided “temporarily” along the 17th Parallel, and nationwide elections to choose a government for a unified Vietnam were to be held in 1956

III)            Vietnam and the Domino Theory – the so-called Domino Theory was an ideology subscribed to by both liberals and conservatives; a politician who could be portrayed as “soft on communism” effectively signed their own political death warrant.

A)   Government of South Vietnam – largely a paper tiger, if not a myth.  The government in South Vietnam never enjoyed any widespread popular support; if it were not for the millions and eventually billions of dollars that the US poured in to the country, it would have collapsed of its own inertia long before 1975, when the North Vietnamese Army finally rolled into Saigon.  As a secret government study conducted by the Pentagon, and leaked as the famous “Pentagon Papers,” the “government” of South Vietnam was largely a creation of the United States government.

1)     Premier Diem – Vietnamese Catholic, he organized a “national referendum” that led to the creation of the Republic of Vietnam.  He then won a rigged election to head that government, and maintained control only with US support (eventually, that support from the US amounted to over $1 million a day)

(a)  Diem’s only support in the country come from other Vietnamese Catholics (a very small percentage of the population, by the way), and other Vietnamese who had collaborated with the French

2)     US $$$ -- the United States was positive that given a choice, no country would want to pass up the political and economic advantages that could be provided by alliances with the US

3)     National Liberation Front – in December of 1960, the National Liberation Front was established by forces loyal to Ho in the south; they were popularly known in the US by the derogatory term given them by forces loyal to Diem in the south, Viet Cong (which became “VC” or “Charlie,” eventually, in US GI slang)

B)   Kennedy and Counterinsurgency – Kennedy was elected over Richard Nixon (barely) in part because of his promise to “close the window of vulnerability” that he claimed existed and threatened the security of the US.

1)     Counterinsurgency – the creation of a Special Forces branch in the Army, which supposedly would be able to respond to Communist aggression around the globe

(a)  “Green Berets” – to train South Vietnamese forces in techniques of counterinsurgency, and dry up the sea of support which the National Liberation forces swam in (an allusion to an idea Mao espoused, where he compared guerilla forces to fish in a sea, undetectable among other fish.

(b) Cowboys and Indians – the Vietnamese forces were an unconventional enemy that enjoyed widespread support among the people of the rural countryside—which in Vietnam, meant most of the people living in the country.

(c)  Lack of success – the lack of success that the South Vietnamese forces enjoyed in their counterinsurgency battles meant that more and more money and material was flowing into the country from the US, as were more and more military advisors, to “support” the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN).

IV)            Escalation of US Involvement

A)   Gulf of Tonkin – the USS Maddox was allegedly “attacked” while offshore from North Vietnam, in disputed seas (North Vietnam claimed the area as sovereign territory, while the US maintained that the waters were international waters).

1)     Gulf of Tonkin Resolution – after the alleged attack, President Johnson asked Congress for, and received, authorization from Congress to “take all necessary measures to repel armed attacks against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”

(a)  Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed unanimously in the House, and only two dissenters in the Senate (both of whom lost in the next election that they faced.
B)   Da Nang

1)     USMC – on March 8, 1965, a large force of Marines landed at Da Nang to reinforce an airfield there; by March 13 the Marine expeditionary force was joined by 40,000 other troops, and by late June of that year the Army commander in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, had received authorization to commit American forces to battle wherever he saw fit.

C)   The Undeclared War – as more troops were committed, soldiers and Marines from the United States began to assume more of the responsibility of the fighting in this undeclared war

1)     Search and destroy missions – troops from the US forces engaged in the small troop tactic of so-called Search and Destroy missions, where platoons ventured into the jungles of Vietnam, looking for enemy to engage and hopefully kill, or at least locate so that air support could be called in.  Most of the time, these patrols found nothing.  The fault of these tactics was, of course, that the enemy only engaged their pursuers at the time and place of their choosing

2)     The Air War – the US dropped four times the amount of bombs in Southeast Asia than were used by all belligerents during World War II; but this bombing campaign was relatively ineffective against an enemy that was fighting a low tech war anyway—there simply was not much infrastructure to destroy.

3)     Weekly body count – each Friday, the military released figures of casualties, which was how the “score” was kept.  Each week, the total number of casualties for the North Vietnamese Army and the National Liberation Front, which inevitably were higher than the combined totals for the United States and the ARVN—so we were winning the war, right?

4)     Selective Service – because of college student deferments, the burden of service in this war fell inordinately upon the working-class; in fact, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton (the three premier universities in the country) between them only had one alumnus die.  George W. attended Yale, drank his way through four years, and then conveniently “served” in the Air National Guard; Albert Gore, Jr. graduated from Princeton, and served in Vietnam—as a correspondent for Stars and Stripes, the newspaper written for members of the military.

D)   Tet – Tet is the name for the Vietnamese New Year; after 1968 the word Tet is associated with the beginning of the end of US involvement in the war in Vietnam.

1)     “The light at the end of the tunnel” – in January 1968, Gen. Westmoreland declared that the end of the war, now three years along in the involvement of US forces, was at hand, that officers there were confident that they were able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

2)     The Tet Offensive – just after Westmoreland made his observance about the end of the war, the National Liberation Front launched its Tet Offensive.  This offensive caught the US and South Vietnamese forces completely by surprise, and NLF forces captured several cities in the south (including the center of religious life in Vietnam, Hue), and threatened to capture Saigon.  The NVA had coordinated an attack at a Marine camp called Khe Shanh at this time, and held it under siege for several weeks.


3)     Result – the effect of the Tet Offensive, from a military view, was a crushing defeat for the NLF and NVA; the US forces eventually defeated the combined force, and retook all of the lost territory; the NLF in particular was decimated.

(a)  The end of US involvement – it became obvious to even the most casual observers that the end of the war was no where close to happening; popular support for continued US involvement in the war began to shift dramatically from this point.


V. “Peace With Honor” and the 1968 Election

A)   LBJ—at the end of March, Johnson announced the “if nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve”—that he was withdrawing from the 1968 presidential race.

1)     “Clean for Gene”—US senator Eugene J. McCarthy, disenchanted with Johnson’s leadership on the war, decided to oppose Johnson for the Democratic nomination. In the New Hampshire primary, McCarthy ran an unexpectedly close second, thanks largely to his superior “ground game” staffed largely with college students, many of whom had “cleaned up” their image to campaign door-to-door in the state.

2)     RFK enters the race—John F. Kennedy’s younger brother, Robert, buoyed by the surge that the unknown McCarthy was enjoying against the despised incumbent Johnson, entered the race on March 16, 1968. Kennedy won several primaries after entering the race, including California on the night he was assassinated (June 4, 1968), but it was far from a foregone conclusion that he would have been nominated.

3)     Hubert H. Humphrey—the most traditionally liberal of the Democratic frontrunners—but Humphrey was burdened by being Johnson’s vice-president, and therefore tied to the war.

B) Nixon and the Southern Strategy—Nixon had closely observed the splintering of the Democratic Party coalition caused by the Civil Rights legislation, and the success that George C. Wallace enjoyed in the North in 1964, heaping scorn on “pointy-headed intellectuals” and voicing concerns about the rising crime rate and government intrusions into private life. Nixon and his vice-presidential running mate, Spiro Agnew (governor of Maryland—again, attempting to appeal to Southern whites), spent much of the campaign claiming to speak for the “Silent Majority,” talking about crime—and inviting conflict with long-haired protestors.


C) George Wallace—running this time at the head of the American Independent Party, with former Air Force general Curtis LeMay, Wallace remained a lightening rod for protestors. Nixon feared the number of working-class whites Wallace might siphon from his Southern Strategy, but it seems that he garnered just about as many from Humphrey.








D) “The Whole World is Watching”—the chant of protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in August 1968. Much of the American part of that world was watching—and hoping that the Chicago cops would hit the protestors harder with their nightsticks. Locally, Mayor Richard J. Daley’s popularity went up with his police department’s handling of the protest.


E) 1968 Election—despite a last minute surge by Humphrey, begun when he turned over the reigns of the campaign to the UAW, Nixon won the popular vote by 7/10ths of one percent (although his electoral victory was substantial)






VI. …The War Goes On
A. Vietnamization—Nixon proposed that the war should be carried on by the South Vietnamese—with American support and assistance. South Vietnamese officers saw this as a chance to enrich themselves, as American oversight waned.

B. Cambodia—to interrupt the North Vietnamese supply chain into the south, a secret invasion into Cambodia was undertaken in late 1969. When the secret leaked out in 1970, this sparked campus protests around the country, including Kent State and Jackson State, where students protesters were fired upon and killed by National Guardsmen.

C. “Peace is at Hand”—Henry Kissinger returned home from negotiations in Paris with promises of peace just in time for the 1972 presidential election.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The End of the Hot War--and the Beginning of the Cold War




I) End of the Hot War

A)    Victory in Europe – pretty much a forgone conclusion after the successful landing at Normandy; Allied forces were able to advance on German forces from left and right.

B)    Victory in Japan – the beginning of the Atomic Era

1)      Atomic Bomb – the Manhattan Project was able to produce three atomic bombs by the summer of 1945

2)      Why Japan?

(a)    Payback to Japanese for Pearl Harbor, Bataan (death march), other atrocities

(b)   Limit the amount of territory that would have to be surrendered to the Soviet Union for its “sphere of influence” in Asia

(c)    Limit number of American casualties – fears of massive casualties from an invasion of Japan.

(d)   Racist feeling toward Japanese, which also fueled earlier movement to use of internment camps.

3)      “Spheres of influence” – agreement between FDR, Churchill, and Stalin that would provide Soviet Union control of the countries immediately were surrounding the country so that the Soviets could maintain a buffer to decrease the likelihood that they would be invaded.

4)      Soviet entry into Pacific – the Soviet Union was scheduled to begin its role in the PTO by August 8

5)      Hiroshima – bomb dropped on August 6, 1945; 80,000 people burned to death instantly, tens of thousands died soon afterward from the effects of radiation; five square miles were leveled by the blast

6)      Nagasaki – bomb dropped August 8, 1945; 35,000 were killed instantly; 1 ½ square mile was leveled.

7)      Surrender – surrender formally signed on September 2, 1945—VJ Day

C)    Alternatives – Smithsonian controversy over the Enola Gay display; most veterans of the war do not want to hear of any alternatives to dropping the bombs, because they believe that dropping the bombs saved their lives.  There was strenuous opposition on the part of the generals advising Truman, however, who did not believe the intentional slaughter of civilians, which was clearly going to be the case in the two targets chosen in Japan, was any way to conduct a war (they wanted to limit civilian casualties to “collateral damage”).

1)      No invasion was planned until November 1945

2)      Japan had signaled a willingness to surrender months beforehand.

D)    Allied fallout

1)      Death of FDR – dynamics between the leaders of Great Britain, Soviet Union, and United States changed greatly with death of FDR; Truman less confident of abilities than FDR, nor did he initially inspire much confidence.  Truman was much more likely to follow the lead of Churchill, who was vehemently anti-Communists; Truman was anti-Communist himself, and distrusted Stalin greatly.

I)       The Cold War in Europe

A)    Truman and Communism

1)      Distrust of Stalin – although FDR had developed a relationship of statecraft with Stalin, Truman did not develop the same level of trust as his predecessor; in fact, Truman believed that Stalin was one of the most dishonest, evil men that he had ever known (a fact that is hard to argue with, certainly).

(a)    Cancellation of Soviet Lend-Lease Aid – at war’s end, Soviets denied any further access to lend-lease aid, which shut off their access to US military hardware.

2)      Influence of Winston Churchill – Churchill had never put the level of trust in Stalin that FDR did, so when Truman became distrustful of Stalin, Churchill was there to feed those fears, which he shared with Truman.

(a)    “Iron Curtain” speech – in a speech at a tiny college near St. Louis, Churchill delivered his famous Iron Curtain speech, where he encouraged isolating Western European countries from those under the domination of the Soviet Union.

3)      Nuclear terror – the US insisted, since it was the lone country that could possibly hold the interests of the whole world ahead of its own self-interests (or that its self-interests alone were of concern to the rest of the world), insisted that this country, alone, should control these new weapons of mass destruction.

(a)    Soviets successfully test Atomic bomb in 1949 – the acquisition of nuclear technology by the Soviet Union fed fears of the red menace at home.  Part of this hysteria led to the construction of backyard bomb shelters, and the identification of public buildings that could also serve as temporary bomb shelters.

(b)   Escalation by the US – after the Soviet Union acquired nuclear capability, the US went ahead with the development of the more powerful Hydrogen bomb, which had ten times the killing power of the atomic bomb.

4)      Policy of containment – an increased confidence on the part of the military and diplomatic elite after the US successes in the second World War led to a belief that the military might, or the threat of the use of military might, of the US could “contain” the influence of the Soviet Union as it was constituted in 1946.

(a)    George F. Kennan – was the diplomat stationed in Moscow who came up with many of the theories, and the term, which we now refer to as constituting the policy of containment

(b)   Truman Doctrine – the Truman doctrine went hand-in-glove with the policy of containment. The Truman doctrine pledged to aid countries in their fight against “communist aggression.”

(i)     Plan was formulated in response to an ongoing civil war in Greece, which pitted forces that had fought against fascists in the world war (led by a number of communists) against those forces that had collaborated with the fascists forces (which of course was anti-communist, and therefore backed by the US government).  The aid the anti-communist forces received helped them to prevail in the struggle.

(c)    Marshall Plan – named after Truman’s secretary of state, Gen. George C. Marshall; was a $16 billion dollar plan (that’s $140 billion in today’s dollars) plan for the reconstruction of Europe.  Money was even offered to countries in the so-called Soviet bloc, if they would agree to strengthen economic ties with the West.  This plan worked great for countries with strong social democratic traditions (like Great Britain, France), but it mainly strengthened the grip of right-wing dictators around the world.

II)    Cold War in Asia – The Cold War was by definition a global conflict, and the United States took a much more active role in Asia after the World War than it ever had before—perhaps because the Soviet Union, like the United States, also was a Pacific Ocean power.

A)    Fall of China – the Red Army of Mao tse-Chung prevailed over the forces of Chang Kai-shek in 1949, and Chang and his followers were forced to withdraw to the island of Formosa, just off the Chinese coast.  Chang was a venal, corrupt leader, who lost this war despite the aid that he was provided by the United States; however, in domestic politics, Truman was blamed for the “loss” of China, and these domestic pressures in turn prompted and reinforced Truman’s commitment to militarily aid anti-communist governments in Asia

1)      NSC-68 – a proposal by the National Security Council to triple the amount of money that the United States spent on defense.  This increased defense spending in fact acts as a sort of welfare program for selected parts of the US industrial complex (mainly aeronautics, but also some other manufacturing concerns).

B)    The “Domino Theory” – the need to oppose communism anywhere and everywhere it arose was fed by the fear that if communism were tolerated in one country, it would spread country by country, like dominoes toppling one after another, until the threat undermined the freedoms of the people of the United States.

C)    Korea – Kim IL Sung attempted to reunite his country, which had been portioned at the insistence of the United States along the 38th parallel.  The US suspects that the Soviet Union is responsible for this intrigue, and immediately begins aiding anti-communist forces in the South, both with material and men.  After some initial difficulties, the US military operation after a brilliantly executed flanking maneuver utilizing a large scale amphibious assault was quite successful, and the combined forces are able to push the so-called North Koreans back well above the 38th parallel—in fact, in direct contradiction of the orders of his commander in chief, Douglas McArthur pushed the North Korean forces above the area claimed by China as its border with North Korea—at which time the Chinese Red Army joined the fight against the Allied forces.  The US was initially overwhelmed, but eventually recovered, and the fighting bogged down at the end of the year about where it had started, at the 38th parallel.

D)    Wars to end colonial domination – Because of the focus upon the battle against communism, the US government tended to support the re-establishment of colonial rule around the globe, rather than the indigenous populations which looked to the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution for inspiration.

1)      The French in Indochina

(a)    Opposed by the Vietminh – the Vietminh, led by Ho Chi Minh, had been supported by the US during the war against Japan, even though the OSS was aware that Ho was a communist.  This attitude quickly changed after the conclusion of the war, however, and the United States supported France’s efforts to re-establish control over the Indochina peninsula.  Because of the strong resistance of the Vietminh, the US had to increase the support it furnished the French throughout the early 1950s, even going so far as providing advisors.  In 1954, however, a large French force was surrounded near a little hamlet called Dien Bien Phu, and forced to surrender. The US quickly stepped in here, and declared that the country of Vietnam should be divided along the 49th Parallel, into North and South Vietnam, until a plebiscite could be held to choose a popularly elected government.  Former collaborators ran the south with the French, some of who had even converted to Catholicism.  The promised election never happened.