The Political situationThe Vietnam war and the black people`s position in the society were the biggest issues in politics in the USA in the sixties. The whole nation was interested in the outcome of these questions.
The young John F. Kennedy was elected, with minimal margin, as a president in 1960. He stood for something new and fresh in American politics. He said the famous words: Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country, and with these words he raised an appeal to the youth in the country, to commit to the social debate in politics. Kennedy`s appeal to the modern generation and the younger style of his presidency indeed not only attracted new groups but reflected new attitudes and forces in American life.
After winning the Second World War, the USA saw it as their mission to fight for liberalism and democracy all over the world. The Cold War against the communist
regime of the Soviet Union led USA involvement in Vietnam. It was the longest battle the
USA fought, and it brought its biggest defeat both politically
military. This made the population lose much of their respect for
the authorities at
Pentagon and the White House. The Vietnam War was the reason for an
politically polarization in the USA. In American history, we have to
go back to the
1860`s to find such a condition of political disharmony in the nation.
other wars the USA had been involved in this war brought down the consensus about foreign affairs, which had existed in since the Cold War started.
Many people couldn't see the reason for sending so many soldier to fight on foreign soil for a suspect cause that had so little to do with the USA as a nation. About 3 million American soldiers were in Vietnam, and the official death reports say that 58.000 American soldiers lost their lives. Around 10% of the Vietnamese population, around 4 millions, died. The Vietnam war also raised questions and problems. The number of black
people who were sent to Vietnam was a much higher number than it`s proportion of the population of the USA.
Another problem that the American society had to deal with was how they should treat the people who got problems when they returned from the war. The government did not succeed in helping the victims from the war. The situation between the races got so edgy that the government had to invest in integration and try to compensate for what the injustice the white man had done against the black man for centuries.
This part of the Civil Rights movement period lasted from 1954 to 1965, and is also called the black revolution. The period marks the transition from the liberal consensus in the fifties to the rebellious tendencies that came with the sixties. Brown vs. the Board of Education in Topeka in 1954 brought the fight for equal rights out of the court room and out to the churches and to the streets. For almost ten years colored people fought a lonely battle, but in 1964 white students from Berkeley University in California directly supported the black peoples fight for equal rights. Berkeley University was soon followed up by riots at other Universities throughout the country. The battle did cost a lot of lives, and particularly the killings of Malcolm X and later Martin Luther King raised big questions of how the USA formed it`s society.
The riots at the Universities in the middle of the sixties were not just a anti-racist movement, even if it started from the anti-racist battle. It also developed to a Free speech movement against the conservative authorities at the Universities. It gave the students a lot of experience in political work, which became very useful later on in the sixties. It also made the students more active in politics, when they saw that they were actualy able to get results from their work. This shows a big difference between the new thinking youth in the sixties and the conservative youth that grew up in the fifties.
In the history of the USA after the Second World War, the Sixties have a special significance. The politics that had sharpened ideas and events over the first half of the twentieth century were no longer relevant to the improved social conditions and the greater historical realism of the second half. Together with the improved social conditions the population of young people between 18 and 24 years old increased with 53% and made half of the American population under 30. The Government put out a big effort to get them into Colleges and Universities. But many also ended up in Youth Ghetto`s in the big cities. This made it possible to gather a lot of young people with the same ideas and interests, which led to various sub-cultures with new ideas popping up all over the country.
Politically it led to anti-war protest organizations, urban riots, black militancy and a revolt of youth against their elders were soon to create insurrectionary situations that also spread to Europe. For a time it persuaded many that a major change in the political and social order of the West was impending. An International New Left had formed. The war in Vietnam was one source of outrage and protest together with black civil rights. Major social changes were demanded and, though the more extreme demands of the time were never satisfied, much changed. Postwar political life took on a new direction and there were many serious observers who believed that the American way had been challenged and transformed for good.
The Sixties generation was a generation of experimental rebels. It began by rebelling against irritations close at hand, and before the decade was over the rebellion had spread to virtually all areas of American life. Most of all, this generation rebelled against the humdrum of middle-class life that annihilated the self in narrowness of vision and smallness of heart. In the end the rebellion of the sixties denied the very essence of Western civilization: liberalism, organization, morality, reason and deferred gratification.