Wednesday, March 18, 2009

USH20: Starting the Seventies

On a sunny May day in 1970 I was woken at the boarding school that I was attending by a house manager going around saying that they had declared war on the students. What I found out later was that four students were shot on May 4th during at protest at Kent State University in Ohio. This was followed by another shooting on May 14th at Jackson State College in Mississippi that killed two students (one of them a high school student). This was how the seventies started.

1970 was a year that seemed determined to prove the sixties were over. In January of that year the Beatles recorded their last song together and Diana Ross did her last concert with the Supremes. In February Jeffrey MacDonald killed his wife and kids and claimed it was done by a bunch of hippies on acid. Later investigators figured out that MacDonald had been reading about the Manson murders. In February the Chicago Seven were all found not guilty of conspiracy but five of them were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot.

In contrast to the successful moon landing in 1969, 1970 featured Apollo 13, a mission where it all went wrong (inspiring the quote "Houston, we have a problem")--fortunately everyone survived.

On the other hand, some new things began in the early 1970s. In April, 1970 the first 'Earth Day' was held, which helped launch the enviromental movement. In January, 1971, the first episode of All in the Family was shown on TV--a comedy that depicted real social issues.

Then in 1971, Richard Nixon made a number of changes to US economic policy. These were to have a significant effect on American economics. In response to inflation and a growing US trade deficit, on August 15th Nixon ordered the largest wage and price controls imposed since World War II. At the same time, he took the US off of the gold standard developed during the post WWII Bretton Woods Agreements, which led to a collapse of the agreements. Nixon supposedly spent more time worrying about when to make the announcement than he did on coming up with the plan.

In 1970 the US began an invasion of Cambodia--seeming to be widening the war. (In fact, the US had already been bombing Cambodia. Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his National Security Advisor, had begun secretly bombing the country in 1969. And we had been bombing Laos since 1964--secretly, of course.) The invasion wasn't successful and Congress ruled that it couldn't happen again without Congressional approval. It had become obvious to all that we were losing the war--and over the course of the early seventies, Nixon began withdrawing American troops, a tactic he called the "Vietnamization" of the war.

Just how messy the situation in Vietnam had been became apparent in 1971 with the publication of the "Pentagon Papers", secret documents that revealed the lies and duplicity that had accompanied the war. Although the Papers (which went as far back as the Truman administration) didn't cover the time since Nixon's election, they frightened Nixon and Kissinger enough that they tried to stop their publication. When the Supreme Court affirmed that Freedom of the Press covered the Papers, Nixon formed a small group to stop leaks from happening inside his administation. They were quickly nicknamed the 'plumbers', and their first assignment was to go after Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

These 'plumbers' would be the undoing of Nixon. But first, in 1972, he got himself re-elected.

Quote of the Day: "When I first arrived in Laos, I was instructed to answer all press questions about our massive and merciless bombing campaign in that tiny country with: 'At the request of the Royal Laotian Government, the United States is conducting unarmed reconnaissance flights accompanied by armed escorts who have the right to return if fired upon.'
"This was a lie. Every reporter to whom I told it knew it was a lie. Hanoi knew it was a lie. ... Every interested Congressman and newspaper reader knew it was a lie. ...
"After all, the lies did serve to keep something from somebody, and the somebody was us." - Jerome Doolittle

Kenneth Davis, Don't Know Much About History
Wikipedia, various articles (including Events of 1970 and the Nixon Shock)
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

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