Sunday, March 22, 2009

USH21: 1973

Yes, I'm spending an entire post on one year of US history. And not even one of the exciting years of the sixties (like 1966 or 1968), but a year in the early seventies. And why? Since my original question was how we got from the sixties to the eighties, everything that I've seen indicates that 1973 was the pivotal year between the decades. In fact, I think that 1973 may be one of the key years of the 20th century, at least as far as the US goes.

Five very important things happened in 1973, and most of them are still having an effect now.

The first was the end of the Vietnam war. The Paris Peace Accords, officially ending the war, were signed on January 27th. By the end of March all of the US troop were out of Vietnam. To a large degree, this was a victory for the anti-war movement.

Along with this was the continuing revelations about the Nixon administration's involvement in what is usually referred to as the Watergate affair. While the actual break-in and arrests occurred in 1972, the general public was unaware of the ramifications of Watergate at this time and, in fact, Nixon was re-elected in 1972 by a large margin and carried every state in the Union except Massachusetts (which led to a lot of 'Don't Blame Me, I'm From Massachusetts' bumperstickers being displayed during 1973). Things began unraveling in January of '73, with the trial and conviction of G Gordon Liddy and E Howard Hunt for planning the burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Complex in Washington, DC, as well as the trial of Daniel Ellsberg on charges of leaking the Pentagon papers. (See my post of 3/18/09.) During Ellsberg's trial it came out that his psychiatrist's office was burglarized--by the same folks that were involved with the Watergate break-in, all of whom worked with the Committee to Re-Elect the President (also known as CREEP). Slowly but surely it became apparent that their orders came from the top. As the investigation unfolded, resignations and firings begin occurring at top levels of the government. In June, John Dean told the Watergate investigators that he had talked with Nixon about the cover-up multiple times. In October when Archibald Cox tried to subpeona Nixon, Nixon told Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox--and Richardson resigned rather than do the firing. Nixon then told William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, and Ruckelshaus resigned. Finally Robert Bork did the dirty deed. The firings infuriated Congress and are one of the main things that led to articles of impeachment being brought against Nixon and Nixon's resignation in 1974. Also in 1973 Vice-President Spiro Agnew resigned after being charged with money laundering and tax evasion. In 1973 America learned what a corrupt administration was. (And, of course, this was the year that Richard Nixon announced "I am not a crook!") The good news was that the American people also learned that we could get rid of top level politicians who thought they could get away with anything.

More important (for us now anyway) than the end of the Vietnam War or the revelations of Watergate, was the recession of 1973-1974. This was the worst recession in the US since the great depression and it was accompanied by a stock market crash that it took the US twenty years to completely recover from. The roots of the depression were in Nixon's decision to take the US off of the gold standard and the subsequent collapse of the Bretton Woods agreements (which I talked about in my post of 3/18/09) as well as the continuing inflation. As I will detail in future posts, the recession had a significant and expanding effect on the national outlook. I believe this is key in understanding the transition from the 60s to the 80s. It led to a major shift in economic and corporate policies which is still unfolding.

Compounding this was the October Oil Embargo. The embargo came out of the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war between Israel, and Egypt and Syria. Arab nations were upset about US support for Israel and refused to sell oil to the US. This led to the first energy crisis in the US, complete with gasoline rationing and a December truck drivers strike. It also led to a real search for energy alternatives, many of which we are only rediscovering now. But it made the on-going economic situation worse, fueling and lengthening the recession.

A final event, which occurred in September of 1973, was the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile. While this had much less impact on most Americans than the stuff above, it had an impact that was most significant in retrospect. The coup, which the US backed, led to a repressive regime being installed. Although there is a documented history of US interference in the governments of Latin American countries, when documents revealing the US involvement in the coup were declassified in the 1990s it was a revelation for many. The US had always claimed that the problem it had with Communism was that it was not the legitimate will of the people; however, when the people actually elected a Communist leader, the US incited his overthrow. There is evidence that Nixon ordered the CIA to make sure Allende was deposed.


Quote of the Day: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves." — Henry Kissinger

References:
Many, many Wikipedia articles (including ones on 1973, the Paris Peace Accords, the Watergate Scandal, the 1973–1974 stock market crash, the 1973 Oil Crisis, and the 1973 Chilean coup d'├ętat)

4 comments:

SoapBoxTech said...

A worthy year upon which to devote an entire post. Personally I think 1973 might be the most important year in human history.

SoapBoxTech said...

Interesting period geo-politically too, I agree. I am just finishing up a book about Richard Helms, which spends a lot of time talking about Watergate and Chile.

Personally, I think the quote from Kissinger that you include contains the basis of the change to a `me` oriented population. So many of our "leaders" share that belief that many issues are above consideration by the masses and see ANY societal organization as a means by which to control those masses. The 60`s had witnessed the mass consumption of televisions, and a surge in programming for those televisions. This visual media provided the most powerful, yet subtle, method by which to market anything to the masses, be it products or ideas. And it became clear that focusing people`s attention on themselves was the most powerful way to convince them to part with their savings...to be drawn to credit rather than savings. As such it is no small wonder that Big Business, Big Finance (Banking), Big Industry, Big Media and Big Government all began to crawl into bed together.

So I`m looking forward to your upcoming posts about the recession of this time frame and how you see it factoring into that (negative?) change to me-ism. I think I likely agree.

MoonRaven said...

Thanks for your comments. Your analysis of the role of the media in the general placating of the masses is insightful.

As for where I'm going with the stuff on the recession--it won't be in my next few posts--I have a couple more to finish off the decade and then I will be writing post on the 80s and 90s--before I write a recap of the economic history of the twentieth century (that's a preview of coming attractions) where I will pull it all together. Also, as you will see in one of my upcoming posts, I didn't think the 'me' focus of the seventies was altogether a bad thing--it was where things went from there that dismayed me.

SoapBoxTech said...

I agree that the "me" focus of the 70's, in itself, was not altogether a bad thing. It's just that, in terms of much of the general public, it was not self generated focus nor was it balanced. It was media-propagated and/or fed by pharmaceuticals. I think this is why the ecological and social initiatives tended to fizzle out, generally speaking.