The US and The World: Politics and Administration

Timeline: The US and the world, 1945-1989

Perspective: Politics and Administration

Important contextual information: US Government structure

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  • The Federal System
    • Washington DC = home to the federal government who deal with nationwide issues
    • Each state has  a government that deals with internal state affairs
    • Separation of powers= system which separates the federal government into 3 branches, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary in order to prevent the President from having too much power
  • The Executive = the President
    • Enforces laws
    • Deals with foreign affairs
    • Chooses government officials
    • Is Commander-in-Chief of the military
    • Appoints heads of state departments, called secretaries
    • Vice President = succeeds the President if he dies or resigns
    • The Bureaucracy = civil service
  • The Legislature = Congress
    • US parliament = Congress
    • The Lower House = the House of Representatives
    • The House of Representatives is elected based on state population, so bigger states have more congressmen
    • The Upper House = the Senate
    • Every state has 2 senators
    • Bills can come from the President, members of Congress or lobbyists who are paid by groups such as businesses, unions and farmers
    • A bill that passes is sent to the President who can then sign it into law or veto it
    • Congress can overturn the President’s veto if they have a 2/3 majority
  • The Judiciary = The Supreme Court
    • Ensures that all laws passed by the Federal and State governments are constitutional
    • Rulings are absolutely final
    • There are 9 Supreme Court judges who hold their seats for life
    • The head Supreme Court Justice is the Chief Justice
  • Checks and Balances
    • System in place to make sure that no one government branch has too much power
    • The President can veto laws passed by Congress
    • The Supreme Court can declare laws passed as unconstitutional
    • Congress can impeach a President and force them to resign
  • Changing the Constitution
    • The US Constitution can only be changed amendment which must be passed through both Houses of Congress and ¾ of states in a vote
    • There have been 27 amendments since 1789
  • Political Parties
    • Republicans = the Grand Old Party (GOP), favour conservatism and traditional institutions such as big businesses, stress individual initiative and gain
    • Democrats = social and economic issues such as education and healthcare

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  • US Presidents
  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933 – 45), Democrat
  2. Harry S. Truman (1945 – 53), Democrat
  3. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953 – 61), Republican
  4. John F. Kennedy (1961 – 63), Democrat
  5. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963 – 69), Democrat
  6. Richard M. Nixon (1969 – 74), Republican
  7. Gerald Ford (1974 – 77), Republican
  8. Jimmy Carter (1977 – 81), Democrat
  9. Ronald Reagan (1981 – 89), Republican

Cold War Phase One: 1945 - 72
  • Origins of the Cold War
    • 1941: The US was opposed to Communism but allied with the USSR during WW2
    • February 1945: Stalin, Winston Churchill and Roosevelt met at Yalta to make plans for the end of the war
    • They decided to divide Berlin into 4 areas under the control of the French, the USSR, the Americans and the British
    • They also agreed to hold free elections in Eastern Europe but Stalin never followed through on this
    • They argued over Poland and the rest of Germany 
    • July 1945: Stalin, Churchill and Truman (Roosevelt’s successor) met at Potsdam outside Berlin
    • They continued to argue over Germany and Poland
    • During the conference, Truman authorised the use of newly developed atomic bombs on Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    • Stalin, when he learned of this, was mad that Truman had not informed him of his plans
  • Communism in Eastern Europe
    • Stalin wanted total domination over the East
    • Stalin rigged elections and had opposition arrested, ensuring his success across East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania, Romania and Czechoslovakia
    • In the US, an already present fear of communism was increased by the development of what Winston Churchill described as an Iron Curtain between the West and the East
    • Poor conditions across Europe after WW2 lead to the establishment of many Communist parties 
  • The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan: 1947
    • 1947: the UK announced that they wouldn’t be able to support the Greek and Turkish governments against communist guerrillas any longer
    • Truman sent aid to Turkey and Greece and swore to support any governments battling a communist revolution
    • The Doctrine established a policy of containment, which aimed to stop the spread of communism
    • American Secretary of State George Marshall introduced his Marshall Plan, which gave billions of dollars’ worth of aid to Europe
  • The Berlin Crisis: 1948 - 9
    • Background: Germany had been divided between the French, the British, the Americans and the Russians
    • France, Britain and the US joined their areas together and Stalin established a Communist state in his soviet area
    • Berlin had also been split between the four but was located within Stalin’s soviet area of Germany
    • Stalin had to let the Allies into their zones through roads and air corridors within his area of Germany
    • June 1948: the deutschmark, a new currency, was introduced into the Allies’ West Germany and the Western zones of Berlin
    • Stalin feared that this would allow the Allied areas of Berlin to be more prosperous than the surrounding Soviet East Germany
    • He ordered the Berlin Blockade, closing roads and railways into West Berlin in an attempt to drive the West out of Berlin
    • The US launch Operation Vittles to fly supplies to West Berlin
    • The Berlin Airlift lasted 320 days with planes landing every 90 seconds with supplies at the peak
    • May 1949: the Soviets admit defeat and lift the blockade
    • 1949: NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was set up to co-ordinate the West’s defensive against Russia
    • Germany was officially divided into the Western Federal Republic of Germany and the Soviet Eastern German Democratic Republic
  • The Red Scare and McCarthyism: 1947 - 1954
    • 1947: Truman established the Federal Employee Loyalty Program to investigate and remove employees of the federal government who supported communism
    • The revival of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) turned the search for communists into a witch hunt
    • HUAC investigated film industry
    • HUAC interrogated actors, directors, producers and screenwriters, pressuring them to name communists in the industry
    • If people refused, they were added to a blacklist and studios were not allowed to hire them
    • The famous Hollywood Ten refused to speak and were sent to jail
    • Arthur Miller and Charlie Chaplin were among the 320 names blacklisted
    • 1948: Alger Hiss, a government employee, was accused of spying for the communists 
    • Hiss denied all allegations and was found not guilty, but was put in prison having been accused of lying to Congress 
    • 1949: The Soviets successfully tested atomic weapons and Mao Tse-tung lead a communist revolution in China, increasing anti-Communist sentiment in the US
    • 1950: HUAC discovered a network of spies including the scientist who had worked on Operation Manhattan (America’s atomic bomb programme)
    • 1953: American communists Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for giving atomic secrets to the Soviets
  • McCarthyism
    • 1950: Senator Joseph McCarthy exploited the nationwide communist paranoia in order to gain support in elections
    • He claimed to have a list of 205 communists working in the government but never produced evidence
    • The Republican Party and the FBI encouraged McCarthy
    • 1952: McCarthy used his growing popularity to ensure Eisenhower’s victory in the election
    • He exaggerated the presence of communism greatly and used the media to his advantage
    • People accused by McCarthy lost their jobs, regardless of whether they were actually innocent, and companies risked being blacklisted if they refused to fire suspects
    • McCarthy gained support but also countless enemies
    • 1954: McCarthy overstepped boundaries and accused the army of hiding communists
    • McCarthy was investigated, the Senate censured him(criticised him) and the Republican party withdrew their support, ending his career
  • The Korean War: 1950 - 53
    • 1945: Korea was a Japanese colony that was divided along the 38th parallel after WW2 between the USSR (north) and the US (south)
    • The south became the Republic of Korea and the north became the Communist People’s Republic of Korea under Kim Il Sung
    • June 1950: North Korea invaded the South
    • The US believed that Stalin was behind the invasion although it was likely the North acting on their own
    • The UN Security Council condemned the display of aggression
    • The UN sent a military force to defend South Korea, most men were from the US, under American General Douglas McArthur
    • The troops landed at Inchon behind North Korean lines
    • The UN troops moved quickly towards the Chinese border but were warned by the Chinese to come no closer to the Yalu River
    • The UN pushed forwards and the Chinese retaliated with 300,000 men, driving the UN back into Korea
    • MacArthur began criticising Truman’s tactics and broke the tradition of Generals being uncritical of their leaders, being replaced by General Matthew Ridgeway for his actions
    • The war front settled close to the original North-South border
    • November 1951: peace talks took place in Panmunjom
    • 1953: Eisenhower suggested that he would cross Chinese borders and use nuclear weapons, in order to push a peace agreement
    • Stalin’s death lead to a truce and the establishment of a De-Militarised Zone along the 38th Parallel, re-establishing a North-South border
    • In total, 2,500,000 people died in the war, including 33,000 Americans
  • East-West Relations in the 50s
    • 1953: Stalin was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev 
    • 1956: Khrushchev announced plans to co-exist peacefully with the West
    • Anti-communist protests in the UUSR’s satellite states increased but Khrushchev’s government relied on the support of these satellite governments so quickly crushed these protests
    • The US accepted that the East of Europe was under Soviet rule and would not intervene in Eastern affairs
    • Eisenhower was eager to negotiate with the Soviets instead of fighting
    • 1957: The launch of Sputnik I, Russia and the World’s first satellite, lead to criticism of Eisenhower for allowing a “missile gap” to develop
    • 1960: Eisenhower’s policies were further damaged when an American spy plane was spotted and shot out of the sky over the USSR
  • Second Berlin Crisis: 1960 - 1961
    • West Germany was economically sound in contrast with the much poorer East 
    • Nearly 3 million East Germans began to flee to West Berlin and then on to the rest of West Germany
    • These lost citizens angered Khrushchev and undermined the communist government
    • Khrushchev pressured the West to give him  West Berlin but Eisenhower refused
    • 1960: John F. Kennedy won the Presidential campaign - Khrushchev believed he was weak-willed and would give in to pressure
    • Khrushchev attempted to bully Kennedy into giving up Berlin but Kennedy refused
    • 13 August 1961: the Berlin Wall was built between East and West Berlin to stop people fleeing the Soviet East
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis: 1962
    • Cuba, off the coast of Florida, had been used by rich Americans as a holiday destination and the US sugar trade dominated the Cuban economy
    • 1959: Communist Fidel Castro overthrew Cuba’s dictatorship General Batista and took control of companies, including those owned by Americans
    • 1961: Kennedy agreed to help the Cubans overthrow Castro and landed 1500 men at the Bay of Pigs – they were easily defeated 
    • Castro asked Khrushchev for help against the US, who was happy to set up a base so close to US soil
    • 1962: Khrushchev secretly placed medium-range nuclear missiles on the island, which were within striking distance of major cities like Washington DC and New York
    • The CIA quickly realised that there was an increased number of Soviet ships going to Cuba and took pictures of the missile base under construction
    • Kennedy had the option to launch an air strike but opted instead to blockade or quarantine Cuba
    • The US Navy were sent to stop and search all ships headed to Cuba, and to turn away any boats found to have weapons on board
    • Kennedy sent his brother Robert with a message to the Soviets – if Khrushchev removed his missiles from Cuba, the US would also stay out of Cuba and take their troops out of Turkey
    • October 28 1962: Khrushchev, concerned by how out of control the crisis had become, agreed and withdrew from Cuba
    • Kennedy wanted to reduce the role of the military in the Cold War and established a direct hotline between the White House and the Russian Kremlin
    • 1963: The Test Ban Treaty banned the testing of weapons in the atmosphere, underwater and in space, but allowed testing underground

The Vietnam War, 1963 - 1973
  • US involvement in Vietnam
    • Communist Ho Chi Minh lead the Vietminh (nationalist organisation) in fights against French colonisation of Vietnam and then fought the Japanese when they occupied Vietnam during WW2 
    • After WW2, the Vietminh took control in the North and declared a communist state
    • The US pledged to help France recover Vietnam and by 1954 were paying 80% of France’s war costs, also sending advisors to the French
    • The US failed to recognise that while Ho Chi Minh was a communist, he was primarily a nationalist – they feared that he would implement communism in surrounding countries too, which became known as the Domino Theory
  • The Division of Vietnam
    • 1954: France was forced to surrender to the Vietnamese 
    • The Geneva Accords split Vietnam between the North and South until elections could be held, but they never happened
    • The US placed Vietnamese nationalist Diem in control of South Vietnam 
    • Diem was anti-communist and anti-Buddhist and was hated by many Vietnamese 
    • Ho Chi Minh ordered the Vietminh in the South to take action and they attempted to reunify the country, becoming known as the Vietcong
  • JFK’s attitude towards Vietnam
    • Kennedy agreed with the Domino Theory and upped the amount of financial and military aid for Vietnam
    • As the Vietcong grew in strength and numbers, they used the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos and Cambodia to gather supplies
    • 1963: anti-Diem protests, including that of a now famous monk who set himself on fire, spread throughout Vietnam
    • The US were fed images of riots and protests by the media and began to question Diem’s suitability as a leader
    • Diem was overthrown and murdered
    • Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and succeeded by Lyndon B Johnson
  • Johnson’s attitude towards Vietnam
    • Johnson was inexperienced in foreign affairs when he became President and believed he had to keep on Kennedy’s policies and advisors
    • He turned to Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk for help, both of whom were anti-communist and pushed for action in Vietnam
    • Johnson did not want to be the one to lose Vietnam but did not want a war either
    • He had planned on funnelling funds into his  “Great Society”, with focus on education and healthcare
    • Johnson eventually settled on plans for a contained war to force peace in Vietnam but it quickly escalated into a full blown war
  • The Gulf of Tonkin Incident: 1964
    • August 1964: The US were drawn totally into the war by the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, when an American ship reported attacks from and fired at North Vietnamese boats
    • Johnson ordered bomb offensives against North Vietnamese bases, creating a war without any formal declaration
    • Johnson’s actions were very popular, with app. 85% support in America
    • 1964: Johnson fought the Presidential election against Barry Goldwater
    • Goldwater was eager to send troops into Vietnam but Johnson won the campaign by insisting that he was not going to send US troops to support the Vietnamese anti-communists
  • Operation Rolling Thunder: 1965
    • Throughout the election, Johnson secretly planned to commit more troops to Vietnam and organised a huge bombing offensive called Operation Rolling Thunder
    • Americans were weary of the Chinese and did not want to damage relations with the USSR so were unable to attack airbases in Vietnam for fear of killing Soviets
    • February 1965: Operation Rolling Thunder began and was intended to last for 8 weeks but actually dragged on for 3 years
    • The Operation failed and the North used the 500,000 deaths as propaganda
  • The US send in troops: 1965
    • March 1965: Johnson sent the first foot troops into Vietnam
    • By 1968, there were 500,000 American troops there
    • Conscription was introduced – soldiers were drafted for one year tours of duty
    • The draft was easy to avoid for the wealthy, as they could enrol in university or leave the country so the US army in Vietnam was largely made up of the working class, black men and other minorities such as the Hispanic community
  • Conditions in Vietnam
    • The Vietcong were a guerrilla force that hid in the jungles and disguised themselves as peasants
    • The US troops were effectively fighting an unseen enemy and never knew when an attack was coming
    • Troops began to destroy the Vietcong’s dense jungle cover and crops with herbicides such as Agent Orange
    • They also made use of chemical weapons to burn the Vietcong such as napalm and phosphorous bombs
    • Surrounded by mosquitoes in a humid climate and fighting an invisible force, soldiers’ morale began to collapse
    • Many soldiers deserted and went AWOL (absent without official leave) or turned to drugs, more than 30% of American troops used hard drugs in Vietnam and 60% were using marijuana
    • American soldiers also began to view their officers and generals as a threat to their safety and began the practice of fragging, using fragmentation grenades to murder their superiors
  • Attempts for peace
    • Opposition to the war developed first in the universities
    • The media also had huge influence in creating anti-war sentiment as there was no censorship of the media 
    • Journalists were unhappy that they had been told that they were winning the war when this was evidently not true
    • Martin Luther King, Norman Mailer and Muhammad Ali were famously opposed to the war
    • The US troops’ brutality shocked the masses and the My Lai Massacre in 1968 which saw the murder of 347 Vietnamese men, women and children horrified Americans
    • Both sides tried to negotiate a truce but failed
  • The Tet Offensive: 1968
    • January 1968: the Vietcong launched attacks against Southern cities during the Vietnamese New Year, the Tet
    • The US embassy was attacked during the campaign  and the offensive marked the turning point in the war
    • Americans were horrified by the sight of the Vietcong on US property and lost faith in the government
    • The “Wise Men”, a group of elder state officials, strongly advised Johnson pull out of Vietnam
  • Johnson’s resignation: 1968
    • During the 1968 presidential election, Johnson was opposed from within his ow party by Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy
    • Johnson decided not to stand for re-election
  • US withdrawal from Vietnam
    • Johnson’s successor Richard Nixon introduced a policy of Vietnamization in 1969, which intended to slowly take US troops out of Vietnam while strengthening the Southern Vietnam Army to defend themselves
    • Nixon continued to bomb the Ho Chi Minh Trail throughout this process
    • Anti-war protests continued but angered the working class because the middle and upper class demonstrators were not made to fight
    • 1970: Four students (two of whom were not protesting) were killed by police at a protest in Kent State University, Ohio
    • Two students in Jackson State University in Mississippi were also shot for protesting
    • The Pentagon Papers were published by the New York Times, showing that Johnson had lied to the public about the war, swinging  public opinion
    • 1972: Nixon forced the North Vietnamese to agree to a ceasefire by launching Operation Linebacker, a bombing campaign
    • January 1973: The Paris Peace Accords were signed, American troops left and the Northern Vietnamese were allowed to take the South in 1975
    • Thousands of anti-communists were executed and 1 million fled 
    • Laos and Cambodia later fell to Communism

Cold War Phase Two, 1973 - 89
  • Détente and SALT: 1969 - 1979
    • Détente = cooperation between East and West
    • Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger wanted to improve relations with the USSR and their new leader Leonid Brezhnev, who also wanted to soften tensions
    • Robert McNamara developed a theory of Mutual Assured Destruction : if the US and USSR were nuclear equals then neither would dare to use their weapons for fear of retaliation
    • 1969: Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) began 
    • 1972: SALT I was signed when Nixon was in Moscow, which restricted use of anti-ballistic missiles to two places in each country and prevented the two sides from growing their Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile stores, marking the start of détente
    • 1973: Brezhnev visited Washington 
    • Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon as President and continues Détente
    • The US and the USSR collaborated on the Apollo-Soyuz space project
    • 1976: Jimmy Carter succeeded Ford and signed SALT II in 1979 to further limit nuclear weapons, marking the end of détente
  • The End of Détente
    • Human rights were a central part of Carter’s presidential policy and he made the USSR mad by supporting anti-communist protestors within soviet states
    • 1979: the Iran Hostage Crisis saw US embassy staff in the Iranian capital Tehran held hostage for 444 days 
    • 1979: The Soviets invaded Afghanistan 
    • Carter feared that the Soviets were trying to take control of the oil in the Persian Gulf and provided military aid to the Afghan guerrillas who tried to resist the invasion
  • Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars: 1983
    • Ronald Reagan, Carter’s successor, sent $4 billion in aid to El Salvador to help end a communist revolt
    • March 1983: Reagan released plans for his Strategic Defence Initiative, nicknamed Star Wars, which explored the idea of blocking Soviet missiles with space lasers
    • The Soviets did not take kindly to Reagan’s announcement and realised they would never be able to match American military advancements
    • Soviet officials became convinced that an attack from the US was coming, surprising Reagan into calling for negotiations
  • The End of the Cold War: 1985 - 89
    • 1985: Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the USSR and introduced policies of perestroika, or economic restructuring, and glasnost which was a promise of greater freedom and openness within Soviet states
    • He also thought that the US did not pose a threat to the USSR but recognised that the he could not afford to keep up the arms race and was willing to improve relations with them
    • 1987: Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to eliminate nuclear weapons
    • Communism fell across Eastern Europe and the Berlin Wall came down in 1989
    • 1991: Gorbachev was pushed out by anti-communist Boris Yeltsin and the USSR fell apart



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