The social change and Era of Protest continued into the 1970s. The anti-war protests had some interesting results. The 26th Amendment was ratified in 1970 due to the complain that 18 year olds could be drafted but could not vote. The same was true of legal age for alcohol. Many states lowered the age to 18 because of the same argument, they could be drafted but not buy a beer. New groups also joined the protest movements
In 1969, the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City marked the beginning of the gay rights movement. Having been hassled constantly at a gay bar, the Stonewall, gay patrons finally had enough and a fight with police erupted and the movement began.
American Indians also began to agitate. in 1969, they occupied Alcatraz Island, 1971 the Bureau of Indian Affairs in D.C., and then in 1973 there was a 71 day standoff with the FBI at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Three FBI agents were killed, 340 American Indians indicted, and leaders imprisoned including Leonard Peltier. Despite lack of evidence, he still remain in jail today. Check out his page here.
Prisoners also began to protest and there was a series of prison riots. The worst was at Attica, New York, in 1971 where 43 people were killed, 31 of them prisoners.
New leaders were emerging in the Civil Rights movement, too. Jesse Jackson became the leading spokesman for the African-American community and he was more conservative than the extremes of the 1960s. He rejected the radicalism of the Black Panthers and endorsed capitalism. Cesar Chavez sought relief for agricultural workers through the traditional method, labor unions. He organized boycotts of produce to force growers into paying better wages and providing better conditions. These efforts were particularly successful in the grape and lettuce industries.
There were also protest against the protesters as the backlash took hold. Phyllis Schafley led the anti-feminist movement that emerged in the 1960s. She blamed feminists for divorce and family problems while opposing the Equal Rights Amendment. This group merged with the anti-choice movement after Roe v. Wade legalizing abortions in 1973.
The protest movements were not the only events in the news in the early 70s. Deaths of rock stars like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison shocked their fans. The trials related to the crimes of Charles Manson began in 1971 and revealed their total weirdness. George Wallace, the segregationist of Alabama was hot and paralyzed and as result switched to the pro-integration side in 1973. Eleven Israeli athletes were killed at the Munich Olympics of 1972. And in 1973, wealthy newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army then joined the group and was convicted of robbing a bank.
Still, however, the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement dominated the mood in the U.S. The anti-war movement was more and more mainstream. Disillusionment with the war grew in 1971 with the publication of the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg, a former government military analyst had been hired by the Rand Corporation to do a government study of how we got so involved in Vietnam. He released his findings to the New York Times and other newspapers which revealed the deception by the government and how Americans had been misled. It took a Supreme Court decision to clear him and the newspapers involved, a true example of Civil Disobedience. Nixon will try to destroy him in the process.
It did not improve the popularity of the war when the My Lai Massacre was revealed in 1969. U.S. troops had killed and raped hundreds of innocent civilians. But, first Nixon tried to divert attention to other issues. He reopened communication with China even though he had been one of those responsible for closing it. He also signed the first major arms agreement with the Soviets even though he had been a supporter of the buildup. He agreed to grain sales to the Soviets, also. He made four conservative appointments to the Supreme Court and created the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) and passed more environmental legislation. But, Nixon had three big problems: the economy, Vietnam, and scandal.
First, the economy had begun to fall apart. In the late 60s with the strain of the war and Great Society programs, the deficit had grown to $25 billion. This led to more cuts in Great Society programs but he did not want to eliminate them especially those relating to the environment and education. He did not want further cuts but he did not want to raise taxes. Aggravating the problem was oil The Middle-East had begun a strategy of using oil to punish the U.S. for support of Israel. This led to periodic embargoes and increasing prices. With oil shortages, gas lines appeared and the economy suffered. Investment declined and the trade imbalance worsened. Unemployment increased and world competitiveness declines.
Still, Nixon was popular enough to win re-election in a landslide in 1972 against George McGovern (D) who was very liberal and anti-war. Just before the election, Nixon announced a cease fire in Vietnam. He won 520 electoral college votes in comparison to McGovern's 17. After the election, in Janauary, 1973, Nixon announced "peace with honor" in Vietnam as result of the work by Henry Kissinger. "Peace with Honor" turned out to mean a total withdrawal by the U.S. while the Communists stayed. POWs were exchanged but the MIA (Missing In Action) issue was unresolved. The draft lotter ended and the professional volunteer army replaced it. But, almost 60,000 names would be carved on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. The story was not totally over though as the U.S. continued secret bombing of Cambodia and it will be 1975 before withdrawal was complete. At that time, Communists took over South Vietnam.
Most Americans just wanted to put it all behind them as quickly as possible and make sure it did not happen again. This led to the passage of the war Powers Act in 1973. This revoked the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and gave the President 48 hours to notify Congress of troop deployment for combat. In 60 days, the Congress had to approve. Nixon vetoed it but it passed over his veto and is still in effect.
Before Americans could deal with Vietnam psychologically, another crisis developed. This time it was a constitutional crisis over government corruption.. Called the Watergate scandal, it was a conglomerate of many scandals.
The causes of the Watergate scandal revealed the personal and moral weaknesses of Nixon. One of the underlying causes of the scandal was Nixon's hatred of liberals especially the Kennedy family and protesters. He was paranoid about the media being against him and surrounded himself with "yes men" who rarely disagreed. The actual scandal unraveled on June 17, 1972, after a bungled break-in into the Watergate Building in D.C. where the Democratic National Headquarters was housed. Cuban exiles and government staff were caught in the act while trying to place taps on the Democrats' phones. An open door was discovered by a security guard who called the police. Later, one of the policeman stated it was the easiest arrests he had ever made. An investigation began and revealed one surprise after another. Meanwhile, in an unrelated scandal, the Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign over income tax evasion and influence pedaling. He was replaced by Gerald Ford who was a long-time member of Congress and scandal-free.
Eventually, six components of the Watergate scandal were discovered. First was domestic spying by the CIA and FBI including illegal wiretaps. Most of this was directed toward Nixon's "enemies list." This list of enemies included most civil rights activists and liberals including dangerous people like Barbra Streisand and Paul Newman.
The second component was illegal campaign contributions. These were secret and over legal limits that were used as a "hush fund" to keep participants quiet. This was related to the third component, Illegal use of campaign funds. It is illegal to use campaign funds for bribes. Nixon also used the money to fix up his house in California.
The fourth component was the so-called "Dirty Tricks." These were actions to embarrass the Democrats with rumors, false press releases, and sabotaging air conditioning at meetings. Women were even hired to throw themselves onto Democrats when photographers were present.
The fifth component was violations of civil rights. This included the break-in into the Watergate and a break-in into Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office to steal his records. The final component was the one that gets most political crooks, obstruction of justice. That included the cover-up, perjury, and bribes.
Nixon's role in all this was unknown in the beginning, but the Senate committee investigating it accidentally learned that Nixon taped all conversations in the Oval Office. Nixon refused to released them at first and then agreed to release some of them. That was not good enough for Democrats or the Supreme Court which ordered their release. On August 8, 1974, Nixon resigned. Gerald Ford took over as the first unelected President in U.S. history.
Ford will have a difficult presidency. His first problems was he pardoned Nixon for any possible crimes he committed. Ford argued it was time to move on, but many Americans wanted him tried on television. Also a problem, was the economy that continued to weaken with oil being a big problem along with inflation and unemployment at 9%. Then, he had foreign policy problems, too. In 1975, Ford actually tried to get Congress to agree to go back into South Vietnam when the Communists took over. That was not going to happen. Then, also in 1975, a U.S. Merchant ship was captured by Cambodians the Mayaguez. Marines were sent in and 38 killed even though the ship had already been released.
When the election of 1976 rolled around, Americans rejected Ford and elected Jimmy Carter (D) instead. He was a Washington outsider, popular in the civil rights movement despite being from Georgia, and a born-again Christian. He was a nuclear scientist who had been a submariner. He will have many of the same problems as his predecessors. His major accomplishments included the Panama Canal Treaty which turned the canal over to Panama in 2000 and the Camp David Agreement that began the Middle-East peace process between Egypt and Israel. He also created the Energy Department and cut taxes. But, the economy continued to lag with double-digit inflation, increasing interest rates, decreasing savings and investments, and increasing deficit. He also had trouble convincing Americans to take conservation seriously. He ran into trouble again when he ordered a boycott of the 1980 Olympics due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But, Carter's most serious crisis was the Iranian Hostage Crisis. On November 4, 1979, U.S. hostages were taken and 52 were held for 444 days. In addition, eight members of the military were killed in a failed rescue attempt. The hostages were not released until another President was inaugurated, Ronald Reagan. The 1970s were over but left an impact.
During the 1970s, the woman's rights movement grew but there was disagreement among women, no one focus, no one particular issue. Some feminists condemned the Miss America pageant. Others tried to organize working-class women into unions including welfare recipients. Others wanted to confront sexism in professions, the arts, the college curriculum and in advertising. Others promoted self-defense. Others concentrated on the Equal Rights Movement (ERA). Women began discussing sex, methods of childbirth, and what underwear to wear. With 66 million women in the workforce, many wanted to focus on conditions and pay. The biggest success for the woman's movement was passage of Title IX that prohibited discrimination based on gender if receiving federal funding such as college sports.
The Space Race was also significant. With the first landing on the moon in 1969 (Apollo 11), Americans fell in love with space. The 1970 Apollo 13 fiasco that required emergency rescue put a bit of a damper on the spirit. But between 1971-2 there were four successful moon landings and the Space Shuttle was introduced.
Another social issue of the 70s was the popularity of communes and cults. Communes were groups of people who lived together with a similar goal and focus. Often based on Communism and total equality, most did not last long. Cults also tended to be famous but short-lived. The most infamous was the People's Temple led by Jim Jones. He had started as an equality-oriented preacher and ended up leading 917 people to their deaths in Guyana, South America in 1978.
There was other weirdness in the 1970s. Fashions went crazy especially for men including bell bottoms and brightly colored shirts. Women wore mini-skirts, sometimes too mini- when I look at old pictures. Streaking or running naked in front of people became a fad. Dallas won the Super Bow in 1972 and 1978. And, then there was disco music. See how you like these songs: 1970s Disco Music. And how about a bit of dancing: Disco Dancing.
There were also some interesting trends in the 1970s. Birth rates were one of the lowest in U.S. History. It was also the worst ratio of men to women in U.S. history with 95 men per 100 women. Cigarette ads were also banned from television and there were 231 million television sets in the world. That may be the reason SAT scores declined in the 1970s. Surveys also showed old values were crumbling. There was a decline in the trust of government, a majority did not want to intervene against Communism, and a growing number of people identified themselves as political independents. More changes will come in the 1980s.