The American Journey Modern Times © 2009

Chapter 15: The Vietnam Era

Chapter Overviews

Section 1: Kennedy’s Foreign Policy

In an attempt to handle America’s dangerous rivalry with the Soviet Union, President John F. Kennedy introduced special military forces to respond to guerrilla warfare. He also provided aid to poor countries that might find Communism appealing. Kennedy’s administration was immediately challenged by foreign policy crises in Cuba and Berlin. In the Cuban missile crisis that followed, the United States narrowly avoided a nuclear war by forcing the Soviet Union to withdraw missiles placed in Cuba. The two superpowers continued their rivalry in space, with the Soviets the first to orbit Earth, and Americans the first to land a person on the moon.

Section 2: War in Vietnam

Meanwhile, a conflict in Vietnam was heating up between the Communist North and the non-Communist South—a division created in 1954 by the Geneva Accords. To stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, the United States became increasingly involved. The number of American troops in Vietnam rose sharply between 1965 and 1968, as did the intensity of bombing in the difficult fight against the Vietcong guerrillas. As the war dragged on, officials in the Johnson administration began to doubt that the war could be won.

Section 3: The Vietnam Years at Home

The war in Vietnam led to sharp divisions between Americans. Those who did not support the war included many students, who resisted the draft and staged anti-war demonstrations. A turning point in the Vietnam War, and in American politics, came in 1968 when North Vietnam launched the devastating Tet offensive. Many more Americans, including presidential candidates, turned against the war. Americans suffered further upheaval following the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, both marked by violent protests. Promising stability, Richard M. Nixon won the 1968 presidential election.

Section 4: Nixon and Vietnam

Although Nixon took steps to bring American forces home and decrease American involvement in Vietnam, he also expanded the bombing campaign. A new wave of antiwar protests gripped the nation, several of which turned deadly. The events of the war, as well as the release of the Pentagon Papers, cost Nixon the loss of Congressional support, and the trust of the American people.

Peace talks led to the withdrawal of all American forces from Vietnam. The war itself, which cost millions of human lives and billions of dollars, finally ended when North Vietnam captured Saigon and the South Vietnamese surrendered.

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