by Robin McMeeking
Cold War Major Events:
Following is a synopsis of the major events in the Cold War. It went on for about 40 years, and I think this will make it easier to comprehend (particularly for the younger reader) when seen as a whole rather than mixing it in chronologically with other political things. We will return to our chronology as we examine the economic and legislative aspects of each administration.
1946: March – Winston Churchill delivers “Iron Curtain” Speech
1947: March – Truman Doctrine declared. Communism to be contained.
1948: February – Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia
At the Potsdam Conference of 1945 the expulsion of about 3,000,000 Germans from Czechoslovakia and an exchange of minorities between Czechoslovakia and Hungary were approved. The country’s pre-1938 territory was restored, except for Ruthenia, which was ceded to the U.S.SR. In the elections of 1946 the Communists emerged as the strongest party (obtaining one third of the votes) and became the dominant party in the coalition headed by the Communist Klement Gottwald. Beneš was elected president. Soviet pressure prevented Czechoslovakia from accepting Marshall Plan aid (June, 1947).
During the summer of 1947, the Communists began a campaign of political agitation and intrigue that gave them complete control of the government in Feb., 1948. In March, Jan Masaryk, the non-Communist foreign minister, died in suspicious circumstances. After the adoption of a new constitution (Beneš resigned rather than sign it), a new legislature was elected and enacted a program for nationalizing the economy. Czechoslovakia became a Soviet-style state.
1948: June 24 – Berlin Blockade begins
(1948 – 49) International crises that arose from an attempt by the Soviet Union to force the Allied powers (U.S., Britain, and France) to abandon their postwar jurisdictions in West Berlin. The Soviets, regarding the economic consolidation of the three Allied occupation zones in Germany in 1948 as a threat to the East German economy, blockaded all transportation routes between Berlin and West Germany. The U.S. and Britain responded by supplying the city with food and other supplies by military air transport and airlifting out West Berlin exports. An Allied embargo on exports from the Eastern bloc forced the Soviets to lift the blockade after 11 months.
1949: July – NATO ratified
The Treaty of Brussels, signed on 17 March 1948 by Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and the United Kingdom is considered the precursor to the NATO agreement. The treaty and the Soviet Berlin Blockade led to the creation of the Western European Union’s Defence Organization in September 1948. However, participation of the United States was thought necessary in order to counter the military power of the U.S.SR, and therefore talks for a new military alliance began almost immediately.
These talks resulted in the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed in Washington, D.C. on 4 April 1949. It included the five Treaty of Brussels states, as well as the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Popular support for the Treaty was not unanimous; some Icelanders commenced a pro-neutrality, anti-membership riot in March 1949.
1949: May 12 – Berlin Blockade ends
1949: September – Mao Zedong, a Communist, takes control of China
China was involved in a civil war long before WW II started. The recognized government under Chiang Kai-shek was fighting an attempted take-over by communists under Mao Zedong. This was only partially interrupted by a Japanese invasion which gave control of about 20% of China to Japan. After the end of World War II, the U.S. continued to support Chiang Kai-shek, now openly against the Communist’s People’s Liberation Army led by Mao Zedong in the civil war for control of China. The U.S. support was part of its view to contain and defeat world communism. Likewise, the Soviet Union gave quasi-covert support to Mao (acting as a concerned neighbor more than a military ally, to avoid open conflict with the U.S.) and gave large supplies of arms to the Communist Party of China, although newer Chinese records indicate the Soviet “supplies” were not as large as previously believed, and consistently fell short of the promised amount of aid.
In 1948, the People’s Liberation Army starved out the Kuomintang forces occupying the city of Changchun. At least 160,000 civilians are believed to have perished during the siege, which lasted from June until October. PLA lieutenant colonel Zhang Zhenglu, who documented the siege in his book White Snow, Red Blood, compared it to Hiroshima: “The casualties were about the same. Hiroshima took nine seconds; Changchun took five months.”
On 21 January 1949, Kuomintang forces suffered massive losses against Mao’s forces. In the early morning of 10 December 1949, PLA troops laid siege to Chengdu, the last KMT-occupied city in mainland China, and Chiang Kai-shek evacuated from the mainland to Taiwan (Formosa) that same day.
1949: September – Soviets explode first atomic bomb
A few months later Klaus Fuchs (a British scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project), Hary Gold, David Greenglass, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested and charged with providing the U.S.SR with design secrets for the bomb. On the day of Greenglass’s arrest two other high tech workers went missing. After the Soviet Union collapsed Joel Barr, an electronics engineer, was found working in Russia on military electronics. Morton Sobell, a radar engineer, fled to Mexico but was arrested there and returned to the U.S..
1950: February – Senator Joe McCarthy begins Communist witch hunt
Since 1938 the House of Representatives had an Un-American Activities Committee that investigated various potentially subversive goings on. Alger Hiss was investigated in 1948 and identified as a communist agent. Other communists were identified there too. By 1950 there was widespread concern about the extent of communist infiltration. After an initially uneventful start to his Senate career McCarthy gained national attention, leading eventually to notoriety, when, in 1950, he claimed to have the names of 200 Communist Party members employed in the State Department. This became the opening salvo of the McCarthy “witch-hunt” period which dominated American politics 1952 – 4. After the 1951 victory for the Republicans in the Senate, McCarthy was able to use his position as chairman of the powerful subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee to launch investigations into “un-American activities” of members of the State Department and public life in general. Even war hero General George Marshall did not escape McCarthy’s censure.
In 1954 McCarthy was himself censured by his fellow Senators. This marked the waning of his influence. He sank into obscurity and alcoholism in his last years. McCarthy is remembered as a bitterly controversial figure in American political life.
1950: June – Korean War begins
Conflict [erupted] between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ( North Korea) and the Republic of Korea ( South Korea) in which at least 2.5 million persons lost their lives. The war reached international proportions in June 1950 when North Korea, supplied and advised by the Soviet Union, invaded the South. The United Nations, with the United States as the principal participant, joined the war on the side of the South Koreans, and the People’s Republic of China came to North Korea’s aid. After more than a million combat casualties had been suffered on both sides, the fighting ended in July 1953 with Korea still divided into two hostile states. Negotiations in 1954 produced no further agreement, and the front line has been accepted ever since as the de facto boundary between North and South Korea.
If you have really really been paying attention, you may have noticed that it was the United Nations that responded to aid South Korea. This required approval by the Security Council, and Russia could have vetoed the action. However, Russia was boycotting the UN for its refusal to admit Communist China to the UN.
Aside from the accident of the Soviet boycott during the initial Korean crisis, the United Nations had no significant role in dealing with the Cold War. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, for example, the United Nations served as no more than a theater as U.S. ambassador Adlai Stevenson displayed photographic evidence of the Soviet Union installing missiles and launchers in Cuba. And Secretary General U Thant earned only contempt from President Lyndon B. Johnson during the late 1960s for trying to mediate an end to the Vietnam War.
1951: January 12 – Federal Civil Defense Administration established
In response to the Soviet’s first atomic explosion and the Korean War, the Federal Civil Defense Administration was started on January 12, 1951. Experts, however, doubted that physical protection from a nuclear explosion would be effective. With this in mind, the Federal Civil Defense Administration received a small budget, and was involved in only limited construction of shelters and the publishing of publicity materials.
1953: March 5 – Stalin dies triggering a power struggle in Russia that was not resolved until Feb. 1956.
1953: June 19 – Rosenberg executions. The aforementioned nuclear spies. They both maintained their innocence until the end, but Russian documents obtained after the fall of the U.S.SR confirmed their guilt.
1953: July – Korean War ends
Not with a victor, nor a treaty. Technically they are still at war. As provided for in the armistice agreement, the United States organized an international conference in Geneva for all the belligerents to discuss the political future of Korea. The actual meetings produced no agreement. The Korean peninsula would continue to be caught in the coils of Cold War rivalry, but the survival of the Republic of Korea kept alive the hope of civil liberties, democracy, economic development, and eventual unification—even if their fulfillment might require another 50 years or more.
1954: March – KGB established
In March 1953, Lavrenty Beria consolidated the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and the MGB into one body—the MVD. Following the death of Josef Stalin in 1953, Beria was removed from his post, accused of spying for Great Britain, and was executed. Following his death the MVD was split. The re-formed MVD retained its police and law enforcement powers, while the second, new agency, the KGB, assumed internal and external security functions, and was subordinate to the Council of Ministers.
1953 – 1954: CIA helps overthrow regimes in Iran and Guatemala
These two dubious (even at the time) operations involved removing democratically elected governments because they were engaging in policies that seemed potentially communistic. Planning began while McCarthyism was at its peak.
Iran: On 19 August 1953, elements of the Iranian army, acting on orders from the Shah and with covert support from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), deposed Mohammed Mossadegh as the Prime Minister of Iran. Mossadegh’s overthrow climaxed more than two years of crisis stemming from Iran’s clash with Great Britain over the nationalization of the British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil company. Early in the crisis, the United States was sympathetic to Mossadegh’s nationalization program, and went to great lengths to convince the British to negotiate a fair settlement with Iran. Throughout 1951 and 1952, the U.S. government steadfastly refused to sanction any unilateral attempt by Great Britain to end the crisis through non-diplomatic means. As a result, U.S. participation in the 1953 coup has been taken as evidence of a dramatic shift in American policy towards Iran.
The historical literature on this crisis explains the apparent radical change in policy toward Iran as the result of a change in administrations from Truman to Eisenhower…[However]
…What appeared to be a more aggressive stance by the Eisenhower administration was in actuality a continuation of a policy initiated by the late Truman administration.
Guatemala: On May 23, 1997 the CIA released several hundred formerly classified documents pertaining to the United States involvement in the 1954 coup in Guatemala. Although representing only a fraction of the existing government files, these records nonetheless revealed the determination of the CIA to prohibit the spread of communism to the nations of Latin America during the Cold War. Planning for American intervention in Guatemala began in 1952 when the president of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza, solicited U.S. assistance to overthrow the democratically elected (1950) Guatemalan leader, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. Apprehensive of Arbenz’s land reform efforts and the freedom afforded to the communist party under the current regime, President Truman authorized the shipment of weapons and money to anti-Arbenz groups. Within five weeks the operation to topple Arbenz quickly fizzled when representatives loyal to the president uncovered the plot and took steps to solidify their power.
[After Truman left office,] Convinced that Arbenz threatened U.S. national security because of his alleged Communist sympathies, Eisenhower approved the first-ever clandestine military action in Latin America. Codenamed PBSUCCESS, the program aimed at not only deposing Arbenz in favor of a U.S.-selected leader, but also looked to send a clear warning to the Soviets that the American government would not tolerate the spread of communism in the Western Hemisphere.
Probably the worst aspect of the Cold War was that the U.S. wound up supporting some despicable dictators just because they weren’t communists. Of course, they made attractive targets for communist who only wanted to “liberate” and bring justice to the oppressed.
1954: July – Vietnam split at 17th parallel (The following synopsis is no longer available on-line. You can research further here.)
Located in Southeast Asia, Vietnam was, prior to World War II, part of what was known as French Indochina. After the war, the French continued to occupy Vietnam and faced a restive movement for independence led by Ho Chi Minh. Although Ho appealed to western powers for support, the developing Cold War and preoccupation with European problems led the United States and other nations to support the French. Ho, seeking support for his nationalist movement, turned to the Soviets and Chinese. Thus Vietnam became part of the Cold War.
In July of 1954, a conference was convened in Geneva in an attempt to resolve the problems in Indochina. Although an agreement was reached, its provisions were quickly violated and the plan never came to fruition. The agreement reached on the 20th and 21st of July included:
- the nation of Vietnam was guaranteed its independence
- national elections, under international supervision, would be held two years hence (July 1956)
- in the interim period, Vietnam would be divided at the 17th Parallel (just to the north of Hue on the map). Control of the north would be held by the Viet Minh forces led by Ho Chi Minh while control in the South would be held by forces who had fought with the French.
1955: May – West Germany joins NATO, Warsaw Pact formed
The Warsaw Pact was a mutual defense treaty between the various Soviet countries.
1956: October – November – Rebellion put down in Communist Hungary. Egypt took control of Suez Canal; U.S. refused to help take it back
Hungary: Stalin died on March 6th, 1953. Within months a workers’ revolt in Czechoslovakia was quickly crushed. Shortly afterwards, a rebellion sparked off by Berlin building workers spread throughout East Germany and was subdued by Russian tanks after days of bitter street-fighting. In June 1956, Polish workers struck in Poznan for workers’ control, higher pay and lower prices. As the strike spread, thousands took to the streets and a full-scale uprising seized the city. Cries of ‘Freedom and Bread’ and-‘Out with the Russians’ were only silenced by the use of tanks.
In Hungary, in 1956, the Writers’ Union Congress denounced ‘the regime of tyranny’. The poet Konya asked:
‘In the name of what morality do the Communists consider themselves justified in committing arbitrary acts against their former allies, staging witch-trials, persecuting innocent people, treating genuine revolutionaries as if they were traitors, gaoling and killing them? In the name of what morality?’
On October 23rd, 1956; in Budapest, 155,000 demonstrated ‘in solidarity with our Polish brothers and sisters’. Marching on the radio station, they paused to tear down a huge statue of Stalin but its jackboots held fast. The radio station was ringed by the AVO, the hated security police. Without warning they machine-gunned the peaceful crowd.
The Hungarian revolution had begun. The night shift at an arms factory rushed truck loads of weapons to the city centre, where thousands of workers had gathered. Police and soldiers handed their arms over to the people. By early the following morning the main streets were in the hands of the workers and students, a Revolutionary Council was formed in Budapest and a General Strike, soon spread to all of Hungary.
Russian tanks, entering Budapest to aid the threatened Government, met furious resistance. Armed only with light weapons and molotov cocktails, thousands fought back. After three days thirty tanks were destroyed and Russian tank crews began siding with the rebels.
Workers’ councils were formed in factories, steel mills, power stations, coal mines and railway depots throughout Hungary. Peasants spontaneously formed their own councils, redistributed land, and supplied the towns with food. From the first day liberated radio stations broadcast the news across the country.
With the General Strike complete, the councils began to federate and within a week established a Council Republic. Government ceased to exist. The workers’ councils then issued an ultimatum the strike would continue until all Russian troops quit the country. On October 30th, the Red Army tanks pulled out of Hungary. It seemed as if the people had won.
But on November 4th the tanks returned. Having regrouped beyond the borders, fifteen Russian divisions, now with six thousand tanks, fell upon the Hungarian people. All major cities were pounded by artillery fire. In Budapest, the workers’ districts bore the brunt of the assault. The people fought back as best they could, but the entire city was shelled continuously for four days and soon lay in ruins. After ten days of terrible fighting, with thousands dead and injured, the people finally gave in.
The link below is broken but I can’t find a simpler synopsis. For more detail check here.
Suez Canal: This is a complicated event based on long term conflicts between Egypt (where the canal is located), Britain (which had virtually governed Egypt from 1875 through WW II, and jointly owned and operated the canal since 1875; the other owners were the French), and Israel which had been in constant conflict with Egypt since its founding by the UN in 1947. Egypt had disrupted Israeli shipping through the canal several times. Gamal Abdel Nasser became President in June of 1956. He ordered the nationalization of the canal and the British and French, with Israeli help, tried to get it back.
The war began with an Israeli attack across the Sinai Peninsula followed by a British French assault against the Suez Canal itself. Although it was denied at the time, all three countries had joined in planning the invasion. The Egyptian army was no match for the combined invading forces. Israel controlled the hold on the Sinai within a day and the Anglo French forces quickly captured the canal. The international outcry against the Suez crisis invasion was swift. The United States was harshly critical of its traditional allies and led a censure movement at the United Nations.
Delegates returned to the United Nations for the first emergency General Assembly ever called. United States secretary of State, John Foster Dulles led sessions at the UN in preparation to offer a resolution formulated after consultation with President Eisenhower. A long list of delegates took the platform and hours of long debate on the resolution ensued.
The resolution to the Suez crisis was passed and fighting came to an end seven days after it began. Two weeks later, United Nations troops moved into the canals where they would remain as a peacekeeping force for the following ten years. Egypt suffered greatly during the fighting. There were many Casualties and Port Said was completely leveled. The canal was rendered unusable for months. Egypt was forced to pay $81 million in restitution to canal stockholders. However, the canal now officially belonged to Egypt. Israel was also forced to return all of the territory it had captured. Due to the efforts of the United Nations, Egypt turned a military defeat into a major political victory.
1957: October 4 – Sputnik launched into orbit
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union sent into orbit Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite in history. Then a month later, an even larger and heavier satellite, Sputnik 2, carried the dog Laika into orbit.
Sputnik’s launch came as an unnerving surprise to the United States. The space age had dawned and America’s Cold War rival suddenly appeared technologically superior.
The first U.S. effort to launch a satellite failed when its Vanguard rocket exploded during lift-off. Finally on January 31, 1958, a Jupiter-C rocket sent Explorer 1 into orbit. The space race was underway.
1958: November – Khrushchev Gains control in Russia, demands withdrawal of troops from Berlin
During the 1950s a steady outflow of refugees from the Soviet occupation zone to the West consisted primarily of young people of working age. By 1950 some 1.6 million had migrated to the western zones…
In November 1958, Soviet Premier Khrushchev issued an ultimatum giving the Western powers six months to agree to withdraw from Berlin and make it a free, demilitarized city. At the end of that period, Khrushchev declared, the Soviet Union would turn over to East Germany complete control of all lines of communication with West Berlin; the western powers then would have access to West Berlin only by permission of the East German government. The United States, Great Britain, and France replied to this ultimatum by firmly asserting their determination to remain in West Berlin and to maintain their legal right of free access to that city.
In 1959 the Soviet Union withdrew its deadline and instead met with the Western powers in a Big Four foreign ministers’ conference. Although the three-month-long sessions failed to reach any important agreements, they did open the door to further negotiations and led to Premier Khrushchev’s visit to the United States in September of 1959. At the end of this visit, Khrushchev and President Eisenhower stated jointly that the most important issue in the world was general disarmament and that the problem of Berlin and “all outstanding international questions should be settled, not by the application of force, but by peaceful means through negotiations.”
1959: January – Cuba taken over by Fidel Castro
In 1952 elections the Cuban People’s Party was expected to form the new government. During the election campaign General Batista, with the support of the armed forces, ousted President Carlos Prio and took control of the country.
In 1953, Fidel Castro, with an armed group of 123 men and women, attacked the Moncada army barracks. The plan to overthrow Batista ended in disaster and although only eight were killed in the fighting, another eighty were murdered by the army after they were captured. Castro was lucky that the lieutenant who arrested him ignored orders to have him executed and instead delivered him to the nearest civilian prison.
Following considerable pressure from the Cuban population, Batista decided to release Castro after he had served only two years of his sentence. Batista also promised elections but when it became clear that they would not take place, Castro left for Mexico where he began to plan another attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.
After building up a stock of guns and ammunition, Castro and eighty of his followers returned to Cuba in 1956. This group became known as the July 26 Movement (the date that Castro had attacked the Moncada barracks). Their plan was to set up their base in the Sierra Maestra mountains. On the way to the mountains they were attacked by government troops. By the time they reached the Sierra Maestra there were only sixteen men left with twelve weapons between them. For the next few months Castro’s guerrilla army raided isolated army garrisons and were gradually able to build-up their stock of weapons.
The Batista regime was clearly corrupt, had ties to the Mafia, and was oppressive to the Cuban citizens. There was no popular support in the U.S. for Batista, but there were concerns, mostly expressed by the Eisenhower administration, that Castro was a communist and could be just as bad or worse. The following are excerpts from a Time magazine article April 14, 1958:
“We have assumed the responsibility of throwing out Batista’s dictatorship and re-establishing the constitutional rights and freedoms of the people,” Castro says. “Our first fight is for political rights—and after that for social rights.” At Havana University ten years ago, Castro hotheadedly espoused a series of student-radical notions, e.g., nationalization of Cuba’s U.S.-owned power and telephone companies. Now he says: “I am still the same revolutionary, but I have had time to study the political and economic factors. I understand that some ideas I used to have would not be good for Cuba. I do not believe in nationalization.”
He now advocates amplified social security, along with speeded-up industrialization, to fight Cuba’s chronic joblessness. In answer to Batista’s charge that Castro’s movement is “proSoviet and pro-Communist,” friends of Castro point to the character of his army. Almost to a man, they are Roman Catholics, who wear religious medals on their caps or on strings around their necks. For the sake of getting on with the war, Castro says, he avoids fruitless political discussions with his one outrightly pro-Red captain…
If he wins, Castro says, he proposes freer labor unions, a crackdown on corruption and punishment for government “criminals”—including bringing Batista to book. These measures imply a great deal of control over Cuba’s future by Fidel Castro. He denies all presidential (or dictatorial) ambitions: “I can do more for my country giving an example of disinterestedness.” But he insists that “our movement has the right to appoint the Provisional President.” For that job, his present choice is a respectable but unknown lower-court judge named Manuel Urrutia (now exiled in the U.S.), largely because Urrutia once spoke up for the right of rebels to oppose dictatorships.
From onwar.com: After calling for “total war” against Batista’s regime, Castro took the offensive and moved out of the mountains in the fall of 1958. The rebels captured Santa Clara, the capital of Las Villas province, on December 31, 1958. Two day s before, Major Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-67), Castro’s comrade-in-arms, had gained a coup by capturing an armored train loaded with weapons at Santa Clara. Realizing that all support for his government had eroded, Batista fled with his family to the Dominican Republic on January 1, 1959, taking the loot he had accumulated and leaving the Cuban government in the hands of a three-man military junta. Two days later Castro led the first of his motley columns into Havana, Cuba’s capital, where they were hailed enthusiastically by the people. The army made no attempt to stop the rebel forces; indeed, most of the military was on their side and welcomed them. A provisional government was quickly formed with Castro as premier; gradually Cuba was transformed into a communist state supported by the Soviet Union.
1959: September – Khrushchev visits United States; denied access to Disneyland
On [Sept. 25,] 1959, Nikita Khrushchev capped a 12-day visit to the United States, the first by a Soviet leader, by meeting with President Dwight Eisenhower at Camp David. Khrushchev (1894-1971), who came to power after the death of Josef Stalin in 1953, denounced the “excesses” of Stalinism and said he sought “peaceful co-existence” with the United States.
Before the summit, Khrushchev and his wife spent several days traveling across America, making stops in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Des Moines, Iowa. He became infuriated after being denied a visit to Disneyland, ostensibly for security reasons.
1960: May – Soviet Union reveals that U.S. spy plane was shot down over Soviet territory
I found several conflicting versions of this event, primarily differing on how the plane was brought down. The plane in question was a U-2. Looking much like a glider, it was designed to fly at extremely high altitude; presumably high enough to be unreachable by defense aircraft or missiles. The following from globalsecurity.org gives the most important geopolitical details.
On May 5, 1960, the world first heard the news that an American aircraft had been shot down over Russia.
Officials in Washington initially claimed the plane was an unarmed weather research plane.
But the aircraft was not engaged in meteorological research, it was a U-2 spy plane deployed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA had been engaged in aerial espionage over Soviet Union since 1956, with missions designed to photograph military bases and other sensitive sites.
The Kremlin had known about the U-2 program all along but had been unable to respond. By 1960, it had developed the technology needed to launch countermeasures. On May 1, it used a newly designed S-75 surface-to-air missile to shoot down a U-2 plane and its pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
Powers, who had taken off from a U.S. military base near the Pakistani city of Peshawar, made a brief stop at Incirlik air base in Turkey before heading for the Urals. He was downed over Sverdlovsk.
The CIA was certain that Powers was dead. State Department spokesman Lincoln White attempted to portray the flight as a civilian mission that accidentally strayed off course after the pilot’s oxygen supplies ran low.
“It is entirely possible the plane continued on automatic pilot for a considerable distance and accidentally violated Soviet airspace,” White said.
But as the United States was soon to learn, Powers was not dead. His plane had landed nearly intact, and he had been taken into Soviet custody.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced the capture in an address to the Supreme Soviet, and leveled an angry threat against the United States if it refused to abandon its CIA spy missions.
“Don’t you fly into the Soviet Union! Don’t you fly into the socialist countries!” Krushchev demanded. “Respect sovereignty and know your limits! If you don’t know your limits, we will strike!”
1960: November – John F. Kennedy elected President
1961: April – Bay of Pigs invasion
Senator John F. Kennedy Oct. 1960, during presidential campaign
“Fulgencio Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years … and he turned Democratic Cuba into a complete police state – destroying every individual liberty. Yet our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror. Administration spokesmen publicly praised Batista – hailed him as a staunch ally and a good friend – at a time when Batista was murdering thousands, destroying the last vestiges of freedom, and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Cuban people, and we failed to press for free elections.”
The Bay of Pigs Invasion was an unsuccessful attempt by United States-backed Cuban exiles to overthrow the government of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Increasing friction between the U.S. government and Castro’s leftist regime led President Dwight D. Eisenhower to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961. Even before that, however, the Central Intelligence Agency had been training anti-revolutionary Cuban exiles for a possible invasion of the island. The invasion plan was approved by Eisenhower’s successor, John F. Kennedy.
On April 17, 1961 about 1300 exiles, armed with U.S. weapons, landed at the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on the southern coast of Cuba. Hoping to find support from the local population, they intended to cross the island to Havana. It was evident from the first hours of fighting, however, that the exiles were likely to lose. President Kennedy had the option of using the U.S. Air Force against the Cubans but decided against it. Consequently, the invasion was stopped by Castro’s army. By the time the fighting ended on April 19, 90 exiles had been killed and the rest had been taken as prisoners.
The failure of the invasion seriously embarrassed the young Kennedy administration. Some critics blamed Kennedy for not giving it adequate support and others for allowing it to take place at all. The captured exiles were later ransomed by private groups in the U.S.
Additionally, the invasion made Castro wary of the U.S. He was convinced that the Americans would try to take over the island again. From the Bay of Pigs on, Castro had an increased fear of a U.S. incursion on Cuban soil.
President John F. Kennedy October 24, 1963:
“I believe that there is no country in the world including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part owing to my country’s policies during the Batista regime. I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further: to some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.”
1961: July – Kennedy requests 25% spending increase for military
1961: August 13 – Berlin border closed
[Prior to August 1961] the border between East and West Berlin is opened and daily half a million people cross the border from one part of the city into the other. Many East Berliners go into the cinema or discos in the West, they even work in the West or they go shopping in the West. Women get the first seamless panty hoses in the West, tropical fruits are only available there.
At the same time the leaders of the Communist parties of the Commecon meet in Moscow from August 3 until August 5, 1961 and they decide to close the open border between East and West Berlin.
In the afternoon of August 12 at 4 p.m. Walter Ulbricht, the East German leader, signed the commands to close the border. Next Sunday at midnight the army, police and the “Kampfgruppen” began to bolt the city. The wall is built and separates the city into two parts for more than 28 years.
Streets, the railway and the S-Bahn (city railway) are broken, stations of the U-Bahn (underground railway) are closed, even cemeteries are not spared. Nothing is forgotten and the East Germans will not be allowed to free travel to the West…
1962: – U.S. involvement in Vietnam increased
August 1, 1962 – President Kennedy signs the Foreign Assistance Act of 1962 which provides “…military assistance to countries which are on the rim of the Communist world and under direct attack.”
August 1962 – A U.S. Special Forces camp is set up at Khe Sanh to monitor North Vietnamese Army (NVA) infiltration down the Ho Chi Minh trail.
In a radio address President Kennedy said:
The other great challenge of course we face is the problem of resisting the Communist advance which concentrates its attention and energy particularly on the poorer areas of the world, Asia, Africa, Latin America, where millions and hundreds of millions of people live without adequate food, without shelter, without education, without a chance. And the Communists move among them and say, “Come with us.”
Now, we have been able to hold this line against this internal subversion by the Communists, as well as the external threat of military invasion, because for many years the United States has assisted these countries in meeting their own problems. We are assisting the people of Viet-Nam. We are assisting countries in Latin America which are faced with staggering problems. If we stop helping them, they will become ripe for internal subversion and a Communist takeover.
1962: October – Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the world ever came to nuclear war. The United States armed forces were at their highest state of readiness ever and Soviet field commanders in Cuba were prepared to use battlefield nuclear weapons to defend the island if it was invaded. Luckily, thanks to the bravery of two men, President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev, war was averted.
In 1962, the Soviet Union was desperately behind the United States in the arms race. Soviet missiles were only powerful enough to be launched against Europe but U.S. missiles were capable of striking the entire Soviet Union. In late April 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev conceived the idea of placing intermediate-range missiles in Cuba. A deployment in Cuba would double the Soviet strategic arsenal and provide a real deterrent to a potential U.S. attack against the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, Fidel Castro was looking for a way to defend his island nation from an attack by the U.S. Ever since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, Castro felt a second attack was inevitable. Consequently, he approved of Khrushchev’s plan to place missiles on the island. In the summer of 1962 the Soviet Union worked quickly and secretly to build its missile installations in Cuba.
For the United States, the crisis began on October 15, 1962 when reconnaissance photographs revealed Soviet missiles under construction in Cuba. Early the next day, President John Kennedy was informed of the missile installations. Kennedy immediately organized the EX-COMM, a group of his twelve most important advisers to handle the crisis. After seven days of guarded and intense debate within the upper echelons of government, Kennedy concluded to impose a naval quarantine around Cuba. He wished to prevent the arrival of more Soviet offensive weapons on the island. On October 22, Kennedy announced the discovery of the missile installations to the public and his decision to quarantine the island. He also proclaimed that any nuclear missile launched from Cuba would be regarded as an attack on the United States by the Soviet Union and demanded that the Soviets remove all of their offensive weapons from Cuba.
During the public phase of the Crisis, tensions began to build on both sides. Kennedy eventually ordered low-level reconnaissance missions once every two hours. On the 25th Kennedy pulled the quarantine line back and raised military readiness to DEFCON 2. Then on the 26th EX-COMM heard from Khrushchev in an impassioned letter. He proposed removing Soviet missiles and personnel if the U.S. would guarantee not to invade Cuba. October 27 was the worst day of the crisis. A U-2 was shot down over Cuba and EX-COMM received a second letter from Khrushchev demanding the removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey in exchange for Soviet missiles in Cuba. Attorney General Robert Kennedy suggested ignoring the second letter and contacted Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to tell him of the U.S. agreement with the first.
Tensions finally began to ease on October 28 when Khrushchev announced that he would dismantle the installations and return the missiles to the Soviet Union, expressing his trust that the United States would not invade Cuba. Further negotiations were held to implement the October 28 agreement, including a United States demand that Soviet light bombers be removed from Cuba, and specifying the exact form and conditions of United States assurances not to invade Cuba.
More detailed accounts can be found here.
1963: July – Nuclear Test Ban Treaty ratified
This agreement was designed primarily to prevent “radioactive fallout”. Nuclear testing since 1945 was adding increasing amounts of radioactive material to the atmosphere.
Trilateral agreement negotiated by the U.S., U.S.SR, and UK prohibiting tests of nuclear devices in the atmosphere, in outer space, and underwater. Allows nuclear testing to continue underground, so long as radioactive debris is not allowed “outside the territorial limits” of the testing state. The treaty has since been signed by a total of 116 countries, including potential nuclear states Argentina, Brazil, India, Israel, Pakistan, and South Africa. Though two major nuclear powers, France and the People’s Republic of China, have not signed, they are now abiding by its provisions. In 1992, China exploded a bomb beyond the LTBT limits.
1963: November – President Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, Texas
1964: August – Gulf of Tonkin incident
Prior to this incident the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was mostly limited to providing South Vietnam with war material, primarily surplus WW II equipment including planes, and with military advisers. What happened on August 2nd and 4th triggered a much larger level of U.S. involvement. The Vietnam conflict dragged on and eventually led to the loss of 58,000 plus U.S. lives. Major discontent developed at home with the war and the government. The nation split into anti-war and pro-war factions. Passions ran high. Service men who returned home were greeted as villains and murderers, many with drug addiction and psychological trauma to contend with as well as disabilities from war injuries.
The effects of Vietnam are still part of our political fabric. Beliefs formed during the war by the public and by politicians about the character of the U.S., the appropriateness of engaging in foreign conflicts, how to stir up public discontent, etc., will be with us for quite a while. Therefore, we will get fairly detailed in our discussion of this war. Some information about the war has recently been declassified, and we will include it in the discussion.
The following is condensed from an 8 page article in Time, August 14, 1964:
The Gulf of Tonkin is a forbidding body of water. Along its shores lie the brutal war in South Viet Nam, the belligerent Red regime of North Viet Nam’s Ho Chi Minh, the ominous expanse of Communist China.
Yet, to the young men of the 2,200-ton U.S. destroyer Maddox, patrol duty in Tonkin seemed as ho-hum and hum drum as duty on any of a hundred other routine tin-can patrols. In this case, the mission of the Maddox was mainly to show the U.S. flag and keep a casual lookout for Communist gun runners or seaborne Red guerrilla cadres. Occasionally the Maddox would slip up to within 13 miles of the Communist mainland, set her radar to sniffing the coast. But the real challenge to her sailors was to stay awake on lonely watches. Few of them even thought about combat; most, in fact, were still in grade school when the Maddox last came under Communist gunfire off Korea in 1953.
…But at 12:30 p.m., as the Maddox cruised down the gulf 30 miles from any land, her radar men spotted three torpedo boats, ten miles to the north, speeding toward the Maddox. They were Russian P-4 types, 85 ft. long, armed with torpedo tubes and 25-mm. machine guns.
…Two of them moved into a range of 8,000 yds. off the Maddox’s starboard quarter and headed toward her stern. The Maddox has twin-mounted 5-in. 38s aft and two twin-mounts forward. [Commander Herbert L.] Ogier could either swing the Maddox broadside and train one forward pair and the aft pair on the two boats or stay on course and keep the ship’s tail toward them. This would permit him to fire at only one boat at a time, but it would provide a slimmer target for enemy torpedoes.
…The battle began at 3:08. The Maddox opened up with her aft five-inchers and her 3-in. and 40-mm. guns. The two trailing craft closed to 5,000 yds., launched one 18-in. torpedo apiece. Officers on the Maddox bridge had no trouble following the foot-wide white wakes of the torpedoes as they ran through the blue-green sea at a depth of 10 ft.
…Now the third torpedo boat took up the attack. Skillfully, she pulled 5,000 yds. abeam of the destroyer so that evasion would be far more difficult. But this also brought the PT boat under the fire of two pairs of the Maddox’s biggest guns. The Maddox fired—a direct hit. The enemy craft stopped dead in the water, helpless and aflame. Later she could not be found and was assumed to have sunk.
In the nearby South China Sea, the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Ticonderoga maintained continuous communication with the Maddox. She reported that four supersonic F-8 Crusader jets, already airborne at the time of the attack, were on the way. Moments later the jets streaked in, unleashed eight Zuni rockets at the two fleeing boats, scored two hits (despite the fact that the early model Zunis are designed for strafing fixed targets) and strafed the boats with their 20-mm. cannon. The two craft slowed but continued north. The jet pilots, certain that the attack had been repulsed, turned back to the Ticonderoga. At 3:29 p.m., the 21-minute battle—the first direct clash between U.S. and Communist armed vehicles since Korea—was over.
…In Washington it was after dawn on Sunday— before the Pentagon had compiled a complete report on the distant sea action.
…For 45 minutes the President and his aides discussed the attack, decided to play the whole affair as low-key as possible in the hope that it was all some sort of misunderstanding on the part of the Communist Viet Minh government at Hanoi. Accordingly, the Pentagon issued a dry statement: The Maddox, “while on routine patrol in international waters,” had undergone an “unprovoked attack by three PT-type boats.” The White House declined comment. A State Department staffer said that the best possible answer to the attack had been delivered by the Maddox and the U.S. jets. Arriving in New York later for a speech, Dean Rusk said only: “The other side got a sting out of this. If they do it again, they’ll get another sting.”
Even in private, Washington officials could not offer an intelligent reason that might explain why the puny Hanoi mosquito fleet challenged the 125-ship U.S. Seventh Fleet. Some speculated that Hanoi had somehow connected the Maddox with recent South Vietnamese raids on Hon Me and the neighboring island of Hon Ngu. Yet the Maddox was at least 30 miles from either island at the time of those attacks. And her presence in the gulf was hardly a new provocation, since U.S. destroyers had been patrolling the area frequently over the past two years and are well known to North Vietnamese seafarers.
…Tuesday dawned. The weather in the gulf turned bad. Thunder rumbled across the water. Sporadic storms churned waves, and the two U.S. destroyers pitched and rolled. Despite the rough going, Maddox radar late in the afternoon again detected the presence of distant company: several tiny blips moved across the scope in tracks paralleling those of the Maddox and Joy.
By nightfall the warships were steaming near the center of the 150-mile-wide gulf, some 65 miles from the nearest land. Yet the number of radar contacts was growing, and their tracks were converging on the destroyers. The Maddox flashed the alert to the Ticonderoga, which was prowling near the mouth of the gulf. Jet fighters snapped off the carrier’s runway, soon formed a cover over the U.S. ships.
…Through the darkness, from the west and south, the intruders boldly sped. There were at least six of them, Russian-designed “Swatow” gunboats armed with 37-mm. and 28-mm. guns, and P-4s. At 9:52 they opened fire on the destroyers with automatic weapons, this time from as close as 2,000 yds.
The night glowed eerily with the nightmarish glare of air-dropped flares and boats’ searchlights. For 3½ hours, the small boats attacked in pass after pass. Ten enemy torpedoes sizzled through the water. Each time the skippers, tracking the fish by radar, maneuvered to evade them. Gunfire and gun smells and shouts stung the air. Two of the enemy boats went down. Then, at 1:30 a.m., the remaining PTs ended the fight, roared off through the black night to the north.
…[President Johnson] went on nationwide TV networks at 11:37 p.m. to deliver his somber message. “My fellow Americans: As President and Commander in Chief, it is my duty to report that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action in reply… That reply is being given as 1 speak to you tonight. Air action is now in execution against gunboats and certain supporting facilities in North Viet Nam which have been used in these hostile operations.”
While voicing U.S. indignation at what he called “this outrage” by the Communists, Johnson carefully avoided any sound of saber rattling. “Our response for the present,” he said, “will be limited and fitting. We Americans know, although others appear to forget, the risks of spreading conflict. We still seek no wider war.”
…More than anything, the precise, coolheaded statements that issued last week from U.S. leaders were aimed at assuring an edgy world of America’s good faith, and America’s determination to use its power only in the defense of itself and its allies. Members of the Congress—debating the resolution approving the President’s actions and allowing him the discretion to strike back again if the U.S. is attacked—were concerned about making that same point. The resolution cleared the House with a resounding 416-0 vote after only 40 minutes of debate, but the Senate talked for a full nine hours before approving, 88-2. The only two dissenters were Alaska’s Democratic Senator Ernest Gruening and Oregon’s irascible Democrat Wayne Morse, both of whom argued that the resolution was unconstitutional because it amounted to a “predated declaration of war power” normally reserved to Congress.
Analysis of the reports from the Maddox and others led many to question the validity of the incident. Declassified papers now make it clear. (From Fair.org)
The truth was very different.
Rather than being on a routine patrol Aug. 2, the U.S. destroyer Maddox was actually engaged in aggressive intelligence-gathering maneuvers — in sync with coordinated attacks on North Vietnam by the South Vietnamese navy and the Laotian air force.
“The day before, two attacks on North Vietnam…had taken place,” writes scholar Daniel C. Hallin. Those assaults were “part of a campaign of increasing military pressure on the North that the United States had been pursuing since early 1964.”
On the night of Aug. 4, the Pentagon proclaimed that a second attack by North Vietnamese PT boats had occurred earlier that day in the Tonkin Gulf — a report cited by President Johnson as he went on national TV that evening to announce a momentous escalation in the war: air strikes against North Vietnam.
But Johnson ordered U.S. bombers to “retaliate” for a North Vietnamese torpedo attack that never happened.
Prior to the U.S. air strikes, top officials in Washington had reason to doubt that any Aug. 4 attack by North Vietnam had occurred. Cables from the U.S. task force commander in the Tonkin Gulf, Captain John J. Herrick, referred to “freak weather effects,” “almost total darkness” and an “overeager sonarman” who “was hearing ship’s own propeller beat.”
One of the Navy pilots flying overhead that night was squadron commander James Stockdale, who gained fame later as a POW and then Ross Perot’s vice presidential candidate. “I had the best seat in the house to watch that event,” recalled Stockdale a few years ago, “and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets — there were no PT boats there…. There was nothing there but black water and American fire power.”
In 1965, Lyndon Johnson commented: “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.”
In late 2005, the National Security Agency declassified documents which conclusively show that there was no second attack. Of course, there have been charges that Johnson planned the whole thing to help with his reelection. I haven’t been able to find any hard evidence to support that. I don’t believe so myself. It is possible that he misrepresented the incident for political purposes. The resolution passed by congress had been written months before the incident. It is possible that Johnson knew by the time the resolution was being voted on that the “second attack” was questionable or false. Senator Morse was already dubious.
1965: April – U.S. Marines sent to Dominican Republic
After a period of political instability following the assassination of long-time Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1961, candidate Juan Bosch, a founder of the anti-Trujilloist Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), was elected President in December, 1962 and inaugurated in February 1963. His left-leaning policies, including land redistribution and the nationalization of certain foreign holdings, led to a military coup seven months later by a right-wing faction of the military led by General Elías Wessin y Wessin.
…Elías Wessin had stated: “The Communist doctrine, Marxist-Leninist, Castroite, or whatever it is called, is now outlawed.”
Subsequently, power was turned over to a civilian triumvirate. The new leaders quickly abolished the constitution, declaring it “nonexistent”. The two years that followed were filled with strikes and conflicts.
In 1965 rebels calling themselves “constitutionalists”, under Juan Bosch, attempted to overthrow the government. They were opposed by “loyalists”. Mobs began looting and were given guns by the constitutionalists. Johnson sent in the Marines ostensibly to protect Americans, but also over concerns of communist elements amongst the constitutionalists.
In 1966, former President Joaquín Balaguer (Trujillo’s 4th puppet president) was elected over Juan Bosch – with the overt support of the U.S. government. Bosch would never regain power. Relative political stability followed as the initially oppressive yet highly politically crafty Balaguer would go on to dominate Dominican politics for twenty-two years.
1965: July – Announcement of dispatching of 150,000 U.S. troops to Vietnam
After a Viet Cong attack on American barracks in Pleiku, Johnson ordered reprisal bombings of North Vietnam on February 6, 1965. This was later expanded, on February 21st, into a program of sustained bombing called Rolling Thunder. In March, deliberations led to the decision to escalate the ground war (see Larry Berman, Planning a Tragedy). In April, a battalion of U.S. marines landed at Da Nang; in May, the President submitted an emergency appropriation request to Congress to fund the U.S. effort in Vietnam; in June, LBJ gave General William Westmoreland the authority to commit American troops to ground combat operations in Vietnam.
From 16,000 troops at the end of the Kennedy Administration, the U.S. commitment grew to 184,000 troops by the end of 1965 and reached a peak of 537,000 in the last year (1968) of the Johnson Administration. In a sense, this was a “back door” escalation. There were no dramatic national addresses in which the public was “called to war.” In fact, the troop increases were typically announced at mid day with little or no fanfare. And LBJ explicitly refused to put the nation on a war footing and argued, in his 1966 State of the Union message, that the country could have both “guns and butter.”
Conventional “Warfare” in the Nuclear Age
The Johnson Administration essentially found itself in a predicament — a “political war trap” — that was a product of the nuclear era, the Cold War, and domestic politics in the United States. The “trap” involved a wavering ally whose regime was threatened. The option of not using military force was discounted for fear of a “communist success” if the ally fell and the domestic repercussions this would trigger. However, it was believed that unrestricted military force — such as crossing the Yalu River in the Korean War — threatened to embroil the United States in a superpower confrontation. Johnson believed, for example, that an all out military effort against North Vietnam would trigger a Chinese or Soviet response that could escalate into a nuclear exchange. Given this logic, action was limited to conventional military force designed to achieve limited and political (as opposed to territorial) objectives.
Thus, the administration escalated in response to North Vietnamese actions. Its objective was to inflict a level of pain on the North Vietnamese that was sufficient to make them bargain in earnest. Thus Vietnam became a war of attrition. Johnson would regularly characterize his decisions as taking the middle ground. He would not “pull out” as the “doves” and “nervous Nellies” suggested nor would he go “all out” as the “hawkish” military advisors recommended.
Fighting a war with limited and political objectives had an added liability. It was difficult to define and convey the idea of “progress” to the public. There were few set piece or conventional battles and American objectives were not defined in geographical terms (e.g., Berlin and Tokyo). Instead, the administration was forced to create and essentially sell indicators of progress to the public. Herein lies the origin of such commonly used terms as “pacification zones” and “kill ratios.”
Domestic Opposition to the War
Questioners, critics, and opponents to Johnson quickly arose. Perhaps the most prominent establishment figure was J. William Fulbright, the Democrat from Arkansas, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Fulbright was a one-time friend and ally of Lyndon Johnson and had, ironically, served as floor manager of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. He broke with Lyndon Johnson over the war in Vietnam and, in February 1966, led the Foreign Relations Committee through six days of televised hearings on the conduct of the war. To divert public attention from the hearings, Lyndon Johnson traveled to Honolulu to meet with South Vietnamese President Thieu. The Senate Committee would again hold hearings in August 1966 and in October-November of 1967.
Another source of early criticism against the war took the form of “teach ins” on college campuses. The first occurred at the University of Michigan in March of 1965. The practice spread to campuses throughout the nation.
As the war escalated, demonstrations and other forms of protest become commonplace on university campuses and in major cities of the U.S, including the October 1967 march on the Pentagon.
The protests focused upon American policy in Vietnam, the military draft, connections between universities and the Defense Department as well as Lyndon Johnson himself. The mention of “gaps” became commonplace in political discussions. Lyndon Johnson was said to suffer from a “credibility gap” owing to his campaign as “peace candidate” in 1964. There was a so-called “communications gap” between supporters and opponents of the war. Finally, there was increasing mention of a “generation gap” that divided those who came of age during World War II and those coming of age in the Vietnam era. Criticism of the Johnson Administration grew more widespread and strident because of the increasing number of Americans killed in Vietnam. The number of Americans killed in action rose from a monthly average of 172 during 1965 to an average of 770 in 1967.
The Light at the End
In November of 1967, the Administration launched an extensive “public relations” campaign. It was designed to convince Congress, the press, and the public that there was “progress” in Vietnam and that the war was being “won.” Johnson was advised to “[E]mphasize light at the end of the tunnel instead of battles, deaths, and danger.” “There are ways,” Johnson was told, “of guiding the press to show light at the end of the tunnel” (quoted in Larry Berman, Lyndon Johnson’s War, p. 98 and 99). To head this effort, Johnson brought General William Westmoreland, commander of American forces in Vietnam, to Washington. Westmoreland addressed the National Press Club saying that the U.S. had reached the point “where the end comes into view”
In the wake of this effort, public support of Lyndon Johnson rose. The effects of this effort would be short-lived however. On January 21, 1968, North Vietnamese regular forces launched an attack on the American installation at Khe Sahn, a remote outpost. The attack conjured up fears, especially for LBJ, of Dien Bien Phu and American forces were ordered to hold the base. The siege lasted for over two months and the North Vietnamese were eventually turned back after the base was reinforced in April of 1968.
The above provides a good summary of of events relative to the Vietnam War, but fails to convey the nature of the protests, the way they divided the nation, and the lasting effect they had on political perspectives in the U.S..
The first major demonstrations in the U.S. after WW II were civil rights related. We will cover them later. However, those demonstrations set a pattern and energized groups that were focused on “reform”. One group that got considerable attention was “Students for a Democratic Society” (SDS). The following is identified as an excerpt from A Decade of Defiance by Kirpatrick Sale.
Though I was never a member of SDS, …yet I came to share the same animus that motivated the shapers of SDS, the same sense of dislocation from the nation that inspired those still on the campuses, ultimately even the same radicalization that SDS generated not only in the universities but throughout so many levels of the society.
SDS taught the mechanics of political organizing and protest to an activist segment of the student population and restored the legitimacy of mass dissent to the national scene, leading eventually to such direct political consequences as liberalized laws (with respect, for example, to abortion, marijuana, homosexuality, community control, and the rights of blacks, women, and the young), the reorganization of the Democratic Party and the nomination of George McGovern, and the extension of suffrage to eighteen year olds. It was the seedbed for the women’s liberation movement—sometimes, to be sure, as much by inadvertence as intention—and supplied many of that movement’s initial converts, and it played a part both formally and informally in other kinds of political broadening such as high school organizing, GI resistance, trade union agitation, the Venceremos Brigades to Cuba, and “radical caucuses” in the professional societies of almost every branch of the academy. It was part of, and sometimes the leader of, the use of symbolic violence as a political weapon, beginning with aggressive confrontations at the time of the Pentagon march in 1967 and escalating through “trashing” and bombing, contributing to what must have been one of the most violent periods in American history since the labor struggles of the 1890s and leading Life magazine to declare that “never in the history of this country has a small group, standing outside the pale of conventional power, made such an impact or created such havoc.” It was thereby at least one of the causes for the vastly increased machinery of state repression that developed in the sixties—agents and informers, surveillance and harassment by FBI and police “Red Squads,” computerized files on millions of citizens, expanded teams of federal prosecutors—and that may be one of the decade’s most enduring monuments. Its early international contacts with representatives of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, the Republic of North Vietnam, Cuba, European Communist parties, and assorted Third World guerrilla groups were important in forging an international perspective for the Movement in its later stages, and the worldwide impact of the Movement was hailed by organizations from the Chinese Communist Party (citing it as one of the reasons for reopening contacts with the United States) and the NLF to the student movements of France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Japan.
And one more description of SDS and the protests, here.
SDS formed in 1960 as the collegiate arm of an Old Left institution with an impressive heritage–the League for Industrial Democracy. Jack London had been a member, as had Upton Sinclair, but the organization had long lain dormant until Michael Harrington, a New York socialist, revived it late in the 1950s as a forum for laborers, African Americans, and intellectuals. Within a single year, however, SDS was taken over by student radicals Al Haber and Tom Hayden, both of the University of Michigan. In June 1962, fifty-nine SDS members met with Harrington at Port Huron, Michigan, in a conference sponsored by the United Auto Workers. From this meeting materialized what has been called the manifesto of the New Left-the Port Huron Statement. Written by Hayden, the editor of the University of Michigan student newspaper, the 64-page document expressed disillusionment with the military-industrial-academic establishment. Hayden cited the uncertainty of life in Cold War America and the degradation of African Americans in the South as examples of the failure of liberal ideology and called for a reevaluation of academic acquiescence in what he claimed was a dangerous conspiracy to maintain a sense of apathy among American youth.
Throughout the first years of its existence, SDS focused on domestic concerns. The students, as with other groups of the Old and New Left, actively supported Lyndon Johnson in his 1964 campaign against Barry Goldwater. Following Johnson’s victory, they refrained from antiwar rhetoric to avoid alienating the president and possibly endangering the social programs of the Great Society. Although not yet an antiwar organization, SDS actively participated in the Civil Rights struggle and proved an important link between the two defining causes of the decade.
Another bridge between Civil Rights and the antiwar crusade was the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at the University of California at Berkeley. Begun in December 1964 by students who had participated in Mississippi’s “Freedom Summer,” the FSM provided an example of how students could bring about change through organization. In several skirmishes with University President Clark Kerr, the FSM and its dynamic leader Mario Savio publicized the close ties between academic and military establishments. With the rise of SDS and the FSM, the Old Left peace advocates had discovered a large and vocal body of sympathizers, many of whom had gained experience in dissent through the Civil Rights battles in the South. By the beginning of 1965, the antiwar movement base had coalesced on campuses and lacked only a catalyst to bring wider public acceptance to its position.
That catalyst appeared early in February, when the U.S. began bombing North Vietnam. The pace of protest immediately quickened; its scope broadened. In February and again in March of 1965, SDS organized marches on the Oakland Army Terminal, the departure point for many troops bound for Southeast Asia. On 24 March, faculty members at the University of Michigan held a series of “teach-ins,” modeled after earlier Civil Rights seminars, that sought to educate large segments of the student population about both the moral and political foundations of U.S. involvement. The teach-in format spread to campuses around the country and brought faculty members into active antiwar participation. In March, SDS escalated the scale of dissent to a truly national level, calling for a march on Washington to protest the bombing. On 17 April 1965, between 15,000 and 25,000 people gathered at the capital, a turnout that surprised even the organizers.
Buoyed by the attendance at the Washington march, movement leaders, still mainly students, expanded their methods and gained new allies over the next two years. “Vietnam Day,” a symposium held at Berkeley in October 1965, drew thousands to debate the moral basis of the war. Campus editors formed networks to share information on effective protest methods; two of these, the Underground Press Syndicate (1966) and the Liberation News Service (1967), became productive means of disseminating intelligence. In spring 1967, over 1,000 seminarians from across the country wrote to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara advocating recognition of conscientious objection on secular, moral grounds. In June, 10,000 students wrote, suggesting the secretary develop a program of alternative service for those who opposed violence. A two-day march on the Pentagon in October 1967 attracted nationwide media attention, while leaders of the war resistance called for young men to turn in their draft cards. The movement spread to the military itself; in 1966, the “Fort Hood 3” gained acclaim among dissenters for their refusal to serve in Vietnam. Underground railroads funneled draft evaders to Canada or to Sweden; churches provided sanctuary for those attempting to avoid conscription.
Perhaps the most significant development of the period between 1965 and 1968 was the emergence of Civil Rights leaders as active proponents of peace in Vietnam. In a January 1967 article written for the Chicago Defender, Martin Luther King, Jr. openly expressed support for the antiwar movement on moral grounds. Reverend King expanded on his views in April at the Riverside Church in New York, asserting that the war was draining much-needed resources from domestic programs. He also voiced concern about the percentage of African American casualties in relation to the total population. King’s statements rallied African American activists to the antiwar cause and established a new dimension to the moral objections of the movement. The peaceful phase of the antiwar movement had reached maturity as the entire nation was now aware that the foundations of administration foreign policy were being widely questioned.
As the movement’s ideals spread beyond college campuses, doubts about the wisdom of escalation also began to appear within the administration itself. As early as the summer of 1965, Undersecretary of State George Ball counseled President Johnson against further military involvement in Vietnam. In 1967 Johnson fired Defense Secretary McNamara after the secretary expressed concern about the moral justifications for war. Most internal dissent, however, focused not on ethical but on pragmatic criteria, many believing that the cost of winning was simply too high. But widespread opposition within the government did not appear until 1968. Exacerbating the situation was the presidential election of that year, in which Johnson faced a strong challenge from peace candidates Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and George McGovern, all Democrats, as well as his eventual successor, Richard M. Nixon. On 25 March Johnson learned that his closest advisors now opposed the war; six days later, he withdrew from the race.
As with the bombing of North Vietnam in 1965, which had touched off an explosion of interest in peace activities, another Southeast Asian catalyst instigated the most intense period of antiwar protest early in 1968. The Tet Offensive of late January led many Americans to question the administration’s veracity in reporting war progress and contributed to Johnson’s decision to retire. After Tet American public opinion shifted dramatically, with fully half of the population opposed to escalation. Dissent escalated to violence. In April protesters occupied the administration building at Columbia University; police used force to evict them. Raids on draft boards in Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Chicago soon followed, as activists smeared blood on records and shredded files. Offices and production facilities of Dow Chemical, manufacturers of napalm, were targeted for sabotage. The brutal clashes between police and peace activists at the August Democratic National Convention in Chicago typified the divided nature of American society and foreshadowed a continuing rise in domestic conflict.
The antiwar movement became both more powerful and, at the same time, less cohesive between 1969 and 1973. Most Americans pragmatically opposed escalating the U.S. role in Vietnam, believing the economic cost too high; in November of 1969 a second march on Washington drew an estimated 500,000 participants. At the same time, most disapproved of the counterculture that had arisen alongside the antiwar movement. The clean-cut, well-dressed SDS members, who had tied their hopes to McCarthy in 1968, were being subordinated as movement leaders. Their replacements deservedly gained less public respect, were tagged with the label “hippie,” and faced much mainstream opposition from middle-class Americans uncomfortable with the youth culture of the period-long hair, casual drug use, promiscuity. Protest music, typified by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, contributed to the gulf between young and old. Cultural and political protest had become inextricably intertwined within the movement’s vanguard. The new leaders became increasingly strident, greeting returning soldiers with jeers and taunts, spitting on troops in airports and on public streets. A unique situation arose in which most Americans supported the cause but opposed the leaders, methods, and culture of protest.
A highly publicized protest event occurred in 1972. Jane Fonda — actress, political activist and partner of anti-war protester Tom Hayden — entered enemy territory for two weeks in November and emerged, in the eyes of many, as a traitor after posing for photographs at the seat of an anti-aircraft cannon and making radio broadcasts urging U.S. airmen to stop bombing North Vietnam. Fonda told servicemen stationed on aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin that the bombs they were loading into planes were illegal and that using the bombs “makes one a war criminal.”
In 1988, Fonda went on ABC’s “20-20” news program and apologized to Vietnam veterans and their families for her actions. “I was trying to help end the killing,” Fonda said in an interview with Barbara Walters. “But there were times I was thoughtless and careless about it and I’m … very sorrythat I hurt them.” Asked about the continued bitterness over something that happened years ago — critics still refer to her as “Hanoi” Jane — Fonda said, “There are still festering wounds and a lot of pain, and for some I’ve become a lightning rod.”
1968: January– North Korea captured U.S.S. Pueblo (Link to the text below is broken. The story can be found here.
Initially designated a light cargo ship (AKL-44), she soon began conversion to a research ship and was redesignated AGER-2 shortly before commissioning in May 1967. Following training operations off the U.S. west coast, in November 1967 Pueblo departed for the Far East to undertake electronic intelligence collection and other duties.
On 23 January 1968, while off Wonsan, North Korea, Pueblo was attacked by local forces and seized. One crew member was killed in the assault and the other eighty-two men on board were taken prisoner. The North Koreans contended that the ship had violated their territorial waters, a claim vigorously denied by the United States. After eleven months in captivity, often under inhumane conditions, Pueblo’s crew were repatriated on 23 December 1968. The ship was retained by North Korea, though she is still the property of the U.S. Navy. She was exhibited at Wonsan and Hungham for three decades and is now a museum at Pyongyang, the North Korean capital city.
1968: August – Soviet troops crush Czechoslovakian revolt
In 1968, with their political, economic and social problems reaching critical mass, the communist party of Czechoslovakia replaced Novotny as Party Leader with Alexander Dubcek. Dubcek pushed practical reforms across the board, not only for Czechoslovakia but for the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet answer to NATO) as well. Dubcek’s reforms would, as he put it, put “a human face” on socialism. He established “a humanistic socialist democracy which would guarantee, among other things, freedom of religion, press, assembly, speech, and travel” Dubcek also pushed to improve relations with every nation in the world, regardless of the social and political affiliations; as a result, Dubcek’s popularity with the people of Czechoslovakia grew immensely. His popularity, however, did not extend to the other nations of the Warsaw Pact.
On the night of August 20, 1968, troops from Russia, Hungary, Bulgaria, East Germany, and Poland occupied Czechoslovakia. The Czechoslovakian government immediately declared that the “invasion was a violation of socialist principals, international law, and the United Nations Charter.” (1) During the occupation, those who initiated and supported the liberal reforms were forcibly removed to the Soviet Union in secrete and “were compelled to sign a treaty that provided for the “temporary stationing” of an unspecified number of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia.”1 On April 17th 1969, Dubcek was replaced as First Secretary by Gustav Husak and later was, along with many of his followers, stripped of party affiliation in a purge that slashed party membership by over a third.
Husak, as well as his successors, would deliver apology after apology for the 1968 invasion to quell opposition to the conservative regime; however, in the mean time, the economy of Czechoslovakia stagnated. Czechoslovakia would not see economic growth again until 1983, fifteen years after the invasion.
1968: November – Richard Nixon elected President
Richard Nixon entered the Republican convention as the front runner. He won the nomination on the first ballot. In his acceptance speech he stated:” When the strongest nation in the world can be tied down for four years in a war in Vietnam with no end in sight, when the richest nation in the world cannot manage its economy, when the nation with the greatest tradition of the rule of law is plagued by unprecedented racial violence, when the President of the United States cannot travel abroad, or to any major city at home, then it’s time for new leadership for the United States.”
The Democrats went through a grueling primary campaign. Eugene McCarthy, an early opponent of the war in Vietnam, almost upset President Johnson in the New Hampshire primary. This convinced Johnson not to run for re-election. At that point Vice President Humphrey announced his candidacy for the nomination. A primary battle followed, with Robert Kennedy pulling in the lead until his assassination. At this point Humphrey was able to sew up the nomination. He was nominated on the first ballot at a tumultuous convention in Chicago. The rioting and the police actions outside the convention hall dominated the news coverage and did not get the Humphrey campaign off to a good start.
1969: July 20 – Apollo 11 lands on the moon
1970: April – President Nixon extends Vietnam War to Cambodia
North Vietnam had been using bases in neighboring Cambodia for quite a while. Cambodia was neutral. Nixon’s strategy was to have the South Vietnamese Army take over increasing responsibility for the fighting. He was hoping to eliminate these “sanctuary” bases in Cambodia.
President Richard Nixon gives his formal authorization to commit U.S. combat troops, in cooperation with South Vietnamese units, against communist troop sanctuaries in Cambodia.
Secretary of State William Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, who had continually argued for a downsizing of the U.S. effort in Vietnam, were excluded from the decision to use U.S. troops in Cambodia. Gen. Earle Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cabled Gen. Creighton Abrams, senior U.S. commander in Saigon, informing him of the decision that a “higher authority has authorized certain military actions to protect U.S. forces operating in South Vietnam.” Nixon believed that the operation was necessary as a pre-emptive strike to forestall North Vietnamese attacks from Cambodia into South Vietnam as the U.S. forces withdrew and the South Vietnamese assumed more responsibility for the fighting. Nevertheless, three National Security Council staff members and key aides to presidential assistant Henry Kissinger resigned in protest over what amounted to an invasion of Cambodia.
When Nixon publicly announced the Cambodian incursion on April 30, it set off a wave of antiwar demonstrations. A protest at Kent State University resulted in the killing of four students by Army National Guard troops. Another student rally at Jackson State College in Mississippi resulted in the death of two students and 12 wounded when police opened fire on a women’s dormitory. The incursion angered many in Congress, who felt that Nixon was illegally widening the war; this resulted in a series of congressional resolutions and legislative initiatives that would severely limit the executive power of the president.
1972: May – SALT I signed
SALT I, the first series of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, extended from November 1969 to May 1972.
..Soviet and American weapons systems were far from symmetrical. The Soviet Union had continued its development and deployment of heavy ballistic missiles and had overtaken the U.S. lead in land-based ICBMs[Intercontinental Ballistic Missile]. During the SALT I years alone Soviet ICBMs rose from around 1,000 to around 1,500, and they were being deployed at the rate of some 200 annually. Soviet submarine-based launchers had quadrupled. The huge payload capacity of some Soviet missiles (“throw-weight”) was seen as a possible threat to U.S. land-based strategic missiles even in heavily protected (“hardened”) launch-sites.
The United States had not increased its deployment of strategic missiles since 1967 (when its ICBMs numbered 1,054 and its SLBMs[Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile] 656), but it was conducting a vigorous program of equipping missiles with “Multiple Independently-targeted Re-entry Vehicles” (MIRV). “MIRVs” permit an individual missile to carry a number of warheads directed at separate targets. MIRVs thus gave the United States a lead in numbers of warheads. The United States also retained a lead in long-range bombers. The Soviet Union had a limited ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] system around Moscow; the United States had shifted from its earlier plan for a “thin” ABM defense of certain American cities and instead began to deploy ABMs at two land-based ICBM missile sites to protect its retaliatory forces. (The full program envisaged 12 ABM complexes.)
…After initial attempts to reach a comprehensive agreement failed, the Soviets sought to restrict negotiations to antiballistic missile systems, maintaining that limitations on offensive systems should be deferred. The U.S. position was that to limit ABM systems but allow the unrestricted growth of offensive weapons would be incompatible with the basic objectives of SALT and that it was essential to make at least a beginning at limiting offensive systems as well. A long deadlock on the question was finally broken by exchanges at the highest levels of both governments. On May 20, 1971, Washington and Moscow announced that an understanding had been reached to concentrate on a permanent Treaty to limit ABM systems, but at the same time to work out certain limitations on offensive systems, and to continue negotiations for a more comprehensive and long-term agreement on the latter.
In a summit meeting in Moscow, after two and a half years of negotiation, the first round of SALT was brought to a conclusion on May 26, 1972, when President Nixon and General Secretary Brezhnev signed the ABM Treaty and the Interim Agreement on strategic offensive arms.
1973: January – Cease fire in Vietnam between North Vietnam and United States
The document began with the statement that “the United States and all other countries respect the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Vietnam as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Vietnam.” The inclusion of this provision was a victory for the communist side of the negotiations by allowing that the war was not a foreign aggression against South Vietnam. The main military and political provisions of the agreement were:
- Beginning on 27 January 1973 at midnight, Greenwich Mean Time — in Saigon time, 08:00 on 28 January — there would be an in-place ceasefire. North and South Vietnamese forces were to hold their locations. They were permitted to resupply military materials to the extent necessary to replace items consumed in the course of the truce.
- As soon as the ceasefire is in effect, U.S. troops (along with other foreign soldiers) would begin to withdraw, with withdrawal to be complete within sixty days. Simultaneously, U.S. prisoners of war would be released and allowed to return home. The parties to the agreement agreed to assist in repatriating the remains of the dead.
- There would be negotiations between the two South Vietnamese parties — Saigon and the Vietcong — towards a political settlement that would allow the South Vietnamese people to “decide themselves the political future of South Viet-Nam through genuinely free and democratic general elections under international supervision.”
- Reunification of Vietnam was to be “carried out step by step through peaceful means.”
1973: September – United States helps overthrow Chile government
This is another complicated event that has been partially clarified by the release of previously secret documents. From Geographia.com:
Although Chile’s war of independence [from Spain in 1817] brought into place a system of representative democracy, the country’s political history has not always been smooth. In 1970, a Marxist government under Dr. Salvador Allende came to power, having responded to the perceived failure of the established liberal party. Allende’s attempts to radically change the structure and direction of the country brought about a second political crisis however, and in 1973 a right-wing government under General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte seized power with assistance from the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Allende was killed in the coup, and Pinochet’s government maintained power for the next decade and a half, frequently resorting to terror in order to stifle discontent. In 1990, having failed in his bid to gain popular ratification for his rule, Pinochet handed over the presidency to the rightfully- elected Patricio Aylwin Azocar. Chile’s political climate has since remained stable, although there is still considerable tension between the military and the government concerning the human rights violations of the Pinochet era.
The complicated, partially resolved, issues revolve around the extent of CIA activities. U.S. involvement in Chilean politics began under President Kennedy because of concerns about increasing communist activities linked with Castro and Cuba. American corporations had major mining and manufacturing interests there that were particularly profitable. They were also a target of the leftist candidates. U.S. money was provided to support more desirable candidates.
Nevertheless, Allende achieved the presidency in 1970. He nationalized the mines and banks and instituted other reforms. Nixon cut off aid to Chile and the CIA began plotting ways to get rid of him. Various nefarious things were planned, but there is still apparently room for debate as to whether CIA activities were the primary reason for the Pinochet coup.
1973: October – Egypt and Syria attack Israel; Egypt requests Soviet aid
There are differing interpretations of this event also. From the History Learning Site:
[Anwar] Sadat, who succeeded Nasser in September 1970, assumed the responsibility of managing the international and domestic pressures that were impelling Egypt and the Middle East toward another war. Although the Soviets had replaced the enormous amounts of arms and equipment lost during the June 1967 War, Sadat and other Egyptian military leaders had become wary of the Soviet military’s increasing influence on national affairs. In mid-1972 Sadat dismissed most of the Soviet advisers as part of his preparations for recovering Sinai. In January 1973, Egypt began planning a top-secret project known as Operation Badr in conjunction with Syria.
Early in the afternoon of October 6, 1973, Egypt launched the operation with a massive artillery barrage against Israeli positions on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal. Water cannons mounted on pontoons sliced gaps in the high sandbank of the Bar-Lev Line, permitting armored vehicles to cross on assault craft. By midnight ten bridges and fifty ferries had carried 80,000 Egyptian troops across the waterway and one kilometer beyond the embankment. Almost all of the armor of the Egyptian Second Army and Third Army crossed the following day. By October 9, the Egyptian bridgeheads were seven to ten kilometers east of the canal. The Soviet-supplied antitank missiles and rockets repulsed the initial Israeli counterattacks. The newer Soviet SAMs protected Egyptian forces from Israeli air attacks, but as Egyptian troops advanced beyond the missile defenses, they were exposed to punishing air attacks.
On October 14, Egyptian armored columns took the offensive to try to seize the main routes leading to Tasa and the Giddi and Mitla passes. In the largest tank battle since World War II, the Egyptian attack failed when Israeli gunnery proved superior, and the Israelis’ defensive positions gave them an added advantage. Mounting a strong counterattack, the Israelis thrust toward the canal and narrowly succeeded in crossing it just north of Great Bitter Lake. Egyptian forces on the east bank heavily contested Israel’s weak link to the canal bridgehead, but by October 19, the Israelis succeeded in breaking out west of the canal. Stubborn Egyptian defenses prevented the loss of the cities of Ismailia (Al Ismailiyah) and Suez at the southern end of the canal until a UN cease-fire took effect on October 24, 1973. Before the cease-fire, however, the Israelis had isolated the Egyptian Third Army on the east bank of the canal.
Under a disengagement agreement reached on January 17, 1974, Israel withdrew its forces from west of the canal while Egyptian forces withdrew from the east bank to a depth of about eight kilometers. The agreement also provided for a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to occupy a north-south buffer strip about eight kilometers wide and allowed a limited number of Israeli troops to occupy a similar zone to the east of the UNEF.
Then there is this account of the same battle from Arab News:
In the war of October 1973, Egypt crushed the Israeli army of occupation. They destroyed the Barlief Line that was described by military experts as unparalleled in military history and ended the lie that Israel had an invincible army. This year  for the first time Egypt is celebrating its victory throughout the month of October rather than just on the day of victory.
The Egyptian media’s strong interest in this historical event led to the uncovering of a number of previously hidden facts about the Egyptian attack which have remained unknown until this year. Maj. G.K. Molton, a former officer in the U.S. Air Force and considered an expert and strategic military analysis, says, “The steps taken by Egypt and Syria on the military and political planning level greatly contributed to the victory… On the 6th of October, the Egyptian Air Force bombed all command and strategic Israeli targets in Sinai using 240 planes. In the ensuing confrontation, the Egyptians brought down 50 Israeli planes in three days — this was never admitted by Israel. The Egyptian Air Force also destroyed or damaged around a quarter of the Israeli Air Force during the war… The second and third armies then crossed the Suez Canal and broke through the Barlief Line under the cover of cannon fire… All Egyptian military battalions played their roles in an exceptional manner… The October War was truly an important triumph for Egypt and the Arab world.”
1974: August – President Nixon resigns
During the presidential campaign of 1972 the Democratic party had an office in the Watergate office complex in Washington. On June 17 it was burglarized and subsequent investigations linked the perpetrators to members of Nixon’s staff. He and his staff tried valiantly to cover up whatever involvement they had, but persistent efforts by journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, made it quite clear that the White House was at the very least obstructing the investigation. Facing impeachment, Nixon eventually resigned, leaving Jerald Ford as the 38th President of the U.S..
1975: April 17 – North Vietnam defeats South Vietnam
On 15 January 1973, Nixon announced a suspension of offensive actions against North Vietnam. Kissinger and Tho met again on 23 January and signed off on a treaty that was basically identical to the draft of three months earlier. The agreement was signed by the leaders of the official delegations on 27 January at the Majestic Hotel in Paris.
Numerous violations of the Paris Peace Accords were committed by both sides. The North Vietnamese and their South Vietnamese allies continued their attempt to overthrow President Thieu’s U.S. supported government in South Vietnam. North Vietnamese military forces gradually moved through the southern provinces and two years later were in position to capture Saigon.
The U.S. had promised Thieu that it would use airpower to support his government. During his confirmation hearings in June 1973, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger was sharply criticized by some Senators after he stated that he would recommend resumption of U.S. bombing in North Vietnam if North Vietnam launched a major offensive against South Vietnam. However, Nixon was driven from office due to the Watergate scandal in 1974 and when the North Vietnamese did begin their final offensive early in 1975, the United States Congress refused to appropriate the funds needed by the South Vietnamese, who collapsed completely. Thieu resigned, accusing the U.S. of betrayal in a TV and radio address:
“At the time of the peace agreement the United States agreed to replace equipment on a one-by-one basis. But the United States did not keep its word. Is an American’s word reliable these days? The United States did not keep its promise to help us fight for freedom and it was in the same fight that the United States lost 50,000 of its young men.”
The North Vietnamese entered Saigon on April 30. Schlesinger had announced early in the morning of 29 April 1975 the evacuation from Saigon by helicopter of the last U.S. diplomatic, military, and civilian personnel.
1975: April – Cambodia falls to Pol Pot
By 1975, the U.S. had withdrawn its troops from Vietnam. Cambodia’s government, plagued by corruption and incompetence, also lost its American military support. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army, consisting of teenage peasant guerrillas, marched into Phnom Penh and on April 17 effectively seized control of Cambodia.
Once in power, Pol Pot began a radical experiment to create an agrarian utopia inspired in part by Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution which he had witnessed first-hand during a visit to Communist China.
Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” economic program included forced evacuations of Chinese cities and the purging of “class enemies.” Pol Pot would now attempt his own “Super Great Leap Forward” in Cambodia, which he renamed the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea.
He began by declaring, “This is Year Zero,” and that society was about to be “purified.” Capitalism, Western culture, city life, religion, and all foreign influences were to be extinguished in favor of an extreme form of peasant Communism.
All foreigners were thus expelled, embassies closed, and any foreign economic or medical assistance was refused. The use of foreign languages was banned. Newspapers and television stations were shut down, radios and bicycles confiscated, and mail and telephone usage curtailed. Money was forbidden. All businesses were shuttered, religion banned, education halted, health care eliminated, and parental authority revoked. Thus Cambodia was sealed off from the outside world.
All of Cambodia’s cities were then forcibly evacuated. At Phnom Penh, two million inhabitants were evacuated on foot into the countryside at gunpoint. As many as 20,000 died along the way.
Millions of Cambodians accustomed to city life were now forced into slave labor in Pol Pot’s “killing fields” where they soon began dying from overwork, malnutrition and disease, on a diet of one tin of rice (180 grams) per person every two days.
Workdays in the fields began around 4 a.m. and lasted until 10 p.m., with only two rest periods allowed during the 18 hour day, all under the armed supervision of young Khmer Rouge soldiers eager to kill anyone for the slightest infraction. Starving people were forbidden to eat the fruits and rice they were harvesting. After the rice crop was harvested, Khmer Rouge trucks would arrive and confiscate the entire crop.
Ten to fifteen families lived together with a chairman at the head of each group. All work decisions were made by the armed supervisors with no participation from the workers who were told, “Whether you live or die is not of great significance.” Every tenth day was a day of rest. There were also three days off during the Khmer New Year festival.
Throughout Cambodia, deadly purges were conducted to eliminate remnants of the “old society” – the educated, the wealthy, Buddhist monks, police, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and former government officials. Ex-soldiers were killed along with their wives and children. Anyone suspected of disloyalty to Pol Pot, including eventually many Khmer Rouge leaders, was shot or bludgeoned with an ax. “What is rotten must be removed,” a Khmer Rouge slogan proclaimed.
In the villages, unsupervised gatherings of more than two persons were forbidden. Young people were taken from their parents and placed in communals. They were later married in collective ceremonies involving hundreds of often-unwilling couples.
Up to 20,000 persons were tortured into giving false confessions at Tuol Sleng, a school in Phnom Penh which had been converted into a jail. Elsewhere, suspects were often shot on the spot before any questioning.
Ethnic groups were attacked including the three largest minorities; the Vietnamese, Chinese, and Cham Muslims, along with twenty other smaller groups. Fifty percent of the estimated 425,000 Chinese living in Cambodia in 1975 perished. Khmer Rouge also forced Muslims to eat pork and shot those who refused.
On December 25, 1978, Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Cambodia seeking to end Khmer Rouge border attacks. On January 7, 1979, Phnom Penh fell and Pol Pot was deposed. The Vietnamese then installed a puppet government consisting of Khmer Rouge defectors.
Pol Pot retreated into Thailand with the remnants of his Khmer Rouge army and began a guerrilla war against a succession of Cambodian governments lasting over the next 17 years. After a series of internal power struggles in the 1990s, he finally lost control of the Khmer Rouge. In April 1998, 73-year-old Pol Pot died of an apparent heart attack following his arrest, before he could be brought to trial by an international tribunal for the events of 1975-79.
1979: July – SALT II signed
The primary goal of SALT II was to replace the Interim Agreement with a long-term comprehensive Treaty providing broad limits on strategic offensive weapons systems. The principal U.S. objectives as the SALT II negotiations began were to provide for equal numbers of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles for the sides, to begin the process of reduction of these delivery vehicles, and to impose restraints on qualitative developments which could threaten future stability.
SALT II negotiations began in November 1972. A major breakthrough occurred at the Vladivostok meeting in November 1974, between President Ford and General Secretary Brezhnev. At this meeting, the sides agreed to a basic framework for the SALT II agreement. The completed SALT II agreement was signed by President Carter and General Secretary Brezhnev in Vienna on June 18, 1979. President Carter transmitted it to the Senate on June 22 for its advice and consent to ratification. On January 3, 1980, however, President Carter requested the Senate majority leader to delay consideration of the Treaty on the Senate floor in view of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
1979: November – Shah of Iran overthrown
Mohammad Reza Shah, generally called the “Shah of Iran”, replaced his father as the ruler of Iran during WW II. Initially a reformer, he gradually became more despotic and ruthless. By the 1970s there was considerable opposition to him by fundamentalist Islamists led primarily by an exiled cleric named Ayatollah Khomeini, with backing from, who else, the Soviet Union. The U.S. tried to prop up the Shah, but by 1979 he fled the country, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned, and the government fell.
1979: – Soviet Union sends troops to Afghanistan
An Islamist revolution in Afghanistan was threatening a pro-Soviet government. At the request of the Afghan government, the Soviet Union responded with military aid which rather quickly became extensive. The Afghan rebels got secret aid from the U.S..
1980: Ronald Reagan elected President
1983: – President Reagan proposes Strategic Defense Initiative
Since early in the Cold War a relative balance in nuclear power between the U.S. and the U.S.SR had made it unlikely that either side would initiate an attack on the other. Regardless of which side attacked first, the other would still have sufficient resources to destroy the other. The concept was called “Mutually Assured Destruction”, or MAD.
In 1983 Reagan proposed that the U.S. develop an extraordinarily sophisticated shield that could protect us from any attack. Things that were under consideration included high powered lasers and anti-missile missiles. He called the idea the “Strategic Defense Initiative” (SDI), but it acquired the popular name “Star Wars” after the current hit movie. There were many critics who feared that it would upset the balance of power and lead to a renewed “arms race” with the U.S.SR, possibly destabilizing things enough to make war more likely. Regan countered by saying that the U.S. would share SDI technology with other countries if they would renounce nuclear weapons. Research began on ways to achieve the SDI objectives.
1983: October – U.S. troops overthrow regime in Grenada
…in 1974, Grenada was granted independence from Britain. The new government, led by Sir Eric Gairy, slowly moved toward a totalitarian state, which triggered a revolt.
When Gairy was in New York, speaking at the United Nations in March 1979, Maurice Bishop, a well-liked and educated leftist, led a bloodless coup to usurp control of the Grenadan government.
Bishop espoused a government based on the New JEWEL Movement (New Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation), a rural activist association. JEWEL had merged with the intelligentsia of the Movement for Assemblies of the People (MAP), whose political roots were grounded in the Black Power movement. Bishop’s Marxist leanings led to ties with Cuba, Russia, and other left-wing countries.
Bishop invited Cuban engineers to his island to build an international airport to enhance tourism. That was seen by President Ronald Reagan as a threat to the United States because the airstrip could be used to build up an arms cache, and propel a military build-up in the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, hard-line Marxist Bernard Coard, Bishop’s deputy prime minister and erstwhile friend, felt that Bishop didn’t operate far enough to the left. On October 19, 1983, Coard, backed by his own military, seized power in a bloody coup, then executed Bishop and members of his inner circle.
That latest attempt to install a Marxist-Leninist government within the U.S. sphere of influence so alarmed members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, that they appealed to the U.S., Barbados, and Jamaica to intervene. At stake was not only a struggle of ideologies, but also a threat to about 1,000 medical students living on the island, many of whom were Americans…
…Grenadan troops numbered about 1,200, with about 800 Cubans (mostly construction workers with handguns) and 60 advisors from the Soviet Union, North Korea, East Germany, Bulgaria, and Libya. That small contingent was soon confronted by a U.S.-led international force of about 7,300 men.
The operation was deemed a success, with minimal U.S. casualties (19 killed, 106 injured), and was wrapped up in mid-December. Coard, his family, and close advisors were arrested. Coard was tried and sentenced to death, but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. The remaining Cubans and other survivors were arrested; native Grenadans were released, and a pro-American government took power.
1985: – Mikhail Gorbachev ascends to power in Soviet Union
After Stalin’s death, none of the Russian leaders that followed seemed quite as ruthless. Nevertheless, they all generated some fear and suspicion. It didn’t take long for Gorbachev to seem different and more open to a lessening of tension.
1986: – Gorbachev ends economic aid to Soviet satellites
The Russian economy had been in bad shape long before Gorbachev came to power. By that time it was critical, and it was of paramount importance to him to bring it around. Many of his policy changes were driven as much by economic forces as they were by desires for better relationships with the west. The extent of Russia’s economic trouble does not seem to have been well understood by the west. A very large part of the Russian budget was for military purposes.
1986: October – Reagan and Gorbachev summit meeting
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND, OCT. 12 — The summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev collapsed tonight after the two leaders had tentatively agreed to sweeping reductions in nuclear arsenals but deadlocked on the crucial issue of restricting the U.S. space-based missile defense program widely known as “Star Wars.”
Secretary of State George P. Shultz, reporting in a strained voice on a meeting that began with bright promise and ended gloomily after more than seven hours of negotiation today, said he was “deeply disappointed” and no longer saw “any prospect” for a summit meeting in Washington between the two leaders in the coming months.
Gorbachev, in a news conference tonight, painted a bleak picture of U.S.-Soviet relations leading up to this weekend’s summit and said that the talks had “ruptured” over the fundamental differences between the superpowers on the Strategic Defense Initiative and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. He said Reagan’s insistence on deploying SDI had “frustrated and scuttled” the opportunity for an agreement.
1986: November – Iran-Contra Affair revealed to public
The Iran-Contra Affair was a clandestine action not approved of by the United States Congress. It began in 1985, when President Ronald Reagan’s administration supplied weapons to Iran — a sworn enemy — in hopes of securing the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by Hezbollah terrorists loyal to the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s leader.
The U.S. took millions of dollars from the weapons sale and routed them and guns to the right-wing “Contra” guerrillas in Nicaragua. The Contras were the armed opponents of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction, following the July 1979 overthrow of strongman Anastasio Somoza Debayle and the ending of the Somoza family’s 43-year reign.
The transactions that took place in the Iran-Contra scandal were contrary to the legislation of the Democratic-dominated Congress and contrary to official Reagan administration policy.
Part of the deal was that, in July 1985, the United States would send 508 American-made TOW anti-tank missiles from Israel to Iran for the safe exchange of a hostage, the Reverend Benjamin Weir.
After that successful transfer, the Israelis offered to ship 500 HAWK surface-to-air missiles to Iran in November 1985, in exchange for the release of all remaining American hostages being held in Lebanon. Eventually the arms were sold with proceeds going to the contras, and the hostages were released.
In February 1986, 1,000 TOW missiles were shipped to Iran. From May to November, there were more shipments of various weapons and parts.
Eventually Hezbollah elected to kidnap more hostages following their release of the previous ones, which rendered meaningless any further dealings with Iran.
It was not until 1986 that word had gotten out about the secret transactions. The Lebanese magazine Ash-Shiraa published a series of articles in November 1986, that exposed the weapons-for-hostages deal. On November 18th, 1987, the Congress issued a report on the affair that stated the president bore “ultimate responsibility.”
Upon further investigation, Attorney General Edwin Meese verified the report and an independent special prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, was assigned to investigate the deals involving the arms sale and the Contra support.
President Reagan appointed a review board, headed by former Republican Senator John Tower. The Tower Commission’s report concluded that the president had been inefficient in controlling the National Security Council, the agency that had actually made the illegal deals, and had known about the arms sale to the Iranians. However, it could not be discovered in hearings if the president had known about the Contra support.
The hearings surrounding the scandals were televised from May to August in 1987. Military aide Marine Lt. Colonel Oliver North, former CIA chief William J. Casey, National Security Advisor John Poindexter, former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger, and many other high-ranking government officials were publicly investigated.
It was finally found that National Security Advisor Poindexter had personally authorized the diversion of money to the Contra rebels; all the while withholding the information from President Reagan. The CIA’s William J. Casey played a part in the conspiracy, but he died during the hearings.
As a military aide to the National Security Council, North had been the main negotiator. During his hearings he repeatedly explained that he was “under orders from his superiors.” North’s plea of innocence was overlooked, and in May 1989, he was convicted of obstructing Congress and unlawfully destroying government documents. A few years later, when George H.W. Bush was president, North’s conviction was expunged on the grounds that he had acted strictly out of patriotism.
Poindexter was convicted in April 1990 on five counts of deceiving Congress and sentenced to six months in prison. Two years later, Weinberger also was convicted of five counts of deceiving Congress. Both Poindexter and Weinberger’s convictions were overturned — which relieved them of any accumulated responsibility.
On Christmas Eve 1992, President Bush issued presidential pardons to all indicted in the scandal. The Iran-Contra Affair was ended.
1987: June 12 – Reagan gives Berlin Wall speech
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
1987: October – Reagan and Gorbachev agree to remove all medium and short-range nuclear missiles by signing treaty
U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sign a fundamental disarmament agreement. The two sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been stalled for years (see September 1981 through November 1983). The INF Treaty eliminates an entire class of intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles. It also provides for on-site verifications for each side (which agrees with Reagan’s signature quote, “Trust but verify”). And it marks the first real multi-lateral reduction of nuclear weapons, even if it is only a 5 percent reduction.
1989: January – Soviet troops withdraw from Afghanistan
The following based on a review of documents released after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet documents show that ending the war in Afghanistan, which Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev called “the bleeding wound,” was among his highest priorities from the moment he assumed power in 1985 – a point he made clear to then-Afghan Communist leader Babrak Karmal in their first conversation on March 14, 1985. Already in 1985, according to the documents, the Soviet Politburo was discussing ways of disengaging from Afghanistan, and actually reached the decision in principle on October 17, 1985.
The documents detail the Soviet leadership’s preoccupation that, before withdrawal of troops could be carried out, the Afghan internal situation had to be stabilized and a new government should be able to rely on its domestic power base and a trained and equipped army able to deal with the mujahadeen opposition. The Soviets sought to secure the Afghan borders through some kind of compromise with the two other most important outside players—Pakistan, through which weapons and aid reached the opposition, and the United States, provider of the bulk of that aid. In the process of Geneva negotiations on Afghanistan, which were initiated by the United Nations in 1982, the United States, in the view of the Soviet reformers, was dragging its feet, unwilling to stop arms supplies to the rebels and hoping and planning for the fall of the pro-Soviet Najibullah regime after the Soviet withdrawal.
Persistent pleading on the part of Najibullah government as late as January 1989 created an uncharacteristic split in the Soviet leadership, with Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze suggesting that the withdrawal should be slowed down or some forces should remain to help protect the regime, while the military leadership argued strongly in favor of a complete and decisive withdrawal.
By this time, however, the Soviet leaders well realized that the goal of building socialism in Afghanistan was illusory; and at the same time the goal of securing the southern borders of the Soviet Union seemed to be still within reach with the policy of national reconciliation of the Najibullah government. So the troops came out completely by February 15, 1989. Soon after the Soviet withdrawal, however, both superpowers seemed to lose interest in what had been so recently the hottest spot of the Cold War.
Najibullah would outlast Gorbachev’s tenure in the Kremlin, but not by much: Within three years Najibullah would be removed from power and brutally murdered, and Afghanistan would plunge into the darkness of civil war and the coming to power of the Taliban. Twenty years later, the other superpower and its Cold War alliance are fighting a war in Afghanistan against forces of darkness that were born among the fundamentalist parts of mujahadeen resistance to the Soviet occupation.
1989: June – China puts down student protests
The following is condensed from asianhistory.about.com
By the 1980s, the leaders of China’s Communist Party knew that classical Maoism had failed. Mao Zedong’s policy of rapid industrialization and collectivization of land, the “Great Leap Forward,” had killed tens of millions of people by starvation.
The country then descended into the terror and anarchy of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), an orgy of violence and destruction that saw teenaged Red Guards humiliate, torture, murder and sometimes even cannibalize hundreds of thousands or millions of their compatriots. Irreplaceable cultural heirlooms were destroyed; traditional Chinese arts and religion were all but extinguished.
China’s leadership knew that they had to make changes in order to remain in power, but what reforms should they make?
Hu Yaobang was a reformist, who served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China from 1980 to 1987. He advocated rehabilitation of people persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, greater autonomy for Tibet, rapprochement with Japan, and social and economic reform. As a result, he was forced out of office by the hardliners in January of 1987, and made to offer humiliating public “self-criticisms” for his allegedly bourgeois ideas.
Hu Yaobang died of a heart attack not long after his ouster and disgrace, on April 15, 1989.
Official media made just brief mention of Hu’s death, and the government at first did not plan to give him a state funeral. In reaction, university students from across Beijing marched on Tiananmen Square, shouting acceptable, government-approved slogans, and calling for the rehabilitation of Hu’s reputation.
Bowing to this pressure, the government decided to accord Hu a state funeral after all. However, government officials on April 19 refused to receive a delegation of student petitioners, who patiently waited to speak with someone for three days at the Great Hall of the People. This would prove to be the government’s first big mistake.
Hu’s subdued memorial service took place on April 22, and was greeted by huge student demonstrations involving about 100,000 people. Hardliners within the government were extremely uneasy about the protests, but General Secretary Zhao Ziyang believed that the students would disperse once the funeral ceremonies were over. Zhao was so confident that he took a week-long trip to North Korea for a summit meeting.
The students, however, were enraged that the government had refused to receive their petition, and emboldened by the meek reaction to their protests. After all, the Party had refrained from cracking down on them thus far, and had even caved in to their demands for a proper funeral for Hu Yaobang. They continued to protest, and their slogans strayed further and further from the approved texts.
The morning of June 3, 1989, the 27th and 28th divisions of the People’s Liberation Army moved into Tiananmen Square on foot and in tanks, firing tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. They had been ordered not to shoot the protesters; indeed, most of them did not carry firearms.
Not only the student protesters, but tens of thousands of workers and ordinary citizens of Beijing joined together to repel the Army. They used burned-out buses to create barricades, threw rocks and bricks at the soldiers, and even burned some tank crews alive inside their tanks. Thus, the first casualties of the Tiananmen Square Incident were actually soldiers.
The student protest leadership now faced a difficult decision. Should they evacuate the Square before further blood could be shed, or hold their ground? In the end, many of them decided to remain.
That night, around 10:30 pm, the PLA returned to the area around Tiananmen with rifles, bayonets fixed. The tanks rumbled down the street, firing indiscriminately.
Students shouted “Why are you killing us?” to the soldiers, many of whom were about the same age as the protesters. Rickshaw drivers and bicyclists darted through the melee, rescuing the wounded and taking them to hospitals. In the chaos, a number of non-protesters were killed as well.
Contrary to popular belief, the bulk of the violence took place in the neighborhoods all around Tiananmen Square, rather than in the Square itself.
Throughout the night of June 3 and early hours of June 4, the troops beat, bayoneted, and shot protesters. Tanks drove straight into crowds, crushing people and bicycles under their treads. By 6 a.m. on June 4th, 1989, the streets around Tiananmen Square had been cleared.
Nobody knows how many people died in the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The official Chinese government figure is 241, but this is almost certainly a drastic undercount. Between soldiers, protesters and civilians, it seems likely that anywhere from 800 to 4,000 people were killed. The Chinese Red Cross initially put the toll at 2,600, based on counts from local hospitals, but then quickly retracted that statement under intense government pressure.
1989: June – Poland becomes independent
1989: September – Hungary becomes independent
1989: November – Berlin Wall falls
1989: December – Communist governments fall in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Rumania; Soviet empire ends
1990: March – Lithuania becomes independent
1990: May 29 – Boris Yeltsin elected to presidency of Russia
1990: October 3 – Germany reunited
1991: April – Warsaw Pact ends
1991: August – End of Soviet Union, Cold War Ends
The rapidity of the downfall of the Soviet Union caught the world by surprise. It apparently even caught the Russian government by surprise. There is a vast amount of material available about this and I invite you to find and read a few analyses. There is no question that the trigger was economic. However, the secrecy demanded by such a totalitarian regime resulted in even the government not having a realistic picture of its economic position.
Gorbachev intended to introduce reforms and revive the economy. Russians were not buying Russian made goods because of poor quality. They had to buy western or Japanese products to get anything decent. Russian products weren’t exportable. Shelves were empty in the stores and when things were available long lines formed in an attempt get something.
It had to be clear to anyone in the Soviet Union that communism wasn’t working as advertised. And not just in Russia. Compare West Germany with East Germany, North Korea with South Korea, Japan and Taiwan with China.
He couldn’t get accurate answers about where money was being spent, and what programs were being financed. False records designed to protect the managers of various programs were commonplace, and even post-collapse analysis has been unable to unravel everything.
It is understandable to think that the Star Wars defense project in the U.S. forced major additional spending in Russia that caused, or accelerated the collapse. That idea is strongly denied by the Russians who ought to know. But then, they don’t really have better answers. If Star Wars did contribute, I have seen no indication that Reagan was using it in this way.
There were also internal events that had a negative psychological impact. The long war in Afghanistan, the nuclear plant disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 and the loss of the nuclear sub Komsomolets in 1989 had to cast doubts on the superiority of the communist system that Marx predicted.
There was also external pressure from the Catholic Pope, John Paul II. In 1980, workers in Gdansk, Poland went on strike. The Pope supported the strike and instructed Polish Primate Wyszynski to do the same. This worker’s movement became known as Solidarity, and launched the Polish struggle against communist rule and Soviet influence. In 1981, the actions of the workers lead to the Polish government declaring martial law. Pope John Paul II publicly denounced the move in his radio broadcasts. It is believed that messages from Pope John Paul II to jailed Polish union leaders, were smuggled in the robes of priests. When in 1982 a priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, took a strong public stand against the Polish regime, he received encouragement from the Pope. Popieluszko’s actions, such as participating in sit-ins, lead to Polish Communist officials having him murdered. The events sparked by Solidarity lead to Poland becoming the Eastern Bloc’s first freely elected government.