Shattering of Liberal Consensus and the American Involvement in Vietnam War
Events facilitated by both the emergence of civil rights movements and the assassination of U.S president J. Kennedy were key elements in shattering the liberal consensus in the 1960s. Liberal ideologies that had been well-established since the 1950’s in the USA came apart in 1968 with the upcoming civil rights movements in the early 1960’s. This intact phenomenon was closely related to the America’s economic success. Liberalism advocated for eradication of poverty by empowering the minority through education. It held a school of thought that it is only through education that people would compete equally in the job market. The notion that the Civil Rights Act (1964) vis-à-vis education would resolve the ills of discrimination did not hold. It is proper adoption and application of theories such as Keynesian’s economics that guaranteed economic success. This constant growth of economy fueled the liberal belief that economic problems as well as civil rights will be resolved. However, questions have been raised about how such fundamental ideologies could be shattered and why. Factors attributed to the fall of the liberal consensus are, for instance, Vietnam War, diminishing economy and the upsurge of the civil rights movements.The Vietnam War’s impact on the economy is an example of signals for activism by civil rights movements. The Civil Rights and Black movements in the 1960’s were led by intelligent and visionary leaders. Iconic figures such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X led these movements. These organizations in the early 1960s were fighting for equal rights and they included the Nation of Islam, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), Organization of American Unity (OAAU), Black Panther Party, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
These movements organized conferences, held rallies, and made publications to express their beliefs and to show how many American people were oppressed and in particular the black minority. For instance, SDS organized a demonstration on 17th April 1965 protesting the Vietnam War. The movement also requested economic freedom and a paradigm shift from the capitalist economy. However, this did not last long; its fall came in the late 1960s. Students from a Democratic Society gained its influence and massive support from the disorderly social systems which promoted oppression of the racial minorities. RAM which was formed in 1963 by black college students advocated for a Marxist revolution in a military-styled campaign. Its activities did not last for long and in1967 its leadership was attacked by law enforcement agencies. In 1966, activists in California formed Black Panthers after being frustrated with persistent oppression and inspired by philosophies of Malcolm X. They requested equality for all, end of Vietnam War, and better education services. The Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955/1966 and subsequent recognition of Rosa Parks as “Mother of the Modern day Civil Rights Movement" and the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Topeka landmark ruling also formed the base for the revolutionary change .
Although these civil rights movements continued their revolution crusade, they were drastically affected by the fact that their leaders had been killed. Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965 whereas Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. However, with their continued activism, major achievements, for instance, government recognition and the enactment of Civil Rights Act were recorded. This became a wake-up call to the government that a paradigm shift was a necessity. It is thus undisputable that human rights movements were paramount in changing the face of events and the status quo in various aspects of liberalism in the 1960s. The rights movement has thus been paramount in the democratization process in U.S both at international and internal levels. Time and again, rights movements were regarded as a threat to the established social order. Failure to understand the right movement’s contradictions imposed potential delay on shattering liberalism. Today, accolades are given to Martin Luther’s dream even though many liberals, such J. Edgar, fear the capacity of rights movements to cause dissatisfaction within America.
Following the death of U.S president, John F. Kennedy, there were a lot of changes regarding the issue of liberalism as supported by the president. According to Pierson, progressive liberalism was at stake in 1968 despite narratives regarding America’s liberalism weakness and optimism that it could be successfully perfected. There was a speculation that Kennedy’s assassin was an affiliate to the radical right and hence liberals could not believe that Lee Harvey was in fact a communist. Most leaders argued that Kennedy`s death was a casualty while others saw his death as a result of the Americans anger and hatred. The basics of liberalism changed during1963-1968 with Kennedy’s death having a pivotal role in this change. It is worth noting that during the decade preceding the 1960s, liberalism had been future oriented and progressive. By 1968, liberalism had changed significantly with the liberals now claiming that America’s prosperity was founded on despoiling the environment and materialism. The liberals labeled America as a country of dictators signifying a change in discourse and indicating an end of the American liberalism. In the 1950s, there was a lacked consensus on what liberalism meant, but this trend changed after 1963 in that it was transforming from a new deal’s programmatic liberalism to a liberalism based on ideas. In defense of this change, the liberals termed the changes as an evolution based on a new liberal tradition. Following the assassination of Kennedy, people from North East regions started to move to South West. Cultural issues emanating from the assassination of Kennedy were also the main factored in the course of liberalism change. Initially, liberalism was based on the American exceptionalism but all these beliefs changed after Kennedy’s death with liberals taking an adversarial stand against the USA, and this has continued for years. As Pierson notes, the change in liberalism signaled an increasingly high instantiation with regard to the American experience. According to Hilsman, liberalism became deeply divided in the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination and was highly characterized by revolution and irrationalism. Being incapable of coming to an agreement regarding Kennedy’s assassination, the liberals established the ideology of a martyred president who died for a country that did not deserve it. Due to the failure to consider Kennedy as a democrat assassinated by communists, the liberals set the stage for the destruction of liberalism.
America’s Involvement in Vietnam
The Vietnam War was one of the worst consequence resulting from the U.S intervention and control over the affairs of other countries in a bid to further its interests. Being one of the longest wars in U.S history, the Vietnam War was fought for about ten years starting from 1965. The Vietnam War was the most unpopular war ever fought by America in the twentieth century. The war resulted into the death of approximately 60,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese people. Many people though were skeptical regarding the role of U.S in the Vietnam War describing it as the worst blunder and /or sin while others saw it as a noble act or an idealistic effort of the U.S to protect South Vietnam from the totalitarian French government (Arthur, 1966). Following the Second World War, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam was highly instrumental in helping the American pilots who had been downed during the war and was also involved in gathering intelligent information for America regarding Japan. It is due to this involvement that Vietnam established ties with the USA and thus made their goal of an independent Vietnam known to Indochina. The area covering Vietnam was a significant concern during and after the Second World War (Rotter, 1987). This concern attracted the support of Stalin, America and Chiang in advocating for the conversion of Indochina to a trusteeship hence establishing its independence rather than remaining a French colony.
Later, even with the influence of FDR in place, America offered support to France for maintaining Indochina as a French colony despite the resistance of Vietnamese people. The colony status led to an even stringent French rule over Vietnam resulting into the death of millions of Vietnamese people. Despite repeated calls by Vietnamese leaders such as Ho Chi Minh in the 1940s to American officials including President Truman to help them stop French rule, the USA ignored these requests. Following U.S and French negligence, Vietnam sought for help from the communists to fight for its independence thus prompting the USA to take a non-involvement approach to the French-Vietnam conflict. Dissatisfied with the involvement of communists in Vietnam problem, America became more withdrawn from the issue of assisting Vietnam even though American experts could not prove this affiliation.
Following the differences in opinion existing between the states revolving around the affairs regarding Vietnam, a conflict between the United States and South East Asia powers escalated. This is because the U.S opposed communism as it held the notion that communists lacked the capacity to govern and also could not manage important regions and resources. Following an intensified conflict between Vietnam and France, the French withdrew their control over Vietnam and thus transferred power to Vietnamese Bao Dai. Though recognized by the USA, Bao, on the contrary, was not recognized by the Vietnamese as their leader as he served the goals of France and the USA. At that time Vietnam was divided into South and North Vietnam, and America was dealing with Bao and France that by now was losing considerably in terms of their hold on the region.
The U.S thus started support Ngo Dinh Diem since it was believed that it would be easier to work with them through Ngo Dinh rather than Bao. Dinh seemed to be more submissive to the plans of the USA. He lived in the USA during the war between Indochina and France, and he became the first president of South Vietnam. This was after being ‘democratically’ elected due to U.S intervention. America had immense influence on the elections as both candidates for South Vietnam presidency: Ngo Dinh and Bao Dai were the U.S’s favorites. Ngo’s election was as a result of much coercion by the U.S dictating to Vietnamese people how to vote. The USA even went to an extent of beating the Vietnamese who opposed their ideas. The USA supported the CIA Vietnamese forces which were particularly instrumental in Ngo’s unfair election.
Following the victory (98.2 %), US advisors had counseled Ngo to declare at least 70% victory to make it seem real, but he refused. These initial experiences that Vietnam had with the Western ‘democracy’ soured their relation with U.S leading to deep rooted distrust of American systems and its involvement into the affairs of Vietnam. In 1956, the USA interfered with the national elections called through the peace accords after noting that Ho Chi would likely become the victor in the open elections.
During Ngo rule American troops offered enormous support to protect him from any attempts to seize him. For instance, both the America’s military forces and CIA were very instrumental during President Kennedy’s rule in countering any opposition force in Vietnam. The USA provided financial support to Ngo Dinh to help him set up a militant government system that would effectively handle opposition and enhance the enforcement of laws which he passed in favor of the USA. These laws impoverished Vietnamese people and denied them the freedom to worship. This was a strategic move by the U.S to indirectly suppress Vietnamese communists while trying to unite North and South Vietnam. In 1963, America supported Vietnamese forces, which assaulted demonstrators from South Vietnam advocating for freedom to worship. America by all means tried to provide Diem (Ngo Dinh) with all possible support.
Despite the existence of the Geneva accord, Lansdale continued to intimidate Vietnamese people by reporting of a new war supported by the USA, hence more people moved southwards and hence strengthening his supporters’ bloc even more.
In the long last, President Kennedy’s administration realized that Diem was not the best leader to rely on to further their interests in Vietnam. Kennedy thus proposed a military coup against Diem through the CIA. In 1963, the USA gave about $40,000 to destroy Diem’s government. America had thus successfully supported and then brought down a monster. It is in 1965 that America got involved in the Vietnam War officially supporting minor interests of the Vietnamese through which the U.S would also benefit. U.S intervention would be particularly paramount to Diem in fighting the Southern Communist-based guerillas: Viet Cong, a political organization, was a great threat to Diems influence in the south. Supporting Diem, the U.S, apart from the catholic refugees’ movement to south, initially deployed approximately 2,000 military personnel and later reinforced this number to 16,300 in 1963. In 1965, President Johnson made the war escalate even further by launching air strikes and ground forces in North Vietnam. The 1968’s Tet Offensive made America change its position in the war, making U.S oppose the war.
U.S president Richard Nixon called for Vietnamization and directed the withdrawal of the American troops from South Vietnam, thus enabling the south to fight the war more intensely. In 1970, Nixon tried to deter North Vietnamese forces by deploying the U.S forces to destroy Cambodia’s communist supply establishments. Based on Cambodia’s neutrality, this sparked anti-war protests especially in the nation’s campuses. Thus in the name of ‘democracy’ the USA neglected the freedom and rights of Vietnamese people. According to president Johnson, America was involved in the war to assert the independence and freedom of people of South Vietnam even though this was not the case as the USA supported France, Vietnam’s colonial master. In a bid to further America’s interest in Vietnam, most U.S presidents in one way or another tried to demonize Vietnamese leaders who were against colonialism. The Vietnam War thus was a big lie that the United States government told to both US and Vietnamese people.