Names & Terms in
   Fasttrack to America's Past
   Section 8: The Wonder Years
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AIDS - short for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, a disease caused by the HIV virus.  The disease apparently jumped from monkeys into the human population many decades ago somewhere in Africa, then spread rapidly around the world in the 1980s.  The virus attacks the body’s biological defense system, making the infected person extremely susceptible to other diseases.  It is spread through contaminated body fluids, such as blood or semen.

Apollo 11 - the space mission that carried three American astronauts to the moon in 1969.  Neil Armstrong was the first to step out of the landing module and onto lunar soil.  As he did, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
    The landing carried out the pledge of President John F. Kennedy to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  At a time of great turmoil, the event helped pull people together in celebration of a great accomplishment.  Some 600 million viewers watched the event on television worldwide.

baby boom - the jump in birthrates in the years after World War Two.  “Baby boomers” are the generation born between 1945 and about 1960.  In this period, more than 65 million children were born.  They grew up in a generally prosperous period in American life, but also experienced as teenagers the uncertainties and conflicts of the 1950s and 1960s.

Black Power - a term that encompasses a wide range of activities in the late 1960s aimed at increasing the power of blacks in American life.  Its leaders, including Malcolm X, generally favored more forceful action than those of civil rights leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King.
    The more extreme leaders, organized in the Black Panther Party, called for measures like armed resistance to what they said was widespread police brutality.  More commonly, the Black Power movement sought goals such as the development of black-owned businesses and local control of schools in black neighborhoods.
    Many of the goals of the movement were achieved as blacks moved into mainstream American life and politics.  The movement faded in the 1970s as these successes were achieved, and black and whites citizens rejected the more radical measures of groups like the Black Panther Party.

Brown v. Board of Education - the Supreme Court decision in 1954 that declared segregation of public schools unconstitutional.  The case was brought by the father of a girl in Topeka, Kansas.  The child had to attend a segregated black school instead of an all white school that was much closer to her house.  Her case was argued by Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first black Supreme Court justice.
    The Brown decision overturned the Court’s earlier ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which held that “separate but equal” public facilities were constitutional.  In later cases in the years after the Brown decision, the Court extended its logic to an almost total ban segregation.

bureaucracy - the offices and people that get the day- to-day work of government done.  This part of the government grew rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s as new laws and programs were created to deal with social and environmental problems.
    While the bureaucracy is a necessary part of the government, it is sometimes criticized as a kind of “permanent government” that is not as responsive as the elected offices.

Bush, George H. W. - the president elected in 1988 who rose to the top job after serving as vice-president under Ronald Reagan.  He served one term.
    Bush is best known for his leadership during Operation Desert Storm, the military strike to free Kuwait.  That small but oil-rich nation in the Middle East was attacked and occupied by Iraq in 1990.  Bush assembled a coalition of 25 nations committed to help restore freedom.  His popularity ratings soared as Iraqi forces were quickly pushed out of Kuwait.
    The Republican president stumbled on the issue of taxes and the national debt, however.  After a pledge of “no new taxes,” he agreed to a compromise with Democrats in Congress to raise some new taxes to avoid creating even greater federal debts.  But his switch of position cost him some credibility with voters.  A downturn in the economy also helped bring victory to the Democratic challenger, Bill Clinton, in 1992.

Bush, George W. - elected president in 2000, he is the son of President George H.W. Bush and is a former governor of Texas. 
    The presidential election was so close that the Supreme Court was called upon to decide how certain ballots cast in Florida should be counted.
    The threat of terrorism was the first major challenge for the new president.  His firm but steady reaction to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon won him wide respect.  The Bush administration quickly enlisted the support of many other nations in a military action in Afghanistan to capture or destroy groups that had aided the attackers. 
    At home, President Bush pushed for a reorganization of various federal offices under a new Department of Homeland Security.  The nation began planning for the possibility of even larger terrorist attacks against the U.S. by followers of Osama bin Laden. 
     The president's decision to send troops to the Middle East in a showdown with the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, however, brought some criticism from those who hoped war could be avoided. 

Carter, Jimmy - the one-time peanut farmer and former Navy officer from Georgia who was elected president in 1976.  He made human rights and the nation’s energy supply key topics of his administration.  This Democrat served only one term before losing the 1980 election to Republican challenger Ronald Reagan.
    Carter and his wife Rosalyn were both from a rural background and projected a sense of decency and old-time values that had a great appeal after the turbulence of the 1960s and early 1970s.  These values led Carter to push for cuts in U.S. aid to Latin American countries known for abusive actions against their citizens.  Carter also criticized Russia for its abuse of human rights and imprisonment of dissidents.
    One of Carter’s greatest achievements came from his efforts to bring Egyptian and Israeli leaders to Washington for peace talks.  The negotiations resulted in a historic peace treaty, called the Camp David Accords after the presidential vacation spot in Maryland where the talks were held.
    In America, however, Carter was unable to find a solution to serious economic problems.  Inflation of prices was lowering the buying power of wages, and high interest rates made it difficult for home buyers to afford loans.  Business growth stagnated.
    Events in the Middle East also hurt Carter’s presidency.  Militant religious extremists in Iran took more than 50 Americans hostage in 1979.  Efforts to negotiate their release and an airborne military rescue attempt all failed.  Televised news scenes of Iranians shouting “Death to America” continued month after month as the 1980 presidential election approached.
    Carter lost his reelection bid, but even after leaving the White House remained visible in various causes devoted to peace and justice.

Cesar Chavez - a labor leader who launched a famous boycott of grapes in the 1960s as a way of forcing better treatment of migrant farm workers.  His work established the United Farm Workers union, and is a source of great pride for Hispanics nationwide.
    Chavez was the son of Mexican American migrant farm workers, and picked crops himself as a child.  He was familiar with the difficulties the migrants faced, including low pay, unsanitary conditions, and obstacles to education for children.  His marches and protests forced many middle class Americans to think for the first time about the people who picked the nation’s food crops.  He died in 1993, but his work continues through organizations like the United Farm Workers.

civil disobedience - the deliberate breaking of a law in order to draw public attention and debate to a cause or issue.  Civil rights activists working with Rev. Martin Luther King often used this approach to challenge segregation.  King defended such actions as justified, provided that those challenging the law do so “lovingly” and with a willingness to accept the penalty.
    Critics, however, said that using the tactic tended to weaken the basic principle that citizens have a duty to obey laws until they can be changed through legal processes.

Civil Rights Act of 1964 - a key civil rights law sought by president John F. Kennedy, and passed by Congress the year after he was assassinated.  The law states that all citizens must have equal access to public facilities and to private businesses serving the public (restaurants, etc.).  It also prohibits discrimination in the work place based on race, sex, religion, or national origin.

Clinton, Bill - the Democratic president elected in 1992 who called for a “redesign” of government, then became involved in a scandalous affair that nearly cost him the White House in his second term.
    Clinton came of age during the 1960s, and was inspired by the idealism of that era.  He spoke of himself as a “New Democrat.”  By that, he meant that he embraced the traditional Democratic concern for the underprivileged, but was also aware that the government could not solve every problem by itself.
    The mix was not always easy to maintain.  He joined the call for welfare reform long supported by Republicans, for example, but resisted supporting real change until it was nearly forced upon him by Congress.
    Especially controversial was a plan he and his wife, Hillary, supported to create a national health care system.  Old-line Democrats had long sought such a system, in which the government would manage or provide most health care.  But many critics pointed to the serious problems government run health systems were having in other countries, such as England.  In the end, the proposal was not supported by Congress, and died.
    In his second term, news surfaced that the president had engaged in a relationship with a young woman working at the White House, Monica Lewinsky.  Clinton denied the allegations, as he had other claims of a similar nature that had surfaced before.  When the truth of the charges became clear, Republicans in Congress attempted to remove his from office.  The attempt failed, but left Clinton’s credibility badly shaken.

conservative - political or social views that put a great emphasis on preserving traditional values and social patterns.  (Contrast with liberal views, which place less emphasis on tradition, and more on the ability of a society to create for itself new values and social patterns.)
    Conservatives view social patterns such as marriage, religion, gender roles, etc., as the result of many thousands of years of human  development.  These patterns of life represent the accumulated wisdom of past generations, conservatives say, and should not be casually thrown aside.
    Conservatives are not opposed to change in society, as is sometimes said by liberals.  But they believe changes should carefully build upon, rather than simply overthrow, the important traditions of society.
    For example, conservatives have long argued that most government welfare programs tend to break up traditional marriage patterns and create single-parent homes.  The end result, conservatives say, is a worse form of poverty than existed before.  Conservatives say welfare policy must favor keeping families together, and require recipients to get real jobs as quickly as possible.

Cuban Missile Crisis - a crisis during 1962 that began when the U.S. discovered that the Soviet Union was installing missile launch equipment in Cuba.  The missiles were capable of carrying atomic weapons, and much of the U.S. would be within their range.
    President John  Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba.  He warned that unless the Russian leaders ordered the removal of the launch sites, American planes would bomb the sites.  The world waited nearly a week for the Soviet response, fearing that the stand-off might trigger a nuclear war.
    Fortunately, the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle the sites, and Soviet ships carrying weapons to Cuba were ordered to return home.  But the incident left many people frightened with the realization that the danger of atomic war was all too real.  Some Americans began building basement fallout shelters, and basements in many large public buildings were equipped with food and water supplies.  As nuclear weapons grew even more powerful, however, many people concluded that such measures were futile.

Desert Storm - the 1991 action led by the U.S. to free Kuwait from occupation by Iraq.  It is also called the Persian Gulf War.
    Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, had been aggressively seeking to expand its power in the Middle East for many years.  Hussein himself was a dictator who ruled through a combination of brutality and assassination.  In taking Kuwait, he gambled that the U.S. would not want to risk a war.
    President George Bush, however, reacted swiftly to the Iraq invasion.  He pulled more than two dozen other nations into the effort to free Kuwait.  In January of 1990, air strikes began against Iraq, and a month later, a ground assault was launched.  In a matter of a few days, the Iraqi forces were fleeing Kuwait.  As they left, they set many of the area’s oil wells on fire, creating a monumental fire fighting task.
    While Kuwait was free, Saddam Hussein remained in Iraq, and remained a source of trouble in the region.

Eisenhower, Dwight D. - president of the U.S. from 1953 to 1961, a period of prosperity in America but also a period marked with the international tensions of the Cold War.
    Eisenhower had risen rapidly as an army officer during World War Two, and was the commander of Allied forces in Europe at the time of the D-Day landings and the liberation of France.  He left active duty after the war, and became the Republican candidate for president in 1952.  His easy-going, friendly and somewhat conservative spirit was a good fit for the times, and he easily won reelection in 1956.
    Conflicts created by the Cold War took much of his attention.  He helped negotiate peace in the Korean War in 1953, and he expanded American alliances with countries in other parts of the world to help stop the spread of communism.
    At home, a big issue was the Civil Rights movement that grew after the Supreme Court ruled segregated public schools illegal in 1954.  When the governor of Arkansas tried to defy the ruling in 1957, the president sent in federal troops to escort African-American students into a previously all-white school in Little Rock.
    Eisenhower is often remembered today for his warning about what he called “the military-industrial complex.”  He argued in a famous speech that the great size of the military and military-related corporations posed a possible danger for America’s political system.  The danger could only be avoided, he said, if citizens made it a point to be well-informed about issues involving  these groups.

entrepreneur - an individual who starts a new business enterprise, especially one involving a new product or service.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - a federal agency created in 1970, with wide powers to regulate pesticides, toxic chemicals, sewage treatment plants, and other sources of pollution.  Concern about the environment had been growing rapidly since the publication of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, in 1962.  The book warned of the dangers to the natural world of many chemicals used in industry and agriculture.

federal debt - the money the country owes as a result of shortfalls or “deficits” in the nation’s budget.  When federal taxes do not raise enough money to cover the expenses of the federal government in a given year, there is a deficit.  The government borrows money to cover the deficit - sales of U.S. Savings Bonds are one method of borrowing.  Since these shortfalls or deficits have been a regular fact of government in recent decades, the borrowed money now adds up to a sizable debt.
    The debt, now in the trillions, has grown so large it is hard to even grasp the amount mentally.  Presidential candidates always make a big issue of the debt, but once in office, tend to avoid doing much about it.  Paying down the debt quickly would require either raising taxes or cutting programs, neither of which is very attractive to politicians.

Ford, Gerald - the vice-president who became president in 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal.  Ford had a reputation as a solid and respected Republican, and did much to reassure the country that the American system of government would survive the scandal.
    Much controversy surrounded Ford’s decision to issue a full pardon for the former president, however.  He said the pardon would allow the country to move ahead, and was not part of any “deal.”  Still, many critics said the pardon short-circuited the judicial process.
    Ford was re-nominated by the Republicans in the 1976 election, but lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Freedom Riders - whites and blacks who organized trips to challenge segregation in bus terminals in the South in the spring and summer of 1961.  The Freedom Riders would go by bus into an area, and check to see if the terminals were illegally divided into separate areas for whites and blacks.  (A 1950 Supreme Court decision had outlawed segregation in interstate travel.  The decision, however, was widely ignored in the South.
    In Alabama, the Freedom Riders were met by mobs in some areas, and one bus was firebombed.  The federal government ordered interstate trains, buses, and airports integrated immediately.  Within a few months, the old signs in waiting rooms, “White,” and “Colored,” were gone forever.

Friedan, Betty - a leading feminist writer and organizer whose book, The Feminine Mystique, helped launch the Women’s Liberation movement in the 1960s.
    Friedan argued that the traditional role of the stay-at-home mother was oppressive and frustrating for women.  She called on women to reject traditional roles and fight for complete equality in the workplace and schools.  In 1966 she became one of the organizers of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
    The decades since have seen a rapid growth in the number of women with children who also hold jobs outside the home.  Many more women also pursue higher-level jobs and advanced education.

global economy - a term for the fact that the economies of most of the world’s nations have become increasingly interconnected.  For example, a computer chip designed in America may be produced in a Korean factory for use in a Japanese VCR that is sold in a dozen or more countries.
    The trend has opened many opportunities, but it also creates some problems.  Companies often move factories from high labor cost countries like the U.S., and build them instead in Asia or Mexico.

hippies - young people of the late 1960s and early 1970s who adopted a “do your own thing” lifestyle that often included wild hair, brightly colored clothing, communal living arrangements, and drug use.  The hippies sometimes called themselves “Flower Children,” and criticized “straight” society for being too concerned with material success.  (Most hippies themselves, however, were from middle or even upper class family backgrounds.)
    Hippies made a cause of “love” and “peace,” but had less to say about commitment and responsibility.  Many were deeply concerned by the gap between American ideals and the realities of poverty, discrimination, and war.  To some extent, the hippies attempted to simply create a different social world for themselves based on sharing and brotherhood.  Some, however, seemed more interested in the hippie movement’s casual attitude toward sex and drug use.
    The movement faded in the mid-1970s, but left an impact on American ideas and social values that is felt even today.

Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) - a rocket designed to carry atomic weapons across the world at high speed.  During the Cold War, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union created these missiles, which were faster and less vulnerable than jet bombers.  They are typically kept in special underground silos, ready for launch against an enemy's cities at a moment's notice.
    A great fear during the Cold War (and even today) is that one of these weapons might be accidentally launched, and kill millions of people in a nuclear blast.

integration - the deliberate effort to bring together blacks and whites in order to end the pattern of racial segregation.

Johnson, Lyndon  - the president from 1963 to 1969 who called for a “War on Poverty,” but found his political career ruined by his policies in the Vietnam War.
    Johnson, a Texan, was John F. Kennedy’s vice-president, and was sworn into office after Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas.  He continued Kennedy’s push for racial justice, and won support in Congress for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
    Johnson won reelection that year, and won approval of a bold set of social welfare programs under the name “The Great Society.”  These greatly expanded federal spending for public housing, medical care for the poor and elderly, and education for the disadvantaged.  He also pressed for approval of a federal law designed to protect the voting rights of blacks.
    In Vietnam, Johnson attempted to negotiate peace terms, but underestimated the determination of the North Vietnamese communists.  He pressed for a great expansion of American forces in the war, and began bombing attacks in an attempt to force a settlement.
    As the war grew, however, so did protests by Americans.  As the 1968 election approached, Johnson announced that he would not seek another term.  The election was won by a Republican, Richard Nixon.

Kennedy, John F. - the president from 1961 to 1963 who championed the cause of civil rights and set a goal of landing an American astronaut on the moon.  His years in office are often recalled by his supporters as a kind of golden era of idealism and change in American life.  He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in 1963.
    Kennedy came from a wealthy Boston family, and served terms in both houses of Congress.  His race for the presidency is remembered for a series of televised debates with the Republican nominee, Richard Nixon.  Kennedy’s youthful look and polished image helped swing many voters to his Democratic Party ticket.  He became the first Catholic elected to the White House.
    In office, Kennedy’s biggest crisis was dealing with the Soviet Union’s attempt to place nuclear missiles in Cuba.  Kennedy ordered a blockade around the island, and Russia agreed to withdraw the weapons.
    JFK is remembered as the president who launched the Peace Corps, a program in which American volunteers went overseas to help people in underdeveloped areas of the world.  Yet he also expanded American involvement in the Vietnam War by sending thousands of advisors to help the South Vietnamese military.
    Kennedy moved cautiously on civil rights at first, but took steps to fight discrimination in housing.  He proposed the law that later became the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which generally prohibited discrimination in public places.
    Kennedy’s death shocked the nation deeply.  An official investigation concluded that the gunman acted alone, but the motive remains a mystery.

King, Jr., Rev. Martin Luther - the most famous leader of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.  Rev. King first came to national attention in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott launched after Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 for violating that city’s segregation laws.
    King’s influence grew rapidly, in part because of his dynamic speaking style, and in part because his strategy of non-violent protest and civil disobedience drew support from both blacks and many whites.  Many other whites, however, actively opposed his efforts to bring down the system of segregation.
    King’s arrest in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 led to a historically important document that declared his goals, "Letter from Birmingham Jail."  That same year, he delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech at a massive demonstration by blacks and whites in Washington, D.C.  The following year, key civil rights legislation was approved by Congress, and King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his work.
    By 1965, King was being partly eclipsed by the more militant voices of younger black leaders, some of whom rejected his message of non-violence.  He responded by broadening his reach to include such issues as the Vietnam War and the problems of the working poor.  To this end, he traveled to Memphis, Tenn., in 1968 to support a strike by that city’s garbage collectors.  While there, he was killed by an assassin’s bullet.
    His message of hope for racial justice did not die, however, and his name remains among the most revered of all American social reformers.

Korean War - a war that erupted in 1950 when North Korea, controlled by a communist government, attacked non-communist South Korea.  The U.S. came to the aid of South Korea.  The war expanded as China and the Soviet Union threw their support behind the North Koreans.
    The commander of the American troops, General Douglas MacArthur, called for the use of atomic bombs against China.  President Truman, however, rejected that idea, and removed MacArthur from his position when he continued pressing for full-scale war against China.
    The war ended up as a stalemate.  Negotiations led to a cease-fire in 1951 and a formal agreement to end the fighting in 1953.  The war showed that America would stand behind its policy of containment of communism.  But it also showed that the policy could be very expensive in both lives and money.

Levittown - the most famous of the early 1950s “mass-produced” suburban housing developments.  It was located on a potato field on Long Island, near New York City.  The developer, William Levitt, applied new building methods to allow quick construction of identical looking houses that could be sold at low prices.
    This pattern for suburban housing was quickly followed throughout the country.  The new developments made it possible for millions of people to own their own homes.  But critics said the new suburbs were dull and artificial, with little of the diversity and culture found in cities or older suburbs.

liberal - political or social views that put a great emphasis on creating new social patterns or values, often with the help of direct government action.  (Contrast with conservative views, which put more emphasis on the importance of traditional values and social patterns.)
    Liberals view society as something that can be easily reshaped to meet changing conditions.  They believe that many existing social patterns, including marriage, gender roles, and race relations are severely flawed and unfair.  Liberals seek to change or eliminate what they consider flaws in society, often by lobbying for new laws or regulations to force change “from the top down.”
    Favorite causes for liberals include welfare and other programs to help the disadvantaged.  Most also favor affirmative action programs for women and minorities in colleges and in the workplace.

Malcolm X - a leader in the Black Power movement of the 1960s who became a symbol of a more militant and separatist side of the civil rights movement.  Born Malcolm Little, he turned away from a past as a petty criminal to embrace the teachings of the Nation of Islam.  (He and others in the movement used the X as a replacement for what they termed a “slave” name.)
    As Malcolm X, he developed a following in New York City’s black neighborhoods for his direct and forceful speeches on racism in American life.  At the same time, some of the extreme beliefs of the movement, including bizarre talk about “white devils,” kept most whites uneasy and many frightened.
    Following a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in 1964, Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam, adopted more moderate views, and spoke of the brotherhood of all races.   He was assassinated by other members of the Nation of Islam movement in 1965.

March on Washington - the 1963 demonstration that brought some 200,000 blacks and whites to Washington to press for an end to discrimination against blacks.
    It is famous as the site where Rev. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.  The speech includes the lines, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

McCarthyism - the making of unproven political charges, especially in a “witch-hunt” climate in which  an accusation itself implies guilt.
    The term was coined by critics of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who played a prominent role in the “Red scare” of the late 1940s and 1950s.  In 1950, Sen. McCarthy began claiming communist sympathizers and supporters held American government positions, and began holding hearings to investigate. 
    Initially there was strong public support for his efforts.  He questioned large numbers of people about their political past and current views.  In a number of cases, people of questionable loyalty were forced out of government jobs.  But his methods drew increasing criticism, especially his insistence that witnesses "name names" of others with links to the Communist Party to prove their own loyalty as Americans. 
    His support fell further when McCarthy turned his investigation to examine the U.S. Army.  Political leaders including President Eisenhower decided that his accusations were going too far.  In 1954  the Senate itself voted to reprimand him for improper conduct.  The Red scare faded from the public spotlight, although a lively debate continues to this day about the truth of McCarthy's charges, his methods, and his motives. 

Monica Lewinsky scandal - a scandal created when allegations surfaced in 1998 that President Bill Clinton had a relationship with a young woman working in the White House as an intern.  The incident also involved false statements to a court by the president in a lawsuit brought by another woman against Clinton.
    When the truth came to light, Republicans in Congress attempted to remove him from office for perjury (making false statements in court).  The effort failed, however, in the Senate trial.
    The incident caused wide divisions in public opinion.  Many condemned Clinton’s behavior as a disgrace, while others shrugged it off as nobody’s business.  In the end, the details were such an embarrassment that most Americans were glad simply to have the issue fade away.

multi-culturalism - a view that America should embrace and celebrate the many different cultures of its immigrants and citizens.  This view contrasts with the “melting pot” view which encourages all ethnic groups to blend into a common American culture.

Nixon, Richard - the Republican president elected in 1968 who pledged to bring more “law and order” to America in the turbulent decade of the 1960s.  His presidency ended in 1974, however, when he resigned rather than face impeachment in the Watergate scandal.
    Nixon had been vice-president in the 1950s under Dwight D. Eisenhower, and had run unsuccessfully against John F. Kennedy in 1960.  His political career was revived as the Democratic party split apart over the Vietnam War in 1968.
    Nixon promised to end the war “with peace and honor,” a resolution that certainly appealed to most Americans.  Once in office, however, he found that such an end would not be easily achieved.  As the conflict dragged on, anti-war protests on college campuses grew more common and violent.  Much of the anger of draft-age students turned to rage against Nixon himself as the president.
    Rising crime, especially in cities, was another challenge of the times.  Nixon called for a “war against crime,” and said the “first civil right” was the right of citizens to be free of violence in their neighborhoods.  Crime rates, unfortunately, continued to rise.
    Another crisis in the Nixon years was the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973.  Arab nations in the Middle East stopped shipments of crude oil to the U.S. in a blatant attempt to force America to end its support of Israel.  The U.S. refused to be bullied, and was forced to deal with shortages of gasoline and higher prices.
    A highlight of the Nixon years was his successful effort to reduce tensions with China and the Soviet Union.  Even his critics applauded these steps, which greatly reduced the always present danger of a nuclear war.
    Nixon won reelection to a second term in 1972.  But the Watergate scandal (see entry) ended his presidency, and he left the White House in disgrace.  He recovered at least his reputation for a wide knowledge of international politics, and his advice was sought on such matters by later presidents.

Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) - an organization of nations that attempts to control the price of oil on world markets through agreements to limit production.  It is a cartel - the technical term for a group formed to gain  near-monopoly control of a product and its price.
    OPEC is run mainly by Arab countries in the Middle East.  In the 1970s the organization set oil production and sales limits for its member countries in order to force world oil prices higher.  The strategy worked, but created sharply higher prices for gasoline, fuel oil, and related products in the U.S.  The higher prices were a severe blow to the nation's economy.

Parks, Rosa - the African American woman who defied segregation laws in Alabama in 1955 by refusing to move to the back of a city bus when a white passenger entered.  Her action helped launch the modern civil rights movement, and led to the organization of a year-long bus boycott by blacks in Montgomery.  It was in this conflict that Rev. Martin Luther King first came to national attention.
    The boycott he led lasted more than a year, and set a pattern for non-violent but effective challenges to segregation laws.  The boycott ended in 1956 when the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public transportation was unconstitutional.

post-industrial society - a society that has moved past the stage of heavy industry to an economy that is mainly centered on knowledge-based and service professions.  America today, and many European countries, are post-industrial societies.  In these countries, factory jobs are falling, but high-tech employment is growing.  The service sector of the economy - which includes everything from lawyers to hair cutters - is rising rapidly.
    A post-industrial society creates great opportunities, but has some disadvantages.  Factory jobs that carry high pay for unskilled labor become scarce.  An education beyond high school becomes a necessity.  People with little education find it very hard to get on a career ladder that leads to a middle class income.

Reagan, Ronald - the Republican president from 1981 to 1989 who led what is sometimes called “the conservative revolution” in national politics.
    Reagan had been a movie actor for much of his early career before entering politics and winning election as governor of California in 1966.  In 1980, he ran against Jimmy Carter, and attracted many voters who felt the Democratic president was indecisive.
    Reagan projected a kind of patriotic confidence in America and its future that had fallen somewhat out of style after the Vietnam War and Watergate.  He said America needed first of all to get business growing again, by reducing taxes and excessive government regulations.  These policies were often called “Reaganomics.”
    Reagan also called for cuts to many welfare programs, claiming that they were not effective, and were even encouraging people to stay on welfare rolls rather than get jobs.  A growing economy with good jobs, he said, was the best way to help poor people.
    Congress approved many of the new proposals.  The country slipped into a recession in 1982, but the next year, a recovery was underway.  The economy grew steadily throughout the rest of his two terms.
    Reagan felt the U.S. should stand firm in its opposition to communism.  Signs were already evident that the standard of living in communist nations was falling far behind that in the U.S. and other free nations.  He won from Congress a plan to strengthen the U.S. military, including money for the so-called “Star Wars Defense” (see entry).
    In 1986, Reagan met with the Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, to discuss reducing nuclear arms.  They also discussed Gorbachev’s attempts to move Russia to a more open society with free speech and other rights.  Reagan welcomed the new climate, confident that the obvious success of America and other democratic nations would eventually draw Russia away from its failed system of communism.
    Reagan finished his second term in 1989, having helped his vice-president, George Bush, win the 1988 election.  Reagan had not radically cut the size of the federal government, as some of his supporters had hoped he would do.  But he had created an important shift in political thought and government policy that had long-lasting effects.

Rodney King case - a legal case in which a black man beaten by police in Los Angeles during an arrest won millions of dollars in an out-of-court settlement.
    Rodney King was stopped by police in 1991after a high-speed chase.  King attacked the police officers, and was subdued only after a fierce struggle.  But a videotape made by a bystander showed that he was struck a number of times after he was finally forced to the ground.
    A deadly riot erupted in Los Angeles after a jury cleared the police of wrong-doing in the incident.  The federal government later brought new charges against the police officers for allegedly violating King’s civil rights.  Some of the new charges were upheld.  The case was a sign that issues of race and justice were still serious flash points in American society.

Roe v. Wade - the Supreme Court case in 1973 that legalized abortion in the U.S.  “Roe” was the fictitious name of the woman who originated the lawsuit.  The court ruled that a woman’s decision to have an abortion is protected by the right to privacy implicit in the Constitution.  The abortion issue continues to be one that generates strong feelings, with opponents calling it the equivalent of murder.  Supporters continue to argue that a human fetus is not legally or morally a person, and say abortion should be an option and a woman’s choice.

Sputnik - the space satellite launched into orbit by Russia in 1957.  The launch was an embarrassment for the U.S., because American rockets were not large or reliable enough in 1957 to put a satellite in orbit.  But the launch led to a “space race” to see which country would be first to land a man on the moon.  The race for space also had a Cold War angle, because any rocket that could put a satellite in orbit could also deliver an atomic bomb anywhere on earth.
    As a result of Sputnik, American leaders called for improvements in education, and especially more emphasis on science and math classes in schools.

Star Wars Defense - the informal name for the “Strategic Defense Initiative” proposed by President Ronald Reagan as a defense against any missile attack launched against the U.S.  The plan called for creation of space-based weapons using lasers and other advanced technology to destroy enemy missiles shortly after they were launched.
    The proposal generated an outcry by critics who said the proposal would upset the “nuclear balance” with Russia, and possibly lead to war.  Some said it was technologically impossible.  Others, however, said it was a good idea, and would prove to Russia that America could stay ahead in weapons technology.
    Work on the system was abandoned when the Soviet Union began falling apart in the late 1980s, but there is still discussion of the concept as a way of protecting the country from “rogue” nations that acquire missiles and attempt to threaten the U.S.

Three Mile Island accident - a famous accident at a nuclear powered electricity generating station in Pennsylvania that occurred in 1979.  It resulted in a virtual end to the building of new nuclear power plants in the U.S.  Three Mile Island is in the Susquehanna River, not far from Harrisburg.  Nuclear power plants are often located near rivers because they need large amounts of water for cooling.
    The accident was created by a stuck pressure relief valve.  Instruments in the control room apparently did not give accurate information to the operators, and some of the uranium fuel rods overheated.  As a result, steam and a small quantity of radioactive particles were released.
    The incident created great fears, and a fierce debate about how close the reactor had come to what is called a “melt-down.”  Had such an event occurred, hundreds of square miles would have become uninhabitable.

Vietnam War - the war launched by Ho Chi Minh in the 1940s to force the French, and later, the U.S., out of Vietnam.  (Vietnam had been controlled by the French for many decades, and the French completely dominated the life of the nation.)
    The war sharply divided America in the 1960s, and claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Americans.
    The conflict began primarily as a war of national liberation, a goal that under other circumstances would have certainly won American support.  But Ho Chi Minh also embraced communism in his fight to liberate the Vietnamese.  As a result, the U.S. saw the conflict primarily as a dangerous attempt to spread communism.  In the tensions of the Cold War era, America felt compelled to support the French and non-communist Vietnamese leaders.
    Ho Chi Minh’s guerrilla army defeated the French in 1954, and the nation was temporarily divided into a communist North and a  non-communist South until an election could be arranged to reunite the country.  The election, however, never took place.
    American involvement grew in the 1960s, first under John F. Kennedy, then under Lyndon Johnson.  Johnson attempted to bring peace with promises of financial aid, then stepped up military action in hope of forcing the issue.  Nothing worked.
    A great disadvantage for America was the fact that the government of South Vietnam was corrupt, and did not have the full support of the South Vietnamese.  For this and other reasons, the war proved a frustrating experience for U.S.  troops, as well as for Americans at home.  Anti-war protests became a regular feature of the times.
    America began scaling back its support for the South Vietnamese government in the late 1960s, and pulled out altogether in 1973.  South Vietnam and its capital, Saigon, fell to the communist forces in 1975.

Voting Rights Act of 1965 - an important federal civil rights law that struck down literacy tests and other practices that were sometimes used to discourage blacks from voting.

War on Poverty - President Lyndon Johnson’s term for his programs aimed at eliminating poverty in the U.S.  These programs included the Job Corps, which paid school drop-outs to train for jobs in industry, and Head Start, an educational program for pre-school children in poor neighborhoods.  Medicaid and Medicare provided better access to medical care for the poor and the elderly.  Public housing projects and welfare programs were expanded.  While these efforts helped reduce poverty, they did not eliminate it.  Some critics argued that the programs helped create an attitude of dependence on government that led to the break-up of families and further cycles of poverty.

Watergate - the nickname given by newspaper headline writers to the scandal that ended the presidency of Richard Nixon.  The name comes from the large apartment and office complex in Washington that was the scene of the crime.
    During the election campaign of 1972, a group of Nixon campaign advisors secretly arranged a break-in at the office of the Democratic party in the Watergate building.  They planned to look through the files for any embarrassing information, and wanted to plant “bugs” on the office telephones.
    The burglars were caught, although at first no one was aware of the political connection.  But the facts slowly emerged as reporters linked the burglars to the Nixon reelection campaign.  The president denied having any prior knowledge of the break-in.  But there was evidence that once he became aware of the crime, he tried to block the investigation.
    Hearings held by the U.S. Senate developed even more embarrassing evidence, including “hush money” paid to the burglars to plead guilty and keep quiet.  It was definitely not the kind of politics that Americans learned about in high school, and many were stunned and angered by the revelations.
    In the end, a number of people connected to the incident went to jail, including two of Nixon’s top aids.  Nixon himself resigned in 1974 to avoid impeachment.  He maintained to the end that he did not know about the Watergate break-in in advance, or approve of any of the crooked dealings exposed by the hearings.

welfare reform - the movement that successfully sought during the 1990s to change welfare laws and place time limits and work requirements on welfare recipients.
    The push for welfare reform came primarily from conservatives in the Republican party.  They argued that decades of expanded welfare programs were creating a permanent welfare class with little interest in escaping poverty.
    The reforms enacted in the mid-1990s allowed states to set time limits for people receiving welfare, as well as work or job training requirements.  The strong economy of the decade helped make the programs more successful than some critics had expected.

Women’s Liberation - the movement launched in the 1960s to create a greater equality between women and men.  The movement’s leaders, including Betty Friedan, challenged the traditional idea that women should have a special role in the home as wives and mothers.  Feminists, as women in the movement called themselves, sought equal opportunities in the work place and in schools.  They called for equal pay and promotion opportunities at work, and sought the expansion of day-care programs in the work place.
    By 1970, women were flooding into careers that had traditionally been dominated by men.  By 1980, women actually outnumbered men on college campuses.  But many women rejected the views of the most extreme “women’s libbers,” and argued that feminists were too eager to attack men as the source of all problems.




 
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Copyright 1999, 2015 by David Burns.  All rights reserved.