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Eva Rose, Maya Zawinul, Megan Johnson and Naomi Perez

American History 11.2


Ms. Dyer
May 13, 2016
Lessons Learned: How the 60s and 70s Radically Changed America
The 1960s and 1970s is a time period in which extensive social change
transpired in the United States. The public opinion on the Vietnam War was at its worst
and the number of troops being sent to war was at its highest. Many Americans were
blindly in favor of the governments actions until news coverage exposed the effects of
war and the oppression of civil rights in homeland. Americans questioned whether the
government was really for the people after sending young men into a war they believed
had no real purpose and, ironically, to fight for another countrys democracy while
oppressing a large population at home. Citizens felt as though they had no voice in the
policies and direction of the country. The feelings of powerlessness felt by many of the
American people sprouted into violent and nonviolent protests that were met by mixed
actions by the government, some violent oppression and some peaceful momentum for
change. The Vietnam War, Nixons Watergate Scandal, and the Civil Rights protests led
to a national sentiment of disillusionment, distrust in the government and oppression that
is still prevalent in todays world. Because of this, leaders of the nation need to realize
that the American people demand a government that advocates for all citizens and keeps
the peoples best interest as the focus point for decisions regarding war, elections, and
civil rights.

Millions of Americans became disillusioned with the government after seeing the
violence in the Vietnam War. The press free reign of the war brought the horrors of the
battlefield to the homes of many Americans. Many Americans were angry that the
government was sending men as young as eighteen years old to fight and die. The death
toll was over 280,000 American troops, and sixty one percent of those were under twenty
one. Although the government told the American people that the United States
involvement was imperative to stopping the spread of Communism, many started to
doubt the validity of that statement and started protesting the war. People were outraged
that millions of teenage boys were being drafted into war before they could even vote,
and those who were African American were expected to fight for democracy in other
countries while their rights were being infringed upon at home. The American people lost
trust in their government after the TET Offensive proved the Americans were not winning
the war, despite the news coverage saying otherwise, and the leak of the Pentagon Papers
showed that even government officials who advocated for the war were losing hope in the
purpose of it. Based on this event, the government should have learned to listen to the
voices of their own people when making decisions about war. The men who were waging
war were not the ones who had to fight on the battlefront, and the fate of millions of
young men were put in their hands. Todays War on Terror has reaffirmed the sense of
disillusionment millions of Americans feel with their government. Like the Vietnam War,
many are against the war in Iraq because they believe it serves no purpose. The
government should take into account the publics opinions when it comes to making
decisions about waging war, because its not the Congressman who are being directly

affected, its the people are being ordered to fight on the battlefront for ideologies and
political strategies that they themselves might not agree with.
In America today, there is still a powerful sense of cynicism towards federal
government that stemmed from the 60s and 70s era. There is a clear parallel between
peoples skepticism of the government in this era and the current political outlook. This
governmental distrust began in 1971 with the publishing of the Pentagon Papers. The
Pentagon Papers were a series of reports published about a Department of Defense study
on U.S. involvement in Vietnam which damaged public opinion of the war because they
showed the government continued to fight in a war that it believed America could not
win. These papers proved to citizens that the government is capable of deceiving the
public in such a large scale. The Watergate Scandal furthered the idea of a governmental
agenda which did not always align with the wills of the people. The Watergate Scandal
outed President Nixon and a group called the White House Plumbers, who were
wiretapping and breaking into files of the Democratic National Headquarters in an
attempt to get Nixon reelected (The Watergate). This deception created a nationwide
sense of distrust with Nixon, which translated to distrust of the entire system of
government because people viewed the president as the head of a corrupt system. This
scandal revealed to citizens that the government and people in positions of power in the
government have agendas and often lose sight of their purpose of serving the American
people. We can learn from these incidents that the American people must be more
demanding of honesty within the federal government by taking political and social action
to enable their opinions to be heard. Americans began to move towards this approach
during the sixties and seventies: the Voting Rights Act was passed which alleviated the

discrimination against minority voters, a great number of civil and political rights groups
were formed, and both violent and nonviolent groups formed to demand the government
to support change. This methodology ignited mass change, but a large number of issues
were not addressed, such as housing discrimination, accommodations for Native
Americans, minority and female representation in government, and relations with foreign
countries. The events that occurred during this time period exhibit how easy it is for the
U.S. government to keep secrets from citizens and ignore issues that must be dealt with.
The modern day Hillary Clinton email scandal exacerbated the fear the American people
have of being tricked by the government and taught them to finally hold political leaders
responsible for their actions. From the Pentagon Papers and Watergate scandal, the
American people learned to distrust the government and demand honesty from their
political representatives.
Even today, the American government needs to take many actions to uphold civil
rights for all. America has always maintained the reputation of being the beacon for
democracy and freedom across the world. Ironically, the Civil Rights Movements of the
1960s brought attention to the government that the country was not protecting the rights
of its citizens, but infringing upon the rights of a large percentage. The sixties ignited a
demand for equality amongst not only African Americans, but also Mexican Americans,
Native Americans, women, and the LGBT community. One hundred years after the
Emancipation Proclamation was signed, African Americans were living under the
oppression of the Jim Crow laws that restricted them from bathrooms, classrooms,
theaters, and the political positions that were dominated by white men. It wasnt until
1954, when the Supreme Court renounced the doctrine separate but equal and ignited

public attention to the African American Civil Rights Movement. Images of peaceful
protesters being attacked by high pressure water hoses and clubs (Moore) sparked outrage
amongst the youth of the nation, causing people to realize that their government was not
doing enough to secure the rights of its own people. The African American Civil Rights
Movement opened the doors for many other minorities to demand equal rights. Cesar
Chavez lead the movement for suitable working conditions for migrant MexicanAmerican laborers, women took to the streets to protest the inequality they faced in the
workplace and government, and Native Americans protested to have more control over
their land. In regards to today, the federal government should learn to regulate state laws
to make sure that all citizens are granted equal opportunities and fair treatment regardless
of race, gender, sexuality, or religion.
Overall, through the trials and tribulations of the 60s and 70s in America, feelings
of disillusionment, distrust in the government and oppression spawned. During this time,
America suffered through the Vietnam War, the Watergate Scandal and long hard battle
for Civil Rights. The American people learned to be wary of the government and fight for
a leader with honesty and integrity. But the overarching lesson of this time is that history
repeats itself. The distrust created by Watergate was the same distrust that is present
during the Hillary Clinton email scandal; the disillusionment caused by the Vietnam war
is the same many citizens feel about the current War on Terror. And many are still
reeling from the most recent instance of police brutality against people of color, who still
feel like they are treated as second class citizens.