Picturing the Century

Century's End

Around 1965 the optimistic American mood that had persisted from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s began to shatter. The reasons for this fragmentation were twofold: the war in Vietnam and social unrest at home. American involvement in Vietnam began in the late 1950s, a product of a foreign policy that held that containing Communism required committing American military and economic power to stop its spread. After 1965, as more Americans fought and died in Vietnam, opposition to the war became more vocal, while supporters of U.S. policies were equally outspoken. In domestic policy too, the liberal coalition that had passed historic civil rights legislation and social programs began to splinter over issues such as crime, poverty, and race. By the mid-1970s, an energy embargo that caused gasoline shortages, and the Watergate scandal that resulted in a Presidential resignation shook the country further.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the nation, exhausted from years of turmoil, experienced a conservative revival that shaped not only the politics of both political parties but public policy as well. With the disintegration of Communism the United States became the dominant world power. Victory in the Cold War coupled with a booming economy, impressive technological achievements, and enormous military and industrial power made the country prosperous and secure. Yet, many Americans still searched for direction and a sense of community. Perhaps, as Americans approached the start of the 21st century, they are hoping to recapture some of the optimism that characterized the early 20th.

Click here to print this page