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Chapter Summary
The 1960s began with John F. Kennedy squeezing out one of the narrowest presidential victories in United
States history. Three years later, he was dead, and it was up to Lyndon Johnson to carry through his liberal
legacy. The first three years of Johnson’s presidency were legislatively one of the most productive periods
ever, as Congress passed many of the civil rights, health, education, and welfare measures of the Great
Society. In 1961, the nation bungled an attempt to dislodge Castro from Cuba, and a year and a half later,
the world came to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. By the latter half of the decade,
the foreign policy focus had moved halfway around the world. By the end of 1967, the United States had
500,000 troops in Southeast Asia and the Vietnam War had become the central issue of American politics.
The election year of 1968 was one of the most turbulent times in the nation’s history.
A thorough study of Chapter 31 should enable the student to understand
The new directions of domestic reform manifested by John Kennedy's New Frontier program.
The new elements added to Kennedy's program by Lyndon Johnson's Great Society proposals.
The reasons the African American movement became increasingly assertive in the 1960s.
The significance of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the civil-rights movement and the importance of
other forces including the Nation of Islam.
The new elements that Kennedy introduced in both the nation's defense strategy and its foreign
The background and sequence of events leading to the Cuban missile crisis.
How the United States became committed to defending the government in the southern part of
Vietnam and the reasons that U. S. involvement in Vietnam changed both quantitatively and
qualitatively in 1965.
The reasons the 1968 Tet Offensive had such a critical impact on both American policy
toward Vietnam and domestic policies.
The reasons why 1968 was such a critical year in American politics and in our relationship
with other nations.
Main Themes
How Lyndon Johnson used the legacy of John Kennedy plus his own political skill to erect his
Great Society and fight the war on poverty with programs for health, education, job training,
and urban development.
How the civil-rights movement finally generated enough sympathy among whites to
accomplish the legal end of segregation, but the persistence of racism gave rise to the black
power philosophy and left many problems unsolved.
How containment and the U. S. preoccupation with communism led the nation to use military
force against leftist nationalist movements in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and, most
disastrously, Vietnam.
How 1968 became a critical year for American liberalism.
Points for Discussion
The domestic programs of Kennedy and Johnson shared two fundamental goals: maintaining
the strength of the American economy and expanding the responsibilities of the federal
government for the general social welfare. Discuss how, and if at all, these goals were
How did the reaction of many southern whites to the civil rights activities ironically serve to
help the blacks' cause? How did blacks respond when it became clear that the legislative
victories of 1964 and 1965 were not enough to satisfy their aspirations? (See Document
number 2 in the Study Guide.)
In the light of what he hoped to accomplish, who was the most effective presidentKennedy
or Johnson?
Discuss the factors that contributed to the landmark Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. How
and why would the civil rights movement change from 1965 to 1968? (See Document number
2 in the Study Guide.)
What was the "heart of the problem" in Vietnam that made military victory so difficult, if not
impossible? Who seemed to understand this problem betterthe Johnson administration or its
critics? How was the Johnson administration trapped by the war? (See Document number 1 in
the Study Guide.)
Discuss the factors that led President Johnson to expand America's commitment in Vietnam
into a full-scale war. Analyze the conditions and constraints which made Vietnam a
"quagmire" for American forces and policies.
Analyze the attempts by President Kennedy to diversify America's foreign policy. Did events
in Cuba antagonize or alleviate Cold War tensions?
The Tet Offensive is often noted as a significant turning point in the Vietnam War. Explain
how this was so and why.
Discuss the causes and results of a conservative backlash among the "silent majority" of
Americans in 1968.
How have historians attempted to answer the question "Why Vietnam?”
What forces contributed to the folk music revival of the 1960s? How did these forces differ
from those responsible for rock ’n’ roll?
What impact did American policies and protests have on other nations' opinions of the United
Interpretive Questions Based on Maps and Text
What elements of the Democratic coalition was John Kennedy able to retain in his victory?
Why did Kennedy lose part of the South?
What role did war-related issues play in the 1968 election?
What did the Wallace candidacy demonstrate about the mood of the South and, to some
degree, that of other parts of the nation?
What led to communist control of Cuba? Why did the United States feel so threatened by the
Soviet missiles in Cuba? Describe the crisis that resulted and tell how it was resolved.
Why did Lyndon Johnson intervene in the Dominican Republic in 1965?
How did the United States get involved in the conflict in Southeast Asia? How did Vietnam
get divided? (See Document number 1 in the Study Guide.)
From what internal and external sources did the Viet Cong receive their support? How did this
make them so difficult to defeat?
What competing factors kept Lyndon Johnson from either withdrawing from or further
escalating the war? How did the geographic position of Indochina in relation to China affect
his decision?
Essay Questions
These essays are based on the map exercises. They are designed to test students' knowledge of the
geography of the area discussed in this chapter and to test their knowledge of its historical development.
Careful reading of the test will help them answer these questions.
Compare and contrast the 1928, 1948, 1960, and 1968 elections. How do they show both
continuity and change in the regional patterns of American politics?
Trace the evolution of American foreign policy in the Caribbean region through the 1960s.
What are the continuities? What are the changes? What have been the results?
Internet Resources
For Internet quizzes, resources, references to additional books and films, and more, consult the
text's Online learning Center at