Campaign Spot: Failure (1968)

Campaign Spot: Failure (1968)

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Trump Declared Himself the 'President of Law and Order.' Here's What People Get Wrong About the Origins of That Idea

It wasn’t the first time Trump had invoked those three words. Just a day earlier, he had tweeted simply: “LAW & ORDER.” Observers have drawn parallels between the 1960s and the current period of unrest, which began following the death of George Floyd after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes in particular, many pundits have seen particular echoes of Richard Nixon’s 1968 Presidential campaign.

Back then, following revolts in 125 cities nationwide after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and throughout the mid-1960s, fueled by inequality issues yet to be addressed, Nixon made “law and order” a centerpiece of his platform. “Law and order” might sound simple, a 1968 TIME cover story on the campaign pointed out, but to some it was “a shorthand message promising repression of the black community”&mdashand to that community, it was “a bleak warning that worse times may be coming.”

But Elizabeth Hinton, a historian of U.S. inequality and author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America, says the focus on Nixon obscures the real Presidential origins of modern “law and order.” Nixon’s predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson, shaped decades of policy when his Administration decided to invest more in policing than in social welfare programs &mdash and, as Hinton explains, that history is key to understanding why the issues that sparked the protests over the last week remain unresolved. She spoke to TIME about what to know about that past.

TIME: Are there any particular moments from American history you think are parallel to what we’ve been seeing in the days since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis?

HINTON: There are a number of obvious parallels, but also really important differences, between what we’re seeing in the streets of American cities today and the 1960s. The proximate cause of the unrest being police violence and the underlying issues that have fueled the protests, which are continued racial equality and discrimination and socioeconomic exclusion, are really at the heart of both. In the 1960s, even though there was an attempt on the part of federal policymakers to address [those issues], their solutions did not go far enough. Ultimately they embraced a set of policies that continued the very same violent conditions that had led to the original unrest in the 1960s in the first place. We’re still very much struggling with the unfinished legacy of Reconstruction and the enduring racism that pervades American society. And until that’s addressed, these flames will continue.

When you talk about policies and solutions that didn’t go far enough, which examples do you have in mind?

In the middle of the Detroit uprising in 1967, Johnson called for the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission. This group studied the nature of urban unrest in a number of American cities, and basically called on the federal government to begin to make massive investments in urban institutions &mdash schools, housing, job-creation programs. The Kerner Commission famously said, unless the federal government is prepared to make massive investments in these communities that are experiencing this unrest, &ldquoOur nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white &mdash separate and unequal.&rdquo

The Johnson Administration and many other liberal policymakers thought this was too radical, and, as I discovered in my research, ended up, long-term, embracing a set of policies that managed problems of poverty and inequality through policing and surveillance of low-income communities and incarceration. And so that choice &mdash that investment in policing and divestment from social welfare programs &mdash is exactly the conditions that led some 50 years later to Derek Chauvin jamming his knee in George Floyd’s neck.

So even though lots of people have traced these ideas to Nixon, your research shows the strategy goes back to the Johnson Administration.

The kind of incidents that garnered the national attention and the news coverage that we’re seeing today, that was an occurrence that Johnson had to deal with during every single summer of his presidency, and we haven’t experienced anything like it since then. We think about “law and order” [as a modern political strategy] originating during the Nixon Administration, but Johnson was the President who called for the War on Crime, who began the unprecedented federal investment in local police forces as his formal strategy to prevent future urban unrest. That strategy of preventing unrest and managing poverty through policing has not worked. What we’re seeing today is a really clear expression of the failures of that approach.

Do you think there’s anything people are getting wrong about the sequence of events in 1968, from King’s assassination to revolts in cities and then Nixon winning the election on a “law and order” platform?

Yeah, that’s not accurate. We have to go back to 1964 when Johnson calls the War on Poverty, and the Civil Right Act passes in July. Harlem erupts into days of unrest after the beating of a 15-year-old by NYC police and this leads to unrest in Chicago and other places, in a very similar style to what we’re seeing now. The following summer, Johnson calls for the War on Crime. Then a few months later, Watts erupts in L.A. in 1965 and then we have subsequent instances of unrest and then the really large moment in the summer of 1967 in Newark and Detroit, and the incidents in 125 [cities] after the assassination of King in 1968. These things had been happening for years before, every summer, in the face of War on Poverty programs that didn’t go far enough.

I thought Johnson was known for the Great Society programs and the social-welfare system that they created.

I wrestled with this too when I started doing this research. Johnson is very complicated. I really do think Johnson had good intentions, that he launched the War on Crime as a way to improve American society as he saw it.

But just like many policymakers throughout history and many policymakers today, his own racial assumptions limited the vision of what that War on Poverty could be, and [are] why he and others refused to commit and devote the resources that might address issues of racial inequality and poverty in a meaningful way, as his own Kerner Commission called for. Many liberal policymakers started to turn away from these social-welfare investments as a way to confront issues of racial inequality and poverty, and to embrace this more punitive vision for dealing with urban crisis. Out of that Great Society we get a major job-creation program for police officers, but not the residents who were intended to benefit from the War on Poverty programs.

Are there any milestones in policing decisions or strategy since the 󈨀s that provide context for Floyd’s death in 2020?

The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 was the capstone to Johnson’s Great Society. While he signed it a few weeks after the riots after King’s assassination had subsided, his administration had been carefully writing that legislation and shaping it as it made its way through Congress since 1965. It’s the last major piece of domestic legislation he signed before leaving office, which really began a more permanent national investment in the War on Crime.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the strategy of “broken windows” or zero-tolerance enforcement really fueled the saturation of police in low-income communities of color and exacerbated the strategy of arresting people for misdemeanor offenses that fueled mass incarceration in many respects. A lot of these strategies fall under the rubric of community policing, which can be very vaguely defined and means different things to different people. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, passed under Clinton, invested billions to hire 100,000 new community policing officers on the streets of American cities while simultaneously investing billions to expand the prison system. It endorsed this kind of zero-tolerance policing that was already underway in major cities like Chicago and NYC and helps us understand, most directly, how we got to this mass-incarceration society.

Does policing in Midwestern cities like Minneapolis differ from policing in other parts of the country?

Significant black communities tend to be in Midwestern cities that suffered from extreme de-industrialization &mdash cities like where my family is from, the plant town Saginaw, Michigan. General Motors in the 1940s sent my grandpa a ticket to Saginaw. The plant closed, everyone who could leave did, but not everybody could leave. Those who remain have become even more isolated in the absence of real economic infrastructure in these communities. In places like Ferguson, the criminal justice or law-enforcement apparatus fuels public works through fines and fees and those kinds of initiatives. In places where that’s not the approach, the majority of city budgets end up going to police departments, to crime-control programs, rather than schools and housing and other social welfare programs.

Given the links people are drawing to past summers of uprisings, is there something about summertime that contributes to tensions running high?

You do see these incidents rarely in the winter, but you see them in the fall and spring. Part of it is, it’s hot, people are outside and when poor people, when people of color are outside, they tend to be policed more heavily, especially when &mdash again, this is why the context of these incidents unfolding as the War on Crime is escalating from 1965 onward really matters &mdash there are more police on the streets who are increasingly being equipped with military-grade riot prevention gear. And instead of stopping future unrest, in many cases, the investment and widespread deployment of police forces on the streets of American cities may have done the opposite.

Campaign Spot: Failure (1968) - HISTORY

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In the spring of 1963, activists in Birmingham, Alabama launched one of the most influential campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement: Project C, better known as The Birmingham Campaign. It would be the beginning of a series of lunch counter sit-ins, marches on City Hall and boycotts on downtown merchants to protest segregation laws in the city.

Over the next couple months, the peaceful demonstrations would be met with violent attacks using high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs on men, women and children alike -- producing some of the most iconic and troubling images of the Civil Rights Movement. President John F. Kennedy would later say, "The events in Birmingham. have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them." It is considered one of the major turning points in the Civil Rights Movement and the "beginning of the end" of a centuries-long struggle for freedom.

Project “C” for Confrontation

Revisit the Birmingham Campaign through photos, music and clips from Eyes on the Prize.

Full Speed Ahead and Let the Journey Begin

In 1988 the service gave its ad business to the ad firm BBDO Worldwide which continued to empathize the service’s relationship to the individual.

You Are Tomorrow You Are the Navy (1988-1990)

You and the Navy, Full Speed Ahead (1990-1996)

Let the Journey Begin (1996-2001)


The ship was launched at the Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Kewaunee, Wisconsin, on 16 April 1944, as the United States Army Freight and Passenger (FP) FP-344. The Army later redesignated the FP vessels as Freight and Supply changing the designation to FS-344. [7] The ship, commissioned at New Orleans on 7 April 1945, served as a Coast Guard–manned Army vessel used for training civilians for the Army. Her first commanding officer was Lt. J. R. Choate, USCGR, succeeded by Lt. J.G. Marvin B. Barker, USCGR, on 12 September 1945. [8] FS-344 was placed out of service in 1954.

In 1964 the Department of Defense became interested in having smaller, less expensive, more flexible and responsive signals intelligence collection vessels than the existing AGTR and T-AG vessels. The mothballed light cargo ships were the most suitable existing DOD ships, and one was converted to USS Banner in 1964 and began operations in 1965. [9]

FS-344 was transferred to the United States Navy on 12 April 1966 and was renamed USS Pueblo (AKL-44) after Pueblo and Pueblo County, Colorado on 18 June. Initially, she was classified as a light cargo ship for basic refitting at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard during 1966. As Pueblo was prepared under a non-secret cover as a light cargo ship, the general crew staffing and training was on this basis, with 44% having never been to sea when first assigned. Installation of signals intelligence equipment, at a cost of $1.5 million, was delayed to 1967 for budgetary reasons, resuming service as what is colloquially known as a "spy ship" and redesignated AGER-2 on 13 May 1967. After testing and deficiency rework she sailed from the shipyard on 11 September 1967 to San Diego for shake-down training. [9]

On 5 January 1968, Pueblo left the U.S. Navy base at Yokosuka, Japan, in transit to the U.S. naval base at Sasebo, Japan from there she left on 11 January 1968, headed northward through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan. She left with specific orders to intercept and conduct surveillance of Soviet Navy activity in the Tsushima Strait and to gather signal and electronic intelligence from North Korea. [10] The declassified SIGAD for the National Security Agency (NSA) Direct Support Unit (DSU) from the Naval Security Group (NSG) on Pueblo during the patrol involved in the incident was USN-467Y. [11] AGER (Auxiliary General Environmental Research) denoted a joint Naval and National Security Agency (NSA) program. [12]

On 16 January 1968, Pueblo arrived at the 42°N parallel in preparation for the patrol, which was to transit down the North Korean coast from 41°N to 39°N, and then back, without getting closer than 13 nautical miles (24 km) from the North Korean coast, at night moving out to a distance of 18 to 20 nautical miles (33 to 37 km). This was challenging as only two sailors had good navigational experience, with the captain later reporting, "I did not have a highly professional group of seamen to do my navigational chores for me." [9]

At 17:30 on 20 January 1968, a North Korean modified SO-1 class Soviet style submarine chaser passed within 4,000 yards (3.7 km) of Pueblo, which was about 15.4 nautical miles (28.5 km) southeast of Mayang-do at a position 39°47'N and 128°28.5'E. [9]

In the afternoon of 22 January 1968, the two North Korean fishing trawlers Rice Paddy 1 and Rice Paddy 2 passed within 30 yards (27 m) of Pueblo. That day, a North Korean unit made an assassination attempt at the Blue House executive mansion against South Korean president Park Chung-hee, but the crew of Pueblo was not informed. [9]

According to the American account, the following day, 23 January, Pueblo was approached by a submarine chaser and her nationality was challenged Pueblo responded by raising the U.S. flag. The North Korean vessel then ordered Pueblo to stand down or be fired upon. Pueblo attempted to maneuver away, but was considerably slower than the submarine chaser. Several warning shots were fired. Additionally, three torpedo boats appeared on the horizon and then joined in the chase and subsequent attack. [9]

The attackers were soon joined by two MiG-21 fighters. A fourth torpedo boat and a second submarine chaser appeared on the horizon a short time later. The ammunition on Pueblo was stored below decks, and her machine guns were wrapped in cold-weather tarpaulins. The machine guns were unmanned, and no attempt was made to man them. An NSA report quotes the sailing order:

( . ) Defensive armament (machine guns) should be stowed or covered in such manner so that it does not cause unusual interest by surveyed units. It should be used only in the event of a threat to survival ( . )

In practice, it was discovered that, because of the temperamental adjustments of the firing mechanisms, the .50-caliber machine guns took at least ten minutes to activate. Only one crew member, with former army experience, had ever had any experience with such weapons, although members of the crew had received rudimentary instructions on the weapons immediately prior to the ship's deployment. [9]

U.S. Navy authorities and the crew of Pueblo insist that before the capture, Pueblo was miles outside North Korean territorial waters. North Korea claims that the vessel was well within North Korean territory. The Pueblo ' s mission statement allowed her to approach within a nautical mile (1,852 m) of that limit. However, North Korea describes a 50-nautical-mile (93 km) sea boundary even though international standards were 12 nautical miles (22 km) at the time. [13]

The North Korean vessels attempted to board Pueblo, but she was maneuvered to prevent this for over two hours. A submarine chaser then opened fire with a 57 mm cannon, killing one member of the crew. The smaller vessels fired machine guns into Pueblo, which then signaled compliance, and its crew began destroying sensitive material. The volume of material on board was so great that it was impossible to destroy it all. An NSA report quotes Lieutenant Steve Harris, the officer in charge of Pueblo ' s Naval Security Group Command detachment:

( . ) we had retained on board the obsolete publications and had all good intentions of getting rid of these things but had not done so at the time we had started the mission. I wanted to get the place organized eventually and we had excessive numbers of copies on board ( . )

Only a small percentage of the total classified material aboard the ship was destroyed.

Radio contact between Pueblo and the Naval Security Group in Kamiseya, Japan had been ongoing during the incident. As a result, Seventh Fleet command was fully aware of Pueblo ' s situation. Air cover was promised but never arrived. The Fifth Air Force had no aircraft on strip alert, and estimated a two-to-three-hour delay in launching aircraft. USS Enterprise was located 510 nautical miles (940 km) south of Pueblo, yet her four F-4B aircraft on alert were not equipped for an air-to-surface engagement. Enterprise ' s captain estimated that 1.5 hours (90 minutes) were required to get the converted aircraft into the air. [9]

Pueblo followed the North Korean vessels as ordered, but then stopped immediately outside North Korean waters. She was again fired upon, and a sailor, fireman Duane Hodges, was killed. The ship was finally boarded at 05:55 UTC (2:55 pm local) [14] by men from a torpedo boat and a submarine chaser. Crew members had their hands tied and were blindfolded, beaten, and prodded with bayonets. Once Pueblo was in North Korean territorial waters, she was boarded again, this time by high-ranking North Korean officials. [ citation needed ]

The first official confirmation that the ship was in North Korean hands came five days later, 28 January 1968. Two days earlier, a flight by a CIA A-12 Oxcart aircraft from the Project Black Shield squadron at Kadena, Okinawa, flown by pilot Jack Weeks, made three high-altitude, high-speed flights over North Korea. When the aircraft's films were processed in the United States, they showed Pueblo to be in the Wonsan harbor area surrounded by two North Korean vessels. [15]

There was dissent among government officials in the United States regarding the nation's response to the situation. Congressman Mendel Rivers suggested that President Johnson issue an ultimatum for the return of Pueblo under penalty of nuclear attack, while Senator Gale McGee said that the United States should wait for more information and not make "spasmodic response[s] to aggravating incidents." [16] According to Horace Busby, Special Assistant to President Johnson, the president's "reaction to the hostage taking was to work very hard here to keep down any demands for retaliation or any other attacks upon North Koreans", worried that rhetoric might result in the hostages being killed. [17]

On Wednesday, 24 January 1968, the day following the incident, after extensive cabinet meetings Washington decided that its initial response should be to:

  • Deploy air and naval forces to the immediate area.
  • Make reconnaissance flights over the location of the Pueblo.
  • Call up military reserves and extend terms of military service.
  • Protest the incident within the framework of the United Nations.
  • Have President Johnson personally cable Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin. [18][19][20][21]

The Johnson Administration also considered a blockade of North Korean ports, air strikes on military targets and an attack across the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. [22]

Although American officials at the time assumed that the seizure of Pueblo had been directed by the Soviet Union, declassified Soviet archives later showed that the Soviet leadership was caught by surprise, and became fearful of the possibility of war on the Korean peninsula. Eastern Bloc ambassadors actively cautioned North Korea to exercise caution in the aftermath of the incident. Several documents suggest that the aggressive action may have been an attempt by North Korea to signal a tilt towards the Chinese Communist Party in the aftermath of the Sino-Soviet split in 1966. [23]

Pueblo was taken into port at Wonsan and the crew was moved twice to prisoner-of-war (POW) camps. The crew members reported upon release that they were starved and regularly tortured while in North Korean custody. This treatment turned worse [24] when the North Koreans realized that crewmen were secretly giving them "the finger" in staged propaganda photos. [25]

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher was psychologically tortured, including being put through a mock firing squad in an effort to make him confess. Eventually the North Koreans threatened to execute his men in front of him, and Bucher relented and agreed to "confess to his and the crew's transgression." Bucher wrote the confession since a "confession" by definition needed to be written by the confessor himself. They verified the meaning of what he wrote, but failed to catch the pun when he said "We paean the DPRK [North Korea]. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung". [26] (Bucher pronounced "paean" as "pee on.") [27]

Negotiations for the release of the crew took place at Panmunjom. At the same time, U.S. officials were concerned with conciliating the South Koreans, who expressed discontent about being left out of the negotiations. Richard A. Ericson, a political counselor for the American embassy in Seoul and operating officer for the Pueblo negotiations, notes in his oral history:

The South Koreans were absolutely furious and suspicious of what we might do. They anticipated that the North Koreans would try to exploit the situation to the ROK's disadvantage in every way possible, and they were rapidly growing distrustful of us and losing faith in their great ally. Of course, we had this other problem of how to ensure that the ROK would not retaliate for the Blue House Raid and to ease their growing feelings of insecurity. They began to realize that the DMZ was porous and they wanted more equipment and aid. So, we were juggling a number of problems. [28]

He also noted how the meetings at Panmunjom were usually unproductive because of the particular negotiating style of the North Koreans:

As one example, we would go up with a proposal of some sort on the release of the crew and they would be sitting there with a card catalog . If the answer to the particular proposal we presented wasn't in the cards, they would say something that was totally unresponsive and then go off and come back to the next meeting with an answer that was directed to the question. But there was rarely an immediate answer. That happened all through the negotiations. Their negotiators obviously were never empowered to act or speak on the basis of personal judgment or general instructions. They always had to defer a reply and presumably they went over it up in Pyongyang and passed it around and then decided on it. Sometimes we would get totally nonsensical responses if they didn't have something in the card file that corresponded to the proposal at hand. [28]

Ericson and George Newman, the Deputy Chief of Mission in Seoul, wrote a telegram for the State Department in February 1968, predicting how the negotiations would play out:

What we said in effect was this: If you are going to do this thing at Panmunjom, and if your sole objective is to get the crew back, you will be playing into North Korea's hands and the negotiations will follow a clear and inevitable path. You are going to be asked to sign a document that the North Koreans will have drafted. They will brook no changes. It will set forth their point of view and require you to confess to everything they accuse you of . If you allow them to, they will take as much time as they feel they need to squeeze every damn thing they can get out of this situation in terms of their propaganda goals, and they will try to exploit this situation to drive a wedge between the U.S. and the ROK. Then when they feel they have accomplished all they can, and when we have agreed to sign their document of confession and apology, they will return the crew. They will not return the ship. This is the way it is going to be because this is the way it has always been. [28]

Following an apology, a written admission by the U.S. that Pueblo had been spying, and an assurance that the U.S. would not spy in the future, the North Korean government decided to release the 82 remaining crew members, although the written apology was preceded by an oral statement that it was done only to secure the release. [29] [9] On 23 December 1968, the crew was taken by buses to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) border with South Korea and crossing at the "Bridge of No Return", carrying with them the body of Fireman Duane D. Hodges, who was killed during the capture. Exactly 11 months after being taken prisoner, the captain led the long line of crewmen, followed at the end by the executive officer, Lieutenant Ed Murphy, the last man across the bridge. [30] [9]

Bucher and all of the officers and crew subsequently appeared before a Navy Court of Inquiry. A court-martial was recommended for Bucher and the officer in charge of the research department, Lieutenant Steve Harris, for surrendering without a fight and for failing to destroy classified material, but Secretary of the Navy John Chafee, rejected the recommendation, stating, "They have suffered enough." Commander Bucher was never found guilty of any indiscretions and continued his Navy career until retirement. [31]

In 1970, Bucher published an autobiographical account of the USS Pueblo incident entitled Bucher: My Story. [32] Bucher died in San Diego on 28 January 2004, at the age of 76. James Kell, a former sailor under his command, suggested that the injuries that Bucher suffered during his time in North Korea contributed to his death. [33]

USS Pueblo is still held by North Korea. In October 1999, she was towed from Wonsan on the east coast, around the Korean Peninsula, to the port of Nampo on the west coast. This required moving the vessel through international waters, and was undertaken just before the visit of U.S. presidential envoy James Kelly to Pyongyang. After the stop at the Nampo shipyard, Pueblo was relocated to Pyongyang and moored on the Taedong River near the spot where the General Sherman incident is believed to have taken place. In late 2012, Pueblo was moved again to the Pothong River in Pyongyang, next to a new addition to the Fatherland Liberation War Museum. [5]

Today, Pueblo remains the second-oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy, behind USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"). Pueblo is one of only a few American ships to have been captured since the wars in Tripoli.

Breach of U.S. communications security Edit

Reverse engineering of communications devices on Pueblo allowed the North Koreans to share knowledge with the Soviet Union that led to the replication of those communications devices. This allowed the two nations access to the US Navy's communication systems until the US Navy revised those systems. The seizure of Pueblo followed soon after US Navy warrant officer John Anthony Walker introduced himself to Soviet authorities, setting up the Walker spy ring. It has been argued that the seizure of Pueblo was executed specifically to capture the encryption devices aboard. [ by whom? ] Without them, it was difficult for the Soviets to make full use of Walker's information. [34] [35] [36] Mitchell Lerner and Jong-Dae Shin argue that Soviet-bloc Romanian dossiers demonstrate that the Soviets had no knowledge of the capture of the ship and were taken by surprise when it happened. [37]

After debriefing the released crew, the U.S. prepared a “Cryptographic Damage Assessment” that was declassified in late 2006. [38] The report concluded that, while the crew made a diligent effort to destroy sensitive material, [39] most of them were not familiar with cryptographic equipment and publications, had not received training in their proper destruction, and that their efforts were not sufficient to prevent the North Koreans from recovering most of the sensitive material. The crew itself thought the North Koreans would be able to rebuild much of the equipment.

Cryptographic equipment onboard at the time of capture included “one KL-47 for off-line encryption, two KW-7s [40] for on-line encryption, three KWR-37s for receiving the Navy Operational Intelligence Broadcast, and four KG-14s [41] which are used in conjunction with the KW-37 for receiving the Fleet Broadcasts.” Additional tactical systems and one-time pads were captured, but they were considered of little significance since most messages sent using them would be of value for only a short time.

The ship's cryptographic personnel were subject to intense interrogation by what they felt were highly knowledgable electronics experts. When crew members attempted to withhold details, they were later confronted with pages from captured manuals and told to correct their earlier accounts. The report concluded that the information gained from the interrogations saved the North Koreans three to six months of effort, but that they would have eventually understood everything from the captured equipment and accompanying technical manuals alone. The crew members were also asked about many U.S. cryptographic systems that were not onboard the Pueblo, but only supplied superficial information.

The Pueblo carried key lists for January, February and March of 1968, but immediately after the Pueblo was captured, instructions were sent to other holders of those keys not to use them, so damage was limited. However it was discovered in the debriefing that the Pueblo had onboard superseded key lists for November and December 1967 which should have been destroyed by January 15, well before the Pueblo arrived on station, according to standing orders. [38] : p. 19 The report considered the capture of the superseded keys for November and December the most damaging cryptographic loss. The capture of these keys likely allowed North Korea and its allies to read more than 117,000 classified messages sent during those months. [38] : p. 30 The North Koreans would also have gained a thorough knowledge of the workings of the captured systems but that would only have been of use if additional key material was compromised in the future. The existence of the Walker spy ring was, of course, not known at the time of the report.

The report noted that “the North Koreans did not display any of the captured cryptographic material to the crew, except for some equipment diagrams, or otherwise publicize the material for propaganda purposes. When contrasted with the international publicity given to the capture of other highly classified Special Intelligence documents, the fact that this material was not displayed or publicized would indicate that they thoroughly understood its significance and the importance of concealing from the United States the details of the information they had acquired.” [38] : A.7

In the communist camp Edit

Documents released from National Archives of Romania suggest it was the Chinese rather than the Soviets who actively encouraged the reopening of hostilities in Korea during 1968, promising North Korea vast material support should hostilities in Korea resume. [23] Together with Blue House Raid, the Pueblo incident turned out to be part of an increasing divergence between the Soviet leadership and North Korea. Fostering a resumption of hostilities in Korea, allegedly, was seen in Beijing as a way to mend relations between North Korea and China, and pull North Korea back in the Chinese sphere of influence in the context of the Sino-Soviet split. After the (then secret) diplomatic efforts of the Soviets to have the American crew released fell on deaf ears in Pyongyang, Leonid Brezhnev publicly denounced North Korea's actions at the 8th plenary session of the 23rd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. [23] In contrast, the Chinese (state controlled) press published declarations supportive of North Korea's actions in the Pueblo incident. [42]

Furthermore, Soviet archives reveal that the Soviet leadership was particularly displeased that North Korean leader Kim Il-sung had contradicted the assurances he previously gave Moscow that he would avoid a military escalation in Korea. Previously secret documents suggest the Soviets were surprised by the Pueblo incident, first learning of it in the press. The same documents reveal that the North Koreans also kept the Soviets completely in the dark regarding ongoing negotiations with the Americans for the crew's release, which was another bone of contention. The Soviet reluctance at a reopening of hostilities in Korea was partly motivated by the fact that they had a 1961 treaty with North Korea that obliged them to intervene [43] in case the latter got attacked. Brezhnev however had made it clear in 1966 that just as in the case of the similar treaty they had with China, the Soviets were prepared to ignore it rather than go to all-out war with the United States. [44] : 12–15

Given that Chinese and North Korean archives surrounding the incident remain secret, Kim Il-sung's intentions cannot be known with certainty. The Soviets revealed however that Kim Il-sung sent a letter to Alexei Kosygin on 31 January 1968 demanding further military and economic aid, which was interpreted by the Soviets as the price they would have to pay to restrain Kim Il-sung's bellicosity. Consequently, Kim Il-sung was invited to Moscow, but he refused to go in person owing to "increased defense preparations" he had to attend to, sending instead his defense minister, Kim Ch'ang-bong, who arrived on 26 February 1968. During a long meeting with Brezhnev, the Soviet leader made it clear that they were not willing to go to war with the United States, but agreed to an increase in subsidies for North Korea, which did happen in subsequent years. [44] : 15–18

The US was (and is) the most powerful economic and military force in the world. Their no.1 position is maintained by intervention into countries they deem ‘hostile to US interests’. But superpower status has not always brought victory. In 1973, after 58,000 Americans had lost their lives in Vietnam, they had been defeated. This is despite outstripping North Vietnam and the VC’s peasant guerrillas completely. How can we understand this failure and what lessons does it hold for those opposed to US imperialism in the future?

To answer this we must examine the Vietnam War on two fronts. Firstly, in Vietnam itself, paying attention to the effectiveness of the American military the lack of legitimacy of the southern government, the Republic of Vietnam the appeal of the VC politically and the effectiveness of the National Liberation Front militarily. Secondly, in America domestically, examining the anti-war movement alongside financial burdens.


The geopolitical struggle spurned on by the Cold War set the stage for U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In 1954, after a long struggle, the resistance movement known as the Viet Minh broke French colonial rule in Vietnam. July of that year saw the signing of the Geneva accords by the Viet Minh, France, Britain, The People’s Republic of China, and the Soviet Union, which divided Vietnam on the 17th parallel. The Viet Minh took control of the North while the French would oversee the South until elections promised in 1956. By 1956 a new power had rose in the South which refused to allow elections, the following American backed regimes also refused to allow elections in the south. In 1957 the political organization and army known as the Viet Cong began attacks on the Southern regime. An openly communist political doctrine, as the Viet Cong’s claimed, was deemed a threat to American foreign policy, as a communist Vietnam would trigger a ‘domino effect’ for other southeast Asian nations to ‘go red’. Therefore, financially, politically and militarily, backing any non-communist Southern government was deemed essential for the US.

American Military effectiveness

In evaluating the US military it is vital to understand that rather than ‘winning’ the war its role was directed towards holding back the Vietcong, until the Republic of Vietnam was able to become stable politically and militarily. There would have to be a perpetual US military presence in Vietnam until resistance to the RVN had ceased. This immediately put America at a disadvantage as its military strength had no means of engaging the social and economic factors generating the resistance.

Furthermore, the geopolitical climate dictated the terms of America’s involvement. A policy of total war including an all-out land invasion of North Vietnam or the use of atomic weapons was ruled out due to the risk of provoking Chinese or soviet military action. Indeed the American administration took the threat of a Chinese reaction very serious. For example the CIA office of current intelligence concluded ‘the Chinese communists in June 1965 began developing a limited number of military support units into North Vietnam’1. The massive casualties and global consequences of a war with the communist bloc would have been disastrous, and so the US from the outset could not extend its full military might.

In the North activity was limited to an aerial bombing campaign (pictured). Even this however had major drawbacks, for example a study from the state department found that ‘the bombing of North Vietnam had no significantly harmful effects on popular morale’. In reality, as a direct result of the bombing the North was able to instil an energetic war mentality in its population which provided it with more benefits than draw backs2. The North overcame the heavy bombing organizing 90,000 civilians and digging 30,000 miles of tunnels to keep transportation flowing3, additionally the predominantly agricultural economy was resistant to bombing. Furthermore the bombing campaign was widely inaccurate and killed indiscriminately, it was later found that 80% of all casualties were civilians4.

The air war not only failed to adequately harm the North it inversely rebounded upon the US in the form of casualties and costs, for example from 1965 to 1968 the US lost around 900 aircraft and over 800 pilots had lost their lives5. Furthermore by the end of 1972 the US had lost 3,689 fixed-wing aircraft plus 4,857 helicopters valued over at $10 billion6. The North Vietnamese as a result of the bombing developed a very effective anti-air craft system which in itself destroyed a quarter of US gunships7. It’s worth noting that before the bombing campaign the North had withheld its troops from the south in fear of US retaliation. Therefore in summery the air war had little negative impact upon the north and instilled in them a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude, as well as bringing into question the US’s international reputation, as sectary of defence McNamara said:

The picture of the world’s greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 non-combatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed, is not a pretty one’8.

Like the air war in the North the so called ‘search and destroy’ missions in the South proved limited. US soldiers would attempt to track down the VC and once engaged would call in artillery and air strikes, if more VC lost their lives than Americans a good ‘kill ratio’ was recorded and a victory was declared. The drawback to this method was that from 1966 to 1967 the vast majority of actual battles were started by the VC9, who possessed the ability to retreat into the foliage as soon as tactically necessary. Furthermore, following successful search and destroy missions the military – unable to police the entire country – would withdraw back to base, leaving open the opportunity for the VC to instantly retake territory, this fostered in the army a constant sense of futility and sowed the seeds of discontent within the rural population. Along with this Clement Zablocki reported that ‘an average of two civilians were killed for every Viet Cong’1, this along with almost 14,000 GIs being killed in action by 196711 added to the restricted nature of search and destroy missions.

US Military morale

During the beginning of the conflict one marine lieutenant noted ‘when we marched into the rice paddies… we carried the implicit conviction that the Viet Cong would be quickly beaten’12. This level of morale entered a state of decline throughout the war culminating in the almost complete breakdown of the Armed Forces by the early 1970s. The futility of search and destroy missions severely affected the psychology of soldiers who were living under the prospect of death daily. Many turned to drugs, and in 1973 it was acknowledged that 35% of the army serving in the South had tried heroin with 20% being addicted at some time during their tour of duty13. Race relations also began to break down, with 1/5 of black troops stating they hated whites14. Officers unrelentingly pushing for ‘positive’ kill ratios overtime became alienated from their soldiers, this along with drugs, despair and racial mistrust culminated in frequent attempts on officers’ lives, around 200 reported in 197015. Indeed acts of mutiny, insubordination and disobedience had risen from 252 in 1968 to around twice that in 197116. Lastly, during the 1970s the anti-war movement reached its peak within the tree branches of the military, and by 1970 almost 70,000 American soldiers had deserted whilst to those who remained demonstrations17, strikes, and sit-ins were common place. In light of this the immediate withdrawal of the American military was vital in order to escape the total degeneration of the Armed Forces.

Failure of politics

As the American solider began to question the reason for intervention, the one being put forward by the American government was ‘to insure that the South Vietnamese have the right and opportunity to control their own destiny’ (South-Vietnamese flag pictured). This proved to be an entirely hypocritical statement. The US consented and aided a number of political coups in the South, all of which installed undemocratic regimes uninterested in furthering political or economic reform, which therefore stood them in alienation from the Vietnamese people. By backing RVN, which had no popular support, the US began to look like a colonial force.

This simply added fuel to the fire of Vietnamese nationalism. Blinded by its own national bias the American administration never gave full credit to the depth of national aspiration prevalent in Vietnam, as the policies of the RVN proved empty, unemployment soared, and civilian contracts were given out to Americans and their allies rather than the Vietnamese people.18 A patriotic resentment began to ferment. The ‘struggle movement’ campaigning for democracy and reform led by Buddhist monks arose and developed into a mass movement. The movement believed that a democratic Vietnam free from foreign interference would vote for the necessary reforms, thus ending the economic and nationalistic antagonisms the VC was dependent upon. In the same vein John Paul Van said ‘a viable non-communist government’ would be more easily attained through ‘socialist inclined leaders…in tune with the aspirations of the rural population’19. However the US administration viewed the struggle movement as a threat to the RVN stability, a sample of the population in 1970 and 1972 found that under a fifth of the South viewed the departure of the American military negatively2, therefore the threat of letting the South Vietnamese people have a say in their country risked an embarrassing end to US intervention, perhaps resulting in a South-North negotiation against the US.

At its height in 1966 the struggle movements looked likely to win democratic reform, US ambassador Lodge mounted pressure upon the RVN to take action. What followed was a wave of American backed corruption, brutality and political and religious repression which effectively destroyed the only legitimate political movement offering an alternative to the VC or the authoritarian RVN. The vacuum left by the struggle movement was one of intense political polarization many Vietnamese now felt that the VC was the only alternative to an American backed dictatorship.

The RVN itself eliminated any chance of support due to its land policies, the pacification programme ordered peasants to leave their homes and relocate to areas within the RVN sphere of influence, along with tearing up whole communities and ignoring ancient traditions of ancestral worship which tied families to specific plots of land, this policy sent the social fabric of the south into turmoil, by the end of 1966 refugees numbered 1,616,63321. The areas peasants were relocated to usually lacked proper facilities and employment opportunity. This environment proved fertile for radicalization, with a large amount of military aged men leaving to join the NLF22. The RVN deepened its antagonistic role upon the peasantry through a failure to offer compensation for land destroyed by the US or to pacification.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that villages under VC control had their land communalized to the peasantry. ‘Liberation’ by American forces saw this land given back to the original landlords23, this coupled with RVN rates being almost double that of the VC24 increased resentment from the peasantry. In a country where the vast majority of the population were peasants the US military was on the side of a minority in direct social conflict with the majority, as such the role of the US was completely devoid of social legitimacy. The RVN failed to generate support within the population and as such had to rely on military – or more accurately American military – support. Naturally, the VC took advantage.

Support for Vietcong

The VC was a political movement of the people. Vietnamese joined irrespective of its communist ideology due to the wide appeal it generated by representing national liberation as well as land reform. The VC completely submerged itself into village life, VC guerrillas were predominantly drawn from the villages, and members not only lived among the peasants but helped them grow food, provided medical services and schooling25. Land was given to the peasants themselves to run, taxes were also set at reasonable rates which would not burden the peasantry too greatly. This all proved immensely popular, showing many peasants that they directly benefited from VC policies, whereas high tax and conscription under the RVN directly hurt the agricultural community26.

The popular support for the VC allowed it to mobilize large amounts of guerrillas against the US. Kennedy’s comment that ‘American military assistance can’t conquer an enemy which is everywhere’27 demonstrates the level of popular support the VC enjoyed. Kennedy’s military adviser Maxwell Taylor noted that:

The ability of the Vietcong continuously to rebuild their units… To make good their losses is one of the mysteries of this guerrilla war… not only do the Vietcong units have recuperative powers of the phoenix, but they have an amazing ability to maintain morale.’28

The NLF exploited everything they could in order to overcome their technological disadvantage. Night attacks, extensive tunnel networks and jungle ambushes left little room for the American military to manoeuvre, and its solution of deforestation and aerial bombing proved in reality to be one of the most effective recruitment devices for the NLF in the war. Due to its high level of morale and the growing discontent among the population, the NLF could afford to has side the NLF have a drawn out conflict. Unlike the NLF the army of the RVN was not made up of volunteers but of draftees, suffering form low morale and high desertion rates29. For many it was preferable to join the local NLF than be drafted to a distant location3.

Anti-war movement

The Sectary of defence McNamara touched on a vital point when he said ‘the test of endurance may be as much in the united states as in Vietnam’31. General Westmoreland was brought home from Vietnam in 1967 in order to dispel the growing antiwar mood. The media reported the administration’s line that the war was being won and that Westmoreland could see ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’32.

On January 31st 1968 Westmoreland and the administration were forced, by the realities of Vietnam and the Tet offensive, to reassess this statement and the war as a whole. The VC mounted major attacks on almost every southern city and stormed the American embassy in Saigon. The VC experienced massive casualties totalling 33,000, whilst around 1,600 Americans lost their lives33. Despite the positive kill ratio, Tet brought Ho Chi Minhs declaration ‘you can kill ten of my men for every one of yours. But…you will lose and I will win’34 into the American consciousness. Images of the American embassy being stormed were broadcast into living rooms shattering the belief that all was well in Vietnam. Simultaneously the retaking of the city of Ben Tre exposed the insanity of the war where one US major said it was ‘necessary to destroy the town in order to save it’35.

Incidents like Tet gradually polarized the American public over the war, with many becoming active in the anti-war movement. The climbing death total numbering 10,000 in 1967 alone36 provided a major influence in shaping public opinion. Whilst casualties were announced nightly on television the kill ratio method of warfare did not ease the minds of distraught parents, who cared little for a protracted war of attrition involving their drafted sons. The anti-war movement itself was a broad church of different political ideologies. Including far-leftists, students, trade unionists, businessmen, religious groups, and a growing number of national newspapers such as the New York Times. By 1966 thirty-six anti-war chapters existed37. This broadness and level of organization allowed a number of anti-war politicians to come into the limelight, providing the opportunity for an anti-war presidential campaign.

Students were by far the most radical, occupying their universities and holding huge ‘teach-ins’ against the war, staging acts of civil disobedience, and organizing public burnings of draft cards. ‘Stop the draft week’ mobilized 30,000 people on a march to the pentagon38, culminating, like a growing majority of demonstrations, in mass riots against the police.

The anti-war movement acted as an effective check upon further interventions by the administration. This is demonstrated by Nixon’s abandonment of ‘operation duck hook’, after massive public demonstrations and riots erupted following the invasion of Cambodia. By 1971, 71% of Americans felt that the war in Vietnam was wrong39, this public consensus piled further pressure upon the administration, which would have to accept civil unrest as a fact of life if America were to remain in Vietnam. Further disillusionment for war was brought on by the My Lai massacre of 1968. In one afternoon 300 innocent villagers were tortured, raped and killed4. A year later the incident shocked the American public when it received wide media attention. Reinhold Niebuhr stated that My Lai provided a ‘moment of truth when we realized that we are not a virtuous nation’41. Events like My Lai served to undermine the American notion that they where the ‘good guys’. In spawning such atrocities the war was seen to undermine the very essence of Americanism42.

Outside moral objections many Americans opposed the war over its negative financial aspects. The war was costing the tax payer $150 billion43, and a poll found that 70% of Americans opposed any rise in tax to help fund the war44. Furthermore the war was draining money form promised social projects. In 1968 $322,000 was spent on every dead VC opposed to $53 per person in poverty programs45. This led to many prominent anti-poverty campaigners coming out in opposition to the war, including Martin Luther King, who was ‘compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor’46. The cost of the war was climbing to unacceptable heights rising from $5.8 billion in 1966 to $26.5 billion in 1968, creating a federal deficit47 and risking the post-war boom with dangerous increases in inflation.

The US lost the Vietnam war on many fronts, domestic hostility to war coupled with a powerful anti-war movement and growing concern for the economy meant electoral suicide if a hard-line on Vietnam continued. The US military was unable to pursue total war, the methods left at its disposal proved ineffective, furthermore its general collapse in morale was a major factor in defeat. However, as Stanley Karnow states, ‘Victory in war is not simply the result of battles’48. By supporting a regime with no popular legitimacy the US could only apply ever increasing amounts of military pressure to a country which was in dire need of political and social reform. In suppression of political alternatives the US pressed the Vietnamese people towards the VC, who increasingly provided the only answer for the peasantry. The US completely overlooked the power of land in Vietnam. Its crusade ignored the material antagonisms acting upon Vietnamese people themselves. Therefore the inability to win a political victory pushed the US into an unwinnable war of attrition against an enemy which was everywhere.

Comparisons are often drawn between Vietnam and Afghanistan. Whilst its not the place to delve deeply into the similarities and differences here, its fair to say that political unpopularity combined with an unwinnable military strategy is grinding Afghanistan towards the same conclusion as Vietnam. We should take confidence from the US’s withdrawal from Vietnam because it’s an example of the difficulties involved in imperial conquest, despite all of America’s military and economic dominance. They are not all powerful, and the role of the anti-war movement in the West can be the key to demoralising the imperialists and motivating the resistance.

1 George McT. Kahin, Intervention how America became involved in Vietnam (New York: Anchor Press, 1987) p 338

2 William H Chafe, The unfinished journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) p285

3 William H Chafe, The unfinished journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) p290

4 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893) p190

5 Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided the civil war of the 1960s (0xford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p199

6 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893)p190

7 George McT. Kahin, Intervention how America became involved in Vietnam (New York: Anchor Press, 1987) p191

8 Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided the civil war of the 1960s (0xford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p199-200

9 Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided the civil war of the 1960s (0xford: Oxford University Press, 2004)p19

1 George McT. Kahin, Intervention how America became involved in Vietnam (New York: Anchor Press, 1987)p403

11 William H Chafe, The unfinished journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) p291

12 William H Chafe, The unfinished journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) p290

13 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893) p363

14 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893) p364

15 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893)p647

16 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893)p364

17 William H Chafe, The unfinished journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995)p405

18 George McT. Kahin, Intervention how America became involved in Vietnam (New York: Anchor Press, 1987) p410

19 George McT. Kahin, Intervention how America became involved in Vietnam (New York: Anchor Press, 1987) p411

2 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893) p396

21 George McT. Kahin, Intervention how America became involved in Vietnam (New York: Anchor Press, 1987) p410

22 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893) p131

23 George McT. Kahin, Intervention how America became involved in Vietnam (New York: Anchor Press, 1987) p412

24 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893) p130

25 Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided the civil war of the 1960s (0xford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p8

26 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893)p128

27 William H Chafe, The unfinished journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) p263

28 Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided the civil war of the 1960s (0xford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p81

29 George McT. Kahin, Intervention how America became involved in Vietnam (New York: Anchor Press, 1987) p34

30 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893) p128

31 George McT. Kahin, Intervention how America became involved in Vietnam (New York: Anchor Press, 1987) p356

32 William H Chafe, The unfinished journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) p344

33 William H Chafe, The unfinished journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) p346

34 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893

35 Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided the civil war of the 1960s (0xford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p231

36 William H Chafe, The unfinished journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) p297

37 William H Chafe, The unfinished journey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) p325

38 Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided the civil war of the 1960s (0xford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p193

39 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893) p399

4 Kendrick Oliver, The My Lai massacre in American history and memory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006) p1

41 Kendrick Oliver, The My Lai massacre in American history and memory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006) p2

42 Kendrick Oliver, The My Lai massacre in American history and memory (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006) p282

43 George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi, America a narrative history (New York: W.W. Norton el al, 2010) p1329

44 Milton J Rosenberg et al, Vietnam and the Silent Majority The Doves Guide (New York: Harper and row, 1970) p40

45 George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi, America a narrative history (New York: W.W. Norton el al, 2010) p1334

46 Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided the civil war of the 1960s (0xford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p200

47 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893) p198

48 Stanley Karnow, Vietnam a history (London: Century Publishing, 1893) p545

Poor People's Campaign: A Dream Unfulfilled

The Rev. Arthur Price Jr. is pastor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church near downtown Birmingham, Ala., which played a key role in the civil rights movement. Today, the church continues to advocate for the poor. Kathy Lohr/NPR hide caption

The Rev. Arthur Price Jr. is pastor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church near downtown Birmingham, Ala., which played a key role in the civil rights movement. Today, the church continues to advocate for the poor.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson holds up a consolidated lunch bill run up by 160 people from Resurrection City in the Agriculture Department's cafeteria. He said the $292.66 check would be compared with what the government owes the nation's poor because of its failure to feed them and "whoever owes the other will pay." Bettmann/CORBIS hide caption

The Rev. Jesse Jackson holds up a consolidated lunch bill run up by 160 people from Resurrection City in the Agriculture Department's cafeteria. He said the $292.66 check would be compared with what the government owes the nation's poor because of its failure to feed them and "whoever owes the other will pay."

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, seen in 2003, says the nation became aware of its expanding poor population through the Poor People's Campaign. Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images hide caption

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, seen in 2003, says the nation became aware of its expanding poor population through the Poor People's Campaign.

Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

In early 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders planned a Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C., for the spring. The group planned to demand that President Lyndon Johnson and Congress help the poor get jobs, health care and decent homes.

Campaign organizers intended the campaign to be a peaceful gathering of poor people from communities across the nation. They would march through the capital and visit various federal agencies in hopes of getting Congress to pass substantial anti-poverty legislation. They planned to stay until some action was taken.

But weeks before the march was to take place, King was assassinated. His widow, Coretta, and a cadre of black ministers, including the Revs. Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson, decided they would pick up where King had left off and that the Poor People's March on Washington would go forward.

Thousands of people participated in the march on May 12, 1968.

"We come with an appeal to open the doors of America to the almost 50 million Americans who have not been given a fair share of America's wealth and opportunity, and we will stay until we get it," Abernathy said as he led the way for demonstrators.

A week later, protestors erected a settlement of tents and shacks on the National Mall where they camped out for six weeks. Jackson became mayor of the encampment, which was called Resurrection City. Conditions were miserable.

"You know, what I remember I suppose the most about it was that we set the tents up at the foot of Lincoln's memorial," he says. "It seemed to rain without ceasing and became muddy and people were hurt, and we were still traumatized by Dr. King's assassination. Then while in the Resurrection City, Robert Kennedy was killed."

The demonstrators were discouraged and disheartened, says Jackson, so he tried to give them hope through words.

"I am. Somebody," he told protestors. "I am. God's child. I may not have a job, but I am somebody."

Jackson says that refrain "has resonated across the world in this last 40 years, but it grew out of the context of trying to give people a sense of somebody-ness who had nothing, but still had their person and their souls."

Although as many as 50,000 people ended up marching, the Poor People's Campaign was considered a failure by people who had grown weary of protesting and did not see immediate changes. But not by the Rev. Joseph Lowery.

"The nation became conscious of the fact that it has an expanding poor population," says Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King. "It's one thing to have the right to check into the Hiltons and the Marriotts, it's another thing to have the means to check out."

For many of America's poor, there hasn't been much progress in the 40 years since the Poor People's Campaign. In 1968, 25 million people — nearly 13 percent of the population — were living below the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau. In 2006, 36 million people or more than 12 percent of the population, were living below the poverty level.

Poverty and Faith

Although not much has changed for many poor Americans, the role of religion in the black community has changed greatly since the days when King and others wielded such power.

Today, the civil rights movement and life in the black community converge at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where the Rev. Arthur Price Jr. is now pastor. Four girls were killed at the church in 1963 when a bomb exploded during Sunday service. Price worries that all these years later, too few parents are bringing their children to church.

"I believe if we can get people engaged on the front end and teach them a good foundation, that some of the social ills that we have in our society will be less and less," he says. "We don't live in a box. We are in the culture. We are around the culture, and sometimes we have to preach against the culture."

Price teaches men how to become better fathers and helps first-time drug offenders turn their lives around. But he says the church's role in the black community has changed. Back in the 1960s, pastors dominated their neighborhoods — churches were the place where African-Americans shared their entire lives.

"If I can sum it up . I think we don't have a faith like we used to as a people. We've just, we've become so fragmented," says the Rev. Anthony Johnson, grandson of Alabama civil rights leader N.H. Smith Jr.

A Charge from the Pulpit

Over the past few years, megachurches have become more popular in black communities, just as they have in white communities. These megachurches have amassed influence and wealth partly because of their sheer number of parishioners. Some have created satellite churches and broadcast their gospel on television.

Many who were part of the civil rights movement and their heirs lament the trend.

"There still needs to be a voice crying out in the wilderness," Price says. "There still needs to be a charge from the pulpit to ignite people, to prick the consciousness of our brothers and sisters and to keep the mirror up in America's face, to let them know that they do have a responsibility to the least of these."


McGovern had run a short presidential campaign in 1968, acting as a stand-in for the assassinated Robert F. Kennedy leading up to the 1968 Democratic National Convention. McGovern then spent the remainder of the general election campaign ensuring his own re-election to the Senate.

But following the 1968 convention, he had planned on running for president again, a decision he solidified in January 1969. [3] He began hiring legislative aides who could double as campaign policy staff, press secretaries, and the like. [3] McGovern hired an agent to book speaking engagements, and in early 1969 began doing an average of three appearances a week. [3]

During 1969, McGovern headed the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, often later referred to as the "McGovern commission," which was chartered to redesign the Democratic nomination system after the messy and confused nomination struggle and convention of the 1968 election. [4] Due to the former influence of Eugene McCarthy and Kennedy supporters on the staff, the commission significantly reduced the role of party officials and insiders in the nomination process, increased the role of caucuses and primaries, and mandated quotas for proportional black, women, and youth delegate representation. McGovern's staff may have been influenced by the model of John Kennedy's 1952 campaign for the Senate, where his acting campaign manager Robert Kennedy had created an organizational structure that had 286 campaign "secretaries" function as "shadow units" to the regular Democratic Party machinery, insuring their loyalty lied first with the Candidate and not exclusively to the Party. [5] [6]

Senate Majority Whip Ted Kennedy, the younger brother of Robert and John, had been the early favorite to win the 1972 nomination, but his hopes were derailed by his role in the July 1969 Chappaquiddick incident. [7]

McGovern's early efforts were beset by organizational problems and much activity without plan or result in polls. [8] He began replacing most of the campaign staff. In March 1970, he met Gary Hart in Denver, and soon hired him to be his Western political affairs coordinator a couple of months later, he became McGovern's national campaign director. [8] Shortly thereafter he opened a New York office and hired the first woman as executive director, Phyllis Holtzer, a former Robert Kennedy staffer. At a July 25, 1970, get-together at McGovern's farm in St. Michael's, Maryland, the McGovern campaign was restarted. [8]

The favorite for the Democratic nomination by then was Edmund Muskie, [9] [10] the 1968 vice-presidential nominee, who had especially benefited from a speech on the eve of the Congressional elections in November 1970 that made a calm but effective response to statements by President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew impugning the patriotism of Democrats. [11]

McGovern announced his candidacy on January 18, 1971, in the form of a televised speech from the studios of KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, [10] and in letters sent to many a newspaper editorial board and potential backer. [12] The early entry, nearly two years before the election date, was designed to give him time to overcome Muskie's large lead. [12]

In his announcement speech, McGovern promised to withdraw every American soldier from Indochina if elected. [12] He said economic conditions would also be improved by an end to the war and reduced military spending. [12] McGovern declared some themes of his campaign:

I seek the presidency because I believe deeply in the American promise and can no longer accept the diminishing of that promise. . I make one pledge above all others—to seek and speak the truth with all the resources of mind and spirit I command. . I seek to call America home to those principles that gave us birth. [10] [12]

At the time of his announcement, McGovern ranked fifth among Democrats in a presidential preference Gallup Poll. [13]

Future Senator Gary Hart (who subsequently sought the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination and emerged as the frontrunner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination before his campaign was prematurely thwarted by an extramarital liaison) was McGovern's campaign manager. Future President Bill Clinton (with assistance from his wife and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham) managed the McGovern campaign's operations in Texas.

Taking their cue from the McGovern–Fraser Commission, Hart and future United States District Judge Rick Stearns (an expert on the new system) devised a strategy to focus on the 28 states holding caucuses instead of primary elections. They felt the nature of the caucuses made them easier (and less costly) to win if they targeted their efforts. [14] Recruited as a Harvard University senior by Hart, 22-year-old pollster Pat Caddell also played an integral role in paving McGovern's route to the nomination by encouraging him "to increase his populist rhetoric and tour factories instead of obsessing about the Vietnam War."

MIT Sloan School of Management professor Edwin Kuh headed McGovern's economic advisory panel, for which he recruited Lester Thurow and other academic economists. [15]

Abner "Abby" Levine served as Vice Chairman of Finance. Levine and former Robert Kennedy staffer Phyllis Holtzer established the New York office, helped to organize at least five big events, and met regularly with the senator. They assisted Warren Beatty with his production of Together for McGovern, which filled Madison Square Garden and reunited Nichols and May, Simon and Garfunkel, and Peter, Paul and Mary. Singer Dionne Warwick also performed. [16]

In the 1972 election, McGovern ran on a platform that advocated withdrawal from the Vietnam War in exchange for the return of American prisoners of war [17] and amnesty for draft evaders who had left the country, [18] an anti-war platform that was anticipated by McGovern's sponsorship of the 1970 McGovern-Hatfield amendment that sought to end U.S. participation in the war by Congressional action. However, during a meeting with Democratic Governors conference, Nevada Governor Mike O'Callaghan asked McGovern what he would do if the North Vietnamese refused to release American POW's after a withdrawal. McGovern responded, "Under such circumstances, we'd have to take action," although he did not say what action. [19]

McGovern's platform also included an across-the-board, 37% reduction in defense spending over three years [20] and a "demogrant" program that would replace the personal income tax exemption with a $1,000 tax credit as a minimum-income floor for every citizen in America, [21] to replace the welfare bureaucracy and complicated maze of existing public-assistance programs. Its concept was similar to the negative income tax long advocated by economist Milton Friedman, and by the Nixon administration in the form of Counselor to the President Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Family Assistance Plan, which called for a minimum family grant of $1,600 per year (later raised to $2,400). The personal income tax exemption later became $1,000 under President Reagan. (As Senator, McGovern had previously sponsored a bill, submitted by the National Welfare Rights Organization, for $6,500 guaranteed minimum income per year to families, based on need.) [22] In addition, McGovern supported ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

The establishment favorite for the Democratic nomination was Ed Muskie, [9] the moderate who acquitted himself well as the 1968 Democratic vice-presidential candidate. In August 1971 Harris polling amid a growing economic crisis, Muskie came out on top of incumbent Nixon if the election had been held that day. [9]

Established Washington press figures such as Walter Lippman and Jack Germond did not think McGovern had a chance of winning, proclaiming him "too decent" a man, not strong enough for a combative campaign, and too reflexively liberal. [23] Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder gave 200–1 odds against McGovern winning. [13]

In the initial event of the campaign season, McGovern placed a strong third in the Iowa caucuses. How much attention and momentum this actually generated for his campaign is still debated. [14] [24]

Prior to the New Hampshire primary, the "Canuck letter" was published in the Manchester Union-Leader. The letter, whose authenticity was later brought into question, claimed that Muskie had made disparaging remarks about French-Canadians. Subsequently, the paper published an attack on the character of Muskie's wife Jane, reporting that she drank and used off-color language. Muskie made an emotional defense of his wife in a speech outside the newspaper's offices during a snowstorm. Though Muskie later stated that what had appeared to the press as tears were actually melted snowflakes, the press reported that Muskie broke down and cried. [25] Muskie did worse than expected in the primary, while McGovern came in a surprisingly close second. While Muskie's campaign funding and support dried up, McGovern picked up valuable momentum in the following months.

McGovern did attract some celebrity supporters, McGovern recalled that "Carole King helped me Lauren Bacall James Taylor Paul Newman Goldie Hawn Linda Ronstadt Burt Lancaster Jack Nicholson Peter, Paul and Mary. Shirley MacLaine appeared with me. Warren Beatty came out, too, and did a lot of fundraising for me. Helen Gahagan Douglas, a former California Congresswoman who was the first victim of Nixon's Dirty Tricks in the 1950 Senate race came out of retirement to fight hard for me. They were with me from the beginning to the end." [26] On April 15, 1972, Beatty produced Four for McGovern, a fundraising concert for McGovern at The Forum in Greater Los Angeles in front of an audience of 18,000 people. [27] Carole King, James Taylor, Quincy Jones and Barbra Streisand performed. Seat prices ranged from $5.50 to $100, and the event grossed $300,000, but after the expenses of producing the show, McGovern's campaign was given only $18,000. [27] On June 24, 1972, Neil Young and Graham Nash with the Stray Gators released "War Song" as a single in support of McGovern's campaign. Although the song garnered radio airplay, it stalled at No. 61 on the Billboard singles chart.

After McGovern had won the Massachusetts primary on April 25, 1972, journalist Robert Novak phoned Democratic politicians around the country, who agreed with his assessment that blue-collar workers voting for McGovern did not understand what he really stood for. [28] On April 27, Novak reported in a column that an unnamed Democratic senator had talked to him about McGovern and said: [29] "The people don’t know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot. Once middle America - Catholic middle America, in particular - finds this out, he’s dead." [29] Although McGovern only supported the decriminalization of marijuana and maintained that legalized abortion fell under the purview of states' rights, he became known as the candidate of "amnesty, abortion and acid." [28] [30]

Feminist leader Gloria Steinem was reluctant to join the McGovern campaign. Though she had brought in McGovern's single largest campaign contributor in 1968, she "still had been treated like a frivolous pariah by much of McGovern's campaign staff." And in April 1972, Steinem remarked that he "still doesn't understand the women's movement." [31]

Despite concerns from moderate and conservative Democrats, paradigmatic Cold War liberal and early neoconservative Henry M. Jackson failed to gain traction against McGovern and only made real news later in the campaign as part of the "Anybody but McGovern" coalition.

A lighter incident occurred regarding that accusation during the Nebraska primary campaign. The state's former governor, Frank Morrison, who was actively campaigning for McGovern, sought to counter the Jackson and Humphrey campaigns' effective use of the accusation. During a campaign speech, Morrison declared, "They say that George McGovern is for the legalization of marijuana, but I say --" At this point there was thunderous applause from the younger people in the audience, which left Morrison puzzled, but when it died down, he finished, "I tell you that George McGovern does not advocate the legalization of marijuana." This produced cries of disappointment in the audience. He continued, "They say George McGovern is for abortion on demand, but I tell you--" Again there was deafening applause, followed by sighs of regret when he finished the sentence: "But I say to you that George McGovern is against tampering with our state laws on abortion." Afterwards, Morrison confessed to McGovern, "Maybe I'm too old to understand this new generation. I'll get the oldsters for you, and you take care of the young ones as you think best." McGovern won the Nebraska primary. [32]

McGovern lost several primaries (most notably Michigan) to George Wallace. In the South, Wallace drew support based on a long history as an ardent segregationist and was well known for his actions to prevent racial integration of the University of Alabama. He did well in the South (winning every county in the Florida primary) and among Democrats who were alienated by liberal positions opposing the Vietnam War and greater inclusion of African-Americans and women in the Democratic Party. What might have become a forceful campaign was cut short when Wallace was shot and left paralyzed in an assassination attempt while campaigning. Wallace did win the Maryland primary, but his near-assassination effectively ended his campaign.

Ultimately, McGovern succeeded in winning the nomination by winning primaries through grassroots support in spite of establishment opposition.

The new rules for choosing and seating delegates created an unusual number of rules and credentials challenges. Many traditional Democratic groups, such as organized labor and urban constituents, had little representation at the convention. Their supporters challenged the seating of relative political novices, but for the most part were turned back by the supporters of McGovern, who during the presidential primaries had amassed the most delegates to the convention by using a grassroots campaign that was powered by opposition to the Vietnam War. Many traditional Democratic leaders and politicians felt that McGovern's delegate count did not reflect the wishes of most Democratic voters. Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter helped to spearhead a "Stop McGovern" campaign.

The stop-McGovern forces tried unsuccessfully to alter the delegate composition of the California delegation. The California primary was "winner-take-all," which was contrary to the delegate selection rules while McGovern only won the California primary by a 5% electoral margin, he took all 273 of their delegates to the convention. Although the anti-McGovern group argued for a proportional distribution of the delegates, the McGovern campaign stressed that the rules for the delegate selection had been set and the Stop McGovern alliance was trying to change the rules after the game. Maneuvering by the McGovern campaign ensued during the convention as they sought to ensure the Democratic nomination despite attempts by the Humphrey campaign and other candidates to block McGovern. As with the credential fight, McGovern's army carried the day, effectively handing the nomination to McGovern.

The Illinois primary required voters to select individual delegates, not presidential candidates. Most Illinois delegation members were uncommitted and were controlled or influenced by Chicago Mayor and Cook County Democratic Party chairman Richard J. Daley. The delegation was challenged by McGovern supporters arguing that the results of the primary did not create a diverse enough delegation in terms of women and minorities. The credentials committee, headed by Patricia Roberts Harris, rejected the entire elected delegation, including elected women and minorities, and seated an unelected delegation led by Chicago Alderman William S. Singer and civil rights activist Jesse Jackson that pledged to McGovern.

McGovern thus secured enough delegates to the 1972 Democratic National Convention to win the party's nomination.

Most polls showed McGovern running well behind incumbent President Richard Nixon, except when McGovern was paired with Ted Kennedy. McGovern and his campaign brain trust lobbied Senator Kennedy heavily to accept the bid to be McGovern's running mate. Much to their surprise, he continually refused their advances, and instead suggested such figures as House Ways and Means Committee chairman Wilbur Mills of Arkansas and Boston Mayor Kevin White. [33]

Thereafter, a number of high-profile Democrats, including Kennedy, Senator Walter Mondale, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Senator Edmund Muskie, Senator Abe Ribicoff [34] and Senator Birch Bayh turned down offers to run on the ticket. The National Women's Political Caucus urged the selection of a woman such as Shirley Chisholm or, after Chisholm expressed disinterest in the vice presidency, Sissy Farenthold, but McGovern did not seriously consider choosing a female running mate. [35] [36]

Nevertheless, McGovern and his staff felt that a Kennedy-style figure was needed to balance the ticket: an urban Catholic leader with strong ties to organized labor and other working-to-lower middle class constituencies. McGovern informed Kennedy that he was seriously considering White, who had informed McGovern he was available. Belying his previous support, Kennedy vetoed White when the Massachusetts delegation threatened to boycott the convention due to White's previous endorsement of Muskie. [33]

Once it became apparent that White's candidacy was infeasible, McGovern asked Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin to be his running mate. Nelson declined but suggested Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, whom McGovern ultimately chose. McGovern's team only conducted minimal vetting of Eagleton as the senator had been previously recommended by many of the prospective running mates. [34]

Eagleton was relatively unknown to many of the delegates. This, along with the inexperience of many of the delegates who were wary after the protracted infighting, caused the vice presidential balloting to become almost a farce. In addition to Eagleton, the delegates insisted on nominating seven other candidates for vice president, including Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, former Massachusetts Governor Endicott Peabody and Farenthold. By the time the roll call finally began, the delegates were in a prankish mood, casting ballots for the fictional Archie Bunker, Martha Beall Mitchell, New Mexico Lt. Governor Roberto Mondragon, and CBS-TV's Roger Mudd.

With hundreds of delegates either actively supporting Nixon or angry at McGovern for one reason or another, the vote was thus chaotic, with votes scattered over 70 candidates. The eventual winner was Eagleton, who accepted the nomination despite not personally knowing McGovern very well, and privately disagreeing with many of McGovern's policies. [37]

Eventually, Eagleton secured the nomination but the last-day-of-school atmosphere of the proceedings dragged out the process. When Eagleton was at last confirmed, it was 1:40 a.m. [33] This delay forced the acceptance speeches of the candidates to be given well past the television prime time hours McGovern and Eagleton delivered their acceptance speeches at around 3 a.m. This probably hurt the McGovern campaign by not creating the so-called "convention bounce."

Party disunity Edit

The McGovern Commission changes to the convention rules marginalized the influence of establishment Democratic figures (some of whom had lost the nomination to McGovern). Many refused to support him, with some switching their support to the incumbent President Richard Nixon through a campaign effort called "Democrats for Nixon". This also had the effect of leaving the McGovern campaign at a significant disadvantage in funding compared to Nixon.

In addition, McGovern was repeatedly attacked by associates of Nixon, including the infamous Watergate break-in, which eventually led to Nixon's resignation in 1974. [38] [39]

Eagleton controversy Edit

Just over two weeks after his nomination, it was reported that Thomas Eagleton had received electroshock therapy for clinical depression during the 1960s. Eagleton had made no mention of his earlier hospitalizations to McGovern or McGovern's staff, and in fact decided with his wife to keep them secret from McGovern while he was flying to his first meeting with the Presidential nominee.

Eagleton had promised to bring his medical records for McGovern's review, but he did not. He initially concealed the fact that he was on Thorazine, a powerful antipsychotic when he did disclose his use of the medication, he noted that it couldn't be discovered by the press because it was issued under his wife's name. McGovern spoke to two of Eagleton's doctors, both of whom expressed grave concerns about Eagleton's mental health. Ultimately, a portion of Eagleton's medical records was leaked to McGovern, at which point McGovern saw a reference to "manic depression" and "suicidal tendencies."

McGovern had failed to act quickly when he learned of the mental health problems (though not their severe extent) because his own daughter was seriously depressed and he wondered what effect dumping Eagleton because of his depression would have on her. Ultimately, Eagleton threatened that if McGovern tried to force him off the ticket, he would fight the move. Eagleton conditioned his resignation on McGovern's releasing a statement, written by Eagleton, that Eagleton's health was fine and that McGovern had no issues with Eagleton's mental status.

Though many people still supported Eagleton's candidacy, an increasing number of influential politicians and columnists questioned his ability to handle the office of Vice President. McGovern said he would back Eagleton “1000%”, [40] and a Time magazine poll taken at the time found that 77 percent of the respondents said Eagleton's medical record would not affect their vote. Nonetheless, the press made frequent references to his 'shock therapy', and McGovern feared that this would detract from his campaign platform. [41] The episode had placed McGovern in a "no-win" situation. If he kept Eagleton, the selection did not look good for the decision-making ability of the McGovern team, while if he removed Eagleton, he appeared to be weak and vacillating.

McGovern subsequently consulted confidentially with preeminent psychiatrists, including Eagleton's own doctors, who advised him that a recurrence of Eagleton's depression was possible and could endanger the country should Eagleton become president. [42] [43] [44] [45] [46] On August 1, Eagleton withdrew at McGovern's request. This perceived indecisiveness was disastrous for the McGovern campaign.

A new search was begun by McGovern. Kennedy, Muskie, Humphrey and Ribicoff again declined the nomination, as did recent Democratic National Committee Chair and former Postmaster General Larry O'Brien and Florida Governor Reubin Askew. McGovern ultimately chose former United States Ambassador to France and former Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver, a brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy. [40] [47] He was officially nominated by a special session of the Democratic National Committee. By this time, McGovern's poll ratings had plunged from 41 to 24 percent.

McGovern's handling of the controversy was an opening for the Republican campaign to raise serious questions about his judgment. The Eagleton controversy also put the McGovern campaign off message and was speculated at the time to perhaps be a harbinger of what would become McGovern's subsequent landslide loss. [48]

Watergate Edit

Nixon ran a campaign with an aggressive policy of keeping tabs on perceived enemies, and his campaign aides committed the Watergate burglary to steal Democratic Party information during the election.

Nixon's level of personal involvement with the burglary was never clear, but his tactics during the later coverup would eventually destroy his public support after the election and lead to his resignation.

Issues and strategies Edit

McGovern ran on a platform of ending the Vietnam War and instituting guaranteed minimum incomes for the nation's poor. The Vietnam issue, which remained the one McGovern was most passionate about, did not work for him overall a majority of the electorate thought that Nixon was a strong leader who would secure "peace with honor". [49] McGovern, in contrast, was seen as too strident and too tied to radical elements of the anti-war movement. [49] By 1972, Nixon's strategy of Vietnamization had resulted in the withdrawal of most U.S. troops, without appearing to have given in to the Communists, and thus popular dissatisfaction with the war did not accrue to McGovern's benefit. [49]

Nixon's so-called "southern strategy" of reducing the pressure for school desegregation and otherwise restricting federal efforts on behalf of black people had a powerful attraction to northern blue-collar workers as well as southerners. [50] McGovern called the Watergate burglaries "the kind of thing you expect under a person like Hitler." [51]

Final days Edit

An infamous incident took place late in the campaign. McGovern was giving a speech and was heckled by a Nixon supporter, to whom he said "Kiss my ass." [52] Shortly thereafter, "KMA" buttons were being worn by people in the crowds at McGovern rallies. [53] Several years later, McGovern observed Mississippi Senator James Eastland looking at him from across the Senate floor and chuckling to himself. He subsequently approached McGovern and asked, "Did you really tell that guy in '72 to kiss your ass?" When McGovern smiled and nodded, Eastland replied, "That was the best line in the campaign." [54]

In the last week of the campaign, Henry Kissinger spoke of the ongoing Paris Peace Talks and said that "We believe that peace is at hand." [55] McGovern angrily responded that Nixon had no plan for ending the war and that U.S. bombers would keep flying. [55]

Results Edit

The general election was held on November 7. This election had the lowest voter turnout for a presidential election since 1948, with only 55 percent of the electorate voting. [56]

In the election, the McGovern/Shriver ticket suffered a 60.7 percent to 37.5 percent defeat to Nixon and Agnew. [57] At the time, it was the second biggest landslide in American history, with Electoral College totals of 520 to 17. McGovern's two electoral vote victories came in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. McGovern failed to win his home state of South Dakota, a state that had delivered for the Democrats in only three of the previous 18 presidential elections in the 20th century. [58] The 1972 election was the first in American history in which a Republican candidate carried every Southern state. Nixon's percentage of the popular vote was only slightly less than Lyndon Johnson's record in the 1964 election, and his margin of victory was slightly larger. Barry Goldwater, who was defeated by Johnson in 1964, sent McGovern a newspaper political cartoon depicting the two of them together "like Grandpa and Granny [patterned after the painting American Gothic] linked by our defeats", with a note scribbled "George -- If you must lose, lose big." [26]

In his telegram to Nixon conceding defeat, McGovern wrote, "I hope that in the next four years you will lead us to a time of peace abroad and justice at home. You have my full support in such efforts." [59]

Poor People’s Campaign (December 4, 1967 – June 19, 1968)

The Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) was created on December 4, 1967, by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to address the issues of unemployment, housing shortages for the poor, and the impact of poverty on the lives of millions of Americans. Unlike earlier efforts directed toward helping African Americans gain civil rights and voting rights, SCLC and its leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., now addressed issues that impacted all who were poor regardless of racial background. Their immediate aim was to secure federal legislation ensuring full employment and promoting the construction of low-income housing to raise the quality of life of the nation’s impoverished citizens.

The SCLC planned a nationwide march on Washington on April 22, 1968, to focus attention on this issue and particularly to pressure Congress to pass legislation to address the employment and housing issues. SCLC leaders planned the creation of Resurrection City, a giant tent city on the Mall in Washington, D.C., where demonstrators would remain until their demands were met. When Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, movement leaders debated whether to go forward with the planned demonstration. They chose to continue the march with King’s lieutenant, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, as its new leader. The march date was postponed to May 12, 1968, though a few hundred people arrived in Washington on the original date. The first week, May 12-29, brought a wave of nearly 5,000 demonstrators. During the second week Resurrection City was completed.

The protesters, who were from a wide range of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds—Native Americans from reservations, Latinos from the Southwest, impoverished whites from West Virginia, as well as rural and urban blacks—came together and spread the message of the campaign to various federal agencies. They also disrupted life in Washington to try and force the government to respond. At its peak, the number of protesters reached nearly 7,000 but still far short of the expectation of 50,000 people.

The march was also marred by weather and leadership divisions. An unusual downpour of rain made the ground turn to mud, causing the tents to weaken and eventually forced people to leave. Tension among the demonstrators themselves caused violent outbreaks and undermined the effectiveness of PPC leadership. The assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy, a presidential aspirant and one of the PPC’s principal supporters in Congress, on June 5, 1968, sealed the fate of the campaign. Resurrection City closed two weeks later on June 19, 1968.


The phrase "hearts and minds" was first used in the context of counter-insurgency warfare by British General Gerald Templer in February 1952. Speaking of the conflict known as the Malayan Emergency, Templer said that victory in the war "lies not in pouring more soldiers into the jungle, but in the hearts and minds of the Malayan people." [3] The British in Malaysia, in addition to military actions against the communist guerrillas undertook a number of social and economic programs to protect the populace, isolate the rural population to reduce their supply and support of the insurgents, gather intelligence about the insurgents' organization and plans, and ensure that government services were provided to rural dwellers. [4] [5]

British action and policy in defeating the Malayan counter-insurgency became a paradigm for future struggles with insurgents, including the U.S. war in Vietnam. Critics have stated that the Malayan emergency was much simpler to combat than many insurgencies and that the impact of hearts and minds programs has often been over-stated. [6]

The nationalist President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, instituted a number of programs designed to halt the growing influence of the Viet Cong in the countryside. In 1959, Diem created the Agroville program which had the objective of moving peasants into fortified villages. The program failed due to the coercive and disruptive aspects of moving peasants from their homes and requiring them to construct new ones under the supervision of government officials. The Viet Cong harassed the agrovilles with terrorism and assassinations [7]

In 1961, the Diem government created the Strategic Hamlet Program, which differed from the Agrovilles in its emphasis on self-defense by the peasants in their fortified villages. The program in theory would prevent Viet Cong attacks by stationing South Vietnamese army (ARVN) units near the hamlets to respond quickly to threats. The strategic hamlet program was intended to gain support among the people for the government and to raise their standard of living. The program was implemented too rapidly and without popular support and many or most hamlets fell under Viet Cong control. The Strategic Hamlet Program effectively ended in November 1963 when the Diem government was overthrown by the army and Diem was killed. Most of the hamlets were subsequently abandoned and peasants moved back to their old homes. [8]

The Strategic Hamlet Program highlighted the schism in U.S. policy that would continue throughout the Vietnam War. General Lionel C. McGarr, head of the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Vietnam objected to the program because it would create a static defense and tie down units of the ARVN. Conversely, the American Embassy believed that the mobile search and destroy missions by the ARVN as advocated by MAAG were only a preliminary measure to overcome the increasing Viet Cong control of the countryside. [9]

Diem's government created two other hearts and minds programs. The Chieu Hoi program encouraged defections from the Viet Cong. Diem also bolstered the South Vietnamese police and intelligence agencies to disrupt the Viet Cong infrastructure by capturing, killing, or arresting key Viet Cong operatives.

The U.S. provided assistance for the operation of all these programs, but they were primarily the creation of the South Vietnamese. [10]

Kennedy was already imbued with the philosophy of counter-insurgency when he took office as president in January 1961. He quickly expanded the Army's special forces, but army leadership was reluctant to endorse Kennedy's vision of combined military, economic, and social action to defeat the Viet Cong insurgency. General George Decker reportedly told Kennedy that "any good soldier can handle guerrillas" and the Army placed a priority on strengthening the ARVN rather than the police, militia, and para-military forces. [11] Pacification or hearts and minds programs were only a minor factor contributing to the steady increase of U.S. advisers and other military personnel in Vietnam. The U.S. military command was optimistic that the assistance given to the South Vietnamese army was bearing fruit. The first commander of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) Paul D. Harkins, a proponent of conventional warfare, predicted that "the military phase of the war can be virtually won in 1963." [12]

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, three weeks after the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem. Kennedy adviser Roger Hilsman stated that "The Kennedy administration had developed a concept for fighting guerrilla warfare, an idea for a political program into which military measures were meshed, but we had failed so far to convince the Diem regime or even the top levels of the Pentagon to give it a fair trial." [13]

New governments in Washington and Saigon created new pacification programs in 1964 as it became clear that, contrary to the U.S.'s optimism of 1963, the Viet Cong were steadily taking control of more territory and more people. British counter-insurgency expert Robert Grainger Ker Thompson said that the government's survival was at stake. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said in May 1964 that he could not understand "how the Viet Cong continually attacked and overran hamlets that the government and MACV listed as secure." [14]

The next iteration of the pacification program came in 1964 with, for the first time, the direct participation in planning and execution by the American Embassy and MAC/V, now headed by General William Westmoreland. The Chien Thang (Struggle for Victory) pacification program was less ambitious than the Strategic Hamlet program, envisioning a gradual expansion, like an "oil spot" from government-controlled to communist controlled areas, by providing security and services to rural areas. Along with the Chien Thang program was the related Hop Tac (Victory) program, directly involving the U.S. military in pacification for the first time. Hop Tac envisioned a gradual expansion outward from Saigon of areas under South Vietnamese government control. These programs also failed as the South Vietnamese army was unable to provide adequate security to rural residents in disputed areas. [15]

In 1965, with the government of South Vietnam failing, the U.S. became directly involved in the war with a large infusion of American combat troops. Pacification programs took a back seat to Westmoreland's strategy of attrition—attempting to kill Viet Cong and an increasing number of North Vietnamese Army troops with search and destroy missions that utilized U.S. advantages in mobility and firepower. To defeat the Viet Cong, Westmoreland expressed his strategy in one word: "Firepower." [16]

Doubts about the wisdom of the attrition strategy were expressed by many U.S. officials and military officers. A 1966 internal army study led by General Creighton Abrams concluded that pacification should be the main priority of the U.S. in Vietnam and that the U.S. Ambassador should have "unequivocal authority" over all U.S. activities, including military, in Vietnam. Westmoreland succeeded in squashing any implementation of the recommendations in the study. [17]

The growing American military presence in 1965 prevented an outright military victory by the Viet Cong and the increasingly present North Vietnamese army. General Nguyen Duc Thang led government pacification programs, creating the Revolutionary Development Cadre of young people recruited to serve in teams in the rural areas to improve both security and government services. The numbers of revolutionary cadre reached 21,000 in 1967 but desertions and those killed by the Viet Cong were high. The local defense forces, called the Regional Force and the Popular Force were expanded in numbers from about 200,000 to 300,000 members in 1966. The Ruff-Puffs, as they were called by Americans, were responsible for maintaining security in villages under government control. Their casualties during the war exceeded those of the ARVN. [18]

President Lyndon Johnson shared President Kennedy's conviction that pacification was important in the Vietnam war. In February 1966, Johnson at a meeting with South Vietnamese and American leaders in Hawaii attempted to "get the gospel of pacification carved into the hearts and minds of all concerned." That signaled the beginning of a renewed effort by the U.S. to win hearts and minds in South Vietnam. [19]

Referring to Vietnam, President Johnson used some version of the phrase "hearts and minds" a total of 28 times. In ten of these instances, Johnson inverted the words and used the phrase "minds and hearts." The first time he used the phrase in his presidency was on 16 January 1964, and the last time was 19 August 1968. In his usage he addressed very different audiences, including heads of state, congressmen, and the American people. Also, Johnson referred to the "hearts and minds" of disparate groups, including the above-mentioned audiences and even humanity as a whole. His use of the phrase is most commonly taken from the speech "Remarks at a Dinner Meeting of the Texas Electric Cooperatives, Inc." on 4 May 1965. On that evening he said, "So we must be ready to fight in Vietnam, but the ultimate victory will depend upon the hearts and the minds of the people who actually live out there. By helping to bring them hope and electricity you are also striking a very important blow for the cause of freedom throughout the world." [20]

Johnson's use of the phrase is most likely based on a quote of John Adams, the American Revolutionary War patriot and second president of the United States, who wrote in a letter dated 13 February 1818: "The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution". [21] There was however an earlier use of the phrase, albeit rarely acknowledged in this context. John Adams was an educated man who had gone to Harvard and graduated in 1755 with an A.B., and in 1758 with an A.M., what are today known as Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts respectively. [22] It is therefore a reasonable assumption to believe that he was familiar with Shakespeare's use of the term as part of Mark Antony's speech to the crowd, just after Brutus's. Mark Antony says thus: "O masters, if I were disposed to stir your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage. " [23]

In 1966, Johnson appointed CIA official and National Security Council member Robert W. Komer ("Blowtorch Bob") as his special assistant for supervising pacification in South Vietnam. Komer's challenge was to unite the U.S government agencies—the military, Department of State, CIA, and the Agency for International Development— involved in pacification projects. Komer recommended the responsibility for pacification be vested in MAC/V, headed by General Westmoreland, through a civilian deputy who would head the U.S. pacification effort commanding both U.S. military and civilian personnel. Although his proposal was unpopular in all the agencies, Komer, with the support of Johnson, pressed forward. As a halfway measure the Office of Civil Operations (OCO) was set up with civilian leadership in November 1966 to coordinate all civilian pacification programs. OCO failed but strengthened Komer and Johnson's view that MAC/V leadership of the pacification program was essential. [24]

Komer argued that the pacification success desired by President Johnson could only be achieved by integrating three tasks. The first and most basic requirement for pacification had to be security, because the rural population had to be kept isolated from the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army. If this was to be achieved, the insurgents had to be weakened both by destroying their infrastructure among the rural population and by developing programs to win their hearts and minds and gain support or at least toleration of the South Vietnamese government and the U.S. military forces. The third point emphasized by Komer was that the new strategy had to be applied on a large scale in order to turn around what had been up until then a war in which the insurgents held the initiative. [25]

Organizationally, in Komer's view, the pacification goals required that efforts be concentrated under a single command. He believed that only the U.S. military had the resources and personnel to implement a large-scale pacification plan. After initial reservations, Westmoreland agreed with the plan, but civilian agencies still balked. They feared being marginalized and overwhelmed by the U.S. military with its much larger number of personnel and greater resources. Johnson overruled them and on 9 May 1967, the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support organization (CORDS) was created. Komer was appointed one of Westmoreland's three deputy commanders with the title of Ambassador and the equivalent rank of a three-star general. This was the first time in U.S. history that an ambassador had served under a military command and been given authority over military personnel and resources. [26] [27]

Komer chose a military officer as his deputy and repeated the pattern of having either a civilian in charge of every component of CORDS with a military deputy or, alternatively, a military commander with a civilian deputy. He consolidated all the diverse pacification and civil affairs programs in Vietnam—military and civilian—under the authority of CORDS. Starting with a staff of 4,980, CORDS expanded to 8,327 personnel in the first six months of its operation. In 1968 CORDS was working in all 44 provinces and eventually was functioning in all 250 districts of Vietnam. [28] About 85 percent of CORDS personnel were military, the remainder civilians. [29] Each province was headed by a Vietnamese province chief, usually a colonel, who was supported by an American provincial senior adviser. The adviser's staff was divided into a civilian part which supervised area and community development and a military part which handled security issues. [30]

On January 24, 1968, Komer warned that "something is in the wind." [31] Seven days later the Tet Offensive was launched by the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army. Tet weakened the Saigon government's presence in the countryside which had been aided by CORDS. The Regional and Popular Forces abandoned the countryside in some areas to defend cities and towns, suffering more than 6,500 casualties, including desertions. Tet was a psychological and strategic defeat for South Vietnam and its American ally, but by resulting in heavy Viet Cong casualties facilitated an early return to the countryside by South Vietnamese authorities and CORDS. [32] Project Recovery distributed food and construction material to rural dwellers and involved CORDS in reconstruction efforts in the cities and towns. By May 1968, the rural population living in "relatively secure" hamlets had returned to pre-Tet levels of 67 percent. [33]

A new U.S. team in Vietnam promoted expanded hearts and minds programs. Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker supported pacification programs General Creighton Abrams replaced Westmoreland as MACV commander and William Colby replaced Komer as Abrams' deputy commander for pacification.

Abrams called his strategy for prosecuting the war the "one war concept." In Abrams' words, the U.S. would focus "upon protecting the population so that the civil government can establish its authority as opposed to an earlier conception of the purpose of war – destruction of the enemy's forces." Abrams' one war concept encountered opposition from U.S. army generals in Vietnam and in Washington and he was unable to effect all the changes in U.S. military strategy he proposed. Abrams' push for the adoption of his plan was overtaken by events as the U.S. military began withdrawing in 1969, but the government of South Vietnam adopted many elements of his plan. [34]

With Abrams' and Bunker's support, and aided by the casualties the Viet Cong suffered in 1968, CORDS commander Colby reported substantial progress in pacification from 1969 to 1972. U.S. resources devoted to pacification increased dramatically and by early 1970, CORDS reported that 93 percent of rural dwellers in Vietnam lived in "relatively secure villages." North Vietnamese documents suggest that one reason for the 1972 North Vietnamese offensive was to reverse the progress made in pacification. [35] CORDS, and U.S. participation in hearts and minds programs, effectively ended after the withdrawal from Vietnam of the last U.S. ground forces in August 1972. [36]

The success of hearts and minds programs in Vietnam was ambiguous in the words of Richard A. Hunt in his book Pacification. The high-level officials in the CORDS program claimed large successes. Some historians, however, maintain that pacification programs failed to dislodge the Viet Cong from their position of strength in the countryside.

After a long history of failed pacification programs, the successes reported for CORDS in the 1968–1972 period were partially attributable to the heavy casualties the Viet Cong suffered during the Tet Offensive and subsequent actions in 1968. The number of Viet Cong guerrillas is estimated to have been reduced from 77,000 in 1968 before Tet to 25,000 in 1972 and the Viet Cong infrastructure from 84,000 to 56,000. However, although the number of battalion-size battles declined, the number of small unit actions by the Viet Cong nearly doubled during the same time period, illustrating the impact of hearts and minds (as believed by its advocates). In January 1972 Ambassador Bunker warned that the communists would have to "mount a major military offensive. to prove his public claims that Vietnamization and pacification are failures." True to Bunker's prediction, on March 30, 1972, North Vietnam launched its Easter Offensive. Although South Vietnam, with American air support, withstood the offensive, the North Vietnamese army gained control over sizable areas of South Vietnamese territory and displaced more than one million people. [37]

Komer attributed the ultimate failure of hearts and minds programs in South Vietnam to the bureaucratic culture of the United States in addition to the administrative and military shortcomings of the South Vietnamese government. A counter-insurgency strategy for Vietnam was proposed from the earliest days of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, notably by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, but there was an "immense gap between policy and performance." Early efforts to implement hearts and minds programs in Vietnam were small scale compared to the resources and manpower devoted to fighting a conventional war. [38] Even after the creation of CORDS in 1967, "pacification remained a small tail to the very large conventional military dog. It was never tried on a large enough scale until too late." [39]

Komer also criticized U.S. institutions for relying on conventional tactics and strategy in an unconventional, political war. "Instead of adapting to the Vietnamese situation, we fought the enemy our way at horrendous costs, and with some tragic side effects, because we lacked much capability to do otherwise. Institutional inertia" prevailed." [40] CIA officer and later CIA Director William Colby said "The Pentagon had to fight the only war it knew how to fight, and there was no American organization that could fight any other." [41]

A negative view about pacification in Vietnam was expressed by Richard Neustadt. "It was naive to claim that the United States could achieve victory with limited means in a civil war on the Asian mainland. It was equally naive, I think, to assume that we could change or win the hearts and minds of people, democratize a country not remotely under our own control, and thus aim at nationhood through Saigon's government. American military forces and civilian bureaucracies are not finely tuned enough for such assignments." [42]

Watch the video: Failure - 1968 Nixon Campaign Ad (February 2023).

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