At the end of the 1960s, protests engulfed the West. There was a revolution in sexual mores, resulting in a more permissive society. Gay rights movements began, and the birth control pill changed sexual practices. Extramarital affairs became more common and divorce rates exploded, pornography was made available, and prostitution sometimes legalized, as in Amsterdam. A youth movement emerged, and drugs, particularly marijuana, became widely available on college campuses, which were often the centers of student rebellion against autocratic college administrators, uncaring instructors, and crowded classrooms. The feminist movement transformed the lives of women. One focus of rebellion was the Second Vietnam War, which deeply divided American society, but which was also unpopular in Europe. On the campuses were teach-ins, sit-ins, and broad opposition to the military draft. At times the protests turned violent, and in reaction many demanded “law and order,” a desire that Richard Nixon capitalized upon in gaining the presidency in 1968.
Under the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev (d.1982), economic stagnation stalked the Soviet Union. Central planning and the lack of economic incentives bred apathy, absenteeism, and drunkenness. Because of Soviet control, Eastern Europe also stagnated. There were some economic reforms in Hungary – “Communism with a capitalist facelift” – but when reforms were introduced in Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Red Army crushed the “Prague Spring.” In Germany, where many fled to the West, the government constructed a wall to end emigration, and the Berlin Wall became the symbol of the Cold War. Secret police were endemic, particularly East Germany’s Stasi.
After decades of economic growth, Western Europe experienced economic recessions in 1970s. West Germans installed a center-left government in 1969, and under Willy Brandt a policy of Ostpoklitik, or “opening to the East,” was adopted, thus improving relations between the two Germanies. In 1979 the Conservative Party’s Margaret Thatcher became the first woman prime minister in Britain. The “Iron Lady” reduced the power of the unions and brought down inflation, but where southern England prospered, the old industrial areas of the Midlands and the north suffered unemployment. In France François Mitterand’s socialist government nationalized the banks and industry but within three years was forced to abandon some of the nationalization measures. Italy suffered from weak coalition governments, and suffered economic recession in the 1970s, but economic growth was the norm in the 1980s.
The United States experienced by turmoil and stability. Richard Nixon became president in 1968 by pursuing a “southern strategy” and promising “law and order,” and although overwhelmingly reelected in 1972, the Watergate scandal forced his resignation in 1974. During the rest of the 1970s, the administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter struggled with economic stagflation – high inflation and high unemployment. Economic problems were fueled by significant increases in oil prices. The economic problems compounded by Carter’s inability to gain the freedom of American hostages held in Iran led to his defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980 election. The Reagan Revolution reduced welfare benefits and increased military funding. Tax cuts were initiated in the belief that they would stimulate economic growth, and although the economy improved, government deficits also increased.
The Cold War became hot in the Second Vietnam War. Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy gave support to the anti-Communist government of South Vietnam, but by 1965 the Vietcong opposition, backed by North Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh, threatened the survival of the south. In response, Lyndon Johnson, fearing the collapse of the south would led to the fall of all of Southeast Asia to Communism – the domino theory – sent in American combat forces. Casualties mounted among American troops and Vietnamese, and antiwar protests were mounted worldwide. In 1973, Nixon agreed to withdraw American troops, and in 1975 all of Vietnam was reunited by the Communist forces. However the dominoes did not fall.
In the People’s Republic of China, the apex of communist radicalism was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966. Mao Zedong was convinced that only “permanent revolution” could usher in the communist utopia, and young people, as Red Guards, were encouraged to eliminate the “four olds” – old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. Property was destroyed, and individuals attacked. However, in 1972 the fervent anti-communist Nixon journeyed to China and met with Mao. The result was a lessening of tensions, and by the end of the 1970s a “strategic relationship” against any Soviet threat in Asia. Relations with the Soviet Union also improved with détente. An Antiballistic Missile Treaty in 1972 saw the US and the Soviets agree to put limits on ABMs, and in 1975 the Helsinki Agreements signatories recognized existing borders in Europe and agreed to protect the human rights of their citizens. Détente took a step backwards in 1979 with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan resulting in American refusal to take part in the Moscow Olympics of 1980. Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire” and pursued a military buildup including nuclear cruise missiles and the Strategic Defense Initiative, an anti-missile space shield, nicknamed “Star Wars.”
It was a new era of science, wherein governments and large corporations provided necessary funding. A space race began when the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, and Americans landed on the moon in 1969. The computer, made possible by the silicon chip, revolutionized society. But scientific developments could lead environmental disaster, as symbolized by the nuclear power disaster at Chernobyl in 1986, which led to environmentalism and various Green political parties and movements.
The ideas of Postmodernism rejected objective truth, and literary critics posited structuralism and deconstruction as alternative ways to perceive the world in the absence of fixed truth. In the arts, there were “happenings,” and in literature “magical realism” was exemplified by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Milan Kundera. Serialism and minimalism were influential in music. Popular culture was increasingly globalized, and popular music evolved from rock to punk to rap to hip hop, with the music video showcasing performers. Mass sports, such as football’s World Cup increased in popularity, made possible by world-wide television. Optimistic observers such as Marshal McLuhan predicted that cultural differences would diminish, creating a new “global village,” but globalization also had negative ramifications.
Reading 1: Pages 901-906
A Culture of Protest:
A Revolt in Sexual Mores
Youth Protest and Student Revolt
The Feminist Movement
Reading 2: Pages 906-914
A Divided Western World:
Stagnation in the Soviet Union
Conformity in Eastern Europe
Repression in East Germany and Romania
Western Europe: The Winds of Change
The United States: Turmoil and Tranquillity [optional]
Reading 3: Pages 914-918
The Cold War: The Move to Detente:
The Second Vietnam War
China and the Cold War
The Practice of Détente
The Limits of Détente
Reading 4: Pages 918-924
Society and Culture in the Western World:
The World of Science and Technology
The Environment and the Green Movements
Trends in Art, Literature, and Music
Popular Culture: Image and Globalization
The Growth of Mass Sports