Inside America: The Rise and Fall of An Empire

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Although the 1960's had been a period of political and cultural upheaval many Americans had been financially well-off. Good economic conditions had made it easy for young people to put off decisions about careers and marriage. Housing, food, and energy had been cheap. Young Americans felt free to question the traditional values of their parents and government, and religious leaders. The baby boom that took place after the second world war had created an enormous population of young people. In the Sixties a third of the entire American population was under the age of seventeen. This is why these young Americans could cause such big cultural changes.

But in the Seventies, the American economy began to go through some drastic changes as the Second Wave began to die and the Third Wave made life more difficult for Americans. Many Americans had trouble making ends meet as many old kinds of jobs disappeared and the new ones that began appearing paid far less. This trend would continue for the rest of the century and beyond. For many young Americans dropping out of the mainstream now no longer seemed to be a smart decision. Later during the decade an energy crisis would shake the very foundations of the American economy and economic insecurities would continue to dominate the thoughts of most Americans.

Also the baby boomers would ultimately split into two groups. Those born between 1946-55 were ultimately called the " Vietnam " generation. But baby-boomers born later between 1956-65 would be called the " Me " generation. These younger boomers who came of age in the 1970's would have a very different attitude to life than the earlier baby-boomers. But why was this so?
If the old dream of the " Vietnam " generation was about making a difference in society. The new dream for the " Me " generation was worrying about fixing one's personal self. Many young Americans withdrew from politics. They were bitter and exhausted. Young Americans began to focus more on their own problems and needs. Many began looking for ways to rejoin the American mainstream in order to build careers and establish some financial success. It seemed to many to be more of a selfish decade.

The " Me " boomers had less idealism than the older boomers, but they expanded their personal sense of entitlement. They had even bigger expectations and wanted to have more of everything. Many of the good and bad aspects of the cultural revolution that broke out during the Sixties would start to filter down into the rest of American society as the Seventies progressed, but as the decade began a few final years of protest still remained.


May 1970, Kent State University. Student protests at American universities had begun in the early 1960's even before the start of the Vietnam war. The Free Speech Movement in 1964 at the University of California at Berkeley was the opening shot against many university administrations in America. Students demanded more say in how the universities they attended were ultimately run.

The campus rebels of the Sixties were the biggest and most educated group of Americans in the history of the United States. As the Vietnam war escalated student demonstrations became bigger and more violent. Some radical groups advocated the overthrow of the American government, but these groups had always been a small minority. Most students simply were against being drafted into a war that they felt was extremely short-sighted and unnecessary.

When president Richard Nixon took office the war in Vietnam not only continued, but also spread to a new country next to Vietnam called Cambodia. Student protests erupted to condemn this spreading of the war and at Kent State University in Ohio, four students were killed by American soldiers. Americans were horrified by the scenes they saw on national television. Later, four hundred colleges and universities were subsequently shut down.

President Richard Nixon finally removed all American troops from Vietnam, but over a four-year period, and American air bombings of Vietnam continued until 1973 when the last American soldiers left the country. By 1975 the war in Vietnam came to its final conclusion as the South Vietnamese government collapsed and North Vietnamese troops occupied the capital of Saigon. Americans watched on television as American helicopters quickly evacuated the American embassy with little time to spare. Whether the actions of war protesters helped end the Vietnam war is today, still debatable.

The anti-war movement had been home-grown and it eventually included Americans of all ages from across the political spectrum. Leaders and followers of the movement, with rare exceptions, believed deeply in their American heritage. The war in Vietnam had a high price tag. 57,000 American soldiers lost their lives in Vietnam and the war had cost over 150 billion dollars. Many Americans had begun questioning the high cost in lives that the war had brought. Also the money that was wasted for a strange war that few Americans understood then, or even today.

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