Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 15. Segment 6
Coming Apart

Lyndon Johnson is miserable. See It Now - Lyndon Johnson He knows he is losing his dream of a Great Society. But he doesn't know how to stop the war in Vietnam. He doesn't seem to be able to admit that he has made a mistake. And he has started saying things that aren't quite true. He has said, "We are not going to send American boys thousands of miles from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves." But he is already doing just that. And he has said all the bombing is aimed at military targets. But reporters tell of houses, schools, and stores flattened by bombs. President Johnson keeps saying that we are winning the war and it will soon be over. But television makes people realize he isn't telling the complete truth. For the first time in history, people at home can see exactly what war is like. The TV screen shows dead American soldiers and dead Vietnamese. See It Now - Wounded in Vietnam Pentagon officials like Assistant Secretary of Defense John McNaughton worry about the impact of all the coverage. "There may be a limit beyond which many Americans will not permit the United States to go," McNaughton says. "The picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,000 non-combatants a week is not a pretty one."

At first, it is mostly students on college campuses who begin demonstrating against the war. See It Now - War Protestor Then more and more Americans begin to join them. Martin Luther King, Jr., is now leading anti-war protests as well as civil rights marches. Check The Source - "Beyond Vietnam" Ministers of many faiths are doing the same thing. The college protests begin to get ugly and violent. And then the cities, especially those in the North, start exploding.

America's cities have been neglected. In many, schools are terrible, crime makes life frightening, and there aren't enough jobs for those who want to work. People are fed up with waiting for the President's programs to work. In 1965, riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles last six days See It Now - Los Angeles Riots and leave thirty-four dead. Chicago, Cleveland, and other cities erupt with riots of their own. Johnson asks Illinois Governor Otto Kerner to head a commission to investigate the riots. The commission finds they can all be traced to white racism. Its report says: "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal."

Black protests begin changing direction. New leaders appear; many, like Malcolm X, are angry Check The Source - Malcolm X. They have no patience with Dr. King's doctrine of nonviolence. The new leaders don't talk about brotherhood and love; they talk of power, separation, sometimes hate. One of them, Stokely Carmichael Stokely Carmichael, See It Now - Stokely Carmichael has a huge following.

By 1968, the country seems to be coming apart. The war in Vietnam isn't helping. Soldiers come home trained to shoot, kill, and show no pity. See It Now - Prisoner Many have learned to use drugs in Asia. Back home they are like lighted matches in those packed cities. Meanwhile John F. Kennedy's brother, Robert Kennedy See It Now - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Robert Kennedy, is emerging as a civil rights and anti-war leader. He tells King he needs to bring his battle for justice north. He speaks to the thousands who marched from Selma to Montgomery. "The brutalities of the North receive no such attention," Kennedy says. "I have been in tenements in Harlem in the past several weeks where the smell of rats was so strong that it was difficult to stay there for five minutes, and where children slept with lights turned on their feet to discourage rat attacks. Thousands do not flock to Harlem to protest these conditions."

King decides to begin a new campaign. It will be a campaign against poverty. His program is aimed at "all the poor, including the two-thirds of them who are white." He plans to bring poor people to Washington. This will not be a one-day march. They will stay; they will camp in the city; the government will have to pay attention. In a ringing condemnation of American society King says: "Poverty has no justification in our age. War is obsolete."

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