Tag Archives: Vietnam War

This Day in History 8/9: Nixon Resigns the Presidency

It was a day my parents, and probably many of you in the Neighborhood, remember all too well.

On August 9, 1974, after two years of investigation, scandal, cover-up and tumult, President Richard Nixon became the first chief executive in the United States to resign from office.  He did so after the failed cover-up of the Watergate affair, in which members of the Nixon campaign broke into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel in Washington, DC in 1972.

To many people, most I gather, the resignation of President Nixon was a cause of relief, exasperation and even joy. 

I however, take no joy in this event.

I report it and teach it because it was necessary for Nixon to resign to save what was left of the integrity of the office of President.  He was a man of many personal demons, most of which manifested itself in the Oval Office through a culture of surveillance, deception and paranoia.  It is very clear to me, as it was to even his fellow Republicans in Congress, that Nixon brought this on himself and had to go.

Yet what pains me most is what could have been. 

To many moderate conservatives like myself, we saw in Nixon a pragmatic internationalist that we could model ourselves.  His belief in a limited government, yet one that protected basic rights and ensured an opportunity for all, is one we can all get behind–he even supported a health care bill that was even more far-reaching than Obama’s!

On the international stage–where he shined–Nixon saw the clear need for rational, open discussion with leaders on the opposite side of the Cold War, such as Leonid Brezhnev and Mao tse-tung.  Even though he did stumble–as the escalation of the war in Vietnam into Laos and Cambodia suggests–he did keep a blueprint for our withdrawal that culminated in finally leaving Vietnam in 1973.  The Republicanism of his generation was a far cry from the free-spending cowboy antics of Dubya, and a more nuanced version of Reaganism.

I’m a Republican because of Richard Nixon, not because of Ronald Reagan.  I still believe in those ideals–even though the man behind them was so flawed as to self-destruct and almost take the executive branch with him.

This is why I take no joy, no cheer in his downfall.

Attached is the excerpt from his August 8, 1974 speech, thanks to the Miller Centerof Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.

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This day in History 6/22: The 1944 GI Bill

It can safely be said that modern American culture began on June 22, 1944.

On that date, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law P.L. 78-346, or the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944—commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights or simply the GI Bill.  This massive program, more than any other program save the interstate highway system, would shape and define postwar America.

The bill was begun under the shadow of tragedy.  In 1932, during the height of the Great Depression, thousands of World War I veterans marched on Washington, demanding bonuses promised to them by the government at war’s end.  The “Bonus Army” was brutally suppressed by US cavalry units—a shameful episode that Roosevelt’s cabinet did not want repeated after the next conflict.

It was important for a nation as militarized as the United States during World War II to readjust to a civilian economy as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Furthermore, returning veterans needed, if not deserved, government support in the often brutal readjustment to civilian life.

 The 1944 bill contained three important programs.  The most famous of these was its education program: the initial bill allowed returning servicemen access to a college or vocational education at no cost.  It is estimated that by 1956 (the year the 1944 bill expired) almost 8 million veterans, 51% of all returning service personnel,  took advantage of education or training programs subsidized by Washington. 

For many returning soldiers, it was the first, and only chance, to get a college or university education.  This led to an academic flowering in postwar America, creating some of the most important minds at our service.  Engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, politicians, judges, and even actors and directors were created thanks to the largesse of the GI Bill.

(An important note, the 1944 bill provided that the government reimburse colleges directly.  This led to universities hiking tuition bills to Washington, widely perceived as tuition fraud.  Since 1952, the education program consists of stipends paid directly to veterans for their expenses.)

Notable GI Bill beneficiaries included Johnny Carson, Johnny Cash, Bill Cosby, Bob Dole, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gene Hackman, Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer, Frank McCourt, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Tito Puente, Rod Steiger, James Wright, and even former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

If the first provision provided the “glamour” of the bill, the second would broaden its influence to every family in America.  Returning veterans were entitled to low-interest, zero-down payment loans for homes and businesses—an unthinkable prospect today considering the cause of our current economic woes.  For the first time, veterans can buy a home for their families and start businesses with help from Uncle Sam.  From 1944 to 1956, 2.4 million veterans had home loans backed by the Veterans Authority (later Veterans Administration, or VA) Though many factors contributed to it, the rise of the suburbs as a middle-class bastion can be directly attributed to these programs created by the GI Bill.

The last provision is notable not for its use, but for its lack of use.  Known as the 50-20 clause, the third provision provided servicemen with $20 once a week for 52 weeks a year while they were looking for work.  Remarkably, less than 20 percent of returning servicemen opted for this program, as most already found employment or used their GI benefits in higher education. 

Today few areas of American life aren’t touched by individuals who benefitted from the GI Bill—even though many servicemen and women today do not take full advantage of this opportunity.

Subsequent expansion of veterans’ benefits were enacted in 1952, 1966, 1984, and 2008.  Korean War and Vietnam veterans made even more use of their GI benefits: roughly 72% of Vietnam vets used education benefits under the GI Bill.  From 1940 until the end of the military draft in 1973, as many as one third of the population (when both veterans and their dependents are taken into account) could potentially have benefited from the programs created by the expansion of veterans’ benefits.

In 2008, Congress enacted a Post 9/11 GI Bill designed for veterans serving after September 11, 2001.  The new program greatly expanded previous endeavors, especially in regards to education.  It provides free education to any public college in the state that a veteran resides.  Furthermore, housing stipends and $1000 yearly allowances for books are available, among other benefits.

Even for a fiscal conservative like me, the GI Bill was, and continues to be, an important element not just for American education and economics, but also as a measure of our values.  Many naysayers simply don’t see this.

Some opponents of these bills use the same argument for welfare reform.  Handouts induce indolence, laziness, and dependence on government benefits.  Programs should be designed for a “hand-up”, not a “handout.”  If this were other populations, I would agree to an extent. 

This is not any other population.  Veterans, especially those who’ve seen heavy combat, are not bums on the street looking for spare change.  Believe me, they worked for those benefits.

For centuries, the battlefield soldier was cannon fodder, often literally.  After the smoke cleared and the army disbanded, a veteran had no options other than to pick up the pieces of his life.  Often, the long absence and horrors of combat were so unbearable that a former soldier could never function in society as he did before—and no one was there to help.

Yet here, we saw things differently.  I have yet to see another country devote so much of its public funds to the support and readjustment of its former defenders. 

The United States, for better or worse, is a country derived from the blood of its veterans.  It was borne in the fires of the Revolution.  It was baptized in the slaughter of the Civil War.  It achieved manhood on the battlefields of two world wars.  It suffered, often needlessly, in far-flung places such as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, and Afghanistan.

The GI Bill, and its subsequent revisions, was a remarkable step in our history.  It spurred generations towards a remarkable transformation from militarism to domestic tranquility.  Even more importantly, it demonstrated that our soldiers will never simply be considered fodder for enemy guns.

A soldier, thanks to the GI Bill, can serve his/her country just as much in peace as they can in war.

For today’s veterans, take a look at the Veterans Administration’s website about the GI Bill for further information about benefits and applying.

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This Day in History 8/27: Lyndon B. Johnson

LBJThe Neighborhood today honors a President that has provided more legislation, more controversy, and more belly laughs than many other chief executives in our history.

Happy Birthday to Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973), 36th President of the United States.  LBJ was a lot of things–a high school teacher, a Congressman and Senator who powered his way into prominence, Vice-President and then President.  He was not an easy man to figure out, either.  He was a vestige of the “Solid South”, the Democratic bloc of White Southerners that were for the New Deal but against desegregation.  Yet ever the wheeler-dealer, Johnson worked (brutally, at times) to get legislation passed in many areas, including civil rights, health care, welfare, and space exploration. 

Under his guidance, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became a reality–even though he had to make it look like Martin Luther King forced him to do it, in order to save face.  The Great Society, a massive expansion of the federal government, included a slew of programs both white and black Americans use today: Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, etc. 

LBJ wanted the Great Society to be his legacy.  Yet a thin little country in Southeast Asia will forever define his presidency.  Starting in 1964 with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the Johnson Administration deployed more and more troops to the Vietnam conflict.  By 1968, Johnson’s popularity was so low that he retired from politics rather than suffer the humiliation of an almost certain defeat in the next election.

The LBJ I love, however, is the casual Texan who cusses and laughs and cracks off-color humor.  I’m ending today’s post with a link to one of Johnson’s most famous phone calls.  On August 9, 1964, LBJ calls up the Haggar clothing company in Houston to order some pants.  I’m still amazed that the salespeople on the other end could keep a straight face.  It’s linked below:


I’d love to know if anyone else has ever described a tight inseam as “riding a wire fence.”

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