Most Significant Event Essay

Pages: 7 (2412 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Drama - World

¶ … 20th Century in American History

By virtually any measure that is applied, the 20th century in general and the second half in particular represented the most turbulent and violent periods in world history. During this 50-year time span, the United States became embroiled in three regional wars in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf that cost the lives of over 100,000 Americans, witnessed the bloody but successful Civil Rights Movement and the construction and then destruction of the Berlin Wall. To determine the impact of these powerful events on the people, this paper provides a review of the peer-reviewed and scholarly literature followed by a summary of the research and a hypothesis concerning changes that will take place in the American political climate in the future as a result of these five events.

Review and Discussion

1950s: The Korean Conflict

Although there remains some debate over which side actually precipitated the conflict, the fact remains that in June 1950, tens of thousands of North Korean soldiers came pouring across the 38th parallel and attacked South Korea. In this regard, Weathersby (1999) reports that, "When Soviet-made tanks led tens of thousands of North Korean soldiers across the 38th parallel early on the morning of Sunday, June 25, 1950, most Western observers swiftly concluded that this was not a border skirmish like those of the previous year but a full-scale offensive. North Korean president Kim Il Sung and his Soviet patrons, however, insisted that the attack was a defensive response to a military provocation by the South - the position North Korea and China maintain to this day" (p. 91). According to Pierpaoli (2001), most average Americans were not necessarily ready for another war having just emerged victorious after the most costly war in world history and suggests that many Americans just wished the whole thing would go away on its own accord. In this regard, Pierpaolo notes that, "For nearly three decades after the end of the Korean War, American veterans of the conflict -- along with increasing numbers of historians and other scholars -- bemoaned the fact that Korea had become a 'forgotten war.' In fact, in the United States there were signs that the war was being forgotten even as it was being fought" (p. 92).

Whether they were ready for it or not, the North Koreans and subsequently the Chinese were and it required 3 long years of hostilities to bring the war to a shaky conclusion with the signing of an armistice between the American-led United Nation Forces and the North Koreans. As the North Koreans continue their saber-rattling with bigger and better weapons, today, it is clear that this conflict represented an important event in American history. In this regard, Pierpaolo emphasizes that, "After fifty years of retrospection, it has become readily apparent that the Korean War marked a great watershed in Korean and Cold War history, not to mention a sea change in U.S. history" (2001, p. 93). This author, though, also notes that, "There was an early popular and academic amnesia toward a conflict that killed more than 34,000 Americans and several million Koreans and Chinese" (2001, p. 93). The United States of the 1950s was a significantly different place than it is today, and the Red Scare and McCarthyism were in full bloom. According to Pierpaoli, "In the early 1950s, the political climate unleashed by the war in Korea equated social reform, racial justice, and measured criticism with political subversion -- if not outright treason. History focused on conformity and consensus" (2001, p. 93). The impact of the Korean War had lasting implications for North Korea, China and the United States alike, though. In this regard, Pierpaoli adds that, "When the Korean War ended in 1953, all organized Chinese resistance to Mao ended, the landlord class was destroyed, Communists controlled the nationalist middle class, and Chinese intellectuals had experienced their first round of reeducation. This enabled China to emerge as a revolutionary country in East Asia and the world" (Brune, 2005, p. 172).

Given its relatively modest geographic size and stagnated economy, it is one of the legacies of the Korean War that North Korea remains at the top of U.S. security concerns today with the world's third-largest army but a political leadership that is out of touch with reality. For instance, Weathersby (1999) reports that, "When the Soviet Union finally collapsed, North Korea was left not only without an important source of support but without an understanding of normal relations with other states- or even an understanding that such relations can exist" (p. 92). The recent test of longer-range missiles that are reputedly capable of reaching Hawaii keeps North Korea on the agenda of the United States political and military leadership. In this regard, Weathersby concludes, "That impossible legacy is an important reason why North Korea, nearly 50 years after the end of the Korean War, retains a prominent place near the top of American security concerns" (1999, p. 92).

1960s: The Civil Rights Movement

Perhaps the most significant domestic event of the second half of the 20th century was the Civil Rights Movement that took place during the decade of the 1960s and thereafter. According to Richardson (2002), "For those of us who lived through the 1960s, every evening television brought us face-to-face with news and details of the Civil Rights Movement. We became familiar with the sit-ins, riots, and protests against racism that occurred in North Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, California, and possibly in our own communities, and we came to recognize names of individuals like Martin Luther King, Jr., George Wallace, and others associated with those turbulent times" (p. 186). While many observers today believe that the Civil Rights Movement was largely confined to the southern states, the dissent and unrest that it engendered was felt across the entire country (Richardson, 2002). Although some observers might suggest that the Civil Rights Movement is over and the black people won (after all, an African-American sits in the Oval Office today), the fact remains that the ugly face of racism continues to haunt the American consciousness in institutionalized and personal ways across the country, and it may well be several more generations before the last vestiges of racism are erased from the United States, if it is truly can be.

1970s: The Vietnam War

One of the more dubious but enormously costly shooting wars in which the United States has become involved was the war in Vietnam. According to Kirkwood-Tucker and Benton (2002), "The Vietnam War had profound consequences for U.S. foreign policy, domestic politics, and America's social history. By 1968, 520,000 American troops occupied South Vietnam. Mobilized with superior firepower -- like the French before them -- and fighting alongside half a million South Vietnamese soldiers, American troops failed to defeat the National Liberation Front, which was backed by the North Vietnamese. Lack of knowledge of terrain, failure to counter the tactics of guerilla warfare effectively, an inability to distinguish between friend and foe, and political factors made it America's only lost war" (p. 362). The beginning of the end of the Vietnam War was the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1973. As Kirkwood-Tucker and Benton (2002) point out, "The Treaty of Paris in 1973 called for the withdrawal of all U.S. And allied forces from South Vietnam. It also requested the return of U.S. prisoners from North Vietnam" (p. 362). Like the end of World War II and the Korean War, a number of other countries were involved in the final resolution of the Vietnam War. According to Kirkwood-Tucker and Benton, "Compliance [with the Treaty of Paris] was endorsed by a thirteen-party conference of foreign ministers representing, among others, China, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Republic of Vietnam, the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic, and the United States" (p. 362).

Things in South Vietnam finally drew to a bloody end in 1975 and images of American helicopters evacuating last-minute refugees from the roof the American embassy in Saigon were broadcast across the country and America (see Figure 1 below), which had never lost a war before, represented clear signs that Americans would be forced to recognize that military might alone cannot accomplish everything that its policymakers wanted. In this regard, Kirkwood-Tucker and Benton add that:

After a devastating offensive, Saigon fell to the forces of the National Liberation Front on April 30, 1975. Vietnam was finally unified, independent, and communist. The two Vietnams unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on July 2, 1976. After the founding of a united Vietnam, thousands of refugees fled the country for fear of retaliation by the new government (p. 363)

Figure 1. Helicopters evacuating refugees from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon, 1976.

Source: http://abluteau.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/van-es-may-15-zzz.jpg

1980s: The End of the Berlin Wall

One of the more tangible consequences of the Cold War was manifested in Germany when the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 separating East and West Berlin into two separate political enclaves. As… [END OF PREVIEW]

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