Though the United States had been involved in Vietnam for a few years prior (albeit to a much smaller extent), but began its major involvement following the Gulf of Tonkin incident. On August 2nd, 1964, North Vietnamese Navy ships engaged the USS Maddox and two days later, the North Vietnamese was believed to have attacked again, although there is some controversy over this (Hanyok, 2001). As a result of this attack, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed, which allowed the president to assist any Southeast Asian country help fight back against communist aggression, and gave Johnson the ability to lead an effort to contain the spread of communism (Mintz 2007). This escalation in involvement kicked off the Vietnam War, which was in many ways a result of the ongoing Cold War.
The Civil Rights movement, following the major victory of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, now faced the issue of seeing how exactly these newly codified rights would look in practice. In the education system, the issue of having students that live in mostly segregated communities attend integrated schools was solved in part by busing. There were strong opinions on both side of the busing program debate, with those against claiming that the program would serve as a distraction above all else and those supporting claiming that it promotes one of school’s primary functions, downplaying hierarchy and advocating social mobility (The Busing Debate). Busing did withstand opponents’ arguments though, and served as one of the best methods of school integration for years to come. At this time though, the Civil Rights movement began taking on more of a militaristic approach and some within the movement began fighting more fervently than in the past, alienating some earlier supporters. This trend was only further highlighted after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination (National Archives).
During this period, “second wave feminism” was also gaining momentum. This movement, which focused on the unofficial blockades to women’s rights, (as opposed to the “first wave” which focused on overturning laws blocking women’s rights) mirrored the Civil Rights movement (Britannica). Here, as in the Civil Rights movement, the group in question felt as though they were treated as second-class citizens, and actively worked towards changing their position in society (Georgetown College).
The mentally handicapped also see an expansion in rights during this time. Prior to this, less than one in four special needs children received any type of formal schooling, and among those that did, they often received far less help than was necessary for them to thrive (Zettel, 1977). Though there was a social movement aspect to this, there was a pragmatic motivation as well. Research showed that the cost for support systems that would take care of uneducated individuals with special needs far outweighed the cost of including them in the public school system (Zettel, 1977). In addition to this, a number of states began to view education as a right for all children and held that there was no such thing as an “unteachable” child. These states wished to include special needs students in public schools, but turned to the federal government to provide the funds needed to adapt these schools to best suit the new students. A few short years later, congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act to provide the necessary funding to the states.
The baby boom generation, now entering their college years, quickly took to social activism. Whether it was the Vietnam War or personal rights, this generation was nothing if not vocal in fighting for what they believed in. Though some argue that they were able to pour such effort into protesting because they did not have to worry about as many concrete concerns as past generations, they made a permanent mark on society (Meyer, 2007). From the start, with organizations like the “Students for a Democratic Society,” the protest culture of the mid 60s to late 70s was inarguably a young people’s movement (Students for a…). Though protesters originally were as clean cut and well organized as those that they were rebelling against, as time wore on they became less so and created their own growing subculture. A gulf began to emerge between the young and old, and it was clearly widening.
As this period progressed, the baby boomer generation really grew into its own and took up the banner of rebelling against the status quo in the pursuit of greater equality and freedom. This time was marked by not adhering strictly to what had worked in the past or what the government claimed was best, but instead fighting for what individual citizens felt was just.