| JFK | Nixon 
Non-Mainstream Heroes
Political Upheaval
The 1960s: A Time to Hope, A Time to Die
Jan 1961

JFK inaugurated

Mar 1961 Peace Corps founded
1962 John Glenn first American to orbit the Earth
Dec 1963

JFK assassinated

March 1965 First official U.S. soldiers in Vietnam
1966 Equal Rights Amendment passes
May 1968 My Lai massacre
August 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in Chicago
Dec 1969 First draft lottery since WWI


More than any two figures in the Sixties, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr. and Richard Milhaus Nixon personified their generations. Kennedy represented the hope and dreams of a nation coming into its own. Riding the wave of the young president's charisma and charm along with the success of the New Deal, the Democrats gripped the hearts and minds of America's youth. Kennedy's election in 1960 brought a sense of hope and calm to the nation. The radical Left was still hovering off to the side, hidden in the sepulcher glare of Camelot. Despite his flaws as a husband and his shortcomings as a president, Kennedy rose above the fray and came to stand for all of the good things America could be.

While JFK's politics were guarded at home, slowly he began guiding all Americans through the transition of Washington politics towards a nationwide, grassroots movement of activism. He founded the Peace Corps, which encouraged students to venture out across the planet. The space program was born, instilling a sense of greater purpose in the universe as we reached together towards the stars. And he began pushing the country, ever so slowly, towards facing the bloody history that marked race relations.

Nixon stood as the polar opposite to Kennedy. Where Kennedy looked to the future, Nixon reached towards the past. But by the time 1968 rolled around and riots broke out at the Democratic convention and Robert Kennedy was gunned down during the California primaries, Nixon represented a time and place that seemed much simpler.

Nixon, long a political insider, used his influence and connections to take back the presidency during this unrest. He effectively ended the Vietnam War. He opened the door to China. He began nuclear disarmament talks. To a large degree, he accomplished what the counter-culture movement had been clamoring for. something neither Kennedy nor LBJ had been willing to do. He opened the door to China.

Eventually, he would succumb to the power of the office and leave in disgrace, but in the wake of the chaos that was the sixties, he helped bring a stable end to an unstable time.

  • "I do not promise to consider race or religion in my appointments. I promise only that I will not consider them."

  • "Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer."

  • "...Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. The advancement of learning depends on community leadership for financial and political support -- and the products of that learning, in turn, are essential to the leadership's hopes for continued progress and prosperity..." (to have been delivered at Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963.)

  • "When we got into office, the thing that surprised me most was to find that things were just as bad as we'd been saying they were." (May 27, 1961)

  • "Mr. Nixon in the last seven days has called me an economic ignoramus, a Pied Piper, and all the rest. I've just confined myself to calling him a Republican, but he says that is getting low."
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963)  (return to top)

    To many Americans, the image of John Fitzgerald Kennedy represents everything that is right about America. With his charismatic charm and good looks, he swept into the White House in 1960, riding a wave of hope that the country desperately needed coming out of the bland, post World War II era of the 1950s.

    When his presidency began in 1961, so did the era affectionately referred to as Camelot. Many Americans pinned their hopes and dreams on Kennedy. His mystique was larger than life; he represented the optimism that Americans had for themselves and their country. During his presidency, he dealt with some of the defining issues of the decade: avoiding nuclear war, increasing the number of U.S. military advisors in South Vietnam, creating the Peace Corps, and working on racial integration in the South.

    Despite his philandering and lack of focus on foreign policy, Kennedy's mystique as an American hero drew legions of admirers from all walks of life. While he was reluctantly drawn into many political fights which he would rather have stayed away from - including the civil rights movement in the south - when the country looked for guidance in times of crisis, Kennedy always rose to the occasion.

    Kennedy's term was cut short when he was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald November 22, 1963. For years, the assassination was surrounded by conspiracy rumors. In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, relying in part on acoustical evidence, concluded that a conspiracy was likely and that it may have involved organized crime.

    While his presidency was too short to accurately judge his place in history as a political leader, Kennedy left an indelible mark on our society, reminding us to always look towards the future.

  • "Each moment in history is a fleeting time, precious and unique. But some stand out as moments of beginning, in which courses are set that shape decades or centuries. This can be such a moment."(First Inaugural, 1969)

  • "Our goal must be to take the profit out of war and put more profit into peace." (Real Peace, 1983)

  • "North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that." (Address to American people, Nov 3, 1969)

  • "I believe in the American dream, because I have seen it come true in my own life." (Republican National Convention, 1968)

  • "Only if you have been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain." (Farewell to White House staff)
  • Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994)  (return to top)

    While JFK symbolized the hope that characterized the beginning of the 60s, Nixon represented the decade's downfall. Though defeated by JFK in the race for president in 1960, he later beat Hubert H. Humphrey and George Wallace to achieve what he had long desired.

    Nixon's political career started as a U.S. representative from California (1947-1951). It was during this term that he got the nation's attention due to his investigation of Alger Hiss. He moved on to the Senate (1951-1953) and then became Dwight Eisenhower's vice president for two terms (1952 and 1956). After his first presidential defeat, he ran for governor of California and lost.

    During his presidency, with Spiro T. Agnew as his vice president, Nixon achieved a cease-fire in the Vietnam War. His accomplishment came after he ordered invasions of Cambodia and Laos, as well as the bombing of North Vietnam. He paid a historic visit to China and initiated strategic arms talks with the Soviet Union. In trying to attract the South to the Republican party, Nixon, in effect, weakened the federal government's commitment to racial equality. Despite the economic problems that plagued his administration, Nixon was reelected in 1972.

    In 1972, agents of Nixon's reelection committee were arrested in Democratic party headquarters, in the Watergate apartment building in Washington, DC, after an attempt to tap telelphones there. The situation erupted into a national scandal when a conspiracy was uncovered. It was revealed that members of the Nixon administration, including Nixon himself, knew about the burglary. Nixon was investigated for impeachment. He later admitted his role in telling the FBI to stop pursuing the burglary. After the House of Representatives voted to impeach him, he became the first president to resign from office. His successor, Gerald R. Ford, later granted him a full pardon.

    Nixon continued to comment on foreign affairs and wrote his memoirs and several other books before his death. Nixon was a huge political figure of his time, and is a hero by virtue of surviving it. His accomplishments in foreign affairs brought the decade full circle. What the public wanted, the public finally got, and after a tumultous few years, stability loomed.

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