Late in the summer of 1974, in the heat of August in Washington, Richard Nixon appeared on television and with furrowed brows somberly told the nation that he was resigning the presidency. Watergate was over. Nixon climbed the stairs of an official helicopter, turned one last time to face the cameras, and was gone. A few months later, in April 1975, North Vietnamese soldiers overran Saigon, and South Vietnam collapsed at last. The Vietnam War was over. With a fascinated horror, Americans at home watched television news footage of U.S. helicopters leaving the American Embassy, rising slowly and uneasily into the sky with panicked South Vietnamese officials clinging to the landing skids below. Thus in two helicopter scenes, a few months apart, two of the most monumental episodes connected with conflicts of the 1960s—the Vietnam War and Watergate—came to a close.
Several decades elapsed between the end of World War II and the Vietnam War, during which Commager wrote about the American character and offered insights into the tensions between consensus, dissent, and diversity in American society—after which the cultural wars of the late twentieth century began to be fought. First they arose as isolated skirmishes and then gradually appeared as a more sustained conflict waged in the university, academic journals, government agencies, and national newspapers. Although the substance and approach of work like his became one of the