With a youthful, enthusiastic John F. Kennedy as president, who was transforming Washington into what some considered a version of King Arthur's Camelot because of his administration's appearance of elegance and idealism, the decade began with high public hopes. Soon the Sixties were to become the most conflict ridden, turbulent decade in twentieth-century America, the one in which the gap between teens and adults widened to such proportions, on so many issues, that it seemed totally unbridgeable. It brought freedom and power previously unknown to young people--a combination that was both exhilarating and frightening.
The conflict in Southeast Asia was not a war, nor does the term "event" capture it. It was an economic calculation, a bureaucratic maneuver, a gradually escalating threat, a violent entanglement, an irrational act, a nightmare, and a failure. It was the basis of the most divisive conflict in American history, and dozens of excellent studies have been devoted to it. Here we offer only the briefest outline and suggest its relevance to teens.
In the late Fifties, America replaced France as military advisor to the Republic of Vietnam, and very soon the Viet Cong, the Communist forces in North Vietnam, attacked American air bases and Americans were killed. In 1964 Congress granted President Lyndon Johnson authority to retaliate,