Popular American History 1968-1974
Current Events from 1968 to 1974 This is an account of the “current” U. S. events between the years 1968 and 1974. Since the book Jaws was written in 1975, these historical occurrences should serve as a background for what was happening in the years leading up to the book’s publication. These occurrences were no doubt instrumental in Peter Benchley’s writing, as I’m sure they served as a possible inspiration for some of the content in the book, as well as perhaps a metaphor for some of the subject matter. The year 1968 turned out to be a pretty event-filled year.
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Assassinations were a major part of the year’s events, as Americans saw Martin Luther King Jr. , Andy Warhol and Robert Kennedy murdered. The late sixties were filled with political and social unrest, and the U. S. lost one it’s most prolific civil rights leaders, perhaps the most influential pop artist of the twentieth century, and a member of one of the most powerful families in politics all meet their untimely deaths (1968: Timeline). Military actions were abundant as we were engaged heavily in the Vietnam War.
One definite controversial action during 1968 was the request by Joint Chiefs Chairman General Wheeler for President Johnson to send an additional 206,000 soldiers to be sent to Vietnam. The general consensus of the citizens was one of outrage concerning the Vietnam situation. Many protests and rallies were put on including the seizing of five buildings at Columbia University, and a protest at New York University by 200,000 students who refused to go to class to demonstrate their anti-war sentiments. President Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election undoubtedly made many Americans happy.
In his public address, President Johnson was quoted as saying “I do not believe I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office, the Presidency of your country” (The History Place Presents the Vietnam War). Other influential events included the launching of Apollo 7 and Apollo 8 by N. A. S. A. , and the now famous “black power” salute made by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City during their medal ceremonies for the 200 meter dash (1968: Timeline).
As we move into the year 1969, more political issues arise such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed by the U. S. and the Soviet Union “which pledged the two nations not to divulge information that would allow additional countries to build nuclear weapons” (History’s Home). The Paris Peace Talks began to discuss the possible end of the Vietnam conflict. In what turned out to be a pivotal moment in his political career, President Nixon authorizes Operation Menu, the secret B-52 bombings of Cambodia along the Vietnamese borders.
The objective of these bombings was to target North Vietnamese supply sanctuaries that were located along those borders. Then, just two months later, the New York Times broke the news of those bombings. This led to President Nixon ordering wiretaps on the telephones of four journalists, along with thirteen government officials to determine the source of the news leak. The Mobilization peace demonstration draws an estimated 250,000 people in Washington for what turned out to be the largest anti-war protest in U. S. history. (The History Place Presents the Vietnam War).
Meanwhile, Boeing was busy with the first test flight of the 747, the plane responsible for the age of the jumbo jets. But probably most notable, a little concert in a dairy farm in Bethel, New York was put on to celebrate brotherhood and peace among men. The Woodstock Music and Art Festival, as it was called, drew more than 400,000 people marking a high point in the hippie culture. Not to be forgotten was the step of one man, on a faraway “sea”. The step was Neil Armstrong’s, and the sea was the Sea of Tranquility as the Apollo 11 flight became the first time an astronaut walked on the moon (History’s Home).
Until now, much of the effects of Vietnam only took place in Vietnam, that is until we move into the year 1970. In my opinion the event that stands out the most in this year would have to be the shootings at Kent State University. After President Nixon’s authorization to invade Cambodia, college campuses around the country united in protest against the President’s decision, which in most the nation’s opinion was contradictory to his earlier convictions of ending the war in Vietnam. Out of fear of violence from the planned protest, the Ohio National Guard was called in to preside over the days events.
Sometime before noon on May 4th, a Kent State police officer made an announcement for the crowd to disperse. This however had no effect on the mob of protestors. After Guardsmen were driven across the campus, and eventually assaulted with rocks and other debris, a small group opened fire into the air. However, another small group opened fire into the crowd. In a mere thirteen seconds between sixty-one and sixty-seven shots were fired resulting in nine wounded, and four dead (Lewis, Hensley).
In more political news, 1971 saw the New York Times print the first installment of the Pentagon Papers despite a lawsuit to suppress brought forth by the U. S. Justice Dept. on grounds of national security. The papers displayed a classified history of U. S. involvement in Vietnam. Upon hearing of this publication, the Nixon administration utilizes a secret investigative unit known as “The Plumbers”, to burglarize the office of psychiatrist Daniel Ellsberg in an attempt to find evidence to discredit the man responsible for releasing the papers to the press (DigitalHistory).
Shortly thereafter, Ellsberg surrenders to police. By now, the Washington Post has also published the Pentagon Papers. Although President Nixon made a valiant effort, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Times and the Post in a ruling of six to three (History Place). Another highly publicized occurrence was the unfortunate incident at New York State’s Attica Prison. After a prison riot broke out, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and prison guards opened fire into the crowd of inmates resulting in the deaths of thirty-one inmates, and nine guards that were being held ostage. Congress made history by passing the 26th Amendment, giving eighteen year olds the right to vote (Digital History). The trend of political turmoil continues in 1972 where in Laurel, Maryland democratic presidential candidate George Wallace is shot. If this weren’t enough, at a hotel in Washington D. C. , five burglars are caught installing eavesdropping equipment in the offices of the Democratic National Committee. The Watergate, as it was called, turned out to be one of the biggest political scandals of the 20th century (Digital History).
In Vietnam news, the headquarters for the U. S. Army is Vietnam is decommissioned. Finally, on August 23rd the last American combat troops are withdrawn. President Nixon wins re-election in the biggest landslide to date in U. S. history (The History Place Presents the Vietnam War). NASA launches Apollo 17, the final manned moon mission (20th Century Timeline). Moving on to 1973, the U. S. completes withdrawals from Vietnam. On January 27th the United States and North Vietnam sign the Paris Peace Accords under the caveat that U. S. roops would be completely removed from Vietnam, and all U. S. POW’s would be released. In health news, the CAT (Computerized Axial Tomography) Scan was unveiled to the medical world, which produced three-dimensional views of the internal organs of the body. The Sears Tower was completed in Chicago becoming the world’s tallest building standing at a mighty 1,445 feet (History’s Home On The Web). On the heels of the Watergate scandal, President Nixon ordered the payment of seventy-five thousand dollars in hush money to defendant E. Howard Hunt. A former white house aide reveals to
Senate Watergate investigators that President Nixon kept a secret tape-recording system in the White House (A Chronology of American History). Operation Homecoming commences with the release of 591 American POW’s from Hanoi. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigns from office which in turn leads to President Nixon appointing Gerald Ford. The U. S. Congress passes the Case-Church Amendment forbidding any further U. S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. Congress then passes the War Powers Resolution, requiring the President to obtain the support of congress within 90 days of sending American troops abroad (History Place).
As we transitioned into 1974, Americans saw a period of political restructuring when a unanimous Supreme Court ruling ordered President Nixon to release sixty-four tapes to the Watergate special prosecutor, declaring that he may not withhold evidence from a criminal case. Next, the Judiciary Committee voted 27 to 11 to recommend President Nixon’s impeachment. On August 8th, Richard M. Nixon became the first president to resign the presidency, resulting in Gerald Ford becoming the first president who had never been elected. President Ford declared it a public victory, but later pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed as President.
This proved to be a very costly decision as it undoubtedly led to his defeat in his attempted re-election in 1976 (A Chronology of American History). The Soyuz-Apollo mission became the first cooperative effort in space between the U. S. and the Soviet Union. There were many politically and socially influential factors during this time period of just six years. The major theme of the book (Jaws), seems to be the struggle of good versus evil, between a seemingly unstoppable force and a figure of power with many flaws. I think you could make a connection to the Vietnam War given these criteria.
One could assume that the shark is a metaphor for the North Vietnamese offensive, and Sheriff Brody is a metaphor for the U. S. Government. At the time, the North Vietnamese seemed to be launching a relentless, unstoppable attack on the government of the South Vietnamese, similar to the shark’s attack on Amity. The North Vietnamese attacked on the South Vietnamese’ own soil, also similar to the shark’s attacks on Amity. To further back this assumption, the North Vietnamese used stealth and a cunning ability to remain hidden in their attacks, once again similar to the techniques employed by the shark.
On the flip side of the coin, Sheriff Brody was a figure of power as the Sheriff of the city, having ultimately more authority than the mayor in closing the beaches. This is much like the U. S. government in that, on a global scale, it could be described as the most dominant authority. Sheriff Brody had many flaws and therefore was not the epitome of a “hero”. Due to the Nixon administration’s unscrupulous behavior, and the questionable behavior of the previous Johnson administration, we (United States) could be described too, as having many flaws, and falling short of the definition of a “hero”.
The ending could be construed as similar to the Vietnam War as well in that the book’s ending was so anti-climactic that it almost left the reader with a feeling that the shark hadn’t really been defeated at all. Similar to the Vietnam War which was widely publicized as a victory by the Nixon administration, but deep down public sentiment was that it was a total loss. America felt like nothing had been accomplished. I would say first and foremost that Mr. Benchley’s love of sharks was the main source of inspiration for writing this novel, but I think I’ve made a case for a possible outside influence.