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In the United States something very odd happened during the period of time from the middle of the 1950's up to the impact of the crisis of the 1960's. For once in the storied history of the United States a majority of Americans accepted the same system of assumptions. This shared system of assumptions is known as the liberal consensus. The main reason there was such a thing as liberal consensus was because of the extreme economic growth we experienced in the U.S. during the post World War II era. However, the consensus didn't apply to one important group of people.
These were the combat soldiers it the Vietnam War. Their experiences at home and abroad suggest that they were outsiders to the ideology that Godfrey Hodgson outlines in his book America In Our Time and that they were not motivated by the promises and values of the liberal consensus. To understand what makes these soldiers outsiders we must first understand what the liberal consensus was. Hogson argues that the social and intellectual world view of the 1950's and early 1960's was based on the ideology that "capitalism was a revolutionary force for social change, that economic growth was supremely good because it obviated the need for redistribution and social conflict, that class had no place in American politics." This is the reason for such a liberal consensus, but what is it really? First, the liberals consisted of the Democratic Party, middle class college students, the civil rights movement, and some members of the labor community. Also known as the Left, these groups of people shared a common belief in anti-communism, the rights of minorities, the willingness to accept the existence of the labor unions, and that the federal government had to play some role in the economic life of the U.S. capitalist system. "Since the consensus had made converts on the Right as well as on the Left, only a handful dissidents were excluded from the Big Tent: southern diehards, rural reactionaries, the more farouche and paranoid fringes of the radical Right, and the divided remnants of the old, Marxist, Left."(Hodgson 116) Not many people were left out of the "Big Tent".
Hodgson argues that the consensus can be summarized in a set of six interrelated maxims. First, old capitalism is different from the new American free-enterprise system. This system creates abundance and is very democratic. In terms of social justice this system has revolutionary potential. Next, he feels that the key to this potential is production and economic growth. This economic growth creates incremental resources, therefore eliminating social conflict between classes.
Thirdly, this causes a natural harmony of interests in society almost eliminating classes. Workers were now becoming middle class members of society. He also believed that social problems could be solved in an industrial sort of way. First, by identifying the problem and creating programs to solve them. Next, by government enlightened in social sciences they can apply inputs to the problem solving, such as money and resources. The fifth of the maxims is that the main threat to this system comes from Marxism, and that the U.S. and its Free World allies could expect a prolonged struggle against communism.
Lastly, he feels that the U.S. needs to bring the free enterprise system to the rest of the world. To further understand the situation of Vietnam soldiers we must look at the U.S. foreign policy of the times. Between 1959 and 1961 the Gallup poll asked Americans what they felt was the "the most important problem" facing this great nation of ours. A majority of the respondents answered that the major problem was "keeping the peace," or many times referred to as "dealing with Russia." Nothing troubled our nation more than an outstanding concern with communism.
The Cold War with the Soviet Union was of utmost concern to our government. The U.S. government had a policy of containment at the time. This policy was not to invade the Soviet Union and push them back, but just to contain them where they were and not allow any expansion of communism. This is what led us into what is known as the Cold War. At this time Vietnam was a pawn in geopolitical strategy for growth for many countries including France, Great Britain, China, and the U.S.
The nationalist leader of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, wanted to break of the Vietnamese relationship with the French. However, the only problem was that the only ones who wanted to talk about liberation were the communists. This is essentially what lead to the Vietnam War. The war was supposed to be about Vietnamese independence, however, many people felt that it was about the control communism and the Soviet Union. While this time of liberal consensus was a prosperous time for America, the question now becomes: Was this growth and prosperity shared by all? "Vietnam, more than any other American war in the twentieth century, perhaps in our history, was a working-class war. The institutions most responsible for channeling men into the military-the draft, the schools, and the job market-directed working class children to the armed forces and their wealthier peers toward college."(Appy 6) With the creation of the Selective Service and draft boards it became evident that the liberal consensus belief that class no longer existed in American politics was not true. There was virtually no escape from the war for the working class and poor.
Their options were limited to either fleeing or enlisting. On the other hand the middle-class and rich had many options and could avoid being drafted by using loopholes in the system. The most popular way for the rich to avoid the draft was going to college. This option most working-class families could not afford. Of the few working-class people who did attend college, most were working their way through and were not able to be full times students. There were many other options the rich had at their disposal to avoid the draft. Another widely utilized excuse was having a mental ....
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