How did the Civil Rights Era and the Vietnam War redefine and/or influence the United States?

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Lyndon B. Johnston signed into law the Civil Rights Act in 1964, while the country was at war with Vietnam. Some historians contend that this two-pronged effort—becoming involved in a costly war without an increase in taxation—pushed the US into debt that eroded and impacted the average American lifestyle well into the '90s.

The immediate effects of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the '60s were to outlaw Jim Crow laws in the South and workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or disability throughout the country. In Mississippi alone, black voter registration increased tenfold during this period.

Meanwhile, a draft was in effect in which low-income whites, African Americans, and Latinos were enlisted to fight in the ongoing Vietnam War. During this time, a counterculture sprang up to protest the war and stand up for civil rights. This shifted the predominant cultural landscape away from the traditional, white, Protestant America, which had been pro-war. Given the racism and inequality back home, activists found the combat to fight communism in Vietnam hypocritical and were discouraged by the monies funneled out of black communities to fund the war efforts.

The Vietnam War was a long, unpopular, and expensive war that America eventually lost. This loss, along with the emergence of a counterculture formed of hippies and activists, produced a public that viewed the government and its institutions with more distrust and suspicion. While the war quashed some inequality in allowing black soldiers to fight with whites in the trenches, neither were welcomed by the majority of the public when they returned home.

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The civil rights era of the 1960s led into the Vietnam War, which escalated in August 1964 with the "Gulf of Tonkin Incident." President Johnson had just signed the Civil Rights Act the previous month. Both issues were passionately embraced by students on college campuses, leading to historic protests and clashes with authorities.

Civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began to speak out against the Vietnam War in the years leading up to his assassination in April 1968. In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech the previous year in New York, Dr. King said that there was a common link between civil rights and peace movements. He explained how money was diverted from domestic programs that aided lower-class minorities to fund the war effort.

Like many Americans, Dr. King viewed the war as an act of imperialism on the part of the United States. He did not see consistency in a country ignoring its poor while fighting to free oppressed people thousands of miles away. The anti-war view was popularized by musical acts such as the Beatles, who addressed civil rights in "Blackbird" and war protests in "Revolution."

Both the civil rights and anti-war movements were driven by accusations of injustice. While the civil rights movement had developed for a century following the Civil War, the Vietnam anti-war protests were partly a reaction to news leaks, such as the Daniel Ellsberg's release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which revealed that the Johnson administration had misled the public about the war. Accusations that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was based on a false report were confirmed by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in his film Fog of War.

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