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How did the War on Poverty, the war in Vietnam, and the Civil Rights Movement influence each other?

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They all influenced each other in the sense that they all happened during the Johnson administration. Johnson hoped to be known for his social programs in his War on Poverty but instead he was known for getting the United States more involved in the unpopular Vietnam War. In the end,...

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They all influenced each other in the sense that they all happened during the Johnson administration. Johnson hoped to be known for his social programs in his War on Poverty but instead he was known for getting the United States more involved in the unpopular Vietnam War. In the end, Vietnam proved to be his undoing as he chose not to run for reelection in 1968 due to Vietnam protests. Johnson believed that the United States's economy was strong enough to fight both Vietnam and have robust social programs; however, the war took all the attention away from his social welfare projects.

The Vietnam War affected poor people more than the affluent, since people who could afford to go to college often received draft deferments. African Americans and other minorities were also more likely to die in Vietnam than their white counterparts, thus leading to famous protests against the war by sports figures such as Muhammad Ali. Martin Luther King Jr. protested the war as well for pacifist reasons. One argument that civil rights protesters used during this time was that they were being treated unfairly by white society; therefore, they did not like the idea of fighting to keep the Vietnamese oppressed by other whites. Not only did King stand for civil rights, he was also against the poverty of African Americans everywhere; he was protesting bad treatment against Memphis garbage collectors when he was assassinated in 1968. After his death, the movement stagnated.

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President Lyndon Johnson launched a War on Poverty in the mid-1960s to tackle the crushing poverty that affected many Americans, especially including many African American communities. His administration put a lot of federal funds into the War on Poverty, working in particular through community-based organizations. However, after the War in Vietnam began with ground troops in 1965, the nation became increasingly mired in the war. The administration began to pour a great deal of money into fighting the war, and inflation was in part a result of this spending on military outlays. As a result, the administration had to pull back from fighting the War on Poverty.

By the late 1960s, the stymied results of the War on Poverty, along with the continued fighting of the Vietnam War, caused feelings of disillusionment. The civil rights movement had begun to focus on issues of employment and poverty of African Americans before Martin Luther King's death in 1968, and in many ways, these issues proved harder to solve than the earlier issues of black voting and other civil rights. Therefore, the movement lost some momentum, and African American people began to feel that the movement was not gaining traction. Therefore, the late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of disillusionment.

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The War on Poverty, the protests against the Vietnam War, and the civil rights movement were all parts of an awakening of the forces of social justice in the 1960s. This was an era of great prosperity in the United States, with the American dream being in reach of many, and the number of Americans enrolled in and completing higher education having skyrocketed, in part due to the GI Bill. However, this prosperity was distributed unequally, and many people sought to remedy these inequities.

World War II and the Vietnam War had meant that soldiers of all races and social classes served together as brothers and sisters in arms, something that made the unfairness of racial discrimination all the more apparent. Many of the protests against the war were grounded in an awareness that people under twenty-one (who could not vote at that time) and black people were dying in disproportionate numbers and yet had little say in the choice to go to war.

The War on Poverty brought into focus the disparity in poverty between ethnic minorities and whites. As a legacy of the Civil War and the failure of Reconstruction to address economic inequality, African Americans had lower incomes, education, net worth, and opportunities than white people. Thus, solving issues of poverty required addressing racial inequality, and civil rights required addressing economic inequality.

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The politics of the War on Poverty, the Civil Rights Movement, and the war in Vietnam intersected in many ways. Lyndon Johnson saw the War on Poverty and the Great Society, which was the centerpiece of this "war," as his signal achievement. The War on Poverty basically entailed the creation of a large welfare state aimed at bringing about equality of opportunity for the millions of Americans below the poverty line. This, of course, had the support of many Civil Rights leaders, who realized that many of the nation's poor were African Americans and saw that the War on Poverty was a social justice issue, a new stage in the movement for civil rights. In his 1967 speech "The Other America," Martin Luther King, Jr. argued that the struggles for political and legal equality were in many ways won, and he framed this as a struggle for "genuine equality," advocating government measures to remove some of the structural and economic barriers to success that existed for many African Americans. It was precisely for this reason that King and many Civil Rights leaders objected to the Vietnam War, which drew money and political capital away from the War on Poverty. Lyndon Johnson was sensitive to this, famously describing the war, in vulgar terms, as taking him away from the "woman" he loved—the Great Society that was at the heart of the War on Poverty. In the end, Johnson's commitment to the war in Vietnam lost him the support of many Civil Rights leaders who objected to the war on moral grounds and the grounds that it interfered with the War on Poverty.

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