Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Archives

Categories

Contact Us

Subscribe to Email Updates

Archive for '- The 1960s'

The Berlin Wall, now a vital piece of history

Americans often associate the month of August with family vacations and the summer heat, but that was not the case in 1961. Fifty years ago this month, a Cold War chill filled the air as construction began on the Berlin Wall.

After the end of World War II, the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union each occupied a piece of postwar Germany. The four powers intended to jointly govern through the Allied Control Council until the country could be reunified under one government. But as relations between the West and the Soviet Union deteriorated in the late 1940s, Germany became a central part of the Cold War.

In 1949, the the three western zones merged to form the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Soviet Union responded by establishing the German Democratic Republic. Although the capital city of Berlin was located within Soviet-controlled East Germany, it remained divided as a multinational area.

Between 1949 and 1961, millions of East Germans defected from the German Democratic Republic by crossing into West Berlin. The mass exodus of young, well-educated individuals—which led to both economic stagnation and political turmoil—compelled Communist leaders to refortify East Germany’s borders.

East German troops and workers began construction on the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961. The first phase of the wall included 27 miles of barbed-wire fencing, covering the entire … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: A mustache, a funny man, and a President

Julius Henry Marx–better known by his stage name Groucho Marx–passed away on August 19, 1977. He left behind a legacy of humor on stage, radio, and film. I was not able to find to find any images of him in our holdings, which was disappointing as his trademark mustache was a fine candidate for Facial Hair Friday.

However, I did find something unexpected. Groucho had been corresponding with President Truman.

What would a funny man and a President have in common? Well, it turns out that the young Harry Truman was an avid vaudeville fan, attending shows at the Orpheum Theatre and the Grand Opera House whenever he was Kansas City. He even took his future wife Bess to vaudeville shows on dates. Truman especially enjoyed the Marx Brothers, later recalling that he never missed a chance to see them when they were in town.

So Truman was a fan of the famous brothers, but how did he come to correspond with Groucho (and later Harpo Marx)?

It started with the displaced persons, the survivors of the Holocaust who had lost their homes and families and were now living in temporary camps. Truman had issued a directive in 1945 to allow some of them to immigrate to the United States. In 1946, Groucho Marx–the son of Jewish immigrants–sent Truman a newspaper clipping of an article claiming Truman had failed to … [ Read all ]

The Pentagon Papers, now online after 40 years

If you opened the the New York Times this morning in 1971, you would have seen the first part of the secret ”Pentagon Papers” that the newspaper published—without authorization from the government.

Today in 2011, the National Archives and the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon Presidential libraries will release the entire official Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force (commonly referred to as the Pentagon Papers).

Although the unauthorized publication of the Papers fueled opposition to the Vietnam War and provided historians with unique insight into the U.S. policymaking apparatus, today’s release will finally provide the American public with unimpeded access to this historic text.

The release will feature over 2,300 pages of previously undisclosed material not included in the Senator Gravel Edition of the Pentagon Papers, the most commonly referenced compilation of the Papers.

So what were the Pentagon Papers?

Following the 1954 Geneva Accords, the United States assumed a substantial role in the political and military development of South Vietnam. In order to prevent the new nation from falling into the communist sphere of influence in Southeast Asia, the Eisenhower administration provided the government of Ngo Dinh Diem with billions of dollars in economic and military aid. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson continued authorizing similar assistance prior the introduction of U.S. combat troops in 1965.

In 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara commissioned the … [ Read all ]

History in a Cap and Gown

We’re now in the middle of commencement season, and there’ll be many words of wisdom coming from the mouths of speakers: academicians, celebrities, inventors, authors, artists, business people, and political leaders.

Sometimes commencement speeches become historic.

President John F. Kennedy announced talks for a test-ban treaty in his commencement speech at American University in 1963, and a treaty banning nuclear testing above ground was signed later in the year. “In the final analysis,” Kennedy said, “our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson officially unveiled his “Great Society” in his commencement speech at the University of Michigan in 1964. “The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to . . . advance the quality of our American civilization,” Johnson told the graduates. “For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the ‘Great Society.’”

Another historic speech was made at the Harvard commencement in 1947. President Harry S. Truman’s administration was preparing a plan for an unprecedented amount of aid to shore up the economies of war-torn Europe. Instead of announcing it himself, he gave the task to … [ Read all ]

Pennsylvania Avenue Hotline

Today’s guest post comes from David Coleman,  associate professor at the University of Virginia and Chair of the Presidential Recordings Program at the Miller Center of Public Affairs.

On April 28, W.W. Norton will publish volumes 7 and 8 in the Miller Center’s Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson series. (The original tapes are in the holdings of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum.) The volumes, which span June through July 4, 1964, were edited by Guian McKee, Kent Germany, and David Carter.

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 28, the National Archives will host Dave Coleman, the editors, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author Taylor Branch to discuss these latest books.

“That’s a good bill, and there’s no reason why you ought to keep a majority from beating it. If you can beat it, go on and beat it, but you oughtn’t to hold it up. You ought to give me a fair shake and give me a chance to vote on it.”
—LBJ to House Minority Leader Charles Halleck, 6:24 p.m., June 22, 1964

 

Behind-the-scenes discussions between the White House and Capitol Hill can be an essential piece of the puzzle in understanding how and why legislation was passed, rejected, or changed, or even a government shutdown averted. But they’re typically obscured from public view.

It’s easy enough to imagine what might have been

[ Read all ]