The 1970’s – American Implosion
The Decade of Oil Domination
ENEMIES DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN
America was rocked by the internal conflicts during the 1960’s, and the 1970’s did little to sooth the hearts and minds of the citizens. Inflation slowed slightly in 1970, only to be followed by recession. Then the White House was rocked in 1972, by an ever-growing scandal called ‘Watergate’ after the place where Republican operatives attempted to break into Democratic headquarters. Over the next year it would be revealed that the Republican party, including President Richard Nixon played dirty politics during the President’s re-election campaign and then used power tactics to cover up their misdeeds.
In the Fall of 1972, the world was shaken by a group of Palestinians that took Israeli athletes hostage in Germany’s Summer Olympic Games. The Palestinians were given logistical assistance by German Neo-Nazis which helped them penetrate the athlete’s living area and capture eleven of the Israel delegation (two of the eleven were killed during the invasion of the Israeli rooms.) As the world watched, the Germans eventually attempted a botched night rescue as the hostages were moved to an airport. The German snipers were untrained and had no night vision equipment. Every aspect of the German rescue plan was flawed and the Palestinians eventually made a decision to kill all hostages during a stalemate in the fighting.
In October of 1973, Israel responded to a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria (the Yom Kipper War) with a counter attack. The United States and Russia quickly began resupplying their allies (US/Israel and USSR/Syria-Egypt) with arms and materials. In response the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC, later OPEC) began a six month oil embargo that created massive fuel shortages in the United States. This caused the price of oil to rise from $3/barrel to $12/barrel and sparked a new round of inflation.
OUTCOME: American Politics
By the late 1974, the Watergate scandal had ended in resignations by the Vice President and President. Gerald Ford, who had just replaced the Vice President, became the President and limped his administration through the end of Nixon’s term. By the 1976 elections people were done with the Republican party and Jimmy Carter was thrust into the job of restoring faith in government.
OUTCOME: Oil, Greed, and the Middle East
The OPEC oil embargo and the Munich Massacre sent a message that America should be focusing on the Middle East, but the Watergate scandal had caused an information overload, so many Americans still saw Russia as the main foreign threat. However, because the Middle East had massive oil reserves it became the most strategic region in the world for oil consuming countries. This caused the governments of Russia and the United States to attempt to secure the region for each country’s own self-interest.
The questionable tactics of unscrupulous American oil companies opened new wounds in the Arab world. Our public image had been defined by U.S. business and political interference in internal matters of many Arab countries. Americans were caught off guard by the festering hate for America in the Middle East.
OUTCOME: Economic Instability
The roller coaster of inflation, recession, inflation left Americans with a sense of fear about the economy. The typical American was caught by surprise in 1973 when the oil embargo practically put the United States on its knees. The pride America had after beating the odds in World War II and putting a man on the Moon were all erased by one unethical President and our country’s economic vulnerabilities.
THE NEW HOPE EXTINGUISHED
Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976, brought a new hope to America. That produced a new fear for Republicans. Nothing could hurt conservatives more than to have a Democratic President restore America’s self-confidence. President Carter focused on peace and humanitarian initiatives that conservatives said made America look weak. Fortunately for conservatives, the Middle East would be what they needed to derail the Democrats and return to power.
In 1979, Russia invaded Afghanistan and students in Iran overran the American Embassy and took hostages. At the same time a mythical oil crisis (world oil supply dropped by only 4%) drove oil prices up to $39.50 per barrel in one year. The events dominated the news and overshadowed Carter’s re-election campaign. Republicans successfully used political ads to paint Democrats as out of touch during the worst political crisis of Carter’s administration. The events of 1979 could not have been more perfect for the resurgence of the disgraced conservatives.
NEXT: The 1980’s
THE SERIES: The 1950’s The 1960’s The 1990’s 2000’s Epilogue