The Seventies: Under Control?
excerpted from a
People's History of the United States
by Howard Zinn
In the early seventies, the system seemed out of control-it
could not hold the loyalty of the public. As early as 1970, according
to the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center, "trust
in government" was low in every section of the population.
And there was a significant difference by class. Of professional
people, 40 percent had "low" political trust in the
government; of unskilled blue-collar workers, 66 percent had "low"
More voters than ever before refused to identify themselves
as either Democrats or Republicans. Back in 1940, 20 percent of
those polled called themselves "independents." In 1974,
34 percent called themselves "independents. "
The courts, the juries, and even judges were not behaving
as usual. Juries were acquitting radicals: Angela Davis, an acknowledged
Communist, was acquitted by an all-white jury on the West Coast.
Black Panthers, whom the government had tried in every way to
malign and destroy, were freed by juries in several trials. A
judge in western Massachusetts threw out a case against a young
activist, Sam Lovejoy, who had toppled a 500-foot tower erected
by a utility company trying to set up a nuclear plant. In Washington,
D.C., in August 1973, a Superior Court judge refused to sentence
six men charged with unlawful entry who had stepped from a White
House tour line to protest the bombing of Cambodia.
Undoubtedly, much of this national mood of hostility to government
and business came out of the Vietnam war, its 55,000 casualties,
its moral shame, its exposure of government lies and atrocities.
On top of this came the political disgrace of the Nixon administration
in the scandals that came to be known by the one-word label "Watergate,"
and which led to the historic resignation from the presidency-the
first in American history-of Richard Nixon in August 1974.
In the charges brought by the House Committee on Impeachment
against Nixon, it seemed clear that the committee did not want
to emphasize those elements in his behavior which were found in
other Presidents and which might be repeated in the future. It
stayed clear of Nixon's dealings with powerful corporations; it
did not mention the bombing of Cambodia. It concentrated on things
peculiar to Nixon, not on fundamental policies continuous among
American Presidents, at home and abroad.
The word was out: get rid of Nixon, but keep the system. Theodore
Sorensen, who had been an adviser to President Kennedy, wrote
at the time of Watergate: "The underlying causes of the gross
misconduct in our law-enforcement system now being revealed are
largely personal, not institutional. Some structural changes are
needed. All the rotten apples should be thrown out. But save the
Indeed, the barrel was saved. Nixon's foreign policy remained.
The government's connections to corporate interests remained.
Ford's closest friends in Washington were corporate lobbyists.
Alexander Haig, who had been one of Nixon's closest advisers,
who had helped in "processing" the tapes before turning
them over to the public, and who gave the public misinformation
about the tapes, was appointed by President Ford to be head of
the armed forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. One
of Ford's first acts was to pardon Nixon, thus saving him from
possible criminal proceedings and allowing him to retire with
a huge pension in California.
The Establishment had cleansed itself of members of the club
who had broken the rules-but it took some pains not to treat them
too harshly. Those few who received jail sentences got short terms,
were sent to the most easygoing federal institutions available,
and were given special privileges not given to ordinary prisoners.
Richard Kleindienst pleaded guilty; he got a $100 fine and one
month in jail, which was suspended.
That Nixon would go, but that the power of the President to
do anything he wanted in the name of "national security"
would stay- this was underscored by a Supreme Court decision in
July 1974. The Court said Nixon had to turn over his White House
tapes to the special Watergate prosecutor. But at the same time
it affirmed "the confidentiality of Presidential communications,"
which it could not uphold in Nixon's case, but which remained
as a general principle when the President made a "claim of
need to protect military, diplomatic or sensitive national security
The televised Senate Committee hearings on Watergate stopped
suddenly before the subject of corporate connections was reached.
It was typical of the selective coverage of important events by
the television industry: bizarre shenanigans like the Watergate
burglary were given full treatment, while instances of ongoing
practice-the My Lai massacre, the secret bombing of Cambodia,
the work of the FBI and CIA- were given the most fleeting attention.
Dirty tricks against the Socialist Workers party, the Black Panthers,
other radical groups, had to be searched for in a few newspapers.
The whole nation heard the details of the quick break-in at the
Watergate apartment; there was never a similar television hearing
on the long-term break-in in Vietnam.
It was a complex process of consolidation that the system
undertook in 1975. It included old-type military actions, like
the Mayaguez affair, to assert authority in the world and at home.
There was also a need to satisfy a disillusioned public that the
system was criticizing and correcting itself. The standard way
was to conduct publicized investigations that found specific culprits
but left the system intact. Watergate had made both the FBI and
the CIA look bad-breaking the laws they were sworn to uphold,
cooperating with Nixon in his burglary jobs and illegal wiretapping.
In 1975, congressional committees in the House and Senate began
investigations of the FBI and CIA.
The CIA inquiry disclosed that the CIA had gone beyond its
original mission of gathering intelligence and was conducting
secret operations of all kinds. For instance, back in the 1950s,
it had administered the drug LSD to unsuspecting Americans to
test its effects: one American scientist, given such a dose by
a CIA agent, leaped from a New York hotel window to his death
in the 1950s.
The CIA had also been involved in assassination plots against
Castro of Cuba and other heads of state. It had introduced African
swine fever virus into Cuba in 1971, bringing disease and then
slaughter to 500,000 pigs. A CIA operative told a reporter he
delivered the virus from an army base in the Canal Zone to anti-Castro
It was also learned from the investigation that the CIA-with
the collusion of a secret Committee of Forty headed by Henry Kissinger-had
worked to "destabilize" the Chilean government headed
by Salvadore Allende, a Marxist who had been elected president
in one of the rare free elections in Latin America. ITT, with
large interests in Cuba, played a part in this operation. When
in 1974 the American ambassador to Chile, David Popper, suggested
to the Chilean junta (which, with U.S. aid, had overthrown Allende)
that they were violating human rights, he was rebuked by Kissinger,
who sent word: "Tell Pop per to cut out the political science
The investigation of the FBI disclosed many years of illegal
actions to disrupt and destroy radical groups and left-wing groups
of all kinds. The FBI had sent forged letters, engaged in burglaries
(it admitted to ninety-two between 1960 and 1966), opened mail
illegally, and, in the case of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton,
seems to have conspired in murder.
Valuable information came out of the investigations, but it
was just enough, and in just the right way-moderate press coverage,
little television coverage, thick books of reports with limited
readership- to give the impression of an honest society correcting
The investigations themselves revealed the limits of government
willingness to probe into such activities. The Church Committee,
set up by the Senate, conducted its investigations with the cooperation
of the agencies being investigated and, indeed, submitted its
findings on the CIA to the CIA to see if there was material that
the Agency wanted omitted. Thus, while there was much valuable
material in the report, there is no way of knowing how much more
there was-the final report was a compromise between committee
diligence and CIA caution.
The Pike Committee, set up in the House of Representatives,
made no such agreement with the CIA or FBI, and when it issued
its final report, the same House that had authorized its investigation
voted to keep the report secret. When the report was leaked via
a CBS newscaster, Daniel Schorr, to the Village Voice in New York,
it was never printed by the important newspapers in the country-the
Times, the Washington Post, or others. Schorr was suspended by
CBS. It was another instance of cooperation between the mass media
and the government in instances of "national security."
The Church Committee, in its report of CIA attempts to assassinate
Fidel Castro and other foreign leaders, revealed an interesting
point of view. The committee seemed to look on the killing of
a head of state as an unpardonable violation of some gentlemen's
agreement among statesmen, much more deplorable than military
interventions that killed ordinary people. The Committee wrote,
in the introduction to its assassination report:
Once methods of coercion and violence are chosen, the probability
of loss of life is always present. There is, however, a significant
difference between a cold-blooded, targeted, intentional killing
of an individual foreign leader and other forms of intervening
in the affairs of foreign nations.
The Church Committee uncovered CIA operations to secretly
influence the minds of Americans:
"The CIA is now using several hundred American academics
(administrators, faculty members, graduate students engaged in
teaching) who, in addition to providing leads and, on occasion,
making introductions for intelligence purposes, write books and
other material to be used for propaganda purposes abroad.... These
academics are located in over 100 American colleges, universities
and related institutions. At the majority of institutions, no
one other than the individual concerned is aware of the CIA link.
At the others, at least one university official is aware of the
operational use of academics on his campus.... The CIA considers
these operational relationships within the U.S. academic community
as perhaps its most sensitive domestic area and has strict controls
governing these operations....
In 1961 the chief of the CIA's Covert Action Staff wrote that
books were "the most important weapon of strategic propaganda."
The Church Committee found that more than a thousand books were
produced, subsidized, or sponsored by the CIA before the end of
When Kissinger testified before the Church Committee about
the bombing of Laos, orchestrated by the CIA as a secret activity,
he said: "I do not believe in retrospect that it was a good
national policy to have the CIA conduct the war in Laos. I think
we should have found some other way of doing it." There was
no indication that anyone on the Committee challenged this idea-that
what was done should have been done, but by another method.
Thus, in 1974-1975, the system was acting to purge the country
of its rascals and restore it to a healthy, or at least to an
acceptable, state. The resignation of Nixon, the succession of
Ford, the exposure of bad deeds by the FBI and CIA-all aimed to
regain the badly damaged confidence of the American people. However,
even with these strenuous efforts, there were still many signs
in the American public of suspicion, even hostility, to the leaders
of government, military, big business.
In the year 1976, with a presidential election approaching,
there was worry in the Establishment about the public's faith
in the system. William Simon, Secretary of the Treasury under
both Nixon and Ford (before then an investment banker earning
over $2 million a year), spoke in the fall of 1976 to a Business
Council meeting in Hot Springs, Virginia. He said that when "so
much of the world is lurching towards socialism or totalitarianism"
it was urgent to make the American business system understood,
because "private enterprise is losing by default-in many
of our schools, in much of the communications media, and in a
growing portion of the public consciousness." His speech
could well be taken to represent the thinking of the American
Vietnam, Watergate, student unrest, shifting moral codes,
the worst recession in a generation, and a number of other jarring
cultural shocks have all combined to create a new climate of questions
and doubt.... It all adds up to a general malaise, a society-wide
crisis of institutional confidence....
Too often, Simon said, Americans "have been taught to
distrust the very word profit and the profit motive that makes
our prosperity possible, to somehow feel this system, that has
done more to alleviate human suffering and privation than any
other, is somehow cynical, selfish, and amoral." We must,
Simon said, "get across the human side of capitalism."
As the United States prepared in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial
of the Declaration of Independence, a group of intellectuals and
political leaders from Japan, the United States, and Western Europe,
organized into "The Trilateral Commission," issued a
report. It was entitled "The Governability of Democracies."
Samuel Huntington, a political science professor at Harvard University
and long-time consultant to the White House on the war in Vietnam,
wrote the part of the report that dealt with the United States.
He called it "The Democratic Distemper" and identified
the problem he was about to discuss: "The 1960's witnessed
a dramatic upsurge of democratic fervor in America." In the
sixties, Huntington wrote, there was a huge growth of citizen
participation "in the forms of marches, demonstrations, protest
movements, and 'cause' organizations." There were also "markedly
higher levels of self consciousness on the part of blacks, Indians,
Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students and women, all of whom
became mobilized and organized in new ways...." There was
a "marked expansion of white collar unionism," and all
this added up to "a reassertion of equality as a goal in
social, economic and political life."
Huntington pointed to the signs of decreasing government authority:
The great demands in the sixties for equality had transformed
the federal budget. In 1960 foreign affairs spending was 53.7
percent of the budget, and social spending was 22.3 percent. By
1974 foreign affairs took 33 percent and social spending 31 percent.
This seemed to reflect a change in public mood: In 1960 only 18
percent of the public said the government was spending too much
on defense, but in 1969 this jumped to 52 percent.
Huntington was troubled by what he saw:
"The essence of the democratic surge of the 1960's was
a general challenge to existing systems of
authority, public and private. In one form or another, this
challenge manifested itself in the family, the university, business,
public and private associations, politics, the governmental bureaucracy,
and the military services. People no longer felt the same obligation
to obey those whom they had previously considered superior to
themselves in age, rank, status, expertise, character, or talents."
All this, he said, "produced problems for the governability
of democracy in the 1970's...."
Critical in all this was the decline in the authority of the
"To the extent that the United States was governed by
anyone during the decades after World War Il, it was governed
by the President acting with the support and cooperation of key
individuals and groups in the executive office, the federal bureaucracy,
Congress, and the more important businesses, banks, law firms,
foundations, and media, which constitute the private sector's
This was probably the frankest statement ever made by an Establishment
Huntington further said that the President, to win the election,
needed the support of a broad coalition of people. However: "The
day after his election, the size of his majority is almost-if
not entirely- irrelevant to his ability to govern the country.
What counts then is his ability to mobilize support from the leaders
of key institutions in a society and government.... This coalition
must include key people in Congress, the executive branch, and
the private-sector 'Establishment.'" He gave examples:
"Truman made a point of bringing a substantial number
of non-partisan soldiers, Republican bankers, and Wall Street
lawyers into his Administration. He went to the existing sources
of power in the country to get help he needed in ruling the country.
Eisenhower in part inherited this coalition and was in part almost
its creation.... Kennedy attempted to recreate a somewhat similar
structure of alliances."
What worried Huntington was the loss in governmental authority.
For instance, the opposition to Vietnam had brought the abolition
of the draft. "The question necessarily arises, however,
whether if a new threat to security should materialize in the
future (as it inevitably will at some point), the government will
possess the authority to command the resources, as well as the
sacrifices, which are necessary to meet that threat."
Huntington saw the possible end of that quarter century when
"the United States was the hegemonic power in a system of
world order." His conclusion was that there had developed
"an excess of democracy," and he suggested "desirable
limits to the extension of political democracy."
... The Trilateral Commission was organized in early 1973
by David Rockefeller and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Rockefeller was
an official of the Chase Manhattan Bank and a powerful financial
figure in the United States and the world; Brzezinski, a Columbia
University professor, specialized in international relations and
was a consultant to the State Department. As reported in the Far
Eastern Economic Review (March 25, 1977) by Robert Manning:
The initiative for the Commission came entirely from Rockefeller.
According to George Franklin, the Commission's executive secretary,
Rockefeller "was getting worried about the deteriorating
relations between the United States, Europe and Japan." Franklin
explained that Rockefeller began to present his ideas to another
elite fraternity: . . . at the Bilderberg Group-a very distinguished
Anglo-American group which has been meeting for a long time- Mike
Blumenthal said he thought things were in a very serious condition
in the world and couldn't some kind of private group do more about
it? . . . So then David again made his proposal . . . Then Brzezinski,
a close friend of Rockefeller's, carried the Rockefeller-funded
ball and organized the Commission.
It seems probable that the "very serious condition"
mentioned as the reason for the Trilateral Commission was the
need for greater unity among Japan, Western Europe, and the United
States in the face of a much more complicated threat to tri-continental
capitalism than a monolithic Communism: revolutionary movements
in the Third World. These movements had directions of their own.
The Trilateral Commission wanted also to deal with another
situation. Back in 1967, George Ball, who had been Undersecretary
of State for economic affairs in the Kennedy administration and
who was director of Lehman Brothers, a large investment banking
firm, told members of the International Chamber of Commerce:
"In these twenty postwar years, we have come to recognize
in action, though not always in words, that the political boundaries
of nation-states are too narrow and constricted to define the
scope and activities of modern business."
To show the growth of international economics for United States
corporations, one would only have to note the situation in banking.
In 1960 there were eight United States banks with foreign branches;
in 1974 there were 129. The assets of these overseas branches
amounted to $3.5 billion in 1960, $155 billion in 1974.
The Trilateral Commission apparently saw itself as helping
to create the necessary international links for the new multinational
economy. Its members came from the highest circles of politics,
business, and the media in Western Europe, Japan, and the United
States. They were from Chase Manhattan, Lehman Brothers, Bank
of America, Banque de Paris, Lloyd's of London, Bank of Tokyo,
etc. Oil, steel, auto, aeronautic, and electric industries were
represented Other members were from Time magazine, the Washington
Post, the Columbia Broadcasting System, Die Zeit, the Japan Times,
The Economist of London, and more.
History of the United States