The Civil War was characterized by a lot of changes in American society and its politics, more than any other event in the history of the United States. Of all the experiences endured by the generations of Americans, The Civil war was the most traumatizing, with over 620,000 soldiers losing their lives in the war. This equated to 2 percent of the American population at the time. To have a similar percentage of Americans lose their lives today would mean killing over 6 million Americans. A single day at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, saw the death rate of Americans to be four times larger than the number killed and wounded on D day, June 6, 1944, at the Normandy beaches. The number of Americans killed in action in Sharpsburg, Maryland, that September was more than all the lives lost at the battle fought by the United States all through the 19th century (Adams, 2020).
In 1861, the United States went to war in a bid to protect the Union, however, in 1865 it came out from the war as a single nation. Before the war commenced in 1861, the two words the United States signified was a plural noun referring to the United States as a republic. Following the war, in 1865 the United States was adopted as a singular noun. The weak union-made by the states was replaced by one powerful nation, this transition was marked by wartime speeches by Abraham Lincoln. When addressing congress on July 4, 1861, he mentioned the word nation only three times, but stressed the word union for about thirty two times during his speech. These indicated the concept of nationhood developing among the thinkers at the time. In November 1863, during the Gettysburg address, he abandoned the use of union and instead spoke of the nation five times to catalyze the concept of freedom and nationhood.
The unification of the states to form one nation was a gradual process, and the Federal government had taken time to steadily allocate itself more power while stripping the states of the same. Following the end of the Civil War, the United States rapidly advanced its centralization of power and permanently enforced this feature in American political life from then forth. Since then, various governments have devolved certain powers to the states, for instance, welfare provisions. However, this has been done on a piecemeal basis, with the real power still maintained by the federal government. The unification of the states to form one nation is the Civil War’s most abiding legacies. It was fundamental in altering the constitutional and political balance from the states to the Federal government.
The Vietnam War
The prolonged duration of the Vietnam War increased the number of American casualties, which resulted in a more pessimistic view on war as well as the government by Americans. The conscription of civilians into the military, also known as the Draft, became quite unpopular for various factors. First, the draft was avoided by wealthy Americans through the payment of time in college, consequently leaving the burden of recruiting more military personnel to minority communities and lower-income groups. Similarly, they used the timely and self-imposed injury to result in the recruitment doctor to classify one as unfit for duty. Some of them headed north to Canada while others journeyed to the west coast to British Columbia, a famous spot for those dodging the draft. The consequences of the Vietnam War to the United States were far-reaching. The congress replaced the military draft with a force made up of volunteers as well as minimizing the voting age to 18 years. The war formed the basis of the congress to attack the president’s imperial demeanor, using the War Powers Act, the congress restricted the president’s ability to deploy American forces into war without congress explicitly approving the move. The Vietnam War left severe damage to the United States economy. Not wanting to raise taxes to finance the war, President Johnson resorted to unleashing an inflation cycle (Nguyen, 2016).
Additionally, the Americans’ trust in government and politicians completely evaporated following the Vietnam War. When the Pentagon Papers were released in 1970, there was testimony to the misleading information provided by American presidents from the 1950s onward. They had exaggerated the American interests in Vietnam and misled the public. The Watergate scandal dented a further blow to the Americans’ trust in the government and the politicians. It was a revelation of high-level federal officials and President Nixon’s illegal acts. America’s military morale was weakened and undermined for a while following the war and it also affected the country’s commitment to internationalism. Americans believed that the Pentagon had altered the casualty figures on the enemy to hide the fact that the two militaries had reached a stalemate. All throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the country was not ready to get involved in any war, fearing it may play out as the Vietnam War did. The Americans’ fear of war casualties led to the enactment of guidelines to review the sending of American forces abroad.
The Democratic Party was deeply split following the Vietnam War. The prosecution resulting from the war did away with several blue-collar Democrats who turned political independents while others joined the Republicans. The party was weakened due to American rioting to have the troops withdrawn, and the high inflation rates because of the war. Those that had supported the party, felt that after the Vietnam War, the party was largely made up of an anti-war faction that was weak when it came to implementing American foreign policy and instilling America in its right position globally as the world leader in military might. Liberal reforms were deeply undermined by the Vietnam War, this made many Americans develop suspicions of the government. The Great Society programs by President Johnson collided with the war for the utilization of the scarce resources. Ultimately, those constituencies scheduled to support the liberal social programs opposed by the president due to the war. The American baby boomer generation grew more cynical and trusted the government much less.