The End of the Vietnam War and the Uphill Fight in Congress for a Peace Dividend
AbstractCold War historians tend to overlook Congress’s role in shaping U.S. foreign policy, focusing instead on the executive branch. As a result, scholars have not sufficiently scrutinized the legislature’s influence on foreign relations. The 1970s saw the rise of an unusually activist Congress after public trust in the presidency eroded due to the combination of the unpopular Vietnam War and the extended political fallout from President Nixon’s Watergate scandal. This article helps fill in the historiographic gap by honing in on a specific political flashpoint in the House over the military budget for 1974. In 1973, a bipartisan coalition of Congress members tried to find a “peace dividend” in the budget by making significant cuts to Pentagon appropriations for the following year. This effort broadly polarized the House into a dovish faction and a hawkish faction, each coalescing around a charismatic leader. The doves followed the lead of Congressman Les Aspin (D-WI), while the pro-war House members rallied around Congressman F. Edward Hébert (D-LA). Government records, the memoirs of many of the legislators involved, and Congressman Hébert’s personal records, a part of Tulane University’s Louisiana Research collection, reveal the budget fight’s important implications concerning the history of the U.S. militarism.
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