Vietnam, Watergate, Iran and the 1970s

Student Anti-Vietnam Rally, 1968
A student anti-Vietnam rally, 1968.

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The 1970s mean two things to many Americans: the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Both dominated the front pages of every newspaper in the country for a good part of the early '70s. American troops left Vietnam in 1973, but the last Americans there were airlifted off the roof of the American Embassy in April 1975 as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese.

The Watergate scandal ended with the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in August 1974, leaving the nation stunned and cynical about government. But popular music played on everyone's radio, and the young felt liberated from social conventions of previous decades as the youth rebellion of the late 1960s bore fruit. The decade closed with 52 American hostages being held for 444 days in Iran, starting on Nov. 4, 1979, only to be released as Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president on Jan. 20, 1981.


Watch Now: A Brief History of the 1970s


Aswan Dam of Egypt in the 20th century
Aswan Dam in Egypt.

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In May 1970, the Vietnam War was raging on, and President Richard Nixon invaded Cambodia. On May 4, 1970, students at Kent State University in Ohio staged protests that included setting fire to the ROTC building. The Ohio National Guard was called in, and the guardsmen fired on the student protesters, killing four and injuring nine.

In sad news for many, The Beatles announced they were breaking up. As a sign of things to come, computer floppy disks made their first appearance.

The Aswan High Dam on the Nile, under construction throughout the 1960s, opened in Egypt.


Using videoscope

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In 1971, a relatively quiet year, London Bridge was brought to the U.S. and reassembled in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and VCRs, those magical electronic devices that allowed you to watch movies at home anytime you like or record TV shows, were introduced. 


Police officer testifying during the Watergate Hearings

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In 1972, major news was made at the Olympic Games in Munich: Terrorists killed two Israelis and took nine hostages, a firefight ensued, and all nine Israelis were killed along with five of the terrorists. At the same Olympic Games, Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in swimming, a world record at that time.

The Watergate scandal began with the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in June 1972.

The good news: "M*A*S*H" premiered on television, and pocket calculators became a reality, making struggles with calculation a thing of the past.


Moving Mural by Alexander Calder being dedicated
Alexander Calder's moving mural in the lobby of the Sears Tower during dedication.

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In 1973, the Supreme Court made abortion legal in the United States with its landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Skylab, America's first space station, was launched; the U.S. pulled its last troops out of Vietnam, and Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned under a cloud of scandal.​

The Sears Tower was completed in Chicago and became the tallest building in the world; it kept that title for nearly 25 years. Now called the Willis Tower, it is the second-tallest building in the United States.


Tourists reading Nixon resignation headline

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In 1974, heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, who demanded a ransom in the form of a food giveaway by her father, newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst. The ransom was paid, but Hearst was not freed. In tantalizing developments, she ultimately joined her captors and assisted in robberies and professed to have joined the group. She was later captured, tried and convicted. She served 21 months of a seven-year sentence, which was commuted by President Jimmy Carter. She was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

In August 1974, the Watergate scandal reached its climax with the resignation of President Richard Nixon in the wake of impeachment in the House of Representatives; he resigned to avoid conviction by the Senate.

Other events in that year include the deposing of Ethiopian Emperor Halie Selassie, the defection of Mikhail Baryshnikov to the U.S. from Russia, and the killing spree of serial killer Ted Bundy.


Arthur Ashe hitting a backhand shot
Arthur Ashe hitting a backhand shot at Wimbledon.

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In April 1975, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, ending years of American presence in South Vietnam. There was ​a civil war in Lebanon, the Helsinki Accords were signed, and Pol Pot became the Communist dictator of Cambodia.

There were two assassination attempts against President Gerald R. Ford, and former Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa went missing and has never been found.

The good news: Arthur Ashe became the first African-American man to win Wimbledon, Microsoft was founded, and "Saturday Night Live" premiered.


An Apple-1 computer with visible motherboard
An Apple-1 computer, built in 1976, at auction.

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In 1976, the serial killer David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam, terrorized New York City in a killing spree that would ultimately claim six lives. The Tangshan earthquake killed more than 240,000 in China, and the first ebola virus outbreaks hit Sudan and Zaire.

North and South Vietnam reunited as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Apple Computers was founded, and "The Muppet Show" premiered on TV and made everyone laugh out loud. 


Headlines After Elvis' Death

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Elvis Presley was found dead in his home in Memphis in what was possibly the most shocking news of 1977.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline was finished, the landmark miniseries "Roots" riveted the nation for eight hours over one week, and the seminal movie "Star Wars" premiered.


Pope John Paul II in Strasbourg

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In 1978, the first test-tube baby was born, John Paul II became the Pope of the Roman Catholic Chuch, and the Jonestown massacre stunned just about everyone.


Iran hostage crisis
Taking of US hostages in Iran.

Sygma via Getty Images/Getty Images

The biggest story of 1979 happened late in the year: In November, 52 American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage in Tehran, Iran, and were held for 444 days, until the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan on Jan. 20, 1981. 

There was a major nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister of Britain, and Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sony introduced the Walkman, allowing everyone to take their favorite music everywhere.

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Vietnam, Watergate, Iran and the 1970s." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2021, September 9). Vietnam, Watergate, Iran and the 1970s. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Vietnam, Watergate, Iran and the 1970s." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).