Something was terribly wrong in America in the 1970s.
The United States was supposed to be a superpower, yet American forces proved powerless to stop a tiny guerrilla force in Vietnam. Support for Israel in the Middle East led to a rash of terrorism against American citizens traveling abroad, as well a punitive oil embargo that stifled the economy and forced American motorists to wait hours for their next tank of gasoline.
A hostile new government in Iran held fifty-two American citizens hostage before the eyes of the incredulous world. The détente with the Soviet Union of the Nixon years dissolved into bitter animosity when a second arms control agreement failed in the Senate and a Soviet army of invasion marched into Afghanistan. The United States military juggernaut seemed to have reached its limits.
At home, the news was no better. The worst political scandal in United States history forced a president to resign before facing certain impeachment. Months of investigation turned into years of untangling a web of government deceit. Details of illegal, unethical, and immoral acts by members of the White House staff covered the nation's newspapers. Upon resignation, the president was granted a full and complete pardon. Many Americans wondered what happened to justice and accountability.
The booming economy sputtered to a halt. Inflation approached 20% and unemployment neared 10% — a combination previously thought to be impossible. Crime rates rose as tales of the decaying inner cities fell on deaf ears. A nuclear disaster of unspeakable proportions was barely averted at the Three Mile Island fission plant in Pennsylvania.
Many Americans coped with the current ailments by turning inward. Outlandish fashion and outrageous fads such as streaking, mood rings, and pet rocks became common. Younger Americans finished their workweeks and sought escape in discotheques. Controversy surrounding "decaying morality" surfaced with regard to increased drug use, sexual promiscuity, and a rising divorce rate. As a result, a powerful religious movement turned political in the hopes of changing directions toward a more innocent time.
The United States celebrated its bicentennial anniversary in 1976 without the expected accompanying optimism. Instead, while many reflected on the past laurels of American success, an overarching question was on the minds of the American people: what had gone wrong?