The Anti-Vietnam War movement began slowly and in small numbers in 1964 on various college campuses in the United States. This happened during a time of unprecedented Students for a Democratic Society reinforced in numbers by the demographically significant baby boomers. The growing opposition to the Vietnam War was also partly attributed to greater access to uncensored information compared with previous wars and extensive television media coverage. By the end of the war in 1973, due to the reality of escalating U.S. casualties and the growing feeling that the war itself could not be won, the majority of Americans were opposed to the war.
Polarization and protest
The U.S. became polarized over the war. Many supporters of U.S. involvement argued for what was known as the Domino Theory, which held that if the South fell to communist guerillas, other nations, primarily in Southeast Asia, would succumb in short succession, much like falling dominoes. Military critics of the war pointed out that the conflict was political and that the military mission lacked clear objectives. Civilian critics of the war argued that the government of South Vietnam lacked political legitimacy, or that support for the war was immoral. President Johnson's undersecretary of state, George Ball, was one of the lone voices in his administration advising against war in Vietnam.
Gruesome images of two anti-war activists who set themselves on fire in November 1965 provided iconic images of how strongly some people felt that the war was immoral. On November 2, 32-year-old Quaker member Norman Morrison set himself on fire in front of The Pentagon and, on November 9, 22-year old Catholic Worker Movement member Roger Allen LaPorte did the same thing in front of the United Nations building. Both protests were conscious imitations of earlier (and ongoing) Buddhist protests in South Vietnam itself.
Protests against the Vietnam War took place in the 1960s and 1970s. The protests were part of a movement in oppositon to the Vietnam War and took place mainly in the U.S.A.
- Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) refused to go to war, famously stating that he had "got nothing against no Viet Cong." According to a writer for Sports Illustrated, the governor of Illinois called Ali "disgusting" and the governor of Maine said that Ali "should be held in utter contempt by every patriotic American." In 1967 he was sentenced to 5 years in prison, but was released on appeal.
- On June 1 Vietnam Veterans Against the War was born. Jan Barry Crumb participated in a protest on April 7 called the "Fifth Avenue Peace Parade" in New York City. On May 30 Crumb and ten like-minded men attended a peace demonstration in Washington D.C.
- In the summer of 1967, Neil Armstrong and various other NASA officials began a tour of South America to raise awarness for space travel. According to First Man, a biography of Armstrong's life, during the tour, several college students protested the astronaut, and shouted such phrases as "Murderers get out of Vietnam!" and other anti-Vietnam War messages.
- Kent State/Cambodia Incursion Protest, Washington, D.C. A week after the Kent State Shootings, on May 4, 100,000 anti-war demonstrators converged on Washington, D.C. to protest the shooting of the students in Ohio and the Nixon administration's incursion into Cambodia. Even though the demostration was quickly put together, protestors were still able to bring out thousands to march in the Capital. It was an almost spontaneus reponse to the events of the previous week. Police ringed the White House with buses to block the demonstrators from getting too close to the executive mansion. Early in the morning before the march, Nixon met with protestors briefly at the Lincoln Memorial but nothing was resolved and the protest went on as planned.
- The Chicano Moratorium: on August 29, 1970, 25,000 Mexican-Americans participated in the largest antiwar demonstration in Los Angeles. Police attacked with clubs and guns. Three people were killed. Ruben Salazar, KMEX|TV news director and LA Times reporter was killed.
Common slogans and chants
- The slogan "One, two, three, four! We don't want your profanity/fucking war!" was chanted repeatedly at demonstrations throughout the U.S. in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
- "Draft Beer, not boys", "Hell no, we won't go", "Make love, not war" and "Eighteen today, dead tomorrow" were a few of the anti war slogans.
- "Love our country", "America, love it or leave it" and "No glory like old glory" are examples of pro-war slogans.
There are many other pro- and anti- war slogans, however the mere informational use of those are very small.
The growing anti-war movement alarmed many in the US government. On August 16, 1966 the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began investigations of Americans who were suspected of aiding the NLF, with the intent to introduce legislation making these activities illegal. Anti-war demonstrators disrupted the meeting and 50 were arrested.
On February 1, 1968, a suspected NLF officer was summarily executed by General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, a South Vietnamese National Police Chief. Loan shot the suspect in the head on a public street in front of journalists. The execution was filmed and photographed and provided another iconic image that helped sway public opinion in the United States against the war.
On October 15, 1969, hundreds of thousands of people took part in National Moratorium antiwar demonstrations across the United States; the demonstrations prompted many workers to call in sick from their jobs and adolescents nationwide engaged in truancy from school - although the proportion of individuals doing either who actually participated in the demonstrations is in doubt. A second round of "Moratorium" demonstrations was held on November 15, but was less well-attended.
The U.S. realized that the South Vietnamese government needed a solid base of popular support if it was to survive the insurgency. In order to pursue this goal of winning the "Hearts and Minds" of the Vietnamese people, units of the United States Army, referred to as "Civil Affairs" units, were extensively utilized for the first time for this purpose since World War II.
Civil Affairs units, while remaining armed and under direct military control, engaged in what came to be known as "nation building": constructing (or reconstructing) schools, public buildings, roads and other physical infrastructure; conducting medical programs for civilians who had no access to medical facilities; facilitating cooperation among local civilian leaders; conducting hygiene and other training for civilians; and similar activities.
This policy of attempting to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people, however, often was at odds with other aspects of the war which served to antagonize many Vietnamese civilians. These policies included the emphasis on "body count" as a way of measuring military success on the battlefield, the bombing of villages (symbolized by journalist Peter Arnett's famous quote, "it was necessary to destroy the village in order to save it"), and the killing of civilians in such incidents as the My Lai massacre. In 1974 the documentary "Hearts and Minds" sought to portray the devastation the war was causing to the South Vietnamese people, and won an Academy Award for best documentary amid considerable controversy. The South Vietnamese government also antagonized many of its citizens with its suppression of political opposition, through such measures as holding large numbers of political prisoners, torturing political opponents, and holding a one-man election for President in 1971.
Despite the increasingly depressing news on the war, many Americans continued to support President Johnson's endeavors. Aside from the domino theory mentioned above, there was a feeling that the goal of preventing a communist takeover of a pro-Western government in South Vietnam was a noble objective. Many Americans were also concerned about saving face in the event of disengaging from the war or, as President Richard M. Nixon later put it, "achieving Peace with Honor". In addition, instances of Viet Cong atrocities were widely reported, most notably in an article that appeared in Reader's Digest in 1968 entitled The Blood-Red Hands of Ho Chi Minh.
However, anti-war feelings also began to rise. Many Americans opposed the war on moral grounds, seeing it as a destructive war against Vietnamese independence, or as intervention in a foreign civil war; others opposed it because they felt it lacked clear objectives and appeared to be unwinnable. Some anti-war activists were themselves Vietnam Veterans, as evidenced by the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Some of the Americans opposed to the Vietnam War, as for instance Jane Fonda, stressed their support for ordinary Vietnamese civilians struck by a war beyond their influence.
In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson began his re-election campaign. A member of his own party, Eugene McCarthy, ran against him for the nomination on an antiwar platform. McCarthy did not win the first primary election in New Hampshire, but he did surprisingly well against an incumbent. The resulting blow to the Johnson campaign, taken together with other factors, led the President to make a surprise announcement in a March 31 televised speech that he was pulling out of the race. He also announced the initiation of the Paris Peace Accords with Vietnam in that speech. Then, on August 4, 1969, US representative Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese representative Xuan Thuy began secret peace negotiations at the apartment of French intermediary Jean Sainteny in Paris. The negotiations eventually failed, however.
Seizing the opportunity caused by Johnson's departure from the race, Robert Kennedy then joined in and ran for the nomination on an antiwar platform. Johnson's vice president, Hubert Humphrey, also ran for the nomination, promising to continue to support the South Vietnamese government.
Conscription, student deferments and draft dodging
See also: Kent State shootings
"The draft" initiated protests when on October 15, 1965 the student-run National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam staged the first public burning of a draft card in the United States. At that time, only a fraction of all men of draft age were actually conscripted, but the Selective Service System office ("Draft Board") in each locality had broad discretion on whom to draft and whom to exempt where there was no clear guideline for exemption. The charges of unfairness led to the institution of a draft lottery for the year 1970 in which a young man's birthday determined his relative risk of being drafted (September 14 was the birthday at the top of the draft list for 1970; the following year July 9 held this distinction).
The first draft lottery since World War II in the United States was held on December 1, 1969 and was met with large protests and a great deal of controversy; statistical analysis indicated that the methodology of the lotteries unintentionally disadvantaged men with late year birthdays. This issue was treated at length in a January 4, 1970 New York Times article titled "Statisticians Charge Draft Lottery Was Not Random".
Thousands of young American men chose exile in Canada or Sweden rather than risk conscription. The Japanese anti-war group Beheiren helped some American soldiers to desert and hide from the military in Japan.
In order to gain an exemption or deferment many men obtained student deferments by attending college, though they would have to remain in college until their 26th birthday to be certain of avoiding the draft. Some got married, which remained an exemption throughout the war. Some men found sympathetic doctors who would claim a medical basis for applying for a 4F (medically unfit) exemption, though Army doctors could and did make their own judgments. Still others joined the United States National Guard or entered the Peace Corps as a way of avoiding Vietnam. All of these issues raised concerns about the fairness of who got selected for involuntary service, since it was often the poor or those without connections who were drafted. Ironically, in light of modern political issues, a certain exemption was a convincing claim of homosexuality, but very few men attempted this because of the stigma involved.
Even many of those who never received a deferment or exemption never served, simply because the pool of eligible men was so huge compared to the number required for service, that the draft boards never got around to drafting them when a new crop of men became available (until 1969) or because they had high lottery numbers (1970 and later).
Of those soldiers who served during the war, there was increasing opposition to the conflict amongst GIs, which resulted in fragging and many other activities which hampered the US's ability to wage war effectively.
Most of those subjected to the draft were too young to vote or drink in most states, and the image of young people being forced to risk their lives in the military without the privileges of enfranchisement or the ability to drink alcohol legally also successfully pressured legislators to lower the voting age nationally and the drinking age in many states.
Some Americans who were not subject to the draft protested the conscription of their tax dollars for the war effort. War tax resistance, once mostly isolated to solitary anarchists like Henry David Thoreau and religious pacifists like the Quakers, became a more mainstream protest tactic. As of 1972, an estimated 200,000-500,000 Americans were refusing to pay the excise taxes on their telephone bills, and another 20,000 were resisting part or all of their income tax bills. Among the tax resisters were Joan Baez and Noam Chomsky.
On April 22, 1971, recent presidential candidate John Kerry became the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress about the war, when he appeared before a Senate committee hearing on proposals relating to ending the war. He spoke for nearly two hours with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in what has been named the Fulbright Hearing, after the Chairman of the proceedings, Senator J. William Fulbright. Kerry presented the conclusions of the Winter Soldier Investigation, where veterans had described personally committing or witnessing war crimes.
Opposition to the Vietnam War in Australia followed along similar lines to the United States, particularly with opposition to conscription. While Australian disengagement began in August 1971 under Prime Minister John Gorton, it was not until the election of Gough Whitlam in 1972 that conscription ended.
- Civil disobedience
- Opposition to the Iraq War
- Protests against the Vietnam War
- List of protest marches on Washington, DC
- May Day Protests 1971, Washington, D.C.
- Social Activism Sound Recording Project: Anti-Vietnam War Protests in the San Francisco Bay Area & Beyond Includes chronology, texts, online audio and video (via UC Berkeley)
- Sir, No Sir! - Documentary on GI resistance during the Vietnam war.
- GI resistance during the Vietnam war
- Book excerpt of student seizure of WSU in Detroit.
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