Vietnam Anti War Movement Essay


Vietnam - Anti War Movement - War Protests


The U.S. anti-war movement was the most significant movement of its kind in the nation\'s history.
The United States first became directly involved in Vietnam in 1950
when President Harry Truman started to underwrite the costs of
France\'s war against the Viet Minh. Later, the presidencies of Dwight
Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy increased the US\'s political, economic,
and military commitments steadily throughout the fifties and early
sixties in the Indochina region. Prominent senators had already begun
criticizing American involvement in Vietnam during the summer of
1964, which led to the mass antiwar movement that was to appear in the
summer of 1965. This antiwar movement had a great impact on policy and
practically forced the US out of Vietnam.

Starting with teach-ins during the spring of 1965, the massive
antiwar efforts centered on the colleges, with the students playing
leading roles. These teach-ins were mass public demonstrations,
usually held in the spring and fall seasons. By 1968, protesters
numbered almost seven million with more than half being white youths
in the college. The teach-in movement was at first, a gentle approach
to the antiwar activity. Although, it faded when the college students
went home during the summer of 1965, other types of protest that grew
through 1971 soon replaced it. All of these movements captured the
attention of the White House, especially when 25,000 people marched on
Washington Avenue. And at times these movements attracted the interest
of all the big decision-makers and their advisors (Gettleman, 54).

The teach-ins began at the University of Michigan on March 24,
1965, and spread to other campuses, including Wisconsin on April 1.
These protests at some of America\'s finest universities captured
public attention. The Demonstrations were one form of attempting to go
beyond mere words and research and reason, and to put direct pressure
on those who were conducting policy in apparent disdain for the will
expressed by the voters (Spector, 30-31). Within the US government,
some saw these teach-ins as an important development that might slow
down on further escalation in Vietnam. Although several hundred
colleges experienced teach-ins, most campuses were untouched by this

Nevertheless, the teach-ins did concern the administration and
contributed to President Johnson\'s decision to present a major Vietnam
address at Johns Hopkins University on April 7, 1965. The address
tried to respond to the teach-ins campus protest activity. The Johns
Hopkins speech was the first major example of the impact of antiwar.
Johnson was trying to stabilize public opinion while the campuses were
bothering the government.

In 1965, the US started strategically bombing parts of
Northern Vietnam, catalyzing the antiwar movement public opinion of
what was going on in Indochina. These bombings spawned the antiwar
movement and sustained it, especially as the North Vietnamese leader
Ho Chi Minh refused to listen to American demands (VN History and
Politics). The antiwar movement would have emerged alone by the
bombings, and the growing cost of American lives coming home in body
bags only intensified public opposition to the war (VN H. and P.).
This movement against the Northern bombings, and domestic critics in
general, played a role in the decision to announce a bombing pause
from May 12 to the 17, of 1965.

Antiwar activists carried on through the pause with their own
programs, and the scattered teach-ins had become more of a problem for
President Johnson when their organizers joined in an unofficial group,
the Inter-University Committee for a Public Hearing on Vietnam. This
new committee began planning a nationwide teach-in to be conducted on
television and radio, of which would be a debate between protesters
and administrators of the government. The antiwar movement, through
the national teach-in, contributed to the resignations of many
government officials, including the resignation of McGeorge Bundy in
early 1966. This well-publicized debate made the antiwar effort more

As supporters of the war found themselves more popular, they
were driven increasingly to rely on equating their position with
\"support for our boys in Vietnam.\" (Brown, 34). The antiwar movement
spread directly among the combat troops in Vietnam, who began to wear
peace symbols and flash peace signs and movement salutes. Some units
even organized their own demonstrations to link up with the movement
at home (Schlight, 45). For example, to join the November 1969 antiwar
Mobilization, a unit boycotted its Thanksgiving Day dinner (Schlight,
45). One problem of the antiwar movement was the difficulty of finding
ways to move beyond protest and symbolic acts to deeds that would
actually impede the war. Unlike college students and other civilians,
the troops in Vietnam had no such problem. Individual acts of
rebellion, raging from desertion to killing officers who ordered
search-and-destroy missions, merged into mutinies and large-scale
resistance. (Sclight, 45).

Between the late summer of 1965 and the fall of 1966, the
American military effort in Vietnam accelerated from President
Johnson\'s decisions. The number of air sorties over Northern Vietnam
now increased again, from 25,000 in 1965 to 79,000 in 1966. The
antiwar movement grew slowly during this period and so did the number
of critics in Congress and the media. A ban on picketing the White
House was recommended. Instead, President Johnson and later Nixon
combated the picketers through a variety of legal and illegal
harassment, including limiting their numbers in certain venues and
demanding letter-perfect permits for every activity. (Gettleman, 67).
The picketers were a constant battle, which the presidents could never
claim total victory.

By 1967, US military authority was breaking apart. Not only
was it the worst year for President Johnson\'s term, but also one of
the most turbulent years in all of American history. The war in
Southeast Asia and the war at home in the streets and the campuses
dominated the headlines and the attention of the White House. To make
matters worse, 1967 witnessed more urban riots; the most deadly of
which took place in Detroit. It was also the year of the hippies, the
drugs, and a wholesale assault on morality and values; and all of
these singular happenings were magnified by the media. (VN H. and P.).
The antiwar effort was crippling Johnson\'s presidency and paralyzing
the nation.

Now the war was becoming more unpopular at home. By the middle
of 1967, many Americans began telling that the original involvement in
Vietnam had been a costly mistake. And for Johnson, only a little more
than a quarter of the population approved of his handling the war in
1968. Many of those fed up at home were the hawks. The hawks were the
group of people that supported the war. They wanted to remove the
shackles from the generals and continue the bombings over Vietnam.
However, Johnson\'s critics among the doves were far more troubling.
The doves were usually blue-collar workers and wanted to end Vietnam
immediately. In the first place, they were far more vocal and visible
than the hawks, appearing at large, well-organized demonstrations.
Even more disconcerting were the continuing defections from the media
and the Democratic Party. The antiwar movement that began as a small
trickle had now became a flood (Small, 101). The most important
antiwar event of 1967 was the March on the Pentagon in October, which
was turning point for the Johnson administration. With public support
for Johnson\'s conduct of the war fading, the president fought back by
overselling modest gains that his military commanders claimed to be
making. This overselling of the war\'s progress played a major role in
creating the domestic crisis produced by the Tet Offensive in early
1968, sparked from the protesters\' actions. Although these marchers
were unable to levitate the besieged Pentagon, their activities
ultimately contributed to the redirection of the American policy in
Vietnam by 1968-and the destruction of the presidency of Lyndon
Johnson (VN H. and P.).

Johnson finally realized-the energized antiwar forces spelled
the beginning of the end for American involvement in the war. (VN
H. and P. ). Thus, the administration dug in for a long and dramatic
time of protests, uncivil disobedience, and numerous arrests. The size
of these demonstration crowds often varied but there were no
disagreements about the major events of protest. They began with
peaceful series of speeches and musical presentations. Then many of
the participants tried to march the various government grounds, most
importantly taking place at the Lincoln Memorial. For most Americans,
the events were symbolized by television images of dirty-mouthed
hippies taunting the brave, clean-cut American soldiers who confronted
the unruly demonstrators (VN H. and P.).

Americans were soon shocked to learn about the communists\'
massive Tet Offensive on January 31, 1968. The offensive demonstrated
that Johnson had been making the progress in Vietnam seem much greater
than it really was; the war was apparently endless. Critics of the
administration policy on the campuses and Capitol Hill had been right
after all. For the first time, the state of public opinion was the
crucial factor in decision making on the war. Johnson withdrew his
candidacy for reelection in March of 1968, and he was offering the
communists generous terms to open peace talks.

In the meantime, as the war continued to take its bloody toll,
the nation prepared to elect a new president. The antiwar movement had
inadvertently helped Richard Nixon win the election. As Johnson\'s
unhappy term of office came to an end, antiwar critics and the
Vietnamese people prepared to do battle with their new adversary
(Small, 124). The new president expressed more outward signs from
hawks not the doves, now that Johnson now out of office. Like many of
his advisors, Nixon was bothered with the antiwar movement since he
was convinced that it prolonged the war. He could not understand
how the current generation of young people could include both brave
young marines and hippies and draft-card burners (VN H. and P.).
Richard Nixon assumed the presidency with a secret plan to end the
war. Although most doves did not believe in the new president to do
so, they were prepared to give him time to execute the plan. Nixon had
a plan to end the war. He wanted to increase the pressure on the
communists, issue then a deadline to be conciliatory, and to keep this
entire secret from the American public (VN H. and P.). Thus, the
number of casualties increased in the late winter and spring as the
bombings of Northern Vietnam continued once again.


Brown, McAfee, et al. Vietnam: Crisis of Conscience. New York:
Association Press, 1967

Gaullucci, Robert L. Neither Peace Nor Honor. Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1975.

Gettleman, Marvin E. Vietnam and America: A documented history. New
York: Grove Press, 1985.

Lewis, Lloyd B. The Tainted War. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood
Press, 1985.

Meyerson, Joel D. Images of a Lengthy War. Washington, DC: Library of
Congress Cataloging in Publication Data, 1986.

Schlight, John. Indochina War Symposium. Washington DC: US Government
Printing Office, 1986.

Small, Melvin. Johnson, Nixon, and the Doves. New Brunswick: Rutgers
University Press, 1988.

Spector, Ronald H. \"Researching the Vietnam Experience\" Historical
Analysis Series. April1984: 30-31.

VN History and Politics
Rpt. Http:// 1996

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By Clare Hanrahan
“The time for dissent is passed once the war is declared,” one Asheville resident recently wrote to a local paper. He echoed a sentiment of many who fear for the lives of loved ones in this coming war. “Don’t undermine the morale of our troops now that they are deployed,” is another caution, skillfully manipulated by a government determined to go to war despite mainstream millions worldwide who call for restraint, diplomacy and for genuine efforts to avoid another barbaric assault on the people of Iraq.

This war is wrong. It is an immoral and illegal act of terror. It will continue to be wrong throughout its bloody course. The men and women in the U.S. military, armed with the most terrible weapons ever devised, and deployed to toxic battlefields, now await orders to unleash hellfire on a country and a people already devastated and starved. This call-up of the military has torn asunder family after family throughout western North Carolina. Already the human collateral damage of past wars and of the ongoing domestic war on the poor fills our streets, while funds for health care, housing, education, and transportation are cut to the bone.

If this war continues, many of our sons and daughters, husbands and fathers in the military will only be returned to us as ashes (an expedient measure proposed by Pentagon war planners), and we may never learn of the hundreds of thousands more Iraqi people who will die, most noncombatants. Those who have called for the “Support Our Soldiers” rally in Asheville attempt to equate dissent with disrespect for the men and women who have chosen the military path. This is deceitful, divisive and dangerous. Among the 2,000 who participated in the February 15 peace rally in Asheville, many are veterans; others have lost loved ones in previous wars and would not wish this grief on any other family. We oppose this war because it is wrong and unnecessary. We oppose this war because it violates the very Constitution our soldiers have sworn to uphold. We oppose this war because we fear our government’s unchecked power far more than we fear the dangerous dictator in Iraq. We oppose this war because we believe that the best way to support our soldiers is to refuse to consent to the wanton exploitation of their noble impulse, and the reckless abuse of their precious lives.

“Back our Boys in Vietnam” was the only bumper sticker my parents ever allowed on our family car when I was a teenager in Memphis. This was after my older brother, Tommy, joined the Marines just out of high school. In solidarity, my sister Eileen and I joined the USO. We wanted to show our support and express our patriotic sentiments. We wanted to do what was right in a time of war, as we believed our brave brother had done when called on by his country. I was naïve and blindly patriotic, and deeply concerned for my family and friends in the military. I would have waved the flag in any “Support our Soldiers,” rally.

As a USO volunteer I met hundreds of young men in transit to Viet Nam. Most were too young to vote, too young to drink in the nightclubs, too young really to know why they were drafted to fight, to kill and to die in Viet Nam. Among them were the African- American soldiers, many from northern cities, on their way to war; they still had to contend with the ugly racism rampant in my Memphis hometown.

Brother Tommy made it home a few days before Christmas, 1967. He was wounded and broken in ways only the years would fully reveal. At the Veterans hospital I visited with other causalities of that war. Many of these men had no family nearby, so they came to our home on weekends—on crutches, with limbs missing, or with wounds still bandaged. Some just sat on the porch and stared out into space.

It was not long before Tommy’s twin, Danny, stepped forward. He was in the recruiters’ bag before my parents could intervene. “There was nothing I could do to stop him,” my mother lamented. I stood with her the day he left, and joined her at a local Marine Corps. Mothers’ Club gathering where women offered support to each other as their not-quite yet grown sons fought and died in Southeast Asia.

One after the other my fine young brothers, bright, handsome and brave, went off to war. One after the other they returned, wounded, poisoned, and broken, and one after the other, they died—burdened to their early graves by the memories of that war and the Agent Orange toxins that coursed through their systems. Their names were never etched on that Wailing Wall in Washington, DC. Nor will be written there the names of their brothers in arms, whose suicides exceed the combat deaths; or the names of the many others who still suffer from the delayed stress of that criminal war.

These abandoned veterans are joined now by the many spent and discarded soldiers from that first Bush’s Gulf War. Soldiers who still seek the acknowledgment and treatment of their war-induced illnesses while the son of a Bush who called them to war cuts funding for the Veterans Hospitals. Is this what we mean by “Support our Troops?” I will not stand by and wave a flag as this next generation marches off to war. I will not repeat trite platitudes as these men and women are used up and then abandoned by a U.S. government that has broken faith with its noble principles, which fails to protect its citizens—a U.S. regime that threatens the world with the use of first-strike nuclear weapons. This President who calls for endless war never stood in battle, never struggled for a livelihood, never learned the lessons of the Christianity he claims, nor of the God he invokes in his power-hungry quest for domination and control. It is he, and the other politicians, the generals, and the armchair warriors who undermine the safety and security of our men and women in the military and who are the largest threat to peace in the world. Last month I shared a Greyhound journey with some young marines who boarded the bus in Knoxville. They were on the way to Camp Lejeune. As the night deepened and the bus rolled on through the mountains, I listened to their conversations. They talked about the family they left behind, about the pay packet that did not quite cover their expenses, about their girlfriends, and the buddies they made in boot camp. One wore a new jacket boldly embroidered with the slogan, “Trained to fight learned to kill, ready to die, but never will.” They were not sophisticated men, just country boys setting off on heroes’s journey, cocky and sure of themselves, and full of the rhetoric instilled by their military indoctrination. Listening to them, I understood my mother’s lament. There was nothing I could do to stop them. They could have been the two brothers whose loss I still grieve. I will continue to voice my opposition to this war. It is my moral and civic duty. I will continue to support our soldiers with my ongoing, outspoken, risk-taking refusal to cooperate with this government in another criminal war.

Clare Hanrahan lives in Asheville. She is a conscientious objector to war and to paying for war, and is the author of “Jailed For Justice: A Woman’s Guide to Federal Prison Camp.

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