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Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War is significant because it was the first time a war was shown and accessed through to the public in the United States.
The protests gained momentum from the Civil Rights Movement that had organized to oppose segregation laws, which had laid a foundation of theory and infrastructure on which the anti-war movement grew. Protests were fueled by a growing network of independently published newspapers (known as "underground papers") and the timely advent of large venue rock'n'roll festivals such as Woodstock and Grateful Dead shows, attracting younger people in search of generational togetherness.
Public support for the war decreased as the war waged on throughout the sixties and beginning part of the 1970s.
William L. Lunch and Peter W. Sperlich collected public opinion data measuring support for the war from 1965-1971. Support for the war was measured by a negative response to the question: "In view of developments since we entered the fighting in Vietnam, do you think the U.S. made a mistake sending troops to fight in Vietnam?" They found the following results.
|Month||Percentage who agreed with war|
The reasons behind American opposition to the Vietnam War fall into the following main categories: opposition to the draft; moral, legal, and pragmatic arguments against U.S. intervention; reaction to the media portrayal of the devastation in Southeast Asia.
The Draft, as a system of conscription which threatened lower class registrants and middle class registrants alike, drove much of the protest after 1965. Conscientious objectors did play an active role although their numbers were small. The prevailing sentiment that the draft was unfairly administered inflamed blue-collar American opposition and African-American opposition to the military draft itself.
Opposition to the war arose during a time of unprecedented student activism which followed the free speech movement and the civil rights movement. The military draft mobilized the baby boomers who were most at risk, but grew to include a varied cross-section of Americans. The growing opposition to the Vietnam War was partly attributed to greater access to uncensored information presented by the extensive television coverage on the ground in Vietnam.
Beyond opposition to the Draft, anti-war protestors also made moral arguments against the United Statesâ involvement in Vietnam. This moral imperative argument against the war was especially popular among American college students. For example, in an article entitled, "Two Sources of Antiwar Sentiment in America", Schuman found that students were more likely than the general public to accuse the United States of having imperialistic goals in Vietnam. Students in Schuman's study were also more likely to criticize the war as "immoral." Civilian deaths, which were either downplayed or omitted entirely by the Western media, became a subject of protest when photographic evidence of casualties emerged. In response to these photos William F. Petter wrote that "A million children have been killed or wounded or burned in the war America is carrying on in Vietnam.". An infamous photo of General Nguyá» n Ngá»c Loan holding a pistol to the head of an alleged terrorist during the Tet Offensive also provoked a public outcry..
Another element of the American opposition to the war was the perception that U.S intervention in Vietnam, which had been argued as acceptable due to the Domino Theory and the threat of Communism, was not legally justifiable. Some Americans believed that the Communist threat was used as a scapegoat to hide imperialistic intentions, while others argued that the American intervention in South Vietnam interfered with the "self-determination" of the country. In other words, the conflict in Vietnam was a civil war that ought to have determined the fate of the country and, therefore, America was not right to intervene.
Additionally, media coverage of the war in Vietnam shook the faith of citizens at home. That is, new media technologies, like television, brought images of wartime conflict to the kitchen table. To illustrate this claim, Allen Guttman cites Mr. Fran McGee, NBC news figure who stated that the war was all but lost as a "conclusion to be drawn inescapably from the facts." For the first time in American history the media was privileged to dispense battlefield footage to public. Graphic footage of casualties on the nightly news eliminated any myth of the glory of war. With no clear sign of victory in Vietnam, the media images of American military casualties helped to stimulate the opposition of the war in Americans.
|â||If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read "Vietnam."||â|
The U.S. became polarized over the war. Many supporters of U.S. involvement argued for what was known as the domino theory, a theory that believed if one country fell to communism, then the bordering countries would be sure to fall as well, much like falling dominoes. This theory was largely held due to the fall of eastern Europe to communism and the Soviet sphere of influence following World War II. However, military critics of the war pointed out that the conflict in Vietnam was political and that the military mission lacked any clear idea of how to achieve its objectives. Civilian critics of the war argued that the government of South Vietnam lacked political legitimacy, or that support for the war was completely immoral.
The media also played a substantial role in the polarization of American opinion regarding the Vietnam War. For example, In 1965 a majority of the media attention focused on military tactics with very little discussion about the necessity for a full scale intervention in Southeast Asia. After 1965, the media covered the dissent and domestic controversy that existed within the United States, but excluded the actual view of dissidents and resisters.
The media established a sphere of public discourse surrounding the Hawk versus Dove debate. The Dove was a liberal and a critic of the war. Doves claimed that the war was well-intentioned but a disastrously wrong mistake in an otherwise benign foreign policy. It is important to note the Doves do not question the U.S. intentions in intervening in Vietnam, nor did they question the morality or legality of the U.S. intervention. Rather, they made pragmatic claims that the war was a mistake. Contrarily, the Hawks argued that the war was legitimate and winnable and a part of the benign U.S. Foreign policy. The Hawks claimed that the âone-sided criticism of the media contributed to the decline of public support for the war and ultimately helped the U.S. lose the war. For example, Allen Guttmann references William F. Buckley's journal in his article entitled, "Protest against the War in Vietnam", and claims that Buckley repeatedly wrote about his approval for the war and suggested that "The United States has been timid, if not cowardly, in refusing to seek 'victory' in Vietnam.". The hawks claimed that that the liberal media was responsible for the growing popular disenchantment with the war and blamed the western media for losing the war in Southeast Asia. <
As the public became increasingly disenchanted with the United States' intervention in Vietnam, a number of organizations were formed in opposition to the war effort.
Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA)- radical pacifist organization that "blended philosophical anarchism with Gandhian pacifism." . The organization used civil disobedience in direct action against military action.
Committee for Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE)- liberal international organization that was founded in 1957 by a group of nuclear pacifists. They attempted to increase public opinion in favor of their cause in an attempt to influence policy makers to halt atmospheric nuclear testing and reversing the arms race and the Cold War.
Another committee was called SNCC- Southern National Christian Conference.
There was a great deal of civic unrest on college campuses throughout the 1960s as students became increasingly involved in a number of social and political movements ranging from the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Rights Movement, and, of course, the Anti-War Movement. Doug McAdam explains the success of the mass mobilization of volunteers for Freedom Summer in terms of "Biographical Availability." In other words, individuals must have a certain degree of social, economic, and psychological freedom to be able to participate in large scale social movements. This explanation can also be applied to the Anti-War Movement because it occurred around the same time and the same biographical factors applied to the college-aged anti-war protesters. Davie Meyers (2007) also explains how the concept of personal efficacy affects mass movement mobilization. For example, consider that America wealth increased drastically after World War II. At this time, America was the only remaining superpower and enjoyed great affluence after Thirty years of depression, war, and sacrifice. Benjamin T. Harrison argues that the post World War II affluence set the stage for the protest generation in the 1960s.. His central thesis is that the World Wars and Great Depression spawned a 'beat generation' refusing to conform to mainstream American values which lead to the emergence of the Hippie and counter culture. The Anti-war movement became part of a larger protest movement against the traditional American Values and attitudes. Meyers (2007) builds off this claim in his argument that the "relatively privileged enjoy the education and affirmation that afford them the belief that they might make a difference." . As a result of the present factors in terms of affluence, biographical availability and increasing political atmosphere across the county, political activity increased drastically on college campuses.
The Young Americans for Freedom (YAF)- Conservative organization that developed a campus presence during the 1960s. The central purpose of this organization was to publicize the conservative cause. The main guiding principles of the organization are: opposition to the spread of communism, support for the United States involvement in Vietnam and opposition to the draft 
The Student Libertarian Movement- Libertarian organization that was formed in 1972. The guiding principles of this organization are: Opposition to the War in Vietnam, Opposition to the draft. The organization did not take a strong stand on racial issues. For example, "In virtually hundreds of issues of libertarian newspapers, bulletins, and journals, the civil rights movement, Black nationalism, or race in general composed no more than 1 percent of all articles surveyed."
In 1 January 1973 Motiul & Kader martyed to show the anti-imperialist movement by a procession in Dhaka against the Vietnam aggression by America.Motiul & Kader are given the honour of National Hero by Vietnam. They are the activist of Bangladesh Studentsâ Union.
|â||Waist Deep in the Big Muddy; the Big Fool said to push on.||â|
â Pete Seeger, 1963/1967
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 Norman Morrison set himself on fire in front of The Pentagon. On November 9, 22-year old Catholic Worker Movement member Roger Allen LaPorte did the same in front of United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Both protests were conscious imitations of earlier (and ongoing) Buddhist protests in South Vietnam.
Protests against the Vietnam War took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The protests were part of a movement in opposition to the Vietnam War and took place mainly in the United States (See also Students for a Democratic Society, Free Speech Movement, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Youth International Party, Chicago Seven.)
The growing anti-war movement alarmed many in the U.S. 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.
In February 1967, The New York Review of Books published "The Responsibility of Intellectuals", an essay by Noam Chomsky, one of the leading intellectual opponents of the war. In the essay Chomsky argued that much responsibility for the war lay with liberal intellectuals and technical experts who were providing what he saw as pseudoscientific justification for the policies of the U.S. government.
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. South Vietnamese reports provided as justification after the fact claimed that the suspect was captured near the site of a ditch holding as many as thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives, some of whom were the families of General Loan's deputy and close friend. The execution was filmed and photographed during the Tet Offensive and provided another iconic image that helped sway public opinion in the United States against the war.
The events of Tet in early 1968 as a whole were also remarkable in shifting public opinion regarding the war. U.S. military officials had previously reported that counter-insurgency in South Vietnam was being prosecuted successfully. While the Tet Offensive provided the U.S. and allied militaries with a great victory in that the Viet Cong was finally brought into open battle and destroyed as a fighting force, the American media, including respected figures such as Walter Cronkite, interpreted such events as the attack on the American embassy in Saigon as an indicator of U.S. military weakness. The military victories on the battlefields of Tet were obscured by shocking images of violence on television screens, long casualty lists, and a new perception among the American people that the military had been untruthful to them about the success of earlier military operations, and ultimately, the ability to achieve a meaningful military solution in Vietnam.
On October 15, 1969, hundreds of thousands of people took part in National Moratorium anti-war 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. However, the proportion of individuals doing either who actually participated in the demonstrations is uncertain. 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 were to survive the insurgency. 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 used extensively for the first time 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 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 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. Covert terror/counter-terror programs and semi-covert ones such as the Phoenix Program attempted, with the help of anthropologists, to isolate rural South Vietnamese villages and affect the loyalty of the residents. In the Phoenix Program, assassinations and atrocities were committed, sometimes in order to blame them on Viet Cong insurgents.
Despite the increasingly depressing news of 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, horrified by the devastation it was wreaking on ordinary Vietnamese civilians. Many viewed the conflict as a 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. Many anti-war activists were themselves Vietnam veterans, as evidenced by the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War. In April 1971, thousands of these veterans converged on the White House in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of them threw their medals and decorations on the steps of the United States Capitol. By this time, it had also become commonplace for the most radical anti-war demonstrators to prominently display the flag of the Viet Cong "enemy", an act which alienated many who were otherwise morally opposed to the conflict.
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 anti-war 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 Negotiations with Vietnam in that speech. Then, on August 4, 1969, U.S. representative Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese representative Xuan Thuy began secret peace negopentisations at the apartment of French intermediary Jean Sainteny in Paris.
After breaking with Johnson's pro-war stance, Robert F. Kennedy entered the race on March 16 and ran for the nomination on an anti-war platform. Johnson's vice president, Hubert Humphrey, also ran for the nomination, promising to continue to support the South Vietnamese government.
"The draft" initiated protests on May 5, 1965. Student activists at the University of California, Berkeley marched on the Berkeley Draft board and forty students staged the first public burning of a draft card in the United States. Another nineteen cards were burnt May 22 at a demonstration following the Berkeley teach-in.
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. In late July 1965, Johnson doubled the number of young men to be drafted per month from 17,000 to 35,000, and on August 31, signed a law making it a crime to burn a draft card.
On October 15, 1965 the student-run National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam in New York staged the first draft card burning to result in an arrest under the new law.
In 1967, the continued operation of a seemingly unfair draft system then calling as many as 40,000 men for induction each month fueled a burgeoning draft resistance movement. On October 16, 1967, draft card turn-ins were held across the country, yielding more than 1,000 draft cards, later returned to the Justice Department as an act of civil disobedience. Resisters expected to be prosecuted immediately, but Attorney General Ramsey Clark instead prosecuted a group of ringleaders including Dr. Benjamin Spock and Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Jr. in Boston in 1968.
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 1 December 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. To gain an exemption or deferment, many men attended college, though they had 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 were rejected by the military as 4-F unfit for service failing to meet physical, mental, or moral standards. Still others joined the 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. Also, conviction for certain crimes earned an exclusion, the topic of the anti-war song 'Alice's Restaurant' by Arlo Guthrie.
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.
Student opposition groups on many college and university campuses seized campus administration offices, and in several instances forced the expulsion of ROTC programs from the campus.
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 200,000â500,000 people 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.
|U.S. Congressional opposition
to U.S. involvement in
wars and interventions
|1812 North America|
|House Federalistsâ Address|
|1847 MexicanâAmerican War|
|1917 World War I|
|Filibuster of the Armed Ship Bill|
|1970 Southeast Asia|
|Repeal of Tonkin Gulf Resolution|
|1973 Southeast Asia|
|War Powers Resolution|
|House Concurrent Resolution 63|
In January 1971, just weeks into his first term, Congressman Ron Dellums set up a Vietnam war crimes exhibit in an annex to his Congressional office. The exhibit featured four large posters depicting atrocities committed by American soldiers embellished with red paint. This was followed shortly thereafter by a series of hearings on "war crimes" in Vietnam, which began April 25. Dellums had called for formal investigations into the allegations, but Congress chose not to endorse these proceedings. As such, the hearings were ad hoc and only informational in nature. As a condition of room use, press and camera presence were not permitted, but the proceedings were transcribed. A small number of other anti-Vietnam War congressional representatives also took part in the hearings.
The transcripts describe alleged details of U.S. military's conduct in Vietnam. Some tactics were described as "gruesome", such as the severing of ears from corpses to verify body count. Others involved the indiscriminate killing of civilians. Soldiers claimed to have ordered artillery strikes on villages which did not appear to have any military presence. Soldiers were claimed to use racist terms such as "gooks", "dinks" and "slant eyes" when referring to the Vietnamese.
Witnesses described that legal, by-the-book instruction was augmented by more questionable training by non-commissioned officers as to how soldiers should conduct themselves. One witness testified about "free-fire zones", areas as large as 80 square miles (210 km2) in which soldiers were free to shoot any Vietnamese they encountered after curfew without first making sure they were hostile. Allegations of exaggeration of body count, torture, murder and general abuse of civilians and the psychology and motivations of soldiers and officers were discussed at length.
In April and May 1971, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator J. William Fulbright, held a series of 22 hearings (referred to as the Fulbright Hearings) on proposals relating to ending the war. On the third day of the hearings, April 22, 1971, future Senator and 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry became the first Vietnam veteran to testify before Congress in opposition to the war. Speaking on behalf of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, he argued for the immediate, unilateral withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam. During nearly two hours of discussions with committee members, Kerry related in some detail the findings of the Winter Soldier Investigation, in which veterans had described personally committing or witnessing atrocities and war crimes.
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