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Vietnam War

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Vietnam War

By: Brett Reder

Anti-Vietnam Movement in the U.S. The antiwar movement against Vietnam in the US from 1965-1971 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 circumstance. 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 respectable. 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 ...

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