What Was the Largest Protest Against the Vietnam War?

The movement against the Vietnam War in 1960s America was one of the largest of its kind, in both national and international comparisons; the movement was heavily linked with other reform groups which were pressurising the American government during that time period. Due to this, opposition to the war came from a diverse number of groups who each had their own reasoning for their anti-militaristic stance – ranging from veteran’s opposing based upon their experience or Civil Rights demonstrators who felt they were trying to uphold the rights of the Vietnamese people, whilst not necessarily having the same themselves, domestically.
What facilitated the exacerbation of the anti-war movement was the greater access to uncensored information in the extensive television coverage from Vietnam; not forgetting that the right to freedom of speech was also capitalised on by those in education who sought to bolster the importance of student activism, and their pressure group status.
Others 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 direction and appeared to be potentially unsuccessful – devastation for a nation that was, and possibly still is, the largest international influence. Source A

Source A, an extract from the book ‘Four hours in My Lai’ by Michael Bilton (published in 1992), is a piece that mainly focuses towards the military aspect of the war and the effects of the involvement had on real life soldiers – this would be the case, given that this secondary source is based upon an influential telling of events by some individuals who were involved in the My Lai incident on 16 March, 1968. The U. S. soldiers who had been interviewed for this process – a T. V. ocumentary had been produced prior to the publication of the book, in the late 1980s – may have been asked the questions quite a few years after their involvement in the war, but this bears not much significance on what they say – the vivid memories they would hold of that event would not leave for a long time and so, by and large, would be true to an extent beyond doubt.
The source itself mentions that the “increasing” number of recruits scored “so low” on intelligence rankings that they wouldn’t normally have been given a place in the regular U. S. Army during a peace-time period. It then goes on to mention how the tours of duty affected each soldier, with some dying in the first month of duty as this was “highly likely”. Due to the soldier rotation and their differing lengths of duty (some of the soldiers were wounded, so would not serve the same length as those they had arrived with, for instance) the inexperienced recruits were often polarised by the conditions they faced – they were quite different to those they had probably been trained in, in the United States.
The result of this continuing spiral of poor strategy and younger and younger recruits et al. meant many of the objectives which had been planned, ultimately failed in response to the effort which was being put in; low morale in existing, serving soldiers also played its part. A consequence of lack of planning and poor skill within soldiers trained, spontaneously affected those back home who saw lack of progress, especially at a time when the taxes were being increased by Johnson.
With regards to the question, how useful is it for demonstrating why there was an anti-war movement – it isn’t that useful, since it doesn’t mention any of the direct causes itself, instead implying various reasons for one explanation (i. e. giving reasons for the lack of progress which frustrated those in America). However, it does also give an impression that with the large numbers of deaths came great anger within communities who had lost a relative, a friend or somebody else.
This could be integrated into the logic behind the personal rationale that fell behind another reason why people demonstrated against the Vietnam War – they wanted to see an end to the ‘bloodshed’ and ‘unnecessary killing’ that engulfed the media reports throughout the U. S. Its advantages are also its downfall, ultimately – the limitations of the source are great, as it doesn’t consider the financial burdening on tax payers (or any other economic aspect), the Civil Rights movements, the failure of the Great Society programme, the suffering of the Vietnamese people shown in the media, or the media influence itself.
So, therefore, it is useful for explaining the problems faced by the troops on the ground in Vietnam, who will have encountered people who weren’t responsible, nor mature enough, to make their own decisions and the horrific effects of the war on the Veterans – something they took back from their tour of duty, exacerbating the anti-war movement as people flocked to prevent their relatives from being seriously maimed or killed. Source B
Source B, a photograph taken during a napalm attack on June 8, 1972, demonstrates the true extent to which the American bombings were taking their toll during the Vietnam War – the children running representing the apparent innocent victims that were being brutally murdered in raids that were deemed unacceptable by the majority of the American population. All of this contributed to the “Credibility Gap” which describes almost any “gap” between the reality of a situation and what politicians and government agencies make statements about.
Once those who were reading the papers were shocked by the initial target of the bombing raids, anger would turn into questions as they would seek who lied about the reality, perhaps even wondering what else the administration may not be revealing the full facts about. The deeper the credibility gap, the larger the polarisation of people from the Vietnam War, who would now see it in a negative light and therefore would not be likely to support it, both financially and physically through public endorsements.
As a primary source, it’s hard to find fault with the photograph – it isn’t likely to be redacted so it shows one side over another, and is also fairly neutral as it shows the after-effects of the American incursion, rather than something happening at that very moment. However, as the media was part of the continuing anti-war movement, this photo could in fact show only one incident that ever occurred but was highlighted for additional emphasis to their campaign – given the accounts of citizens and U.
S. soldiers, however, that is unlikely to be true. As its overall purpose was intended to shock the readers in the U. S. A. , it is difficult not to find that this picture was as an asset to the movement given that it was taken by dedicated photographers, in this particular case, a Vietnamese one – Nick i??t – who would have wanted the war to be stopped, given it was his country that had been drawn into a long and bitter war.
This isn’t its only limitation however, as a photograph it only captures one event at one time, so by default it can’t take into consideration other reasons for the anti-war movement. Saying that, it has a specific purpose to underline that the government was lying about certain aspects of the war that it wanted to keep hidden – this was released to make citizens aware of this fact. It is therefore useful for giving us some idea why there was a contra-militaristic viewpoint in the U.
S. and why people were prepared to act upon that. Source C Source C, an extract from the publication of personal memoirs in 1982, gives us a personal perspective to an individual soldier’s experience in the Vietnam War and McCarthy also reflects upon the intimacies of his encounter with the Vietcong. Whilst describing one event that occurred early on in his tenure as a rifleman, we see that – as with many other U. S. oldiers – he wanted to kill the Vietcong upon hearing and seeing the effects of their guerrilla warfare tactics which meant that damages could be incurred by the Americans but often, there could be no retaliation given that the enemy couldn’t be seen.
McCarthy makes note of this saying that even in daylight it was hard to distinguish between those who were part of the North’s continuing campaign for the liberation of the South and those who were just normal peasants – this resulted in more deaths than had been initially projected.
Due to the fact that often the enemy was not visible until it was too late, or in en masse confrontations, it was difficult to foresee a war that could be won by the Americans – too many losses were sustained, whilst relatively modest amounts of VC combatants were being killed in fighting locations. Not only that, the VC also had foreign backing with the aid of China and the USSR helping with the funding and the strategic logistical movements of weapons. McCarthy mentions that “[… we knew guys’ wives, mothers, fathers and kids” – suggesting that the impact of the deaths reached beyond the remit of the immediate family and affected other people, the soldiers’ themselves even – who’s stories of the deaths would return to their communities when they returned from their tour of duty – all of which would be passed on to the public who’s view of the war would possibly change from supporting to opposing based on what they hear, and see on the television and in the newspapers.
However, there are other omissions from the source; there is no particular relation to the failure of the Great Society programme or the struggle for Black Rights, for example. Nevertheless, that would hardly be needed in the personal memoirs of a soldier who has possibly died – commenting on the situation as he felt it would not need to include any information which was not relevant to the experiences he had had.
Due to there being no information to suggest other reasons for the anti-war movement, it could be considered not as useful for the purpose of investigating why but it does give us a personal reflection and wouldn’t be biased for the simple fact that nothing was to gained for the author by writing this piece.
Source D
Source D, an extract from a newspaper piece by American journalist Richard Hamer in 1970, is a primary source revealing an extent to which the conflict was affecting those who were militarily involved – the fact that often the Vietcong were ‘invisible’ or ‘out of range’ meant that often the troops became frustrated in their objectives and all too regularly lost sight of a war that could have been won if the South Vietnamese government convinced the peasants of the benefits of capitalism.
Due to the complications with invisible attackers meant more and more lives were being lost and no retaliation could be given – this sentiment is also present in Source C. This source runs along a central theme, however, and is clearly against the war and the actions of some renegade soldiers who felt it necessary to commit atrocities like those at My Lai. At the time, this would have been a damaging piece of writing for its noticeable anti-American stance – despite the writer being an American citizen.
This in itself shows the deep degree of pacifism within the United States at the time, but this could, nevertheless, be part of a wider-ranging media campaign to prevent any further actions in the war due to other factors, perhaps the increase of taxes – this would indicate that it is possible that Hamer wasn’t anti-war based on the prospect, rather the inconvenience it caused him.
The fact that this was released during the period of war means it is also linked to the credibility gap; its exposure of American counter-tactics would almost certainly ensure the exacerbation of the anti-war sentiment and give another reason for people already desperate for relatives to return, to not believe what their government was saying.
What we need to know however, is whether the information presented in this source is what Hamer actually saw with his own eyes, or whether it was a brief summarisation of stories he had collected from soldiers; if the latter, its provenance could be affected, as soldiers influenced the reporter’s personal views. This source was also published one year after the My Lai incident has irreversibly affected most people’s views of the Vietnam War – thinking what damage could be done to the reputation of the U. S. A, a country that had protected democracy only 20 years earlier in the Second World War – this could then, be a piece catered towards their views, however, that is unlikely given the deep sense of conviction within the content of the source and the way in which he has written the piece. This sense of betrayal by American soldiers extended to within the hearts of the communities across the U. S. who saw individuals committing acts which could not be seen as ‘heroic’ in any respect.
However, it is important to remember that most of the Vietcong were invisible to an extent – they did use purposeful tactics that did have an effect; most of the time soldiers did not who they were engaging with within the dense forests and this did have devastating effects on those on the ground. Those injured in the attacks would return back to the U. S. sharing their stories and further affecting people’s views on the war that wouldn’t finish for (officially) 5 years after Source D was published.
The use of the word ‘one’ (in this context it is in reference to the collective American force) seems almost like a paradox – the righteousness of that word compared with the conditions that were faced on the ground in Vietnam. As it focuses towards these aspects more than the other possible reasons for the anti-war movement, it may be seen as not that useful; however, I would strongly discourage any sort of thinking along that line.
It ascribes the particular tensions between the two rivalries on the ground as VC entered into guerrilla combat with the Americans, who hadn’t been trained to a great level in that respect, and with the luck of hindsight suggests to us why there was an anti-war movement within the country – it’s clear that the media used an en masse approach to their reporting of the Vietnam War, ensuring that the readers of their reports were to be influenced by their ideology on the subject; whether it was because the papers’ were more left-leaning or were simply against the war because of the financial cost, for example, is of not much significance.
Its main limitations are the fact that it doesn’t mention some features of the war that turned people against it, such as the government’s preference of that over the Great Society programme (being at a bad time, given that Black Rights had already suffered setbacks with the Martin Luther King assassination a few years earlier) and the drafting of poorer people from disadvantaged backgrounds, regardless of race. Source E
Source E, a cartoon published by the satirical magazine ‘Punch’ in 1967, demonstrates the international view of the American involvement in Vietnam. Although it uses the failure of the key Great Society programme of the Johnson administration in its depiction of “the costs of the Vietnam War”, it does not discuss the effects of that failure or suggest any possible reasons for that (increased spending elsewhere, aside from the military, for instance).
Another point is the fact that as Punch is a British magazine, it would be assumed that they would favour the side that had helped them defeat the Nazi threat in the 1940s, but no, it could be interpreted that they instead believe that money is needlessly being wasted on something that they themselves weren’t involved in – perhaps because of the recovery that was still ongoing in the UK.
In the cartoon, we can see President Johnson dismantling the US economy ‘train’ (perhaps with connotations as a gravy train – the sentiment prior to the war that was against the Communist threat, whereas now it wasn’t) in favour or the war in Vietnam he had initiated with the conspiracy regarding the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
The smoke billowing from the train’s engine funnel reads ‘Vietnam’, backing up the British thought that money was needlessly being wasted in a dirty war. The source itself was published in 1967, not that long into the actual fighting phase of the war, but still after key events practically highlighted the fact that the programme Johnson had promised during his presidential re-election campaign of 1964 was failing.
The effects of the unsuccessful plan meant that many of the potential conscriptees were turned against the prospect of being involved in the war; their family would have already been affected by the change (as often those drafted were from impoverished backgrounds) but the deprivation would not only have an effect on them, it would also radically change those opinions held by the rest of their family. It would yet another reason to oppose the war, especially considering taxes had already risen enough to concern the financial well-being of most families.
The limitations of the source are clear; it, as many others, doesn’t consider many of the aspects that made up the significant anti-war movement in the early 1970s – the Civil Rights demonstrations (which is surprising given that those most affected by the collapse of the programme were mainly of an African-American ethnicity) or the media campaigns et al. Punch, as a satire magazine may not be the most reliable or sourcing though – as a magazine dedicated to cynicism and making mockeries of political blunders, means with that purpose and the fact that evidently Punch were against the war, means the provenance of the source could be affected.
On the other hand, it could be useful for explaining the views held by those who weren’t personally involved in the tragedies of death or affected by the charges made by the American government. Source F Source F, a partial transcript from a seminar conducted by Robin Day in 1970, although addressing a British conference reflects upon the explanation for the sizeable increase in the anti-war attitude that had overran the initial support in the late 1960s.
Day, a highly revered individual within the British media at that time, would have been eagerly listened to in the RUSI (a government think-tank studying naval and military science) seminar that took place during the latter stages of the Vietnam War; Day gives what he thinks was the overwhelming reason that formed the basis for all the opposition against the war – the repeated and consistent images of Vietnamese (and American) brutality on the television.
He believed that the repeated visualisation of what was really happening (given that during previous wars, colour television in real-time was not a reality) made images resonate within the minds of the communities across America, who, on top of various misgivings they already had for the war would now act upon that; it brought a sense of to reality “a situation 10,000 miles away from home”. Whilst saying that, he doesn’t explicitly refer to this being the single factor – in fact, it was the media campaign in its most general form – it was the more “uninhibited [coverage]” as opposed to specific things that may have been seen.
These images, as with the other sources that represent other media items released during the war, widened the credibility gap between the political establishment and those who it governed. Day had been reporting the Vietnam War since it had begun only a few years prior to this seminar and was knowledgeable on the topic of why and when the war really developed in the full-scale conflict it did. This in turn means that the provenance is supported because we can rely upon this fact as meaning he would understand the complex motivations for particular events.
This could, however, be his downfall – as in that time he could have developed anti-war views based on what he had seen and been reporting, that is unlikely though, given the general neutral tone of the source. The limitations to the source are obvious as some other causes for opposition included the returning wounded (and the much publicised deaths of) soldiers amongst others. Source G Source G, a 1989 film adaptation from an autobiography of Ron Kovic, which contained extensive notes on his experiences in the Vietnam War – a war which left Kovic paralysed for the majority of his body.
In the film, the key points are: * It is apparent that some of the authorities wanted to hide the veteran soldiers, due to the fact that they were a key component of the anti-war movement. * There were protests against the 1972 Miami Republican Convention, at which Nixon received his party’s presidential nomination. * Some Republicans defended the war to an extent. * Often violent scenes when pro and anti war movements met.
Some even mentioned that anti-war supporters were “communists”, because of their support for pacifism and, although largely incorrect, left -wing socialism. Although Kovic was the inspiration for the story, Oliver Stone, the producer of the movie adaptation, was also someone known for his vehement opposition to the conflict in Vietnam. Through this film, Stone almost tries to change people’s perceptions of the war; the dramatic re-enactments of events that happened and the exact quotes used in history re-quoted giving it a sense of reality.
Kovic mentioned all the reasons why he was anti-war in the film extract, with the delegates in the background all shouting “four more years” as Nixon promised to withdraw the soldiers. Although produced some years after the end of the war, Stone still lacks the critical evaluation of both sides of the story, instead tending to focus on the anti-war movement almost completely – but then, he would, he was an activist himself, trying to stop the deaths and serious maiming of further service personnel.
The purpose of this film was to give the impression that the Americans were wrong to go to Vietnam in the first place (as Kovic’s character clearly says in “the poor Vietnamese seeking freedom for hundreds of years”) and that despite the intermittence between the end of the war and the time of the production, Stone’s views had not changed on the subject.
In that context, and the fact that the film is much more dramatic than necessarily need be, it is easy to assume that this is a piece of biased film-making – despite that, it is useful for one thing; informing us of the thoughts of people who had experienced the full horrors of the conflict and the effect it had on them. It is also historically accurate as all the dates, places and people are all correct – only the story itself is elaborated – therefore it is reliable in some form.
Referring back to the original question, “How useful are the sources A to G for explaining why there was an anti-war movement in the United States during the late 1960s and early 1970s? ” – I would respond by saying that some are more accurate than others in terms of their respective historical context, their individual purposes (some are cartoons, some are memoirs), and the reality that some are more reliable than others as they represent individual events on film or simply people’s thoughts on the war.
In terms of usefulness, they have a collective worth as when combined they allow a fuller picture of the war to be completed – as opposed to thoughts garnered from one source. In some sources, the usefulness could be undermined by the purpose or the provenance of each source – authors all have different views on what they write, but this can also be played to our advantage as even this in itself can represent the effect the conflict had on individual writers.
Primary sources are not necessarily more beneficial as those that are produced as secondary sources, as often even in these cases, bias is still present – often we forget that in secondary sources, the author has had the chance to evaluate many of the explanations for something of a long period of time before publishing their thoughts – this can give us a better view of what really happened.

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