Essay, Research Paper: Antiwar Movement In US


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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 of1964, 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 playingleading
roles. These teach-ins were mass public demonstrations, usually held in the
spring and fall seasons. By 1968, protestersnumbered 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 interestof all the
big decision-makers and their advisors. 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.
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 ofwhat 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. 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. 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 inearly 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.". 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. For example, to join the November 1969 antiwarMobilization, a
unit boycotted its Thanksgiving Day dinner. 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.
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.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.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. 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
marcherswere unable to levitate the besieged Pentagon, their activities
ultimately contributed to the redirection of the American policy inVietnam by
1968-and the destruction of the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. Johnson finally
realized-the energized antiwar forces spelled the beginning of the end for
American involvement in the war. 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. 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. 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 understandhow the current generation of young people could include both
brave young marines and hippies and draft-card burners. 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. Thus, the number of casualties
increased in the late winter and spring as the bombings of Northern Vietnam
continued once again. It did not take long for the antiwar critics and
organization to take up where it had left off with Lyndon Johnson. They got
readyfor another campaign of petitioning and demonstrating with the center of it
all involving the middle-class. The deadline for the communists past, and the
failure to follow with his strategy was the rejuvenation of the antiwar movement
centered on the very successful demonstrations in October of 1969. Nixon now
feared that the public, led by a confident antiwar movement, would demand a much
quicker withdrawal from Vietnam than he had planned. With that deadline
approached, Henry Kissinger, the most important Vietnam policymaker asked a
group of Quakers to give Nixon six months, if the war is not over then,
"You can come back and tear down the White House.". In May 1970, Nixon
gambled that he could buy time for Vietnamization through an attack on Cambodian
sanctuaries to destroy communist command-and-supply buildings, while containing
the protest that he knew his action would provoke. His gamble failed, when
poorly trained National Guardsmen killed four students at Kent State University,
on May 4. This made the expected protests much worse than anyone in Washington
could have foreseen. The wave of demonstrations on hundreds of college campuses
paralyzed America's higher-education system. The Kent State tragedy ignited a
nationwide campus disaster.Between May 4 and May 8, campuses experienced an
average of 100 demonstrations a day, 350 campus strikes, 536 colleges shut down,
and 73 colleges reported significant violence in their protests. On that
weekend, 100,000 people gathered to protest in Washington. By May 12, over 150
colleges were on strike. Many of Nixon's activities during the second week of
May revolved around the Kent State crisis. On May 6, he met with thedelegation
of the university. But with the storm of people on the outside of the White
House, the government never completely stopped. Despite Nixon's claims that the
media did not portray his serious intentions accurately, his own records reveal
almost no discussion of Vietnam, Cambodia, or Kent State at the time. On
December 15, Nixon announced his intention to withdraw an additional fifty
thousand troops in 1970. Even the president's faith in that position was
shattered after the unprecedented nationwide protests against his invasion of
Cambodia in the spring of 1970. As the Nixon administration tried to piece
together in the weeks after the crisis, a dramatic decline in antiwar occurred
once the colleges closed. The nationwide response to the Cambodian invasion and
the Kent State killings was the last movement by the people, which had such an
impact like the summer of 1970. Nixon began to plan a new and even more vigorous
offensive against the movement. However, Nixon and his aides still felt
undersized during the summer of 1970-from the media, movement, and Congress. For
whatever reasons, campus demonstrations and general antiwar activity declined
after the spring of 1970. The number andsize of marches and protests declined as
reported by the mass media. For Nixon, the nation was full with marches,
strikes, boycotts, and other forms of activism during the last two years of his
administration. Some protesting still lingered, and in the late summer on August
7, 1970, when a young researcher at the University of Wisconsin was killed when
the building in which he was working was fire bombed. But the Dove rallies were
poorly attended; the movement was winding down. It was not just that the
movement was doing poorly, as Nixon himself was doing much better, becoming a
popular Democratic spokesperson. On September 16, he appeared to cheering crowds
at Kansas State University. The antiwar movement figured indirectly in the
outcome of Vietnam. After Saigon fell, the Watergate affair crippled
Nixon'spresidency and dominated his political life until his resignation in
August 1974. During this period, he was far too weak to contest with Congress
over a renewal of American military involvement in Vietnam. As the crisis in
Southern Vietnam now deepened in the middle of 1974, the new president, Gerald
Ford, wanted to increase military aide to the faltering Saigon regime. Congress
refused his requests to what it saw as pouring more money and lives away.
Continuing in 1974 to 1975, the public with the movement, led by Congress and
the media, all influenced the arguments presented to more financial and
militarycommitments in Vietnam. The struggle of the American minds was over, for
there would be no more Vietnams in the near future. Among the most convincing
theories of the movement were that it exerted pressures directly on Johnson and
Nixon it contributed to the end of their policies. The movement exerted
pressures indirectly by turning the public against the war. It encouraged the
Northern Vietnamese to fight on long enough to the point that Americans demanded
a withdrawal from Southeast Asia; it influenced American political and military
strategy; and, slowed the growth of the hawks. It is now clear that the antiwar
movement and antiwar criticism in the media and Congress had a significant
impact on Vietnam. It's key points being the mass demonstrations by the college
students across the country and the general public opposition to the war effort
inVietnam. At times, some of their activities, as displayed by the media, may
have produced a patriotic backlash. Overall, the movement eroded support for
Johnson and Nixon, especially by the informed public. Through constant
dissident, experts in the movement, the media, and the campuses helped to
destroy the knee-jerk notion that "they in Washington have created."
Thus, from the beginning of the US involvement in Indochina's affairs, the
antiwar movement in the US from 1965-1971 was the most significant movement of
its kind in the nation's history.
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