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Thousands protest the war in Vietnam

Thousands protest the war in Vietnam

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In Washington, D.C. nearly 100,000 people gather to protest the American war effort in Vietnam. More than 50,000 of the protesters marched to the Pentagon to ask for an end to the conflict. The protest was the most dramatic sign of waning U.S. support for President Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam. Polls taken in the summer of 1967 revealed that, for the first time, American support for the war had fallen below 50 percent.

When the Johnson administration announced that it would ask for a 10 percent increase in taxes to fund the war, the public’s skepticism increased. The peace movement began to push harder for an end to the war—the march on Washington was the most powerful sign of their commitment to this cause. The Johnson administration responded by launching a vigorous propaganda campaign to restore public confidence in its handling of the war. The president even went so far as to call General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, back to the United States to address Congress and the public. The effort was somewhat successful in tempering criticisms of the war. However, the Tet Offensive of early 1968 destroyed much of the Johnson Administration’s credibility concerning the Vietnam War.

The protest was also important in suggesting that the domestic Cold War consensus was beginning to fracture. Many of the protesters were not simply questioning America’s conduct in Vietnam, but very basis of the nation’s Cold War foreign policy.

READ MORE: How the Vietnam War Empowered the Hippie Movement

1971 May Day protests

The 1971 May Day Protests were a series of large-scale civil disobedience actions in Washington, D.C., in protest against the Vietnam War. These began on Monday morning, May 3rd, and ended on May 5th. More than 12,000 people were arrested, the largest mass arrest in U.S. history. [1]

U.S. Park Police
D.C. Metropolitan Police
82nd Airborne Division
U.S. National Guard
U.S. Marine Corps

Members of the Nixon administration would come to view the events as damaging, because the government's response was perceived as violating citizens' civil rights. [2]

Thousands protest the war in Vietnam - HISTORY

January 19, 2007 | Pages 8 and 9

DANNY KATCH looks at the history of the movement against the Vietnam War.

FROM 1965, when the first U.S. combat troops landed in Vietnam, to 1973, when the last troops left, there were thousands of protests, large and small, against the Vietnam War. These protests grew from representing a small minority of American students to the majority of the country.

While the major force to defeat the U.S. was the Vietnamese resistance struggle itself, the American antiwar movement--one of the most successful in history--played a major role in ending the war.

The White House and the Pentagon dragged out the increasingly savage and hopeless slaughter as long as possible, and refused to acknowledge even being affected by the antiwar movement.

This was disorienting to activists who had faith in American democracy. Many dejectedly concluded that protests are ineffective. Yet they were part of a movement that proved just the opposite.

As early as 1966, the fear of protests prevented Lyndon Johnson from escalating the war. Within a few short years, the movement had moved into the military itself--and Johnson's successor Richard Nixon was forced to begin withdrawing troops to preserve discipline in the armed forces.

IN 1965, most Americans believed in preventing a "Communist takeover" in South Vietnam. Even liberal organizations that opposed the war, such as the Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy, agreed with the overall framework of the Cold War--to the point that they refused to work with socialists and even tried to keep demonstrations free of "immediate withdrawal" signs.

For an overview of the movement against the Vietnam War, see Fred Halstead's Out Now! A Participant's Account of the Movement in the United States Against the Vietnam War. Kirkpatrick Sale's SDS also provides a useful view of the movement.

Many were members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which had about 1,000 members in 40 chapters on the eve of the war. In March 1965, SDS called the first national demonstration against the war and drew 20,000 people, a very impressive number at the time. Within two years, the membership of SDS itself was close to 30,000.

SDS had established itself before the war as a liberal-radical group of white students who participated in and were inspired by the civil rights movement, especially the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

SDS brought three important elements from SNCC to the antiwar movement--a belief in activism over lobbying and elections, a commitment to grassroots democracy, and openness to radicals and radical ideas. These three elements helped turn protesters into activists and activists into leaders.

Rather than simply wait for some distant national organization to call the next demonstration, students could join or form an SDS chapter, have a say in local actions, and debate the strategies of the entire movement at national meetings or in the SDS newsletter.

These activists discovered a key local target in their own universities--which supported the war effort in many ways, from maintaining weapons research facilities to turning over lists of students ranked at the bottom of the class to be drafted. Exposing the role of universities in the war effort radicalized students and made them realize that the war was not the mistaken policy of a war-obsessed president, but was a national project that involved every established institution.

IN THE spring of 1967, almost 500,000 people protested in New York City and San Francisco, calling for immediate withdrawal. That fall, thousands marched to the steps of the Pentagon itself, where they stood face to face with soldiers with rifles, many of whom--in a sign of things to come--became friendly with the protesters.

Publicly, Johnson acted as though the protests had no effect on his decisions. But behind closed doors, fearing the political consequences, he rejected his top general's request to mobilize the reserves and National Guard in order to add 200,000 troops.

And when he was shown computer calculations favoring a bombardment of the North Vietnam capital of Hanoi, Johnson responded, "I have one question to ask your computers. how long it will take 500,000 angry Americans to climb the White House wall out there and lynch their president if he does something like that?"

By the late 1960s, however the antiwar movement was at a crossroads. After years of protests, the war wasn't over, and many people were convinced they hadn't even affected it.

The student-led movement had reached the limits of its power--it could make the war unpopular, but it couldn't force it to end.

Some argued that large marches were useless--a resolution from an SDS convention in 1967 dismissed them as "just public expressions of belief"--and moved toward more "revolutionary" tactics involving smaller numbers and more confrontation. In 1969, SDS collapsed from a united organization of almost 100,000 members to a handful of much smaller Maoist groups.

Nevertheless, the antiwar movement had undergone a process of radicalization, interacting with the militant Black Power movement, as well as the developing women's and gay liberation movements. A growing current within the antiwar movement embraced anti-imperialist politics--opposition not only to the U.S. war in Vietnam, but Washington's drive to dominate the world through economic and military power.

Meanwhile, the warmakers faced their own crossroads. The Tet Offensive at the beginning of 1968 made it clear that the Vietnamese struggle couldn't be defeated without a huge U.S. escalation--but escalation would radicalize millions more people at home.

Yet neither Johnson nor Nixon--who was elected that year claiming to have a "secret plan to end the war"--was about to consider leaving Vietnam and letting the world know that the U.S. could be beaten.

Nixon would keep the Vietnam War going another five years, trying everything from training the South Vietnamese army to invading neighboring Cambodia and Laos, in a fruitless effort to hold off defeat. Tens of thousands more U.S. soldiers died. Far greater numbers of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians were killed.

Congress, dominated by the Democrats, complained more loudly each year about the war, but it never stopped funding it. The war might still be going on today if it were left up to them. Fortunately, it wasn't.

IN APRIL 1970, Nixon announced that U.S. troops had invaded Cambodia. Protests exploded across the country more than 100 campuses went on strike.

Four student protesters at Kent State were shot and killed by National Guard troops who had been called onto campus. The killings spurred the strikes to more than 400 colleges. One hundred thousand protesters surrounded the White House and other major government buildings.

Eight days after announcing the invasion, a visibly shaken Nixon said that the U.S. would pull out of Cambodia within two months. As New York Times columnist James Reston wrote, Nixon's advisers thought "they were dealing with a foreign war, and they now see that they are dealing with a rebellion against that war, and maybe even with a revolution at home."

Meanwhile, resistance to the war was skyrocketing within the military itself. Soldiers generally challenged specific missions more than the war as a whole. The immediate goal was to survive the war more than to end it. But the massive erosion of authority within the military that took place after the Tet Offensive was very much a part of the antiwar movement.

Many GIs had been influenced by the antiwar and Black liberation movements before arriving in Vietnam. Some had connections with antiwar groups, including Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which formed in 1967, or had read radical literature at one of the coffeehouses that activists began to set up near military bases.

GI resistance took a variety of forms, from individual desertions to collective disobedience--known in the military as mutiny. In 1969, CBS News broadcast two different instances of patrols refusing to carry out missions. More often, patrols would deliberately avoid contact with the Vietnamese resistance, a practice known as "search and evade."

In 1971, Col. Robert Heinl wrote in the Armed Forces Journal: "Our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and noncommissioned officers, drug-ridden and dispirited, where not near-mutinous. [C]onditions [exist] among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by. the collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917."

It was this collapse that finally forced the United States to pull out of Vietnam, although Nixon continued to escalate the barbaric air war until the moment he signed the Paris Peace accords in January 1973.

There is good news and bad news in the history of the movement against the Vietnam War.

The good news is that the movement shows that ordinary people can have extraordinary power when they organize in great numbers. The bad news is that we can't simply organize those great numbers for one election or even one protest.

The Vietnam War was not stopped by any single protest, but by eight years of actions taken by students, workers and soldiers--which eventually made the warmakers afraid, in the words of author Fred Halstead, of "losing more than the war."


1945 Edit

  • The first protests against U.S. involvement in Vietnam were in 1945, when United States Merchant Marine sailors condemned the U.S. government for the use of U.S. merchant ships to transport European troops to "subjugate the native population" of Vietnam. [1]

1963 Edit

  • May. Anti-Vietnam war protests in England and Australia.
  • September 21. War Resisters League organizes first U.S. protest against the Vietnam War and "anti-Buddhist terrorism" by the U.S.-supported South Vietnamese regime with a demonstration at the US Mission to the UN in New York City. [2]
  • October 9. WRL among other groups turn out 300 pickets against a speaking engagement by Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. [3]

1964 Edit

  • March. A conference at Yale plans demonstrations on May 4.
  • April 25. The Internal Protector published a pledge of draft resistance by some of these organizers.
  • May 2. Hundreds of students demonstrate on New York's Times Square and from there went to the United Nations. 700 marched in San Francisco. Smaller demonstrations took place in Boston, Madison, Wisconsin and Seattle. These protests were organized by the Progressive Labor Party, with help from the Young Socialist Alliance. The May 2nd Movement was the PLP's youth affiliate.
  • May 12. Twelve young men in New York publicly burn their draft cards to protest the war—the first such act of war resistance. [4][5]
  • Fall. Free Speech Movement at the University of California at Berkeley defends the right of students to carry out political organizing on campus. Founder: Mario Savio.
  • Early August. White and black activists gathered near Philadelphia, Mississippi for the memorial service of three civil rights workers. One of the speakers bitterly spoke out against Johnson's use of force in Vietnam, comparing it to violence used against blacks in Mississippi. [6]
  • December 19. First coordinated nationwide protests against the Vietnam War included demonstrations in New York City (sponsored by War Resisters League, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Committee for Non-Violent Action, the Socialist Party of America, and the Student Peace Union and attended by 1500 people), San Francisco (1000 people), Minneapolis, Miami, Austin, Sacramento, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston, Cleveland, and other cities. [7]

1965 Edit

  • February 2 –March. Protests at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas organized by the RA Student Peace Union. [8]
  • February 12–16. Anti-U.S. demonstrations in various cities in the world, "including a break-in at the U.S. embassy in Budapest, Hungary, by some 200 Asian and African students." [9]
  • March 15. A debate organized by the Inter-University Committee for a Public Hearing on Vietnam is held in Washington, D.C. Radio and television coverage.
  • March 16. An 82-year-old Detroit woman named Alice Herz self-immolated to make a statement against the horrors of the war. She died ten days later. [10]
  • March 24. First SDS organized teach-in, at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. 3,000 students attend and the idea spreads fast.
  • March. Berkeley, California: Jerry Rubin and Stephen Smale's Vietnam Day Committee (VDC) organize a huge protest of 35,000. [citation needed]
  • April. Oklahoma college students sent out hundreds of thousands of pamphlets with pictures of dead babies in a combat zone on them to portray a message about battles taking place in Vietnam.
  • April 17. The SDS-organized March Against the Vietnam War onto Washington, D.C. was the largest anti-war demonstration in the U.S. to date with 15,000 to 20,000 people attending. Paul Potter demands a radical change of society.
  • May 5. Several hundred people carrying a black coffin marched to the Berkeley, California draft board, and 40 men burned their draft cards. [11]
  • May 21–23. Vietnam Day Committee organized large teach-in at UC Berkeley. 10–30,000 attend.
  • May 22. The Berkeley draft board was visited again, with 19 men burning their cards. President Lyndon B. Johnson was hung in effigy. [11]
  • Summer. Young blacks in McComb, Mississippi learn one of their classmates was killed in Vietnam and distribute a leaflet saying "No Mississippi Negroes should be fighting in Vietnam for the White man's freedom". [6]
  • June. Richard Steinke, a West Point graduate in Vietnam, refused to board an aircraft taking him to a remote Vietnamese village, stating the war "is not worth a single American life". [6]
  • June 27. End Your Silence, an open letter in the New York Times by the group Artists and Writers Protest against the War in Vietnam. [12]
  • July. The Vietnam Day Committee organized militant protest in Oakland, California ends in inglorious debacle, when the organizers end the march from Oakland to Berkeley to avoid a confrontation with police.
  • July. A Women Strike for Peace- delegation led by Cora Weiss meets its North Vietnamese and Vietcong counterpart in Jakarta, Indonesia.
  • July 30. A man from the Catholic Worker Movement is photographed burning his draft card on Whitehall Street in Manhattan in front of the Armed Forces Induction Center. His photograph appears in Life magazine in August. [13]
  • October 15. David J. Miller burned his draft card at a rally again held near the Armed Forces Induction Center on Whitehall Street. The 24-year-old pacifist, member of the Catholic Worker Movement, became the first man arrested and convicted under the 1965 amendment to the Selective Service Act of 1948. [14]
  • October 15–16.
  • Europe, October 15–16. First International Days of Protest. Anti-U.S. demonstrations in London, Rome, Brussels, Copenhagen and Stockholm.
  • October 20. Stephen Lynn Smith, a student at the University of Iowa, spoke to a rally at the Memorial Union in Iowa City, Iowa, and burned his draft card. He was arrested, found guilty and put on three years probation. [15]
  • October 30. Pro-Vietnam War march in New York City brings 25,000.
  • November 2. In front of the Pentagon in Washington, as thousands of employees were streaming out of the building in the late afternoon, Norman Morrison, a thirty-two-year-old pacifist, father of three, stood below the third-floor windows of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, doused himself with kerosene, and set himself afire, giving up his life in protest against the war. [6]
  • November 6. Thomas C. Cornell, Marc Paul Edelman, Roy Lisker, David McReynolds and James Wilson burned their draft cards at a public rally organized by the Committee for Non-Violent Action in Union Square, New York City. [16]
  • November 27. SANE-sponsored March on Washington in 1965. 15,000 to 20,000 demonstrators.
  • December 16–17. High school students in Des Moines, Iowa, are suspended for wearing black armbands to "mourn the deaths on both sides" and in support of Robert F. Kennedy's call for a Christmas truce. The students sued the Des Moines School District, resulting in the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of the students, Tinker v. Des Moines.

1966 Edit

  • From September 1965 to January 1970, 170,000 men had been drafted and another 180,000 enlisted. By January, 2,000,000 men had secured college deferments.
  • February. Local artists in Hollywood build a 60-foot tower of protest on Sunset Boulevard. [6]
  • March 25–26. Second Days of International Protest. Organized by the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam, led by SANE, Women Strike for Peace, the Committee for Nonviolent Action and the SDS: 20,000 to 25,000 in New York alone, demonstrations also in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Oklahoma City. Abroad, in Ottawa, London, Oslo, Stockholm, Lyon, and Tokyo.
  • March 31. David Paul O'Brien and three companions burned their draft cards on the steps of the South Boston Courthouse. The case was tried by the Supreme Court in United States v. O'Brien.
  • Spring. Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam founded.
  • May 15. March Against the Vietnam War, led by SANE and Women Strike for Peace, with 8,000 to 10,000 taking part. (Cassius Clay) refused to go to war, famously stating that he had "no quarrel with the Viet Cong" and that "no Viet Cong ever called me nigger." Ali also stated he would not go "10,000 miles to help murder, kill, and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slavemasters over dark people." [17] In 1967 he was sentenced to 5 years in prison, but was released on appeal by the United States Supreme Court.
  • Summer. Six members of the SNCC invade an induction center in Atlanta and are later arrested. [6]
  • July 3. Crowd of over 4,000 demonstrate outside of the US Embassy in London. Scuffles break out between the protesters and police, and at least 31 people are arrested. [18]
  • September 10–11. First national antiwar Mobilization Committee established as the November 8 Mobilization Committee.
  • November 7. Protests against Secretary McNamara at Harvard University.
  • November 26. The November 8 Mobilization Committee becomes the Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, formalized at the Cleveland Conference. National director is Reverend James Bevel.
  • Late December. Student Mobilization Committee formed.

1967 Edit

  • January 29 – February 5. Angry Arts Week by the Artists Protest group.
  • April 4. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at Riverside church in New York about the war: "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence". King stated that "somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours." [6]
  • April 15. At Sheep Meadow, Central Park, New York City, some 60 young men including a few students from Cornell University came together to burn their draft cards in a Maxwell House coffee can. [19] More join them, including uniformed Green Beret Army Reservist Gary Rader. As many as 158 cards are burned. [20]
  • April 15. Spring Mobe protests in New York City (300,000) and in San Francisco.
  • May 20–21. 700 activists at the Spring Mobilization Conference, Washington, D.C. The Spring Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam becomes the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (the Mobe). , Sweden (May) and Roskilde, Denmark (November_. International War Crimes Tribunal (Russell Tribunal) unanimously finds the US government and its armed forces "guilty of the deliberate, systematic and large-scale bombardment of civilian targets, including civilian populations, dwellings, villages, dams, dikes, medical establishments, leper colonies, schools, churches, pagodas, historical and cultural monuments".
  • June 1. The Vietnam Veterans Against the War is formed. Veteran Jan Barry Crumb participated in a protest on April 7 called the "Fifth Avenue Peace Parade" in New York City. On May 30 Crumb and ten like-minded men attended a peace demonstration in Washington, D.C.
  • June 23. The Bond, the first G.I.underground paper established. [21]
  • June 23. 1,300 police attack 10,000 peace marchers at The Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, where President Lyndon B. Johnson was being honored.
  • In the summer of 1967, Neil Armstrong and various other NASA officials began a tour of South America to raise awareness for space travel. According to First Man, a biography of Armstrong's life, during the tour, several South American college students protested the astronaut, and shouted such phrases as "Murderers get out of Vietnam!" and other anti-Vietnam War messages.
  • October 16. A day of widespread war protest organized by The Mobe in 30 cities across the U.S., with some 1,400 draft cards burned. [22]
  • October 18. "Dow Day", University of Wisconsin–Madison. This was the first university Vietnam War protest to turn violent. Thousands of students protested Dow Chemical (maker of napalm) recruiting on campus. Nineteen police officers and about 50 students were treated for injuries at hospitals. [23][24]
  • October 20. Resist leaders present draft cards to the Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. .
  • October 21–23. National Mobe organized the March on the Pentagon to Confront the War Makers. 100,000 are at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC, 35,000 (or up to 50,000?) go on to the Pentagon, some to engage in acts of civil disobedience. Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night describes the event.
  • October 27. Father Philip Berrigan, a Josephite priest and World War II veteran, led a group now known as the Baltimore Four who went to a draft board in Baltimore, Maryland, drenched the draft records with blood, and waited to be arrested. [6]
  • December 4. National draft card turn-in. At San Francisco's Phillip Burton Federal Building, some 500 protesters witnessed 88 draft cards collected and burned. [11]
  • December 4–8. Stop the Draft Week demonstrations in New York. 585 arrested, amongst them Benjamin Spock.
  • Sweden, December 20. Seventh Year of the Viet Cong (the Front National de Libération du Vietnam du Sud, or FNL) celebrated with violent clashes in Stockholm. Demonstrations in forty Swedish towns.

1968 Edit

  • Peace Corps volunteers in Chile spoke out against the war. 92 volunteers defied the Peace Corps director and issued a circular denouncing the war. [6]
  • January. Singer Eartha Kitt, while at a luncheon at the White House, spoke out against the war and its effects on the youth, exclaiming, "you send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed," to her fellow guests. "They rebel in the street. They will take pot. and they will get high. They don't want to go to school because they're going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam." [25]
  • January 15. Jeannette Rankin leads a demonstration of thousands of women in Washington, D.C. .
  • London, Sunday, March 17. Violent protest in London (street occupation), not supported by the Old Left. Over 300 arrests.
  • Frankfurt, Germany, April 2. Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader, joined by Thorwald Proll and Horst Söhnlein, set fire to two department stores.
  • April 3. National draft-card turn-in. About 1,000 draft cards were turned in. In Boston, 15,000 protesters watched 235 men turn in their draft cards. [22]
  • April 4. Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. silences one of the leading voices against the war.
  • Late April. Student Mobe sponsored national student strike, demonstrations in New York and San Francisco.
  • April–May. Protesters occupy five buildings at Columbia University. Future leading Weather Underground member Mark Rudd gains prominence.
  • Berlin, Germany, April 11. Rudi Dutschke shot and wounded. Massive riots against Axel Springer publishers.
  • May. FBI's COINTELPRO campaign launched against the New Left.
  • May. Agricultural Building at Southern Illinois University (SIU) bombed.
  • May 1. Boston University graduate Philip Supina wrote to his draft board in Tucson, Arizona, that he had "absolutely no intention to report for [his] exam, or for induction, or to aid in any way the American war effort against the people of Vietnam." [6]
  • May 17. Philip Berrigan and his brother, Daniel, led seven others into a draft board office in Catonsville, Maryland, removed records, and set them afire with homemade napalm outside in front of reporters and onlookers. [6]
  • June 4–5. The hope of the antiwar movement, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, is shot after celebrating victory in the California primary. He dies the next morning, June 6.
  • Late June. Student Mobe ruptures.
  • August 28. Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Police Violence.
  • October 14, 1968. Presidio mutiny sit-down protest carried out by 27 military prisoners at the U.S. Army's Presidio stockade in San Francisco, California.
  • October 21. In Japan, a group of 290,000 activists occupied the Shinjuku Station, protesting an earlier incident in August 1967 where a JNR freight train hauling kerosene to the Tachikawa Airbase collided with another train and exploded. The activists managed to disrupt all railway traffic at the station and led to clashes with riot police and acts of vandalism it was the largest anti-war protest in Japan at the time.
  • November 14. National draft-card turn-in.

1969 Edit

  • The whole year major campus protests take place across the country.
  • January 19–20. Protests against Richard Nixon's inauguration.
  • March 22. Nine protesters smashed glass, hurled files out a fourth floor window, and poured blood on files and furniture at the Dow Chemical offices in Washington, D.C.
  • March 29. Conspiracy charges against eight suspected organizers of the Chicago Convention protests.
  • April 5–6. Antiwar demonstrations and parades in several cities, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and others.
  • May 21. Silver Spring Three Les Bayless, John Bayless, and Michael Bransome walked into a Silver Spring, Maryland Selective Service office where they destroyed several hundred draft records to protest the war.
  • June. At the Brown University commencement, two-thirds of the graduating class turned their backs when Henry Kissinger stood up to address them. [6]
  • June 8. The Old Main building at SIU burns to the ground. Units of firefighters from all over the area tried to salvage the building but could not put out the fire before everything was destroyed. [26]
  • June. Chicago. SDS national convention. The SDS disintegrates into SDS-WSA and SDS. The Worker Student Alliance of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) has the majority of delegates (900) on its side. The smaller Revolutionary Youth Movement fraction (500) divide into RYM-I/Weatherman, who retained control of the SDS National Office, and maoist RYM-II. This fraction will further divide into the various groups of New Communist Movement.
  • July 4–5. Cleveland: national antiwar conference established National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam.
  • October 8–11. Weatherman's disastrous Days of Rage in Chicago. Only 300 militants show up, not the expected 10,000. 287 will be arrested.
  • October 15. National Moratorium against the War demonstrations. Huge crowds in Washington and in Boston (100,000). Anti-war Senator George McGovern gave a speech to the large crowd in Boston. [27]
  • November 15. The Mobe's Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam mobilizes 500,000. March against Death, Washington, D.C.
  • November 15. San Francisco. [clarification needed]
  • November 26. Selective Service System (draft-lottery) bill signed.
  • December 1. The Selective Service System of the United States conducted two lotteries
  • December 7. The 5th Dimension performs their song "Declaration" on the Ed Sullivan Show. Consisting of the opening of the Declaration of Independence (through "for their future security"), it suggests that the right and duty of revolting against a despotic government is still relevant.

1970 Edit

  • February, March. Wave of bombings across the US.
  • March. Antidraft protests across the US.
  • March 14. SS Columbia Eagle incident: Two American merchant marine sailors, Clyde McKay and Alvin Glatkowski, seized the SS Columbia Eagle and forced the master to sail in to Cambodia as opposed to Thailand, where it was on its way to deliver napalm bombs to be used by the US Air Force in Vietnam.
  • March 30: About 100 people protest in Albany, New York against the draft. [28]
  • April. New Mobe, Moratorium and SMC protests across the country.
  • April 4. A right-wing Victory March. organized by Reverend Carl McIntire calls for victory in the Vietnam War. 50,000 attend.
  • April 19: Moratorium announces disbanding.
  • May 2: violent anti-war rallies at many universities. , Ohio, May 4: Kent State Shootings: U.S. National Guard kill four young people during a demonstration. As a result, four million students go on strike at more than 450 universities and colleges. The best-known cultural response to the deaths at Kent State was the protest song "Ohio", written by Neil Young for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
  • May 8, New York. Hard Hat Riot: after a student anti-war demonstration, workers attack them and riot for two hours.
  • May 8. Jim Cairns, a member of the Australian parliament, led over 100,000 people in a demonstration in Melbourne. [27] Smaller protests were also held on the same day in every state capital of Australia.
  • May 9. Mobe sponsored Kent State/Cambodia Incursion Protest, Washington, D.C. between 75,000 and 100,000 demonstrators converged on Washington, D.C. to protest the Kent State shootings and the Nixon administration's incursion into Cambodia. Even though the demonstration was quickly put together, protesters were still able to bring out thousands to march in the National Mall in front of the Capitol. It was an almost spontaneous response to the events of the previous week. Police ringed the White House with buses to block the demonstrators from getting too close to the executive mansion. Early in the morning before the march, Nixon met with protesters briefly at the Lincoln Memorial.
  • May 14, Jackson State College. Jackson State killings: Two dead and twelve injured during violent protests.
  • May 20, New York. An estimated 60,000 to 150,000 are at a pro-war demonstration on Wall Street.
  • May 28, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennesse. Nixon at Billy Graham Crusade in Neyland Stadium. 800 students carry "Thou Shalt Not Kill" signs into the stadium. Many are arrested and charged with "disrupting a religious service" with only Republican candidates on the stage with Graham and Nixon. [29]
  • June. Before a commencement at the University of Massachusetts, students stenciled red fists of protests, white peace symbols, and blue doves onto their black gowns. [6] , August 24. Sterling Hall bombing: aimed at the Army Math Research Center on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors of the building, in missing its target, a Ford van packed with explosives hit the physics laboratory on the first floor and killed young researcher Robert Fassnacht and seriously injured another person.
  • August 29, Chicano Moratorium. 20–30,000 Mexican-Americans participated in the largest antiwar demonstration in Los Angeles. Police are attacked with clubs and guns and kill three people, including Rubén Salazar, a TV news director and LA Times reporter. [30]

1971 Edit

  • March 1. Weathermen plants a bomb in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., causing $300,000 in damage, but no casualties. [citation needed]
  • April. The Vancouver Indo-Chinese Women's Conference (VICWC), a six-day protest, gathers close to a thousand women in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
  • April 19–23. Vietnam Veterans against the War (VVAW) stages operation Dewey Canyon III. 1,000 camping on the National Mall. [31]
  • April 22–28. Veterans Against the War (and John Kerry) testify before various congressional panels. [citation needed]
  • April 24. Peaceful Vietnam War Out Now rally on the National Mall, Washington, D.C., with 200,000-500,000 [32][33] calling for an end to the Vietnam War, 156,000 participate in the largest demonstration so far on the West Coast, in San Francisco. [31]
  • April 26. More militant attempts in Washington, D.C. to shut down the government are futile against 5,000 police and 12,000 troops. [citation needed]
  • May 3–5, May Day Protests. Planned by Rennie Davis and Jerry Coffin of the War Resisters League, later joined by Michael Lerner militant mass-action tries to shut down the government in Washington, D.C. 12,614 arrested, a record in American history. [citation needed]
  • August. A group of nuns, priests, and laypeople raid a draft board in Camden, New Jersey. They came to be known as the Camden 28. [citation needed]
  • December. VVAW protests across the USA. [citation needed]

1972 Edit

  • April 15–20. May. New waves of protests across the country. [citation needed]
  • April 17. Militant anti-ROTC demonstration at the University of Maryland. 800 National Guardsmen are ordered onto the campus. [citation needed]
  • April 22. Mass antiwar demonstrations sponsored by National Peace Action Coalition, People's Coalition for Peace and Justice, and other organizations attracted an estimated 100,000 people in New York and 12,000 in Los Angeles, 25,000 in San Francisco and other cities around the US and the world. [34][35][36] , Germany, May 11. Headquarters of the V Corps of the U.S. Army at the IG Farben Building: The Commando Petra Schelm of the Rote Armee Fraktion killed U.S. Officer Paul Bloomquist and wounded thirteen in a bombing attack. [37]
  • May 21. Emergency March on Washington, D.C., organized by the National Peace Action Coalition and the People's Coalition for Peace and Justice. 8 to 15,000 protest in Washington, D.C. against the increased bombing of North Vietnam and the mining of its harbors. [citation needed]
  • Heidelberg, Germany, May 24. The Red Army Faction detonates two car bombs at the European Headquarters of the US Army, killing three. [38]
  • June 22. Ring around Congress demonstration, Washington, D.C. [citation needed]
  • In July. Jane Fonda visits North Vietnam and speaks on Hanoi Radio, earning herself the nickname "Hanoi Jane". [citation needed]
  • August 22. 3,000 protest against the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach. Ron Kovic, a wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran, led fellow veterans into the Convention Hall, wheeled down the aisles, and as Nixon began his acceptance speech shouted, "Stop the bombing! Stop the war!" [6]
  • October 14. The "Peace March to End the Vietnam War" was held in San Francisco. This "silent-march" demonstration began at City Hall and moved down Fulton Street to Golden Gate Park, where speeches were given. Over 2,000 were in attendance. Numerous groups (including many veterans) marched to support the so-called "7-Point" plan to peace. George McGovern had given a speech at the Cow Palace the night before, which energized the Saturday morning event. [39]
  • November 7. General election day. President Nixon defeats George McGovern in a landslide election victory, with 60.7% popular votes and 520 electoral votes.
  • December. Protests against Hanoi and Haiphong bombings. [citation needed]

1973 Edit

There are many pro- and anti-war slogans and chants. Those who used the anti-war slogans were commonly called "doves" those who supported the war were known as "hawks" [ citation needed ]

6 Legendary Vietnam-Era Anti-War Movement Protests Everyone Should Know

May 4, 2019, marks 49 years since the infamous killings at Kent State University. On that day, students were participating in a protest against the United States' invasion of Cambodia (an offshoot of the Vietnam War effort that spawned years of protests around the country), when National Guard troops opened fire on the protestors, killing four and injuring nine.

According to the Ohio History Central, the protest came after days of intense anti-war resistance on the Kent State campus. By May 3, roughly a thousand National Guard troops were there. At a May 4 demonstration, armed guardsman advanced on the crowd and 29 opened fire for 13 seconds, shooting off 67 rounds. Students Allison Krause (19), Sandy Scheuer (20), Jeffrey Miller (20), and William Knox Schroeder (19) were killed. Scheuer and Schroeder had been walking to class and not even participating in the protest.

"They're the worst type of people that we harbor in America,” then-Ohio governor Jim Rhodes had said of the protesters, many of whom were college students, the day before the shooting. “I think that we're up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America." The Vietnam War was often viewed through a Cold War lens as a fight against the spread of global communism, so those opposed to the war were viewed suspiciously and often tied to communism.

Nearly half a century later, the Kent State shooting remains a touchstone moment of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. But this horrible tragedy is not the only moment of protest worth remembering from the Vietnam War era, which spanned the presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon. Here are six other famous protests from that time everyone should know about.

University of Denver student strike planners in 1970.

David Cupp/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Students across the country went on strike in an action planned before the May 4 Kent State shootings. A poster in Cornell University’s digital archives lists campuses across the country where students walked out on May 6. A New York Times report from May 5, 1970, indicates that thousands of students walked out at several universities across the northeast on May 4, as well. The University of Washington’s Antiwar and Radical History Project reported that thousands walked out on their campus on May 5. At least one school, Ohio University, shut down in May 1970 as student protests continued.

Protesters burn their draft cards outside the Pentagon in 1972.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Coming in 1970, the Kent State killings were following on years of anti-war protests. One of the best-known protest tactics of the era was to burn draft cards, something those who were eligible for the draft, which was also called Selective Service, would do to show their unwillingness to be conscripted into military service.

A 1963 New York Times article tells the story of 22-year-old Eugene Keyes, who burned his draft card on Christmas Eve and used it to light a candle “for peace on earth.” The same day, he was mailed a notice that he had been drafted.

“The Selective Service is for organized violence,” Keyes told the Times. “I do not want to obey orders in any system of violence, not even orders to carry a draft card.” The draft ended in 1973 with the end of the Vietnam War.

Eartha Kitt (right) at the White House with Lady Bird Johnson (center) in 1968.

Students weren’t the only ones to get involved in the anti-war movement. Some celebrities of the era were also quite vocal about their opposition to U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. Perhaps the most famous example of this was legendary actress and singer Eartha Kitt’s famous January 1968 confrontation with first lady, Lady Bird Johnson at the White House during a luncheon that was supposed to be about juvenile delinquency.

“You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed,” Kitt told the First Lady, whose husband, President Johnson, had overseen the U.S. efforts in Vietnam transformed from support and advice to full-scale war. “They rebel in the street. They will take pot … and they will get high. They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam," said Kitt.

Kitt told The Washington Post in 1978 that she was effectively blacklisted from the U.S. entertainment industry after her outburst upset the First Lady. According to a 1975 New York Times article, the CIA had already been looking into Kitt since the 1950s. She would eventually return to fame in the States in the late ‘70s.

Muhammad Ali (right) points to a newspaper headline about Vietnam War protests in 1966.

Kitt wasn’t the only famous name to get involved in the anti-war movement. In April 1967, heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the U.S. military through the draft, which resulted in him losing his boxing license and being effectively exiled from the world of boxing, where he was king, from 1967 to 1970. Later that year, he was sentenced to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for his refusal. His case would eventually make it the Supreme Court, where his conviction would be overturned in 1971.

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America,” Ali said in 1966, explaining his refusal. “They never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father," he said of the Vietnamese.

Vietnam vets leaving medals and more outside the U.S. Capitol in 1971.

Founded in 1967, Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) tapped into a rich vein of anti-war sentiment coming from the very service members who had gone to Southeast Asia to fight. According to an article from the group’s publication The Veteran, the power of VVAW was perhaps most potently on display in D.C. in April 1971. It was there that Vietnam vets gathered for a protest called Operation Dewey Canyon III — a reference to secret U.S. operations Dewey Canyon I and II in Vietnam’s neighboring country Laos.

According to The Veteran, local chapters from across the country came together. During their six-day protest in D.C., they had their veteran status questioned thanks to President Richard Nixon’s White House, they occupied a senator’s office, and over 100 were arrested. By the end of the demonstration, more than 1,000 protesters had gathered. They marched on the Capitol and, as an exclamation point to their protest, tossed thousands of war medals at the building.

“In all, literally thousands of medals were thrown back at the government that had sent each of the veterans to fight for the U.S. ruling class. Never before had such a demonstration occurred by war veterans,” The Veteran remembered. “The sentiments of the vets was expressed best by one veteran who tossed his medals away and stated: ‘If we have to fight again, it will be to take these steps.’”

A button for the 1965 March on Washington organized by the SDS.

Stuart Lutz/Gado/Getty Images

Celebrities, veterans, parts of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, feminists, the Gay Liberation movement, the labor movement, and so many more were involved in anti-war activities during the Vietnam War. But it is often students, specifically those in college, who are best remembered for their activist work of the era — and not just for the tragedy at Kent State.

Consider, for example, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the group, founded in 1959, started working in the Civil Rights Movement and would evolve into a major force in the anti-war movement before it split into factions in the late ‘60s. But it was an April 1965 march on Washington that solidified SDS’s place in history. Estimates on crowd size range between 15,000 and 25,000 people it’s widely regarded as the largest peach march in American history up to that point.

“What kind of system is it that allows good men to make those kinds of decisions?” asked SDS founding member and president Paul Potter, then a University of Michigan grad student, in a famous speech called “Naming the System” at the march. “We must name that system. We must name it, describe it, analyze it, understand it, and change it. For it is only when that system is changed and brought under control that there can be any hope for stopping the forces that create a war in Vietnam today or a murder in the South tomorrow or all the incalculable, innumerable more subtle atrocities that are worked on people all over — all the time.”

According to a 1965 article from The New York Times (which noted that the SDS was “left-leaning but non-communist”), the group picketed the White House and prepared a petition to present to Congress to stop the war.

The Route of the March

The first event of the day was a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, with a lectern set in the same spot where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others had spoken during the March on Washington four years earlier. Meanwhile, soldiers, Defense Department civilians and reporters gathered across the river and waited to see if the tens of thousands of people massed on the Mall would in fact march on the Pentagon.

Jack Walker Then: Marine captain. Now: Retired lawyer.

I slept on my friend’s couch Friday night, and rose early to run. As I ran, I witnessed the morning preparations of both the march organizers and the government defenders. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It looked like prep for battle. Armed soldiers were building barricades, filling sandbags, raising fences, digging trenches, rolling out communication wire, positioning troops. Armored vehicles were everywhere.

Jane Ophoff Then: College student. Now: Retired musician.

Four of us drove to the rally all night long from Gerald Ford’s conservative city of Grand Rapids in a peach-colored VW Beetle on loan from a favorite college professor. We wolfed down coffee and doughnuts and headed straight to the Lincoln Memorial. We joined a large group of good people: parents with young children, disabled vets and a very special 80-year-old woman wearing high silver boots.

Albert Ihde Then: High school teacher. Now: Theater director.

As I rounded the hill beneath the Washington Monument, the breathtaking view before me brought to mind the exodus scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.” Even wide-screen Panavision couldn’t capture this massive expanse of humanity, stretched as far as I could see.

Jack Walker

My friend Jeannie and I arrived at the Washington Monument and wandered west along the reflecting pool. The streets were closed off and helmeted police clustered near vehicles with flashing lights, visible but out of the way. A tall, naked man was wading in the pool, waving a big American flag, trailed by skinny, hooting boys.

Don Berges Then: Radio reporter at the Pentagon and part-time college student. Now: Retired construction manager.

The press parking area behind the Pentagon that morning was nearly deserted, presided over by a dour Air Force major who examined my news media credentials and directed me to the press office entrance on the other side of the huge five-sided building. He denied my request to shortcut through the building. I would have to walk all the way around. This enabled me to see squads of helmeted, rifle-toting military policeman moving into positions around the building. To my untrained eye it looked like the Army was overdoing it, erring on the side of caution with all these troops. Most looked anxious and younger than me.

The formal portion of the day began at 11 a.m. with music by Peter, Paul and Mary and Phil Ochs, and speeches from organizer David Dellinger, Spock, the comedian Dick Gregory and others.

Jack Walker

We found a spot near the Lincoln Memorial and sat, listening to the music and trying to follow the speeches. The snatches I heard were full of thunder against the government.

Jane Ophoff

We chanted “Hell, no we won’t go.” I had a piccolo in my pocket and led a group who followed me as I played “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.”

Bill Ramsey Then: College student. Now: Peace and social justice activist.

When a member of the British Labour Party took the stage to announce his opposition to the war, members of the American Nazi Party rushed the stage and turned over the lectern.

I walked down the long stretch of the Pentagon’s broad ceremonial entrance stairs toward its vista of the Potomac River and the Memorial Bridge. Beyond was the Lincoln Memorial and the Mall. From that distance, I couldn’t see how many people were gathered at the feet of the Great Emancipator. The day’s big story would probably be coverage of fiery speeches over there and the whole Pentagon angle would turn out to be a waste of time.

As the speeches wound down after 1:30, people in the crowd began to watch for signs of movement toward the Memorial Bridge, which would take them to the Pentagon. They didn’t have to wait long.

Jack Walker

A trumpet blew and the crowd began to drift toward the Potomac. Press photographers rushed to get ahead of the flow, and antiwar banners and signs sprouted up. Some people started chanting. It had become a political parade.

Bill Zimmerman

Another large contingent soon moved toward the bridge holding aloft several 25-foot banners and a host of colorful signs. They were veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Americans who had volunteered to fight fascism during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. As these aging heroes passed, thousands first cheered and then joined them, eager to pick up the torch they had carried. Soon the march stretched all the way from the Memorial to the Pentagon, 50,000 people.

James Anderson

It was a pleasant fall day, a good day for a short walk in the company of friends. We formed a very earnest group, mostly young, mostly students, all committed.

Maurice Isserman Then: High school student. Now: Professor of history at Hamilton College

Helicopters, already as much the icon of the Vietnam War as jeeps and Sherman tanks had been for the Second World War, whop-whop-whopped overhead, doubtless keeping close tabs for the authorities on the progress of the march, while reminding us of why we were there.

Nancy Kurshan Then: March organizer. Now: Social justice activist.

At some point, the police blocked us from marching toward our preferred route. In response we sat down on the bridge, tens of thousands of us as far as you could see, forcing the government to yield.

Bill Zimmerman

There was no plan about what to do when we got to the building. Some wanted to simply stand in silent protest and defiance. Others were determined to get inside and ransack it. A few planned to deface its outer walls. The more whimsical spoke of “levitating” the building and “exorcising” the evil spirits inside.

Leslie H. Gelb Then: Director of policy planning at the Pentagon. Now: President emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

It was already late in the afternoon, and the building had few of us, mostly military, doing our usual Saturday labors.

After an hour or so of hanging around exchanging wisecracks with other reporters, I walked back north for another view at the story that was probably unfolding without me across the river. I was brought up short by what I saw. Advancing slowly toward me was a broad deep wave of people, tens of thousands of people tightly packed the full length and breadth of both sides of the approach highways and back across the bridge.

Though the march was not an official part of the day, its details had been painstakingly negotiated between organizers and the Pentagon. The marchers asked to be allowed to encircle the building they were refused, and told they had to stay in the North Parking Lot, several hundred feet from the Pentagon and across the Jefferson Davis Highway.

Maurice Isserman

Finally, we reached the Pentagon, or that is to say, an adjoining parking lot. Here was where the officially choreographed “resistance” was supposed to take place. Protesters would have the option of crossing a police line, and then submitting to arrest in orderly fashion. Everyone else would content themselves staying within shouting (or levitating) distance.

Joanne Seay Byrd

The Pentagon area was amazing. To my young mind there was a massive crowd chanting and marching.

Some were of an older generation, neatly dressed and smiling, advancing arm in arm with new friends, content and secure in their beliefs, occasionally chanting in unison polite slogans urging an immediate end to the conflict. Others were young, loud and angry a few wielded crude signs with words so profane I would not dare repeat on the air.

By 4 p.m. the bulk of the marchers had arrived. Between them and the building stood a line of military police, and behind them federal marshals. Several prominent marchers mounted a flatbed truck and gave speeches. Off to the sides were temporary chain-link fences. Almost immediately, tensions among the crowd began to rise.

Noam Chomsky

I was with a group of somewhat older people, suits and ties. While gathering near the Pentagon, facing a line of soldiers, we took turns with the mike.

Noam Chomsky, third from left, marches with others including Norman Mailer, Robert Lowell, Sidney Lens, Dagmar Wilson and Dr. Benjamin Spock. Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

Jim Laurie Then: College student and part-time radioreporter. Now: Media consultant.

Standing on a flatbed [press] truck positioned near Corridor 7 at the Pentagon’s mall entrance, microphone attached to my two-way, I looked out over a vast sea of people. Helmeted military police, bayonets affixed to their rifles, and federal marshals faced thousands of protesters.

Stan Roberts Army Security Agency staff member.

I was allowed to walk up to the roof and move to the flat part over the main entrance where the protest march ended. There were a number of snipers on the roof along with a few civilians whom I assumed were F.B.I., since they were using binoculars to search the crowd and identify known “subversives.” I heard them call out a few names, so they did locate some people of interest to their group.

Bill Ramsey

A young woman plucked a flower from her hair and stepped forward, placing it in the barrel of a soldier’s rifle. I heard the click of a camera’s shutter. The young soldier looked confused, his eyes riveted on the flower. His face seemed to mirror the same fear that I felt. I wondered, did he also feel trapped?

Sharon Smith

I was saddened, though not surprised, to come face-to-face with weapons-toting military men. Some girls pushed daisies into their rifle barrels. I wondered if the soldiers wished they could fire on us, or secretly applauded our efforts to protect them from being sent off to die for a bunch of greedy rich old men.

Bill Ramsey

Several demonstrators, apparently expecting what was to come and having arrived prepared, put on football helmets.

Every so often a demonstrator wormed past the line of soldiers and ran in arm-waving triumph toward the building until roughly tackled and hauled off by the authorities.

Michael Kazin Then: College student. Now: Professor of history at Georgetown University and editor of Dissent.

Paul Millman, a Students for a Democratic Society activist I knew, somehow got hold of a bullhorn and began a monologue of remarkable gentleness and persuasiveness. They were pleas to the Gis to recognize the immoral and futile nature of the war, to lay down their rifles and join us. After Paul went on like this for fifteen minutes or so, a small miracle of resistance occurred. I saw one soldier put down his weapon and his helmet and actually walk into the welcoming crowd. Then a second man did the same &mdash or I think he did. We all wanted so badly for such a mutiny to occur that we interpreted any movement by a G.I., any anxious shuffling of feet or replacement of one man in line by another as a giant step toward pulling the United States out of Indochina and stoking the fires of revolt at home.

Leslie H. Gelb

No one in the building that day had much, if any, sympathy for the protesters, especially those waving Viet Cong flags. It was one thing to be against the war and another to wave those flags.

As the crowd gathered, several hundred protesters, led by Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman and the Fugs, a politically oriented band from New York, attempted to “levitate” the Pentagon. Through a sound system mounted on a truck, the band and Ginsberg led the crowd in an elaborate chant.

Nancy Kurshan

Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, decked out in multicolored capes, provided the music. Ginsberg opened the ceremony with what would become his hallmark “Ommmmmmmmm.” Others led incantations of “Out, demons, out!”

Trudi Schutz Then: American Friends Service Committee staff member. Now: Executive and career coach.

We wanted to raise that symbol of the war off its foundation and say yes to what we believed America stood for.

James Anderson

Nothing happened to the Pentagon, not even a twitch. Not many demonstrators paid attention. However, the planned exorcism, the visual image and its overall weirdness played well in the press. Some justified their use by claiming the absurdity of the war should be matched by the absurdity of matching actions. Unfortunately, absurdity also provided a good argument for those hostile to the demonstration to dismiss, ignore and discourage the participation of serious people with serious criticisms of bad government policy.

By 5 p.m., the crowd’s joy at having reached the Pentagon was fading, replaced by fear among some and a determination among others to instigate a confrontation. The situation grew confused a number of tear gas grenades were set off, reportedly by accident, while a contingent of protesters tried to make an end run around the soldiers and marshals toward the Pentagon. Federal marshals began arresting people, including Mailer and Chomsky.

Jane Ophoff

It was clear that we had reached an impasse between a teach-in and a standoff.

Joanne Seay Byrd

All was good until the first bayonet I had ever seen was wielded by a guardsman poised to deflect our advancement to the Pentagon wall.

Noam Chomsky

I happened to be speaking when the soldiers suddenly put on gas masks and started advancing forward to clear the crowd. Everyone sat down. Not knowing what to do, I kept talking &mdash to the strangest-looking audience I’ve ever faced. Marshals took or dragged everyone to waiting vans. My audience of gas masks passed by me and I kept talking to a wall of the Pentagon, which I’m sure was most responsive. Until my turn came.

Joanne Seay Byrd

People began to scatter. Contact was lost between friends and groups.

Jane Ophoff

The great majority realized that it was time to disperse just as a radical element of protesters revealed their intentions, broke through barriers and ran toward the Pentagon.

Bill Zimmerman

As they turned toward the building, they encountered the first of two temporary fences. They immediately tore down part of it, which separated the parking lot from the grounds of the Pentagon itself. Marshals rushed over and forced them back.

Maurice Isserman

A few dozen protesters charged up the hillside and the steps, actually making it into the building before being beaten back. Hundreds, then thousands, followed in their steps.

I had just picked up the phone in the press room and dialed a station in Florida when there was a big uproar outside. Loud noises came from objects hurled against the building’s doors and walls. Guards struggled to secure the big doors against a bellowing offshoot of the crowd trying to charge through the entrance.

Maurice Isserman

I thought about what I should do for a few seconds until, saying goodbye to my uncle and aunt, I loped up the hillside after the others. By the time I reached the beachhead before the Pentagon steps, the opening behind me had been sealed. For better or worse, I was committed.

A scuffle between military police and protesters outside the Pentagon. Associated Press

For the next two hours, the crowd battled with the military and marshals, until most of the fencing had been torn down. Soon the crowd, by then about 20,000 people, was within 30 yards of the Pentagon, face to face with a line of bayonet-wielding military police.

Bill Zimmerman

We sat down by the thousands on the grass or pavement directly in front of them. I was in the first row, and like others, I talked to the soldiers immediately opposite me about the war and why we were there to protest it. Some of the young soldiers were hostile, but many were ill at ease, unaccustomed to what they were experiencing and ambivalent about those of us confronting them.

Sharon Smith

I sang along to “We Shall Overcome.” It felt glorious to be part of a massive, peaceful gathering of like-minded folks. The chant started: “Hell, no. We won’t go!” I joined in &mdash but realized no one was asking me to go. Back then, there were no female-inclusive anti-war chants. OK, we weren’t being drafted but we girls and women were protesting the senseless potential loss of our friends, husbands, brothers, cousins and sons.

Maurice Isserman

“It is difficult to report publicly the ugly and vulgar provocation of many of the militants,” The New York Times’ James Reston wrote about what happened next, in a front-page think piece for the newspaper two days later. “They spat on some of the soldiers in the front line at the Pentagon and goaded them with the most vicious personal slander.” That’s not the way I remember it, and interestingly, it’s not the way that The Times’ reporters who were actually on the scene on Oct. 21 reported it &mdash there is no mention of spitting in either The Times’ or The Washington Post’s news stories on Oct. 22.

Bill Zimmerman

A short distance to my right protesters stood up and moved closer to the troops. M.P.s emerged from behind the paratroopers. Their rifles had no bayonets but were held at their waists pointed up at an angle, directly at the heads of the demonstrators standing face to face in front of them. No one backed off.

The atmosphere was rapidly metastasizing into one of potential violence. No doubt I wasn’t the only one who held my breath when a young man among the protesters took a half-step forward, improbably produced a flower and inserted its stem into the barrel of a rifle pointed at him.

A protester inserts flowers into the rifle barrels of military police near the Pentagon. Bernie Boston/The Washington Star, via Getty Images

Bill Zimmerman

Calmly, he moved down the line of M.P.s and put each of his flowers into a different rifle barrel. This symbolic act was caught on film and the resulting photo splashed across front pages throughout the country the next day.

As evening set in, many in the crowd began to peel off, either from fatigue, fear of further clashes or both. Meanwhile, the hundreds of arrestees were taken to an impromptu processing center behind the Pentagon. Some were released others, including Mailer and Chomsky, were sent to the jail in Occoquan, Va. At 10:30, the military police on the front line were replaced by soldiers from nearby Fort Meyer.

Bill Ramsey

With the standoff uncertain but feeling clearly unsafe, I “jumped ship.” Actually, I jumped a wall by the landing’s side stairs and headed up the embankment to the southbound highway. Relieved to be out of the fray, I stuck out my thumb. A red sports car stopped, and the young driver asked me where I was headed. When I said “High Point, North Carolina,” he responded, “I’m headed back to Camp Lejeune &mdash get in.” Knowing Camp Lejeune to be a Marine base near the North Carolina coast, I warily lowered myself into the passenger seat. He asked, “Where have you been?” With not much more than a murmur, I answered, “The Pentagon.” And he said, “Thanks. I was there, too.” He told me that he was expecting orders to be deployed to Vietnam any day and that this was his first, and maybe last, chance to speak out.

Nancy Kurshan

As the sun went down, it became cooler and cooler. The crowd was getting younger and younger. We were on our own. The protection of the older generation was disappearing.

George Kirby

It seemed like a couple hundred buses were waiting to pick the demonstrators up right next to the Pentagon. I’d spoken to three coeds earlier. I walked near them as they searched for their bus. One looked at my short hair and neat civilian shirt and asked, “Are you in the service?” I replied in my best military manner, “Yes, ma’am, I just got back from Nam. I’m what you are demonstrating against.” The girl replied, “We’re not against you. Marines have really cool uniforms.” And they hurried off to find their bus.

Jane Ophoff

Like most others, we were committed to nonviolence, left the scene immediately and found a cheap motel room, where 10 of us packed in with the sleeping bags we had brought. In the morning we would find out that our peaceful rally and march had devolved into an overnight clash during which hundreds were arrested.

Bill Zimmerman

We made bonfires with the picket signs carried earlier. Impromptu speakers used bullhorns to urge the paratroopers to switch sides. We wanted our soldiers to abandon the government and join us, as Russian soldiers had in 1917. Around 9 p.m., one did. A single trooper dropped his rifle, threw down his helmet and advanced into the crowd of protesters. Before he got far, he was seized from behind and led away. We never found out what happened to him.

Nancy Kurshan

We were on a mission and we knew we were right. We looked to the right and we looked to the left and we knew that all of us would remain up until the point of arrest. For hours there was an impromptu teach-in to the troops. People climbed up on a ledge and, using a bullhorn, spoke to the troops. There was an open mike (well, actually a bullhorn) for anyone who wanted to speak. I did not have the confidence to speak, but I was very proud of what people said.

Noam Chomsky

Most of those arrested were young, uncertain, tense. The emotional pitch was high [in the jail in Occoquan]. There were some calls for actions that could have caused major problems. Mailer intervened quietly, decisively, with a touch of low-keyed and effective mockery, helping to restore a mood of serious dedication and to avert self-destructive militancy, an intervention of no small significance.

Pat Graves Army, in reserve at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va.

My unit did not move to the Pentagon until 10:30 p.m. We were not issued ammunition, but it was kept a short distance away. The troops were issued gas grenades. This gave me some anxious moments. Demonstrators could easily grab grenades off the soldiers’ web gear. In fact that happened to troops from other units earlier in the day.

Bill Zimmerman

Soon, I saw draft cards being burned. Many young men in the crowd had not yet taken that step. In the eerie scene, with bonfires encircling the Pentagon, they found the inspiration to do so. Over 200 draft cards went up in smoke.

Bob Gregson

Two things struck me most during that long chilly night as we stood, shoulder to shoulder, with unloaded rifles facing the crowd. First was the hostility of a very few demonstrators. One young man in particular spent the night putting his face within inches of the faces of our soldiers and staring at them, seemingly ready to spit in their faces. Second, our guys couldn’t respond verbally or physically, so it was very hard on each of them in turn. I was terribly proud of their self-control. After all, most of our men were draftees and perhaps had varying levels of sympathy for the protesters, but that man’s actions drew a lot of curses later on. My first sergeant &mdash also an injured Vietnam combat vet &mdash became enraged by that young man’s conduct and tried to jam his rifle under our troops’ legs from behind the perimeter to hit the shoes of that man. But the young guy simply hopped left or right and continued his mental and physical harassment.

Nancy Kurshan

The soldiers would every now and then make forays into the front of the crowd, clubbing a few people and dragging a few others away to be arrested. We sat, arms locked as tight as possible, to impede them as much as possible and to protect one another. In the end they dragged away everyone who remained. Well over a thousand people were arrested, with 780 of us held and several hundred released.

Bob Gregson

Every now and then during the night there would come the word that the demonstrators would attack at a certain part of the perimeter. The klieg lights from the flatbed press trailer would come on, the marshals standing behind our perimeter would rush over to that area with their batons, and a surge would happen. When some broke through our lines the marshals would whack them and, I assume, arrest them.

Nadya Williams Then: Activist. Now: Veterans for Peace member.

We stayed all night on the Pentagon steps, with tear gas wafting around us. In one of those surreal memories, I can still see Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara watching us, silhouetted, with a bright light behind him, on a lower Pentagon balcony. I imagined I could even see the distinctive part in his hair!

From 11:45 to 12:30 the marshals pushed our troops forward from behind in order to push the protesters back, gaining 30 feet. Bob [Gregson] and I did not like this action by the marshals. We were in command of our companies, not them. The marshals were too aggressive, often reaching between our soldiers to hit protesters with their batons.

After midnight Sunday morning, tens of thousands had dwindled to several hundred hard core activists. They were ready to be taken off to jail. Marshals barked orders. Demonstrators sang “America the Beautiful” and “We Shall Overcome.” M.P.’s carried them into police wagons.

The morning broke cold, in the high 30s. About 400 to 500 protesters had stayed overnight, facing off against the same contingents of soldiers and marshals. To pressure the protesters to leave, the marshals got more aggressive, at one point dousing some protesters with water from a hose, among other measures to make them uncomfortable enough to leave.

In another show of aggression, several of the marshals took our soldiers’ canteens and poured water behind the line. The pavement sloped toward the demonstrators. Wet clothing added to the discomfort of the demonstrators, who were sitting and lying on the ground. The demonstrators built numerous fires to ward off the chill.

Trudi Schutz

Nadya Williams

Toward what must have been around 6 a.m., the crowd (and, perhaps, the Mobilization’s leaders) decided to beat a “dignified retreat,” as we all stood up and walked back over the bridge as the day was dawning. Frankly, I was much relieved to be leaving, as it was very apparent that we were “going to get our asses kicked” if we stayed on the entrance steps into the Pentagon during daylight.

Bob Gregson

Soon after daylight, the commanding general gave the order to clear out the remaining demonstrators from the entry area. That was a welcome command! We rushed forward on exhausted legs that had seemingly locked in place, and the remaining demonstrators ran away.

Nancy Kurshan

I was arrested alongside Anita Hoffman [the wife of Abbie Hoffman]. It was the first time either of us had been under arrest. I would later learn that it was a very atypical arrest experience. They took hundreds of us, all women, to what seemed to be a huge dormitory. There were scores and scores of cots lined up next to each other, like being in a huge summer camp. Anita and I were able to stay together and were on cots right alongside each other. The camaraderie was palpable and exciting. After spending the night on our cots, we were herded to court and as counseled by our movement lawyers, we pleaded nolo contendere. This was worked out between the government and our lawyers. We did what we were advised, paid a small fine and went home.

Before we departed, Bob Gregson’s company surged forward and captured a large yellow submarine. It measured approximately eight feet long, three feet wide and four feet tall at the conning tower. Its rounded wooden frame was made with two-by-fours, covered with stiff canvas painted yellow with red trim. The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” had become a rallying song for some anarchists. With an eye to history, Bob had his troops retrieve the craft for presentation to the Smithsonian. Unfortunately, his first sergeant had no appreciation of history and had it destroyed.

Bob Gregson

The final box score: zero killed zero wounded one submarine captured zero artifacts left for future generations.

Bill Zimmerman

At first light, only several hundred remained, but we had escaped arrest and injury and believed we had made our point. We got up, formed a line and marched three miles to the White House. It was early and we wanted to wake up, or at least shake up, President Johnson. We paraded under his windows until motorcycle cops drove us off with nightsticks. But we were there long enough to make sure Johnson heard the chant that by then had become emblematic of the antiwar movement: “Hey, hey, L.B.J., how many kids did you kill today?”

Nadya Williams

I managed to get on a bus home and remember a stop at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant. In the women’s restroom, several young women had their heads in the sink to try to wash the blood off their skulls and out of their hair from the rifle-butt blows from the guards at the top of the steps.

The march on the Pentagon probably did not make much of an impact on public opinion about the war, but participants roundly say that it galvanized their own role in the antiwar movement, and in many cases inspired them to a life of progressive activism.

Leslie H. Gelb

It wasn’t the howls outside [the Pentagon] that caused some of us to begin raising questions about that horrific war. That began in a sustained and serious way only in early 1968, after the Communist Tet Offensive. By that time, it seemed the protesters knew something we didn’t.

James Anderson

It was, and still is, unclear to me that the Pentagon demonstration accomplished as much as it might have. However it did show clearly that the intensity of public dislike of the war was growing rapidly. In the next two years demonstrations went in size from perhaps 100,000 participants at the Pentagon to millions in the worldwide Moratorium demonstrations of 1969. Politicians noticed and eventually responded.

Jane Ophoff

Our participation was not a sophomore lark. We felt that by adding our peaceful presence to our strong convictions, we had been part of something important, a movement that grew and eventually succeeded in turning the tide against the war. We felt proud and patriotic, as I still do 50 years later.

Nancy Kurshan

In the end, the victory was really a result of the energy and the numbers of the people that participated. Even the children of officials in the Johnson administration were joining us. In a political sense the country was now really at war with itself. This realization seemed to hold within itself the possibility that we could end the war with Vietnam.

Bill Ramsey

In many ways, the sun has never set on that long stretch of a day, and I have remained on that crowded Pentagon landing &mdash launched for a lifetime.

David Greenberg, a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers, is the author of “Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

An earlier version of this article misstated the date of an antiwar fundraiser in Washington. It was Oct. 19, not Oct. 20. In addition, an earlier version of a credit on a picture with this essay misstated the affiliation of the photographer, Bernie Boston. He worked for The Washington Star, not The Washington Post.

Vietnam War Protests

College students played an indispensable role in the anti-Vietnam war movement during the 1970s, and UCSB was no exception. Beginning in May of 1965, students protested and discussed the war in every way imaginable. Students participated through draft resistance, engaging in faculty discussions, attending teach-ins, and joining organizations such as the Student Peace Committee (see below). A large part of the UCSB student body, however, did not view these forums as adequate measures to protest the Johnson administration’s foreign policy measures. Student protests, both peaceful and violent, erupted across America as the U.S Army continually invaded and bombed Southeast Asia beginning in 1965. The validity of the UCSB Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) was being brought into question during this time as well, since many students believed its actions should be more accommodating to protestors. UCSB students expressed their vehement anger towards U.S foreign policy through a series of violent protests in 1967, causing thousands of dollars worth of property damage in Isla Vista and the temporary shutdown of the Santa Barbara Airport. These protests sent an unfiltered message to the U.S Government: that they would be held accountable for their decisions, no matter what the cost.

[(“New Draft Policy”, University of California, Santa Barbara, Student Organizations Collection, Box 4). University of California, Santa Barbara, Associated Students Records. UArch 101. Department of Special Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.]

[(“Are You in Favor of Peace in Vietnam”, University of California, Santa Barbara, Student Organizations Collection, Box 4). University of California, Santa Barbara, Associated Students Records. UArch 101. Department of Special Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.]

[(“University Committee on War and Peace”, University of California, Santa Barbara, Student Organizations Collection, Box 10). University of California, Santa Barbara, Associated Students Records. UArch 101. Department of Special Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.]

Protests, marches, and calls to action were ubiquitous around campus. These took the form of movie showings, theater productions, lectures, speeches, and artwork. Here are some of the many postings reminding students of the urgency of protest and circumstances of the war:

[(Matson, R. 1971, November 3). “The Time to Act is Now.” Daily Nexus , Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/t148fj11g]
[(Okamura/OPS 1972, April 19). Daily Nexus , Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/3x816n74p ]
[(Levine, D 1973, May 11). Daily Nexus , Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/rj4305584 ]
[(1967, October 20). “Scoreboard” El Gaucho, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/bk128b88g ]

In October of 1965, Students for Free Political Action (SFPA) sponsored the first teach-ins, movie screenings, and speeches from nationally recognized activists at UCSB. October also marked the first of many rallies in opposition to the war, which in turn sparked the first student conflicts regarding the morality of America’s involvement in Vietnam. For instance, the previously inactive Young Americans for Freedom group mobilized in 1965 in order to protest SFPA actions on campus.

[(Winograd, B. 1965, October 15). “Viet Nam protest today vigil stirs counter-pickets” El Gaucho, https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/h128nf83m ]

Joan Baez, a widely known folk songwriter and activist, came to UCSB in October of 1966 to speak in David Arnold’s Sociology 128 class about the war in Vietnam, non-violence, and taking political action. Joan Baez was a part of the outspoken liberal minority that had been speaking out against U.S involvement in Vietnam since the beginning of the conflict.

[(Shelton, J. 1966, October 20). “Joan Baez describes Non Violence School” El Gaucho, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/mp48sd947 ]
[(Shelton, J. 1966, October 20). “Non-Violent revolt asked by pacifist” El Gaucho, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/mp48sd947 ]

Though Baez’s non-violent rhetoric resonated with many UCSB students, frustration with the war and the rise of organized student activism in the 1960s mobilized thousands of UCSB students. 1967 was filled with both peaceful and violent student protests. One of the primary debates within the UCSB student body was regarding the rights of the ROTC. The ROTC was voluntarily established at UCSB shortly after World War II and provided a way for male students during this period to fulfill their military obligations. When student protestors began attacking the ROTC during the height of the war, many students defended the military program, claiming that ROTC officers were facing injustice and stereotyping. Major Bailey told the Daily Nexus in 1967 that the ROTC faculty members would “jump at the chance to discuss the issues with anyone willing to take the time…Pacifist attacks such as those witnessed here recently do not help matters any” (1971, November 3) Daily Nexus.

[(1968, October 17) El Gaucho, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/bg257g27q ]

During Fall Quarter of 1967, The Daily Nexus and El Gaucho were covered with letters to the editor about how the ROTC should handle student activism, and whether or not the ROTC should be considered for academic credit. It was during this period that widespread disillusionment with the war began reaching the general American public. The televised atrocities of the war and the exponentially rising cost to taxpayers was becoming increasingly evident. The Student Peace Committee was a prominent voice in the ROTC debate.

[(Samuelsen, M. 1967, October 3). “Peace Committee ROTC Clash on ‘Academic’ Debate” El Gaucho, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/tq57ns101 ]

Perspectives on the ROTC debate took on many forms. Many students viewed protests against the military institution as unjust and unsubstantiated. While most of these opinions were made public through the Daily Nexus, a group of students and Santa Barbara citizens formed an organization called “Friends of the ROTC”, which defended the military group’s role on campus (see below).

[(Hankins, J. 1971, November 3). “‘Friends of ROTC’ Formed by Santa Barbara Citizens” El Gaucho, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/ww72bc81w ]
[(Russ, B. 1967, October 18). “A Defence of ROTC” El Gaucho, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/r494vm27z ]
[(Russ, B. 1967, October 18). “A Defence of ROTC” El Gaucho, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/r494vm27z ]
[(Krend, J. 1967, October 31). “ROTC Dispute Rages on” El Gaucho, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/9s161716b ]

Each escalation of U.S involvement in the war brought with it a new wave of student protest. When the Nixon administration approved the U.S invasion of Cambodia in 1970, rising anti-war sentiments coalesced into an unprecedented national student strike. The magnitude of this strike delivered an ultimatum to the U.S government, warning that if the U.S extends the invasion in Southeast Asia, turmoil will ensue on the home front.

[(“The U.S. Military has Invaded Cambodia”, University of California, Santa Barbara, Student Organizations Collection, Box 10). University of California, Santa Barbara, Associated Students Records. UArch 101. Department of Special Collections, UC Santa Barbara Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.]

When Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger further escalated the war through implementing Operation Linebacker in 1972, UCSB students grew furious. The day after the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong, students shut down the Santa Barbara airport, resulting in the cancelation of all flights for that day. The violence of these riots resulted in one person falling from a three-story building, while 13 others were arrested.

[(Rimer, S Haight, A. 1972, May 10). “2,500 shut down S.B. airport” Daily Nexus, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/mp48sd972 ]

When police forces tried to subdue the protest at 9:30 pm, students began yelling “freeway!”, and headed to Hollister Avenue and Highway 101. By 10:00 pm, when students realized a fence stood between them and the highway, they began walking back to IV, telling police officers they wanted no confrontation. A police car then sped directly towards the back of the marching group and swerved off the road, injuring and arresting protestors. As police officers continued to drive through the crowds, one woman parked on Hollister told the Daily Nexus “Well they must have been [beating protestors], didn’t you hear the screaming?”. At 10:35 pm, a bonfire was set off in Perfect Park, and protestors began marching through IV to gain members for a march on the ROTC. When the group was confronted by the ROTC, a protestor drove his car directly into the line of ROTC members. As rocks were being thrown back and forth, the ROTC threw a total of five canisters of tear gas into the crowd on Pardall. By 2:00 am the demonstrators had dispersed ( Rimer, S. 1972, May 11. Daily Nexus).

[ (Cline, V. 1972, May 10). “Night actions rock Isla Vista” Daily Nexus, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/mp48sd972 ]
[ (Eber, R.1972, May 11). “Riot damage in Tuesday action at approximately $6,000” Daily Nexus, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/g445cf259 ]

This event angered many students who felt that these violent protests were unjustified, as demonstrated by this letter to the editor of the Daily Nexus:

[(Randall, T. 1972, May 10). “Letter to the Editor” Daily Nexus, Retrieved from https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/mp48sd972 ]

The following day, 1,000 UCSB students gathered on the UCen lawn to continue the anti-war rally. They marched throughout campus and into Oglesby’s History of California class in Campbell Hall, gathering more and more students as they went. Before the Isla Vista rally later that day, about 250 students confronted 25 ROTC officers at the ROTC building. “One officer was hit by a can and knocked down…two students climbed on top of the building, and 10 students were eventually allowed to enter the building to speak with Army Officers” (Daily Nexus, May 10 1972).

On May 11th, the following day, Ronald Reagan walked off his helicopter onto Santa Barbara grounds, where he was greeted by 1,000 demonstrators. While 1,200 members of Santa Barbara’s social elite dined with Reagan, the demonstrators (mostly from UCSB) sang and chanted outside. No confrontational or violent incidents occurred.

The events that occurred during these years at UCSB reflected the anger, disappointment, and frustration of students with the U.S government’s decisions. The debates, teach-ins, rallies, and protests that took place on campus are testaments to the abilities of young people to enact meaningful change. The Santa Barbara airport protestors received national news coverage fro m NBC and CBS, mirroring the American public’s growing opposition to the Vietnam war. Additionally, reactions to the anti-war protests demonstrated the wide range of political opinions that have always been present on the UCSB campus, and how social unrest can facilitate meaningful debate.

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The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Protest, 1965-1975

The era of protest against Vietnam – 1965-75 – was unique as the emergence of a nationwide peace movement on a scale not seen before in American history. There were previous war resisters, for example, the Society of Friends, the opponents of the Mexican War and the Indian wars, critics of the imperial taking of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and opponents of World War I, numbering in the many thousands. But no peace movement was as large-scale, long lasting, intense, and threatening to the status quo as the protests against the Vietnam War.

The roots of the Vietnam peace movement were in the civil rights, student, and women’s movements of the early Sixties. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Students for a Democratic Society, the Free Speech Movement and the National Organization for Women all were asserting domestic demands just as the US draft and troop escalation took place in 1965. SNCC’s Mississippi Summer Project and Freedom Democrats’ convention challenge occurred at the time of the August 1964 Tonkin Gulf “incident” and war authorization. SDS supported “part of the way” with LBJ in late 1964 while planning the first peace march in April 1965 in case Johnson broke his pledge of no ground troops. The Free Speech Movement of September 1964 set the stage for the Vietnam Day Committee and Berkeley’s first teach-in. The civil rights movement and also Women’s Strike inspired the National Organization of Women for Peace, which opposed Strontium-90 and pushed for President Kennedy’s 1963 arms treaty with the Soviet Union. Together these movements were demanding a shift from Cold War priorities to “jobs and justice”, the banner of the 1963 March on Washington, and were deeply shocked by the assassination of Kennedy and subsequent escalation in Vietnam.

During the Vietnam peace movement era between 1965-1975, Americans took to the streets in numbers exceeding one hundred thousand on at least a dozen occasions, sometimes half-million. At least 29 young Americans were murdered while protesting the war. Tens of thousands were arrested. The greatest student strikes in American history shut down campuses for weeks. Black people rose in hundreds of “urban rebellions” partly against the shift from the War on Poverty to the Vietnam War. GIs rebelled on scores of bases and ships, refused orders, threw their medals at the Congress, and often attacked their superior officers, prompting warnings about the “collapse” of the armed forces by the Seventies. Peace candidates appeared in Congressional races by 1966 and became a serious presence in presidential politics by 1968. President Lyndon B. Johnson was forced to resign because of a revolt within his own party in 1968, and Richard Nixon resigned after escalating a secret war and unleashing spies and provocateurs against dissenters at home.

The 1965-75 peace movement reached a scale which threatened the foundations of the American social order, making it an inspirational model for future social movements and a nightmare which elites ever since have hoped to wipe from memory. It’s far simpler, after all, to incorporate into the American Story a chapter about a social movement overcoming discrimination than the saga of a failed war in which tens of thousands of Americans died while killing others.

The events of those ten years (1965-75) can be compared to the “general strike” – or non-cooperation – of the slaves on southern plantations that undermined the Confederacy, according to the classic study by W. E. B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction. Dubois wrote that, “The slave entered upon a general strike against slavery by the same methods that he had used during the period of the fugitive slave. He ran away to the first place of safety and offered his services to the Federal Army…and so it was true that this withdrawal and bestowal of his labor decided the war.”[1]

In the case of Vietnam, the Vietnamese peasantry demanding land reform were the equivalent of the African slaves who resisted slavery and demanded “40 acres and a mule” the century before. The fundamental role of the Vietnamese resistance to the French and American occupiers will be discussed below. But their resistance awakened and triggered the eventual “general strike” in America that paralyzed campuses, cities, and barracks, forced a realignment to American politics, and brought the war to its end.

The first strand of the American resistance began in campus communities. Starting with polite dissent and educational teach-ins, by 1969-1970 there was a wave of student strikes that shuttered hundreds of campuses, involved four million in protests[2] and forced closures of those key institutions through the spring semester in 1970. Second, at the same time, 1964-71, there were seven hundred “civil disturbances” with more than one hundred deaths in Watts, Newark, and Detroit alone. Those “riots” were in protest against budgets that favored war spending over social programs, and they included many returning Vietnam veterans or their family members at home. Third, there came a GI revolt that included over 500 fraggings of officers in 1969-70, scores of “riots” on military bases, forty thousand desertions to Canada and Sweden, and official reports that the army was “approaching collapse.”[3]“From 1970 on, the fight against the war was moving from the campus to the barracks,”[4] wrote one historian.

Amidst this general collapse, the peace movement was able to generate a political constituency that attracted peace candidates who threatened the Cold War consensus. The political revolt began in 1966 with the Robert Scheer and Stanley Sheinbaum candidacies in Democratic primaries, and grew into the national campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972. The McCarthy campaign was driven almost entirely by student volunteers who later created the Vietnam moratoriums. The military draft was ended by January 1973 as, “an effective political weapon against the burgeoning antiwar movement.”[5] A possible victory for peace was denied when Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968 shortly after the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. By 1972, the Democratic Party had adopted a platform calling for complete and immediate withdrawal from Vietnam. American politics would be changed for decades by the Vietnam generation, much as the Abolitionists and Radical Republicans were allies of the Underground Railroad and the “general strike” in which slaves turned the tide of war. The deaths of King and the Kennedys, like the murder of Lincoln, undermined the transformative possibilities of a Second Reconstruction.

A cautionary conceptual note: thus “general strike” was not in any sense a planned or coordinated campaign, nor one led by radical vanguards. Rather, it was a continuous series of populist reactions that took place because of a vacuum of leadership by mainstream institutions. Activist peace and justice groups gave inspiration and support to this Great Refusal to conform, but massive desperation was the motor force. The alternative was submission, and that was not the character of the times.

The general strike forced a systemic crisis, “As deep as the civil war (and caused a prediction that) the very survival of the nation will be threatened,” according to the Scranton Commission appointed by President Nixon after Kent State. It was a, “Crisis as deep as the civil war (and) the very survival of the nation will be threatened,” in the words of the 1970 Scranton Commission. The crisis threatened the very stability of the economic system too as early as 1967, “New York’s financial community and the interests it represented were seriously worried about the war.”[6] Business executives for peace started placing full-page ads in the New York Times that year.

There was no light at either end of the tunnel, from Berkeley to Saigon. The great rethinking was symbolized by the private consultations held between the president and a select group of business and military “wise men”, who at first backed the war but reversed themselves in a March 1968 White House discussion, shocking Johnson with their advice to cut his losses and disengage. The war and the growing crisis at home had split the unity of the Cold War establishment, revealed most sharply in the Watergate crisis where Nixon chose to circumvent the Constitution in order to prolong the war. It was in this context that the hawkish ex-Marine Daniel Ellsberg chose to release the secret Pentagon Papers and face treason charges. His co-conspirator, Anthony Russo, was changed by face-to-face interrogations with Vietcong detainees, whom he came to respect. (Their action was the model for recent whistleblowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.)

When the new doves in the ruling institutions began to demand disengagement, their views converged with the more radical demands of the anti-war movement to erode all remaining support for the Vietnam policy. The pillars of the Vietnam policy had been undermined by people power. The democratic process had prevailed over the “cancer on the presidency,” as John Dean described the Watergate scandal. In the eyes of many establishment figures who originally endorsed the war, it had become unwinnable, unaffordable, and a threat to domestic tranquility.

Instead of blurry images of chaos, the peace movement should be seen as a shaving unfolded with an inner logic: at first, from the margins of society among young people who could be drafted but could not vote from the inner cities where they were drafted in great numbers from the poets and intellectuals and finally spreading into mainstream sectors considered centrist. The trajectory was rapid, from 1964 to 1967. The peace constituency was large enough to polarize American politics, with the Democratic Party realigning between 1966 and 1968. The counter-movement was severe, ranging from police repression, to Nixon’s “dirty tricks” campaign, to false promises of peace to sway voters, and finally to the withdrawal of US ground troops combined with an invisible air war. The war ended nonetheless, both on the battlefield with the fall of Saigon, and the fall of Nixon at Watergate.

A second observation about the Vietnam peace movement is that it was so divided – a movement of movements, which it was impossible to cohere into a unified national force like the AFL-CIO or NAACP. There were internal divisions along the lines of class, race, and gender civilian resisters and rebels within the military street protestors and politicians advocates of nonviolence, electoral politics, disruption, and resistance. These different factions often quarreled bitterly, some at the instigation of the FBI but also due to ego sectarian and ideological rivalries. But in the end they interacted in cumulative ways that brought the war to an end, and with it the various internal movements themselves. For example, the students pushed their professors to call teach-ins, considered a moderate alternative to campus strikes, but which reached a much larger base of fence sitters. Similarly, the growing street resistance encouraged political leaders like McCarthy and RFK to define their campaigns as alternatives to the radical outside confrontations (even using phrases like “Clean for Gene” to distinguish themselves from the hippies.) In the end, as argued above, moderate sectors of the establishment joined with the moderate wing of the movement to disengage from Vietnam in order to save the American system as a whole.[7]

The tragedy of the anti-war movement is that the whole never lasted as greater than its parts. It might have been unified from 1968 onward if Martin Luther King had lived, Robert Kennedy was elected president, and the war terminated in 1969. That possibility was destroyed by their assassinations, leaving a disoriented, scarred and scattered generation of “might-have-beens.” When the war did end in 1975, many of its opponents already had drifted away, moved on with their lives, or taken up more promising agendas. The peace movement had exhausted its historic role. So fractious were its groupings that there never was a reunion or convention to explore its meaning.


The peace movement is losing on the battlefield of memory. The Pentagon is winning the war in the American mind, which it lost on the actual battlefield.

As long ago as 1980, the award-winning journalist Frances Fitzgerald warned that the anti-war movement was disappearing from history textbooks which, she wrote, “Contain no reference, or almost none, to the peace movement or to any of the political turmoil of the late sixties and early seventies…in the future, this slate may be wiped clean.”[8] That danger of historical cleansing has only increased, despite excellent histories. As Fitzgerald predicted, the mainstream impression is that, “The war stopped because President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger decided that it should.”

The Vietnam protestors may never achieve the recognition given other movements from the same era – civil rights, women’s rights, farmworkers, the environmental movement, and more recent struggles like that for LGBT rights. Earlier struggles for workers’ rights were recognized, institutionalized, and legitimized in American politics in ways the peace movement has not been.

The hawks who conceived and carried out a war in which 3 million Indochinese and 58,000 Americans were killed, and which ended in an American failure, have lived on to enjoy comfortable roles in successive administrations and the dubious wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Virtually none of them have apologized or resigned. Instead they rose in the ranks of the national security establishment while carrying out military follies based on many of the same assumptions that led to the Vietnam quagmire.

Those who predicted and opposed the Vietnam debacle were rarely included in mainstream national security debates up to the present, thus narrowing and tilting the spectrum of “legitimate” policy options far to the right, while American public opinion evolved to become more skeptical towards foreign adventures and secret wars. The so-called “Vietnam syndrome,” defined as popular norms against “policing the world” and the “imperial presidency” reflected in public preferences for “no more Vietnams,” were treated by the national elite has an infection which had to be purged from the body politic.

The trivializing of the peace movement’s history has even affected the public memory of Martin Luther King Jr., at whose Washington monument we gather for a vigil on May 2. Dr. King opposed the Vietnam War in a public speech as early as June 1965, just after the first March on Washington sponsored by SDS. His most important anti-war speech, in April 1967, was met by angry editorials in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and condemnations by the Johnson White House, and the leaders of labor and most civil rights organizations. It was inappropriate, they claimed, for a “Negro spokesman” to stray into the territory of foreign policy. And though King’s anti-war message is included today on the plaque at the King memorial, he is generally remembered as a civil rights leader and not a figure who opposed the Vietnam War and who was organizing a Poor People’s Campaign until his last breath. The myth is preserved that freedom can be expanded at home while bombings escalate abroad. Few remember that after Dr. King’s death, amidst the police brutality and street battles at the 1968 Democratic convention, a mule train of civil rights workers from Dr. King’s organization were there in silent tribute to what might have been.

We will vigil at Dr. King’s monument to pay thanks to him as a peace and justice leader who resisted the Vietnam War and whose work for peace, civil rights, and economic equality remains unfinished. We were part of the cause he led, and he was part of us. History has shown that he was right, for the full realization of his justice agenda is blocked by the permanent war economy and national surveillance state.

One can only guess at why many in the elites hope to forget the Vietnam peace movement, why public memories have atrophied, and why there are few if any memorials to peace. The denial of our very impact, the caricatures of who we really were, the questioning of our patriotism, the snide suggestions that we offered no alternative but surrender to the external threat, has cast a pall of illegitimacy over our memory and a chilling effect among many peace dissenters.

One reason for this forgetting is that the Vietnam war was lost, a historical fact which representatives of a self-proclaimed superpower can hardly acknowledge. Rather than admit that their war was a failure, it is more convenient to lay the blame on the peace movement, the mainstream media, the dovish politicians at home, and the so-called enemies within. For if the war rested on false assumptions, the deaths of 58,000 Americans and millions of Indochinese people would be blamed on a whole generation of American policy makers, intellectuals, and generals. Those at fault could never look the families of the dead in their eyes. Mass resignations would be required. Instead, the war critics have been ignored or scapegoated while those at fault have enjoyed decades of immunity from blame.

Since the Vietnam war-makers will never accept responsibility or acknowledge the full truth, those who opposed the war are needed more than ever to prevent history from repeating.

We must write our own history, tell our own story, hold these commemorations, and teach the lessons of Vietnam. One of those lessons is that peace and justice movements can make a difference.

The power of the past peace movement is fading from memory partly because the movement itself was deeply fragmented and rarely unified. It is not accidental that the Sixties peace movement has never gathered for a reunion. Our differences were too great to reunite. The anti-war movement reproduced many of the racial, class, gender, and cultural divides of the society from which we came. On top of those differences there was the infection of sectarian power struggles that afflicts social movements in general. Thousands of informants and COINTELPRO provocateurs did their best to spread the poisons of distrust and division. In the end there were overlapping but uncoordinated insurgencies that could not be unified as a common organized force. Without that unity, how could a common story be told to future generations?

It is not too late. The Vietnam War is not even fully over. The soil of Vietnam is contaminated with Agent Orange. Unexploded ordinance covers the landscape. Those deformed by our defoliants will transmit their disabilities to their children for generations. Each generation has a responsibility to help mitigate this permanent damage.

Many of the worst aspects of the Vietnam policy are being recycled instead of reconsidered. For example, the current Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Manual describes the 1969-70 Phoenix Program in Vietnam as a misunderstood “success” that was forced to a premature end due to anti-war movement propaganda. The Phoenix Program – complete with informants, interrogations, and assassinations – was revived in Iraq in 2006, where the top counterinsurgency adviser to General David Petraeus even called for a “global Phoenix program.” Indeed, under the banner of counterterrorism such programs are being carried out in many countries.

The original Pentagon propaganda refrain that Vietnam was a case of “aggression from the North” is repeated in popular culture, most recently in Rory Kennedy’s documentary, “Last Days of Vietnam,” with an image of a sharp dagger pointing from Hanoi to Saigon. This “northern aggression” thesis, which originated with the State Department’s 1965 White Paper, was debunked in the early teach-ins in Ann Arbor and Berkeley, as noted below. Blaming “outside agitators” for every ill has been a staple of law enforcement and military thinking for decades.


In our early twenties, we were required intellectually to learn about Vietnam on our own, and construct an alternative to the dominant paradigm over our lives the notion that the Cold War was necessary to stop a monolithic international communism from knocking over the so-called “dominoes” of the Free World, one by one. In our teach-ins, our research, and texts by Carl Oglesby, Robert Scheer, and others, we drew the conclusion that it was revolutionary nationalism (led by communists) that the United States was trying to oppose with military force and client dictatorships the world over, under the facade of the “Free World”. With respect to the 1965 State Department White Paper, “Aggression from the North,” we countered that Vietnam was a single nation that had been divided temporarily by the West at the 1954 Geneva Conference, and been denied the guarantee of a nationwide election which Ho Chi Minh would have won. As I.F. Stone reported, 80 percent of the southern Vietcong’s weapons were captured from the US or Saigon militaries, and the Pentagon’s own charts showed only 179 communist-made weapons were found among 15,100 captured by Saigon between 1962-64.[9]

The teach-ins were the participatory method of our exploration. The March 24 1965 teach-in on the Ann Arbor campus of University of Michigan drew together several thousand students and faculty leaders in all-night discussions and lectures. The Ann Arbor event was carried by radio hookup nationally for 12 hours, and reached 122 campuses. The May 21-22 Berkeley teach-in included 35,000 participants over 36 hours.

The April 17 1965 March on Washington was the largest march against a war in American history.[10] That fall there were 40,000 marching in Washington, 20,000 in New York City, and 15,000 at the Oakland induction center. Thousands more marched in 80 other cities.

From zero draft protests in 1964, by 1967 there were anti-draft actions on half of all public university campuses. 3,000 young men signed “We Won’t Go” petitions in spring 1967. 5,000 turned in their draft cards and some 10-25,000 “delinquent cases” were reported to the Department of Justice between 1966-69.[11] Ramsey Clark’s Justice Department was prosecuting 1,500 draft refusal cases by 1968.

The November 1969 Moratorium was again the “largest peace march ever,” with a half-million in Washington alone.[12] During that decade as a whole there were at least two national protests per year involving over tens of thousands on each occasion.

Public opinion shifted against the war as early as 1966 when Robert Scheer and Stanley Sheinbaum won over 40 percent of the Democratic vote in insurgent primaries in California against Johnson Democrats. The percentage of Americans viewing Vietnam as a “mistake” jumped from 28 percent (1966) to 51 percent by October 1967. In 1969 alone, one hundred peace candidates ran in twenty states.[13] Senator William Fulbright mesmerized the interested public with critical hearings on Vietnam, faulting an “arrogance of power” as the root cause. The path was opened to electing peace candidates in future Congressional races, among them (Bella Abzug [1970], Bob Kastenmeier[14], Ron Dellums [1970], Pat Shroeder [1972], Tom Harkin [1974], and presidential primaries [Robert Kennedy, George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy]. By 1968 Lyndon Johnson was surrendering the presidency and the peace forces were remaking the Democratic Party.

The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, coupled with sharp divisions between organized labor, Cold War Democrats and the new peace and justice movements, made a presidential victory impossible in 1968. 30 million Americans voted for the flawed campaign of George McGovern in 1972, a total that was inconceivable at the time of the first march only seven years before. Both the movement and the peace candidates that grew out of the movement have to be considered together in weighing the immense impact that was generated from the margins to the mainstream between 1965 and 1968.

In the language of the Left, a domestic and global insurgency had driven open a “split in the ruling class” between those who favored “victory” at any cost and those who believed in cutting military, economic and political losses in order to restore stability at home. This even took a conspiratorial form as when the so-called “Wise Men” met with LBJ in early 1968 and advised him to disengage, a shock which resulted in his dropping out of the presidential race a few weeks later.[15] It was a fracturing of the institutional order that took place, not simply an argument among the powerful. If not a “pre-revolutionary situation,” it was the greatest domestic conflict since the Civil War or Great Depression. Again, as the Scranton Report concluded, “If this trend continues, if this crisis of understanding endures, the very survival of the nation will be threatened.”

Hopefully, future conferences will reflect in depth and detail on the late 60s – early 70s when the growth and radicalization of the movement continued at a rapid pace not seen since the populist and radical labor movements of the century before.

Many universities were exposed by student research as being complicit in the war machine the Voice student party in Ann Arbor, for example, discovered that the University was developing infrared sensors for jungle warfare.[16] Protests against Dow Chemical’s use of napalm erupted on more than one hundred campuses.[17] Universities began calling in the police, “Marking the first time that outside force had ever been used on college campuses on such a large scale”. [18] The use of the epithet “pig” appeared in New Left Notes for the first time on September 25, 1967.[19] Escalation of the war caused an escalation of resistance.

There were 41 cases of bombing and arson in fall 1968, mainly against draft boards and ROTC buildings, quadruple the number of the spring before. By spring 1969 there were at least 84 bombing, attempted bombings or arson attacks in the first six months alone. The numbers rose – 169 cases of bombing and arson in May 1969, four ROTC buildings per day during a single week.

We must remember the severe lengths to which the state went to prosecute a war, which a majority of Americans thought to be a mistake.

Police, troopers, guardsmen or vigilantes while protesting against the war killed at least 29 Americans.[20] Four died at Kent State, four in the Chicano Moratorium, two at Jackson State. That doesn’t include the hundreds killed in black urban insurrections during those years, as black youth were conscripted for the front lines in Vietnam while funding for the war on poverty was scaled back.

The numbers must include at least eight Americans who took their own lives by self-immolation in protest of the war.

In evaluating the scale of the revolt, we must remember the counterinsurgency programs we faced at home. Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst recommended in 1969 that we be “rounded up and put in detention camps.”[21] The FBI assigned 20,000 full-time agents and “at least an equal number of informers.”[22] Twenty federal agencies including the US Army gathered “political dossiers on 18 million civilians.”[23] Lewis Powell, then head of the Virginia board of education, advocated mass expulsions, saying, “The only language student extremists understand is force.”[24] During Chicago 1968, the FBI alone assigned 320 agents. The Pentagon established a Civil Disturbance Directorate to suppress campuses and ghettos. Prosecutors and grand juries went after twenty “conspiracy” cases against anti-war defendants in Chicago, Seattle, Harrisburg, Gainesville, Boston and beyond.[25] Drug arrests of American teenagers jumped 774 percent from 1960 levels.[26] The liberal New York Times editorialized in 1968 that, “The line has to be drawn somewhere if an orderly society is to survive.”[27] Having lectured Dr. King to stay in his place, the Times was calling for the suppression of an activist generation, in which an estimated one million students described themselves as “revolutionaries” in a national survey in 1970.

All this is dimly remembered in this time, and mostly through images of disorder and mayhem. Indeed, chaos is the chief cultural memory of the Sixties, but not the actual “Operation Chaos” unleashed by our intelligence agencies against thousands of youthful resisters, including such major icons as Muhammad Ali, Dr. Benjamin Spock and John Lennon. The image of chaos smothers the logical sequence of domestic radicalization and repression that could have been prevented at any time by a policy of de-escalation, negotiation and American withdrawal, if Johnson and Nixon had been sincere in their promises of sending no American ground troops (1964) or that peace was “at hand” (1972). In the end, the democratic process did not override the will of the war makers until the Saigon regime collapsed and Richard Nixon was driven out of office.

As Thomas Powers summarized in his classic 1973 study The War at Home, “The anti-war movement in the United States created the necessary conditions for the shift in official policy from escalation to disengagement.”[28]


Neglected in most Vietnam narratives are three threads of resistance that underlay the growth of the larger peace movement phenomenon from 1965-75.

The first was Vietnam’s anti-colonial, nationalist resistance after World War 2, which arose long before there was a peace movement on the horizon. In the conventional narrative, the role of the Vietnamese on political, military and diplomatic battlefronts is rarely mentioned. The Vietminh decided to take up prolonged armed struggle in relative isolation, but in the belief that their resistance eventually would provoke war-weariness and an anti-war movement in France. They made a key distinction between “the French government” and “the French people” that would carry over to the American war. Whether Confucian or Marxist, this Vietnamese approach meant fighting fiercely on the battlefield while framing the struggle in terms that the French people eventually might understand, i.e., the rights of self-determination and national independence, harking back to the French Revolution. This same nationalist, patriotic approach attempted to unify Vietnamese of nearly all backgrounds in opposition to foreign colonial intervention. The same framing would be applied to the American war. From the beginning, then, theirs was a military struggle with core political and diplomatic dimensions. (By comparison, ISIS, or the Islamic State, relies on a “management of savagery” strategy, which categorizes their enemy as “infidel” Zionists and Christians, as described in Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger’s ISIS, The State of Terror (2015).[29]

After World War 2, the US government had a fateful choice to make. They could have tried coexistence with Vietnam’s communist-led nationalist front (the Vietminh led by Ho Chi Minh), or intervened with weapons and funds to restore white French colonial rule. For a brief period in 1945, OSS operatives on the ground advised cooperating with the popular Vietminh forces. Ho Chi Minh encouraged non-intervention by declaring Vietnam’s national independence in language that cited the US Declaration of Independence. But having chosen a Cold War against the Soviet Union, in which Vietnam would be a proxy, the US chose the path of shoring up the French. Since the majority of the Vietnamese population sympathized with Ho and the Vietminh, the French-US strategy inevitably became a dirty war with torture, mass detentions, civilian casualties and iron-fisted rule, which gradually alienated much of the French population with their republican tradition.

The Vietminh defeated the French militarily on the battlefield at Dienbienphu in 1954, not in the salons or streets of France. But the war, “Created the necessary conditions for the shift in official policy from escalation to disengagement,” as Powers later wrote about the American war. The government of Pierre Mendes-France negotiated a political settlement at Geneva in 1955, including French troop withdrawals, a temporary partition of the country at the 17th parallel, and a plan for nationwide elections and reunification two years later. The Eisenhower administration intervened to prevent elections and reunification, choosing instead to adopt the Korean War model of permanent partition into two Vietnams. That guaranteed the gradual escalation of the US war and the invention of a client regime in Saigon.

It also cemented a dark assumption that immoral means were necessary to defeat communism and preserve the option of pro-Western market economies under friendly regimes. The immoral means were justified in part by a racial superiority complex towards Orientals as inherently inferior savages who placed no value on individual life. As Kennedy’s air force secretary, Gen. Curtis LeMay, expressed this reasoning, “We ought to nuke the chinks.”[30] And as a character in Joseph Conrad’s novel foreshadowing Vietnam, Heart of Darkness, declared, “Exterminate the brutes!”[31]

An early exposition of the “necessity” of dirty wars was contained in the 1960 novel, The Centurions by Jean Larteguy, re-released in May 2015. Extolling the professional warrior class of ancient Rome, The Centurians became a favorite work of later generals like David Petraeus, the US Special Forces, and neo-conservative hawks like Robert Kaplan, who penned the introduction to the 2015 edition.[32] The premise of The Centurions was that civilian populations (back on the home front) had little tolerance or understanding of the need for repressive and repugnant measures in wartime. Torture was rationalized, according to one of Larteguy’s characters, because the Vietminh enemy would, “Go to any lengths…beyond the conventional notion of good and evil.”[33] Kaplan, updating the novel 55 years later, writes that, “Vietnam, like Iraq, represented a war of frustrating half-measures against an enemy that respected no limits,” and was, “Not limited by Western notions of war.”[34] The first corollary of this sensibility was the dropping of far greater tons of bombs on Indochina than on the white Axis powers in World War II. The US dropped 7.8 million tons of bombs on Indochina in comparison with 2.7 million tons dropped by Allied forces[35]. Frequent references to the Vietnamese or Chinese as “ants” or other insects suggested extermination as a solution. The second result was that the new centurions – our Special Operations forces – become a detached fraternal of professional warriors harboring disdain towards civilian voters, journalists and politicians, and thus towards democracy itself. In their view, wars are lost on the home front, which leads to thinking of the public as a potential enemy and democracy a process to be tolerated at best – and circumvented when necessary.


The second strand of the deep anti-war movement was the growing resistance from communities of color who linked their civil rights struggles to the cause of peace.

This Vietnam comic book by the young civil rights leader Julian Bond, published in 1967, shows the advanced perspective of African American students in the early years of the Vietnam war.[36]

Bond wrote this early people’s history, with illustrations by T. G. Lewis, in 1967, the year after the Georgia legislature expelled him from elected office because he opposed the draft and the war. He is an honored elder of our generation these days, but public memory of his unified stance on civil rights and the Vietnam War is often forgotten, as is the price he paid for his beliefs. The same brutal and racist politicians he fought at home were busy drafting young black and brown men to die in Vietnam. These officials were not simply old-style southern segregationist like Eastland and Stennis of Mississippi, but liberal Democrats like Robert McNamara.

In those days McNamara announced his “Project 100,000″ to induct thousands of young men into the military from the inner cities program as part of the Great Society. These youngsters, illiterate and unemployed, were not qualified for the military draft until McNamara implemented his “liberal” solution. The Pentagon drafted thousands who failed to meet the standards on the Armed Forces Qualifications Test, which McNamara explained by saying that:

“The poor of America have not had the opportunity to earn their fair share of the wealth of this nation’s abundance, but they can be given an opportunity to serve in their country’s defense and they can be given an opportunity to return to civilian life with skills and aptitudes which, for them, and their families, will reverse the downward spiral of human decay.”[37]

More than half the American soldiers killed in Vietnam were African-American, Puerto Rican, Mexican-American, Native American, and Asian-American, sending them to early graves instead of the jobs and training programs they were promised. In 1967, a presidential commission found that a “disproportionate” 22.4% killed in action the previous year were African-American. At the time, no figures were kept for Mexican-Americans, but their percentage of those dying on the front lines was similar.[38] Puerto Ricans were listed as fourth in Vietnam combat deaths while their island was twenty-sixth in population ranking in the US.[39]

That’s why Julian Bond wrote his history at the height of the civil rights movement, because his Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) believed that every person had a right to debate, decide and vote on the policies that would affect their lives. “Let the people decide”, the slogan on a 1965 SDS button, was unsettling to those in power, especially when it was being demanded from the Selma bridge to the Oakland Induction Center.

John Lewis, now an honored member of Congress and then the chairman of SNCC, asked the question, “I don’t see how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam and can’t send troops to Selma, Alabama.”[40]

It spread from there, a peace movement out of the early days of the student civil rights movement. In 1966, Muhammad Ali, refusing the draft and preparing for prison, sent this message to the world:

“My conscious won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father… Shoot them for what? …How can I shoot them poor people, Just take me to jail.”

Another SNCC leader, Bob Moses, made this observation at seeing a photo of a Vietnamese child:

He saw, “a little colored boy, standing against a wire fence, with a big, huge white marine with a gun at his back. But what I knew was that the people in this country saw a communist rebel. And that we travel in different realities and that the problem in working for peace in Vietnam is how to change the isolated sense of reality this country has.[41]

At the first national protest against the Vietnam War, organized by Students for a Democratic Society in April 1965, SDS President Paul Potter issued these memorable words: “The real lever for change in America is a domestic social movement…”

Paul and SDS were part of a new peace upsurge, triggered by a new consciousness that the Vietnam War was about the same problems we were facing at home: racism, discrimination, poverty, voteless sharecroppers from the Mississippi Delta to the Mekong Delta. We all hoped that students would awaken (as they did), that liberals would awaken (as they did), that rank-and-file Democrats would awaken (as they did), but the outcome of the American war would be decided in large part by people of color from America’s inner cities whose children were drafted into a war they didn’t see as in their interest.

The political establishment worried about this. The liberals at the New York Times revealed their paternal bias when they denounced Dr. King for taking a stand against Vietnam in April 1967, the time when the Julian Bond pamphlet was circulating. An African American preacher, they thought, was no more “qualified” to decide about Vietnam than the hundred thousand uneducated black and brown youth they were sending to the front lines. The Times’ worries were amplified greatly as ghetto after ghetto was burned in uprisings, which began as the war escalated. The immediate causes were police violence, racial divisions and jobs, but it looked like, felt like, and was like Vietnam, a kind of internal colonialism that mirrored the invasion and occupation in Saigon. A massive surveillance and suppression system known as COINTELPRO was erected in America while Vietnamese dissidents were subjected a harsher version of the same “pacification.” The space for peaceful political reform seemed to be shrinking by the day. The Pentagon established a Civil Disturbances Directorate for both campuses and ghettos.[42] As noted, in 1969 an assistant Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst, recommended that anti-war activists be, “Rounded up and put in detention camps.”[43]

The grievous losses in 1968 included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the first who had become our leading voice against Vietnam while the second suffered white hatred for his stance on race and the war. Malcolm X, the leading voice from the streets condemning racism and colonialism, was gunned down earlier, just before the 1965 March on Washington. The Black Panther Party emerged on the Oakland streets at the same moment as Stop the Draft Week. Bombings and arson by students, a mirror of the black uprisings, began to rise in 1968. The New York Times declared that “the line has to be drawn somewhere if an orderly society is to survive.”[44]

Sometimes the struggles were directly linked. For example, in August 1968, mostly black troops from the First Armored Division called an all-night protest against orders to move into Chicago with live ammunition to quell the demonstrations at the Democratic convention.[45] 43 of them were court-martialed at Fort Hood.

In Los Angeles in August 1969, a massive Chicano Moratorium grew out of the earlier student, labor and civil rights struggles. The Moratorium was the largest Chicano outpouring of anti-war sentiment in history. Four were shot and killed that day, including the LA Times writer Ruben Salazar, all by county sheriffs. Salazar, a frequent critic of police brutality and racism, died from a tear gas canister fired through his skull while he sat inside a restaurant to avoid the gas. The recovered notes for his next day’s column included this: “Chicano Moratorium. 8,000 died. Ya Basta!’[46]


The third strand of the deep anti-war movement was a widespread dissent by the troops themselves, sometimes bordering on “mutiny.” As the war ground on, the Pentagon found it virtually impossible to raise the morale of its own troops and conscript sufficient numbers of committed soldiers.

Missing in most histories of Vietnam is the clear pattern of rising dissent in the US military which nearly destroyed the capacity of the armed forces to wage war by the mid-seventies. After 1970 it was truly like Dubois’s description of slaves walking away from their plantations as the tide turned.

The underlying dilemma for the US military was how to build and sustain a killing machine out of conscripts from a civilian society in which there was rising dissent. Despite heavy Pentagon discipline, dissent began to rise in the armed forces by the mid-sixties just as it did before on campuses and in ghettos. One of the great myths about Vietnam concerns an unbridgeable “divide” between the peace movement and the troops. Indeed there were class and ideological differences, but everyone came from the same generation, watched the same television news, and began to question the official propaganda against perceptions on the ground. Everyone was lied to equally. Like the movement to support civil rights in the South, peace activists established “GI coffee houses” adjacent to US military bases by 1967, as centers for dissent, dialogue and community-building. Underground GI newspapers began appearing the same year, and would number in the hundreds. Jane Fonda, seen in conservative histories as an “enemy” of the American troops, began her work in the peace movement with “FTA” rallies on military bases worldwide, attended by thousands of cheering troops. Clandestine networks were built to protect deserters or ferry them to Sweden or Canada.

Open dissent in the military came early. As early as February 1966, Special Forces sergeant Donald Duncan published a sensational article in Ramparts titled “The Whole Thing Was a Lie.” That same year three soldiers at Fort Hood, James Johnson, Paul Mora, and David Samas, publicly announced their intention to refuse orders for Vietnam, and Dr. Howard Levy refused to train Green Beret medics. 300 veterans held a peace rally at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July, 1967. By 1967, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) declared themselves by unfurling a banner at the giant march in New York City. The VVAW would lead a historic “Dewey Canyon” protest on Memorial Day weekend in 1975, with 485 arrested at the old revolutionary battleground of Concord, Massachusetts, and hundreds encamped in Washington DC and threw their medals over the Capitol fence. Among them was John Kerry, who challenged the Congressional hearing with the famous question, “Who would want to be the last to die for a mistake?”

In addition to organized veterans for peace, there were over thirty events classified as “riots” on military bases from 1965-70, from Ft. Hood and the Presidio to Long Binh and Binh Duc, South Vietnam.[47] And that was before the war turned ugly in the years 1971-75.

Between 1968 and 1975, 93,000 desertions were reported triple the scale during the Korean War.[48]

Fragging, literally, attacks by soldiers against their own officers using grenades, grew rapidly after 1970. By official estimates there were 800-1,000 attempted fraggings during 1970-72, and 368 court-martials brought. There were 1.5 million AWOL “incidents”, 550,000 deserter “incidents”, 10,000 soldiers underground.[49] As for those facing the draft, there were 3,250 who went to prison, 5,500 who received suspended sentences or probation, 197, 750 whose cases were dropped, and 171,700 conscientious objectors.[50]

Soldiers were withdrawing from the war just as the slaves had withdrawn from the grip of the Confederacy, by means small and large, direct and indirect. In 1970 an article in the Naval War College Review warned that, “Negro civil rights action has introduced definite constraints on the military capability of the United States…The factor of morale is extremely important, and a low morale on the part of Negro personnel lessens their effectiveness and that of the forces to which they are assigned.”[51] The article noted how many troops were deployed “to quell civil disturbances” which diverted them from their overseas mission. During FY 1968 alone, 104,665 National Guardsmen were used to suppress civil disorders from Washington DC to the Madison campus, “The first case in which Guardsmen were used to restore order on campus.” The Detroit “disturbance” alone took 5,547 active Army personnel and 10,399 active duty Guardsmen to occupy the streets.[52]

As the Armed Forces Journal noted in a June 1971 article by Marine Corps historian Robert Heinl, “Our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and NCOs, drug-ridden and dispirited where not near mutinous.” Heinl compared the army’s collapse to the French army’s Nivelle mutinies in 1917 and that of the Tsar’s armies in Russia in the same year.

Without reliable ground troops, the only military options left to the US were an escalating air war and the deployment of an ineffective Saigon army. In the period 1965-1975, the Saigon army was similar to the later Afghan and Iraqi armies, or the earlier Cuban Bay of Pigs invaders, simply unable could match their revolutionary nationalist adversaries.

The policy lesson for the US should have been to avoid any involvement in sectarian-religious wars on the side of traditional colonial clients. The primary interest group lobbying for the Vietnam War was the Catholic Church, which protected a small population of Vietnamese Catholics who were colonized by the French. In addition, US Special Forces recruited a Montagnard tribal minority to fight on the American side. It was folly from the first to believe that the US could win by rallying Catholics and Montagnards to convert a 90 percent Buddhist country fresh from a triumph over the French.

The second lesson is that forcing the end of the military draft in 1975 – a great victory for the peace movement – was a sign that the establishment feared the specter of a civilian army, one of our country’s great democratic traditions. Ending the draft meant ending a reliance on soldiers drawn from the rainbow of civic society. The option was to end unpopular, unaffordable wars like Vietnam, which was out of the question for the elite. In place of a diverse, multi-racial and often unruly civilian army came the shift to the New Centurians, described as a “professional” force. The concern over the reliability of a civilian army was accompanied by equal worries about the trustworthiness of the democratically-elected Congress and the independent mass media. In essence, the American failure in Vietnam led directly to the increased reliance on a Big Brother-style surveillance state and secret wars using mercenary troops in remote locations. The threat to democracy signified by Watergate, after a brief democratic thaw, accelerated during the Central American wars and the Iran-Contra scandal, then became a “full-spectrum” military strategy emphasizing Special Operations, drone attacks, cyber-warfare, and a doctrine of “information war” aimed at manipulating and deceiving public opinion. By the third Iraq War (2014-) the single greatest legislative achievement of the Vietnam protest era, the 1973 War Powers Act, was in shreds. When President Obama himself asked Congress to “rein him in,” the Congress seemed ready to hand all war-making powers back to the secret units of the executive branch.

Today’s escalation of secret wars and surveillance originated in the Vietnam era when government and the military became fearful of relying on public opinion, that is, on democracy itself. Voters became objects of official suspicion, and democracy was placed in their emergency care. Ending wars in the future depends on the coming of new movements for democracy and social justice at home.

Tom Hayden is Director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center, organizer and author and editor of more than twenty books. He can be found on Twitter at:www.twitter.com/@TomEHayden

[2] Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS, p. 636. Sale says that 536 schools were, “Shut down completely for some period of time,” 51 of them for the entire year.

[3] Lawrence Baskir and William Strauss, “Chance and Circumstance: The Draft, The War and the Vietnam Generation,” Vintage Books, 1978.

[4] Jonathan Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War”, The New Press, p. 163, 2001.

[5] Andrew Glass, in Politico, January 27, 2012

[7] See the diagrams of these dynamics in The Long Sixties, especially the chapter on “Movements against Machiavellians”, Paradigm, 2009.

[8] Frances Fizgerald, America Revised: History Schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century, Vintage, 1980, p. 127. see also Keith Beattie, “The Scar That Binds: American Culture and the Vietnam War,” 2000

[9] Thomas Powers, The War at Home, Grossman, 1973, p. 58

[10] Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS, p. 186 Melvin Small, The Anti-Warriors, “The largest antiwar demonstration in American history to that point.” p. 26

[11] Staughton Lynd, Michael Ferber, The Resistance, p. 423

[14] First elected in 1958, received strongest mandate in 1964.

[15] Walter Isaacson, Evan Thomas. The Wise Men: Six Friends and The World They Made, 1986.

[20] Sale, p. 550. Sale doesn’t include the four killed during the Chicano moratorium, and limits his list to students only.

[21] Elizabeth Drew, Atlantic, May 1969

[25] Gerald Nicosia, Home to War, Carroll and Graf, 2001. Medsger’s The Burglary, Knopf, 2014, and Bruce Dancis’ Resister, Cornell, 2014.

[29] Stern and Berger, p. 23. The “management of savagery” was written in 2004 in Arabic, translated into English in 2006. Radical Islamic movements have generally characterized the enemy as crusaders, Christians and Zionists. In some of his writings, Osama Bin Laden attempted to make a distinction between American war-makers and American public opinion, offering coexistence. But the distinction was not pursued, and the 9/11 attacks clearly targeted civilians in the main.

[31] Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness, 1899.

[32] Petraeus’ father-in-law, William Knowlton, was involved in the Vietnam Phoenix Program, formally known as CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support), which implemented the “strategic hamlets” program which, in turn, was based on the model of controlling Native Americans on military reservations. Petraeus “devoured” The Centurions as “One of his favorite books, period,” even modeling his battalion’s uniforms after a French officer in the book. Fred Kaplan, The Insurgents, Simon and Shuster, 2013, pp. 15-17

[33] Kaplan introduction to Larteguy, p. xii.

[34] Kaplan introduction to Larteguy, pp. xiii-xiv.

[35] The bombing data is from James Harrison, “History’s Heaviest Bombing”, Jayne Werner and Luu Doanh Huynh, The Vietnam War: Vietnamese and American Perspectives, Routledge, 2015.

[37] Jorge Mariscal, Aztlan and Viet Nam, Chicano and Chicana Experiences of the War, University of California, 1999, p. 20

[38] Jorge Mariscal, Atzlan and Vietnam, University of California, 1999.

[40] James T. Patterson, The Eve of Destruction, 2012, p. 79

[43] Richard Kleindeinst, in Elizabeth Drew article, The Atlantic, May 1969.

[45] Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War, 2000.

[47] James Lewes, Protest and Survive, Underground GI Newspapers During the Vietnam War, Praeger, 2003.

[49] Lawrence Baskir and William Strauss, Chance and Circumstance: the Draft, the War and the Vietnam Generation, Vintage, 1978. See also David Cortright, Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance during the Vietnam War, Haymarket, 1975.

[50] Baskir and Strauss. Over 500,000 received dishonorable discharges, 164,000 faced court-martials, and 34,000 were placed in military incarceration.

[51] Commander George L. Jackson, Constraints of the Negro Civil Rights Movement on American Military Effectiveness, Naval War College Review, Jan. 1970.

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Beyond October

While October 15 saw the height of the Moratorium protests, similar actions, as well as GI participation in them, continued throughout 1969.

Civilians antiwar organizers intensified their outreach efforts to GIs for the follow-up Moratorium on November 15, while GIs themselves stepped up their protest efforts in the days after the October action. For example, an October 20 on-base meeting of GIs at Fort Lewis, organized by the American Servicemen’s Union, was raided by military police, leading to thirty-five arrests.

On October 28, a captain stationed in Long Binh wrote the Moratorium Day Committee, and after praising the October Moratorium and criticizing his own “cowardice” in failing to protest the war, he declared:

It is time, however belated … that the members of the Armed Forces stood up, raised their voices, and informed the world that they are at one with both the method and the goal of the Vietnam Moratorium. The Moratorium transcends politics. They very humanity of my race is threatened, and no longer can I sit back and laud people who raise their voices without adding mine. This I do now!

Nor was the captain just making a verbal declaration. He was starting to organize. He included a petition with over eighty troop signatures under the heading: “We, the undersigned, agree in spirit with the Vietnam moratorium and urge the immediate and total withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from SE Asia.” He even included a follow up letter: “You may use both the petitions and my personal letter in whatever way you see fit … Inform all those who will listen that American troops can and should be supported only through support for the Moratorium.”

But perhaps the most significant GI antiwar expression was a November 9, 1969 full-page antiwar ad, published in the New York Times, and signed by an astounding 1,366 active duty GIs from across eighty bases and ships, including nearly two hundred stationed in Vietnam.

The ad was sponsored by the GI Press Service, a “news bulletin and information center” for GI antiwar newspapers that was overseen by the Student Mobilization Committee. The SMC had a “GI task force,” coordinated by ex-GI and Young Socialist Alliance member Allen Myers, that edited the ad.

The ad’s message was clear: it was a bold and direct statement against the war and a call to support the November 15 Moratorium. “We are opposed American involvement in the war in Vietnam,” it read. “We resent the needless wasting of lives to save face for the politicians in Washington. We speak, believing our views are shared by many of our fellow servicemen. Join Us!” The ad also carried a message for supporters of antiwar GIs:

GI’s, as American citizens, have the constitutional right to join these demonstrations. In the past, however, military authorities have often restricted servicemen to their bases, thus effectively preventing them from participating in demonstrations against the war. We ask you to write to the President and your representatives in Congress to demand that GI’s not be prevented from participating in the November 15 demonstrations.

Some GIs organized within their military units to turn out support for both the Times ad and the November Moratorium. David Cortright was stationed at Fort Hamilton, New York, at the time. Despite the threat of reprisals, thirty-five out of sixty soldiers in his unit signed added their names, and a dozen Fort Hamilton troops attended the Moratorium protest in DC, along with hundreds of other GIs.

Cortright recalled that the ad had a “dramatic impact” and helped to “build momentum” for the November Moratorium. Indeed, GI participation on November 15 may have surpassed that of the October protests. Over 200 GIs led the DC protest, which numbered around a quarter-million.

There were also more local expressions of Moratorium organizing. For example, troops at Fort Bliss, who had organized a vibrant chapter of GIs for Peace, held a prayer meeting at a chapel. Francis Lenski, who was stationed at Fort Bliss, recalls another GI action.

“During the lead up to the Moratorium demonstrations,” Lenski said, “members of GIs for Peace decided to make a statement against the war that all of El Paso would see.” He went on:

Located on the side of the Franklin Mountains facing El Paso and Fort Bliss were some hollow drums, painted white by students from a local school. We decided to adapt those drums for another purpose. Working mostly under the cover of darkness, we relocated them to form the shape of the peace sign, filled them with fuel, and set them ablaze. The fiery scene above the city and environs spoke for itself (and us) and was the talk of the town and base for days to come.

Meanwhile, evidence of GI sympathy with and direct participation in the November Moratorium, expressed through letters, poured into the offices of protest organizers. One soldier stationed in Georgia, probably at Fort Benning, wrote to a Moratorium organizer declaring: “I desire to help in any manner I can in the cause of peace and especially on November 13, 14, 15.” He went on, expressing his deep desire to organize against the war:

Saving face is not worth the price, 40,000 + live. I desire to do anything I can to help end this American tragedy and useless killing. The Columbus, Ga. area is in need of some organization and information. There are many others, who like myself would like to work for peace but are ignorant as to just what we can do. Many of us have wives who are eager to do their part and who are better able to fully participate because of their civilian status. Any information and advice and/or material you could send will be greatly appreciated.

Another servicemember wrote to the VMC from his ship, the USS Sanctuary. “Those of us stationed aboard this ship who support your efforts and goals would like to participate in events on November 15, 1969,” he announced. He said that he and his shipmates planned “to wear black armbands,” though they had no plans to disrupt “the normal routine on board the ship,” seemingly in fear of reprisal.

Yet another soldier wrote the Cleveland Area Peace Action Council to express regret that he had “little way of supporting the Movement” from Vietnam, where he was stationed, but he sent $16 for the group to “send someone to DC who can’t afford it” on November 15. This GI explained his donation by saying he “would like to do my share for my country via the Movement.”

Historian Richard Moser cites Dave Blalock, a communications specialist stationed at Camp Long Thanh North, to show how the Times ad inspired GI protest in Vietnam around the November Moratorium. “One night we were sitting around the barracks in Vietnam” said Blalock, “and passing around this full-page ad in the New York Times that a guy had just come back from R & R in Hawaii had clipped out.”

Blalock recalled that everyone started saying “Why don’t we do something on this date, November 15,” and the GIs “came to a decision that we’re going to wear black armbands and we’re going to refuse to go out on patrol.” He continued:

The next day we went around … and put out the word … It seemed like everybody was doing it … The morning of the 15th we wake up at about five in the morning, and instead of playing the military shit, they put Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-spangled Banner” on …

So we went to formation with our new commanding officer. The former CO was blown away … he was killed, fragged … So we went out in morning formation and we’re all wearing black armbands. It was like 100 percent of the enlisted men. .. Including some of the war doctors and the helicopter pilots. The CO comes out as says … “I think we’re going to give you guys a day off.” He was real slick with it.

These are just a few examples among many others, revealed in interviews, firsthand accounts, the GI underground press, and in letters that soldiers sent to antiwar groups and GI papers of the extent of soldier sympathy with and participation in the Moratorium protests.

The momentum from the November 15 continued to propel GI protest in the weeks that followed. For example, fifty marines from Camp Pendleton led an antiwar protest in Los Angeles days after the November Moratorium, while a few hundred GIs from Fort Bliss led an antiwar march the following Saturday in El Paso, Texas.

And while the Moratorium tapered off by the end of 1969, there were some last gasp attempts to carry out December activities. GIs participated in them. Penny Lewis notes that a thousand marines staged a Moratorium march in Oceanside, California, near Camp Pendleton, on December 14, 1969, while Cortright writes that two hundred soldiers at Fort Bragg also protested in a December action.

One soldier from the Army’s 33rd Signal Battalion wrote to an antiwar GI paper on New Year’s Eve, 1969, to request copies. He declared: “I have close to 500 names of G.I.’s that want to read it and become a part of the Peace things that are happening with the moratorium committee.” He noted that a single copy of an antiwar paper “can travel through 20 and 30 people in one day.” Another soldier from the Army’s 199th Infantry Brigade wrote to the VMC on December 13, 1969. His moving letter read:

For the past seven months I have served in Vietnam in an infantry company. During that time I have come to know the war in terms so personal and so filled with incredulity and sorrow that it is difficult for me to express my feelings about it without becoming either emotional or angry.

My country has let me down. It has sent me here to fight an impossible war it has witnessed the death of my friends with nothing but vague talk of “commitments” and “silent majorities” and refused to admit it. It is statistically freighting that the United States could commit 40,000 American lives to so unnecessary a war, but to those of us who must fight this war it is an almost unbearable reality.

I’m hoping that in the coming year our leaders will have the courage and humanity to extricate us from this senseless bloodbath. Too many men, good men, men who deserved to life, have been sacrificed already.

He ended his letter with an authorization from the VMC to “print this letter in full or in part in the N.Y. Times.”

Even into 1970, some GIs still wrote to the Moratorium committee with antiwar missives. A marine wrote a letter to an antiwar paper on behalf of his fellow troops. “We are active as possible here,” he declared. “59 Marines and 1 corpsman signed our petition for Xmas moratorium and we have more planned for this month.

History of the U.S. War in Vietnam

More than any U.S. war since the Civil War, Vietnam divided America and made us reevaluate our society. By any standard, the American effort in Southeast Asia was a major conflict. Money, bombs and men were fed into a meat grinder whose purpose seemed to change at every Presidential press conference. Questions about the history and lessons of the war in Vietnam continue to be raised again and again in the face of current events. The events of 9-11 brought the violence that is part of the daily life of so many of the world's peoples into the lives of Americans in a way that has never been paralleled. A "War on Terrorism" has been declared that has no end in sight. U.S. military personnel have been put at risk in not only Afghanistan, but in increased presence in the Philippines and Colombia. Popular culture offers Mel Gibson's portrayal of Vietnam back when the issues were simpler in We Were Soldiers . Blackhawk Down shows the value of U.S. combat deaths regardless of the settings and the goals. We feel that it is important to remember the lessons of the U.S. War in Vietnam as we knew and lived it.

U.S. involvement in Vietnam did not begin in the 1960's or even the 1940's, but in 1845. That's right -- 1845. In that year the people of Da Nang arrested a French missionary bishop for breaking local laws. The U.S. commander of "Old Ironsides" (the U.S.S. Constitution) landed U.S. Navy and Marines in support of French efforts to reclaim their missionary. Mad Jack Percival, the ship's captain, fired into the city of Da Nang, killing 3 dozen Vietnamese, wounding more, and taking the local mandarins hostage. He then demanded that the Catholic Bishop be freed in exchange for his hostages. The Vietnamese were unimpressed. They refused his demand and waited. "Mad Jack" got tired of waiting, released his hostages, and sailed away leaving the Bishop behind. One hundred and thirty years later, Americans would again become tired of their involvement and leave Vietnam. Unfortunately we would leave behind far more than 3 dozen dead.

U.S. involvement in Vietnam during World War II saw the Vietnamese as our allies. A group of OSS agents (later to become the CIA) made contact with anti-Japanese guerrillas in Southeast Asia. The French who had controlled the area were the "Vichy" French who, with their Nazi leanings, supported the Japanese. Of the different Vietnamese nationalists, only the Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh led the national network of underground organizations and guerrillas fighting.

Ho Chi Minh met with the U.S. operative, Major Patti, and they agreed on joint anti-Japanese actions. The U.S. dropped supplies behind the lines to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh helped Americans downed behind Japanese lines. The first American advisors helped train, equip and arm the Viet Minh. In 1945, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was formed with Ho Chi Minh as the first President. American planes flew over Hanoi in celebration of the founding. The Vietnamese Declaration of Independence echoed that of the U.S.: "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This immortal statement is extracted from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. Understood in the broader sense this means: All people on earth are born equal. Every person has the right to live, to be happy, and free."

Ho Chi Minh asked the Americans to honor their commitment to independence, citing the Atlantic Charter and the U.N. Charter on self-determination. However, by the end of the war, the U.S. government had begun to redirect its foreign policy from the wartime goal of the liberation of all occupied countries and colonies to the postwar anti-communist crusade, which became the Cold War. In France, where communists had led the resistance to the Nazi occupation, American policy supported General Charles de Gaulle and his anti-communist "Free French." De Gaulle aimed to restore the glory of France, which meant the return of all former French colonies. U.S. relations with the Vietnamese turned sour. President Truman refused to answer letters or cables from Ho. Instead, the U.S. began to ship military aid to the French forces in Indochina.

The French return to their former colony was not easy. First, they had to arm and use former Japanese POWs to establish a foothold not a move fated to win much popular support. They were able to retake towns but not the countryside. In 1950, General Giap launched a general offensive against the French, which, though it was premature, resulted in 6,000 French killed or captured. In 1954, the French were decisively defeated at Dien Bien Phu. Although the French government described Dien Bien Phu as a "victory," it was more truly portrayed by commentator Bernard Fall as France's "greatest colonial defeat since Montcalm died at Quebec."

According to international agreement, Vietnam was to be temporarily divided into north and south, with free elections to take place nationwide in 1956. Even before the French were out, the U.S. was moving in. Prior to Dien Bien Phu, the U.S. set up MAAG (Military Assistance and Advisory Group) consisting of 350 U.S. personnel operating in Saigon in support of the French. Between 1950 and 1954, the U.S. contributed over $3 billion to their French allies in the fight for Vietnam. By 1954, the U.S. contributions were providing 80% of the cost of the war. MAAG began to train a "nationalistic" Vietnamese force of a quarter of a million men. This force was largely made up of Vietnamese who had fought for the French.

Former Emperor Bao Dai had appointed Ngo Dinh Diem, a Vietnamese Catholic who had lived in the U.S. and Europe, Premier of South Vietnam. Though Vietnam was 95% Buddhist, the Catholic Diem was soon recognized as the future leader of Vietnam by the CIA and other U.S. interests. In 1956 the U.S. refused to go along with the promised nation-wide elections because, in the words of President Eisenhower, "Possibly 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the Communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader rather than Chief of State Bao Dai."

U.S. involvement continued and so did U.S. money and men. American presence rose to 500 under Eisenhower and grew to 15,000 under Kennedy. But Diem continued to be in trouble: former Viet Minh cadres helped to support a number of groups to oppose Diem and the French successor in Vietnam -- the U.S. The similarity between the French and the U.S. forces in Vietnam was, from the Vietnamese point of view, more than that both were foreign oppressors. Even our uniforms were similar, right down to the green berets. In fact, U.S. troops were known as "Frenchmen with money."

Buddhist unrest grew in the cities. In the countryside the National Liberation Front (the NLF, called the Viet Cong or VC by Diem and the U.S.) were killing Diem's cronies and consolidating power. The U.S. decided to back a coup of Vietnamese generals to topple Diem. Not only did the generals get rid of Diem and assassinate him they also went on to overthrow one another on a regular basis.

The situation was desperate. More and more American troops were put in to replace Saigon troops who could not, or would not, get involved in the fighting. The Saigon government had no real base other than the aid it got from the U.S., and we got exactly what we paid for: pimps, prostitutes, cowards and gangsters, masquerading as a government and a military.

This was bad enough. But it was coupled with the incredible arrogance on the part of the U.S. government and military leaders. They could not believe that Asians could stand up to the might and technology of the U.S. As the war progressed, we went from one stage to another without any real change in the situation. Strategic hamlets, Vietnamization, search and destroy, pacification: the French had tried all these programs, but somehow the U.S. thought we could make them work. They did not.

The American people were not being told of the plans or the policies of the U.S. government. To the contrary: Lyndon Johnson ran as a peace candidate in 1964, saying, "I won't send American boys to do the fighting for Asian troops." Americans were told that Vietnam was two countries (omitting some 2,000 years of history) and that the North was invading the South. And none of the information given out did anything to answer the questions of the 19-year-old American fighting the guerrillas in South Vietnam. While Saigon's leaders were talked about as the Vietnamese versions of Jefferson and Lincoln, we saw the drug pushing, the black marketeering and the torture cells.

Somehow in order to save Vietnam we had to destroy it. Civilian casualties from U.S. actions ran from 100,000 in 1965 up to 300,000 in 1968, just from bombing and artillery. In addition, millions upon millions of gallons of herbicides were sprayed over 6 million acres of land. We bombed hospitals to save orphans, we sprayed Agent Orange and destroyed the land in order to save crops, and we burned hamlets to save villages and turned Vietnam into a huge whorehouse in order to save Vietnam from Communism.

As GIs in Vietnam we saw the often-stark realities of Vietnam and could compare them to the "truth" the American people were being told. We saw the corrupt Saigon generals making money hand over fist while their armies would not fight. We saw the hate in the eyes of the local villagers who never welcomed us as "liberators" bringing us bouquets of flowers as we had seen in World War II movies. The only Vietnamese who seemed to want us there wanted greenbacks in return for drugs, booze or women, or all three. We also saw the enemy fight and had to admire both his bravery and tenacity in taking on U.S. tanks, planes and helicopters with grenades and rifles. We supposedly valued human life while our enemy did not. Yet we paid the owners of the Michelin plantations $600 for each rubber tree we damaged, while the family of a slain Vietnamese child got no more than $120 in payment for a life.

We took and defended "strategic" hills, winning what the press called "victories." While the enemy body count (noted for the thin line between military and civilian dead) enhanced ranking officers' careers, it was the casualties among our friends that were felt first by us. And then we'd give up the hill and have to fight for it again later on. The war was not something to be won or lost by the grunt, but 365 days to be survived.

The U.S. tried everything to win. We dropped more than three times the total tonnage of bombs dropped by both sides in World War II. We conducted "Operation Phoenix" during which the CIA and the Saigon government killed up to 40,000 suspected members of the Viet Cong. We defoliated 10% of the land, much of it permanently. We bombed, bribed, shot, killed and burned for more than 10 years at a cost of $170 billion (and a future cost which is continuing to rise). Despite all this, we still lost.

Nixon did not pull out because the U.S. was winning but because the Vietnamese were. Some generals today are saying we lost the war but never lost a battle -- but what the hell did we "win" at Khe Sanh or in the Iron Triangle or in Laos or in Cambodia besides having some hole punched in some officer's promotion card?
The simple fact is that neither the American people nor the American GIs fighting in Vietnam thought that the goals -- real or imagined -- were worth the lives and the money being squandered. The war was lost on the battlefields of Vietnam and in the hearts and minds of the American people.

During the war, VVAW led tens of thousands of Vietnam vets in demonstrations against that war. No comparable group of Vietnam vets ever rose to challenge VVAW or our goals. When VVAW brought 1500 Vietnam vets to protest Nixon's renomination, the Republican Party could only come up with 6 vets to support the war -- and some of these did not support Nixon. Vietnam vets knew firsthand about the real war, and they opposed it.

When this was first written, the Reagan administration had begun again to put U.S. service lives on the line to further foreign policy goals. The invasion of Grenada, the bombing of Libya, the abortive occupation of Beirut, Persian Gulf patrols -- all reflected a new U.S. readiness to intervene overseas. The parallels with Vietnam were particularly striking in Central America were the U.S. supported repressive regimes against popular insurgencies.

The first Bush administration followed suit with the invasion of Panama, supposedly to capture a drug dealer (who had long been on the CIA's payroll). Thousands of Panamanians were killed and many more displaced in this "just cause." This "success" emboldened Bush to take us to war in the Persian Gulf in 1990-91, merely to protect our sources of oil and to reestablish the royal family in Kuwait. Hundreds of thousands died in this one-sided conflict, including nearly three hundred U.S. troops (many the result of accidents and "friendly fire"). The Iraqi people continue to suffer under a horrible embargo that was established at the end of that war. Under Clinton came the use of U.S. troops in Somalia and the continued advancement of a "war on drugs" against the people of Columbia. With the horrible events of 9-11 misused as justification for any kind of violent or repressive response, U.S. military personnel are once again being used to fulfill political aims.

Vietnam was not just a mistake. Any U.S. venture in another part of the globe will also be a mistake for the GIs who buy the government's lies. Vietnam was not a "noble cause," except for those who fought to bring our brothers home after they made the mistake of going. As for foreign aggression, hear the words of Medal of Honor winner and Marine commandant Smedley Butler:

"War is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes. How many millionaires ever shoulder a rifle?

"For a great many years as a soldier, I had the suspicion that war was a racket. Not until I retired did I fully realize it.

"I was," said Butler of his own role in Central American intervention, "nothing more than a gangster for Wall Street."

The above and more can be found in the following works:
George McTurnan Kahn & John W. Lewis, The United States in Vietnam , Dial Press, 1967
Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History , Viking 1982
Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program , William Morrow & Co., 1990.

About the authors: Barry Romo and Peter Zastrow are members of the Chicago chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Joe Miller is a member of the Champaign-Urbana chapter of VVAW. All three are members of the VVAW National Office.

Watch the video: Vietnam-The Ten Thousand Day War Protests (August 2022).