Opposition To The U.S. Involvement in The Vietnam War - Growing Protests

Growing Protests

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy; the Big Fool said to push on.
— Pete Seeger, 1963/1967

Gruesome images of two anti-war activists who set themselves on fire in November 1965 provided iconic images of how strongly some people felt that the war was immoral. On November 2, 32-year-old Quaker Norman Morrison set himself on fire in front of The Pentagon. On November 9, 22-year old Catholic Worker Movement member Roger Allen LaPorte did the same in front of United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Both protests were conscious imitations of earlier (and ongoing) Buddhist protests in South Vietnam.

Protests against the Vietnam War took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The protests were part of a movement in opposition to the Vietnam War and took place mainly in the United States (See also Students for a Democratic Society, Free Speech Movement, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Youth International Party, Chicago Seven.)

The growing anti-war movement alarmed many in the U.S. government. On August 16, 1966 the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began investigations of Americans who were suspected of aiding the NLF, with the intent to introduce legislation making these activities illegal. Anti-war demonstrators disrupted the meeting and 50 were arrested.

In February 1967, The New York Review of Books published "The Responsibility of Intellectuals", an essay by Noam Chomsky, one of the leading intellectual opponents of the war. In the essay Chomsky argued that much responsibility for the war lay with liberal intellectuals and technical experts who were providing what he saw as pseudoscientific justification for the policies of the U.S. government.

On February 1, 1968, a suspected NLF officer was summarily executed by General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, a South Vietnamese National Police Chief. Loan shot the suspect in the head on a public street in front of journalists. South Vietnamese reports provided as justification after the fact claimed that the suspect was captured near the site of a ditch holding as many as thirty-four bound and shot bodies of police and their relatives, some of whom were the families of General Loan's deputy and close friend. The execution was filmed and photographed during the Tet Offensive and provided another iconic image that helped sway public opinion in the United States against the war.

The events of Tet in early 1968 as a whole were also remarkable in shifting public opinion regarding the war. U.S. military officials had previously reported that counter-insurgency in South Vietnam was being prosecuted successfully. While the Tet Offensive provided the U.S. and allied militaries with a great victory in that the Viet Cong was finally brought into open battle and destroyed as a fighting force, the American media, including respected figures such as Walter Cronkite, interpreted such events as the attack on the American embassy in Saigon as an indicator of U.S. military weakness. The military victories on the battlefields of Tet were obscured by shocking images of violence on television screens, long casualty lists, and a new perception among the American people that the military had been untruthful to them about the success of earlier military operations, and ultimately, the ability to achieve a meaningful military solution in Vietnam.

On October 15, 1969, hundreds of thousands of people took part in National Moratorium anti-war demonstrations across the United States; the demonstrations prompted many workers to call in sick from their jobs and adolescents nationwide engaged in truancy from school. However, the proportion of individuals doing either who actually participated in the demonstrations is uncertain. A second round of "Moratorium" demonstrations was held on November 15, but was less well-attended.

The U.S. realized that the South Vietnamese government needed a solid base of popular support if it were to survive the insurgency. To pursue this goal of winning the "Hearts and Minds" of the Vietnamese people, units of the United States Army, referred to as "Civil Affairs" units, were used extensively for the first time since World War II.

Civil Affairs units, while remaining armed and under direct military control, engaged in what came to be known as "nation-building": constructing (or reconstructing) schools, public buildings, roads and other infrastructure; conducting medical programs for civilians who had no access to medical facilities; facilitating cooperation among local civilian leaders; conducting hygiene and other training for civilians; and similar activities.

This policy of attempting to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people, however, often was at odds with other aspects of the war which served to antagonize many Vietnamese civilians. These policies included the emphasis on "body count" as a way of measuring military success on the battlefield, the bombing of villages (symbolized by journalist Peter Arnett's famous quote, "it was necessary to destroy the village to save it"), and the killing of civilians in such incidents as the My Lai massacre. In 1974 the documentary Hearts and Minds sought to portray the devastation the war was causing to the South Vietnamese people, and won an Academy Award for best documentary amid considerable controversy. The South Vietnamese government also antagonized many of its citizens with its suppression of political opposition, through such measures as holding large numbers of political prisoners, torturing political opponents, and holding a one-man election for President in 1971. Covert counter-terror programs and semi-covert ones such as the Phoenix Program attempted, with the help of anthropologists, to isolate rural South Vietnamese villages and affect the loyalty of the residents. In the Phoenix Program, assassinations and atrocities were committed, sometimes in order to blame them on Viet Cong insurgents.

Despite the increasingly depressing news of the war, many Americans continued to support President Johnson's endeavors. Aside from the domino theory mentioned above, there was a feeling that the goal of preventing a communist takeover of a pro-Western government in South Vietnam was a noble objective. Many Americans were also concerned about saving face in the event of disengaging from the war or, as President Richard M. Nixon later put it, "achieving Peace with Honor". In addition, instances of Viet Cong atrocities were widely reported, most notably in an article that appeared in Reader's Digest in 1968 entitled The Blood-Red Hands of Ho Chi Minh.

However, anti-war feelings also began to rise. Many Americans opposed the war on moral grounds, horrified by the devastation it was wreaking on ordinary Vietnamese civilians. Many viewed the conflict as a war against Vietnamese independence, or as intervention in a foreign civil war; others opposed it because they felt it lacked clear objectives and appeared to be unwinnable. Many anti-war activists were themselves Vietnam veterans, as evidenced by the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War. In April 1971, thousands of these veterans converged on the White House in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of them threw their medals and decorations on the steps of the United States Capitol. By this time, it had also become commonplace for the most radical anti-war demonstrators to prominently display the flag of the Viet Cong "enemy", an act which alienated many who were otherwise morally opposed to the war.

Read more about this topic:  Opposition To The U.S. Involvement In The Vietnam War

Famous quotes containing the word growing:

    Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
    Shades of the prison-house begin to close
    Upon the growing boy.
    William Wordsworth (1770–1850)