During the early
years of the Vietnam War, many American supported liberating South Vietnam from
communist influence. Communism was a spread of ideas that threatened free
government globally and it was not tolerated by the United States. When the war
began to be seen as a battle that resulted in nothing but casualties, Americans
grew exhausted. A small movement against the war soon became a force to be
dealt with, forcing American leaders to step in. According to some historians,
this anti-war movement was a critical influence in getting America out of
Vietnam and ultimately ending the Vietnam War. However, other historians
believe that the end of the Vietnam war was caused by other deciding factors.
Did the anti-war movement directly lead to the end of the Vietnam War?
To answer this
question, events prior to the war and views of historians and authors are
examined to analyze the end of the events that led to the end of Vietnam War,
in particular the anti-war movement and events that led up to it. This will be
achieved by looking at primary sources from both viewpoint to determine if the
end of the Vietnam War was based on the anti-war movement.
During the Vietnam War
and in the years leading up to the war, many debates were conducted on whether
the United States should enter foreign affairs in Southeast Asia. The United
States had to make a decision on whether to allow communism in Southeast Asia
to continue to spread or to intervene in that region of the world. The decision
was made in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson began to send American
military units to Vietnam.1
This operation was famously known as “Operation Rolling Thunder.”2 By the end of the year, the United
States had sent over 200,000 troops there.2
The Vietnam War was
fought in order to keep Communist North Vietnam from overtaking South Vietnam,
thus America’s intervention was prominently a result of their fear of global
communism. As the war continued, many young men were drafted and the war took
Photographs and videos of the war were shown on the news, displaying the war’s
effects on American soldiers. This brought the unsupported war to center of
American lives and became an issue they couldn’t ignore.
The investigation will
firstly consider the impact of the events that took account in Vietnam it will
then move on to incidents that happened within the states, examining the use of
the anti-war movement. Following this, consideration will be given to the
significance of these events had a major impact on American society.
By the year 1968, three
years after President Lyndon B. Johnson had ordered the first military units
into Vietnam, around 540,00 troops had been sent to the war.2 During that same year,
the North Vietnamese military, known as the Vietcong or the National Liberation
Front, began to change their war tactics against the South Vietnamese and
American military.4 In November 1968, general Westmoreland states
that the National Liberation Front are declining in strength and cannot mount a
major offensive. However, a couple of months later on January 31, 1968, the
first attack of the Tet offensive began, targeting major southern cities,
including Saigon. The United States Embassy was the target for the Vietcong
while taking Saigon, resulting in the deaths of 5 marines. In addition, the
National Liberation Front also captured the radio station in Saigon, destroying
the confidence of Americans citizens and soldiers. Though the National
Liberation Front took more casualties than the American and South Vietnamese militaries,
the counter attack by the North left a hole in the United States’ military
pride.4 The surprise attack of
the Tet offensive indeed took America by surprise, weakening the morale of
Americans in and out of Vietnam, It also proved to the United States’ military
that the National Liberation Front was a force to be reckoned with.4 The communist
demonstrated that they were still able to put a dent in the war.
As a result, the policy
of winning and gaining victory in the war shifted to gaining peace instead in
1968. This was the beginning of the increase in the credibility gap where more
Americans turned against the war after the Tet offensive from North Vietnam.
During the same year after the Tet Offensive, Eugene McCarthy and Robert
Kennedy announced their candidacy for presidency. Both candidates were against
the war, believing that the war should end because It was draining resources
away from the fights against discrimination and poverty. In March of 1968
President Johnson announces that he would seek a negotiation to put an end the
war. In addition, President Johnson also announces that he would seek reelection
in 1968 which stunned many Americans. Because of his unpopularity for the
Vietnam War, he wanted someone who was
more favored by the American people. Continuing in 1968, more shock came to the
homes of Americans when it was announced that both Martin Luther King Jr. and
Robert Kennedy was assassinated, both of whom were big contributors who pushed
for peace in Vietnam and Civil Rights. The
year of 1968 also held the National Party Conventions for the candidates for
presidency. During the Republicans’ Convention, they were harassed by many
anti-war protesters in Miami. The Republicans nominated Vice President Richard
M. Nixon to represent them, his statement would be widely known as “peace with
honor.” However, the Democratic Convention, held in Chicago, was more violent
between anti-war protesters and pro-war advocates. Inside the Democratic
Convention, there was huge verbal fights between the Hawks who were for the war
in Vietnam and the Doves who were against the war in Vietnam. The Democratics elected
Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who continued Johnson’s war policies, over
McCarthy, the anti-war candidate. At the same time, outside the Democratic
convention, the Chicago police clashed with the protesters. The protesters were sprayed with mace and
beaten with clubs and as a result they responded by throwing rocks and bottles
at the police. All of this was broadcasted on national television, which shocks
many Americans at home about the violence of the convention. Also to an extent it also increased people
joining the anti-war bandwagon after viewing the violence and turmoil the
Vietnam War had created in American society.
With the United
States’ first major loss of the war, many American citizens were starting to
To make matters worse
for America, the My Lai Massacre took place in 1968, weakening support from
American citizens. My Lai was a village located about 100 miles from the United
States’ military base of Danang.5 1st Platoon, commanded by
Lieutenant William Calley, was sent into
My Lai for a “search and destroy” mission of the National Liberation Front
troops. My Lai, at the time, was an area in which the National Liberation Front
was very active. When the platoon arrived, they began to fire and kill the
villagers that were living there. Most of the people killed at the time were
women, children, and the elderly. The men had gone to the fields to work and
were not present in My Lai.5 Tran Vuc Duc, who was
a My Lai survivor, quoted “Without warning,
gunshots were fired into the ditch, hitting a number of bodies.”6
November of 1969, the My Lai massacre was made public. The incident only
intensified the domestic opposition to the Vietnam War in America when the
attempts to cover up the killings were exposed. When the event was exposed to
all of America, the United States military launched an investigation and found
that this episode of the Vietnam War was indeed true and many hundreds of My
Lai citizens were killed. Soon after, in 1971, all 14 men who were associated with the My
Lai massacre were charged with crimes related to
the My Lai incident, including Lieutenant
William Calley. All soldiers that were charged were acquitted except for Lieutenant
William Calley, who was found guilty of premeditated murder and was sentenced
to life in prison with hard labor.7 Lieutenant William Calley
served only three years in prison and was released in 1974 because people saw
him as a scapegoat since he claimed that he was only following orders.
American war efforts in Vietnam were beginning to wear down in the early 1970s,
America’s confidence for the war did as well. With the Nixon administration of
“Vietnamization,” many troops were being pulled out of Vietnam, but those that
were still there were filled with anger and frustration. With the announcement
of the My Lai massacre, spirit of the American citizens began to plummet even
further than it already has and sparked anti-war activism.8 The United States military was
excessively criticized through the media. With events like the My Lai massacre
and the United States’ attempt to cover it up and American war tactics which
led to the deaths of thousands of innocent Vietnamese citizens. American
support for the war was not won over.8
The Event of the My Lai
Massacre paved way to show the differing perspective of the war, shown on the
other side of the globe. Because of the terrors of the raided villages shown on
the media, the American people get a glimpse of the realities of what happens
behind the scenes of the war. Accordingly, after seeing the horrors of seeing
the actuality of the war, it was only natural for the American people to have
the reaction they did. People’s resentment towards the war began to expand as a
result of the incident.
1970, protests against the war were becoming nationally popular. At first many
of them were large and peaceful, however as the year moved on, the protests were
starting to become violent.9 Universities were common places for
antiwar protests to be held because though college students were not the only
ones to protest, student antiwar activism brought many antiwar ideas to the
larger public. One major protests that happened as a result of student anti-war
movement was the Kent State University protest demonstration that was held in
May 1970, resulting in the deaths of students.
On Saturday May 2,
1970, there were rumors that radicals were threatening businesses and buildings
on Kent State University’s campus in Ohio. Mayor Leroy Satrom asked Governor Rhodes to
send the National Guard to Kent to calm tensions in the area. The Ohio National
Guard arrived at Kent State the following night. They were greeted with
protesters who set fire to the ROTC building on campus while watching and
cheering.9 The night raged with
clashes between the National Guard and the protesters resulting in dozens of
On the third of May
1970, tensions between the protesters and the National Guard were fairly calm.
However, there was a scheduled protest at the burned ROTC building on Kent
State’s campus. At 11:00 the next morning.10 The school officials
tried to disperse the protest before it could start, but protesters still
gathered at the scheduled time. Students who were protesting were told to
disperse or else the National Guard would use force. The National Guardsmen
were outnumbered by the protesters, but they were armed with M-1 military
rifles and tear gas. At first the protest was peaceful, but when the crowd was
told to disband the students refused and began to throw rocks at the National
The National Guardsmen were ordered to ready their weapons and
then shot tear gas into the crowd. The Guardsmen pushed the protesters passed
towards Blanket Hill and into a practice football field. They soon found
themselves targeted by not a protest anymore but an angry mob. The Guardsmen
retreated to Blanket Hill and when they reached the top, witnesses say that the
Guardsmen turned around fired into the air as well as into the crowd. Nearly 70
shots were fired resulting in the death of four college students- Jeffrey
Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer.10
Student-led protest developed
a vocal left at the University of Washington which inspired many more students
as the war in Vietnam and civil rights escalated by 1967.11 Many of the anti-war protesters’
movements were not seen as different from those of any other movements such as
the civil rights movement. The left unified many forms of activist groups
during time of turmoil. According to Jessie Kindig, she says “The Vietnam War served, as had the early civil rights
movement, to sparked further struggles around race, identity, and gender.”11 The anti-war movement
also paved way for many perspective and ways of protesting. One prime example
of this is the University of Washington student activists carrying the National
Liberation Front’s flag as a way of protesting the war. In the explanation for
why they do so was because they wanted to “show our support for the victory of
the Vietnamese fighting to drive the U.S. out of their nation.”12
Though it may not be seen as radical protesting by many, it shows the extent of
how far people will go to end the war.
President Richard Nixon
more people protested the Vietnam War, it had a big effect on the American
people. Prior to the Vietnam War, many citizens placed their trust within the
government. People had appreciation for the government and trusted the
information that was given to them. However, as the tension and protest within
America grew, people began to realize that the government wasn’t being honest
with them. As a result, Americans began to feel skeptical about their
the war progressed long after 1968, the new president, Richard M. Nixon, had
begun his outline for the Vietnamization program. This program was a way to
bring home American soldiers and force South Vietnam to take responsibility for
the war. However, behind the scenes, Richard Nixon was actually increasing the
tension of the War. Nixon did this by secretly sending American troops into
Laos and bombing Cambodia. In addition, still hidden from the general public, Nixon
threatened the North Vietnamese, saying that if they don’t cease to attack,
they will feel the full force of American power.13
Continuing with President Nixon’s increase in tension and escalation to the
war, he proposed an assault known as Operation Duck Hook.14
This operation was a plan to invade North Vietnam by land and the bombing of
major cities like Hanoi and Haiphong.
according to historian Tom Wells, the anti-war movement intervened and “made it
impossible for Nixon to seriously
consider implementing Operation Duck Hook”. On October 15, 1969, over two
million people skipped work and school to participate in the largest gathering
of rallies, demonstrations, church services, and organized groups. The moratorium was called upon to end
America’s involvement in Vietnam. One of the largest moratorium in the United
States was the “March on Washington”. The moratorium attracted over 500,000
people including performers and activists. The people would march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the
Washington Monument, where rally speeches would be held. The moratorium had a
huge influence on President Richard Nixon, and as a result the Duck Hook plan
was diminished. However, President Nixon only suspended the Duck Hook plan
based on public opinions rather than of his own interest. Nixon himself wrote
about his opinions on the protest stating, “American public opinion would be seriously divided by any
military escalation of the war.” Nixon blamed the continuation of the war on
the moratorium. He believed that he could have ended the war with Operation
Duck Hook if it wasn’t because of the moratorium that threatened President
Nixon to revoke the plan.
With the upcoming election of 1972, Nixon was
seeking to retain his role as president. However, in 1971, The New York Times released the Pentagon Papers15,
which caused tension to rise even more in the United States. On July 13, 1971,
the Pentagon Papers were released to the public, which consisted of declassified,
“Top Secret”, information about the United States’ political involvement in
Vietnam. More specifically, the Pentagon Papers also revealed the United States’
secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos, which were not revealed on mainstream media
at the time. As a result, Americans were beginning to feel outraged that such a
piece of information had been kept away from the media. Of course, the release
of these documents were made to inform the general public of the “actual”
events that happened in Vietnam, but these documents also had the intention to
stir up a revolt against the United States in Vietnam.
Many people have argued that the United states
was simply fighting in order to demonstrate its dominance as a world
superpower, largely right after its appearance in Korea in the 1950s. The war
in South East Asia started out with having American support but after years of
fighting, the United States was unable to obtain victory. The American people
were becoming tired of seeing innocent American soldiers die on an already lost
war, which the newly elected President Richard Nixon took into great
consideration. The President of the United States, the American People, and the
world were ready for peace, no matter the victor.
1″Which American president ordered the
first American combat troops into Vietnam? As a result of the Watergate
scandal, President Nixon… these two questions are all
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5 “My Lai Massacre.” History Learning Site. Accessed
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7 History.com Staff. “My Lai Massacre.” History.com.
2009. Accessed December 07, 2017.
8 “What was the impact of the My Lai massacre? – GCSE History
– Marked by Teachers.com.” Marked by Teachers. Accessed December 07, 2017.
9 “Kent State University.” History Learning Site.
Accessed December 07, 2017.
10 History.com Staff. “Kent State Shooting.” History.com.
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11 “Vietnam War: Student Activism.” Vietnam: Students.
Accessed December 07, 2017.
12UW Student Activism, Vietnam Era | Antiwar and Radical History
Project | Pacific Northwest Labor and Civil Rights Projects | Pacific Northwest
Labor and Civil Rights Projects. Accessed December 07, 2017.
13 Note, Jean Sainteny to Nixon, July 16, 1969, folder: Mister
“S,” Vol. 1 (1 of 2), box 106, Country Files-Far East-Vietnam
Negotiations, Henry A. Kissinger Office File, Nixon Presidential Materials,
14 Nixon’s Nuclear Specter. Accessed December 07, 2017.
Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Pentagon Papers.” Encyclopædia
Britannica. September 18, 2017. Accessed January 30, 2018.