By Clara Dykstra
When the Vietnam War began, a majority of Americans were supportive of it. Communism was a known threat, and it only made sense that the U.S. would fight against it. This mentality shifted, however, as the war began to unfold and the list of thousands of casualties continued to lengthen. There were several causes for the antiwar movement, which grew from a small group of protestors to a nation-wide cause. The basic arguments for the peace movements were moral, environmental and economic. Innocent Vietnamese civilians were killed in crossfire, planes were producing waste, and America was spending too much money on what seemed like an unwinnable war. Students attending university made up a large part of the antiwar protestors, due to the draft. The drafting age was 18, and many felt it unjust that they could be sent to war and killed at an age they are not legally allowed to drink alcohol or vote. The antiwar movement came at a time of a growing counterculture and a disillusionment amongst young Americans regarding society. Hundreds of thousands of so called hippies gathered for the Woodstock Music Festival, and thousands of others attended the concerts of musicians like the Grateful Dead, all which fanned the flames of the antiwar protests as they created a sense of “togetherness” for young Americans.
Events That Unfolded
In the spring of 1960, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was founded. Later on, this group became an important influence in the antiwar protests. A small number of protestors had been established throughout the nation, however it was not until two key events that the peace movement became the widespread movement we know today. The first was when Johnson, the new U.S. president, began to expand US forces in Vietnam. More people joined the movement in February of 1965 when the United States bombed parts of Northern Vietnam, killing thousands of civilians. As people watched casualties being carried off on their television each night, more and more were angered by the Vietnam war. The SDS carried out the first march on Washington in April of 1965 with over 20,000 people participating. This was the first antiwar protest of this scale, and there were many to follow. In the March on the Pentagon, leaders called for young men to burn their draft cards. Given that a majority of protesters were university students, this request had drastic results. The second March on Washington took place in November of 1969, and had over 500,000 participants, making it one of the largest protests ever marched in history. This was followed by a public protest at Kent State University, which turned into a riot. As a result, officers ended up killing 4 students. This tragedy led to anger across the nation and many more protests. Finally, in January of 1973, Nixon announced the end of the U.S. Involvement and the protests against the Vietnam War drew to a close.
As said by ushistory.org, “it is impossible to win a long, protracted war without popular support.” Many would argue that the Vietnam war was America's greatest military defeat, and the antiwar movements were a large contribution to this fact. Beyond this, there were many other effects of the peace movement. It revealed many class-tensions that were existent in the U.S. Many people were angered by the fact that “well-to-do” college students performed protests, when the young men of the lower-class families were those actually being killed in combat overseas. The opposition of war in the United States had never been seen before the Vietnam war, and this antiwar perspective has continued to ring true for thousands of Americans today.
"The Antiwar Movement." Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
Barringer, Mark. "The Anti-War Movement in the United States." The Anti-War Movement in the United States. Modern American Poetry, 1999. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
"Vietnam War Protests." History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.