The Vietnam War Protests

By: Noah

After France gave up colonial efforts on the Vietnam Peninsula in the 1950’s, communism became influential in Northern Vietnam. The communist Northern Vietnamese Government wanted to expand their control over the more democratic Southern Vietnamese Government and unify as one communist country. Southern Vietnam resisted and continued with their democratic system but their system was ineffective. Backed by China and the Soviet Union, the north attacked the south and soon the US, Australia, and South Korea arrived to support Southern Vietnam. This is how the Vietnam War began and became a proxy of the Cold War. Soon the North Vietnamese communists created Vietcong, a military group, and the US started regular bombings on North Vietnam and Cambodia, Vietcong’s outposts. The war raged on for nearly 20 years making the struggle the longest war in US history. During that time, protests, both violent and peaceful, began. There were many critical factors that came together to create a feeling of discontent that led to the Vietnam War protests.

US Soldiers in Vietnam

One of the main reasons opposition to the Vietnam War began in the United States was the high cost of the war both in terms of human lives and money. The Korean War also affected the US in terms of if we should draft and send troops to Vietnam. The US really disliked communism in the world so we felt as if it were our duty to stop communism everywhere. We saw what the Communist Northern Vietnam Government was trying to do to the Southern Vietnam Government and they had just received freedom from France. In this case we went to war to stop the spread of communism. According to zcomm.org, “The U.S. position was that the entire world except for China and the Soviet Union was part of the American capitalist system. Against China and the Soviet Union, Washington would try various subversive methods, but it wasn’t going to go to an all-out war. The rest of the world, however, was going to be subordinated to the United States, and so Washington had to deliver a message to third world revolutionaries everywhere: If you try to break out, we will smash you.” The fear of the spread of communism all of a sudden became relatively unimportant to the cost of lives and the cost of money. The Vietnam War was very costly in term of human bodies because of the fact that the North Vietnamese military funded by China and the Soviet Union, was enough to rank the war fourth on the list for US deaths in US wars. The war in Vietnam was thought to be an easy war to win but the battle persisted.  As more and more soldiers died, Americans began to question if the fight was worth it due to the fact that the war was only an ideological concept. Alan Rohn at vietnamwarinfo.com stated, “Among all the wars the United States had fought, Vietnam War is ranked 4th in casualties just below the Civil War and the two World Wars.” The Vietnam War was very costly in terms of human’s lives. The Korean War was a very threatening war to the Vietnam War due to the fact that Americans had just finished fighting an ideological war in Korea where over 1 million Koreans died and because of this Americans protested sending troops to Vietnam. The Korean War was a part of the Cold War or as some put it, a proxy war. Not just Korea but also Vietnam, the Yom Kippur War, and the Soviet Afghanistan War. CNN.com wrote,

U.S. Deaths:

Hostile: 33,739

Non-Hostile: 2,835

Total In-Theater: 36,574

U.S. Wounded in Action – 103,284

Other Casualties by Country (killed and missing)…

South Korea – (217,000 military, 1,000,000 civilian)

North Korea – (406,000 military, 600,000 civilian)

China – (600,000 military)

The Korean War and Vietnam War were wars both high in cost in terms of how many people had been injured, dead, or missing. Americans were worried what might happen when we send troops to Vietnam. We also saw that the war was an ideological war where it is not worth fighting for. As the Vietnam War unfolded and proved to be a much more difficult war to fight the loss of lives and the high economic cost of the war led Americans to protest the war.

The Protest Against French Imperialism in Vietnam

Another reason that Americans began protesting the Vietnam war was the idea of American Imperialism and a misuse of power. This was the first televised war and they saw the horrors of the war became common in US households. Many people protested the Vietnam War because of the fact that we were invading people’s space. A picture shown in Vietnam shows a girl running burned by a napalm bomb the US had dropped. This was all protested due to the fact that the war was televised publicly. John Hoyland at theguardian.com says, “They show a naked Vietnamese girl, aged about six, running along a dirt road, the skin of her back burned off by napalm dropped on her village by American planes. Seeing those images again made me shudder with horror, just as I did when I first saw them 40 years ago. This was the world’s first televised war.” This is a clear depiction of a image of war that was an uncommon thing of that time period. This shows how the US invaded Vietnam’s space by dropping napalm bombs on their villages. This made people uncomfortable of what our government was doing. The war, people believed, was a highly illegal act due to the fact that we were committing crimes on Vietnamese soldiers and invading their space without permission.  Many people believed that the US didn’t have the right to interfere in another country’s business.  America was forcing our beliefs on Vietnam.  American soldiers also committed crimes against the Vietnamese people.  The most famous example is the My Lai massacre.The My Lai Massacre was a clear indication of the US invading Vietnam. We killed the entire population of the small town of My Lai, Vietnam. This was also publicly broadcasted across America where even more protests broke out for invading someone else’s land. History.com claims that, “In one of the most horrific incidents of violence against civilians during the Vietnam War, a company of American soldiers brutally killed the majority of the population of the South Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai in March 1968.” The My Lai massacre was a very serious incident in the Vietnam War history. This incident prompted protest throughout the US due to the fact that the killing  was an awful massacre where many people died of which the US created. As the war continued on the television did too. The media created conflict between the government and the American people. The result of this was distrust and protest arguing to not be doing what we are doing in Vietnam. David Kenneth at classroom.synonym.com described, “The Vietnam Conflict created distrust between people and the government, provided war protesters with an audience and altered the perception of the American fighting ‘man.’” The fact that the government completely did not listen to the protesters did not create good vibes between the two.  The protests in America were believed to partially be caused by the imperialism of Vietnam. The war also was publicly televised so that the effects were globally known to the world.

The Ohio National Guard attacking Kent State University

Finally, the growing counterculture and peace movements demonstrated a change in American attitudes toward the government and as those attitudes rose up more protests occurred. The  Chicago 7 were a group of people who rioted the streets of Chicago until 5 of them were arrested in 1970. They were accused of trying to overthrow the government and that is why 5 were proven guilty. They tried to protest against the government though unsuccessful. That made it a federal crime as they crossed state lines and were prosecuted by the federal government. History.com inquired that, “The Chicago Seven (originally eight) were political radicals accused of conspiring to incite the riots that occurred at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago”. The Chicago Seven were a great example of not trusting the government and an example of counterculture because of the fact that the government was trying to shut them down and stop them from protesting. On Kent State University in Ohio 1970, students peacefully protested the actions of the Government in Cambodia and Southern Vietnam and the government brutally killed 4 students. Ohiohistorycentral.org stated that “In May 1970, students protesting the bombing of Cambodia by United States military forces, clashed with Ohio National Guardsmen on the Kent State University campus. When the Guardsmen shot and killed four students on May 4, the Kent State Shootings became the focal point of a nation deeply divided by the Vietnam War.” In 1970 on Kent State University there was an example of counterculture due to the fact that students were peacefully protesting due to the fact that they were worried about being drafted for the war and they also believed the war was not a war worth fighting. Counterculture was strong in the US when the Vietnam War was beginning to fall apart. Counterculturists believed that we needed to end the war, so they protested against the decisions of the government. Kenny Rogers at vietnamwar.info wrote, “A counterculture is a culture of a group of people, particularly among the young, whose values and lifestyles are considerably different and often diametrically opposed to those established culture.” Counterculture continued to protest peacefully against the government through music, art, peace movements, etc. A change in perspective toward the government during the Vietnam War proved to be a beneficial factor to the protest movements and counterculture in the United States.

Jerry Rubin, a member of The Chicago Seven

To tie it up, Americans protested the Vietnam War because these factors, the high costs of the war, American Imperialism, and counterculture in the US, led to the believes that the things we were doing in Vietnam were a mistake. The distrust this situation at this time made it inconvenient for the citizens of the United States to trust their government. The rising awareness seen in the Vietnam War has made the US as it is in this day and age, to make sure we are at war for purposeful reasons.

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