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The Anti-Vietnam War Movement of the 1960's

subtitle text

Newsreel-Anti-War March, 1967 Video

         For years, people of the United States have argued over what one thing really caused the Vietnam War. The fact is that there are a number of reasons for the start of the war, however, it can be determined that America’s purpose in such a war was to fight the spread of communism and totalitarian rule as well as the spread of democracy. The Vietnam War was a war in which America had severe lack of support. As the media made the experience of war more real to the people, dissention spread like fire throughout the nation.  As the years went on and American intervention continued, opposition to the war grew enormously. The anti-war cause grew to be known as the largest protest movement in the history of the U.S. Immense numbers of people gathered in streets, halls and other public places to express their purpose and utilize their right to free speech. The anti-Vietnam movement is one of the leading representatives of flourishing counterculture in the United States.

            As America continued to the uphill battle of fighting a war with no support at home, the anti-war feelings continued to rage throughout the country. The movement consisted of a number of different ideas and focus points such as politics, race and cultural issues, but the people involved were generally united by the opposition to the war. The new youth culture that emerged in this era contributed to the growth of the movement. This is evident because the majority of the protesters were college dropouts, labor union members and people of the middle class (Barringer 1). The young people were part of a new generation who found new and effective ways to express their beliefs and their opinions on such important issues. As such, the spread of leftist beliefs increased the cause further as more people joined.

            As America became more involved in the conflict, tension and protest increased in the United States, however, the motivation for the quickening of pace in the movement happened after the bombing of North Vietnam. The movement was now on the forefront of America’s social scene and protest became the exemplary thing to do. Mainly consisting of college students, marches were the main form of effective protest during this time. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) broadened the movement to the national level in March of 1965 when they called a march on Washington to protest the bombing of North Vietnam. “On 17 April 1965, between 15,000 and 25,000 people gathered at the capital, a turnout that surprised even the organizers,” (Barringer 2). Anti-war sentiment was truly growing within the country and is evident through simple protest turnout. The idea was to keep the statements as peaceful as possible so that they could be heard without causing any unnecessary and chaotic violence. Allen Ginsburg, a Vietnam Day Committee member explains his opinion on the Anti-war March in October, 1965; “The march should be led by grandmothers carrying flowers, young women with babies and girls dressed in pretty costumes,” (Miles 46). The growing culture gave people the motivation to express themselves and their beliefs through peaceful, yet effective protest.

With the rapid development of the movement, it applied pressure to the presidential administration and planted doubt of America’s purpose in the war. President Johnson’s cabinet started questioning military involvement in Vietnam and in 1967, Johnson fired Defense Secretary McNamara when he questioned the morality of American involvement in the war. Johnson soon realized that his closest advisors were in fact, turning against him and the war effort as dissention continued to consume mostly everyone in the nation. AS the war dragged on and failure was in sight, many GIs simply gave up the fight and sometimes sabotaged missions while stationed in Vietnam. The later years of the war sparked an escalated period of protest after the Tet Offensive. Americans questioned the government’s will to release and report information about what was happening in Vietnam as well as the war’s progress. Protest crossed the line of violence and rioting after the Tet Offensive with brutal clashes between police and citizens. When Nixon became president, he rallied to lessen the pressure the movement was putting on the war effort by withdrawing troops from Vietnam, ending draft calls and putting a draft lottery into motion (Wells 5). However, there was nothing anyone could do to permanently stop the pressure the anti-war movement was putting on the war effort. Only total withdrawal from the affairs of Vietnam and the end to the war would bring an end to such a movement.

As the 1970’s approached, the war effort in Vietnam was plummeting at a depressing rate. The morale and spirit of the troops was nonexistent and was reflected on the other side of the world through protest and dissent. However, as the war effort declined in the later years of the 1960’s, the anti-war movement became less united and cohesive. The counterculture that had risen alongside the movement was not approved by many working-class, conservative Americans.

“The clean-cut, well-dressed SDS members, who had tied their hopes to McCarthy in 1968, were being subordinated as movement leaders. Their replacements deservedly gained less public respect, were tagged with the label “hippie”, and faced much mainstream opposition from middle-class Americans uncomfortable with the youth culture of the period-long hair, casual drug use and promiscuity,” (Barringer 3).

 

Even though the movement was effective in the eventual struggle to remove the nation from the conflict, many people in America did not agree with the cultural aspects that society created during the anti-war movement.

            The Vietnam War was a war that was extremely unpopular in the nation. The people who opposed outnumbered the supporters immensely and this difference of numbers increased alarmingly fast as the war continued. Different forms of protest occurred with outstanding turnouts as more people of the nation joined together and expressed their feelings and enjoyed their rights as citizens. The developing counterculture and new left beliefs motivated people to break away from the conservative lifestyle of the 1950’s and to get involved with the issues of society and the world. They did so by forming organizations and participating in mass protest to express their opinions. Even though political administration attempted to relive the immense pressure being applied on the war effort by granting some of the protesters’ wishes, the movement could not simply be eliminated in one shot. The movement was so large and involved that the only way it would end was if the war was finally over. The spirit of Americans, mainly the strong counterculture of the 1960’s, led the anti-war movement to be one of the most influential and groundbreaking movements in the history of the United States.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Barringer, Mark. “The Anti-War Movement in the United States.” Encyclopedia of the

Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. 1998. Internet.

28. May. 2007. p.1-3. Available: www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/vietnam /antiwar.html

 

Miles, Barry. Hippie. New York, Sterling Publishing CO., INC. 2004.

 

Wells, Tom. “The Anti-War Movement in the United States.” Encyclopedia of the

Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History. 1998. Internet.

28. May. 2007. p.5. Available: www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/vietnam/antiwar.html

 



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