Debunking Vietnam Anti-War Myths
These are my notes on the Vietnam anti-war movement. This is not a full-blown article.
I was once at a party where a group of conservatives were discussing the Vietnam War. A woman said, “We lost the war because of all the hippies making a commotion.” The rest of the group agreed. Knowing that I was not a conservative, she looked at me and caught me rolling my eyes. She said, “Oh, I'm sorry Ed. I didn't know you were a hippie.” The logic of the conservative mind is a bewildering thing to behold.
At no point during the evening did I hear any of them say anything that was historically accurate about Vietnam or most other subjects. So, I started doing research about Vietnam so I could counter these people when I saw them again. These notes are part of that research.
It wasn't just "hippies" who opposed the war. It was people from all walks of life as this photo shows. There are thousands of photos of Vietnam War protests that show a diversity of people participating.
This timeline shows Vietnam anti-war events as well as other events related to the war. Most links in this timeline do not appear in the Bibliography.
|Jan 12, 1962||First use of Agent Orange in Vietnam|
|Nov 2, 1963||South Vietnam president Diem assasination|
|Nov 22, 1963||John F. Kennedy assasination|
|Aug 2, 1964||Gulf of Tonkin Incident|
|Mar 2, 1965||Rolling Thunder bombing campaign|
|Mar 8, 1965||First U.S. ground forces arrive|
|Nov 27, 1965||March on Washington for Peace|
|Apr 15, 1967||National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam protests|
|Jun 23, 1967||10,000 protest Johnson in Century City, Los Angeles|
|Oct 21, 1967||100,000 demonstrators at Lincoln Memorial|
|Jan 30, 1968||Tet Offensive begins|
|Mar 16, 1968||My Lai massacre|
|Apr 4, 1968||Martin Luther King Jr. assasinated|
|Jun 5, 1968||Robert Kennedy assasination|
|Aug 26, 1968||Riots at Democratic National Convention|
|Nov 5, 1968||Nixon becomes president|
|Apr 15, 1969||Woodstock|
|May 11, 1969||1,200 students at UCLA demonstrations|
|May 16, 1969||1,500 students at UCLA demonstrations|
|Jul 30, 1969||Nixon visits South Vietnam|
|Sep 2, 1969||Ho Chi Minh dies|
|Oct 15, 1969||Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam - millions protest worldwide|
|Nov 15, 1969||500,000 people march on Washington DC|
|Dec 1, 1969||Draft lottery|
|Dec 26, 1969||And babies poster released|
|Apr 28, 1970||Nixon authorizes U.S. troops to Cambodia|
|May 4, 1970||Kent State shootings|
|Jun 24, 1970||Senate repeals Gulf of Tonkin Resolution|
|Aug 29, 1970||25,000 Mexican Americans protest in Los Angeles. Three people killed including journalist Ruben Salazar.|
|Feb 1971||Vietnam Veterans Against the War advertisement in Playboy Magazine|
|Apr 22, 1971||John Kerry testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee|
|Apr 24, 1971||500,000 people march on Washington DC video|
|Jun 13, 1971||New York Times publishes first of the Pentagon Papers|
|Aug 22, 1971||The Camden 28|
|Apr 22, 1972||Vietnam war protest in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles|
|July 7, 1972||Jane Fonda visits North Vietnam|
|Jan 3, 1973||Daniel Ellsberg charged under the Espionage Act of 1917|
|Jan 27, 1973||Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announces end of draft|
|Feb 12, 1973||First flight of POWs return home|
|Mar 14, 1973||John McCain released from prison|
|May 11, 1973||Daniel Ellsberg case dismissed|
|Aug 9, 1974||Nixon resigns|
|Sep 16, 1974||Gerald Ford offers clemency to draft evaders|
|Apr 25, 1975||Iconic photo of helicopter evacuation from roof of building|
|Apr 29, 1975||Iconic photo of helicopter being pushed overboard from aircraft carrier|
|Apr 30, 1975||Vietnam War Ends|
Mention Jane Fonda to conservatives and their moral outrage explodes. Their folklore has her responsible for the loss of the Vietnam War, the mistreatment of soldiers upon returning home, and the death of at least one American prisoner of war in Hanoi.
Her trip to North Vietnam in 1972 occurred towards the end of the Vietnam War. She didn't start the anti-war movement. It was in full swing already.
It wasn't Jane Fonda who solely turned many Americans against soldiers returning from Vietnam. Americans were already outraged four years earlier (1968) by the murders of 347 civilians in My Lai by American soldiers. Although twenty-six soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, only Lieutenant William Calley Jr. was convicted. He was found guilty of killing 22 villagers. He only served three and a half years under house arrest. The outrage over this bolstered the anti-war movement.
Two years earlier in 1970, four students at Kent State University were murdered by National Guardsmen, further growing the anti-war movement.
In November 1969 and April 1971, about 500,000 people demonstrated against the war in Washington D.C. Photos of those protests clearly show a cross section of society - not just hippies.
By the time Fonda traveled to North Vietnam, the majority of Americans were against the war and many saw Fonda's trip as an effort to bring the unpopular war to an end. Still, there are many who see Fonda's trip as treasonous regardless of the war's unpopularity.
There's a persistent lie told about Fonda that resists efforts to suppress it. That is, a POW handed Fonda a note to be taken back to the U.S. but she gave it to one of the guards. Versions of the story have the prisoner beaten or killed. Here's a link to a Snopes Fact Check page that declares the story false:
Did Jane Fonda Betray American POWs in North Vietnam?
Learning about the Vietnam War is significantly aided by knowing what Robert McNamara has to say about it. McNamara was the Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, serving during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. In 2003, he participated in a documentary called The Fog of War. You should watch it.
After watching the video, it's clear that McNamara thought that the war was a mistake. He admits that the war was seen as part of the global war on Communism by the U.S. administrations but as a civil war by the Vietnamese. The same can be said of Cuba. We seem to have a history of going to war because of a paranoia about Communism.
The High Costs
The cost of the Vietnam War was high in terms of both taxpayer dollars and the impact on the soldiers fighting the war. This is from the History.com web site:
According to a survey by the Veterans Administration, some 500,000 of the 3 million troops who served in Vietnam suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and rates of divorce, suicide, alcoholism and drug addiction were markedly higher among veterans.
Protests over the Vietnam War included people making the ultimate statement. They killed themselves by lighting themselves on fire - a process called self-immolation. The photo is of Buddist monk Thích Quảng Đức self-immolation in Saigon in 1963. He was the first of many.
This is a list of all those who self-immolated because of the Vietnam War. I couldn't find information about most of them on the Internet. I had to go back to the newspapers published at the time.
|Jun 11, 1963||Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức|
|Aug 4, 1963||Buddhist monk Thích Mguyen Huong|
|Aug 13, 1963||Buddhist monk Thích Thanh Tuck|
|Aug 15, 1963||Buddhist nun Dieti Quảng|
|Aug 16, 1963||Buddhist monk Thích Tieu|
|Mar 26, 1965||Alice Herz in Detroit|
|Oct 12, 1965||Hiroko Hayasaki|
|Nov 2, 1965||Norman Morrison in Washington DC|
|Nov 9, 1965||Celene Jankowski in South Bend, Indiana|
|Nov 9, 1965||Roger Allen LaPorte in New York City|
|May 28, 1966||Buddhist nun Thích Nữ Thanh Quảng|
|May 28, 1966||Buddhist woman Ho Thi Thieu|
|May 28, 1966||Buddhist nun Thích Nữ Vinh Ngoc|
|May 31, 1966||Buddhist woman Nguyen Thi Van|
|Jun 4, 1966||Buddhist nun Thích Nữ Dien Dinh|
|Jun 4, 1966||Buddhist nun Thích Nữ Bao Luan|
|May 3, 1967||Le Thai Cuc in Saigon|
|May 16, 1967||Buddhist nun Nhất Chi Mai in Saigon|
|Oct 3, 1967||Buddhist nun Thích Nữ Tri in Saigon|
|Oct 15, 1967||Florence Beaumont in Los Angeles|
|Oct 22, 1967||Buddhist nun Thích Nữ Hue|
|Nov 1, 1967||Buddhist nun Thích Nữ Thuong|
|Nov 12, 1967||Yui Chunoshin|
|Dec 4, 1967||Erik Thoen|
|Mar 1, 1968||Pham Van Qui in Saigon|
|Mar 19, 1968||Ronald Brazee in Syracuse, NY|
|Apr 1968||Shirakawa Kazuo|
|Oct 1968||Steve Sexton|
|May 11, 1970||George Winne Jr. in San Diego|
Self-immolation is still used today by Tibetans protesting the occupation of their country by China.
Not all suicides to protest the Vietnam War were by self-immolation. New Jersey teenagers Craig Badiali and Joan Fox killed themselves on October 16, 1969 via asphyxiation from car exhaust.
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War
- Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War
- Pentagon Papers: Leak
- Activism Through the Years (Daily Bruin - UCLA)
- LA Times: From the Archives: 1967 antiwar protest turns violent
- Vietnam War Videos
- What percent of Baby Boomers actually participated in the counterculture of the '60s?
- Jane Fonda Betrayed American POWs?
- The Hollywood Scene by Vernon Scott
- Selective Service System - The Vietnam Lotteries
- Bringing Peace Home: Feminism, Violence, and Nature
- Reading: Craig & Joan: Two Lives for Peace
- They Who Burned Themselves for Peace: Quaker and Buddhist Self-Immolators during the Vietnam War
- Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle video