Debunking Vietnam Anti-War Myths

by Ed Sawicki 2017

Updated 2019

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.

May 7, 1970 anti-war rally


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, 1962First use of Agent Orange in Vietnam
Nov 2, 1963South Vietnam president Diem assasination
Nov 22, 1963John F. Kennedy assasination
Aug 2, 1964Gulf of Tonkin Incident
Mar 2, 1965Rolling Thunder bombing campaign
Mar 8, 1965First U.S. ground forces arrive
Nov 27, 1965March on Washington for Peace
Apr 15, 1967National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam protests
Jun 23, 196710,000 protest Johnson in Century City, Los Angeles
Oct 21, 1967100,000 demonstrators at Lincoln Memorial
Jan 30, 1968Tet Offensive begins
Mar 16, 1968My Lai massacre
Apr 4, 1968Martin Luther King Jr. assasinated
Jun 5, 1968Robert Kennedy assasination
Aug 26, 1968Riots at Democratic National Convention
Nov 5, 1968Nixon becomes president
Apr 15, 1969Woodstock
May 11, 19691,200 students at UCLA demonstrations
May 16, 19691,500 students at UCLA demonstrations
Jul 30, 1969Nixon visits South Vietnam
Sep 2, 1969Ho Chi Minh dies
Oct 15, 1969Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam - millions protest worldwide
Nov 15, 1969500,000 people march on Washington DC
Dec 1, 1969Draft lottery
Dec 26, 1969And babies poster released
Apr 28, 1970Nixon authorizes U.S. troops to Cambodia
May 4, 1970Kent State shootings
Jun 24, 1970Senate repeals Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
Aug 29, 197025,000 Mexican Americans protest in Los Angeles. Three people killed including journalist Ruben Salazar.
Feb  1971Vietnam Veterans Against the War advertisement in Playboy Magazine
Apr 22, 1971John Kerry testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Apr 24, 1971500,000 people march on Washington DC video
Jun 13, 1971New York Times publishes first of the Pentagon Papers
Aug 22, 1971The Camden 28
Apr 22, 1972Vietnam war protest in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles
July 7, 1972Jane Fonda visits North Vietnam
Jan 3, 1973Daniel Ellsberg charged under the Espionage Act of 1917
Jan 27, 1973Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announces end of draft
Feb 12, 1973First flight of POWs return home
Mar 14, 1973John McCain released from prison
May 11, 1973Daniel Ellsberg case dismissed
Aug 9, 1974 Nixon resigns
Sep 16, 1974Gerald Ford offers clemency to draft evaders
Apr 25, 1975Iconic photo of helicopter evacuation from roof of building
Apr 29, 1975Iconic photo of helicopter being pushed overboard from aircraft carrier
Apr 30, 1975Vietnam War Ends

Jane Fonda

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?

Robert McNamara

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 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.

Self-immolation Protests

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.

Thich Quang Duc self-immolation


I offer my body as a torch
to dissipate the dark
to waken love among men
to give peace to Vietnam
(the one who burns herself for peace)

by Nhat Chi Mai 1967

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.


  1. Vietnam Veterans Against the War
  2. Opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War
  3. Pentagon Papers: Leak
  4. Activism Through the Years (Daily Bruin - UCLA)
  5. LA Times: From the Archives: 1967 antiwar protest turns violent
  6. Vietnam War Videos
  7. What percent of Baby Boomers actually participated in the counterculture of the '60s?
  8. Jane Fonda Betrayed American POWs?
  9. The Hollywood Scene by Vernon Scott
  10. Selective Service System - The Vietnam Lotteries
  11. Bringing Peace Home: Feminism, Violence, and Nature
  12. Reading: Craig & Joan: Two Lives for Peace
  13. They Who Burned Themselves for Peace: Quaker and Buddhist Self-Immolators during the Vietnam War
  14. Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle video