Of all the lessons learned from Vietnam, one rings louder than all the rest — it is impossible to win a long, protracted war without popular support.
When the war in Vietnam began, many Americans believed that defending South Vietnam from communist aggression was in the national interest.
The small antiwar movement grew into an unstoppable force, pressuring American leaders to reconsider the nation’s commitment.
Peace movement leaders opposed the war on moral and economic grounds. The North Vietnamese, they argued, were fighting a patriotic war to rid themselves of foreign aggressors. Innocent Vietnamese peasants were being killed in the crossfire. American planes caused environmental damage by dropping their defoliating chemicals. Young American soldiers were suffering and dying, and military spending took money away from social programs such as welfare, housing, and urban renewal.
The draft was another major source of resentment. The age of the average American soldier serving in Vietnam was 19, seven years younger than in World War II. Young Americans were legally old enough to fight and die, but they were not permitted to vote or drink alcohol.
College students could avoid the draft, so the less affluent and less educated made up a disproportionate percentage of combat troops. Latino and African American males were assigned to combat more regularly than drafted white Americans.
As the Johnson Administration escalated the number of soldiers sent to Vietnam, the peace movement grew. Television changed many minds, by showing gruesome scenes and soldiers returning home in coffins.
Give Peace a Chance
The late 1960s saw peaceful demonstrations turned violent. Students occupied buildings across college campuses. In August 1968, antiwar demonstrators protested outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago to prevent the nomination of a prowar candidate, and the protest turned violent.
Despite the growing antiwar movement, a silent majority of Americans still supported the Vietnam effort. Many admitted that involvement was a mistake, but military defeat was unacceptable.
Source: The Antiwar Movement
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