The Vietnam War was marked by numerous protests in the U.S. against America's military effort. This article looks at the history of these protests (primarily focusing on those protests which took place in the United States). The protests, like the war itself, were, at the time they occurred, highly controversial and they continue to be controversial to this day. This article attempts primarily to describe the protests and the protest movement in a chronological manner, without judging it, the impact of the protests and judgment of them is reserved for the last section of this article.
In 1959 the first American servicemen to die in the Vietnam War, Major Dale R. Buis and Master Sergeant Chester M. Ovnand, are killed in a guerilla attack.
15,000 students, organized by the group Students for a Democratic Society, picket the White House in protest of the country's involvement in Vietnam. However, the president is away at the time, having gone to his ranch in Texas.
President Johnson announces he will send 50,000 more troops to Vietnam, increasing American troop strength there from 75,000 to 125,000.
Norman Morrison, a Quaker and father of three children, sets himself on fire in front of the Pentagon in a protest against the war. His action is repeated a week later by Roger Allen LePorte, a member of the Catholic Worker movement, who immolates himself in front of the U.N. building.
Several student groups representing half a million students rally in support of President Johnson's war policy.
In the largest anti-war demonstration to date, over 20,000 protesters march down Fifth Avenue in New York City. They are met by several dozen counter-demonstrators, some of them veterans, and several fights break out. The police make seven arrests.
After refusing to be inducted into military service, boxer Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, is stripped of his world heavyweight championship. Clay had earlier requested an exemption from service, which was denied.
In some occult circles a pentagon is considered the best shape in which to entrap a demon, this fact, coupled with the belief that the actions of the Department of Defense, which is headquartered in the Pentagon, during the Vietnam War were so evil that they had to be demonically inspired, lead a group of approximately 50,000 protesters, lead by Abbie Hoffman, to attempt to exorcize and levitate the Pentagon on October 20, 1967. Hoffman had claimed that the Pentagon would levitate if the protestors were successful. Most observers report that it did not levitate—some claimed because the National Guard prevented the protestors from forming a complete circle, necessary, in occult belief, to finish the exorcism, around the building. However, to this day, a few participants in the protest claim that they did successfully levitate the Pentagon .
Anti-draft rallies, involving thousands of protesters, are held in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, and Portland, Oregon. Singer Joan Baez is arrested at a small demonstration at the Selective Service Center in Oakland, California.
Hundreds of Vietnamese civilians are killed by U.S. troops in the My Lai Massacre. This prompts widespread condemnation around the world and at home.
At the end of March, in a nationally televised address, President Lyndon Johnson announces that he will not run for re-election.
The Democratic Party National Convention takes place in Chicago. The party is divided over the Vietnam War. Police clash with demonstrators as the party chooses pro-war Vice-President Hubert Humphrey as its nominee.
Republican candidate Richard Nixon elected president of the U.S. with a 500,000 vote margin (less than 1% of the voting electorate)
On August 24, 1970, terrorist Karlton Armstrong and others blew up Sterling Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus killing a graduate student in protest of the American involvement in the war.
The carrier USS Hancock leaves the port of Alameda, in the San Francisco Bay, for service in Vietnam. As they get underway, they are surrounded by protesters in small boats, many of whom are waving the North Vietnamese and Viet-Cong flags. The protest was organized by a faction of the organization Students for a Democratic Society, which by this time had come to represent the radical wing of the anti-war movement.
President Nixon is re-elected in a landslide over the Democratic candidate, George McGovern, winning 49 states and 60% of the popular vote.
In 1973 a cease-fire treaty, designed to go into effect January 28, is signed in Paris; President Nixon says the treaty "brings peace with honor in Vietnam and Southeast Asia,". The cease-fire is closely followed by the end of the military draft and the withdrawal of the last combat forces from Vietnam.
In 1975, the South Vietnamese capital, Saigon, falls to North Vietnamese forces, and President Ford declares that the Vietnam War is “finished” for America; shortly thereafter the last remaining American soldiers, guarding the embassy, withdraw from Vietnam.
Impact of the Protests
- 1959, First American deaths
- Chronicle of the 20th century, ed. by Clifton Daniel, Chronicle Publications, 1987
- Levitate the Pentagon 1967
- An interview with a participant
- Sterling Hall Bombing
- Fast Movers: Jet Pilots and the Vietnam Experience, by John Darrell Sherwood, St. Martin's Press, 1999
- 1973, Cease-fire treaty signed
- 1973, Draft ends, troops withdraw
- 1975, War “finished” and last Americans withdraw
- Mission Betrayed: Richard Nixon and the Scranton Commission Inquiry into Kent State, Charles A. Thomas, Ch. 1, Nixon Cunctator. Charles Thomas, Papers, 1970-2003, May 4 Collection—Boxes 62-64S (incomplete work) e-book. Retieved from Kent State University Libraries and Media Services, Department of Special Collections and Archives, May 4 Collection, November 6, 2007.