U.S. Bombing of North Vietnam
In 1965, the US launched its strategic bombing of Northern Vietnam.
Yet, North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh refused to listen to American
demands, and the continued bombings and the increasing number of
American fatalities in Vietnam soon became fuel for a growing antiwar
movement. As public opinion against the bombings intensified, a
bombing pause from May 12 to the 17, of 1965 was announced.
"Our Boys in Vietnam"
In order for proponents of the war to maintain their popularity, they
associated their stance with "support for our boys in
Vietnam." Nevertheless, even along the front in Vietnam, the
antiwar movement was spreading. Combat troops began to wear
antiwar symbols, and showed their opposition to the war with peace
signs, movement salutes, and even demonstrations. For example,
during the November 1969 Antiwar Mobilization, one unit boycotted its
Thanksgiving Day dinner. But more often, the nature of the
resistance on the front was far more serious. From desertion to
killing higher-ranking officers, individual acts of rebellion soon
merged into mutinies and large-scale resistance.
Johnsonís White House
Between the late summer of 1965 and the fall of 1966, President Lyndon
Johnson increased United States military presence and bombing in
Vietnam. During this time, antiwar demonstrators proved to be a
force to be reckoned with on the governmental level.
President Johnson retaliated against protestors by using the legal
system to restrict White House picketers. These restrictions
included limited numbers of demonstrators in certain zones and
demanding permits for every antiwar activity. But even with this
legal harrassment, antiwar demonstrators continued to be a problem for
the Johnson administration.
1967 proved to be a tumultuous year for President Johnson. The
US military presence in Vietnam was losing strength. The White
House continued to be plagued by two wars: the war in Vietnam and the
"war at home" ignited by the antiwar movement. And
public opinion was shifting farther and farther away from supporting
"our boys in Vietnam." In addition, 1967 was witness
to a number of city riots; the most deadly of which occured in
Detroit. The media showed that the social and moral makeup of America
was changing as well, as hippies, drugs, and free sex infiltrated the
country's youth. Indeed, the antiwar movement was
debilitating Johnson's presidency and shocking the nation.
The Hawks and the Doves
In mid-1967, more and more Americans began to oppose the costly
American involvement in Vietnam. By 1968, only slightly more than 25%
of the population approved of Johnson's military decisions. Among the
most vocal of the critics were the hawks. Although the hawks supported
the war, they believed that Johnson was not giving his generals enough
freedom. The hawks wanted to continue the bombings over Northern
Vietnam and remove the shackles from American generals.
The doves comprised another group of critics with whom Johnson was
forced to reckon. Usually Democrats and blue-collar
workers, the doves wanted Johnson to end the American involvement in
Vietnam immediately. The doves were far more vocal and visible than
the hawks, and organized extensive antiwar demonstrations. In
addition, many of the doves came from the ranks of the media and the
Democratic Party, which contributed to the group's detrimental effect
on Johnson's presidency.
March on the Pentagon (seen at right)
1967 saw public support for the war further decreased, and President
Johnson counteracted public opinion by overselling the modest gains of
his military commanders. Against this backdrop came a turning point
for Johnson's presidency: the October 1967 March on the Pentagon, one
of the most significant events of the antiwar movement. Although
the marchers were unable to levitate the besieged Pentagon, their
demonstrations had a direct influence on the redirection of American
policy in Vietnam, and also contributed to the destruction of Lyndon
Protest in the Capital
The antiwar demonstrations at the Pentagon marked the beginning of the
end for American involvement in Vietnam. Johnson's administration was besieged
by protests and civil disobedience, and numerous arrests were
made. Many of the protestors ventured to march on
government grounds, surrounding such structures as the Lincoln
Memorial. Although the public reaction to the events in the capital
was mixed, most Americans did not approve of the protests in the
capital. For many, the protests were symbolized by televised
images of rebellious hippies taunting courageous, clean-cut United
The Tet Offensive
With the bad taste still in their mouths from the tumultuous March on
the Pentagon, Americans were shocked again by the communists' Tet
Offensive on January 31, 1968. The serious nature of the offensive was
proof of Johnson's previous overselling of American progress in
Vietnam, and Americans realized the true gravity of the war.
Finally, public opinion became an influential factor in Johnson's
decisions regarding the war. And in March of 1968, Johnson withdrew
his candidacy for reelection, and opened the U.S. to peace talks with
Nixon is Elected
After the termination of Johnson's term, President Richard Nixon was
elected to office. Nixon, along with many of his advisors,
believed that the antiwar movement was a negative force because it
prolonged the war. With this conviction, Nixon assumed the
presidency with a secret plan to end the war. Nevertheless, the
casualties and bombings continued as President Nixon increased
pressure on the communists, issued a deadline for the communists, and
kept many of his plans secret from the American public.
The Public Demands an End to War
It was not long before the American people realized that the state of
the war was not improving, despite Nixon's promises to end the war.
Antiwar critics were soon privy to Nixon's poor management of Vietnam,
and prepared for another campaign of petitions and demonstrations. In
October of 1969, a series of successful antiwar demonstrations were
spurred on by the passing of Nixon's "deadline" for the
communists and his failure to follow through with his strategy.
The public, led by a strong antiwar sentiment, demanded a more rapid
withdrawal from Vietnam than Nixon had anticipated.
Invasion of Cambodia Spurs Tragedy at Kent State
In May of 1970, Nixon endeavored to buy time for Vietnamization via an
attack on Cambodia. Unfortunately for Nixon, this action
provoked a series of fervent antiwar protests across the nation.
But on May 4, 1970, protest ended in tragedy at Kent State University,
when Ohio National Guardsmen killed four students following an antiwar
demonstration. The tragedy at Kent State ignited a wave of college
campus demonstrations that crippled America's universities. Between
May 4 and May 8, campuses witnessed an average of 100 demonstrations a
day, 350 campus strikes, 536 college shut-downs, and 73 reports of
violent campus protests. By May 12, only eight days after the
tragedy at Kent State, over 150 colleges were on strike.
Nixon Withdraws Troops
The overwhelming response to the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent
State crisis soon became too much for President Nixon. On December 15,
he announced his intention to withdraw fifty thousand troops from
Vietnam in 1970.
The Movement Declines
At the closing of many of the nation's universities, Americans
witnessed a dramatic decline in antiwar activity. Campus
demonstrations and dove rallies, as well as the size of the crowds
participating in them, greatly declined after the spring of
1970. Still, in August of 1970, a young researcher at the
University of Wisconsin was killed when the building in which he was
working was fire bombed by antiwar activists. But in general, the
movement was winding down and Nixon gradually regained popularity.
The End of the War
After the fall of Saigon, Nixon's administration was paralyzed by the
Watergate scandal, which prompted him to resign in August of 1974.
During this period, he was too weak to argue with Congress over the
issue of renewing American military commitment in Vietnam. Although
the new president, Gerald Ford, wanted to increase military aide to
the faltering Saigon regime in 1974, the heavy casualties already
endured by the nation made Congress refuse.