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Antiwar Demonstrator Throwing Tear Gas

Photograph

By: Anonymous

Date: May 5, 1970

Source: Bettman/Corbis.

About the Photographer: The photographer is unknown.

INTRODUCTION

During the Vietnam War the United States supported the South Vietnamese government in its opposition to the communist-led North Vietnamese, who wanted to unite the two countries under a soviet-style government. Beginning in the mid-1950s, when the U.S. first sent a handful of military advisors, American military involvement grew rapidly in the 1960s. By 1969 over 500,000 combat troops were stationed in Vietnam.

While most Americans supported the war effort, a minority vocally opposed it. This minority grew larger and more aggressive as the war expanded. Pacifists began to protest American involvement in Southeast Asia as early as 1963. They emphasized acts of personal witness, particularly civil disobedience, which carried the risk of arrest and jail. As the war escalated, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched massive bombing raids and substantially increased the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam. Johnson's policies sparked protests on college campuses, and students quickly became the most visible group in the antiwar movement. In part this was because the draft brought the war home to male students in a very personal way, becoming the focus of widespread resistance.

After Johnson declined to run for reelection, Nixon's expansion of the war into neighboring Cambodia set off more protests. At Kent State University in Ohio, students held a mock funeral for the Constitution and burned a Reserve Officer Training Corps building. The mayor of Kent declared a state of emergency and requested assistance from Ohio Governor James Rhodes, who sent the National Guard to restore order. On May 4, 1970, during a scheduled protest, the guardsmen attempted to disperse the crowd. During the chaos that followed, the guardsmen fired a thirteen-second volley that killed four students and injured nine. Kent State immediately closed for the remainder of the school year, while demonstrations in response to the shooting forced almost 500 other universities to suspend classes.

PRIMARY SOURCE

ANTIWAR DEMONSTRATOR THROWING TEAR GAS

See primary source image.

SIGNIFICANCE

In 1979 the state of Ohio settled a civil suit with the families of the four dead students; Governor Rhodes signed a statement that the incident was a tragedy that should never have occurred.

Antiwar protests persisted through the early 1970s and attracted much media coverage wherever they were held. Conservatives blamed the student protesters and the media for giving aid and comfort to the enemy by undermining the war effort. Activists challenged U.S. support of an apparently never-ending and increasingly unpopular war. In 1972, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern openly stated his plans to withdraw American forces from Vietnam. By the time the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973, more than 60 percent of Americans opposed the war. American involvement ended in 1975 when the U.S. withdrew the last of its forces from South Vietnam, and the nation fell to the communist North Vietnamese.

The anger over Vietnam has never truly disappeared from American politics with liberals and conservatives at the millennium still debating the merits of American involvement. Opposition to U.S. military intervention overseas has remained strong. In the wake of Vietnam, presidents hesitated to send troops to foreign hotspots for fear that the U.S. would become trapped in another quagmire that would again badly split the nation.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

DeBenedetti, Charles. An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997.

De Groot, Gerard J. A Noble Cause?: America and the Vietnam War. New York: Pearson Education, 2000.

Antiwar Demonstrator Throwing Tear Gas

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