Counterprotesters Heckle Anti-War Demonstrators
Counterprotesters Heckle Anti-War Demonstrators
Date: October 16, 1965
Source: AP Images.
In the first mass organized protest against the Vietnam War, about 100,000 Americans in several dozen cities throughout the nation marched together on March 15 and 16, 1965 in the International Days of Protest. Organized by the Vietnam Day Committee (VDC), the marchers mostly did not seek withdrawal from Vietnam but instead advocated for negotiations with the North Vietnamese.
The Vietnam War had its roots in American support for the French governance of the country in the years immediately following World War II. In these years of the Cold War, the United States fought to stop the spread of communism from North Vietnam into South Vietnam. By the mid–1950s, the United States covered eighty-five percent of France's costs for men and materials to battle communist insurgents from the North. Supposed attacks by North Vietnamese patrol boats on U.S. Navy destroyers gave President Lyndon Johnson the justification in August 1964 to request permission from Congress to increase U.S. participation in Vietnam. Given a blank check to do whatever was necessary to protect American forces, Johnson began sending ground combat troops to Vietnam. On March 8, 1965, the ninth Marine Expeditionary Brigade stormed ashore onto the beaches of Da Nang as the first combat troops to arrive. They were purportedly sent there to guard American installations, but the Marines soon began operating offensively.
The antiwar movement, led by students, formed in response to the commitment of combat troops to Vietnam as well as the escalating draft calls. Student activism usually met with strong resistance and criticism in these early days of the war. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was one of the few national student organizations to devote considerable energy to antiwar activism in the mid–1960s. SDS, founded in 1960 as a liberal multi-issue group, conducted research through its Peace Research and Education Project to build a strong case against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. SDS members formed VDC and organized the March 1965 protests in response to the arrival of combat troops. Portrayed as Communist dupes and spoiled young rich kids who used outrageous tactics to rebel against their parents, the students found it difficult to gain respect. In Seattle and New York City, marchers scuffled with hostile spectators. Passing motorists shouted and spit on the protesters. In Oakland, Hell's Angels motorcycle club members attacked marchers while spectators drowned out protesters in Los Angeles by singing the theme from "The Mickey Mouse Club" television show. During the New York City march, in one of the best known episodes of draft resistance during the Vietnam War, a young Catholic pacifist David Miller burned his draft card in defiance of a recently enacted federal law. The remains of the card were quickly snatched up by an FBI agent and later used to send Miller to prison for two years.
COUNTERPROTESTERS HECKLE ANTI-WAR DEMONSTRATORS
See primary source image.
In many cities, the International Days of Protest marches were the first local protests against the Vietnam War. Supporters of the war immediately responded to the marches. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover testified before Congress that the Communists had orchestrated the antiwar protests, despite the lack of any evidence to substantiate this claim. Most members of Congress believed Hoover and the government began large-scale investigations of the antiwar movement. Meanwhile, members of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and other pro-war groups planned a pro-war demonstration for October 30 in New York City. On that day, more than 20,000 people marched down Fifth Avenue in support of the government's policies. However, neither the government nor the pro-war organizations succeeded in mustering massive public support for U.S. policy in Vietnam. The antiwar movement continued to grow.
A majority of Americans turned against the war following the Tet Offensive in January 1968. Despite a nearly unlimited supply of air planes and artillery, rifles and mortars, napalm and night scopes, the draft and a massive defense budget, the United States could not impose control over one of the poorest countries in the world. Upon taking office in 1969, President Richard Nixon proposed to "Vietnamize" the war by turning all of the fighting over to the South Vietnamese. Nixon viewed this strategy as a honorable way of withdrawing. The last American ground forces left Vietnam in 1973 with the remaining U.S. military personnel exiting in 1975. The war officially ended on April 30, 1975 when the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon fell to North Vietnamese forces.
DeBenedetti, Charles. An American Ordeal: The AntiwarMovement of the Vietnam Era. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997.
Olson, James S. and Randy Roberts. Where the Domino Fell:America and Vietnam, 1945–1995. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
Wells, Tom. The War Within: America's Battle Over Vietnam. New York: Henry Holt, 1994.