Vietnam Veterans Against the War Essay

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“...You’ve thrown the worst fear that can ever be hurled, fear to bring children into the world.” - “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan

The Vietnam War began in November 1955 and ended in April 1975. It is the second-longest war in American history, closely behind the current war in Afghanistan which began in 2001 and is still transpiring to this day. The Vietnam War lasted eighteen years, during this time the United States saw five presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford. Some examples of other important things occurring during this period include the Civil Rights movement, the Cold War, the birth of folk music, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

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The Vietnam War had many casualties, the statistics may be surprising. The United States suffered approximately fifty-eight thousand two hundred twenty deaths, while the North Vietnamese suffered approximately 1.1 million deaths, the South Vietnamese lost somewhere between two hundred thousand and two hundred and fifty thousand, and lastly, the number of Vietnamese civilians killed was over 2 million. The war was not only a question of values, but also what direction would the United States go in. How would the U.S. be affected by this war that was effectively protested by its population? The main effect of the antiwar movement was its ability to spread a negative perception of the Vietnam War. The negative perception of the Vietnam War was supported by so many that it is considered one of the nation's largest social movements.

The main cause of the negative perception of the war was the extensive media coverage that supplied anyone with eyes and ears with the knowledge they needed to support anti-war movements. This was the first war to have reporters and photographers on the front line documenting what they encountered. This was the easiest way to portray the monstrosities happening in Vietnam. The U.S. government also did not know exactly how to show the public that their war efforts were not being wasted. The only thing that the government could think to put out to exhibit a sense of victory was body counts. The ever-increasing body count of Vietnamese people compared to the minimal casualties suffered by the U.S. was horrific. This exposed the U.S. public to the reality of war and its atrocities. The anti-war movement community also benefited from the media because it eventually made its way into the spotlight. “The advertising community created a campaign to “Unsell the War”, which consisted of antiwar print ads and radio and television commercials in 1971 and 1972… The Indochina Peace Campaign, organized by Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda, criticized the war with a traveling show from 1972 until the war's end” (Hall). This use of media reached across the nation influencing the population to choose a side in the war. This increase in popularity in the war allowed for the growth of the anti-war movement, which went hand in hand with a negative perception of the Vietnam War.

An immediate cause of the negative perception of the Vietnam War was celebrity opinion and music. A famous example of a celebrity opposing the war was Muhammad Ali. “Boxing champion Muhammad Ali became another visible African American symbol. He was denied conscientious objector status on religious grounds and convicted of refusing military induction in June 1967” (Hall). Ali was arrested and found guilty of draft evasion, he was also stripped of his boxing titles. He was a certified badass who thought negatively about the war, thus he became a symbol in the eyes of the anti-war movement. It was not about being scared or not being man enough, arguably one of the manliest men at the time was convicted for refusing to fight. There are also countless examples of anti-war songs. Many artists wrote songs that reflected their perception of the war, this struck a chord with the very influential young folk. Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” came out in 1963, Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” came out in 1965, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” came out in 1966, and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” came out in 1969. All of these artists and bands had a great impact on the youth’s perception of the United States government and its war efforts. These artists also inspired some youths to experiment with drug use, such as marijuana LSD, or acid. These drugs were known to the government to promote rebellious behavior. The music in folk music is not all that special, ask anyone in the music business, but the lyrics carried so much weight. This is what the anti-war movement held onto. These songs, like so many others, confront ideas about the government keeping the people down and businesses profiting from war. They also explore the complex emotions people felt during this confusing time. People still did not know why the U.S. government was so invested in the Vietnam War.

A contributory cause for the effect of the growing negative perception of the Vietnam War was the growing presence of veterans in the anti-war movement. The Vietnam Veterans Against the War, or V.V.A.W., was founded in 1967. This group consisted of soldiers who returned home from Vietnam and saw firsthand the atrocities of war. “...The longer the war continued, bringing more and more idealistic young Americans face-to-face with the conflict’s true nature, the more disillusioned, bitter, and remorseful anti-war rebels it generated” (Blocker). The group acquired a very large following due to the long duration of the war, they had eighteen years worth of members. These veterans were also a symbol for others in the anti-war movement, similar to Muhammad Ali. The V.V.A.W. grew so large and popular that even the president at the time acknowledged their power. “V.V.A.W. 's actions both local and national helped to turn American opinion against the war, an achievement to which the book’s title calls attention. Less well known is the fear and hatred V.V.A.W. provoked at the highest levels of the Nixon administration” (Blocker). The government had also been trying to slander the claims and beliefs of the anti-war movement. This led to the diminishing of the government's image. “The government’s deliberate and misleading attacks on the movement added further to its negative image” (Hall). With the growing negative perception of the government, the war effort felt these repercussions. The V.V.A.W. held a key role in the progress of the anti-war movement, these veterans were a strong driving force allowing the beliefs of the people to be heard.

The civil war people in the United States experienced during the Vietnam War was a remote cause. As said previously citizens were forced to choose a side regarding the war. This pressure was felt by many Americans. “At the Chicago Democratic national convention, fifteen thousand protesters clashed with police, leading many people to conclude that “the war in Southeast Asia… was causing a kind of civil war in the United States” (Hall). While the Vietnam War was going on U.S. citizens were faced with many tough battles, and their desire to have their beliefs heard got many people into trouble. People were mainly interested in peaceful protesting, although riots broke out against the police many times, even though many people were pacifists. This goes to show how important their cause was to them. The presence of this civil war feeling drove people to want the war to end, just to ease the tension in the United States.

The effect, negative perception of the Vietnam War, was mainly caused by the extensive media coverage provided to the public. An immediate cause of this effect was celebrity opinion on the war and influential music at the time. A contributory cause of the effect was the growing presence of veterans in the anti-war movement community. Lastly, a remote cause of this effect was the pressure building in the U.S. due to the civil war brought on by the conflicting views of the anti-war movement and the government. The Vietnam War is a great example of the anti-war movement effectively making a change in the world. It is also an example of the nation's elites running the government and its war efforts. Even though it took eighteen years, the growing presence of the anti-war movement allowed for the people’s voice to be heard and its message carried out.

Works Cited

    1. Blocker, Jack S. “The Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, by Andrew E. HuntThe Turning: A History of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, by Andrew E. Hunt. New York, New York University Press, 1999. Xi, 259 Pp. $35.00 U.S. (Cloth).” Canadian Journal of History, vol. 36, no. 2, 2001, pp. 395–396., doi:10.3138/cjh.36.2.395.
    2. Hall, Mitchell K. 'The Vietnam Era Antiwar Movement.' Magazine of History, vol. 18, no. 5, 2004, pp. 13-17. ProQuest, https://ezproxy.ivc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.ivc.edu/docview/213742020?accountid=39837.
    3. Jackson, Aaron. “Reforming the Veteran: Propaganda and Agency in the First World War Reconstruction Hospitals.” Journal of the Medical Library Association, vol. 107, no. 4, 2019, doi:10.5195/jmla.2019.743.
    4. Lubens, Pauline, and Roxane Cohen Silver. “Grief in Veterans: An Unexplored Consequence of War.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 109, no. 3, 2019, pp. 394–395., doi:10.2105/ajph.2018.304924.
    5. Matisek, Jahara, et al. “Extending the American Century: Revisiting the Social Contract.” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, vol. 20, no. 1, 2019, pp. 5–15., doi:10.1353/gia.2019.0018.
    6. Meyer, David S. “Domestic Society and International Cooperation: The Impact of Protest on U.S. Arms Control Policy. By Jeffrey W. Knopf Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 287p. $59.95 Cloth, $19.95 Paper.” American Political Science Review, vol. 93, no. 3, 1999, pp. 759–760., doi:10.2307/2585651.
    7. Study.com, Study.com, study.com/academy/lesson/casualties-of-the-vietnam-war-causes-statistics.html.
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