Peace movement in America

In 1967, there were 100,000 protestors outside the Pentagon in Washington. 4 years later, the figure trebled to 300,000 when the Veterans March took place. There was a reason for this blow-up in protestors. When the Vietnam War first began, only 3,000 men were conscripted into going over there. Eight months later, more than 33,000 soldiers were going over to Vietnam each month. Many people opposed this, especially those who knew someone who was conscripted into draft. There was also a lot of questions about who was and wasn’t conscripted.

Many coloured Americans claimed that more of their own kind were sent over to Vietnam than their white counterparts. Also those of high education and class found many ways to avoid being forced to join the army, many men decided to attend college to avoid conscription. Another main fuel supplier to the protestors was the mass media, who informed the American public the amount of American deaths every week, causing a particular uproar when the killing reached it’s peak in the May of 1968 when 562 American soldiers were killed in the fields of Vietnam.

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The soldiers who were sent to Vietnam, were one of the main reasons for the growth of the peace movement in Vietnam. The average age of the soldiers who entered Vietnam was 19, a good seven years younger than that of the average age of a soldier in the second World War. The majority of these men who were sent thousands of miles away from their homes were conscripted to the army, that is forced. It was never explained to these men why they were there, and if it was it was not made very clear. Because of the tactics used by the Vietcong against the American soldiers, they were often frightened and desperate.

They never knew whether or not their next step could be their last, and because of this, a lot of the soldiers (almost 15%) turned to drugs like high-grade heroin to cope with the pressure. This habit often stayed with the soldiers for life, meaning that when they went to America, they took the drug culture with them. The fact that these soldiers had taken part in the deaths of 1,150,000 Vietnamese, plus the destruction of towns and cities, not to mention their participation in rape, torture and mass murder, must have put an enormous load onto many of the men’s conciousnesses, which many could not deal with.

This guilt, or horror at what they had done and seen, was the cause of many nervous and mental breakdowns which meant they could not live with normal society. Many of these men never did really return to the ‘homes’ or normality that they had left. It has been said that if the men had not been so young, they may have been able to cope more with the pressure. Whether this theory is correct, it will probably never be known. Letters sent home by these soldiers greatly concerned their loved ones, aiding in the growth of the peace movement.

Between 1965 and 1973, around 8 million tonnes of bombs, approximately 300 tonnes for every man, woman and child living in Vietnam at the time, was dropped onto Vietnam. Not only explosives were used, but also anti-personnel bombs, including the pineapple bomb, which consisted of 250 metal pellets inside a small canister. It was said that if 1000 pineapple bombs were dropped ‘over an area of four football fields in a single strike 250 thousand pellets were spewed in a horizontal pattern over the land below, hitting everything on the ground.

Bombs of this kind were solely for the use of maiming there victims not actually killing, as it took a lot more effort to look after the wounded than bury the dead. 17 million inhabited North Vietnam, and how many weren’t Vietcong? There were possibilities of these bombs catching out those who the Americans wanted rid of, but there were a lot more innocent people who had to suffer as well. This outraged the Americans, unsurprisingly, because why should such a powerful country, the most powerful in the world, have to resort to such tactics against such a small and powerless country?

Then there were the chemical weapons that were used, Napalm, to maim, and Agent Orange to uncover the hiding places of the NLF. The use of both of these chemicals in the war by the American forces was condemned both home and abroad. When it was learnt what damage these chemicals caused not only to the land, but to the people of Vietnam AND the American soldiers, it angered many giving the American public yet another reason to press on with their peace campaign. The My Lai massacre was another main factor in the growth of the peace movement in America.

It was covered by the American media, who reported back home that the massacre involved a huge death tally. One American pilot stated that after the My Lai massacre (which took place on the 16th of March, 1968 and involved the deaths of over 500 people) that ‘After the shooting all the villagers became Communists. The Vietnam War was the first ever war to be televised. Opinions whether the war should be going on or not was about even. In January 1968, a poll was taken and showed that 46% of the American populous supported the notion of war with the Communists. However, attitudes soon changed.

The presidential candidates were very aware that their election by the American public counted on their opinions on the war. Richard Nixon won the election, beating his Democratic opponent by claiming that he would end the war in an ‘honourable peace’ which really showed what the majority of the American populous felt about the war. It was clear that they were sick of fighting a war which was not going to be won. Nixon’s campaign included the ‘Vietnamization’ plan, in which Nixon said he was going to encourage the South Vietnamese into fighting their own battles.

The first withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam took place in June 1969. From 1968 to 1973, the protests grew and grew, coming more and more frequently. President Johnson was held in hatred by the public, and barely dared to emerge from the White House for fear of being mobbed. Nixon was elected towards the end of 1968, promising to bring the war to an ‘honourable peace’. Even he knew it couldn’t be won. I think the main cause of the immense growth in the peace movement in the States had to be the mass media.

Had they not relayed the events going on in Vietnam back to the Americans at home, many would not have been aware of the effects perhaps until it was too late. One major media decision involved ‘Life’ magazine, which chose to fill one edition of its magazines solely with pictures of the goings on in Vietnam. It was incidents such as this that helped enlarge the movement immensely. Remember, the Americans may have not learned of My Lai, or the usage of Napalm or Agent Orange, or blanket bombing had it not been for media coverage so it was mass media that gave the public the incentive to try and bring an end to the war themselves.

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