The Anti-Vietnam War Movement In 39 Photos

Published December 14, 2016
Updated August 8, 2017
Vietnam War Protests Office
19 March 1970 Burning Draft Card
Ali Panthers
No Vietnamese Flickr
The Anti-Vietnam War Movement In 39 Photos
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In 2003, Senator John Kerry offered the following thoughts on the Vietnam War:

“I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it. I learned that patriotism includes protest, not just military service.” 

This was not mere political bluster. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, John Kerry, along with a host of others, would exercise this antagonistic patriotism in response to the United States’ affairs in Vietnam.

Inspiration for such a response was not in short supply. The Pentagon Papers, leaked in the early '70s, would reveal that every president since Harry Truman had intentionally lied to both Congress and the American people about the unpleasant reality of Vietnam, as well as the extent of U.S. involvement there. In 1969, the My Lai massacre would reveal the unconscionable horrors that Americans, pushed beyond the brink, could commit. But before those damning revelations came blood — and lots of it.

The draft and Selective Service System called on military-age men to serve their country abroad — and more often than not, these were African-American or working class men who could not use their college enrollment or social networks to defer enlistment.

Shipped overseas, U.S. servicemen would encounter an enemy better organized than they, an unpopular and weak South Vietnamese government on the verge of collapse, and a physical geography that proved treacherous to any and all U.S. efforts in the region. Ultimately, more than 58,000 U.S. servicemen would die during the war — the overwhelming majority of whom died in action or by accident.

As the death tolls mounted without any apparent victory made or in sight — beyond the promise that defeating North Vietnam would allow the U.S. and its allies to “contain” the menace of Communism — millions of Americans grew wary.

Thus they took to the streets to protest. They took to pen and paper to dissent. They took to music to put their anger to verse. They took to violence and draft evasion. They took to Washington, D.C., to demand one thing of the United States: Get out of Vietnam.

"It was very uncomfortable and tense and, along the way, even the most gentle souls got a whiff of tear gas," Mike Maginn, a photographer and former Navy member who documented some of these Vietnam War protests, told ATI. "If you see the '60s as a romantic time and all about music and rock concerts, these pictures should cure you of that notion."

Eventually, protestors would have their wish granted in 1975, when President Gerald Ford announced that the war had come to a close. This was not because the U.S. had emerged — as so often before — victorious, but because victory was nowhere in sight.

Indeed, at the tail end of April, at the tail end of a war that brought America to its knees, the last Americans evacuated the southern Vietnamese city of Saigon, which the North Vietnamese army stood ready to capture at any moment. They swallowed it whole soon after.

As the last U.S. helicopters fled Saigon, they left behind a territory which the United States had not conquered. They abandoned a war that the United States had not won. The times they were a-changing, indeed.

Intrigued by this look at Vietnam War protests? Next, be sure read about how Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon prolonged the Vietnam War. Then, have a look at this photo history of the Vietnam War, and these iconic 1960s photos, including some Vietnam War protests and much, much more. Finally, check out some of the most incredible Woodstock photos that will transport you back to 1969.

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