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War and Protest - the US in Vietnam (1965 - 1967)

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We are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it.
- President Dwight D Eisenhower


As United States military involvement in Vietnam increased, so did the inroads made into South Vietnam by the Viet Minh and the National Liberation Front (NLF)/People's Liberation Armed Forces (PALF). The NLF and PALF were called the 'Viet Cong' by their opponents1.

In January 1965, one month before his assassination, Malcolm X, a militant advocate of African-American rights, denounced United States involvement in Vietnam. He said that Africans and African-Americans were on the same side as 'those little rice farmers'.

On 22 February, 1965, General Westmoreland requested two battalions of US Marines to protect the American air base at Da Nang from 6000 NLF/PALF troops massed in the vicinity. President Johnson approved his request, despite 'grave reservations' voiced by United States Ambassador Taylor in Vietnam. Taylor was afraid that America might be about to repeat the same mistakes made by the French, by sending more and more soldiers into the Asian forests and jungles of a 'hostile foreign country' where friend and foe couldn't be told apart.

On 9 March, 1965, President Johnson authorized the use of Napalm, a petroleum-based substance mixed with a thickening agent into a gel that would burn continuously and stick to anything it touched.

Escalating US military involvement in Vietnam led to an escalating anti-war movement within the United States. Demonstrations, teach-ins and draft-card burnings became the rule of the day for those opposed to the war.

On 17 April, 1965, the March on Washington that had been called the previous December took place. Organizers had expected about 2000 marchers. The actual count was about 25,0002. This was the largest anti-war protest to ever have been held in Washington DC at that time, with the number of marchers approximately equalling the number of US soldiers in Vietnam.

On 16 June, 1965 a planned civil disobedience turned into a five-hour teach-in on the steps of - and inside - the Pentagon. In two days, more than 50,000 leaflets were distributed without interference at the entrances and inside the building. A World War II artillery officer, Gordon Christiansen, turned in his honorable discharge certificate.

On 28 July, 1965, President Johnson announced that he planned to send 44 combat battalions to Vietnam, bringing the US military presence to 125,000 men. Monthly draft call ups were doubled to 35,000.

I have asked the commanding general, General Westmoreland, what more he needs to meet this mounting aggression. He has told me. And we will meet his needs. We cannot be defeated by force of arms. We will stand in Vietnam.

On 31 August, 1965, President Johnson signed a law criminalizing draft card burning, imposing up to a five-year prison sentence and $1000 fine. The public burning of draft cards continued to grow, owing to the media attention these events received.

Songwriter/Singer Country Joe McDonald wrote and first performed the 'I Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag' in 19653. The chorus of that song, which gained fame at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival, was as follows.

And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! We're all gonna die.

The strongest verse of the song was:

Well, come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, don't hesitate,
Send 'em off before it's too late.
Be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.

There were anti-war rallies in 40 American cities, as well as other cities throughout the world, including London and Rome, in October 1965. It was during this month that the poet Allen Ginsburg introduced the term 'Flower Power', which became a rallying cry to many of those opposed to war in general and the war in Vietnam in particular.

On 27 November, 1965, 35,000 anti-war protesters encircled the White House then marched on to the Washington Monument for a rally.

On 30 November, 1965, Defense Secretary McNamara privately warned Johnson that American casualty rates of up to 1000 dead per month could be expected.

US troop presence in Vietnam totalled 184,300 on 31 December, 1965.


The year 1966 saw increasing US military presence in Vietnam. The fighting intensified dramatically, as did the protest movement within the United States.

In January 1966, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee took a stand against the Vietnam War, saying:

We believe the United States government has been deceptive in claims of concern for the freedom of the Vietnamese people, just as the government has been deceptive in claiming concern for the freedom of the coloreds people in such other countries as the Dominican Republic, the Congo, South Africa, Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe], and in the United States itself.

That same month, President Johnson's administration abolished automatic student deferments from the draft. Student anger over the escalation of the war in Vietnam became more personal and intense. Students for a Democratic Society, that obscure little group that first called for a protest against US involvement in Vietnam, became a leader of the student movement against the war. SDS formed more than 300 new chapters on campuses across the country by the end of the year.

Events in Vietnam were disturbing members of the US Senate by this time. A group of senior Senators, led by J William Fulbright, called for a public debate on Vietnam. There were a total of five televised hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on President Johnson's request for $415 million supplemental Vietnam aid for the fiscal year 1966, the first of which took place on 4 February.

Fred Friendly, president of CBS News, resigned in protest when that television network decided to air an I Love Lucy rerun instead of broadcasting George Kennan's testimony in the Senate Hearings.

Many analysts believe that those hearings, which became known as 'The Fulbright Hearings', brought an end to President Johnson's attempt to create new legislation that would specifically justify heightened US intervention in Indochina. Following the Fulbright Hearings, dissent and antiwar activity became increasingly a part of the American political mainstream, although there was a backlash.

When 25,000 Mexican-Americans staged the 1966 Chicano Moratorium, the largest antiwar demonstration held in Los Angeles, police officers attacked with clubs and guns, killing three people, including the popular television news director and Los Angeles Times reporter Rubén Salazar.

Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight boxing champion, refused to even consider going to Vietnam in 1966, saying 'No Vietnamese ever called me n****r'. As a Muslim, he held war to be against his religious principles. According to an article written by Jack Olsen in Sports Illustrated, the Governor of Illinois found Ali 'disgusting', and the Governor of Maine said Ali 'should be held in utter contempt by every patriotic American'. An American Legion post in Miami asked people to 'join in condemnation of this unpatriotic, loudmouthed, bombastic individual'.

On 31 December, 1966, there were 425,300 Americans in Vietnam.


Military Escalation

The year 1967 saw an enormous build-up of the United States military presence in Vietnam, and an even more enormous build-up of protest against that military presence.

In January 1967, the United States military campaign called 'Operation Cedar Falls' led to the destruction of a North Vietnamese tunnel complex used for infiltration into South Vietnam. It also led to the forcible evacuation of all 5987 residents of the village of Ben Suc, which was completely destroyed, to refugee camps.

Martin Luther King

On 4 April, 1967, Martin Luther King denounced the US military presence in Vietnam, and proposed a merger of the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement. King called his taking a stand against the war a 'vocation of agony', and added '... my conscience leaves me no other choice'. King felt obliged to call the United States Government 'the greatest purveyor of violence in the world', and to encourage evasion of the military draft. 'We are called, he said, 'to speak for the weak and the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers'.

Anti-war Sentiment Grows

April 1967 also saw passive protest rallies and marches against the war in Vietnam, including crowds estimated at 100,000 in New York City and 50,000 in San Francisco .

Vietnam Veterans Against the War

One of the participants in the 7 April, 1967 'Fifth Avenue Peace Parade' in New York City was a man named Jan Barry Crumb, who had served in Vietnam in 1963, in the US Army's 18th Aviation Company. Jan Crumb didn't know, at first, that he wasn't the only veteran in the protest. He didn't know that a small group (fewer than 12) of veterans had gone to the Peace Parade Committee's office to request that they be featured prominently in the march. When asked who they were, they had said 'Vietnam veterans against the war'. A staff member at the office quickly made a banner reading 'Vietnam Veterans Against the War', and gave it to them.

When the demonstration started, the announcement 'Vietnam veterans to the front', was made. Crumb left the group of friends he had arrived with and made his way to the front.

Crumb found a fairly sizable contingent of veterans leading the parade, very few of whom were as young as he. Most of these were clearly veterans of other wars. At the very front of this group, though, he found the small group of men with the 'Vietnam Veterans Against The War' banner, and joined them

When the parade ended, in front of the United Nations building, the group of Vietnam veterans broke up. Crumb wanted to find this group, Vietnam Veterans Against The War, and join it. His search first led him to Veterans for Peace, the organization of older veterans that had had its own presence in the parade. While talking with people at Veterans For Peace, he learned that there was no actual organization called 'Vietnam Veterans Against The War'. The people with that banner had been a collection of friends with a common viewpoint, and nothing more.

Crumb, determined that an organization of Vietnam veterans who were opposed to that war should exist, set his sights on creating it. On 30 May, 1967, he attended a peace demonstration in Washington DC with about ten like-minded men. Two days later, six Vietnam veterans met in Jan Crumb's New York City apartment. Vietnam Veterans Against the War was born on 1 June, 1967.

Muhammad Ali

On 28 April, 1967, Muhammad Ali, having been denied conscientious objector status and having refused induction into the US Army, was arrested. Within minutes of Ali's official announcement that he would not submit to induction, the New York State Athletic Commission and World Boxing Association suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his heavyweight title. In an interview with a Sports Illustrated contributor, Ali said:

I'm giving up my title, my wealth, maybe my future. Many great men have been tested for their religious beliefs. If I pass this test, I'll come out stronger than ever.

Ultimately, Ali was sentenced to five years in prison, released on appeal, and had his conviction overturned three years later.

Levitate the Pentagon?

On 15 October, 1967, the class clowns of the anti-war movement in the United States, the Yippies, led by Abbie Hoffman, led 50,000 people to an 'Exorcism of the Pentagon'. They had announced their intent to, by means of their combined psychic energy, levitate the Pentagon and exorcise it of the evil spirits that were killing Americans and Vietnamese people thousands of miles away.

The Pentagon was protected by more than 2500 Army troops and US Marshals. As the group surrounded the Pentagon and began chanting 'Ommmmm', the US Marshals moved in and began arresting demonstrators. A photograph taken at that demonstration was to become a symbol of the American anti-war movement. The photograph showed a protester putting a daisy into a police officer's gun.

The addition of flowers to readied weapons was the order of the day. While a total of 681 demonstrators were arrested, others continued to approach the soldiers and put flowers in the barrels of bayoneted M-14 rifles. One girl, dancing as she approached the soldiers, kept asking 'Will you take my flower? Please do take my flower. Are you afraid of flowers?'

The Pentagon didn't move noticeably.

Some Other People

Other people arrested for anti-war activities in 1967 included singer Joan Baez, physician Benjamin Spock and poet Allen Ginsberg.

The CIA started 'Operation Chaos' in 1967. This operation, which exceeded the CIA's statutory authority, was initiated in response to a request from President Johnson that the agency uncover any connection between anti-war groups and foreign interests. Before it was discontinued in 1973, the operation had indexed 300,000 names, kept 13,000 subject files and intercepted large numbers of letters and cables, compiling massive amounts of information on the domestic activities of US citizens. A partial list of organizations and individuals whose mail had been read by the CIA would include Grove Press, Women Strike for Peace, Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, the American Indian Movement, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, The Ford Foundation, Harvard University, the Rockefeller Foundation, US Representative Bella Abzug, US Senators Humphrey, Kennedy and Church, Linus Pauling, Victor Reuther, Richard Nixon and Coretta Scott King, the wife of Reverend Dr Martin Luther King.

A Study Is Commissioned

In June, 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert S McNamara commissioned a top-secret study of US involvement in Southeast Asia. This study was to be written by a team of analysts who had access to classified documents. The results of that study, which was not completed until January, 1969, took 47 volumes and later gained fame, or infamy, as The Pentagon Papers.

The War Continues

In 1967, the United States launched a bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. Other significant campaigns were fought in Tay Ninh province, Khe Sanh, Cam Lo, Dong Ha, Con Thien and Gio Linh. In May, 1967, in air battles over Hanoi and Haiphong, America air forces shot down 26 North Vietnamese jets, decreasing the North's pilot strength by half. Also in May, 1967, American military forces intercepted North Vietnamese Army units moving in from Cambodia, resulting in nine days of continuous battles.

On 31 December, 1967, there were 485,600 American soldiers in Vietnam.

Other Entries in the Series

1'Viet Cong' being an abbreviation of 'Vietnamese Communist'.2All attendance figures provided in this entry are based on 'official' estimates. Many participants in the various demonstrations described believe that the official figures are dramatically lower than the 'real' figures.3On 11, October, 2001, Country Joe McDonald was served with notice that the estate of New Orleans Jazz performer Kid Ory was filing a lawsuit alleging that McDonald had plagiarized the score from Ory's 'Muskrat Ramble'. As of this writing, that lawsuit is still pending.

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