American Dissent During the Vietnam War

American Dissent During the Vietnam War
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  • 0:01 American Protest Movements
  • 0:32 Student Protests
  • 2:30 Beyond the Campus
  • 3:07 Congressional Dissent
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Patricia Chappine

Patricia has a master's degree in Holocaust and genocide studies and 27 graduate credits in American history. She will start coursework on her doctoral degree in history this fall. She has taught heritage of the western world I and II and U.S. history I and II at a community college in southern New Jersey for the past two years.

This lesson looks at the anti-war protests that gripped the United States during the Vietnam War. Learn about the student activism and congressional amendments that attempted to stop the conflict.

American Protest Movements

A climate of activism was alive in America during the 1960s. The Civil Rights campaigns were already gaining momentum during this time. Dissent against the Vietnam War became another issue that sparked civil unrest, and it involved more than just burning a draft card. Anti-war protestors could be found among college students, workers, unions and even the United States government itself. The peak years of war protest occurred from 1965 to 1968.

Student Protests

College campuses were hotspots for protest activity. Student anti-war activity was highest at the Berkeley campus of the University of California. The conflict started in 1964, when campus administrators banned students from protest activities. When an activist was arrested, angry students surrounded the police car and prevented it from moving.

This prompted a student, Mario Savio, to found the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, or FSM. The organization was dedicated to ensuring the right of all students to engage in political activism on campus. Students protested the Vietnam War, impersonal professors, curriculum, racism and dormitory regulations.

A key turning point occurred in 1966 when automatic student deferments from the draft were eliminated. This move spurred a wave of outrage. Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, another college movement, began organizing furiously. New chapters popped up on campuses. SDS protested the draft and publicly burned draft cards.

News of Nixon's escalation of the war in Vietnam also caused a new wave of protests. In 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio, students broke windows and burned buildings. The National Guard was called in. The Guardsmen fired into the crowd of students, leaving four dead and nine hurt.

Only ten days later, at Jackson State College in Mississippi, state patrolmen fired into a women's dormitory. Two students were killed and twelve were hurt. The public outrage at these two instances caused students to boycott classes in over 400 campuses throughout the U.S. The nation was divided over who was at fault for the violence. The protests abated when Nixon reduced the number of people being drafted.

Beyond Campus

Civil rights leaders joined the anti-war movement, as well. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr., a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, wrote pieces on the damage caused by war, both domestically and abroad. Although Dr. King advocated peaceful demonstrations, other protesters used violent means. Private citizens launched assaults on draft boards and vandalized buildings. Some harassed returning U.S. soldiers. This turn towards violence and disrespect towards members of the military caused some of the public to express outrage at the leadership of these protests.

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