Opposition to the Vietnam War, 1965-1968

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  • 0:02 Understanding the Movement
  • 0:45 Crystallizing the…
  • 2:36 The Movement from 1966 to 1967
  • 4:35 The Breaking Point: 1968
  • 6:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

The antiwar movement from 1965 to 1968 was the first wave of American dissent against the Vietnam War. Learn about the movement, including its leadership, organizations, and impact on President Lyndon B. Johnson in this lesson.

Understanding the Movement

The antiwar movement that occurred in response to the United States' presence in the Vietnam War had multiple dimensions. From 1965 to 1968, thousands of Americans took to the streets and organized dozens of protests. Dissenters had a variety of motivations, including anti-colonialism, opposition to unprovoked American aggression, resistance to the draft, and humanitarianism, but the consistent underlying ideology remained clear: end the American war in Vietnam. Whether the movement was successful is still being debated by historians. However, it is clear that by the end of 1968, the antiwar movement forced President Lyndon B. Johnson to not only reconsider his foreign policy in Vietnam but also his presidency.

Crystallizing the Movement in 1965

American opposition to the war in Vietnam had been previously established during the 1950s, but not to the extent that it was witnessed during the Johnson years. The movement in the 1950s focused more on preventing nuclear war that could result from the tension in Southeast Asia and the general disdain for Ngo Dinh Diem, the leader of South Vietnam. As the 1960s arrived, the antiwar movement was relatively small in size.

It was not until 1965 that the antiwar movement exploded. This was attributed to the outcry over Johnson's authorization of Operation Rolling Thunder, a sustained air campaign over North Vietnam, and his introduction of American combat troops on March 8. Members of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, led by Tom Hayden and Carl Oglesby, were among the first to challenge the American involvement in Vietnam. On March 24, SDS held the first antiwar teach-in at the University of Michigan.

The organization also drew thousands of protestors to Washington, D.C. on April 17 as a part of the SDS March on Washington. Other groups, such as Women Strike for Peace, Catholic Peace Fellowship, and the Vietnam Day Committee, soon joined the movement. This ultimately led to the formation of the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam to act as the central hub of organization.

Johnson's decision to escalate the American effort in July of 1965 added fuel to the fire. The Vietnam Day Committee and Women Strike for Peace immediately responded by blockading the Oakland Army Terminal to prevent troop deployments. The escalation decision was met by a larger protest in October when the first International Days of Protest occurred. With military escalation came the need for increasing the draft. Many Americans responded negatively to the call-ups. Norman Morrison, a pacifist, helped spawn the November draft card burnings in Washington, D.C. and New York City after self-immolating in front of the Pentagon on November 2.

The Movement from 1966 to 1967

The antiwar movement continued to swell from 1966 to 1967. Among numerous smaller campaigns, 1966 witnessed the second and third International Days of Protest, which attracted thousands of protestors. Religious opposition to the war also mounted during 1966. Groups such as Clergy and Laity Concerned focused on organizing a crusade against the war that encompassed all individuals regardless of race, gender, or creed.

1967 was far more active for the antiwar movement than the previous year. New groups such as the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Another Mother for Peace formed. In April, the Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam witnessed over 100,000 protestors join a nationwide campaign to end the conflict. In October, radical religious opposition surfaced when two brothers, David and Philip Berrigan, both priests in the Catholic Church, marched into the Baltimore Selective Service office and poured duck's blood on the draft cards. Several days later, protestors organized a march on the Pentagon where radicals led by Abbie Hoffman, leader of the Youth International Party, attempted to levitate the building.

While the antiwar movement was being waged on the street, the most significant happening of 1967 was the growing opposition from important political and social figures. Senators Mike Mansfield, J. William Fulbright, Eugene McCarthy and Mark Hatfield turned against the war. Robert Kennedy, also a senator, argued that Johnson's policy in Vietnam was severely flawed.

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