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Student’s Unrest and Socio-Political Outcomes of the Vietnam War in America

The Vietnam War was perhaps the most contentious event in American history. America’s initial incremental involvement in Vietnam soon became a full fledged commitment in which thousands of American soldiers were deployed in the far reaches of South East Asia in support of an ideological struggle between Democracy and Communism. However, as the war dragged on, this military adventure quickly became termed to be a ‘Quagmire’ and lost the support of the American people and with that the war. This paper examines the thesis that student’s unrest by American youth movements catalyzed the larger American public to rise up against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and led to far reaching changes in the socio-political dynamics of the country.

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From the period 1959 to 1965, America’s involvement in Vietnam had tremendous public support at home as it was projected by the Johnson administration to be a war aimed at containing Communism. However, as the war turned protracted, American leaders increased American troop levels from about three thousand at the start of the war to 200,000 by 1965 (Palmer, 2002, p. 41). To sustain such large force levels in Vietnam, the American government initiated the Draft forcing thousands of young Americans to forcibly fight the war in the name of national interest.

Unlike the general public, American youth had showed very little support for the Vietnam War right from the start. In the sixties, students at the University of California at Berkeley organized free-speech movement, and Harvard students confronted Defense Secretary McNamara over American involvement in the Vietnam War (Gilbert, 2001, p. 121). The youth organized their resistance against the war through underground movements, university newspapers, music concerts and protest marches. The 1967 antiwar rally by the National Mobilization Committee in New York and Washington gave rise to iconic images of a youth sticking a flower in the gun of a soldier and slogans such as “Make Love Not War” (Small, 2002, p. 78). The 1968 My Lai massacre further inflamed public opinion against the excesses of the war being committed by American forces. The youth coined a public opinion shaping anti-war slogan “Hey, hey, LBJ. How many kids have you killed today?” (Small, p. 92). The 1968 Democratic Convention in Illinois saw violent clashes between the Police and the Students for a Democratic Society and the National Mobilization Committee in full media glare (Kusch, 2008, pp. 72-78) that further alienated American public opinion against the War.

On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guards shot dead four Kent University students and injured nine others while they were protesting the American action of invading Cambodia. The reaction of the student’s body was significant, as over four million students called a strike shutting down hundreds of educational institutions across the country. National and international media coverage of the incident galvanized the American public against the war. Within a week, over 100,000 people demonstrated against the war in Washington. The student’s protest movement was beginning to affect national opinion that became increasingly negative. The social fallout of student movements led to increased hostility against the returning war veterans that led to rampant drug abuse and psychological disorders amongst their ranks. The disillusioned youth drafted into the war also took to drugs which affected the morale and social cohesion of the U.S. Armed Forces leading to desertions and draft dodging.

On the national level, the war tore the country into opposing camps, those who supported the government and those against the war. The political fall out of the war was dramatic. The student protests inflamed general public apathy towards Lyndon Johnson who did not contest for a second term (Nuechterlein, 1997, p. 136). It forced Richard Nixon to promise of a “phased reduction of American troops in Vietnam” (Nuechterlein, p. 143) and an honorable end to the War. The youth movement galvanized the entire country that finally forced the Ford administration to publicly announce the end of the Vietnam War in April 1975. The Vietnam War sealed Ford’s run for the Presidency as the American public chose to elect a Democrat, Jimmy Carter (Nuechterlein, p. 167) in the 1976 Presidential election.

In conclusion it can be reiterated that student’s unrest during the Vietnam War had far reaching effects on the socio-political landscape of America. The movement served to awaken American conscience on the effects of wanton destruction and shaped the responses of successive American administrations that had to gradually give up their escalatory policies. The youth protests turned public opinion in ways that had decisive effect on electoral outcomes with Lyndon Johnson not running for re-election and Gerald Ford losing his election because of the Vietnam War. Youth protest movements had a deleterious effect on the social cohesion of the American society which led to increased drug abuse, unfair targeting of returning war veterans, draft dodging, desertion, broken families and vertical split amongst the pro-government and antigovernment groups. It thus can be emphatically stated that student’s unrest and protest movements played an important role in ensuring an early termination of American involvement in Vietnam.

Works Cited

Gilbert, M. J. (2001). The Vietnam War on Campus: Other Voices, More Distant Drums. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group.

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Kusch, F. (2008). Battleground Chicago: The Police and the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nuechterlein, D. E. (1997). A Cold War Odyssey. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Owens, R. R. (2004). America Won the Vietnam War! Longwood, FL: Xulon Press.

Palmer, B. (2002). The 25-Year War: America’s Military Role in Vietnam. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Perone, J. E. (2005). Woodstock: An Encyclopedia of the Music and the Art Fair. Santa Barabra: Greenwood Publishing.

Small, M. (2002). Antiwarriors: The Vietnam War and the Battle for America’s Hearts and Minds. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 10). Student’s Unrest and Socio-Political Outcomes of the Vietnam War in America. https://studycorgi.com/students-unrest-and-socio-political-outcomes-of-the-vietnam-war-in-america/

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"Student’s Unrest and Socio-Political Outcomes of the Vietnam War in America." StudyCorgi, 10 Nov. 2021, studycorgi.com/students-unrest-and-socio-political-outcomes-of-the-vietnam-war-in-america/.

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StudyCorgi. "Student’s Unrest and Socio-Political Outcomes of the Vietnam War in America." November 10, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/students-unrest-and-socio-political-outcomes-of-the-vietnam-war-in-america/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Student’s Unrest and Socio-Political Outcomes of the Vietnam War in America." November 10, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/students-unrest-and-socio-political-outcomes-of-the-vietnam-war-in-america/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Student’s Unrest and Socio-Political Outcomes of the Vietnam War in America'. 10 November.

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