The Antiwar Movement Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Opposition to the Vietnam War began slowly, mainly among religious objectors and peace advocates, but it eventually became widespread. The most public forms of activism were mass demonstrations, collective acts of civil disobedience, and the general expansion of countercultural practices. The locus classicus of the movement was the college campus, where opponents were motivated both by the pressures of the draft and by philosophical (and ideological) misgivings regarding the war and the government's role in it. Increasingly, the official line in the war began to be questioned, including by war veterans. The Vietnam Veterans Against the War helped to “mainstream” antiwar activism, and that organization and a variety of others worked to spread antiwar information and agitation. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was perhaps the best known radical group of the era. Although influential through most of the 1960s, SDS would eventually splinter into extremist camps. More mundane was the effort to get the work done through electoral and legislative politics, but that too proved modestly successful as time passed and opposition to the war grew. By 1970, in the wake of President Richard Nixon's expansion of the war into Cambodia, antiwar sentiment had become pervasive. Yet even then, there also undoubtedly remained something of a “silent majority”—or a “silent half,” at least—who supported both the government and the war. As with no other conflict before or since in the modern era, Vietnam split the nation and left a deep scar in the American consciousness.

Opposition to the Vietnam War began slowly, mainly among religious objectors and peace advocates, but it eventually became widespread. The most public forms of activism were mass demonstrations, collective acts of civil disobedience, and the general expansion of countercultural practices. The locus classicus of the movement was the college campus, where opponents were motivated both by the pressures of the draft and by philosophical (and ideological) misgivings regarding the war and the government's role in it. Increasingly, the official line in the war began to be questioned, including by war veterans. The Vietnam Veterans Against the War helped to “mainstream” antiwar activism, and that organization and a variety of others worked to spread antiwar information and agitation. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was perhaps the best known radical group of the era. Although influential through most of the 1960s, SDS would eventually splinter into extremist camps. More mundane was the effort to get the work done through electoral and legislative politics, but that too proved modestly successful as time passed and opposition to the war grew. By 1970, in the wake of President Richard Nixon's expansion of the war into Cambodia, antiwar sentiment had become pervasive. Yet even then, there also undoubtedly remained something of a “silent majority”—or a “silent half,” at least—who supported both the government and the war. As with no other conflict before or since in the modern era, Vietnam split the nation and left a deep scar in the American consciousness.

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