PEACE WITH HONOR
*The Tet Offensive was a turning point in the war psychologically. Although a tactical victory for the US and ARVN, it convinced Americans watching at home that the V-C could attack anywhere at any time they wanted in massive numbers, and do well even against the US Army (even though after Tet that was largely untrue). The bloody images of Tet filled television screens in the US, and more and more people began to ask just what the Unites States were doing in Viet-Nam.
*Americans were also disturbed by the war when they learnt of the actions of Lieutenant William Calley, jr. Having heard that the village of My Lai held 250 V-C who had recently attacked his men, he and his unit went to check it out in March 1968. However, it only held women and children and old men. Frustrated over this, and knowing that they were likely harbouring and helping the V-C, Calley had the civilians rounded up and shot, and in some cases tortured and raped. 347 Vietnamese died in the My Lai massacre, and more would have if a US helicopter crew scouting the area had not seen the massacre, landed between Calley’s men and the locals, and threatened to shoot the Americans if they tried to continue.
*This was unusual (although not unique), and it was the worst instance of such behaviour in Viet-Nam. However, Americans were led by the media to assume such was typical. The Army tried to cover this up, but in 1971 Calley was tried and sentenced to life, later commuted to 20 years, and released for good behaviour after 3½ years of house arrest.
*Although Calley’s crime was not known to Americans when it happened, people did know about civilian deaths, and there were famous pictures of dead infants in burnt out villages. One of the infamous slogans of the anti-war movement was the accusation ‘Hey, hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?’
*There had been a certain amount of resistance to the war since American involvement began, and much of it was among college students, the same middle-class Baby Boomers who would also become hippies. For the first time in American history, large percentages of high school graduates went on to college. They were well off, somewhat spoiled, and well-educated, with opportunities their parents never had, all of which widened the generation gap.
*In the early 1960s a number of student organizations became part of the New Left, a political movement that felt society needed to make some radical changes to deal with racism, poverty, and other issues. Many of these groups had fought for civil rights in the South and now wanted to see new changes. Some of these were important, such as the right to distribute political pamphlets on college campuses, others seemed silly, but were part of the new sexual revolution, such as increased visiting hours between boys and girls at colleges.
*The draft, begun during WWII, had been discontinued after the war but re-instated by Truman in 1948. It was used during the Korean War, and starting in 1951 required all males ages 18 to 26 to register. Most of those drafted in the early 60s complied, except for a few conscientious objectors. As the war escalated, Johnson began to draft more and more men. This in turn led to increased opposition to the draft.
*There were ways out of the draft. Some doctors would fake medical exams to say that their patients were not fit to serve. Students in college could get a deferment, meaning they did not have to go then (and usually never did go). Because this did not apply to dropouts and failures and, after 1966, students with bad grades, many professors, many of whom opposed the war, or at least did not want to see people they knew killed, made it easier and easier to get good grades, thus dumbing down the educational system. Many people, especially minorities, complained that the deferment was unfair because most college students were middle-class whites.
*Starting about 1967, more and more young men opposed the draft. Some refused to fight and were locked away in jail. Thousands ran away to Canada, and stayed there for years. It is thought that about 100,000 Americans went to Canada to avoid the war.
*After the Tet Offensive, polls showed that the majority of Americans opposed the war. McNamara had been having second thoughts and had already advised Johnson to pull out and been ignored. In February 1968, the most respected man on television, Walter Kronkite, stated that he thought the war would end in stalemate. Convinced he had failed in prosecuting the war and that he could not be re-elected. Johnson chose not to run for the presidency in 1968. Before leaving office, he began the Paris peace talks with the North and the USSR.
*In 1968 the Democrats were split. The most popular candidate, anti-war Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated in June. America and the party were increasingly anti-war, but not so much so that the Democrats dared run an anti-war candidate. They finally chose Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, a moderate who supported the war. However, the Convention is remembered for the anti-war protests outside the convention center, where the police brutally beat down protesters with their nightsticks in front of TV cameras. This violence split the Democrats further and made them seem out of touch with their constituency.
*The Republicans chose Richard Nixon, a former Vice-President. He pointed out the violence outside the Democratic convention, and said he stood for law and order, and that he had a secret plan to end the war in Viet-Nam.
*George Wallace, governor of Alabama, also ran as an American Independent. He was famous for opposing integration in the South, but now he played to blue collar workers whose sons were being drafted, telling them a vote for Wallace was a vote against the hippies and intellectuals who were undermining society. Although he would lose by a large margin, he would win 5 Southern stats and 45 electoral votes. He would seek the Democratic nomination in 1972 and be shot and paralysed.
*Nixon won, largely by appealing to the ‘silent majority’ who supported the government, the war, and the American way of life, as opposed to the long-haired hippies who were destroying it.
*Nixon’s secret plan turned out to be what he called Vietnamisation. This was the process of removing American troops and letting the ARVN take over the job of defending their own country. By getting out of the war while leaving someone to fight it, Nixon claimed he was winning ‘peace with honor.’
*Nixon began to slowly withdraw troops, but at the same time he increased bombing runs against the North and threatened to use nuclear weapons to frighten the Soviets—that part of the secret plan was kept secret from Americans at the time.
*In 1970, tired of attacks from the Ho Chi Minh trail and worried about growing communist power in Cambodia, Nixon announced that the US and ARVN would more into Cambodia. Not only would this help protect Americans, it would make America look strong and be more likely to get its way at the Paris peace talks.
*At home, Nixon’s law and order were needed badly. A group of war protesters left the peaceful SDS. The Weathermen. attacked police, destroyed property, and hoped to start a revolution in America, overthrowing the government and changing society.
*Soon, members of the silent majority were so disgusted that they ceased to be silent. Disgusted by the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll music of the hippies and anti-war protesters, working-class people whose sons were being drafted while these college students were safe at home began to protest against the protesters, wearing hardhats and work clothes. These people were called Hardhats, and matched violence for violence.
*Tensions were probably at their worst in 1970. The invasion of Cambodia, leading the US into a wider war at a time Nixon said he was withdrawing led to more protests. At Kent State University in Ohio, students protested, burned down the ROTC building, and broke windows in the town’s business district. The National Guard was sent in to watch the campus. On 4 May 1970 a crowd of protesters began to harass the National Guardsmen, yelling at them, cussing them, spitting on them, and in some cases throwing rocks. Somewhere a guardsman fired his gun, and the other guardsmen thought it was the protesters shooting at them, so they fired over and into the crowd. Four students (two protesters and two bystanders) were killed and 9 wounded. In Jackson, Mississippi, the police shot at protesters, killing 2 and wounding 11.
*In Washington, 100,000 hardhats marched in support of the President.
*In 1971, the college deferment system ended, so now the wealthy white kids would have to go to Viet-Nam. Opposition to the war really increased then.
*Vietnamisation had been slow for Nixon, partly due to difficult peace talks in Paris. When the 1972 election approached, Nixon claimed the North Vietnamese would not deal with him. In March, the NVA attacked RVN. This led Nixon to begin Operation Linebacker, the heaviest bombing campaign of the war, even attacking Hanoi. Nixon won the election easily, partly due to popular disgust with the anti-war movement. He also got credit for peace, which he said was ‘at hand.’ In fact, it took Linebacker II, another round of heavy bombing, to get North Viet-Nam back to the bargaining table.
*The Paris Peace Accords, signed January 1973, said that the US would withdraw all forces within 60 days, all prisoners would be released (something of a problem, as some NVA prisoners did not want to go home), everyone would get out of Cambodia and Laos, and the 17th Parallel would continue to divide North and South.
*In 1973 the US withdrew from Viet-Nam but the NVA and ARVN fought until 1975 when the NVA took over South Viet-Nam and American helicopters lifted the last remaining Americans out of the embassy, along with about 6,000 Viet-Namese on 29 April. On 30 April, the NVA held all of South Viet-Nam, and Viet-Nam was one country, under communist rule. Saigon’s name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City after the dead leader, gone since 1969.
*Play movie clip.
*In the new Socialist Republic of Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were sent to re-education camps where they were taught to follow the party line, or else. Property was seized, opponents of the Communists were murdered, and over 1.5 million Vietnamese boat people fled to the US.
*Remember the Domino Theory? After Viet-Nam, two more dominoes fell: Laos, and Cambodia, where Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge killed 1.5 million Cambodians who he thought were too Western—that is over ¼ of the entire Cambodian population. Cambodians and Laotians also fled to the US. However, no more countries in the region fell, perhaps because they never would have, and perhaps because the long struggle in Viet-Nam had limited the power of Communism.
*The war left 300,000 Americans wounded, 58,000 dead, and at least 2,500 missing, many presumed dead but some POWs whose fate is still unknown.
*When the vets came home, they were not honoured, but spat on as baby-killers by an ungrateful public, leading to increased bitterness in America for years to come. The US would not do business with Viet-Nam until 1994 and would not send an ambassador until 1995, 20 years after the fall of Saigon.
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This page last updated 7 December, 2003.