Social effects on the Vietnam war

The Vietnam War’s Effects on American Society
The Vietnam War had a profound effect on American society.
It changed the way we viewed our government, the media, and
our Constitutional rights. Because of this shift in
perspective, the country was torn apart and yet still came
together in new and different ways. The Vietnam War’s
contraversiality spurred a great many sources of protest,
against our government’s use of power, how far we could
stretch the rights of free expression, and primarily against
the violence of the war itself. These changes in the
behavior of society have left a lasting mark on our
perception and the demand to be informed since that
influencial period of social turmoil.
The Vietnam War’s Effects on American Society
The Vietnam War had a profound effect on American
society. It provided a contraversial issue that formed a
catalyst for a social structure just ready to be provoked.
When the American public became aware of the situation at
hand, through the recently unchained media, it was only a
matter of time before there was some form of action or
reaction. The media played a key role in the empowerment of
the sway of the people. With the addition of television
journelism, a whole new depth was added to how people
percieved what they were being told, because there was an
added truth to seeing it. People rising and uniting in
protest, and journelists bucking the government-imposed
censorship began stretching the limits to how far we would
take our rights to free expression.
There were said to be three stages of the antiwar
movements. “The first phase (1964-1965) was idealistic.
The second phase (1966-1968) was more pragmatic, a period
when young people characteristically protested not on
principal but out of a desire not to be drafted and killed.
The third phase (1969-1972) coincided with the de-
Americanization of the war”(Jeffreys-Jones, 43). In phase
one, people either supported the war or thought they had a
clear path on how to stop it. At this point, the issue at
hand appeared pretty black and white. As the years
progressed, into the second phase, the protest became a
little more frantic. The realization that the war was real
became more apparent, people were being killed and that was
that. This revealed several more shades of grey, but also
solidifyed matters that something had to be done one way or
another. The third phase, was what made everything take on
alot more meaning. It was not just a war in Vietnam or in
America, but the war became a symbol (Gioglio, 20).
One of the most prevelant type of protests were based
on the imparting of knowledge. These were known as teach-
ins. The teach-ins were really the first step in raising
conciousness to the impact the war could have(Fever, 11).
They were the first things to get people informed and
involved. Starting with teach-ins during the spring of
1965, the massive antiwar efforts centered on the colleges,
with the students playing leading roles. These teach-ins
were mass public demonstrations, usually held in the spring
and fall seasons. The teach-in movement was at first, a
gentle approach to the antiwar activity (Gettleman, 54).
“Teach-ins were one important way to bring more people into
the antiwar movement. During a teach-in, students, faculty
members, and guest speakers discussed issues concerning the
Vietnam war”(McCormick, 37). The teach-ins began at the
University of Michigan in March of 1965, and spread to other
campuses, including Wisconsin in April. These protests at
some of America’s most well known universities attracted the
public eye. “The demonstrations were one form of attempting
to go beyond mere words and research and reason, and to put
direct pressure on those who were conducting policy in
apparent disdain for the will expressed by the voters”
(Spector, 30-31). Although several hundred colleges
experienced teach-ins, most campuses were untouched by this
Nevertheless, the teach-ins had the desired impact
when they contributed to President Johnson’s decision
to address at Johns Hopkins University on April 7, 1965
concerning the Vietnam issue (Gaullucci, 47). The address
tried to respond to the teach-ins campus protest activity.
This speech was one of the first major examples of the
antiwar movement getting to the government. By the mid-
1960s, even President Johnson’s advisors were realizing that
the tide of public opinion had begun to turn against Johnson
on the Vietnam issue (Katsiaficas, 8).
The use and impact of teach-ins faded when the
college students went home during the summer of 1965, but
other types of protest that grew through 1971 soon replaced
it (Gettleman, 56). The first major antiwar march on
Washington D.C. took place in April of 1965. It was
organized by the Students for a Democratic Society, and
attracted over twenty-five thousand people (McCormick, 37).
College students made up a majority of the protestors in
almost any gathering. “However the antiwar movement
included people from almost every walk of life”(McCormick,
35). “Many college professors, businesspeople, parents of
draft-age youth, religious leaders, doctors, lawyers,
politicians and entertainers also voiced their objections to
American incolvement in the Vietnam War” (Jeffreys-Jones,
As far as famous protest movements go, one that will
forever stick out as a turning point, is that of the Kent
State protest which occured on May 4, 1970. This event
started out when a large group of students “gathered on the
campus of Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio to protest…
the Vietnam War”(Hershberger, 51). The consequent attention
this assembly attracted resulted in the National Guard being
President Richard Nixon’s orders. The conflict between the
protestors and Guard ended in the National Guard opening
fire on the crowd of unarmed protestors, wounding 11 and
killing 4 (Berkely, 2). “One of the biggest controversies
is who was really responsible for the shootings. Though
some protesters may have provoked the
guards, the fact remains that the guards fired on an
unarmed, peacefully protesting crowd”(McCormick, 7).
Numerous instances of protest ranged throughout the
country at this time, spreading even to some of our soldiers
overseas, just as anxious to stop this war as the people
athome. “The antiwar movement spread directly among the
combat troops in Vietnam, who began to wear peace symbols
and flash peace signs and movement salutes. Some
units even organized their own demonstrations to link up
with the movement at home” (Schlight, 45).
One problem of the antiwar movement was the
difficulty of finding ways to move beyond protest and
symbolic acts to deeds that would actually impede the
war. Unlike college students and other civilians, the troops
in Vietnam had no such problem. Individual acts of
rebellion, raging from desertion to killing officers who
ordered search-and-destroy missions, merged into mutinies
and large-scale resistance (Sclight, 45).
The polarization between large groups of people at home
and our own government began to tear at the fabric of unity
in our country. Vietnam destroyed the credibility of our
government and the political process. Too often were they
working to cut off the flow of information, to stop the
unrest among the people, to squelch the voice of the people.
The public came to distrust its leaders, and many officials
distrusted the public (Katsiaficas, 72). As supporters of
the war found themselves more popular, they were driven
increasingly to rely on equating their position with
“support for our boys in Vietnam” (Brown, 34). “The more
the government gave support to Americans in the war, the
more the opposition grew”(Hershberger, 32). In the
later stages of the Vietnam War, campus politics figured
very prevelently in American politics because of the
exploitation of the student-protests by the president in
order to destroy the antiwar movement (People’s, 1).
With the growing disenchantment with what they were being
fed by the government, the people needed somewhere to turn.
Somewhere where they could find fuel for their objections,
a source to inform them of what was really going on.
Throughout the whole conflict the media was finding
itself more and more of a figurehead with the additional
ways of reporting that had surfaced. Television for one,
had opened up whole new channels for broadcasting
information. Actually being able to see what was going on
gave people more than just hearsay as to what they knew was
really happening (Herring, 11). This medium erased alot of
the previous glorification of war, by showing the gory
truths right out front. “What alienated the American public
was not only the news converage, but the casualties as well”
(Gioglio, 45). Unfortunately, television also served as
another medium for propoganda as was shown by the
characterization of the protesters as “dirty-mouthed hippies
taunting the brave, clean-cut American soldiers who
confronted the unruly demonstrators” (Heirser, 80). “Even
despite growing opposition to the Vietnam War, American
involvenment continued to deepen. By the end of 1967, nearly
half a million American soldiers were serving in
News reporting was becoming less of its former
puppetry by censors and the government, and more of a
challenge to get the real information through. No longer
did yellow journelism prevail, but a new wave of ambitious
reporters tried to sneak the stories past enemy lines. “For
the first time in modern history, the outcome of a war was
not determined on the battlefield but on the printed page”
(Greenhaven Press, 75). The perception and concept of what
journelism is has been forever changed.
The war lasted nearly a decade. Almost fifteen
thousand Americans alone had been killed and more than one
hundred thousand Americans had been wounded. By the end,
involvement in the war was costing the United States nearly
forty thousand dollars a minute (McCormick, 34). Even with
these large sums, the Vietnam War was probably not the most
devastating war as far as body count, and economic value.
However, it certainly left irreperable scars on this
The social effects of the movements associated with
that time were both influencial and helpful. It inspired a
whole subculture based on togetherness, art, and happiness,
because these qualities were in such contrast to what was
really going on. Some of its battles created triumphs
within our nation, such as expanded rights. Yet some only
drove a wedge between the people and their government which
may never be completely united again, even today there is a
certain distrust between the citizens and the power-force
over them. The close-mouthed nature of the government
forced the media to go to further lengths to get the truth.
It tested the limits of our free speech, and today the
American people’s demand for and assumed right to
information has never before been equalled. Technology of
the time aided both sides. For every step taken there was a
different step taken in another direction, yet in the end it
balanced out into the society we live in today. Where we are
now is somewhat in the median, but bouncing off into the
extremes every so often. The prevailing attitude these days
is that we have the right to know whatever is going on, and
we have the right to tell our government exactly what we
think of it (Gaullucci, 3). Despite our elasticising the
boundries, no longer will we ever trust the government the
same way. No longer can we sit back and let the powers that
be control things without serious questions being asked.
Perhaps this is the way things should be. After all, even
if ignorance is bliss, knowledge is power.
Berkely, B. (1970). “Pigs shoot to kill- Bystanders gunned
down.” Los Angeles Times. p. 18.
Brown, M. (1967). Vietnam: Crisis of conscience. New York:
Association Press.
Fever, L.S. (1969). The conflict of gernerations: The
character and significance of student movements.
London: Heinemann.
Gaullucci, R.L. (1975). Neither peace nor honor. Baltimore:
The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Gettleman, M.E. (1985). Vietnam and America: A documented
history. New York: Grove Press.
Gioglio, G.R. (1998). Excerpt from: Days of decision: An
oral history of conscientious objectors.
Heirser, J.M. (1974). Vietnam studies: Logistic support.
Washington D.C.: Department of the Army.
Hershberger, M. (1998). Traveling to Vietnam: American peace
activists and the war. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse
University Press.
Herring, G.C. (1994). LBJ and Vietnam: A different kind of
war. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.
The Vietnam 13
Jeffreys-Jones, R. (1999). Peace now! London: Yale
University Press.
Katsiafica, G. (1984). Vietnam documents: American and
Vietnamese views of the war. Armonk, New York: M.E.
McCormick, A.L. (2000). The Vietnam antiwar movement.
Berkely Heights, New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, Inc.
“People’s Parkers neamed their real goals”. (1969, June
8). San Franscisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle. San
Fransisco. p. 12.
Schlight, J. (1986). Indochina war symposium. Washington DC:
US Government Printing Office.
Spector, R.H. (1984, April 7) “Researching the Vietnam
Experience”. Historical Analysis Series. p. 30-31.


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