By 1968, a poll taken showed that only 35% of the public in American approved of Johnson’s handling of the war. “1968 seems to be the key year for protests. To some, especially the young, America was not only sacrificing her male youth but the government was also sanctioning the death of children not only in South Vietnam but also in the North with the blanket bombing raids that were occurring on almost a daily basis.” (http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/protests_vietnam_war.htm) A popular cry of protesters was “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” Even the Vietnam Veterans against the War (an organization of veterans who opposed the United States participation in the Vietnam War) were shown on TV throwing away the medals they had won during the war, which swayed public opinion to the anti-war cause. Aside from protests, most Americans could see what exactly was happening in Vietnam day to day, because much of the fighting was being televised. The Vietnam War was the first to actually receive broadcasts and they clearly had a large influence on the American population as a whole. Many liberal groups of young people usually referred to as “hippies” were popularized in the anti-war culture of the 1960’s. Not just advocating peace and love, the hippies viewed the United States presence in Vietnam as a corrupt action by the U.S. government. Challenging the lazy stereotype, hippies of all ages would gather to protest the war by marching, holding sit-ins, organizing strikes or any means of gaining attention and support for their cause.
By 1967, under the draft system, as many as 40,000 young men were called into service each month, and more and more American casualties were being reported every day, adding fuel to the fire of the anti-war movement. Protests in Washington gained much attention, such as one with 100,000 participants at the Lincoln Memorial on October 21st, 1967. Also in 1967, the anti-war movement got help when civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. went public with his opposition to the Vietnam war on moral/racial grounds. He acknowledged the disproportionate number of African American deaths in comparison to the total number of soldiers killed in the war. With the Civil Rights Movement in full swing in America, many agreed with Dr. King’s views on the war. Also, the launch of the Tet Offensive in 1968 by the North Vietnamese, which included surprise attacks on military and civilian commands in South Vietnam, created a sense of uneasiness and shock throughout the country. During the military operation, more than 80,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops struck more than 100 towns and cities in South Vietnam. The operation left thousands dead, both civilians and American troops, but the Tet Offensive also left the confidence the South Vietnamese had in their government shaken. It became obvious that even with American support, the war would not be easily won. The Tet Offensive also created a crisis within the Johnson administration, which became increasingly unable to convince the American public that the operation had been a failure for the communists.
As the United States continued the war on communism and continued to send troops to Vietnam, the public, especially students, began to grow increasingly unsatisfied. The Anti-War movement mainly began on college campuses. The best known national student organization was Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which was formed in 1960 by students that were trying to express their opposition to the war. SDS held its first meeting in 1960 on the University of Michigan campus where Alan Haber was elected president. The SDS organized demonstrations such as Teach ins, where class was cancelled on college campuses, for anti-war seminars, which consisted of rallies and speeches by students. The SDS initiated a number of campaigns to organize radical and antiwar groups to participate in peaceful, but powerful protests. The SDS grew increasingly aggressive, especially about issues relating to the war, such as the drafting of students. The groups strategies included the occupation of university and college administration buildings on campuses across the country. The campuses that participated in these protests are UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Washington, Kansas University, Harvard, Yale, Cornell University, and high school students also participated in anti war efforts in Oklahoma and Iowa. “This minority included many students as well as prominent artists and intellectuals and members of the hippie movement, a growing number of young people who rejected authority and embraced the drug culture.” (http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-protests) Protests on college campuses throughout the country gained a massive amount of attention from the media and the public.
“By November 1967, American troop strength in Vietnam was approaching 500,000 and U.S. casualties had reached 15,058 killed and 109,527 wounded” (http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-protests) As more and more men were being drafted, the public became increasingly frustrated with what was happening in Vietnam. Most of U.S. soldiers drafted during the Vietnam War were men from poor and working-class families. Many men tried to avoid getting drafted. Some tried claiming they were homosexual, some fled the country to Canada or Mexico, some started college or stayed in school, and some simply just refused to report to their local draft board. It was common for men to burn their draft card in protest of the war. These people were derogatorily referred as “draft dodgers.” The more educated and economically advantaged in the U.S. were in a better position to get deferments, (or a pardon from the draft) through loopholes or technicalities. They had access to expert advice, counseling, and attorneys. In 1969, in response to criticism of the draft’s inequities, the U.S. government adopted a lottery system to determine who was called to serve. December 1, 1969 marked the date of the first draft lottery held for the Vietnam War. “This drawing determined the order of induction for men born between January 1, 1944 and December 31, 1950. A large glass container held 366 blue plastic balls containing every possible birth date and affecting men between 18 and 26 years old.” (http://www.landscaper.net/draft.htm)
As the fighting in Vietnam continued, U.S. troops were exposed to horrible conditions, both mental and physical. Soldiers were exposed to extreme heat, suffered from heat exhaustion, dehydration, sunburn, jungle rot, blisters, also diseases such as malaria. The troops also encountered many dangerous insects and animals such as snakes, spiders, rats, poisonous centipedes, leeches, fire ants, scorpions and more. The soldiers ended up becoming ill and injured due to the environment before the actual violence of the war even got to them. Your average American was not used to, or prepared for such harsh weather and living conditions, which made fighting a war very difficult. In addition to this, soldiers had no idea what sort of enemy they were fighting, as the American Government had underestimated the Vietnamese. In villages, it was hard for American troops to determine who were the enemies, because even women and children could help build traps, or house and feed the Vietcong. It was very difficult to know the difference between a civilian and a guerilla, which caused many civilian casualties. The Viet Cong also had a complex network of underground tunnels. The Vietnamese were very well supplied, and were extremely well prepared for the American troops.
In early 1965, the Johnson administration, with the Tonkin Gulf Resolution behind them, began heavily bombing North Vietnam and began introducing more U.S. troops. The U.S. began a long program of sustained bombing known as Operation Rolling Thunder. Many of these bombings injured and killed Vietnamese civilians, the consequence of extensive bombing and the use of massive firepower in military operations conducted in heavily populated areas. Also, Napalm was used frequently, which is a jelly-like, flammable substance that when ignited, sticks and burns to most surfaces. Napalm was used to burn down sections of forests and also to deter the Viet Cong. The army eventually started dropping napalm bombs which caused immense damage; one bomb could affect up to 2,500 yards. Agent Orange is a toxic chemical herbicide which was used throughout the war to deprive Vietnamese farmers and guerrillas of clean food and water. Agent Orange was also used to kill thick vegetation, such as bushes, plants and trees so that the troops could see the ground from aircrafts, making it easier to spot a target on foot. “The Vietnam Red Cross recorded over 4.8 million deaths and 400,000 children born with birth defects due to exposure to Agent Orange.” (http://vietnamawbb.weebly.com/napalm-agent-orange.html)
At the beginning of the conflict, John F Kennedy initially planned on Ngo Dinh Diem (the president of South Vietnam) to defeat the guerrillas with the south Vietnamese army, but the army was very incompetent and lacked the necessary skills to win a war. Eventually, U.S. troops were sent to Vietnam in large numbers to fight the Viet Cong. When Lyndon B. Johnson took office after JFK, the Vietnam War was not his largest concern, until August 1964, when multiple U.S. ships were targeted and fired upon on along the north Vietnamese coast. These attacks against U.S. ships prompted congress to approve the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution stated that “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repeal any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent any further aggression.” As a result, President Johnson, and later President Nixon, relied on the resolution as the legal basis for their military strategies in Vietnam. The president now had the power to use any means necessary to protect american troops in Vietnam. American forces in Vietnam employed a vast array of handguns, a range of rifles, anti-tank weapons, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, machine guns, sub machine guns, handguns, mortars, howitzers, jet fighters, helicopters, gun ships, bombs and tanks. (thefinertimes.com/Vietnam-War)