At the beginning of the American involvement in Vietnam, only small groups of mostly intellectuals and college students opposed the war. After all, fighting the spread of Communism by supporting South Vietnam seemed to align with most American interests and initially had general public support. However, as the war continued, social upheaval on the home front began to spread throughout the country.
Protests in the Capital
In 1965, President Johnson ordered the bombing of military targets in North Vietnam after attacks on U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. As the attacks started, the number of Americans questioning the war -- then small -- began to grow. College protests became more and more common, and they began to spread beyond campuses. On October 21, 1967, 100,000 protesters descended on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., more than a quarter of which marched on the Pentagon that evening. The day ended in hundreds of arrests after protesters confronted military and law enforcement officers.
As the years rolled by without resolution, more Americans became frustrated by the cost of the war. The annual bill for the war was estimated to be about $25 billion, leading many to ask about the domestic programs that were losing funding at the expense of a far away, complicated conflict. Martin Luther King Jr. publicly criticized the war in 1967, saying that the federal funds could be better spent at home and that the number of African-Americans fighting in the war was disproportionate and unfair. This criticism only grew as time went by and as young men began to be drafted into war.
In 1968, North Vietnamese troops launched the Tet Offensive against South Vietnamese and U.S. troops. Although the strategic attacks on more than 100 towns in South Vietnam were successfully resisted, the events were televised -- and this further disillusioned the American public. More Americans than ever began to support the conclusion that there was no easy or quick victory against the Communist forces in Vietnam. In March, President Johnson reduced the amount of bombing and called for peace talks. Although a withdrawal from the war would take years, the Tet Offensive was a clear turning point when it came to public opinion about the war.
The decade ended with the institution of the first military draft since World War II. The draft lottery caused tension for many reasons. Deferments were often granted to college students, giving the higher educated and more affluent an easy way to avoid being sent overseas. Also, when college students were drafted, they were more likely to receive administrative assignments rather than combat positions. As Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out, African-American and Latino soldiers were fighting and dying at disproportionate rates. As a result, the 1960s ended with a general sense of discontent about the long war.
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