Directions: Question 1 is based on the accompanying documents. The documents have been edited for the purpose of this exercise. You are advised to spend 15 minutes reading and planning and 45 minutes writing your answer.
Write your responses on the lined pages that follow the question.
In your response you should do the following:
State a relevant thesis that directly addresses all parts of the question.
Support the thesis or a relevant argument with evidence from all, or all but one, of the documents.
Incorporate analysis of all, or all but one, of the documents into your argument.
Focus your analysis of each document on at least one of the following: intended audience, purpose, historical context, and/or point of view.
Support your argument with analysis of historical examples outside the documents
Connect historical phenomena relevant to your argument to broader events or processes.
Synthesize the elements above into a persuasive essay that extends your argument, connects it to a different historical context, or accounts for contradictory evidence on the topic.
Compare and contrast the various attitudes and responses to the Vietnam War within American society from the period 1960 to 1975.
Source: Lyndon Johnson, Address at Johns Hopkins University, April 7, 1965
We are also there to strengthen world order. Around the globe from Berlin to Thailand are people whose well-being rests in part on the belief that they can count on us if they are attacked. To leave Vietnam to its fate would shake the confidence of all these people in the value of an American commitment and in the value of America's word. The result would be increased unrest and instability and even wider war.
We are also there because there are great stakes in the balance. Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Vietnam would bring an end to conflict. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another. The central lesson of our time is that the appetite of aggression is never satisfied. To withdraw from one battlefield means only to prepare for the next. We must say in Southeast Asia, as we did in Europe, in the words of the Bible: "Hitherto shall thou come, but no further."
Source: Bill Mauldin, cartoon in The Sun Times, Chicago, 1966
Source: Martin Luther King, Speech at Riverside Church Meeting, New York, N.Y., April 4, 1967
. . . it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.
Source: Flyer for a draft resistance event, Massachusetts, March 18, 1969
Source: President Richard Nixon, Address to the Nation, November 3, 1969
Two hundred years ago this Nation was weak and poor. But even then, America was the hope of millions in the world. Today we have become the strongest and richest nation in the world. And the wheel of destiny has turned so that any hope the world has for the survival of peace and freedom will be determined by whether the American people have the moral stamina and the courage to meet the challenge of free world leadership.
Let historians not record that when America was the most powerful nation in the world we passed on the other side of the road and allowed the last hopes for peace and freedom of millions of people to be suffocated by the forces of totalitarianism.
And so tonight-to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans-I ask for your support.
Source: Vietnam War Veterans, Testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 1971
In our opinion and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.
We found that not only was it a civil war, an effort by a people who had for years been seeking their liberation from any colonial influence whatsoever, but also we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from.
Prompt: Compare and contrast the various attitudes and responses to the Vietnam War within American society from the period 1960 to 1975
Civil rights activists condemned both the mistreatment of Vietnamese citizens and the seemingly unnecessary loss of American lives.
The American youth became increasingly disillusioned with the war campaign, and universities were often centers protest, rallies, and speeches.
Politicians attempted to reassure the public of the war’s adherence to American ideals and reaffirm the role of the US in shaping developing nations.
Debates over the Vietnam War consumed the media as both sides of the argument sought to convey their opinions.
Artists with strong views on the war and government influenced pop culture that in turn helped sway the public in support or against the conflict.
Source: “Masters of War”, song by Bob Dylan, released May 27, 1963.
historical significance: Kennedy recently increased military assistance to South Vietnam and deployed the “Green Berets” to use guerilla tactics. A very popular song of the 1960’s which encouraged a lot of people to join the fight against war. Music provided a means to express dissent among the disillusioned youth of the nation.
audience: The American public, especially the youth, and government. Dylan was often known to play the song in folk clubs.
purpose: To display the unethical actions of the US government, to protest the forceful propaganda of the Vietnam War, and to scold the war industry for regarding soldiers as dispensable.
POV: Bob Dylan was a famous artist of the era, who used his powerful folk music to spread his liberal ideas of anti-war.
Source: Lyndon Johnson, Address at Johns Hopkins University, April 7, 1965.
historical significance: Campaign against North Vietnam’s transport. The US offers North Vietnam economic aid in exchange for peace. Two weeks later, Johnson raises combat strength to more than 60,000 troops in Vietnam. Anti-war “teach-in” broadcasts sweep through American universities, frequently causing protest and rallies.
audience: University population, presumably educated and mostly white youth. A Christian nation.
purpose: To encourage support for the Vietnam War, display the innate ability the US possessed to support developing countries, and show that the removal of troops from Vietnam would strengthen the problem and weaken the American cause.
POV: President of the country, obviously advocating his own initiatives in order to increase public support. The country has already committed to war, and failure to achieve victory rests on his shoulders.
Source: Bill Mauldin, cartoon in The Sun Times, Chicago, 1966.
historical significance: Operation Rolling Thunder had been implemented in 1965 and escalated the war effort by beginning a new bombing campaign. The intent was to force North Vietnam to cease its support for the Viet Cong by threatening to destroy North Vietnam's air defenses and industrial infrastructure. Casualties and number of American troops in Vietnam dramatically increased when Lyndon B. Johnson reversed Kennedy’s disengagement policy.
audience: Americans with a variety of views, those frustrated by the apparent absence of any true solution.
purpose: To contrast the futile belligerence of pro war advocates with the condescending ignorance with which opponents called for an end to all conflict.
POV: As a cartoonist for a public newspaper with no radical stance on the war, Mauldin willfully ignited controversy, possibly for the greater good of political discussion or possibly to increase his follower base.
Source: Martin Luther King, Speech at Riverside Church Meeting, New York, N.Y., April 4, 1967.
historical significance: In 1965, General William Westmoreland outlined an aggressive military action plan to win the war by 1967, but the desired results never came to fruition.Martin Luther King caused a lot of social change in the South for colored people and his influence may have pushed a lot of people against the war movement.
audience: Speech to religious African American church attendees, generally concerned with morality and saving lives.
purpose: To encourage people to protest the war, to display that the war as hurtful to the impoverished American public, and to strengthen the fight for civil liberties in America.
POV: Martin Luther King, the most prominent civil rights activist of the era, used the Vietnam War as an example of American hypocrisy; they attempted to enforce civil liberties in foreign countries but not within their own nation.
Source: Flyer for a draft resistance event, Massachusetts, March 18, 1969.
historical significance: The emergence of the “hippie” movement and a widespread call for peace. A shift in the public’s ideals from service and loyalty to freedom and love.
audience: American citizens, primarily the men who could potentially become soldiers.
purpose: To encourage people to attend training session that inform them of the hardships of war and the atrocities of foreign policy in Southeast Asia. To explain that by law adults graduating high school or grad school must sign up for the draft and may be pulled into the war.
POV: An anti-war campaign directed at saving American lives and preventing the deployment of more troops.
Source:President Richard Nixon, Address to the Nation, November 3, 1969.
historical significance: Running on a platform of "peace with honor", Richard Nixon barely beats out Hubert Humphrey for the presidency. Nixon attempted to lower casualties in the war by getting rid of the draft, though he secretly began Operation Breakfast to bomb communist supply routes in Cambodia.
audience: The American people.
purpose: To raise the morale of the American people and show that America is a resilient nation. To ask the public for support when he makes decisions regarding war efforts.
POV: Nixon entered the presidency with a plan to end the war but it ended up taking him five years, for he wanted to end the war with honor.
Source: Vietnam War Veterans, Testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 1971.
historical significance: Operation Ranch Hand had been used to defoliate large parts of the Vietnamese countryside in order prevent the Viet Cong from being able to hide their weapons and encampments. Eleven million gallons of Agent Orange, which contains a very toxic poison, caused disease, birth defects, and a poisoned food chain.
audience: US Senate Committee, American government, sympathetic citizens.
purpose: To portray the Vietnam War as a blatant disregard of human rights, establish the legitimate right to freedom of Vietnamese natives, discourage blind support for the war, and voice a first person perspective on the reality of the war.
POV: Vietnam War veterans have a personal first-hand experience of the occurrences during the Vietnam War, and are therefore capable of describing the realities of battle. The American public generally sympathizes with soldiers, so they have an inherent support base.
Possible Outside Information:
Agent Orange and Dow Chemical Company
Assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy
“Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
Nixon’s platform of “law and order”
“Light at the end of the tunnel.”
hippie movement to “make love, not war”
Vice President Spiro Agnew, “nattering nabobs of negativism”
The Cold War and the widespread fear of communism throughout the Western World.
A gradual shift in the American public’s ideologies, often favoring more liberal viewpoints and a loss of faith in government.
The belief that if one nation falls to communism, its neighbors will follow; led to constant military efforts to combat any government that did not completely denounce communism.
The social upheaval and progressive movements of the 1960s including civil rights, hippies, and rock ‘n roll.
Political polarization and the reinforcement of a partisan societal structure.
The notion of civil disobedience becomes accepted as a legitimate form of freedom of expression and means to reform society.
The effects of the change from the political strategy of “brinksmanship” and nuclear armament to “flexible response” that advocated the use of ground troops.
Mass media’s ability to sway the public, especially with opinionated newspaper articles and political cartoons.
The influx of available information created a less trusting American public more prone to skepticism in regard to current events.
Linking the Vietnam War to the effort to contain communism during the Korean War.
Contrasting the domestic mobilization of America during WWI and WWII with the less-than-coherent support for the Vietnam War.
Emphasizing the post-WWII trend of America to intervene in foreign affairs, especially to contain communism. Connect to the Marshall Plan and NATO.
Compare with later public reactions to US involvement in the First Persian Gulf War.
With the threat of communism still fresh in the minds of Americans, the fear of another country falling to the “Domino Effect” frightened Johnson into the Vietnam War. As the war continued to drag on and the American public became increasingly aware of the outrageousness of the situation, much of the American population became frustrated with the ongoing war. Becoming disillusioned with the idea of war and the loss of hundreds of young men and innocent villagers, American society began to rise up against the war. As politicians attempted to reassure the public of the war’s adherence to American ideals and reaffirm the role of the US in shaping developing nations, the American youth, civil rights activists, returning soldiers, and popular artists became increasingly discontented with the war campaign, and universities were often centers of protests, rallies, and speeches.
As the Vietnam War continued, many politicians still pushed for public support for the war. At a time when much of the nation’s youth was turning its back on the government's efforts, President Lyndon Johnson addressed Johns Hopkins University in order to advocate for the Vietnam War as wholly necessary to uphold American ideals and argued that the withdrawal of troops would ultimately create an unbalanced world order (Doc. 2). At the time Johnson made these statements, he was rapidly escalating the deployment of ground troops to Vietnam to around 60,000 young men. Questions about the competence of the government began to run rampant among students, and universities were hotspots for protesting. Anti-war “teach-in” broadcasts incited much of this upheaval and, by directly addressing university students, Johnson made himself appear less disconnected from the concerns of the youth and legitimized taking young men from their homes, families, and educations. Similarly, President Nixon’s inauguration speech was aimed at raising the morale of the American people and demonstrating that America was a resilient nation focused on aiding others (Doc. 6). Nixon’s plan while in office was to end the war as quickly as he could, but he was too preoccupied with the country’s global image to pull out of the war before America had established dominance. Having run on a platform emphasizing his devotion to “peace with honor”, Nixon was determined to prove his convictions and needed the loyalty of the public in order to do so. Despite the growing national disdain for America’s foreign policy in Vietnam, Nixon maintained that the majority of the people still supported the government’s involvement in Vietnam. Hoping to tranquilize the dissenters, he called upon the majority to speak out in favor of war and silence the calls for immediate peace.
Despite the political justifications for war, many Americans grew restless and calls for peace became more and more futile. With the rise of pop culture and the prominence of celebrity idols, the opinions expressed by famous artists and activists became powerful forces in American society. Bob Dylan, a popular singer and songwriter, used his music to criticize the unethical actions of the US government as well as the developing “military-industrial complex” of the nation (Doc. 1). Compelled by President Kennedy’s recent authorization of increased military assistance to South Vietnam and the deployment of the elite “Green Berets”, Dylan spread his discontentment among his listeners, broadening the outreach of political dissent. Additionally, esteemed civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech to an African American church group in which he revealed the profound hypocrisy of having the government demand that American soldiers protect the rights of the South Vietnamese – rights that were still withheld from African Americans in the Southern US (Doc. 4). Dr. King called for more focus on domestic turmoil and less investment in international affairs, especially when common people were forced to go fight a war waged by their government. Much of America’s black population, already disconnected from political processes, saw no reason to fulfill the desires of politicians who refused to grant them basic civil rights; the African American community simply – and justifiably – felt no sense of allegiance toward those who oppressed them.
The ideological struggle concerning the Vietnam War that broke out between the idealistic opponents and the bellicose proponents was, for the most part, the product of philosophical speculation. The discord between those who supported and those who condemned the war was, to an extent, the result of ignorance. Bill Mauldin’s cartoon in The Sun Times conveyed the disconcerting notion that neither side of the argument was right, and everyone was blinded by their own fervor (Doc. 3). War hawks relentlessly called for escalation and were not placated when Johnson introduced Operation Rolling Thunder, a new bombing campaign designed to cripple North Vietnam. Although the intent was to force North Vietnam to cease its support for the Viet Cong by threatening to destroy North Vietnam's air defenses and industrial infrastructure, the escalation ultimately led to increased casualties. Despite the immense loss of human life, the war hawks would not compromise and refused to accept any outcome other than unconditional victory. The peace doves, on the other hand, often neglected to acknowledge the severity of the conflict in Vietnam, and they believed that disengaging troops was a simple task with no drawbacks whatsoever. Both sides failed, for the most part, to acknowledge the complexity of the war and the effects it had on both the American and Vietnamese peoples.
Soldiers returning from the war contributed opinions based on their first-hand experience of the situation in Vietnam. According to testimony given by a group of Vietnam War veterans to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations a few years before the end of the war, not only did North Vietnam pose no threat to America and its Western ideals, but the North Vietnamese had a legitimate claim to unobstructed autonomy (Doc. 7). As honored war veterans, the soldiers who testified captured the sympathy of the American public and exposed the largely ignorant populace to the brutality of American actions in Vietnam and the hardships imposed on the Vietnamese people. Soldiers fighting on the ground saw their friends and colleagues die before them and naturally discouraged the loss of any more lives. Soldiers returning from Vietnam were also aware of the immoral tactics employed by the US military in their pursuit of victory. Once enacted, Operation Ranch Hand allowed eleven million gallons of Agent Orange, a toxic chemical, to be dumped on the Vietnamese countryside in order to defoliate the nation and make guerilla warfare nearly impossible. However, the use of such a chemical led to severe diseases, birth defects, and a poisoned food chain throughout Vietnam; many soldiers who experienced such war efforts were eventually turned against the military and began to advocate protest. At an anti-war training day held at Boston University, war veterans even went so far as to tell potential draft victims about the realities of war and how they could exert their rights when dealing with the government (Doc. 5). Not only did these soldiers convey the horrors of military-condoned violence, but they also actively worked to undermine the efforts to expand the war and manipulate public perceptions with propaganda. The American public’s increasing knowledge of the realities of war caused many to protest and rise up against the unnecessary deaths of soldiers and civilians from both the US and Vietnam.
The Vietnam War marked almost two decades of military conflict without any conclusive victory. The constant tension between politicians, soldiers, civil rights activists, students, and dissenters of all kinds led to both social and political upheaval that affected all corners of American society. Although the Vietnam War was part of a larger effort to contain the spread of communism and undermine the efforts of the USSR, the war in Vietnam was the first time that the American public really began to distrust their government and actively protest its policies. The Korean War, which was fought for many of the same reasons and in much the same way, did not incur the same degree of opposition as the Vietnam War. Furthermore, the rift between America’s liberty rhetoric and actual action became more apparent, and the US lost some of its momentum in spreading the Western way of life.