As a consequence, the Selective Service System began to call on military-age males to aid in the war effort — which many men and families actively resisted.
Pictured: Mark Satin (left) sits in on a call with American draft resisters, 1967. The political theorist moved to Canada at age 20 to avoid the war, where he helped found the Toronto Anti-Draft Program.Wikimedia Commons
Pictured: A man burns his draft card, March 1970.Wikimedia Commons
One such individual was legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, who filed for conscientious objector status in 1967. When the Selective Service rejected his application, Ali refused to join the military and was thus stripped of his heavyweight title and sentenced to five years in prison.
Pictured: Muhammad Ali walks through the streets with members of the Black Panther Party, New York, New York, September 1970.Getty Images
Still, thanks to the draft's implicit racial bias, African-Americans disproportionately served in Vietnam. This is largely because then-college students — the majority of whom were white men — could defer enlistment. As such, the burden of enlistment fell more on non-college educated men, particularly non college-educated black men. As a result, by 1967, 64 percent of all eligible African-American males had been drafted. Only 31 percent of eligible white men had. Flickr
“It would be very inconsistent for me to teach and preach nonviolence in this situation and then applaud violence when thousands of thousands of people, both adults and children, are being maimed and mutilated and many killed in this way.”
Fewer than two weeks later, King would lead a 125,000-person protest against the war.Getty Images
1967: The War Heats Up — Along With Public Opinion
Pictured: Counter protesters show their support for the war during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration in New York City, 1967. Harry Benson/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Archival Gallup opinion polls show that public sentiments began to change in mid 1966, when the percentage of those who said it was not a mistake to send troops to Vietnam fell from 69 percent to 49 percent. By May 1971, that percentage fell to 28 percent.
Pictured: A female demonstrator offers a flower to military police at the Pentagon, 1967.Wikimedia Commons
"I remember many cops, many people chanting and, of course, Pete Seeger singing from a makeshift stage. There was some rock throwing and shouting from what we called "hardhats", i.e., those who were pro-war, or more likely, anti-hippy.
Coretta King made her first public appearance there after Martin [Luther King]'s death earlier in the month."Mike Maginn
A Global Resistance
Pictured: Demonstrators against the Vietnam War display banners in a Paris street, 1967.AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Americans engaged in self-immolation as well. In 1965, Baltimore Quaker Norman Morrison would light himself on fire below Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's Pentagon office.Wikimedia
A Party Ablaze: The 1968 Democratic National Convention
Inside the convention center, protestors from all walks of life hurled insults at delegates and party leaders. Outside, demonstrators got into extended snarls with police officers, who used tear gas and clubs to control the unrest.
Pictured: Demonstrators clash with police in Grant Park, 1968.Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images
Pictured: A photographer bleeding from a head wound given to him by police during the riots in Grant Park outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention gives the peace sign.Agence France Presse/Getty Images
For eight days, two different protest groups — one rebelling against Columbia's plans for a segregated gym and its encroachment into Harlem, the other against Columbia's recently revealed connections to a Department of Defense-affiliated weapons think tank — battled with both student counter-protestors and the police, who eventually moved in with tear gas to put an end to this round of demonstrations.Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images
Pictured: Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.Wikimedia Commons
That same year, the couple sent acorns to global leaders with the hope that they would plant them in the name of peace.Wikimedia Commons
It was here that Jimi Hendrix would perform his distortion and whammy bar-heavy version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Pictured: Opening ceremony at Woodstock, August 1969.Wikimedia Commons
A Conservative Counter-Protest
Initially, conservatives viewed the Vietnam War as part of the U.S.’ general Cold War containment policy, and thus supported it as a matter of principle. Over time, some historians say that conservatives would support the war because doing so separated them from hippies, whom pro-war conservatives viewed as traitors, “anti-patriots,” and communists.
Pictured: Demonstrators from both sides stand on the sidelines of an anti-Vietnam War march in New York on April 27.Harvey L. Silver/Corbis via Getty Images
Pictured: William F. Buckley in Vietnam, 1969.Stars and Stripes
Kent State Massacre
After days of demonstrations, dozens of National Guard members would open fire on demonstrators, killing four students and wounding nine.
In court, guard members said they shot out of fear for their lives. Of the four students killed that day, the closest stood 225 feet away from the guards. Two were walking to class.Wikimedia
In California, demonstrations grew so raucous that then-governor Ronald Reagan shut down the entire California university system for a week.
Pictured: An anti-war demonstrator at the University of California, Berkeley throws a tear gas canister at police.Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images
The Pentagon Papers Leak
Daniel Ellsberg, a RAND Corporation researcher, had uncovered the documents in 1969, copied them, and offered the papers to the Times. Upon their leaking, Ellsberg was charged with conspiracy, espionage, and theft of government property.
Pictured: Ellsberg, left, testifies as leadoff witness at second day of the three-day conference sponsored by 17 antiwar congressmen, all Democrats.Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images
Veterans Demand Withdrawal
It was here where Kerry made one of the most biting remarks about the Vietnam War: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
Pictured: John Kerry talks at a press conference in Washington, D.C.Getty Images
By the time that news broke that Nixon had authorized (and attempted to cover-up) the break-in of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters, Nixon's approval rating dropped to a historic low of 24 percent. He would resign in August of 1974.
Pictured: A protester in Chicago, 1973. Robert Natkin/Getty Images
A Bitter Ending
In total, the Congressional Research Service estimates that the U.S. spent over $700 billion on the Vietnam War, making it the second costliest war of the 20th century.
The Vietnam War would kill nearly 60,000 Americans, wound more than 150,000 Americans, and leave more than 23,000 U.S. soldiers permanently disabled. Anywhere from 70,000 to 300,000 Vietnam veterans committed suicide upon their return.Wikimedia Commons
In 2003, Senator John Kerry offered the following thoughts on the Vietnam War:
“I saw courage both in the Vietnam War and in the struggle to stop it. I learned that patriotism includes protest, not just military service.”
This was not mere political bluster. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, John Kerry, along with a host of others, would exercise this antagonistic patriotism in response to the United States’ affairs in Vietnam.
Inspiration for such a response was not in short supply. The Pentagon Papers, leaked in the early '70s, would reveal that every president since Harry Truman had intentionally lied to both Congress and the American people about the unpleasant reality of Vietnam, as well as the extent of U.S. involvement there. In 1969, the My Lai massacre would reveal the unconscionable horrors that Americans, pushed beyond the brink, could commit. But before those damning revelations came blood — and lots of it.
The draft and Selective Service System called on military-age men to serve their country abroad — and more often than not, these were African-American or working class men who could not use their college enrollment or social networks to defer enlistment.
Shipped overseas, U.S. servicemen would encounter an enemy better organized than they, an unpopular and weak South Vietnamese government on the verge of collapse, and a physical geography that proved treacherous to any and all U.S. efforts in the region. Ultimately, more than 58,000 U.S. servicemen would die during the war — the overwhelming majority of whom died in action or by accident.
As the death tolls mounted without any apparent victory made or in sight — beyond the promise that defeating North Vietnam would allow the U.S. and its allies to “contain” the menace of Communism — millions of Americans grew wary.
Thus they took to the streets to protest. They took to pen and paper to dissent. They took to music to put their anger to verse. They took to violence and draft evasion. They took to Washington, D.C., to demand one thing of the United States: Get out of Vietnam.
"It was very uncomfortable and tense and, along the way, even the most gentle souls got a whiff of tear gas," Mike Maginn, a photographer and former Navy member who documented some of these Vietnam War protests, told ATI. "If you see the '60s as a romantic time and all about music and rock concerts, these pictures should cure you of that notion."
Eventually, protestors would have their wish granted in 1975, when President Gerald Ford announced that the war had come to a close. This was not because the U.S. had emerged — as so often before — victorious, but because victory was nowhere in sight.
Indeed, at the tail end of April, at the tail end of a war that brought America to its knees, the last Americans evacuated the southern Vietnamese city of Saigon, which the North Vietnamese army stood ready to capture at any moment. They swallowed it whole soon after.
As the last U.S. helicopters fled Saigon, they left behind a territory which the United States had not conquered. They abandoned a war that the United States had not won. The times they were a-changing, indeed.
Intrigued by this look at Vietnam War protests? Next, be sure read about how Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon prolonged the Vietnam War. Then, have a look at this photo history of the Vietnam War, and these iconic 1960s photos, including some Vietnam War protests and much, much more.