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What Effects Did the Vietnam War Have on American Society?

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What effects did the Vietnam War have 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 influential period of social turmoil.

The war provided a controversial 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 journalism, a whole new depth was added to how people perceived what they were being told, because there was an added truth to seeing it. People rising and uniting in protest, and journalists 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 gray, but also solidified matters that something had to be done one way or another. The third phase, was what made everything take on a lot 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 prevalent types of protests was based on the imparting of knowledge. These were known as teach-ins. The teach-ins were really the first step in raising consciousness 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 circumstance.

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 involvement in the Vietnam War" (Jeffreys-Jones, 77).

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 occurred 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 sent in, under the current 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 at home. "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).

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