During the Vietnam War nothing got under the skin of the war managers– LBJ, Nixon, their generals, top cops and political cronies — more than public criticism from liberal, and sometimes moderate, members of the intelligentsia, college campuses and the media. The war pushers tried every dirty trick in the book, and then some, to shut these voices down– they labeled dissenters as traitors, commies and un-American; used the FBI to spy on them (Cointelpro) and the IRS to audit them; created laws to throw them in jail for protesting, or sent in ringers and police to start riots during peace marches; and in some cases even shot them dead.
But these tactics ultimately failed. Over time the chorus of voices demanding peace steadily grew in strength and in retrospect history has shown that the opposition interpretation of the war was not only more informed, but also much more honest, than that of the establishment. In fact, we know now that, from Tonkin to Cambodia, there was no lie too big for LBJ and Nixon if it served their purposes of continuing a failed policy in the hopes of pulling off a hail Mary pass late in the game–which of course did not happen.
A true turning point in modern American politics, the shady events of the war years marked the beginning of a damaging turn toward cynicism by the American public regarding the honesty and integrity of their government. Prior to Vietnam, people may have disagreed about politics, but they essentially believed their leaders were, for the most part, honest people, public administrators with honorable intentions. But the Vietnam War– with its phony after battle briefings, trumped up body counts, constant false optimism, secret bombing campaigns and duplicitous foreign diplomacy– shattered that glossy veneer. The trend was accelerated by Watergate and then officially codified into right-wing ideology by Ronald Reagan. The fallout from the war, the war at home, started the nation on the path that has left us deeply divided, and apparently paralyzed politically.
Listen to archival broadcasts from the period featuring those who stood up against the war:
IF Stone – Vietnam Day Protest UC Berkeley 1965:
Writers Against The War 1967:
MLK Santa Rita Jail and Los Angeles 1968:
UC Berkeley Sproul Hall Sit-in 1968:
Columbia University Student Strike 1968:
Soldiers Against the War 1968:
Noam Chomsky on Draft Resistance 1968:
Dr Benjamin Spock – UC Berkeley 1968:
Seymour Hersh Exposes My Lai Massacre 1969:
Note: with the most recent national military debacle – the Iraq War – flaming out of control again, and the hawks circling above calling for US involvement, these recordings take on a renewed significance, if for nothing else than to remind ourselves that it is possible to speak out and influence events– it’s one of the only real powers “we the people” have.