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GRIID Class on US Social Movements – Part IV: The Anti-Vietnam War Movement

February 19, 2021

Over the next 8 weeks, we will be posting a summary of the class we are facilitating on US Social Movements. These posts will include a summary of the discussion, the questions we presented to frame each social movement that is discussed, a timeline and additional books that are relevant to each movement.

In the 4th week of the class on US social movements, we looked at the Anti-Vietnam War  Movement, by reading chapter 18 from Zinn’s book, entitled, The Impossible Victory: Vietnam! The first part of the chapter was devoted to US policy towards Vietnam and in South East Asia after WWII. The US had sided with the French in maintaining their colony in Vietnam, which included providing weapons, then military advisors and eventually US soldiers to fight against the Vietcong. Some people in the class accurately identified what US policy towards Vietnam was, an imperialist policy. 

The second part of chapter 18 from Zinn’s book talked about the ways in which people opposed the war and how it became a powerful movement in just a few years. Some of the earliest forms of resistance were from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, encouraging other Black students to not enlist in the military and to resist the draft. People also identified the large marches that took place during both the Johnson and Nixon administrations, along with boycotts, civil disobedience and the powerful GI resistance movement to the war. Some of the participants had watched the film Sir, No, Sir, which provides a deep look into the various ways that US soldiers resisted participating in the killing of the Vietnamese people.

Like we have done in pervious posts, we used our 8 framing questions for discussion during the 4th class and a timeline for this movement. 

  1. What are the systems of power and oppression that existed during the period of history being discussed, and more importantly, what were the systems of power and oppression that the social movement was confronting, challenging or seeking to dismantle? Ending US imperialism was the primary system of power, but it was also combined with Capitalism, Colonialism and White Supremacy. 
  2. What else was happening in the country or around the world that may have influenced how both the systems of power/oppression and the social movement responded? The group talked about the growing international anti-colonial movement, the broader pattern of US imperialism in other countries and how the Civil Rights/Black freedom Struggle had influenced the Anti-Vietnam War Movement.
  3. In what way(s) did the social movement organize itself. Centralized, decentralized, autonomous, etc. Participants recognized that most organizing was decentralized, with numerous groups and communities all across the US, that were involved in a variety of anti-war organizing efforts. 
  4. What were the goal(s), strategies and tactics of the social movement? The main goal was to end the war, although some groups sought to end US militarism and US imperialism. Some strategies employed were economic, others were the use of Direct Action, plus the always necessary media and education strategy. Tactics utilized were draft resistance, the burning of draft cards, draft resisters going to Canada, churches offering sanctuary to draft resisters, GI newspapers, soldiers going AWOL, marches, sit ins, teach-ins, campus organizing, speeches, poetry, music and getting high profile people involved in the anti-war effort.
  5. How did the system of power/oppression push back against the demands and gains made by the social movement? Some of the most common forms of push back from systems of power were to marginalize anti-war organizers, character assassination, arresting people, giving heavy fines and longer jail sentences, police violence against protesters, expelling students from campus and tying people up in long/expensive court battles.
  6. Were their intersectional aspects of the struggle the social movement was engaged in? As was mentioned earlier, there was the Civil Rights/Black Freedom Struggle’s influence on the anti-war movement, but there was also influence from the growing feminist movement, the gay liberation movement and the broader peace/countercultural movement as well.
  7. How did the social movement impact other existing or future social movements? The Anti-Vietnam War Movement certainly impacted those involved in the Civil Rights Movement, with people like Dr. King who eventually became a major critic of the war, as well as influencing other movements, like the gay liberation movement to be more militant in its approach. 
  8. How was the social movement compromised or co-opted, and by which external forces were they compromised or co-opted? Like most movements, partisan politics sought to co-opt people with so-called “peace candidates.” There were also attempts to co-opt the movement with the idea of dropping out of society, which was advocated by White, economically privileged people, along with an emphasis on personal peace, that often did not encourage resistance to war. 

Here are some addition resources to further explore the Anti-Vietnam War Movement:

Vietnam: the last war the US lost, by Joe Allen

A People’s History of the Vietnam War, by Jonathan Neale

The Phoenix Program, by Douglas Valentine

The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman

Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, by Howard Zinn

Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange, by Fred Wilcox

Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since WWII, by William Blum

The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by Alfred McCoy

Cambodia: 1975 – 1982, by Michael Vickery

The Pentagon Papers, published by the New York Times

Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and U.S. Political Culture, by Noam Chomsky

The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam, by Jerry Lembcke

Winter Soldiers: An Oral History of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, by Richard Stacewicz

American Insurgents: A Brief History of American Anti-Imperialism, by Richard Seymour

Desertion and The American Soldier: 1776 – 2006, by Robert Fantina

Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism, by L.A. Kauffman 

Films

Winter Soldier

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers 

The Camden 28

Investigation of a Flame

Sir, No, Sir

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