Opposing Perspectives on the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was the first war in American History to be highly publicized with graphic images of combat in newspapers and live coverage on television.
As the war dragged on for years longer than expected and Americans watched first-hand the struggles that their troops suffered in the war in Vietnam, the country grew divided.
The American public was largely split into two camps: people who wanted to end the war, known as “doves” and people who supported America remaining in the war until it was won, or “hawks.”
The doves organized and participated in numerous anti-war protests, which included marches on Washington DC and other cities, college campus protests, and a variety of newspaper and magazine articles condemning the war.
During these protests, some men publicly burned their draft cards as an act of defiance against both the war itself and the draft’s compulsory military service for young men.
The doves were largely younger people, especially college students and those of draft-eligible age. This only increased as the war dragged on and public figures expressed their opposition to the war.
In 1966, world champion boxer Muhammad Ali risked his career and a prison sentence when he refused to be drafted due to his religious beliefs and ethical opposition to the war. Musicians John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and Phil Ochs were all well-known antiwar protestors.
Doves preached messages of peace and love. In their eyes, the war was unjust and was killing thousands of young American men only to help the profits of US companies.
They saw the involvement of US corporations like the Dow Chemical Company as immoral. Dow produced weapons of war like napalm and Agent Orange, both of which led to painful deaths for both civilians and military forces in Vietnam.
They also felt that the war, in dense jungles on the other side of the globe against a committed enemy, was unwinnable.
These feelings grew after American troops' forced withdrawal after the Battle of Khe Sanh, and again after the Tet Offensive surprise attacks in 1968.
The doves believed that the hawks were supporting this unjust war and untenable foreign policy goal at the cost of American lives.
Hawks were more likely to be older and Republican or Southern Democrats. They wanted President Johnson to use all of America’s manpower and firepower to win the war.
The hawks felt that America needed to be involved in Vietnam to defeat communism and protect America's way of life.
They believed anticommunist South Vietnam needed to be defended and worried about a possible domino effect and threats to America if communism were allowed to expand.
In the eyes of hawks, the doves were weak hippies, and their opposition to the war and widespread protests were contributing to the US losing the war by reducing public support.