Opposing Perspectives on the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was the first war to be highly publicized with graphic images in newspapers and live coverage on television. The American public was largely divided into two camps: people who wanted to end the war, or “doves,” and people who supported America remaining in the war, or “hawks.”

The doves organized and participated in numerous anti-war protests, which included protests (usually on college campuses), marches on Washington, 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.

The 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 companies like the Dow Chemical Company in making weapons of war (like napalm and Agent Orange, both of which led to painful deaths for both civilians and military forces in Vietnam) as immoral. They also felt that the US couldn’t win the war against North Vietnam, a feeling enhanced by the US’s forced withdrawal after the Battle of Khe Sanh, and then again after the Tet Offensive, in which the US emerged militarily victorious but lost popular support after North Vietnam’s show of power. The doves believed that the hawks were supporting this unjust war in order to enlarge the profits of companies like Dow Chemical. They also believed that the hawks were pursuing an untenable foreign policy goal, all at the cost of many American lives.

Hawks, who were more likely to be older, and Republican or Southern Democratic, wanted President Johnson to use all of America’s manpower and firepower to win the war. The hawks felt that the US needed to be involved in the Vietnam War in order to defeat communism and protect the US and its way of life. They believed anticommunist South Vietnam needed to be defended, as they worried about the domino effect and possible threats to America if communism were allowed to expand. In the hawk’s eyes, 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.

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