In a democratic society public opinion is very important, and has a strong influence on actions that leaders of that society take. Because of this the opinion of the public is a major factor in the outcome of events, but how significant an effect did it have on the outcome of the war? Some of the first objectors to the war were people who disagreed with the drafting system that decided who was sent to the war. The media had a large influence on this public opinion especially after a series of filmed raids by the Vietcong into South Vietnam, known as the Tet Offensive, raised the number of objectors.
These objectors did have a large impact and this is considered to be the reason that persuaded Johnson not to stand for re-election. The objectors also seemed to be more committed than the pro-war supporters to get their view across and this is shown by the amount of protests held which were anti-war. It is not surprising that there were objections to the Vietnam war, the 60’s in America were known as a time of, particularly student, unrest and a majority of the opposition were students.
Students seemed to be early objectors to the Vietnam War, many believed that Vietnam should be left alone and many were pacifists who felt that all violence was wrong. Many become outraged by the media coverage of the war and the way it contradicted the view given by the top generals. They were also against the unjust drafting system. The system that the USA had to select who would be drafted to fight in Vietnam and to help in the war effort was seen by many to be very biased against the poor and the blacks.
This drafting system also discriminated against 18-21 years olds, a lot of these were students, and they began to protest. People publicly burning their draft cards as a sign of rebellion performed the first protests against this drafting system. Later they rebelled more drastically when, in 1968, nine people were imprisoned for burning down the drafting offices. What was surprising was the fact that of the nine, two were catholic priests and one was a nun!
This not only showed the massive objections they had to the drafting system, but it also showed the range of people affected, including the church. The system was very biased, it discriminated against the blacks immensely and this is shown by the proportion of blacks fighting in Vietnam in comparison to the proportion of blacks living in America. This led on to the Anti-war movement receiving a large boost in support when Martin Luther King, leader of the Civil Rights Movement, publicly announced his objections.
These beliefs of discrimination were fuelled by the amount of white, rich people who managed to ‘draft dodge’ the system and miss out on fighting in Vietnam. The objectors were committed to their opinions being acknowledged by others and this is why they had a significant influence in the eventual outcome of the war. Before the 60’s mass protests were pretty rare, however, with the improvement in technology it became easier to organise these protests with the use of television and telephones helping to organise these mass demonstrations.
An example of this was that in April in Washington DC there was an anti-war protest which included 500,000 people, two weeks later there was a pro-war demonstration in Washington but only 15,000 people were involved. This does not show the proportion of the population who were against the war but it did show that the opposition were more committed in getting their view across. The opposition to the war did make sure that the media noticed them and this brought the point across better to the whole nation.
The media had a major influence on the opinion of the public and after the Tet Offensive the support for the war decreased. This is because the public were being told how the American’s were winning the war but this was contradicted by what they saw was happening in Saigon where the Vietcong were attacking the US embassy. The media always has a large affect on the public and this propaganda stunt by the Vietcong increased it more. It is obvious that public opinion was important as this opposition forced Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) to not stand for re-election in 1968.
This shows the influence of public opinion and it also shows the amount of objectors as LBJ thought he could not receive the majority of votes. He was seen as a war criminal and the favourite chant at the time was, ‘Hey! Hey! LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? ‘ This was a dramatic step as it is very rare for a president to fail to stand for re-election. LBJ’s fear of lack of support for the Vietnam War meant he didn’t want to stand for a second term, this meant that the new candidates had to have sympathetic responses to the war.
Nixon the republican, who later went on to win the election, promised to end the war quickly and not for the war to be seen as a failure. The fact that he won with these promises showed the public objection and also the influence of the public opinion. It also meant that he was bound by these promises and this brought about the more rapid end to the war. The 60’s were a time of unrest in America; it involved the student protests and the Black Civil Rights Movement. There was a good reason for the objections to the war: the drafting system was biased against the young, poor and black.
Also there was the innocent killing of many Vietnamese women and children shown in newsreels. The opposition grew when Martin Luther King publicly announced his objections to the war, and the Tet Offensive was a propaganda stunt that worked very well for the Vietnamese as it contradicted what the public was being told by people such us general Westmoreland. The objectors made their point very clear as they were more committed and held more effective protests. The influence and size of the objections were so great that Johnson failed to stand for re-election.
It also made Nixon make promises to end the war that he was held to and this led to the overall outcome of the war. I do not believe that the support back home had an influence in the way the Americans lost the war, but it did make them pull out earlier than they wished to. The war in Vietnam was going to be a stalemate as the military strategy used opposed the guerrilla tactics used by the more committed Vietnamese. However, the gradual lack of support for the war caused them to pull out quicker as Nixon made promises to end the war so that he could win the election.