From 1965 to 1973, if anything received more press than the War in Vietnam, it was the Anti-War Movement. In the public mind, the anti-war movement could be rolled into that violent juggernaut of social unrest that seemed to tear at America’s seams—racial strife, hippies, demonstrations, riots, drugs, the sexual revolution, the Black Panthers—they all seemed to come together at some point. If confronted with a long-haired, crazed-eyed individual, you didn’t know whether you were facing a tirade about the war, a sales pitch for drugs, an impassioned screed about the evil U.S. government, or perhaps a mugging by someone whose mind had been eaten away by LSD or heroin while he was enjoying a draft deferment in college and perpetual graduate school to maintain his draft-ineligible status.
Here’s an unpalatable truth from someone who fought in Vietnam. It struck me at the time—and even more so after studying the anti-war movement—that many people in the anti-war movement preferred the excitement of protesting to attending class (if they were students), or the hallucinogenic or earthy pleasures of hanging out with the free drugs and free sex folks, or were driven, as people often are, by fashion: it was easy and fashionable and fun and a great way to flatter yourself and your moral superiority over your parents and “the establishment” and “the squares” to be against the war; it took some moral fortitude, and plain old physical courage, to be for it and to put on that uniform and head out to defend the people of South Vietnam.
If you strip out the authentic radicals and Communists (the minority vanguard of the movement) and the fashionable “peace activists” looking for a good time while inflating their egos, is anyone left? Well, sure. Not a great many, but there were of course serious protestors who knew something about the issues involved, loved and admired America, and wanted peace for the world. One of them lives in Maine and runs a wood-carving shop and the other married money and lives in Boca Raton.
What suggests that the anti-war crowd wasn’t serious about their mission?
Well, maybe the way they defined “peace.” Peace was what the United States was trying to defend—the peace that was supposed to exist between the sovereign nations of North Vietnam and South Vietnam, that was supposed to exist between North Vietnam and Laos, that was supposed to exist between North Vietnam and Cambodia. It was the Communists who were the aggressors throughout Southeast Asia. It was they who denied the right of non-Communist nations within their reach to exist. The peace they offered was a peace of submission to the most oppressive and totalitarian political system the world has ever known. The peace the American military sought to create was a peace between sovereign nations—a containment of aggressive international communism so that free institutions could develop outside of its orbit.
Phil Jennings is the author of the Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War. It is a great read, great gift and under $14. Get a copy from Amazon.com.