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Vietnam War Protesters: Heroes or Traitors?


Vietnam War Protesters: Heroes or Traitors?

Robert Freeman

Like in the tale of The Emporer's New Clothes, the protesters declared what everybody could see but what the "sophisticated" were too invested in to admit.


The system has always been rigged.

Direct Online Democracy


If my 5 year involvement in the Vietnam War Protests is to be construed as helping the United States lose that God Forsaken War, then so be it.

I am glad that I helped bring about an end to the killing of their soldiers, and ours.

The War Machine must be dismantled and turned into an instrument of Peace.


Thou shall not kill…I protested, I filed for C/O status, flunked my physical and got 4F status. I could not serve…I could not nor will I kill.


Nowadays, the grand strategists of violence who are always ready to justify mass killing . .

Tell us that we do not grasp the “nuance.”

(I was told that by a researcher who worked for Carl Bernstein when I challenged his support for the Iraq War in 2003.)

It is complete bullshit.


" Those who profit from wars need wars to justify their existence."

My brother went to Canada when he got his draft notice to fight in Vietnam and was labeled a traitor but the real traitors and guilty of the highest treason that murdered 55,000 Americans and so many Vietnamese were the war profiteers that made untold billions from the Vietnam war.

The fact that so many of these war criminals ( like kiss of death, Kissinger) were never indicted for war crimes tells me America is a fascist, military dictatorship. And the final nail in the coffin and corroboration of my statement, was JFK was against escalating the Vietnam war( NSAM 263) “this is not our war,” he said. But was assassinated one month later!


This is a very well written and condensed history of life during wartime. Which the U.S. Govt. has been formally, and informally, engaged in since late 1941.
Most of us under 75 years of age have known little else but this life of " kill or be killed " as official U.S. foreign policy. Since this is a constant in our political national discourse, but nothing has changed in our approach to dealing with an often unstable an chaotic world, we are stuck in our own mental quagmire. We are treating the world like we treated the settling of the frontiers; with lead and broken treaties ( promises ) and a ruthless, sick disregard for little else, especially the value of each human life other than our own. Careless, doesn’t begin to actually describe our approach, here.
Sorrry to say, the author is correct, we’re losing even a semblance of being honest about what our gov’t is really doing. How we’ve narrowed our reponse to the " shoot first, ask questions later " of crazy marauders and completely addled vigilantes. Even the best of our fickle political class cannot take the option of mass murder and genocide off the foreign policy negotiating table. That is an insanely disastrous approach on a very small planet, even if we daydream, romanticize and fantasize about a weaponized space war, of some sort. A last stand.
Unbelievable, well anymore, not so much.
But first, things will get increasingly nasty here on the home front. To wipe out the last vestiges of dissent, it just has to.


This essay should be mandatory reading in all High School American History classes. Also in college history courses. It should be mandatory reading especially for 535 people in our Congress.


This is a very informative look back. Although some important pieces of information are needed to understand what happened. One is the domino theory. That was the reason given for the US to engage in this war. The theory was if South Vietnam fell to the communists it would be a critical step toward total communist domination in the region. Also, the role of the campus teach-ins was omitted. The history of Vietnam going back to French colonialism and the role of Eisenhower was unknown to most Americans. In fact most American probably never heard of Vietnam. By providing the history of Vietnam to students on campus the teach-in enabled students to really understand the role the US played in the past in Vietnam and that understanding helped fuel opposition to the war. Finally the role of the draft was omitted. Most of the male protesters like most most younger male Americans had draft cards and could be drafted and sent to Vietnam if they could not find some way out of it such as a student deferment or health reason. So this gave many people a personal stake in the war. There was no volunteer army. The male protesters had to face the draft or flee the country. Many did flee to Canada. Later Jimmy Carter gave them amnesty if they returned.


Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the October 21, 1967 march on the Pentagon where protesters faced down soldiers by putting flowers in the barrel of their rifles. That image - along with images of Budist monks like Thich Quang Duc sitting motionless as he burned himself to death on a busy street in saigon - the image of a small girl running naked and crying from napalm burns - the image of the public execution of Nguyen Van Lem - and the images of the coffins of soldiers arriving at U.S. airports, are all burned into the memories of most people my age. Today Daniel Ellsberg is speaking on those key events at a 50th anniversary event in Washington D.C. - repeating a theme of the Pentagon Papers that such protests of the “first televised war” ignited the nation’s conscious and helped end the war.

The October 1967 acts of resistance and the “Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority” that drew 20,000 signatures also saw the founding (by Noam Chomsky, Barbara Guest, Robert Lowell, Grace Paley, and Allan Ginsberg) of my favorite charity: the Resist Foundation (www.resist.org) - which is still going strong in the fight for peace and justice after all these years.


It’s amazing how the political cleavages in our society brought on or enhanced by that war, as well as the resistance ideas, still hang with us for good or ill. What’s ironic, is how many folks I know went from being hippies to staunch libertarian-style conservatives in later life. In certain ways it makes sense—less war with smaller government?—but in others, it’s tough to understand given how things have played out.


Very true. But not surprising considering how we are still refighting the battles of the Civil War from 150 years ago, the Anti-Monopoly battles of the progressive movement of 100 years ago, the battles of the New Deal from 80 years ago, and the battles against fascism from 70 years ago.


A similar wave of protest seems to be the only way will ever leave Afghanistan and the Middle East. A lot of the protests I was involved in were as much anti-draft as anti-war which might explain the lack of an anti-war movement. Not all of us had bone spurs and rich daddies to keep us out of the war. Remember the anxiety on draft lottery day wondering where your birthday would be listed?


The Authoritarians, the White Supremacists, The Calvinists, and the Libertarians never give up!

We must be as determined and committed.


FYI in the subtitle, the word ‘emperor’ is misspelled.


I’ve been reading every recent Vietnam piece on CD post the latest Burns documentary (which I haven’t and probably won’t see) as well as few other pieces online. I was too young to protest in the 60s or 70s and in any case, I was more interested in the space program than foreign wars, but I am very grateful to those who did protest, and I absolutely believe it made a difference. From https://chomsky.info/198210__/ :

Let me make one final point about the peace movement which is often forgotten. When you look back at the internal documents that we have now you can see that when the big decision was made around the Tet Offensive in 1968 — about whether or not to send a couple hundred thousand more troops — one of the factors was that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were concerned that they would not have enough troops for internal control of the domestic American population. They feared tremendous protest and disruption at home if they sent more troops to Vietnam. This means that they understood the level of internal resistance to be virtually at the level of civil war. And think they were probably right about that. That’s a good indication from inside as to how seriously they took the peace movement.

I also appreciate Freeman’s calling out of the significant roles that Truman and Eisenhower played in this war crime. I remember hearing as a kid about how Eisenhower warned against a “hot war”, but now that I read his words in context (https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1952-54v13p1/d552), he is just another lying warmonger and I am embarrassed for Robert Scheer getting sucked into an idolatry of this man for some nice speeches as he left office - big deal.

The only think I want to push back on in Freeman’s piece is this framing of Kennedy as realizing that he was wrong about Vietnam (“This is not our war” - where does that quote come from by the way - I can’t find it). First of all, NSAM 263 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Security_Action_Memorandum_263) is not earth shattering - it discusses removing 1,000 out of 16,000 US military personnel because (according to Wikipedia) of recommendations from McNamara and Taylor that “great progress” was being made. Here is an interesting quote on this topic from Salon (https://www.salon.com/2013/11/22/the_truth_about_jfk_and_vietnam_why_the_speculation_is_wrong_headed/):

If true, such stories don’t quite make Kennedy look so wonderful as some of his “defenders” seem to think. After all, Americans had been dying in South Vietnam since 1959, during the Eisenhower presidency. Over a hundred of our soldiers died there in 1963. If JFK actually had definitively decided to pull the U.S. out of Vietnam, why wait until after an election still a year off? Do we really think he was that craven a president? I don’t.

I do - since what matters more are the Vietnamese who died as a result of his decisions - I don’t know how many that was, but I’m damn sure it was more than 100. But I agree with the Salon author that if Kennedy felt strongly about this he should have tried to end it so permanently that the next Republican president had he lost reelection couldn’t have re-opened it. Had he told McNamara he was going to do that - then we can talk about rehabilitating his image w.r.t. this war crime.

Also, a minor unrelated point but where does Freeman get the idea that $3 trillion would fix Social Security permanently? It is an almost $1 trillion program and shortfalls must be made up with tax increases. 3 trillion could help for a long time - maybe 25 years, but permanently is a really long time (I hope - these days, it’s hard to be sure).


When they talk about “permanently” with respect to pensions and Social Security - they are usually looking at a 75 year window. Also, keep in mind that the Social Security shortfall is primarily caused by the baby-boomer population bubble. After we all pass away Social Security will be in much better shape - especially if we allow for a robust immigration policy to bring in more young people to the system. Of course, we really need to upgrade the benefits rate which will definitely take a tax increase - removing the cap being the best choice there.


Some people will read the articles and watch the history TV shows and then repeat back the current consensus on an era like the Vietnam War as if they now had an authoritive grasp of what it was like to have been in that era personally. There are those like this author who have studied and now teach the history of that era. But it is only from those who have participated in that era from either side who have perceptions that are hard to convey in essays or historical studies.

While reading this article it was brought to mind the utter shock people had of someone’s immolation on an ordinary city street and the why of it. When a younger generation talks of protesting during the Vietnam War they rarely if ever cite these horrific incidents nor realize just how much they were the vanguard of protest. Before that, people didn’t generally protest war, although a few hardy and extremely courageous souls like Ed Peck (whom I knew and was criticized out of complacency by…lol) protested Korea and all war!

During the Vietnam protest era there were understandings that were reached among our population that are generally thought of as peripheral now but were considered awesome back then. Protest immolations were the most significant. Later it would be revelations from Winter Soldier vets and throwing medals! For witnesses of that era there are innumerable private moments that they experienced while they wrestled with their conscience and patriotism and often their faith about the war. The cynical and shallow media erases these struggles of conscience from their reportage about the era. To the modern media it was typically all shallow and selfish self interest rather than soul searching and conscience. Pot smoking long hairs all went to college rather than fight instead of discussions of genocide and the horrific suffering that we were blithely and seemingly unconcernedly inflicting on peasants.

Those peripheral ‘side stories’ get lost in the historical accounts and forgotten as motivators for acts of conscience. A returning vet became a close buddy who expressed the heartfelt truth often skipped over by accounts of the war. He told me how much the guys over there appreciated the protesters because lest we forget, the draftees didn’t want to be there and wore peace signs over there (or tried to) and joined VVAW after coming back. That sense of their protests is rarely mentioned these days or that the soldiers appreciated and were encouraged by news of the protesters (their families btw) back home.

Another thing often left out of the generalized picture of the era was fragging! It is hard to convey the impact that had on the American public that American soldiers were killing their own officers and noncoms. This wasn’t your father’s WW2 war. This was immolations in front of the UN, this was throwing back medals and reports of massacres and straight out genocide that was called the daily body count!

A later generation of media hacks kiss ass and try to reverse spin the protest era. To them it was all the vacuous and mostly unimportant things like smoking pot (meanwhile the CIA was bringing in tons of heroin sometimes packing it in the coffins of returning soldiers until one bereaved family opened the coffin of their son and blew the whistle. It was the south our allies - the brother of the president selling drugs - it was the south our allies selling American weapons to the north all throughout the war…this was Vietnam over there and heroin back home!

I would like to congratulate all my fellow protesters who had the decency to oppose blatant genocide because it wasn’t okay just because we were doing it. Whatever it was that we had a hand in stopping over in Vietnam, history has validated the justice of our cause. It was wrong and it was the decision of men to engage in the crime of war not some mandated action by God! When Eichman made the trains to the concentration camps run on time, he claimed that he was just obeying orders. It is to America’s credit that we did not follow orders like that and did what we could to stop the slaughter.

Peace and best wishes to all.


As early as 1962 people knew what " military advisors" meant; if 100 had been killed in action they also knew this was just the tip of the iceberg as to the real #s of the special forces in country, in Vietnam. I think the official # was about 6,000.
As a member of a Peace-Monger family and larger community, the wise elders there were already saying, " No, No, No ". Kennedy’s instincts ( political and personal ) were to de-escalate, imo. And, I base that solely on the fact my wise elders were on the periphery of the Circle, primarily in the areas of agriculture and tax policy.
That was my childhood and a long time ago. We’re a much more wealthy country now, but also a much more callous and meaner one, too. So it goes…


I’ve been told that the baby boom had already been planned for (though I am aware that this surplus has been raided). In general I consider the whole social security scare a sham (whereas if we keep going down this idiotic health care path, Medicare/Medicaid are doomed and that should be a real scare). So I probably shouldn’t have even brought it up, though ‘permanent’ solutions to anything just sounds weird. But I’ll keep the 75 year window in mind gong forward.

I cannot support the idea of immigration to solve a pyramid scheme problem. We must make the economy, social security system, and health care system work for a steady state population - if it doesn’t and we must rely on an ever increasing population we are pathetic (and the environment is doomed).

I agree - remove the cap.