January Object of the Month Blog
This month’s object of the month is a communist party poster produced in the 1960s calling for U.S. Troops to be pulled out of Vietnam and an end to the War. On the left hand side of the poster is a picture of a soldier giving a child a drink and underneath is a picture of two soldiers firing guns into the air. The poster can currently be found on display in the museum as part of our ‘Responses to Conflict’ Exhibition. The Vietnam War The Vietnam War was a Cold War era proxy war that began on 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. The War was fought between North Vietnam—supported by the Soviet Union, China and other communist allies—and the government of South Vietnam—supported by the United States, Philippines and other anti-communist allies. The Viet Cong, a South Vietnamese communist common front aided by the North, fought a guerrilla war against anti-communist forces in the region. The People’s Army of Vietnam, also known as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), engaged in a more conventional war, at times committing large units to battle.
Opposition to America’s involvement in the War
The movement against the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War began in the U.S. with demonstrations in 1964. It grew in strength in 1965 after the U.S. started severe regular bombings of North Vietnam and peaked in early 1968 after the successful Tet offensive by North Vietnamese troops proved that there was going to be no end to the war anytime soon. In December 1969, the government instituted the first U.S. draft lottery since World War II, inciting a vast amount of controversy, those who refused military service were shockingly imprisoned, and would either show their disapproval by burning their draft cards or draft letters, or simply not presenting themselves for the military service test. Others left the country, and went to Canada in order to avoid the conscription. Boxer Muhammad Ali was one prominent American who resisted being drafted into service during the Vietnam War. Ali, then heavyweight champion of the world, declared himself a “conscientious objector,” earning a prison sentence (later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court) and a three-year ban from boxing.
There were many different reasons that America’s involvement in the war was opposed including opposition to the draft; moral, legal, and pragmatic arguments against U.S. intervention; and reaction to the media portrayal of the devastation in Southeast Asia. It has been said that Vietnam was the first ‘televised’ war, in that it was the first conflict of its kind where journalists were on the ground documenting what was happening. The horror of war for the first time was broadcast worldwide through international media outlets. Many in the peace movement were students, mothers, or anti-establishment hippies. Opposition grew with participation by the African-American civil rights, women’s liberation, and Chicano movements, and sectors of organised labour. Additional involvement came from many other groups, including educators, clergy, academics, journalists, lawyers, physicians, Civil Rights Movement leaders and military veterans. Opposition consisted mainly of peaceful, nonviolent events; few events were deliberately provocative and violent. In some cases, police used violent tactics against demonstrators. By 1967, according to Gallup Polls, an increasing majority of Americans considered U.S. military involvement in Vietnam to be a mistake, echoed decades later by the then head of American war planning, former U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara who admitted it was a mistake.
Key dates in January
On 18 January 1962 the U.S. began spraying foliage in Vietnam to expose Viet Cong Guerrillas. The US troops dropped millions of gallons of herbicides such as Agent Orange which sparked charges that the United States was violating international norms against using chemical weapons in war, and many of the herbicides were later found to cause birth defects and rare forms of cancer in humans.
On 31 January 1971 the Winter Soldier hearings began in a Howard Johnson’s Motel in Detroit. Sponsored by the group Vietnam Veterans against the war, the hearings were an attempt by soldiers who had served in Vietnam to publicise U.S. conduct in the war.
On 27 January 1973 US involvement in the Vietnam War ended as North Vietnamese and American representatives signed cease fire agreement in Paris. The U.S. agreed to remove all remaining troops within 60 days – ending the longest war in American history. Over 58,000 Americans had been killed, 300,000 wounded and 2,500 declared missing. A total of 566 prisoners-of-war had been held by the North Vietnamese during the war, with 55 reported deaths.
On 3 January 1977 President Carter pardoned most of the Vietnam War draft resistors, nearly 10,000 qualified.
We have many more objects in our collection relating to the Vietnam War, Campaigners and Protesters and Conscientious Objectors. The Museum is open Thursdays 10:00 till 16:00.
Written By Sarah Bartey