WAR & PEACE: Two Nations Divided

In 1954, Vietnam is a divided nation, with Communists controlling the North, and anti-Communists in the South. The U.S. and Russia, engaged in a tense Cold War, begin providing support and supplies to opposing factions in the Vietnamese civil conflict.


Fearing the spread of Asian Communism, the U.S. increases the flow of aid, equipment, and "military advisors" during the early '60s-but still doesn't send any combat troops. When Pres. Kennedy is assassinated in November 1963, there are 16,000 U.S. "advisors" in Vietnam.

Six months later, Americans are told that two U.S. spy ships have been attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin. (Later investigations prove at least one of the attacks never happened.) Justified by the attacks, congress rapidly approves the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving the President power to wage all-out war against North Vietnam without a formal declaration of war. Within days, the U.S. uses the Selective Service System to begin drafting young men for mandatory military service. During the last half of the '60s, over 1.4 million men are drafted.


In February 1965, Pres. Johnson begins the air war, ordering sustained bombing of the North. He also sends the first ground troops to the South. A month later, faculty at the University of Michigan organize an SDS-supported "teach-in" at Ann Arbor. In April, the first major national anti-war demonstration, organized by the SDS, takes place in Washington. Before the year ends, the anti-war movement is strong enough to draw 100,000 protestors into the streets of 80 cities.

Over the next five years, the nation becomes deeply divided by the war. Peace protests swell in size, attracting activists from the civil rights movement and other political groups. But their parents and "the silent majority" generally support the Washington establishment. Some men refuse to serve, becoming draft dodgers by escaping to Canada and other safe harbors. Troops coming home from 'Nam find a nation in crisis, and peers actively protesting the war.

As the decade closes, a Peace Moratorium on October 15, 1969, turns into the largest demonstration in the nation's history: two million people march. The next month, Americans are horrified to learn that U.S. troops committed atrocities in a village called My Lai. Support for the war crumbles. The White House is pressured to negotiate for peace.

The War officially ends in 1973. The U.S. maintains a presence in the South until Saigon falls to the communists in April 1975. Vietnam is formally reunified July 2, 1976. In 1977, Pres. Carter pardons all draft dodgers.

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