NARRATOR: Washington, Christmas 1963. Five weeks after the assassination of President Kennedy. The new president spoke of the nation's losses and hopes.
PRESIDENT JOHNSON: We buried Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy, but we did not bury their dreams or their visions. They are our dreams and our visions today. So let us here on this Christmas night, determine that John Kennedy did not live or die in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time, the ancient vision of "Peace on earth, good will toward all men."
NARRATOR: Three months before President Kennedy's death, Martin Luther King, Jr. had focused national concern on civil rights with an impassioned call for racial harmony.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., August 28, 1963: I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today...
PRESIDENT JOHNSON, July 2, 1964: I'm about to sign into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
NARRATOR: President Johnson's liberal domestic policies dominated the news and eclipsed Vietnam. But the political consensus he built around civil rights and other Great Society programs was soon threatened by the war.
JOHN CHANCELLOR (NBC News): In 1964 and early 1965, the country was going along with the President. The arguments were being made increasingly to the country and through the media that Vietnam was important, that the United States had a commitment there, that something would have to be done.
MARINE NEWSREEL, March 8, 1965: NARRATOR: United States Marines head for security duty in South Vietnam. Their landing is at a beach, north of Danang, where they will guard the American jet airfield against attack by Vietcong guerrillas and infiltrators from North Vietnam only 80 miles away.
JOHN CHANCELLOR: And I remember having in my mind the thought that, "My God, I hope we're not getting into something here that the country can't handle."
WHITE PREACHER, November 1965: If tomorrow they tell you it's a blessed murder, that you are to declare war holy, then there's only one thing to do: Say "No."
DEMONSTRATORS: Treason! Treason! Treason! We shall live in peace! We shall live in peace!
NARRATOR: Opponents and supporters of the war clashed early in the Johnson administration. At first, the anti-war groups were small and little-noticed. They included civil rights activists, members of old left and women's organizations, pacifists, students and clergymen.
WILLIAM SLOAN COFFIN, JR.: So the clergy found themselves in a very difficult dilemma. Catholic bishops were very anti-Communist, so it was very hard to find a Catholic bishop who would say, "I am anti-Communist, but I think this war is evil." Rabbis were very afraid that if they opposed Johnson on the war in Vietnam, Johnson would not support them on Israel. So all these things were very much in the picture when it came to the clergy.
WASHINGTON, D.C., January 31, 1967 REPORTER: What is the purpose of your groups picketing the White House, Reverend Newhouse?
REVEREND NEWHOUSE: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam are here today holding a silent vigil, we'd like to think, rather than a picket, in order simply to express a cry of anguish about what we believe to be an immoral and self-defeating course, which our country finds itself increasingly bogged down in Vietnam.
REPORTER: You're being effectively counter-picketed by an almost equal number of people. Reverend Reynolds, what is the difference in the opinion of your group and that one across the street?
REVEREND REYNOLDS: Well, about as much difference as day and night. They believe the war in Vietnam is immoral and inhuman, and we believe it's essential to defend our freedom and to keep our word and our commitments made to the South Vietnamese. It's immoral to keep our boys over there in a battle where they're suffering and dying if we're not going to win!
NARRATOR: Despite increasing draft calls, college students could avoid military service if they remained in school.
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA, February 1967: STUDENT: I don't want to go to Vietnam, because I don't want to get killed. ...if I have to, I will.
NARRATOR: Student attendance at Vietnam teach-ins was growing.
TEACH-IN, 1967 PROFESSOR MICHAELS: I think we should stop having, letting the President fight an armchair war from the White House and turn it over to our generals in Vietnam who know how to fight a war.
PROFESSOR ROSS: As far as I remember American history it's been a traditional principle that civilians exercise control over the military, that we never turn into a warfare state, in which generals have a completely free hand.
PROFESSOR MICHAELS: You are not afraid of the Communist menace. I'll put that in quotes if you like. However, I am. In 50 short years, the Communists, who started with 17 followers, have enslaved 40 percent of the earth's people, and 25 percent of the earth's land mass. This is more than Christianity can count standing after nearly 2,000, and you tell us there's nothing to worry about? How can you stand there, insult the intelligence of these, students, feeding them...
PROFESSOR ROSS: My apologies...
NARRATOR: Blacks were joining the military amid sharpening debate.
STOKLEY CARMICHAEL (Black Power activist), May 1967: When they get up on television, and Lyndon Baines Johnson talk all that garbage about he's sending boys over there to fight for the rights of colored people, you ought to know that's a lie. 'Cause we live here with them, and they don't ever do a thing for us.
BAYARD RUSTIN (civil rights activist): As the caskets begin to come home, people begin to re-evaluate, and the very fact that there were a disproportionate number of blacks in Vietnam, meant that, very early, a disproportionate number of caskets began to come back to the black community. At that point they began to re-evaluate.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., April 15, 1967: Despite feeble protestations to the contrary, the promises of the Great Society have been shot down on the battlefield of Vietnam. The pursuit of this widened war has narrowed the promised dimensions of the domestic welfare programs, making the poor white and Negro bear the heaviest burdens, both at the front and at home.
NARRATOR: As the war dragged on into 1967, street rhetoric grew tougher.
INTERVIEW WITH MARTHA RAYE, May 13, 1967: REPORTER: How much time have you spent there, Martha?
MARTHA RAYE: In Vietnam? Fourteen months.
REPORTER: Fourteen months.
MARTHA RAYE: Yes, sir.
REPORTER: Are you disturbed about the demonstrations like we had a month or so ago, against our partici...
MARTHA RAYE: I just don't pay attention to 'em anymore.
REPORTER: You don't...
MARTHA RAYE: We got too many good Americans.
AMERICAN LEGIONNAIRE: 99 percent of the people in this country are terrific Americans and disagree entirely with flag burnings, carrying enemy colors, giving medical supplies to the enemy, et cetera.
NARRATOR: A few Congressmen, led by Senator Fulbright, now questioned Johnson's right to wage war without a declaration of war.
SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE, August 21-24, 1967: SENATOR FULBRIGHT: Would the President -- if there was no resolution -- be with or without constitutional authority to send U.S. soldiers to South Vietnam in the numbers that are there today? If there was no resolution.
NICHOLAS KATZENBACH (Undersecretary of State): It would be my view, as I indicated, Mr. Chairman, that he does have that authority...
U.S. SENATOR: That's a difficult doctrine for me to agree to, that the Congress cannot control the President of the United States from the standpoint of the use of the withholding of the troops of this country abroad. I simply can't go along with that doctrine.
KATZENBACH: But didn't that resolution authorize the President to use the armed forces of the United States in whatever way was necessary? Didn't it?
FULBRIGHT: Well, this is...
KATZENBACH: What could a Declaration of War have done...
FULBRIGHT: This is...
KATZENBACH: That would have, that would have given the President more authority and a clearer voice of the Congress of the United States than that did?
SENATOR GORE: Well, it was not the country's decision to land combat troops in Vietnam. The country hasn't made that decision. The President has made that decision.
NARRATOR: The administration stood firm, and Congress continued to vote money for the war. Troop levels continued to rise.
Though some men fled the country to avoid service, most complied with the draft. Some who opposed conscription on grounds of conscience burned their draft cards. Some joined an anti-draft organization called the Resistance.
DAVID HARRIS (anti-draft organizer): The Resistance was founded in an attempt to organize explicit public non-cooperation with conscription through the action of returning draft cards to the government. Very simple, open, public declaration that we would not cooperate, and if the government intended to enforce the Selective Service Act, then it was going to have to send us to jail.
Well, October 16 had been the date that we had set when we first had started the Resistance for the first national draft card return, during which all around the country and as it turned out, in 18 different cities, there would be demonstrations at which young people would collect draft cards and give them to the federal government. And in San Francisco, which was one of the two largest demonstrations on that date in the country, we all, 2,000 of us gathered on the steps of the Federal Building in San Francisco.
ORGANIZER, San Francisco, October 16, 1967: If it takes our lives to change this country, then that's what's going to happen.
DAVID HARRIS: We had this basket, and announced on the bull horn, okay, the time had come, and out goes the basket. There is this scene, of all these hands coming up holding draft cards, dropping them into the basket, and the basket circulates through the crowd, and comes back up to the front, and we sort of look at it and get ready to go inside, and then all of a sudden from the back of the crowd these shouts start coming, "More! Back here! Back here! We want it, send the basket!"
It was an attempt to call the question on the rest of the anti-war movement, to say "Put up or shut up," no more of this screaming against the war and then coming home and making sure you have your student deferment in your pocket. If you were going to be against the war, then put your body where your mouth was.
DAVID DELLINGER (anti-war organizer): So we coined a slogan "From protest to resistance," which was that you'd keep marching and rallying, but that we would step up the pace of non-violent civil disobedience.
NARRATOR: The new tactics were tested in the March on the Pentagon, October 1967.
SENATOR JOHN STENNIS: It is clear from the evidence that I have that this is a part of a move by the Communists, especially of North Vietnamese government, to divide the American people, disrupt our war effort, discredit our government before the entire world. The leaders of North Vietnam consider the March on the Pentagon tomorrow as much of their war effort as the guerrilla warfare in South Vietnam and the North Vietnamese army assaulting our troops on the battlefield. Those who participate in these demonstrations tomorrow will be, in effect, cooperating with and assisting our enemy.
WASHINGTON, D.C., October 21, 1967 CROWD: God Bless America! God Bless America!
PETER, PAUL, AND MARY: "There is no freedom in our land...Every hill and vale and everywhere...Isn't this a time, isn't this a time, a time to try the soul of men, isn't this a terrible time."
DAVID DELLINGER: I want to ask you what has happened to a country whose political objectives must be secured at the end of a bayonet!
NARRATOR: More than 55,000 demonstrated -- united in opposition to the draft and the war, but divided on many other issues.
CROWD: Peace. Peace. Peace. Peace Now! Peace Now! Peace Now!
NARRATOR: The protestors, who were mainly students, faced other young Americans who were already in uniform.
Most protested peacefully, but 5,000 rushed the Pentagon, some taunting and cursing the troops. More than 600 were arrested during the march.
POLICE/DEMONSTRATORS: Take 'em on back, lock 'em up. Look out, look out.
NARRATOR: The demonstration had no impact on policy, but it outraged some officials, including the head of Selective Service.
GENERAL LEWIS HERSHEY (Selective Service Director): To me a demonstration is some legal thing that you engage in under your right to let people know how you feel about things. Now, whenever we get to a place where the demonstrations more than accidentally, interferes with our operations, I don't think there's any question about it ceases to be a demonstration, and became a violation of the law.
SENATOR J. WILLIAM FULBRIGHT, November, 1967: I don't recall, since I've been here, as strong a division of opinion as to the wisdom of a policy as now exists with regard to the Vietnamese war. That's true, I believe, in the Committee; I think, from the reports in the newspapers and magazines, that that exists in the country.
NARRATOR: The economy was turning sour, and turning some businessmen against the war. Johnson discussed his decision to raise taxes with a group of federal home loan officers.
PRESIDENT JOHNSON, October 6, 1967: I know it's not a popular thing for a President to do, to ask anyone to, for a penny out of a dollar to pay for a war that's not popular either.
NARRATOR: By late 1967, for the first time, a poll showed that a majority of Americans considered the war a mistake.
PRESIDENT JOHNSON, November 17, 1967: We know that most people's intentions are good. We don't question their motives, we've never said they're unpatriotic. Although they say some pretty ugly things about us. And we believe very strongly on preserving the right to differ in this country, and the right to dissent, and if I have done a good job of anything since I've been president, it's to insure that there are plenty of dissenters.
SAM BROWN (student peace activist): In 1967, it's reasonable to say that most people who were concerned to try and create a political alternative to Lyndon Johnson because of the war in Vietnam, didn't much care who the presidential candidate was, as long as it was somebody who had a chance of winning.
NARRATOR: Early in 1968, voters, shocked by a massive enemy offensive in Vietnam, the Tet offensive, were courted by presidential challenger Eugene McCarthy.
EUGENE MCCARTHY, March 1968: I've been saying that I intended to stop the war, and I've been, I think, explaining how, by proceeding to negotiate a coalition government, or at least to be prepared to accept a coalition government. But both the President and Mr. Nixon are talking about ending the war, and are not saying when, or how, or at what cost. And I think that's the issue in the New Hampshire primary.
NARRATOR: Senator McCarthy's strong showing in New Hampshire encouraged another candidate -- Senator Robert Kennedy, brother of the late president. His campaign got an early lift from President Johnson's surprise announcement that he would not run for re-election.
ROBERT KENNEDY, April 3, 1968: But I need your help. I need your assistance. So, over the period of the next 30 days, will you help me?
KENNEDY: Will you tell your friends?
KENNEDY: Will you whisper it, or will you yell it?
CROWD: Yell it!
NARRATOR: War critics Kennedy and McCarthy dominated the Democratic primaries.
Under FBI surveillance and troubled by rising violence in the anti-war and civil rights movements, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke in Memphis, and foreshadowed his own death.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., April 3, 1968: We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life, longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I'm happy tonight, I'm not worried about anything, I'm not fearing any man...Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
NARRATOR: King's assassination the next day rocked the nation and sparked riots in more than a hundred cities. Black power militancy increased.
Unlike most political leaders, Kennedy had sympathized with King's opposition to the war.
April 4, 1967: REPORTER: Senator Kennedy, would you comment on the death of Dr. King?
ROERT KENNEDY: I wrote out some words. He dedicated himself to justice and love between fellow human beings. He gave his life for that principle. And I think it's up to those of us who are here, as fellow citizens and public officials, and those of us in government, to carry out that dream, to try to end the divisions that exist so deeply within our country, and remove the stain of bloodshed from our land.
NARRATOR: Opposed to both Kennedy and McCarthy, Johnson picked Vice President Hubert Humphrey as his heir-apparent.
HUBERT HUMPHREY: We've had some very severe blows lately, and we've got to try to bind up these wounds. And if this means, quite frankly, if it means that I don't have the time for campaigning like an ordinary candidate, that's the way it'll have to be.
NARRATOR: Over the next two months, Kennedy and McCarthy continued their rivalry in the Democratic primaries. The contest reached a climax in California.
Kennedy won. His assassin was waiting.
ROBERT KENNEDY, June 5, 1968: My thanks to all of you, and now it's on to Chicago, and let's win there.
NARRATOR: McCarthy's campaign workers were watching reports of Kennedy's victory celebration.
MCCARTHY HEADQUARTERS: I don't know who's been shot.
"As we get more definite details, we'll bring them to you. If you do not leave the room, we cannot get medical aid to the Senator. Now would you please leave the room."
Kennedy's been shot. Shh. Shh.
"Are there any doctors? Help clear this room. Are there any doctors? Will you please help clear the room. Help get medical aid to the Senator."
They've shot Robert Kennedy.
"You saw what happened. I'm sorry, I can't make a comment right now."
NARRATOR: To many, Kennedy's assassination two months after King's, seemed confirmation that the country was on the verge of chaos.
Then came Chicago. Torn by strikes and braced for violence, Mayor Daley's city welcomed the divided delegates to the 1968 Democratic convention.
Relations between the police and the press corps were tense.
Vice President Humphrey, choice of the party regulars, was assured of the nomination before he arrived.
HUBERT HUMPHREY, Chicago, 1968: Well, say, good to see you...
NARRATOR: But Humphrey and the Johnson Administration were still targets of McCarthy's muted attacks.
EUGENE MCCARTHY, August 1968: I think the case is rather clear about what's wrong about our involvement in Vietnam. And I think the case is rather clear as to what we ought to be doing about our problems here at home. It calls for some quiet and some restraint, a kind of backing off for a minute to look at America, and to consider what we ought to be doing, and the nation has done that, and with your help, and the help of others in these next three days, I believe that the Democratic convention will do the same here in Chicago. Thank you very much.
NARRATOR: Others had a different purpose.
DAVID DELLINGER, August 1968: Our position is that whoever the candidates are and whatever the platforms, that we must stay in the streets and stay in active resistance or else there will be no peace. Either in the ghettos or in Vietnam.
OUTSIDE CONVENTION HALL, Chicago, 1968 TOM HAYDEN (Students for a Democratic Society): We don't know...
REPORTER: Do you have a permit to march on the amphitheater?
REPORTER: But you gonna march anyway? Are you expecting trouble?
HAYDEN: We expect to march. We expect trouble all the time.
NARRATOR: Thousands of highly visible protestors descended upon Chicago -- militants, pacifists, and hippies -- with 500 undercover agents among them.
CONFRONTATION IN GRANT PARK You're in an assembly which you have no permit for...
You are on our property which you are defacing. If you do not leave, you will be subject to arrest. Everybody...
NARRATOR: Some demonstrators were non-violent. Others deliberately provoked the police.
FRANK SULLIVAN (Chicago Police spokesperson): These people are revolutionaries bent on the destruction of the government of the United States of America. They're a pitiful handful. They have almost no support. But by golly, they get the cooperation of the news media. They're built into something really big. Gentlemen, the hardcore leadership of this group are Communist.
ROBERT GARVER (Chicago policeman): So I told my partner, I says, "Grab your club and jump out swingin' before they tip us because we'd sooner fight than roast." So we jumped out, or I should say I jumped out first, and he stayed in the wagon and called for help. We got out, I grabbed one, I hit another one down, and then somebody grabbed me from the rear and flung me into the crowd, and these dirty hippy son of a so-and-so's, they called me a mother-hunchin' so-and-so, and a white fascist ...They said, "You're gettin' some of your own medicine."
And then some citizen -- I don't know who he was, but I wish I could find out -- he stopped his car and jumped out with a little pinch bar, and he started helpin' us, otherwise I think they'd have either killed me or crippled me more than what I am.
NARRATOR: Amid the violence, talk of peace.
VICE PRESIDENT HUBERT HUMPHREY: Six months ago in Vietnam, the only alternative before us was force -- or withdrawal. And I think that withdrawal would be totally unrealistic and would be a catastrophe. The second alternative which I now speak of is the conference in Paris. The negotiations are underway. They're not making a great deal of progress, but they are underway. Now we've been seeking to get those negotiations for years.
The roadblock to peace, my dear friend, is not in Washington, D.C. It is in Hanoi, and we ought to recognize it as such.
NARRATOR: Over four days and nights, sporadic battles in the streets were echoed by angry debates on the war inside the convention hall.
PAUL O'DWYER (New York delegate): It is altogether too late here for us to begin to discuss the merits of the war in Vietnam. That question has been presented to seven million Democrats across this nation. That question was presented in the states where there are primaries. And the people have found an indictment of that war.
NEW YORK DELEGATES ON FLOOR: We want peace now! We want peace now!
PETERSON (delegate): Most delegates to this convention do not know that thousands of young people are being beaten in the streets of Chicago.
CARL ALBERT: Wisconsin is not recognized for that purpose!
JOHN CHANCELLOR: The interesting thing was that the size of the protest against the war became so large that it was impossible to avoid it as a news story. A lot of people say we were manipulated by that. I don't think so. We had learned to avoid manipulation and we were simply responding to masses and masses of people. If you think of the 1968 Democratic convention and the fighting on Michigan Avenue in Chicago between hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands of demonstrators, it was a story of inescapable news value. It had to be covered.
NARRATOR: The demonstrators were trying to march on the convention hall without a police permit. Blocked they sat down in the street.
CBS NEWS FILM: SPECTATOR: I've never seen anything as horrible in my whole life!
CROWD: The whole world is watching!
WOMAN: "We shall overcome. We shall overcome."
CROWD: The victory is ours! The victory is ours! The victory is ours!
JOHN CHANCELLOR: And I remember Walter Mears of the Associated Press writing a lead the night that Hubert Humphrey received the Democratic nomination at that convention. And he wrote something like, "Hubert Humphrey, a man of peace, received the Democratic nomination tonight under armed guard."
JERRY RUBIN (Youth International Party): It would have been impossible to hold the Democratic National Convention in any city in the United States, or throughout the world, without demonstrations or disruption. Daley's right on this point. Chicago just happened to be the city. It would have been impossible to hold it anywhere. Because the Democratic party has blood on its hands. And because there's a struggle going on in the world today between young people and between those old, menopausal men who run this country. And it's a struggle about what the future of this country is about.
SAM BROWN: Well, Chicago was a sort of sad time, because we'd been involved in the politics and the process of talking to people, and going out and talking door to door. What was quite clear was that a great many of the American people in fact were sympathetic to the anti-war movement. And yet suddenly the image that they got was not of this nice young person coming to their door and saying, "Wouldn't you like to vote for Gene McCarthy," but of people shouting obscenities and disrupting the city.
DAVID DELLINGER: But it weakened the anti-war movement around the edges at least, and that became, the edges became what Richard Nixon played on.
NARRATOR: The Republican candidate delivered a familiar campaign message to Chicagoans a week after the Democrats went home.
RICHARD NIXON, 1968: My friends, let me make one thing clear. This is a nation of laws, and as Abraham Lincoln has said, no one is above the law, no one is below the law, and we're going to enforce the law. And Americans should remember that, if we're going to have law and order.
NARRATOR: Handicapped by his support of Johnson's war policies, Humphrey had trouble taking the offensive.
AUGUST 1968 HECKLERS: Dump the Hump! Dump the Hump!
HUBERT HUMPHREY: I believe the Republican candidate owes it to the people to come out of the shadows.
HUBERT HUMPHREY: Would you mind bringing your television camera down here? You fellow do an awful lot to promote that with that camera. Come on here, will you? Knock it off, will you please?
NARRATOR: While Humphrey tried to separate himself from Johnson, Nixon lumped them together in attacks on the administration's record.
RICHARD NIXON, October 1968: Let me tell you what those four years have done to America. The longest war that America's ever had in its history; The worst crime wave we've ever had in our history; The highest taxes we've ever had in our history; The highest raise in the cost of living that we've had in a generation. And the lowest respect for the United States of America in our history.
HUBERT HUMPHREY: Let America know that we can't be taken for granted. We're going to have the biggest election surprise that America has known in 20 years. We're going to win this election. Thank you very much!
NARRATOR: It was not to be. Humphrey's campaign took off when he called for a U.S. peace initiative, and it accelerated when Johnson declared a bombing halt. But Nixon, promising to end the war with honor, won by a slender margin.
NIXON INAUGURATION, January 20, 1969: You, Richard Milhaus Nixon do solemnly swear.
I, Richard Milhaus Nixon do solemnly swear.
NARRATOR: The "honeymoon" period traditionally granted a new president was charged with the expectation that Nixon would unveil a plan to end the war. But during the first six months of 1969, U.S. casualties were high.
Life magazine published portraits of GIs killed in a single week.
And week after week, every Thursday night, network news viewers saw the body counts.
HENRY KISSINGER (National Security Adviser): I entered government with a conviction that one could create a large consensus behind a reasonable program, which would then impress Hanoi with our determination to be both conciliatory, but also to indicate the limits of our conciliatoriness. That objective we never achieved, because the moderate groups always felt they had to be a step ahead of the administration.
DEMONSTRATORS, Newton, Kansas, October 1969: This protest is directed not toward the young men, American or Vietnamese who have fought and died...
SAM BROWN: The notion of the moratorium was a pretty straightforward one, which was that we had to take the anti-war movement off the campus and build it back into the community. That meant you had to have language that was moderate and not strident and off-putting, that you had to have people -- events, which moderate people could participate in, it had to be locally organized so that people knew the people who were organizing it, sort of head-land folks had to feel that it belonged to them.
FAIRFIELD, CONNECTICUT, October 1969: STUDENT #1: But there's going to be a wake of deaths.
STUDENT #2: There are millions of government officials in all these little towns that support the United States.
STUDENT #3: But the problem is, that most of South Vietnam support the Vietcong.
NARRATOR: In Washington, the moratorium drew 50,000. Over one million participated nationwide.
North Vietnam's Premier Pham Van Dong sent a message of friendship to the organizers.
VICE PRESIDENT SPIRO AGNEW, October 1969: And this message from a Communist regime in North Vietnam is a shocking intrusion into the affairs of the American people by an enemy power. I think the leaders of the demonstrations are chargeable with the knowledge of this communication, and responsible to the extent that they must make perfectly clear what these demonstrations are for.
NARRATOR: At the same time, supporters of the government staged counter demonstrations.
NARRATOR: The moratorium ended with candlelight ceremonies in Washington and elsewhere.
BLONDE: All I wanted to say was, that I am for peace. That I'm not exactly sure how it should come about. But I'm saying that because I want peace, I'm standing here, I'm marching, I'm holding my candle.
RAY PRICE (aide to President Nixon): What the protesters did not know, could not know, and what most others did not know, was that for months, Nixon had been privately warning Hanoi that November 1 was their deadline. That is, the first anniversary of the Johnson bombing halt, which had produced nothing from North Vietnam. That unless they were ready to negotiate seriously, and showed us that they were by November 1, they would bear some very heavy, unstated consequences. With the implication that these would be military. Now, Hanoi was a diligent reader of U.S. public opinion and of U.S. demonstrations. Nixon was very worried that the October 15 moratorium, just two weeks before this deadline that he had privately given Hanoi, would be seen by them as evidence that he could not deliver.
PRESIDENT NIXON, November 3, 1969: So tonight, to you, the great, silent majority of my fellow Americans, I ask for your support. I pledged in my campaign for the presidency to end the war in a way that we could win the peace. I have initiated a plan of action which will enable me to keep that pledge. The more support I can have from the American people, the sooner that pledge can be redeemed. For the more divided we are at home, the less likely the enemy is to negotiate at Paris. Let us be united for peace. Let us also be united against defeat. Because let us understand, North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.
HENRY KISSINGER: The majority of the population on the whole supported the administration, so there was a conflict, strangely enough, between what the elite was thinking and what the general public was thinking. It was not that the anti-war movement ever achieved a majority, but when 30 percent of the population and many of those who write for the media and speak publicly, oppose a given cause, confusion is inevitable.
NARRATOR: Though Nixon had started major troop withdrawals from Vietnam, mid-November brought another, larger protest to Washington, called the "Mobilization." Vice President Agnew took a tough line.
SPIRO AGNEW, November 1969: The American who relies upon television for his news might conclude that the majority of American students are embittered radicals. That the majority of black Americans feel no regard for their country.
MOBILIZATION DEMONSTRATORS: One, two, three, four, Tricky Dick, stop the war!
SPIRO AGNEW: That violence and lawlessness are the rule, rather than the exception, on the American campus. We know that none of these conclusions is true. Perhaps the place to start looking for a credibility gap is not in the offices of the government in Washington, but in the studios of the networks in New York!
JOHN CHANCELLOR: After the Agnew attack -- I'm a pretty careful reader of the newspapers and I was then a contributing editor to the Huntley/Brinkley report -- I used to go around saying to people when they would say: well, what's your reaction to Agnew, I would say, well, a good journalist, when he gets into a serious subject, always thinks twice before using certain words, and I said then, and I believe now, that we were thinking thrice.
MOBILIZATION ORGANIZER, November 1969: Members of the press, just so you know now. All these people are going to form outside on the sidewalk. And they'll stand there for a number of minutes for you to take pictures, if you want to, ask questions. They'll then proceed very slowly across the bridge for more pictures and questions. On the other side of the bridge they will not speak to you. Thank you.
SPIRO AGNEW: How many marches and demonstrations would we have if the marchers did not know that the ever-faithful TV cameras would be there to record their antics for the next news...
NARRATOR: Amid arguments whether peace protests lengthened or shortened the war in Vietnam, the war in America was a continuing story.
After the Mobilization, another shock -- Life published pictures of Vietnamese peasants massacred in 1968 by U.S. soldiers in a village called My Lai.
The trial of Lt. William Calley and others implicated in the My Lai massacre haunted the news for months. Only Calley was convicted, in a swirl of controversy. Was he scapegoat or war criminal? Was the massacre an isolated case or a common occurrence? Had draft inequities hurt the morale of the Army?
The Nixon administration reduced draft calls and instituted a lottery, which was meant to be more fair and more predictable. Men whose birthdates came up with low numbers knew that they would soon hear from their draft boards.
JAMES FALLOWS: I was coming back into Boston and I heard that my birthdate, August 2, had come up as number 45 in the draft list. And suddenly I realized that this was something that I had to figure what to do about as I had not really thought I would have to. The course I ended up choosing, and again, that was in the spirit of those times, was to look for the painless way out, namely a physical deferment. And with a combination of just generalized anxiety and with determination to get out, I lost about ten pounds over the next few months.
NARRATOR: Helped by a sympathetic doctor, Fallows succeeded in failing his physical.
JAMES FALLOWS: Near the end of the induction day as the people from Cambridge were getting ready to go back in to their new lives, the buses started arriving from a white working class district of Boston. And while nine out of ten of my comrades from Harvard and MIT were getting out with their doctors' excuses, the same proportion of people from this part of town were, were marching right through, were going off to the military, were going off to he war. Nobody could avoid recognizing what that meant then. We knew that while we were not going to war, we were seeing the people who were...We were seeing the people who were, were going to be killed.
STEVE BELL, ABC news reporter, April 1970: The military command post, just across this road, is outside the town of Ghoda, only a few miles from the Cambodian border. As best we can tell, this is the South Vietnamese Command Post for the operation into the Cambodian Parrots Beak. But the strictest kind of security is being enforced here, even to the point where the one American adviser we've seen warned us not to ask questions.
NARRATOR: The same night this story was broadcast on the evening news, President Nixon went on television to announce that he was sending American troops into Cambodia to fight the Vietnamese Communists.
PRESIDENT NIXON, April 30, 1970: If, when the chips are down, the world's most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world. It is not our power, but our will and character that is being tested tonight. The question all Americans must ask and answer tonight is this: does the richest and strongest nation in the history of the world have the character to meet a direct challenge by a group which rejects every effort to win a just peace, ignores our warning, tramples on solemn agreements, violates the neutrality of an unarmed people, and uses our prisoners as hostages?
RAY PRICE: I don't think he meant it to have an inflammatory effect, but it did, and it sent the country into a spasm of hysteria which then was greatly exacerbated a few days later when four students were killed at Kent State.
NARRATOR: On the night of May 2, the Kent State R.O.T.C. hall was put to the torch. Two days later, students confronted Ohio National Guardsmen. Some guardsmen fired into the crowd. Four students were killed. Student protests erupted on hundreds of campuses. Many shut down.
PRESIDENT NIXON, May 1, 1970: You know, you see these bums, you know, blowin' up the campuses. Listen, the boys that are on the college campuses today are the luckiest people in the world.
NARRATOR: Nixon's earlier comment on student protests had been widely reported.
PRESIDENT NIXON: And here they are, burning up the books. Storming around about this issue, I mean, you name it, get rid of the war, they'll be another one.
HENRY KISSINGER: Nixon's handling of the anti-war movement was not generous, and contributed to the polarization of our society. Nixon, when challenged politically, tended to react with certain gut feelings, and he never found the language of respect and compassion which might have bridged -- created a bridge at least -- to the more reasonable elements of the anti-war movement, so that civil war conditions developed.
CONSTRUCTION WORKER, May 1970: I got a family, my boy went into the army when he was 18 years old and a day. Suppose they come over and take over the country. What are you going to do then if you don't back up your own president? And I don't care who's president, we back him up. And that's what all the working men do. They love the flag of this country. And they live here. And they're going to do everything they can to protect it.
ABC NEWS: This week straight from the heartland.
NARRATOR: Television covered the conflict in the cities and on occasion it turned to what ABC News' Don Farmer termed the "heartland."
DON FARMER: There are many towns and counties like this one, and these people make up an important segment of American society, but too often their voices seem to get lost amidst the clamor from our urban centers, and so ABC News came here to Grand Island to listen.
MAN IN THE STREET: Well, we voted Nixon in as our president and we have to go along with his judgment.
WOMAN IN THE STREET: I think probably we do have closed minds of, for a lot of things. We are going by the old rules and regulations and we haven't advanced, and I have two children in college now and they're for this moratorium and all this, and very very concerned with the Cambodia situation.
YOUNG WOMAN W/FLAG: One of the reasons I bought the flag is because I have a brother-in-law that's fighting in Vietnam right now, and I feel this is one way that I can tell my feelings about what he's doing over there and show some kind of support. Another reason is because I want my sons to grow up with a respect for the United States flag, and I feel if they see it flown here every day that they will get this respect.
NARRATOR: The heartland remained conservative. But some Americans were coming back from Vietnam with changed perspectives. One of them was Lt. John Kerry, here filmed in the Mekong delta with his own 8 millimeter camera.
JOHN KERRY: A typical mission really didn't have any sense to it. The logic that was explained to us by the command in Vietnam was that we were quote, "showing the flag in the back yard of the enemy." There were people who believed, there were people who believed that we were fighting communism and that this was terrific and it was important, and who were all swept up in it. But I think most people did not. Most people began to see that we weren't gaining any territory, we weren't winning the hearts and minds of anybody, we certainly weren't securing any particular stronghold or strategic objectives, we were simply doing a very macho kind of public demonstration of our presence.
People did not listen to the veterans of the war. The press itself had difficulty in perceiving of a group of Vietnam veterans being opposed to the war. And that it was a story of profound importance, why the war itself was wrong. And why we were not going to be successful, and why we had to recognize that. We just felt that story had to be told, and the only way to tell it was to take it to Washington in that form.
VIETNAM VETERANS DEMONSTRATION, April 1971 VETERAN: I volunteered for the whole thing. Volunteered to go into the service. Volunteered for Vietnam. Volunteered for every single mission I went on.
I was there ten days and I was in Cambodia. You people don't know that. I was in Cambodia with orders. Talk to veterans. They're here all week. Talk to them. They'll tell you things you won't believe.
The House on American Activities Committee has rated our organization the third greatest threat to internal security in this country. Right after the Weathermen and the Black Panthers. Ladies and gentlemen, you know, I did it. You know? I did it because I'm an American. I haven't changed. My politics have changed in that I'm not willing to take it anymore. But, I am still non-violent. I still believe in this system. I'm still visiting my senator.
WOMAN: A lot of taxes goes to support just what you're doing today. I wish you'd get out and get a job and work!
VETERAN ON CAPITOL STEPS: I'm from upstate New York. And I'd like to turn in my Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. I lost my leg in Vietnam, and I'm totally opposed to this war we're carrying on over there. And Senator Buckley and Congressman James Hanley will receive my medals next week in the mail.
NARRATOR: One by one, decorated veterans flung away their medals on the steps of the Capitol. The American war was winding down, GI casualties were decreasing, but those veterans who opposed the war were asking for something more than an end to hostilities.
SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE HEARING, April 1971: Lt. John Kerry: We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped their memories of us. And so, 30 years from now, our brothers go down the street, without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask "Why," we will be able to say "Vietnam," and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead, the place where America finally turned and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.
NARRATOR: Across America, thousands of families by now were visiting the gravesites of their children killed in Vietnam. And millions of Americans were sharing their losses.
FAMILY AT GRAVE: Our father, who art in heaven...Hail Mary, full of grace...in his memory.