War and Conflict

Vietnam War

Why did so many Americans protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War?

The Vietnam War (1954–75) divided the American public: The antiwar movement maintained that the conflict in Southeast Asia did not pose a risk to U.S. security (contrary to the “domino effect” that Washington, D.C., foresaw), and in the absence of a threat to national security, protesters wondered, “What are we fighting for?” Meanwhile, President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973) slowly stepped up the number of troops sent to Vietnam. Many never came home, and those who did came home changed. Mass protests were held, including the hallmark of the era, the sit-in. Protesters accused the U.S. government of not only involving Americans in a conflict in which the country had no part, but of supporting a corrupt, unpopular—and undemocratic—government in South Vietnam.

Those Americans who supported the nation’s fight against Communism eventually became frustrated by the United States’ inability to achieve a decisive victory in Vietnam. Even for the so-called hawks, who supported the war, the mounting costs of the war hit home when President Johnson requested new taxes. As the casualty count soared, public approval of U.S. participation in Vietnam dropped. By the end of the 1960s, under increasing public pressure, the government began to withdraw American troops from Vietnam. The evacuation of the ground troops was not complete until 1973. But even then, soldiers who were missing in action (MIAs) and prisoners of war (POWs) were left behind.


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