War and Protest - the US in Vietnam (1969 - 1970)
Created | Updated Sep 1, 2011
I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded... I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed... I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.
- Dwight D Eisenhower
In 'Operation Dewey Canyon', elements of the Third Marine Division based in the Da Krong valley invaded Laos. This was to be the last major operation by US Marines in Vietnam.
On 23 February, 1969, a coordinated offensive by the NLF/PALF started. A total of 110 targets in South Vietnam, including the City of Saigon, were attacked. Two days later, 36 US Marines, camped near the border with North Vietnam, were killed in a raid conducted by the North Vietnamese Army.
US troops began offensive strikes in the area of the North Vietnamese border on 15 March, 1969.
On 17 March, 1969, President Nixon authorised 'Operation Menu'. This operation involved secretly bombing locations within the borders of Cambodia, targeting North Vietnamese supply bases near the border of Vietnam.
On 23 March, 1969, the Laotian Army launched a large attack against the Communists, supported by its own air units and the United States Air Force. In June, the enemy launched an attack of its own and gained ground. In August, Laotian forces attacked again and regained what had been lost. The United States Air Force flew hundreds of missions in each of these actions.
On 30 April, 1969, US troop levels were at 543,400. This was the highest level reached at any time during the war. A total of 33,641 Americans had been killed this date, more than had been killed during the entire Korean War.
The battle at 'Hamburger Hill', in the A Shau Valley near Hue, raged from 10 May through 20 May. The 101st Airborne had 46 members killed in the course of that battle. Another 400 were wounded. After US forces had taken the hill, the troops were ordered to abandon it by their commander. The North Vietnamese army moved in and recaptured the hill, unopposed.
As a result of the fiasco at 'Hamburger Hill', which one US Senator labelled 'senseless and irresponsible', Commander General Creighton Abrams was ordered to avoid any further large-scale battles. Small unit actions were to be used instead.
On 8 June, 1969, President Nixon met with Nguyen Van Thieu, President of South Vietnam, and informed him that US troop levels were going to be sharply reduced. During a joint press conference with Thieu, Nixon announced a policy of 'Vietnamization' of the war and a reduction of US troops in Vietnam. The first phase of 'Vietnamization' was to include the withdrawal of 25,000 American military personnel.
The first US troops actually left Vietnam on 8 July, 1969. The 9th infantry Division sent 800 men home.
On 12 August, 1969, another NLF/PALF offensive started. The NLF/PALF staged attacks on 150 targets throughout South Vietnam.
North Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh died of a heart attack on 2 September, 1969. He was succeeded by Le Duan, who publicly read Ho Chi Minh's will, which urged the North Vietnamese to fight 'until the last Yankee has gone'.
President Nixon ordered additional US troop withdrawals on 16 September, 1969 (35,000) and 15 December, 1969 (50,000). The 16 September order included an order to reduce the number of draft call-ups.
There were 474,400 American soldiers in Vietnam on December 31, 1969.
The Pentagon Papers, the top-secret study of US involvement in Vietnam from World War II to May, 1968, were completed in January 1969. The study determined that US policy makers had engaged in miscalculation, bureaucratic arrogance, and deception regarding the role of the United States in Vietnam. It found that the US government had continually resisted full disclosure of increasing military involvement in Southeast Asia - air strikes over Laos, raids along the coast of North Vietnam, and offensive actions by US Marines that had taken place long before the American public was informed.
On 9 April, 1969, 300 students at Harvard University seized the administration building in protest of the war. They threw out eight deans and locked themselves in. They were later forcibly removed from the building.
In May 1969 The New York Times broke the news of the secret bombing of Cambodia. President Nixon ordered the FBI to wiretap the telephones of four journalists and 13 government officials to determine the source of news leak.
Students for a Democratic Society held its national convention in Chicago from 18 June through 22 June. The organisation split into at least two factions; the Progressive Labor Party and the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM). The Weathermen, later known as The Weather Underground1, a group that would shortly split from RYM, held an action it called The Days of Rage in Chicago from 6 October through 11 October.
On 27 June, 1969, Life magazine displayed portrait photos of all 242 Americans killed in Vietnam during the previous week, including the 46 killed at 'Hamburger Hill'. The impact of these photos, and some of the faces behind the numbers, stunned Americans and increased anti-war sentiment in the country.
Days of Rage
You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
- Bob Dylan
On Monday, 6 October, just before midnight, members of the Weathermen blew up the United State's only monument to policemen. The statue in Chicago's Haymarket Square, a tribute to a police officer who was killed by a bomb thrown during the course of a union rally in 18862, was blown from its pedestal. Pieces of the statue's leg landed on a nearby expressway. The force of the explosion shattered about 100 windows in the area. Thus began the 'Days of Rage'.
Over the next two days, the members of the Weathermen practised their street-fighting techniques, in anticipation of a pitched battle with the Chicago Police Department during the 'official' Days of Rage protest, scheduled to start on Wednesday, 8 October. Weathermen organisers expected thousands, or tens of thousands, of protesters to show up in answer to their call to 'shut down the City of Chicago'.
That Wednesday evening, about 300 people had gathered in Lincoln Park. They were defensively armed with goggles, helmets, gas masks, heavy clothing and first aid kits. Their intent to be on the giving, as well as the receiving, end of the violence was obvious. In addition to their defensive supplies, they had clubs, lead pipes, chains and brass knuckles. Hundreds of bemused Chicago police officers were watching the activities of this tiny gathering.
After a few incendiary speeches, the demonstrators ran into the streets of Chicago as a mob. One person threw a rock through a bank window. That started the mass destruction. One pedestrian, observing the chaos, yelled to the mob 'I don't know what your cause is, but you've just set it back a hundred years.' Dave Dellinger, who had provided a safe house for members of the Weathermen, hadn't known what was coming. He described himself as 'a disgusted observer'.
The battle lasted about an hour. By the time it was over, six members of the Weathermen had been shot, nearly 70 had been arrested and an unknown number were injured. The next morning, the Weatherman's 'women's militia' staged a repeat performance of the previous night. They were quickly subdued.
After a day of quiet, the 200 Weathermen not in jail or too badly injured to continue, again started rioting in the streets. It didn't take much more than 30 minutes until more than half of them had been arrested, most of those having been bloodied or bruised in the process. The most serious injury of the day was sustained by a City Council official who had wanted 'in on the action'. Diving to tackle one of the protesters, he ended up crashing into a brick wall and was paralyzed from the neck down.
Some of the people who had shown up for the demonstrations began having second thoughts about engaging in hand-to-hand combat with armed police officers who outnumbered them. One teenager, who had been arrested early on, said from his jail cell, 'The guys in here are war-monguls [sic]. They all want a revolution and they are all with SDS. They are all f***ing crazy'.
Some Weathermen did think that the violent, confrontational approach was the right way to beat the government, but that it could only be done successfully from underground. They decided that they would ultimately have to build a clandestine force to carry out bombings and other terrorist acts while others carried on public political acts.
Some other protesters admitted to admiring the actions that took place during the Days of Rage, but most were disgusted. One member of SDS in Wisconsin expressed his opinion with the words 'You don't need a rectal thermometer to know who the a**eholes are'.
On 15 October, 1969, the 'Moratorium' peace demonstration was held in Washington and other US cities. Millions of Americans, throughout the country, participated.
One month after the 'Moratorium', on 15 November, 1969, the 'Mobilization' peace demonstration in Washington DC had a crowd estimated at from 250,000 to 500,000. This event remains the largest single anti-war protest in US history.
That day's demonstration came immediately after the completion of a 40-hour 'March Against Death', in which 40,000 individuals filed past the White House, each bearing the name of a United States soldier who had died in Vietnam.
A solid row of municipal buses was parked along the curb between the marchers and the White House. Hundreds of armed troops guarded national landmarks in the city. Neither they nor the members of the Washington DC Police Department found any cause for immediate alarm.
The march along Pennsylvania Avenue was kept peaceful and on the scheduled route by a hand-to-hand line, doubled in some places, of marshals. One protester said that the marshals were 'more officious than the police'.
Those in attendance included three United States Senators, Eugene McCarthy, George S McGovern, and Charles E Goodell, a Republican. Also present were Correta Scott King, comedian/activist Dick Gregory, Mary of the musical folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, actor-playwright Adolphe Green, composer Leonard Bernstein, singers Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger (composer of 'If I Had A Hammer' and 'Where Have All The Flowers Gone'), John Denver, Mitch Miller, and the touring cast of the Broadway play Hair.
The organisers of this demonstration had received praise from Pham Van Dong, Prime Minister of North Vietnam. In a letter to the organisers, Dong said '... may your fall offensive succeed splendidly'. This was the first time that the government of North Vietnam publicly acknowledged the American anti-war movement. Dong's comments enraged American conservatives, including Vice President Spiro Agnew. Agnew labelled the protesters 'Communist dupes comprised of an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterise themselves as intellectuals.'
The District of Columbia Police Chief, Jerry Wilson, said a 'moderate' estimate was that 250,000 had paraded on Pennsylvania Avenue and attended the anti-war rally at the Washington Monument. Other city officials said aerial photographs showed that the crowd had exceeded 300,000.
The next day, the United States Army publicly discussed events surrounding the My Lai massacre for the first time.
In January of 1970, in his State of the Union Address, President Nixon called bringing the war in Vietnam to an end 'a major goal of United States policy'. Later that month, the United States command in Saigon announced the bombing of a military base in North Vietnam, in retaliation for North Vietnam's having fired on a reconnaissance plane. An American jet and a rescue helicopter were destroyed in the retaliatory raid.
In March, there was rioting in Cambodia, against the presence of North Vietnamese troops and NLF/PALF guerrillas. Ultimately, Cambodian Prince Norodom Sihanouk was overthrown and Lieutenant General Lon Nol seized power.
Also in March of 1970, the United States Army charged 14 officers with suppressing information about the mass killing of civilians two years earlier at My Lai.
In April, President Nixon promised to withdraw another 150,000 American troops from Vietnam over the coming year, and the United States military suspended the use of Agent Orange.
On 30 April, 1970, President Nixon announced that United States combat troops and B-52 bombers would enter Cambodia to destroy North Vietnamese and Vietcong sanctuaries and supplies. Excerpts from the speech in which he made that announcement include the following comments:
Ten days ago in my report to the nation on Vietnam I announced the decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the next year....
... And at that time I warned that if I included that if increased enemy activity in any of these areas endangered the lives of Americans remaining in Vietnam, I would not hesitate to take strong and effective measures to deal with that situation.
Despite that warning, North Vietnam has increased its military aggression in all these areas, and particularly in Cambodia....
... Cambodia, as a result of this, has sent out a call to the United States, to a number of other nations, for assistance. Because if this enemy effort succeeds, Cambodia would become a vast enemy staging area and a springboard for attacks on South Vietnam along 600 miles of frontier: a refuge where enemy troops could return from combat without fear of retaliation....
... Tonight, American and South Vietnamese units will attack the headquarters for the entire Communist military operation in South Vietnam. The key control centre has been occupied by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong for five years in blatant violation of Cambodia's neutrality....
... I realise in this war there are honest deep differences in this country about whether we should have become involved, that there are differences to how the war should have been conducted.
But the decision I announce tonight transcends those differences, for the lives of American men are involved. The opportunity for 150,000 Americans to come home in the next 12 months is involved. The future of 18 million people in South Vietnam and seven million people in Cambodia is involved, the possibility of winning a just peace in Vietnam and in the Pacific is at stake.
Protest - Kent State University
In the days following the Presidential announcement, students on University campuses across the United States were protesting the US invasion of Cambodia. At Kent State University in Ohio, protesters threw rocks and broke some windows. Some students tried to burn the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) building.
On 3 May, 1970, Ohio Governor James Rhodes called in the National Guard.
The National Guard units that responded were poorly trained and had just completed riot duty elsewhere. The first day, there was some brutality; members of the National Guard bayoneted two men, one of whom was a disabled veteran, who had cursed or yelled at them from cars.
On 4 May, the National Guard marched down a hill, to a field in the middle of angry demonstrators, then back up again. Seconds before they would have passed around the corner of a large building, and out of sight of the crowd, some of the Guardsmen wheeled and fired directly into the students, hitting 13 and killing four of them. The firing lasted for 13 seconds. Guardsmen later admitted to firing at specific unarmed targets; one man shot a demonstrator who was giving him the finger. The unarmed students who were shot raged from 60 feet to 700 feet away from the Guardsmen.
The targets were not limited to protesting students. Two of the four who had been killed were simply on their way to class. Most of the Guardsmen later testified that they turned and fired because everyone else had. The question of who fired the first shot, or gave the order to fire, has never been answered. The Guardsmen were not in any immediate physical danger when they fired. The demonstrators were not following them and they were seconds away from being out of sight of the demonstration.
The four students killed by members of the Ohio National Guard were: Alison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder.
The Guardsmen were never prosecuted by the State of Ohio, for any crime. President Nixon announced any number of investigations, none of which reached any clear conclusions. White House tapes released later showed that Nixon thought demonstrators were 'bums'3, had asked the Secret Service to go beat them up, and apparently felt that the Kent State victims 'had it coming'.
Protest - Jackson State College
On 14 and 15 May, 1970, students at Jackson State College in Mississippi were protesting violence and discrimination against African-American students and the killings at Kent State University.
At around 9.30pm, rumours were spread that the Mayor of Fayette, Mississippi, Charles Evers (brother of slain Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers), and his wife had been shot and killed. Upon hearing this rumour, a group of students rioted.
The rioting students set several fires and overturned a dump truck. Jackson firefighters sent to the fire were greeted by a hostile crowd. Fearing for their safety, the firemen requested police back-up.
75 city policemen and Mississippi State Police officers responded. They were armed with carbines, submachine guns, shotguns and service revolvers. After the firefighters extinguished all of the fires and left, the police and state troopers marched toward Alexander Center, a women's residence, with their weapons at the ready, pushing the students back.
The students were soon crowded in front of the dormitory. The officers deployed into a line facing the students. Someone in the crowd either threw or dropped a bottle, which shattered on the asphalt with a loud popping noise. At the same time, an officer fell, having been struck by a thrown object.
Accounts disagree as to what happened next. Some students said that the police issued a warning before opening fire. Others said that the police opened fire on the crowd and the dormitory without any warning. Other witnesses said that the students were under the control of a campus security officer when the police opened fire. Police representatives said that they spotted a powder flare in a window of the dormitory and opened fire in self-defense. Two local television news reporters who were on the scene said that a shot was fired, but they were uncertain of where the shot had originated. A radio reporter claimed to have seen an arm and a pistol extending from a dormitory window.
What is not in doubt is that the police opened fire at approximately 12.05am, 15 May, and continued firing for more than 30 seconds. The students scattered. Some ran for the trees in front of the library, but most tried to get through the doors into Alexander Hall.
When the order to cease fire was given, 21-year-old Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, the father of an 18-month-old son, and 17-year-old James Earl Green, a local high school student who had been walking home and stopped to watch the action, were dead.
An additional 12 Jackson State students were wounded, including one who had been sitting in the lobby of the dormitory lobby. The dormitory building was riddled with bullet holes. FBI investigators estimated that more than 460 rounds struck the building, shattering every window facing the street on each floor. Investigators counted at least 160 bullet holes in the outer walls of the stairwell.
Protest Around the Country
After the events at Kent State and Jackson State, there was a wave of demonstrations on hundreds of college campuses. There were an average of 100 demonstrations or student strikes per day in the United States. More than 500 colleges had to temporarily close their doors.
On 13, June, 1970, President Nixon established 'The President's Commission on Campus Unrest'. The Commission held 13 days of public hearings in Jackson, Mississippi; Kent State, Ohio; Washington DC and Los Angeles, California. No convictions or arrests of any military or law enforcement officer resulted from these hearings.
The anti-war movement was not without its own advocates of violence. According to the FBI, in 1970 alone, an estimated 3000 bombings and 50,000 bomb threats occurred in the United States. A large percentage of these were carried out by self-styled revolutionaries within the anti-war movement.
The War Continues
On 1 May, 1970, United States military forces joined the South Vietnamese troops who had entered Cambodia. The 30,000 members of the US military, along with their South Vietnamese counterparts, discovered large North Vietnamese supply depots. They captured 28,500 weapons, more than 16 million rounds of small arms ammunition and 14 million pounds of rice. There were more than 10,000 North Vietnamese casualties over the course of this 60-day action.
In June, President Nixon announced that the action in Cambodia had been successful, and that the withdrawal of American soldiers from South Vietnam would resume. US intelligence operatives were of the opinion that entering Cambodia had helped to unite communists in Indochina and had resulted in closer ties to China.
Towards the end of June, 1970, the United States Senate adopted a bill to limit Presidential action in Cambodia without Congressional approval.
In August, American journalists reported that the United States was operating secret bombing missions in Cambodia. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird denied these reports.
United States Special Forces made a surprise raid on the Son Tay prison camp, just 23 miles outside of Hanoi, in September of 1970. This raid was an attempt to rescue prisoners of war. Upon their arrival at the camp, they found that it had been deserted.
There were 335,800 American soldiers in Vietnam on December 31, 1970.
Other Entries in the Series
- War and Protest - the US in Vietnam (1945 - 1964)
- War and Protest - the US in Vietnam (1965 - 1967)
- War and Protest - the US in Vietnam (1968)
- War and Protest - the US in Vietnam (1971)
- War and Protest - the US in Vietnam (1972 - 1975)