“Yes, The Vietnam Protesters Ended The War” was the title of Matthew Johnson’s letter last week (5/27). Johnson writes that the anti-war movement set out to change public opinion about the war effort and succeeded, thus putting an end to the war. “We did that,” he proclaimed.
I was part of that effort in the ’60s and early ’70s in the S.F. Bay area and in L.A. The last big anti-war demo took place in L.A., fall of 1972, occasioned by a visit from former President Richard Nixon. A friend and I tried to exhort the crowd to move against Nixon, to no avail. A peace monitor, the actor Jon Voight (now a right-winger), confronted us, incredulous that anyone would be tired of passive, obey-the-rules demo etiquette.
The war went on for another three years past that last big protest. Public opinion? Not sure that has ever been key. Out of a dozen or so wars, only World War II had substantial public support.
The war ended because the Vietnamese won. U.S. troops started refusing to take the field. There were incidents of grenades being rolled into officers’ tents.
I’m not saying that peace demos had no impact at all, just that they were not what ended the fighting. Well-behaved demos have never been decisive, probably never will. I learned something from years of boring anti-war demonstrations: the main thing being demonstrated, as I came to see it, was an endless overall refusal to take action. People kept dying as a result of that inaction.