Ending The Vietnam War, In Context

The “50 Years Ago” column about the Vietnam War and protests in Eugene (EW 5/13) contributes history and inspiration to activism today. Somewhat different views of the protest’s role in ending the war are provided in subsequent letters — “Yes, the Vietnam Protesters Ended the War,” “Yes, Protests Ended the War” and “Action, Not Protest, Ended the Vietnam War”.

Attributing cause and effect to complex global processes and particularly war requires care, particularly the role of the anti-war movement in “ending the war” in which Vietnam was reunited. Many highly significant accomplishments were attributed primarily to the protest movement, short of ending the war, in the “50 Years Ago” column. The column was careful in this regard: “According to Appy and other historians, the anti-war movement did not end the war, but surging negative public opinion pressured President Lyndon Johnson to stop the bombing and begin negotiations in 1968, then compelled President Richard Nixon to seek a cease-fire and negotiated settlement in 1972 — much earlier than he otherwise would have.”

Other important forces were involved in ending this war. The North Vietnamese Army decisively defeated France in battle leading to French withdrawal in 1954, after which the U.S. attempted to create a separate, U.S.-allied state in southern Vietnam. Within southern Vietnam, the National Liberation Front formed an impressive alliance among nationalist forces that organized politically and militarily for two decades against U.S.-allied forces. The NVA and the NLF played significant roles in ending the war along with sustained popular opposition to the U.S. war, persisting at great sacrifice of millions of Vietnamese lives.

The U.S. anti-war movement needn’t be exaggerated. It made significant contributions to ending the war, to cultural transformation, and demonstrated the power of people to make important change.

Dennis Gilbert