The Real Anti-Vietnam War Protesters

I am responding to Alix Li’s two letters of 6/10 and 7/28. Li claims that “boomers sold out” and should have “turned your energy to fighting racism.”

The conventional narrative that opposition to the Vietnam War was dominated by the privileged white students, and that the reactionary working class supported the war is wrong.

By 1968, the movement was a cross-class/multiracial force that included students, civil rights activists, clergy, GIs, veterans, gays and people of color from working-class backgrounds. However, anti-war sentiment didn’t always get expressed as class politics, but rather as part of racial/ethnic empowerment and feminist politics.

Black, Latino and Asian Americans were the most militant antiwar activists, effectively expressing the intersection of imperialism, racism, genocide, poverty, and economic exploitation.

In his last year of life, Martin Luther King, Jr. linked Vietnamese self-determination and U.S. racism, militarism and working-class struggles. He stated, “There must be better distribution of wealth, maybe we must move toward a democratic socialism.”

The most significant anti-war resistance was in the military, overwhelmingly composed of working-class soldiers with a disproportionate number of people of color being drafted and killed. Ongoing defiance included desertion, evasion of combat, attacks on officers as well as anti-war newspapers and coffee houses and declining enlistment.

Veterans organized highly-visible anti-war organizations with mostly working-class members. Also, they confronted racism, unemployment and inadequate health services.

With perseverance, courage and sacrifice, boomers challenged a repressive power structure, ushering in the most tolerant, inclusive, and environmentally protective era in U.S. history.

Promulgating the boomer stereotype — spoiled, entitled white kids — contributes to a cynicism that undermines the progress we still must make to forge a more diverse, peaceful, just and sustainable world.

Paul Gratz

Santa Cruz, California

Editor’s note: Gratz co-authored the EW May 13, 2021, Viewpoint “Fifty Years Ago: The Vietnam Anti-War Movement in Eugene.”