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Ruch studencki i antywojenny

Przeczytaj o protestach studentów przeciwko wojnie w Wietnamie w latach 60.


  • The student movement arose to demand free speech on college campuses, but as the US involvement in the Vietnam war expanded, the war became the main target of student-led protests.
  • News coverage of the war, which included graphic visual testimonies of the death and destruction in Vietnam, turned US public opinion increasingly against the war.
  • Revelations that the Johnson and Nixon administrations had lied to the American people about the war undermined the public’s trust in government.

Origins of the student movement

The student movement arose at the University of California at Berkeley in 1964, when students involved in civil rights activism chafed at the university’s sudden attempt to prevent them from organizing politically on campus. The Free Speech Movement arose to challenge the university’s restrictions on political speech and assembly.1
Soon, other student groups were springing up across the nation with similar demands. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) formed at the University of Michigan and issued the Port Huron Statement, which criticized US foreign policy and attacked the Cold War assumptions underlying it.
Some of these student groups became a major part of the New Left, a broad-based political movement that challenged existing forms of authority, while others embraced a counterculture that promoted sexual liberation and unabashed drug use.2
Black and white photograph, taken from the stage, showing Swami Satchidananda addressing a crowd of thousands at Woodstock.
Swami Satchidananda giving the invocation at the opening ceremony of Woodstock, a three-day-long music festival held in August 1969 on a farm in upstate New York. 400,000 people attended the festival, which featured popular performing artists like Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who. Image courtesy Mark Goff.

Vietnam and the rise of the antiwar movement

As the US involvement in the Vietnam War intensified, so did antiwar sentiment. Especially after 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson dramatically escalated the US troop presence and bombing campaigns in Vietnam, the war became the focal point for student political activism.
Black and white photograph showing a group of young men and women marching and carrying signs protesting the Vietnam War.
Students protesting the Vietnam War in 1965. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Student groups held protests and demonstrations, burned draft cards, and chanted slogans like “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Massive US spending on the war effort contributed to skyrocketing deficits and deteriorating economic conditions at home, which turned more segments of the American public, including religious groups, civil rights organizations, and eventually even some Vietnam veterans, against the war.
Although antiwar activism constrained the president’s ability to further escalate the war effort after 1965, it also lent credence to the conservative portrayal of a chaotic society desperately in need of “law and order.”3 In 1968, Richard Nixon successfully campaigned for the presidency on the basis of such rhetoric, which implied a harsh approach to dealing with antiwar activists and other challengers of the status quo.
Once in office, Nixon attempted to quash domestic dissent by reducing the US troop presence in Vietnam and reforming the draft. The elimination of the draft and its replacement with an all-volunteer professional army was a major lasting consequence of the antiwar movement. At the same time, Nixon authorized the FBI and the CIA to expand their surveillance and harassment of antiwar protest groups.4

The role of the media in the antiwar movement

The role of the news media in the antiwar movement increased both antiwar sentiment and hostility towards antiwar activists. As investigative journalists began digging into the official version of the US war effort, they began to uncover the truth of conditions in Southeast Asia. Graphic images of death and destruction displayed on the nightly news turned the American public ever more sharply against the war. At the same time, news media coverage was frequently hostile to the activists themselves, and thus contributed to the conservative backlash against the antiwar movement.5
In 1971, the New York Times broke the story of the Pentagon Papers, a Department of Defense report that concluded that the Johnson and Nixon administrations had systematically lied to the American people and Congress about the extent of US involvement in the Vietnam war.6 Together with the Watergate scandal, which involved Nixon’s authorization of the illegal wiretapping of his political enemies, the Pentagon Papers undermined the trust of the American people in its president and government.

Jak uważasz?

Why did US public opinion turn against the Vietnam war?
What are the key arguments of the Port Huron Statement?
Do you think the news media turned more people against the Vietnam war or against the antiwar activists?
What were the long-term consequences of antiwar activism?

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