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War and Protest; The United States in Vietnam
'I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity'.
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower--
'Operation Dewey Canyon III' was the name given to one of the most powerful protests against United States military involvement in Vietnam. The action, in which nearly 1,000 veterans of that war returned their medals and campaign ribbons by throwing them over a barricade erected around the United States Capital Building, was sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and lasted five days. United States military involvement in Vietnam was sponsored by the United States government, and lasted 30 years.
The Democratic Republic of Vietnam is Created
During World War II, the United States was allied with the Viet Minh, a communist-influenced Vietnamese independence movement led by Ho Chi Minh, against the French Vichy administration in Vietnam. The Vichy administration was cooperating with occupying Japanese forces. The United States provided some arms to the Viet Minh guerrilla forces, commanded by Vo Nguyen Giap. American officials and officers expressed support and admiration for Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh. The Viet Minh issued the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence in September 1945. That document began with a long quotation from the United States Declaration of Independence. Regional leaders of the O.S.S. (which evolved into the C.I.A.) and U.S. military leaders in Vietnam celebrated. General Philip Gallagher, chief of the U.S. Military Advisory and Assistance Group, sang the Viet Minh's national Anthem on Hanoi radio.
Within two months, at least eight U.S. troopships were diverted from their mission of bringing American troops home from World War II. These ships were used to transport French troops and Foreign Legionnaires from France into Vietnam, to begin a recolonization process. These troops and Legionnaires had been armed, at least partly, by the United States. America’s first casualty in Vietnam was killed in 1945. On 26 September, 1945, Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey, head of American OSS mission, was killed by Viet Minh troops while driving a jeep to the airport, from which he was going to leave the country. Reports later indicated that his death was due to a case of mistaken identity -- he had been mistaken for a Frenchman. On the day of his death, Dewey had offered his opinion on United States involvement in Vietnam:
'Cochinchina is burning, the French and British are finished here, and we [the United States] ought to clear out of Southeast Asia'.
The First Protest
The entire crews of four of these ships, all members of the U.S. Merchant Marine, prepared a resolution condemning the U.S. government for its use of U.S. ships to transport troops 'to subjugate the native population' of Vietnam.
With the return of the French in 1945, Ho Chi Minh was forced to accept nominal autonomy for Vietnam as a member of the French Union. Vietnamese/French hostilities resumed in 1946.
1954 - 1960
Viet Minh Forces began an attack on a French military installation at Dien Bien Phu on 13 March, 1954. The French garrison surrendered on 7 May, after about 25,000 Vietnamese and more that 1,500 French troops had died.
France had requested military assistance from the United States during this battle. President Dwight Eisenhower declined the request for direct military intervention in Vietnam, against the advice of Vice President Richard Nixon, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Arthur W. Radford.
Peace talks on Indochina began in Geneva, attended by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV - later known as North Vietnam), the Associated State of Vietnam (later known as South Vietnam), Cambodia, Laos, France, Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States.
The cease-fire agreement reached in these talks, which was signed only by France and the DRV, resulted in the Country of Vietnam being divided in two, with all French forces to remain in the Southern portion of the country and the Viet Minh forces to stay in the North. Bao Dai was to lead the South and Ho Chi Minh was to lead the North.
The DRV, France, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union endorsed a second agreement, known as the final declaration. The final declaration provided for national elections to be held in both the North and the South, in July of 1956, to decide who would lead the unified country. This declaration stated that the military demarcation line was provisional and 'should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political territorial boundary'. Neither the United States nor the Associated State of Vietnam approved the final declaration. This refusal has been interpreted by many historians as stemming from the belief that Ho Chi Minh would have easily won such an election.
While refusing to endorse the final declaration, representatives of the United States did promise to refrain from the threat or use of force to disturb the agreements. President Eisenhower wrote to Ngo Dinh Diem, the Prime Minister of the government recognized in the Southern half of Vietnam, promising United States support for a noncommunist Vietnam.
It was in 1954 that President Eisenhower related the 'domino theory', as related to the spread of Communism, to the media. U.S. combat teams organized covert warfare to support Diem that same year.
'You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences'.
The United States began to directly aid South Vietnam in January 1955. American advisors began arriving the following month to train South Vietnamese army troops. In August 1955, Diem issued a statement formally refusing to participate in consultations with the DRV, which had been called for by the Geneva Agreement to prepare for national elections. On October 26, 1955, he easily defeated his only opponent, Bao Dai, in an election held in the Associated State of Vietnam only, and became president of the new Republic of [South] Vietnam.
The last French troops left Vietnam in 1956. At this time, the United States sponsored Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) assumed official responsibility for training the South Vietnamese military.
MAAG continued a quiet (to the world outside of Vietnam) presence in Vietnam, in ever-increasing numbers, as the civil war there expanded.
In 1961, the United States sent in official combat advisors, at President Diem's request. American Vice President Lyndon Johnson toured Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), telling Diem that he was crucial to US objectives in Vietnam and calling him 'the Churchill of Asia'. American President John F. Kennedy authorized the creation of the 'Green Berets', a Special Forces operation to specialize in counterinsurgency. On 31 December, 1961, there were about 3,200 American personnel in Vietnam.
Operation Hades, which allowed the use of Agent Orange to defoliate trees and shrubbery where an 'enemy' could hide, was authorized by the president it 1961. The first actual use of Agent Orange in Vietnam was in 1962. There were about 11,500 American personnel in Vietnam by 31 December, 1962.
On 1 November, 1963, President Diem of South Vietnam was deposed by General Duong Van Minh and other military officers. Diem and his security chief were killed as the government of South Vietnam changed hands. About three weeks later, on 22 November, 1963, President Kennedy of the United States was assassinated and former Vice President Lyndon Johnson assumed the Presidency and became the new Commander-in Chief of the United States military forces. On 31 December 1963, American personnel in Vietnam totaled about 16,300.
The government of South Vietnam changed hands again on 30 January, 1964, when General Nguyen Khanh seized power from General Minh in a bloodless coup.
US military presence in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia continued to increase in early 1964, as secret bombing raids began in Laos, conducted by mercenaries backed by the United States Government. On a 6 March, 1964 visit to South Vietnam, United States Defense Secretary Robert McNamara stated the United States would '...stay for as long as it takes. We shall provide whatever help is required to win the battle against the Communist insurgents'.
Two Telephone Calls1
President Johnson had some doubts about the usefulness of US involvement in Vietnam, as shown in the following excerpts from a taped telephone conversation he had with Senator Richard Russell on 27 May, 1964.
Johnson: What do you think of the Vietnam thing? I'd like to hear you talk a little bit.
Russell: It's the damn worst mess I ever saw.... I knew we were going to get into this sort of mess when we went in there. And I don't see how we're ever going to get out of it without fighting a major war with the Chinese and all of them down there in the rice paddies and jungles.... I just don't know what to do.
Johnson: That's the way I've been feeling for six months.
Russell: It appears that our position is deteriorating. And it looks like the more we try to do for them, the less they're willing to do for themselves.... If it got down to...just pulling out, I'd get out. But then I don't know. There's undoubtedly some middle ground somewhere. If I was going to get out, I'd get the same crowd that got rid of Diem to get rid of these people and get some fellow in there that said he wished we would get out. That would give us a good excuse for getting out....
Johnson: How important is it to us?
Russell: It isn't important a damn bit, with all these new missile systems.
Johnson: Well, I guess its important to us -
Russell: From a psychological standpoint.
Johnson: I mean, yes, from the standpoint that we are party to a treaty. And if we don't pay attention to this treaty, why, I don't guess they think we pay attention to any of them.
Russell: Yeah, but we're the only ones paying any attention to it!
Later in that conversation
Johnson: I spend all my days with Rusk and McNamara and Bundy and Harriman and Vance and all those folks that are dealing with it and I would say that it pretty well adds up to them now that we've got to show some power and some force, that they do not believe - they're kinda like MacArthur in Korea - they don't believe that the Chinese Communists will come into this thing. But they don't know and nobody can really be sure. But they're feeling is that they won't. And in any event, that we haven't got much choice, that we are treaty bound, that we are there, that this will be a domino that will kick off a whole list of others, that we've just got to prepare for the worst. Now I have avoided that for a few days. I don't think the American people are for it. I don't agree with Morse and all he says, but -
Russell: No, neither do I, but he's voicing the sentiment of a hell of a lot of people.
Johnson: I'm afraid that's right. I don't think the people of the country know much about Vietnam and I think they care a hell of a lot less.
Russell: It's a tragic situation. It's just one of those places where you can't win. Anything you do is wrong.... I have thought about it. I have worried about it. I have prayed about it.
Johnson: I don't believe we can do anything -
Russell: It frightens me 'cause it's my country involved over there and if we get into any considerable scale, there's no doubt in my mind but that the Chinese will be in there....
Johnson: You don't have any doubt but what if we go in there and get 'em up against the wall, the Chinese Communists are gonna come into it?
Russell: no sir, no doubt about it.
Johnson: That's my judgment, and our people don't think so....
Later in that conversation
Johnson:...All the Senators, Nixon, Rockefeller and Goldwater all saying let's move, let's go into the North.... Lodge, Nixon, Rockefeller, Goldwater all say move. Eisenhower -
Russell: Bomb the North and kill old men, women, and children?
Johnson: No, they say pick put an oil plant or pick out a refinery or something like that. Take selected targets. Watch this trail they're coming down. Try to bomb them out of them, when they're coming in.
Russell: Oh hell! That ain't worth a hoot. That's just impossible....
Johnson: Well, they'd impeach a President though, that would run out, wouldn't they? I just don't believe that - outside of Morse - everybody I talk to says you got to go in, including Hickenlooper including all the Republicans.... And I don't know how in the hell you're gonna get out unless they tell you to.
[The conversation ends soon thereafter.]
Later that day, Johnson had a telephone conversation with his National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy, which was also taped.
Johnson: I'll tell you the more that I stayed awake last night thinking of this thing, the more I think of it, I don't know what in the hell - it looks like to me we're getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me. I don't see what we can ever hope to get out of there with, once we're committed. I believe that the Chinese Communists are coming into it. I don't think we can fight them ten thousand miles from home.... I don't think it's worth fighting for and I don't think we can get out. It's just the biggest damned mess that I ever saw.
Bundy: It is. It's an awful mess.
Johnson: And we just got to think about - I was looking at this sergeant of mine this morning... and I just thought about ordering his kids in there and what in the hell am I ordering him out there for? What the hell is Vietnam worth to me? What is Laos worth to me? What is it worth to this country? Now we've got a treaty but, hell, everybody else's got a treaty out there and they're not doing anything about it. Of course if you start running from the Communists, they may just chase you right into your own kitchen.
Bundy: Yeah, that's the trouble. And that is what the rest of that half of the world is going to think if this thing comes apart on us. That's the dilemma.
On 1 July, 1964, President Johnson appointed General Maxwell D. Taylor, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the new U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam. During the one year in which Taylor held this position, the government of South Vietnam changed hands four times.
On 17 July, 1964, the Republican Party selected ultra-conservative Barry Goldwater as their nominee for president. During his acceptance speech Goldwater said, 'Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Johnson, who intended to win the November election, now found that he had to act in a way that would not allow Goldwater to charge him with being 'soft on Communism'.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
On 2 August, 1964, the destroyer USS Maddox was on a reconnaissance patrol, when three North Vietnamese torpedo boats came out from Hon Me2 and attacked the Maddox. The attack was unsuccessful, though one bullet from a heavy machinegun on one of the torpedo boats did hit the destroyer. This is often referred to as the 'first attack'.
On 4 August, 1964, in what is referred to as the 'second attack', the USS Maddox and the USS C. Turner Joy, another destroyer, were in the Gulf of Tonkin. At 9:40 p.m., the Maddox locked on to a radar contact and immediately asked for air support from the nearby aircraft carrier Ticonderoga. Both the Turner Joy and the Maddox opened fire on the target. Within minutes, sonar operators reported torpedoes in the water. Both ships made sharp turns to evade the torpedoes. Suddenly sonar operators reported six torpedoes in the water. No torpedoes hit either ship. At 10:25 p.m. another ship was spotted by the Turner Joy's radar. Both ships opened fire again. Soon after, the captain of the Turner Joy saw, '...a column of black smoke rising from the water'. But when the Turner Joy investigated the area where the ship was supposedly sunk, nothing was found. Meanwhile, planes from the Ticonderoga saw no enemy aircraft. A pilot of an A-4 attack plane said, 'The destroyers were calling out where they thought the torpedo boats were but could never find the damn torpedo boats'.
Within two hours of the 'attack', the captains of both destroyers began doubt whether they had actually been attacked. The sonar operators reported that 26 torpedoes had been fired at the two ships, although they had 'identified' only two North Vietnamese PT boats, which were known to carry only two torpedoes each. Torpedoes were reported by the Maddox only. The Turner Joy never detected any torpedoes. The captains hypothesized that the torpedo sightings were false. The captains speculated that, while performing high speed turns, the sonar operator on the Maddox heard the reflections of the sonar beam on the Maddox's rudder, not torpedoes.
James B. Stockdale was the pilot of a Crusader jet who undertook a reconnaissance flight over the waters that evening. When asked if he had seen any North Vietnamese attack vessels, Stockdale replied: 'Not a one. No boats, no wakes, no ricochets off boats, no boat impacts, no torpedo wakes-nothing but black sea and American firepower'.
On 5 August, 1964, the captain of the Maddox sent a message to Washington. It read: 'Review of action makes any reported contacts and torpedoes fired appear doubtful... Suggest complete evaluation before any further action taken'.
In 1965, President Johnson himself joked to reporters that 'For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there'.
President Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnamese naval targets and oil facilities in retaliation for the 'attack' in the Gulf on Tonkin, saying 'Our response for the present will be limited and fitting'. He made a special appearance on television, at midnight, telling the American public that 'We Americans know, although others appear to forget, the risk of spreading conflict. We still seek no wider war'.
Two Navy jets were shot down during these bombing raids, and Lt. Everett Alvarez became the first American prisoner of war.
On 7 August, 1964, Joint Resolution of Congress H.J. RES 1145, known as the 'Gulf of Tonkin Resolution' was introduced to the United States Congress. This resolution gave the president authority ...'to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression' and ...'to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force, to assist any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Treaty requesting assistance in defense of its freedom'.
The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed in the House of Representatives unanimously, 416-0, and passed in the Senate by a vote of 98-2. The only Senators voting against the Resolution were Wayne Morse of Oregon, and Ernest Gruening of Alaska . During debate, Gruening said 'all Vietnam is not worth the life of a single American boy'.
On 26 August, 1964, President Johnson was nominated as the Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States. During his campaign he promised that 'We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves'.
That November, Johnson won the election by what was the widest margin to date in United State politics, defeating the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater, by 16 million votes.
In December 1964, an obscure organization, called Students for a Democratic Society, issued a call for people to go to Washington, D.C. on 17 April, 1965, to march against the war in Vietnam.
On 31 December, 1964, there were 23,300 Americans in Vietnam.
As United States military involvement in Vietnam increased, so did the inroads made into South Vietnam by the Viet Minh and the National Liberation Front (NLF)/People's Liberation Armed Forces (PALF). The NLF and PALF were called the 'Viet Cong' by their opponents.3
In January 1965, one month before his assassination, Malcolm X, a militant advocate of African-American rights, denounced United States involvement in Vietnam. He said that Africans and African-Americans were on the same side as 'those little rice farmers'.
On 22 February, 1965, General Westmoreland requested two battalions of U.S. Marines to protect the American air base at Da Nang from 6000 NLF/PALF troops massed in the vicinity. President Johnson approved his request, despite 'grave reservations' voiced by United States Ambassador Taylor in Vietnam. Taylor was afraid that America might be about to repeat the same mistakes made by the French, by sending more and more soldiers into the Asian forests and jungles of a 'hostile foreign country' where friend and foe couldn't be told apart.
On 9 March, 1965, President Johnson authorized the use of Napalm, a petroleum based substance mixed with a thickening agent into a gel that would burn continuously and stick to anything it touched.
Escalating US military involvement in Vietnam led to an escalating anti-war movement within the United States. Demonstrations, teach-ins and draft-card burnings became the rule of the day for those opposed to the war.
On 17 April 1965, the March on Washington that had been called the previous December took place. Organizers had expected about 2,000 marchers. The actual count was about 25,000.4 This was the largest anti-war protest to ever have been held in Washington, DC at that time, with the number of marchers approximately equaling the number of US soldiers in Vietnam.
On 16 June, 1965 a planned civil disobedience turned into a five-hour teach-in on the steps of and inside the Pentagon. In two days, more than 50,000 leaflets were distributed without interference at the entrances and inside the building. A World War II artillery officer, Gordon Christiansen, turned in his honorable discharge certificate.
On 28 July, 1965, President Johnson announced that he planned to send 44 combat battalions to Vietnam, bringing the US military presence to 125,000 men. Monthly draft callups were doubled to 35,000. 'I have asked the commanding general, General Westmoreland, what more he needs to meet this mounting aggression. He has told me. And we will meet his needs. We cannot be defeated by force of arms. We will stand in Vietnam'.
On 31 August, 1965, President Johnson signed a law criminalizing draft card burning, imposing up to a five year prison sentence and $1000 fine. The public burning of draft cards continued to grow, owing to the media attention these events received.
Songwriter/Singer Country Joe McDonald wrote and first performed the I Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag in 1965.5 The chorus of that song, which gained fame at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival, was as follows.
And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! We're all gonna die.
The strongest verse of the song was:
Well, come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, don't hesitate,
Send 'em off before it's too late.
Be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.
There were anti-war rallies in 40 American cities, as well as other cities throughout the world, including London and Rome, in October 1965. It was during this month that the poet Allen Ginsburg introduced the term 'flower power', which became a rallying cry to many of those opposed to war in general and the war in Vietnam in particular.
On 27 November 27 1965, 35,000 anti-war protesters encircled the White House then marched on to the Washington Monument for a rally.
On 30 November, 1965, Defense Secretary McNamara privately warned Johnson that American casualty rates of up to 1000 dead per month could be expected.
US troop presence in Vietnam totaled 184,300 on December 31, 1965.
The year 1966 saw increasing US military presence in Vietnam. The fighting intensified dramatically, as did the protest movement within the United States.
In January 1966, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee took a stand against the Vietnam War, saying 'We believe the United States government has been deceptive in claims of concern for the freedom of the Vietnamese people, just as the government has been deceptive in claiming concern for the freedom of the colored people in such other countries as the Dominican Republic, the Congo, South Africa, Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe], and in the United States itself'.
That same month, President Johnson's administration abolished automatic student deferments from the draft. Student anger over the escalation of the war in Vietnam became more personal and intense. Students for a Democratic Society, that obscure little group that first called for a protest against US involvement in Vietnam, became a leader of the student movement against the war. SDS formed more than 300 new chapters on campuses across the country by the end of the year.
Events in Vietnam were disturbing members of the US Senate by this time. A group of senior Senators, led by J. William Fulbright, called for a public debate on Vietnam. There were a total of five televised hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on President Johnson's request for $415 million supplemental Vietnam aid for fiscal year 1966, the first of which took place on 4 February.
Fred Friendly, president of CBS News, resigned in protest when that television network decided to air an I Love Lucy rerun instead of broadcasting George Kennan's testimony in the Senate Hearings.
Many analysts believe that those hearings, which became known as The Fulbright Hearings, brought an end to President Johnson's attempt to create new legislation that would specifically justify heightened US intervention in Indochina. Following the Fulbright Hearings, dissent and antiwar activity became increasingly a part of the American political mainstream, although there was a backlash.
When 25,000 Mexican-Americans staged the 1966 Chicano Moratorium, the largest antiwar demonstration held in Los Angeles , police officers attacked with clubs and guns, killing three people, including the popular television news director and Los Angeles Times reporter Rubén Salazar.
Muhammad Ali, the world heavyweight boxing champion, refused to even consider going to Vietnam in 1966, saying 'No Vietnamese ever called me n****r'. As a Muslim, he held war to be against his religious principles. According to an article written by Jack Olsen in Sports Illustrated, the governor of Illinois found Ali 'disgusting', and the governor of Maine said Ali 'should be held in utter contempt by every patriotic American'. An American Legion post in Miami asked people to 'join in condemnation of this unpatriotic, loudmouthed, bombastic individual.'
On 31 December, 1966, there were 425,300 Americans in Vietnam.
The year 1967 saw an enormous buildup of the United States military presence in Vietnam, and an even more enormous buildup of protest against that military presence.
In January of 1967, the United States military campaign called 'Operation Cedar Falls' led to the destruction of a North Vietnamese tunnel complex used for infiltration into South Vietnam. It also led to the forcible evacuation of all 5,987 residents of the village of Ben Suc, which was completely destroyed, to refugee camps.
Martin Luther King
On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King denounced the US military presence in Vietnam, and proposed a merger of the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement. King called his taking a stand against the war a 'vocation of agony', and added '...my conscience leaves me no other choice'. King felt obliged to call the United States Government 'The greatest purveyor of violence in the world', and to encourage evasion of the military draft. 'We are called,, he said, 'to speak for the weak and the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers'.
Anti-war sentiment grows
April of 1967 also saw passive protest rallies and marches against the war in Vietnam, including crowds estimated at 100,000 in New York City and 50,000 in San Francisco .
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
One of the participants in the April 7, 1967 'Fifth Avenue Peace Parade' in New York City was a man named Jan Barry Crumb, who had served in Vietnam in 1963, in the U.S. Army's 18th Aviation Company. Jan Crumb didn't know, at first, that he wasn't the only veteran in the protest. He didn't know that a small group (fewer than 12) of veterans had gone to the Peace Parade Committee's office to request that they be featured prominently in the march. When asked who they were, they had said 'Vietnam veterans against the war'. A staff member at the office quickly made a banner reading 'Vietnam Veterans Against The War', and gave it to them.
When the demonstration started, the announcement 'Vietnam veterans to the front', was made. Crumb left the group of friends he had arrived with and made his way to the front.
Crumb found a fairly sizable contingent of veterans leading the parade, very few of whom were as young as he. Most of these were clearly veterans of other wars. At the very front of this group, though, he found the small group of men with the 'Vietnam Veterans Against The War' banner, and joined them
When the parade ended, in front of the United Nations building, the group of Vietnam veterans broke up. Crumb wanted to find this group, Vietnam Veterans Against The War, and join it. His search first led him to Veterans For Peace, the organization of older veterans that had had its own presence in the parade. While talking with people at Veterans For Peace, he learned that there was no actual organization called 'Vietnam Veterans Against The War'. The people with that banner had been a collection of friends with a common viewpoint, and nothing more.
Crumb, determined that on organization of Vietnam veterans who were opposed to that war should exist, set his sites on creating it. On 30 May, 1967, he attended a peace demonstration in Washington, DC with about ten like-minded men. Two days later, six Vietnam veterans met in Jan Crumb's New York City apartment. Vietnam Veterans Against the War was born on 1 June, 1967.
On 28 April, 1967, Muhammad Ali, having been denied conscientious objector status and having refused induction into the US Army, was arrested. Within minutes of Ali's official announcement that he would not submit to induction, the New York State Athletic Commission and World Boxing Association suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his heavyweight title. In an interview with a Sports Illustrated contributor, Ali said 'I'm giving up my title, my wealth, maybe my future. Many great men have been tested for their religious beliefs. If I pass this test, I'll come out stronger than ever'. Ultimately, Ali was sentenced to five years in prison, released on appeal, and had his conviction overturned three years later.
Levitate the Pentagon?
On 15 October, 1967, the class clowns of the anti-war movement in the United States, the Yippies, led by Abbie Hoffman, led 50,000 people to an 'Exorcism of the Pentagon'. They had announced their intent to, by means of their combined psychic energy, levitate the pentagon and exorcise it of the evil spirits that were killing Americans and Vietnamese people thousands of miles away.
The Pentagon was protected by more than 2,500 Army troops and US Marshals. As the group surrounded the Pentagon and began chanting 'Ommmmm', the US Marshals moved in and began arresting demonstrators. A photograph taken at that demonstration was to become a symbol of the American anti-war movement. The photograph showed a protester putting a daisy into a police officer's gun.
The addition of flowers to readied weapons was the order of the day. While a total of 681 demonstrators were arrested, others continued to approach the soldiers and put flowers in the barrels of bayoneted M-14 rifles. One girl, dancing as she approached the soldiers, kept asking 'Will you take my flower? Please do take my flower. Are you afraid of flowers'?
The Pentagon didn't move noticeably.
Some Other People
Other people arrested for anti-war activities in 1967 included singer Joan Baez, physician Benjamin Spock and poet Allen Ginsberg.
The CIA started Operation Chaos in 1967. This operation, which exceeded the CIA's statutory authority, was initiated in response to a request from President Johnson that the agency uncover any connection between anti-way groups and foreign interests. Before it was discontinued in 1973, the operation had indexed 300,000 names, kept 13,000 subject files and intercepted large numbers of letters and cables, compiling massive amounts of information on the domestic activities of US citizens. A partial list of organizations and individuals whose mail had been read by the CIA would include Grove Press, Women Strike for Peace, Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam, the American Indian Movement, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, The Ford Foundation, Harvard University, the Rockefeller Foundation, US Representative Bella Abzug, US Senators Humphrey, Kennedy and Church, Linus Pauling, Victor Reuther, Richard Nixon and Coretta Scott King, the wife of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
A Study is Commissioned
In June, 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara commissioned a top-secret study of US involvement in Southeast Asia. This study was to be written by a team of analysts who had access to classified documents. The results of that study, which was not completed until January, 1969, took 47 volumes and later gained fame, or infamy, as The Pentagon Papers.
The War Continues
In 1967, the United States launched a bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. Other significant campaigns were fought in Tay Ninh province, Khe Sanh, Cam Lo, Dong Ha, Con Thien and Gio Linh. In May, 1967, in air battles over Hanoi and Haiphong, America air forces shoot down 26 North Vietnamese jets, decreasing the North's pilot strength by half. Also in May, 1967, American military forces intercepted North Vietnamese Army units moving in from Cambodia, resulting in nine days of continuous battles.
On December 31, 1967, there were 485,600 American soldiers in Vietnam
The Battle of Khe Sanh
On 21 January, 1968 the North Vietnamese Army attacked the American air base at Khe Sanh, deploying 20,000 troops. The 5,000 US Marines stationed there soon found themselves encircled and under siege. The US media began drawing parallels to the 1954 siege of Dien Bien Phu, in which the French were ultimately defeated.
President Johnson told Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Earle Wheeler that he didn't 'want any damn Dinbinfoo'. Johnson personally sent off Marine reinforcements and told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that he wanted a guarantee 'signed in blood' that the American force at Khe Sanh would not be defeated.
The battle at Khe Sanh lasted 77 days. At one point, groups of B-52 bombers were hitting North Vietnamese positions around Khe Sanh every 90 minutes, around the clock. Before the siege ended, the United States had dropped more than 110,000 tons of bombs in the area.
In June, 1968, General Westmoreland determined that the base in Khe Sanh was no longer needed. He authorized abandoning and demolishing that base.
The Tet Offensive
On 30 January, 1968, the North Vietnamese Army and NLF/PALF troops launched what is known as the Tet Offensive.
Tet Nguyen Dan, called 'Tet', is the Vietnamese holiday celebrating the lunar New Year. It's the most significant holiday in Vietnam. The Tet holiday is three days long, officially, but the celebration frequently lasts a full seven days. Vietnamese folk tradition holds that the events of these days forecast the events of the coming year. Generally, family feuds are ended, children go out of their way to behave well, and people try to lead their lives in a manner that bodes well for the coming year.
The Tet Offensive was a well-organized surprise attack in Saigon and 26 provincial capitals, among other cities and towns. Battles were raging in more than 100 locations within 48 hours.
American television crews in Saigon filmed an attack on the US embassy, and sent graphic footage showing the bloody battle, along with dead and wounded American soldiers to news networks. This footage was broadcast on television as part of the evening news, giving the American public a dinner-time view of the realities of war.
One of the cities attacked during Tet was Hue. During the Battle for Hue, 12,000 North Vietnamese Army and NLF/PALF troops stormed the city and systematically executed more than 3000 South Vietnamese government officials, South Vietnamese officers, Catholic priests and others that they had identified as 'enemies of the people'.
In what proved to be the heaviest fighting of the Tet Offensive, the South Vietnamese and US military retook Hue, one street, sometimes one house, at a time. US officials stated the casualty figures as 216 Americans killed and 1,364 wounded, 384 South Vietnamese killed and 1,830 wounded, and an estimated 5,000 North Vietnamese and NLF/PALF troops killed, in Hue alone.
The Tet Offensive proved disastrous for the North Vietnamese military, which was defeated at every location. An estimated 37,000 North Vietnamese and NLF/PALF troops were killed over the course of the Offensive, as compared to about 2,500 Americans.
The graphic news footage broadcast in the United States, along with the number of Americans killed, also had the effect of turning large portions of the American public against the war in Vietnam.
In Saigon, on 1 February, 1968, the police chief of South Vietnam, Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executed a suspected NLF/PALF guerrilla by shooting him in the head. An NBC news cameraman and an Associated Press still photographer, Eddie Adams, captured the execution on film. The photo taken by Eddie Adams was on the front page of most American newspapers the next morning. NBC news broadcast the execution as part of the nightly news.
It was also during the Tet Offensive that an American officer, talking about a small city near Saigon that had been destroyed by bombs, said 'We had to destroy it, in order to save it'. Within the United States, that officer's words became a metaphor for the entire war.
On 27 February, 1968, Walter Cronkite, the respected news anchor person for CBS, had just returned from Saigon. During his broadcast that night, he told the American public that he was certain that 'the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate'.
Public opinion polls after the Tet Offensive showed that President Johnson's overall approval rating by the American public was at 36 percent and approval of his Vietnam policy was at 26 percent.
The village of My Lai is in the South Vietnamese district of Son My, an area that was known to have had a heavy NLF/PALF Concentration. On 16 March, 1968, members of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry U.S. Army entered My Lai on a 'search and destroy' mission.
Hugh C. Thompson Jr. was flying his helicopter just above the treetops in a reconnaissance mission in support of the ground troops. Larry Colburn and Glenn Andreotta were in the helicopter with him.
Thompson, failing to see any NLF/PALF troops, decided to mark the location of wounded civilians with smoke so that the ground troops could begin treating some of them. 'The first one that I marked was a girl that was wounded', Thompson later testified, 'and they came over and walked up to her, put their weapon on automatic and let her have it'. Colburn told the Inspector General that the girl was about 20 years old and was lying on the edge of a dike outside the village with part of her body in a rice paddy. 'She had been wounded in the stomach, I think, or the chest. This captain [later identified as Ernest Medina] was coming down the dike and he had men behind him. They were sweeping through and we were hovering a matter of feet away from them. I could see this clearly, and he emptied a clip into her'.
Thompson flew north back over the village and saw a small boy bleeding along a trench. Again he marked the spot so the ground troops could provide medical aid. What he saw then was a lieutenant casually walk up and empty a clip into the child. He saw another wounded youngster: again he marked it, and this time a sergeant came up and fired his M16 at the child. Colburn, who was 18 years old at the time, stated that 'the infantrymen were killing everything in the village. The people didn't really know what was happening'.
Thompson tried to radio the troops on the ground to find out what was going on, and got no response. He then reported the wild firings and unnecessary shootings to brigade headquarters.
Thompson's testimony continued, 'I kept flying around and across a ditch...and it...had a bunch of bodies in it and I don't know how they got in the ditch. But I saw some of them were still alive'. He landed near the ditch, and asked a soldier there if he could help the people out: 'He said the only way he could help them was to help them out of their misery'. Thompson took off again, then landed a second time, after noticing a group of mostly women and children huddled together in a bunker near the ditch 'I don't know, maybe it was just my belief, but I hadn't been shot at the whole time I had been there and the gunships following hadn't'. Thompson saw Lt. Calley and '...asked him if I could get the women and kids out of there before they tore it up, and he said the only way he could get them out was to use hand grenades'.
Colburn testified that, before climbing out of his aircraft, Thompson '...told us that if any of the Americans opened up on the Vietnamese, we should open up on the Americans'. Thompson called in two helicopter gunships to rescue the civilians. While waiting for the gunships to land, Thompson '...stood between our troops and the bunker. He was shielding those people with his body. He just wanted to get those people out of there'. The helicopters landed and rescued nine persons-two old men, two women and five children.
After Thompson and Colburn took off again, Calley ordered his men to begin firing into the ditch to make sure there were no survivors. Calley told a squad leader assemble a team to do the job. 'I really believe he expected me to do it', the team leader said. They headed for the hamlet plaza instead.
While this was going on, Thompson's helicopter landed again. Colburn and Andreotta had noticed some movement among the mass of bodies and blood in the ditch. They found a young child still alive. Andreotta climbed into the ditch. 'He was knee-deep in people and blood', Colburn recalled. The child was buried under bodies, still holding on to his dead mother. Thompson and his men flew the baby to safety.
One of the ground troops at My Lai was to testify that 'We met no resistance and I only saw three captured weapons. We had no casualties. It was just like any other Vietnamese village - old papa-sans, women and kids. As a matter of fact, I don't remember seeing one military-age male in the entire place, dead or alive. The only prisoner I saw was in his fifties'.
In the end, 450 - 500 people were killed in My Lai that day.
Thompson filed a formal complaint relating to the events in My Lai on 16 March, 1968. An official investigation determined that there had been nothing out of the ordinary that day.
The American public first learned of the massacre in 1969, when reporter Seymour Hersh published a story detailing his conversations with Ron Ridenhour, a Vietnam veteran. Ridenhour had learned about what happened at My Lai from members of Charlie Company who had been there. Only after appealing to Congress, the White House and the Pentagon to investigate the My Lai massacre did Ridenhour decide to go to the press. The story of My Lai was published in November 1969, two months after a military investigation resulted in Calley being charged with murder.
Calley testified that Captain Ernest Medina had ordered him to kill everyone in the village of My Lai. The court determined that the photographic and recorded evidence was great enough to convict only Calley. He was sentenced to life in prison. After a series of appeals, he was released in 1974 and issued a dishonorable discharge. After his discharge, Calley entered the insurance business. As of this writing, he manages a retail jewelry business.
A Melbourne, Australia newspaper published photographs of the My Lai massacre in December 1969. It was prosecuted for 'obscenity' but the charge was later dropped.
Clemson University professor David Egan knew about Hugh Thompson's stand against Medina, Calley and the rest of the ground troops at My Lai, and was determined that Thompson should be honored for his actions that day in 1968. Egan and his wife began a letter-writing campaign in 1988, sending more than 100 letters to congressmen, senators, military officials and others.
In August of 1996, the Army agreed to present Thompson with The Soldier's Medal, an award presented for heroism and voluntarily risking one's life under conditions other than those in conflict against the enemy. When informed that he would be presented with this award in a private ceremony in the Pentagon, Thompson refused. He insisted that the medal be presented at a place open to the public, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. He also insisted that Colburn and Andreotta receive the award as well. The three men were presented with the award in March 1998. Andreotta received it posthumously, having been killed in the line of duty in Vietnam three weeks after he helped rescue the civilians at My Lai.
W.R. Peers, the three-star Army general who lead the official inquiry into the My Lai massacre, described Thompson as a hero, saying 'He was the only American who cared enough to take action to protect the Vietnamese noncombatants. If there was a hero at My Lai, he was it'.
The U.S. military has now incorporated accounts of Thompson's integrity, grace under fire and courageous deeds into cadet ethics courses at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
On 12 March, 1968, President Johnson, who was planning on running for re-election in the presidential election to be held that November, won the New Hampshire Democratic primary election by only 300 votes. He was running against Eugene McCarthy, whose focus was solely on getting the United States out of Vietnam.
Four days later, Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency. When asked about his anti-war stance, in light of his previous participation in forming President John F. Kennedy's Vietnam policy, he stated, 'Past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation'.
On 31 March, 1968, President Johnson announced his decision not to seek re-election, with the words 'If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve'. His announcement threw the Democratic Party into chaos. Until that announcement, it had been taken as given that he would be the Democratic candidate.
On 4 April, 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Dr. King had been outspoken against US involvement in Vietnam and in his quest for civil rights for African-Americans. His assassination led to racial unrest in more than 100 American cities.
Two months later, on 5 June, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed in a Los Angeles hotel just after winning the California Democratic presidential primary election. Photojournalist Harry Benson was present. He described the scene, and his reactions.
'Bobby started to work his way toward the kitchen exit. I followed, and as I neared the kitchen, I heard a horrifying scream.
'There's something about violence - you can feel it - and Martin Luther King had been assassinated just three months before. So I knew Bobby had been shot. I kept taking pictures, telling myself "This is for history; mess up tomorrow, don't mess up today"'.
'People were screaming and crying; yelling "F**k this country - not again, not again". I was moving in and out like a rat, stuffing the exposed film into my socks so the police wouldn't find them and take them away. When it was all over and he'd been taken away, a young woman place her straw campaign hat beside the pool of blood'.
The War Continues
On 11 April, 1968, US Secretary of Defense Clifford announced that Gen. Westmoreland's request for 206,000 additional soldiers would not be granted.
On 30 April, 1968, the North Vietnamese Army, attempting to open an invasion corridor into South Vietnam, started a battle at Dai Do. A battalion of US Marines, under the command of Lt. Col. William Weise and assisted by heavy artillery and air strikes, succeeded in defending Dai Do. When the battle ended on 3 May, 1,568 North Vietnamese troops had been killed, as well as 110 US troops killed and 427 wounded. This was the last attempt by North Vietnam to directly invade South Vietnam until 1972, after most of the Americans had left the country.
On 5 May, 1968, the NLF/PALF started what was called a 'Mini Tet', launching rocket and mortar attacks against Saigon and 119 cities and military installations in South Vietnam. The US responded with air strikes using Napalm and high explosives.
On 10 May, 1968, a North Vietnamese battalion attacked a Special Forces camp at Kham Duc, near the border of Laos. After North Vietnamese forces encircled the camp, US military forces were evacuated on C-130 transport planes. When the evacuation had been completed, it was discovered that three US Air Force controllers had been left behind. The camp was now in the hands of the North Vietnamese Army. Two C-130s had already been shot down. Lt. Col. Joe M. Jackson, piloting a C-123 Provider, landed on the airstrip under intense fire, rescued the three controllers, and took off again. Jackson was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
On 30 September, 1968, the 900th U.S. aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam.
October, 1968 saw the beginning of 'Operation Sealord', the largest combined naval operation of the entire war. More than 1200 U.S. Navy and South Vietnamese Navy gunboats and warships targeted North Vietnamese Army supply lines from Cambodia to the Mekong Delta. This operation continued for two years.
On 31 October, 1968, President Johnson announced a complete halt of U.S. bombing of North Vietnam. During the course of the three and one half year bombing campaign, an average of 800 tons of bombs per day had been dropped on North Vietnam. The bombing was generally considered to have failed in its goal of stopping the flow of soldiers and supplies into South Vietnam. The secondary goal of damaging morale within North Vietnam had also failed. In fact, the bombing increased sentiment against the United States and North Vietnamese citizens had increased their support of their government in response to the bombing.
On 31 December, 1968, there were 536,100 American soldiers in Vietnam. 30,000 Americans had been killed in Vietnam. An average of 1,000 per month died during the course of that year. The war had left an estimated 4 million South Vietnamese civilians homeless.
On 5 January, 1968, Dr. Benjamin Spock, William Sloan Coffin (the chaplain of Yale University), novelist Mitchell Goodman, Michael Ferber, (a graduate student at Harvard University) and Marcus Raskin (a peace activist) were charged with conspiracy to encourage violations of the draft laws by a grand jury in Boston. These charges were related to actions taken at a protest rally the previous October, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. On 14 June, 1968, Spock, Coffin, Goodman and Ferber were convicted. Raskin was acquitted.
On 23 April, 1968, students at Columbia University had planned a rally and occupation of the Low Administrative Building, to protest the University's participation in the Institute for Defense Analysis. Conservative students and University security blocked the occupation of the Low Building. The demonstrators marched to the site of a proposed new gymnasium at Morningside Heights to show support of neighbors who used the site for recreation. The demonstrators grew in numbers and militancy, until they ended up taking over five building on the campus; Hamilton, Low, Fairweather and Mathematics Halls, and the Architecture building. Seven days later police stormed the buildings and removed the student protesters and their supporters, at the request of the Columbia administration.
'The Whole World's Watching'
The announcement 'The Yippies are Going to Chicago', was first publicized on 7 July, 1968. The Yippies intended to hold a 'Festival of Life' at the Democratic National Convention, which was to be held in Chicago. They held that this was to contrast the convention, which they termed a 'Festival of Death'.
The Democratic National Convention opened on 26 August. Mayor Richard Daley was ready for trouble. Chicago's entire police force (11,900 officers) was on 12 hour shifts. At Daley's request, 6,500 federal troops and 5,000 members of the Illinois National Guard were put on active duty in Chicago. The convention hall was protected by barbed wire on the outside and filled with police officers and security personnel on the inside.
The number of demonstrators actually present in Chicago has been estimated at 10,000. There were a number of confrontations between the demonstrators and the police during the week before the official start of the convention and during the first two days of the convention. During the convention, demonstrators deliberately provoked the police, deliberately ignoring reasonable orders and shouting 'pig' or obscenities at them. The police managed to ignore these provocations, but did react angrily when the demonstrators sang God Bless America or recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Yippies, to demonstrate their opinion of the available choices for President of the United States in the coming election, nominated their own candidate, a pig they had named Pigasus.
Commenting on the amount of media coverage they were receiving, demonstrators chanted the phrase 'The whole world's watching' at a rally on 27 August.
On Wednesday, 28 August, as the convention was nominating Hubert Humphrey as the Democratic candidate for president, about 3,000 of the demonstrators prepared to parade to the convention hall. They had been denied the parade permit. Police told the demonstrators to disperse. In five minutes, several busloads of police reinforcements arrived.
Then, the events that came to be known as the 'Chicago Police Riot' occurred, while the whole world was watching. Members of the Chicago Police Department waded into the crowd. As demonstrators tried to flee, they were chased and beaten with fists and nightsticks. A window in the ground-floor lounge of the Chicago Hilton gave way under the pressure of the mob being forced against the building. About ten people fell through the broken glass into the lounge. Police officers followed them in and beat them, there on the floor of the lounge.
Aids to Senator Eugene McCarthy, who had unsuccessfully tried to gain the Democratic nomination for president, set up a makeshift hospital in their headquarters on the 15th floor of the hotel.
The police didn't limit themselves to attacking demonstrators. At least two convention delegates were dragged from the hall by police and beaten. News reporters, photographers, passers-by and members of the clergy were not exempt from attack. Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine felt a nightstick that evening. A grandson of Winston Churchill, there in his capacity as a journalist, was beaten. Anne Kerr, a member of the British Parliament vacationing in Chicago, was maced and taken to jail.
Inside the convention center, Senator Ribicoff grabbed the microphone and condemned what he called the 'Gestapo tactics' of Mayor Daley and the Chicago Police Department.
Representatives of the media, including major television networks from all over the world and virtually every major newspaper on the planet were there, witnessing, reporting and taking pictures for later publication or broadcasting live images of rampaging police officers.
Before the night was over, at least 100 protesters and others had gone to hospital emergency rooms due to injuries sustained at the hands of the police. It has been estimated that at least another 700 sustained injuries that did not require hospital treatment. 175 were arrested.
On the convention floor, reporter Dan Rather was shoved around by a group of Mayor Daley's bodyguards, prompting Walter Cronkite to say, on national television, 'Dan, it looks like there's a bunch of thugs down there'.
Not every person who had been called up to 'defend the City of Chicago' against the demonstrators answered the call. More than a dozen African-American soldiers, many of them Vietnam veterans, were arrested and court-martialed for refusing to mobilize against the anti-war demonstrators.
That was Wednesday night. At about 5:00 a.m. the following Friday, after the convention had ended, eleven Chicago police officers raided the Eugene McCarthy headquarters in the Chicago Hilton. The police officers, who did not have evidence or a search warrant, claimed that the campaign workers had thrown 'smoked fish, ashtrays and beer cans' from their 15th floor headquarters onto the police below. They clubbed the campaign workers, with one officer actually breaking his club on a volunteer's skull.
Mayor Daley stood by his Police Department, characterizing the demonstrators as 'terrorists', who, he said, '...use[d] the foulest of language that you wouldn't hear in a brothel house'.
In addition to the events in Chicago that week, there had been 221 student protests at 101 colleges and universities, in 1968 alone, by that time.
When, in 1976, the Democratic National Convention was again held in Chicago, some police officers who had been on the force in 1968 wore t-shirts bearing the words 'We kicked their father's butt in '68 and now it's your turn'.
In the November 1968 Presidential Election, Richard M. Nixon, the Republican candidate whose campaign included a promise that he had 'a secret plan' to end the war in Vietnam, defeated the liberal Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey and the conservative independent candidate, George Wallace. Nixon received 43.4 percent of the popular vote, compared to Humphrey's 42.7 percent and Wallace's 13.5 percent.
On 27 November, 1968, President-elect Nixon asked Henry Kissinger, a professor at Harvard University, to be his National Security Advisor. Kissinger accepted.
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 authorized '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 an recaptured the hill, unopposed.
As a result of the fiasco at 'Hamburger Hill', which one US Senator labeled 'senseless and irresponsible', Commander Gen. 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 U.S. 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 of 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 organization split into at least two factions; the Progressive Labor Party