In August 1964 North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked two US destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin and the president ordered the retaliatory bombing of military targets in North Vietnam And by the time U S planes began regular bombings of North Vietnam in February 1965 some critics had begun to question the government s assertion that it was fighting a democratic war to liberate the South Vietnamese people from Communist aggression The anti war movement began mostly on college campuses as members of the leftist organization Students for a Democratic Society began organizing teach ins to express their opposition to the way in which it was being conducted Though the vast majority of the American population still supported the administration policy in Vietnam a small but outspoken liberal minority was making its voice heard by the end of 1965 This minority included many students as well as prominent artists and intellectuals and members of the hippie movement a growing number of young people who rejected authority and embraced the drug culture
By November 1967 American troop strength in Vietnam was approaching 500 000 and U S casualties had reached 15 058 killed and 109 527 wounded The Vietnam War was costing the U S 25 billion per year and disillusionment was beginning to reach greater sections of the taxpaying public More casualties were reported in Vietnam every day even as U S commanders demanded more troops Under the draft system as many as 40 000 young men were called into service each month adding fuel to the fire of the anti war movement On October 21 1967 one of the most prominent anti war demonstrations took place as some 100 000 protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial around 30 000 of them continued in a march on the Pentagon later that night After a brutal confrontation with the soldiers and U S Marshals protecting the building hundreds of demonstrators were arrested One of them was the author Norman Mailer who chronicled the events in his book The Armies of the Night published the following year to widespread acclaim Also in 1967 the antiwar movement got a big boost when the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr went public with his opposition to the war on moral grounds condemning the war s diversion of federal funds from domestic programs as well as the disproportionate number of African American casualties in relation to the total number of soldiers killed in the war
The following year Nixon claimed in a famous speech that anti war protesters constituted a small albeit vocal minority that should not be allowed to drown out the silent majority of Americans Nixon s war policies divided the nation still further however In December 1969 the government instituted the first U S draft lottery since World War II inciting a vast amount of controversy and causing many young men to flee to Canada to avoid conscription Tensions ran higher than ever spurred on by mass demonstrations and incidents of official violence such those at Kent State in May 1970 when National Guard troops shot into a group of protesters demonstrating against the U S invasion of Cambodia killing four students In mid 1971 the publication of the first Pentagon Papers which revealed previously confidential details about the war s conduct caused more and more Americans to question the accountability of the U S government and military establishments In response to a strong anti war mandate Nixon announced the effective end to U S involvement in Southeast Asia in January 1973
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