By the 1950s, disillusionment had sunk in that “the war to end all wars” early in the 20th century had been an impossible dream. It set the stage for the Second World War which added to the mayhem and killing and weapons of war that would kill thousands of people instantly. Our country took upon itself the role of promoting democracy and eliminating growth of communism in the world and here in our country. Making war became the standard answer, so our leaders quietly joined France in Vietnam in the 1960s as they battled the communist front seen as sweeping across Asia.
Meanwhile, as domestic life returned to “normal” after the Second World War, the public became aware that normal was not desirable or even just for women or minorities. In the mid-fifties, peoples’ resistance to “separate but equal” usually meant third class status in public facilities, lack of job opportunities, and segregation. The nation was shocked into awareness by the brutal killing of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers on June 12, 1963, the school girl bombing in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963, and the assassination of President John Kennedy in Texas on November 2, 1963. The Reverend Martin Luther King led followers with methods of active nonviolent protest such as boycotts, freedom rides, marches, non-violent crusades, sit ins, and more to address prejudice and exclusion “based on the color of one’s skin.” College students became active in protests, always nonviolent. Then the backlash became increasingly and shockingly violent, unleashing even more killings. I joined an organization called SCORE, Student Committee on Racial Equality. Another was SDS, Students for a Democratic Society which was devoted to the “civil rights movement,” as it was called after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
American involvement in the war in Vietnam escalated dramatically in 1965; the SDS became more militant as they protested the drafting of students for the war. Tactics included occupation of university administrative offices and buildings. Student rallies against the war became ubiquitous with signs such as “Burn Draft Cards – Not Children” and “War No More.” By 1966 the Vietnam War became America’s war and all Americans were touched, either directly or indirectly. Public support became severely divided. By 1967 there were nearly 500 casualties of war per week. The hardest fighting occurred in 1967, 1968, and 1969 as America’s military tried to win the war. Many celebrities including Martin Luther King started speaking against the injustice of the war, and the day after his “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech, he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Peoples’ anger and grief erupted in angry and violent riots in many American cities.
The anti-war movement became more organized and more political, until focused on the 1968 Democratic convention and elections. I was there. On October 15, 1969 Vietnam Moratoriums were held throughout the U.S. A march in Washington D.C. on November 13-15, 1969 from Arlington Park Cemetery to the Capitol attracted thousands. Finally the government began Paris Peace Talks. Students continued demonstrating primarily peacefully but more boldly, after President Nixon announced new war escalation into Cambodia and Laos on May 1, 1970. Students demonstrating in Kent State College, Ohio, found themselves fired upon by National Guardsmen. “The war was brought home,” many said. In spite of all the methods and means of peaceful protest developed in the 1960s in which tens of thousands regular people participated, much of the hope and dreams for peaceful solutions were obliterated by the many killings and bloodshed in the 1960s, Perhaps one of the most hopeful movements to come out of the 1960s was the “feminist revolution” which was born when women realized that they had no say-so in leadership of the peace movement.
The 1960’s raised many questions, questions with no preconceived answers, not questions from above but grass-roots questions. What is war for? Is peacemaking worth the risk? Questions were raised which we as a nation could not answer in the 1960s, nor in the 1980s a generation later, nor in the 2000s two generations later. Many Vietnam protesters of the 1960s sent their children off to war in Desert Storm and their grandchildren off to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind; the answer is blowing in the wind.”