The Youth Movement, Counterculture, and Anti-War Protests

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What effect or effects did the antiwar movement have on American society in the 1960s?

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The anti-war movement of the 1960s ultimately contributed to ending the Vietnam War, and it also opened up a major ideological divide in America. The dubious motives for the war in Vietnam incited widespread distrust in the US government on an unprecedented scale. This disillusionment especially affected the younger generations. Huge numbers of young people became politically active in speaking out against the Vietnam War. This force culminated in the Twenty-Sixth Amendment (1971), which lowered the voting age to 18. The anti-war movement ultimately inspired a general wariness of the powers of government that lasted long after the war.

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The antiwar movement against the Vietnam War began in the United States soon after President Lyndon Johnson escalated the bombing of North Vietnam after an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin in August 1964. It continued for years, disrupting American society in several ways.

First of all, the antiwar movement created a polarization of American society between those who were for the war and those who were against the war. In the beginning, the movement consisted mainly of a minority of college students, but as the war escalated and the draft was implemented, the antiwar movement became more and more popular and rallies became massive. For instance, crowds of up to 100,000 people gathered to protest the war in April of 1967 in New York and in October of 1967 in Washington D.C. Although President Richard Nixon affirmed that the "silent majority" of Americans supported the war effort, it was clear that the number of protestors opposed to it continued to grow.

The antiwar movement became a part of the popular culture of the era through songs by Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Marvin Gaye, John Lennon, and many other singers. Famous entertainers and leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., the boxer Muhammad Ali, the author Norman Mailer, and actress Jane Fonda achieved notoriety for their opposition to the war.

People in all facets of society found their rights threatened as they opposed the war. One famous example involved two high school students in Iowa who wore black armbands to school to protest the war. When they refused to remove the armbands they were sent home. As a result, they sued the school, and the case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, where the students were vindicated. The Supreme Court ruled that even at school students retained their First Amendment rights.

The antiwar movement prompted conservative backlash that carried on into the 70s and sometimes became violent. After President Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia, during a protest that took place on the campus of Kent State University in May of 1970 the National Guard shot and killed four students. During the same month in New York City, a mob of construction workers in New York attacked a group of antiwar protestors with clubs.

In conclusion, the antiwar movement started small but became so influential that it created a rift in American society, affected the decisions of politicians during the course of the war, and had a lasting effect on American culture by inspiring songs, books, and films.

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The Vietnam War and its accompanying protest movement represented a fundamental shift in the relationship between political leaders and its citizens. World War II was a conflict that was almost universally lauded as necessary and proper by the people of the United States.  Vietnam represented a divisive conflict in which the American people came to believe that the United States did not stand on the high moral ground in this war.  The anti-war movement was important because it represented a demographic shift in participation in politics to a younger group.  The movement was the first time that the 18-25-year-old demographic was moved to political action.  Two historical events help illustrate the success of the anti-war movement by 1971.  First, the anti-war movement was responsible for the 26th Amendment (1971), which lowered the voting age to 18.  Since the average age of soldiers in combat was 19, it seemed unconscionable that the men dying in war could not even vote for their leaders.  A second event that demonstrated  the success of student political activism was the May 1970 Student Strike.  This was a week-long protest movement in which many colleges were forced to cancel classes as students protested the war and racial inequality.  It was during this week that students were shot and killed on the campus of Kent State University.  Over 4 million students participated in the strike nationally.  The anti-war movement was not the birth of students activism in the United States, but it signifies the golden age of political participation by this age group.  

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The antiwar movement affected American society in the 1960s. As more and more people protested the war effort, it had a big effect on the American people.

Prior to the Vietnam War, the American people generally trusted the government. People had respect for the government and believed the information that the government was telling them. Because of the protests and the actions in the war, a credibility gap developed. People began to realize the government wasn’t being honest with them. As a result, Americans began to doubt the government.

Other people became very disrespectful toward the government. Many Americans refused to register for the war, and some refused to serve if drafted. There was open defiance toward our laws regarding the draft and serving if drafted.

People also became concerned about the police powers the government had. There was concern over the shootings at Kent State, and people became increasingly uneasy about the government's use of force. Many people were also arrested protesting the war.

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The anti-war movement had two main effects on American society.

First, the movement helped to erode support for the war.  This led to a decrease in American involvement and the eventual withdrawal of US forces in 1973.

Second, the movement helped lead to a major split in American society.  The anti-war movement was part of the broader counterculture that changed American society.  It helped to create a split between Americans who believed in traditional moral values and traditional ideas of patriotism (Richard Nixon's "Silent Majority") and those who wanted to move to newer and more liberal ways.  This split continues to affect American society today.

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