What was the impact of the Vietnam War on the civil rights movement?

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thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Vietnam War was a conflict between North and South Vietnam with regards to the spread of communism. The communist North was supported by other communist countries while the South was supported by anti-communist countries, among them the United States. In South Vietnam the anti-communist forces faced off against the Viet Cong, a communist front.

The involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War was seen as ironical by the civil rights movements because in spite of their fight for democracy abroad and involvement of black soldiers, the situation was different back home as affirmed by sustained discrimination against black society.

The escalation of the war also impacted the U.S. economy and funding that would have helped impoverished black communities was being channeled to fund the offensive. This caused a series of serious reactions from the Civil Rights groups who saw this situation as a deliberate attempt to slow down their activities.

Mohammed Ali, the renowned boxer, refused to enlist in the U.S. military citing his conscious conflict regarding the war. According to him the U.S. government was using black soldiers to fight in a war to further their own interests while the same community was being oppressed back home. At the same time other members of the black community saw an opportunity to liberate themselves and their society through participation in the war. These conflicting sentiments generated discussions around the Vietnam War and how it was negatively impacting the civil rights movements and the black community at large.

Black soldiers in the war came back home emboldened since they went through the same experience as their white counterparts and while in the bush, they had to rely on each other. This information was used by civil rights groups to dismiss the white supremacist ideologies and principles.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Vietnam War hurt the Civil Rights Movement in at least three ways.  These ways included:

  • It took attention away from civil rights.  The public, the government, and the media only have a limited amount of attention to give.  When something as big as the Vietnam War is commanding a lot of attention, everything else comes to seem less important.
  • It helped split the civil rights community.  There was controversy over whether to support the war and this led to diminished unity among those who supported civil rights.
  • It cost a lot of money.  This meant that there would be less money available for social programs like those the civil rights advocates would have wanted.  President Johnson tried to do both for a while, but that was untenable.