When looking back on the Vietnam Era, many "pigeon hole" the "hawks" and the "doves" in certain visual categories. For example, the representation shared of the war protestors is typical--young,...

When looking back on the Vietnam Era, many "pigeon hole" the "hawks" and the "doves" in certain visual categories. For example, the representation shared of the war protestors is typical--young, long-haired, etc. Is this an accurate representation?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It was not merely the young that protested the war.  Not since the Civil War had the been nation so torn apart.  It is false to believe only the Hippies and the young were against the war. 

Part of what made the Vietnam War's pursuit so difficult for leaders like Johnson and Nixon was precisely that it was not simply the young that stood against the war.  There were different factors leading to more Americans, young and old, being against the war.  On one hand, as the casualty count began to rise, parents and older Americans were seeing younger Americans being brought back home severely injured or in body bags.  This began to cast a profound impact on older Americans, wondering if the war was worth the sacrifice being made.  Part of this resided in the fact that many older Americans had understood a more "traditional" conception of victory in war.  An enemy was engaged, an enemy was defeated and victory was assured.  The metric for victory in Vietnam was fundamentally different than previous wars, something that was never fully conveyed or articulated.  For older Americans, seeing the rising number of the dead return without a clear understanding of victory being evident caused significant questioning of the war.

At the same time, the increased media coverage that helped to make Vietnam America's "living room war" helped to move older Americans against the war.  It was not simply young people who were watching the nightly news and seeing gruesome images and weekly deaths on the screen.  Older Americans were stunned to see a war that they accepted turn out in such a twisted manner.  For the traditional American family who lived in the suburbs, being able to see nightly newscasts with Vietnam footage was a jarring experience.  This helped to move the process of antiwar sentiment in a more traditional demographic that was trusting of government and authority, in general.

It is in this point where I think that it is important to make clear that the stereotypical view of the war opponent is not entirely accurate.  President Johnson was able to commence the escalation of the war with a large chunk of the electorate embracing his message.  He was able to convince the voting public that the engagement in Vietnam was worthwhile.  Johnson was always viewed with a level of skepticism from the young because he was not President Kennedy and lacked the charismatic connection with young people that his predecessor possessed.  Johnson was receiving support from an older constituency that believed the war was the right path.  It was here in which President Johnson faced some of his strongest rebuke.  President Johnson found that he had a difficult time in convincing the voting public, majority of whom were older Americans, that the war was worth it.  No one believed the White House.  In this, one can see that the antiwar movement cut across all lines:

Some demanded an end to the war because they felt it was immoral, others because it was poorly conceived and unwinnable, and still others because the United States refused to employ the full range of its military power to achieve a military victory. By the early 1970s, opposition to the Vietnam War was endemic [native] to American political culture, affecting almost every segment of American society.

There was not a segment of society kept free of questioning the Vietnam War.  The emergence of antiwar sentiment was not the domain of the young.