Why did the Vietnam war and the domestic opposition to it come to dominate American politics in the 1960s?
The war in Vietnam was extremely unpopular for a number of reasons. First, a majority of the troops serving in Southeast Asia were drafted, and many of them did not want to serve in the military--especially in a war that many people believed was one in which the United States should never have become involved. The incredible unpopularity of forced military service led to the end of our nation's draft, and most critics believe the armed forces run far more smoothly with volunteer troops. Additionally, the fact that the U. S. was becoming involved in yet another war in Asia was highly unpopular at home. Unlike World War II, when Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor actually threatened our borders, the Vietnam War was primarily contained within its own borders. The government's belief that democracy must be maintained wherever and whenever possible was not supported by many Americans, especially with the nation's youth, who were being asked to give up their lives for a cause in which they did not believe. The war became the dominant aspect in American politics for more than a decade primarily for these important reasons.
There is no way to know for sure why something like this happens because a lot of it has to do with people's mentality. We cannot always know why something catches people's attention while something else does not. I would suggest the following two reasons for this:
- There were huge numbers of Americans involved in the war. At the peak of US involvement, there were around 600,000 American military personnel in Vietnam. For this reason, the war got a great deal of attention. All wars get attention, but one with that many Americans involved will get even more attention since so many people will know someone who is in Vietnam or at least know someone who knows someone... The point is, that the war becomes immediately important to many more people because they feel personally involved.
- The war and the opposition to it created a major cultual conflict in the US. Conservatives saw the opposition as evidence that US society was in decline as people were losing their patriotism. This made the war and the opposition to it more salient than something that was more routinely political like taxes or spending. The fact that the war and the opposition seemed to be a moral/cultural issue made it seem more important to people.
For these reasons, the war came to be the dominant issue in American politics.