[During the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations, the U.S. government maintained undemocratic, "authoritarian" regimes in power in South Vietnam against increasingly strong opposition from the majority of the Vietnamese people. By 1964, it was obvious that despite hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid and more than 15,000 American combat "advisors," the hated military junta would soon be overthrown. President Johnson campaigned for re-election that year on repeated promises to "Never send American boys to fight in Vietnam," though as the Pentagon Papers later revealed, he was planning to do just that. After his inauguration, LBJ deployed combat troops to Vietnam in March of 1965. Eventually, more than half a million soldiers & Marines plus air and naval forces were fighting and dying in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia to keep unpopular, pro-American governments in power — at the eventual cost of more than 58,000 American and millions of Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotion lives.
Many in the Freedom Movement saw Vietnam as a racist war of oppression against a non-white people, a white effort to maintain colonial-style domination over a non-white region. Most of the soldiers sent off to the war were draftees. But under the biased "Selective Service" system, Blacks and Latinos were far more likely to be drafted than whites and were more likely to be assigned to front-line combat units. The result was Black and Latino casualty rates proportionally far higher than that of whites. Moreover, many southern draft boards used the draft as a political weapon to force male activists into the Army in an explicit effort weaken the Freedom Movement. Anger over these issues became summed up in the slogan "No Vietnamese ever called me Nigger!"
Issues of poverty and economic justice were also profoundly affected by the war. Just at the time the Movement was turning its focus towards issues of poverty and exploitation, the Federal funds that might have been used for early and K-12 education, college scholarships, job-training, literacy programs, public-works, decent housing, improved medical care, and so on were diverted to the Vietnam War. In the opinion of many Movement activists, the promises of the so-called "War on Poverty" died in the rice-paddy battlefields of Vietnam.
Between 1965 and 1967, SNCC, CORE, SCLC, and Dr. King all came out in opposition to the Vietnam War. Their action was controversial. To no one's surprise, right-wingers and racists who had long opposed the Freedom Movement accused those who took anti-war stands of being "un-American, Communist sympathizers." Liberal supporters of the Civil Rights Movement were deeply split into anti-Communist/pro-war and anti-war/anti-poverty camps. The northern, pro-civil-rights Democratic Party leadership and apparatus rallied around LBJ and sharply criticized Blacks who took an anti-war stand as "ungrateful," "unpatriotic," and "divisive." The Urban League, the national leadership of the NAACP, and other Black leaders who were closely allied with LBJ and northern Democratic politicians also condemned Civil Rights Movement leaders and organizations who opposed the war.
Though some of the pro-war politicians and civil rights leaders who had condemned the early war opponents began to shift to their own anti-war stands in 1968, others remained committed to Johnson and Cold War anti-Communism. Bitter opposition and divisive controversies over the Vietnam War continued for years into the 1970s.]
See also Vietnam War & Civil Rights Movement for web links.
|1965||Dr. King's 1st Statement on Vietnam, August '65.||1966||First SNCC Statement on Vietnam, January '66|
|1966||SNCC: Report on Draft Program and SNCC: Report on Court Proceedings, August '66. (Anti-Vietnam War draft resistance in Atlanta.)||1967||Beyond Vietnam: A
Time to Break Silence, Martin Luther King. Riverside Church
speech, April '67.
Address to Anti-War Marchers, Martin Luther King, April '67.