The Chicago Riot and Kent State

As the war dragged on, antiwar marches and protests intensified and at times became violent. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968, thousands of city police officers attacked antiwar protesters gathered outside the convention hall with billy clubs and tear gas. The most infamous and tragic incident occurred in early May 1970 at Kent State University in Ohio, where National Guard troops called in to calm the scene ended up firing on a crowd, killing four students. The killings touched off protests at hundreds of college campuses across the United States; many of these also turned violent, and two more students were killed in mid-May at Jackson State University in Mississippi.

The “Silent Majority”

Inevitably, an anti-antiwar movement developed as pro-war “hawks” tried to counter the antiwar “doves.In the face of the growing din of antiwar activists, President Richard M. Nixon claimed in a November 1969 speech that antiwar protesters constituted merely a small but vocal minority that was attempting to drown out the “silent majority” of Americans who did not harbor such “fervent” antiwar sentiments.

In May 1970, just days after the Kent State shootings, a group of construction workers in New York City broke up a student antiwar demonstration, beating up a number of students and storming City Hall. Not long after this Hard Hat Riot, another rally in the city drew 100,000 people to protest against the students, whom they saw as wealthy, spoiled brats who were busy protesting while working-class, non–college educated young Americans were dying in Vietnam.

Impact of the Antiwar Movement

The enormous opposition that the Vietnam War provoked was virtually unprecedented in U.S. history and created an antiwar subculture whose ideology has continued to have a profound impact on American society up to the present day. The antiwar movement and corresponding anti-antiwar movement also exposed class tensions within the United States. Ironically, it was the relatively well-to-do young Americans of the student protest movements who were most likely to receive draft deferments from the government. Some went to great lengths to avoid the draft, while those who were drafted could often parlay typing skills or a few business courses into safe assignments, doing administrative tasks away from the front lines. While relatively well-off college students protested the war stateside, young people from lower-class families made up the vast majority of the soldiers who actually fought and died in Vietnam. In this respect, the war was in many ways a working-class war fought by those from poorer, less-educated backgrounds.

Popular pages: The Vietnam War (1945–1975)