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Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

Vietnam War: Introduction

Northwest Antiwar History: Chapter 4


Vietnam War

by Jessie Kindig

The Vietnam War sparked a mass antiwar movement employing the civil disobedience tactics and grassroots mobilizations of the civil rights struggles. The early movement was also spurred by networks of student protest already formed during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964 and the founding of Students for a Democratic Society in 1960.

Though sailors and soldiers following World War II had protested US aid to the French colonization project in Vietnam, and liberal anti-nuclear groups had begun discussing the conflict in the early 1960s, it was not until President Johnson’s switch in 1965 from a proxy war to a full-scale air and ground war that the large organized protest to the war emerged.

Led by student organizations like Students for a Democratic Society, the antiwar movement developed rapidly, and by 1969, hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating against the war. The following year, hundreds of campuses across the country went on strike in protest of Nixon’s escalation of the war into Cambodia. Inside all branches of the military, soldiers began refusing orders, printing underground antiwar newspapers, and organizing small-scale mutinies, which crippled the military’s ability to function. Protesting the war led many to question the social and political systems that produced such wars, and activists tied their critiques to issues of capitalism, racism, economic exploitation, and women’s and gay liberation.

The Pacific Northwest, with its large array of military bases, universities, and history of radicalism, was a flashpoint for the Vietnam antiwar movement. Antiwar GIs at Fort Lewis and students at the University of Washington were some of the first in the country to organize collectively, and inspired activists in larger cities. Draft resistance organizations formed underground railroads to funnel AWOL soldiers and draft resisters to nearby Canada. Students in Seattle went on strike for Black Studies programs and again to protest the war. Shaun Maloney, head of the Seattle's Local 19 of the longshoremen's union, the ILWU, told reporters in 1972 that President Nixon’s attack on North Vietnam was no different than his attack on American workers’ living standards at home.[1]

Click below to go to the next chapter of the Introduction,

Ch. 5: Anti-Nuclear Organizing in the 1970s and 1980s, and Beyond

Copyright (c) 2008 Jessie Kindig


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[1] Shaun Maloney Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Washington (Accession 5255-001, Box 21, Folder 83).