Public opinion shifted during the war. In the fall 1964 election, a majority of Americans voted for a presidential candidate who promised not to send “our boys” to Vietnam. Once combat troops were sent, however, the majority endorsed the war, in keeping with patriotic support for American troops abroad. A Gallup poll taken in June 1965 reported that 66% favored continued U.S. military involvement as opposed to 20% who favored withdrawal. Only one year later, support for the war had begun to wane. A Gallup poll taken in June 1966 reported 48% in favor of continued involvement and 35% in favor of withdrawal.
South Vietnam suffered in more ways. Some 1,200,000 people were forcibly relocated through “pacification” programs and five million became refugees between 1964 to 1975. The urban population swelled from 15 percent in 1964 to 40 percent in 1968, to 65 percent in 1974, undermining the social fabric of the country. Normally a rice exporter, South Vietnam had to import 725,000 tons of rice in 1967. Hunger and starvation were side effects of the war. The U.S. also conducted its chemical war in the south, spraying nineteen million gallons of toxins on five million acres, with some parts of North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia sprayed as well. The debilitating effects of this chemical war still linger.
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The United States government mobilized the entire nation for war, and African Americans were expected to do their part. The military instituted a draft in order to create an army capable of winning the war. The government demanded "100% Americanism" and used the June 1917 Espionage Act and the May 1918 Sedition Act to crack down on dissent. Large segments of the black population, however, remained hesitant to support a cause they deemed hypocritical. A small but vocal number of African Americans explicitly opposed black participation in the war. A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, editors of the radical socialist newspaper The Messenger, openly encouraged African Americans to resist military service and, as a result, were closely monitored by federal intelligence agents. Many other African Americans viewed the war apathetically and found ways to avoid military service. As a black resident from Harlem quipped, "The Germans ain't done nothin' to me, and if they have, I forgive 'em."
Racial violence tested blacks' patriotic resolve. On July 2, 1917, in East St. Louis, tensions between black and white workers sparked a bloody four-day riot that left upwards of 125 black residents dead and the nation shocked. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) responded by holding a Silent Protest Parade in New York City on July 28, 1917. Eight thousand marchers, the men dressed in black and the women and children in white, solemnly advanced down Fifth Avenue to the sound of muffled drums and holding signs such as the one that read, Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy.
“Manifest destiny” was an informal doctrine that combined religious, political, and racial ideas into a righteous justification for American territorial expansion. The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine of 1904 was the American equivalent of the French and British “civilizing missions,” applied to the Americas. The Truman Doctrine of 1947 established the basic ideological framework of the Cold War, intellectually dividing the world into communist totalitarians and freedom-loving peoples, which tragically failed to acknowledge British and French imperial domination in Asia and Africa.
Quoted in Stuart W. Leslie, The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), p. 238. The worker was Jim Kain, described as a clean shaven twenty-two-year-old graduate student from Alabama. His colleague William McFarland, 29, said he didn’t regard his work on military weapons as “evil. I think the American government is composed of rational men who do not sit around all day thinking of ways to kill people.” See also Jon Nordheimer, “Protests Disturb Lab Men at M.I.T.,” New York Times, November 9, 1969.
Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War; and Wilfred G. Burchett, Vietnam North (New York: International Publishers, 1966), p. 13. In an all-too typical incident, American bombers destroyed a leprosorium in Quinh Lap in April 1967, causing 120 deaths and over 1,00 wounded. When some of the lepers fled to nearby caves, the caves were mercilessly bombed through the month of June, killing well over a dozen more.
Stephen P. Randolph, Powerful and Brutal Weapons: Nixon, Kissinger and the Easter Offensive (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007); Truong Nhu Tang, A Vietcong Memoir: An Inside Account of the Vietnam War and its Aftermath (New York: Vintage Books, 1985); David Biggs, Quagmire: Nation Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2010), p. 204; Martin Van Crevald, The Age of Airpower (New York: Public Affairs, 2011), p. 366; Mickey Grant, “The Cu Chi Tunnels (59-minute documentary film, 1990), ; Jonathan Neale, A People’s History of the Vietnam War (New York: The New Press, 2003), pp. 99-100; and Stephen Budiansky, Code Warriors: NSA’s Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), p. 259.
Ann Finkbeiner, The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite (New York: Penguin, 2007), p. 72; Paul Dickson, The Electronic Battlefield (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976), p. 41; Eric Prokosch, The Technology of Killing: A Military and Political History of Antipersonnel Weapons (London: Zed Books, 1995), pp. 109, 110; and Gregg Herken, Cardinal Choices: Presidential Science Advising From the Atomic Bomb to SDI (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2000), p. 154.
Richard Barnet, The Economy of Death (New York: Atheneum, 1969); Jeff Sharlett, “Manipulation of Men for a War Economy,” Science for the People Newsletter, Vol III, No. 3, July 1971, pp. 7, 8; and Barbara Barksdale Clowse, Brainpower for the Cold War: The Sputnik Crisis and the National Defense Act of 1958 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1981).
Michael Clodfelter, Vietnam in Military Statistics: A History of the Indochina Wars, 1772-1991 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 1995), p. 225.