Essay: To what extent did the student involvement fuel the anti-war protests?

The 1960’s had become one of the most turbulent times in the United States. Students shook the innocence and seriousness of the 1950’s to become active members of society. It was a time of change where students took an active role in the peace movements and their involvement fueled the anti-war protests.

The Cold War was at its peak in the 1960’s. People were afraid because the USA and the USSR were engaged in the arms race, both of these superpowers possessed nuclear weapons, the USA had sent troops to Vietnam and the conflict in the Middle East was a constant threat to world peace. Peace movements were established because of the uncertainty and conflict during the 1960’s. These movements included civil society protests and included young people, who called themselves ‘hippies’. These young students adopted an alternative lifestyle and were committed to love and peace.

There was a great deal of civil unrest on college campuses throughout the 1960’s as students became increasingly involved in African-American civil rights, women’s liberation, and anti-Vietnam War movements. This was a time where young people from middle class backgrounds were able to go to university or college once they had finished school. College enrollment reached nine million students by the end of the 1960’s. Colleges and universities in America had more students than before, and these institutions often tried to restrict student behaviour to maintain order on the campuses. The students chose to embrace the rebellious mood of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ instead of following the adult standards of hard work and nonaggressive behaviour. They challenged their parent’s values by rejecting the accepted norms of society. They were known as ‘hippies’ and rebelled against the standards set by their parents. They wore kaftans, long skirts, bell-bottom jeans, bead and sandals. Boys grew their hair long, which was also a form of protesting. Another form of protesting was where other young people experimented with drugs like LSD. The hippies believed in communal living and sexual freedom. They listened to Rock music performed by artists such as the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. The lyrics of the songs performed by these musicians reflected the hippies’ rejection of conventional values. They were committed to peace and love. Hippies believed that flowers symbolized peace and called themselves ‘flower children.’ A feature of the opposition movement was the fact that it was a popular social event. As one student said, antiwar demonstrations were the places to “get laid, get high, and listen to some great rock.”

By the late 1960’s, American civil society began to question the role their country was playing in Vietnam. 500 000 soldiers were killed and over 30 000 were injured in Vietnam in 1966. Students blamed President Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ) for sending the soldiers to Vietnam. Young Americans were directly involved in the Vietnam War and were at the head of anti-war protests and demonstrations. Hippies who wore flowers and peace signs held demonstrations. Their slogan was ‘make love not war.’ Young men burnt their draft cards. The penalty for destroying a draft card was five years imprisonment or a $10 000 fine. Students skipped lectures and held teach-ins where they would discuss what was happening in Vietnam. In April 1970, President Nixon ordered US troops in Vietnam to attack Cambodia, as there were Vietcong bases in this country. Students at Kent State University, Ohio, held an anti-war demonstration on 4 May 1970 where over 20 000 students gathered to protest against the US troops being sent into Cambodia. The National Guardsmen were sent to keep order at the demonstration. They fired tear gas at the crowd but this proved to be ineffective. The guardsmen advanced on the crowd and managed to disperse it. Twelve guardsmen began firing at the scattering students. Four students were killed and nine were injured. Some of the students that were shot were not participating in the demonstration, they were simply on their way to attend lectures. The shooting of unarmed students shocked the American nation and increased anti-war protests across the country. President Nixon was forced to begin the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam in 1971 as a result of negative media coverage and the anti-war protests in the USA.

The 1960’s was a time of change where students took an active role in the peace movements. They challenged their parent’s values by rejecting the accepted norms of society. Therefore, their involvement proved to be successful in fueling the anti-war protests.


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