April 27, 2000
Professor Cheryl Greenberg, History Department, Trinity
I'm not sure if the following question
involved you. To what extent were you
involved in antiwar protest?
very polite. No, it doesnt involve me. I remember wearing a black armband to school in
seventh grade, which was the thing to do in protest.
I also remember MIA bracelets, which was a silver bracelet that said the
name of an MIA on it and that was to
remember them, keep their memory alive. I did
not have one but I do remember them. Something
about the war, that was antiwar. Needless to
say I was but didnt have the faintest idea why.
Which do you believe was a greater issue
of tension in the antiwar community? The sending of U.S. troops to Vietnam or
U.S. aggression against Vietnam?
its a complicated question. The people
who were antiwar because they thought the war was wrong, which was the core, I think
opposed American involvement in Vietnam, period. Not
just sending troops but the bombings. I
think thought that that was the central core. The
antiwar protests were huge and I think in large measure because people didnt want to
go. In that sense, probably the majority of
protesters were concerned about the draft and having to
go themselves, not concerned about American involvement. Obviously,
if you didnt have involvement, you wouldnt have to go. On the other hand, it is stuff like the Christmas
bombings, that Nixon did, the bombings of Cambodia, which was a neutral country... that
got people crazy. That of course wasnt
about the draft; it was about American involvement at all.
Obviously, the more we get involved the more people fight. It is hard to separate it. I think the core of people thought it was
inappropriate for America to be involved, period, because of the anti-imperialistic sense
that this was a war for independence and that kind of stuff. I think that a large number of protesters turned
out primarily because there was a threat that they would have to go.
How were foreign leaders such as Ho Chi Minh viewed by the
majority of protesters, and the American public in general?
I think again there was a split. There were people in the antiwar movement who
just thought we should just stay out of it. They
were no fan of Ho Chi Minh, a Communist, bad guy. No
one was under any delusions that he was a good democratic leader or anything like that. I think they thought it was not our business, it
was a French colony, they through the French out, and we step in as the imperial power,
thats inappropriate. This is a war of
independence, it is a civil war, let them sort it out.
I do think there was another group though; I do not know how to assess which
group was bigger. There was a substantial
group that was not only antiwar because we shouldnt be involved, but antiwar because
they thought we were on the wrong side and were supporters of Ho Chi Minh. This was the Jane Fonda faction. Not that Jane led it but she was a visible one who
went. There were folks who went to North
Vietnam and supported the North Vietnamese cause as opposed to just simply saying let them
sort it out. I think they were big fans of Ho
Chi Minh in part because the Southern government was so corrupt and terrible that it was
hard not to advocate their overthrow, and in part because I think they had some real
sympathy for the West. Ho Chi Minh was
perceived as a Nationalist, a freedom fighter, a leftist, a socialist. There was a group that said lets stay out of it
and another group that said we actually like the North Vietnamese and Ho Chi Minh.
How did the majority of protesters view
U.S. leaders such as President
Johnson and Nixon?
With great disdain, obviously. Johnson ends up getting into trouble. The protests dont start until partway
through Johnsons career, so he gets away with a lot in the early years when people
werent really fully paying attention. By
the end he is of course fully involved and therefore discredited by the war. Nixon is so unreal; its bad news as far as
the protesters are concerned. There is
actually this pitiful scene when theyre protesting in front of the Pentagon and
Nixon actually goes out to talk to them. Its
pitiful, hes a poor old guy that cant stand that people dont like him
and hes a corrupt evil guy to begin with, its a kind of pitiful scene. Anyway, nobody liked Nixon. None of the protesters liked Nixon. They were not fans of Johnson either. He was a sellout, a warmonger. I think theyre special ire was saved for
Nixon. In part because Johnson was good on
other stuff like civil rights, and in part because it was earlier, and in part because
Johnson was a democrat, whereas Nixon had none of those things going for him. Nixon of course also did things like the secret
bombing. He says he has a plan, gets elected,
and then his plan is no plan. He stalls on
the peace talks. Once Congress money pulls
money for troops he bombs. He does these
secret bombings, secret of course only from us. Theyre
not secret from the people were bombing. There
are all sorts of ways he tries to get around public opinion when it finally does shift
that makes things even worse for him, in terms of public opinion.
opinion, how significant was the role of the media in portraying the first televised war?
Clearly it was
pivotal. I think there are two factors that
made the antiwar protest so large. One as I
said before is that the draft reached all the way up.
By the end of the draft, even a student deferment didnt help you. So, people who ordinarily just let other people go
get shot up were suddenly in danger of going to war.
I think that swelled the ranks of protesters.
The other thing that helped not just the protesters but helped turn general
public opinion against the war is the media. I
just dont think there is any question about that.
It was certainly no more bloody than World War II or World War I, but we
didnt have television in World War II and World War I to show us this stuff. When you see this stuff on TV every single night,
you sit down to dinner and turn on the TV and there are body counts. And there are bodies being pulled up. You see them walking through the forest and
getting their legs blown off with landmines. It
was unbelievable. And of course the Tet
Offensive, which failed ultimately as a military move, which was to throw the American out
by attacking the embassies and stuff like that. It
failed but they win because it was allover the media.
Americans see the embassy overrun by North Vietnamese and they see that
suddenly there is this invasion and attack when Nixon said it was all solved, were
ok, everythings under control. I
think people said oh my God, were really not going to be able to win this, even
though we won that piece, public opinion shifted as a result of it and I think its
all because it was televised.
makers, older generations of Americans, or student protesters perceive the Communist
threat as a real threat?
First of all,
I dont think they protestors who saw Communism as a threat in that way. Second of all, I think there were protestors who
were anti-Soviet or anti-Chinese or pro Cold War, but they did not necessarily see Vietnam
as a location for fighting out the Cold War. They
could say this is a war of national liberation; its not about that. Some people didnt care if it was about that
or not because they were not sympathetic to the Cold War or didnt think it was a
real issue. Even those who were protesting
thought it wasnt a place to fight the Cold War.
have touched upon this question already, how did the My Lai Massacre and the Tet
Offensive, often referred to as the turning point of the war, affect
Americas perceptions and attitudes towards the Vietnam War?
Ill skip the Tet Offensive because you dont need it twice. My
Lai was so unbelievable. Now all this stuff has come out about Korea and how
Americans shot at unarmed civilians and massacred them, under orders. The thing
about My Lai I think is exactly the same. The Tet Offensive was stunning to
everybody because we thought things were under control and the North Vietnamese proved
they werent. The My Lai massacre was stunning for a completely different
reason. People who supported the war thought that we were on the side of good, and
here was a guy who massacred babies. I dont even know how I can
articulate...it was the first time that Americans knew that Americans participated in this
kind of genocidal slaughter. Everyone understood the claim that you cant tell
one from the other and theyre all wearing pajamas, and you cant tell who they
are until they throw a hand grenade. Certainly that was true. The Vietcong
operated by getting people who looked like civilians to attack. In that sense it was
true but the massacre was a massacre. It was cold-blooded slaughter. It put
the line to any claim that we there for any moral reason and I think it felt to many
people like the last betrayal of government goodness. It was a total betrayal of
everything America said it stood for. Its not that America is the only one
that commits these sort of things but we like to say we dont and we think that we
dont. We always think that were the good guys. After My Lai I
think no one ever believes that we were good anymore. I just think there is a moral
shift that goes on between thinking that you are always moral, which is wrong but at least
ennobling, to thinking oh my God, we can commit genocide. It is an unbelievable
sense of betrayal by the government. It was a terrible moment...not that it was the
first time it happened, but the first time Americans had to face the fact that we were as
barbaric as everybody else and that we had war aims that we could not even contend were
moral or ethical anymore.