The antiwar protests of the 1960s are often cited as an example of people coming together in massive numbers to support a cause. In 1971, at the height of the movement, an estimated half a million protesters gathered in Washington, D.C., to rail against the ongoing conflict. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of the antiwar movement in achieving its objective is still a hotly contested subject.
Some credit the peace movement as a major contributor to the United States' eventual abandonment of the campaign, while others insist that the protests only emboldened the enemy, prolonging the war. The same arguments continued following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. If you're fighting a war of attrition against a stronger nation, and that nation's people rise up in protest against the war, then the deterioration of internal resolve could tip the odds a little more in your favor.
In the case of the Vietnam War, historian Jeffrey Kimball argues that protests may have marginally encouraged North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. Nixon and Kissinger, on the other hand, blamed the antiwar movement and media with dragging out the war, encouraging the enemy and ultimately contributing to the collapse of North Vietnam [source: Kimball].
Yet even if the '60s antiwar movement failed to actually affect U.S. policies in Vietnam, most analysts agree that it did bring about social and political change at home. Future politicians such as Bill Clinton emerged from the movement, as did a more critical mass media and questioning public.
Our history books are filled with examples of protest -- as is our news media. Regardless of how much change a protest effort manages to affect, it still manages at least partial success. So long as the effort allows the voice of a minority to be heard by the majority, then protest is performing its role in human society.
Explore the links below to learn even more about the instruments of social and political change.
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- Adler, Margot. "Lysistrata: 'Ancient' War Protest." NPR. March 4, 2003. (Jan. 22, 2009)http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1182859
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- "Anti-war hacking rises sharply." BBC News. March 26, 2003. (Jan. 22, 2009)http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/2888589.stm
- Barkham, Patrick. "Hackers declare war on Scientologists amid claims of heavy-handed Cruise control." The Guardian. Feb. 4, 2008. (Jan. 22, 2009)http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/feb/04/news
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- Farber, David. "Anti-Vietnam War movement." Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 2008. (Jan. 28, 2009)http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761589794_2/Anti-Vietnam_War_Movement.html
- "Gandhi: a biography." Kamat's Potpourri. Jan. 15, 2009. (Jan. 22, 2009)http://www.kamat.com/mmgandhi/gandhi.htm
- Gilbert, Martin. "The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War." Macmillan. 1987.
- "Guernica: Testimony of War." Treasures of the World. (Jan. 22, 2009)http://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/guernica_nav/main_guerfrm.html
- Kimball, Jeffrey. "Did Vietnam Anti-War Protests Embolden Our Enemies?" History News Network. April 12, 2004. (Jan. 28, 2009)http://hnn.us/articles/4610.html
- Kronenwetter, Michael. "Protest!" Twenty-First Century Books. 1996.
- Lashley, Brian. "Hundreds join graffiti protest." Manchester Evening News. Sept. 18, 2007. (Jan. 22, 2009)http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/1016718_hundreds_join_graffiti_protest
- "Massacre of Amritsar." Britannica Online Encyclopædia. 2008. (Jan. 22, 2009)http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/21847/Massacre-of-Amritsar
- "Nazi Rule." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Jan. 26, 2009)http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/nrule.htm
- Netzley, Patricia D. "Social Protest Literature." ABC-Clio Inc. April 1, 1999.
- "Rosa Parks Was Arrested for Civil Disobedience December 1, 1955." America's Story from America's Library. (Jan. 22, 2009)http://www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/jb/modern/parks_1
- Thoreau, Henry David. "Civil Disobedience." 1849. (Jan. 22, 2009)http://thoreau.eserver.org/civil.html