How Protests Work

By: Robert Lamb

Protesting Vietnam: Did It Help or Hurt?

With the U.S. Capitol in the background, demonstrators march along Pennsylvania Avenue in an anti-Vietnam War protest in Washington, on Moratorium Day, Nov. 15, 1969.
With the U.S. Capitol in the background, demonstrators march along Pennsylvania Avenue in an anti-Vietnam War protest in Washington, on Moratorium Day, Nov. 15, 1969.

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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More Great Links


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