As Vickers (1989) notes, "…the size and intensity of U.S. intervention was met by escalation in the size and intensity of opposition to the war here at home'. (Vickers, 1989, p. 100) Vickers and many other critics state categorically that the anti-war movement in the country was "…a critical factor in preventing the U.S. from achieving victory over communist forces in Vietnam…" and that,
American public opinion indeed turned out to be a crucial 'domino'; it influenced military morale in the field, the long drawn-out negotiations in Paris, the settlement of 1973, and the cuts in aid to South Vietnam in 1974, a prelude to final abandonment in 1975." (Vickers 1989, p. 100)
As events in the war accelerated so did the public opposition to the war and protest changed into active resistance. A new stage of anti-resistance came into effect between 1967 and 1969 as a result of a combination of factors, which included "…a growing sense of power in numbers and a growing frustration at the lack of any visible response by the administration to the movement's growth…" (Vickers 1989, p. 103) This increased resistance took various forms, which included draft resistance and obstruction of induction centers, troop trains, and other war related efforts, as well as symbolic civil disobedience. (Vickers 1989, p. 103)
This was also to lead to more aggressive and physical encounters with the authorities -- which were televised and projected by the media to increase public attention. This was to have a cumulative political effect on the administration. Internal divisions were to emerge within the Democratic Party as a result of public displays of opposition and a sector of the anti-war movement "…began active electoral campaigning to defeat prowar congressional candidates, elect antiwar candidates…" (Vickers, 1989, p. 103/104) This was to lead to the massive antiwar protest in Chicago in 1968 which was extensively covered by the media and press and increased public concern about the war. This was largely due which was also by images of violent demonstrations and images of alleged police brutality. (Vickers, 1989, p. 104) These images were to be repeated in intensity in the iconic images of the Kent State protests and massacre in 1970.
Furthermore, these protests also began to have an impact of the political and business elite of the country and many began to doubt the successful outcome of the war. In 1969 millions of Americans took part in a one-day work stoppage which "… illustrated both the breadth and the depth of antiwar sentiment in the country." ( Vickers, 1989, p. 105) Protests increased when Nixon announced an invasion of Cambodia, which also generated congressional opposition to the war. (Vickers, 1989, p. 106)
Coupled with the above was the vivid reportage of the war with its atrocities and loss of life; which was broadcast in living color in American homes, making the terrible reality of war uncomfortably close for the American public. There are numerous studies which attest to role of the media in turning the American public against the war.
As Hallin notes in the Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam (1986), Vietnam was America's first war to televised without any military censorship. One report states that in 1967 "…90% of the evening news was devoted to the war and roughly 50 million people watched television news each night." (Bonior, Champlin, Kolly 1984, p.4-5). An important aspect was that, …journalists could follow the military into combat and report their observations without formal censorship. Thus, as journalists saw more grisly combat, they presented the public with more graphic images. Also, for the first time, interviewed soldiers expressed their frustration with the progress of the war.
(Television Coverage of the Vietnam War II)
In many ways the decision to leave Vietnam was a balancing act that that the government had or perform between the perceived political and economic percussions of the war, the increasingly negative public perceptions and the international implications of a continuation and escalation of the conflict. As one commentator notes; "…the cost of getting out must be judged against the cost the president could expect to incur if he chose the only other real option: major escalation." (Logevall, 2004)
Central to this debate however are the social factors that played a major role in the eventful decision by government to leave Vietnam. While all the above factors played a role, it was possibly the effect of the images in the media that had a cumulative impact on the situation. This negative social perception was exacerbated by the lack of a quick military solution to the situation and the increasing numbers of American casualties. The increase in the high profile of anti-war sentiment was also increased by the later involvement of many Vietnam veterans in these protests which tended to demoralize and retard any decision that could have accelerated military activities.
Therefore, in the final analysis, the internal social factors and the ongoing protests against the war, combined with the pervasive media attention, was to play a major role in the decision to retreat from Vietnam. There are many critics who debate about what may have happed if there had not been such continuous and unobstructed media reportage of the war and if the anti-war protests had not been so extensive and divisive. One view in this regard is that as military victory would then have been possible. However, the reality is that the social response to the war was increasingly negative and that this factor was part of the complex of pressures and influences that led to the final conclusion of the Vietnam War.
Attarian, J 2000, 'Rethinking the Vietnam War, World and I, vol.15.
Bonier, D, Champlain S, and Kolly T. 1984, the Vietnam Veteran: A History of Neglect, Praeger Publishers, New York.
Bresler, R 2007, ' the Specter of Vietnam', USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education), vol.135, no. 9.
Dinh, V 2000, How We Won in Vietnam, viewed 7 May, 2010,
Ehrenhaus, P 1989, 'Commemorating the Unwon War: On Not Remembering Vietnam', Journal of Communication, vol. 39, no.1, pp.96-107.