The 1960s was a decade of tumultuous change in the United States. The civil rights movement and the emerging counterculture attracted many young Americans, who began to have a vision of a world without violence, hatred, or prejudice. They questioned the establishment and its support of the Vietnam War, which to them seemed to symbolize the struggle between the "haves" and the "have-nots."
Those attitudes, along with widespread anger at the United States' involvement in the war, led to a mass movement of people—students, writers, pacifists, clergy members, and even some disillusioned Vietnam veterans—who used demonstrations, parades, and sit-ins to force politicians to recognize that the war was unpopular. U.S. efforts to save South Vietnam from communism, the protesters claimed, was a dubious cause and not worth the loss of so many lives. On October 16, 1967, 120 antiwar demonstrators were arrested after a staged sit-in at the Oakland, California draft induction center. Days later, on October 21, a massive demonstration against the war took place in Washington, D.C. when a spectrum of antiwar activists marched to the Pentagon. The March on the Pentagon was so large that troops of the 82nd Airborne Division were called in to protect the capital.
By the final months of 1967, polls showed that a majority of Americans felt that U.S. intervention in Vietnam was a mistake. At a time when the government was calling up 30,000 men a month to serve in the armed forces, draft resistance escalated, and people burned draft cards in open defiance. That same year, Martin Luther King Jr. incurred the ire of other civil rights leaders—who viewed President Lyndon B. Johnson as an ally—when he attacked the Vietnam War as a senseless drain on the United States' scarce spiritual and economic resources.
In May 1970, student resistance to the war sparked a disaster on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio. As young people had done on other campuses, students staged a protest at the Kent State reserve officers' training building. Ohio governor James Rhodes ordered the National Guard to the campus to impose order, but a volley of shots fired into a crowd killed four youths. The Kent State massacre provoked protests across the nation. The campuses of more than 400 colleges and universities were shut down by strikes, and nearly 100,000 protesters marched on Washington.
Members of the antiwar movement continued to condemn the war in Vietnam until the United States withdrew the last of its troops in 1973.
Margaret B. DiCanio