Moving Photographs of Vietnam War Protests That Show the Surprising Side of the “Peace Movement”

By Jennifer Conerly

The history of protest is a long and complicated one. As long as there have been groups of people who speak the same language and could unite in a common cause, the ability to organize has been an effective tool for political and social change. In the middle of the twentieth century, wide movements of protest were in the air. People began organizing and marching in civil rights movements involving African-Americans, women, and Chicanos, and students on college campuses became more organized.

In the middle of the 1960s, protestors realized that they could use their power of organization to affect foreign policy, and another social movement emerged. The Peace Movement began in the middle of the 1960s opposing the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War, and many members of the civil rights movements supported the end of the war, turning the opposition to the end of the war into a global movement.

The media played a significant role in opposition to the Vietnam War in the United States. Images and video of the devastation and brutality of both sides of the war were readily available to the public, and they were ammunition for the movement. Supporters for the end of the war used signs, most often for shock value. Some protests took place in front of draft offices, where protestors burned their draft cards and the police often had to escort and protect those who were appearing for their conscription or voluntary military service. Despite organizing for peace, some of the protests became violent, ending in the opposite of what they intended. Protesters clashed with police, and in some cases, the police used brutal force. These images tell the story of some of the protests, and they remind us that the peace movement wasn’t always peaceful.

Police block protestors from interfering with people arriving at the Oakland Induction Center. San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 1967. http://www.sfchronicle.com/thetake/article/1967-Vietnam-War-protest-photos-show-savagery-by-12338190.php#photo-14111437
The Burning Monk, June 11, 1963. One of the most shocking photographs that led to the anti-war movement. A Buddhist monk lit himself on fire to protest the South Vietnamese government’s treatment of Buddhists. Photograph by Malcolm Brown/AP. http://time.com/3791176/malcolm-browne-the-story-behind-the-burning-monk/#1
A protestor mails his draft card back to the Selective Service at an anti-war protest on October 20, 1967. Photograph by Bruce Hopkins/Tucson Citizen. http://tucson.com/news/retrotucson/photos-vietnam-war-protests-in-tucson/collection_ffb397d4-3547-51b2-ba9e-7894bfef9d52.html#3
A protestor puts flowers into the rifles of guns at a protest at the Pentagon, October 21, 1967. Photograph by The Washington Post/Getty Images. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/21/1967-vietnam-war-protest-american-division
A protestor holding a sign, “Nixon’s Peace Plan is a Bomb,” 1970. Unknown photographer. http://www.vintag.es/2015/04/30-color-photographs-of-anti-vietnam.html
Protester David M. Rehfield burns his draft reclassification card at an anti-war protest in downtown Tucson, AZ. December 5, 1967. Photograph by Dave Acton/Tucson Citizen. http://tucson.com/news/retrotucson/photos-vietnam-war-protests-in-tucson/collection_ffb397d4-3547-51b2-ba9e-7894bfef9d52.html#3
Police respond to a protest against the Vietnam War at George Washington University, 1971. http://www.vintag.es/2015/04/30-color-photographs-of-anti-vietnam.html
A man has to step over protesters at the Selective Service Office as he reports to be sworn into the Army. December 5, 1967. Photograph by Bill Hopkins/Tucson Citizen. http://tucson.com/news/retrotucson/photos-vietnam-war-protests-in-tucson/collection_ffb397d4-3547-51b2-ba9e-7894bfef9d52.html#3
April 27, 1967: a protestor at the Harlem Peace March to End Racial Oppression. Photograph courtesy of Builder Levy. http://www.amistadresource.org/civil_rights_era/black_opposition_to_vietnam.html
December 5, 1967: protestors sit in front of a bus carrying drafted service members, preventing it from taking off. Photograph by Bill Hopkins/Tucson Citizen. http://tucson.com/news/retrotucson/photos-vietnam-war-protests-in-tucson/collection_ffb397d4-3547-51b2-ba9e-7894bfef9d52.html#3
Clashes between the police and protesters at an anti-war protest becomes violent, knocking many protesters to the ground. San Francisco Chronicle, October 20, 1967. http://www.sfchronicle.com/thetake/article/1967-Vietnam-War-protest-photos-show-savagery-by-12338190.php#photo-14111436
U.S. Marshals physically remove a protester from the anti-war protest at the Pentagon, October 22, 1967. Wikimedia Commons.
Protesters and police clash at the Oakland Induction Center protest. San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 1967. http://www.sfchronicle.com/thetake/article/1967-Vietnam-War-protest-photos-show-savagery-by-12338190.php#photo-14111445
Injured hospital intern John Ibetinis treats another injured war protester at the Oakland Induction Center protest. San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 1967. http://www.sfchronicle.com/thetake/article/1967-Vietnam-War-protest-photos-show-savagery-by-12338190.php#photo-14111451
The LAPD removes a demonstrator from a protest at the Century Plaza Hotel, June 23, 1967. Photograph: Frank Q. Brown/Los Angeles Times. http://beta.latimes.com/visuals/photography/la-me-fw-archives-1967-anti-war-protest-turns-violent-20170620-story.html
Police attack war protesters with clubs at the Oakland Induction Center protest. San Francisco Chronicle, October 20, 1967. http://www.sfchronicle.com/thetake/article/1967-Vietnam-War-protest-photos-show-savagery-by-12338190.php#photo-14111457
November 11,1971: protesters lay on the ground pretending to be dead to call awareness to the death toll in Vietnam. Washington, D.C. Photographed by Dorothy Mader. https://www.swarthmore.edu/Library/peace/Exhibits/Dorothy%20Marder/MarderExhibit2_files/MarderExhibit2.html
A protester is grabbed by his shirt by a police officer. San Francisco Chronicle, October 20, 1967. http://www.sfchronicle.com/thetake/article/1967-Vietnam-War-protest-photos-show-savagery-by-12338190.php#photo-14111458
Demonstrators at an anti-war protest in Wichita, Kansas. U.S. National Archives. http://all-that-is-interesting.com/vietnam-war-protests#9
Medical professionals treat injured war protesters at the Oakland Induction Center protest. San Francisco Chronicle, October 20, 1967. http://www.sfchronicle.com/thetake/article/1967-Vietnam-War-protest-photos-show-savagery-by-12338190.php#photo-14111459