Dickinson College, Fall 2023

Category: 1970s

Protests –What Were They Good For?

Burlingame's high school ID card from the year he went to the D.C. protest.

Burlingame’s high school ID card from the year he went to the D.C. protest.

By Isabel Burlingame

Jack Burlingame attended the May 9, 1970 Vietnam War protest in Washington D.C. “I traveled from Massachusetts to Washington D.C. on a chartered bus with other high school and college students,” he remembers. “I and my friends were probably the youngest people on the bus – 15 years old at the time….we had been encouraged by our history teacher to attend.”[1] In 1970, Nixon widened the war into Laos and Cambodia in order to reinforce the image of American interest in Southeast Asia after withdrawing from parts of South Vietnam. According to H.W. Brands in his book American Dreams, “Whether or not these efforts conveyed to the communists the message Nixon intended, they got the attention of the antiwar movement in America. The Cambodian invasion sparked the largest protests of the war.”[2] The protests to which Brands refers took place largely on college campuses, but also included those in major cities where people from all demographics of the population, such as 15-year-old Burlingame, spoke out against the Vietnam War. Both Brands and Burlingame agree that the protests had an important role in influencing the government to end the war, but neither seem to discern any lasting impact beyond that. Despite the influence that the protests had on the American government at the time and their immense prevalence across the country (with some ending in tragedies such as the Kent State shootings), their effect did not last beyond the immediate context of the war.

The Vietnam War protest movement began long before Burlingame attended the 1970 protest in Washington D.C. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), led by Tom Hayden, was one of the first antiwar groups to emerge around 1960. Their efforts did not have a noticeable impact for the first five years.[3] In 1965, however, President Lyndon Johnson expanded America’s involvement in the war by increasing troops and funding, which “caused membership [of the SDS] to mushroom”.[4] The SDS subsequently split into moderate and radical factions, the latter of which sometimes turned to violent protest tactics such as bombings.[5] The mid to late 1960s also saw the beginnings of the peaceful protest movement. Marches in major cities, such as the one in D.C. that Burlingame would attend a few years later, grew in numbers and included a wide variety of Americans, ranging from students to hippies to white-collar businessmen.[6] While some viewed the protests to be successful, they did little to change the direction of the war as controlled by the government. According to Brands, “Ronald Reagan, then running for California governor, dismissed the antiwar protests in three words– ‘sex, drugs, and treason'”[7] The protests allowed the portion of the population that opposed the war to express their views, but their effect on the rest of the country and much of the government was unclear. However, both Brands and Burlingame contend that the protests had a cumulative effect that swayed the government’s decisions. Brands references Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, who was one of the first House leaders to change his position on the war.[8] Burlingame pointed out that “as public sentiment inexorably tilted against the war, politicians were acutely aware of the shift and its potential implications at the ballot box.”[9] As the protest movement increased, those running for office were forced to consider the views of the protesters.

The May 5, 1970 New York Times front page article about the Kent State shootings.

The May 5, 1970 New York Times front page article about the Kent State shootings.

By May of 1970, the protest movement had grown considerably. On and around May 9, protests occurred in major cities and on college campuses across the country, including the march in Washington D.C. that Burlingame attended. Burlingame remembers a sense of camaraderie among the protesters, all working towards a common goal, although with a variety of motivations. Many of the protesters had been angered by Nixon’s covert invasion of Cambodia, and others by the Kent State shootings, which had occurred less than a week before. Burlingame cites both of these events as reasons for his participation in the protests, as well as “the expansion of the draft with the elimination of several categories of deferments, including those for college students. The fact that I was just a few years from my 18th birthday and eligibility for the draft certainly captured my attention and heightened my awareness of the war and its consequences.”[10] The draft policies had changed two years earlier, in 1968. Previously, students attending graduate school or planning to attend the next year were exempt from the draft, as were those in certain occupations. Removing these exemptions increased those eligible for the draft by roughly 430,000. This decision led to a surge in the protest movement, drawing in educators who contended that many bright young minds that were essential to the country’s future would be needlessly lost in the war.[11] Even high school students like Burlingame feared the effect that the new policy would have on them and joined the movement.

There is little doubt, however, that the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970 dramatically increased participation. Burlingame recalls the May 9 march in D.C. having been planned before the shooting, but “the massacre undoubtedly led to an increase in the number of students taking part.”[12] In a front-page New York Times article the day after the shootings, President Nixon was quoted as urging protesters towards “peaceful dissent and just as strongly against the resort to violence as a means of such expression.”[13] Burlingame recalls the protest that he attended as reflecting this wish for peace. “Despite Kent State, I experienced no feeling of impending violence or fear that a riot might break out.”[14]

American involvement in the Vietnam War came to an end in January of 1973 when Henry Kissinger bargained the withdrawal of US troops for Le Duc Tho’s agreement to a ceasefire.[15] Two years later, in 1975, once American troops had been withdrawn, North Vietnam launched a successful attack and captured South Vietnam, bringing the entire country into communist rule.[16] The United States had essentially failed in its attempt to keep communism out of South Vietnam, wasting years and thousands of lives in the process. Burlingame believes that the protests did ultimately decrease the duration of the war, and speculates that “without them, the war would have dragged on several years longer and resulted in significantly more casualties and destruction.”[17]

Perhaps the protests were successful in their immediate goal: bringing about the end of the Vietnam War. But neither the protests nor the Vietnam War itself left a prominent legacy on the United States, judging by American involvement in future conflicts such as the First Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. As Burlingame eloquently puts it, “I struggle to discern any lasting impact from the Vietnam War protests, other than to give aging hippies something to reminisce about…In the years since, the U.S. has experienced no shortage of legal and illegal wars, covert actions, extraordinary renditions, illegal arms sales, state-sponsored torture, POW abuses, both ‘collateral’ and criminal killings of civilians in war zones, imprisonment without trial, military profiteering, drone strikes of dubious legality and morality, and other deplorable acts carried out in our name using our tax dollars. Would the rogue actions of the U.S. over the last 40 year have been even worse if the Vietnam protests had never happened? Perhaps, although it’s hard to imagine.”[18]


[1] Email Interview with Jack Burlingame, March 23, 2015.

[2] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 170.

[3] Ibid, 153.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 154.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 155.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Email interview with Jack Burlingame, April 30, 2015.

[10] Email interview with Jack Burlingame, March 23, 2015.

[11] “Resist Or Fight!” Bay State Banner, Feb 22, 1968 [ProQuest].

[12] Email interview with Jack Burlingame, March 23, 2015.

[13] John Kifner, “4 Kent State Students Killed by Troops: 8 Hurt as Shooting Follows Reported Sniping at Rally 4 Kent State Students, 2 of Them Girls, Killed by Guardsmen.” New York Times, 5 May 1970, 1.

[14] Email interview with Jack Burlingame, March 23, 2015.


[15] Brands, 174.

[16] Ibid, 175.

[17] Email interview with Jack Burlingame, March 23, 2015.

[18] Email interview with Jack Burlingame, March 23, 2015.

The Impact of the Vietnam War on The Civil Rights Movement

By Christina Braxton

           Black men, like Dennis Braxton, the subject of my interview, served their country during the Vietnam War only to return home to be treated like second-class citizens. This was the recurring theme throughout my interview. We also discussed the anti-war movement, the civil rights struggle and his involvement in the Black Panther Party.

Mr. Braxton, now 67 years old, decided to enlist in the Navy in 1967 and served until 1971. For three consecutive years, he spent about three months each year in Vietnam. By the time Braxton had enlisted, major Civil Rights legislation had already been passed. However, laws were one thing, implementation was another. When telling the story of how he ended up in Vietnam, Braxton explains:

“I went into aircrew training and anti-submarine warfare and I did real good in my training. I went into the West Coat anti-submarine squadron again because since Viet Cong didn’t need any submarines, I didn’t think I’d be in an area that was fighting a war anytime soon. I got assigned to my squadron of choice after finishing my training and I was flown into a duty station in the Philippines. It turns out that part of my squadron was rotating through Vietnam because they had changed the mission of the squadron to drop the submarine equipment into the jungle and check for Viet Cong. So I ended up in Vietnam anyway. [1]

Braxton also explained that discrimination in the navy was just as bad as discrimination outside of the navy. Before serving, Braxton was a student in Bluefield, Virginia, which was an extremely segregated part of the country. As an electronics technician, he was truly in the minority because most blacks served as cooks, mechanics, and deck workers. Blacks were constantly looked down on and were assumed to be “dumb, ignorant, and uneducated”. [2] Braxton goes on to explain that “There was a built in resentment from the white folks because they thought they were smarter, better, and more sophisticated and thought they were superior to black folks.” [3] When I asked Braxton what the hardest thing to deal with , he answered, “The hardest thing to deal with was the fact that people were giving me orders that were dumber than I was and they didn’t have the vision, common sense, or level of education that I did. They had the same fears and had the same limitations that I did but back then, no one looked into that in detail.” [4]

In 1964, the movement against the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War began and many were peaceful protests on the campuses of universities across the United States but some became violent. This movement also incorporated civil rights, free speech, and the women’s rights. Anti war protests increased in frequency once Americans became aware of the violence that was happening overseas due to growing television coverage. As the death toll rose, many Americans began to question the country’s role in the war and in the draft, specifically. Many American’s saw the country’s involvement as immoral and unnecessary. In the book Chronicles of a Two-front War: Civil Rights and Vietnam in the African American Press, the author, Lawrence Allen Eldridge states, “the President was allowing his calendar to be monopolized by the Vietnam War, and the far-off war was pulling the attention of the American people away from the vivid stories of the civil rights struggle.” [5] H.W. Brands claims that many Americans “asked whether the status of a small country far away justified the expenditure of American blood and treasure.” [6] This made black participation in the war more difficult because blacks were not accepted as citizens in the United States and to make matters worse, they were participating in a war that was increasingly unpopular. Braxton remembers feeling conflicted:

“On one hand, I’m a representative of the United States of America. On the other hand, I’m not getting the full benefits of citizenship. And what made it even worse was that most citizens were against the Vietnam War. So for black men it was a little bit different. When we wore the uniform wanting to be respected as a black person, the country didn’t respect us as a people of color. And to make things worse, we were fighting in a war that people didn’t agree with in the first place. So it made it weird. [7]

Braxton returned to the United States in February of 1971 and was honorably discharged from the Navy on March 11, 1971. When he returned to California in 1971, he describes the area as “hippie-land.” [8] Peaceful protests were now extremely common but movements like the Black Panther Party also rose in popularity. One of the first things Braxton did when released from the Navy was to join the Black Panthers. They were not always a violent organization, but they would use violence as one of their tools. In American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 by H.W. Brands states that “ Even as King and other civil rights leaders were advocating nonviolence and urging blacks to work within the existing political system, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and a cadre of militants declared the system incurably corrupt and told African Americans to take their grievances to the streets.” [9] Braxton stated bluntly that, “they didn’t have any tolerance for peaceful protesting.” [10]



[1] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[2] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[3] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[4] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[5] Eldridge, Lawrence Allen. Chronicles of a Two-front War: Civil Rights and Vietnam in the African American Press. Columbia [Mo.]: University of Missouri, 2011. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 26, 2015).

[6] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 148-151.

[7] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[8] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

[9] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 148-151.

[10] Phone Interview with Dennis Braxton, Carlisle, PA, March 26, 2015

Audio snippet from Braxton interview:


Vietnam War Campus Protest: A History of Resistance

By Patti Kotrady

Marc Weinberg, a 67-year-old photographer and retired lawyer from Frederick, Maryland, played a significant role in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War. From 1968 to 1970, Weinberg spent the last two years of his undergraduate college career at Ohio State University participating in campus protests. He recalls, “Whenever there was an opportunity to get involved, I would gather and make my voice heard. I didn’t believe in violence…We wanted to end the war.” [1] Particularly, Weinberg remembers a campus-wide protest during the spring of 1970 that gained momentum partially in response to the United States invasion of Cambodia. During the spring of 1970, in an attempt to attack North Vietnamese refugees, President Richard Nixon ordered an American occupation of Cambodia as well as the bombing of Laos. [2] According to H.W. Brands, “The Cambodian invasion sparked the largest protests of the war. On hundreds of campuses across the country students boycotted classes and faculty suspended teaching in favor of discussions—which was to say, condemnation—of the war.” [3] Although Weinberg’s narrative of protest certainly resonates with Brand’s description, his experience expands significantly on Brands’s terse explanation. Ohio State University’s 1970 protests were about more than just the Vietnam War—they also confronted larger issues of racism, student power, and police brutality.

According to Brands, “Some Americans had objected to the war in Vietnam from the outset. They asked whether the status of a small country far away justified the expenditure of American blood and treasure.” [4] As a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) student during his first two college years, Weinberg was not a part of the initial anti-war activism. He instead fit into what Rhodri Jeffrey-Jones categorizes as the third stage of campus protest from 1969 to 1972 in which students were “idealistic,” yet understanding of the importance of legislative politics. [5] By the late 1960s, students such as Weinberg became upset with the seemingly unjustified nature of violence in Vietnam and were willing to do all they could in order to end the war. In this effort, various groups on campus, including the Afro-American Society, the Women’s Liberation Front, the Anti-War Ad Hoc Committee, and the School of Social Work, submitted a series of demands to the Ohio State University Administration. [6] These demands included “that the University support the views of its students and condemn the continuation and expansion of the war in Southeast Asia,” “that ROTC courses not receive academic credit, and that ROTC instructors not have faculty status.” [7] In addition to these war-related demands, Ohio State students demanded “a degree-granting department in the field of ‘Afro-American Studies’ be established…,” “fees be lowered for all in-state and out-of-state students,” and “the establishment of a Planned Parenthood Center within the campus area.” [8] Yet, the administration refused to meet many of these demands. According to University Vice President James Robinson, “most demands have reflected only the concerns of self-appointed groups and have neither proposed nor suggested constructive programs that recognize what is already being done by the University to work toward our common objectives…” [9]

Students at Ohio State were not only concerned with issues regarding the Vietnam War, as Brands seems to suggest. They also advocated for racial inclusivity, women’s reproductive rights, and student liberties. Weinberg recalls, “We had a protest going for two things. One thing was a protest against racism on campus because black students on campus weren’t getting the same opportunities as white students were given, and the other thing was the war.” [10] Although Weinberg mentions that they had a “protest going for two things,” the student demands suggest that they advocated for rights of women and students as well. This can be further exemplified through a 1969 study by the Urban Research Corporation of Chicago. According to Jeffrey-Jones, researchers “surveyed 232 campuses and found that the draft was a major issue in less than 1 percent of protests. Whereas antimilitarism was a main issue in 25 percent of cases, two other issues counted for more: racial issues, at 59 percent, and student power, at 42 percent.” [11] Although Brands fails to mention African American, feminist, or student rights motivations for campus protests, these factors played a significant role in the activism of students at Ohio State University and other college campuses across the United States.

1970_OSU_Demonstrations_Flyers_Ad Hoc Com2

Ad-Hoc Committee of Ohio State University. “Time to Act!” Flyer, April 28, 1970. from the Ohio State University Library Archives

In addition to the Vietnam War, racism, and student rights, police brutality became a key concern of Ohio State students. When demands were not met, students fought back through both violent and non-violent protest. For example, Weinberg recalls a protest in April of 1970 in which students expressed their concerns: “To show that we believed in a closed campus, we decided that we would literally close the gates of the campus. And I was in that group, of course…the police came and said ‘Open those gates, dammit, or else.’ We didn’t open the gates, and they came busting through those gates, and that was the first time that I ever saw a police riot. They went ape…they were catching people and beating them over the head with their sticks. It was nasty and it was bad…From that moment on, that campus was in complete and absolute turmoil. [12] Due to the “turmoil,” administration put a dawn to dusk curfew on the campus [13]. Weinberg recalls, “I had no freedom…The police were running around in police cars with the police numbers taped black. They took off their badges and any identification. They had helicopters so if anybody gathered anywhere they dropped teargas from the helicopters.” [14] Historian Melvin Small further emphasizes the role of police on college campuses when he states, “during the academic year 1969-70, 7,200 young people were arrested on campuses.” [15] Weinberg’s story of police retaliation to student activism combined with Small’s statistic of general police involvement demonstrates the intensity and violence that arose from anti-war protests on college campuses.

In regards to police brutality on college campuses, Brands focuses on the shootings at Kent State.  He writes, “At Kent State University in Ohio, protesters clashed with National Guard troops, who fired on the crowd and killed four students. Days later a similar tragedy occurred at Jackson State in Mississippi, where two students were killed by police fire.” [16] When the shootings at Kent State occurred, Weinberg and his peers were in the midst of a protest on their own campus. As news of the student deaths spread through the crowd, Weinberg remembers, “We were just shocked. They’re killing us. They’re killing us. It was very sobering. My friends and I, we were all gathered around and thought, ‘Is this the time to take up arms?’ I mean, it’s the army. How can you fight the army? You can’t do it…It felt like we were at war.” [17] As evident through Weinberg’s recollection, the shootings at Kent State represented a larger issue in which students and police forces were “at war” with one another. Weinberg even remembers that, when police forces charged the students, they shouted “kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.” [18]. As students resisted oppressive actions and beliefs, police forces, along with the National Guard, retaliated with force and intimidation. A Ohio State University peer, Don T. Martin, also remembers police activity during the 1970 campus protests: “Throughout the student Anti-Vietnam War Movement much was said about the ‘theatrics’ displayed by student protesters in their resistance to authority; yet what was not appreciated was the fact that the authorities in their counter-resistance efforts possessed and utilized far more theatrical resources than did the student resisters. For example, to walk through the night emptied by curfew and patrolled by carloads of policemen armed with shotguns and gas-grenade launchers, to be hit with searchlights from overhead helicopters, to see tanks and armed authorities putting on their gas masks with some jeeringly gesturing at students with hippie-type dress and demeanor created a surreal setting.” [19] Although Brands mentions shootings at Kent State and Jackson State, police and National Guard occupation, intimidation, and violence occurred on various college campuses, including the Ohio State University, ultimately resulting in a “war” between students and authorities.

Eventually, overwhelmed by the growing number of student protesters, increased violence, and mass boycotts of class, the President of the Ohio State University made an announcement on May 6th, 1970 that the University would shut down for a short period of time. [20] Students disbanded with demands unmet as they were forced to leave their campus. When students returned on May 19th, security measures tightened, but activists continued to rally, establishing a 2,000-person protest on the day of return. [21] Despite this continuation of activism, graduation commenced and momentum eventually waned. [22] According to Weinberg, “We wanted to change the world…but we failed” [23] Although student activists at Ohio State University may not have achieved most of their goals as documented through their demands of the administration, they experienced some victories. For example, an Afro-American Studies department was established and efforts were made to start a daycare service free to University women. [24] In order to understand the experiences of student protesters at Ohio State University and elsewhere, their efforts must be viewed outside of the context of anti-Vietnam War boycotts. Although the anti-war effort was certainly important to people such as Weinberg, students also advocated for the rights of African Americans, women, and the general student body in the wake of immense resistance from university administration and police forces.

Clip from Marc Weinberg’s interview:



[1] Video Interview with Marc Weinberg, Frederick, MD, March 14, 2015.

[2] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 170.

[3] Ibid, 170.

[4] Ibid, 152.

[5] Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, Peace Now! American Society and the Ending of the Vietnam War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 43.

[6] Novice G. Fawcett and The Ohio State University Administration, “University Administration Responds to Student Demands,” September 29, 1970 [Ohio State University Archives].

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Diary of a Dilemma, The Ohio State University Alumni Monthly, June 1970, 9 [Ohio State University Archives].

[10] Video Interview with Marc Weinberg, Frederick, MD, March 14, 2015.

[11] Jeffreys-Jones, 85.

[12] Video Interview with Marc Weinberg, Frederick, MD, March 14, 2015.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Melvin Small, Antiwarriors: The Vietnam War and the Battle for America’s Hearts and Minds (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 2002), 102.

[16] Brands, 170.

[17] Video Interview with Marc Weinberg, Frederick, MD, March 14, 2015.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Don T Martin, “Reflections of a Graduate Student at Ohio State University During the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, 1965-1970,” American Educational History Journal 30 (2003): 1-5 [ProQuest].

[20] Diary of a Dilemma,” 15.

[21] Diary of a Dilemma,” 18.

[22] Martin, 1-5.

[23] Video Interview with Marc Weinberg, Frederick, MD, March 14, 2015.

[24] Fawcett and The Ohio State University Administration. “University Administration Responds to Student Demands.”

Understanding US History Through Political TV Ads

KennedyThe Living Room Candidate website, courtesy of the Museum of the Moving Image, has collected televised presidential campaign advertisements from 1952 to the present day. They offer a great window for understanding some key trends in US history since 1945.

Here is a pioneering TV ad from the 1952 campaign, presented in what was then popular movie newsreel style, for the Republican campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Think carefully about what the commercial is emphasizing –and also what it omits.

Compare that 1952 effort to this more polished, 1960 John F. Kennedy campaign ad, designed to invoke some of the more popular TV jingles of the 1950s.

Perhaps the most famous (or infamous) ad in the history of modern presidential campaigns appeared as a paid advertisement on TV only once –the so-called “Daisy ad” from 1964. Students should be able to explain what this ad was about, and why it was so powerful and controversial.

The Richard Nixon campaign in 1968 revolutionized the use of TV commercials in presidential contests, relying on them more than any other previous campaign organization. These two notable examples show some of the new techniques of advertising and also help highlight the shift in national climate since 1952.

The foreboding nature of those 1968 ads helps explain the strategy of calculated optimism behind this biographical short from the 1976 Jimmy Carter campaign.  What’s also especially useful about this effort is how it captures several political and social trends from modern US history.

In the 1984 presidential election, Ronald Reagan won 49 out of 50 states. This commercial, known popularly as the “Morning Again in America” ad helps illustrate the broad appeal of the reelection campaign –and the sophisticated selling techniques of modern presidential politicking.

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