President Richard Nixon shaking hands with armed forces in Vietnam 1969

The War and Homefront in America

The War and Homefront in America
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Nixon and Vietnamization

President Nixon took office with his promise to bring “peace with honor” to Vietnam. However, his actions contradicted his words as he increased military pressure on North Vietnamese forces, and authorized secret bombing missions in Cambodia, later known as “Operation Menu.” Nixon, a staunch anti-communist, stated that ending the war too quickly would “result in a collapse of confidence in American leadership, not only in Asia but throughout the world.”

 

President Nixon in South Vietnam, 1969
President Nixon in South Vietnam, July 30th, meeting with troops from the 1st Infantry Division and with South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to discuss the Vietnamization policy.

Image courtesy of the National Archives.

 

As an attempt to buy time with the American public, Nixon enacted a new form of foreign policy called Vietnamization. Unlike his predecessor’s policy of Americanization, which increased American presence in Vietnam, Nixon’s policy called for a gradual removal of American troops as South Vietnamese troops were being trained to take over military responsibilities. This notion of transferring military responsibilities while removing American forces became a commonly used policy in American foreign affairs since 1969.

 

Silent Majority Pin. Loan courtesy of Stuart W. Lehman

Silent Majority Pin.

Loan courtesy of Stuart W. Lehman.

Nixon was often critical of the media’s role in disseminating information on the war. In light of a growing anti-war movement, the President took advantage of the media’s accessibility and gave a speech to those who did not participate in anti-war demonstrations, a group he referred to as the “silent majority.”

Moratorium to End the War

While the war continued overseas, Americans on opposing sides of the war effort exercised their First Amendment rights. While Americans in favor of the war expressed their support of President Nixon in pro-war demonstrations, a Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam provoked anti-war protests across the nation as thousands marched in Washington, D.C. Political speech even made its way into sports at the Major League Baseball’s World Series at Mets Stadium in New York, fans handed out pamphlets to spectators asking for peace in Vietnam. Through the remainder of the year, a generation found its voice in dissent, music, and festivals that culminated at the Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel, New York. 

 

Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam Poster

Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam Poster

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

As the Nixon Administration attempted to quell growing anti-war sentiment with increased withdrawal and avoidance of large-scale battles, demonstrations continued.  On October 15, millions of people demonstrated across the nation against the Vietnam War in a movement known as the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.  In New York City, over a quarter of a million people attended the demonstration. One month later an estimated 300,000 protesters marched from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument.

March on Washington Pin

March on Washington Pin

Loan courtesy of Stuart W. Lehman

 

Moratorium Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King leading a candlelight march to the White House as part of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.

Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Woodstock

From August 15-18, 500,000 people attended the Woodstock Music and Art Fair on a dairy farm in Bethel, New York.  Of the many music festivals at the time, Woodstock was the largest.  The free festival featured 32 acts from the biggest names in music, including Joan Baez, The Who, Janis Joplin, Arlo Guthrie, and Jimi Hendrix.  Woodstock became a symbol of peace and love in sharp contrast to the general feeling across the United States in 1969.  In the words of musician Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock was a spark of beauty” where young people “saw that they were part of a greater organism.”  Despite the stress the crowds put on resources and security, the event lived up to its slogan, “Three Days of Peace and Music.”

 

Image of an original ticket from Woodstock, August 15, 16, 17, 1969.
Woodstock Ticket. Loan courtesy of the New York State Museum.

 

Sesame Street

Figurines of Sesame Street characters - Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Grover and Ernie.
Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Grover, and Bert. Loan Courtesy of Stuart Lehman.

 

Sesame Street premiered with its first episode on November 10, 1969, sponsored by the letters W, S, and E and the numbers 2 and 3.  Airing on public television it became the first ever educational children’s show.  It is estimated today that 80 million Americans have grown up watching the characters teach letters, numbers, and life lessons.  Sesame Street’s inner city setting and diverse cast featuring humans and Jim Henson’s puppets set it apart from other programs of the time. President Nixon was an early fan- praising the show soon after its premiere and providing federal government funding to support it.  The show has been a consistent hit, winning awards and using their iconic cast to explore new topics important to each generation.

Mets Win the World Series

The New York Mets triumphed over the Baltimore Orioles in the 1969 World Series. During Game 4, held in New York City’s Shea Stadium on the same day as the October 15 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, a group calling themselves “Mets Fans For Peace” handed out pamphlets protesting the war to fans attending the baseball game. The cover of the pamphlet displayed Mets pitcher, Tom Seaver, who had verbally denounced America’s involvement in Vietnam as “perfectly ridiculous.” However, Seaver claimed that his picture was used without his knowledge. 

Life Magazine with Mets on the cover, September 26, 1969.
"Mets in the Stretch," Life Magazine, September 26, 1969. Loan courtesy of Stuart W. Lehman.