Hell, No! We Won’t Go!
The fact is that American war policy had not only failed to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese, but it was rapidly losing influence over the hearts and minds of citizens of the United States. President Johnson increasingly relied on the Selective Service system—the draft—to supply troops. Relatively well-off young people could often avoid conscription through student deferments (college enrollment skyrocketed during the war) and by other means. Less-privileged and minority youth bore the brunt of the draft, a fact that stirred resentment and unrest, especially in the African-American community.
But antiwar sentiment was hardly confined to black America. What rapidly evolved into a full-blown antiwar movement began with leftist college students and peace activists. And its more Americans came home in “body bags,” the movement spread into the mainstream. College campuses first served as centers of discussion about and against the war, and then. they became the staging areas for demonstrations, including a series of marches on Washington starting in 1965 and continuing through 1968 and again in 1971.
Antiwar protest widened what was popularly called the generation gap, pitting young people against “anyone over 30.” The antiwar movement became associated with a general counterculture movement, which featured young people in long hair (for both sexes) and wearing what to their elders seemed bizarre gypsy-hobo outfits. Such youngsters called themselves hippies and ostentatiously indulged in “recreational” drugs (such as marijuana and the hallucinogenic LSD) and “recreational” sex. Government officials assumed that the entire peace movement was backed by communists and used the FBI as well as the CIA (illegally) to infiltrate antiwar organizations. True, some organizations associated with the movement were undoubtedly subversive; however, most protesters were mainstream individuals, aged 20 to 29, who were simply disgusted and outraged by the war.
The student fringe of the peace movement became increasingly vocal during the 1960s, with demonstrations—sometimes destructive—disrupting and even temporarily closing down some college campuses. In mass demonstrations across the country, young men burned their draft registration cards and chanted, “Hell, no! We won’t go!” So-called “confrontations” between demonstrators and police or even National Guardsmen became commonplace.