Racism in the Vietnam War


Philipp Gassert

To person

is Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Mannheim and Managing Director of the German Society for American Studies. Most recent book publication, together with Alexander Emmerich, "America's Wars" (2014). [email protected]

In 1967, the liberal post-war consensus in the USA fell apart. This was based on a combination of several elements: on the one hand, on a robust foreign policy anti-communism and internationalism, on the other hand, on growing prosperity in the wake of the economic boom after the Second World War, which was accompanied by the expansion of welfare state programs, but also growing political participation of previously discriminated groups. [1] Afro-Americans in particular had made progress. State-sanctioned "racial segregation" and the largely legal exclusion of most blacks from voting in the southern states were repealed with the civil rights laws of 1964/65. For this, the heads of the civil rights movement had relied not least on the anti-totalitarian and anti-communist consensus of the USA, because the struggle for freedom in the world consequently required freedom and equality at home. [2] This precarious compromise split in 1967, also because it became clear that legal equality did not result in a rapid reduction in economic inequality. Racism and exclusion continued, blacks remained economically far worse off. While the counterculture, heavily suspected by middle-class Americans, is in the summer of love After her nightmare in 1967, massive uprisings broke out again in July 1967 in several inner-city black ghettos, especially in Newark and Detroit, some of which were triggered by police violence.

The US war in Vietnam was also increasingly denounced. It became the dominant theme in the fall of 1967. The antiwar protest reached its first symbolic climax in October 1967 when demonstrators besieged the Department of Defense in Washington (March on the Pentagon). The war split the Democratic Party. At the end of November, Senator Eugene McCarthy (Minnesota) announced that he would run as a "peace candidate" for the Democratic nomination for the 1968 presidential election. He challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson directly in his own party. In early November, Johnson called a group of senior statesmen and senior advisors (the wise men) held a secret meeting to consider strategies for keeping the American people behind in the Vietnam War. Although US Supreme Command General William Westmoreland spoke of military progress with confidence, Johnson parted company with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara at the end of the month. In December 1967, beat icon Allen Ginsberg was arrested for media coverage when he called for conscientious objection.

In 1967 there were deep cracks in the social and political fabric of the USA. Conflicts that had previously been hidden became manifest. A decisive upheaval was looming, which in 1968 was to intensify in terms of the history of events. Over the "race question", demands for social justice, questions of sexuality, women's rights, patriarchal authority and "American values", but especially over Vietnam, the internal unity of the Democratic Party and the country collapsed US liberalism[4] In early 1967, Ronald Reagan took office as governor of California. He distinguished himself as a tough fighter for "law and order". The conservative turnaround, which overshadows US policy to this day, picked up speed. The political hegemony of the Democrats, the basis of which President Franklin D. Roosevelt had laid with the New Deal from 1933, ended. The fragmentation of the liberal-democratic spectrum can be symbolically identified in a speech by the most prominent representative of the US civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at Riverside Church in New York in April and his growing commitment to the poor. King's speech forms the starting point for a journey through time through 1967, in which social inequality became a major topic, with a few key words as well as the counter culture (Counterculture) mutated from an ideology of freedom to an orgy of violence, as Vietnam increasingly drowned out everything else.

Martin Luther King's appeal to conscience

On April 4, 1967, America's best-known minister, Baptist preacher, civil rights activist, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martin Luther King gave a sensational speech at Riverside Church in New York. In this he finally broke his long silence about Vietnam and talked nation and politics into conscience. As a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, but especially as a pastor, it is his duty and obligation to proclaim Christ's message of peace without any ifs or buts. At some point, silence turns into treason ("A time comes when silence is betrayal"). This point has now been reached with a view to Vietnam. He countered possible objections that the gospel is addressed to all people: "Communists and capitalists, their children and ours, black and white, revolutionaries and conservatives." But the reason why the war is so fatal is that it is deeply wounding in the United States, because it is poisoning America's soul. How could he keep the angry young men in the inner-city ghettos from not resorting to Molotov cocktails and rifles in their social hopelessness when the US government has become the world's "greatest purveyor of violence" he asked. [5]

King was interrupted several times by prolonged applause. The audience of around 3,000 Christian and Jewish war critics, mostly members of the organization Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV), was predictably enthusiastic. It had been waiting for this moment of the cancellation of the Vietnam War by a pre-eminent moral authority like King. But the general public reacted negatively. The liberal New York Times has taken a critical stance on the war in Vietnam for some time, but criticized King's association with the fight against poverty. Mixing up complex problems harms all sides. King would do his cause a disservice because conservative members of Congress would be ammunitioned against welfare state programs if he compared aspects of warfare in Vietnam with Nazi methods. [6] In the Oval Office, President Lyndon B. Johnson let his outrage run wild: King was "a naive black preacher who was set up by the communists". [7]

The overwhelmingly hostile reactions to the Riverside Church Speech are an indicator of the crumbling consensus and the collapse of the coalition that supported the civil rights movement. From a liberal point of view, King sided with the black radicals around the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Stokely Carmichael. He was therefore not criticized in the democratic establishment alone. African American newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier considered the speech a serious tactical mistake because it undermined the alliance with Johnson. Leading members of the civil rights movement such as the director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Roy Wilkins, publicly distanced themselves in harsh tones. [8] Finally, there was progress to be recorded: more and more blacks achieved social advancement. Great, symbolic breakthroughs were achieved: in 1966, with the appointment of Robert Weaver as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a black man was appointed to the cabinet for the first time. Edward Brooke (Massachusetts) was the first directly elected African American in the Senate since the beginning of 1967. And in the fall of 1967, Carl Stokes became the first black mayor of a major American city in Cleveland.

The crowning glory of the growing political participation of African-Americans was the appointment of former NAACP legal advisor Thurgood Marshall as Supreme Court Justice in October 1967. He had already broken through a barrier as the first black man in the office of chief solicitor general. His election made the established forces of the civil rights movement proud. [9]