Specialisation: Civil Rights Movement

Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War


The period between 1960 and 1980 was marked by significant political and social changes in the United States, particularly with the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. These events shaped Americans’ perception of their country’s global role. This essay explores how civilian Americans formed ideas about the United States’ global role in reaction to the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War and the economic and technological developments that shaped these political debates. By analyzing primary and secondary sources, this essay explores how civilian Americans formed ideas about the United States’ global role in reaction to both the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. The essay also highlights how economic and technological developments shaped these political debates.

Two events that greatly influenced American politics were the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. The Vietnam War was contentious, and many Americans opposed their nation’s involvement. The Civil Rights Movement worked to end racial prejudice and segregation in the United States. Although the two movements had separate objectives, they were closely related in many respects. For instance, several Civil Rights Movement activists opposed the Vietnam War, claiming that the money needed to finance the conflict would be better spent on social projects in America (DeDominicis, 2021). Similarly, those opposed to the Civil Rights Movement used the conflict to draw attention away from their objectives.

Economic and technical developments also shaped political arguments during this time. Economic prosperity defined the post-World War II era, and many Americans enjoyed improved living standards. However, because of this increase’s uneven distribution, many people still live in poverty (DeDominicis, 2021). The effects of technological developments were extensive. Americans could view events like the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement in real time thanks to the invention of television, for instance. This reportage shaped public opinion and political discourse.

The first secondary Source shed light on American leaders’ divergent perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. A supporter of the Vietnam War and believer that American involvement was required to contain communism, President Lyndon B. Johnson. In a 1965 address at Johns Hopkins University, he made the case that America was responsible for defending democracy and freedom worldwide. Senator J. William Fulbright, who presided over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was an outspoken opponent of the conflict. He thought that America’s engagement was ill-advised and that the war was a waste of resources that could have been used more effectively at home (TheLBJLibrary, 2022). He made this claim in a 1966 address at the University of Arkansas, calling the war an “ill-conceived and expensive venture.

Secondary sources also contribute significantly; for instance, in his article, DeDominicis examines how the Vietnam War affected American nationalism and the formulation of US foreign policy. According to the author, the Vietnam War led to the institutionalization of stereotypes in American foreign policy, influencing how average Americans perceived their country’s place in the world. The article examines how the war fueled anti-communist feelings, which became a defining aspect of US foreign policy. Americans developed a sense of superiority and exceptionalism due to this sentiment, which led them to feel that it was their duty to battle communism and advance democracy worldwide (Cox, 2006). The insights provided by the article are important for comprehending how American citizens developed opinions on the country’s role in the world between 1960 and 1980.

Contrarily, some who opposed the war, such as Senator J. William Fulbright, claimed that American involvement in Vietnam was a folly that was wasting lives and resources. In a lecture given in 1966 at Johns Hopkins University, Fulbright argued for a diplomatic resolution and denounced the Johnson administration’s conduct in Vietnam. He said, “We now know that man can never replace principle and that technology cannot replace a will. We need to analyze our attitudes as a society and as people, because they play a significant role in the issue (TheLBJLibrary, 2022). In his address, Fulbright expressed the anti-war viewpoint, which held that the United States should withdraw from Vietnam and concentrate on home problems.

Intense arguments over the best tactics and legislation to eradicate racial discrimination and segregation were among the many topics that the Civil Rights Movement also provoked among Americans. For African Americans and other minority groups, the movement strove to attain social and legal equality (TheLBJLibrary, 2022). The main topic of discussion was whether to employ armed self-defense or more aggressive strategies like nonviolent civil disobedience like boycotts and sit-ins. Significant turning points in the movement’s fight for equal rights were adopting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Nevertheless, the discussion was not resolved once these laws were passed. Some Americans thought that the laws only went so far and that more drastic measures were required to attain true equality. Its radicalism may be seen in the 1966 founding of the Black Panther Party. The group supported the revolutionary change and the use of weapons for self-defense. Huey P. Newton, one of the Black Panther Party’s founders, said in a 1968 speech at the Oakland Auditorium, “We desire liberty (Cox, 2006). The future of our black community is something we want to control. Racism and poverty must be eradicated. We want to put a stop to police brutality and the associated bloodshed. All of our people should have access to good housing, a quality education, and employment.”

Intense discussions about the Vietnam War also broke out among Americans. Although most Americans backed the war effort, resistance developed when American forces were deployed into battle, and tales of atrocities committed by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese started to surface. Early in the 1960s, the Anti-War Movement was born as a response to the conflict (Cox, 2006). The movement aimed to influence American citizens to oppose the war and to change US policy. The campaign succeeded, especially in organizing youth opposition to the war.

The Black Panther Party claimed that more extreme measures were required to attain true equality for African Americans, despite the passed Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. A major divergence from the nonviolent strategies the Civil Rights Movement used was the party’s belief in armed self-defense and revolutionary change. The American public responded to the Black Panther Party’s beliefs in two ways: favorably and negatively. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Vietnam War was another contentious topic that polarized Americans. From 1955 until 1975, there was an expensive and polarizing war (Beyerlein, 2008). Initially, Americans supported the military effort, but as the war carried on, public sentiment changed. Those opposing the war increased, especially among young people and anti-war activists.

Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey spoke in favor of American involvement in Vietnam during his 1968 speech at the Democratic National Convention. He maintained that the war was essential to keeping communism in check and safeguarding American interests abroad. Many Americans, nevertheless, disagreed with this position. They argued that the war was an expensive and unjustifiable battle that harmed American military personnel and civilians. Economic and technological advancements also impacted people’s feelings as the Vietnam War expanded (Cox, 2006). Many Americans were worried about the effect of military spending on the economy because the war was expensive. At the same time, the development of television allowed Americans to watch war footage in their living rooms. As a result, the government’s handling of the war came under more scrutiny and criticism.

Technological advancements and the economy during this time significantly influenced the civil rights discussion. Black Americans overcame economic barriers thanks largely to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in employment and public accommodations. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ended the disenfranchisement of African American voters caused by discriminatory voting procedures. A micro-level analysis of black voting during the Civil Rights Movement is presented in the research article by Beyerlein and Andrews (2008), emphasizing how economic factors like money and education affected voting trends among African Americans. The article also highlights how the usage of television and other media aided in popularizing the movement and increasing public knowledge of civil rights problems.


Various factors, such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and significant economic and technological changes, influenced how Americans perceived their country’s role in the world between 1960 and 1980. These factors included the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Mass media growth and the dawn of the information age both significantly impacted public opinion and the discussion of the nation’s place in the world. Increased political participation and demands for more social and political rights resulted from the middle class’s expansion and increased income and employment levels. The Vietnam War was extremely polarizing, greatly affecting the nation’s economy and increasing government spending, inflation, and debt. Speaking about the war from opposing perspectives, President Johnson and Senator Kennedy’s comments shed important light on the political discussions of the time.


Beyerlein, K., & Andrews, K. T. (2008). Black voting during the civil rights movement: a micro-level analysis. Social Forces87(1), 65+. https://link-gale-com.libraryresources.waldorf.edu/apps/doc/A189287713/OVIC?u=for20674&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=c00e4874

Cox, M. S. (2006). “Keep our Black warriors out of the draft”: the Vietnam antiwar movement at Southern University, 1968-1973. Educational Foundations20(1-2), 123+. https://link-gale-com.libraryresources.waldorf.edu/apps/doc/A158958887/OVIC?u=for20674&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=055592ef

DeDominicis, B. E. (2021). The Vietnam War and American Nationalism: The Institutionalization of Stereotypes in the Postwar US Foreign Policy Making Process. The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Civic and Political Studies16(1), 65.https://search.proquest.com/openview/ff805ae62007ebe56a82e4ea5bb145c0/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=5529413

TheLBJLibrary. (2022, August). President Johnson’s Remarks on Vietnam at Johns Hopkins University, 4/7/65. MP549. Www.youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSWQztZPMdg