Pacifists generally abhorred the dehumanization of war, promoted conflict resolution and reconciliation, encouraged individual conscientious objection to war, and supported nonviolent social change for justice in the manner of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Jr. Many pacifist and pacifist-leaning groups had long experience in organizing campaigns (founding dates noted): FOR (1915), American Friends Service Committee (AFSC, 1917), WILPF (1919), WRL (1923), Congress on Racial Equality (CORE, 1942), and Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO, 1948). Abraham Johannes (A.J.) Muste, a practical pacifist with experience in labor and civil rights movements, played a unifying role in the antiwar movement until his death in February 1967. Some pacifist groups, such as WILPF, leaned toward the liberal wing of the movement while others, such as WRL, pulled to the left. WRL International issued a statement in August 1968 declaring its intent to work with “our brothers and sisters in the various liberation movements” to “bring an end to colonialism and imperialism … but without yielding up our belief that the foundation of the future must be laid in the present, that a society without violence must begin with revolutionists who will not use violence.”
The American people, by and large, are against colonialism and aggression, and believe in the right of every country to manage its own affairs free from outside interference. Rarely have these simple principles been so clearly and grossly violated as in the present United States policy towards Indochina…. Are we going to take the position that anti-Communism justifies anything, including colonialism, interference in the affairs of other countries and aggression? That way, let us be perfectly clear about it, lies war and more war leading ultimately to full-scale disaster.
DePuy is quoted in Bernd Greiner, War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 55. Westmoreland is quoted in Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 73.
The Peers Inquiry report, Dept. of the Army, March 14, 1970, notes “a number of Vietnamese sources alleged that on 16 march 1968 approximately 80-90 noncombatants, including women and children, were killed by US soldiers in My Hoi subhamlet of Co Luy Hamlet, a coastal area of Son My village shown on US maps as ‘My Khe’” (page 7-1). Yet no serious investigation took place and no charges were filed. See the full report at . In 2001, Nick Turse, a graduate student researching post-traumatic stress disorder among Vietnam veterans, came upon the secret records of the Pentagon’s Vietnam War Crimes Working Group and later published his account of the records in Kill Anything That Moves (2013).
“The Villagers of My Lai,” ; Robert Jay Lifton, Home from the war: Vietnam Veterans, Neither Victims nor Executioners (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973), pp. 17-18, 58; “Hugh Thompson, 62, Who Saved Civilians at My Lai, Dies,” New York Times, Jan. 7, 2006; and Christian G. Appy, Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers and Vietnam (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1993), p. 275.
Taking stock at the end of 1969, activists might have been encouraged by the successes of the antiwar movement. The Moratorium and New Mobilization were the largest antiwar protests in American history up to that time. Participation in antiwar activities had become “normalized” on college campuses. More Vietnam veterans and active duty GIs were connecting with the antiwar movement. The media on the whole was less hostile to the movement and more critical of the administration. Nixon’s secret war plans had been aborted (some suspected this); and U.S. troops were at least being withdrawn rather than added (troop levels declined from 537,000 at the beginning of 1969 to 474,000 at the end of it). Although beset with problems, the antiwar movement was making progress. According to Melvin Small:
As many as two million people in over two hundred cities and towns participated in Moratorium activities. Participants ranged from at least 15 combat soldiers in Vietnam wearing black armbands, to 100,000 listening on the Boston Common to South Dakota senator George McGovern and setting a record for the largest political crowd in the city’s history, to 250,000 in New York who attended rallies in Bryant Park and on Wall Street. Many Broadway shows canceled their matinees that afternoon and Republican Mayor John Lindsay ordered flags to be flown at half-mast on municipal buildings. As many as 90 percent of high school students in New York failed to show up for class that Wednesday. Turnouts were impressive as well in Chicago, Washington, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and Pittsburgh, where the city council endorsed the demonstration. Even more impressive were the dignified silent vigils and prayer meetings held in several hundred small towns where antiwar demonstrations had not been very popular.
The VMC raised funds, reached out to every other possible constituency, and generally presented the Moratorium as a legitimate redress of citizen grievances. By October, VMC had 31 full-time staff persons and 7,500 field organizers working to make the event a success. CIA operatives who infiltrated the Moratorium’s headquarters in Washington warned their superiors that the Moratorium was gaining wide support and that “prominent people regarded as loyal Americans have instilled the day with respectability and even patriotism.” These statements were correct. Among the Moratorium’s endorsers were nine members of Congress and the faculty at Harvard, which voted of 391-16 in favor of it. Participation on the day of the Moratorium exceeded expectations. According to Small:
At Trinity Church, where volunteer doctors and medical students treated about 60 victims in a makeshift hospital at the head of Wall Street, the vicar, the Rev. Donald Woodward, locked the gates to prevent worker mobs from entering. The surly crowd ripped down a Red Cross banner and tried to remove the Episcopal Church flag…. Later the workers stormed City Hall several blocks to the north, overwhelming police and forcing officials to raise to full-staff the American flag. It had been ordered to half-staff by Mayor John Lindsay in memory of the four slain Kent State University students. Still later, the workers invaded nearby Pace College, again attacking students.
Life magazine added urgency to the idea of withdrawal by publishing in its June 27 (1969) issue portrait photos of all 242 Americans killed in Vietnam during the previous week. “It is not the intention of this article to speak for the dead,” wrote the editors. “Yet in a time when the numbers of Americans killed in this war — 36,000 — though far less than the Vietnamese losses, have exceeded the dead in the Korean War, when the nation continues week after week to be numbed by a three-digit statistic which is translated to direct anguish in hundreds of homes all over the country, we must pause to look into the faces. More than we must know how many, we must know who.”
As a way to show that Hanoi wanted reconciliation above all else, Cora Weiss and the Viet-My coordinated one last prisoner release in September 1972. This time, Hanoi stipulated that prisoners must return to the United States via commercial airline; hence they would be able to hold a press conference upon their return before being debriefed by the U.S. military. Hanoi and Weiss made it clear that any intervention on the part of the U.S. government could imperil the future release of additional POWs before the end of the war. Anticipating U.S. interference, they announced a false itinerary of their return trip to the United States. As expected, the U.S. military met the plane that the three POWs were supposed to be on in Laos with the intent of forcing the three men to fly the rest of the way back to the United States via military aircraft. All the while the POWs were actually escorted by Weiss on another day via a different route. Weiss wrote a press release stating that the intervention was evidence of Nixon’s disregard for POWs’ safe return and his attempt to conceal the truth from the American people.