Patriotism Through Dissent

A Review of Who Spoke Up? American Protest Against the War in Vietnam 1963-1975
by Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan

Author Biography

Nancy Zaroulis is a pseudonym for Cynthia Peale. She is the author of other successful books, mainly fiction novels such as The Poe Papers, Call of the Darkness Light and The Last Waltz, which have been highly praised for their historical accuracy. She is married to Gerald Sullivan, co-author of Who Spoke Up? They both live in Massachusetts outside of Boston.

The Vietnam War was met by much opposition from people who saw it as a morally wrong and pointless struggle. Who Spoke Up? American Protest Against the War in Vietnam 1963-1975, written by Nancy Zaroulis and Gerald Sullivan, is a comprehensive history on the birth, growth and culmination of the antiwar movement. This book provides a very detailed account of the movement and follows it year by year in a chronological fashion starting from the year 1963 to the end of the war in 1975. One of the most horrendous methods of protest was self-immolation, copied from the Buddhist monks of Vietnam who burned themselves as an act of self-sacrifice for others. Between the years 1965 and 1970, eight individuals in the U.S. had chosen to meet death in this way. The contemporaries of that era, especially those who chose to die like the Buddhist monks, had strong sentiments against the war and must have felt hopelessly ignored. The antiwar movement’s importance lies not in stopping the war but rather, it is important because it existed and is a historical “reminder to Americans that times come when citizens can and, indeed, must challenge their government’s authority.”1

The first few chapters of the book describe how protest manifested itself, peaceful and otherwise. Self-immolation horrified Americans who, upon the shock of learning that such desperate means were taken to protest, began asking themselves, “Why are we in Vietnam? What is upsetting these individuals to the point that they would burn themselves alive in protest?” The origins of the antiwar movement began small, with only a few individuals and a few groups opposing the war, thus the authors called it “lonely dissent.” In 1963 issues like international disarmament, the civil rights movement, the free speech movement and John F. Kennedy’s assassination overshadowed the Vietnam War. Consequently, the problem of “Vietnam nagged at the edges of the nation’s consciousness.”2 Many Americans didn’t even know that there was a war in Vietnam, least of all that the U.S. was involved in it. However the few that did know and opposed the war included individuals like Congress members Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening and groups like pacifists, religious, civil rights, disarmament, Leftists, and student campus groups. The most well known of these student campus groups is the Students for a Democratic Society, SDS. The SDS became a primary force in the protest movement and has become synonomous with the Vietnam antiwar movement.

Chapters 1964 to 1966 describe the reactions to the Gulf of Tonkin and the other events that succeed it. In 1964 the SDS began plans for the first national antiwar demonstration. In 1965 the first “teach-in” on the war was held in Ann Arbor. Johnson began efforts to counter the antiwar sentiment that was growing on college campuses by visiting and speaking to the students. The use of napalm, an incendiary liquid used in bombs that have the capacity to stick to and burn or melt human flesh, further escalated the war and generated more opposition. Demonstrations were held, particularly against the company DOW, who was the sole manufacturer of napalm, and who sold their product to the government. The effect of the protest against napalm had no real effect in ending the usage of napalm, but the author accredited it because it did “raise the public awareness of the nature of the war.”3

Events of the late sixties are described in chapters 1967 to 1969. The Tet Offensive in 1968 in South Vietnam dashed Johnson’s hopes of gaining support as people increasingly began to oppose the war. The offensive created a need for even more troops to be deployed in Vietnam. Robert Kennedy decided to run for president and gave great hope through his policies that the war in Vietnam could be ended peacefully. The authors felt that all of that hope was lost when Robert Kennedy was assassinated along with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. King’s methods of civil disobedience and mass mobilization, combined with Kennedy’s leadership as a politician and sensitivity to the people’s concerns, generated hope because “only through a combination of mass mobilization and effective leadership within a system interacting can you get real change with out violence.”4 Johnson’s decision not to enter the presidential race for a second term disoriented the antiwar movement by removing their only source of unity, their hatred for him.

The last chapters deal with protest during Nixon’s administration. With Nixon as president, the war began to escalate again. In 1969 college campus demonstrations began to proliferate and spread across the country. Nixon began secretly bombing Cambodia and began implementing “Vietnamization,” the process of slowly pulling American troops out of Vietnam. In 1970, bombings and antidraft protests began to spread through the country. Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia in April, causing riots to erupt on many campuses and lead to police brutality and death in many demonstrations. An invasion of Laos in 1971 began to muster much opposition. The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers at this time that “not only gave the lie to the government’s line on Vietnam, but also destroyed that government’s policy and, indirectly, brought down its leadership.”5 It was an extraordinary collection of documents and a history of U.S involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to March 1968.

The authors believed that many wrongly perceived the antiwar movement. The antiwar movement is seen by many to be a “movement inspired or led by foreign powers,” a “violent movement,” a “movement of the young,” a “movement of cowards afraid to fight for their country,” a “movement of licentious counterculturals,” a movement lead by a “monolithic organization following the dictates of a party line,” and finally a movement that was “anti-American.” All these are seen by Zaroulis and Sullivan to be false. They aim to portray the war as it truly was, a “homegrown movement of the Left” that was “American born and bred,” a movement “begun and led by lifelong pacifists,” a movement “conceived, nurtured, and largely directed by adults,” a movement whose “leaders and members endured years of harassment, surveillance, court trials, jailing, and… long separation from home, family, and friends,” a movement whose “membership was ordinary citizens,” a movement that was “loose, shifting, often uneasy coalition of groups and individuals that disagreed on every issue except their hatred of the war,” and a movement “arising from profound patriotism.”6

Who Spoke Up? was published in 1984 in response to having almost a decade to reflect upon the antiwar movements and the effects that it had upon American society. Writing a book during the early 80s contributed greatly to its creation because previously, information regarding Vietnam was not available. Also around this time there was a sudden resurgence in interest in Vietnam resulting in a “Vietnam book boom.” Books were written dealing with the “emotional ordeal of Vietnam” that “haunts the memories and nights of those who fought it” according to Peter Loewenberg.7 The title is taken from I.F. Stone’s Weekly in October 17, 1966. It compared the actions of the U.S. in Vietnam to that of the German genocide of its Jewish population. It asks what would have happened if no one spoke up in opposition to the war in Vietnam. Would the later generations look back and ask as the Germans asked, who spoke up?

Professional criticisms praise the book for its great attention to detail and its chronological account of the events that took place in the years between 1963 and 1975. Elinor Langer noted that Zaroulis and Sullivan’s book is not as much an interpretation of the war and its events and meanings, but rather a compilation of the events that occurred. She gives credit to the authors because the topic of the antiwar movement is one that is difficult to write about because “in addition to dealing with the sheer mechanics of the movement, its historians must deal with the deeper issues.”8 The authors however, lacked thorough explanations to accompany and clarify its immense amount of facts. These facts also lacked a new perspective and instead portrayed only a perspective seen by that time period. Langer believes that this was the goal of the authors, to stay as true to the time as possible. Thomas Doherty of the National Review compliments the book on its “dozens of frank interviews” and its “command of contemporary materials.” In contrast to Langer, he feels that the authors did not abandon the reader to a confusion of facts, but rather was a guide that helped clear a path through the “bewildering overgrowth of political-action groups” and provided “crucial detail in a complex web of events.” Doherty noted that the authors paid little attention to the sex, drugs and rock and roll background of the movement, concentrating on the movement and not the style of some of its supporters. He, too, felt that the book was “woefully deficient in historical perspective”9 because the book lacked its own interpretation of events of the antiwar movement, resulting in a disability to captivate the reader. Though the authors were able to stay true to its goal of portraying the war as it was and as it occurred, the effect of doing so was to compensate the element of interest for providing the reader with straight facts. It also lacks a discussion about the aftermath of the war and its long-term impact upon America. The book is, however, still a very successful historical work and a very reliable source of comprehensive accounts of the antiwar movement activities.

To the authors, America during the Vietnam War was a world in which brave individuals stood up and opposed their government in the name of their morals and beliefs. Those that spoke out risked exclusion, harm, imprisonment and scorn. These people were often mistaken as being cowardly and unloyal to their country, but to the authors, these people were far from committing treasonous acts against their governments. They felt that the actions the protesters took stemmed from their patriotism and commitment to the principles upon which the United States was built upon. The sixties and early seventies were a time of chaos and disruption—a period of time in which people could not look to their government for guidance and had to take decisive actions against their own country to save and preserve the ideals that their nation represents. People took strong actions to mend the mistakes of the government through advocating civil rights, actions against poverty, black power, changing the workplace, and improving the environment. The nation and its people matured and grew stronger, manifesting into a wiser and greater nation. Thus the time period was a time of great change, a watershed in our nation’s history. Vietnam affected America politically, economically and culturally. The Tet Offensive caused events that marked a profound change in American political history and opened up the eyes of America to the war and instigated greater agitation to end the United States’s involvement in Vietnam. It was able to “cast new doubts on America’s rationale for being there at all.”10 The growing antiwar sentiment was so strong that it strongly influenced the government’s decisions. It was unprecedented to be able to impact the government agenda through lobbying and protesting and resulted in expanding the rights and freedoms of American citizens. Economically America was deeply affected because of the war’s great cost in both resources and human lives. Finally, this era was a time of great cultural change in America. It sprouted a generation of countercultures that openly disobeyed their parents and strongly believed and exerted their rights and freedoms. Also during this time media coverage for news shifted from newspapers to television sets. It displayed graphic and haunting images and served to catalyze the movement to end the war. America matured into a much more patriotic society, one in which the rights of citizens were expanded and reinforced. It is okay to oppose things that are wrong in the government. Protesting is no longer an act of unfaithfulness to one’s country and has become an act that is a worthy cause and effort. Students also gained much respectability from this movement. The student’s ability to heavily influence and impact the government has created greater prestige for future students and youths. Other impacts that the sixties era made was a new civil rights bill as a result of the civil rights movement, a new concern for the poor due to Kennedy’s new frontier and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. There was more respect for black people, an improvement of the workplace, and the creation of a new generation of countercultures. The antiwar movement is even felt today, in our culture and our politics. Vietnam even has ties to the war against Iraq. Today people look back on Vietnam with respect for those who perished in the effort to stop the war as well as those who perished fighting in the war. “A monument consists entirely of two walls of black polished granite set into a gentle down slope of land that forms something like a shallow amphitheater” upon which the names of those who died in the war are carved.11

Who Spoke Up? allows one to see the antiwar movement as a much more complex and dynamic event. It was not as simplistic as one might have previously known it to be. The information from this book is substantial and compiles many facts. Despite the authors lacking their own point of view and perspective on the antiwar activities, the book allows one to come to their own conclusion, one that is supposed to be most true to the book. The sixties and seventies was a time of great unrest in America through which America grew stronger as a nation. The movement overtime has become a “quasi-mythical, half-buried in time, and increasingly dim and distorted historical presence remembered kindly by some, belittled and reviled by others, recalled inaccurately even by many who helped to make it happen.” Thus the goal of Who Spoke Up? was to let the antiwar movement be remembered for “what it was.”12

review by Mimi Lan

  1. Zaroulis, Nancy, and Sullivan, Gerald. Who Spoke Up? American Protest Against the War in Vietnam 1963-1975. New York: Doubleday and Company Inc., 1984, xi.
  2. Zaroulis, Nancy 15.
  3. Zaroulis, Nancy 107.
  4. Zaroulis, Nancy 419.
  5. Zaroulis, Nancy 408.
  6. Zaroulis, Nancy xiii.
  7. Loewenberg, Peter. Los Angeles Times. 1984.
  8. Langer, Elinor. New York Times. 1984.
  9. Doherty, Thomas. Booksmart. 1985.
  10. Zaroulis, Nancy 151.
  11. Zaroulis, Nancy 422.
  12. Zaroulis, Nancy xiv.

© 2006 Irvine High School

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