Since I am focusing on the background of the KentState shootings, I felt it was important to explore the beginnings of the antiwar movements. Two books I found on the topic are Covering Dissent by Melvin Small and an anthology of articles addressing the anti-Vietnam war movement, edited by Walter Hixson.
In one of the articles of the anthology, “Roots of the Anti-Vietnam War Movement”, Benjamin T. Harrison argues that the antiwar sentiment started after the two world wars and the Great Depression. Harrison believes that the atrocities witnessed from the wars, combined with the fact that the children of the survivors of the Great Depression were born into the most affluent time in American history created the situation that spawned antiwar demonstrations in the 1960’s. This new generation did not want for anything, as their parents had. They lived in a world where there were more college students than farmers (Harrison 29). These young students felt as if their parents had screwed up the world, through the appeasement of Hitler, which led to World War II and the Holocaust and through the bombing of Hiroshima as well. Protests against the bomb would become the forerunners of the anti-Vietnam war movements. The demonstrators of the 1960s responded directly to the war in Vietnam, but their ideals were created in response to the horrors that their parent’s generation had inflicted upon the world.
Small argues that the antiwar protests for Vietnam began in earnest in response to Johnson’s decision to bomb North Vietnam. He states that “no other American action in Southeast Asia so catalyzed critics of the war” (Small 34). The first major demonstration took place on April 17, 1965, only a few months after Johnson’s decision. It was organized by the Students for a Democratic Society, and gathered such widespread attention mainly due to the controversy surrounding the bombings. Since the United States was not actually at war with North Vietnam, the idea of bombing them was problematic for a lot of Americans. The students (much like the ones at Kent State) led the movement to end the war in Vietnam based upon ideals crafted in response to the violent and destructive culture that their parents had lived in.
Small, Melvin. Covering dissent: the media and the anti-Vietnam War movement. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1994.
Harrison, Benjamin T. “The Roots of the Anti-Vietnam War Movement”. In The Vietnam Antiwar Movement edited by Walter Hixson, 23-35. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000.