Nixon’s Plan for Peace, The War and Protests Continue

Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election. Although Nixon campaigned on a platform that he had a plan to end the Vietnam War, it took the United States almost five years after Nixon’s election to end its involvement. During that time about 20,000 additional U.S. combat forces (1/3 of the total of 59,000) were killed. (Hakim, pp. 370-371)

Nixon’s peace plan was based on the campaign slogan “Peace with Honor,” i.e. saving face. Sometimes the plan was called “Vietnamization,” a process of transferring more ground combat responsibilities to the South Vietnam army as the Americans were brought home. One must wonder how such a tactic could be successful when the ARVN could not make any advances in the several decades of the civil war up to then. Vietnamization killed what remained of American troop morale. Why would American soldiers put their lives on the line when they were going to be going home soon? (Anderson, pp. 322-323, 378.)

By 1969 and 1970, soldiers in Vietnam began to refuse combat orders. As noted by journalist James Reston, Nixon was asking them “to fight for time to negotiate a settlement with Hanoi that will allow [him to save] his face but may very well lose their lives…. He wants out on the installment plan, but the weekly installments are the lives of one or two hundred American soldiers, and he cannot get away from the insistent question: Why?” (Id.)

In 1971, 25,000 soldiers took undesirable discharges as desertions increased to the highest rate in army history: 17 AWOL for every 100 soldiers, with an additional seven out of 100 deserters. (Anderson, p. 377.) Troop sentiment was reflected in the fact that almost universally the military in Vietnam sang the then (1965) popular song “We Gotta Get Out of This Place, by Eric Burdon and The Animals ( with gusto every time it came on armed forces radio or someone’s personal music player. (Franklin, p. 203.)

As noted earlier, Nixon began to try to arrange peace talks early in his administration. Peace talks were held in Paris. Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s Secretary of State, was the primary American negotiator. It took Kissinger five years to finalize the peace treaty. One of the primary sticking points in the peace talks was North Vietnam’s insistence that the U.S. cease bombing before it would engage in substantive talks. Nixon was unwilling to do that. To the contrary, in order to pressure North Vietnam to come to the table, Nixon, initially secretly and later openly in a televised speech on April 30, 1970, ordered “pacification” incursions in Vietnam and Cambodia and initiated a series of secret bombing raids on supply lines in Cambodia and Laos.

By 1972, there had been an additional 15,000 American causalities while the peace talks were stalled. Each time one of the sides took a military action, the other would react in kind and up the ante. The process was surrealistic. Meanwhile, protests at home continued. (Tuchman, The March of Folly, pp. 357-377; Carroll, pp. 4-12.)

On March 20, 1969, eight organizers of the demonstrations at the Chicago Democratic Convention were indicted by a grand jury on charges of conspiracy and inciting to riot. The Chicago Eight (often referred to as “The Chicago Seven,” the different number being the result of the severance of the trial of Bobby Seale from the others, see below) were Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale and Lee Weiner. The trial began on September 24, 1969. The defendants were represented by William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass of the Center for Constitutional Rights. The judge was Julius Hoffman.

Outside the courthouse, 2,000 protesters skirmished with federal marshalls. On October 9, the National Guard was called in for crowd control as demonstrations grew outside the courtroom. (Los Angeles Times, 9/25/69) Early in the course of the trial, Black Panther activist Seale made abusive comments to Judge Hoffman in court, calling him a “fascist dog,” a “pig,” and a “racist.”

On October 29, the Judge ordered Seale bound and gagged in the courtroom. On November 4, thirty Chicago lawyers, claiming that Hoffman had treated Seale like a slave, petitioned the court to halt the trial. Ultimately, Judge Hoffman severed Seale from the case and sentenced him to four years in prison for contempt. (NYT, 10/30/69; NYT, 10/31/69; NYT, 11/6/69. Over two days, February 14-15, 1970, after numerous courtroom outbursts, Judge Hoffman sentenced four of the other Chicago Seven defendants to lengthy prison terms for contempt of court. Later, as the jury deliberated, defense attorneys Kunstler and Wineglass, along with the remaining three defendants, were sentenced to prison for contempt of court. (NYT, 2/15/70; NYT 2/16/70)

On February 18, 1970, the jury returned its verdict, finding five of the seven defendants guilty of violating the Anti-Riot Act of 1968. These five were sentenced to five years imprisonment and fined $5,000. Froines and Weiner were acquitted. (NYT, 2/19/70)

On May 11, 1972, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the contempt convictions of the Chicago Seven and their two defense attorneys. On November 21, 1972, the Court of Appeals reversed the convictions of Hoffman, Rubin, Dellinger, Davis, and Hayden. The Appeals Court cited as one reason for its reversal Judge Hoffman’s “antagonistic” courtroom demeanor. (NYT, 11/22/72; LAT, 11/22/72) The contempt charges were retried before a different judge, who found Dellinger, Rubin, Hoffman, and Kunstler guilty of some of the charges, but opted not to sentence the defendants to jail or fines. There was no re-trial on the other charges.

“Chicago, a song written by Graham Nash and performed by Crosby, Stills Nash and Young ( refers to both the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, as well as the trial of the Chicago Eight. The first line of the song: “So your brother’s bound and gagged, and they’ve chained him to a chair” refers to Bobby Seale .

So your brother’s bound and gagged
And they’ve chained him to a chair
Won’t you please come to Chicago
Just to sing

In a land that’s known as freedom
How can such a thing be fair
Won’t you please come to Chicago
For the help that we can bring

We can change the world
Re-arrange the world
It’s dying … to get better

Politicians sit yourself down
There’s nothing for you here
Won’t you please come to Chicago
For a ride

Don’t ask Jack to help you
‘Cause he’ll turn the other ear
Won’t you please come to Chicago
Or else join the other side
We can change the world
Re-arrange the world
It’s dying … if you believe in justice
It’s dying … and if you believe in freedom
It’s dying … let a man live his own life
It’s dying … rules and regulations, who needs them
Open up the door

Somehow people must be free
I hope the day comes soon
Won’t you please come to Chicago
Show your face

From the bottom of the ocean
To the mountains on the moon
Won ‘t you please come to Chicago,

No one else can take your place

Frustrated by the delay in peace negotiations, The New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (New Mobe) together with the Vietnam Moratorium Committee and the Student Mobilization Committee (SMC), organized the October 15, 1969 Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam (Vietnam Moratorium Day), which resulted in more than two million people participating in protests across the country. Over 500,000 people demonstrated in Washington and 150,000 in San Francisco. (Anderson, pp. 330-333; LAT, 10/15/69) Another large demonstration occurred in Washington D.C. a month later, on November 15, 1969, which was attend by more than 250,000 protesters .(Anderson, Id.; LAT, 11/15/69; LAT, 11/16/69) John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance, (sung by The Plastic Ono Band ( was sung en masse by the demonstrators at the D.C. protest.

Two, one two three four
Ev’rybody’s talking about
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, that-ism, is-m, is-m, is-m.

All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance

Ev’rybody’s talking about Ministers,
Sinisters, Banisters and canisters
Bishops and Fishops and Rabbis and Pop eyes,
And bye bye, bye byes.

All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance

Let me tell you now
Ev’rybody’s talking about
Revolution, evolution, masturbation,
Flagellation, regulation, integrations,
Meditations, United Nations,

All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
Ev’rybody’s talking about
John and Yoko, Timmy Leary, Rosemary,
Tommy Smothers, Bobby Dylan, Tommy Cooper,
Derek Taylor, Norman Mailer,
Alan Ginsberg, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance

The Weathermen planned “The Days of Rage” protests in Chicago in October 1969, to coincide with the trial of the Chicago Eight. The protests were largely a failure. The organizers expected tens of thousands of protesters to “BRING THE WAR HOME!” but only a few hundred showed up. The protesters were outnumbered by police three-to-one. Nevertheless, with battle cries like, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is going to win!” on October 5, 1969, the “flower children” dynamited a statue commemorating the Chicago police who had been killed in the 1886 Haymarket Square Riot. Thereafter, some 300 radicals ravaged Chicago’s business district, smashing windows and destroying automobiles. The hoped-for “up-rising against the ‘Pigs’” never materialized. Six Weathermen were shot and 68 were arrested. (Id.)

While the peace talks were ongoing but stalemated, in an effort to make the Communists more compliant, the Nixon administration ordered U.S. forces to continue to bomb North Vietnam and they secretly expanded bombing into Cambodia and Laos, with troops invading Cambodia. When this expanded military activity became known, believing that President Nixon was reneging on his promises to end the war, anti-war protests at home reached a new level, leading to the Kent State University tragedy on May 4, 1970.

Initially, at Kent State, the student protest against the invasion and bombing of Cambodia resulted in the burning of the campus ROTC building, prompting the mayor of Kent to call out the National Guard to protect the campus. The next day, during an otherwise non-violent protest, 28 guardsmen opened fire on protestors, none of whom were armed nor anywhere near the Guard. More than 60 shots were fired. Four students were killed: their names were Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, William Schroder, and Sandra Scheuer. None of them had been known radicals. Thirteen others were injured with gunshot wounds. (Hillstrom, p. 213; Carroll, pp. 13-15.) The closest student shot was more than 60 feet away from the Guard; all but that one were more than 100 feet away; and, all but two were more than 200 feet away. One of the dead was 255 feet away; the rest were 300 to 400 feet away. The most distant student shot was more than 700 feet from the Guardsmen. (Carlisle and Golson, America in Revolt During the 1960s and 1970s, pp. 122-126.)

A U.S. Justice Department investigation (the “Scranton Report”) concluded the “shootings were unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable.” But, an Ohio grand jury found that the National Guard acted in self-defense and indicted students for provoking the shootings. (Carroll, pp. 16-17; The Ethical Spectacle, May 1995,

In response to the Kent State shootings, students at hundreds of colleges went on strike in protest. An estimated 536 campuses were shut down; 51 for the remainder of the academic year. (Hillstrom, p. 213.) Over 100,000 demonstrated against the Kent State shootings in Washington D.C. .

The following is a firsthand account of protests and counter-protests following Kent State:

That week, people came out of the woodwork—wearing black leather, chains wrapped around their fists, waving American flags—people we had never before seen in our neighborhoods. These patriots set up a counterdemonstration across the street from ours. For hours, a rumor was rampant that they would attack us and that the police would not intervene—exactly what had happened on Wall Street a day or so before. Their cursing and chain-rattling became uglier until finally they summoned their courage and charged. Someone shouted “Link arms!” and five or six teenagers, me among them, joined to interpose our bodies between the attackers and demonstrators. The Brooklyn police, unlike those on Wall Street, or the National Guard in Kent days earlier, did not seek or condone the killing of children. They ran in and forced the attackers back.

(The Ethical Spectacle, May 1995,

“Ohio, written by Neil Young and sung by Crosby, Stills Nash & Young (1970), (, is about the tragedy at Kent State. Many radio stations refused to play the song.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four deadd in Ohio

“Kent State Massacre, words by Jack Warshaw and Barbara Dane (1970), sung by Barbara Dane ( also addresses the tragedy.

Brothers, listen to my story,
Sisters, listen to my song.
Gonna sing of four young people
Who are now dead and gone.
Two of them were twenty,
And two were just nineteen,
Just stepping out to meet the world
Like so many you have seen.

It was in Kent State, Ohio
On a Monday afternoon.
The air was full of springtime,
The flowers were in bloom.
It was a scene of terror
That none will soon forget.
Young students stood with empty hands
To face the bayonets.

Alli Krause and Sandy Scheuer
Marched and sang a peaceful song.
Like Bill Schroeder and Jeff Miller,
They did not think it wrong.
They laughed and joked with troopers,
And some to them did say:
We march to bring the GIs home,
And we are not afraid.

No warning were they given,
No mercy and no chance.
The air was filled with tear gas,
The troopers did advance.
Suddenly they knelt and fired,
The students turned and fled.
Fifteen fell at that moment,
And four of them were dead.

On the campus they were murdered,
In the springtime of their lives.
As angry sorrow swept the land,
Their friends and parents cried.
They’d hardly learned to struggle,
But witness they will be.
They died for those in Vietnam,
Also for you and me.

But while we march and mourn today,
There’s much more we must do.
We must teach ourselves to organize,
And see the struggle through.
Blood flowed upon the 4th of May,
And we’ll know it’s color well
‘Til we sink this murdering system
In the darkest pits of hell.

The Beach Boys, not normally associated with political songs, commented about student demonstrations generally, including Kent State, in “Student Demonstration Time, written by Mike Love (1971). (

Starting out with Berkeley Free Speech
And later on at People’s Park
The winds of change fanned into flames
Student demonstrations spark
Down to Isla Vista where police felt so harassed
They called the special riot squad of the L. A. County Sheriff

Well there’s a riot going on
There’s a riot going on
There’s a riot going on
Student demonstration time

The violence spread down South to where Jackson State brothers
Learned not to say nasty things about Southern policemen’s mothers
Nothing much was said about it and really next to nothing done
The pen is mightier than the sword, but no match for a gun

Well there’s a riot going on
There’s a riot going on
Well there’s a riot going on
‘Cause it’s student demonstration time

America was stunned on May 4, 1970
When rally turned to riot up at Kent State University
They said the students scared the Guard
Though the troops were battle dressed
Four martyrs earned a new degree
The Bachelor of Bullets
I know we’re all fed up with useless wars and racial strife
But next time there’s a riot, well, you best stay out of sight

Well there’s a riot going on
There’s a riot going on
Well there’s a riot going on
Student demonstration time

Stay away when there’s a riot going on
Student demonstration
Stay away when there’s a riot going on
Student demonstration
Stay away when there’s a riot going on
Student demonstration
Stay away when there’s a riot going on
It’s student demonstration
Stay away when there’s a riot going on
Student demonstration
Stay away when there’s a riot going on
Student demonstration
Stay away when there’s a riot going on
It’s student demonstration
Stay away when there’s a riot going on
Student demonstration

A less-well-known but equally tragic confrontation stemming from the Cambodia protests occurred on the campus of Jackson State, a largely black school in Mississippi on May 13-14, 1970. On May 13, rock-throwing incidents by protesters brought the city police to the campus and prompted the mayor to call in the National Guard and the Mississippi Highway Patrol. An attempt to burn down the ROTC building was quickly halted by campus security police. Several other incidents that night led to increased tension.

The next night crowds threw rocks at passing white motorists. A dump truck was burned and when the fire truck responded, students threw more rocks and bricks. The Guard and the Highway Patrol were called in when large crowds would not disperse. Just as the Guardsmen reached one of the dormitories and as the crowd seemed to be moving in on them, jeering, chanting and screaming obscenities, someone threw a bottle which smashed at the feet of several Guardsmen. In the next twenty-eight seconds a whole barrage of shots was fired, killing two students and wounding twelve. All those shot were black. All law enforcement officials were white.

“Jackson-Kent Blues, written and sung by the Steve Miller Band ( provides a rocker reaction to the Kent State and Jackson shootings.

I was down in Nashville just payin’ my dues
Headed for Ohio when I read the news
‘Bout the people demonstrating ‘gainst the President’s views
Four were shot down by the National Guard troops
Just like Uncle Sam I put on my fighting shoes
School shot down cause there’s no more to lose
Now we’re headed to D.C. two by twos
Cause those low down, profound, killin’ four blues

Lookin’ for my Congressman to make it well known
But the politicians already won’t answer his telephone
Making in his office while they’re shooting kids down at home
Worried about the voters but he won’t be worried long
Silent majority still glued to the tube
Say CIA ain’t lookin’, FBI come unglued
Shot some more in Jackson just to show the world what they can do
While we’re marching to D.C. cause there’s too much to do

Give peace a chance
Give peace a chance
There’s no turnin’ back my friend
There’s no turnin’ back

When the President said that the tear gas is gone
The army’s pulled out leavin’ blood on the ground
The streets are empty and the crying’s died down
You can be President if no one’s around
Just like Kow Kow, you’ve heard it before
Get back gangster, don’t you open that door
Space Cowboy’s back to tell you the score
Nothing any good is gonna come from a war
Got those low down, profound, killin’ four blues

Give peace a chance
Give peace a chance
Give peace a chance

During the days of April 19-23, 1971, Vietnam Veterans against the War participated in the Dewey Canyon III march in Washington, D.C. Led by Gold Star Mothers (mothers of soldiers killed in Vietnam), more than 1,100 veterans marched across the Lincoln Memorial Bridge to the Arlington Cemetery gate, just beneath the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A memorial service for their peers was conducted by Reverend Jackson H. Day, who had just a few days earlier resigned his military chaplaincy. On April 23, the demonstration ended with some 1,000 veterans throwing their combat ribbons, helmets, uniforms, and toy guns at the Capitol steps. (Anderson, pp. 374-375; NYT, 4/19/71; NYT, 4/24/71)

The next day, April 24, 1971, a massive anti-war rally of around 200,000 people was held on the Mall in Washington, D.C. In San Francisco, the same day around 156,000 marched, which was the largest such rally to date on the West Coast. (Anderson, pp. 374-375; LAT, 4/24/71; LAT, 4/24/71; LAT, 4/25/71; NYT, 4/25/71) About 30,000 demonstrators remained in the capital and camped in Potomac Park, continuing their protests. The Nixon administration mobilized soldiers and city police in battle dress and heavily armed, who arrested 7,000 one day and additional thousands in the ensuing days. (Anderson, Id.)

On Memorial Day Weekend, May 28-31, 1971, the Vietnam Veterans against the War, led by John Kerry, decided to create a visual, symbolic protest against the Vietnam War by retracing the April 19, 1775, route taken by Paul Revere from Boston to Concord, but the veterans were going to do it in reverse. They spent their first night in a bivouac at the National Park in Concord. During the day they practiced “guerilla theater” in Concord to “bring the war home.” In Lexington, the Board of Selectmen did not permit them to do “guerilla theater.” They instructed the veterans to walk into town single file. They unanimously voted to deny them the right to stay on the Lexington Battle Green.

All afternoon Saturday, Lexington residents swarmed onto the Green. The day was a clamor of discussions and debates with clergy, townspeople and members of the town government that lasted into the evening hours. After nightfall, there were still hundreds of people on the Green. Many townspeople chose to find sleeping bags and spend the night. Upon instructions of the Board of Selectmen, the police chief ordered everyone to leave the Green. At 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, 458 veterans and townspeople were arrested and taken by school buses to be jailed. Later that morning, those arrested were again taken in school buses to a special Sunday session of the Concord District Court where most pled guilty to disobeying a town bylaw and were fined $5, “the cost of a night’s lodging,” as Concord Court Judge John Forte put it. (Id.) These were the last significant protests of the Vietnam era. By the end of 1971, the anti-war movement had dissipated. (Anderson, p. 380.)

On January 23, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon announced the Paris Agreement, praising it as the fulfillment of his promise to bring “peace with honor”. Four days later, on January 27, representatives of the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Viet Cong signed the peace agreement, officially ending America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Its key provisions included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the release of prisoners of war, and the reunification of North and South Vietnam through peaceful means. Although the Vietnamese would continue the fighting for two more years, in March 1973, the last American ground troops left Vietnam.