Thousands of Mexican-American antiwar activists march in Chicano Moratorium

Year
1970
Month Day
August 29

On August 29, 1970, more than 20,000 Mexican-Americans march through East Los Angeles to protest the Vietnam War. The Chicano Moratorium, as this massive protest was known, was peaceful until the Los Angeles Police entered Laguna Park, sparking violence and rioting that led to three deaths. The Chicano Moratorium is now remembered both as the tragic end of one stage of Chicano activism and as a moment that galvanized and inspired a new generation of activists.

READ MORE: The Brutal History of Anti-Latino Discrimination in America

The march was planned as an entirely peaceful demonstration in support of peace and in protest of the Vietnam War, which claimed Latino lives at a disproportionately high rate. As demonstrators assembled in the park, the owner of a nearby liquor store called the police on some Chicano customers in the fear that they might begin shoplifting. When the LAPD responded, it assumed the protest had led to looting, and before long the police were storming the park with tear gas. Three people died and hundreds were arrested as riots spread throughout East LA. 

Among the dead was Ruben Salazar, a Los Angeles Times journalist often referred to as the voice of the local Chicano community; he was hit on the head with an LAPD tear gas canister. Salazar’s death, in particular, sparked outrage, and many believe that the police or the FBI, whose agents were present for the march, used the chaos as cover for the assassination of a prominent voice of dissent.

Many viewed the violence and Salazar’s death as a loss of innocence for the Chicano movement. For many, however, it was the beginning of a lifetime of activism and a moment that would forever encapsulate the community’s struggle for racial equality. Many prominent Chicano artists, activists and politicians were present at the rally. The former Laguna Park is now called Ruben F. Salazar Park.

READ MORE: Vietnam War Protests 

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President Nixon meets with anti-war protestors at the Lincoln Memorial

Year
1970
Month Day
May 09

In the early hours of May 9, 1970, a frazzled President Richard Nixon embarks upon what his Chief of Staff will describe as “the weirdest day so far” of his presidency. Preoccupied with the recent Kent State shootings and the unrest that has spread to college campuses across the country, Nixon makes an impromptu and bizarre visit to a group of anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial.

On the Friday after the Kent State massacre, in which Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded nine during an anti-war protest, Nixon was unable to sleep. Around 4 in the morning, after spending several hours making phone calls, he roused his personal valet, Manolo Sanchez, and asked him if he had ever seen the Lincoln Memorial at night. Knowing he would encounter a crowd of student protesters that had camped out on the National Mall, Nixon set off with Sanchez, his physician and a Secret Service team.

READ MORE: How Nixon’s Presidency Became Increasingly Erratic After Kent State

Nixon’s account of the event differs greatly from that of the protesters, although both confirm it was a strange moment. Nixon described the students he met there as “overawed” and portrayed the conversation as a civil one. He told the protesters that he understood their hatred of the war, saying, “I know probably most of you think I’m an SOB. But I want you to know that I understand just how you feel.” Trying to start a friendly conversation, he asked where they went to school, and when some replied that they had come from Syracuse the president responded by talking about the school’s football team. “Here we had come from a university that’s completely uptight, on strike,” one student recalled, “and when we told him where we were from, he talked about the football team.” Nixon opined on the benefits of travel, particularly to Prague, Warsaw and Asia, but his audience struggled to follow along. “As far as sentence structure,” one of them later told a reporter, “there was none.”

The conversation lasted over an hour and both sides at least managed to explain their views on the war, although neither convinced the other. Nixon did not sleep that night, instead insisting he take Sanchez to see the floor of the House of Representatives before eating breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel. A diary entry written later that day by H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s Chief of Staff, corroborates the students’ version of events: “I am concerned about his condition … he has had very little sleep for a long time and his judgment, temper and mood suffer badly as a result.”

READ MORE: Vietnam War Protests

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Viet Cong officer is shot in the head, iconic photo taken


Year
1968
Month Day
February 02

Saigon, South Vietnam was a chaotic and bloody place in the winter of 1968. On January 30, North Vietnamese forces struck suddenly and with shocking force at targets throughout the South, taking the South Vietnamese and their American allies by surprise and turning the tide of a war that President Lyndon Johnson had assured his people they were close to winning. As the reeling South Vietnamese army worked to re-establish order in their capital, an American photographer captured an image that would come to symbolize the brutality of the conflict.

The Tet Offensive directly countered the American narrative that the North was incapable of mobilizing in large numbers and was on the retreat. Conventional and guerrilla warriors struck targets and areas that had been considered to be safely under U.S./Southern control. As the Viet Cong overran Saigon in the first hours of the Tet Offensive, a fighter named Nguyễn Văn Lém was part of a death squad that targeted the National Police and their families. According to the South Vietnamese military, Lém’s squad had just killed 34 people associated with the police, at least 24 of whom were civilians, when he was captured on February 1st.

Lém, who had worn civilian clothes as he carried out his alleged war crimes, was brought to Brigadier General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan. Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams saw the prisoner being escorted to the general and decided to take a few pictures. “I prepared to make that picture—the threat, the interrogation,” Adams recalled. “But it didn’t happen. The man just pulled a pistol out of his holster, raised it to the VC’s head and shot him in the temple.”

Adams captured the exact moment when the bullet from Loan’s Smith & Wesson entered Lém’s head at point-blank range. The image, which very much appeared to depict the summary execution of an unarmed civilian by a South Vietnamese military official, ran in newspapers around the world, causing a sensation. The story behind the photo was much more complex, but the shot came to encapsulate Americans’ darkest fears about the war: that it was a haphazard, amoral bloodletting in which the United States’ cruelty rivaled that of its enemies.

Indeed, while Lém was not the innocent victim he appeared to be, it was later concluded that his execution had been a war crime. It was far from the only one committed by American and South Vietnamese forces—just a few months later, on March 16, American troops killed somewhere between 347 and 504 civilians in what came to be known as the My Lai Massacre. “Saigon Execution,” as Adams titled his photo, became a symbol of all that was wrong with American involvement in the war and won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography for 1969. Four years later, another AP photographer would win the prize for a similar photo, “Terror of War,” which depicted terrified children fleeing after the South Vietnamese air force mistakenly attacked their village with napalm.

READ MORE: Vietnam War Timeline

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Mass graves discovered in Hue


Year
1968
Month Day
February 26

Allied troops who had recaptured the imperial capital of Hue from the North Vietnamese during the Tet Offensive discover the first mass graves in Hue.

It was discovered that communist troops who had held the city for 25 days had massacred about 2,800 civilians whom they had identified as sympathizers with the government in Saigon. One authority estimated that communists might have killed as many as 5,700 people in Hue.

The Tet Offensive had begun at dawn on the first day of the Tet holiday truce (January 30), when Viet Cong forces, supported by large numbers of North Vietnamese troops, launched the largest and best coordinated offensive of the war. During the attack, they drove into the center of South Vietnam’s seven largest cities and attacked 30 provincial capitals ranging from the Delta to the DMZ. 

Among the cities taken during the first four days of the offensive were Hue, Dalat, Kontum, and Quang Tri; in the north, all five provincial capitals were overrun. At the same time, enemy forces shelled numerous allied airfields and bases. By February 10, the offensive was largely crushed, but resulted in heavy casualties on both sides.

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Operation Ranch Hand initiated


Year
1962
Month Day
January 12

The United States Air Force launches Operation Ranch Hand, a “modern technological area-denial technique” designed to expose the roads and trails used by the Viet Cong.

Flying C-123 Providers, U.S. personnel dumped an estimated 19 million gallons of defoliating herbicides over 10-20 percent of Vietnam and parts of Laos between 1962-1971. Agent Orange–named for the color of its metal containers–was the most frequently used defoliating herbicide. The operation succeeded inn killing vegetation, but not in stopping the Viet Cong. The use of these agents was controversial, both during and after the war, because of the questions about long-term ecological impacts and the effect on humans who either handled or were sprayed by the chemicals.

Beginning in the late 1970s, Vietnam veterans began to cite the herbicides, especially Agent Orange, as the cause of health problems ranging from skin rashes to cancer to birth defects in their children. Similar problems, including an abnormally high incidence of miscarriages and congenital malformations, have been reported among the Vietnamese people who lived in the areas where the defoliating agents were used.

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National Liberation Front formed


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Year
1960
Month Day
December 20

North Vietnam announces the formation of the National Front for the Liberation of the South at a conference held “somewhere in the South.” This organization, more commonly known as the National Liberation Front (NLF), was designed to replicate the success of the Viet Minh, the umbrella nationalist organization that successfully liberated Vietnam from French colonial rule.

The NLF reached out to those parts of South Vietnamese society who were displeased with the government and policies of President Ngo Dinh Diem. One hundred delegates representing more than a dozen political parties and religious groups–both communists and non-communists–were in attendance at the conference. However, from the beginning, the NLF was dominated by the Lao Dong Party Central Committee (North Vietnamese Communist Party) and served as the North’s shadow government in South Vietnam. The Saigon regime dubbed the NLF the “Viet Cong,” a pejorative contraction of Viet Nam Cong San (Vietnamese Communists).

The NLF’s military arm was the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF). In February 1965, the PLAF attacked U.S. Army installations at Pleiku and Qui Nhon, which convinced President Lyndon B. Johnson to send the first U.S. ground troops to South Vietnam a month later. Ultimately, more than 500,000 U.S. troops were sent to Vietnam to fight the PLAF and the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN, or North Vietnamese Army).

The NLF reached the height of its power during the 1968 Tet Offensive, when the communists launched a massive coordinated attack against key urban centers throughout South Vietnam. Although the Viet Cong forces were soundly defeated during the course of the offensive, they achieved a great psychological victory because the attack prompted many long time supporters of the war to question the Johnson administration’s optimistic predictions.

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Pol Pot overthrown


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Year
1979
Month Day
January 07

On January 7, 1979, Vietnamese troops seize the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, toppling the brutal regime of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge, organized by Pol Pot in the Cambodian jungle in the 1960s, advocated a radical Communist revolution that would wipe out Western influences in Cambodia and set up a solely agrarian society. In 1970, aided by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, Khmer Rouge guerrillas began a large-scale insurgency against Cambodian government forces, soon gaining control of nearly a third of the country.

By 1973, secret U.S. bombings of Cambodian territory controlled by the Vietnamese Communists forced the Vietnamese out of the country, creating a power vacuum that was soon filled by Pol Pot’s rapidly growing Khmer Rouge movement. In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, overthrew the pro-U.S. regime, and established a new government, the Kampuchean People’s Republic.

As the new ruler of Cambodia, Pol Pot set about transforming the country into his vision of an agrarian utopia. The cities were evacuated, factories and schools were closed, and currency and private property was abolished. Anyone believed to be an intellectual, such as someone who spoke a foreign language, was immediately killed. Skilled workers were also killed, in addition to anyone caught in possession of eyeglasses, a wristwatch, or any other modern technology. In forced marches punctuated with atrocities from the Khmer Rouge, the millions who failed to escape Cambodia were herded onto rural collective farms.

Between 1975 and 1978, an estimated two million Cambodians died by execution, forced labor, and famine. In 1978, Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, capturing Phnom Penh in early 1979. A moderate Communist government was established, and Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge retreated back into the jungle.

In 1985, Pol Pot officially retired but remained the effective head of the Khmer Rouge, which continued its guerrilla actions against the government in Phnom Penh. In 1997, however, he was put on trial by the organization after an internal power struggle ousted him from his leadership position. Sentenced to life imprisonment by a “people’s tribunal,” which critics derided as a show trial, Pol Pot later declared in an interview, “My conscience is clear.” Much of the international community hoped that his captors would extradite him to stand trial for his crimes against humanity, but he died of apparently natural causes while under house arrest in 1998.

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Watergate burglars arrested

Year
1972
Month Day
June 17

In the early morning of June 17, 1972, five men are arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate, an office-hotel-apartment complex in Washington, D.C. In their possession were burglary tools, cameras and film, and three pen-size tear gas guns. At the scene of the crime, and in rooms the men rented at the Watergate, sophisticated electronic bugging equipment was found. Three of the men were Cuban exiles, one was a Cuban American, and the fifth was James W. McCord, Jr., a former CIA agent. That day, the suspects, who said they were “anti-communists,” were charged with felonious burglary and possession of implements of crime.

READ MORE: The Watergate Scandal: A Timeline 

On June 18, however, it was revealed that James McCord was the salaried security coordinator for President Richard Nixon’s reelection committee. The next day, E. Howard Hunt, Jr., a former White House aide, was linked to the five suspects. In July, G. Gordon Liddy, finance counsel for the Committee for the Re-election of the President, was also implicated as an accomplice. In August, President Nixon announced that a White House investigation of the Watergate break-in had concluded that administration officials were not involved. In September, Liddy, Hunt, McCord, and the four Cubans were indicted by a federal grand jury on eight counts of breaking into and illegally bugging the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

In September and October, reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of The Washington Post uncovered evidence of illegal political espionage carried out by the White House and the Committee for the Re-election of the President, including the existence of a secret fund kept for the purpose and the existence of political spies hired by the committee. Despite these reports, and a growing call for a Watergate investigation on Capitol Hill, Richard Nixon was reelected president in November 1972 in a landslide victory.

In January 1973, five of the Watergate burglars pleaded guilty, and two others, Liddy and McCord, were convicted. At their sentencing on March 23, U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica read a letter from McCord charging that the White House had conducted an extensive “cover-up” to conceal its connection with the break-in. In April, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and two top White House advisers, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, resigned, and White House counsel John Dean was fired.

On May 17, 1973, the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, headed by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, began televised proceedings on the rapidly escalating Watergate affair. One week later, Harvard Law professor Archibald Cox was sworn in as special Watergate prosecutor. During the Senate hearings, former White House legal counsel John Dean testified that the Watergate break-in had been approved by former Attorney General John Mitchell with the knowledge of White House advisers Ehrlichman and Haldeman, and that President Nixon had been aware of the cover-up. Meanwhile, Watergate prosecutor Cox and his staff began to uncover widespread evidence of political espionage by the Nixon re-election committee, illegal wiretapping of thousands of citizens by the administration, and contributions to the Republican Party in return for political favors.

READ MORE: Watergate: Who Did What and Where Are They Now?

In July, the existence of what were to be called the Watergate tapes–official recordings of White House conversations between Nixon and his staff–was revealed during the Senate hearings. Cox subpoenaed these tapes, and after three months of delay President Nixon agreed to send summaries of the recordings. Cox rejected the summaries, and Nixon fired him. His successor as special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, leveled indictments against several high-ranking administration officials, including Mitchell and Dean, who were duly convicted.

Public confidence in the president rapidly waned, and by the end of July 1974 the House Judiciary Committee had adopted three articles of impeachment against President Nixon: obstruction of justice, abuse of presidential powers, and hindrance of the impeachment process. On July 30, under coercion from the Supreme Court, Nixon finally released the Watergate tapes. On August 5, transcripts of the recordings were released, including a segment in which the president was heard instructing Haldeman to order the FBI to halt the Watergate investigation. Four days later, Nixon became the first president in U.S. history to resign. On September 8, his successor, President Gerald Ford, pardoned him from any criminal charges.

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Tet Offensive halted


Year
1968
Month Day
February 24

On February 24, 1968, the Tet Offensive ends as U.S. and South Vietnamese troops recapture the ancient capital of Hue from communist forces. Although scattered fighting continued across South Vietnam for another week, the battle for Hue was the last major engagement of the offensive, which saw communist attacks on all of South Vietnam’s major cities. In the aftermath of Tet, public opinion in the United States decisively turned against the Vietnam War.

As 1968 began–the third year of U.S. ground-troop fighting in Vietnam–U.S. military leadership was still confident that a favorable peace agreement would soon be forced on the North Vietnamese and their allies in South Vietnam, the Viet Cong. Despite growing calls at home for an immediate U.S. withdrawal, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration planned to keep the pressure on the communists through increased bombing and other attrition strategies. General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. operations in Vietnam, claimed to see clearly “the light at the end of the tunnel,” and Johnson hoped that soon the shell-shocked communists would stumble out of the jungle to the bargaining table.

However, on January 30, 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched their massive Tet Offensive all across South Vietnam. It was the first day of Tet–Vietnam’s lunar new year and most important holiday–and many South Vietnamese soldiers, expecting an unofficial truce, had gone home. The Viet Cong were known for guerrilla tactics and had never launched an offensive on this scale; consequently, U.S. and South Vietnamese forces were caught completely by surprise.

In the first day of the offensive, tens of thousands of Viet Cong soldiers, supported by North Vietnamese forces, overran the five largest cities of South Vietnam, scores of smaller cities and towns, and a number of U.S. and South Vietnamese bases. The Viet Cong struck at Saigon–South Vietnam’s capital–and even attacked, and for several hours held, the U.S. embassy there. The action was caught by U.S. television news crews, which also recorded the brutal impromptu street execution of a Viet Cong rebel by a South Vietnamese military official.

As the U.S. and South Vietnamese fought to regain control of Saigon, the cities of Hue, Dalat, Kontum, and Quangtri fell to the communists. U.S. and South Vietnamese forces recaptured most of these cities within a few days, but Hue was fiercely contested by the communist soldiers occupying it. After 26 days of costly house-to-house fighting, the South Vietnamese flag was raised again above Hue on February 24, and the Tet Offensive came to an end. During the communist occupation of Hue, numerous South Vietnamese government officials and civilians were massacred, and many civilians died in U.S. bombing attacks that preceded the liberation of the city.

In many respects, the Tet Offensive was a military disaster for the communists: They suffered 10 times more casualties than their enemy and failed to control any of the areas captured in the opening days of the offensive. They had hoped that the offensive would ignite a popular uprising against South Vietnam’s government and the presence of U.S. troops. This did not occur. In addition, the Viet Cong, which had come out into the open for the first time in the war, were all but wiped out. However, because the Tet Offensive crushed U.S. hopes for an imminent end to the conflict, it dealt a fatal blow to the U.S. military mission in Vietnam.

In Tet’s aftermath, President Johnson came under fire on all sides for his Vietnam policy. General Westmoreland requested 200,000 more troops to overwhelm the communists, and a national uproar ensued after this request was disclosed, forcing Johnson to recall Westmoreland to Washington. On March 31, Johnson announced that the United States would begin de-escalation in Vietnam, halt the bombing of North Vietnam, and seek a peace agreement to end the conflict. In the same speech, he also announced that he would not seek reelection to the presidency, citing what he perceived to be his responsibility in creating the national division over Vietnam.

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Tet Offensive ends


Year
1968
Month Day
February 22

The American war effort in Vietnam was hit hard by the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive, which ended on February 22, 1968. Claims by President Lyndon Johnson that the offensive was a complete failure were misleading. Though the North Vietnamese death toll was 20 times that of its enemies, strongholds previously thought impenetrable had been shaken. The prospect of increasing American forces added substantial strength to the anti-war movement and led to Johnson’s announcement that he would not seek re-election.

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