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How Public Opinion Changed The Course of The Vietnam War

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The Vietnam War certainly left a distaste in the lives of many who have been affected by the war; scholars have become increasingly interested in the interaction between war and public opinion. There have been many scholarly works published on the Vietnam War, but the issue that will be analyzed here is how public opinion changed the course of the war. The first article by Scott Gartner and Gary Segura is titled, “Race, Casualties, and Opinion in the Vietnam War,” it examined how the diverse races within America in combination with the atrocities in the war led to the formation of opinions that were similar in one race but were different in another race. The second article by Paul Burstein and William Freudenburg titled, “The Impact of Public Opinion, Antiwar Demonstrations, and War Costs on Senate Voting on Vietnam War Motions” takes a closer look on how as the war became a prolonged affair, representatives from both the Senate and the House became more influenced about the angst from their constituents regarding the war. The third article by Sidney Verba and Richard Brody is titled, “Public Opinion and the War in Vietnam,” which takes a similar approach to the first article but asks, how do the informed differ from the less-well-informed on their attitudes toward the Vietnam War? If demonstrations were credited with bringing about these changes, presumably an argument could be made that demonstrations had converted public opinion which in turn encouraged the administration to change its Vietnam policies. That is the focus of fourth and final article by E. M. Schreiber titled, “Anti-War Demonstrations and American Public Opinion on the War in Vietnam.” Central to all of these articles is how individuals consider casualties when developing an assessment of a war and their feelings about it.

The study by Gartner and Segura examined whether race moderates the influence of casualties on opinion. Before they arrive at a conclusion, they break down the issue of war, race, ethnicity, and opinion into three sections. First, they offer a theory for why race and ethnicity play a role in the formation of opinion. Next, they test the hypothesis, in which approval of the handling of the Vietnam War is the dependent variable; and then the conclusion is formed. The conclusion found that blacks were more likely to be opposed to the war in the beginning stages due to the disproportionate number of casualties for that race than whites. In the end, whites, blacks, and Latinos were equally against the war in the later stages. These antiwar movements influenced legislative change, and this was the focus of Burstein and Freudenburg. They argued that if the antiwar demonstrations truly worked, it should have resulted in reduction of war costs and antiwar legislative measures. According to their study, public opinion and war costs were highly correlated to one another and that would mean that demonstrations could have been a product of that. Gartner and Segura would probably disagree since both Latinos and blacks opposed the war from the start yet their voices were underrepresented in the democratic realm and that in actuality the opinion of the white American mattered more. It is important to consider how these opinion polls were conducted in the first place and the study conducted by Verba and Brody found that those surveys were inadequate. The question generally posed in surveys conducted on public opinion regarding the Vietnam War was whether a citizen approves or disapproves of the President’s handling the situation in Vietnam. This was too general as the study provides that the surveys did not detail the background phenomenon that was occurring at the time; which was war was more complex than a general question. In addition, Verba and Brody support the argument made by Gartner and Segura on the difference of opinion between whites and blacks along with the tendency of blacks being ignored, “The ad hoc explanation is obvious; at the present moment the American Negro is alienated from American society and unimpressed by arguments that our commitment is necessary to preserve freedom and justice for ourselves and others in Southeast Asia.” It should be noted that the rise of antiwar demonstrations started in college campuses, and instead of centering the students in this issue, the researchers instead focused on social settings and demographics as a way of possibly influencing the American stance on war, which was quite interesting considering how important student movement was. The last study that will be analyzed however, does not frame their research in that manner, instead, “the purpose of this study is to assess the impact of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in the U.S.A. on the changes in the American public’s views about the war.” There is general consensus among Verba, Brody and Schreiber that the polls did not serve as an adequate metric for determining whether the war was truly out of touch with many. Schreiber referred to the demonstrations, noting that “many members of the public simply do not mentally join together” This could lead to the formation of two conclusions according to Schreiber; one being that demonstrations had no effect in altering public opinion, and the other being that those demonstrations had great effect in communicating with the public. “The major point to be gleaned from this review is that there is no evidence that shows an effect of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations on reducing American public support for the war in Vietnam.” Schreiber then goes on to reiterate the point that Burstein and Freudenburg made, which was that war costs such as casualties show a greater correlation to public opinion turning on its heel than any other determinant. However, the Verba and Brody study did not consider the “mediating links,” between the war’s cost and benefits on one hand and the majority perceptions and interpretations of these costs and benefits on the other.

The conclusion offered in Schreiber’s study as well as Burstein’s and Freudenberg was generally the same, which was that casualties in war alter the opinion of the public more so than anti-war mobilization campaigns. The researchers could not find empirical data to support demonstrations as being the cause of the drawdown of forces. The studies done by Verba and Brody along with Gartner and Segura were quite profound as it provided a racial and social breakdown of perception and perspective on the Vietnam War. Individuals who had a low social status and would recognize themselves as minorities opposed the war partly because the war did not improve their social mobility and also the war was impeding the rights of the Vietnamese people.

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How Public Opinion Changed the Course of the Vietnam War. (2018, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from
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