Teaching the Vietnam Antiwar Movement: Confronting Myths and Misconceptions


Interdisciplinary Studies

Additional Department

School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding and Development

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 3-2019

Embargo Period



College students continue to flock to courses on the 1960s because of the mystique around the protests of that era, which has been amplified by current movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. We are finally past the time when students' primary source of information about sixties movements was Forrest Gump(1994). Teachers make thoughtful use of primary sources, pay increasing attention to the experience of ordinary people, and introduce competing perspectives in the classroom. Yet most students have not engaged with the 1960s beyond events and personalities that received media attention and shape collective memory. Whereas popular culture has become a bit more sophisticated in its treatment of the black freedom movement, as in the highly acclaimed film Selma (2014), antiwar protest has yet to receive serious attention.1

These protests remain woefully misunderstood, overwhelmed by stereotypical images of “hippies” and “draft dodgers” who abused G.I.'s upon their return from Vietnam. These images have taken the place of what Sam Wineburg calls “occluded memories”—memories that are missing from the story. In this essay, I take up three significant “occluded” themes that challenge collective memory of 1960s antiwar protest: (1) the lingering effects of the Cold War red scare; (2) the diversity of those who protested the war and the links between different movements; and (3) the meaning of patriotism, confronting the simple formulation of “support the troops.” These are related in a number of ways, addressing a larger question that underlies most U. S. history courses: What does it mean to be American?2

Journal Title

Journal of American History





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