The USA and the USSR emerged as the two main world powers after the defeat of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany in World War II. These two superpowers had different ideas about how society should be organised. The USA's government believed in a capitalist society, whereas the USSR's leaders believed in a communist society. Rivalry and distrust between the capitalist United States and the communist USSR resulted in them taking up opposite sides in various conflicts that developed around the world in the decades after the end of the Second World War in 1945. From 1947, the USA undertook to aid any country that felt threatened by "communist aggression". Permanently hostile towards one another, the two superpowers never actually fought face to face and so their conflict was called the Cold War.

In the 1960s the Cold War spread into the divided country of Vietnam in Asia, where some Vietnamese wanted a communist government and others wanted a capitalist and democratic government. The USA supported the non-communist Vietnamese during the war.

New Zealand, a capitalist country, was an ally of the USA during and after the Second World War. In May 1965, American leaders asked New Zealand to send troops to South Vietnam to help the United States defend South Vietnam against the communist army. Some angry young New Zealand university students decided to protest in the streets of Wellington against the idea that New Zealand soldiers should fight with US soldiers in Vietnam.
There were few university students in this country before World War Two. In 1950 there were still only about ten thousand. But by 1965 the baby-boomer generation (those born after the war) had started going to university, and there was greater demand for a more skilled and educated workforce. So student numbers shot up – from twenty thousand students in 1965 to almost fifty thousand twenty years later. The countercultural values and attitudes of some of the university students surprised many older New Zealanders, who held more mainstream values and attitudes.

Street protests were a new thing in New Zealand. The police were unsure what to do. At the protests the students were joined by trade unions and churches. Protesters argued that the war was morally wrong and that medical teams should be sent instead. The government decided to ignore the protests and send soldiers to Vietnam. Many soldiers had inherited the military values of their fathers and uncles, who had fought in World War II. Fighting well for your country was something they were very proud of.

Unlike previous wars, the television news brought the horrors of the war into peoples' living rooms. Vietnam was the first "television war", and it showed that the USA was losing. Morale at home was damaged. There were many violent protests in the USA against the Vietnam war. The idea of anti-war protest also spread to New Zealand through the mass media. On April the 30th 1971, World Mobilisation Day, 25 000 protesters marched in New Zealand cities. That same year the government decided to bring the troops home. The soldiers' parades were interrupted by hostile protesters, chanting "One, Two, Three, Four, We don't want your bloody war!". The soldiers saw their homecoming as dishonourable. Some were told to immediately get out of their uniforms and not to tell anyone they had fought in Vietnam. It wasn't until 2008 (this year!) that the veterans were nationally recognised for their military service.

In the 1960s and 1970s the anti-Vietnam protests led to protests about other things: the French testing nuclear bombs in the South Pacific, the Treaty of Waitangi, equal pay for women and sending the All Blacks to apartheid South Africa.

Vietnam War and the Protest Movement Quiz

Values Exploration Activity

Complete the TWO values exploration activities below. You will need to open a Word file to write your paragraphs. You can then print of your finished work and hand it into me for marking. There is a link to an online dictionary and thesaurus on the left links bar - use it!.

1. The Anti-Vietnam War Protester


Step 1:
Look at the picture above of the anti-Vietnam war protester putting flowers in the gun barrels of the riot police.

Step 2:
Imagine what it would have been like
to rebel against what you had been brought up to believe were the correct values and attitudes. Unlike your parents, you believe that the war was morally wrong and that other countries, like the USA and New Zealand, shouldn’t decide by force how the Vietnamese people should govern their country. Brainstorm your ideas.

Step 3:
Write two paragraphs about what your feelings and thoughts would have been
, starting with: “When I stood in front of the row of soldiers and began to put flowers in their gun barrels I felt….”

Include 3 – 4 sentences describing what new values and attitudes would have been in your mind. Try and think like a protester who had been brought up in the 1950s. What values and attitudes would they have been rebelling against? What new values and attitudes would you be expressing by protesting?

Use interesting images. What would the protester be looking at during the protest?. What would the riot police have looked like to him?. Why was he putting flowers in the gun barrels?

2. The Returning Vietnam Veteran


Step 1:
Look at the picture above of the
Vietnam veteran returning from the war.

Step 2:
Imagine what it would have been like
to have had uncles and fathers who had fought in previous overseas wars and who had received a positive welcome when returning home. Instead, you returned home to protests and angry rejection by many of your fellow New Zealanders. For example, when you arrived at Auckland Airport the customs official broke up your cigarettes, claiming he was looking for marijuana, and told you that “you should never have gone to war”. Also, your commanding officer told you to quickly change out of your uniform and not tell anyone you had fought in Vietnam. Brainstorm your ideas.

Step 3:
Write two paragraphs about what your feelings and thoughts would have been
, starting with:

“When I was walking up
Queen St, Auckland, in our homecoming parade I felt…..”

Include 3 – 4 sentences describing what values and attitudes would have been offended. Try and think like a soldier who had been brought up in the 1950s. What values and attitudes would have made him decide to volunteer to fight in Vietnam?.

Use interesting images. What would the soldier be looking at during the homecoming parade?. What would the protesters have looked like to him?.


Anti-Vietnam Protests in the USA, 1967

In the video below we can watch anti-war demonstrators (including students and hippies, priests and nuns) protest in Central Park, New York, march to the UN building, burn draft cards, shouted confrontations with anti-antiwar marchers waving pro-war signs. Martin Luther King leads procession. We also see another march in downtown San Francisco down Market Street to the stadium, sponsored by loose coalition of left-wing anti-war groups. We are told that "President Johnson meanwhile let it be known that the FBI is closely watching all anti-war activity". We also can watch violence in Rome in a night demonstration near US embassy, where water jets are used.

2. A Montage of Events of the 1960s Anti-Vietnam War Movement in the USA

3. Footage of the Anti-Vietnam War People's Park Protest, 1969

4. Photos of the Kent State Massacre

When President Richard Nixon announced the American invasion of Cambodia in a television address on April 30 1970, students across America began protesting. On May 4, at Kent State University in the city of Kent, Ohio, the protests turned deadly when the Ohio National Guard began shooting. Four students were killed and nine others wounded, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.


cold war
baby-boomer generation