The United States won every battle it fought against the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, inflicting terrible casualties on them. Yet, it ultimately lost the war because the public no longer believed that the conflict was worth the costs.
The first large-scale demonstration against the war in Vietnam took place in 1965. Small by later standards, 25,000 people marched in Washington. By 1968, strikes, sit-ins, rallies, and occupations of college buildings had become commonplace on elite campuses, such as Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, and Wisconsin.
The Tet Offensive cut public approval of President Johnson's handling of the war from 40 to 26 percent. In March 1968, anti-war Democrat Eugene McCarthy came within 230 votes of defeating Johnson in the New Hampshire primary. Anti-war demonstrations grew bigger. At the Democratic convention in Chicago, police beat anti-war protesters in the streets while the Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey for president. Ironically, the anti-war protesters probably helped to elect Richard Nixon as president in 1968 over Humphrey and in 1972 over George McGovern. Anti-war demonstrations peaked when 250,000 protesters marched in Washington, D.C., in November 1969.
President Nixon's decision to send American troops into Cambodia triggered a new wave of campus protests across the nation. When National Guardsmen at Kent State University shot four students to death in northeastern Ohio, 115 colleges went on strike, and California Governor Ronald Reagan shut down the entire state's university system.
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