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Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam

The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam was a massive demonstration and teach-in across the United States against the United States involvement in the Vietnam War. It took place on October 15, 1969,[1] followed a month later by a large Moratorium March on Washington.


October 15, 1969, Vietnam MoratoriumEdit

The Moratorium developed from Jerome Grossman's April 20, 1969, call for a general strike if the war had not concluded by October. David Hawk and Sam Brown,[2] who had previously worked on the unsuccessful 1968 presidential campaign of Eugene McCarthy, changed the concept to a less radical moratorium and began to organize the event as the Vietnam Moratorium Committee with David Mixner, Marge Sklenkar, John Gage, and others.

As with previous large anti-war demonstrations, including the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam's April 15, 1967, march on the United Nations and their 1967 March on the Pentagon, the event was a clear success, with millions participating throughout the world. Boston was the site of the largest turnout; about 100,000 attended a speech by anti-war Senator George McGovern. Future U.S. President Bill Clinton, then a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, organized and participated in the demonstration in England; this later became an issue in his Presidential campaign.

In New York City, the day marked Game 4 of the 1969 World Series and included controversy as Mayor John Lindsay wanted the US flag to be flown at half-staff; however, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn overruled the mayor and ordered the flag to be flown at full staff. Also, Mets Game 4 Starter Tom Seaver had his face on some anti-Moratorium Day literature distributed before the game. Seaver claimed that his picture was used without his knowledge or approval. The Mets won that day's game in 10 innings and would go on to win the Series the next day.

November 15, 1969, Moratorium March on WashingtonEdit

Students from Toronto join the March against Death in Washington D.C. on 14 November 1969

The first nationwide Moratorium was followed on Saturday, November 15, 1969, by a second massive Moratorium march in Washington, D.C., which attracted over 500,000 demonstrators against the war, including many performers and activists.[3] This massive Saturday march and rally was preceded by the March against Death, which began on Thursday evening and continued throughout that night and all the next day. Over 40,000 people gathered to parade silently down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Hour after hour, they walked in single file, each bearing a placard with the name of a dead American soldier or a destroyed Vietnamese village. The marchers finished in front of the Capitol building, where the placards were placed in coffins. The vast majority of demonstrators during these days were peaceful; however, late on Friday, conflict broke out at DuPont Circle, and the police sprayed the crowd with tear gas. The people of Washington, D.C., generously opened schools, seminaries, and other places of shelter to the thousands of students and others who converged for this purpose. In addition, the Smithsonian Museum complex was opened to allow protesters a place to sleep. A daytime march before the White House was lined by parked tour buses and uniformed police officers, some flashing peace symbols on the inside of their jackets in a show of support for the crowd.

President Richard Nixon said about the march, "Now, I understand that there has been, and continues to be, opposition to the war in Vietnam on the campuses and also in the nation. As far as this kind of activity is concerned, we expect it; however, under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it."[4]

On Moratorium Day, half a million demonstrators gathered across from the White House for a rally where they were led by Pete Seeger in singing John Lennon's new song "Give Peace A Chance" for ten minutes or more.[5][6] His voice above the crowd, Seeger interspersed phrases like, "Are you listening, Nixon?", "Are you listening, Agnew?", "Are you listening, Pentagon?" between the choruses of protesters singing, "All we are saying ... is give peace a chance".[7]

Activists at some universities continued to hold monthly "Moratoria" on the 15th of each month.[8][9]


Following the success of the November 1969 Moratorium in the United States, a series of citizen groups opposed to the war in Vietnam decided to band together to put on a Moratorium in Australia. Late in 1969, they formed the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign or VMC, which had its own executive, a permanent secretary and a number of affiliated organizations. The group that claims credit for mooting the idea is the Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament (or CICD), a pacifist organization formed out of the Melbourne Peace Congress of 1959.

Vietnam Moratorium protesters in the City Square, Melbourne, 18 September 1970

The VMC and CICD certainly shared a number of members, among them Jim Cairns, who was made Chairman, and John Lloyd, secretary of both organizations. The VMC was, however, a much more representative body, including a wide variety of pre-existing Australian groups: Church groups, Trade Unions, radical and moderate student organizations, pacifist groups and anti-war groups. The VMC inherited the CICD's interstate connections with the Association for International Co-operation and Disarmament (its NSW equivalent), the Campaign for Peace in Vietnam (SA) and the Queensland Peace Council for International Co-Operation and Disarmament, giving it a truly national character. The structure of the Moratorium, in Victoria at least, was conflicted - the VMC executive vied for control with the Richmond Town Hall mass public meetings, which could involve up to 600 members and usually went late into the evening, full of arguments over slogans and policies.

Work began quickly to organize the Moratorium. The original date was set for April 1970, but changed soon after to May 8, 9 and 10th, to coincide with protests in the USA, just days after the killings of four students at Kent State. The demonstration in Melbourne, held on 8 May [10] and led by member of Parliament Jim Cairns, had over 100,000 people taking to the streets in Melbourne alone. Across Australia, it was estimated that 200,000 people were involved.[11][12]

The second Vietnam Moratorium in September 1970 was smaller; more violence occurred. Fifty thousand people participated and there were violent incidents between police. Two hundred people were arrested in Sydney. The Melbourne march was held on 18 September.[13]

The third moratorium in June 1971 closed the Centre. In Melbourne, on 30 June 1971, there was a march of nearly 100,000 people.[14] By this time public opinion was beginning to turn decisively against conscription and Australian involvement in the war.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "1969: Millions march in US Vietnam Moratorium". On This Day. BBC. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
  2. ^ "Interview with Sam Brown, 1982". WGBH Open Vault. August 11, 1982.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Staff. "Second moratorium against the war held". Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  4. ^ "1969 Year in Review: War Protests". UPI. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
  5. ^ Perone, James E. (2001). Songs of the Vietnam Conflict. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 57–58. ISBN 978-0-313-31528-2.
  6. ^ Wiener, Jon (January 12, 2010). "Nixon and the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium". The Nation. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  7. ^ See, for example, this PBS documentary and this recording.
  8. ^ "Transcript: David E. Kennell, 1969". Washington University School of Medicine Oral History Project. November 25, 1969. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
  9. ^ "Chapter 12: Further Growth and a New Stability". University of Delaware. Retrieved March 28, 2012.
  10. ^ Age 8 May 1970, p1
  11. ^ The Australian, 9 May 1970, estimated the crowd as 100,000. Also Strangio, Paul. "Farewell to a conscience of the nation", The Age, 2003-10-13. Retrieved on 2006-07-01.
  12. ^ Silence kills; events leading up to the Vietnam Moratorium on 8 May by J. F. Cairns, M.P., Vietnam Moratorium Committee, 1970
  13. ^ Age 18 Sept 1970, p3
  14. ^ Melbourne Sun 1 July 1971 p 1