Rallying Signs: Vietnam Posters Express Outrage

Few things have caused a greater schism in American society than the Vietnam War.

The 1960’s encompassed a time of political, racial, social, and cultural unrest as the U.S. became polarized between those who advocated continued involvement in Vietnam and those who wanted peace. Central to the conflict was the fact that many did not understand the origins of the Vietnam War or the reasons behind the U.S. decision to intervene. To a majority of Americans, the war seemed futile and pointless, and it left the nation questioning the policies of a government it had always trusted.

The movement against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War began with demonstrations in 1964 and grew in strength over the next few years, peaking in 1968. Many in the peace movement were students, mothers, or anti-establishment hippies, but there was also involvement from educators, labor unions, clergy, journalists, lawyers, military veterans, and ordinary Americans. Expressions of opposition ranged from peaceful nonviolent demonstrations to radical displays of violence.

In terms of peaceful nonviolent demonstrations, a large number took place independently on college campuses, while national demonstrations took the form of Marches on Washington, which drew hundreds of thousands of people and continued up until the war’s end in 1975.

Out of these demonstrations arose countless posters and political signs harboring anti-war messages and slogans. Some are direct and simple, a call for something; others, with sharp and severe messages, prompt a double-take; some are sad, while others mock through ironic jokes and a biting sort of sarcasm; still others are vulgar and obscene, placing blame as they look for a scapegoat and search for someone to blame.

Here are some particularly poignant rally signs and posters from various anti-war demonstrations:

CALL FOR ACTION - A fairly generic rallying sign calling for the end of the war and the return of U.S. soldiers.

DESPICABLE DRAFT - The poster reads "I don't give a damn for Uncle Sam" and protests the draft. Uncle Sam was a familiar character on recruitment posters.

MASTER PUPPETEER - This photo shows two protesters, one labeled "Saigon Puppet" and the other "U.S. Imperialism."

A SIGN TO LAST THE AGES - A rallying sign featuring one of the most familiar and famous messages of the 1960's: make love, not war.

COME WITH ME - A sign calling for those opposed to the war to participate in a protest march.

A NEW HITLER? - One of the more darkly labeled rallying signs, this poster compares President Nixon to Hitler, substituting a swastika for the 'x' in Nixon's name.

DOUBLE JEOPARDY - This poster suggests that the war's effects are not only taking a toll in the U.S.

PROTEST POSTERS - A group of protesters walk with rallying signs reading: "Bring the Troops Home Now," "War No More," "End the War in Vietnam Now," and "Self Determination for Vietnam."

LEADING THE WAY - This rallying banner leads a group of marchers protesting the Vietnam War.

Watch this video for a deeper look at Vietnam War protests. 

‘Make Love, Not War’

‘Make Love, Not War’ –it’s a popular phrase, and easily recognizable. I’d say most people with any sense of history or pop culture could trace its beginnings to the Vietnam War, the 60’s, a protest movement, or at least reference hippies. Oddly, though, nobody could say with one hundred percent certainty who first coined the phrase, because nobody knows.

The famous anti-war quip, ‘Make Love, Not War’ seems to have arisen on the slogan scene in the 1960’s as suddenly and without notice as the “Keep Calm and Carry On” phrase today.

The slogan 'Make Love, Not War' originated in 1965 during the midst of Vietnam War protest rallies and remains a popular and well-known anti-war phrase today. First printed on buttons, it has been reproduced on all forms of memorabilia.

Primarily used by those in protest of the Vietnam War, there are two alleged stories that detail the phrase’s beginnings, although all can agree that it first appeared in 1965.

A substantial claim to the phrase has been made by Diane Newell Meyer, who was in 1965 a student at the University of Oregon. Meyer claims to have written “Let’s make love, not war” on an envelope and pinned it to her sweater before attending a protest rally in 1965. In an August 2010 article in Oregon’s Mail Tribune newspaper, Meyer spoke of coining the term:

“It just popped into my head – I remember I started giggling when I wrote it,” Meyer said. “I know I hadn’t read it anywhere before. There is no way to prove it but I think I’m the person  who invented the phrase.”

Photographed at the rally wearing the phrase, the picture was distributed by the Associated Press and even made it into the New York Times, and presumably, the phrase gained momentum from a widespread readership.

The other claim of ownership is made by Franklin and Penelope Rosemont, an activist couple who founded the Chicago Surrealist Group and who were largely involved in Vietnam War protests. In 1965, the Rosemont’s owned a shop called the Solidarity Bookshop in Chicago, Illinois. In the United Kingdom’s Creative Review, a monthly publication covering communication arts worldwide, Penelope Rosemont tells her side of the story:

“In March 1965,” Rosemont says, “we wanted to do a button. The slogan we thought of first was the old…’Make Peace, Not War’ but it seemed too tame for the 60’s. Several of us together at Solidarity Bookshop – myself, Franklin, Bernard Marszalek and Tor Faegre – thought about this and what we came up with finally was ‘Make Love, Not War.’” http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2012/january/make-love-not-war

The famous 'Make Love, Not War' slogan first appeared in print on buttons like this one, allegedly an original made at the Solidarity Bookshop in Chicago, Illinois.

Whether or not the Rosemont’s actually coined the phrase, they are credited with being the first people to print the slogan on memorabilia. Thousands of ‘Make Love, Not War’ buttons printed at the Solidarity Bookshop were distributed at the Mother’s Day Peace March in 1965 and were instrumental in popularizing the phrase.

The 'Make Love, Not War' phrase continues to be reproduced in new ways and incorporated into modern graphics.

A few other popular Vietnam anti-war chants and phrases:

  • “Draft beer, not boys.”
  • “Hell no, we won’t go.”
  • “Eighteen today, dead tomorrow.”
  • “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

Listen to John Lennon’s song, “Make Love, Not War,” inspired by the anti-war slogan.