The Vietnam War caused unintended consequences for the civil rights movements of the 1960s as it awakened the African-Americans’ consciousness on the racism and despotism that they experienced in the United States. Apparently, when the White House, under the leadership of President Johnson, supported the war entirely did not anticipate the consequences that such decision would have towards the fight against racial discrimination and absolutism, which faced the black minorities across the country.
Before the Vietnam War, African-American soldiers had fought in different battles including the First and Second World Wars, but they fought in isolation. However, the Vietnam War required both White and African-American soldiers to fight side by side for any meaningful results, and thus this war marked the fist combat to have a racially integrated battalion.
Before the Vietnam War, African-American soldiers had not realized that, back home, they were facing the very ills they sought to eliminate abroad. For instance, when black soldiers returned home singing victory chants after subduing Hitler and his sadistic indoctrinations, they had to contend with squalid living conditions coupled with legal restrictions from accessing basic human rights.
The Vietnam War sought to eliminate enforced totalitarianism coupled with advancing socio-liberal democracy. This form of democracy would ensure that everyone, regardless of his or her race, sex, and beliefs among others, would be treated equally and fairly. The communist Northern Vietnam had not embraced democracy, and thus President Johnson pledged to abolish its agenda and unify it with the south.
Therefore, the African-American soldiers assumed that by fighting for democracy abroad they would enjoy its fruits back at home. Perhaps they believed in the words of Fredrick Douglas, “…for once let the Black man get up in his person the brass letters, U.S; let him get an eagle upon his button…bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth…which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States” (Guelzo 247).
Unfortunately, they were sadly mistaken as the minority black population across the United States continued to live under oppression even as the war raged. Ironically, President Johnson could not assure Americans of the very democracy he sought to instill in Vietnam.
The Black American community noted the irony of the United States fighting for democracy in Vietnam, yet it could not assure its minority groups of the same. Therefore, as President Johnson was busy with his democracy campaigns abroad, the Black community and civil liberty groups organized mass actions to push for emancipation. The 1963 Washington march was a landmark in the journey to achieving civil liberties in the United States.
The link between the Vietnam War and the renewed calls for emancipation in the United States is clear as the minorities capitalized on the irony of the war to vilify President Johnson and his foreign policies. This strategy apparently worked for the civil rights movements with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Later on in 1965, the Voting Rights Act also became a law, thus bestowing suffrage on the black minorities. These laws underscored the unparalleled milestones that the civil rights movements had accomplished during the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.
The American military was riddled with racism and segregation before the Vietnam War. Allegedly, the black soldiers were not civilized or educated enough to fight alongside their white counterparts, and thus they had to function in isolation. However, the Vietnam War elicited widespread news coverage and analysts were quick to point at the deep-rooted racism in the US military by noting that only a negligible fraction of African-Americans had been listed in the army and actively participating in the war.
Therefore, in 1966, President Johnson pushed for Project 100,000, which revolutionized the military recruitment procedures to allow the hitherto neglected individuals under the guise of poor academic qualifications and low IQ. Therefore, between 1966 and 1969, out of the 246,000 servicemen recruited, 100,860 were black, which was an unequaled achievement for civil rights movement groups.
Therefore, the Vietnam War acted as a springboard on which civil rights movement groups renewed their call for social democracy and civil liberties in the United States.
The movie, The Butler, echoes the sentiments of the unintended gains of the Vietnam War towards emancipation across the United States. In the movie, Cecil and his family enjoy the civil liberties occasioned by the war. Even though he is black, Cecil fights for equal treatment as a worker at the White House and he prevails against all odds (The Butler). In addition, his son, Charlie, gets the opportunity to enlist as a serviceman under the Project 100,000, and thus he heads to Vietnam to participate in the war.
Unfortunately, Charlie dies in the war, but his father must have been very proud of such heroic death. The thought of bullets tearing through Charlie’s heart must have evoked pride in his father for such privileges like enlisting in the military and fighting alongside white soldiers were prominently missing as Cecil grew up.
Guelzo, Allen. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print.
The Butler. Dir. Lee Daniels. San Francisco: Laura Ziskin Productions. 2013. Film.