The United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War was a divisive chapter in American history. Lending economic and military support to the South Vietnamese government against the Communist North, Washington’s participation in the conflict lasted from the early 1950s to 1973. While in the beginning there was general public acceptance of the war, by 1965 opposition to American involvement in Vietnam grew due to the increasing deployment of troops and the rising number of casualties. In July of 1965, the U.S. government doubled the number of draftees to 35,000 each month. Graphic news footage of the fighting also contributed to the public’s disapproval. Opposition took the form of anti-war demonstrations and draft resistance, and protests broke out on university campuses across the country. Although the U.S. officially withdrew from Vietnam in 1973, it left an indelible mark on the lives of veterans, local communities, and American society.
During and after the United States’ involvement in the conflict in Vietnam, citizens reacted to the war through varied artistic expression. Art became a powerful form of protest and activism, as it was used to raise awareness of social issues and inspire Americans to join the movement against the war. Additionally, once the U.S. began to withdraw troops, people used art to commemorate the war and the loss of life, as well as to consider U.S. involvement overseas. The creative response demonstrates how people participated in American society and civic life, as well as how they contributed to a growing social movement during the 1960s and 1970s.
The collections available in Archives & Special Collections allow us to examine a variety of artistic responses to U.S. engagement in the Vietnam War:
- Poras Collection of Vietnam War Memorabilia: This collection includes a wide variety of materials from the Vietnam War era, including buttons, photographs, fliers, booklets, posters, stamps, flags, audio recordings, and comic books. The collection contains pamphlets and flyers with artistic illustrations in protest of the war, as well as official propaganda in support of the war. The finding aid is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/599.
- First Casualty Press Records: This collection is comprised of poetry and fiction submitted to First Casualty Press to be considered for publication. The works were written by Vietnam War veterans concerning their experiences of the war. The collection also contains correspondence between the First Casualty Press and authors, publishers, and readers, as well as materials related to the publication process. The finding aid is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/375.
- Adam Nadel Photography Collection: This collection consists of thirteen large photographs of Cambodian and Vietnamese people who were affected in some way by the Vietnam War. Recognized internationally for his work, Adam Nadel completed a project on war and its consequences in 2010. Many of the individuals featured in the photographs of this collection are war veterans, both male and female. The finding aid is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/780.
- Bread and Puppet Theater Collection: Founded in 1963, the Bread and Puppet Theater was made up of an experimental theater troupe whose performances combined puppets, masks, and dance. Performances focused on political and social issues, including protesting the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. The collection consists of illustrated story scripts, handbills, and performance programs, including a small newspaper from 1967 with illustrations from the theater’s story script about the violence in Vietnam. The finding aid is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/271.
- Storrs Draft Information Committee Records: The Storrs Draft Information Committee was a counseling center on the University of Connecticut’s campus that was established to help men of draft age during the Vietnam War. This collection includes information associated with draft counseling, draft resistance, and protest movement groups at UConn. In particular, the collection contains information on how to renounce U.S. citizenship, documents detailing draft law, and American deserter and draft resistance newspapers from Canada. Some of these documents contain unique illustrations and photographs. The finding aid is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/64.
- Alternative Press Collection (APC): Founded by students in the late 1960s, the APC includes newspapers, books, pamphlets, and artifacts covering activism for social and political change. This includes multiple volumes of a bulletin called the “Viet Report” from 1965-1986. While the “Viet Report” primarily consists of articles from a variety of perspectives on the war and the state of Vietnam, artwork in the form of illustrations and photographs are also included. These reports can be found in our digital repository beginning here: https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A01641656.
We invite you to view these collections in the reading room in Archives & Special Collections if you need resources on the artistic response to the Vietnam War. Our staff is happy to assist you in accessing these and other collections in the archives.
This post was written by Alexandra Borkowski, a UConn PhD student and student assistant in Archives & Special Collections.