Vietnam Moratorium posters

By Hugh Cullimore

To mark the 50th anniversary of the first and biggest Vietnam Moratorium protest march, we present the following selection of Vietnam protest posters from the Memorial’s collection.

Posters are simple, yet powerful ­– capturing the attention of a large audience through little more than a fleeting glance ­– and have been a key part of mass protests for over a century. In 1917 Hungarian activist Lajos Kassák characterised the creator of the poster as “a moral individual, full of faith and desire for unity! And his pictures are weapons of war!”

Almost every Vietnam Moratorium poster used combinations of five colours – yellow, red, orange, black, and white ­– bold, powerful colours that attract attention.

A vibrant red circle in the middle of Withdraw All Troops Now draws attention, particularly when contrasted with the white Moratorium logo – simple and recognisable – before the eye is drawn to the words circling the logo.  

This simple, yet effective, combination of shapes,  text, and bold colours create memorable images that quickly spread the messages of their creators.

The Vietnam War is often referred to as the “first televised war”. For the first time, Australians witnessed the war as it unfolded from the comfort of their living rooms. Influenced by similar actions taking place in America, mass peaceful protest became the model adopted in Australia.

This poster features the silhouette of V-shaped fingers, highlighting the notion of peaceful protest. Introduced by Winston Churchill in the Second World War as representation of victory, the gesture was appropriated by Vietnam War protestors in America and then Australia. Today it is recognised as a symbol of peace.

Two main groups were responsible for planning the Moratorium protests: the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign (VMC), which united smaller protest groups, and the Congress for International Cooperation and Disarmament (CICD) born from the 1959 Melbourne Peace Congress. Both were headed by Dr Jim Cairns, a Labor politician who would go on to be deputy prime minister under Gough Whitlam from 1974 to 1975.

This poster, created for the second Moratorium protest, combines words and phrases associated with the Vietnam War, presenting them as a disordered collection in the visual style of newspaper headlines. In the lower section of the poster, the confusion and disorder of these words contrasts with the simple objective of the movement: “Stop the war!”

With the introduction of conscription, many Australian mothers feared their children being snatched away to fight in a controversial war that was viewed by many as having little, if any, direct impact on Australia.

The Save our Sons movement produced some of the  most powerfully heartfelt expressions of opposition to the war. Createdly cheaply through screen printing, their posters were produced in large amounts.

The dramatic use of confronting imagery alluding to possible war crimes was a common tactic used by the Moratorium movement. Produced by the Queensland Vietnam Moratorium Campaign Co-ordinating Committee, this poster quotes American General Westmoreland in order to question the ethics and intent of Western participation in the war.

This poster promotes a Sydney arts festival held the weekend after the second Moratorium protest march. Stylistically reminiscent of posters produced during the First World War, peace is personified as a goddess standing in front of the Moratorium symbol figured as the sun, a traditional symbol of enlightenment and divine intervention; together they scare away a wolf representing war.

 

The aims of the first Moratorium campaign were the immediate withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam and the repeal of the National Service scheme. The scheme was based on a birthday ballot of 20-year-old men. Those balloted were called up for two years' service in the Regular Army Supplement, including combat duties in Vietnam.

This poster highlights the discriminatory effects of conscription, highlighting the fact that some professions – particularly those benefiting from higher education – were able to defer or be exempted from draft registration.

Jim Cane’s poster for the South Australian Vietnam Moratorium Campaign presents caricatures of American authorities ­– government, military, big business, and police – at the top of a human pyramid topped by Uncle Sam. Beneath them are ordinary citizens, the Vietnamese people, and other minorities.

To many, it appeared that a corrupted America was leading big business and other power figures to draw the working class and innocent Vietnamese into a pointless war.

This poster questions the US Government policy of Vietnamization, which saw the reduction of American and Australian soldiers on the ground and an increase in training local forces, the use of defoliants, and long-range aerial bombings.

This poster depicts South Vietnamese leader Air Marshall Nguyễn Cao Kỳ as a puppet of America. There is blood on Kỳ’s hands, rather than America’s, indicating a shift of blame for what would ultimately be a lost war.

The Moratorium movement was supported by anti-war speakers and activists, the most influential of whom was American paediatrician Dr Benjamin Spock, the author of a best-selling book on childrearing. Spock was one of five prominent Americans prosecuted for conspiring to counsel, aid, and abet draft resistance in 1968. His two-year prison sentence was set aside by the US Federal Court in 1969.  

Dr Spock visited Australia in June 1971 and spoke at various Moratorium events. His highly publicised tour of Australia demonstrated the close relationships between the moratorium movements in America and Australia. The Memorial holds several posters relating to this visit.

To view more of the Memorial’s large collection of Vietnam Moratorium posters, click here.