Vietnam War Exhibition Reveals Policy-making in Washington and in Princeton

Written by Rossy Mendez

The Vietnam War was one of America’s longest and most controversial wars.  Suits, Soldiers, and Hippies: The Vietnam War Abroad and at Princeton is a new exhibition at Princeton University’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library that highlights the major events of the war such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the Tet Offensive, and the invasion of Cambodia, and focuses on how these events affected government policy and American society at large. More than a mere narrative of events, the exhibition reveals the perspectives of the individuals involved in the war including policy makers, soldiers, and every day citizens.

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Demonstration outside Nassau Hall, circa 1967. Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection, Box 26.

The documents and objects in the exhibition are drawn from the Public Policy Papers and the University Archives at the Mudd Manuscript Library and range from transcripts of the private conversations of presidents and policy-makers to widely-distributed magazine articles and pamphlets. At the national scale, the records demonstrate that the war affected not only those who were fighting in the jungles and swamplands of the Mekong Delta but also those living on the home front. The range of objects takes us from the Oval Office to lively protests on America’s campuses.

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President Johnson and George W. Ball in the Oval Office, undated. George W. Ball Papers, Box 200.

On the local scale, the exhibition, Suits, Soldiers, and Hippies provides insight into the reaction of the Princeton University community. Photographs and letters among other documents highlight campus events such as the SDS occupation of the IDA, the Princeton Strike, and the 1970 commencement ceremony, and reveal how the war sparked unrest but also fostered collaboration between the administration and the student body that induced change at both the institutional and national level.

Suits, Soldiers, and Hippies: The Vietnam War Abroad and at Princeton is free and open to the public in the Wiess Lounge at the Mudd Manuscript Library, 65 Olden Street, until June 5, 2015. The exhibition is open from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For more information, call 609-258-6345 or email Mudd Library.

 

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