Medical Aid for Vietnam

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The conflict in Vietnam is seldom mentioned, but for the generation growing up in the nineteen sixties and seventies it represented everything that was wrong with global politics. Extensive bombing of North and South Vietnam by the United States and its use of napalm to destroy villages resulted in horrendous injuries and death. Many were disgusted by the British government’s backing for Lyndon Johnson’s immoral strategy to win the war for the West. Even today, ‘Agent Orange,’ which was used to defoliate vast areas of forest in the south to expose the enemy, still causes deformed foetuses, cancers and miscarriages.

By 1968, the anti-war movement in the US was demanding its withdrawal and across the world students and workers were protesting. On 17 March that year, over 10,000 people demonstrated in Trafalgar Square and violent clashes outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square caught the attention of the world’s media.


With kind permission of David Hurn, Magnum Photos


Protests were not the only way people expressed their anger at what was happening. On 14 June 1965, Dr Joan McMichael[1] organised the first meeting of the Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam at the House of Commons. It was to draw on the support of people prominent in academia, the arts, the church, medicine, politics, science, theatre and trade unions to provide aid ‘where the need was greatest, the casualty rate is highest and the war has been going on the longest.’[2]


[1] Dr Joan McMichael (1906-1989) was an early champion of children’s and workers’ health rights. In 1947 she was elected one of three Communist councillors to Westminster Borough Council and became Medical Officer for Health for London County Council.
[2] Shellard, E. J. (1990). Medical & Scientific Aid for Viet-Nam, Laos & Cambodia, 1965-1990: Twenty Five Years of Devoted Support. Hounslow: MSAVLC, p. 12. The MACV’s response to David Frost’s TV criticism that aid was only going to North Vietnam and to areas in South Vietnam controlled by the ‘Vietcong.’

Anti-Vietnam war poster designed by Ken Sprague at Mountain & Molehill and printed by his friend John Gorman at G & B Arts for the British Peace Committee. The Sinclair Trust

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