As with many Americans in the mid 1960s, the Vietnam War was on Norman Rockwell's mind. In 1966, he spent a week at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia taking photos of an experienced marine with a thought of designing an image for a poster that he had been commissioned to do. But in March 1967, he wrote to the Marine Corps declining the assignment saying, "I just can't paint a picture unless I have my heart in it."
About a year later, Rockwell began work on The Right To Know, an editorial illustration for Look Magazine that was published in August of 1968. Just months after the painting appeared, the New York Times reported that General Westmoreland had requested 206,000 additional troops to be sent to Vietnam, a story that the White House had tried to suppress.
After troop escalation was reported, news of the My Lai Massacre broke, fueling growing descent against the war. Rockwell's political statement expressed the right of American citizens to understand their government's actions. Of his work during that period, Rockwell said, "I don't think my style has changed, but America has and hence, so has my subject matter. Lord knows we have problems, plenty of them, but we should also have great confidence in the present generation of young people who are, I think, the very best we have produced, long hair and all. Who is to say that one of these hippies won't be a genius of the future?"
In his illustration, Rockwell presents a group of people of many races, ages, and political persuasions. His format of massing people from all walks of life was also used in two other works in this exhibition, a drawing created in 1953 relating to the United Nations and the peoples of the world, and in his famous Saturday Evening Post cover illustration, Golden Rule, published in 1961, which portrayed the peoples of the world united under the phrase, "Do onto others as you would have them do onto you."
Norman Rockwell who was 74 years old when he painted this work, felt so strongly about this painting that he had included himself in the work on the far right side with his signature pipe in his mouth.