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The 1967 Mobilization Against the War in Vietnam: Confrontation at the Pentagon

An eye-witness report from 50 years ago

Washington, DC (Oct. 26, 1967) -- As I sat on the bus with the other students, all riding down to Washington for the confrontation, there was a whispering question which sat like a knot in my head. I was going down there to commit civil disobedience and probably to get arrested and sentenced to a short stint in jail. Why was I doing this?

I think that there were several reasons I would have give if asked, but none of them really satisfied me. I am opposed to the war in Vietnam. Still, I love this country and a by no means a subversive…I’m a patriot. These two sentences are not mutually exclusive. I’m opposed to the war not because I think we are losing or because we cannot win, but for another reason which I have not completely resolved. It seems to me that the whole of recorded history has been of wars and killing. Right now we are by no means in some millennium, while we humanity, actually contemplate the very real possibility of total self-annihilation and are finally capable of it.

Now certainly, aside from the word “communism,” which inspires a rather paranoid fear, I am convinced that we, as a democracy and the strongest nation the world has ever known, should oppose tyranny, and not just out of self-interest. But not by war! I confess to a dilemma when I ask myself what I would have done in WWII, but I can see no point in wiping out South Vietnam as well as North Vietnam in an attempt to “keep South Vietnam free.” Of course, I recognize this to be a political facade anyway. Even Secretary of State Dean Rusk tells us now that we are there in the interest of national security.

Well, this was as far as my reasoning had gone as I rode through the early morning twilight into Washington DC, the city I was born in 18 years ago. Why was I going to break the law though? I had gone on the April anti-war march in New York City. Along with many others, I had been very disappointed not only with the generally poor news coverage given to the event, but by the fact that President Johnson and the government in general were not affected by it, large and peaceful as it undeniably was. Between April and September I had become discouraged further by the failure of the Vietnam Summer Program to wake people out of pure apathy. Apathy is a malignant disease and the worst single thing that can exist in a democracy. Also during this period I had been faced with the draft. This occurring when it did with the Vietnam War raging, made me realize that I could not simply surrender my identity and submit to the will to the government, carte blanche. I had to have some say in whom I killed. I could not go along with the draft.

At this point I am still trying to decide what action I should take against the draft, and when. At any rate, I knew on the bus that I was also going to Washington because I felt that the draft goes against the principles of this country, one of which is “freedom of conscience.” I think though, it was the general disappointment over the failure of thoroughly legal methods of protest and political action to change government policy that was my main motive for committing civil disobedience. I had to go further or retreat into apathy and merely personal resistance myself.

story | by Dr. Radut