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

An eye-witness report from 50 years ago

Out of curiosity, we worked our way up the packed ramp and stairs until we were near the head of the group near the MPs, who naturally looked tense. Suddenly someone near me tried to climbing the last eight feet to the top of the wall above the side of the steps, where two rows of MPs were standing. They kept him down by prodding him with billy clubs. I will not pass judgement on this action…he was not injured.

People started jeering and suddenly threw a piece of wood. It was fended off. The conflagration grew quickly and soon about thirty feet of MPs were under a barrage. I felt sick and turned to leave. Then someone started yelling, “Peace! Peace!” in a chant while others tried to stop the throwers. It was tense, but the chant caught on. I joined it. Soon the sound was everywhere. In not more than a minute or two, the pelting had stopped. Everyone was relieved. I began to feel confident. It is easy for a crowd to erupt into uncontrollable violence, but if a mass of unorganized people can stop such a situation that mass is no mob, and it is a sign of the character of the majority, who were in fact steeped in non-violence.

When we got to the top of the stairs, we could see the flat expanse which reached to the entrance of the Pentagon. For the first fifty feet there were thousands of demonstrators. They were packed up to a line of MPs who were standing on the other side of a chalk line. About twenty feet behind them was another thicker line of MPs and other soldiers with fixed bayonets, and the steps leading to the Pentagon doors were packed with soldiers. Between the first two lines of MPs walked many federal marshals with armbands and billy clubs.

The MPs were standing with their feet apart and their guns at their sides. Each held a billy club in one hand. No one was making a move, and most of us assumed that we were within the bounds of the permit at the time. Nobody informed us otherwise at any time; neither the march organizers not the military. People began to sit down in anticipation of a long sit-in. Those on the front line tried to talk with the troops, who apparently were not allowed to respond. The prevailing attitude among the demonstrators was that it was not the troops we were against, but the government, and consequently we viewed them as fellow human beings and nothing less. Most people tried to be friendly. The object of talking was both to show them that we were friendly and to have, some of us felt, a sort of teach-in.

I am sorry to report that several people within my observational radius were belligerent. They were viewing the troops as symbols and treating them that way, by calling them names. We all tried to dissuade these few from talking and they were indeed a minority where I was. I was told later by a fellow jail inmate that were he had been, a much tenser area on the left side of the wall that a few people had spit at the troops. This still sickens me and doubtless hurt the cause, though it shouldn’t. Again though, I cannot stress too much that these incidents were rare and not planned beforehand. Since that type of incident is newsy though, it is what the press picked up and ran with. I think that is irresponsible journalism.

story | by Dr. Radut