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

An eye-witness report from 50 years ago

Early in the demonstration, the three of us moved up to the front of the crowd, still assuming that were not liable to arrest. We had been standing up all day and were glad to sit finally. I was facing a rather young MP and I tried to converse with him now and then by asking questions he could nod in response to. I found out in that way that he had enlisted and had been in the service for three years.

The author (lower right foreground of photo) early during the sit-down confrontation on the Mall of the Pentagon on Oct. 21, 1967The author (lower right foreground of photo) early during the sit-down confrontation on the Mall of the Pentagon on Oct. 21, 1967

About then, someone about two hundred feet away burned his draft card. Within less than a minute, the whole demonstration looked like a candle ceremony (it was dusk by then), as over a hundred followed suit. We all felt good watching that display. A spirit was developing.

It was getting dark when some men went down the line behind the troops with some kind of password. Very gradually, almost imperceptibly at first, the MPs began to shuffle forward over the chalk line. The tactic was very clever. It did not show up on television cameras, and those reporters who were not near the front or who did not stay very long in one place, were unaware that it was happening. Consequently, the only paper which even mentioned that the line advances was a good though little-read one: The Christian Science Monitor. When the line bypassed my outstretched leg, leaving it behind the soldiers, though in the same place with reference to the chalk line, a marshal kicked it, telling me not to cross the line! This scene was repeated all along the perimeter.

When an MPs foot met someone’s body, the person would be ordered to move back. When I asked, a marshal informed me that the line was not moving. By about 10:00 pm, everyone had moved back about 10 feet and could go very little farther without simply leaving. Some had already refused to move and had been yanked across the line of troops by the marshals. The majority, who went limp to the paddy wagon, were actually beaten by the marshals, who were strung out along the path the truck. We could see this uncalled-for brutality under the floodlights illuminating the mall.

We were informed by march organizers over a megaphone that on the left things were the most tense. We could see people being dragged by marshals from there. Many — men and women — who were limping badly. Some were being carried.

I decided at that point (113 had been arrested, the megaphone announced), that if they could get arrested at the risk of being severely beaten, I owed it to them to follow suit. I was angry that the line had been honored and that people were being kicked and clubbed for not moving and for going limp when arrested.

story | by Dr. Radut