(Continued from Saturday . . . )
My friends Jeanne and Jim became peaceful protesters of the Vietnam War in the mid-sixties. I didn’t become involved until attending the University of Minnesota in 1969-1971. There I met a returning vet whose story of rejection by fellow students angered me.
I got involved then, hoping to convince others that we needed to end the war and welcome home the returning veterans with the recognition they deserved. The truth is that while I joined the peace movement, I never found a way to truly honor those who fought in that Southeast Asian war.
By the spring of 1970, a group of concerned citizens in Minneapolis had produced informative leaflets on the war. I joined this group. After my last class at the university each day, I’d pick up a handful of leaflets at the central office and be given a route to walk. Then I’d ride a city bus to my assigned area and begin. The people I met had varied views of the war—for and against. Year by year, the Gallup polls revealed the public’s growing disillusionment with it.
From a Wikipedia article, I’ve gleaned the following statistics about the waning support for the war:
· The 1966 Gallup poll showed that 59% Americans believed that sending troops to Vietnam was not a mistake. Among the age group of 21–29, 71% believed it was not a mistake compared to 48% of those over 50.
· In June 1966, the poll respondents supporting the U.S. handling of the war slipped to 41%; 37% expressed disapproval; the rest, no opinion.
· By July 30, 1967, the poll reported 52% of Americans disapproved of Johnson's handling of the war; 41% thought the U.S. made a mistake in sending troops; over 56% thought the U.S. was losing the war or at an impasse.
· In March 1968, the poll reported that 49% of respondents felt involvement in the war was an error.
· By July 1969, the poll indicated that 53% of the respondents approved of Nixon's handling of the war; 30% disapproved; the balance had no opinion.
· By end of 1969, 69% of students identified themselves as doves.
· In May 1970, the poll showed that 56% of the public believed that sending troops to Vietnam was a mistake, 61% of those over 50 expressed that belief compared to 49% of those between the ages of 21–29.
Thus, a number of people who answered the doors on which I knocked already wanted the war to end. However, others strongly supported its continuance. For example, one man said, “We need a war to have full employment. Without it, what would we do to keep the economy going?”
The leaflets I held provided information about future jobs. Unfortunately, the leaflet’s author couldn’t foresee the technological revolution of the 1980s and ‘90s. The jobs mentioned—mostly environmental—didn’t convince anyone that the economy would grow if we weren’t at war.
For several weeks, I distributed leaflets. At one house, an angry man sicked his German shepherd on me. The dog chased me down a whole city block. Only at its master’s whistled command did the dog stop snapping at my heels.
A second irate homeowner aimed a twelve-gauge shotgun at me. “If you’re not out of my yard by the time I count three,” he shouted, “you’ve have holes peppering your lungs!” He paused a nanosecond, then muttered, “One!”
Frightened, I rushed toward his picket fence, flung open the gate, and stumbled onto the sidewalk, just as he bellowed, “Three!” Racing toward the corner, I heard him laughing. Having dogs sicked on me and guns drawn happened more than once.
Much of this changed on May 4, 1970, when the Ohio National Guard fired into a protesting group at Kent State University. Four students were killed and nine wounded, one suffering permanent paralysis. This caused an uproar on every campus in the United States. Quickly, students organized peaceful marches in many cities throughout the United States.
On the designated day, I joined tens of thousands of students. We marched from Minneapolis to the Capitol in St. Paul. A sense of purpose and camaraderie united us. The shooting at Kent State, which some were already calling a “massacre,” kept us marching mile after mile, determined to end the war.
(Continued on Saturday . . . )
Both photographs from Wikipedia.