ON a Greyhound bus, rumbling through the night somewhere between Cambridge and Washington, several nascent "peace marchers" huddled around a small reading light and talked of the Washington Project, and why they were going. They were all afraid, though not with the frenzied, irrational fear of sudden annihilation. Very few believe a bomb is going to drop on their heads tomorrow. Rather, they spoke of the "escalating" arms race and the frustration of prolonged negotiation and international deadlock. Certain images recurred in the conversation: spirals, circles, nets. Images of impotence, despair and endlessness.
If you asked why they were going to Washington, the answer was almost invariably "We have to do something." What, they do not know. But the prospect of living life under the threat of a nuclear war is disquieting for restless and eager youth.
The compelling force behind these students is a desire for man to be free to determine how he shall live his own life. They speak of money devoted to missiles instead of hospitals, to tanks instead of school books. They speak of the secrecy of military decisions and the erosion of the democratic process. And they try to "do something" to turn the tide, to find a way to halt the spiral.
This was the Washington Project What emerged was something different from the traditional "peace" activity. The old images--beards, guitars, a political philosophy tinged with the rosy hue of the non-democratic left--did not fit. But there were other differences in the group besides its cleanliness. With more than 5000 participants the Washington Project was the largest demonstration in the city in 37 years, according to a veteran While House policeman. Another change was the crowd's evident seriousness which attracted praise from notoriously hostile local police.
But the major departure of the Washington Project was an attempt to renunciate the emotional, over-simplified approach that has characterized so many similar demonstrations in the past. This eight-page policy statement was a product of many long hours of debate among the leadership, and the aim was to present it to and discuss it with Congressmen, Administration officials, and embassy representatives. The students who made the trip prepared themselves rigorously through seminars, briefing sessions, and informal discussions for weeks in advance.
For all the deliberation that went into its composition the policy statement emerged vague and confusing. This undoubtedly was the result of the rather strange alliance, under the Turn Toward Peace Student Council, of five different so-called "peace groups."
Tocsin has been described as the "right wing of student groups;" Peace Union, formed last year the University of Chicago, is
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The alliance was made main
Generally, the proposals to four areas: nuclear testing,
The policy statement at one said the group was flatly
Actually, much of the group bases its faith in the fact "there are people in the White House now who will listen to us." They support a great many of President Kennedy's proposals such as the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Food for Peace, purchase of UN bonds, cultural and intellectual exchanges with the Soviet Union, and "opening of communications media on the widest possible basis" with the Soviets.
The group took heart from the President's speech to the UN in September in which he had challenged Russia to a "peace race," but feel he is being hampered in implementing many of his plans by political pressures on the right. Another majorphase of the demonstration was articulation of public support for the thrust of Kennedy's foreign policy to counteract such conservative influence. Many carried placards with quotations from his speeches such as "Neither Red nor Dead but alive and free" and "Let us call a truce to terror." One said "We support your words. Now give us a chance to support your actions."
Reactions by official Washington were fairly predictable. Rep. Chet Holifield (D-Cal.), chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, one of the leading proponents of renewed atmospheric testing, said the students were "full of baloney." Sen. John O. Pastore (D.-R.I.) vice-chairman of the committee, was one of the few Congressmen who would not even grant an appointment to the students. He told a student reporter he was against "emotional outbursts" in place of well-founded, knowledgeable democratic opinion" and was insulted at the students "questioning the ability of chosen leaders to make decisions."
Pastore's reaction was typical of many in Washington who are weary of the frustrating process of negotiation, and he charged that only those who have had the experience of confrontation with the Russians could presume to offer legitimate opinions as to how to handle the situation. His comment on "emotional outbursts" illustrates the unfavorable preconceptions of such demonstrations, which is a problem future projects must consider closely.
Other Congressmen listened, however. Rep. Robert Kastenmeier (D-Wis.) spoke with visiting students for almost an hour. He cautioned a radical group from Antioch College to abjure emotionalism, saying "you cannot allow people to think you are extremists. If they do, it will destroy your effectiveness." He added that foreign policy machinery is "very hard to change," but urged them strongly to continue their discussions and participation. Recognizing a growing "alienation" among students from the decision-making process, he recom-