Last weekend's demonstrations against American participation in the Vietnam war have elicited a barrage of criticism. Presidential Press Secretary Bill Moyers said the President was "surprised that any one citizen would feel toward his country in a way that is not consistent with the national interest." Atty. Gen. Nicholas deB. Katzenbach announced that the Justice Dept. would begin an investigation of the demonstration's sponsors. "Whenever you have a situation in which people are saying things similar to what is being said in Peking, you are likely to find some Communists in it."
Congressmen offered the most pungent remarks. Sen. Dirksen said the demonstrations were "enough to make any person loyal to this country weep." Mississippi's Sen. Stennis urged the administration to "immediately move to jerk this movement up by the roots and grind it to bite." Sen. Kuchel said students who burned their draft cards were "sowing the seeds of treason."
Senators Russell, Mansfield, Dodd, Saltonstall and Lausche joined the chorus. A cartoon in Monday's Boston Traveler showed a map of the United States with a huge column of students, marching in the form of a giant hammer and sickle.
These blanket condemnations lump together a variety of different phenomena, each requiring a very different response.
The first complaint about this weekend's demonstrators is that they are "draft dodgers." It is unfair to level this criticism at all the demonstrators, just as it would be naive to assume that those who did not march would cheerfully accept a military future. It is true that several demonstrators may have breached specific draft laws. One protestor publicly burned his draft card, and it has been alleged (and denied) that Berkeley Students for a Democratic Society circulated literature urging illegal methods of draft evasion. For these crimes there are stiff penalties, and objectors who resort to civil disobedience must be prepared to accept the consequences.
Attorney General Katzenbach, and many other critics, have charged that the demonstrators were infiltrated, controlled, or duped by Communists. It is impossible for us to corroborate or deny these charges, but we believe them irrelevent. One need not be a Communist to question the wisdom of American policy in Vietnam. Not every opinion held by a Communist is invalid.
President Johnson condemned the demonstrations by indicating his "surprise" that any citizen's views are inconsistent with "the national interest." Granted, President Johnson received an overwhelming mandate, but the policy of one administration is by no means necessarily synonymous with the national interest. If President Johnson has raised the Communist issue to silence protest, he has acted irresponsibly. If he actually believes that Communists are to blame for protest against his Vietnam policy, he is wrong.
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