Around 10 p.m. on a spring evening in 1968, police hauled Oliver M. Lee `51 out of Bachman Hall on the University of Hawaii (UH) campus.
For two days, Lee and about 150 others had been sitting in UH's administration building. Most of the others were students. Lee was an assistant professor of political science--and the reason the students were there.
He was a radical, a Marxist. In the Vietnam War, he sided with the Viet Cong, admiring the peasants' "revolutionary optimism" and decrying the US government's "imperialism." He had helped found the Hawaii Committee to End the War in Vietnam. The group held small protests--never more than several hundred persons--but once they burned President Lyndon B. Johnson in effigy.
A year before the sit-in, Lee had been offered tenure. But then an anti-war student group published a flyer against the draft urging radicals to infiltrate the military and "eliminate" officers. Lee was the group's faculty advisor, and when administrators found out, they promptly revoked his tenure offer and said 1968 would be his last year at UH.
The sit-in was a demonstration of support for Lee as a professor. Ultimately, he got his job back, but only after the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) threatened to censure the University of Hawaii for violating a professor's rights.
"The great, great thing is that because of Oliver Lee's character and his sticking to his guns ... the First Amendment cannot be touched at the University of Hawaii," says George K. Simson, a professor at the time of Lee's case in the English department.
Today, Lee says he feels vindicated, having kept his post and seen public opinion turn in his direction. But back then his political activity as well as his opinions were repeatedly challenged, by students and by the government. When Lee requested a copy of his FBI file in the 1970s, he received a 690 page file, including accusations from past students and day-by-day accounts of Lee's activities.
Becoming a Radical
Before he was 20 years old, Oliver Lee had lived in Nationalist China, Nazi Germany, the British colony of Mauritius and Iran under the Shah's rule.
The son of a German mother and a Chinese father, who divorced when he was just three years old, Lee left Germany for China two years before the Second World War broke out. He lived in Mauritius in safety during the war, then followed his father, a Chinese diplomat, to Iran for just a year.
While Lee says he remembers select moments from each of the regimes, but his recollections are nonpolitical and decidedly not those of a radical. (He recalls believing the Hitler Youth to be "more or less a boy scout kind of thing" that wouldn't let him in because of his Chinese ancestry).
When he landed in New York City in 1946, Lee says he already held liberal democratic leanings. Though he was not naturalized and could not vote, he supported President Harry S. Truman's reelection and, later, Adlai E. Stevenson's campaigns.
But over the next two decades, his liberal democratic roots gradually turned into ardent anti-war activism.
It began soon after college with disgust at McCarthyism. By the early 1960s, having spent a decade studying international relations, Lee began to build his case against United States foreign policy. By the Vietnam War, he was a self-described radical.
"Harvard didn't radicalize me," Lee says.