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A Justified Demonstration


Yesterday's sit-in demonstration against the Dow Chemical company's recruiter was a desperate act in opposition to a desperate situation: the war in Vietnam. It was a serious course of action, not to be dismissed lightly by the Faculty or those who participated in it. The sit-in may have been incautions, but it was justified.

Dow has become anathema to anti-war groups because of its production of napalm. The substance is intended to burn out jungle overgrowth, but it falls all too often on Vietnamese civilians. Napalm--and the company that makes it--have become symbolic of a war that tries to destroy communism by bombing people.

The sit-in was also a symbol--of the frustration of an idealistic and sizable group of students who feel that somehow the war must be ended. For two years they have talked, and they have picketed, but the war goes on. To students who feel intensely that the killing must stop, continued eloquence is no excuse for inaction. They have a right and a duty to indicate to their fellow students and their foes the strength of their opposition to the war. They have a right and a duty to raise the issue wherever and whenever possible.

As surely as it has influenced Vietnamese society, the war has extended its influence to American society, to this University. Students yesterday confronted the issue close to home: on their own campus. Their demonstration will not, as some enthusiasts claimed in the corridors of Mallinckrodt, stop the "war machine." Sit-ins are not votes, and campus confrontations hardly persuade nominating conventions. But students who are appalled at what the war is doing to this country must begin to act somewhere. Challenging its encroachments on their campus is a proper way.

Dissent is a cherished right in this country, and above all at Harvard. In its harsher forms, as in yesterday's sit-in, it may inconvenience the University. But fostering dissent is the legitimate business of any university, and a college can afford to be far more flexible than society at large in setting limitations on the way protest may be conducted. The Administration, and Dean Glimp in particular, acted courageously and wisely in allowing the demonstration to run its course.

Nor should the demonstrators now be punished. It would be a mistake to interpret what they did as a flagrant disregard for the rules of the University. On the contrary, in the spirit of civil disobedience, they turned over their Bursar's cards in acceptance of whatever consequences their actions might bring. The demonstration did not pose a danger to life or property; it was a peaceful confrontation among rational men. There may, in the course of such a demonstration, come a time when in the considered judgment of University officials, one group's prolonged encroachments on the rights of another must be halted. If so, whatever action is necessary should be taken cautiously and understandingly. Yesterday's demonstration required no such action, and the University would do well to continue its own admirable restraint.

That does not mean that the Faculty need follow the demands made by the demonstrators. The University should not attempt to bar selected companies or government agencies from the campus; it should, however, inform them when necessary of the reception they are likely to receive, and allow them to make special arrangements for reaching students who express an interest.

The right of dissent is not an easy one to exercise or administer. It takes many forms, and the boundaries of proper behavior are sometimes difficult to define. Drawing the lines is a perilous venture. There are limits, but yesterday's demonstration did not transgress them.

An opinion of a minority of the Editorial Board will appear tomorrow.

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