FRED LEAVITT'S a nice guy. A shy, gentle, intelligent person, he immediately strikes one as being some kind of intellectual. Put a few more years, a few more pounds on him, and he'd make a passable Mr. Chips. In reality, he's a scientist.
Fred Leavitt is not the type of man one would ordinarily take for a war criminal. But he works as a job recruiter for the Dow Chemical Corporation, the manufacturer of napalm. One of the demonstrators last Wednesday pushed in front of Leavitt's face a poster with pictures of naked children whose skin had been burned off by napalm. "Aren't you embarrassed? Don't you feel guilty?" the protester asked.
Fred Leavitt was floored. "I'm against the war--I have the same objecton as you. I just don't know enough about what goes on in the military, what they do. No, I don't feel guilty. The whole situation of international politics is so complex, I don't know enough to accomplish anything," he blurted.
Ironically, the 300 Harvard and Radcliffe anti-war demonstrators have been plagued by that same confusion, that same feeling of impotence, for more than two years. But their frustration has now reached a pitch of militancy verging on panic--or revolution. "This war is such a wretched extremity that almost anything is justified," said a sympathetic Faculty member. "I think it would have been right to take the Pentagon apart stone by stone," Hillary Putnam, professor of Philoosphy, added. "The war continues unabated although millions of Americans are now against it. Because of the undemocratic nature of our society, there is nothing we can do but take things into our own hands to end it," Michael Ansara '68 said.
In their desperation to engage and defeat the war machine, the peace forces of the University took Fred Leavitt captive for seven hours. For seven hours he forfeited his humanity to serve as a symbol. He was not a man, he was Dow. Vietnam comes home to roost.
The Dow sit-in was not well-organized. In fact, it almost wasn't. Students for a Democratic Society learned the recruriter was coming only two days in advance. In a special meeting of the executive committee, almost every one of SDS's leaders spoke against an obstructive sit-in because they did not think enough students would participate to make it effective. They voted, instead, to picket.
About 40 demonstrators showed up at 9:30 outside the room where Leavitt was interviewing chemistry graduate students. Some of them still wanted to sit-in, and in the style of SDS there was an instant town meeting to decide which form of protest would be mounted. This time the sit-in won. At least five non-Harvard-Radcliffe students voted--on the side of the sitters.
In the course of the impromptu discussion of tactics, the rationale for the sit-in was defined. "Just as we would not allow Nazis to come here to ask people to go build gas chambers, we should not let Dow recruit," Ansara said.
John Mendeloff, past co-chairman of H-R SDS, objected that it was illogical to single out Dow from among all the companies that contribute in one way or another to the war effort.
Another demonstrator replied, "'There's something particular about Dow. Napalm is the peculiarly American, particularly barbaric part of this war. Napalm is a war crime."
The vote was taken under a sign proclaiming "Napalm Up Yours, Dow," and 25 students sat down. "It's all over, fellow," a protester remarked. The demonstrators sent envoys to the Yard to tell people what was going on and the response was quick, and larger than anyone expected. By 11 a.m., 100 determined students milled outside Mallinckrodt M-102 ready for the first confrontation with Leavitt.
When the Dow recruiter and his interviewee came to the door, Leavitt asked the students: "Excuse us would you please?"
The answer was "No."
"What's your objective here?" Leavitt asked.
"We want you off our campus," a student replied. One student said, "Four or five of us should just pick him up and peacefully take him out." A unanimous "No, no, no," went up from the protestors.