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AS WE RUSH OFF to the first day of classes this morning we might remember, if just for a minute, that this University is still on strike.
Remember how you felt when you heard about Nixon's invasion of Cambodia? Remember the news of the Kent State murders spreading through the Square? Remember the tense meeting in Sanders Theatre at which we voted overwhelmingly to support a University strike? Now that we're going back to classes it is an interesting academic exercise to recall the way we felt in those days and what we demanded as we struck. And to recall that none of the demands, of course, have been met.
1. That the United States government cease its escalation of the Vietnam War into Cambodia and Laos; that it unilaterally and immediately withdraw all forces from Southeast Asia.
2. That the United States government end its systematic oppression of political dissidents, and release all political prisoners, such as Bobby Seale and other members of the Black Panther Party.
3. That the universities immediately end defense research, ROTC, counterinsurgency research, and all other such programs.
The demands were passed, here and at dozens, perhaps hundreds, of schools across the nation. Nixon went to the Lincoln Memorial and talked with the kids about surfing. The Faculty voted exam options; the Administration refused to honor an employees' strike; radical students set up picket lines around University Hall; the Committee on Rights and Responsibilities showed a few more students the door; and a large majority of undergraduates-myself included-left pretty quickly for home, vacation, summer jobs. Meanwhile, in South-east Asia-all over Southeast Asia-the body counts went up by a few more thousand.
None of the demands were met, needless to say. Perhaps thanks to the antiwar movement, U.S. troops came out of Cambodia in six weeks. But the American undercover armies and America's South Vietnamese and Cambodian puppets kept up their effort to "pacify" the Cambodian people. The war rageson. And on the home front, the war of rhetoric against leftists continued. Now Nixon is dispatching a thousand FBI henchmen to the campuses, supposedly to investigate campus bombings.
And it's almost certain to get worse. A distinguished professor of history who spent part of May in Washington attempting to persuade his official friends that the war must end before it destroys this country in addition to Vietnam came back to Harvard profoundly discouraged. A Harvard "conservative," he now shares the fears of radicals that another escalation of the war is just around the corner-probably a resumption of saturation bombardment of North Vietnam, possibly an invasion north of the DMZ across North Vietnam and into Laos in an effort to cut off the Ho ChiMinh Trail.
WHEN THE NEXT escalation takes place, we have to shut down this and other schools once again, for whatever feeble aid that might give the people of Southeast Asia (and the other Third World peoples who are candidates for Vietnamization). The next time we probably won't be able to do it so easily, to make it so easy on ourselves. H. Stuart Hughes, Gurney Professor of History and Political Science, told the last Faculty meeting of last year "The Faculty was forced into a quick decision about grades this Spring, Now a majority of students are neither taking exams nor doing political work. I hope we learn from our sad experience not to make a similar mistake again." The Faculty responded with a standing ovation.
To moan about the Faculty's "sad experience" seems a trifle absurd. But Hughes is right that the majority of students ran away: the strike collapsed before it got started. A few kids stuck around to man the typewriters and phones at Peace Action Strike; some others canvassed factories and high schools for a few days. The others disappeared. And now September has come, and we're all going back to class (except those who have been kicked out). The sad experience of last May was ours, not the Faculty's. We were so secure in our individual institutional wombs-so far apart from each other-and so lazy that we sabotaged our own strike. We can't let that happen again. We know by now, even if the Faculty doesn't, that rebuilding American society so that no more Vietnams can happen is more important than all the petty academic routine Fair Harvard can come up with. If we were strong enough and (I hate to use the cliche) together enough, Faculty votes on exam options would seem even more ludicrous than they have in the past. Last Spring we weren't, and when the strike won the inconsequential victory of exam options it collapsed.
This year we can't let that matter. With Nixon's encouragement and the Harvard Administration's gleeful acquiescence, the get-tough-on-campus policy has arrived. It's unlikely that school will be called off again-and we should never again get hung up on that battle. Even if students weren't a political liability, Harvard would not adopt a Princeton Plan and send us off door-to-door. We could go the route of the Japanese students and prepare for perennial pitched battles, and if the nation follows the Scranton Commission's advice and replaces the National Guard's M-16s with tear gas we might not get killed. But we wouldn't get much done, either. Someday, maybe, but not now. Look at Japan.
YET THERE ARE things to do. We are, collectively if not individually, wealthy. We have no student government to pay for, and if just half the University's students contributed ten dollars each (or maybe Coop rebates), we could rent and equip a building for use as an anti-war center, a day-care center, a hostel for street people, a free kitchen for the poor of all ages. What we need is a frankly political organization, a kind of Cambridge Liberation Front, to organize this community non-violently and to make life better, here and now, for those who live here.
Many of the programs mentioned above sound similar to the fine work done by Phillips Brooks House. But PBH, because of its origin as a social service organization and because its University tax exemption eliminates the possibility of unvarnished political action, cannot do the job. Many PBH members recognize these difficulties and are eager to put their knowledge to work in a political frame work. The legal advice necessary is available from the community service groups at the Law School.
It would be a lot of hard work. It, doesn't sound very exciting. But it might turn out to be more fun than sitting around a waterpipe night after night, and it would certainly be more productive than trashing the Square.
The three demands have not been met. America is still on its death trip. So far the strike has been a failure, but the strike is not over. We in Cambridge can't stop the war or free Bobby Seale or even tear down the wall around Harvard this winter. But unless all our righteous indignation last Spring was a sham, we must tear down the little walls between people that we can take care of now. And someday, all those big walls will come down too.
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