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Standing Up for America


By Dan Swanson

AS PART OF last week's strike activity, one hundred antiwar demonstrators staged a sit-in at the Cambridge Draft Board. As we sat crammed in the narrow corridor, chanting, singing and clapping, Mayor Barbara Ackermann appeared, brandishing three letters. She told us and the ubiquitous television cameras that she had received the letters from Cambridge residents who were irate at the antics of college students. She chided us for being boisterous, telling us we needed to "reach people like these" and that we would only further alienate them by our behavior. She circulated the letters, and some of the people sitting-in chuckled over the misspelt insults.

Simultaneously in Washington, Richard Nixon entertained the opinions of a few advisers and two days later told a national television audience that he was going to continue bombing the North, again initiate "serious" talks in Paris, and withdraw more American ground troops. Like all of America's actions in Southeast Asia during the two-decade involvement there, the moves were made by executive decree.

The time has long past when a substantial number of Americans supported American involvement in Indochina and the time never existed when our people were consulted by or even informed of our government's actions there. Troops are sent or withdrawn, bombs are dropped, puppet governments are overthrown or propped up, over one million people are murdered: all without the advice or consent of the American people. A little group of men in the White House and the Pentagon sit behind mahogany desks and decree who shall live and who shall die.

RADICALS HAVE traditionally, and accurately, pointed to the economic dynamics of American and world capitalism as being the prime movers behind an expansionist foreign policy. But to say that a nation dominated by GM and ITT exists in an atmosphere where those in power believe the international expansion of American business to be consonant with the wellbeing of all Americans is very different from claiming that the presidents of those corporate giants have an active role in deciding America's day-to-day foreign policy. We face in the realm of foreign policy--especially in the Southeast Asian nightmare--a primacy of politicians: many businessmen would profit by an end to the war and a return to exploitative normalcy. One can correctly point to offshore oil interests in the South China sea as an underlying economic dynamic, but almost no one would seriously believe that the oil lobby is keeping us in Southeast Asia. To be sure, the American corporate state created Richard Nixon, but the monster has been set loose: he and his tiny coterie of advisors, and they alone, are responsible for the continued insanity. And although they might in fact defer on occasion to the corporate princes, they are deaf to the opinions of the American people.

And as the pilots continue to hurtle their F4A's and B-52s into the air, their targets known only to them as a set of map coordinates, they kill by proxy for Nixon and Kissinger, and not for us or for the people who wrote the letters to Mayor Ackermann. We, along with the letter writers and the majority of dovish Americans, share with the people of Indochina the same powerless relationship to the American government. In our protests we have tried to make this clear. We find the notion of lobbying our supposed representatives in Washington laughable, for they are almost as powerless as we: the Gulf of Tonkin resolution--passed under fake pretenses--was repealed last year and the illegal war continues. We have tried to focus our protest on Nixon and him alone; we have disrupted and will continue to disrupt targets linked to the Federal government because we are trying to send Richard Nixon a message; we are saying that if you do not listen we will make you listen, that you cannot kill in Indochina without filling the streets at home.

THUS FAR, our success has been limited. Calisthenics on the moon last week blacked out embittered protest at home. But we must not give up; the arrogance of the President's television message must be matched by the escalation of our outrage. But our message needs to be clarified! We are certainly not trying to tell the people of America what they already know; we are not even attempting to pressure the men who make the bombs, for incongruous as it seems, in the immediate future they are also powerless. We are talking to Nixon and we are in a state of emergency: Indochinese are being dismembered and burned and we must try to stop it.

It is disheartening but chillingly possible that we may fail. This horrible but real possibility cannot absolve us of the responsibility to act, for even in the face of defeat, we retain an important function: we must bear witness for the people of America. We must say that the death from the skies over Hanoi and Laos does not emanate from Nebraska and Detroit: that the mountain people in Appalachia do not hate the mountain people in the Central Highlands; that the Nixons and the Kissingers do not represent America but pervert it. That must continue to be our task as students; we who can disrupt our routines with ease must act for those who are constrained by a nine-to-five system. We can deal with the makers of bombs and the designers of contingency plans later: for now, we must say to the people of the world that this is not our war, it is not the American people's war, it is Richard Nixon's war, and he is our enemy as he is yours.

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