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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

A Byrd in the Hand Is Worth Thieu in the Bush

The Harvard-Radcliffe Lobby

By James S. Henry, Susan F. Kinsley, and Dorothy A. Lindsay

IT WAS LUNCHTIME on Capitol Hill. As four men strode out of the elevator in the Rayburn Building, they passed several members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Lobby resting from a morning's lobbying efforts.

"That's fucking Mel Laird!" a lobbyist muttered, and after a quick doubletake the students took off in pursuit of the Cabinet officer and his three civilian companions. Mel was coming down the backstretch as the students turned the corner, but they were closing fast. As the margin between hawk and dove narrowed, civility was sacrificed to national security. A white-haired onlooker with a white-sideburned smile yelled, "Run, Mel." The closest student questioned Laird at a dogtrot. "Mr. Secretary, I am very concerned about the national defense." "I'm sorry, the Secretary is half an hour late for an important mission. He can't hold an interview just now," an aide answered. "But I'd just like to know what concessions were made to the Soviets in exchange for no minesweepers...." "I'm very sorry, I'm all tied up right now." The Secretary managed an impatient smile, picked up the pace even more, and disappeared around a corner.

The meeting with Laird was an unexpected part of the students' efforts to talk with key legislators about recent developments in the Vietnam War. Laird's response was characteristic of the reaction the 50 Harvard students received during their two-day lobbying effort.

The Lobby grew out of a meeting of students in Adams House the night after the most recent Nixon war-message. By the time arrangements to go to Washington had been made, exams and papers cut into the initial enthusiasm for protest in Washington. Five hundred dwindled to fifty, five buses dwindled to one, and faculty support was financial rather than vocal.

Mark Talisman '63, former fellow of the Institute of Politics and administrative aide to Congressman Charles Vanik (D-Ohio), had strongly encouraged students to come to Washington to express support for pending antiwar legislation. "I really am terribly dismayed that there are so few people from Harvard here," Talisman remarked.

In May of 1970, in response to similar Presidential acts of war and similar congressional pleas, over 1500 Harvard students and faculty members had come to Washington.

"Try to make up for lack of numbers with knowledge and good argument," was Talisman's advice to the 50 students.

The Harvard-Radcliffe Lobby focused mainly on urging undecided Senators to reject the amendment which had been introduced last week by Senator Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) to the Case-Church antiwar proposals. The Case-Church Bill unamended, provided for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. military assistance to Indochina, contingent only upon an agreement with the North Vietnamese for the release of prisoners. Byrd's amendment added a ceasefire agreement to the conditions for American withdrawal. It therefore expressed de facto approval for withdrawal conditions set by President Nixon two weeks ago. Some of the Harvard lobbyists would have preferred to support an alternative to the President's policies which included provision for serious negotiations and a coalition government in Saigon. Given the alternatives under Senate consideration when the lobby arrived in Washington however, it chose to defend Church-Case.

TO COMPENSATE for their numerical weakness, one Minnesota student perfected a Texas drawl before meeting with Senator John Towers's (R-Texas) legislative assistant.

"Ah'm from Dallas, Ah'd like to talk to Senator Towers about th'War...Ah'm concerned about the safety of U.S. troops in Vietnam, and Ah don't think the bombing of China Railroads will protect them," the student drawled.

The aide, who is a consultant to a Boston firm now designing a nuclear war game, assured the student "confidentially" that a $200,000 laser bomb recently developed by the military would be accurate enough to "do the job". The student smiled and urged that the Senator vote against the Byrd Amendment so that money now being wasted in Indochina could be spent on more useful military projects. Despite the student's plea. Towers decided to vote for the Byrd Amendment.

Other lobbying techniques were more straightforward than the Texas drawl. Jackets, ties, and newly exposed knees cloaked the student efforts in the garments of respectability. The lobbyists were also careful to prepare their arguments well.

In spite of it all, their reception was disappointing. The atmosphere on the Hill was filled with a strange mixture of resentment and paranoia. Police, office personnel, and elected officials, well prepared for militant demonstrations, were suspicious of the long-haired delegation. Capitol Hill guards thoroughly inspected all handbags and packages that were brought into the Congressional office buildings. One student observer who had spent several summers on the Hill as a Senate intern noted that the number of police assigned to the Capitol was remarkably high, especially given the incidence of real crime in other parts of the city.

The surplus Hill police made sure that student lobbyists crossed Constitution Ave. between the white lines. One policeman threatened to arrest a Radcliffe student for leaning against a Rayburn Building wall while waiting for the visitors' cafeteria to open.

Legislators' reactions occasionally were as hostile as those of the police. A number of Ohio students waited for two hours to speak with Senator William Saxbe (R-Ohio) and were finally asked to leave. Moments later, the request was reinforced by the arrival of ten Capitol Hill Guards, who clustered around Saxbe's door.

Congressman Fletcher Thompson of Georgia offered his young constituents a one-way ticket to Hanoi. "You're all dupes of the International Communist conspiracy," he told them.

Other Congressmen were less hostile but equally intractable. Some were concerned that they might "hamstring" the President's journey to Moscow if they took action against the war. Representative "Bizz" Johnson (D-Calif.) said, "I was not elected to be concerned with the national interests. That's not my subcommittee. I'm on Parks and Recreations." Congressman Albert H. Quie (R-Minn.) said that he was unaware of the antiwar legislation which had been introduced into the House. "I really feel the war has to end, but only the President can do it," he told the students. "What we should do is send in some good tough Marines until our other forces withdraw," he added.

Senator Lowell Weicker's (R-Conn.) secretary repeated the Senator's statement that he "does not give one whit for the lives of the North Vietnamese or the South Vietnamese."

Even the more liberal legislators were not very reassuring. A student asked a legislative aide to Senator Brooke (R-Mass.) whether anyone knew for sure if national security was in jeopardy. "Dr. Kissinger knows," the aide replied. "Certainly no one in Congress does. Anything's possible, but we've honestly heard nothing." This ignorance was shared by both supporters and opponents of the President's actions. And so the students found themselves asking for action from old men whose minds were unburdened by complicated facts.

THE STUDENTS continued to lobby until Tuesday afternoon, when the amendment was called to vote. The waiting line for the Senate Gallery contained an odd assortment of people. The vote on the Byrd Amendment was scheduled for 2 p.m. At 1:30 p.m. a recess was called in order to see the Apollo 14 astronauts during their tour of Washington. Because of the crowds, visitors to the gallery were only allowed to stay for fifteen minutes. Timing was essential--one student overcompensated and at 1:55 p.m. was shuttled out of the gallery. He spotted a friend in the line, and remarked with disgust, "Great, I wait for hours and what do I get--astronauts!"

A clergyman--one of 300 members of Concerned Clergy and Laity (CCL) lobbying in Washington--was waiting with a group of friends. "Move along now move right along," a policeman said, waving his arms at the line. "Mooooooo, mooooooo", responded the clergyman as he complacently ambled down the hall.

Another policeman walked along the line telling people to check all packages. "Make sure you have your Visitor's Pass," he called. "You must have a pass to get in." He was referring to the pink Visitor's Pass for the Ninety-second Congress Second Session; a pile of them were on each Senator's desk to hand out to their visitors.

Reading the back of the card helped pass the time during the wait. "Standing or sitting in the doorways and aisles, smoking, applause, reading, taking notes, taking of photographs, and the wearing of hats by men are prohibited" the back of the card curiously stated. "No hats, coats, or other objects may be placed on the railings; visitors are prohibited from leaning forward over the railing or placing their hands thereon."

"Hey, we can breathe," one student pointed out.

At 2 p.m. a roll call was taken on the Senate floor. At 2:05 p.m. another roll call was taken. After a third roll call, the vote was taken. Silence filled the gallery while the Senators voted on the amendment. The "swing" Senators were scrutinized by students who had spent time with them discussing the amendment.

But the Administration had done some lobbying too. That morning a number of undecided Senators had met with Presidential Advisor Henry A. Kissinger '50, and Secretary of State William P. Rogers.

When the final vote was in, the Byrd Amendment had passed, 443. As disappointed students began to file out of the gallery. Senator Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) immediately took the floor and introduced a new amendment cutting off funds to Indochina. Unfortunately, the language of the bill was such that no one could quite understand it. In one portion of the gallery, ten people stood up and called out, "God speed, end the war," before leaving. The president of the session called for order. Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R-Penn.) stood up, interrupting Mansfield, and denounced further introduction of antiwar legislation. He added to the confusion by referring to the Vietnamese as Koreans.

At one point Scott talked of the 1954 advance of the North Koreans across the 17th Parallel against the South Koreans. An aide leaned over and murmured something in his ear.

"Oh, I mean Vietnamese," Scott hastily added, and almost immediately lapsed back into discussion of the North Korean invasions.

TRED AFTER TWO NIGHTS of communal snoring on the hard floors of one Union Methodist Church, the Harvard students retreated from Capitol Hill after the Byrd vote late Tuesday afternoon.

They had come, seen, and learned that ambitious little men in grandiose offices are content to permit the War to run its course, lies, dresses, and polite conversation are not enough. Petitions, visits from university presidents, and promises to be active in future elections are not enough. Civil disobedience and mass arrests (as those who decided to remain in Washington for the weekend demonstrations would discover) are not enough. Well-worded statements and polished arguments, especially, are not enough. The War proceeds with a logic of its own. Only the Vietnamese "enemy" can contradict that logic.

What became hideously apparent in the halls of Congress, among liberals and conservatives alike, is the distance between cause and effect, between nominal policy-makers and policy outcomes. Even in Washington, the War has become just another television program, and you don't have to watch it if you don't want to. Those who have persistently supported the Vietnam policies of past and present Administration will not yield now, even though the most recent military developments have conclusively demonstrated the failure of American efforts to Vietnamize the Vietnamese. Those legislators who have expressed verbal opposition to continued U.S. involvement in the War are still reluctant to support measures which might jeopardize their own political careers.

After twenty-four years of U.S. military assistance to the wrong side, after ten years of active U.S. military presence, it is still impossible to find thirty-three Senators who will refuse to conduct other business until the war is ended. Their constituents may be upset about the cost of steak, but it is hard for them to imagine what $200,000 laser bombs do to Vietnamese. It is equally difficult for Congressmen to imagine.

The problem of the War is one of disbelief as well as of political expediency; it is difficult for officials to be affected by the facts even when they have access to them. Vietnam is a world away from Washington. After all the Rayburn Building, with its marble fountains, steamrooms, and bronze eagles, cost three times as much as the entire North Vietnamese electrical system

At one point Scott talked of the 1954 advance of the North Koreans across the 17th Parallel against the South Koreans. An aide leaned over and murmured something in his ear.

"Oh, I mean Vietnamese," Scott hastily added, and almost immediately lapsed back into discussion of the North Korean invasions.

TRED AFTER TWO NIGHTS of communal snoring on the hard floors of one Union Methodist Church, the Harvard students retreated from Capitol Hill after the Byrd vote late Tuesday afternoon.

They had come, seen, and learned that ambitious little men in grandiose offices are content to permit the War to run its course, lies, dresses, and polite conversation are not enough. Petitions, visits from university presidents, and promises to be active in future elections are not enough. Civil disobedience and mass arrests (as those who decided to remain in Washington for the weekend demonstrations would discover) are not enough. Well-worded statements and polished arguments, especially, are not enough. The War proceeds with a logic of its own. Only the Vietnamese "enemy" can contradict that logic.

What became hideously apparent in the halls of Congress, among liberals and conservatives alike, is the distance between cause and effect, between nominal policy-makers and policy outcomes. Even in Washington, the War has become just another television program, and you don't have to watch it if you don't want to. Those who have persistently supported the Vietnam policies of past and present Administration will not yield now, even though the most recent military developments have conclusively demonstrated the failure of American efforts to Vietnamize the Vietnamese. Those legislators who have expressed verbal opposition to continued U.S. involvement in the War are still reluctant to support measures which might jeopardize their own political careers.

After twenty-four years of U.S. military assistance to the wrong side, after ten years of active U.S. military presence, it is still impossible to find thirty-three Senators who will refuse to conduct other business until the war is ended. Their constituents may be upset about the cost of steak, but it is hard for them to imagine what $200,000 laser bombs do to Vietnamese. It is equally difficult for Congressmen to imagine.

The problem of the War is one of disbelief as well as of political expediency; it is difficult for officials to be affected by the facts even when they have access to them. Vietnam is a world away from Washington. After all the Rayburn Building, with its marble fountains, steamrooms, and bronze eagles, cost three times as much as the entire North Vietnamese electrical system

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