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.
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