LIKE THEIR COHORTS ACROSS the country, Harvard students were gradually lulled to sleep over the past two years by President Nixon's Vietnamization policy. As American casualties dropped and war news left page one in national newspapers, Harvard and Radcliffe returned to the apolitical days of the pre-1967 era.
Although a hard core of activists still criticized the continuing death and destruction in Vietnam, Nixon's cosmetic overhaul of the killing process placated dissent and the outrage felt by most students as recently as the May 1970 Cambodia invasion quietly slipped into history. Even the Harvard chapter of SDS, long noted for its opposition to the war, turned inward with its anti-Herrnstein campaign. A November 6 antiwar march drew only 5000 people from the entire Boston area: Harvard students guzzled beer at the Princeton game played on the same day.
But with the beginning of the North Vietnamese offensive on March 30 and Nixon's frantic attempts to halt the rapid erosion of South Vietnamese strength, students around the country were jolted out of their slumber. As Nixon first escalated the bombing of the North and then mined Northern ports, students answered his affront to the people of the world by calling student strikes, engaging in mass acts of civil disobedience and lobbying their representatives in Washington. A few of the more militant violently assaulted buildings they claimed were linked to the military effort. University officials joined students in protesting the escalation: many flew to Washington to confer with Administration officials and a few even risked arrest at antiwar actions.
Antiwar protests at Harvard mirrored others throughout the country. A mass meeting of 2200 students voted overwhelmingly to strike against the war, and many of them joined other area college students in a series of acts of civil disobedience at targets in Boston. President Bok and the other Ivy League presidents expressed their concern at a private conference with Presidential advisor Henry A. Kissinger '50 at the same time as about 150 other Harvard students were in the nation's capital lobbying for antiwar measures.
Harvard was not free from violence, however: a Boston antiwar march unexpectedly veered onto the Harvard campus and, in a senseless three-minute rampage, 150 marchers devastated the interior of the Center for International Affairs (CFIA), causing about $25,000 in damage. The marchers charged that the CFIA engages in counter-insurgency research for the American military. Almost no Harvard students were involved in the action, and the community almost unanimously deplored the incident.
Local actions peaked again following the President's decision to mine North Vietnamese harbors, but after a feared nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union failed to materialize, these actions rapidly subsided. Already weeks behind in their school-work. Harvard students returned to classrooms and libraries, thankful that a holocaust had not enveloped the world but still despairing because the air and naval onslaught on North Vietnam continued unabated.
The protest had escalated quickly. As students returned from Spring vacations, many applauded the North Vietnamese advances, hopeful that the Thieu regime in the South would be quickly deposed. But after the Nixon Administration escalated the air war over the North, hitting Hanoi and Haiphong with giant B-52s for the first time in the war, domestic resistance rapidly stiffened. A coalition of liberal and radical students embracing a variety of campus political organizations met and called a mass meeting for April 20. The Crimson joined 15 other college newspapers across the country in running concurrently an editorial calling for a student strike against the war. Campus outrage against the latest escalation mounted as a plethora of committees was formed and House meetings called. The campus was swamped with posters and leaflets calling on students to respond to the President's arrogance; in addition, the controversy over Harvard's ownership of Gulf Oil stock was peaking, and the black students' protest fueled the growing activist mood.
AMID THIS ATMOSPHERE of anticipation, the People's Coalition for Peace and Justice (PCPJ), a Cambridge-based antiwar collective, called an April 19 antiwar march slated to shut down a military recruiting office in downtown Boston. After several hundred demonstrators risked arrest for about one-half hour by sitting in front of the Tremont St. office, a PCPJ spokesman unexpectedly announced that the march would proceed to a "military-linked target" somewhere in the Cambridge area. The target's identity (it was the CFIA) and what would occur once the marchers reached it were kept secret, the spokesman explained, so that the police would not be able to abort the action.
As the 1000 marchers wound through Boston, speculation rose that the target was Harvard Square because the route followed was the same as taken by an April 15, 1970 march that ended in street-fighting in the Square. As the marchers passed several targets in the Central Square area and continued west on Mass Ave, a Harvard target seemed even more probable. But the CFIA building was considered unlikely because a city-wide planning meeting several days earlier had ruled out University targets.
When the march veered right abruptly on Quincy St., it became apparent that the target was indeed going to be the CFIA, located at 6 Divinity Ave. The march's vanguard raced the last several hundred yards to the building, where about 20 people immediately shattered the windows of the three-story structure with rocks. Several others attempted to open the doors. The building's night watchman, alerted by a youth, had attempted to bar the door.
Several minutes later, a group of marches rammed through the bar door using poles from antiwar banners, and a mob of about 150 people poured into the building as two Harvard policemen watched helplessly. Once inside, the demonstrators began overturning bookcases, smashing windows and throwing books and papers about. Some of the crowd refrained from the destruction, which was mostly spontaneous. The vast majority were not Harvard students.
Rumors that police had arrived filtered into the building, and the crowd fled. They left water gushing from an open pipe, and a small paper fire burned on the second floor. As the marchers filed out the rear entrance, a Harvard police car glided into the parking lot behind the building. Two policemen leaped out and chased the group across Divinity Ave., where they rejoined 1200 other marchers and onlookers who had not entered the building.
The march leadership, which had long since passed out of PCPJ hands, then cried "on to IBM," and part of the crowd surged toward the IBM building on Cambridge St. Arriving several minutes later, they hurled rocks at the windows and prepared to enter the building for more trashing. Their plans were interrupted, however, when a Cambridge police car screamed west on Cambridge St. and its driver jumped out and fired two shots into the air with his service revolver.
At this, the crowd quickly scattered, although elements of it regrouped farther west and began marching down Quincy St. toward Harvard Square, declaring that their intention was to "trash Harvard Trust and other banks." But just as they reached Mass Ave, several Cambridge police cars and a bus filled with over 50 riot-equipped police pulled into the intersection and the 200 marchers were split in half.
The police then skirmished for several hours with what remained of the original march, although most of the CFIA trashers had scattered. Lines of police swept through the Square and adjoining side streets, reading an emergency curfew order signed by the Cambridge city manager and ordering everyone to disperse. The police used tear gas four times and made two arrests. Within two hours, the area had returned to relative normalcy and traffic was moving again.