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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 is 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 a 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 (CFLA), 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 hours 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 other 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 marchers 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.
THE CFIA TRASHING was condemned almost unanimously by the community. President Bok said it was an action with "no purpose to be gained other than mindless violence." The Crimson editorially condemned the attack "without qualification" and characterized it as "aimless violence." Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the University, estimated that about $25,000 damage had been done to the building. Student volunteers and Harvard policemen worked late into the night to clear up the wreckage. The trashing probably had a salutary effect on attendance at the upcoming mass meeting; students became even more determined to translate their outrage into effective antiwar actions rather than dissipate it in senseless acts of violence.
The 2200 students at the mass meeting convened on April 20 in an atmosphere of crisis. Mass Hall had been occupied that morning by black students protesting Harvard's investment in Gulf Oil, which gave the assembly a special sense of urgency. The meeting was held simultaneously in Sanders Theatre and Lowell Lec: the two halls were connected by a functioning speaker system.
The meeting voted to strike for five days to protest the Indochina War and to support the Mass Hall takeover. A variety of resolutions passed urging students to participate in local antiwar actions, work for antiwar candidates in the then upcoming Massachusetts Presidential primary, and support the black students by joining the picket line circulating in front of Mass Hall. It also created a central coordinating committee to direct strike actions.
The meeting adjourned without considering whether to picket classrooms or to demand a release from exam or class obligations. This was largely in remembrance of the fiasco that followed the 1970 strike when students dissipated their energies by trying to persuade classmates not to attend class instead of engaging in constructive antiwar activities.
About 75 per cent of the University's undergraduates boycotted classes the next day and many swelled the ranks of the 8000 people who participated in a march from the Boston Common to Post Office Square. The next day, Saturday, April 22, many thronged to New York to join 40,000 protesters who clogged the streets there in the largest national antiwar demonstration in almost a year. Others remained behind to man the picket line in front to Mass Hall. Still others were out in the hustings for antiwar primary candidates Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) or Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.).
After the weekend, the euphoria passes and increasing numbers of students returned to class. A two-hour sit-in Monday at the Cambridge draft board drew only 100 persons and the novelty of the Mass Hall occupation wore off. The denouement hit rock bottom at the Tuesday night mass meeting, which had been slated by the first gathering to "discuss the response of both the Harvard Administration and the U.S. to the current crisis."
The second meeting, which was attended by only 650 people and embodied confusion, contrasted markedly with the first. The meeting voted first not to continue the strike and then, one hour later after 100 people had trickled out, reversed itself and voted to continue striking indefinitely. The feverish activity of the past week had clearly taken its toll: arguments and counter-arguments were made lackadaisically and motions to adjourn were repeatedly introduced by a tired and bored audience. McGovern's convincing victory in the Massachusetts primary that day had injected a feeble note of optimism in the proceedings, but it was still clear that the activist mood was departing as quickly as it had come. And when the black students filed out of Mass Hall two days later, the return to term-papers and lab assignments was virtually complete.
A MAY 4 NATIONAL moratorium came and went almost unnoticed, and only a handful of Harvard's diehards turned out for a May 8 civil disobedience action at the John F. Kennedy Federal building in Boston at which 200 persons were arrested. But that night, President Nixon escalated the war against the North another notch, and antiwar sentiments were rekindled anew. His television announcement that he would mine the North Vietnamese ports prompted renewed plans for action, as Harvard students again prepared to disrupt their routines to stop what appeared briefly to be a mad march to the nuclear brink.
On May 11, 40 protesters broke into and occupied three Government Center to demand that Harvard revoke its invitation to Presidential aide Henry A. Kissinger '50 to return to his chair in the Government Department. They left after several hours. One hundred and eighty-five people were arrested May 11 in front of a Boston military recruiting office after a civil disobedience action: many of them this time were Harvard students. And the trashers were at it again later the same day when a group of about 500 people marched from Boston and, after eluding Cambridge police, sabotaged a stretch of railroad tracks near MIT and battled police for several hours in the heaviest tear-gasing of the Spring. Taking a different tack, 150 students left for Washington May 13 to attempt to pressure certain swing Congressmen to support legislation to end the war.
Harvard faculty and Administrators also joined in antiwar actions as a group of 300 Boston-area professors held their own march to the JFK Building. "I once told Dr. Martin Luther King that I could do anything but march," John Kenneth Galbraith. Warburg Professor of Economics and one of the march organizers, explained. "It really has not been my style, but Nixon's reckless action warrants a stronger reaction." Laurence Wylie, Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France, was also marching for the first time. "We are distressed, cynical and just a little beaten by the continuing Vietnam issue," he said.
President Bok also added his voice to the antiwar chorus. He flew to Washington with the seven other Ivy League presidents and the president of Stanford and spent May 17 conferring with House members and lobbying against the war. "We are trying to stress that students care very much about the human suffering that results from the war," Bok said. The nine presidents capped the day's activities by conferring privately with Kissinger, a meeting arranged at Bok's request. After the meeting, they would only say that it had been characterized by much "frank talk" in the exchange of views.
But as the lobbyists left Washington and the ICBM's remained in their silos, protest again subsided. As Nixon flew off to Moscow to consummate some nefarious deal with the Soviets, the fear students felt about nuclear confrontation following his speech turned to chagrin. The bombing of the North continued unabated, but the sense of urgency it had initially prompted swiftly dissipated as students again re-entered Lamont and Widener for a few feverish days before exams.
THE SPRING'S NADIR came at the May 22 march on the Pentagon. Called by an emergency coalition of major national antiwar groups immediately after the mines were sown, the action was seen as an attempt to duplicate the now-legendary 1967 march on the mammoth military headquarters. Even in the days immediately preceding the action, its organizers expected to attract between 3000 and 5000 people. But as the President flew off to Moscow, the action lost much of its relevance. Only about 1000 people showed up as the march timetables quarreled divisively. After sparing for several hours with riot-equipped police in front of the building, the marchers surged toward the police lines and 200 were carted away. The action was viewed as a failure by almost everyone involved.
The Spring's actions left most students with a feeling of enraged impotence. It seemed as if no kind of protest, violent or otherwise, could penetrate the impregnable barriers with which President Nixon and his tiny coterie of advisors have surrounded themselves. A government unresponsive to or even unaware of the wishes of its people seemed to have become the norm in American life. Thousands of students, here and across the country, relearned the hard political facts of life this Spring. As Hanoi was evacuated and American bombers continued to level North Vietnam and much of the rest of Southeast Asia, those students became even more convinced that fundamental social change is an imperative facing America if the rest of the world is to survive.
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