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Whether members of the class of '68 supported or protested the Vietnam War, the conflict profoundly impacted their lives, panelists and audience members of a packed Science Center alumni symposium concluded yesterday.
"[We should] respect each in his individuality," moderator Robert D. Claflin '68 began, saying that the symposium was intended not to discuss the morality or immorality of the Vietnam War but "the choices we made."
When asked about their actions at the time, more than half of the audience members said that they had protested the war. About 30 said they had been conscientious objectors, and about 70 said they were veterans of the war.
"The sacrifices we made as protesters were much less than those they made as soldiers, regardless of our feelings for the morality of their choice," said audience member Gary R. Lea '68, to great applause.
Several audience members, however, addressed not Vietnam, but General Colin L. Powell's invitation to speak at Commencement. One mentioned a petition circulating among alumni asking that the ban on homosexuals in the military be lifted.
Another, though, said that Powell deserves to be heard. "He's got to listen to you, just make sure you listen to him," he said.
Peter F. Hagerty '68, one of the panelists, said he had regarded his Navy ROTC service as "rather benign," until he was called upon to serve in Vietnam--and refused. Hagerty did go to Vietnam, however, as a lawyer defending soldiers in cases against the military. Though a civilian, he saw a lot of killing, he said.
"There isn't a week that I don't reflect on my experiences [in Vietnam]," he said. "Why hadn't Harvard prepared me?"
C. Alan Boright '68, another panelist, said he too was opposed to the war, but could not avoid serving. "If I was to get out of it in some way, one of my friends...was going to get nailed," he said.
A life-threatening shot through the gut "intensified my feelings about life and death matters," Boright said.
He also said his experience had taught him that "if people get involved, government decisions can be made better," a philosophy which led to his interest in ecology.
"I hope we're not sitting here in 25 years saying, 'What could we have done that could have changed things?'" Boright said, to loud cheers from the audience.
One change the draft itself brought about, according to panelist Joyce E. Peters '68, was American law schools' increasing openness to women. Peters was one of the first ten women to join the army's legal board of 1,600.
David O. Loud '68 said that "Vietnam overshadowed [his] whole career," even though he had been a conscientious objector and had done alternative service in a hospital laundry rather than fight.
Nancy J. Hodes '68 closed the panelists' remarks with a call for optimism. She quoted from Robert Steiner's introduction to a photograph collection, saying, "In spite of everything, yes."
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