[MUSIC PLAYING] It's very hard to give students today, or adults today, a sense of how fast events were moving in '67, '68, and '69.
When I arrived at Cornell, I was already an activist. I'd been active in the civil rights movement in high school from '63, '64, '65. So when I first came to Cornell, my goal was to be involved in civil rights stuff, but that was starting to decline.
At the same time, the war in Vietnam was escalating.
We were watching the national news every night. They were running up the totals of US troops that were killed every week in Vietnam. They were running up totals of civilians that were being bombed.
It was very political. It was very current. And we were paying a lot of attention to what was going on.
I mean, there was no debating the war in Vietnam. It was in our living rooms every night. It's the first time Americans experienced a war in the way we did that war.
By the time I graduated, we went to Washington for the march in October of '67. And we were with the Cornell contingent. And I remember seeing friends being pulled by the soldiers-- who had bayonets-- between the lines. And I remember going back to where we were staying in some alum's house and shaking like a leaf and saying, we're going to get killed.
I enlisted in the Marine Corps just prior to graduation in 1966, and then I reported that summer for officer basic training. And then I was sent to Vietnam in the spring of 1967.
There existed already a group called the Ad Hoc Committee Against the War in Vietnam, but I was more interested in sort of a multi-issue organization that could be anti-war, civil rights, other things like that. And so we formed the chapter of SDS-- Students for a Democratic Society-- and I was one of the people who helped form it.
It was real easy for me to join the movement. For some kids, it was an earth shattering event for their family when a kid would make an announcement to his parents, I'm in anti-war, Mom. I'm against the war.
I preached up in Anabel Taylor Hall at six different venues almost every weekend. And I immediately got involved in the anti-war movement. I started to appear at various demonstrations or protests.
And you saw that the Vietnamese who were fighting the US were the same people who had fought the French when they were the Communists, who had fought the Japanese during the Second World War, had fought the French again after the war. There was a pattern of resistance in Vietnam, and it was led by Communists, there's no doubt about it. But there were many other people in that coalition. Buddhists were against the governments we were supporting.
The Vietnam protesters, SDS, and the African American students, there were points where we connected, particularly around the leadership of the African American Society. There were key people like Dave Burak, and Warren Barksdale, and Tom Jones, who were friends who talked about SDS and ways that we could work together. But for the most part, the African American students were very concerned about civil rights.
I wasn't even that engaged before I got to Cornell. But I did receive a letter in the summer before I came to Cornell from the Afro-American Society, and they identified themselves and some of the issues that black students were facing on Cornell's campus.
When Martin Luther King began talking about Vietnam, when Malcolm X had talked about Vietnam, all of a sudden, we began to say, wait a minute. There's a big picture here.
And the free nations of Asia know that America cares about their freedom and it also cares about America's own vital interest in Asia and throughout the Pacific.
I think there's this kind of loss of faith in the government when we started to get more factual information. And Cornell had all of these guys in Southeast Asia Studies who were real experts on what was going on. And we were taught it from the minute we got here, pretty much.
Teach-ins, in a lot of ways, were redundant. I mean, we had a great Southeast Asian Studies program. Everybody knew a lot about what was going on over there. And having one more discussion where everybody heard somebody who'd been there testify about what bad things were going on in our name didn't really get people charged up. And so the educational teach-in did not change or sway large numbers of people's opinions.
When I went here, I knew Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the entire Indochina conflict, the Chinese/Vietnamese relationship, the formation of the country, the colonialism. We knew everything about it.
We had lots of young smart people in SDS who were doing research, producing position papers, and producing leaflets that we were then taking to the dorms and we were educating people.
Well, when we were organizing, we had no internet. We had no cellphones. We had no next day delivery of mail. We had no answering machines.
What we did have though, was the office and the Glad Day Press, which started out as an anti-war office in somebody's back room in 1965. Eventually, largely through the financial support of Cornell faculty members, we had an office-- first on Dryden Road, and then for many years on Stewart Avenue.
We built a printing facility. We had a dark room. We had a camera that went along wooden rails. We were one of the few places in the country that had developed that capacity. So we soon found ourselves printing anti-war literature for campuses throughout most of the country.
At first when we were against the war, it was a very lonely position. There were not a lot of people in say, fall of '65, who were opposed to the war. But we grew very rapidly. And there were always some pro-war students.
I really had no use for the SDS. I thought it was easy to go downtown to Joe Saki's used military outfit and pick up a camouflage jacket and maybe a black beret and go play war. And they just were having protests and they really weren't sure what the protest was against. But protest was a neat outing.
Those on the faculty who were supportive of anti-war, of democratizing university structure, and women's studies were the same population. And those who were opposed, never changed their position. Three professors in government-- as everybody knows who knows the history-- left Cornell, quit in protest of what they considered Cornell's caving in to the radicals on campus.
This was a really hard time to teach for faculty. Because there were distractions almost every day. You couldn't walk into the lobby of the Straight three days in a row without having somebody standing up and having an argument or a discussion with a throng of people gathered around them about whether the draft was legal, whether the war should be fought, or something.
I was looking for a community on campus that was political. And so I began to attend rallies and pay attention to what was reported in the Cornell Daily Sun about particularly resist, which was the people who got drafted or would have gotten drafted, and they were sending back their draft cards. And I thought that was an act of tremendous courage.
I think any young man and any young woman who cared about their young men who came of age between 1964 and 1970 had to deal with the draft. And what you felt about Vietnam was very important for that.
Certainly as a young man, I had issues as far as Vietnam was concerned. Most of my friends back home went to Vietnam because they did not get that college deferment that I got.
If you flunked out of here on a Friday, your draft notice was waiting for you Monday when you got home. And professors used it as leverage against you. You clean up your act. You do this or I'm gonna throw you out of here and you'll be in Vietnam in six months.
So I'd say the majority of the Army troops over there were draftees. And there was an awful lot of college students who were privates. And it was a tremendous morale problem.
So we're sitting in the street organizing draft card burning, and Clinton Rossiter comes over to me and he says, "What are you? Some Spartan woman that wants to see her man brought home on a shield?" And then he says, "And young lady, you are ruining my university."
And I looked at him and I said, "Excuse me, Professor Rossiter, whose university do you think this is?" [LAUGHS]
I think the Cornell SDS chapter, first and foremost, was more civilized than a lot of SDS chapters around the country. We didn't have as much infighting. Even though we had political disagreements, we didn't have the huge ideological that some SDS chapters fought.
It's really interesting to consider how students today might be able to do some things to have more of a voice in terms of some of the concerns and issues that they're facing here on campus today.
For us, it was the draft that was such a compelling issue. I think kids have very compelling issues now. Is there going to be a survivable planet for them and their children and grandchildren?
It really is different times. I mean, you can't just talk to kids today and say, oh, why aren't you more active? Because it's a different situation. It's a real different situation.
I think we learned how to support people and how to go against what then seemed to us enormous power. And I learned not to be afraid, I think, in the end. And I think that was, for me, the best lesson.
Fear is the thing that keeps people from really standing up for what they believe in. And you have to resist that.
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Interviews with participants in the "Vietnam: The War at Cornell" event, held Nov. 10-11, 2014 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war and the university's sesquicentennial.