“Peace Now!” — Back Then

January’s Women’s March on Washington sent news commentators scurrying back to the Vietnam War era for numerical comparisons.

And “Democracy on Display” a couple of months ago in downtown Westport rekindled memories of the day a similar demonstration took place there.

It happened on October 15, 1969. Part of a national “Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam,” Westport’s protest was largely youth-driven.

Staples students streamed out of school. Led by Westport police, and joined by teachers and junior high students, more than 1,200 marched down North Avenue, turned right on Long Lots, then onto the Post Road all the way to the YMCA.

The cover of Staples’ 1970 yearbook included photos from that fall’s Moratorium march, in the form of a peace sign.

They wore black armbands and sported doves of peace. They carried American flags, and chanted “Hell no, we won’t go!” Counter-protesters drove alongside, cursing them. A few threw eggs.

Massing in front of the old Bedford building — the only part of the Y at that time — a crowd that swelled to 2,000 heard speakers, including Temple Israel’s Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein, denounce the war and demand peace.

The other day, a remarkable video of that Westport moratorium surfaced.

Guy Northrop — a Staples senior — shot 17 minutes of the march, with a Bauer Super 8 camera. Eleven minutes survive, and have been posted on YouTube.

The video — nearly 50 years old — shows with remarkable freshness the power of that protest. It also serves as a unique time capsule. Much of Westport has changed since then. But much has not.

As America prepares to celebrate Memorial Day, it’s important to remember that our democracy remains strong for 2 reasons.

We have a great military.

And the men and women in it sacrifice every day, so that we can speak our minds.

 

(Hat tip: Mary Palmieri Gai)

30 responses to ““Peace Now!” — Back Then

  1. Peter Seidman

    To the extent we have a “strong, great” (for some) democracy, it must be attributed first and foremost to those who fight to use their rights!
    Let us never forget that the rights we have were won in a revolution against monarchy, made more possible by a civil war to bring down slavery, and fortified in the blood of union struggles, civil rights protests, women’s fight to vote and be equal, and actions by gays to be recognized as full human beings, and of course– fights against brutal wars as in Vietnam…
    The war in Vietnam is a good example of how the military actually works: the war is architected to advance a foreign policy that the people had no interest in (and never had a say in formulating) and ultimately had to push back in the streets, the brass sent mostly working-class youth into the slaughter to back up these policies with the lives of other peoples’ kids.
    Democracy is not defended in dirty wars of colonial conquest, it is defended in dissent at home, in the streets, and in the fight to extend it to all.
    This is not said to disrespect those who find themselves in the military. Fact is, many of them played courageous and critical roles in organizing opposition to the war in Vietnam. But what happened in Vietnam, and continues today in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that the “military” does not rise above the class and race inequalities that are another truth about American democracy.
    I hope people will keep that in mind when they listen (if they actually do) to the speeches on May 29.

    • LBJ sent sent those working class youth to die, not the brass. Wars, (WW I, WW II, Korea, Vietnam) were started by civilians.

    • Linda Pomerantz Novis

      Peter-
      Reading your comments, here.. wondering if- by any chance- you’re related to ‘Eric & Betty Seidman’,Westport -(they were close friends of my (late) parents,Frank & Jane Pomerantz, in Weston,in the early political 1960’s..)

  2. Thanks for uncovering these hidden gems of Westport history and sharing with us.

  3. Bruce A. Jones, Staples '70

    Dan: a great time capsule! I remember that day very well (at about 0:42 I can be seen driving my father’s black Buick station wagon – plate JA 649). Thanks for posting this.

  4. That is an amazing bit of history! I appreciate the first hand account.

  5. Dave Feliciano

    Dear Mr Seidman, obliviously you have never served in the Armed Forces of the United States. Your facts of history are equally askew. The Vietnam War was entered into by President Kennedy, not a Prince of Camelot like the press made him out to be. But by a abuser of female college students and a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts. He also almost got us into a war over middles in Cuba, while we had done the same thing in Turkey.
    The Vietnam War was further expanded by LBJ another sterling character from the same party, yessir a Democrat again of questionable virtue and maybe part of the assasination of the Prince of Camelot, in Dallas.
    Additionally you find it a sin for soldiers to follow orders. Bringing up the specter of the Nazis deplorable actions on conquered nations and concentration camps. Please note our concentration camps were run much more hospitably. Oh yeah! On Orders of another shinning star of the Democratic Party FDR. So on the upcoming Memorial Day thank some of those Vets that followed orders lived and died so you can make inane comments on things you obviously know nothing about. Peace be with you.

  6. Jacque O'Brien

    Hi Dan,
    When I first read your article I remembered those days of college protests and marches on my own campus in the Midwest. Never once however, did I blame the young men and women (who were my own age and involved in the fight) for the conflict or the suffering that the VN war produced. Instead, I wanted our military home.
    I read some of the comments and was saddened so thought I’d include this well-written article by a father who put several of his kids through expensive colleges but one son wanted to be a Marine. Interesting observation by this dad. See below. A very interesting commentary that says a lot about our society.
    ***************************************************************************************
    John Is My Heart
    By Frank Schaeffer of the Washington Post

    Before my son became a Marine, I never thought much about who was defending me. Now when I read of the war on terrorism or the coming conflict in Iraq, it cuts to my heart. When I see a picture of a member of our military who has been killed, I read his or her name very carefully. Sometimes I cry.

    In 1999, when the barrel-chested Marine recruiter showed up in dress blues and bedazzled my son John, I did not stand in the way. John was headstrong, and he seemed to understand these stern, clean men with straight backs and flawless uniforms. I did not. I live in the Volvo-driving, higher education-worshiping North Shore of Boston I write novels for a living. I have never served in the military.

    It had been hard enough sending my two older children off to Georgetown and New York University. John’s enlisting was unexpected, so deeply unsettling. I did not relish the prospect of answering the question, “So where is John going to college?” from the parents who were itching to tell me all about how their son or daughter was going to Harvard. At the private high school John attended, no other students were going into the military.

    “But aren’t the Marines terribly Southern?” (Says a lot about open-mindedness in the Northeast) asked one perplexed mother while standing next to me at the brunch following graduation. “What a waste, he was such a good student,” said another parent. One parent (a professor at a nearby and rather famous university) spoke up at a school meeting and suggested that the school should “carefully evaluate what went wrong.”

    When John graduated from three months of boot camp on Parris Island, 3000 parents and friends were on the parade deck stands. We parents and our Marines not only were of many races but also were representative of many economic classes. Many were poor. Some arrived crammed in the backs of pickups, others by bus. John told me that a lot of parents could not afford the trip.

    We in the audience were white and Native American. We were Hispanic, Arab, and African American, and Asian. We were former Marines wearing the scars of battle, or at least baseball caps emblazoned with battles’ names. We were Southern whites from Nashville and skinheads from New Jersey, black kids from Cleveland wearing ghetto rags and white ex-cons with ham-hock forearms defaced by jailhouse tattoos. We would not have been mistaken for the educated and well-heeled parents gathered on the lawns of John’s private school a half-year before.

    After graduation one new Marine told John, “Before I was a Marine, if I had ever seen you on my block I would’ve probably killed you just because you were standing there.” This was a serious statement from one of John’s good friends, a black ex-gang member from Detroit who, as John said, “would die for me now, just like I’d die for him.”

    My son has connected me to my country in a way that I was too selfish and insular to experience before. I feel closer to the waitress at our local diner than to some of my oldest friends. She has two sons in the Corps. They are facing the same dangers as my boy. When the guy who fixes my car asks me how John is doing, I know he means it. His younger brother is in the Navy.

    Why were I and the other parents at my son’s private school so surprised by his choice? During World War II, the sons and daughters of the most powerful and educated families did their bit. If the idea of the immorality of the Vietnam War was the only reason those lucky enough to go to college dodged the draft, why did we not encourage our children to volunteer for military service once that war was done?

    Have we wealthy and educated Americans all become pacifists? Is the world a safe place? Or have we just gotten used to having somebody else defend us? What is the future of our democracy when the sons and daughters of the janitors at our elite universities are far more likely to be put in harm’s way than are any of the students whose dorms their parents clean?

    I feel shame because it took my son’s joining the Marine Corps to make me take notice of who is defending me. I feel hope because perhaps my son is part of a future “greatest generation”. As the storm clouds of war gather, at least I know that I can look the men and women in uniform in the eye. My son is one of them. He is the best I have to offer. He is my heart.

    “Faith is not about everything turning out OK; Faith is about being OK no matter how things turn out.”
    ***************************************************************************************

    On June 2nd, our oldest grandson graduates from Marine Corp boot camp in Parris Island, SC. This is an accomplishment he’s wanted to achieve since the age of 3. He made the choice to follow his heart through the physically, mentally, and emotionally grueling challenge of training to earn the life-long title United States Marine. His devotion to serving the country he loves and believes in is overwhelming. On Memorial Day, think of him and so many other young men and women who keep us free to make the comments that we do. Remember also what the husbands, fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers experienced so we can live in freedom. Happy Memorial Day!

    • Peter Seidman

      Dear Mr. Feliciano,
      I don’t know why you would infer from anything I wrote that I am a liberal Democrat, or any kind of Democrat at all. I know full well the sordid, bipartisan history (started with Eisenhower, as you probably know, after the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu) of U.S. involvement in the war.
      My point, perhaps not adequately explained, was/is that the foreign policy of the United States is not democratically decided for the most part, rather it is a product of the calculated interests of the wealthy class that rules through a two-party system. I learned this the hard way during Vietnam as a foolish supporter of the “peace candidate” Lyndon Johnson. I will never make that mistake again. I have seen nothing to change my mind over the years, continuing up to President Trump’s hypocritical bonding with the reactionary, anti-Democratic monarchy of Saudi Arabia (that has for so long been a stable social base for the exploitation of the region’s oil reserves).
      Working people and farmers in this country have no interest in a foreign policy calculated to advance the interests of the same social class that exploits us at home. It is working class youth, however, and most unfortunately, who bear the brunt of the burden in combat in these wars. We have no interest, either, in getting all caught up in militarist, nationalist flag waving passing itself off as respect for veterans.
      Let’s be honest. The wretched conditions of the VA, the disproportionate numbers of homeless who are veterans, all speak to the true level of respect veterans can expect when they finally get home.
      I take it from what you wrote that you are a veteran. Surely then, you saw (in whatever theater of operation you found yourself in) the disproportionate impact of the draft and combat on Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, and working-class youth.
      I don’t fault soldiers who were forced to carry out orders in a criminal war, I fault the general staff and the civilian leaders of the war who wrote those orders and imposed a fierce discipline to enforce them. It is noteworthy, though, that by the end of the war, a lot of soldiers were taking it upon themselves not to join in the crimes necessary to advance a war of foreign domination against a popular struggle for national self-determination. I do honor those soldiers very much and salute the contribution they made to the ultimate success of the anti-war movement in the U.S.

      • Actually you are wrong on one major point. It was Truman who sent American advisers to French Indochina at the request of the French shortly after WW II. I do understand why you would not have been made aware of that fact; it does not fit the revisionists narrative.

        And your politics come through loud and clear. Was the Korean War a criminal war? Why not? How about WW I?
        Was FDR wrong to bond with the greatest mass murderer in all of history?

        • “criminal war”. War crimes are inherent in war. Who gets away with it? Who doesn’t?

        • Peter Seidman

          What do you mean, “My politics come through loud and clear”? I am hardly trying to hide my opinions here am I?
          Was the Korean War a criminal war?
          Well, it depends on how you define criminal (post WWI “legal” agreements like the reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles or the Sykes-Picot Agreement secretly dividing up control of various Middle Eastern nations evince the legality of bloody-jawed wolves. The hypocrisy of the “Judgment at Nuremburg” is right up there as well).
          But in the sense of morally wrong and unjust, the Korean War absolutely falls in that category. Operating under a phony facade of “UN peace-keeping,” the U.S. was brutally responding to the same kind of movement for national self-determination that characterized China, India, Vietnam, and many other Asian and African countries who found that the war for “democracy” (WWII) was never intended to end their colonial status, only their colonial masters.
          Why not?
          How about WW I? Absolutely. It was the first great inter-imperialist slaughter. It was never about being the “war to end all wars.” It was the war to rearrange the international pecking order to reflect the decline of the UK relative to Washington and Germany. It was the war to replace British colonial rule, wherever possible, with that of the Americans. There’s always a certain amount of “legal” and propagandistic jockeying designed to make one side or the other look like the injured party. It kind of misses the point if you ask me.
          Was FDR wrong to bond with the greatest mass murderer in all of history? Well, who are you referring to here? I would guess you mean Stalin. Or perhaps Winston Churchill? I don’t have any interest in judging the tactical considerations of the imperialist hypocrites who maneuvered in any way they could to advance their interests at the expense of their rivals.
          My concern is totally with the working people on all sides who were sent into a bloodbath born in greed, lying, hypocrisy, and oppression.

  7. I remember that day well also. My friend and I skipped school in Weston and hitchhiked to Staples to do the walk. I seem to remember that it was ok’d by the Principal to leave if you wanted to participate…

  8. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    Re Peter Seidman’s comments here-any chance he’s related to Eric & Betty Seidman of Westport close friends of my late parents -Frank &
    Jane Pomerantz of Weston,back in the political days of early 1960’s…

  9. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    (Sorry!…sin’t realize I’d hit ‘Sent’ twice, here!!)

  10. Do so agree, Dan, that the hope is that men and women in [the military] sacrifice every day, so that we can speak our minds. Unfortunately our ability speak has been greatly curtailed or should I say, muzzled.

  11. Kendall Gardiner

    Jacque O’Brien,
    Thank you for sending in the column by Frank Schaeffer of the Washington Post.
    Kendall Gardiner
    (Formerly)1st Lieut.United States Army Nurse Corps (Viet Nam Veteran )

  12. Often lost in these remembrances: There was a remarkable town-wide memorial service the night of Oct. 15, 1969, at the Unitarian Church on Lyons Plains Road in Westport.

    I have not yet found a published account of the service held that night. But an advance story by The Bridgeport Post described the core of the plans for the memorial service. My father was one of the many organizers for the day and evening events, chaired by Rabbi Rubenstein.

    The organizers including many clergy, enough physicians to staff a small hospital, and attorneys.

    I’ve placed a PDF of the Bridgeport Post story advancing the events in Westport on my Evernote. You can view the article at this URL:
    https://www.evernote.com/l/ABGT0TnP3h1Ga5VSzVZ6jE5SQqAQ3DRS4Yw

Commenters must fill out their real full names, and provide their real email addresses.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s