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Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam War’

Easy Listenin’ to ‘The Eve of Destruction’

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013



From “The Eve of Destruction”

Lyrics by P. F. Sloan / Sung by Barry McGuire (recorded July 1965)

The eastern world it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war but whats that gun you’re totin’?

. . . .

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return it’s the same old place . . . 



Todd Gitlin on Port Huron Statement’s 50th Anniversary

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Early ’60s idealism: The mimeographed mission statement of a new generation

[ Part 1 of a 2-part series | also @ DailyKos ]

“The genius of the Port Huron Statement, as it was structured, was placing its declaration of values up front. The movement would not be guided by interests but by values. It would not despise interests but it would insist that human life deserved to be less cruel and more lovely . . .

“The movement’s idea was not utopian. Values were the starting point. They were not other-worldly. They were this-worldly. . . . SDS insisted that the people had to consent to their government, but more than consent—they should become a people, held together by what was best and most decent in them.

“There was a penetrating hope that breathed between the lines of this remarkable document.”   Todd Gitlin, April 12, 2012


As we were strolling through Washington Square Park Thursday evening we saw a light shining from the south, from the NYU library at 70 Washington Square South, and, behold, the brightness was the Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives on the tenth floor.

We followed the light and found a gathering of luminaries to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, featuring Tom Hayden, Todd Gitlin, Robb Burlage, and Martha Prescod Norman Noonan (Students for a Democratic Society) as speakers. In the audience sitting among the ordinary folks like us were history-making New Left activists and organizers you may not have heard of, such as Alan Haber, the first president of SDS, and Charles McDew of SNCC, but their work in the civil rights, free speech, anti-war, and anti-poverty movements changed—that is, made more humane and more democratic—the world we live in today. In many cases, they also risked their very lives.

Briefly, the Port Huron Statement (1962) was a sort of mimeographed mission statement of the Students for a Democratic Society: a new generation’s call for participatory democracy; an assertion of humane, liberal values; and a critique of the Cold War mentality and the military-industrial complex that were strangling civic action and imagination and diverting precious resources from social needs such as ending racism and poverty. It marked a break from the old left that was anxious to prove itself anti-communist after the ravages of McCarthyism.


1963 SDS National Council Meeting [Photo by C. Clark Kissinger]


Roadmap to the 1960s, blueprint for a generation

SDS, a student division of the League for Industrial Democracy, was founded at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1960. The Port Huron Statement, initially drafted by Tom Hayden—22 years old at the time—and elaborated through discussion among fellow SDS members, was adopted at the first SDS annual convention of about 60 members on June 11–15, 1962, at the AFL-CIO’s camp in Port Huron, about 100 miles NE of Ann Arbor, near Detroit.

The statement, intended to be a living document, guided a generation until, with racial and Vietnam War tensions escalating, around 1967 and 1968, younger activists found it not radical enough. Many of SDS’s ideas, values, and methods, however, live on in the energy and activism of the Occupy movement, the Arab spring, and the Wisconsin public workers’ struggle. We are confident that, like the Declaration of Independence, it will be commemorated on its one-hundredth anniversary, too, and well beyond, as long as there is a United States of America.

We will have more to say in the next few days about the remarks of Tom Hayden and others on the fiftieth anniversary of the historic Statement, but we begin our commemoration by sharing the eloquent remarks of Todd Gitlin, who was kind enough to give us a copy. A cultural historian and professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, Mr. Gitlin is perhaps best known for his bestselling book The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. He was president of SDS in 1964 and 1965 and helped organize the first national demonstration against the Vietnam War, in 1965. His remarks Thursday night were energetic and charged with an intimate sense of the beauty and love and also frustration and tragedy that characterized the experience of the 1960s and afterward.


On the Port Huron Statement

Todd Gitlin  |  April 12, 2012  |  Tamiment Library, NYU


The Port Huron Statement was the clearest, most vivid and energetic articulation of an awakening: one of those great uprisings that are the crucibles of America struggling (against much violence and cruelty) to become itself—a commonwealth of free association and mutual aid.

The New Left wanted to make, out of the lonely crowd, the beloved community—the kernel of a moral awakening that would put intelligence to work in behalf of transcendent values and overcome as much human ugliness as possible.

This beloved community would be bound together in what Carl Oglesby would later call “brute love”—an association of free and struggling individuals joining together what an earlier president, Abraham Lincoln, called “the better angels of our nature.”

Brute love was distilled from a fierce chemical reaction (and I’m not just referring to controlled substances) which began with a revolt against racist evil and stupefaction, and developed into an intoxication with the vivid solidarities that are made possible, though never guaranteed, by democratic life.

The intoxication was stirred by a discovery of the bonds that could be forged from a conviction that big changes were not only necessary but possible.

The sense of necessity was both moral and intellectual. It’s interesting: There are not, in the Port Huron Statement, extraordinary insights into the crimes and failure and inequities of American society at the outset of the 1960s:

• white supremacy;

• the military-industrial contempt for human possibility;

• the grotesque brandishing of thermonuclear weapons in the Cold War;

• the triumph of empty labor; and so on.

The keen insight of the Port Huron Statement was that a life of shared value mattered—and that it could be lived in common—and that citizenship might matter and might, for some body of people, be practical. The name that was affixed to that insight was “participatory democracy.”

It was, I think, intended more as a principle of social life than as a way of holding meetings. It was not understood as an alternative to strategy or to the collective work of intellect, but as their fruition.

The genius of the Port Huron Statement, as it was structured, was placing its declaration of values up front. The movement would not be guided by interests but by values. It would not despise interests but it would insist that human life deserved to be less cruel and more lovely. The intimation that the world could be remade—starting right now and right here—this was the movement’s idea—all of the movement, as Linda Gordon points out in her paper, not just the white guys.

The movement’s idea was not utopian. Values were the starting point. They were not other-worldly. They were this-worldly. For some in the movement those values were spoken in an other-worldly spirit; for some not. It didn’t matter. All the eyes were on the prize.

SDS insisted that the people had to consent to their government, but more than consent—they should become a people, held together by what was best and most decent in them.

There was a penetrating hope that breathed between the lines of this remarkable document. Within the lines, there were a lot of intellectual puzzles that the Port Huron Statement could not solve. No one has since. They may not be capable of solution. For example: What if most people do not want, at least not so much, to make the decisions at affect their lives? Shall we then disband the people and convene another one?

But the Port Huron Statement did not say: Follow us from Point A to Point Z. It said: Here we are, a bunch of people, “raised in at least modest comfort,” who are going to make the effort to live lives we are not ashamed of, in order to live in a country we are not ashamed of. And that was a very great thing.

At the same time, we are all well aware of what we could not accomplish in the movements of that time. And that is why we ought to be refreshing the language of values, and reawakening the awakening, and acquainting and reacquainting ourselves with our better angels.

I mean not just ourselves, the core of a movement and its passions. I mean also the vast outer movement. Just as there was a conspicuous ’60s, the one recorded in the photogenic confrontations and iconic images of courage and horror, there was also a subterranean ’60s—less well known but just as important. The core American values of the New Left ignited many millions of people who did not necessarily subscribe to the movement’s very doctrine and whim and style. Around kitchen tables and in their private nights they went beyond asking: What should the world be? They asked themselves, and asked each other: What should I do?

That subterranean movement, I suspect, is again or still, at work among us. So too is the aboveground movement, reawakening the awakening, reminding ourselves of our better angels.

What a crazy idea for a crazy country, which is no less a crazy country, though a differently crazy country, than it was half a century ago, in 1962. You can trace a line from then to now. It’s not a straight line but a sinuous one, full of lurches, surprises, chasms, and leaps.

Today’s Occupy movement, I think, holds open the promise of a renewal, another great awakening, that moves us further along the long and winding road toward a more respectful and less cruel society, one which conserves the earth (and is therefore in an honest sense “conservative”) and takes seriously, again, the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Todd Gitlin is the author of many books. His latest, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street, will be published in August by !t books, a division of HarperCollins. It will be available as a Kindle ebook in May.

The Port Huron Statement was typed and mimeographed by some of the people, now in their sixties and seventies, who were in attendance Thursday night. The first mimeographed printing, in August 1962, was of 20,000 copies; the second printing, of 20,000 copies, was in December 1964. Copies sold for thirty-five cents each. It is now a paperback published (2005) by Thunder’s Mouth Press, a good deal at $14.95.


Photo of 1963 SDS National Council Meeting by C. Clark Kissinger, found at TheNation.com. Photo of Todd Gitlin by Piotr Redlinski.

Rev. King and Gun Violence: “Study War No More”

Monday, January 17th, 2011


“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam,” April 4, 1967

Following the shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson last weekend, we have been thinking about how the national addiction to guns is indistinguishable from America’s seemingly insatiable appetite (or tolerance) for war. What explains the sense of power, omnipotence, and what’s the source of the fear and insecurity that underlie the impulse to have and to hold firearms? (Some clues might be found in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine; Eugene Jarecki’s book The American Way of War and his film Why We Fight; Tom Engelhardt’s The American Way of War; and Robert J. Spitzer’s The Politics of Gun Control.)

This past week the Pentagon asserted that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would support the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department’s general counsel and a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, said on Jan. 13:

“I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”

We don’t read King’s “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam” in quite the same way Mr. Johnson seems to do. We invite you to read it yourself, and click on the video link below, and see how understanding of this 10-year war you think the Nobel Peace Prize–winning Reverend King would be.

Click here for a link to a detailed and revealing interview with Dr. King (a polite grilling, actually) about his antiwar views on The Mike Douglas Show in 1967. Toward the end King is asked whether he is a communist; his reply puts the question firmly to rest.


On this day of national commemoration of the life and work of a man of peace who was slain by gunfire, and only two months after the anniversary of the assassination by gunfire of a peace-seeking president, we feel a strengthened commitment to speak out and work against the too-easy access to guns in our troubled nation, just as we are dedicated to working toward peace abroad and at home. “National security begins at home.”

Please phone members of Congress and urge them to support new common-sense gun control legislation being prepared by New York congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy and by New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg. Rep. McCarthy’s (D-NY) bill would reinstate the ban on large-capacity clips for automatic weapons that expired in 2004. (The Republican-controlled Congress opted to let the ban lapse.) Ms. McCarthy’s husband was one of five passengers killed and her son was critically injured by a man carrying an automatic weapon on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993.) This bill is a reasonable start, but even common-sense measures are routinely resisted by the gun rights lobby (NRA).



•  Click here and here for previous tributes to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

•  See our posting “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (July 7, 2010) about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signing of a “guns-in-church” bill that authorizes individuals who qualify to carry concealed weapons in “any church, synagogue, or mosque, or other similar place of worship.”

•  See also “‘Kill the Bill’ vs. ‘Stop the War’: A Tale of Two Protests

“Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam”

Monday, January 18th, 2010

In the first two years after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. maintained a skeptical but moderate and relatively quiet position on the war in Vietnam. He spoke out forcefully and at length against the war on April 4, 1967, in an address at Manhattan’s Riverside Church to an audience of some three thousand. His “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam” was cheered by many in the antiwar movement, though his stand was denounced by the New York Times and by many leaders in the black establishment, among others. The excerpts below are taken from the full address that was printed in the May 1967 issue of Ramparts magazine.

“There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor—both black and white—through the Poverty Program. Then came the build-up in Vietnam, and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.


Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

we must rebuild our strength here at home . . . . the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.” —President Obama, Dec. 1, 2009

NYTWe wanted to take time to try to make sense of President Obama’s speech at West Point last week in which he announced his decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by 30,000 over the next six months. We pray he knows what he’s doing. We can only imagine the risks and variables he has been weighing. Because he is a peaceful man by nature (the Nobel may have been awarded at the wrong time but it was not given to the wrong man), we are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. And yet, even though he knows more than we’re privy to, we are still skeptical. Our favorite lines in the address were those quoted above. Perhaps the most painful part of the speech is its overall contrast with and cancellation of those fine-sounding sentiments.

There are truly no good options—all are fraught with unacceptable consequences: 360 degrees of damnation—and yet we feel the president has made a tragically wrong decision. Even though we were impressed by his methodical and deliberative approach to a maddeningly complex issue, and even though it is theoretically possible that with unlimited time, money, and the blessings of fortune this new “Way Forward” can work, we do not believe it will. There is too much reliance on military force, too many moving parts that have to come together just so. (There is a saying that whenever you have two Afghans you have at least three factions.) Of course the generals say they can do it—give ’em enough troops  and they’ll promise you anything. Hendrik Hertzberg writes in The New Yorker that Obama would have faced “a probable Pentagon revolt” had he chosen to withdraw starting now, and if such a decision had been followed by a large-scale terrorist attack he would face “savage, politically lethal scapegoating.” Very likely. This is the situation we’re in. Nicholas Kristof observes in his New York Times column that amid all the president’s consultations of experts, one important set of players not consulted were the tribal elders of Afghanistan. Without their cooperation, nothing will work.


Wrong Call, Mr. President

Friday, December 4th, 2009

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953

Afghan-HetheringtonHaving taken a long walk after a filling Thanksgiving dinner, we’ve been thinking and working on a longer piece about the president’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. In short: Good process, wrong conclusion. Stay tuned for details.

In the meantime, we wanted to run some good thoughts from New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who, as usual, nails it:

. . . the president has arrived at a decision that never was much in doubt, and that will prove to be a tragic mistake. It was also, for the president, the easier option.

It would have been much more difficult for Mr. Obama to look this troubled nation in the eye and explain why it is in our best interest to begin winding down the permanent state of warfare left to us by the Bush and Cheney regime. It would have taken real courage for the commander in chief to stop feeding our young troops into the relentless meat grinder of Afghanistan, to face up to the terrible toll the war is taking — on the troops themselves and in very insidious ways on the nation as a whole.