Anti-war leader moved by discussions on Vietnam

tags: Vietnam War

Bruce Dancis is a former entertainment editor at The Bee.

President Lyndon B. Johnson made the fateful decision early in 1965 to expand the U.S. role in the Vietnam War. First he ordered the bombing of North Vietnam. Later in the year Johnson sent more than 180,000 American ground troops to South Vietnam. This escalation of the war was met at home by a rapid rise in anti-war protests and dissent. Fifty years later, as our country begins to commemorate the 50th anniversary of those events, are we about to witness a revival of all of the old debates, acrimony and division that engulfed the homefront during those years and after the war ended?

I recently returned from a commemoration of the war and the protests it inspired, a two-day conference on “Vietnam – The War at Home” at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. The conference was to observe the 50th anniversary of activism, anti-war and pro-war, at Cornell, and served as the kickoff event in Cornell’s yearlong 150th birthday celebration. The university brought back a group of former students to share our stories about campus activism, which turned Cornell into a hotbed of anti-war protest and draft resistance, and the impact it had on the rest of our lives.

Initially, the organizers invited an equal number of ’60s-era alumni who had publicly supported the war, but all of them either declined the offer or withdrew at the last minute. Perhaps the fact that many who were pro-war in 1965 or ’66 had turned against the war by 1968 or ’69 may explain this. To make for a better discussion, the organizers then recruited some Vietnam veterans among the alums, as well as the current commander of Cornell ROTC, who served in Iraq.

Frankly, I was surprised that any of us dissenters were invited back. We had caused a certain amount of trouble at Cornell in protests against the war, the draft, military and corporate recruitment on campus, ROTC and the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory’s development of delivery systems for chemical/biological warfare. 

But I also recognized the appropriateness of Cornell’s invitation. Student activists have played a significant role in the university’s history. I had been a leader in the anti-war movement and president of Cornell Students for a Democratic Society, one of the largest chapters in the largest radical organization in the country. I was also Cornell’s first draft resister and helped organize other men to resist the draft...

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