In the spring of 1970, President Nixon's invasion of Cambodia and the Kent Stateshootings (followed by those at Jackson State) sparked the greatest display of campusprotest in U.S. history. A national student strike completely shut down over 500 collegesand universities. Other Americans protested in cities across the country; many lobbiedWhite House officials and members of Congress. Over 100,000 demonstrated in Washington,despite only a week's prior notice. Senators John Sherman Cooper and Frank Churchsponsored legislation (later passed) prohibiting funding of U.S. ground forces andadvisers in Cambodia. Many labor leaders spoke out for the first time, and blue-collarworkers joined antiwar activities in unprecedented numbers. However, construction workersin New York assaulted a group of peaceful student demonstrators, and (with White Houseassistance) some union leaders organized pro-administration rallies.
The main organizational strategies of the antiwar movement involved education, political action, demonstrations (mobilization), and draft and GI resistance. National organizations differed in their strategic priorities. Liberal groups and some pacifist groups, such as FCNL, took the lead in lobbying, while SDS and SWP eschewed both lobbying and election work. Socialist Party chairperson Michael Harrington, however, was a strong advocate of political action, even arguing that the peace movement’s resources would be better spent on influencing Congress than on organizing mass demonstrations.
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SDS is credited with organizing the first “mass” demonstration against the war, a march in Washington that drew 20,000 people on April 17, 1965 (there were smaller demonstrations beforehand). The marchers circled the White House and proceeded to the Washington monument where they heard folk songs by Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Phil Ochs, and speeches by I. F. Stone, Robert Parris Moses, Senator Gruening, Paul Potter, and others. Entirely peaceful, they sang the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.” Potter presented a memorable commentary:
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In A Separate Peace by John Knowels, the value of dealing with your feelings and dealing with your enemies is shown by Gene Forester, a student in Devon during World War 2 dealing with few human enemies, but his emotions create a nemesis far greater than any human enemy.
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A third development was the signing of an international peace treaty ending the civil war in Laos in July 1962. The agreement was welcomed across the world as a step toward reducing Cold War tensions. Along with de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan helped to convince Kennedy that a negotiated solution in Laos was the most realistic option and would not hurt U.S. interests in the region. After conferring with Kennedy in March 1961, Macmillan wrote to de Gaulle: “I think that the President really accepts the necessity for a political solution if we can get one.” It took thirteen months of negotiations, but in the end, an agreement was signed by fourteen nations, including the belligerent parties in Laos and the governments of South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the United States, Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and China. Laos became a “neutral and independent” nation led by a coalition government under prime minister Souvanna Phouma, with power shared with the communist-led Pathet Lao. As the U.S. had been supporting anticommunist guerrillas in Laos since the late 1950s, approval of the treaty marked a significant change of policy.
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The administration rushed the resolution to Congress the following day, August 5, before any investigation of Humphrey’s allegations could be investigated and substantiated. Introduced under the title, “Joint Resolution to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in southeast Asia,” the resolution mixed a deceptive version of events in the Gulf of Tonkin with illusory claims of protecting the people of Southeast Asia, as prelude to authorizing “the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” This was an open-ended declaration of war, but few members of Congress realized it at the time.
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In fact, Johnson rejected a plethora of diplomatic initiatives during the month of February 1965. Appeals were made by Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Pakistani leader Mohammad Ayub Khan, Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson, and French foreign minister Maurice Couve de Murville. British Prime Minister Harold Wilson issued a statement on February 8 backing U.S. air strikes against North Vietnam but also instructed his ambassador in Washington, Lord Harlech, to meet with administration officials and request a new Geneva conference. In Rome, Pope Paul VI called for a negotiated settlement to the war sponsored and guaranteed by the United Nations. On February 24, UN Secretary-General U Thant, having tried and failed to broker a peace agreement, appealed directly to the American people, suggesting that the Johnson administration had not been fully candid about its war plans and operations: