Protest: The Banners of Dissent

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Speakers caterwauled in competition with blues and rock bands as the demonstrators jostled across the lawns. "The enemy is Lyndon Johnson; the war is disastrous in every way," cried Baby Doctor Benjamin Spock. Aroused by acrimony and acid-rock, the crowd moved exuberantly out across the Arlington Memorial Bridge toward the Pentagon. Inside the Pentagon, a siege mood prevailed. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had entered his third-floor office at 8:15 a.m. and immersed himself in his customary workload. The skeleton staff of 3,000 that usually mans the Pentagon on Saturdays had been sharply pared by orders to all personnel to stay home unless their presence was absolutely necessary. In the four underground tunnels that normally service buses and taxis, vehicles of the First Army were parked bumper to bumper, the front rank draped in beige cloth to conceal their identity. As military policemen filled four olive-drab flamethrowers with tear gas, a dollop of the reeking riot queller spilled and gas masks were donned until it cleared. The troops were the first committed in metropolitan Washington for crowd-control duty since 1932, when Herbert Hoover called in 1,000 cavalry and infantrymen under Douglas MacArthur to put down the Bonus March.

Troops of the 82nd Airborne Division—many of them Viet Nam veterans—waited outside the capital in case they should be needed. Police monitored the highways leading into Washington, looking for a chance to nip violence in the bud. All together, there were 8,500 men on hand to quell the demonstrators if necessary. On the Pentagon roofs, federal marshals, Defense Department guards and Army riflemen crouched uneasily, weapons at hand, radios at the ready, field glasses constantly scanning the ground below, while helicopters fluttered overhead with cameras clicking.

Abortive Assault. When the main force arrived, its good humor had begun to fray. An assault squad wielding clubs and ax handles probed the rope barriers in front of the Pentagon entrances, taunting and testing white-hatted federal marshals who stood in close ranks along the line. After 90-odd minutes of steadily rising invective and roiling around in the north parking lot of the Pentagon, flying wedges of demonstrators surged toward the less heavily defended press entrance.

A barrage of pop bottles, clubs and tomatoes failed to budge the outer ring of marshals, and military police were summoned from the bowels of the bastion to form a brace of backup rings. A final desperate charge actually breached the security lines, and carried a handful of demonstrators whirling into the rifle butts and truncheons of the rearmost guards at the Pentagon gate. At least ten invaders managed to penetrate the building before they were hurled out—ahead of a counterattacking wave of soldiers vigorously wielding their weapons from port-arms. Handcuffs clicked as marshals corralled their captives, left behind in the abortive assault on the doors. Bloodstains clotted in rusty trails into the Pentagon, where prisoners had been dragged. Among them, uninjured, was Novelist Norman Mailer, who had tried to breach the police line after a wild buildup of booze and obscenity (see box).

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