The Banners of Dissent

  • The Pentagon is the most formidable redoubt in official Washington. Squat and solid as a feudal fortress, it hunkers in a remote reclaimed Virginia swamp that used to be called Hell's Bottom, across the Potomac River from the spires, colonnades and domes of the federal city. Through its two tiers of subbasements and five aboveground stories, windowless corridors weave like badger warrens. The bastion of America's military establishment not only houses the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a mint of high brass, but is also a beehive of bureaucracy where some 10,800 civilians shuffle routinely through the daily load of paperwork. It is actually five giant buildings, concentrically interconnected and braced one upon another.

    Against that physically and functionally immovable object last week surged a self-proclaimed irresistible force of 35,000 ranting, chanting protesters who are immutably opposed to the U.S. commitment in Viet Nam. By the time the demonstration had ended, more than 200 irresistibles had been arrested, 13 more had been injured, and the Pentagon had remained immobile. Within the tide of dissenters swarmed all the elements of American dissent in 1967: hard-eyed revolutionaries and skylarking hippies; ersatz motorcycle gangs and all-too-real college professors; housewives, ministers and authors; Black Nationalists in African garb-but no real African nationalists; nonviolent pacifists and nonpacific advocates of violence-some of them anti-anti-warriors and American Nazis spoiling for a fight.

    Acid & Acrimony.

    The demonstration began under a crystalline noonday sky at the Lincoln Memorial. It took on special impact by climaxing a week of antiwar protest across the nation. Beneath the marbled gaze of Lincoln's statue, red and blue Viet Cong flags mingled with signs affirming that "Che Guevara Lives," posters proclaiming "Dump Johnson" and asking "Where Is Oswald When We Need Him?" The meeting had hardly begun before three Nazis were arrested for jumping a British trade-union orator who criticized U.S. involvement in Viet Nam.

    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 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 rolling 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.

    Business as Usual.

    Thus, on a crisp fall weekend when most Americans were watching football, raking leaves or touring the countryside, the biggest "peace" demonstration in the history of the nation's capital unfolded. To the vast majority, the banners of Communism fluttering in Washington, the fist-flailing clashes and the violent verbiage were unsettling, almost unreal. Yet the disquiet that suffused the spectacle was certainly shared to a degree by most Americans. And-however ill-conceived-the Washington demonstration was a reminder to the world of America's cherished right of dissent. It was not the prospect of protest that alarmed Washington so much as the potential for violence and the volatility of the march leaders.

    That uncertainly was reflected in Administration and congressional reaction. Speaker John McCormack ordered the House of Reprentatives locked up for fear of invasion; white-gloved patrols circled major Government buildings in the area. While Lyndon Johnson stayed in the White House, his gates were heavily guarded and he pointedly maintained a business-as-usual schedule-having earlier found time to sign a bill levying stiff penalties for illegal demonstrations in the capital. On a lesser level, but more frantically, the workhouse division of the capital's Department of Corrections prepared space and meals for 2,000 potential arrestees.

    Abroad, meanwhile, pro-Communists and a wider spectrum of emotional anti-Americans took to the streets in a dozen foreign capitals from London to Tokyo, Tel Aviv to West Berlin. At home, thousands of Americans backed "Operation Gratitude," a grass-roots effort to show support of U.S. troops in Viet Nam through all-night vigils and round-the-clock displays of lights.

    Critics were quick to accuse the Government of over-reacting, and some even charged that the Administration had attempted to stifle the protest in advance by publicizing the capital's no-nonsense preparations. It was clear, nonetheless that Lyndon Johnson was adhering to the precept set forth in a 1965 Supreme Court decision rendered by U.N. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, then an Associate Justice. "The rights of free speech and assembly," wrote Goldberg in a majority opinion, "while fundamental in our democratic society, still do not mean that everyone with opinions or beliefs may address a group at any public place and at any time. The constitutional guarantee of liberty implies that existence of an organized society maintaining public order, without which liberty itself would be lost in the excesses of anarchy."

    Ugly Image.

    From Berkeley to Brooklyn, other explosions of antiwar and antidraft protest had reverberated all week.

    A suburban Los Angeles housewife walked up the steps of the new Federal Building, doused herself in gasoline and struck a match. A man nearby saw her walking slowly back down, moaning, "low and terrible," before she died. The antiwar sentiment ignited the San Francisco Bay Area, tinderbox of every anti movement of recent years. Boiling out from the University of California campus at Berkeley, aggressively nonviolent protesters-many of them nonstudents-descended 10,000 strong upon Oakland and surrounded the city's draft-induction center. On the first day, Folk Singer Joan Baez, the nightingale of nonviolence, sang I'm Going to Lay Down My Green Beret-then was arrested along with 124 other pickets when Oakland police moved in.

    Next day, still intent on shutting down the induction center, the crowd defied police orders to move out and was subdued by a flying wedge of helmeted patrolmen wielding billy clubs and squirt guns loaded with Mace-a chemical crowd-dispersal spray that stings, sickens and temporarily blinds anyone it hits in the face. Shattered and shaken, the dissenters broke and ran, leaving bloody-headed buddies-and a dozen hapless newsmen-crumpled in the streets. The picketers resumed their vigil, forcing the draft center to bus its inductees right to the door, then double-time the soldiers-to-be through the crowd under escort of bayonet-swinging troops. It was an ugly image, and one that could cozily be interpreted outside the U.S. to imply that American draftees must be marched into service at gunpoint.

    Nudity & Napalm.

    An induction center and a federal building were targets of antiwarriors in Chicago, where 200 sympathizers of CADRE (Chicago Area Draft Resisters) and Women Strike for Peace-carrying posters of "Bloodfinger Johnson"-tried on and off over three days to embarrass the Government with wads of turned-in draft cards and pushy petitions. Police turned back most of them and arrested four, but some 30 housewifely pickets made it to the door of a Chicago induction center, where they recoiled in horror on being informed that inside there were nude inductees undergoing physicals. "Don't touch me, don't you dare touch me!" shrilled one woman. "Why don't you sing The Star-Spangled Banner?" heckled an onlooker. "All right, if you won't I will," he cried, and piped out: "My country 'tis of thee / Sweet land of liberty..." An incoming draftee had the last word. Turning to the hot-eyed housewives, he said: "I'm ready to go fight in Viet Nam. I'm ready to serve my country."

    No such willingness was evident at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where 2,500 demonstrators clashed with police over the right of the Dow Chemical Co. to recruit job applicants on university turf. (Dow's crime, as seen from the campus, is that it manufactures napalm.) Although University Chancellor William H. Sewell canceled further interviews by the Dow recruiters "pending a special meeting of the faculty," the issue had already shifted to "police brutality" and the charge that the university had sold out by calling in outside force.

    Pale Imitation.

    On the Eastern Seaboard, echoes of history mingled with the pressures of the present. More than 4,000 demonstrators mustered on the Boston Common before a draft-card burning at which 67 men ignited their cards with a candlestick once owned by William Ellery Channing, the 19th century Unitarian divine and Thoreauvian advocate of civil disobedience, who wrote: "Our first duties are not to our country. We belong first to God and next to our race." Yale Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, a longtime activist who has marched against Southern white racism as well as the war, conceded that many latter-day dissenters disown any religion but upheld their moral right to resist the draft laws.

    In New York, where antidraft riots during the Civil War were the most savage in the nation's history, students attempted a replay at Brooklyn College. Leaders of the leftist Students for a Democratic Society and the Communist-lining W.E.B. Du Bois clubs drummed up 1,000 screaming students (total enrollment 25,000) to protest not only the presence on campus of two Navy recruiting officers but also the refusal of the college administration to allow a rival group to set up a non-recruiting table across from the Navy desk. Soon student fists and police clubs were flailing, and ten students were hustled into a paddy wagon. When the flak had cleared, the Navy recruiters went to work and signed up ten prospective Officer Candidate School members-more than they normally net at other schools in the New York area.

    Antiwar v. Anti-U.S.

    Apart from the sporadic violence that marked the week of protest, the most striking thing about it was the diversity of the groups involved. At California's Claremont Colleges, marchers hiked seriously, silently and serenely through suburban streets, and listened intently to speakers' sober dissection of U.S. foreign policy.

    Most other dissenting groups eschewed that style. All told, more than 100 separate organizations took part in the Washington spectacular, while more than 70 others-some of them numbering fewer than a dozen members-were involved across the nation.

    With the President's popularity unprecedentedly low, a horde of fragmentary fringe groups emerged from the woodwork like teredos. The political spectrum is broad, if predominantly on the carmine side of the rainbow, covering Trotskyites and Maoists, New Politics and Black Power radicals, Moscow-oriented Communists and the Socialist Workers Party, to nonideological mothers, bishops, pacifists and hippies. "The only thing we agree on is that we are against the Viet Nam war," says a New York Upper East Side Leninist. "The rest of the time we're at each other's throats. It's like a scenario."

    Evident Split.

    The diffuse sources of dissent have bred continual schisms. The basic split, which is becoming more evident every day to many in the movement, is between those individuals and organizations that are simply antiwar (though not necessarily for unilateral withdrawal from South Viet Nam) and those that are avowedly ant-American. Among the former can be counted Editor Norman Cousins, the United Auto Workers' Victor Reuther, Newark's Auxiliary Bishop John J. Dougherty, and such mild but pervasive agglomerates as the Quaker's Religious Society of Friends (123,000 members) and Women Strike for Peace (100,000).

    Among the openly subversive groups are the U.S. Communist Party, the Maoist Progressive Labor Party, various Black Power groups such as S.N.C.C., RAM and shaven-skulled Ron Karenga's Los Angeles-based US, plus the volatile cadres of the New Left, which are so concerned with internal disputes that some of their organizations cannot remain in existence for more than a month at a time. Unsophisticated pacifist or antidraft outfits and digger do-gooders from the hippie subculture are frequently suckered into the hard-line camp and end up unwittingly propagandizing as activists.

    The Mob.

    The split between anitwar and anti-American factions nearly put last week's Pentagon march out of step before it began. The New York-based National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Viet Nam (alias the Mob), the umbrella group that coordinated the march, found it hard to reconcile plans for civil disobedience with more moderate notions of a legal rally.

    Headquartered in a noisy Lower East Side loft festooned with bare steam pipes and posters of burned Vietnamese children, the Mob is chaired by Yale-educated David Dellinger, 52, a smartly dressed, balding pacifist. Though he looks hardly more aggressive than Peter Sellers, Dellinger began his protest career during World War II by refusing to register for the draft, spent a total of three years in prison for his pricipled recalcitrance-and last week entered the cooler again, puffing a cigar, after his arrest at the Pentagon.

    As editor of the leftist monthly Liberation, Dellinger visited North Viet Nam last November and met with Ho, was deprived of his passport on his return, but retrieved it from the State Department on a promise not to return to Hanoi. Appointed chairman of the Mobilization Committee, he nevertheless made a second trip Hanoi this summer. In September, he went to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, where he was one of 41 Americans who parleyed with twelve North Vietnamese officials and a dozen Viet Cong delegates. Dellinger had barely returned from the fruitless "peace conference" when trouble erupted in his own peace organization.

    The Mob's "co-project director," wild-haired Jerry Rubin, 29, a former Berkeley nonstudent leader, is an uncompromising radical. "We are now in the business of wholesale and widespread resistance and dislocation of the American society," he proclaimed shortly before Dellinger's return from the Bratislava conference. Dellinger subsequently agreed that the aim of the Washington march would be to "shut down the Pentagon." Remembering the success that attended the Mob's peaceful antiwar marches last April, when 180,000 well-mannered dissidents in San Francisco and New York gave protest a more tolerable name, moderate members from the more firmly established peace groups threatened to pull out unless Dellinger and Rubin toned down.

    Reversed Ground.

    Groups like Veterans for Peace and SANE preferred a "symbolic confrontation" with the Pentagon to any outright lawbreaking. As a result, an entire issue of the Mob's newspaper, the Mobilizer News, was rewritten and a tub-thumping editorial replaced by a quieter explanation of the march's purpose, written by Co-Chairman Sidney M. Peck, a Cleveland sociologist. Dellinger reversed his ground and urged avoidance of blatant lawbreaking, but at the same time was careful to disown in advance any responsibility for the more vigorous forms of protest. Thus a befuzzed line was drawn between "dissent" and "resistance" in the complex vocabulary of the American peace movement. As Dellinger later said, demonstrators could not be counted on to approve the "ritualistic charade of merely stepping across a line and being arrested." The hint of violence was obvious.

    Understandably, many moderates decided to stay away from last week's outing. "Whereas most of the people who will be in attendance at the march will be well-intentioned, this demonstration was organized and is being run by the radical left," warned Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch of the Religious Action Center of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. "I can't go along with these folks who think everything the U.S. does is wrong and everything Hanoi does is right."

    Similar feelings had SANE foundering last week on the reefs of radical schism. To protest the move toward militant anti-Americanism-as well as what one official termed Dr. Spock's "ecumenical promiscuity" as co-chairman, a post he reluctantly gave up earlier this month-14 of SANE's 45 national directors threatened to resign unless the course was instantly changed.

    They charged that SANE-founded ten years ago as the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy and virtually devoid of purpose since the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty-was schizophrenically split. The chasm existed "between those who support the use of democratic means to bring about change in (U.S. Viet Nam) policy and those who believe the society must be overturned before peace is possible." In their letter of proposed resignation, the dissenters found particularly "intolerable" the fact that Spock served simultaneously as a spokesman for SANE and co-chairman of the National Conference for New Politics, "a group that has denounced Israel as 'imperialist,' that has come out in support of 'wars of national liberation,' no matter what their political character or threat to world peace, that has contemptuously dismissed the democratic process and allowed itself to be manipulated by spokesmen for crudely nationalistic views." In a separate protest, every officer of SANE's Northern California regional office resigned over the same basic issue.

    "New Action Army."

    Organizing the march on the tactical level was a manic task. Originally it was planned for Capitor Hill, but the Mob ended by adopting Rubin's suggestion that the Pentagon would be a more inviting and symbolic target. As rallyers offered their services, the committee divided them into 22 contingents, ranging from notables (Spock, Mailer, Poet Robert Lowell) to a Vietnamese contingent. A hippie outfit calling itself Wagon Wheels East purportedly set out from California replete with Shoshone Indians, trail scouts and medicine men ("compliments of Chief Rolling Thunder"), plus "junk cars, stolen buses, motorcycles, rock bands, flower banners, dope, incense and enough food for the journey." A caravan organizer warned in the East Village Other, a New York underground biweekly: "The caravan will pass through some very hostile territory, and many will die on the trip." It survived.

    Others made it to Washington in Mob-organized car pools, a Pennsylvania Railroad special train, or in some 200 chartered buses (at $8.50 a head, round trip from New York). Mob financing came easily: when an antiwar ad ran in the New York Times recently, Dellinger & Co. quickly called each of the more than 200 signers and tapped them for cash. More money came in through box-office receipts from speeches by Mailer and Rap Brown, while individual contributions ranging as high as $5,000 in cash helped fill the till. The Mob also made money by selling green and white antiwar pennants, buttons and high-camp posters. One, "Join the New Action Army," showed a handcuffed Captain Howard Levy, the cashiered antiwar Army doctor, being led away after his court-martial last June.

    Lace v. Mace.

    The wildest plans, of course, spiraled from the turned-on brains of the hippies, to whom the Pentagon was not so much a symbol of America's aggressive Far Eastern policy as a religio-esthetic abomination. "Everybody knows that a five-sided figure is evil," said one New York hippie named Abbie. "The way to exorcise it is with a circle."* Abbie and a hippie poster painter, Martin Carey, last month "measured" the Pentagon to determine how many hippies would be needed to encircle it (answer: 1,200).

    * Actually and expectedly, the hippies are wrong: most religions, including Judaism, Christian mysticism and occult Oriental sects, find the Pentagon to be a structure connoting good luck, high station and godliness.

    The oddly costumed pair was arrested for "littering" and haled before a General Services Administrator. They asked for a permit to levitate the Pentagon 300 feet off the ground, explaining that by chanting ancient Aramaic exorcism rites while standing in a circle around the building, they could get it to rise into the air, turn orange and vibrate until all evil emissions had fled. The war would end forthwith. The administrator graciously gave his permission for them to raise the building a maximum of 10 feet, and dismissed the charges against the hippies.

    Fearful that forces guarding the Pentagon would spray them with Mace, the hippies concocted a counterspray called lysergic acid crypto ethylene (LACE). Purportedly a purplish aphrodisiac brewed by the flipped-out pharmacist of hippiedom, Augustus Owsley Stanley III, LACE "makes you want to take off your clothes, kiss people and make love." Other hippie plots included jamming gun barrels with flowers and an attempt to "kidnap L.B.J. while wrestling him to the ground and pulling his pants off. We will attack with noisemakers, water pistols, marbles, bubble-gum wrappers and bazookas. Sorcerers, swamis, priests, warlocks, rabbis, gurus, witches, alchemists, speed freaks and other holy men will join hands and everyone will scream 'Vote for me!'" Alas, L.B.J. rarely visits the Pentagon.

    New Friends.

    The lighthearted surrealism of the hippie approach was soon short-circuited by the hard-line elements. Hanoi was quick to capitalize on the latter's efforts. Even before the march began, the Viet Cong's "Liberation Press Agency" announced the formation of a "South Viet Nam People's Committee for Solidarity with the American People." Its aim: to cheer on the dissenters and encourage desertion among American and South Vietnamese troops. Said a message to the Mob from North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong: "The Vietnamese people thank their friends in America and wish them great success in their mounting movement."

    For all the sound and fury, the antiwar spectaculars were a remarkable-if little noted-tribute to the vitality and viability of American society. Through all the weeks of negotiations between the manipulators of dissent and the federal Establishment over permits to demonstrate and the designation of parade routes, the U.S. Government never once challenged the marchers' right to present themselves and their case in Washington.

    Though Lyndon Johnson realized only too well that Communist and anti-American propagandists would exploit such disorders to the last bleeding scalp, the President himself insisted that the marchers be given the greatest possible latitude, short of disrupting the life of the city or the conduct of Government. Dean Rusk, whose State Department intelligence apparatus had long since assessed the degree and role of Communist influence within the antiwar movement, said earlier this month that "we haven't made public the extent of our knowledge" for fear of setting off "a new McCarthyism."

    There is little present danger that any such aberration will recur, or at least in so virulent a form. On the contrary, the generally permissive reception accorded last week's demonstrations suggests that the American electorate had matured considerably since the hag-ridden, self-doubting days of the early 1950s. There is a danger, nonetheless, that continuing and escalating disorders on the pattern of last week's outbursts could lead not to a freer and more constructive dialogue about the direction of U.S. foreign policy but to an increasingly emotional standoff between intransigent extremes. That outcome, for all the efforts to the peacemakers, would no more advance the cause of tranquillity in Asia than it would benefit the quality of life in America.