Skip to main content

tv   Mayday 1971 Anti- Vietnam War Protests  CSPAN  July 9, 2021 6:30pm-7:32pm EDT

6:30 pm
economist offers an insider view on corporate boards in her book, "how boards work and how they can work better in a chaotic world." at 9:00 p.m., bestselling author james patterson and former president bill clinton discuss their thriller "the president's daughter" about the abduction of a former u.s. president's daughter by terrorists. watch american history tv every saturday and book tv every sunday on c-span2. tens of thousands of anti-vietnam war protesters converged on washington, d.c. in may of 1971. more than 7,000 people were arrested in a single day. coming up on american history tv, we look back 50 years at those protests with investigative journalist lawrence roberts, author of "may day 1971: the untold history of america's biggest mass arrest."
6:31 pm
[ radio chatter ] [ crowd chanting "the whole world is watching: ] this was the spring offensive, the mobilization of masses of people at a given time and place attracts worldwide news coverage and attention. for the protest organizer, inciter, and promoter, it is a vital and necessary tactic. on april 24, 1971, the national peace action coalition, supported by welfare rights groups, labor unions, and others, held a massive demonstration in washington, d.c. some 175,000 people from all walks of life, with differing ideologies and purposes, marched from the white house to the capitol. washington has grown accustomed to this method of voicing dissent.
6:32 pm
although larger than most, this was an organized demonstration with parade permits, marshals, and responsible leadership. the demonstrators came. their positions on the war, racial discrimination, and other political issues were made known. throughout the rally, officers of the metropolitan police were directed to maintain a low visibility profile. their role was, as always, to protect the constitutional rights of citizens, intervening only to meet unusual or emergency situations. there were few laws broken. few arrests. most who came in the name of peace returned to their homes, jobs, or schools. but some who came to break the peace stayed on in west potomac park. for them, the april 24 rally was only a prelude to may day, an opportunity to advance their own well-defined aim, to shut down the federal government. >> the country should respond
6:33 pm
from coast to coast with demonstrations at universities and communities and across this country. >> months before, these militant and violence-prone members of the new left decided that the style, discipline, and tactics of peaceful assembly will no longer acceptable. >> good morning and welcome back to the washington journal. you're looking at the vietnam memorial here in the nation's capital. this morning in our last hour of the washington journal, a joint conversation with american history tv on c-span3, we're focusing on the may day 1971 anti-vietnam war protest. joining us this morning is lawrence roberts. he is the author of a book on those events. mr. roberts, thank you very much for being with us, we appreciate it. >> thank you for having me, greta, i'm looking forward to it. >> let's begin with what is going on with the vietnam war in 1971.
6:34 pm
>> let me paint a picture of what happened exactly 50 years ago this morning. it was also a sunday morning, may 2. and president richard nixon and his aides had ordered hundreds of d.c. police riot squad to clear out a park down by the potomac river in which tens of thousands of mostly young people had been camping in preparation for what was going to be the most audacious protest in all the anti-war movement against the vietnam war. people had come from all over the country to camp in west potomac park in order to get ready for this traffic blockade of washington, d.c. which was sort of a last ditch effort after six years of the movement to force the government to pull all of the u.s. troops out of
6:35 pm
vietnam. >> why? why did they come? what is happening with the war that they decide they need to descend on washington? >> the war had been going on for six years in an intense way. and there had been -- the anti-war movement had started almost the same time as the war did by people who believed that the war was, you know, ethically wrong or was unwinnable or was, you know, draining the resources of the country that should have been put toward domestic problems. and there had been millions of people in the streets over those six years, picketing, parading, marching, petitioning, working on political campaigns, and still the war was going on. the war had been started primarily by president lyndon johnson back in 1965, the true u.s. involvement, and then johnson was in some ways kind of
6:36 pm
run out of the white house by the growing anti-war sentiment in the country. and then richard nixon was elected in 1968, and one of the reasons he was elected was his promise to wind down the war, to end the war. but rather than ending the war, he was expanding it geographically. it had -- troops had gone over the border in 1970 into cambodia, and in 1971, in february, troops had been sent, mostly south vietnamese troops, and with u.s. support, into laos. that had triggered another run of movement which was in the spring of 1971. so we had dozens of anti-war groups that all came together in this kind of chaotic choreography starting in mid-april of '71 and going through may in a series of demonstrations that were
6:37 pm
designed to bolster public support for the anti-war movement. and the finale of this protest was to be this most audacious one, which was the blockade of the streets and bridges of washington. and that's why these folks were camped in west potomac park getting ready for this protest. they had had a permit to do it. but the nixon administration was increasingly worried about the effect of all these protests so therefore they secretly revoked the permit on saturday and on sunday morning, 50 years ago, they sent in the police to clear out the park in the hopes that most of the people who had come to d.c. for this blockade would just disperse and go home and there would be no protest on monday morning. but that is not what happened. >> i want to show our viewers and have them and you react to president nixon on april 7,
6:38 pm
1971, in his address about ending the war in vietnam. let's listen. >> i think the hardest thing that a president has to do is to present posthumously the nation's highest honor, the medal of honor, to mothers or fathers or widows of men who have lost their lives but in the process have saved the lives of others. we had an award ceremony in the east room in the white house just a few weeks ago. and at that ceremony, i remember one of the recipients, mrs. carl taylor from pennsylvania. her husband was a marine sergeant, sergeant carl taylor. he charged an enemy machine gun single-handed and knocked it
6:39 pm
out. he lost his life. but in the process, the lives of several wounded marines in the range of that machine gun were saved. after i presented her the medal, i shook hands with their two children, carl junior was years -- 8 years old, and kevin was 4. as i was about to move to the next recipient, kevin suddenly stood at attention and saluted. i found it rather difficult to get my thoughts together for the next presentation. my fellow americans, i want to end this war in a way that is worthy of the sacrifice of carl taylor. and i think he would want me to
6:40 pm
end it in a way that would increase the chances that kevin and carl and all those children like them here and around the world would grow up in a world where none of them have to die. >> lawrence roberts, president nixon's words there, what impact did they have in the following days that lead up to may 1971? >> nixon was in kind of a precarious position at this point in april of 1971. as i mentioned earlier, he had sent forces into laos, and that had triggered a lot of anti-war sentiment. he was getting ready to run for reelection in 1972, and the polls at this point had him at the lowest approval rating, partly because of the laos invasion, of his first term.
6:41 pm
and he actually mused at the time that he might not even get the nomination of his party to run again for reelection. so he was very determined to make sure that the coming string of anti-war demonstrations, which they of course knew about, didn't move public opinion. so the speech was viewed as very important. he spent days working on it. and it was an effective speech. afterwards, if you spend some time listening to the tapes, the nixon tapes in the white house, which i did for my book, you can hear their delight, the delight of the president and his chief of staff, h.r. haldeman, as the polls showed a little bump in nixon's approval and a bump in the approval of his handling of the war. he was trying to seize the high ground, in a sense, before these protests were going to begin. and one of the things they were worried about in particular was
6:42 pm
that for the first time, the protests were going to include a substantial number of vietnam veterans against the war who were coming back from the fighting to say that they disagreed with u.s. policy and thought that the war should just be ended unconditionally. nixon was saying, in the speech that you showed the tape of, that he wanted to wind down the war but didn't want to give an end date, he did not want to give a firm date for withdrawal of troops despite the pressure from those who believed that the war was wrong. so the speech was intended to kind of bolster his support before these protests and it initially succeeded. >> tell us more about who attended these protests, these may day 1971 anti-vietnam protests. >> the may day protest, as i said, was the finale of a string of demonstrations that began in mid-april. the first people in town were the vietnam veterans against the war.
6:43 pm
more than a thousand of them who marched to arlington cemetery, they camped on the national mall right near the capitol, and the end of their protest was to return their medals and ribbons by hurling them over a fence onto the capitol steps, extremely emotional event. they were followed by a huge coalition of groups, everybody from, you know, church groups and unions, all the way to the most radical groups, all came together for this enormous march. it was the largest march that d.c. had seen up until that point, probably 400,000 people marched on pennsylvania avenue to the capitol, april 4, 1971. following that there were a series of smaller demonstrations leading up to the may day protest which was meant to be a few-day blockade of the city to kind of force more attention
6:44 pm
onto their cause. and that, the folks who came to town for that, came from all over the country, from some other countries too. there were at least 50 -- all 50 states were represented. people came in from -- you know, a lot of volkswagen buses and volkswagen beetles which was sort of the counterculture vehicle at the time, were all parked along the river. it included people who felt that the marching and the parading and the petitioning wasn't enough, and that what was needed was a more forceful act. and they believed that this was the time for mass civil disobedience as a way to sort of put their bodies on the line out of a belief that the war was really wrong and needed to end. >> why was it called may day? >> it was originally scheduled for actual may day, which was may 1. then they decided it made the most sense to have the blockade at rush hour, the first rush
6:45 pm
hour, which was monday, may 3. >> and who were the leaders? who organized this? >> main leaders of may day protest were a guy name rennie davis, who was a longtime icon of the new left. he had helped to form the largest group of the campus left in the '60s which was called students for a democratic society, he was one of the founders of that. he later became one of the chicago seven, as your viewers may remember that trial, that was based on demonstrations that happened outside the democratic national convention in 1968. and rennie came to believe that what was needed was a much more intense kind of a protest to call more public attention to the cause. and one of his prime, you know, co-founders of the may day idea
6:46 pm
was david dellinger, who was a 55-year-old, longtime pacifist who had worked on the antinuclear bomb movement. he had been a resister of the draft during world war ii. and he was sort of an apostle of nonviolence, this idea of, you know, force without violence, that you could have mass civil disobedience without any kind of a violent edge to it, and that that was a way to, you know, push the powers that be in the direction. >> many protesters were arrested during the may day, then arrested during the berkeley free speech sit-ins in 1964. we want you to join the conversation. if you live in the eastern central part of the country, 202-748-8000. mountain pacific, 202-748-8001.
6:47 pm
if you were in washington for those may day protests, dial in at 202-748-8002 or if you were police working to arrest folks then, we want to hear your story, your perspective as well. 202-748-8002. lawrence roberts, you did attend. why were you there? >> i was a 19-year-old college student at the time. and i had participated in some of the anti-war marches, as many of my peers did during that time. and, you know, like many of the folks who came down to d.c. for may day, i also believe that it was time for a more forceful kind of a demonstration. so yes, i was part of it. >> what was it like? >> it was an extremely chaotic day. so on monday, may 3, at rush hour, starting i guess probably
6:48 pm
at 5:30 in the morning, the folks who had come down for may day came out into the streets. and everyone was assigned, every small group of protesters, they divided into small groups called affinity groups and each one was given a place to go, a traffic intersection, a bridge, you know, a traffic circle, in order to block traffic. and, you know, be ready for when police came. and so during the morning, it was just getting to be dawn. you saw, you know, clumps of folks walking all over the city into their assigned areas. and then almost immediately you started hearing sirens and then tear gas, and then later on in the morning, the mass arrests began. >> i want to show our viewers a description of the planning and
6:49 pm
pre-dawn events on monday, may 3. as you were just talking about. this is from a washington, d.c. metropolitan police department film on the may day protest. it's titled "the whole world is watching." >> monday's tactics called for massive civil disobedience at 21 selected targets. targets were broken into two areas. traffic circles and the bridges. may day leaders felt if these were blocked during early morning rush hours, government business would be stopped. >> we're going to see to it that the thousands of government workers who have a right to go to work peacefully are not interfered with by those militants, those few militants who in the name of demonstrating for peace abroad presume that they have the right to break the peace at home. >> pre-dawn washington was
6:50 pm
quiet. >> i'll start working on my men, i'll be back very shortly. >> the task of keeping the bridges clear of demonstrators was assigned to federal troops, allowing more policemen to be assigned to strategic demonstration targets. at 4:30 a.m., inbound commuter traffic on washington bridges was heavy but flowing normally as federal employees sought to avoid rush hour disruptions. then at 6:00 a.m., police, protesters, and commuters converged.
6:51 pm
a thousand administrators blocked dupont circle. a thousand swarmed onto washington circle. over a thousand more hit georgetown. some sat in. some through trash d tires. greta: lawrence roberts, you vote a book about that day. what did you learn about what that was like for the protesters? lawrence: i think what you are watching before was essentially the police version of what happened that day. they produced that film not long after the protest. it is a propaganda film. what it does not say is that the tax makes the police used and
6:52 pm
the nixon administration used turned out to be entirely unconstitutional. in the end, the federal courts throughout, based -- threw out every single arrest that was made that day and the subsequent two days after that. 12,000 people were taken into custody and kept in detention without charges. police l were kept in detention without charges and the police had launched, particularly on the first day, a dragnet where they moved through the city, arresting not only people who were -- had been sitting in the streets but anyone who looked like they might have been a protester, they had long hair, they were wearing hippie style clothing. and so thousands of the people who were swept up the first day hadn't beenalong
6:53 pm
6:54 pm
6:55 pm
6:56 pm
6:57 pm
6:58 pm
6:59 pm
7:00 pm
7:01 pm
the river's edge. you could see the washington monument in the distance. so it was very much a feeling of being near the heart of washington. when the police deployed and the military deployed on the morning of may 3rd. rush hour. they were sent all over the city. now you may have noticed in the film that the police produced to show it a great job they were doing, they had a picture of this manual, this manual that was in a way secretive. it was handed
7:02 pm
out by the protesters of may day, and it was reprinted in college newspapers and so the police had a sense of where a very good sense of where people would go and they deployed their forces accordingly. the 10,000 military who came to town were primarily used to guard bridges and to guard the massive prisoners who the police took who took to a practice field outside robert robert f. kennedy memorial stadium. which had a chain link fence around it. you pack thousands of people in there. later on as john said people were trucked over to the washington coliseum. which was an inside arena. >> let's go to mike who is also a protester that day. mike in wheeling west virginia thank you for calling in. >> what i would like to say first of all, i was there, i went into the service in may
7:03 pm
sorry march 10th of 1965. i got out march 10th 1969. i was four years in the service. i was in southeast asia. and what i would like to say is all the soldier it was their right and i enlisted and i got my notice but i enlisted. and the soldiers had a right to do what they did. but what i would like to say is the reason i went there, was because of nixon. i could not vote until i was 21. fortunately i was three days before the election was up in 1968. and i was able to vote and i voted for nixon, because he promised us and he swore to the soldiers he was going to end the war and he killed another 30,000. that is why i went there. however i was in the back and i didn't get arrested, i was minding my own business. i was with the people that i served with. but the main reason i went there is because nixon did not tell us the truth and the war was not a
7:04 pm
good war to start with. and that's how i feel about it. and most of the guys that i served with that when we got out of high school we didn't have a choice then. unless your parents had money to send you to college, which my folks didn't, so i enlisted. i serve my country and i'm proud of it, but i did protest because the war was not right. >> well your thoughts after listening to mike? >> there is so much disaffection within the military. i mean you know, hundreds of thousands of young men volunteer or were drafted to go to vietnam and i think it is safe to say that most of them felt that when they went they were doing something honorable. they were there to contain communism as they were told by the government. and once they got there they fought bravely to keep themselves and
7:05 pm
their buddies alive, and that was just simply the way it went. after being there, many soldiers and folks who are there came to believe that what they had been told about the war was not right. that there was no love for the south vietnamese regime by its own people. and that it wasn't strictly a question of a communist takeover of vietnam. but you know to some extent an internal conflict between guerrillas who are pro communist and north vietnamese army versus the south vietnamese. and what's the purpose of the mission of the american military it was not clear. and that the war itself did not feel like it was winnable without massive amount of destruction of north yet not. and most people were not willing to engage in it.
7:06 pm
>> paul was also a protester here in washington this day, so paul how old are you? >> i was only 21. exactly 21. >> how is your experience that day? >> well i had met the vietnam vets against the war in boston, and that got me on the common. about a month before i was with john kerry, bonnie rait and myself and my brother we do the protest for the vets, on the boston common. with those people got to go to washington, and we stay three days at the howard johnson hotel. we played at american university the night before. with ralph nader, and myself and my brother and then jay guile's played. proco
7:07 pm
harem played outside of the embassy there. the next night we were on the big stage and we played that night, i have pictures of phil oakes he was my hero at the time, and the next day when they shut the power and the storm trooper started coming, we got to play again because i went to the promoter and said they are leaving one microphone on, and we are the acoustic group, so we played with one microphone. we played for about an hour while the fighting was going on and the protesting. we were finally forced off the stage, we threw our instruments to the people in the crowd, and we jumped into the crowd and we escaped. we flew to university of massachusetts, and they didn't know about the fighting. it wasn't on the news that the stormtroopers came, it wasn't on the news that everybody got beat up and got arrested. so when we got two university of massachusetts, we were just musicians we were reporters. and thank you for your book lawrence, it's the first time i got to read about what happened, and i'm telling people about what happened and i'm still a
7:08 pm
musician and i'm still talking about the war. it was only because my friends got hurt and got killed and suffered there that i got involved with protesting it. and i protested for the whole time until that war ended, then i kept playing. i was a college performer and we played with richie havens many time. thanks for having me on. and thanks for writing the book. >> paul before you go, do you remember what was the rationale to have a rock concert during these protests? do you remember what you were told? >> well i wrote two songs, one song was called the unknown soldier, that with my brother we wrote another song about the massacre. and that's the song on the boston common, that got us there. >> and what do they say to you?
7:09 pm
>> they finally heard a song that was about the way they felt. this was not a song that was on the radio, and this wasn't a song that was a record, these were songs that we played and we enjoyed. >> we had to sing it. and we were trying to make a hit record, we never recorded the songs and we never tried to promote them. it was just the way we felt and i think they heard that. and it wasn't a lot of bands like j giles who came along. aerosmith those type of bands they didn't get involved with protests in boston. so we are one of the few groups in boston that said we have to stop this. >> paul can you sing for us at least tell us some of the lyrics of the songs? >> sure, you're no soldier, you're a man like me, so why can't you look and why can't you see. and just walk away and remember this day for the rest of your life. and i have. >> lawrence roberts? >> fascinating. you know one thing that sometimes gets lost
7:10 pm
when thinking about these protests. and you brought this up greta, this notion that it was the you know the culture at the time it wasn't just radical politics there was also the counterculture. it was sort of a cultural revolution going on in the late sixties and throughout the sixties and early seventies. so when renée davis decided to push for this idea of mass civil disobedience in d. c. as a way to try to attract more people, he set up a all day rock concert that would start on saturday may 1st, and go through sunday may 2nd. that was in order to set up for the may 3rd protest. so there were groups like linda ronstadt she was there, charlie mingus was there. and the opening group for the made a concert at the west potomac park was the beach boys and they were on sort of a revival tour. they showed up and played and then bands played all through the
7:11 pm
night. all afternoon on saturday, and all through the night. there were thousands or tens of thousands of people out there with their blankets and sleeping bags and lean to's. it was at 6 am on sunday morning that well one of the bands was still on, a ban called clyde jones. it was a good local bc rock band. the police suddenly swept into the park with their helmets and night sticks and said everybody has to leave here by noon. they gave them until noon to clear out. no doubt, the sort of cultural part of things and music was one of the reasons why people gathered, and so many people gathered in that park. the government had believed that, government informants who are embedded with anti war groups, at the behest of nixon and the justice department, believed about four 5000 people would show up for may day, but instead there were nearly
7:12 pm
50,000. that was part of what triggered this when i or what i think is an overreaction. >> and neil was one of those 50,000. neil from round rock texas, how old where you then? >> i was 18 the time. >> why did you come to washington? >> basically, because i learned that the government had lied to the american people. lied about the basis for the war, and i was terribly angry about that. i educated myself and decided that i had to go. >> what was it like when you got here? now >> i stayed with friends in georgetown, and got assigned to dupont circle as a new yorker. and having been in on the
7:13 pm
protests, i had the model that people would be warned that if you don't leave you will be arrested. and it was nothing like that. the police just swept in, and dragged yes up and quite it was before we knew it was going on. >> and when you were grabbed by the police, tell us about that. what did they do? where did they put you? >> well they initially put us in the prison yard. the d. c. prison. and it was a rather surreal evening. as the sun went down, they distributed blankets and rolling tobacco. so i'm looking around at all these long hairs in blankets, smoking what look like joints, and it portrayed one thing and then i brought my eyes up and
7:14 pm
there were guard towers. people with shotguns and barbed wire. it was quite a shocker that way. how did you, or how were you released, what were you told? >> we were told that we could post a ten dollar appearance fee and get a court case number that would let us out. >> did you return to court? >> this was when we were being held at the stadium. the issue there was there were many people in the crowd who couldn't be processed, because they had warrants out, so in an active solitary solidarity, nobody wanted to be processed. but we learned that if you got
7:15 pm
a court number on a three by >> why, what would happen? five card that was the golden ticket out. >> you'd walk down the hallway, show the guard that they are giving you this index card, and you are outdoors. >> then neil, did you return to court at a later date? >> no. funny the way it worked out. jeffrey miller have been dead for a year to the day, so i signed out as jeffrey miller and when the aclu subsequently received a judgment that would give us a payment for the illegal arrest, i was not able
7:16 pm
to receive any that payment. i was not jeffrey miller, but it was a memorial to him. >> okay. lawrence roberts, fill in the lines here from what you heard from neil. >> yes very interesting. your experience not much different from many thousands of others. i should say that when the police swept through the streets on that monday and arrested thousands of people, they filled every jail cell in the city. some gel souls that were supposed to hold a few people were full of, you know, a dozen. many people could not even sit down, but kept there for hours. many were kept and taken in the jail yard as neill described, others others were taken to the overflow, this football practice field, and many ended up in this arena. and many people, thousands of people, maybe most of them were swept charlotte up while they were not violating any rules at all so there were no charges
7:17 pm
lodged against them. many of those folks when they asked their folks, when they were asked their names subsequently by the police when they were processing folks in their arrests to create some kind of record that bees decor and arrest records, on the advice of themselves, and the advice of some lawyers who got in there, they were giving false names. so there are lot of people who gave their names, richard nixon or john mitchell, or in the case, neil's case, someone who is maybe not around anymore. years and years later, the aclu and others had filed all the civil suits on behalf of the protesters violation the rights, and the courts ordered millions of dollars paid in compensation to these demonstrators. the aclu set out to try to find people who deserve these checks. some of the folks who were arrested
7:18 pm
during the three days to cut checks for as much as 3200 dollars. others just got their ten dollar collateral back. but they couldn't find hundreds of these folks because they had been either given false names or had moved many times and couldn't be located. >> james in bakersfield, california, you are next. >> yes, good morning. i was ten years old at the time, and now i am a 30-year veteran. i always thought then and i still think today that the vietnam war was a noble effort against communism to contain and to defeat it, but it was not carried out very well. but the timeframe of may, i always thought from the history books as i understood it to corresponding with the communist revolution, and the may day celebrations that are carried out around the world for that. i noticed red cover
7:19 pm
of your book and i saw the one protester in that one police video carrying around the red flag. so that was my main question is i thought that was why may day was chosen, that timeframe. the one other item i will say real quick and i have another item, but you have a generation that was protesting against authority, but now of the on the other end of it, 50 years later, you have this generation who are now generally at the end of their professional lives and they're kind of in power and they seem to be more pro-authority and pro centralized government. i wonder if f mr. robertson could comment on that also. thank you. >> interesting questions, thank you. international may day was international workers day. i don't know if it was invented by the communists but it was meant as international workers
7:20 pm
day. there is no real direct connection between the may day protest and that, other than may was looked upon as one of the best times. spring is the best time to carry out a protest like this for weather reasons and things like that, and also because it was coming after this very controversial invasion of laos that nixon had put into place. so i don't think there is a communist underpinning to all of this. as to your question as to what happens to people 50 years after their rebellious youth, i think every individual story is different. the baby boomer generation, like any other, splintered into a lot of different things and people carry within them what they
7:21 pm
would call the values of the sixties. some people didn't change and moved towards a more conservative stance, but i think it's hard to generalize about people who were protesting back then. >> garrett in providence, rhode island, was one of those protesters. gareth, whole real? tell us your story. >> i guess i was 19 years old. i was not arrested. i was walking around the gw campus area where police had instructions to arrest anyone who did not have an i. d.. i was a former student and so was the person i was with, so i had my i. d. with me so i was not arrested. he did not and he was arrested. also i read lawrence's book and first of all, kudos. it is not only gives an excellent understanding of may day, but a excellent understanding of the anti war movement in general. and a few questions for him. obviously you had in-depth interviews of a lot of it people from the government side, like the chief of police in
7:22 pm
washington. i wonder, were they anxious to talk to you? reluctant to talk to you? how do they see it now, i mean, do they see it the way most of us see it as a police overreaction or do they still justify it in your mind? were there any people on what i am calling the government side who you would like to talk to but who just weren't willing to talk to you? >> thank you, gary, for the kind words. yes, i think your experience that they, have people sweeping through the george washington university and other university campuses arresting anyone without an i. d., that was certainly something that was common. in terms of people talking about that time, i think unfortunately many of the people who were central to the decision-making back in the day, for example the deputy attorney general, richard cline -- he's
7:23 pm
not around anymore. jared wilson, police chief of washington was around and was very generous with his time in discussing with me all of the events of those days and what was behind is this decision to ultimately follow nixon's orders to do mass arrests. he maintained that he had done the job he was hired to do that day and despite the government lawsuits that were successful against the police and against the government, he didn't express regret for doing what he thought he had to do to keep the city open that day. i think he was a man of integrity who was caught between a paranoid white house, worried white
7:24 pm
house, and his desire to keep the streets from becoming violent. >> leading up to that day, while folks are camping out in washington, d. c., what was the camping experience like? thousands of people in close proximity together. were you one of them? what was it like? >> no i was not in that camera that weekend in may. it was, from all accounts, it was like a festival. first of all, you had music that went on for hours and hours. it had the some characteristics of the rock festivals of the sixties. people were playing games. they had frisbees, they had dogs, people brought flutes and guitars and replaying in their tents and lean twos. it was not
7:25 pm
an angry protest in that sense it all. it was more of a sort of a festival, and people at the time, the technology for music was portable cassette players. they had been around for a few years so people would bring tapes and trade them and play various music of the sixties in their tents. that was sort of the atmosphere that was going on when sunday morning, suddenly they looked up in the midst of the dawn and saw hundreds of helmeted police coming toward them to push them out of the park. >> and our guest, lawrence roberts noting that 50,000 came to d. c., 12,000 arrested, the largest mass arrests in american history. >> ruth in oxford, california, good morning to you. >> good morning. i did go to
7:26 pm
some protests in washington, d. c., and i remember the beach boys, but i was not at that protest. after all the things that happened, including kent state shootings the year before and the subsequent national student strike, after all of that, mr. nixon said business as usual. and i felt so i dejected, i guess, because it seemed like all this effort was put forth, but yet it wasn't getting through. >> i'm gonna stop at that point. lawrence roberts? >> you know, one of the enduring questions of this time is too wet extent to the anti war movement, the vietnam
7:27 pm
anti-war movement stop the war, shorten the war, constrain the military? you in the war, and historians debate this, because it's hard to say what would have happened if there were no anti war movement. i think there's no question if you listen to the nixon tapes and if you look at the documents, if you study the johnson administration as well, there is no question that the anti war movement, the domestic opposition to the war, constrained the military from doing a more intense options, more serious invasions of north vietnam, of using more weapons of war, of even potentially using tactical nuclear weapons, which was on the table at one point. there's no question that domestic opposition got in the way that. there's no question that the anti-war movement was at least partly if not largely responsible for lyndon johnson's decision not to seek
7:28 pm
another term in 1968. and during the period that we're talking about, the spring of 1971, that was the time when richard nixon and his national security adviser, henry kissinger, decided to soften the terms in their secret talks with hanoi about how to end the war. up to that point the u.s. had insisted that no date for a pull out of u.s. troops could be set, unless north vietnamese troops would also pull out of south vietnam at the same time. they dropped that demand during this period. the juxtaposition makes me think that there's no question that the intensity of the anti war movement had something to do with that decision. so it is clearly all the marching, all the the work
7:29 pm
that the anti war movement did, all the sentiment in the country, wasn't just people in the streets. the polls at that point were showing that most americans thought the war was wrong, and a plurality of americans thought that if the cost of getting out of the war that the communists the communist would have a part in government, in a coalition government, that was something to do in order to end the war. >> what was the lasting impact do you think of may day, that weekend and that monday? >> well, i think it had a fundamental effect on politics and government. first of all, all of the lawsuits that came out of may day that established the rights of dissent both on the streets of d. c. and elsewhere i think chilled the possibility of more kinds of illegal mass arrests in the country. the cases that came out of the are still cited in
7:30 pm
legal manuals all over the country. politically, it had a huge effect on nixon in a sort of strange way in the sense that it stoked his dark side. it ended up producing all kinds of activities that turned against his politica opponentsl in 1972, the famous wiretapping that ended up leading to watergate. >> the book is may 1971, a
7:31 pm
white house at war, a revolt in the streets and the untold history of america's biggest mass arrest. lawrence roberts, thank you very much for the conversation this morning. we appreciate. >> thank you for having me. >> and throughout today's conversation about those may day protests, you've been seeing video of the protests. we want to thank kirk parkinson, engineered c-span, who shot some of what you see today and a lot of cities. it's a thank you to him.

35 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on