Other raids, often led by clerics, destroyed draft records in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Chicago, Akron, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, New York, and Buffalo. Sentences were initially harsh, but in 1972, in a surprising turn, Judge John Curtin vacated the sentences handed down to the “Buffalo Five,” three men and two women who had broken into Buffalo’s Old Post Office building in August 1971 for the purpose of destroying draft files. Judge Curtin told the defendants, “Your love of country is above that of most other citizens. If others had the same sense of morality, the war would have been over a long time ago.”
Folk singer Joan Baez was arrested, among others, during a sit-in demonstration blocking the entrance to Oakland Induction Center, Oct. 16, 1967 (AP photo)
Veterans courageously addressed the issue of atrocities. From January 31-February 2, 1971, VVAW held a three-day “Winter Soldier Investigation” in Detroit, in which over 100 veterans and sixteen civilians described in detail American atrocities in Vietnam. The VVAW proceedings were entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, who was elected in 1966 on an antiwar platform. Soon after, Rep. Ron Dellums of Oakland, California, elected in 1970 on an antiwar platform, requested a formal Congressional investigation into American atrocities in Vietnam. House leaders declined. Undaunted, Dellums set up an exhibit in an annex to his office that featured four large posters depicting American atrocities. The posters were provided by the Citizens Commission of Inquiry on U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam.
Within the administration, three of Kissinger’s closest aides, Roger Morris, Anthony Lake, and William Watts, resigned in response to the Cambodian invasion. Laurence Lynn, senior staff member on the National Security Council, resigned after the Kent State killings. Pentagon analyst Daniel Ellsberg, having become convinced that the war was immoral as well as futile, proceeded with copying the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000-page classified study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1940 to 1968, which he would later leak to the New York Times, exposing administration deceptions over the course of four presidencies.
On the Senate side of Capitol Hill, Senator McGovern similarly pressed for formal hearings on American war crimes, but to no avail. Senator Fulbright, however, invited Lt. John Kerry to speak to his committee on behalf of the VVAW. Kerry, who later became a senator, presidential candidate (2004), and secretary of state, testified on April 22, 1971:
Liberal, leftist, and pacifist groups all supported mass demonstrations, but differences arose as to the degree of confrontation. Demonstration organizers decided early on to separate civil disobedience actions, such as sit-ins and the burning of draft cards, from main events. Disorder and violence nevertheless erupted in a number of demonstrations due to an untoward mix of rowdy individuals, leftist militants, aggressive counter-demonstrators, government agent provocateurs, and repressive policing. The Johnson and Nixon administrations, for their part, welcomed unruly behavior as it undermined the movement’s public image and allowed them to claim the moral high ground – standing up for law, order, and decency – even as they unleashed wholesale violence in Vietnam.
The liberal wing of the antiwar movement, represented by groups such as SANE, WSP, Student Peace Union, and Americans for Democratic Action, supported détente, diplomacy, and demilitarization of the Cold War, paying particular attention to the nuclear arms race. Liberal peace groups worked to build a broad-based movement, gain positive media attention, and influence members of Congress – all essential elements of movement-building. At the same time, they tended to narrow their vision and political goals to what was feasible within the American context, which fell short of what was needed to achieve peace in the international context. The unwillingness of liberal peace groups to support U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam not only divided the antiwar movement but also constituted a missed opportunity to combine domestic peace efforts with international diplomatic efforts led by UN Secretary-General U Thant, which were based on the Geneva formula. According to the historian Milton Katz:
Peace liberals in SANE can certainly be criticized by what at times seemed an obsessive concern with respectability and for excluding specific groups from coalition activity, both of which contributed to the fracture in the antiwar movement. And although they continued for so long calling for negotiations to end the war, feeling it was politically expedience and a face-saving device for the United States, they should have realized America really had no moral right to negotiate anything except, perhaps, as David McReynolds [of WRL] said in an exchange with Michael Harrington, “the routes our troops will take getting to the ports of embarkation.”
The American people, by and large, are against colonialism and aggression, and believe in the right of every country to manage its own affairs free from outside interference. Rarely have these simple principles been so clearly and grossly violated as in the present United States policy towards Indochina…. Are we going to take the position that anti-Communism justifies anything, including colonialism, interference in the affairs of other countries and aggression? That way, let us be perfectly clear about it, lies war and more war leading ultimately to full-scale disaster.
The impetus to militant confrontation within the antiwar movement derived from an unwillingness to accept business-as-usual at home while the government pursued a murderous war in Vietnam, plucking young people from their normal lives to fight it. Although commonly identified with leftist groups, some groups on the left, notably SWP, steered clear of confrontational actions. Some radical pacifists, on the other hand, particularly Liberation co-editor David Dellinger, were fervent advocates of assertive-yet-nonviolent civil disobedience.
Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the son of an émigré Hebrew scholar, addressed the issue of the moral responsibility of intellectuals in a special supplement in the New York Review of Books in February 1967. Based on a thorough examination of U.S. policy in Vietnam, he judged that it was genocidal in conduct and imperialist in intent. Like other intellectuals on the left, he viewed U.S. involvement in Vietnam as neither an aberration nor a simple mistake but rather as part of a larger design to extend American hegemony. Chomsky examined the role of the intellectuals in World War II, particularly those in Germany and Japan who failed to speak out against the atrocities committed by their respective governments. Considering the relative freedom of Western societies, he argued that academics and intellectuals had a responsibility to “seek the truth hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us.”