When “The Movement and the Madman” premiered last month, I asked for comments:
“We’re interested in hearing from anyone who watched the new documentary, ‘The Movement and the Madman,’ streaming now on PBS.org. It premiered last week and pulled together the largely unknown and shocking story that Nixon and Kissinger activated the military in fall 1969 to use nuclear weapons on what was then North Vietnam. The film shows evidence that the anti-war Mobilization to stop the war, with huge protests on October 15 and November 15, curbed their plans.”
It was good to hear from you and others who are working on stopping the U.S. imperialists from making war on the world.
A reader who wished not to be named wrote: “It was nice to see the pictures from days long ago and to listen to the music in their context. As to the message, it gave me hope that a civic movement had influence on decisions of politicians, and I hope the anti-war movement referring to Ukraine will increase in the same way and stop it.” Right on to that, my friend.
Luther Norman wrote: “The work WCW does must be more pronounced to drive home that today’s youth are not their soldiers, and nuclear war is not any kind of answer to conflict anywhere on the planet. Your job, should you decide to accept it, is to convince the American people otherwise.”
Paul Ryder, who graduated a year ahead of me at Madison (WI) West High School, and was an accomplished role model for me in working for justice, thinks the film went too far in asserting that the mass protests were what stopped Nixon from using nuclear weapons. In this article, he contends the (North) Vietnamese leadership didn’t fall for Nixon’s fake nuclear threats:
A new documentary film on PBS, ‘The Movement and the Madman,’ spotlights the 1969 Moratorium demonstrations for peace in Vietnam. These events marked the passage of the peace movement from the groundbreaking stage (1965-1969) to the stage of great expansion, flooding into the American heartland (1970-1975).
While I recommend the new film, it goes one step too far by asserting the demonstrations actually prevented a U.S. nuclear attack on Vietnam. It would be fair to say the Moratorium demonstrations helped delay other forms of military escalation, such as the mining of Haiphong harbor. But the nuclear attack was just a weak bluff.” Read Paul’s full piece here
My friend Clark Kissinger, the first national secretary of Students for a Democratic Society in the 60’s and long-time revolutionary, wrote:
“The mass mobilizations were very important, and it is unfortunate that SDS pulled back from organizing them. But we should not forget all four factors that actually brought the war to an end:
First, and most important, the Vietnamese would not capitulate. Second, the U.S. Army in Vietnam became increasingly dysfunctional as a good section of the soldiers turned against the war. Third, anti-war actions (together with the Black liberation movement) threatened the stability of society at home. And fourth, Scoop Jackson and the Committee on the Present Danger argued within the ruling class that the real danger was the Soviet Union and Vietnam was a waste of time and resources.
While giving the mass mobilizations their due, I would like to have seen a fuller recounting of the intensity of domestic opposition to the war, including draft resistance, trips to meet with ‘the other side,’ the burning of ROTC buildings, Kent State, driving recruiters off campus, support for the NLF, the 1968 Democratic Party Convention, and mass civil disobedience like the 1971 May Day action in Washington.
The film put a lot of emphasis on keeping opposition to war ‘comfortable.’ I’m afraid that stopping the slide toward world war we are currently in will require a lot of people getting out of their comfort zone.”
This is the kind of discussion we need to have. History matters, as does what we take from it, in meeting the challenge today of how to save humanity and the planet. But clearly, this is not only a historical problem: the urgency is of the moment, on every front. Let’s stay in touch!