Thursday, February 3, 2011


In 1967 I stand at the Sunday vigil now up to a dozen people, inspired by the woman who stands there in all the weather of snow, rain, icy cold, muggy hot -- every Sunday.  A white van circles around Court Square, once, twice, three times…  It disappears for awhile; then a man with a 35mm camera appears and stands in front of us taking our pictures.  I ask who he is; someone casually says:  he’s an FBI agent.

I hand out leaflets.  A woman stops, addresses me directly:  I won’t take your leaflet.  My husband works at Pratt and Whitney (the maker of bombers sent to Vietnam, many many bombers).  His job puts food on the table that feeds our children.  Supporting this takes away his job.  What he does is the right thing to do.

In 1970 the vigil crowd swells to hundreds.  The crowd is restive, wants to lower the flag to half staff honoring all US and Vietnam dead; they chant for the mayor.  They are increasingly agitated as no mayor appears to speak, or to hear their request.  A group of us race up city hall steps into the reception area, rush right into the mayor’s office. 

Sitting there is the vice mayor who explains that the mayor is out of town.  Even so, could he in the mayor’s stead order the flag lowered.  He responds he doesn’t have that authority, the supervisor of the janitors has that authority.  I step forward:  so let’s be clear, you’re saying that you have the authority of the mayor to run the city in his absence, but you don’t have the authority to direct the supervisor to lower the flag.  He grins:  that’s right. 

In 1966 I’m a student on the campus of American International College.  The definition of a college includes living on campus, although every student’s dream is to live away from home and off campus.  At AIC, we’re all commuters; we matriculators refer to the alma mater as Almost In College.  I'm not fond of the place because I’d rather be at UMass where the beatniks are.

I’m at AIC, a rebel without a cause.  Whenever on the campus, I want to act like I’m away from home.  I hang out with a group of poets that morphs somewhat.  We are sort of hippies, sort of existentialists, sort of beatniks; sort of not.  We write an underground newspaper, start a coffee house, go to coffee houses together. This is an enclave of rebellion.

On a cold Sunday I pass Court Square in Springfield, Massachusetts -- one lone woman stands with a sign saying something about some place called Vietnam.  I bring this news to the group.  We casually study pacifism.  We connect with two radical history professors, one is a pacifist and the other is a historian; they say this Vietnam “Conflict” needs scrutinizing.  It’s the right thing to do.

On a crisply clear fall day in 1966, I stroll the small campus; some tables have been set up in the quad.  There are books, pamphlets covering the tables; staffed by slender unassuming young men.  They’re representatives of the pacifist way. 

I have an attraction for books; I head in that direction.  A pack of frat boys descends on the display.  They verbally harass one of the guys, spit in his face.  He stands there without flinching.  One of the frat boys grabs a book, sets it on fire.  That makes me an activist, that burning of the book.  Books are sacred in a free society.

At UMass in 1970, I write several peace movement letters to the editor, against what is now called a war.  Each time, the next issue publishes a respondent to my previous letter, protesting my opinion on war.  It’s always signed with the same name. 

The next semester, I meet the fellow a woman friend is dating.  It turns out he’s a Vietnam veteran.  It turns out he’s the respondent.  We have a very long conversation about my opinions, his experience.  He admits he argues my opinion because he has to believe that the terrible things he sees and maybe even does in Vietnam are the right thing to do.

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