Author's Name: Robert Wanager
Title: "....Which Way the Wind Blows...."In the spring of 1969, I was a senior at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale and I had been participating in the anti-war movement in a peripheral sort of way, more a “fellow traveler” than a leader in any case. 1968 had seen the Tet offensive, Johnson’s withdrawal from the race for President and then the election of Richard Nixon and it seemed like the 60’s were over. Now, we were entering a new era but nobody really knew which way things were going to go. Nixon had campaigned saying he’d end the war but it was hard to believe an old “cold warrior” like him would “lose” to the Commies and get out.
Anyway, there was a SDS chapter that met on campus and they were calling for input on directions for the future and I decided to go, just out of curiosity more than anything else. The meeting was on a Saturday afternoon in one of the lecture halls on campus and there must have almost a thousand people there. As I slid into a seat, there was already a spirited discussion going on, people speaking about the seeming futility of protest. People had been marching for several years with hundreds of thousands of participants and the war was no nearer to its end than it was in 1964 when it all started.
In addition, other people were bringing up the Democratic convention. The previous summer, the Chicago police had “rioted” and indiscriminately beat up dozens of innocent protesters and it seemed like being non-violent just made you a bigger target. Voices were saying that it was time to drop the “Dr. King approach” and start getting violent, too. At that, I had to stand up. I really didn’t think I’d convince anyone but I pointed out that there was some progress and that more and more politicians like Gene McCarthy were coming out in opposition. In fact, we needed protests because violence was just going to turn people off, besides the fact that it was morally wrong.
My little speech went over like a lead balloon and I was shouted down, most saying that I hopelessly naive. Oh, there were a few voices in support but they were way outnumbered. Well, that cut it, I would continue to oppose the war but I had done my last little bit. If the killing in Vietnam to support an unpopular dictatorship was wrong how was doing violence and maybe killing innocent people here at home, any better?
Anyway, after graduation in June I joined the Peace Corps, a totally inexcusable thing for an activist to do as it was considered a copout, besides being something “bourgeois establishment” types did in order to assuage their consciences. But, to be honest, I really didn’t care. I was done with violence of any kind, the government’s or the radical’s. Nevertheless, just before graduation Old Main burned down, the act of an arsonist it was said and, most likely, I thought, I knew who did it….