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Interview with Sam Brown, 1982

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Summary
Sam Brown was a leading activist against the Vietnam War. He discusses his work organizing “Clean for Gene” students to campaign for Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and describes the damaging effects of riots at the Democratic National Convention. He recounts his role in the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam effort, the subsequent “New MOB,” (New Mobilization Committee Against the War) and describes the negative effect of President Nixon’s “silent majority” language on the Peace Movement. Finally, he reflects on transformations in the United State’ global perspective as a result of Vietnam.
Topics
Vietnam War, 1961-1975, United States--History--1945-, Vietnam--History--1945-1975, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements, Political campaigns, Civil rights movements, Political culture, Religion and culture, Peace movements, Voting (United States), Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, Radicalism, Government, resistance to, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, United States--Politics and government, New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, McCarthy, Eugene Joseph, 1916-2005, Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994
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Transcript

Optimism of the early 1960's

BEGINNING OF SOUND ROLL #2502
This is a WGBH Vietnam project. The film is Home Front America. I can’t remember the charge number. What is it? TVP 004. TVP 004 is the charge number. The interviewer is Elizabeth Deane. This is an interview with Sam Brown in Denver, Colorado on August 11, 1982.
Ready. Beep.
Interviewer:
Tell us a little about Sam Brown’s growing up. Where did you come from? What you were like? You could fold it into that general sense of optimism which those of us who were around in the early ‘60’s know about.
Brown:
Well, I grew up in a little town in the Midwest, Council Bluffs, Iowa, a town of 45,000 people I guess. The son of a religious family. Successful in business. But, a small town family basically.
And, I grew up with I guess all the prejudices that come with that of—of the affirmative sort. That is, ah a belief that people are basically pretty decent. Ah. That America works. That it’s probably the best place in the world that’s ever been imagined and ah that life is probably going to be pretty sweet, and as a consequence, ah in the early sixties it was easy really to maintain that belief.
Ah. Up until the civil rights movement when suddenly it became clear to me...I mean I’ve grown up in ah, you know, a situation where everything was pretty, pretty sweet. Ah. That suddenly to discover that for a great many people in America that I never really thought about very much, never really seen very much, that life was not only not sweet, but that it was very, very bitter.
Ahm. And, as a consequence, you put together that kind of optimism about what America can be with that discovery that it’s not what, what it says it is and the first thing you have to do is just go out and change it. I mean that’s it. There’s no obstacle too great. You just go change it. There’s just the sense that, ah that what is right will happen if you just take a step and go do it. You know. I think that marked a lot of the early civil rights movement.
Also, for me where my first involvement really was with farm worker struggles and in California ah and seeing what happened to farm workers and saying, wait a minute. This isn’t right. If people knew about this, this couldn’t go on. So, you go out to change it, and it was very easy then to believe that. It was at a time when things seemed flexible. After all, we had a President, John Kennedy, who sort of embodied a lot of the best of that hope.
Ah. It was hard for me to say that ah when he was first elected. I grew up in a Republican family, and I was Republican and ah...Then, suddenly, I saw in Kennedy the kind of reflection of of those good values and that sense of hope ah that made me think well, if we just set about it, we really can ah can make this quite a spectacular...an an even more spectacular ah place to be, and that’s really how I came...I got to the late sixties down a pretty smooth path and one that was marked really with a sense of, of great hope for the future.
Interviewer:
What about when Lyndon Johnson took over. I mean in the early days. It was under him actually the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Acts were signed. What was your view of Johnson in those early days?
Brown:
Oh, I think the optimism pretty much continued because as you say as had been suggested, ah let me start that one over.
Interviewer:
Yes.
Brown:
Let me just start at the beginning so it isn’t ah as you say. When Lyndon Johnson got elected ahm it seemed clear that he was going to carry on the traditions. It was very hard, and I think everybody who lived through that time remembers precisely where they were the moment that John Kennedy was shot and the tremendous loss, sense of loss but but ah at the time it was before the other assassinations of the late sixties. It was at a time when assassination seemed so aberrational, so outside the stream of what was imaginable that, of course, ah what he was doing would simply be carried forward. It wasn’t a fundamental threat to the direction which he had set. And so the Voting Rights Act was passed really I suppose in part as memorial but could not have been passed without Lyndon Johnson’s support.
The tremendous optimism and enthusiasm about the early days of the Great Society. The sort of beginning rumblings underneath ah that overseas things weren’t really right. It wasn’t something that had been focused on a lot, but about that time a great deal of discussion about Cuba, about the United States invasion about the Dominican Republic in 1964. All, suddenly we began to sense that, wait a minute ah whatever was continuing things were not what they pretended ah to be.
Interviewer:
Very good. We’re going to leap ahead. Right to McCarthy Campaign. Let’s talk first about who your first choice as a candidate was, what happened with that first choice. And, why McCarthy?
Brown:
Well in, in 1968 I think it’s reasonable to say, and more accurately in 1967 it’s reasonable to say that most people who were concerned to try and create a political alternative to Lyndon Johnson because of the war in Vietnam ah didn’t much care who the presidential candidate was as long as it was somebody who had a chance of winning. And, it seemed quite clear that the only presidential candidate who really had a chance of winning, who also might reasonably be expected to run, ah was Bobby Kennedy and that, therefore, he was the best ah vehicle, if you will, to carry forward ah a political opposition to the war in Vietnam, and I...there’s no question but what if Bobby Kennedy had been the candidate, we would have been in a stronger position by December or January.
The way it was, ahm Al Lowenstein went and talked to him about it and for a variety of reasons, some of them personal and some political ah he chose not to run. We then began to look around ah okay if ah the most obvious potential winner isn’t available who is around. And, there was discussion with George McGovern and two or three other people and ah with Gene McCarthy and Gene McCarthy was the one who said ah you’re right. There ought to be a political opposition and ah the way to express it is by having a candidate for president and I’m your person.
Interviewer:
Why do you think McCarthy said yes to you?
Brown:
Who knows why McCarthy ah...anybody who pretends to ah to explain Eugene McCarthy’s motivations at any given moment is likely to be somebody who’s never spent any time around him...or paid any attention to the history of the last thirty years. I have no idea why Gene McCarthy decided to run. He clearly had a deep and abiding moral commitment about the war and an very great concern, and I think it’s fair to say that a great many of the people who were most deeply involved in the anti-war movement came to it out of moral concern.
So, there was a sort of congruity of, of concern between McCarthy and the people who went to talk to him. There was a, there was a moral outrage in a sense of moral obligation to do something, and I suppose that’s as close as I can speculate as to why Eugene McCarthy ah chose to be a candidate for president.
Interviewer:
Could you describe the scene when you arrived in New Hampshire—the snow, the lonely candidate, no press, McCarthy had not been taken seriously, just evoke that for us.
Brown:
Well, McCarthy in New Hampshire first it needs to be understood that there was a big fight inside the campaign. A lot of people thought it was crazy to go to New Hampshire. Traditionally conservative state. Very tough place ah to work. Ah. We didn’t really have any money. We thought we ought to go someplace where there was a natural liberal constituency in base to start so ah the decision to go to New Hampshire was one about which a great many people were very skeptical ah initially.
Ahm. And, it was in that mood that we, that people arrived. Sort of not quite certain that what we were doing made sense anyway. And, then to get there and discover a sort of rattling around in ah some motel in Concord, New Hampshire ah actually more accurately in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Sheraton Wayfare to be more precise. I mean on hotel where everybody which in presidential years is alive and all the press is there and everyone is running around doing interviews with everybody else and you walk in and Gene McCarthy could go in and it down and eat dinner by himself and nobody’d stop at the counter to have a cup of coffee with him.
Ah. And, for the people who came there to work, ah, I mean, it’s cold and it’s barren and the roads in New Hampshire are terrible cause they’ve never taxed themselves so there’s no road, there’s no road scrapers, there’s you know the places is to get there is impossible and when you get there it’s pothole and ah it was ah, it was pretty grim. And, then, in order to get cheered up you’d go to the headquarters and discover you know you were one of three people at the headquarters that first week. It was a sort of barn of an office in, in ah Concord with a, a basement and nobody there. Sort of two telephone lines and somebody that was so thrilled to see you walk through the door they didn’t care who you...I mean, they were going to promote you the minute you walked through the door. Ah. It was real easy to to ah to get a high ranking position in New Hampshire. All you had to do is be there.
Interviewer:
Could you talk...let’s stop for a minute, Dick. How much more film...
Sound Roll one, Camera Roll two. Refocusing. Clap. Speak. Camera rolling.
Brown:
Well, since we didn’t have any other kind of resource in New Hampshire, we had to use what we did have, which was proximity to the the vast array of the New England colleges and the base of people in those colleges who were opposed to the war. So, we couldn’t go to television. We couldn’t go to radio. We had to go door to door. So, it was a very pragmatic decision, in fact, to use the resource we had.
So that formerly barren office in Concord, New Hampshire with no one in it just turned into a complete mad house every weekend for I guess the last four or five weekends before the primary. Ah. The buses would be organized. People would come up. There would be an introductory ah speech about what we expected of people. Ah. And, that speech included that we were there to win votes. To change people’s minds, and if by people’s physical appearance they were going to offend and affront and frighten people ah then we didn’t want them to go talk to people unless they wanted to wear Lyndon Johnson buttons, I suppose, and go talk to people. That was...that would be okay.
Ahm. So, there was a long lecture which said, basically, ah you have to clean up your act. I mean people had been told that before because when the bus organizers basically were told don’t put people on the bus. We don’t want to have people wasting their time and ours coming up here who aren’t going to be able to work when they get here.
Occasionally, of course, we always got somebody with ah some guy ah with hair down to his waist and ah the need to express ah some left outrage at the state of the world. And fortunately, we had a basement in the ah building and we had boxes and boxes and boxes of three by five cards from previous canvassers who brought back the information from each door about the inclination of the person that they had talked to, whether they were for us or for Johnson or some place in between and ah each weekend we always seemed to manage to accumulate a core of ah people who didn’t quite understand the rules about cleaning up their act for the ah for the situation. And, they got to sort cards for the weekend, sort of keep track of file cards and make telephone calls.
In the last weekend, we had some large telephone banks and ah if the newspapers had ever gotten pictures of the telephone banks “the clean for Gene” myth would have gone right out the window. (chuckle).
Interviewer:
Could you ah just give us a short description of what the pitch was at the door. You know, hi, I’m a nice guy, I’m clean, I’m...
Brown:
Right. I’m a nice person...
Interviewer:
Start it again.
Brown:
Ahm. When the canvasser got to the door they were instructed that we were not there on a holy crusade. We were not there to ah convince people about the morality of immorality of the war. We were there to elect the president who had a view on that issue and as a consequence the opening introductory segment was always one of...I’m a nice person, I’m here working for Gene McCarthy because I care deeply about his candidacy. I’d like to talk to you about it. Do you have a view on it?
It was a sort of open solicitation ah for their views. Now that is, does not mean that people were discouraged from talking about the war. In fact, people were rather thoughtfully briefed beforehand, or at least we thought it was thoughtfully briefed beforehand about what his position was on the war and people were...it was explained to people that if they felt the need to argue their personal view of the, of the war with every voter in New Hampshire then that wasn’t what the McCarthy campaign was about. It was about electing a president of the United States and the way you do that is to convince people. Ah. To do at home what ah we were failing to do abroad. The ah, to win people’s hearts and minds.
Interviewer:
Again, could you give us briefly the ah what your polls showed that you were doing very strong but you played that down. Could you talk just briefly about that and why you did that?
Brown:
Ah. Winning candidates are not in America necessarily popular. The underdog remains a, a very strong image in American life. And, so, it was important for McCarthy to be seen as the underdog. It was also important because, I think, if Johnson had decided to come in full force and spend the kind of resources that were available to the White House, they could have ah knocked up us completely out of the state.
So, from two standpoints, it was very important for us to say we’re just this struggling little group, band of travelers out there trying to build from six percent to eight percent and we sure hope to do well, ah when, in fact, our polls showed us pretty consistently all along ah the door-to-door canvassing ah we were getting ah thirty-five, forty percent affirmative response. Ah. We knew we were going to do a little better than other people thought we were going to do.
Interviewer:
That’s fascinating. Moving on from New Hampshire or just generally. What were the frustrations of McCarthy as a candidate and could you compare him, a little bit like what we were talking about earlier about, if you look at the film of Bobby Kennedy that physicality, you know, compared with McCarthy. If you could talk a little bit about the two of them.
Brown:
Well, McCarthy ah, I don’t know that moody is the right word but he cut his own track and he was more likely to ah, to reflect his mood ah at times even in the mood of the audience or the people around him. Unlike I think most people in politics who respond to the mood around him, when people got excited ah somehow or another it seemed to encourage McCarthy to try and calm people and to explain to them in rational terms what the future of the world ah should be. On other occasions he could get up and be magnificent. A genius at being able to evoke emotions in the audiences of people who listened to him. But, he was as likely to decide that there’d been enough of a day and that he wasn’t to do the next event.
Interviewer:
And, Kennedy. You were still in the McCarthy camp looking at Kennedy’s campaign how did you feel?
Brown:
Well, Senator Kennedy’s campaign reflected to a great extent the personality of the man it seemed to me. Highly emotive. Tremendous amount of energy. Ah. A real presence there all the time. Ah, but it also reflected ah a kind of I think many of us thought at times not as much clarity about some issues as McCarthy would do. It didn’t there wasn’t the ah McCarthy’s idiosyncratic genius could be ah so charming as the consistent strength and energy of a Kennedy campaign. But, there’s no question but what at times inside the campaign there was a tremendous ah envy of of the Kennedy campaign because they had this candidate who would go out and fire up the troops.
Interviewer:
Let’s stop for a minute.
Beep.
Brown:
I suppose one of the great disappointments of 1968 ah has to be ah Hubert Humphrey ah, in two senses. One in the sense that I think many of us felt that he could have expressed an independent position earlier. That there was a willingness in it, even an openness and even an anxiousness to compromise on the substance of what was said. He could have given us the peace plank and the platform easily. Platforms were not much read by people anyway. It wouldn’t have cost him a whole lot except to, except that Lyndon Johnson seemingly wouldn’t give that latitude and that would have done a great deal toward softening the feelings. So, at one level it was a disappointment I suppose in Hubert Humphrey in an absolute sense. The larger disappointment for me, I guess, is the disappointment ah about Hubert Humphrey in in a relative sense. That is, that we never saw the genius and the humanity and and the wit and the love that was in the man. Never showed up. And, as a consequence, we lost the opportunity to have him as president, which he should have been. Ah. And, which would have made a tremendous difference in the future of the country. But, after the convention, ah, there was a constant yearning for him to say anything which would give an opening for people to support him. There was a tremendous desire to want to support the man in spite of all...there was a lot of anger and a lot of things said in anger at the convention. Forget what's said in anger at conventions. There was a tremendous yearning, I think, of people to support him and the speech which he finally gave in Salt Lake City in which he moved modestly away from the President. I mean he didn’t break with the President, he moved modesty away from the President, was applauded roundly, but it was too late. It was a time when the strength that the McCarthy campaign or the peace movement or whatever could have brought to Hubert Humphrey was a strength of people. That doesn’t change in three nights. You can’t take the energy and convert it into votes in three nights. It takes a month or six weeks for people to get involved and talk to their neighbors and change moods and—and forgive and change attitudes and we didn’t have six weeks so we ended up with Richard Nixon, president.
Let’s stop again.
Speak. Beep.
Brown:
Well, I think the general view of the McCarthy campaign was that the organization for the events in the streets in Chicago was likely to be a destructive one. Ah. That Daley was not a nice man and that he was not ni...likely to react nicely to people raining on this parade and that it was, there fore, important to try and keep people separated from the events in the in the street to the extent that it was possible. That, frankly, was delusion. The idea that people who would put six or eight months of their lives into something and saw it all falling apart would not look around for options to express their outrage and wouldn’t join with the other people who were outraged is pure delusion.
Interviewer:
All right.
END OF SR #2502.
BEGINNING OF SOUND ROLL #2503
Camera Roll 506. Sound Roll 2503, 8/11/82 with Sam Brown in Denver. Speak. Beep. Camera is rolling.
Brown:
...Well, Chicago was ah a sort of sad time because if you’ve been involved in the politics and the process of talking to people and going out and talking door-to-door, what was quite clear was that that a great many of the American people, in fact, were sympathetic to the anti-war movement and yet suddenly the image that they got was not of this nice young person coming to their door and saying, wouldn’t you like to vote for Gene McCarthy but of people shouting obscenities and ah disrupting the city. And, it seemed to me reasonable to expect that if you were ah a person who works for a living and tries to do the best thing they can for their kids and wants to send them to school like a policeman might, and the next thing you see is that same child now college educated which most of the people in the streets were, screaming obscenities back to you it begins to raise serious questions about your whole way of being and how you relate and you’re going to react angrily and bitterly. That’s not to justify what the police did which was clearly unreasonable. But, it’s to say that it’s, it’s not an inhuman reaction.
Interviewer:
Were people maneuvered into that position though? What were the tactics of those in charge who got the kids in that position?
Brown:
You don’t have to be very smart to know that if you get a lot of people who are angry and put them in the street across from a lot of cops who are angry at them that something unpleasant is going to happen, and to deny that and to say, well, we just brought people here and you know whatever happens, happens, is not only irresponsible in the extreme, it’s ah it’s just dishonest. People had to have known as the organization of that went on that confrontation was inevitable, and at least in the minds of some people, I don’t know that it was a majority of the organizers or anything, but in the minds of some people ah radicalizing confrontation ah to build a broader-term ah movement in the country was an acceptable tactic. It wasn’t to me then and I regard it as unconscionable now.
Interviewer:
Let’s go right on to the moratorium. By contrast. What your ideas for that. The idea behind the moratorium to that appeals to a broad spectrum and just take it right through. What happened in that event?
Brown:
Well, the notion in the moratorium was a pretty straightforward one which was that we had to take the anti-war movement off the campus and build it back into the community. That had begun to some extent the year before in the McCarthy campaign and before that with some local efforts around the country. But, what seemed clear was that we had to do that on a massive basis. That meant you had to have language that was moderate and not strident and ah, and off putting to middle America, that you had to have people, events, which moderate people could participate in and be assured that they weren’t going to get ah dragged into something that they didn’t want to be a part of.
It had to be locally organized so that the people knew the people who were organizing it and didn’t feel like they were getting involved with a bunch of crazies from Washington or New York or some place, but sort of heartland folks had to feel that it belonged to them, in a fundamental sense, that they owned the movement. So, the choice of the word moratorium rather than strike was designed very consciously. Strike is a tough, hard, angry word. Moratorium is a sort of nice ah let’s put things aside for a day and reason together word. And, at every level that was the attempt at least of the moratorium.
Our newspaper advertising was a picture of a father and a son ah with their arms around each other. The son with hair down to his waist and the father with a crew cut and the cut line under it said “fathers and sons together against the war.” I mean everything was designed to appeal to the broadest mass of the American people.
Interviewer:
Did it work?
Brown:
Oh, at the time I thought pretty much it hadn’t because the war didn’t end...
Interviewer:
Start it again and say it hadn’t...
Brown:
I'm sorry. At the time my judgment was that the moratorium hadn’t really succeeded because the war didn’t end, but in some ways I suppose that’s an unreasonable standard. By a more reasonable standard it broadened the base of the anti-war movement. Ah, it brought in people who hadn’t been involved in it before. It allowed ah events in Topeka, Des Moines, Council Bluffs and Cleveland and a whole wide range of hundreds of other places where no anti-war activity had ever taken place before. In that sense it was a tremendous success.
Interviewer:
Shortly after the moratorium another group began making plans for another event. How were, how was that group different from the moratorium and what was their agenda? How was their approach different and could you just describe the debate about whether you should join them and why you finally did decide to join?
Brown:
Well, the month after the moratorium ah there was an organization putting together a march in Washington. The New Mobilization Committee Against the War, New MOB as it was commonly called. I think there was general skepticism among people in the moratorium about a centralized event which ran contrary to everything we had worked for in the last month, months before that, that was ah likely to have speakers on it who contrary to appealing to the broad mass of the American people, tended to be fairly narrow and sectarian in special interest, which instead of being concentrated exclusively on the war tended to hang, have a sort of Christmas tree of ah of every ah left cause in America attached to it. But there was also a concern on the part of the people who had organized the moratorium that the worse thing that could happen would be to have a huge march with no moderating influence in it. With no middle influence.
So, after tremendous debate and a lot of internal dissension we made a decision to endorse that march and to work to try and do some of the things that hadn’t been done, to make sure there were enough marshals in non-violent training, and toilets and ah all the things that are necessary to make an event occur in a non-violent fashion. That’s not to say the intent of the organizers previously had been had been violent but simply that the planning in order to maintain nonviolence requires an immense amount of logistical, as well as ah sort of psychological conditioning of the participants.
Interviewer:
You don’t think that there was an attempt that...if, if all these things hadn’t been done to organize it that you all did, I mean what would have happened. I mean don’t you think...
Brown:
Well, there were some, there were some people involved in the MOB clearly whose desire was to have confrontation with the police. There was an organized attack on the Justice Department on that night which resulted in ah ah lots of tear gas so here we had half a million people all day long and when the evening news showed it was half a million people got forty-five seconds, and then 300 crazies attacking the Justice Department got forty-five seconds because it makes good film. And the entire day was lost in that.
Now, some of us think, thought then and I think today that there were probably agents provocateur involved from the government standpoint. But a tremendous effort was made when there was a march the night before to occur which was to be a march on the Vietnamese embassy. And we organized actually Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm Commune organized a ah, a kazoo concert and we distributed, uh, I dunno, a hundred gross of kazoos or something and invited everyone over to a kazoo concert and diverted maybe ten or fifteen thousand people who otherwise simply out of boredom uh, would have gotten involved in what turned out to be a rather substantial confrontation.
Interviewer:
What was the state of things after the MOB? Uh, Let’s stop while I plan this.
Speak
Camera’s rolling.
Brown:
Between events, really, between the moratorium and the mobilization march was when the major play began from the White House to try to appeal to the very constituency that the moratorium had attempted to appeal to. And the language which was used was that of the silent majority, with the purported notion that the vast mass of people in fact identified with the president and wanted to support him.
Well I think on one level that’s true; the vast mass of the American people do identify with the president and do want to support him, all of us, in a fundamental way, want to support, want to believe in and care about and support the president. And particularly in time of war. But that language became a very divisive language and unfortunately I think the anti-war movement, to some extent, played into it by allowing the images which we projected to validate in people’s minds the words which Richard Nixon used to describe us.
Interviewer:
Could you go on a little bit about the style difference, and the, the uh, attack, the sort of moral outrage and the, you know accusing people of things?
Brown:
Well...uh, we had built, there had been a careful building of a moderate image, and suddenly Richard Nixon claimed that he was the only moderate left in the country. And that anyone who disagreed with him was not simply mistaken, or mislead, or something else, but was un-American, didn’t belong in America, was destructive, was a crazy radical, probably supporting the Soviet Union, I mean, wild kind of talk coming from the president of the United States. And, unfortunately, that’s a powerful bully pulpit, and a lot of people listened to those words.
And I think it set back substantially the efforts which had gone on prior to that time. It was a very successful campaign from the standpoint of the White House in terms of ah, breaking the anti-war movement from its new found uh constituency. And so over the months ahead, December and on, it became increasingly clear that the momentum which had been, which had been building really was pretty much destroyed by January and February. And, and was then reborn after the Cambodia bombing in...April of that year. All of a sudden, as phoenix-like, the strength of it uh rose back again, but up to that point it really for four or five months dealt almost a deathblow to the peace movement.
Interviewer:
Let’s stop...
Rolling.
Everybody else ready?
Yes.
Camera now rolling. Camera roll 507 sound 2503, 8/11/82, Sam Brown.
Brown:
Well, those were hard times. A lot of the leadership of the anti-war movement was young. I include myself certainly in that. There was certain self-righteous indignation about the state of the world and a, and a good deal of assurance that uh if we just had an opportunity to run it we wouldn’t, we’d do it better. And self-righteous isn't, self-righteousness is not a particularly attractive quality to most people, and I think uh probably there were some people that were offended by that.
I think if you add to that uh a couple of very fundamental errors: one, the notion of no enemies on the left, uh, that never criticize anybody uh who is uh who shares a view about ending the war. That anything goes as long as it’s designed to end the war. In spite of the fact that many of us didn’t agree with that, there was never the courage really to stand up and say, Hey, wait a minute. We disagree with those people, we don’t like those people, we’re against...the war. We’re not against America, we’re not against the American people.
In the case of, I think, many of the people, most of the people involved with the moratorium we actually downright liked the American people and trusted their judgment as against the judgment of the government; believed that, that uh the people were substantially better than the government they had. And, the failure I think to articulate that, to make some distinctions, to have the courage to uh draw those distinctions uh,cost the anti-war movement very deeply. It may have cost us in a fundamental sense uh the ability to build a majority movement to end the war in Vietnam. And to the extent that that’s true, it cost the lives of Americans and the cost of the lives of—of Vietnamese.
In, in retrospect, uh...I mean, it’s easy now to look back at the mistakes made fourteen years ago, and particularly with the wisdom of being fourteen years older. But I think had we made some of those judgments at the time and been willing to live with them and enforce them, we might have been able to end the war a lot sooner than it ended.
Interviewer:
That’s wonderful. Could we talk a little bit about who, who was out there who could have supported you, people with less education, whose kids were fighting it, all of that.
Brown:
Well, it needs to be recalled that the war was not fought by the people who were opposed to the war or by their peers, in large part. There was a...economic injustice so endemic in the society that it reflect—that it’s reflected directly in who ends up in the military, and particularly who ends up dying in time of war. Tend to be less well educated, more mi—uh, larger percentage of minority people, uh, larger percentage of people from the South and Appalachian states.
And we never somehow or another figured out—we the anti-war movement, never really figured out how to speak to the parents of those children who were fighting the war, who were actually fighting the war, and who thought that we were undercutting their children’s san—chance of living. And we never really figured out I think how to articulate uh...our opposition in a way that they could identify with it, very clearly.
And, in fact, quite the contrary; I think frequently uh people who struggled all their lives so that kids would have a better chance then saw their, their, their kids, uh, slapping back at them. And so instead of helping to unify generations against the war, there was a tendency to split generations, uh, and leave a generation supporting its natural position, which is the country and the president. And I think that was exacerbated tremendously by the stupidity of whoever first said, uh, never trust anybody over thirty. I mean, cutting generations off from each other uh in the name of some higher good can only be destructive. You can’t, good cannot come from that sort of vicious sentiment.
Interviewer:
That’s wonderful. Talk about the ways in which you did make a difference. This is the last question. You said to Marilyn, this is a couple of days ago, that perhaps in terms of views of the Third World our potential . . .
Brown:
It seems clear to me that absent the opposition to the war, if it had just gone on and wound down...that the American people hadn’t been made as conscious of it as they were by the anti-war movement, we would almost certainly now, and in the intervening time, have been engaged in military adventurism in the southern part of Africa and in Angola or Mozambique, that we would now be looking at uh military action in Nicaragua or El Salvador.
That our sensitivity to how little influence we can have, for the first time discovering that we the, who had always been able to play uh biggest kid on the block, suddenly we have to deal with...uh, all these other people, who also live on the block and that we can’t always get our way, it a tremendous change in America’s sensitivity about itself, and in about the way we have to learn to deal and live with the rest of the world. That we can’t own it and run it, that it’s not ours. That it’s theirs and we have to learn how to live with the political leadership of other countries in a sensitive way.
And I think those two things - uh a reduction in military adventurism, and an increased sensitivity to the, to the constraints of American power — have been tremendously important to the country in the years since.
Interviewer:
Anything else?
Stop.
That’s it.
Brown:
You got it?
Room tone. Dick let the Camera roll.
END OF SOUND ROLL #2503.
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