Throwback Thursday: The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, 1969

The Machine’s Envy

Ah yes, I’ve said it before: war is kind. We are a species who love war like no other. But there are those of us who protest war, and militarism as well. Throughout history there have been war protests. From the earliest of times to the latest. In our political climate today, though, I see apathy, extreme apathy. Yes, there are scattered protests, not necessarily about war, but of other cultural momentums. Me too, most notably, which I wholeheartedly embrace. Still, the impetus of these protests pale in comparison with the engine that fueled the froth of the ‘60s. Today, we are ruled by the opiate of the masses: the internet and television, instructing us on how to think, what to think and when to think. Hell, it’s easier that way. 1984. You don’t have to work so hard to use your brain. Hey, they’re using it for you, in place of you. The machine is taking over, even as we speak, doing all the work your brain once did. You’ve gone stale. Been put out to pasture. You’re a surrogate now, a measly surrogate. To the machine. Not the other way around. Not any longer. Yeah, no thinking for yourself ­—­ not any more. Only the machine’s well-oiled parts cranking away in perpetuity do your thinking for you. Still, as long as there are protests, the machine will be envious.

Life’s a Gas

Global warming, gun violence, refuges, assignations, the alt-right (populism and fascism rising around the world like a bad stink) and a host of other atrocities that happen daily too numerous to name, all spawning news stories which seem to last 30 seconds, then we’re onto another new story, more explosive than the one before, then another and another until it blends and bleeds into one. So on and so forth, stimulated by the internet. We are so inured to the violence, fakery, lies and political chicanery that we have become bored. We’ve seen it all a thousand times before and, as long as it doesn’t touch you, you can compartmentalize all of the horror in the back of your mind and let it go. Put your head in the sand — it doesn’t concern you. As Trump said, when he was asked about the exploding debt for future generations he created with his tax cuts for the rich: “I won’t be here when it blows up.” Like Trump, you have no need to worry. Leave it for future generations to deal with. Ennui takes over and you’re onto the next story or stuck fast into your life. We now live in a climate of narcissism married to the nihilism. Life’s a gas.

The Way Forward

After a rousing breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage and cornbread, prepared for us by Haggis’s mother, we all headed out to the Lincoln Memorial. Haggis’s mother, whom he called Goodnight Irene, took Roger’s dog for the day (I think they fell in love at once). We arrived in the heart of the city, but of course we couldn’t find a parking space. It took us the good part of an hour to find a lot off a back street. It looked full. We were about to head out when Haggis told Autumn to stop. The parking attendant was a young hippie with hair down to his waist. Haggis got out and I watched him greet the attendant. He then handed him a baggie of his Special Blend. He waved us in and Autumn parked her car next to his shed.

Out into the Thousands

We headed out into the frost-laden morning, condensation mingling with weed smoke, walked around a corner and stopped. Thousands of people flowed past us like river swelling after a hard rain. We jumped in and got wet. We were taking to the streets with a purpose, all of us as one. Later, I heard there were 500,000 to 600,000 of us marching through the streets and byways of the capital of this here Amerika.


We were on our way to meet Owl, our Students for a Democratic Society contact from the university we attended in Colorado. I only knew him as Owl, a student my age, who was majoring in Communications. I never bothered to find out his real name, because he didn’t want it known. I could have, but didn’t. Owl had been in D.C. for a week and called me on the phone before we left, telling me where to meet. None of us had never been to D.C., but after much planning around a coffee table in Sven’s apartment with paper maps spread out in front of us, we figured out where to meet Owl. At Lincoln’s Memorial.

Owl slipped out from behind Lincoln as though he was the reincarnation of the man himself. Since I’d known him the last two years he had a beard, close-cut like the intellectuals of his day. He resembled a beatnik. We all deferred to his intelligence. I fantasized that he shifted into lower gears when dealing with us mere mortals. He had all the answers, and we had the questions.

The Felled of History

You can look out over the Mall and see the shimmering waters of the Reflecting Pools, see the Washington Monument in the distance from Lincoln’s perch. Here, on these steps with Lincoln looking over his shoulder, is where Martin Luther King gave one of his most famous speeches for freedom in 1963, in front of 250,000 supporters. The “I Have Dream” speech resonates as much today as it did then. Now he was dead, murdered by a white supremist. JFK and RFK were gone, too, all three felled by the assassin’s bullets.

The Seep of History

I felt all that history seeping out of my bones as I stood next to Lincoln clothed in his flowing alabaster marble. Two years earlier, in 1967, I was lucky enough to have seen MLK give a speech in Denver at the Denver Arena. Now, here I was in not-so-similar circumstances, suddenly finding myself thrust into the here and now, here in Washington, D.C., at The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, standing in cold, the frigid, listening to speakers standing where MLK once stood, his ghost hovering over all of us like a flag waving and showing us the way. That’s what I was feeling, the hair rising on my skin, bubbles of excitement bursting in my brain. I needed to calm down. I needed a joint.

The Old, Young and the Infirm

Owl handed us some signs and led us out onto the Mall. The festivities, if you want to call them that, were about to begin. There was a mic check. We waited and waited, the cold wrapping itself around me as the moments wore on. Nixon was said to have been watching college football on the Tee Vee behind his barricade in the White House. We heard that he didn’t care, that he sloughed off the demonstrations that were taking place not only in this country, but around the world. Ignore us at your own peril, Nixon. We weren’t just comprised of youthful protestors, but people from many walks of life. Not far away from us stood a host of veterans of the Vietnam war. They carried American flags upside down. The old and the young, the infirm, the wounded in wheelchairs or on crutches, they stood or sat there in the footsteps of Lincoln and King. Protesting.

Oh What a Time

Peter Paul and Mary sang, as did Pete Seeger and others. Oh, it was a time. We protested peacefully — in numbers — around the world. Only at the very end of the day were there arrests, but it was nothing like the 1968 Democratic Convention a year earlier, when the streets of Chicago were filled with tear gas and blood. This was a peace march, marched in peace and given in peace with the stars shining down on us. The world was watching. The world was participating. We would overcome. In the coming years, the war would wind down and ramp up and wind down again, and finally end in defeat. Seven years later, in 1975, after Nixon resigned from office on August 8, 1974, we would prevail. But like the circle, it would all come round again. We’re still at war. Not Vietnam, but with the world. War is kind.

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