- Student Strike of 1970
In the aftermath of the American Invasion of Cambodia on
April 30 1970and the killing of four students at Kent State University on May 4 1970in Ohio and two at Jackson State College in Mississippi on May 14/15, more than 450 university, college and high school campuses across the country were shut by student strikes and both violent and non-violent protests that involved more than 4 million students.cite video| people=Director: Joe Angio|title=Nixon a Presidency Revealed|medium=television|publisher=History Channel|date= 2007-02-15| year=2007] It was the only nationwide student strike in U.S. history.
While opposition to the
Vietnam Warhad been simmering on American campuses for several years, and the idea of a strike had been introduced by the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, which advocated a general strike on the 15th of every month until the war ended, the Kent State shootings seemed to provide the spark for students across the US to adopt the strike tactic.
8 May, ten days after Nixon announced the Cambodian invasion (and 4 days after the Kent State shootings), 100,000 protesters gathered in Washington and another 150,000 in San Francisco. [Todd Gitlin, "The Sixties", New York: Bantam Books, 1987, p. 410.] Nationwide, students turned their anger on what was often the nearest military facility—college and university Reserve Officers' Training Corps(ROTC) offices. All told, 30 ROTC buildings went up in flames or were bombed. There were violent clashes between students and police at 26 schools and National Guard units were mobilized on 21 campuses in 16 states. [Gitlin, p. 410.]
For the most part, however, the protests were peaceful — if often tense. Apocalyptic rhetoric, however, was the order of the day. Students at
New York University, for example, hung a banner out of a window which read "They Can't Kill Us All." [cite web|url= http://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/collections/exhibits/arch/1970/1970-2.html|title=1970 Timeline|publisher= New York University|accessdate=2007-05-01]
Nixon Administration reaction
The protests and strikes had a dramatic impact, and convinced many Americans, particularly within the administration of President
Richard Nixon, that the nation was on the verge of insurrection. Ray Price, Nixon's chief speechwriter from 1969-74, recalled the Washington demonstrations saying, "The city was an armed camp. The mobs were smashing windows, slashing tires, dragging parked cars into intersections, even throwing bedsprings off overpasses into the traffic down below. This was the quote, student protest. That's not student protest, that’s civil war."
Not only was Nixon taken to
Camp Davidfor two days for his own protection, but Charles Colson(Counsel to President Nixon from 1969 to 1973) stated that the military was called up to protect the administration from the angry students, he recalled that "The 82nd Airbornewas in the basement of the executive office building, so I went down just to talk to some of the guys and walk among them, and they're lying on the floor leaning on their packs and their helmets and their cartridge belts and their rifles cocked and you’re thinking, 'This can't be the United States of America. This is not the greatest free democracy in the world. This is a nation at war with itself.'"
The student protests in Washington also prompted a peculiar and memorable attempt by President Nixon to reach out to the disaffected students. As historian
Stanley Karnowreported in his "Vietnam: A History," on May 9 1970the President appeared at 4:15 a.m. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorialto discuss the war with 30 student dissidents who were conducting a vigil there. Nixon "treated them to a clumsy and condescending monologue, which he made public in an awkward attempt to display his benevolence." Nixon had been trailed by White House Deputy for Domestic Affairs Egil Krogh, who saw it differently than Karnow, saying, "I thought it was a very significant and major effort to reach out."
In any regard, neither side could convince the other and after meeting with the students Nixon expressed that those in the anti-war movement were the pawns of foreign communists. After the student protests, Nixon asked
H. R. Haldemanto consider the Huston Plan, which would have used illegal procedures to gather information on the leaders of the anti-war movement. Only the resistance of FBI head J. Edgar Hooverstopped the plan.
As a direct result of the student strike, on
June 13 1970, President Nixon established the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, which became known as the Scranton Commission after its chairman, former Pennsylvania governor William Scranton. Scranton was asked to study the dissent, disorder, and violence breaking out on college and university campuses. [cite book|url=http://www.lexisnexis.com/academic/2upa/Aph/pcmCampusUnrest.asp|format=Subscription| title=The Report of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest|location=Washington, DC|publisher=U.S. Government Printing Office|year=1970|accessdate=2007-04-16 This book is also known as "The Scranton Commission Report."]
The student protests provoked supporters of the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration to demonstrate in their own right. In contrast to the noisy student protests, Administration supporters viewed themselves as "the Silent Majority" (a phrase coined by Nixon speechwriter
In one instance, in New York City on
May 8, construction workers attacked student protesters in what came to be called the Hard Hat Riot.
The backlash against the student movement also reached the pop charts.
Merle Haggard's song "Okie from Muskogee" became an anthem for those who opposed the student protesters both politically and because of their supposed hippielifestyles.
In his tune, Haggard asserted:"We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee,We don't take our trips on LSD... We like living right and being free..."
Opposition to the Vietnam War
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