Journal May 5, 1970
It seemed as though the activist anti-war movement was almost dead. The Vietnam Moratorium Committee closed its offices due to lack of funds and interest, contending that activities would continue on a grass-roots level. As far as most of us were concerned it seemed American withdrawal was going well. The campuses were relatively quiet.
April 30, President Nixon addressed the nation. The subject–Cambodia. The North Vietnamese had been attacking South Vietnam from sanctuaries just across the border in Cambodia. In fact, North Vietnamese moved to hold a good share of the country. Prince Sihanouk was ousted (not by North Vietnamese). The President had decided that the sanctuaries must be destroyed if withdrawal were to continue safely (a few days earlier he had announced the withdrawal of 150,000 by next spring). South Vietnamese and American troops entered Cambodia. President Nixon contended that this was not widening the war, it was a necessary step to the completion of American withdrawal. Last night at a press conference he said all American troops of all kinds would be out of Cambodia by the end of June.
Since that address it seems as though the country has been in a state of upheaval–but this is judging from the reactions of students at the University of Iowa, though some 350-400 colleges have been closed by strikes, fear of violence, or desire to participate in political action.
At first, the reaction of Congress was the main area of dissent.
Then Monday, May 4, 1970, four students were killed by national guardsmen at Kent State. Wednesday, after attending the usual silent vigil downtown Iowa City, Bruce and I ate lunch near the Old Capitol on the campus, listening to speakers at a rally (2,000). The four scheduled speakers protested the Cambodian situation but urged students not to act, or react, violently. Thursday 150 students were arrested for ignoring a court injunction against disturbances and some for breaking into the Old Capitol.
Yesterday the computer center was closed down due to a bomb scare, and last night the old armory was burned, though it is not certain that students did it. Today there were supposed to be mass demonstrations in Washington and around the country. I haven’t heard about that, yet.
I wish those who would use violence would re-direct their efforts toward peace through nonviolence. They contend that they have tried nonviolence and it hasn’t worked. If it hasn’t, I believe it’s because we haven’t worked hard enough at it. I can’t help but feel that those who use and advocate violence have mixed motives. No, I guess I don’t feel that way. I think I can see that their frustration with our society could lead them to violence. But… I just don’t know. Sometimes I wonder if resorting to violence isn’t necessary, though I’ve never decided that it was. It’s another case of the ends and the means. I think we have to move toward reconciliation, not polarization, and that requires that we recognize that we are all in the same boat, and I think we are. And yet one can’t go so far toward trying to attain reconciliation that one betrays his beliefs and principles, even temporarily.
(Note: Another student rally at Jackson State College in Mississippi resulted in the death of two students and 12 wounded when police opened fire on a women’s dormitory.
The route through Cambodia used by North Vietnamese troops was called the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
I remember the chaos and fear on the University of Iowa campus in those days after the Kent State killings. We had no idea what armed troops on campuses meant.
It really disturbed me to see militarized police and vehicles on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was killed. I don’t know why I didn’t think about Kent State at that time.)