Fifty Years Ago

October 15 of this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of one of the days of the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.

Millions turned out across the United States in a historic day of action. Nothing else so conveyed the breadth of the antiwar movement. Life magazine described the Moratorium as “a display without historic parallel, the largest expression of public dissent ever seen in this country.” With the Moratorium, wrote Fred Halstead, “the antiwar movement for the first time reached the level of a full-fledged mass movement.”

When October 15 came, some two million people across two hundred cities took part. There were the expected huge demonstrations — a quarter-million people each in New York City and Washington, DC, and another hundred thousand in Boston, for example. But the scope of antiwar sentiment was also reflected in the many local expressions the Moratorium took across the nation. As one historian described it:

Everywhere, black armbands; everywhere, flags at half staff; church services, film showings, teach-ins, neighbor-to-neighbor canvasses. In North Newton, Kansas, a bell tolled every four seconds, each clang memorializing a fallen soldier; in Columbia, Maryland, an electronic sign counted the day’s war deaths. Milwaukee staged a downtown noontime funeral procession. Hastings College, an 850-student Presbyterian school in Nebraska, suspended operations. Madison, Ann Arbor, and New Haven were only a few of the college towns to draw out a quarter of their populations or more.

Fifty Years Ago Today, US Soldiers Joined The Vietnam Moratorium Protests In Mass Numbers, By Derek Seidman,, October 16, 2019

I was a student at the Quaker boarding high school, Scattergood Friends School and Farm, at that time. Our action that day was one of the “many local expressions the Moratorium took across the nation.” The School Committee was the governing body of the School, which was operated by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). It should be noted that “Conservative” referred to conserving religious practices of early Quakers, not political orientation. Most members of the Yearly Meeting have very liberal political views.

October 11, 1969  School Committee Day

From the school committee minutes:

A group of students attended Committee meeting and explained plans for their participation in the October 15 Moratorium. The Committee wholeheartedly endorses the plans. The following statement will be handed out in answer to any inquiries:

“These students and faculty of Scattergood School are undertaking the twelve mile walk from campus to Iowa City in observance of the October 15 Moratorium. In order not to detract from the purpose of the walk, we have decided to remain silent. You are welcome to join us in this expression of our sorrow and disapproval of the war and loss of life in Vietnam. Please follow the example of the group and accept any heckling or provocation in silence.”

The entire student body (sixty students) and many of the School staff walked from the School to Iowa City (about 14 miles) where Moratorium events were being held at the University of Iowa. One of the things I remember from that day were mannequins floating in the river.

From my Journal:

Jeff Kisling’s Journal

Vietnam War Moratorium Day, October 15, 1969  Scattergood Friends School
This is one of the first photos I ever developed, using a simple darkroom in the basement of the Main building at Scattergood.
Scattergood Friends School archives

Christine Ashley, then Head of the School, organized another Peace Walk in 2012.

To this day many of us wonder “what happened”?

For Americans who grew up learning social studies, watching Jeopardy! and playing Trivial Pursuit, history is supposed to be about answering questions For documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, however, the point of history has always been to ask them.

That’s especially true with respect to their latest film series, The Vietnam War, premiering Sept. 17, 2017, on PBS. Barely a minute into the first episode, Vietnam War veteran Karl Marlantes articulates the burning question to which Burns and Novick have devoted 10 episodes and 18 hours.

“For years, nobody talked about Vietnam,” says Marlantes, a former Marine Corps officer. “It was so divisive. It’s like living in a family with an alcoholic father: ‘Shhh! We don’t talk about that.’ Our country did that with Vietnam, and it’s only been very recently that the baby boomers are finally starting to say, ‘What happened? What happened?’ ”

Why Ken Burns decided this was the time to make a Vietnam War documentary by Matt Alderton, USA Today, Sept. 11, 2017

The Vietnam War played a large role in my coming of age. The military draft was pulling thousands of young men into the armed forces, to go to Vietnam. I spent countless hours reading, thinking and praying about what I should do. I saw that decision as a fork in the road for the rest of my life.

I don’t judge anyone else for the decision they made. I was convinced from the beginning that it would not be right for me to participate in the Selective Service System. I could do two years of alternative service to satisfy my obligations. That would be one path forward. But believing it would be wrong to participate in the draft at all, I wondered if I could take the other path, knowing that imprisonment would likely be the result of my draft resistance. I was afraid of that, but in the end I was more afraid that taking the easy way out, doing alternative service, would lead to a life of compromise when it came to moral decisions. I did return my draft cards and became a draft resister. I was saved from going to prison by a Supreme Court decision that affected my situation.

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