Bob Hope and Art Linkletter proclaimed the week of November 9 one of national unity. It turned out to be a week of demonstrations, particularly in Washington, D. C., and San Francisco. The subject: a moral question, and not a new one—what to do about the war in Viet Nam. If there was some unity on the question, there was little on the answer.
One answer came on Veterans Day when some of President Nixon’s silent supporters spoke up. Largely in response to his TV appeal, 15,000 of them gathered at the Washington Monument to acclaim the President and his Vice-President and to disclaim the anti-war demonstrators coming later.
That was Tuesday. On Thursday, one of the first peace protests was held at the Pentagon.
Shortly after noon, the Rev. Ian Mitchell and his wife began singing folk songs; when a Catholic priest prayed for the U. S. military complex, an onlooker hissed. Episcopal cleric and author Malcolm Boyd had just begun his sermon when a government official called the gathering an “unauthorized demonstration” and asked the group to leave.
Father Boyd continued: “The time has come when the religious community must respond, however painfully, to Spiro Agnew.” He was interrupted by applause greeting the arrival of police to arrest 186 clergymen, seminarians, and lay people.
Thursday evening 46,000 people—mostly young—began a forty-hour March Against Death. Carrying placards with the names of U. S. servicemen killed in Viet Nam, they walked four miles from Arlington Cemetery to the Capitol, where they dropped their placards in a dozen coffins.
On Friday, Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Viet Nam sponsored a service at the Episcopal National Cathedral. Several thousand filled the unfinished Gothic building to about double its capacity to hear folk singer Pete Seeger and World Council of Churches head Dr. Eugene Carson Blake do their own things. The young people obviously swung with Seeger; some of them weren’t sure they understood Blake. The issues, he said, are “not political. They are moral questions. Any hope for true or lasting peace depends upon repentance of our own evil ways.”
Outside, fundamentalist Carl Mclntire and some supporters, who had been dissuaded from disrupting the service, told all who would hear that “the way to peace is through victory and not through surrender.”
McIntire repeated his views Saturday afternoon at the Washington Monument grounds, where more than a quarter-million people massed for the major rally, co-sponsored by Yale chaplain William Sloane CoffinAt Washington’s National Press Club the following week, Billy Graham was asked about clergymen—and Coffin in particular—who participate in anti-war demonstrations. “We are to do all in our power to bring peace,” the evangelist said. He and Coffin disagree on many things, he said, adding: “He has the right to do anything he wants to do; I just don’t intend to march with him.” Of the demonstrations he said, “I think they have made a point … but they could go too far.… I hope we’ll use the democratic processes” to change the system. and pediatrician Benjamin Spock.
Leading up to that finale had been a march from the foot of the Capitol to the foot of the Monument. Near the head of the marchers was Daniel W. Billings, one of the few blacks present, carrying a 300-pound wooden cross. “If Jesus Christ were here,” he claimed, “he would be sick at the stomach over the war.”
Seminarians helped carry the coffins with the names of dead servicemen. Among clergy leaders were National Council of Churches official David Hunter, Harvard’s Harvey Cox, George M. Docherty of Washington’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Rabbi Balfour Brickner of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and Dr. M. Edward Clark of Central Baptist Seminary in Kansas City, whose son was killed in Viet Nam two years ago.
At the monument grounds, representatives of Campus Crusade for Christ gave out copies of Student Action. On the paper’s back page was a “Wanted” poster warning that Jesus Christ is “extremely dangerous” because of “his transforming message.”
Some demonstrators stayed to bombard the Justice Department building. Tear gas dispersed them as it had at an earlier confrontation at the South Vietnamese embassy.
Among 150,000 marchers at a similar parade and rally in San Francisco were 200 “militantly involved” members of the Christian World Liberation Front (headed by former Campus Crusade staffers). They distributed thousands of leaflets and carried signs with messages like “Follow Jesus to Peace.” A half dozen group members preached repentance on street corners.
Behind the speaker’s stand at Golden Gate Park, a hearse served as their headquarters. There three members of the Mari Krishna sect, a Hindu group distinguished by pink bloomer-like costumes and Cochise style haircuts, made Christian commitments.
Before all the demonstrators had gone home, peace leaders were already talking about December’s demonstrations. While they go on, millions of Americans will be sending and receiving Christmas cards wishing peace on earth, good will to men.
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