Raskin, Marcus, Waskow, Arthur, and Chomsky, Noam
14: Marcus Raskin, Arthur Waskow, and Noam Chomsky
Complete text of "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority"
Statement first distributed in 1967.
Reprinted from Issues and Controversies in American History Web site; also available online at http://www.resistinc.org/resist/the_call.html.
On August 4, 1964, the U.S. government claimed that one of its naval vessels, the Maddox, was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Southeast Asia. President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973; served 1963–69) announced on national television that the ship was in international waters and the attack was unprovoked. He asked the U.S. Congress for authority to defend American lives in Vietnam. In the Tonkin Gulf Resolution (1964), Congress granted him the power to take action to protect the U.S. military. Within a year, the United States was engaged in a full scale war in Vietnam.
"We call upon all men of good will to join us in this confrontation with immoral authority. Especially we call upon the universities to fulfill their mission of enlightenment and religious organizations to honor their heritage of brotherhood. Now is the time to resist."
American involvement in the Vietnam War (1954–75) had actually begun a decade earlier. In 1954 France had abandoned Indochina, its colony in Southeast Asia, to fighters called the Viet Minh. The Viet Minh were followers of rebel leader Ho Chi Minh (1890–1969), who had communist sympathies. The former French colony was then separated into North and South Vietnam. Loyalists to Ho Chi Minh were based in North Vietnam. With the help of insurgents in South Vietnam called the Viet Cong, Ho Chi Minh loyalists began attempting to overthrow the democratic government of South Vietnam. Insurgents are members of an irregular armed force that fight through sabotage and harassment.
During this time, the United States was engaged in the Cold War (1945–91) with the Soviet Union. The Cold War was a time when tension increased between the United States, which has a democratic government, and the Soviet Union, which had a communist government. Although no battles were fought, the threat of nuclear war was always present. Concern about communism spreading in Vietnam prompted the United States to send military advisers to assist South Vietnam beginning in 1954 during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969; served 1953–61). The number of advisers grew consistently until numbering more than 15,000 during the administration of President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63), who succeeded Eisenhower. Lyndon B. Johnson became president in 1963 after Kennedy was assassinated. He continued the policy of military advising, but in 1964 Johnson became concerned that South Vietnam was going to be overrun by the Viet Cong.
According to the U.S. Constitution, a president can respond to aggression with military force, but it is up to Congress to declare war. Congress never declared war in Vietnam, but President Johnson used the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to defend his growing use of force against North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. Intense bombing raids by American troops followed in the spring of 1965. More than 165,000 American troops were in South Vietnam by November of 1965, and some 460,000 American troops were stationed there by May of 1967.
As early as April of 1965, rallies and marches against the war took place in Washington, D.C. The use of the military draft—a lottery that determined which eligible young men would be called to serve in the military—led to protests on college and university campuses all across the country. As the number of American casualties (severe injuries and deaths) rose, reports of extensive damage and fatalities from bombing raids surfaced. In addition, the accuracy of information being presented to the American public was questioned and criticized, including whether the Maddox had actually been attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin. Subsequently, the antiwar movement grew stronger and louder and the nation became divided. The antiwar movement became part of American popular culture, as many writers, musicians, actors, and activists for civil rights, women's rights, and other reform causes joined the antiwar movement.
Opposing the draft
Protests included the burning and destruction of draft cards. Every American male was required upon turning eighteen to register for the military draft. Each man was given two cards: a Registration Certificate and a Notice of Classification, which detailed his qualification for military service based on his health and other considerations. Each registrant was required to keep his card in his possession at all times. In addition, the Selective Service Act of 1948 had made it a criminal offense for a person to knowingly encourage, aid, or support someone in refusing or evading registration in the armed forces.
Dr. Spock: Baby Doctor of the Baby Boomer Generation
Dr. Benjamin Spock (1903–1998) was one of the best-known Americans during the second half of the twentieth century. His publication The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946) sold 750,000 copies in its first year. By the time Spock died in 1998, some 50 million copies of the book had been purchased worldwide; it had been translated into 42 languages; and it was the best-selling book in history after the Bible. The book was especially used by baby-boom parents, a term used to describe the large generation of children born between the end of World War II in 1945 and 1960.
Spock had been educated in and had practiced both pediatrics, the medical care of infants and children, and psychiatry, the study and treatment of mental and emotional disorders. His book assured new mothers that they knew more than they realized about raising children. Unlike previous parental guides that stressed discipline and emotional distance, Spock's book encouraged parents to be flexible and affectionate with their children and to treat them as individuals.
In the 1950s and 1960s, while the baby boom generation grew up, Spock was a nationally famous person. He increasingly used his fame to speak out on political issues. In 1960 he campaigned for John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) for president. To help win the "mother's vote," Spock appeared on television with Jacqueline Kennedy (1929–1994), the wife of the presidential candidate. After President Kennedy announced new weapons testing programs in 1962, however, Spock became a member of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), an antinuclear weapons group. He became devoted to the peace movement. He was such a well-known figure that a widely circulated newspaper advertisement by SANE in 1962 criticizing the increase of nuclear weapons tests was titled "Dr. Spock Is Worried" and featured a photo of Spock standing behind a child.
Spock began focusing on antiwar activities in 1964. He campaigned for President Lyndon B. Johnson's election in 1964 because the candidate had pledged not to intensify or increase American involvement in Vietnam. Spock was angered when Johnson broke that pledge in early 1965. In 1967 Spock helped distribute "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority"; led a march of several hundred people to the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C., where he turned in one thousand draft cards that had been collected; and was a main speaker at many antiwar rallies. The trial of the Boston Five involving Spock in early 1968 received extensive media coverage. When asked why a baby doctor would get involved in the antiwar movement, Spock explained, as noted on the Resist, Inc. Web site: "There's no point in raising children if they're going to be burned alive" in war.
In 1972 Spock ran for president on the People's Party ticket and received nearly 80,000 votes. His political activism at a time when the nation was divided brought criticism for his views as well as for his books on child raising. Critics claimed that the child-raising methods advocated by Spock had encouraged a whole generation of spoiled children to disrespect authority. Many parents who supported the Vietnam War returned copies of the book to Spock with angry letters.
During the 1980s Spock remained active in political issues primarily through antinuclear demonstrations. At the age of eighty-four in 1987, he was arrested for trespassing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, during a protest of the test-launch of a new missile. He continued to write into his nineties, including books on macrobiotic diets, or diets that emphasize grains and vegetables, and alternative health care. His line of guidebooks for child raising remains popular and respected. Spock died in 1998 at age ninety-four.
Nevertheless, young men who believed the Vietnam War was illegal and immoral destroyed their draft cards. A major statement in opposition to the Vietnam War was spelled out in "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority," which urged young men to refuse to participate in the "unconstitutional and illegal" war. The document was first distributed as a flyer in August of 1967 signed by more than 300 people, and later appeared in the New York Review of Books (October 12, 1967) and other publications signed by thousands of people. Five antiwar activists associated with the document were arrested for their alleged involvement in a secret plan to defy the Selective Service Act of 1948. The five were Dr. Benjamin Spock, a noted authority on pediatrics, or taking care of infants; William Sloane Coffin, a chaplain at Yale University; Marcus Raskin, co-director of the Institute for Policy Studies; Mitchell Goodman, a writer; and Michael Ferber, a Harvard graduate student.
Things to remember while reading "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority":
- The document begins by noting that a growing number of young men (women did not serve in combat during the Vietnam War) believed the Vietnam War was immoral. Those young men could be considered conscientious objectors—people whose personal beliefs keep them from participating in military service or military action. In the United States at that time, however, one could only claim to be a conscientious objector if their religious beliefs prohibited them from participating in military action. Item 4 of "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority" argues that conscientious objector status should be expanded because individuals faced an unconstitutional denial of religious liberty and equal protection under the law.
- The document contends that the Vietnam War was unconstitutional and illegal, and cites several reasons for this position. The war was unconstitutional, according to the document, because Congress had not declared war and because U.S. military action violated a treaty, or agreement, called the Charter of the United Nations. The United Nations is an international organization made up of almost two hundred independent countries. According to the UN Charter, member nations involved in disputes that cannot be solved peacefully must present these cases to the United Nations Security Council, which has the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. International laws being violated, according to the document, included the Geneva Accords of 1954 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The Geneva Accords of 1954 separated Vietnam into two nations: South Vietnam was to be a democracy and home to those who had been loyal to the French Union that had controlled the region for nearly one hundred years. Those loyal to the forces of the People's Army of Viet-Nam, which had fought the French, were to live in North Vietnam. By participating in military activities, according to the document, the United States was breaking its pledge to support the Geneva Accords. Violations against the principles of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 are also cited. The Geneva Conventions defined war crimes and crimes against humanity and placed a moral obligation on individuals to not carry out illegal actions even if ordered to do so by military superiors.
- Because of the reasons cited, the document concludes that young men have a legal right and a moral duty to protest to end the war, to avoid military service, and to encourage others to do the same. These contentions challenge the Selective Service Act of 1948 that made it a criminal offense for a person to knowingly advise, aid, or support someone in refusing or evading registration in the armed forces.
"A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority"
To the young men of America, to the whole of the American people, and to all men of goodwill everywhere:
- An ever-growing number of young American men are finding that the American war in Vietnam so outrages their deepest moral and religious sense that they cannot contribute to it in any way. We share their moral outrage.
- We further believe that the war is unconstitutional and illegal. Congress has not declared a war as required by the Constitution. Moreover, under the Constitution, treaties signed by the President and ratified [formally authorized] by the Senate have the same force as the Constitution itself. The Charter of the United Nations is such a treaty. The Charter specifically obligates the United States to refrain from force or the threat of force in international relations. It requires member states to exhaust every peaceful means of settling disputes and to submit disputes which cannot be settled peacefully to the Security Council. The United States has systematically violated all of these Charter provisions for thirteen years.
- Moreover, this war violates international agreements, treaties and principles of law which the United States Government has solemnly endorsed [supported]. The combat role of the United States troops in Vietnam violates the Geneva Accords of 1954 which our government pledged to support but has since subverted [undermined]. The destruction of rice, crops and livestock; the burning and bulldozing of entire villages consisting exclusively of civilian structures; the interning [imprisoning] of civilian non-combatants in concentration camps; the summary executions of civilians in captured villages who could not produce satisfactory evidence of their loyalties or did not wish to be removed to concentration camps; the slaughter of peasants who dared to stand up in their fields and shake their fists at American helicopters;—these are all actions of the kind which the United States and the other victorious powers of World War II [1939–45] declared to be crimes against humanity for which individuals were to be held personally responsible even when acting under the orders of their governments and for which Germans were sentenced at Nuremberg to long prison terms and death. The prohibition of such acts as war crimes was incorporated in treaty law by the Geneva Conventions of 1949, ratified by the United States. These are commitments to other countries and to Mankind, and they would claim our allegiance [loyalty] even if Congress should declare war.
- We also believe it is an unconstitutional denial of religious liberty and equal protection of the laws to withhold draft exemption from men whose religious or profound philosophical beliefs are opposed to what in the Western religious tradition have been long known as unjust wars.
- Therefore, we believe on all these grounds that every free man has a legal right and a moral duty to exert every effort to end this war, to avoid collusion [involvement] with it, and to encourage others to do the same. Young men in the armed forces or threatened with the draft face the most excruciating [painful] choices. For them various forms of resistance risk separation from their families and their country, destruction of their careers, loss of their freedom and loss of their lives. Each must choose the course of resistance dictated by his conscience and circumstances. Among those already in the armed forces some are refusing to obey specific illegal and immoral orders, some are attempting to educate their fellow servicemen on the murderous and barbarous [cruel, savage] nature of the war, some are absenting themselves without official leave. Among those not in the armed forces some are applying for status as conscientious objectors to American aggression in Vietnam, some are refusing to be inducted. Among both groups some are resisting openly and paying a heavy penalty, some are organizing more resistance within the United States and some have sought sanctuary [refuge] in other countries.
- We believe that each of these forms of resistance against illegitimate [unlawful, illegal] authority is courageous and justified. Many of us believe that open resistance to the war and the draft is the course of action most likely to strengthen the moral resolve with which all of us can oppose the war and most likely to bring an end to the war.
- We will continue to lend our support to those who undertake resistance to this war. We will raise funds to organize draft resistance unions, to supply legal defense and bail, to support families and otherwise aid resistance to the war in whatever ways may seem appropriate.
- We firmly believe that our statement is the sort of speech that under the First Amendment must be free, and that the actions we will undertake are as legal as is the war resistance of the young men themselves. But we recognize that the courts may find otherwise, and that if so we might all be liable to prosecution and severe punishment. In any case, we feel that we cannot shrink from fulfilling our responsibilities to the youth whom many of us teach, to the country whose freedom we cherish, and to the ancient traditions of religion and philosophy which we strive to preserve in this generation.
- We call upon all men of good will to join us in this confrontation with immoral authority. Especially we call upon the universities to fulfill their mission of enlightenment and religious organizations to honor their heritage of brotherhood. Now is the time to resist.
What happened next …
After being circulated by hand in August and September of 1967, "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority" began appearing in magazines and newspapers with thousands of signatures of support, including a printing in the New York Review of Books on October 12, 1967. Around that time, a huge antiwar rally was in the final planning stages for the following week in Washington, D.C. On October 20, several hundred people marched to the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C., to turn in one thousand draft cards that had been collected. Dr. Benjamin Spock (1903–1998), who had been one of the main forces behind "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority," was a leader of the group that turned in the draft cards.
The next day, October 21, 1967, some 70,000 demonstrators marched in Washington, D.C., to "Confront the War Makers." A large rally was held at the Lincoln Memorial, then protesters marched to the Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense. Another group of protesters at the Pentagon, equally passionate in antiwar sentiments but more whimsical, sang and chanted. They wanted to levitate the Pentagon (make it float or rise without any physical effort), watch it turn orange, drive out evil spirits, and end the war in Vietnam.
In December of 1967, Dr. Spock met with two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents who questioned him about demonstrations in which he had participated in October. In January of 1968, Spock was charged, along with four others, of allegedly conspiring, or plotting, to obstruct the military draft and to create national resistance to the Selective Service. Among the accusations: Spock had helped distribute "A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority" and had collected draft cards at various rallies and deposited them at the U.S. Justice Department, violating the Selective Service Act of 1948. The others arrested as "co-conspirators" were: William Sloane Coffin, Marcus Raskin, Mitchell Goodman, and Michael Ferber.
The trial was held in Boston, Massachusetts. After three weeks, the case was turned over to the jury, who found four (Spock, Coffin, Goodman, and Ferber) of the Boston Five, as the defendants had come to be known, guilty as charged. Declaring that their crime had been similar to treason, a crime against one's government, the judge sentenced each of them to two years in a federal penitentiary, a jail in which inmates are required to perform labor. The verdict was overturned on appeal, however, and the charges were eventually dropped in 1969.
Protests against the war continued. Antiwar sentiment increased following reports of the My Lai massacre (1968), an atrocity committed by American soldiers who murdered the residents of a Vietnamese village, including women and children, on the false belief that the settlement was a Viet Cong stronghold. The incident had occurred in March of 1968 but was not made public until November of 1969.
Other events also sparked a surge of antiwar sentiment. In 1969 the Woodstock Festival, a three-day concert held in upstate New York, attracted 500,000 people from across North America in a nonviolent protest against the war. Among the performers were folk singer Joan Baez; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; the Grateful Dead; Janis Joplin; Jefferson Airplane; Jimi Hendrix; Santana; and The Who. In May of 1970 an antiwar demonstration at Kent State University in Ohio turned deadly when tensions mounted between students and members of the National Guard, who had been sent there to restore order to the campus. Earlier, students had burned down the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) building on campus. In a standoff between the National Guard and students, the soldiers began firing tear gas to break up the crowd. Some students responded by tossing the tear gas canisters back at the soldiers. Amid the confusion, the National Guard fired into the crowd, killing four students and injuring at least nine others. Students all across the country became enraged: over the next few days, classroom activities at college campuses all over the United States came to a halt.
The troops come home
While peace talks between the United States and North Vietnam collapsed in 1972, the war spread to neighboring countries. American air and ground forces entered Cambodia to empty Viet Cong strongholds, and American bombers hit established supply lines in Laos. After a large, organized attack by the Viet Cong in March of 1972, American planes began bombing North Vietnam for the first time since 1968. Later that year, mines were placed in important harbors to stop Viet Cong supply lines. The United States hit North Vietnam with the largest-ever aerial bombing in history up until that time in December 1972.
Peace talks resumed. Near the end of January 1973, a pact, or agreement, was signed by the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and the Viet Cong. The agreement paved the way for U.S. military withdrawal and for the release of U.S. prisoners of war. The Vietnam War officially ended on January 27, 1973, and more than 23,500 U.S. troops were withdrawn from South Vietnam. In early March 1975, however, North Vietnam began a major offensive in South Vietnam. The last American soldier killed in Vietnam occurred on April 29, 1975, and the last Americans were evacuated by helicopter that day from the U.S. Embassy roof in Saigon as South Vietnam surrendered.
More than 50,000 Americans were killed during the Vietnam War. By the time Saigon, headquarters for the U.S. and South Vietnamese forces, fell to invading North Vietnamese forces, more than 2 million Vietnamese had died. The massive U.S. bombing of both North and South Vietnam left the country in ruins. The U.S. Army's use of such chemicals as Agent Orange, a herbicide that kills vegetation, devastated Vietnam's natural environment and caused widespread health problems among Vietnamese and American soldiers alike.
Tens of thousands of wounded U.S. soldiers returned home. Widespread public distrust of the U.S. government, which was found to have distorted or withheld information about the war, created a "credibility gap" between people and their leaders. The military draft has not been used since 1973, although males are still required to register with the Selective Service by age eighteen.
Did you know …
- Most historians agree that the Vietnam War divided Americans as deeply as the American Civil War (1861–65) had a century earlier. The Mexican-American War (1846–48) was another conflict that deeply divided Americans. Among those who publicly protested the Mexican-American war was a newly elected Congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), who called the war immoral and a threat to the nation's values. American writer Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) was arrested on July 23, 1846, for failing to pay a state tax as a protest against the Mexican-American War. Thoreau spent only a single night in jail because his tax bill was paid by a relative against his objections. However, he was inspired to write an essay, "Civil Disobedience," in which he declared that if all citizens against the war went to jail for their beliefs, the government could be forced to end the conflict. He described a type of disobedience that challenged society and dramatized the moral issues at stake.
- Antiwar activists urged Dr. Spock and Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) to run together in the 1968 presidential campaign. In 1972 Spock did run for president on the People's Party ticket. The party supported universal health care, the decriminalization of marijuana, and the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from foreign soil. The party qualified to be on the ballots in ten states and received nearly 80,000 votes.
Muhammad Ali's War Resistance
Muhammad Ali (1942–) became the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964. That year he converted to Islam, a religious system based on the teachings of Mohammed (570–632), who believed he was chosen by Allah (god) to serve as his divinely inspired representative on Earth. Ali also changed his name from Cassius Marcellus Clay. Ali was an immensely popular media figure, especially for his boastful and colorful statements.
On August 23, 1966, Ali petitioned the Selective Service Administration for an exemption from Military Service based on his religious beliefs. His request was denied. In 1967 he refused induction into the U.S. Army. His license to box was withdrawn by many states (all states have a boxing commission to regulate the dangerous sport). Ali was charged with draft evasion, and on June 20, 1967, he was found guilty on the charge of violating the Universal Military Training and Service Act. Ali was sentenced to five years imprisonment and fined $10,000. He began an appeal the next day. In 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Ali's draft evasion conviction.
In 1966 Ali explained his position on why he refused to be drafted to people in Louisville, Kentucky. During his remarks, Ali proclaimed: "I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality."
- During World War II, France became occupied by Nazi Germany and lost its foothold in Vietnam. Japan then took control of the country and the Viet Minh resisted. Japan, who had sided with Germany, was forced to surrender at the end of World War II in 1945. At that time, Ho Chi Minh's forces took over the large city of Hanoi and declared Vietnam an independent country, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. France refused to recognize the declaration and returned to Vietnam, driving Ho's forces into the north. Ho appealed for aid from the United States, but because the United States was concerned about the spread of communism and of Ho's communist sympathies, America sided with the French instead. A humiliating defeat in 1954 prompted France to seek a peace settlement.
- In 1982 a memorial was erected in Washington, D.C., to honor those who served during the Vietnam War. Nicknamed "The Wall," the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was designed by artist and architect Maya Lin (1959–), whose design was chosen in a national competition. Lin was a twenty-one-year-old college student at the time. The Wall contains a list of the names of those who died in the conflict. In addition, the memorial was expanded to include a symbolic statue of three servicemen and a flagpole and the Vietnam Women's Memorial.
Consider the following …
- Research and discuss the impact of antiwar protest movements in the United States during the Vietnam War. Consider how American culture and society were changed by responses to the war.
- Research and write about several examples of civil disobedience (nonviolent protest), which is briefly described in the "Did You Know" section of this entry. The tactic was used in many reform movements. Discuss successes and failures, and consider and write about whether civil disobedience is as effective as more confrontational forms of protest.
- The war in Iraq that began in 2003 has been compared by some to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Research and compare the reasons for antiwar protests against both wars. Review articles that argue for and against similarities between the conflicts. Write an essay based on your findings.
For More Information
Ali, Muhammad. "Muhammad Ali Speaks Out Against the Vietnam War" (1966). Voices of a People's History of the United States, edited by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove, New York City: Seven Stories Press, 2004.
Caputo, Philip. A Rumor of War. New York: Owl Books, 1996.
Foley, Michael S. Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
Foley, Michael S., ed. Dear Dr. Spock: Letters about the Vietnam War to America's Favorite Baby Doctor. New York: New York University Press, 2005.
Mitford, Jessica. The Trial of Dr. Spock, The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Michael Ferber, Mitchell Goodman, and Marcus Raskin. New York: Random House, 1969.
"A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority." Resist, Inc.http://www.resistinc.org/resist/the_call.html (accessed on June 29, 2006).
Schachet, Carol. "Activists Say Good-Bye to Dr. Spock. A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority, Resist, Inc.http://www.resistinc.org/newsletter/issues/1998/04/spock.html (accessed on June 17, 2006).
Skarbeck, Rebecca. "A History of Resist." Raether Library & Information Technology Center, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/library/watkinson/reshistory.htm (accessed on June 17, 2006).
"The Vietnam War." The History Place. http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/vietnam/ (accessed on June 17, 2006).
Concentration camps: Places where captured individuals are confined usually because of political ties, religious beliefs, nationality, or ethnicity.
Germans: A reference to German dictator Adolf Hitler and the Nazis during World War II.
Nuremberg: Site of the trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II for crimes against humanity.
Inducted: Formally entering the armed forces.
Enlightenment: Provide information to reveal the truth.