The Parkhurst Problem (comment from Randy Dominic)

Randy Dominic notes that he enjoyed the 50th Reunion but asked that the following be shared with our Class:

I was profoundly disappointed that the one event from our college days deemed worthy of remembering was when some of us decided to exercise their First Amendment rights by denying them to the rest of us.  Did we learn nothing in our four years at Dartmouth?

I was there at Parkhurst: I pushed through the demonstrators to help remove ROTC files from the building while it was still possible to do so.  Later I watched and waited for the authorities to act.  Fortunately they did. 

Actions have consequences.

If Thoreau taught us nothing else about civil disobedience, it was that the moral force of any action comes from a willingness to accept those consequences.  On that basis alone the two Parkhurst occupiers on stage Friday had no right to congratulate themselves.  Without consequences “Hell, no, I won’t go” is merely sanctimonious self-interest masquerading as virtue.

That one of the two was a woman underlines the fact that agitators who were not part of the student body routinely used Dartmouth as a stage for their political theater.  Her remark about how great it was that women portrayed the Parkhurst demonstrators was particularly upsetting.  Why is gender germane?  Identity politics robs us of our most important attribute: our individuality.

Left unmentioned Friday was “Our Day”, when people with opposing views on the war stood in parallel lines on the Green.  John Lallis – our classmate and an Army ROTC cadet – and I organized this event because we wanted to demonstrate our support for the ‘boys in the bunkers’.   We distributed mimeographed fliers throughout the community.  We did not interfere with the anti-war protestors, even though many (most?) were bussed in from Franconia College and elsewhere.   In a civil society one accords others’ views the same consideration one expects for one’s own.  As Voltaire did not say – but should have -- “I wholly disapprove of what you say—and will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Those in uniform did not necessarily agree with the war or how it was fought.  Most went simply because their government sent them.  Protestors who spat at them on their return never stopped to consider their own complicity: America is a republic, and We the People dictate policy.  If government policy does not reflect my views the failure is mine.  I should have fought harder to convince others.  Above all my actions must be consistent with the principles I express.

John was commissioned in June ’69 and eventually served in Vietnam.  I enlisted in the Army after graduation because I felt it was my duty as a citizen.  I was injured in a training accident in September, 1969, and was hospitalized for 14 months.  I served for 2 years and was honorably discharged in 1971.  I was never in the war zone but I am proud to be a service-connected disabled veteran.

 

Comments

I agree with Randy on several points. 

Yes, it would be disappointing if the Parkhurst protest was the only event deemed worthy of remembering, whether by the College or by our Class. But it wasn't the only thing remembered. For one thing, the re-enactment and the panel was only a single event from a multi-day Reunion. In addition, the panel very intentionally included presentations about two other significant issues of our time: racism, and Dartmouth's treatment of Native Americans.

I also strongly agree that the Viet Nam vets were treated shamefully by many upon their return. 

Finally, I find it ironic that the Parkhurst protest is so often conflated with the Class of '69. We were seniors and some of our class participated, but '69s were a minority and the protest was not a Class-sponsored activity. 

I disagree with some aspects of Randy's objections. 

  • The First Amendment prevents Congress and the government from interfering with free speech and assembly. I don't think the Parkhurst protest involved any First Amendment issues. The protesters on both sides were able to express their views. The College and civil authorities punished those who broke the law with their protests, because 'actions have consequences' which is consistent with Thoreau's statement that the moral force of any action is based on a willingness to accept the consequences of that action.
  • Though I was active in the anti-war movement, I did not participate in the Parkhurst occupation because I disagreed with the intent to 'bring the war back home' by provoking an over-reaction that would further polarize people. I also disagreed with what still seems to me to be an over-reaction by the College and civil authorities.
  • I did not hear the two Parkhurst protesters on stage congratulating themselves. I heard them talking about how difficult, frightening, and confusing the situation was.
  • I do not understand the statement that having a woman on stage underlines the fact that the agitators involved were not part of the student body. Lynn was part of the student body. Indeed, she was a classmate then and is a currently a member of the Class of '69.
  • I was an active member of those protesting the Viet Nam War. There were certainly people not from campus who participated in the protests at Dartmouth, but I do not recall that there were large numbers (let alone 'most') bussed in from away. It bothers me to see or hear 'othering' of people with whom one disagrees.
  • I have difficulty reconciling this comment 

"America is a republic, and We the People dictate policy.  If government policy does not reflect my views the failure is mine."

with criticism of protests, referring to protestors as agitators from away doing political theater. The protestors were fighting hard to change American policy, a citizen's right and duty.

To considerable extent my take on this issue has been colored from day one by the fact that I was raised in a family where one parent (my father) was a refugee from Nazi Austria and the Holocaust, and where the clear message I grew up with was: don’t allow bad things to happen. Silence is complicity. My father said that it wasn't the Nazis he couldn't forgive, it was the ordinary people in his community who did not speak up. His classmates in gymnasium, his teachers, his neighbors, the shopkeepers. The many people who thought or knew something bad was happening but said nothing and did nothing to stop it. Since is not neutrality. Silence is complicity. 

Whether one agrees that the war was wrong or not, and whether one agrees with the specific tactic of occupying Parkhurst as a form of civil disobedience, I think the core message, the thing I hope all of us learned at Dartmouth, is that it is our right and responsibility to speak up and act out for what we believe. We may not all agree with the cause that energized the Parkhurst occupiers, but we should all agree that protests like this are worthy of remembering, discussing, and learning from. 

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