When The American People Stopped A Major War
by David Reavill
The year was 1968, and I was a 20-year-old college student. I could tell this was going to be different as I walked through the door. The place was a quiet residential section of homes in Montecito, California. It was Montecito well before it was discovered by the international glitterati, before Oprah or the Sussex had moved into town.
It was a place for Doctors, Lawyers, and, yes, even Stock Brokers. And it was that fact that was the memorable part of my story.
You see, what brought us all together was that we wanted to stop the Viet Nam War. Until this group, loosely called the Moratorium Committee, a name that would be adopted later. But until this group, almost exclusively War Protests were on College Campuses, by Students, and not a few outside political radicals.
Organizations such as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) dominated the opposition to the War. Just a few months before, the SDS and several other radical groups rioted at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It was as nasty and brutal a demonstration of total anarchy as you’re ever likely to see.
As I looked around at that first meeting of the Santa Barbara Moratorium Committee, I could see that these people would not countenance any of that kind of behavior. Most of the people in that living room were middle age professionals. Some men were still wearing coats and ties, obviously just off work. There were only a couple of us who were college students. The rest were a cross-section of America. Some looked to be retired, and several were from the Montecito Artist Community, but most were just ordinary citizens.
The organizer of the Committee and the person whose home we were at rose to make a few remarks. They were remarks which have stuck with me for all these years. They were to become the guideposts for our organization. An organization that would work for months to produce one of the largest, peaceful political demonstrations in our Country’s history.
First, our demonstration needed to be peaceful—none of the violence that characterized many other anti-war protesters of the day. By resorting to violence, the SDS, Weather Underground, and all the rest had shifted the focus from stopping the War to themselves. Most average Americans strongly objected to the riots. So, as our Host pointed out, not only was the violence wrong, but it was also ineffective, detouring from our primary objective: putting a stop to the War.
I’m sorry I’ve forgotten our Host’s name. If I remember, he was an attorney, and like all reasonable attorneys, he continued with his brief. As he pointed out, the other anti-war groups incorporated a plethora of reputed social ills in their movement. They were anti-capitalist, pro-free-speech, and pro-sexual liberation. Almost every issue the radicals raised splintered their message and drew the focus away from the prime objective: peace. So, as organizers, we were encouraged to always stay on point. Don’t let the conversation wander, we had one purpose, and we were to stay with that.
Most importantly, our movement was to be inclusive. Anyone, absolutely anyone, who agreed that the War must end, was welcome. And looking around his living room that evening, it was apparent he meant it. I cannot imagine a more diverse group, young and old, wealthy and not so affluent, highly educated and self-taught. It was a tiny microcosm of America.
Finally, there was one last point. The objective of the Moratorium Committee was going to be extremely limited. And this was a difficult point for many, but our Host was insistent. Our only purpose was to halt the fighting, not necessarily a permanent break, just a pause. A lull in the battle might be the first step toward peace.
It was a subtle point that many that evening missed. But our Host had enough negotiation experience to know that you only initially asked for part of your goals. Negotiations are a process. Achieving your goals requires a step-by-step program that gradually brings success.
And that’s just what we needed back then. America had just elected a new President, Richard Nixon, who campaigned to bring peace to Viet Nam. But already, most Americans could see that he was waffling. It was becoming apparent that once in office, he continued to follow Lyndon Johnson’s plan of escalation in the hope of total victory.
The momentum for more and more conflict is building. Just like today, the drums of War kept beating louder as Washington tried to create a larger and larger war machine. Witness how the current Administration has gone from supplying Ukraine first with mortars, then tanks, and now rumors of fighter jets.
It turned out that in Viet Nam, it was the momentum we needed to stop. The drive by our political leaders to constantly raise the ante.
Our message was simple and straightforward: stop. Pause the fighting. No preconditions, no “understanding,” just stop fighting.
Some may say that we weren’t successful. The War didn’t end until 1973, and the pause in fighting was ineffective.
I respectfully disagree.
From the moment of the massive Moratorium Demonstrations on October 15 and again on November 15, 1969, the dialog in the Country changed. After seeing the enormous number of Americans assemble peacefully in opposition to the War, there were few politicians left who wanted to escalate. Washington began, albeit slowly, to head toward the peace table. President Nixon began to talk about “Peace” instead of “Victory.”
The entire dynamic of the Country changed, and critically the momentum of more and more War was broken.
Do I wish the War would have ended sooner? Of course, it would have saved thousands of lives. But sometimes, you must stop heading in the wrong direction before you can turn around and go in the right direction. And that’s what the Moratorium Committee did. It stopped us from going further down the wrong road.
It’s a strategy that could work today. The assembled resolve of the American public can be a mighty force for peace.