Title

Exhibit - Anti-Vietnam War Sentiments at MSU

Since the earliest days of the war, students at Michigan State University were protesting and demonstrating against the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam. In February 1965, students marched on campus in the middle of a single-digit Michigan winter, carrying signs reading “Bombs won’t bring peace” and “Don’t escalate. Negotiate!!” Student activist groups, such as the group Students for a Democratic Society, would publish leaflets advertising rallies, protests, and demonstrations for myriad of causes. These causes inevitably included opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam, as well as ROTC and military research on campus.

A less confrontational opportunity for expressing ones views on the war also existed at that time in the form of a teach-in. These teach-ins, often sponsored by ASMSU, would attract thousands of people, and would include lectures from university professors and administrators and members of the Lansing community, as well as discussions between lecturers and the audience. These teach-ins were meant to be more open to diverse views than a political rally, but less strict than a formal debate. The overriding goal of these teach-ins was to educate people on the situation in Vietnam. However, that didn’t stop people from claiming that the events were biased one way or another with regards to their line-up of lecturers. These claims from pro-war professor were perhaps justified, as Presidents Walter Adams and Clifton Wharton both gave speeches during teach-ins and moratoriums, speaking in opposition to the Vietnam War, while the majority of the Board of Trustees members also were personally against the war.

While protestors didn't believe that they or MSU could single-handedly bring about the end of the Vietnam War, many believed that they could, within the larger framework of student protest and the counterculture movement, enact meaningful change that would make it more difficult to continue the war. The most visible of these practical movements was the push to abolish ROTC from the MSU campus. In April 1970, President Wharton was presented in his office with three demands from the MSU Committee Against ROTC. The Committee demanded "that ROTC have no access to University facilities on any basis, that there be no contractual relations between MSU and the U.S. military for the training of officers at MSU on a curricular or extra-curricular basis," and that "students who are currently receiving ROTC scholarships be given equivalent MSU scholarships." Protestors figured that, since a large percentage of U.S. Army officers and second lieutenants that graduated from ROTC fought in Vietnam, if MSU were supporting ROTC on campus, they were in effect supporting the Vietnam War.

Things came to a head in early May 1970. President Nixon announced the United States' campaign into Cambodia, and four students at Kent State University were killed by the Ohio National Guard while protesting said Cambodian Campaign. These actions left many on campus, particularly anti-war protestors, deeply disturbed. This sparked a new wave of rallies and demonstrations on campus, which some used as a cover for vandalizing campus. Damage to buildings on campus the night of May 1 ended up costing the university roughly $40,000 to $50,000. In light of these troubling events, and calls from students to shut down the university, President Wharton called for a circulation of petitions to more accurately gauge the opinions of students and faculty regarding the war. President Wharton stated he would share the information of the petition with the Michigan Congressional delegation, so that he could express the views of the MSU community "not through massive confrontations or reckless violence which bread countermeasures and retaliation – but in the seats of power where foreign policy is made – in Washington, D.C." The results of the referendum, sponsored by ASMSU, were stark. Roughly a quarter of the student population was polled, with 92% of respondents saying they favored some form of withdrawal from the Indochina region.

Tensions flared even further almost exactly two years later, as President Nixon announced in May 1972 that the United States would begin a campaign of mining North Vietnamese ports to prevent the flow of arms to communist forces which had just invaded South Vietnam. Yet again, an announcement of increased military action in Indochina sparked a wave of protests on college campuses across the country. The Michigan State University campus was no different. Hundreds of student protestors sporadically took over portions of Grand River Avenue from May 9 to May 11, blocking traffic and setting up barricades, with a few protestors throwing rocks through storefront windows. The protestors played a cat-and-mouse game with police throughout the week, moving onto Grand River Avenue before dispersing and regrouping to take over the administration building. Protestors took over Grand River on at least three occasions before finally being quelled by police officers wielding pepper gas.

Exhibit created by Andrew Texel, Summer 2016
Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections.

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