(By 1970 just about everybody was sick of the war)
By 1970 protest to the War in Vietnam had taken over just about every school campus and large city in the country. Until our latest excursion, the Vietnam War was the longest period of time the U.S. had been engaged in active combat. No end was in sight. People were questioning what we were doing there at all in the first place. Americans were being drafted at increasing numbers in direct correlation to the numbers of flag draped coffins arriving home.
Then as now, our Foreign Policy was under scrutiny. The final straw came with the invasion of Cambodia early in 1970, triggering a mass of protests throughout the country that further escalated with the dramatic and bloody confrontations at Kent and Jackson State.
But despite all that, there was a segment of the population who still believed in the war, felt we needed a victory and almost all of them were still somewhere in the period of the "Last Great War", believing Vietnam was akin to World War 2 and we had no right to protest. The protesters were "duped by Communists" or were "idiot kids". If anything, it signified just how wide the gap in generations really was.
This documentary,produced by NBC News in May of 1970, attempts to survey what the protests were leading to and how would the Vietnam nightmare end. The numbers of guests are quite large - almost everyone it seems was interviewed and it's instructive to get, at least a sampling, of what was going on in the country forty years ago.
And . . .even Donald Rumsfeld shows up. As Director of The Office Of Economic Opportunity, he is asked if the protests to the Vietnam war have anything in common with the state of Poverty.
Donald Rumsfeld (Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity): “The problems of the poor depend in, of course a great deal on the economy and they also depend on the sources available. But indeed they also depend on the attitudes of the non-poor to the extent that the American people will interest themselves in these problems and involve themselves. Why there’s a tremendous amount that can be done in terms of inclusiveness and hiring and firing and the opportunities that individuals have. I think the exciting thing I see and what we saw this weekend in Washington is that we’ve seen a great many young people come to Washington. People who value life, people who recognize the importance of group activities, who are concerned about individual identity and individual opportunities, and the resource that’s there for this country. The brains, the energy, the emotion, the enthusiasm to the extent that this society can have the wisdom to include them, to listen to them and to provide constructive ways that they can help make this the kind of country they’re anxious to have. I think the problems of our society including the problems of the poor can be . . really handled in a very wonderful way.”
I realize at the time you would be hard pressed to imagine Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary some thirty years later. Although just by listening to his words, his characteristic mangling of language and his breezy disconnect with folks of lesser economic bearing, it really makes you wonder how he managed to, not only survive, but flourish in Washington. The only thing that comes to mind is I,Claudius.
And maybe we are more like ancient Rome than we thought.