Sundial: Columbia SDS Memories–Confronting The Marines, 1967

Chapter 9: Confronting The Marines, 1967 (iii)
The next day, Columbia SDS issued the following letter to Columbia faculty members, which indicates how its leadership thought politically at that time. [In 1987, I found a photocopy of this letter contained in the de-classified NYC Police Department’s “Red Squad” organizational file on SDS.]:

“Dear Faculty Member:

“In the past few months, the question of whether military agencies should be allowed to recruit on the Columbia campus has become a major issue, particularly for those students and faculty who are concerned about the war in Vietnam. The University Administration has maintained that it has the obligation to allow any U.S. government agency to use University facilities for military recruitment. Many students and faculty, however, have objected to this involvement of Columbia University in the Government’s military operations.

“Twice already, President Kirk has allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to recruit students on campus, despite the protests of many students and faculty members. Yesterday, President Kirk provided the University’s facilities for the U.S. Marine Corps for this purpose, in this case overriding the objections of student officials. The Marines were granted space for recruiting in John Jay Residence Hall, even though the Executive Board of the Undergraduate Dormitory Council had voted against the use of dormitory facilities for this purpose. The Marines were granted space for recruiting in Butler Library, even though the Columbia University Student Council was denied the use of that very spot for the draft referendum. Since President Kirk ignored representative student institutions in favor of the Marines, it is clear that the Administration enforces even its own rules only when it sees fit.

“Yesterday a group of 500 students, many of them members of Students for a Democratic Society, marched to John Jay Hall with the intention of questioning the recruiters about Marine atrocities in Vietnam and United States military policy throughout the world. However, a group of self-styled `leathernecks’ sought to prevent any such peaceful confrontation. This violent group again and again attacked the anti-Marine demonstrators, who were trying to question the Marines and to keep an aisle open to their table. Several SDS members were injured by this group while trying to keep that aisle open. Since no University official sought to pacify those students whose violent intentions were openly apparent, a riotous situation ensued. One SDS member suffered a broken nose; many others sustained less severe injuries. Full-scale violence was averted only when Dean DeKoff agreed to eject the Marine recruiters.

“Yesterday’s violence was clearly the result of arrogance and irresponsibility on the part of the University Administration. But more importantly, it resulted directly from the Administration’s policy first of allowing the use of the campus by the military, and second of protecting the interests of the military more than the interests and safety of its students.

“It is clear that

“—first, the Administration has systematically ignored the demand that students and faculty participate in any decision regarding on-campus military recruiting;

“—second, in this case, the Administration refused to recognize the decision of the student organization with jurisdiction in these matters (the Undergraduate Dormitory Council), that the Marine Corps not be allowed to recruit in John Jay Hall;

“—third, the Administration was blatantly irresponsible by allowing the recruiting to occur when it was obvious that this would lead to a violent situation. Only five days beforehand, over 2,000 Columbia students and faculty members participated in the largest anti-war demonstration in American history. Surely this was a clear indication of the sentiment of a significant segment of the University community on this issue.

“The Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society believes that every faculty member should be aware of the issues involved in yesterday’s demonstration. Our position on this matter is clear-cut: we are unalterably opposed to any involvement of Columbia University with the unjust war in Vietnam. We call upon those of you who oppose American intervention in Vietnam, and the use of University facilities to assist in that intervention, to join in demanding that Columbia disassociate itself from all military institutions, including the CIA, the Marines, the Army and Navy, and the Institute for Defense Analyses. If you agree with us that the military has no place on our campus, we ask you to join us at our sundial rally at noon today, and our subsequent peaceful picketing of the Marines, to demonstrate this belief to the Administration and to demand an end to Columbia’s complicity with this war.

“Thank you,

“Columbia SDS.”

(The “largest anti-war demonstration in American history” referred to in this letter was the anti-war march which gathered in Central Park, went to the United Nations Building and listened to SNCC chairperson Stokely Carmichael [a/k/a Kwame Ture’] and the SCLC’s Martin Luther King address the huge crowd and officially link the African-American Liberation Movement to the U.S. anti-war movement protest. Everybody against the war with whom I had ever spoken at Columbia seemed to be gathered in Central Park near the Columbia-Barnard anti-war student contingent. I remember seeing Juan and Anne of Citizenship Council’s P.A.C.T. program attend an anti-war demonstration for the first time at this April 1967 peace march. Bill marched down to Central Park in a Harlem-based Black nationalist contingent, which was the largest African-American contingent that had ever joined in a U.S. anti-Viet Nam War march up to that time. The size of this anti-war demonstration was so large that the rally at the UN had already started before Columbia’s anti-war contingent had even reached the exit from Central Park. By the time we did reach the UN, rain had started to fall and the rally was breaking-up.)

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