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IN RETROSPECT:
THE TRAGEDY AND LESSONS OF VIETNAM

ROBERT S. MCNAMARA WITH BRIAN VANDEMARK


9. Troubles Deepen:
January 31, 1966-May 19, 1967

(selections from pp. 253-256)

I respected these students' right to dissent and the spirit in which most of them did so. "There is a serious dimension to the protest among students today," I said at Chatham, adding: "But whatever comfort some of the extremist protest may be giving our enemy...let us be perfectly clear about our principles and our priorities. This is a nation in which freedom of dissent is absolutely fundamental." On another occasion I said, "I don't think we can have a democracy without freedom of dissent." I believed so then, and I believe so today.

What disturbed me most during my campus visits was the realization that opposition to the administration's Vietnam policy increased with the institution's prestige and the educational attainment of its students. At Amherst, those protesting my presence wore armbands. I counted the number and calculated the percentage of protesters in each of four groups: graduates, cum laude graduates, magna cum laude graduates, and summa cum laude graduates. To my consternation, the percentage rose with the level of academic distinction. Some of the largest and most intense campus demonstrations occurred at premier institutions such as Berkeley and Stanford.

An early and ugly demonstration took place at Harvard University in the fall of 1966. Professor Richard Neustadt, of Harvard's Kennedy School, invited me to address a group of undergraduates. At about the same time, Henry Kissinger, who was then teaching a Harvard graduate seminar in international relations, asked me to meet his class. I accepted both invitations and extended my trip to include a visit to my alma mater, the Harvard Business School.

I traveled to Cambridge on November 7 unaccompanied by security personnel, as was my custom wherever I went in the United States during my seven years as secretary. (*)

My chauffeur--who had driven Franklin Roosevelt when he served as assistant secretary of the navy under President Wilson--did occasionally carry a pistol. And there was also a fountain pen-like tear gas dispenser in the limousine's rear compartment. One day, after attending a meeting of the Kennedy family to review plans for the slain president's grave site, I asked Eunice Shriver (President Kennedy's sister) if she needed a ride. She asked to be driven to the Wardman Park Hotel. As Eunice and I rode up Connecticut Avenue together, I decided to show her how the tear gas dispenser worked. I rolled the window down a bit, held the dispenser up to it, and pressed. Because we were moving so fast, there was a vacuum, which drew the fumes into the car. Eunice--who planned to make a speech at the Wardman Park--began choking and screaming. I had incapacitated her by the time we arrived.

My visit at the Harvard Business School proceeded in an orderly fashion, and the discussion across the Charles River, with the undergraduates at Quincy House--while far more lively and bordering on the contentious--proved highly stimulating for me. However, trouble began as I left Quincy House for Henry's class in Langdell Hall, several blocks away. Quincy House exits onto Mill Street, a brick lane barely wide enough for a car. The university had provided a station wagon and campus policemen to drive me to Langdell. As I entered the car, a mob of students quickly surrounded it.

Then all hell broke loose. Students pressed in around the car and began rocking it. The driver, fearing harm to both himself and me, slammed the car into gear and began driving into the students gathered in front.

"Stop!" I shouted. "You'll kill someone!"

He jammed the car into reverse and started backing up. By then, students had gathered in the rear. "I'm getting out," I said.

"You can't do that," he warned. "They'll mob you."

By then the crowd had grown to several hundred angry young people. Anyone who has experienced an uncontrolled mob knows it is a fearful thing. I wrenched open the door, stepped out of the car, and in a loud voice said, "OK, fellas, I'll answer one or two of your questions. But remember two things: We're in a mob and someone might get hurt and I don't want that. I also have an appointment in five minutes."

I asked who was in charge, and a young man named Michael Ansara, president of Harvard's Students for a Democratic Society chapter (a radical protest group), produced a microphone. I suggested we get on the car's hood, where we could see and be seen.

"Before you start your questions," I began, "I want you to know that I spent four of the happiest years of my life on the University of California, Berkeley, campus doing some of the things you are doing today."

This was greeted by catcalls and massive pushing and shoving. Thinking I could avert further violence by making clear that their threat would not intimidate me, I added, "I was tougher than you then and I'm tougher today. I was more courteous then and I hope I am more courteous today."

After a few questions, it became clear the danger was only increasing, so I concluded my remarks, jumped off the car, rushed through a Quincy House door the campus policeman had opened for me, and found myself in an underground tunnel extending several blocks and linking a number of Harvard buildings. My escort through the maze was Barney Frank, a Harvard undergraduate who later became U.S. representative for Massachusetts's Fourth Congressional District. Frank and I ran through the maze, lost the students, and emerged in Harvard Yard. I kept my commitment to meet with Kissinger's class, somewhat unnerved.

(*)The world has changed greatly in the past thirty years; today, while playing tennis in Washington, I often see on adjacent courts cabinet officers or their spouses who must be protected by security people even while engaging in recreation.


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