A man smokes a cigarette as he talks to an armored guard at a protest in People’s Park circa May, 1969, in Berkeley, California.
(Robert Altman / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)
April 3, 2019, 11:31 a.m.
At the start of 1969, more than 500,000 U.S. troops were stationed in Vietnam. Despite promises from newly sworn-in president Richard Nixon to bring them home and end the nearly decade-long conflict, anti-war Americans were restless. On the first weekend of April, activists staged a series of protests in major American cities and colleges—students at schools like Columbia, Harvard, and Berkeley took to the streets and to their own campuses to protest not just the war, but what they saw as complicity from their own academic institutions. Of specific concern to Harvard students was the school’s ROTC program, which an editorial in the Harvard Crimson condemned: "ROTC is based on the notion that the country's universities should serve the needs of the warfare state,” the paper argued, insisting students on ROTC scholarships be relieved of their military obligations and given alternate funding. In New York City, members of the Black Panther Party took to the streets alongside veterans of the war, while in Los Angeles, high-ranking generals and officials became objects of mockery.
The protests would last through the spring and intensify when, in May of 1969, news of Nixon’s bombing of targets in Cambodia appeared in The New York Times. While Nixon announced the withdrawal of 25,000 troops in June, the war would continue for four more years, until the signing of a ceasefire agreement in 1973.