thumbnail of Vietnam: A Television History; Interview with William Sloane Coffin, 1982
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When you're. Ready. Go ahead. Oh you want me to start describing what I was not a graduate you know I was a real cold war warrior I'd been for two and a half years that he is off of the Russian army in Czechoslovakia in Germany. I've been involved I'm sad to say in the forceful repatriation of Russian soldiers who had fought in the German army against Stalin. I was convinced that Stalin was the only man of the 20th century that I knew of who could make it to look like a Boy Scout. On the other hand it was very clear to me that communism could only be defeated with another form of the left. You could never defeat communism with the form of the right. So while I was vigorously anti-communist and supported basically Truman and other Americans opposing the Soviet Union it always seemed to me that Joe McCarthy and people on the right were absolute disaster and were playing the communist game with them you know you know America and its role in the world. I think you mentioned in the context of your answer. I think you were in the CIA. Why would you.
Well I was very normal red blooded American patriot I was four years in the army and World War 2 and then from 1950 to 53 I was in the CIA in the Russian field and basically domestically my big quarrel was that we didn't treat blacks correctly I was not on to the woman's issue at that time. I felt obviously a nation is judged by the way it treats the poor and we had plenty of room for progress but abroad I thought we were doing fairly well the Marshall Plan was an expression of pragmatic generosity. Churchill's Cold War speech at Fulton Missouri didn't bother me because I really felt that the Soviets had to be very vigorously opposed I was for George kind of containment policy. When you write you know again it was later when many people were involved in civil rights. Could you yes impact people who had been at you know going to the south being active and then coming back what was the impact of their returning you know to their
own you know with the experience of what had happened to them in this room with them and really. Used it. Yeah see I think basically values and so much talk as they're caught caught in a concrete value forming experience. I think everybody in America agrees that all men are created equal. How many feel the monstrosity of inequality and those adore blacks or others who have been discriminated against. Or in the case of the early civil rights days those few students a year let's say went down south in the summer of 64 and worked and came back with a first hand experience of discrimination. Now let's immediately say you shouldn't have had to go down south you didn't that to go down South to have that kind of experience but it was more drastic it was clear in the South that I was in the north. Let's talk let's go on from there.
The impact of civil rights on the anti-war movement was something you said to me on the day which interested me that people could see injustice here where it was found it easier to see and hear. And in other words it was not the work of all right. If you could just express again just if there was a natural thing yeah. It's often the case that those furthest from the seat of power an ear into the heart of things. Those community organizers in Mississippi or in Chicago could see firsthand the injustices in Chicago. Analysts say in the south and those same people had no problems seeing the same kind of injustices in Vietnam a thousand miles away where most of the Presidents work for absentee landowners who took 25 percent of the take and it wasn't hard for people who are used to living with injustices home to recognize that the South Vietnam government could never talk convincingly to its people about their own national independence of their own land
reform or other forms of social justice. So it was often the case and it shouldn't be surprising that it was a community worker in Chicago or Mississippi who was for closer to the truth of what was going on in Vietnam than let's say a mock tomorrow Rusk or President Johnson. Did you know that you know him well you know. So imagine how it would be with a comment. I think you know I think it was the work of war and everything to do with you and all those sad fact the matter is the American people were never to be told the truth not by any of them and they elected to the presidency. LBJ used to tell us what is at stake is the cause of freedom. Well how a freedom was really the concern of the American government then why weren't all of us crying bloody murder and but before Castro a true hero in the Dominican Republic Why weren't we desperately concerned with the plight of blacks let's say in Portuguese Angola at that time. Or South Africa it was clear that the plight of any black African
in South Africa was worse than that of an average Vietnamese on hoti men so it was ridiculous to talk of this is the cause of freedom and the State Department disgraced itself by coming out with a white paper that never would have passed a freshman history class saying that the war began with the invasion of North Vietnamese into the south in 1959 1960. Well anybody who knew anything about the history of that place near them. Yes in the China it was one country 1945 one and the war against the French established a temporary military but not a permanent political line at the 17th parallel elections were supposed to be held by 1956 and the elections were sabotaged by the United States and goats with the South Vietnamese government. So to say that the war was started when they invaded from the north into the South was ridiculous the truth of the matter was that we were never told what the United States was engaged in a massive unilateral and military intervention in the civil affairs of another country which isn't a thanks
saw its mind between North and South at all. Our position basically was we were against intervention. The Soviets intervened to make sure a country stays communist. We Americans intervene in a country to make sure it doesn't go communist and on both sides the interventions are wrong. You've answered part of this next question but I want to get it in a slightly different form. You talked about in the early protests the need for teaching but there had to be an educational thrust in addition to this emotional commitment which was very much you could just stay there and if you wouldn't mind recapitulating this argument that not only foreigners from the north but the fact that there was a communist influence from the outside that was the argument that was I was doing that. Interestingly in love It was a graduate student and baroque music at Yale who first turned me on to the war. He asked me when I was going to speak up against it and I said What do you want me to say. And he said I'll bring you my file and
this harpsichordist arrived with a file of that thick and which he had articles from French newspapers British newspapers magazine articles from our own country as well as other countries. And I read that for five hours that night at the end of which I was convinced that he was right this is a matter about which one could not stay silent and certainly couldn't stand up and cheer and the teachings that followed in 65 starting at the University of Michigan played a terribly important role because they gave a lot of intellectual content to the opposition. And we had to know the facts at least all the relevant ones and we had to be able to state them better than the government could. And secondly the teachings played a very important nourishing role because the sense of togetherness that came with being in one hall for four hours at a time when nobody wanted to leave as one professor after another student at the other visiting dignitary came in to talk that sense of togetherness was a terrifically supportive thing at a time when you were
call communist trade and things like that. Of course the government was all wrong in its understanding of communism. I think American anti communism is probably as blind an ideology as Soviet communism and we can say no I understand that you can't have a revote without revolting conditions and communists can't come in and start a revolt. Communists may light a match but the important question is how come is there. How come there's a fuse attached to a powder keg and to say that the communists started it all or leaving it all Soviet communists or Chinese communists in the government always very nigh on this one. In Vietnam it was like saying the black. Rising in the Watts or New York or in any of the other 27 cities where we had riots in 67 or all fomented by outsiders coming in. No Ku Klux Klan in this country would believe for a moment that black discontent is started and
led by communists. And yet most Americans buy that line. The discontent in the Third World has started and led by communists. It's equally ridiculous on both sides. It was I think in late 64 5 that we started what came to be known as clergy concerned about the war in Vietnam that was called clergy and laity concerned about Vietnam. This was a group of men and women who felt enormous anguish over the war.
We were called wild eyed idealists but I think you'd be more accurate to say we were experiencing a clear eyed revulsion. Against us. Now you know. It's to you. The clergy found themselves. In a very interesting. Difficult. Dilemma very often. First of all the average American thinks the church shouldn't meddle in politics which is probably what Farrow said to Moses. And most churches are more concerned with free love let's say than with free hate and don't consider issues of war and peace to be the legitimate concern of the religious community. It's very un-Biblical the Bible is much more concerned with war and peace than it is with drinking sex and these things. But it was hard for clergy who felt that way sometimes to deal with people
whom they love dearly and their congregation would simply but who didn't want the clergy dealing with this issue. And I remember the long evenings where we tried to see what were the specific religious issues that the current church should deal with. Obviously it was the fact that war has a blood stained face. And from which we have no right to avert our gaze. But the Pentagon and the media was describing the war in the most anti-septic sort of way you know the destruction of the infrastructure which didn't tell you that women and children were being slaughtered in order of the guerrillas who wouldn't have anything to be done you know or you'd see a pilot being interviewed at night and the reporter wouldn't say how many did you kill. He'd say Well Captain how do you think it went. And the captain a very nice looking guy obviously a perfectly decent husband father type you know said Well I think we did a good job. And if it weren't for the uniform you wouldn't know you had back cleaning
out the yard. So we had to bring the bloody face of war home to the American people because we were going to be killing people. The American people ought to know that. Secondly we had to remind people that agreement or unity is not based on agreement but on mutual concerns and that there is no virtue in national unity if it's based on Folly. Thirdly and this is a very difficult thing to do. We had to remind people that sacrifice in and of itself confers no sanctity. Saint Paul said though I give my body to be burned the very stuff of heroism but have not love it profited me nothing. But if your own husband or lover or son has been killed in the war it's pretty hard to accept the fact that that person's blood doesn't make that cause one whit more or less that that was a very tough that the clergy had to deal with. We did not have to question the sincerity of our leaders rather it
was the passionate conviction of the rightness of their cause. Any clergy worth his or her salt knows that in a divorce there is no such thing as innocent party. And one of the reasons we enjoy doing enjoined to love our enemies is because of the part we play in making them our enemies. So our role was to complicate a picture that Johnson and Nixon and Kissinger and others were trying to make much too much too simple. And then of course there were the youth. Who if they went to college were in effect draft dodgers according to the draft. Because as long as you stayed in college you wouldn't be drafted so these youth who were very conscientious felt well maybe I should be getting out of college and make myself known as a member of the draft like anybody else. And then there were those who resisted the draft as you remember. Turned in their draft cards well clergy can't train used to be conscientious only to desert youth in their hour of conscience.
So all the pastors of the country had to stand by the youth who were taking a stand of conscience and that was very costly to many of them because congregations are a little loath to have too much conscience brought to the fore in the church I don't want to be overly harsh on the church but that's the way it's up to Big Brother clergy found themselves in a very difficult difficult dilemma. Catholic bishops were very anti-communist. So it's very hard to find a Catholic bishop who would say I am anti communist but I think this war is evil. Rabbis were very afraid that if they opposed Johnson on the war in Vietnam just would not support them on Israel. So all these things were very much in the picture when it came to the clergy. Why did you not like this movement could you describe. I remember one evening we were sitting around in pres. Bennett's apartment. President of Union
Theological Seminary in New York and Rabbi Heschel who is one of the great rabbis of this country said you know we need one voice the voice that everybody would hear. And all of us like that knew exactly when we met. So I said well I have his number and I'll give him a call so I called Atlanta and he was at home. And I told him who was in the room and what has Charlotte said. And Martin Luther King was a wonderful listener. He just kept hearing. Bill I've been thinking about this myself. And he said he preached a great deal of interest that we had shown and that he would get back to us. Eight months later he elected to speak out against the war in Riverside Church. And Benetton Heschel and that one of the historian comments from Amherst were also
there to support what he said and what made it so hard for Martin was that. So many leaders of other civil rights groups and some of his own advisors were telling him do not mix up domestic civil rights the domestic civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam. If you opposed Johnson and this you can be sure he's going to cut down on the war on poverty and so forth. And when King made his speech every single civil rights leader of all the other major organizations criticized him for making it but dragging the civil rights movement into the war. And I'll never forget the New York Times perhaps predictably was unable to see what he meant when he said the United States is today the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. So he paid a very heavy price for his stance. But that was typical if you take a strong moral position you usually don't expect to be justified right away it
takes time. Still rolling. Why did you decide to engage in civil disobedience. Yes you talk to me as well because you talk about. Well civil disobedience is not something you resort to as a first resort not in a democracy so we didn't mean we sign petitions wrote our letters went down to Washington held our rally stood in silent vigils did all the good democratic things in the great American tradition. But then the question arises suppose you done all these things many times and for many years with no seeming effect do you put your conscience to bed with a comforting thought. Well I did what I could the president continues to escalate the war and the law of the land is clear. What do you say
well having chosen the route of protest I choose to pursue it to the end even though the end means going to jail. I think the choice you make at that point depends on how wrong you think the war is and how deeply you care about it. My own feeling was that this war was so wrong that having done all the other things I just felt I would have to commit civil disobedience. It's not an easy thing to do. If you're married and if you have small children and it's also not an easy thing to do because sometimes civil disobedience is the last refuge of the incompetent. They do things to make themselves feel better but they don't improve the situation one little bit. So whereas I have great sympathy for civil disobedience as a great religious and American tradition thorough early Quaker lady and HUTCHISON The truth is my authority not some authority my truth.
Still I'm very critical of how we try to implement this principle and the occasion almost fell into my hands because my parishioners students and because I had there when people were nice enough to invite me to talk all over the country I felt a wider parish of students were turning in their draft cards and what was their chaplain going to do. And the obvious thing was the pastor should stand by his parishioners and as the law of the land was clear section 12 of the National So Selective Service Act said anyone who counsel aids and abets anyone else in evading or refusing. Registration draft is liable to the same punishment which was five years in jail and $10000. So that seemed to be a very natural route for me and some of the some of the others to follow that we would. We who are above draft age would support those who would turn in their draft cards
saying that they refused to be drafted. There's a fine hymn written by former Harvard president James Ross a law which goes once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide in the strife of truth with also the for the good or evil side. And it is the brave man chooses while a coward stands aside to let multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied. I kept thinking that that moment to decide was fast approaching. By about the summer of 67 and then in the spring I guess it was came out this call to resist illegitimate authority as it was called written I think by RASC and Wasco to people in the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and about 500 of us clergy professors writers were asked to assemble in New York at a press
conference. Sign this thing and declare that we were now ready to support aid and abet whatever that meant. Young people who resisted the draft so we had this great call and we didn't know quite what to do with it. And then we found out that on October 16th sixty seven youth that had somehow mysteriously gathered its representatives somewhere in the country had decided a nationwide turn and. Turn in a draft card. And parent that equally these draft cards were really very funny because they were important for the enforcement of the liquor laws. But they really were totally unnecessary to the whole conscription process. But the law said you had to have this draft card on your person at all times. So these students for the most part students had decided that they would have a draft
card turn and in about 15 20 different places throughout the country on one particular day. And Boston was chosen. And in Boston the Arlington Street Unitarian Church. And I was called and I asked if I would give a major address. So I was really pleased because. A church would give the whole operation perhaps a little more dignity and respect ability and I was always worried about draft card burnings. The flame didn't look Pentecostal To me it looked really hostile just like I think you should burn the flag to wash the flag you know burn the flag we shouldn't burn these draft cause you know to turn them in great dignity I don't so this look like a very promising kind of operations and then the thing was how are we going to get the cameras to concentrate on something in the church when the cameras are you know price always wants to go for the sensational as opposed to the valuable.
So if it's outside and there's violence you can count on it the press will be there in force if it's inside and dignified nobody's going to turn up. Well I managed to get Sandy Vinocur of NBC interested. I said you know they're going to turn in draft cards in the church says Jesus Christ I said. That's what it's all about Sandy. And so get yourself up there and take this. So he was up there you know standing like a hockey coach behind these cameras you know striding up and down telling them what to take and then to my horror a very eloquent church historian. Push put his finger out to the toward the candle that was on the altar and said that that candle along to William Channing the founder of Unitarianism in this country and of that sacred flame you know kept the truth alive etc. etc. and he talks so eloquently that I could see all these draft resisters saying I'm want to take my car and put it in the sacred flame of scandal. Well that's exactly what they did. And I saw shine even OK you
know telling his camera zoom in on that you know this is awfully you know things being ruined. But fortunately only about 60 dead and some 200 odd others gave their draft cards to us because the idea then was to take these draft cards turn them into the Justice Department and call on all these people who would sign this call to resist religion of authority to appear in Washington outside the Justice Department building in support of these people who were turning in their draft cards to the Justice Department itself. Well as it turned out camera didn't look quite so bad in the church and the media began to take us a little more seriously I think about that time in that we were all wide eyed idealist things like that. But then the thing that really got us in trouble was the turning of the draft cards that the Justice Department. Just the wrong Barber was in there you know
but you know he was stunned by the river. OK let's go on what happened. Just like did you hear that years ago and Dickie asked him if you know just use daycares because that's a distraction from the main you know I would make a big deal if you're going to mention it. Yeah I know. Well these 500 writers like Norman Mailer and John Hersey and professors like R B C and go off and people like that again whom I knew very well and the clergy gathered in front of the Justice Department to support these students who would turn in their draft cards and it was the usual. Funny situation. First of all we gathered in two churches proving that intellectuals can never get their act together. And then the
cops thought we were as dangerous as any marches on the Pentagon you know even Dr. Spock in his three piece suit looked like some hippie to them you know. Unbelievable how they can't seem to see the difference. And they zoomed up and down on their motorcycles as if they were sheep dogs you know guiding the sheep. But fortunately they were there because of the head of the column. We suddenly realize we didn't know the best way to get to the gests and for the police we might never made it. And when we got there we forgot the bullhorn but there was a physicist in the crowd and he got a bullhorn and we made a few fine speeches I can remember Ashley Montagu saying if the war in Vietnam is right what's there left the call long. And I guess I made the main speech which was simply to say that we are here to support these young people in their hour of conscience and if they are arrested for violating a law which violates their consciences then we must be arrested for we here by counsel them to continue to follow the dictates of their conscience and we will aid and abet them in every way we
can to resist the draft. So we put ourselves on the line then 10 of us were allowed to go inside. Where we were met by somebody in a black suit and no face. And the walk down this interminable corridor and then into a room where there was another no face black man at the end of a mahogany table and a lady over here ready to pour coffee and determine to be courteous about all this. No face black suited man said Would you care for coffee. Well we had in our crowd a nifty black guy. They all thought he had the bomb though where he would have carried it I don't know because his pants were so tight you couldn't get a match stick into the pocket. But all the secretaries peering out the doors you could see him pointing at him he must have. He came down the carving into this and he says come from my own home. And the secretary got so frightened she pour more coffee in the sauces and in the cup. All is good for
comic relief in the middle of a rather. Difficult trying time. And then we told Mr. McDonough's his name was what we were there for. And Dickie game a good black rap this is the black and then Madonna took out a piece of paper and said he'd like to read us something at that point this black guy said man you can go read that. And he says yes that was my intention when I don't have to listen to you cats litter. And when you know every movement just as graceful as a cat. Well Madonna looked visibly relieved that the one black guy and I was away and there was nothing but US middle class whites left. So you read this pompous statement alleging that we were perhaps in violation of the law all of which of course we knew and then a very funny thing happened he folded the paper and put it back in his coat and he turned to me and Dr. Kaufmann my being tendered something I said tended to something Mr. McDonough.
He says yes hundred something. I said Oh yes. Catching on I picked up this briefcase at about nine hundred and fifty Drac. I says you're here by being tenderly tended nine hundred fifty draft because we're supporting statements from some 500 people who are now outside your building. And he went like this. And I said Shall we try it again Mr. McDonough You know when I offered it to him again and again he went back like this I couldn't understand what was going on you know. So I said well should we try the table Mr. McDonough so I put the thing down on the table in front of him you know. That. I don't want to go have been watching this like Wimbledon you know. Stood up. You know heat. Brady. And said. I can't understand what's going on here you allege that we are guilty of crimes to which we offer you substantive proof and he slammed his hand down in the briefcase. How do you refuse to accept the evidence where a man is your all the obvious. I thought it was terrific. You know his partner told me after his sixth grade civics was not
impressed but I case the briefcase stayed there and we walked out and we found out afterwards that the FBI was waiting in the next room and just waiting for us to get out you know to come in and pick up the evidence. And we certainly heard from them very shortly thereafter. You know we're going to get it. You know. I should probably. Tell you the way back in 65 I went to Paris to be part of a conference on the war in Vietnam and while I was there on a very famous French correspondent asked me if I wouldn't meet with my VOM Bowl who was the ambassador
from North Vietnam to Paris. So I did and he was a very civilized man and we drank tea as one always does with Vietnamese. And I was telling him that the peace movement was very weak and that in a place you know John saw I fall is very strong and he smilingly said Moishe it all we have no illusions. This whole matter is going to be settled on the battlefield. And my heart sank and I said How long will it take he said. Ind. and then the 10 years about. And that was 65 I guess. Well nine years later he was proven right. And this was always in the back of my mind so that when the conditions seemed to be improving Nixon and I had the practical wisdom the recognized China that I can't give him too much credit we got all the time we were crying for him to do that. He was telling us we were traitors. But anyhow you know the practical wisdom to recognize China and he was bringing
the boys home and it looked on the surface as if things were getting better. But those who are closer to the situation knew that what had happened was terrible the electronic battlefield was in place. The bombing was increasing the secret bombing of course in Cambodia. Incredible unconstitutional immoral act. We should have been impeached for that not the peccadillo compared to you know what that was but the slaughtering was going on and even greater stylee was being done by from the air instead of from the ground or it was being done by proxy Americans in the form of the South Vietnamese army that was vastly increased in its firepower and so forth. So it looked as if things were going to improve but it was also clear that the situation was in fact getting worse. Then the draft stopped. So that took away that moral card that you just had in your wallet with the question why should I still have it. You know
why and I turned it in and then people were getting bored. Now it gets boring to pick up the newspaper every morning at breakfast and curse the president once again finally. There's no percentage in that. So it was very hard to continue to resist the war when you were bored with it and when you had done what you thought was just about everything and it didn't seem to make much difference. Could you tell your what was happening in the country and my mates that's. The good news. Well you know it's unrealistic to expect a peace movement to stay wall at peaceful all that long. It takes a great deal of discipline. It takes a great deal of persistence and conviction. For. A peace movement to stay in effect peaceful.
And I am quite willing to accept the blame when you know when the peace movement. Turns violent. But I think in all fairness it must be pointed out that the passive of the of the Congress was breathtaking. All those senators who are dead set against the war still voted appropriations. And I remember a heart breaking session I had with one senator who said to me Look Bill you don't understand what's going on here suppose we did oppose the president as opposed to thumb his nose at us. We'd be in the midst of a constitutional crisis and we'd be fighting on two fronts is that what you want. And so in order to avoid a constitutional crisis we're going to go on slaughtering by the hundreds of thousands of innocent people a thousand miles away the capacity of the Congress was I say breathtaking. And when you see people begin to get kind of desperate. And it was easy if you were older as I was you know when you had reason to be grateful to love your country. It always was a lover's quarrel with the United States but a lot of the youth who had no
particular reason to be grateful to the United States had no reason to have any great love for the United States and its institutions were carrying on a grudge fight and you could tell a difference they would march to the beat of more distant dramas such as men and Che Guevara wave and I left flags while we tried to march to the drumbeats of Abraham Lincoln and thorough and wave the American flag because patriotism is on our side. So it was inevitable that the segments of the peace movement would turn violent. And let's not forget as we found out later that we didn't know at the time the FBI had placed a lot of eyes on provocateur and that to provoke this kind of violence. So by the end of 69 and in the 70 71 some of these weathermen as you know got violent and went underground. But I would say the more important thing to say is how few. Were those who became violent and the recognize that violence is at least a perversion of charity or
is indifference abnegation total charity. If you had to give me a choice of whether you want to have blood on your hands or want to like pilot I'll take the blood on your hands when you take six. Let me ask let me ask you this. You think it's worse to have blood on your hands or water like pilot. In other words turning violent may be a perversion of charity but indifference is the absence of charity. And I think indifference is worse and while it's myself and it is indifference it leads to violence in the long run a Congress that invents a passive fundamentally so indifferent
I doubt whether the peace movement would have turned violent. So it's a very touchy kind of an issue. You know violence in the peace movement. But basically I feel that nonviolence is more radical than violence. It brings about slower perhaps but deeper change. I think it's desperately important that we carry on a lover's quarrel with our country and not a grudge fight. I think it's terribly important to hate evil. Otherwise just sentimental. But you'd better love good more than you hate the evil. Otherwise if you hate evil more than you love the good you become a damn good hater. And that is not only bad for the world bad for the cause it's also personally very diminishing it's bad for you too. I'm glad you have money that Congress can keep making you ask whether it made made any difference.
I personally feel it made an enormous difference. I think in the understanding of America's role in the world there has been a great change since the war in Vietnam. I started out thinking that the war in Vietnam was basically a dis a diversion from our primary course in the world. Now I understand that it was part of our primary course the United States is fundamentally an imperialistic country we still are engaged in interventionist policies. So as the Soviet Union a plague on both their houses. But I think a lot more Americans understand that what we did in Vietnam we're now ready to do again and else our the and I don't want to unless we watch. I don't think now we have to be in the middle of the jungle to come to our minds. I think we know before we get into the jungle This is a very bad move to make. So I think from that point of view it was there was a lot of
consciousness raising that took place. I think it's also very clear now as it was not then that you cannot have guns and butter. It's either guns war bottom. And right now and all the time we're saying that we're not even getting. Marjorie for heaven's sakes and the expenditures on military adventures and the arms race just mean that the poor are going to be kept in their poverty indefinitely and I think we learned a lot from that. We still haven't learned how to live with communist countries. We still look for military solutions to essentially political and social problems. We still haven't learned what pluralism in the world is all about. Great Britain managed to lose its power rather gracefully. British have always sort of learned how to cooperate gracefully with the inevitable. Maybe they gave up their power after World War 2 because they're so convinced that the British are so much superior to everybody
else. But the French didn't they fought like dogs in the china and fought like dogs in our area. And now the question is being addressed to us I think would you Americans be willing to relinquish some of the power that you had really almost a monopoly for after World War 2. Or will you insist on being the hurts of the world when it comes to military strength. And my hope is that we Americans have enough and tradition enough Remembrance of Things Past to remind ourselves for instance that our nation's influence was at its greatest one as a military power we were weakest and that we stand for much better things than military intervention and the kind of freedom that we represent at best the kind of openness that Lincoln stood for when he said with malice toward none and charity for all which makes Abraham Lincoln the spiritual center of American history.
I keep hoping those things in our history will help us get over this period into a time when we can live in with greater intelligence and sanity with a lot of other nations. And again I couldn't think it now. Did you get it.
Vietnam: A Television History
Raw Footage
Interview with William Sloane Coffin, 1982
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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Episode Description
After serving in the CIA and the military, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin later became an activist in the Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War, and Nuclear Disarmament movements. Here he discusses his personal evolution and the beginnings of the anti-war movement at university teach-ins. He was a founder of Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam and recalls efforts to bring Martin Luther King, Jr., into the peace movement. Coffin also describes his civil disobedience with other clergy, for which they were convicted of aiding and abetting draft resisters. He recounts an event where students turned over their draft cards, some burning them. Finally, he comments on the fracturing of the peace movement in the latter days of the war and his views on American imperialism.
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Raw Footage
Global Affairs
War and Conflict
War and society; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American; Vietnamese reunification question (1954-1976); clergy; United States--Foreign relations--Asia; United States--Foreign relations--1945-1989; draft; Religion and Politics; Cold War; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Public opinion; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements--United States; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements; Vietnam--Politics and government; Youth and war; Imperialism; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--United States; United States--History--1961-1969; United States--History--20th century; Civil rights movements--United States; King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968; Vietnam War, 1961-1975
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Moving Image
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Publisher: WGBH Educational Foundation
Writer: Coffin, William Sloane
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 3bb66d9e87ac276621c7fb31553f01c16835b1e5 (ArtesiaDAM UOI_ID)
Format: video/quicktime
Color: Color
Duration: 00:43:26:09
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Chicago: “Vietnam: A Television History; Interview with William Sloane Coffin, 1982,” 1982-08-30, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 21, 2024,
MLA: “Vietnam: A Television History; Interview with William Sloane Coffin, 1982.” 1982-08-30. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 21, 2024. <>.
APA: Vietnam: A Television History; Interview with William Sloane Coffin, 1982. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from