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NDE are the national educational radio network presents special of the week where the teach an idea began back in 1965 that was held in mid-September. This year the first major peaceful demonstration this fall against the war in Vietnam at the University of Michigan professors and students organized an action teach in on the war in Vietnam with such speakers as David Bell injure Andrew pulley Rennie Davis and Howard Zinn all speaking and then conducting long workshops for the many thousands of people taking part. The major address against the war was delivered before some 5000 people out here laudatory and delivered by the president of the University of Michigan Robin Fleming. This was what he had to say on that Friday September 19th. The heckling which comes late in Dr. Fleming's remarks was by members of the ultra left who believed that the Michigan president had not gone far enough in his denunciation of the war. Robin Fleming I kept at the end cation to come here and talk
tonight because as a matter of personal conscience I share the agony of all of those who oppose the war in Vietnam. Thank you. I happen not to agree with all of those who oppose the war. Nevertheless I am not here to criticize their points of view but to state my own. I should say at the outset that I am not an expert on Southeast Asia and I do not pertain to any particular competence in that area of the world. Nor do I speak for the University of Michigan I speak tonight solely for myself. In the days immediately after World War Two we were obsessed with the idea that communism was a monolithic evil which threaten not only the countries which immediately bordered on Russia but our own existence. Viewed objectively. It can perhaps be said that Russia did little to alleviate that fear. But surely
the years since 1945 have taught us the error of this greatly oversimplified analysis. Of the communist world. The strange of nationalism our Peyton Place stronger. Than the communist ideology. Marshal Tito showed us that a communist neighbor to the Russians. Could successfully pursue an independent policy. The polls have slipped in and out of orbit. The Chinese and the Russians already each other's troops. The Albanians have thumbed their nose at the Russians for some time. The Romanians are not wholly integrated into the communist orbit. The Czechs are a living example. Of the brutal hand of force but also of the unreliability of a forced ally. In short the communist world has been no more able than the rest of us. To pursue a unified policy to which all of its members at here. From this I draw the conclusion that it is not a disaster for us.
If the yet now ultimately becomes an independent communist country. I am. Thank you. There is historic animosity between the Vietnamese and the Chinese and the fire preference is for an independent yet now it may well be that peace furthers that objective whereas war is forcing an alliance. Secondly I do not see a world in which the United States can afford either economically or in terms of manpower to be the policeman. But. Thanks for the day when a few thousand well-trained Marines could take over is gone.
Against a determined band of guerrillas. It now seems agreed by everyone that we cannot win unless we are prepared to invade the North Mount an all out air attack. Or use atomic weapons. These things we will not do. Not only because of our own morality and world opinion but because we do not care to run the risk. Of retaliation at the hands of other powers. If none of these alternatives hold any promise for us. We must reconcile ourselves to the fact that a great many things will go on in the world which we will not like. We have also the rather naive view that our political institutions have served this country so admirably that they must be applied to every other country in the world. Thank you.
Perhaps we are the victims of our own acute consciousness. Of the genius of those young revolutionaries who wrote that extraordinary series of documents on which our country was founded. Easy Incidentally a rather sad truth. That when public opinion surveys are taken of the principles set forth in the Bill of Rights. Without a doubt a flanger source there is great go on the part of American citizens. As well as to whether they subscribe to the truths contained they are in when the same principles are stated to be from the Bill of Rights. The acceptance of them promptly goes up. In any event to suppose that one can impose the American concept of democracy. On countries which have no democratic traditions. No heritage like ours no organized political parties. Too few educated leaders and strong military traditions defies rationality. With respect to the South Vietnamese government. There is little in the record
that inspires confidence in the minds of many of us that it is a representative government. That it could remain in power in a genuinely free election. That its views. That its views on continuing the war go beyond a concern for rather for the rather privileged class. Thank the Saigon government had in fact won a war. One suspects that the model of government which would emerge would look as little like our idea of a democracy as some of the models which are sure to emerge if and when there is a successful peace negotiation put somewhat differently. A bad government is not made good simply because it is not communist. Thank. Thank.
You. There is another factor which must be considered. Our own revolution is now far behind us. All of us have grown up reading of the tyranny of the British during the period of our fight for independence. By and large we do not question the righteousness of our cause. As a matter of fact I had the rather sobering experience last spring of watching the film about the American Revolution that shown in Williamsburg Virginia. I had seen it before and the only thing was novel about this experience was that this time I saw it in the company of a number of vice chancellors of British universities. Our conversation afterward left me with the impression that there might be a slight disparity between American and British textbooks on that subject. My I used this example only Disick jast that our view of the cause of revolutionaries in other countries which are foreign to our culture may be less accurate than we suppose.
We. Thank you. Is it not possible that the real explanation of why the incumbent government in Saigon has seen to generate so little popular support is because it does not represent the hopes and aspirations of the people. Thanks. Thanks If I am right in what I have said so far I do not see how one can avoid the conclusion that our present involvement in Vietnam is a colossal mistake. Thank you. Here I must pause to say that while I believe all our involvement a colossal mistake I do not share the view which is so popular in the radical left
that it is all the result of evil and corrupt forces which govern our society. My own life experience is that honest mistakes can be made a great many man and. A great many men and women in America are obsessed with the fear of communism. A great many wise and independent statesman fear that if we withdraw from Vietnam it will have a disastrous effect in all of Southeast Asia. I simply do not share that point of view. When I. When I weigh in the balance the arguments for continuing the war. Versus those for ending our involvement my scale tips distinctly in the latter direction. The economic human and spiritual cost of continuing the war seem to me unbearable. I start with the economic cost not because I think the most important. But because they are most readily disposed of. Support for the war in Vietnam now takes billions of dollars of our national budget.
We can see that we cannot win a military victory without using tactics which we are unwilling to use. Meanwhile we see the daily desperate need for funds at home and abroad in the cause of peace. And human better. Demographers freely predict the mouth Susie and Lars catching up with us. And that we will see mass starvation in the world unless we learn how to control our population and expand our food resources. The polluted state of our air and water is more evident daily. We are becoming more conscious that we cannot even keep up with removing rubbish in our cities. Massive injections of farms are essential if we are to pay more than lip service to the stated objective of racial justice. The poor may inherit the earth but unless we take a different view than we are presently pursuing they will do so while you are clothed ill housed in the old thing. Thank
you. It is not just that our military expenditures in Vietnam are enormous. It is that the whole experience contributes to a condition in which war and the weapons of war dominate our economies to the detriment of all of us. And so long as that condition continues it tends to diminish the chances that we can avoid a world wide conflict. So much for the economic aspects of the war. Let us now turn to the economic equation. A year ago I talked at some length one evening to a senior American statesman whose name you would all know. In the course of our conversation we talked of the UP NOW. There were some reluctance on his part. And grows dizzy wise in what he considered to be the larger problems of the world. He said to me was some annoyance. That our casualties in Vietnam did not even equal our traffic accident losses here at home. As to the statistics he is doubtless wrong.
But I could only think of lard Tennyson's charge of the Light Brigade which made such magnificent reading until one came to realize that the man who rode into the valley of death died with so little reason. Death on the battlefields of the US now is not a statistic it is a tragedy in the lives of a whole network of human beings. If you use justifiable at all surely it can only be because there is a visible benefit to America and to the world. I do not see that benefit in terms that outweigh the destruction the devastation and the death. The youth of our country are always the wave of the future. Vietnam is not the only cause of alienation between the generations. For if it were one would not expect to find alienation in countries which have only a peripheral interest in the world. But if it is not the only cause who can deny that here in America it is a need for.
Those who have burned their draft cards go to prison refused to serve or simply drop out of society are not by such acts cowards and traitors. History reminds us that in the early thirties at Oxford and Cambridge students swore that they would never fight again. And thereby cause great uneasiness among their elders as to their courage and fortitude. But when World War Two came in the freedom of England was at stake. They fought magnificently. Americans who see no useful purpose in a war in Vietnam do not thereby automatically rule out all wars for all possible reasons. So increasingly all of us must see that war is futile. And the other of the human costs of the war is the inequity with which it falls on the various segments of our society. Strangely enough this is in a sense attributable to the fact that it requires so little rather than so much of our total manpower. In a period of total mobilization like World War
2 only in power become subject to military and civilian allocation. This being cell all are then subject to the government's mandate though inevitably some enjoy better conditions than others. When a limited war comes along the service does not need all of the manpower that is available. A Selective Service system that uses black deferments. Alas the system produce far more man than are needed. Result is that we set up rules have which have varying justification but which contain the seeds of inequity. How did students may be deferred. Because one can show that the flower of French youth were killed in World War 1 and that it is affected that country ever since. Unfortunately the reason one man goes to college and another does not may be totally unrelated to his intellectual capacity. Innumerable studies thank
him numerable studies show that a high proportion of those whose IQ warrants continued study do not attend an institution of higher learning while others with less capacity do so because their parents are able to send. Moreover there is no way under such a system to avoid the likelihood that those who are less privileged in our society will be the most likely to find their way into the service. There are racial overtones here which only serve to exacerbate the injustices. Which flow from that cancer in our larger society. Finally let me speak of the erosion and values within that within our universities. Since that is the world which we know best. Those who asked me to speak tonight particularly expressed the propriety of the university as a forum for debate on all kinds of use. But let us be candid. If a strong proponent of the war in Vietnam were asked to
occupy this platform tonight I doubt that he would be permitted to speak without interruption. However sincere and intellectually honest he might be. The interruption would be justified on the grounds that he could not morally believe in such a position. For those of us my age who know the evils of the Third Reich at first hand. Such tactics Michael Brown says. I count this one of the casualties of the emotion the hatred the suspicion the tragedy of the war. No one would be foolish enough to suppose that only the man could cause such an erosion of the values of the university for it has happened before under other circumstances and it will doubtless happen again. Nevertheless it is dangerous to the climate of the university. Thank you.
Thank you. When the human cost of the war in Vietnam is assessed. There are those who conclude that the war was started and continues only because American imperialism is interest required. I know from personal experience. Thank you. I know from personal experience in many parts of the world wars both during World War 2 and afterwards. That there are those who are war profiteers that there are the cynical armaments manufacturers who supply the weapons of death to both sides. That the military industrial complex in this country is enormously powerful. Still I say that it is still I say that it is nonsense to suppose that this is the only reason the war continues so ambitious a politician as Lyndon Johnson did not see in my view destroy his political career and time she's place in American history for that reason. Richard Nixon will not be in my view. Now his career and his place in history
to go the same route. For that reason. Both men were and I suggest to you trapped in the web of two powerful considerations. The first is the political dilemma at home. It is not nearly so clear as those of us who think the Waratah and believe that the bulk of our citizens agree. And the second is a concern for what will happen to the South Vietnamese who have worked with us. And what will happen to Southeast Asia if we simply leave that beleaguered area of the world. As to the second problem our stature in Southeast Asia and how to protect our friends among the South Vietnamese. I do not have an answer but I do not feel guilty about this. Since my reading indicates that there are experts including some of our own here at the university who believe that this is a manageable problem. I am prepared to accept the conclusion that we can find ways to solve that problem.
The home dilemma is a different one. University communities are notoriously on representative of society at large. Doubts about and hostility to the Vietnam War are so widely voiced within the academic community that those of us thank God. That's about hostility to the Vietnam War. I sell widely and our voice within the academic community. That those of us who inhabit the community tend to forget that our views are frequently at odds with the campus world. The labor union hierarchy for instance would express grave doubts about a withdrawal from Vietnam. Radical analysts dismiss this was a crass concern for wages. And jobs but they forget that the sons of working people are being killed in Vietnam every day and that these personal tragedies
influence the home just as they do and other segments of the society. Patrice thang. Thank you. The truth is in my view that an enormous number of Americans perhaps a big majority would like to get out of Vietnam but they do not know how to do so. Nations like individuals do not like to lose things. Nations like individuals who do not lightly abandon their allies to an unknown thing. Nations like individuals do not find it easy to admit that they have made mistakes. Having explained to you why I am against the
continuation of the war in Vietnam. I feel some obligation to tell you what I think should be done. At the same time I have conscious of my inadequacies on this account. Some of the best minds in the world. Many of them possessed of far greater knowledge than mine have not yet produced a formula for ending the war. I am therefore not so presumptuous as to suppose that it is within my power to voice a magic solution. I can only tell you what I see as the major elements which are involved. If as I believe. We have made a major mistake in foreign policy we must say so or at least admit it to ourselves rather than continuing along the path to disaster. The cow. Thank. The countless my process which dot the past of the past cannot be changed but we
can avoid adding to the list for those who are concerned with military pride. We have not been defeated. Indeed we have shown that the tide of the turn over could be changed. Four years ago it was our unilateral decision to avoid the use of tactics. Which could have conceivably won the woman. It must now be apparent that short of military conquest which we are not willing to undertake we are not going to impose a settlement on the uptown. The North Vietnamese for what seem to them to be good reasons our parent be prepared to go on indefinitely. Speaking for myself thanks. Reading for myself I would be willing to accept the following three propositions. One and an out and announced unilateral decision to withdraw from thing up no thanks. Thanks
Thanks Thanks Thanks Thanks. Thanks. To. Massive troop withdrawal. To my.
Massive troop withdrawals by which I mean Karkare for goal of 100000 by the end of 1969. You are an addict right. And McGeorge Bundy formula for removing a hundred to a hundred and fifty thousand for the next two years until we ultimately are down to 100000 volunteers. Advice to our friends. Three in South and Vietnam and Southeast Asia that we will make these moves and that we must therefore really valuate with them. Our position in that area of the world. My framework is much too simplistic to settle the problem. But I believe it is a frame on which a new policy can be right. I have only a few final comments. You are here these days these two days to hear other speakers many of whom know a good deal more than I do about the problem. You will consider a variety of tactics some of them internal to the university. Anything I say on this point
is suspect because in my administrative capacity I may have to deal with it. I can only express my own conviction that activities which arouse the public against the university do more harm than to help the cause. It is a so I want to thank. Thank you. It is a sobering thought that all of the minority left candidates got less than two hundred thirty thousand votes in the last election while George Wallace got 10 million votes. Let me leave this thought with you. Following the Kennedy and the Martin Luther King assassinations we set aside the period from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to express our anguish and concern. We did so with dignity and compassion. We authorized professors to cancel classes in so far as it was possible during this period. If this idea is a trap for those who will be discussing
Vietnam. And who wish the university should show its posture on the war. I still see that the university provides the facilities and the weeks ahead here a lot of Tarim holds 4000 events they'll be building holds 15000. If there are enough concerned students and faculty to fill the latter I shall be glad to carry their message to Washington. Thanks. I can and I will only express to my colleagues who are presidents of other academic institutions My concern about the war and I hope that there are campuses like this one will find a vehicle through which faculty and students may bear witness to their convictions and in the discussion which will follow during the next year.
I wish you success and fulfillment. Thank you. You have been listening to an address delivered on the 19th of September this year by the president of the University of Michigan Robin Fleming. He was the keynote speaker at an action teach in against the war in Vietnam and yours special of the week. Thanks WUOM in Ann Arbor for the recording of this address. This is NPR National Educational Radio Network.
Special of the week
Issue 43-69
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Chicago: “Special of the week; Issue 43-69,” 1969-06-19, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
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