tv Mayday 1971 Anti- Vietnam War Protests CSPAN May 4, 2021 9:40am-10:43am EDT
different eras of u.s. history, provide strategies for the free response answers and demonstrate how to analyze historical documents. watch tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern and watch american history tv every weekend on c-span3. ♪♪ tens of thousands of anti-vietnam war protestors, young people and military veterans alike, converged on
washington, d.c., in may 1971. more than 7,000 of them were arrested in a single day. next, we look back 50 years at the forces that collided on the capitol streets that spring with investigator journalist, lawrence roberts. he's the author of "may day." this was a joint production of american history tv and c-span's washington journal. >> the whole world is watching! >> this was the spring offensive, the mobilization of masses of people at a given time and place attracts worldwide news coverage and attention. for the protest organizer, inciter and promoter, it's a
vital and necessary tactic. on april 24th, 1971, the national peace action coalition supported by welfare rights groups, labor unions and others, held a massive demonstration in washington, d.c. some 175,000 people from all walks of life with differing ideologies and purposes marched from the white house to the capital. washington has grown accustom to this method of voicing dissent. larger than most, this was an organized demonstration with parade permits, martials and leadership. other political issues were made known. throughout the rallies, officers were directed to maintain a low visibility profile. their role was to protect the constitutional rights of citizens, intervening only to meet unusual or emergency
situations. there were few laws broken, few arrests. most who came in the name of peace returned to their homes, jobs or schools. but some who came to break the peace, stayed on in west potomac park. for them, the april 24th rally was only a prelude to mayday, an opportunity to advance their own well-defined aim, to shut down the federal government. >> the country should respond from coast to coast with demonstrations at universities and communities and across this country. >> months before, these militant and violence-prone members of the new left, decided that the style, discipline and tactics of peaceful assembly were no longer acceptable. >> good morning, and welcome back to the "washington journal," you're looking at the vietnam memorial here in the nation's capital. this morning in our last hour of
the washington journal, in a joint conversation with american history tv on c-span3, we're focusing on the may day 1971 anti-vietnam war protests. joining us this morning is lawrence roberts, author of a book on those events. mr. roberts, thank you very much for being with us. appreciate it. >> thank you for having me, greta. i'm looking forward to it. >> let's begin with what is going on with the vietnam war in 1971. >> let me paint a picture of what happened exactly 50 years ago this morning. it was also sunday morning, may 2nd, and richard -- president richard nixon and his aides had ordered hundreds of d.c. police riot squad to clear out a park down by the potomac river in which tens of thousands of mostly young people had been camping in preparation for what
was going to be the most audacious protest in all of antiwar movement against the vietnam war. people had come from all over the country to camp in west potomac park in order to get ready for this traffic blockade of washington, d.c., which was sort of a last-ditch effort after six years of the movement to force the government to pull all of the u.s. troops out of vietnam. >> why? why did they come? what is happening with the war that they decide they need to descend on washington? >> well, the war had been going on for six years in an intense way and there had been -- the antiwar movement had started almost at the same time as the war did by people who believed that the war was, you know, ethically wrong or was unwinnable or was, you know,
draining the resources of the country that should have been put toward domestic problems and there had been millions of people on the streets over those six years, picketing, parading, marching, petitioning, working on political campaigns and still the war was going on. the war had been started primarily by president lyndon johnson back in 1965, the true u.s. involvement, and then johnson was in some ways kind of run out of the white house by the growing antiwar sentiment in the country. and then richard nixon was elected in 1968 and one of the reasons he was elected was his promise to wind down the war, to end the war. but rather than ending the war, he was expanding it geographically. troops had gone over the border in 1970 into cambodia and in
1971, in february, troops had been sent -- mostly south vietnamese troops with u.s. support into laos and that had triggered another run of the movement which was in the spring of 1971. so we had dozens of antiwar groups sort of all came together in this chaotic choreography starting in mid-april of '71 and going through may in a series of demonstrations that were designed to, you know, bolster public support for the antiwar movement and the finale of this protest was to be this most audacious one which was the blockade of the streets and bridges of washington and that's why these folks were camped in west potomac park getting ready for this protest. they had a permit to do it, but the nixon administration was increasingly worried about the effect of all of these protests.
therefore, they secretly revoked the permit on saturday and then on sunday morning, 50 years ago, they sent in the police to clear out the park in the hopes that most of the people who had come to d.c. for this blockade would just disburse and go home and there would be no protest on monday morning, but that is not what happened. >> i want to show our viewers and have them and you react to president nixon on april 7th, 1971, in his address about ending the war in vietnam. let's listen. >> i think the hardest thing that a president has to do is to present the nation's highest honor the medal of honor to mothers or fathers or widows of men who have lost their lives but in the process have saved the lives of others.
we had an awards ceremony in the east room of the white house just a few weeks ago. and at that ceremony, i remember one of the recipients. mrs. carl taylor from pennsylvania. her husband was a marine sergeant, sergeant carl taylor. he charged an enemy machine gun, single-handed, and knocked it out. he lost his life. but in the process, the lives of several wounded marines in the range of that machine gun were saved. after i presented her the medal, i shook hands with their two children, carl jr., he was 8 years old, and kevin, who was 4. as i was about to move to the
next recipient, kevin suddenly stood at attention and saluted. i found it rather difficult to get my thoughts together for the my fellow americans, i want to end this war in a way that is worthy of the sacrifice of carl taylor. and i think he would want me to end it in a way that would increase the chances that kevin and carl, and all those children like them here and around the world, could grow up in if a world where none of them would have to die in war. >> lawrence roberts, president nixon's words there, what impact did they have in the following days that lead up to may 2, 1971? >> well, nixon was in kind of a
precarious position at this point, in april of 1971. as i had mentioned earlier, he had sent forces into laos and that had triggered a lot of anti-war sentiment. he was getting ready to run for re-election in 1972 and the polls, at this point, had him at the lowest approval rating, partly because of the laos invasion of his first term. and he actually mused at the time that he might not even get the nomination of his party to run again for re-election. so he was very determined to make sure that the coming string of anti-war demonstrations that they knew about, didn't change public opinion. so the speech was important, they spent several days on it
and it was an effective speech. afterwards if you spent time listening to the tapes -- the nixon tapes in the white house, which i did for my book, you can hear their delight -- the delight of the president and his chief of staff as the polls showed a bump in his handling of the war. he was trying to get the high ground before the protests would begin. one thing they were worried about in particular was for the first time the protests were going to include a substantial number of vietnam veterans against the war who were coming back saying they disagreed with u.s. policy and thought the war should be ended unconditionally. nixon said he wanted to wind down the war but did not want to
give an end date, give a firm date for withdrawal of troops despite the pressure from those that believed the war was wrong. the speech was intended to bolster support before the protests and it initially succeeded. >> tell us more about who attended these protests, these mayday 1971 anti-vietnam protests. >> the mayday was the finale of a string of demonstrations that began in mid april. the first people in town were the vietnam veterans against the war, more than a thousand who marched to arlington cemetery, they camped on the national mall right near the capital. and the end of their protest was to return their medals and ribbons by hurling them over a fence onto the capitol steps, an extremely emotional event. they were followed by a huge coalition of groups, everybody from, you know, church groups and unions, all the way to the
most radical groups all came together for this enormous march. it was the largest march that d.c. had seen up to that point, probably 400,000 people marched down pennsylvania avenue to the capitol. that was on april 24, 1971. and then, following that, there were a series of smaller demonstrations, leading up to the mayday protest, which was meant to be a three-day blockade of the city to kind of force more attention onto their cause. and that -- the folks who came to town for that came from all over the country and from some other countries, too. all 50 states were represented. people came in from -- you know a lot of volkswagen buses and beetles, were all parked along the river and it included people who felt that the marching and the parading and the petitioning
wasn't enough and that what was needed was a more forceful act and they believed this was the time for mass civil disobedience as a way to, you know, sort of put their bodies on the line out of a belief that the war was really wrong and needed to end. >> why was it called mayday? >> it was originally scheduled for actual mayday, which was may 1st. but then they decided that it made the most sense to have the blockade at rush hour -- the first rush hour, which is monday, may 3rd. >> who were the leaders? who organized this? >> the main leaders of the mayday protest were a guy named renny davis, who was a long-time icon of the new left. he had helped to form the largest group of the left -- campus left in the '60s, which was called students for a democratic society. he was one of the founders of
that. he later became one of the chicago seven, as your viewers may remember that trial that was based on demonstrations that happened outside the democratic national convention in 1968. and renny came to believe that what was needed was a much more intense kind of a protest to call more public attention to the cause. and one of his prime, you know, cofounders of the mayday idea was david dellenger, who was a 55-year-old long-time pacifist, who had worked on the anti-nuclear bomb movement. he had been a resister of the draft during world war ii. and he was sort of an apostle of nonviolence. this idea of force without violence. that you could have mass civil disobedience without any kind of a violent edge to it. and that was a way to, you know,
push the powers that be in the direction that you wanted them to go. >> we're talking about the mayday protest, the single largest mass arrest in american history. more than 10 times as many protesters were arrested during the mayday than the berkeley free speech sit ins in 1964. we want you to join the conversation in the eastern central part of the country, 202-748-8000. pacific, 202-748-8001. if you were in washington for the mayday protest 202-748-8002. or if you were police working to arrest folks then, we want to hear your story, your perspective as well, 202-748-8002. lawrence roberts, you did attend. why were you there? >> i was a 19-year-old college student at the time and i had participated in some of the
anti-war marches as many of my peers did during that time. like many of the folks who came down to d.c. for mayday, i also believed that it was time for a more forceful kind of a demonstration. so yes, i was part of it. >> what was it like? >> it was an extremely chaotic day. so on monday, may 3rd, at rush hour, starting i guess probably about 5:30 in the morning, the folks who had come down for mayday came out into the streets. and everyone was assigned, every small group of protesters, they divided into small groups called affinity groups and each one was given a place to go, a traffic intersection, a bridge, you know, a traffic circle, in order to block traffic. and, you know, be ready for when
police came. >> and so, during the morning it was just getting to be dawn, you saw, you know, clumps of folks walking and all over the city into their assigned areas. and then, almost immediately, you started hearing sirens and then tear gas and then, you know, later on in the morning, the mass arrests began. >> i want to show our viewers a description of the planning and pre-daw events on monday, may 3rd, as you were talking about. this is from a washington police department film, and it's entitled the whole world is watching. >> monday's tactics called for civil disobedience at 21 areas. they were broken into two areas, traffic circles and the bridges. mayday leaders felt if these
were blocked during early morning rush hours, government business would be stopped. >> we're going to see to it that the thousands of government workers who have a right to go to work peacefully are not interfered with by those few militants who in the name of demonstrating for peace abroad presume they have the right to break the peace at home. >> pre-dawn washington was quiet. >>ul be back very shortly. >> the task of keeping the bridges clear of demonstrators was assigned to federal troops allowing more policemen to be assigned to demonstration targets. at 4:30 a.m., inbound computer traffic on washington bridges was heavy but flowing normally as federal employees sought to
avoid rush hour disruptions. ♪♪ >> then, at 6:00 a.m., police, protesters and commuters converged. a thousand demonstrators blocked dupont circle. a thousand swarmed onto washington circle. over a thousand more hit georgetown. some sat in busy intersections taunting police. some threw trash or slashed tires, others pushed cars into the street alarming innocent by standers.
>> lawrence roberts, you wrote a book about that day. what did you learn about what that was like for the protesters? that interaction with the police that day? >> well, i think what you're watching before was essentially the -- you know, the police version of what happened that day. they produced that film not long after the protests which let's face it, it's a propaganda film. what it doesn't say is that the tactics that the police used and the government used and the nixon administration used turned out to be entirely unconstitutional to suppress the demonstration. and in the end, the federal courts threw out virtually every single arrest that was made over not just that day but the subsequent other two days after that. 12,000 people in all were taken into custody, were kept in detention without charges and the police launched,
particularly the first day, a dragnet where they moved through the city arresting not only people who had been sitting in the streets but anybody who looked like they might have been a protester, had long hair, were wearing hippy-style clothing. so a lot of the people swept up the first day hadn't been breaking any laws at all. and that kind of, you know, complete sort of throwing out by the courts, rejection of all the tactics used, a violation of the civil liberties, first amendment, fourth amendment rights, isn't addressed at all in the police version of events. but in my book i try to show a 360 degree view of that day. i tried to show the white house point of view, what was going on, the police, inside the police department, inside the justice department. as well as inside the
demonstrations. and it was fascinating to me that -- it was a history that i felt needed to be revived, because it really was almost a forgotten moment when you had all these forces of the '60s and early '70s in america, the ones that characterized this tumultuous decade all clashing in washington at the same time. and as i note in the book, a lot of nixon's reaction to mayday and the decision to kind of bend or break constitutional rules was really -- you know, really sowed the seeds of the demise of the administration, the watergate scandal in some ways began on mayday. >> let's go to john, in new york. john you were in washington that day? >> caller: yes, i had organized
a group from indianapolis. and we all went to the intersection that we had been assigned and were very quickly arrested. well, arrested, we were detained. we were taken to the coliseum. but we were never actually charged with anything. we were held for 24 hours or longer and -- until we were finally all released. >> john, what made you come to washington? >> the war. vietnam was not hidden as effectively as later wars were. we knew what was going on. it happened every day. this was after kent state and jackson state. this was after the -- which meant the invasion, extension of the war into cambodia and nixon's vietnamesization as we used to say changed the color of
the corpses. there weren't so many americans dying but there was still tens of thousands of vietnamese dying. and the effort failed in invading laos but the war was going on and on and people were frustrated at that point that traditional means of protest would not be sufficient. >> after you got arrested, john, what was your thinking? >> caller: well, it was very odd we were bundled off in buses to the coliseum and never -- never actually charged. we didn't -- unless you voluntarily went through another line. my feeling, obviously we had not stopped the government, which was the rhetoric of the time. but we had used nonviolence to show that people were very serious about this. i had started out in the civil
rights movement and worked in mississippi in the summer project. so i was very familiar with the whole theory and practice of non-violent action. and i think that it -- it was a great manifestation of that, people's seriousness. there was some craziness that took place, i gather, later in the day after the initial round of arrests. but on the whole, it was a very well disciplined way of showing your conviction that life should not be going on as normal while the war was going on. >> john, do you think you and others, the other protesters were were successful that day? >> yes and no. we were successful in giving a different kind of emphasis. i think larry is right that the veterans starting out and then the mass protests that happened on saturday all had expressed a strong sentiment in the country
and helped to intensify that sentiment. i think we got some counter reaction, of course, the disruption is always -- creates some negativity, but it was such an overwhelming manifestation of people's seriousness that led on to people going on and working locally and pushing for congress to stop funding the war and ultimately that's what contributed most to the end of the war. >> lawrence roberts. >> right. i think that's right. i think that most people did come out of this extreme conviction that it was time to do something more to end the war. i think that the response of the nixon administration was informed a lot by what had happened in the previous weeks of these 1971 protests, right. so i mentioned that the -- the
speech that nixon gave on april 7th, had given him a bump in approval and a bump in approval in his handling of the war. but as soon as the protests started, particularly the vietnam veterans, the white house was getting alarmed because they noticed that public opinion was going in the other direction. they were worried that a really successful shutdown of the city by protesters would put even more pressure on them and make them look weak. so nixon and his men started holding these secret war councils to figure out how to undermine the mayday protest. and as i mentioned one of the things they did was revoke the camping permit and bust up the campground where everybody spent the weekend. nixon also, over the initial objections of the pentagon, called in 10,000, you know, active duty military to
washington. the pentagon wanted him to properly invoke the insurrection act and all these things. we've seen some echo of this during the trump administration. but the president ordered that the troops be brought without any kind of public proclamation because he didn't want to show what he was really doing behind the scenes. and then, you know, they infiltrated the -- many of the groups that were planning the protests. there were wiretaps. there were undercover agents. i tell the story of one under cover agent in the boom who was embedded with the vietnam veterans. a lot of things -- and break-ins. a lot of things ememployed later on against nixon's political opponents in the election and that's what got his operatives caught at the watergate and led to ultimately his resignation. >> we're talking about the
mayday, 1971 anti-vietnam protests. and this morning our camera is at the vietnam memorial wall in washington d.c. our camera is looking out along the wall of the vietnam memorial with a view of the washington monument in the background. you talked about the camping out. where did that take place in relation to the national mall? and where were these law enforcement -- where was the extra law enforcement put in washington d.c.? >> well, the campground was not far from where the vietnam war memorial is. it was essentially in this area of west potomac park between the jefferson and the lincoln memorials on some playing fields and other parkland there along the river's edge. you could see the washington monument in the distance. so it was very much a feeling of being near the heart of
washington. when the police deployed and the military deployed on the morning of may 3rd, rush hour, they were sent all over the city. now this -- you may have noticed in the film that the police produced to show what a great job they were doing, they had a picture of the -- this manual, this tactical manual that was no in way secret, it was handed out to the protesters by the organizers of mayday. it was reprinted in college newspapers. so the police had a sense of where -- a very good sense of where people would go and they deployed their forces accordingly. 10,000 military who came to town were primarily used to guard bridges and to guard the mass of prisoners who the police took to -- first to a practice field outside robert f. kennedy memorial stadium, which had a
chain link fence around it and they packed thousands of people in there and they were guarded by the military. later on, as john said -- the caller john said, people were trucked over to the washington coliseum, which was an inside arena. >> let's go to mike who was also a protester that day. mike in wheeling, west virginia. thank you for calling in. >> caller: yes. what i'd like to say, first of all, i was there, and i went in the service may -- excuse me, march 10, '65, and i got out mitt romney 10, '69. i was four years in the service spent a year in southeast asia. i'd like to say, the soldiers that was their right. the military draft was in at the time. i enlisted, i got my notice but i enlisted. the soldiers had a right to do what they did. what i'd like to say, the reason i went there was because of nixon. i couldn't vote until i was 21.
and i was three days before the election was up in '68 and i was able to vote, i voted for nixon because he promised us and swore to us soldiers that he was going to end the war and he didn't. he killed another 30,000 men. that's why i went there. however i didn't throw my medals over or ribbons. i was in the back, didn't get arrested, i was minding my own business. i was with other people that served. the main reason i went there is because nixon lied to us, didn't tell us the truth and the war wasn't a good war to start with. that's how i feel about it and most of the guys i served with, when you got out of high school, you didn't have a choice then, which unless your parent s had money to send you to college, which dint. but i did protest because the war wasn't right. >> there was so much
disinfection with the military. hundreds of thousands of young men volunteered or were drafted to go to vietnam. i think it's safe to say when they went, most felt they were doing something honorable. they were there to contain communism as they were told by the government. and once they got there, they fought bravely to keep themselves and their buddies alive. and, you know, that -- that was just simply the way it went. after being there many of the -- many soldiers and folks who were there came to believe that what they had been told about the war was not right. that there was no love for the south vietnamese regime by its own people. and that that it wasn't strictly a question of, you know, of a
communist takeover of vietnam. but to some extent an internal conflict between guerillas who were procommunist and the south vietnamese. and what the purpose -- the mission of the american military was not clear and that the war itself didn't feel like it was winnable without, you know, a massive amount of destruction of north vietnam, which most were not willing to engage in. >> paul was also a protester here in washington that day. paul in massachusetts, how old were you? ? >> i was only 21. exactly 21. >> tell us your experience that day. >> caller: well, i had met the vets against the war in boston and that got me on the common
about a month before i was with john kerry, howard zin, bonnie ratt and myself. and we got to go to washington and we stayed three days at the howard johnson hotel. we played at american university the night before with ralph nater and myself and my brother. and then jay guiles played. and then the next night we were on the big stage and we played that night. i have pictures of phil oaks, he was my hero at the time. and the next day when they shut the power and the storm troopers started coming we got to play again because i went to the promoter and said they're leaving one microphone on, we were an acoustic group and so we played with the one microphone for about an hour while the fighting and protesting was going on. we were finally forced off the
stage. we threw our instruments to the people in the crowd and jumped into the crowd and escaped. got to u mass, flew to u mass and played at a protest in u mass and they didn't know about the fighting. it wasn't on the news that the storm troopers came, it wasn't on the news that everybody got beat up and got arrested. so when we got to u mass we weren't only musicians, we were reporters. thank you for your book, lawrence, it's the first time i got to read about what happened. and i'm telling people about what happened. and i'm still a musician and still talking about the war. it was only because my friends got hurt and got killed and suffered there that i got involved with protesting it. and i -- i protested for the whole time until that war ended and then i kept playing. i was a college performer and we played with ritchie haven many times. thanks for having me on and for writing the book. >> before you go, what was the
rational to have a rock concert during the protests? do you remember what you were told? >> caller: well, i wrote two songs one called "you're no soldier" and me and my brother wrote another song and that's the song that the vets heard on the boston common that got us there. >> and what did they say to you? >> caller: they finally heard -- they finally heard a song that was about the way they felt. this wasn't a song that was on the radio. and this wasn't a song that was on the record. at the these were songs that we played and we enjoyed. we had to sing. we had to sing them. we weren't trying to make a hit record. we never recorded the songs we never tried to promote them. it was just the way we felt. i think they heard that. jay guiles came along. but arrow smith those bands didn't get involved in protests
in boston. so we were one of the few groups that said we have to stop this. >> can you sing for us or tell us some of the lyrics? >> you're no soldier, you're a man like me. why can't you look and why can't you see. just walk away and remember this day for the rest of your life. and i have. >> lawrence roberts? >> fascinating. you know, one thing that sometimes gets lost in thinking about these protests, you brought it up, greta. this notion it wasn't just -- the culture of the time wasn't just the question of radical politics, there was also a counterculture, sort of a cultural revolution going on in the late '60s, early '70s. so when rennie davis pushed for the idea of mass civil disobedience in d.c., he set up an all-day rock concert that
would start on saturday, may 1st, and go through sunday, may 2nd, in order to set up for the may 3rd protests. so there were groups, lynda ron stat was there, charliemin gus was there. and the opening group for the mayday concert at the west potomac park was the beach boys. who were on sort of a revival tour. and they showed up and played and bands played all through the night. all afternoon on saturday and awl all through the night with thousands of -- tens of thousands of people laid out in their blankets, sleeping bags and lean tos. and it was 6:00 a.m. on sunday morning while the bands were still playing, one of the bands was still on, claude jones, which was a very good local d.c. rock band when the police suddenly swept into the park with their helmets and night
sticks and said, everybody has to leave here by noon. they gave them until noon to clear it out. but no doubt the cultural part of things and the music was one of the reasons why people gathered in that -- so many people gathered in that park. the government had believed that -- the government informants embedded with the anti-war groups believed four or five thousand people would show up for mayday but instead there were 50000. >> that's what i think triggered the overreaction. >> and neil was one of them how old were you? >> caller: i was 18 at the time. >> why did you come to washington? >> caller: basically because i learned the government had lied to the american people. lied about the basis for the
war. and i was terribly angered by that. educated myself and decided that i had to go. >> what was it like when you got here in. >> caller: i stayed with friends at georgetown. and got assigned to dupont circle as a new yorker. and having been at other protests, i had the model that people would be warned and if you don't leave you'll be arrested. and it was nothing like that. the police just swept in and grabbed us up before we knew what was going on. >> when you were grabbed by the police, tell us about that. what did they do? where did they put you? >> well, they initially put us in the prison yard at d.c.
prison. and it was a rather surreal evening. as the sun went down they distributed blankets and rolling tobacco. so i'm looking around at all these long hairs, in blankets, smoking what looked like joints. and it portrayed one thing and then, as you -- i brought my eyes up, there were guard towers and people with shotguns and barbed wire. it was quite a shocker that way. >> how did you -- how were you released? what were you told? >> we were told that we could post a $10 appearance fee and get a court case number, that
would let us out. >> did you return to court? >> caller: this was when we were being held at the -- at the stadium. >> right. >> caller: and the issue there was there were many people in the crowd who couldn't be processed because they had warrants out. so in an act of solidarity, nobody wanted to be processed. but we learned if you got a court case number on a 3 by 5 card, that was the golden ticket out. >> why? what would happen? >> caller: you'd walk down a hallway, show the guard they had given you this index card and you were out doors. >> neil, did you return to court at a later date? >> caller: no. funny the way it worked out. jeffrey miller had been dead for
a year to the day. so i signed out as jeffrey miller. and when the aclu subsequently received a judgment that would give us payment for the illegal arrests, i was not able to receive any of that payment. i was not jeffrey miller. but it was a memoriam to him. >> lawrenc roberts, fill in the lines here from what you heard from neil. >> neil, interesting. neil's experience, not so different from many thousands of others. i should say that when the police swept through the streets on that monday and arrested thousands of people, they filled every jail cell in the city. cells that were supposed to hold two people were full of a dozen.
nobody could even sit down and were kept in there for hours. many taken to the jail yard that neil described. others were taken to this football -- the overflow was taken to this football practice field and ultimately many ended up inside this arena. and many people, thousands of people, maybe most of them, were swept up while they were not violating any rules at all. so there were no real charges lodged against them, there couldn't be. and many of those folks when they were asked their names subsequently by the police who were trying to process the folks in there and create some kind of record that could be used in court, some kind of arrest record that could be used in court. on the advice of themselves, some lawyers who got in there, they were giving false names. so there were a lot of people who gave their name as richard nixon or john mitchell or in
neil's case someone they knew was not around anymore. and years and years later, the aclu and others filed these civil suits on on behalf of the protesters and the courts ordered millions of dollars paid in compensation to these demonstrators and then the aclu set out to try to find people who deserved these checks, some of the folks arrested during the three days got checks forasmuch as $3,200, others just received -- they got their $10 collateral back. but they couldn't find hundreds of these folks because they had given false names or in some cases moved many times and couldn't be located. >> james in bakersfield, california, you're next. >> caller: yes, good morning. i was 10 years old and -- at the time and now i'm a 30-year veteran. and i always thought then, and still think today, that vietnam
war was a noble effort against communism, to contain and defeat it, but it was not carried out very well. but the time frame of may, i always thought from the history books that i understood it to be corresponding with the communist revolution and the mayday celebrations caried out around the world for that. and i noticed the red cover of your book and i saw the one protester in that one police video this morning that had that -- carrying around the red flag. so that was my -- that was my main question is i thought that was a -- the -- why mayday was chosen and that time frame. the one other item i'll say real quick. you have a generation that generally was protesting against authority but now on the other end of it, 50 years later, you have this generation who are now generally at the time of their
professional lives and kind of in power and seem to be more pro-authority and pro-centralized government, and i wondered if mr. roberts could comment on that also. thank you. >> thank you. interesting questions. international mayday was international workers day. i don't know if it was invented by the communist but it was meant as international workers day. there is no real direct connection between the mayday protest and that mayday, other than may is -- you know, was looked upon as the most -- the best time, spring as the best time to do some kind of -- carry out a protest like this for weather reasons and things like that, and also because it was coming after the this very controversial invasion of laos that nixon had put into place. so i don't think there's a communist under pinning to all of this.
to your question of what happens to people 50 years later after their rebellious youth, i think every individual story is different. you know, the baby boomer generation, you know, like any other splint erred into a lot of different things and a lot of people carry with them what they would call the values of the '60s. some people didn't, you know, change and moved to a more conservative stance. but it's hard i think to generalize about the people who were protesting back then. >> garrett in providence, rhode island was one of those protesters. how old were you? tell us your story. >> caller: i i guess i was 19 years old. i was not arrested. a couple hours after the main part of the protest i was walking around the gw campus area where the police had instructions to arrest anybody who didn't have an id. i was a former student, as was
the person i was with. i had my id with me so i was not arrested, e had he didn't have his id and he was arrested. i read lawrence's book, first of all kudo it gave a great understanding of mayday and the anti-war movement in general. a few questions for him. obviously you had in depth interviews with a lot of people, call it the other side for the government side, like the chief of police in washington. were they anxious to talk to you? reluctant to talk to you? how do they see it now? the way most of us see it as, at least, an overreaction or is it still justified in their mind? and were there any people on what i'm calling the government side who you would have liked to have talked to, who just weren't willing to talk to you? >> thank you for the kind words.
i -- yes, i think your experience of that day, people sweeping through the george washington university and other university campuses, arresting anyone without an id, that was certainly something that was common. in terms of people talking about that time, i mean, i think unfortunately many of the people who were central to the decision-making back in the day, for example, the deputy attorney general, richard cline, he's not around anymore. jerry wilson, the police chief of washington was around and was very generous with his time in discussing with me, you know, all the events of those days and what was behind his decision to ultimately, you know, follow nixon's orders to do mass arrests. you know, he -- he maintained that he had, you know, done the job he was hired to do that day,
and despite the government lawsuits that were successful against the police and against the government, he didn't -- he didn't express regret for -- for doing what he thought he had to do to keep the city open that day. i think he was a man of integrity, who was sort of caught between a paranoid white house, a worried white house, and his desire to keep the streets from becoming violent. >> leading up to that day while folks are camping out in washington d.c., what was the camping experience like? thousands of people in close proximity together. were you one of them? what was it like? >> i was not in that campground that day, you know, that weekend in may. but it was an extremely -- from all accounts, it was like a festival. first of all, you had music that
went on for, you know, hours and hours. the characteristics -- some characteristics of the rock festivals of the '60s. people were playing games, they had frizz bees, their dogs. people brought flutes and guitars and were playing in their tents and lean-tos. there was not an angry protest in that sense at all. it was more of a sort of a festival. and people at the time, the technology for music was, you know, portable cassette players. they had been around for a few years so people would bring their tapes and trade them and play their various music of the '60s in their tents. and that's sort of the atmosphere of what's going on when sunday morning suddenly they looked up and the mist of the dawn and saw, you know,
hundreds of helmeted police coming toward them to push them out of the park. >> and our guest, lawrence roberts, noting 50,000 came to d.c. 12,000 arrested. the largest mass arrest in american history. ruth in oxnard, california. good morning to you. >> caller: good morning. >> we're listening, ruth. >> caller: i did go to some protests in washington d.c., and i remember the beach boys, but i was not at that protest. after all of the things that happened, including kent state shootings the year before, and the subsequent national student strike, after all that, mr. nixon said, business as usual. and i felt so dejected, i guess,
because it seemed like all this effort was put forth but yet it wasn't getting through. >> i'm going to stop at that point. lawrence roberts? >> one of the enduing questions of this time is to what extent did the anti-war movement, the vietnam anti-war movement stop the war, shorten the war, constrain the military and the war, and, you know, historians debate this because, you know, it's hard to say what would have happened if there were no anti-war movement. i think there's no question if you listen to the nixon tapes, if you look at the documents, if you study the johnson administration as well. there's no question that the anti-war movement, the domestic
opposition to the war constrained the military from doing more intense options, more serious invasions of north vietnam, of using more, you know, more weapons of war, of even potentially using tactical nuclear weapons, which was on the table at one point. there's no question that domestic opposition got in the way of that. there's no question that the anti-war movement was, at least partly if not largely, responsible for lyndon johnson's decision not to seek another term in 1968. and it -- during the period that we're talking about, the spring of 1971, that was the time when richard nixon and his national security adviser, henry kissinger, decided to soften the terms in their secret talks with hanoi about how to end the war.
up to that point the u.s. insisted no date for a pullout for troops could be set unless north vietnamese troops would also pull out at the same time, and they dropped that demand in this period. and, you know, the juxtaposition makes one think that there's no question that the intensity of the anti-war movement had something to do with that decision. so it's clearly all the marching, the work that the anti-war movement did, it wasn't just the people in the streets, it was the polls at that point were showing that most americans thought the war was wrong and a plurlty of americans believed if the cost of getting out meant the communists in south vietnam would have part of the coalition government, then that was something to do in order to end the war. all of those things point to the impact of the movement. >> what was the lasting impact, do you think of mayday? that weekend and that monday.
>> i think it had fundamental affect on politics and government. first of all, all of the lawsuits that came out of the -- of mayday that established the rights of decent both on the streets of d.c. and elsewhere, i think chilled the possibility of more kinds of illegal mass arrests anywhere in the country. the cases that came out of that are still cited in legal manuals all over the country. and politically it had a huge effect on nixon in a strange way in the sense that it stoked his dark side. and ended up producing the kinds of activities that were, you know, turned against his political opponents in '72. you know, break-ins, wiretapping that ended up leading to watergate. >> the book is "mayday 1971, a
white house at war, a revolt in the streets and the untold history of america's biggest mass arrest". lawrence roberts, thank you very much for the conversation this morning. we appreciate it. >> thank you, greta. thank you for having me. >> throughout today's conversation about that day, those mayday protests you've been seeing video of the protest we want to thank kirk perkins an engineer at cspan who shot some of what you've seen today and allowed us to use it. weeknights we're featuring american history tv programs as a pre view of what's available every weekend on cspan3. tonight an american history tv study session. jason stacy and matthew ellington, authors, review different eras of american history, provide strategies for the free response answers and