Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Flash from the Past

For Cornell’s sesquicentennial, each college gets a month in which to supply the community with an event of the college’s choosing. Arts & Sciences started things off in November with a three-day symposium on The Vietnam War at Cornell. I attended the teach-in, which featured former students and professors reminiscing about their experiences plus an advanced screening of a film-in-progress about the takeover of Willard Straight Hall in 1969.

Professor Kramnick was careful to invite former SDSers as well as men who had fought in Vietnam, for a balanced perspective. The most affecting five minutes were from a one-time professor, who wept when he remembered a favorite student’s death in-country—a student who only enlisted because he was convinced that to argue more persuasively for peace, he needed to experience war.

Although I was younger than most of the people in the room, much of the two-and-a-half hour event resonated with me. There was Dave Burak '67 (below), who enlisted Mark and me and Winnie Rossiter and others into Junior SDS. One participant recalled the Barton Hall “America Is Hard to Find” event in 1970, when the sudden, unexpected, and daring appearance of Dan Berrigan lit up the room before he was spirited away into the underground again, disguised by friends from Bread & Puppet Theater. I was there. Paul was there. Our families were there.

The footage from the documentary reminded me of things I’d long forgotten—the long meetings of faculty at Bailey Hall as the university tried to decide what to do about the appearance of arms on campus, the way in which town and gown divided and the children of professors were forced to take sides on issues that were certainly over our heads at the time.

This was a time that would soon blow up families I knew—the Rossiters and the Perkinses, among others—not to mention the families of boys who went away and never came back, or moved to Canada, or went away and came back changed. Yes, I was alive for JFK’s assassination, but it’s the antiwar era that left its mark on me. Olivia’s generation has nothing comparable. Take away the draft, and war is rendered hazy and impersonal.

It was interesting to be in a roomful of people who shared the same points of reference.

1 comment:

mlutwak said...

If I remember correctly, "Junior SDS" was called "SDM" at the high school.