Roots of today's revolutionaries: The 1967 Pentagon March
Fifty-three years ago yesterday — October 21, 1967 — was a landmark event in the modern history of the United States. On that fine fall Saturday in Washington, D.C., a crowd estimated at more than 100,000 people assembled in the largest anti-war demonstration in American history up to that point. The event was called the March on the Pentagon.
It was a significant part of and an escalation in the attempt by the left to shut down the U.S. military's and the country's political involvement in Vietnam — and in so doing (while not exactly clear at the time) to plant some important seeds for increasing popular support for the eventual transformation of America to a collectivist, socialist model.
Why is this event from half a century ago significant now? For one thing, it helped to set the stage for profound policy changes in the years to come, paving the way for the U.S. withdrawal from Indochina and the ignominious defeat in Vietnam, culminating in the hasty embarrassing and iconic American retreat from Saigon on April 30, 1975. It also provided "evidence" for the historical revisionism that has been growing for decades since the 1970s and has now achieved dominance in academia, popular culture, and historical books and documentaries on the 1960s — most recently on full display in filmmaker Ken Burns's ten-part series The Vietnam War on PBS.
Like many other events of the sixties, interpreted by the collectivist historical revisionists of the 21st century, the 1967 Pentagon March helped to set the stage for much of what we see today: the triumph of the radical in-your-face punk ethos; the collapse of courtesy and communication skills; the destruction of morality and traditional religion and their replacement with narcissism and Gaia-worshiping Green New Deal globalism.
The 53rd anniversary of the March on the Pentagon has a special and personal meaning for me. I was there on October 21, 1967, attending the event and reporting on it. That fall, as a freshman at a Washington, D.C. university that was only two miles away from the National Mall, I was covering the march for my university's FM radio station, which had a broadcast signal that covered the entire District of Columbia and could be heard in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs as well. Later that night, 10/21/67, I was anchoring the station's three live-on-the-hour newscasts, and the March on the Pentagon was my lead story.
In the years since then, I have studied the events of that era closely, including the March on the Pentagon.
The counterculture of that period was not initially political — it was primarily cultural. In that sense, it was similar to and influenced by what was going on in communist Red China at exactly the same time — the Maoist Cultural Revolution.
Influencing, capturing, and ultimately transforming a nation's mainstream culture is the ticket to transforming the society as a whole, including politically — until one day in the future (like 2020 America), the country has become virtually unrecognizable.
In light of the fake news that has been generated to rhapsodize this and other events of the sixties, it's possible that I am one of the only reporters left who actually attended the Pentagon March who has not succumbed to the leftist revisionist meme surrounding the event.
Over time, the historical revisionism of the March on the Pentagon has institutionalized the memory of it as a peaceful demonstration. The reality is very different. Following the early afternoon speeches at the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall, the march that ensued — when it arrived at the Pentagon building about one mile away — was anything but peaceful. Military police, federal marshals, and thousands of army troops with rifles at the ready were stationed around and on the roof of the enormous building. They were prepared — if necessary — to do battle to protect the structure. As darkness came, a full-scale riot ensued, with radical "protesters" intent on entering the building using rocks, bottles, and pieces of torn down metal fencing as weapons. In response, the M.P.s employed volleys of tear gas. While the defenders never used their weapons, physical altercations and fist fights took place. By dawn the next day, the rioters had pretty much left the scene.
As the Washington Post reported in a rhapsodic account of the events in a 50th anniversary review published on October 21, 2017:
An estimated 35,000 to 50,000 demonstrators descended on the Pentagon. And by dawn the next day, nearly 700 had been arrested for various acts of civil disobedience, including trying to get inside the building. [Emphasis added.]
It was an early test of that fall's new motto, "from protest to resistance," and a concrete shift in the "tone and tactics of the antiwar movement," according to Maurice Isserman, a history professor at Hamilton College who attended the Pentagon march as a 16-year-old high school student.
According to the Post story in 2017, some of the demonstrators actually succeeded in "making it just inside the Pentagon doors before being carted out by officials."
Protesters and M.P.s confront each other at the Pentagon, October 21, 1967. Public domain photo by U.S. Army.
The March was organized by something called the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, aka the Mobe. This was a group whose leaders were socialists, communists, and steeped in socialist, Marxist, and communist ideology. One of the most prominent leaders and organizers of the March on Washington was radical activist Abbie Hoffman (1936-1989). In 1987, according to his obituary in the New York Times published after he died of suicide, Hoffman — sounding very much like a 2020 Democrat — said:
You are talking to a leftist. I believe in the redistribution of wealth and power in the world. I believe in universal hospital care for everyone. I believe that we should not have a single homeless person in the richest country in the world.
The leaders of the march were heavily influenced by SDS — the Marxist Students for a Democratic Society. The 1967 National Mobilization was succeeded by another communist-infused Mobe that organized the violent demonstrations at the August 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the national anti-Vietnam War Moratorium in October and another huge Moratorium demonstration based in D.C. in November 1969.
The precursors of these Mobes in the cultural realm, even before the counterculture of the sixties began to flower, were the Beats and bohemians who started their anti-establishment work way back in the 1940s.
In the mid-1940s, the Beat Generation movement (which eventually blossomed into the international Cultural Revolution of the 1960s) got its start at Columbia University in New York. There, William S. Burroughs, a wealthy trust fund dropout, became the mentor of new malcontent Columbia University undergraduate students Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. In the 1950s, Kerouac and Ginsberg, in their published novels and poetry (respectively), would plant the seeds for the 1960s Cultural Revolution to follow. Kerouac, increasingly disenchanted by the radical left political antics of his Beat Generation associates, eventually distanced himself from the others. He died in 1969.
The Beatniks, the bohemians, and the hippies who emerged in the 1960s — inspired by the works of Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac, and others — would provide the cultural jet fuel for the rocket that was the agenda of the Marxists who planned to transform America as part of a long march to influence and power.
The March on the Pentagon itself, like many of the anti-war activities of the period, relied on leading popular cultural figures to establish a patina of quasi-mainstream credibility. Speaking at the rally at the Lincoln Memorial that preceded the march that day in 1967 were writer Norman Mailer (who memorialized the events in his book Armies of the Night), comedian Dick Gregory, musicians Peter, Paul, and Mary and Phil Ochs, poet Robert Lowell, and Dr. Benjamin Spock, another best-selling author who had transformed himself from the nation's avuncular "baby doctor" to a radical activist.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications. He also appears in the media, including recently as a contributor to BBC World News. Peter's website is http://peter.media. His YouTube channel is here. For updates on his work, follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.