- Tom Haydenlongtime activist and former California state senator. He was one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society. His new book is called Listen, Yankee!: Why Cuba Matters, based in part on conversations with Ricardo Alarcón. He is speaking at a major conference in Washington, D.C., this Friday and Saturday called “Vietnam: The Power of Protest. Telling the Truth. Learning the Lessons.”
It was 40 years ago today, April 30, 1975, that the Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon, today known as Ho Chi Minh City. North Vietnamese tanks smashed through the gates of the presidential palace in the South Vietnamese capital, and Communist soldiers hoisted their flag atop the building. Meanwhile, March marked the 50th anniversary of the first teach-in against the Vietnam War called “End the War Against the Planet.” The 1965 event brought together professors and activists at the University of Michigan to discuss what they called the truths and mistruths of the U.S. government’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Our guest, Tom Hayden, was there and brought with him a long history of antiwar activism. He was one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society, and in 1962 he was the principal author of the Port Huron Statement, considered a seminal document of the New Left. As many of this year’s events marking the end of the Vietnam War are being organized by the Pentagon, this Friday and Saturday Hayden other longtime antiwar activists will join youth organizers for a conference in Washington, D.C., called “Vietnam: The Power of Protest. Telling the Truth. Learning the Lessons.”
See all of our coverage of Vietnam and our other interviews today with Tom Hayden:
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. It was 40 years ago today, April 30, 1975, that the Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon, today known as Ho Chi Minh City. North Vietnamese tanks smashed through the gates of the presidential palace in the South Vietnamese capital. Communist soldiers hoisted their flag atop the building. Meanwhile, March marked the 50th anniversary of the first teach-in against the Vietnam War called End the War Against the Planet. The '65 event brought together professors and activists at the University of Michigan to discuss what they called the truths and mistruths of the U.S. government's involvement in the Vietnam War.
Our guest, Tom Hayden, was there, brought with him a long history of antiwar activism. He was a student at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He was one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society. And in 1962, he was the principal author of the Port Huron Statement, considered a seminal document of the New Left. Well, as many of this year’s events marking the end of the Vietnam War are organized by the Pentagon, this Friday and Saturday Tom Hayden and other longtime antiwar activists are coming together with youth organizers for a major conference in Washington, D.C., at the New York [Avenue] Presbyterian Church called “Vietnam: The Power of Protest. Telling the Truth. Learning the Lessons.” I’ll be there with Juan González. Julian Bond will be there, Dan Ellsberg, Peter Yarrow and many more.
We only have a few minutes before you take a train ride to Washington, D.C., but, Tom Hayden, talk about the significance of this time. And I want to start at University of Michigan. Start with the Port Huron Statement and that first anti-Vietnam War teach-in that you were a part of. I saw you in Ann Arbor just a few weeks ago as that anniversary was marked.
TOM HAYDEN: Well, we’re meeting the Pentagon now on the battlefield of memory, really, because people don’t remember the antiwar movement, and what they do remember of it is clouds of tear gas or people running naked through the streets or what have you. But actually, it was the most formidable antiwar movement in American history. And it started with a handful. The first march in April 1965 was called by SDS, which was then a small campus network that had been based on civil rights and student power. And we were surprised that 25,000 people came. That was then the largest antiwar march in American history, according to historians. Within three or four years, you would have half a million marching on both coasts, so a million, not once, but several times a year. You would have a revolt in the armed forces by GIs who were throwing medals over the White House fence and who were in mutiny. You would have four million students caught up in protests shutting down whole campuses by the spring of 1970. You have 29 people shot and killed in the streets by troops while they were exercising their right to protest.
AMY GOODMAN: And those shootings were where?
TOM HAYDEN: They were all over the country. The most famous would be Kent State.
AMY GOODMAN: May 4, 1970.
TOM HAYDEN: May 4, 1970. Jackson State, two people—
AMY GOODMAN: Killed 10 days before that?
TOM HAYDEN: —two weeks later.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, later.
TOM HAYDEN: But in 1969, the Chicano Moratorium, where the L.A. Times reporter, Ruben Salazar, who was a Juan González of his time, and three others were killed by the sheriffs. And then individuals here or there. There were—
AMY GOODMAN: They had been reporting on the Chicano Moratorium and march.
TOM HAYDEN: Yes. There were eight people, at least, by my count, who died at their own hands, by burning themselves, self-immolation. So, it jarred the country. It also gave rise to peace candidacies, starting in 1966. By 1968 and 1972, you had the McGovern campaign, the McCarthy campaign. And I think if he had not been assassinated, Martin Luther King, together with Robert F. Kennedy, who was also assassinated, might have changed the country in a profound direction and ended the war by 1968. So, the possibility of unity was killed by assassination, and we’ll never know what might have happened.
But it was a vast movement that arose with a handful of people and, in three or four years, threatened power in the United States like almost nothing since, and ended with Watergate and Nixon being put on the run, the second president in five years who had left office. So it should not be forgotten. And the Pentagon has a website and a 10-year commitment to teach the lessons of the war, which has to be opposed. And we’ve actually engaged in negotiations with the Pentagon to try to back them away. Don’t tamper with our history. It’s bad enough you do your history, but please leave us alone.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean, what they’re doing.
TOM HAYDEN: Well, it started with—it’s mission creep. It started with a mandate and money to give honor and respect to the veterans who served. There were 9.1 million. There are now seven million. They’re dying every week. We’re all old men. And then it expanded into a kind of a false narrative of the war and the antiwar movement, and education materials and curriculum were supposed to be produced. So we formed a committee to meet with them and say, “No, no, no.” And The New York Times wrote a sympathetic article: There goes the Pentagon again, you know, making its own version of history. So, we don’t know the outcome, but we’re hoping that this conference will send a loud message—you know, hands off our history—and that we are entitled to know our history and to act on our history and our lessons to confront the existing peace and justice issues of today.
AMY GOODMAN: As you head off to this train, can you explain what the Port Huron Statement was?
TOM HAYDEN: Port Huron is a town on a lake. It’s in Michigan. When SDS was formed, we had to have a founding convention. We were very proper. You have to found your organization. And I drafted a statement, which was our mission statement, we would say today. And the meeting was held at Port Huron because the United Auto Workers had a facility there that could host a hundred or so people. And the outcome was the Port Huron Statement. And it was 25,000 words. And we thought it was great. We had no idea that it would become a historic document. And we’re now fighting to make it more than a footnote, less than a force, but certainly a factor in our reclaiming of our history.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, as you do these history moments—50 years after the first anti-Vietnam War teach-in, a big event at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; what’s happening this weekend—it’s not about just looking back. You are joining it with movements, say—I mean, here, folks will be in Washington, D.C., as mass protest is happening in Baltimore, the Black Lives Matter movement, and it’s beyond that.
TOM HAYDEN: It’s a very hard balance. First of all, we’ve never had a reunion. We need to unify now, when we were unable to unify ourselves then. We were too quarrelsome, too divided, too huge. So, we have to have a proper reunion. At the same time, the people coming are all engaged in today’s activities. What’s going on in Baltimore is exactly what was going on in Newark or Detroit during the Vietnam War. So people are engaged in trying to remember the lessons of Vietnam, remember our power, and discuss how to apply that potential to the current crisis, which is so—it’s eerie how familiar it is to the time of Vietnam.
AMY GOODMAN: And this latest news—
TOM HAYDEN: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: —of the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history continuing. Now, with the big report in The New York Times about the continuation, intensification of that war—at the same time that Obama publicly is saying we’re easing down—with drone strikes, with special forces raids.
TOM HAYDEN: Well, one of the lessons of the war is that we did end the draft. You could be yanked out of your seat and put on the front lines in Vietnam. That ended. But the policy didn’t really end, because they’ve ever since tried to invent new ways to fight wars without a draft. So you have secret armies, counterterrorism, CIA wars. Like, the professional centurions have taken over as our fighting forces, as if no American casualties would occur, and it would be secret. And the news has been managed. What’s amazing is that, Amy, as you know, during Iraq, there was still an uproar in the streets against that war. So, it’s still the same policy, and the things that we considered achievements, like ending the draft, become new dilemmas because now you have the drones and sanitized, almost invisible wars. But, you know, we also have the independent media. We also have people that went through the Central American wars and protested in solidarity with Central America. We have people that are painfully aware that you cannot afford endless wars abroad and address our problems of healthcare, education, job training and restoration of our inner cities. Can’t be done. The lesson of Vietnam is—
AMY GOODMAN: And climate change, the issue of climate change.
TOM HAYDEN: They claimed that they could afford guns and butter. They couldn’t afford either. Climate change is absurd. I mean, you’re using fossil fuels to fight wars abroad for the purpose of seeking more fossil fuels to burn. So, we’re lighting the planet up very slowly. And yet there’s a vast movement globally against the fossil fuel industry, that reminds us of the global movements against Vietnam.
AMY GOODMAN: And in your own—in your—
TOM HAYDEN: On that note, I have to go to Washington to this event.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s true. I promise you you won’t miss your train. But in your own state, California, you’re an adviser to Governor Jerry Brown on the issue of the environment. Headlines today around cutting back on gas emissions, the significance of what’s taking place? I mean, your state is running out of water within a year.
TOM HAYDEN: I wanted to clarify: I’m not an official adviser to Governor Brown. I was his original solar energy chair, and I’m there all the time. But I prefer to think of myself as wholly independent. He just announced a reduction of 40 percent of—a goal of 40 percent of our power from renewables by 2030, which is great. I would have preferred 50. It could have been done. But—
AMY GOODMAN: That’s why you’re an unofficial adviser.
TOM HAYDEN: That’s right, but—because I couldn’t say that if I was an official adviser. But it is true that California sets the pace nationally, and to some extent with Germany and other countries internationally. And there will be an effort—I think successful—at at least a foundation of an international agreement this December in Paris. It will not be enough, according to the scientific warnings. But without any agreement—China and the U.S. are 40 percent of world emissions, and California is helping both the U.S. and China. Without an agreement, all anarchy will be unleashed on the Earth, as if it’s not bad enough already. So it’s extremely important that California’s message be picked up by allies around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Hayden, thank you so much for being with us.
TOM HAYDEN: You’re welcome.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom Hayden, longtime activist, former California state senator, one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society. His new book is Listen, Yankee!: Why Cuba Matters. He will be, this weekend, May 1st and 2nd, in Washington, D.C., at the New York [Avenue] Presbyterian Church with many other anti-Vietnam War activists in a conference and a reunion called “Vietnam: The Power of Protest. Telling the Truth. Learning the Lessons.” Juan González and I will also be there. Juan will be moderating a big panel Saturday morning. I’ll be moderating one at 1:30 in the afternoon. There will be events Friday night. It’s at New York [Avenue] Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. That’s at New York Avenue in Washington, D.C. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.