The new anti-war movement Activists are learning from '60s mistakes

November 30, 1990|By Sujata Banerjee | Sujata Banerjee,Evening Sun Staff

A.J. JULIUS, 17-year-old activist, is watching U.S. action in the Persian Gulf because he thinks the lives of the young may depend on it.

"I feel that to send hundreds of thousands of troops off to the desert is insane, given the reasons for invasion: namely oil and the President's own political fortunes. You can think of it both in terms of the old sending off the young and the wealthy sending off the poor and working class to fight and die for something they don't have any stake in," says Julius, a Gilman student who spoke earlier this month at a teach-in at Johns Hopkins University about the Gulf situation.

Dianne Shelton, a student at Friends School, where Quaker beliefs guide many students to question war, says, "I don't like the way the President compared Saddam Hussein to Hitler. Once you have a Hitler, you have to fight a war."

Although President Bush and Congress have not declared war with Iraq, the deployment of almost 400,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is leading young anti-war activists to speak out against impending war. As during Vietnam, the questions the young have are about the morality of war and whether or not they want to fight it. But unlike Vietnam, protesters want to avoid being perceived as "spoiled college brats" shirking their duty.

"In Vietnam the huge mistake [protesters made] was alienating themselves from the majority," says Julius, "so they just seemed to be a bunch of spoiled college kids who were avoiding their duty. Lying down in front of the Pentagon pouring blood all over yourself is not going to stop a war. What has the best chance is going out into the community to high schools and community colleges, labor unions, getting to the people who are going to be hit by the war first." Julius is worried about the troops currently in Saudi Arabia because he believes today's enlisted troops are made up largely of poor and working class young people recruited during high school with the promise of a better life. He thinks these young people should be targeted by activists.

Julius has a head start in working with poor people because he is involved in Bentley Pantry, a food distribution site for low-income people in East Baltimore. He works there after school with other concerned students, including Frida Berrigan, 16-year-old daughter of Philip Berrigan and Liz McAlister, the former Catholic priest and nun who were part of the Catonsville Nine, a group convicted of destroying draft records during the Vietnam war. The FBI accused the pair of plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger and bomb government buildings in war protest. Berrigan and McAlister were acquitted, and they remain among the luminaries of anti-war activism. Their daughter, who attends Baltimore City College High School, is soft-spoken but has strong feelings about war.

"There are girls in my school whose boyfriends are in Saudi Arabia," says Berrigan. "People are really scared. I know I am." Should war break out, Berrigan will join her parents in resistance activity.

Parents are playing a big role in educating young activists about war resistance, many students say.

"I think today's students have a lot more power than in the '60s because we have learned from our parents' mistakes," says Shelton, who has heard that few parents were eager to protest alongside their children during the Vietnam era.

Peter Julius, A.J.'s father and a history teacher at the Gilman School, protested Vietnam and has discussed war resistance with his son.

"The Vietnam protests did not do much good, though what else could one do at the time?" asks Peter Julius, who was draftedduring that time but was never deployed to Vietnam. Julius says the spectacles anti-war activists created did not frighten the government into withdrawing troops from Vietnam; the war simply ran its course, with unwilling draftees making poor soldiers and the American public at large angered over the growing numbers of dead soldiers.

John Daniel, a member of Baltimore Coalition Against U.S. Intervention in the Middle East and a former Vietnam protester, says today's anti-war effort is well on the path to success because of its early start. Daniel says the first scattered Vietnam protests began in the early '60s, several years after the first American soldiers were brought home in body bags. The movement did not reach its peak until 1968.

Daniel, like many young men, escaped Vietnam because of a college deferment. Were a draft to go into effect now, it would not offer deferments for college, marriage or children, according to Fran Donellan, another former anti-Vietnam activist who is a draft counselor with the American Friends Service Committee. There are a variety of exemptions for reasons such as poor health, extreme hardship and conscientious objection that may be applied for at the time of draft.

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