In 1965, as increasing numbers of American troops were sent to Vietnam, and an American bombing campaign grew, public forums were organized on college campuses across the country. They were known as “teach-ins” The idea was to study the war and the draft in depth. In April of 1965, the Vietnam Colloquium, was held over three days on the Yellow Springs campus of Antioch College. It featured a balanced range of viewpoints and most of the speakers were recorded on tape and are now in the WYSO archives. It was a moment in time when people were starting to look deeply at the growing war
“I just came from the airport. I insisted on stopping for a sandwich on the way. I understand that my function here today is to be fed to the lions. And I didn’t want to face that on an empty stomach..” said Daniel Ellsberg. At the time he appeared at the Antioch teach-in, he was working at the Department of Defense under President Lyndon Johnson and was sent to Antioch to defend the government’s role in the growing war .
He stated: “We’re in a situation right now where American planes are engaged in what amount to wartime operations and we’re in a situation where American troops are being sent. All of this has taken place, in my own opinion, without the kind of public involvement that there might well have been. They both involved putting U.S. troops at risk and in committing U.S. planes in bombing raids they both involve presidential responsibility at the very highest degree. Hazarding American lives. Risking a wider war.”
Six years later, Ellsberg had turned completely against the US government and leaked government documents known as the Pentagon Papers, an act that made him the most famous whistleblower of his time.
The Dean of Students at Antioch College in 1965 was Wally Sikes. He helped plan the colloquium and at 91 has clear memories of the event and of Daniel Ellsberg.
“ I remember him.” said Sikes. “He was a very charming, good looking young guy. He was certainly the best person the Pentagon could pick to send to an event like this. So he gave his speech and answered questions and then he was leaving town. A student who was driving him, Daniel Ellsberg told him to stop and take him back because he wanted to meet more with the students. So he stayed actually for two days, often until 2 o clock in the morning with student discussions and I think that is what turned him against the war in Vietnam.”
On the same day as Ellsberg’s lecture the Vietnam Colloquium also featured investigative journalist I.F. Stone and Columbia University professor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who would later become National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter. Sikes says Antioch organizers, which included students and faculty, were careful about who was invited.
“The whole affair should be academically credible. It was not supposed to be a political enterprise. We had not yet gotten into the massive buildup of the Vietnam war but a lot of people could see it was coming. Antioch students were of course very aware of what was going on. At that time, you would think now that students would have been storming Kelly Hall and so forth, but they didn’t …the whole thing was very academic which is what it was planned to be.”
Soon government representation at the teach ins would vanish and the events became more protest-oriented as details about American involvement in Southeast Asia grew. By August of 1965 Daniel Ellsberg would move from the Pentagon to an assignment in Vietnam-a two year experience that would further transform his thinking about the war.
Read more about the Vietnam Colloquium at the Rediscovered Radio blog here: https://wysoarchivesblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/20/i-f-stone-daniel-ellsberg-and-the-antioch-vietnam-colloquium/
Rediscovered Radio is made by possible by generous support from Ohio Humanities.