[This is Oral History interview] #5, recorded on November 25, 1969 with Dr. David Kennell, concerning the St. Louis Doctors for Peace in Vietnam.
This is David Kennell, Associate Professor of Microbiology in the Medical School and I am going to make some comments about the moratorium to end the war in Vietnam which was held October 15, 1969. This was the first of a series of monthly moratoria which were held throughout the United States. St. Louis Doctors for Peace, which is a group I am working with, scheduled a rally to be held outdoors on that date, October 15, which would include various speakers from the St. Louis medical community and in particular people here at the Washington University Medical School – Barnes complex. In case of rain the meeting was scheduled to be held in Clopton Auditorium and it is of some interest to review some of the conversations that occurred in connection with the meeting.
Clopton [Auditorium] is owned by Washington University Medical School but administered by the Barnes Hospital and it’s located below the Wohl Clinics. Mr. [Robert E.] Frank, who is the Director of Barnes, phoned [Vice] Chancellor William Danforth of the medical school because he was concerned that there might be, in his words, black militants and bearded students present and he felt that these elements might disrupt the normal hospital activities. These comments, by the way, were not made directly to me or anyone else in the group who was working directly on the meeting, but to Dr. Danforth or to Dean [M. Kenton] King. Mr. Frank even suggested that he might close the Wohl Clinic that day if the meeting were held in Clopton. Dr. Danforth tried to allay his fears and pointed out that this was to be a peaceful meeting with prominent members of the medical community, but he was not successful and the St. Louis Doctors for Peace agreed to meet in the North Auditorium of the Medical School and only in Clopton if there was an overflow audience.
There were about 7,500 flyers printed to advertise the moratorium rally and about 1,200 of these were mailed through the medical school mailroom from the news bureau. A copy of the flyer had been brought to Mr. Frank and according to another report, he apparently connected the appeal to wear a black arm band on moratorium day with the black militant groups. The black arm band was worn by persons throughout the country as a symbol of protest against the war.
As an aside, it’s interesting that many of the doctors themselves objected to wearing black arm bands for an entirely different reason. They felt it wasn’t a good policy while they were seeing their patients, and for the next moratorium on November 13 and 14, the St. Louis Doctors for Peace ordered and bought 1,500 very elegant blue silk bands for $112.00, with an inscription of the peace symbol and the word PEACE in silver. At any rate, it did not rain on October 15 – the weather was very good – and the rally was held outside the Cancer Research Building. More than 1,000 persons attended as judged by the number of signatures on a petition to President Nixon asking for immediate withdrawal. There were exactly 728 signatures that were sent to the President.
I mentioned the mailing from the medical school news bureau. About six medical students volunteered to do the actual work and about 200 of these flyers which were mailed were distributed via the Barnes mailroom. All of the others went through the mails without any trouble but a copy was brought to Mr. Frank from the mailroom at Barnes and Mr. Frank forbade that they be distributed on the grounds that they were political propaganda. Apparently Mr. Frank took them to Dean King. And Dean King, of the medical school, then called me and said he wished to see me immediately and he would come over to my office.
When he arrived he apologized very sincerely for having to do this, but he said that Mr. Frank had brought him this bag. Dr. King had an ordinary brown paper bag in his lap that was filled with something. However, at the time I did not have the remotest idea what was in it. After he told me, he said he did not know what to do with these. He didn’t feel he should throw them away but he just didn’t know what to do. He said he had tried his best to convince Mr. Frank to allow the mailing and I expressed the view that it was really a medical school meeting with members of the medical center. At any rate, Dr. King agreed that he would keep the flyers and talk to Mr. Frank again.
Soon afterwards one of the medical students who had worked on the mailing came by and he had a very simple solution. He said he would simply take the flyers and bypass the Barnes mailroom by putting them directly in the doctor’s boxes. Which apparently is a fairly simple task to do. This he did. In the subsequent moratorium meeting in November he did the same thing; we didn’t bother going thru the Barnes mailroom. The November meeting was an indoor meeting and was scheduled for the North Auditorium to avoid any of these confrontations with the Barnes administration. North Auditorium is owned and administered by the medical school. The St. Louis Doctors for Peace publicized a meeting in October and also to a lesser extent in November by press releases to the newspapers and invitations to television, radio stations and the newspapers to come to the meeting. There were also taped recordings of spot announcements that were used on several St. Louis radio stations.
Three television stations did come to the October meeting, Channels 4, 5, and 11. Before the rally we had some good interviews on the radio stations. One station, KMOX, which is the CBS station in St. Louis [and] has the largest St. Louis audience, interviewed Dr. Donald Sauer in Surgery and Dr. Mel Rubinstein, who is a St. Louis psychiatrist. Both of these men spoke at the October rally. They were interviewed by Bob Hardy on the “At Your Service” program. I appeared on a live interview phone-in program on KFUO-FM, which is the Lutheran-owned good [classical] music station here in St. Louis. The interview lasted for about an hour between 8:30 and 9:30 in the morning. The interviewer was Pat Tefers. I was asked to come down just the evening before and anticipated maybe a ten-minute interview just to review the various moratorium activities in St. Louis on the 15th and I did not realize that a representative of the Young Americans for Freedom would be on the program with me. I don’t remember her name; she is a paid secretary of the Y.A.F. here in Missouri.
My position on the program was that the war was costing an immense amount of suffering to Vietnam and its people, causing great hardships here in America and that we have no right to be there. My opponent’s main arguments were first, that we have a commitment to defend South Vietnam from aggression from North Vietnam. The second major argument that she used and also commented [upon] this time is that we should increase our military effort to get the war over by winning it militarily. And a third argument which has become quite common in the last several months, especially since the Nixon administration has taken office, is that if the United States withdrew from Vietnam, unilaterally, there would be a bloodbath of reprisals.
My position in connection with these major points can be summarized in the following way. First of all regarding the military commitment – this refers to the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, which we became a member of when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was drawing this up. That was the main power behind it. According to the SEATO agreements, our only commitment is to consult with other signatories of the treaty in case of an invasion and when Dulles appeared before the United States Senate to argue for its ratification he was asked specifically by Senator [John Sherman] Cooper of Kentucky whether this meant we would have to go to war in Vietnam. Dulles’s answer was unequivocally “No” – this did not commit us to a war in Asia.
Furthermore, regarding the question of the commitment to South Vietnam to defend it from invasion from the North, the Geneva Treaty in 1954, which ended the war against the French, established the 17th parallel as a temporary military demarcation line. It was to be temporary and it was to be a demarcation line; it was not to establish a national frontier. A national frontier has never been established. There never were two Vietnams. The temporary demarcation line was to be in existence until the elections were to be held within two years. These elections were never held because we installed what became the very oppressive [Ngo Dinh] Diem regime in the southern part of the country which existed for seven or eight years until it was finally overthrown and Diem himself was assassinated.
But the main point is that there were never two Vietnams. The war began as a civil war between Vietnamese and was later transformed into a war of independence. Unfortunately, a war of independence against us, the United States. We have no more right to be there now than the English or French had a right to intervene in our own Civil War between the Northern and Southern sections of the country.
The second argument that I would like to comment on has to do with ending the war honorably through an increased military effort. Historically it should be pointed out that this argument was also used by the French military leaders who pointed out that the people of France, if only they could have more planes and men and bombs, that the French would be assured of military victory. We have already expended a massive amount of military effort in this country. Financially it amounts to about $155 billion. We now are spending approximately $30 billion per year on this war. We have dropped more tons of bombs on North Vietnam than we did on all the Axis powers in World War II. According to the British correspondent, Felix Green, every city, town and village outside of Hanoi and Haiphong has been completely demolished in the northern part of the country. We have used the most sophisticated weapons and fire power in the history of man.
This has been a massive military effort with over a half million American troops in the country at the present time. We have not won the war and no one would claim that we are even winning the war or that there is hope for a military victory. Thus, the argument for escalating the war militarily has no basis for support in fact as far as the history of the war so far.
The third point I would like to comment on briefly has to do with the argument that if we withdraw from Vietnam there is going to be a bloodbath of reprisals. Well, first of all, at this time it is clear to almost every American citizen that there’s a bloodbath is going on right now. Approximately a third of the rural population of this agricultural country are refugees, the hundreds of thousands of persons that have been killed or permanently injured, attest to the tremendous suffering of these people. But more to the point of what is the problem and how can it be solved, and this really is the crux of the question and that is there has to be a political solution, and unfortunately our government has not really presented any solution which involves a political solution to the problem.
In our feeling, the only reasonable position at the present time is that there has to be a neutral coalition government established which has a broad base of support. This neutral coalition government should be representing the southern part of the country in the present negotiations in Paris and this neutral coalition government should be responsible for administering peace in the southern part of the country. This should not be the responsibility of the United States or any other foreign power. Now is there a basis for a coalition government? We had here in St. Louis, about a year and half ago, [a Buddhist leader] named Vo Van Ai. He is one of the three leading Vietnamese Buddhists who is in exile in Paris, and according to Vo Van Ai there are 200,000 political prisoners in South Vietnam’s jails. These men are, for the most part, people who have favored a neutral position, [have] favored negotiation with the National Liberation Front and have favored a coalition government. It is a crime in South Vietnam to favor a coalition government of any kind. These people should be freed and these people – the Buddhists, the Catholics, the student leaders and the National Liberation Front – should form a coalition which can represent the southern part of the country. It should be noted that in President Nixon’s November speech, there was really nothing new presented.
The thing people were waiting for was some kind of a breakthrough on this question of the political solution to the war. The October rally was ended with a hope that we would have no more need for these moratorium meetings, that peace would be forthcoming and we could all get back to our careers and work. Unfortunately, now [on] November 25, 1969, six weeks later, there is no indication that our government has changed its policies. The November speech of President Nixon asked for increased “Vietnamization” of the war, which is an old formula we have been trying for five years now without success. The war can not be “Vietnamized” because there is no support, no basis of support, from the Vietnamese people for supporting the Saigon government which is right now just a military grouping whose existence depends entirely on continuation of the war. We had another moratorium in November and we are planning another meeting in December and I hope again that we won’t have to have many more. But as I said then, we will continue to have them until this war has ended.
This is the end of Archives Collection Oral History Interview #5.