His would not be an easy tenure at IU. As the Vietnam War heated up with President Johnson’s (LBJ) major escalation in early ‘65, a small number of students organized, joining a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) march on Washington DC in April of ’65, and sponsoring a local march in Bloomington in August. At the same time Robin Hunter, Bernella and David Satterfield, Jim Wallihan, Peter and Lucia Montague, and others worked on establishing an IU SDS chapter that Jeff soon joined. As if providing grist for the antiwar mill during the next two years, President Stahr, who was well-connected in Washington, invited a series of major pro war speakers to campus.
It was quite an impressive roster, beginning with former Vice President Nixon, following with Generals Maxwell Taylor and Lewis Hershey, and concluding with Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Stahr invited no counter-balancing antiwar speakers of similar stature; Herbert Aptheker, theoretician of the American Communist Party, and a few other lesser known leaders of the left were all invited by tiny sectarian groups at the university with little following. IU, a sleepy Midwestern campus, was fundamentally a conservative place, and the pro war notables attracted very large audiences, while Aptheker drew only hundreds and was hung in effigy outside the student union.
What drew the Washington luminaries to the middle of the Great Plains? Presumably, Stahr had the contacts and the clout to persuade them to visit the campus as his distinguished guests. He clearly seemed to know some of them professionally since he often personally introduced the speaker in the university’s vast auditorium. For Nixon, accepting an invitation in the fall of ’65 was no doubt an easy decision. Out of office and working as a New York lawyer, he had ambitions to get back in the political game.
Indiana, long a Republican state, would be a good place to show himself to the thousands of conservatives who would come out to hear the former VP. Not many would have been aware that in ’54 then-Vice President Nixon had tried to persuade President Eisenhower (Ike) to save the beleaguered French colonialist forces, which were about to be overrun by Ho Chi Minh’s communist army at Dien Bien Phu—given Nixon’s anti-communist portfolio, it was a logical recommendation, but one which Ike wisely rejected. However, the roughly 200 student activists marching in protest outside the auditorium that day were well aware of Nixon’s stance on Indochina.
The generals came marching onto campus the following spring of ‘66. General Taylor, a hero of WWII, came in March; he was so closely involved with Vietnam War policy that his arrival was unmistakably a pro war statement. After visiting Vietnam under JFK, Taylor recommended the introduction of US combat troops and even the idea of ‘liberating’ Communist North Vietnam, decisions the President declined to take. Subsequently Taylor served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later as Ambassador to South Vietnam. He was an ardent supporter of the war.
Taylor was followed to the rostrum in early May by a fellow flag officer, General Hershey, an avuncular 73-year-old whose military career went back to the Mexican Border War of 1916. He’d been head of the Selective Service System since ‘41. An Indiana native son, he was certainly a welcome guest at the Hoosier state’s largest university; like most schools, IU liked to bask in the glory of those with local connections who went far. But for IU student activists as well as draft age male students, a protest was called for. Hershey had recently told draft boards they could draft college men who were not performing well academically; prior to that, young men were automatically exempt from the draft while in college.
The next day some 200 activists donned black armbands, briefly marched around the water fountain in front of the auditorium, then entered the building uneventfully, dispersing themselves among the 3,000+ people in attendance. As the Secretary of State spoke, individual black armbanders in various parts of the room would stand up and yell things like ‘liar’, ‘murderer’ and the like. By that point in the war, Rusk was no doubt accustomed to interruptions, and he continued speaking in spite of the cacophony of shouts. At the end he left by a side door under police escort.**