Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Requiem in Saigon

My collaborator on this blog, Karen Grote Ferb, recently visited Vietnam and Cambodia. This post is her tribute to some of the 135 adventurous and heroic war correspondents who lost their lives in covering the wars in Southeast Asia.

Robert Capa, a celebrated photojournalist and dashing romantic figure of the time, covered the First Indochina War between France and its colony Vietnam then fighting for its independence in the wake of WWII. I first learned his story on a recent visit to Vietnam. His career was hampered by European anti-Semitism because of his Hungarian-Jewish surname, Friedmann. By 1936 his daring photos of the Spanish Civil War carried the credit Robert Capa. 

 Courageous and brilliant, he was tall, dark, and handsome, fluent in five languages, and had a long affair with Ingrid Bergman. In all, he covered five wars, hitting Omaha Beach with the first wave at dawn on D-Day, missing only Korea.  In 1947, along with Henri Cartier Bresson and others, he co-founded Magnum Photos, the first worldwide cooperative for freelance photographers.


Robert Capa, Vietnam, 1954
“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

In the early 1950s Capa traveled to Japan for an exhibition associated with Magnum Photos. While there, Life magazine asked him to go on assignment to Southeast Asia, where the French war had by then been raging for eight years.

He had said he was finished with war a few years earlier, but he accepted and accompanied a French regiment with two Time-Life journalists, John Mecklin and Jim Lucas, soon after the French surrender at Dien Bien Phu; however, the war continued to rage on until the signing of the Geneva Accords two months later. On May 25, 1954, the regiment was passing through a dangerous area under fire when Capa decided to leave his jeep and walk up the road to photograph the advance. About five minutes later, Mecklin and Lucas heard an explosion; Capa had stepped on a landmine. The Vietnamese doctor who pronounced him dead at the field hospital asked  Mecklin, "Is this the first American correspondent killed in Indochina?"  Mecklin said yes.  The doc said, "It is a harsh way for America to learn."


Widows with children grieving for their husbands
One of Capa’s last photos, 1954

When I recently went to Vietnam I knew there were a couple of places I wanted to visit that were not on the  planned itinerary.  One is in Saigon, now officially Ho Chi Minh City.  It is the War Remnants Museum (WRM), formerly the American War Crimes Museum; the Vietnamese found the original name not conducive to attracting a sizeable segment of the tourist trade.  A fine sense of irony led the Vietnamese to locate the museum in the building that housed the wartime offices of the United States Information Service.

I had become aware of the museum in 2003 when the Toledo Blade broke the story of the multiple atrocities during the Vietnam War committed by Tiger Force, a small, US elite unit whose mission was so perverted that “Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers. Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed— their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs.” Even though the investigation reached the Pentagon, no one was ever held accountable. 

But decades before the story broke, American atrocities had gone unpunished, hushed up.  Jeff Sharlet, a friend of mine from Indiana University (IU) in 1966, had been an Army linguist early in the war.  What he saw and learned there eventually led him to found an underground newspaper for GIs, Vietnam GI (VGI). Another GI from IU, Joe Carey, who’d served as a combat photographer in Cu Chi, was slipped a roll of film by a fellow GI; that film contained a grisly photo of smiling GIs posing with the severed heads of their Viet Cong (VC)  victims, whose bodies lay sprawled before them.  Joe gave Jeff that photo; he ran it in VGI  in 1968.†  Among the Blade’s illustrations for its exposé were photos from the WRM, including the one from Joe Carey’s unknown photographer, right off the grainy pages of VGI, complete with caption.

Arriving at the WRM I was surprised to find a permanent exhibit called Requiem, homage to the photographers and journalists killed or missing during the Vietnam War.  The space had been tastefully redone, the mounting of the exhibition professional, new photos—many never before seen in the West—added, others moved from former locations within the museum, including the one from VGI.  What was it doing in Requiem?  Who was the photographer?  Was he KIA or MIA?  We don’t know, but, thanks to two famed photojournalists, we have Requiem,* a book covering the lives, work, and deaths of wartime photographers and journalists on which the exhibit is based.


Exhibit poster photo by Larry Burrows, 1966
Died in Laos, 1971

Who were the men and women from many different countries who risked life and limb to chronicle war through a lens, their common language?  They were from all walks of life, had but little in common; what they shared was motivation to get THE picture while staying alive.  The Vietnam War was certainly the place to get that picture; staying alive was the hard part. Some of the photojournalists are famous, some not, and some unidentified, but they all gave their lives in brave pursuit of chronicling war.

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” These memorable questions were posed before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. The reference was to soldiers in the war that had become America’s quagmire.  Soldiers didn’t have the option of laying down their arms or refusing to fight; civilian [as opposed to military] photojournalists had a choice, but stayed because Vietnam was where the action was. 

The last Western photographer to die in Vietnam was Michel Laurent, a young Frenchman who’d made a name for himself as a teenager during the student uprising in Paris, 1968. Prague Spring followed, then Palestine, Cairo, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, and more.  He was known for holding his ground and framing a perfect shot, not just continuous snapping and hoping for a good, if not a great, picture.  No guts, no glory.  He was driving along Route 1 to meet the advancing North Vietnamese Army (NVA), shot while trying to help a wounded colleague, and died two days before the war ended, age 29.

Michel Laurent, war photojournalist  Bomb attack, Bien Hoa, 1972

Sean Flynn, actor and son of Hollywood swashbuckler Errol Flynn, went to Vietnam as a freelance photojournalist and soon made his name as one of the high risk photojournalists who’d even go into combat to get his photos. He’d covered the Arab-Israeli War of ’67, then returned to Vietnam with plans to make a documentary about the war.  When news of North Vietnamese advances into Cambodia broke in 1970, he rode his motorcycle into Cambodia along with Dana Stone.  Stone had arrived in Vietnam in ‘65 on a freighter via Hong Kong, where he picked up his first camera; he didn’t even know how to load the film.  He fell in with photographers and soon became a combat photographer of note himself while going out on missions with Green Berets from their Danang base.

You know he heard the drums of war,
When the past was a closing door,
The drum beats into the jungle floor,
Closing door, closing door…
Each man knows what he is looking for.


Easy ridin’ Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, last photo

While traveling by motorcycle on assignment in Cambodia in ‘70, the daring freelancers Flynn and Stone were captured by communist guerrillas. They were never heard from again; their remains have never been found. It is thought that they were held captive for over a year before being killed by the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian communist group.


VC suspects at Bong Son       Torture by Nung tribesmen
by Dana Stone, 1966                by Sean Flynn, 1966 

Hiromichi Mine, a Japanese university graduate with a business career in mind, loved photography so much that he took a low paid position with United Press International (UPI) and landed in Vietnam in ’64.  He took one of the most famous prize winning shots of the war, a grim reminder that the VC and the NVA were not the only problem for pilots in Vietnam.  The incident captured in the photo below shows a Caribou loaded with ammunition over the Central Highlands that flew into the line of fire of a US 155mm howitzer, killing all aboard. The photo won a World Press award and a prize at the UPI Picture of the Year competition.

Mine was the first Japanese and the first UPI correspondent to die in the war, the 10th newsman.  He was fatally burned when his armored personnel carrier, traveling between Hue and Phu Bai, hit a 500 lb. bomb and caught fire.  He died in 1968 at a Phu Bai Marine aid station only 12 days after beginning his second tour as a photojournalist. 

        In the line of fire, August, 1967   Mine, war photojournalist

Charles Chellappah raced cars and motorcycles and dreamed of being a photojournalist, so he left his native East Indies for Singapore where he found work as a freelancer for AP, the Associated Press, as one of “Horst’s [Faas] Army” of young photojournalists.  His dream became a nightmare 25 miles north of Saigon in the dense jungle near Cu Chi called Hell’s Half Acre, a blood-soaked place of VC tunnels and camouflaged snipers.  His close-up photos of combat and casualties worried AP photo editor Horst Faas, a fearless photojournalist himself, so much that he warned Charlie, the youngest of the Singaporeans in Vietnam, to be careful, he was taking too many chances, tempting fate.  

Two days later, Charlie was out with a US 25th Infantry patrol sweeping a road when a mine exploded.  With the company commander and a medic, he was helping the wounded— while snapping photos— when the VC detonated a second mine, killing them all.  The roll of film in Charlie’s camera survived to tell the dramatic tale of the action up until the end in ’66. Frame 24A below shows a soldier bent over a wounded comrade.

Frame 24A, last click of the shutter  Singaporeans KIA/MIA. Clockwise: Chellappah, Terrence Khoo, Sam Kai Faye

 Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Hungary, Algiers, Cuba—tenacious and fearless Dickey Chapelle, born Georgette Louise Meyer, wore pearl earrings and tucked wildflowers into her bush hat while accompanying the Marines from World War II  to Vietnam, writing and photographing for Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, The National Observer, and National Geographic.  She wrote of herself in 1945 as having “a fine incipient case of split personality, the masculine lined up against the feminine.”  Never sure where she fit in, Dickey endured a string of epithets ranging from sex-crazed broad to naïve CIA agent.

 Dickey Chapelle

Dickey Chapelle, about 1940   

By the time 44-year-old Chapelle won the 1962 Overseas Press Club’s George Polk Award for “exceptional courage and enterprise abroad” for her work in Vietnam she was well-known, but hardly the household name she longed to be, though she also won the National Press Photographers Association’s 1963 "Photograph of the Year" award and the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association Distinguished Service Award.  In the photo below, Chapelle caught a South Vietnamese soldier about to execute a VC prisoner. 

Mekong Delta, Vietnam, 1962 

She returned to Vietnam in 1965, then 47, and found it a struggle to meet the demands of combat coverage, but knew she had to be out in the field to get the story and photos that would sell.  After shrapnel tore out her carotid artery later that year, a Marine commander eulogized her, saying, “She’d spread her poncho in the mud like the rest of them and eat out of the tin cans like she hated it, the way we do…. In fatigues and helmet you couldn’t tell her from one of the troops and she could keep up with the best of them.”  It is said her last words were “I guess it was bound to happen.”

First buried where she fell, her body was repatriated and laid to rest with full Marine honors back in her native Wisconsin. Long time war correspondent Dickey Chapelle was the first woman of her profession to be killed in Vietnam.

Charles Eggleston was a former US Navy combat journalist who had won two Bronze Stars for valor, among other military honors.  A resident of tiny Gouverneur in New York State’s Adirondack mountains, he didn’t relish the idea of returning home to small town life, so jumped at the chance to work for UPI in Saigon.  Twice wounded during the Tet Offensive in early 1968, he died in Rocket Alley near the Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport.

At the time of his death during intense fighting against VC infiltrators in a densely populated area near the airport, Eggleston was being interviewed about his exploits by another correspondent.  “Oh no! Oh no! Charlie has been shot!  Oh my God, my God....Charlie has been killed!.... He's got it right in his head! Ooh Jesus! I saw him stand out in this alleyway... (the interviewer’s heavy breathing makes it impossible for him to continue speaking)”†† 

Charles Eggleston, war photojournalist  Signal Mountain Sharp Eye, by Eggleston.

 The illustrious historian Bernard “Bernie” Fall was the only photojournalist to cover and write about both the French and American wars in Vietnam in English.  Later as a scholar he wrote several well-known studies on the French war in Indochina.  His books, with many of his own illustrations, on the French catastrophe include Hell in a Very Small Place, the history of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the site of the French defeat in 1954; and Street Without Joy, ‘La Rue Sans Joie’, the name given by French Far East Expeditionary troops to the stretch of coastal Route 1 from Hue to Quang Tri where they were frequently ambushed by the Viet Minh.

The Street Without Joy, photographer unknown 

Fall once quipped that his interest in Vietnam happened by chance, and it had been “a sort of bad love affair ever since.” He returned to Vietnam many times, notably in 1965, the year the US Marines landed at Danang, officially signaling America’s boots on the ground involvement that would continue escalating for years, leaving over 58,000 American troops and unknown millions across Southeast Asia dead. His coverage appeared in a number of publications, including The New Republic, The Nation, Foreign Affairs, and the New York Times Magazine.

 Two years later Bernie was on his sixth trip to Vietnam accompanying a squad of Marines during an operation on the Street Without Joy northwest of Hue recording the events that transpired.  His last tape,  recorded on 21 February ‘67, abruptly ended, “it’s a little bit suspicious. Could be an amb—.” He stepped on a booby trap and was killed by the explosion. Fall had clearly warned that the Americans, like the French, would lose their war in the jungles of Southeast Asia.  Had he lived, we’d surely be reading his books on the American war. 

Bernard Fall,1967
by Henri Huet, died 1971, Laos

*H Faas and T Page, eds, Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina, 1997. Note:  Faas himself was legendary; wounded several times; he was a courageous editor and the first photographer to win two Pulitzers, one for his Vietnam photos, another for an execution in Bangladesh. He conceived of Requiem as a memorial for his fallen colleagues, especially Sean Flynn, whom he never stopped searching for. Faas died in 2012, age 79.  

Page was celebrated for his work as a freelance photojournalist in Vietnam and Cambodia during the ‘60s. A near-death experience led him to view his life as 'free time', to take photographs in dangerous situations where other journalists would not venture. He was captivated by the excitement and glamor of warfare, which helped contribute to his style of photography. In Dispatches, Michael Herr wrote that Tim Page was the most extravagant of the wigged-out crazies running around Vietnam.  His unusual personality was part of the inspiration for the spaced-out photojournalist played by Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now††

Links to previous posts
†† The Death of Charlie Eggleston:


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sex, Drugs, and 'Commies' in the Heartland

Spring semester ’66 at Indiana University was surely a season of discontent for President Elvis Stahr. Of the four major speakers visiting campus, two were known personally and warmly welcomed by the president, a former Secretary of the Army, while the other two, far removed from mainstream America, were a source of woe.

 President Stahr welcomed two generals, both forceful supporters of the Vietnam War, at IU’s large auditorium. The two outliers, both strong opponents of America’s war in Vietnam, were shunted off to smaller venues. All the speakers were met by protests from one direction or another. During his short, turbulent tenure at IU, the president invoked the spirit of academic freedom to defend the more unorthodox speakers’ right to speak on campus, but when it came to the IU New Left, he grew increasingly critical and intolerant.

A more incongruous quartet of speakers could not have been imagined at a conservative university in the middle of America’s heartland. General Maxwell Taylor appeared first in late February ’66. He had served as JFK’s special military adviser on Vietnam, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and as Ambassador to South Vietnam. Taylor was met by an orderly protest that included campus SDS activists, including my ex-Vietnam GI brother Jeff Sharlet.

Barely a week passed before Allen Ginsberg, poet of the Beat Generation famous for the poem Howl (1956) and a guru of then contemporary counter-culture, unexpectedly arrived at IU. Privately invited by a Sociology professor, word quickly got around, and the well-known poet was soon sought out for a public reading.  However, given Ginsberg’s free use of obscenities in his verse celebrating homosexuality and drug use, a hue and cry went up at the state legislature. The poet’s criticism of the war in another poem of more temperate language was of less interest to the legislators.

Two months later in early May, the second general marched onto campus. General Lewis B Hershey was not only pro-war, but Director of the Selective Service System from which draft calls issued forth, putting young men at risk. General Hershey’s appearance was met by a larger and more vigorous protest at which Jeff and others spoke – a peaceful demonstration confronted by a huge, unruly student counter-demonstration.

 Finally, just a day later, the theoretician of the American Communist Party, Herbert Aptheker, arrived to speak to a much smaller audience. Although a major academic specialist on the plight of the Negro in America, his talk focused on opposition to the Vietnam War. Objections by both town and gown to Aptheker’s presence on campus were so strong that Bloomington provided him with police protection enroute to the venue.

The story of the generals and IU’s New Left protests has been told†, but the tale of the hippie guru and the ‘notorious’ communist on campus is less well known. The two men came from the margins of American society – the hardline Old Left and the very provocative counter-cultural revolution. Although Herbert Aptheker was the furthest thing from a hippie and the poet Allen Ginsberg the antithesis of orthodoxy of any persuasion, the two had much in common.

Both were Columbia University graduates who became leading public intellectuals of their time. While Aptheker was a PhD as well as a Communist Party (CP) activist, Ginsberg was a leading poet as well as an essayist on public issues. Both poet and scholar were prolific writers, each producing dozens of books.

Allen Ginsberg reciting ‘Howl’ in Greenwich Village NY, 1966 

Ginsberg and Aptheker had come to the fore during the placid postwar decade, the ‘50s, described aptly by one writer as years that “seem to have taken place on a sunny afternoon that asked nothing of you ….”** For most people, those were years of great complacency and high conformism during which the poet and the communist each staked out his controversial public position. It was a period when anything other than heterosexual sex was considered perverse and hidden in the ‘closet’, and narcotic use was severely punishable. Ginsberg in his poem America (1956) boasted of his drug use and flaunted his homosexuality:

I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.  

Likewise, long before the Supreme Court’s Brown decision (1954) and during the lengthy case by case unwinding of segregation, Aptheker thundered his criticism of the difficult circumstances of the Negro, not just as the CP party line, but in his role as one of the country’s noted academic experts on the subject. In word and voluminous print, he was a veritable 20th century John Brown, albeit absent violence.

While a segment of the American public shared a concern about racism, although not from a Marxist perspective, Aptheker went completely off the rails of public discourse after the USSR’s bloody suppression of the anti-Soviet Hungarian Revolution (1956). With the US still in the grip of McCarthyism and anti-communist hysteria rife, Aptheker, a defender of Stalinism, rushed into print with The Truth about Hungary (1957), a book justifying the brutal Soviet crushing of the ‘Freedom Fighters’ even as the newly installed Hungarian government was carrying out its draconian campaign of trials, hangings, and the imprisonment of survivors.

In the ‘60s, Ginsberg and Aptheker were both early opponents of America’s involvement in Vietnam, well before the war came to wide public notice. Ginsberg had visited South Vietnam in ’63 during the low intensity phase of the war, Jeff’s first year in-country. Later, as the war grew in scale, Aptheker was invited to Hanoi by the North Vietnamese leadership and went there along with two non-communist peace activists.

Allen Ginsberg arrived at IU on March 1st ’66 as the private guest of a sociologist researching national drug legislation, a topic on which the poet was well informed. He was touring the Midwest and had driven up from Kansas. News soon spread that the famous poet was in town, and the English Department asked if he would give an impromptu reading of his work.

Ginsberg agreed, and hundreds of students and faculty crowded into a small auditorium to hear him, standing room only. He and his partner, Peter Orlovsky, alternated reciting their poetry. Their poems involved sex, religion, and the virtues of drug use, all in wildly off-color language. In spite of the presence of the Kinsey Institute at IU with its focus on deviant as well as straight sex, a number of people were shocked by the poets’ explicit sexual references, particularly one of Orlovsky’s poems, which, as one student – not a shrinking violet – later said, grossed him out.

With the Vietnam War raging halfway around the world and General Taylor’s encomiums to it a week earlier, for the politically-minded student activists, Ginsberg’s new poem Wichita Vortex Sutra was the big hit of the reading. He had recorded the poem via stream of consciousness and then transcribed it just a couple of weeks earlier while on the road in central Kansas. 

Wichita Vortex Sutra was a powerful antiwar poem of the Vietnam era, perhaps Ginsberg’s most emphatic poetic demonization of the American war in Southeast Asia. The structural technique was brilliant, juxtaposing the violent ‘Newspeak’ of war with scenes of bucolic Kansas – under the thematic aegis of “American Eagle beating its wings over Asia.” Three sets of contrasting images below from the long poem, including two that even feature Generals Taylor and Hershey, illustrate the poet’s technique: 

Omaha World Herald – Rusk Says Toughness
Essential for Peace
A black horse bends its head to the stubble
beside the silver stream winding thru the woods

General Taylor Limited Objectives
imagining Enclaves
Tactical bombing the magic formula
black cows browse in caked fields
ponds in the hollows lie frozen,
boys with sexual bellies aroused
chilled in the heart by the mailman
with a letter from an aging white haired General
Director of selection for service in Deathwar
in chill earthly mist
houseless brown farmland plains rolling heavenward

The poet’s recital had a dramatic effect on one student, a fellow political activist and good friend of brother Jeff’s at IU, who later wrote “inspired by Ginsberg, I decided to return my draft card to the Selective Service. I was turning in my membership card. I no longer belonged.”***

IU’s administration found the whole affair lurid, embarrassing, and offensive to the community’s sense of propriety. Repercussions began immediately. Up in Indianapolis, the Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives viewed much of what had been spoken as obscenity in violation of decency laws and threatened a legislative investigation of what was going on down there at the state university.

It took President Stahr nearly two weeks to quiet the furor by arguing academic freedom and the right of the campus to hear all points of view. Not content to leave it at that, however, in a left-handed swipe at Allen Ginsberg he added  that the students could “not be swept off their feet by fads, fancies, or phoneys.”****

Given public fears of domestic communist subversion, Herbert Aptheker’s appearance at IU in early May ’66 proved even more provocative than the storm of criticism over Ginsberg. While the poet, so to speak, had slipped onto campus ‘over the transom’ by private invitation, Aptheker had been formally invited by two radical campus groups. The Dubois Club, the youth affiliate of the Communist Party USA, and Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL) were both duly registered as official student organizations, thereby indirectly implicating IU in the campus visit of a well-known American Communist.

As with all campus events, Aptheker’s lecture was announced in advance on the university’s event calendar, which was available to all residents of the small town of Bloomington. Although it was well before the age of the Internet, the gist of the speaker’s bio would have been accessible to anyone interested. He had joined the CP in ’39, earned a PhD in History from Columbia University, and served honorably in WWII. By the end of the war, Dr Aptheker had attained the rank of major in the Army, but in 1950 he was forced to resign his commission because of his CP membership.

In his scholarly career Aptheker had become a distinguished historian of  the Negro in America, publishing numerous books on the subject. However, due to his CP affiliation, Aptheker was blacklisted in academe except for a brief stint as a visiting professor at Bryn Mawr College. By the ‘60s, he was widely known as the Communist Party’s intellectual star, tirelessly dedicated to opposing American racism, capitalism, and imperialism.

Prior to his IU lecture, Dr Aptheker’s notoriety as a top communist in Cold War America had caused problems at several campuses to which he had been invited to speak. He was hung in effigy at Ohio State University in the fall of ’65, while in March ‘66 he was escorted off campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill under a state law banning communists from speaking. And then in late April, just a week before his IU appearance, Aptheker was again hung in effigy –  this time at the University of Miami, although 2500 students listened politely to his presentation on the American Negro.

As news of Aptheker’s upcoming visit got around Bloomington, local businessmen criticized IU for inviting an ‘avowed’ communist, while individual members of the Board of Trustees, –  political appointees at a public university –  began receiving outraged complaints from citizens around the state. Alarmed by the popular reaction, the board chairman, a banker, met with President Stahr.

Stahr argued that a speaker such as Aptheker espousing an unpopular cause fell under the rubric of academic freedom, the right of individuals to express their contentious views on campus freely. Persuaded that to un-invite Aptheker would bring IU into disrepute in academe, the chairman issued a statement providing political cover for the trustees and the university. Assuring the public that the state’s main institution of higher learning loathed communism, he announced:

                               We will not assist the communist conspiracy
                                by denying freedom of speech and thereby
                                martyring its mouthpiece.****

Although Elvis Stahr no doubt had a hand in drafting the board’s cover statement, by sleight of hand he still managed to occupy the high ground in the affair, taking credit before the faculty for a victory for diversity and tolerance.

Herbert Aptheker followed Selective Service director Lewis Hershey by a day at IU. General Hershey’s speech on Monday, May 2nd, had been met by protest and counter-protest demonstrations. Forewarned of Aptheker’s recent bruising encounters at other universities, Bloomington police escorted him to the auditorium given, as the chief put it to the local paper, the ‘high feeling’ in the community. At the door of the event, IU Security then checked IDs to ensure that only members of the campus community were admitted.

Herbert Aptheker speaking at IU, May, 1966 

A few months earlier, Aptheker had returned from a trip to Hanoi and soon thereafter had published a small book, Mission to Hanoi, dismissed by a scholar of Asia as mainly a propaganda tract. Not surprisingly, the Vietnam War was Aptheker’s topic before a packed house of 450 students and faculty. Predictably, he opposed America’s involvement in Vietnam’s civil war and advocated US withdrawal – positions most likely congenial to most of those who chose to hear him; thus, the evening in the hall passed with no untoward incidents.


Aptheker in Hanoi (see arrow), cover of his book, 1966 

Although the campus New Left, which by then had been actively opposing the war for over a year, welcomed Aptheker’s critical perspective as counterpoint to the two generals; the majority at IU, and for that matter throughout the country, still supported the Johnson Administration’s war policy. Most people either ignored or dismissed antiwar rhetoric, but a small group of conservative IU students vigorously objected both to Aptheker the communist as well as his remarks on Vietnam. Not to be outdone by fellow students elsewhere, they hung him in effigy at Indiana University. 

In these instances, the generally outraged public reactions to individuals expressing extremely unconventional and unpopular views happened to have taken place at Indiana University, but (certainly in Aptheker’s case) the same did and could have occurred at many other universities in politically and socially conservative sections of the country. It was the era of the Cold War, the divisive surrogate war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights struggle, and a time of essentially still traditional attitudes on sexuality – all emotionally-laden subjects giving rise to considerable passion by supporters and opponents.

In a more philosophical vein in the midst of that roller coaster spring semester at IU, one professor shrewdly remarked at a faculty meeting that the greater danger at the university was actually widespread student apathy, not student radicalism.
* A Ginsberg, Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995 (2000), 126
** E Hardwick, Bartleby in Manhattan and Other Essays (1984), 82
***D Worker, Escape, Adventure and Other Tales of Madness:
****T Clark, Indiana University: Years of Fulfillment, Vol. 3 (1977), 587