Early in the decade, Senator Goldwater – point man for the emerging conservative movement – had begun to attract attention in the Midwest. In 1960 an IU student had co-founded a Youth for Goldwater for Vice President drive looking toward the ’60 Republican National Convention; dozens of Youth for Goldwater clubs sprang up on campuses across the country. Although he did not get tapped for vice president, his speech at the convention got him in front of the nation, and in ’61 a new drive was in place for Goldwater for President.
By ’63, as the Arizona senator was edging toward the ’64 nomination, IU’s ‘Young Americans for Freedom’ chapter (YAF) invited him to the university where he delivered a rousing address to an enthusiastic audience of 3000 while outside liberal delegates to the Little United Nations (LUNA) protested the “Arizona lunatic”.
The IU student left, of which my brother Jeff Sharlet (1942-1969) was a part, and the campus right held sharply divergent positions on the Vietnam War – antiwar vs pro-war respectively. Both sides pitched their messages to the majority – the politically moderate, if not indifferent, students in Bloomington. Each side had its successes although most of the silent majority largely remained silent on the war.
The average Indiana student was not into politics and did not tune in to the activist gladiators from either side. Football, frat parties, flirtations, and, of course, academic work reigned supreme. Hence, the common ‘opponent’ for both the left and right at IU was student apathy. As a result, neither the groups on the left (SDS, YSA, YPSL, DBC, CEWV)* nor those on the right (YAF, Conservative League, ISI, SFS)** attracted much of a following. At best, they were relatively small competing bands of brothers arguing for and against the Vietnam War.
Given my continuing ‘search’ for brother Jeff, the IU New Left has received extensive coverage in this blog; the time has come to examine their adversaries of yesteryear, the New Right. Three Indiana students from the ‘60s stand out in particular – Tom Charles Huston, Robert Turner, and R Emmett Tyrrell, Jr – each a leader of the IU New Right.
The conservative three had much in common – they shared the notion that the United States should and could achieve victory in Vietnam and were highly critical of the IU New Left. All three were bright, motivated, and ambitious; two of them were Indiana boys, while the other, also a Midwesterner, came from a suburb of Chicago. The two Indiana natives went on to serve as Army officers during the Vietnam War.
In the fall of ’62, when IU’s Fair Play for Cuba Committee and its allies supported Castro’s Cuba during the Missile Crisis, YAF chair Huston rallied his members to champion the US naval blockade of the island. When in early ’63 the county prosecutor (DA) was considering indicting several campus radicals for ‘subversion’ of the State of Indiana Constitution, the IU the ‘Young Socialist Alliance’ (YSA) group, a Trotskyist outfit, picketed the courthouse, and in response Huston and his people counter-picketed in support of the DA.
During the academic year 1965-66, the university brought to campus three major pro-Vietnam War speakers – former Vice President Nixon, Army General Maxwell Taylor, and Selective Service Director Lewis Hershey. On each occasion, Jeff and fellow activists were out there demonstrating against the Washington ‘hawks’, fulsomely introduced by the IU president, himself a former Secretary of the Army during the early Vietnam War.
Rather than leave the field to the left, the campus New Right mounted counter-demonstrations on behalf of the distinguished visitors, complete with signs supporting the US mission in Vietnam.† Tom Huston, as well as Bob Turner, even debated the campus New Left, ably represented by their standard bearer, Robin Hunter, a graduate student expert in Marxist theory.
Obsessed with Vietnam, Huston felt strongly that the New Left was aiding and abetting the enemy, Communist North Vietnam, by their protests. One time, according to IU New Left alum Jim Retherford, Huston took advantage of the ‘Students for a Democratic Society’ (SDS) policy of open meetings, absent structured agendas, during which anyone could take the floor and speak. Well-known as the leader of YAF, he filibustered an SDS meeting, provocatively calling the group ‘a totalitarian Communist front [organization]’.
Shortly after his elevation to the national chairmanship of YAF, Chairman Huston flew to Manila for a conference of an Asian anti-communist organization. Subsequently the Asian group arranged him to visit South Vietnam where he spoke in support of the troops.
The next year, 1966, the chairman led a national campaign against American Motors to stop the company from selling cars to the USSR. Huston argued that the sale would allow the Soviets to conserve valuable resources that would end up in North Vietnam for use against American forces. AMC backed down.
After a post-law school stint in the Army, in early ‘69 Huston accepted a position in the Nixon White House. He soon made himself indispensable to senior staff and won the President’s confidence. His assignments included confirming suspected (but non-existent) foreign communist influence on the antiwar movement; setting up a White House internal security apparatus to bypass Justice, which Nixon felt too ‘soft’ on student protest; and coordinating the intelligence community’s efforts against Nixon’s opponents. It was the latter task which would land Huston in deep trouble, ensuring his subsequent notoriety in modern American political history.
Huston’s apocalyptic vision of American society under siege by radical legions on the brink of insurrection suited Nixon perfectly. He wrote the President long memos – in one urging him ‘to purge’ dozens of officials and then ruefully commenting, “I’m beginning to sound like Stalin.”*** He took to signing memoranda ‘Cato’ after the incorruptible Roman, but behind his back others tagged him with derisive names like ‘Secret Agent X-5’ and, in its dark WWII connotation, the ‘gauleiter’ of the intelligence agencies, while for J Edgar Hoover Tom Huston was simply that ‘hippie intellectual’ in the White House.
As staff expert on ‘revolutionary youth affairs’, Cato the Younger drew up a secret memo, quickly dubbed the ‘Huston Plan’ – a witch’s brew of extralegality from ‘black bag’ jobs to, reportedly, detention camps in the West for antiwar opponents. The President was delighted and ordered the plan implemented post haste.
Nixon had not however reckoned with Hoover who considered Huston’s plan a trespass on his turf, a violation of his territory, and persuaded the President to rescind it. Within a week of its approval, the Huston Plan was officially a dead letter, although several of its pernicious features lived on to surface another day and play a part in Nixon’s downfall, Watergate.
Huston stayed in Washington another year, resigning the White House in ’71 – his legacy, a “blueprint for a police state in America.”**** He went home to practice law – just a dozen years after he’d hit the ground running at Indiana University, an eager striver with high hopes and great expectations for a life at the top.
*Students for a Democratic Society, Young Socialist Alliance, Young People’s Socialist League,W.E.B. DuBois Club, Committee to End the War in Vietnam
**Young Americans for Freedom, Conservative League, Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (now Intercollegiate Studies Institute), Students for a Free Society
*** “Confidential Memorandum for the President from Tom Charles Huston,” 11/13/70, (Declassified 3/15/82), 12
****D Wise, The Politics of Lying: Government Deception, Secrecy, and Power (1973), 154