Princeton during the Vietnam War
As the Vietnam War escalated in 1965, Princeton University, like many other colleges and universities across the nation, experienced a growth in campus unrest. Initially, President Robert F. Goheen did not feel a need to worry about campus protests and responded by stating, “Only through disturbance comes growth. I would be worried if you were not disturbed.” In the fall of 1965, students formed a local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which became the lead organization for radical campus activism. SDS members traveled to Washington in November to join the “March on Washington to End the War in Vietnam.” Students broke the stereotype of Princeton as a bastion of conservatism and political apathy as they marched with the banner “EVEN PRINCETON.”
Draft resistance became part of college campus life across the country, especially at Princeton. In March 1967, the Princeton Draft Resistance Union was created and sponsored by SDS, as undergraduates signed under the statement “We won't go” in The Daily Princetonian. Out of the 100 draft resistance centers across the United States, Princeton had two of the most active: the Princeton Graduate Draft Union and the undergraduate Princeton Draft Resistance Union.
While many protested America's involvement in Vietnam, others on campus passionately disagreed. A poll of 1,800 students in October 1967 found that 54 percent felt that U.S. involvement in Vietnam was justified. However, when President Lyndon Johnson signed an executive order restricting graduate deferments to students enrolled in medical programs and allied fields in 1968, activism on campus increased dramatically.
On November 13, 1969, Princeton held a Vietnam Assembly in Jadwin Gymnasium that “was conceived to provide a forum for individuals associated with the University to consider and express their views on American involvement in Vietnam.” This broad based mass meeting gathered alumni, faculty, students, and staff and provided them an equal opportunity to voice their opinions concerning political issues. Over three thousand voting participants (members of the University community and their spouses) and about four hundred non-voting guests were present. Five resolutions on the war were considered and voted on.
In April 1970, resentment over America's involvement in southeast Asia reached a fever pitch after President Richard Nixon addressed the nation and announced that the United States had attacked a Communist base complex in Cambodia. This appeared to be a major widening of the war. Within an hour after Nixon's announcement, over 2,500 students and faculty packed the University Chapel to protest the escalation of the war. Many believed that Princeton should go on strike rather than continue conducting business as usual. However, an agreement could not be reached on the nature or the objective of the strike action. After a mass meeting on May 4, participants agreed to a strike that “committed Princeton as an institution to work against expansion of the war, rather than a strike against the university.” During the anti-war, campus-wide strike, roughly 80 percent of the student body cut classes and 10 eating clubs cancelled house parties until Commencement 1970.
In total, 24 Princetonians died in the Vietnam War. Their names appear on the war memorial in the entrance of Nassau Hall.
For more information on the campus climate during the Vietnam War era, see the Frequently Asked Question on Campus Unrest in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Daily Princetonian (Student newspaper)
Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series, c. 1850-1996
Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005
Neuwirth, Lee. Nothing Personal: The Vietnam War in Princeton 1965-1975. ( Booksurge Llc, 2009.)
Oberdorfer, Don. Princeton University: The First 250 Years. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995).
Office of Communication Records, 1922-1995
Office of the Dean of the College Records, 1919-2001
Office of the President Records: Robert F. Goheen Subgroup, 1924-1988
Office of the Provost Records, 1953-1996
Office of the Secretary Records, 1853-2001
Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection, c. 1968- c. 1991
Special Committee on the Structure of the University Records, 1967-1970
Jennifer Walele (2003)
Last modified: Tuesday, 24-Apr-2012 13:57:59 EDT
August 9, 2010