The American Experience: Two Days in October

Tonight I watched a fascinating and resonant documentary about the Vietnam War from The American Experience called Two Days In October:

Based on the book They Marched Into Sunlight by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Maraniss, Two Days in October tells the story of two turbulent days in October 1967 when history turned a corner.

In Vietnam, a U.S. battalion unwittingly marched into a Viet Cong trap. Sixty-one young men were killed and as many wounded. The ambush prompted some in power to wonder whether the war might be unwinnable.

Half a world away, concerned students at the University of Wisconsin protested the presence of Dow Chemical recruiters on campus. When Madison police showed up, the demonstration spiraled out of control, marking the first time that a student protest had turned violent.

Marcus Zeitlin was a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison at the time. He supported the protesting students, and was incredulous and outraged that the Univeristy's administrators sided with the police, and against the students. The ensuing conflict resulted in much bloodshed, which fueled the nascent antiwar movement.

Nearly forty years later, Professor Zeitlin reflects very wisely upon the conflict:

I have only respect for the men who fought in that war. Because they didn't make the war. They didn't choose to fight in that war. But they accepted a responsibility that they thought was theirs as an American citizen. They carried the burden of being an American citizen. When they were sent to war, they fought.

And I carried the burden, not at all comparable, of being an American citizen by opposing that war. And I had the choice, and they didn't. And for that I was privileged, and they weren't. But we were both doing our duty.

Truer words were never spoken.