The Vietnam Showdown

The Vietnam Showdown

Long before he published the People’s History of the United States and became a left-wing celebrity professor, Howard Zinn showed up in Milford in May 1967 to defend the opposition movement to the Vietnam War at the Jacques School auditorium.

Of course, in Yankee Republican Milford, Zinn was up against the instinctive tendency of the good folks assembled to support God & Country (even when decreed by the Johnson Administration). But in strode a not-yet-famous Zinn, just a couple of years after being fired for insubordination at Spelman College and hired on as a political science professor at Boston University. The Milford Area Interchurch Council had organized the “Vietnam discussion” and given their liberal bent, had labored to find an apt representative to voice the position of pro-war supporters. Turned down by the American Legion, VFW and Young Republicans, the Council finally settled on a perhaps less-than expert choice, Manchester attorney and former FBI agent, Commander Joseph Gall. The 2-hour event was moderated by Reverend Howard Holder, who allowed both men to make long opening statements laying out their basic positions. Zinn argued that Americans had an obligation to speak out when their nation pursued a foolhardy war. Gall stressed America’s duty to stop international communism.

The audience of 350 or so attendees had conservative leanings and paid little attention to Gall while challenging the B.U. professor with a plethora of questions, many of which had a personal flavor. At one point, Zinn was asked if he had been in Japan inciting insurrection among on-leave troops. He had not. He was also asked to explain why he should be considered an authority on Vietnam at all. Zinn also responded to at least a half dozen other (not so) personal queries, including sometimes ungainly comparisons between aspects of Vietnam to Hitler, the Chinese revolution, and the dropping of the Atomic Bomb. Although Reverend Holder had specifically cautioned against “speeches from the floor,” the audience cheered heartily when a uniformed service member from Goffstown was permitted to address the audience and asked, “How can you let a thing like this occur?” and compared communism and anti-communism to the difference between Christ and the anti-Christ. The meeting broke up when audience member Robert Philbrook attempted to introduce a motion of support for the war. The moderator ignored the request and called a halt to the proceedings.

Zinn would publish his all-encompassing take on American History in 1980. Four decades later, The People’s History of the United States is still selling 100,000 copies a year and is used in American history classes at hundreds of universities. But his views did not carry the day in Milford when it came to the Vietnam War. Operation FOR would establish a strong defense of Vietnam policy in the coming months in town, while the tone of the Milford Cabinet, and the citizenry in general, would largely remain supportive of the military and winning Vietnam.

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