“Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies and the Year America Lost Its Mind and Found Its Soul,” by Clara Bingham examines the Vietnam War focusing on the school year of 1969 to 1970 and how the anti-war movement, New Left movement and the Black Panther Party, as Bingham described it, “left the country transformed.” Bingham highlighted the book and pivotal moments in the movement at the Brooklyn Museum.
The book is based on 100 interviews from people who participated in the movement. Bingham begins with Woodstock in 1969, “It was a pivotal moment, young people were rebelling the 50s and everything the 50s stood for.” 500,000 people showed up for the three day event and a million more couldn’t attend because of traffic. Hippies were no longer seen as small group of misfits.
As the counterculture movement began, college students began experiments with LSD and marijuana and “changing the consciousness of an entire generation.” This counterculture led to The Great Refusal once the draft was implemented. 210,000 people were prosecuted for resisting the draft.
By 1970, the death toll reached 53,849 and the peaceful anti-war movement began seeing militant groups join such as the Weather Underground and the Black Panther Party. The Weather Underground broke off from the Student for a Democratic Society because they didn’t believe anti-violence was effective. The Black Panther Party became a part of the anti-war movement because they didn’t feel they should defend a racist government.
As the war continued and government cover-ups were exposed such as the My Lai Massacre and the secret bombing campaign in Cambodia, students only got angrier. Students burned down the ROTC building on Kent State’s campus and on May 4, 1970 the Ohio National Guard opened fire on college students at Kent State, killing four.
On August 24, 1970, four young adults bombed Sterling Hall on University of Wisconsin-Madison campus killing a psychic’s professor. There was war research being done here. Bingham states, “A lot of people consider this moment the end of the anti-war movement.”
Though Bingham wasn’t a part of the movement, the interviews capture what it meant to be an activist during this time and resonates with young adults as we see more and more social justice movements emerging.