This is a letter Tony wrote to the Hickory Daily Record in March 1969
Editor Record: Mr. A.C. McDonald asks (Open Forum, May 8) for one of the “poor little educated, uneducated idiots,” to brush away his long hair and step out of the crowd.
Although my hair isn’t long enough to reach the top of my eyeglasses, and although I resent the appellation “idiot,” I am a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, and I have some opinions concerning Mr. McDonald’s letter, and the events of the past two weeks.
Mr. McDonald portrays students as arsonists and flag burners. Surely there are some, but no more than a small fraction of one percent. American troops last week, in front of CBS television cameras, destroyed a village, ripped down the Cambodian flag, and looted the few shops that were left standing. I’m sure no one needs reminding of My Lai.
There are small groups of irrational people in the Army, on campuses, and everywhere else. It was such an irrational group that confronted the National Guard at Kent State University last Monday. While no one knows whether the violent protesters, or the Guard, or both deserve the blame for that tragedy, it is apparent that the four murdered victims of that tragedy were nonparticipant onlookers. They were there to observe, to listen, and to try to understand exactly what their fellow students were saying.
Mr. McDonald should know that college students have read history books. We know that Presidents Lincoln, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson were elected on the premise that they would keep the U.S. out of war. It is with this knowledge of unkept promises that many students believe President Nixon to be pursuing a similar path in Cambodia. College students also know that this country was born in dissent and founded on the rights of free assembly and free speech.
In the recent protests, students are exercising those rights. 5,000 students held a rally without incident in Chapel Hill last Wednesday. On Friday, 4,000 marched peacefully to the governor’s office in Raleigh. In Washington Saturday, 100,000 students demonstrated within sight of the White House in an orderly manner. The majority of the demonstrating students are moderates and even conservatives who feel that American involvement in Southeast Asia is wrong and must be terminated. I was in Hickory last weekend, and I was appalled that the prevailing opinion of the adults with whom I talked was that the four students at Kent State, “got what was coming to them.”
There seemed to have been no serious reflection concerning the reasons for which students were willing to jeopardize their educational careers and their future. People who espouse that opinion are victims of the campaign of Spiro Agnew, John and Martha Mitchell and others to blame all the ills of American society on a group of college students who didn’t create the ills in the first place.
I was four years old when the first Americans went to South Vietnam in 1954. Students were frustrated on November 15, 1969, when their President watched a football game while 500,000 students were out in the cold in Washington trying to express their feelings. We are frustrated when the so-called Silent Majority tries and convicts students without listening to our defense.
The nation is seriously divided, and one of the reasons for that division is a lack of communication between students and their older critics. Calling students “idiots” or “bums” or refusing to respect a student because his hair is long is not the way to mend this division. It must be mended by listening to each other, and reasoning with each other. To Mr. McDonald, I would add a final suggestion. Almost all students are sensible people. He should talk with us, and not let Spiro Agnew form his opinions for him.
Editor’s Note: This letter, too, is long, but The Record feels that students should given a full opportunity to be heard.