With news of the ultimatum that President Bush had extended to Saddam Hussein last Tuesday on their minds, a group of people crowded into the Wolfington Center Wednesday, March 19 to watch a documentary in progress.
The film, entitled “The Camden 28,” is a creation seven years in the making by producers Anthony Giacchino and David Dougherty. “We brought together many of the individuals,” Giacchino said. “One of the messages we want to get across is that it’s not pointless to protest.”
The story is about 28 persons who were involved in a break-in of a Camden, N.J. draft board office in August 1971. They managed to destroy draft cards that would send young men off to fight in Vietnam. The 28 individuals were arrested by FBI officials after an informant within their own group had leaked their illegal activity to the FBI.
Special guests of this “Camden 28” viewing were two participants of the draft card demolition in Camden, N.J. The two visitors were John Swinglish and Eugene Dixon. Now settled into a less hectic lifestyle, they were able to speak of their hands-on experience of the protesting of the Vietnam War with wisdom and advice for the present generation.
News of what the fighting in Vietnam was for confused many Americans. The Camden 28 were people who were united in their reaction to the war. They sought to educate themselves about the reasons that the war was being waged and to question what the media told them.
There were many unanswered questions of the purpose of sending American soldiers to a country that everyone was ignorant about. The message that everyone was gripped by was that communism could not filter into the democratic United States, and Ho Chi Minh was seen as the enemy. Therefore, he had to be annihilated.
The Camden 28 decided to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the war in nonviolent ways. Other obstructions of government files before the Camden incident included the pouring of blood on files in Baltimore of late 1967 and the napalming of more draft cards in 1968. Both events were symbolic of the blood shed by the men who were fighting an inexplicable war and the ironic use of the material that was crippling people on both sides of battle.
Questions from students about how the men’s lives were affected during their actions, indictment and acquittal were answered. Their families stood by them at most times but their neighborhoods were not always as supportive.
Discussion circled towards the address that Bush would deliverlater that night. “I don’t see war as a problem solver. It just creates larger problems. The government should step back and say, ‘let’s not fight,'” Dixon said.
“I reached a turning point in my thinking when a fellow sailor asked me if I thought what I was fighting for was right,” Swinglish said. “I never once thought that we were really stopping the war by bombing papers. But we were making a statement, in order to change the hearts and minds of the people.”
“I don’t agree with the actions of the Camden 28 but I understand why they did it. Their actions weren’t just. The United States has its reasons for what they do. I know that the freedoms we fought for yesterday are not just for the sake of attacking,” freshman Justin Hallman said.
“I thought it was great to have this forum. I think it’s important for people to understand the importance of investigating for yourself, not just listening to what you’re told,” David Chiles, coordinator of Service Learning Resources, said.
“It makes you think of what the truth is and what is a lie, especially when it concerns people being sent to kill and to die,” Chiles said.
To learn more about the Camden 28, visit www.camden28.org.