Dartmouth Celebrates a Dark Moment (with comment by Paul)

Dartmouth News reports that the college is celebrating an event that happened 50 years ago, on June 7, 1969:

As part of the yearlong 250th anniversary commemoration, Dartmouth is revisiting various turning points in its history. On Friday, the clock turns back 50 years to the afternoon of May 7, 1969, when students who opposed the Vietnam War occupied the Parkhurst administration building.

Paul and I, both Communists at the time, were involved. Radical activities at Dartmouth, as on many other campuses, were directed by anti-American Communists, some of whom were members of the Leninist Progressive Labor Party.

Some 100 activists—mostly students, and a few faculty—demanded the removal of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) from campus, arguing that it was a recruitment tool for an unjust war. Arrests ensued. It was a turbulent time, when anti-war protests were sweeping the nation. ROTC, a source of merit-based student scholarships and military training, also had support on campus. Though the program was phased out at Dartmouth by 1973, the trustees re-instated it a few years later, and the program continues at Dartmouth to this day.

At 1 p.m. on Friday, in Moore Theater at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, the Department of Theater will present an original 20-minute documentary drama based on archival materials about the Parkhurst occupation.

Unfortunately, it appears the college will adopt the wrong perspective on that thoroughly misguided event:

“This is a celebration of activists at Dartmouth,” says Laura Edmondson, an associate professor of theater and chair of the Department of Theater.

We were wrong. Why should our grotesque errors of judgment be celebrated? My role in the Parkhurst occupation was a particularly ignoble one. It was my idea for campus socialists to form a “May 8 Committee,” threatening to occupy Parkhurst Hall on May 8 if our demands were not met. Then we would actually storm Parkhurst on May 7, taking establishment forces by surprise. That plan was carried out, although I doubt it is remembered in this week’s “celebration.”

I have pondered these events many times over the years. The best I can say in my own defense is that I was just a kid, and therefore not responsible for the stupidity of my actions. Fair enough. But there were many other guys my age, a few of whom I knew, who fought and sometimes died in Vietnam. They were just kids, too. Why is Dartmouth celebrating the absurd and illegal actions of students who were wrong about one of the central issues of their time?

[Laura Edmonson says:] “At some points our drama plays out in real time and at other moments it shifts into memories. We want to make it very clear that, as in any documentary theater, you have to condense and consolidate historical moments, because not everything that happened in real life translates well to the stage. We do make a disclaimer that we took liberties with the historical record in order to capture a greater theatrical and social truth.”

Do you suppose that “greater social truth” is leftist? No doubt it is. Still, why let the facts get in the way? Leftists never do. It seems that there are just a few of us left to bear witness to what really happened during the much-praised era of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when a small minority briefly seized the national stage, urged on by the liberal media, and utterly failed in their objectives but nevertheless survived to be lionized in falsified history written decades later.

It is sad to see that Dartmouth has adopted a foolish, ahistorical view of events that are in fact worth remembering, but for reasons completely different from those that apparently animate the Dartmouth celebration.


In light of the disciplinary proceedings I faced after being released from jail, my father enlisted some of my professors to vouch for me so as to salvage my Dartmouth career. One prominent professor in whose class I had excelled greeted my father by saying “you must be very proud of Paul.”

My father, a man of the left who himself had been arrested for political activism as a young man, replied, “No, I respect what he did but I’m not proud of it.”

That is about how I see it 50 years later. I respect that I had the courage of my very strong convictions. However, unlike the guys who returned to Dartmouth this month to be celebrated by today’s leftists, I am far from proud of having participated in the criminally misguided takeover of Parkhurst Hall.