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Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
The Viet Nam Generation Big Book

Volume 5 Number 1-4
March 1994



Texts made available by the Sixties Project, are generally copyrighted by the Author or by Viet Nam Generation, Inc., all rights reserved. These texts may be used, printed, and archived in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. Copyright law. These texts may not be archived, printed, or redistributed in any form for a fee, without the consent of the copyright holder. This notice must accompany any redistribution of the text. A few of the texts we publish are in the public domain. For information on a specific text, contact Kalí Tal. The Sixties Project, sponsored by Viet Nam Generation Inc. and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, is dedicated to using electronic resources to provide routes of collaboration and make available primary and secondary sources for researchers, students, teachers, writers and librarians interested in the 1960s.



Lock and Load High, Part II:

The Vietnam War Comes to a Los Angeles Secondary School

Marc Jason Gilbert, History Department, North Georgia College

This paper was presented at the Sixties Generations conference, March 1993, Fairfax, VA.

Bell's column on the cowardice of antiwar Americans was typical of the editorial policy of the Warrior, which defended traditional political processes and values while attacking not their opponents' positions, but their character. As if to drive the latter point home, Bell's editorial was accompanied by a vivid cartoon that depicted a big chicken carrying a protest sign reading "War is immoral." 31

The Warrior's editors had no reason to expect that Bell's assault would provoke any significant negative response. Similar editorials supported by similar cartoons after Operation Clean-Up, the dress code demonstrations and the December 1965 pro-war editorials had not drawn criticism greater than the Warrior staff could handle by their control of the debate in the pages of the paper. The paper was thus caught unawares by the appearance in their offices of an ad hoc antiwar student delegation led by no less respectable figures than a sitting justice of the Student Court and a former chief justice of that court. This delegation demanded that the paper provide space in the next issue for an opposing viewpoint article and supporting cartoon. They argued that this consideration be extended not merely because antiwar students were entitled to equal time, but because the paper needed to demonstrate its fairness and commitment to the freedom of expression, two values that seemed to them to be diminishing as the war in Vietnam progressed. 32

The delegation was fortunate in that the Warrior staff member they confronted was the newly appointed assistant opinion editor, Robert Crane. Crane surprised the delegation by concurring with their demands. Crane was as much a died-in-the-wool conservative as any of his colleagues on the paper but, perhaps because of his own unique vantage point, Crane was better able than they to appreciate both the value of and need to observe the standards of responsible journalism. Crane was a fine arts major and a member of the student band which marched with a color-guard provided by the campus ROTC program. The ROTC program, as old as the school itself, had been highly respected, but the Vietnam War and the cadet detachment's decision to march in chrome helmets had made the military color guard and its musical support a target of increasing derision at school events. Perhaps because he felt the musical and political tide turning beneath him from John Philip Sousa to Phil Ochs, Crane was more sensitive to the Warrior's one-sided treatment of political issues. In any event, Crane had long been concerned at the paper's editorial tone, so much so that, just before he joined the staff, he had written to the then editor David Altshuler that "it was time to broaden the Warrior's horizons."

Get out of the rut that the Warrior has been in. Write something that will make the students think. Maybe what your paper needs is a little controversy... the draft looms over the heads of graduating seniors. Doesn't this mean anything? Give the students... views of the liberals and conservatives. Take a stand and print student reactions. 33

The student delegation presented Crane with an opportunity to practice what he preached and he proved to be more than willing to accede to the student delegation's request for a chance to reply to Bell's editorial, as was the faculty advisor to the Warrior, Cecile McKenna, a graduate of Columbia University's School of Journalism, who held a Masters Degree from Columbia Teachers College. 34 Even David Bell ultimately approved of this step.

However, when word of the possible editorial content of the upcoming edition of the Warrior reached the ears of Hugh Foley, he immediately ordered that the publication of the Vietnam counterpoint essay be banned, and a frightened, nontenured, McKenna obeyed his order. Foley's argument was that the original editorial on so "controversial" an issue as the Vietnam war should never itself have appeared and that to permit a reply to be published would be to contend that two wrongs made a right. The students involved in the controversy pleaded that this decision violated recent campus precedent. A balanced, if superficial, opposing viewpoints treatment of the Vietnam War had appeared in the Warrior as early as 1964 and as recently as March 1965. Further, the administration's opposition to controversial issues had not led to the banning of either one of the December 1965 pro-war Warrior editorials. Foley was, however, immune to these protestations and to the student's other chief argument: that the very fact that a reply to a pro-war editorial would be censored justified the student delegations fears that the war in Vietnam was threatening the very ideals for which the war in southeast Asia was being fought to preserve.

Having failed on their own to impress the school administration of the seriousness of the issue, the student's took their case to the only forum left to them: the Student Council. They found that, like the Warrior's editorial board, the Council was in an unexpectedly receptive mood to listen to their concerns. After the Operation Clean-Up and dress code incidents, reform-minded students had flooded the Warrior and student government mailboxes with complaints regarding the behavior of their elected representatives during these crises, which at best could be described as complaisant, and at worst, a toady-like fealty to administration policy. This criticism was unrelenting and struck at the foundation of the purpose of student government, just as the Warrior pro-war editorial policy struck at the heart of freedom of expression. In both cases key American institutions were being judged not on how they performed in support of the status quo, but how they responded to minority or dissenting opinions. Few in student government could avow that they had met the highest standards expected of them in this regard and the students had agreed. In the last elections, students had voted into office a slate of candidates who promised to listen and quickly respond to student opinion. 35 Not only were the student officers of spring 1966 determined to "Let the Student Voice Be Heard," 36 but a good number of them were politically aware students whose college of choice was not an Ivy League school or Ivy-League wanna-be, but then tumultuous University of California at Berkeley.

Fortuitously, the faculty leadership of student government was at that moment also undergoing a profound change. Its longtime advisor, the silver-haired and iron-willed Jean Prince, had retired from teaching at the end of January. She was ultimately replaced by the pragmatic Jack Moskowitz. Moskowitz set a different tone for student government by permitting its officers to shoulder more responsibility. 37

The stage was thus set for the moment when the student delegation appeared at the door of the student government class and demanded to be heard by the Council. With Jack Moskowitz out of the room attending to other duties and the curiosity factor quite high, the normal rules of order were suspended and the delegation was allowed to address the Council. Their remarks were simple and to the point: after explaining the nature of the dispute over the antiwar editorial and Foley's unwillingness to take student socio-political concerns seriously, they asked the council members to pass a resolution supporting their appeal of the principal's decision and asked that it be carried immediately to school administrators by Student Council representatives.

The students' appeal was eloquent and clearly heartfelt, but there was no getting around its import. They was asking the Council to do what no previous incarnation of the Council had done, i.e. mount a defense of an abstract liberal principle arising from a controversial issue, the antiwar movement, that would certainly be regarded by the school's administration as an act of defiance. It was taken as a given that if the vote went the petitioners' way the members of the Student Council might pay a high price for their temerity, such as a failing grade for student government class or the very least, a dishonoring remark recorded on the then much feared permanent record, not a pleasant thought for students awaiting admission to college.

A brief debate followed the students' appeal, but the Student Council's past embarrassment over its failure to take a stand on past administration-versus-student issues, combined with the basic justice of the students' complaint, made the vote's outcome a forgone conclusion. Armed with the Student Council's resolution and supported by a number of student councilors, the student delegation walked up to the administration building and presented their appeal to the only member of the administrative staff likely to be responsive to it: Dr. Warren Steinberg, the boys' vice principal and the officer responsible for student discipline.

During Olsen's and Foley's administration, the hardworking but affable Steinberg successfully used humor to defuse controversy. When enforcing the dress code's requirement that all shirttails be tucked inside pants and skirts, Steinberg devised a comic "shirt untucked detector," 38 which consisted of a stick which was poked into the back of the student-offender. While the humor of such devices was often lost on its victims, who viewed them as demeaning or outright emasculating, 39 it was the opinion of many students that Steinberg was an administrator who sought to temper the enforcement of rules with mercy and was "always willing to work things out to the advantage of the student." 40 Further, Steinberg had previously made it clear that so long as students acted within the law and were fiscally responsible, he would not interfere with student government or student publications. Thus, there was no better choice for an interlocutor between the students and Foley.

The difficulty for Steinberg was that while he respected the students' position and their freedom of speech, he could not in any way countenance their appeal or the Student Council Resolution, as doing so would constitute a challenge to his superior's authority and undermine the very student discipline he was charged with maintaining. He had, in fact, already tried to do what he could for his young charges. When Foley had first learned of the students' attempt to publish a reply to the pro-war article, he had asked both Steinberg and the girls' vice principal, Sheila Bauer, to comment on the matter. Both urged him to permit the publication of the proposed reply on free speech grounds. Steinberg had then tried to overcome Foley's procedural concerns by suggesting that the reply could be printed with a disclaimer that would indicate that while the student response to the Warrior editorial would be run in the interest of fairness, all editorials on such controversial subjects would in the future be prohibited. As Foley had rejected this advice, Steinberg knew his only course was to reason with the student delegation. He tried to make them understand that Foley had spoken so clearly on the issue that there could be no hope he would now back down and that there was even less hope that a school's administrative control of a campus newspaper would be overruled by a higher authority. The interaction that would result from the students' appeal would be a confrontation, not a meeting of minds or the achievement of the students' immediate goals. Had there not been already been enough such confrontation? Could not the current incident be made into a beginning of a period of bridge-building, instead of a springboard for more campus unrest? The choice lay with them.

Steinberg's lack of encouragement and sober advice brought a full stop to the students' effort to appeal Foley's decision over the Warrior's pro-war editorial, but not to their concern about the relationship between school authority, the conflict in Vietnam and their freedom of expression. Within a short time, these students appeared in Foley's office with a request that he approve of the holding of an on-campus teach-in on the Vietnam War. They then had no idea that, while they had lost the battle over Bell's editorial, they had won the war for the recognition of student rights.

Foley had been shaken by the virulence of the campus unrest that had surrounded the "Big Chicken" incident, and may have been further disturbed by a phone call from a reporter from The Los Angeles Times, who was interested both in the recent political dispute and the entire issue of student freedoms. 41 He certainly found no support for his hard-line position at the Board of Education, which might have acted against him had they not feared setting a precedent for removing principals at the behest of parent or student unrest. 42 With his next possible promotion/transfer on the line, Foley came to the conclusion that discretion was the better part of valor. There would, of course, be no wholesale retreat, but rather a strategic withdrawal. He not only approved of the students' request for an on-campus teach-in for the spring of 1966, but permitted the publication of pro and con editorials on the subject of the admission of China to the United Nations. He also opened the questions of "controversial issues" and the student dress code for student comment and faculty-student debate.

Moderate student leaders were overjoyed at these victories. The Student Body President, Harvard-bound Brian Wong, declared that the fight for the right to discuss issues such as the war in Vietnam marked a sea-change that could not be reversed. "We have grown up," he wrote. "We are no longer content to devote our high school lives to sports nights and track meets." 43 Wong predicted that, if current trends continued, there was great hope for the growth of student social and political awareness on campus in an atmosphere not of confrontation, but student-administration amity.

Wong's hopes initially appeared fully justified. When, after a "decent interval" of one year, Foley was reassigned to other lesser duties,44 the floodgates of change were opened. His replacement, Warren Juhnke, acted swiftly to introduce a new school newspaper editorial policy that allowed for the airing of a multiplicity of views on even the most controversial of social and political issues. Unprecedented revisions were made in the student dress code. Whereas one student, Kerry Katz, had been suspended four times between March 1966 and January 1967 for excessively long sideburns, most of his friends at his graduation in June 1967 not only displayed the formerly forbidden sideburns, but the once-prohibited shoulder length hair as well.45


Continue to Part III

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