Anti-Vietnam War Movement Leader Michael Ferber Shares Experiences with PA Community

Michael Ferber discussed his participation in leading an extensive Anti-Vietnam War movement against the draft in the 1960’s on Tuesday night. Ferber began his lecture by sharing a brief history of the Vietnam War and its origins. He also related the events surrounding that war to the current situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ferber then explained to the audience how he gained his initial passion for political activism. He said that he became worried about the draft while attending college in 1965. “Like many other young men, I had this constant nervous feeling,” said Ferber. “Many of us were still convinced that there was an open way of getting the government to end the war,” said Ferber. “But we had a hard time thinking of a tactic, we young people.” Ferber went on to attend graduate school at Harvard University. The Selective Service System, the organization that conducted the draft, issued Ferber a student deferment, an official postponement of required military service. He said that he decided to tell the committee that he opposed the Vietnam War, to which the Selective Services System removed his deferment and immediately drafted him. However, he still remained a conscientious objector. Ferber continued the presentation by detailing the culmination of his anti-war career. In 1967 he helped to organize a day where people could turn in their draft cards as a sign of open resistance to the law. The group decided to hold the event at the Arlington Church. Over five thousand people participated in the event. The group gathered at Boston Common before going to the church. The organizers invited multiple religious figures to attend, and Ferber gave a speech on behalf of the young participants. Ferber said that over 200 participants turned in or burned their draft cards and talked about how he convened with other people who had collected draft cards. The national movement continued until it reached the federal government’s offices. He said that many notable figures of the era endorsed these actions, including writer Norman Mailer and philosopher Noam Chomsky. “I walked in to the [drafting office] and said ‘Look, here are 1,000 draft cards. Indict us all,’” said Ferber. Ferber was convicted of conspiracy, along with other leaders of the movements including Benjamin Spock ’21, a famous pediatrician, William Sloane Coffin ’42, Chaplain of Yale University, Marcus Raskin and Mitchell Goodman. The public called the group “The Boston Five”. “It was just me, someone who no one had heard about, and these old, respected men,” said Ferber. “I suddenly had everyone’s attention. It was exciting, especially since young men all over the country had begun turning in their draft cards,” said Ferber. Ferber ended his talk by describing what he saw as the decline of the Vietnam War and the draft. He said that advisers denied a general’s attempt to enlist about 400,000 more men for service. “Effectively, the draft was broken,” said Ferber. “We were only one factor out of many, but we were in the right place at the right time.” “On the day when Johnson announced that he wouldn’t run for the presidency again, we began to hear reports that students from various colleges were marching towards Boston Common to celebrate a possible end to the war,” said Ferber. During a question-and-answer session that followed Ferber’s lecture, Ferber gave advice to the audience on what to do with their moral urges. He said that he hoped students would try to make whatever changes in the world that they saw fit. “Even if you doubt you’re going to make a difference, you won’t feel good about yourself until you try,” said Ferber. “You never know what might happen. You just might have an amazing effect,” he added. “No one can predict the outcome of their actions. The timing of a protest or another event is significantly more important than the content of the act of protest itself. The mood surrounding an individual is much more important than the actions of an individual. A symbol is only as important as the meaning that everyone ascribes to that symbol,” Ferber said. JP Harrington ’10 attended the presentation and said, “I went to go see Dr. Ferber because I believe that everyone should keep an open mind and listen to as many viewpoints as possible. It was a less political speech than I had anticipated and much more a retelling of his story with a single theme.” Ferber said that many of the ideals of the movement in his time still apply today with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “The government certainly doesn’t want another Vietnam War, and I think the public remembers the war very bitterly.” Ferber currently works as a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire and is the father of Andover student Lucy Arnold ’10. He said that students arranged the visit when he offered to talk about the Vietnam War. Arnold said that she was proud of her father for his talk and the reaction he got from the audience. She said that many attendees told her how much Ferber’s talk affected them. “Every time he retells the story I learn something new,” said Arnold. “I’m glad he said the things he did.” “I think it’s an important story and something that’s overlooked now,” said Arnold. “It’s important to recognize people in the 60’s who fought for what they believe in, my dad or otherwise.” Democrats Club hosted the event, which took place in Kemper Auditorium. Julianna Aucoin ’12, President of the Democrats Club, said, “We decided to get him because he was the father of a board member, and he also knew a lot of things that were pertinent to the democratic evolution.” “You really get a sense of the climate of the time period,” said Aucoin. “I hope that everyone learned a lot through the event,” said Aucoin. “I definitely didn’t know about all the different techniques that people used during the anti-Vietnam War movement.”