War and Protest

Linda Sillitoe
History of Salt Lake County

Salt Lake County residents closely watched the escalating war in Southeast Asia, and both support and protest tended to focus within the valley, where military industry played a major role. The state sent “more than its share of young men to Vietnam,” placing fifth in military participation despite the deferments available for LDS missions, college attendance, or starting families, all of which were more common among Utah’s young men than among other Americans. The media gave the war considerable coverage, and community projects such as “Operation Friendship” in 1966 and “Operation Schoolhouse” a year later offered support to the South Vietnamese people.

The University of Utah sponsored a marathon volleyball game for the latter cause, yet the campus also echoed the growing dissent voiced at universities and colleges nationwide. History professor James Clayton gained national attention with his argument that war-related costs would eventually triple the $330 billion cost of the war, in addition to the human suffering that any war inflicted. Between 1959 and 1969, he noted, more had been spent on the Vietnam War than during the nation’s history for police protection or higher education in public institutions.

As television brought the war into the nation’s living rooms with immediacy never before known, many students voiced outrage. Styles on campuses changed as long straight hair, bell-bottom trousers, bare feet and midriffs, peace signs, large dogs, and clouds of cigarette smoke visually identified passive or active dissenters. In 1965 a protest march in Salt Lake City drew forty demonstrators; by 1969 more than four thousand joined a daylong moratorium beginning with speeches at the University of Utah Union Building followed by a march down South Temple Street to the Federal Building on First South and State streets. Speakers demanded the United States’ withdrawal from Vietnam, and Reverend G. Edward Howlett of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral read the names of Utahns who had died in the war. Westminster College students also gathered to debate the efficacy of the war.

That same day, more than two hundred counter-demonstrators gathered at the City and County Building for a pro-war rally. Salt Lake City commissioner Jake Garn told the crowd, “if the moratorium were successful, the United States would be communist and 40,000 American lives would have been sacrificed in vain.” In fact, he “blamed protestors for prolonging the war and aiding the enemy.” All in all, the Salt Lake Tribune declared the moratorium on 15 October 1969 the largest peace demonstration in the state’s history.

Most protests at the University of Utah and in the valley were peaceful, and generally the administration granted students a forum; however, a bomb was set in the Naval Science Building and an old barracks in use as a bookstore was burned. Several arrests were made following one protest, and administrators sided with the prosecution while the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union supported the students. The ACLU also represented Henry L. Huey in a successful national effort to prevent the military from reclassifying the draft status of protestors.

Governor Calvin Rampton refused to become ruffled by protestors despite the defiant rhetoric that upset some officials on campus and civic leaders downtown. When a group turned up one evening on the governor’s doorstep, the students were welcomed by First Lady Lucybeth Rampton, given soft drinks, and seated for a chat with the governor while Highway Patrol officers listened nearby. After taking a few photographs for The Chronicle, the students dispersed.