Resistance and Revolution: The Anti-Vietnam War Movement at the University of Michigan, 1965-1972

Richard Mann (U of M Professor of Psychology)

Richard Mann was a Professor of Psychology and Religion at the University of Michigan from 1964-1992. Among many anti-war activities, he participated in the Teach-in of 1965, played a large role in the Inter-University Committe where he helped convince a Special Assistant to the National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy, to participate in a CBS televised debate about the Vietnam War, and participated in the planning of the National Teach-in. Professor Mann is a Professor of Emeritus at the University of Michigan, but still occasionally teaches classes at U of M. 

Interview of Richard Mann by Obadiah Brown and Matt Lassiter on April , 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


Why was the Teach-in successful?

…The success of the teach-in was that it appealed to the fact there was something that people really didn’t know what they were supposed to think, what they did think, what the competing positions were, and what the facts were for sure. And nobody had heard of the Tonkin Bay Resolution and nobody had heard about Pleiku, and maybe they had heard about the bombing of the North, but they knew there was something.

And the faculty that they knew and trusted the most, there were a lot of really great teachers, who jumped up and took part in this thing, and they were there for information.

Was there a sense of history being made and that it was something unusual?

So many people showing up, that was a huge surprise…

What was the glue between professors who got involved?

Some red diaper babies, children of the activists of the thirties, a sense that the ‘50s was stagnate…

People were to the left of Kennedy, some socialists, grandchildren of socialists, lot from immigration, there was a lot of that and somewhat of a badge of honor. I think the disillusionment with Johnson. I think there was a disillusionment with just this heavy, soggy, conventional ‘50s attitude that was still all around.

That’s what the Port Huron Statement talked about…

Yes, many of the faculty did not know anything about the Port Huron Statement. Bill Gamson and Arnold Kaufmann certainly, did but I didn’t even though I was here since ‘64.

What explains your involvement?

Well, I had actually been interested in Vietnam since the middle-fifties because a friend of mine was raised in Vietnam and kept telling what it meant that Diem had canceled the elections and what it meant that the total dictatorship suddenly clomped down on South Vietnam. So I was paying attention to it.

My father-in-law was a radical from the 20s and 30s. So I wasn’t a red diaper baby, but my wife sort of was because he was a socialist type. The Communist Party wouldn’t let him in. He was a little too middle class for them. But he was all the way on the left. He wrote very leftist stuff and got kicked out of Berkeley during the McCarthy Era.

I was the child of I.F. Stone. I had been reading I.F. Stone for five years by that point…. But it wasn’t like way to the left. I think we all thought of ourselves as liberals, we didn’t know about the left thing, it was just liberals. Even Stone was writing for liberals, as well as for Radicals. But, I mean, he was a different kind of guy.

What was your sense on Governor Romney and the administration having opposition to the proposed Work Moratorium in 1965?

Well it was exciting that State Senators were saying “Cancel their tenure” and “Kick them out of here.”… I don’t think anybody [had classes on Friday afternoon]. I don’t think anybody was canceling any classes. But the symbolism of going up on the steps of Angell Hall and just talking about what’s going on, I think that’s all we promised that we would do. The promise was that there was something going on in Vietnam that you need to know about and the answer from the administration here and all the way up to the governor was, “No you don’t. You don’t need to know about that. You’re kids, just shut up. Pay attention to your studies.” That was very inflaming.

If you knew that teachers’ tenure was being threatened, why did you remain in activism, particularly with the ROTC?

The impact of the threat against tenure about the strike [1965 Moratorium] on the steps of Angell Hall, meant that we gotta find a tact that doesn’t leave the assistant professors vulnerable to getting canned… I think Marshall was the hero of the whole thing. And him and Eric Wolf were worried about people getting kicked out.

But once we got around to North Hall [ROTC building] and the ROTC, that was 1969 or so, by then, everything was split apart. Liberals became radicals and radicals became “I’m not just a radical, I’m a revolutionary.” The issue of tenure just wasn’t even in the air.

When we got our Red Squad Files from the Michigan State Police, we saw draft after draft of them pretending to be a Michigan alumnus and sending a concerned citizen letter to the Regents but what they were saying was, “You gotta get rid of Rappaport, and [Julien] Gendell, and Mann, and [Tom] Mayer.” So we knew that this was the kind of stuff that was happening.

So was this part of COINTELPRO?


…You had a lot of correspondence with McGeorge Bundy, correct?


Can you tell us about that?

Well, we had a meeting at Bill Gamson’s house in which the energy took off about the Washington march [1965 March on Washington], which the SDS people were organizing, but there were faculty left over from the Teach-in. We were sort of all there together. One idea was to challenge Bundy to a debate. We thought that would be a good idea. And then we thought that it would be a better idea if we had a whole lot of hotdog professors all around the country saying, “Yeah, me too. Debate. We’ll have a debate.” So we did. You know, I called, some others called, we were all reaching around. The biggest network by far was the anthropology network. They had buddies everywhere. Every teach-in seemed was inflamed by Marshall [Sahlins] calling somebody at Stanford, Marshall calling somebody over here, and Eric [Wolf] too. They were both really working hard. I wasn’t a national type.

So McGeorge Bundy, I sent him a letter, with twenty professors along the side, “The University Committee on Foreign Policy.” I was holding my little two year old and my wife comes to the door and she says, “Honey, the White House is on the phone.” So, I was respectful. He [Bundy] had been the Dean when I was at Harvard. I didn’t know him, but I knew of him. And he basically said, “In principle, I’m agreeable. I would be willing to appear with a panel of myself and people who supported my administration’s side. You can have a speaker and lots of people supporting that person.” … He said, “Who did you have in mind to be on this panel?” And we had already figured out that we wanted Hans Morgenthau. And he said, “Well I wouldn’t be willing to debate with him.” I said, “Well, why not?” He said, “Well, he was up for tenure at Harvard and he thinks that I scotched the deal. And so there’s a personal animus there that would complicate things.” So, I said, “Okay, we’ll get back to you.”

So then I took the news back to the gang, and, of course, half of them were inflamed with, “How dare he tell us we can’t have Morgenthau! It’s unacceptable!” And this was just going on. You can imagine.

His [Bundy] right hand man was a guy named Chester Cooper, and Cooper sent us a list [of people to debate Bundy], which I always think it’s funny that it includes the Vietnam Papers guy [Daniel Ellsberg].

So, we had our team and we were calling all over the country. So then my next moment was where me and Ernest Nagel, who was a philosopher from Columbia, were sitting there watching [Arthur J.] Schlesinger defend the Vietnam policy, and attack Johnson for the Dominican Republic policy, in which we were going to invade the Dominican Republic. And then we got this tug on our sleeve, and we got escorted out, raced out of the [Sherman] Hotel ballroom where the talks were and into a limousine, driving down Washington and the doors open, and “there’s the White House.” And we go up to the West Wing, we go in, and we were greeted by a guy who says, pretty quickly, “Mr. Bundy is not going to appear.” And we said, “Well, why not?” And he says, “Well, they would carry me out on my shield if I told you this, but he’s in Puerto Rico talking to Juan Bosh, trying to find an alternative to the Johnson strategy, which was to invade.” So, in some sense, he [Bundy] was working the good side.

So then we had to go upstairs. [Robert] Scalapino was there and [Zbigniew] Brzezinski, the guy who became Carter’s Secretary [National Security Advisor]…” The two of them were told that Bundy wasn’t coming and that Bundy had appointed Wesley Fishel to do the job. Wesley Fishel was a Michigan State professor who had been taking tons of grants for going out and training people to do this resettlement of people in the Mekong Delta and was really one of the architects of the policy in Vietnam. But he wasn’t in the room. So, they very quickly said, “We’ll talk about it.”

So they disappeared and then came back and said, “Scalapino will do it.” So they pushed Wesley Fishel aside. We were thinking, “Ah Fishel, he would be a piece of cake.” But Scalapino was not a piece of cake.

After the Teach-in, we met again. Probably in Bill’s living room, and said, “So, Bundy didn’t come.” There had been a lot of quotes in Rampart saying, “Bundy, he’s a scoundrel, a cheat, a terrible person.” And then I was quoted for saying, “We’ll, this is some big thing.” So, anyway, we met again and the question was, “Now, shall we try to get Bundy to show up and have a debate like he promised?” And, I forget how the idea of CBS getting involved came up, but my job was to write him a letter, in which the first paragraph was, “We apologize for what you may have heard from our team about you, sir, but what if we go ahead and do this thing?” So again, he said, “Alright, come down to Washington.” I went down with a guy named Jonathan Mirsky from Penn. So we walk into the White House, and the door opens, and there’s Bundy and Fred Friendly who was the head of the CBS News. So we had this conversation, this pleasant conversation. It was easy. So beyond that point, we had to deal with Joseph Cooper. He was the main guy that was putting it together. So we would get out of Washington, the two of us together, and head down to work out the details of things like who was going to be on it, who was our people, who their people were, but I never saw him after that.

The CBS debate happened. Severi was the moderator. McGeorge Bundy was that team and Morgenthau was our team.

So no University of Michigan professors were on it?


But you guys helped put it together…

Right. We had put it together.

It was on PBS. It was all over the damn place. And another whole network of audio. But that was because Marshall knew a lot of people.

So, after the debate. …I don’t know where Haber thought we wiped the floor with them. I mean, you go back and listen to it, and they just trick-tricked themselves, like “Ahhh you people, you don’t know… You don’t know about the cacao!” [Mann makes gibberish noises to show how fast the Bundy side was speaking.] …We were just these utterly naïve and unpracticed… There was Kenny Hill from Cornell and Mary Wright from Yale, and there was Brown from Fairleigh Dickinson, and then there was Morgenthau. Well, Bundy went after Morgenthau saying, “What the hell Hans? You supported us in Laos. Same policy. Now what are you doing not supporting us in Vietnam? That’s not right.” And Morgenthau had nothing… I mean, that was a stupid point… It was sort of like; they were so confident and slippery. I just thought we were so bummed out after the TV show was over. I don’t know, maybe we were the only people in Ann Arbor who were bummed out about it. We did make the issue a big national issue. I mean, there it was on public TV. So in some sense, we accomplished something.

Can you talk about activism in Ann Arbor after 1965 in regards to anti-war activism by SDS and the role of professors?

Just to give you an idea of how primitive and problematic anti-war stuff was, the bravest and the most necessary thing we figured we could possibly do in the Summer of ’67 was to go door-to-door and to ask people to sign a petition saying, “Please End the War” or something vague thing like that. And we got doors slammed in our face. In ’67 there was 35% or 40% [of the American population] that was anti-war.

It wasn’t until ’68 that this big pendulum thing happened.

Can you talk about ROTC protests a little bit because that was a shift from protesting the administration to protesting the University?

A lot of people showed up. We served brown rice, a brown rice supper inside North Hall. It was going fairly well until a bunch of crazies decided they’d start a fire on the back staircase. That pretty much wrecked the action.

The times were getting crazy. The Weatherman was already a factor on campus. Students would come to me and say, “Dick, we know you aren’t going to really come out and join our action, but could we store our guns in your basement, please?” I would say, “No, you can’t.”

Can you tell us more about the radicalism that was flourishing in the later ‘60s?

I guess it was Weatherman. Jesse James Gang it was called. Bill Ayers is a good example of the ultras of the late ‘60s. I think he might have already started his nursery schools, and Bill Ayers was the son of some giant power company in Chicago. He was really rich. And he’s the guy that was Obama’s “big buddy.”

Those were the days of hero-ising; you know… you didn’t play The Beatles. You played “Street Fighting Man.” You played The Stones. You were kind of imagining yourself as kind of as a guy is going to get into physical action. It was a little preposterous when you looked at the soldiers, who were all lined up, ready to serve. But, it was okay. They had actions, like they took over a junior high school or something north of Detroit, and they burst in and had a thing called, “Jail Break.” They were going to liberate all of the students at the school. Ahhh it didn’t really work. They got arrested. And I had friends who were sort of on the edge of going to jail, and they almost always had pretty wealthy families like lawyering themselves out of this thing.

So I think that was a fairly wealthy population. They weren’t working class people, to my memory. They were radicalized middle class.

So, Weatherman, they had a big conference, I forget where, like Flint or some place, and that was a big deal. You could feel the repercussions of it.

What were some kind of things involving the campus community and the police?

Well, the Washtenaw Sherriff, it was a guy named [Doug] Harvey, and he had a lot of troops. And a whole big demonstration broke out on South U and East U down by Ulrich’s. And they just moved in with their plastic shields and their batons. They bonked some heads. They were pretty active. And, of course, that produced a whole big uproar.

Were they attacking non-violent protestors?

I think that something had happened on the street that was violent, a fight or something.  I don’t know how it escalated so fast. I was down at the UCC Church, and so we heard about all of this stuff and started running up. It pretty much ended by the time we got there.

There was a guy in town that got really bumped on the head. He was a Republican but that totally radicalized him. He wasn’t a Republican anymore.

Did you have any sense of the University Administration’s stance once you started getting these kinds of direct action protests?

Let’s see. In ’67, if you were a radical, there was the rebellion in Detroit. Everyone else called it a riot. That was where my energy was by ’67.

A group of really good students, not white by any means, came and said, “What the hell are we doing out here? We’re forty miles from where the action is.” I guess it must have been right after the summer of ’67. And so, I said, “What do you want to do?” And they said, “Well we want to be in Detroit. We don’t want to be here.” So, I said, “Well, we can work that out. I can get you four credits of independent study. Do some research and go to Detroit.” So the Daily caught hold of it. We called it “The City Course” and you could sign up for it and have a whole term there to organize or do whatever you wanted to do. So the dean heard about it, and he called me, and he said, “What’s this city course? We have to go through the curriculum committee to have any sort of city course.” So, I said, “Actually we don’t because we all have independent study credits at our disposals and we can just go do that.” He was so mad.

The next year, in ’68, he put out a “LSA Self-Proclamation- ya-yas”  type of flyer. And he says, “People say that the University of Michigan is irrelevant. The City Course shows how irrelevant we are.”