Peace Research and Education Project
What is PREP?
The Peace Research and Education Project (PREP) started in January 1963, mobilized into quick action by the Port Huron Statement of June 15, 1962. PREP offered “alternatives to militarism and the Cold War” through accurate and thorough education about peaceful alternatives, active political expression within the United States, and by challenging the status quo of the Cold War. This organization was a direct result of the Port Huron Statement, and was fueled by the fear and tension that the Cold War created. Students realized that Americans did not have access to enough information about peaceful conflict resolution, even before the Vietnam War registered on student activists’ radars. To fix this recognized problem, they put into practice a key tenet of the SDS and the New Left: the use of the university as a site for political and peaceful education and action. In the “Draft of SDS Peace Project Proposal,” Jean Spencer, on behalf of SDS, outlines why peace research needs to be conducted, and the rough framework for how this research would actually be collected.
PREP advised students that to “advance peace education,” they should “involve themselves in academic work towards solutions of practical problems, and in research, for peace;” they should also “involve themselves in the political-educational community as citizens committed to peace and the resolution of conflict." PREP operated on the local and national level, demonstrating how the New Left emphasized both a common collection of knowledge and the political decentralization of participatory democracy. The national branch focused on two objectives: sharing peace information between local student groups and influencing mass media with the “aim of legitimizing concern and discussion about the issues of peace and war among responsible citizens."
Issues Facing PREP
What issues did PREP focus their attention on, and how did they investigate these subjects? David Arnold’s piece, titled “Vietnam: Symptom of a World Malaise,” in the PREP Newsletter of May 1964, answers this question. Researching and writing methodically, PREP analyzed how the United States came to find itself increasingly involved militarily in Vietnam. This document opines that due to colonial powers historically imposing their will on Vietnam, the Vietnamese people grew increasingly frustrated with foreign intervention. This is an important topic to research: by establishing that this conflict, for the Vietnamese, represented much more than a war fought to humor ideological imperatives, as it did for the United States, but rather was a war for independence against a history of colonial oppression. Next, this document highlights the unjust actions of the United States government. “There were no nationwide elections… for a government supported by the greatest democracy in the world, the Republic of South Vietnam was proving to be amazingly undemocratic."
The methods used by PREP are important to note. PREP becomes a forerunner for the type of protracted, careful, constantly challenged political analysis that comes to define the early years of SDS. In a time where few of the American public had ever talked to Vietnamese citizens, accurate knowledge of the American military’s actions in Vietnam was difficult to verify. “There seems to be almost no Americans who understand the elementary facts about history and current conditions in Southeast Asia." Therefore, the method used on page 18 of the document is the perfect example of how PREP changed the methods used to enact political change, as PREP incorporated real testimony from the people of Vietnam. While this does not necessarily sound revolutionary, this new method of retrieving facts from people who have been to Vietnam allows for the Vietnamese perspective to be shared. In a war that clearly demonstrates the lack of knowledge, on the part of United States, of the people, history, or culture of Vietnam, hearing from Americans who have been to Vietnam and talked with Vietnamese citizens about these issues is pivotal to enacting real and significant change.
Lyndon B. Johnson's Influence
Johnson with Eyes Open, by Robb Burlage, is a useful document that allows readers to appreciate the origins of President Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as some critiques of his policies and politics. Published by the Political Education Project, a sister organization of PREP which was also sponsored by SDS, Burlage’s piece makes several incisive points about Johnson’s ascendancy to the Presidency. For example, Burlage observes that “LBJ is able to coast into office largely because people are appalled by the Goldwater candidacy." This crucial fact was reaffirmed repeatedly when participants of the first Teach-In of 1965 came back to Ann Arbor in March 2015 for a 50-year anniversary and conducted a series of Teach-Ins, reminiscent of the fateful innovation pioneered at the University of Michigan half a century earlier. Running on a peace platform guaranteed Johnson the Presidency in 1964: Americans saw the presidential race between Johnson and Goldwater as a debate between peace and war. Johnson’s public announcements always indicated this: his reservations against increased military presence or intervention in Indochina was clear. While dissatisfied with the the Democratic Party, the activists and professors who would eventually organize the Teach-In thought that they could go part of the way with LBJ.
In a quote that would, ironically, foreshadow Johnson’s unwavering foreign policy in Vietnam, Johnson argues that peace needs to be fought for: “Peace, like war, requires patience and the courage to go on despite discouragement." Throughout this April 17th, 1965 speech, LBJ argues that the American presence in Vietnam is necessary, to preserve the sanctity of South Vietnam, and that the American military force is only used in defense, and sparingly. Thus, LBJ paints himself to be doing only what he has to do, never overreaching the United States military. His statement after the Gulf of Tonkin incident is bitterly ironic: his claim that “we still seek no wider war” was made in full knowledge of increased war preparations. Shortly after the March 8th, 1965 deployment of 3,500 Marines, the U.S. drastically increased the number of troops on the ground in Vietnam, reaching 200,000 by December of 1965. The faith of liberals was shattered: their peace platform candidate had betrayed them. This inspired SDS to revolutionize activism: the concept of the Teach-In was born, and students would take a new hand in the political future of their country.
Citations for this page (individual document citations are at the full document links).
Doc 1: SDS Peace Project Proposal, pp. 1-3
Doc 2: PREP peace plan dec 1962, p. 1
Doc 3: PREP peace curriculum 1963, p. 1
Doc 4: “Vietnam: Symptom of a World Malaise,” PREP Newsletter May 1964, p. 15
Doc 5: “After the Cold War: the Promise and the Peril,” PREP Newsletter May 1964, p. 3
Doc 6: Johnson with Eyes Open, Robb Burlage, PEP 1964, p. 1
Public Papers of the Presidents; “Statement by the President: ‘Tragedy, Disappointment, and Progress’ in Vietnam. April 17, 1965” p. 430