Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
Every year from 1967 to 1971, the nation's capital was witness to a major march against the war in Vietnam. The largest of them all -- indeed the biggest anti-war demonstration in the nation's history -- occurred on Nov. 15, 1969. The government was prepared, calling in 3,000 police officers, 9,000 Army troops (kept out of sight in reserve), 200 lawyers and 75 clergymen. An excerpt from The Post of Nov. 16, 1969:
By Richard Harwood
Washington Post Staff Writer
One of the immense crowds of American political history -- a quarter of a million people by police estimate -- massed peacefully at the Washington Monument yesterday and demanded an end to the war in Vietnam.
Five blocks away in the barricaded White House, President Nixon officially ignored the enormous public demonstration, the largest Washington has ever seen. It surpassed in size the civil rights March on Washington in 1963 and was easily the largest -- and was perhaps the youngest -- anti-war crowd ever assembled in the United States.
Police Chief Jerry V. Wilson said his estimate of 250,000 people was "modest."
They came from all over the United States and were impressively tranquil except for small radical elements of Students for A Democratic Society and the Yippies (Youth International Party) who clashed with police Friday night and provoked another confrontation at dusk yesterday. It was staged at the Justice Department and was met with tear gas and advancing ranks of policemen after a Vietcong flag had been run up outside the office of Attorney General John N. Mitchell.
Demonstrators equipped for street-fighting smashed windows and threw a smoke bomb against the Justice Department building before they were dispersed by the tear gas that inflamed eyes and throats.
Several thousand unsuspecting marchers were led into the melee by the radicals. They fled from the scene as the gas hit. But the hard-core provocateurs -- about 1,000 -- held their ground, taunted police and finally broke up into marauding bands that made repeated sorties against police lines as the night wore on.
The nastiness of the scene was heightened by the contrasting atmosphere at the monument throughout the day. The 30 grass acres at the monument site overflowed with people -- nearly all of them young, white and apparently middle-class. Many of them compared the dominant mood of the great crowd to the atmosphere at the Woodstock rock festival last summer.
The crowd had been assembling here all week for two primary events -- the monument rally and a 40-hour "March Against Death" that ended at 8:30 a.m. yesterday after more than 40,000 people had passed quietly by the White House, reading from placards the names of Americans killed and villages damaged in Vietnam.
As the marchers placed their last placards in coffins at the foot of the Capitol, they joined the gathering crowds for the long, slow march down Pennsylvania Avenue and down the grassy Mall to the monument.