Tech in Wall Street, Innovative but Dangerous

Technology in Wall Street Leading up to the 1987 Market Crash

by Alex Glonti

Beyond the scope of socializing and personal entertainment, technology helps entire industries thrive. In the world of finances in October of 1986, the Stock Exchange Automated Quotation system was introduced to the London stock exchange. New tech created new possibilities and progress in the field of finances in Britain[1]. This progress in tech was felt on the other side of the pond as well. The mid-1970’s turned the American Stock Exchange into a different beast – computers and programs began to be at play and younger, bright, more equipped people were gunning for the jobs[2]. One can argue that technology almost always pushes us a step forward, however if not mitigated and controlled it is capable of inflicting enormous damage. The “Black Monday” incident of October 19, 1987 serves as a good example of how innovation and progress can be dangerous even though it’s often a necessity.

The couple of decades leading up to “Black Monday” and to the 1980’s computer infused stock trading had been starkly different from the way things were run on Wall Street during and since the stock market crash of 1987. The 1960’s on wall street were scarce of tech and machinery. Nobody seemed to like technology and in fact abhorred the thought of these machines being involved in their work[3]. People that worked on the Street thought they would get replaced by these new gadgets[4]. Things were picking up for the stock exchange during this period and in a major way. Between 1965 and 1968, the number of shares of stock that was traded had gone from 5 million to approximately 12 million. There was a reduction in the stock’s price that one needed to pay to acquire it. This brought numerous problems for the traders because now paperwork clogged the back offices on Wall Street and clerks were being pushed to the breaking point[5]. This was dubbed the “paperwork crisis” as nobody used computer programs to record transactions and trades – all the work was simply too overwhelming[6]. The beginning of the 1970’s was like how everything operated in the 60’s, acquiring computers for most companies was a long stretch as the ones available at the time were quite expensive[7]. Wall Street still generally stuck to adding machines and simple calculators for some time before the mid 70’s[8]. But a lesson was learned, Wall Street now geared towards a new age of efficiency.

By the mid to late 1970’s Wall Street had fully turned towards technological advancement. Apple and IBM were at odds with each other for the title of the best option for offices[9]. Computer companies such as IBM, Tandem, DEC were used on Wall Street for several purposes – ranging from security trade recording to communications[10]. Technology had permeated work spaces throughout America. This change was necessary and served the purpose of aiding in the field of finances. In 1972 the American stock exchange and the New York stock exchange had been in joint collaboration to create a company called SIAC, otherwise known as Securities Industry Automation Corporation[11]. SIAC was tasked with managing the trading and communication operations that were made by the two largest stock exchanges in the nation. SIAC helped Wall Street process transactions at a much faster rate[12]. Soon after, in 1973 the Depository Trust Company was established creating an electronic database of stock information – trading, ownership and transactions data. In 1975, consolidated tape was used on Wall Street. This tape would allow for the public to look at up-to-date information about stocks and securities[13]. These changes brought new players as well, pitting the old timers against the new blood[14]. Soon the technological boom stopped and Wall Street headed towards the 1980’s fully primed and operational.

The 1980’s were turbulent times on Wall Street. Trading volume had increased more than ever before. Large investments and company appropriations started to take hold as the Street was more opulent and money filled than ever. Wall Street was even showcased in the movie “Wall Street”, released December, 1987. “Greed… is good”, in the words of the film character Gordon Gecko[15], was a poignant slogan for the era. People had used technology to manage their securities and trades in the past, but now it was different. Floor-based trading was beginning to wane as technology introduced itself more and more on Wall Street. Fully electronic stock markets replaced floor trading for the most part and a new way of selling and buying was in action – program trading. Still used today, program trading’s simple explanation would be that it can buy or sell 15 or more stocks valued at over $1 million total. This program was pre-programmed by traders to automatically enter the number of stocks to buy/sell into the New York Stock Exchange electronic system based on the calculated index prices[16]. This has later been called stock index arbitrage and is widely linked to the stock market crash of 1987[17].

Technology has been kind so far to the workers and traders of Wall Street. Unprecedented efficiency levels were being reached as the volume of trade increased. Fate proved to be cruel to these businessmen however. There was an insider rumor that the stock market was going to drop. This rumor led to the banks raising interest rates, resulting in some company’s stock prices going down. Program traders had picked these signals up and automatically started to sell these stocks. Because of it being automated, these programs began to sell stocks of random companies and soon the stock exchange ran out of control[18], culminating with the market crash – Black Monday. “A lot of programs crashed because they weren’t used to handling such a large lion. The numbers were much higher, the loses were much higher. The programs didn’t work that night…”[19], there was no contingency plan that prepared the brokers for a tech malfunction, (‘Lion’ means number of trades). The Dow Jones value dropped a never witnessed 508 points[20]. The technology that was used had been trusted too much for someone to believe it going bad.

Nobody knew why the market crashed on the October Monday of 1987, every finance expert said it wasn’t natural[21]. “People that were rich became poor and a lot of people committed suicide, lost all their money. They jumped off buildings, bridges…[22]”, says Thomas Guardino who was a manager at the world trade center at the time. Indeed, there were two reported suicides during the market crash[23].

If Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board at the time, did not react as fast as he did – using the Fed money supply to keep the Nation’s economy afloat as everybody was losing money; the results would have been devastating[24]. Failure of Program Trading would collapse the entire economic structure of the U.S. More so the failure of oversight by the tradesmen of Wall Street. Technology has proved an invaluable ally to Wall Street, but in a matter of hours it could have been a cause of ruin. Progress is inevitable and needed, yet one should be ever-weary of progress and be able to control it in order to ensure a safe future.

Citations:

[1] Flinders, Karl. “The evolution of stock market technology.” Http://www.computerweekly.com. November 02, 2007. http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240083742/The-evolution-of-stock-market-technology.

[2] Schwartz, Robert A., John Aidan. Byrne, and Gretchen Schnee. Rethinking Regulatory Structure. New York, NY: Springer New York, 2013. 99-100

[3] Schwartz, Robert A., John Aidan. Byrne, and Gretchen Schnee. Rethinking Regulatory Structure. New York, NY: Springer New York, 2013. 99-100

[4] Interview with Thomas Guardino, Staten Island, NY, March 25, 2017

[5] Jones, Capers. The technical and social history of software engineering. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley, 2014. 117

[6] Gomstyn, Alice. “Remembering the 1960s Paperwork Crisis.” The Alert Investor. August 31, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2017. https://www.thealertinvestor.com/when-paper-paralyzed-wall-street-remembering-the-1960s-paperwork-crisis/.

[7] Gomstyn, Alice.”Remembering the 1960s Paperwork Crisis.” The Alert Investor. August 31, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2017. https://www.thealertinvestor.com/when-paper-paralyzed-wall-street-remembering-the-1960s-paperwork-crisis/.

[8] Interview with Thomas Guardino, Staten Island, NY, March 25, 2017

[9]Jack Doyle, “Apple, Rising:1976-1985,”
PopHistoryDig.com, May 10, 2010.

[10] Interview with Thomas Guardino, Staten Island, NY, April 20, 2017

[11] Shaw, Meredith. “Technological Advancements on Wall Street.” The History of Wall Street — The evolution of financial markets of the United States since 1865. April 24, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2017. http://meredithshaw.web.unc.edu/2015/04/24/72/.

[12] Shaw, Meredith. “Technological Advancements on Wall Street.” The History of Wall Street — The evolution of financial markets of the United States since 1865. April 24, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2017. http://meredithshaw.web.unc.edu/2015/04/24/72/.

[13] Shaw, Meredith. “Technological Advancements on Wall Street.” The History of Wall Street — The evolution of financial markets of the United States since 1865. April 24, 2015. Accessed April 30, 2017. http://meredithshaw.web.unc.edu/2015/04/24/72/.

[14] Interview with Thomas Guardino, Staten Island, NY, March 25, 2017

[15] Kulikowski, Laurie. “Wall Street, Then and Now.” TheStreet. September 24, 2010. Accessed April 30, 2017. https://www.thestreet.com/story/10870384/2/wall-street-then-and-now.html.

[16] Michael J. McGowan, The Rise of Computerized High Frequency Trading: Use and Controversy (Duke Law & Technology Review, 2010) 5

[17] Michael J. McGowan, The Rise of Computerized High Frequency Trading: Use and Controversy (Duke Law & Technology Review, 2010) 5

[18] Interview with Thomas Guardino, Staten Island, NY, March 25, 2017

[19] Interview with Thomas Guardino, Staten Island, NY, March 25, 2017

[20] Brands, H. W. American dreams: the United States since 1945. New York: Penguin Books, 2011. 265-266

[21] Brands, H. W. American dreams: the United States since 1945. New York: Penguin Books, 2011. 265-266

[22] Interview with Thomas Guardino, Staten Island, NY, March 25, 2017

[23] Rastogi, Nina. “Why aren’t we seeing any suicides on Wall Street?” Slate Magazine. September 22, 2008. Accessed May 01, 2017. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2008/09/wall_street_suicides.html.

[24] Brands, H. W. American dreams: the United States since 1945. New York: Penguin Books, 2011. 265-266

SELECTIONS FROM INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS

Interviews with Thomas Guardino:

  • Audio Recording, Staten Island, NY, March 25, 2017

Q. How did you start of your career on wall street, where did it all start for you?

A. ” Well to make it short, when I came out of high school I made a couple of bucks but I really didn’t have enough money to go to college because my parents were divorced and it would have been hard. So when I got out of school I went to work at an office job for a couple of months… There [Chester-Blackburn and Roder/Atlantic Lines – steam-ship company] gave an IQ test and I ended up with the best mark in the company… They sent me to school and taught me programming, but offices didn’t have any computers most of the time… This was in the beginning 70’s. The companies back then had adding machines, calculators, typewriters. but they wanted to get computers and [Atlantic Lines] wanted me to learn programming so I could set up the accounting systems… at the time I had no idea what the test was for… but later the boss came back to me and said, “you have the best mark here, were taking you to learn the business, to learn the computer, write the software and partner together”. At the time I was 19 years old… I had two private tutors in IBM at the time and that’s how I got into the computer business in the beginning. The interesting thing is… we had an office at Whitehall street which was downtown Manhattan near the ferry and they wanted to put their computer into the world trade center; we were moved there but it was being built then, the building. So my company got special permission to set up a room, there was just one door with no walls set up, just wires everywhere… they wanted to put the computer in there and I was working there by myself, nobody worked in the trade center then… But I got permission to go into the trade center, go to the test floor and to work in a building that wasn’t even fully constructed… I was the first to work there, not counting the port authority people… I worked on the [their] floor for a couple of months before they actually had the office ready; the tutors came there to show me how to work… All the people in the company resented me because they thought that the computers around would take away their jobs at the time, so nobody liked me… what happened actually was the computer was so much work in the beginning that it actually created many jobs – it wasn’t like today… you needed people to run the programs. You needed people for a lot of manual parts, like sorting the cards… so no one really lost their jobs at the time. Anyway, I worked there for about 8 years, since 1970. I worked in [Atlantic Lines] Miami office too… But the work became hard eventually, [Atlantic Lines] kept wanting more programs but they were too cheap to upgrade the computers so I had to constantly rewrite the programs and break them up. It became so hard that I was leaving work in the middle of the night… in 1978 me and my wife were going to have a baby but only the job was on my mind, so I told my wife that I had to get out of there because I couldn’t take it anymore. I was good at it but it was too much work…

So I got an interview for this company called SIAC[Securities Industry Automation Corporation] but I didn’t know that it was related to the stock market, in fact it was owned by two stock market companies and SIAC was the company that did all their computer work. So the New York Stock Exchange and the American Stock Exchange made this company called SIAC, but nobody knew that this company did all the trading and controlled everything that the stock market did on the trading floor…”

 

Q. How were things run at the job?

A. “At first we would come in at 4 AM and leave at 6 or 7, in 3 hours, but as the years went more people came for work and they added another shift… I eventually managed 3 shifts at SIAC. The place grew… A lot of people thought the stock market was wall street… but nobody knew SIAC did a lot of trading work for the companies, it was a part of the stock market… we did a lot of work for the stock market, but did work for big companies that were involved in the industry… we didn’t have a lot of work at the time, but everything was critical because if something didn’t work we had to escalate… the newspapers would actually wait for us to send the information out, we were the only source for the prices of the stocks they could put into their papers.”

Q. How did you make deals, sell/buy stocks and operate?

A. “Well back in the day everything was done by pencil… but in our time we used computers and thought the computers were the greatest thing ever, they weren’t powerful at all compared to today; they took up half the room… The memory, the processing speed was very slow and it cosst $20,000 to $30,000… The computers had all the opening and closing prices, all the trading information of the different stocks, we had to run programs and update the prices on the computers by the end of the day for the following day. There were a lot of print outs, we had to send reports to different trading offices… everything was done through big floppy cards and everything was put onto tape to save the information. But I saw that transition as I was working in the business – when they started eliminating the tapes.”

Q. What position did you hold in 1987?

A. “I was a manager at the American Stock Exchange which was the second biggest exchange in the country, New York was first…”

Q. Could you describe the trading process during that time?

A. “There wasn’t a trading floor, the banks would send their representatives to the trading floor and buy seats there to be able to trade. The prices for the seats were pretty high and there were about a thousand seats, the companies even traded each other for the seats… the trading floor had different levels like balconies, it looked like a movie theater. The big shots were on the higher levels and they had their clerks on the trading floor who they talked to with walkie talkies. They signaled for the people on the trading floor what they wanted to do, to buy or sell a stock… These clerks had cards they would mark up by pen and take them to the card readers on the floor and everything on the cards, the trading decisions and information was sent to SIAC. But these clerks didn’t get paid as the top guys did… in 1970’s they were doing the same thing, but they didn’t have all the computer programs so it had to be done with pen and pencil, but they had what they needed.”

Q. What was the reason the 1987 stock market crashed?

A. “Not too long before the crash, they introduced program trading… It became popular in the 80’s because if the stocks were going down or up the program trading would automatically sell or buy people stocks. This was being done through certain programs and they say these programs caused the market crash. Before that the stock market was doing pretty good… There were rumors the stock market was going to drop so the banks raised the interest rates because of the rumor. Some of the companies’ stocks started to go down because of the higher interest rates, the program traders they had automatically started to trade these stocks, keep selling… Soon program trading started selling stocks of all different companies, it was out of control. Then all the people that wanted to sell the stocks, they couldn’t do anything… nobody wanted to buy… But program trading, if id didn’t get out of control was very helpful, it just needed something to stop it. The market went down 20%… That’s why later they installed circuit breakers on every system. If percentages fell by a certain percent within a specific time, everything would shut down. But this was after the crash.”

Q. Who did the people blame, what were the repercussions?

A. “People that were rich became poor and a lot of people committed suicide, lost all their money. They jumped off buildings, bridges – they had families but committed suicide cause they lost everything they had in one day… They said there were a couple of murders, some brokers got murdered by people in the same industry.

It was the fault of panic and the automatic program trading. That’s what actually caused it.”

Q. What happened to you during the crash?

A. “They called me early that day because the “lion” was too high. The lion’s the number of trades… the amount of trading and selling of stocks was too high and prices went down too much. Everybody was selling. My shift was usually at 3 AM, but I came in at midnight – they called us early to come up with some strategy cause they knew a lot of the programs that ran in the night time that sent the data to the newspapers didn’t work… A lot of programs crashed because they weren’t used to handling such a large lion. The numbers were much higher, the loses were much higher. The programs didn’t work that night… We had to be on the phone all night with people, we stayed there all night because everything had to be done until the next day or the stock market couldn’t open. The press was waiting… This was “black monday”. I don’t think I left home that night… The programs took so long to run, everybody was worried we wouldn’t make the opening for the next day… That whole week programs were crashing, but we had ways to go around it, program substitutions…”

Q. Who did this affect mostly?

A. “The rich people were really affected, but normal people weren’t affected. We didn’t have a 401K and didn’t own stocks and bonds… For the most part rich people were affected and a lot of them committed suicide because of the crash. A lot of people took their money out, but the middle class wasn’t touched. I didn’t take out my money, because I knew things would come around, they always do…”

  • Audio Recording, Staten Island, NY, April 20, 2017

Q. What kind of computers did you use in the stock exchange?

A. “…We were using IBM 3, a lot of banks had that… Everything related to the hardware was duplicated, so if one part went down they had spare parts… We had two computer systems – one was for production and we had one for testing…

When I first started, the system that was really popular then, it’s company was called DEC (Digital Equipment Company)… We used PVP-1145 and then it was upgraded to a PVP-1170… There was another system also that was very popular called Tandem… This was in the late 70’s to the early 90’s… Now we probably got phones more powerful than those systems…”

Q. What was the situation around you on the floor during the crash?

A. “They (programmers/stock brokers) used to check the information on cards and give it to people on the trading floor, and then they would have to input that data into systems. So of course they had a tremendous amount of work, because the ‘lion’ was crazy… There was a lot of panic on the floor, but I didn’t see that for the most part. We were the operations department and we saw the systems and programs crashing because the ‘lion’ was too big. We had a lot of problems through the day because too much information was coming in and the systems would crash. We worked I don’t know how many hours that week because there was so much work to do…”

Q. Would you say technology and program trading in particular was the biggest reason for the crash?

A. “Actually it was one of the main reasons because when the markets started doing bad, program trading assumed that other things would happen and it automatically made people want to sell more… Automatic trading was a big problem with that because the technology at the time wasn’t able to stop this from happening…

Also even after that (market crash) we had lots of hardware and software problems… I remember one time the NYSE was down for almost the whole day and lost millions of dollars because of hardware issues…”

The Contested Legacy of an Economic Prophet

“I came kicking and screaming. I was saying, “Rural area? No way!”[1]  Susan Witt remembers protesting her move from lively and diverse Cambridge, Massachusetts to a cottage overlooking rolling hills. “I had no connection or experience with place before moving to the Berkshires, and then it kind of hit me full tilt.”[2]

Susan Witt and her husband, Bob Swann at their Berkshires home, 1981.
Courtesy of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics

In 1980, Witt founded the E.F. Schumacher Society (now the Schumacher Center for a New Economics) in rural Massachusetts with her husband, land reform pioneer Robert Swann.[3] Today, the think-tank implements the economic vision of Ernst Friedrich Schumacher in the Berkshires area. Schumacher, a German-born economist “who for years had preached the virtues of a more modest lifestyle,” has faded from national name recognition.[4] Yet, the ideas in Schumacher’s seminal collection of essays, Small is Beautiful influenced a generation of activists in an economy based on institutions that are “too big to fail.” For a moment in the late 1970s, Schumacher’s ideas polarized national attention. Today, the legacy of their is still contested between conservatives and progressives.

In a chapter called “Days of Malaise” in a post-1945 American history book, American Dreams, H.W. Brands described a bleak climax to the oil crisis in the 1970s: “’[t]he party is over,’ Schumacher declared, and millions of Americans nodded in sad agreement.”[5] Schumacher steps into Brands’ history to pull the curtain closed on a dream of growth and consumption. In his preface, Brands observes that at certain points in American history, “the dreams weren’t always sunny and hopeful…[they] began to waver and lose focus”.[6]  Was the emergence of Schumacher and the movements he inspired the end of a dream as Brands frames, or an opportunity for rebalancing in American values?

Schumacher on “Buddhist Economics” (Courtesy of the Schumacher Center, YouTube)

Brands and other survey historians highlight Schumacher’s role in an anti-consumerist counterculture but “Schumacherism” was claimed by groups across the ideological spectrum. Looking back from a festival in 2011 honoring Schumacher’s 100th birthday and legacy, Green Party politicians, activists, and academics echoed a sentiment that economic crises are an opportunity for radical change.[7] For radicals, “the worse things got, the better for their cause”.[8] Celebrating the same occasion, a conservative commentator contrasts the image of a hippy Schumacher with the economist’s background in Catholic social teaching: “[Schumacher] pleaded that in dealing with the contradictions and tensions of the world we needed wisdom that only the traditional virtues, such as prudence and temperance, can furnish.”[9] These virtues excluded women who “do not need an outside job” in Schumacher’s economy.[10] Small is Beautiful has been interpreted as vindication for both the conservative values of individuality and tradition and the progressive values of collective action and equity. These apparent contradictions break up a familiar understanding of the “Schumacher moment” as a reactive, lifestyle counterculture (see transcript excerpt below). Brands fairly displays what Schumacher was against but a diversity of groups and individuals involved in this period better discuss what the movement stood for.

“My entry was a pretty personal approach but I entered right into…the beginnings of a national movemen, so I’ll describe my personal entry but that’s not as important as the work I moved into,” prefaces Witt.[11] She remembers when the impact and collective identity of the “Baby Boomer” generation was recognized as TIME Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1966. She felt that she could go anywhere in the world and feel safe amongst peers – a global citizen.[12] A cosmopolitan identity contrasted with a rejection of urban life for members of the “back to the land” movement. Witt’s generation, who “sought fulfillment in personal reconstruction” over materialism, added momentum to Schumacher’s message.[13]

A generational feeling of fellowship complemented Witt’s specific education. A literature teacher, Witt found appreciation for the communal in her reading of “great books,” from Beowulf to Dostoyevsky.[14] The economy tells a story but Witt wasn’t convinced by its abstraction during a time when “the American economy seemed to have careened right off the curve into uncharted territory.”[15] Brands is referring to the Philips curve, an economic narrative which reassured policymakers that high unemployment would balance with low inflation and vice versa. Stagflation, when inflation and unemployment increased together, broke the logic of this story. Schumacher’s proposal for economic development centered on labor rather than capital-intensive “appropriate technologies” appealed to an economy looking for new answers in uncharted territory.

Witt turned on the radio, heard this message, and her life changed. In 1976, Witt’s grandfather passed away, leaving an inheritance which allowed her to take time off from teaching to explore where heroism exists in American society. She identified alternative economists as agents for social change because “the element America swims in is the economic.”[16] So, when Witt heard Bob Swann speaking about Schumacher’s vision for development, she drove to Swann’s Institute for Community Economics in Cambridge. Here, she staffed a Community Investment Fund, which stands as a rejection of Brands’ negative depiction of “sad agreement.”

Socially responsible investing coordinated post-war wealth with community projects. Witt makes an important distinction between the Community Investment Fund and screened investment funds – the Cambridge project made positive investments in renewable energy, cooperative experiments, and local businesses. Far from shaking her head, Witt remembers “a bubbling up of enthusiasm” for these Projects. [17] Although the Fund folded in 1979, departing board members “encouraged efforts…that became major vehicles that started the movement around social investing.”[17] Yet like other experimental projects, critics point out that this model for change was driven primarily by wealthy donors. Witt remembers a generation of new wealth, twenty-somethings who would come to the Cambridge office and whisper, “I just inherited a lot of money and I don’t want to use it like my parents did. Do you have some place to invest?”[18]

“Guilt money” does not fully illuminate the momentum behind Schumacher’s impact. Interest rates peaked again in the 1980s, approaching 20 percent.[19] Witt and Swann had just moved to the Berkshires and found local businesses crippled by an inability to get low-cost bank loans. The fledgling Schumacher Center implemented a micro-credit program, Self-Help Association for Regional Economy (SHARE), in which “citizens in the region contributed to a community savings account that stood as collaborative collateral for small loans the bank wouldn’t normally make.”[20] Witt was astonished when she reviewed the account to find micro-contributions from poor members of the community eager to help borrowers like them. The revelation follows a similar logic to inner city immigrant communities or rural African-American cooperatives lending amongst themselves, Witt observes. This history of communal, low-income involvement complicates a narrative that Schumacher’s ideas have been primarily implemented by a new middle-class.

Witt (left) at the SHARE office (date unknown)

Schumacher’s impact was not limited to popular movements and start-ups – for a time these ideas drove national dialogue. Swann helped coordinate the Small is Beautiful book tour which brought Schumacher to America. Despite high-level endorsements, concert hall audiences, and best-seller status, however, his ideas did not drive national action. President Carter, (in)famous for his condemnation of consumerism, was well aware of the limits to growth as articulated by Schumacher and the Club of Rome.[21] Brands focuses on Carter’s critics but sociologist Amitai Etzoni identified the president’s mandate: at this time “31 percent of Americans were “anti-growth” and 39 percent were highly uncertain.”[22] On March 22, 1976, President Jimmy Carter hosted Schumacher in the Oval Office. Democratic Senators Lee Metcalf and James Abourzek followed up with the president, urging that “the government should instead be encouraging the development of those approaches that offer real long-term solutions to our environmental, social and energy problems.”[23] One year later, California Governor Jerry Brown spoke at the economist’s funeral. Schumacher’s legacy seemed secured when Ronald Reagan railed against inappropriate scale. “Bigness robs the average citizen of his rightful voice,” Reagan claimed as a radio commentator in 1976.[24] Despite cuts within the government, the pendulum swung back toward consumerism and unrestricted capital during the Reagan administration.[25] As Schumacher faded from national attention, critics and supporters alike wondered if his call to “put our inner house in order” was enough for radical change.[26]

President Carter on consumerism (Courtesy of YouTube)

From Todd Gitlin’s “Small is Beautiful: Brown’s Economic Guru” 1976

The Trump brand gained prominence during the pendulum swing toward consumerism and bigness during the 1980s. The introductions of “bigly” and “yuge” into presidential vocabulary could not be further from Carter’s recognition of limits. President Trump’s victory was driven in part by malaise in manufacturing communities with a lack of community development that Schumacher would have likely decried. Grassroots trends toward localism have restored Schumacher’s vision but his impact is felt beyond the activist left.

 

Click here for information about Dickinson College’s socially responsible investment strategy.

Timeline:

[1] Phone interview with Susan Witt, April 14, 2017

[2] Phone interview with Susan Witt, April 14, 2017

[3] Biography of Susan Witt, Schumacher Center for a New Economics [WEB]

[4] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 197

[5] Brands, 197

[6] Brands, ix

[7] Jonathan Watts, “Mood of possibility defines E F Schumacher centenary festival” (The Guardian, 2010) [WEB]

[8] Brands, 228

[9] Joseph R. Wood, “Retroview: A Countercultural Conservative” (The American Interest, Volume 6, Number 6, 2011) [WEB]

[10] E.F. Schumacher, “Buddhist Economics” Small is Beautiful (Harper & Row, 1975), 57

[11] Phone interview with Susan Witt, March 29, 2017.

[12] Phone interview with Susan Witt, March 29, 2017.

[13] Robert M. Collins, More: The Politics of Economic Growth in Postwar America (Oxford University Press, 2000) [GOOGLE BOOKS]

[14] Phone interview with Susan Witt, April 14, 2017

[15] Brands, 197

[16] Phone interview with Susan Witt, March 29, 2017

[17] Phone interview with Susan Witt, April 14, 2017

[18] Phone interview with Susan Witt, March 29, 2017

[19] Phone interview with Susan Witt, March 29, 2017

[20] PBS Business Desk interview with Paul Solmon, “What Led to the High Interest Rates of the 1980s?” (PBS News Hour, 2009) [WEB]

[21] Phone interview with Susan Witt, March 29, 2017

[22] W. Carl Biven, Jimmy Carter’s Economy: Policy in an Age of Limits (University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 257

[23] Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (Macmillan, 2010), 93

[24] Lee Metcalf and James Abrozek, “Letter to President Jimmy Carter” (United States Senate, 1976) [WEB]

[25] William Greider, “Ronald Reagan: The Giantism Killer” (The Washington Post, 1981) [WEB]

[26] Greider

[27] E.F Schumacher, 297

Todd Giltin, “Small is Beautiful: Brown’s Economic Guru” (Mother Jones Magazine, 1976) [GOOGLE BOOKS]

Selected Transcript: Who was Schumacher?

Susan: [Schumacher] was an economist – what motivated him was economic thinking. He once said that he was in London watching lorries with Scottish biscuits being delivered at the same time watching lorries leaving London for Scotland with English biscuits. He said, “that’s just not economically sound.” We should be producing locally for local consumption as much as possible. So that’s the kind of thing that motivated him. At the same time, he called himself an energy economist because he worked for the English Coal Board and headed it. He realized that fossil fuels were disappearing and an economic system dependent on them would also disappear. It’s more the economist in him that came to that [conclusion] rather than simple living prophet which suggests more from a more lifestyle concern. It was this economic awareness permeating his thinking and his actions.

Sam: Where are the trends that mobilize Schumacher’s way of thinking today? Some of his work has been marginalized, Schumacher is no longer a household name. How would you explain the movement to a new audience?

Susan: Well, the “buy local” movement isn’t marginalized, that’s huge. While originally someone like Schumacher had deep philosophical and economic reasons or analysis that brought him to this, often the “buy-local” movement has become just a quality of life movement. So, [the attitude is that] the local beer is better rather than it creating a broader intention of serving all people – the overarching vision of the brotherhood of all mankind. We do our work hoping all people will have a better life [but that] has not quite gotten there. It’s still my quality of life, my personal quality of life. So I think that’s up to all of us who work in this movement, if you will, to make the broader connections, to bring in the responsibility again to all humankind. The responsibility to all places, not just our place. That’s up to us to tease that out of the simply “buy local movement” …we blame ourselves or see it as our responsibility to bring that out.

Sam: The popular image is that lifestyle argument but you’re saying it’s about something bigger.

Susan: Right, and it’s also about the consumer taking responsibility to help the producer… Instead of just sitting back and saying “if they produced it locally, I’d buy it.” Instead, it’s actually creating the conditions where the producer can thrive – the land, the legal permits, the technology, the marketing – how can we help make that happen? So citizens as active members and engagers in the economic system rather than as passive consumers.

United Mutations : High School Counterculture and Anti-War Activism in the Early 1970’s


By Amy Sparer

When Harlan Sparer was a high-schooler in Bellmore, Long Island in the early 1970’s, his mother had come up with a plan, as many mothers of soon-to-be –draft- eligible young men in the midst of the Vietnam War draft era might have done. She had begun thinking it up in the sixties, when the war began. The plan? “… for me to go to medical school in Canada when I got drafted, so that I would instantly become a Canadian citizen (…).” Sparer explained. [1] Upon noticing this, Sparer began to think about himself in relation to the conflict.  “I was coming to an age where they would actually want to include me in their lovely war and I realized I really kind of didn’t want to die,” he explained “As I’m watching the Vietnam War unfold I realize there’s really no logical reason for us to be there,” Sparer remembers [2], echoing the thoughts of many Americans at the time. In his historical review, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945, H.W. Brands explains that even members of “the establishment” began to question US involvement in Vietnam, including J. William Fullbright, a Democratic senator from Arkansas, who conceded “We just don’t belong there”. [3]

Long hair and facial hair were popular for those in the countercultural movement, as shown by Harlan Sparer (left) next to his younger brothers.

The persistence of this possibly useless war led to growing sentiment against the war – notably from a growing group of people who, as Brands describes, “embraced a lifestyle as far at odds with the prevailing middle-class culture as they could make it” complete with long hair, groovy music, unkempt clothing, and a particular proclivity for illicit substances. [4] Sparer cites such substances as his introduction into the hippie lifestyle: “When I started to actually buy and sell drugs, which is the best way, I figured out, to have them on hand whenever I wanted, I began getting involved with the counterculture,” he explained. “… after I started smoking marijuana, you know, everyone that I hung out with was against the war pretty much.” [5] He and his friends, who proclaimed themselves “United Mutations”, hung out in the band room, smoked, discussed the war, and associated with “various other sort of little gangs of itinerant, strange, hippie-type people that were countercultural in nature (…).” [6] This lifestyle was often recorded at college campuses, but Sparer’s experiences were strongly associated with his high school years. This was not necessarily uncommon either – high schoolers’ association with the countercultural revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s is documented – particularly in terms of activism. [7] It took a specific turn, though, especially due to the age and place in society of the individuals involved. According to Dionne Dann’s review of Gael Graham’s Young Activists: American High School Students in the Age of Protest, “the internal structure of high schools, along with the movements within the larger society, shaped the opportunity for high school students to scrutinize their place in society (…) despite the lack of a centrally organized movement, high school student activism was a “rights revolution” (p. 9) in which the students demanded increased rights within the framework of the high school.” [8]

Harlan Sparer representing his group: “United Mutations”

“Demanding increased rights within the framework of the high school” [9] is exactly what Sparer did. He and his friends’ first protest was against the decision of the school to limit access to the band room – “they didn’t want to let us go hang out in the music room after we were done eating lunch. (…) We got a bunch of people together and we just stared down the lunch ladies – we just stood around them and surround them and just gaped and stared. (…) After a while, with 30 kids surrounding them, they got uncomfortable and walked away and we went to the band room and that was the end of that rebellion, it worked pretty well.” [10] From here, Sparer’s high school activism continued, and became more political.  As Brands asserted, “The counterculture, as the phenomenon was called, wouldn’t have been so much of a counterculture if it meekly bowed to the opposition.” [11] True to this, Sparer and his friends founded an underground newspaper entitled “The Daily Mutation” with the help of their acquaintance, Irma, a young woman who belonged to Women Strike for Peace (WSP) and who had access to a Gestetner printing machine. [12] The paper, distributed mostly without school approval much to the chagrin of the Mepham High School administration, was “kind of goofy and kind of silly and kind of absurd” but was decidedly anti-war, even including advertisements for draft counseling in each issue. [13]

“The Daily Mutation” : Note the lower left hand section about Draft Counseling

Meanwhile, the war in east was looking dire once again. In 1970, Nixon expanded war activities into Laos and Cambodia in an attempt to carve into where the North Vietnamese troops had been taking shelter. [14] This decision was met with spectacular outrage. Brands asserts, “these efforts (…) got the attention of the antiwar movement in America. The Cambodian invasion sparked the largest protests of the war.” [15] Student protesting reached a new and terrifying high: violence broke out with student casualties occurring at both Kent State in Ohio and Jackson State in Mississippi. [16] By 1972, things were not looking up. The North Vietnamese launched the “Easter Offensive” that spring. [17] According to the Office of The Historian, Nixon’s response was to send “massive air force and naval reinforcements to bases in Indochina and Guam.” [18] The combination of these activities resonated with Sparer and his activist friends.

The gears began to turn.  “…we decided kind of had enough of Mr. Nixon and we kind of had enough of all this BS,” Sparer explained. [19] “…with proper lubrication with the correct amount of marijuana, we decided we were going to have a protest. We were going to organize a protest for the next week and we were going to have seven converging marches. So, we got people in each of three high schools and four junior high schools and we got them all to plan this march with us (…) we ended up meeting at Wellington C. Mepham High School, which was the most centrally located school – so all these different marches converging”, Sparer elaborated. [20] On the day of the protest, Wednesday, April 19th 1972, [21] the student protesters marched to Mepham High prepared for police intervention. Sparer recounted the event: “We went in a single file, a thousand of us and we surround the grassy field on the sidewalk and then when we gave the word (…) everyone rushed the grass and there were only 20 cops to try and stop us. Needless to say, they couldn’t physically stop the rush of a thousand high school and junior high school kids. So, we all sat on the lawn and the cops took out their bullhorn and said “You must disperse immediately, you’re all going to be arrested!” and a thousand kids, in unison, just broke into spontaneously “Hell no, we won’t go! Hell no, we won’t go!” (…)  The cops took us aside – they said “you’re obviously the leader of this group, come over here, we want to have a talk with you.” And so this cop paternalistically says to me and my friend Mark and my friend Jeff – “you guys! You can’t be on this school, we’re going to have to arrest all of you! Why don’t you just gather at the end of that cul-de-sac over there and we won’t bother you and you can have your demonstration over there.” [22] Sparer recalls his reply: “I said “what jail are you gonna put a thousand high school students in and how is that gonna look for you? You’re gonna have to book a bunch of underage kids, you know, you’ll have to deal with all the laws around arresting a minor. Where are you gonna put minors? You can’t put them in the jail. You don’t know what you’re talking about, you can’t incarcerate us. Now, we’re gonna go back to our demonstration. Have a great day.”[23] The protest made the front page of Long Island, New York’s local paper, Newsday, where they described the Mepham protest and local college protests in response to the renewed bombing campaign of Indochina. [24]

Newsday, April 20th 1972 : The Mepham High protest made the headlines

While the countercultural and activist mindset followed Harlan Sparer past his high school years, he conceded that the political aspect of the movement largely dissolved soon after the Mepham High protest when the war ended in ’73. [25] “I think generally speaking, somewhere between ’69 and ’70, there was a very big countercultural revolution that took place with anyone that was junior high school age or older where people kind of changed over and shifted over. By the mid-70s, I think, that effect was complete. The Vietnam War, when it ended, changed things a bit but it had already taken hold, and it slowly petered out in terms of the politics of it (…) by the late 70s, early 80’s it had pretty been done as far as it being a movement. There were people, you know, thinking it was groovy to do this or do that, but it wasn’t the same as when there was a political ideology attached to the marijuana smoking, to the wearing the jeans, to the wearing the t-shirt.” [26] It’s hard to say whether high school student activism had very direct influence on the Vietnam War or it’s ending. It can be hypothesized that protests in general influenced the decision making process of attempts to get out of the war. Either way, it’s clear that the work and attitudes of the counterculture population along with other anti-war activists in general impacted perceptions of the era of a whole.

 

Footnotes

[1] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 22, 2017

[2] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 22, 2017

[3] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 153.

[4] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 146.

[5] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 22, 2017

[6] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 22, 2017

[7] Dann, Dionne. Review: Young Activists: American High School Students in the Age of Protests by Gael Graham. History of Education Quarterly 47, no. 4 (2007): 510

[8] Dann, Dionne. Review: Young Activists: American High School Students in the Age of Protests by Gael Graham. History of Education Quarterly 47, no. 4 (2007): 510

[9] Dann, Dionne. Review: Young Activists: American High School Students in the Age of Protests by Gael Graham. History of Education Quarterly 47, no. 4 (2007): 510

[10] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 22, 2017

[11] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 147.

[12] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 22, 2017

[13] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 29, 2017

[14] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 170.

[15] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 170.

[16] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 170.

[17] Office of The Historian. “Ending the Vietnam War, 1969-1973.” (Last Modified????) https://history.state.gov/milestones/1969-1976/ending-vietnam

[18] Office of The Historian. “Ending the Vietnam War, 1969-1973.” (Last Modified????) https://history.state.gov/milestones/1969-1976/ending-vietnam

[19] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 22, 2017

[20] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 22, 2017

[21] “War Protests, Student Strikes Spread.” Newsday, April 20, 1972, 17.

[22] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 22, 2017

[23] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 22, 2017

[24] “War Protests, Student Strikes Spread.” Newsday, April 20, 1972, 17.

[25] Office of The Historian. “Ending the Vietnam War, 1969-1973.” (Last Modified????) https://history.state.gov/milestones/1969-1976/ending-vietnam

[26] Phone Interview with Harlan Sparer, April 22, 2017

Selected Transcript:

INTERVIEW 1: 4/22/2017

Now, I know that you were involved in sort of the countercultural movement in your high school years – can you just tell me more about what you were involved with?

“… my involvement with the counterculture began when I started smoking pot…when I started to actually buy and sell drugs, which is the best way, I figured out, to have them on hand whenever I wanted, I began getting involved with the counterculture. At that point, I started hanging out with my friends, who we later called ourselves “United Mutations” unlike all the other kids in high school back then who were all really interested in the grateful dead, or were interested in cars- those were the greasers, the hippies were involved with the grateful dead – and then the jocks were involved with athletics, of course, and the geeks were the ones that persisted – all they did was do math basically and hang out. And of course, I used to do some interesting stuff. We would get together periodically and get together in the band room- that was kind of a fun thing I would do (…) we would invent songs, and write and have lots of fun- playing music and inventing music and jamming (…) In the lunch room, I met my friends Mark and Scott and later Jeff and we ended up finding out that we each liked Frank Zappa (…) we started a garage band. This is because, in the 1970s, everyone had a garage band. And one of the things you did in the 70s was you’d get together with your friends and the notable time we’d get together with our friends was, of course, when our parents weren’t home, and then we’d have everyone leave just as the parents, just before the parents would arrive, hopefully, although in some cases that didn’t happen. So, we used to hang out with a group of people, we used to hang out, alternatively, at Jones Beach in the summer and at this park called Eisenhower Park, which used to be called Salisbury Park. This is in Nassau County, of course. And we would get together with these people, and, you know, we’d gradually got involved with both our rock band and our friends which were called the “Jones Beach Bums” which were a combination of groups like “the wheat chips” and “united mutations” and various other sort of little gangs of itinerant, strange, hippie-type people that were countercultural in nature (…).

Later on in school, we had the infamous lunch protest – that was the first protest we did. What they decided was that they didn’t want to let us go hang out in the music room after we were done eating lunch. (…) We got a bunch of people together and we just stared down the lunch ladies – we just stood around them and surround them and just gaped and stared. (…) After a while, with 30 kids surrounding them, they got uncomfortable and walked away and we went to the band room and that was the end of that rebellion, it worked pretty well. Drunk with our power, of course, later on, something else happened – Kent State happened, and, you know, four college students got shot by national guardsman in Ohio and Nixon announced that he was going to Bomb Cambodia. This is during the Vietnam War, and we decided kind of had enough of Mr. Nixon and we kind of had enough of all this BS, so we got together at this guy John’s house (…) of course with proper lubrication with the correct amount of marijuana, we decided we were going to have a protest. We were going to organize a protest for the next week and we were going to have seven converging marches. So, we got people in each of three high schools and four junior high schools and we got them all to plan this march with us. And of course one high school we’d march to, so they just were involved with shutting down the school (…) we ended up meeting at (…) Wellington C Mepham High School, which was the most centrally located school – so all these different marches converging. Now, we knew, as we were getting high, that the cops didn’t want us to close down the school and they were gonna try and stop us. So, we devised a plan: what we were gonna do was surround them, ‘cause we figured there was going to be around a thousand of us at least and they would only be around 10 or 20 cops. Well, we weren’t surprised: turns out there were about 20 or 30 cops and of course they bravely stood by the lawn in front of the school -We were all gathered kind of in a loosely aggregated group in the street – saying “you can’t get on the lawn, you have to go back”. We, of course, had our plan, so we did with this particular school (…) an old 1940’s built school – it had this big sidewalk surrounding the school and then it had these grassy fields surrounded by sidewalk (…). We went in a single file, a thousand of us and we surround the grassy field on the sidewalk and then when we gave the word (…) everyone rushed the grass and there were only 20 cops to try and stop us. Needless to say, they couldn’t physically stop the rush of a thousand high school and junior high school kids. So, we all sat on the lawn and the cops took out their bullhorn and said “You must disperse immediately, you’re all going to be arrested!” and a thousand kids, in unison, just broke into spontaneously “hell no, we won’t go, hell no, we won’t go.” And we kept saying that, of course. Needless to say, our disruption in the high school worked and everyone started hanging out the windows wondering what the heck was going on, because they knew what was going on, because they had been told – they’re like “Oh cool! It’s a demonstration!” and the cops took us aside – they said “you’re obviously the leader of this group, come over here, we want to have a talk with you.” And so this cop paternalistically says to me and my friend Mark and my friend Jeff – “you guys! You can’t be on this school, we’re going to have to arrest all of you! Why don’t you just gather at the end of that cul-de-sac over there and we won’t bother you and you can have your demonstration over there.” It’s a dead-end street, they wanted to let us sit on the concrete. And I said to the cop, I said “listen”, I said “what jail are you gonna put a thousand high school students in and how is that gonna look for you? You’re gonna have to book a bunch of underage kids, you know, you’ll have to deal with all the laws around arresting a minor. Where are you gonna put minors? You can’t put them in the jail. You don’t know what you’re talking about, you can’t incarcerate us. Now, we’re gonna go back to our demonstration. Have a great day.” And we walked back over and sat we down. We had our demonstration and we closed down the school.

Would you say the main motivation for that was the Kent State shooting?

Yeah, it was that and the Cambodia bombing.

What were your opinions, specifically, about the Vietnam War at that point?

Well, you know, it started a while back when they first started the Vietnam war in the 60s and I noticed that my mother had a plan – she had this plan for me to go to medical school in Canada when I got drafted, so that I would instantly become a Canadian citizen (…). As I’m watching the Vietnam War unfold I realize there’s really no logical reason for us to be there – and this was before I had become politically active in any way at all. And as time went on it became more of a focal point as I realized I was coming to an age where they would actually want to include me in their lovely war and I realized I really kind of didn’t want to die. Dying wasn’t me, as Woody Allen would say. That’s just not me. And so, I realized that I didn’t like this idea of a war and as time went on and I became a little more politically astute – although in 1968 in the student election I had voted for Richard Nixon, by the time 1969 came around, I started listening to what was happening with Eugene McCarthy and with the countercultural movement and I became infinitely more sympathetic as I titled more in that direction from just the media, my surroundings, my peers and it moved me to the point where after I started smoking marijuana, you know, everyone that I hung out with was against the war pretty much. Everyone pretty much came of a political nature. We all wanted to wear t-shirts and blue jeans and, you know, not be dressed up and, you know, not be like everybody else was. We wanted to be countercultural and I think generally speaking, somewhere between ’69 and ’70, there was a very big countercultural revolution that took place with anyone that was junior high school age or older where people kind of changed over and shifted over. By the mid-70s, I think, that effect was complete. The Vietnam War, when it ended, changed things a bit but it had already taken hold, and it slowly petered out in terms of the politics of it. The marijuana smoking, of course, continued for a while afterwards. But by the late 70s, early 80’s it had pretty been done as far as it being a movement. There were people, you know, thinking it was groovy to do this or do that, but it wasn’t the same as when there was a political ideology attached to the marijuana smoking, to the wearing the jeans, to the wearing the t-shirt.

(… )the war pretty much wound down and ended. Pretty much as that went on. It wound down… basically it wound down because we lost. So, people didn’t make as big a deal out of it because they realized it was gonna end anyway. But it was upsetting to everybody because there were all these people getting killed and why? What were we gaining out of that?

(…) There was a special handshake we had. Oh yeah, if you were in the counterculture, you gripped the other person’s thumb. It was a different handshake, and you knew someone was cool when they gave someone that handshake. So there was that. Clothing was really important too. There was a dress code. It was funny because Burnt Weenie Sandwich, that first album I had? This guy is screaming at this cop and says “you’re wearing a uniform, take off your uniform!” and Zappa makes fun of the guy. He says, “everyone in this room is wearing a uniform and don’t kid yourself.” Because it was the uniform at the time was a t-shirt and a pair of jeans – and the jeans had to be kind of raggedy- like not new. Worn jeans and a t-shirt – that was the uniform. Or a pair of cutoff shorts, it had to be denim. So that was the uniform. There were bellbottoms too. But see, the thing is that everyone wore bellbottoms after the fact. But in 1970 and 71 it was a statement to wear bellbottoms.

(…)It was all nonviolent protests. No one was hurting anyone no one was advocating hurting anyone we were just expressing ourselves in a nonviolent fashion. (…) I think we should all be able to express our opinion no matter what it is. As long as we’re not advocating harming another person. Now, when you wanna advocate harming somebody, its no longer non-violent protest. But, you know, we took a page out of Gandhi’s work and later Martin Luther King’s work by what we did and I think that nonviolent protest to this day is a very effective means of protest. (…) So, yeah, there’s nothing wrong with nonviolent protest. We did a lot of that. And that was a hallmark of the countercultural movement. It was that, it was marijuana and it was music. Those were the three big things that happened together, along with our dress code – and free love. (…) no harm to anybody – just fun and enjoyment and pleasure.

INTERVIEW 2: 4/29/17

I know that you had organized an underground newspaper. Can you tell me a little more about that?

“We had this band at the time, and we had just started, it was a little garage band called ‘The Magic Lepers”. And we were really enjoying having the band. And we decided one day that it would be fun to have an underground newspaper (…) and we wanted it to be political, too – against the war. So we got a hold of this woman, Irma Zeigus (spelling?), who we had run into from our anti-war activities, from my political activities. And Irma Zeigus was the local head of this organization called Women Strike For Peace, which was an antiwar organization of adults. And they happened to have a Gestetner stencil machine (…) and that’s how you printed things back then. (…) and so we seriously began writing, and we had several of us all writing together and having a good time with it. (…). We got the copies fresh off the presses from Irma, and it had dried out properly and we went right to the parking lot where all the students at the high school were and everyone knew it was coming and they were all anxious to read it. And in the morning, right before school, we just started giving it out to everybody. (…) At one point, I had built up enough of a reputation at Mepham High School that the vice principle there, who wasn’t the tall, broad shouldered type, but he was kind of a hatchet guy – his name was Thomas McQuillan and he was their enforcer – so we went to some program and I went there with my cabbie’s cap and my long pigtails to “Rap ‘n’ Rec” it was called – it was like, you know, for teenagers to hang out, it was an anti-drug thing. So of course we would all smoke lots of pot and then go to Rap ‘n’ Rec. It wasn’t exactly working as they thought. Bu, anyway, so I go in there and McQuillan says to me, “take your hat off!” and I said “no”. He said “I want you to take your hat off! You’re in a public place, take your hat off!” and I said “ No! I don’t have to take my hat off, it’s a free country.” And I proceed to walk. So he calls over his janitor – his name was Bumpy. Bumpy got a hold of me and started beating up on me, threw me out of the Rap ‘n’ Rec and threw my hat, which fell off, after me. Needless to say, we had the power of the press. So the next day I wrote an article called “Hats off to you, McQuillan!” (…).  We had a good time with the underground newspaper and people enjoyed reading it and it was kind of goofy and kind of silly and kind of absurd. And there was always something about draft counseling and anti-war in it. So, that’s kind of how we rolled back then in the underground newspaper world.

(…) “My mother got a phone call (…) he said “you realize your son organized this demonstration! And he’s a communist!” She said “I’m proud of what my son did and I support what he did! So, you know what? I don’t care! And she smashed down the phone on “The Cobe”. And “The Cobe” probably didn’t know what to do at that point, because his terror program was not going to succeed.”

 Do you think that there was a cultural gap there generationally generally?

I think there was one of them with the hippie movement (…) that was a massive generational change. (…) I think you see the very beginning of that change in the 60s when, you know, people were watching TV a lot and TV started to influence them. Music started to influence them and you know music was a massive influence in the late 60s. The use of marijuana also had a very very significant effect, in my opinion because I know for me, culturally, when I started smoking pot with everybody, that’s when I started to change my attitude. And it wasn’t the marijuana itself that was doing it, frankly, because if it were, it would continue to make changes. But it was the coupling of the countercultural movement with that and the fact that it was illegal. And you know even though we were protesting against the marijuana laws in the 1970s, you don’t really see the impact of those protests in the 1970s. but when those people grew up now you start to see the impact of those people. Those people now are in a position where there are a lot more of us and we’re more in a position of influence.

 

The American Intervention in Grenada: The Story that Adds to and Counters History as we Know It

What actually happened to the American Medicial Students?

By: Dana Marecheau

Dr. Merle Collins, now a professor at the University of Maryland, was heavily involved in the Grenadian Revolution. She is most known for working within the Grenadian Government as the Coordinator of Research on Latin America and the Caribbean. She later left Grenada in 1983, the same year of the American Intervention.[1] During our interview, Dr. Collins mentions, “People [general public of Grenada] were less concerned with ideological discussions [by the Coard/ Bishop factions] than with the everyday rewards they could see – more access to education, more scholarships for their children, whether those scholarships were in Cuba, Britain, India or the Soviet Union. Today there are many excellent doctors and civil service personnel in Grenada, trained in Cuba during that period of radicalization”.[2] This sparked my interest considering that H.W. Brands in his book, American Dreams, mentions that the U.S feared the growing relationship between Grenada, Cuba, and the Soviet Union. This was triggered by the construction of an “unusually long runway, one suitable for heavy Soviet transport or tourist-filled airliners [as Bishop rejoined]”.[3] Brands provides the reader with minimal details about the events prior to and after the American Invasion. Further intrigued by lack of details H.W. Brands provides and Dr. Collins’ comment, I went on to interview Rubert Bishop. His memories of the American Intervention, provides additional information that challenges the accounts publicized by the American government.

Rubert Bishop worked at the Grenada Prison Service as a prison guard. During his time as a prison guard, Maurice Bishop was the prime mister. Rubert recalled his rise to political power; to him the most memorable televised speech made by Maurice Bishop was one regarding education reform. Rubert describes Maurice Bishop as a “dynamic speaker”, then he exclaimed, “The tone of speech, and so on, the fluency in speech, and the knowledge of the topics were remarkable! He was one of the best I have ever heard”.[4] On March 13, 1979, Maurice Bishop seized power with the support of the New Jewel Movement.[5] When the U.S. refused to provide aid for military defense and offered only limited economic assistance, Maurice Bishop sought out help from other countries, Cuba being one of them. [6] The U.S viewed this act as threatening, but to Rubert, Maurice Bishop was concerned about developing his country and would take assistance from anyone to do just that.[7]

Brands mentions that “Maurice Bishop had cultivated warm relations with Cuba”,[8] but the objective of this relationship was misconstrued. Maurice Bishop and his party implemented socialist programs on the island, and he continued to receive support from Cuba. One result of this program included the increase in the literacy rate, which went from 85%, to about 98%.[9] While working at the prison, Rubert facilitated a literacy program for prisoners that aided in the increase of literacy rates in Grenada. The supplies utilized in this literacy program, which consisted of books and other education tools, were provided by Cuba. Rubert remembers how impressed he was by one prisoner who took advantage of the opportunity to receive his “old levels”- an equivalate to a high school degree. Rubert said, “We were able to get the papers for him to study, and take the test, and so on”. [10] Cuba’s generosity did not stop there, they contributed about 500 Cuban airport workers, advisors on every aspect of society, culture and technology, doctors who treated about half of the Grenadian population and trained Grenadians to become doctors, and over 200 scholarships to Grenadians to study in Cuba.[11] Rubert Bishop felt the direct impact of this because he accepted a scholarship to study prison administration in Cuba. [12]

Comic Propaganda spread by the CIA about the American Intervention in Grenada (front cover)

The construction of a new airport caught the U. S’s attention as Ronald Reagan cited an extra-long, military-aircraft-friendly runway. This was later used to justify the American Intervention.[13] Rubert strongly disagreed with the U. S’s assumption; “they [the U.S.] also were saying they [Grenada] was building a military base… this was not true at all! Grenadians were excited to have a new airport because we didn’t have an international airport. At the time, we only had this small airport in Grenville… it was called Pearls Airport. I remember Maurice Bishop use to speak about wanting bigger planes to come. That was one of his primary goals to get that airport, and he did get assistance from the Cubans to come build that airport. The air strip was completed at the time of the intervention”. [14] Rubert’s account of this highlights the how the U.S misinterprets Cuba’s assistance. Overall, the U.S thought that Cuba was assisting Grenada in developing and increasing its militarization, but this was not the case.

Then, on October 19, 1983, Bernard Coard, placed Maurice Bishop and other moderates under arrest. During a protest by people who supported Maurice Bishop, army troops massacred dozens of protesters, executed Bishop and two other cabinet members.[15] On the day of Maurice Bishop’s assignation, Rubert Bishop recalls working in the prison. Since the prison, he worked at was located on a high hill, he could look down at Fort Rupert. Hearing all the commotion from the prison, Rubert grabbed a binocular to see soldiers shooting through the crowd; “I remember seeing a gap between the crowd indicating that bullets were going through that area”. [16] Reagan administration feared that the chaos, threatened the medical students studying at a university in St. Georges.[17] But again Rubert claimed the U.S exaggerated this; “The truth is the whole thing was distorted…at no time were the students at risk. Matter of fact there had soldiers ensuring their safety… yes, they had Grenadian soldiers ensuring their safety. We were surprised that American said that they were at risk… no one was attacking them there was nothing like that… that was definitely a lie!”[18]

US 82nd Airborne Division soldiers during the Invasion of Grenada, code named Operation Urgent Fury October 25, 1983 in St Georges, Grenada

Lastly, on November 25th, 1983, Coard’s government collapsed and was replaced by one the U.S deemed as acceptable[19], Additional Brands supports this notion as he says, “the White House claimed a victory for freedom and helped a conservative successor government clean up the mess the invasion cause”. [21] But according to Bishop, the successor that was put into power did the opposite, and  Rubert Bishop did not anticipate the long-term repercussions that were to come. Rubert Bishop recounts, “Right after the intervention what the American did … they [United States] put the GMP in place to run the country. He was not progressive, neither was he interested in the development of the country. They were actual installed after the Intervention and they actually brought down the country!… a lot of people did not like them”[20].

Overall, Rubert Bishop’s accounts of events before and after the American Intervention adds to the narrative Brands creates in his book, American Dreams. In addition, both Brands and Rubert distinctive perceptions, create a well-rounded remembrance of the American Intervention in Grenada. From Rubert Bishop’s point of view, as a citizen of Grenada, the American Intervention further perpetuated the decline of the country economically, especially as the U.S appointed a political figure that did not have the countries’ interest in mind. One the other hand, the U.S views the Grenadian Intervention as victory in their attempts to fight against communism. In fear that communist countries like the Soviet Union and Cuba were trying to expand and manifest their power, the U. S’s was to prevent this.

Works Cited:

[1]Peepal Tree Press. “Merle Collins.” Merle Collins | Peepal Tree Press. Accessed April 23, 2017. http://www.peepaltreepress.com/authors/merle-collins.

[2] Interview with Professor Merle Collins (email), April 1st, 2017

[3] Brands, H. W. American Dreams: The United States since 1945. New York: Penguin Books, 2011. (247)

[4] Interview with Rubert Bishop (phone conversation), April 18th, 2017

[5] Zunes, Stephen. “Global Policy Forum.” The US Invasion of Grenada. October 2003. Accessed April 26, 2017. https://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/155/25966.html.

[6] Zunes, Stephen. The US Invasion of Grenada

[7] Interview with Rubert Bishop (phone conversation), April 18th, 2017

[8] Brands, H. W. American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (247)

[9] Zunes, Stephen. The US Invasion of Grenada

[10] Interview with Rubert Bishop (phone conversation), April 18th, 2017

[11] Puri, Shalini. Grenada revolution in the Caribbean Present. Place of publication not identified: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. (177)

[12] Interview with Rubert Bishop (phone conversation), April 18th, 2017

[13] “1943 Pearls Airport: Grenada’s First Airport.” Caribbean Aviation. November 19, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2017. https://caribaviation.net/2016/07/22/1943-pearls-airport/.

[14] Interview with Rubert Bishop (phone conversation), April 18th, 2017

[15] Zunes, Stephen. The US Invasion of Grenada. October 2003

[16] Interview with Rubert Bishop (phone conversation), April 18th, 2017

[17] Zunes, Stephen. The US Invasion of Grenada. October 2003

[18] Interview with Rubert Bishop (phone conversation), April 18th, 2017

[19] “United States invades Grenada.” History.com. Accessed April 26, 2017. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/united-states-invades-grenada.

[20] Interview with Rubert Bishop (phone conversation), April 18th, 2017

[21] Brands, H. W. American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (247)

Oral History Project

1950s Hospitality and Hurricane Season

By: Ashlyn B. Buffum

Sydney Hinkle Buffum and her parents got a lot of questions about what she was doing with her life. Her parents would often say, “Oh she is married to a hotel man. They summer up in Rhode Island and winter down in Florida.”[1] Sydney and Robert C. Buffum helped Robert’s father, Frederick C. Buffum, run the family hotel, the Weekapaug Inn, until they took full ownership around 1965. During the era when they were apprenticed to the family hotel business, the 1950s became another boom for the hotel business, the middle class, and tourism. Despite this boom, during the1954 hurricane season the prosperity came to a screeching halt.

During the 1950s, the country was just coming off World War II and the Great Depression. The U.S. was experiencing a time of return to an emphasis on domestic life, a baby boom, and another technological revolution. Modern highways helped promote tourism, but older modes of transportation still mattered.  Buffum recalls, “people drove from the Midwest to come here [Rhode Island], but they also took the train”.[2]  She notes that many visitors arrived in this more traditional fashion from states “in the middle of the country,” like Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. [3] The ease of travel which was helped by the highway system resulted in more travelers.

 

A 1950s tourism add for Rhode Island (1955)

With this rise in highway systems and cars, the roadside motel became popular. “Families of the broad middle class took vacations, usually by car. They stayed at motor hotels—“motels”—located on highways rather than near downtown rail depots”.[4] Not only does car travel evolve, but also jet and planes. Spending money on ones children and vacations became the norm especially with the opening of Disneyland.[5] The 1950s were a “golden age” for tourism and the resort businesses around the country.[6] Vacationing families sought freedom from care, a complete rest, relief and recuperation.

Other new technologies evolved as well to help make the guests experience easier and more enjoyable. For example, in the Weekapaug Inn of the 1950s, there was a communication device called “an enunciator”.[7] Buffum recollects the many uses for the machine and says “ people that were in the hotel room had a wire that came and they had a box in the back office. If somebody rang the buzzer for ice or something like that the little arrow would flip up to the room number and then the bellhop would run down the hall and would get to the door and ask what he or she wanted. If they said they wanted ice, then he would take their ice bucket and go down and bring it back. He would get a tip on that. That would go on every single night”.[8]

It was a time for the hotels to be family run and “interactive” for guests. One of the rising inventions of the 1950s was the TV. Despite the rise of TV, there still might not be a TV in every room. Instead there was a singular room with a common TV which guests could use collectively. This results in televised events being shared by the guests as a collective body. Televised sporting events also rose in popularity during the 1950s. “Many sports events during the decade of the 1950’s were telecast during the day on weekends”.[9] The hotels would also have events like, “Saturday dances”.[10] Buffum remembers “ We would have a funny little band. They would clear all the tables and chairs out of the Sea Room and people would all dance Saturday night”.[11]

Another aspect of 1950s hotels that adds to the “interactive” experience for guests are communal bathrooms that are sometimes within hotels or motels. An example of this room set up can be seen on top floor of the Weekapaug Inn. This floor was known as the Bridge.[12] Though Sydney and Robert soon found a fatal flaw with the Bridge bathrooms when, “One very naughty boy and most rowdy was a minister’s son and he went in one time to the ladies’ room and he went under the stall doors. He locked all the doors. Then in the morning when all the women woke up and went to the bathroom they found all of the doors locked. All the old ladies didn’t think to crawl underneath the stall doors”. [13]

Vacationists coming to New England are primarily coming for “the peace and quiet of the ocean, bathing, mountain scenery, or rolling meadowland”, but during the 1954 summer season for hotels was anything but.[14] The first sign of trouble happened during June of the 1954 hurricane season. “A tropical storm developed rapidly in the west Gulf of Mexico on the 24th of June and by early on the 25th was of hurricane force. It moved inland south of Brownsville, Tex., early on the morning of the 25th”. [15] This storm would be called Alice.[16] Next came hurricane Barbara, which hit the coast of Louisiana.[17] Another storm started to brew in the Atlantic Ocean, but no one knew how dangerous it would become. “The system developed from a tropical wave over the northeast Bahamas on August 25, 1954”. [18] The New England resort community and residents had been lulled into a sense of security during the rising prosperity of the 1950s. The residents of New England had forgotten the devastation of the 1938 hurricane. “No one had experienced that before. Of course ships had went down before, but nothing had really destroyed the land”.[19] Hurricane Carol hit the coast of New England on August 31, 1954. [20]

Photograph of Hurricane Carol
hitting the Coast of New England

As recounted in Robert Buffum’s book, a guest named Micky McQueenie Mathews recalls her experience in the hurricane, “That first summer I was to fall in love with this place of sunshine and the occasional storm. Along with my parents and four siblings we were spending a months vacation at the Inn when hurricane Carol hit with her fury. Upon arising I remember a few families packing their cars and heading for higher ground. I thought, “what sissies they are”—there is such excitement about a hurricane, especially when you are 14”. [21]

Robert Buffum, himself, recalls looking at the Weekapaug Inn during the storm, “The Inn was like a ship in deep water—pointing the way! There she is with guests aboard, pointing her bow into the sea and wind. Almost it appears looking toward the beach where the first inn was born and destroyed, saying, ‘I’m here, staying strong to protect those aboard’”.[22]

Hurricane Carol ripped through New England with force, “highest winds were at Block Island, RI where 130 mph was measured in gusts” and up into Canada [23]. The damage from the 1954 hurricane was tremendous. “The storm left 60 dead and over 460 million dollars of damage to property and crops in the North Atlantic States”. [24] Sydney remembers the damage that her little family endured during a storm and the damage that a hurricane can swiftly cause. Their 38-foot trimaran, Wings. “It was in the Stonington Harbor, but it dragged because it flipped over on one hull and then of course the trampoline and stuff in between acted like a sail. She had two hulls and one hull was up in the air and the trampoline between the two acted like a sail. The wind was coming down the Stonington Harbor so it just blew the boat right a shore and the water pushed the boat up onto the railroad tracks. We didn’t see the boat until the next day. We went to go look at it and someone came and said, “What is this boat doing on the railroad tracks” and of course Grand Bob [Robert C. Buffum] with his great sense of humor says, “Oh she was trying to get a ride on the train [down to New York]”.[25]

The day after newspapers began to report the damage of Hurricane Carol. Some of the numbers are too large to even comprehend. The front page of a paper later reads, “By states the number of affected families was given as 6,000 in Rhode Island, 3,760 in Massachusetts, 1,200 on Long Island in New York and 825 in Connecticut” [26]

Finally, Eisenhower calls a relief effort for the victims of the hurricanes. One newspaper reports, “President Eisenhower today ordered the federal civil defense administration “cut through any red tape” to provide aid for victims of the hurricane which hit the northeaster section of the United states [27]

New England Historical Society
Photograph of the aftermath

Finally when all the rain, wind, dust, and debris settled, there were 7 hurricanes that hit the Americas in the 1954 hurricane season. Hurricane Carol and Hurricane Hazel were so bad that their names were retired from further use.[28] The 1954 Hurricane season was one of the worst that ever hit the coasts of the United States. The 1950s was a time of both prosperity and destruction.

[1] Phone Interview with Sydney Hinkle Buffum, April 24, 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 80.

[5] Ibid, 73.

[6] Phone Interview with Sydney Hinkle Buffum, April 24, 2017.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Keller, Richard. “Sport and Television in the 1950’s: A Preliminary Survey,”29

[10] Phone Interview with Sydney Hinkle Buffum, April 24, 2017.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Tranquility of New England Vacation.” New York Times, 10 May 1959, 33. [ProQuest]

[15] Walter R. Davis, “Hurricanes of 1954”, Monthly Weather Review (1954):370

[16]Ibid.

[17]Ibid.

[18] “1954-Hurricane Carol,” Hurricanes: Science and Society, accessed April 23, 2017, http://www.hurricanescience.org/history/storms/1950s/carol/

[19] Phone Interview with Sydney Hinkle Buffum, April 24, 2017.

[20]Davis, 370.

[21] Robert C. Buffum, The Weekapaug Inn: The Best of All Possible Worlds (Robert C. Buffum, 1999), 123.

[22] Ibid, 123.

[23] Davis, 372.

[24] Ibid, 372.

[25] Phone Interview with Sydney Hinkle Buffum, March 22, 2017.

[26] “11,785 Families Hit By Hurricane,” Daytona Beach Morning Journal September 9, 1954, 22.

[27] “Ike Tells CD Chief to Cut Through Red Tape” Spokane Daily Chronicle September 1, 1954, 1.

[28] “Retired Hurricane Names Since 1954,” NOAA, accessed April 27, 2017, http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutnames_history.shtml#retired

 

 

Selections from Interview Transcripts

-Phone Interview with Sydney Hinkle Buffum, March 22, 2017

Transcript

Q: Where were you when you heard that the Hurricane was coming?

A: We heard that the hurricane was coming and from Goshen, CT we drove down. We wanted to help since it was the first time they had gone through the hurricane since 1938.

Q: Were any of your possessions lost or damaged during the 1954 Hurricane season?

A: We did lose a bout up in Stonington it went up on the tracks. It tipped over. It was our Trimaran, Wings . We were not on the boat at the time it was broken. We took it out and tied it off as well as we could in the harbor over in Stonington. It was in the Stonington Harbor, but it dragged because it flipped over on one hull and then of course the trampoline and stuff in between acted like a sail. She had two hulls and one hull was up in the air and the trampoline between the two acted like a sail. The wind was coming down the Stonington Harbor so it just blew the boat right a shore and the water pushed the boat up onto the railroad tracks. We didn’t see the boat until the next day. We went to go look at it and Someone came and said, “What is this boat doing on the railroad tracks” and of course Grand Bob with his great sense of humor says, “Oh he was trying to get a ride on the train [down to New York]” We came by and picked it up and took it back to Cape Cod where it was rebuilt.

Q: Did the Weekapaug inn receive any insurance money for damages?

A: The insurance claimed that they wouldn’t pay. After the 1938 Hurricane he made sure to insure the new one [Weekapaug Inn] so that if anything would happen the insurance would cover the cost the repairs. Well they read the contract and it said if the occurrence or problem is off premises then the insurance statement does not have to cover the thing and the insurance salesmen didn’t tell him.. Of course the electricity went off from the wire that came down from Westerly and the town water didn’t work either, but that wasn’t on premises so they wouldn’t pay. So Grand Bob lost a whole weekend and then the people that piled out of there afterwards that didn’t come back for the last weekend of the season. So he lost quite a bit of money, but he didn’t lose a single shingle off the inn. So he actually the only thing he wanted was to get some restitution from money fast. Actually the insurance man was very upset because he didn’t realize that that was really a possibility. That he was only insured if the damage happened on premises. He didn’t read his own insurance policy. You have to read those things yourself sometimes. He [the insurance salesmen] felt very badly about it and he tried to do as much as he could, but it still didn’t help at all. I think they gave him a little bit more money then they ordinarily would have, but they didn’t have to pay the full amount that he lost.

Selections from Interview Transcripts

-Phone Interview with Sydney Hinkle Buffum, April 24, 2017.

Transcripts

Q: Was anything done to prevent this from happening again?

A: A westerly family had lots going down the beach and those that bought them. Bob went around and tried to get everyone to give back their beach area and create an association that they have now. And that’s why they own the beach because people gave them their land, which was no good to them really. The water washed over the whole bank along there. So nobody ever built out there. Bob said “no one is going to be allowed to build out here again” because lives were lost. He went around and got people to sign petitions that the land would never be built upon.

Q: What was the travel experience like in the 1950s?

A: People drove from the Midwest to come here, but they also took the train. There was a lot of people that came from the middle of the country, Illinois, Idiana, Ohio. It was a lot easier for people to travel. It was a golden age…No one had experienced that before. Of course ships and had went down before, but nothing had really destroyed the land

Q: What did people say about what you were doing?

A: What is Sydney doing? Oh she is married to a hotel man they summer in up in Rhode Island and winter down in Florida.

Q: Did you and Grandfather do anything special while you were running the Inn?

A: We carried on the traditions of the Inn. They always had Saturday dances at the Inn. We would have a funny little band. They would clear all the tables and chairs out of the Searoom and people would all dance Saturday night.

Q: Are there any differences in the hospitality business now vs. then?

A: there was a buzzer system. It’s called an enunciator. The people that were in the hotel room they had a wire that came and they had a box in the back office. If somebody rang the buzzer for ice or something like that. The little arrow would flip up to the room number and then the bell hop would run down the hall and would get to the door and ask what they wanted. If they said they wanted ice so then he would take their ice bucket and go down and bring it back. He would get a tip on that. That would go on every single night… The bridge (the third floor) of the inn had communal bathrooms down the hall. One very naughty boy and most rowdy was a minister’s son and he went in one time to the ladies’ room and he went under the stall doors. He locked all the doors. Then in the morning when all the women woke up and went to the bathroom they found all of the doors locked. All the old ladies didn’t think to crawl underneath the stall doors.

Link

The Vietnam War and the Shifting Tides of Public Opinion

“As the senior commander in Vietnam, I was aware of the potency of public opinion – and worried about it.” -GEN William Westmoreland [1]

Introduction

Courtesy of Politico

To this day, the Vietnam War remains a strong memory in the American psyche.  The general consensus of the American public on Vietnam seems to be that it was an unwinnable war, fought for a questionable cause that ultimately led to nothing but dead Americans and a loss of faith in the U.S. government.  For Melissa Woodbury, a Democrat with a political activist streak just coming out of college at the time, her own sentiment echoes the country’s memory: “I still feel very strongly about the war… It informed a lot of my thinking, it changed this country, not necessarily for the better… I would like to be able to trust the government and have faith in my elected officials… I would like to have fact be recognized as fact, but somehow we’ve lost all that.”[2]  Yet, despite the almost universally negative outlook America shares on the Vietnam War today, public opinion at the time was far more conflicted, with most of the nation supporting both the war and its escalation in the early years while the rising popularity of TV news broadcasts continued to muddy the waters throughout the war’s duration.

Outbreak

The early years of the war are ones best categorized as years of indifference.[3]  In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when only a relatively small number of U.S. troops were deployed for the primary purpose of advising and instructing ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) units, the average American either didn’t know about the situation or simply didn’t really care.  However, for more politically aware individuals such as Melissa Woodbury, the situation in Vietnam was often discussed.  Having been recently married to Ronald Woodbury in 1965 after finishing school at Mount Holyoke College, Vietnam quickly became a common subject of discussion:

“I was in college from 62-65 and the big push hadn’t really started… so [my husband, Ronald] and I talked about it a lot.  Interestingly my mother was all in favor of the war and [Ron] was all against the war and I was sort of in the middle [at the time] trying to explain my mother to [my husband] and [my husband] to my mother… I was just trying to make up my own mind and figure out what I thought…”[4]

Courtesy of The University of Utah

The localized interest from more politically active individuals in the country is reflected in early public opinion polls, as both withdrawal and escalation held higher percentages of support in 1964 than they did after the “big push” began during the following year (see image).[5]

The reason that support for both withdrawal and escalation decreased in 1965 was the massive deployment of troops that same year.  By the end of 1964, U.S. ground forces numbered around 23,000, but by the end of 1965 that number had reached 184,000.[6]  This drastic increase in troop deployments brought Vietnam to the forefront of public interest and drastically boosted public opinion as Americans “rallied around the flag” in support of the war effort.  However, since most knew very little about the conflict, they could not provide any input on the withdrawal vs. escalation question, causing both percentages to drop.[7]

Escalation

Courtesy of Talking Proud

As the American escalation process continued through the late 1960’s public opinion slowly began to mature and take shape.  By around 1967 public opinion reached a new mile marker, not only beginning to establish the general negative opinion Americans had of the war, but also a temporary one quite to the contrary.  Although support permanently dipped below 50% in 1967, escalation sentiment reached its all-time high, peaking at around 55%.[8]

The beginning of the fall in public support for the war was in many ways due to increased media coverage.  As the American troop commitment rose during the escalation period, so did the number of cameras and reporters.  With the rising prevalence of the television in American homes and news broadcasts increasing in length to 90 minutes a night, scenes from the Vietnam War regularly reached Americans during dinnertime.[9]   With the general public becoming more familiar with the horrors of warfare, support for a conflict that seemed so far away from home began to slide, yet most Americans, including Melissa Woodbury, were positive that

Dan Rather Reporting from Vietnam (Courtesy of Pinterest)

the war would be over soon.  This also explains the peak in escalation sentiment and the significant drop in withdrawal sentiment (it’s lowest of the war at around 6-10%); although Americans did not support the war, they believed that it would not be long before victory was acheived, which meant that most either didn’t lean either way, or supported escalation to bring the war to a more rapid conclusion.[10]  Melissa Woodbury echoes this view:

“It was awful.  That was the first time that war came into our living rooms. Walter Cronkite reported every single night, we got the body count every night… Usually it was something like ‘we killed 7,000 of them and only 1,000 of us’… and then Westmoreland saying ‘just a few more, just a few more, just a few more’ and more troops went.[11]

The Tet Offensive

Courtesy of History.com

On January 30th, 1968, the Vietnamese new year, with the words “Crack the sky, shake the Earth”[12] the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong launched their largest offensive operation of the entire war.  For the Americans and their allies, the offensive caught them completely off guard, as Tet was unofficially recognized as a day of ceasefire and American military analysts believed that the NVA and VC had nowhere near the manpower to conduct an offensive on the scale of Tet.  Although Communist forces initially made fairly significant gains, they were soon thrown back and by the end of the offensive their forces had been completely crushed by American firepower, with the communist casualties estimated to be around 10,000 in the first few days compared to 249 American deaths.[13]

Yet from a public opinion standpoint, the Tet Offensive was a complete disaster for the United States.  For some time, both the American government and military establishment believed that the communist forces in Vietnam were on the brink of defeat.  NVA and VC activity had been on a steady decline since mid-1967 and American military analysts believed that it meant that the communists were rapidly running out of men and material. When Tet struck, this belief was completely crushed.  Although she was living in Argentina when the offensive started, for Melissa Woodbury, and many other Americans, Tet turned what was viewed as a soon-to-be winnable mistake into an unwinnable one:

“…we kept getting the reports on how much progress we were making and then the Tet Offensive happened and everything suddenly became clear that we were not making any progress… [I felt they weren’t telling the full story] and whether that’s fair or not I don’t know, but certainly we had so much mistrust in what the military and the President were saying that it was hard to believe their figures.  It was all this rosy talk about “we’re winning, we’re winning, we’re winning” and obviously we were not winning and we did not win.” [14]

Although the start of the Tet Offensive itself began to cause public opinion to waver, the final nail in the coffin came on the evening of February 27th, 1968.  Having recently returned home from on-site reporting in Vietnam, Walter Cronkite closed out the nightly CBS news report with the following words:

(Courtesy of YouTube)

“Walter Cronkite was probably the most trusted man in the country”, said Melissa Woodbury, “When he became convinced that the war was unwinnable and said it, that had a huge impact on his viewers…[15] lots of people rethought”[16]

By November 1968, public support for withdrawal rose from 10% to 19% and public support for escalation dropped from 55% to 34%.[17]  By October 1968, 63% of the population believed that

Average Action Cycle in Vietnam (Courtesy of Thomas C. Thayer)

Vietnam was as mistake.[18]  Even more drastic was the fall in support for the Johnson administration, which hit a record low of 26% by the end of  the Tet Offensive.[19]

Despite the government and military stating that Tet was a landslide of a military victory, their voices were drowned out by the images on the television and the words of Cronkite. Military analysts soon discovered that Tet was part of an extremely predictable yearly pattern of communist activity, and subsequent offensives in the following years continued to grow weaker, but it was too late.  “[Tet] contributed to the breakdown in trust of the government… we certainly did not trust what they said.”[20] said Melissa Woodbury, showing how Cronkite’s broadcast had effectively completely discredited the military and the White House as reliable sources of information on the conflict.  “[For] the fist time in American history a war had been declared over by an anchorman.”[21]

Downward Spiral

Although U.S. intervention would continue until 1973, the domestic effects of the Tet Offensive sealed the fate of the American mission in Vietnam.  There were other public opinion disasters during Vietnam, but they simply served to increase the speed at which civilian support spiraled downward. Probably the most notable was the draft, which was re-instituted on December 1st, 1969.

The draft brought men into the ranks of the military who had no wish to fight and the single, one-

American Deaths by Length of Deployment   (Courtesy of Thomas C. Thayer)

year deployment rule that was instated for draftees to try and improve public opinion did little more than to force the expansion of the draft and increase casualties, as the ranks of the military were flooded with inexperienced, green troops (40% of American deaths were men who were on their first three months in country compared to the 6% who were on their last three).[22]  As anti-war sentiment grew and the draft brought in the war’s protesters, incidents of “fragging” (intentionally killing one’s superior officer or NCO) increased drastically.[23] Fortunately, for Melissa Woodbury, her husband was never considered for the draft due to marital and parental status, but a friend of theirs was:

“…one of our friends got a really good number and didn’t have to go and he celebrated, he got drunk, he was so happy that he didn’t have to go.”[24]

Courtesy of The Northwest Veterans Newsletter

Another event that further negatively impacted public opinion were the invasions of Laos and Cambodia.  Despite being part of Nixon’s “Vietnamization” program, which was meant to slowly withdrawal American ground forces in the region while building up the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), domestically they served little more than to trigger more protests (the invasion of Laos in particular was conducted primarily by ARVN units; however, they performed miserably).[25]  The invasion of Laos provided Melissa Woodbury with a strong personal memory:

“…when Nixon went into Laos in 1971 one of [Ron’s] fraternity brothers killed himself over it.  He’d been working so hard in the anti-war movement that when Nixon upped it again and went into Laos he committed suicide he was so distraught.”[26]

This small story, while no means the norm, reflects strongly how Americans at home felt about the war.  In 1973, American forces officially pulled out of Vietnam and on April 30th, 1975 Saigon fell to Communist forces.  Although it made the news, not many cared; the American people had had enough.

Conclusion

Courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica

Vietnam marks the first time in American history that a war was decided not on the battlefield, but in the minds of the American people.  According to military analyst Thomas C. Thayer: “The Americans couldn’t win in Vietnam but they couldn’t lose either as long as they stayed.”[27]  Had U.S. forces had more time to effectively implement Nixon’s “Vietnamization” strategy, it is possible that South Vietnam would have been able to hold its own once the American military left, but the nightly news broadcasts depicting scenes of violence like none that most Americans had ever seen before and the public statements of prominent figures such as Walter Cronkite served to shorten the fuse of the public opinion time bomb and ultimately bring the war to its unsatisfactory conclusion.  Although Vietnam was fairly casualty-light in comparison to other major wars fought by the United States, especially considering Vietnam’s length, direct TV exposure to the war made those casualties more human and less of a statistic, a fact that was exploited heavily by the North Vietnamese:

“…For each additional day’s stay, the United States must sustain more casualties.  For each additional day’s stay they must spend more money and lose more equipment.  Each additional day’s stay, the American people will adopt a stronger anti-war attitude while there is no hope to consolidate the puppet [South Vietnamese] administration and army.” [28]

Aside from simply costing the U.S. the war, public outrage caused a massive decline in both trust and support for the Federal Government, the effects of which are still being felt to this day.  “I would like to be able to trust the government and have faith in my elected officials”, stated Melissa Woodbury at the end of her interview,  “…I would like to have fact be recognized as fact, but somehow we’ve lost all that.”[29]

Timeline

Bibliography

[1] “WESTMORLAND”, The Washington Post, (WP Company: 09 Feb. 1986): https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/magazine/1986/02/09/westmorland/878f7d1c-7619-4a2e-8806-298e5fb7fc6d/?utm_term=.2a72bdd26b12

[2] Interview with Melissa Woodbury, conducted via Skype, March 25, 2017.

[3]  Lunch, William L. , and Peter W. Sperlich. “American Public Opinion and the War in Vietnam.” The Western Political Quarterly 32, no. 1 (1979): p. 29 [JSTOR]

[4]  Interview with Melissa Woodbury, conducted via Skype, March 25, 2017.

[5]  Lunch: p. 27

[6] Thomas C. Thayer, War Without Fronts: The American Experience in Vietnam, (Westview Press, 1985): p. 34.

[7] Lunch: p. 29

[8] Lunch: p. 26-27

[9] H. W. Brands, American Dreams, (New York: Pearson Education, 2010): p. 287.

[10] Lunch: p. 27

[11] Interview with Melissa Woodbury, conducted via Skype, March 25, 2017.

[12] Kevin Robbie, “Crack the Sky, Shake the Earth…” A Look Back at Tet, (University of Illinois: Feb. 14, 2015): http://www.thursdayreview.com/TetOffensiveVietnam.html

[13] Robert W. Merry, Cronkite’s Vietnam Blunder, (The National Interest: July 12, 2012): http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/cronkites-vietnam-blunder-7185

[14] Interview with Melissa Woodbury, conducted via Skype, March 25, 2017.

[15]  Interview with Melissa Woodbury, conducted via Skype, March 25, 2017.

[16] Interview with Melissa Woodbury, conducted via Email, April 8th, 2017.

[17] Lunch: p. 27

[18] Lunch: p. 25

[19] Brands: p. 157

[20] Interview with Melissa Woodbury, conducted via Skype, March 25, 2017.

[21] David Halberstam, The Powers that Be, (New York: Knopf, 1975): p. 514

[22] Thayer: p. 114

[23] Mark Depu, Vietnam War: The Individual Rotation Policy (History Net). http://www.historynet.com/vietnam-war-the-individual-rotation-policy.htm

[24] Interview with Melissa Woodbury, conducted via Skype, March 25, 2017.

[25] Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History, (New York: Penguin Books, 1997): p. 644-645

[26] Interview with Melissa Woodbury, conducted via Skype, March 25, 2017.

[27] Thayer: p. 257

[28] “Enemy Emphasis on Causing U.S. Casualties: A follow-up”, (Analysis Report, May, 1969), 16-17.

[29] Interview with Melissa Woodbury, conducted via Skype, March 25, 2017.

Transcript Selection

-Interview with Melissa Woodbury, conducted via Skype, March 25, 2017.

Q: In March of 1965, Johnson deployed 3,500 Marines to South Vietnam.  Within a few years this number was over half a million.  What did you think about the escalation of the war and how did it affect your views on the war?

A: It was awful.  That was the first time that war came into our living rooms. Walter Cronkite reported every single night, we got the body count every night… and then Westmorland saying “just a few more, just a few more, just a few more” and more troops went. Compounding the whole thing was the draft.  Grandpa was ok because we got married and then when married men could go I was already pregnant with your mother and they weren’t taking fathers.  We didn’t do it on purpose to avoid the draft, but it worked out well.  I had friends who were ready to go to Canada… it was a lottery so one of our friends got a really good number and didn’t have to go and he celebrated, he got drunk, he was so happy that he didn’t have to go.  Without a volunteer army the people that were going didn’t want to go and…. It was hard, especially when the reports every single night were the body count. When Johnson announced that he wasn’t going to run again because of the war, Grandpa jumped up, he ran out of the room, he climbed up the stairs to where the Garrison’s were living and they were yelling and screaming… In September of 1968 we went to Argentina for 6 months so we weren’t doing as much about it by then, but when Nixon went into Laos in 1971 one of Grandpa’s fraternity brothers killed himself over it.  He’d been working so hard in the anti-war movement that when Nixon upped it again and went into Laos he committed suicide he was so distraught.  I still have strong feeling obviously, about the war.  It was tough for people my age who thought the way I did.

Q: Did you think the media projected a clear position on the war during the time period?

A: No, it was much more focused on just reporting the news.  There was ABC, NBC and CBS (CNN didn’t exist even, certainly not FOX).  It was Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley and the ABC guy, I forget his name, but it was very much just the facts.  Who knows, maybe they were doing all sorts of things that we didn’t know about, but there was no assumption of shading the story one way or the other.  Walter Cronkite was probably the most trusted man in the country (that is the CBS news anchor).  When he became convinced that the war was unwinnable and said it, that had a huge impact on his viewers, but it wasn’t a constant slant the way [many news networks] are today.

Second Founding

Image Gateway

Slavery

For more information, see Freedom’s Legacy at Dickinson & Slavery and watch this video with the descendants of Henry Spradley and Robert Young.

Discussion Question

  • Did the Second Founding of the Constitution (1865-70) succeed in transforming American society?

Thirteenth Amendment (JAN 1865 / DEC 1865) Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

ORIGINS:  Northwest Ordinance (1787) Art. 6:  There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…

Lincoln movie

Fourteenth Amendment (1866 / 1868) Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

ORIGINS:  Civil Rights Act of 1866 SEC. 1:  That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States;

Reframers

Fifteenth Amendment (1869 / 1870) Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

ORIGINS:  Reconstruction Act (1867) SEC. 5: And be it further enacted, That when the people of any one of said rebel States shall have formed a constitution of government in conformity with the Constitution of the United States in all respects, framed by a convention of delegates elected by the male citizens of said State, twenty-one years old and upward, of whatever race, color, or previous condition

Waud

“First Vote” by Alfred Waud for Harpers Weekly, Nov. 17, 1867

 

Featured Supreme Court Decisions

  • Civil Rights Cases or US v. Stanley (1883): “When a man has emerged from slavery, and, by the aid of beneficent legislation, has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen or a man are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.” (Majority opinion by Justice Joseph Bradley)
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896): “The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country.  And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth, and in power…. But in the view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens.  There is no caste here.  Our Constitution is color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.  In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.” (Dissent by Justice John Marshall Harlan)

The Rochester Riot Through a Rural Lens

By Troy Thornton

On the hot summer day that the Rochester riot erupted, Daniel Thornton was a young boy of 11. By 1964 he was beginning to help out at his father’s car lot in the city. [1] When not at the car lot, the Thornton family lived less than 20 minutes outside of Rochester in Greece, New York, a rural community. Although historian H.W. Brands glosses over the race riots of the early 1960’s in his book American Dreams, these events played an influential role in the civil rights movement.

A map showing the location of the riot in the Seventh Ward

During his time at the inner city car lot prior to the riot Dan remained blind to the rising racial tensions in Rochester, sometimes hearing customers “use those phrases periodically” and “address things in that manner.” [2] His ignorance can not simply be attributed to youthfulness, as his lack of understanding was shared by the larger white population in Rochester. [3]

A block party thrown by the Mothers Improvement Association in the Seventh Ward turned sour late at night on July 24, 1964 when a small altercation broke out on the corner of Joseph Avenue and Nassau Street. Police arrived to break it up but the residents involved turned and started fighting the police. This was not a random loss of temper however, as there had been many instances of police brutality prior to the riot. [4] With many residents already outside for the block party, and police reinforcements with dogs arriving, this small scale fight quickly blossomed into a large scale revolt. The source of the crowd in other riots such as Watts where “unemployment was rampant” was largely unemployed youth. [5] This was not the case in Rochester where the rate of unemployment was only 3%. [6]

Overnight the riot grew rapidly, drawing thousands into the Seventh Ward. As crowds grew, the violence did as well, resulting in large scale looting of shops in the neighborhood. This was not wonton destruction, but a revolt on economic oppression. Although the Civil Rights Act passed earlier that year made discrimination illegal, blacks faced a “race tax.” Important stores such as grocery and clothing stores in predominantly minority neighborhoods were charging markedly higher prices for items and allowing credit traps. [7] Thornton’s recollection of the looting again reflects the ignorance of the majority, as he and his peers wondered why “the places they burned, looted, and destroyed were their peers.” [8] Similar to the Watts riot, looted stores were mostly white-owned, a manifestation of the sentiment that residents did not feel the stores were part of their community. [9]

A street in Rochester on the third day of the riot

On the second day of the riot, Saturday, Thornton went into the city with his father to the areas experiencing violence after the looting. They were checking up on people they knew to make sure they were okay and had what they needed. [10] While standing in front of one house and again walking around with some friends, Dan was involved in “a confrontation where they stoned us.” [11] This event helps explain why Thornton remembers the riot mostly as a time of violence. As a result of all the looting and violence, emergency procedures took effect: a curfew was instated and liquor stores were closed as a means to decrease the supply of enhancers of aggression. [12] These preventative measures seemed ineffective when nightfall hit and the rioting spread to the Third Ward. That night the Rochester riot claimed it’s first victim, a white man run over by a car.

While the rioting spread, Thornton was home in Greece. Everyone was going from home to home, talking about the days events, and the big question was “why”. A common phrase that rang through the night was “its not going to happen here, we won’t let it happen here,” which was emphasized in this rural community where hunting was a popular hobby. [13] Thornton remembers “they just wanted order restored, it wasn’t like they exhibited lots of concern about why it started. “ [14] As a group in the majority the rural area had nothing to gain per se from the riot. Their main focus was on restoring peace and balance, the status quo. This again highlights ignorance on what the real conditions were for blacks in Rochester.

Police attempt to apprehend a group on the woman’s porch

As tumultuous as Saturday was, Sunday, July 26, proved to be even more so. In the afternoon a helicopter crashed down into a house in the Third Ward, leading to three more lives lost to the riot. These deaths necessitated action, and the tradition of a National Guard response to race riots started in Rochester, with the first use of troops in a northern city since the civil war. Thornton was in the city again that Sunday and shocked to see national guardsmen at every street corner. [15] The overwhelming attitude of his community was of awe and surprise that it had escalated to this level, though they were happy that something was being done to bring order to things and stop the violence. With the arrival of the National Guard, the riot came to an end leaving nearly 1,000 people arrested. [16]

The riot laid grounds for progress in several areas, highlighting numerous problems. One group that sought to help the situation was the SCLC and Martin Luther King Jr. The solution to many of the causal issues as proposed by King was voting rights. [17] He used the momentum from the Rochester riot to carry into the march in Selma and other protests, culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. [18] One hundred years after Frederick Douglass said “slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot,” this issue is still being interpreted. [19] Indeed, 150 years later today we are still facing problems with voter ID and registration legislation.

Another area impacted by the riot was economics. By acquiring voting rights to community members’ shares in Kodak, the civil rights movement was able to influence one of the largest employers in the Rochester area, resulting in the hiring of 600 minority works and further outreach programs. [20] In the face of all this progress, some things did not change so quickly. Rochester City Manager Porter Homer said they were handling things “as fast as humanly possible,” which mimics “with all due diligence” from the Civil Rights Act, allowing the change to be slow and hindered. [21] One hopeful outcome of the riot was improved relations between police and minority groups, which was realized in the presence of the Community Relations Service, a group whose aim was to improve race relations post-crisis. [22] Another cause of the riot, unhappiness with the public housing situation, was resolved with the Fair Housing act of 1968. The Rochester riot and other similar riots in the 1960’s set the platform for change to be discussed on a national level with the deployment of the National Guard, various civil rights legislature, and new committees and services dedicated to improving the sources of tension in communities.

[1] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[2] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[3] “Riots Negroes Knew Were Due Shock Rochester Whites.” Chicago Daily Defender, July 30, 1964. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[4] Lambert, Robert. “Behind The Rochester Riot: Long History of Police Brutality.”Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), August 1, 1964. ProQuest.

[5] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 148.

[6] “Says Joblessness Was Rochester Riot Cause.” The Chicago Defender, August 1, 1964. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[7]  “Riots Negroes Knew Were Due Shock Rochester Whites.” Chicago Daily Defender, July 30, 1964. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[8] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[9]  Nichols, Casey. “Examining the Anatomy of Urban Uprisings.” Reading, HIST118, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA, March 29, 2016.

[10] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[11] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[12] “Rochester Riot Timeline.” PBS. Accessed May 6, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/july64/timeline.html.

[13] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[14] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[15] Interview with Daniel Thornton (phone conversation), April 14, 2016.

[16] “King Plan Tested in 4-Day Rochester Riots.” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), July 24, 1965. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[17] “King Plan Tested in 4-Day Rochester Riots.” Afro-American (Baltimore, MD), July 24, 1965. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[18] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 127.

[19] Pinsker, Matthew. “Did the End of Civil War Mean the End of Slavery?” Reading, HIST118, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

[20] Hagen, Susan. “Documenting a Turbulent Time: A New Online Resource at the University Captures Rochester’s Civil Rights Struggles in the 1960s and 1970s.” Review of Rochester Black Freedom Online Struggle Project, by Laura Warren Hill. Accessed May 6, 2016. https://rochester.edu/pr/Review/V72N1/inreview03.html.

[21] “Lift Curfew In Race Riot-Torn Rochester.” Chicago Daily Defender, July 29, 1964. Accessed May 6, 2016. ProQuest.

[22] Button, James W. Black Violence: Political Impact of the 1960s Riots. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978. Accessed May 6, 2016. JSTOR. 113-114.

Ryan Cohane- “Less and less human thinking”: Technology’s Role in the 1987 Stock Market Crash

“Less and less human thinking”: Technology’s Role in the 1987 Stock Market Crash

By Ryan Cohane

141704346

New York Stock Exchange trader on Black Monday. Courtesy of Getty Images

October 19, 1987, otherwise known as Black Monday, was a frightening day for many. Brian Cohane had been working on Wall Street for 3 years at that point. He was a junior mortgage-backed-securities trader at Paine Webber Inc and recalls the technology that helped contribute to the crash. Cohane describes the beginning of a system where there was “less and less human thinking on things and we let computers do the thinking for us in terms of whether to buy or sell securities.” [1] Technology was not very prevalent on Wall Street when Cohane started working there. Throughout the 80s, the use of technology increased and helped contribute to Black Monday. In that one day alone, the Dow Jones Index dropped 508.32 points or 22.6%, losing over $500 billion of its value. [2] Markets around the world were affected and many feared that this would lead to another Great Depression. In American Dreams, H.W. Brands attributes the main reason for the crash to the high interest rates due to the trade and federal budget deficits. [3] However, a large part of the reason that Black Monday occurred was also the emergence of new technologies in the 1980s.

When Brian Cohane started on Wall Street, he did not have access to a lot of technology.

“Our technology was the phone, calculator, files… we would call some of the credit rating              agencies and get credit reports. Their credit reports of clients that we dealt with [were used] to back  up our own credit analysis, but that was it. We used computers to track numbers. If we assigned a    credit limit to a client, we would put that into a computer and the computer could track whether a    client’s exposure was within the limits we established. We didn’t really have spreadsheet analysis at  the time or the ability to go into databases and look up companies.” [4]

However, in the 80s the access to technology started to increase. With innovations such as the Bloomberg Terminal and the rise of the use of personal computers, technology became more integrated in the Wall Street process then ever before. While there were plenty of positives, such as more equal access to information and more efficiency, there were also computers taking over jobs that used to be done by humans. Technology could perform these jobs faster and more efficiently. [5] As technology became more ingrained in the industry, people became more comfortable using it. Thus, the rise of program trading was not too much of a surprise.

The commercial from 1986 shows how computers were becoming more advanced, but it also shows the limitations of the technology. The IBM PCjr could only run programs built for it, suffered from memory restraints and took up a lot of space. Courtesy of Youtube.

 

The New York Stock Exchange defines program trading as a trade containing fifteen or more stocks with a total value over $1 million. It started in the 1970s with people physically having to go to certain locations to make the trades. Program trading became more popular because it was less risky to trade a diversified portfolio rather than individual stocks, it was cheaper and the volume of trades was increasing. [6] In the 80s, more and more of the process began to be done on computers. Cohane describes it as “quantitate-based technical trading” and “very much computerized.” [7]

nyt_large

The headline of the New York Times from the day after Black Monday shows how people were concerned that they were entering another Great Depression. Courtesy of Proquest.

One of the strategies associated with program trading is portfolio insurance. This is an investment strategy, where computer models suggest acquiring more stocks during rising markets. When the market is falling, the models suggest the opposite. The idea was that the strategy would mitigate some of the risks involved in buying and selling stocks. Investors tended to deal more with the future market since it was cheaper and it would protect them against losses in their current stocks. The strategy helped contribute to the increase in selling in 1987, because “as computers dictated that more and more futures be sold, the buyers of those futures not only insisted on sharply lower prices but also hedged their positions by selling the underlying stocks. That drove prices down further, and produced more sell orders from the computers.” [8] All these actions in the future markets were not being immediately updated and recognized, since it was very time consuming and could incur transaction costs.

Program trading was completed through the Super Designated Order Turnaround (SuperDOT) system. The SuperDOT replaced the DOT in 1984 and was able to route orders to specialists on the trading floor and bypass floor brokers.  On October 19, 1987, the amount of sell orders was up dramatically due to the cycle brought on by portfolio insurance and the SuperDot began to fall behind. Trading in some stocks had to be suspended, because the quantity of sell orders was so overwhelming. [9] Investors were essentially blind. They were not able to obtain accurate and updated information about the conditions of the current market. Thus, many investors began to panic and just tried to get rid of their stocks and get out all together, exacerbating the issues.

1101870615_400

Time featured Alan Greenspan on June 15, 1987, shortly after he was nominated by Ronald Reagan to be the chairman of the Federal Reserve. Courtesy of Time Magazine.

The Federal Reserve, headed by Greenspan, reacted by easing short-term credit and also helping the public confidence. Two days after the initial crash, Greenspan said the Federal Reserve “affirmed today its readiness to serve as a source of liquidity to support the economic and financial system.” Privately, the group also reached out to banks to encourage them to continue to lend per usual. The response helped prevent the economy from entering a depression or even a recession. Two years later, the longest bull market in the history of the United States was achieved. [10]

Circuit breakers were also introduced in markets due to Black Monday. Now, if a market declines by a certain percentage over some period of time, the circuit breakers will go into effect and halt trading. [11] As the events on October 19, 1987 showed, the problem was made worse because people were confused and immediately reacted by selling whatever they could. If the circuit breakers had been in effect, they might have stopped some of this. They are still in effect today, though there is some controversy over them. “People are afraid that if they don’t get out of their trades before the circuit breaker hits, they’ll get stuck with their position,” says Cohane, “so they may actually create more volatility.” [12]

With the advancements in computers and new technologies, program trading and portfolio insurance arose. At first there were no restrictions and they got out of control. Investors did not know how much selling was actually going on because of lagging systems and the disconnect between the current and future markets. Part of the problem was that the new technology was not yet advanced enough. Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors doubles approximately every eighteen months, which essentially means computing speed doubles over the same interval. [13] If the computers had been faster in 1987, investors would have had access to more relevant information and some of the effects of the crisis might have been mitigated.

There are multiple reasons for the crash and people still argue over which ones are the most important. However, the role of technology is valuable in understanding the crash as a whole. It can also be beneficial as we look towards a future where technology’s role is growing exponentially. Without the proper safeguards in place, there can be negative implications such as Black Monday. The relatively quick recovery that the Federal Reserve helped orchestrate might not be possible in the future. Thus, it is essential to look at an event like Black Monday and study what went wrong as well as examine technology’s role in order to ensure that there is no repeat.

 

[1] Phone interview with Brian Cohane, April 27, 2016.

[2] “October 19, 1987- Black Monday, 20 Years Later,” The New York Times, accessed May 1, 2015, <http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/nyregion/city_room/20071019_CITYROOM.pdf>

[3] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 265.

[4] Phone Interview with Brian Cohane, April 27, 2016.

[5] Phone Interview with Brian Cohane, April 27, 2016.

[6] Dean Furbush, “Program Trading.” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, May 6, 2015. Accessed May 3, 2016. <http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc1/ProgramTrading.html>

[7] Phone interview with Brian Cohane, May 6, 2016.

[8] Floyd Norris, “A Computer Lesson Still Unlearned.” The New York Times, October 18, 2012. Accessed May 4, 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/19/business/a-computer-lesson-from-1987-still-unlearned-by-wall-street.html>

[9] Mark Carlson, “A Brief History of the 1987 Stock Market Crash with a Discussion of the Federal Reserve Response.” Federal Reserve, November 2006. Accessed May 1, 2016. <https://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/feds/2007/200713/200713pap.pdf>

[10] Carlson, “A Brief History of the 1987 Stock Market Crash with a Discussion of the Federal Reserve Response.”

[11] Zach Guzman and Mark Koba, “When do circuit breakers kick in? CNBC Explains,” CNBC, January 7, 2016. Accessed May 4, 2016.

[12] Phone interview with Brian Cohane, May 6, 2016.

[13] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 328.

 

More photos of the New York Stock Exchange on October 19, 1987:

The Vietnam War: Protests and the Commencement of a New Movement

By: Olivia Zoratto

“Was I naïve? You bet! Was it a good time to be naïve? Absolutely!! Protesting to rock and roll was actually fun at times, scary at others…but it was always interesting…” stated Dr. Geoffrey Kurland when reflecting on the anti-Vietnam war protests which he attended during the 1960’s. Now, an eminent, valued, and well-respected pulmonary specialist at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, PA, Dr. Kurland has worked for twenty-eight years in his field of profession, ameliorating the lives of his unwell and infirm patients each day. He began his occupation in the year 1988, after graduating from Amherst College and later Stanford University for medical school, where he diligently devoted his time to medicine as an industrious and conscientious student. However, during his time at the university, more events where transpiring on campus than just that of studies. A greater phenomenon was sweeping the nation, transfiguring tranquil and peaceful campuses into locations of riot and uproar amongst liberal minorities. As an influential reaction to the Vietnam War, the phenomenon of anti-war protests evaded America throughout the 1960’s, commencing a new movement towards an adapting American culture.

As an accomplished author, H.W. Brands illustrates in his book The United States Since 1945: American Dreams, many Americans had objected the Vietnam War since its beginning.[1] “They asked whether the status of a small country far away justified the expenditure of American blood and treasure,” Brands quotes as he discusses President Johnson’s decision to further involve the United States with Vietnam in 1965.[2] However, the repercussions of escalating the war were both grim and consequential, as more casualties were reported and troops were drafted, resulting in an immense and commanding expansion of publicity for anti-war protests. An advertisement for the March for Peace in Vietnam stated, “It’s costing YOU $80 million a day! $80 million a day, $30 billion a year–For what? To wound, burn, and kill innocent children…to sacrifice the youth of America before they have their chance to begin their lives as adults…to raise your rent, food, costs…to bomb a peasant country…”[3]

Dr. Kurland, did not challenge nor oppose Brand’s assertion. “The protests brought attention to the war and tried to emphasize the perceived injustice inherent in our participation in it,” he stated, suggesting that the protests themselves were “trying to prop up a regime that, itself, was not democratic.”[4] Additionally, according to Dr. Kurland, the U.S. drafted men from poorer economic backgrounds, placing them in uniform, while those enrolled in higher educational institutions could be exempted, further demonstrating the injustice and inequity of the war.[5]

As the war developed, and the feeling of injustice and inequity expanded, a particular type of non-violent protest grew to popularity as “teach-ins” began arising on college campuses throughout the mid 1960’s. While still in college at Amherst, Dr. Kurland took part in a teach-in protest himself. “They consisted of a group of scholars and academics and were usually run by historians, political scientists, and others who were both passionate about their feelings on the war. In addition, they were also able to focus their attention on historical and political facts that dealt with the war,” Dr. Kurland stated.[6]

Dr. Kurland as Amherst student

Dr. Kurland as Amherst student

Specifically, the teach-in that Dr. Kurland attended was both historically and politically factual, just as he had suggested. “I went to a teach-in and learned something about the complicated history of Viet Nam, a history of its previous occupation by the French, and the true origins of the war in terms of the artificial division of the country into North and South.  I won’t go into great detail, but I remember coming back to my dorm with a lot of questions about the validity of the American involvement in the conflict…” said Dr. Kurland.[7] Similarly, many liberal minorities and college students embraced this point of view, as they feared that the news and government pronouncements were inadequate to explain the intricacies of the events occurring in Vietnam.[8]

After Dr. Kurland had graduated from Amherst College, he had found himself in far more “Left” learning place.[9] During this time, American culture was being refined, metamorphosing itself into a nation of drugs and rock and roll. “The music, the style of dress, and the whole emerging “hippy” scene were both infectious, intoxicating (in a good way, no pun intended), and completely different from the life I’d had prior to medical school,” Dr. Kurland stated.[10] However, as the irresistible and contagious lifestyle disseminated throughout America, the protests did as well.

Contemplating on the protests he attended, Dr. Kurland spoke of a few in particular such as the march to support the People’s Park in Berkeley, California in 1969. “The land [of the park] was being considered to house a car park, but meanwhile had turned into a dumping ground of refuse and was a mess,” Dr. Kurland began.[11] “Inspired by the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley as well as the anti-War movement, a local committee of protesters decided to use the land as a park, and planted shrubs and trees, took out the garbage and were cleaning it up with the help and money of local merchants who were tired of the eyesore,” he continued.[12] Regrettably, during this time Ronald Reagan had run for office where his platform included clamping down anti-war protestors and their ilk.[13] “Governor Reagan referred to the University of California, Berkeley as “a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants…(We all thought he was just missing a good time)” Dr. Kurland joked. However, Reagan later appointed the Highway Patrol and Berkley police to reclaim the park, attracting more protestors who were tear gassed and one student by-stander was shot and killed.[14]

As time progressed, with the park fenced in, a peaceful rally and march throughout Berkeley was instigated by the Berkeley Barb, a local underground newspaper. “Many of us (me included) in the medical school went over, and joined about 30,000 people who marched peacefully through Berkeley, with music playing from the windows of residents and people cheering us on from their windows. Ultimately, the park became…a park; the chancellor of the university, who’d helped to gather the police and Highway Patrol officers, was forced to resign. Berkeley residents took a leftward turn that to some extent remains to this day,” Dr. Kurland discussed as he reflected on this indelible occurrence.[15]

Satirical poster featuring “Blue Meanie” (a cartoon villain referencing the popular Beatles film “Yellow Submarine”). The poster depicts how poorly U.C. Berkeley and the local police managed public opposition to People’s Park.(https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/df/5d/6b/df5d6b132f4d9b93d73fbdec0a605401.jpg)

Furthermore, Dr. Kurland attended another protest a few years later in San Francisco, once President Nixon took office because he “had a plan” to end the Vietnam War. “His plan, it seemed, included bombing the neighboring country of Cambodia, which to many of us didn’t seem like the correct way to be ending a war and was actually more like extending it to another country,” Dr. Kurland explained.[16] The protest he attended was a massive rally in Golden Gate Park, consisting of 50,000-75,000 people and an article from the Boston Globe stated “the marching column extended nearly 40 blocks when reinforcing groups joined at three assembly areas along the seven mile parade route.”[17] “We heard speeches deriding Richard Milhouse (emphasis of the Milhouse, by the way) Nixon as going back on his campaign promise, resulting in more unnecessary deaths of Americans and Vietnamese,” he said.[18] Additionally, hundreds carried signs and posters as one quoted the President: “ ‘It will have no effect’. Give Nixon no choice.” and another “45, 595 Americans, 693, 492 Vietnamese killed in the war in Vietnam.”[19]

While the reasoning for the protest was violent and intemperate, the march itself was peaceful according to Dr. Kurland. “The speakers, while vitriolic, didn’t call on us to go around destroying things. The desire to was rebuild…make the country better, making us less of a seemingly imperialist country and more a country willing to tolerate differences in the world just as we like to think we can tolerate differences of opinion here in the USA…” he said.[20] For Dr. Kurland, the rally was a great idea, and a great time for it educated Americans on the war, while also provided entertainment for the adapting culture and “hippy” generation.

Dr. Kurland and a fellow medical student at rally in Golden Gate Park on January 14th, 1967.

Dr. Kurland and a fellow medical student at the rally in Golden Gate Park on January 14th, 1967.

 

Advertisement for the rally in Golden Gate Park(http://cdn8.openculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Human_be-in_poster.jpg)

Advertisement for the rally in Golden Gate Park(http://cdn8.openculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Human_be-in_poster.jpg)

Nonetheless, not all protests served to be as restful and cordial as the rally in Golden Gate Park, being that many resulted in brutality and arrests. Dr. Kurland discussed, in particular, a faculty member at medical school whom had been arrested during a protest, Hadley Kirkman. “At a local protest against the war early in my time at Stanford, Hadley and some others had apparently locked themselves to some building (I’m not sure what the building was, but it apparently was in some way associated with the Government, I think). He was among those arrested and spent the night in jail. It was a transient big deal and word rapidly went around the medical community,” Dr. Kurland recollected.[21] Kirkman became an instantaneous celebrity and was recognized for having the courage to speak his mind, although never participated in other protests.

Unfortunately, Kirkman was only one of a vast majority who were arrested for anti-war protests. An article in the Washington Post, “11 Arrested in Melee after Antiwar Protest” stated, “At least 11 persons, including four juveniles, were arrested in Washington last night during several melees that erupted after a peaceful demonstration against the use of tax dollars for the Vietnam War.”[22] Police were brought in after demonstrators smashed windows in federal office buildings along the Avenue, however some of the more aggressive and belligerent demonstrators threw rocks at the force, resulting in arrests.[23]

Comparably, according to another article in the Washington Post “Protest for Peace Brings 34 Arrests on Steps of Capitol”, “Thirty-four Vietnam War protesters were arrested yesterday on the Capitol steps in two separate incidents after they refused to stop reading the names of 35,000 American war dead.”[24] Moreover, the group’s arrest was similar to arrests made four times earlier in the month by Capitol Police. [25] Evidently, Kirkman’s arrest, the 11 arrested in Melee, and the 34 arrested on the steps of the Capitol, only serve as a few examples of protests and demonstrations, and indicate the escalating feelings of negativity towards the war.

Nevertheless, although sometimes violent, while other times harmonious and undisturbed, Dr. Kurland asserted that anti-war protests did possess value and avail. “Doing things like this with others results in an amazing sense of community, particularly if one is protesting something that one feels is monstrous and too big to be attacked by one person,” he stated.[26] In particular, one of the aspects of the Vietnam War was that it involved the entire U.S. military, the U.S. government, foreign policy, and everything else. “They say it’s hard to fight city hall…it’s both harder (and yet sometimes easier) to fight the government itself.  It is somewhat removed (Washington seemed very far away from Amherst and Stanford, for example), and it’s possible in our society to actually disagree with the government and not get put in jail for life,” Dr. Kurland admitted.[27]Those in favor of the war, the government, the unjust society, often went further suggesting that those in opposition should leave the United States. Dr. Kurland, however, felt differently. “It’s my country, so what I think is right about it I accept and what I think is wrong about it I will work to change. I had no interest in leaving my country (after all, it was and is my country, too).  I just wanted it to be a better version of my country…” he said[28], a version that many wished for, of concord, harmony, and contentment.

[1] H.W. Brands, American Dreams: The United States since 1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 2010), 152.

[2] Ibid, 152.

[3] “Advertisements” Jesús Colón Collection: Arte Público Hispanic Historical Collection: Series 2.

[4] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), April 15th, 2016.

[5] Interview with Geoffrey Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[6] Interview with Geoffrey Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[7] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[8] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[9] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[10] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[11] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[12] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[13] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[14] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[15] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[16] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[17] “85,000 attend golden gate protest.”Boston Globe,16 November 1969.76.

[18] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[19] “85,000 attend golden gate protest.”Boston Globe,16 November 1969.76.

[20] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[21] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[22] “11 Arrested in Melee A After Antiwar Protest.” The Washington Post, 16 April 1970. A1.

[23] Ibid, A1.

[24] “Protest for Peace Bring 34 Arrests on Steps of Capitol.” The Washington Post, 19 June 1969. B1.

[25] Ibid, B1.

[26] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[27] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.

[28] Interview with Dr. Kurland (email), May 03rd, 2016.