Nebraska Protests

The Vietnam War left its mark on history as one of the most controversial of all time. At the time, many Americans, especially college students, were very outspoken against the war in Vietnam. While Bev Deepe trekked through the jungles of Southeast Asia gathering stories for her various new outlets, students and faculty from her alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, joined the nationwide protests against the Vietnam War.

Protests began as the war escalated and remained fairly small for a period of time. Nebraskans conducted these protests in the most Nebraskan way possible: A small group of anti-war protestors would gather and would be peacefully confronted by a few counter-protestors. After a few non-violent exchanges, the two groups would put down their signs and all go to a local bar together to have a drink. These protests did not remain small for long. On Thursday, April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced an expansion of the Vietnam War into neighboring Cambodia. The student body organized a protest for the following Monday, on May 4, for students and faculty to express their dissatisfaction with the Presidential Administration and the Vietnam War as a whole.

As the rally began, word soon reached the protestors about the Kent State Shootings, which occurred earlier that day. Later that evening, students gathered at a local campus ministry and decided to take action. At around 8 o’clock, about 30 or 40 students went into the lightly guarded ROTC building in protest. Protestors began streaming in at an alarming rate and by 10 o’clock, about 1,800 students crammed into the ROTC building. Students and faculty kept in close communication throughout the night as protestors settled in on the main compound in the center of the ROTC building. The students listed several demands including suspending the ROTC until after the war had finished, giving amnesty for draft-dodgers, and University backing to support the student strike. Student protestors wanted the University’s support because demonstrators protested the war in Vietnam, not the University.

By morning, student leaders of the protest met with various University faculties, including University President Joe Soscnick, to reach a compromise. While University officials brought doughnuts in for the protestors’ breakfast, University leadership agreed to let all the protestors go without penalty and, like most universities across the country, cancelled classes for the next few days. The University made it a priority to avoid violence as University leadership did not want another incident like the one at Kent State earlier that day. Both the President and Board of Regents kept in contact with the demonstrators throughout this entire process, as well as Nebraska Governor Norbert Tiemann. Thanks to the excellent cooperation and professionalism displayed by both sides throughout the entire protest, the protest proved effective and no one got hurt or penalized throughout the dramatic day and night.

The University of Nebraska has had a long history filled with many trials and moments of triumph. The protest on May 4, 1970, demonstrated that the University is capable of finding cooperation and solutions between rivals even in times when they seem most divisive. On that day, the University also found itself playing one small part in nationwide protests that rocked the country. There has perhaps never been a time when the general public of the United States so strongly opposed the actions of their own government. President Kennedy proclaimed in his 1961 inaugural address that the United States “shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty” (Kennedy). A decade later, many Americans felt that this promise no longer should apply to Vietnam and that the United States actually hurt the small nation more than they helped it. By March, 1973, the United States withdrew its troops from Vietnam, ending American involvement in the conflict.

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