The New York Times tapped Maurice Isserman, the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of American History, to write a piece for that publication’s special op-ed section, Vietnam ’67. Titled My First Antiwar Protest and published on April 15, Isserman’s essay is a recounting of his participation in and observations of the New York City Vietnam War protest exactly 50 years earlier. It’s also a chronicle of the building opposition to the war, primarily among young Americans.
“If my experience was at all representative, coming together in protest was if anything an antidote to alienation, not an expression or cause for it,” wrote Isserman. “When antiwar protesters gathered, I came to feel, we did so not just to express ourselves as dissenters, which is to say, angry outsiders, but in the best interests and representing the best instincts of the nation.”
Protest participant estimates ranged in the hundreds of thousands, according to Isserman, and among its leaders were Dr. Martin Luther King, who declared his opposition to the war.
“The real antiwar movement, as I first encountered it on April 15, 1967, and watched grow in force and influence over the next half-dozen years, was broad and diverse, peaceful and serious, direct and disorderly democracy at its best,” Isserman wrote in conclusion.
One of the reader comments Isserman most appreciated was this one from “Daniels Northern Wisconsin”: “As a veteran of that war, 5th Marines, 1968-69, I thanked the anti-war protesters then, and still do today. All these years later, I'm convinced the protests ended the war earlier than had there not been the anti-war movement. I often think about the lives the protests ultimately saved, those who lived in that faraway place, and the young men who went there for a purpose nobody could figure out.”
Examining the history of an earlier century, TIME magazine also sought Isserman’s expertise for an article titled Abraham Lincoln Was Shot on Good Friday. Some Thought It Was Fate. The article took note that this year’s Good Friday fell on the same date as in 1865, the day Lincoln was assassinated. Isserman observed that “many people at the time thought this was all a sign of the divine ordering of the events of the Civil War period."