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Speech at Vietnam Day Teach-in
May 21, 1965

by Mario Savio

      This is going to be a very different style speech from the speeches which we've been listening to, because I don't have a very set idea just how history's going to turn out, nor what brought it to be the way it is right now, nor how we are going to change it, if we are going to. So, all I really have is a lot of questions, and I hope they are questions similar to ones that have been troubling other people who are here. Maybe if we can at least get our questions out in the open. we can begin to talk about the answers.

      We have been handed down some famous dates with some famous events attached to them. Two important revolutions occurred in the era from 1776 to 1789. The United States got its start out of one of them, the French Republic out of the other. There was a spirit of enlightenment for which we remember the 1 8th century. Then, the 19th century -- the whole age, a continuous age, of revolutions. Now I remember reading about them and reading about someone whom Isaac Deutscher mentioned, Metternich. I remember reading about the difference in spirit between Metternich on the one hand, and the Paris Commune on the other. I remember last semester at one point some of us were trying to decide, "Should we have the sit-in in Sproul Hall or in the Student Union?" since the latter would be more in the spirit of the Paris Commune -- we don't want anything you own, we want ourthings.

      There was something exciting about those times, and I remember there was something exciting about the history that I read of those times. In some important way, what occurred around the turn of the century, and later in Russia, was a continuation of that spirit of revolution, that exciting period of the 19th century. But what happened when that moving conflagration reached the Soviet Union -- what became the Soviet Union? What happened as we moved into the 20th century? It seemed that the United States was on the other side, and it came to be more and more on the other side. Now. there were reasons. I don't think that they can be understood completely or adequately in terms borrowed from a great, if somewhat muddy, German philosopher, Hegel. But the important thing for me, and a cause of great sadness, was that somehow we seemed to be on the other side. And I have been trying to figure out why it is that we ended up on the other side.

      I try to think of the bad things that our leaders say about those people who now are on the other side. One of the things they say is, "They don't believe in God. See, the Communists officially don't believe in God." And it seemed to me awfully peculiar that we should be in the situation of declared or undeclared war against people, at least in part, because they claim not to believe in God. I don't believe in God. A lot of the people here don't, I believe. I don't think that's the reason. Well, is it because they claim it's proper to organize their economies, their systems of production and distribution, goods and services, in a way different from the way we do here in this country? Well, I don't know if that's true either. Consider the University of California. I don't think we can call it a socialist enterprise, but it certainly is an instance of state capitalism of sorts. No, it can't be that, it can't be a technical matter, not exactly. In the continuing opposition to the descendants of our own period of revolution, the Vietcong, I don't know what it is we're trying to protect them from in Asia. I really don't know.

      Now, I don't think that the people who are formulating our foreign policy have asked the kinds of very naive questions that I've been asking here. I don't think that any of the, perhaps, naive solutions or suggestions which might come out of this meeting are going seriously to be considered by those formulators of policy. Let's consider a very radical suggestion. What if, for example, the President of the United States announced tomorrow that over a period of five years the United States would totally disarm? Not just nuclear weapons, but all weapons. Put them away slowly so as not to destroy the American economy. And the President would extend an invitation to the Russians and the Chinese to do likewise, but would indicate that whether they did or not, the United States would put these weapons away. Now what effect could that have on the world? I don't have the vaguest idea. I don't know that the world would be worse off for it. It might be. I don't know that such a policy, as far-fetched as it sounds, would in the long run be any more dangerous, or less dangerous, than the policy we're following now. I don't think there is, in other words, any adequate. Iarge-scale theory of historical causality. I don't think it's clear that if we put away all our weapons, Asia would stop being ruled in part by freedom-loving tyrants, and would be ruled completely by tyrannical tyrants. I don't think that kind of change would necessarily follow if we put away all of our weapons.

      But no solution such as this could be seriously considered or discussed by any of the responsible people formulating our foreign policy. Now that's a problem because I don't think they know any more about historical causality than I do. That's not to say that I know a great deal, but rather there's not that much to be known. And that brings me to what I think is the important question. If an idea like that couldn't be seriously entertained before a responsible audience (and it cannot in the United States -- only before students, not responsible audiences) an important question is raised, I think the most important question. If it's the case that such an idea, or ideas far less radical, cannot be entertained before responsible audiences; then in what sense is decision-making in America democratic? In what sense? What about the consent of the governed? Does that mean that a very small group of people decide what the alternatives are, and then you either say Yes or No to alternatives which fall within a common policy, which people on all sides of the question agree to? Is that what the consent of the governed means? I'd like to say some things about decision- making in the United States, because I think this is the most important question with which we have to deal.

      I have a naive belief in the generosity of our fellow-countrymen. If they knew the facts, with even the incredible lack of clarity that we have, I believe they would move to affect their government in such a way as to change its policy. But they don't know the facts, and from our own experience we can see why. Consider something very close to home: what happened on campus last semester. And consider the way it was reported in the press. Consider that. Now I had never, before that, been able to compare an important historic event with the way it was reported, because I'd never been in on any important historic event, because I was only a citizen. But last semester I was engaged in causing important historic events. We all were. And we all had the opportunity to see just what those events were. And there was no comparison, or only a very slight comparison, which could be drawn between the reporting and the events.

      And look again -- personal experience -- look at the incompetents, the 24 incompetents, who are put in charge of the University of California. These are the people who make fundamental policy which governs our lives. At the last Regents' meeting, representatives of the students, of the Free Student Union, were present at the meeting of this governing board. They were not permitted to speak officially, and so one of them, in desperation and eloquence, said (this was Bob Mundy):

We have asked to be heard, you have refused. We have asked for justice. You have called it anarchy. We have asked for freedom. You have called it license. Rather than face the fear and hopelessness you have created, you have called it communistic. You have accused us of failing to use legitimate channels. But you have closed those channels to us. You, and not us, have built a university based on distrust and dishonesty.

In the course of that speech, Governor Brown told Bob to shut up and called the police. That's one example of the body set up and a mechanism set up to make decisions in America.

      Another example -- very important. President Kennedy, who some of us felt, at the beginning in any case, offered some hope as a more responsible leader, sponsored and supported Comsat, or what has become Comsat, the Communications Satellite Corporation, a public and private corporation. Some people, including, I believe, Senator Morse, opposed this. And there was a liberal filibuster in the Senate. It didn't last very long. But President Kennedy supported Comsat. It has on its governing board some people representing the public and some representing private industry. Representing the public, on the whole governing board, according to Drew Pearson, are three people. Let me tell you who they are. Representing that part of the public which is business -- this is in addition to those representing private corporations -- is someone whose name I don't know from General Motors. He has come to virtually every meeting. Representing labor -- all of labor (aren't many of those in America) -- is Mr. Meany. Now that's like the Urban League representing the civil rights movement. Representing the public -- that's those who are neither laborers nor businessmen (for example, students and housewives) -- and just listen, is Clark Kerr. He has, according to this report, not come to even one meeting. (That's right, we kept him busy.) That's the way decisions are made in America. This is a public and private corporation, public and private, and the public is represented . . . I'm very pessimistic, very pessimistic.

      I'd like to speak, before I go on, a little bit about how decisions are made in the University. Regent Pauley, in an article in the Oakland Tribune of today May 21, 1965, speaking about the Tussman Plan (a plan for about 150 undergraduates to get something a good deal better than what's normally handed out as undergraduate education), said that he would like to have letters from the teachers involved, certifying that they "believe in the capitalistic system," to reassure the state legislature.

      Now I've talked about two things, about Comsat and about the Board of Regents. About how an international telecommunications satellite system is going to be governed. International -- what incredible arrogance! Clark Kerr! And on the other hand, about the Board of Regents. how this University is governed by what can only be characterized as a committee of incredibly wealthy nincompoops!

      And that brings me to the way I wanted to put it together. I really am exceedingly pessimistic about the possibilities for significant, for substantial, change. I don't think that we can hope for anything like substantial change in the foreseeable future. So we've got to ask for something less. Well, we've got to hope for something less. (You should never ask for less than you want But we'll hope for something less.) What's that something less we maybe, maybe, can hope for in Vietnam? Well, I guess it would be the war ending by some kind of negotiations. So I'd like to say what I feel about the minimum kinds of negotiations which should be acceptable to people who have anything left of democratic ideals.

      This is my feeling. There can't be the kind of negotiations that say, "If you stop fighting, well, then we'll give you all sorts of economic benefits." That's O.K. in the huckster world in which we live, but it's not O.K. in the kind of world in which I'd like to live. None of this buying people off. Well, now, what should we insist upon? Again, let's go back to our own personal experience of last semester. Consider the Committee on Campus Political Activity in its first form. The Administration appointed 10 out of 12 people to a committee which was supposed to resolve the dispute. Now, the Administration was one of the two parties to the dispute. It appointed 10 out of 12, without any consultation with the other side. And then people accused you of being unreasonable and doctrinaire because you refused to meet with them. Well, I don't know altogether that much about the National Liberation Front. I wish I knew a lot more about it than I do. But I know that in some ways -- and this you can even get from the reports in the Tribune -- in some ways, it's the counterpart of those dastardly FSM people last semester. That means to me, that if you have negotiations which: take place between the United States and the Soviet Union and even Communist China, and possibly Hanoi, but leave out the National Liberation Front, that's like the CCPA (*) without the FSM. Impossible! I tell you, if I were involved in such a revolution, I would rather die than get out under those circumstances.

      All right. Who are the kinds of people who are proposing things like "If you stop fighting altogether, we'll give you a good payoff?" Well, you know they're the same kinds of people who opposed us here, when we fought on campus last semester. And right now I'm not talking about the reactionaries on the Board of Regents. I'm talking about some liberals, that's what I'm talking about. Who is one, one of the architects of American foreign policy in Vietnam? Robert A. Scalapino. Who is it on December 7th (remember the Greek Theater) who, with Clark Kerr, mouthed those magnificent generalities and hypocritical cliches which were supposed to end the crisis without letting the Academic Senate even have its say? It's the same people, the same ones. Those who want to make decisions by a kind of elite "know-how" here at the University of California are the same ones who will refuse repeatedly to let people, just little ordinary people, take part in decision-making wherever there are decisions to be made.


(*) The Committee on Campus Political Activity (CCPA) was formed October 21, 1964, to attempt a solution to the free speech controversy. It dissolved November 7, 1964, without reaching a conclusion.

Reprinted from We Accuse [Proceedings of the May 1965 Vietnam Day Teach-in, Berkeley], Diablo Press, Berkeley; Sept. 1965.

Copyright 1965 by Mario Savio, 1998 by Lynne Hollander. This work may not be reproduced in any medium which is sold, subject to access fee, or supported by advertising or institutional subsidy, without explicit prior consent by the copyright holder. Reproduced here by permission of Lynne Hollander.

  This page last changed 02 December, 2000


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