Speech at Vietnam
May 21, 1965
by Mario Savio
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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!
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
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
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.