The Moratorium on the War

By Brian Brennan

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the “Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam,” a nationwide peace protest that was held in many American communities on October 15, 1969. Local observance of the moratorium took place in Youngstown and on the Youngstown State University campus, but not without controversy.

The concept for the demonstration began as a call for a national general strike in protest against the war. Seen as too radical, the idea morphed into a one-day moratorium (an interruption of one’s daily activities) against the war.

This caught on and moratorium committees were established in cities and on college campuses throughout the United States. At YSU, the protest was coordinated by Alice Budge of the English department, student John Lindner and others.

Many events were scheduled. A rally was planned for the Kilcawley Amphitheater. Seventy-six crosses were to be planted on the campus lawn, representing the number of local service members (to date) killed in the war.

After a public reading of their names, a procession would march downtown to Central Square for the main rally, where the names of the dead would be called again. Afterward, a second procession would return to YSU for a symposium and “speak-out.” Further activities were planned for the Newman Center and the Gates of Eden coffee shop.

While many faculty members supported the moratorium, the same cannot be said for President Albert L. Pugsley. Observance would require the cancellation of classes to allow for student and instructor participation; however, Pugsley was not obliged to cancel anything.

In his official statement, issued on Oct. 6, he expressed “deep and continuing concern” and encouraged continued discussion. Pugsley further urged “thoughtful consideration of [the] issues on the part of all members of the University community.”

Even so, the president only would sanction participation that aligned with class schedules. Students could take part in the moratorium solely at times when their classes did not meet. All instruction was to take place as usual.

Faculty members were prohibited from canceling their sessions. Those opposing or indifferent to the moratorium endorsed the president’s position. Supporters of the event saw Pugsley’s words as paradoxical, if not hypocritical.

Regardless, the moratorium went off as planned. Some professors did, indeed, cancel their classes and marched with their students, who cut other classes to attend. Disregarding the president’s wishes, George Jones, the university librarian, closed the library for one hour, so his staff could reflect upon the war. The Rev. Burton Cantrell, a peace activist and YSU’s Protestant chaplain, participated fervently in the demonstrations.

While the moratorium did not end the Vietnam War, it did raise questions about U.S. involvement and served to increase public awareness of the conflict. With things as they are today, perhaps 2019 will be a good time for another moratorium.

Check out The Jambar’s coverage by clicking “Digital Collections” on the Maag Library website, The Archives’ copy of the 1970 “Neon” yearbook is also worth a look (fifth  floor, Maag Library).