Ron Jacobs Story

Tin Soldiers and

In late February of 1970, my father, who was then a major in the Air Force, came back from a little more than a year of service in Da Nang, Vietnam. During that time I had gone from being a junior supporter of Gene McCarthy to something of an anti-imperialist as my understanding of the war deepened. After three weeks at our stateside home outside of Washington, DC, we were reassigned to Frankfurt am Main in what was then West Germany. When I awoke on May 1 that year, I was incredulous and angry that Nixon had sent troops into Cambodia. Although my political awareness was still unformed, I had figured out quickly that Richard Nixon was a pig. Still, though, I didn't think he or anyone else would actually expand the war in Southeast Asia when everybody--including the military--wanted it to end. When I went to the kitchen for breakfast my father was still there and we had a short debate about the invasion before he headed off to work. This got me fired up for a day of debate. I waited with my siblings for the bus that took us to our respective schools in different US Army installations around Frankfurt, anticipating the opportunity to express my hatred of the war and the people who ran it. It was especially important since I had only been at this school for a few weeks and was still trying to get in with the counterculture freaks at the junior high.

Sure enough, even though homeroom was run by the gym teacher (a man who usually didn't like talking about the news or anything other than sports), we spent the whole class period arguing about the war. By the time civics class came up right before lunch, some of the more radical students (whom I was just beginning to know) were trying to organize some kind of protest. However, since the weekend was coming up, nothing concrete was devised. When we got back to school on Monday, May 4, most of us who cared had heard the news reports all weekend about the massive protests taking place all over the US against Nixon's move into Cambodia. In addition, the German students had kept the police busy all weekend in Frankfurt with constant rallies and marches against the invasion. By noon on Monday, some hastily drawn posters began appearing on the walls of our junior high urgingstudents to protest the war on Wednesday, May 6, by wearing black armbands and refusing to go to homeroom. Of course, as soon as the posters appeared, they were ripped down by administrators or a pro-war student or
teacher. One girl was suspended when she refused to remove a poster she had just put up. That night I found some black material and made myself an armband.

Like always, I turned on the radio when I awoke the next morning. I liked to listen to the news, especially when something big was happening. I was not prepared, however, for the news that morning. Nor do I think I will ever forget how I felt when I first heard it. Four students had been shot dead in Kent, Ohio by the National Guard while protesting the war. I knew what Dylan meant when he sang of his tears of rage. My eyes were brimming over with such tears and my heart was pounding in anger and disbelief. I didn't say much as I got ready for school. My mom was silent as I read the Stars and Stripes report on the killings and my older sister and I talked
about them.

I put my armband on while waiting for the school bus. Upon arriving at school, I searched for some of the kids most involved in the antiwar planning. In homeroom, the teacher read a memo from the principal expressing regret from the principal over the slayings in Ohio, but warned that no protest of any kind would be allowed at Frankfurt American Junior High School. The PE teacher looked around, noting that three or four of us wore black armbands, and said nothing. One of the guys asked if he could read something relevant to the current events and the teacher said yes. Steve took out a copy of the text to Arlo Guthrie's antiwar poem "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" and began reading, complete with four part harmony. By the time he finished, class was over.

Most of the teachers turned the classroom time that day into a discussion of the war in Vietnam and the repression of the movement against it. Those students who wanted to do more than just wear armbands passed the word that people should still refuse to go to homeroom the following day. We would hold a silent vigil in the parking lot instead . A few students were forced to remove their armbands by the more reactionary teachers. Other teachers took armbands provided by the students and wore them themselves. When the bell signalling the beginning of classes rang the next morning, about a hundred students in the parking lot made no moves toward the building. We waited for a signal of some kind from one of the protest organizers. As we milled around, certain teachers known for their allegiance to the rules appeared on the outskirts of our small crowd. Slowly but surely they herded us towards the entrance doors and slowly but surely we filed in. I don't think we had a failure of will as much as we had no organization. Later that day there was a two-hour all-school assembly where, after some sanctimonious nonsense from the principal and an Army officer about defending freedom (both of whom were shouted down), we argued about the war.

-From My Trip Out West-a work in progress
Ron Jacobs, author, The Way the Wind Blew:A History of the Weather Underground

Ron can be reahed at his website at

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