On the Vietnam War | 1970s
Sunday, May 10 , was a bright, spring day, and Colby was, for the moment, the center of Maine's antiwar universe. It was [Steve] Orlov's twenty-first birthday and he had inadvertently arranged a whopping party. By early afternoon the central mall – from the Eustis Building to the science buildings and from the library to Mayflower Hill Drive – teemed with some three thousand people, most of them students. From a distance the scene resembled a county fair. Up close the mood was somber.
Somber students march across campus prior to an anti-Vietnam War strike rally in 1970.
At 2:30, [U.S. Senator Edmund] Muskie walked out the front doors of the library to a podium on the steps. The crowd cheered when Orlov introduced him.1 Muskie was already touted as a Democratic presidential candidate for the 1972 election (he announced in December of that year), and his opposition to Nixon's conduct of the war was well known. He spoke from an eight-page text and used the friendly forum to announce his intention to introduce a Senate resolution requiring the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Cambodia. He said the purpose of the war had been to buy time for the people of Vietnam to build a country, and it was not worth it "if the price is the destruction of fundamental values and relationships in our own country."
Some of the crowd had drifted away before [Senator Margaret Chase] Smith appeared at four. She was tiny and frail, and her gray head could barely be seen above the podium. Orlov loomed over her like a giant bodyguard. She had no prepared speech and immediately invited questions. She would have fared better had she read something. Asked about Cambodia, she defended Nixon's decision, adding she was confident he would keep his promise to withdraw troops by June. Students howled. Someone asked if the nation's youth had been consulted in the making of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. She said the question should be directed to former President Johnson. Asked to comment on the treatment of the Black Panthers, she said she didn't like the Black Panthers or the Minutemen. A black student responded: "I don't like you, or Nixon, or any of you, but I have to deal with you because you are the establishment."
The most stunning moment came when Smith was asked if there were American troops in Cambodia's neighbor country Laos. She turned to her aide, General William Lewis, and in a voice all could hear, repeated the question. He said no, and she turned back to the microphone and said she was not aware that there were any U.S. troops in Laos. Several in the crowd cursed, and some could be seen encouraging a young man as he made his way to the podium. He stood beside the senator, introduced himself as Brownie Carson, a Marine infantry platoon commander, and said he had recently been wounded in Laos. Turning to the senator, he asked how the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee could not know that Americans were fighting in Laos, "and if you do know," he said, "how could you lie to us?" That was enough for Smith. As the screaming got louder, she turned abruptly and skulked back into the library, the dutiful general close behind.
Carson was a twenty-two-year-old Bowdoin graduate. Two years after chastising Smith on the Colby stage, he made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Maine Congressman Peter Kyros (1967-75) in the Democratic primary. He became one of the state's leading environmentalists and executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. On the day of the Colby strike rally, another Bowdoin graduate, G. Calvin Mackenzie, twenty-five, was with the U.S. First Cavalry as it invaded Cambodia. Parts of the division had been in that neutral country months before, and Mackenzie and his comrades were irritated to learn politicians back home were saying it wasn't so. Mackenzie subscribed to the Maine Times, and a week later when he received the issue carrying the story of the Colby rally, he read the account of the confrontation with Senator Smith to members of his platoon. They cheered for Brownie Carson. Mackenzie went on to earn a Harvard Ph.D. and joined the Colby faculty in 1978. He became a nationally recognized expert on the transition of power following U.S. presidential elections.