Linda Silver was born in June of 1951 in the suburbs of New York. She grew up the daughter of a World War II veteran, and was in high school when the Vietnam War was in full swing and witnessed her fellow students get drafted to Vietnam. From there she enrolled as a work-study student at Buffalo State in New York where she protested the war and witnessed the presence of more than 500 police on campus.
Through her words, Ms. Silver brings to life stories of an anti-war college campus and the turmoil of that time period. She talks of her experiences being tear-gassed in dorms and in her classrooms. Ultimately she concludes that there are many parallels between the current day conflict in Iraq and the Vietnam War.
Q: When were you born?
Mrs. Silver: Do I have to tell the truth? (Laughs) I was born in June of 1951.
Q: Could you describe where you grew up?
Mrs. Silver: I grew up in a suburb of Manhattan; I grew up in Queens, about 10 minutes from LaGuardia Airport in a kind of lower middle class family.
Q: What was your childhood like?
Mrs. Silver: It was interesting. You know, it was just a typical childhood in the 50s, although my mother worked, and my father came home early from work and my grandparents lived with us, which was unusual because usually no one’s mother was working back at that time period. My school system was very different from the school system here, with very large classes. My high school had 7000 kids in it, we were on 6 different time periods, there was 2500 kids in my graduating class. But I had a big neighborhood that I grew up in, tons of kids around, and we played stickball and handball and lots of games in the street. People left their doors unlocked, you know, very different from how it is now.
Q: Was your father in World War II?
Mrs. Silver: Yes, he was. He was in the navy, enlisted when he was 17. He worked the - you know those duck boats, the amphibious boats? - He worked those in the South Pacific; he was in that theater. And an interesting story with him is that his first boat commander, submarine commander, was anti-Semitic, and he had all the Jews removed from the boat, and that boat got blown up in Pearl Harbor, so my father was actually saved by this anti-Semitism.
Q: When were you in high school?
Mrs. Silver: You mean was years? 1964 – 1968.
Q: What were those days like?
Mrs. Silver: Everybody was pretty pressured in terms of academics. I would say it was just the beginning, when I was graduating, just the beginnings of drugs. No one in my crowd did alcohol; no one in my crowd did drugs. You know basically the worst thing we did was we went into Manhattan and didn’t tell our parents, on the train or something.
Q: When you were in high school, were you involved with what was going on around the world?
Mrs. Silver: Oh yeah. Yeah, we had a lot of kids at our high school that were either enlisted or got drafted, and so it was pretty hard watching that, and the Vietnam War was just, I think, starting to heat up right as I was graduating. And, I remember signing a petition for the Vietnam War when I was, I think, a junior, and I remember coming home and telling my parents about it. My father was really annoyed at me because he had been through the McCarthy era, and he was absolutely convinced that I’d never get a government job, or, you know, it would be in some private record somewhere; he was somewhat paranoid. Well, with good reason.
Q: Was that the first time you did anything active?
Mrs. Silver: Yeah, I think so. I think so.
Q: Is that what triggered you being an antiwar activist?
Mrs. Silver: Well, I don’t know if I would necessarily call myself an anti-war activist. I mean, I certainly was, I was against the war, but I wasn’t, you know, blowing up places. When we get to talking about my college years - I mean there was a lot of radicalism on my campus. We had a large chapter of SDS, Students for Democratic Society, and there was a lot of stuff going on on campus. But, yeah, I mean, I certainly think that was kind of my first entrée into, you know, doing something about it.
Q: Backing up just a tiny bit, when did you hear about the Cold War?
Mrs. Silver: Oh I think I knew about it like from the time I was 5 or 6. We used to have air raid drills, if you can believe this or not. I can remember walking home from school, sometimes you’d hear the air raid sirens blaring and it would be really scary and - you might have seen these - the duck and cover exercises they made you go though. They’d shut the blinds and they’d make you get under the table and cover yourself up, like this (demonstrates), and I remember thinking to myself, if somebody drops a bomb, this isn’t going to do anybody any good. But, there was a lot of talk in school, at home, about communism and the Cold War.
Q: Did you fear or dislike the communists?
Mrs. Silver: I didn’t dislike them, I was just scared. I mean, you walk home and an air raid siren, I mean, they are so loud. One day it was like thunder storming or something, a couple of us were walking home and we were terrified that someone was going to drop a bomb on us. But, I mean, that was kind of what was presented to us. I was in elementary school, so they didn’t get into it too much.
Q: Do you think that the government overreacted a little bit with that?
Mrs. Silver: Yeah, I think they overreacted a lot. Now that I think about it, I think my parents had a bomb shelter too. Downstairs in the basement they had all this can food stuff, which I never quite understood. But, yeah, I think there was an overreaction.
Q: How did you view John F. Kennedy?
Mrs. Silver: Very favorably. I mean, everybody loved him. I remember where I was when he was assassinated. It came on TV and everybody was crying, and we just thought he was a great president and he was going to really turn things around. I was 11 years old when that happened.
Q: What do you recall about the general state of the country as you came of age?
Mrs. Silver: How old am I when I came of age?
Q: Let’s say graduating high school.
Mrs. Silver: I felt like things were really in a turmoil. I worried about things. I just thought that we were in this war that I didn’t quite understand, didn’t know where it was going. I knew people who were either enlisting or got drafted, so, you know, people were running around nervous about what number they had. I thought it was a pretty scary time but it was also an exciting time too because I was going off to college. I had skipped a grade, so I was going off very young. I was 16 when I went off to college; it was my first time away from home.
Q: How did you pick or decide what college you wanted to go to?
Mrs. Silver: Well, I went to the library. See, this is not anything like you guys did, when I took my daughter around colleges it was like a whole other scene. I basically went to the library and I took Baron’s Guide to Colleges out, and I looked at all the state schools in New York because I knew my parents had no money to send me to school. My guidance counselor never told me anything about financial aid or anything, and my parents had never gone to college so they didn’t know anything about it either. So I just read through the different descriptions of the colleges and found the one that was furthest away from New York City and the best one. So, that’s why I picked Buffalo. I never saw the school. The first time I saw it was when I went to orientation in July. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Q: Did you like it?
Mrs. Silver: I loved it. Well, also I would say probably a third of the graduating seniors in my high school went to Buffalo, so I knew a lot of kids when I went there, and that made it a lot easier.
Q: How big is the school?
Mrs. Silver: 30000, yeah, big school.
Q: At school were you aware of the civil rights movement?
Mrs. Silver: Yes.
Q: What did you make of the increase of Black radicals?
Mrs. Silver: Yeah. I mean, I think people were getting very frustrated that nothing was getting done, it was just getting worse and so people escalated their activities because they felt that that was the only way they were ever going to get heard.
Q: So you talked about Vietnam, did you worry about how the Vietnam War might affect your future?
Mrs. Silver: I didn’t worry about it all the time. You know, if I can digress for a minute Buffalo was very involved in the anti-war movement. And it got tied into a lot of things. It got tied into racism and how the school was run, and they kind of lumped it into everything. So we had faculty sit ins and faculty being arrested. There were armed policemen on our campus because of the protests that we had; 500 policemen at all times. I remember running through the student union and the policemen were beating up students saying “Hitler was right, we should have killed all these Jews.” We got tear gassed every single night in the dorm. It was really scary because there were always undercover policemen who would come out from the student sign dressed as students and then they would go and shoot tear gas canisters into the rooms. We had to walk around campus with wet washcloths. They had to put towels under a lot of the classrooms, wet towels, so that the gas wouldn’t come in. It was a very frightening time.
Q: Was that for all four years?
Mrs. Silver: No, it was for a semester. It was in 1969. And the interesting thing was the campus which was very radical; 1969-1970 it was a really radical campus. I mean we formed all these different colleges: College A, College B, College C. I took a class in prisonisation with an ex convict. I mean, we had these radical ideas, if you will, and there were a lot of student protests against the war. I remember one in particular; We had this guy who was a little person and they put him in this coffin, dragged him up to the student administration building in the coffin, and he popped out and just said “You’s be dead.” And then they would start protesting the war. Abbie Hoffman came to speak at our University, so did Jerry Rubin. Overflowing crowds, people were just beside themselves. It was a very strange time, a very scary time. And we felt kind of mixed about it because on the one hand you really felt probably much like you do with the Iraqi war, that you want to support the people who are over there and you worry about them. But, we feel like, what is the purpose of this war? Why are we over there? What are we doing? Kind of fearing that we’re not being told the whole story… Cambodia is not being invaded, but we find out six months later that it is.
Q: Do you remember the first thing in college that you did being an activist?
Mrs. Silver: I went to a couple of the SDS protest meetings. They were always in the student union and I would always be studying there. So I would always finish up my studying and go hang out and listen.
Q: What is SDS?
Mrs. Silver: Sorry, Student for a democratic society. Those are all the very radical types. So you’d go and you’d hang out and hear what they’d have to say. They used a lot of scare tactics. We used to sit there and be very frightened listening to things that were happening. You almost felt like the war was going to come over here, with the way it was being expressed. But, I think that once we had armed police on campus, and we are getting gassed all the time, and the faculty are getting arrested because they had a peaceful protest, it was really becoming quite nerve-racking. I remember my mother calling me up and she was like “we’re hearing that students are getting killed up there. We want you to come home.” And the media was exaggerating about what was going on anyways.
Q: What do you think about the media and its representation of Vietnam?
Mrs. Silver: I think some of it was scare tactics, but I think a lot of it was we probably missed a lot of the boat because I think we were just getting into documenting wars. It wasn’t like you could watch every minute of the war happening. So there are a lot of things that happened particularly around killings of civilians and Agent Orange and things like that I don’t think we knew about or saw for quite some time. I had friends who were over there. I was a correspondent with somebody who was in the war, one of my professors gave out his name and a bunch of us wrote to him. And he would tell us about what was really going on over there. And it was really quite scary. It was hot, it was horrible. People were getting shot at all the time. Innocent people were getting shot. They didn’t know the affects of Agent Orange. And then people would come back here and they would be called “baby killers” or they would be spit on. It was really a tough position to be in. Did I answer your question? (Laughs)
Q: Yeah (Laughs), Were any of your friends drafted into the war?
Mrs. Silver: Yes
Q: Did you see the draft as a fair way to get troops?
Mrs. Silver: I don’t really believe in the draft. I mean, a lot of people gamed the system too. They’d go to their congressmen or senator, their mother would contribute whatever amount of money to the campaign and say “my son has ear infections” or something and that would get them out of going into the draft. I didn’t think it was particularly fair.
Q: What did you think about LBJ?
Mrs. Silver: Well, I think he had tough shoes to follow in with JFK. I always remember thinking “I don’t trust this guy.” There was just something about him that you just didn’t trust. You didn’t feel like he was telling you the whole story. I’m not sure he really used sound judgment. He felt more like sort of a war lord, really pro-war, then anybody who is going to sit back and do the pro’s and con’s and be reasonable about it. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t trust this guy.
Q: Getting back to earlier, do you remember My Lai, and how did the images you saw effect you?
Mrs. Silver: Again, I think it just really enforced my feeling that this war was just wrong. Innocent people were getting hurt and for what reason? I mean, they were pretty awful images.
Q: Do you think the media did a good job of showing what happened then?
Mrs. Silver: I don’t think it was overly dramatized, but I don’t think it was under-reported either. I think it was probably on target. At least that was my opinion on it.
Q: Do you think the media would purposefully try to either under report the story or completely dramatize the story?
Mrs. Silver: They might not know to be able to tell you the whole story. I mean I had friends who were in Vietnam and they would do conosense in Cambodia. You know, LBJ is up there saying “We’re not in Cambodia...don’t worry about it” and six months later we’re in there. So, it’s possible that people just didn’t know.
Q: So once LBJ dropped out of the campaign, did you support anybody that was still in the running?
Mrs. Silver: Not Nixon! (Laughs) I think Humphrey, probably. My parents were democratic and I tended to go along those lines. I felt like he was a decent guy who would do a decent job.
Q: What was wrong with Nixon?
Mrs. Silver: (Laughs) No, you’re asking the wrong question. What wasn’t wrong with Nixon? Oh my god he was just a sleeze bucket. I mean, I don’t know how else to describe it! He was a sleeze bucket. They didn’t call him “Tricky Dick” for nothing. If you followed Watergate at all… Watergate was really quite something; the way they broke in and stole all that stuff. When you start to see everything unraveling, Nixon with his nineteen minute missing tapes, they used to tape everything, it was really quite crazy. They used to tape things and suddenly there’s a nineteen minute gap during some critical information that his secretary supposedly erased. You really felt like you couldn’t trust government at that point. Just all the stuff that was coming out, it was really awful. He used to have the air conditioner and the fireplace on at the same time.
Q: That’s an oxymoron!
Mrs. Silver: Yeah. But, he also did some interesting foreign relations. He mended the relationship with China, and he did a few things (inaudible)...There’s a lot of paraphernalia with Tricky Dick. I don’t know if anybody else has brought it in, I didn’t have anything but they had these pins that had him like this (makes gesture like being caught by surprise) “I am not a crook”
Q: How did you learn of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination?
Mrs. Silver: I heard it on the news.
Q: What did you think about it?
Mrs. Silver: I was really upset. I was really upset. I thought he was a good guy. I just kept feeling, besides the fact the Kennedy’s always had these tragedies, that there was some hope to get on the right track. And it was like hope died.
Q: Is that the same thing you felt when Martin Luther King died?... They were all in the same year.
Mrs. Silver: Yeah, I think they all kind of compounded on each other.
Q: The ‘68 Democratic Convention in Chicago was characterized by rioting and police brutality. How did you feel about all of that?
Mrs. Silver: I don’t know that I thought of it that much because I was working during the summer. I had to pay my own way through school. But I do remember Abbie Hoffman coming and talking to us about it; just how bad things were and the usual “they were pigs” speech. So I hadn’t really thought of it that much.
Q: Many people think that the youth of the 60’s were all hippies who joined the “counter-culture.” What do you think about that?
Mrs. Silver: (Laughs) My daughter keeps telling me I was a hippie. (Laughs) Because I had long hair and I had bell bottoms. (Laughs) I mean, I think, you know, we were very idealistic. And I think everything was sort of going towards an open society. I mentioned all these colleges: College A, College B, College C. We did all these interesting courses. We wanted to have no exams. There was a big sexual revolution, a big drug revolution that went on at that time. Almost in rebellion to the 50’s were everybody was uptight. It was kind of just like the flood gates opened up. So you know, I mean, I probably have one foot in and one foot out. I just think that it was a very confusing time - A very confusing time to be an adolescent when you’re trying to figure out who you are.
Q: So would you call yourself a hippie?
Mrs. Silver: I don’t know. You know? Sort of like, how do you define that? I was at Woodstock for a day; does that mean I was a hippie? (laughs) I had long hair and I had bellbottoms, was I a hippie? I wasn’t doing drugs. I wasn’t having some sexual revolution like I know a lot of other people were. I mean, I was probably somewhere in the middle of it? I don’t know. I don’t think of myself as a hippie but, as my daughter looks at my picture’s and thinks that I was, so who knows?
Q: You said that Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin came to your school. Did they have a big impact on you?
Mrs. Silver: Yeah, yeah they were very... what’s the word I’m looking for?... Outspoken, very passionate, and really felt like we needed to rise up and fight the revolution and fight against government and authority. And at the time to me, it was like we couldn’t take the hammer and move it all the way to the other side. There has got to be something in the middle. And I didn’t feel like there was that middle ground compromise. Everything was pretty extreme, but I thought the concepts were interesting. And they gave out free copies of his book: Don’t Steal This Book. It’s very interesting to me that Abbie Hoffman and I believe Jerry Rubin too both became investment bankers.
Q: Did you get to meet them personally?
Mrs. Silver: Yeah. They came outside and shook our hands, told us to fight the good fight.
Q: Are they the only activist leaders that you met?
Mrs. Silver: Yeah.
Q: Have you heard any others?
Mrs. Silver: No, I think those were the only two I had the pleasure of hearing.
Q: Did you participate in protests outside of college?
Mrs. Silver: No, it was in college. It was basically in college. And like I said, a lot of it got roped into not just the anti war protests, but there was also some racism that went on at the campus particularly with the athletic department. A little bit of it with the Greeks that were on campus. We had RATC. One project that was funded by the Department of Defense. Everything got sort of mushed together. Once they called the police on campus that kind of pushed everybody over the edge. Interestingly enough, the next year, the school became incredibly conservative. It was like nobody talked about war. Nobody talked about fighting the government. The Greeks were kicked off campus, for some reason which I don’t understand. But, I mean, it was so eerie and creepy. It was like we had gone to the opposite extreme. I think people just had had it and didn’t want to have that kind of disruption and violence on campus. The tear gassing was terrible, it was really awful.
Q: Have you ever personally been tear gassed?
Mrs. Silver: Oh yeah, every night in the dorm. Every night. For four months. And in the classrooms too. We’d be sitting in the classrooms and a tear gas canister would come through the window.’
Q: Why did they do that in the classrooms?
Mrs. Silver: Because people were protesting, students were protesting. They just wanted us out of there.
Q: How do you deal with tear gas if it actually gets in your eyes?
Mrs. Silver: You have to have a wet washcloth, and put it over your eyes, but it really hurts and it takes a long time to go away. That’s why we would stick wet towels under our dorm room door. My room mate actually got hit in the knee with a tear gas canister and she had to have surgery. I know other people who had injuries from tear gas canisters. And it was pretty awful. We ended up being dismissed early, we were told - kind of like at Virginia Tech - we could go and take our finals at home, or just didn’t have to take them and take the grade that we had up until that point because it was just so... after Kent State it was like, send them home because it could have gotten a lot worse.
Q: Is that the only type of violence that you experienced towards you?
Mrs. Silver: Other than the incident running through the student union with the cops hitting everybody on the head. Yeah, that was enough for me.
Q: You talked about Kent State, how much did that affect you? And your thoughts?
Mrs. Silver: Well, I was already scared being on campus giving all the police presence and the numerous protests. Oh, I forgot to tell you. They also roasted a pig in effigy. Actually I have some pictures I can share with you. (Laughs) They roasted a pig in effigy and played, you know the Beetles song Little Piggies? They played the beetles song Little Piggies while they were roasting this.
Q: The police must have been so mad!
Mrs. Silver: Yeah! (laughs) Didn’t endear them to the police. So I was already nervous about being on campus as it was for that year. So, you know, seeing that the police actually killed some students really frightened me. I wasn’t thrilled. You don’t think about yourself, being an adolescent, that anybody could hurt you. Yeah, you learn when you’re a grown up that that’s not true - very quickly.
Q: Do you remember one specific example of the protests that just sticks out in your mind? Or would you say the one you mentioned before was the most prominent?
Mrs. Silver: No... I think there... There is a picture in here that I brought with me where there is like 3,000 of us were in a line marching. There’s one picture at the student union. There’s a picture of the policemen on campus. Here’s our line. It was sort of a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War; we were going to the administration building. Here’s another one. This is of a classroom that somebody spray painted. So I remember being in this. I remember that peaceful protest when we were going to the administration building. We were protesting both the Vietnam war and also the presence of police on campus.
Q: Someone spray painted that?
Mrs. Silver: Yeah, you’d get into big trouble for that, doing it here.
Q: Oh yeah, I guess you could say that... Yeah... Oh gosh... I’m kind of digressing back to Nixon here, What did you think of his “peace with honor” strategy? Vietnamization?
Mrs. Silver: I don’t think it was a strategy, quite frankly. Trying to wait for “peace with honor” is ridiculous. We should have just left. I think there are a lot of parallels; I know you have a question on this, between the Iraqi war and what’s going on now, and the Vietnam war. You know, In essence it’s pretty much the same thing without a draft. I think this whole notion of you have to pull out gradually and let them know that we are still there for a while. Also because it doesn’t look good for us to pull out and lose. I mean, we have to do what’s right here. And I felt that way about that too.
Q: What did you think about when Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia?
Mrs. Silver: Oh my G-d I couldn’t believe it. I was like what are we doing?! Wondering sort of like, wasn’t this enough? Why did we need to? And it was so paranoid. I mean Nixon was a paranoid guy anyway. And it’s like, oh ok, so we’re going to have communism in Cambodia too, that it’s going to affect the entire world? It just made no sense to me at all.
Q: So you didn’t believe that he was trying to scale down the war?
Mrs. Silver: No, I thought it was going to escalate things.
Q: One of the GI’s letters we one in class that expressed frustration at the scale of the public reaction of the Kent State killings, while thousands and thousands of men were getting killed in Vietnam. How do account for the reaction to the campus shootings?
Mrs. Silver: I think it affected kids, and it was closer to home, and people could touch it, and feel it. You could think about your own child being in that situation; where as there was this war going on over there, for what, and what were they doing over there exactly? All we knew was people were getting killed, innocent people were getting killed, you know the “baby killer” thing, nobody was really paying attention to the Vietnam Vets at all, and I think that they totally got the short trip. Actually I work with somebody who was over there for 17 months and his brother was there for 19 months, and he said they landed in San Francisco and he came off the plane and they were spitting at him and they were saying “you’re a baby killer” and “we hate you” and he’d just come over from being in a terrible war, and he was basically getting spit on. A lot of people had post-dramatic stress. I’m actually a practicing psychologist also, and I had a number of patients who were post-dramatic stressed from the Vietnam War, and I just think that we didn’t provide any proper care. I don’t know that we’re doing that great a job with the Iraqi veterans either, looking at Walter Reed and so on, but they’re certainly at least getting more support.
Q: Why do you think that the people felt that they had a right to be rude to the Vietnam vets, who most of them might not have even chose to go fight, but they were serving their country? And why do you think people felt that they had the right to be mean to them and ridicule them when the people at Kent State weren’t really fighting for their country they were just speaking their mind?
Mrs. Silver: I mean, again, I think it’s a matter of you could relate more to what was going on here, and they’re kids, and you could see it. Where as the people who were actually living it over there and who knew what was really going on there - a lot of people didn’t follow the Vietnam War. A lot of people sort of knew it was going on in the background but, didn’t really pay attention.
Q: Do you think that’s what’s going on today with the Iraq War?
Mrs. Silver: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of parallels between the Iraq War and the Vietnam War, as I said, except that we don’t have a draft, yet. But I think there’s not much of a difference between the two of them. I think they are senseless wars, both of them, that’s my own personal opinion. I think a lot of people are getting hurt and killed on every side. I think we need to find a way to get folks out of there.
Q: Backing up to the psychology thing you were saying, what was that like, working with the people coming back?
Mrs. Silver: The ones with the post-dramatic stress?
Mrs. Silver: I mean I was glad I could help them, but the nightmares and things were just terrible. The kinds of things that they saw and did, and were forced to do, it really has a big impact on somebody. You hear this from Iraqi vets too; they come home and they’re never the same, their life is just never the same. In World War II I think they took better care of the vets that came back, and they were actually treating them. The Vietnam War, it was like it never happened, and so they didn’t treat them as well. They are doing some of it now, but I certainly think there was a lot of psychological damage from being over there. I don’t think the DA did a very good job of anticipating it.
Q: Do you think the way you viewed soldiers back then and the way view the Vietnam vets today has changed dramatically?
Mrs. Silver: No. I kind of feel the same. I feel like they were sent to this war that, as you put it, some people didn’t even want to be there. I don’t think that they were fairly treated, and I still feel that today. I think its better; I mean they have the Vietnam Memorial. I think they have better benefits now, people aren’t calling them baby killers, but I don’t think it’s changed very much.
Q: I just don’t understand why they called them baby killers.
Mrs. Silver: Well because they went into villages and they were ordered to just shoot people. There were innocent babies there, parents, and that’s why people had post-tramatic stress.
Q: When people came home a lot of the vets joined the Vietnam Vets Against the War. Do you think they were selling out their fellow troops?
Mrs. Silver: I actually thought they were doing a service. I thought they were sort of telling what…they were over there, and they were telling what they saw and letting people know. It’s kind of like with the Holocaust, people were denying what was really going on there, and until people came out and actually talked about what happened there, you didn’t really have the full impact of what that was like. I think that’s the same with the Vietnam vets for the war. I don’t think they were selling out at all.
Q: Did you know any Vietnam vets in 60s and 70s? Were any of you friends in the war?
Mrs. Silver: Yeah. I had one pen pal in particular that I think I mentioned earlier that I saw when he came home, and he was pretty shook up, and again as I mentioned I had some patients who had also gone through that as well.
Q: Did you lose any friends in the war?
Mrs. Silver: Yeah, a couple. Really young, like 20. A couple people from my high school.
Q: Were any of them close friends or just…?
Mrs. Silver: They were friends, but you also feel like, you know, again, when you’re an adolescent you think nothing can happen to you, and this happens to people really young and have their whole life ahead of them.
Q: When the Vietnam vets came home and you seeing them shaken, did that affect your decision to major in psychology, or was that before?
Mrs. Silver: No, I had already decided to do that. But, certainly it was something I could help.
Q: Did you tend to view all the troops as not necessarily calling them baby killers but did you think they were bad people for what they did or did you think given the circumstances they were ok?
Mrs. Silver: I didn’t think they were bad people. In any other situation there’s always a small group of people that, you know, kind of go over board, or are the rotten apples of the bunch, you’ll see that anywhere. But I think the majority of them did what they were told to do, and did what they had to to survive.
Q: This is kind of going backwards, but do you think the protests helped end the Vietnam War?
Mrs. Silver: I think so. I think people’s involvements certainly attract the politicians, you know, they want to make sure they get their votes, and so on. You always have those crazy war people, like in the Department of Defense, but for the most part I think the people did listen. Same with the Civil Rights movement, it did have a positive affect.
Q: You said before that you don’t think that we did enough to support the soldiers. Do you have any thoughts to what we should have done?
Mrs. Silver: Well, I certainly think that we should have anticipated some of the mental health needs. I think we needed to make sure that we had the benefits in place to help people reenter, and take better care of them, and help them find jobs. I don’t think there was a reentry process there at all that I could tell.
Q: So, do you blame the soldiers for the high alcohol and drug abuse rates when they got home and other problems, or do you blame the government?
Mrs. Silver: Well I don’t blame anybody. I think those are diseases and I think that they were in reaction to the situations that people were put in, so if you want to say, well, but the government put them in that situation so one could make that extrapolation, but I think everybody reacts differently to things and I think in order to numb themselves out they had to use drugs, alcohol, whatever they could typically, because they weren’t getting much help either.
Q: So obviously it’s getting a lot more public today about the lessons we could learn from Vietnam. Do you see a lot of parallels between the two conflicts and if so what big parallels do you see?
Mrs. Silver: I think it’s like a war without the draft attached to it. I think people are being sent off to fight this amorphous, weapons of mass destruction, terrorists, kind of war, and to keep the stability in that arena, so things don’t escalate for the rest of the world, and that was very similar in Vietnam; to prevent communism from infiltrating the entire world. So there are a lot of parallels there. And I think at this point, we are not doing anybody any good. I don’t think anybody’s winning on this one and we have to figure out a strategy, a real one, to get out, and I felt that with the Vietnam War too.
Q: Do you think if the draft was put in place then there’d be equal protest as the Vietnam War?
Mrs. Silver: Maybe, maybe. It’s hard to tell, but it could be, it’s an interesting point.
Q: What lessons do you think we’ve learned and we’re actually using now in Iraq that we got from Vietnam?
Mrs. Silver: Well we certainly have better equipment. I don’t know that we’ve learned anything to tell you the truth, sometimes history repeats itself, and life has something to teach you until you get it, and I’m not sure we’ve got it, truth be speaking.
Q: Do you think we learned lessons in the Vietnam War but we’re ignoring them now?
Mrs. Silver: Oh yeah. Yeah. I think certainly the whole issue of invading another country and trying to solve some sort of world problem. And this is why people think Americans are arrogant; as if we know the right answer, and going in with force to try to make something happen in the name of democracy, terrorism, whatever you want to call it is something I that don’t think we’ve learned probably isn’t a great way to go. And I’m sure there are people who disagree with me. If my father was still here he’d say “you make sure they don’t put this in your file because you’ll never get a government job.” Meanwhile I’m working for the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, but that’s beside the point. I passed my background check.
Q: The Vietnamese people, were they fighting more for communism, or just for not havimg foreigners in their country?
Mrs. Silver: I think it’s a combination of both. I don’t know that it’s an either or question. This is part of the picture of us as being very arrogant; with our country helping them do something they couldn’t possibly figure out how to do by themselves. If you go outside of the United States there’s a lot of anti-American sentiment, because people think we’re really arrogant.
Q: Most of our politicians are.
Mrs. Silver: Yeah, but it gets translated to us when we’re over there. There is that anti-American sentiment. If your standing there and you’re American, your it.
Q: Would you say the American’s main purpose being there was to fight communism, or do you think there was another motive?
Mrs. Silver: Well there’s probably some other agenda underneath there, but the one that everybody heard about was communists, communists, communists. And after the McCarthy era, people were just totally paranoid.
Q: As you’ve reflected on the war over the years, how do you view it differently than when you were younger?
Mrs. Silver: I think it was much more abstract to me when I was younger. I mean I was against it back then and I’m still against it now, but I think it was much, I don’t know, much more abstract. As I’ve gotten older and understood more of the ramifications I think it feels more real to me.
Q: Would you have done anything differently, or been in more protests or less?
Mrs. Silver: I might have actually gone down to the Washington protest, I didn’t go to that one, I actually might have done that.
Q: Do you think that teenagers or college students these days are not as active as they should be?
Mrs. Silver: Yeah, I do. I mean that’s my observation. I don’t really see students being as involved as I think we were.
Q: Do you think it makes a difference towards the war?
Mrs. Silver: I think it always makes a difference. Look at the Civil Rights movement, and I think some of our protesting did some good. I think students today don’t necessarily follow the news, don’t necessarily understand what’s going on, unless they’re immediately impacted by it. I don’t think they think about it very much.
Q: Do you think there’s a main reason why kids today aren’t paying attention to it as much as before?
Mrs. Silver: There was an article in the paper about kids being more entitled now and selfish. I don’t know if that’s it, but certainly what I see at colleges and just having visited all the colleges, its very much a party atmosphere and people try to keep that stuff out, bad stuff out, as much as possible. It’s my observation.
Q: Do you ever regret being part of the protesting?
Mrs. Silver: No, not at all. I think part of it shaped who I was. I think that the police presence on campus was an eye opener for how the world operates sometimes. Sometimes you get very protected by your environment and your family, and you don’t sort of know bad things can happen to people. It’s a really quick lesson, and I think a life lesson that I think probably shaped who I am today. It’s interesting, I pulled out the article, it came out in 2005, our Alumni magazine, that was looking back at the protest. There was one student in there who said “I was working to put myself through school,” as I was too, but she was getting very aggravated by all the protests that were going on. She felt like some students were doing it for selfish reasons because they wanted to get out of final exams or whatever it was. But she felt really annoyed that her hard earned money that she was paying for college was kind of going out the window because we had classes that were cancelled because of tear gas. I thought that was an interesting perspective.
Q: Do you have any last thoughts or points or things you’d like to share?
Mrs. Silver: No, but it was really kind of fun going back and looking over this stuff and remembering what it was really like, because I had sort of put it in the back of my mind. Every once and a while I remember it as I’m listening to things about the Iraqi war because I think there are so many parallels there.
Q: Were any of your friends in college really big activists and do something really radical?
Mrs. Silver: I don’t think so. Most of my friends were work study students, so we were working really hard and studying a lot so we had limited time to do stuff anyway. So I tended not to hang out with that side of folks, although I know they were on campus. They were burning flags all the time, roasting pigs, spray painting “power to the people,” and things like that.
Q: Is there one thing you remember, or someone doing something in rebellion that was just really out there?
Mrs. Silver: Well the only one that I remember is the example I gave you earlier, when Bobby Fast jumped out of a coffin and said “You be’s dead!” And then they had a flag burning next to them. That was sort of the most outrageous thing. We had a concert; the only other thing I really remember was we had a concert and it was, I think when I was a freshmen, somebody’s father was a concert promoter so we had Big Brother and the Holding Company, Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Crème, The Chambers Brothers, Frank Zappa - and there were several more I can’t remember who they were - but all we had to pay was 5 dollars for the entire weeks concert. And they were all top bands from when I was young. And the person wished to remain anonymous. Everybody was trying to find out who it was, and we never found out who it was. It was a great concert.
Q: You said that you hadn’t really thought about Vietnam and that era, is that because you didn’t really want to think about it or just because it’s the past?
Mrs. Silver: I think it’s because it’s the past. I think about it when I think about the Iraqi War, but those days of student protests and things like that… when you get old you tend to focus on the stuff that’s going on now, your kids, your work, you don’t sort of remember that stuff until somebody asks you about it. I was in line once and I had taken my daughter to see Apollo 13, and we’re in line and there were people behind us and they said “I heard this was a true story!” (Laughs) I mean, I lived through that. On one hand I thought it was ridiculous, on the other hand I was like yeah, but that was during my time. It’s kind of hard to remember I was 16 at the time but I was living through a pretty tumultuous time; so I was probably your age.
Q: When Mr. Delaney was telling us we were going to be meeting people I thought they would be a lot older. I was really expecting someone a lot older.
Mrs. Silver: Well, that’s a relief. (Laughs)
Q: I guess we all think kind of World War II era because it’s like the past and we’re like “oh it’s old now!” I was thinking an 80 year old person or something.
Mrs. Silver: Well my dad’s 80 and he’s World War II. I mean it’s really interesting, my dad never talks about the war, ever. I mean if I ask him questions he’ll tell me, but it’s not in his brain, he doesn’t remember it that well. Part of which may be his age but even when I was younger he never talked about the war, other than when I signed that petition; he was completely freaked out that I was going get into trouble.
Q: Any last thoughts?
Mrs. Silver: No. This was fun, this was fun.
Q: Thank you!!