By DAVID J. YOUNG
Posted Oct 11, 2008
Wednesday, Oct. 15, 1969. I was 14, a freshman in high school. The
headline story on the the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite was
about a well-organized national moratorium on the Vietnam War.
College campuses held peaceful demonstrations protesting the conflict
and our country's growing involvement in Southeast Asia. Major cities
staged similar non-violent gatherings. Some speakers questioned the
political and moral reasons for our presence. Others demanded an end
to a conflict that had taken the lives of thousands of young American
and Vietnamese. They decried a war that lacked a clearly defined
purpose for Americans asked to support it with their tax dollars and
their sons' and daughters' lives.
Being just a kid growing up in East Lansing, I held no opinion about
the war. I was too young to fully comprehend the implications of the
social, political and cultural unrest taking place. Vietnam was
halfway around the globe. Yet the conflict on her soil dominated the
evening news almost every night. Embedded reporters, for the first
time in journalistic history, filmed and reported the vivid sounds
and scenes of warfare directly into our homes. Television all but
negated the previous role of military censorship in controlling
public opinion about war.
And every Friday evening Mr. Cronkite, arguably one of the most
influential men of that decade, would announce the weekly tally of
dead American, South and North Vietnamese, and Viet Cong soldiers.
Statistics were vividly displayed on screen. He had no way to gauge
the loss of innocent lives. But the inferred question he posed to
viewers was profound yet simple. It would ultimately sway public
opinion and bring about peace. "Why?"
Ninety miles away from me in East Lansing, in politically
conservative West Michigan, the moratorium that day was minor in
scope. Grand Rapids held the largest gathering about the region in
it's downtown. Thirty miles southwest of Grand Rapids, Hope College
staged a small assembly. Three hundred attended. It gained only brief
comment in The Holland Evening Sentinel. No mention of a
community-wide public gathering was made.
Surprisingly however, a moratorium also took place seven miles east
of Holland in Zeeland. Few residents knew of the event. It was not
mentioned in The Sentinel. The local weekly newspaper, the Zeeland
Record, made no reference to a moratorium in it's Oct. 16 issue. The
gathering was not held on public grounds. This moratorium was
private; it took place on the factory floors of a manufacturing
company on the east side of town. Only employees were invited. It was
As was the company's decades-old tradition of practicing biblical
servant leadership, Herman Miller Inc. held a late afternoon work
stoppage that day. The intent of the corporate leadership was to
offer its employees a time for reflection on this very controversial conflict.
Four or five speakers were asked to share their thoughts. A makeshift
stage was set. Almost all employees attended.
Herman Miller was on the verge of becoming a Fortune 500 company.
Within a few years it's Action Office furniture line would become the
trendsetter in style and function for the work place; the product
would transform the industry and prove highly profitable for the
company and it's shareholder employees.
But for a few hours, late in the afternoon of Oct. 15, 1969, Herman
Miller would forego productivity and profit in deference to
contemplation and prayer about a war that was not only destroying the
two Vietnams but also profoundly straining the very foundation of our
country's social, cultural and political structure.
John Nordstrom, a local pastor in Zeeland, was asked by Hugh DePree
to reflect on the concept of peace. His eloquent words remain
timeless 39 years later as we Americans reflect no longer on Vietnam
but on the Iraqi War, our role in Afghanistan, the growing influence
of terrorism in the Middle East and beyond, the cultural
insensitivity and religious intolerance about the world, and the
generational hatred being nurtured among the Islamic youth of the
Middle and Far East.
"Psalm 8, one of the most majestic in all the psalter ... tells of
man's importance in God's great scheme of things. Made a little less
than God, crowned with glory and honor, given dominion over the
created order, man is charged with making the earth a decent place
for all to live. It was no accident that Jesus gave the peacemakers
the highest honor as Sons of God. For it is on this earth, and at
this time, that the peacemakers will seek justice and opportunity for
all men! To be a peacemaker, to be actively in pursuit of wholeness
and harmony for all, is to be doing the will of God 'on earth as it
is in heaven.'
"Last July two Americans walked on the face of the moon. We saw a
desolate, pock-marked wasteland incapable of supporting life in any
advanced form. Now the real significance of the moon landing lies in
what it tells us about the earth. The most startling of the pictures
taken from space are not those of the bleak, unfriendly surface of
the moon, but those of our own homeland, the earth, with its mighty
continents and oceans and its swirling cloud patterns. It is here
that life is to be lived or destroyed. The earth is indeed a bright
ark laden with life in a vast, black, cosmic sea. And we
have discovered that we are all in the same boat. We shall have to
learn to live together, or we shall surely perish together.
"So today our attention is directed toward great moral issues dealing
with the ability of men to make the earth a place of promise and
hope. What will be the response of the men of peace? Do we continue
to meet new problems and situations with old cliches and tired
answers? Do we continue to delude ourselves with blind prejudice, and
cover ourselves with the mantle of respectability which hides our own
sickness? Or do we dare run the risk of being peacemakers, called
Sons of God? We have the choice. Like the Israelites in the
wilderness, we have life and death, blessing and curse, set before
us, and we must make a choice. Never in man's history has the choice
been clearer or the stakes higher. Oliver Wendell Holmes challenges
us to assume our responsibility for peace, when he said: 'I think it
is required of man that he should share the actions and passions of
his time at the peril of being judged not to have lived.'
"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called Sons of God."
Thirty nine years later I occasionally find myself contemplating how
Mr.Cronkite would report the events of this far more complicated
world of a new millennium. Surely the Iraqi War and our incursions
into Afghanistan in search of a heinous terrorist in hiding would
dominate the first ten minutes of many news broadcasts.
As he did years ago, would he comment every Friday on the death tally
of American, Iraqi and Afghani soldiers? Would he mention the number
of Islamic extremists who died over the past week in martyrdom for
ideals steeped in deranged religious fundamentalism? Would he
announce how many innocent were maimed or killed by arsenal intended
for enemy furtively encamped within populated neighborhoods? And
would I, wiser for my respect of history, infer from those death
tallies the same question the old peacemaker had posed 39 years
earlier during as turbulent times? "Why?"
How truly blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
"And that's the way it is, Wednesday Oct. 15, 2008. This is Walter
Cronkite, CBS News. Good night."
David J. Young is a resident of Holland.