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Odd Wisconsin Archive

2 Days in November


On this date in 1967, the first violent anti-war protest on an American campus occurred in Madison, shown in tonight's PBS documentary "Two Days in October." But more than a century before, the good citizens of Port Washington and Milwaukee had engaged in similar violence when the U.S. government attempted to draft men into the Civil War. Many Wisconsin residents, especially German Catholics, did not support the Lincoln administration which, to them, represented abolitionism, Yankee nativism, and Protestant godlessness. The draft was especially intolerable to them, as many Germans had left their homeland to escape compulsory military service. On November 10, 1862, roughly 300 rioters attacked the draft office in Port Washington and vandalized the homes of Union supporters, until troops arrived to quell the disturbance. In Milwaukee that week, a mob of protesters shut down the draft proceedings, and in West Bend, the draft commissioner was beaten bloody and chased from the scene by opponents of the Civil War draft.

105 years later, students protesting recruiters from Dow Chemical, the makers of napalm, had assembled peacefully on October 17th. On the 18th, however, hundreds of them crowded into and blocked access to the university's Commerce Building, where Dow interviews were to take place. The Madison police, who had never faced a protest of this type and had no training in riot control, removed the protesters by force. Future Madison mayor Paul Soglin and nearly 50 other students were beaten bloody by police nightsticks, and tear gas was used for the first time in an anti-war demonstration. Protesters were not the only casualties, however: 19 police officers were also treated at local hospitals.

During those same two days, other young Americans were killed as U.S. troops in Vietnam were ambushed in one of the bloodiest battles of the young war. The two events are juxtaposed in Wisconsin author David Maraniss' book, They Marched Into Sunlight, which inspired tonight's film on PBS. You can find more original sources and background information on how the Vietnam War affected people in Wisconsin at Turning Points in Wisconsin History.


:: Posted in Curiosities on October 16, 2005

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