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The University War Machine in Cambridge and Boston: Some Pamphlets from the New England Free Press

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, students across the US protested the entanglements of their universities in the US war machine and took actions to disrupt them. They also drew connections between university expansion into research and development projects for the war industry and the displacement of working class people in surrounding communities. These actions included building occupations, destroying infrastructure involved in military research, student strikes, and shutting down military recruiting centers and programs such as ROTC. Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Northeastern, Brandeis, and other local colleges and universities had active student groups organizing against the ties between their institutions and US imperialism.

The broader context was a growing movement against the Vietnam war and in support of the Black liberation movement. In May of 1970, Nixon expanded the Vietnam war into Cambodia, and four student protesters at Kent State were shot and killed by the US National Guard. The trial of Bobby Seal and the New Haven chapter of the Black Panther Party began at the same time. Student protests expanded into a national student strike involving over 800 colleges and universities, which crystallized around three demands:

  1. That the United States government end its systematic repression of political dissidents and release all political prisoners, such as Bobby Seale and other members of the Black Panther Party.
  2. That the United States government cease its expansion of the Vietnam war into Laos and Cambodia; that it unilaterally and immediately withdraw all forces from Southeast Asia.
  3. That the universities end their complicity with the U.S. war machine by an immediate end to defense research, ROTC, counterinsurgency research, and all other such programs.

(from "National Strike Information Committee, Newsletter #5, May 7, 1970.")

Already in April of 1969, students at Harvard calling for a student strike against the war had occupied University Hall protesting Harvard's support for ROTC and its real estate practices in Cambridge and Boston. They listed six demands:

  1. Abolish ROTC
  2. Restore scholarships to the Paine Hall demonstrators
  3. Replace ROTC scholarships with the equivalent Harvard scholarships
  4. That rent rises in university owned apartments be rolled back to the level of Jan. 1, 1968
  5. University Road apartments not be torn down to make way for the Kennedy complex
  6. That 182 Black workers' homes in Roxbury not be torn down to make room for Harvard Medical School expansion

(from "Up Against the Wall St. Journal," Vol. 1, No. 1, April 16, 1969)

In the course of the occupation, students seized documents related to Harvard's involvement with the CIA, military industry, and US imperialism. Some of these documents were later published in the pamphlet "How Harvard Rules," which also included maps of Harvard's relationship to war-tech industry in Cambridge and across Massachusetts (note that the link provides only an abridged version of this pamphlet). The publication made extensive reference to another pamphlet, "Harvard, Urban Imperialist" documenting the role of Harvard and MIT in driving out working class residents to make way for technological research centers closely tied to war. (Another version of this second pamphlet was published under the title "Cambridge: the transformation of a working class city; Harvard and MIT create an imperial city" ).

Harvard and MIT research centers with ties to war and imperialism became persistent targets of the local anti-war movement. In 1969 and again in 1972, protesters entered Harvard's Center for International Affairs (CFIA) (now known as the Weatherhead Center) because of its close ties with Henry Kissinger--widely recognized as an architect of the US war against Vietnam--with the aim of shutting it down. The second attack was the culmination of a march that began with the physical blockade of a military recruitment center in downtown Boston, crossed the river into Cambridge toward an undisclosed "military-linked target" and veered toward the CFIA (then housed on Divinity Avenue) at the last minute. In the course of the attack, demonstrators overturned bookcases, smashed windows, set fires and opened the internal sprinkler system. "In less than 10 minutes, the inside of the center was in ruins," according to a report from the Boston Globe (April 19, 1972). From there the crowd of demonstrators moved on to attack an IBM office building on Cambridge Street, highlighing the connections between war, university research, and the local tech industry.

The New England Free Press was a local radical project that connected student and community activists and published some of the research, statements and analysis of the contemporary movement. We include here a few additional links to pamphlets, now available in their digital archive, which document ties between local universities, war industry, US imperialism and the displacement of working class people from Cambridge and Boston:

MIT and Imperialism

Two, three, many tech squares: MIT's role in the transformation of Cambridge

The CFIA, Center for International Affairs

Project CAM Exposed

Underdeveloping the World: Harvard and Imperialism -- the role of the development advisory service (das)

M.I.T. Lab Conversion: the (Ford) Fraud Exposed

Up Against the Wall St. Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1.