The protests that erupted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1960s were an important part of the wider student unrest that shook the US in this period.

Noam Chomsky has often talked sympathetically about these protests, which focused on MIT's development of both nuclear weapons and weapons used in the Vietnam war. However, Chomsky also has a strong loyalty to MIT – at one point describing the university as ‘the freest and the most honest and has the best relations between faculty and students than any other ... [with] a good record on civil liberties’ – and it seems this loyalty has prevented him from giving a full account of these events. The following links show the remarkable story of what happened when students at the centre of the US’s university-based war research program decided to rebel.

New York Times copyright applied for.

New York Times copyright applied for.

  • Chris Knight, Decoding Chomsky, science and revolutionary politics, Chapter 4.
  • Noam Chomsky:

‘The responsibilities of intellectuals’, New York Review of Books, February 1967.

Letter in New York Review of Books, March 1967 – where Chomsky said MIT’s ‘involvement in the war effort is tragic and indefensible.’

Letter in New York Review of Books, April 1967 – where Chomsky said ‘MIT as an institution has no involvement in the war effort.’

TV debate with Michel Foucault, 1971 – where Chomsky said MIT ‘embodies very important libertarian values' but that he hoped his presence there helped ‘to increase student activism against a lot of things that MIT as an institution does.’

'MIT review panel on special laboratories final report', October 1969 – includes contributions by Noam Chomsky and Jon Kabat (now known as Jon Kabat-Zinn).

  • 'Why smash MIT?', The Old Mole, November 1969 – where radical students said: 'MIT isn’t a center for scientific and social research to serve humanity. It’s a part of the US war machine. Into MIT flow over $100 million a year in Pentagon research and development funds, making it the tenth largest Defense Department R&D contractor in the country. MIT’s purpose is to provide research, consulting services and trained personnel for the US government and the major corporations – research, services, and personnel which enable them to maintain their control over the people of the world. NAC’s (November Action Coalition’s) campaign was directed against MIT as an institution, against its central purpose.'
Courtesy of MIT Museum

Courtesy of MIT Museum

Courtesy of MIT Museum

Courtesy of MIT Museum

Associated Press copyright applied for.

Associated Press copyright applied for.

ACCOUNTS FROM MIT'S NEWSPAPER, THE TECH

'SDS sits-in on Dow recruiter', 7 November 1967. (Vol.87 Issue 43)

'Sala [army deserter] sanctuary established', 1 November 1968. (Vol.88 Issue 41)

'March 4 activities fill Kresge', 7 March 1969. (Vol.89 Issue 8)
See also 'Beyond March 4', the founding document of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

'Rostow defends [Vietnam] policies in Kresge confrontation', 11 April 1969. (Vol.89 Issue 15)

'Johnson confronted on I-Lab', 22 April 1969. (Vol.89 Issue 18)
In this article, one student justified his determination to stop MIT's scientists from doing military research by saying that 'one doesn't have the right to build gas chambers to kill people.' He went on to explain that 'the principle that people should not kill other people is more important than notions of freedom to do any kind of research one might want to undertake.'

‘150 students peacefully disrupt CIS, 14 October 1969. (Vol.89 Issue 36)

Reports on the anti-war November Actions: 31 October and 4-6 November and 9 November 1969. (Vol.89 Issue 41-3)

'Noam Chomsky: a journey to North Vietnam', 5 May 1970. (Vol.90 Issue 23)

'Overkill', 15 September 1970 p5. (Vol.90 Issue 30)

'Krasner loses final appeal', 5 October 1971 p1,3,5. (Vol.90 Issue 37)

'Battering ram: the occupation of the president's office', 7 December p5 and 10 December p5 and 14 December 1971 p4. (Vol.91 Issue 53-5)

'MIT may be dangerous to the world', 28 April 1972 p5. (Vol.92 Issue 21)

'Riot police hit MIT campus', 12 May 1972. (Vol.92 Issue 25)

‘19 appeal trespass cases’, 4 August 1972 p1, 13. (Vol.92 Issue 28)

 

PHOTOS AND VIDEOS

  • An extract from Ricky Leacock's documentary, November Actions, on MIT's student protests in 1969:

 

  • 'Vietnam – the American holocaust' documentary, 2008:

 

 

  • Walt Rostow, Henry Kissinger and President Lyndon B Johnson in the White House:

Students staging a protest against research into nuclear and other weapons at MIT in 1969/1970. (Jon Kabat is facing the megaphone.)

 

  • This sit-in appears to be in, or near, MIT’s Center for International Studies where academics were working with the US military on torture and assassination programmes in Vietnam. (Michael Albert, Remembering Tomorrow p99-101; The Tech, 14/10/69.)

 

  • This photograph shows the moment that students broke down the door to the office of the president of MIT, Howard Johnson. The students were protesting against the expulsion of the anti-war student president, Michael Albert. After this incident, as one MIT professor said, 'the faculty came down with a giant iron fist' and three students ended up serving prison sentences. (The Tech, 14/12/71)