Stopping a War

One night in August 1971, 28 people (including four Catholic priests and a Lutheran minister, the rest Catholic laypeople save one) entered the U.S. federal building in Camden, New Jersey. While some acted as lookouts and others served as communications coordinators, the rest of the group raided the offices of the draft board, spilling out hundreds of cards containing information about young men slated for conscription.

Planning had taken months. Using experience from previous acts of civil disobedience intended to stop the Vietnam War, they carefully considered all the details necessary to pull off this dramatic event. It would be the biggest, most extensive ruin of draft files yet, which was the simplest and most direct way to compromise the war system.

What they didn't count on was that one of their friends and co-conspirators would be an FBI informant. Their dismantling of the draft board files was interrupted by federal agents, and all of the participants (except the informant) were arrested and charged.

That event of the Vietnam-era antiwar movement, along with the participants' subsequent trial—a fascinating court case, its details sadly forgotten today—is lovingly studied in Anthony Giacchino's new film, The Camden 28. Footage includes recent interviews with several of the activists, the FBI agent assigned to the case, and the FBI informant, plus grainy photos, newspaper clippings, and film from the early 1970s, including the trial.

Left unsaid, but obvious to any observer, are the clear parallels between the frustration of the antiwar movement of the early 1970s and the nearly identical distress of those who challenge the U.S. government on its Iraq policies today.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2007
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