A Dissident Blue Blood: Reverend William Sloane Coffin and the Vietnam Antiwar Movement
Krueger, Benjamin Charles
Gaines, Robert N.
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A long and bloody conflict, United States military action in Vietnam tore the fabric of American political and social life during the 1960s and 1970s. A wide coalition of activists opposed the war on political and religious grounds, arguing the American military campaign and the conscription of soldiers to be immoral. The Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr., an ordained Presbyterian minister and chaplain at Yale University, emerged as a leader of religious antiwar activists. This project explores the evolution of Coffin's antiwar rhetoric between the years 1962 and 1973. I argue that Coffin relied on three modes of rhetoric to justify his opposition to the war. In the prophetic mode, which dominated Coffin's discourse in 1966, Coffin relied on the tradition of Hebraic prophecy to warn that the United States was straying from its values and that undesirable consequences would occur as a result. After seeing little change to the direction of U.S. foreign policy, Coffin shifted to an existential mode of rhetoric in early 1967. The existential mode urged draft-age men to not cooperate with the Federal Selective Service System, and to accept any consequences that occurred as a result. Federal prosecutors indicted Coffin and four other antiwar activists in January 1968 for conspiracy aid and abet draft resister in violation of the Selective Service Act. Chastened by his prosecution and subsequent conviction, Coffin adopted a reconciling mode of discourse that sought to reintegrate antiwar protesters into American society by advocating for amnesty.