Archibald MacLeish— J. B. in Yellow Springs

archibald_macleishby: Dave Barber

Poet, dramatist, academic, essayist, public servant—Archibald MacLeish wore all of those hats over a sixty year time frame. After an Antioch Area Theatre performance of his play J.B. in July of 1966, Archibald MacLeish took center stage in Antioch’s open air amphitheater to discuss his work with the audience. In coverage captured in the Antioch Record, MacLeish commended the production. Inspired by the Book of Job, the three act Broadway edition of J.B. won a Best Drama Pulitzer and Tony Awards for Best Play and Direction (by Elia Kazan) in 1959. The Yellow Springs production was directed by Antioch College Professor of Drama Meredith Dallas.

In an interview the next day with the Record, MacLeish said,

“I was happier about the end of the play in the production last night than I had ever been before. It is in its conclusion, that J.B. differs most markedly from the biblical story of Job on which it is based. Like the Book of Job the play depicts man’s attempt to justify to himself what seems to be the gratuitious and indiscriminate cruelty of events. In both, Job seeks reasons for his suffering, but is silenced by the greatness, majesty, and power of God.”

In the play, MacLeish explained, “Job cannot accept his blindness and goes on to a revulsion from the great scene of the Book of Job, and out of that comes the realization of where he is..face to face with his death, and alone in his situation. One must get rid of the idea of a supernatural power that is going to solve all of your problems. Only in that situation are you able to find the resources within yourself to face that.”

MacLeish told the Record the play was inspired by the Nazi bombing of London during World War Two and “how you justify indiscriminate, fortuitous, chance destruction” like that of London and Hiroshima. He concluded the interview by discussing the play’s applicability to the war in Vietnam which he described to the Record as “almost a ritualistic war that takes very little account of the human beings involved. The thing that horrifies people about Vietnam is the impersonality of the thing.” He added that Washington is coming to realize that “this isn’t a war that can be won in military terms.”

After being picked to be Librarian of Congress by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, MacLeish spent a decade between 1939 and 1948 as a Washington insider—a period of his career that culminated in shaping the U.S. role in Unesco. An arm of the United Nations, at its core is the belief “ that political and economic agreements are not enough to build a lasting peace. Peace must be established on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity.” By 1966 he had been out of government for seventeen years (he taught poetry at Harvard University between 1949 and 1962). If Archibald MacLeish believed Washington was coming around soon on Vietnam in 1966 he was mistaken. The U.S. would remain mired in Southeast Asia for another decade.


I.F. Stone, Daniel Ellsberg and the Antioch Vietnam Colloquium

by Dave Barber

Daniel Ellsberg and I.F. Stone both lectured at the Antioch College Vietnam Colloquium on April 24, 1965. Exactly a week earlier they were in the same place. According to his autobiography Secrets, on April 17 Ellsberg was on a first date with the woman he would eventually marry, Patricia Marx. It was a peculiar choice for a first date for Ellsberg — at the time he was assistant to John McNaughton, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s closest advisor — an anti-Vietnam war protest on the Washington mall, one of the first of the era, sponsored by the Students For A Democratic Society (SDS) with over 20,000 in attendance.

In Secrets he writes “She said she was going to a demonstration the next day at the Washington Monument and a march around the White House to protest the war. I pointed out that I couldn’t very well take part in that, since I was helping run the war being protested.”

Antioch College student assembly in the 1960s (courtesy of Antiochiana)

Antioch College student assembly in the 1960s (courtesy of Antiochiana)

He went anyway. And at the start of his Antioch lecture he mentions hearing Stone speak at the demonstration. And that he will be talking about some of the issues he heard addressed at the SDS rally the previous weekend. The Antioch event came a month after the publication of Stone’s incendiary reaction to a State Department white paper documenting North Vietnamese atrocities in the South. It was published in his influential newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly.

In an interview with Amy Goodman on the program Democracy Now, D.D. Guttenplan, author of American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone, discussed the impact of Stone’s analysis:

“He always said you should read a government document from the back, because that’s where they put the stuff they don’t want you to notice. So at the back of the State Department white paper was a report on weapons captured by the US forces in Vietnam. And Stone showed — it was a detailed list — that 95 percent of these weapons were made in the West, that they were either American or British, and that they had obviously been captured by the Vietnamese army that we were arming, so that far from being a Moscow-equipped and backed force, the Viet Cong were an indigenous native opposition to the South Vietnamese government and their weapons came from the army that they were defeating. This exposed the government’s big lie about Vietnam and it gave legitimacy and credibility to the opposition, because it came out of the time when the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were trying to decide what was the big issue to organize around in the United States. “

In addition to describing the terror created by insurgent North Vietnamese fighters in rural South Vietnam, Ellsberg devotes part of his Antioch lecture referencing the figures Stone pulled from the State Department document. According to the Antioch Record (the student newspaper) Ellsberg was in attendance for Stone’s lecture that evening which was preceded by Zbigniew Brzezinski’s and, like Stone’s, delivered via tele-lecture. Ellsberg also attended discussion groups that day and the next.

I.F. Stone in April, 1972 (photo by Kzitelman via Wikimedia Commons)

I.F. Stone in April, 1972 (photo by Kzitelman via Wikimedia Commons)

Stone had been attacking U.S. policy in Southeast Asia since the 1950s. He publicly disputed President Johnson’s account of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, which sparked the escalation of the war in August 1964 (As would Ellsberg after the Pentagon Papers were released). Stone would continue to irritate the Johnson administration as statements made at protests and teach-ins would begin to mirror actual events.

In his Antioch address Stone stated.

“In 1961 we were told that the war can be handled by counterinsurgency. Two years later, when the guerrillas were more powerful than ever, the White House assured us in October 63 that the war was going so well that 1,000 men would be withdrawn by the end of the year and the war would be under control by 1965. Well now its 1965 and the guerrillas control most of the country. It has reached a very ticklish point. Because if we bomb Hanoi, Haiphong, and the dykes that support the irrigation system of the Red River Valley on which the bread of these people depends, they will have nothing more to lose. At that point the quarter million man North Vietnamese army, one of the best in Asia, will move south and take over the entire country. And at that point we will be faced with a vastly expanded war. “

The legacies of Daniel Ellsberg and I.F. Stone have cast a long shadow. Stone’s 50-year career has been a beacon for left-leaning, independent-minded journalists the world over. Ellsberg went from Harvard-educated cold warrior/analyst and Marine to an icon of the anti-war movement with his role in the leak of the Pentagon Papers. Since the early 1970s he has been a tenacious anti-nuclear activist and an inspiration to succeeding generations of whistleblowers including Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

For more about I.F. Stone:
official website:
Paul Berman’s 2006 New York Times review of the I.F. Stone biography All Government’s Lie: The Life and Times of Journalist I.F. Stone by Myra McPherson

For more about Daniel Ellsberg
official website:
NPR story on Daniel Ellsberg from Weekend Edition which aired in 2013

The Fels Connection: Earle Reynolds and Horace Champney

by Dave Barber

image courtesy of Antiochiana, Antioch College.

image courtesy of Antiochiana, Antioch College.

Central to the story of the 1967 voyage of the Phoenix, is its designer, owner and skipper Earle Reynolds. Between 1943 and 1951 Reynolds was Associate Professor of Anthropology at Antioch College and Chairman of the Physical Growth Department at the Fels Research Institute for the Study of Human Development (the site of WYSO from 1992 until 2012). He also wrote plays which were performed in Yellow Springs.

Reynolds was hired by the Atomic Energy Commission to take part in research on the effects atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 had on the growth and development of children. The work changed his life. He built the Phoenix and sailed with his family around the world speaking out about the dangers of atomic weapons and testing. After Quakers were arrested for sailing a boat into the nuclear test zone near Bikini Island in the Pacific Ocean, Reynolds and his family decided to take up their mission. He was arrested and prosecuted—the conviction was later overturned—for sailing into the restricted zone. Reynolds claimed later that the notoriety created by his dedication to peace and anti­nuclear causes led to loss of standing in the academic community and the end of his teaching position at Antioch.

Reynolds and Yellow Springs pacifist Horace Champney both worked for Fels Research years prior to the voyage of the Phoenix. According to biographical material which is part of the Horace Champney papers at Swarthmore College, he joined the Fels Research Institute staff in 1936 as a psychologist and worked there for several years specializing in the field of child development. In a 1982 interview with Sherry Novick at WYSO (which also included Quaker pacifist and Wilmington College professor Larry Gara) , Champney told of working with Quaker students who were grappling with the issue of conscientious objection to the draft at Antioch during the war. Champney had declared himself a conscientious objector before the end of the war and he was dismissed at Fels.

“The Fels job was pretty sensitive because it involved visiting families all over the county to observe how they raised their children.” Champney told Novick. “To have someone who was looked upon publicly as a traitor representing the Institute could hurt them. I think there was reason on those grounds.”

Quaker crew member Betty Boardman published a book about the voyage in 1985 under the title The Phoenix Trip: Notes On a Quaker Mission to Haiphong. It concludes with an appendix written by Champney, a diary of the first leg of the voyage, which originated in Hiroshima and sailed to Hong Kong before continuing to Hanoi with a ton of medical supplies. In addition to the voyage itself, Boardman’s book tells how Reynolds, Champney and other Quaker crew members came together as part of the Phoenix Project in 1966.

The Fels Research Institute became part of Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine in 1977. More information is here…..

More information on Horace Champney is part of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection:­175/dg166HChampney.html