The Port Huron Statement

Why are the students uncomfortable with the world as it is? What problems currently exist in the United States? What kind of new social system do they want to create? How are they critical of American Cold War policies and actions? Do the students see communism as a problem?
Compare the students’ view of the threat of communism with the views expressed in one of the following documents: Kennan, Truman, NSC 68, Dulles, or Rusk and McNamara. How are the views different? Similar? Why might the students later be critical of the war in Vietnam? What might the students say about the way in which the Voice of America covers civil rights (See Guidance for the Voice of America) – would they approve of this coverage? How are the warnings about militarization similar to the caution offered by President Eisenhower?

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In June 1962, a group of mostly white, middle-class college students met in Port Huron, Michigan, to draft a manifesto for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). SDS called for the creation of a “New Left,” that is, a new kind of liberalism. As a Cold War document, the Port Huron Statement is significant for several reasons. First, it sharply challenged the nation’s basic, bipartisan foreign policy: that every price must be paid, every effort made, to stop the global spread of communism. Second, the SDS became a vocal, well-organized opponent of the war in Vietnam (See Johnson, H.J. Res 1145, Johnson, Ball, the SNCC, and Nixon). Third, by criticizing America’s faith in technology, affluence, and materialism, the statement provided a foundation for the counterculture of the 1960s and beyond.

—David Krugler

Source: Students for a Democratic Society, The Port Huron Statement (New York: The Student Department of the League for Industrial Democracy, 1964).

We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.

When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest country in the world; the only one with the atom bomb, the least scarred by modern war, an initiator of the United Nations that we thought would distribute Western influence throughout the world. Freedom and equality for each individual, government of, by, and for the people – these American values we found good, principles by which we could live as men. Many of us began maturing in complacency.

As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss. First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism. Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb, brought awareness that we ourselves, and our friends, and millions of abstract “others” we knew more directly because of our common peril, might die at any time. We might deliberately ignore, or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these two, for these were too immediate and crushing in their impact, too challenging in the demand that we as individuals take the responsibility for encounter and resolution.

While these and other problems either directly oppressed us or rankled our consciences and became our own subjective concerns, we began to see complicated and disturbing paradoxes in our surrounding America. The declaration “all men are created equal . . .” rang hollow before the facts of Negro life in the South and the big cities of the North. The proclaimed peaceful intentions of the United States contradicted its economic and military investments in the Cold War status quo. . . .

Some would have us believe that Americans feel contentment amidst prosperity – but