“An Oasis of Order”: The Citadel, the 1960s, and the Vietnam Antiwar Movement

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“An Oasis of Order”: The Citadel, the 1960s, and the Vietnam Antiwar Movement

by Alex Macaulay
Southern Cultures, Vol. 11, No. 3: Fall 2005

"Pat Conroy, a 1967 Citadel graduate, recounts the horrors of his freshman year in gruesome detail. In My Losing Season, Conroy describes the plebe system he endured as 'mind-numbing, savage, unrelenting, and base.'"

In the spring of 1970, a few hours before dawn, a car passed through Lesesne Gate and entered The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. The driver was a former cadet who had resigned earlier in the school year for undisclosed reasons. Beside him sat a stack of papers with The Vigil emblazoned across the top of each sheet. For several months, the former cadet and two of his friends from the senior class had collaborated to produce the underground newspaper that exposed the alleged injustices, inequities, and censorship that plagued The Citadel’s campus. When the cadets awoke for the 6:30 breakfast formation, they would take copies of the unauthorized publication and read its take on the administration’s one-sided views of events occurring outside The Citadel’s gates and the regular student newspaper’s reluctance to defend students interests. They would see complaints about the poor quality of mess hall food and the double standard separating cadet officers and privates. Although the Vigil, like many aspects of student activism at The Citadel, lacked the scope and longevity of similar ventures at other colleges, the intrigue, rebelliousness, and mystery surrounding the paper fascinated many cadets, and they welcomed each edition. These same qualities appalled the more militarily inclined members of the corps, who saw the publication as seditious, tendentious, and inappropriate for the structured, orderly environment of a military college. School officials agreed and pledged to uncover and expel the Vigil‘s irresponsible publishers.