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Douglas Dowd, 97, Antiwar Activist and Critic of Capitalism, Is Dead

Beginning in the mid-1960s, Professor Dowd struggled to unify the fractious antiwar movement behind marathon campus teach-ins and debates, civil disobedience and nonviolent public protests. (He told The Boston Globe in 1970 that leftist bomb-throwers were serious, committed and desperate people who had “given up the idea that a movement can get anyplace without violence.”)

He repeatedly reminded students that universities were not isolated havens but “an integral and functioning part of an American socio-economic-military system,” and he argued that some radical groups had failed because they never ventured beyond the college gates to confront the real world.

“You can’t fight imperialism on campus, you can’t fight racism on campus,” Professor Dowd said. “You can only fight their manifestations.”

The role of the university, he wrote in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times in 1971, is to become a place where “re-examination, uncertainty, change and conflict become an integral part of what is studied.”

He mentored budding academicians and dissidents, including Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who delivered to The Times a secret government history of the Vietnam War, which became known as the Pentagon Papers after it was published in 1971.


Douglas Dowd in 1960.

Cornell University Library Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections

“As I could say also of Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn,” Mr. Ellsberg wrote in 2004, “there’s no one in my life from whom I’ve learned more than my friend and mentor Douglas Dowd.”

Bruce Dancis, Professor Dowd’s friend and former student and the author of “Resister: A Story of Protest and Prison During the Vietnam War” (2013), recalled in an interview: “Doug opened up new ideas of looking at the world, of not accepting the established order as the way things had to remain. He was…

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