Educators and organizers guide for The Movement and the "Madman"

 Under construction, including with reader suggestions in comment box below.

Check back regularly.  

American Experiences brief trailer is here

New promotional material from PBS. click here.

American Experience 

The Movement and the Madman

Premieres Tuesday*, March 28, 2023, on PBS 

and Streaming on


Explore the Little-Known Story of the Dramatic 1969 Showdown

Between President Nixon and the Anti-War Movement

(BOSTON, MA) – The Movement and the “Madman shows how two antiwar protests in the fall of 1969 — the largest the country had ever seen — pressured President Nixon to cancel what he called his “madman” plans for a massive escalation of the U.S. war in Vietnam, including a threat to use nuclear weapons. At the time, protestors had no idea how influential they could be and how many lives they may have saved. Told through remarkable archival footage and firsthand accounts from movement leaders, Nixon administration officials, historians, and others, the film explores how the leaders of the antiwar movement mobilized disparate groups from coast to coast to create two massive protests that changed history. Directed by Stephen Talbot, The Movement and the “Madman premieres as a Special Presentation of American Experience on Tuesday, March 28, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS, and the PBS App.

 By 1968, the U.S. had been at war in Vietnam for four years and there were over 500,000 troops on the ground. 31,000 Americans had been killed, Nixon had defeated Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey, and the antiwar movement decided that something dramatic needed to be done.

 Although Nixon publicly belittled the movement, he was acutely aware that Lyndon Johnson’s presidency had essentially been brought down by the constant chants of protestors surrounding the White House. While on the campaign trail, Nixon vowed never to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam but, now in office, he came up with a plan to end the war: his “madman” strategy. “His secret plan was to threaten the North Vietnamese with nuclear weapons,” said Morton Halperin, a Defense Department veteran and an aide to Henry Kissinger. “He was convinced that the way to make the threat credible was for the North Vietnamese to fear that he was crazy and might actually do this.”

 In clandestine talks with the Soviet ambassador in Washington and the North Vietnamese in Paris, Nixon and Kissinger set a November 1, 1969, deadline for Hanoi to accept U.S. terms for ending the war or face disastrous consequences. The National Security Council and the Pentagon began military preparations for bombing North Vietnam, mining Haiphong harbor, and using tactical nuclear bombs near the Chinese and Laotian borders. They codenamed the plan “Operation Duck Hook.”

 Unaware of the plan and with casualties continuing to mount, the leaders of the antiwar movement developed new and bigger ideas for protests in the fall. The first was to call for a Moratorium on October 15, 1969, a nationwide protest with an emphasis on local demonstrations throughout the country. The second plan, created by a sprawling coalition known as the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, was to organize what they hoped would be the largest peace marches and rallies the country had ever seen, scheduled for November 15, in Washington D.C. and San Francisco.

 With an estimated two to three million people taking part on hundreds of campuses and over 200 cities and towns across the country, the October 15 Moratorium succeeded beyond the organizers’ wildest dreams. Dispelling the myth that the antiwar movement consisted solely of “hippies” and leftists, the Moratorium crowds consisted of labor leaders, church groups, civil rights activists, Democrat and Republican lawmakers, housewives, veterans, families and more. “The word protestor generally evokes an image of long hair and love beads,” reported ABC commentator Howard K. Smith. “But today, the crowds that marched and chanted and cheered the speeches looked more like a cross-section picked by the Census Bureau.”

 Stunned by the success of the Moratorium — and facing the prospect of another massive protest on November 15 — Nixon decided to call off  “Operation Duck Hook.” Years later, he wrote: “Although publicly I continued to ignore the raging antiwar controversy, I had to face the fact that it had probably destroyed the credibility of my ultimatum to Hanoi.”

 But Nixon had one more move left and, later that month, he ordered a secret worldwide alert of U.S. nuclear forces to send what he called “a special reminder” to the Soviets and North Vietnamese of what he might unleash. “Nixon assumed that he could bend Cold War adversaries to his will by making them fear that he was crazy enough to launch a nuclear attack,” said William Burr, co-author of Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War

 Following the Moratorium’s success and with the November 15 demonstrations soon approaching, Nixon focused on discrediting the antiwar movement and the media for their positive coverage of the protests. In a nationally televised speech on November 3, Nixon blamed demonstrators for undermining the war effort and appealed to what he called “the great silent majority” for support.

 Tensions built as the protests neared, with Nixon barricading the White House with buses and military troops. When November 15 arrived, as many as half a million protestors descended on Washington, while another 250,000 rallied in San Francisco. It was the largest single-day protest the country had ever experienced. Within earshot of the White House, the enormous crowd on the Washington Mall sang John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” as folk singer Pete Seeger shouted, “Are you listening, Nixon?”

 He was. Nixon’s “madman” plan was shelved, and the nuclear alert ended. “It was only decades later, when the archives were released, that we realized what, in fact, we had accomplished,” said Moratorium and Mobilization co-organizer David Hawk. “We now know we had a big impact on Nixon and Kissinger, what they thought they could get away with in November, namely blowing Vietnam to bits, and maybe even using nuclear weapons,” said organizer Rev. Dick Fernandez. “They had to take it off the table. There were too many of us who were saying no.”

 About the Interviewees 

 Christian Appy is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity

 Sam Brown was the lead organizer of the October 15, 1969 Moratorium.

 Stephen Bull is a Vietnam veteran who served as Richard Nixon’s personal aide from 1969-1974.             

Willian Burr is co-author of Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War. 

Brenda Cavanaugh (deceased) was an antiwar activist whose husband was killed in Vietnam.

 David Cortright is Director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He participated in the November 15, 1969, march in Washington as part of a contingent of GIs and veterans. He is the author of Soldiers in Revolt: GI Resistance During the Vietnam War.         

Carolyn Eisenberg is a professor of U.S. History and American Foreign Relations at Hofstra University and author of Fire and Rain: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Wars in Southeast Asia.             

Daniel Ellsberg was an early supporter of the war in Vietnam but grew to oppose it. A military analyst with the RAND Corporation and the Department of Defense, he advised Kissinger in the winter of 1968-69 on President-elect Nixons Vietnam war plans.            

Reverend Dick Fernandez was the director of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam and a significant player in the October and November 1969 protests.

Morton Halperin was a Defense Department official from 1966-1969. He became privy to Kissinger and Nixon’s nuclear threats and resigned as Kissinger’s aide in late 1969. 

David Hartsough was a Quaker antiwar lobbyist in Washington during the Vietnam War.

David Hawk was one of the four main organizers of the October 15, 1969 Moratorium.

Joan Libby Hawk was on the staff of the October 15 Moratorium in Washington, D.C.

Frank Joyce was an antiwar and antiracism activist from Detroit.

Anthony Lake served in Vietnam as a young diplomat and became an aide to Henry Kissinger in the Nixon Administration. Involved in the “madman” strategy, Lake quit in protest during Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in April/May 1970.

Susan Miller-Coulter was the co-coordinator of the March Against Death in Washington, D.C., November 13-14, 1969.

David Mixner was one of the four main co-organizers of the October 15, 1969 Moratorium.

Roger Morris was special assistant to Henry Kissinger, working on secret negotiations with North Vietnamese diplomats in Paris in 1969.

Mary Posner organized the October 15 Moratorium at Ball State University and attended the march in D.C.

Don Riegle was a Republican congressman from Flint, Michigan, who became an early and outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War.

Melvin Small is Professor Emeritus of History at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI.

Margery Tabankin was an antiwar activist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison who took part in the October 15 Moratorium and then organized students to go to D.C. for the November march.

Joseph Urgo was stationed at a small Air Force base in Atlantic City, NJ, guarding a squadron of jet fighters and their nuclear missiles during what he later learned was Nixon’s worldwide nuclear exercise in October 1969.

Cora Weiss was a leader of the national group Women Strike for Peace and co-chair of the New Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, which organized the November 1969 mass marches and rallies in Washington, DC, and San Francisco.

Tom Wells is the author of The War Within: America’s Battle Over Vietnam.         


American Experience The Movement and the Madman will stream simultaneously with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS App, available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. It will also be available for streaming with closed captioning in English and Spanish.

About the Filmmakers


American Experience The Movement and the “Madman”


Producer and Director


Executive Producer





                                    American Experience is a production of GBH Boston



 Stephen Talbot (Director) is an Emmy, duPont and Peabody award-winning filmmaker who has produced, written or directed more than 40 documentaries for public television, primarily for the PBS series FRONTLINE and KQED (San Francisco). His FRONTLINE films include The Best Campaign Money Can Buy, The Long March of Newt Gingrich, Justice for Sale and News War: What’s Happening to the News. He directed the PBS history special 1968: The Year That Shaped a Generation, and produced and wrote PBS biographies of authors Dashiell Hammett, Ken Kesey, Carlos Fuentes, Maxine Hong Kingston and John Dos Passos. He was the co-creator and executive producer of the PBS music specials Sound Tracks: Music Without Borders. Talbot also served as the series editor for FRONTLINE’s international series, Frontline World: Stories from a Small Planet, and the senior producer of documentary shorts for the PBS series INDEPENDENT LENS. As a student at Wesleyan University, he made his first documentary film about the November 1969 anti-war protests in Washington, DC.


 About American Experience

 For 35 years, American Experience has been televisions most-watched history series, bringing to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped Americas past and present. American Experience documentaries have been honored with every major broadcast award, including 30 Emmy Awards, five duPont-Columbia Awards and 19 George Foster Peabody Awards. PBSs signature history series also creates original digital content that innovates new forms of storytelling to connect our collective past with the present. Cameo George is the series executive producer. American Experience is produced for PBS by GBH Boston. Visit and follow us on Facebook, Twitter,  Instagram and YouTube to learn more.

Major funding for 
American Experience provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Liberty Mutual Insurance, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Funding for The Movement and the “Madman” provided by the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation. Additional series funding for American Experience provided by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, the Documentary Investment Group, and public television viewers.

 The Movement and the Madman is distributed internationally by PBS International.


One page press release for general use is here

Full press release for the media is here  PBS Pressroom - The Movement and the "Madman"

*   Most stations will broadcast on Tuesday at 9 p.m local time but check with your PBS affiliate for the local schedule.


A list of PBS Stations that did special programs for the Burns/Novick Vietnam series is here Staff contacts may have changed but that is a good place to begin if your station is included.


Dr. Paul Lauter on the importance and use of the film

   In late March a new film, The Movement and the “Madman,” will be shown on PBS.  The film dramatizes the impact of the 1969 Moratorium and the Mobilization to End the War on the war policies of the Nixon-Kissinger administration, constraining them against widening the conflict or using nukes, which they were considering.  Directed by Steve Talbot and produced by Robert Levering and Steve Ladd—all long-time peace activists—the film tells an accurate and persuasive story of the power of the anti-war movement to shape policy and programs at the highest levels of government.  It has the potential to reach a huge audience, especially younger people, whose understanding of the war on Vietnam has largely been shaped by movies from that period and by blockbuster documentaries like Ken Burns’s and Lynn Novick’s “The Vietnam War,” which, unfortunately utterly marginalizes the anti-war movement.

          Some of us active with the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee (VPCC) would like to pull together a package of materials that might be useful both to viewers and to teachers.  We do not have much time nor many resources.  So I am turning to you to ask that you send me links to on-line materials that might be included in such a useful package.  And also other primary materials we could put up on line if necessary.  Such materials might include photos, autobiographical statements, local Moratorium flyers and news clips—the whole shooting match that you think people might find of interest in viewing or teaching the film.  Please annotate or assign captions to documents or pictures; we don’t have the capacity to track them down. 

          Please send any such materials to me at 

    The simultaneous nationwide showing offers unique organizing and educational opportunities that can result in more viewers and a greater impact.  The following have occurred to us, and we welcome your comments and additions:

1)  House parties at the time of the national premier (March 28, 9-10:30 p.m.)  They could be in person or virtual, e.g., an open zoom screen simultaneous with or immediately following the TV broadcast.  They could involve friends from the Vietnam era, or your children or grandchildren who will find interesting how your personal story relates to what they are seeing, maybe for the first time.

2)  Collaboration with local historians (city, county, state, university, newspapers, TV archivists) to assemble and present publicly the history of the antiwar movement in your own community.

3)  Introducing the program director or public relations staff of your PBS station to the knowledge and resources of local historians as well as to persons like yourself who were active or present during the antiwar movement.  That can lead to on screen participation in conjunction with the March 28th premier or likely rebroadcasts during fund-raising season.   If you or others have written memoirs of protests, imprisonment, exile and/or opposition during military service, this is an opportunity to make them known.

We also think it is appropriate for this question to be asked in conjunction with the broadcast:  What lessons do the experience of the US war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and of its opposition have for Russia's war in Ukraine and aspirations for peace?

Paul Lauter
Allan K. & Gwendolyn Miles Smith 
   Professor of Literature (Emeritus)
Trinity College (Hartford)


Ways to Engage with the film premier and afterwards

Building and localizing the PBS broadcast is our first opportunity to carry the message of VPCC to a broad national audience. It is the missing chapter of the Burns Novick mega series about the war. VPCC is calling on its network of more than 5,000 antiwar activists and supporters to maximize the impact of the documentary by doing or adapting whatever is personally appropriate from this list:

  • Reaching out quickly to public relations and program staff of your PBS station to find ways to collaborate for the premier including involvement of former peace movement activists living in your area.

  • Planning to watch it yourself and alerting friends, family, coworkers and long lost contacts from the antiwar movement.

  • Organizing in-person or virtual viewing parties and conversations for the night of the premier or at a more convenient hour during the week or on the weekend by recording it or with streaming on .

  • Showing the film with a moderated discussion to classrooms, peace and religious groups, community organizations, social justice campaigns, etc.

  • Assigning the broadcast for student viewing and leading a discussion the next day.  (Suggested questions for students are here  )

  • Meeting local historians, archivists and universities to ask if chronicles or collections about the peace movement in your area already exist that can be publicized in connection with the broadcast (or could be quickly assembled).

  • Using the premier to open discussion of longer term projects, including creation of local histories, collections of memorabilia and documents as well as collaboration with station rebroadcasts of the film during a summer fundraiser.

  • Writing an op ed or letter to the editor for pre-broadcast publication by local newspapers, online blogs and progressive newsletters that links your personal experience during the war with the showing of the film

  • Making the film relevant to current policy debates by asking how Russian military intervention in Ukraine is similar to or different from US military Intervention in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (and Iraq). Asking if a Russian antiwar movement, mass draft resistance through self-exile and dissatisfaction among soldiers can help bring peace the way they did in the US.

No comments:

Post a Comment