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Evoking Vietnam clash, University of Wisconsin students to protest Halliburton visit


The memory of William “Curly” Hendershot is alive and well on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Hendershot was the Dow Chemical Co. recruiter whose 1967 visit here sparked one of the most important protests of the Vietnam War era. A sit-in against the company that made napalm used in Vietnam ended in a bloody clash with police that turned many students into radicals.

On Thursday, students plan to carry signs reading “Curly, off campus!” as they protest a recruiting visit by a company they see as a villain in the war in Iraq: Halliburton Co. Protesters plan to disrupt the company’s visit to an engineering career fair by discouraging students from talking to its representatives.

“We’ve decided that any war-profiteering recruiter stands in the tradition of Curly,” said Chris Dols, a student and member of the Campus Antiwar Network, which is organizing the protest. “We’re explicitly drawing the connection between the two.”

The 1967 protest started with a sit-in at a university building where Hendershot was trying to recruit students. When a large crowd of activists refused to leave, police used their clubs on students to end the event with force. Dozens were injured.

The police violence turned apathetic students against the war and made others into antiestablishment radicals. Madison became a hub of the anti-war movement. Many protests ended with violence or blasts of tear gas from police. Downtown businesses were vandalized. National Guard troops were called out.

Among those beaten by police at the Dow protest was Paul Soglin, a graduate student who later became the city’s mayor.

“Halliburton is certainly as offensive a company today as Dow was 40 years ago,” he said. “It’s just wonderful that these students are raising these issues about the ethics of a corporation like that in a university setting.”

Students in 1967 demanded the university kick Dow off campus because of it had a military contract to make napalm, a chemical weapon that burned the flesh of Vietnamese.

Today’s protesters say Halliburton, an oil services company once run by Vice President Dick Cheney, should not be allowed on campus because it has profited from the Iraq war with lucrative military contracts.

Halliburton notes its former subsidiary, KBR, is the military contractor and the two became separate companies earlier this year. The company says it is coming to Madison to look for entry-level employees and will tolerate the protest.

“We’ve come to expect this type of spectacle, just as we’ve come to expect that the allegations will yet again be misinformed and incorrect,” spokeswoman Melissa Norcross said. “We continue to support individuals’ right to voice their opinions, even when they have the facts completely wrong.”

But the students say the separation doesn’t absolve the company of unethical practices, which they allege include overbilling taxpayers, neglecting troops and bribing foreign officials. The company denies the allegations.

Organizers say dozens to several hundred protesters will make their case to students thinking of meeting with Halliburton representatives at the career fair.

“We’re going to have such a presence there. Through our numbers and the wit of our argument, we’ll turn people away,” said Dols, 24, a part-time civil engineering student. “We want to make it an unpopular thing to approach the Halliburton recruiter.”

Halliburton started recruiting from the university in 2003 and is “interested in strengthening a relationship with the college,” said Sandra Arnn, an assistant engineering dean. Protesters haven’t targeted the company before.

The university has warned protesters it will not tolerate chanting or intimidation of students. It also says protesters must allow easy access to all of the 100 recruiters expected at the event.

University spokesman John Lucas said students who break the rules could face disciplinary action from the school and arrest by campus police.

“We’re hopeful it isn’t going to come to that and it’s one of these events where people can make their points and not be disruptive in a way that prevents other people from participating,” he said.

Zach Heise, a 21-year-old senior, said activists decided they would follow all of the university’s rules.

“We want to make it so that if any law enforcement comes in and says you need to disperse, we can say we are following the rules and we are going to stay right here,” he said. “But none of us wants to be clubbed in the head with a billy stick.”

–Associated Press

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