David Dellinger

David Dellinger

David Dellinger, the son of a lawyer, was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts, on 22nd August, 1915. While studying economics at Yale University he became involved in politics. He was arrested during one demonstration in support of the trade union movement.

After graduating in 1936 Dellinger spent a year working in a factory in Maine. He then went travelling with his friend Walt Rostow. Dellinger rejected Rostow's communist ideas and instead became a radical pacifist.

Dellinger won a fellowship to Oxford University. While in England he visited Nazi Germany. A supporter of the Popular Front Government in Spain and drove an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War.

On his arrival back in the United States Dellinger enrolled at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. In 1940 Dellinger refused to register for conscription. He was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison in Danbury. While in prison he organized protests against the segregated seating arrangements in the jail. This resulted in being placed in solitary confinement. Dellinger was eventually released but was arrested once again when he refused to join the armed forces when the United States entered the Second World War and spent another two years in prison.

Che Guevara
David Dellinger (1940)

After the war Dellinger joined with Abraham Muste and Dorothy Day to establish the Direct Action magazine in 1945. Dellinger once again upset the political establishment when he criticised the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dellinger also became the editor of Liberation Magazine. A post he was to hold for over twenty years.

Dellinger also took an interest in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The researcher, Vincent Salandria, had an article published in Liberation Magazine. Salandria later recalled that it only appeared because it was fought for by Dellinger and Staunghton Lynd: "Staughton Lynd of Yale, about whom we have spoken, made the final decision. Dave Dellinger was the brave soull who made the fight for our side. There was a policy fight because of the fear that this would 'open up Pandora's box'."

Dellinger also played a prominent role in opposition to the Vietnam War. He organised the 1967 protest march on the Pentagon. He also visited North Vietnam and as a result of meeting Ho Chi Minh helped secure the release of captured American servicemen.

In 1968 Dellinger was one of the radicals charged with conspiring to incite riots around the Democratic Party Convention which endorsed Hubert Humphrey as its presidential candidate to take on Richard Nixon. Dellinger's fellow defendants included Bobby Seale (Black Panthers) Tom Hayden (Students for a Democratic Society), Rennie Davis (National Mobilisation Committee) and Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin of the Youth International Party). Seale, who repeatedly interrupted court proceedings, was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison for 16 counts of contempt of court. in 1970 the Chicago Seven were eventually all acquitted on conspiracy charges.

Chicago Seven
Chicago Seven

Dellinger was the author of several books including Beyond Survival: New Directions for the Disarmament Movement(1985), Vietnam Revisited: From Covert Action to Invasion to Reconstruction (1986) and his autobiography, From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter (1993).

Dellinger continued to be active in politics and in 1996 said that "evils in society today are greater than they were in 1968" and even in his eighties continued to take part in protest marches. This included the demonstration against the North American Free Trade Agreement in Quebec City in 2001. He also held regular fasts in an effort to change the name of "Columbus Day" to "Native American Day."

David Dellinger died at Montpelier, Vermont, on 25th May, 2004.

Primary Sources

(1) Michael Carlson, The Guardian (28th May, 2004)

As a radical pacifist, the American-born David Dellinger, who has died aged 88, spent his life involved in non-violent action against war and oppression. But his most prominent role was as elder statesman of the Chicago Eight, the disparate group of radicals who were charged with conspiring to incite riots around the 1968 US Democratic party convention which endorsed Hubert Humphrey's nomination as presidential candidate after President Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the race at the height of the Vietnam war.

Dellinger's principled stand and commitment to non-violence belied Washington's accusations against him, and, for many involved in the anti-Vietnam movement, served as an inspiration.

By the time he graduated from Yale University in 1936, with honours in economics and as captain of the cross-country team, Dellinger was already being radicalised. He had been arrested while marching to support unionisation at Yale; he spent a summer working in a factory in Maine, and another travelling with hoboes. His friends included the young Walt Rostow (obituary, February 17 2003), who then argued the virtues of communism, which Dellinger found lacked a "spiritual dimension". Rostow went on to become an architect of Vietnam policy under US presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Dellinger discovered his pacifism when, during a brawl at a Yale football game, he punched a New Haven "townie". As his victim fell, stunned, he later wrote, "the lesson I learned was as simple, direct and unarguable as the lesson a child learns the first time it puts its hand on a red-hot stove. Don't ever do it again!"

(2) Ron Jacobs, CounterPunch (26th May, 2004)

I'm in shock. I just received an email from a very good friend here in Vermont telling me that David Dellinger died the afternoon of May 25th. Dave was a lifelong antiwar activist who refused to fight in World War Two and actively opposed every US war since then. He was 88 years old and had been suffering from worsening health. Indeed, he had just been moved to a nursing home not more than two or three months ago.

Although I only met Dave five years ago when a group of us sat in on Representative Bernie Sanders' office in opposition to his support of the bombing of Yugoslavia, he has been an influence on my life and thought ever since I first heard about him in junior high. As a young peacenik who found the militancy and flamboyance of activists and groups like the Black Panthers and Yippies quite appealing, it was David Dellinger's thoughtful, yet militant antiwar stance that provided me (and millions of others, it seems) with a fundamental belief that what I was doing was worthwhile. After all, this man had devoted his entire adult life to opposing imperialism and the wars that system demands without ever even throwing a brick at a cop. Like the Berrigan brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr., his commitment to nonviolence was total. At the same time, he understood that pacifism was not passivism.

(3) CNN News, Wednesday, 25th May, 2004.

Peace activist David Dellinger, one of the Chicago Seven arrested and tried for their part in the violent anti-war protests outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention, has died at 88.

Dellinger died Tuesday, said Peggy Rocque, administrator of Heaton Woods, the Montpelier retirement home where the activist had been living.

Dellinger was a pacifist who devoted much of his life to protesting. A member of the Old Left whose first arrest came in the 1930s during a union-organizing protest at Yale, he was a generation older than his Yippie co-defendants in the Chicago Seven case.

"Mainly I think he'll be remembered as a pacifist who meant business," said Tom Hayden, a fellow '60s radical and member of the Chicago Seven who went on to become a California legislator. "His pacifism was very forceful. He didn't mind interjecting himself between armed federal marshals and someone they were pushing around."

At the Chicago Seven trial in 1969 and 1970, Dellinger and four co-defendants - Hayden, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and Rennie Davis - were convicted of conspiracy to incite a riot at the 1968 convention. Those convictions were overturned by a federal appeals court, which cited errors by U.S. District Judge Julius Hoffman.

When Hoffman invited Dellinger to address the court during sentencing, he continued to speak after the judge ordered him to stop.

"You want us to be like good Germans, supporting the evils of our decade, and then when we refused to be good Germans and came to Chicago and demonstrated, now you want us to be like good Jews, going quietly and politely to the concentration camps while you and this court suppress freedom and the truth," Dellinger told the judge. "And the fact is, I am not prepared to do that."

Greg Guma, editor of the political magazine Toward Freedom, called Dellinger "one of the major figures in terms of peace and social justice of the last half century."

(4) Michael Kaufman, New York Times ( 27th May, 2004)

David Dellinger, whose commitment to nonviolent direct action against the federal government placed him at the forefront of American radical pacifism in the 20th century and led, most famously, to a courtroom in Chicago where he became a leading defendant in the raucous political conspiracy trial of the Chicago Seven, died Tuesday in a retirement home in Montpelier, Vermont. He was 88.

An avuncular figure among younger and more flamboyant mavericks, Mr. Dellinger emerged in the 1960's as the leading organizer of huge antiwar demonstrations, including the encirclement of the Pentagon that was immortalized in Norman Mailer's account "Armies of the Night." At the same time, making use of his close contacts with the North Vietnamese, he was able to organize the release of several American airmen held as prisoners and to escort them back from Hanoi.

In the often turbulent world of the American left, Mr. Dellinger occupied a position of almost stolid consistency. He belonged to no party, and insisted that American capitalism had provoked racism, imperial adventures and wars and should be resisted.

A child of patrician privilege, he had since his days at Yale learned and practiced strategies of civil disobedience in a variety of causes, steadfastly showing what he called his concern for "the small, the variant, the unrepresented, the weak," categories he cited from the writings of William James.