In the spring of 1971, the largest mass arrest in Massachusetts history unfolded at a site nationally celebrated as the birthplace of freedom and democracy. With peace efforts at a standstill, the New England chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War had organized an event to rouse public support for their cause. Over the course of the long Memorial Day weekend, a band of more than two hundred young, fatigue-clad veterans sounded the alarm for peace and patriotism by marching—in reverse—the path Paul Revere had taken two centuries earlier when he called on the American colonists to rise against their British oppressors.
Enacting the parts of colonial militiamen, the veterans set off in patrol formation along the famed Battle Road, a route calculated to take them past Concord's Old North Bridge, onto Lexington's Battle Green, and up to Bunker Hill. Determined to reanimate the patriotic sentiments expressed by the area's many Revolutionary War memorials, they revealed how far the nation had veered from its ideals by staging reenactments of the brutal atrocities they had witnessed and perpetrated in the name of freedom on the other side of the world. "With an ironic twist," the fliers they distributed explained, "our presence in Indochina as viewed by a native of an occupied village easily coincides with the British army in America." To the selectmen of the town of Lexington who ordered their mass arrest, the veterans were defiling spaces sacred to the nation's Revolutionary past; to the hundreds of bystanders who fed, sheltered, and committed civil disobedience with them, they were an inspiration.
Elise Lemire tells this extraordinary story from the perspective of six men who played central roles in the events of May 1971. Based on more than one hundred interviews with participants and accompanied by nearly forty photographs and maps, Battle Green Vietnam demonstrates the power of mobilizing history, myth, and memorials to effect revolutionary change.