Protesting “For Conscience’ Sake”: Resistance to Civil Defense at Drew University, 1960 - 1962


  • Daniel J. Willever Monmouth University



In the midst of growing resistance to civil defense planning during the early 1960s, a series of protests occurred at Drew University. Students planned and participated in direct-action civil disobedience against Operation Alert (OPAL) shelter drills on the campus in 1960 and 1961. This paper explores the legal and social consequences of those protests, contextualizing the student activism within the national anti-nuclear movement. Sources such as media coverage, organizational and personal correspondence, oral history interviews with participants, and court records are synthesized into an analysis of the student-activists’ beliefs, plans, goals, and achievements. This paper argues that the protests are representative of a larger shift in the antinuclear movement. Despite the fact that the Drew protests garnered little public attention beyond New Jersey, they demonstrate a new phase of the Cold War, in which the average American felt empowered to take a stand against the once all-powerful nuclear state. The thirteen students who protested in 1960 or 1961 were motivated by their personal convictions and inspired by contemporary resistance movements. They were both empowered by and supportive of a cultural shift against the assumption that preparation for nuclear war was a patriotic duty that every American must embrace.