Following the Detroit riot, former Secretary of the Army Cyrus Vance, then serving as Special Assistant the Secretary of Defense Concerning the Detroit Riots, prepared a study undertaken to reassess the Army’s preparedness for this new role. The Vance Report had concluded that the use of the Army to help control antiwar demonstrations and racial disturbances wasn’t an isolated, one-off mission and the requirement wasn’t going away any time soon.

An abstract of the Report’s lessons learned reads:

Based on the experiences in Detroit, where rioting and lawlessness were intense, it appears that rumors are rampant and tend to grow as exhaustion sets in at the time of rioting. Thus, authoritative sources of information must be identified quickly and maintained. Regular formal contact with the press should be augmented by frequent background briefings for community leaders. To be able to make sound decisions, particularly in the initial phases of riots, a method of identifying the volume of riot-connected activity, the trends in such activity, the critical areas, and the deviations from normal patterns must be established. Because the Detroit disorders developed a typical pattern (violence rising than falling off), it is important to assemble and analyze data with respect to activity patterns. Fatigue factors need more analysis, and the qualifications and performance of all Army and Air National Guard should be reviewed to ensure that officers are qualified (National Guard troops in Detroit were below par in appearance, behavior, and discipline, at least initially). The guard should recruit more blacks (most of the Detroit rioters were black), and cooperation among the military, the police, and firefighting personnel needs to be enhanced. Instructions regarding rules of engagement and degree of force during civil disturbances require clarification and change to provide more latitude and flexibility. Illumination must be provided for all areas in which rioting is occurring, and the use of tear gas should be considered. Coordination at the Federal level to handle riots is emphasized. Appendixes include a chronology of major riots, memos, a Detroit police incident summary, police maps of Detroit, and related material.

Secretary Vance’s Report came out in early 1968, just before race riots had exploded in Black neighborhoods in many cities after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4. Many states called up their National Guard troops to join police in bringing the rioting and looting under control. Simultaneously Regular Army troops had to be flown or trucked into Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Chicago from various Army bases. In all cases, they had to back up overwhelmed police and National Guard security forces.

I had watched Chicago’s west side erupt in flames from my Loop office window, and later witnessed some of the rioting firsthand with my brother Dick, who worked for the City’s Human Relations Commission. I also had monitored bail and other court proceedings involving rioters at the Criminal Courts building at 26th Street and California Avenue.

During this period, Regular Army troops were bivouacked near the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago’s Jackson Park. The next month I was in the Army, and six months after that I was again engaged with civil disturbances.

In this interim during the summer of 1968, Chicago remained in turmoil. Though Regular Army troops had left and returned to their barracks, violent anti-war demonstrations continued to wrack havoc on the city. Rampaging groups of demonstrators before the Democratic National Convention that August brought out the Chicago police in full force as well as the Illinois National Guard. My brother Dick in his work was in the middle of this activity. His Report to the Director of the Chicago Human Relations Commission provided a detailed account of the events he witnessed between August 24 and 28, 1968. The Report gives a street level view of the disturbances in both Lincoln and Grant Park. The final confrontation between the demonstrators and police and National Guard in front of the Hilton Hotel took place during the Democratic Convention’s proceedings, and provided a violent backdrop to its nomination of Hubert Humphrey to run against Richard Nixon that fall. I recently discussed my brother’s Report Regarding the Students for a Democratic Society’s Days of Rage in some detail with my cousin Tony Bowe.

From 1965 to 1968, there had been race related riots in Watts, Detroit, Newark, Baltimore, Washington and Chicago. Now, with the nationally televised violence directly in the political realm at the Democratic Convention, President Lyndon Johnson created the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. The Commission had delegated to Daniel Walker, Vice President of the Chicago Crime Commission and later Illinois governor, the job of undertaking a study of the violence surrounding the Convention. The Walker Report (formally Rights in Conflict: The Violent Confrontation of Demonstrators and Police in the Parks and Streets of Chicago During the Week of the Democratic National Convention of 1968), found there had been a “police riot” in addition to violence on the part of anti-war demonstrators.

On page 205 of the Walker Report, you will find my brother Dick Bowe about to remove a burning trash basket blocking traffic in the middle of LaSalle Drive at the south end of Lincoln Park. If not for Dick’s ever present pipe sticking out of his mouth, I might not have recognized him or taken him to be one of the demonstrators, rather than an observer from Chicago’s Commission on Human Relations.

Regular Army troops in Jackson Park, Chicago during riots after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination in 1968