The marchers who converged on the Pentagon 50 years ago placed flowers in soldiers’ guns but also opened up a cultural faultline that persists to this day

They were in the belly of the beast. Marching on the Pentagon, control centre of the world’s most powerful fighting force, protesters against the Vietnam war were confronted by military police (MPs) with rifles pointed directly at their heads. Among the demonstrators was a long-haired man with a bulky sweater – and a bunch of flowers.

“All of a sudden, this hero put a flower in the barrel of the rifle pointed at his head, and everyone was disarmed on both sides,” participant Bill Zimmerman recalled. “The MPs had a ‘what the fuck is this?’ expression. Then I realised what he was doing and thought it was brilliant. He worked his way down the line and I saw him put seven, eight, maybe 10 flowers in rifle barrels. The crowd surged and I couldn’t see him any more.”

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