A statement for peace, an act of war

FILE - In this August, 1970, file photo investigators work at the site of a bomb explosion at the Army Mathemetics Research Center in Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Forty years after after the Aug. 24, 1970 explosion that killed one, injured others and caused millions in damage, Leo Burt remains the last fugitive wanted by the FBI in connection with radical anti-Vietnam War protest activities. (AP Photo/The Capital Times)

Long before 9/11, America was struck by a domestic terror attack in the name of peace. Forty-one years ago this week ... at the height of the Vietnam War protests ... an explosion rocked the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Peter Greenberg was a student there, and this morning he reports our Cover Story:

It took place 41 years ago this past week in Madison, Wisconsin. It was the height of student unrest over the war in Vietnam. On the nation's campuses there were chants of "Bring the war home."

And on August 24, 1970, they did just that.

"It was a horrific act that was wrong then, it's wrong today, and it changed things in a bad way," said Paul Soglin.

Back in those days, Soglin - the man who is now Madison's mayor - was one of the leaders of student anti-war protests on campus.

And as he recollects, it all started innocently enough ...

"The anti-war movement adopted a lot of its tactics and strategies from the civil rights movement, which was about 10 years older," he said. "It was one of picketing, demonstrating and passive resistance."

"It was the kind of campus where, at least in the early '60s, when people had a demonstration, some people would show up in jackets, if not ties," said author and commentator Jeff Greenfield, a UW student in the '60s, says that, as the fighting intensified, so too did student protests.

The escalation of the Vietnam War in 1965, when the bombing began, triggered a wave of increasing anger and demonstrations.

"What's happening is the numbers are growing and the intensity of the action is growing, Soglin said, "much of it is assisted by what the police do.

When Madison police beat Soglin and other students while breaking up a campus protest a few years earlier, Soglin says, something changed:

"I remember that evening we had a meeting and one young woman stands up and says, 'I don't know what a radical is, but I'm a radical now.' She said that experience did it."

The Madison bombing took place just months after Ohio National guardsmen shot and killed four students while breaking up an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University.

"People from that era know why the bombing was done," said former U-W student Karl Armstrong, who says small wonder he felt he was at war with his government.

"It was like a message sent to us: 'We're gonna kill you, you know, your demonstrations mean nothing to us,'" Armstrong said. "And so that's when we decided to take them head-on."

The Army Math Research Center, a Defense Department-funded institute that worked on weapons technology, had become a focal point for student protestors on the Madison campus.

Karl Armstrong decided to make a statement.

"We knew approximately what size bomb we needed, probably a ton of explosives," he said.

"How did you know that?" asked Greenberg.

"Oh, just looking at the size of the building," Armstrong replied. "I had visualized basically Army Math being leveled. That would be the perfect statement."

Armstrong and his brother, Dwight - along with fellow students David Fine and Leo Burt - stole a van, then filled it with explosives.

"Our criteria was, basically no one on the street, no one in the building," Armstrong said.

"So you had a specific time planned?" Greenberg asked.

"Yeah, the time was, like, it was the most important because the whole bombing of Army Math, the political success of Army Math depended on no one getting hurt," he said.

In the early hours of August 24, 1970, Armstrong and Leo Burt launched their attack.

"David had surveyed the building," Armstrong recalled. "The problem was he didn't tell me that there were lights on in the building. I felt, you know, really - I mean, really uneasy about it because, you know, we weren't sure. You know, Why were these lights on?"

"But you proceeded anyways?" Greenberg asked.

"Well, I turned to my confederate, and he asks me, 'Do we go ahead? Are we gonna do this?'" Armstrong said. "I think I made a comment to him about something like, 'Now I think I know what war is about.' And I told him to light it."