January 28, 2021, 12:00
Mini-Profiles of Peace Workers: Metta Spencer
Toronto Star, October 16, 1983
In 1966, at the University of California’s Berkeley campus, Metta Spencer watched a 17-year-old Vietnamese youth die on television. She grabbed a piece of paper, printed “murder” on it and sent it to then-U.S. president Lyndon Johnson.
The next thing she knew she was being interrogated by two security personnel about why she wanted to murder Johnson. She explained she had no intention of murdering him, but instead was accusing him of murder.
But the incident broke her.
“There was a sense that there was nothing you could do.” She gave up four years of protest against the Viet Nam war and delved into sociology, into examining inter-personal relationships and interior experiences. Now, she says, “It’s quite amazing that I could have been so unconscious (of the threat of nuclear war).” Spencer, 52, is an assistant sociology professor at the University of Toronto. But her involvement in the anti-Viet Nam war movement has left its mark.
“The war that you’ve fought at one period shapes how you view the world,” she says, adding that the people who went through the Viet Nam war or the protest against it “are always going to have that willingness to question their governments.”
Spencer’s involvement in the peace movement came after she realized, from her own work on the problems of hunger in the Third World, that the money governments spend on arms could easily solve the problems of hunger. She is convinced that sociologists have skills that can be extended to solving problems between countries.