Thursday, June 22, 2006

The hornet’s nest of violence unleashed in Iraq by the Bush administration is a constant reminder of the not dissimilar mess the United States created in Vietnam just a few years ago. For this reason and others, I find myself drawn to the radical anti-American protests of that period. Likewise, the books I have been reading are almost exclusively memoirs and histories of the so-called sixties. I have already recommended Dan Berger’s “Outlaws of America”.

There are dozens of other books I could recommend. For now I would like to just mention a handful of the best of these. Stew Albert was an amazing and brilliant Yippie radical, a friend of and influence upon both Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. Stew recently passed away. Jeffery St. Clair wrote an excellent obituary on his CounterPunch website. It was from that obit that I first heard about Stew’s amazing memoir “Who the Hell is Stew Albert?”. That was the book that started my trip down this current reading path. Some would say it is an obsession. If anyone wants to follow me on my obsessive trip, Stew Albert’s book is a good place to begin.

A similar and yet in some ways politically opposed memoir is William Blum’s excellent “West-Bloc Dissident”. Blum is best known for his two essential books of history, “Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II” and “Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower”. His memoir is much lighter, yet I think equally as important because it tells us how he became “Osama’s favorite historian”. Personally, I think Osama should read Ward Churchill, Ramsey Clark, Howard Zinn, Michael Linfield and Gore Vidal before he makes such a decision, but Blum is probably as good as any of them.

Yet another “sixties” memoir I strongly recommend is Bill Ayers’ “Fugitive Days”. With poetry, subtlety and warmth, Ayers describes his road to the Weather Underground and beyond. Bill Ayers is one of the most brilliant and still controversial of the original Weather leadership. How any sane person can read Ayers and come away thinking he is a terrorist is beyond my comprehension. As are many things.

David Gilbert is the Weatherman who still sits in jail today. Do not call what he is doing “rotting in prison” because he remains an active and vital force on the radical left. His book “No Surrender” is not a memoir, though that would be a book worth reading, no doubt. “No Surrender” is a collection of Gilbert’s writing on a variety of subjects. His intelligence and fierce humanity and decency come through with every sentence he writes. If there is one political prisoner who needs to be set free, and there are in fact quite a few more than one, it is David Gilbert. Until that happy day arrives, I strongly recommend his book to anyone who cares about humanity and the survival of the planet.

Finally, I want to recommend Jeremy Varon’s “Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies”. Though not as passionate as Dan Berger’s book on the WUO, Varon’s history of two radical anti-imperialist groups is necessary reading for anyone interested in understanding our recent history. His book is most chilling when he describes the wave of censorship that swept Germany in the mid-70’s in reaction to RAF violence. It is easy to see how the current rightwing government of the U.S. could move to this extreme. They are already pretty close. Here is a quote from Willy Brandt, a West German official, blasting what he calls the “sympathizers” or “sympathisanten”:

You are, it seems to me, even more responsible for the atrocities than the fanatics who pull the trigger of their automatic weapons. Why is that so? Without you, the assassins would be helpless. You furnish the stage set on which murderers appear as heroes… You provide the sustenance, equipment, and shelter without which the terrorists would have to abandon their absurd and bloody dreams of a civil war… What kind of people are you? You, who claim to be politically aware, don’t realize that you are doing the bidding of the darkest forces of reaction…

Does that sound familiar? This statement was followed by a wave of raids upon publishers and bookstores and leftist collectives. People spent years in jail for nothing more criminal than publishing newspapers. How far is this from the current “you are either with us or against us” rightwing political line? How close is this to the hatred O’Reilly and Limbaugh and their ilk spew daily on television and radio?

Varon is also good when he describes some details of the Weather Underground organization that Berger chose to not describe in much detail. In particular, I refer to the bizarre events of the “Flint War Council”, at which Bernardine Dohrn’s oft quoted Manson speech was given. I don’t criticize Berger for choosing to emphasize other aspects of the Weather Organization’s long history. Yet I am fascinated by those three mad days, which Varon describes at some length. I find myself wanting to know more, about this and other aspects of the Weather Underground and their many comrades.

There is much more to know, much more to read, as always. I hope to return to this subject soon.

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