War and Hope, Part I

This is a conversation that took place between members in September and October 2005. It was the same time that Alice wrote her note about blogging all this stuff, because the quality of the writing was so good. Thanks to all the Ragamuffins for letting this be posted.

Richard Jehn

We didn’t stop the war in Vietnam in the ’70s, either, but we had a big role to play in creating the context in which it became impossible for it to be waged any longer. And so, I believe, it will be with the idiotic policy we are now pursuing in the middle east. (One slogan I saw a couple of times: “Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam.”)

Doyle Niemann

But, Doyle, I guess you missed my suggestion that we take every opportunity to take credit for ending the war through our marches and especially the last one, in which 100,000 of us tied Washington up, while some of us yanked distributors out of cars and others engaged in street fighting with the police?

I say we take credit for stopping that war at every opportunity. We were too stupid to know what we were up against and so had no fear. I think the kids today are much more cynical and feel more powerless than any one of us ever felt. So I say we just tell our version, and in mine, we won!

  • We won because we refused to be intimidated.
  • We won because we took action.
  • We won because we figured out some of how to work across the class, race and sexual barriers that had permeated our lives from the ’50’s.
  • We won because two Presidents left the White House in tears because we changed the world while they were trying to figure out what was happening, and drove one out on his butt, just like George W. is going to go, although for ineptitude and insanity, where it should be criminal malfeasance and treason, too.
  • We won in ways too innumerable to name, and then we got to watch the Vietnamese slaughter the rest of Southeast Asia, which, as the missing Kathy Graves noted, was enough to keep her from ever being interested in foreign policy again!

However, it’s clear Cindy Sheehan heard my version of our story. I say, we insist that we won and hope the history books will support it.

Pat Cuney

On the rhetorical level – for example, if I were talking to a crowd or even a bunch of students — I might agree. We need to celebrate the power that we have and convince others that they, too, have power.

On the other hand, our experiences in the ’70’s should teach us to be careful of what we say. Our words have power; the way we interpret history has power.

The left of those days spun out of control, in my estimation, precisely because we didn’t have the power we thought we did to actually reverse decisions or to immediately affect the structure of the society around us.

In our frustration, some of our friends and associates turned to violence — bigger versions of pulling distributors out of cars of workers just trying to get to work or engaging in demonstration-type “street fighting” with police. Fury at what was being done, rage over our inability to stop it, idealistic and naïve concepts of what “revolution” was all about, and a totally incorrect understanding of the reality of the society we lived in — including where power lay, how it all fits together, as well as what the “people” really we willing to support and accept — produced pretty disastrous results as any semblance of organizational coherence disappeared.

Many of us continued to try to focus attention on what was happening, creating our own ad hoc organizations; talking, writing and proseletizing. We moved into the “real” world and forged lives, careers and identities that tried to remain true in large part to the ideals we believed in. And we have, in fact, produced tangible change -– not as much as we may want and certainly not as much as is needed, but change nonetheless.

Consider, for example, that only two years after our leaders embarked on this stupid and indefensible “war” on Iraq, 300,000 people of all kinds and varieties showed up in Washington in protest, and compare that to how many had that kind of opinion -– not to mention motivation to act -– in 1967, two years after the escalation of US forces in Vietnam.

We forget sometimes what things were like back then and how the battleground has changed. I recently read much of Taylor Branch’s book on the civil rights era, Parting the Waters. As much as I am aware of the continuing problem of racism in our society, there is no question that the battles of today are different from those of 40 years ago. When the right wing Republican leader of the Maryland House of Delegates sponsors a bill to rename BWI Airport for Thurgood Marshall, or our Republican governor picks an African American as his lieutenant governor, for example, you know the nature of the battleground has changed –- gotten subtler, more institutional, more tied to class, more structural, etc., etc.

So, Pat, you are right. I believe we and others who shared our vision and beliefs brought about many of those changes. But let’s be careful when we talk about how we did it. In the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, all we had was our voices raised in protest. We still have those, but we also have much more. We need to keep trying to figure out how we use all those resources to push things forward in ways that work.

Doyle Niemann

It was sort of Cozzmic to have messages from both Pat C. and Doyle in the last RAG Daily Digest, ’cause I had planned to tell y’all a story today in which they both appear!

At the reunion, see, Pat gave me some letters that Larry Waterhouse & I sent her in 1971, when Pat was in Boston. I just had a chance to look at them; what a trip! Pat, I can honestly say that, like many of the stories told at the reunion, I have NO RECOLLECTION of the events described in either Larry’s letters or mine, although all the players are certainly familiar! This is a skill CAREFULLY CULTIVATED in anticipation of FBI visits: when they ask me what I know; I don’t know nuttin’! For instance, in one letter to you, I mention Doyle dropping by after his Cuba trip; heck, Doyle, were you in Cuba? Hunnh!

However, there is part of one letter which is pretty impressive, even if I do say so! In Pat’s previous letter to us (and I don’t keep much correspondence, either, on g.p.!), she’d raised several questions, ranging from some very specific to summer ’71 to some of more general interest. I quote from my reply:

“In answer to your wonderful, in-depth questions on The State of The World: 1) McGovern does have a chance for the nomination. One step beyond McCarthy in the Politics of Co-optation; 2) possib(ility) that people will get off their asses long enough to sustain growth of third political force on grass roots level – third force, possibly. Independent, revolutionary, third force – highly unlikely. 3) Mills’ of ARK chances for creating major split – zero.”

Now, so far I’m batting 1000, right? So let’s listen to the ol’ Wizard, now, as we leave 1971 and move into Other Realms:

“4) What if anything can be done to raise consciousness? Keep on rapping to everybody you can buttonhole, about anything that will keep them awake. It doesn’t matter what objective actions are taken – what matters is only the subjective response thus elicited. 5) What are we doing now? Damn little. What are we waiting for? Cosmic energy. Why do we wait? We are distressed and discouraged. Have we done all we can? Never.”

And, given the cosmic forces at play these days, I’ll stand by those words! Kate, does the fact I have NO RECOLLECTION of any of this indicate that Spirit may have been working through me, or just that my brain is made of Swiss cheese??

Mariann “POOF! You’re a Radical!” Wizard

I was stunned, right after the Patriot Act passed, to be at a party and hear a woman say how afraid she was to speak out against what was happening. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “I’m not, and I am not going to let your fear make me afraid of anything that lying sack of shit currently occupying the White House may try to do to me for saying what a lying sack of shit he is and I hope you won’t either.” She was speechless. I went on to share with her my contemplation of where I’d be next if my (foster) son did not come back from Iraq (and here I anticipated Cindy Sheehan).

What separates me from her, I thought at the time, was that I have a sense of my own place, as should all of us on this list, of knowing we were directly responsible for a highly significant portion of the swelling of public opinion and actions that stopped that war in all its evil. Whether the real credit should go to Ho and the VietNamese, or to include our friends in uniform and/or the people who lobbied as well as the people in the streets, is, in my thinking about claiming credit, immaterial. I am not embracing accuracy here, but I am thinking of the Sons of Liberty and embracing knowing that without the street politics, without our actions and frontline organizing, nothing they did would have changed anything (well, maybe if the military had rebelled on a larger scale). I think the phenomena of white future leaders youth rejecting the values of militarism out of altruism or self-interest and doing very unmiddleclass and unworking class actions in such a huge mass was just too shocking to overlook, we got Walter Cronkite’s attention with the help of Mayor Daley, and we would not be soothed or placated. And then, when they started shooting us, our parents would not be soothed. But I can remember my parents both trying to share their fear about the danger they felt I was putting myself in then. I didn’t care; my sense of injustice was simply too intense. I didn’t care then and I don’t care now, and I hope neither of my kids feels intimidated either.

I don’t know about the left “spinning out of control,” not sure what you mean by that. In any case, I’d agree the left was a few marbles short of what was needed to go farther faster. We did do some work in the area of institutions, but I find it superficial, and in many institutions, the situation has worsened, especially health care and the availability of healthy food. We did a lot of work here in Austin after the war, in fact we did such a hot job, we can’t get single member districts in the city council elections because there’s no pattern of discrimination. But the minute we turned our attention elsewhere, the developers raped the county and destroyed the hill country and the area around the lakes and the rest of the city and county let them do it; financial contributions to their campaigns having carried their own weight.

In my dotage here, it’s my assessment that our spiritual beliefs create the values that create our cultures out of which flow our institutions. I feel that the 70s were a time of affecting the facades of institutions, the 80s went on, for me, to be about culture and values. In the 90s I’ve gotten into what I think is the bottom line and it’s spirituality and religion. As far as I’m concerned, as long as the spiritual beliefs of the West spew from a consciousness of deity/divinity that is white and male and the only One, it doesn’t matter what we do, the changes will be superficial, just like for the last miserable 5,000 years of patriarchal oppressiveness. And that’s why I work for a different spiritual beliefs paradigm. I say, let’s reconsider life in the paleolithic period. And that’s why I’d agree with you to the extent that we couldn’t change or affect some things, particularly the structural ones, since I’d say our analysis was mainly economic and thus limited, although I’m still a big fan of Engels.

The serious violence was engaged in by a very few people, nonetheless, I didn’t see it as anything other than an expression of intense anger which I felt was justified, and some stoned thinking the dubious value of which I believe has been borne out in the lives of those individuals. However, I’m not sure it always pays to be “reasonable,” and I’ve never claimed to be a pacifist. I have always thought way more police should have been arrested than ever were, and that their behavior was appalling on a number of incidents, violent, irrational and full of fear.

I think we did understand where the power lay and “how it all fits together,” although I find we failed to consider some things. However, I was clear about it then, and I haven’t fundamentally changed my perceptions much over the years. I don’t think I’m lacking now. I must admit, however, to giggling in irony as I contemplated “the people” were at home watching TV while we were getting bashed over the head in their behalf, probably detained by needing to worry how they were going to pay their mortgage this month. In that I’d have to agree we were definitely naive. About “the people” yes, about the power structure, no. Maybe when we started we didn’t understand, but I sure feel like I had it pretty well figured out at the end.

Was organizational coherence important? What I experienced as my greatest disappointment was that the war, in the last analysis, was the single issue, and it was a single issue movement, although I believed until it became untenable, that other people cared as much as I did about the related issues. On that count, I’d still like to punch out a few Trots with their incessant single-issuisms, and it really gripes me to contemplate that they were right, but maybe they were right because of their interference in the movement for a more democratic society and they were just better organized. At this point, I don’t think I can credit them with that level of undermining — at this point, I’d just say that it was a single unrelated issue for the great mass of anti-war protestors and marchers, and more’s the pity. I’d like to think we had a chance, but I did not understand the level of self-interest most of the people were operating from. I am just grateful that the women’s movement and the gay movement developed their own momentum. But we can win the social movements without changing the fundamental economic system — we can always win there, because nothing important to the economic system changes. Of course, in the moment, we are fighting for our daughters’ lives in the abortion arena, and basic civil rights for gays — still. Retro reality.

I agree that we had an impact. I agree it showed up in the first marches, and I’d agree we had a global impact, although I am still wondering why I and 15 million people around the world knew Bush was lying about WMDs but Hilary and Kerry couldn’t figure it out. My respect for Democrats, marginal in any moment, has cratered. I hope Hilary doesn’t run. I had such hopes for her. Now I think she is unbelievably stupid as a person — I could understand she would believe Bill, he is rather charming, but who in their right mind would believe W, and right there while he was manipulating the 9/11 of her own NY to justify an invasion that she ought to have figured out had been planned for months.

Yes, I agree the battleground has changed and become more subtle, and, I think, more deadly. More lies, more willingness to personally profit for short term gain, more willingness to murder, no reluctance to cover up, more willingness to group one’s friendly pigs around the treasury trough and drink it dry at a level of personal profit even the senior Bush would not have contemplated — at least not with so many de-classe cohorts. Watching Katrina has been agony for the people, I sat for two hours one day tears trickling down my face, but I, for one, appreciate the efforts of Mother Nature to expose the Bush administration for the collection of lying, greedy, racist, murdering, corrupt and incompetent criminals that it is.

I think we had more than “our voices raised in protest” in the 60s and 70s then, and I wouldn’t argue with you that we have even more now, especially since everyone can see we are grownups! And most of us have grownup stuff! Let me know when you figure out ‘how to use all those resources to push things forward in ways that work.’

I haven’t given up and I haven’t given in. Personally, I’m into the work of Tom Berry (on the internet), and restructuring reality to come into alignment with the energies of the Earth. I’m working on a conference about food, exploring GM foods, the insanity of hybrids and the lack of seeds that can reproduce and what that means, and more. Maybe I’ll help out a political campaign or two, but I don’t think the public is, even now, ready to back the kind of changes that need to be made, because they don’t understand what’s in it for them and the right’s grist mill have figured out how to snooker them daily. I think if the Democrats can figure out how to out-frame the Republicans they can get in power again, but I think they need to just go directly into morals and values, and they haven’t got the guts for it. Just my take.

Pat Cuney

Pardon please, but I beg to differ. All our efforts, violent or non, were a pimple on the butt of the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese. Try to keep in mind that 2-3 million of them died in the process.

Also, there is a respectable argument that the US inflicting 2-3 million casualties on Vietnam disuaded other Third World countries from national liberation struggles.

I’m not sure there were any winners.

David Hamilton

On the other hand, it’s always good politics to claim credit.

David is right, of course, that much more credit is owed the Vietnamese. But, within the domestic context, Pat is right that we should claim credit. If we do not, we tacitly accept the attributions of those who would blame us for “losing” the war.

Gavan Duffy

Certainly there were no winners except the arms merchants, who, in the persona of the Carlyle corporation are achieving unprecedented profits and corruption from the insanity of Iraq.

I agreed with everything you had to say. However, if taking credit for winning were to support a continued and mass push to stop the war in Iraq in this country, it would be fine with me. It’d even be okay that it was single issue. The US public is a little myopic and insulated from a world view — it’s not like they ever realized we got our asses kicked: We just withdrew from a war we could have won if it hadn’t been for that damned peace movement.

Pat Cuney

We don’t have to claim TOTAL credit, though, and obviously if we try to do so it leads into circular discussions such as the above!!! Jump off the merry-go-round!

If we were acting IN SOLIDARITY with the Vietnamese people; and with draftees and disillusioned US military personnel; and with all of the anti-war forces of Europe and South America and elsewhere which also put pressure on their governments to oppose US war policy in Southeast Asia, then we ALL WON TOGETHER.

Pat is right that we should claim credit for our victories, but I like to do that more with things I could see whole, like, “Fifteen thousand people in Austin flooded the streets when the US invaded Cambodia”; and that was possible because groups of three, and ten, and 50, and 200 people had showed them how to do that; how to “demonstrate”, which we were not taught in civics class.

I am wondering, however, about this slaughtering thing you raised, Pat; I’m almost afraid to raise the issue, but what are you talking about, there?

Mariann Wizard

Well, Marian, honesty compels me to note that just because I wouldn’t be soothed didn’t mean I was ready to storm the barricades at the drop of a hat. In fact, Jeff and Gavan both seriously considered throwing me into a hedge on more than one occasion for obstructing the true course of popular outrage — I just don’t like to be smack dab in the middle of angry mobs; people get hurt before they can get out of the way.

If I’m going to be sacrificed, I like to decide when and know why! And then all that testosterone starts flying around and it can get really dangerous, starting with the chuckwagon, moving on through Waller creek and let’s not forget the police riot I stumbled into on the East side when I went to make arrangements to pick up a fridge from Anthony Spears one night.

I don’t think i would have been all that dramatic a character. I just don’t like violent mobs.

In the communities I work in now, the witches and organizations like ReClaiming and the Pagan Alliance, there is a lot of attention paid to preparing people to deal with police violence when taking public actions. I like those riots and related actions a lot better — participants are much clearer and much better trained, not so open to provocateurs or individuals who lose a grip on their own tempers. There are still serious injuries, some deaths, but the people who are injured were not stunned, shocked or surprised that they were attacked; they did not go innocently to the slaughter.

I believe you are referring to the following:

“We won in ways to numerable to name, and then we got to watch the Vietnamese slaugter the rest of Southeast Asia, which, as the missing Kathy Graves noted, was enough to keep her from ever being interested in foreign policy again!”

Perhaps the “rest of Southeast Asia” overstates the case, but I was left with an impression of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos fairly awash with blood, both as a function of our intervention and eventual withdrawal, similar internal problems in Cambodia and Laos, and then a few border disputes between various combinations of the three, in which the Vietnamese moved beyond their own borders. I have a sense that I wondered at the time if we had failed to properly perceive the bottom line agenda as the desire to reestablish the ancient Indochinese empire under the direction of Vietnam, communism appearing to have merely been a means in the game of empire. Frankly, the ending is such a mire of blood and bodies in my mind that I can hardly bring myself to reflect on it or the details of the aftermath. Feel free to correct me.

What Kathy had to say was addressing the complete insanity of getting involved in someone else’s civil war, in a culture we did not even begin to comprehend, and watching the bloodbath that ensued when we finally withdrew, not only in Vietnam, but, as I recall, Vietnamese aggression into border states — but I don’t have to be right and I am willing to stand corrected on both counts.

Sorry to disappoint.

Pat Cuney

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