Our Century: The Seventies

Our Century: The Seventies

Death of a Soldier


Death of a Soldier

He was a first lieutenant and he was killed just four weeks before the end of his tour of duty. He had graduated from West Point near the top of his class, served on the honor committee, completed a course in Ranger training, and volunteered for Southeast Asia. He did not think that anyone should be forced to enter our armed services.

There is nothing extraordinary about a lieutenant–or a soldier of any rank–being killed in Indochina; it has happened to 45,000 of our men so far and the total is still rising. But this lieutenant was not killed in combat. He was not a helicopter casualty or the victim of an accident–there are many accidental deaths in every war. He was the target of a “fragging” (a phenomenon…practically unknown in previous American wars), as he lay sleeping in his billet at Bien Hoa.

–May 17, 1971

Peace Demonstrations, 1971

As they flung away their medals at the Capitol one veteran said, “I am prouder today of the service I have given my country than at any time when I was in uniform.”… Every night at the campsite, hundreds of young men in civilian clothes but with short haircuts appeared, bearing candles. They were active-duty GIs from Fort Meade and Fort Belvoir. On Friday night some 400, this time in uniforms, attended a memorial service organized by the Concerned Officers Movement at the National Cathedral. After a “fiery homily” by William Sloane Coffin, they stood and gave the clenched-fist salute.

–Editorial, May 10, 1971

La Raza, the Land and the Hippies

The hippies assert that their tie to the land grows out of a universal, “natural” link between man and planet. The Chicano land gripe was thus a property hangup. The Chicano, defensive about the remnants of his land and life ways not stolen and raped by the Anglo world, is redefining his cultural linkage with the same soil. The hippie, he senses, can indulge in voluntary poverty. “Mama, send me some bread,” phones a hippie mother in Taos. On the other end a middle-aged voice pleaded to know her daughter’s welfare. “Mama, don’t ask me things, just send me the money. I’m your flesh and blood, right?” To the Chicano, poverty is not a trip but a pit from which, until recently, he could escape only by extended servitude as a migrant worker.

–Peter Nabokov, April 20, 1970

Governor Reagan, who on April 8 had said that “if it takes a bloodbath” to end campus violence, “let’s get it over with, no more appeasement,” has hastened to assure critics that “bloodbath” was a figure of speech.

–Editorial, “The Politics of Manslaughter,” on the killings at Kent State, May 18, 1970

Hard-Hats: The Rampaging Patriots

Miss Susan Harman, 29, who works as an administrative assistant in Mayor Lindsay’s office, was at a municipal workers’ rally on Foley Square when she heard about the onslaught on City Hall. She hurried back and arrived just as the hard-hat mob was flowing back and forth between City Hall and Pace [University]. She heard shouts of “Get the hippie! Get the traitor!” She described what happened next:

Then I saw one construction worker arm himself with a pair of iron clippers and head towards a student already being pummeled by three workers. I shouted to him, “Don’t,” and grabbed hold of his jacket to stop him. He yelled at me, “Let go of my jacket, bitch”; and then he said, “If you want to be treated like an equal, we’ll treat you like one.” Three of them began to punch me in the body. My glasses were broken. I had trouble breathing, and I thought my ribs were cracked….

One might have thought that this kind of stuff would have disgusted even the most insensitive of men, but our national leaders have strong stomachs. Agnew sent Peter Brennan [president of the Building and Construction Trades Council] a letter commending “the impressive display in patriotism–and a spirit of pride in country that seems to have become unfashionable in recent years.”

–Fred J. Cook, June 15, 1970

How About a Panda or Two

One benefit the United States might derive from Mr. Nixon’s projected trip to China…is in the line of zoological entertainment. Children love pandas, and American zoos haven’t got a single panda to offer them…. The last American panda died in 1953, and in the atmosphere of the McCarthy era could not be replaced…. Since this oversized cousin of the raccoon is a favorite American toy, Mr. Nixon could gladden the hearts of children by bringing one back with him…[and] practically insure his re-election.

–Editorial, August 6, 1971

In Los Angeles…smog is not an accepted topic of polite conversation; one coughs, but doesn’t talk about it.

–Editorial, “Lethal Blanket,” October 25, 1971

The Women of the Boycott

Dolores [Huerta of the United Farm Workers] told us, “I’ve been afraid about everything until I did it. I started out every time not knowing what I was to do and scared to death. When Cesar first sent me to New York on the boycott it was the first time we’d done anything like that. There were no ground rules. I thought, 11 million people in New York, and I have to persuade them to stop buying grapes. Well, I didn’t do it alone. When you need people, they come to you. You find a way…it gets easier all the time.”

–Barbara L. Baer and Glenna Matthews, February 23, 1974

As Senator Muskie put it, the Attica prison rebellion shows that “we have reached the point where men would rather die than live another day in America.”

–Editorial, “Slaughter at Attica,” September 17, 1971

Overkill at ‘The Silver Dollar’

Police have arrested about 300 Chicanos since the police riot that erupted during the East Los Angeles peace rally that Ruben [Salazar, the columnist for the Los Angeles Times] was covering on the afternoon he was killed. I didn’t want to be “prisoner 301.”… So I accepted the indignity of [a police] frisk with a gut-souring meekness. This is all too familiar stuff to anyone who has lived in a Chicano barrio. And when they yanked off my shoes and shook them upside-down, I clamped my mouth to hold back the sour saliva that I’d like to spit in their faces.

–Enrique Hank Lopez, October 19, 1970

The Hubris of a President

While Nixon was celebrating the festivities of the Prince of Peace by bombing Hanoi, our God-fearing citizens were preoccupied with the Washington Redskins and the Miami Dolphins fighting their way to the Super Bowl….

Does one American in 1,000, or in 100,000, realize that, whereas the Germans dropped 80,000 tons of bombs on Britain in more than five years of war…we dropped 100,000 tons on Indochina in the single month of last November, when Nixon restricted the bombing because of the Paris “peace” talks; and that under Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon we have dropped a total of 7 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos?…

Perhaps we are experiencing here what the Greeks called hubris, the sin of overweening pride. It has brought the downfall of so many conquerors–the Greeks themselves, the Romans, the French under Napoleon, the Germans under Wilhelm II and then Hitler. And we are seeing in Washington what I saw in Berlin in the Nazi time–how power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

–William L. Shirer, writing five months before Congress began Watergate hearings, January 22, 1973

Meany’s Veto

The old test for a free trade union used to be the right to strike. Russian labor fails that test. But so do the unions of South Korea and the Philippines, to name just two groups with whose leaders Meany & Co. have recently hobnobbed. So-called union leaders from dictatorships on “our side” of the cold-war barricades get a warm welcome from the leadership of the American labor “movement,” if one can still apply that term to the aging golfers of the federation’s hierarchy.

–Editorial, April 30, 1977

Three years ago [I dined at] a compound reserved for Anaconda supervisors vvand executives…. “We’ll see the Chileans in hell before they get Exotica,” said my dinner companion, banging down his soup spoon.

–Penny Lernoux, “Latin America Slams the Door,” following Salvador Allende’s decision to nationalize the mines in Chile, September 27, 1971

The estimated shelf life of a Twinkie is seven years. That’s two years longer than Dan White [the murderer of San Francisco Mayor Moscone and openly gay City Supervisor Harvey Milk] spent behind bars. When he was released this month, that Twinkie in his cupboard was still edible. But White will probably have it bronzed.

–Paul Krassner, “The Milk-Moscone Case Revisited,” on the “twinkie defense,” upon White’s release from prison, January 14, 1984

Jane Roe and Mary Doe

If legal abortion is going to make it to 50, we need to place it once again in the context of women’s real lives, which is to say, of feminism. We need to ask why so many people still feel that sex should be punished with childbirth; why women’s health, well-being, needs and desires can so easily be dismissed as “convenience”; why women are seen by so many as too selfish and irrational to make this basic decision for themselves. Answering those questions draws us into others–about poverty and race, sex and sex roles, marriage and the family, and the fact that…women are still unequal in a society dominated by men. For Roe v. Wade to mean anything in the years to come, we have to fight for much more than abortion rights. We need to recapture the outspoken spirit of direct action and self-reliance that made abortion a political issue in the first place.

–Katha Pollitt, writing on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, February 2/9, 1998

Bloody Birthday

The Pinochet regime…is sending the American people the perfect Chilean birthday gift for our Bicentennial: a torture chamber.

On July 4, more than 200 sailing ships from some thirty-five countries will enter New York harbor and cruise up the Hudson as a picturesque tribute to America’s birth. Among the most handsome will be the Esmeralda, a four-masted, 353-foot craft that serves as a training ship for the Chilean Navy. It also served as a prison and torture center in Valparaiso following the September 11, 1973, coup…. In a particularly horrifying deposition, one man described how he was forced to grind salt into the wounds that covered another prisoner’s back.

–Editorial, June 26, 1976

Yablonski’s Unfinished Business

The United Mine Workers has been the most centralized, autocratic union in American history. Many years ago, union districts were stripped of their autonomy. Half-starved pensioners in bogus locals were herded, for a few dollars or a few promises, to the polls to vote illegally…for the leadership…. Miners knew how easily the company could “reassign” an activist miner to the most dangerous part of the mine. They knew that their industry-indentured union leaders…cared little about defending them in the mines or seeing that the pension fund treated them fairly when their broken bodies left the mine.

[Reformer “Jock”] Yablonski became angry whenever he recounted how fear in the coal fields had reduced the once defiant, proud coal mine worker into a timid serf. He recalled that after the Farmington disaster in November 1968, the surviving miners stayed away from their own meetings out of fear of informers and company goons. The union was not sticking up for its men, and without the union they weren’t men.

–Ralph Nader, January 26, 1970

Carter will adopt a Populistic rhetoric to keep the Left in line; but, to please the Right, he will shy away from programs that cost money.

–Alan Wolfe, “The Two Faces of Carter,” December 18, 1976

The Arrival

At last I can go through Customs
all alone in Customs with my old suitcase
and the kid that inspects just pretends to inspect
without inspecting anything and he murmurs to me: “Father”
and he doesn’t dig down into the suitcase where he would find
the phonograph record with Allende’s last appeal to the people
from the Palace, interrupted by the noise of bombs going off,
the record I bought in East Berlin, or Fidel’s speech
about Allende’s overthrow, the one that Sergio gave me,
and the kid says: “It’s eight o’clock already and we haven’t eaten,
we Customs workers get hungry, too”
“What time do you have supper?” I asked “Not until after the last plane lands”
and now I am moving towards the dark demolished city
where everything is just the same and nothing happens but I have seen
his eyes and with his eyes he has said to me: “Comrade.”

–Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaragua, November 1, 1975
(Translated from the Spanish by Donald D. Walsh)

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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