The Sixties: a flashback

The Sixties: a flashback

by Robert Anton Wilson

 from Magical Blend, #32, Oct. 1991

How many does it take to metamorphose

wickedness into righteousness?

One man must not kill.

If he does it is murder.

But a slate or nation may

kill as many as they please,

and it is not murder …

Only get enough people to agree to it,

and the butchery of

myriads of human beings is

perfectly innocent.

But how many does it take?

-Adin Ballow, 1845

The tear-gas bombs started to explode, spreading a smog of corrosive conjunctivitis among indignant, out-raged eyes. The police fixed their Baby-Blue riot helmets, took out their clubs and, with the honest joy of simple men who love their work, began cracking Peacenik skulls. Bob Shea and I ran down the street, escaping. It was Chicago, 1968.

I was there to protest the war-mongering of the U.S. Government, which had dragged our country into one war after another ever since 1937. Shea was more recently disillusioned with our Wonderful Leaders than I was, but by 1968 he was fed up, too.

We looked back and saw the cops clubbing some demonstrators who couldn’t run as fast as we did, and some who were Gandhians and/or masochists-the Holy Madmen who “put their bodies on the line” for peace. Neither Shea nor I were quite that religious.

“Motherfucker,” somebody howled as a cop bashed him. I could tell from the tone of voice that this was not an insult directed at the cop. It was an exclamation of outraged pain, just as “Son of a bitch!” may often be an exclamation of surprise or even joy.

Most of the demonstrators-except the Weathermen-were genuinely shocked at the violence of the police. They were college kids and middle-aged liberals who had no knowl­edge of the bloody saga of American radicalism. Like the Weathermen, t was neither shocked nor outraged. I had read enough about the history of labor unions to know that, whenever the Establishment is annoyed, they send the cops to beat the shit out of people.

The Concerned Clergymen started singing “We Shall Overcome” again, but were drowned out by the Weathermen chanting “One Two Three Four. We Don’t Want Your Fucking War.”

Deep in my heart

I do believe

We shall overcome

Some da-aay

We Don’t Want Your Fucking War

“Commie bastards….”

“The Feast of Pure Reason,” I said to Shea as we huffed and puffed along.

We ducked into a bar on Michigan Avenue and grabbed a table. I ordered two Bloody Marys. The plush leather and the technicolor bottles of booze on the wall all looked wonder-fully normal and reassuring after what we had been through. I looked at the silvery mirrors with me and Shea and a room full of strangers in them: a net of jewels, each of which reflects and is reflected in each of the others.

Our eyes were still running slightly. On the TV, we could see cops clubbing demonstrators. Voices were chanting, “The Whole World Is Watching, The Whole World Is Watching.” The camera cut to the Hon. Senator Abraham Ribicoff, inside the convention, denouncing the Hon. Mayor Richard Daly for allowing the police to attack nonviolent protestors. The Hon. Mr. Daly, of the family Suidea, shouted some-thing back, greenly empurpled, but the mike didn’t pick it up; from the look on the Hon. Daly’s face, the network probably would have bleeped his words if they had picked them up.

Shea and I drank, thoughtfully, wiping our burning eyes. We knew we were going back out again, in a little while. Our commitment was undefined verbally but we both understood it. We would go out there into the streets and risk getting clubbed but we would not stand still and submit to the clubbing if we could escape. I think almost everybody, except the Hard Core Pacifists, had that attitude.

Eight hours before, at the Playboy Club, l had had lunch with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, who had both come to Chicago to join the protests against the Vietnam war. I was a Playboy editor then and enjoyed ordering lunch for two of my favorite living writers and putting the tab on my gold Playboy V.I.P. card. The three of us had talked mostly about the poetry of Ezra Pound and very little about the risks we were going to run that night. That was when Ginsberg told me about his remark-able meeting with Pound in Rapollo, Italy. The old man, bent and guilty and looking like Remorse in an allegory, listened to Allen cordially but refused to talk himself, except to issue one bitter self-condemnation for the “stupid, suburban anti-semitism” of his middle years.

I had asked what Allen said to that. Allen told me he quoted I Ching: “No blame.” Pound, still morose, had said nothing in reply.

Shea and I finished our drinks and gingerly stepped out into Chaos and Mother Night again. A horde of Weathermen were tined up in Grant Park, looking like cowboys too poor to have their jeans cleaned. I suspected that, like everybody else from SOS I had ever met, they were from well-to-do families. In accord with the Marxist texts they had memorized, they systematically taunted the police – trying to provoke another attack.

“Pigs Eat Shit, Pigs Eat Shit,” they chanted, over and over. “Pigs Eat Shit Pigs Eat Shit Pigs Eat Shit …”

I thought of poor old Pound, driven honkers by his hatred of war, so that eventually it degenerated into hatred of Jews in his blind, helpless fury, just because he needed a target more localized and tangible than human folly. The Weathermen went on chanting, and I realized, in a shock like a Joycean epiphany, that when opposition to violence becomes hatred of violence it immediately gestates its own violence.

The cops fired more tear-gas cannisters and the Weathermen retreated, still chanting, “Pigs Eat Shit … Pigs Eat Shit…. “

The gassing and clubbing went on for hours… but by now it is as effectively erased from national memory as the much worse police brutality and flagrant bloodshed when the cops broke the unions in Flint, Michigan, and Harlan County, Kentucky, and Paterson, New Jersey, and other places in the early ’30s. It is the business of the schools, and the media, to see that such episodes are not remembered (except by the embittered survivors, who cannot be persuaded to forget). The next gang of peaceful protesters will be just as shocked and outraged when the cops are let loose upon them.

(submitted to RAWilsonFans by RMJon23)

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