Saturday, December 16, 2006

The US vs John Lennon

The way things are going, they're gonna crucify me.


'I suppose they tried to kill John,' says Yoko Ono in the last moments of David Leaf's documentary about John Lennon 'but they couldn't, because his message is still alive.' Yoko has made a career out of inviting people to imagine that the moon was a grapefruit, but this is a baffling remark even by her standards.

Who are 'they'? In 1998, Sean Lennon revealed that he believed his father had been murdered by the U.S government. Does Yoko also now believe this theory? In the newspaper adverts she took out on the 26th anniversary of Lennon's murder she admitted that she could not forgive 'the one who pulled the trigger' -- as if she thought there might indeed have been other people involved. But if this is what she thinks, the subject is not mentioned, or even alluded to, anywhere else in the film.

If you like conspiracy theories, here's one. The makers of the U.S vs John Lennon set out to prove that the C.I.A murdered the singer. They assembled the evidence; they recorded their interviews--, but at the last moment, the studio decided that it was too hot to handle and deleted all references to the assassination from the film -- except for that one elliptical comment from Lennon's widow.( Oh, and if you play the film backwards, you can hear President Nixon saying 'I buried John.') Completely bonkers, like all conspiracy theories, but it does account for one otherwise inexplicable fact. How did such a dull movie as this ever come to be made?

If you are a John Lennon fan then very little in the film will be new to you. If you are not, then this isn't a particularly good introduction. For one thing, it is relentlessly Yokocentric. 'When he met Yoko' we are told 'He found the other half of his voice.' If Lennon had a song-writing partner before he married Yoko, then they are never mentioned by name. Indeed, but for a few bars of 'Revolution' and 'The Ballad of John and Yoko', you would hardly be able to tell that John Lennon had ever been in a group called the Beatles. And it is a very selective account, ignoring facts which don't fit in with the story it wants to tell. Yoko may have been half of John's voice, but during the period covered by the movie, Lennon walked out on her (or perhaps she kicked him out) for two years. Since the movie celebrates a Johnandyoko who believed in non-violence and compared themselves with Ghandi, it conveniently ignores his rather embarrassing sympathy for the I.R.A. ('You Anglo pigs and Scotties / Sent to colonize the North / You wave your bloody Union Jacks / And you know what it's worth... / ....Though Stormont bans our marches / They've got a lot to learn / Internment is no answer / It's those mothers turn to burn!') Occasionally, the film is downright misleading: John is allowed to describe himself as working class without anyone pointing out that while Paul lived in a council house, John decidedly grew up in the middle-class part of town and even went to grammar school. And the song which begins 'What a waste of human power / What a waste of human life' is placed over footage of the Vietnam war, even though it is actually about a prison riot.

The film starts with a brief recap of the 'bigger than Jesus' debacle. It isn't really clear what bearing this has on the overall argument. It is certainly true that some people in the Bible Belt were inexplicably offended by Lennon's suggestion that 'Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right'. I wonder how extensive the ensuing antibeatlemania actually was? It's always the same Beatle records we see being put on the same bonfire: if that's the only footage anyone has, how widespread a phenomenon can it have been? Is the film trying to say that America hated Lennon from the beginning because he wasn't a Christian (except on the days when he was)? But I have never heard it claimed that his subsequent troubles with the U.S government were religiously motivated.

We then proceed to Lennon's marriage to Yoko Ono, and the story of how the couple turned their honeymoon into a publicity stunt against the Vietnam war. This is pretty familiar stuff, although the scene where he records 'Give Peace a Chance' lying in bed and surrounded by miscellaneous hangers on most of whom can't quite manage to clap in time with the music remains very funny and rather moving. At some point after this Bed-In for Peace the Beatles split up, but this isn't mentioned: what matters is that John and Yoko relocate to America and get involved in the peace movement and radical politics there.

The film argues that the pivotal event is John's appearance at a benefit concert in December 1971 to campaign for the release of one John Sinclair, a political activist who'd been given a ten year jail sentence for possessing two joints of marijuana. John wrote a protest song (possibly in his sleep) and performed it at the concert. Astonishingly, 55 hours later, Sinclair was released from prison. The following February, John and Yoko's temporary visas were withdrawn and they were told to leave America. I don't think anyone now doubts that this was not, as the immigration department claimed at the time, because John had a trivial conviction in the UK for possessing marijuana, but because the Nixon administration was frightened of him as a political activist and peace campaigner with an influence on newly enfranchised young people. J. Edgar Hoover himself wrote 'All extremists should be considered dangerous' across his F.B.I file. The film shows documents which appear to prove that President Nixon must have known about, if he didn't personally order, the campaign against the Lennons.

Lennon hired a clever lawyer and staged publicity stunts and 'happenings' to further his campaign to be allowed to stay in America. We see some very amusing footage of the press conference at which he announced that he had founded a new country, declared himself an ambassador of it, and therefore granted himself diplomatic immunity. It was not until 1976 that he was finally given indefinite leave to remain in the U.S.A by which time Nixon had resigned in disgrace.

The film ends with some unfamiliar home movies of John during his 'Househusband' phase, including an amusing recording of him interviewing Sean while changing his nappy. This sequence is cut short by the sound of five gunshots, but nothing else is said, either about Chapman or the circumstances of John's death. And it wisely avoids mentioning the appalling fact that if President Nixon had been successful in his attempts to kick him out of America, John Lennon would almost certainly be alive today.

So there is a massive gap in the film. We are being asked to draw a line between the 'bigger than Jesus' controversy; the attempts to deport John from the U.S.A; the acknowledged criminality of the president (we actually hear Mr. Bernstein himself explaining what a bad egg Richard Nixon was); and what happened outside the Dakota Building in December 1980. But so far as I can tell, no link is proven to exist. The immigration department acted legally (if in a petty and paranoid way) in trying to deport a political agitator with a drugs record. If it is true that the F.B.I bugged Lennon's phone then I believe they were within their constitutional rights to do so if they thought he was a threat to national security. His anti-Christian remarks were not (so far as I know) cited as a reason for removing his visa. And I'm sorry, but Mark Chapman was a lone nut who thought (rightly) that he could gain a kind of fame by selecting a famous person and murdering them. So what, in the end, is the film saying?

'I suppose they tried to kill John, but they couldn't, because his message is still alive.' What message? This film is possibly worth 90 minutes of your time because it gives you the opportunity to look at clips and recordings of John Lennon. His charisma jumps out of every frame: this poorly educated, pretty obviously damaged young man, shooting from the hip, saying whatever comes into his head, angry, passionate, witty, surreal. In the middle of answering questions about Vietnam when he is still a mop top, he suddenly interrupts himself to do a riff about 'show business, darling.' When asked how he feels about the people who tried to deport him he says, apparently off the cuff 'Time wounds all heels.' And his energy and commitment as a performer take your breath away. 'It ain't fair / John Sinclair / In the stir for breathing air' is a terrible, terrible song -- yet this doesn't seem to matter as Lennon uses it to channel the anger of a stadium full of people. I defy anyone not to be moved when we see Sinclair coming out of prison hours after Lennon sung this song. So the film does nothing but reinforce my admiration for Lennon the man.

But Lennon's message? The film suggests that he allowed himself to become a political tool of left wing activists like Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman (who he later described as 'Mork and Mindy'). It rather pointedly doesn't say that he was also a tool in the hands of a radical surrealist named Yoko Ono. Lennon seems to have been one of those natural forces that needed to be harnessed and pointed in a constructive direction by someone. But can he really be said to have had a 'message' of his own?

Lennon's later work consists of powerful, memorable, but ultimately meaningless phrases, endlessly repeated: 'Woman is the nigger of the world'; 'War is over, if you want it', 'Just Give Me Some Truth'; 'Power to the People, Right on!', 'Free the people, now!' There is no suggestion of what the people are going to do once they are empowered, or what feminists need to do to improve the position of women in society. He refuses point blank to make any specific critique of U.S foreign policy. When someone asks him 'What should the President do?' he replies simply 'He should declare peace.' Yoko once suggested that people should go naked for peace. (How? Why? To what end?) 'Peace' seems not to be a political concept or a state which can exist or not exist between nations: it's a magic word to be said over and over, like one of the Maharishi's T.M mantras, until it stops meaning anything at all.

Lennon may have believed that he was literally raising people's consciousness, that repeating a phrase could somehow release peace and love into the world: instant karma. One can't help thinking that much of this came from Yoko, and that the authentic voice of Lennon comes through only in the (often inaudible) intermediate stanzas. 'Everybody's talking about ministers, sinisters, banisters and canisters, bishops, fishops, rabbis and popeyes, bye bye.' There speaks the true voice of the man who used to think he was a walrus.

Above all, Lennon was a performer. Aligning himself with the 'peace' movement – on the days when he wasn't sitting in paper bags, demanding acorns at the wrong time of year, or making 45 minute films of his penis (*) -- was indeed a powerful political act. But take away the surrealism, the bottoms, the silly little drawings, the records consisting of nothing but feedback and try to present him as primarily a peace campaigner and revolutionary and it becomes painfully obvious that he didn't have a message. All he was saying was 'give peace a chance.'

What we really need at this stage in the day is a long, joyous documentary with lots of complete recordings of Lennon's music and lots of unexpurgated interviews and footage of John Lennon: swearing, angry, silly, infantile, magnificent. What we don't particularly need is to rake over this ancient quarrel.

I saw the movie on the 26th anniversary: the cinema was empty.



(*) A good joke, to be fair. He'd previously made a film called Erection which turned out to be nothing ruder than a 20 minute film of a building site, this one, called Self-Portrait was a film about a prick. Like most conceptual art, once you've heard it described, you don't actually need to see it.

30 comments:

Savoy6 said...

OK, we admit it. This movie's evidence is just too compelling. On behalf of all Americans, I confess that we whacked Lennon. But it was a mistake, we thought he was "Lenin". Hey, didn't you hear? We also whack our own president and his brother if they get too annoying.

Andrew Stevens said...

Mark Chapman is one of the few assassins (along with would-be assassins Hinckley and Giuseppe Zangara) who the words "lone nut" accurately describe. I do believe that Lee Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, Leon Czolgosz, and James Ray all acted alone, but none of them were nuts. They just believed in their ideals passionately enough that they were willing to kill for them. For Oswald, it was Communism. For Sirhan Sirhan, it was the Palestinians. For Czolgosz, it was anarchy. For Ray, it was money (if that counts as an ideal). Okay, I do grant the possibility that Sirhan Sirhan was insane as well as politically motivated.

I do want to raise a minor semantic point. Governments don't have rights, constitutional or otherwise. They have powers. Whether the FBI was legally empowered to wiretap John Lennon is dependent on whether they acquired a legal warrant for the taps. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI was notorious for not doing so. However, Jon Wiener who wrote Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files was not actually able to find any evidence of wiretapping on Lennon in the FBI files (though there certainly was plenty of spying with informants in his entourage, etc). That doesn't mean the FBI wasn't wiretapping Lennon, but we don't actually have hard evidence that they were, just a lot of accusations.

Somebody ought to write a book about Nixon titled Sympathy for the Devil. I certainly agree that he was an evil, paranoid, ruthless man and he was rightly hounded from office. However, in the first four years of his Presidency, he also had good reasons to believe that America might have been heading for civil war. There was genuine terrorist activity like the Weather Underground and similar groups, never mind what was going on in Europe. There were a great many people openly calling for a Communist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Nixon had lots and lots of things occurring which fueled his paranoia. We can all agree (other than Anne Coulter) that Joseph McCarthy was an evil, self-serving political opportunist. Nevertheless, comparing the Communist spyhunts to witchhunts, as Arthur Miller did, is misleading. There were no such things as witches; there certainly were Communist spies in the State Department even if McCarthy also pulled into his dragnet a great many innocent men, with no evidence at all, simply to further his own political career. Don't get me wrong, though. To a large extent, I'm glad that we remember these incidents in such a black and white way since I think it greatly lessens the chance that it will happen again.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
However, in the first four years of his Presidency, he also had good reasons to believe that America might have been heading for civil war. There was genuine terrorist activity like the Weather Underground and similar groups, never mind what was going on in Europe. There were a great many people openly calling for a Communist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.


Taken in isolation, it would suggest Nixon was driven into a state of paranoia by nefarious goings-on in American society. But does this argument not rather put the cart before the horse? The Weather Underground, for example, did resort to terrorist activity. (If always calculated never to cost human life.) But the majority of their members had been through the civil rights movement, and discovered that trying to uphold the ‘right to protest’ merely got you beaten up! There was a gradual retreat into more and more militant actions, but the tension was being far more turned up on the Nixon side than the alternative.

Haven’t seen the Lennon film yet, but I suspect it won’t be as interesting or as indicative of the era as the Weather Undergound film is. All the ex-members interviewed state categorically their retreat into bombing campaigns was a major strategic error, but also mention a) it was a mistake that was all but forced upon them by greater and greater state repression; and b) their casualty-free bombings were so miniscule as acts of terror compared to the Vietnam war that to try to compare them is ludicrous. Indeed, I’d go so far as to suggest that the two things are connected. You don’t get in a bad-guy competition with the Devil.

Regarding Lennon, the most telling thing he said during this era was that his antics worked as an “advert for peace”. As if peace was a commodity which could be sold like baked beans.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Chapman: The fact that he was so obviously a nut raises the difficult question about why he was allowed to plead guilty and given a criminal sentence with no trial -- the question of criminal insanity was never considered in court. ("The devil made me kill someone, and god has now told me to plead guilty." "Oh, well you are obviously perfectly sane then. Life in jail.") This allows conspiracy to theorists to say "What did they have to hide?"

Wiretap: There's a good bit in the film where Lennon says "When I said I was being phonetapped, people thought I was mad." Pause for effect. "Well, they think I'm mad anyway." But lots of unexplained workman calling at his home and strange crackles on the line doesn't exactly prove that someone is listening to your calls. My point was that the FBI could very well have been acting within their consitutional powers to listen in to Lennon's phone calls, in the sense that they were acting within a legal framework, and Lennon would have had a means of legal redress. The film seemed to be tacitly connecting the wiretapping with Watergate.

Witches: You may be falling into the analogy/comparison error. I think that Miller said that there was an analogy between the Salem witch trials and the Communist panic because a: once you start looking for something, you will find more and more instances of it and b: people can easily be persuaded to confess to things the haven't done. He wasn't (necessarily: I know the play but haven't studied the background to it) saying that there were no communists in the USA, any more than he was saying that communists wear pointy hats and turn people into toads. I thought that in the play, there are some real witches, in the sense that there are a few girls performing heretical/non-christian ceremonies?

Isn't there an issue of how you define "communist", in any case? Presumably, if you asked "How many Americans had studied Karl Marx and agreed with his theories about how to run a country?" the answer was "Lots and lots", but if you asked "How many of those were "commies" who wanted America to be conquered by the Russians" the answer was "not very many"." But conflate the two groups, and you have indeed got a red menace. See under "health and safety" and "christmas cards."

Lennon: I can't track down the exact quote, but his biographer talks about "The period when John and Yoko were jetting around the world talking about peace as if they had personally invented in." (That quote seems to have become a meme, by the way: googling for it I noticed that quite a number of people seem to think that "Yoko Ono said that she had invented peace."

Totally at random, but has anyone else noticed the extreme narcissism in Lennon's solo songs? On day 1, he announce that "I just believe in me, Yoko and me -- that's reality." Fair enough. But when he sets out to libel Paul McCartney, he finds himself saying "You live with straights who told you you were king / Jump when your mamma tells you any thing." Doesn't that apply just as well to John and Yoko? No-one ever said that Linda was the driving force behind Paul's solo career; to my knowledge, Paul only once mentions his mother in a song (although everyone thought he meant the Virgin Mary); where John goes on and on about his; and Paul never adressed Linda as "Mother". When he sets out to accuse (presumably) Allen Klien, he begins "Your mother left you when you were small..." which also seems to apply to himself better than to Paul's lawyer. When he lists the crimes that society has committed against women, he says "While telling her not to be too smart you put her down for being so dumb". But isn't that exactly what the school system is supposed to have done to working class heroes like John? ("They hate you if your clever/ they despise a fool").It's as if every face he looks at, including his wife's, turns into his own. If that's how you think, then you probably could start to believe that printing nude pictures of yourself could cause peace to break out all round the world.

"Mother" remains an absolutely astonishing piece of music, of course.

Andrew Stevens said...

Gavin: yes, it is certainly the case that Nixon was paranoid before he had reason to be paranoid (and was way overboard in any case). I certainly don't mean to defend Watergate or anything like that since the Democratic National Committee wasn't bombing anybody, nor did anybody ever think they were.

I think the Weathermen's argument that greater state repression preceded violent action during anti-war protests is a tough argument to sustain. E.g. it was rioting by the anti-war movement which brought the National Guard to Kent State in the first place. This is no defense or excuse for the shootings, of course. I just think you'd be hard pressed to really defend the argument that police beatings came before riots in all or even most cases. I really think that had the Students for a Democratic Society managed to retain control of the campus anti-war movement, the Vietnam War would have ended earlier than it did. Instead, we had a situation where most Americans opposed the War, but also opposed the leaders of the anti-war movement, causing a schism.

As for Communists in the U.S. government, Mr. Rilstone and I are in full agreement on that. McCarthy, Nixon, et al. intentionally blurred the distinction between Marxists and Russian agents. But I'm not simply saying that there were Communists in the State Department; I'm saying there were genuine Russian spies in the State Department, though perhaps not quite as many as were in the British Foreign Office. Mr. Rilstone's comments on Miller's play are fair enough and I concede the point. In fact, I do think Miller's analogy is a good one, properly restricted, though the word witchhunt is now used in situations where it clearly doesn't apply. (For example, it is frequently used in cases where only a single person is ever accused of anything.)

Chapman's plea arrangement was a little strange. The psychiatric panel found him delusional, but competent to stand trial and the judge then found him competent to plead guilty instead of not guilty by reason of insanity. It's not clear they were wrong. Chapman, by all accounts I've seen, has been a model prisoner and is apparently completely free of his delusions. The legal definition of insanity requires an inability to understand the difference between right and wrong. There are very good reasons to think that Chapman did know what he was doing was wrong and his statement to that effect has not changed in 26 years. Of course, I think a strong argument can be made for an expansion of the definition of legal insanity. I really don't think that incident gives the conspiracy theorists bupkus though. Chapman has taken 100% of the rap 100% of the time. He's never intimated in any way that he was anything other than a lone nut. I understand the theories swirling around Oswald (the man was, after all, assassinated himself two days later which certainly raises suspicions), but theories surrounding Chapman are utter lunacy.

alan said...

Thanks for the heads-up on the filmmakers' taking on the Lennon assassination, I hadn't heard of it before. If it's true, I would dearly love to see the expurgated footage... meanwhile, anyone interested in the question, who killed John Lennon? can visit my blog, www.ciakilledlennon.blogspot.com

Andrew Rilstone said...

Chapman has taken 100% of the rap 100% of the time. He's never intimated in any way that he was anything other than a lone nut.

Yes: but that's exactly what you would expect someone who had been programmed by C.I.A brainwashers to do.

Andrew Rilstone said...

If it's true, I would dearly love to see the expurgated footage...


It's not true, you silly, silly person, I was making a JOKE at the expense of the film.

Oh god, I've created a monster.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
I think the Weathermen's argument that greater state repression preceded violent action during anti-war protests is a tough argument to sustain. E.g. it was rioting by the anti-war movement which brought the National Guard to Kent State in the first place.


This seems to me a very odd argument. I’d already mentioned that many of the Weathermen had come through the civil rights movement, where your main experience of political activity was either being beaten up by right-wing mobs while the police stood around doing nothing or being beaten up by the police while right-wing mobs stood around egging them on. The Kent state shootings happened in 1970, a long time after the civil rights movement had begun. Students for a Democratic Society were formed a decade earlier, and even the Weathermen themselves had already been around for a year. With all due respect, I don’t think your chronology really works.

I really think that had the Students for a Democratic Society managed to retain control of the campus anti-war movement, the Vietnam War would have ended earlier than it did.

Without wanting to get too bogged down in the minutae of the era, wasn’t the SDS just the formal name for the anti-war movement? The SDS were gradually radicalized by a number of factors including state repression, culminating in the most radical faction (then called the Revolutionary Youth Movement) gaining power. You don’t normally talk about Clinton “losing control” to Bush, but Bush getting popular. I assume your argument to be that the war would have ended if the moderates in the SDS had stayed dominant. Which is a consistent viewpoint, but I think you’re then stuck with explaining two things – if it was such a bad idea, how come it was so popular? Also, if moderation is the key why was opposition to the recent Iraqi war not successful?

…perhaps things are getting dragged away from the point. Lord knows, the Weathermen and similar groups were certainly not beyond criticism. You could certainly argue that in many ways they bought the romanticized role of the ‘revolutionary’. But the danger as soon as you look at things like Lennon’s cartoony sloganising of the era, its easy to slip into thinking all. Sixties activism was similarly pie-eyed. I don’t believe that’s the case. Even the Weathermen, who went down completely the wrong path, had right-seeming reasons for doing so.

Andrew Rilstone said...
It's not true, you silly, silly person, I was making a JOKE at the expense of the film.


So the Men in Black got to you already, huh?

Andrew said...

As far as Lennon's narcissim goes, he admitted as much in later interviews. I don't have the quote in front of me, but in one of his last interviews (either the one with Andy Peebles or the Playboy one) he says something to the effect of "I looked at those songs [How Do You Sleep and Steel And Glass] later and thought 'Oh God, it's about me, isn't it?'"

Andrew said...

Gah. For some reason blogger has me down by first name only. The Andrew above is Andrew Hickey, not messrs Rilstone or Stevens...

MCisco said...

In the "bed peace" era, I find it difficult to tell whether or not JL is indignant about the war, or merely piqued at the persistence with which the world's peoples failed to obey his instructions.

I do think there is something more than mental fog at work in those vague admonitions, however. While it's true that JL's positions are pretty general, abstract and disconnected from the popular movements that often adopted them, I don't imagine (tm) that great specificity on his part would have been much of an improvement. I give JohYo credit for enough acuity to realize that top-down solutions create problems in a democracy.

I realize this is a sizeable can of worms. Shouting "power to the people!" is like shouting "fire!" - the effect depends on the circumstances. It can often mean, when addressed to authority, "shut up and listen - stop trying to tell us what the deal is: we're here to tell you what the deal is!"

The chief purpose of JL's sloganeering and grandstanding, if I figure correctly, was simply to say "I'm with you!" where "you" refers indistinctly to the protesters.

Andrew Stevens said...

Gavin, you make some excellent points. To take the question of chronology, the civil rights movement had been completely successful by 1968, utterly triumphant. (Obviously, it hasn't even now eliminated racism from the planet or anything, but all of its political goals had been met by 1968, bar some details here and there.) It is very strange that you appear to think the left became frustrated by their utter lack of progress and adopted violence for this reason (though perhaps I am misinterpreting your view). I think this is quite a strange view of history. I do understand that the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the Democratic Convention of 1968 must have dealt quite a psychological blow to the movement. Certainly, 1968 was a key turning point when all sorts of things started to go wrong. I'm not saying I don't understand where the psychology comes from, but the moderates had been quite successful up until that point. They had ended segregation, gotten the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act passed, forced Lydon Baines Johnson into retirement, etc. They hadn't been perfectly successful - Eugene McCarthy did lose the nomination to Hubert Humphrey, for example, and the reaction to that translated into a victory for Richard Nixon. The left in America had gone, in four short years, from utter triumph to complete disaster. (Much the same trajectory the right in America is going through right now.) I know the left likes to think of themselves romantically as the "little guy," but it's patently absurd in the period 1964-1968. In 1964, the American right had been decisively crushed. I don't know why there's this idea of civil rights protests being brutally suppressed and never accomplishing anything. The movement certainly was met with incidents of violence, especially (exclusively?) in Mississippi and Alabama, but I'll bet not a single one of the violent anti-Vietnam yahoos was ever personally beaten up while crusading for civil rights (though I'm sure some of them were while protesting Vietnam).

As for moderation being the key, the original opposition to the Iraq War wasn't successful [i]in America[/i] because the majority of the population didn't agree with them yet. (The majority of the American public favored the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion.) I think it is very successful now and has changed government policy, precisely because it stayed moderate (at least in actions, if not always in rhetoric) instead of hardening hearts against it by adopting violent tactics. As for why it wasn't successful in Britain, the fact is that Britain wasn't the decision maker. Even if it had been successful and Britain hadn't taken part, Iraq would still be occupied today. I.e. giving in to the protestors wouldn't have stopped the protests.

What both the far left and the far right fail to understand a lot of the time is that politics is about compromise (which is a Good Thing); it's not about winning your entire agenda. People have this idea that politics is dirty or unworthy or that compromise is bad. The essence of politics, as Bill Clinton said when addressing my alma mater, is "let's make a deal, because otherwise we have to kill each other." Too many people think that politics is about demonizing the opposition and trying to crush them into little smithereens instead. So, for example, you talk about "right wing mobs" beating up protestors when, in fact, these people were a small minority even of those who opposed civil rights. It would be very much like someone on the right (at that time, anyway) claiming that the Watts riots accurately represented the civil rights movement. The majority of the anti-civil rights people, wrong as they were, were not thugs or devils or gangsters (though, of course, some of them were all of these things). Most of them were simply people who happened to be in error, who had been taught racism at their father's knee and never learned enough to recognize its falsity.

Anyway, my opinion of Sixties activism is pretty simple. 1954-1967: good. 1968-1973: bad. (By the way, it's probably not a coincidence that 1968 is when the forward edge of the Baby Boomers turned 22 and seized control of the movement. Also, I really think the assassination of Martin Luther King made a big difference. Had he lived, he might have been able to use his moral authority to moderate the anti-Vietnam protestors.)

By the way, if the CIA has these supercool brainwashing techniques, why don't we use them on prisoners at Guantanamo instead of resorting to such crudities as torture? I've always wondered that and nobody has ever given me a coherent explanation. (The biggest problem with CIA conspiracy theories is, of course, that the CIA can barely find its fundament with both hands, nevertheless pull off the Byzantine conspiracies attributed to it.)

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Stevens said...
To take the question of chronology, the civil rights movement had been completely successful by 1968, utterly triumphant… all of its political goals had been met by 1968, bar some details here and there…
…I'll bet not a single one of the violent anti-Vietnam yahoos was ever personally beaten up while crusading for civil rights (though I'm sure some of them were while protesting Vietnam)…
…Anyway, my opinion of Sixties activism is pretty simple. 1954-1967: good. 1968-1973: bad. By the way, it's probably not a coincidence that 1968 is when the forward edge of the Baby Boomers turned 22 and seized control of the movement.


Well, a pedantic answer to your middle point might be Dave Gilbert! However, your picture here is drawing a line between a legitimate protest movement for civil rights, and a subsequent and largely unconnected bunch of young “yahoos” with nothing better to do but cause trouble, yes?

If you take the ‘goals’ of the civil rights movement in the narrow, formal sense of ending the Southern laws that enforced segregation, then I guess what you’re saying ‘works’. But widespread black poverty and associated economic segregation left many people feeling less than “utterly triumphant”. Far from this being the voice of white privilege, the radicalising motor in the Sixties was all black, from the ’65 Watts riots to the forming of the Black Panthers. (And let’s remember the specific grievances that led to both were police oppression, the Black Panther’s full name included the phrase ‘for self defence’.) As Bernardine Dohrn said at the time, “White youth must choose sides now. They must either fight on the side of the oppressed, or be on the side of the oppressor.”

I fear your un-nuanced condemnation of the Weathermen is pushing me into something sounding like uncritical support! To try and get back on topic, I’m not suggesting they ever entirely escaped Lennonite sloganising. Wikipediaing for Weathermen, I find a Rage Against the Machine track contains the lyrics "gotta get it together then / like the motherfuckin' Weathermen." Absurd of course, but the group were formed out of similar sentiments – they were named after a Bob Dylan track, after all! RAF members in Germany later admitted they’d bought a getaway car to escape after their ‘actions’, but they just bought one which looked ‘cool’ which was functionally useless for getaways.

I think it is very successful now and has changed government policy, precisely because it stayed moderate.

I fear what has enforced the change in US government policy has been the decidedly un-moderate resistance in Iraq, which made the original policy literally impossible to carry on with. If I say “don’t step in the road” and you’re run over by a bus, it has nothing to do with the ‘moderate’ or ‘immoderate’ way in which I said it.

As for why it wasn't successful in Britain, the fact is that Britain wasn't the decision maker. Even if it had been successful and Britain hadn't taken part, Iraq would still be occupied today. i.e. giving in to the protestors wouldn't have stopped the protests.

The original official protest slogan was ‘not in my name’. This quickly gave way to ‘Blair must go’. If Blair had opposed the war, or even supported but not sent troops (as Wilson did over Vietnam) I think protests would have been much smaller.

Too many people think that politics is about demonizing the opposition and trying to crush them into little smithereens instead.

I’ll crush you into little smithereens!

By the way, if the CIA has these supercool brainwashing techniques, why don't we use them on prisoners at Guantanamo instead of resorting to such crudities as torture? I've always wondered that and nobody has ever given me a coherent explanation.

Or why they merely tried to deport the ‘radical’ Lennon, but assassinated the one who released Double Fantasy. Did the instruction get held up in the post? Or are the CIA supposed to be music lovers?

MCisco said...
While it's true that JL's positions are pretty general, abstract and disconnected from the popular movements that often adopted them, I don't imagine (tm) that great specificity on his part would have been much of an improvement.


True enough. Certainly his most ‘specific’ album (Some Time in New York City) is not only politically na├»ve but musically his worst! It’s a neither/nor equation. Asking for clear and concise political analysis from pop stars could perhaps be described as ‘looking in the wrong place.’

Andrew Rilstone said...

Or why they merely tried to deport the ‘radical’ Lennon, but assassinated the one who released Double Fantasy. Did the instruction get held up in the post? Or are the CIA supposed to be music lovers?

When Lennon was living in a mansion changing nappies and baking bread, he wasnn't a threat to anyone. He came out of seclusion in 1980. President Elect Reagan was already planning to do some very naughty things in South America; and he knew that he wouldn't be able to get away with them as long as the peace movement had a figure head like John Lennon. He telephoned the C.I.A, the C.I.A put a copy of "Catcher in the Rye" in the post, and the rest is history.

Or, put another way: "You had to kill the spirit of the 60s in order for the 80s to happen. Lennon died in 1980 because it was narratively the right time for him to do so."

Gavin Burrows said...

True fact!

Double Fantasy does contain a Chairman Mao quote! (Let's see who knows it. Clue: it isn't "darling darling darling Sean!")

Andrew Stevens said...

Gavin, I am unable to find anything in David Gilbert's biography which indicates that he was beaten up during the Civil Rights movement, but I'm willing to take your word for it if you're sure.

I'm not sure I'd call my position on the Weathermen unnuanced, but it's certainly true that I don't have a lot of use for people vocally committed to violent revolution, at least not in modern America (or Britain). I do think there's a lot of pressure on anyone who is sympathetic to the Weathermen, if they are also unsympathetic to abortion clinic bombers (who also usually made sure the clinic was empty in their heyday). In the view of the pro-life bombers, 1.3 million American babies are being massacred every year. Not to disparage the up to 2 million Vietnamese who died during the Vietnam War (at least some of whom would have died anyway in the civil war even without U.S. involvement), but it's small potatoes in comparison. Of course, you may very well have some sympathy for abortion clinic bombers, in which case your position is entirely consistent.

I do agree that blacks were often a radicalizing factor, and I have a great deal more sympathy for groups like the Black Panthers. I certainly agree that blacks faced (and still face) unequal treatment from the police, though I'm not sure the incident that touched off the Watts riot really qualifies. (Reading the undisputed facts of the incident, it's hard not to come away with the view "people rioted over that?" Rodney King it wasn't.) Also, I too would like to see more done to equalize black income with white income in this country, though I will point out (and you can look this up) that the average black household income in the U.S. is slightly higher than the average household income in Sweden. Both are about 70% of what average white household income in the U.S. is. I'm the first to agree that that's not good enough. I favor more programs subsidizing and encouraging black entrepreneurship and giving even more money to blacks who attend college. Socialist solutions would provide equality of income, but would most likely, in my opinion, engrave in stone the current inequality of power. On the bright side, the number of black-owned businesses has been growing rapidly over the last 20 years so there is reason for optimism.

I do agree with everything you said about the Iraq War, both that British protests would have been smaller had Britain not joined the U.S. and that facts on the ground in Iraq are principally responsible for the increase in opposition (also true in Vietnam).

By the way, I think a difference in philosophy might account for why I believe the civil rights movement made huge strides in the '50s and '60s, but the people involved might have thought otherwise (as well as Mr. Burrows). In general, I am reflexively conservative. I favor slow, gradual, careful change, evolutionary rather than revolutionary, for the simple reason that almost all new ideas are terribly wrong so we should be cautious about implementing them. When I look at the civil rights movement of the time (or the gay rights movement today), I think it's making incredibly rapid progress. But someone who favors rapid revolutionary overnight change might very well disagree. However, I should point out that, while I disagree with them, I think the people who favor rapid change are very useful, so long as they are moderated by my side. If you left progress entirely up to people like me, you might never get it at all.

Gavin Burrows said...

Gavin, I am unable to find anything in David Gilbert's biography which indicates that he was beaten up during the Civil Rights movement, but I'm willing to take your word for it if you're sure.

I fear we’re falling victim to pedantry here. I’ve absolutely no idea whether Gilbert was personally beaten up during the Civil Rights days, and I don’t think it matters much. I was attempting to break down your neat 1968 bifurcation point between the ‘credible’ Civil Rights movement and the later anti-Vietnam ‘yahoos’. Gilbert was involved in the Civil Rights movement from the early days, and would have been in (and affected by) that environment. Of course it’s equally true some of the other Weathermen were younger and hadn’t been involved in the same thing. That doesn’t impact upon my argument because I’m not trying to neatly invert your argument. I’m trying to smash it into smithereens. (Only kidding with the last bit!)

I'm not sure I'd call my position on the Weathermen unnuanced, but it's certainly true that I don't have a lot of use for people vocally committed to violent revolution, at least not in modern America (or Britain)…

I do agree that blacks were often a radicalizing factor, and I have a great deal more sympathy for groups like the Black Panthers.


This is something I commonly hear, and I wonder how those two arguments fit together. To the best of my knowledge, the Panthers never embarked upon ‘symbolic bombing’ campaigns but (unlike the Weathermen) they killed people – sometimes their ‘own’ people. Just scanning Wikipedia I came across:

“In May 1969, Alex Rackley, a twenty-four year old member of the New York chapter of the Black Panther party, was tortured and murdered because party members suspected him of being a police informant.”

As we all know the Panthers were formed out of a gang truce, and the authorities tried to break them partly by trying to re-instigate those gang rivalries. But it seems to me simplistic to suggest (as is often done) that all their factional battles came from outside influence. The Panthers did many exemplary things, but I don’t believe their story to be neatly positive or above criticism. I don’t believe I have any problems with militant anti-abortionists because I don’t believe abortion to be murder, which cuts the whole question off at the root. I’d suggest you’ll have more trouble portraying the Panthers as ‘sympathetic’ yet the Weathermen as ‘unsympathetic’.

In general, I am reflexively conservative. I favor slow, gradual, careful change, evolutionary rather than revolutionary, for the simple reason that almost all new ideas are terribly wrong so we should be cautious about implementing them.

I can only say that people who are actively suffering from the way things are now are more likely to be disposed to things changing in more of a hurry.

PS Has everyone checked out that ‘CIA killed Lennon’ link yet? It’s a scream!

Andrew Stevens said...

Gavin: well, quite frankly I think the Black Panthers were a bunch of idiots. I have sympathy because, unlike the Weathermen, they actually had legitimate grievances. Saying that we have some sympathy for the Black Panthers is just something people like me say to genuflect to their grievances. They were still a bunch of Marxist morons (not claiming that's redundant, mind) and thugs. Had I been a black man at the time, I too would have been a militant black separatist. I certainly wouldn't have been a Black Panther nor would I have called for a totalitarian government (who has more reason to be suspicious of making government all-powerful than American blacks?), but I would have agreed with something similar. Certainly I would have armed myself in self-defense and I've never fired a gun in my life.

David Gilbert, from what I can gather from his biography, wasn't involved with the Civil Rights movement in any serious way that I can tell. He was born in 1944, for one thing, so the Civil Rights struggle was just about over before he entered college. He just sympathized with them from afar during his adolescence like a lot of privileged white kids who then tried to claim credit for the movement after it had succeeded. (I meet white people all the time who were born in 1948 who claim that "their generation" fought for civil rights. The Civil Rights Act was passed when these people were 16.) Gilbert absolutely 100% qualifies for my neat bifurcation. He did virtually nothing significant before 1968 except write an article here and there and go to Harlem to listen to Malcolm X a couple of times. In fact, a better example of my bifurcation would be tough to find. He is almost the model yahoo, being a murderer and a thug to boot. My apologies if that's unnuanced. I'm sure he was kind to his mother on occasion.

Your own opinion on abortion seems fairly irrelevant to me, even supposing I agree with it. You mentioned the Weathermen's "right-seeming" reasons as a reason to sympathize with them and accused me of lack of nuance for failing to see it. I don't believe the Vietnam War was an imperialist war of oppression conducted by the U.S. for racist reasons (though certainly I agree it was a pretty stupid war), but that doesn't undercut your claim that the Weathermen had right seeming reasons because I'm sure it seemed right to them. The anti-abortionists have a stronger argument and more justification for violent action, whether or not you agree with it. The death toll (as they view it) of legalized abortion is now at something like 30 million and counting in the U.S. alone. There is more reason to believe abortion is murder than that the United States was fighting a racist war of oppression in Vietnam, though both arguments appear to be based on pre-analytic assumptions and neither seems very rational to me.

As for the impatience of those suffering, I certainly see where you're coming from. There are certain Southerners who complain bitterly about Reconstruction to this day. They should thank their lucky stars that it was President Andrew Jackson who was in charge of the country after the Civil War rather than President Andrew Stevens. I would have required ex-slaveholders to pay their ex-slaves significant sums in compensation and squeezed them until their pips squeaked. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and the United States has had to live with the shame of our inaction for 140 years now, never mind the fact that we allowed race relations to fall to new lows in the 1910s and 1920s by tolerating the rise of lynching, the return of segregation in the federal government after the Democrats reclaimed the White House, and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Our treatment of our black citizens has been a national disgrace.

I must say, Gavin, that I hope you're enjoying this conversation as much as I am. I always enjoy speaking to intelligent representatives of the "loyal opposition" and I think it's great that Mr. Rilstone has created a blog where we can have discussions like this in an atmosphere of mutual respect. I'm sure the next topic will be something we both agree on, and we can enjoy rubbishing the other side together.

Speaking of which, I have read the CIA Killed Lennon site. "Imagine there's no logic. It's easy if you try." At least he's honest about his political motivation. One of the great curiosities of history is that John F. Kennedy, a fairly conservative Democratic President, fiercely anti-communist and a tax cutting supply sider before Reagan, was gunned down by a Communist Castro-sympathizer and somehow the blame for this fell squarely on the American right wing simply because it occurred in Dallas. If it worked with John F. Kennedy against all reason, surely it could have worked with John Lennon as well.

Andrew Stevens said...

I said Andrew Jackson above, when of course I meant Andrew Johnson. My apologies to Mr. Jackson for such an elementary error. Unlike Mr. Johnson, King Andrew I was never impeached by those damned Black Republicans.

Gavin Burrows said...

David Gilbert, from what I can gather from his biography, wasn't involved with the Civil Rights movement in any serious way that I can tell… He was born in 1944, for one thing, so the Civil Rights struggle was just about over before he entered college. He just sympathized with them from afar during his adolescence like a lot of privileged white kids who then tried to claim credit for the movement after it had succeeded.

Are we not shifting from “no involvement” to “no serious involvement” here? Checking Wikipedia again it seems he joined the CRE in ’61, which seems a way from “sympathising from afar” and more what I would refer to as joining. I’d be curious to know what someone actually has to do to pass the A. Stevens ‘involvement’ test, but I suspect you’ve just disbarred you, myself and most other people here from the right to speak on the subject! I find it difficult to conceive of a second, separate civil rights movement that began neatly in ’68 like another group who’d booked the same meeting room for a later time. I’m noting some of the inevitable points of overlap, and you’re merely setting the hurdles higher.

And I find it hard to see how he “tried to claim credit for the movement after it had succeeded.” Do you imagine the Weathermen actions as victory celebrations, planting bombs like others would set off fireworks? Isn’t it a little more likely that he’d take the view that it hadn’t succeeded, and point to things like continuing black oppression and the Vietnam war? The right-wing nut who shot King ironically probably helped this myth of ‘civil rights victory’ be perpetuated in the long run. SNVCC and other groups helped end Southern segregation (with, it must be said, more than a little help from Northern Feds). This was an important victory, but a limited one. When King tried the same actions in Chicago in ’66 they were a complete failure, something largely overlooked by his acolytes. Even before his death, King had done as much as his chosen course of action could take him.

Saying that we have some sympathy for the Black Panthers is just something people like me say to genuflect to their grievances. They were still a bunch of Marxist morons (not claiming that's redundant, mind) and thugs.

Andrew, this is ridiculous! Do “thugs” generally do things like set up free breakfast for children programmes, medical clinics or education groups? I’d also be curious to know, if you insist the rise of white militancy was down to bored privilege, what was behind the rise of black militancy? Was there some strange and inexplicable rise in “black thuggishness” around the late 60s, like a freak storm?

I suspect the impetus towards the Panthers was community activism, the desire to ‘clear up the ghetto’ and the insistence that ghetto-dwellers themselves should be at the forefront of this. As one of the main forces making ghetto life harder was police oppression, they naturally focused on this. This was merely an insistence on what was theoretically their constitutional rights, which included the right to bear arms. Of course the authorities in general and the police in particular were unlikely to be happy with this, known Panthers were persecuted and often killed so things quickly degenerated into armed conflict. It’s hardly surprising, if they’re likely to kill you for “resisting arrest” anyway why not try resisting arrest? At this point I think a genuine bifurcation did occur, between the community activism and police resistance. If you then show a news report to a largely racist white society of black guys holed up somewhere exchanging gunfire with cops, they’re probably going to look like trigger-happy crazies. But, by the time they’ve reached that point, they’re taking the best course of action to keep themselves alive.

However I suspect that even if the Panthers hadn’t borne arms, the results would have been similar. More recently, Food Not Bombs activists have been arrested and even imprisoned for setting up soup kitchens in poor areas – and they’re largely white people!

… that doesn't undercut your claim that the Weathermen had right seeming reasons because I'm sure it seemed right to them.

I don’t remember ever saying the Weathermen’s actions were justified because they seemed right to them. Please stop being so silly!

There is more reason to believe abortion is murder than that the United States was fighting a racist war of oppression in Vietnam.

Even if I were to allow that we’re not just comparing apples to oranges here, your first point is not self-evident. If you want to present your first statement as arguable, you’re going to have to argue for it. Your second point (bar the single word ‘racist’) reads like a simple statement of fact. It’s like saying “there is more reason to believe cabbage soup tastes nasty than that Paris is the capital of France.”

…frankly, I’m starting to find this a little tiresome as I feel you’re not actually engaging with my points, but some absurd caricature of them. It’s all starting to feel like a long way from John Lennon anyway. My favourite album is Plastic Ono Band, probably followed by Imagine. Music can be a vehicle for progressive political thought, but if you take away the nice tunes you’re left with Sometime in New York City. Something in me finds it unlikely he was killed by the CIA, but then I also tend to the unfashionable notion that Diana died in a car crash and (perhaps consequently) I rarely receive Xmas cards from David Icke.

Andrew Stevens said...

Gavin, your response is fair enough. I'd certainly be willing to moderate some of my points in response to your arguments and, on many occasions, we've clearly been misunderstanding each other, almost certainly due to limitations of the medium. For example, I don't deny that many of the Black Panthers did many good things (another reason I have sympathy for them), but, yes, I believe one can be a thug and still feed the hungry. I don't see the contradiction there at all. People are very complex. As another example of a misunderstanding, I never claimed that you said the Weathermen were justified because of their right-seeming reasons, just that you claimed sympathy for them because they had right-seeming reasons. I was merely pointing out that the abortion clinic bombers have more compelling right-seeming reasons. (By the way, I have neither support nor sympathy for them either.) Your point is taken, however, in that we don't actually disagree about whether or not these actions were justified (we both agree that they were not), so it is perhaps a trifle absurd to argue about exactly how unjustified they were.

By the way, the reason the late '60s saw a "rise in thuggishness" is because it was the coming of age of the massive Baby Boom generation. Any demographer will tell you that almost all crimes are committed by young men and the most crime-ridden societies are the ones with the highest percentage of young men. So, yes, there was indeed a rise of thuggishness at the time. It was very much like a "freak storm" and it was obvious that it was coming and when it was coming as early as 1949. This is still true today. Most of the most violent countries in the world are those with a high proportion of young people. The major riots of the time started occurring around 1965 or so, when the first wave of Baby Boomers turned 19. Personally, I don't think this is a coincidence. Your opinion may differ.

Gavin Burrows said...

Gavin, your response is fair enough.

Probably a trifle grumpy in retrospect! In my defence I was just getting over flu at the time I wrote. (Doubtless released upon me by the CIA to prevent me discussing John Lennon’s murder.) Still, I do find terms like “thug” completely tabloidy in this sort of context, and unlikely to create anything but antagonism. If you’d said something like ‘Dave Gilbert was completely misguided in his involvement with a bombing campaign, irrespective of whether his intentions were good’ I couldn’t have done anything but agree with you.

I never claimed that you said the Weathermen were justified because of their right-seeming reasons, just that you claimed sympathy for them because they had right-seeming reasons.

The Weathermen had one big advantage the Panthers didn’t. Of course I’m talking about white skin. By the early 70s persecution was such that they had to either go underground or give up. With the benefit of hindsight, launching a symbolic bombing campaign was counterproductive and things would have been better if they’d just given up. This is no more than most ex-participants now say. If I’m ‘sympathetic’ it’s because I don’t believe they got the benefit of hindsight before I did. (Of course the Panthers couldn’t just do this. If they’d had put down their guns after picking them up, just as many people would have wound up dead or in prison.)

I believe one can be a thug and still feed the hungry. I don't see the contradiction there at all. People are very complex…

…By the way, the reason the late '60s saw a "rise in thuggishness" is because it was the coming of age of the massive Baby Boom generation. Any demographer will tell you that almost all crimes are committed by young men and the most crime-ridden societies are the ones with the highest percentage of young men. So, yes, there was indeed a rise of thuggishness at the time.


I’m not quite sure what definition of ‘thug’ you’re working to, here. I’d previously assumed you were working to some idea of a rise in consumer society, producing more of an impatient “me now” generation. (I think Timothy Leary had some theory about the Sixties kids being demand fed as babies.) Now you seem to just be talking about testosterone mixed with alcohol!

‘Thugs’ can make magnanimous gestures if they see that as in their ultimate interests. The Mafia, for example, have at times lavished money on the poor. But as the Panthers worked to empower the black community as a whole and not their position within that community, I frankly can’t see what you’re on about! (I’m assuming you did mean something more than ‘people do all sorts of strange things.’)

Onto the demographic thing, in itself you have a point. These days of course, it works the other way up. The current fall in the number of criminals in America is often put down to ‘Zero tolerance’ campaigns whereas really it’s down to simple demographics – less young men as a proportion of society. The same fall is occurring in European countries who don’t have Zero tolerance. (I say ‘number of criminals’ because there’s a contrary factor where crimes can become easier to commit. The technology that makes our gizmos more portable also makes them more nickable.)

But why oh why should ‘thuggishness’ (even if we agreed on the term) take on a political manifestation? There’s streets here in Brighton where young lads go to drink and get in a fight, as I’m sure there are in most towns. I’m sure if I went there and tried to persuade the participants to join a political group that would allow them to get in punch-ups they’d refuse (and quite possibly punch me up). Why would they bother when they were getting their gratification in a much more immediate way?

I raise the suggestion that the demonstrators against the Vietnam war were motivated by an opposition to the Vietnam war. I recognise this perspective to be a strange and perhaps controversial one, which goes against most conventional thinking on the subject. But when you start to think about it, it starts to make a whole lot of sense.

PS I’m off from today and won’t see the Net till after Xmas. So happy X-mas, debate is over!

Andrew Stevens said...

Gavin, no worries about being grumpy. I think I've mentioned before on this blog that I'm nearly impossible to offend.

I'll happily retract the word "thug" if you like. I've often described my own late adolescence as being delinquent and thuggish, and I don't mean more by it than being prone to violence. (And I never even started the violence. I just didn't go out of my way to avoid it or head it off by peace-keeping, like I would today.) Perhaps the word has stronger connotations than I'm giving it credit for (or perhaps this is a cultural difference, another example of our two nations being divided by a common language), in which case I probably should take your advice and drop it from my vocabulary. I didn't mean to be inflammatory, though I often think it behooves the left to condemn their violent revolutionaries in no uncertain terms just as much as it behooves the right to condemn groups like the Ku Klux Klan (who have also done good things for their communities, for what that's worth) or the crooks of Enron or people who shoot abortion doctors or what-have-you. For the Panthers in particular, I think it's impossible not to be ambivalent about Newton, Seale, and Cleaver. I'd recommend Hugh Pearson's Shadow of the Panther, for example, a biography of Huey Newton. Pearson is a leftist black himself and an honest historian. He documents that the Panthers' breakfast programs were used to indoctrinate hatred of the police, that Newton was capable of appalling cruelty, and Newton's inability, and perhaps unwillingness, to shake his drug addiction. Pearson also believes the Panthers may have done more harm than good by portraying themselves as "pathological outsiders," giving ammunition to white racists who wished to portray blacks as unable to integrate.

As for Gilbert, I was really thinking more about the Brinks truck felony murders than I was about his Vietnam activities.

Couldn't agree with you more about demographics being the main driver behind crime's rise and fall. In America, violent crime tripled between 1965 and 1980 and has halved since then. It's pretty clear to me that demographics are the main reason for this. I could probably run a regression analysis and come up with a pretty good estimate of how much of both changes is due to demographics, which perhaps I'll do some day if I find the time.

At no point did I mean to imply that people on either side of the debate didn't actually believe what they claimed to believe. I think you may have been misled by your own modern experiences into thinking that it's more natural to fight over sports than it is to fight over politics. I don't believe history supports this. In ancient Rome, Milo and Clodius led rival political gangs of toughs through the streets of Rome until Clodius was murdered on the Appian Way by a couple of Milo's henchmen. I think modern apolitical youth are more the aberration rather than the '60s. Historically, youths have fought over politics and religion much more often than over sports and, I believe, for not very different reasons.

Anyways, happy Christmas. It's been fun.

Phil Masters said...

Historically, youths have fought over politics and religion much more often than over sports and, I believe, for not very different reasons.

And smart demagogues can combine all three. We're perhaps fortunate that few modern demagogues have managed the trick very well.

Nika! Nika! Nika!...

Salvador Astucia said...

The following Internet radio program deals with John Lennon's murder.

--------
The Astucia Report, with guest, Leuren Moret

(PART 1 of 2-PART SERIES)

60 minutes

INTERNET RADIO PROGRAM
Hosted by writer, Salvador Astucia

Sun, January 14, 2007 (first broadcast)

Topic of Show:

Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab and its advocate, the late Edward Teller

CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS AND TO ACCESS MP3 FILE.

http://www.jfkmontreal.com/AstuciaReport/ar_page.htm

Synopsis of Show:

This is the first broadcast of the Astucia Report. Our guest is Leuren Moret, geo-scientist, formerly employed at Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab near San Francisco, California. This show is PART 1 of a 2-PART series from a telephone interview conducted on Dec. 11, 2006. Ms. Moret is a critic of US nuclear policy and has lots of interesting thoughts on that and other related topics.

The show begins with host, Salvador Astucia, explaining how he was introduced to Ms. Moret by journalist Christopher Bollyn, formerly a writer with American Free Press. Mr. Astucia states that he is interested in Ms. Moret because she has first-hand knowledge of Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab, having worked there as a scientist for two years. Mr. Astucia states that he has linked individuals associated with Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab to the assassinations of both President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and ex-Beatle John Lennon.

Leuren Moret makes the following observations that are consistent with many aspects of Astucia's research:

* Never met or worked with Edward Teller, but saw him from a distance as an old man. He was very grandiose. Ms. Moret discussed Teller with other scientists, some of whom worked with Teller at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project.

* The general consensus of Teller, among scientists, was he was a "total failure...gross, uncouth, absolutely disgusting person...nobody liked him," according to Ms. Moret.

* Indicated that Teller was not a true intellectual. He essentially stole other people's intellectual properties and took credit for them.

* Said Teller was not truly the creator of the Hydrogen Bomb. The mathematics behind the theory for the H-Bomb was done by Stansilaw Ulam who is considered by most scientists to be the true father of the H-Bomb.

* Says the nuclear weapons industry often murders people who cause problems. She cites Karen Silkwood as a prime example. She claims Silkwood was murdered by Wackenhut, the security contractor at most nuclear weapons labs and facilities in the USA.

* Says she was harassed a great deal by police and military types across the country because she up and left Livermore in disgust; however, she was less of a threat because she did not work on classified projects.

* Claims there was a lot of cancer at Livermore Labs.

* Stated that Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab and Los Alamos are run by the University of California, and employees of both labs are employees of the University.

* Indicated that security at Livermore was extremely shoddy.

* Stated that there was a strong military presence at Livermore, but she never saw any officers in uniforms. She assumed a lot of the support came from the Navy. (Note: Astucia challenged her on this point, citing historical documents showing the Air Force was Livermore's main supporter.)

----

Comming Soon:

PART 2 of Leuren Moret Interview

(PART 2 of 2-PART SERIES)

END

Denny said...

Salvador Astucia is a known forger of history, He's real name is David L. Sharp. You can find more information about him here:
http://home.nyc.rr.com/whammo/

David L. Sharp has presented no factual evidence that the Dakota doorman Jose Perdomo is Jose Joaquin Sanjenis Perdomo (Aka Sam Jenis) or Jose Hipolito Bacallao Perdomo. Further, he has no factual evidence about the two Perdomo's being the same person. At this website he presents the picture of Bacallao Perdomo as the picture of Sanjenis Perdomo next to the picture of Jose Perdomo, the innocent doorman.

David L. Sharp's theory of Lennon's assassination is complete rubbish and merely bad fiction based on paranoia, allegations, and assumptions, and reflects his state of mind.

Here you can find about the true facts of John Lennon's murder:
http://www.courttv.com/onair/shows/mugshots/indepth/chapman.html
http://www.courttv.com/talk/chat_transcripts/deathofabeatle.html

Andrew Rilstone said...

o god i've created a monster

alan said...

If you're interested, you can visit www.ciakilledlennon.blogspot.com

X. Dell said...

Rilstone, I know how you feel.