[sixties-l] Re say what?

From: Michael Rossman (mrossman@igc.org)
Date: 10/11/00

  • Next message: Michael Rossman: "[sixties-l] Re: FSM credits"

    Jerry West writes:   "I was a bit impressed with the New World Liberation
    Front who tried to make a point of not hurting anyone while they were blowing
    things up. "
    In this regard, they but carried on a recent national tradition. In 1971,
    Scanlan's (I:8) published an issue devoted mainly to itemizing domestic
    bombings. I forget whether it was from there only or other sources also that I
    derived a cumulative estimate of 5,000 - 8,000  for the period 1965-72;
    whether the peak average was 6 or 8  bombings per day; and whether this total
    referred only to bombings or included also "fire-bombings" and other arson at
    military and commercial targets. Whichever, the total was staggering -- but
    scarcely incredible, given the widespread and anarchic character of our
    dissent; the agonizing political textures of that period; and the paradoxical
    tendency of mainstream media to suppress reference to this national phenomenon
    as such, which perhaps extended to underground media as well. (*)
    In retrospect, this cumulative figure -- which I suspect dates almost entirely
    after the first violence against the anti-war movement in April 1967, and
    perhaps not till after that fall -- is so significant that I hope someone more
    knowledgeable than I will confirm or discredit it. As it stands, it implies
    several things. One is that this massive wave of bombings was carried out with
    remarkable caution and  regard for human life. So far as I know, the
    fatalities were limited to one late researcher in the U. Wisconsin math
    building bombing, an unwished accident;  and several Weatherman in the
    Manhattan townhouse explosion. Here again, as my knowledge and recollection
    are quite fragmentary, I hope that someone better informed will tally up the
    scores. As these stand here, this wave of largely-unpublicized sabotage may be
    said to have been quite scrupulous in distinguishing between people and
    property -- or in other language that may draw reproof, to have been quite
    pure of heart, and quite responsible in this regard, howsoever inefficient
    otherwise in execution. In such qualities, I venture to suggest, lay the
    organic connection between this front of activity and the
    peace-love-good-vibesness of the "hippie" axis.
    Another implication of the cumulative figure is to emphasize the tendency of
    Sixties apologists and allied historians to avert consideration of this
    dimension of activism; and to undermine their tendencies to attribute the wave
    of "reckless" bombings (or such of it as they recognize) largely and merely to
    a perverse alliance of police provocateurs  and sectarian vanguardists crazed
    with vainglory. Granted, that "intelligence" agencies throughout the nation
    infiltrated provocateurs into radicals' open ranks to inspire discrediting
    actions, including many bombings where such connection was exposed and
    doubtless many more. But if the sum of such were really some thousands, or
    even many hundreds of bombings, I find it hard in the first place to conceive
    that some among this array of undisciplined, uncontrollable, and merciless
    agents of power would not have recognized the discrediting value of bombings
    that killed innocents -- and hard in the second to conceive that the
    recklessness of such agents, putatively driving and leading this wave, would
    not have occasioned some deaths accidentally even without their intention.
    In sum, I doubt that the afore-specified "perverse alliance" accounted
    directly for more than a small fraction of the cumulative total of bombings
    and arson. One might argue that their examples stimulated and directed
    imitation. But even this requires us to consider, in effect, a "popular
    mainstream" of independent actors and action extending far beyond surveillance
    and infiltration or direct contact with small, tightly-ingrouped ideological
    bands; and requires an accounting of their motivations for engaging in such
    sabatoge, less superficial than merely describing them as mesmerized,
    undisciplined, and reckless. If we instead subtract such
    oh-so-readily-identifiable agencies as police and idelogical provocateurs from
    their presiding, distracting post in the center of our attention to this
    subject, and instead locate their influence at some remove on the periphery of
    this "popular mainstream"'s consciousness, though nearer than the romanticized
    influence of international guerrillas -- as if we were turning a world-map
    inside out on the pivot of personal consciousness -- we get a quite different
    picture. Though such peripheral influences were magnified by our own media, we
    remained more nearly a diverse **public** than a **mass** as we digested them
    independently in our own feelings and decisions.
    To speak personally, as one who never so much as broke a window or kicked over
    a trash-can in protest, I noted in my book in 1971 that some of us had already
    discussed sabotaging power-lines during the terminal sit-in of the FSM in
    1964, well before provocation of such provocation began. The first bombing of
    the Berkeley draft board office occurred, if I recall aright, after mass
    frustration with the stifling of VDC marches towards Oakland in fall 1965, but
    well before hundreds were beaten there while blockading the Induction Center
    two years later. Conceivably, some police agent was involved; but it's much
    more likely to have been an independent, personal action, and it was taken as
    such in popular understanding. I confess that my heart leaped at this, as at
    later report of the bombing of a particular PGE tower, in uneasy tension with
    my other, frowning feelings. Being technically-minded and apt to tinker, I
    enjoyed browsing the recipes in the various versions of The Anarchist Cookbook
    as these evolved and circulated in the political and then countercultural
    community. That I never got round to trying any myself, even in a vacant
    field, may speak less to my innate inhibitions than to circumstance; for I was
    quite confident that I could do so readily, and a few times -- most noteably
    after being in Chicago in August 1968, being shot-at during People's Park in
    1969, and being gassed by a government helicopter during protest of the
    Kent/Augusta/Jackson murders in May 1970 -- I clearly imagined and foresaw
    doing so if things got worse. Had I gone to live in rural isolation as many of
    my countercultural friends did during this period, I might well have turned
    sooner and more readily to practical mischief, back in the city or in my
    locale, perhaps for environment's sake.
    In putting the matter personally, I mean to suggest two things. One is that my
    case was more representative than isolated, or was at least quite widely and
    independently duplicated in every stream and locale of activism, in younger
    cohorts as in mine, among people as qualified and motivated as I to pursue
    such tactics in that era's surges of despair. The other is that although it is
    convenient to characterize the massive tapestry of bombings as the work of a
    distinct catagory of duped and misguided Bombers, including at most two
    thousand such, the phenomenon can scarcely be understood in this perspective.
    More nearly, I think -- or at least also, in significant ways -- this
    scattered array of volunteers for the assignment represented a tendency that
    enlisted a thousand times as many among us in more partial degree, as it
    enlisted me. In this sense, despite all fastidious efforts at disavowal, I
    think the bombers were truly among my representatives and ours, though not to
    be misjudged as such simplistically in single mind. 
    Moreover, I think their exploration of sabotage was **necessary**, in a sense
    somewhat stronger than **inevitable**. So to speak, they occupied a
    fundamental niche in the political ecology of the time, exercising a distinct
    form of political speech in a manner quite responsible in some regards, as
    I've remarked. (To describe the bombings so is not to dignify them falsely,
    nor to confess a more simplistic sympathy than I've expressed, which some may
    already find cause for pillory.) Insofar as they expressed popular sentiment
    and impulse, I imagine that if these few thousands of actual Bombers had been
    literally removed from the overall scene, or neutralized by religious
    conversion, a tapestry of bombings and other sabotage not greatly less
    extensive would have resulted from other actors among us, moved as obscurely
    as these were to their roles.
              Michael Rossman <mrossman@igc.org>
    (*) Re this last point: One might think that mainstream media would
    automatically have exploited the sensationalism of these incidents and their
    overall development. But one effect of the Scanlan's study was to document
    instead the degree to which they held back from this -- for the very premise
    of the Scanlan's issue was to publicize the repressed subject of "guerrilla
    war in the U.S." Granted, there were enough local and national reports of
    particular bombings and arson to stimulate public fears of anti-war activists,
    Black Panthers, and hippies as violent crazies. But in retrospect, and
    thinking back to the easy mechanisms that whipped up anti-Red hysteria in the
    preceding era, that Scanalan's issue makes it evident that a far more
    systematic and vicious campaign of dyscreditation and hysteria-mongering could
    readily have been mounted against us by coordination of "intelligence" and
    media forces. If I am correct in this assessment, the fact that its force was
    deferred begs for explanation. The only obvious factor I can see amounts to
    this: In sharp contrast to the previous situation with Reds, key authorities
    feared that publicizing such incidents and activity would encourage their
    multiplication --  not only by advertising such tactics as popular, but also
    by inadvertantly publicizing the low risk of their perpetration, for
    perpetrators were so rarely identified or caught.( Insofar as this line of
    reasoning holds, it implies a picture of us in minds from Nixon and Hoover on
    down as the agency of chaos, almost the Devil incarnate, that accords with
    what other evidence suggests, unless one misjudges them simply as cynical
    rationalists.) Such inhibitory motivation may have strongly determined the
    overall pattern of mainstream media exploitation of the overall pattern of
    bombings and arson during this period. As for underground media, I suspect
    that review will show that these also made less of bombings, severally and as
    a wave, than they well might have made, for reasons presently obscure to me.

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