SECTION EIGHT

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COLUMN NINETY, MAY 1, 2003
(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)

RETROPOP SCENE:
COVERING AN ANTI-WAR RALLY DURING THE VIETNAMESE FIASCO


RICHARD M. NIXON

[Even during so bloody and senseless a conflict as the war in Vietnam, it took years for the doctrinaire fringists and the center Left to coalesce into an effective anti-war movement. Here's a report I wrote about a peace march I covered at the time.]

The cold rain was as relentless as the marchers.

I got there too late and stayed too long. When it was over I had a fever. I never learned exactly what was accomplished at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 40th Street that Saturday afternoon any more than I knew what was being accomplished at Anloc at that very moment.

But I did know that when Yoko Ono told the 30,000 (maybe 40,000, maybe 50,000) gathered there that the time had come for North Vietnam to invade America, I suddenly remembered 1941 right after Pearl Harbor.

A woman in California saw a street sweeper coming down her road one night, thought it was a Japanese tank and hysterically called the police to tell them that the enemy had landed. It's people like that woman in California who still run this country.

Whether Yoko realized it or not, the North Vietnamese had already invaded America. The battle of Anloc was being fought as much at Sixth Avenue and 40th Street that Saturday afternoon as it was on South Vietnam's Route 13.

As speaker after speaker told the peace march crowd, the demonstrations and the riots through all those years of war had helped whittle down the hand that our government was left to play.


'...an unneeded war,
an unpopular war,
a dishonorable war...'


Would American public opinion force the withdrawal of our ground forces from Vietnam? Every time the North Vietnamese mounted an offensive in Indo China, there was an offensive mounted on the streets of America.

I wondered as I lay in my delirium that Saturday night, who was pulling the strings?

This was an unneeded war, an unpopular war, a dishonorable war, a war that had brought profit only to America's military-industrial complex and only to America's carpet-baggers in Saigon while draining the rest of our country of its youth, its innocence, its joys its wealth, its spirit, leaving us in a financial depression that drove us all insane, shrouding us in the same kind of chilling gloom that fell from the heavens that Saturday afternoon.

The North Vietnamese had seemed as determined as the rest of us to defeat President Nixon at the polls the following November. Did we have to hate him so much that we would rather be governed by Pham Van Dong?

I heard the same old speeches from the stage at Sixth Avenue and 40th Street that Saturday afternoon, but I didn't see too many of the same old faces. Where was Abbie Hoffman? Where was Shirley Chisholm? Where was Dick Gregory? And Shirley McLaine and Ramsey Clark and Senator McGovern?  Where was Mayor Lindsay, for that matter?

Oh, that old anti-war horse David Dellinger was there, but he never came close to getting it on the way I'd heard him in the past. Ossie Davis Jr. gave a nice talk, and Ben Gazzara and John Kerry, but they, too, seemed soggy in the rain.

John Lennon displayed great courage even to show up, risking deportation as a political recrimination from Tricky Dick when John so obviously wanted to become a part of America. And there was Daniel Ellsberg, quietly ennobled by his martyrdom. It seemed funny to watch him and Dellinger warming up over coffee in a Child's on Broadway. Someone took a picture and Ellsberg walked over to find out who it was.

What I mean is that there wasn't too much inspiration emanating from that stage at Sixth Avenue and 40th Street that Saturday afternoon. There was no one who could stir up a crowd the way Fred Hampton used to get the audience going in Chicago, who could give us goose pimples like Pete Seeger did when he led us in the singing of Give Peace A Chance in Washington in November of 1969, who could warm us with the kind of brimming emotion that Bob Dylan and George Harrison gave us at the Concert for Bangladesh.

There was no Bobby Kennedy to thrill us with an "I See A Day" speech.  There was no Martin Luther King to overwhelm us with an "I Have A Dream" sermon. There was no real leader on that stage, no one with any hint or promise that he might be the one to make America whole again.

There was only a perfunctory parade of celebrities and dignitaries and representatives of all the different factions so that the committee that put the show together couldn't be criticized for not touching all bases.

There was only that parade and the nameless committee. The only real inspiration there that Saturday afternoon came from the crowd itself, high school and college kids mostly, happy to participate in so spontaneous a brotherhood against so obvious an evil, chanting "OUT NOW!" while catching pneumonia in the downpour, sticking it out in their improvised rain gear, plastic garbage bags with holes cut out for their arms and heads.

These poor kids were so full Of hope and spirit that they'd follow any idiot who?d give them a chance to get together, who'd offer them some kind of out from the crazy tyranny they saw chaining their future.

What frightened me was that they were being used as pawns in some deadly game between Hanoi and Washington. For Nixon to be able to contain these demonstrations, for him to be able to keep them relatively uneventful, he would win. But if there were to be bigger and better Kent State massacres, he would lose. To me, the thought was even more chilling than the rain.

I'm not saying that there were no moments of magic that Saturday afternoon. There was John Hammond Jr. playing slide guitar and singing a blues song that he knew didn't relate to anything the crowd had come to accomplish that day, but he was just doing what he could do. There was David Amram singing a new song he had written for the occasion:

"Don't forget that Jesus never got elected. . .Still we all remember his name. . .Moses had no rifles. . .Mohammed spoke no trifles. . .All three still lead people just the same. . ."

There was that and there was the crowd, full of kids who had never marched before, who had never been sickened by tear gas, who had never been bloodied by night sticks. I admired the way the New York cops handled themselves.  Could the police in other cities be kept so cool?

As for me I didn't want to hear any more lies from Washington, but I didn't want to hear the same old doctrinaire manure from the professional rad-libs, either. I just wanted us to get out of Vietnam right away!  And find somebody who could make America whole again.  ##

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