Featured Post

Another New Book Available: States of the Union, The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published States of the Union: The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023.   St...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A note on the JFK assassination

Dozens of people are now arriving here thanks to Salon's reprint of Jefferson Morley's assassination piece the other day, which referred to my book, The Road to Dallas. I appreciate the mention but I think I should make it clear that what he said about the book was only 50% accurate.

The book, about which you can find more at the link at right, argued that Kennedy was assassinated by a conspiracy of organized crime figures. (Oswald did kill Kennedy, but he did so on their behalf.) It specifically said in the introduction, however, that the CIA had nothing to do with the assassination. The key organized crime figure in the assassination, who acknowledged his involvement, was a man named John Martino. Martino had in fact worked with CIA operatives on at least one major operation in Florida in the spring of 1963, as is detailed in The Road to Dallas, but I did not say, and do not believe, that any of his CIA contacts were involved in the assassination of JFK.

A post from yesterday appears below.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Liberty and Authority

About 34 years ago, as I recall, when I was a junior faculty member at Harvard, I attended a history department retreat to discuss the state of the department and the profession. There was some discussion of the specialization that had already taken over the historical profession. I was already revising my dissertation to become the first book at right, and it much broader than the average dissertation--and I apparently already disliked specialization. I raised my hand and commented that the purpose of specialized monographs, it seemed to me, should be to provide the raw material for better syntheses.

A senior professor named John Clive--never particularly noted for large-scale scholarly achievement--was not impressed. "But what are you going to do with synthesis?" he asked. "Stand up like Frisky Merriman at the end of History 1 (a western civilization course), take out your pocket watch, set it going back and forth on its chain like a pendulum, and explain that the two poles represented 'liberty' and 'authority?' The room broke up in hysterical laughter, and that brought that particular discussion to an end. Later, during the next break, I told a fellow assistant professor--who was destined to abandon scholarship for administration, that I thought specialized monographs should allow us to do what Merriman had done--only better. And I tried to do exactly that during the decade that followed, in the third book on the list at the right. It was a History Book Club selection, but Clive was right: it didn't make much of a professional splash. Yet, following up on last week's post, it seems to me now that Merriman is going to have the last laugh.

As I look back on those distant days against the background of everything I have learned since, I must conclude that nothing can give a people the same immense self-confidence as victory in a great war. The GIs (like Clive), Silents and Boomers at that retreat had rebelled against many aspects of the postwar consensus, but even after Vietnam, they trusted that the achievements of our parents and grandparents would naturally endure to the end of their lives and beyond. They thought, apparently, that the emotional outburst of the previous decade had simply enriched their lives by overthrowing social and intellectual restraints, without calling the structure of society into question. I shall always wonder if that might indeed have been what happened had it not been for the Vietnam War, but we will never know that. What we do know now is that not only the postwar world of the 1950s, but the entire enterprise of western political life since the late eighteenth century, were already being undermined from within, leading to a crisis of authority that is now reaching its peak and which my own generation, which has already passed the peak of its influence as I write, has utterly failed to solve.

Merriman, I now find with the help of google, laid down his burden as the History 1 instructor, prophetically enough, in 1941. A member of the Harvard class of 1896, he had evidently been born smack in the middle of the Missionary generation in 1875 or so. He died just a few days after the end of the Second World War. It turns out that Clive's own memory failed him: according to an account of his last lecture in the Christian Science Monitor published in May 1941, European society, he argued, oscillated between security and liberty. Taking a long view, he saw the religious wars of the 16th century leading to the stronger monarchies of the 18th--and the laissez-faire economics of the 19th century leading to the regulation the Progressive era and the New Deal. In that last lecture, he warned that Hitler's victory could end civilization that that the United States must enter the war as soon as possible. His audience might well have included John F. Kennedy, whom I believe was still in residence in Cambridge in the spring of 1941. But by the time he died five years later, George W. Bush, who perhaps did the most to consummate the collapse of modern authority during his eight years in office, was only weeks away from his conception in New Haven, Connecticut. Such is the way of history.

Merriman, in short, saw himself as an observer and in a way an actor in the great sweep of history, and specifically part of the rationalist experiment in western civilization dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. His whole generation was animated by the idea that reason, and law, could create a better society at home and a better world abroad. I would suggest that that idea no longer plays a significant part in our public life, and certainly not in our economic life, where the profit motive reigns supreme without any challenge. The Republican Party, largely in the ascendant for the last 40 years, has been dedicated since Reagan to the idea that government is the problem, not the solution. The economics profession lost interest in an even partially planned economy long ago. As a remarkable series of graphs in today's New York Times shows, we now have grown a new economic system in which corporate profits rise while employment and the income of the lower half of the population fall. No one is seriously discussing how this might be changed. My own historical profession has lost interest in the long-term movement of history: it is largely focused on the lives of women, minorities and gays within the society that Merriman's contemporaries and students managed to create. I strongly suspect within another 20 years those issues are going to seem a lot less important even to women, minorities and gays. We will be learning first hand about the need for effective public authority. And other generations will once again encounter the great and potentially rewarding challenge of restoring it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Two Sides of the 1960s

Occupy Wall Street may never amount to much politically, but it has certainly set a lot of people thinking, including myself. It has been the source of a very heated and lengthy argument at fourthturning.com, and that has finally allowed me to break through some confusion and finally understand exactly what the Awakening, a.k.a. "the sixties," actually did, and why it has been so personally liberating and so politically disastrous. To understand this, we have to go back before the beginning, to the 1950s.

Let's take two movies that express the best and the worst of that decade: Twelve Angry Men, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. (The book upon which the latter was based was published in 1961 and the movie was set in 1963, but both are before the Awakening.) Twelve Angry Men is about a functioning institution, a jury in a murder case. 11 of the 12 jurors initially trust authority--the prosecution and the court--and vote for conviction and execution. One, played magnificently by Henry Fonda, disagrees. Calmly, without ever raising his voice, he manages to get a few of them thinking about some of the evidence and entertaining the possibility that the defendant might be innocent. His first few allies are equally controlled. The cast is composed entirely of white males, but racism, which plays a role in some of the guilty votes, is clearly defined as an evil. Because everyone is a white male, virtue and vice have nothing to do with race or gender in this movie. The virtuous are polite, restrained, take the job seriously, and are willing to listen. The wicked, including the last holdout, are emotional, at one point almost violent, insulting, or lazy. They also insist that their own feelings are more important than the evidence.

Now let's talk about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It takes place in a mental institution, and incredibly, one million Americans lived in such institutions when the book was written. There isn't much wrong with the patients upon which the film focuses, including McMurphy, played by Jack Nicholson. He explains in the opening scene why he has spent so much time in prison: "I fight and fuck too much." And that is what the movie is about: the inability of a large part of the population to submit to the emotional restraint and repression upon which society insisted in those days. That was a heavy burden, and the generation after the war threw it off. They also made One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest the third-grossing movie of 1975.

So the Awakening focused on personal liberation and the end of emotional restraints. Women, suddenly, could complain about, and leave, their husbands, and millions did. Young adults adopted new dress, new music (very emotionally unrestrained), and new values. Therapists, critically, began to drop Freud's mechanistic model and pay attention to their patients' feelings and to how those feelings grew out of their patients' individual experiences. Families no longer deserved automatic respect. By the 1970s gay Americans demanded the right to act out and legitimize their sexual feelings. All this created a new America, and a personally freer America, and that was, for the most part, a good thing in the personal realm. Unfortunately, that was only half the story.

What has finally struck me this week is that those values--spontaneity, the exaltation of individual feeling and experience, and the rejection of institutional authority--were, inevitably, politically disastrous. For one thing, the rich and powerful (and the would-be rich and powerful) seized upon them as justifications for greater economic freedom, lower taxes, and less regulation. But for another, these values worked against the values of discipline, organization, and leadership, which have been critical to effective political action since the beginning of time. And the emphasis on what divides us--on race, gender, sexual preference, religion, and values--has now almost completely destroyed any national sense of common purpose and belief, which was critical in the 1930s and 1940s to the extraordinary things our grandparents and parents accomplished and remain equally critical today. In the second post that I ever made here, seven years ago,, I showed how these same problems had affected the right--and specifically George W. Bush--just as much as the Left. It was natural for him to believe that he could transform a whole region of the world, the Middle East, by dropping bombs, and lower taxes at the same time: it all felt good, so he did it, confident that the world would bend to his feelings. His left-wing counterparts have been equally delusional, and much less effective. The attack on authority became an attack on intellectual authority as well, and both left-wing academics and religious zealots freely reject the rationalist values of western civilization.

The Boom generation, sadly, taught Generation X to think only about itself. Boomers have shown very little feeling for the values of the institutions they have run, from universities to investment banks, and my friends in various walks of life report that Gen Xers are showing even less. The Millennials have been taught to value the group, but in the world their elders have made there is little outlet for those values.

And this is why, sadly, I cannot see that Occupy Wall Street is offering anything new. It belongs to the great (?) tradition founded by the SDS in the late 1960s, the tradition of the media event, designed to dramatize the evil of the existing regime without any real idea what to do about it. (The Civil Rights protests, at least through 1965, were of a completely different character: they were well planned, well organized, and had specific goals.) And for the most part, OWS seems to be opposed to organization and discipline as well--and the Boomers who have adopted it are still convinced, of course, that that is a good thing.

Writing in the 1990s, William Strauss and Neil Howe expected their Boomer contemporaries eventually to play the role of the Missionary generation, the post-civil war Prophets who, with FDR in the lead, had led us through the great national enterprises of the New Deal and the Second World War. (To their credit, they realized that the Transcendentals, the first post-Constitutional generation who gave us the civil war, had failed to leave behind nearly as big a legacy--but it didn't occur to them to compare the Boomers to the Transcendentals. Now the comparison is unavoidable.) The Boomers did not--could not--live up to those expectations. Now the peak of their power has passed and I do not think it will return. Mitt Romney is now the man most likely to become the third Boomer President, and he is not going to lead us on a great crusade.

The Boomer legacy of emotional freedom is an important one, and the counterattack upon it from the religious right seems destined to fail. But the price we have paid politically has been enormous and we will continue paying it for a long time. It is idle even to ask whether one was more important than the other. They came together, a tribute to the endless complexities and paradoxes of human experience, and future generations, apparently, will have to restore the balance.

P.S. I am delighted by the response to this post, below.

Meanwhile, I wouldn't want anyone to miss this brilliant piece of media criticism from Slate, which picked up on something that I had been noticing myself over the last few weeks.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Eastwood misses the mark

I had looked forward with considerable enthusiasm to J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood's new biopic starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Eastwood has made a couple of at least adequate historical films, including Invictus and especially Letters from Iwo Jima, which told the story of that battle from the Japanese point of view. I don't like to read reviews of movies I plan to see myself, and if you feel the same way and want to see it, you had better stop now. But it has huge problems. In particular, it shows how hard it is becoming to convey the world into which I was born in 1947--one that it some ways, sadly, seems to be lost beyond all recognition. I shall try to explain.

One would expect, of course, that the film would pay a good deal of attention to sexual issues. Hoover--the most powerful American ever who was actually born and grew up in Washington, D.C.--was indeed devoted to his mother and never married. Rumors about his sex life found their way into print even at the height of his power in the 1940s (just as they did, I have discovered, about Eleanor Roosevelt.) His long relationship with his assistant director Clyde Tolson was bound to play a big role in the movie, and so it did. (I personally thought, by the way, that the film's make-up artists did not put half as much work into the aging process of Tolson and Hoover's famous secretary Helen Gandy as they did into Hoover's own.) But Eastwood chose to make that relationship a real dramatic focus, complete with a violent lover's quarrel when Hoover announced that he was contemplating marriage--and there is no real basis for that, except his imagination. Hoover certainly does not seem to have been an active heterosexual and may well have been actively gay. That certainly brands him as a hypocrite, given that homosexuality was defined by Hoover and other security men in those days as a disqualification from government work. But for reasons that I hope to get across, I thought the emphasis on this was vastly disproportionate.

The movie is fairly accurate about the first ten or fifteen years of Hoover's directorate. He did, indeed, build up his reputation, and that of his agency, by focusing upon relatively small-time hoodlums like Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger. He was a clever publicist who knew how to craft statistics to his advantage, and he was morbidly suspicious of any FBI agent, like Melvin Purvis, who made a name for himself. He was also a petty tyrant who once transferred an agent from Washington to Butte, Montana because he saw a photograph of him wearing something other than the FBI regulation white shirt. But that is only part of the story.

On the other hand, the movie does not remotely do justice to the historical role Hoover played--which was not all negative by any means. Here I must confess a personal prejudice: I fell in love with the FBI while writing my book, The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. The reason was quite simple: thanks to the JFK Records Act, I and my assistants read thousands of FBI documents, and the organization was a historian's dream. It had, as the documents make clear, one main mission: the acquisition of data. Agents were diligent, wrote clearly, and followed every lead opened up by one interview right into the next one. The Bureau treated information like holy writ: everyone who should know about something, did. Information was also distributed to other agencies. The data developed on various organized crime figures, to cite only one example, was invaluable, fascinating, and could be the basis for many books besides mine. And the agents were very rarely tendentious or judgmental, even though Hoover often was in his marginal notes. They simply reported, and if they wanted to make clear that they didn't believe a certain witness they were quite clever at giving convincing reasons for not doing so, such as the opinions of the witnesses' friends and associates. The CIA, on the other hand, is a historian's nightmare. In that organization things were put on paper only when absolutely necessary, different parts of the agency kept secrets from each other, and what went on paper was often designed to conceal, rather than reveal, the truth.

The point is that Hoover must have had a great deal to do with creating that organization. The only hint one is given of that in the movie is his insistence, upon taking over in the 1920s, that agents be college graduates of good character and that they pay careful attention to their personal appearance and behavior. There is no hint of his heavy reliance on Jesuit schools as training grounds for his agents, a practice which paid off in spades. Hoover knew how easy it was for law enforcement agents to be corrupted, and he wanted the bureau to be different. That was one reason he stayed away from organized crime until the late 1950s. He feared that agents who began investigating it would be corrupted, and sadly, several amazing scandals in recent decades, most notably in Boston, have proven him right. Hoover certainly contributed to anti-Communist hysteria in the McCarthy years, and probably fed McCarthy a good deal of information, but his organization also uncovered quite a few genuine Communist spies. It also uncovered some massive white collar crimes, such as the GE-Westinghouse violations of antitrust laws in the 1950s. Hoover did not remain at his job for almost half a century merely because Presidents were afraid to remove him--although they surely were.

And indeed, Hoover's relations with Presidents--and especially the Kennedys, about which I know the most--were a great deal more complex than the film lets on. To begin with, Robert Kennedy liked to claim that it wasn't until he became Attorney General that Hoover got interested in organized crime at all--but that, I found, was not true. The famous Appalachin conclave of mobsters in late 1957 genuinely got Hoover's attention, and by 1960 he had a top hoodlum program and had transferred much of the FBI's intelligence capability, including wiretaps, to mobsters like Sam Giancana, whose romantic exploits were put on FBI tape several years' prior to those of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ample evidence indicates that Robert Kennedy was all in favor of such wiretaps--which could only be used for intelligence, not for evidence in court. More to the point, studies of RFK at Justice have shown that he was just as concerned as Hoover about Stanley Levison, Martin Luther King's friend and adviser with Communist ties, and that he clearly fully approved the tap on him. The memos of conversations between Hoover and RFK which I read having to do with organized crime suggested that they were working together enthusiastically on the problem. In the most notable, they shared their shock that the CIA had hired one of their targets, Sam Giancana, to assassinate Castro.

The Bureau under Hoover went wrong in the 1950s when it went beyond investigation to counterintelligence, specifically the COINTELPRO operation designed to disrupt and discredit organizations deemed hostile to the United States. Initially its targets were the Communist Party of the United States, the Socialist Workers' Party, and other front organizations--including, I discovered, the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. (I am convinced, as I wrote in The Road to Dallas, that Lee Harvey Oswald's fake New Orleans chapter of that organization was part of COINTELPRO, although, like much of that program, it was not run directly by the FBI, but by one of several private anti-Communist groups.) Then in the 1960s Hoover extended it to much of the Civil Rights movement and to the New Left. All of this could have opened up vast dramatic possibilities for Eastwood, all the more so since both Presidents Johnson and Nixon suspected the New Left just as much as Hoover did, but all we get from Eastwood is the impression that Hoover was running the campaign against King all by himself. In fact his assistant directors were all devoted acolytes--they could hardly have been otherwise--while some field agents had been quite skeptical about him.

Whatever Hoover's sexual preference, the great dramas of his life were not personal: they were bureaucratic. He hated anything that threatened to impinge upon his authority and feuded with the CIA, local police forces, and, when it tried to reduce his authority, the White House. He carefully cultivated the Congress. He was devoted to his job, and I know of no evidence that he ever agonized about anything he did in the way that Eastwood and DiCaprio repeatedly showing him doing. He was not an introspective man. And this leads me, finally, to my biggest point.

I have now been studying some of Hoover's contemporaries, including FDR and his main lieutenants, for several years. Yes, some of them, including FDR, had active and interesting personal lives--but all of them were devoted to their jobs in ways that few senior officials, today, seem to be. They did extraordinary things, for good or ill, and they deserve to be known for those things. Our own politics and government are now so dominated by spin, and the whole process of government has come under such ceaseless attack for 40 years now, that even a filmmaker like Eastwood, who is more than ten years older than I am, can't even imagine what public servants in those days were like--or perhaps knows that he couldn't get a true portrait onto the screen. The men of that era knew how to project self-confidence and authority, and no one did that better than Hoover. DiCaprio doesn't really even try.

Eastwood and his team were lazy. When Dallas calls Hoover to tell him that the President has been shot, Special Agent Shanklin claims that no one knows about it. In actual fact the shooting was on the AP wire in less than a minute. It then shows him calling Robert Kennedy, but it shows RFK taking the call alone in his office, when he was actually in the midst of a day-long meeting of his organized crime team at his home, Hickory Hill. The movie, in short, suffers not only from historical inaccuracy and from poorly drawn portraits, but from the great disease of our time. It doesn't take government seriously.

p.s. This morning's column by Maureen Dowd makes it clear that these aspects were mainly the responsibility of Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter, a Gen Xer who also wrote Milk. Black struggled with his own sexuality in his youth--he was the kind of boy we see calling Milk for emotional support during that excellent movie. Black was a lot younger than Milk, but he could understand Milk's world. He couldn't understand Hoover's.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Older and younger generations

I do not really enjoy being a wet blanket with respect of Occupy Wall Street. The country is in a very bad way, and the protesters are trying to call attention to very real problems. To the extent that they can prove that a constituency for economic reform exists, they might shift the political process somewhat, although I suspect the White House feels sure it has that constituency in its pocket already and need not worry too much about it. Yet I continue to feel that the rhetoric of many protesters has an all-too familiar ring, and that the state of the nation has led them into the same dead end that too many of my contemporaries encountered more than forty years ago: a belief that nothing less than a complete transformation of a hopelessly evil society will suffice. Since such a transformation is neither possible nor really desirable, I worry that the results of OWS, like those of the "student revolution" of my youth, will be largely negative.

Let my illustrate my point with a couple of texts. I'll begin with excerpts from an interview by Chris Hedges, a popular liberal blogger, with a Millennial protester in Zucotti Park.

Jon Friesen, 27, tall and lanky with a long, dirty-blond ponytail, a purple scarf and an old green fleece, is sitting on concrete at the edge of Zuccotti Park leading a coordination meeting, a gathering that takes place every morning with representatives of each of Occupy Wall Street’s roughly 40 working groups.

“Our conversation is about what it means to be a movement and what it means to be an organization,” he says to the circle. A heated discussion follows, including a debate over whether the movement should make specific demands.

I find him afterward on a low stone wall surrounding a flowerbed in the park. He decided to come to New York City, he said, from the West Coast for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. He found a ride on Craig’s List while staying at his brother’s home in Champaign, Ill.

“It was a television event when I was 17,” he says of the 2001 attacks. “I came here for the 10-year anniversary. I wanted to make it real to myself. I’d never been to New York. I’d never been to the East Coast.”

Once he reached New York City he connected with local street people to find “assets.” He slept in the parks and on the street. He arrived on the first day of the occupation in Zuccotti Park. He found other “traveler types” whose survival skills and political consciousness were as developed as his own.

In those first few days, he says, “it was the radicals and the self-identifying anarchists” who set up the encampment. Those who would come later, usually people with little experience in dumpster diving, sleeping on concrete or depending on a McDonald’s restroom, would turn to revolutionists like Friesen for survival. Zuccotti Park, like most Occupied sites, schooled the uninitiated.

“The structure and process carried out by those initial radicals,” he says with delight of the first days in the park, now have “a wide appeal.”

The Occupy movements that have swept across the country fuse the elements vital for revolt. They draw groups of veteran revolutionists whose isolated struggles, whether in the form of squatter communities or acts of defiance such as the tree-sit in Berkeley to save an oak grove on the University of California campus that ran from Dec. 2, 2006, to Sept. 9, 2008, are often unheeded by the wider culture. The Occupy movements were nurtured in small, dissident enclaves in New York, Oakland, Chicago, Denver, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Bands of revolutionists in these cities severed themselves from the mainstream, joined with other marginalized communities and mastered the physical techniques of surviving on the streets and in jails.

“It’s about paying attention to exactly what you need, and figuring out where I can get food and water, what time do the parks close, where I can get a shower,” Friesen says.

Friesen grew up in an apolitical middle-class home in Fullerton in Southern California’s Orange County, where systems of power were obeyed and rarely questioned. His window into political consciousness began inauspiciously enough as a teenager, with the Beatles, The Doors, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He found in the older music “a creative energy” and “authenticity” that he did not hear often in contemporary culture. He finished high school and got a job in a LensCrafter lab and “experienced what it’s like to slave away trying to make glasses in an hour.” He worked at a few other 9-to-5 jobs but found them “restrictive and unfulfilling.” And then he started to drift, working his way up to Berkeley, where he lived in a squatter encampment behind the UC Berkeley football stadium. He used the campus gym to take showers. By the time he reached Berkeley he had left mainstream society. He has lived outside the formal economy since 2005, the last year he filed income taxes. He was involved in the tree-sit protest and took part in the occupations of university buildings and demonstration outside the Berkeley chancellor’s campus residence to protest fee hikes and budget cuts, activities that saw him arrested and jailed. He spent time with the Navajos on Black Mesa in Arizona and two months with the Zapatistas in Mexico.*

“What I saw in the Zapatistas was a people pushed to the brink of extinction and forgetting,” he says. “Their phrases ring true: Liberty! Dignity! Democracy! Everything for Everyone! Nothing for Ourselves! The masks the Zapatistas wear check egos. People should be united in their facelessness. This prevents cults of personality.”

“I have no interest in participating in the traditional political process,” he says. “It’s bureaucratic. It’s vertical. It’s exclusive. It’s ruled by money. It’s cumbersome. This is cumbersome too, what we’re doing here, but the principles that I’m pushing and that many people are pushing to uphold here are in direct opposition to the existing structure. This is a counterpoint. This is an acknowledgment of all those things that we hate, or that I hate, which are closed and exclusive. It is about defying status and power, certification and legitimacy, institutional validation to participate. This process has infected our consciousness as far as people being allowed [to participate] or even being given credibility. The wider society creates a situation where people are excluded, people feel like they’re not worth anything. They’re not accepted. The principles here are horizontal in terms of decision-making, transparency, openness, inclusiveness, accessibility. There are people doing sign language at the general assembly now. There are clusters of deaf people that come together and do sign language together. This is an example of the inclusive nature that we want to create here. And as far as redefining participation and the democratic process, my understanding of American history is that it was a bunch of white males in power, mostly. This is radically different. If you’re a homeless person, if you’re a street person, you can be here. There’s a radical inclusion that’s going on. And if it’s not that, then I’m not going to participate.”

The park, especially at night, is a magnet for the city’s street population. The movement provides food along with basic security, overseen by designated “peacekeepers” and a “de-escalation team” that defuses conflicts. Those like Friesen who span the two cultures serve as the interlocutors.

“It draws everyone, except maybe the superrich,” he says of the park. “You’re dealing with everyone’s conditioning, everyone’s fucked-up conditioning, the kind of I’m-out-for-me-and-myself, that kind of instinct. People are unruly. People are violent. People make threats.”

“We are trying to sort this out, how to work together in a more holistic approach versus just security-checking someone—you know like tackling them,” he says. “Where else do these people have to go, these street people? They’re going to come to a place where they feel cared for, especially in immediate needs like food and shelter. We have a comfort committee. I’ve never been to a place where there’s a comfort committee. This is where you can get a blanket and a sleeping bag, if we have them. We don’t always have the resources. But everyone is being taken care of here. As long as you’re nonviolent, you’re taken care of. And when you do that you draw all sorts of people, including those people who have problematic behavior. If we scale up big enough we might be able to take care of the whole street population of Manhattan.”

Now let's go back about 42 years, to an address by an exact contemporary of mine to a mixed audience of young and old. (I don't want to give away too much, even though, google being what it is, there's no point in trying to keep it a secret and I will identify the speaker before the end of the post. Perhaps it won't take you that long.)

Many of the issues that I've mentioned -- those of sharing power and responsibility, those of assuming power and responsibility have been general concerns on campuses throughout the world. But underlying those concerns there is a theme, a theme which is so trite and so old because the words are so familiar. It talks about integrity and trust and respect. Words have a funny way of trapping our minds on the way to our tongues but there are necessary means even in this multi-media age for attempting to come to grasps with some of the inarticulate maybe even inarticulable things that we're feeling. We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us even understands and attempting to create within that uncertainty. But there are some things we feel, feelings that our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life, including tragically the universities, is not the way of life for us. We're searching for more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating modes of living. And so our questions, our questions about our institutions, about our colleges, about our churches, about our government continue. The questions about those institutions are familiar to all of us. We have seen heralded across the newspapers. Senator ______ has suggested some of them this morning. But along with using these words -- integrity, trust, and respect -- in regard to institutions and leaders we're perhaps harshest with them in regard to ourselves.

Every protest, every dissent, whether it's an individual academic paper, Founder's parking lot demonstration, is unabashedly an attempt to forge an identity in this particular age. That attempt at forging for many of us over the past four years has meant coming to terms with our humanness. Within the context of a society that we perceive -- now we can talk about reality, and I would like to talk about reality sometime, authentic reality, inauthentic reality, and what we have to accept of what we see -- but our perception of it is that it hovers often between the possibility of disaster and the potentiality for imaginatively responding to men's needs. There's a very strange conservative strain that goes through a lot of New Left, collegiate protests that I find very intriguing because it harkens back to a lot of the old virtues, to the fulfillment of original ideas. And it's also a very unique American experience. It's such a great adventure. If the experiment in human living doesn't work in this country, in this age, it's not going to work anywhere.

But we also know that to be educated, the goal of it must be human liberation. A liberation enabling each of us to fulfill our capacity so as to be free to create within and around ourselves. To be educated to freedom must be evidenced in action, and here again is where we ask ourselves, as we have asked our parents and our teachers, questions about integrity, trust, and respect. Those three words mean different things to all of us. Some of the things they can mean, for instance: Integrity, the courage to be whole, to try to mold an entire person in this particular context, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence. If the only tool we have ultimately to use is our lives, so we use it in the way we can by choosing a way to live that will demonstrate the way we feel and the way we know. Integrity -- a man like Paul Santmire. Trust. This is one word that when I asked the class at our rehearsal what it was they wanted me to say for them, everyone came up to me and said "Talk about trust, talk about the lack of trust both for us and the way we feel about others. Talk about the trust bust." What can you say about it? What can you say about a feeling that permeates a generation and that perhaps is not even understood by those who are distrusted? All they can do is keep trying again and again and again. There's that wonderful line in East Coker by Eliot about there's only the trying, again and again and again; to win again what we've lost before.

And then respect. There's that mutuality of respect between people where you don't see people as percentage points. Where you don't manipulate people. Where you're not interested in social engineering for people. The struggle for an integrated life existing in an atmosphere of communal trust and respect is one with desperately important political and social consequences. And the word "consequences" of course catapults us into the future. One of the most tragic things that happened yesterday, a beautiful day, was that I was talking to woman who said that she wouldn't want to be me for anything in the world. She wouldn't want to live today and look ahead to what it is she sees because she's afraid. Fear is always with us but we just don't have time for it. Not now.

Now I'm intrigued that John Friesen was so affected by 1960s music, because that brings up the fundamental, fatal confusion that did so much harm in those days--a confusion that might be summed up in that memorable phrase, "the personal is the political." Rock 'n Roll was a response to the emotional sterility of an age--a sterility, I now think, born of trauma, the incredible worldwide trauma of the Depression and the Second World War. It allowed a new generation to discover a depth of feeling that their parents had not bee able to teach them, because they had suppressed it. Leonard Bernstein understood this perfectly in a 1967 show he did about rock on CBS, now available on youtube. For our generation, he said, music was background--but not for these kids. Of course, emotionally sterile or crippled families still exist all around us, and maybe Friesen came from one. But the problem, then and now, was to think that the same intensity of feeling, of pure emotion, could also rule the political world. Modern political systems like our own are based upon rationality, not emotion. That is their strength. Because human beings are not, indeed, completely rational creatures, it's a struggle to hold our system up to its original rational ideals. Lately we have been failing that test. It's not the first time, and it won't be the last. But that system remains our only hope. The longing of the two young people quoted above to escape the whole thing is a fantasy, a natural fantasy to be sure, but one that leads nowhere. That is why, I think, both Friesen and Hillary Rodham in 1969--yup--both fall into inarticulate rambling when they try to describe what they are after.

And there is another link between the two, one very close to my heart. Hillary Rodham went into law and into politics. (She certainly allowed passion--falling in love with Bill Clinton--to rule her life: it took her away from everything she had ever known and sentenced her to 20 years in Arkansas, an ordeal conveyed quite well in Primary Colors.) But her contemporaries who went into academia did not have to abandon their rejection of the norms of western civilization. They could spend their careers propagating it, and they did. And now, two generations of undergraduates have passed through college without learning anything, unless they are very lucky, about what the American system is actually capable of. You will never convince me that that has not contributed, massively, to the collapse of our political life. You cannot rebuild the New Deal if you have no idea what it was or what it did.

It's natural enough, when young, to rebel against the routine and regimentation of modern life. It is, to some extent, unnatural, although it also offers its own rewards, and it's the only kind of civilization that allows people to live in such numbers as they do today. And yes, it can be improved. We could, like the Europeans, start our working lives with four weeks' vacation a year, for example, and we could have single-payer health care, a national system of day care centers, and a great deal more to make life more relaxed and rewarding. Nor can we blame the mess we are in, obviously, on the younger generation. The Millennials (b. 1982-2000?) have grown up every bit as obedient to authority as they GI grandparents were, and every bit as ready to enlist in a great crusade. The older generations have failed them by failing to offer one. They will have to undertake their own, smaller local crusades--but to have a long-term impact they will have to be within the framework of modern life, not outside it.

We are moving into a new Gilded Age. The first Gilded age had its own malcontents, many of whom fired by revolutionary enthusiasm, including Coxey's Army, Greenbackers and Grangers, the IWW, the anarchists, and many more. They have left very little behind. But the young people of the Gilded Age included W. E. B. Dubois, the founder of the NAACP; John L. Lewis, probably the most influential labor leader of the twentieth century; Henry Ford, who transformed production; Harold Ickes, Roosevelt's Interior Secretary and head of the Public Works Administration, who began life as a social worker and built dams across America; and the other titans of my current work in progress, Henry Stimson, George C. Marshall, Cordell Hull, and, of course, Franklin Roosevelt himself. They did not reject the system: they built it. Having grown up amidst chaos, they tried, with extraordinary success, to create order. The experience of the Boom generation, sadly, was the reverse. Had it not been for the Vietnam War, we might have revived America emotionally without crippling it politically. But that, we will never know.

Some years ago I did a post here about Bernhard von Bulow, the German chancellor of a century ago, who managed to avoid the danger of a new war until his fall in 1909. Reflecting on the differences between him and his successors after the catastrophe of the First World War, he remarked that he had the advantage of having lived in foreign countries that allowed him to see his country in better perspective. I lived abroad only once, but I have spent much of my adult life living in past eras and foreign countries through my work, and perhaps that has similarly distinguished me from my contemporaries. (Within universities, sadly, my fellow historians are now pretty much convinced that no one ever had a worthwhile idea before 1970 or so.) This hasn't stopped me from believing in progress. It has stopped me from believing that an outburst of enthusiasm can lead us, quickly and almost painlessly, into a new world.