Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The "culture war" in its infancy

Gunnin' down hippies: culture war in the literal sense

Clinton has cancelled all public appearances for Wednesday. That could mean she's tired. Or that she needs to confer all day with her advisers. Or that she's throwing in the towel. We'll see.

But even in the increasingly-dim possibility that Clinton winds up as the nominee, she will be facing a "culture war" blitz from the Establishment media and the Republicans just like Obama will, though it will be a different emphasis if she were the nominee.

Digby writes in Nixonland 05/06/08 at her Hullabaloo blog about how the "culture war" Republicans are stuck in the some kind of existential suspension of time circa 1972 (my version, not hers). She seems to think it applies to the Democrats to some extent, as well. Of course, we're talking about a hard-to-quantify impression here. But I don't see the Democrats as being stuck in 1968 or 1972. The Dems are at least trying to deal with the world of present-day globalization, global climate change, energy shortages and the end of the Cold War. But the Reps are still expecting scraggly hippies and scary black people to doom civilization, if the Commies Al Qa'ida Terrorists don't destroy it first.

When I looked up a reference for the post I did yesterday in a 1972 book by the "New Left" philosopher Herbert Marcuse, I saw that he quoted something memorable about a key early incident in what we now call the "culture war", the killings at Kent State in 1970. Historian Murray Polner gives a brief account of that event in Wanted: The Truth About The Kent State Killings History News Network 04/26/04. The National Guard had been called out to the campus of Kent State University after the ROTC building had been burned on May 3 in an arson attack. (There were rowdier things than frat parties on college campuses in those days.) The protests that wound up including the ROTC building arson were provoked by Nixon invading Cambodia, thus widening the Vietnam War in something like the way Maverick McCain wants to widen the Iraq War to Iran.

At one point on the following day, May 4, a group of Guardsmen were in a field well separated from any nearby students. They were certainly under no direct attack. The group huddled together, then wheeled around and fired indiscriminately at students, including students walking to class. As Polner recounts, "0n May 4th, then, Ohio guardsmen fired their M-1 semiautomatic rifles, a .45 pistol and a shotgun for 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others." One of the victims, "Dean Kahler, is still paralyzed. He was, reported the FBI, 95-100 yards from the riflemen when he was wounded." The Scranton Commission appointed to do an official investigation found, "The indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable."

In the reaction, over 400 colleges and universities nationwide were shut down due to student strikes protesting the murders and the Cambodia invasion. The ensuing protests were what prompted Nixon to create his infamous "Plumbers" extralegal secret-police unit under Tom Huston.

Football wasn't the roughest thing on campus at Kent State; but this guy tossing back a tear gas canister didn't murder anybody

Ten days later, two black students at the predominately African-American Jackson State University in Mississippi were also murdered by police and highway patrolmen. Twelve people were wounded.

There's a racial angle here that's important. The Kent State killings, in which all the victims were white, attracted far more attention than the Jackson State incident, though both coming so close together intensified emotions on all sides. There is more than angle of the racial element to analyze. But for what I'm posting on here, it's important to know that the Kent State killings involved all white victims.

Nixon, his Vice President Spiro Agnew and Republicans who reflected their line - the Party wasn't so monolithic in 1970 - deliberately attempted to polarize the public against antiwar demonstrators. And some of them had about as much sense of responsibility about it as Dick Cheney has about anything. On May 3, On May 3, 0hio's Republican Governor and Senate candidate James Rhodes, the day he called out the National Guard to Kent State, said demonstrators against the war were "worse than brownshirts and the Communist element and also the night riders and vigilantes. They are the worst type people that we harbor in America." So his boys gunned down a few of them the next day.

Novelist James Michener published a factual account of the Kent State incident in 1971, Kent State: What Happened and Why. This is the section from Michener's book that Herbert Marcuse quoted, noting that it was a "true horror story":

But no case of parental rejection equals that of a family living in a small town near the Kentucky border with three good-looking, well-behaved, moderate sons at the university. Without any record of participation in protest, the boys found themselves inadvertently involved at the vortex: the middle son ended up standing beside one of the students who was shot (at a great distance from the firing); the youngest was arrested for trespass and his picture appeared in the hometown paper, to the embarrassment of his family. When the family spoke to one of our researchers, the conversation was so startling that more than usual care was taken to get it exactly as delivered.

Mother: Anyone who appears on the streets of a city like Kent with long hair, dirty clothes or barefooted deserves to be shot.
Researcher: Have I your permission to quote that?
Mother: You sure do. It would have been better if the Guard had shot the whole lot of them that morning.
Researcher: But you had three sons there.
Mother: If they didn't do what the Guards told them, they should have been mowed down.
Professor of Psychology (listening in): Is long hair a justification for shooting someone?
Mother: Yes. We have got to clean up this nation. And we'll start with the long-hairs.
Professor: Would you permit one of your sons to be shot simply because he went barefooted?
Mother: Yes.
Professor: Where do you get such ideas?
Mother: I teach at the local high school.
Professor: You mean you are teaching your students such things?
Mother: Yes. I teach them the truth. That the lazy, the dirty, the ones you see walking the streets and doing nothing ought all to be shot.

That kind of thing just freezes my blood.

The quotation doesn't indicate the woman's ethnic background. But notice that she was as rabid about the dirty long-haired hippies as segregationist Mississippians were about those kids murdered by the cops at Jackson State.

For fans of Nixon, Agnew and George Wallace, taking the side of the National Guard in the Kent State murders and the cops in the Jackson State murders was the politically correct position. If you ever hear Rush Limbaugh mention either of those incidents, you don't have to guess what position he would take. I wonder if he might have been one of that woman's students.

Now, there's just no way that kind of sentiment actually applauding the random murder of innocent people is a good thing. Which gets me back to the grievance of the "culture warriors" as described by Christopher Lasch in the quote I used yesterday, "Liberals dismissed their demand for law and order as 'proto-fascism' ...".

As I said in yesterday's post, it's just not the case that liberals dismissed concerns about neighborhood violence - or, for that matter, campus arsonists. But the culture warriors like that sick woman from Kentucky also defended such murders of innocent people by authorities in the name of "law and order". Were liberals expected to express sympathy for people who applauded the random murder of innocent people? Were they supposed to just do a "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" act and pretend that sentiments like this weren't out there when they so obviously were?

No, no small-d democratic party or movement or individual should have any sympathy for that kind of sick stuff. No matter what the "culture warriors" excuse for it was.
And that's certainly not a matter of "elitism", then or now. It's a matter of plain decency and good sense.

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"It is the logic of our times
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That we who lived by honest dreams
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