Late one night in 2014 Ralph Morris and Sam Eaton had been sitting at a bar in Boston, Jack Higgin’s Grille, down a few streets from the financial district toward Quincy Market talking about various experiences, political experiences in their lives as they were wont to do these days since they were both mostly retired. Ralph having turned over the day to day operation of his specialty electronics shop in Troy, New York to his youngest son as he in his turn had taken over from his father Ralph, Sr. when he had retired in 1991 (the eldest son, Ralph III, had opted for a career as a software engineer for General Electric still a force in the local economy although not nearly as powerful as when Ralph was young and it had been the largest private employer in the Tri-City area) and Sam had sold off his small print shop business in Carver down about thirty miles south of Boston to a large copying company when he had finally seen a few years before the writing on the wall that the day of the small specialty print shop specializing in silk-screening and other odd job methods of reproduction was done for in the computerized color world.
So they had time for remembrances back to the days in the early 1970s when they had first met and had caught the tail-end of the big splash 1960s political and social explosion that stirred significant elements of their generation, “the generation of ’68” so-called by Sam’s friend from New York City Fritz Jasper although neither of them had been involved in any of the cataclysmic events that had occurred in America (and the world) that year. Sam had that year fitfully been trying to start his own small printing business after working for a few years for Mr. Snyder the premier printer in town and he was knee-deep in trying to mop up on the silk-screen craze for posters and tee shirts and had even hired his old friend from high school Jack Callahan who had gone to the Massachusetts School of Art as his chief silk-screen designer, and later when he moved off the dime politically his acting manager as well. Ralph’s excuse was simpler, simplicity itself for he was knee-deep in the big muddy in the Central Highlands of Vietnam trying to keep body and soul together against that damn Charlie who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Occasionally over the years Ralph would come to Boston on trips at Sam’s invitation and they almost always would go have a few at Jack Higgin’s during his stay talking mainly family matters before Ralph would head back to Troy and his family but more frequently of late they would go back over the ground of their youth, would go over more that ground more than one time to see if something they could have done, or something they did not do, would have made a difference when the “counter-revolution,” when the conservative push-back reared its head, when the cultural wars began in earnest with the ebbing of that big good night 1960s explosion. Sam would return the favor by going out to Albany, or more frequently to Saratoga Springs where he, they could see who from the old days, Utah Phillips before he passed away, Rosalie Sorrels before she left the road, Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger before they passed but you get the picture, the old folk minute of the early 1960s that Sam had been very interested in when he started to hang around Cambridge later in that decade, were still alive enough to be playing at the famous coffeehouse still going from the 1960s, the Café Lena, although minus founder Lena for quite a while now. Sam had never lost the bug, never lost that longing for the lost folk minute that in his mind connected in with him hanging around the Hayes-Bickford in Harvard Square on lonesome weekends nights seeing what was to be seen. Sam had dragged Ralph, who despite living on about less than an hour away had never heard of the Café Lena since he had been tuned to the AM stations playing the awful stuff that got air time after the classic period of rock went into decline and before rock became acid-tinged, along with him and he had developed a pretty fair appreciation for the music as well.
The conversation that night in 2014 got going after the usual few whiskey and sodas used to fortify them for the night talkfest had begun to take effect had been pushed in the direction of what ever happened to that socialist vision that had driven some of their early radical political work together (in the old days both of them in these midnight gabfest would have fortified themselves with in succession grass, cocaine, speed and watch the sun come up and still be talking. These days about midnight would be the end point, maybe earlier.). The specific reason for that question coming up that night had been that Sam had asked Ralph a few weeks before to write up a little remembrance of when he had first heard the socialist-anarchist-communist-radical labor militant international working class anthem, the Internationale, for Fritz Jasper’s blog, American Protest Music.
Sam had noted that Ralph had with a certain sorrow stated that he no longer had occasion to sing the song. Moreover one of the reasons for that absence was that despite his and Sam’s continued “good old cause” left-wing political activism socialism as a solution to humankind’s impasses was deeply out of favor (that activism as Ralph mentioned to Sam on more than one occasion these days considerably shortened from the old frenzied 24/7 desperate struggles around trying unsuccessfully end the Vietnam War from the American side by getting the government to stop the damn thing although the Vietnamese liberation forces in the end and at great cost had had no trouble doing so).
People, intellectuals and working stiffs alike, no longer for the most part had that socialist vision goal that had driven several generations, or the best parts of those generations, since the mid-19th century to put their efforts into, did not have that goal on their radar, didn’t see a way out of the malaise through that route. Had moreover backed off considerably from that prospective since the demise of the Soviet Union and its satellites in the early 1990s if not before despite the obvious failure of capitalism to any longer put a dent in the vast inequalities and injustices, their suffered inequalities and injustices, in the world. Sam had had to agree to that sad statement, had had to agree that they, in effect, too had abandoned that goal in their own lives for all practical purposes even though they had been driven by that vision for a while once they got “religion” in the old days in the early 1970s, once they saw that the anti-war struggle that animated their first efforts was not going to get the war-makers to stop making war.
Maybe it was the booze, maybe it was growing older and more reflective, maybe it was that Ralph’s comments had stirred up some sense of guilt for losing the hard edge of their youthful dreams but that night Sam wanted to press the issue of what that socialist prospective meant, what they thought it was all about (both agreed in passing, almost as an afterthought that what had happened, what passed for socialism in the Soviet Union and elsewhere was NOT what they were dreaming of although they gave third world liberation struggles against imperialism like in Vietnam dependent on Soviet aid plenty of wiggle room to make mistakes and still retain their support).
Both men during the course of their conversation commented on the fact that no way, no way in hell, if it had not been for the explosive events of the 1960s, of the war and later a bunch of social issue questions, mainly third world liberation struggles internationally and the black liberation question at home they would not even be having the conversation they were having (both also chuckling a little at using the old time terms, especially the use of “struggle” and “question,” for example the black, gay, woman question since lately they had noticed that younger activists no longer spoke in such terms but used more ephemeral “white privilege,” “patriarchy,” “gender” terms reflecting the identity politics that have been in fashion for a long time, since the ebb flow of the 1960s).
No, nothing in the sweet young lives of Samuel Eaton to the Carver cranberry bog capital of world in Carver (then) working-class born (his father a “bogger” himself when they needed extra help) and Ralph Morris, Junior to the Troy General Electric plants-dominated working- class born would have in say 1967, maybe later, projected that almost fifty years later they would be fitfully and regretfully speaking about the their visions of socialism and it demise as a world driving force for social change.
Ralph and Sam had imbibed all the standard identifiable working-class prejudices against reds, some of those prejudices more widespread among the general population of the times, you know, like the big red scare Cold War “your mommy is a commie, turn her in,” “the Russians are coming get under the desk and hold onto your head,” anybody to the left of Grandpa Ike, maybe even him, communist dupes of Joe Stalin and his progeny who pulled the strings from Moscow and made everybody jumpy; against blacks (Ralph had stood there right next to his father, Ralph, Sr., when he led the physical opposition to blacks moving into the Tappan Street section of town and had nothing, along with his corner boys at Van Patten’s Drugstore, but the “n” word to call black people, sometimes to their faces and Sam’s father was not much better, a southerner from hillbilly country down in Appalachia who had been stationed in Hingham at the end of World War II and stayed, who never could until his dying breathe call blacks anything but the “n” word); against gays and lesbians (Ralph and his boys mercilessly fag and dyke baiting them whenever the guys and he went to Saratoga Springs where those creeps spent their summers doing whatever nasty things they did to each other and Sam likewise down in Provincetown with his boys, he helping, beating up some poor guy in a back alley after one of them had made a fake pass at the guy, Jesus; against uppity woman, servile, domestic child-producing women like their good old mothers and sisters and wanna-bes were okay as were “easy” girls ready to toot their whistles, attitudes which they had only gotten beaten out of them when they ran into their respective future wives who had both been influenced by the women’s liberation movement although truth to tell they were not especially political, but rather artistic. Native Americans didn’t even rate a nod since they were not on the radar, were written off in any case as fodder for cowboys and soldiers in blue. But mainly they had been red, white and blue American patriotic guys who really did have ice picks in their eyes for anybody who thought they would like to tread on old Uncle Sam (who had been “invented” around Ralph’s hometown way).
Monday, May 02, 2016
*****Stop The Killer-Drone Madness...Stop It Now!
*****Stop The Killer-Drone Madness…Stop It Now
See Ralph, Sam too for that matter, had joined the anti-war movement for personal reasons at first which had to do a lot with ending the war in Vietnam and not a lot about “changing the whole freaking world” (Ralph’s term). Certainly not creeping around the fringes of socialism before the 1960s ebbed and they had to look to the long haul to pursue their political dreams. Ralph’s story was a little bit amazing that way, see, he had served in the military, served in the Army, in Vietnam, had been drafted in early 1967 while he was working in his father’s electrical shop and to avoid being “cannon fodder” as anybody could see what was happening to every “drafted as infantry guy” he had enlisted (three years against the draft’s two) with the expectation of getting something in the electrical field as a job, something useful. But in 1967, 1968 what Uncle needed, desperately needed as General Westmoreland called for more troops, was more “grunts” to flush out Charlie and so Ralph wound up with a unit in the Central Highlands, up in the bush trying to kill every commie he could get his hands on just like the General wanted. He had extended his tour to eighteen months to get out a little early from his enlistment not so much that he was gung-ho but because he had become fed up with what the war had done to him, what he had had to do to survive, what his buddies had had to do to survive and what the American government had turned them all into, nothing but animals, nothing more, as he told everybody who would listen. When he was discharged in late 1969 he wound up joining the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), the main anti-war veterans group at the time. Such a move by Ralph and thousands of other soldiers who had served in ‘Nam a real indication even today of how unpopular that war was when the guys who had fought the damn thing arms in hand, mostly guys then, rose up against the slaughter, taking part in a lot of their actions around Albany and New York City mainly.
Here is the way Ralph told Sam in 1971 about how he came in contact with VVAW while they had plenty of time to talk when they were being detained in RFK Stadium after being arrested in a May Day demonstration. One day in 1970 Ralph was taking a high compression motor to Albany to a customer and had parked the shop truck on Van Dyke Street near Russell Sage College. Coming down the line, silent, silent as the grave he thought later, were a ragtag bunch of guys in mismatched (on purpose he found out later) military uniforms carrying individual signs but with a big banner in front calling for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam and signing the banner with the name of the organization-Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). That was all, and all that was needed. Nobody on those still patriotic, mostly government worker, streets called them commies or anything like that but you could tell some guys in white collars who never came close to a gun, except maybe to kill animals or something defenseless really wanted to. One veteran as they came nearer to Ralph shouted out for any veterans to join them, to tell the world what they knew first-hand about what was going on in Vietnam. Yeah, that shout-out was all Ralph needed he said, all he needed to join his “band of brothers.”
Sam as he recalled how he and Ralph had met in Washington had remembered that Ralph had first noticed that he was wearing a VVAW supporter button and Ralph had asked if he had been in ‘Nam. Sam, a little sheepishly, explained that he had been exempted from military duty since he was the sole support for his mother and four younger sisters after his father had passed away of a massive heart attack in 1965. (He had gone to work in Mister Snyder’s print shop where he had learned enough about the printing business to later open his own shop which he kept afloat somehow during the late 1960s with Jack Callahan’s help and which became his career after he settled down when the 1960s ebbed and people started heading back to “normal.”) He then told Ralph the reason that he had joined the anti-war movement after years of relative indifference since he was not involved in the war effort had been that his closest high school friend, Jeff Mullins, had been blown away in the Central Highlands and that had made him question what was going on. Jeff, like them had been as red, white and blue as any guy, had written him when he was in Vietnam that he thought that the place, the situation that he found himself in was more than he bargained for, and that if he didn’t make it back for Sam to tell people, everybody he could what was really going on. Then with just a few months to go Jeff was blown away near some village that Sam could not spell or pronounce correctly even all these many years later. Jeff had not only been Sam’s best friend but was as straight a guy as you could meet, and had gotten Sam out of more than a few scrapes, a few illegal scrapes that could have got him before some judge. So that was how Sam got “religion,” not through some intellectual or rational argument about the theories of war, just wars or “your country right or wrong wars,” but because his friend had been blown away, blown away for no good reason as far as that went.
At first Sam had worked with Quakers and other pacifist types because he knew they were in Cambridge where he found himself hanging out more and more trying to connect with the happenings that were splitting his generation to hell and back. They got him doing acts of civil disobedience at draft boards, including the Carver Draft Board on Allan Road the place where Jeff had been drafted from (and which created no little turmoil and threats among the Eaton’s neighbors who were still plenty patriotic at that point, his mother and sisters took some of the fire as well), military bases and recruiting stations to try to get the word out to kids who might get hoodwinked in joining up in the slaughter. As the war dragged on though he started going to Cambridge meetings where more radical elements were trying to figure out actions that might stop the damn war cold and that appealed to him more than the “assuming the government was rational and would listen to reason” protest actions of those “gentile little old ladies in tennis sneakers.”
1971 though, May Day 1971 to be exact is, where these two stories, two very different stories with the same theme joined together. Sam at that point in 1971 was like Ralph just trying to get the war ended, maybe help out the Panthers a little but before May Day had no grandiose ideas about changing the “whole freaking world.” Sam had gone down to Washington with a group of Cambridge radicals and “reds” to do what he could to shut down the war under the slogan-“if the government does not shut down the war, we will shut down the government.” Ralph had come down with a contingent of ex-veterans and supporters from Albany for that same purpose. Sam and Ralph had as a result met on the bizarre football field at RFK Stadium which was the main holding area for the thousands of people arrested that day (and throughout the week)
So May Day was a watershed for both men, both men having before May Day sensed that more drastic action was necessary to “tame the American imperial monster” (Sam’s term picked up from The Real Paper, an alternative newspaper he had picked up at a street newsstand in Cambridge) and had come away from that experience, that disaster, with the understanding that even to end the war would take much more, and many more people, than they had previously expected. Ralph, in particular, had been carried away with the notion that what he and his fellow veterans who were going to try to symbolically close down the Pentagon were doing as veterans would cause the government pause, would make them think twice about any retaliation to guys who had served and seen it all. Ralph got “smart” on that one fast when the National Guard which was defending the Pentagon, or part of it that day, treated them like any Chicago cops at the Democratic Party Convention in 1968, treated them like cops did to any SDS-ers anywhere, and like anybody else who raised their voices against governmental policy in the streets.
Ralph told Sam while in captivity that he still worked in his father’s shop for a while but their relationship was icy (and would be for a long time after that although in 1991 when Ralph, Senior retired Ralph took over the business). He would take part in whatever actions he could around the area (and down in New York City a couple of times when they called for re-enforcements to make a big splash).
Ralph has like he said joined with a group of VVAW-ers and supporters for an action down in Washington, D.C. The idea, which would sound kind of strange today in a different time when there is very little overt anti-war activity against the current crop of endless wars but also shows how desperate they were to end that damn war, was to on May Day shut down the government if it did not shut down the war. Their task, as part of the bigger scheme, since they were to form up as a total veterans and supporters contingent was to symbolically shut down the Pentagon. Wild right, but see the figuring was that they, the government, would not dare to arrest vets and they figured (“they” meaning all those who planned the events and went along with the plan) the government would treat it somewhat like the big civilian action at the Pentagon in 1967 which Norman Mailer won a literary prize writing a book about, Armies of the Night. Silly them.
They after the fall-out from that event were thus searching for a better way to handle things, a better way to make an impact because those few days of detention in D.C. that they had jointly suffered not only started what would be a lifelong personal friendship but an on-going conversation between them over the next several years about how to bring about the greater social change they sensed was needed before one could even think about stopping wars and stuff like that. (The story in short of how they got out of RFK after a few days was pretty straight forward. Since law enforcement was so strapped that week somebody had noticed and passed the word along that some of the side exits in the stadium were not guarded and so they had just walked out and got out of town fast, very fast, hitchhiking back north to Carver, and Ralph later to Troy). Hence the push by Sam toward the study groups led by “red collectives” that were sprouting up then peopled by others who had the same kind of questions which they would join, unjoin and work with, or not work with over the next few years before both men sensed the tide of the rolling 1960s had ebbed.
Old time high school thoughts even with the cross-fire hells of burned down Vietnam villages melted into the back of his brain crossed his mind when Ralph thought of Marx, Lenin (he, they, were not familiar with Trotsky except he had “bought it” down in Mexico with an icepick from some assassin), Joe Stalin, Red Square, Moscow and commie dupes. Sam had not been far behind in his own youthful prejudices as he told Ralph one night after a class and they were tossing down a few at Jack’s in Cambridge before heading home to the commune where Sam was staying.
Ralph had gone out of his way to note in that blog entry for Fritz that before he got “religion” on the anti-war and later social justice issues he held as many anti-communist prejudices as anybody else in Troy, New York where he hailed from, not excluding his rabidly right-wing father who never really believed until his dying days in 2005 that the United States had lost the war in Vietnam. Ralph had realized that all the propaganda he had been fed was like the wind and his realization of that had made him a very angry young man when he got out of the Army in late 1969. He tried to talk to his father about it but Ralph, Senior was hung up in a combination “good war, World War II, his war where America saved international civilization from the Nazis and Nips (his father’s term since he fought in the Pacific with the Marines) and “my country, right or wrong.” All Ralph, Senior really wanted Ralph to do was get back to the shop and help him fill those goddam GE defense contract orders. And he did it, for a while.
Ralph had also expressed his feelings of trepidation when after a lot of things went south on the social justice front with damn little to show for all the arrests, deaths, and social cataclysm he and Sam had gotten into a study group in Cambridge run by a “Red October Collective” which focused on studying “Che” Guevara and the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky after an introduction to the Marxist classics. Sam who was living in that commune in Cambridge at the time, the summer of 1972, had invited Ralph to come over from Troy to spent the summer in the study group trying to find out what had gone wrong (and what they had gotten right too, as Sam told him not to forget), why they were spinning their wheels trying to change the world for the better just then and to think about new strategies and tactics for the next big break-out of social activism. At the end of each meeting they would sing the Internationale before the group broke up. At first Ralph had a hard time with the idea of singing a “commie” song (he didn’t put it that way but he might as well have according to Sam) unlike something like John Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance, songs like that. As he, they got immersed in the group Ralph lightened up and would sing along if not with gusto then without a snicker.
That same apprehensive attitude had prevailed when after about three meetings they began to study what the group leader, Jeremy, called classic Marxism, the line from Marx and Engels to Lenin and the Bolsheviks. A couple of the early classes dealt with the American Civil War and its relationship to the class struggle in America, and Marx’s views on what was happening, why it was necessary for all progressives to side with the North and the end of slavery, and why despite his personal flaws and attitudes toward blacks Abraham Lincoln was a figure to admire all of which both men knew little about except the battles and military leaders in American History classes. What caused the most fears and consternation was the need for revolution worked out in practice during the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917. They could see that it was necessary in Russia during those times but America in the 1970s was a different question, not to speak of the beating that they had taken for being “uppity” in the streets in Washington, D.C. in 1971 when they didn’t think about revolution (maybe others had such ideas but if so they kept them to themselves) and the state came crashing down on them.
The biggest problem though was trying to decipher all the various tendencies in the socialist movement. Ralph, maybe Sam more so, though if everybody wanted the same thing, wanted a better and more peaceful system to live under then they should all get together in one organization, or some such form. The split between the Social Democrats and the Communists, later the split between Stalinists and Trotskyists, and still later the split between Stalinists and Maoists had their heads spinning, had then thankful that they did not have to fight those fights out.
All in all though they had the greatest respect for Trotsky, Trotsky the serious smart intellectual with a revolver in his hand. Had maybe a little sympathy for the doomed revolutionary tilling against the windmills and not bitching about it. Maybe feeling a little like that was the rolling the rock up the hill that they would be facing. That admiration of Trotsky did not extend to the twelve million sects, maybe that number is too low, who have endlessly split from a stillborn organization he started when he felt the Communist International had stopped being a revolutionary force, the Fourth International. Sam brought up a Catholic would make Ralph laugh when he compared those disputes to the old time religious disputes back in the Middle Ages about how many angels would fit on the tip of a needle. They, after spending the summer in study decided that for a while they would work with whoever still needed help but that as far as committing to joining an ongoing organization forget it.
At the beginning in any case, and that might have affected his ultimate decision, some of Ralph’s old habits kind of held him back, you know the anti-red stuff, Cold War enemy stuff, just like at first he had had trouble despite all he knew about calling for victory to the Viet Cong (who in-country they called “Charlie” in derision although after Tet 1968 with much more respect when Charlie came at them and kept coming despite high losses). But Ralph got over it, got in the swing.
The Marxism did not come easy, the theory part, maybe for Ralph a little more than Sam who had taken junior college night classes to bolster the small print shop he had built from nothing after Mister Snyder moved his operation to Quincy to be nearer his main client, State Street Bank and Trust (although for long periods his old Carver friend, Jack Callahan, managed the place when Sam was off on his campaigns). They got that the working-class, their class, should rule and be done with inequalities of all kinds but the idea of a revolution, or more importantly, a working class party which was on everybody’s mind in those days to lead that revolution seemed, well, utopian. The economic theory behind Marxism, that impossible to read Das Capital and historical materialism as a philosophy were books sealed with seven seals for them both. Nevertheless for a few years, say until 1975, 1976 when the tide really had ebbed for anybody who wanted to see they hung around with the local “reds,” mostly those interested in third world liberation struggles and political prisoner defense work. Those were really the earnest “socialist years” although if you had asked them for a model of what their socialism looked like they probably would have pointed to Cuba which seemed fresher than the stodgy old Soviet Union with their Brezhnev bureaucrats.
After that time while they would periodically read the left press and participate any time somebody, some group needed bodies for a rally, demonstration, some street action they would be there in their respective hometowns that they both eventually filtered back to. Then 2002 came and the endless wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and seemingly a million other places drove them to drop their “armed truce” (Sam’s term picked up by Ralph) with society and return to the streets , return with an almost youthful vengeance. They would see young people at the rallies hocking their little Marxist papers, maybe buy one to read a home but that flame that had caused them to join study groups, to work with Marxist-oriented “red collectives,” to read books that were hard to fathom had passed, had passed just as socialism as a way to end humankind’s impasses had fallen out of favor once the Soviet Union and its satellites had gone up in a puff of smoke. Sam thought one time that maybe those earnest kids with their wafer-thin newspapers will study the classics and make more sense out of them than Sam and Ralph could. As for Sam and Ralph they would now just keep showing up to support the “good old cause.”And here is what Ralph, an ex-Vietnam veteran and no stranger to war up close and personal had to say about the damn drones:
If one takes a quick look at military history not at the pre-conditions that set any particular war up but, you know, what was decisive in the victory of one side over the other you will, except those times when desperate valor saved the day, actually an unusual occurrence in the great scheme of warfare, notice that the side with the technological advantage, the latest gadget usually will prevail. Or at least that is what the average run of military historians will highlight. Taking an example from American internal war history, the Civil War of the 1860s, the decisive edge had been given to the industrial power of the North to produce as many cannon, guns, wagons, etc. as needed whereas the South, especially after Billy Sherman and his “bummers” marched through Georgia and its environs squeezing whatever industrial capacity that region did have, was starved for such materials. Thereafter the massing of high caliber accurate firepower weaponry became the standard on the battlefield.
All of this simple-simon history is presented to make a point about what military strategists are up to these days with the incessant use of killer-drones, those gadgets that now, whether recognized as such or not are seen as the solution to reducing the need for boots on the ground which in turn means that those like the American military and its civilian administrators need to worry less about outraged citizens when the body count gets too high. That has not deterred every administration, including the current Obama one from anteing up the boots on the ground when the deal goes down and land needs to be secured. So needless to say this military “new age” thinking is hogwash since while drones had more than occasionally hit their targets they have more than occasionally created what is euphemistically termed “collateral damage” to anybody in the area of the strike.
That fact alone, that fact of innocent civilian causalities, is why I along with others, hopefully a growing number of others, are out in the streets at anti-war rallies and elsewhere telling presidents and generals to stop their killer-drone programs. Join us on this one just like you would when the American government throws boot on the ground in some ill-conceived plan to make the world “safe for democracy.”