REVOLUTION – Excerpt
He turned to Ramirez. “What d’you think?”
Ramirez scanned the ridge, chewed his chaw thoughtfully. “Shit place to die.”
Troy inspected it again. “If we go right along our own ridge down the head of the valley and along that ridge on top?”
“They got us in their sights, man. No matter how we go.”
“I’m not calling in Phantoms.”
“To destroy a mile of jungle?” Ramirez squirted tobacco through his lower front teeth. “It’s the Slopes’ fucking country, man. We should leave it alone.”
JOHNSON QUIT!” Tucker yelled as he came in the door. “It’s on the radio!”
Mick ran to his radio and snapped it on. “Took Congress totally by surprise,” a Democratic congressman was saying. “We’re going to circle the wagons and decide where to go next.”
“It certainly puts the Democrats at a risk,” the newsman was saying.
“The way Lyndon’s popularity was dropping, he wasn’t sure to win anyway.”
Mick let out a war whoop and jumped so high his head cracked the ceiling. It wasn’t possible! Al Lowenstein and the thousands of young people he’d inspired had done what he said they’d do just seven months ago: they’d brought down a sitting president.
McCarthy had come within three hundred votes of beating Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, close enough that Johnson knew he couldn’t win the nomination now that Bobby was coming in. Mick’s days of trudging through the snow to talk people into voting for Gene had then seemed pointless, doomed to failure. Now anything seemed possible.
The ogre was gone and the way was open for McCarthy or Bobby to win. With opposition growing against the war, a pro-war Republican like Nixon would never win. Romney was out of the race, Rockefeller couldn’t buy a vote, and only an idiot would ever vote for a grade-B movie actor like Reagan.
Maybe democracy worked after all.
“If we all keep working,” he told other anti-war groups, “we can do this.”
Maybe peace would have a chance.
“CANNON FODDER. That’s what we are,” Lawyer Jones said. “There’s a greater proportion of us blacks here at the front. More casualties. And we know Vietnam isn’t about democracy or freedom. Because we don’t have that, back home. So how can we pretend to be setting it up here?”
He chewed nonchalantly on a grass stalk and looked out over the pitted blasted hillside like a farmer over his crop. “I dig that word, casualty. Sounds kind of casual, doesn’t it? And the plural: the casual ties that bind us — kinda pretty. But a casualty is somebody blown apart — happens all the time — and you have to go looking for his pieces. A head here, a foot over behind that bush. Or it’s the kid lying there looking at his intestines . . . Those are casualties . . .”
“That Hanoi radio woman,” Spike Jones said, “she says some good things. Like why are us blacks over here killing them and destroying their country, when back home our cities are burning and whitey treats us just like he does the people here? Why aren’t we home, protecting our own rights, our own families?”
“When I get home —”
“You’ll get home, brother.”
“− I’m joinin the Panthers. Most of the Black Panthers are like you’n me, they been in the war. In the fighting.” Lawyer turned to Troy. “You see, black brothers don’t get to serve in the rear — you don’ have no black rear echelon mother fuckers but you got plenty black frontline soldiers and Marines. What we gettin’ exposed to in Vietnam make me realize we on the same wrong side back home — why were we helping whitey put the black man down? The colored peoples down?”
One thing I can tell you, the Beatles were singing on Spike’s Sanyo, is you got to be free.
“Yeah,” Spike said. “Maybe what we need, to be free, is a revolution at home? Instead of doing all the killing over here?”
“HE’S DEAD,” Reverend Parrish called. “They just shot Martin Luther King.” He came through the door of his Harlem community meeting room and slumped into a chair, hands over his face.
A woman screamed. More screams, weeping, yelling, begging questions, as people ran out the door looking for a television, some way to prove it wrong.
They returned in stunned and teary silence, others swearing, the young men hard and angry, some screaming epithets at the filthy whites, the anti-war people drained and hopeless. Reverend Parrish stood weeping uncontrollably as a silver-haired black woman tried to comfort him. Tucker tugged on his coat, turned to Mick. “I can’t do this now. Can’t do this fucking meeting.”
Mick felt at desperation’s end. “We have to come together. Us and the blacks.”
“Not happening now, brother.” Tucker stalked out, yelling, “This country’s finished! It’s over!”
Another hope turned to ashes, Mick thought as he halted at the door. This meeting to unite the anti-draft Resistance campaign with the Harlem community. To get their young men to Refuse. This meeting that now would never happen.
“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit,” King had said. But who would listen now?
“We’re gonna burn down every city in this nation,” Clancy Martin was saying. “There gonna be fire and annihilation everywhere!”
“I feel like that too, Clancy,” Mick sighed. “But it’s not going to help.”
“Vengeance!” Clancy glared at him. “That’s what helps!”
“They wanted him dead,” Leon Hamlin said, “to get us to rise up. So they can cut us down.”
“You sayin you afraid?” Clancy answered. “You a coward?”
“I’m sayin wait a while, till things cool down. Then strike.”
“Things ain’t ever gonna cool down, brother. We got the people in the cities mad, they lose this great beautiful leader —”
“You didn’t even like the King, man. You said he was a yellow nigger. You call him to his face, that day in Shreveport. A yellow nigger.”
“Ain’t no yellow nigger now, brother. He just begin the revolution.”
THE WAR CAME HOME in riots in a hundred and thirty cities, forty-six Americans killed by the police and National Guard, 20,000 arrested. Now before the television coverage of the bombed cities of Vietnam came film of block after block, mile after mile, city after city from coast to coast America in smoky ruins.
In their hatred for whites, for the system that had killed Martin Luther King and thousands of others, black Americans were burning their own homes because the whites owned them. In response, Congress passed what it called the Rap Brown Amendment, making it a federal crime to cross state boundaries with intent to start a riot. “The catch,” Reverend Coffin said, “is how you going to prove you weren’t intending to start one?”
In his heartbroken speech in Indianapolis on the death of King, Bobby Kennedy spoke a few lines from Aeschylus, “He who learns must suffer. Even in our sleep the pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, and against our will, comes wisdom by the awful grace of God.”
America was falling apart. The killing it was doing was killing it. You have to accept it’s going down, Mick told himself during the day, as he bolted girders and carried cable across empty spaces thirty-five stories high, and at night as he spoke at street meetings for the Resistance, wrote articles and letters to newspapers from The Village Voice, LA Free Press and Berkeley Barb to more traditional papers like The Boston Globe and Portland Oregonian, manned the phones, met with other peace leaders, with the Dems, once sat down with Bobby to talk about California.
“Growing up in Boston,” Bobby said, “it’s very hard to understand California.” He shook his glass of ice cubes and bourbon and leaned forward. “I have to win there or it’s over. So I need someone to organize the California peace groups, get them pulling for me. People respect you, Mick. You could do it.”
“I can’t run out on Gene.”
“I know. And I honor your fidelity.” Bobby sat back, started to rise. “It’s a question with no answer.”
Mick stood. “What is?”
“If it’s better to be unfaithful and win. Or faithful and lose?”
“Like Al, I’m committed to a man who might not win. I’d much rather work for you but I can’t betray Gene.”
“All that matters is we stop this war.” Bobby gave him a haunted look. “Or it’s going to take our souls right down with it.”
“IT’S JUST A MOVIE,” Mick said.
“It’s more than that,” Peter Weisman said. “You’re there, in space. Seeing the universe from a whole new direction. The myth of our future, the parable of who we are. Where we came from and how we got here and where we’re going.”
“Where we can go,” Peter’s girlfriend Lois corrected. “Given us lousy humans it’s unlikely we’ll get there.”
“It sets our course,” Peter said. “For the next thousand years.”
“Who can imagine,” Lois said, “what’s going to happen in 2001? That’s thirty-three years from now.”
It was a movie that summarized human evolution and took it to the next level. The naked tribe in the desert that discovers a black monolith, and from it learns to use weapons to kill other humans, had evolved into space wanderers seeking the black monolith for the key to our next evolution. And our weapons now were not stones but supercomputers with brains smarter than our own.
Was the black monolith the watchful — or evil — eye of a civilization far more powerful than ours? And what did it have to do with humans murdering each other in Vietnam and so many other places? With the burning cities of America? What clues did 2001 give us on how to live? On the reason for our being?
True, there’d been an ominous rapidity to our evolution. No other animal had ever altered this fast: from ground-dwelling ape to master race able to extinguish all life. What black monolith had propelled us?
Could intelligence exist without evil? Didn’t evil require choice? And wasn’t the battle between humans and the black monolith really between us and amoral intelligence?
But what, really, was amoral? There were no answers. There were just questions. But unless you kept asking them you didn’t realize what it meant to be alive.
“It makes you see,” Lois said, “what we can be.”
“On acid,” Peter said, “is the best way to see it.”
“Yeah, but for movies I liked Morgan better,” Mick said finally. “This guy goes to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding dressed in a gorilla suit that catches fire — I almost died laughing.”
“The best way to die,” Lois said.