|About Ron Ridenour|
(A work in progress. There are currently seven chapters posted taking us from my youth and world events at the time in the USA, Brazil and Central America, with some history, and the first half of the roaring 60s. We begin with conscience formation. Chapter Two: Early Years; Chapter Three: Air Force 1956-1960; chapter Four: College 1960-62; chapter Five: Cuba missile crisis in Costa Rica; Chapter Six: Back in the USA; Chapter Seven: Death of America (JFK murder).
Chapter One: Conscience
A six year-old boy straddles a worn stuffed upholstered
“Giddy-up, giddy-up,” the young cowboy orders his palomino as he rocks back and forth coaxingly. His left fist grips the reins. His leather chaps and felt Stetson flapping in the imaginary wind, he scoots across the wide range firing his six-shooter after the bad Indians. Just like his favorite star Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, the fearless boy is protecting his people against the savages.
“BANG! BANG! Gotja. You’re dead.”
The cowboy stops dead in his tracks.
“That sounds like real bullets”, the boy, his big brown eyes blinking widely, says warily to himself.
He dismounts and walks hesitantly to the smudgy window facing a dirty Newark street. From the second-floor apartment building, he can see a human figure on the sidewalk across the street. A boy is sprawled face down. A red liquid oozes from his back. An apple rolls slowly from his hand. A large man in blue uniform hurries up to the boy. He holds a pistol in his hand as he looks down upon the boy.
“Are they playing cowboys and Indians too”, the little cowboy asks himself frightfully?
Later that day, Grandpa Tony came home and the boy heard
him whispering to grandmother Nana.
“Radio news reported that a policeman saw the boy steal an apple from Abe’s store. The policeman says he yelled for the boy to stop but the kid ran. The policeman grabbed his pistol and shouted, `Halt or I’ll shoot.´ The boy ran faster. The policeman fired a warning shot up in the air, then another. Apparently there was some sort of disturbance up in the air, which the bullet hit, and its trajectory altered. A bullet ended in the boy’s spine. He was just eight years old, not much bigger than Ronnie.”
It was too difficult for me to comprehend, but I did understand that the boy would not play cowboys and Indians anymore. That frightened me. I could have been that boy. With my young mind puzzled and my heart skipping, Grandma Nana told me to forget all about it. What happened to him couldn’t happen to me. After all, I was not a thief nor, most significantly, was I black. I felt relief, yet shame. That day I learned I was privileged: I was white, never to be black.
In 1992, I was on a speaking tour in Europe and California from Cuba. During the discussion period at King’s College a woman asked me why I became a revolutionary, what got me started? Her personal question stopped me short. I usually begin answering as a questioner finishes her or his last syllable. This time I had to ponder. Then it hit me. Racism! Hating people simply because of their skin color, that very notion sickens me. I think of what Nina Simone said when she left the United States behind, in 1973. She could not understand nor accept a destiny as a victim for something so absurd and misanthropic as racism. I was trapped in the color barrier too, despite the fact that I was born with the “dominating” color.
Now, the figure of that boy, a hungry black boy bleeding
to death on a greasy sidewalk with a red apple in his hand, lay before
me as I looked at the querying woman. Tears welled in my eyes with this
picture of the enormity of man’s cruelty. Since his murder, I have
heard of and read about many bullets being shot by policemen “in
the air”, which mysteriously ram into the backs of blacks and other
oppressed people, who are often shot fleeing from men in blue or brown
uniforms. Sometimes the victims do not even flee, they are just shot for
being at the, “wrong place at the wrong time”.
Standing at the classroom podium, it became clear that I must tell others this story, the story of my life engulfed in racism’s hate, an engaged life led through the most devastating, destructive and transforming times in human history. My generation has witnessed so much “progress” that we cannot assimilate it and many, who are not killed by it, become numb. As I started to gather information to tell this story, I saw reports from researchers who study violent conflicts. This is just one summary of the extent of the destruction: From World War I up to the second war against Iraq, the world has experienced constant wars, which have cost around ONE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE´S LIVES. That many people have been killed in war or died as the result of war, such as from radioactive fallout or unexploded bombs or land mines triggered later on. Of these deaths, about 80% have been caused by the major powers, the self-proclaimed “democratic free nations”: The United States, Europe and Japan.
The United States has surpassed the Roman Empire, and all
other nations, in the numbers of wars in which it has engaged: over 600
times. In almost all of these wars, the US has been the initial aggressor
and has acted against the international laws to which it has signed—laws
such as: The United Nations Charter and many of its resolutions, International
Court at Haag, Nuremberg Court, even the rules of NATO and the US’s
own constitution and many its laws. During my own lifetime, since the
Second World War, the United States has been the aggressor, or among the
aggressors,159 times in 66 countries. In addition, it arranged 35 coups
in 28 countries.
(There are many sources for these figures of mass murder, not the least is the excellent UK website: www.krysstal.com/democracy and Bill Blum books.)
This is what I thought as I tried to find words to explain why I became a revolutionary.
CHAPTER TWO Early Years
What are the ingredients in the life of a human being, which make him a revolutionary? To answer that question one must look into one’s childhood environment. That is the purpose of this chapter.
I was born in a small middle-American town, Fredericktown,
Ohio, on the first of October, 1939. My mother, Norma Hyatt, was a frail
woman of 20 years when I was born. She came from an English Anglo background.
When I think of her now, the blondie Hollywood actress Doris Day comes
to mind, an image of a believer in serendipity, seeking the cushy life
at no costs. Norma married my father, Robert J. Ridenour, right out of
high school. Bob came from a family of German Saxon farmers. Unlike my
mother, he had one sibling, a brother (Rex) five years older, under whose
shadow he grew insecure. He compensated with sarcastic arrogance. When
I was born, my father was working as a furniture maker. He had a good
deal of bodily hair. His strong thin face and brown eyes were partially
covered by dark-rimmed glasses. He became bald early, as did most men
in his family.
Mother’s father had left her mother, Dee (Nana to me). Nana later married a wanderer named Tony Mathews. My father’s father, Jay, had been forced off his small farmland by the exigencies of freedom, that is, the free market economy. Jay became one of the many subjects of the inherent principle of the large buying up, or stealing from, the small. Thereafter, my grandfather led an unsatisfied life as a worker in what few industrial jobs he could find in Ohio’s countryside. My father’s chubby mother, Eva Keck, led the life of a nervous hypochondriac housewife. Her spacious wood-frame house was so meticulous that dirt seemed to be a dirty word.
These blood and culture ties put me in the club of the nation’s chosen ethnic group: White Anglo-Saxon Protestant—WASP.
I recall very little of the first years, although I have a clear picture of my grandfather, whom we called Pap. He had to sneak a smoke outdoors. He and I relished in pissing off the backyard steps. You could laugh at Pap. He didn’t care. In fact, he got a kick out of it. It used to get him chuckling whenever I’d roar at the sight of his drawers. He wore those long cotton underwear, the kind that fit snugly even on his slim body. It’d be cold and he’d have to take off all his clothes, in order to put on his pajamas. He’d get all shivery putting them on then he’d run to bed and jump in under the covers, burying his head beneath all those quilts and blankets. Then I’d roar, and he’d chuckle. I guess that’s where I got my habit of putting my head under the covers, especially when I want to forget who I am or where I am. I’d want to get back into pleasant times. Those few times when everything was fine, everything peaceful, like when Pap was alive and I was small and we were there together shivering our way to warmth.
My brother James (Jim) came along when I was two, just as the USA entered the Second World War. Shortly before his birth, my family had moved to New Jersey. Bob got a job in a steel mill where Tony had some sort of foreman position. I don’t recall seeing my father much until I was eight. When I was about three, he joined the military to fight for his country. Later, I was told that my mother protested his enlisting because he could have obtained a deferment, being the only supporter of a family of four. But Bob was a “man of honor,” loyal to his country. He taught the values of pride of the fatherland, of not lying, of leading a life of integrity.
It was too difficult for my worrisome mother to cope with two small boys, so she “let me out” to grandmother Nana. Mother lived in West Orange and Nana lived, sometimes with Tony, in a small apartment in Newark, New Jersey, not far away from mother and across the Hudson River from New York City.
I was with Nana from ages three or four to eight, apart from a few visits to mother and to my father’s parents in Fredericktown. Nana was dark-haired, a bit plump. Like Norma, she loved tiny dogs, whose only trait, as I saw it, was to make terribly squeaky noises. Nana played solitaire card games and cross-word puzzles. She, like Tony, was not as keen on honesty as my father, and often cheated at her games.
My memories of Tony are vague. He was tall and gray-haired. Nana and Tony often took me on Sundays to Coney Island Amusement Park, a long and fun train ride out to the end of Long Island. I loved to ride the merry-go-round. I sometimes wore a sailor’s suit or cowboy clothing. I usually rode a palomino horse like cowboy Roy Rogers. While riding, I ate foot-long hot dogs with onions, relish and mustard. A root beer waited for me at my grandparent’s table, where they sat drinking beer and smoking. The cowboy star inspired me to ride the plains in endless joy. I dreamed of living on a ranch, riding my faithful horse, feeling carefree. I smiled a lot during those carousel days.
But I couldn’t just be a boy-child. I was also a man-in-training, who had to learn to protect himself against the evil in the world. I had been beaten up and nearly suffocated to death in the snow by three boys, all bigger than me and all black. My offense was that I had walked into “their” territory without being invited. Outsiders, especially whites, are not welcome in the ghettoes that whites impose upon them, and as an outsider I must be punished. At that time, my father was visiting me after the war ended. He and Tony tried to teach me to box. My bony hands were supposed to deliver the power of dissuasion. I did not feel convinced. I figured out how to walk around the tough boys’ area and found another way to my friend’s house. He must have lived in the same general neighborhood because he was black. I lived in a rundown area, where everybody was white.
One day, my friend and I were playing in his yard. I stood on top of his narrow picket fence. When I jumped, I landed smack-dab on a long nail sticking up through a board. The rusty iron spike sliced through my tennis shoe and into the middle of my little white foot. I can feel the pain as I write. Fortunately, my friend’s father was home and came running out upon hearing my cry. He pulled me off the nail and carried me in his big arms. He got me to a doctor, who gave me an injection against infection and bandaged me up.
Another strong impression from my first eight years was the first television set I ever saw. It was placed by the same window where I had seen the black boy killed. This was opposite a little alcove where the ice box stood. A big man used to come with a block of ice over his shoulder for the ice box. We would sit around the black TV set and see strange things. There were so-called family shows and comedies, in which someone was always putting other people down. What I hated most were the boxing and wrestling matches. Tony and Nana would tell me that the wrestling was fixed so that nobody really got hurt, but it was hard to believe with all the eye-jabbing, hair-pulling, kicking and screaming that went on. Why did they want to hurt each other?
After I saw the black boy shot to death, I was repelled by my own fantasies, about what my own six-shooter could do. It might have been fake, but, as I later learned, youthful fantasies can become adult reality. It was the big policeman who pulled the trigger that killed the little boy. The thought that I could have been that boy plagued me.
When the world seemed too complicated, or when something awful happened and a reason or might not be obvious, Nana would proclaim: “ignorance is bliss.” I didn’t understand what she meant by that. Much later, I understood that many people follow her advice by remaining as ignorant, or indifferent as possible so as not to get in the way of trouble. Being black was trouble in itself. Asking too many “impertinent” questions was asking for trouble too, even for whites. Many people in the richest lands know, if not consciously then instinctively, that they benefit materially from others´ misery, so they don’t ask questions.
Tony was often away. He left once never to return. Nana
and I lived for a while in a dark cellar-apartment in Manhattan. I was
living with Nana when my half-brother, Richard, was born. A vacuum cleaner
salesman, John Spatola, had seduced my mother after he came knocking at
her door to sell a machine. She was lonely. My father was off in the Pacific
conducting weather forecasts for the Air Force. He might have had something
to do with the atomic bombings of Japan. My father returned at the war’s
end to find his wife with a new-born baby. Bob put me in Nana’s
care while he started divorce proceedings, against my mother’s will.
The divorce agreement gave Jim and, naturally, Richard to Norma, and me to Bob. It was not until 1948, when I was eight years old, that Bob remarried and took me with him to Oklahoma. My mother never forgave herself for her “life’s sin”. She took up religion as her solace.
Looking back on my youth in the east, I do not recall having any friends in Manhattan. I played alone in the cellar or on the sidewalk. There may have been a few white playmates in New Jersey but none that are memorable. There were, though, a few black kids in my life; some beat me up and some saved my life. Once living with my father, I was soon to learn that I was privileged in other ways than skin color. I was born in the UNITED STATES of AMERICA, the world’s greatest freedom-loving, democratic land, God’s own country.
Jean Flint was a librarian whom my father had met at a military library. Unlike most other soldiers, Bob enjoyed reading books on subjects other than war, sports and cars. Jean was five years his younger, slightly plump, a dark-haired comely person with a warm heart. Once married, they moved to Midwest City, Oklahoma, close to Tinker Air Force base, where Bob was assigned. I was brought into a military environment. Although I gave my step-mother a hard time, she seemed to take it calmly, as she did most things. She also kept her opinions to herself.
I think I led a rather ordinary childhood from the ages of eight to 12. I got my first bike at nine and played a bit with others, more than I had in the east. But I do not recall ever having real friends. I was ten when Lois was born. I watched my half-sister grow with mixed feelings. She was OK, but she took attention from me.
I liked to play baseball. I could run, catch and throw the ball well enough but I wasn’t much good at batting. I did not excel in anything at school, nor did I think I was particularly special. Though, upon adult reflection, I was different or “special” in two ways: I felt a bit of a loner, an outsider, and I did not share in the sadistic intrigue of racism.
My first date was with a strikingly beautiful blond classmate. We must have been 12 years old. I was lank, long-legged, a bit bony but sinewy tough. Some have likened me to Mark Twain’s Huckle Berry Finn. I went to pick up my date at her family’s small farmhouse. As a product of my military father’s discipline, I was polite, and addressed adults with “sir” and “mam”. (Mam or ma’am, is short for madam or madame, and can mean anything from a lady or mother to a brothel owner or the queen of Britain.) When I called the pretty girl’s mother “mam”, the woman slung harsh words at me, something to the effect: “Don’t you call me that nigger name!” That was the first time I had heard someone offended by the polite term “mam.” She might have associated the term with the fact that blacks were forced to call white women “mam”. She must have thought it “beneath” me, a white boy and one dating her daughter, to use a “nigger” or “cotton picker” term. I felt uneasy about the whole circumstance. I never dated that pretty girl again.
We soon moved to a basement apartment in Washington DC. Here, I took an initial step into manhood. I drank liquor with my father and his friends and became ghastly sick.
From Washington DC, my father got assigned to train Brazilian airmen in weather operations at a military base near Recife, the capital of Pernambuco, a northeastern province. Recife was known as the Venice capital of Brazil, because of its many rivers, canals and bridges, some of which ran through the city’s center.
My first impression of these three formative puberty years was hearing my step-mother calling to me from behind the bathroom door of the house father had rented in Recife. He had studied Portuguese at an Air Force school and then flew to Brazil before us to prepare for our arrival. Bob met us at the airport and drove us to the new house. He had to return to his work and left us in the care of the newly hired housekeeper, Maria.
Jean had inadvertently locked herself into the bathroom. Maria could not hold back her natural laughter. Her broad smile revealed the toothless gaps in her wide mouth. I hit it off with her right then and there. Maria tried to open the door but could not, and she had to care for Lois, a feisty girl of 2½ years. I was nearly l3 and felt that I should be able to open the door, but I could not. Maria jabbered away but none of us could understand her Portuguese. It wouldn’t take long, though, before Lois, and I somewhat, mastered the melodic language. Poor Jean had to wait for hours until her handy-man husband came home and managed to get the door open.
Everything was new to me in this tropical country: the sun shinning hot over the bright and gigantic sky; the great variety of strange and sometimes dangerous wild animals and insects; the mountains, rivers, jungles, and the vast green foliage with tasty fruits, the majestic palm trees; the big house with maids who “took care of us”; and the stark contrasts of privilege and poverty. I was suddenly one of the “rich,” a white foreigner from the great northern neighbor. This gave me a special status, not always desirous.
Poor people came begging daily at the back door of our spacious house of several gables. Some would rummage in the garbage cans set outside the surrounding concrete wall, as high as a man’s height. I distinctly remember that I counted 30 people who had come begging in one day’s period. They were women and children, and a few older men. They wore ragged clothing and were dirty. Maria attended them, often giving these cast-a-ways food left over from our plates or from large cooking pots.
What I loved most about Brazil was the ocean. I never tired of it and swam nearly everyday. The warm Atlantic coast currents caressed by body, making me feel secure. I soon became a good swimmer and body surfer. The high strong waves offer an exhilarating joy and danger when body surfing. You have to scout for the waves as they form, sometimes as far off the shore as hundreds of meters. You wait for the wave to grow, or swim towards it, and “take” it just under the crest. When you do it right, the strength of the wave can take you all the way to the shallow shore water. As the wave recedes, it gently leaves you on the sandy beach. Recife is known for its fine white sandy beaches, many lined with palm trees.
Once, I took a wave in the wrong way. It was a gigantic wave that confused me. Its energy must have swirled me towards it too soon and I landed on top of the crest, a gleeful experience as unforgettable as when I first parachuted two decades later. I raced exultantly towards land with my stomach flat on top of bubbling water, my back and legs buoyant in the warm air. I wanted the fun to continue forever. The crash came suddenly! Imagine you are up in the air four meters high, riding a smooth palomino, which unexpectantly turns into a bucking bronco. The wild mustang threw me straight down onto the ocean floor and toppled me over and over again. It took great effort to summon my strength to fight the liquid lioness. She gave me no quarter. She twirled me about in her swirling bubbles, smashed me down onto the hard sand bottom again and again, and stomped on me. With my breath gone, I relaxed. I accepted defeat. I lay cuddled into the sand, which now comforted me like a soft bed; the ocean covered me with her blanket. My mind raced effortlessly over my life. I saw my family as a small child, pleasant memories of playing in the snow. Family members and others I’d known came to say farewell with pleasant expressions. When I awoke, I lay flat on my stomach on the sandy beach, still breathless but intact. The liquid lioness had simply taught me the lesson of how she must be ridden and then discarded me on the sand adjoining her territory.
But I couldn’t swim and enjoy the beauty of the land all the time. I had to go to school. My parents did not wish to put me in the normal public school for fear that I would “get behind” and not be prepared for school upon our return to the United States. There were only handfuls of US airmen and a small US naval base in Pernambuco. There were not enough children for the armed forces to conduct their own school, as they so often do in foreign countries. So my parents enrolled me in correspondence schools, first the Calvert School of Maryland and then the International Correspondence School, headquartered in Pennsylvania. These schools were mainly for Americans who live abroad. (1)
My step-mother became my tutor. She supervised my lessons, which came by mail, and sent them in to Pennsylvania to be graded. I conducted my studies in my bedroom, reading the books and lessons of literature, English grammar, mathematics, geography, history, typing and other normal subjects that students of my age in United States public schools were required to take.
When I got tired or bored, I would walk about 300 meters to the ocean for a swim, or sometimes I’d lie in the hammock on the veranda, and would often watch our Saquin (marmoset) monkey play. I would take him out of the cage and watch him climb the interior walls. The monkey was small, squirrel-like with soft fur and a long stripped grasping tail. Our parrot once bit my thumb so hard that I still have a scar. We also had a dog. The first one Bob named LB, short for “little bastard”, because he barked so much. LB acquired rabies and poor Lois had to take painful daily injections for three weeks for fear she had contacted the deadly disease.
Lois was full of energy, a sweetheart and a pain in my ass. I took good care of her, except for once when we were swimming. A wave came up and swept her away from me, but she soon surfaced and I snached her from the lioness.
Jean usually left the kitchen to Maria, who stayed with us permanently. Maria had family way off in the countryside, who she visited on her free days. We also had two other maids. They did housekeeping and other chores under Maria’s guiding hand. Maria was strong and muscular, though flabby. She usually washed our laundry in a wash basin attached to the house in the back yard. Jean did some shopping, but Maria shopped as well, especially for local foods. Jean had plenty of free time, which she often used to sew clothing on an electric sewing machine.
Jean eventually got stressed as my teacher. I asked too many questions she could not answer, or I could not understand her answers. She convinced Bob to take over. He understood astronomy well. It was part of his training as a weatherman. But I did not—and still do not—understand how all the lights in the sky came to be and that they are so old and far away. Time and distance baffled—baffles—me. Bob soon gave up tutoring. He lost his patience much quicker than Jean.
It was difficult to win my father’s appreciation. Nor did he and I have many moments of joy together. Bob was an aloof person. He kept his feelings to himself and with a chip on his shoulder. He could explode into a violent rage, and a few times he hit or threw me about. He scoffed at me when I tried to help him with car repair. I didn’t know one part of the machine from another, not one tool from another, or how to use them, and I never learned thanks to his condescending, disdainful jibes. But when we played softball, we were close. Airmen and sailors played either at the navy base or on a beach outside of the city. My father played catcher and I was in the outfield. I was the only non-military player, but I could pick a runner off base from left or centerfield. I finally received Bob’s appreciation when a ball was hit far out in my field and I had to run backwards to get close to it. As the ball came down, I jumped upwards and backwards, grabbing the ball in my glove just as I fell on by back and right hand, breaking a finger. The ball did not leave my glove and that made the batter out. But there was a runner on third base and he tagged up—stepping on the plate after I caught the ball—and sprinted toward home plate for what would have been a run (point). I stood up and with all my might threw the ball straight to my father, who was waiting for the runner at home plate. The ball swished through the air straight into my father’s catcher’s mitt. He had just the time needed to tag the runner out. We won the game, in part, due to this double out. I was a hero for the one time in my relationship with my father and he bragged about me to others. To this day, my finger is brokenly bent. I never had it straightened, because, I think, the joy of being appreciated by my father overcame whatever pain I may have felt.
I loved to run and climb trees. I even learned to climb
the tall branchless palm with a rope looped around the tree and my waist.
The one other time I recall receiving kudos from Bob was when I climbed
a palm tree by our house to rescue our cat. It had climbed up the tree
and sat fast on a bunch of coconuts under the long fronds. It was too
scared to climb down and cried for help. I shimmied up the tree to its
rescue only to receive many slices on my face and shoulders. But I finally
grabbed the cat fast in one arm and climbed down to the joy of Lois and
Jean, and a smile from Bob.
Lois liked to play ball with me, and she even participated in family ball games, such as when the US military men and their families went picnicking on a beach. We came packed with all sorts of savory foods and cold drinks and games to play. One day, a large group of local people looked on from a nearby cluster of palm trees. They watched us silently. I especially remember the children, their wide black eyes glaring at us. What were they thinking?
When Bob was sad, frustrated, angry or joyous, he would drink. He always had a stash of good liquor: whiskey, gin, Jamaican rum, and cachaca, Brazil’s national sugarcane akvavit. He let me drink a bit, and I drank more on the sly. When my parents were gone, I could be so impudent to “order” Maria to mix me a gin cocktail and bring it to me while lying in the hammock. Young master Ron. I was an unusual teenager: drinking cocktails in a hammock in the afternoon, watching a monkey climb a wall and listening to Mozart or Beethoven. Both Bob and Jean liked classical music and I picked up their musical tastes, as I did his interest in chess and poker card playing.
I developed a trusting relationship with Maria, especially after I learned street Portuguese. She was a warm woman, who possessed a strong dose of common sense. Maria confided in me that she was a believer in an Afro-Brazilian animistic religion, quite common in much of Brazil and other countries—such as Cuba, where I came to live for many years—where Africans from Nigeria, Benin and Angola were forced into slavery. This history is quite paradoxical:
The first Europeans in Brazil were Portuguese, conquistadores who landed in 1494. They were soon followed by the Italian Amerigo, then English and French, and the Dutch in Pernambuco. The natives these conquerors first met were Araucanian, who lived in the northern Amazonian area—also in Chile and Argentina. They were among those many tribes, who had traveled by foot over what is now the Bering Straits when the lands of Asia and Alaska were not divided by water. They had been in the Americas for 15,000 to 25,000 years when the Europeans tried to enslave them and force them to mine minerals, grow coffee and cotton, and slash sugar cane for precious sugar and spirits. But the Indians were free souls and could not survive enchained. The so-called Christian missionaries from Portugal brought the first black slaves to South America. These missionaries were part of the Jesuit sect started by the Spanish soldier Ignatius Loyola. The church later named him a “saint”. Their moral rationale for enforcing Africans to do the hard labor for no pay was to “protect” the American natives, who were not such sturdy hard laborers. Despite the Christian “charity”, most natives were wiped out either by murder, suicide, European-brought diseases, or in battle. Many Araucanians fought the pale faces for three centuries before being finally defeated. Other families of tribes, such the Tupi-Guarani, who lived in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, also became victims of the Catholic-Jesuit opportunism.
The 1986 English-made film, “The Mission” (starring
Robert de Niro, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson) dramatically portrays why and
how the ruling royalty of Spain and Portugal, with the collaboration of
the Christian Church, committed genocide against these people. The domineering
elite had to eliminate their “bad example of the good example.”
These people lived peacefully and cooperatively, sharing what nature and
their labor provided for them. They were “children of nature”,
who created a “paradise of the poor.” This was not well seen
by “civilized” rulers, who thrive on the “right”
of private property, which demanded the cheapest of labor for the highest
of profits, that is, slavery. The Indians´ way of life also became,
inadvertently, a strong economic and social competitor to the brutal have
and have-not system of mercantile-capitalist Europe. The few remaining
native Americans are being wiped out by United States Americans for the
interests of loggers, miners and farmers, who encroach upon their decreased
homelands. Recently, “free enterprise” sees it as necessary
to rout out the natives in order to drill for oil. As in the colonizing
centuries, the rationale for the conquests is not stated truthfully but
clouded under the “moral” argument of ”protecting human
Maria took me to a séance, something she assumed from her African ancestors. She and other belivers used animals as sacrifices to their gods, who possessed human qualities and vices. I observed their ritual with fascinating curiosity and skepticism. Spellbound, I watched them dance and shake. One woman fell into a trance, speaking in “tongues.” I did not feel at arm’s length from these people, despite the fact that I was the only white person and foreigner present. I never told my parents of this experience.
On the other hand, there were times when there existed greater disparity between me and non-black Brazilians. I had one white friend. He was the son of a light brown-colored Brazilian woman and a pale Swiss father, who owned a pensión where the boy and I played soccer on a coin machine. We sometimes played real soccer on the beach or on a dirt road, but I was frequently unwelcome by some Brazilian youth. I was sometimes pushed away and derided. The word “Yankee” was slung at me disparagingly. My friend stood by, just watching me being humiliated.
My hesitating friend’s father was a kind, gentle man, one I could confide in. I asked him why I had been so demeaned. He, and one of his restaurant workers, explained that many Brazilians were angry with the rich and militarist Yankees, because they dominate Brazil and all other Latin American countries. They, like their European forefathers, bulldoze their way through the beautiful lands, skimming it for its natural wealth, and commandeering products made by laborers to whom they pay a pittance. Brazil is the sixth largest country in the world with the fifth largest population. Their greatest export wealth comes from coffee. They are the world’s largest producer. And they have an abundance of cotton, sugar, cattle, cacao, wood, rice, fruits and corn. But many millions go hungry, because they are subjected to an economy controlled from the Yankee north, which sees to it that the Brazilian government usually conducts the national economy and politics in the interests of the United States. The restaurant worker was also angry at the US for not entering the Second World War until it was forced to by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“The US does not help us or other countries, rather
it takes from us what we have with its greater military strength,”
he told me.
I do not recall how much of this sunk in, but I do remember that it felt wrong that I should be ostracized because of something American adults did to the Brazilians.
I got to see quite a bit of this majestic land. My father took our family to Rio de Janeiro, still then the wonderful capitol. I climbed up to the gigantic figure of Jesus Christ, Cristo de Corvocado, and took the swinging chair lift to Sugar Loaf Mountain, where I learned that I had a fear of heights when I can not control the apparatus.
I saw the world’s most renowned lent carnival in Rio, and joined in the dancing and perfume sniffing. Most everyone buys aerosol cans of intoxicating perfume. It is like a gaseous deodorant, which people spray over one another. It produces a euphoric high, something like I later learned marijuana does. During carnival many people smoke marijuana and drink a great deal of booze, especially cachaca. Carnival is a special time for the poor to release their pentup feelings stemming from poverty. People, especially women, use much of the year preparing for this three to five day holiday. They pinch a penny here or there for garn to make their own colorful costumes. Carnival is also an occasion for many to settle scores with an enemy, a neighbor one dislikes or someone who has done you wrong. The police are busiest in these times, trying to cope with many murders. But few murderers are caught as the police attitude is rather blasé about one poor person killing another.
My father and I took a canoe tour into the Amazon river, an unparalleled spectacle. I saw many animals: monkeys, apes, crocodiles and poisonous snakes. Once, Maria saved me from the deadly poisonous bite of a small snake, which I had picked up from the dirt road in front of our house.
I sailed a few times with a fisherman on his jangada, a very light balsa raft with a small sail. Jangada fishermen fish with a line and hook or a net. They sail with their catch, or troll them to a beach not far from where I lived. There, fish is sold to housewives and family maids. I learned again that the sea is your friend but one to respect for its many dangers, including sharks.
One time I thought sharks were about to devour me as I was taking my usual afternoon swim. There were only a couple of commercial pilots resting on the beach when I dove in and swam out. All of a sudden, up popped a large fin, and then another. They were headed for me. Believing they were sharks, I swam to the beach faster than I knew I could. When I climbed out of the water, their finned backs were nearby. The pilots laughed. I reproached them for making fun of my danger. They told me that the fins belonged to dolphins. Then I saw that they were the friendly mammals as they began springing about. I returned to the water to play. I got as close as they’d let me. To this day, dolphins, along with chimpanzees and deer, are my favorite animals.
Another danger of the sea is its ability to snatch bathing trunks from boys in puberty. I was still a virgin in my 14th year, but with all the sensuous female bodies about me on the beaches and streets, at the exuberating carnivals—Recife is known for its wild carnivals second only to Rio—and with all the sex talk I heard, my loins were exploding.
A sergeant, who befriended me, was a tall handsome charmer. One of his several women accompanied me to the beach one day. She was sexy in a bikini, and she was not shy about having sex with men other than her airman friend, but she was not taken by my youth. She did let me fondle her body in the water as we swam, but laughingly resisted my stiff member. When she left the water, I stayed in and sought to coax her back. It was at that moment that I “lost” my trunks. I feigned that a wave took them, but I think I helped remove them more than the wave. It was an excuse to tell her that I was now naked and she’d have to do something. She picked up a towel and teasingly told me to walk towards it. She held it in front of her fine body and watched me walk towards her from the water. She had fun watching my nakedness but she did no more than wrap the towel around my waist and told me to hurry home and dress. When I got home, my mother saw me running up the stairs with the towel on. I told her what had happened, at least the part about the enigmatic wave. She repeated it to father, who relished in telling his military friends in a mutually understanding undertone about my escapade with the wave.
My pensión friend and another boy decided to give
me a birthday present on the evening of my 15th year, a present I never
We took a bus to a red light district near the fish market. The prostitute houses were just across from the wide beach. The boys told me they had had their first women and it was time I did too. They would pay for my “whore.” I took the first woman we came upon. She was taller than me and had a wide, smiling mouth. She was dark-skinned with a mixture of bloods in her hot veins. She took my hand and led me upstairs. I immediately grabbed for her blouse to undress her, but she gently held my hands and told me to relax, to “take it slowly”. She unbuttoned us both as my body pulsated. I simply couldn’t retain myself and jumped on her. I could not relate to foreplay and penetrated quickly. My juices soon leapt into her. I didn’t wish to stop but she told me we were through.
My friends awaited us and asked how it had gone. I remember looking out at the jangadas and the turquoise clear, starry-lit sky, and suddenly fainted. I fell on the sand. Momentarily, I opened my eyes to see three worried faces looking down upon me. When the woman saw that I was alright, she laughed. She may not have meant it to be a mocking laugh, but it sounded so to me. There were other prostitutes looking at me from their windows and they laughed too. I was so embarrassed that I ran away. I ran and ran, until I reached home. When I came inside, I rushed upstairs to my bedroom. Mother asked if I’d had had a good party. I could only mumble yes. I was simply too overexcited and overexerted.
The next day, it pained to urinate and pus formed in my penis. I got scared, remembering airmen speaking of venereal diseases. My symptoms sounded like what they called “the clap,” or gonorrhea. I was horrified that I might have something like that and that my parents would find out. I went to the naval doctor at the US naval base and made him swear not to tell anyone. He examined me and concluded that I did not have a venereal disease, only “a strained penis.” My excitement of first sex and my overenthusiastic exertions produced a strain which soon would pass.
When I healed, I wanted sex. I made someone suffer for my horniness, which I have regretted. I began courting a middle-class Brazilian girl, who had to be chaperoned. I wanted her sumptuous body, but she always put me off with pecking lips. She had to be married before she would bestow anymore. I was no marrying catch. This only frustrated me all the more. I had to so something with my lust. I decided to impress her with my Yankee wealth. My mother kept a box of jewelry and I rummaged about it to find a gift for the sophisticated girl. I took a bracelet, which I gave her on one of our walking dates. She was gleeful and gave me an unusually warm kiss. I was all the more horny when I returned home. The third maid was to babysit me that evening. I lay on my bed all too aware of the maid’s presence in the living room downstairs. I walked over to the stairwell holding onto my penis, stiffening in my hand as I waved it at her. She stood up and stared at me, laughing. I paraded about, asking her to fuck me. She laughed again, and then asked what I’d give her for that. I had some pocket money from my parental allowance. Not long thereafter, my mother discovered that a piece of her jewelry was missing and asked if I knew anything. I felt awful. I felt all the worse as I lied. I cast suspicion on the maid I had made to fuck me. Mother and father decided to fire her. My parents never told me that they believed I had lied. That was one of the dirtiest things I have ever done.
Besides introducing me to sex and disgrace, Brazil was my
introduction to imperialism. I saw it in real life before I became cognizant
of its reasons. Imperial domination is primarily economically motivated.
The rich, and would-be rich, earn enormous profits by exploiting people
for their labor. This domination is superimposed by the mightier nations
over the less economically developed nations, especially in the warm south—the
so-called Third World. This is a battle much like bullies on the block
lording over smaller kids.
It is no “communist propaganda” that Brazil was raped by Europeans, and continues to be so by “Americans.” A quick read in many history books shows us that. I will recapitulate a bit of that history here, in order to explain what I learned about this phenomenon first hand.
Brazilians are a mix of indigenous natives, black slaves, and the national mixture of white Portuguese and other Europeans with the oppressed people of color. They are a tough breed. They have fought many battles for their sovereignty. In 1815, they were one of the first peoples to throw off their colonial shackles. They were also the only nation in southern America to select a monarch of their own, a Brazilian called Prince Pedro. The national monarchy lasted for three-quarters of a century until Pedro II stopped the slave trade, in 1889. This affronted the power of the Christian Church, national plantation owners and the army, which combined to overthrow the king. The rich alliance, guided by United States´ “manifest destiny,” construed a constitution shaped after that of the United States. There followed three decades of strife between the emerging national leaders and local leaders.
The first strong presidential leader was Getulio Dornelles Vargas, who became president in 1930 with dictatorial powers. He put a stop to the power conflicts, and he dealt equally hard with ideological enemies, both fascists and communists. In 1942, Vargas brought the nation into the Second World War on the side of the allies. After the war, he fell from power. A more sharing-the-powers constitution was adopted in 1946, yet the new president prohibited the Communist party. Vargas was reelected in 1951. He committed suicide in 1954 due to a “political crisis”, according to western reports.
Vargas was a classic caudillo leader, a nationalist popular with the have nots and local businessmen. He was anti-communist and anti-fascist, and ruled with a hard hand, which all western powers appreciate when the hard hand rules in their favor. But he came into ill graces with the United States, because he sought better economic profits for national producers.
My father came home mad the day Vargas committed suicide.
He spoke harshly about him, in words like these: “The ingrate blamed
his suicide on us, after all the United States has done for his country.”
Bob did not consider that his own country had some hand in the “political crisis”. My father viewed the United States as innocent, a bountiful land in all ways, replete with charity.
Brazilian congressional investigations, economic institutional analyses, investigative journalistic reports, and US Federal Trade Commission reports show why Vargas committed suicide.
“Vargas hoped that his blood would buy salvation for the Brazilian people,” wrote Eduardo Galeano in Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pilage of a Continent, one of the best documented and well written histories and analyses of the rape of Latin America.
Before Vargas shot himself through the heart, he wrote a moving testament, which partly reads:
“The crisis in coffee production came, and the price
of our chief product went up. We tried to defend the price and the answer
was such violent pressure on our economy that we had to give in.”
That was long before the Brazilian people voted overwhelmingly for one of their own: Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, a factory worker and union organizer. When he was inaugurated in Brazilia, January 1, 2003, 300,000 celebrated in the streets, the first time in history that a presidential inauguration became a people’s festival.
But why would Vargas commit suicide over the price of coffee?
More than half the coffee sold in the world is consumed in the United States. Just after the US put its preferred military dictatorship into power, in 1964, the price of coffee for US companies decreased significantly. If the 1964 coffee crop had been sold on the US market at the prices extant when Vargas died, Brazil would have received $200 million more. The price continued to drop under Marshal Castelo Branco’s comprador (factotum) government. Coffee cost 30% less for the US coffee companies during 1964 to 1968, yet US consumers paid 13% more. At the same time, the price Brazilian producers received for each coffee sack fell by 50%. Six US coffee concerns controlled much of the coffee leaving Brazil, and another six US companies controlled the coffee entering the US. They gouged the difference. (2)
The wealth of iron also played a role in Vargas´ death, and it overthrew two successor presidents, Jánio Quadros and João Goulart before Marshal Castelo Branco and the army grabbed the reins. US iron and steel corporations confronted Vargas with the same threats as did the coffee cartel. In a military pact with the US, Brazil had been persuaded to agree not to sell raw materials to any socialist country—so much for free enterprise’s fair trade. But Vargas wished to achieve better prices for his nation’s people, and he sold iron to Poland and Czechoslovakia for much higher prices than the US companies paid. The US talked turkey with its military friends in Brazil’s army, and they threatened Vargas. That is the “political crisis” so delicately stated by western reports, and why the democratically elected president decided to save the national face by killing himself.
In 1961, the socially progressive lawyer Jánio Quadros won the elections to the chagrin of the US. In his seven months of rule, he fought corruption and sought to solidify a foreign policy oriented to Brazil’s interest. He annulled the US’s Hanna Mining Company ”rights” to Brazil’s iron, which it had illegally obtained in the state of Minas Gerais. Four days later, Brazilian generals—many trained in the US and some at the School of the Americas, which instructs in the use of torture—forced Quadros to resign. He wrote: “Terrible forces have risen against me.”
Quadros’ vice-president, Goulart, took over the presidency. He tried to follow in Quadros’ footsteps, but when he sought to stop Hanna from controlling the country’s national iron reserves, Goulart was met with the same threats. In 1964, a coup d´ état was organized in Minas Gerais. “The revolt that overthrew Goulart...arrived like a last-minute rescue by the 1st Cavalry,” for Hanna, wrote the US magazine Fortune, April 1965. Goulart escaped with his life but was forced into exile.
As usually occurs in US backed military coups (3), the military iron men selected one of their own “presidents”, either administratively or “elected”. In 1965, they chose Humberto Castelo Branco. He prohibited previous democratically-elected leaders from participating in politics. He banned all political parties, forbad strikes, sent thousands of protestors to their death and jailed many others.
Branco graciously pleased Hanna Mining Company by offering it the great wealth of iron under the Paraopeba valley. Hanna chairman George Humphrey became the US Secretary of the Treasury and director of the official Export-Import Bank, which finances foreign trade operations. Branco’s iron deal was similar to the one Vargas’ predecessor, President Eurico Dutra, gave to Bethlehem Steel: forty million tons of manganese for only 4% of the export income. Bethlehem only paid taxes on $12 of every $100 dollars it invested in extractions.
The New York Times wrote, January 19, 1969: “The [Branco government] treatment of foreigners [read: US business] in Brazil is among the most liberal in the world...There is no limit to the percentage of the registered capital that may be remitted as profit...”
After the death of Vargas, foreign capital flowed into Brazil in great magnitudes. Denationalization of ownership of the land’s resources was legalized and mainly ended in the hands of US corporations and Japan’s emerging international capital. Since then more Japanese came to live in Brazil than any other land outside Japan.
The names of US companies which took over Brazil are the same we find dominating the rest of the Americas: Anaconda Copper (the company, along with International Telephone and Telegraph, stood behind the military coup against socialist democrat Salvador Allende in Chile, in 1973), Ford (trading partner with Hitler during the holocaust war), Chrysler, Union Carbide, US Steel, American Can, American Machine & Foundary, the Rockefeller owned Chase Manhattan-Standard Oil consortium, and others.
My father could not have known all of this. Nevertheless, I believe that even had he known it would have made no change of life for this myopic American Dreamer. US Americans possess a strange and unique psyche in the history of national psychologies. There are parallels with other mighty empires, but to the adherents of the “American Dream” their psyche is unique. They negate any American responsibility or criminality regardless of how many wars they start or engage in, regardless of how many people they kill, even torturing people into vegetables or to death; no matter how many people suffer needless hunger and starvation, needless illnesses and diseases and early death, in order that a few people (many of them Americans) can be richer. Most Americans who work for their income do not see themselves as workers but as “middle class” associates with their rich, whom they admire and envy. They do not wish to see their employers as their exploiters for the profit, or their politicians as being in the pockets of the rich. This phenomenon has even affected the direction of communist opposition to US capitalism. One United States Communist leader, Earl Browder, went so far as to conclude that Communists would have to accept the “fact” that the US working class is “the exception” to the Marxist thesis of inevitable class struggle.
I looked up to my father in my early years. I admired him
for his honesty and dependability, for his knowledge and large vocabulary.
He would often send me running to the dictionary. Yet he was also self-righteous,
impenetrable to critique, authoritarian, and never accepted criticism
of his fatherland. On balance, though, he nudged my curiosity about life,
which in a few years led to our parting of ways.
The end of father’s tour in Brazil brought with it the end of the easy life for me. No more Master Ron being served cocktails in a hammock. Many changes were about to occur as the summer of 1955 began. We were readying to return to the United States, again to Midwest City when a letter arrived from my birth mother. Norma had finally decided to leave her husband, and, with grandmother Nana, sought to gather all three of her boys in one home. She wanted me to help make this new home in Mansfield, Ohio, close to where most of the Hyatts and Ridenours had been born.
I had mixed feelings about this proposal but was mostly excited. I wanted to be loved by my real mother and get to know my brother. I had fond memories of my years with Nana. I must have had kisses and hugs from my step-mother and father, but I do not remember them. I might have thought that more tender loving care would be forthcoming in this “reunited” home.
My father was not too keen about Norma’s plan but did not oppose it. We had a rare father-to-son talk. He related that my mother had been the cause of their divorce, since it was she who bore a son out of wedlock while he was off fighting for the fatherland. That was a hard bit of news but I decided to be sensitive towards my “weak” mother.
We all moved into a small apartment in Mansfield, all, that is, but Richard. His father refused to let him go with his mother, and sent him to live with his paternal grandmother. Richard was John’s ace-in-the-hole to get his wife back. Mother was downcast about the separation but attempted to set up the new home, hoping John would eventually give in. We had only mother’s and Nana’s small savings to start with. I took a part-time job as a package boy in a market. Mother got a job as a cashier. Nana took care of the apartment and most of the cooking. Jim and I started school. I was in the 11th grade.
I had been oblivious to the entertainment developments in
the land of my birth and it felt strange to hear the melancholic tales
of James Dean films and his sudden death, and the new rock music of the
wild Elvis Presley. In an effort to integrate myself into this odd world,
I joined the high school football team. My slender build was unsuitable
for tackling and being tackled. In one practice game, I caught the passed
ball and was running when a bunch from the opposite team tackled me. They
pounced upon me, one after another, until my brain received a concussion.
The impact jarred me for days and I never returned to this brutal “sport,”
which is really a training exercise for future soldier-conquistadores.
Gerald Ford, for example, was a popular football player. His football
skills and military history played a significant part of his political
campaign for the presidency.
Mother taught me to drive her car. As I turned 16, I took and passed the drivers exam. That was my one achievement before mother decided to return to her husband. We had only been a “family” for a few weeks but she missed her youngest son too much to stick it out. At the time, I did not relate to her loss as much as I did to my own perceived needs. I felt a disdain for Norma, even contempt, for her weakness and lack of resolve. Jim and I had just begun to get to know each other and were still in the stage of finding our own identities and rank order. The break-up resulted in his returning to the step-father he hated. Jim had a temper and was a scrapper. Even as a young boy, he had challenged John for hitting his mother. John convinced Norma that it was to everyone’s benefit to send Jim away to a private school: “To teach him discipline.” Not long after arriving at the military academy in tears, he was raped by several of the “inmates”. Jim never got over the pain of humiliation and impotence. At 14, he was strong enough that John never dared to lay a hand on him or his mother again.
Upon reentering Midwest City High School, I stuck to activities I was good at: chess and tennis. Although I felt left out by most students, and did want to be popular, I could not stand the popular ones: bubble-gum smacking, chauvinistic and obnoxious braggarts. Seen as a recluse, and perhaps a bit of a “sissy”, I had to beat up a “tough” kid once, in order to be held with a bit of respect. Stupid, isn’t it?
I did try joining with the mainstream once. Someone asked me to join the Demolays, the youth group of the Establishment men’s secret society of Masons (stemming from Middle Ages Free masonaries, a secret society of skilled stonemasons). I attended only one meeting. I was thoroughly turned off by the mumbo jumbo secret passwords and blind codes of honor and obedience.
I did better at my school lessons than in becoming popular. I earned mostly A and B grades, mainly because studying through correspondence taught me to be a disciplined student. I joined the high school newspaper, “Bomber Beam”, named after the football team and military might. Looking over my archive copies of the newspaper, I see that I tried to integrate myself by writing about football games and visiting military recruiters. I even wrote a bit for the city’s daily newspaper, “Midwest City Leader”. Reading these articles now, I can see the editors were not demanding ones.
Another way of trying to be popular was to have a motor vehicle, so I took a part-time job as a shoe-shine boy in a barber shop when my father was away on a military assignment. I earned enough to buy a used motor scooter. I distinctly recall driving in a suburban neighborhood when I saw a little girl standing on her lawn by the street. I stopped to say hello and we chatted before her mother came stalking out the front door to admonish her daughter.
“I have told you never to talk to strangers, NEVER. Do you hear me?”
I drove off feeling a chill of estrangement. How horrible it feels that people are made to feel afraid of what harm strangers could do to their children.
When my father returned from his assignment, he was angry that I was shinning shoes. This was not work suited for whites. This was “colored work”. I don’t believe he said this in a racist manner, rather as a “matter of fact”. This work was “beneath” the dignity of his son. He forced me to stop. I got a job as a package boy again, this time at the largest supermarket, Safeway. Here, I learned more about alienation of an economic nature, though without understanding its alienating causes. I somehow felt it justifiable to occasionally take coins from the cash register.
In my second school semester, I started writing editorials, and this led me to contemplate about why we humans act as we do, why we fill ourselves and our conversations with clichés and our lives with inanities.
A neighbor boy, two years my elder, had worked the previous summer at a large forest under the jurisdiction of the federal government. He was to return and asked me if I wanted to come along. One had to be 18, and I was only 16, but he said I could lie on the application. I took the chance. It was a long bus ride to northern Idaho, to the beautiful great northwest country. I took a room in the little logging town closest to the national forest. I applied and was accepted for the brush crew, those who clear the earth from foliage, in order to prevent brush fires. We slept in log cabins on bunk beds and got up early. It was hard work and we ate like lions. Our early morning breakfasts included as many eggs and bacon, or even steak, as we wished, with potatoes, pancakes, fruit, juice, milk and coffee. I was smaller than most of the men and the youngest of the lot, but I had the energy and sinewy strength to keep up. And I was too young to spend my good earnings on drinking bouts, so the foreman offered me a promotion after a month on the job. He needed a lookout tower man, those who keep watch for fires. It was a job of responsibility with greater pay. I was pleased. But before I could start, paperwork had to be sent to the federal government. That was my first time coming into conflict with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the famous and infamous FBI. They had to check to see if applicants were “subversive” or criminal, or old enough. It was here that they learned I was l8 months under aged. When my foreman received this information, I had to be fired.
My father was away on another military mission, and I didn’t want to return home “a failure”, so I hitch-hiked across the country to Ohio to visit my grandfather. It was still reasonably safe to hitch-hike in 1956, but I had to stand many hours in the rain with my thumb out. I got rides mostly from truck drivers, who used hitch-hikers to keep them awake. One such ride scared me to death. This trucker asked me to take over the wheel after he’d driven a while. It was late at night and he was dead tired. I told him I had no idea how to drive this huge truck with so many gears. He quickly showed me how to shift gears and insisted I take over. I tried, but was too scared. I pulled over and left his truck. I eventually arrived in Ohio.
I was flat broke and Pap got me a job at the raincoat factory where he worked. My grandfather worked a hard eight-hour assembly line job and received the minimum wage, $1 an hour. I got the same wage. This seemed unjust to me, a boy of 16 earning the same as his grandfather of retirement age. I worked alongside my grandfather for a few weeks and had many a good laugh with him. It was the last time I saw Pap and my grandmother Eva. They both died not long thereafter.
I had earned enough money to take a bus to New Jersey to see my brother Jim and my mother. Jim and I got along better this time. I was cool with mother, who was full of remorse. The last time I saw my step-father was at his vacuum-cleaner store in New Jersey. He always had policemen drop in for a whiskey in the back. He bragged that in a wide radius of the state’s cities, he never got a traffic ticket because he had policemen friends. They even gave him a business card so that policemen who did stop him for traffic violations would recognize him as “a special friend.” John was also known for being in the same Spatola family that sported Mafia figures. Cops respected him for that.
John boasted about how he sometimes “stooped” women as “payment” for fixing their cleaners. He had the audacity to tell this to his wife’s oldest son. Moreover, he said that he sometimes told women that their cleaners needed new parts when they were simply clogged up. If they couldn’t pay, he would offer to “stoop” them for the fee. These women were poor and most often black.
My stomach churned bile as I listened to this asshole. I also felt contempt for my mother for sinking to such opportunistic levels, living with a man she despised or ought to despise. I saw that my mother’s decision to leave “our family” because she wouldn’t be without her youngest son held only part of the truth. She didn’t want to give up the material comforts her corrupt husband could provide her.
I now believe that my personal disappointment over my mother's lack of true family values, her weakness for material wealth, influenced me to hold wealth at a distance. My negative feelings about my mother’s weakness, her sinking to solace in religion, also influenced my distrust in religion. My father never spoke about religion. I believe he was agnostic. Jean believed in god and church but rarely attended church. She tried to get me to attend but I usually refused or pretended to go whilst I played “hooky”. Once, Jean went to church with me and a girl I was keen on. An evangelical preacher conducted a captivating delivery. I sought connection with my step-mother and the pretty girl, and I became somewhat mesmerized by the preacher. I stepped forward to take communion. With the “blood” of Jesus in my mouth, I cried to be “saved”. When we exited the church, I was bubbling over. Soon, however, I “woke up”, feeling that I had cheated myself, that I had lost control of myself. I sensed the duplicity of the church and in myself for wishing to be “saved”. I did not return to the opiate institution.
We senior students were required to take an intelligence test. The adult responsible would not tell us our score but she indicated in which areas we were more or less capable. The woman clearly did not want to disillusion me but she hinted that I had large holes in my intelligence. My ability to abstractly understand intangibles was (is) severely limited, as are my mechanical and electrical skill capabilities. These limitations were no small barriers in the practical world. The one area that saved me from retardation was my ability with words.
Soon thereafter, my father and I were listening to the radio in the autumn of 1956, as political events in Hungary were exploding. There were different fractions contending for political direction. Soviet Union’s power was in question. The United States was backing the “liberal” “democratic” fraction and the CIA financed the “uproar against communism.” Political power passed from the pro-Comecon Rákosi to the more pro-Western Nagy, who asked the UN to help his country get the Soviets out of Hungary. Russian troops trudged triumphantly across Hungary’s borders. Battles occurred on November 4 and in a week the Soviet troops had crushed the opposition. János Kádár took over, and the US government rattled its swords. When my father and I heard of this “poppycock”—a favorite expression of my father’s—I proclaimed that I’d join the military to fight communism. My father was proud of this decision. As I was only 17, my father had to sign a waiver for me to leave school and enter the military.
The last editorial I wrote for the “Bomber Beam” seems quite prophetic upon reflection. For the November 13 edition, just three days after “the defeat of the democratic forces,” I wrote about the meaning of Armistice Day.
“In 1938, the Congress of the United States made Armistice Day a legal holiday (after) the treaty of peace was signed between the Allies and Germany on November 11, 1918...
“On this day, we should stop and give reverence to the dead on both sides, for they were fighting for what they believed in also. Don’t curse the dead enemies, for our enemy is someone else’s hero.”
1. “Americans” is the common word used for people who come from the United States of America. However, both inhabitants of both American continents´ are “Americans” America was given that name because an Italian merchant-explorer, Vespucci Amerigo, explored Brazil and other areas of the new world a decade after the first explorer, Christopher Columbus, “discovered” America. In 1492, Columbus landed at the Caribbean island now known as the Dominican Republic. He thought he’d come to India, and therefore called the hospitable natives “Indians.” Though Italian, Columbus was in the service of Spain and not as much in favor by many European powers as was Vespucci. He became popular after his travel letters were published in 1507. So Amerigo´s name was Europa’s ruling classes’ designation for all the Americas. Just for the record, Brazil is formally The United States of Brazil, and Mexico is the United States of Mexico. Many “Americans” wish to give the impression that they are the only Americans, at least those who most count. And many of these”Americans” are proud to be known as ”Yankees”. Originally, Yankee referred to those living in the North during the liberation-colonial war and afterwards. Later, those in the south were “Confederates,” because many preferred a confederate type of government rather than a federal national structure. After the Civil War, with the federal structure implanted to favor the industrialization of the entire nation, Yankees became the term many foreigners, especially in the rest of America, used for the ”Manifest Destiny” Americanization of their economies and society. Yankees became a dirty word, referring to the imperial government and soldiers, and civilians, who identify with this manifest destiny. Despite my objection to referring to those living in the United States as “Americans”, thereby implying that all other Americans are something else, I will succumb to referring to US Americans as Americans. It is the common usage and, thus, expedient.
2. These figures come from 1968 data from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, Banco Central and Instituto Brasileiro do Café, and from a 1962 report of the Federal Trade Commission.
3. See the overthrowing of democratically elected popular
governments of Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador, Chile,
Guyana, Granada, the Congo, Indonesia, Southeast Asia—the list is
Air Force: 1956-1960
A decade after the black boy was shot, an incident I had
long forgotten, I joined the United States Air Force to fight for freedom.
But I nearly did not make muster. Before being accepted into the military,
everyone must take tests to ascertain intelligence and capabilities. It
is possible to be so ignorant or retarded that one is rejected. After
I took the five tests, I was called in for an interview. An airwoman held
the scores before her. “I have never seen such a poor score on the
mechanical test: 01. That is the lowest possible score.”
“And your electronics score is also subnormal: 25.” “However,” she continued, “you came just over the line because of the other three tests: 60 on the general, 85 for radio operation, and 90 for administration, which shows writing ability. And to your credit, you have an honor background from high school. So, we can accept you.”
I was now a basic airman with serial number AF18522596. I was sent for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, near San Antonio, Texas. I was to learn how to conduct myself as a proud American. I was assigned to flight 1463. We were forty young men under the lead of training instructor (TI), airman second class Arlington. I volunteered for any duty, striving to prove myself to my fellow recruits, the TI, and especially to my father. The training instructor chose me to be the barrack’s scribe, and I soon became the squad’s flight guide as well, setting marching pace under the TI’s beady eye. I kept my bunk bedcovers tight, my locker in neat order, my shoes shinning spick and span.
As bivouac training neared, MR. Arlington informed me personally that our flight would start last in the company of four flights and it was our duty to come in first. He placed confidence in me to set a quick pace and find the right moment to maneuver around the flights in front of us. While I was zealous to perform, I was not the only young proud American setting out on bivouac that day. When I quickened step, the others in my flight tried to follow. Though most fell in, others stumbled. The TI scolded their clumsiness, which I took as an indirect praise of my quick and steady steps.
Encouraged, I concentrated on the flight we neared, glancing about for the right moment to pass them up. The last line of recruits just ahead zig-zagged in front of me and broke line. They were not playing by the rules and this angered me. I swung around the last row in front of me and “my” men followed. The recruits in the other flight sought to out-maneuver us and our formations broke up. I heard several TIs shouting something, but I did not hear their message, or I ignored them. Now in a trot, I saw a large man with several stripes on his sleeves standing directly ahead of me. He roared at us to stop. I could not. It was my duty to come in first. There were men running all about me now, and he was a big man. I increased speed, thinking he’d move. He did not. I ran smack into him, toppling him. All was amok. Only fear prevented chaos.
The man I had run down was the top sergeant, over all the TIs. The company was called to attention. The sergeant boomed at us. He demanded that the culprit or culprits reveal themselves. Who was responsible for this mess? I guess I thought my TI would say something, but he did not, so it must be my responsibility to speak out. We are responsible for our actions, my father stressed. I had often heard about our first president and how he had come forth to admit that it was he who had chopped down the cherry tree. “George Washington was an honest boy and became our first president.”
I raised my hand above the heads of hundreds of young recruits. The sergeant roared for me to come forward. My TI stood beside him and confirmed that I was his flight guide, though he did not tell the top sergeant what he had told me. I said in my defense that I tried to pass the flight in front of me in the interest of competition for first place. Whether or not the first sergeant saw the point of free competition, he ordered me under a sort of house arrest. I was to join in all the bivouac activities and when we returned in four days to our barracks, I was to report to him for punishment.
I performed the bivouac tasks well enough though with a lump in my throat. My TI was very angry with me and removed me from the privileges of scribe and guide. When we returned to our base, the top sergeant ordered me to dig a big hole by my barracks. When I was finished, he ordered me to dig deeper. Then he ordered me to fill the hole back up. I got very little sleep that night and never regained my earlier status as a model airman.
When basic training ended, I was sent to Keesler AF base, at Biloxi, Mississippi, for radar training. I would learn to track aircraft and prevent the enemy from flying over our territories. I was existed. Soon, I would be put to use for the upcoming attack against the communists. But, as so much in military life, I must wait. I was placed on permanent KP (kitchen patrol) until the class began. This seemed unnecessarily strict to me—KP was long hard hours of heavy and dirty work. One morning, after my first night away from the base in two weeks, I was violently awakened before dawn. The intruder ordered me out of bed for KP duty. My head pounded from a groggy. I informed him that I had received relief from KP duty yesterday as I was to begin school after the weekend. No matter: up and at `em. As we were marched in darkness towards the kitchen, a cohort and I stuck off. We had had enough. We spent the day playing like kids. In the afternoon, we were discovered and taken to the school director. Captain Ervin Glenn reprimanded us for being AWOL: absent without leave or “dereliction of duty.” We would begin class but upon graduation our first stripe would be denied us for at least six months. The commander would not hear of the conflict between promises and expediency. In the military, one is required to obey orders, no matter the reasoning or lack of such.
Radar operator training was interesting enough. I learned how to spot aircraft and track their flight patterns on the radar screen. Radar operators read aircraft position, direction and speed, over a headset to “plotters” standing behind a large plexi-glass board erected below the radar apparatuses. Plotters wrote backwards so that officers, standing on a dias behind the radar equipment, could see where aircraft were located and in which direction they were headed. If the officers judged something amiss, they were to order action, which could be scrambling jets to intercept aircraft that did not belong in the area. The jets could also be ordered to shoot down intruders.
In my spare time, I took and passed a general educational development test for high school level and soon received a diploma from Midwest City High School. I played poker and tennis. I made the base team and played in competition, both singles and doubles. My partner was a black man. On the one occasion we went to the town nearest base, we were chased away from entering a bar. I reported this to military authorities and was told that it was not our concern what went on in town. In the future, we should keep ourselves to the base. The lesson: Don’t stir American tradition, regardless of its racist immorality.
Upon graduation from radar training, I received orders to
a radar site in Japan. At that time, April1957, Japan was still under
American occupation. During my leave, my father told me not to expect
to be sent to Europe to fight the commies, because US politicians were
too spineless. In Bob’s view, now that General Dwight D. Eisenhower
was president he, like all other politicians, succumbed to diplomacy (read:
“soft on communism”). Bob’s hero was General Curtis
Lemay, commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). If he had ultimate
power there would be war against all the communists until the last was
killed or surrendered.
I’ll skip some years here to mention that the mad atomic bomber general in Peter Seelers movie, Dr. Strangelove, was fashioned after General Lemay. It should be remembered that at the end of President Eisenhower’s term of office, he spoke of the need to be wary of the “all too-powerful military-industrial complex”. Gen. Lemay, the Pentagon chiefs generally, and corporate America did not appreciate this honesty. And many more did not appreciate what Eisenhower later wrote in his autobiography of the “need” for warring against Vietnam. Eisenhower’s logic was based on the intelligence estimate that if the US had “allowed” free elections in Vietnam, 80% of the people throughout the separated nation would have voted for the popular Communists and their leader, Ho Chi Minh. Neither Eisenhower nor other American Dreamers could allow that, not even for the sake of democracy.
I had to change planes three times to cross the United States from Mississippi and over the Pacific Ocean to Tokyo, some 10,000 kilometers. It was an arduous and exciting trip. A long bus ride around the gigantic city, then over bumpy country roads, and up a mountain dirt road, led to my new home, Site 4, 611th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron. Approaching the guarded gate, a sign read: “Photographing of installation equipment beyond this point is Forbidden by order of the commander.”
From top of Mineokyama mountain, we had a magnificent view of Japan’s highest mountain, Fujiyama: 8,125 meters. It seemed as though the mountain’s snow glistened over the Sea of Japan and down upon the fresh blooming white cherry blossoms shinning before me. The USSR’s east coast was just across the sea behind Mt. Fuji. We were only a few hundred kilometers from Peter the Great Bay at Vladivostok. We felt consciously close to our enemy.
At the Quonset hut headquarters I was assigned to a barracks where about 20 white men were quartered. We slept in two-tiered, steel-framed bunk beds. A Japanese man was our “houseboy”. We had the privilege of having a defeated native clean up after us. Across the way was the mess hall where we ate American and some Japanese chow. Behind this building was the black barrack. The commander, Mayor Harold Hopkins, honored southern traditions. Though we worked side by side for the democratic model of the world, white and black GIs lived segregated.
Before starting my first shift—we rotated three eight-hour shifts each week—an officer instructed us new radar operators about our mission: vigilance and control over the skies. If we detected enemy intrusion over “our” territory, we must coordinate air attacks against their aircraft.
Normal operation dealt with keeping our military planes, and commercial aircraft, from crashing into one another. Inside the dark radar hall, we scrutinized the electronic devices and chalked flight patterns on the plexi-glass screen. It was a constant strain on the eyes and wrists. We sat at the scope an hour at a time. After a short break, we took up plotting for another hour.
After a four-day shift, we had from one to three days free. In my free time, I took walks on the Mineokyama mountain top through the numerous pine trees. Looking at photos of that period, which have been kept in boxes for nearly half-a-century, I can see a likeness to my thin frame and face, and bushy crew-cut hair.
Veteran barrack mates prepped me for my first night on the town. “You can drink the strong Japanese whisky and biting beer, and fuck all the good pussy you want. It’s all cheap.” They also warned me to keep with the other GIs. “Don’t wander off alone and stay away from the off limits Red district. There are commies about.” It had been a long time since I had had sex, and I was eager.
We had to obtain a pass from the sergeants in charge of our shifts. We were transported by bus to the nearest town, Awakamogawa, 20 kilometers from Site 4. The bus ride took us alongside numerous rice paddies, small water fields where men ploughed through mud. One managed the plow while another led an ox drawing the wooden plough. Behind the fields stood straw-thatched, small huts. These were the workers´ simple homes.
Awakamogawa was a small town. A handful of us walked along narrow dirt streets lined with small shops and wooden houses. Some had tiled roofs and wooden balconies. There were few cars and many bicycles. We stopped at one of the GIs haunts, Bar Loge. The women dressed in pretty kimonos or tight-fitting, colorfully-patterned dresses, which covered their tiny bodies from neck to ankles. The Japanese bartender served me whisky, which I downed quickly to take off the edge of excitement. He chattered with the women. Girls giggled as they watched my face twist at the taste of strong alcohol.
I entered the WC to pee and was surprised to see a woman sitting over a toilet bowl. She laughed at seeing my face. She told me, in broken English, that this was a unisex bathroom, and she offered me a trick.
She led me to a room which contained little more than a narrow bed with a hard mattress. She sucked my penis hard and then guided me into her. This was my first experience with fellatio and the best sex I had had since Brazil. I would become a fast customer at Bar Loge.
I volunteered on the small staff of the base newsletter, Radar Echoes. I was readily accepted since I could use a typewriter, and I learned to churn out the sheets on the mimeograph machine. I also received my first stripe, and sewed my airman third class emblem on my uniforms. I earned a commendation certificate for instruction in code of conduct and weapons familiarization firing.
I was proud, yet there were things nagging me. The authoritarian manner of conducting our work, the constant ordering about, the intolerance to dialogue, and the weekly Friday “intelligence” briefings were all too boring and condescending, hypocritical as well. Do as I say not as I do. One set of rules for us and another for “them.” The “intelligence” officer ranted on about the evils of communism in such a fundamentalist frenzy that its impact fell by my wayside.
“The commies are evil, atheist liars who can’t
be trusted to keep international agreements,” we were told. That
must be the reason, I thought, why we violated those treaties. We sent
two reconnaissance aircraft from our military bases in Japan over Soviet
skies each day. These RB50s were but two spy planes the US reconnoitered
to which I was aware. Additional US sites were responsible for sending
other spy aircraft. It was the logic of: attack first before being attacked,
a preventive war. During the year I was stationed in Japan, I never saw
or heard of any intruding Soviet aircraft. Moreover, the Soviets did not
shoot at our spy planes, not until after my tour of duty when they shot
down the U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Powers, on Mayday 1960.This
was the first time that the Soviets decided to shoot down a US spy aircraft.
They did so in order to embarrass the United States and let it be known
that Russia also had the technology and determination to defend itself.
I also felt ill at ease with the base segregation and put-down language white airmen routinely used against black GIs and the Japanese people. But I wasn’t yet a dissident and I sought acceptance. So I took to town with the entire barracks one day “to show the commies” what stuff Americans are made of. The leading clique decided to invade the off limits part of town, where our houseboy lived.
We were a dozen white men in civilian clothes marching down the main street and into the Red district. We boldly shouted Yankee chants and songs. A rock or two were thrown at some possible symbol of subversion. One window was smashed. Then we arrived at our houseboy’s home. He was surprised to see but only smiled, and he welcomed us to his humble home as we guffawed. His wife made us tea and we soon departed. Word of our forbidden adventure circulated the base and the commander called us into his office. He chastised us but did not punish us. After all, our infraction was conducted out of a sense of patriotism.
I earned a three-day pass into Tokyo. I was awed by its architecture, the bright lights and the multitudes. I entered a modern bar. A tall woman in makeup and western dress engaged me in conversation. She spoke intelligently in good English. She was also a prostitute and invited me upstairs. We began to kiss and pet. I groped between her legs, and suddenly pulled back my hand and dashed out the door. “I thought you knew I was a transvestite,” she-he called out.
Back at the base, I resumed visiting the local. I latched on to one of the haunt’s prostitutes, nick-named Dynamite. She gave complete fellatio, which thrilled me so much we spent a lot of time together. And we did more than fuck. We went swimming, took hikes, and once we rode a bus to Futomi, a small fishing village. The thatched houses were crammed together in rows near the sandy beachfront where small fishing crafts anchored. A group of boys stood on a sea wall fishing with canes. They were dressed in school uniforms with shower clogs for footwear. I see, in another photo, that I am squatting beside a stone Buddha, half my height. A photo of Keico (Dynamite) and me in bathing suits indicates we shared dark hair and skin color, but her nose is broader than my rather long narrow prominence.
It was Keico, and a studious Asian-American airman first class, who introduced me to her country’s history and Keico’s own “fall”. When the United States military occupied Japan, it made whores of many of the needy women.
My eyes were opened to new information kept from me by our military. I, of course, knew there had been atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki--which were off limits to us--but I had no idea of the extent of wanton destruction, and the fact that vital information about the wasting disease that follows radiation contact was kept from Japanese doctors. For several months following the bombings, hundreds died excruciating deaths in hospitals every day, yet the US denied there was any atomic radiation. Some 200,000 people, mostly civilians, died directly from these two nuclear attacks. Hundreds of thousands more died in the coming years from the radiation and other hundreds of thousands suffered pain while alive. In March, even before the atomic bombings, General Lemay’s B-29s flew firebombing raids over Tokyo. They killed over 100,000 civilians. Japan’s emperor’s residence was off limits to attack. Over 20 square kilometers of city were burned to ashes; 265,171 buildings destroyed. Years later, I came across the figures of destruction and read of the terrible suffering the people experienced.
The Australian war correspondent Wilfred Burchett was the
only western journalist to enter Hiroshima and wrote on-the-spot observations
just one month after the bombing of Hiroshima. His dispatch to the London
Daily Express (September 6, 1945), “The Atomic Plague”, is
recorded in his memoirs, At the Barricades.
This new information from Keico, and my own experiences, led to frustration which I needed to act out. I made my first attempt to write a short story. It was a metaphor of hell at Radar Site 4. I portrayed sergeants and officers as devils lording over us enlisted men with lashes, forcing us to fight “the enemy”, who did us no harm.
I hung my story on the central bulletin board in front of headquarters. Later that day, it was taken down and I was called into the commander’s office. He reprimanded me angrily and set me to several days of KP. My stripe was stripped from me again.
If I were a believer in “fate”, I could have expected what occurred to me soon thereafter.
One night as I walked out of Bar Loge, staggering from drink and fornication, an older Japanese man stood before me. He shouted at me angrily in his tongue. Before I could understand his wrath, he had thrown me on the ground with quick hand and foot jabs and stormed away. I later learned that he was wrought with despair at the immoral Yankee domination over his land and his women. I was not yet prepared, however, to give up the greedy pleasures of that immorality, but I endeavored to balance fairness with injustice. And I was curious.
It was unjust to prostitute people, but since it existed and was institutionalized, despite any theoretical objection I might have, it was also unfair to discriminate among the underdogs. There was an unwritten code among white GIs that the bars in “our town” be segregated: bars and Japanese women for white GIs, others for black GIs. We not only took over the Japanese’s country, imposed our own constitution and laws, but we also insisted that they accept our racism.
I took to town in the late winter of 1958 and headed for a “black” bar. Heads turned toward me as I entered the packed room, however no one looked at or spoke to me aggressively as I ordered a drink. Black GIs engaged me in conversation and we drank together friendlily. There was more dancing here, a more lively atmosphere. I had sex with one of the women and rode the last bus back with the black airmen.
It snowed on our mountain the next day. When I returned to the barracks from my shift, several roommates grabbed and carried me outside and dunked my head in the snow. As I nearly suffocated, they shouted, “This will teach you to keep away from the nigger bars and the nigger women.”
From that day on, I was a marked man, and I was scared and ashamed. I could not fight them. They were many, and most were bigger and stronger than me. Nevertheless, I could not relent else I could not live with myself. My act of “integration” was morally just. I would not be immoral, at least not entirely.
After my act of defiance, black GIs looked at me differently than they did most other whites. One day a young black GI walked to the front steps of my barracks. I was lying on my bunk when I heard him call my name from the porch. Two men inside the barracks rushed out the door and pushed him off the steps. “NO NIGGERS ALLOWED. Keep to your own, nappy head,” they shouted. I saw his face before he turned away. He was seething.
Then the agitated whites turned on me. They threw me up against a bunk bed. While some held me, one went after an aerosol can filled with DDT insecticide. They all wore their favorite headgear.: baseball caps with KKK emblazoned on the visor. They sometimes even strutted about the base in uniform with these out-of-uniform hats. No superiors saw fit to stop this.
Now the KKK ritual began. They stripped me naked and took the mattress off the steel bunk bed. They trussed me onto the steel-spring bottom. Each of my limbs was pinned down by a man. The biggest man, a broad-chested Floridian, who often bragged about the alligators he had bare-handedly killed, took the DDT can. With a mocking, vengeful grin, he taunted me for being a “nigger lover”. Then he pressed his finger on the nozzle and struck his snappy Zippo lighter to the gaseous spray. I can see him standing over me now, his olive white face with large lips jeering down at me. The flame burned my black hairs and my groin. As I squirmed under the torch, the Arian Airmen held onto my ankles and wrists harder.
“We warned you last time you went to the niggers´ bar that you’d really get it if you kept up with these niggers. You little pussy, you’re not fit to be in the same barracks with white men,” shouted the alligator-eater.
As I lay there scorched and scared, the brave, honorable white men whopped tumultuously. The entire barracks participated, except two easterners. They kept quietly to themselves at the far end of the barracks.
That night I lay awake a long time feeling quite alone. One of the easterners spoke to me timidly, saying only that he was sorry for what had happened to me. I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, complain to “superiors” about this event and thus I had to live in that barracks for the remainder of my tour. During those two months, I counted the days.
I would like to say that I continued to defy the white man’s code, but I do not recall returning to the “black bar.” One black GI offered me consolation and recommended that I keep away from “their” bar for my own sake.
Around that time, I heard the name of Lenin for the first time in my life. I believe it was the Asian-American airman who suggested I read a book of Lenin’s, “Left-wing Infantile Disorder.” I never have figured out why he suggested I read Lenin, especially that book. But by now I was open for rebellion. There was no way to find such literature here so I wrote to my mother and asked her to find a copy and send it to me. It took the rest of my tour at Site 4 for the book to arrive. Mother wrote that she had searched high and low for this rare book. Finally, a used book collector secured one for her. I did not understand one word of that thin didactic book. Later on, I came to realize that the essence of Lenin’s critique of the extreme left, that of being motivated by “infantile” emotion and adventurous tactics, speaks to my “weak” side.
As my tour was up, I was given back my airman third-class stripe as a parting gesture.
Oklahoma and Discharge
My next assignment request was a radar side next to Tinker Air Force Base where my father was stationed. I wanted to be close to family and to see my kid brother, who was on his first visit to our father since the divorce. He had ear trouble and needed an operation, which would have been expensive if mother had to pay for it. Father’s military health insurance covered Jim’s operation at the military base.
I had a month’s leave before beginning my new assignment. Jim and I became reaquainted. He vowed that he would join the Air Force next year to show father that he was a good man too. Jim had healed from his operation and it was time for him to return east to mother. Our father took a leave and drove the family to St. Louis, Missouri to see the highly reputed Zoo. In a couple of days, Jim was put on a flight east.
I wanted to walk about the immense city alone. In the evening, I found myself walking across the “line” into East St. Louis. There were fewer street lights here and mostly run-down buildings. Suddenly, a police patrol car stopped beside me.
“Good evening, airman,” the driver greeted at seeing my uniform. He asked what I was doing here. I was surprised by the question and replied that I was on leave sight-seeing.
“There are better sights to see on the other side of St. Louis. This is nigger town and you are not safe here,” he friendily “warned” me.
I was speechless. He offered to drive me to the other side. Somehow, I felt I could not refuse. I knew no one here and felt suddenly threatened. To my shame, I let myself into the patrol car, the only time I accepted a ride in a cop vehicle. We drove to white safety.
I rode back with my family to their suburban home in Midwest City, Oklahoma, and reported for duty. My new living quarters were quite modern. We lived in regular buildings and each had a room to himself. And there was no racial discrimination here, at least not in the residences. The base also contained waves: airwomen. They had their own building. Some waves wished to start a softball team but they had no coach. Here, I saw my chance to get close to the opposite sex and volunteered to be their coach.
My step-mother’s father had just retired from his job at Nabisco food company. The administrators gave him the traditional “gold watch” for his loyal life-long work. Mr. Flint no longer had need of his car, a well-kept Mercury, and he generously gave it to me. With a car, I thought it would be easy to pick up American women. Nevertheless, I never scored with a wave. It might have been because I broke one of their noses.
During one of our practices, I was pitching the ball from
home plate to the players in the infield and the outfield. I whipped a
ball sharply at the third base player, who was not alert enough and the
large ball smashed into her nose. She bled profusely. We carried her to
my car and I drove to the nearest hospital. She got patched up but her
nose was crooked and I felt guilty. The women no longer thought so well
of me. So I started driving into the capital, Oklahoma City, and drank
in bars. I took up with a waitress in the infamous stockyard district,
an area which Upton Sinclair had so vividly described in one of his exposé
novels. She was solid working class. I sometimes had to act tough with
male customers, in order to defend “my right” to her. Though
I was no thrashing fighter, I felt quite macho and she was impressed with
I started playing poker with some airmen. There were two I distinctly recall. Tom Swinn, a tall man, who hated Italians and Ethiopians for some reason. But he was a good conversationalist and we took to one another. Another new acquaintance was Jack Barnes, a tubby, somewhat educated man. He was the son of a well-to-do businessman, who ordered him to take up military life—”to become disciplined”—before he would let him into the business. Barnes was a good poker player and he introduced me to jazz music. I liked it, and bought a record player. At Barnes´ suggestion, I bought records of Paul Desmond, Gerry Muligan, Stan Kenton and Bill Evans. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Barnes purposefully introduced me to white jazz musicians as he did not care for the wilder black jazz.
Our radar work was the same as in Japan. Tedious, boring. There were no Russians nearby, however, so we were not on alert to scramble fighter jets. We just looked at the screen and plotted friendly aircraft on the plexi-glass.
I took up tennis again. I made the Tinker base team both in singles and doubles. Once, I played against a nationally recognized player, who clobbered me. I won a few trophies, especially in doubles. I had different partners and we sometimes were flown to other military bases for regional matches. I had a steady black partner for a time. Black tennis players were quite unusual in the 1950s. Once, after a match, we walked about in Oklahoma City. We stopped at a cafe and sat at the counter stools as I ordered. The waitress looked distressfully at me and said: “I can serve you but not him. No colored are served here.” I got furious and cursed at her for discriminating. My partner said nothing. As I continued to protest, though, he whispered to me that I should back off and we should leave. I objected, but customers were beginning to stir and he insisted. Outside the greasy spoon, he let me know in no uncertain terms that I had put us both in jeopardy, but it would him who could be lynched.
I hadn’t considered that, nor that he had to put up with discrimination every day. This was also before the civil rights movement had gotten off the ground, and I was unaware that it even existed. The first effective lunch-counter “sit-in” didn’t take place until October, 1960, and that was in Atlanta, Georgia where Martin Luther King and others were jailed for acting for equal treatment. While I was indignant, and embarrassed for my tennis partner, he was the one in danger. It took me more bumps before I learned that evil patterns are not changed by individual action, though strides can be made by acting collectively and persistently, although to this day I am still prone to act individually sometimes, especially when the “collective” is non-existent. Perhaps this type of individual direct action explains why I was supposed to read Lenin’s ”Left-wing Infantile Disorder.”
Tom Swinn was from Los Angeles and he, and Barnes, opened up new horizons for me. Tom was to be discharged soon, nearly a year before me. He was to start studying at a two-year community junior college. By doing so, he would obtain an early discharge—up to three months if one enrolled in college. He invited me to take my next leave with him when he was discharged. Christmas time 1959, I flew with Tom to Los Angeles, and then a bus ride to his home in nearby Torrance. L.A. is not a city, as such, but is an immense metropolitan area. It is so spread out and has so many ethnic groups and ghettoes that it made my mind boggle. Its diversity intrigued me. We visited El Camino College, and the smell of learning in the air, and short-skirted lovely young women, convinced me to take up Tom’s suggestion that I apply to the school and get an early discharge.
Now, with a chance to get out early, I took night classes offered by the University of California, in order to prepare for a college start. I did not seek a career but a broad knowledge of the world. I took six courses in English composition, US history and government, philosophy and psychology. There were discussions about and readings in national and international affairs in the classes. Soviet and American leaders had met in Geneva in autumn 1958 to discuss a nuclear weapons test ban, and the Powers shoot-down incident was somehow connected. The Eisenhower administration was embarrassed by Soviet advances, especially with the launching of Sputnik, the first earth satellite. It would take three months before the first US Explorer was launched in January, 1958. And it was the enemy who unilaterally ceased nuclear weapons testing, in March, 1958. The Soviets called upon the US and Great Britain to follow suit. But no, not the freedom-lovers. They needed nuclear weapons to assure democracy. That’s what we read in the city newspapers and what military officers and politicians told us.
The US government and Mafia-backed dictator of Cuba, Fulgencio
Batista, had recently been overthrown by popular, charismatic liberation
guerrillas. The young leaders were introducing land reforms for the poor,
free schooling and medical care for all, and racial discrimination was
banned in one of the initial acts of the progressive government. Why,
that was more democratic than our own Constitution and contemporary American
reality. Nevertheless, the presidential campaign between Vice-President
Richard Nixon and the Democrats’ Senator John F. Kennedy revolved
mainly around which one was more anti-Communist, and the new Cuban government
was characterized by both as a bunch of commies, and thus a ”threat
to American interests.”
Despite my confrontation with political reality, I was as proudly anti-Communist as any American soldier. Nevertheless, I grew less and less tolerant with the drudgery and inanities of military life, and with the smallness of mind. I could not hold to a straight, constructive course. I drank more. I even drank rotgut, bathtub brewed gin, at a dollar a bottle on the black market. It made me stupidly drunk and sick. I got picked up for drunk driving, though I was booked for simple drunkedness. An official from base was called to pick me up after a night in jail. I got more KP for that and lost the new airman second class stripe I had finally earned. I was back to airman third again and remained such until discharge.
I won quite a pile at poker one night and I invited the other players to a nightclub outing. We drank and danced until the club closed. Then I paid for a big breakfast for all. A familiar face looked at me from the next table. It turned out she had been in a high school class with me four years ago. She shinned up to me and I could think of no more fitting way to end the long night than in her body. I rented a motel room across the way and we tore into one another. Rather, I should say, she tore into me. This was my first experience with a woman, not a prostitute, who took bold initiatives and such strong ones at that. Tirelessly, she led me through several erotic positions. She brought me to ecstasy, but I could not keep up. I’d liked to think that it was due to all the alcohol and the long poker session and the lateness, but...I fell asleep in her arms at dawn. When we awoke, she told me that she had had a crush on me in high school but that I never had noticed her. It was probably so because she was not pretty by contemporary standards. ”You missed out,” she said, triumphantly.
I had first heard of the Cuban revolution when assigned in Japan, but it was not until my last year in the Air Force that I came across a speech by Fidel Castro. I felt a rush when Fidel said that everyone in the new Cuba has equal rights and opportunities, no matter their color or gender. The same month I was discharged, Fidel was in New York to attend a United Nations meeting. Instead of staying at an uptown, white hotel, he roomed in Harlem’s Hotel Theresa. He had live chickens brought in to be cooked at the hotel, in order to avoid being poisoned. There, he conversed with international leaders and US black leaders, including Malcolm X.
What Fidel and the new Cuba stood for moved me greatly, but it took some months before I recognized the impact. The essence of this impellent can be summed up in something Fidel told Lee Lockwood (Castro´s Cuba, Cuba´s Fidel):
“Those who are exploited are our compatriots all over the world; and the exploiters all over the world are our enemies. We feel more sympathy for a poor exploited Negro in the South of the United States than for a rich Cuban. Our country is really the whole world, and all the revolutionaries of the world are our brothers.”
As my discharge date neared, I had a particular nightmare. I approached the exit gate with bags in hand. The guard stopped me and told me to return to barracks. I protested. This was my date of discharge. Where are my papers? I didn’t have them. I was marched to headquarters. I was told the papers were delayed. I must report to duty. Each day, it was the same. The papers were not arriving. I awoke in sweat.
I planned for my trip to Los Angeles by contacting a drive-away company. We would be five persons taking a car to its owner in California. We had only to pay a small fee to the company and the fuel. On the day I was supposed to get out, August 20, 1960, my papers were in order. I obtained the early release for starting college next month. My final honorable discharge would be mailed to me on the 20th of November, 1962, six years from the date of enlistment. The first four years were active duty; the last two, I was only on call in case of war.
I walked through the military gate smiling. Down the road a piece, I took my military clothing out of my duffle bag and burned them by the roadside. I took a bus to the drive-away firm and a few hours later I was crowded in the car heading towards California.
“Blowing in the Wind”:
How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?
Yes, `n´ how many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, `n´ how many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
The answer is blowing in the wind...
How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?
Yes, `n´ how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?
Yes, `n´ how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind...
How many years can a mountain exist before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, `n´ how many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, `n´ how many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind...
(Bob Dylan, 1962)
“Goddamnit that’s socialism!” I blurted out as I sprang from my classroom desk.
The professor turned his head from the blackboard toward
the classroom and me.
“That cooperative sharing and all is Red propaganda,” I maintained.
“We are speaking for human values here,” Professor John Forrest stated calmly but irritably. “What social characteristics are applicable for the preservation of life is a technical matter for any given society to ascertain. What matters is that life is precious. If life is worth living, and the philosophy of ethics assumes that it is, then shouldn’t it be full and healthy? Or should one advocate and plan for sickness, confinement, exploitation of labor for profit, oppression of people for power? Should men be killed or jailed because their ideas are in disfavor with those in power positions? Should people starve because they have no money?”
I remained standing but confused into speechlessness by the philosophy professor’s articulation. And that is just their point: the Reds are always trying to confuse us, to throw us off track.
“Living life is an ethical question. What I have written on the blackboard and what these mimeographed sheets you have received are all about is that very question. Starting with the axiom that life is good, that being the reference point, then what follows is that all which operates in favor of life, of enhancing its preservation and its enrichment must be encouraged. All that acts to decay, enervate or eliminate life must be discouraged. Is that not clear?” the white-haired educator asked, motioning at the blackboard with his pool cue-shaped stick.
“I suppose so,” I managed, sitting down.
“Good. Now, let us look at society. What do we see that supports life; what do we see that opposes life? The Henry Ford-John Wayne way is: every man for himself, the hindmost be damned. That is the American economic foundation, the basic ideology. Is that bolstering for life? Is it sustaining to heal those who can pay in dollars and let suffer those who cannot pay for medical care? Is it life fulfilling to fashion a system that first exploits the labor of the vast majority of people, and then, when technology science develops machinery to replace workers or when an economic crisis appears, casts the very lifeblood of society into unemployment and leaves them without the means of survival? Such is the system we live in. Be it called free enterprise, market economy, capitalism, or whatever, it does not assure the preservation or enrichment of life!”
The classroom was silenced, so I took up the defense of my country.
“I don’t know about all that, but I do know that communism is evil. Everybody knows that! Look at Russia. Look at what the people are forced into, slavery. Everyone is equally poor, except the dictators and their guards!”
“This is a course in Ethics,” the mad professor asserted. “Do you have any idea what is and what is not ethical? Do you know how that question is decided? Is it to be decided by the censorial House Un-American Activities Committee, or the CIA, or the Ku Klux Klan?”
“Or by the KGB?” I impulsively inserted.
Saved by the bell, I watched the old man turn his back again and wipe the blackboard of its chalked symbols. White powder fell on him. He did not notice. He often came to class dressed in chalk-smudged wrinkled suits. Sometimes he absent-mindedly swiped at chalk spots, which only made them worse. I scratched my whiskers as I watched this weird man. I’d stopped shaving when I was released from the Air Force, out of resentment of the imposed shaving rule, and now six weeks into school the new beard tickled me. Dr. Forrest bored many of my classmates but he angered me. He had taught at El Camino College since it opened, some 20 years before. He’d earned his doctorate during the turbulent 1930s. He was a stark contrast to the staid 1950s. I wondered if he was a Red. Social issues consumed him. He always had an answer to the big questions. That stuff about what and who causes wars. Sure, the military sucks, but isn’t it necessary? And this poor worker talk. People work, they get paid. People don’t work, they don’t get paid. Makes sense. Still, people ought not starve, like I saw in Brazil and Japan. Even in some parts of the United States there are very poor and hungry people. I had seen them in Newark. My father and government leaders mean it is their own fault. Can’t go blaming all the inadequacies on Henry Ford. He invented the Ford. Not a bad car.
“Well, Ron, is there anything the matter?” Dr. Forrest asked, rousing me out of daydreaming in the classroom alone with him.
“No. I don’t know. Maybe,” I replied ambiguously.
“Well, let’s take a walk and talk about it.”
Stepping outside, sunlight struck us.
“You know, Doctor Forrest, I don’t agree with all you say, but I’ve been thinking. Maybe you could give me some suggestions for what I might read. Not just course material, but background material. What causes the big problems we have?”
The professor’s gait quickened. His excited voice betrayed his pleased surprise.
“You are interested in Philosophy, in social issues, Ron?”
“Yeah. Like I said, I don’t agree with you but I want to know more.”
“Good. I’d be delighted to offer some ideas for reading. I’ll think about it over the weekend. Until then, I suggest you check out of the school library Dr. Alexander Meiklejohn’s Political Freedom. It’s his most recent treatise. He’s done extensive thinking and educating on the subject, and he’s appeared before Congress. There’s even a foundation in his name. I recommend him highly as a reference point,” the teacher’s eyes gleamed as he spoke.
“Have you selected a topic for your term paper, Ron?”
“No, I haven’t decided yet.”
“Well, if you get along with Meiklejohn you might consider the subject he addresses, namely, political freedom. Place the ethical question to the test with the US congressional Un-American Activities committees. You know, the House committee, HUAC, has recently held hearings at Berkeley University, and Dr. Meiklejohn was involved.”
“Sounds interesting,” I replied, a bit cautiously yet with real interest too, recalling how I personally despised being censored in the Air Force. And besides my personal indignation there is the question of the social or political “necessity” of censorship, as government leaders always contend around the world and throughout history. So much of what we learn in school revolves around that very question, freedom vs. censorship. Are we with Socrates and Galileo or the state and church censors?
I headed toward the library counting my blessings. Here I was on the west coast with millions of people from all over the world, and nature of every dimension all about. El Camino College lays southwest of Los Angeles downtown district, just eight kilometers from Manhattan and Redondo beach-front towns. The school offers trade courses and academic fundamentals for higher education. It draws students from these beach communities, the working and middle-class cities of Torrance and Lawndale and the gambling town of Gardena. There are even a few students from the ghettos of Compton and Watts, and some Mexican-Americans and Asian-Americans. Golden-tanned, scantily clothed young women jaunt about or lounge on grassy knolls. Older housewives dash about too. They work hard for grades, thirsting for alternatives to listless lives. When I enrolled, I didn’t know what I wanted “to be”. I took classes that seemed interesting or challenging, like Forrest’s ethics class. I also selected classic music appreciation, political science and elementary Journalism. My uncle Rex’ radio career influenced this latter choice, as did experiences at high school and in Japan. Having just turned 21, I had mailed an absentee ballot exercising my right to vote for the presidency. I marked an X for Richard Nixon, choosing the non-Catholic over the Catholic John Kennedy. I had just seen JFK speak at a rally in Los Angeles. He was a charming speaker, but too desperately hawkish for me. I didn’t know much about “the issues”, but Cuba’s revolution was a big downer for both candidates. I’d have to learn about what was happening there. Excitement was in the air and I was as enthused as a virgin on the brink of inception.
At the library check-out counter I met Ralph, a student acquaintance. He was quite witty and sharp, and already knew what he wanted to do with his future. His goal was to be a lawyer, and he knew a lot about political science and history. I believe he was the first Jew I came to know, and he was self-conscious about his family roots.
“I see you’ve got Meiklejohn, Ron. He’s a good read,” Ralph said, smiling.
We went to coffee and Ralph told me about Meiklejohn, one of the many teachers called before the congressional House Un-American Activities Committee.
“HUAC subpoenaed teachers and some students before their anti-subversive hearings in San Francisco last May. `Communist dupes´, congressmen call them. Both houses of congress have such committees, going back to the end of World War One. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover is fixated with the `Communist Threat´, just as was the late Senator Joe McCarthy. They do this to divert attention from the corrupt big money makers, keeping them safe from what could otherwise be massive pressure for a fair shake of the pie everybody makes. These anti-subversive committees are subversive.” Ralph asserted.
The anti-subversive, subversive HUAC hearings were held at San Francisco’s City Hall. People seeking to attend the hearings formed long lines outside. But the deck was stacked in favor of supporters of the hearings. The authorities literally gave out cards to their friends. Supporters of the subpoenaed were systematically omitted. This unfair treatment sparked spontaneous protests, which the police did not tolerate. They sprayed hundreds of people with water hoses and arrested 68 demonstrators. Charges were later dropped against all but one, who was acquitted on the charge of “disorderly conduct.” HUAC denounced their opponents as “Communist dupes.”
These interrogations into one’s political ideas, and the police state treatment of those who sought to exercise Free Speech, outraged many people in addition to the demonstrators. Even the local daily San Francisco Chronicle condemned the hearings. The fact that the government tried to justify their repression by showing the propaganda film, Operation Abolition, and distributing the FBI’s “Communist Target-Youth” booklet caused thousands more to act against this authoritarianism.
HUAC and its senate counterpart had been exuberantly active during the 1950s Cold War- McCarthy period, in which no one politically left-of-center was safe from being accused with the devastating labels: “Communist”, “Communist Sympathizer,” “Communist Dupe,” or whose efforts for better living and working conditions were stamped “communist activities.”
During my term paper research about HUAC, I read government laws and HUAC documents; the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights more carefully; I read or skimmed some writings by philosophers and political scientists, such as Alexis de Tocqueville on democracy in America. I dug deeper and began comparing what the United States considered subversive with what Communist governments considered subversive. I found many parallels between the two systems of government, although their economic structures were diametrically opposed. Many Hollywood screenwriters and actors, and intellectuals, teachers and professor, were blacklisted just as were their counterparts in the socialist countries. Some government staffers, workers in the trades and factories, and union organizers were fired and often blacklisted, because they sought better working conditions or suggested that the rich were not as necessary to society as were workers who produced their wealth and that of the entire nation. I was too young to know about this in the 1950s, and I was living abroad much of that time. Furthermore, my father and the military were robotic supporters of whatever repression was exerted against these “subversives”. Now, I was learning about government repression and becoming more indignant. The San Francisco hearings were decisive for the new period “blowing in the wind”, because most victims of “McCarthyism” refused to cooperate with their victimizers, and because they were supported by many morally perturbed youths and by some who had lived through the depression years. The difference between the early 1960s and the last decade, was that more people were beginning to stand up to the government’s Big Stick. More people were worried about the lingering McCarthy repression. These hearings were held just three months before I arrived in Los Angeles, and they sparked the new student uproar, which grew into the “New Left” movement.
(In the coming years, many came to believe a revolution could grow out of emerging movements for social change. The revolutionaries would be activist white students, anti-nuclear bomb and anti-war groups, and the rebels from many ethnic groups: Blacks, Mexican-Americans or Chicanos-- the new term for second and third generation Mexicans--Native Americans, New York Puerto Ricans, and Filipinos. Other liberation movements would soon be joined: the radical feminists and the women’s equal rights movement, the gay rights movement. Leadership would come from communist groups, or so they hoped, working closely with Black Power nationalists and black revolutionary Marxists. Some of the most dedicated revolutionaries went underground and conducted violent actions against the Establishment, mostly against their property. It would seem that just about everybody was part of the 1960s uproar. The uproar was also cultural: the “tripping” hippies and love-in flower children, the yippies, the underground media. Folk and protest music, and the new rock ´n roll filled our hearts. Though it seemed everybody came to be involved, “everybody” did not include the working class. Most workers did not even see themselves as a class. They were either untouched by or were opposed to our uproar, many of them even acted violently against us. Nevertheless, there were other signs that a revolution could be born in the near future.)
The May 1960 HUAC hearings occurred at the time of several protests against nuclear armament, which perturbed Washington politicians and wealthy businessmen. There were protests and rebellions in many parts of the world. Washington was saber rattling against Cuba’s revolution. The first deaths of US “advisors” in Vietnam, in July 1959, was disturbing their plans for control over the mineral rich country. A few months later, the Vietnamese liberation resistance formed the National Liberation Front (NLF), which Washington called the “Viet Cong.”
There was also growing opposition to racist segregation, yet another threat to the rule of divide-and-conquer. Rosa Parks’ brave “sit-in” on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, had set off the civil rights movement, and placed the young Montgomery minister Dr. Martin Luther King in the leadership for equal rights. After a 381-day effective bus boycott, and pressured by the 1954 Supreme Court decision reversing the legality of racial segregation, the bus companies desegregated seating. This initial victory was followed by a major set-back. In 1957, nine black school children attempted to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. President Eisenhower sent in federal troops, in compliance with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregation in schools. Few southern schools had made any effort for black attendance, and Arkansas´ Governor Orville Faubus would be no trail-blazer. He shut down the school to avoid integration. But that did not stop people from fighting for equality and justice.
American apartheid included the denial of blacks to be served in “white” establishments. This discrimination, and the inspiration of Rosa Parks, sparked the first “sit-in” at Woolworth’s coffee shop, in February, 1960. Two black and two white college students braved violence by white customers and police in Greensboro, North Carolina. The local Woolworth closed down after five days of protest. This inspired many lunch counter sit-ins in city after city. In October, Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested with other sit-inners at Woolworth’s coffee shop in Atlanta, Georgia. The popular five-and-dime store would eventually capitulate nationwide. Also at the time of the San Francisco HUAC hearings, the King-led SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) youth group (SNCC) began organizing in local communities to end segregation. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee later became independent and took a more radical turn.
There were also ban-the-bomb groups, composed of pacifists and the old Social Democratic center-left. They included the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) and Peacemakers, made up of former prisoners of conscience and others, and the social democratic Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy. By the late 1950s, SANE had a hundred chapters with about 25,000 members. It called for an end to nuclear testing but acted quite passively. The pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), and Norman Thomas, a socialist presidential candidate, began circulating a petition against the testing. Most of these people of conscience were as ardently anti-radical and anti-communist as was the government. A few, such as anarchist-pacifist intellectuals David Dellinger and Paul Goodman, helped create a zestful image of radical thinking and dedicated action.
A new breath of fresh air blew into these groupings when some radical pacifists refused to participate in the ritual air-raid drill in New York City. It was the law that everyone must get off the streets and go to “shelters” to practice an air-raid drill. Only handfuls had refused until May 3, 1960 when about two thousand people refused to “hide” and hundreds walked peacefully into awaiting police paddy wagons until they were filled.
This was the same week that the U-2 pilot Gary Powers was shot down over Russia, severely angering and embarrassing the Pentagon and the White House. He had not taken the poisoned pill that pilots were ordered to do “in such situations”. When captured, the US government denied any knowledge of him. But the Powers matter became an international issue, which forced the US to admit that it was spying illegally on Soviet territory. No one dared to ask what would happen if the Soviet Union, or any other nation, flew spy missions over US territory. SHOOT THEM DOWN IN THE NAME OF NATIONAL SECURITY. And so it remains today.
SANE played an unwitting role in sparking a radical outbreak from the conservative peace groups when it buckled under HUAC pressure and fired its staff member, Henry Abrams, for being “friendly with Communists”. Some small peace groups were repelled by SANE’s collaborationism with the censorious government, and some ceased denying membership in their groups simply because of one’s association with the “Old Left”—the dormant Communist Party and the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), then a youth affiliate of the very respectable, mainstream Social Democratic League for Industrial Democracy, and SNCC were two groups that lifted the ban. This decision would play a significant role in my life when I was with SNCC in Mississippi during the “long hot summer” of 1964.
The 1960s was the most radical and decisive of all decades in which I have lived. That is so not only because this was the decade of my 20s, but because millions of other youths in the USA and Europe and elsewhere rejected the 1950s stifling status quo. This was the decade of student rebellion against the authoritarian educational and governmental system. The most dramatic of these rebellions occurred in 1968 when students and many workers joined hands in Paris and nearly overthrew that authoritarian system. These same social sectors sought this objective in Prague that same year.
Earlier international events occurring when I started college helped shove me into accepting my share of co-responsibility. These included massive youth protests against the US-supported dictator of South Korea, Syngman Rhee. Demonstrations forced him to step down in April 1960. The following month, progressive African nationalist Patrice Lumumba won Congo’s elections for prime minister. For the first time, the Congo became independent of foreign powers. But it did not last long. The CIA plotted with the reactionary Moise Tshombe in the mineral-rich Katanga province and within a year Lumumba was captured and murdered. United Nations General Secretary Dag Hammarskjöld had been supportive of Lumumba’s liberation movement for sovereignty. He too met a violent death shortly after Lumumba. His plane crashed in Africa on September 18, 1961. People throughout the world believe the United States government was responsible. National security documents show that the CIA plotted to have Lumumba murdered and Dag Hammarskjöld’s positive diplomacy thwarted.
When I started college, however, there was no national student or peace movement and almost no one was even aware that the United States was engaged in a war way off in Vietnam.
With Meiklejohn tucked under my arm, I stroll five minutes from campus into Mrs. Tucker’s white stucco house. I’ve only been in L.A. a few weeks and things are looking up. I have new, exciting and knowledgeable friends, interesting classes, a job, and a swell room and board setup at Mrs. Tucker’s. She’s not nosy, always cheerful and down to earth. No bullshit with her. And she serves good meals. Even if I share a room with Tom, it’s quiet enough, and I can study at the library. It only costs $20 a week for room and board. I was lucky to find it and a job at the school placement center. Selling shoes at Kinney’s is a drag, though. Can’t image staying there long. I got to wear a suit and tie with white shirt. I don’t even have my own. Most of my clothes, along with my music and trophies, got lost, or were stolen, in the supposed shipping from the drive-away company I paid for. I have to borrow a suit from Tom, and have no change of clothing. I have to pay for the cleaning, and I only make $27 dollars a week after taxes. My father sends me $50 a month. I have little left over for clothes or beer, but I’m living and learning!
I splash water on my face and take stock in the mirror.
My crew cut contrasts sharply with my moustache and goatee. My angular, hollow-cheeked face is just large enough to support my small head. My wide eyes are capped by brown thick eyelashes, a long nose jutting over a full, smooth mouth and pointed chin. Tight Mediterranean-colored skin. Gaunt, wiry body. Fast long legs. Feet firm on the ground.
“OK boys, dinner’s ready. Ron, you’ve got a letter,” Mrs. Tucker called out. Her son, Tom, and I sat down before an abundant warm meal. The letter from my father contained a $50 check and sharply critical notations about my last correspondence, in which I explained my new thinking. Tom and I decided to celebrate over some beers at the end of my work shift. I got off at 10 p.m., after six hours of drudgery.
A fifteen minute walk and I was at Kinney’s shoe store. In the first two hours, I sold two pairs of shoes. Then, a flashy woman, with large breasts popping over her tight dress walked up to me.
“I want a dainty pair of red heels. Will you measure me?” she said with a bright smile on red lips.
As she sat on a stool, I nervously dropped the shoe gauge by her foot. I bent down to fetch it and my eyes fell under the woman’s parted dress. My heart throbbed as my eyes goggled at black fuzz hanging over pink soft flesh. My pants rose below the mid drift and my face reddened.
“Sorry, mam; bit clumsy of me,” I offered haltingly.
“Oh, that’s alright,” she said, grinning.
I shifted enough to place the woman’s extended foot on the gauge. My hands engulfed her foot, groping the curved instep. She moved her foot downward, lightly touching my protruding, trapped organ. I gulped. I glanced up at her sparking blue eyes. We lingered. On the verge of asking her to meet me after work, I was startled by a husky voice coming from behind.
“Darling, aren’t you about through. I’m waiting, you know.”
“Yes, Frank darling, I’ll be ready soon.”
It was a drag waiting for my shift to end. My organ ached. Finally, Tom drove up and we rode to a honky tonk bar. Tom liked country ‘n western and the juke box blared it out. We drank draft beer and Tom complained.
“I break my back all day for two lousy bucks an hour and what do I get?”
“You sound like an old man, already. You’re only 23. The world’s before you,” I tried to cheer him up.
“Yeah. But what world? I’m going to pot just like the world. All this revolution stuff in Africa and Latin America. All these gripping negroes. It’s all communism. Hajle Selassie, Lumumba, Nasser, Mao, Khrushev, Castro, Elijah Muhammad, Martin Luther King. They all stink and plot together. If we don’t watch out, they’ll destroy America. We are the only free loving land in the world,” Tom proclaimed to the accompaniment of the white man’s southern cawing emanating from the juke box.
Tom was grasping onto the fading status quo. I was headed toward the future.
My classes were going well, all except the journalism class. I had been assigned to write an article about the foreign exchange program at El Camino. There were 32 students from 16 countries attending classes. I concluded my story with a bit of generalized reality and a hope:
“The world is in a state of chaos today. A better understanding of all countries is much desired and is one of the best assets to peace.”
The journalism instructor cut the closing paragraph with the remark, “editorial comment.” I protested. He explained that the course was aimed at shaping skills and an understanding that would enable us to become employed in the real world. “The media does not take to editorializing reportage. You must learn what you can and can not write.”
I did not take kindly to his realism and quit the course. I would not be censored. Looking back on my teacher’s instructions, I know that I was impulsive and too stubborn. But, at the time, I was too headfast for mass stream journalism. Not even the fine letter I received from the public relations office stating that it was hoped that I would resume journalism because, I “displayed promise of becoming a valuable reporter”, persuaded me.
With only three courses, I had more time to read through the reading list Dr. Forrest gave me. I read social critics: Thorstein Veblen, Charles Beard, Aldous Huxley, Jean Jaques Rousseau, John Reed, Jean-Paul Sartre, Frank Donner, Eric Fromm, W.E.B. Du Bois, Eugene Debs, and Eugene Burdick, whose Ugly Americans shocked my assumptions of what America stood for.
Novels by critical and angry authors also woke me up to the real world—novels by: Jack London, Howard Fast, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, James Baldwin, André Malraux, Simone de Beauvoir. Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, bringing the horrors of war so deeply personal, appalled and sickened me.
One of my new student acquaintances, Bob Duggan, introduced me to the works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Dr. Forrest, whom I later learned was an adherent to Marxist analysis of man’s development, had not dared suggest reading these most anathematic critics to the capitalist system. Bob and I decided to form a two-person study group. We read different chapters and then discussed them together. We also read articles and books about the Cuban Revolution. C. Wright Mills´ Listen, Yankee, and speeches by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara raised my hopes for a people’s future and my anger against my own country. I saw in the young revolution the realization of what many said the American and French revolutions stood for: liberty, justice, equality. Cuba was abolishing racism and poverty, giving land to poor peasants and jobs to the unemployed and prostitutes, thus abolishing the degrading exchange of sex for money. They deported the US Mafia, which had financed, along with the US government and Pentagon, the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Though historians consider Batista to be Cuba’s most corrupt, repressive and terrorist state leader in its history, he was, just as Nicaragua’s counterpart dictator, Anastasio Debayle Somoza, “a son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch.” This was the 1930s-40s foreign policy dictum of the so-called reformist workingman’s president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The “our” meant that US capitalism owned or controlled most of Cuba’s productive land, sugar and cigar tobacco, minerals, especially the world’s largest nickel reserves, and telecommunications—IT&T, AT&T, United Fruit, the biggest mineral companies, and the biggest US bank owners—the Rockefellers, Morgans and Mellons—had their hands full in this tropical paradise, along with their underworld partners: the Mob and its financial “wizard”, Meyer Lansky. Now, after Batista’s flight, the Eisenhower-Nixon government was complaining about Cuba going “communist.” I did not see that communism was the real issue, but if it was then what was so bad about it?
Some young students saw the triumph of the Cuban revolution as I did. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara became instant heroes to many of us. These leaders were far more appealing than the grayed faces of Soviet and Chinese bureaucrats. This was a popular revolution, and its leaders epitomized economic and social justice with democratic support. It was Che who touched our souls. He was a true internationalist, and he touched us directly. I think it was in 1964 that he said: “I envy you. You North Americans are very lucky. You are fighting the most important fight of all—you live in the heart of the beast.”
Bob was tall, lanky and muscular. His Scandinavian-blond features appealed to women. But the handsome man was shy. He did not date, nor did he drink or smoke, not even marijuana. Bob lived rather reclusively with his mother in a rambling, run-down house in San Fernando Valley. He took studying seriously. We read and discussed at his home or on hiking trips in the surrounding mountains and desert.
Bob took me to Pershing square for further education. The square was in downtown Los Angeles. It had been named after a US general, for whom a ballistic missile also was named. The little park was then grassy and folksy. It attracted people who wished to discuss all sorts of topics, much like the famous discussions at London’s Hyde Park. The fact that people publicly discussed social issues so angered—and perhaps threatened—local politicians that they later cemented it over in such an unfriendly manner that it was no longer possible to conduct democracy there. And if anyone attempted to start political discussions there were always policemen to break them up.
George was on a soap-box blasting away at capitalism and communism.
“Man is born free. It is our nature to cooperate with one another. We have long done so, in order to survive. Otherwise we are subjected to wars and early death and crippling. It is AGAINST our nature to be coerced by anybody, including governments. All governments, by their very nature, are repressive. Greed is their creed. Violence is their weapon. And the communists are just as bad. They say, we are to share what we grow and make, but it is small cliques of cultists who steal our dignity, our right to decide for ourselves. Their governments are just as repressive as the capitalist ones. There is no significant difference between the United States and the Union of Soviet Republics. We must organize ourselves again in cooperatives, and do so voluntarily. That is our free will, and by so doing we obtain and maintain social and political liberty. That is how we lived for hundreds of thousands of years before we were subjected to the plow and the whip, before we were enslaved by ‘civilization’.”
A tiny man with gray hair, dressed in a pressed, blue suit with thin stripes, George-the-Anarchist was a fiery man.
Bob had found George some weeks before my introduction, and he relished in hearing his orations, and his dialogue with hecklers or serious opponents in the small crowds that always gathered around his soap-box. Bob sometimes threw him a curve.
“But your desire for cooperative organization is just that, a desire. It is not realistic. Individuals cannot combat the mighty power of corporations and their governments. They have all the money and the weaponry. If we can organize a revolution to overthrow them, we must have a central organ to protect our gains from capitalist states that will invade us. You know full well that when the Russian people made their revolution they were immediately set upon by a coalition of capitalist nations. If the Soviet worker groups, progressive peasants, and students had not formed a government and an army, then the revolution would have been crushed by the more powerful aggressors,” Bob asserted.
“You must read Bakunin and Proudhon and not only Lenin, lad. To fulfill Marx and Engels’ thesis that it is the producers who must take over the means of production, it is they themselves who must rule. And workers cannot rule when governments decide for them. That is the history of the Soviet Union and their allies. These governments, as all governments, always turn against workers who demand the right to strike, the right to speak their mind, to write from their hearts. It was Lenin who sent the troops against the very workers and seamen who made the revolution. There is no liberty in these nations. There can only be true liberty when there is no government. Marx, himself, made it quite clear that all governments are repressive by their very nature.”
Each word spewing from George’s tiny mouth impelled like a bullet.
“George, you are a dreamer. No strong nation is going to allow voluntary groups of people to take over the power and wealth that they have stolen from us. Why, look at what happened to the anarchists during the Spanish Civil War. While they were arguing amongst themselves, and urging people to voluntarily take up arms against the fascists, the fascists surrounded their meetings and slaughtered them. It was only the communist brigades that had the discipline to stand off the better armed and financed fascists. And it was Russia that gave aid to the Republican government and the volunteer brigades,” Bob retorted.
“Ah, how you distort history, my friend. First of all, Russia was OBLIGED to aid the Spanish people, and all people, who fought for liberty. That is the creed of solidarity, the one the Russian so-called revolutionaries themselves preach. And yet they sent crumbs, which they sold, at that. And they only sent what little arms and ammunition they did to their own communist groups. They denied any aid to the liberationists, to the anarchists, and they even killed many revolutionary anarchists.”
The discussion went on for a couple of hours. Others joined in, too. When the crowd thinned down to Bob and me, George stepped down from his preacher’s arena and we chatted a bit more personally, although George did not talk about himself without much encouragement and then only in short sentences. George was from Italy and had had to flee for his life. He had a small pension from somewhere and rented a tiny room in a slum quarter. He ate very little and spent most of his time reading history and politics, and speaking at Pershing Square. Bob and I came to hear him periodically for many months thereafter, as we continued our studies in left-wing politics.
Most leftists assert that the State came to be when small communities began to produce surpluses—no more than 8-10,000 years ago. Historians and anthropologists don’t really know why, but these surpluses became controlled by elites who emerged once surpluses could be produced by better technology. These elites later found it useful to create coercive province-wide and then state-wide apparatuses to protect their privileges by paying police-soldier groups. Taxes were first imposed, in fact, so that the rich could pay for “police protection”.
What has harassed opponents to these elites for the last two to three hundred years is how to overthrow these elites and their very system of private property. While Friedrich Engels predicted that the State could “wither away” once revolutionary movements had succeeded in eliminating capitalism and had had time to sew deep collectivist social and mental seeds throughout the population, anarchists dared to deny the revolution even the use of a State to protect and consolidate its initial victory over capitalism. Anarchist theoreticians believe that once the capitalist state is smashed no new state shall be created. One of the first anarchist theoreticians, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, maintained that local and regional confederations of voluntary associations would be an alternative to the centralized state. The Frenchman shunned “the socialism of the barracks.”
For most anarchists, a future society based upon communes would be reached only by violent struggles against capitalism, including “propaganda of the deed” or “direct action” sabotage and assassinations. Mikhail Bakunin was one of their leading spokesmen. A Russian scientist and prince, Peter Kropotkin, wrote influential books and tracts promoting anarchist ways. He challenged Darwinian thought with a historical analysis of communal living in Mutual Aid, a book that gave strength to my innate romanticism.
Proudhon and the Russian Bakunin had followers in the United States. Anarchist refugees from the 1871 Paris Commune movement immigrated to the US. In a Pittsburgh convention, in 1883, some attempted to create a confederation of anarchists but it failed to win over the fierce individualism of many other anarchists. Anarchists were, however, the first leftists in the US to advance a manifesto of equal rights for all without distinction of race or sex. Anarchism, in fact, attracted many workers, and in Chicago these “social revolutionaries” were quite active and militant. They were the principle element in the fight for the eight-hour work day, and it was mainly anarchists whom the police were after. When the police raided a workers rally at Chicago’s Haymarket Square, on May 1, 1886, many police and workers were killed. Several anarchists were hung and the subsequent repression reduced the affect of anarchism on the workers movement. Nevertheless, May First became workers day world-wide as the fight for the eight-hour day continued. Anarchism met a crushing blow with the 1927 executions of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Anarchism was still popular in Italy and Spain, but with the brutality of fascism in Italy, in the 1930s, and the 1939 defeat of the progressive government in Spain, anarchism failed to attract all but a tiny few.
Pacifica Radio wqas one of the sources of my new education. It had been inspired by anarcho-pacifists in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of its initiators, such as Lewis Hill, were conscientious objectors. The first alternative, non-commercial radio station, KPFA, started up in the Bay Area, in 1949. It was followed by KPFK, in Los Angeles, in 1959. Programming was open for new ideas, a form of media direct democracy. Since there was no advertisement, listeners were encouraged to subscribe and enough did so, in order to sustain these stations over the succeeding decades, a true indication of a change in the political climate, especially on the campuses.
Another source of my education about the actual world was
the only national alternative newsweekly, the “National Guardian”.
(It later dropped the “national” part of its name.) Since
Pacifica Radio and the “Guardian” were supported only by their
listeners and readers, they broadcast and wrote more truthfully than the
commercial media, encumbered by the financial interests of advertizers
It was in the “Guardian” that I obtained much of my knowledge about developments in Cuba, especially from Lionel Martin, an ex-patriot from the United States. And in the beginning of the revolution, the “New York Times” was often a reliable source, especially the first-hand reporting by Herbert Mathews. From Wilfred Burchett, an Australian ex-patriot writing in the “Guardian”, I learned about what China was doing in its revolution. Burchett was also my first source about South and North Vietnam where Ho Chi Minh was the beloved leader.
During the Christmas break, Ralph suggested a change of pace from all our studying and political discussions.
“Say, what about coming with me and Lois to the Ash Grove this Saturday? There will be groovey folk music. Bring along a date,” said Ralph, invitingly. Lois was from an Italian background and loved music and dancing. They were lovers and would eventually marry.
The Ash Grove would be my first folk concert, and I looked forward to it. It was owned by Ed Pearl, a white leftist activist. He booked folk, blues and jazz musicians. Many of the musicians were already well known; some were beginners who would become nationally acclaimed. I had just heard my first provocative protest song. Tom Lehrer had composed “Who’s Next”, which was popular among ban-the-bomb protestors.
“First we got the bomb and that was good,
`cause we love peace and mother hood.
Then Russia got the bomb, but that’s okay.
`cause the balance of power’s maintained that way.
Then France got the bomb but don’t you grieve,
`cause they’re on our side (I believe).
China got the bomb but have no fears,
`cause they can’t wipe us out for at least five years.
Who’s Next? ....
South Africa wants two, that’s right:
One for the black and one for the white
Who’s Next? ....
We’ll try to stay severe and calm,
When Alabama gets the bomb
I took Marilyn Blue to the Ash Grove with my friends. Marilyn
was a fellow student of Forrest’s. Her family knew the philosopher
well enough to call him Jack. Marilyn was nurtured on folk music. Lightnin’
Hopkins and Rambling Jack Elliot were playing. Hopkins, a blues guitarist,
played Dixie and jazz so movingly that it seared into my heart and soul.
Rambling Jack Elliot was playing songs of the road, white working class
talkin’ blues. He was pals with Woody Guthrie, who had been traveling
and playing since the 1930s. Guthrie was fabulous. Elliot had often played
with the Weavers, which Pete Seeger had started in 1948 along with Ronnie
Gilbert, Lee Hays and Frank Hellerman. These musicians sang of workers
in pain and struggling for a better life. They sang songs of Joe Hill,
the revolutionary Wobbly, the nickname for members of the Industrial Workers
of the World (IWW). These were our best white roots, and they connected
with the black slave culture, which Leadbelly had introduced to the nation
in the 1930s.
Rambling Jack played Guthrie’s common man’s hymn, “This Land is Your Land”:
“This land is my land from California to the New York island
from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters;
This land was made for you and me.
As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me.
I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
to the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
and all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me.
When the sun comes shining and I was strolling
and the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting
This land was made for you and me.”
This song, and the entire concert, expressed a yearning
for justice and equality, a search for truthfulness. This flowed into
me with such tragedy, joy and warmth, that tears flowed. For the first
time, I experienced a spiritual sense of comradeship with people who sought
a better world for all.
Establishment America is always talking about the great American land of opportunity, the “melting pot of the world”. But the Establishment always acts contrarily. It has divided us, in order to conquer all. The Establishment is established for the selfish sake of greed, and its music expresses its design for a world divided between the haves and have nots. The new music I was learning about provided an authentic melting pot model, one where we share what there is—“God given”—and what we build together. Listen to the distinction between “This land is your land” and the Establishment’s music of Puritan and Calvanist roots I heard as a child.
“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master,
leads against the foe;
forward into battle, see His banners go.
“Like a mighty army moves the Church of God.
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod;
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.”
This so-called Christian music has a brutal and fundamentalist message, such as “America the Beautiful”, a tribute to genocide disguised in “brotherhood”:
“Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain.
For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.
America, America, God shed his grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.
Oh beautiful for pilgrim feet
whose stern impassioned stress
a thoroughfare for freedom beat
across the wilderness.”
Pilgrims from England, “stern” in their “freedom”
to commit genocide against the natives who nurtured these lands for many
thousands of years; “impassioned” in their “stress”
to gouge private profit out of people torn from their African soils and
forced into hard-working slavery.
Listen to the opposite message in our “gospel”: “If I Had a Hammer”, composed by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays:
“If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning,
I’d hammer in the evening,
all over this land;
I’d hammer out danger,
I’d hammer out a warning,
I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land.”
The Establishment culture also preached the “folklore of sin,” the damnation of sex. It was part of the culture from their pioneer days in which the white aggressors from Europe were indoctrinated to contain their natural sexual needs and desires, to put iron in their backbone and iron buckshot into America’s native peoples and African blacks.
In the coming months and years, I heard music expressing our more curious and positive nature, recognizing the joys of liberation in all senses, sexual as well as economic, social and political. I heard the spiritual and gospel music of black slaves—the hidden messages of efforts to escape from these horrific conditions to relative freedom in the north—and the super-exploitation of “freed” black plantation workers, who so often landed in prison and sang their songs of sorrow. This musical reality laid roots for blues and jazz. These genres enhanced my consciousness of the pains and injustice of racism and apartheid. It was a harmonious step for me into the early labor movement, the underpaid hard laborers and the IWW fight songs. The progressive music and politics against racism and the war in Southeast Asia comes from these roots, and also grew from the McCarthy era.
There was also a vast difference in style. The white man’s Establishment music is usually sung solo, and is often not harmonious, whereas our music is frequently sung collectively, sung together in cotton fields, on chain-gangs, amongst vagabonds in railway cars, and in demonstrations before Establishment edifices, housing the masters of genocide and slavery, the masters of labor exploitation, masters of war.
Our music reflects the ethics of justice and brotherhood of all races and colors, and offers hope that together we can build a peaceful, sharing world on earth, and not pine away for “pie in the sky”.
Our guitar kills fascism, as Woody painted on his guitar—meaning that we hope and struggle for a world in which fascism is not thinkable or, at least, not realizable, because so few would want such a brutal, degrading society.
I am not a musical person, in the sense that I can’t carry a tune, play an instrument or remember lyrics. But music does touch me, as it must everyone. It helps me understand who I am, in the context of the times and place I live in. Music played a vividly impressionistic role in teaching me my positive roots, which the dominant society, including my parents and the military, had kept from me. A new identity was forming. I felt connected to a community of man. The folk music of many ethic groups and nations intertwined with the new youth counter-culture and folk protest music, which gave me courage to struggle, just as it did so many young people. Once I was cognizant of the depth and breadth of the misery inflicted upon the vast majority of human kind, I was forced to ask WHY, and then HOW, could our world be just.
Marilyn was enthusiastic about the concert, too. She was also interested in guiding me into this new world, and she ached, as did I, to consummate our spiritual unity in the carnal. But she was afraid of losing her virginity, afraid of becoming pregnant. So we humped on her sofa with our clothes on. I walked from her house to my home in sticky underpants.
I couldn’t keep up the part-time job at Kinney’s
Shoes. Selling made me sick, as did wearing a suit. Tom offered me temporary
work with him and his uncle selling helium-filled balloons at amusement
parks and fairs during the Christmas-New Years holidays. While I didn’t
care for the selling part, it was simpler than shoes. I just had to stand
by the tall gas bottle and fill up the balloons. Customers gladly came
up to us, sticking coins in our hands for the colorful, flying objects.
I sometimes gave away a balloon to kids once they quickly lost theirs.
This was not taken well by Tom’s uncle, but I stuck out the short-term
gig and earned a bundle. This carried me over until I got another part-time
job, this time at a furniture store. I had a driver’s license and
drove furniture in a small truck to the customers´ houses. It paid
the minimum wage, and I sometimes made a tip or two. It was heavy work,
but more honest than selling.
Tom and I drifted apart rapidly now. He was angry with the new wind and I was drawn into it like a magnet. So we split up. I moved into another room near school, rented by an older woman who took care of her grandson. Our relationship became strained when she appealed to me to be a surrogate father for her young grandson, and when she started coming on to me sexually. I was repelled by her physically and by her age. I had to move again, this time in the dark of night. But there were an abundance of small apartments and rooms-to-rent around El Camino. I think I lived in five or six places during my two years there.
Corresponding with my father became another strain. He couldn’t accept the direction I was going in and did not really listen to my arguments. As my letters grew more militant and provocative for him, he switched from paternalism to sarcasm, then anger, and, finally, silence.
I had completed the first semester. I received good grades in political science and ethics. I was honored to have Dr. Forrest tell me that my paper on HUAC was top-notch, and that he saw me taking great steps in a humanist direction. He even told me that he hoped that I might be one of two persons, whom he would have influenced to become fighters for a just world. I was proud of this declaration of faith, yet Forrest’s hope didn’t seem ambitious enough. If he moved only two persons in so many years of teaching, how long would it take us to accomplish the dream? But my world was whirling fast, as it was for so many other youths who were shaping the New Left—most of us unaware that we were doing so.
For the second semester, I took contemporary art, political science, physical science, Spanish, and joined the tennis team. I had a full black beard now. The instructor didn’t take kindly to that, but I refused to cut it off. I was good enough in singles and doubles that he didn’t bench me.
Bob and I continued to study Marxist writings and a few others joined our study group. But they were more interested in contemporary issues: racism and fighting against segregation, the aggression against Vietnam, and saber rattling against Cuba. So, all five or six of us read about these current affairs and planned to act.
One of the first things I did in opposing my government—which then I considered it still to be—was participating in writing, mimeographing and distributing leaflets about the right of the Vietnamese people to determine their own destiny, without the US sending in military “advisors” to stop their efforts to liberate themselves from a dictatorship following in the footsteps of the previous colonializer, the French empire. They were educational leaflets with a message that we all must act against this war climate. Individually or in pairs, we went door-to-door in our neighborhoods with our leaflets. Sometimes we knocked on the doors and tried to talk to people. Sometimes they slammed the door, sometimes they just took the leaflet, and sometimes we could engage someone in a dialogue about the growing war signs.
I also joined groups with a platform advocating integration of all races and peace in our time. Marilyn brought me to my first church meeting since I was a young teenager. But the First Unitarian Church, near downtown Los Angeles, was quite different than the Protestant churches, which my relatives attended. Unitarians do not believe in the Trinity, and practice freedom in religious belief and reason of thought. Each congregation has control over its affairs.
The Los Angeles church had a remarkable pastor, the Reverend Steve Fritchman. He not only held fantastic oratory sermons, he acted against McCarthyism, standing firm for civil liberties for all, including communists and anarchists, some of whom even attended the church despite their atheism. Church facilities were open for many issues, including leftists hauled before various governmental thought control committees and agencies. When Communists or anarchists were sent to jail for their beliefs, Rev. Fritchman took up their cause as his own, because he understood what the Socialist rebel, Eugene V. Debs, meant when he said, “As long as there is one man in prison, I am a prisoner.”
Fritchman led the fight against state legislation that would have compelled churches to sign loyalty oaths if they were to preserve tax exemptions. He was a true descendant of the abolitionists. Because he was a true democrat, HUAC brought him before their inquisition.
At Fritchman’s church, I met people who put their bodies on the line for democracy, against racism and war for profit. In addition to radical and revolutionary thinkers, there were some left-leaning democrats who talked sense about issues, too. So, I joined the church’s philosophy group, the Channing Club, and the California Federation of Young Democrats.
It seemed like a long time since I had selected Nixon over
Kennedy. By now, I saw that both men were merely civil servant politicians
for a repressive and exploitative economic-political structure, “The
American Way of Life”, which I had come to realize was simply capitalism:
“an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the
means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and
maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted
to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth”—defines the
English Random House Dictionary. To make the wealth and maintain it, capitalists
must have big guns. This is so, because exploited workers, and enslaved
and colonialized peoples will not voluntarily turn over the results of
their labor, and nature’s resources to non-producers. Guns in the
hands of government police and soldiers is the hard way to control people.
Softer ways are also used: restrictive law-making that reduces individual
and collective rights to the collective wealth, determining how the schools
should be run and with what content, fashioning policies and preparations
for war instead of peace. The list of laws made for the interests of wealth
grows into many thousands of pages.
My first demonstrative action against this unfair system was a picket line, which four of us organized against an anti-social commentator, George Todd. He preached hate: hate of blacks, of foreigners, and “peaceniks”. He was against anything that was good for the collective of humanity. He was popular in right-wing circles and in some religious quarters. We saw an announcement that he was to speak at a neighborhood hall, so we painted a couple of placards. My sign read: “Philosophy of Hate,” referring to Todd’s message. But a local newspaper took my picture with the picket sign and wrote a caption intending to associate me with such a philosophy.
I don’t know if I was more embarrassed or proud of my action. The response, not only in the newspaper but by Todd and some of his public, was not encouraging. When Todd emerged from the auditorium, he laughed in my face. He wouldn’t answer my angry questions, which quickly turned into chants. He merely pointed to the sign, as if it said it all. Anyway, I got my feet wet in action, a rehearsal for the “real thing” when Cuba was attacked.
In the mid-1950s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti had opened the City Lights bookstore and started an alternative book publishing company. Most of the better known Beats (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Michael McClure, Robert Duncan...) got their works published there, or by other alternative small presses that followed. The more politically sophisticated Kenneth Rexroth and even Henry Miller were often associated with the Beat Generation.
The beats´ heyday was already dying out by the beginning
of the 1960s. It was never large in numbers but it created a strong cultural
impact, which influenced the oncoming hippy-flower children counter-culture
movement. The beats reflected political and social disillusionment with
the Cold War climate manufactured in Washington after the end of World
War Two. Beatniks, however, were not militant or leftist activists. They
sought rather to “drop out” of the gray society, turning their
back on the life so poignantly portrayed by Arthur Miller in Death of
a Salesman. Some identified with nihilism, although they rejected violent
revolution; others explored existentialism. They espoused mystical detachment
and “free” sex, promoted by the writings of Anais Nin, Henry
Miller, Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. The normal repressive nature
of government helped the Beats promote their lifestyle when police charged
Ginsberg with obscenity for reading his poem, “Howl”, in a
San Francisco café. But Ginsberg’s mysticism and individualism,
so typical of the Beat Generation, turned me off. Later in the 1960s,
Ginsberg led a group before the Pentagon hoping to “levitate”
it by humming OM..
Beatniks frequented small, cozy cafés where they drank coffee, played chess and read poetry. Their hangouts were the same areas that tolerated other non-conventional trends in New York’s Greenwich Village, San Francisco’s North Beach, and Los Angeles´ Venice beach. Jack Kerouac popularized their existence with his travels penned in, "On the Road".
At the Venice West Café, I heard a poem about Cuba by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, which he had just written in January 1961. It made my blood boil and prepared me somewhat for what happened to Cuba three months later at the Bay of Pigs.
One Thousand Fearful Words for Fidel Castro
I am sitting in Mike’s Place trying to figure out
What’s going to happen
without Fidel Castro
Among the salami sandwiches and spittoons
I see no solution
It’s going to be a tragedy
I see no way out
among the admen and slumming models
and the brilliant snooping columnists
who are qualified to call Castro psychotic
because they no doubt are doctors
and have examined him personally
and know a paranoid hysterical tyrant when they see one
because they have it on first hand
from personal observation by the CIA
and the great disinterested news services…
I see no answer
I see no way out
among the paisanos playing pool
it looks like Curtains for Fidel
They’re going to fix his wagon
in the course of human events...
The radio squawks
some kind of memorial program:
“When in the course of human events
it becomes necessary for one people
to dissolve the political bonds
which have connected them with another—“
I see no way out
He’s tuned in on your frequency, Fidel…
History may absolve you, Fidel
but we’ll dissolve you first, Fidel
You’ll be dissolved in history
We’ve got the solvent
We’ve got the chaser
and we’ll have a little party
somewhere down your way, Fidel
It’s going to be a Gas
As they say in Guatemala…
Here’s your little tragedy, Fidel
They’re coming to pick you up
and stretch you on their Stretcher
That’s what happens, Fidel
when in the course of human events
it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve
the bonds of International Tel & Tel
and United Fruit
How come you don’t answer anymore
Did they cut you off our frequency
We’ve closed down our station anyway
We’ve turned you off, Fidel
I was sitting in Mike’s Place, Fidel
waiting for someone else to act
like a good Liberal
I hadn’t quite finished Camus´ Rebel
so I couldn’t quite recognize you, Fidel
walking up and down your island
when they came for you, Fidel
“My Country or Death” you told them
Well you’ve got your little death, Fidel
like old Honest Abe
one of your boyhood heroes
who also had his little Civil War
and was a different kind of Liberator
(since no one was shot in his war)
and also was murdered
in the course of human events
your coffin passes by
thru lanes and streets you never knew
thru day and night, Fidel
While lilacs last in the dooryard bloom, Fidel
your futile trip is done
yet is not done
and is not futile
I give you my sprig of laurel."
I held tightly onto a picket sign: “US OUT of CUBA”, and marched with a couple hundred others up and down the sidewalk in front of the United States Federal Building, in downtown Los Angeles. It was April 19, 1961, and the US was getting its ass kicked in Cuba.
Two days before, US naval ships landed 1500 exile Cubans on a little beach, Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs), in southwest Cuba. The CIA plan was to seize the beachhead and hold it long enough to fly in a provisional government of rich exiled leaders. They were being sequestered against their will at a military base in Opa Locka, Florida. Once seizing a piece of Cuban territory, the US government planned to diplomatically recognize the new “democratic” government of Cuba and send in military support. Unlike the American public, the Cuban government knew such a plan was underway, having carefully watched the invasion buildup over the past two years. Every Cuban family had received pamphlets explaining how to defend themselves. Thousands of local committees of defense (CDRs) had been organized. Half the nation was armed. The population in the invasion area was completely behind the revolution, which had benefited them in many ways. The CIA had miscalculated the strength of support. It had told the mercenary invaders that they would be welcomed as liberators. Instead they met fierce resistance from the local civilians, even before Cuban soldiers arrived at the scene of invasion. By the time indignant Americans could organize actions against the US-led invasion, it was being defeated.
I heard about the invasion over KPFK radio, and read the US untruthful version repeated in the newspapers. KPFK reported that anti-war protests in several cities were organized by The Fair Play for Cuba Committee. I didn’t know who they were but I came to my first anti-war action. I walked almost austerely back and forth before the building that represented the United States government, no longer “my” government. I took the FPCC literature. I learned that I was in both good company and dangerous company. C. Wright Mills and Allen Ginsberg were among the supporting intellectuals. The next day, I learned from the William Randolf Hearst-owned “Herald Examiner” that the FPCC organizers were the Communist party (CP) and the Trotskyist Socialist Workers party (SWP). This was an unusual alliance as they were usually enemies and not on speaking terms. And there, on the front page, was a photograph of my picket sign. I was walking in front of the CP’s southern California chairwoman, Dorothy Healey. Hearst’s newspaper used her photo to claim that all the demonstrators were communists.
I was mad. I had to do more than demonstrate. I sent a membership application to FPCC’s New York head office. Then I found out where the CP could be reached in Los Angeles. If I was to be accused of being a Communist for defending the right to simply live, then I was going to find out what Communists were all about.
Dorothy’s house was in a black working class area of south central Los Angeles. Over the telephone, she had suggested that it was safer for me to meet her here than at “party headquarters”. I got off the bus and walked past tidy houses with a nervous sensation in my stomach. Was I ready to meet a real live Communist: my father’s enemy and that of the entire fatherland?
I was surprised to be greeted by a tiny woman, who bore a remarkably friendly smile. She had a bushy head of hair and wore a flower-patterned dress. Her living room resembled a library. In the long interchange that unfolded, I became relaxed and enthralled with this engaging person, full of energy, charisma and smarts. Though she dropped out of school at 14 to become a full-time agitating revolutionary, she knew a great deal about culture and philosophy, politics and history. I learned a great deal more about what the US had been doing against Cubans and their government from her personally and later through her radio program at KPFK. Besides these sources, I refer here to later released government documents, and the Senate Intelligence Committee 1975 report of its investigation into assassination plots by the US government:
--January 1, 1959: Dictator Fulgencio Batista and Mafia leader Meyer Lansky escape from Cuba as guerrillas enter the capital city. A revolutionary government is declared representing various sectors.
--March 10: US National Security Council signed a directive, just 70 days after the revolutionary victory, designed to bring about “another government to power in Cuba.”
---April 15: Guerrilla leader Fidel Castro meets Vice-President Richard Nixon in Washington. Afterwards, Nixon wrote: “I was convinced Castro was either incredibly naive about Communism or under Communist discipline and that we would have to treat him and deal with him accordingly.” Nixon immediately pressed President Eisenhower to arm Cuban exiles in order to overthrow Castro.
--October: CIA and Air Force Col. L. Fletcher Prouty operatives’ attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro with a “high-powered rifle and telescopic sights” was the first of hundreds of such plots.
---March 4, 1960: Two tremendous explosions in Havana harbor destroyed the French-Belgium ship “La Coubre”, killing 75 and wounding 300 people. It blew up when munitions it was carrying were being unloaded. The cause of the explosion was never completely determined, but Fidel blamed the US for sabotage.
--March 17: President Eisenhower ordered an invasion of
Cuba. He later wrote the following: “Within a matter of weeks after
Castro entered Havana, we in the administration informally began to examine
measures that might be effective in restraining Castro if he should develop
into a menace...One suggestion was that we begin to build up an anti-Castro
force within Cuba itself...I ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to
being to organize the training of Cuban exiles, mainly in Guatemala...”
(There was no pretense that Cuba had acted against US interests. No US-owned
properties had been nationalized by then.) CIA Director Allen Dulles immediately
started plans modeled after Operation Success, which, in 1954, had overthrown
the democratically elected reform government of Jacobo Arbenz, in Guatemala.
--Spring: CIA stepped up “covert operations” to assassinate Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and Che Guevara. One plan was to poison Fidel’s cigars. Code names for their “targets” were: “AMTHUG” for Fidel, and “AMQUACK” for Dr. Ernesto “Che” Guevara. (In1996, the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, responsible for national security, revealed over 600 plots to assassinate Fidel, far more than against any other person in history. A decade later, the number of plots rose to over 700.)
---May 8: Diplomatic relations between Cuba and the USSR are resumed. Oil for sugar trade enacted, after US cut back on Cuba’s sugar imports.
--June 29: Texaco refinery is intervened by Cuba after plant officials refused to refine Soviet oil.
--July 5: President Eisenhower stopped all sugar imports.
--July 6: Cuba makes first law of nationalization (law no.851) to specifically expropriate 26 US-owned firms, including oil companies, utilities, and several sugar firms and plantations. Based on article 24 of the 1940 constitution, the nation has the right to eminent domain to protect it from “constant aggression”. Cuba offered US companies’ financial indemnification, which it did to all other nation’s companies whose businesses or lands were confiscated. Cuba did pay compensation to private and government owners from Great Britain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Canada and Mexico. The US declined indemnification. The right to expropriation is granted by international and US laws. US courts later acknowledged Cuba’s right of expropriation with the offer of indemnification.
--Sept. 17: Speech by Che Guevara: “The more that the imperialist forces (which act from without) and the reactionary forces (who are their natural allies from within) increase their pressure against the Cuban Revolution, the more profound will it become, responding to the voice of the people and adopting measures each time more drastic...”
--Oct. 24: Cuba nationalizes 166 US businesses, a veritable list of who’s who: Coca-Cola, Remington Rand, First National Bank of NY and Boston, Chase Manhattan...
--November: Six hundred Cuban exile mercenaries—Brigade 2506—are paid for and trained by the CIA in Guatemala. Others were trained on US southern soil. They are part of the “Democratic Revolutionary Front”, which launches terrorist attacks inside Cuba, including destroying schools, supermarkets and theaters.
--January 3, 1961: One of President Eisenhower’s parting actions was to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba.
--January 20: The new president, JFK, ordered the last US diplomats vacated from their Havana embassy, a few days after all American citizens had been prohibited from visiting Cuba.
--Feb. 24: Che drove to the Ministry of Industries on his first day as its minister. Moments after departing his home, a group of armed men opened fire just outside his house. Che’s bodyguards fired upon them, fatally wounding one. Undaunted, Che extended his quest to create “a new socialist man”. He, and his colleagues at the ministry, began a campaign of conducting volunteer labor on behalf of the entire society. Che hoped to set examples for all people with this “Communist Emulation” ideal. No leader was to be privileged, and they were to perform extra work, such as cutting sugar cane. Personal austerity was his creed. (One of many examples is reported by the American author, Jon Lee Anderson, in his 1997-published biography “Che”. Che’s wife, Aleida, called him at his office after the Bay of Pigs invasion to ask him to send a government car to take one of their children, who was sick, to the hospital. He adamantly refused, “telling her to `take the bus´, like everybody else; the petrol she would use was `the people’s´, intended for use in his public duties, not for `personal´ reasons.”)
--March 28: Che speaks to sugar workers: “We have to remind ourselves of this at every moment: that we are at war...The victory of the Cuban Revolution will be a tangible demonstration before all the Americas that peoples are capable of rising up, that they can rise up by themselves right under the very fangs of the monster. It will mean the beginning of the end of colonial domination in America, that is, the definitive beginning of the end for North American imperialism...That is why the imperialists do not resign themselves, because this is a struggle to the death...That is what we must be well aware of, that Cuba’s victory lies not in Soviet rockets, nor in the solidarity of the socialist world. Cuba’s victory lies in the unity, the labor, and the spirit of sacrifice of its people.”
--April 14: Havana’s largest department store, El Encanto, was burned to the ground by a CIA-backed underground band.
--April 15, 6a.m.: Eight CIA B-26 aircraft with false markings attacked four Cuban bases. The next day, the pilots claimed that they had knocked out 26 of Cuba’s 29 combat planes. Only two were actually lost. Cuba had hidden 15 B-26s, 3 T-33s and 6 Sea Furies, which remained unscathed. But seven Cubans died in the bombings and 44 were wounded. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, claimed the US “has committed no aggression against Cuba.”
--April 16: Ten thousand people massed at a cemetery to bury the bodies of Cubans slain the day before. Fidel spoke to the crowd, taking the revolution a leap forward. “Comrades, workers and peasants, this is a socialist and democratic revolution of the poor and destitute. And for this Revolution of the poor, by the poor and for the poor, we are ready to give our lives.” This was the first announcement that the revolution was socialist. The announcement was met with enthusiasm by the vast majority of Cubans, even though they had not been consulted.
--April 17: Just after midnight, 1500 Cuban exile mercenaries and a handful of US pilots, frogmen and “advisors” landed ashore at Playa Girón. They had sailed from Nicaragua on ships owned by the United Fruit Company with four U.S. naval destroyers as escorts. One of those destroyers, the “Houston”, was sunk by a Cuban T-33, which had supposedly been destroyed two days before. Fidel directed the battle and personally fired tank cannon balls at the “Houston”. His men said that Fidel had scored a direct hit. Another US ship was sunk by aircraft fire and the others sped away.
--April 19: Within three days from the start of the invasion, the survivors surrendered. About 200 mercenaries had been killed by 1.500 Cuban militia and 300 soldiers. Cuba lost an equal number. Most of the 1,197 captured mercenaries had been wealthy in Cuba: 37 industrial magnates, 112 big businessmen, 100 plantation owners, 24 large property owners, 67 apartment house landlords, 179 “idle rich”; and 194 Batista soldiers—14 were wanted for murder and torture. In all, the mercenaries had owned nearly one million acres of land, 70 factories, 10 sugar mills, three banks, five mines, 12 nightclubs and bars, and nearly 10,000 apartment buildings.
The Cubans called their victory, “The first defeat of U.S. imperialism in the Americas.”
In poll after poll, conducted by US Establishment concerns, researchers concluded that between 80 and 86% of the Cuban population supported Fidel and did so even after he declared himself a Marxist-Leninist and began leading Cuba in a socialist direction. Even the conservative Establishment-oriented historian Hugh Thomas noted, “Few (Cuban) people apparently longed for a democratic government, measured by electoral processes.” (The Cuban Revolution).
I didn’t see Dorothy again until after she returned from a two-month long tour of the Soviet Union she took shortly after our talk. Afterwards we visited often, discussing what bothered me—mostly about what Marxism was all about, and what I, and others, could do to stop or curtail US aggression against other lands, how we could end racist segregation, how to gain better working conditions, to win just rights for all men and women. She was genuinely interested in me as a person—generally so with nearly everyone. She never once pressured me to join her organization.
In 1961, my instincts were more anarchistic than communistic. George appealed to my “free will” more than Khrushchev or Mao. Che Guevara had a bit of George in him, but he was also in favor of a central government, an organized society with a revolutionary party to guide people. It seemed more rational to me to support organized government than to dream about an unforeseeable future when we might be able to live without government. Besides, that is what Karl Marx—the father of communism—ultimately wanted, a society without government. Unlike anarchists, however, Marxists meant that a government-less society could not occur without a “process” or, as some said, going through “stages”, which included a socialist government centrally running the economy for all workers´ equal benefit. Communism’s goal is to create a society fulfilling the principle: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Until then, socialist society must reward one’s work efforts. It all could take a long time!
In the “Communist Manifesto”, written by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, they maintained that the only way to abolish capitalism is through class war: “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” “Working men of all countries unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.” Even when the proletariat is conscious and strong enough to make the revolution, it can not just take over the existing bourgeois state, in order to create socialism. The working class, in charge of their government, must destroy the bourgeois state apparatus, and start afresh with a democratic state apparatus, which springs from people’s democratically-determined institutions. Abolition of private property is the first necessity. This can only be accomplished by forming new governmental institutions aimed at consolidating and protecting the collectively-held property. This seemed to be what Che and, perhaps, Fidel were trying to do, especially after the Bay of Pigs invasion.
The Fair Play for Cuba Committee sent me a membership card, signed by the executive secretary, Richard Gibson, who was also a leader of the SWP. I was now associated with the most hated subversives. I also joined the American Humanist Society, perhaps as a rational check to my rash side. Right after the Bay of Pigs, and once learning what “my” government had been doing against Cubans all along, as well as against the Vietnamese and so many other peoples seeking their own ways, I decide to stop honoring the American flag. I kept a note I wrote at the time. It reads:
“I refuse to honor any symbol of blind nationalism and patriotism when the institution recognizes itself as a separate entity, restricting and controlling the expressions and actions of any and all persons; which exploits the toils of its subjects; which assumes the power to engage in war; and which does not try to correct the ills of humanity. Since the flag is an implement of the preceding charges I, therefore, refuse to show any respect to the said object.”
This was an enormous step for me, one that would have severe consequences with my family, especially my father. It was ironic that at this time I encountered the music of Phil Ochs. Ironic, because he attended the same college—Ohio State University—that my father had for a year before dropping out to marry and then begin a military career. Ochs was my age and he, too, studied journalism and politics. He and Jim Glover sang duo in 1960. They called themselves the Singing Socialists. They later changed their name to The Sundowners. Just after the Bay of Pigs, Ochs wrote his first popular solo song, “The Ballad of the Cuban Invasion”:
“A thousand went to take the island
Changes strong as broken twigs
And a thousand stayed there at the island
Met their fate at the Bay of Pigs
They were told when they arrived they’d be helped by Castro’s men
But they found out, those who survived, that the CIA was wrong again
Why were they wearing my country’s clothes?
Why were they spending my country’s gold?
Who were the friends and who were the foes?
The headlines were lying, why wasn’t I told?”
Kennedy was furious with the misleading information and
misguided strategy he was dealt by the CIA and the preceding administration.
Kennedy was pressured from all sides by this fiasco in Cuba, and he was
thwarted by what Che had predicted: The failed invasion only strengthened
Cubans in the socialization of society and the nationalization of large
US and national capitalist properties. A frustrated Kennedy fired several
leading and operative CIA officers. Another embarrassment for Kennedy
was that the US government was forced to pay for the release of their
mercenaries. The price demanded by the cantankerous Cubans was 500 bulldozers.
The crazy commies wanted tools in barter for invaders! They didn’t
demand dollar ransom like decent crooks. Fidel and Kennedy haggled for
months. The prisoners were finally released, in December 1962, in exchange
for $62 million worth of medical supplies.
Kennedy was caught between two hard choices. First, there were those American capitalists—with the CIA, Mafia, and Cuban exiles on their side—who lost investments in Cuba. The Cuban government offered to pay for appropriations. But the US refused to even consider the notion, one beneath the dignity of an empire. Think, if one country managed to take back US “private property”, regardless of how much they might pay for it, it would set “a bad example of the good example”. That is, if the good guys—Cuban revolutionaries actually endeavoring to end hunger and poverty—were successful, it would inspire other countries to take this path. So, the “bad example of the good example” had to be stopped short. This had long been US policy, and one that was later clearly formulated by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. He called it the “domino theory.” If one state goes “communist” and is “let to get away with it, then other nations will follow.”
(Kissinger later used his “theory” to destroy the freely elected socialist Salvador Allende government in Chile. During the Chilean election campaign in 1970, Allende was the leading candidate. Though a socialist, his political program was based on reforming capitalism so that more wealth would be shared by more people. He did not advocate violence or socialist revolution, but the big capitalists in Chile and the US were adamantly against him winning the elections and forming a coalition government. Kissinger, and President Nixon, decided to prevent Allende’s election. Kissinger declared at a June 1970 meeting of the National Security Council: “I don’t see why we should allow a country to go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. These matters are all too important for Chilean voters to determine”. If Allende could show by “good example” that a socially-oriented system could better serve the interests of more people then more people in other lands would choose that example. Thus the bad example had to be “eliminated”, which is just what Kissinger-Nixon did through their puppet, General Augusto Pinochet, in the September 11, 1973 coup d’état. Actor Ronald Reagan did the same in Nicaragua against the revolutionary Sandinista government, in the 1980s.)
The other side of Kennedy’s dilemma, in 1961, was his stated goals of democracy, sovereignty, justice, good neighbor relations, and the interests of some business concerns, which do not loose money in fair foreign trading. But this choice was weaker than that of the hard-line, “take all”. The Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI, some of the wealthy “old boy’s” club, along with most of the New Rich, especially oilmen from Texas, pressured for a total military takeover of Cuba.
Kennedy’s political campaign was financed mainly by some of the wealthy, so he acted strategically with them. But they considered his tactics to be too “soft on Communism”. This tactical difference within the empire led to his assassination. What his assassins did not see—or disregarded because of losses they personally suffered by the revolution, the Bay of Pigs disaster and the subsequent shakeup within the national security network—was that Kennedy was actually a clever imperialist, preparing battles for the empire he believed he could win. And he studiously prepared his aggressions, something not many American presidents do. As Jon Anderson reported, Kennedy read “both Mao’s and Che Guevara´s writings on guerrilla warfare. Convinced that a new emphasis had to put on counterinsurgency warfare to confront the growing threat of left-wing insurgencies, he instructed the army to beef up its anti-guerrilla capability. By September (1961), his initiative had resulted in the creation of a new elite counterinsurgency corps, the Green Berets.”
Part of Kennedy’s strategy to destroy the bad example of the good example was to overthrow Cuba’s revolution from within, while, at the same time, appearing to listen to Third World needs by launching the “Alliance for Progress,” in which $20 billion was to be spent for developing Latin America over a ten-year period. This new “Marshall plan” ended abruptly after the money had been siphoned off into private and corporate pockets. The overwhelming majority of people never benefited from a penny.
A few of us incipient leftists were determined to stop America’s plundering and its anti-democratic decision-making. There were two big national issues and two foreign ones, although very few people were concerned and there was no cohesive movement as such at the time. Racist bigotry and violence against black people was being confronted by the civil rights movement in the south, and the lack of democracy at colleges was being addressed by a few students at a few colleges. Then there was the Cuban revolution, which did interest quite a number, and the war-in-the-making against Vietnam, which very few knew about or related to.
A handful of us at El Camino College sought to arouse the greatest number of people we could. We distributed a few leaflets about Vietnam and civil rights to students and neighbors in the surrounding area, and we prepared a newspaper to distribute before final exams. “The Raven” we named it, after the famous poem by the 19th century poet, Edgar Allan Poe. The broadsheet—“a journal of student opinion”—was attractive. We urged all students to partake, and to discuss all matters. The contents reflected alternative ideas and events of our times: God, religion and atheism; HUAC and the undermining of democracy; capitalism-fascism-communism; Vietnam; disarmament; segregation and racism and the fight against it; campus life and sex; and Cuba.
I wrote two articles about the Cuban revolution and US aggression. I pointed out that the revolutionary government’s declarations were similar to that of the American Revolution against colonial oppression. Cuba was advancing the welfare of the people, and I compared Cuba with the United States after nearly two hundred years.
Racism dominates the lives of all black people in the U.S. In the southern states, apartheid reigns. In the north, blacks are also treated less than equal. While in Cuba, racism has been outlawed across the board. No longer are there separate and unequal policies, wages, services or facilities. Rents for all people are lowered to affordable prices, unlike in the US. Land is being given to small farmers, and large land areas are being collectivized for the benefit of the entire population, unlike in the US. Education is for all people at no private costs, unlike in the US. Medical care is for all people at no private costs, unlike in the US where there is no national health care plan, where many people needlessly suffer or die from illnesses because of this carelessness. Prostitutes are receiving counseling, education and honest work, unlike in the US. Profiteering is limited and workers are beginning to play a role in job center conditions. A national union (CTC) has been organized for all workers. In the US restrictions on profit is consider subversive, and less than a quarter of all workers are organized (In 2006, only nine percent of the working class is unionized). Block organizations were established throughout. These committees for revolutionary vigilance (CDR) are more than organs of vigilance or “spying”, they encourage people to clean up the neighborhood, organize vaccination campaigns for all children, and help in natural catastrophes. Women organize for equal rights through the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). Youth organize in several national groups, according to ages, and, if one wishes, one can join the Young Communist League. Many of these young people volunteered to be literacy instructors, which succeeded in bringing literacy to 20% of the population, which had been illiterate. By the mid-1960s, only two to three percent were still illiterate. Civilians are armed and trained in local militias by the army, in order to defend themselves against foreign invaders, who come from Miami and Washington.
US Americans are denied many of these essentials. Such a humane system as Cuba’s is not what the capitalists want, so when they see these policies being advocated and then implemented, they instruct their governments and military and dislodged capitalist friends in Miami to invade Cuba, in order to stop “the bad example of the good example”.
“The Raven” also took on the growing military escalation against Vietnam. Some of us were concerned not only for the Vietnamese people but for ourselves as well. I was the only one in my circle of friends and activists who had been in the military. The other men faced being drafted and, perhaps, sent to kill and be killed in a faraway place, fighting people with whom we had no quarrel.
Vietnamese soil is rich in minerals, including tungsten, which was a major reason for the United States´ attempted takeover of the country. (Sounds familiar today with oil and the Middle East-Venezuela-Colombia.) Tungsten is essential for high technology products, including space ships. The country also has many climates and is suited for most kinds of fruits, vegetables and rice. This long land has had state government since 300 years before Christ. It had been subjected to aggression and take-over attempts by Chinese governments for nearly 2000 years. From the earliest years of Chinese oppression, Vietnamese women have often been in the forefront—since 39a.d.—of armed liberation movements. After Vietnam united under one national emperor, in early 1800s, the French government aided the contender who became most powerful. This placed the French in a position to eventually intervene and, in mid-1800s, it began colonializing the country. National patriots fought the French on and off until a sustained independence movement was formed, in 1939, by the Communist-oriented Vietminh with Ho Chi-Minh’s leadership. US’s Truman government supported the French with massive military aid, yet it could not prevent the French’s defeat at Dienbienphu, in 1954. Despite the defeat, the nation was divided into two parts at a peace accords meeting held in Geneva. Both Communist-led governments of China and the Soviet Union pressured the Vietnamese to accept this compromise.
The Viet-Minh-led Democratic Republic government (DRV) started
a socialist restructuring in the north. According to the Geneva Accords,
South Vietnam was to be run by the capitalist government of Bao Dai for
two years, during which time the French were to leave and free elections
were to be called. President Eisenhower, however, refused to abide by
the international accords for democracy because, as he wrote in his autobiography,
“Ho Chi Minh would have won the support of 80% of the people”
of both parts of the now divided nation. The French did leave, but Washington
moved in with massive military support to the interim South Vietnamese
government, now led by the US-appointed Ngo Dinh Diem. He launched military
attacks in the countryside where there was strong support for unification
with the North. Diem re-imposed the landlords whom the guerrillas had
ousted for siding with the Japanese during WW11 and with French colonializers.
Now uprisings began again. In 1960, the liberation forces were organized
into the NLF. With the new foreign intervention, this time with US combat
troops disguised as “advisors,” the DRV began to aid the resistance
in the south. The Second Indochina War, as the US called it, had begun.
It was to last for 15 years.
Our little Raven group was glad with the reception we received in distributing the broadsheet. Many students took them with interest but the school administration was worried about the consequences of our taking democracy seriously by writing and distributing ideas and information that did not sit well with important people in the community and in the state government, which could plug the school’s finances. So it banned the paper. We were forced off campus but we continued to distribute “The Raven” around the school, and at a few bookstores and cafés.
I later learned how “subversive” our little Raven was to the federal government. As the Watergate scandal spread in the mid-1970s, causing an atmosphere of fear in Washington, a few actions were taken to mollify the growing dissent. One such reform was the Freedom of Information Act, which allowed public access to some of the dossiers kept on so many Americans. After a year-long fight, I received what the national security agencies would let me see, some 1000 pages. Many parts were blackened out. The first surveillance report was from the time of “The Raven”:
To Director and SAC Miami....From SAC Los Angeles
Advised Ronald M. Ridenour was member of staff of “The Raven,” off campus newspaper published at El Camino College, Los Angeles.
Mimeographed leaflet entitled “INQUIRY,” which describes itself as “an independent socialist journal.” This leaflet reflects Ronald M. Ridenour is member of editorial board of “Inquiry.” “Inquiry” is anti-capitalistic, anti-McCarran Act, pro-peace and disarmament and pro-socialist. Informants of Los Angeles Office have no knowledge of any current CP activity on part of Ridenour.”
I sent a copy of “The Raven” to the Humanist association headquarters in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I received an answer from Edwin Wilson, the executive director.
“I don’t wonder that you are having trouble with the administration. It is really remarkable that you have been able to get this far in view of the mood that we find on some of our college campuses...”
We were putting out the newspaper at the same time that 13 blacks and whites students and older people with peace activism backgrounds departed on a Trailways bus from Washington DC heading south. This was the first Freedom Ride, testing whether integration would be allowed in buses and at bus terminal facilities, as the federal government said it must. On Mother’s Day, May 4, 1961, a white mob at Anniston, Alabama burned the bus. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the group that had organized the Freedom Ride, called off the action.
CORE was the first organization to systematically use non-violent direct-action as a means to confront segregation. The pacifist organization started in Chicago, in 1942, to combat fascist racism. It extended its efforts to integrate hospitals and universities in the north and organized chapters in the south. It had no ideology other than the goal of ending segregation. Unlike another conservative organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples, it took the matter to the streets. NACCP principally appealed to the law in courtrooms.
Dr. King’s young supporters, SNCC, were fresher than many CORE members, not yet bogged down with internal disagreements. SNCC took up the Freedom Rides, seeking to build a mass base among southern blacks. The bus riders were dedicated members of CORE or SNCC or unorganized individuals, and they were often met with violence. A few received severe injuries, including permanent brain damage. In Birmingham, Police Chief “Bull” Conner took the riders off the bus and put them in jail. When he released them they were beaten by a white mob with police complicity. No bus driver would take them further. After three days, one bus driver was convinced by a personal envoy from Washington DC to drive them onward to Montgomery, where they were assaulted by a large crowd. They drove into Mississippi, where they were met with more violence and jail. In Jackson, some 350 activists and supporters were arrested. Many started jail-ins, singing spirituals. They were sometimes attacked with electric cattle prods and thrown into the isolation “hole”. No one was sentenced for any crime but they were jailed for as much as two months.
It was in this context that I heard about Emett Till.
In August 1955, a 14-year old Emett traveled from his home in Chicago to visit relatives in Money, Mississippi. His mother had warned him about the more severe segregation he would encounter. Emett was bold. He showed some local boys a photo of a white girl who was a friend back home. He bragged that she was his girlfriend. That was difficult for black kids in Mississippi to believe. One boy ribbed Emett, challenging him to enter the store nearby where they stood and talk to the white woman storekeeper. Emett went inside and bought some candy. As he left, he said, “Bye baby” to Carolyn Bryant, the storeowner’s wife. The boys were worried at the cheekiness of their new acquaintance from Chicago but nothing happened so they forgot about it. A few nights later, Carolyn’s husband, Roy Bryant, and her brother, J.W. Milam, dragged Emett out of his uncle’s, Mose Wright, cabin. Three days later, Till’s body was found in the Tallachatchie River. One eye was gouged out. His head was battered and crushed into a pulp and then shot with one bullet. His uncle could only identify the body because an initialed ring was on a finger.
At first, even local whites were displeased about the murder, and Bryant and Milam were arrested for kidnapping Emett Till. His mother, Mamie Bradley, was determined to show the world “what they did to my son.” She held an open-casket funeral, which “Jet” magazine photographed. Northerners, blacks and whites, were sickened. The murder became a national topic, and many demanded “justice be done.” That angered most white southerners, even those who thought the murder wrong, and they stuck their provincial heels in the ground and stood behind the local murderers. The NAACP called the murder a lynching, and its Mississippi field secretary, Medgar Evers, took up Till’s case, leading a campaign against the murderers. Five prominent lawyers defended the murderers before an all-white jury. The prosecution had a hard time finding witnesses, but Emett’s old uncle bravely came forward to point the finger at the men who kidnapped the boy. Because Wright stood up, other blacks came forward to testify. The atmosphere was so violent that if a black person accused a white of anything, even a brutal meaningless murder such as thisone, he was forced to leave the state, as did the other witnesses.
The defense’s closing statement ended thusly: “Your fathers will turn over in their graves if (Milam and Bryant are found guilty) and I’m sure that every Anglo-Saxon one of you have the courage to free these men...” An hour later, an innocent verdict was delivered. If that isn’t enough of reality to convince anyone of the injustice of America, then the following must be.
The murderers were so jubilant over their murder and “innocent” verdict that they sold their confessional story to “Look” magazine. They received a year’s average wage, $4000: reward money for murdering a 14-year old boy.
This murder and farcical court case, more than any previous one, made northern blacks more aware and angry at extreme racism in the south. This background was in Rosa Parks´ blood as she refused to get out of her bus seat a year later, thus sparking The Civil Rights Movement.
I was shocked, sad and angry when I learned of Emett Till, and furthermore by what I heard was happening to people on the Freedom Rides. Emett was just a year younger than me when he was murdered for that “offense”. The ghost of that black boy in Newark returned to me.
I supported the Freedom Riders with others in the Los Angeles area. We picketed federal government buildings, demanding that the government protect the lives of people protesting criminal behavior against black people. And I joined in the singing, which helped us feel close and more secure with the danger and sadness of unbridled violence. One of our favorite songs was “This little light of mine.”
“This little light of mine (light of mine)
I’m let it shine (Aleilujah)
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
Down in my heart (in my heart)
I’m gonna let it shine (Aleilujah)
All over the world (all over the world)
I’m gonna let it shine (let it shine, let it shine)”
The song offered hope that our “redemptive suffering”—as many of the religious people involved in the civil rights movement called the violence we endured—would redeem the larger society. “If you want to create the beloved community, create an open society, then the means, the methods, must be ones of love and peace,” said John Lewis, a ministry student, who was a SNCC activist on the Freedom Rides, and soon to become SNCC’s national chairman. (Cited from, "They Should Have Served That Cup of Coffee", edited by Dick Cluster, South End Press, 1979).
I respected the genuine Christians who assumed personal responsibility and acted for justice. So I would not ridicule them, but I did not believe “redemptive suffering” would matter one bit to the moguls who rake in super profits from the use of brutality, and who foster the ever-effective divide-and-conquer rule, in order to keep some people down and under. I understood that some whites, especially Jews with their long history of suffering racist/religious mistreatment, joined with Christian blacks in the sincere hope that through non-violent struggle, and with blows to their bodies, they could appeal effectively to the morality of the greater population. Some historians say that it worked. I will argue later on that it was not morality that convinced the white majority or the government to change racist laws and rules, but that the motivation was fear: fear of loss of profits, fear that a civil war could break out, and fear of the not non-violent black movement to come.
I felt like Simone de Beauvoir wrote in The Mandarins: “like an exile in my own country.” I was filled with hate over the reality of the violent society I was born into. It was more hate than love which drove me—hate of the inhuman human racism, hate of the wars and raw brutality perpetuated by the American society. And this evil was not advocated or perpetrated by just the fortune seekers in the profiteering corporate system or by politicians in their governments but by most of America’s ordinary inhabitants: the masses, the working class, the middle class. True, my hate extended beyond national and historic borders. I hated all men and nations that acted for profiteering interests at the expense of so many millions and millions of human lives. If there was love among my motivations to act for humanity, it was buried and remained so for decades, until I met Grethe. In the 1960s and 1970s, I hated with a purple passion. My fists were clinched, my jaws tight, my heart hard. I was revolted and I revolted, often too stridently if I were to organize people to make a revolution. The indescribable pain Emett Till experienced, the continuous massacres that Americans—and other nationalities—inflict on so many produces revulsion in my body. I belch, fart and shit seven times in so many hours of writing this.
Final examinations were over and my grades kept me in the national honorary fraternity, Alpha Gamma Sigma. Bob and I moved into an inexpensive wood-frame house on Navy Street, in Venice for the summer. Venice lays south of Santa Monica pier, and has its own smaller pier from which people fish and swim. Many people migrated to Venice during the warm summers for recreation and the burgeoning counter-culture. Venice West Café, owned by John Haag and his fiery Italian wife, Ana, was a favorite haunt. We played chess, drank coffee and wine, heard jazz music, read and listened to poetry and, from to time, heard an impassioned speech about the war in Vietnam, the Cuban revolution, or the civil rights movement.
I loved Venice beach. Within meters of palm trees growing on the shore, Pacific Ocean waves roared onto the beach and I body surfed as I had in Brazil. Venice attracted a conglomeration of people, everything from Macho men trying to impress others with body building exercises on “Muscle Beach”, to dropouts drinking wine and taking dope. There were often beach parties, with couples copulating on the sand. Like others seeking alternative ways of living, I experimented with soft drugs: marijuana, peyote and LSD. The hallucinogens were “mind-blowing”, fun and scary. I didn’t continue with them, but took a liking to “pot” for its relaxing affects, and its sexual stimulation. Pot was also a social drug, bringing participants closer. We were feverish to tear down the suffocating conformist walls that our parents and forefathers had cooped us behind.
I took odd jobs to survive, and spent much of my time joining actions against segregation, reading and spending time with Bob, and with others from El Camino and new friends in Venice. Carol Swartout and her husband Merle led a suburban consumers’ life in Manhattan Beach. Merle had a well-paying job in the weapons industry, at the Aerospace Corporation. He was a likeable person but I took umbrage at his prostitution to the war industry. Carol was a bored housewife. She wanted to be free of "The Lonely Crowd" (Riseman) and "The Organization Man" (Whyte), and had recently started at El Camino College to study philosophy and anthropology. She took a shine to me. She stimulated me intellectually. We eventually connected bodily but were mostly drawn by our mutual intellectual interests.
I was finding it more difficult to be around most white Americans. Their indifference and inaction repelled me. Once, Carol and Merle and I went to a theater where they met acquaintances standing in the line. When I was introduced, I spontaneously asked them: “What is your reason for existence, other than being a floating piece of protoplasm?” It was this sense of self-righteousness that turned a lot of people off to me and our burgeoning movement.
Phil Ochs wrote a poignant song about the working class´ leaderships´ betrayal to what it had once fought for. “Links on the Chain” (1964) speaks to their collaboration with the bosses´ divide-and-conquer system:
“Come you ranks of labor, come you union core
and see if you remember the struggles of before,
when you were standing helpless on the outside of the door
and you started building links on the Chain...
Then the army of the fascists tried to put you on the run,
but the army of the union, they did what could be done,
Oh, the power of the factory was greater than the gun
as you built one more link on the chain...
And then in 1954 (Supreme Court school integration) decision finally made,
The black man was a-risin´ fast and racin´ from the shade
and your union took no stand and your union was betrayed,
as you lost yourself a link on the chain..
And then there came the boycotts and then the freedom rides,
and forgetting what you stood for, you tried to block the tide,
Oh, the automation bosses were laughin´ on the side,
as they watched you lose your link on the chain..
For now the times are tellin´ you the times are rollin´ on,
and you’re fighting for the same thing, the jobs that will be gone,
Now it’s only fair to ask you boys, which side are you on?
As you’re building all your links on the chain..”
Like Carol, Elvio was studying to become an anthropology teacher. His family was a joy to be with. His father, Angelo, was a high school music teacher, who had an anarchist activist background. Their family owned a small summer house they had built in the desert east of Los Angeles. I was often invited to partake with them in this isolated encampment. Once I took a woman to the cabin. We tripped naked around the house and on the sizzling desert sand. We fucked wildly on top of a steaming rock, with me lying under her. The experience was too much for my prostate gland and I was bothered for a long while with prostatitis.
I was back to college in September, taking a full load of courses. I rented one large room near El Camino, and got a part-time school job as an assistant librarian. “The Raven” group continued to meet and discuss world affairs but we couldn’t continue the newspaper. We had hoped to publish every six weeks and spread it over Southern California campuses, but we had no funds, in addition to the problem that the administration prohibited its presence on campus. And some “Raven” participants were worried about fouling their chances for further education at a university.
I maintained contact with the civil rights movement, supporting the on-going Freedom Rides, and I read about developments in Vietnam, Cuba and Africa. One of the most important journals of information and analysis was “Monthly Review”. It was the first US publication, after WW11, that was socialist, even Marxist, but non-Communist and not anti-Communist. It was committed to a socialist course, but critical of the Soviet Union and China, and strongly against the Cold War. MR supported social revolutions and the anti-colonial struggles. Its writers were well informed and wrote well, unusual for leftist publications.
I also spent many hours reading existentialism and Marxism and discussing with Bob and Carol.
The study of knowledge, of human existence fascinated me. I found the core of Everyman in Existentialism.We humans form our own essence in the course of the life we choose. We are responsible for our nature, even (perhaps) for our “destiny”. That given, then it follows that we, each of us, is responsible, to some extent, for what our society does and does not partake in. While Existentialism has its appeal mainly to intellectuals, and has no organized force, I found it more in tune with the reality of man than other philosophies. And it emphasizes the ethics of being and acting rather than material motivations. However anarchism and Marxism had their truths too.
With anarchism we have the total revolt against the corrupt, repressive state-organized society. Anarchism appealed to my free will nature, but it was unworkable. It could not organize enough people, at least for long, as every individual anarchist is his or her own free agent.
In Marxism, the focus is on one’s class. Since its creation, the State has been simply an organized device for the benefit of the ruling class; and the major instrument of historical change is class struggle. Once one delves into historical and dialectical materialism, as a method of analyzing and understanding societal developments and transformations, there is little to quarrel with. Matter does come before mind. Any other notion is illusionary, anthropocentric and blindly egocentric. The various economic systems evolve through technological development and are not morally determined, rather coldly survival oriented. Marxism gels well with the study of man and society: sociology and social anthropology.
Marxism, however, has tended to neglect or ignore psychology
and ethics. The role of the individual in struggle and in history is also
cast into a corner. If and when the working class is conscious of its
class nature, and then understands the necessity of revolution, then I
can join in and we can make a new, better world—one that is, hopefully,
also ethically oriented. However, if the class is not ready, what can
I do? It seems as though Marx did not consider this question, at least
he did not develop an answer. His historical period was that of raw capitalism
when workers were more readily aware of their underdog plight. He died
before the great compromise between capital and producers. While I wished
to identify with the class, also recognizing that class is much stronger
than individuals scattered here and there, I saw that the class was made
up of individuals too, and individuals do make choices when they can,
workers included. Most workers in the more developed First World can and
do make choices that are not revolutionary, whereas most workers and unemployed
would-be workers in the Third World have fewer choices to make and are,
thus, usually more naturally aware of their plight, more ready to risk
making a revolution. After all, Marx recognized that workers would revolt
when they had “nothing to lose but your chains.” But what
can be expected when you/we have more to lose than our chains, or when
we do not even see the chains?
I was torn between the emphasis on the objective and the subjective factors and ideas, between Existentialism and anarchism on one the end and Marxism on the other. But it was only Marxism that had the power to arm—to organize workers and their allies around the globe.
True, socialists and liberals had organizations, and they often said they were opposed to imperialism and they sometimes sought to curtail the excesses of capitalism. The reality is, however, that they act as collaborationists with the capitalist system, and thus support the wars on imperialism’s agenda. Let us understand imperialism here as the foreign policy of a powerful capitalist nation seeking to dominate the interests and resources of another state. With the fall of the great national empires—the last being France and Great Britain—the United States was now dominating other nations economically and militarily as imperialists, albeit without directly occupying the territory literally, unless its leaders deem it necessary. The US directly occupies many countries, especially in Central America and the Caribbean and recently in Afghanistan and Iraq, usually for a few months or few years until it can “stabilize” the “situation” for US capitalist firms.
The Social Democrats betrayed the working class definitively, in 1914, when they sided with the imperialists in WW1. It was German Social Democrats who first sold out, starting a world-wide chain reaction among social democrats and akin liberals. After the end of the war, social democratic liberals held the threat of potential revolution over capitalists´ heads. They pressed the capitalists to grant rights to unionize, increases in living standards and improved work place conditions, in exchange for peace and security for the capitalist system. You share a bit of your profits and we will protect your castles, is what the Social Democrats, Socialists and Liberals told the capitalists, and they shook hands. Give me a bone, daddy, and I’ll give you “my” workers´ muscle.
There were a few socialists who desired a tougher stand and many joined either the communists or anarchists.) After World War Two, these hypocrites were the first to jump on the Cold War band wagon. Some of them were even framers of the lying propaganda the capitalists needed to remake their WW11 allies look like cannibals of babies. Right-wing socialists, in fact, laid the ideological basis for McCarthyism. No, liberalism was never a possibility for me. It was and is puffed up nothingness with simpering apologies to “their” workers. They simply have no balls, or clitorises. And Phil Ochs told it like it is!
Only the communists manifested opposition to capitalism and imperialism in an effective way, in a way that multitudes of workers did come to understand and support in many countries, in various periods. And they were well disciplined, unlike the anarchists, who often were good fighters. Communists were not keen on civil liberties, though, after they won power, and acted harshly against criticism. Nevertheless, the fact is that it is only Communist-led governments that really opposed capitalist-led government takeovers. National liberation movements and anti-colonial liberation movements were often supported by Communist states, although not always, especially not in Latin America—as I came to learn.
I wished to be part of a national and international movement, part of a collective force, a fellowship united in the vision of a better world, and united in action against the violently and slowly dying monster. So I was ripe for what occurred to me and the world in a few months.
My brother Jim came to visit. He had come directly from
being discharged from the United States Air Force, which he had joined
principally to win acceptance from his father and from me. But the authoritarianism
of military life was anathema to Jim’s nature and he ended in a
hospital, and then was medically discharged.
Jim stayed with me and got a job in a filling station, but he was soon fired. We fought a lot. He was an irritation to me, an embarrassment to my new way of life, to my friends in the struggle. Jim was self-obsessed with his wows. He could not reach out to the reality of the world, to others plight, and he did not seek to understand the movement. He had personal troubles enough, but I was insensitive to personal problems, so concentrated was I on the pain of the millions.
Jim soon departed as I slept one night. A letter came from him explaining that he had hitch-hiked East, where upon he met a church-going woman he was to marry. Jim quickly married Jean, who soon bore their daughter, Norma. A few years later, Jay came along. We rarely communicated or saw each other over the next many years.
My third semester ended with continued high grades and, at the start of the last semester, I applied for the University of California at Los Angeles. I also asked for a grant or loan. Most of my El Camino friends and political companions would also enroll at UCLA.
As the end of junior college approached, Merle Swartout
offered to recommend me for a summer job at the Aerospace Corporation.
I could work in the internal mailroom and earn enough to get me started
at the more expensive university. I would also have to pay more for a
residence. I was not keen on working for the weapons industry but Merle
“convinced” me that nearly anything I did was controlled by
the profit system, and shuffling mail was “innocent enough”.
It was fudging with the truth, but I made one of the few compromises in
my conscious life with the work world.
I had to fill out a long “personal security questionnaire”, which included six loyalty questions and a list of 47 organizations considered subversive. I wrote “no” to the questions concerning “subversion”, and I was not a member of any of the organizations, which “advocates the overthrow of our constitutional form of government”, or “which seeks to alter the form of Government of the United States by unconstitutional means.” At least, I was not yet a member of such, although as a democrat I would advocate the overthrow of a tyrannical government just as had the founding fathers of the US Constitution.
Strangely enough I was hired, and then even granted a “final secret” clearance, on July 25. I moved nearer to the industrial area of El Segunda, where the huge aerospace complex was located, and was hand delivering mail to offices there. I felt as though I had entered the “brave new world” at this research center for war, so I didn’t flinch when, on August 31, I was summarily fired. When, in 1977, I received many of the security files accumulated on me, I learned why I had been dismissed. Most of the pages sent to me on this matter were dated March and April 1963, when it was noted that I had “misrepresented” myself on the security questionnaire, but it didn’t indicate what the misrepresentation was. The FBI file indicates that I was a mail clerk at “a facility under security cognizance of the Air Force.”
The FBI had also conducted a thorough investigation on my parents.. The FBI had the Air Force investigated my parents because my father an airman and my step-mother was a civilian librarian employee. File no. 33-679, dated 29 March, 1963, shows the “record check” on them.
At the end of the final exams, the Students for a Democratic Society held what came to be an historic convention at the United Auto Workers camp, at Port Huron, Michigan. SDS was two-and-one-half years old and its 43 convention delegates thought it was time to adopt a statement of purpose, and the beginnings of a program for “participatory democracy”, as well as a strategy for building a “new left” of “socialists and liberals”. In addition to agitating for democratic changes in the schools, SDSers had entered the civil rights struggle, associating with the Freedom Rides and SNCC community work in the south. Some were talking about organizing in white worker areas in the north. Tom Hayden, a student at the University of Michigan, was one of SDS´ founders and a Freedom Rider.
I came to know him in the 1970s when I was slightly associated with his famous wife, actress Jane Fonda, in the Los Angeles anti-war movement. I conducted the April, 1974 “Playboy” magazine interview with them, along with “Washington Post” west coast bureau chief Leroy Aarons.
In 1962, Hayden drafted what came to be known as the “Port Huron Statement.” Rereading the long statement today, I feel that I need to excerpt large chunks from it, because it so clearly shows how many of us youths felt at the time, and it is still relevant.
“We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit...
“First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism. Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb, brought awareness that we ourselves (among so many others) might die at any time...
“While two-thirds of mankind suffers undernourishment, our own upper classes revel amidst superfluous abundance…America rests in national stalemate...its democratic system apathetic and manipulated rather...The American political system is not the democratic model of which its glorifiers speak...
“An unreasoning anti-communism has become a major social problem for those who want to construct a more democratic America...Even many liberals and socialists share static and repetitious participation in the anti-communist crusade...Our paranoia about the Soviet Union has made us incapable of achieving agreements necessary for disarmament and the preservation of peace...
“Our work is guided by the sense that we may be the last generation in the experiment with living. But we are a minority—the vast majority of our people regard the temporary equilibriums of our society and world as eternally-functional parts. In this is perhaps the outstanding paradox: we ourselves are imbued with urgency, yet the message of our society is that there is no viable alternative to the present...
“Values”—“We regard men as infinitely precious and possessed of unfulfilled capacities for reason, freedom, and love...Men have unrealized potential for self-cultivation, self-direction, self-understanding and creativity. It is this potential that we regard as crucial and to which we appeal...The goal of man and society should be human independence...
“In a participatory democracy, the political life would be based in...:that decision-making of basic social consequence be carried on by public groupings;...that politics has the function of bringing people out of isolation and into community...being necessary...”The economic sphere...work should involve incentives worthier than money or survival. It should be educative...creative...(offering) a sense of dignity and a willingness to accept social responsibility...the economy’s...major resources and means of production should be open to democratic participation and subject to democratic social regulation...”In social change or interchange, we find violence to be abhorrent because it requires generally the transformation of the target, be it a human being or a community of people, into a depersonalized object of hate...
“Any new Left in America must be...committed to deliberativeness, honesty, reflection as working tools...It must give form to the feelings of helplessness and indifference, so that people may see the political, social, and economic sources of their private troubles and organize to change society...
“The bridge to political power, though, will be built through genuine cooperation, locally, nationally, and internationally, between a new Left of young people and an awakening community of allies...(involving) national efforts at university reform by an alliance of students and faculty. They must wrest control of the educational process from the administrative bureaucracy...They must import major public issues into the curriculum—research and teaching on problems of war and peace...consciously build a base for their assault upon the loci of power.
“As students for a democratic society, we are committed
to stimulating this kind of social movement, this kind of vision and program
in campus and community across the country. If we appear to seek the unattainable,
as it has been said, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.”
We had poets and polemicists, as well as passionate activists. There was no SDS in my vicinity, but I followed their developments, mainly in the east and at Berkeley and San Francisco. It wouldn’t be until 1965 that I would join SDS in L.A. At the time of Port Huron, I was about to take the big step into major university life. I was also feeling a bit discombobulated from my abrupt dismissal from mainstream. And Merle feared for his career since he would be looked upon with askance for having proposed a “subversive” at Aerospace. I fled from my worries for a few days.
Northern California is one of the world’s most naturally beautiful areas. I drove up the coast, delighting in the scenery of intermingling ocean, majestic cliffs, and redwood trees. San Francisco meets the Pacific at an inlet. And the city is beautiful too. It is the only truly European city in the United States. Many Italians immigrated there and run stores, cafes and restaurants that serve real bread and real coffee. Its cosmopolitan inhabitants and tourists, European architecture, and its unique natural surroundings prod most San Franciscans to accept different ideas and cultures, and thus the new counter-culture and the new Left took root in parts of the city, and in nearby Berkely. It was no coincidence that when HUAC came bullishly to town, in May, 1960, that the first outbreak against it occurred here.
San Francisco’s North Beach has a Latin quarter, somewhat like in Paris, with many alternative night spots, shops and book stores. I sought temporary refuge there before starting school again. I kept a diary about those days. I excerpt from it to show how I was thinking, to show the “cool” jargon, and to show connections with Port Huron.
“I’m in a pad with this cat. We’re taking
yellows intravenously. Cool. It’s cool, man. I fell into a group
on amphetamines and barbiturates. I feel free, more free than when `normal´,
when driven by the power and material hungry system. That system eternally
suppresses any individual creativity, anything that doesn’t directly
benefit the controllers, and the collective body that has been duped by
them and their lackies in the military and government. Like, THE PEOPLE
are real squares. Their minds have been stolen by the power elite, the
“While high, you’re free from the system. You’re not conforming to these bastards. Yeah, when the affects wear off, you find yourself back in the same shit you thought you’d left. But, you escaped for a while, and during that time it was the most. So, what I’m saying is live for the moment, for Right Now!
The conversation turns to women and what next.
“The woman of my life is free from societal dictates.
She must be as completely equal in rights and liberties as me or any man.
She should realize and accept the impracticality of bearing and raising
children, at least for a long time. I don’t think I wish to have
children. I must be free to act without fear for them. The woman should
know and accept that our feelings for one another may well change. Our
lives may drift apart. We should be free to love erotically with one another
in all manners. We should also feel free to love and copulate with other
people. No one person can satiate another entirely. Once equality is recognized
as our reality, there would be no need to conscientiously force `equality´
upon the other. That is somewhat like the situation between whites and
blacks. A white should not attempt to seek Negro relationships, in an
effort to convince himself and society that he is not prejudiced, or to
convince the Negro to feel as his `equal´. When this situation exists,
there is no genuine honesty or equality. We humans are not to have pet
relationships. Finally, I want a woman who is able to endure and not regret
any ostracism that may ensue from my (our) endeavors to change society.
This is a strong woman, a woman with high ideals and convictions.”
“I want to finish college and do something real. I don’t want to focus on making money but to help change situations which are inimical to the primary qualities of man. I’m in a tug-of-war, because I also want to develop myself, and thereby be able to say to hell with society. The internal and external pressures make me want to escape into the carefree world of self. But, as Sartre writes, this is `self-deceptive´.”
Cuba Missile Crisis in Costa Rica
“I´m just a typical American boy from a
typical American town
I believe in God and Senator Dodd and keeping old Castro down
and when it came my time to serve I knew better dead than red
but when I got to my old draft board, buddy, this is what I said:
Sarge, I´m only eighteen. I got a ruptured spleen
and I always carry a purse
I got eyes like a bat, my feet are flat, and my asthma´s getting worse
think of my career, my sweetheart dear, and my poor old invalid aunt
Besides, I ain´t no fool, I´m a goin´ to school, and
I´m working in a defense plant...
And if you ever get a war without blood and gore
Well I´ll be the first to go”
(Phil Ochs, “Draft Dodgers Rag” 1964)
Campus is lively green. Enchanting stone and brick classroom
buildings. Birds singing from atop birch and oak trees. Young women swaying
in tune with curvaceous branches. Young men flirting. People dashing or
New school books and fresh notebooks tucked under my arm, I stroll up an embankment toward my modern philosophy class. I am enrolled at the University of California as a junior. In addition to philosophy, I am taking political science, anthropology and English literature. The administration has advanced me a $250 loan and I have rented a room 20 minutes by bus from this gigantic university. I am enthralled.
Sylvia´s smiling wet lips say: I love devouring your twig and berries! We tumble on a roomy mattress in her cozy cottage close to the university. Our burning bodies entwine, we inhale salty sweat, bite simmering lips. Juices drying, we inhale a fat joint, imbibe blood red wine. Mellow. Groovy !
“What the hell does your question—how many angels can stand on the head of a pin—have to do with the real world, with the fact that our government is murdering people in Vietnam, in Cuba, even in the south of our own country?” I rhetorically spit out at the philosophy professor standing cockily before the class. I don’t recall his answer but I remember crossing that class off my wish list.
Carol and I continue seeing one another. She is an anthropology major at UCLA. I see most of the others I know from El Camino here as well. There are thousands of students from all around the nation, many from foreign countries. A few small groups set up information tables on the campus´ main paths and corners. They offer political literature and protest petitions to sign. The YSA (Young Socialist Alliance) table is the most eye-catching. These young Trotskyists—whose main man was the Soviet army leader and theoretician Leon Trotsky, whom Stalin had murdered in his exile in Mexico—sell books on important national and international matters, and they engage in political discussion. The Movement’s gestation period is developing daily. I am a recruit candidate.
Michael Harrington’s new book, "The Other America", is the topic of discussion in our political science class. The American Dream, the invisible glue that binds the many ethnic groups of Americans together in the Great Society, is falling apart. According to U.S. Bureau of Census figures, almost one-fourth of the 185 million people in this richest nation in the world live in poverty. Of the poor, 55% are black skinned and 25% of Latin-American origin; only 18% are white-skinned. In all, 40 million people are poor. Yet 60% of the federal budget, paid for by taxation of the working citizens and working residents, goes for non-productive, anti-social military expenditures. (In 2002, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 19% of the population in the wealthiest land in the world, controlling 40% of the world’s riches, lived below the poverty line.)
Sociologist Harrington concluded that the United States economy—its very society—is based upon racism: the notion that one’s own ethnic stock (race) is superior to others and this gives its group members the “right” to dominate and rule peoples sharing other common descents. This divisive factor infiltrates each and every American mind, either vividly consciously, such as with Ku Klux Klaners and Nazis, or sub-consciously, such as with middle-class whites attending all-white churches and their children attending all-white schools.
Sociological studies show that all minorities living in the United States automatically belong to the category of impoverishment, if not economically poor then, at least, fixed in separate-and-unequal social and psychological compartments. Psychological studies, conducted separately by white and black professionals, show that minorities in greater numbers than whites, especially black people, think ill of themselves and believe they are inferior beings. That is why Malcolm X, and later on black nationalists and the more internationalist-oriented Black Panther Party, taught black people to see themselves as “Black and Beautiful”—“I am somebody”—and to draw individual and collective strength in Black Power education and actions.
The American Dream culture is the quintessence of individualism—the belief that developments take place, or should occur, for one’s own benefit and not for the mass of people. Individualism is engineered by captains-of-industry and aggrandized by their advertising agents on Wall Street and in Hollywood. One of their most effective agents is the Mafia’s main singing performer Frank Sinatra. “I did it my way” expresses the dream of many, that what they wish to believe is true or possible. In reality, Sinatra was indebted to the ruthlessly cruel Mafia murderers. “I did it my way,” is an illusionary dream for people who behave in the way they are told to by the bosses and their henchmen. Behind all this destructive violence to the mind, the heart and body, lays the torturing root: Private Ownership of Property. The dominant culture’s superiority ideology and the Machiavellian political doctrine, with its divide-and-conquer practices, in the interest of private property, work their corrosion on each of us. We are all sick from The American Dream. We manifest our sickness in various ways, but most of us do not realize that we are sick, or if we do we do not understand the cause of our sickness.
Bob and I discussed these ideas. We were enthused about the progress being made in the Cuban revolution, which also worried us because these socially progressive steps provoke the American rich and their government. They know that where Cuba is headed is a direct affront, and real danger, to the very root of the American Dream.
Bob and I dreamed of experiencing this living revolution. We considered attending college classes in Havana. I could speak Spanish well enough to get by and Bob could learn. Then Bob got his draft notice. He was to put on the army uniform October 25th and, perhaps, be sent to Vietnam to kill people who had done no harm to him or his countrymen. Bob showed me the ominous epistle as Carol and I sat on a grassy knoll. It was at this moment, a couple of days before my 23rd birthday, that I made the decision to become a permanent revolutionary. Bob did so as well. We would abandon college; he would desert the army and we would flee the aggressive society for one forging fellowship roots: collective ownership of property.
We did not know what the new life would entail, or what would happen to us, but it was with a spontaneous heartthrob conviction that we scurried home to begin preparations. Carol felt sad that I would be leaving, but understanding. We vowed to keep in contact by post.
Bob wrote a letter to the Los Angeles County draft board. It was a petition to cancel his induction, and it was a sacrament to peace and love among men, though the term “love” went unmentioned. Here are excerpts:
“I believe that my service would be mutually undesirable...I
object to being called an American, rather than a human. The fact that
I am an American is an accident, while being human is a universal fact
of life. I believe there is nothing morally obligatory in something that
had its origin in the accident of birth...(Bob described several US takeovers
of other lands for their wealth in explaining why he should not be a US
solider)...I am trying to explain why I support the socialist revolutions...In
short, I refuse to fight against the revolutions taking place in Asia,
Africa and South America. Take me not lightly here, for I am not being
poetic! The conscience may be pushed just so far until the moral issue
confronts the individual as a concrete choice between two alternatives—one
moral, one immoral...No law in the world is big enough to stop my conscience
from supporting the very revolutions which I hope to make possible...”
Bob let the draft board know that he was their enemy and we drove south before it responded.
We had packed a few clothes, lots of books—some about Marxism and revolution and some novels—sleeping bags, camping equipment, a couple of knives, and a pistol to ward off dangerous animals, four or two-legged, which we might encounter in the wilds. We drove south in Bob’s old reliable Volkswagen. Gas and food expenses were paid for with the university loan I had obtained. Our goal was to reach Cuba through contacts we might make in Mexico City. After two nights sleeping under the sharp stars in this huge country, we made it to the capital city, a metropolis of extreme contrasts. We saw many poor people—people so desperate they ruined their bodies by inhaling torch flames in the hopes that this “entertainment” would influence car drivers to toss them a coin. The sight sickened us, and reinforced our hope that a more just world was in the making in Cuba where such poverty was being wiped out.
We made contact with a Mexican solidarity committee with Cuba. Several students had visited Cuba, making their way their by boat from Veracruz, a Gulf of Mexico province, or even closer to Cuba from Yucatán Peninsula. But the Mexicans told us that the US government tensions mounting against Cuba were so strong that Mexico’s authorities were forced to prevent embarcations.
What follows are some of the violent actions the United States conducted against Cuba in the 18 months since the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Aggressive violence was mixed with political-economic pressure. President Kennedy got Congress to interpret the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act to include Cuba, although the US had not declared war. This ruse soon extended to a total blockade with no export or import trade between the two nations. On January 25, 1962, the US bought or forced Organization of American States leaders to isolate Cuba. JFK’s OAS ambassador, DeLesseps S. Morrison, paid Haiti brutal dictator “Papa Doc” $5 million for his decisive vote to oust Cuba.
On February 2, 1962, Kennedy summoned his press relations aide, Pierre Salinger, as Salinger reported three decades later in, “Cigar Aficiando” magazine, autumn 1992. Salinger relates JFK’s remarks:
“Pierre, I need some help,” he said solemnly.
“I’ll be glad to do anything I can Mr. President,” I replied.
“I need a lot of (Cuban) cigars.”
“How many, Mr. President?”
“About 1,000 Petit Upmanns.”
I shuddered a bit, although I kept my reaction to myself.
“And when do you need them, Mr. President?”
I walked out of the office wondering if I would succeed. But since I was now a solid Cuban cigar smoker, I knew a lot of stores, and I worked on the problem into the evening. The next morning, I walked into the White House office at about 8 a.m., and the direct line from the President’s office was already ringing. He asked me to come in immediately.
“How did you do Pierre?” he asked, as I
walked through the door.
“Very well,” I answered. In fact, I’d gotten 1,200 cigars.
Kennedy smiled, and opened up his desk. He took out a long
paper which he immediately signed. It was the decree banning all Cuban
products from the United States. Cuban cigars were now illegal in our
What JFK had signed was “Proclamation 3447 Embargo On All Trade With Cuba,” thereby decreeing the total economic and political blockade of Cuba, extant to this day: the longest, toughest blockade in history.
Four days later, all imports from Cuba were bared. On March 23, 1962, the US embargo extended to all third country imports containing Cuban material. On April 9, the US masses the largest naval force to date in the hemisphere for maneuvers, employing 40,000 marines to simulate wartime landings near Cuba. On December 18, “Look” magazine reported that in October 1961 Kennedy had “ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare an invasion plan for Cuba.”
By then the CIA was already arduously endeavoring to murder Fidel. According to the United States own Senate, eight documented assassination plots against Fidel had been attempted by the CIA, sometimes with Cuban exile and Mafia assistance. The Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations released its findings, in 1975. The Cuban Department of State Security identified 24 such murder attempts in the first half of 1960s, and there were many more plans.
After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Kennedy no longer relied on
CIA Director Allen Dulles to do the job properly. He summoned the “Ugly
American” himself, Edward Landsdale. Air Force Major General Edward
G. Landsdale was chosen for the task, because he had directed the US and
Philippine governments successful campaign to stop the liberation movement
led by revolutionary guerrillas. He had also guided the oppressive and
ruthless Ngo Dinh Diem regime in South Vietnam in unsuccessful efforts
to stop the popular liberation movement. These activities led two authors
to use Landsdale as a main character in their books. He was more positively
depicted in Eugene Burdick’s "Ugly Americans" (1957) than
he was in Graham Greene’s "The Quiet American" (1955).
Greene’s Landsdale character, Alden Pyle, is seen in Vietnam as
an instigator of bloodshed and chaos. This is what Kennedy “needed”
in Cuba. Landsdale began a program to overthrow the left-wing government
“from within” by using murderous agents from without. Using
tactics from counter-intelligence propaganda to sabotage and murder,
“Operation Mongoose” began on November 30, 1961. Kennedy ordered Landsdale, and the CIA, to “use our available assets...to help Cuba overthrow the Communist regime” (Senate 1975 report). CIA Director Dulles was replaced by a multi-millionaire Republican, John A. McCone, who assigned Richard Helms (later director) to lead the anti-Cuba subversion. Some of the other leading CIA men JFK fired, such as Charles Cabell, were later suspected of plotting to murder Kennedy, using patsy Lee Harvey Oswald.
To complete the overthrow of Cuba, Miami’s CIA station became the largest and richest in the world. Its code name was JM/WAVE. Hundreds of sabotage attacks were launched from Miami under JFK. Seven hundred CIA personnel ran about 3000 Cuban exile agents. Local daily newspapers and radio and TV stations printed and broadcasted whatever the CIA wanted about Cuba, “covert” lies included. During the mid-1970s Watergate hearings and congressional investigations into assassinations, several witnesses testified about the thousands of murderous sabotage raids and assassinations made and attempted against civilian Cubans and their leaders.
Eugenio “Rolando” Martínez was a key CIA operative. He admitted to congress that he had participated in 350 attacks upon Cuba. CIA Director Richard Helms testified before the Watergate Committee for Martínez, because he was one of their men caught in the Watergate Hotel burglary-wire-tapping operation against the Democratic Party. Martínez was part of the CIA´s “Cuba Project”—a key part of the teams which blew up trains, factories, refineries, warehouses, even supermarkets, a movie house, schools and a nursery. Thousands of people, mostly women and children, were killed and maimed. This was the American Way of bringing “freedom and democracy” to recalcitrant governments. And the full truth of this system must not come out.
Richard Nixon stated this on one of his 4000 presidential
tapes. On one of the 60 tapes eventually released to the public, he is
heard to authorize the cover-up of the Watergate break-in, because, as
he said: “...the problem is it tracks back to the Bay of Pigs.”
It traces back to the nation’s “deadly secrets”—the
title of one of many investigative books about the Cuba Project and its
connection to the murder of JFK. According to authors Warren Hinckle and
William W. Turner, a former FBI man, “The major figures in the John
F. Kennedy assassination were, in one way or another, connected to the
Cuba Project—to the CIA, or the mob, or, as was more often the case,
(Their book "Deadly Secret: The CIA-Mafia war against Castro and the assassination of J.F.K.", 1992, was first published, in 1981, under the title, "The Fish is Red", a CIA code term for the invasion of Cuba.)
Cuba’s leaders knew what the “Camelot” government was doing against its people and its revolution. Che Guevara went to Moscow, where it was decided that defensive nuclear missiles would be delivered to Cuba. They began to arrive in sections by mid-year.
Though Kennedy was no peaceful or benign president, his efforts to negate the sovereignty of Cuba were not good enough for exile-Cubans and their CIA patron, nor for the Mafia, which had lost its profitable base in Havana, nor the military brass, and many US politicians. They called upon JFK to launch a military invasion against Cuba and simply take it back.
The Mexican students we met believed it was best for us to drive down to Costa Rica, where it might be easier to find water transport to Cuba.
We were glad to leave this impoverished city, but our trip to Cuba was now much farther away. We had to cross the rest of Mexico, the breadth of Guatemala, the length of El Salvador, a sliver of southern Honduras and the length of Nicaragua before arriving in Costa Rica. I had never been in Central America but I had recently read about the United States´ “banana republic” backyard. As we headed towards Guatemala, a scarlet curtain shrouded me in the torture, murder and destruction of these subdued people—all in the glorious name of “Manifest Destiny.”
When the Europeans arrived in what became known as North America, there were between 1.5 and 2 million or more aborigines, or “Indians” as the white men called them. They lived in many small groups, or larger tribes and even nations. When the Norwegian Vikings landed on America’s east coast, around 1000 AD., one Native American nation had already constructed an advanced city with 40,000 residents: Cahokia, near St. Louis, Missouri. The native peoples spoke 200 different languages. They did not believe in private property but in the universality of all soil, of all elements.
When the European settlers of the 17th century established their independence, in 1783, by defeating the English colonialists, there were 13 English colonies with 300,000 Europeans and 100.000 African slaves.
From the beginning of the 19th century, the newly forged United States of America proclaimed the belief, nay, the doctrine, that it is its “destiny” to expand its territory over the whole of the Americas to enhance its economic and political, social and cultural power. This doctrine was permanently codified into the nation’s foreign policy by its fifth president, James Monroe. On December 2, 1823, he told Congress that Europe would not be permitted to control the destiny of any American state or country. The “hands off” policy legalized the United States´ right to dominate both American continents. (Contemporary presidents speak of the Monroe Doctrine as continued US policy.) Spain was the first European nation to capitulate and withdrew the last of its colonizers and troops out of Central America, in “accordance” with the Monroe Doctrine.
In 1830, the same year that the Venezuelan leader Simón Bolivar—who sought to free and unite all native peoples—died, the US congress passed a law that forced all aborigines west of the Mississippi river. The United States, and its European forefathers, had already begun wiping out the natives they encountered upon arrival, but genocide was now official policy.
Throughout the 19th century, the U.S. federal government conducted about 100 wars against the lands native inhabitants. At the turn of the 20th century, somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 “Indians” had survived the slaughtering. The survivors were all interned in “reservations.” There is no exact number of treaties signed between the warring nation and the defeated peoples, but historians estimate there were between 300 and 400. In court cases, conducted during the 1970s-80s on behalf of the remaining natives against the US government for violating these treaties, judges concluded that all treaties were discarded by the federal government, in practice.
In addition to the wars against Native Americans, the United States has conducted hundreds of interventions and wars against half the world's countries. These are aggressive wars of “expansion” and not defensive ones as were the two world wars.
Following the US government’s successful 1812-14 war against England for violating the three-mile limit for foreign ships off US shores, the US took on Spain. In 1821, Spain lost a decade-long battle with the US and ceded Florida. In 1836, the English-speaking population of Texas revolted against Mexico, which encouraged the federal government to violently seize half of Mexico’s territory. Now, there was land connecting the US to Central America making it easier to expand southward throughout Central America.
After a century of military “incursions” on both American continents, one of the empire’s leading generals, Smedley Butler, exposed and thus thwarted a planned coup d´état against President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some of the nation’s richest capitalists sought to put an end to FDR’s reformist “New Deal” policies. General Butler spoke to Congress about this subversion and later wrote of his own jingoist actions conducted for these wealthy interests. He explained that these concerns took over lands, food sources, railroads and customs houses, even governments and their national treasuries by invading the countries with government troops or freebooters—all in the phony, holy name of “protecting the lives and interests of U.S. citizens.”
“I spent thirty-three years and four months in
active service as a member of our country’s most agile military
force-the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from a second
lieutenant to major-general. And during that period I spent most of my
time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street,
and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism...Thus
I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests
in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National
City Bank to collect revenues in...I helped purify Nicaragua for the international
banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican
Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras
`right´ for American fruit companies in 1903.” (As quoted
from Man’s Worldly Goods, by Leo Huberman, Monthly Review Press,
Most of the US military interventions in Central America (28 times) and the Caribbean (16) took place before I first saw these countries. Some interventions occurred after my trip, in the 1960s, then from 1979 to 1990 against the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, and in the same period against El Salvadorans and Haitians—even a coup d´état against Haiti as I write, in 2004.
In addition to the official military “expeditions”, there were also U.S. freebooters plundering Central America. The most notorious was a Tennessee adventurer, William Walker. Shortly after the US took half of Mexico, Walker headed a small military venture against Northern Mexico in 1853, raping, murdering and stealing from ordinary people. In 1855, the filibuster was offered land and gold by the Liberal party of Leon, Nicaragua—led by middle-sized landowners, artisans and merchants—to make war on the large landholders Conservative party based in Granada.
Walker had only 58 armed men, the “American Phalanx of Immortals,” but was able to rout the Conservatives. Then he unscrupulously turned on the Liberals. Walker was backed in this by the U.S. robber baron bankers Morgan and Garrison, and by the slave states elite. Walker advanced further against El Salvador and Honduras. He then declared himself “president” of all three countries. The United States government, under Franklin Pierce, incredulously granted “President” Walker diplomatic recognition, despite the fact that he reinstituted slavery, confiscated Nicaraguan landholdings for redistribution to U.S. wealthy citizens, declared English the official language, and wantonly murdered and raped whomever he pleased. He was welcomed in the US as a hero. But Walker had antagonists in high places too.
The railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt wanted to build a canal between the great oceans across Nicaragua. The state government had granted him rights of passage in 1849. The English government, not having entirely bowed to the Monroe Doctrine, still had interests remaining in the area. There were also native uprisings against Walker. In 1857, he was overthrown by a coalition of joint forces and shot.
Vanderbilt did not get to build “his” canal. Other powerful forces in the U.S. had their eyes set upon Colombia’s northwestern province, Panama, adjacent to Costa Rica’s southern border. US naval and marine troops were first sent to the province in 1895. In 1901, they stimulated a revolt against Colombia, and, in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt—FDR’s uncle—annexed the “Canal Zone” of Panama. US troops occupied the area constantly until 1914. The Nobel “Peace” Prize winner Teddy Roosevelt gloated: “I took the Canal Zone and let Congress debate.”
Following Roosevelt’s tenure (1901-09), William Howard Taft took over the White House. The era of establishing a “security network” of military bases throughout Central America, maintaining these small countries as a “protectorate”, had begun. The Panama Canal was soon to open (August 15, 1912) when Taft, an out-spoken Manifest Destiny zealot and racist, declared: “The day is not far distant when three Stars and Stripes at three equidistant points will mark our territory: one at the North Pole, another at the Panama Canal, and the third at the South Pole. The whole hemisphere will be ours in fact as, by virtue of our superiority of race, it already is ours morally.”
The US “morally” invaded Panama another six times following its seizure. The US put down election disputes and strikes, and, in 1964, killed students who demonstrated for sovereignty.
Not all of U.S. history, however, is shaped by immoral racist murderers. At the same time Walker was murdering his way to “racial superiority”, another southern white man, John Brown, was leading a small group of white and black abolitionists in armed struggle against slavery. They began in Kansas in 1855. By 1859, they had crossed over into Virginia. Just 14 white and five black guerrillas took the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. But they were overpowered and the survivors were executed.
I had heard some of Paul Robeson songs at Marilyn Blue’s house. One of the most inspiring was the song about the fire-brand, long-bearded John Brown, adopted from a poem written in 1928 by Stephen Vincent Benet.
“John Brown’s body lies a’mouldring in the grave
His soul goes marching on
The stars above in Heaven now are looking kindly down
on the grave of old John Brown
America’s working folk are all remembering of the spot
It’s the grave of old John Brown
His soul goes marching on
At the Guatemalan border, we presented our Yankee passports to three border guards. As they stared at the eagle-emblem documents through dark sun glasses, I shuddered at the thought that we would be entering a state, whose militarists kill its Mayan population in the same brutal fashion that my own countrymen had killed its indigenous population. This is also the same state that had permitted the United States to train its mercenary Brigade 2506 for the Bay of Pigs invasion just the year before. Its dictator, Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes, allowed the training camps in exchange for promises of increases in sugar sales and for cash, an agreement the US squelched on.
I recall Guatemala’s history before I arrived in 1962, and fudge a bit by looking beyond our trip.
In William Walker’s time, indigo’s blue dye
and cochineal’s red dye were the main attractions for foreign capital.
Soon, it was to be coffee’s turn, and sugar of course, and then
the big banana. Guatemala became one of the richest territories for its
banana latifundios, and the U.S corporation, United Fruit (Chiquita),
swallowed up its competitors. United Fruit became Guatemala’s largest
latifundista, as it also became in Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama. United
Fruit’s affiliates cornered rail and sea transport. Telephone-telegraph
inventions were monopolized by US concerns, as well as electricity and
even the mails. Ports, customs and police were all run directly or indirectly
by US companies, and the $ was, in effect, the region’s currency.
Local and foreign latifundistas’ notion of “free labor” was and is exactly that, it should be free. There must be enough wages so that the workers do not starve to death, but no more. And no small farmer should be allowed to own his land when the latifundistas decide they want it. They must either be allowed to buy it for a pittance or simply take it over. Latifundistas with enough money hire their own private armies: paramilitary death squad groups. However they often need a stronger army to aid their “free enterprise” missions, so that’s where the world’s policeman comes into the picture. The U.S. army, navy and especially the marines are used for just such matters, as we have so eloquently heard from General Smedley Butler.
In 1920, when Guatemalan workers formed unions in an effort to obtain collective bargains, U.S. troops were sent in to crush them. They were withdrawn when their deed for freedom was accomplished in just two weeks.
In 1933, Dictator Jorge Ubico suppressed trade unions by having his troops murder 100 unionists, students and opposition political leaders. Then he restored an earlier law against Indian “vagrancy”. Each Indian had to carry on his person a listing of his work days. If these were “insufficient”, he had to pay a “debt” in jail or by working without pay for half a year. Ubico cut wages from $1 a day to $.25 cents in the construction of a military highway, and he granted coffee and banana plantation owners and managers permission to kill. Decree no. 2,795 declared that, “Plantation proprietors will be exempt from criminal responsibility...” (See Eduardo Galeano’s, "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent", Monthly Review, N.Y, 1973).
Ubico was eulogized by “Readers Digest”, when he fell from power for having avoided inflation by lowering wages. Ubico was swept from power, in 1944, by a liberal revolution led by young officers and university students and professors. Juan José Arévalo was democratically elected president. His slightly reformist government established a new labor code to protect city and rural workers, and he instituted a broad educational plan. United Fruit no longer had uncontrolled power over food production and the railroads and ports, and actually had to pay taxes. Its corporate owners fumed and plotted.
The country’s wealth grew. Social reforms began to make it a decent place to live in for most workers and small farmers. In 1951, a new administration, under Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, continued and extended Arévalo’s reforms. A new agrarian reform was enacted to develop a peasant capitalist economy. By 1954, 100,000 families had benefited. The law only affected idle lands, and the state paid expropriated owners an indemnity in bonds. United Fruit was using only eight percent of its lands. Some of its idle lands were thus distributed to peasants. That was going too far. The U.S. launched a propaganda campaign claiming that, “The iron curtain is falling over Guatemala”.
A U.S. military school graduate, Colonel Rodolfo Castillo Armas, was selected to invade his own country with troops trained and armed by the U.S. The world’s policeman made sure he would overthrow the democratic government by providing F-47 bomber air cover.
In a June 10, 1963 speech to the American Booksellers Association, the U.S. president at the time of the invasion, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said: “We had to get rid of a Communist government which had taken over.”
Eisenhower’s ambassadors to Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua had worked out the invasion plan along with State Secretary John Foster Dulles. His brother, Allen, was CIA director and the operations chief. Allen Dulles had been on United Fruit’s board of directors before entering the government, and it had obtained all the contracts it wished with Ubico in office. These contracts were drafted by John Foster Dulles law office. The Dulles brothers were as close to the $ banana action and to the torturing of people as President George Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney are to the U.S oil industry in Iraq and to torturing prisoners as I write.
A year after Armas was installed, another CIA man, Walter Bedell Smith, took over Dulles’ United Fruit director’s seat. Armas returned to the monopoly, and other expropriated landlords, all the lands they had taken from Guatemalans.
Brutality against natives, mestizo farmers, grass roots political groups and opposition parties became so extreme that some took up arms against the government the year before we arrived at the Guatemalan border. The National Revolutionary Unity of Guatemala (UNAG) forged a popular liberation struggle. Poor people, aborigines and mestizos, supported them.
After our trip, one dictator after another suppressed the liberation efforts of the little man, and torture was a key instrument as was peremptory murder. The government of César Méndez Montenegro (1966-70) revived the “right” of plantation landlords to shoot-to-kill their own workers without interference. At the same time, Méndez granted to the Yankees the right to interfere in his country. They sent in their elite green berets soldiers in 1966-7. That was the worst year in the orgy of violence in the 35-year civil war. Indiscriminate repression was part of the green berets “search and destroy” lesson. Concentration camps were set up for peasants not murdered. They were forced to become part of the terror, forced to kill liberationists or be tortured and killed themselves. Anti-guerrilla terror laws held all security force members exempt for homicides; plantation owners and managers had the legal status of local authorities.
U.S. Catholic priest Thomas Melville was expelled from Guatemala for his progressive attitudes. He told the “National Catholic Reporter”, in January 1968, that in 1966-7, the U.S. participated directly in murdering about 3000 peasants, trade unionists, professors and students.
The atrocities committed by the elite and their guardians against their own peoples in Central America, especially in Guatemala, were so routine and extreme that a U.S. president actually acknowledged that Washington’s support for repression had been “wrong”. In March 1999, President Bill Clinton became the first US president to visit Guatemala in three decades. The week after the UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) reported on the civil war’s violence, Clinton offered an apology, the first US presidential apology for repressing people.
The CEH investigations occurred in compliance with the Accord of Oslo, signed June 23, 1994, by the Guatemalan government and the opposition UNAG, as part of terms for terminating the civil war. UNAG was allowed to transform itself into a legal opposition political party and run in elections, although many of its candidates were to be murdered by right-wing para-militarists who refused to turn over their weapons. Bishop Juan José Gerardi, a human rights spokesman, was murdered during CEH investigations.
The UN-sponsored investigators concluded that at least 160,000 people, mostly civilians, had been killed, and 40,000 “disappeared” during the civil war. The report, “Guatemala: Memory of Silence”, also concluded that 93% of the “grave human rights violations” were committed by the state’s security forces. “Torture was systematically applied by agents of the state.” Tens upon tens of thousands of poor people were tortured; half of them did not survive. These are some of the torture methods utilized and recorded in “Guatemala: Memory of Silence”:
578: Softening: One is forced to stand blind-folded or hooded
for many hours and even for days on end. One is not permitted to sleep,
nor drink water or eat. Defecating and urinating takes place in one’s
clothing. Sometimes one is forced to eat one’s excrement or that
of soldiers, and to drink their urine.
581. The graves where people tortured to death were thrown were often in military facilities or police stations where other prisoners were forced to watch the torture. In some of these facilities the bodies rotted and were eaten by worms and rats.
587. Physical Torture: Severe beatings conducted repeatedly
and systematically; striking the soles of the feet is a normal method.
People are often burned any place on the body, including sexual organs;
suspended by the arms or ankles; immersions in water or sewage; applying
electric shocks; raping women and men; pharmacological and dental torturing.
589. Sexual torture consists of application of violence directly on the genitals; use of electric current to the genitals; use of animals to rape women; use of bottles and clubs to penetrate vagina and anus;
590. Personal testimonies of many victims who recall torturers burning their breasts and nipples with cigarettes; soldiers and policemen often laughed at the women they raped and afterwards made jokes about them.
602. Some military bases burned people in ovens after they had been tortured to death.
603. People were often hung in such ways that they were not choked to death but underwent intense pain in unnatural positions, making it impossible to rest. In some cases, people were strapped suspended on a board or grill. They were hung over a bed or mattress. These positions were maintained for up to three months. Some people hung in this manner were beaten on the genitals.
605. Victims were often drugged with substances that produced hallucinations, distortions of reality and extreme pain.
608. Some people were mutilated, others made to watch. Fingers and toes were cut off; sometimes the hand or foot entirely, or bit by bit. “The mutilation of men’s sexual organs was applied systematically.” Tongues, noses, ears and eyes were torn out of their sockets. Mutilated corpses were often thrown onto roads or yards of villages where they came from. Entire populations were meant to be terrorized.
610. San Juan Cotzal was one of the villages where the entire village was forced to watch the torture of some of their own. They cut off parts of people’s bodies before the entire village. One man was made to eat his own ear. The torturers ended their day’s work by cutting up their victims, some alive, into small pieces with machetes.
614. Psychological torture: Isolation and sensorial deprivations for long periods was frequently employed.
615. Sometimes sexual inflictions accompanied this torture.
618. Being forced to watch other people being tortured either at their homes or on open land, or incarcerated in police stations and military facilities.
621. Arbitrary execution at torture’s completion: Murdering persons was common once the torturing was finished. Sometimes people were killed because they were clearly not “guilty” of anything, had no information to offer, and sometimes when they were strong enough to refuse any cooperation. The murdered victims´ bodies were often disposed of, and they became one of the “disappeared”, or their mutilated bodies were thrown out so others could see what destinies lay ahead for them if...
The US and international mass media mostly ignored the CEH
report. One author who wrote about it, however, was Eduardo Galeano. Here
is a citation from page 129 of his book, "Open Veins":
“All the men of the village of Cajón del Rió were exterminated; those of Tituque had their intestines gouged out with knives; in Piedra Parada they were flayed alive; in Agua Blanca de Ipala they were burned alive after being shot in the legs. A rebellious peasant’s head was stuck on a pole in the center of San Jorge’s plaza. In Cerro Gordo the eyes of Jaime Velázquez were filled with pins. The body of Ricardo Miranda, thirty-eight holes in his head, and the head of Haroldo Silva were found beside the San Salvador highway. In Los Mixcos, Ernesto Chinchilla’s tongue was cut out...The head of José Guzmán was chopped into a mass of tiny pieces and scattered along the road. In San Lucas Sacatepéquez, the wells yielded corpses instead of water. On the Miraflores plantation, the men greeted the dawn without hands or feet...In the cities, the doors of the doomed were marked with black crosses...(many during this) period of humiliation and fury...turned up in rivers and on roadsides, their featureless faces too disfigured by torture to be identified.”
In 1983, Ronald Reagan, the most popular US president in its history, oversaw what a spiritual offspring of General Smedley Butler witnessed directly in Guatemala. Special Forces member Stan Goff served in Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Peru and in Colombia, where, in the 1990s, he decided he had had enough. He came out to the public with his story.
Goff had befriended a CIA “political officer” attached to the US embassy in Guatemala. The officer told him how he oversaw the extermination of Indians in Quiche and Petén. He said, “That was the best fucking thing I have done since Vietnam...It is us that owns this shit here.”
A few of the victims of US expansion were United States citizens. As the CEH was gathering its data, a U.S. Catholic nun who had worked in Guatemala in the 1980s, described what had occurred to her. These are extracts from Sister Dianna Ortiz´ testimony before the US Congressional human rights caucus, June 24, 1998:
“In 1989, while I was working as a missionary in Guatemala, I was abducted and brutally tortured by Guatemalan security agents. My back was burned over 100 times with cigarettes. I was gang-raped repeatedly. I was beaten, and I was tortured psychologically, as well—I was lowered into a pit where injured women, children, and men writhed and moaned, and the dead decayed, under swarms of rats. Finally, I was forced to stab another human being...
“My last few minutes in detention, I met Alejandro, whom the torturers referred to as their boss. He was tall and fair skinned and spoke halting Spanish, with a think American accent. His English was American, flawless, unaccented...He told me to get into his jeep and said he would take me to a friend of his at the United States embassy, who would help me leave the country. During the ride, he enjoined me to forgive my torturers and said if I didn’t, there would be consequences for me. He reminded me that my torturers had made videotapes and taken photos of the parts of the torture I was most ashamed of. He said if I didn’t forgive my torturers, he would have no choice but to release those photos and tapes to the press. At that point, I jumped out of the jeep and ran.”
In 1995, a US court ordered former Guatemalan Defense Minister Hector Gramajo Morales to pay $47.5 million in damages to eight Guatemalans and to Sister Ortiz for his responsibility in their torture. Morales told the court he had carried out “a more humanitarian means of dealing with perceived dissenters. We instituted civil affairs (in 1982) which provides development for 70 percent of the population, while we kill 30 percent. Before, the strategy—“search and destroy”—was to kill 100 percent.”
Superpower and Super Torture
The United States strives to be the world’s best trainer
of torturers. Just after the Allies defeated the Nazi mass murderers,
the US government founded a special school for the purpose. The School
of the Americans was established at one of its dozen bases in Panama.
In 1946, the US began to officially train soldiers and police in the usage
of torture there.
I learned much of what follows from interviews, newspaper articles, and especially from the grass-roots organization, School of Americas Watch. The grass-roots organization was founded, in 1990, by Vietnam war veteran and Mary Knoll priest, Father Roy Bourgeois, close to the site of torture training. Many people have since demonstrated in front of the fort. Their efforts nearly succeeded in convincing a majority in the House of Representatives to dismantle the school. But the more powerful Department of Defense offered to change the school’s name, in order to continue ply their trade. The proposal to close the school failed by just ten votes, and since 2001 the SOA is called, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Operations. Opponents—a new name, the same shame.”
In 1977-8, during the Panama government of General Omar Torrijos, the Panama Canal Treaty was signed. The canal was finally returned to Panama in 2000. Torrijos was killed in an aircraft crash, in 1981, a tragedy that many suspected the US had engineered. Torrijos’ family tried without success to sue the US for murdering Torrijos. Graham Greene, who befriended Torrijos and wrote about him in, Getting to Know the General (1984), commented on Torrijos success in extracting a treaty from the US: “It is possible that he paid for his success with his life.”
Panamanians were not enamored by housing what became known as, the “School for Dictators, Assassins and Torturers.” Many recalled how US troops from their military bases and “schools” killed students who sought to raise the Panamanian flag, in January 1964 protests against Yankee domination. Panama’s government severed relations with the US for three months. Still angered, the Panamanians deported the School of the Americas during the presidency of Jorge Illueca, in 1984, when General Noriega was a powerful leader. The US remembered him for this deed. He would be punished. The School of the Americas was transferred to Georgia’s Fort Benning army base where it remains today.
The year before Sister Ortiz´ testimony to congress and the CEH report, the Pentagon, under pressure from grass-roots organizations and some congress people, released seven of its training manuals prepared by the US military and admittedly used at SOA. The first known US torture manuals were written in 1963 by KUBARK intelligence agents, that is, the CIA.
The SOA’s 75 military and civilian instructors taught 52 courses at the official cost of $4 million. Critics assert that $18 million was used. As of 2004, the school had trained over 64,000 soldiers and officers, mainly from Latin American. Many of them have become infamous after their horrendous deeds were revealed. Future military generals and State dictators were trained there. Here is a partial list of graduates:
--Since 1968, ten SOA graduates have become heads of state in six countries through non-democratic means. They include: General Roberto Viola, Argentina; General Manuel Noriega, Panama; General Juan Melgar Castro, Honduras; Juan Velasco Alvarado, Peru; Guillermo Rodríguez, Ecuador; and Guatemalan tyrant dictator José Efrain Rios Montt, whose favorite expression was: “Beans for the obedient; bullets for the rest”.
--Among the leading generals and high officers responsible for massacres and torture are: Roberto D’Aubuison, El Salvador’s death squad leader responsible for murders of 900 civilians in the village of El Mazote, and the assassinations of US and Salvadoran priests and nuns; General Leopoldo Galtieri, head of the Argentina junta defeated in the Falklands War and subject of an international arrest warrant issued in April, 1997; Honduras highest-ranking death squad leader, General Humberto Ragalado Hernandez, also linked to Colombia drug cartels; General Manuel Antonio Callejas, chief of Guatemala’s army intelligence in the 1970s-80s and cited by the UN as the leading individual responsible for most of the tens of thousands of murders in that period.
SOA training manuals were also distributed to Latin American intelligence schools, often run or supervised by US military and CIA officers. Yet SOA is only one of the tax-supported facilities used to train military brutality in Latin America. The very Air Force base where I acquired basic training, Lackland, in Texas, has such a training facility: Inter-American Air Forces Academy. In addition, there are: the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas; the Inter-American Defense College at Ft. McNair in Washington DC itself; and the Pentagon, with other US military security agencies, provides in-country training throughout Latin America, all which serves to strengthen the mishandling of civilians and prisoners.
These seven Pentagon-released manuals are not the only ones, but in those released we see that among those to be arrested and interrogated are: family members of those who support “union organizing or recruiting,” those who distribute “propaganda in favor of the interest of workers”, those who “sympathize with demonstrations or strikes”, and those who make “accusations that the government has failed to meet the basic needs of the people”. Other potential counterintelligence targets include: “local or national political party teams, or parties that have goals, beliefs or ideologies contrary or in opposition to the National Government.” A “blacklist” of names is to be collected. These are to further include: “enemy agents,” “subversive persons”, “political leaders known or suspected as hostile toward the Armed Forces or the political interests of the National Government," and "collaborators and sympathizers of the enemy,” known or suspect.
“The Washington Post” reported, on September 21, 1996 (“U.S. Instructed Latins on Executions, Torture”), that the released manuals promoted executions, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion.
“The New York Times” wrote that US torture manuals were used by Honduran agents and by Nicaraguan contras against Nicaraguan peasants, in the 1980s. In one of the manuals, the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual-1983, the importance of having headquarters approval is stressed, and it refers to the need for trainers´ presence during “the practical work” of prisoners over the first weeks.
“This reference gives new support to the claims by Latin Americans held as prisoners and by US nun Dianna Ortiz, tortured by the Guatemalan army in 1989, that US personnel were present in interrogation and torture rooms,” concludes the research publication Covert Action Quarterly (9/97).
I experienced “light” torture in my own life. I have already told of the first time in a US barracks in Japan, which was basically sanctioned by the military base commander. I would later experience two episodes of torture, but I never had done to me anything compared to what was done to these people reported here. Knowing horrors of torture, I often have nightmares about being tortured, or watching others tortured, and being impotent to stop it. I am always afraid in these nightmares that I am a “coward”, that I cannot resist and will give up information, which will lead to the torture and death of compatriots and innocents. Being tortured stays with you forever.
Farther down the road
I wanted to drive straight through Guatemala. The night stillness screamed of pain and death. The distance to the next border was not more than 250 kilometers, but the roads were full of holes and we proceeded slowly. We didn’t stop for more than a short break until we reached El Salvador. The distance through this small country, and across Honduras, by the Gulf of Fonseca, to the Nicaraguan border was about the same. We decided to drive without sleeping, taking turns at the wheel. Reviewing these countries’ history in my mind kept me awake. I will supplement with a few events, which occurred to these peoples after our trip.
Following the Monroe Doctrine warning, and once Spain pulled away from the Americas, El Salvador had little to offer foreign nations other than indigo. Soon thereafter, however, coffee was planted for local consumption, and by the time Walker murdered his way to the presidency coffee began to be a key export item. Coffee production required a greater agricultural work force, preferably at low wages. Appeasing governments therefore banned communally owned lands, forcing the sale of all lands into private hands. Thus, the natives lost their lands to the rich. In 1907, the government also banned trade union organizing, and the National Guard was sent into rural areas, “to control the population”. Nevertheless, the first labor union was able to organize in 1912. Strikes and other protests followed. In 1925, the Communist party (PCS) was founded. Agustín Farabundo Martí was a leader. In 1928-9, he fought alongside Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua. He then returned to El Salvador, in order to organize a social revolution.
The majority of city workers and rural proletariat sided with revolution. In the early 1930s, coffee accounted for 95% of exports. Production, however, was owned by a few major landowners, who were indifferent to the growing hunger among workers and peasants, whose food production was forced to decline in favor of dollar profits. The PCS organized an insurrection in January 1932. It was prematurely discovered by the government and put down in a few days. The insurgents killed no more than 100 people while the government massacred tens of thousands. The rich were aided by their good neighbor to the north, which sent naval warships to assure that the revolt was crushed.
During the next four decades, generalized repression resulted in stability for profit-making. Peasant unions were never legalized, and all rural areas were guarded by permanent vigilante squads in ORDEN, which were trained and armed by the US green berets. Their key man in El Salvador’s national intelligence agency was Roberto D´Aubuisson. He was the instigator of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, on March 24, 1980.
By that time four armed groups had shaped a national liberation
movement into the umbrella Farabundo Martí National Liberation
Front (FMLN). The first guerrilla group, the Marxist Popular Liberation
Forces (FPL), had been started by eight dissident Communist party members,
in April 1970. Other leftists formed armed groups in the 1970s. The opposition
grew to such a massive extent that even the PCS took up arms. In 1979,
it formed the Armed Liberation Forces (FAL) and joined the FMLN. In so
doing, it broke with the Moscow-dominated Communist parties, whose strategy
was based on “peaceful coexistence” with international capitalism
under the leadership of the US. Moscow did not want to confront the world’s
leading super power and stuck to its strategy of “peaceful coexistence”,
while the US stuck to violent confrontation.
Following the assassination of the popular archbishop, the guerrillas planned a major offensive, hoping that a national insurrection would overthrow the government. Though the majority of people wanted a change of government, the United States poured in massive military support for the rich. Nevertheless, a national uprising did take place in January 1981. During an intense week of fighting, there were some 50 major actions, but the insurrection failed. Armed struggle would continue until an armistice was mutually agreed upon in the mid-1990s. Following the armistice, several of the key generals fled to Florida, in order to avoid any possible prosecution.
According to the United Nations Truth Commission Report on El Salvador, in 1993—a process similar to the one then taking place in Guatemala—El Salvador’s armed forces were linked to death squads, who were paid by the rich, and were responsible for the murder of many thousands of people, and the torturing of thousands more, whom they claimed were “subversives.”
Honduras’ history is much the same yet different in that the left never grew to the proportions of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. And the United States intervened more frequently than in Guatemala and El Salvador, though that is not the case with Nicaragua.
The US first sent soldiers and marines to Honduras in 1903, to put down a grass-roots initiated revolution. The vast interests of United Fruit Company were once again the main reason for US intervention: to “protect US citizens”. Again and again—in 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924-5—troops and marines were sent to secure “dollar diplomacy”, either during heatedly-contested elections or during “civil unrest.” In the 1980s, with Reagan’s war against the Nicaraguan Sandinista government, Honduras was virtually occupied by US “advisors” and their Nicaraguan contras, the remnants of dictator Somoza’s army, which were strengthened by kidnapped peasants and Miskito natives from the northeast Atlantic coast.
As we entered Nicaragua, I wandered if we might encounter the newly formed Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), child of the liberation guerrilla war of 1927-33, and led by Augusto Sandino. In 1933, the first of three Somoza-family dictators, Anastasio Somoza Garcia, said of this liberation war: “I’ll give this country peace, if I have to shoot ever other man in Nicaragua to get it.”
This was spoken not long before Somoza and Sandino agreed to a ceasefire but when Sandino was invited to an armistice ceremony, Somoza had him murdered.
Again, it was the US which had come to the rescue of dictators and the rich. US army-marines occupied the land and engaged in battle—including bombing populations—during the entire upsurge. The US made the crucial difference between brutal dictatorship and a democratically-run, popular government, even though President Roosevelt said of the nationally-hated dictator: “He’s a son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch.”
The US had long before made it clear to Nicaraguans that it was Washington which owned their land. Already in 1894, US troops occupied Bluefields, inhabited mostly by Miskitos and former black slaves from Africa. Whenever Nicaraguans organized to protest oppression, the Yankees came to the rescue—1896, occupation of Corinto; 1898, occupation of San Juan del Sur; 1899, Bluefields again occupied; 1907, a “dollar diplomacy” protectorate was set up throughout Nicaragua, as it was in neighboring Honduras; 1910, occupation of Bluefields and Corinto again; and in1912 with the occupation that eventually sparked the Sandino-led resistance.
The Missile Crisis
When we arrived in Managua, on October 23rd, the streets were empty except for heavily armed national guard troops. Thick black blaring headlines topping the daily newspaper explained why:
“US embargo of Russian ships on their way to Cuba”.
The brink of an atomic world war hung in the dust-filled air.
The “Missile Crisis” had actually begun on October 10, when Republican Senator Kenneth Keating announced that Cuba had “offensive missile sites.” Keating was doing the CIA’s bidding but there was something to it. Four days later, a U-2, flying 22 kilometers over Cuba, photographed an unsuspecting group of Russians and Cubans at a newly constructed missile site. During the ensuing week, JFK ordered stepped up surveillance, which gathered evidence that the Russians had implanted “offensive nuclear missiles.” Amphibious and airborne divisions were deployed in southern US and the Canal Zone. War exercises were conducted close to Cuba. JFK told the war-hungry military and CIA brass that they would have their invasion, “if necessary.” But first Kennedy tried “diplomacy” with a loaded gun.
On October 22, Kennedy’s announced to the world, in a televised speech, that the Missile Crisis was on. “A strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for Cuba from whatever nation or port will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back.”
Once again, the Monroe Doctrine was employed: the US assumed the “right” to stop and board ships from any land. JFK even audaciously called upon the “captive people” of Cuba to overthrow their own government. Cuba responded by putting the military and militia on combat alert.
“We are a sovereign nation in our right—not in the Yankee concept of sovereignty...To take away that sovereignty they will have to sweep us from the face of the earth!” Fidel replied.
And that is just what the government, the military and spying security forces, and the majority in congress wished to do: sweep Cuba’s sovereignty from the face of the earth. Kennedy was intelligent enough, though, to know that if a military invasion were launched, it could quickly get out of hand with the use of nuclear weapons, bringing the entire planet to the brink of extinction. The key difference between Kennedy and the others was that he wasn’t sure the US could win, or, at least, come out of atomic war with an operable social and economic system. The military brass/CIA came up with figures of how many millions of Americans might be killed. While calculations were set upon the conference table, the military/CIA were happily preparing for an invasion. Kennedy sent his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to find out what the Russians were doing and to convince them to back off.
Bob and I were taken by surprise, as was most everyone. We felt isolated and frightened in an empty café in Managua, the city of Anastasio Debayle Somoza. This was the same dictator, who the previous year had gleefully sent off from his country US cover planes for the Bay of Pigs invasion. His family dynasty ran the country as if it were their private estate. Here we were under his thumb as the US was preparing war on Cuba, the country we hoped to reach in a few days. It now seemed impossible, but we hopped into the “bug” and drove quickly to the Costa Rican border.
The border guards were tense, but acted politely upon seeing our US passports. They asked if we had any weapons and we showed them our pistol and knives, explaining they were for our protection during the trip. They searched the car. Finding nothing more, they let us into Costa Rica with our light weaponry.
Though the guards were stressed by the international crisis,
their country had not experienced any violent uproar or government military
repression on any significant scale since the 1948 social revolution.
In fact, there was no longer an official army, only a civil guard for
internal order. At this time, there were just over one million citizens,
and they were educated to believe in the United States as the beneficial
big daddy. This was the case with all governments, from those with a bit
of pink to those with a bit of black. The most liberal president, for
example, had been José Figueres Ferrer. He was a famous general,
who supported the 1948 social revolution, and opposed the right-wing forces
siding with Nicaragua’s dictator Somoza. Figueres stood for many
progressive reforms during his presidency in the mid-1950s. Nevertheless,
he later admitted, he had been on the CIA’s payroll. But, so what,
he implied. Almost all of Latin America’s presidents and top leaders
are or have been compliant agents for the White House.
These regimes imitate US educational goals. For example, comic books from the US, especially Walt Disney products, are distributed liberally throughout the country through the US Embassy. Many of these comic books portray Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolutionaries as bandits, murderers, children haters. In fact, there are missioners from the US who go door-to-door giving out such comic books. They tell parents that they must protect their children against the communists, to make sure that their government is not influenced by Cuba, because in Cuba the children are taken from the home and forced into state schools, where they are brainwashed to be communists. Some of these “missionaries” even play the role of children abductors, as in a theatre piece, without the Costa Rican family knowing this. At the end of the “play”, the “Christian” patriots explain what the scene they set was all about. This “educational program” was part of the US government’s “Operation Peter Pan”, a propaganda operation that told the lie that Cuba collectivized children and closed down the Catholic Church.
Even though the constitution purports that Costa Rica is a free and democratic land, the Communist party is not allowed to run in elections nor are schools, not even colleges, allowed to teach what communism is, or what it purports to be by its creators and protagonists. This control works quite well, so the United States has had no reason to intervene military in Costa Rica, quite an exception to the rule.
On the 12th day out of Los Angeles, we had reached the point of departure for our true destination. It was just a few hours to San José, the capital, where we must find a way to Cuba if a world war did not occur. We arrived in the city on the morning of October 24.
“25 RUSSIAN SHIPS ADVANCE TOWARD CUBA: Tonight they will confront the American forces—THE WORLD IS STIRRED” headlined the San José daily “La Hora”.
The lead story was written by the US news service AP (Associated
Press). It spoke of possible military combat on the high seas. I have
kept several editions of national newspapers during that week. There is
not one article, not even a phrase, which suggests any doubt that “The
Americans” were right in their course. The OAS blue-stamped anything
Kennedy’s ambassador put before the Latin “leaders”.
The president of Costa Rica, Francisco J. Orlich, was no exception. Orlich
looked forward to the next OAS meeting, which was scheduled to take place
in his capital city and offered Kennedy all the support he could want,
in order to “defend the liberty of the Latin American peoples.”
I later learned that everyone in the United States was scared to death, even my friends. There were daily air raid drills—practice drills for children and workers in air raid shelters, stacked with food and water supplies. Hoarding became a national characteristic with rushes on supermarkets. The American people were preparing for a world war; they were not acting to prevent one. A few thousand rare souls braved the government-mass media-panic-created atmosphere to take up picket signs. There were a few demonstrations. The largest mustered about 10,000 people. They marched before the United Nations plaza with slogans: “US-USSR, No War Over Cuba”, and “Hands Off Cuba.” The latter, more “radical” demand was opposed by the social democratic part of the tiny minority who protested US bellicosity. The American working class—the population as a whole—shunned the left-wing like pariahs. As Simone de Beauvoir wrote in, Force of Circumstance, “To be genuinely left-wing in the United States takes a great deal of character and independence as well as openness of mind...(they are) lonely and courageous men and women.”
Russian leaders, at first, denied any knowledge of missile sites or of having any offensive weapons on their ships. Ships sailed to and fro Russia-Cuba nearly daily, most with oil and sugar. As Kennedy sent an armada of ships and aircraft to confront the Soviet ships, Premier Nikita Khruschev began transmitting a series of communiques that would lead to a peaceful solution. He admitted that “defensive nuclear weapons” were installed in Cuba, and proposed that he would have them withdrawn if the US withdrew theirs from Turkey bases.
The US also had offensive atomic weapons on Italian and
English soil, so the bombs in Turkey were not so vital. In fact, Kennedy
had discreetly told military leaders, in August, to begin withdrawal of
the atomic missiles in Turkey. As the missile crisis began, Kennedy asked
the top brass what had happened to them. “Nothing,” replied
the brass. The military had simply refused to obey the president’s
orders. Stalemate. Now, it was too late to remove them. To do so would
make it seem that the United States was backing down before the Communists,
and that was impossible. No one threatens the United States of America!
As Bob and I were reading the newspapers in San José, the Soviet fleet stopped in open sea. Though none was carrying missiles, since they were already in Cuba, Soviet leaders decided to withdraw their ships, in order to avoid a world war. Regardless of how one judges the Soviet Communist Party—did it do more right or more wrong by the people, did it advance or not the cause of equality, of socialism—it acted more humanely than the US government, and by its actions saved the world from a probable nuclear war collision course.
Bob and I experienced these last intense days living in a small boarding house. How can one put to words to the insanity of human beings? How can they look themselves in the mirror, or look each other in the face when they say: “No one can get away with threatening the United States of America. Send the atomic warships! Send the nuclear warplanes! Get ready for World War!”
Though the Russian ships had turned around, the US did not deescalate the tension of a world war. UN Secretary General U Thant appealed to all three nations to enter into negotiations. Cuba had been ignored by both the US and the USSR. And now, Kennedy refused to enter into negotiations or even to meet with the Secretary General. He also rejected Khruschev’s missile swap proposal. To break the stalemate, Khruschev sent a private message to Kennedy on the night of October 26, stating that he had undergone two world wars and knew all too well the death and destruction they cause. Therefore, he proposed that the nuclear weapons in Cuba would be withdrawn if only the US agreed never to invade Cuba.
Not even that was enough to convince the military-CIA to cease-and-desist. They proposed an air strike on Cuba, followed by an invasion. War, to them, was always in “our national interest”, Kennedy later said of the military brass. Kennedy decided to accept Moscow’s proposal. He would remove the quarantine and “give assurances against an invasion of Cuba”, if the Soviets removed the nuclear weapons “under appropriate United Nations observation and supervision.”
After 12 tense days, the world breathed lightly on October 27.
Cuba’s government leaders were, nevertheless, displeased with the bargain, recalling Kennedy’s earlier peaceful assurances while they experienced the opposite under his Operation Mongoose. So, Cuba refused to allow inspection inside their country. The US inspected Soviet ships from the air instead. US pilots photographed the uncovered missiles aboard Soviet ships as they sailed away.
Although Kennedy had assisted Khruschev in avoiding a nuclear world war, and at the same time accomplished the imperial Manifest Destiny mission with the removal of missiles—the Soviets now had no atomic missiles outside their own territory—the president still earned the hatred of important military/CIA hawks. And this hatred continued even after he reneged on his pledge of a nonaggression pact. Operation Mongoose was terminated only to be replaced by a Cuban Coordinating Committee charged with conducting “covert actions” against Cuba. The committee was headed by Bob Kennedy, who was rabidly determined to smash Cuba’s revolution. Cuba has been confronted by the Washington-Pentagon-Langley’s “Secret War” ever since—by thousands more sabotage operations, and hundreds of assassination attempts on their president’s life.
As Bob and I waited out the crisis, I experienced the charms of a young Costa Rican woman. She accompanied me in my narrow bed, often while Bob studied Spanish in the same room. When the worst of the world conflict had passed, Bob and I began frequenting the university, reading in the library and becoming acquainted with some left-wing students and a professor. Some we met were members of the national solidarity committee with Cuba. They told us it had been relatively easy to sail to Cuba from Costa Rica. We’d have to wait and see if they could arrange something after the crisis had completely passed. Our hopes were not completely impossible now.
Alfonso was an engineer student, who spent the month of July in Cuba as a guest of the government and solidarity committee. Alfonso enthusiastically explained to us how the revolution was bringing welfare to the whole of the Cuban population, while curtailing profit-makers ability to gouge the citizenry. Housing rentals were reduced so that no one paid more than ten percent of their income for rents or mortgages. Schools were being built and education was free for all, as was the new healthcare program.
In November, I wrote letters to Carol and other friends in Los Angeles. In one I wrote, “If I reject the revolutionary life, I reject responsibility. Why? Because I realize that I am most helpful in societies that must use violence to obtain their just ends.”
My letters show that I was torn between my desire to live and to develop myself, and by the sense of responsibility for the down-trodden, by the necessity of putting my body on the line of danger. Otherwise, I had no right to expect anyone else to do so.
“AHOGAR EN SANGRE” read the November 24 headline in “La Hora.”
Five persons had been murdered and 30 wounded (“Quenched
in Blood”) the evening before as they protested in the nearby city
of Cartago. The victims formed part of a large demonstration, some 5000
people, opposing the drastic increase in electric rates imposed upon them
by the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity, partially owned by US and
English companies. An average worker, earning 130 colones a month, would
have to pay some 30 colones for electricity.
Newspaper accounts, and personal ones we later heard, explained that the guards had ordered the people to disperse. They refused. It was their democratic right to protest with picket signs and chantings. The police moved in and began to forcefully lead some protestors away. The people protested and blocked the police. In an unprecedented act of violence, the civil guard attacked with fixed bayonets. A riot ensued and police used guns. Children were seriously wounded; two shot by machine-gun bullets.
Pro-capitalist newspapers wrote that the violence was regrettable but, “without order and enforced laws, chaos and anarchy would reign.” President Orlich blamed the “riot” on “Communists”. But, if Communists were present, it was not they who had killed the people.
Curious and angry, feeling the need to do something, we drove to Cartago in the afternoon. I figured there might be another demonstration and wanted to speak with the civil guards to see what they might do. It was rather easy for me to convince the captain in charge of the troops, who had fired on the people the day before, that I was a Yankee businessman. He boasted to me that if the “rioters” appeared again, he was prepared to “shoot-to-kill to protect private property”.
We had to warn the people, so we went to the area where the shootings had occurred. Sure enough, there were a couple dozen men milling about. They were angry. Many had been drinking in their sorrow. There was loud talk of seeking revenge. I approached a clear-headed man, who seemed to have some influence. As I was telling him what I had learned from the captain, a coca-cola bottle flew over our heads and smashed on a brick building; the petrol in it spilled about us. Two more “molotov cocktails” were thrown in the direction of where troops were a couple of blocks away.
The man I was speaking with asked me to tell the others what I had heard. He was worried that things would get out of hand. He called for the others to gather about and listen to this “friend from the north.”
Most listened as I spoke about the captain and his plans, but one man rang out: “Yankee go home.” Others told him to shut up and I was asked my opinion of what they should do. I didn’t know, but I thought it best to come up with something, in order to divert them from death. They were pressured by their sense of honor to act, to revenge those killed and wounded the day before. Some of those present had had family members injured or murdered.
I recounted how we in the United States protest movement were peacefully picketing, demonstrating in large numbers or in smaller acts of civil disobedience. I received boos. One man shouted that peacefully demonstrating was what they had been doing and it resulted only in police repression.
I switched tactics. I speculated that if these riled up, disorganized, macho men had a legitimate reason to go home, they would disperse and not return. This was not a revolutionary moment. So, I told them that a violent confrontation with well armed guards, unarmed as they were, was not a good idea.
“Go home and get whatever weapons you have. Talk to your friends and neighbors. Bring thousands more with you, and be armed, if you wish to take on the government forces.”
Heads nodded. Men talked among themselves. Soon, the crowd began to split up, some headed for home, I surmised. At that moment, guardsmen rushed into the square with gas masks on, firing tear gas and bullets. I believed at the time that they were real bullets but they may have been rubber ones. Bob and I ran with the others. We were able to get to our car parked a few blocks away, and the others were also able to get away. No one got killed or wounded, and no one returned to engage in a futile gesture.
Although most of the media and the government said they lamented the deaths at Cartago, it was most convenient for them to blame the circumstances on “Communists,” especially in this time of the international scare stemming from the “aggression from Moscow-Havana.” The only problem, a mere technical one, was that the Communist party had been outlawed even in the relatively open Costa Rica. This suppression was necessary as part of the terms for receiving large sums of money under the Kennedy “Alliance for Progress” program.
Bob and I had begun learning about the national political situation, mainly through the one progressive political party, Acción Democracia Popular (ADP). It proposed progressive social change by starting from the center and spreading outward. It had recently won one seat in the uni-camera parliament of 57 members. We hoped to meet their assemblyman, Julio Suñol. The party would be running in the future presidential elections with their candidate, Enrique Obregon.
On November 29th, we went downtown to check our mail at the post office, and I visited the doctor. The clap I had acquired from my charming friend was not healing well and he told me that I had taken too much medicine, and that I would probably contract a kidney sickness.
On the way back home, we coincidently met Alfonso and another student. They took us to ADP headquarters, where we spoke with an elder leader and a young activist. They suggested we attend the Cartago episode hearings taking place that afternoon in the legislative assembly. We listened in disgust to most of the speeches. It was evident that these assemblymen did not wish to rectify the cause of the demonstration-riot: foreign capital’s profit-gouging.
Then a young man rose to the assembly floor and demanded that greed and negligence be left behind in favor of socially beneficial programs for children and the poor. Despite his forceful, energetic voice, hardly any of the assemblymen listened to Julio Suñol; they talked amongst themselves as he addressed them. When he finished, Bob and I applauded from the spectators’ balcony—located behind a wide, bullet-proof window. The ADP activist with us arranged for a meeting with Suñol and Obregon later that evening.
As we left the parliament building and headed toward the boarding house for a meal before our meeting, we were followed by two men dressed in slacks and jacket. One was graying at the temples. I whispered to Bob that something political was up. They did not impress me as being thieves. They approached behind us while two other men appeared at our sides. The older man asked to see our passports. I asked who he was and was shown a detective badge. We informed him that ours were at immigration for extension.
“Come along then and let us sort this out at our office,” he ordered.
Their office turned out to be the Guardia Detención, civil guard house. A man behind a desk typed out our names and said they would check our story. We waited silently alongside the civilian clothed detectives. Then a familiar looking fellow came into the room. He looked at me and nodded his head, “That’s him.”
This was the loudmouth at Cartago who had shouted, “Yankee
We were taken by the arm out of this small building and walked around a corner where a large long stone building awaited us, Penitenciaría Central, the state prison. Bob and I were separated. I was pushed through a thick steel door into a dark room and led farther through another thick door into a small obscure cell. I had to bend my head to enter this empty space. I heard a ringing in my ears for several seconds after the door clanked shut.
I paced for a bit, trying to place the preceding event into some logic. Why did they want us in jail? OK, there was a police spy in Cartago, who had heard my impromptu, agitating speech. So, they wanted to punish me for a rebellious speech? My head whirled with speculation as I paced the dimensions of my new abode: 2.6X1.3 square meters. The only light came through a round hole at the bottom of one wall. It was about five centimeters in diameter, and through it came a ray of light and a bit of ventilation, otherwise it was pitch black and stifling hot in here. There was absolutely no material substance in this enclosure. Nothing to sit on, nothing to pee in. What would I do when I had to shit? I reached in my back right pocket. Well, I had my handkerchief, at least. But now I had to pee again, as I frequently had to with this clap condition my lover had shared with me. Smarting pain shot through my penis and kidneys. II chose a wall to urinate on. The stinging intensified as the urine ran down the wall and over the floor.
Standing with my back against a wall, I wondered how long I’d have to be here and how I could sleep. This was my first time in prison, first time for politics anyway. I had spent a night or two in a local city jail, in Oklahoma, for drunkenness. Then I had slept off my inebriation lying on a bunk bed. Now, I was fully conscious, and I was in a foreign country undergoing a national crisis at a time when international tension between capitalism and socialism was at an all-time high. This situation did not bode well at all. Nor did I relish lying on this stone floor in my own urine. But I grew too groggy to remain standing, and half sat and half lay down between the wall and the floor. Most of one pant leg was wet from my urine, and I had to urinate again. I stood up to pee and remained standing. After a while, I dozed off.
CREAK, clanked the unbolting of the door, abruptly awakening me. A Rat! My eyes shot around the floor. Nothing. I sighed and rose to the beckoning of the guard, who led me through the outer cell and its steel door into the LIGHT.
As I adjusted to the lighted room, a colonel cordially told me that he had a few questions, but I may go to the toilet first. I shit and wiped with a newspaper. I washed in the basin but I could not wash the urine smell from my pants. Back in the colonel’s office, he asked about my passport, the pistol and why I came to Costa Rica. He complimented me on my Spanish. He put me at ease. The colonel seemed satisfied with my answers, and said the interview was over but tomorrow someone would take my statement about the Cartago event. He ordered a guard to get me something to eat and some cigarettes, and to take me to a better cell. My new abode was a single cell but with a window facing out to a large indoor area. The guard said that when I needed to go to the toilet, someone would come to take me but that no one was allowed to speak with me. I was viewed as a “Communist wizard”, who could convert a listener. I passed the day in bewilderment and silence, sitting on a hard bunk. I was alone with my wizard self.
The next morning, I heard Bob’s voice calling to me through the window. We could barely hear one another but we realized we were both OK. He was held with other prisoners.
I was fetched by two detectives at mid-morning. They took me to an immigration office, where I was questioned by the arresting officers. Someone was present from the US Embassy. This was a detailed interrogation. The interrogator asked me about the pistol and our books. The detectives had taken our things from the boarding house. One asked what I was doing at Cartago and what I had told the people. I gave a general description. Then he read from someone’s report a different version of what I had told the people. In this statement, I was supposed to have said that their molotov cocktails were inefficient, that I could make better ones. I was said to have encouraged the men to leave the area and return with the entire population armed with weapons to “kill the civil guards.” That was not really what I had said, but my own words could give the authorities the impression that I was trying to overthrow the government. And that is what I later learned was being written in the national newspapers. There were photos of Bob and me on the front pages with descriptions of what we were supposed to have been doing. It was also purported that we had been at the demonstration and riot the day of the murders, which was a lie.
The government was using us as scapegoats for the murders. We were called “international communist agents”. I had been taught to speak “fluent Costa Rican Spanish”, in Moscow—where I had never been—and trained “to overthrow the democratic government of Costa Rica.” That is what the president of Costa Rica was telling the media.
I was in big trouble.
Later that day, two guards came to my cell and led me by the arms into the large indoor “yard”, where prisoners were allowed to take walking exercises. There was a big chair in the middle of the now empty hall. Beside it stood two men each holding razors. All the prisoners were in cells surrounding the hall or upstairs standing on a corridor. I was paraded before them and placed in the chair. The soldier “barbers” grinned at me as they began to shave my bushy “Fidelista” beard and my long hair. The demasculization rite dragged out agonizingly and my face smarted from slight razor cuts. I was walked back to my cell with ridiculing laughter following me.
I was scared, vulnerable. My captives had taken this first step of humiliating me. Now, it would be easier for them to take other, perhaps harsher, measures. Although Costa Rican authorities were known to be much less brutal than governments and armies of other Central American countries, what had occurred in the weeks of our stay led me to fear that the normal restraints were lifted. First, they had put their guards on national alert for any untoward demonstrations. Then, their guards murdered people in Cartago. Now to cover up for it, they had arrested Bob and me, in order to use us as their scapegoats. With “international communist agents” under arrest, they shore wizard Samson’s hair. What next?
My hair would grow again. I called out for a guard.
A young guard warily approached the cell door. Calling through it, he asked what I wanted. The toilet. On my way back from the toilet, I told the guard I wished to petition the courts on a writ of habeas corpus. Since I was not allowed pencil or paper, I needed to tell Bob to make one. The guard hesitated but took pity on me (something he would come to regret, for when superiors learned he let me speak to Bob, he was placed under house arrest). He allowed me a minute to speak with Bob about writing a petition. Bob got help from a savy prisoner and they wrote a habeas corpus, in which we asserted that we were victims of illegal imprisonment and sought a hearing with a judge.
In the coming days, I was interviewed about Cartago events
by a legislative investigating committee. Otherwise, I had nothing to
do. I was totally alone with my fears. I feared I would be incarcerated
for years, and for nothing really, nothing that amounted to any worthwhile
change in our human condition. I would rot away in this foreign jail cell.
Most of all, I feared being tortured. The imaginable pain was unimaginable.
I would buckle under. I would lose my manhood. A coward would emerge from
beneath my skin. The true me would be revealed. A sickling.
Other times during the long wait for an unknown future, I thought about what had brought me so far away from the tranquil green campus and the exciting textbooks. I had the opportunities of white, middle-class living and yet I cast them aside. Why? As I grappled with the question, I “saw” “the masses” and their suffering at the hands of greedy men chillingly motivated to live with the hope of acquiring wealth and power. Wasn’t that what sent me here, on the trail to joining with people on an island engaged in revolutionizing that hideous reality? Having been trapped in the midst of an international crisis, I ended up in Cartago where my actions that evening were not “rational”. That is, they were not smart, if smart meant staying out of trouble, not taking risks that could end in my own pain. Even from the point of view of a revolutionary what I had done could be seriously criticized. I could have surmised that encouraging people to pick up arms could be taken at face value, that my understanding of my words would not be taken as truth by my captors or people at large. I could have surmised that governments will take punitive measures to protect themselves. And who do I think I am, anyway? I have no comrades, other than Bob. I was not part of any revolutionary organization or political party. I did not represent anyone. The working classes in the US and Costa Rica were not ready to rise. At heart, I was a “softy”, a moralist. I saw a wrong and wanted to right it. So, I acted. I even told myself that the best (purest) action is one that does not take into account the negative consequences that may come to me. In this way, I will not vaccilate from the interest of the cause, and the cause concerns billions of people. It is in their lives interest that the theory and practice I had adopted is based upon. So, not having thought of the consequences of my audacious action brought me to this lonely cell in a foreign country. Most probably, I acted too hastily, too rashly. Temperment first, reason later. Am I motivated to act as I do because of emotional insecurity so that I seek attention for its own sake, for my own ego need? Do I focus on my own will, my own conscience and not on objective conditions, common sense and reason, on what is possible? But what is possible when “the masses” are so tame? I felt a deep contempt for “the masses”. They are part of the problem. They are complacent and compliant with the oppressors, with the government and economic system that wars upon other people. “The masses” in the First world desire the material goods that come to them from the oppression of the peoples of the Third world. That is what the greedy elite count on. What can we few accomplish, we who are not gripped by the desire for wealth and power, we who do not capitulate to our fears. But because of my actions is there less torturing, murder, hunger? Though frustrated and scared, there was no turning back for me, nor is there.
In fact, I can remember little of what I felt and thought those days in prison. The reason may be that I lived so intensely during a short time of condensed, dramatic events, which might well have been the critical determining moment of my future life. I had gone beyond the point of return. I would henceforth think of myself as a tool for revolutionary change throughout the world of man.
On the morning of December 5, I was told we were being deported. We would first be taken to the US consul, where we could inquire about our possessions, which prison officials maintained they did not have. Bob and I could talk for the first time in a week. We were glad we had not continued to insist on having a lawyer, for that would have only delayed our time in prison and probably not have resulted to our benefit. At the time of arrest, however, we did not know that we would be detained, or that we would be released in a week. Probably, the government did not know that at the time either. They used us as they wished, and now it was time to get rid of us. President Kennedy was due to arrive shortly for the OAS meeting and we were merely in the way.
What follows are extracts from a dossier I received sixteen years later, parts of an internal report from the US Embassy in Costa Rica, written by Consul Harry Kushner, to the State Department. The FBI, various military intelligence agencies and the CIA used this report to draw their own conclusions about us. The agency, or agencies, even passed these conclusions on to right-wing political allies both in the congress and in private organizations. It was just one of many illegalities the “law” enforcement agencies make, and one that also was based on omission of important facts.
“From: Amembassy, San José
Date: December 6, 1962
Subject: Detention of American Communists Ronald M. Ridenour and Robert Eugene Duggan
“Ronald M. Ridenour and Robert Eugene Duggan, both
23 and American citizens from California, were detained for questioning
at 6:30 p.m. on November 29, 1962, by the Guardia Civil...After several
days of questioning by the local authorities, the two were deported to
Miami on December 5. Their detention received widespread publicity in
the Costa Rican press with Costa Rican officials charging them as being
agents of international communism responsible in part at least for the
bloody affair in Cartago. Both admitted they are communists but denied
membership in any communist party.”
“Their detention first came to the Embassy´s attention at 2 p.m. on November 30 when Professor Manuel Esquivel of the Orientation Department of the University of Costa Rica called at the Embassy to report what had happened...an Embassy officer was present at a hearing given...by officials of the office of the Procurador Penal that afternoon...The two men admitted possession of Marxist-Leninist literature, a .45 automatic, three knives, personal notes and audio tape. The principal reason for their detention appeared to be their possible complicity as international communist agents in the Cartago riots...
“Officials of the Department of Immigration brought the two men to the Embassy on the morning of December 5 so that (they) could inquire as the whereabouts of their books, arms, and other property...They were told that the Embassy did not have these items and were advised to consult a lawyer to protect their interests...
“CONCLUSION: The foregoing is presented as a preliminary report to the Department pending the receipt of the official depositions taken by the Government of Costa Rica. A separate airgram will also be sent covering the political aspects of the Cartago riots. As both men admitted to being Communists and to the possession of communist literature, their presence in the country and on the scene of riots which the Government has claimed to be communist-inspired led to their detention. Their apparent naivete may be just a cloak for actual participation in the international communist movement, but it is more likely that they are operating on their own as agitators without any particular direction but probably with close contacts among communists in Costa Rica and the United States.
"As far as is known to the Embassy, no specific charges
were ever placed against the two men, and they took the wiser course in
avoiding making a legal issue of their detention and deportation which
would have forced the Government’s hand and probably left them in
confinement for an extended period of time.”
The next day, the US Embassy sent to the State Department
its weekly news, in which our case was summarized as follows: “They
left the impression of great political naiveté and that they were
working on their own rather than operating as part of an international
Precisely. That was the case. But by the time J.Edgar Hoover’s boys in gray got hold of the information they twisted it to sound more exciting for the anti-communist freaks.
“Control: 12402...Note: Mr. Curry (PPF) informed 11/30/62
...and Ronald M. Ridenour PP No. C-685939 issued October 10, 1962 arrested here with firearms, 40 lbs. Commie literature...Inform INS pick up passports and other agencies as appropriate.”
On January 15, 1963, the FBI in Mexico City sent a seven-page report to FBI headquarters with newspaper articles and photos of us attached. Security authorities had loaned the Costa Rican media my Fair Play for Cuba Committee membership card. It was enlarged and published with the caption: International Communist Agent.
On February 15, 1963, the Los Angeles FBI office sent to the director a synopsis of my Cartago case with the recommendation that I be placed on the FBI’s Security Index Card. I now moved up from the categories of “rabble rouser” and “agitator” to subversive “Priority I”. And the warning at the end of the dossier is in all caps and underlined:
“RIDENOUR HAS HAD IN HIS POSSESSION IN THE PAST A .45 AUTOMATIC AND SHOULD BE CONSIDERED ARMED AND DANGEROUS.
That was scary reading. The FBI had conveniently dropped the important detail that I did not have the weapon on me upon being arrested but that it lay in our room. The FBI sent these dossiers with this dangerous label from one FBI office to another and to other intelligence agencies, and even to other countries. The Priority I category also put me in President Richard Nixon’s sights for peremptory internment in a concentration camp, which he had decided to fill up with 4,000 of us “anti-war subversives”. Nixon instructed the FBI that all persons in their COINTELPRO files (See note at end of chapter) would be subject to preventative confinement, just as had been done to Japanese residents in the US during WWII. We would have been swept away the same day that Nixon was to declare a “national state of emergency”. But the Watergate scandal got to him first.
During my freedom of information fight to get my dossiers released to me, I received a letter from the US Department of Justice, dated July 5, 1978. A telling admission was made by Quinlan J. Shea, director of privacy and information appeals.
“For your information, you were never the target of electronic surveillance, but were overheard as a result of such surveillance of others. This information will be included in the Bureau’s supplemental release. There are no retrievable references reflecting any COINTELPRO actions directed against you.”
Nothing “retrievable.” That is, they could not or would not recover, nor uncover, whatever COINTELPRO actions were directed against me. By 1978, Nixon was gone and the national climate was one of near repentance for the sins of Vietnam and Nixon repression against us and even the Establishment Democratic Party. The post-Nixon government disbanded COINTELPRO—nothing would be “retrievable”—only that similar counter-intelligence programs would be set in motion.
Back at the US Embassy, Consul Kushner was not as mild mannered with us face-to-face as he appeared to be in his above-cited report. He did not take heed to our request for the return of our possessions and the money officials’ had confiscated. Nor did he give a damn that we had been arrested even though we were not at the Cartago demonstration on the day of the killings. He lambasted us for being subversives, traitors to the great America, and a personal embarrassment to the president himself. So, it was with good riddance that we were driven to the airport and, accompanied by two civilian guards, placed on an aircraft to Miami.
Note: COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program) was started by President Eisenhower in 1956. The aim was to destroy, by any means necessary, the leftist groups targeted. It was Eisenhower and J.Edgar Hoover’s perspective that the chief threat facing US might was the “worldwide international Communist conspiracy”, as the Internal Security Act of 1950 so proclaimed. This Act, and a 1954 amendment, Communist Control Act, was the brainchild of HUAC. With the undemocratic efforts of the House Committe on Un-American Activities, Senator McCarthy, President Eisenhower, his vice-president Nixon, and the FBI’s Hoover the surge of anti-communism, and anti-leftism generally, engulfed the nation. Hoover hated blacks as much as communists. He had supported the segregation of Washington D.C. and the south. Hoover’s first targets were the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, but with the start of the civil rights movement in the south, Hoover concentrated on Martin Luther King. He hoped to be rid of his impelling tenacity and charisma, seeking to have him replaced by conciliatory “responsible” leadership. Later, it was Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party and the New Left that held his attention. Many of his targets ended murdered, either by law enforcement or by rivals. Others were imprisonment on false charges.
COINTELPRO was often successful because the FBI had unlimited resources and used ruthless, often illegal tactics, including the provocations of divide-and-conquer, setting group against group, person against person, sometimes even encouraging and setting up groups to engage in violence and illegal acts.
On March 8, 1971, a group calling itself the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI broke into its office in Media, Pennsylvania. They took files that revealed the existence of COINTELPRO-New Left. Once the files were published in WIN magazine, the FBI’s image was tarnished. Criticism of the Bureau increased to such an extent that some COINTELPRO documents were released. The Freedom of Information Act was amended in 1976 to permit a limited public access to FBI records. The illicit partnership of HUAC and the FBI was revealed, especially their purge of the movie industry.
Back in the USA
“Come gather `round people where ever you roam
and admit that the waters around you have grown
and accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING
Come senators, congressmen
please heed the call
don’t stand in the doorway
don’t block up the hall
for he who gets hurt
will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle
outside and it’s ragin’
it’ll soon shake your windows
and rattle your walls
For THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING
(Bob Dylan “The Times They Are A-Changing” 1963)
Re’cd: December 5, 1962 2:24 p.m.
“...Ridenour arrive Miami 6:45 p.m. today LACSA Flight 620
United States Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Miami, Florida Dec 26 1962
Re: Ronald M. Ridenour
“...Ronald M. Ridenour, Passport Number C685939...arrived at (Miami) airport at 6:45 P.M....
pursuant to instructions, the passports of these individuals were `lifted´.
Bob and I stepped off the Costa Rican aircraft at JM/WAVE
station airport as the sun went down. (See note as end of chapter.)
The two civilian-clothed agents made sure we were received by immigration officials, who duly “lifted” our passports. Then two other civilian-clothed men standing by the airport entrance flashed FBI credentials and took Bob away. Charged with draft evasion, I wouldn’t see my best friend again for three months.
My biological mother and her husband were living in a suburb outside Miami. I rang to suggest I come over. She was hysterical when she saw me.
“God has answered my prayers,” she sobbed.
After I told her a bit of what I had been doing and how I had come to Miami, she told me she had been afraid the worst had happened to me. Some days before, she had called the FBI’s Miami office to ask for their “help” in locating me. An agent had informed her that her son was a “commie”, who had been jailed for “subversive activities.” She was beside herself. She begged me to give up that craziness and settle down in Miami. Not then or ever did my mother understand that for me life was more than living a “comfortable and secure life” in “Gods own country”. I told her I must return to Los Angeles to organize a defense committee for my friend. The next day I took a plane to L.A. with money I borrowed for the ticket. Bob and I had arrived in Miami broke, because somebody in the employ of either the Costa Rican or United States government had confiscated all our money.
The first thing I did was to see David Taylor, an El Camino and “Raven” colleague. I took up residence with him in an old wooden house on Navy Street, in Venice, and set about to organize my college friends in a defense committee. We collected money and hired a lawyer, who assisted in getting Bob extradited to Los Angeles for a trial.
Lois Marotta wrote a poem, “The Ballad of Robert Duggan”, we used it in our organizing efforts:
“Come gather round, ye citizens of this great peace loving land. Hear our story of a martyr who dared to take stand.
“His name is Robert Duggan...One day they tried to draft him, make him use a gun, to learn to kill his brothers.
“He tried to go to Cuba, tried to see the world to find out if the others really thirsted for our blood. In a town in Costa Rica...he tried to help right a terrible wrong. Now Duggan sits in prison awaiting trial. He stood for peace and freedom, a crime most base and vile.”
I reentered UCLA as we worked to free Bob. I took political science courses rather than anthropology, which I felt was too abstract from the real world in which I lived. I wrote the government for my passport and our personal possessions. I received a prompt reply.
Department of State: Washington reply refer to
PT/L130-Ridenour, Ronald M
Jan 10 1963
“Dear Mr. Ridenour,
Reference is made to your letter of January 3, 1963, requesting the return of your passport, which was withheld by the Immigration and Naturalization Service...
Section 6 of the Internal Security Act of 1950 (50 U.S. Code, Section 785) reads as follows:
“Sec. 6(a) When a Communist organization as defined in paragraph (5) of section 3 of this title is registered, or there is in effect a final order of the Board requiring such organization to register, it shall be unlawful for any member of such organization...(1) to make application for passport, or the renewal of a passport, to be issued or renewed by or under the authority of the United States; or (2) to use or attempt to use any such passport.”
On the basis of information presently available to the Department it appears that you may be within the purview of the law...In view of the foregoing, and to assist the Department in reaching a decision as to your entitlement to further passport facilities you are requested to submit a statement, under oath, indicating whether or not you are a member of the Communist Party, USA...Upon receipt of your sworn statement a decision will be made and you will be promptly notified.
Edward J. Hickey
Acting Director, Passport Office
I refused to swear that I was not a communist, even though I was not a party member. I would not get my passport again for over five years. I did get a positive reply in March that our possessions had been turned over to the US embassy in Costa Rica and were forwarded to customs in Los Angeles. I collected what they gave me—all of our books and even notebooks, which I am now using to refresh my memory. Our money, and pistol and knives, of course, were missing.
Several years later, after winning the FOI battle for disclosure of much of the dossiers kept on me, I read a December 7, 1962 State Department document that stated our deportation had “received widespread publicity,” and that the workers at the Cartago electric plant had gone on strike in protest of the high rates and the murders of demonstrators. The document stated that the last session of the Legislative Assembly, on November 30, had debated modifying the budget due to “the question of electric rates”. The workers won a small concession and they ended the strike. On December 2nd, Senator Hubert Humphrey had visited Costa Rica, preparing the arrival of President Kennedy for the OAS meeting, where the empire’s managers hoped to “accelerate the Alliance for Progress” program to combat the positive affects of Cuba, the bad example of the good example.
A Costa Rican professor acquaintance, Manuel Esquivel, who had “alerted” the US Embassy that Costa Rican authorities had arrested us, came to Los Angeles for a visit. He brought with him a poem about me written by one of Costa Rica’s best known poets, Juan Antillón. The translation of the last stanza reads:
"And the man in his despair
from his body bond to the earth
his natural potential not of this atmosphere
obliges him to fly with the idea."
Flying “with the idea” obsessed my thoughts during the time awaiting Bob’s trial. The usual youthful question of Who Am I was at core, yet another equally troubling question possessed me. My thoughts in jail had not quelled my doubts about choosing the life of a revolutionary. My fears were still strong, though—fears of what such a life would bring me, what future pains I must suffer, and what personal losses I must bear. Was I strong enough; was I enough “in love” with humanity?
I excerpt here some of those thoughts from notes and copies of letters I kept during this period.
In one note I refer to Marx´ economic analysis and teachings that with a revolution of workers a future world could be forged that could bring us to a state of equality, one where we could all learn to live in solidarity and peace once private property and its capitalist structure were abolished. Then came the doubts.
“But I maintain that mankind is not genuinely concerned with his neighbors and that the equality man may seek is an equality of sheer materialism and opportunity to exploit his fellow man yet once again...One may demonstrate that the communist world has achieved a social conscience and an interest in social and political culture. But I reserve doubt. I will admit that the communist practice has achieved a greater degree of social interest, however it has been by and large forced by their leaders...I think one will discover the same type of bourgeois pettiness that exists in the capitalist world...While Russian citizens are better off materially than before the revolution, they now demand more goods—white bread instead of the more nutritious black bread—and the government offers incentive rewards with a hierarchy of pay, titles, and numerous medals and citations...There is little difference between the leaders of western capitalism and eastern communism. Not enough difference to place much hope in…”
“I am one of those perennial moralists, commonly called idealist, egg-head, utopian. I believe in love of various kinds, but the one of most importance is that of fraternal love. Love of universal peace through universal joint-effort, a community of love and understanding, a pooling of all man’s potentials and accomplishments for the benefit of all mankind…
A month later my thoughts were on the victory of the Algerians over the French colonialists “The capitalist countries are decaying, as Marx predicted.”
Vacillating still: “I see much truth in existentialism’s doubts...Can the egalitarian society truly hold the attention and enthusiasm of its people? I am pessimistic of any society.”
Aside from my tumultuous thoughts, my college studies and Bob’s case occupied me. Bob’s lawyer was skeptical of an outright victory, warning that a guilty verdict could put Bob away for five years. To make matters worse, Bob’s family was angry with me, blaming me for his situation. And his jailors would not allow me visitation rights, so I wrote to him. I wrote encouraging words about his chances, and I wrote of my pangs of guilt for his incarceration. After all, it was me who had spoken brazenly to the drunken crowd at Cartago, the evening after the murders.
“In attempting to live a life in an un-alienated manner, I cause others to be alienated—as with you in that jail cell. I want never again to release my frustrations on my fellow man, and rationalize my own inept psychological problems by adopting politics and philosophy as a `cause´. I don’t really love mankind but I do want to. I am disgusted with my self-piteous self.”
I could easily enough stop here with my self-doubt period,
and fool you readers that I matured and outgrew such mental masturbation.
But it would be a lie. One of the virtues I do practice, more than not,
is not to deceive myself or attempt to deceive others. In that way, I
believe, can I better contribute to bringing about a bit of fraternal
love and clear thinking, so that I (we) can make the best choices for
action, and thus help bring about a more just world. I still seriously
doubt, however, that mankind will find out how to live in a world of fraternal
equality and love. But I decided, in that period of 23 year-old self-infatuation
and self-doubt, to “struggle onward”. I chose to side with
the `communist´ camp, for its stated goal of equality and fraternity.
I forsook the soft life for an ideal, a dream...or a nightmare. The dream
of the little boy and the nightmare of the man. I could have chosen, unlike
the oppressed in the impoverished Third World, to abandon the struggle
and seek personal safety and economic security through university education
and a middle-class life. But then I knew (and know) that in so doing I
would have abandoned myself. Furthermore, I knew that if I didn’t
struggle, I could never expect others to do anything either, and that
would only assist the evil doers in their exploitations and wars for greed
Choosing to struggle, the only real choice for those of us who physically can, is also a choice for freedom over security. It is an existential choice to take the road toward freedom, wherever that road may lead, in the search for truth and justice. Freedom lays in the personal choice to say NO to security at any cost. When one bows to the exploiters´ demands of conformity, to their consumer “real thing” “choices” between a modern television set or a macho super deluxe automobile, the freedom of will is denied. In our capitalist world of alienated man, freedom and security are antagonists. The ruling class does not allow for both concurrently, although they propagandize that that is what “democracy and the free market economy are all about”. The reality is that if you desire the warmth of security you must accept their rules. Their rules supposedly assure you “freedom”, but that is double speak. In reality, you must accept freedom’s opposite. You must follow the rules of constraint and conformity. You must reject the freedom to doubt and inquiry, the freedom to seek answers to your curiosity of what other people are like, especially those people whom the rulers seek to demonize in order to “expropriate” their production and wealth. Contrary to what most Marxists mean, the choice of rejecting their restraints, the choice to strive for self-determination does exist for most of the working class, that is, for the vast majority of people in the First World. The fact that most reject the path of true freedom for that of security under the existing alienating system is a choice of free will, basically. Certainly, I do recognize the social and economic pressures existing upon each and every one of us. From the time of birth, our “well adjusted”, that is, complacent parents train us to “fit in”, to conform to the system. (“Ignorance is Bliss” echoes from grandmother.) This training continues in the schools, the military, work centers. However, for those of us who live in a world where our bellies are full, where the libraries contain books with “alternative” ways of thinking and acting, where there is “alternative” media, we do have the choice to either conform or to seek a free path. As I was being confronted with this realization, in the early 1960s, I grappled with how to work with and reach the WORKING CLASS. As we will see in future chapters, I did not find out how to do this effectively. Frustrated with the passivity and collaborationism of most of the working class in the First World, I often maintain an attitude of “be damned” toward them. Instead of siding with their desire for more goodies within the capitalist structure, I chose to work for the liberation of the oppressed peoples, the super-exploited working class of the Third World. The First World labor aristocratic sector has grown to encompass the majority since the time that Marx first wrote about them as sellouts, because they collaborate with their own exploiters in the theft of their production and natural resources. I felt, and feel, contempt for their class accommodation.
Despite the frequent personal isolation that results from my tough principled stand, I continue to choose freedom—the freedom to think about and act for what is just—over security. Freedom, for me, is associated with struggle for the most basic freedom, the freedom/right to life, which is systematically denied the most oppressed. In making that choice, I hope I can make a grain of difference for the good of mankind, at least the most oppressed part of mankind. In that way, I can also look myself in the mirror.
Bob is Free
Upon reentering UCLA, I met Fred Hoffman, a sociology student who had studied in Spain and Mexico before entering the Los Angeles university. While studying in the capital city, at Mexico’s University, Fred took various euphoric drugs and even attempted to manufacture them in a homemade laboratory. He badly damaged one leg in an explosion of chemicals. The fire led the authorities to jail him for illegal drug-making. After enduring months in a hospital and hard times in a harsh jail, he was able to buy his way out.
Fred and I enjoyed discussing a wide range of topics over wine and grass in his rambling, ever-untidy house. Fred and I had Spanish and Latin American culture in common, and, over the years, we often demonstrated together against the system’s brutality against people of color and its wars. Fred was by nature an anarchist. We felt as one with the downtrodden. Solidarity, to him, was not just a principle but a way of life, and, as such, he was helpful with Bob’s defense.
In the spring of 1963, I saw Bob in a Los Angeles federal court. He was leaner but in good spirits. He spoke truthfully in his defense, using the conscientious objector argument that morality is higher than the State’s war laws. The judge appeared to listen. Though he found Bob guilty, he sentenced him to two years on probation with time served. This was before the big protests against the Vietnam War and there were not many who refused to be drafted at that time. The judge decided on a light sentence, perhaps, in order to avert a martyrdom affect that could have brought attention to the anti-war cause and thus enrage greater protest.
Bob and I found an old, large wooden house in Ocean Park, a small area between Venice and Santa Monica. David and four other students and a leftist worker moved in. At the dedication of our collective, we nailed a large sign over the front door with our name, “The Internationale Commune”, and we sang the international working class´ song as we drank red wine and smoked joints.
We had the space and spirit for a free-wheeling lifestyle with lots drinking, grass and LSD highs, non-committal sex, interminable discussions and organizing actions against the war and racism. We also had a large grassy lawn, just the thing for a goat. I bought one and started its milk flow by sucking its teats, because it had not yet born a kid. I didn’t milk it long as neighbors called the cops and I had to return it.
Civil rights for all peoples—the end of racism—was the most important moral and struggle for me, along with, of course, the constant fight to end the State murder. The first organization I joined to actively fight racism was CORE. I later took up with the more militant and smaller local group known as NVAC—Non-Violent Action Committee.
Los Angeles’ CORE chapter began in 1955. By 1963, CORE had two dozen chapters and was well established in the national mind. Some of its leaders, such as James Farmer, were associated with pacifist socialists, such as Norman Thomas and A.J. Muste. It was still a direct action organization, promoting integration throughout society, from housing and transport to education and jobs. The Bay Area and L.A. chapters had initiated integrating the automobile and hotel industries, and Operation Windowshop had just begun in L.A. This was a housing integration project aimed at assisting blacks, mainly middle-class, to move from degrading ghetto areas into white middle-class neighborhoods.
I joined the picket lines against the suburban housing developer Don Wilson, who openly practiced segregation against blacks. Over an eighteen month period, thousands of people joined in the picketing, as well as in sit-ins and even “dwell-ins”, where whites would rent or buy a house for blacks to move in. They would remain “dwelling” after receiving evictions and threats, and even forced removals by complying police.
Our chapter was three-fourths white. Our chairman, Earl Walters, was black. CORE had recently had a significant victory in forcing Greyhound Buslines to hire black people in the downtown Los Angeles terminal. Thereafter, our main action took place in Torrance. For those of us who lived in distant Venice area, and participated regularly in the integration projects, there was always a free and delicious hot meal at “Lucy’s” or “Mamas”, as the jolly owner-cook was affectionately known.
Some 300 people were arrested during this protest period, usually for a night or a few days in jail for “disturbing the peace”, “illegal assembly”, “refusing to comply” with police orders, and the like. CORE acted in the same spirit as SNCC and SCLC. “We’ve got to fill the jails in order to win our equal rights,” Martin Luther King’s slogan became our call.
Although the Kennedy administration was declaredly opposed to racism and de jure segregation, it was quite timid in acting. Our actions against segregation were often designed to precipitate confrontations between local and federal authorities. In a few cases, the civil rights movement demanded, and sometimes received, federal troops to protect us as we protested. With the beatings of Freedom Riders and the open support of southern police and politicians for the Ku Klux Klan and its racial murders, there was worldwide uproar against the Kennedy administration’s inaction. The national civil rights movement stepped up civil disobedience actions, hoping to force the liberal government into upholding the law. “Jail-ins” became an effective tool, especially when the media covered our actions.
In Dick Cluster’s book, "They Should Have Served That Cup of Coffee", activist Bernice Reagon explained how the movement affected her sense of self, an expression that applied to me and to millions of others who joined the movement.
“I learned that I did have a life to give for what I believed...When you understand that you do have a life, you do have a body, and you can put that on the line, it gives you a sense of power. So I was empowered by the Civil Rights Movement.”
And there were brave souls who put their bodies on the line and died for this cause. A few victims were white, even a couple workers. William Moore, a mailman, took leave from his work to conduct a one-man walk for integration on Alabama’s roads. He was murdered, on April 24, while we were picketing in Torrance. This was a shooting assassination by KKKers, like so many other murders of blacks. On June 12, the Mississippi NACCP black activist, Medgar Evers, was shot to death in the back while standing in the driveway of his home. Evers had aroused the hatred of racists when he had led protests against Emmett Till’s killers. And this hatred brought more threats to his life as he encouraged black voter registration. Byron De La Beckwith, a white, self-acclaimed “patriot”, was soon arrested and tried for the murder. All-white juries let him off. A new trial was made and he was left on again. He was recharged 30 years later and finally convicted, in 1994, by a racially mixed jury. Forcing the system to allow blacks on juries was one of the positive results our movement achieved.
Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan wrote songs about Evers murder—“ Ballad of Medgar Evers” and “Only A Pawn in Their Game”. This is Dylan’s:
“A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar
A finger fired the trigger to his name.
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man’s brain
But he can’t be blamed
He’s only a pawn in their game.”
“A South politician preaches to the poor white man,
´You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,´ they explain.
And the Negro’s name
Is used it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.
“The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid,
And the marshals and cops get the same,
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool.
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
´Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.”
A group of black activists in the south formed the Freedom
Singers. They made many of the old gospels into movement songs by modifying
the lyrics. “We Shall Overcome” was one of the most popular
they helped make nationally known, along with Pete Seegar and Joan Baez.
It had been rewritten by Zilphia Horton and was first heard at Tennessee’s
Highlander Folk School, in 1947.
“We shall overcome...someday
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe that
We shall overcome, someday.
“We’ll walk hand in hand...
“We are not afraid, we are not afraid today...
“We shall live in peace...
“The truth will make us free...
We shall overcome
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe that
We shall overcome, someday.”
The black intellectual, and co-founder of the NAACP, in
1909, W.E.B. DuBois wrote about the significance of these spirituals.
“These songs are the articulate message of the slave of the world...music of an unhappy people, of the children of disappointment; they tell of death and suffering and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wanderings and hidden ways...Through all the sorrow of the Sorrow Songs there breathes a hope—a faith, in the ultimate justice of things...that sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins.”
I attended classes at UCLA until semester’s end when I took on a working class organizing mission. The Young Socialist Alliance had invited me to hold a talk on campus about my exploits in Costa Rica. The YSA saw a recruit in me. I knew nothing about Trotskyism and was more interested in using my energies in direct action. The YSA had a plan.
United Packing House Workers Union (UPWU) local at Brawley, by the Mexican border, had an organizer who was close to the YSA’s parent organization, the Socialist Workers Party. He was interested in organizing unions in the packing sheds run by right-wing owners who refused to bargain with workers or make collective contracts. If workers did try to organize, the owners called Immigration to the work centers to nail Mexican workers who did not have US immigration papers. They would be arrested and deported, often without having collected wages. In the canneries, some workers were US citizens but most were “braceros”—those who swing with arms—the Spanish term for Mexican workers granted temporary permission to work in agriculture. I was to get a job in one of these canneries and agitate for a union, but also to explain Trotskyism and try to establish a YSA amongst workers. I received a quick course in Trotskyism and SWP history during a couple weeks of night classes.
In 1928, during the Stalin-Trotsky factional struggles within
the USSR, Communist Party members with Trotskyist ideas were expelled
from the US C.P. They set up the Communist League of America, hoping to
spread Trotsky’s ideas of worker’s democracy and the need
for internationalizing socialism. This idea of permanent revolution opposed
CP bureaucratic practices and the notion that “socialism in one
nation” could lead to victory over capitalism.
The Trotskyists spent a lot of vehement energy trying to determine what the “correct line” was on everything. They saw this as key to eventual revolutionary success, and consequently there were lots of splits and mergers. In 1938, the SWP emerged out of previous fractions and fusions. The SWP’s founding coincided with the creation of the Fourth International, a worldwide organization of Trotskyists. I won’t go over the whole history here, but just mention that many of the Trots (as they were known) were not only adamant debaters and intellectuals but were tightly disciplined organizers. Some were active in a handful of unions. In 1934, the SWP had been mostly responsible for a major victory in the Minneapolis Teamsters strike.
Leon Trotsky was forced out of the Red Army by Stalin, and he was exiled in 1929. His very life was at risk as Stalin methodically began to “eliminate” (murder) almost all of the original Bolshevik leaders. Trotsky ended up in Mexico, in 1937, where US Trots established relations with him. Stalin sent a Comintern assassin agent to murder Trotsky. After his death, on August 20, 1940, the SWP went into crisis and more splits. The FBI targeted the SWP-YSA in the 1960s for infiltration and destruction, and it was partially successful.
When I arrived in Brawley, the leftist union leader filled me in on the local scene and sent me out the next day to the largest tomato cannery in the area. It was easy to get a job. I took up work the same day beside several Mexican and Mexican-American workers on an assembly line filled with thousands of tomatoes. Braceros and undocumented workers—“wetbacks” in the jargon of WASPs—were usually harvesters and truckers who delivered tomatoes to the canneries, where we washed, sorted and packed them.
Most if not all the 200 cannery workers were disgruntled. Working conditions were poor, the pay even poorer, and there was absolutely no job security given that collective bargaining was out of the question. I’d been on the job only a few days when the foreman yelled insulting racist remarks at one of my co-workers. I shouted angrily at the foreman, who warned us both that we would be fired if we didn’t “watch out”.
I spoke to the crew I worked with about calling a strike. They agreed. I immediately went about the plant calling out, “Strike. Put down your work and strike for collective bargaining rights.” The outcry hit a cord and workers walked out. We gathered nearby the plant and counted heads. Almost all the Mexicans were out, a couple of the few blacks. I was the only white man. But we were at least 90% of the work force.
UPWU’s organizer was both pleased and upset with me. We hadn’t discussed striking. He came to talk to the workers and we passed out union cards and set up a picket line. The organizer arranged for the UPWU to send a few dollars for food for those on the picket lines, but there were no funds to substitute for wages. We couldn’t last long, and hoped for a quick victory.
The owners began arranging for scabs, especially poor people from across the border. We workers “manned” the picket line for the entire day and into the dark. Most picketers were women. The men drank and bragged about what they would do to the scabs. The town leaders, police, and the media naturally backed the bosses. One radio station, appealing to the large Spanish-speaking population, had a popularly known Mexican-American commentator. He called upon unemployed listeners to take our jobs at the cannery. This enraged the strikers.
One evening, as I was coordinating the demonstration, two drunken strikers came up to me. They said they were going to “get that son-of-a-bitch radio man.” As they turned to go to their car I saw that one had a pistol in his belt. I tried to encourage them to give up this wild idea. The men, “braved” by drink, would hear nothing of it. I decided to get in the car in order to continue persuading them to their senses. Within a few minutes, they parked before the radio man’s house. They got out and walked up his steps, as I stood beside the car calling for them to come back. The scab-promoter came to the door and they waved the pistol at him. I couldn’t hear their words but the scene was threatening and the man was clearly scared. The men returned to the car without having fired a shot and drove off. I walked away and phoned the union man.
On the picket line the next day, I heard that the two drunks had been arrested. Shortly, a police car drove up and shoved me in. I was driven to jail and told I was to be charged with “conspiracy to commit murder”. The police gleefully said I faced five years in prison, and that this scandal would surely do the strike in.
I was denied visitors so I did not know what was going on during the three days I was locked up. I later heard that most of the strikers had gathered at the radio man’s house to convince him not to press charges. The police had told him to sign a statement of harm, but he had not yet signed. Sensing the anger amongst his own people and realizing that if he were to squeal his life would not be easy, he relented. Having no witness, the police were obliged to release me. When they opened the jail cell, they grabbed me and shoved me into a patrol car. They drove to the county line to let me out but not before saying: “If you return to our county, we will find a reason to lock you up for those five years you should have had. Now, walk over the county line and never come back.”
I hitched rides to Los Angeles and called the union man. He said that while the strikers acted in solidarity with me, they had given up the strike because their lines were broken by scabs. Most of them were now unemployed and without a union. I felt miserable as I went to Oscar Coover’s house. He was the SWP district chairman, and my main “instructor.” I wanted to describe what had happened but he was only interested in questioning me about the “progress” I had made in establishing a YSA. I was appalled at his insensitivity to the workers, and to me. I had not even uttered the first word about the YSA or Trotsky. I had concentrated in that short time on where the workers were coming from and on union organizing efforts. In fact, I hadn’t even joined the YSA, and would never come to another Trot meeting.
Back at the International Commune I had a few good days
with my mates and got caught up on the civil rights movement both locally
and in the south. Martin Luther King and the SCLC had placed Birmingham,
Alabama into the focus of struggle. Some black churches became centers
for workshops on nonviolence actions and how to respond when beaten. Some
churches were burned to the ground. King collected money on speaking tours
for bail bonds for people arrested in the struggle. Picketing and sit-ins
were initiated. On May 2, 6,000 school children marched against school
segregation. Nearly 1,000 were arrested. The next day, activists gathered
in a church. The police barred the exits, and fire hoses and police dogs
were turned on the teenagers. Many were bloodied and some seriously hurt.
A few days later, the KKK bombed King’s brother’s home and
the motel where SCLC members were headquartered.
In June, while local actions against Birmingham’s brutal racism continued, King led a Freedom Walk in Detroit, the largest to date with 125,000 people. He also gathered leaders of civil rights groups to plan a march on Washington.
There was a lot going on, but I had a commitment to organize workers, and Jude wanted to come along. She and I had begun a sexual encounter at the commune. Jude liked the idea of spending “uncommitted” time with me in a small town in the Imperial Valley. It was filled with stark contradictions between wealth and poverty. Crude working conditions just screamed for organizing. I felt there must be a way of reaching workers, of learning from them and, hopefully, teaching them to fight for socialism while we organized for a union and better working conditions. I also wanted to return to the valley because I did not wish to succumb to brute police authority. I did not wish to see myself as a coward.
I heard that work could be found at the Westmoreland Waterworks in the small town of Westmoreland, just north of Brawley. I drove an old Chevy I had bought to the dusty town and applied for work. There was an opening for a water canal inspector. This was a responsible job. The inspector drove a company pick-up around the waterworks checking for any potential problems and adjusting the water flow to homes and work places. This took a certain knowledge and skill, none of which I had. Why did the boss offer me the job then? My privileged white skin again—“You’re better than them, you been born with white skin.”
Most workers at the waterworks were hard laborers, ditch diggers, and they were almost all Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. There was no available white worker for the inspector job, so it was offered to me. I decided to take the job and immediately tell the workers that I did not wish to benefit from racism, but accepted the offer in the hope of using the position to organize a union. I suspected that some suspected me for being paternalistic. I said that if they thought I should resign as a way of protesting I would do so. None asked me to, in part, because they knew that none of them could get the job anyway. I learned what was necessary to perform the work, and drove the pickup about while plotting how I could turn the tide against the anti-union, racist company.
With my first week’s paycheck, I rented a wooden house in Westmoreland, and Jude came to visit. This lasted only a short while, though, and she returned to the big city.
On August 28, I watched the march on Washington on TV. Despite Kennedy’s discouragement, King stuck to the action and it became the largest march ever seen in the nation’s capital. A quarter million people—one quarter of them white—marched from Washington Monument to Lincoln Memorial demanding: passage of “meaningful” civil rights laws; the elimination of racial segregation in schools; protection for demonstrators against police brutality; self-government for the District of Columbia, which had a black majority of mostly poor people and segregation supported by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
One demand was for a major public-works program to provide jobs, a sort of “New Deal”, for poor blacks and others. I saw this as quite positive, despite the fact that Malcolm X, whom I admired for his uncompromising stances, including the right of self-defense, characterized the march as a, “Farce on Washington”. Malcolm X came to the march as a “critical observer”, even though his leader, Elijah Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, forbad members from attending.
The march was not a “farce” for tens of thousands who traveled the length and breadth of the nation to stand in the sun, nor for the thousands from the south, where many were harassed by police.
Speakers represented major organizations and even some unions. Others were well known personalities: Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., and the only woman, Josephine Baker. Autoworkers union leader Walter Reuther attended, although the AFL-CIO leadership officially remained neutral.
The most memorable speakers were King and John Lewis, who represented SNCC. Lewis was more radical than King and his prepared speech was criticized by other leaders before he delivered it. Lewis toned down the “more inflammatory portions”—such as, “We shall march through the Heart of Dixie the way Sherman did”, and “burn Jim Crow to the ground, nonviolently.” But he did say what most leaders did not want to hear: “We cannot depend on any political party, for the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence.”
“The revolution is at hand, and we must free ourselves of the chains of political and economic slavery. The nonviolent revolution is saying, `We will not wait for the courts to act....for the President, nor the Justice Department, nor Congress, but we will take matters into our own hands, and create a great source of power...”
While Lewis reflected most of the youngest activists, it was King’s speech which historians consider to most represent “the masses”. It was a memorable speech. Here are excerpts:
“We must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free...the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination...The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity...America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked `insufficient funds´.”
“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the summit path of racial justice...There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges...We cannot turn back.”
“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream...I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood...I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”
The swaying crowd roared: “We have a dream today!”, encouraging him onward.
“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
I stuck out the water job for the rest of the summer, drinking
with the men, and encouraged them to join together in a union. By the
end of the summer, I had gotten nowhere with organizing. I had learned
how our water gets to us, and something about what problems and fears
workers have, which hinders them from fighting for equality. I had also
earned a decent wage, which afforded me savings that I would use upon
returning to UCLA for the 1963 fall semester.
NOTE: JM/WAVE is the CIA’s code name for its “company
town”, Miami, as you will recall from chapter four. Miami was the
center for Operation Mongoose underway when Bob and I were deported to
Walter Hinkle and WilliamTurner wrote that in preparation for the Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA ran dummy corporations, proprietary companies and even its own aircraft and boat companies. Its’ Paragon Air Services´ “phone actually rang in the cover branch ...at JM/WAVE”. “The agency spent no less than $50 million locally on invasion preparations, and in Miami’s Little Havana exiles delightedly called the CIA the Cuban Invasion Authority.”
“CIA bypassed the Pentagon by assembling its own army, navy, and air force for the undeclared Caribbean war...had the CIA’s navy been entered in Jane’s Fighting Ships it would have ranked as the largest in the Caribbean...CIA ships were equipped with radar and electronic gear and armed with 40mm naval cannon, recoilless rifles, and .50-caliber machine guns...CIA ships on several occasions engaged in sea battles with Cuban naval and MIG air defenses, creating near-international incidents that the agency made frantic moves to hush up.”
“The agency’s air force consisted largely of reconditioned B-26 bombers flown by pilots of fortune on itinerant raids against such Cuban targets as sugar mills, cane fields, oil store facilities, and power plants.”
Miami was Cold War Zürich with the aid of the “ever-willing Miami Herald, Miami News and the Miami University”. The university offered housing and “cover for CIA operatives”, becoming “the home office of Zenith Technical Enterprises, Inc., the dummy front that had been created for the invasion.” Local Establishment banks and businesses of all kinds were also “ever-willing” to help the CIA in its illegal maneuvers.
After the Bay of Pigs failure, Operation Mongoose was cranked up on a budget of well over $500 million a year. The CIA’s Operation Mongoose boats were registered to Ace Cartography, Inc. “The names of the registered agents required by Florida law were none other than William A. Robertson Jr. and Grayston L. Lynch, the first Yankees ashore at the Bay of Pigs invasion.”
“Since Operation Mongoose called for continuous sabotage raids, the CIA recruited exiles as frogmen with underwater demolition team capabilities” formerly employed by a front called Marine Engineering and Training. “Funding for this operation was channeled through the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta.”
“The cooperation of state and federal authorities was also required since laws were being broken on a wholesale scale...Every time a boat left for Cuba the Neutrality Act was broken; every time it returned Customs and Immigration laws were skirted.”
DEATH OF AMERICA
Bowed in gracious prayer for her loved ones, spiritual silence permeates the docile child’s aura. The Lord is surely good. He will watch over this fragile child, over her family and their congregation gathered in unison in this Holy Church. The preacher’s steady voice roaring strongly for brotherhood is stilled in holy prayer for his people. Sacrosanct silence suddenly broken by consecrated ground exploding into flying inflamed rubble; hallowed halls desecrated by satanic minds and bloody hands. Timbers crafted by God himself, tumbling down over human beings, crushing their tender bones. The child’s head wrenched from her neck flies through scorching air, slamming against a white-washed wall. Her brain wonders no more.
“It wasn’t meant to hurt anybody; it didn’t go off when it was supposed to,” said Robert “Dynamite” Chambliss, in the presence of his 14-year niece, Elizabeth Cobbs, as they heard the Birmingham news report about those murders that day, September 15, 1963. Fourteen years later, Cobbs repeated these words to a court, and what her uncle had told her just days before the bombing: “Just wait until after Sunday morning and they’ll beg us to let them segregate.”
I had been back at the International Commune and UCLA less
than two weeks that Sunday when I learned of these murders. I excerpt
from the United Press International (UPI) dispatch the next day:
“A bomb hurled from a passing car blasted a crowded Negro church, killing four girls in their Sunday school classes and triggering outbreaks of violence that left two more dead in the streets.
Two Negro youths were killed in outbreaks of shooting seven hours after the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed, and a third was wounded.
“As darkness closed over the city hours later, shots cracked sporadically in the Negro sections. Stones smashed into cars driven by whites.
“Police reported at least five fires in Negro business establishments tonight. An official said some are being set, including one at a mop factory touched off by gasoline thrown on the building.”
Four hundred persons, including 80 children, were in church when the bomb exploded, “sending stone and debris flying like shrapnel into a room where children were assembling for closing prayers...Bibles and song books lay shredded and scattered through the church...The only stained glass window in the church that remained in its frame showed Christ leading a group of little children. The face of Christ was blown out.”
“One of the dead girls was decapitated. The coroner’s office identified the dead as Denise McNair, 11; Carol Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins,” all 14 years of age.
“At least 20 persons (one white man) were hurt badly enough by the blast to be treated at hospitals. Many more, cut and bruised by flying debris, were treated privately.”
“Chief Police inspector W.J. Haley said as many as 15 sticks of dynamite must have been used.”
“City police shot a 16 year-old Negro (Johnny Robinson) to death when he refused to heed their commands to halt after they caught him stoning cars. A 13 year-old Negro boy (Virgil Ware) was shot and killed as he rode his bicycle in a suburban area north of the city.”
“Shortly after the bombing, police broke up a rally of white students protesting the desegregation of three Birmingham schools last week.”
This was the fourth racist-motivated bombing in four weeks in Birmingham. Twenty-one bombings had been set to black churches, homes and business over an eight-year period.
The same day this church bombing occurred, police picked up two white men, questioned them about the bombing and released them. In the ensuing days, FBI agents were sent in and interviewed at least 14 men about the bombing. Two men convicted long after the crime, Thomas E. Blanton and Bobby Cherry, were interrogated as many as 17 times yet not charged. One of those interviewed was Robert Chambliss—nicknamed “dynamite” for his frequent use of dynamite in KKK bombings. He became the first of three murderers eventually convicted.
The first trial got underway in 1977 when the Alabama Attorney general Bill Baxley reopened the investigation and convinced Chambliss niece to testify against him. Elizabeth Cobbs’ evidence resulted in a life sentence for her uncle for the murder of the youngest child, Denise McNair. Chambliss died in prison in 1985.
In 2004, TV anchor man Jim Lehrer aired a thorough report about the murders and Hoover’s cover-up. Excerpts:
“Members of the Ku Klux Klan were immediately suspected – a 1965 FBI memo to agency director J. Edgar Hoover named Robert E. Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, Herman Frank Cash and Thomas E. Blanton, all locals and alleged Klansmen, as possible culprits. But the FBI closed its investigation in 1968 without filing any charges.”
Hoover died May 2, 1972, after serving as FBI director for 48 years. Only after his demise was it possible for information he suppressed about the massacre to be brought forward.
“A 1980 Justice Dept. investigation concluded that Hoover had prevented agents from disclosing their findings to prosecutors,” Lehrer reported.
When Baxley reopened the state investigation, in 1971, he said, “It took him half a decade to bring charges against Robert Chambliss because the FBI refused to cooperate for years,” Lehrer reported.
Baxley made more attempts to reopen the case against the other suspects but received no results. The FBI finally reopened its investigation in 1996. Cash had died in 1994. In 2000, Cherry and Blanton were charged with four counts of intentional murder. In 2001, Blanton was convicted for murder and sentenced to life in prison. On May 22, 2002, Cherry was found guilty of murder in the 1st degree and sentenced to life. He was 71 years-old.
Why had Hoover stonewalled bringing the murderers to justice? Any serious study of Hoover will conclude that the man was a racist. He probably hated black people, especially those who fought for their rights, as much as he hated communists. He supported segregationist laws and was opposed to Supreme Court rulings in favor of ending segregation.The1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, ruled that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. In 1956, Hoover opposed Attorney General Brownell’s proposals for new civil rights laws and enforcement provisions. Hoover declared that “the specter of racial intermarriage” was behind the tensions over “mixed schooling.”
Hoover attacked the NACCP and other civil rights organizations while defending and even praising the White Citizens Council, a middle-class grouping of racists allied with the more working class-based Ku Klux Klan. The 1954 Supreme Court ruling laid the legal basis for the civil rights movement, but instead of backing up the law and the moral and democratic civil rights movement, Hoover launched COINTELPRO, in 1956, targeting civil rights groups. Hoover used KKK members as informants, according to several retired FBI agents. Freedom of Information documents show that bureau agents had regularly supplied intelligence information on the progress of Freedom Riders to members of the Birmingham police force known to be leading KKKers. Hoover never pursued or prosecuted whites who committed violence against civil rights workers or the murderers of blacks, including the perpetrators of thousands of tortuous lynchings.
From1882 to the time of the Brown decision, 4,500 murders by lynching alone were registered by authorities. Many more went unregistered. Half of these lynchings took place during Hoover’s tenure (1924-72) as THE law enforcer of the entire nation. Not only was Hoover indifferent to the life and death of blacks, he knew that brutality against blacks was popular, especially but not limited to many white southerners. Lynchings were as popular in America as was watching slaves slaughter one another for Roman citizens´ “entertainment” at the imperial coliseums. In America, thousands of whites gathered to watch black men hanged over “bonfires”, laughing and eating from their picnic baskets. Sometimes black men were castrated alive before being burned or hung to death. Local reporters were sometimes invited to the “shindig” and reported how gleeful the spectators were, whooping encouragement to the torturers. Lynchings were still a chilling factor for blacks in the south at the time of these heinous murders in Birmingham.
Hoover specifically hid evidence about the KKK execution of the Birmingham murders for personal and ideological reasons, and because he thought it was more important to hide the identity of one of his favorite informers, Gary T. Rowe, an accomplice in those and other racist murders. At one time Hoover described Rowe as the “best undercover agent we’ve ever seen.”
Rowe claimed, in his autobiography, that he had been approached by an FBI agent, in 1960, and urged to join the Klan in order to report on its activities. Rowe wrote that he killed an unidentified black man in Birmingham, in 1963, and that authorities told him to keep quiet about it. In that period, Rowe was also involved in transporting guns to be used to prevent integration of the University of Alabama, and in bombings of black neighborhoods. Chambliss was his KKK superior. FBI records, and the 1980 Justice Department investigation, reveal that the FBI knew about and covered up Rowe’s participation in several criminal and fatal attacks on black people, and that he received money as an informer from 1960 to 1965 when his role was exposed during another racist murder trial, about which I write in a later chapter.
This was not the only time that Hoover hid evidence about his informers involved in crimes, be they murderers of black children or murderers of a United States president. The deaths in Birmingham are part of the death of America: the death of the dream of a land ruled by justice, a state based on laws made democratically, a country of opportunity for all, a dream which the President is charged with keeping.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic process...” President Dwight D. Eisenhower told the world, January 17, 1961, three days before he turned the reigns of government over to John F. Kennedy.(1)
I was at the University of California, in Los Angeles, when
I heard that the President had been shot in Dallas. I rushed to the International
Commune to watch the television coverage with several of my housemates
and friends. The program was replaying the midday shooting. The big Lincoln
bearing Kennedy and his wife in the back of the open convertible, and
with Texas Governor John Connally in the front seat, makes a sharp turn
at Elm and Houston streets. The President is waving. Suddenly he clutches
his throat and his head falls over on Jacqueline’s shoulder. Then
the governor is hit and slumps forward onto the floor. The President is
hit again and his head jerks backwards. He is clearly hit from the front.
His car drives slowly forward and then speeds up to the Parkland Memorial
In the next hours, we are informed that a preliminary autopsy was conducted by three pathologists. Secret Service and military officers were present, as was Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson. This Texan, familiarly known as LBJ, had been in the JFK caravan behind him and had not been fired upon. The doctors were stopped before completing their autopsy and the corpse was taken from the hospital by armed guard, despite the doctors´ protest that removal was illegal. The casket was taken aboard the presidential plane along with Mrs. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, who was promptly sworn in as President. Upon landing, military doctors took over the autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Meanwhile in Dallas, about 75 minutes after the assassination, a murder suspect had been arrested. We would soon hear that Lee Harvey Oswald worked at the Texas School Book Depository, from which three shots were supposedly fired at the President from the sixth floor. Details quickly unfold now, just as in a crime movie. Oswald had been seen in the building just before and after the shooting. We hear from his landlady that Oswald was at his lodgings for a few minutes around 13:00 while a police car with two uniformed policemen was parked outside. That would have been no more than 30 minutes after the shooting.
The official version has it that at 13:16 Oswald approached policeman J.D. Tippit elsewhere in the city and, unexplainably, fired at him with a pistol several times at close range. Witness John Brewer observed a “suspicious looking” man walk into the Texas Theatre not far away. Brewer summoned the police, who came and arrested Oswald in the theatre balcony. Oswald was interrogated 12 hours with no lawyer present. There was no tape recording or transcript of the interrogation. Following the interrogation he was charged with both murders.
Meanwhile other policemen had found three empty cartridge
cases conveniently left by the window on the sixth floor of the depository,
which overlooks where the President was shot when driving past. These
three shots had to have been fired at JFK’s backside. The “murder
weapon” was found behind some boxes. It was a 1940-manufactured,
single-shot, Italian Mannlicher-Carcano. It had Oswald’s palm print
on it. A paraffin test was soon taken and turned up some traces of nitrates
on his hands but nothing on his cheeks. Given that there was unclear scientific
evidence that he had fired that weapon that day, all government authorities
dismissed these tests as “unreliable”.
These are some of the facts that any true investigatory body would have to look into.
In the next two days, we are informed that Oswald had been born on October 18, 1939, just 18 days after my own birth, and that he had been a radar operator at the Atsugi Naval base at the same time I was a radar operator stationed on a site no more than 70 kilometers away. They were claiming that he was a Castro agent, a Marxist, and the Fair Play for Cuba representative in New Orleans. I was in the FPCC in Los Angeles and a Marxist. This was all too SPOOKY!
“They’re gonna come after Fidel and us,” I shouted.
Two days after JFK’s murder, just before noon on November 24, we watched the alleged murderer being killed right before our eyes on television. A platoon of Dallas cops, 70 in all, saw their own prisoner shot to death. Not one of them had covered him from his front. The well known gangster Jack Ruby—owner of the Carousel nightclub, Mafia-CIA gun-runner to Cuban para-militarists—shouldered his way through scores of reporters and photographers in the basement of the Dallas jail just as Oswald was being transferred to the county jail, and shot him close up with a pistol.
The famous Eisenhower speech about the military-industrial complex threat to the nation was unfolding before our eyes on commercially financed television. We leftists were aghast.
“The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the United States since the days of Andrew Jackson,” so spoke President Franklin D. Roosevelt on November 21, 1933. (Andrew Jackson was a general and the seventh President, 1829-37. He was nicknamed “Old Hickory” for his punishing politics.)
On the thirtieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s murder, I was in my home, in Cuba, watching a television program about it and assassination attempts on Castro. It was also at this time that the Cuban State Security Department (DSE) and General Fabián Escalante book, ZR Rifle: The Plot to Kill Kennedy and Castro, appeared. Escalante was Cuba’s chief of counterintelligence and had been in charge of Cuban units that infiltrated the CIA-controlled anti-Castro groups in the US. He had granted interviews with Brazilian journalist Claudia Furiati, who wrote the book, published in 1993. The general gist was not new but many details were quite revealing to me.
The Cuban TV series opened with Fidel Castro refuting that there were just six or eight attempts on his life by US forces, as reported by US media and the Senate and House investigative committees.
“No, there were 300 plans or more attempts on my life,” the virulent President retorted. A decade later the DSE stated that number of attempts had doubled.
Cuba’s government concluded that because attempts to murder Fidel had failed, and President Kennedy refused to support a full invasion of Cuba, the “parallel government”—the CIA, Mafia and Cuban exiles—decided to murder Kennedy.
“The assassination of John F. Kennedy frustrated a very significant negotiation process for changes nationally and internationally and for the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba,” wrote “Granma International” editor Gabriel Molina, December 15, 1993.
According to Carlos Lechuga, Cuban ambassador to the United Nations, in 1963, secret talks had begun between him and William Atwood, advisor to the U.S. delegation to the UN and the President’s personal representative in this matter. The talks were detected by the CIA. Two months after the first of three scheduled talks, the President was dead.
The background to détente talks began with Lechuga and Lisa Howard, a NBC-TV reporter (also CBS and NBC at various times), at her New York apartment, in September 1963. She had curried favor with both Kennedy and Castro through her interviews with them. She had discussed with the State Department her June 1963 interview with Castro.
In a subsequently released June 27, 1963 report, written by staff member EM Martin, he summarized her estimate of Fidel based upon eight hours of interviews. Howard judged Fidel to be sincere about finding some accommodation with the US, and asked her what kind of man Kennedy was. She noted that Fidel was a good listener and took her critical comments and questions thoughtfully.
EM Martin wrote: “She (Howard) wondered whether it would be desirable for her to keep in touch with the Cubans and perhaps go back. I said this was entirely up to her but that, if she did keep in touch, it would be interesting to know what they had to say. She asked very pointedly whether we had had any discussion with Fidel about an accommodation. I said he had not approached us officially, and we had not approached him. She thought this was too bad.”
Three months after this meeting, Howard was asked to be a go-between for Lechuga and Atwood. The latter had been editor-in-chief of “Look” magazine, owned by the right-winger and Castro-hater H.R. Luce. Atwood received authorization for the talks from Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, and from Under-Secretary of State Averell Harriman. Lechuga made a special note of what Stevenson had said: It would be “a most difficult undertaking because the `Cuba problem´ was in the hands of the CIA, not the State Department nor even the White House”. Nevertheless, Kennedy gave Stevenson the green light for initial talks.
A cocktail party was arranged at Lisa Howard’s Park Avenue apartment.
“In essence (Atwood) told me that he felt the ice should be broken between the two countries,” Lechuga told “Granma”, in 1993.
Lechuga recalled that in that period Atwood also spoke with
Robert Kennedy and McGeorge Bundy, National Security advisor to the President.
Bobby Kennedy agreed to the talks but advised Atwood to be extremely cautious
that “the talks do not leak”. If the Republicans found out
it would make the electoral campaign most difficult. The Kennedys had
a year to go before a possible new term, in which some accords with Cuba
could possibly be pulled off. Bundy was of the same mind, and he assigned
an assistant to keep in touch with Atwood on developments.
Two more talks between Atwood and Lechuga took place at the UN delegates´ meeting room, where, Lechuga surmised, they were overheard by CIA wiretaps.
In the last session, Atwood informed Cuba’s representative that the President himself had given his okay to the talks. Afterwards, Bundy told Atwood, who told Lechuga, that Kennedy would be visiting Dallas in a few days and he wished to speak with Atwood. President Kennedy even left a memorandum on Atwood’s desk saying that as soon as he returned from Dallas he wished to hear how the matter was progressing. One possibility for follow-up was for a top Cuban official to come to Washington for higher level talks. Another idea was that Atwood travel to Cuba, which is what Lisa Howard was told by René Vallejo, Castro’s personal aide and confidant. Atwood would be picked up in Mexico by a Cuban aircraft. Once at the Varadero beach resort near Havana, he and Castro would meet face to face. But Kennedy was “eliminated” before this could happen.
Johnson spoke with Atwood just after assuming the presidency. The new President said he had read Atwood’s memo on the negotiation process with “great interest” and would soon let him know how to proceed. Atwood never heard any more about it.
In May 2004, The National Security Archive released secret documents and a tape recording of conversations between McGeorge Bundy and President Kennedy, which confirm what is described above. The institute’s analyst, Peter Kornbluh, stated that the documentation shows that Kennedy was convinced that hostile relations between the two countries must end.
Fidel told Ignacio Ramonet [“FidelCastro, biography in two voices”, published in 2006 by Debate, Spain] that he admired Kennedy for his “great enthusiasm, intelligence and charisma.” Kennedy, according to Fidel, had recognized the error of US policies of war against Vietnam and subversion against Cuba. Fidel judged that Kennedy was an ethical man and would rectify these errors.
I was still in Cuba two years after Lechuga and DSE-Escalante came forth about the Kennedy assassination, I was still in Cuba. A “Justice Tribunal” about the JFK assassination took place in Rio de Janeiro, which I read about in “Granma International”, September 13, 1995. Two experts from Cuba and eight from the U.S. discussed the “convergent political circumstances which led to the” murder. Former US diplomat Wayne Smith, who had once served as the United States “special interests “ representative in Cuba, agreed that US intelligence agencies and Cuban Miami exiles were involved. To me, the most revealing aspect of this tribunal was the participation of an expert, Pennsylvania coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht. He thought that the Warren Commission failed to “afford the requisite importance to the physical and circumstantial details of the shooting, perhaps because of its more urgent need to find an explanation that, at the same time, would provide a viable political way out of the issue,” reported “Granma”.
In the last months of Kennedy’s life, he realized that the war against Vietnam, which he also inherited from the Dwight Eisenhower-Richard Nixon administration, was going badly and without the use of atomic weapons could not be won. As a political leader for big capital, he could not risk spending billions and billions on a war that would be lost, nor would he risk world annihilation in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union and China. He was willing to cool down international conflicts with the communist world, in order to avoid a nuclear holocaust. He was, of course, a supporter of capitalism against socialism, but he was also realistic. Unlike most presidents, he could study. This brought him into conflict with many capitalists and their military-intelligence representatives in government. Many did not study international politics and they thought that the United States of America could never be defeated in war. The Bay of Pigs was a mini-war but a loss they never would get over or “allow” to happen again.
I have written earlier about the losses of profits by Cuba’s own wealthy and about the revolution’s nationalization of US companies: Texaco, Standard Oil, International Telephone and Telegraph, North American Sugar Industries, United Fruit Sugar, Cuban Electric Company among others. Some four billion dollars in land and physical value was now in the hands of the producers through their government. The President’s own father was mad at him over the loss of Cuba. Just after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, Joe Kennedy angrily told his son that Castro had taken away his lucrative Coca-Cola franchise in Cuba following the revolution.
Capitalists with investments in Cuba, and other capitalists who did not have investments in Cuba, were not about to lose more profits because Vietnam fought for their sovereignty too. The weapons industry, the oil industry, mineral and machinery industries all made money from war. We must remember that Vietnam was the world’s leading source for titanium, a tough metal used for sophisticated war aircraft and space crafts much in demand in the United States. There were other elements in capitalism that did not have investments in war production, and Kennedy hoped they would support his analysis that nuclear war was all too possible if they did not pull out of Vietnam or if they invaded Cuba for real. If a nuclear war did occur it would result in even greater losses of profits for most capitalists.
So Kennedy was developing a double track policy toward Cuba and he began a similar policy toward Vietnam. Budget cuts he enacted for war machinery nearly bankrupt Bell Helicopter and General Dynamics, which made billions in the war industry. Napalm producer Dow Chemical, Lockheed and other aircraft companies were also anxious about war de-escalation and détente. Hughes Aircraft Corporation was servicing the CIA on a worldwide basis, the Agency’s largest private contractor. The billionaire Howard Hughes was a prime supplier of CIA spy satellites and a major contractor for NASA satellites as well. His vast corporation was stocked with former CIA and Pentagon officials, many had been generals and elitists in intelligence agencies. Hughes told his personal aide, Robert Maheu, to tell Pentagon generals “to keep the Vietnam war going” so that he could sell more aircraft.
US archives leaked in June 2005 show that Kennedy had his ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, contact the North Vietnamese government in April 1962. Peace negotiations were an issue. Another peace-seeking contact occurred in January 1963. Soon thereafter, Kennedy memo 263 calls for the beginning of troop withdrawal. At that time there were about 16,000 military “advisors” in Vietnam.
Kennedy spoke to a few aides of ending US direct involvement by 1965, that is, during his second term. The withdrawal was not complied with by his hawk generals, just as they had defied him in not pulling out atomic missiles in Turkey. We know that in the first meeting Johnson held as President he reversed Kennedy’s memo with his own, 273, escalating the war, thereby making many big capitalists happy. Before Johnson’s term ended, one-half million US troops were in Southeast Asia.
John F. Kennedy was narrowly elected to the presidency with financial and voting support of the Mafia, and other big money interests. Kennedy was a rich man himself, and every US president must collaborate with big money else they would never have enough money to win an election.
JFK’s father was part of the organized crime cartel during alcohol prohibition days, in the 1920s. Joe Kennedy got rich running rum and raw sugar for alcohol production, much of which came from or through Cuba. And he was indebted to the mob. He was connected to Chicago capo Sam Giancana in establishing the Chicago Merchandise Mart.
Warner Books published Double Cross, in 1992, which became an overnight bestseller. The thriller is written by Sam Giancana’s brother, Chuck, and his son, Sam, godson and namesake to Godfather Sam Giancana, also known as “Momo,” and “Mooney”.
Why the Mob and CIA did not prevent the book from getting published is beyond my knowledge. But three decades had passed and most of the Players were dead. Momo was murdered, in 1975, most likely by his very Outfit and the CIA. The Giancana authors have no doubt that Kennedy was killed by the same triple-conspiracy group described by General Escalante, authors Warren Hinkle-William Turner, in Deadly Secrets, and Donald Freed with Fred Landis, in Death in Washington, and many more researchers-authors have described. (1)
Besides the illegal money business, Joe Kennedy was indebted to Giancana for two personal reasons. He enlisted Giancana’s aid in getting the records annuled of his son John’s first marriage. Mafioso John Roselli saw to this for Giancana. The next favor was that of getting him out of a deal, which New York capo Frank Costello demanded Joe Kennedy comply with as payment for past favors. Kennedy wanted out, because he feared these dealings would ruin his son’s political career.
Giancana met with Joe, in mid-1955, at Chicago’s East Ambassador Hotel. Giancana agreed to help Joe for a favor in return. According to Double Cross´ authors, Joe Kennedy told Sam Giancana: “If my son is elected President he’ll be your man. My son, the President of the United States, will owe you his father’s life. He won’t refuse you, ever. You have my word.”
We’ve all seen enough Mafia “thriller” films to know that the mob is very sticky about keeping personal promises. And Joe was now in Giancana’s debt for life. Giancana kept his promise. He pulled out the ropes for Kennedy’s election. He forced his union partners to turn out for Kennedy in the 1959-60 campaign. He influenced his buddy Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to back Kennedy. John Kennedy even went along with his father to some meetings with Giancana during the election campaign. On election day, Giancana arranged for dead persons to vote, arranged multiple voters, and applied muscle at the ballot boxes.
When Illinois went to Kennedy, Nixon called for a recount. The first recount showed that Nixon had actually won Illinois by 4500 votes but, according to Giancana, the mob pressured Nixon to concede, and that stopped the electoral officialdom from going further with the recount. Nixon was already in debt to the mob—among other things for its attempts on Castro’s life—and they assured him his turn would come, a promise kept in 1968.
Giancana arranged, through Frank Sinatra, for one of his lovers, Judith Campbell, to become Kennedy’s mistress. He later boasted to Campbell that he had put her boyfriend in office. The fact that the President of the United States was fucking one of the capo’s mistresses was one of the many “sins” which J. Edgar Hoover knew about. He tapped both Campbell’s and Kennedy’s telephones and/or residences, and watched her comings and goings in the White House. Hoover confronted Kennedy about this “illicit affair” and demanded he end it “for the sake of the nation”. Kennedy obeyed.
Giancana revealed, in Double Cross, that following the end this affair he arranged for Marilyn Monroe—again through Hollywood celebrities—to meet Kennedy. JKF went bananas for her and so did Bobby. Monroe was murdered by the mob, according to Giancana, in order to force both Kennedys to stop following and prosecuting mob leaders and instead place effective attack on Castro. Giancana even names the two hit men: “Needles” Gianola and “Mugsy” Tortorella. They overcame Monroe at her home shortly after Bobby Kennedy left her on the evening of August 4, 1962, and inserted a Nembutal suppository into her anus. Nembutal is an untraceable poisonous drug, making it appear that she overdosed herself.
On presidential orders, FBI agents entered her home within hours of her death and removed anything linking her to the Kennedys. Bobby Kennedy had been with Monroe earlier that day. Neither Kennedy wanted Marilyn to act out her threat that she would reveal their affairs.
Despite this murder “warning”, the Kennedys did not stop “badgering” Giancana and other mobsters. Giancana not only felt personally betrayed by the Kennedys for using their powers to harass him and his co-capos. The Kennedys’ crackdown on mob control was also hurting the Mafia’s lucrative businesses. The Kennedys were costing too many rich men too much money. Thus, the mob formed part of the murder-triad that killed John Kennedy. But why him instead of Joe or Bobby? The mob’s judgment was that it was John who had the power to comply with Joe’s fateful promise, and it was John who could pull Bobby off the mob. But the stubborn son would not listen to his fearful father.
In his last year of office, Kennedy was preparing to amend
the National Labor Relations Board statutes and Internal Revenue Service
statues that would prevent income tax exemptions by foreign flag shipping
companies. These amendments would cost shipping magnates billions of dollars.
One of them was his wife’s future husband, Aristotle Onassis. Kennedy
was killed three days before he was to make these amendments public.
JFK also intended to eliminate the 27% oil depletion allowance. This meant that the 27% of all oil produced would no longer be non-taxable. This would have put several billions dollars into collective use, which was now part of oil owners’ enormous profits. As Giancana said, in Double Cross, this made Texas, Louisiana, Florida and California oilmen extremely angry with Kennedy. One of those families was the Bush’s. They owned Zapata Midland in Midland, Texas, and Zapata Off Shore, set up in Houston, in 1956. Zapata drilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
Hughes Tool Company was a supplier of drills and sometimes the drill crates contained arms and ammunition for the CIA-Mafia assassination teams, according to CIA-connected para-militarist Gerry Hemming in a Hinkle-Turner interview. In 1988, when asked what role he had played with the CIA in 1963, the recently retired CIA Director George H..W.Bush—and Zapata co-owner—replied ambiguously.
The CIA has a warped tendency to name their murderous “dirty tricks” or “operations” after good people or fellowship politics. Zapata is a good example. Emilio Zapata was a poor farmer, who fought against US imperialism and the Mexican wealthy class, a folk hero who led people into revolution without seeking to be a leader, a man who was assassinated by the very people whom the Bushs and CIA finance and encourage. The CIA called their Bay of Pigs invasion, “Operation Zapata”. And the Bushs stole his good name for their oil company, a business which exploits workers and oppresses the very people that Zapata fought to free from their yoke.
The Set Up and the Cover-up
“For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment, it has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government. This has led to trouble...I never had any thought when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak-and-dagger operations...so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue.”
So wrote former President Harry S. Truman, December 22, 1963, exactly one month following the murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
David Atlee Phillips’ long personable face smiled out from his large-boned body. The dark-haired former actor and playwright had an urbane manner about him, a likeable “good old boy”, as newspapers would later profile him. Phillips fit the dime novel picture of WW11 OSS intelligence service’s witty spies and propagandists for “democracy and liberty”. “He could have been any middle-aged father,” as a “Washington Post” article, July 8, 1975, characterized him.
Nevertheless, David Phillips was a key operational-propagandist for the United States government’s Cuba Project, the overreaching program of clandestine warfare against Cuba, using sabotage and murder, biological warfare against humans, animals and plants, other economic and political subversion.
In September 1963, the major media was focusing on the Birmingham church bombing murders as Phillips called what would become an historic meeting with two of his contract men.
Anthony Veciana Blanch was slim and stern looking. Veciana had been a successful accountant-businessman in his native Cuba when the revolution unfolded. For a while he worked as a disgruntled accountant under the new revolutionary government. Then he met an “American gentleman”, Maurice Bishop as Veciana knew David Phillips in 1960. Bishop was a CIA man working under cover as a U.S. diplomat in Havana, according to Veciana testimony.
Bishop trained Veciana, and other anti-communist Cubans, in sabotage and psychological warfare. And Veciana began embezzling funds from the new government to help finance the underground sabotage and murder operation coordinated by Bishop. This included at least two assassination attempts on Castro’s life. The first plan was cancelled as too risky. The next attempt was planned for October, 1961, which involved firing a bazooka from a nearby rooftop over a crowd of people where Castro was to speak. But Cuba’s State Security Department got wind of the plan before it could be executed. Veciana was able to escape to Miami. A month later, Bishop/Phillips, now also in the United States, contacted him again. Together they laid plans to start a new terrorist group of Cuban exiles, Alpha 66, with Veciana as head man. Phillips facilitated Alpha 66, and other exile groups, with funds and guns. These saboteurs sped to Cuba from Miami in CIA-provided motor boats, raiding production centers and utilities along shore-lines, and killing scores of people, including several Russian technicians.
Lee Harvey Oswald, the youngest of the three, was also slim
and stern-looking though his clean-cut features and withdrawn stance set
him off from the other two. He seemed almost gullible in comparison to
the more distrusting spies.
The New Orleans-born Oswald dropped out of the 10th grade at a Fort Worth, Texas school. At 17, he was already bored with school so he enlisted in the Marine Corp. After initial training, he was sent to the Atsugi Naval Air Station, which was one of the CIA’s largest stations. Atsugi station is where the infamous U-2 spy planes had their home. Oswald was trained in Russian. He defected to Russia, or feigned such, in October 1959. He sought to become a Soviet citizen, and married Marina, a Russian colonel’s daughter. Some months later, he allegedly became disenchanted with Soviet life. Two and one-half years after arriving in Russia, he re-defected. Instead of being shunned by US authorities, he was given a new passport and was brought back to Japan. He next appeared in Dallas where he obtained a job with a graphic arts firm, which had military contracts. A few months later, he was seen in New Orleans among anti-Castro Cuban exiles. Contradictorily, he appeared to be representing the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a leftist solidarity group with Cuba. Oswald was the only member in New Orleans.
CIA’s key Cuba Project agent had a most sensitive
secret mission that day in Dallas. According to Veciana’s later
testimony to congressional investigators, Phillips/Bishop told Veciana
to pay his cousin, Guillermo Ruiz—an intelligence employee in Cuba’s
Mexico City embassy—with CIA money to defect to the United States
and bear witness that Oswald was an agent of Cuba’s intelligence.
Veciana was also to swear to such. We don’t know what Phillips told
Oswald but, according to Veciana, Phillips wanted Oswald to travel to
Mexico City in order to acquire visas to Cuba and the Soviet Union.
As Oswald—or his imposter—was preparing his Mexico trip and Veciana was trying to contact his cousin, Phillips mused over the internal probe that Kennedy had forced the CIA to undertake, following the President’s blunder of the Bay of Pigs. That bastard president has got his coming to him, thought the loyal secret warrior.
At the time of the Bay of Pigs, Phillips’ boss was Tracy Barnes, (2), the Deputy Director of Plans under Director of Plans (DDP) Richard Bissell. DDP is the Agency’s clandestine service and covert action arm. Kennedy ordered General Maxwell Taylor to head the main inquiry into the government’s handling of Cuban operations. CIA Director Allen Dulles ordered the CIA’s Inspector General (IG), Lyman B. Kirkpatrick, Jr., to conduct an internal audit. Dissatisfied with the IG report, Barnes wrote the DDP’s counter-report. In all, there were three reports to explain why the United States lost the battle for Cuba.
Phillips was one of very few persons allowed to see the CIA’s Inspector General report, and the Director of Plans’ reply. Not even when Richard Helms was CIA Director, a decade later, would he show them to President Richard Nixon at the time of Watergate scandal. I describe some of their contents, based upon a 1999 summary written by the CIA’s history staff chief, Michael Warner. The summary, “The CIA’s Internal Probe of the Bay of Pigs Affair”, opens on April 19, 1961 with CIA planners of the assault gathered around a radio in their Washington war room. They are listening to the exile-Cuban brigade commander transmitting his last signal under the Bay of Pigs invasion. Warren quotes from David Phillips 1977-published autobiography, The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service.
“`I have nothing left to fight with,´” he shouted. “ `Am taking to the woods. I can’t wait for you.´” “Then the radio went dead, leaving the drained and horrified CIA men holding back nausea.”
Phillips never forgot that frightful day: the surrender
on Blue Beach, April 19. Just two days before he had written and transmitted
triumphant war communiqués in the name of the CIA front, the Cuban
Revolutionary Council. CRC’s titular leaders were previous big shots
in Cuba, men like José Miro Cardona, the first premier following
the revolutionary overthrow of Batista, and Antonio Varona, prime minister
under Carlos Prío before Batista threw him out of office in a 1952
coup. These men, and several other exile Cubans, were under CIA official
Howard Hunt’s lock and key in Opa-Locka, a Florida military facility.
Howard Hunt and Phillips were partners in control of Castro’s replacements.
Hunt broadcast the message to attack Cuba from the CIA radio station on Swan Island, off Honduras.
“Alert! Alert! Look well at the rainbow. The fish will rise very soon. Chico is in the house. Visit him. The sky is blue. Place notice in the tree. The tree is green and brown. The letters arrived well. The letters are white. The fish will not take much time to rise. The fish is red.”
Then Phillips sent communiqués in Miró Cardona’s name to the US media.
“Invasion of Cuba reported by a rebel force; Miró Cardona says group of hundreds has landed in Oriente Province.” Then: “Before dawn Cuban patriots in the cities and in the hills began the battle to liberate our homeland.”
Two days before the invasion landing, Phillips had staged a sham that threw the US government’s United Nations ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, off base, giving the CIA enough time to start the landing operation. Phillips had ordered the machine gunning of a B-26 before it took off from Nicaragua to bomb Cuban airfields. Bearing a Cuban air force insignia, the US plane assimilated a crash-landing at Key West naval air station. The pilot disappeared behind secured military doors. Minutes later, another B-26 radioed a distress call and landed with one engine out. The pilot was also isolated. Phillips dictated a press release in Cardona’s name, stating that two pilots had defected from Cuba’s air force after shooting up Cuba airfields. This was the cover story for the CIA’s air attacks against a foreign country not at war with the US. Stevenson repeated this false story—told to him by Tracy Barnes, CIA’s liaison man—in the United Nations.
One of the key criticisms in the IG’s Bay of Pigs report was that the operation command structure was so unorthodox that vital information was not properly disseminated, which resulted in decision makers entangling themselves in minutiae. The Brigade’s air cover was managed by CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Intelligence (DDCI) General Charles Cabell. Yet DDP Bissell and Barnes, making overall plans, did not know what the aircraft were doing. Director Dulles was out of the country at the time, so Cabell was the leading CIA official in charge. When Cabell discovered that only one-tenth of cargo capacity was being utilized for weaponry, he ordered the remainder of the space filled with sacks of beans and rice. Phillips recalled Cabell saying to him, “Son, I don’t want to have to explain to an appropriations committee why we’re flying nearly empty planes over Cuba. Drop the rice and beans!” With rice and beans crashing down over the heads of the CIA’s para- militarists, they cursed those responsible. Cabell became known as “Old Rice and Beans.”
When the paramilitary brigade was under heavy attack by the Cuban militia and later by army units, it called for more air cover. None had been authorized so Cabell called the Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, for permission to use Navy jets on the “Boxer” ship standing offshore Cuba. Rusk said no but allowed Cabell to speak to Kennedy. Cabell pleaded for more air attacks while Kennedy wondered how his original okay to covertly back an exile force had gotten out of hand to the point of a full-scale armed invasion. Just the day before Kennedy had assured the inquiring media that the US was not behind the rebel invasion and would not supply aircraft. The President said no to Cabell.
With the President’s rejection of Cabell’s urgent request, followed by the IG’s critique of his “rice and beans” drop, Cabell judged Kennedy as his true enemy.
The IG also criticized the Directorate for Plans for dereliction in duty for failing to advise the White House of the growing possibility of disaster once the 1500 para-militarists had met fierce combat. Although the President had stated that he would not send in attack aircraft during the landings and afterwards, the CIA assumed they could convince him to do so at the last minute.
The IG Survey concluded: “The Agency became so wrapped up in the military operation that it failed to appraise the chances of success realistically...it failed to keep the national policymakers adequately and realistically informed of the conditions considered essential for success.”
The report angered many CIA loyalists, such as Richard Helms, who was one of Dulles’ assistant deputy directors and Barnes. In Barnes report, he attacked the assumption that the invasion was doomed from the start because, a) para-militarist training was delayed; b) they were too few to hold the beachhead; c) the brigade could not hold the beachhead because most of its ammunition was lost at sea to Cuba’s T-33 jets, which the DDCI was supposed to have destroyed during two days of bombings prior to the landing; and, d) because of the failure of presidential political commitment to call D-Day air strikes.
CIA historian Warner also criticized Barnes report: “(Barnes) analysis offered almost no concessions to the IG’s findings, defending virtually everything done by the DDP...”
Barnes compared the PBSUCCESS (in Guatemala) with the Bay of Pigs, a “normal” operation, “in which there is heavy reliance on psychological warfare”.
Warner said that the key difference between the two “operations” was that the army under Arbenz decided to turn on him when faced with the fact that the US was going to invade Guatemala with or without the national army’s assistance. But, unlike in Guatemala, Batista’s army was immediately replaced by the guerrilla army, and “a system of intense ideological indoctrination” was introduced by Castro. “Fidel and his Soviet allies resolved to avoid Arbenz’ mistakes,” Warren constituted.
Warner added that, “Castro’s secret police (DSE) kept a close watch on (CIA) station and Embassy personnel...” and sometimes caught CIA technical service personnel attempting to install listening devices.”
“The possibility of personally persuading Cuban Army officers had been discounted in the earliest days of the operational planning, but CIA had another arrow in its quiver. Bissel probably believed that Castro would be dead at the hands of a CIA-sponsored assassin before the Brigade ever hit the beach. This expectation perhaps kept Bissell and Barnes overoptimistic...”
Even if CIA operatives had been successful in murdering Fidel before the planned invasion, there was no plan to “influence the loyalty and effectiveness of Castro’s military,” wrote Warner. “The DDP analysis now portrayed Castro’s thorough reorientation of Cuba’s armed forces as a source of weakness for Castro and a strength for the CIA...This estimate was wishful thinking disguised as analysis.” These defects “made Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell overconfident,” and “distorted the Agency’s advice to President Kennedy.”
Immediately after the United States of America’s first
international defeat in war, President Kennedy raged at the CIA for its
failure to resolve the Cuba Problem once and for all. He swore at the
previous administration, especially Nixon, for having trapped him into
this Bay of Pigs fiasco; he lambasted CIA leaders for lying to him and
for their attempt to blame him for their failure. The President said he
would smash the Agency and started by firing the three top leaders: Director
Allen Dulles, General Charles Cabell and Richard Bissell. Ironically,
and to his extreme detriment, he did not fire Helms nor did he prevent
the promotion of the operational trio Barnes-Hunt-Phillips. Barnes was
put in charge of the new Domestic Operations Division and Hunt ran its
illegal domestic fronts, including the one in New Orleans, the Fair Play
for Cuba Committee. All this was quite illegal, according to the CIA’s
Phillips worked with Hunt in these fronts as well as the Kennedy-approved Cuba covert war plan, Operation Mongoose, following the 1962 Missile Crisis.
Kennedy appointed an unwelcome outsider to head the CIA, John A. McCone, a wealthy Republican industrialist. Kennedy replaced Cabell, who was suspected of undermining Kennedy from the start, with General Marshall Pat Carter. Bissell was replaced by Richard Helms, the eternally surviving, gray-flannel bureaucrat. Mr. Cool, as many referred to his ice-cold nature, saw to it that there was no trace to him and the Bay of Pigs.
“The problem is it tracks back to the Bay of Pigs” ! Nixon said about the Watergate bust.
Anthony Veciana hadn’t been able to reach his cousin by the time Oswald boarded a bus for Mexico City on September 25, 1963. Two days later, Oswald, or his double, walked into the Cuban Embassy carrying a book by Lenin in hand. He applied for a visa that would allow him to visit Cuba for two weeks en route to the Soviet Union. He showed Cuban personnel newspaper clippings of him as the FPCC representative in New Orleans, and papers of his “defection” to the USSR. The Cubans, including Veciana’s cousin, checked with the Soviet Embassy. It would be four months before the Soviets would process a visa request. Oswald adamantly demanded that he must have a Cuban visa now. He created such a fracas that Consul Eusebio Azcue kicked him off the premises without a visa. Oswald persisted at both embassies without results, yet his efforts made him most visible.
Alberto Rodríguez Gallego, a Cuban exile under Phillips control in Mexico City, photographed every one entering and leaving the Cuban embassy from a CIA observation post. Photos of Oswald, or someone posing as him, were taken.
Immediately upon the assassination of Kennedy, CIA warrior-propagandists David Phillips, his sidekick Frank Sturgis and their “asset” Hal Hendrix, alerted media contacts in Miami. They used the alleged Oswald Mexico trip to link Oswald to the Soviet Union, Castro and the DSE. Among the many appeasing writers was right-winger James C. Buchanan. He wrote for the “Sun Sentinel,” in Pompano Beach, Florida, that Oswald had Cuban government contacts in Miami, New Orleans and Mexico City. Buchanan’s brother Jerry belonged to Sturgis´ International Anti-Communist Brigade, a paramilitary group.
There was contradictory evidence, however, about Oswald and the Mexico trip. On the same day that Oswald was reported to have taken a bus from Dallas on his way to Mexico City, someone claiming to be Oswald was seen that evening at the Dallas home of Sylvia Odio, a well-known Cuban exile proponent of invading Cuba. She later told the Warren Commission that a man calling himself Leon Oswald had come with two Cuban counter-revolutionaries. She recognized that man to be Lee Harvey Oswald, having seen him on television the day of JFK’s murder. The other two were the saboteur brothers: Guillermo and Ignacio Novo Sampol. They spoke of overthrowing Castro. Guillermo Novo claimed that Oswald had said, “President Kennedy should have been assassinated after the Bay of Pigs.”
Warren Commission chief counsel Lee Rankin communicated with J. Edgar Hoover about this witness´ prima facie evidence of a conspiracy to set up Oswald. This was a big problem; the FBI had to do something. The Dallas FBI then found a former FBI man who said that he had interviewed two entirely different men who had visited Odio that day. He said that they “generally resembled” Oswald and a companion. So, you see, Odio was confused about identities. The Warren investigators dropped Odio’s version, maintaining that Oswald had already begun his journey to Mexico City.
The FBI and CIA were working at cross purposes. All the details of their activities before, during and following the Kennedy murder are not known thereby making sense of some apparent contradictions is not simple but there are conflicting bits of information concerning the Mexico trip.
Phillips testified to the Senate Intelligence Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, in 1976, that he had been chief of covert actions at the CIA’s Mexico City station at the time of Oswald’s supposed visit to Cuban and Soviet embassies. He said that the CIA had taped Oswald conversations at the embassies and had photos of him entering and leaving the buildings. But this purported evidence of Oswald’s communist connections had not been shown to the Warren Commission because, Phillips said, they had been “routinely destroyed”, on October 9, approximately one week after they were taken. Phillips explained that “Oswald was not considered an important character” then. Nevertheless, on October 10, the CIA sent a cable to the State Department and the Office of Naval Intelligence informing them that Oswald had been seen entering the Soviet Embassy. This “Oswald” was several inches taller and 10 years older than the actual Oswald, though the real face of Oswald appeared on the visa applications filled out at the Soviet and Cuban embassies.
Unable to effectively use the alleged trip to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico as proof that Oswald was a Castro assassination agent, someone (CIA?) fabricated letters supposedly sent to Oswald from Havana with instructions to assassinate Kennedy. There were three such letters and two were shown to the Warren Commission, and they summarily dismissed them.
Two and a half years before the assassination, on June 3, 1960, Hoover had sent a confidential memo to the State Department raising the possibility that an imposter might be using Oswald’s credentials. The real Oswald was then living in the Soviet Union. But the FBI did not give this vital memo to the Warren Commission. Instead, on the day of Kennedy’s murder, the FBI delivered a report to the government with a photograph of a burly man ten years Oswald’s senior at Mexico City’s Soviet Embassy and a tape of this subject claiming to be “Oswald” talking to a Soviet KGB officer. This information/disinformation was the same that the CIA had sent to the State Department. Yet the FBI concluded that this person was not the same Oswald whom, it alleged, killed Kennedy. This information made its way to the Warrren Commission. Hoover was pushing for a lone man assassin and two Oswalds would simply get in the way.
But how could one man, who was not a good marksman, according to his military records, pull all this off? Oswald was spotted by two men, one a policeman, on the second floor of the depository 80 seconds after the shooting. He was sitting calmly drinking a soda. If one is to believe the Warren Commission, Oswald would have had to shoot three times (in 5.6 seconds), rearrange the shield of boxes he had supposedly set up around the window, wipe off his fingerprints, hide the rifle, run down four flights of stairs and buy a soda, in order to be sitting 80 seconds later not out of breath.
Besides the confusion about how many Oswalds there were, the real Oswald associates at Atsugi naval-CIA base applauded him. (Citations are taken from Warren Hinkle-William Turner’s well documented Deadly Secrets, pages 252-3.)
“There was joy in the CIA’s Tokyo station. `It was a scene of great excitement, confusion and wild talk. The conservatives were obviously elated and there was talk of an invasion of Cuba,’ said Jim Wilcott, the CIA’s Tokyo station financial officer in 1963. According to Wilcott, CIA hardliners “`hated Jack Kennedy´ because they felt he betrayed the agency over the Bay of Pigs. Agents were breaking out bottles and having drinks to Oswald. Tongues became loose, and there was a great deal of talk about Oswald’s connections with the CIA. It was accepted as given that Oswald worked for the agency.´”
This is what Wilcott says he learned:
“`Oswald was originally under control of the Tokyo station’s Soviet Russia Branch. He was trained at Atsugi Naval Air Station, the secret base for Tokyo CIA special operations. When Oswald returned from the USSR, in June of 1962, he was brought back to Japan for debriefing. They were having some kind of difficulty with Oswald. The Soviets were on to him right from the start. That apparently made him very angry and he became difficult to handle.´”
Wilcott had handed over cash for covert CIA operations which ended in Oswald’s hands. Wilcott told authors Hinkle and Turner—a FBI agent for ten years before becoming a whistle blower: “(I) gave out money for the Oswald project under such and such a crypto.”
Where were some of the key figures on that fatal day?
Quite ironically, Fidel Castro was conversing with the French director of “Le Nouvel Observateur”, Jean Daniel, when a Castro assistant told them the news of Kennedy’s murder. Castro spontaneously said: “This is bad for Cuba.” When told that Johnson had just been sworn in as President, Fidel asked: “What authority does he exercise over the CIA?”
In 2005, Fidel told Ramonet, in their interview book, that Kennedy had sent a message to him though Daniel.
“In this way, a communication was being established that perhaps could have been favorable to improving our relations.”
“His death hurt me. He was an adversary but I felt his disappearance greatly…I experienced indignation, repudiation, pain…”
That evening in Paris, the new CIA chief of Cuban Task Force W, Desmond Fitzgerald, and a local CIA case officer met with Rolando Cubela. Two months before (September 7) Fitzgerald had arranged with Cubela—a Castro official who was also a CIA agent—to prepare an “inside job” on Castro’s life as part of a larger plan. Cubela was assigned the code name AMLASH. Deputy Director Richard Helms was in on the plan but the new Director John McCone was not told about it. McCone had assured Attorney General Robert Kennedy that all Cuban assassination plans were off. Helms´ solution to this dilemma was simply for Fitzgerald to tell Cubela that he was representing the attorney general anyway.
A couple of years later when President Johnson was informed
of the AMLASH operation he is quoted as saying: “We were running
a goddamn Murder, Inc. in the Caribbean.”
Some of following comes was the 1975 Senate Assassination Plots report, which I take from Hinkle-Turner’s book.
“Fitzgerald handed Cubela an ordinary-looking ball-point pen fitted with a hypodermic needle so fine that the victim would not feel its insertion. He recommended that Cubela use Blackleaf-40, a lethal poison that was commercially available.
“Upon leaving the meeting, Fitzgerald and the case officer learned that the President had been assassinated.”
According to Cuba’s DSE, the AMLASH plot was part of Operation Patty, which originally was the CIA “cowboys” plan to eliminate Castro and Kennedy and then return Cuba to its “rightful” owners. First Castro would be murdered then the US Guantanamo base would be attacked, supposedly by Cuban military, in revenge for the murder of Castro. Then a Castro agent, Oswald, would assassinate Kennedy in revenge. Now, the US government would have all the reasons in the world to truly invade Cuba and put in their own government. (3)
On the day of JFK’s murder, a meeting was underway with Richard Helms, Howard Hunt and several other CIA officials in a Washington DC CIA safe house. They were speaking with one of the Cuban operatives, Enrique “Harry” Ruíz-Williams, an influential Bay of Pigs warrior, who also had Bobby Kennedy’s ear. Williams later told Hinkle-Turner that it was “the most important meeting I ever had on the problem of Cuba.” A new invasion plan was underway. As Williams and the CIA brass were about to go to lunch they heard that JFK was shot.
This meeting in Washington is a good alibi for Howard Hunt, whom some researchers contend was one of the nine “hobos” picked up by the railroad tracks by Dallas policemen just after the shootings that day. There is a photo of the cops leading three of them away from the scene. Although they had on worn clothing, they had fresh haircuts and new shoes. All nine “hobos” were quickly released without their names being taken. Some photo experts think that one looks like Hunt’s buddy Frank Sturgis. There were promises from some authorities that the “tramps” identities would be checked out but they never were.
That night in New Orleans, Guy Banister—a former FBI agent, now a private detective connected to the CIA’s Cuba project—and one of his private investigators, Jack. S. Martin, were drinking in a bar when they heard the news. Banister expressed pleasure. The two went back to Banister’s office where Banister pistol-whipped him, because Martin expressed sorrow that the President had been murdered, and hinted that things had been strange with all those Cuban extremists coming in and out of the office, plotting one thing or another. Martin was hospitalized with head injuries but refused to press charges. Nevertheless, he told Herman Kohlman, a contact in the district attorney’s office, that he thought Banister and David Williams Ferrie were linked to the assassination. He said that Ferrie knew Oswald from the Civil Air Patrol, in 1955. Ferrie was one of the first counter-revolutionary pilots to fly fire bomb raid against Cuba, in early 1959. These raids were partly paid for by former Cuban Congressman Eladio “Yito” del Valle. He had made a fortune in a drug smuggling partnership with Mafia boss Santos Trafficante during the Batista dictatorship. Martin thought that Ferrie’s role in the Kennedy murder conspiracy was to fly participants into Mexico. The D.A.’s office did not get far with that information, and they dropped the assassination matter until 1967.
Late that same night in Dallas, the then District Attorney Henry Wade told journalists: “Oswald is a member of the Free Cuba Committee.” Not only was Oswald present at the news conference, so was a well known mobster. “No, he is a member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee,” Jack Ruby corrected the city’s chief lawman.
The day after the murder of John Kennedy, his brother Bob asked CIA Director McCone if the CIA had anything to do with it. The answer was NO.
Any conspiracy theory could have catapulted another Palmer Raid against us leftists—J. Edgar Hoover played a leading role in the 1919-20 round-up of radical aliens and citizens. It could well have caused a full invasion of Cuba. Suddenly, we heard no more about a foreign or national conspiracy to murder Kennedy. We were told by the most powerful of all policemen, J. Edgar Hoover, that the President of the United States was murdered by one man, Oswald. Hoover could not bear to be seen as having failed in any way. If evidence of more than one Oswald got out, or if there were foreign elements involved, then it was Hoover who was responsible for not having discovered the plot before it was pulled off. So, on the same day of the murder, Hoover memoed Bill Moyers, a special assistant to the new president, Johnson:
“The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large...Speculation about Oswald’s motivation ought to cut off, and we should have some basis for rebutting thought that this was a Communist conspiracy or (as the Iron Curtain press is saying) a right-wing conspiracy to blame it on the Communists.”
“An exhaustive FBI report now nearly ready for the White House will indicate that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone and unaided assassin...” UPI transmitted December 3.
Hoover was also concerned about his rival, the CIA, which often encroached into his territory, spying in America on Americans. The CIA was forbidden by law to spy inside the US, but it had been doing so “discreetly”, as its presidential creator, Harry Truman, lamented. If it could convince the new government that there was a foreign conspiracy in the assassination and the FBI had failed to detect or prevent it, then the CIA could overwhelm the FBI in its own precious territory. The 1976 Senate Intelligence Committee report, and Morton Halperin, a former National Security Council staff member and Henry Kissinger aide (4), informed the public that the CIA’s anti-dissident Operation CHAOS had registered over 300,000 United States individuals and organizations. Its illegal surveillance between 1953 and 1973 produced a computerized index of 1.5 million names. Jostling for power and status within the state’s complex apparatus also played a role in the lone man theory. (5)
Cooler heads put a stop to the CIA media campaign blaming Castro for Kennedy’s murder although there were clearly forces inside the government, especially within the CIA and Pentagon, who wanted to take on both Cuba and the Soviet Union at this propitious time. My father’s hero, General Curtis Lemay, was one of them, General Charles Cabell another. Only the year before, during the missile crisis, these and other top generals had argued that the US could win a nuclear war with Russia. They suggested “acceptable” estimates of how many millions of Americans would die in an atomic world war—none for Russians and other nationalities. While Johnson was just as right-wing-anti-communist as the best of generals he did not want to be The President who led the world into world war. Neither did the equally anti-communist FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. While many rich capitalists would always earn big profits from war, even atomic war, some of them would lose their investments in an atomic war as many production centers would be blown away.
Johnson and Hoover stopped the CIA’s media conspiracy campaign.
Five days after JFK was assassinated, Johnson convinced Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren to head the government’s investigation into the murder. Warren had first refused but following a second meeting with Johnson he emerged to tearfully announce he would form the committee. It had to make its conclusions before the next elections, in November 1964. The commission was made up of seven high officials and congressmen, including former CIA director Allen Dulles and Gerald Ford (later to be Nixon’s replacement as President). Warren told the Commission that he took the job because the President had convinced him that if rumors about a conspiracy were not squelched, it could conceivably lead the country into a world war. In other words, the Commission’s mission was political, not investigatory. It had been handed the “exhaustive FBI report”: “Oswald was the lone and unaided assassin”.
Attorney Bernard Fensterwald, who was representing James Earl Ray on appeal after his conviction for murdering Martin Luther King, had formed the Committee to Investigate Assassinations to press for an objective investigation into several assassinations. The Warren Commission’s role, he said, “was to cover up. That’s all it was supposed to do. The conclusion was reached immediately after Ruby shot Oswald, if not before. The story was to be that there was one lone nut killer, and the Commission was to gather evidence to support that...and ignore everything that didn’t fit.” (6)
This would be best accomplished by the Commission not having its own investigative staff, so it did not. Instead it relied on the FBI and CIA to check out all leads.
Oswald could not defend himself and the lawyer his mother would engage, Mark Lane—with whom I would associate years later concerning agent provocateurs and CIA connections to assassinations, including Kennedy’s—was disallowed to represent a dead man. With no “authorized” opponent to the FBI’s lone assassin judgment, the Commission went about its business by relying on the very agencies which had defied the President, and whose leaders despised him.
The Warren Commission rejected interviewing 196 people who witnessed the assassination at the scene. They would have supported another 52 witnesses who did get to testify that bullets came from elsewhere than the book depository. In all, the Commission heard 552 witnesses and received tens of thousands of pages of reports submitted by the FBI, Secret Service, Dallas police and Texas Attorney General’s office, and other state and federal investigative agencies. Twelve hundred documents concerning Oswald and his role had been collected and classified. 17,000 pages in 27 volumes were eventually released in book form, but all the evidence was locked up in a government vault for 75 years. That means that we can, perhaps, find out what really happened in 2039.
The Commission had many big problems, among them were the autopsies. There were two autopsies, the first at Parkland Memorial Hospital and another at Bethesda Naval Hospital, close to Washington D.C.
What follows is taken from the September 1975 issue of “Skeptic”, written by Fred T. Newcomb and Perry Adams.
Throat wound: At Parkland, doctors found a small wound in the front of Kennedy’s neck, in the middle and just below the Adam’s apple. Dr. Gene C. Atkin called it an entrance wound, only a few millimeters in diameter, resulting from a pistol shot at close range.
Rear Admiral George G. Burkley, a presidential physician, failed to mention the throat wound in his Certificate of Death. At Bethesda, military autopsy physicians described that wound as three inches long, with “widely gaping irregular edges.”
Left Temple Wound: Dr. Robert N. McClelland of Parkland stated in his medical report, “the cause of death” was from “...a gunshot wound of the left temple”. Dr. Marion T. Jenkins testified that he saw blood on the left temple’s hairline. Priest Oscar L. Huber, who administered the last rites, also saw the wound over the left eye.
Dr. Malcolm O. Perry, who reported to the media about the death, said, “the entrance wound...was in front of the head.”
Right Rear Head Wound: At Parkland, Dr. Charles J. Carrico examined the bullet that entered the back of Kennedy’s head and saw that it existed on the right side of the head, taking away scalp and skull some two inches in diameter. At Bethesda, Dr. Humes stated that the wound was five inches in diameter.
There was no doctor report that maintained that the head had undergone surgery, yet two FBI agents present asserted that there was “surgery of the head area, namely, in the top of the skull.” They said that so much of the skull was gone that the brain could be lifted out without further surgery.
Back Wound: Parkland doctors found no back wound. Yet at Bethesda, a hole as deep as a finger penetrated the back. Admiral Burkley, Dr. Boswell and the two FBI men said the hole was a fourth of the way down the back, and matched the holes in the President’s shirt and coat. There were no metallic fragments, however. Then, the position of the wound changed when Rear Admiral Calvin B. Galloway, commanding officer of Bethesda’s physicians, located it four inches higher, which aligned it with the throat wound. Secret Service presidential protectors, who witnessed both the shooting and the Parkland Memorial Hospital autopsy, placed the back wound just below the neck, just as the autopsy doctors did, but as an exit wound. The President’s coat and shirt showed another bullet hole beneath the shoulder.
The Secret Service was supposed to provide the Warren Commission with media recordings of the Parkland news conference and transcripts of interviews of the doctors. None were found in Commission records.
Faced with such conflicting evidence, the Warren Commission chose to ignore all evidence that might have indicated more than three bullets and more than one assassin. Coinciding with the rejection of conflicting autopsy results and ballistics findings, it invented the “magic bullet” theory, one bullet made seven wounds in JFK and Connally. (7)
The Warren Commission concluded that the back wound was the entrance wound, and that it was aligned with the throat wound. Quite the reverse of what the three autopsy doctors at Parkland and some Secret Service agents found. This is the absolute necessary conclusion to reach IF Oswald was to have shot the President into his back from the depository overhead.
The Journal of Forensic Sciences described these autopsies as contradictory. It said that the Warren Commission had failed to “attempt to establish a chain of evidence to discover whether or not the body arrived at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in largely the same condition as it left Dallas”.
The American Academy of Forensic Pathologists condemned the Commission version as incomplete and sloppy. They said it was no autopsy at all.
And then the biggest mystery and the most macabre of all phenomena in this “investigation” is the missing brain of The President of the United States. The brain was removed after the second autopsy, supposedly for a more thorough examination of the wounds in his head. It was set in Fromalin. It was transported to the National Archives, along with other medical evidence. Dr. Cyril Wecht, the coroner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, was an independent expert, who examined the autopsy photographs and X-rays. Dr. Cyril sought to locate the brain at the archives and discovered that it had disappeared. We have never gotten any logical explanation. I wonder which one of the murderers has the President’s brain in his trophy gallery.
On September 24, 1964, the Warren Commission presented its
a) “The shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally were fired from the sixth floor window at the southeast corner of the Texas School Book Depository;”
b) “The shots which killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally (“the same bullet which pierced the President’s throat also caused Governor Connally’s wounds”) were fired by Lee Harvey Oswald;”
c) “Oswald shot and killed police officer J.D. Tippit”;
d)”The Commission has found no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy;”
e) ”All of the evidence before the Commission established that there was nothing to support the speculation that Oswald was an agent, employee, or informant of the FBI, the CIA or any other governmental agency;”
f)”On the basis of the evidence before the Commission, it concludes that Oswald acted alone.”
But the public and hundreds of weaponry capabilities and autopsy experts did not believe the Commission or the government. Opinion polls showed that two-thirds of the people did not believe it. Even one of the commissioners, Senator Richard Russell, urged private investigators to challenge the report. In 1970, he said: “I never believed that he (Oswald) did it without any consultation or encouragement whatsoever.”
And then, in a July 1973 interview in “Atlantic Monthly”, former President Johnson himself declared what he believed to the truth: “I never believed that Oswald acted alone, although I can accept that he pulled the trigger.”
As the Vietnam war was ending, the Watergate scandal unraveling, and congress preparing for two congressional investigations into CIA-Mafia assassinations, the number of Americans who did not believe the “magic bullet-lone assassin” theory grew to 80 percent, an so it is today two generations after THE murder.
In 1967, New Orleans District Attorney James Garrison began a two-year investigation into the conspiracy to kill Kennedy. He believed that Clay Shaw, the wealthy businessman and CIA contract man, was the CIA’s key man in the New Orleans part of the conspiracy. But Garrison soon lost his most important witnesses.
Garrison was preparing to summon David Ferrie and Eladio “Yito” del Valle to court for conspiracy to murder JFK.
Garrison judged Ferrie to be “one of history’s most important individuals.” Ferrie told Garrison that Shaw was “untouchable”. He also said that when word would get out that Garrison was talking to him, “I’m a dead man.” Later that day, February 22, 1967, after Garrison had questioned Ferrie about connections he had to Oswald, del Valle, Guy Banister and Shaw, Ferrie was found dead in his New Orleans apartment. It was “a mysterious death”: a blow to the neck and drug intoxication.
On the same evening in Miami, del Valle, was found in his car shot in the head and hacked to death with a machete. Garrison’s investigators were looking for him as he was murdered.
Gay Banister, whom Garrison would have interrogated, had suddenly died in June, 1964, as the Warren Commission sought to interview him. He was found dead of an apparent heart attack. His pistol was at his side. After his death, Banisters widow found a large stack of Oswald Fair Play for Cuba Committee literature in her husband’s office.
Other witnesses, such as Jack Martin and several more who had vital information, refused to risk their lives by testifying. The federal government refused to issue any documents to Garrison, and not one governor would issue subpoenas to any out-of-state witness.
With not much more to go on, the jury acquitted Shaw at the end of the spring 1969 trial. Jurors told Garrison that he had proved to them that there was a conspiracy with several players, but they did not believe that Shaw was one or that Garrison had proven that Shaw was a CIA contract man.
“The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it”, Garrison responded.
Though Garrison was considered to be a nut by many and a real threat by those in the Cuba Project, a majority of New Orleans voters reelected him district attorney. After 12 years as D.A., he was elected judge to the Louisiana appeals court.
“I saw strange cars in a parking lot at the Grassy
Knoll...a commotion...then a puff of smoke,” Lee Bowers told the
Warren Commission before he mysteriously died.
Abraham Zapruder was a Dallas businessman and a supporter of Kennedy. He stood on a concrete pedestal facing the Grassy Knoll, which was in front of where the Presidents car was driving when he was shot. Zapruda filmed the motorcade with a 8mm movie camera. For some reason, Zapruda sold the rights to “Life” magazine, and its owners kept it from the public. Although the film was twice spliced with some frames unaccountably missing, there were still 22 telling seconds intact. It was five years before the public got to see the spliced version, which Garrison had obtained and introduced at the Shaw trial. The Warren Commission had deigned to view it.
The Zapruder film clearly shows several of the bullets fired and confirms that the final shot came from the right and to the front, which would indicate from the Grassy Knoll. At least four shots were fired, according to professor Josiah Thompson, who was hired by “Life” to examine the film. I summarize his findings, as reported in a “Skeptic” article, September 1975, written by a television and magazine editor, Robert Sam Anson. The first shot was fired from the depository, striking the President in the back; the second was fired from the roof of the nearby County Records Building, which hit Connally; the third hit JFK in the back of his head; and the fourth hit him in the head from the front, which would have come from the Grassy Knoll.
One shot, perhaps a fifth, wounded an onlooker, James Tague, who stood ahead of the motorcade.
An umbrella can be seen being opened by a man, despite the sunny, cloudless sky. The “Umbrella Man” seems to coincide with Zapruder frame 413. A figure can be discerned possibly holding a rifle. He is behind some bushes, which the president’s car was passing.
In another 8 mm film, taken by Orville Nix, who stood across the street from Zapruder, a man is seen pointing what might be a long-barreled pistol. He is standing behind a cream-colored Rambler station wagon parked behind the Grassy Knoll. This was shown to Lee Bowers, a railroad worker, who witnessed the assassination from a switching tower. He confirmed that is what he saw. Bowers told the Warren Commission that he noted several “strange cars” in the parking lot in back of the knoll. He saw a man in one car seeming to speak into something like a microphone. There was a “commotion” near the stockade fence as shots rang out, and he saw a puff of smoke. Another witness, S.M. Holland, observed this scene from the overpass and corroborated Bowers´ version of events.
On August 9, 1966, Bowers was driving in daylight at moderate speed when his car suddenly swerved off the open road and rammed a bridge. Bowers died.
Besides Bowers and Holland, there were 50 other Warren Commission witnesses who heard or saw shots coming from the Grassy Knoll. That is a score more than those who only reported shots coming from the book depository.
Among the numerous mysteries in this presidential murder is what happened to the witnesses who did not support the government’s version of events.
Eighteen material witnesses to the deaths of Kennedy, Tippit,
and Oswald died within three years of the events. The actuarial odds of
such a string of deaths are calculated at 100 TRILLION to one by a London
Not only are the odds of such a string of deaths unequalled, the modes of death are equally phenomenal.
Six died by gunfire, one by a cut throat, one from a karate chop to the neck, two by suicides as so ruled by authorities, three in motor accidents, three from heart attacks so ruled by authorities, and only two from natural causes.
The Warren “investigation” committee discounted all these witnesses and their miraculous deaths. It had its “miraculous” bullet shot by a lone assassin with a quarter-century old single-shot rifle.
Within a dozen years, 52 witnesses to the events, or who overheard telling information about a conspiracy before or after the events, or who were players or related to players to the events, died. Fourteen were murdered, 12 died “suspicious” deaths or suicides, two died in shooting accidents, 15 in other accidents, one by drug overdose, and five by sudden heart attacks or cancer.
Here are some of these deaths connected with the case.
Date Name Connection with case Cause of death
11/63 Karyn Kupicinet TV host's daughter who was overheard telling of JFK's death prior to the murder Murdered
12/63 Jack Zangretti Expressed foreknowledge of Ruby shooting Oswald Gunshot Victim
2/64 Eddy Benavides Lookalike brother to Tippit shooting witness, Domingo Benavides Gunshot to head
2/64 Betty MacDonald Former Ruby employee who gave an alibi for Warren Reynolds shooting suspect. Suicide by hanging in Dallas Jail
3/64 Bill Chesher Thought to have information linking Oswald and Ruby Heart attack
3/64 Hank Killam Husband of Ruby employee who knew Oswald acquaintance Throat cut
4/64 Bill Hunter Reporter who was in Ruby's apartment on 11/24/63 Accidental shooting by policeman
5/64 Gary Underhill CIA agent who claimed Agency was involved Gunshot in head ruled suicide
5/64 Hugh Ward Private investigator working with Guy Banister and David Ferrie Plane crash in Mexico
5/64 DeLesseps Morrison New Orleans Mayor Passenger in Ward's plane
9/65 Rose Cheramie Knew of assassination in advance, told of Oswald riding to Dallas with Cubans Hit/run victim
11/65 Dorothy Kilgallen Columnist who had private interview with Ruby, pledged to "break" JFK case Drug overdose
1966 Karen "Little Lynn" Carlin Ruby employee who last talked with Ruby before Oswald shooting Gunshot victim
6/66 Capt. Frank Martin Dallas policeman who witnessed Oswald slaying, told Warren Commission "there's a lot to be said but probably be better if I don't say it" Sudden cancer
10/66 Lt. William Pitzer JFK autopsy photographer who described his duty as "horrifying experience" Gunshot ruled suicide
2/67 Harold Russell Saw escape of Tippit killer killed by cop in bar brawl
1/69 E.R. Walthers Dallas Deputy Sheriff who was involved in Depository search, claimed to have found .45-cal. slug Shot by felon
12/70 Salvatore Granello Mobster linked to both Hoffa,Trafficante, and Castro assassination plots Murdered
1971 James Plumeri Mobster tied to mob-CIA assassination plots Murdered
Just as many witnesses to the murder were themselves murdered or killed “mysteriously”, so were other witnesses murdered who had testified or were to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Assassinations. Two were powerful Mafia chieftains.
Sam Giancana had survived half a century of rugged Mafia infighting without getting himself harmed or killed. Yet the night before he was to appear before the committee, on June 7, 1975, he was shot to death at point blank range in his Chicago home. The murder weapon was a .22 Duramatic automatic pistol with silencer. He was being guarded 24 hours a day by FBI agents.
Under forced subpoena, in May 1975, John Roselli spoke to the committee about Castro assassination attempts. According to Chairman Senator Frank Church, he “gave us a good deal of detail.” Roselli was to appear again shortly before the Senate’s final report was to come out. On August 7, 1976, he was repeatedly stabbed, stuffed into a chain-weighted metal drum and dropped in Dumbfounding Bay near Miami.
Following these murders, and the Senate committee’s final report, the House assassination committee convened. Of the many witnesses it called, a handful of right-wingers associated with violent anti-Cuba activities and six FBI officials were killed or died before testifying.
The FBI’s number three leader, William Sullivan, who was in charge of counter-espionage and domestic intelligence, was shot to death in a so-called hunting accident near his New Hampshire home. The man responsible was charged with a “misdemeanor”, “shooting a human by accident”, and released in custody to his father, a state policeman. The matter was dropped.
Charles Nicolette, the Mafia enforcer under Giancana, who had replaced Roselli as head of Castro murder projects, was executed in Chicago, on March 29, 1977, as the House committee was trying to locate him for questioning about any links between Castro and Kennedy assassinations.
Here are a few other mysterious deaths, which occurred as the House assassination committee was investigating:
Date Name Connection with case Cause of Death
1/77 William Pawley Former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil connected to Anti-Castro Cubans and crime figures Gunshot ruled, suicide
3/77 George DeMohrenschildt Close friend to both Oswald and Bouvier family (Jackie Kennedy's parents), CIA contract agent Gunshot wound, ruled suicide
4/77 Carlos Prio Soccaras Former Cuban President, money man for anti-Castro Cubans, possible post-Castro president Gunshot wound at Miami home, ruled suicide
5/77 Lou Staples Dallas radio Talk Show host who told friends he would break assassination case Gunshot to head, ruled suicide
6/77 Louis Nichols Former No. 3 man in FBI, worked on JFK investigation Heart attack
8/77 Joseph C. Ayres Chief steward on JFK's Air Force One Shooting accident
Over a dozen year period, eight direct players in the assassination
were murdered to prevent them from being a liability to the others—Guy
Banister, Jack Ruby, Eladio del Valle, David Ferrie, David Yaras, Sam
Giancana, John Roselli, Charles Nicoletti.
“We did Watergate because Nixon wanted to stop the leakage of information on our role in the assassination of Kennedy,” Frank Sturgis told the “San Francisco Chronicle,” April 7, 1990.
House Select Committee on Assassinations 1979 report concludes:
“The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.”
These congressmen noted that both the FBI and CIA were derelict in not pursuing the possibility of conspiracy, which the congressmen contended most probably involved mobsters and anti-Castro Cubans. Hoover, they said, had a “personal disposition that Oswald had been a lone assassin” and this wrapped up the Warren Commission.
The House committee found that after the Warren Commission report had been issued the FBI refused to explore information, which Chief Justice Earl Warren gave to the FBI, “regarding organized crime figure John Roselli’s claim of personal knowledge relating to Cuban or underworld complicity”. The Bureau also “took repeated action to discredit the source” rather than investigate that “New Orleans Mafia leader Carlos Marcello had allegedly made a threat against the life of President Kennedy.”
The committee also criticized the CIA for passivity, and recalled the Senate’s 1976 report:
“Even if CIA investigators did not know that the CIA was plotting to kill Castro, they certainly did know that the Agency had been operating a massive covert operation against Cuba since 1960. The conspiratorial atmosphere of violence, which developed over the course of three years of CIA and exile group operations, should have led CIA investigators to ask whether Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, who were known to have at least touched the fringes of the Cuban community, were influenced by that atmosphere.”
Had the FBI and CIA not deprived the Warren Commission of vital information that it had and pursued other information it had access to, the House committee believed that the Commission would have come to the same conclusion that it did, that is, that there was “probably a conspiracy”.
The Senate intelligence committee on assassinations also referred to Roselli’s claim to the committee that the CIA-Mafia attempts on Castro’s life had “boomeranged” on President Kennedy.
While no U.S. government or congressional investigation
group actually named names of conspirators or multiple assassins to Kennedy,
the House committee was eager to hear what Cuba’s intelligence agency
knew, and it sent investigators to Cuba to acquire their knowledge. We
do not know what Cuba’s DSE gave to the House committee at that
time it visited the Cubans in 1978. However, with the publication of ZR
Rifle: The Plot to Kill Kennedy and Castro, we learn their assessment.
Even the title gives us a clue. ZR/Rifle is taken from the CIA’s
“Executive Action” capabilities. This is a euphemism for assassination.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, the CIA chief of “covert actions”—another
euphemism for murder and coup d´états—was William Harvey.
The Cuba “executive action” group became known in the Agency
as ZR/Rifle. It was Harvey who represented the CIA in bringing together
the Mafia and Howard Hughes into the Cuba Project. Harvey was David Phillips´
handler at one time.
General Fabián Escalante states that DSE’s conclusions are based on their own investigation, including double agents inside anti-Cuban circles in the U.S., and various U.S. investigators, among them the congressional committees.
Escalante believes that David Phillips and Howard Hunt were the key operatives and plotters in the conspiracy, directly under Richard Helms, the chief brain. Helms had directed the subverting Operation Mongoose, and had earlier directed much of the anti-Cuba Operation 40 under Eisenhower. For his murderous efforts, Johnson appointed him CIA Director. Johnson also appointed Hoover FBI Director for life, following his assassination cover up efforts. Helms would soon lead the CIA’s Operation Phoenix, in which many thousands of Vietnamese were systematically assassinated outside any context of combat.
Other plotters of the Kennedy murder were: former CIA deputy director and Air Force General Charles Cabell, CIA-FBI-Mafia-Howard Hughes associate Robert Mahue, CIA-connected para-militarist Gerry Hemmings, CIA and Cuban exile-connected Frank Sturgis, Mafiosos Santos Trafficante, John Roselli and Sam Giancana.
Then there were the “workers”, the guys with the moxie to go out and do it. Cuba’s DSE believes there were two teams at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Garrison believed there were three.
Team one: Headed by Mafia’s key Dallas man, Jack Ruby. His snipers were Chicago Mafia brought in by Giancana: David Yaras (formerly with Cuba mob operations, murdered in 1974), Lenny Patrick and Richard Cain; and the anti-Cuba exiles Herminio Díaz García and Eladio del Valle Gutierréz, both linked to the Mafia and the CIA. These were the five actual trigger men. They fired four to five shots from various positions.
Team two: Frank Sturgis was in charge of communications and the killing of Oswald after the assassination. His team was all Cuban exiles and proven killers: Orlando Bosch, Pedro Luis Díaz Lanz, Guillermo Novo Sompol and Ignacio Novo Sompol.
Escalante-Furiati devoted special attention to David Phillips. Although I have portrayed him earlier, the other important aspects of his relationship to Anthony Veciana need be told.
Veciana was probably not directly involved in the JFK murder but he came to know something about it. Veciana confirmed to the House Assassination Committee that Bishop (Phillips) was his case officer in the plot to murder Fidel during his trip to Chile, in October 1974, with a trick gun hidden inside a camera.
Jack Anderson quoted Veciana in a “San Francisco Chronicle” article, January 20, 1977:
“It was a very similar plan to the assassination of Kennedy because the person Bishop assigned to kill Castro was going to get planted with papers to make it appear he was a Moscow/Castro agent turned traitor, and then he himself would be killed.”
The forged papers were supplied by Luis Posada Carriles, a key planner with Orlando Bosch in the 1976 murder of the 73 passengers on a civilian Cuban aircraft.
The October 1971 plan on Castro’s life failed when one agent had an appendicitis attack and the other agent said he wouldn’t do it alone.
The final House Assassinations Committee report contains a section on Veciana’s disclosures about his mysterious mentor, Bishop/Phillips, who planned the 1971 Castro murder plot by fixing his hit men with “diplomatic” status.
Following yet another failure on the life of the hated Cuban leader, Veciana began to lose hope.
“I was tired of waiting so long. So many lives being lost, and Castro still alive. On July 24, 1973, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) arrested me and accused me of trafficking in cocaine. Two days after the accusation I was given my money. At the end of 15 years, they paid me. All Bishop had ever paid was traveling expenses; he said this was cumulative salary. Before I went to the Atlanta Prison, I told Bishop what my family needed. After that, Bishop never contacted me again. I do not know where he is now. But I am sure the trial was a set-up because of my previous activities. I was sentenced to seven years, paroled in 17 months—out very, very quickly. Then the Senate started investigating” Kennedy’s assassination.
There is a near confirmation of the Veciana connection to Phillips, alias Bishop. The House Committee had arranged for Veciana to attend a Phillips-led meeting of former spies. Phillips had earlier officially retired from the CIA when the Senate Assassination Committee earlier began its investigations into Agency crimes against Cuba and Chile. He set up a CIA lobby front called Association of Retired Intelligence Officers. Until Phillips death, in 1988, he received pay from the CIA as their civilian spokesman.
All that Veciana would say to House investigators when he saw Phillips at the meeting of spies was that there was a “physical similarity” between him and his case officer, Bishop. The congressmen suspected that Veciana was hedging his bets. The committee suspected Phillips as well when he said he did not recognize Veciana. Phillips had funded Alpha 66 when Veciana was its leader—a known fact within the security agencies. The committee also had the word of a former CIA case officer, assigned to Miami JM/WAVE during the Bay of Pigs invasion, that Phillips had used the alias, Maurice Bishop.
Three months after the House Assassination Committee published its report, Veciana was driving his pickup in Miami. A 1971 Buick station wagon pulled alongside and shot at Veciana four times with a .45 caliber. Veciana was only grazed and spent two days in a hospital.
General Escalante viewed Howard Hunt, Phillips buddy, as
an essential operator in the JFK murder. Hunt became universally known
for his role in directing the Watergate “plumbers”. Nixon’s
chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, who served 18 months for his role with
Nixon in the Democratic party headquarters break-in, wrote in his autobiography:
“In all those Nixon references to the Bay of Pigs he was actually
referring to the Kennedy assassination.”
In one of those innumerable egocentric conversations Nixon taped, the President says he is most worried about Hunt, because he had been arrested for leading the Watergate break-in. Hunt “will uncover a lot of things—the whole Bay of Pigs thing.”
Hunt went silently to prison and served 33 months.
The DSE also cites Hunt’s many subversive crimes in several parts of the world. He arranged financing and arming for the Miami anti-Cuba paramilitary groups. He also worked with Mafia men involved in JFK’s murder. And he had ties with financial giants, especially Texan oilmen, unnamed by Escalante. Hunt’s money—from CIA-Mafia-Oil juggernauts—financed the New Orleans Pontchartrain camp, involving Shaw, Sturgis, Ferrie, Banister, Bosch and the Cuban triggermen, many of whom trained there for the upcoming Cuba invasion. Among the trainers were Frank Sturgis and Orlando Bosch.
I include some information about the remainder and add to some already portrayed.
General Charles Cabell
He had economic and ZR/Rifle relations with Robert Maheu and his boss Howard Hughes, owner of Hughes Aircraft Corporation, Hughes Die and Tool and Las Vegas casinos. After Kennedy refused to order air attacks and bombings on Cuba, Cabell went around Washington calling the President “a traitor.”
Cabell had been close to Vice-President Nixon. They often played golf, and during one foursome they approved a scheme to flood Cuba with counterfeit peso currency, in order to “blow the Cuban economy off the face of the map,” recounted Robert D. Morrow. This engineer was employed at Comcor, a CIA proprietary, and the counterfeit operation was his idea. Kennedy disapproved of the plan, so the CIA channeled their “private” money for the operation. After the President fired Cabell from the CIA, Kennedy instructed his brother, the attorney general, to apprehend all Cuban and American personnel engaged in manufacturing bogus Cuban currency. Castro was informed and he ordered new currency printed in Czechoslovakia, thus averting the subversion. Secret Service agents arrested Morrow and two others on October 2, 1963, for conspiracy to counterfeit the currency of a foreign government.
Cabell was again furious with the “traitor” president. It was only six weeks, though, before he would no longer be a problem. Cabell’s brother, Earle, was a big help in the executive action cover up since he was the mayor of Dallas.
Lee Harvey Oswald
General Escalante contends that the unknowing patsy was out of intelligence work when he arrived in Dallas from the Soviet Union. The FBI recruited Oswald to infiltrate the heavily CIA-associated White Russian colony there.
The DSE notes that Oswald had been motivated to work for the right-wing and US intelligence agencies already at the age of 16 when he had been a member of David Ferrie´s Civil Air Patrol Falcon Squadron.
The DSE lays importance to U.S. investigators’ discovery that at the time of Oswald’s arrest he was carrying a notebook with the name and telephone number of James Hosty, a Dallas-based FBI man. Hosty admitted that he had often visited Oswald at his home, claiming that this was routine, part of watching known subversives. After all, Oswald had been a friend of the Soviet Union. Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr came forth with information from his staff that Oswald collected $200 monthly from the FBI as an informer. His Bureau identification number was 179.
In a released top secret document Warren Commission counsel Rankin is quoted as saying about this, “We do have a dirty rumor that is very bad for the Commission...and it is very damaging for the agencies that are involved in it and it must be wiped out insofar as it is possible to do so by this Commission”.
Before the address book was given to the Commission that page was taken out. The Commission discovered this and finally did get the page but ignored it.
Attorney Fensterwald told me that the “Warren Commission was terrified of Hoover. For example, the transcript of a meeting in January 1964, when the Texas Attorney General and some other Texas authorities said they had evidence that Oswald was an FBI informer, has just been made public (in 1975). The Commission, including Gerald Ford, didn’t want to investigate because they thought that if Hoover found out that they were investigating he’d be terribly upset and the wrath of God would descend upon them. So they had a long conversation on how to handle this terrible crisis. They weren’t interested in what the Texas officials had to say, only in how to squelch the information.”
It is difficult for many readers to understand the full weight that Hoover had over politicians if you do not know how this Draconian figure in United States history ensconced himself in power for half a century. He bolstered his quasi-private police empire by collecting surveillance on all politicians. He learned about their “sins”, the embarrassing facts of their private lives, who they were fucking behind their mates backs, who they were stabbing in the back, sometimes literally. Every politician came to learn that if they crossed Hoover he’d demolish their careers.
For the sake of the Warren Commission cover up task both Hoover and the CIA denied that Oswald had ever been their agent, and the relieved commissioners dropped the matter.
Besides the conservative Texas attorney general’s statement that Oswald worked for the FBI, there were many other clues to his ties with intelligence agencies. I summarize:
a) Oswald learned Russian at one of the CIA’s largest stations;
b) He was given an early hard-ship discharge to take care of his injured mother, only to leave her three days later for a trip to his “mecca”, the Soviet Union;
c) Oswald’s trip cost him at least $1,500 when he had only $203 in his bank account, according to evidence presented to the Commission;
d) Two weeks after his arrival in Russia Oswald showed up at the US Embassy to denounce his citizenship and to declare that he was going to turn over his knowledge of radar secrets to the Russians—that is an act of treason;
e) When Oswald decided to re-defect to the US he applied for a new passport and a loan to get home—within 48 hours he was given both—no question of treason came forth;
f) Oswald was debriefed at Atsugi and then appeared in Texas at a job with government contracts, and was associating with the CIA infiltrated White Russian community;
g) In the spring of 1963, he moved to New Orleans and was soon seen in the company of several known Cuban counter-revolutionary exile zealots;
h) The address on the Fair Play for Cuba Committee literature Oswald was distributing was 544 Camp Street, the same building as Guy Banister’s office—with the address LaFayette St. 531—which is in the heart of US intelligence community, including the Navy, FBI, CIA and Secret Service, and Cuban right-wing groups: Cuban Revolutionary Committee, a paramilitary group created by E. Howard Hunt, and Guy Banister-David Ferrie’s Friends of Democratic Cuba;
i) When passing out the allegedly FPCC material he got into an apparently staged fight and was jailed, and at jail he told the police, ”I want to see the FBI”. An FBI agent quickly appeared and Oswald was released the next day after paying a $10. Then he spoke on a local radio station identifying himself as a Marxist. Now Oswald could be accepted by the Cubans, they thought.
Shaw was a cultured businessman, gay for young men who offered their bodies to him. He was on the board of directors of the Swiss-based firm Permindex, a subsidiary of the Rome-based Centro Mondiale Commerciale. These international trade companies were fronts for the CIA and right-wing politicians and militarists. They were so brazen that even an Italian government kicked the Centro out of the country, in 1962, calling it a CIA front. The Swiss government stopped Permindex when proven to be a money conduit for the Secret Army Organization, a group of French generals plotting to overthrow Charles de Gaulle, with help from some CIA “cowboys”. The French President narrowly escaped death from a crossfire ambush. A CIA contract man, Maurice Gatlin, had delivered $100,000 to the SAO, according to FBI whistle-blower William Turner. Garrison wished to interview Gatlin about Shaw, but the “transporter” was pushed or jumped from the sixth floor of the El Panama Hotel in Panama City, in 1964.
In May 1961, Shaw introduced General Cabell to the exclusive New Orleans Foreign Policy Association. Shaw was the right-wing group’s program chairman and Cabell came to talk about Cuba a month after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.
In 1975, Victor Marchetti revealed in an interview with Bernard Fensterwald that Helms acknowledged that Shaw was with the Agency. Marchetti got it from the horse’s mouth, because he was a Helm’s staff assistant at the time. Helms instructed aides to “do all we can to help Shaw” during the Garrison trial. According to Marchetti, who co-authored the whistle-blowing book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence, Helms also said that Ferrie was on CIA contract. In a civil deposition, in 1979, Helms himself conceded that Shaw had been on “part-time contract.”
Escalante recalls that when the FBI sent Oswald to New Orleans, in the spring of 1963, his assignment was to learn about Guy Banister’s connections with the CIA’s Cuba Project. “Here the rivalry between the FBI and CIA must be taken into account...(the CIA) was carrying out counter-intelligence work in U.S. (FBI) territory.”
Oswald’s primary activity in the Banister unit was as David Ferrie’s assistant in the traffic of weapons for Ponchartrain. Banister realized that “Oswald was the perfect person to set up a pro-Castro front,” and thus the beginnings of a so-called Fair Play for Cuba operation in New Orleans with a one-man committee.
“It was around the same time that...counter-revolutionary leaders and their manipulators—the CIA and the Mafia—perceived that Kennedy’s plans were clearly not directed toward a military confrontation with Cuba, and they decided to eliminate him. In New Orleans the details of this covert plan were put together under the supervision of three key people—David Phillips, Tony Varona and Santos Trafficante. Oswald’s task was to find a way to implicate Cuba and the assassination. In reality there were two conspiracies: the one to murder Kennedy, putting the blame on Cuba; and the other unleashed at the same time, to cover up all traces of the assassination plan,” Escalante stated.
Robert Aime Maheu
Maheu was a FBI agent during the Second World War and then moved over to the CIA. In the 1950s, he became manager and right-hand man to Howard Hughes, specializing in his Las Vegas casinos and other holdings. This was a promotion from his first job with Hughes as his public relations man, which included keeping an eye on Hughes’ women.
Maheu took on the liaison role to forge Hughes with the first CIA-Mafia assassination conspiracies against Castro. Maheu brought John Roselli to Hughes and the CIA. This led to Santos Trafficante and Sam Giancana´s cooperation. The direct link with the CIA was performed by William Harvey and Maheu’s CIA case officer, James O’Connell, who was also the CIA’s operations support chief. They had previously served together in the FBI. O’Connell had made one of the first attempts on Castro’s life when the revolutionary leader had attended a United Nations general assembly. The “exploding cigar” plot failed.
Maheu told the Senate assassinations committee about his CIA role with the Mafia, “I would be available to them as situations arose.”
The Senate and House committees determined that there had been at least eight assassination attempts against Castro by this cartel.
“If you need somebody to carry out murder, I guess
you had a man who might be prepared to carry it out,” Richard Helms
said of Roselli to congress.
Roselli—alias Filippo Sacco and Don Giovanni—was born in Esteria, Italy, in 1905. He came to the U.S. and worked with a long list of Mafia stars: Frank Castello, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano among them. He worked with most of them in the gambling casinos in Havana under Batista, along with Santos Trafficante and Sam Giancana. This made him perfect for the Mafia-Hughes-CIA merger. (8)
Trafficante’s connection to Cuba began with his gambling-narcotics deals during the Batista years. His hatred for Castro began shortly after the revolutionary victory. He had stayed on for a while to see which way the underworld would be treated by these young zealots. His casinos were closed down and he landed in jail. In January 1960, he was released and deported. This “humiliation” made him a devoted antagonist to the new Cuba, and when “his” president refused to eliminate the revolution, he swore to have Kennedy’s head.
Upon his return to Miami as its capo, Trafficante cooperated with the “Cuba Project” and its Operation 40. He went in on the Roselli-CIA operations against Castro and the Bay of Pigs invasion. He sent one of his men, shared with Giancana, inside Operation 40 to keep an eye on the CIA handlers and their Cuban exiles.
Richard Cain was fired from the Chicago detective department, in 1960, after having been discovered tapping the telephones of the mayor’s commissioner of investigations. Although Mayor Richard Daley was pals with the mob, he couldn’t overlook their surveillance of his official anti-corruptions investigator, at least once discovered. Instead of going to jail, though, Cain was “allowed” to continue his dirty work for the mob inside the various Cuba projects.
“With the consent of the CIA,” wrote “Time” magazine, June 16, 1975, “Cain recruited Spanish-speaking toughs...for training in commando tactics...in Miami and Central America....U.S. sources say that the CIA spent more than $100,000 on the operation, while Giancana laid out $90,000 of the Mob’s own funds for Cain´s expenses. When some Mafia officials (sic) objected to the payments, Giancana contended that the funds should be considered as `ice´ (protection money).”
Trafficante got madder at John and Bob Kennedy when they were clamping down on him and Giancana. Both were on top of Bobby Kennedy’s list of 30 Mafia men he had under surveillance, building cases against them for court trials. Trafficante felt that he was the patriot and the Kennedys were the traitors.
According to a “Washington Post” article, May 16, 1976, Trafficante made a threat on the President’s life a year before the assassination. During a meeting at Scott Bryan Hotel in Miami, he told businessman José Alemán—son of a Batista official who fled to Miami with millions of dollars of state monies as the liberationists were taking over Havana—“Kennedy is going to be hit.”
“Have you seen how his brother is hitting (Jimmy) Hoffa...He doesn’t know that this kind of encounter is very delicate. Mark my word, this man Kennedy is in trouble, and he will get what is coming to him.”
Eladio del Valle Gutiérrez and Herminio Díaz
García were provided by Trafficante as his hit men against Kennedy.
We have learned of del Valle’s background and fate. Herminio Díaz
had fought with Raúl Castro in the Sierra but was anti-Communist.
After he fled Cuba, he worked with the mob and the CIA. He played an important
role for Frank Sturgis during the Bay of Pigs.
A week before the invasion, “Nino” Díaz was piloting a banana boat, the “Santa Ana”, from Louisiana to Baracoa, a small town near the Guantanamo naval base. Díaz and the other 168 MIRR (Insurrectional Movement for the Recovery of the Revolution) exile troops aboard had been trained at the Shaw-Ferrie Pontchartrain camp for this special mission. CIA adviser Curly Sanchez was also on board. Their mission, officially, was to provide a diversionary strike to lure Cuban military units away from the Bay of Pigs invasion site. But given that the para-militarists wore Cuban army uniforms this indicated that their real mission was a deception of another kind: invade the Guantanamo base, making Castro’s government seem to be the aggressor. This would force Kennedy to make a direct intervention, hopefully leading to the overthrow of Castro and “communism”
According to former CIA officer James Wilcott, in a 1979 interview with authors Hinkle-Turner and his March 26, 1978 testimony before the House committee on assassination, the plan was widely discussed by many Agency personnel. The attack on the U.S. military based was conceived once it became clear that there was no popular sentiment to rise up against the revolution.
“The original invasion plans were then changed to include the creation of an incident that would call for an all-out attack by the U.S. military,” Wilcott testified. “Kennedy was not to know of this change...One such plan was to somehow to get Castro to attack Guantanamo by making him believe that rebels were attacking from there...(and then the U.S. military would) follow up with complete seizure and installation of a favorable government. Once started, Kennedy would go along with it.”
Hinkle-Turner summarized what went wrong. “A party that was sent ashore to reconnoiter returned (to the “Santa Ana”) with accounts of strange lights, cigarettes glowing in the dark, and unexpected auto traffic. Díaz, never known for his daring, decided against a landing by his troops. The CIA adviser on board, Curly Sanchez, engaged him in heated argument. But Díaz was captain. He ordered the “Santa Ana” out to sea to await the next night.”
“As night fell over Oriente, Nino Díaz again eased the `Santa Ana´ toward shore. The previous night a second attempt at landing had been begun and, in the words of the CIA adviser aboard, `aborted primarily because of bad leadership´. This time the scouting party returned to the ship with reports of jeeps on the roadways, undoubtedly the soldiers Castro had rushed to the area after hearing of ship sightings on Friday night (just before the attack at the Bay of Pigs). Díaz radioed Base Tide that it would be suicidal to land. He was ordered to proceed. He refused. The orders were changed for the `Santa Ana´ to head for the Bay of Pigs and wait offshore for landing instructions. The CIA had lost its planned excuse to send in the Marines, who were aboard a ship nearby.”
Frank Fiorini, Sturgis’ given name, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1924. He served in the Marines from 1942-45. He was policeman for three years in Norfolk, followed by short stints in the Navy, Merchant Marines and Army. From 1952-54, he managed a nightclub in Virginia Beach. He is first known to have worked with the CIA in its Guatemalan coup d´état. In 1954, he and Jack Youngblood arranged to free the imprisoned General Carlos Castillo Armas, jailed for treason by the liberal Arbenz government. Sturgis is next heard about running guns to the Cuban guerrillas during the revolution, and then as a pilot under Fidel Castro’s leadership. He was regarded as Fidel’s “favorite yankee”. As chief of air force security, he also directed security for the Havana casinos after the mob ran out and before the new government shut the casinos down. During a trip to the United States, he sought out the FBI. On March 31, 1959, he advised them that he was on a “confidential mission for the Cuban Air Force” but that no Cuban authority knew of his FBI visit.
What follows is a summary of a released FBI document, written on April 1, 1959.
Sturgis told the FBI he was “concerned about the growing menace of communism in the Cuban government.” He gave names and information of alleged Communists working with the Castro-led government. Sturgis asked for aid in fighting this growing communism. The FBI interviewers say Sturgis sought to be their “agent”. They declined but asked to be further informed. The report noted that Sturgis had been arrested both in the U.S. and Mexico, a year before, for running guns to the revolutionaries prior to their victory. Batista’s government had also arrested him as a rebel courier. Somehow he did not spend much time in United States, Mexican or Cuban jails.
Sturgis says he soon soured on the “communist direction” in Cuba and joined the counter-revolutionary forces. He may already have been a CIA man, a double agent in the Cuban revolutionary movement sent there from Guatemala. Already, in May 1959, Sturgis was working the sexy 19 year-old Marita Lorenz, who was a mistress of Fidel’s. He tried to convert Lorenz into a Mata Hari but she eventually chilled on the idea of rendering her lover poisoned pills. She did tell Sturgis of conversations she heard between Fidel and others in the Havana Hilton, Suite 2408, where she was held “hostage” by Fidel. She even managed to hand over some confidential documents. Sturgis then helped her “escape” with him to Miami in July.
Sturgis was seen with Oswald and several of the Dallas and New Orleans counter-revolutionary Cuban exiles in the months before the JFK assassination. After the assassination, Sturgis and Hunt were partners in subversion against the left in the United States, part of Operation CHAOS. Sturgis was Michael Townley’s handler in the infiltration of the left in Florida, in 1967-8. At the same time Sturgis also headed the violent right-wing SAO (Secret Army Organization) in the US.
Sturgis worked with Townley, a US citizen and resident in Chile, to prevent Salvador Allende from becoming president of Chile. After Allende’s victory, in 1970, they became part of the CIA team to overthrow his government. In Washington, Sturgis bugged Chile’s embassy and stole documents, in May 1972, just as he was to do in the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel two months later, July 3, for which he spent many months in prison.
Sturgis and Hunt shared the alias “Edward Hamilton” in a plan to assassinate General Omar Torrijos of Panama, which did not come off. However, Torrijos later was killed in a mysterious aircraft crash, for which Torrijos’ family and the Social Democratic party blamed the CIA.
Two decades later, Sturgis figures in his former lover-comrade Marita Lorenz’ film, “Dear Fidel: Marita´s Story”. She was sixty years old when she opened her manuscript as a wistful letter to Fidel. The manuscript was made into a film, in 2000, and includes many of the key characters in sabotage and assassinations of Cubans, and some elements of the Kennedy-CIA conflicts.
Among leading figures in her book and film are: Roselli, “the diplomat of the Mafia”; “Mooney” or “Momo” Giancana, who ensared the Kennedys with his mistress Judith Campbell; Gerry Hemming, who trained Marita in espionage and later stalked Oswald; and the multi-purpose Robert Mahue. We see Sturgis in his role with Marita in Cuba and later in the burglary at Watergate.
In promotional material for Marita’s film, Fidel Castro is quoted as saying that Sturgis was the “best and most dangerous CIA agent of all time.”
Pedro Luis Díaz Lanz defected from Cuba with Marita and Strugis. Díaz Lanz knew Sturgis when he headed the rebel’s small air force. Once in Miami, Díaz Lanz became part of the CIA Bay of Pigs invasion build-up. In October 1959, Díaz Lanz and Sturgis flew a B-25 bomber from Florida over Havana, dropping counter-revolutionary propaganda leaflets and machine-gunning people on the streets. Two were killed and 40 wounded.
Sturgis and Lorenz soon formed a new paramilitary group, the International Anti-Communist Brigade, with funds from dispossessed casino mob owners. Díaz Lanz helped them out. Many of the para-militarists Sturgis trained had been revolutionary guerrillas, who soured on the new leaders.
Gerry Hemming was one of them. Hemming had also been in the US Marines. Seeking adventure, apparently, he joined the rebel army in 1958 and fought with Sturgis. When they left Cuba, Hemming collaborated with Carlos Prío counterrevolutionaries. He formed Interpen (Intercontinental Penetration), a paramilitary sabotage group, funded by Prío´s people and Howard Hughes. Hemming worked with the CIA throughout Cuba Project developments and against Chile’s Allende government, often working with Sturgis, Phillips and Hunt.
A Cuban baby doctor, he became co-leader of the MIRR sabotage group after defecting. He is infamously known as one of the authors of the mass murder of all 73 passengers on a Cuban civilian aircraft during the 1976-reign of CIA Director George Bush. In the early 1960s, Bosch combined his Cuba sabotage operations with Sturgis´ International Anti-Communist Brigade. Between the time of the Bay of Pigs and Kennedy’s murder, he and Sturgis conducted 11 air raids against Cuban production centers. When JFK objected, Bosch moved his operations to Guatemala, where a gigantic airstrip for his Cuba attacks was made on United Fruit-owned land. Among the backers for Bosch’s operations was the Texas millionaire H.L. Hunt. His family most probably had been involved in the unfulfilled coup d´état against President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which General Smedley Butler exposed, described in chapter five.
Guillermo and Ignacio Novo Sampol
They have a long history of assassination attempts on both Castros and Che Guevara. Ignacio was arrested and charged with a bazooka attack on the United Nations in an attempt to kill Che, who was speaking before the assembly. He was later jailed for plotting to bomb Cuban facilities in Montreal.
Guillermo figured in the murder of a Cuban diplomat, and Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier, for which he spent some time in prison. He and Bosch operated in the overthrow of Allende and assisted dictator General Augusto Pinochet’s fascist secret police, DINA. Guillermo is last heard about for having attempted to murder Fidel in Panama, in 2000, to be discussed later.
In the four decades since Kennedy’s murder, over 2000 books and many thousands of articles have been written about “the shot that killed America”. Key DSE-Escalante contentions are corroborated by New Orleans D.A. James Garrison in his three books about the assassination. One of them was the basis for Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, “JFK”. Garrison believed that the conspiracy was discussed at a May 1963 meeting of the “Friends of Democratic Cuba”, held in Banister’s office. Among those present were some of the men who participated in the conspiracy or actual murder of Kennedy: Orlando Bosch, Carlos Prío, Guillermo Novo Sampol, Eladio del Valle and Herminio Díaz García.
The Giancanas’ book, Double Cross, skip over a few of the players DSE named and add a few foot soldiers to those DSE named. Both sources agree on the top plotters. What follows is Double Cross´ list of players.
Carlos Marcello, New Orleans Mafia boss, was in on the JFK assassination. Marcello is said to have provided two of the hit men on the Grassy Knoll: Jack Lawrence and Charles Harrelson.
The Giancana family authors mention more of Sam Giancana’s lieutenants than does DSE-Escalante. In addition to those DSE named, there were: Paul Jones, Lewis McWillie, Red Dorfman and Allen Dorfman, Chuck Nicoletti and Milwaukee Phil.
It was Richard Cain, also named by Escalante, who was the shooter from the so-called “Oswald sniper next” on the sixth floor of the book depository. Nicoletti was the assassin on the opposite side of the sixth floor. Phil was positioned to hold off any interference. Cain and Nicoletti shot Kennedy in the back as Marcello’s hit men rammed Kennedy from the front.
The biggest assassination plot ever was agreed upon in a March 1963 meeting with Sam Giancana and former CIA deputy director General Charles Cabell, which Robert Mahue had arranged at his detective agency front for the CIA.
According to the Giancanas, the CIA put in policemen as actual gunmen: Roscoe White and J.D. Tippit. Both were Dallas cops and CIA operatives. They were detailed to kill Oswald on the street immediately after the presidential hit. Since they were uniformed policemen they could get away with gunning down Oswald “in self defense,” and thus avoid an investigation. This was the only “fuck up in the whole operation,” according to Sam Giancana. Apparently, Tippit got cold feet, which allowed Oswald to escape. This forced White to kill Tippit. Oswald went to the movie house, as previously instructed, where he got caught. That required that someone had to murder him once in jail. Jack Ruby was given the assignment. Mayor Earle Cabell went along so well that 70 policemen would not protect the patsy.
The FBI was only in on the periphery. There was no need to worry about Hoover. “He hated the Kennedys as much as anybody and he wasn’t about to help Bobby find his brother’s killers,” Giancana said.
According to the Giancana father-son authors, their Godfather told them that the presidential assassination plot took half a year of planning. About 30 men were involved, and “Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson knew about the whole damn thing.”
Giancana said that he had been working with the CIA before and after the assassination. In 1966, he had racket operations in Mexico with the CIA as his partner. This was after, “We took care of Kennedy...together.”
Giancana vouched for Oswald. He was no Communist or Castro fan but “CIA all the way.” Sam knew that the Agency had trained him to speak Russian in order to infiltrate the Soviet Union. When Oswald returned to the U.S., and once the plot to kill Kennedy was made, a patsy was needed. Oswald was the perfect “fall guy.” His pro tempore CIA handler, Guy Banister, sitting in for Phillips, instructed Oswald to conduct himself like “a Commie nut.” Thus he set up a Fair Play for Cuba Committee office, but unfortunately at the wrong address.
544 Camp Street (FPCC’s address), Dealey Plaza (Kennedy murder), The Ambassador Hotel (where Bobby Kennedy was murdered in 1968) are of the same coinage, Sam Giancana told his family interviewers. “This coin shows one of the Roman gods”, illustrating the CIA-Mafia alliance. “This one has two faces, two sides. That’s what we are, the Outfit and the CIA, two sides of the same coin.”
The CIA, with its far-reaching apparatus throughout the government and in most parts of the world, was the dominant side of the coin both in the murder and its follow up. “If anybody knew too much, the CIA found out about it and took care of the problem,” Giancana asserted.
This was an allusion, quite prophetic for Giancana himself, to the mysterious deaths of people connected to the events on THAT day, November 22, 1963.
Besides The Players described above, there had to be others to protect them on the day of the murder. Just as General Cabell’s brother Earle was able to head off Dallas city security and politicians, so were there other inside men in federal agencies. Most conspiracy theory researchers believe that if the Secret Service was not involved in the plotting of the murder some were in complicity on that day with one or more plotters. Their role may have been similar to some generals in the Pentagon, who called all troops in the Dallas area that day off alert.
The Secret Agents´ role in the protection of the President was perplexing, sometimes contradictory. Secret Service agent Winston Lawson, in charge of positioning the motorcade motorcycle escorts, ordered them placed to the rear of the President’s car, as the Zapruder film shows, and not beside the car, as he later claimed. Secret Service agents close to the limousine were quite slow in reacting to the shots, and the chauffeur took a long time before he sped up the car.
One Dallas policeman, Joe Smith, ran to the knoll upon being summoned by a woman who cried out, “They are shooting the President from the bushes.” He ran with his gun drawn and approached a man who “showed me he was a Secret Service agent.” Yet Secret Service records show that none of their agents were on the Grassy Knoll.
Then there were different Secret Service agents supporting conflicting autopsy reports.
Another key Player in this interwoven conspiracy to murder The United States President is the Fourth Estate, the mass media. The role of the media is always critical in implementing national and international policies. The Fourth Estate is just that, the fourth branch in the quadrangle: Executive, Legislative, Juridical and their partner in Propaganda/Information. By definition of function, the media is not “free”. The ruling economic system requires that the media fall in line, as they did in the exposure of the Watergate caper. It was the owners of one of capitalism’s leading newspapers, the “Washington Post”, who gave the approval for two reporters to dig into the burglary that led to the President’s downfall. And much of the mass media followed the Washington newspaper’s lead. Doesn’t that prove democracy-freedom of press is extant? No. Nixon was no longer wanted by most of the system’s wealthy, precisely because he put his own personal interests above the system’s—he wanted to be an untouchable king, and the war against Vietnam was no longer profitable. It was costing capitalism too much. So it was, only in reverse, with the media a few years earlier with Kennedy’s murder-cover-up. Another president no longer desired and this time murdered. Here the role of the Fourth Estate was to shut up and go along with the cover-up, because otherwise too many ordinary people might well rebel against the very Establishment. If too many people protested, or just lost faith, the stock market might crash, a national then international economic crisis could quickly evolve. When a deep crisis occurs it could end up in revolution, even in another economic-political system. So, being the Establishment’s messenger, the media did their job. There are always exceptions, and the underground media wrote what it truly thought the truth was. The Establishment shall also allow an escape valve, so long as it is not too effective.
This is still the case today with the Establishment’s terror wars, now against Afghanistan and Iraq, with Iran and other countries on the list. We watch the same horrors, the same media management, and the alternative media are telling us the truth but now concentrated on the Internet.
I find it quite paradoxical, and a tribute to the Cuban people, that the darkest forces in the United States can assassinate the world’s mightiest state leader, their own president—so heavily protected, by law—cover it up and completely get away with it, and yet cannot assassinate the “dictator”—supposedly despised by his own people—of the small “third world” nation on the island of Cuba. And they have tried to murder that one man some SIX HUNDRED times.
I excerpt from my book, Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn, to explain why I believe they have failed:
“Cubans´ tenacity to survive, their pride of nation, and their remarkable socioeconomic advances have been among the CIA’s biggest headaches. I believe that is a key factor to the CIA overextending its hand...CIA officers became hooked by their own disinformation campaigns, by their desire to dominate world politics and economies, by their belief that they are omnipotent and that Latin Americans are inferior.
“Racism and anti-communism are the twin pillars of Yankee ideology. Communists are innately evil, atheists all, and `colored´ Communists are the devil incarnate. Racism is a national sickness ingrained in nearly every white child in the United States...CIA officers are brought up feeling superior, believing that blacks and Latin Americans are lazy, unreliable, inefficient—in general `inferior beings.´ It is an all too easy step to take `inferior beings´ lightly when they become the `enemy.´”
“Combine racism and irrational anti-communism with the materialism endemic to the American Way of Life and the covert warrior is even more vulnerable. A `real American´ does not question that the American Way of Life is humanity’s ideal paradise on earth. This illusion is followed by the misconception that everyone itches for the same materialistic consumer society and hence, everyone would prefer to live in the U.S. in typical middle-class existence. The final illusion follows: Everybody Has His Price!”
My book is about 27 double agents, 26 Cubans and one Italian, who infiltrated the CIA over a number of years, and proved that not “everybody has his price.” It was these men and women, and others like them even today, who were able to ward off the “superior white man” assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara and other key Cuban leaders. Most Americans only know of Cubans who are depicted in this chapter, the Miami types. But the reality is that most Cubans in Cuba are quite different. They do not want to see either Castro or Kennedy murdered, and they defend their sovereignty, just as most of the people are doing in Venezuela and Bolivia today under the leadership other men of the people, Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales.
Another reason why the CIA fails when pitted against Cuba’s essentially socialist system is, in fact, the more chaotic structure of capitalism than that of an integrated socialist one. This is another paradox, because most people in the rich west believe that capitalism is synonymous with efficiency and socialism with chaos. But this is not the case when it comes to Cuba’s collective interests. In capitalism, the primary emphasis is on self-interest: private property, personal income, each government agency and private laboratory with its own goal of money and power. In socialism, the state’s interest is one with an economy aimed at meeting collective needs—the medicine and biotechnology industries in Cuba, for instance. All laboratories, medical and research centers, and universities share with each other any discoveries or new leads. They combine to come up with the best results for all. There is no profit motivation because there is no profit system (although, in recent years, there are changes in that economy, about which I take up later). And wages are not nearly so varied as in capitalism. The same applies to policing and state security. All personnel in all departments are integrated. There is ONE FBI-CIA-National Security Council, etc. They are united under the Ministry of Interior. I am not so naive as to believe that there is never any jealousy or internal rivalry between one person and another. But the situation that has always existed in the United States, with the bitter internecine warfare between agencies, such as the FBI and CIA, simply does not exist. Therefore, the united fist can best defend a president under attack by a divided nation. Even if that nation is the mightiest in money and armament, it is not the mightiest in battle, at least not always, as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Cuba have proven, and Iraq and Afghanistan are proving.
At the time of Kennedy’s assassination, and for many years thereafter, I did not feel sorry that a United States president had been killed in office; it was not even that unusual. Three previous presidents had been murdered in office: Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, five days after the federal government defeated the confederates—also a conspiracy; James Garfield, 1881; and William McKinley, 1901. Six other presidents and presidential candidates have been murdered (Bobby Kennedy), wounded or shot at. But, what the hell, these presidents were murderers themselves. Why should they be holy? We know that John Kennedy tried to murder Fidel Castro.
Like all US presidents, Kennedy was a richly paid civil servant for the rich, or most of them. In fact, John Kennedy was the richest man to win the presidency until the Bush family outdid him with their oil wealth. Much of Kennedy family wealth came from breaking the government’s own laws. For many years the Bushs had economic and political ties with the terrorist-fundamentalist bin Ladins. What is the real difference?
For 17 years following Kennedy’s death I continued my radical activism in the United States. I became part of a collective consciousness that we left activists and the youth counter-culture forged. We were united in protesting the system, especially its wars and brutal racism. We sought to bring the war home, to make visible to all Americans the tortuous brutality our nation was committing in Southeast Asia. We disagreed on how to change its worst elements, or whether we should or could supplant it with another, better system. But I was too busy protesting and surviving within the monster to be much upset about the Kennedys. Their murders did result in some setbacks for us, though, and is background to the current legitimatization of imperialist economics and war politics imposed upon the entire world. The anti-détente regimes, which followed the Kennedy’s deaths, were able to adversely affect—and eventually crush with internal help—the Soviet Union and “communism” economically and politically. Internally some of our leftist forces were injured or disappeared. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee leadership, for instance, felt that the committee’s existence was too much an affront to the cowboys and they feared for their very lives. My FBI file, dated June 25, 1964, in which the various activities I was then involved in are cited, contains an appendix reference to FPCC. “The Los Angeles-FPCC ceased outward activity in December, 1963, following unfavorable publicity resulting from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A second source advised that the LA-FPCC went out of existence without any notice...West Coast coordinator of the FPCC made no mention of it...In March, 1964 (the organizer mentioned) that the LA-FPCC was `no more´.” We died a silent death.
For the remainder of the war against Southeast Asia, though, our anti-war activities escalated, though with ups and downs. Many of us were sent to jail for days to years. Some of us were murdered, especially activists in the civil rights movement and black-brown-native American power movements. Nevertheless, we were a significant aid to the Southeast Asian peoples in defeating US imperialism’s war and dominance in their part of the world.
In the last years of my life, I have learned from Cuban officials and academics that, for Cuba, there could well have been a significant difference between a Kennedy as a second-term president and all the other presidents since. Only Jimmy Carter attempted to be slightly reasonable in his representation of imperialism over its “backyard.” Furthermore, in going over this history now, I realize even more than at the time how much gut hatred for the Kennedys there was among the worst of the normal Americans. The true macho Yankees, the untouchable criminal rich—both the gun-toting mobster and the industrial robber baron—truly hated the Kennedys. This hatred was objective and personal. Objectively, as I have already pointed out, Kennedy was costing many of the richest their blood profits and was about to cost them even more. But he was also too different for most of them. He was cultured, sophisticated, charming. He chose a regale wife. Perhaps the “cowboys” were envious of him. Kennedy was no cowboy, no Doctor Strangelove. At the time of his murder, my righteous rage at the entire system prevented me from recognizing that there were or could be any real differences among the stewards and owners of the anti-human capitalist system. I still believe that any real differences amongst them can not be put into practice for the true benefit of the producers, the downtrodden—not until there is a process underway to create a new system based upon equality and common ownership. Nevertheless, there can be differences that kindle fires of hatred among the most brutal and brutalized. These tactical differences have the same importance to a racist Ku Klux Klan worker or policeman as they have for a top government CIA official or a callous billionaire. The former murder “uppity” black people at will; the latter murder a president selectively. Together their frighteningly brutal actions and callousness convince many people of all colors to give up the hope of shaping a democracy.
Together these brutalized forces—initially about 30 men—combined to organize and enact a coup d´état in the United States of America.
Who would have thought it possible? Three dozen fascistic-republicans, Sunday school dads, hospitable men killed the Dream of America. The mightiest state leader in the world, ruling over 150 million residents, is violently overthrown by 30 men. Led by top men in the Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Helms, number one, an Air Force general and former CIA man number two, Charles Cabell, and Mafia capos, they had enough state and local organizational influence to kill the President, then murder 50 witnesses and players in the coup d´état, then cover it all up with stealth and violence and by stonewalling scientific evidence and homicidal investigative procedure, not to mention common sense.
This “Operation Assassination Number One” entailed the illegal transfer of the President’s corpse from the hospital autopsy table followed by the manipulation of wounds right on the presidential airplane, while, in another compartment of the White House in-transit, the former president’s wife watches as the coup’s presidential replacement is sworn in as President BEFORE GOD ALMIGHTY.
Within no time, the unconstitutional state propagates a massive war against the Southeast Asian people to satisfy the profit interests of a few very rich men. Within two years, Johnson had one-half million Yankee troops in Southeast Asia. Since then, Big Business, which includes the murderous Mafia, runs the United States of America, a state not governed by law. Yet the other “democratic” states in the world do not condemn it or bring it before the world court and sanction it like they do state leaders opposed to their profit system’s interests. Nor do they condemn brutal “banana republics”, or “third world” fascist or militarist governments, which bow to the outlaw United States of America. The United States method of governing by force also assists the other rich “first world” states in keeping the producers down so that their wealthy classes can earn unearned profits both at home and in the “third world”.
This act, on November 22, 1963, Operation Patty the CIA called the coup d´état of America, would not have been conceived of by most satirists but would have been applauded by Hitler. So, I suspect that if I were a Cuban, a Vietnamese, an Arab, a Latin American, or a black or brown person or other downtrodden people within the United States of America, I would hope that Kennedy was the empire’s warlord rather than Johnson, Nixon, Reagan or Bush. Still, I would have to submit in varying degrees to the warlords—until we can make a humane revolution.
1. In researching this difficult chapter I used various sources: The Warren Commission Report, September 1964; The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, November 20, 1975 and May 26, 1976 reports; House Select Committee on Assassinations, Final Assassination Report (Bantam Books, 1979); books by Warren Hinkle-William Turner (Deadly Secrets), Donald Freed with Fred Landis (Death in Washington), Claudia Furiati (ZR Rifle: The Plot to Kill Kennedy and Castro), the Giancanas’ Double Cross, my own Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn, and numerous reports and articles from the Internet and magazines “Life” and “Skeptic”, and newspapers: “Washington Post”, “New York Times”, Cuba’s daily “Granma”, and others.
2. Barnes had been Phillips and Hunt’s boss during
the Guatemalan Operation Diablo (devil). Allen Dulles had put Barnes in
charge of the onsite operations. Barnes and Hunt, knew each other from
world war two when in the OSS, the CIA’s predecessor. Although President
Jacoba Arbenz Guzman was a rather large landowner and military officer,
he launched reform programs for the poor and working class, and even expropriated
one hundred thousand hectares of United Fruit company lands. The government
offered to pay compensation, according to international law, so that poor
farmers could acquire needed land. But United Fruit would have none of
this. Allen Dulles and his brother, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles,
held large blocks of shares in the company.
Phillips had been recruited to the CIA in Chile, in 1950, when attending the university in Santiago. His first assignment was to run the weekly English-language newspaper, “The Sun Pacific Mail”, for CIA disinformation propaganda. He also took on espionage assignments. When assigned to Guatemala, Phillips was able to put his psychological warfare skills to work inside a country undergoing a unique challenge to US hegemony. He set up a clandestine radio station to promulgate the overthrow. Phillips was congratulated personally by President Dwight D. Eisenhower after the bloody overthrow. Phillips was promoted and sent to Cuba in 1955, the same time that CIA Director Dulles personally set up the Bureau to Repress Communist Activities for dictator Batista. The Bureau became the regime’s most hated terror operation. After Batista fled Cuba, mass graves were uncovered all over the nation. Between the CIA bureau of repression and Batista’s army and police some 20,000 Cubans had been killed, thousands of them tortured first.
3. One year after Kennedy’s murder, Cubela asked the CIA to give him a silencer for a FAL rifle to be used to kill Castro. Desmond Fitzgerald brought in Manuel Artime, Howard Hunt’s man, and his amphibious team of saboteurs. Artime and Cubela met and boasted that they would share power in a new junta. The CIA furnished $100,000 for this plan. Artime provided Cubela with a silencer and explosives. The plot had to be postponed as there were too many loose ends and suspicions. On February 28, 1966, Havana security police arrested Cubela and six others for plotting to kill Castro. During their trial a Cuban double agent, Juan Feliafel, came out of the cold to reveal how he fooled the CIA and became a demolition and clandestine operator. By conducting 17 missions against Cuba, he was able to learn what the anti-Cuban para-militarists were up to, thus discovering the AMLASH plot. The conspirators were arrested in Cuba and found guilty. Cubela shouted that he wanted to be executed, but Castro intervened. During the subsequent 25 year sentence, Cubela received books in prison from Castro.
4. I interviewed Halperin for the May 1975 “Skeptic” issue on spying. He was also wire-tapped. “Skeptic” was a debate magazine about contemporary history.
5. There have always been several intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies within the US government. In 2001, there were 15 security intelligence agencies. The CIA is the best known for its omnipresent “dirty tricks.” It had never been forced to disclose its budget until during the Clinton administration. After the “Washington Post” discovered and reported that the CIA’s annual budget was $30 billion, the CIA revealed for the first time what its budget was. On October 15, 1997, the CIA reported that its 1997 budget actually was $26.6 billion. It still would not state specifically how many agents or informants it had, but its homepage gives “approximate” figures of CIA “personnel”. The CIA stated that “it was reliably reported” that the Agency had “approximately” 16,500 staff members. In reality, the Agency has more people and money. There are untold thousands of paid informants and agents on contract, which it does not disclose. Nor is its budget declaration the total size of its treasury. The CIA has undisclosed “proprietary”, businesses that it has created for surveillance and covert operations. We know of a few names but there are many more. Some were revealed during the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contragate scandal.
At the time of Kennedy’s murder, the CIA homepage indicated that it had “approximately 16,000 personnel.” The FBI had approximately 6,500 special agents and 10,000 support personnel in 58 field offices. In 1998, the FBI budget was $3.2 billion, and it had 11,513 special agents, about 18,000 total personnel. These figures do not include its many thousands of informants.
6. I interviewed him about the JFK assassination for the September 1975 issue of “Skeptic”.
7. The House of Representatives committee on assassinations pondered over how the Warren Commission could have ignored, or perhaps never have heard, a tape recording of the shooting in which four shots are distinctly heard. The tape was found in the Dallas Police Department.
8. CIA-Mafia merging interests go back to the Second World War when the CIA’s predecessor—OSS—engaged Corscian and Sicilian mobsters to help with the anti-Fascist war effort. The Mafia “Cosa Nostra” had lost its narcotics income under Mussolini and the CIA helped them regain that “business” once the war was won. The Sicilian Mafia aided the Allied invasion and subsequent occupation. And in the U.S., Lucky Luciano’s muscle men used violence to keep New York labor unions in line for the war effort. Following the war, the CIA utilized the French Mafia to break up left-wing worker strikes in Marseilles. Later, in the war against Southeast Asia, the CIA assisted the Mafia with opium lifts. The CIA let them use its Air America aircraft proprietary. In the 1970s, US government investigators discovered that the opium ended up as heroin on U.S. streets. The opium had been smuggled in the corpses of US troops killed in battle. Even earlier, in the 1930-40s, during Fulgencio Batista’s brutal rule of Cuba, Meyer Lansky was bootlegging rum. This was the background that led President Roosevelt to send Lansky to tell Batista to step down. Although Batista had always been a ruthless military dictator, he legalized the Communist party, in1940, for their support in a presidential campaign. FDR frowned upon this alliance, fearing the Communists would gain too much influence. Lansky gave the bad news to Batista and he obeyed. He allowed Grau San Martín to take over in 1944. Grau immediately set about to crush the growing Communist and labor movement. In 1948, Grau was replaced by Carlos Prío Socrarrás, who later became a key CIA operative. Not willing to lay low forever, Batista entered the 1952 presidential race. When he realized he could lose to the popular progressive Ortodoxo party’s candidate Eduardo Chibás, and his young ally Fidel Castro, the former army sergeant organized a coup with his military buddies. Once in power again, he kept the unions in line and the Communists down. A friend of the Eisenhower-Nixon government, Batista was, most of all, in the pay of the US Mafia.
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