Witness to the revolution Radicals, resisters, vets, hippies, and the year America lost its mind and found its soul

Clara Bingham

Book - 2016

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New York : Random House 2016.
Item Description
Includes bibliographic references and index.
Physical Description
611 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Main Author
Clara Bingham (author)
  • The draft (1964-67)
  • Psychedelic revolution (1960-67)
  • Madison (1967-May 1969)
  • Radicals (1968-June 1969)
  • Resisters (1967-August 1969)
  • Woodstock (August 1969)
  • Weathermen (August-October 1969)
  • The Chicago Eight (September-November 1969)
  • Ellsberg (1967-October 1969)
  • Moratorium (June-October 1969)
  • Silent majority (November 1969)
  • My Lai (October-November 1969)
  • Exile (November 1969-February 1970)
  • December (December 1-31, 2969)
  • War crimes (January-April 1970)
  • Townhouse (January-April 1970)
  • Women's liberation (January-September 1970)
  • Cambodia (March-May 1970)
  • Kent State (April-May 1970)
  • Strike (May 1970)
  • Underground (May-July 1970)
  • Culture wars (May 1970)
  • Coming home (May-August 1970)
  • Army math (May-September 1970)
  • Escape (September 1970)
  • Reckoning.
Review by Choice Review

Bingham, who comes from a distinguished newspaper family and as a former Newsweek correspondent covered the George H. W. Bush administration, has written a unique volume covering the crucial 1969-70 period of US history. Though only a child during the 1960s, Bingham has reconstructed the scene of antiwar and anti-government protests through interviews with still-living participants--members of the Chicago Eight, the Black Panthers, Weather Underground/Weathermen, on the one hand, and the administration response (Nixon) on the other. Bingham also describes events such as Woodstock and Altamont to show the relationship of war protest and the cultural estrangement of the hippie generation. Bill Ayers, David Harris, Jane Fonda, Seymour Hersh, Daniel Ellsberg, among a cast of hundreds, are portrayed recalling the moment key issues brought to light secret Vietnam war policies (Nixon)--My Lai Massacre, the invasion of Cambodia, and the Kent State shootings are prime examples. The author has done a credit to 20th-century chronicles of US history by compiling an intensely accurate record of personal interviews mixed with sharp and poignant introductory passages not only to remind the boomer generation of what went on in the 1960s, but to educate later generations as to how difficult the struggle was for the protestors during the Vietnam era. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. --Andrew Mark Mayer, College of Staten Island

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by New York Times Review

"SO MUCH LIFE, so much death; so much possibility; so much impossibility" - that's the way one activist summed up the end of the 1960s in the documentary "Berkeley in the Sixties." It's the first film on the "Watch List" in Clara Bingham's oral history of America in 1969 and 1970. Bingham - a former Newsweek correspondent and the author of "Class Action" and "Women on the Hill" - interviewed over 100 people, many of whom speak eloquently about possibility and impossibility. "Witness to the Revolution" starts with David Harris, one of the heroes of the antiwar movement and draft resistance, who explains that "everything ... grew out of the Mississippi taproot": Freedom Summer in 1964, when white college students went south to help with voter registration and saw for the first time "the heroism of the black people in Mississippi." In subsequent chapters, interviewees talk about Woodstock, LSD, the Pentagon Papers and the F.B.I. campaign to destroy the Black Panthers. The book also features an excellent chapter on women's liberation, with comments by, among others, Robin Morgan, the author of the article "Goodbye to All That" ("Goodbye forever, counterfeit left ... male-dominated cracked-glass mirror reflection of the Amerikan Nightmare"). And of course, overshadowing the entire era, and the entire book, is the seemingly endless war in Vietnam, highlighted by Richard Nixon's invasion of Cambodia in May 1970. It provoked the largest student strike in the nation's history, with 2.5 million students boycotting classes, and 700 colleges shut down - among them Kent State, after National Guardsmen killed four students there. Allison Krause was one of them, shot when she was 343 feet away from the guardsmen. Laurel Krause says, "My sister bled to death, for 45 minutes, before an ambulance came, yet ambulances were available over the hill, reserved for guard and authority injuries only." Some months before that, Seymour Hersh's reports on the My Lai massacre came out. Here he recalls talking with the mother of one of the soldiers who participated; she said, "I sent them a good boy and they made him a murderer." Many of Bingham's interviewees are well known: Daniel Ellsberg, Jane Fonda, Carl Bernstein, Oliver Stone. Some of them have been interviewed a lot: If you Google "Bernardine Dohrn" and "interview," you get more than 20,000 results. (I've interviewed her myself, along with a dozen of the other people here, for radio or print.) And many of them have written their own memoirs or histories of the era. But some of the people here are not so familiar, and their interviews are among the most valuable. Bingham talked to a police officer from Madison, Tom McCarthy, who was part of a street war with the counter-culture there; he says, "Everyone on the Madison police force celebrated after we heard about the Kent State shootings." And she interviewed an F.B.I. agent, Bill Dyson, whose job was to listen in on leaders of the antiwar Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.). (Disclosure: I was a member.) He was impressed by their "dedication," and had his own doubts about Vietnam, telling Bingham, "I really didn't know why we were there." The familiar voices and the unfamiliar ones are woven together with some documents to make this a surprisingly powerful and moving book. The Vietnam War itself gets less attention here than the Weather Underground, the group of onetime S.D.S. leaders that took its name from Bob Dylan's line in "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." As Greil Marcus points out, the group seemed to be saying, "You do need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind is blowing, and we're the Weathermen." Reading these interviews, it's not hard to understand what you might call the Weatherman temptation. S.D.S. had held the first antiwar march on Washington in 1965, but four years later the war was bigger than ever. Over those four years, Bill Ayers says, "we had tried everything that we could think of: organizing, knocking on doors, mass demonstrations, getting arrested, militant nonviolent resistance." None of it worked to end the war - and the Weathermen understood why, as one of its leaders, Mark Rudd, explained: Ordinary Americans, especially white workers, were morons - except that's not the word he used. If America seemed hopeless, though, the rest of the world didn't. As the Weathermen saw it, in Rudd's words, "the nonwhite people of the world," starting with the Vietnamese and the Cubans, were "going to bring down American imperialism." And inside the heart of the empire, their comrades, a small group of privileged white revolutionaries, could strike powerful blows. So they shut down the S.D.S. national office, and 150 Weathermen went underground. They started a campaign of bombings that were mostly symbolic - targeting, for example, a bathroom in the Capitol building. They aimed to exploit the news media's fascination with violence and reveal the system's vulnerability. The Weather Underground knew they were a tiny group, but they saw themselves acting on the global stage, in solidarity with the great majority of the world's oppressed people. However, Vietnamese and Cuban leaders "all told us not to do it," Dohrn recalls. Rudd says they wanted "a united antiwar movement" with millions of people, not a violent, clandestine group with a couple of hundred. The Weather Underground knew better. Rudd calls that "our arrogance." THE MOST ARROGANT of the Weather Underground leaders, it's clear from these pages, was Bill Ayers. Here he declares that he will "say what I did that was wrong" when Henry Kissinger appears onstage with him and says "what he did that was wrong, because he killed three million people, and I killed no one." But Ayers did help kill S.D.S. Rudd says it best: What he regrets most about the Weathermen is that "we destroyed S.D.S. at the height of the war." That happened, Tom Hayden emphasizes, before the Moratorium in October 1969, when two million people participated in the largest antiwar protest to date, and before the nationwide student strike against the war in May 1970. "There were many student uprisings to come," he says, but "the group that had triggered it... was actually dead. Unbelievable. And this was not seven years from the time when S.D.S. was formed." The only real flaw in the book is in the title, which refers to 1969-70 as a year of "revolution." Bingham attributes that idea to the Nixon aide Stephen Bull, who told her, "You have no idea how close we were, as a country, to revolution." I don't know any historians who would agree with that; Michael Kazin, who is interviewed here, certainly doesn't. "The war was incredibly unpopular," he says, "but the antiwar movement was also unpopular." As for Bingham herself, she was not a "witness to the revolution" - she was 6 years old in 1969, and writes that she always felt as if she had "missed the party." She gives the last word to Robin Morgan: "People who get misty-eyed about that period drive me nuts because then I trot out all the things that were wrong," she says. "But it was also a visionary period in the life of this country, and I'm glad I was part of it." 'The war was incredibly unpopular, but the antiwar movement was also unpopular.' JON WIENER is a contributing editor at The Nation. His latest book is "How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey Across America."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 12, 2016] Review by Booklist Review

Vietnam, domestic bombings, marches, student strikes, political trials, Nixon, and the counterculture dominated U.S. news between August 1969 and September 1970. Former White House correspondent for Newsweek, Bingham (Class Action: The Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law, 2002) captures the essence of these 14 months through the words of movement organizers, vets, students, draft resisters, journalists, musicians, government agents, writers, and others. Distilled from 100 interviews, these firsthand narratives from Bill Ayers, Bernadette Dohrn, Daniel Ellsberg, and many more paint a picture of life during the apex of anti-war, anti-government movements. Organized around major events, the stories are interspersed with striking photographs and government documents from the White House, FBI, and other federal offices. The individuals Bingham features led a seismic shift in American culture and politics that continues to resonate today. This oral history will enable readers to see that era in a new light and with fresh sympathy for the motivations of those involved. While Bingham's is one of many retrospective looks at that period, it is one of the most immediate and personal.--Kaplan, Dan Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this oral history of the American counterculture from August 1969 to September 1970, Bingham (Women on the Hill) assembles an impressive who's who of the activists, outlaws, and idealists who sought to bring America to its reckoning, for better or worse. Perhaps the most astonishing part of Bingham's account is the sheer number of memorable events that occurred in this "school year": Woodstock, Kent State, Nixon's invasion of Cambodia, the Weather Underground's campaign of bombings, Seymour Hersh breaking the My Lai massacre story, Robin Morgan publishing her feminist essay "Goodbye to All That," and Fred Hampton and Mark Clark being murdered by the Chicago police. Vietnam vets were coming out against the war and youths were opening their minds with LSD. It would be a mistake, however, to assume Bingham's book is an uncomplicated celebration of the "awakened generation." Many of the reminiscences end in regret; ironically, just as the New Left's antiwar message was beginning to hit home with the American public, the movement itself was self-destructing. By the end of Bingham's history it becomes clear that time has done little to cast these crucial events in any clarifying light. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Review by Library Journal Review

In her latest work, Bingham (Class Action) has compiled an assortment of oral histories ranging from August 1969 to August 1970. Organized into narrative form, the accounts capture volatile and revolutionary change, relaying a feeling for what it was like to live during this period. The material includes profiles of participants associated with the Black Panthers, the trial of the Chicago Eight in 1969, Kent State University in the wake of the 1970 shootings, the My Lai Massacre in 1968, the Nixon administration, the Pentagon Papers, the Weathermen, and Woodstock. Broader topics touch on the Vietnam War, the draft, domestic terrorism, and the peace and women's movements. Together the descriptions of events reveal the radicalness and turmoil of the era. Bingham's prose is often engaging and dramatic, transferring the experience of these times to readers. Additionally, the reports draw out the earnestness of the participants as players within this political and cultural conflict. VERDICT Recommended for readers of U.S. history.-Scott Vieira, Rice Univ. Lib., Houston © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

An engrossing oral history of the youth rebellion of the 1960s. Former Newsweek White House correspondent Bingham (Class Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case that Changed Sexual Harassment Law, 2002, etc.) interviewed some 100 activists, veterans, government officials, and othersall now in their 60s and 70sto produce this remarkable account of the anti-war movement. "The cross-pollination of left-wing activists with hippie drifters and dropouts, who were all part of the same Great Refusal to conform, created a brand new rebel," she writes. With a focus on the year 1969-1970the "crescendo of the sixties, when years of civil disobedience and mass resistance erupted into anarchic violence"Bingham captures telling moments (from campus protests to bombings, from Woodstock to My Lai) in the voices of those present. There are revealing stories about Weathermen on the lam, government sabotage and surveillance, courtroom theatrics, police riots, President Richard Nixon's late-night meeting with protesters at the Lincoln Memorial, the Pentagon Papers, and the incessant organizing behind events that "would profoundly and permanently change the nation." The cast is a who's who of the '60s: Daniel Ellsberg, Jane Fonda, Julius Lester, and others, from undercover FBI agents to rock musicians, most of whom offer sharp insights into the period. After all these years, many echo an LSD dealer's comments: "We were young and nave, and drunk on idealism." "We were so arrogant," says Weatherman Mark Rudd. Most share feminist Robin Morgan's observation that in the civil rights and peace movements, "the human spirit was really at its best." Weathermen founder Bill Ayers says he will apologize for his actions when Henry Kissinger says "what he did that was wrong, because he killed three million people, and I killed no one." People like Bingham (b. 1963), who "missed the party," may be astonished by aspects of this tumultuous story. Baby boomers will find themselves infuriated once again by vivid accounts of the My Lai massacre, the Kent State and Jackson State shootings, and other tumultuous events. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.