My first memory of the impact of it all was when I was 13, sitting in my sister’s apartment, watching the evening news with Walter Cronkite. “103 American GIs killed today,” he intoned, as film of soldiers shooting Vietnamese rolled by. The nightly news always began that way … never a story of heroism or victory, just body bags and carnage as the anti-war media chose to report it.
Next was footage of Los Angeles burning, riots and looting, shootings on college campuses, all with flag burning as a backdrop. In the midst of it all, my sister’s Middle Eastern boyfriend gleefully shouted, “Come on America, destroy yourself!” I wanted to hit him. I tried to argue, but he mocked me. Because of my youth, I was no match for his vocabulary and knowledge. I felt inadequate to express the overpowering emotions of anger and rage. And pain. My beloved country, falling apart at the seams with a representative of one of its future enemies sitting right next to me, cheering it on. War vs. peace, communism vs. freedom, law vs. lawlessness, racism, anarchy and the future threat of radical Islam—all converged in that one room. And the passion that comes from love of country and all that is good began its deep roots in me.
I grew up in the midst of that turbulence. My peers wanted to “make love, not war,” and reduce peace to two fingers held high with a silly, drug-induced grin. Others of my generation wanted more. They wanted violent revolution. John Lennon made it sound vogue as they declared their intention to “kill the pigs” and obtain the violent overthrow of the United States Government.
Most were just foolish and spoiled, but others were serious as Hell itself. Members of the Weather Underground were part of the latter group. Formed in 1969, Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers quickly moved into leadership. They bombed, rioted and threatened, “We’re coming after you!” Ayers encouraged followers to “kill all the rich people … bring the revolution home. Kill your parents.” And his apologetic for the 1972 bombing the Pentagon? The “bastards were finally going to get what was coming to them.”
“Strawberry Statement,” “Getting Straight,” “Woodstock,”…cult films reflecting the movement, are not nostalgic memories for me, but jolting reminders of a very dark and shameful time.