ALL THAT'S LEFT YOU
BY C.L. BOTHWELL III
"Time it was, it was," intoned Simon and Garfunkle, "and what a time it was…"
It happened because of war. It happened because of peace. It was a reaction to poverty amidst prosperity, to indenture in a land of the free. It inhaled a nightmare. It exhaled a dream. That it happened here is not coincidental, unless one considers geologic and human history mere coincidence. That it spread around the globe is not coincidental either in the Age of Aquarius and vinyl, telephone lines and Pan-X film. It was a children's crusade.
Recipe for Change: Take several hundred thousand youngsters, load in boats, ship to distant ports. Add bullets, bombs and a dash of poisonous gas. Shake well. Bring them home, give them vouchers for college and subscriptions to Life magazine. On second thought, omit the shaking. If education, Hiroshima, Auschwitz and burning crosses don't shake them, they ain't gonna be shook. But tidal change is as patient as the moon, and one enduring strength of children's crusades is that there are always replacements. Next time around, we had rock and roll. We grew up lying prone, peering, chin in hands on elbows, understanding the pictures long before we could comprehend the text. Children of Life, we saw our parents' world through very new eyes, in a wholly new context.
Recipe For Change: Teach several hundred thousand youngsters to "Duck and Cover!" in case of imminent missile attack. Shaking is automatic. Children of Life, we saw Rachel Carson's silence in spring, Jackie bent over Jack after the fall and mushrooms over Pacific atolls—each succeeding thermo-nuclear detonation a reminder that our teachers were lying: Bending over under your desk during a nuclear war could serve only one purpose—kiss your butt goodbye.
Then they told us it was our turn.
"A time of innocence, a time of confidences…"
Three years older, two years older, one year older, the war lurched closer until it filled the screen. Bingo, my age! Eighteen-year-olds, lying prone, peering, M-14 in hands on elbows, understanding the picture long before any of us could comprehend the subtext.
Subtext 1: Poor boys go to 'Nam or Canada, and rich boys go to college, or the Peace Corps, or the National Guard, if someone can put in the fix. Whatever you do, don't flunk out.
Subtext 2: The government is lying about nearly everything concerning the war: The prospects, the purpose, the body count, the successes, the failures and the targets. (It would take Defense Secretary Robert McNamara 30 years to admit that this was so—denial being nearly as patient as the moon, and conscience always deniable for those with ulterior motives.) Recipe For Change: Teach several hundred thousand youngsters that The Bomb could end it all at any minute, The Draft could end it all next year, and The Pesticides could end it all by the next decade.
Add The Pill. There'll be a whole lot of shakin' goin' on. Not, of course, just any Pill—one of two, to be precise. Birth control or LSD, the result was much the same. Same body, new context. Uncover! Unduck! And having shrugged off lies about getting naked or stoned, what next?
Question Authority, of course. Are they marching us off to war? We'll march against it. Is it a racist war? We'll march against racism. Are men leading us? We'll embrace feminism. Are we locked in a struggle with Communism? We'll join a commune. Are we perched at the glowing apex of Western Civilization? We'll follow the Maharishi East. Told that we "must," we sang "Let it be."
"Long ago it must be, I have a photograph,"
Jill Krementz is a photographer whose work included a year-long stint in Vietnam during the war. She captured the plight of children in horribly unchildlike circumstances, and was in turn captivated by them. She worked with nuns to ease the suffering, knowing full well that she was putting her own life on the line. The Viet Cong were never far away.
Years later, a co-worker of hers visited Ho Chi Minh City and saw a list of names kept by the Viet Cong: Krementz was among the "Round-eyes" who were to be protected from harm because they were helping alleviate the horror in their crusade for children. So much for the treacherous foe.
I read of that list just this week, and remembered feeling a little queasy in 1969 marching around the Pentagon chanting, "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is gonna win." Did I really mean that? Who comprised the National Liberation Front? What were they other than the enemies of my enemy? I find now that I did.
Even in the age of TV it is the still-shot that accupuncts our nerves. The family photo with the one now gone, the other with tired eyes, one grinning shyly and another looking lost. John-John saluting his Daddy. A naked girl running from napalm. A governor holding a baseball bat. A pistol bullet to a head. A pistol bullet to a belly. Elian and an assault rifle. The Whole Earth.
Of course, this is the still-shot at the speed of light: Copied and endlessly copied with Xerox. Then FAX. Now modem. The still-shot at the speed of light: Apollo 10 to Earth. Southeast Asia to Northeast America. Seattle to the World. Life to Life to Life. Paul Simon also observed that "Everything looks worse in black and white." Worse, maybe, but definitely starker, hence truer, and sometimes the truth is hard to swallow.
Sometimes the truth undermines authority. And often that is the point. The printed word is the still-shot reduced to symbol, and while the thousand words a picture paints may grip us, they are imprecise. The Bush smirk may rankle, but reading that he avoided the draft by pulling strings to obtain a National Guard appointment over thousands of earlier applicants gives you a little clearer sense of why this man is smiling. Someone poorer and less well-connected was taking bullets for him. Someone who used to sit next to me in World History. Someone whose name is on a long black wall in Washington not far from the former governor's new office.
Recipe for change: Print the hidden truth. The truth will set you free. Print has, of course, been the point of POINT for 10 years now. An outgrowth of the self-same Children's Crusade that resurrected in the '60s, it has informed, delighted, needled, shocked, mocked and even taken down a thing or two in its tenure. It has served us well, bringing a new openness to Palmetto politics, and spinning off into the nation and the world.
It is part of a grass-roots movement for social justice and environmental sanity that has erupted on every continent. POINT has been exiled—from state house and town hall, stolen in stacks and heaved into dumpsters, derided and denied—but the ships of fools and ships of state were never completely secure while Loose Lips roamed the Palmetto State. It leaves as part of its legacy the S.C. Progressive Network, a coalition of activist and advocacy groups working together to ensure that necessary shaking will continue.
I will miss POINT but I will remember. Therefore a fond, adieu and adios. Go with God, that is. I suspect you'll find her smiling, having gotten it a long time ago.
"Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you."