FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ravens in the Storm

by RON JACOBS

 

Carl Oglesby was once the president of the original Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Before that he was working for a defense contractor. His last project with the company was to develop a method of delivering Agent Orange so that it would cover the Vietnamese jungle (and the humans therein) with the chemical as thoroughly and cheaply as possible. He was typical of his generation. He was a political liberal, was married, and believed in his work. Then a moment of cognitive dissonance occurred when John F. Kennedy was murdered and his company refused to lower the flag to half-mast until ordered to do so by the corporate headquarters. Something clicked in Oglesby’s brain and he suddenly realized that there were fellow citizens that did not like even the mild liberalism of JFK. These citizens, he realized, enjoyed profiting from war and saw their mission to save the world from anyone and anything that opposed US capitalism. A year later, Oglesby was a member of SDS. Not long afterwards, he had quit his job and began traveling around the country speaking and recruiting for the organization.

For the next five or so years, Carl Oglesby devoted a good portion of his life to SDS and opposing the war in Vietnam. His opposition was based on his belief that the war was contrary to the ideals of the country he lived in. This belief was common among many of the war’s opponents who believed it to be a mistake. Oglesby took it a step further, however, and realized that the war was more than a mistake. He concluded that it was systemic. From there he began to organize. His work took him to southern Vietnam on a factfinding tour, Paris for a War Crimes Tribunal, and even to Cuba. In between, he lived in several cities in the United States and met hundreds of people from many walks of life.

Recently, his memoirs of the period, titled Ravens In the Storm, were published by Scribners. The book is an interesting read that chronicles Oglesby’s political life during the period and his opinions of the organization and the greater movement that he worked in. For those who were involved with SDS and other New Left organizations during the 1960s and early 1970s, there will be moments when you find yourself disagreeing with Oglesby’s impressions. There will also be times when you find yourself in total agreement. No matter what, the book is an honest and insightful chronicle of the time and its politics. Oglesby was always a presence. His brand of politics was what former Vice President Spiro Agnew might have characterized as radical-liberal. He was never a Marxist but Marxism informed his analysis.

The book opens with an innocence that is slowly lost as the war grinds on and the repression against the movement against it intensifies. By the end of 1968, Oglesby finds himself isolated from the very organization he helped build. His continued belief that there was still room for dialog with members of the war establishment was met with scorn and disdain by most of the rest of the SDS leadership and he was drummed out of the organization. This belief does seem almost naïve by that time, given the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy earlier that year. To Oglesby, however, the alternative of a Marxist-Leninist revolution being offered by his comrades-among them many future Weathermen-was unreal and based on frustration and anger, not on a clear assessment of the political reality. To his credit, he acknowledges that he misread the true intentions of the counterintelligence programs (Cointelpro) being used against SDS. He thought they were merely collecting data, not trying to destroy the group. The future Weathermembers and many others knew better, even though their response was apparently just as wrong as Oglesby’s diagnosis.

Like many former SDS members, including some former leaders of the Weather Underground, Oglesby blames Weather as much as he blames Cointelpro for the demise of SDS. Although I personally believe this explanation ignores the role of history and replaces that role with personalities, I must admit that Oglesby does the best to make a case for his position. One can still hear the bitterness he felt at his dismissal by the leadership cadre and his disdain for their politics and arrogance. To his credit, there is little vindictiveness on these pages, just what remains of the bitterness. The story of the demise of SDS will always be one that provokes spirited discussion. However, there is no longer any need to take a side in the argument. Instead, we should learn from that episode and the rest of SDS’s history. Ravens In the Storm is a valuable and interesting addition to that history from an important member.

Ravens In the Storm is a book about the battles against the evils of war, racism and US imperialism. It is also about the internal battles of an organization that formed to fight those evils. Heartfelt and impassioned, the story Oglesby tells on these pages is instructive and hopeful. It is also occasionally tragic. The quixotic struggle of a generation of US residents to end a terrible, immoral war has always been a good tale that should inspire. Mr. Oglesby’s version does not fail. In fact, it excels. His ultimately even-handed description of the rise and fall of SDS has it all-innocence, anger, paranoia, police repression, friendships made and friendships unmade. Those who were there can read it, remember and learn. Those who weren’t can read it and learn.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

 

 

 

 

 

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail