I Went Down to the Demonstration to Get My Fair Share of Abuse

On May 4, 1972, the Paris Peace Talks were suspended when the northern Vietnamese negotiating team refused to back down from its demands. In the wake of the talks’ suspension, President Nixon told the US head negotiator (and consummate war criminal) Henry Kissinger, “The bastards have never been bombed like they’re going to be bombed this time.” On May 8th, the US began to mine the harbors of Haiphong and six other northern Vietnamese ports while also intensifying its bombing of northern Vietnam. The residents of Hanoi were subject to almost around-the-clock attacks, with the majority of them spending most of their days and nights underground in shelters. After the suspension of the talks, this escalation of the US war proved that Nixon and the Pentagon were not ready to admit the United States would have to accept something less than victory. Nixon and the media called it the “Vietnamization” of the war. Just like the current plan to remove US ground troops from Afghanistan is not an end to the US war on that land, Vietnamization wasn’t an end to that war. Instead, it told the world that the Vietnamese were not worth dying for, but they were worth killing.

Although the movement against the US war on the Vietnamese was not in the newspapers as much as it had been up to a year earlier when weeks of antiwar protests culminated in an attempted shutdown of Washington, DC, it regathered its forces. Protests may have been smaller in numbers in some cities and campuses, but on others they were better attended than at any time since the student strike in May 1970 after the invasion of Cambodia. The politics were certainly more clearly anti-imperialist in nature and the protesters seemed to be more militant overall. People were tired of the war and the system it maintained. The death of the hated FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover at the beginning of the month was already forgotten as police and protesters battled across the nation. Highways were taken over in several cities, riots took place in several campus towns, including Rochester, NY., Davis, CA., Berkeley, College Park, MD., and near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Police fired into crowds near the Albuquerque campus of the University of New Mexico, wounding at least two people. Protesters in other cities reported the use of live ammo by police, as well.

I vividly recall attending at least two protests that May. One was a rally at the Opernplatz in Frankfurt am Main in what was then called West Germany. There were several thousand in attendance. The speakers were from different antiwar student groups, the German communist party, and a member of the international wing of the Black Panthers. The latter two organizations had previously sponsored a very successful fundraising rally with Fania Davis as part of the international campaign to free her sister Angela. After the rally we marched towards the headquarters of the US Army’s V Corps, located in the IG Farben building which Eisenhower had appropriated from the Nazis after their defeat in World War Two. The police, who were set up at different intersections along the route and carrying automatic weapons, prevented the march from getting too close to the building. A big reason for the show of force was the bombing of the US Officer’s Club by the Rote Armee Fraktion on May 11, 1972. The bombing was but one of several that month aimed at the US military presence in Germany and the complicity of the West German government in the US Empire.

The second protest was grander and more confrontational. I had convinced a few American friends from the high school to come along with me. We skipped the last hour or two of class and took the streetcar downtown. We arrived at the Opernplatz just as the crowd was beginning to move. This time the crowd was larger and angrier. We did not head toward the US military installations like before. Instead, we headed elsewhere. The march was lively and raucous. My friends and I started talking with a group of university students carrying a banner with the words “Freiheit fur Angela Davis.” I introduced them to the chant “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh/NLF is gonna’ win” and they took it up as their own. Others in the parade were chanting “Fur den sieg des Viet Cong/Bomben auf das Pentagon.(For the victory of the Viet Cong, Bomb the Pentagon.)” The march proceeded for many blocks before it was halted at an intersection. The leaders were negotiating with the police about which direction we would go next. Then an empty streetcar moved into place, blocking us from moving forward. Thousands of the marchers sat down in the intersection. Others began rushing the police. The streetcar remained immobile for about twenty more minutes. When it finally moved forward, a police vehicle with a water cannon showed itself. Dozens of heavily armed police flanked it on either side. I don’t remember seeing the cannon used then. We left soon afterwards.

Only a few months later I watched police use a water cannon against a few thousand people defending a squat from a police attack. I vividly recall talking with a German woman around my age; we conversed in a mixture of German and English. During a break in our conversation, she ran forward with a number of others in the crowd. I started to follow her when the water cannon spewed forth a vicious stream of water just as the police charged. I held back one instant and watched the stream of water hit her in the torso. It knocked her onto the pavement and pushed her twenty or thirty feet on her backside. Just as I moved towards her, some street medics picked her up and moved her away from the police charge and onto some grass several meters away. Before they moved her away, I saw her jeans were shredded. I could see the bloody abrasions on her butt from where I stood. Then I ran. The police were swinging their truncheons and getting closer.

I was heading to class on May 20th. Protests against the escalation of the war continued near Goethe University and in downtown Frankfurt. It was ten in the morning and I was listening to the Armed Forces Network news headlines. The top story was that the Pentagon had been bombed the night before on Ho Chi Minh’s birthday. A computer containing top secret information had been damaged. The authorities were naturally tight-lipped. The Weather Underground Organization claimed credit for the action. The action was in retaliation for the bombing of Hanoi and mining of the harbors. The security at all US military installations—already intense because of the Red Army Fraktion bombings—intensified. Backpacks were checked, cars and buses were boarded and identification demanded from the passengers; only a military supplied ID sufficed. The wages of empire.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.