Another Comment of the Day first for Ethics Alarms: Steve-O-in-NJ’s’s COTD, touching on history, culture and current events, came in at just over 2200 words, all worth reading, but triggering the Ethics Alarms convention of publishing such lengthy ethics in two parts.
I’m also grateful for another chance to post one of the over-heated protest songs from a time I remember well, if not fondly.
Poor Phil Ochs.
Here, a visit to the political and social madness of the Sixties, is Part I of Steve-O-in-NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Warm-Up, 7/19/2020: And The Hits Just Keep On Coming!”
I wrote this past week about this country being headed for its own version of the Troubles, the 30-year conflict between those who wanted to separate from the UK and those who did not in Northern Ireland that might sound romantic in a song over pints in a pub, but was hell for ordinary people to commute, shop, and raise a family in. Now I’m thinking as well that we may be regressing, back to a much darker time all our own. For a lot of us, it’s not even in living memory. If you’re forty or under, the 60s and 70s are only times you read about in books and maybe get a taste of when you tune in to an oldies station or look at a grainy, less-than-perfect family photo of men in bell-bottoms with afros and women in tube tops and platforms. If you’re between forty and fifty, maybe you have hazy memories of John Travolta in white dancing to disco, yellow smiley faces everywhere, polyester, leisure suits, and the early VW Beetle. You probably have memories of laughing like a loon…and cowering just as often…at early Sesame Street.
You probably have less fond memories of the daily count on the evening news of the days the hostages spent in Iran. It’s only if you’re over 50, maybe even over 55, that you’re going to have any kind of reliable memories of the really darkest days.
Many talk about the political left of that time in romantic terms similar in spirit if not words to those that romanticize the Troubles. In those songs and hazy memories it was all the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, music festivals, hippy girls with flowers in their hair, communes where everyone ate organic food and no one disagreed and grooviness, man! 🕉✌🏻☮ Very few still talk about the Weathermen, the Black Panther Party, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and similar organizations. Even if they do, they still get romanticized as people reaching out to find a cause and make positive change in a society that hadn’t been listening for way too long.
What they leave out is that two days after the day I was born, three of the most radical of radicals perished in the destruction of a townhouse in Greenwich Village…due to the premature explosion of a nail bomb they were planning to plant at Fort Dix to kill NCOs and their dates. What they also leave out is that when my dad, then just getting started on what would be a long career would walk from the subway to his building, nearly every building in the area had suffered either a bombing or an attempt at one. They don’t mention that both One Police Plaza and Federal Plaza had also been targeted. They don’t mention that in 1975 Fraunces’ Tavern was hit, and four were killed. Even if they do, they don’t talk about the smoke, or the dust, or the fear in the air so palpable you could cut it with a knife if you dared, or the fact that ambulances from EMS and every hospital in the area were lined up like taxicabs at an airport, with no shortage of business to be had. All told there were 2,500 bombings in this time. If things had played differently this day or that, who knows, maybe I would have grown up with a different father, or without one at all.
The fact is that, in that time, you got up and went to work not knowing what kind of craziness would happen that day. If you were a cop, you didn’t know if you’d become a target. If you were a fireman or EMT, you didn’t know what was coming. But Steven, you are probably saying – how is that different from any other day? I acknowledge that cops can find themselves on the wrong end of a gun any day, and that firemen and EMTs are always at risk, and none of us are promised tomorrow. That’s just how it goes. There is always going to be an element of risk.
I know every day I cross the street to work or to court I could trip and get hurt, or some driver who is impaired or not paying attention could take me out. I know every day I drive to work or home or wherever, someone could get impatient or not pay attention, and I could pay for it with life or limb. I accept I could get mugged. Those are just the risks of living that I can do my best to avoid. I don’t expect to get attacked by a mob, though, and I don’t expect to get blown up by a bomb or targeted by a sniper while I go about my normal routine. Everybody who pins on a badge and straps on a gun knows he could end up facing some drug dealer willing to kill or someone’s ex-husband crazy enough to. Everybody who puts on a turnout coat knows a stairway could collapse or a gas leak could ignite. Everybody who rolls a stretcher knows he could have to deal with a druggy or a head injury patient who might lose it and go after him. These are necessary risks of the professions. Being targeted, however, not necessary. Being ambushed, not necessary. Being the victim of a deliberate act of destruction, not at all necessary. Having any of this happen because someone felt strongly enough about something to do it, totally unnecessary.
Most folks came out on the other side of that dark time, which did finally stop. Some didn’t, though, and it was totally unnecessary. I don’t know why it stopped. Maybe it was the end of the US involvement in Vietnam, which was the unifying issue for a lot of those groups. Maybe it was the fact that the political leadership of that period was mostly out of office. Maybe it was the fact that US law enforcement, having learned a few things (like special weapons and tactics) finally started to come down on these violent groups like an anvil, and being a revolutionary loses its luster when you’re facing a dozen SWAT officers armed with assault rifles or you get picked up by the FBI to face Federal charges that mean doing real time.
Part 2 is here…