Black and White in Vietnam

Marines at Con Thien in 1968.

“In 1967, the NBC journalist Frank McGee spent nearly a month living with soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. Though the troops were often engaged in heavy combat, McGee had a different interest: the experiences of African-American soldiers. McGee’s reporting, which resulted in the NBC documentary ‘Same Mud, Same Blood,’ focused on Platoon Sgt. Lewis B. Larry, an African-American from Mississippi, and the 40 men, black and white, under his command. ‘Our history books have taken little notice of the Negro soldier,’ McGee said in the documentary. ‘How do the troops of this war, black and white, want its history written?’ The answer isn’t easy. Black soldiers were nothing new in the American military, but Vietnam was the first major conflict in which they were fully integrated, and the first conflict after the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and early ’60s. Executive Order 9981 officially desegregated the armed forces in 1948, but many units remained segregated until late 1954. Other changes were afoot: The few years before McGee’s report saw passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And yet, like changes back home, integration on paper did not translate into full equality and substantive integration. As in the United States, white soldiers — particularly from the South — resisted. And troops in Vietnam couldn’t help being aware of rising racial tensions, marked by the nearly simultaneous riots in Newark and Detroit during the summer of 1967. But McGee, who was white, found surprising differences, too, between the home front and the battlefield. He observed black and white soldiers in the 101st Airborne sharing supplies, telling stories and jokes, and generally empathizing with one another, whatever their race. …”
NY Times
TIME: 50 Years Ago This Week: Vietnam and the Black Soldier
Guardian: War within war
An Angry Vietnam War Correspondent Charges That Black Combat Soldiers Are Platoon’s M.I.A.s
African Americans in the Vietnam War

The May 26, 1967, cover of TIME
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A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K. Le Guin (1968)

A Wizard of Earthsea is a fantasy novel written by American author Ursula K. Le Guin and first published by the small press Parnassus in 1968. It is regarded as a classic of fantasy and children’s literature and has been widely influential within the genre. The story is set in the fictional archipelago of Earthsea and centers around a young mage named Ged, born in a village on the island of Gont. He displays great power while still a boy and joins the school of wizardry, where his prickly nature drives him into conflict with one of his fellows. During a magical duel, Ged’s spell goes awry and releases a shadow creature that attacks him. The novel follows his journey as he seeks to be free of the creature. The book has often been described as a Bildungsroman or coming-of-age story, as it explores Ged’s process of learning to cope with power and come to terms with death. The novel also carries Taoist themes about a fundamental balance in the universe of Earthsea, which wizards are supposed to maintain, closely tied to the idea that language and names have power to affect the material world and alter this balance. The structure of the story is similar to that of a traditional epic, although critics have also described it as subverting this genre in many ways, such as by making the protagonist dark-skinned in contrast to more typical white-skinned heroes. … Earthsea itself is an archipelago or group of islands. In the fictional history of this world, the islands were raised from the ocean by Segoy, an ancient deity or hero. The world is inhabited by both humans and dragons, and several among the humans are sorcerers or wizards. The world is shown as being based on a delicate balance, which most of its inhabitants are aware of, but which is disrupted by somebody in each of the original trilogy of novels. The setting of Earthsea is preindustrial, and has many cultures within the widespread archipelago. Most of the characters of the story are of the Hardic peoples, who are dark-skinned, and who populate most of the islands.[22] Some of the Eastern islands are populated by the white-skinned Kargish people, who see the Hardic folk as evil sorcerers: the Kargish, in turn, are viewed by the Hardic as barbarians. The far western regions of the archipelago are where the dragons live. … The first edition of the book, published in 1968, was illustrated by Ruth Robbins. The cover illustration was in color, and the interior of the book contained a map of the archipelago of Earthsea. In addition, each chapter had a black-and-white illustration by Robbins, similar to a woodcut image. …”
tomcat in the red room

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The Missing History of the Columbia ’68 Protests By Mark Rudd

Mark Rudd, the president of the Columbia branch of Students for a Democratic Society, addressed students on May 3, 1968.

“We entered Barnard and Columbia in the mid-1960s optimistic, eager to learn and proud of our new schools. By the end of May 1968, almost a thousand of us had been arrested, beaten or expelled (as I was) by our beloved university. Beginning on April 23, 1968, in an act of protest against the university’s role in the war effort and its plans to expand into nearby Harlem, we had occupied five classroom buildings. The administration, after a week’s hesitation, called in hundreds of police officers, clubs and blackjacks swinging, including the dreaded Tactical Patrol Force, to forcibly remove us; they did it a second time three weeks later. In popular memory, the Columbia protests were a high point of the campus movement against the Vietnam War, and a mile marker in its radicalization. But this history, which privileges the actions and concerns of white students like myself, is incomplete, and it misrepresents what made the protests so powerful — the leadership of the black students. I arrived on campus in 1965 and immediately fell in with a group of campus radicals, who eventually formed the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. For years we organized against the war as being unjust and illegal, a war of choice, and fought racism on campus in the form of the university’s refusal to allow mostly black and Latino cafeteria workers to organize a union. In late 1967 we learned that Columbia was affiliated with a military think tank; the university was also moving ahead with plans to build a gymnasium in the city-owned Morningside Park that would have segregated the (mostly white) students from the (mostly black) local residents who would have access. We had grown up in the wake of World War II and watched the civil rights movement take shape in the South, and the university’s support for the war and its institutional racism shook us to our core. We had often wondered whether we would have been ‘good Germans’ under Nazism, or whether we had the moral courage of the civil rights protesters, many of whom were black students our own age. By April 1968, S.D.S. had joined in a loose alliance with the Student Afro-American Society, comprising the more politicized of the few black students at Columbia. On April 23, both organizations found ourselves occupying Hamilton Hall, Columbia’s main undergraduate classroom building. For a time, we even held the dean of the college hostage in his office. There was a difference between us, though. …”
NY Times
Vanity Fair – “The Whole World Is Watching”: An Oral History of the 1968 Columbia Uprising
1968: ‘What Did You Do in the Columbia War, Dad?’

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The Life and Death of Richard Brautigan

After he died, the friends of Richard Brautigan gathered at Enrico’s, Richard’s favorite San Francisco bar, to drink his spirit to rest. Some famous people were there, movie people, poets and writers, some old hippies from times gone by, one of Richard’s ex-wives, several girlfriends and a double handful of the alcoholic idealists whom Richard collected like spare change. The bartender wore an electric tie. They talked about why Richard died, and what killed him. Some blamed Ernest Hemingway, but most of them spoke of alcohol, women — and ghosts. Now Richard was his own ghost, and he walked through Enrico’s with a glass in his hand, a little drunk already, collecting memories of himself. He was always vain that way: he could never pass a mirror or even a shop window without casting a glance at his reflection. And he was morbid as well. How could he miss his own wake? It was a party he had planned for himself, a bon voyage for a man who had never fit comfortably into life. But it was also, Richard’s ghost remembered sourly, a party five weeks late in starting. When his body lay rotting on the floor of his house in Bolinas, where were his friends then? Richard’s ghost eavesdropped on the obligatory anecdotes, the little tales his friends traded of Richard’s fame, and his fall from fame. They talked about his generosity but also about his legendary stinginess. Some knew him as a wealthy man, others as a near beggar. Some spoke of his love of life, others remembered his longing for death. They were trying to piece his life together, yet their stories were like the shards of two different pots: How could they have contained a single man? Why did he fail? Why did he kill himself? What was his problem with love? Questions floated about, unasked and unanswered. Richard’s ghost turned away and went looking for himself at the bar. One of the tricks of death is holding on to time. …”
Rolling Stone

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In C – Terry Riley (1964)

In C is a musical piece composed by Terry Riley in 1964 for an indefinite number of performers. He suggests ‘a group of about 35 is desired if possible but smaller or larger groups will work’. A series of short melodic fragments, In C is a response to the sounds (sometimes called serialism) that dominated modern music for more than sixty years and is often cited as the first minimalist composition (though La Monte Young‘s drone compositions preceded it by several years, In C had a greater impact on public consciousness). In C consists of 53 short, numbered musical phrases, lasting from half a beat to 32 beats; each phrase may be repeated an arbitrary number of times. Each musician has control over which phrase they play: players are encouraged to play the phrases starting at different times, even if they are playing the same phrase. In this way, although the melodic content of each part is predetermined, In C has elements of aleatoric music to it. The performance directions state that the musical ensemble should try to stay within two to three phrases of each other. The phrases must be played in order, although some may be skipped. As detailed in some editions of the score, it is customary for one musician (‘traditionally… a beautiful girl,’ Riley notes in the score) to play the note C in repeated eighth notes, typically on a piano or pitched-percussion instrument (e.g. marimba). This functions as a metronome and is referred to as ‘The Pulse’. Steve Reich introduced the idea of a rhythmic pulse to Riley, who accepted it, thus radically altering the original composition by Riley which had no rhythm. In C has no set duration; performances can last as little as fifteen minutes or as long as several hours, although Riley indicates ‘performances normally average between 45 minutes and an hour and a half.’ The number of performers may also vary between any two performances. … The piece begins on a C major chord (patterns one through seven) with a strong emphasis on the mediant E and the entrance of the note F which begins a series of slow progressions to other chords suggesting a few subtle and ambiguous changes of key, the last pattern being an alteration between B and G. Though the polyphonic interplay of the various patterns against each other and themselves at different rhythmic displacements is of primary interest, the piece may be considered heterophonic. …”
Guardian: A guide to Terry Riley’s music
YouTube: In C – 40:14, In C (Live) 32:23

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Think big, be free, have sex … 10 reasons to be an existentialist

De Beauvoir and Sarte on a Paris street after their release from police custody, June 1970. They were arrested for selling a newspaper advocating the overthrow of the French government.

“I was a teenage existentialist. I became one at 16 after spending birthday money from my granny on Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea. It was the cover that attracted me, with its Dalí painting of a dripping watch and sickly green rock formation, plus a blurb describing it as ‘a novel of the alienation of personality and the mystery of being’. I didn’t know what was mysterious about being, or what alienation meant – although I was a perfect example of it at the time. I just guessed that it would be my kind of book. Indeed it was: I bonded at once with its protagonist Antoine Roquentin, who drifts around his provincial seaside town staring at tree trunks and beach pebbles, feeling physical disgust at their sheer blobbish reality, and making scornful remarks about the bourgeoisie. The book inspired me: I played truant from school and tried drifting around my own provincial town of Reading. I even went to a park and tried to see the Being of a Tree. I didn’t quite glimpse it, but I did decide that I wanted to study philosophy, and especially this strange philosophy of Sartre’s, which I learned was ‘existentialism’. No one can be completely sure what existentialism is, since its own chief thinkers disagreed about its tenets and many of them denied being existentialists at all. Among the few exceptions were the two most famous, Sartre and his companion Simone de Beauvoir, who accepted the label mainly because they grew tired of telling people not to call them it. They worked their philosophy out carefully, but their followers often treated existentialism more as a style or attitude than a set of beliefs. Several generations of disaffected youngsters before me had sat in cafes with slim volumes of Sartre or Albert Camus on the table in front of them, smoking strong cigarettes from blue packages and talking of nothingness and anxiety. In the 1940s, when the existentialist fashions began, the men wore raincoats and plaid shirts, and women let their hair grow long and loose in what one journalist termed the ‘drowning-victim’ look. Later, the black woollen turtleneck took over – which must have made everybody severely sweaty in the subterranean jazz clubs of Paris’s Left Bank, where they went dancing. … I am convinced that existentialism should be seen as more than a fad, however, and that it still has something to offer us today. In a spirit of experiment, here are 10 possible reasons to be an existentialist – or at least to read their books with a fresh sense of curiosity. …”

Albert Camus
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Mantra-Rock Dance

The Mantra-Rock Dance poster by Harvey W. Cohen (created December 1966)

“The Mantra-Rock Dance was a counterculture music event held on January 29, 1967, at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. It was organized by followers of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) as an opportunity for its founder, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, to address a wider public. It was also a promotional and fundraising effort for their first center on the West Coast of the United States. The Mantra-Rock Dance featured some of the most prominent Californian rock groups of the time, such as the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, as well as the then relatively unknown Moby Grape. The bands agreed to appear with Prabhupada and to perform for free; the proceeds were donated to the local Hare Krishna temple. The participation of countercultural leaders considerably boosted the event’s popularity; among them were the poet Allen Ginsberg, who led the singing of the Hare Krishna mantra onstage along with Prabhupada, and LSD promoters Timothy Leary and Augustus Owsley Stanley III. The Mantra-Rock Dance concert was later called ‘the ultimate high’ and ‘the major spiritual event of the San Francisco hippie era.’ … Strobe lights and a psychedelic liquid light show, along with pictures of Krishna and the words of the Hare Krishna mantra, were projected onto the walls. A few Hells Angels were positioned in the back of the stage as the event’s security guards. Prabhupada’s biographer Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami thus describes the Mantra-Rock Dance audience:

Almost everyone who came wore bright or unusual costumes: tribal robes, Mexican ponchos, Indian kurtas, ‘God’s-eyes,’ feathers, and beads. Some hippies brought their own flutes, lutes, gourds, drums, rattles, horns, and guitars. The Hell’s Angels, dirty-haired, wearing jeans, boots, and denim jackets and accompanied by their women, made their entrance, carrying chains, smoking cigarettes, and displaying their regalia of German helmets, emblazoned emblems, and so on – everything but their motorcycles, which they had parked outside.

The evening opened with Prabhupada’s followers – men in ‘Merlin gowns’ and women in saris – chanting Hare Krishna to an Indian tune, followed by Moby Grape. …”
W – Mantra-Rock Dance
W – Avalon Ballroom

Avalon Ballroom
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