Chapter 9 – April 18 and 19  Bob Dylan sings for the descendants of the masters of war In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and  Akron, Ohio, ten miles outside the Gates of Kent State University

Last night, several Latin American presidents got together in Lima, Peru to decide whether or not to recognize Nicolas Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela. An agreement was reached as the National Election Council decided to go along with the request for a recount by the opposition. In Boston, a police offer was killed in the chase to apprehend the two bombing suspects, who are brothers with a Russian heritage.  One of them was killed. .The other is at large and residents of Boston and surrounding suburbs have been warned to stay home and lock their doors. No buses, no subway, no train, and no taxis. Kel and I spent the evening filming traditional Peruvian dances, while Bob Dylan sang to the descendants of Bethlehem Steel Workers, who had manufactured 1,110 warships for the first and second world wars. Tonight he will perform the same show at the University of Akron, but students from the nearby Kent Sate are also expected to attend.

By 1968, the cops were having a hard time telling the difference between a flowerchild and a militant radical, so they followed the lead  of the military, which had been experiencing a similar problem identifying the North from the South Vietnamese. “The dead ones are from the North,” began the chant of demarcation. On August 28, Chicago’s Mayor Daley put such thought into action, sending his police force through Lincoln Park to attack and disable any and all civilians in the area. On May 4, 1970, four students were killed and nine wounded by the Ohio National Guard during a protest at Kent State University against Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia. Several of the massacre’s victims were not even involved in the protest.

One Saturday morning in the mid-seventies, while making my janitorial rounds at the Sand Point Base in Seattle, I asked a general who was sitting behind his desk in the War Plans office what he thought about the Trident protests.  He answered that he never gave any thought to the protest activities of hippies, since they had already shown their unwillingness to die for their beliefs. The military, however, was willing to absorb any necessary casualties in achieving their ends.

This was the America in which I came of age. It seemed the government was fighting a war against the kids. A cop once pulled a gun on me in an elevator and assured me that he had the power to kill me on the spot, and could justify it by saying I went for his gun. And this because I had been suspiciously playing the guitar in Pioneer Square to an audience of winos. It wasn’t just the cops we had to watch out for. I got stomped by a gaggle of marines one night just because I was walking ahead of them, softly singing “Masters of War” to myself.

 At the time, I thought such acts of brutality were a response to our non-participation in the war, but as the war ended, the assaults against youth continued.  In 1978, at a punk club in Seattle called The Bird, the singer of one of the bands displayed her broken arm to the audience, explaining that the police had attacked her on the way to the show.  I moved to Boston in 1981, where the police were much calmer than those in Seattle, and I concluded the reason for this was that the many of the Boston police walked a beat, while the Seattle cops always rode around in cruisers, never getting to know the neighborhood or the people in it.  The Boston cops knew who everybody was, while the Seattle cops based their judgment calls based on appearance alone.  Also, the Boston cops were crime-fighters, not street bullies.  They had better things to do than bust innocent heads.

I lost my fear of the cops during the seventeen years I lived in Boston, where I learned to like and respect police officers. Then, in 1999, I returned to Seattle and found that nothing had changed. I was working at Borders on Fourth Avenue on November 30, when a group of protesters tried to block the WTO convention up the street at the convention center. Mayor Norm Rice sent the police force in to bust their heads. We were told to close the store and go home but the manager refused to comply and set the store up as a rest and rehabilitation center for those who had been bludgeoned and tear-gassed by the cops. When my shift ended, I had to zigzag my way home, as the police were beating anyone on the street suspected of being anti-WTO. The next day, a cordon of police in Star Wars regalia refused to let me pass in order to go to work.  So began the several days of Martial Law in Seattle, during which students were tear-gassed on their way home from classes, bicyclists were pulled off their vehicles and beaten, and all who resisted were arrested. Such situations had been common in most of the cities where the interests of the power elite conflicted with the will of the people, and now I knew that Seattle was no different than Geneva or Prague.

And now I have something to say to all you angle boys of the cosmos who thought you had an in with the Big Operators — ‘Suckers! Cunts! Marks! — I hate you all — And I never intended to cut you in or pay you off with anything but horse shit — And you can thank The Rube if you don’t go up with the apes — Is that clear enough or shall I make it even clearer? You are the sucker cunts marks I invented to explode this dead whistle stop and go up with it –’” William Burroughs, from Nova Express

What Burroughs captures here is the essence of civilization.  The civilized world consists of a small idle class that is sustained by taxing the larger working class. This holds true for all countries, regardless of pretended ideologies. The idea of the United States as a free country has its inception in the American Revolution, through which it freed itself from British rule. It became an independent country governed by the people, not by a foreign government. Freedom only exists in relation to the possibility of enslavement.  It is not a state of being that can be created within an autonomous framework, as freedom is inherent in autonomy. To be free, one must be free from something.  There is no freedom of, but only freedom from.   One is always free to do something, but only the truly free are free not to do something.  In many countries that hold elections, voting is mandatory. In others, such as the US, it is not compulsory. The US citizen has, unlike the citizen of Peru, has the freedom not to vote. The Arab living in the US has the right to live outside the law of Islam. Throughout much of its history, the Catholic Church has imposed the beliefs and observances of its religion upon the people over which it presided.  Not in the United States, where people have the freedom to not participate in religious rites. They also have the right to participate in political process, but they do not have the right to determine the outcome. For example, in Seattle in the early 70’s, there was a referendum to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18.  The votes were cast, and the referendum passed.  But the state government, against the will of the people, overturned the referendum, and kept the drinking age at 21. They never intended the age be lowered. As Burroughs so eloquently puts it, the big operators never meant to cut the hired help in on anything.

The lessons to be learned from Kent State and Seattle are that the government will always side with the powerful, even if those powers do not act in the best interests of the public, and that the National Guard makes no distinction between people when they open fire on a crowd.  If you are in their vicinity when they are deployed, you are the enemy.  President Clinton sicked the National Guard on the people of Seattle because foreign dignitaries feared for their safety.  The mayor of Kent sicked them on college kids because threats had been made to downtown businesses and he feared the kids were planning to burn the city to the ground as a result of police interfering in their demonstrations against Nixon’s illegal bombing of a neutral country in the Vietnam conflict. 

Tonight, while he sings his apocalypse to the Kent State students who venture into Akron to hear him and his band, I hope Bob will be thinking of those four students who are going to miss the show. They would be in their sixties now, had the politicians of their city and state not turned against the very people they were paid to protect.