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San Francisco in the Sixties

Kenneth Rexroth’s complete columns and articles from the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967),
the San Francisco Bay Guardian (1967-1972), and San Francisco Magazine (1967-1975)



San Francisco Bay Guardian


A Civil War in America
Screws Tightening on the Universities





A Civil War in America


Kenneth Rexroth is one of the nation’s most distinguished literary figures — critic, novelist, poet, newspaper and magazine contributor.
As it does with other columnists, The Guardian gives him wide editorial latitude. He will write regularly for The Guardian.



Some years ago during the drought on the Eastern Seaboard, European but especially Russian newspapers pointed out that the U.S. was spending so much money on war that the water supply of New York City had broken down and it was necessary to ration drinking water.

Editorial writers for the American kept press burst out with guffawing editorials, yet the foreign papers were perfectly right. New York is not in the middle of a desert and there has never been a drought so long that adequate reservoirs should be exhausted.

Since that day, the expenditure for war has zoomed past belief and in Vietnam alone now amounts to an admitted six billion dollars a month.

In addition there are immense expenditures for what is now considered to be ordinary military activity in a country that once did not have a standing army as a founding principle.

At the present moment, there are at least 32 little Vietnams, colonial and semi-colonial nations, where the U.S. is providing arms and the CIA is providing leadership and subsidizing assassins for counterrevolutions or the perpetuation of dictatorships run by criminal adventurers.

America has become the most hated and feared nation in history. Hitler and Stalin had friends. Johnson has only purchased whores. The CIA coup d’état in Indonesia unleashed a murderfest unsurpassed even by Hitler. 250,000 people were killed in less than two months.

The CIA-financed coup d’état in Greece was a subject of open discussion in the highest circles for a year before it occurred. I was told by a person as close as could be to the royal family that the CIA was offering a million dollars in a numbered Swiss bank account to anyone who would lead a coup d’état. No one would pick up the money.

My informant told me: “It is certain to come and you will know it is a CIA action because the people in the junta will be total political, military, social nonentities.” By the time I had passed on to Iran, his words had come true.

The feature editor of one of the leading Japanese newspapers told me that his conservative estimate was that there were 2500 employees of the CIA in the Tokyo area alone.

I returned this summer to an America in a state of developing civil war, a civil war of the police against society. While it was taking place, we heard all sorts of stories about lethal snipers in the Detroit riot. When the facts were in, 46 Negroes had been killed by the police and three white people, two of them almost certainly caught in crossfire. Where were the snipers? What were they shooting? What were they aiming at? Who was rioting? Black people? Or white men in uniform?

To wage war in Vietnam, education is being starved and the aged and mentally ill are being thrown out of hospitals and children are being clubbed into insensibility while Rin Tin Tin in Sacramento [i.e. California Governor Ronald Reagan] cheers on the uniformed thugs, just as Sunny Jim Rolph cheered on the lynch mob in San Jose a generation ago.

Rin Tin Tin is certainly right. It was in the finest California tradition and overtook and surpassed the shambles in Los Angeles this summer which every intelligent journalist knows was ordered by the vulgar and brutal denizen of the White House and guided by the Secret Service who are conspicuous among the Los Angeles Police on the television tapes.

A schism, an immense gulf has opened up in American life — Toynbee’s “schism in the soul” that heralds the immediately impending total collapse of civilization. I have been asked to give my opinions about the election. I have just given them.

We have suffered in San Francisco the administration of an incompetent White House toady [Mayor Joseph Alioto] who was prepared on telephone communication from Johnson to destroy Golden Gate Park and precipitate a race riot so that the Armed Forces could roll tanks back and forth from bridge to bridge, fighting, presumably, the second Battle of the Marne when the Chinese invade California after the Battle of Waikiki.

He and his Convention Bureau, financed by a hotel tax which was supposed to be for culture, gave North Beach to The Syndicate, which the Italian community itself had always kept out of San Francisco. He and his chief of police, after boasting of their wonderful Community Relations detail, with which they had nothing to do, fired one of the few enlightened police officers in the U.S.

And that’s what they did. If Lt. Andreotti was flunked on his examination for captain, he was fired — if you don’t believe it, all you have to do is talk for five minutes to some of the brutal and illiterate captains who flourish in San Francisco’s police force.

Insofar as San Francisco has been governed at all, it has been governed by the White House.

The breakdown and demoralization of the City’s civic life is due above all else to the war. Six billion dollars spent each month on each of the major social problems now confronting America, seriatim, one after another, for a year, would go a long way toward solving them and restoring the country to the ranks of civilization. As it is, voluntary ameliorative projects, privately financed by desperately concerned citizens, are harassed and forced to shut down, whether in Hunter’s Point or the Haight-Ashbury.

The kept press covered the opening of a pathetic tiny privately financed swimming pool, the first in the Hunter’s Point-Bayview area. The papers did not point out that this pool had to be choked down the throats of the San Francisco authorities, who of course should have provided long since a half dozen standard swimming pools in the area.

So it goes. The rioters, the disturbers of the peace, the cruel, the violent, the murderers, are in the state houses, the capitals, the White House, the governors’ mansions. The military-industrial complex and the political power structure they have created in the last 20 years have declared war on America, as well as on the rest of the world.

How ridiculous has been the response to Rusk’s and Johnson’s recent speeches, the phony liberals raising the ghost of The Yellow Peril. If you analyze Rusk’s speech carefully, you realize it can mean only one thing, a genocidal war of extermination against the Chinese people, no matter who rules in Peking. Their numbers must be cut down sufficiently so that White America, thousands of miles across the ocean, can rule in Asia, instead of three-quarters of a billion of yellow people. What Rusk’s speech advocated was Hitler’s Final Solution.

Therefore, there is only one issue in this election and one thing to vote for: Peace. Vote only for candidates whose position is clear and who can be trusted, and of course vote Yes for Proposition P [San Francisco measure calling for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam].

(There is only one self-evidently committed candidate — Arthur Sheridan — who was arrested the first day in the Oakland demonstration and given ten days in jail.)

Vote for no others, least of all for the candidates who now say they led the fight against the freeways and who in fact did the bidding of Johnson straight down the line. If this kind of duplicity is unchallenged over such an issue, what sort of double-cross can we expect on the question of stopping the war?

America is deep in the gravest emergency in its history. From now on, those who would save our civilization can no longer temporize or compromise. We must pass over to political and nonviolent assault tactics. Unless the worldwide war-making political, military and industrial power structure of America is stopped, it will destroy us all.

One suggestion: Instead of throwing thousands of defenseless people against mad dogs in uniform to demonstrate in front of an inert building, I think every spokesman for the war and every industrialist who profits from it should be assigned personal pickets.

Every time Walt Rostow goes out his door, he should meet a picket line and at least two people with placards saying “This is a Homicidal Maniac” and “This is a Genocidist” should march before and behind him every place he goes, day and night. So with Rusk, MacNamara and all the leading politicians and billionaires who, as a liberal senator said years ago, are prepared to destroy the planet rather than lower the price of a Buick.

These people must be subject to relentless personal pressure until at least psychologically they can do nothing but cower in a bunker in the White House basement. They are the most dangerous human beings humanity has ever faced. Hitler after all had only gas ovens. They have the Doomsday Machine.

[October 31, 1967]



Screws Tightening on the Universities

All over North America, from McGill to the University of Mexico, the screws are tightening down on student dissent. “Screw” of course is underworld slang for a prison guard and, if the antagonism between administration and dissenting students continues, that is exactly what the administrators will become.

Many in fact already are. Chancellor Roger Heyns is not the only head of a university trained in the cops. It’s no accident that the best recommendation for handling both unruly young people and dissenting ideologies should be undergraduate work in the OSS-CIA and graduate degrees from the WPA Genocide Project (the Rand Corporation) and from industries manufacturing anti-personnel rockets and napalm.

Nor is there any reason to be surprised that the older generation, the parents of those now in college, approve of such custodians for their sons and daughters. The San Francisco and Cambridge votes on war, and the various polls, indicate that about two-thirds of the American people are consciously, deliberately, viciously immoral, and not only immoral, but fools. They are enthusiastically in favor of policies which can lead only to their own extinction.

To quote from the cover of the December 9 Saturday Review, “If fools and folly rule the world, the end of man in our time may come as a rude shock, but it will no longer come as a complete surprise.” So said Abdul Rahman Pazhwak, past president of the UN General Assembly.

Now, Dr. Pazhwak is an Afghan and Afghanis are supposed to be a barbarous people with scant respect for law, life, property or truth. Afghanistan, however, shows no desire to drop nuclear bombs on New Delhi, Tehran, Karachi. The Pushto-speaking peoples are not engaged in a genocidal war against the Mongols of the Tibetan border.

The King of Afghanistan is not the laughing stock of the world because of a pathological inability to ever tell the truth. Afghanistan does not have a confiscatory tax policy and planned inflation aimed at its middle-class citizens, nor does it have a deliberate depreciation of its currency with base metals, nor do its racial minorities feel they have no other recourse than to burn down its cities, nor does it have a monstrous army of pistol-toting PhDs in well-shined shoes, tweed jackets and Phi Beta Kappa keys subverting governments at the ends of the earth.

Afghanistan, alas, is not a civilized country. It will never be able to murder 600,000 people in a month as the CIA-supported forces did in Indonesia or smash the entire culture of a friendly country and imprison and torture every cultivated person Left, Right or Center, as the CIA-supported junta is doing in Greece. Hence, Afghanistan is as popular with the hippies as Nepal or Montreal.

Guatemala, Ghana, Indonesia, Greece, Spain — if the American police state can do what it has done in those countries, who could be so foolishly optimistic as to believe it will not do the same thing to its own citizens? If the CIA can force one of its own employees into the key office of Mayor of West Berlin, why should it be assumed that American universities can resist?

Anywhere in the world the purpose of the university is to train bureaucrats. The rest is rhetoric, and if examined closely, whether the rhetoric of Cardinal Newman or Alfred North Whitehead, it is apparent that disinterested scholarship or devotion to humane ideals are simply complicated synonyms for “an enlightened administrative caste.”

An administrative caste is exactly what a majority of students at a university wants to become, and most of them don’t give a damn whether it’s enlightened or not. What they want are soft jobs, security and more interesting careers than their parents. Only a minority will ever get that. But it is an even smaller minority who take seriously the lofty moral propaganda of the philosophers of education.

These latter people have become a serious menace to the enormous armed bureaucracy which imprisons and tortures the scholars of Greece on one hand and subsidizes a chain of fake intellectual magazines throughout the world where renegade Marxists carry on complicated moral debates with dissatisfied Catholics.

This is a good measure, a good prognosticating instrument for the future. Dissent will be tolerated if it can fit into the policy of Preuves, Der Monat, or Encounter. If it can’t, it will be eliminated.

Our contemporary worldwide police state has learned from the mistakes of the Moscow trials and the Hitler blood purges. Ideas don’t really matter. Only actions matter and even the most subversive ideas can always be organized in such a fashion that they dissipate themselves in inaction or, if that cannot be done, they can be taken over and used as provocations to repression, simply by irrationally accelerating the demand for action.

History is not moral. It is a Marxist and Hegelian delusion that it is. Things do not always turn out right just because they turn out. In fact the evidence all about us is that history is drawing to a close. We are entering the Apocalypse and everything is turning out wrong.

As repression shuts down over the colleges and universities of America it will be with the authority of history in loco parentis. This is what two-thirds of the population of students and parents want. If we are going to discuss the morality of the conflict now going on on the campuses we leave the realm of historical facts and enter a transcendental region.

If a parent is morally responsible for his child and delegates his authority, he is obligated to make sure that authority is wise and good and will ensure that the child is kept from manifest and grievous evil. It is obvious, then, what the role of a university administration acting in loco parentis should be.

A college president who permits young people to enlist in an armed force manifestly guilty of gross violation of the standards of civilized warfare and engaged in a patently unjust war (laying aside the question whether such things today are not contradictions in terms), a college president who permits the recruitment of young men and women for the manufacture of chemicals designed to inflict upon primarily civilian populations the most hideous death by torture — such a college president is guilty of the gravest possible mortal sin.

Acting in loco parentis and with more information, responsibility and intelligence than most parents, his place is at the gate of his university interposing himself with his very body and life to the taking over of the youth entrusted to his charge by organized murder, torture and terror.

It is perfectly obvious that under Rin Tin Tin, regents and trustees of California’s system of higher education have been taken over by the war-making police state. The San Francisco newspaper represented on the Board of Regents has the shameless and shameful effrontery to run editorial after editorial apologizing for the illiterate terrorists now destroying Greece. The newspaper's representative on the Board of Regents has swung full circle and today supports every reactionary measure emanating putatively from Rin Tin Tin but in fact from Lyndon Baines Johnson.

[December 19, 1967]



“San Francisco in the Sixties” is an ongoing project of posting all of Kenneth Rexroth’s columns and articles from the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967), the San Francisco Bay Guardian (1967-1972), and San Francisco Magazine (1967-1975). Copyright 1960-1967 Kenneth Rexroth. Reproduced here by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.

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