San Francisco Fifty Years Ago

(Kenneth Rexroth’s complete columns from the San Francisco Examiner)



January 1964

Resolutions and Habits
Misguided Ballet Funding
The New Mayor’s Challenge
H.L Mencken
The Miserable Twilight of Colonialism
The Greek Ideal
Troubles Around the World
Ballet Schools
Recognition of Red China



Resolutions and Habits

How many people still make out a list of New Year resolutions? How many plan to change habits, to do the things they have left undone and stop doing the things they ought not to have done?

My daughters and I still do, but I have a suspicion it is no longer a common custom. It is based on a number of extremely unfashionable assumptions, that we are ourselves responsible for the formation of habits by the accumulation of many small acts of choice, and that habits can be broken by acts of choice, just as they were formed, and that these acts can be governed by an overall decision.

Recently I was talking to a woman friend about her ex-husband, a man who had worked for many years under great pressure and who had become an alcoholic.

“Don’t forget,” I said, “that alcoholism can be simply an ingrained habit into which the person has slipped unawares, the end product of countless trivial decisions to take a drink to relieve tension. We talk a lot of nonsense about oral fixation and unconscious homosexuality or insulin imbalance when, very often, we are just dealing with habitude. My father died of drink although he had always prided himself on being a civilized drinker. His wholesale drug house took over the largest wholesale liquor business in the Midwest and he became vice president in charge of sales. His job was to travel over the entire wholesale area and radiate goodwill. That was fine when he was visiting drugstores. After five years of visiting saloons and liquor stores he discovered one day that he was a terminal alcoholic. Many alcoholics don’t need psychoanalysis, they just need to stop drinking.”

My friend gave me a long wise look and said, “How true, and how out of date.”

The religious significance of Christmas and New Year has gone for many Americans, but it is still a festival of the family for most of us. As the year turns we turn to one another in the small community that is especially ours and that provides the only communion many of us know. We try to renew, and strengthen, and redirect if faulty, the love that holds us together and that gives us the values, the forms of response to others, with which we cope with all the outside world.

It is here, within the life of the family, which is itself a great mystery, as great as those of the religious faiths, that New Year resolutions have most significance. We can try to break petty habits of indulgence or temper and form others, by the banal and naïve technique of deciding to do or not to do certain things, however trivial. For love in marriage or parenthood is an accumulation of minute particulars and it decays and dies, tiny item by item, as teeth fall from the jaws or hairs from the head.

[January 1, 1964]



Misguided Ballet Funding

The Ford Foundation shows a truly extraordinary lack of good sense in the way it chooses to spend its money. There is always something just a little wrong, the objective is never quite in focus. Sometimes, in fact I think more and more often in recent years, the lack of judiciousness, prudence, sympathetic identification with the people working in the field it is trying to help, the almost total incomprehension of actual needs — in other words the inability to even tell in what direction the target lies — is truly stupefying.

Let me say first off that I think it’s just dandy that the San Francisco Ballet and the other minor members of the Balanchine-Christiansen brothers Axis got some money. They certainly deserved much more. Anyone who thinks the San Francisco Ballet is not excellent only reveals his lack of knowledge and his provincial snobbism. The just-finished Christmas season was superlative. The high quality of its works has earned the company its place in the essential social fabric. The Christmas balled is a vital part of San Francisco life. We could no longer do without it.

As for the regular season, and the road shows, which have become one of the city’s most effective means of promotion, I’d like to quote from a letter to Leon Kalimos, manager of the ballet, from the people who book the tours: “You’ll be pleased to know that the International Association of Concert Managers, in a recently completed poll of members, voted the SFB the #1 concert attraction touring the country this past season. More people (members) voted it the #1 attraction than voted for any other. Comments were that the SFB was the most exciting and refreshing new attraction to come along in years — “like a sea breeze.”

So they deserved what they got from the Fords, and much more. But be that as it may, the gift of nearly $6 million to ballet controlled by George Balanchine and $1,766,750 to all other ballet companies outside New York, and to those only which are of the same general school and style as the New York City Ballet and the American School of Ballet, can do nothing but create an overwhelming orthodoxy which will distort and impoverish the natural development of the dance in America. I have always been opposed to government sponsorship of either the theater or the dance. This is worse. The dancers and dance audiences of America are not going to be able to vote the directors of the Ford Foundation out of office. We are stuck with them and their divine-right-of-kings kind of obliterating patronage.

It might be a little better if Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein represented the balletistic avant-garde, but indeed they do not. They are devoted apostles of a rigid formalism, a neo-classic, “abstract” ballet which is aesthetically just catching up with the cubism of the early twenties, or the poetry of Gertrude Stein. I happen to prefer this sort of thing myself, but I at least recognize that I am getting along and my taste is dated and bigoted. Modern tendencies are all away from formalism, abstraction, “pure” dance, and toward a revival of romanticism and expressionism in choreography and ever-increasing fluency and relaxation in technique. This reaches down into class training, where today there is a new emphasis of all-round muscular development. Dancers are permitted to have busts, upper arms, and well-rounded calves. (I’ll never forget how astonished the local company was to discover that the visiting Danish Ballet were all expert swimmers — the grossest ballet immorality by old-fashioned standards.)

It is not just the new which the Ford program discriminates against. Ruth Page in Chicago is the last first-rate exponent of the great style of the German Expressionist dance of the period between the wars. Does she get any of these millions? Not a penny, nor does anybody else whose style dates from before Balanchine. Maybe members of the Balanchine church will dispute me if I say that the Chicago Opera Ballet is as good as Salt Lake City, Boston, or Houston. But they can’t deny that it is better than the Philadelphia Ballet, which got $295,000. There isn’t any such organization. It’s a group that Kirstein and Balanchine would like to develop as a feeder, although the city of Philadelphia has shown no desire or need for such a company and may very well not have the dancers — or is this to be a farm for the second or third string of the New York company?

Maybe I have been unjust to those Congressmen from the piney woods and the short grass prairies to whom many of my colleagues want to entrust the culture of the country. They couldn’t have done worse. They probably would have done better. Most important, what they did could be undone. With this pig in a poke or leotard we are stuck.

[January 5, 1964]



The New Mayor’s Challenge

“Good morning, Mayor Shelley, and good luck to you!” So say we all.

There’s not much question but what he’s going to need all the good luck he can get. If I were him, I’d feel much like Harry Truman is reputed to have felt when he took over the Presidency. The next few years are going to make all the difference to San Francisco for a long, long time to come. They well may make the difference of life or death — not sudden death, but the slow rot which has reduced the once optimistic and ambitious city of Chicago to impotence and hopelessness.

The difference in the difference can only come from imaginative, fearless leadership. New York and Chicago have been brought low by plain criminality. San Francisco has most to fear from sloth and inertia — immovable obstacles and irresistible forces sitting each other out in deadlock.

New Year’s Eve I went to a lovely party at Trader Vic’s. High point of the evening was a pas de deux by the agile local danseur noble, Jack Shelley, first an Irish jig, then a fiery Charleston. I think Jack and I are about the same age and I fancy myself as frisky enough, but he’s got more energy than I have. He’ll need it.

Last Sunday the Examiner editorial page was once again devoted to the paper’s annual program for San Francisco. There is not an item in that program that does not require leadership at once aggressively independent and tirelessly dedicated. None of it is going to happen by itself. Curiously enough, there is no significant opposition to most of these proposals. The grand strategy we accept unanimously, differences of tactics we are sure will be solved by negotiation or by the force of events, once we get going.

But will they? There is unlimited insignificant opposition — petty greed, small-mindedness, indifference, laziness. This is one activity, or lack of it, where the whole can suddenly become greater than the sum of its parts. Inertia which was fragmentary and exasperating can suddenly congeal into a massive, immovable block in the way of progress.

This is what leadership is for, to see to it that a community generates its own, human laws of motion and does not fall victim to mindless material force. What we need is not the force that dropped the apple on Newton’s head, but the force in Newton’s head that comprehended the principle that brought the apple down.

The Mayor’s office doesn’t have much power, you say? It’s not power The City wants, but initiative. The engine is ready, all it needs is somebody to push the right buttons, pull the right levers, flash the sparks and mesh the gears. Take it away, Jack! And God help you.

[January 8, 1964]



H.L. Mencken

A new edition of H.L. Mencken’s American Language just showed up for review. It is an abridgment in one volume of the fourth edition and the two succeeding supplements, done by Raven McDavid and David Maurer. The editors have brought the text up to date. Chapters on slang, dialects, jargon and counter words, new words in conventional usage, the influence of American speech on British, all reflect current usage, as of 1963.

Better still, the editors have a special talent for catching the old master’s turn of phrase. Their additions, set off by brackets, flow on, an integral part of Mencken’s own style.

I suppose, as a critic, I have read every edition of this book since it came out. This time I picked it up idly, just to see what the new editors had done with it, and two days later discovered that I had reread it all. It is still as absorbing as the best detective story.

Why? I already know all the information it has to give. In fact, certain specialized lingos, of jazz, of the Beats, of the old IWW, of beggars and hoboes, of the gay world, and also many facts about the penetration of Americanisms into French and English, I know more about than the new editors, or at least more than they have chosen to impart. Furthermore, the subject itself is a bit of a bore in 1964. The battle for American is long since won. What makes the book so hypnotically enchanting is simply Mencken.

This is one case where the style was the man, for sure. Time was when I was but a little tiny boy, at least in taste and discrimination, my head was full of Walter Pater and Henry James. I thought Mencken was just dreadful, too vulgar to bear mention.

I know that I have gained some sense down the long years. I have a standard by which I can measure that growth. Every time I read Mencken I think he’s better than I did last time. Long since I have come to think him very good indeed.

It’s not just that his prose is muscular and sure. It’s not just that he says precisely what he wants to say, with the greatest deftness. It’s not that he is full of hilarious jokes and mockery. In the final analysis, it is what he was, what he stood for, and that is something that has gone from American life. He was the last of a great line of American writers who defended and propagated a masculine culture in this country. Books, music, art, drama — for Mencken these were not something the girls did at their clubs and matinees, they were vital concerns in the life of males.

His target, as they call it nowadays on Madison Avenue, was not that section of the putatively male population who did nothing except accompany the girls to their matinees, lecture to them at their clubs, decorate their homes, wave their hair and design their hats. He aimed at the men who made the decisions, who built things and changed things, the most masculine of the population. He wrote about music for men who would never dream of taking their wives’ advice about what records to buy for themselves, who had books in their offices and paintings on their walls that they had chosen themselves.

Alas, few are writing for such an audience today. Anybody who does is going to find trouble getting printed. It is utterly amazing what Mencken got away with, writing year after year in the eminently dignified Baltimore Sun. There is not a special interest group that he did not lambaste, not a racial minority he did not poke fun at.

Had Harding not died, Mencken might well have laughed him out of office. His contempt for the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Party was equally and witheringly distributed. Often his attack was an all-out barrage, but underneath the shells and shrapnel was the old sharpshooter, carefully picking off the enemy, one by one, with perfect accuracy.

Today all controversial writing seems pusillanimous by comparison. We have solved all questions of violent controversy in America. The things that should concern us, that we should get into knock-down and drag-out fights about, we have agreed to leave to the specialists, the technicians, the social workers and psychiatrists. We export our combativeness, usually to the Kremlin. Like Voltaire’s deity, if the Russians did not exist it would be necessary to invent them.

Meanwhile, from the New York Daily News to Nation magazine we politely share each other’s thinking, as the group dynamickers softly put it, about subjects about which our fathers, led by smoky, beery bachelors like Mencken, joyfully tore each other to shreds in the public prints.

[January 12, 1964]

NOTE: There is plenty of Mencken in print, most of it every bit as entertaining and provocative as Rexroth says it is (and every bit as shocking by the current standards of political correctness). A good introductory selection is The Vintage Mencken.



The Miserable Twilight of Colonialism

Nkrumah totalizes his dictatorship in Ghana; the Kashmiris butcher each other over the hair of a man who loathed every sort of image and relic worship; the Panamanians, who owe their very existence to a maneuver of American policy, burn American flags and automobiles; the Yemenis are still at it in their deserts and so are the Congolese amongst their mealy patches and tsetse flies; British Tommies, automatic rifles over their shoulders, once more patrol the streets of Cyprus, invited back by the natives who just a spell ago were murdering them from ambush.

It isn’t working out the way people thought it would. A few years ago we were talking about the twilight of imperialism. Maybe the next decade, if it doesn’t witness a suicidal race war provoked by lethal clowns in high places in low countries, will see the twilight of anti-imperialism.

Which of these infant small busted nations is better off than it was under its wicked colonial masters? Name one.

America and Europe have washed their hands of colonialism, at least of juridical control of their vassals, not out of altruism, but because colonialism is a very unprofitable enterprise. The day may soon come when there will be not one, but dozens of Cypruses.

The imperialists may have to go back on invitation and pick up the White Man’s Burden not because it is a profitable thing to carry, but because nobody else has shown the willingness, must less the ability to support it.

We think we will entice the East and Africa over to Our Side by displaying the goodies of democracy, the Spirit of ’76, the Rights of Man, the English Constitution. Quite the contrary, what attracts these peoples, sovereignties born in bankruptcy and perpetuated in chaos, to the Russians, is precisely their scorn for democracy, due process and the rights of the individual.

When they take over, they roll up the tanks, knock everybody’s heads together, shoot shoals of people, extort blood-curdling confessions from all the leading demagogues, and call it peace and order. Would the Kremlin put up with the nonsense we put up with in the recent additions to the Free World? They didn’t put up with it in highly civilized countries like Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

I am beginning to wonder, watching half-reformed cannibals wrapped in couch covers perform in the United Nations and waste the time of a world sinking deeper and deeper into disorder — are the principles of progressive education negotiable in the international arena? Is there such a thing as permissive diplomacy?

On the other hand, I can sympathize with a civilized man like Nkrumah, looking over a parliament full of witch doctors having at each other with ideological juju and slitting each other up with political assegais, and saying sadly to himself and to the bust of Lincoln on his desk — “What this joint needs is a good GPU.”

[January 15, 1964]



The Greek Ideal

Off to the University of Utah to give a talk on the heritage that has come down to us from ancient Greek civilization. It’s a significant place to give such a speech. The State of Utah owes its special character to its Mormon settlers; and the Mormons, as they built up their society, came to share with the ancient Greeks at least one very important life attitude.

The Greek ideal was, as has often been pointed out, medically, or at least hygienically, inspired. They envisaged man at what biologists call his optimum. This means functioning in a physical and social environment where he exercises his full powers in the best possible performance.

The Founding Fathers of the American way of life had a similar ideal. Whether Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin or Alexander Hamilton, they wanted to construct a polity which would enable man as citizen. The basic documents of American democracy consider freedom as a kind of environment. They attempt to create for the individual a context in which he will be able to assume the fullest possible measure of responsibility, in which, as a thinking organism, he will gather to himself the greatest possible intensity, scope and depth of experience in fellowship with other men. This, too, is a kind of medical notion — though today we might rather call it ecological.

Certainly the Mormons, as they built their society a hundred years ago, had just such an end in view. Possibly this was the last time the American program for a community of fully developed, mutually interwoven responsibilities would be attempted in anything like its original purity. This is why they went off into what was then the most inhospitable of the world’s known deserts. They could keep their experiment uncontaminated by the germs of social disorder. Whatever its faults, a perceptive visitor to Utah, especially to the untouched hinterlands, can still sense that this is a society of, for, and by the well and sane.

American society as a whole is still medically oriented, but now by modern medicine, which is based on pathology rather than hygiene. Even civic programs of public health, due to pressure of population and lack of money, perforce are occupied almost exclusively with public sickness and mental illness. Overwhelmed with statistics, case histories and bedpans, we find it increasingly difficult to see the well and sane who are all about us and without whose presence society would collapse into howling chaos overnight.

There is a famous article by a well-known psychologist, A.H. Maslow, called “Self Actualizing People.” It’s a funny thing to read. Maslow is an intelligent and highly trained man, but fresh from the couch and the seclusion ward, he seems to have stumbled one day by accident on the whole men who keep the wheels turning in spite of everything. He was obviously profoundly amazed and shocked. Nothing in his training or philosophy had prepared him for such an encounter. A doctor of the sick, he had never even heard of the existence of the well. For Aristotle or Sophocles the well were the first assumption and final term of all their thought.

As I write this, news of the grave illness of Pandit Nehru is in the pages. Whatever his faults, we can ill afford to spare him. This is a man who thought of freedom for his country in terms of an ever richer life of order, happiness and wisdom. He thought of the Indian people as growing in responsibility amongst themselves, and of his country as playing a most responsible role in the concourse of nations. I doubt if he was prepared at all for the immediate consequences of the withdrawal of the British raj from India, when the Indian people fell on each other like tigers in a bloodbath that claimed in a few days as many people as all the struggle against the British from beginning to end. Surely he must be horrified to see the same social insanity erupt again, after so many years, and in his home state of Kashmir.

Yet Nehru and his colleagues have done more with freedom than almost anybody else nowadays. They have never lost the Greek dream of the state as a polity of the well, the sane, the responsible. It is only necessary to compare Nehru to the gilded beatnik Emperor of Indonesia [Sukarno] to realize what has happened to the world. A terrible demoralization is getting us all in its grip — Manhattan just as much as Leopoldville. We are pinning together chaos and calling it liberty. In more and more aspects of our society we are simply organizing sickness and calling it therapy.

Our United Pathologists are today our most powerful pressure group.

[January 19, 1964]



Troubles Around the World

We may not be over a barrel yet, but we are sure being pushed toward it.

De Gaulle proposes to take back former French Indochina for its own good. De Gaulle puts another squeeze on the Common Market. The British jump the Cuban embargo; not only that, but they are top bidders, out of half a dozen nations, including of all people, Franco’s Spain. The Panamanians, who could not exist without the U.S. and who admittedly came into existence as instruments of Teddy Roosevelt’s policy, “Build the Canal Now,” want us to pack up and go home. De Gaulle announces he is going to recognize Red China and support its admission to the United Nations.

Meanwhile Sukarno has been cutting up in Indonesia. Demonstrably unable to keep his own country from sinking deeper and deeper into chaos, he is already engaged in a guerrilla war to take over the prosperous and smoothly functioning Malaysia Federation. Zanzibar explodes.

Unnoticed, at least in the U.S., de Gaulle blew another chilling little whiff down the back of our necks. Of course he is a great fellow for the regal plural-person pronoun, but his recent use of it in the possessive case was ominous of serious future troubles. In his conversations with the Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin, the general several times referred to his special interest in “our people” in North America. Here we are back to “our blood cousins in Czechoslovakia.” Quebec and much of Ontario have suddenly become part of France Outremer.

It is easy to laugh at this as a slip of the tongue or as a reflection of an absurd conceit. Is it though? Anyone who knows French-speaking Canada knows that there is a strong separatist movement there. It is unlikely ever to gain a sufficient following to achieve its objective — independence under the protection of France. Nevertheless, a rash and unscrupulous French government could certainly use it to stir up plenty of trouble.

The more extreme French Canadian chauvinists are far more anti-Yankee than the Panamanians. If they had behind them the force of a major power, they could well be the strongest lever in the worldwide effort to pry the United States loose from its dominance of the Western Hemisphere.

The sad thing about all this feinting and probing in the cockpit of international conflict is that it once again diverts American attention from domestic problems. President Johnson has said, in each of his major speeches since taking office, that it was time for us to put our own house in order, that our external effectiveness as the world’s most powerful nation depended on our internal peace and prosperity.

That is still as true as ever, but it looks as though it may well be lost sight of in an electoral campaign fought in terms of foreign policy.

[Examiner columnist Kenneth Rexroth will conduct a lecture course in recent art history at the College of the San Francisco Art Institute, Tuesday evenings as 7 p.m. The course begins Feb. 4. Those interested may register at the Institute, 800 Chestnut St. or telephone OR 3-2640.]

[January 22, 1964]



Ballet Schools

There’s some folks say I write too much about the San Francisco Ballet and Opera and the Actor’s Workshop. Well, hang on to your coonskin caps, because here we go again.

I’m just back from Salt Lake City where I visited Bill Christensen’s Ballet Department at the University of Utah. Immediately before and after my trip I watched the San Francisco Ballet kick off its touring season with Fonteyn and Nureyev as guest stars.

While gone I had to worry about how my daughter was managing crossing back and forth across town from junior high school to ballet school, to swimming, to an acting class and so forth and so on. Once again, and in the most forceful manner possible, it was borne in on me that what we need is the incorporation of the ballet school into the educational system.

Salt Lake City is not the most promising site for such a venture as Bill Christensen’s, yet he has done wonders. Not only is it the only school in America that gives a degree in ballet, but it really turns out excellent dancers. What is more, they are educated, cultivated people, both in their chosen field and generally in all aspects of a humane education. Once upon a time nursing and ballet were solutions for troubled parents with daughters with roving eyes and D averages and too, too delicate sons. A ballet school or a hospital was a place to put them away for a few years and keep them off the streets.

This is far from true today. Most of the youngsters in the San Francisco Ballet are exceptionally bright, stable girls and masculine boys who get better than average or top grades in high school and college.

To keep up their budding careers, they have to keep going 48 hours a day. Not only is dance not part of the regular educational system, but there is no curriculum geared to the all ’round professional development of a youngster taking dance outside the system. Now it so happens that the California universities and state colleges give courses for which there is sufficient demand, providing of course that they are not completely absurd. Parents and kids, the line for signing petitions forms at the right.

San Francisco is certainly the ideal place in the West for a School of the Performing Arts. Hollywood so obviously is not. Poor old Babylon, crawling with starlets and junior beefcake, can support neither a ballet nor opera, nor even a respectable off Broadway theater. There is, it would seem, a point of vulgarity and/or commercialism known rightly as the point of no return. Also, of course, there is no audience.

I would like to see such a school set up, not as a separate project, at least at first, but as a well integrated part of the junior high school, high school, junior college, and state college systems. It is my candid opinion, based on almost 40 years’ experience, that the River Rouge of the intellect over in Berkeley is hopelessly inflexible, unimaginative, and totally uninterested in the community in which it operates. But this is far from true of the state and junior colleges, which are full of beans and have just received a go-ahead signal for radical development. So, once again, all we have to do is ask.

Meanwhile, I have a flyer from the Actor’s Workshop about the possibility of a civic theater. It seems that Jack Shelley is very interested, and there is space available in the wastelands we have been creating with freeways and redevelopment. We’ll see. So far, it all sounds vague, or as they say, political. Sitting in meetings during the campaign I was highly amused at the maneuvers of the pols who had suddenly discovered the Art Vote. I wondered if any of it would ever come to anything at all, or anything except the same old thing. It’s too early to judge, Jack’s only been in office a few weeks.

Somehow I doubt that we will build the Heavenly Jerusalem in San Francisco this year. We are more likely to have a Study. Several Studies. You have to move carefully in these things, you know.

Let’s not forget that a home for the Workshop isn’t all we need. We desperately need a 1000 to 1500 seat house for chamber music, ballet, concerts, and other theatrical activities than the Workshop. We also need something that costs nothing or next to nothing, a central Bay Area coordinating office and booking agency for music, theater, arts and lectures.

Sorry to write once again a condensation of the things I said last autumn. But I’d like to see some action. Wouldn’t you?

[January 26, 1964]



Recognition of Red China

Is it true that de Gaulle has pulled loose one of the keystones of American policy by recognizing Red China? French recognition means practically certain admission to the United Nations. It also means the acceptance of the Taiwan regime as a separate nation, with no hope for Chiang Kai-shek’s reconquest of the mainland — and this means, almost equally certainly, vast changes in the Taiwan government itself.

How much resilience is there in American foreign policy? There is no other way to cope with the inevitable than prudent resilience. Here is one situation where, if we can’t bend and recover, something will surely break.

We can expect a mass cry of outrage, a widespread demand to resign from the United Nations and to kick the outfit out of New York. The orthodox theory of the liberals and the left is that this will be fomented by fat men in silk hats, seated at mahogany tables, smoking Upmans and dandling chorus girls. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Of course the notorious China Lobby exists, but its sponsors are by no means the most significant figures in American or international capitalism. No lobby can be effective long unless it operates with public sympathy or at least indifference.

The simple truth is that the long American boycott of Red China is genuinely popular. The United States fought a costly, aimless war with the Chinese. American families lost a lot of boys in Korea. By the time the war closed in an inconclusive truce public morale had reached a low comparable to that of the War of 1812. Juridically we were never at war with China, and at this moment, juridically speaking, we are still in a state of undefined belligerency. Public resentment of the whole frustrating situation still smolders on.

It is this grass roots, genuinely popular bitterness that the American government is going to have to neutralize or ground out. If it can’t be grounded, it is going to cut loose on a first-class rampage.

It is no secret to the well informed that the business community, especially on the West Coast, has had a majority in favor of recognition of China for a long time. Business is business. Fewer people are well informed about the inner machinations of the Kuomintang, but again, it is no secret that a powerful group in Taiwan has been in favor of a “two Chinas” policy, a stabilization of the status quo, for a long time, too. This group is even supposed to include everybody in the Generalissimo’s family except the indomitable Missimo.

The significant resistance comes from the American people, who persist in seeing the problem as a moral issue. One side believes that the international bankers and the Texas oil billionaires are preventing acceptance of China as a member of the community of nations. The other side remembers the dead in Bowling Alley and an endless record of vindictiveness.

Before the State Department can “confront” de Gaulle it must resolve the moral dilemma troubling its own people. De Gaulle is not interested in morals. He is interested in leverage. It’s going to be an interesting diplomatic season.

[January 29, 1964]


“San Francisco Fifty Years Ago” is an ongoing project of posting all of Kenneth Rexroth’s columns for the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967). Each of the columns is being posted on the 50th anniversary of its original appearance. Copyright 1960-1967 Kenneth Rexroth. Reproduced here by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.

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