Monday, February 6, 2012

Bob Dylan, nuclear drills and the commie invasion

I watched Martin Scorsese's documentary, No Direction Home,  about Bob Dylan's life last night.  As a person that grew up in the 60's, and consider myself fortunate to have grown up in that decade, the show took me back in time and brought back memories of great pleasure and also some sadness. It definitely confirmed my belief that the sixties was a special decade historically; a revolutionary decade, the civil rights movement in the US, Malcolm X and the Panthers.  In 1968 there was the general strike in France when 10 million workers took over the workplaces and factories after the events were set in motion by the students.  Then there were the colonial revolutions, the rise of the women's movement and of course, the Vietnam War etc.

There were revolutionary changes in music and film and even in football when Georgie Best, one of the world's greatest footballers came on the scene.  Best with his long hair, fondness for women and booze broke from the Bobby Charlton, Stanley Mathews image that was a remnant of the early conservative post war period. Clean cut guys and Brylcreem.

As I watched the clips of Dylan, Joan Baez and others growing up in the late 50's early 60's it sort of fascinated me how different it was for young Americans than my experiences growing up in Britain.  Dylan talked about having to go through these drills at school where the kids would have to get on the floor and assume the position that, as ridiculous as it sounds would save them during a nuclear attack I suppose.They showed some clips of it, it looked like something out of a sci-fi movie to me.

I lived two miles from a US air base, Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire.  During the Cuban missile crisis and the Gary Powers incident it was pretty dodgy up there. "We're an aircraft carrier for the United States" my dad used to say referring to all the US bases we had.  He was always very pro-American as he was in  prison camp in Japan during the war with some Yanks and when the US liberated his camp and took him to Mindanao, the American personnel were very kind to him.

What must this trauma have done to those poor kids?
I suppose if the Russkies were going to drop a nuclear bomb on anyone we'd have got it to but we had no drills. There was not this sense of panic in my life that we thought they were going to do that.  I remember when I was eleven I wrote a letter to Kruschev asking him not to test one of his nuclear weapons but he mustn't have got the letter. I didn't like that they were exploding all these devices, But I never really though the Russians would want to start a nuclear war any more than Iran would.  But as I watched scenes of US kids at school sitting up from their desks and then all getting on the floor it seemed absurd to me and I wonder how this social phenomenon affected mass consciousness.  There is a fortress mentality that the US capitalist class and its media creates over here, everybody hates us because we have freedom.  We must distrust everybody.

After watching the show I snooped around on Wikipedia like I often do.  I checked out Joan Baez and saw that her first direct action protest was when she refused to leave her seat in class during one of those drills and just sat there reading her book.  Apparently she was punished and ostracized by the community for being a "Communist infiltrator."  This fear of Communists present in the US amazed me. Although I grew up in a house that didn't like 'em, I can't recall mum and dad being that paranoid about it although when I became political my mum would say to me, "Why don't you go and live on a desert Island with all your communist friends?" More recently, in 2008 Baez said, according to Wikipedia:

"Through all those years, I chose not to engage in party politics.... At this time, however, changing that posture feels like the responsible thing to do. If anyone can navigate the contaminated waters of Washington, lift up the poor, and appeal to the rich to share their wealth, it is Sen. Barack Obama."

It shows that you need more than courage and dedication when it comes to the political aspect of the class struggle doesn't it?

I remember first coming to the US and people telling me that Sweden was socialist and the health care system in Britain was socialist.  I was shocked when I arrived and had to go to a hospital and the first thing they wanted to know was could I pay, I'd never been asked such a thing.  When it became apparent I couldn't they sent me to Queens General, a public hospital. (NYC).

I'm at the courthouse as I got called in for jury duty. I rode the train over and as I looked around I saw that almost everyone had a cell phone and others were reading, no one but a couple of young people standing up were talking to each other.  My eyes caught a young teenager sitting by the window and she was clearly crying and trying to hold back tears staring out the window in the hope that no one would see.

"What happened in her life to make her so sad?"  I asked myself.  I wanted to ask her and tell her its OK everyone in here has cried about such things.  It's natural for us to feel empathy, to respond when people cry.  Why would it not, we all cry when we are hurt or sad?   But this idea that it is weakness, and that we are individuals, that we can "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps" and handle our problems alone is shoved down our throats day in day out.  The more we buy it the more isolated we become because humans are collective creatures.  I blogged some time ago about Warren Buffet's son who wrote a book, "Life is What You Make it."  The title explains how attached he is to this ridiculous idea that we are in control of our own destiny as individuals. They have to propagate it to justify that their wealth and privilege is a product of their superior individual qualities not the exploitation of the collective and their class role.

All he got, he tells us, was a small "nest egg" from Warren when he graduated from Stanford in 1979.   This helped him pull up his bootstraps but the rest was all his own doing.  The nest egg of $90,000 in 1979 was not something the children of most Americans got and is probably about $400,000 in today's dollars, who knows. And honestly, what does he expect us to believe about his job hunting experiences.  Did his job interview go like this?:

Employer: "So you want to join the firm do you Mr. er, what was your name?"
"Buffet, sir",
my dads Warren Buffet.

Employer: "I'm awfully sorry son, we want to hire someone from a poor background and give them a chance in life, you'll have to apply somewhere else."

Oh well, gotta go.  If I tell them I'm a commie I wonder if I'll get picked for the jury.

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