Fall 2017–Winter 2018

Leftovers / I Was Opened

The beauty of what remained


“Leftovers” is a column that investigates the cultural significance of detritus.

I repudiate the violence. Now. But then it felt different. Then, we were violent. I was violent. There were those among us who were intent to kill. There were those among us who did kill. This is important to remember. To state. We had, many of us, declared war on the United States. Are you listening? Declared war on the United States. From within. Which is to say, our intention was to destroy the capitalist, racist, imperialist enterprise of Amerika. We thought of ourselves as revolutionaries. We were revolutionaries. Now the preferred term is terrorist. Then, that word was little used. But as currently defined, it fits us, as we were at that time.

We failed, of course. And I have come to believe we were deeply wrong in many ways. We did fundamental wrongs. Crimes. Sins, even. Acts that I would not now try to defend. Shooting people. Bombings. Yes, we were seeking justice—we did these things in the name of “justice.” Yes, we sought an end to the deranged and sadistic and genocidally brutal war in Southeast Asia. Yes, we correctly diagnosed the foundational maladies of the nation: psychotic greed; a schizophrenic yawing back and forth between megalomania and fawning sycophancy; the inbred and delusional fantasy of God’s special love for righteously violent white men. But despite the good intentions and the hard-won insights, we failed. And we failed ugly. One of the ironies? Most of us turned out to be righteously violent white men, enmeshed in delusional fantasies of our own transcending grandeur. We treated the women like shit, and we condescended to our black brothers. But that was the least of it, frankly. After all, the alternative regimes in which we placed our hope were, if anything, still more appalling than the geyser of self-satisfied cruelty we hoped to cap; the ideologies we then espoused have proven, under scrutiny (or is it just ill use?), both dehumanizing and dysfunctional. The toll of the damage we did was, in the end, when one thinks at the scale of nations, worlds, war, relatively small. But had we secured success along the lines of the heroes we lionized, I have no doubt but that the bodies would have been stacked like cordwood. Picture mass graves in the Maoist re-education camps we’d have built in wherever we’d have built them. Georgia. Alabama. Mississippi.

Rodin’s unrestored Thinker at the Cleveland Museum of Art. On the night of 24 March 1970, a bomb placed on its plinth destroyed the figure’s bottom half.

It is difficult to recover the moment. To return to the state of mind, the climate, the sense of possibility. For a time, for two years, really, (perhaps a little more) it seemed as if revolution was actually possible. Was upon us. It seemed that Amerika might fall. The riots of ’68 had given us a taste of our power, and a tiny taste of blood. From there, each incremental high-water mark is a matter of public record. These events are history: the formation of the Weather Underground in the summer of 1969; our clandestine delegations to meet Cuban and North Vietnamese leaders; plans for armed alliance with the Panthers; the “Days of Rage” in Chicago, and mounting clarity that our job was to “bring the war home”—to make the complacent stateside pigs bleed. A severed limb in Khe Sanh, we wished to demonstrate, was phenomenologically no different than a severed limb in Newburyport. Ethically and politically, we believed the latter to be infinitely easier to defend. 

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