Sunday, August 23, 2015

Remembering the Sterling Hall Bombing 45 Years Later

At 3:42 AM on Monday, August 24, 1970 a 2,000 pound bomb made of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel, the same formula used later at the Murrah building in Oklahoma City on a larger scale, exploded from within a Ford Econoline next to Sterling Hall in the central area of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  While the target was the (Army) Mathematics Research Center (the Army had been officially removed from its name some years earlier, although its critics called it "Army Math"), the section of the building where its offices were located were on higher floors than those damaged by the bomb, with the damage concentrated on labs of the physics department.  One graduate student, Robert Fassnacht, working on superconductivity and a married father of three who strongly opposed the war in Vietnam, was killed in the blast.  Three others were injured, one of them, Paul Quin, later a physics professor at UW, now emeritus, who has never spoken of the bombing publicly to this day.  The entire lab of nuclear physicist Henry Barschall, who had worked on the Manhattan Project, was completely destroyed, with this triggering him to change his field of work to medical physics after he took a two year leave.

Those who set the bomb were four young men who had come to be known as the New Year's Gang.  The oldest and founder of the group was Madison eastside local (his father worked at the Oscar Mayer wiener plant), Karleton Armstrong, with his younger brother, Dwight, who had been working with him in a series of earlier bombing efforts that started the previous New Year's Eve, hence their name.  They were also joined later by Leo Burt from near Philadelphia, who had been on the university crew team, and who has not been caught to this day, making him the longest at large person ever placed on the FBI 10-Most Wanted List.  The final member was 18-year old David Fine of Delaware, who had only joined the group in July, just before the bombing.

They were the Gang That Could Not Bomb Straight, as their misplacement of their bomb at Sterling Hall showed, but there had been earlier evidence of this in other efforts, where bombs did not  go off or were  put in wrong locations, such as one that was aimed at the Selective Service Office, but was placed across the street at the Primate Research Center lab.  Fortunately, when their earlier bombs had gone off, they did  little damage, not being of the more damaging technology of the Sterling Hall bomb, since a major favorite of many terrorist groups around the world.

If they were the Gang That Could Not Bomb Straight, the police were The Gang That Could Not Capture Straight either.  After the Gang fled the scene, they were actually briefly apprehended by police, who did not figure out who they were and let them go.  Later accounts show that there were many crossed signals and rivalries between local police and the FBI, with the latter having spent lots of effort during that year when the Gang was engaging in their earlier efforts, watching Michael Meeropol, then an economic history grad student, whose parents were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  Needless to say, this sort of thing was the last that the peaceable and much harassed Meeropol would be involved with, but apparently J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with him.

As it was, the Gang split into two pairs, the Armstrong brothers and Burt with Fine, with them making it successfully to Canada, and then later splitting further.  The first to be caught by the Canadian RCMP was Karl Armstrong in March, 1973.  He was returned to Madison where he plead guilty, but then asked for and got a mitigation hearing for his sentencing.  His lead attorney was famed radical lawyer, William Kunstler, and this hearing was turned into a general hearing on the War in Vietnam, in effect arguing the bombing was at least partly justified by the horrors of the war, and the fact that research done by mathematicians at the Center (more frequently while visiting off-campus to other locations) was for the military, with some projects having specific applications in the war.  In the end, while publicity about the war may have been achieved, Armstrong received the maximum sentence of 25 years, of which he served 7.  After getting out, for many years he ran the Loose Juice fruit stand near campus, from which he is now retired.  I shall comment further below on him and his views.

His brother, Dwight, would move to California and be captured in 1977 in San Diego. He would serve three years.  He was a troubled person with major drug problems that got him arrested more than once.  He died of lung cancer in 2010 at age 58.

David Fine also moved to California and was captured in 1976 in San Rafael.  He too would serve three  years.  He returned to Delaware to get a BA in political science, and then to Oregon where he got a law degree.  However, although he passed the bar exam, he was not allowed to practice law, with this decision upheld by a higher court due to his involvement in the bombing.  He has been a paralegal since, and still is to the best of  my knowledge.  After his capture, he was viewed  by some who met in Madison before his trial as being very arrogant, in contrast to Karl Armstrong.

As already noted, Leo Burt has never been caught.  He had been an altar boy in Philadelphia.  Especially five years ago around the 40th anniversary, the FBI made a renewed effort to find him, but he remains at large, with many theories about what has happened to him.

So, what was this all about?  I am not going to give a complete answer here, especially given that there remain many loose ends far beyond the continuing at large status of Leo Burt.  I must note that I have more information than most as I am the son of the Director of the (A)MRC at the time of the bombing, the late J. Barkley Rosser, Sr.  I was a grad student in economics at the time it happened, and I have met and even known quite well many of the characters on many sides of this.  Although at one time I had been more hawkish and conservative than my fairly conservative and hawkish father, by the time of the bombing I had turned against the War in Vietnam and become much more left/liberal in my general political views. Indeed, as criticism of the center mounted over a several year period prior to the bombing, my disagreements with my father became a matter of public record.  But I most certainly never supported violent protest as appropriate, much less against the center that my father directed.

The criticism of the center, which my father directed from 1963-1973, began in earnest in early 1969 with a series of articles in the main campus newspaper, the Daily Cardinal, by James Rowen, son of longtime Washington Post economics and business editor, Hobart Rowen, who also happened to be married to Susan McGovern, one of George McGovern's daughters.  Later, Jim would serve as Chief of Staff for Mayor Paul Soglin in his first six years, 1973-1979 (terms were two years then), and attempted to run in 1979 after Soglin stepped aside to succeed him.  Rowen lost and moved to Milwaukee, where he worked for the Milwaukee Journal for many years.  Soglin has since had two more rounds as mayor, one from 1989-1995, and he is back now since 2011, having just been reelected this past spring for his 8th term as mayor.  Whereas he was viewed as a wild-eyed radical in 1973, he is now  much trusted by the local business establishment, and his recent opponents have run against him from the left.

Rowen dug hard and unearthed the history of the Center, which indeed was funded by the US Army, and had been first set up on the campus in 1956.  Work there was to open to the public and published, but also  to be of use for the US Army.  A central point of controversy indeed was the multiple nature of the use of mathematics, that any piece of math can have many uses, both non-military as well as military.  A fairly simple example is that the mathematics of rocket trajectories is very close to the mathematics of economic growth trajectories.  There are many other such examples.  My late father's argument was that public funding for math research was needed in general, so why not tap the military if they were willing to support research of multiple uses?  Of course, the critics, led by Jim Rowen and an Assistant Professor of English, David Siff, who was forced out of his job due to this, argued that any research that could have military use in the context of the War in Vietnam was wrong.  More generally, the UW was a leading center of anti-war protest, and there was a rising drumbeat that the university should not be associated with any entity that had anything to do  with the military.  That meant ROTC, Selective Service, and, the (Army) Mathematics Research Center, or "Army Math," which "must go" as many chants in many demonstrations said.

In their debates, because Jim interviewed my (late, he died in 1989 at age 81) father several times before my father lost patience and would not see him any more, my father would emphasize that the place was open.  Soviet mathematicians could walk in the front door and talk with anybody about their research and look at the papers published by the researchers.  It was not secret, something my father was well aware of, having been involved in secret research on rockets during and after World War II and after, as well as even more secret research on cryptanalysis that none of us knew about for the NSA at the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) Communications Research Division (CRD) site in John von Neumann Hall on the Princeton University campus, 1959-1961.  I knew what he did there was secret at the time, but all I knew was that it had to do  with computers.  Only with the publication of James Bamford's revelatory The Puzzle Palace in 1983, which reported on that and talked of my father's role, did I begin to realize how secret what he had done was.  So, he considered Jim Rowen to simply be naive.  There would be no matching of the minds there. I also note that my father viewed Jim Rowen to be the truly guilty party in the bombing, having in effect misled such innocents as the Armstrong brothers in particular into doing what they did.

I will note that both my father and my mother were personally harassed and their home threatened, with sugar put gas tanks of their cars, and my father essentially assaulted by a mob at one point on campus.  I list sources on this below, but will not go into further details of this, although my father was a very tough man who was able to take a lot.  I also note that in effect the bombing did succeed in ultimately damaging the center, even if its offices were not damaged in the bombing.  Funding would be cut, and when my father stepped aside, he was unable to recruit an outside mathematician of his calibre to succeed him.  The center went into a gradual decline, moved to the edge of campus on the upper floors of the WARF building, would eventually change  its name again to the Center for Mathematical Studies in 1987, with that entity finally closing down some years  later.

Let me note the role of the bombing in the history of protests against the Vietnam War and in the development of the New Left radical movement in the US.  It can be argued that it was the culmination of both.  Many would say that the culmination came three months earlier during the demonstrations all over the US after four students were killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University.  Indeed, that was the greatest spread of demonstrations, with demonstrations even happening in places such as Madison College, now James Madison University where I teach economics, with 26 students and two faculty (both of whom were fired) sat in at the main administration building.  In Madison, Wisconsin there were pitched battles in the streets, with burning barricades and a grocery store burned down and many injured, although nobody killed, the biggest and worst of any there.  But unlike earlier demonstrations, we did not make the national news.  It was the sit-in at North Dakota State that did.  But the bombing was not about the government killing students; it was students killing another anti-Vietnam War person, and it  pretty much shocked everybody into a completely different pattern of behavior, it not into different ideologies, at least not at that time. But the movement towards a greater radicalization seems to have stopped then.
Indeed, it is worth noting how things had gone at UW-Madison.  It had long been a center of progressive politics and thought, and many east coast radicals attended school there.  Anti-war protests had started as early as 1965, initially very small and peaceful and legal.  There was  a major uptick, indeed one of national  significance, in October, 1967, after the Summer of Love, when a demonstration against Dow Chemical interviewing students became violent as police attempted to remove students from a crowded corridor who were blocking the interviews.  This spread into the outside where tear gas and billy clubs were used.  David Maraniss has reported on this in depth in his excellent 2003 They Marched into  Sunlight, Simon and Shuster, which also recounted events in Vietnam at the same time that would lead to LBJ deciding he could not win the war.  Karl Armstrong was in this demonstration.  I also happened to experience it, although accidentally.  While I had  come to oppose the war by then and did not like Dow, which made napalm, I also happened to support the right of students to interview for jobs there. So, I was on my way to an undergrad course on macroeconomics when I happened on the riot.  I got my first taste of tear gas, although I managed to avoid getting billy clubbed.  I naively went to see my father to complain about the police behavior, but he not only supported them but thought they should have been tougher.

Armstrong himself would be beaten by police in August, 1968 during the demonstrations in Chicago at the Democratic Party convention.   This experience apparently strongly radicalized him and moved him towards thinking of using violence to oppose the war.  However, I must note that one theory has it that he was perhaps more prone to this because of a history of physical abuse in his family.  This theory was put forward by Tom Bates in his 1992, Rads, Harper Collins, probably the most in-depth and thorough study of the bombing, from which portions of  this account are drawn.

In any case, I remember well that when the 1969-1970 school year began, my first as an economics graduate student, there was a general atmosphere of rising radicalism and impending violence.  Not too many of us were surprised when that coming New Year's Eve saw the beginning of the various bombings and attempted bombings by the New Year's Gang.

Let me note two further sources that present quite opposite views of the Center.  One that contains strong criticisms of the Center that came out at the time of Karl Armstrong's mitigation hearing in 1973 was The AMRC Papers, by the Science for the People Madison Wisconsin Collective.  Much of its contents reflected the Daily Cardinal articles by Rowen and Siff from several years earlier, supplemented by some additional materials.  Another much more recent one that defends the Center is The Uneasy Alliance: The Mathematics Research Center, 1956-1987, 2005, by Jagdish Chander and Stephen M. Robinson, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). Robinson was an associate director whom I knew very well and I have seen in more recent years.  I note that the Center did support research in economics, including some years after the bombing hosting a very interesting conference that led to an excellent book.  I  note that both of these works are available on the internet.

While I could say much much more, and probably I shall add more in comments, I am going to wind this main post up with some items that have not been reported in print previously, although certainly there are other people who have known them.

The first is really sort of trivial, even slightly soap operatic.  It involves the main victim of the bombing, physics grad student Robert Fassnacht.  It might not have been him to die.  I have been told that he was not supposed to be there that evening.  His major professor was the late William (Bill) Yen, who died in 2008.  Bill was married to an administrative assistant in the economics department, Ann.  Their marriage was troubled and would end in divorce a few years later.  In any case, he was supposed to go to the lab that evening, but in a marital dispute she demanded that he stay home to help their marriage, which led him to call the unfortunate Robert Fassnacht to take his place.

The second is  more serious, and involves a matter  that is really unresolved and may never be.  It involves the real view of Karl Armstrong about what he did. The Wikipedia entry on the bombing presents the following quote that appeared in a 1986 article by Michael Fellner in the Milwaukee Journal called "The Untold Story: Part II."

"I still feel we can't rationalize someone getting killed, but at that time we felt we should never have done the bombing at all.  Now I  don't feel that way.  I feel it was justified and should have been done.  It just should have been done responsibly."

Now, it may be that this is his view today, or maybe it has changed, and maybe it continues to change.  I do not know as I have not seen him for quite a few years, much less discussed it with him.  However, in July 1989, he had a different line.  Somebody (I do not know and I went digging around the internet and could find almost nothing on this) organized a "radicals reunion," actually a two day conference, in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union at UW-Madison.  There were sessions and speeches, and a whole bunch of people who had been involved in the demonstrations in the 60s came to town and participated.  That was a politically sensitive time, with nations in the Soviet bloc beginning to break away from Soviet control, and this issue split the harder line leftists from the more moderate types, and of course, many people had become much less radical by then (myself included).

Anyway, there was a banquet one evening downtown, which I attended with my then pregnant wife.  Recently elected for a second round Mayor Paul Soglin, whom I was and remain good friends with, was also  there with his also pregnant wife, along with a bunch of other people.  My wife and I were sitting at a table with some old friends and eating and all that, when in the middle of the thing up comes Karl Armstrong and sits at our table for a few minutes, basically chatting about nothing.  Right after that he went up to the podium, where periodically somebody would get up and blather on about something or other.  He made a statement that sounded more like his earlier view.  He apologized for his actions, and I heard no hint of any exception or "it might have been OK if we did it right." He said that what he did was wrong, no ifs ands or buts or excuses. Part of the apology was actually to the anti-war movement for the damage the bombing had done to it.  But he also went on and apologized to the family of Robert Fassnacht and quite a long list of others, pretty much anybody one could think of whom he might have apologized to.  They all got it, whether they heard of it or not.  This speech was followed by dead silence, and he walked out of the room after he gave it.

A final miniscule tidbit is that Robert Fassnacht's widow, Stephanie, worked for many years at the UW Institute for Research on Poverty, which still exists.  Jim Rowen's wife, Susan McGovern, also worked there for a number of years. I do not know how they interacted to the extent that they did.

J. Barkley Rosser, Jr.

Two Addenda just before noon, 8/24

1)  A very loose end is rumors that somehow the FBI or other police agencies were somehow involved in the bombing as agents provocateurs or something else.  The wildest such rumor is that it was the missing Leo Burt, this providing an explanation of why he has not been found.  There were a lot of strange things going on and the police at various levels had infiltrated and done odd things in connection with the student protest movement.  But in the end I accept what Karl Armstrong told Tom Bates as reported in the last chapter of Rads.  He was responsible for what happened, and he does not think Burt was working for anybody else either, even if there do remain a lot of strange loose ends about the whole thing.  I think a sign of the FBI at least not being involved at least with Burt is their renewed effort to find him a few years ago, this I think being a real embarrassment for them.  There have been lots of theories about what has happened to him, but if  he died somewhere with those around him not knowing his true identity, we may never know.  Otherwise, well, maybe we shall learn about some of those remaining loose ends eventually.  Not all the shoes have dropped on this.

2) The second is that peaceful Michael Meeropol and his younger brother, the "reddest of red diaper babies" as Tom Bates said, recently had a New York Times column calling for the exoneration of  their mother, Ethel Rosenberg, who was framed by her brother and partly executed because she would not testify against her husband.  They were raised thinking their parents were innocent, but eventually came to accept that their father was indeed a Soviet "atom spy," if a not very important one.  However, they are eloquent, and defensibly so, in their defense of  their mother's reputation and that her execution, which was botched, was something reprehensible, a low point of McCarthyism in the US during the height of the Cold War.


Peter Dorman said...

Thanks for this recap, Barkley. As you know, I was very much around all of this activity, but from a rather different vantage point.

A few quick comments: (1) I knew Leo somewhat as a fellow journalist. We would have what I have since come to recognize as reporter chats, where we'd test out our ideas on each other. I thought at the time he was exceptionally perceptive and level-headed. It never made sense to me that he was connected to the bombing, and I've always wondered whether it was a case of engaged journalism that got too engaged. (2) My knowledge of Michael Fellner ended after the mid-70s, and perhaps he changed and grew. But the Fellner I knew back in the day attached no particular value to truthfulness. He admitted this openly, although I doubt he would have seen it as "admitting". Based on this, I'd want corroboration for any claim he made about Karl Armstrong or any other topic. OK, I had some rough edges myself back them (ahem) and would like to think I've evolved, so I shouldn't be harsh. But skepticism is in order. (3) I think the bombing had a big effect on the radical left because the reality of what it did (especially killing Fassnacht) cut through the fantasizing that passed for political analysis back then. Also, for some reason the left was unable to present a narrative that could be heard against that of the government. After the bombing you were either for working through "the system" (e.g. McGovern) or you were a terrorist. (And it didn't help that a substantial chunk of the radical left said, OK we're terrorists, so let's get on with it.)

I realize my vantage point is not the only one, but I have to say that I have never read any published account of this period that jibes with what I personally saw and experienced. It's an episode that will vanish when all of us who were part of it are finally dead. said...


You say you have not seen any published account that jibes with your experience. As you seem to more or less support certain arguably controversial statements I have made in this admittedly abbreviated account, is there anything in mine that you would disagree with. Mine is, of course, highly idiosyncratic and personal.

I never met Let Burt, although I did meet at least once the other three (in the cases of both Fine and Dwight, just once each, with my impression of Fine being what others thought of him, insufferably full of himself). He was a reporter at the Daily Cardinal, where I think Fine also worked, and he was the one who pulled Fine in. He would of course have known Jim Rowen there as well, which puts Jim even closer to being in a position of influence on the whole thing, although I do not believe he was party to or aware of what was going on in any detail or who was in the New Year's Gang, although I think that Mark Knops who edited the underground newspaper, Kaleidoscope, which released statements during the year from the Gang did. Knops was also a leader of the campus SDS, and I first met him when I was an undergrad in the honors section of Jack Barbash's Capitalism and Socialism class, for which I was later a grader. He was quite quiet most of the time I ever interacted with him.

I knew Fellner only slightly, but I am not going to disagree with your statement about him. Among the stories I did not tell here are some that would embarrass some other well-known and full-of-themselves figures from back then, but there are limits.

It is also easy to forget that on the radical left indeed things were pushed to people either being "moderates" and working for McGovern for President in 1972 (who of course got slaughtered in the election against Nixon) or being "terrorists" (although actually that word was not used that much back then, but underground violent revolutionaries in any case who would bomb buildings and kill people arbitrarily). It is easy to forget now that back then the UW campus was full of all sorts of leftist groups that barely exist at all anywhere, if they even do. I believe there were at least three different factions of Trotskyists at that time, although one of those was the followers of Lyndon LaRouche, whom it has long been forgotten since he moved to the far right in 1974 had a period of being a Trotskyist of sorts, and wrote a book called Dialectical Materialism under the pen name of "Lynn Marcus" (a takeoff on Lenin Marx). If there are any Trotskyist groups still operating on campus now, well, they are not putting up any signs in public advertising their meetings as they used to back then.

Peter Dorman said...

When I dissed the published accounts, Barkley, I wasn't referring to yours! I had in mind the various print books and articles that have come out over the years. They don't describe what I lived through.

Leo Burt struck me as very smart and reliable. If he were a police plant he would have been one of the highest quality undercover agents ever. Of course, I'm going on memories from 45 years ago when my judgment was regularly impaired....

Mark Knops was a major cheerleader for the New Years Gang and for a time embraced insurrectionary politics, but my impression is that his circles didn't overlap with the people who actually did "stuff". In fact, it eventually all became too much for Mark -- he abruptly left town (depositing some of his papers with me) and took a job as a surveyor out west. The post-Army Math intensity didn't sit well with him.

About the radical left in Madison: while there were various Marxist groups (particularly RYM II, which ran SDS for a time), most of the people I knew who were politically active were not part of any organization or even "tendency" at all. No doubt this sped up the demise of the movement, but the point I want to make here is that, if you're a journalist or a historian, and if you try to tell the story of the radical left by researching its organized expressions, you'll miss most of what was going on.

Denis Drew said...

Wild Bill Westmoreland thought he could win the war by attrition – killing NVA faster than they could replace them. Forgot that the North Vietnamese were a biological entity who could produce a new crop of 18 years olds every year forever – and Uncle Ho would not hesitate to throw them all into the meat grinder. Read The Sorrow of War an autobiographical novel by Bao Ninh (I learned about from A. Bourdain), whose Glorious 27th Youth Brigade went out with 500 and came back with 10.

No Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh’s early tactics in the North would send his hit team into a village, read off a list of boys who participated in some government sports or education program, shot the boys, and when the village got the idea the hitters move on to the next while the maintainers took over. Upon winning the election Ho had 50,000 peasants shot for being “capitalist exploiters” going by a formula of how many pigs you owned, etc. – and sent 100,000 to the camps. 98% of the peasants in the North owned the land they tilled (70% in the South); but communists must have their land reform. A year later Ho’s own home province revolted, crushed by an army division that killed 6,000 peasants. Read The Two Vietnams by Bernard Fall – up to p, 225.

The Tet Offensive had the opposite effect on the resolve of the South Vietnamese public that it had on America. It made the people in the cities hate the Vietcong as much as the people in the countryside allowing the army to be doubled in size. Read A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam by Lewis Sorley.

After Westmoreland was bounced upstairs, the South Vietnamese went to work kicking the VC out of the countryside. Perfectly doable: all ISIS violence without the religion. In the movie Full Metal Jacket the VC took possession of Hue and called in teachers and postmen and anyone who worked for the government for re-education and shot them all. In the movie scene at the mass grave the body count is quoted at 20. Wiki quotes it as high as 6,000.

Success against the VC evaporated the supplies of the – millions over time – North Vietnamese regulars whose supplies could no longer be cached in the countryside; they were eating grass. Read The Village by Bing West for local defense stories.

Last gasp: mid-1972 the North made a full scale conventional invasion with tanks and all – like North Korea. Driven off inflicting 50% casualties.

New life for Uncle Ho’s boys: early 1973 the US Congress stripped South Vietnam of financial and air support – letting them twist slowly, slowly in the wind. According to a book by ex-CIA Frank Snepp, A Decent Interval, decades ago, we had a guy on the North Vietnamese politibureau who reported they had thrown in the towel – until they discovered the South was rationing bullets and artillery rounds. Still took three more years (and three more crops of 18 years olds) before they came back and rolled over what was left of the South Vietnamese military like nothing was in the way.

My personal opinion is that the South Vietnamese desired just as much to stay free of the North’s self-destruct economic system and repressive police state as the South Koreans ever wanted to be.

Sandwichman said...

My personal opinion is that Denis Drew has swallowed a mega-dose of "Vietnam syndrome" revisionist bullshit kool-aide. said...


I think your comment is a sideshow. This thread is about specific events in the anti-war movement 45 years ago, not the whole war itself, and I am not going to get drawn into any back and forth on that. Let me note that if you want to push your point, then you should realize that you are declaring the dead Robert Fassnacht to have been as bad and immoral a person as those who killed him.

Regarding post-1973 events, let me simply note that Vietnam is not Korea. The Korean war was not a guerrilla war. It came to an end in 1953 with a clear border and no US combat deaths since, even though we have troops there today. US forces were dying in Vietnam from 1959 through 1972, when they were still there to help hold off that invasion. With a half million troops we could not shut down that guerrilla war, even if we could resist their major assaults. There is no reason to believe that even with US aid, the South Vietnamese would have been able to permanently resist the Northerners without an ongoing US troop presence.

As for comparing economic performance, if South Vietnam had remained unconquered, it would not look like South Korea. Maby more like Thailand, which is arguably better than today, but today's Vietnam, following Chinese policies, looks a whole lot better than semi-Stalinist North Korea. Ironically today the US is quite friendly with Vietnam, and the most likely gainer from the controversial TPP is probably Vietnam.

Sandwichman said...

Denis Drew: "in early 1973 the US Congress stipped South Vietnam of financial and air support."

Ken Hughes: "In the fiscal year running from July 1, 1974, to June 30, 1975, the congressional appropriation for military aid to South Vietnam was $700 million." - See more at:

Drew does Mel Laird one better by advancing the cut-off date two years from 1975 to early 1973!

"Since partisans have turned the April 30, 1975, Communist takeover of South Vietnam into a political weapon, I’m going to spend the anniversary doing a little myth-busting.

"Mel Laird, Richard Nixon’s defense secretary, started the modern myth that 'Congress snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by cutting off funding for our ally in 1975' in a 2005 article in Foreign Affairs, the journal of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations.

"Laird repeated it two years later in a Washington Post op-ed column in which he wrote 'of 1975, when Congress cut off funding for the Vietnam War three years after our combat troops had left.'

"It was the perfect political meme. It was simple and sound bite size. It built on a an existing template, the staple of Republican rhetoric charging that Democrats since Franklin D. Roosevelt have 'snatched defeated from the jaws of victory.' And it was a seeming-fact that appeared relevant to a hot an ongoing debate—in this case, proposals to force President Bush to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq by setting a deadline in an appropriations bill.

"It wasn't true, but that never stopped a meme."

Thornton Hall said...

My year on Williamson St across a vacant lot from the Crystal Corner (1996-97) was a little different.

I have some father issues about the bombing myself, as my father was a grad student work in the Dean of Mens Office at KU at the time. Born during WWII and not a Boomer, his comment on "the 60s" has always been: "I was just trying to keep people from killing each other." The polarizing environment made him "the man." The subsequent nomination of McGovern was crucial in cementing this status/political world view. His father, who had once run for judge in MO as a Democrat, domineering patriarch of a seven child Catholic Democratic family, said McGovern had gone "too far" and freed my father to vote mostly GOP from 72 to the present.

I am also struck by the role played by the police throughout the period. Ed Kilgore has had several posts about the warrior model of policing that has been standard training for a long time. Almost all police in the U.S. are actually trained to escalate confrontations until they establish complete control. This was true in the 60s. The consequences include Selma, the radicalization discussed in the OP but also (IMHO) helped ruin the press.

The 68 Convention is correctly described as a police riot that (intentionally or not) targeted the press camped out in Grant Park much more than leftist radicals. Is it any wonder that the narrative turned sharply against the ability of the government to help people even as the New Deal and Great Society were obvious success stories by any objective measure?

Just yesterday I heard David Remnick (on Alec Baldwin's excellent podcast) comment that the press had "uncovered" the Pentagon Papers! The actual hero, a government contractor, written right out of the press's internal history!

Would a well trained police force changed the course of history? It might have saved Robert Fassnacht's life. It might not have turned the press against the institution responsible for lifting millions out of object poverty. Such a press might have been far less receptive to the huckster of anti-governmentism St Reagan.

If there one thing those lefty radicals got right, it was their hatred of the cops. Not as people, certainly, but as an institution built a foundation of fear not found in the police forces of more homogenous Western countries. said...


Ah, a Madison connection. I can tell you that the Crystal Corner Bar still exists, although apparently Millennials view it as kind of old hat full of old farts. The Williamson-Marquette neighborhood has just been named one of the ten best in the US by somebody or other, and some are now worrying that it is in danger of getting gentrified and losing its old character.

BTW, at one point I was told by somebody that the term "political correctness," was coined in that neighborhood back in the 1970s, initially in all seriousness, not ironic or negative, bugt I am not able to verify that. Probably one of those urban legends/Willy Street rumors... :-).

Sandwichman said...

"correct thought" -- a translation from Mao -- was already being satirized by anarchists in mid 1969 (in Chicago).

Thornton Hall said...

The Crystal Corner wasn't exactly the hippest spot back in the mid-90s either, especially in the afternoons when I did much of my drinking in those days... They passed out 3 x 5 cards for Final Jeopardy with a free drink for the correct response. They did have fantastic live music, though. But my Willy St memories get a bit hazy on the specifics. said...

I think they still play reasonably decent music at the CC, Thornton.

S-man, probably. Maybe that stuff filtered to Mad City from Chi-town. I don't know.

Sandwichman said...


See the "proposed resolution" I posted. said...


Read your resolution and related remarks above and simply note that the term used is "correct," not "politically correct." So, maybe Willy Street still has the honor on this last one.

Oh, and why not Esperanto rather than Durruti, whatever the heck it is/was? Too imperialistic (I have heard it claimed that Esperanto is close to Romanian, which in turn is close to Latin, supposedly)?

Sandwichman said...

Durruti was a Spanish anarchist active in the 1930s struggle against Franco, not an Amerindian language. Esperanto would have made the joke too obvious -- even to "squares".

I would argue that "politically correct" is simply a variation (and somewhat of a euphemism) on the notion of "correct revolutionary thought." It the difference between bullshit and bollocks as far as I'm concerned.

Sandwichman said...


"Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice and from it alone. They come from three kinds of social practice: the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment."

"It is man's social being that determines his thinking. Once the correct ideas characteristic of the advanced class are grasped by the masses, these ideas turn into a material force which changes society and changes the world."

Peter Dorman said...

Ah, all this wonderful nostalgia-izing. While we would drop in from time to time at the CC, the real lumpen-hip hangout was Dolly's. You had to eat those home fries before the grease solidified. It closed at some point during the 70s, I recall, due to unpaid taxes.

Political correctness: I have no idea whether it was my hood that coined this. We were always making fun of uptight Marxism and its language of correctness. (This goes back a ways further: see Lifeitselfmanship by Jessica Mitford. Better, read her Fine Old Conflict, a wonderful book.) "Correct" became a common putdown. But our target was always a narrow, doctrinaire analysis of political issues, not sensitivity to oppression and inequality. We did not give birth to Donald Trump. said...

I think that Dolly's is no more, Peter, while the Crystal Corner continues.

As it is, maybe we are getting pedantic and stuffy, but indeed Donald Trump does not defend his outrageous remarks by saying that we have "too much correctness" in the US. That word "political" got in there somewhere and somehow along the line, and it was not from Mao.

Sandwichman said...

God, you are a stubborn old codger, Rosser. ;-)

My argument would be that "political correctness" was almost always a critical (or pejorative) attribution rather than a self description. The adjective "political(ly)" would have been redundant when M-L'ers were referring to correct ideas, thought or thinking. In the non-dogmatic left circles I frequented PC was a derogatory term used to refer to dogmatists.

Check this out:

"Students in China," C. P. Mackerras, The Australian Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Sep., 1967), pp. 96-106

"While I was in China three qualifications were placed upon prospective entrants to the Institute. They were (1) political: students had to be firm supporters of the government; (2) technical: they had to show an aptitude for language study; and (3) health. When I showed surprise at the first of these, I was told that the more politically correct a student is the harder he will work. I do not doubt that this is so, but the demand for political purity as a qualification is nevertheless a good way of breeding a generation of intellectuals which can be reliable and useful to the government." said...

OK, Sandwichman, guess you got me with that 1967 quote. This leads me to a theory, as this is an academic in Australia writing this as to how the term started getting used in the US.

I think it might have been the Maoists in Madison, of whom there were plenty. They were the folks who would defend Stalin against pretty much everybody else, often a very self-righteous and stuffy bunch with very little, if any, humor. It may well have been some Maoists in the Willy Street neighborhood of Madison who first started using it in all seriousness sometime in the early 70s, althyough perhaps not the first in the whole US, but early on. I can see it spreading to some related Way Too Earnest Types, some of whom I know, whom I can well imagine using it without irony.

However, obviously, pretty quickly, the more widespread use would have picked up using the term to mock precisely the Maosist stuffed shirts who would have used it so seriously. I do not know if this is correct, but it would resolve the issue, I think. said...

My source for the claim, a longtime activist who lived in the neighborhood and knew some of the people discussed in the main post can not be checked on to verify my theory, as this individual is no longer among the living. Oh well.

Sandwichman said...

Yep, I would pretty much agree with your speculation, Barkley. My one qualification -- and it's only an intuition -- is that the "political" would have been understood for the Maoists and the Way Too Earnests for who "the personal is political" and would only have to be added as a modifier by the mockers.