Happy Memorial Day: Kill Anything That Moves

Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2013), by Nick Turse, is an amazing book. I hated reading it. I hope every reader feels the same, and that he has lots of readers. This is the book that pulls together all the threads of horror stories that the antiwar movement shouted to our home communities, to our elected leaders, and to our war-supporting corporate newspapers that censored us and provoked us to create the independent, antiwar underground press.

KillAnythingThatMoves

Throughout every chapter I kept saying, “I get the point. Do I have to read more?”

But I felt obligated to finish it. As a good American who loves my country even while I despise our corporate foreign policy, I felt obligated. As a Jew who is motivated more by our tradition of “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you” (Jesus stole this one from Hillel and got rid of the double negatives; as a professional editor, I would have done the same) than I am by mindless rituals of religious fanatics who cite God and creative bigotry to claim control over where Palestinians live and Jewish women pray, I felt obligated. As a practicing zen phony who sees everyone and everything as part of the same whole, I felt obligated.

Every chapter recounted instances of American atrocities against the Vietnamese people. The message was that My Lai, the massacre that shocked our collective conscience when it was exposed, was not an exception. It was the rule. And, in fact, it wasn’t even the worst example of the rule. Turse names names and provides statistics. Most touching were the interviews with Vietnamese survivors. It was easier to condone their deaths, or to not be moved to action by them, when they were faceless. It is impossible now if you have any humanity, though it is still possible with our recent and current wars in the Mideast. Those books remain to be written.

The military followed what Turse called the “mere-gook rule,” or MGR:

The notion that Vietnam’s inhabitants were something less than human was often spoken of as the “mere-gook rule,” or, in the acronym-mad military, the MGR. This held that all Vietnamese—northern and southern, adults and children, armed enemy and innocent civilian—were little more than animals, who could be killed or abused at will. The MGR enabled soldiers to abuse children for amusement; it allowed officers sitting in judgment at courts-martial to let off murderers with little or no punishment; and it paved the way for commanders to willfully ignore rampant abuses by their troops while racking up “kills” to win favor at the Pentagon.

To show that this attitude went all the way to the top, in his next paragraph, he quotes General William Westmoreland, who commanded the U.S. military effort in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968 and then went on to serve four years as U.S. Army Chief of Staff: “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does the Westerner. Life is plentiful, life is cheap in the Orient. As the philosophy of the Orient expresses it, life is not important.”

And so during the Vietnam War years we read in the corporate media about how the Vietnamese would walk behind their children so that any bombs that lay hidden in the fields would be detonated by the touch of the children and spare the adults. In Kill Anything That Moves, Turse reveals that it was the GIs who made the Vietnamese walk in front.

We leveled hamlets, killed northerners (the “enemy”) and southerners (our “allies”) equally, indiscriminately murdered noncombatants, raped women, and, yes, killed babies.

As I read about one atrocity after the next, I wondered how I would summarize them in a review. Would I choose one instance over another and call it the worst? Would I list several and call them typical? Would I reel off a string of statistics so gruesome that they become numbing?

In the end, I closed the book and my eyes, then opened both and pointed. I found my finger pointing to page one of chapter 6, titled “The Bummer, the ‘Gook-Hunting’ General, and the Butcher of the Delta.” I encourage you to get the book so you can read about the latter two perverts.

The Bummer was

Sergeant Roy Bumgarner of the army’s 1st Cavalry Division and then 173rd Airborne Brigade in Binh Dinh Province, a soldier who reportedly amassed an astonishing personal body count of more than 1,500 enemy KIAs [killed in action], sometimes logging more kills with his six-man ‘wildcat’ team than the rest of his 500-man battalion combined.

Private Arthur Williams, a GI who was repulsed by what he saw (and he was hardly the exception; the same was true of many GIs throughout the war), reported on Bumgarner’s leading role in multiple incidents of murder of unarmed farmers and children and was labeled a malcontent.

The extended passage goes on to give further examples of Bumgarner’s actions and note GIs who leveled charges against him. At his subsequent trial, however, “superior officers and fellow sergeants lined up to praise the thirty-eight-year-old sergeant as a model combat leader.” In his own testimony, he showed off the medals he had earned, including a Silver Star, the third-highest military decoration awarded for valor in combat. One of the witnesses was a GI who had formerly spoken out against Bumgarner. By the time of the trial, he had, assumedly under pressure, recanted his testimony and now supported Bumgarner.

In the end, Bumgarner was in fact convicted, but only of unpremeditated murder. He never spent a single day in prison for his crimes. Instead, for the deaths of three innocent Vietnamese civilians, he was sentenced only to be reduced in rank and fined ninety-seven dollars a month for twenty-four months. On appeal, that, in turn, was reduced to six months.

He continued to serve in Vietnam. While reduced in rank to a private, he eventually made it back to sergeant.

Just how many civilians died at Bumgarner’s hand will never be known, but we do know this: He killed innocent people simply because they were Vietnamese and then labeled them as enemy dead. He mutilated bodies and planted weapons on those he murdered to conceal his crimes. He instructed subordinates to take part in his misdeeds and then help cover them up. And he trained countless impressionable young men in his methods. The military knew all of this and still welcomed his continued service. Roy Bumgarner could have been stopped, but instead the military was his enabler.

Here I disagree with Turse. In particular, I object to the word “enabler.” The connotation is that he had a problem and the military passively encouraged it by not actively discouraging it. Think Uncle Joe the drunk who is treated as the life of the party because of his hilarious inebriation-induced antics instead of the sick alcoholic in need of help that he is. Uncle Joe’s family members may not call him out for his sickness but you know that the healthier members are at least embarrassed by him. Certainly they don’t hold him up as a shining role model for the next generation.

The military did. They didn’t just enable Bumgarner. They created him. They actively encouraged him. They benefited from his actions. They rewarded him and allowed him to train his young subordinates to become like him.

Our troops came home from Vietnam craving a welcome-home parade. They wanted to be treated like heroes, like the returning World War II veterans. But they weren’t heroes. Individuals like Private Arthur Williams performed heroic acts, but how, in general, can our GIs have been heroes when they fought on the side of the bad guys, which is where history has solidly placed the United States? Our government was the enemy. Those GIs who were drafted against their will or who enlisted willingly but had their eyes opened once they were overseas were victims. When we honor them this Memorial Day, how about offering a national “We’re sorry”? How about promising, in their honor and the memory of those who are no longer with us or are living in cardboard boxes, to never again send young soldiers—or drone missiles—off to countries where we are not wanted and that have not threatened our national security? How about honoring our veterans by giving them medical care to at least alleviate the damage that we caused them; and then providing them with decent jobs to help them live decent lives and raise decent, peace-loving families here at home?

During the Vietnam War, the antiwar community on both sides of the ocean were the heroes. In the military, the greatest heroes were those GIs, in every branch of service, who courageously turned against the war. Turse notes that “By 1971, antiwar GIs were producing hundreds of underground newspapers that encouraged disobedience and rebellion.” More clearly, as Harry Haines and James Lewes have documented (see Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 2), over 500 underground newspapers were published by or directed to members of the military, all branches. Further research by Lewes since the book’s release has uncovered at least 300 more. These GIs were heroes.

On this Memorial Day, let’s follow the parades led by veterans of the GI underground press and by members of the heroic Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the successor groups that have been inspired by subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In this coming year, let’s work to reduce the number of future veterans.

Volume 4 of Voices Series Is Out!

Volume 4 of the four-volume Voices from the Underground Series, Joe Grant’s Stop the Presses! I Want to Get Off: A Brief History of the Prisoners’ Digest International, is now out. I received my author copies last week and immediately ordered my first shipment for resale. Pre-orders were shipped out yesterday and should arrive in a few days. In my next post, I’ll give an overview of the book.

But for now I want to talk about the series as a whole, which is its own story. It’s been an amazing adventure that goes back a quarter of a century. If someone had said to me, “Ken, how about editing a series of stories on what will be seen commercially as an esoteric topic that will be hostile to the mainstream publishing world, rendering your chances of successful publication precarious, and that will take twenty-five years to complete?,” I’d have laughed and walked away. Or I would have politely pointed out my shaky financial straits and noted the infeasibility of spending so much potential income-producing time on a project that might never come to fruition let alone produce income.

Fortunately, I had no idea it would take me so long because once I started I couldn’t stop. Momentum is a powerful force; once you have the vision, you can’t pretend you don’t without resorting to mind-deadening drugs, which I’ve never used.

And the truth was, that esoteric topic from the late eighties when the Voices from the Underground Series was born—the long-forgotten underground press of the Vietnam era—was the most important news medium and antiwar organizing tool of my generation’s formative years. The antiwar community during the Vietnam era was the broadest, most diverse antiwar community in the history of our country. No exceptions. It cut across the races, the genders, the ages, the classes, the geographic regions. And there were underground papers that spoke to all of those antiwar voices.

To those of us who were active on underground papers, it was our most important formative event. We boomers have been unfairly derided for being self-centered, spoiled, divisive, and pampered, but we were selfless in stopping a war that we didn’t start, that had no business being waged, and of which our own government was the enemy. No other generation has ever done that. For that we were heroes, except to the war profiteers who ran our country and still do; the elected officials who they bought with their campaign donations; and the corporate press whose mindless support for the war was the reason the underground press was born.

So while many antiwar veterans and their allies “went inside themselves” after the war, partly through burnout from being full-time antiwar activists and partly so they could enter the corporate work force and begin raising families, the war industry rolled up their sleeves and began the work of getting us back into the military mood. (Remember what Bush #1 said when the fighting stopped after he invaded Iraq for the first time: “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”) By the time the late eighties rolled around, the country had freaked out from seeing our true soul ripped bare and believing the corporate media’s interpretation, and we collectively had swung way to the right. Reagan was president and members of my generation who had fought alongside me against the war machine were running from themselves, hiding who they were, even from their children. My students at Eastern Michigan University typified the younger generation of the time. They admired Reagan, thought Rush Limbaugh made sense, and had no idea what their parents had done during the war.

It was in that atmosphere that a publisher friend who ran a small stable of library journals, including one devoted to the needs of serials librarians, asked me—because I had written a history of the Lansing-East Lansing, Michigan-area underground press some years back—to edit a series of insider histories of underground papers so that young serials librarians would gain a better understanding of serials from the sixties and seventies. I embraced the opportunity and immediately began to reactivate and expand my network of underground press veterans. The special collections libraries at University of Michigan and Michigan State University were invaluable.

What I found, much to my delight, was a scattered community of proud activists, like me, who had never forsaken their radical, activist roots and were still passionately involved in the cause of building a progressive community in the United States. They embraced my invitation to share their stories. In all the years since the Vietnam War had ended, no one had ever asked them so they were sitting on priceless literary and historical material. My job was to read and edit their stories and then coax them to give me more: “What do you mean by that?” “Who is she?” “Please clarify.” “How did you feel then?” “What happened next?” I asked every question I could think of and then asked follow-up questions in response to their answers. Never did they say, “Hey, that’s enough already.” Instead they dug deeper and produced more material.

The result was over 600 pages of stories, laid out in an 8 ½ x 11, 2-column format, the equivalent of a 1,500-page book in the traditional 6 x 9 or 7 x 10 format, plus another 150 pages, same layout, of resource materials on the period. Instead of publishing one special issue, we ran articles for the next year and a half.

Even then, I had compiled a collection that was so massive some stories still remained unpublished. I knew we had to publish them all in book form—actually two books, one of the stories and one of the resource materials.

Unfortunately, my publisher friend balked. He began to worry that he would be sued for libel. Being a small publisher who had already gone nearly bankrupt twice to win two previous libel lawsuits, he was scared he wouldn’t survive another one, even if he won, despite the great publicity I told him he would get. His worst image was of a guy who had been a flaming SDS’er—a member of the radical group Students for a Democratic Society—twenty years ago and was now a bigwig in the Republican Party suing us for ruining his reputation.

I said, “If we can document it, it’s not libel.” But I knew my time with him was up.

I started looking for a new publisher.

I found an agent who loved the manuscript. He was talking a high five-figure advance and claiming the movie rights. “I just want to pay off the Visa,” I said.

So he sent it out to corporate publishers. Here’s what they said:

  • “an important collection of underground press histories….”
  • “an impressive piece of scholarship…”
  • One editor apologized for taking so long to return the manuscript. He said he “was busy reading it.”
  • Another said, “couldn’t put it down … extraordinary book … rave rejection.”

They loved it. But they didn’t want to publish it.

Being an agent, he was in it for the money, not the cause. He returned the manuscript and suggested that I approach a small press. I thought, if I have to go to a small press, I might as well become the press. And so I knew: to be able to tell the story of the underground press, I would need to create my own underground press all over again.

All I needed was $18,000.

It fell to Joe Grant to find an investor. Joe is an ex-prisoner from Leavenworth who in 1970 founded Penal Digest International [later Prisoners’ Digest International], an underground paper with a paid circulation of over 20,000 prisoners from all over the world. Joe was outside Attica Prison with William Kunstler, the most renowned movement lawyer of the period, during the riots there in 1971. His story begins in pre-revolutionary Cuba in 1952 when he was stationed there in the navy and met Cubans who were actively involved in the revolution.

I was working on Joe’s story with him during the time my agent was sending me the rejection letters, so he knew my whole story.

Joe found an investor to enable him to print 2,000 copies of volume one and 2,000 of volume two. We typeset it and laid it out ourselves on WordPerfect 5.1. We obtained pre-publication quotes from famous people saying nice things about us. Our logo was a white rose, in memory of a group of students in Nazi Germany named the White Rose who opposed Hitler and were killed for their convictions. In this way, we linked our generation of independent poets and writers to an earlier generation of independent poets and writers. We called the company Mica Press after the gentle and legendary Mica—which is what he changed his name to from Michael in the eighties—Kindman, who died of AIDS soon after completing his story for me, which in this second edition is volume 2 of the Voices from the Underground Series, My Odyssey through the Underground Press. We had a collective dedication page for all the contributors. Our copyright date was January 29, 1993, to commemorate the 156th birthday of Thomas Paine.

The book came out to great acclaim. The Los Angeles Times said it captured the sights and feel and texture of the period better than any book out there. The reviewer for In These Times called it the most important book on American journalism published in his lifetime. Choice magazine named it one of the top five books in the field of communication for 1993. I was giving keynote talks at political conferences.

But for the most part, the nationwide mainstream media, including most of the over 200 dailies that requested and received copies, didn’t review it. And so overall sales through the mail were modest. Most went to public and academic libraries around the world. We were beginning to build our own distribution network. The money from sales I sent back to Joe was absorbed in promotional costs.

Then, less than a year after the book hit the streets, Joe’s remaining inventory of books were confiscated from storage by the man whose mother gave Joe the money to print Voices. He claimed Joe ripped off his mother and demanded all the money back immediately.

After the man confiscated the books, his lawyer told Joe that all the books would be returned to him if he would sign a promissory note stating that he had received the money from the son and not the mother. However, since the son was a drug dealer and informer who was doing time for selling cocaine, Joe believed that signing such a note would implicate him and everything connected with Voices. All his computers and his business would be seized by the government.

In a letter to me, the son acknowledged he made a mistake (getting busted for drugs, not stealing the books from Joe) but insisted that he was really a good person who would love to share his ideas with me on how to market Voices. Joe said bullshit. “He wore a government wire when he sold his drugs to unsuspecting users,” Joe told me. “That’s general knowledge. He’s in prison because he was running a drug business on the side that the government only discovered when he sold drugs, with his wire turned off, to another informer who had his wire turned on.” Joe believed the government was after him—Joe, not the son—for past political activity and when they couldn’t get him they settled for the books. Nothing of their business arrangement was ever put down on paper.

Joe and I, however, did. As publisher he agreed that if Mica Press went out of business, I, as editor, would automatically inherit all outstanding copies. Those, of course, were the books that were confiscated.

So technically that left me in ownership of 1,000 copies of volume 1, the stories, and 1,000 copies of volume 2, the resource guide, but in possession of none of them. I did own and possess all rights to the collection.

I considered legal action against the guy who stole them but I was discouraged by well-meaning movement lawyers who warned me that, even if I could get pro bono legal help from a movement lawyer who believed in the cause, the other costs—legal briefs, travel, appeals, and others—would be so much that, even if I won and then sold all the books, I would never see financial daylight. By this time I had a growing family and a heavy debt load, which further demanded my attention.

So I reacted like any hyperactive with depressive tendencies would react. I went into a depression that took me years to climb out of. Along the way, I lost contact with my contributors. But I never lost the conviction that the stories deserved to come out again, and needed to, for a wider audience.

Today I believe that more passionately than ever before. It’s no mistake that in order to start new wars the power structure that runs this country wanted to bury the lessons of the Vietnam era, especially the one that says that common citizens, working together, can overcome our ingrained prejudices; respect our ethnic, gender, religious, and other differences; honor the environment; change the policies of a corporate-controlled war-machine government; bring our troops home from countries where we don’t belong or not send them there in the first place; and use the money we save to build our own country’s infrastructure and create services and jobs that help everyone, not just the 1%.

Five years ago I finally was able to reorganize my life to make room for a second attempt to publish the stories. My success was due to many factors.

I’m grateful to the Internet, without which there is no way I could have tracked down all of the contributors. I’m grateful to all of the writers for giving me permission to use their stories again and working patiently with me to update their stories, which by now were all dated. I’m grateful to the many photographers and artists who gave me permission to use their work, more often than not gratis. I’m grateful to Michigan State University Press for buying into my vision of changing the 600+-page volume of stories from the first edition into four separate volumes in this second revised, updated, expanded edition, and for their craftsmanship in producing the four volumes. I’m grateful to so many activists and progressive journalists from then and now for their kind words, in the forewords and afterwords to the four volumes, in reviews, and in testimonial quotes that appear on the back covers and on my website. I’m grateful to all of those restaurants that gave me unlimited booth space, electricity, and coffee to do so much of my work. I’m grateful to my friends and family for giving me encouragement. Most of all, I am grateful to Emily, David, and Carrie, who for many years didn’t have much of a husband or father because he was lost in a competing vision of love and despair and had to find his way out alone.

VOLUME 2 OF LANDMARK VIETNAM ANTIWAR OPUS HOT OFF THE PRESSES

Volume 2 of Ann Arbor author-editor Ken Wachsberger’s 4-volume Voices from the Underground Series (Michigan State University Press, 2011) is now available for purchase. Learn more about it at www.voicesfromtheunderground.com and see why I encourage you to order your copy now.

Volume 2, My Odyssey through the Underground Press, is the riveting, at times chilling, ultimately inspirational, and always captivating story of Michael “Mica” Kindman, one of the legends of the Vietnam era underground press.

In September 1963, Michael Kindman entered Michigan State University, eager about the possibilities that awaited him as one of nearly two hundred honors students from around the country who had been awarded National Merit Scholarships, underwritten by MSU and usable only there. Together, they represented by far the largest group of Merit Scholars in any school’s freshman class.

At MSU? The nation’s first agricultural land grant college?

They arrived, brilliant minds all, expecting to find a vibrant cultural and academic oasis. It wasn’t there so they were forced to look elsewhere. The Vietnam War was raging, though it hadn’t yet entered the general public’s consciousness. But the burning ghettoes already had brought civil rights to the forefront of the country’s imagination. In East Lansing, open housing crystallized a small portion of a latent radical community. Kindman became part of that community, first as a reporter for the State News, MSU’s student paper, then, two years after arriving at MSU, as the founder of The Paper, East Lansing’s first underground newspaper and one of the first five members of Underground Press Syndicate, this country’s first nationwide network of underground papers.

In early 1968, he was drawn to a paper from Boston, Avatar, that spoke often in poetry, always in spiritual and mystical terms, and he headed east to check it out. Kindman was welcomed by the staff, dug in as a member, and discovered too late that the large, experimental commune that controlled Avatar was a charismatic cult centered on a former-musician-turned-guru named Mel Lyman, whose psychic hold over his followers was being strengthened and intensified by means of various confrontations and loyalty tests.

Five years later, Kindman fled the commune’s rural outpost in Kansas and headed west, where he eventually settled in San Francisco, came out as a gay man, and changed his name to Mica. When Kindman wrote this important journey into self-discovery, he was working as a home-remodeling contractor, a key activist in the gay men’s pagan spiritual network Radical Faeries, a student, and a person with AIDS. He died peacefully on November 22, 1991, two months after submitting the final draft of his story.

Forewords are by legendary sixties-era author and satirist Paul Krassner, who is often considered the father of the underground press (a charge he disputed by demanding a blood test); and Tommi Avicolli Mecca, author, gay activist, and long-time veteran of the gay press. The preface is by series editor Ken Wachsberger.

Michael Kindman’s revealing memoir … will take you through his adventures and misadventures in the larger context of an evolutionary jump in consciousness, from hippie to the New Age, from a control freak’s cult to individual freedom, from sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll to a spiritual revolution. Ultimately, this book will serve as a multi-faceted slice of countercultural history.—Paul Krassner

Mica’s recapitulation, as he calls it, is a record of an era long past, a time when idealism wasn’t a bad word and questioning was a rite of passage for many of America’s young people. Recapitulations such as his can only help us better understand the strengths of the struggles of the past and how to avoid the mistakes that were all too often made.—Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Kindman’s story will be of particular interest to veterans of the Vietnam era, their children and grandchildren, alumni of Michigan State University, journalists, historians, teachers of writing for self-discovery, members of the gay and lesbian community, therapists with clients who are cult survivors, and anyone who has lost family members to cults, as well as anyone who is interested in reading a compelling autobiography.

The Voices from the Underground Series is collection of histories of underground papers from the Vietnam era as told by key people on each of the papers. The underground press was the independent, antiwar press of the Vietnam era that told the true story, which the corporate papers suppressed, of what our government was doing behind our backs to the Vietnamese people in our name and with our tax dollars.

Stories in the series represent the gay, lesbian, feminist, Black, Puerto Rican, Native American, military, prisoners’ rights, socialist, new age, rank-and-file, Southern consciousness, psychedelic, and other independent antiwar voices of the era as never before told. Volume 1, Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 1, was released earlier this year. Forewords in volume 1 are by Chicago Seed veteran Abe Peck, attorney William Kunstler, and Markos Moulitsas, founder of dailykos.com, one of the most important progressive blog sites of today’s new media.

Voices from the Underground was called “the most important book on American journalism published in my lifetime” by In These Times and was named one of the five most important books in the field of communication for 1993 (Choice) when it appeared in an earlier version in 1993. The Los Angeles Times said it “comes closer than anything I’ve yet read to putting the sights, sounds and texture of the ‘60s on paper.”

Editor Ken Wachsberger is a long-time author, editor, educator, political organizer, public speaker, and consultant who has written, edited, and lectured widely on the Vietnam era, the Holocaust and Jewish resistance during World War II, the First Amendment, writing for self-discovery, and other issues.

To learn more about the Voices from the Underground Series, read many more testimonials, view the entire four-volume table of contents, and get pricing information, go to www.voicesfromtheunderground.com. Then order your copies of volume 1 and 2 today—and spread the word.

Chicago Friends and Friends-to-Be: Please Join Me at Printers Row Lit Fest

Words matter, who says them, their context, their connotations.  That’s why veterans of the Vietnam era now have to write their memoirs to reclaim the story line that the right wing has twisted. But that also was a lesson we learned during the Vietnam era. And so that’s why we had to create our own media to end the war.

That media was called the underground press.

The underground press was the antiwar press, the non-corporate press, the dissident press. Underground papers were everywhere. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of them. They were published and read in high schools, in college communities, in big cities and small, in expatriate communities of Canada, and overseas.

There were over 400 papers published by or directed to members of the military, all branches, at bases in the U.S. and around the world. When the right wing said “Support the troops” even as they sent soldiers overseas to die needlessly and then spit on them by cutting the education benefits of those who survived, these were the troops I most supported.

Underground papers were unanimous in their opposition to the war but they spoke to their own unique audiences. Papers in my four-volume Voices from the Underground Series represent the gay, lesbian, feminist, Black, Puerto Rican, Native American, Asian-American, military, prisoners’ rights, psychedelic, rank-and-file, Southern consciousness, new age, and other voices of the what was known as the counterculture.

When an earlier version of Voices from the Underground first found print in 1993, the stories were met with rave reviews from those in the media who understood that the U.S. had been the bad guy in Vietnam. But the country overall was not ready to accept any U.S. image other than that created by the “greatest generation” during World War II.

Today, after a string of invasions of one form or another that include Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, Chile, Iraq, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, our image is sadly but deservedly tarnished and patroits are looking again for lessons from Vietnam.

So, soon after a review copy of volume 1 arrived at the Chicago Tribune in late January, I received an invitation from the organizer of the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Literary Fest to speak at this year’s event. I’m deeply honored and excited about the opportunity to share stories, re-unite with old friends, meet veterans and students of the period, and answer questions.

If you’re from Chicago or anywhere nearby, I hope you can make it. I’ll be appearing twice:

Saturday, 6/4/2011, 10 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.

Program:  Ken Wachsberger in conversation with Bill Ayers 

Location:  Hotel Blake

 

Sunday, 6/5/2011, 1 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.

Program:  Panel Discussion: Matthew Carlson, Matthew Ehrlich, and Ken Wachsberger moderated by Alison Cuddy, to be broadcast on C-SPAN

Location:  University Center/Lake Room

If you missed the period, this will be a major adventure for you, and a good time.

After my talk Saturday and before my talk Sunday, I’ll be hanging out with my friends from the Chicago chapter of the National Writers Union at Table 247, located on Dearborn Street between Harrison and Polk Streets.

I look forward to seeing you there. If you can’t make it but are interested in purchasing the book, you can order it through my website.

Introducing the Voices from the Underground Website

I am pleased today to introduce the Voices from the Underground website. The multi-page site is a celebration and a unique study of the underground press from the Vietnam era.

The underground press was the voice of the antiwar movement that led the long struggle to halt our own government’s crimes against the people of Vietnam. While the corporate press was largely parroting the government line about lights at the end of the tunnel and Vietnamization and enemy body counts that surpassed the total population of Vietnam, the patriots of the underground press exposed our true history of aggression, joined in solidarity with the people of Vietnam, and became the voice of peace that forced our government to withdraw our troops.

The task they faced was the task that today’s bloggers face in our efforts to get our government out of Iraq and Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Underground papers were a phenomenon made possible by what was then the new technology of offset printing. Suddenly, owning your own paper was not a possibility reserved for the rich and powerful. Left-wing, radical, liberal, progressive communities all over the country started their own papers to oppose the war but also to strengthen their emerging communities and liberation movements. Through networks like Underground Press Syndicate, Liberation News Service, and others, they joined together as a network, sharing resources and knowledge and strength. All underground papers were united in solid opposition to the war. They were a powerful force, locally and nationally. They were everywhere.

And yet today they are little known. In fact, the entire antiwar movement is little known, and for good reason. No corporate government wants its citizens to know that if they unite and speak up they can overcome their government’s imperial tendencies. So, today the Vietnam War is barely discussed in high school, or it is discussed at a superficial level that glosses over the antiwar movement. College journalism classes don’t touch the underground press, even though it was arguably a highpoint in our young country’s celebration of journalism and the First Amendment, America’s greatest gift to the world.

Today’s progressive bloggers are heirs to the underground press tradition, and yet most don’t know what the underground press was.

The four-volume Voices from the Underground Series changes that. It addresses the underground press like no other book before it, by giving voice to insiders who were key people on their own papers. Although all underground papers were united against the war, individual papers spoke to different audiences. Papers represented the gay, lesbian, feminist, Black, Puerto Rican, Native American, prisoners’ rights, rank-and-file, psychedelic, Southern consciousness, new age, socialist, military, and other voices of the many liberation movements that arose during that period.

Those voices are represented in the Voices from the Underground Series.

So, if you’ve read this far, take a look at the website. I talk about the underground press and then I give you a sneak preview into all four books, which will be released one at a time over a period of two years. I share testimonials here and here from academics and activists and media reviewers. And, while you’re waiting for your books to arrive in the mail, I share a few excerpts from other books of mine: Early Wachsberger.

Volume 1 will be officially available in January 2011 but it is expected to be in the Michigan State University Press warehouse in early December and I’ll be helping to distribute them. So don’t wait until December. Order now and take advantage of my special pre-publication price. It’s easy. Just go through PayPal.

I want to thank MSU Press for their support of Voices from the Underground. What I compiled was the equivalent of four books. I couldn’t help it. The material was there, and so was the commitment from my contributors. If they had said, “Give us just enough to fill one volume,” I would have said, “Catch you later.” But they recognized, as did I, that every story was amazing in its own way so they bought into my vision of four separate volumes. In this horrible economy, they deserve credit.

I also want to thank Hillary Handwerger for helping to turn my words into this website and Jim Campbell for producing the video.

Goodbye, Andy. You will be missed.

Andy died Friday, six days short of his 81st birthday. We got the call Friday evening from his daughter. Andy and Joanne were our neighbors, the best we’ve ever had.

Andy was a hard-core Republican but not one of the wingnuts. He was conservative and was certain that the election of Barack Obama would mean higher taxes, but you never heard him say an evil word about Obama. He knew I was a veteran anti-Vietnam war activist, editor of an antiwar underground press anthology, and union organizer but he respected me because I lived my beliefs without hating others who disagreed with me. I felt the same about Andy, a retired army colonel whose son followed him into the military.

Despite the many years that separated us, Andy, Joanne, Emily, and I socialized often and shared special events together. They attended David’s Bar Mitzvah and Carrie’s Bat Mitzvah, as well as parties at our home. We were special guests at their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Emily and Andy shared a November 5 birthday so she never forgot to send him a card.

Andy and Joanne were the last of the original homeowners in our neighborhood. They had a lot of pride in their home and in the neighborhood. In retirement Andy kept busy and in shape by working around the yard. He cut his lawn every week in the summer and made a point of cutting ours, too, but just the front, the side that was seen by passersby. He loved his snow blower. In the winter, never did more than an inch of snow settle on his drive or sidewalk before he was outside blowing it into the snowdrifts. Our yard benefited from his passion. He and Joanne walked often to the Kroger at the end of our street, until economic times turned the shopping center into abandoned property.

Then this past May, Andy got word that he had pancreatic cancer. He made the decision not to fight it. He just didn’t want to mess with the chemo that accompanies treatment, he said. He figured his time was up. He had lived a good life and was ready to go with the flow. Of course, he never used those words. A zen interpretation of his future would have been totally out of character for him. Nor was the idea of trying alternative treatments, like acupuncture or herbs.

But he did become more spiritual in his outlook. Emily and I both sensed it. And so Emily and I were able to talk to him about his decision and his upcoming death. As his body shrunk from a stocky 200-plus pounds to the 130 range, he joked about losing weight. We told him to let us know what life was like on the other side when he got there.

Andy’s biggest regret was that he would not be here for Joanne, a retired nurse who now requires medical care herself and was recently moved to a facility where she can get the care she needs.   

Last Saturday, October 24, the ambulance came to take Andy to hospice where he could get the round-the-clock care he now needed. We waited by our kitchen door, which faced his home, so we could say goodbye. As he was rolled to the ambulance on the stretcher, Emily and I approached him. He couldn’t speak but he extended his hand to each of us so he could connect with us one last time. Emily reminded him that they had an upcoming birthday to celebrate together. I told him to keep in touch.

Andy is fortunate to have five loving children, four of whom live in town, so Joanne will not be left alone. That fact alone was comforting to him. What we learned from them was that he was conscious when the grandchildren visited him that last week, but soon after he stopped eating. For the last two days of his life he was in a coma, so his next adventure began easily and painlessly.

Landmark Vietnam Antiwar Opus to Be Updated and Expanded

Friends, it’s been a long time in coming but I’m pleased to announce that contractual details have been finalized for Michigan State University Press to publish an expanded, revised version of my anthology, Voices from the Underground: Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press (Mica Press, 1993). In its new iteration it will appear as four separate books with the first appearing in 2010 followed every six months by another until all four are out.

The book was called “the most important book on American journalism published in my lifetime” by one reviewer (In These Times) and was named one of the five most important books in the field of communication for 1993 (Choice). The Los Angeles Times reviewer said  it “comes closer than anything I’ve yet read to putting the sights, sounds and texture of the ’60s on paper.” Unfortunately, it went out of print long before it reached its potential audience and the small publisher was unable to bring it back.

Voices from the Underground is a series of histories of underground papers from the Vietnam era as told by key people on each of the papers. The underground press was the dissident press of the Vietnam era, the independent press that told the true story, which the corporate papers suppressed, of what our government was doing behind our backs to the Vietnam people in our name and with our tax dollars.

Stories in the first edition of Voices from the Underground represent the gay, lesbian, feminist, Black, Puerto Rican, military, prisoners’ rights, socialist, new age, Southern consciousness, psychedelic, and other independent antiwar voices of the era as never before told. New to this second edition are stories representing the Native American and rank-and-file independent voices.

Forewords from the first edition, by Chicago Seed veteran Abe Peck and attorney William Kunstler, will again be featured along with a new foreword by Markos Moulitsas, founder of dailykos.com, the most important progressive blog site of today’s new media.

With our country in another useless war, this time in two countries, the timing couldn’t be better for publication of these stories. Markos’ foreword connects yesterday’s underground press generation with today’s blogger generation. It’s time to listen again to the poets and visionaries of the independent, alternative press.

The MSU Press is a non-profit university publisher whose mission is to be a catalyst for positive intellectual, social, and technological change through the publication of research and intellectual inquiry, making significant contributions to scholarship in the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences. 

More information on the first edition of Voices from the Underground may be found at www.azenphonypress.com.