(Continued from Mississippi Winter 1964-65)
We left Jackson in April 1965. My molars were rotting away. A dentist in Pittsburgh PA who was a steadfast supporter of the civil rights movement offered to work on my teeth for free. Getting my molars fixed for free, with novocaine, felt like advanced socialism, by contrast to the Cuban kind, without novocaine. Viki and I stayed at a friend’s home — early civil rights veterans Winnie and Dick Feise — in the hills outside the city as guests. This was in the coal mining country. A top leader of the United Mine Workers’ union lived a couple of miles away. Legendary battles between miners and company goons and soldiers had taken place in these hills. The tap water tasted of sulfur.
We returned to New York to find the antiwar movement on the upswing. The 1964 election had been the first one where I was old enough to vote, and I had voted for Lyndon Johnson because he was the peace candidate, according to him. No sooner was he installed than the son of a bitch turned around, stepped up the bombing, sent thousands more ground troops, and began the military draft. That taught me a lesson about politics.
At one or another antiwar meeting in Manhattan, I encountered Carol Brightman and John McDermott, who were starting up a new magazine designed to fuel the anti-war teach-ins on college campuses. We hit it off and I signed on as Associate Editor of the magazine. I had a day job — more of the welfare department statistical work, if I remember — but I spent all my free time working on the magazine. Brightman, who founded it, called it Viet-Report.
Brightman and McDermott were both tall, blonde, well-groomed — not at all the cartoon stereotype of the beatnik antiwar activist. Brightman, the chief editor, had a B.A. from Vassar and an M.A. from the University of Chicago — not exactly radical hotbeds, either of them. John was a bit older and was developing into a perpetual graduate student at Columbia in philosophy; he looked very scholarly and smoked a pipe. But such were the times that both of them, and many others like them, stepped off the academic career ladder that they might otherwise have been pursuing, and threw themselves body and soul into a venture that offered no pay, no credit hours, no prospects of future advancement — but that was infinitely more urgent and important.
The business plan of the magazine was to produce informational articles about the Vietnam war, to print it in an inexpensive format, and to distribute it in bulk to antiwar groups on college campuses for them to hand out in connection with campus antiwar teach-ins. Teach-ins were a hybrid of instruction and demonstration. Staged in a public area of campus, they would begin with lectures and speeches, including questions and discussions, and might then develop into a march, a sit-in, an occupation of a campus building, or some other direct action. Some of the teach-ins were small, with only dozens attending; others involved thousands of students.
Since none of the magazine staff were paid and we printed on the cheapest newsprint bound with staples, expenses were low. We were able to sell it for six cents a copy for quantities of over one thousand. The University Committee to Protest the War in Vietnam — a multi-campus coalition mostly of faculty — put up some startup funds, and there were donations by a handful of individuals including the pediatrician Benjamin Spock.
- Browne was a rare bird, an African-American economist and foreign aid administrator. He had been stationed in Indochina as development officer for the Agency for International Development, and quit in 1961 in protest against the military intervention which, he saw, was ruining the development effort. He later organized influential development efforts on behalf of African-Americans and Africans.
- Lynd already had a long career as an activist for peace and civil rights, and had been director of Freedom Schools during the Mississippi Summer Project.
- Feinstein’s parents were refugees from Nazism, and he was a radical educator and organizer.
- Millet was a professor of government at Adelphi University and then at Briarcliff College, and was a frequent speaker on Vietnam and related topics.
We had no shortage of bright minds eager to help in the effort. Our initial issue listed Lee Baxandall, Carol Cina, Nina Franklin, Marvin Gettleman, Gerald Hoffman, Erwin Limsky, David Mermelstein, Liba More, Richard Morrock, Bernard Pomerance, William Ross, Henry Warfield, Robert Wolfe and Diane Wolff as members of the Research Staff. The cast of characters kept changing over time but there was never a dearth of talent. Brightman was not only a great editor and writer, she was a charismatic figure and people were drawn to her.
None of us three editors knew very much in depth about Vietnam when we started, so our first priority was to educate ourselves. McDermott and I obtained admission to the private library of Indochina books that Joseph Buttinger had established in Manhattan. We spent many hours there acquiring the fundamentals.
We subscribed to Le Monde, the Paris daily that was reporting on the American misadventure in Indochina with a depth of knowledge unmatched in the American press, and perhaps with a bit of Schadenfreude. We also read other French, German and British print media that did excellent reporting, far more objective than the major U.S. print media.
We led off the first issue with a piece titled “Inside Vietcong Territory” by the respected French journalist Georges Chaffard. Staughton Lynd reviewed two books, including one by Wilfred Burchett, who gave an inside report of his travels with the National Liberation Front guerrillas. John McDermott began a three-part series on Vietnamese history, still an excellent short introduction to the topic.
I tried my hand in the first issue as a political analyst. I sized up the fall of the Quat government, which had ruled for only four months, as the doom of any hope for a negotiated end to the war. The piece must have hit a nerve. I had a phone call about it from James Reston of the New York Times, asking whether my piece was based on a leaked Vietcong strategy memo. I laughed and told him, no, I had “sucked it out of my thumb,” meaning, it was based on a study of the facts.
There was no lack of writers for the magazine. Besides Brightman and McDermott, who were workhorse contributors, we published original work by Millet, Lynd, Browne, Roger Hagan, Chris Koch, Tom Hayden, Paul Rockwell, Robert Wolfe, William Ross, Nina Schwartz, Beverly Leman, Ruth Shereff, Curtis Crawford, Steven Rosenthal, John Gittings, Leonard Liggio, Bob Ross, Ed Spannaus, Paul Gallagher, Brian Glick, Frances Pivan, Richard Cloward, Michael Klare, Paul Booth, Jill Hambert, David Smith, Joan Countryman, Sam Anderson, Peter Countryman, Paul Moore and others. We also published numerous documents and translations of pieces in the French, German, and Japanese press.
The topics soon broadened beyond Vietnam, and Viet-Report became a platform for analysis of the whole system, internal and external, from which the Vietnam war arose. The Summer 1968 issue featured a photo of a row of tenements in the Bronx with the headline “COLONIALISM AND LIBERATION IN AMERICA.”
I was a relatively minor contributor to the magazine. My publications in Viet-Report were:
- Saigon: The Wheel Comes Full Circle (July 1965). Analysis of the fall of the Quat regime in Saigon.
- War on People: Book review of Vietnam Diary by Richard Tregaskis and The Green Berets by Robin Moore (Aug-Sept. 1965)
- Continental Vietnam: Book review of Monopoly Capital by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy (June-July 1966)
- The Professor, the Policeman, and the Peasant (February, March-April, and June-July 1966). A three-part series on the Michigan State University Group’s work providing cover for the CIA in Vietnam, and a set of radical proposals for social scientists.
After the spring of 1966, I downgraded my role at Viet-Report from “Associate” to “Contributing” editor, but in truth I was busy with other things and was more a fan than a contributor. I also contributed a book review of Jean Lacouture’s Vietnam: Between Two Truces to Mosaic, a Jewish student journal.
Viet-Report quickly found an audience. People were hungry for reliable information about the war, and they weren’t getting it from the big U.S. media. Our second issue was a big seller because in it, we printed the full text of the Geneva Accords, the pact that ended French colonialism in Indochina and was supposed to guarantee Vietnam’s independence, unity, and peace. Our circulation soon reached 40,000 and in our best months topped 125,000.
Each of us Viet-Report editors soon found ourselves in demand as speakers at teach-ins. I remember speaking at various times in Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, and once at the university in Guelph, Canada. In Guelph I was able to give my rusting French a workout, with help from the locals, by presenting my talk first in English and then repeating it in French.
In the summer of 1965, when I started working with Viet-Report, my relationship with Viki very nearly fractured. We separated. I lived in an tiny roach-ridden room with the bathroom down the hall in a walkup somewhere in the West 70s. I had short, unhappy sexual affairs. After a month or two, I came to my senses. Friends helped us forgive and reconcile. In the fall, we pulled ourselves together and went back to school.
We lived then in Somerville, at 63 Hall Avenue, upstairs in a two-family house with the landlords on the ground floor. We commuted to classes at Brandeis. We cocooned. We cooked from recipes in The Joy of Cooking. We hosted dinners for our grad student friends, who were a wonderfully talented, lively and international bunch. One Christmas we roasted a whole suckling pig with an apple in its mouth. We had cats who had kittens. We lived quietly and did our school work.
One night we drove to a grad student party. At the party I got so drunk that I passed out. Viki, who only had a learner’s permit, had to drive us home. At other times, more than once, I drove so drunk I could barely see. We never got stopped.
Somehow during this time, Viki and I got a call from Beacon Press, who were looking for someone to translate André Gorz‘ new book, Strategie Ouvriere et Néocapitalisme. Gorz was a friend of Marcuse’s, so the connection may have come about through him. Viki had won a prize at Barnard for her French (she was also fluent in Spanish) and we were a natural team for the job. Beacon paid us a modest advance. We cast about for a place where we would have a francophone environment, and hit upon the ideal spot: St. Pierre et Miquelon in the Gulf of St.Lawrence. St. Pierre is not French Canada, it is France. (The islands are the scene of the recent movie, the Widow of St. Pierre.) Its main business at the time was the fishery on the nearby Grand Banks, since collapsed, but it was eager to have tourists, and did not require visitors from the U.S. or Canada to have passports. That was important for us in view of our then still unresolved little disagreement with the U.S. State Department stemming from the Cuba trip.
We had a wonderful working vacation in St. Pierre in the summer of ’66. The locals were entirely friendly, and one of them, Jean Beaupertuis, lent us his considerable knowledge of the French commercial vocabulary, helpful in translating the book. Our new friends took us squid fishing in the harbor. That was a wonderfully messy affair where you dropped bright red-and-white lures a few feet into the water, which the amorous squid would mistake for a squid in heat, and then you yanked them up and dumped them into a bucket, and got squirted from head to toe with ink in the process. That night the whole town smelled of garlic and onion, as everyone was cooking their favorite stuffed squid recipes. At the full moon came the run of the capelins, minnow-size silvery fish who threw themselves by the hundreds of thousands on a gravel beach to spawn. We filled a bucket and ate fried capelin for a week. Our friends also took us by motor dory through dense fog to the nearby island of Langlade, connected by a narrow sandy isthmus to Miquelon. There we fished for trout, picked clams and mussels and strawberries, and marveled at the herd of wild horses. Somehow, a set of photos from that summer has survived; you can see the album here. We easily finished the translation, and it appeared in due time as Strategy for Labor, a Radical Proposal.
On our return to New York for a few weeks at Viki’s home before returning to Brandeis, the bottom fell out of our marriage. All that cocooning in Somerville and the summertime bliss were more happiness than my system could handle. I became unreasonably irritable and harder to live with than usual. I resumed drinking punitively. In the taxi ride home after a long and wet dinner at Viki’s father’s apartment — he, too, liked to drink — the alcohol seized control of my tongue and I spewed out a string of poison that destroyed what was left of the relationship. Viki slammed me upside the head, breaking my glasses, stopped the cab, and bolted. We did not see one another again for 34 years. Viki went to Mexico and mailed me the divorce papers. I went back to Brandeis alone.