War and History Non-Fiction posted June 3, 2012


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A small skirmish in a bigger war.

I Remember, 1968

by humpwhistle

 
           









I remember 1968, and my first snootful of tear gas.  Did you know that tear gas is classified a chemical weapon and banned for military use by scores of international treaties?  I guess we U.S. citizens have no right to expect the same courtesies our government regularly extends to our enemies.  Kind of makes me wonder if Connecticut should pursue its own Nuclear Non-Aggression Pact with the brass hats who’ve got their digits on the detonators.  I mean if they can gas us…right?
           
I was seventeen years old, and I was cool-ridin’ an anti-war demonstration in Hartford, about ten miles from my home town.  Thousands of us, all tie-dyed and tonsorially-challenged, gathered shoulder-to-shoulder in Bushnell Park.  We were a scruffy lot, to be sure.  And yes, there probably was a thick blue haze of ganja smoke floating over us, but we weren’t hurting anyone, not even ourselves despite what the propagandists claimed. No, we weren’t looking for trouble—this was a peace rally, for heaven’s sake.  Mellow yellow, man!  That was our groove.  Most of the speakers were local clergymen—incendiary as cotton candy, I tell you.  But—and this was a big but—there was a rumor circulating that Abbie Hoffman might actually show up.  And that explained the cordon of riot-equipped cops surrounding us from a less than discreet distance.
           
Hoffman and his Yippies (Youth International Party) had helped tear things up in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention just the week before.  Abbie had even nominated a pig for President, infuriating Chicago’s Finest Storm Troopers. It was vintage Hoffman, man, street theater played into a national feed.  Tensions ran high, and eventually the cops went all ape-crap, dolin’ out skull crackers to anybody who wasn’t wearing a uniform.  Mayor Daley claimed the bullies-in-blue were just trying to reestablish law and order.   Law and order my sit-down place!  Even Senator Abraham Ribicoff took the stage at the convention and called Daley out for using ‘Gestapo tactics!”  Right on national television.  And it all played right into Hoffman’s hand, ‘cuz the press was way on top of it, man, showing America just what Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly were really worth.  What do you say America, want to see some cracked noggins with your TV dinner tonight?    
           
Well, Hoffman never showed up at our Hartford rally, but it really didn’t matter, because somebody’s fuse—pig or provocateur, who knows?—spontaneously combusted, and before we knew it, the guys wearing the riot gear decided they must have been dressed that way for a reason, and a one-sided battle was pitched.
           
           

I remember 1968, the burn of tear gas, and the sting of a nightstick expertly aimed at the tip of my left shoulder.  I remember the thing that used to be my pitching arm going instantly numb.  Don’t look so surprised, athletes were activists, too.  Six months later Coach converted me from pitcher to first baseman.  How’s that for a life-lesson in cause and effect? 
           
I put up no struggle.  Between the gas and the clubbing, I had no struggle left in me. But three burly cops still deemed it necessary to sit their fat asses on me and grind my face into the dirt while immobilizing me with plastic wrist restraints.  They dragged me by my heels to the paddy wagon, threw me in, then threw others in on top of me.  I could only guess they thought I was somebody else.  Jack the Ripper?  Fidel Castro? 
           
           

I remember 1968, and sitting on the concrete floor of a corridor somewhere in the intestines of the Hartford Police Station.  The holding cells were all full, so the overflow, hundreds of us, sat on our butts, our hands cuffed behind us, and decked the freakin’ halls.  No fa-la-la-la-la.  No singing.  No chants.  No slogans.  We were stunned and scared.  Many were bleeding.  Some were fighting to remain conscious.  Stay awake, you probably have a concussion.  Some wept.  We all prayed … for hours and hours.       
             
           

I remember 1968, and being hauled to my feet--none too gently.   I remember my shoulder still throbbing as an officer manhandled me up a flight, and down a hall where my father waited, but refused look at me.  The restraints were cut off.  My father walked out the door.  I followed several steps behind.  We drove home, viciously arguing, but keeping it all in our heads.  The silence was the loudest I’d ever heard.
 
           

I remember 1968, and the months of tension that squatted in our house, and soured the milk on the dinner table. 
           
           
In April, 1969, I turned eighteen, moved out of the house, and registered for the draft … as a Concientious Objector.  Later that summer I was granted CO status, but it turned out to be moot, because my draft lottery number was high enough to ensure I’d not be called.
 
           
About a decade after the fall of Saigon, my father and I finally ceased hostilities.
 
           
I remember 1968, but for the life of me, I don’t remember what I did wrong.  I expect I speak for a lot of people.


Recognized


1968 was one hell of year. We lost Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. The war in Viet Nam raged, and not just in Southeast Asia, either. I was merely an extra on that stage. I hold no grudges. It's just the way it was.
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