[Hpn] [Fwd: Best Book on 60s, by Guess Who?]

William Mandel wmmmandel@earthlink.net
Sat, 08 Nov 2003 08:45:08 -0800

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Best Book on 60s, by Guess Who?
Date: Fri, 07 Nov 2003 21:52:02 -0800
From: William Mandel <wmmmandel@earthlink.net>
Reply-To: wmmmandel@earthlink.net

   Robert Meeropol, one of the two sons of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg,
killed in 1953, has written an autobiography, AN EXECUTION IN THE
FAMILY: One Son's Journey, St. Martin's Press, N.Y. He is now in
California speaking about it,
from which he will go on to Houston, then Massachusetts, and Florida. 
   For 20 years after their parents' deaths, the boys were able to keep
their identities secret, thanks to the surname of their adoptive
parents, Anne and Abel Meeropol, the latter the author of the great
songs, "Strange Fruit" and "The House I Live In."
   In consequence, Robert, as student in private and then public high
schools in and near New York and then at the University of Michigan, was
a typical 1960s activist of the red-diaper-baby variety. Only six when
his mother and father were executed, he got no politics from them, and
not too much in depth from the Meeropols, who were Communists of the gut
rather than the intellectual variety. 
   Not surprisingly in the light of Abel's fine songs, "I was raised
with an overtly anti-racist ethic" and "the most profound and abiding
respect for people who placed themselves in harm's way for the good of
others." He argued with his parents (he regards both the Meeropols and
the Rosenbergs as parents) when they forbid him, on the grounds that he
was too young, to picket Woolworth's with his older brother with signs:
"Southern Woolworth's Segregate." At the leftist Elizabeth Irwin High
School they sent him to, Socialist Norman Thomas shaded John F. Kennedy
in a poll just before the 1960 presidential election, 72 to 70, with
Nixon getting two.
   The thinking that marked the beginning of 1960s New Leftism in Robert
came when older brother Michael came home from college, where he had
learned about the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, upon which
the U.S. Communist Party stopped criticizing Hitler. Abel disagreed with
Michael's criticism of the Party, but Robert agreed.
   When Castro took power in Cuba, he became Robert's hero. Robert
immediately latched on to the new music of 1962, "understanding the
positive political impact of Bob Dylan." 
He defended a current No.1 hit, "Running Bear," when his mother, a
talented singer, attacked rock and roll. He loved a protest musical,
"Viet Rock," but she called it just noise.
   When the Cuban missile crisis occurred in the fall of 1962, Robert
was in a public high school in Hastings, a tony suburb where they had
been able to buy a house because Abel had won a hefty plagiarism
settlement from a top star in France. Robert displayed truly rare
political intelligence when classmates predicted that nuclear war was
imminent. "I dismissed such fears, saying that both sides would bluff,
but that there would be no shooting." In my own autobiography I describe
how the country at large thought as his classmates did, totally
paralyzed with helplessness and fear, and my own use of connections to
reach Bobby Kennedy and his brother's National Security Advisor with a
proposal highly similar to that finally adopted, which I also wired to
Khrushchev, reformist successor to Stalin.
   Robert's move from his '30s parents' thinking was furthered by the
Soviet rift with China and "Soviet anti-Semitism," also typical of the
New Left a-borning. In 1963 he was on a chartered bus to Washington when
Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech. John Kennedy was no
hero to him, because he gave the go-ahead to the Bay of Pigs invasion of
Cuba (planned under Republican Eisenhower, who had refused to commute
the Rosenbergs' death sentence, something my 13-year-old daughter was
very boldly active soliciting telegrams for at a subway station and from
local rabbis, although the latter refused.)
   At this point, Robert's activism was limited to a very few friends
and a little discussion in class. But "McCarthyism was fading fast by
1963" and "By 1965 we started wearing peace or antiwar buttons to
school." But in 1963, three voting-registration volunteers were killed
in Mississippi (one of my sons was down there), "and all we could do was
tearfully sing 'We Shall Overcome'."
   When the Vietnam War began, Robert's really exceptional political
sobriety manifested itself again. A leftist girl friend "predicted that
Russia and China might enter the war, and that it might become nuclear.
I always rejected such pessimistic projections, but a lot of my anti-war
friends in Westchester worried that the way things were going we might
not live all that much longer."
   I had to combat that thinking uninterruptedly for the first thirty of
my years broadcasting on Pacifica, from 1958 on, to the point of letters
such as one from parents of a girl about to enter college who wanted my
opinion as to whether their efforts and financial sacrifice would be
worthwhile in view of the probability of nuclear war.
   Robert entered a small Indiana college, conservative despite its
Quaker sponsorship, in 1965. His pacifist roommate and he quickly posted
an announcement of the founding meeting of the Earlham Committee to End
the War in Vietnam. A request for a parade permit to the town officials
was turned down. He posted a vitriolic attack on their suppression of
dissent and quickly became known as a firebrand. 
   A busload of students to attend a march against the war in Washington
was organized. Robert and a carload went early to attend the founding
convention of the National Committee to End the War in Vietnam. He found
the discussion
exhilarating. He learned of the SDS concept of participatory democracy
and was "enchanted" by it, also convinced that it would "resonate well
on college campuses." Meanwhile, at Earlham, there were rules that
shackled his personal as well as political activities. Women's dorms
were locked up at 10:30pm. On these matters, too, he came to a
conclusion characteristic of the 60s: "The administrators acted like our
parents, but we observed that many in our parents'
generation appeared to lead unhappy and empty lives. The generation
before us screwed up their own lives, so why should we let them mess up
   Another profound conclusion: "I knew that the American   
Left had been isolated for decades. If we who were in political
rebellion could reach out to the rapidly increasing numbers of those who
were in cultural rebellion, we could build the first left-wing mass
movement the nation had seen since the 1930s....We grew our hair,
dressed as we pleased, and refused to abide by the administration's
social rules that prevented women from visiting men in their dorm
   Robert transferred to the University of Michigan which, with UC
Berkeley, U. of Wisconsin, and Columbia, were the key centers of student
activism in the '60s and the rise of the New Left. In the fall of 1967
the U. of Mich. SDS had 150 members. Unusually, it elected a woman, a
friend of Robert's, as president. SDS' first action was to help
university service workers who had gone on strike for a living wage.
They stayed up all night to make sure no deliveries were made then. They
won. "I was engaging the real world and helping people to earn a living
wage....I was already sipping the wine of a student-worker coalition
   I got a sense of satisfaction in passing the torch when I read that
one of his professors, with whom he became a lifelong friend, is a man
who had been a Mandel groupie when studying in the Bay Area and
listening to me on KPFA. Not pertinent, but curious, is the fact that
Elli, who very shortly became his wife, had spent the fall at the Calif.
College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, which is five minutes walk from
where I now live. His comment on the early part of their marriage is
good writing: "We wore our rough edges smooth as we tumbled and bounced
against each other through the white-water rapids of relationship
   One of Meeropol's qualities is his ability to see consequences where
others act on emotion. Chicago police had beaten Eugene NcCarthy's
supporters outside the Democratic Party's national presidential
nominating convention. This caused students to want to respond with
action. A welfare rights organization asked the U. of Mich. students to
support their demand for an increase in the winter clothing allowance
for each child. Students wanted to sit in at the county building to
enforce the demand. He opposed this, holding they should demonstrate and
be disruptive but leave before the police came so they could return and
repeat their effort the next day. He was voted down. 200 sat in. They,
including Elli and he, were arrested. ACtually, the action won an
increase in the clothing allowance.
   Here, too, I was reminded of a personal experience a couple of years
earlier. I am one of a tiny handful of '30s activists who became part of
the '60s movement, in my case because of the popularity of my HUAC
testimony of 1960 and, more important, because I understood immediately
that the mass student activities beginning when they were washed down
the stairs of San Francisco City Hall that day marked the beginning of a
new movement. In consequence, I was elected to the executive committee
of the UC Berkeley Free Speech Movement of 1964-5, although I did not
yet have any association with the university. When the issues came to a
head, we debated whether to sit in or call a student strike. I favored
the latter because I knew the former would mean mass arrests and immense
efforts to raise money for legal defense. It turned out both proposals
were necessary. The sit-in occurred, 700 were arrested, but that moved
the majority of the immense student body to strike.
   At U. of Mich. similar debates continued. Bill Ayers, later a founder
of the Weathermen, came to Michigan. The argument now was whether to
support a referendum on whether research in counter-insurgency weapons
should be barred from campus. Ayers was against any referendum, on the
grounds that Michigan students had no right to vote on whether Southeast
Asian jungles should be destroyed by American ordnance. Meeropol
outlined "a middle position between the reformism of Eugene McCarthy and
revolution, which I said was still a long way off."
   This review is already extraordinarily long, and has not touched at
all on the two things I am informed Meeropol has dealt with in the
portion of his national book tour that has now brought him to
California: the question of his birth parents' guilt and the work of the
Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he founded and has headed for the
past 13 years. I have chosen to focus on his activities in the 60spartly
because I do think his 55 pages on that subject are the best description
of that era I have read. A second reason is that no other review -- I
have been sent a packet -- has dealt with this. A third and most obvious
is that people will go to hear him precisely about the
Rosenberg Case and will be open to what he has to say about his present
work, which I assure you is as well-reasoned in the book and as
far-seeing as the thoughts and activities I have described. The last is
that, as in my recent post on Mumia Abu-Jamal as a person (and Meeropol
devotes much of his last chapter to Mumia), I wanted you to see Robert
Meeropol not as an icon, not as a symbol of an event of fifty years ago,
not as a sufferer, all of which represent my attitude before I read the
book, but as a specific individual with his own life and thoughts, and
therefore all the more interesting to read about.
   This is truly a great autobiography, by which I mean a book in which
the author takes you deep into his own soul while recording his life in
the context of his times. His remaining schedule of readings, with
contact information. is as follows:
11/8 Beverly Hills private reception. Contact RFC (Rosenberg Fund for
Children) at 413-529-0063 or amber@rfc.org
11/9 Sherman Oaks 818-786-6310 10am brunch; 10:30 reading
11/10 San Diego 858-362-1348 or 858-362-1365
11/11 Cupertino De Anza College 408-975-0670
11/12 San Francisco Haymarket Books 110 Capp St.415-861-3103 11/13
Berkeley, UC Wheeler Hall, Room 30 7pm
11/14 San Francisco 415-255-1080 or jmackler@locrian.com
11/15 Private reception, Oakland 11am Phone or e-mail RFC    11/15
Sacramento SEIU Hall 1911 F St. 6pm 916-455-1396
11/16 Houston 713-551-7255 or www.jcchouston.org
11/22 Amherst, MA. Write Angles conference, U. of Mass.
12/7 Davie, FL 954-434-0499 ext.373 1pm
12/7 West Palm Beach 561-712-5230 5pm
12/8 Maitland, FL 407-645-5933 ext.314 Alk@orlandojcc.org 
12/14 Andover, MA Temple Emanuel 10:30a.m.                        
The title of my autobiography, SAYING NO TO POWER (Introduction by
Howard Zinn), is based on the fact that my testimony before Sen. Joe
McCarthy in 1953 had such impact that an excerpt was performed 35 years
later in a long-running play, and my 1960 HUAC testimony has been shown
in six documentary films. The most moving chapter is titled: "We Bury
the Rosenbergs." The book is a history of how the American people fought
to defend and expand its rights since the 1920s (I'm 86) employing the
form of the life of a 30s AND 60s activist, one who was involved in most
serious movements: student, labor, 45 years of efforts
to prevent war with the USSR and Cuba, civil rights South and North,
women's liberation [my late wife appears on 50 pages], 37 years on
Pacifica Radio [where I reinvented talk radio, of whose previous
existence I had been unaware], civil liberties, and opposition to
anti-Semitism and to Zionism. You may hear/see my testimonies before
McCarthy and, later, HUAC on my website, http://www.billmandel.net  I am
the author of five books in my academic field, have taught at UC
Berkeley, and earlier held a postdoctoral fellowship, by invitation, at
Stanford's Hoover Institution. The book may be ordered through all
normal sources. For an autographed copy, send me $24 at 4466 View
Pl.,#106, Oakland, CA. 94611