Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Behind the Songs: Iron Lady

"And the chaplain, he reads the final prayer:
'Be brave, my son, the Lord is waiting there'
Oh, murder is so wrong, you see
Both the Bible and the courts agree
That the state's allowed to murder in the chair"
--Phil Ochs, "Iron Lady" (1964)

Rebel and a Cause: Caryl Chessman and the Politics of the Death Penalty in Postwar California, 1948-1974

Theodore Hamm uses the 1960 execution of Caryl Chessman as a springboard for examining how politics and debates about criminal justice became a volatile mix that ignited postwar California. The effects of those years continue to be felt as the state's three-strikes law and expanding prison-construction program spark heated arguments over rehabilitation and punishment.

Known as the "red light bandit," Chessman stalked lovers' lanes in Los Angeles. Eventually convicted of rape and kidnapping, he was sentenced to death in 1948. In prison he gained significant notoriety as a writer, beginning with his autobiographical Cell 2455 Death Row (1954). In the following years Chessman presented himself not only as an innocent man but also as one rehabilitated from his prior life of crime. He acquired an enthusiastic audience among leading criminologists, liberal intellectuals, and ordinary citizens, many of whom engaged in protests to halt Chessman's execution. Hamm analyzes how Chessman convinced thousands of Californians to support him and why Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, who opopsed the death penalty, allowed the execution to go forward. He also demonstrates the intrinsic limits of the popular commitment to the rehabilitative ideal--limits based on race, type of crime, and perceptions of public safety.

Hamm places the Chessman case in a broad cultural and historical context, relating it to histories of prison reform, the anti-death penalty movement, the popularization of psychology, and the successive rise and decline of the New Left and the more enduring rise of the New Right. His persuasive analysis is valuable in understanding the symbolic politics behind "law and order" movements not only in California but throughout the United States.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Behind the Songs: That Was the President

"It's not only for the leader that the sorrow hit so hard
There are greater things I'll never understand
How a man so filled with life even death was caught off guard
That was the President and that was the man"
--Phil Ochs, "That Was the President" (1963)

An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

In a tale that stretches back to Ireland, An Unfinished Life describes the birth of the Kennedy dynasty, the complexity of Jack's early years, and the mixture of adulation and resentment that tangled his relationships with his mother, Rose, and his father, Joseph. Forced into the shadow of his older brother, Joe, Jack struggled to find a place for himself until World War II, when he became a national hero and launched his career. Dallek reveals for the first time the full story of Kennedy's wartime actions--including the machinations that got him into the war despite severe disabilities--and the true details of how Joe was killed, opening the door to Jack's ascendancy.

Here is the gripping story of Jack's first political campaigns and his transformation from an awkward speaker to a brilliant politician with irresistible charm. An Unfinished Life explores Jack's work as a senator from Massachusetts, carries us through the fiercely contested 1960 campaign against Nixon, and takes us on to the White House itself. We learn for the first time how and why Bobby was chosen to serve as attorney general, how JFK selected Lyndon Johnson to be vice president, and how they and the rest of Kennedy's team--Bundy, McNamara, Schlesinger, Sorensen, Rusk, and others--faced the Bay of Pigs, threats against civil rights activists in the South, the conflict in Laos, the Cuban missile crisis, the struggle for a test ban treaty, and the assassination of Diem. Dallek reveals fascinating new details about each of these challenges and many more, and gives us a picture of Kennedy as a man very much in command of his times--able, soon after arriving in the Oval Office, to wage a secret war against his own generals when they advocated first use of atomic bombs in situations Kennedy felt certain would lead to an all-out nuclear war.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Behind the Songs: Draft Dodger Rag

"So I wish you well
Sarge, give 'em hell
Yeh, kill me 'thousand or so
And if you ever get a war
Without blood and gore
Well, I'll be the first to go"
--Phil Ochs, "Draft Dodger Rag" (1964)

Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance During the Vietnam War

Shedding light on a misunderstood form of opposition to the Vietnam War, Michael Foley tells the story of draft resistance, the cutting edge of the antiwar movement at the height of the war's escalation. Unlike so-called draft dodgers, who left the country or manipulated deferments, draft resisters openly defied draft laws by burning or turning in their draft cards. Like civil rights activists before them, draft resisters invited prosecution and imprisonment.

Through a close study of draft resistance in Boston, one of the movement's most prominent centers, Foley documents the crucial role of draft resisters in shifting antiwar sentiment from the margins of society to the center of American politics. Their bold decision to return or destroy their draft cards inspired other draft-age men opposed to the war--especially college students--to reconsider their place of privilege in a draft system that offered them protections and sent disproportionate numbers of working-class and minority men to Vietnam. This recognition sparked the change of tactics from legal protest to mass civil disobedience, drawing the Johnson administration into a confrontation with activists who were largely suburban, liberal, young, and middle class--the core of Johnson's Democratic constituency.

Draft resisters frequently faced hostility from their fellow citizens, family, friends, teachers, and employers. But they also succeeded in building a community to sustain them. Most important, they forced a government that had previously ignored the antiwar movement into taking their actions seriously. Examining the day-to-day struggle of antiwar organizing carried out by ordinary Americans at the local level, Confronting the War Machine argues for a more complex view of citizenship and patriotism during a time of war.

Monday, 15 September 2008

There's a Riot Going On: Revolutionaries, Rock Stars, and the Rise and Fall of the '60s

Extensive coverage of Phil Ochs in this book - a rarity among the plethora of sixties rock books that have been written.


Between 1965 and 1972, political activists around the globe prepared to mount a revolution. While the Vietnam War raged, calls for black power grew louder and liberation movements erupted everywhere from Berkeley, Detroit, and Newark, to Paris, Berlin, Ghana, and Peking.

Rock and soul music fueled the revolutionary movement with anthems and iconic imagery. Soon the musicians themselves, from John Lennon to Bob Dylan to James Brown and Fela Kuti, were being dragged into the fray. Some joined the protestors on the barricades, some were persecuted for their political activism, and some abandoned the cause and were dismissed as counterrevolutionaries.

Scrutinizing the ways in which musicians reacted to the movement, Doggett exposes the myths behind their involvement to show that, contrary to belief, many were actually reluctant figureheads, while others merely paraded as revolutionaries, acting with a bourgeois curiosity that negated the ideas of peace that musicians proselytized and that their lyrics idealized.

From Mick Jagger's legendary appearance in Grosvenor Square standing on the sidelines and snapping pictures, to the infamous incident during the Woodstock Festival when Pete Townshend kicked Yippie Abbie Hoffman off the stage while he tried to make a speech about an imprisoned comrade, to Lennon's display of self-publicity when he auctioned off his hair on top of the Black House, Doggett unravels the truth about how these were not the "Street Fighting Men" they saw themselves as and how the increasing corporatization of the music industry played an integral role in derailing the cultural dream.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Behind the Songs: In the Heat of the Summer

"And when the fury was over
And the shame was replacing the anger
So wrong, so wrong, but we've been down so long
And we had to make somebody listen"
--Phil Ochs, "In the Heat of the Summer" (1964)

Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles

American society has been long plagued by cycles of racial violence, most dramatically in the 1960s when hundreds of ghetto uprisings erupted across American cities. Though the larger, underlying causes of contentious race relations have remained the same, the lethality, intensity, and outcomes of these urban rebellions have varied widely. What accounts for these differences? And what lessons can be learned that might reduce the destructive effects of riots and move race relations forward? This impressive, meticulously detailed study is the first attempt to compare six major race riots that occurred in the three largest American urban areas during the course of the twentieth century: in Chicago in 1919 and 1968; in New York in 1935/1943 and 1964; and in Los Angeles in 1965 and 1992.

Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles weaves together detailed narratives of each riot, placing them in their changing historical contexts and showing how urban space, political regimes, and economic conditions--not simply an abstract "race conflict"--have structured the nature and extent of urban rebellions. Building on her previous groundbreaking comparative history of these three cities, Janet Abu-Lughod draws upon archival research, primary sources, case studies, and personal observations to reconstruct events--especially for the 1964 Harlem uprising and Chicago's 1968 riots where no documented studies are available. By focusing on the similarities and differences in each city, identifying the unique and persisting issues, and evaluating the ways political leaders, law enforcement, and the local political culture have either defused or exacerbated urban violence, this book points the way toward alleviating long-standing ethnic and racial tensions.

A masterful analysis from a renowned urbanist, Race, Space, and Riots in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles offers a deeper understanding of past--and future--urban race relations while emphasizing that until persistent racial and economic inequalities are meaningfully resolved, the tensions leading to racial violence will continue to exist in America's cities and betray our professed democratic values.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Behind the Songs: Links on the Chain

"You know when they block your trucks boys, by layin' on the road
All that they are doin' is all that you have showed
That you gotta strike, you gotta fight to get what you are owed"
--Phil Ochs, "Links on the Chain" (1964)

Conflict of Interests: Organized Labor and the Civil Rights Movement in the South, 1954-1968

Alan Draper illuminates the role organized labor played in the southern civil rights movement. He documents the substantial support the AFL-CIO and its southern state councils gave to the struggle for black equality, suggesting that labor's political leadership recognized an opportunity in the civil rights movement. Frustrated in their efforts to organize the South, labor leaders understood the potential of newly enfranchised blacks to challenge conservative southern Democrats.

At the same time, white union members in the South were more interested in defending their racial privileges than in allying themselves with blacks. An explosive tension developed between labor's political leadership, desperate to create a party system in the South that included blacks, and a rank and file determined to preserve southern Democracy by excluding blacks. This book looks at the ways that tension was expressed and ultimately resolved within the southern labor movement.