A half-century ago, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was under way and all hell was breaking loose in America.
It wasn’t just the violence and chaos in the streets, or the violence and chaos inside the convention hall, where Daley’s goons were beating up Dan Rather.
It was more the unmasking of the divisions in our country, and Bill Mauldin had anticipated the issues two weeks earlier, because it was clear that Mayor Daley and the demonstrators were on a collision course.
Daley had provoked a police riot in late April, canceling parade permits and ordering the Civic Center plaza closed, which resulted in a peaceful march being turned into a bloody disaster. I remember the violence and, in particular, the horror on the faces of the good cops as they begged us to keep out of the melee.
The fact that we had to distinguish “the good cops” is sufficient.
The fact we still have to is a sad reflection on how little we learned that day, how little we had learned a few weeks earlier during the riots after the death of Martin Luther King, how little we learned in August when the Convention came to town.
And we mocked the Mayor when he misspoke and said “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”
But the man was a prophet; it would be another year and a half before the feds and the Chicago police murdered Fred Hampton and three more years before Frank Serpico was shot and good cops still watch in horror a half century later.
I discussed all this at some length in April, in marking the half century since Martin Luther King’s death, and it’s worth a click, but I won’t repeat it now.
Fact is, 1968 was chock full of stuff that is depressing, infuriating and sad to remember.
But, then again, it sure was interesting to be 18 in a year that went from insane highs to equally insane lows. It was my first year out of the nest and I don’t suppose I could have picked a better one.
And while I was watching that pre-season police riot in Chicago, a pair of my buddies from high school were vacationing at a place called Khe Sanh, and I’m glad they, and somehow the rest of my friends, came back.
It was not a good time to be our age. Or perhaps it was the best.
I read this update on Yippie founder Paul Krassner, in which a writer who clearly wasn’t there explains Chicago. Krassner gets it right, and the former editor of the Seed gets it right and the rest makes me think back to something I wrote a long time ago.
It began “Odysseus wept in the hall of the Phaiacians,” and suggested that, rather than weeping for his lost comrades as Homer assumed, he was weeping to hear that his experiences had already been distorted into glorious myth before he had even recovered from them and reached home.
I guess you had to be there.
Which brings us to Peter Schrank‘s cartoon about the Pope’s visit to Ireland. In posting the cartoon on Twitter, he observes that the shadow was removed for the print version, but the crumbling of the Celtic cross tells the story anyway.
Ireland hasn’t nearly the attendance at mass that it had a generation ago, and revelations of sexual predation in the parishes, the orphanages and the homes for unwed mothers are perhaps as much a symptom as a cause.
There was a time when nobody dared say a bad thing about the clergy, but those days are past, and the laity have voted to allow abortion and same-sex marriage in recent years, which is quite a change from the days when, bigoted as it was to say so, it was true that “Home Rule is Rome Rule.”
Fact is, for all the unreasoning, insane hatred stirred up by people like Ian Paisley, the idea of leaving the United Kingdom in order to be governed by Dublin meant losing a lot of freedom because of the death grip the Church then held on the government of the Republic.
Those days are gone now and, while it’s likely too late to think of reunification, there’s no nostalgia for the conflicts of a generation ago.
Some jackass in the Parliament said the other day that Brexit should mean reinstituting the security searches that prevailed on the Border during the Troubles. It was a stupid thing to say in the first place, but, as it happens, there are a lot of people who were there and who have not forgotten.
Their stories are a reminder of what can happen when a society is divided and hate gets the upper hand.
Once again, it’s fine to be all theoretical and to recite the history as you’ve heard it, but it’s not the same as having been there.
And this Kevin Siers piece reminds us of yet another place where false history replaces true memory, and we’re running out of people who were there when those statues were first put up, when the Klan and Jim Crow ruled the South.
But we need to hear their stories, because we’ll certainly hear from those who were not there, but who feel they own the history.
It’s enough to make a hero weep.