Sex, Drugs, Jews, and Rock 'n' Roll.
Put Your Bodies Upon the Wheels: Student Revolt in the 1960s, by Kenneth J. Heineman, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 251 pages, $26
The congeries of the 1960s is our national Rorschach test. In our competing political, cultural, historical, and personal narratives, that decade--roughly defined as lasting from 1964 to 1974--evokes profound, and mutually exclusive, meanings. Writing about the '60s has been and remains a cathartic cottage industry, because there still are scores to settle, with others and even with oneself.
Books about these years are most often tendentious, partisan, ardent, and obsessive; they tend to be either adoring and indulgent or reproachful and unforgiving. In the case of memoirs, political polemics, and, from any political camp, exposes, these qualities are part of the rawness, interest, and attraction of primary sources. In the case of purported histories, these qualities are an injury to intellect and understanding.
In Put Your Bodies Upon the Wheels, Kenneth J. Heineman has penned a screed of dithyrambic anger. He presents it, however, as an "evenhanded but clear-eyed" historical narrative and analysis. Heineman is a professor of history at Ohio University, and he writes professionally on the American 20th century. He thus engages an obligation to evidence, logic, fairness, and accuracy, especially when issues arouse deep passions. Much of Heineman's prior work indicates that he knows this full well.
Put Your Bodies Upon the Wheels has several undeveloped theses. Among them is Heineman's assertion that the student movement of the 1960s was a revolt of Jews, wealthy WASPs whom they recruited, professors, and leftist intellectuals against the white working class, which they deemed to be hopelessly racist, and the Cold War Democratic Party. It was, argues Heineman, a revolt of children against their parents. It was also a chance to do lots of drugs and make lots of love. When the country showed at Kent State that it was, willing to shoot protesters, however, and, more important, when the draft ended, the student revolt mostly died out, and screwing while high became much more attractive than social activism.
Nonetheless, the student revolt's politics and culture still exert a profound influence upon our lives, an emotional and normative tie that will remain with baby boomers until they die. These are, of course, commonplace themes in books that romanticize or excoriate the period, but one must argue them, unlike Heineman, with appropriate evidence and rigor.
When an historian makes claims, we rightfully ask, "How do you know that?" Yet Put Your Bodies Upon the Wheels has no notes or specific citations. Rather, Heineman offers at its end a bibliographic jumble of some 120 memoirs, pseudo-histories, histories, and polemics. Reading all of these, however, would not document his allegations, but, at best, merely identify the sources, mostly partisan, from which he apparently has taken them.
In the case of statistical claims, the absence of studies whose validity may be examined is simply absurd. Heineman tells us that "70 percent of faculty embraced the anti-war movement," "95 percent of the youths who joined the anti-war movement and identified with [Students for a Democratic Society] came from Democrat and Old Left households," and "55 percent of the youths who joined SDS came from upper-middle-class households."
No source is offered, and the categories seem as imprecise as the numbers. We learn that by the early 1970s, 3 million men and women "had adopted the hippie lifestyle," whatever that is (and whoever took the count). One wonders who did the door-to-door survey and the analysis of family income and ethnicity that lets us know that "All but a handful of the 75,000 youths who made Haight-Ashbury their home in 1968 came from prosperous Jewish and WASP families." Perhaps it was the same rigorous demographer who also taught us, in Heineman's account, that "many [Peace Corps volunteers] lived in African and Asian neighborhoods that reminded them of Scarsdale."
In the case of attributing specific actions, motivations, and words to real individuals--the heart of Heineman's work the absence of sources whose credibility one might evaluate is scandalous. His anecdotes and attributions may be true or false, but how are we to decide? Among Heineman's unattributed gems: Student radical Tom Hayden sought out Black Panther leader David Hilliard "about shooting down a police helicopter." Growing Up Absurd author Paul Goodman "enjoyed having sex with young boys." SDS leader Bill Ayers "bragged that in just three months in 1969 he had sex with one hundred women...in the back of his Chevy van." On whom, precisely, does Heineman rely?
Heineman's portraits become caricatures and cartoons of the pharmaceutical and sexual life of the New Left, the counterculture, and the civil rights movement: The Free Speech Movement was the occasion "for the consumption of narcotics and for vigorous sexual experimentation." At the celebrated December 1964 Berkeley sit-in, some "dropped acid and smoked hashish" while the "female students roamed the corridors looking for birth-control pills so they could stay overnight." At Woodstock, "Boomers tripped on acid and rolled naked in the mud." During the Mississippi Freedom Summer, "The men tended to wear their hair long, both males and females smoked marijuana, and the women engaged in sexual intercourse with black men."
Nothing must complicate the picture that only draft avoidance, lust, drugs, and spoiled, elitist Jewish ingratitude ultimately led America to its "student revolt." McCarthyism? It was "the exception," and "no more than 300 faculty, out of nearly 200,000, had been denied tenure on political grounds." (Heineman rightly loathes contemporary political correctness. But would he be indifferent now to a mere 300 faculty denied tenure for political reasons, or would he recognize the exponential chilling effect of each and every instance?)
Further, such faculty members were "usually booted off campus for turning their classrooms into political rallies and for refusing to cooperate with legislative and law enforcement agencies investigating Communist infiltration of higher education and the federal government." "Legislative agency," of course, was exercised indecently and wildly by the House Un-American Activities Committee, by Joe McCarthy, and by their illiberal equivalents in the individual states.
The civil rights movement? In Heineman's account, by the time that elitist Jewish students in the early '60s sought sexual highs from blacks, the South already was prepared, if grudgingly, to start giving the latter equal rights. Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, however, tactically chose anomalous cities and states where calls for equality and the vote would provoke violence. Instead of working where Southerners were reconsidering both segregation and disenfranchisement, "Northern white radicals" went to places such as Mississippi, which was "an atypical Southern state" (emphasis in original). Why? For Heineman, "They were not about to have their preconceptions challenged by going elsewhere."
There are occasional moments when Heineman's work is clear, nuanced, and insightful, but they are surrounded by an impenetrable fog of tendentious innuendo, ad hominem argument, and guilt by association. For Heineman, as for the New Left he portrays, the personal and the political are inseparable, and scruples about evidence or non sequitur only get in the way.
At the University of Wisconsin, leftist historian Harvey Goldberg turned his courses into "revolutionary forums": "Students were required to read Frantz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth." Critic Dwight Macdonald, though a radical, was a "revolutionary with an annual income equal to $100,000 in 2000." Of the 38 anti-war activists arrested for disrupting the Selective Service Administration in Ann Arbor, Michigan, one "had been raised by a nanny" and one was "the son of a millionaire business executive." Jerry Rubin "could draw on a trust fund and did not have to work for a living." (When those with whom we agree devote themselves to "activism" in such circumstances, we call it civic-mindedness.) Leftist anti-war professors "experimented with drugs, communal living, and group sex," as in the case of literary critic "Leslie Fiedler...who was destined to be arrested for marijuana possession." This is not "evenhanded"; it is a conservative mirror of the worst New Left rhetoric.
Heineman argues that student protest "began as a rejection of parental authority." His need for personal villains, however, works categorically against his own thesis, yielding a genealogy of student revolt in which Jews and Reds, so often the same, far from rejecting "parental authority," are the very paragons of filial piety. We learn, across vast pages, that Ronald Radosh, Kathy Boudin, Michael and Robert Meeropol, Frank Emspak, Gene Dennis, Robert Starobin, Malvina Reynolds, and Howie Emmer--important players in the New Left or anti-war movements--all grew up as "little reds," and all had fathers who were "major Communist figures," "Communist agents," or "Communist organizers." Even singer Country Joe McDonald sounded "much like his Communist parents."
If Communists per se were not in the gene pool, then any old leftist would do. Anthony Walsh of the Kent State Congress of Racial Equality chapter and the left-wing historian Gabriel Kolko each was raised by "a radical CIO organizer." Stewart Ewen, of the Mississippi Freedom Summer, had parents who were "1930s-era radicals." Activist historian Staughton Lynd's "parents had been leftist sociologists in the 1930s and [Henry] Wallace supporters in 1948." The phenomenon of family influence might "explain" the free-market enthusiasm of Steve Forbes, of course, but such explanations ad infinitum of the New Left scarcely support Heineman's model of a revolt against parental authority.
There are serious questions raised here, but this is not a serious book. The role of Jews in the American and European Left is a profound phenomenon, but it requires documentation and analysis of complex multivariables, not prurient interest. Self-designated leaders are one thing, and mass movements another, so the issue of the nexus between "coordinating committees" and the very diversely composed, motivated, and committed students who occasionally followed them (or occasionally did as expected) needs authentic study. The class component of the New Left, belying both current categories of "diversity" and the neo-Marxist politics and theory that informed "revolt," cries out for sustained inquiry.
The Vietnam War and the draft loom very large in Heineman's narrative, but the "student revolt" of the 1960s was an international phenomenon, flourishing in England, Germany, France, Holland, Denmark, and Italy. To say the least, that fact suggests fundamental problems for explanations that depend on American variables alone.
It cannot be said enough: Scholars critical of the self-indulgence, political fantasies, violence, and conformity of the 1960s must move beyond polemic to careful research and analysis if they ever wish to understand the object of their criticism. Let the worst of the academic Left say, when it comes to scholarship, that the enemy of my enemies is my friend. For the rest of us, scholarly bias is always the enemy, and critical thought, open and cautious with evidence, is always our, friend.
Alan Charles Kors is professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and coauthor with Harvey A. Silverglate of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses (Free Press).
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|Title Annotation:||Review; Put your bodies upon the wheels: student revolt in the 1960s|
|Author:||Kors, Alan Charles|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2001|
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