Chapter 10: The Viet Nam Summer of Love, 1967 (i)
I was not eager to return home to my parents’ apartment in Queens for the summer. But to keep attending Columbia, I had to earn money during the summer. A few days prior to leaving the campus I bumped into Josh and Linda, who were walking up Broadway. Josh smiled at me as they walked and said with a giggle: “I-D-A. I-D-A.” I laughed, spoke with him and Linda for a few minutes and learned that he, Harvey and John were all going to attend graduate school in Fall 1967 at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Back at my parents’ apartment a few days later, I suddenly began to feel physically miserable, my eyes started to feel irritated, and I felt like I was going blind. My parents had gone away for a week to some cheap Catskills Mountains hotel resort, so I had to call Doctor Cohen, myself:
“I feel weak and fatigued. And there seems to be something wrong with my eyes.”
Dr. Cohen, who was in his late 50s, agreed to stop by the apartment in the afternoon. He arrived, took one look at my arm and noticed red spots. “Measles. Don’t use your eyes for ten days. And rest,” he advised. Then he left the apartment.
During this time, war tensions were building up in the Middle East. Like most white Movement people in the U.S., I assumed that Israel was being unjustly threatened by reactionary nationalist Arab states. I had never really studied the Palestinian or Arab nationalist point of view, prior to the June 1967 Middle East War. I assumed Israel pursued a non-aggressive, morally righteous foreign policy.
While recuperating from the measles, I was listening to Larry Josephson’s WBAI morning program when I heard that “Egypt and Syria have attacked Israel” and that “Israel’s survival as a nation is in jeopardy.” Because the U.S. mass media portrayed Israel as being the victim of Arab military aggression in 1967, I did not get upset when it appeared that the Zionist military machine was rolling over the Egyptian Army and would win the June 1967 War quickly. In late June, however, I bumped into Harvey while going into Butler Library one afternoon to do some anti-war summer research on Columbia President Kirk, in preparation for the fall term.
“You know, Bob. The Left may be wrong in mechanically supporting Israel. Israel, you know, started the war in order to capture new lands,” Harvey said.
“I thought the Arabs started the war in order to drive the Jews into the sea?”
“No. The Arabs were the victims of Israeli aggression. And some of the Arab governments are more anti-imperialist than Israel.”
Harvey’s analysis of the 1967 Mideast War caused me to read more deeply about what had exactly happened. And when SNCC came out in opposition to Israel’s 1967 seizure of Arab lands and continued refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the claims of the Palestinian refugees and their Palestinian nationalist representatives, I inwardly supported SNCC’s position. But Viet Nam, not the Middle East, was the war issue that most seemed to threaten my life, because of the draft. So, like most other Movement people, I didn’t make Palestinian solidarity work any kind of political priority at this time.
After recovering from the measles, I went to the barber shop to get a haircut and then began to look at want-ads in the now-defunct Long Island Star-Journal for an open factory job. I assumed that, if exposed to a New Left political analysis and New Left anti-corporate political program and Movement, white blue-collar workers of both sexes would soon become leftist and communist in their orientation.
Students and African-American people were mobilizing for radical change in 1967, as were politically frustrated pacifists. What was missing was anti-Establishment political resistance to corporate domination on the U.S. factory shop floor, which would push U.S. unions into an anti-war, anti-capitalist and anti-racist political stance, and into a genuine commitment to “organize the unorganized” to fight for the freedom of labor from 9-to-5 wage-slavery. I wanted to start to do my bit for the cause of blue-collar labor by doing manual labor, instead of working in a skyscraper office at some clerical job.
I trekked around to various factories in Queens. But I couldn’t get hired for a summer factory job, once I told them I was a student at Columbia. “You attend Columbia. You’d get bored too quickly with the work in this factory. This kind of work isn’t for you,” one Jewish factory owner in Flushing in his 50s told me in a fatherly way, after I insisted I wanted to try factory work in his company.
Other factories did not want to hire just for the summer. To get hired, I had to show personnel people my draft card. Once they saw my “2-S,” they always assumed I would return to school in the fall.