College Liberals and Radical Roots (1960s)

Unsolicited Influences 

Shortly after arriving at Duke, the University held the customary annual orientation program in which the entire freshman class was herded into a large auditorium and given the usual run down and pep talks about campus life. In the case of our class, the senior student who gave the introduction could not contain himself with a crude sexual allusion to the “Class of 69”, as being the one they had all been anxiously awaiting; “The Class of Reciprocal Oral Sex.” Although the comment was greeted by loud guffaws, little did he know that his offhand reference to a Kama Sutra position would be nothing compared to the several sexual and cultural revolutions about to take place in the near future, all to be spearheaded by the “Class of Incurable STDs.”

In adding stern warnings about the various temptations associated with being free of direct parental supervision, of the need to study hard and in particular of going astray or avoiding the dreaded “Sophomore Slump,” he felt as though his message had been successfully delivered.It was business as usual with the routine accolades being accorded to yet another freshman class.

Having done reasonably well in freshman year with a decent grade point average; emotionally, however, it was a disaster. My girlfriend, M., was immediately absorbed into a sorority and shortly thereafter began dating upper classmen. This was a double blow to my self- esteem as she was both now the member of an elite club while our eternally pledged true love had gone down the tubes.

She and one of her girlfriends were particularly enamored with a tall blond member of the Junior Class they had nicknamed “Many Pennies,” being their sub-Rosa method of referring to the size of his genitalia. Indirect logical intuition led me to believe then that they either both of them had sex with him or he had sex with both of them at the same time.

Meanwhile, while she was out with Mr.Mega-penis, I firmly began to think that no one of the opposite gender would ever remotely love me again. I got through the depression by studying in the library, and also making a few half hearted efforts to win her back. It was a lost cause because I was simply outclassed, upper-classed and outsized.

She finally dumped me for good one day shortly after we had sex under an old Live Oak tree behind her dormitory on the Woman’s Campus, while afterward she complained bitterly about the crudity of the episode in comparison to the nice milieu of fraternity dorms. I guess she preferred soft pillows and sheets to picking prickly oak leaves and hard Carolina clay out of her butt crack. She also didn’t have respect for hundred year old trees or the way our Grandparents snuck out to do it romantically under the moonlight; because there was no place else to go.

After this final breakup, I incrementally began to become brainwashed by my friend Arthur. He constantly berated my conservative Barry Goldwater politics as he slowly but surely began to make me believe that Democratic Liberalism was equivalent to having a social conscious. However, because the Democratic Party under LBJ beginning in 1965 had begun to escalate the war in Vietnam, as he reneged on his campaign promise to keep American troops at home, there now seemed to be no legitimate political force that embraced social consciousness at all.

It was ironic that LBJ, who had campaigned against Goldwater with an ad depicting a nuclear bomb blowing up a little girl picking petals off a daisy, was now the principle instrument of napalm mediated death in Southeast Asia.

Napalm, or jellied gasoline, is a weapon of particular cruelty that was developed in World War II as a means of making the gasoline burn more effectively. It was used both as an incendiary device designed to maximize urban burning in the great fire raids over Germany and Japan. But even worse, being used as an antipersonnel device, it also had the great advantage that skip-bombs could be made to spewed pellets that are the equivalent of flaming Crazy-glue as they bounced along the ground. These fiery little balls would then stick perniciously to the enemy’s skin, could not be wiped off, with any attempts to do so only serving to spread it further, as though it might be incendiary flypaper or malignant poison ivy. Burning at temperatures between 800 to 1000 degrees Celsius, napalm could not even be extinguished with water. Personally speaking, I would prefer to die in an instantaneously vaporizing nuclear blast.

Arthur’s take on the political scene was that most politicians were stooges of mediocre intelligence who were fronted by wealthy businessmen or corporations. This iconoclastic view, while upsetting to my childhood view of the sanctity and infallibility of the U.S. Presidency, has obviously turned out to be quite visionary.

Feeling as though there was no political alternative at all, college students become distracted by and attracted to more radical elements such as the Student for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Black Panthers or other subversive organizations, who began to get footholds on campus and who began to preach for the complete overthrow of the US government. I can recall attending small seminars by Dr. Howard Levy and Tom Hayden who were gaining notoriety on a national level. Hayden was the founder of the SDS and eventually married the notorious Hanoi Jane Fonda.

Levy was particularly engaging in recounting the story that although he was a Dermatologist, the Army bureaucracy told him he had to function as a Surgeon. It did not seem to matter that he knew nothing about surgery; and basically had on the job training.

He also focused on the fact that the Green beret doctors being used to set up small hospital outposts in the Vietnamese countryside where the philosophy of “winning hearts and minds” was predicated entirely on the concept of delivering medical care first. This age-old ruse which goes back to antiquity is best exemplified by the Apostles of Christ whose faith healing escapades founded the nucleus of what is now one of the largest worldwide religions. The concept of “doctor as God” has only recently fallen by the wayside in modern cultures. However, in primitive cultures that have little in the way of medical services, providing even a few basic amenities goes a long way in establishing a foundation of trust.

Levy eventually spent 3 years in Leavenworth for his antiwar activities and in particular because of his vehement opposition to the subversive practice of offering medical care as propaganda tools, while the other hypocritical face of America’s presence was offering to maim or maul innocent women and children with the likes of jellied gasoline. The carrot and the stick: at its best.

I also vividly remember being privy to watching an interview at the campus radio station with Stokely Carmichael because Buck, Arthur and I had just gotten jobs at the station, which allowed to go behind the scenes. Carmichael was instrumental in promoting the idea of Black Power, Afro-American identity and separatism.

He venomously spewed repeated hate that the root of all societal evil in the World was centered in the history of Western European culture and world conquest. While it was simultaneously inspiring to watch his charismatic delivery, I was still left to wonder what he might do with all us White folks after the Black revolution established him as Emperor of America, and in particular how one could so romantically explain away the history of African tribal warfare, genocide, and slave trading.

I had the unpleasant premonition that life under a Black dictator would not be a predictably pleasant experience. It was also the first time I had ever seen anyone of celebrity accompanied by body guards and wondered why anyone would have to be that paranoid. After all, this was America where free speech was a protected right under our Constitution, was it not?

Although all these individuals were very charismatically persuasive, I also had the same premonition after attending a few SDS meetings where I listened to the venomous hate being hawked by the local cell leaders. The Students for a Democratic Society was a left wing organization that was probably the white equivalent of the Black Panthers. It was never comforting that any of the people in these groups were really delivering a message of brotherly love or a clear vision of world peace but rather that the message of the day was simply to preach the violent overthrow or the U.S. Government.

It was a confusing time and it became increasingly difficult to decide which one of the many devilish public icons one should put any faith in; a problem many citizens had and which sewed the seeds for much of the anarchy that was soon to follow. Because I eventually came to realize that living under a government formed by SDS hate mongers might be the worse of any current evil, as well as being more potentially hazardous to ones health, I paid the SDS lip service, then quit soon after joining. Early fans of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot would have been better off if they too had jumped ship at the beginning. Still wondering to this day if the fact of my brief membership is still in my FBI file, I regret not keeping the membership card for my scrapbook.

The only real good to come out of all this was that I met my first college girlfriend at an SDS meeting and started going with her after the President of the cell dumped her for someone else. Although she was one of the original “women’s libbers,” which made her exciting to be around for a while, she definitely took it all too seriously. This subsequently led to one too many humorless dates involving more in the way of tedious arguments over social reform than fun, laughs and good sex.

Added to all this social turmoil was the enormous pressure of trying to maintain grades and the intensely cut throat competition engendered by those individuals who remained oblivious to what was going on in their surroundings or in the world and who could actually have cared less. Being an A student at a small high school in N.Y. was no guarantee of getting A’s in an environment where everyone else had been selected for extreme intelligence.

However, even genius could have its pitfalls as exemplified by several emotional crack-ups in the student body. This manifested itself in something as simple as the hitchhiking Dan dropping out of school, to the extreme example of the engineering student who blew his brains out with a perfectly functional miniature cannon he had designed and then molded out of solid brass. Having successfully aimed it at eye level from the top of his dormitory dresser, it was even set up to absorb recoil when it fired.

Or the likes of the notorious Duke Shit-Bomber who would defecate in a shoe box, plop a cherry bomb into the pile with a delayed fuse, then place the device in a dormitory hallway and run for cover. No one ever knew where he would strike next until one day the terror stopped as he simply mysteriously vanished, never to be heard from again, so to speak. Perhaps he was recruited by the C.I.A. to work in Viet Nam.

Last but not least, there was an acquaintance of ours, Jack, who fancied himself a world-class oenophile and who always brought his own personal bottle of Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc to parties, hogging it to himself as he lorded its superfine qualities over the rest of us wine ignorant peasants. Jack the Wine Taster, as we nick named him, would sniff, sip, drool, and then moan in ecstasy as he swirled his libation around in a fluted glass. One night however he failed to realize that one of his so-called friends had tired so much at the snobbish effrontery, that when the bottle was half empty had poured in about two jiggers of his piss just to see if Jack could tell the difference. Apparently his highly cultured epicurean taste buds did not bat an eye as he sipped and finished off his subtly refined but slightly reprocessed wine.

As the tenor of the times and Art’s brainwashing began to take root, I did start to lean to the left of center politically and began to fall into the enticing snaring promises of anti-materialism and free love. These philosophies were being spun out of the antiwar movement, and were being made ever more visible in the media by their focus on the flower people in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. It was certainly more agreeable to pursue these ideals than those being promulgated by the fifth column organizations that had begun to preach the violent overthrow of the U.S. Government. The times were so confusing and unsettled it was easy to succumb to the idea that our culture was seriously flawed and unbalanced, that the fascist powers-that-be were fully in control, that little people counted for nothing and that ultimately, nothing really mattered at all. Anyway the wind blows. Strawberry fields, forever.

Forgetting that my father’s hard working materialistic job was actually responsible for sending me to school, I let my hair grow down to my shoulders and started to pipe smoke aromatic tobaccos as well as those tasty unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes that cost only 18 cents per pack. In reference to his purist anti-filtered smoking philosophy, Arthur justified both habits as such:

  • So what’s the point in smoking, if you really aren’t smoking? Smoking filtered cigarettes is the same as having sex wearing a condom.

Then becoming increasingly saturated by the propaganda of the ultra left, it wasn’t long before I began to smoke marijuana and to begin experimenting with psychedelic drugs.

Arthur kept talking about dropping out and moving to California, regaling me with tales of the free life being enjoyed by a friend of his, Randy, who had gone out there the year before. These fables made me progressively and increasingly begin to seriously question all the values I had been raised to believe in. I also began to intensely hate the military industrial complex and to harbor equal distain for Lyndon Johnson’s having creating a social environment that fostered a cloudy uncertain paranoia about the future.

As students, we all knew that any one of us could easily be conscripted to fight in a God forsaken jungle on the other side of the world when the free pass of educational deferment expired at graduation; all thanks to a cracker from Texas, whom my uncle Bill stated with direct certainty had won his first congressional election on the stuffed ballots of deceased constituents in his district. LBJ might have even calculated how many dead soldiers from his own state would have been necessary to vote from the crypt on his bid for a second term in the White House.

Freedom of choice was ingrained in my Catholic upbringing. I did not have to follow the flower people, I did not have to waste my time frittered away smoking pot while listening to the Rolling Stones or the Grateful Dead, and although I did only pay lip service to the radical movements instead of direct participation I had already opted instead to take the path of least resistance by cheering from the sidelines. The final result was the free choice of copping out and not participating in anything organized or useful at all, or not to even study too much anymore, which in retrospect was all a regretful waste of time. But the times were confusing, and I did not really know any better.

If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed off drugs, kept out of politics and flown under the radar by taking up golf instead.

Duke had a championship level golf course on campus; lessons would have come free covered under general tuition as a gym elective, while a round of golf in the serenity of nature could have easily substituted for a toke of smoke.


So what’s the point in smoking, if you really aren’t smoking?



(Photo and name printed with permission)

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