Happenings in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
—Buffalo Springfield

The Sunday newspaper had been left on the park bench. Its book page had lists of best-sellers, as if numbers two through ten could be the “best” along with number one. Absurdities were everywhere for the taking. On the Non-Fiction Hardcover list, numbers 3, 5, and 10 each had the word fuck in the title. The books were published by two old and respected publishing houses: Harper and Little Brown. However, something was odd, for the word fuck was spelled f*ck. These books were about hope, acceptance, and living the good life, cliché topics in a feel-good culture: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Everything is F*cked, and Calm the F*ck Down. It seemed you had to be fucked first before you could accept the hope that the good life was coming your way. He wondered if these publishing houses thought that by eliminating the “u” they kept their hands clean and were not descending into the gutter with hoi polloi, while simultaneously titillating potential readers. Did they think readers would be offended by the word fuck, but would not be by f*ck?  Then it occurred to him that he didn’t know what the fuck non-fiction books were anyway. Maybe he had been wrong all his life and the opposite of up was non-up, not down.

***

On every table in the seaside resort’s breakfast room there was a brightly colored flower in a clear watered vase. When he picked it up to smell the orange blossom, there was no smell and the water didn’t move. He imagined an ersatz form of plastic happiness, a conjurer’s delight, where everything was a trick, nothing moved, not even water.

***

Leaving the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in southern California where white and black Marines were regularly fighting and there were even some killings never reported by the press, the two young Marines escaped the tense and claustrophobic atmosphere on a weekend pass. It was early February 1967, and they took an overnight bus up the coast to San Francisco where they wandered around and found a breakfast restaurant near Union Square. There they read in the newspaper that for the week of January 12-19 the U.S. military had suffered its highest casualty count so far in Vietnam: 144 killed, 1,044 wounded, and 6 missing-in-action. It jolted them awake more than the coffee. Later that afternoon, the two naifs wandered into the Haight-Ashbury district where they were startled by the first waves of acid-dazed hippies, who would soon arrive in hoards for the “summer of love.” In the evening when they visited a bar for some beers, the waitress who delivered their drinks was topless. While they regarded this slight anomaly with manly indifference, she must have noticed their military haircuts that stood out among the longhairs, and so she served them buttons with their beers. The buttons read: Vietnam Love It Or Leave It. Heading back to the base, they knew where they didn’t want to go.

***

The young man was studying for a PhD. He was intent on learning what made the world and people tick. He was attending a small seminar at the home of his professor, a famous German emigre who had worked for the Rand Corporation and U.S. Intelligence. Each of the five students was to give a short presentation on the subject of fake news and the issue of knowledge, since the course concerned the sociology of knowledge. The student began his presentation by quoting a famous philosopher’s words: “In formulating any philosophy, the first consideration must always be: What can we know? That is, what can we be sure we know, or sure that we know we knew it, if indeed it is all knowable. Or have we simply forgotten it and are too embarrassed to say anything? Descartes hinted at the problem when he wrote, ‘My mind can never know my body, although it has become quite friendly with my legs.’  By ‘knowable,’ incidentally, I do not mean that which can be known by perception of the senses, or that which can be grasped by the mind, but more that which can be said to be Known or to possess a Knownness or Knowability, or at least something you can mention to a friend.”  The student paused and the eminent professor said, “So very interesting. Who is that philosopher?”  The student replied, “Woody Allen.”  “He is very perceptive,” said the professor, “and yet I have never heard of him. I will have to read his work.”  The student realized he was in good hands with such U.S. intelligence and Rand Corporation experts, so he asked the professor’s wife for another glass of the German wine she was serving and toasted his good fortune with a wry grin. None of the other students got the joke.

***

A young man was reading a book that he highly recommended to his uncle. Leafing through it, the older man came upon this passage: “the free individual is just a fictional tale concocted by an assembly of biochemical algorithms.” So what was the point of reading such a book, he wondered, since doing so was an exercise in pre-programmed absurdity since there was no freedom.

***

You have probably seen the bumper sticker that says: “Shit Happens.”  Some people are just lucky, I suppose, and odd coincidences mark their lives. When he was just out of Columbia College and working for a reputed CIA front company, Business International Corporation, Barack Obama had a chance encounter with a young woman, Genevieve Cook, with whom he had a 1-2 year relationship. Like Obama and at about the same time, Cook just happened to have lived in Indonesia with her father, Michael Cook, who just happened to become Australia’s top spook, the director-general of the Office of National Assessments, and also the ambassador to Washington. Of course, Obama’s mother, as is well-known, just happened to be living in Indonesia with Barack and Obama’s step-father, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian military officer, who had been called back to Indonesia by the CIA supported General Suharto three months before the CIA coup against President Sukarno. Suharto subsequently slaughtered over a million Indonesian Communists and Indonesian-Chinese. As is also well-known, it just so happened that Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, trained in the Russian language, after teaching English in the US Embassy in Jakarta that housed one of the largest CIA stations in Asia, did her “anthropological” work in Indonesia and Southeast Asia financed by the well-known CIA conduits, USAID and the Ford Foundation. Then there is Cook’s stepfather, Philip C. Jessup, who just happened to be in Indonesia at the same time, doing nickel-mining deals with the genocidal Suharto government. Anyway, “shit happens.”  You never know whom you might meet along the way of life.

***

The hostess at the seaside restaurant had an eastern European accent, so he asked her where she was from. She said, “Belgrade, Serbia.”  He told her he was sorry for what the U.S. government led by Bill Clinton had done to her country and that he considered Clinton a war criminal. She said the bombing in 1999 was terrifying, and even though she was young at the time, she vividly remembered it. It traumatized her, her parents, and her family. Then she smiled and said that in the month she had been in the U.S. for her summer job, all the Americans she had met had been so friendly. He welcomed her to the U.S., and as he was walking away, he remembered that Clinton’s savage bombing of Serbia that had killed so many Serbian children and other innocents had been code-named “Operation Noble Anvil.” He wondered what kind of “noble” people would think of innocent children as anvils: “heavy usually steel-faced iron blocks on which metal is shaped,” and did the friendly Americans accept Clinton’s sick lies when he ended his March 24, 1999, war address to the American people with these words: “Our thoughts and prayers tonight must be with the men and women of our armed forces, who are undertaking this mission for the sake of our values and our children’s future. May God bless them, and may God bless America.”

***

The banal, 1967 hit song, “San Francisco” (be sure to wear flowers in your hair), which was influential in enticing young people to come to San Francisco for the Summer of Love, was written by “Papa” John Philips, who attended the US Naval Academy at Annapolis and whose father was a Marine Corps Captain. “Papa” John’s wife had worked at the Pentagon and her father was involved in covert intelligence work in Vietnam. His neighbor and Laurel Canyon (Los Angeles) buddy was Jim Morrison of Doors fame, whose father US Navy Admiral George Morrison commanded U.S. warships in Vietnam’s Tonkin Gulf during the “Tonkin Gulf Incident.” Frank Zappa, the father figure of Laurel Canyon’s many musicians who just happened to converge in one place at the same time where a covert military film studio operated, had a father who was a chemical warfare specialist at Edgewood Arsenal. Stephen Stills, David Crosby and many other soon to be famous musicians all came from military and intelligence backgrounds and frolicked in Laurel Canyon. Although they were draft age, none of them were drafted as they played music, dropped acid, and created the folk-rock movement whose music was catchy but innocuous and posed no threat to the establishment. But “shit happens.” In his disturbing book, Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, David McGowan raises the question: “what if the musicians themselves (and various other leaders and founders of the ‘movement’) were every bit as much a part of the intelligence community as the people who were supposedly harassing them?  What if, in other words, the entire youth culture of the 1960s was created not as a grass-roots challenge to the status quo, but as a cynical exercise in discrediting and marginalizing the budding anti-war movement and creating a fake opposition that could be easily controlled and led astray… What if, in reality, they were pretty much all playing on the same team?”

***

The reporter was interviewing four of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s young “executive governors,” who were all dressed in three-piece business suits. They were in the process of conducting Transcendental Meditation’s weeklong course leading to supernormal abilities, including, flying, levitating, disappearing, X-ray vision, and other siddhis, or supernormal powers. Their recent press release had advertised the course as “a new breakthrough for human life on earth” for any person. The reporter was a bit skeptical that people could be taught—for a large fee—to fly or disappear. He asked one of the executive governors, “Can you literally rise into the air and move horizontally; can you see yourself and can others see you actually fly?” “Absolutely,” Larry Johnson replied without hesitation, “absolutely. Once you eliminate all stress from your nervous system, you have unbounded, unlimited potential. A human can achieve any desire he wants, flying is only one of them.” “People will be skeptical,” the reporter continued, “How about a demonstration?” “A public demonstration would cause too much of a ruckus,” said Johnson. “And we couldn’t show you because we only do it for each other. Actually, we do our techniques with our eyes closed, but we do peek out once in a while and see each other flying around the room. You know, one of the siddhis is a technique for making yourself invisible, and the Mararishi has said, ‘Don’t peek out to see if you’ve disappeared.’” Johnson giggled and added, “We can also teach people to X-ray their own bodies and see through walls. Absolutely, absolutely. It’s all about infinite correlation. Absolutely.” As the battered reporter left the interview, he wondered if the Maharishi was a creation of the CIA. He remembered John Lennon’s song lines about the Maharishi’s assistant: “But he often spread rumors through his right hand man/Who used to be with the CIA”

***

What is “exactly clear” is that Buffalo Springfield (Stephen Stills, Neil Young et al.) toured with their Laurel Canyon buddies, the Beach Boys, in late 1967 (their other mutual bud, Charlie Manson, stayed out west presumably to work on his craft) and performed at a very odd venue for a “dissident” rock group, The U.S. Military Academy at West Point. At that time nearly 500,000 American troops were waging war on the Vietnamese. That concert was an odd happening, wouldn’t you say?

***

If everyone actually looked, they’d see precisely what went down, “what’s going down,” and why we are going down. If you think many of these things “just happen” for no reason, then I guess you are just “f*cked.” Excuse me, but it’s true. Does the asterisk help?

Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely. He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is edwardcurtin.com.

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