Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Chicago 10: Brings back memories of my Army days, and what I didn't suspect then

On Tuesday, Aug. 26 1968 I was “enjoying” my draft-generated military service in khakis, with a safe job in the Pentagon with MOS 01E20 (“Mathematician”). I had finished Basic Combat Training in May, after getting recycled once through “Special Training Company,” tent city at Fort Jackson, SC. In fact, I recall one Thursday night, April 4, in April while still in STC (I would finally pass the PCPT five days later) that we assembled in the ramshackle wooden latrine (where you don’t call “Attention”) to clean up for “Red Alert.” They were really going to use troops from Basic as a “show of force” in downtown Columbia after the King assassination. There has already been fatal riots in Orangeburg. Well, they never did. Now, during the summer some of us privileged guys with graduate degrees would crack jokes in the office at the Pentagon, about lifers, about how military brass likes war and generates it for its own ends, and so on. I guess I had been overheard. When you combine that with my ongoing Top Secret Security clearance background investigation (and all my William and Mary stuff), and now a national controversy after just one day of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, it should surprise no one that the lifer officers felt someone like me was not to be around all these sensitive numbers about deployments in combat, combat support, and combat service support in various specific areas of Vietnam.

I supposedly lived on Fort Myer South Post (white barracks near the cemetery), but my parents happened to live in North Arlington so I snuck away a lot. I was in the barracks the night that Senator Kennedy was assassinated in June. Later, I would set up a chess match there.

I got that call from a young “gay sounding” specialist in personnel, asking if I had heard the rumors about my transfer. He wouldn’t say where. Then, after Medium Cool time, I got another call, and then I heard from “The Colonel” (we had dug a ditch on bivouac, before night infiltration, “to catch a colonel”) that my slot was being “eliminated”. Maybe I could go to OSD. But pretty soon that rogue specialist called me and told me about my transfer to Fort Eustis.

I really didn’t appreciate the scope of the protests and police reaction in Chicago that last week of August. But I think military brass somehow connected me with it. I was lucky to be tucked away under the bed where I wouldn’t be cannon fodder. But I never did protest.

The movie “Chicago 10” (Roadside Attractions / Participant / River Road, dir. Brett Morgan, 99 min, R) shows the fall-to-winter 1969 trial of “the Chicago 8” (upped from 7) for conspiracy to stir up riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The number “10” comes from including the lawyers, who would eventually become defendants of contempt charges themselves. The trial scenes are in rotoscopic animation, in a style similar to that of “A Scanner Darkly”. The charges were trumped up and amounted to crossing state lines with conspiratorial thoughts. (As Randy Shilts wrote in “Conduct Unbecoming, “ “Thoughtcrimes.”) But the really compelling parts of the films are the events in Chicago, around Lincoln Park and various downtown areas, with real footage, a lot of it in black and white, with many clips of interviews of the real participants, including Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and David Dellinger. The tear gas clouds and riot assemblies right over the Chicago River bridges are quite striking. Even in 1968, Chicago was a gigantic city with many striking “modern” buildings. (In fact it was so decades before), and the real mood of the City then comes through.

The defendants would be acquitted in 1970, although some were convicted and jailed on other charges, including contempt, but these convictions were eventually overturned on appeal.

A couple of related films are, of course, "Medium Cool" (1969, Paramount, dir. Haskell Wexler, originally rated “X” or NC-17), and a film about a reporter’s ethics challenged at the 2004 Republican Convention in New York, “This Revolution,” (2005) from Screen Media, dir. Stephen Marshall, where a journalist learns that his boss has secretly been “bought off” to turn over tapes of protesters to Homeland Security.

Roadside Attractions is a small distributor that emphasizes socially controversial films, both dramas and documentaries. Sometimes it works with LionsGate ("Right at your Door"). I love its guitar-music trademark and western-saloon corporate trade dress picture. The upcoming film "Teeth" sounds interesting. The company has a blog on blogger on which visitors can comment, here. "Sharpening teeth"? An irregular "noun." My goodness.

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