On the long winding road to The Land
When I was a little kid, my vision of glory, my fulfillment of adulthood, was to be the last man standing in the machine gun nest when the enemy stormed the hill. I wanted to excel. I wanted to exceed expectations. I wanted to be the American Hero. I would kill them all.
Nobody ever told me about the Korean War. Not even in school. It was as if it had never happened. But they never stopped talking about World War II.
I never heard President Eisenhower say this. I was just a little kid. Little kids don’t care about big people stuff.
But it doesn’t appear that any big people listened to him him, either.
What’s the old saying? Money talks, bullshit walks. President Eisenhower walked and the big money took over.
I was watching “Pete ‘n Gladys” with my little sister when President Kennedy got shot. We were horrified. We hadn’t been told that that kind of thing could happen in America. We loved President Kennedy. He was handsome. His wife was pretty. He was my hero because he shot rockets into space. Presidents made the world better. That’s what Americans did. Why would anybody shoot him? That person must have been a bad, bad man.
They showed the vice president take the presidential oath, standing with the pretty lady who was President Kennedy’s wife. They were on an airplane. She looked so sad. My sister and I cried. It was the first time we saw A REAL BAD THING happen.
Then the bad, bad man who shot the president got shot on TV. They showed it over and over. Some guy stuck a gun in his belly and pulled the trigger. The bad, bad man opened his mouth like it really hurt, and tucked in his arms and fell.
“That’s what you get, you bad, bad man,” I thought. I was glad. He deserved it. He deserved any awful thing.
They caught the man who shot him. I thought they should let him go.
“He was just doing what anybody else would do,” I thought. Like John Wayne. John Wayne would have done that. Shot the bad, bad man…
But John Wayne would have shot him from the other side of the street. With a rifle. From the dark.
That’s what you did when democracy didn’t work.
It was a beautiful thing.
It always brought a lump to my throat.
It didn’t occur to me that that was exactly what Lee Harvey Oswald had done.
I was only 13.
I never heard Joan Baez sing.
Well, I did but I never listened. I was into rock and roll. I liked Steppenwolf. The closest I ever got to folk music was Johnny Horton.
And I never heard Dr. Martin Luther King speak. In my home, in the white California neighborhoods where I grew up, a black man leading crowds of black folk and speaking loudly was regarded as a dangerous man. I wasn’t sure why. But he was dead before I started thinking about the War. Shot by some redneck in the South.
Sure, it was wrong. But everybody was getting shot down there in the South. I was glad I was in California where my skateboard’s wheels were made from crushed walnut shells and the teenie-bopper hot girls wore short shorts in the summer time.
The Vietnam War just went on and on and on. All through high school, it was as close as the new color television in the living room but as far away as the other side of the world. Freshman year. Sophomore. Junior. Senior year. I was studying. I was chasing girls. Girls were like magic. But they were hard to catch. Like wildebeasts!
I was building hot rods. Hot rods I could understand. Girls, and why the army couldn’t win a stupid little war in a backwater jungle – those were mysteries.
And the war itself? That was another mystery. But I was sure it wouldn’t affect me. It would be over soon. Christ, it had already been going on longer than World War II. How could we have destroyed Germany and Japan and not be able to pulverize a bunch of evil commies who wanted to collapse the Asian countries like dominoes? That would be terrible. At least, that’s what they said on TV.
But it didn’t end. It just kept grinding along. One day, in my senior year, something clicked and I realized the Vietnam War was nothing but a jobs program. A meatgrinder jobs program. People were getting rich off it. They had found a way to turn helpless human beings into mountains of cash by blowing them up.
We weren’t trying to win. The Arsenal of Democracy needed an enemy. We needed Russia and China to send their side more weapons so we could send our side more weapons. Build, sell, buy, send, kill, blow up. Build, sell, buy, send, kill, blow up. Bombs and bullets were like food. You always needed more the next day.
And look at all the people over there. Millions of pissed-off rice farmers clamoring for AK-47s. We could never kill them all. What a deal!
War was big business. Victory was the last thing the Arsenal of Democracy wanted. That would put an end to profits.
That realization sent a chill through my spine.
Everything was a lie.
The War was going to last forever…
I started listening to the folk singers.
I was 17.
Early in 1970, my Sociology professor pulled me aside and said, “Rik, you’d better be careful about what you say.”
He was referring to a paper I’d written describing the United States and The Soviet Union working covertly together to create global conflicts and then selling weapons to the participants as a primary source of income. William Manchester had just published The Arms of Krupp, but I hadn’t read it. I didn’t need to.
What bothered me most was my professor warning me that the government was watching me, maybe watching my every move, because I held an opinion and dared to exercise my First Amendment right to speak about it in a college paper. That was really creepy.
I hadn’t thought of myself as an antiwar guy. But I guess now, I was. It was like sticking your toe into the Big Muddy. I really didn’t want to cross the damned river but here I was, at the edge and sticking my foot in it.
I dropped out of college sometime before they burned the Bank of America at Isla Vista. The cops killed one kid and threw 700 others in jail. This was just up the highway from me. I couldn’t concentrate on studies anymore.
I was beginning to feel like a Jew in Nazi Germany. And I wasn’t alone.
The kids were right. Pete Seeger was right. Phil Ochs was right.
Bob Dylan was right. Joan Baez was right. Country Joe was right. We were fucked.
The enemy wasn’t the North Vietnamese anymore, it was our parents’ Establishment. Something had gone wrong while our parents slept. It had run amok and turned into some kind of Frankenstein monster that was eventually going to come after me.
With college out of the picture, I knew I was going to get drafted. They wouldn’t let me have my say. They wanted me to give my life for “my country.” Yet they wouldn’t allow me to vote. I believed in self defense. I would fight invaders in a second. I would eagerly defend my country and my family.
BUT WHAT THE FUCK WERE WE DOING IN SOUTHEAST ASIA?
I might have been just a kid, but I wasn’t stupid. They were going to make me their slave, to fight, and maybe die, for their imperial profits. I was hurt. How could our parents’ generation do this to us? Why hadn’t they paid attention? They had raised us, their sons, for this? No wonder Jerry Rubin was telling us to kill our parents. (Unthinkable – but I finally saw where that distasteful radical was coming from.)
I was thuoroghly outraged. I didn’t have a country. I had lost my country! Someone, something, had taken it from me. I wanted it back. I wanted revenge. It was either run or stay and fight. But I knew how that would end up. Me, riddled with bullets or rotting in prison…
There was no solution. Only a short list of bad choices.
I needed to escape. I needed to figure this out. Everything I had been taught was, obviously, bullshit. I needed to wind back down to zero and start over.
And there was one more thing I needed to know. A burning question that kept surfacing in my sea of paranoia.
How did Richard Farina really die?
I was 19.
So I bought an old 1950 Chevy van with what was left of my semester savings and disappeared from the face of the Earth, heading north on a slow, winding, almost aimless trip towards Canada with my new Doberman pup and a couple of like-minded friends, Bruce and Cindy.
But when I reached the Bay, something made me stop by the Institute for the Study of Non-Violence to see what it was all about. I didn’t care about non-violence so much, whatever it was. But Joan Baez had finally captivated me with her voice and with her lyrics. There was something there that pulled at my heart – her compassion, her understanding, her mistreatment by the government, her loss of a husband to prison for refusing to participate in industrialized murder – and of course, her beautiful, plaintive and unforgettable voice.
I felt for her. I had nothing to offer. I just wanted a closer look.
Non-violence was a new concept for me. The first time I learned about Mahatma Gandhi was right there in the Institute’s library at the Lytton House. He had fought the entire British army with open palms and won. So there was another way…
I laid some cobblestones in the driveway for Joan. Some guy was there with a guitar, trying to sell her a stupid song, playing it through the window. “Man,” I thought, “you just don’t get it.”
I found myself invited to a seminar at the Mountain House. These people had a plan. They weren’t running and they weren’t giving in. I was intrigued. Then something clicked. I decided to stay.
I really, really freaked them out when they found me cleaning my shotgun on the patio.
“I’ll get a better price for it if it’s pretty,” I said, slipping the freshly-oiled 20-gauge Remington shotgun my father had given me to hunt deer back into it’s case. Non-violence was going to be a brand new thing for me.
And it was funny. After I sold it to a gun shop, it was as if a terrible weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I had traded a futile, insignificant, loud weapon – a weapon the domestic foe could easily deal with – for a much more powerful, encompassing and quiet weapon that they had no hope of ever understanding. I would present them with the confusing quandary of the unarmed objector, the passive resistor, the conscientious grain of sand in the gears of the killing machine.
“First they laugh at you, then they ignore you, then they fight with you, then you win.” — Gandhi
If I was to be ground to dust, at least I wanted to accomplish something.
Sand in gears, I understood.
Then the transmission exploded on my truck.
I guess it wanted to stay, too. But the Mountain House needed the parking space, so they had someone tow it up to this place past Struggle Mountain they’d been talking about.
“The Land”, they called it. An old ranch.
We pushed my van into the bushes and trees. It kind of blended in.
They drove off and left us there, me ‘n Che. I crawled in the back of the panel with Che. It was freezing. Good thing he was so warm!
No food. No money. No wheels.
“Christ,” I thought. “I’m gonna die up here!”
We heard the rumors trickling back from the War. From vets, from soldiers on leave, from field medics, from the wounded – but mostly from the deserters who passed through the Institute, the Resistance and The Land. Stories often passed from one person to another, to another… Most common were the unending stories of killing children by accident – almost never officially admitted. After what we heard was done at Mai Li, we didn’t doubt any of them.
The horror of warfare is a double-edged sword. It cuts the innocent as well as the guilty. Stepping across that white line at the induction center to serve the soulless weapons makers, amoral oil corporations and the evil politicians they owned was one’s final act of self – an act less than patriotism, more than fatalism, less than duty, worse than surrender, more than gullibility or the now incredible and unforgivable alibi of ignorance.
That is the first step of willingly rendering one’s soul into offal.