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Chapter 6: Why Do It?


Another excerpt in the serialization of Parts One and Two of the memoir Remembering Tomorrow by Michael Albert, this time chapter 6 and 7, distributed in this 40th year since the New Left and May 68. 

 

 

 

Would You Torch a Library? 

 

Hungry man, reach for the book: it is a weapon.
—Bertolt Brecht 

 

When I was giving speeches at MIT, I was repeatedly asked, would you burn down a library to end the war? I would say, of course I would burn down a library to end the war, wouldn’t you? A library has books. A war destroys not only books, but authors and readers. If I could end the war by burning down all the libraries in this city, I would do it in a heartbeat. And so would you, unless you are callous. But in the real world burning libraries won’t end wars. What will help end the war has none of the onus of burning books. You can educate. You can demonstrate. Will you do that? That’s the real question. In the documentary The Sixties, Henry Kissenger describes how Nixon was preparing to use nuclear weapons. He had to back off, however, due to immense dissent throughout the country. It wasn’t burning a library that ended a war, it was amassing gigantic opposition that threatened policies held even more dear. 

 

 

 

The Provost’s Proposition 

 

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one. 

—John Fogerty 

 

Shortly after the 1968–69 undergraduate association presidential (UAP) election, I was sitting in my new office when MIT’s provost, Jerome Weisner, second in command at MIT, knocked on the door and entered. Weisner had been science advisor to John Kennedy. He was a Humphrey supporter and had been, and still was, a civil rights advocate. Weisner had a sense of humor, too, being known, for example, for saying that “getting an education from MIT is like taking a drink from a fire hose.” He wasn’t all bad politically, either, saying, “It is no longer a question of controlling a military-industrial complex, but rather, of keeping the United States from becoming a totally military culture.” Still, we both knew that Weisner had actively assisted my opponents in the UAP election and had been miserable when I won. My campaign planks included no war research, open admissions, and indemnities to the Black Panther Party. Nonetheless, Weisner came to make peace. Weisner was a good liberal put out by his inability to relate to student radicals more positively. He thought we ought to appreciate him and his accomplishments and respect his advice. I thought that Weisner was buffoonish and unworthy of respect, though I do remember how in meetings he used to deploy his pipe as a prop people’s eyes would gravitate to, giving him prominence in the room, and added power. Others do the same trick by where they sit at a table, hand motions, clothes, etc. 

 

Anyway, I remember three parts to our discussion in my campus student government office. In the first part, after some chatting, I asked Weisner something that I had been wondering for some time. This was the first era of antimissile missiles and I had a strong suspicion that work on them was entirely a boondoggle in addition to being politically destabilizing. So I asked about this, and Weisner took a pencil, stood it point upward, and said, “This pencil has as much chance of shooting down an incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Missile as any antimissile missile we could conceivably deploy.” Weisner knew that the antimissile program was a massive sop to high-tech industry. I asked how he could know that and not trumpet the truth. Weisner shrugged. Interestingly, decades later, new efforts at antimissile programs that were promulgated by the Bush regime, and before Bush by Clinton, have had as an opponent a fellow named Theodore Postal. Ted was a year ahead of me at MIT and a fraternity brother during my year at AEPi. Now he is employed by MIT but causing trouble for militarists. Ripples persist. 

 

My second memory of the Weisner meeting was of Weisner’s prime purpose in coming to my office. He invited me to spend a weekend with him at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis on Cape Cod. He jovially told me how I would have a great time and I would meet Teddy Kennedy and others and develop friendships that would be valuable later in life. Weisner was, in short, brazenly seducing me with an offer of entry into the young people’s branch of the Kennedy mystique. I dismissed the invitation without a thought. Weis

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