“There is no such thing as a good war, or a bad peace” – Benjamin Franklin.
The stunning confluence of events that occurred on the weekend of June 27, 1969 – Life’s magazine’s extraordinary edition lining up 12 pages of high school yearbook-style photographs of one week’s worth of deaths of young American soldiers in Vietnam hitting newsstands the same weekend as the Stonewall Riots in New York’s Greenwich Village – is an amazingly poignant, fitting historical testimonial to the symbiotic nature of the civil rights, feminist, anti-war and gay liberation movements.
That the modern gay liberation movement, which later adopted the Stonewall Riots as its point of departure, occurred to the day as one of the strongest national statements against the Vietnam War began confronting the national consciousness, provides a telling and decisive clue: Our gay liberation movement was not born in isolation.
It was part and parcel of a social upheaval which had universal justice and equality as its object. What made the Vietnam War so bad was its sheer lack of credible national purpose. On the contrary, it brought home the warning by President Eisenhower a few years earlier about the danger of a “military industrial complex” running the nation to its own ends.
A general in World War II, Eisenhower knew the abject horror of war, and vowed never to permit America to go to war during his two terms as president. When inaugurated in 1952, America had kicked off another war in Korea, and Eisenhower ended it as soon after being sworn in as he could.
But the escalation toward war in Vietnam in the 1960s had the benefit of no such countervailing resolve. Given the mainstream American resistance to the civil rights and War on Poverty struggles of the 1960s, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy in 1968 led to an angry surge of opposition to tens of thousands of our nation’s young being drafted to die in the jungles of a pointless war.
I was in that surge. It included an imperative to cast off all the trappings of social oppression that the captains of the “military and industrial complex” used to hold us down. Coming out, and the launch of the modern gay movement, was part and parcel of a far wider social convulsion that was happening.
Thus I, after co-founding the Berkeley Gay Liberation Front, wrote the Gay Sunshine newspaper’s first editorial entitled, “Who Needs It?,” saying the movement should “represent all those who understand themselves as oppressed – politically oppressed by an oppressor that not only is down on homosexuality, but equally down on all things that are not white, straight, middle class, pro-establishment…It should harken to a greater cause – the cause of human liberation, of which homosexual liberation is just one aspect.” (Gay Sunshine, Aug.-Sept. 1970).
I was then chosen to be the first-ever “official” gay liberation spokesman invited to address a major anti-war rally in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
All this was entirely in keeping with the kind of fervor and wider social justice purposefulness that ignited the Stonewall movement. We gays, after all, hated the war because we were especially inclined to feel empathetic, same-sex attraction to many of those young men being slaughtered. Dads cheered them on. Moms couldn’t defy their husbands. So it was up to us to really spearhead the anti-war movement, and we did.
But none of this happened uncontested, and the counter-punch came with a vengeance, though in a form that caught most unaware. While the strident, militaristic right wing required our focus, an insidious and toxic counter-insurgent influence infiltrated the anti-war ferment from within: the “sex, drugs and rock-and-roll counterculture.” I documented earlier the covert, pro-fascist intelligence elements behind this.
It was a noxious mix of radical hedonism and post-modernist social dissembling. I was a first-hand witness. The social disintegration aspect involved socio-political ideologies that rejected the bonds of social justice-inspired solidarity linking the anti-war, civil rights, feminist and gay movements. In the post-modernism of the despicable Michel Foucault and his ilk, it is each against all: no one is trusted and all authority, even scientific authority, is to be questioned, disregarded and resisted.
Therefore, the social justice bonds I wrote about in my Gay Sunshine editorial came under fire: to them, the gay movement was about gays, and that was it. Talk about “divide and conquer,” it was the oldest counter-insurgency trick in the book! It worked. Moreover, with radical anarcho-hedonism replacing social consciousness with the personal pursuit of pleasure, post-modernist imperatives demanded a rejection of all restraint.
The gay movement devolved quickly into the urban anarcho-hedonist excesses of the 1970s, bearing trappings of sexual addiction and habitual fads, creating the incubator from which AIDS arose.
Social activism thus “taken out,” the nation crept back toward war. With Reagan came indifference to gays in crisis, non-democratic precedents to fighting wars, and greed-laden spread of domestic debt slavery.
(To be continued).