Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"The mark of inhuman treatment of humans is a mark that also hovers over us. It is the mark of the beast, whether its insignia is the military or the movement. No principle is worth the sacrifice of a single human being . . . A revolution is interesting only insofar as it avoids like the plague the plague it hopes to heal . . . "

--Daniel Berrigan, from his open letter to the Weather Underground, 1970

Justice is the sword and the scale. It is compensation and retribution or, in other ways, compromise and conciliation. Despite our perpetual disappointment in the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous, we still hope that - in the end - justice will prevail. But what was justice in the violent ferment of the 1960s? If it was hard to find amid the era's war dead, its riot victims, its murdered civil rights workers, its assassinated leaders, its targets of police violence, then perhaps it could be described as what it was not. Daniel Berrigan had no use for any pursuit of justice that did not "avoid like the plague the plague it hopes to heal" or, to put it another way, justice could never be achieved through unjust acts. It was from prison that Berrigan admonished the emerging Weather Underground to rethink its pursuit of revolutionary justice "by any means necessary."

Radical violence of the 60s was noisy but largely innocuous or inept. Bombs went off but usually not where people would be hurt. Police and soldiers did much more harm, often beating demonstrators viciously or shooting protestors dead. The Black Panther Party lost 28 members to police violence, including Chicago leader Fred Hampton who was shot to death in his bed. Counterculture critics like to blame radical violence for the demise of the New Left, but then fail to acknowledge the historical violence to which it responded. Certainly for centuries in America white men have had the freedom to take "direct action" against minorities by driving them from their homes, suppressing their rights, keeping them out of schools, depriving them of jobs, lynching them. It was the same direct action that American leaders felt increasingly entitled to take in the world; to send soldiers to countries like Vietnam as a way to assure global hegemony. When the civil rights movement challenged the white entitlement in the late 50s and early 60s it provoked a backlash that within a decade changed the American South from a Democratic bastion to a Republican stronghold. Accepting his party's nomination in 1964, Republican candidate Barry Goldwater famously said "moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue . . . extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." It was a wink to the good old boys, of course: a cute way to say that he'd preserve the white man's entitlement "by any means necessary."