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


"I started hollering. I remember saying 'My son! My beautiful boy! They had to bring a priest and a doctor over to me. They gave me a shot to put me out."

--Mary Brophy recalling her reaction on Jan. 29, 1966, when she was given a telegram that said her son, 21-year-old Dennis Brophy, had been killed in Vietnam.

"Grief is the most profound type of sadness," writes philosophy professor Aaron Ben Ze'ev in The Subtlety of Emotions. "It is concerned with death, the most substantial misfortune we encounter." A parent's grief when a child dies is likely the most intense emotion a person can experience. Many young people died during the Sixties, but it is easy to miss the families that grieved their loss, probably because the Department of Defense doesn't keep any record of family survivors. Once a soldier dies, his or her family loses its military link and is given back to civilian status. More than one Vietnam widow has recalled how shortly after her husband was killed she was pressured to move out of military housing to make room for a living soldier's family. Soldiers may be honored as heroes, but grieving families disappear from view, left to carry alone their unrelieved, lifelong sadness. Many of us, of course, say nothing to the bereaved for fear of saying something to arouse what is for them a perpetually aroused grief.

More than 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. Most returned to their homes in wooden, flag-draped boxes, their remains determined "viewable" or "non-viewable" by Army morticians. They were privately buried or interred with the ritual salutes and observances reserved for war dead. And all their names are inscribed on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., a unique public wall of remembrance that solicits unique demonstrations of private grief. Since it was dedicated in 1982, the Memorial has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors who search out engraved names of friends and loved ones and leave offerings like a half-filled can of beer, personal messages and laminated photos, or war medals with a note saying "`Here are the ribbons you never got to wear."

Fives seem to propose dire consequences in the Tarot. Where the Five of Wands brought conflict, the emotional Five of Cups spreads grief. Happiness may be the opposite of sadness. But as Ben Ze'ev points out, grief, which expresses the most profound loss and hence sadness, has no parallel positive emotion expressing the greatest possible gain.

On May 15, 1969, the Berkeley community awoke to find that the University of California had spent the night fencing off People's Park, the stretch of university-owned land that for nearly a year had been appropriated by street hippies as a counterculture village green. When thousands rallied on campus and then marched toward the Park's south campus location to tear down the fence, they were met by police. In the ensuing street battle, sheriff's deputies appeared with rifles and began shooting at unarmed demonstrators. Within an hour, a hundred people had been hit with buckshot, one was blinded, and one innocent bystander, James Rector, who had been watching the street battle from a roof, lay dying. It was the first time police had fired on student demonstrators and it was apparent from the random scattering of injuries that they had shot at anything that moved. Days later Rector died and a young Berkeley student stood grappling with her grief, addressing it to a non-plussed campus police officer. Hard feelings melted momentarily as students and cops drifted across Sproul Plaza, both groups purged of violence in an uncomfortable truce.

People's Park was the harbinger of a new repression. With Reagan in Sacramento and Nixon in Washington the atmosphere of encircling clampdown was understood to be intentional and the consequences swiftly felt. The National Guard began a three-week occupation of Berkeley, hundreds of students and demonstrators were arrested and pulled off the streets, and campus rallies were broken up with police batons and tear gas tossed from a helicopter. Parallels between the military occupation of Berkeley and Vietnam weren't lost on the South Campus community of hippies and activists, some of whom talked of getting guns and defending themselves. A year later, students protesting Nixon's bombing of Cambodia were shot to death by National Guard troops in Kent, Ohio, and Jackson, Mississippi.