This excerpt is taken from the introduction to Student, 1962. It was the first book about the New Left, and these chapters were in effect its first Manifesto. I was 21 when I wrote it, and needless to say, I don’t agree with many of the sentiments expressed.
“I have prayed just one prayer in my life: Use me.” These are the words of Spegel, the actor, in Ingmar Bergman’s film The Magician. For my generation that is no strange prayer, no unknown request; it has been on our lips, silently, for a long time. We have said very little, but we have experienced much. We have been made to live, as no other generation has, on the edge of the world’s doom….
It is no exaggeration to say that we began our maturity with Hiroshima. For although many of us do not remember it as a once-present happening in our lives, with Hiroshima a new age began that was to shape and direct us, and so characterize the course of our futures…. Even then they were coming to us with their “Cold War,” and we were being asked to recognize new enemies, to seek new struggles, to sacrifice new lives…. My generation has been witness to more offers to sacrifice the world for freedom, for country, for God Himself, than we are likely to take without some revulsion and disgust. And every time we have heard the call to rally behind the “free world,” to prepare ourselves for ultimate sacrifice for the “free world,” don’t you think we’ve thought of Rhee, of Chiang, of Trujillo and Salazar, Batista and Franco, Somoza and the others? Don’t you think we thought of Mississippi and Emmet Till And don’t you think we’ve paled a little at the hypocrisy of it all? Does it help to think of the Russian crimes? Do you think we can think of Hungary and not remember Cuba?…
No sooner were we called on to support their “free world” crusade, than they began to witch-hunt in our ranks. I say “our ranks” because it was the intellectuals whose silence they sought, and among them were our instructors, our professors…. I remember Einstein’s letter to The New York Times. “Don’t cooperate with any committees that investigate ideas,” he said…. When McCarthy was finally stopped, it was only because he abused his power. He violated certain proprieties among elites by attacking the military. He ought to have been stopped for being a threat to the very principles on which the nation was founded; he ought to have been stopped because the methods of his committee were effectively destroying every safeguard of free speech and free association that the Constitution affords to the individual, every protection for the innocent against unjust trial. But even the President, who disliked him, said nothing.
Every year of the last six of President Eisenhower’s office, this nation has faced the responsibility of completing its task begun 175 years ago. Every year since the Supreme Court decision in 1954, President Eisenhower abstained from his moral duty to lead the nation in the fulfilling of that task. No President in the history of the country could have accomplished more than he with less effort. President Eisenhower was, and still is, the most respected man in this country. The majority of the white citizens in the South regard him as a sincere and pious man. If he had appealed to them, as citizens of this nation, to learn to live as Americans ought to live, side by side, all colors, all creeds, he might have won a more meaningful and far-reaching victory for our country than he was summoned in all his life to win.
— Student, reprinted in Left Illusions
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