Friday, 24 October 2008
Turn, Turn, Turn to Riots and Spooks in Cambridge
So the leaves are turning and the clocks are turning back. Lots of turning going on and in Autumn a middle-aged woman’s fancy turns to the past. We are about to gain an hour of time so it always makes me think about all the time lost, not in a miserable way but in a 'by the fire thinking back' sort of way. I can hear the Byrds warbling in my head as I type, ‘To every season, turn, turn, turn there is a… what.... a time for every purpose under heaven. Pete Seeger wrote the song, or rather plucked the lyrics from the King James Bible and stuck in the ‘turns’. The zeitgeist at the time was all about homing in on that line ‘a time for peace’ given that the Vietnam war was at its height. You could read it another way as it does say there is a time for war as well but let’s skip hastily over that.
When I heard it as a teenager it was all about it being our time to say that we had the one true message about peace. I was at The Grosvenor Square Riot in 1968, by mistake rather than by choice as I was having to stick with someone who had promised me a lift back having missed the coach back to Cambridge. Someone, I recall, sang this song very badly on the coach down to the rally in Trafalgar Square, where Vanessa Redgrave and Tariq Ali strutted their stuff. We had that certainty then that no-one could really see what was happening in the world but us.
The abiding memory I do have of Grosvenor Square, apart from being very frightened and mystified, was seeing a young man stand on the steps of a building well away from the main screaming, yelling, punching, swearing and bad-temper. He opened a tin of bright red paint and poured in over his head and held up a tiny cardboard sign on which was scrawled in biro ‘They bleed, we all bleed’. It was performance art before performance art really existed. I do recall thinking that the paint could damage his eyes and that he would never get it off his clothes and they'd never let him on a bus or the tube like that. I also remember thinking that my dad would never behave like these policemen (he was a well mannered old fashioned gentlemanly copper, a life time away from what seemed the vicious thugs of the Met ).
Looking back at this footage of it all however, you can see that the policemen were just as frightened as everyone else and more frightened of losing. It was said that if the embassy had been breached the American Marines inside would have fired on any intruders. I don’t know how true that was but there were certainly those there on that miserable grey March day that were intent on getting into the building and of becoming the martyrs for the cause. Several young English bodies riddled with American bullets (albeit they were middle-class Anarchists, Workers Revolutionary Party members or Socialist Worker salesmen) strewn on the steps of the American Embassy might have spoken louder than words. I am cynic enough now and was then, despite my young age, to know that there were those that knew that the power of that photograph released world wide would have been the greater publicity furthering the cause of demonising the American government. The ‘end justifies the means’ men that exist behind all social and political movements, good, bad or indifferent and who usually use bright–eyed bushy tailed idealists or plain naive ‘wanna make a difference’ people to further whatever cause they promote. The process is the same whether you are grooming the Hitler Youth or Rainbow Warriors it’s the righteousness of the cause and the outcome that is the justification.
Barack Obama has sat on a charity committee with an ex member of the Weathermen, William Ayers, a revolutionary terrorist organisation founded a year after the Grosvenor square riots to use bombings of government buildings to highlight the US Governments action in Vietnam and elsewhere. He was led by older men then who thought they were in the vanguard of those who knew that their violent means was justified by the extent of the perceived worse atrocities committed by the US government at the time. He is a now a well respected professor of Education in Chicago and was never convicted of any crime.
The government of Northern Ireland now contains those who were seen by some as terrorists, men who drew angry young men from the Catholic and protestant estates of belfast into their dark thrall. They were sent out in the name of justice to bomb and maim whilst the hands of their masters supposedly remained clean of blood as they walked the political corridors of power.
I knew someone in Cambridge during the mid sixties who was approached by someone in The Eagle Pub near Kings Parade. This man, supposedly, represented 'a friend of a friend' of the KGB. Getting the Americans out of Vietnam was a cause they all espoused surely a little co-operation over some information was called for should this person ever be in a position in the future to help them. He told him to sling his hook. It seems like a bad episode of Spooks looking back now but Cambridge then was still a hot bed of political intrigue even post the famous Cambridge Spies, some of whom in the sixties were still undetected working for shadier employers other than the one named on their payslip.
There is a time for every purpose under heaven like peace and war but the important and repeated word is turn and some things just seem to keep turning so fast they all become a bit of a blur.