Monday, April 6, 2015

Two excerpts from Norman Mailer's "Armies of the Night"

Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night is a non-fiction novel about the anti-war demonstration at the Pentagon on the weekend of October 21-22, 1967, a demonstration he participated in, and during which he was was arrested and held overnight at the Occoquan Workhouse. Here are two excerpts.

...One element of these arrests was however not random at all. A startling disproportion of women were arrested, and were beaten in ugly fashion in the act. Dagmar Wilson, the leader of Women Strike for Peace, was treated more brutally by the Marshals than any of the male notables. She was hardly alone. Over and over, eyewitness account after eyewitness account gives brutal deadening news of the ferocity with which Marshals and soldiers went to work on women. But let us move into these accounts. 
Some time after midnight, the press was called into the Pentagon for a final press conference before going home. The Secretary of Defense had left, the television was gone. There was a hiatus in the coverage of the event. It was a moment which somebody in command had obviously anticipated. New columns appeared from the building: soldiers who had been on the line were replaced. The new soldiers were veterans of Vietnam. Such men had been on the plaza since dark, but this detachment seemed specially trained, a fierce cry away from the more frightened reserves who had been first on the line in the afternoon, and had lost that confrontation of the two lines of eyes in the first hour. The strength gained by the demonstrators then was now to be tested in quite another fire. What came to be known as the Battle of the Wedge was here begun. Let us get news of it by an extract from an eyewitness account by Margie Stamberg in the Washington Free Press.
When the paratroopers with their M-14 rifles, bayonets, clubs, and stone faces appeared, the bull horns set up a call for reinforcements from those resting at campfires below.
Note that the bullhorns seem to set up an immediate call. How palpable must have been the shift in mood. 
A tight resistance of row upon row of people sitting with locked arms was formed. Then the squeeze began. We saw at first individuals in the front lines beig dragged out behind the troop lines and carried away. Suddenly, the troops which had been in single rows in front of the crowd formed into a wedge on the right side. Their tactic apparently was to split the group in two and force them to move back. No explanation was given for the sudden action. Paddy wagons rolled up, soldiers with tear gas guns appeared among the troops, and from the mall behind, other troops began to form. 
Slowly the wedge began to move in on people. With bayonets and rifle butts, they moved first on the girls in the front line, kicking them, jabbing at them again and again with the guns, busting their heads and arms to break the chain of locked arms. The crowd appealed to the paratroopers to back off, to join them, to just act human.

The brutality by every eyewitness was not insignificant, and was made doubly unattractive by its legalistic apparatus. The line of soldiers would stamp forward until they reached the seated demonstrators, then they would kick forward with their toes until the demonstrators were sitting on their feet (or legally speaking, now interfering with the soldiers). Then the Marshals would leap between their legs again and pull the demonstrator out of the line; he or she would then be beaten and taken away. It was a quiet rapt scene with muted curses, a spill in the dark of the most heated biles of the hottest patriotic hearts—to the Marshals and the soldiers, the enemy was finally there before them, all that Jew female legalistic stew of corruptions which would dirty the name of the nation and revile the grave of soldiers like themselves back in Vietnam, yes, the beatings went on, one by one generally of women, more women than men. Here is the most brutal description of a single beating by Havey Mayes of the English Department at Hunter.
One soldier spilled the water from his canteen on the ground in order to add to the discomfort of the female demonstrator at his feet. She cursed him—understandably, I think—and shifted her body. She lost her balance and her shoulder hit the rifle at the soldier's side. He raised the rifle, and with its butt, came down hard on the girl's leg. The girl tried to move back but was not fast enough to avoid the billy-club of a soldier in the second row of troops. At least four times that soldier hit her with all his force, then as she lay covering her head with her arms, thrust his club sword-like between her hands into her face. Two more troops came up and began dragging the girl toward the Pentagon. …She twisted her body so we could see her face. But there was no face there: All we saw were some raw skin and blood. We couldn't see even if she was crying—her eyes had filled with the blood pouring down her head. She vomitted, and that too was blood. Then they rushed her away.
One wonders at the logic. There is always logic in repression, just as there is always a logic in the worst commercial. The logic is there for a reason—it will drive something into flesh. 
The logic here speaks of the old misery of the professional soldier, centuries old. He is, at his most brutal, a man who has managed to stay alive until the age of seven because there were men, at least his father, or his brothers, to keep him alive—his mother had drowned him in no oceans of love; his fear is therefore of the cruelty of women, he may never have another opportunity like this—to beat a woman without having to make love to her. So the Marshals went to work; so did those special soldiers saved for the hour when everyone but themselves and the Marshals was gone from the Pentagon. Now they could begin their beatings. (The hundred arrested in the Battle of the Wedge arrived at Occoquan and were deposited in other dormitories before Mailer was even asleep.)

No comments: