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Sunday, August 7, 2011

There was this riot in Tottenham; there was this debt downgrade on Wall St.

Looters set the Tottenham neighborhood ablaze
It's an old story.  There was this police shooting.  A gangsta named Mark Duggan was being followed by police because they suspected he was plotting a revenge killing against a gang that had stabbed to death a rapper friend of his.  He sent a text to his girlfriend that the police were following him, and apparently they approached him.  He drew a pistol and shot at one of the policeman, who was spared serious injury when the bullet struck his police radio.  Another policeman opened fire on Duggan with an automatic weapon and killed him.
People from Duggan's Tottenham neighborhood in north London were assembled outside the police station holding a peaceful protest when the gathering erupted into a riot.

The rioters firebombed and looted the local businesses, set police cars and buses on fire, and ran through the streets carrying looted laptops and tvs and all such things that looters like.  Some teenagers broke into the McDonalds and cooked themselves dinner.  The police say outside agitators were responsible.  

It's an old story I have written a number of times myself.  I think maybe the first time was when I was pulled off the sports desk one night at the old Davenport Morning Democrat to go cover a "labor disturbance" down by the Farmall plant in Rock Island.  Some picketers outside the plant gates were being harrassed by some young people.  It grew into a raging brawl that was put out with some firehoses and handcuffs.  A couple of cars were burned and somebody threw a firebomb on a warehouse, but that was blamed on those outside agitators.  The picketers wanted to improve their working conditions, not burn them down.  At least that is how we wrote the story.  

I wrote the story a couple of times in Wisconsin.  One Sunday afternoon on a weekend holiday, I was driving home from an assignment through Lake Geneva.  The college kids decided to have a beer riot, which I don't think was over anything but the desire to have a beer riot. Mobs of young people swarmed the village streets and some big footed clod stomped over the top of the company station wagon I was driving and left his foot prints in the form of dents on the hood.  Again fire hoses and and a bunch of irritated Sheriffs deputies and state policemen dowsed the gathering and arrested a bunch of beer-fogged students who could not explain their actions, except they wanted to raise Cain, who killed his brother over some kind of resentment at what seemed god's preferential treatment.  It's an old story.  

 Another time in Wisconsin I got caught up in a street riot by the University of Wisconsin.  This one seemed between the hippies and whoever.  I had just come out of the library and was headed back to my work retreat in the pinelands, when the traffic was being stopped by mobs of pot smoked, bead strung young people who were raising Cain over some issue of the time, like the war in Viet Nam or the clutter on the planet by what they regarded as the bourgeois like me.  Through the car window I received some nasty insults, but my Illinois license plates seemed to exempt me from further humiliation because the taunters assumed I was just passing through.

Sometime later, 41 years ago this month, the protests at the University of Wisconsin took on a more destructive, murderous aspect when a building housing the mathematics department where some government research was being done was blown up by truck bomb.  That bomb blast signaled a period of time when campus protests and more insidious urban warfare became merged and a new kind of civil war was threatening to tear apart the country.

The war in Viet Nam had set up the battle lines.  As a registered Republican at the time, I found elements in the party that were an offense to that group that thought of themselves as Lincoln Republicans.  Even if we did not formally switch parties, we could not vote for some of the people that the very "conservative" elements were promoting.  Those elements inspired explosively violent reactions. 

South Dakota Politics offered a review of the German film The Baader Meinhof Complex which further reminded of older versions of the story as it is currently being played out in Tottenham and is building for a new version in the U.S.  I lived through the prequel to the Baader Meinhof episode, known more commonly as the Red Army Faction version, and had occasion to write of it numerous times.

In the mid-1950s, I was a U.S. Army guided missile crewman stationed in West Germany. In May 1955, the U.S. Army in Germany ended its time as an occupation force and became a part of NATO as a defense force under treaty agreement with the West German government.  It was a complex and touchy time.  An occupying force is deeply resented, and when our missile battalions came to Germany, we were greeted with protests and invited to go home.  The Germans did not want U.S. missiles based on their land, until they were convinced that we were there to defend against further Soviet incursions into the west.  It was a time of transition and changing relationships, and as missile crewmen, we were often the targets of various political movements.  On one hand, there were still pockets of Nazi sympathizers.  Although the majority of German people wanted to disassociate themselves from the Nazi past, there was still a longing for a Germany of power, prestige, and influence that the country had known in the past.  On the other hand, was a left-wing faction that rejected the Nazi past but believed in a more socialist, even communist, future.  They saw the American forces as representatives of the same kind of capitalistic military imperialism that had powered the Third Reich. They wanted us gone.  They also wanted the classified information we possessed.

We knew military secrets.  By virtue of our daily jobs in which we serviced and maintained weapons that operated with devices that were classified top secret and we set the radar according to the plots that designated targets and defense zones and that indicated how we were to interact with other defense forces, we knew a lot of stuff that the enemy wanted to know.  The places we frequented while on pass and leave were crawling with counter intelligence agents who monitored the way we fraternized with the German civilians.  We were very much aware that some of the Germans who acted with friendly attitudes were probably working for some political faction that wanted to know what we knew.

One of the towns we frequented because it was where we went for dental services and to take advantage of a very large post exchange was the town of Karlsruhe.  It was the headquarters for a German federal court, but also a technical university whose students were particularly interested in our guided missiles.  The radical left-wing was already forming on the European university campuses, and we were warned were being funded and influenced by money and information flowing in from East Germany, which was under Soviet control.  From some of those university students, we experienced a deep hostility toward American G.I.s.  We also experienced some super-friendly overtures on the part of the German students.  

Every member of a missile battalion was in effect an intelligence agent.  We were encouraged, sometimes ordered, to build amiable and pleasant relationships with the German people.  We were also debriefed, questioned, by intelligence officers who wanted to know the names of the young people we associated with and what kind of information they were seeking during our consorts with them.  It was a tense and wearing time.  When we went on pass, we found it more relaxing to avoid relationships with the German people because we had to be so wary of them.  

We went on pass to Heidelberg, which was where the headquarters for the United States Army in Europe (USAREUR) was located.  There was a lot of G.I.-centered entertainment there, but it was also crawling with European university students.  And counter-intelligence agents who watched very carefully how and with whom G.I.s spent their free time.  

The left-wing student groups we encountered were formed during the ten years following the time I was in Europe  into the Red Army Faction, a small group that set the agenda for students who sympathized with the anti-capitalist causes.  The history of the Red Army Faction can best be reviewed in the film mentioned above, but a large part of its activity was directed at the U.S. Army in Europe.  They eventually managed to set a bomb in the USAREUR headquarters in Heidelberg and killed three G.I.s and injured a number of others.  That incident, like the U. of Wisconsin truck bombing, was particularly affecting to me because I knew the places and the people who were attacked.  

Because of my familiarity with the story of violent rebellions, I became a student of the rhetoric of those rebellions and its effect.  I have studied it in both a scholarly and official capacity, and have become very sensitive to when the rhetoric becomes transformed into action.  It is happening in Tottenham.  Last week, some Rapid City police officers were stopping some people in Rapid City for reasons and circumstances not yet explained.  But, as Mark Duggan did in Tottenham, one of the "suspects" pulled out a weapon and shot the three officers, killing one and wounding the other two.  The shooter, in turn, was shot and later died of his injuries.  The crowds that gathered after this incident were those that honored the fallen police officer.  But elsewhere, there are different perspectives on this story and much more to learn about what the motivations were behind this exchange of gunfire.  The elements are familiar, however, and old battle lines are getting renewed definition in terms of contemporary issues and events.  

In Wisconsin, the animosities between the right and left have been raised to the boiling point when the governor took away the right of state employees to collectively bargain.  This also involves the University of Wisconsin campus to a large degree.  The massive protests against the governor's action were peaceable, and this week the state will hold a recall election that came in response to the suppression of the state workers.  But Wisconsin has the capacity for volatility, as I have noted. Old battle lines have been redrawn:  we are in wars that we cannot justify and cannot win; local governments are actively repressing the proletariat; democratic processes on the national level are in a state of dysfunction; the divisions between right and left have widened beyond the reach of mere talk.  We can only wait to see how long the people of Wisconsin will keep trying the democratic processes.  However, it won't be a surprise if we hear the rumble of explosives coming from Madison again.  It's an old story that always ends the same way.  

On the national level the rhetoric of rebellion is shaping itself around the Standard & Poor's downgrading of the U.S. debt.  Standard & Poor's explicitly pointed to the deadlock in Congress as the motivating factor in their downgrade of the national debt:

  •             [the]downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.

  •             Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any time soon.

 On television talk shows this morning Standard & Poor's officials expressly affirmed that gridlock and the inability to come up with any effective compromises motivated the downgrading. And they have insistently said they are not blaming the stance of either political party as providing the wrong solution; they are blaming the inability of the parties to come to agreement on any effective solution.

Those statements of disclaimer have not stopped partisans from blaming and condemning the stances of their opponents as the cause of the downgrade.  Furthermore, the Republican factions perversely insist that Standard & Poor's is not faulting the gridlock, but is placing blame on the Democrats.  What further defines the nature of the debate gone hate-speech is the idiot chorus that obtrudes on any liberal discussion of the issues with name-calling of Marxism, communism and the like.  It is all part of that same, old story.

Tottenham, here we come.  Again.  Will we ever be able to stop writing that story? 

1 comment:

larry kurtz said...

Good eye, David. One of my favorite Montana bloggers cited the Tottenham case also.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States