A political activist looks back on an eventful life.
Zimmerman (Is Marijuana the Right Medicine for You?, 1999, etc.), a working-class kid from Chicago who lost relatives in the Holocaust, struggled from an early age with revulsion over the idea that he might become the American equivalent of “the Good German,” a citizen who passively condones the evil actions of his government. His rebellious nature was nurtured in 1960 during a year-long hiatus from studies at the University of Chicago by the sight of French students skirmishing with police on the streets of Paris in protest against the war in Algeria, something unheard of in Eisenhower America. Back in America, he joined a friend working for the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee in Mississippi one summer, during which he witnessed firsthand the sickening effects of Jim Crow racism. Politically ahead of the curve with his peers, he led student negotiations with the university during an occupation of Chicago’s administration building as a graduate student, then as an assistant professor of psychology at Brooklyn College. Soon, he was making a career fighting to end the Vietnam War, whether it involved confronting police or his fellow scientists and academics, shaming them for sharing research that could be used against civilians in the war. Zimmerman reveals here one extraordinary example of his activism: At a critical moment, he traveled to Europe to give North Vietnamese officials some stolen vials of newly developed penicillin that required no refrigeration, an act which, if he had been caught, might have earned him the charge of espionage or treason. The author’s experiences during the war (e.g., recording on film the damage American bombs did to cities and hospitals in North Vietnam) and after (flying a dangerously damaged cargo plane to drop food and medicine for besieged Indians at Wounded Knee) demonstrate that effective political activism requires no less physical courage than that of soldiers and federal agents. Perhaps overpacked with detail at times, Zimmerman’s memoir is, nevertheless, both a thoughtful eyewitness history of America’s war at home and a thrilling political adventure story.
An engaging exhortation to take risks and live a meaningful life.