Maybe you do need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows—in, say, the middle of a cyclone. Enter Oglesby (Who Killed JFK?, 1991, etc.), revolutionary, enemy of the people and evenhanded chronicler of days past.
When the ’60s writ large began around 1964, Oglesby was working as a technical writer for a defense contractor, occasionally bemused by his bosses’ attitudes—they drank a congratulatory toast when JFK gave way to LBJ, sure that war profits were soon to increase—but mostly content to keep his head down. The defense work wasn’t far-fetched: Oglesby points out early on that the anti-war movement wasn’t pacifist or anti-war as such, just anti-Vietnam, which to everyone but just those profiteers looked like a bad idea from the beginning. Contentment gave way to gnawing doubts, and Oglesby, by now involved in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), found himself in South Vietnam—not bearing arms, but gathering information for the growing anti-war movement, learning from the opposition there, anticommunist and anti-American at once, that Vietnam needed two things: to be free and to be rich. Though Oglesby rose to prominence in the SDS and the anti-war movement, as he charts here, he did not adapt, in the end, to the rise of the New Left and its doctrinaire ways. Toward the end of the book, we find him facing a self-styled people’s tribunal, courtesy of the Weather Underground, for the crime of having “sat on a panel with the fascist pig Herman Kahn.” Oglesby’s elegy for the sensible opposition, replaced by a different version of SDS and its antiwar kin in which just about every second person was an undercover cop or informant, makes useful reading for activists today.
A worthy complement to Kirkpatrick Sale’s SDS, Daniel Ellsberg’s Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, David Maraniss’s They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace Vietnam and America October 1967 and other tales of the movement.