A TIME TO DIE by Tom Wicker
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When the Attica inmates summoned New York Times columnist Tom Wicker to D-yard, Wicker was uncertain what his role in the uprising was to be: negotiator, arbitrator, go-between, observer. . . . But after a few hours at the prison his mission burst upon him: Nobody gets killed. For four days, Wicker, along with Herman Badillo, State Senator Arthur Eve, William Kunstler, and a score of others tried to impress upon Russell Oswald, and the rest of the prison authorities right on up to then Governor Rockefeller, the desperate determination of the prisoners not to give up. Wicker, like the good liberal he is, kept hoping against hope that some kind of ""formula"" for amnesty, some legal nicety might yet be worked out. Four days later state troopers and guards launched an attack that for sheer savagery could only be compared to My Lai. Forty-three men were left dead. Wicker was left with an overwhelming sense of fatigue, impotence, failure. A failure of courage and imagination for which he could find no rationalization, no consolation. He could not get over the fact that in the end it was the respectable law-and-order prison authorities who behaved in a dehumanized, bestial manner, driving wounded weeping men on their bellies through the mud, chanting, ""Crawl, you motherfuckers, crawl, crawl."" Wicker, like everyone else, had believed that if it came to a confrontation the inmates in D-yard would play the only card they had: they would kill the hostages. ""But the inmates had not done it."" This, Wicker realized, was the ""one essential contradiction."" Those who remember Wicker's brilliant on-the-spot reportage will find this book less charged, more introspective. Quite obviously, Wicker has still not come to political and personal terms with the Attica massacre and its implications. Between the revolutionary orations in D-yard he fills in on his own upbringing in a small North Carolina town, his lifelong sense of being ""different,"" apart from his peers, his frustrated ambitions to be a novelist, the recurring feeling that at middle age he was ""affluent beyond a sense of decency,"" a man who had somehow fallen short of the family heritage which drew him toward the victimized and oppressed. The Attica story is for Wicker a kind of crucible of his identity as a man and a writer. For America, he believes it was one of those rare moments when through the actions of Rockefeller ""the hand of established power had been seen directly at work."" Probably this is the most eloquent testimony we have had on Attica to date, rekindling all the anger and shame of those awesome days.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1975
Publisher: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co.