Wednesday, June 3, 2020

If 1967 Was the Summer of Love, 1968 Was the Summer of Fire and Tear Gas

Federal troops in the Federal enclave of Washington DC, 1968

It was 52 years ago that federal troops, 11,000 of them, were used to restore order to Washington DC, after four days of rioting and arson had destroyed large parts of the city. They brought order with dispatch (note the - sheathed - bayonets on those rifles) and most of the public was glad to see it done. Most people in any kind of position of power back then, including those who ran the news media, were World War II veterans or at least were shaped by the experience of WWII, and had a whole different scale by which they measured harshness. Any crowd control measure short of shooting was easily accepted, and shooting was always an option.

I was a little kid at the time but I well remember the atmosphere. The first time I smelled tear gas was in the streets around National Airport, and I saw troops manning an M-60 machine gun at an intersection near the Capitol.

A dozen or so cities had riots that year that were at least as damaging as those in DC. One immediate political impact of that was to make some Police Chiefs run for office, such as those in Los Angeles and Philadelphia who became their city's next Mayor.

There's a lesson there. Keep your eye on the benevolent associations and collective bargaining structures of New York City's Police and Fire Departments, which could turn into very large and extremely effective political organizations overnight. Why should they not run someone against Mayor De Blasio?

One other lesson: the 1968 Democratic Party Convention turned into a shambles and its nominee, Vice President Humphrey, lost to a law'n'order Republican. Republicans went on to win four of the next five Presidential elections.

Who knows? Maybe the voters across America, and especially in the swing states, are taking the side of Antifa as they watch all the violence, but I kind of doubt it. We'll find out soon enough.