Thursday, May 13, 2004

Smiles & Slogans:

'"No Surrender: Writings From an Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner," Abraham Guillen Press and Arm The Spirit, Canada, May 2004.

I woke this morning from a dream about Dave Gilbert. Dave is serving a life sentence in New York State for his part in an attempted robbery of a Brinks truck in Nyack, New York, in 1981 during which a guard and two policemen were killed.

I haven't seen Dave Gilbert in thirty years, nor is he the sort of fixture in my dream life that some old friends or acquaintances become. I knew Dave at Columbia College in the late '60s, when he was the gentle yet charismatic center of an anti-war movement that had not yet turned to dogma. I knew him later in Weatherman, the left splinter group of Students for a Democratic Society that was committed to violent revolution and driven by a potent though short-lived combustion of ideals and idiocy. I lost contact with Gilbert when the above ground unit of Weatherman folded, to be replaced by a Weather underground to which I did not belong. The War in Vietnam ended in 1975. Weatherman became extinct not long thereafter, as members began to surface. But Dave stayed hidden for six more years, until flushed out by headlines about the botched Brinks job.

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Book Review: The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

This review originally appeared in the Jerusalem Report, 2004

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
Houghton Mifflin; 400 pp; $26
by Harvey Blume

In 1959, Philip Roth, then 26 years old, submitted his story "Defender of the Faith," to The New Yorker, which rejected it. In a letter to Roth, New Yorker editor William Shawn explained that though the author's "prose style was sure, as was his pacing, and other hints of future mastery were evident enough," the "ethnically charged" content of "Defender of the Faith" was not the sort of thing the magazine cared to showcase in its fiction. Roth then submitted the tale to Commentary magazine, then a journal of liberal Jewish opinion not much noted for cultivating literary talent, where it appeared.

The story, in brief, concerns a Jewish conscript into the American army after the defeat of Germany in World War II but before the surrender of Japan. The conscript makes repeated protestations of his faith to his sergeant, a decorated veteran of battle in the European theater who also happens to be Jewish, and who eventually realizes that these appeals to a shared heritage are nothing more than ploys by the recruit to secure special treatment, especially exemption from combat. The sergeant's reaction to being manipulated in this way is a denouement best left to the reader to discover.