Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INT: How important do you think that drugs were in this explosion, let's say?
RD: Well, you know, even the word "drug" has so many connotations today, you know, I don't know what to say. There was a willingness to experiment externally and internally, and the difficulties that a drug culture has brought into this country and most of the industrial... well, most countries in the world, really, in the Eighties and the Nineties - it was a very different world, and so if you look at it through the eyes of how we experience a drug situation today, it almost takes away really the meaning that was there. You know, people... What is it to go into nature and to leave a city and just to live in the woods, like Thoreaux, you know? You know, that's something that's very unconventional, not done at all, and yet there were thousands of people wanting to do that in the Sixties. Well, it was in that same spirit that inner worlds were beginning to be explored; and, you know, here there's certainly a rich tradition in human history with inner worlds, you know, mostly they tend to be rooted in religious traditions. But it was in that sense that there is more to understanding the human being than meets the eye. You know, mostly we walk around again kind of closed down, and to realize that we have a rich, powerful, incredible universe upon universe within our own physical bodies, that can be accessed, that seems almost like to open up the realm of thought, that seems to open up other dimensions within the human being... What is the dream state, and how do you go into a dream state when you're fully awake? And questions like that were being pursued; some by just being quiet in nature, and some by the use of recreational substances. And what I think I believe about the whole so-called drug experience was, it was that innocence again that was operating underneath it all. And so I don't... I mean, I'm not into promoting drugs, but I'm also not so quick to judge it in terms of what really it did cause and did open up for so many people to explore themself [sic] in new ways.
INT: People like Allen Ginsberg were into oriental mysticism in quite a big way. Were you ever interested in that kind of philosophy?
RD: Not in the Sixties; in the Sixties I was pretty much all business, you know, I really cared passionately about these issues, and I really felt like for America to not tolerate black people having the right to get a hamburger, I mean, was just inconceivable to me, you know, and it just sent me into a tither. And then I had the opportunity to travel to Vietnam and see first hand some of the things that were going on; and I studied and read quite a bit about it. I became quite convinced that a conservative American understanding the truth of what was going on there - there just was no basis to be there, and that in time that we could bring the whole country, you know, to that point of view; and indeed we did. The metaphysical part of my life and the willing(ness) to explore, you know, the big picture, let's say, that came later for me, was not so much alive and well in the Sixties.
INT: I'll come to your two visits to Vietnam separately. The Sixties were a time of, let's say sexual liberation which now, women in particular look back on with a degree of distaste regarding the sexual revolution of the Sixties and the exploitation of women. What's your view on that, being a man, of course, but having lived through that period and having got the experience of (.?.)?
RD: Well, you know, it's... the story that we want to put on our experiences is always interesting to me, you know. I think that there's a lot of repression around sexuality in general in human history, and I tend to look at the Sixties as just an interesting variant, interesting experiment, to kind of let down the goody two-shoe a little bit and to explore some things that... You know, of course there was abuse and of course there were things that, you know, one person might not like or another, but, you know, it was just giving yourself permission to experiment and to be free - that was for me the bottom line of the Sixties. Now, within it, many, many stories and many, many things did occur, and I'm not saying that, you know, women that are devoted to empowering women, and men who are trying to empower men, seem to me very noble pursuits to maybe take as lessons out of the Sixties. So, in that context, I would certainly support that. But I don't... it's a little bit like the drug question - you know, it's very easy from the vantage point of the Nineties to have kind of a spin a bit about what was really going on. And I think it was really a very exciting, extraordinary, unusual social experiment. You know, I mean, the fear that goes on today around sexuality, to suddenly see a whole country with that f... well, not a whole country, but an age group within a country not holding that fear, had some merit, you know. It was very interesting. And so I just take it as one of those little blips in human history, that I embrace it and say "Good, far out." Humanity can show a little willingness to kind of get out of their good two-shoe.
INT: Your father was a senior official in the Truman Administration. To what extent did your position and his own life come to collision during the Sixties?
RD: Well, it came to collision at one point, and then came... turned around, much like the country did, I would say, in the end... probably my best fan of all, you know. The first trip to Hanoi - he had been... he was the Chief of Staff of the Council of Economic Advisers, so a senior economic adviser to Truman. Eisenhower was elected president, and he left Washington and wound up being the Secretary of Labor in essentially what was the shadow government in the event of a nuclear attack. This was a ready-to-go, operational government, and so he operated probably the most advanced communications site in the world. And I was in a situation in Europe where there was no way for me to communicate to him that an invitation had opened up to go to Hanoi, and so I just had to grin and bear it and wait till I got back. So I was boarding an ICC plane which had been set up by the Geneva Convention out of Laos, heading into Hanoi, and senior military officers approached my father and told him that you know, "Your son is about to go to Hanoi." (Laughs) And it was just like ... it was impossible, you know, it was just absolutely impossible in his mind. And then I went, and subsequently, the day that I came back, we had 150,000 people at the Pentagon, and I spoke there, and the major television network carried that live, and so he saw that. And I would say that when I finally showed up at the house, that was the moment... probably the only time we've ever had a conflict or a riff. And his view was very much that, you know, the Government is what rescued this country from the Great Depression, and the Government's not always the best but it's still... you know, it's an institution that is for the people; and, you know, coming out of the Roosevelt tradition and the liberal understanding that he had, to stand up publicly and openly against the Government was just not cool, you know. But within... well, a year later, as I was getting kinda knocked to my knees in Chicago, and then a year after that in a political trial about what happened in Chicago, those events really turned him around, and by the end he was very much in a belief that the war should end. It was not unlike what happened in the country - you know, young people sort of took the lead, and most people supported the Government. You know, I mean, if we're in a war, then we're in a war, and so you support it. But as the information about the nature of this war kept filtering in to more and more people... I mean, shortly after the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, public opinion polls were showing a majority of people felt that the Vietnam War was a mistake. Well, that was a long distance from where we were in 1965, when we had our first 25,000 people in the streets against the war, you know. So it actually went pretty quickly, and I would say that my father, like much of public opinion, you know, did ultimately come around about the Vietnam War issue.
INT: How common was it for people in the anti-war movement to be actively involved in furious rows with their parents?
RD: Well, more common than not, I would say. I mean, the goody two-shoe society didn't just extinguish itself overnight. There was just this burst of passion coming out of young people, and so wherever it met, which was at the dinner table, or sometimes... in any place where there was an institution, students and administration, any place where it connected, there was typically conflict. And of course, we didn't help it at all - I mean, you know, there was a certain level of flaunting it, you know, and the fearlessness just provoked everybody, you know, and then certain people, you know, like my brother Jerry Rubin, would... you know, "Don't trust anybody over 30," you know, and statements like that, you know, would go out and it looked like a generational war, you know, going on, and very, very confrontive [sic]. We weren't always the best at winning the hearts and minds of the goody two-shoes; you know, it wasn't really a thought through strategy that way. So the conflict did exist. I think, though, in the deeper level, certain things, like the rights of blacks to have a hamburger, women, the whole women's movement that emerged out of it, the ability to challenge the United States Government with respect to its foreign policy, I mean, certainly people will ... today would argue that the progress wasn't that great and there's still so much to be done, and I'm not saying anything that that's not true. But these points became in some ways lasting changes within the society, and sometimes I think that's overlooked, you know, that there was a profound impact on this culture, on the political institutions, on the way things are in this country as a result of what did happen in the Sixties. I would, you know, favor the passion for life, and the willingness to experiment, to me, has such a rich context whenever that can occur. And of course, I'm believing that's going to occur again in my lifetime. But then what comes out of it, the issues, the stories, and how we take that raw passion for life and direct it, that of course is going to, you know, have whatever limitations are existing within the people that have that passion. It's like an energy; and how do you direct the energy is the question. Mostly we look at how the energy was directed and not at the fact that the energy is existing in the first place, you know.
INT: Was there discussion among the people taking part in the anti-war movement as to methods? I mean, was there a belief in acceptable levels of violence to make your point, or was there a belief in non-violence?
RD: It was a belief in non-violence. I would say that was the overwhelming, dominant viewpoint. The large protests that I coordinated were... there were about 150 national organizations, and they were united fundamentally around a commitment to non-violence. It didn't mean that there weren't elements within the movement that felt more aggressive means was essential to take; but relative to all the major mobilizations and to anything that represented a real coming together of people and forces, non-violence was a(n) absolute bedrock to the American movement.
INT: To what extent were you aware of FBI and say local police red squads and of surveillance, agents provocateurs within your own ranks?
RD: Well, the awareness grew. You know, we were all a little wet behind the ears in the beginning, you know, and... you know, something would occur and like we were, "What?!" (Laughs) You know, it was like, something that today would be kind of, "Of course," you know, would really provoke us into quite a... almost naïve reaction, you know. By Chicago - this is 1968 - two months before the event, I had two plain-clothes policemen show up and show me a badge and just say that they were going to be following me now for... well, it turned out for the next four years - (Laughs) I didn't quite know it would be that long - but, you know, through the duration of the demonstration, and they had a tone of threat, and they made it quite clear that if I tried to shake them, that that would not be a good idea, you know. And that settled... It was interesting: the only place for about four years that I could go where that didn't exist in my life was when I would make trips into North Vietnam to bring out prisoners-of-war; that would be the one place they (Laughs) couldn't follow me. Other than that, it was pretty much, you'd wake up in the morning and look out your window, and there they were outside. But again, there wasn't an atmosphere of fear. You know, I would get off a plane, and you could spot 'em - you know, they'd be standing out: they wear certain kind of clothes and haircut and everything, and there'd be 50 kids screaming, and so I'd walk over to them and say, "Come on," you know, then I'd walk up to these two guys and just tell them the ground rules. I'd say, "Listen, you're invited to come to the talk, but after the talk we're going to go have a good time, and so we're going to, you know, have to... you know, bid you farewell. And if you want me to talk to your superior about the fact that you weren't able to keep up with me, you know, he should understand that it's not personal. I'm very good at shaking tails. So (Laughs) I'm trained here, you know." And we'd just laugh and that sort of thing, you know. But I had an apartment in Washington, D.C. for quite some time, because we put on many big mobilizations in that city, as you know, and it was very common for me to come down out of the house and walk through the alleyway behind my apartment, and maybe like a hot summer day there'd be this plain-clothes car with just a crack in the window because of the heat, and then you could walk by the car and you could hear the conversation upstairs in my apartment in this car, (Laughs) you know. And these were... I don't know, just a part of the life, you know, that was going on. When Johnson was President, you felt like you were in a battle over policy. When Nixon was President, for me personally it got personal. These guys made it their... well, the Vice-President of the United States, you know, openly, you know, in front of television, called me the most dangerous man in America, and it was a definite personal thing, you know, it was specific people that were doing these things, and they were bad and that sort of thing. So it was a part of this goody two-shoe control mentality still existing with its roots in the Fifties, against this kinda out-of-control passionate group of young people that really didn't care what they did, you know. So it was a very interesting dynamic.