Friday, July 29, 2011

Ginsberg and Kissinger, 1971: a lesson in phone diplomacy for the budget battle

Without much further comment (which would be wildly superfluous in any case -- disentangling the decade of the 1970s is tougher than explaining the 1960s, for those of us who lived them: the remnants of a bad acid trip, mostly) here is an item in the March 2009 issue of Harper's magazine. It details a recently-declassified telephone conversation between Allen Ginsberg and Henry Kissinger.

Nixon is in the White House promising "peace with honor" in Vietnam, Elvis wants to be a deputy in the war on drugs,"Joy To the World" by Three Dog Night is number one on the radio. (And Karl Rove is attending the University of Utah; he became the Executive Director of the College Republican National Committee in June, 1971.) How on earth did some of us survive that bad acid trip? Oh, yeah -- more drugs.

Om Land Security

From an April 23, 1971, telephone conversation between Allen Ginsberg and Henry Kissinger, then national security advisor to President Richard Nixon. Eugene McCarthy had left the Senate that January. Richard Helms was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Rennie Davis and David Dellinger were leaders in the anti-war movement; Ralph Abernathy was a civil-rights activist and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The transcript was made public in December by the National Security Archive.

ALLEN GINSBERG: My idea is to arrange a conversation between yourself, Helms, McCarthy, and maybe even Nixon with Rennie Davis, Dellinger, and Abernathy. It can be done at any time. They were willing to show their peaceableness, and perhaps you don't know how to get out of the war, and by a private meeting --

HENRY KISSINGER: I have been mee
ting with many members of peace groups, but what I find is that they always then rush right out and and give the contents of that meeting to the press. But I like to do this -- not just for the enlightenment of the people I talk to but to give me a feel of what concerned people think. I would be prepared to meet, in principle, on a private basis.

GINSBERG: That's true, but it is a question of personal delicacy. In dealing with human consciousness it is hard to set limits.
KISSINGER: You can't set limits to human cons
ciousness but --
GINSBERG: We can try to come to some kind of understanding.
KISSINGER: You can set limits to what you say publicly.
GINSBERG: It would be even more useful if we could do it naked on television.
GINSBERG: What should I tell them that
would be encouraging?
KISSINGER: That I would think about it very seriously.
GINSBERG: Good deal.

KISSINGER: When did you intend to do this?
GINSBERG: During the May Day meetings in Washington. They will be lobbying, and they could meet with you May 2 or 3.
KISSINGER: May 2 or 3. Damn it! I woul
d like to do it in principle, but --
GINSBERG: It is a good principle.

KISSINGER: Now, wait a minute. I
don't know about those dates, I may not be in town, but we can do it at some other reasonable date.
GINSBERG: I gather you don't know how to get out of the war.
KISSINGER: I thought we did, but I'm always interested in hearing other views.
GINSBERG: If you see Helms, ask him if he has be
gun meditating yet. He promised to meditate one hour a day. I still have to teach him how to hold his back straight.

KISSINGER: How do I reach you?
GINSBERG: City Lights, San Francisco.
KISSINGER: Where are you calling from?
GINSBERG: Sacramento, California. I just gave a talk on gay liberation to the students here, and I am going to San Francisco to join the march there. I will be at the following number --
KISSINGER: I won't be able to call you, I am leaving town. I will call McCarthy.

GINSBERG: Talk to him. I will try to arrange a private meeting. It would be good to talk to the Army too. You know, the war people and the antiwar people.
KISSINGER: It is barely conceivable that there are people who like war.
GINSBERG: They might have some ideas. They have been to Hanoi.
KISSINGER: I will call McCarthy. If we can set it up on the basis of --
GINSBERG: You may have to subject yourself to prayer.
KISSINGER: That is a private matter. That is permissible.

Ginsberg -- who enjoyed his role as arbiter in difficult times before his death in 1997 -- would likely relish the idea of a phone call to President Obama or John Boehner to discuss the current budget impasse in Washington. The unending debate between Republicans, Tea Party hotheads, and Democrats will take more than a bit of Ginsberg/Kissinger diplomacy to bring about "peace with honor" in Washington before the government grinds to a halt next Tuesday.

(top photo from the Allen Ginsberg Project)

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