No Exit

On 25 March 1968, President Johnson met with his “wise men.” Most commentators on the period put wise men in quotes. They were wise by appointment, but in all ways that counted, they were sociopaths. James Baldwin said of the President, “what he doesn’t know about the world is his price for not knowing me.” [The metonymous me stood for African-Americans, which Baldwin’s West Oakland audience understood perfectly]. This held equally for the “wise men,” middleaged white male politicians impaled on their homogeneity, demented by their power, suffered from terminal cerebral policy. They were the bankers, diplomats, retired generals, Supreme Court justices, ambassadors, etc, of the most childlike, solipsistic institution in the world, including the British House of Lords and the Skull and Bones Society at Yale. They viewed the external world as a mass of things to be used — from wives to laws to limousines to nations — and therefore knew less about the world than The Boy in the Bubble in Texas, whose lack of an immune system forced him to live inside a plastic tent and breathe sterilized air. The Boy understood what they did not: the external world has its own agenda.

For three years these men had backed the President’s war. Like skydivers hallucinating parachutes, they danced, surfed, held hands, married, divorced, received medals while gravity-drunk in free fall. But as they neared the ground, many among them looked up and saw a parachute-free sky. On 25 March they advised the President to stop the war and drink himself to death. Johnson was devastated. Little Negro children loved him; he was sure of that. If he had failed, what at? But there comes a moment when there are no more ends. The means are the ends and must justify themselves. They didn’t.

That’s when Johnson came closest to belonging to a political collective. When it turned on him.

In his madness, the President believed that people like Jimmy and Cathy inhabited a conspiracy so vast everyone who disagreed with him was in it. In a way he was right. The Greater Collective to which people like Jimmy and Cathy looked for guidance contained multitudes, some living, some not. Its gatherings were mythical, a meeting in the minds. That’s why they were almost always late.


No Exile

Minutes — Greater Collective meeting Mar 31, 1968:

Accounted for:

Che Guevara

Stokely Carmichael

Tom Hayden

James Baldwin

General Vo Nguyen Giap

A Motherfucker from the Lower East Side of New York

John Brown

Diane di Prima



The subject of the meeting was the subject of every meeting: What Is To Be Done?

Jimmy and Cathy took seats on pillows by the wall beneath a poster of Malcolm X, finger pointing toward instruction.

Motherfucker: Where you been? We got heavy shit coming down.

Jimmy: Chasing a blonde.

Chair: A motion is on the floor to shoot down police helicopters in support of Black insurrections this summer.

Motherfucker: Research has been done. Armor-piercing ammo with a flash-suppressor. Boom.

Jimmy: This isn’t Vietnam.

James Baldwin: It is you, Jimmy, who wrote: If a mental reservation is made, if we draw a philosophical line separating our demands from the actions that may be necessary to accomplish them, we have lulled ourselves into defenselessness and submission. I approve of the words, though the implications terrify me.

Cathy: He also wrote, resistance without a mass base is terrorism.

Stokely Carmichael: We’re talking about defending the Black community, the survival of black people, nothing else. You don’t think the white man is capable of genocide? Look what he’s doing to our brothers in Vietnam. I am fed up with asking what whites are going to do, I don’t know why I’m at this meeting. What matters is what my beautiful race of people is going to do, whether or not they are going to survive. We are talking about a people whose entire culture, whose entire history, whose entire way of life have been destroyed. We’re talking about a people who have produced in one year a generation of warriors. Our people have demonstrated the courage of our ancestors - to face tanks, guns, police dogs. When they come to attack our community again this summer, and they will, if you want to shoot down their airforce, do it. But do not say it’s a good idea and then not show up.

Chair: The following report to the Greater Collective shall be entered into the minutes:

The Detroit Common Council has just approved the purchase of

700 12-gauge shotguns

100 Stoner machine guns

1,000 M-1 carbines

25 30-06 calibre rifles with 4-X scopes

1,200 gas masks

1,500 flak vests

500,000 rounds of ammunition

8 armored personnel carriers

in preparation for the coming summer. The old order has been shattered. Poor blacks have stolen center stage from the liberal elites. The political function of government in Detroit has broken down. The Detroit city administration has abandoned pretense in its dealings with Negroes. This can be expected to happen in other cities.

Tom Hayden: It seems to me we are faced with two problems: foreign war and civil war. I still believe the foreign war can be ended by those in our government who began it. I think they can be terrified, not terrorized, terrified into stopping it by fear of what they fear most, losing power. Liberals can be made to behave as if they believed in the values they profess. We learned in the South that we can force a racist, not to change his mind, but to act as if he had.

James Baldwin: Brother Stokely appears to be saying that when it comes, the civil war will be a racial war. He shares the delusion with whites, I hope temporarily, that we are not literally their blood brothers. The fantasy of white people is not only that their brothers are all white, but that all whites are their brothers. The foreign war will end; the civil war is in its 400th year. Jimmy and Cathy want our guidance; they are white; we cannot help them. We can barely help ourselves.

Motherfucker: You’re all a bunch of fucking book-quoting armchair jive-ass phonies. Put HURT on them. Are you going to shoot down the pig airforce or not?

Diane di Prima: I urge you not to stampede or panic others/ bear contempt neither for yourself/ nor any of your brothers./ NO ONE WAY WORKS,/ it will take all of us shoving at the thing from all sides to bring it down.

John Brown: As loathsome as I find the woman from New York with the obscene name, and as unwilling as I would be to follow her into the jaws of anything, especially since I believe we are already in Hell, I cannot understand any argument AGAINST defending the Black community with arms or AGAINST asking white people to help do so. If the moral lives of white people are destroyed by the plague of color, as brother Baldwin has written, then racism is violence against white people as well, which they must resist by any means. Why is there a question as to who in America is under attack?

Tom Hayden: Is it wrong to have hope?

James Baldwin: Not when hope is accompanied by laughter and bitterness and scorn.

Chair: You’ve been quiet through this, Santo Che.

Che Guevara: I am motivated by a certain revolutionary modesty, but on the subject of helicopters I must be precise. When you ambush the military, and I include the paramilitarized police forces of your country, you declare a state of war. I suspect that behind the suggestion lies a romantic amateurism in which compañeros think they can shoot down a helicopter under cover of darkness, go home, and watch it on television. The first helicopters will be vulnerable; the rest will shoot anything that moves, most likely civilians. War is not a psychological condition. It requires an army, however small.

Chair: General Giap?

Vo Nguyen Giap: Tactically I agree with Comrade Guevara; strategically with Miss di Prima. I would like to give the Quarterly Report now. We are rather busy.

Chair: Please.

Gen. Giap: At the end of the first quarter of 1968, American opinion became suddenly aware that the Johnson Administration had been deceiving it; his Viet Nam Policy was strongly opposed from all quarters. For the Democratic Party and for Johnson, the electoral campaign began very badly. Senator McCarthy recorded mounting success in public opinion, and Robert Kennedy announced his candidature. It was in those conditions that this very evening, Johnson announced the “limitation” of the bombing of North Viet Nam, called for negotiations with Viet Nam, and made public his decision not to seek nomination as Presidential candidate of his Party. The Johnson administration has thus suffered a triple failure: military, diplomatic, and political.

Jimmy and Cathy: He what?

Giap: Will not run for re-election.

Jimmy: How do you know that?

Giap: I watch American TV. It is often helpful.

The meeting was adjourned.

Asked to provide the envoi, Miss di Prima recited:

beware of those

who say we are beautiful losers

who stand in their long hair and wait to be punished

who weep on beaches for our isolation


we are not alone: we have brothers in all the hills

we have sisters in the jungles and in the ozarks

nowhere we can go but they are waiting for us

no exile where we will not hear welcome home.