Review of "Dreams Die Hard" by David Harris

You can find this book here.

Wikipedia says the book is autobiographical.  At times it seems so, but on the whole it's missing some keys components of an autobiography (more on this point later).  At other times, it seemed like a book about the intersection between Allard Lowenstein and Dennis Sweeney – Harris knew both men.

In short: Lowenstein was the dude who began the dump LBJ movement.  He eventually persuaded Eugene McCarthy and later RFK to run against LBJ.  Sweeney was a student protege of Lowenstein while Lowenstein was at Stanford.  Sweeney became radicalized and eventually went crazy and killed Lowenstein.  I'm not sure that I have much more to say on this part of the book.

In a sense the book helped explain why stuff was so crazy in the 60s.  Sweeney participated in efforts in Mississippi to help get blacks the vote.  For his trouble, whites in Mississippi attacked him repeatedly, twice (at least) with dynamite.  For this trouble, he was kicked out of the movement by blacks for not being white.

This whole topic is confusing to me and Harris does not deal with the confusion.  Here is a kid from Oregon coming to Mississippi to tell people there how to live.  Whites in Mississippi suggest that this will ruin their cities, cause crime, ruin their education system, etc.  The kid from Oregon wins and goes back to exclusively white areas, leaving the whites and blacks in Mississippi together to figure out what to do next.  The predictions of the whites come true and meanwhile Sweeney is back in Northern California, Oregon or Massachusetts staying well away from large populations of blacks and being considered heroic.  I'm not suggesting that it was wrong to allow blacks to vote, but the historical results are not as clear cut as we would like.  To top it all off, Sweeney eventually becomes racist .  At one point in the book Harris quotes him saying that he, Sweeney, grew to hate black preachers while he was in Mississippi – apparently he believed these preachers just wanted to have sex with white girls.

Meanwhile, we get some parts of Harris' life, but the book is silent on his reasons for becoming a protester.  David Horowitz's book (another 60s radical) is as much a book about his political beliefs as it a book about himself.  One was left wondering whether Harris actually believed in anything he fought so hard for or against, or whether he was simply going along with the tide.  Generally, he referred to himself in the first person, but when discussing anything remotely ideological he would switch to the third, as if suggesting that the person who believed those things and acted in those ways was different.

When he does talk about his political beliefs at the time, they sounds stupid.  He ran for student president of Stanford.  During the race he said, "Students are n—–s here" and got a standing ovation.  These are not exactly deep thoughts.

Harris talks about persecution by the CIA and the FBI, which was interesting.  But, he fails to talk about legitimate connections to groups that were actually committing crimes, like the Black Panthers.  Sweeney actually blew up a (thankfully empty) building, so it's hard (at least for someone born in the 80s) to understand why some attention from the FBI is unreasonable.

My quest to understand the 60s goes on.

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One Response to Review of "Dreams Die Hard" by David Harris

  1. […] the Sixties happened and it was fucked up. Nevertheless, the crazy actions of these people only become logical if they are understood as a […]

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