“It is not enough to allow dissent. We must demand it, for there is much to dissent from.” – Robert F Kennedy, 1966
My dad and I were eager to pick up my older brother Jim at Detroit Metro Airport.
We lived in Windsor, Ontario, across the river, so it was just a short jaunt through the tunnel to Motown, and then to Metro, a big honking airport just out of town.
It was always exciting for me, because I was an airline nerd – I loved anything to do with airplanes, especially big commercial airplanes.
And man, Detroit had it all – Northwest Airlines, Braniff Airlines, American Airlines, etc. It was a massive hub for air transport in the US in the 1960s and ’70s.
So the chance to visit a big airport, and sit in the terminal building, was a huge thrill for me. I soaked up everything around me, admiring the uniformed flight crews and cabin crews that carried their suitcases past me.
I dreamed I would one day be one of them – but it never happened. Somewhere along the way, I became a journalist instead.
Jim had spent a week experiencing the best of New York, visiting our cousin Leona, who worked for Eastern Airlines – I remember he brought back a cool Statue of Liberty lamp for my parents, who dutifully placed it on the TV set, where it sat for years.
Jim arrived, in a markedly good mood, and we drove back – I listened intently to the stories, about New York and Leona and how nice she was.
But the story that really got my attention was this: On the 707, Jim had sat next to a US soldier, in uniform, returning from a tour in Vietnam.
Not only that, but on the other side sat famed Detroit rocker Alice Cooper, returning from some gig on the East Coast. Jim said he was cool, very down to earth.
What transpired next, though, was life-changing.
The soldier had held court, revealing all the shit that was going down in Vietnam. Stuff we had no idea about.
Keep in mind, we had no Internet, no way of knowing what was really going on, except for newspapers, TV networks and possibly Rolling Stone magazine.
And not one of them, except for a few brave souls, people like Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) and Walter Cronkite (Battle of Hue), had the guts to speak out.
The stories were terrible … America was not winning, it was losing … innocent Vietnamese people were being killed, villages burned … America was not winning hearts and minds … troops were “fragging” their gung-ho officers (pushing them out of choppers) … and making non-stop runs into neighboring countries to get drugs … and enemy death counts were bullshit … it was a clusterf–k beyond belief.
My god, we had no idea. Both Cooper and my brother listened in stunned silence, trying to comprehend what they had learned.
From that day forth, I was against the war. Vehemently.
No surprise then, that Jim – even though he was Canadian – would voluntarily campaign for Robert F Kennedy in the Indiana primary, going door to door in poor black neighborhoods, where he was openly welcomed.
Jim says he missed a chance to shake hands with the man, because his hands happened to be covered in Kentucky Fried Chicken, handed out to the volunteers before they tackled their districts.
He also looked on as RFK tried to calm the crowd when the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination was announced. Bobby would be dead too, just a month later.
This was my brother. He had to stand up for what was right. He had to step up. And he had to be there.
He also went to Chicago, and was involved with the infamous Weather Underground – but was turned off by the bomb-making stuff. Jim, and the girl he was dating then, wanted nothing to do with that.
No wonder the Federal Bureau of Investigation stopped Jim at a protest, photographed him and asked him questions.
Man, I was so proud … so proud, when I heard this. My bro, photographed and questioned by the FBI. It didn’t get any better, from a kid who was hooked on Jimi Hendrix.
He also got to meet (Hanoi) Jane Fonda at an anti-war press conference – he had long hair, and a beard, and she thought he was cool. Imagine that!
Jane took one look at Jim, who was working for Windsor radio station CKLW and had a press card, and said, “I want him in here.”
All the other big Detroit stations were left out, because, as Jane explained, “they would just cut me down.”
And then there was Jim’s encounter with Jimmy Hoffa.
The union leader had just gotten out of jail (on a Nixon pardon) for his first presser, and a reporter asked, “Hey Jimmy, they say jail made you soft.”
Hoffa responded: “Wanna try me?”
Nobody f–ked with Hoffa, but … in hindsight, he had to go. He pissed off the mob. Nobody wanted to go back to the days of constant DOJ harassment.
As attorney general, Bobby Kennedy had done everything in his power to get Hoffa, creating a “Get Hoffa” squad of 20 prosecutors, in what one Kennedy aide called “a blood feud” that was wholly personal.
Strangely enough, I went to school with Anthony “Tony Pro” Giacalone’s niece.
Tony Pro, an infamous Detroit mobster, sometimes played cards at a house just down the street from where we lived.
According to reports, he was the one who invited Hoffa to the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield, Michigan.
It was the invite Jimmy never came back from – even the FBI hasn’t figured out that one. But I digress.
Of course, it would all change when Richard Nixon got into the White House – things became even more heated, more violent, more torn.
More bombing, more death.
The Kent State massacre, of course, and the rapid expansion of the anti-war movement. The brash burning of draft cards in front of the White House, for crissakes.
We didn’t want this war any more, nobody did, and young men were dying … for nothing. On top of that, they were lying to us. Lying bastards.
And it's one, two, three, What are we fighting for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn, Next stop is Vietnam; And it's five, six, seven, Open up the pearly gates, Well there ain't no time to wonder why, Whoopee! we're all gonna die. — Country Joe and the Fish
Yet the war brought out the best in America. News coverage, which included the graphic testimonies of the death and destruction in ‘Nam, would turn US public opinion against the war.
Incessant leaks that the Johnson and Nixon administrations had lied, also undermined the public’s trust in government. It all came tumbling down.
But in the end, one can say democracy worked. This is the America I admired, cherished, looked up to. The America I wish would return – post-Trump.
Fast-forward to a cold December evening in 1984.
Rory Kennedy, who was 13 at the time, and her brother Douglas were watching the news on TV. These were children of RFK, of course, who was gunned down in Los Angeles in 1968.
As she tells The Guardian, anti-apartheid activists were being handcuffed at protests outside the South African Embassy in Washington, just 10 miles from where they lived with Mom Ethel Kennedy and their nine siblings.
It was decided: If other people were putting their bodies on the line, these two kids would step up and make a statement.
At breakfast the next morning, they made their case for getting arrested to their mother, who was sympathetic to the cause.
“Without missing a beat, Mommy looked at us and said, ‘Fantastic, get in the car, I’ll get you down there,’” says Rory.
“They arrested me and I was thrown in a police car and handcuffed. I looked up at my mother and I tell you, I don’t think she has ever been prouder.”
Again, the America I admire, the America I miss. Those wonderful Stars and Stripes.
Hard to believe, but there was a time they stood for something.
Activism must be channeled, it must be an important part of the democratic equation. It must survive. It must go on.
It is important not only for the United States of America, but for the rest of the world. Democracy must prevail on November 3.
Will America wake up, and do the right thing?
I sure hope so. For one thing, Jim would be pleased.
Dave Makichuk is a veteran writer and copy-editor with 35 years’ media experience who lives in Calgary and freelances for Asia Times. A dedicated Detroit Red Wings, Tigers and Lions fan, Makichuk relishes his chosen role as enemy of the state, and defender of the oppressed and downtrodden.