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15. Civil War in July, 1967 Part II

The most revealing fact of the July civil war in the American cities was the continuing parallel to the attitudes and actions of America’s imperial war in Vietnam. The American troops’ attitudes toward the Negroes in the urban ghettoes followed with uncanny similarity their attitudes toward that other oppressed colored people: the Vietnamese. This is apart from the fact that American Negroes are drafted to fight and die in disproportionate numbers in the Vietnam War.

Newsmen reported that, on New Jersey Governor [Richard J.] Hughes’s staff during the fighting, there were the “hawks” and the “doves.” Terms like “hold and clear,” “search and destroy,” began to be applied. Revealing also was the famous interview (New York Times, July 29) with Maj. Gen. Almerin C. O’Hara, commander of the New York State Army National Guard. General O’Hara called for a “greater commitment of force” to bring riots under control, and added the amazing statement that he would “not rule out the use of any weapon.”

Escalation once more raises its ugly head; will someone soon suggest the use of tactical nuclear weapons on American cities? “Clean” ones, of course, so that the fallout doesn’t filter down to white areas.

The General, however, assures us that while he contemplates the use of hand grenades, bazookas, and recoilless rifles, the chances of using heavy artillery are “very remote.” Well, we must be grateful for small blessings.

General O’Hara insisted that National Guard actions must be under the authority and decisions of the military, including choice of tactics and weapons, since “civilians are not cognizant” of these delicate fine points. “These are military decisions which should be left to military men.” O’Hara also stressed that the National Guard must not be “unduly restrained by civilian authority,” because “if the military is brought in and they lose control, then what do you have left?”

The answer, it would appear, is no control at all, and in a supposedly “freedom-loving” country, is that so unthinkable?

General O’Hara conceded that the standard riot control techniques — stressing closed formations with bayonets at the ready — are “not really adequate for the kind of guerrilla warfare (these are American cities, remember, not Vietnam) and snipers we face these days.” Instead he said that “military methods used in flushing guerrillas out of a village in Vietnam could be adapted to guerrilla warfare in the ghettoes.”

“Of course,” he added wistfully, “we can’t do just what we would do in Vietnam. Out there if you had a sniper in a room you’d just crank up a tank and fire a shell through the window, destroying the whole room, and much of the building. I don’t think public opinion would accept the use of that kind of force here.”

Poor General O’Hara. To be hobbled like that! But cheer up, General. I’m afraid that public opinion might well support that kind of force — provided, of course, that it would not be used in white, middle-class areas. If that ever happened, you’d really have trouble on your hands.