USA. LBJ. LSD.
We’re going back to the swinging 60s, except this time, McCarthyism is long gone so we’re joining a hierarchical communist revolutionary group, carrying ammunition and sticking it to the man, comrade.
A few weeks ago, the lovely people at Odyssey Books sent me Jody Forrester’s new book, Guns Under the Bed, to review on Kindle. Honest, raw and oftentimes fraught with the dry sarcasm that only comes with hindsight, this is an account of Cold War America straight from the inside.
The world watches in horror as America’s war crimes in Vietnam air on national television, but it’s in a college town in California that a group of kids try to do something about it. With an unavoidable rebellious streak running throughout Jody’s childhood, this manifests itself into something altogether revolutionary as the tension of the Cold War builds around her.
Who doesn’t love a bit of communist ideology now and again? I’m envisioning the hammer and sickle that Michael Gove’s daughter has spray painted on her bedroom wall (I know). A far cry from an ‘eat the rich’ twitter bio, though, Jody Forrester’s journey from a misbehaving kid to a revolutionary demonstrates her desperation to make systemic change in a country where preserving capitalism was (and probably still is) more valuable than the lives of Vietnamese children.
‘They leaned out the windows of their beat up vehicles with plates from Idaho, Ohio and Kansas to ask, “Where’s it at?”. That was the question of our times, all of us seekers for a life where love was the valued currency.’
What struck me about Guns Under the Bed was the incredible snapshot it gives of what life was really like growing up the 60s and early 70s. Riots, protests and marches often conflated with hippies, LSD and the Summer of Love. For Jody, a painful home life and an unwavering sense of what’s right and wrong leads her to rebellion – first from a cruel mother who only cares what the neighbours think and later to America itself.
Influenced heavily by the vibrant subcultures emerging out of California, Jody seeks out her ‘people’, who she eventually finds clutching protest signs and singing ‘Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?’. I think even now, though the world is still plagued by racism, brutality and inequality, it would be difficult to imagine the impact seeing the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement on television would have.
‘The images assaulted me, and I sat there blown away by the brutal treatment done to the Vietnamese civilians by American soldiers, and to Black people on the streets by the National Guard. How could I not be radicalised?’
While today we’ve almost become desensitised to horror from the sheer volume of it we see on social media and the 24hr news, this was the first time that war could be seen live from the comfort of your own living room.
Jody makes it clear that her eventual radicalisation and absorption into the Revolutionary Union wasn’t on a whim; it was the sum of incredible tensions worldwide, newfound freedoms for young people and solid proof that American imperialism was corrupt. If any of you have read Phillip Roth’s American Pastoral, Jody kind of reminds me of Merry Levov, the one who set off a bomb in protest of Vietnam – though Jody is decidedly less crazy.
While her writing is incredibly concise, thoughtful and honest, I do feel that the narrative jumped around somewhat, particularly in the first few chapters. Nonetheless, this is a must-read for anyone who owns a pair of flares, listens to Bob Dylan and wants to learn more about America’s tumultuous 20th Century.
You can order Jody’s book directly from Odyssey.