Fears of Violence and the Tragic Complacency Among White Americans
"The complacent white majority also senses this anxiety for the future, but is so busy trying to ignore the economic and social injustice his colored fellow citizens daily suffer that few whites do anything about it."
|Source: "Stokely Carmichael, national head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee speaks from the hood of an automobile on the campus of Florida A&M University, April 16, 1967, in Tallahassee, Florida. Several hundred students listened as Carmichael spoke of 'Black Power' and the Vietnam war. (AP)"|
Bill Downs Perspective
January 10, 1968
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The [article on urban unrest] was written by Colonel Robert B. Rigg, a former Army intelligence officer and military scholar whose job was to predict future strategy for the Army's Institute of Advanced Studies. He's retired from the Service now but is continuing his work in a so-called "think tank" organization for the Control Data Corp. here in Washington.
It must be stressed that Colonel Rigg does not predict that any American city will of a certainty become a guerrilla battlefield. His technique is to point out the possibility. For example, Rigg says that "man has constructed out of steel and concrete a much better jungle than Nature has created in Vietnam." He also says that "there is the danger and the promise that urban guerrillas of the future can be organized to such a degree that their defeat would require a direct application of military power by the National Guard and the active Army."
Thus Colonel Rigg arrives at the conclusion that "during the next few years, organized urban insurrection could explode to the extent that portions of large American cities could become scenes of destruction approaching those of Stalingrad in World War II."
We think the Colonel is exaggerating the situation here. I happened to have been in Stalingrad when the Russians took a party of foreign correspondents there four days after the Volga city fell. It would take more than guerrilla warfare to create the kind of pulverizing destruction we saw there.
But Rigg has a valid argument in comparing the valid possibilities of the concrete jungle with the jungles of Vietnam. He points to Detroit, Newark, and the Watts area of Los Angeles as examples of the widespread destruction that can occur by unorganized mobs. "Were organized insurrection to break out," Rigg says, "the military power needed to suppress it would cause the damage to mount tremendously over what we've already seen."
The Colonel admits that "real prevention of urban violence begins with social, economic, and political efforts," but barring that, Rigg calls for local, state, and federal officials to adopt a "peripheral insurance policy" by establishing a widespread and effective intelligence system inside the big city slums and poverty ghettos—police spies who could identify any paramilitary organizations which "might attempt organized insurrection through armed violence and give advance warning of their plans."
"These are only a few of the trends in the United States," says Colonel Rigg, "which flash warning that our nation could be in for such violent street disorders that to suppress them would ultimately require the civil use of military power on a scale never heretofore visualized." And he adds that "urban violence has spread significantly, makes the outlook grim...because street violence has found acceptance among minorities."
This is where we part company with Colonel Rigg, and where we think that he is on very dangerous ground. No one will dispute that shocking nature of the ghetto explosions which rocked Detroit, Newark, and a score of other US cities last year. Neither can we argue with his definition of the racial, sociological, economic, and political roots of the Negro unrest in this country. But for the Colonel to say that "street violence has found acceptance" among the colored population or any other minority group is open to serious question.
In the first place, Rigg is most urgent in his call for "penetration of the ghettos by police and military intelligence and the FBI to prevent organized guerrilla violence from gaining momentum."
In other words—and this is the tragedy not only of Colonel Rigg but of most White Americans—we do not know what is going on in the slums. But to say that more than 22 million American Negroes approve of violence in the streets is simply untrue. Because if they did, then every major US city in the country would be near chaos today.
It is this correspondent's belief, confirmed by many Negro leaders I've talked with, that it is the colored population which has the most to fear, and the most to lose, from racial violence and from the kind of organized guerrilla insurrection which the Colonel is talking about. And it is my observation and experience that the great majority of Negroes in this country are just as law-abiding and loyal to the nation as the whites.
Nevertheless, no American, white or black, can ignore the fulminations of the Black Power advocates. This past week saw even Adam Clayton Powell leave the sanctuary of his Bimini island home to hit the lecture trail, presumably in an attempt to keep his options open as a leader of the American Negro. Powell was back trying to compete with other racial extremists by calling for a "Black revolution," which he deems necessary to purge American democracy and make it real.
Former SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael last week also held a closed meeting of Negro leaders in the Washington, DC, area—indicating, along with the Reverend Martin Luther King, that the National Capitol and its colored majority population will be a racial target in this presidential election year.
Still to be determined is the success of Carmichael to "internationalize" the Civil Rights struggle as he obviously was attempting to do during his trip to Cuba and some Iron Curtain nations last year. Carmichael's increasingly wild calls for organized Negro violence seem lately to have lost some of their appeal, or perhaps it's just a winter hiatus.
Likewise, H. Rap Brown, who has been calling on US Negroes to arm themselves against an alleged white conspiracy of genocide, also has been comparatively quiet, facing as he does a court test on charges of inciting to riot in Cambridge, Md., and a federal gun charge in New Orleans. And even the loquacious Mohammad Ali—heavyweight fighter Cassius Clay—has somehow stilled his public lip-flap pending legal clarification of his draft status.
But only the winter weather has changed, and in some cases worsened, the plight of the people in the core city slums, and the conditions which triggered the explosions in the ghettos still steep in their own nitrates awaiting some catalytic incident or outrage to set them off again.
The truly discouraging aspect of this developing domestic story is that the local, state, and federal officials are so sure that the social, economic, and political solutions to the urban ghetto problems have not been found.
The complacent white majority also senses this anxiety for the future, but is so busy trying to ignore the economic and social injustice his colored fellow citizens daily suffer that few whites do anything about it.
So in this case, the Army magazine article by Colonel Robert Rigg will have served its purpose if it stirs up the racial majority to look for positive solutions to the Big City slums.
But just in case, the government is accepting the Colonel's advice and taking out that "peripheral insurance" just in case someone is foolish enough to attempt guerrilla warfare from the urban jungle slums this year.
As you know, the National Guard and the continental armed forces are receiving anti-riot training. Defense Department officials have already sent out task forces to talk with state governors and big city mayors about their ability to handle ghetto uprisings and violence in the streets.
And later this month, a national conference of police chiefs will meet in nearby Virginia to exchange ideas and seek answers to the unrest in the ghettos and the security of their cities.
Let us hope that charity and reason and patience will prevail this summer. Because the United States will look pretty silly fighting a guerrilla war in Vietnam and the same kind of battle in the concrete jungles of her cities, both in the name of "democracy."