The Tragedy at the Greek
Ralph J. Gleason
San Francisco Chronicle
December 9, 1964
On the Town
The Tragedy at The Greek Theater
Ralph J. Gleason
"I AGREE WITH YOU that this may seem to be a rather
theatrical performance today. " President Kerr said at the tragedy presented
by the University of California Monday in the Greek Theater. And then he added
"thanks to the audience, not to those of us up here."
And what he said had the sad ring of a truth greater
than he knew because, as it has since the beginning, the dynamic of the whole
tragic-comedy, the whole farce, the whole incredible sequence of events has,
indeed, come from the students and not from their elders.
* * *
"INDEED I LIVE in the dark age," Berthold Brecht wrote
30 years ago, ". . . a smooth forehead betokes a hard heart." And it is
obvious that the students and the student leaders are not the smooth-forehead
IBM products their elders want them to be (and in so wanting have become
themselves). It is, really, a continuing contrast in styles.
"There is a time when the operation of the machine
becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you
can't even tacitly take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the
gears, and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and
you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run
it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machines will be
prevented from working at all."
Those were the classic words of Mario Savio as he led
the sit-in at Sproul Hall last week, later heard on the magnificent KPFA
* * *
AND THEN the next morning-Berkeley's Black
Thursday-the armed, booted and helmeted police infested the building and
dragged the students down the stairs, carefully covering the windows of the
stairwell with newspaper so they could operate unseen.
"Don't drag 'em down so fast," one cop said to
another. "Take 'em down a little slower, they bounce more that way."
It has been a contrast and a confrontation in styles
all along, a struggle between a C. Wright Mills-Paul Goodman-Catch 22
generation for whom the bomb dropped before they were born and a generation
where cleanliness is next to godliness and you don't make waves, just ride on
And the ultimate tragedy is that the older generation
will never see how wrong it is, how deeply it has misjudged these youngsters,
how sadly it has maligned them and how deviously it has taken refuge in
rhetoric and in legalities when the youth has been speaking in plain moral
* * *
"WE HAVE BEEN betrayed by articulate intellectuals, we
have been betrayed by men who know better," the Graduate Student cries in
Lawrence Ferlinghetti's playlet, "Servants of the People in his new book,
"Routines" (New Directions). "We have no media, we have no person of
prominence in our country who will lead us in any sort of campaign. There is
no dialogue," and, he adds, "this is the true sadness of our position."
But the bright side, the redeeming feature of the
adult tragedy whose most macabre moment came when the policeman slammed his
arm across Mario Savio's throat, not only to remove him from the stage but to
keep him from speaking (and what was it all about but the right to speak?) is
what these students have done.
In the face of a university which abandoned its nerve
center to armed police, on the first university campus outside Mississippi to
be taken over by the cops, dragged to jail by the cops who removed their
badges so as not to be identified, in the face of a torrent of apoplectic
outrage from the elders of the tribe who felt their positions threatened, this
generation has stood up and continued to speak plainly of truth.
"When you go in, go with love in your hearts," Joan
Baez said. Those words, and Mario's eloquent speech, remain the only rhetoric
of these ten weeks that history will remember. Literature, poetry and history
are not made by a smooth jowl and a blue suit. They are made with sweat and
passion and dedication to truth and honor.
* * *