I didn’t write about Attica on the just-passed anniversary, though I thought about it a lot.
Tom Wicker’s A Time to Die was a formative book for me when I read it, early in college. I haven’t read it since, and shouldn’t talk much about it until I read it again, but what’s stuck with me in the intervening years is Wicker’s dismay. Dismay at conditions in the prison. Dismay at the refusal of prison officials and politicians to engage with prisoners’ legitimate complaints. Dismay at the unnecessary, brutal violence of the raid that ended the uprising, a raid in which police caused the deaths of nine hostages and murdered any number of unresisting prisoners. Dismay at the methodical torture of rioters after control of the prison was restored.
This book was an artifact of a liberal’s crisis of conscience, of a reasonable person’s attempt to grapple with the unreason of institutions he’d previously reflexively trusted.
I just learned this morning that Kurt Vonnegut — another good liberal appalled by the casual brutality of liberal institutions — reviewed A Time to Die in Wicker’s home paper, the New York Times. It’s no more than a competent review, but it does close with a line that resonates:
“We should not be so quick to pass out firearms to the honest yeomanry.”