Country Joe's Place

Some Thoughts on Manny Babbitt's Death


And so Vietnam War combat Marine Manuel Babbitt will die in California's San Quentin Prison's death chamber by lethal injection some time after 12:0l am on the 4th of May, 1999, on his 50th birthday. He survived the 77 day siege of Khe Sahn and two years of combat in Vietnam -- famous I Corps by the DMZ -- but not the California legal system. This will bring to a close an 18 year process of re-examination of his crime and sentence and a final verdict of disbelief in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as an explanation for his violent crime. This is the final decision of California governor Gray Davis, himself a non-combat in-country Vietnam veteran.

Several weeks ago I became involved in this life and death drama because of my being a known advocate of Vietnam veterans. But as is often the case in these things I find myself personally involved. The obvious is my notoriety as a critic of the Vietnam War. Secondly I myself am a non-combat Vietnam War Era military veteran of the US Navy Air Force.

Also very surprisingly I am a Jew with distant family ties to Manuel Babbitt's victim, Leah Schendel. Leah Schendel's niece is Stella Plotnick. My mother was Florence Plotnick. Her mother was Bella Voronoff who married Harry Plotnick after they both immigrated to escape the Russian Czar's persecution of Jews. And also the Plotnick brothers escaped being forced to join the Czar's army. And lastly I have my own case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder brought on by my awareness at the age of ten of the horrors of the holocaust and us being Jewish. I saw my own parents manifest PTSD symptoms as a result of their persecution for left wing political activities, Jewish pogroms, The Great Depression and of course WW2.

The human race has lived with war for the last three thousand years as a method of national interaction. For at least that long humans have used death and violence as a method of achieving "justice" or "revenge" for crimes committed. This has left us with a seemingly endless steam of collective memory of pain, death, misery, and hate, this fostering justifiable paranoia and endless thirst for revenge.

I did not know what to do with my mixed terrible feelings as we counted down the days until Manuel Babbitt's certain death. I was playing around with my old song and the same old sarcasm was coming out:

Come on victims with a capital V
Now revenge can be so sweet
Criminals gonna die
At last payback time
Let's read the news
Let's watch TV
All the world can see.

And it's 1, 2, 3, we won't believe
Vietnam Marine
Claiming PTSD
And it's 5, 6, 7, Semper Fi
Vietnam took Babbitt's mind
Now the government will take his life.

But this was not making me feel good at all so I tried to escape by continuing reading American folk singer Peter Seeger's new book Where Have All the Flowers Gone, A Musical Autobiography. But fate would not let me escape and reluctantly I found some kind of peace. As I continued to read where I left off in succession I read the following three lyric/poems:

The first one was "Sacco's Letter to His Son," words by Niccola Sacco (1927), music by Pete Seeger (1951), copyright Stormking Music Inc.

If nothing happens they will electrocute us right after midnight
Therefore here I am, right with you, with love and with open heart,
As I was yesterday.
Don't cry Dante, for many, many tears have been wasted,
As your mother's tears have been already wasted for seven years,
And never did any good.
So son, instead of crying, be strong, be brave
So as to be able to comfort your mother
And when you want to distract her from the discouraging soleness
Take her for a long walk in the quiet countryside,
Gathering flowers here and there.
And resting under the shade of trees, beside the music of the waters,
The peacefulness of nature, she will enjoy it very much,
As you will surely too.
But son, you must remember: Don't use all yourself.
But down yourself, just one step, to help the weak ones at your side.
The weaker ones, that cry for help, the persecuted and the victim,
They are your friends, friends of yours and mine, they are the comrades that fight,
Yes, and sometimes fall.
Just as your father, your father and Bartolo have fallen,
Have fought and fell, yesterday, for the conquest of joy,
Of freedom for all,
In the struggle of life you'll find, you'll find more love.
And in the struggle, you will be loved also.
The second was "To Know Good Will," written by Weavers' singer Lee Hays , copyright 1967 by Sanga Music Inc.
If I should one day die by violence,
Please take this as my written will:
And in the name of simple common sense
Treat my killer only as one ill.
As one who needs far more than I could give.
As one who never really learned to live
In charity and peace and love for life,
But was diseased and plagued by hate and strife.
May vanished life might have some meaning still
When my destroyer learns to know good will.
Lastly I read "In Dead Earnest (Lee's Compost Song)," words by Lee Hays (1979), music by Pete Seeger (1979), copyright Sanga Music Inc.
If I should die before I wake,
All my bone and sinew take
Put me in the compost pile
To decompose me for a while
Worms, water, sun, will have their way,
Returning me to common clay
All that I am will feed the trees
And little fishies in the seas.
When radishes and corn you munch,
You may be having me for lunch
And then excrete me with a grin,
Chortling, "There goes Lee again."
Twill be my happiest destiny
To die and live eternally.

Semper Fi, all power to the people, Peace & Love,
Country Joe McDonald
Berkeley, California
May 1, 1999


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