Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Review of "The Barnyard Epithet and Other Obscenities," by J. Anthony Lukas

 Review of

The Barnyard Epithet and Other Obscenities, by J. Anthony Lukas

Five out of five stars

An account of a political show trial in the U. S.

 When the Democratic presidential nominating convention was held in Chicago in 1968, it was truly “wild in the streets.” The most significant questions in the aftermath revolved around who started what and who was responsible for the carnage in the streets. Many in the media called it a “police riot,” while others blamed a core group of people as organizers of the protests with plans to turn them violent. In one of the most sensational trials of the twentieth century, seven men known as the “Chicago Seven” faced charges of crossing state lines in order to plan and incite a riot. This book was written by a journalist that covered the trial for “The New York Times.”

 The trial was definitely a political show trial in the most theatrical of senses. The defendants took every opportunity to make their cases that they were innocent of the crime and turn the focus to the discussion of what they felt to be an illegal and immoral war that the United States was conducting in Vietnam. Passions were high over the war, so the Chicago Seven were treading in familiar territory regarding the war. It was a time when public opinion in the United States was rapidly turning against the war. The Tet Offensive had taken place earlier in the year and it had demonstrated that the bright and happy scenarios being put forward by American political and military figures were wrong.

 This account of the trial explains the glamour, hostility, grandstanding and other embellishments that went on in the courtroom. Even the judge seemed to get involved in the theatrics, so much so that an Appellate court reversed the convictions of the Chicago Seven, largely based on the conduct of the presiding judge.

 The fundamental conclusion that can be reached from reading this book is that the government and the court failed to truly appreciate the significance of the show trial aspects of the event. The Chicago Seven and their legal counsel clearly understood the social and political ramifications and played it very well. The presiding judge comes across as a bit of a reactionary buffoon. It was an interesting and challenging time in America, the trial explained in this book was a small, but significant aspect of those times.

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