“Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960s Anti-War Movement”

by Carl Oglesby

2008 by Scribner

Carl Oglesby, former top-security-clearance defense contractor stooge-turned SDS President, writes a personal view of SDS and the movement against the Vietnam War that is insightful, amusing, and cutting. However, Oglesby has a clear bias and it’s hard to know how much of his account (which is largely based on his memory of various heated conversations) is completely fair or accurate. Also, Oglesby’s account ends up being more depressing than inspiring, as he falls into some pessimism about the prospects for movement building in the US, largely based on his experience of SDS cannibalizing itself.

Worth reading though, mostly because it’s a quick and interesting read that cuts through a lot of bullshit about the romantic 60s, and attacks the reality of war and social change with simple and rough words like so many arrows.

Oglesby reviews his rise to power in SDS straight out of working for Bendix Corporation, and how years later this fact was used by the RYM/Weatherman faction to create suspicion and have him expelled from SDS’ National Council (he wasn’t Marxist-Leninist enough). The Weathermen are definitely the villians in this retelling, probably to a highly exaggerated degree, but not for bad reasons when you consider the collapse of democracy within SDS and the self-conscious scuttling of movement building in favor of “raising the stakes”.

He also explores how his relations with his family, including his wife and children, and separately, his Southern family, were strained by his movement activism and non-stop work against the war, and how this related to his strong conviction that the movement needs to appeal to ordinary people who don’t already agree with us, and not alienate them with more-radical-than-thou posturing.

Anyway, it’s worth reading for the SDS history, but don’t expect to be blown away by new inspiration or great new leaps of logic. I’m following this up with reading Cathy Wilkerson’s memoir, David Gilbert’s book No Surrender, and Dan Berger’s Outlaws of America to get a more well-rounded retelling of SDS’ history. I also recommend SDS by Kirkpatrick Sale, which is the most detailed overview.

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