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October 20, 1972 - Image 5

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Michigan Daily, 1972-10-20

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Friday, October 20, 1972
A vindica
life of Wal
MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT,
A BIOGRAPHY, by E l e a n o r
Flexner. Coward, McCann & Geo-
ghegan, Inc., $8.95.
By DOROTHY GIES McGUIGAN
Who knows what ingredients
go into the production of the
genus reformer - the man or
woman who would break old
idols and new paths, grapple
with the substance of life or so-
ciety and shape it in new, au-
dacious ways? Whatever are
those elements, the experience
itself is bound to be twice as
dramatic, twice as traumatic for
a woman-at least in past his-
tory - who had to break out of
a rigid, sex-defied social pat-
tern before she could begin to
remake the world. For gifted wo-
men like Mary Wollstonecraft,
as Margaret Fuller remarked a
century ago, "in breaking bonds
they became outlaws."
Mary Wollstonecraft was born
in mid-eighteenth centdry Lon-
don and her troubled childhood
might have been the syuff of a
Dickens novel. Her father, a
silk weaver who yearned to be a
gentleman f' rmer, failed in ev-
erything he undertook a n d
drowned his frustrations in drink.
It was the spirited eldest daugh-
ter Mary who flung herself be-
tween the violent; and abusive
father and the submissive moth-
er, who lay on the landing out-
side their chamber at night
ready to leap into the fray if she
were needed.
At nineteen she left home to
earn a living at one of the mea-
ger choices open to middle-class
girls for whom no suitor had
presented himself, who had no
dowry, or who were damaged
by smallpox. Mary was succes-
sively companion to a rich old
woman in Bath, mistress of a
small school she started herself,
governess to the children of an
Irish landowner. But the school
failed, and she was fired from
her job as governess. At twen-
ty-eight, with a few pounds in
her pocket, she set off for Lon-
don to make her living as a writ-
er. Few careers could have been
more difficult in that day for a
woman without private means,
S without connections, with the
scantiest, of educations. Yet
make it she did. "You know I
am not born to tread in the beat-
en track, the peculiar bent of
my nature pushes me on," she
wrote her sister,
If Mary Wollstonecraft's un-
happy and rebellious childhood
shaped her unique life in part,
nevertheless, as Alice Rossi
pointed out in a paper given at
the University of Michigan last
year, it has been adult experi-
erice that shaped the lives of
e most feminists in decisive ways.
The germinal years of Mary
Wollstonecraft's life were the
London years of 1787 to 1790,
when she fell in with the coterie
of radical intellectuals who ga-
thered regularly around the din-
ner table of the publisher Jo-
seph Johnson, in his house in St.
Paul's Churchyard.
She had already written two
*mall books, including a tract
called "Thoughts on the Educa-
tion of Daughters," and John-

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Page Five

tion of the
I stonecra ft

I

Before Vietnam was Laos

Professors as gentlemen

sA engaged her to writeand to
translate. This self-educated wo-
man had taught herself French
and German thoroughly enough
to translate important works for
a discriminating reading public.
Among the circle of men of tal-
ent she met at Johnson's were
Thomas Paine, William Blake-
who did the engravings for the
second edition of her Original
Stories William Godwin, the
philosopher and anarchist, "with,
a head too big for his body and
a nose too long for his face,"
the painter Henry Fuseli, and
the mathematician John Bonny-
castle. They called her simply
"Wollstonecraft," accepted her
as one of them, this spinster ap-
proaching thirty, not unattrac-
tive, with great serious dark
eyes ' and hair pinned up any
which way or. left to fall loose on
her shoulders, arguing and ask-
ing what she called "men's ques-
tions" - why? and why not? In
t h a t brilliant company of
freethinkers Mary was infected
once and for always with a pas-
sionate interest in "the grand
causes which combine to car-
ry mankind forward and dimin-
ish the sum of human misery."
When Edmund Burke de-
nounced the French Revolution
with all the powerful logic of
traditional conservatism, it was
Mary , ollstonecraft who first
leapt to a blazing defense of re-
volutionary principles in her
Vindication of the Rights of
Men. Her intense and often per-
sonal polemic was widely read,
though it was also rather quickly
out-classed by the more finely-
reasoned Rights of Man, which
her friend Thomas Paine brought
out soon after.
Less' than a year later, in 1791.
Mary Wollstonecraft hammered
out in the space of a few weeks
her great and original work, A
Vindication of the Rights of Wo-
men, one of the last important
works to emerge in the twilight
of the Enlightenment.
Unerringly she focused atten-
tion on the huge fallacy, in con-
temporary liberal thought: that
one-half the human race had
been totally ignored in all the
doctrinaire philosophy of egali-
tarianism, and even by. the re-
volutionaries so busy creating a
brave new world in France.
She had been stirred to the
writing of it by Talleyrand's Re-
port on Public Education," pre-
pared for the Legislative Assem-
bly in Paris - a plan for na-
tionalizing French education but
exclusively for boys. Mary
Wolstonecraft challenged Tal-
leyrand and all "reasonable
men" to prove that women were
not also creatures- of reason and
therefore educable; she pled
with them "to emancipate their
companions so that they might
win rational fellowship instead
of slavish obedience. She de-
manded equal access to educa-
tion for women, to employment
and to full civil rights. It was
independence Mary Wollstone-
craft was after, for herself and
for all women, autonomy, the
right to choose, "the grand
blessing of life, the basis of ev-
ery virtue."
One of those unique contribu-
tions to human thought, "so true

THE GENTLEMAN'S ALPHA-
BET BOOK, by Harvey Korn-
berg, with Limericks by Donald
Hall. E. P. Dutton, $5.95.
Ah, the good old days are
sadly past when the only ground
for expulsion of a tenured pro-
fessor was "gross immorality."
This week's gross immorality,
from the pen of ore 'of Ann Ar-
bor's leading citizens, will, for
the price of one football ticket,
a m u s e the most demanding
juvenile for at least five minutes.
-E.S.

Aphrodisiac
One Thursday, at tea with the Vicar,
ai(d's maidenhood disappeared quicker
Than the blink of an eye
When he dripped Spanish Fly
In her tea, and she prayed him to prick her!

VOICES FROM THE PLAIN
OF JARS: LIFE UNDER AN
AIR WAR, compiled by Fred
Branfman. H a r p e r Colophon
Books, S$.95.
By MICHAEL CASTLEMAN
Question: what is the most de-
structive force at manknd's dis,
posal for use in warfare? Nu-
clear weapons? Wrong: Automat-
ed air war.
Although the air war over Vi-
etnam is the first publically vis-
ible example of the automated
battlefield, it is not the first air
war to be waged. That dubious
honor falls to the secret war ov-
er Laos between 1964, and 1969;
a war waged against the people
of the Plain of Jars, a war we
never knew about.
The Plain of Jars is located in
northeastern Laos near the bor-
der Laos shares with North Viet-
nam. It is a beautiful, fertile,
minerally rich area surrounded
by rugged mountains. It has in-
spired western travelers for over
200 years, and has been for the
past 700 years one of the most
fought-over areas in Southeast
Asia, for it served several arm-
ies as a strategic springboard for
invasions of Vietnam and Cam-
bodia with their fertile coastal
plains, and more importantly the
rice bowl of Southeast Asia, the
Mekong River Valley and delta.
After World War II the French
set up a succession of pro-West-
ern regimes as the Royal Lao-
tion Government with its capi-
tal in Vientiane. These govern-
ments immediately set out to
destroy the communist-led na-
tionalist forces of the Viet-Minh
who reorganized after the war
and proclaimed themselves the
Pathet Lao or "nation of Laos"
in 1950. The Plain of Jars lay
midway between Vientiane and
the Pathet Lao headquarters to
the north. In 1958 a coalition of'
Pathet Lao and various other
left-nationalist parties won 13 of
21 seats in a special parliamen-
tary election designed to inte-
grate the Pathet Lao held areas
into the Royal Laotian Govern-
ment. This majority was unac-
ceptable to the now U.S.- finan-
ced regime of General Nosavan
in Vientiane. Nosavan engineer-
ed a coup in May 1959 with the
aid of his U.S. advisers who had
administered over $480 million
of U.S. aid to the Vientiane re-
gimes between 1955 and 1963.
(Although North Vietnam aided

backed Vientiane troops for the
Plain during the early 1960's, and
by 1964 had consolidated its rule
over the area, instituting "a
mild but thorough social revolu-
tion ranging from land reform to
greater equality for women."
American policymakers found
themselves faced with a new
situation as a result of the Pa-
thetLao victory on the Plain.
On one hand, they remained
committed to 'maintaining Wes-
tern control of the Mekong Val-
ley by weakening the Pathet
Lao to the north as much as
possible, and to using north-
ern Laos as a base ford opera-
tions against North Vietnam.
On the other hand, they could
no longer rely on their ground
strength to maintain a foothold
in northern Laos. The U.S. sup-
ported Lao and Meo right-wing
armies were clearly weaker
than the Pathet Lao. And large
numbers of American ground
troops could not be openly in-
troduced for fear of opening
up a second front in the esca-
lating Vietnam war . . . There-
fore, the decision was made to

of Jars had become the first so-
ciety to vanish through automa-
ed warfare."
This book evokes the same
emotions as the books of chil-
dr sn's poems written in Nazi
concentration camps, but unlike
those works which we now read
very much after the fact, the
destructiveness of automated air
war is an everyday part of our
contemporary world. The inter-
views with former Plains resi-
dents are brief, compact,. and
horrifying. The illu'strations are
unforgettable: a constant rain of
bombs from a sky literally dark-
ened by planes, planes flying
bombing runs so low that some
of the drawings include all the
planes' markings.
It may be a sign of our age
that horror in human terms is
more difficult to grasp than hor-
ror in technological terms. Branf-
man's vision of the. automated
electronic battlefield is particu-
larly haunting for its efficiency
and precision. One of the draw-
backs to nuclear weapons from a
military point of view is that
they are messy: too loud, too vis-

i
i
I
boo.ksbooks
I

that they seem to contain noth-
ing new," Mary Wollstonecraft's
Vindication appears to have been
completely underivative. She had
not read such feminist writings
as had appeared before her time,
though it seems likely, at least
to this reviewer, that she may
have read some of Condorcet's
letters on women's rights. But
chiefly the Vindication was hewn
our of Mary Wollstonecraft's per-
sonal experiences, the problems
that had beset her own life in
trying to earn a living, and her
observations in teaching young
children.
And, as Eleanor Flexner points
out, a fact frequently overlooked,
Mary Wollstonecraft was inter-
ested in boys' education as well.
She criticized caustically the
English system of educating
boys, urged coeducation, the re-
placement of boarding by day
schools, and a far freer, more
natural, more individually orien-
ted system of pedagogy.
Overnight, after publication of
A Vindication, Mary Wollstone-
craft became famous or notori-
ous, depending on the circle one
moved in. Horace Walpole called
her "a hyena in petticoats";
more friendly readers termed
her " a great genius". William
Godwin wrote, "Perhaps no fe-
male writer ever obtained so
great a degree of celebrity
throughout Europe."
It was surely inevitable that
Mary, so eager to apply the laws
of reason to human life, should
herself come to grief on the
shoals of unreason. For human
life always has a way of escap-
ing through the nets of the ra-
tional, and human beings--des-
pite all Godwin and his friends
argued-remain only indifferent-
ly perfectible creatures. Infatu-
ated with the fascinating but
sexually ambivalent and already-
married Henry Fuseli, Mary pro-
posed forthrightly that she and
the Fuselis set up a menage
a trois, at which Sophia Fuseli
was indignant and Henry indif-
ferent.
Mary fled to Paris, where the
storms of the French Revolution
were rapidly approaching a cri-
sis. Adopted at once by an inter-
esting circle of radical expatri-
ates in Paris, she fell passionate-
ly in love with a charming Am-
erican, Gilbert Imlay, who com-
bined a lucrative business in
soap and alum with sundry poli-
tical and amatory adventures.
At the very height of the Reign
of Terror Mary enjoyed an idyl-,
lic love affair and in a cottage
in Neuilly bore his child, quite
independently as she wanted to,
and was up and about next day.

The idyl was short-lived; the
fascinating Imlay had an incur-
ably roving eye. No doubt Mary
herself was a difficult woman for
an ordinary man to cope with-
utterly without a sense of humor
(one of the first fatalities of any
unhappy childhood), with a pas-
sion for debate and a ferocious,
penetrating intellect. For Imlay
it was probably like sleeping
with all twenty-eight volumes of
the Encyclipedie. Or, as Virginia
Woolf with marvelous fancy
wrote, "Tickling minnows he had
hooked a dolphin and the crea-
ture rushed him through the wa-
ters till he was dizzy and want-
ed only to escape." Escape Im-
lay did, with an actress from a
troupe of strolling players.
The Imlay affair nearly de-
stroyed Mary. Her imploring
letters pursued and flailed after
the errant lover. Back in London
she twice tried suicide. The sec-
ond time she leapt into the
Thames from Putney Bridge,
soaking her skirts first to be sure
she would sink. But someone
fished her out and eventually she
put herself together, gathered up
her child Fanny Imlay, whom
she dearly 'loved, and set off at
Imlay's suggestion to check out
certain business interests of his
in remote parts of Scandinavia.
The resulting Letters from Swe-
den were sensitive and brilliant.
The resources of courage and
resolution that had set her feet
on the road to London years be-
fore did not fail her, and in 1796
she was back, calling on William
Godwin in his rooms-a shocking
impropriety in that day. They
were quite obviously made for
each other. Godwin himself was
a talking dolphin; as he wrote
later, "friendship melted i to
love." Neither one believed in
marriage. "A system of fraud,"
Godwin called it, and before he
became involved with Mary, he
wrote also that "sensual inter-
course is a very trivial object,"
proposing that friends ought to
share their wives, especially if
the wife were a good conversa-
tionalist.
So they did not at first marry,
and as for living together, that
too was better at not-too-close
quarters, if one wanted to pie-
serve love. The two lived twenty
doors apart on the same London
street, writing each other dozens
of little notes between visits.
When Mary became pregnant
they finally did marry, rather
apologetically, but even then each
honored the other's independence.
Godwin kept his separate rooms
for his work and each went out
separately "in mixed society."

Godwin declared it all worked
beautifully; combining "the novel-
ty and lively sensation of a visit
with the more delicious and
heart-felt pleasures of domestic
life." To the rest of London they
were "the most - extraordinary
married pair in existence."
Certainly the summer of 1797
was the very best of Mary Woll-
stonecraft's life. Her little girl
Fanny was bouncing and jolly.
Eagerly Mary awaited the biirth
of her child by Godwin, mean-
time happily working on a de-
pressing novel, The Wrongs of
Woman, or Maria, exposing the
tragedy of women's lack of legal
rights.
In August she gave birth to
a second daughter, Mary; com-
plications set in, and after ten
days of feaiful pain Mary Woh-
stonecraft died of puerperal fev-
er, at the age of thirty-eight,
with all the unwritten books she
had planned still imbedded in
that extraordinary brain.
Even posthumously tragedy
dogged the woman who would
have changed the world for all
women. Her elder child, Fanny,
faded after her mother's death
from a sparkling toddler to a
melancholy, introspective girl.
Some years later she took a
coach to Bristol and at an inn
wrote an anonymous suicide
note and emptied a bottle of
laudanum. Mary Godwin, the
child who cost her mother her
life, fared somewhat better,
though her life could hardly be
called a happy one. She eloped
with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and
wrote that' singular n o v e 1,
Frankenstein.
Eleanor Flexner, whose prev-
ious book, Century of Struggle,
is probably the best historical ac-
count of the women's rights
movement in the United States,
has given us a superb, well-
rounded, and meticulously docu-
mented biography of Mary Woll-
stonecraft. Every stage of her
life has been carefully research-
ed. Especally valuable is the il-
lumination of the social and cul-
tural mileu in which Mary lived
and worked, and the reconstruc-
tion of the personalities around
her. It is a splendid volume to
add to the best that has been
written about this remarkable
woman--William Godwin's Mem-
oirs of Mary Wollstonecraft,
chief source for most of what
we know, Virignia Woolf's brief
and brilliant little essay, and the
scholarly study by Margaret
George, written from a some-
what different viewpoint, One
Woman's Situation: A Study of
Mary Wollstonecraft (1970).

wage war against the Plain in
secret, mainly from the air.
And a new kind of warfare was
launched, one to which no peo-
ple in history had ever before
been subjected.
The bombing was a spectacle
of technology on parade: spotter
planes at 2000 feet calling in
flareships from 5000 feet so that
photo reconnaissance planes at
10,000 feet could pinpoint tar-
gets for bombers also flying at
10,000 feet, all coordinated by a
command ship at 35,000 feet. The
goal of this bombing was, in the
words of a U.S. Senate report,
"to destroy the social and- eco-
nomic infrastructure of Pathet
Lao held areas": in short, anni-
hilation of the population. Al-
though article 6 of the Nurem-
burg Principles forbids "wanton
destruction of cities, villages and
towns," this statement is based
on the traditional military as-

"Automated war gets the job done swiftly,
neatly, and completely, without the interference
of unruly human beings, who have a tendency
to ask too many questions. They are easy to wage
and, more importantly, easy to hide."

ible, too uncontrolable, and too
unpopular. It would be impos-
sible to hide a nuclear attack
from the population of the at-
tacker, to say nothing of the re-
action of the world community.
However, a technological super-
power like the United States has
at its disposal the machinery and
personnel -to wage five or six
simultaneous automated wars.
These wars would require no
ground forces with the inevitable
domestic repercussions of inflat-
ed draft calls, battlefield dead,
heroin addiction, and an active
anti-war movement. They would
require relatively few highly
trained technicians virtually re-
moved from the conflict, direct-
ed by a handful of highly placed
technocrats to whom these wars
would be little more than occa-
sional blips on a lighted map.
The cost in human terms for our
side would be near zero, and the
cost in materiele could easily be
swallowed up in the ever-increas-
ing "defense" budget.
Automated war gets the job
done swiftly, neatly, and com-
pletely, without the interference
of unruly human beings who have
a tendency to ask too many ques-
tions. They are easy to wage and,
more importantly, easy to hide.
Every day for five and a half
years the United States bombed
a civilization of rice farmers who
posed no threat to our nation,
bombed them into oblivion. Ev-
ery day, with the precision of a
finely tuned machine, death and
destruction rained down on a
society the vast majority of Am-
ericans had never heard of, in a
far away place few could locate.
Every day. Did you ever hear
about it before now?
Today's writers ..
Dorothy Gies McGuigan is the
Publications Director at t h e
Center for Continuing Education
of Women and the author of A
Dangerous Experiment: A Hun-
dred Years of Women at the
University of Michigan.
Michael Castleman is a recent
graduate of the University and
is sometimes very hard to find.
FOREST-
FIRES BURN
MORE
THAN,
TREES

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SHIRTS - $8
LEATHER VESTS
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KNIT TOPS:
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LEATHER JACKETS
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BOOTS:
20%-75% off

the Pathet Lao with advisers and
materiele, this aid came no-
where near U.S. aid to RLG
governments.
The principal U.S. agency op-
erating in the area was the CIA,
who expanded the Laotian gov-
ernment's army from a few
thousand in 1954 to over 30,000
in 1960. Most of this army was
comprised of Meo tribesmen
whose bases were supplied by
the CIA's airline, Air America,
for what CIA Colonel Edward
Lansdale said in 1961 were
"guerrilla operations (of) con-
siderable effectiveness in Com-
munist held areas." The loyalty
of the Meos was assured by the
CIA's guaranteed purchase of
the yearly Meo opium crop, and
evidence has recently come to
light that the CIA is involved in
the heroin smuggling business
(see Alfred McCoy's new book,
Politics of Heroin in Southeast
Asia, Harper and Row, $7.95).
The Pathet Lao fought the U.S.-

sumption that there are fairly
clear lines of demarcation be-
tween civilian and military popu-
lations. However, these distinc-
tions are blurred at best in a peo-
ple's war as we now know it in
Southeast Asia.
The air war against the Plain
of Jars was never conceived for
purposes of "tactical air sup-
port" of ground troops as is us-
ually the case in conventional
warfare. There were no longer
any ground troops to support.
From the beginning it was a
campaign of annihilation. Even
U.S. sources admit that 80 per-
cent of the casualties were civil-
ian. During the five and a half
years of daily bombing, for a
total of 25,000 attack sorties, vir-
tually every structure standing
on the Plain was destroyed. Any-
thing that moved was bombed.
By September 1969 "the society
of 50,000 people living in and
around the area no longer exist-
ed. History had conferred one
last distinction upon it: the Plain

}

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