My Land is Dying
by Harry Caudill
Dutton, 144 pp., $5.95
The French Student Uprising, November 1967-June 1968: An Analytical Record
edited by Alain Schnapp, edited by Pierre Vidal-Naquet
Beacon, 608 pp., $17.50
Water Wasteland: Ralph Nader’s Study Group Report on Water Pollution
by David Zwick, by Marcy Benstock
Grossman, 494 pp., $7.95
The terracide of Appalachia has been going on since 1963 when Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands roused, momentarily, the anger of the anti-poverty forces against the despoilers of the beautiful mountains of eastern Kentucky. With the phasing out of the War on Poverty, Appalachia has again been forgotten, abandoned to the greed of the coal barons, ravaged by titanic “earthmovers” which are strip mining the area to the point where Caudill and his mountain neighbors foresee “an Appalachian Carthage, the beginning of a New World Sahara.”
Caudill, a native of the Cumberlands and former state legislator, supplies more than indignation and lament. He presents a forceful case against Kentucky legislators, judges, and the TVA, now the nation’s largest single consumer of coal. He also describes the desperate court struggles of the Appalachian Group to Save the Land and the People, the harassment of OEO Appalachian Volunteers, and the thwarting of Governor Breathitt’s belated intervention on behalf of the mountain folk who sat down, shotguns in hand, before the bulldozers in last-ditch efforts to save their homes. Though strip mining is a national scourge (to date 3.2 million acres have been laid waste), Caudill concentrates on his home state, which is more indulgent toward the coal companies than neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania, to show how so-called “reclamation” laws, weak in any case, have been easily evaded. Graphic, bitter, and eloquent, this is worth more than much of the recent mound of conservationist tracts.
A mammoth compilation of sources, which goes far beyond Labroe’s This Is Only a Beginning (1969), this is virtually a moment-by-moment account of the French student uprising. Pamphlets, position papers, placards, student and faculty resolutions, appeals to striking workers, denunciations, manifestoes, and throwaways from Nanterre, the Sorbonne, and regional universities, each identified by its parent “groupuscule,” whether Trotskyist, Anarchist, pro-Chinese, enragé, or utopian—all competing ideologically. The book shows how the Union Nationale des Etudiants (UNEF) and the orthodox Communists were patently unable to exercise leadership over the various factions of the New Left, and how strong was the constant fear of co-optation and/or isolation of the student movement.
The editors avoid special pleading and obvious explanations of the internal dynamics of student protest—e.g., “generational conflict”—but their ardent belief in the “absolute originality of the event” doesn’t square with the claim that the students “reenacted, like mummers, the Petrograd Soviet.” There are also thematic sections—”Words, Myths, and Themes,” which complement the over-all chronological development from the Nanterre Mouvement du 22 mars (“essentially pedagogical and practical”) to the occupation of the Sorbonne, the brief mid-May pseudo-apocalypse of worker-student solidarity, the June ebb tide, and the triumph of Gaullism.
What began as a limited revolt against the academic mandarins, against the arcane and authoritarian structures of the French university system, accelerated into a full-blown and virulent attack on the regime, as fervent as it was inchoate, “preeminently a rejection of both calculation and party machine”—hierarchy, bureaucracy, sociology as the rationalizer of protest. In short, the full complement of Marcusian bugaboos. An Introduction by Vidal-Naquet places the student movement in an international setting, using Berkeley and Columbia as well as events in Italy and Germany to show what the different movements have in common. This is a valuable, if sometimes excessively detailed, study.
By this time almost everyone is or should be familiar with the form and intent of Nader’s various task force reports on the FDA, nursing homes, air pollution, etc. All of them show the government dragging its feet on issues of critical social importance. Teams of graduate students hound unenthusiastic and often unresponsive bureaucrats for documentary evidence which is then published in reports printed on 100 percent recycled paper. Water Wasteland is another in this investigative series. It illustrates the extent of the problem, from Brandywine Creek in Indiana to Maine’s Androscoggin River (“one of New England’s filthiest waterways”) which is polluted by the Oxford Paper Company of Rumford, Senator Muskie’s backyard and birthplace.
The inquiry, however, centers on the role of the Federal Water Quality Office (under Interior Department auspices when the study began in 1969 but now administered by the newly created Environmental Protection Agency) and concludes that FWQO needs a shot of Geritol. The principal problems may be governmental inertia, too much “verbal footwork,” and not enough action by national leaders, but the solution, if there is any, lies in adequate finances; as former Interior Secretary Hickel once said, “The technology for cleanup is here, but without money we cannot do the job.”
In its “Conclusions and Recommendations” the report analyzes pending congressional legislation (particularly Nixon’s and Muskie’s). Congressman John Blatnik of Minnesota, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Rivers and Harbors, is, it points out, “the key to the pollution control program’s legislative future.” Another useful, if brackish, piece of work by Nader’s group.
(Notice in this section does not preclude review of these books in later issues.)
© 1971 Kirkus Service, Inc., a subsidiary of The New York Review of Books.