...[an] excellent oral history of the tumultuous events of 1969 and 1970 ... Ms. Bingham does a fine job conjuring the sense of a looming apocalypse, at least as felt by those in Washington, New York and the Bay Area who manned the front lines of change. It’s surprising to be reminded how many of the decade’s signature events occurred in a single year ... Witness to the Revolution offers an impressive list of actual witnesses to these events and more, including some sharp contextual asides explaining the rise of the antiwar movement and the fallout from its messy end ... Ms. Bingham’s book is of necessity episodic, and if it doesn’t quite add up to a cohesive narrative, that’s mostly due to the constraints of oral history. And if much of what’s here has been related elsewhere, it does little to dampen the excitement and 'you-are-there' immediacy of the book’s strongest passages.
Many of Bingham’s interviewees are well known: Daniel Ellsberg, Jane Fonda, Carl Bernstein, Oliver Stone...But some of the people here are not so familiar, and their interviews are among the most valuable...The familiar voices and the unfamiliar ones are woven together with some documents to make this a surprisingly powerful and moving book ... The Vietnam War itself gets less attention here than the Weather Underground ... The only real flaw in the book is in the title, which refers to 1969-70 as a year of 'revolution.' Bingham attributes that idea to the Nixon aide Stephen Bull, who told her, 'You have no idea how close we were, as a country, to revolution.' I don’t know any historians who would agree with that; Michael Kazin, who is interviewed here, certainly doesn’t. 'The war was incredibly unpopular,' he says, 'but the antiwar movement was also unpopular.' As for Bingham herself, she was not a 'witness to the revolution' — she was 6 years old in 1969, and writes that she always felt as if she had 'missed the party.'
Clara Bingham’s excellent oral history, Witness to the Revolution, brings us to what at times feels like a somber high-school reunion. Student organizers, FBI agents, Nixon officials, and others treat the interviews as confessionals. Many express regret, anger, and oftentimes an unshakeable feeling that most of what they did was wrong. Student organizers still agonize over bombs they set off, killing innocent civilians; FBI officials admit to being uncomfortable with over-the-top surveillance tactics ... She’s done a masterful job of guiding her subjects and no doubt winnowing down what must have been long, emotional interviews into readable, understandable reports from the front lines of a chaotic America difficult to imagine today ... It’s no newsflash that we’re all a contradictory mix of reflexes — well-meaning, but often misguided. In Witness to the Revolution, we’re reminded, sometimes wistfully, sometimes viscerally, that each of us flawed human beings so often simultaneously plays the part of both problem and solution.