Mom. Apple pie.
At 64, after 40 years of astonished, saddened insistence that the American capitalist system is madness; after three years in jail for refusing to fight in World War II; after countless hunger strikes, sit-ins, arrests and visits to Cuba, Hanoi and China; after helping the anti-Vietnam-war movement, and after returning to this little hotel lobby at 10th and H streets NW following his address at the No-Nukes rally on the Mall, David Dellinger is All-American.
Fine ironies: "The first time I ever came to Washington was to visit Calvin Coolidge in the White House with my father," says Dellinger, who today is planning to get himself arrested for blocking the doors of the Pentagon.
Still at it after all these years, even the last 10, in which that great '60s dream of apocalyptic idealism vanished in a Me-Decade: Tom Hayden works for Jerry Brown; Abbie Hoffman hides after a cocaine bust; Rennie Davis sells insurance in Denver and pledges allegiance to the Guru Mahara Ji.
But Dellinger's eyes still snap with the sort of American naivete that once promised to light the world -- we would do the impossible because we didn't know we couldn't. All-American!
"My father was chairman of the Republican town committee in Wakefield, Mass. He was a lawyer, a very human, warm and loving person. I remember going to restaurants and I'd see a waitress humiliated and my father always tried to help her out. It was a sad situation that such a warm loving person was swept up by the system."
The system: Dellinger was president of his class in high school; he was named best all-around athlete of the first half of the century by the local newspaper; he captained the cross-country team at Yale, where he was graduated magna cum laude in economics. The system could not have smiled more brightly on him. Then again:
"When I was in junior high school, I fell in love with a girl from, well the wrong side of the tracks."
"The wrong side of the tracks," echoes his wife of 38 years, Elizabeth. After a 20-year career as an elementary school teacher, she pronounces the words a lit-tle more di-stinct-ly than she has to, footnoting Dellinger's reminiscences, correcting him, getting it right.
Anyhow, love: "She was an Irish girl, and it was made very clear to me that there were class differences, that she wasn't welcome at the parties I went to. When I went to her house, her parents would be ill at ease. In her neighborhood, people would say: 'Aren't you lawyer Dellinger's son? What are you doing in this part of town?' It just didn't make any sense to me -- it obviously wasn't right that there should be these class distinctions."
Unlike most rebels who use the word "obviously," Dellinger doesn't look to his listener for agreement. After a lifetime in minorities both revered and despised, he doesn't need it.
He's a big, strong man in a brown corduroy suit, one of two dress-up outfits he owns. He has a goatee and a great New England dome of a forehead. He looks cautious and cheerful, the kind of look that sometimes prompts women to fancy that men are overgrown little boys.
"I remember the Sacco and Vanzetti trial -- my father was a friend of Gov. Fuller, who was on the wrong side, of course. I didn't understand it, it confused me. But I remember when Fuller's house was bombed, my parents said 'See, they're no-goodniks,' and that was part of the beginning of my pacifism. This was also a period of great disillusionment with World War I, and the part the munitions makers had played in it. Hemingway was a big influence -- 'A Farewell to Arms,' though I disapproved of the later Hemingway.
"Dostoyevsky was an influence -- what's his name, the saintly priest in 'The Brothers Karamazov,' Father Zossima . . . 'Kiss the earth,' he'd say. Love everything. And I read about Shelley dropping leaflets about the oppression in Ireland into carriages in London."
"You must have a good English teacher," says his wife.
I did," he says. "I did."
He read the New Testament and absorbed admonitions that Christians should be "neither rich nor poor." He decided that this was the best of all possible worlds if we only knew it: "We have a natural love of nature, a natural love of learning and of work, but our system destroys this by turning us into anarchists all competing with each other."
Despite the power of conviction that sent him to jail and a lifetime of hassle and eccentricity, there was no one moment, no epiphany that showed him The Way; no hip friend, no particular book. It was as if he'd inhaled some stray tatter of ectoplasm left over from the New England Transcendentalists; or it was in the fine old American romantic tradition of being . . . natural.
Natural, to the Massachusetts Republican crowd, meant social Darwinism, survival of the fittest. But since Dellinger was already the fittest, he'd never had to worry about that.
Having excelled, always, at everything he ever did, Dellinger couldn't understand this passion for competition.
The first mile I ran at Yale, I was a freshman and I was 20 yards in the lead. Behind me was another Yale miler named F. Allen Sherk. I slowed down, toward the end, to let him finish with me in a dead heat. The coach came out screaming, he was furious at me."
Was Dellinger surprised?
"Yes, I couldn't understand it," he says, as if he still can't; as if no anger, whether from a track coach or the entire American establishment, could ever frighten him into doubt or despair. By virtue of strength and intelligence and self-confidence, he was immune to peer pressure, a congenital outlaw.
After Yale came a fellowship to Oxford, where he discovered the concept of "his Majesty's loyal opposition," a position he decided to be careful to avoid, lest he become merely another cog in the adversary machine of American society. He was a pacifist revolutionary of the A. J. Muste variety, Muste being an on-again off-again Trotskyite who had moved from religious to political pacifism.
At Union Theological Seminary, where he was studying for the Congregational ministry in 1940, Dellinger refused not just fight in any war, but refused status as a conscientious objector. He would not register for the draft. He was sent to the federal prison in Danbury, Conn., for a year and a day.
When he got out, he refused again to register. He was sent to the maximum-security prison at Lewisburg, Pa.
"Prison is what really radicalized me most deeply. I remember thinking, my God, these people did things that were no worse than what other people do. They're just as nice."
Nice! It's a word huge and powerful to WASP-dom: nice girl, nice party, nice backhand, nice neighborhood. Suddenly, after facing down would-be prison assailants, Dellinger found he was strong enough not to fear the most violent outcast of society. He could confer on them the mantle of "nice."
After three prison years of hunger strikes and solitary confinement, Dellinger came home to Elizabeth, his first of five children (Patchen, named after poet Kenneth Patchen and now a surgeon in Seattle) and a series of jobs in factories, in a bakery, a laundry -- it had to be day labor paid in cash, because Dellinger refused to hold a job where the government withheld taxes from his salary, "the war tax," as he still callls it.
He and Elizabeth continued to leaflet against the war, saying that nonviolent noncooperation on the Dutch model was the proper response to the Nazis.
After the war came the annual Hiroshima-anniversary protests, the nuclear testing protests, a two-week fast at their home in Glen Gardner, N.J., during the Korean war.He published Liberation magazine. He ran a print shop. He wrote books. He neglected what his father called his "promise" -- the extraordinary potential he'd had for establishment succcess. He learned from Marx, Gandhi, China, Vietnam.He avoided dogma because he didn't needt it. He knew . . .
"I would have to say that one gets flashes of another world in the movement.
I saw prisoners risk their lives for other prisoners. In Danbury, the hole [solitary confinement] was on the third story. People would climb up to smuggle cigarettes to prisoners there at risk of ending up there themselves. t
"I'm not a dogmatist It's more direct and human than that. Like Mrs. Timm, going to Tehran. She made a human response to the hostage situation: She said: 'I love my son.' This is what makes lasting radicals.
"I used to be so torn. At Yale, on the cross-country team, I love running through the autumn woods with the trees turning, the brooks . . . but I had to always be ahead, I couldn't be with other people."
As Dellinger grew more famous in the 1960s, his children were red-baited and teased in school. He came home after Christmas, 1968, to find a present in his mailbox -- a bottle of Scotch, which he likes. Something told him to be careful. He opened it from the bottom, and found a hand grenade set to blow.
Six months later, his print shop and all its equipment was destroyed. He still blames "government agents."
He was indicted as part of the Chicago 7, a trail which ran six months, and sputtered on in appeals and contempt citations and reversals for another two years.
By the time it was over, Ameraica had forgotten the radicals. In 1973, he and Elizabeth rented adjoining apartments. "I said it was a separation, he didn't" she says now, in a little restaurant off the lobby of the hotel. They moved back together in 1977. They live modestly in Brooklyn, N.Y. now, and dellinger makes a living from occasional teaching, lecture fees, and consulting for Seven Days magazine, which has been called the successor in Ramparts.
But then, Dellinger has never been a worrier. He has never suffered the panics of depair or dark nights of the soul that turn idealists into saints, and hope into a vision of truth.
It's always been obvious. Unassailable.
He is not without any need for approval, however. Cutting at a steak and sipping a martini, he explains that America is lot more on his side than you'd think.
"During the war, people would accuse pacifists of stabbing the GIs in the back. But I'll meet people in the street, they'll come up to me and say 'I was at Khe Sanh,' or 'i was at Hamburger Hill, and I want to thank you.'"
But in 1977, Dellinger was at the UN to welcome the Vietnamese delegation, (and condemn the U.S. for its "war against the Puerto Rican people"). Now the Vietnamese are slaughtering Cambodians and Laotians . . ."
"We try not to judge," says Elizabeth. "We try to understand."
"They felt they were caught in a pincers between the Cambodians to the south and the Chinese to the north," Dellinger says.
The current stampede out of Cuba, Dellinger understands by claiming "there are indications that a great many of those emigrants are homosexual."
"It's a very repressive society when it comes to that," says Elizabeth. "I suppose it's part of their macho culture."
He understands. He forgives. Admittedly, after 40 years, he is disappointed "that the U.S. has continued to insist on a cynical, competitive system. And the visible, large-scale alternatives, such as China, have been unable to provide a consistent example of a better way. I conclude that there are no extent, large-scale models. I think we see smaller answers in all the movements today -- the gays, the women, the Indians . . ."
It is suggested that perhaps we could scale all the way down to the size of, say, a David Dellinger, and that David Dellinger fits that model perfectly, a system unto himself, a life which has been, after all, a very satifying one.
There's no answer to that, of course, except that, as he's pointed out, "it only makes sense to try to live in peace and love and communal fellowship."
And now, in the gloom of the restaurant, in deserted downtown Washington, with the rain falling outside, he's insisting "Capitalism is insane! It's in its death throes!"
"You don't really believe that," Elizabeth says.
"Yes, I do," he says. And it's as if she knows -- and knows -- better than to argue about it.