Off the Shelf: In Thought and Action: The Enigmatic Life of S. I. Hayakawa

HaslamRead the Prologue from In Thought and Action: The Enigmatic Life of S. I. Hayakawa by Gerald W. Haslam with Janice E. Haslam:

"It remains one of the most gripping images from the 1960s: bantamweight Dr. S. I. Hayakawa—plaid tam-o’-shanter ensconced on his head—scrambling onto a sound truck parked in front of the San Francisco State College campus, hoping to use it to address the assembled crowd, but ripping out speaker wires instead, and halting an illegal demonstration—or denying First Amendment rights, depending upon your perspective. Either way, he shut down the sound system. Inside the truck that day, student activist Ernie Brill was “stunned, flabbergasted.”


Many commentators now point to the sound-truck incident at San Francisco State College on December 2, 1968, as the moment when the nature of campus rebellions in America changed, for photos of Hayakawa’s audacious action appeared in newspapers nationally. Viewers of TV news even had the satisfaction of hearing one anonymous dissident complain that actions of the college’s acting president were “Threatening! Illegal! Violent!”—a delicious reversal, given events on campuses around the country then.

While young people would continue to muster protests in the years that followed, the older generation would not fold. Unlike so many other academicians, the sixty-two-year-old Hayakawa had backed his ideas with deeds. After that day, S. I. Hayakawa, the courageous (or pugnacious) strikebreaker, was established in the public’s mind. He was the facilitator of the will of the people of California, or of police riots, or of both. He certainly became a polarizing figure whose personal history was suddenly rewritten by those who loved or hated him, usually without the benefit of much information. Some liberals, who had previously admired Hayakawa for his sharp attack on the luddite state superintendent of schools, Max Rafferty, or for his determined support of the co-op movement and of civil rights, claimed after the strike to have always known he was a fascist; some conservatives, who had previously considered Hayakawa an influential and dangerous leftist for those same reasons, claimed always to have admired him.

But who and what was this bold little man?"

Gerald W. Haslam is a professor emeritus of English at Sonoma State University and the author and editor of numerous books, including Workin’ Man Blues: Country Music in California, the novel Straight White Male, and the anthology Many Californias: Literature from the Golden State. Janice E. Haslam is the coauthor, with Gerald W. Haslam, of the fiction collection Manuel and the Madman and An Instructor's Guide to Many Californias.

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