Poet Ginsberg's "3-5-0-0"
From: Joseph L. Tioga
Date: Mon, 27 Jul 1998 18:37:42 -0400
So, Brian yells across the table, "Hey, Joe! Tell Jim
about "three-five-zero-zero"! We're at either end of a long and crowded
at a diner, crowded with cast and crew of The Stage's HAIR production, taking care of post-play munchies. So, I yell back and give my basic pitch. You know, the one about the 3,500 US Marines that landed at Danang in Vietnam on March 8, 1965, thus signifying the official shift in America's role from an advisory one to an active combat one, a fact that would have been known by and caused worry to a newspaper-article-clipping hippie draftee as was Claude Hooper Bukowski. Jim (that's THE Jim, mind you. As in James Rado) smiles and nods in appreciation. But he says, "But you know, we (he and Gerry---Gerome Ragni) got that figure from Allen Ginsberg, and I feel like it referred to casualties." So, ... I followed that lead and went to the public library (which we know Claude frequented, because Berger caught him in the act of burning his library card instead of his draft card) and dug through some writings by Beat poet and hippie movement icon Allen Ginsberg, and Lo and Behold! Dig This:
The following excerpts -- pertinent passages -- are from
Ginsberg's poem, "Wichita Vortex Sutra" (Feb. 14, 1966). I found it in
Allen Ginsberg, "selected Poems: 1947-1995" (HarperCollins, 1996), pp.
Put it this way
Declared McNamara speaking language
Asserted Maxwell Taylor
General, Consultant to White House
Vietcong losses leveling up three five zero zero per month
Front page testimony February '66
Here in Nebraska same as Kansas same known in Saigon
In Peking, in Moscow, same known
by the youths in Liverpool three five zero zero
the latest quotation in the human meat market
Father I cannot tell a lie! [p. 163]
. . .
Three five zero zero is numerals
Headline language poetry, nine decades after Democratic Vistas
and the Prophecy of the Good Gray Poet
Our nation "of the fabled damned"
or else . . . [p.164]
. . .
Napalm and black clouds emerging in newsprint
Flesh as soft as a Kansas girl's
ripped open by metal explosion----
three five zero zero on the other side of the planet
caught in barbed wire, fire ball
bullet shock, bayonet electricity
bomb blast terrific in skull & belly, shrapneled throbbing meat
. . .
Eagle News Services Saigon ---
Headline Surrounded Vietcong Charge Into Fire Fight
the suffering not yet ended
the last spasm of the dragon of pain
shot thru the muscles [p. 172]
. . .
Continued from page one area
after the Marines killed 256 Vietcong captured 31 [Ibid.]
. . .
The war is over now ---
Except for the souls
held prisoner in Niggertown [p. 175]
. . .
How's that, Cool Kats and Hip Chicks? So, next I scanned
microfilm of The New York Times to look for the headline supposedly in
every paper in February '66. The closest I found was dated February 18, post-dating the writing of this poem by 4 days (but I imagine Ginsberg read more than just the New York Times!), but this seems close enough: The article (Page One, continuing on page 12) was entitled "Taylor Asserts a 'Limited' War is Intent of US," and it was printed adjacent to "Senate Panel Hears General Taylor and Some Sharp Questions Follow." The article states:
". . . The general [Maxwell Taylor] questioned whether the enemy could long find replacements for losses now estimated at 17,000 a month. These, he said, were made up of an estimated 3, 800 killed, 11,000 wounded and 2,400 desertions."
This report goes over the 3,500 number, but perhaps the
Feb. 14 article(s) Ginsberg read contained the actual quote from Taylor,
may have actually said "leveling up three five zero zero per month," a number he'd be proud to beef up four days later to 3, 800. I'll keep looking for the actual news report which gives a daily VC kill rate of 3,500. I'd prefer to confirm that Ginsberg himself remembered the "3,500" number from the Marine landing (found several times listed in the New York Times, including a Page One headline), and he just got the two similar numbers mixed up.
In the meantime, officially, it appears Rado & Ragni
got "Three-Five-Zero-Zero" from Ginsberg's recounting of news reports of
daily Vietcong kill rate (tho', I'd personally, natch, continue to add the combat marine schtick, just to emphasize the impact of that number on people's lives. Eh?).
Well, I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted. So, until
next time, I remain
PS Thanks for research assistance from:
Sibley J. Smith, Jr., Director of Education
Vietnam Era Educational Center at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans' Memorial
1 Memorial Lane, P.O. Box 648
Holmdel, Monmouth County, NJ 07733, USA