I'm reading "Like Marie Antoinette," a book review written by Mario Puzo in 1968 and published in the NYT. The book under review is "The Jeweler’s Eye," by William F. Buckley Jr.
There are a lot of things I want to blog about this morning, so why am back in 1968? It's because of the first thing I wrote about this morning, the NYT obituary for Kathy Boudin. I was struck by the sentence, "During the stickup, the gunmen killed a security guard, Peter Paige." Stickup? That strikes me as gangster slang, lacking the formality I would expect from the NYT in the account of this event that took place 4 decades ago.
Does the NYT generally use "stickup" to describe serious matters? I searched its archive, and the Mario Puzo article caught my attention:
What gives this book a sort of special charm is that Buckley, like Marie Antoinette before him, is more innocent than malicious. His philosophy may be pure but it is surely impractical. Would a Negro fight in Vietnam for the freedoms granted him by the state of Mississippi? Would anybody, if Mr. Hunt* has all the money, fight Russia and Red China to save Mr. Hunt's money and none of their own? Sure they should, as good Buckley Americans. But would they?
Buckley is as royally condescending to his betters as he is to peasantry. He derides Arthur Schlesinger for talking such nonsense as that the best defense against Communism may be the social welfare state. Again this is surely innocence at work. He doesn't quite get Schlesinger's drift, which is, obviously, that when a force stronger than yourself says, "Your money or your life," you hand over the money, and if you're really smart you hand over some of your money before anybody gets tough about it. It would [seem] unnecessary to simplify in such a fashion, but Buckley still thinks he is being begged for a handout; Schlesinger knows it's a stick-up. I do not mean to cast aspersions on the welfare state with this analogy; after all, a stick-up within the legal framework of our society -- via the vote, etc. -- is the last word in exercising individual freedom.
It's a gangster word, and Puzo knew it. He had "a forthcoming book on the Mafia," it says. This book, with the familiar title, "The Godfather," came out in 1969.
"Stickup" makes the Brink's robbery seem like a tawdry street crime. I would see it as heartless murder and part of a commitment to terrorism. But those who were committed to the values of the Weather Underground might object to "stickup" because they had such grand goals. To take Schlesinger's idea seriously, it was something akin to tax collection.
* Mr. Hunt was H.L. Hunt. He one of the richest men in the world (with something like $2 billion). As you can tell by the "Mr. Hunt," Puzo had already referred to Hunt:
In another essay, "Let the Rich Alone," [Buckley] argues that billionaires like H. L. Hunt should be allowed to make as much money as they please. Ten billion? Twenty billion? It doesn't matter, just let the poor guy alone. But then Buckley whirls around and says that college students should not be allowed to invite Communist speakers to address them.