Sunday, June 22, 2008

Review: The Strange Case of Patty Hearst

Is there, then, an antidote to the escalation in political terrorism that the case of Patty Hearst seems to foreshadow? Opinion varies...The bomb and the bullet do not work. Violence invites, indeed demands, an over-kill reaction...In their ongoing quest fo a better America, [radical activist leaders] have concluded that rather than kill the mosquito with a cannon it is better to work slowly to drain the swamp. Yet the aberrant Cinques and Symbionese Liberation Armies survive, and the sheer drama of their operations could shift us from sane and systematic avenues of social progress to violent and ultimately meaningless bloodshed.
A concluding, and perhaps prophetic, paragraph from The Strange Case of Patty Hearst. Published in 1974, after the most of the SLA was killed in a bloody shootout with Los Angeles police but before Hearst and the two surviving members were captured and imprisoned. Some may consider this book obsolete, since it was written before the story was really concluded. I do not. A book like this is in effect a snapshot of the time that was, produced by the urgency of trying to understand a new phenomenon. The Stockholm Syndrome was only beginning to be understood, but the Hearst case was different. The phenomenon named the Stockholm Syndrome was a case in which captives came to sympathize with and defend their captors; in the Hearst Syndrome she not only came to sympathize with and defend them, but to actively participate in their crimes until she was forcibly stopped.

The Strange Case of Patty Hearst briefly details the life of Patricia Hearst and continues on to cover the kidnapping itself, communiques from the SLA, and the thoughts and actions of those close to her at the time. It describes an America that felt betrayed by a pretty young college student, unassuming in spite of being an heiress. It was a time, years before the Murrah Federal Building and 9/11, when the people of America only thought they knew what terrorism was. America in general, and perhaps the authors, specifically, attempted to answer for themselves how and why this could have happened, but ultimately admit failure:
A nation's soul is at stake, its vulnerability laid bare.
"Patty come home" was the futile outcry. And the answer was a mocking silence.
Patty Hearst's prison sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter in 1976; President Bill Clinton granted her a full pardon on his last day in office. One must wonder if she would have received such leniency if she had been unattractive and poor rather than pretty and wealthy. I think this may be only one of many unanswered questions.

1 comment:

  1. There's some alternative historical information about the Hearst media conglomerate and the 1974 Patty Hearst Incident that might interest you and your readers posted on the following blog link: