Firestorm of blood

This is an account of my experience of a peaceful demonstration in Paris in February 1968.

*****
A few weeks later there was a spontaneous demonstration at the junction of the Boulevard St.-Michel and the Boulevard St.-Germain. Again an anti-Vietnam war demonstration. Shouts of ‘Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!’. The crowd swelled rapidly, several hundred of us within a few minutes. And we caused traffic chaos. Unwise drivers tried to force their way through, but quickly abandoned attempts as their cars were rocked side to side.

Suddenly there were dozens of flics surrounding us, on both sides on both the boulevards.

Despite the slogans we were shouting, a whisper went round: “Dispersez! Regroupez!” And within a few minutes the crowd had disappeared, split up into small groups through the small side-streets of the Quartier Latin. We started running, the ten or twenty that I found myself with. We zigzagged back and forth down little streets I didn’t even know, crossing the Seine onto the Ile St-Louis, and via the Ile de la Cité, crossing back to the left bank. We had got round to the back of the police. Somehow, someone knew where we were going, I didn’t. We reached St.-Germain-des-Prés, and stopped running. We were among the first there. We had outwitted the flics.

Gradually more and more people arrived. We gathered in the middle of the Boulevard, and suddenly a thin line of flics appeared in front of us. I found myself in the second row of the manifestants, behind a helmeted front row. Soon we were several hundred again, or so I thought. We were shouting slogans again: ‘Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!’, ‘Américains dehors!’, and ‘Che, Che, Guévara!’ I became aware that the thin line of police had grown much bigger, and that they wielded batons in their hands. Suddenly, though no order seemed to be given, they charged us. Our front row disappeared immediately through the ranks, leaving the second row completely exposed.

I was hit hard on the head and then on the shoulder. I fell to the ground. The flic kept hitting me, on the head, in the back, across the legs, shouting “Salaud! Salaud! Espèce de rat!” He had hit me so hard, my face was crushed to the ground; I lay in the gutter, with the water flowing across my face and body. He hit me again for the last time between the shoulder blades, and I ceased trying to move at all. I felt in a vague zone between consciousness and unconsciousness, and my body hurt badly, very badly, and my head hurt badly. I lay still as the gutter water flowed over me. Then when I thought the worst had passed, I tried to move and struggled onto my hands and knees. All of a sudden I felt an almighty blow on the back of my head, and collapsed back into the gutter. I must have passed out at this time.

I was being pulled by someone, by some people. I opened my eyes, but didn’t see who was pulling me. They weren’t hitting me, so it was good, but it hurt, hell did it hurt. I saw a line of CRS riot police advancing towards the crowd which had fallen back under the baton charge. The CRS had rifles in their hands, holding them by the barrels, and they began swinging them round their heads in a circular, threatening movement. It was a slow-motion cinematographic film. The CRS advanced slowly, the rifles flickered through the air, not more than 15 metres from me. I did not hear it, I only saw it, as a rifle butt smashed hard into the head of a young girl, smashed through her head, and continued into the next scene. There was an immediate firestorm of blood that surrounded where her head was like a giant Catherine wheel. The blood exploded outwards in all directions, drop by drop. I couldn’t hear her scream. Did she have a chance to scream? This was not war, it was an engraving from war that etched into my deaf brain. The girl collapsed to the ground. The people were dragging me away, and I could see the ambulances waiting on the other side of the Place, waiting to take the girl and people like me away.

They pulled me into the café nearby. It seemed I heard someone say “Pas d’ambulance!”, or did I dream that? I must have passed out again.
*****

I never knew what happened to the girl. I have never forgotten her. I have the image of the bloodstorm permanently in my mind. I can never forget it. Days later I heard from my friends about two deaths, but no mention ever appeared in the press to my knowledge.

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