Given all the sound and fury about the Weathermen, and Ayers and terrorism, I thought I’d give it another look.
And of course, as it turns out, the popular view is highly distorted and inaccurate.
The Weathermen was formed as a violent protest group because in their view, non-violent protests were ineffective at the time.
Initially formed as a splinter group which believed that peaceful protests were ineffective, the Weathermen were widely criticized for their use of
violence as a means of social and political change.
But for the Weathermen, violent action was nothing short of necessary in a time of crisis, a last-ditch effort to grab the country’s attention.
How did the Weathermen arrive at this point? Some of the group’s former members, interviewed in THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND, cite the murder of Black
Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in a December 1969 Chicago police raid as a turning point. What many believed to be a government-sanctioned
killing in an effort to wipe out militant groups such as the Panthers was, for the Weathermen, the final straw.
Question to Ayers and Dohrn:
How do you feel about what you did? Would you do it again under similar circumstances?
I’ve thought about this a lot. Being almost 60, it’s impossible to not have lots and lots of regrets about lots and lots of things, but the
question of did we do something that was horrendous, awful?… I don’t think so. I think what we did was to respond to a situation that was
Two thousand people a day were being murdered in Vietnam in a terrorist war, an official terrorist war… This was what was going on in our names. So
we tried to resist it, tried to fight it. Built a huge mass movement, built a huge organization, and still the war went on and escalated. And every
day we didn’t stop the war, two thousand people would be killed. I don’t think what we did was extreme…. We didn’t cross lines that were
completely unacceptable. I don’t think so. We destroyed property in a fairly restrained level, given what we were up against.
I can iterate four or five things that I have profoundly complex feelings about. I wish that we hadn’t been hierarchical, and had a concept of
leadership. I wish that I had bridged the feminist movement and the anti-war movement better than I did. I wish that we hadn’t used the language of
war. You heard me saying a declaration of war. I wish we had used the language of resistance.
Obviously, we didn’t stop the war. We were part of an authentic, aroused opposition to the U.S. empire and to racism at home. Those were two issues
we had a grip on…. Of course, I wish we had done better, and I wish we had stopped the war earlier, and I wish we had been more effective, and I
wish we had been more unifying. Or at least fought for unity even when we couldn’t achieve it.
OK. Up to this point, I've let PBS and the Weathermen speak for themselves.
But what have we learned?
- The Weathermen adopted violent protest when they believed that the non-violent approach was ineffective and being ignored.
- There is no evidence that the Weathermen 'hated America'. To the contrary, there is evidence that they were acting out of a sense of Patriotism
-love for one's country- and that they hated not the US, but the way the US leadership was behaving at the time.
Now we can say that their tactics were unacceptable and to be denounced. However, given the environment of the time, it is clear to me that they did
not choose violence as a first resort, but rather as a last resort.
Which means simply that their line between violence and non-violence had been crossed. We may agree or disagree with where their line was, but we all
have such a line.
To those who unequivacably denounce the Weathermen's tactics, I ask:
Where is your line?
Is it the re-instatement of the draft (keeping in mind there was a draft in the 1960s)?
Is it the launching of yet another war on flimsy, possibly manufactured evidence?
Is it when conscription squads come to your house and take your teenage children for the army because "don't you know we are at war?!?"?
Where is your line?
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