09 December 2008

Bill Ayers

The right wingers tried, without much success, to tie then-candidate Obama to Bill Ayers whom they painted as a terrorist. Ayers kept his mouth shut, at least in public, until this past weekend when he published this apologia on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times. There, Ayers makes clear too that he barely knows Obama and that, in any case, guilt by association is not guilt. On these last points he is correct. On his self-exculpatory claims, however, there is considerably less reason or room for being charitable. Most of those who wrote letters to The Times in response to Ayers essay rightly objected to the sanitized version of history he peddles.

Yesterday, Katha Pollitt posted this column at The Nation that nails Ayers' feet to the floor, all the better to puncture his self-serving rationalizations. Pollitt calls his bullshit for just what it is. Here is some of the good bit:
"Of the many thousands of people involved in the movement one way or another, only a handful thought the thing to do was to form a tiny sect and blow things up in the service of a ludicrous fantasy : ie, creating a white-youth fighting force that would join up with black nationalists, end the war and overthrow capitalism. Oh, and anyone who didn't see why that was the right,necessary and indeed only possible course of action was a sellout and a coward.

I wish Ayers would make a real apology for the harm he did to the antiwar movement and the left. Not another "regrets, I've had a few," "we were all young once," "don't forget there was a war on" exercise in self-promotion, but one that showed he actually gets it. I'd like him to say he's sorry for his part in the destruction of Students for a Democratic Society. He's sorry he helped Nixon make the antiwar movement look like the enemy of ordinary people. He's sorry for his more-radical-than-thou posturing, and the climate of apocalyptic nuttiness he helped fuel to disastrous results, of which the fatal Brinks robbery, committed by erstwhile comrades who became even crazier than Ayers' crew, was only the most notorious."

As is so often the case Pollitt single-handedly makes it worthwhile to maintain my subscription. Ayers simply cannot see that he not only took part in terrorist activity that killed people, but also undermined the progressive politics he professed to endorse.

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Blogger Public Squalor said...

No doubt that the tactics of the Weathermen were delusional to say the least. But to blame Ayers for the destruction of the anti-war movement is equally nutty. If a handful of extremists were responsible for dismantling a movement, then there wasn't much of a movement to speak of.

BTW - what's with the "terrorism" tag? Do you really think the Weathermen were terrorists?

peace -

10 December, 2008 11:25  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Good questions.

I don't think Ayers is single-handedly responsible for the implosion of the American Left. But he surely contributed and he seems systematically unwilling to face the consequences of his actions. Moreover, the anti-war movement did not just implode, it was undermined by the government in various ways and the incompetence and sheer stupidity of Ayers and his cronies (among others) gave Nixon and his henchmen cover.

As for whether the Weather Underground were terrorists I think the answer is unequivocal - yes.
They not only advocated, but actually used, violence in the effort to terrorize civilian populations. Remember, to take just the most notorious example, that when three of Ayers' 'comrades' killed themselves in an explosion in Greenwich Village they were making nail bombs they intended to plant (1) at a dance at Fort Dix and (2) at the library at Columbia University. I short, the Weather Underground was a terrorist organization. I think Pollitt is right - the fact that Ayers spends so much time rationalizing his involvement is pathetic.

None of that excuses the war or other American policies. It is simply to say that bombing civilians is terrorism.

10 December, 2008 11:52  
Blogger Public Squalor said...

Thanks, Jim.

To be clear, I think the WU's violent tactics were ABSOLUTELY wrong both in substance and as agitprop. I think Fred Hampton was right when he referred to WU actions as "Custerism".

However, by definition targeting a military installation isn't "terrorism" And as far as the Columbia University library target, it's a matter of debate whether or not it was an actual target. And as far as I know, the WU never bombed it.

To my mind though, one key aspect that makes the WU so difficult is that they worked from a place of white privilege, but rarely took that into account in their actions. For instance, the "Days of Rage" (white boys act out in downtown Chicago) - had real life consequences for local minority communities. Thanks to the WU, the Days of Rage gave Mayor Daley and the Chicago cops license to ramp their attacks on those communities.

Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful posts.

- peace

10 December, 2008 18:07  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

I think we largely agree ... as for my judgment that they were terrorists:

There are solid historical accounts that establish the WU were planning to bomb both Fort Dix and Columbia. In the event they did neither because the three kids blew themselves up while preparing the bombs. As for targeting Ft. Dix, my understanding is that their plan was to bomb a dance which military personnel and their spouses would be attending. And what about the non-military personnel who might've been working at the dance? Nail bombs do not discriminate.

10 December, 2008 20:59  

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