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In Praise of Bill Ayers
The pundits are having a heyday with Hillary Clinton’s sleazy McCarthyite attack on Barack Obama during the April 16 debate, trying to link him to the Weather Underground because of his having served on a charity organization board with one of the Weathermen, Bill Ayers, who is currently a distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois, and who is married to Bernadine Dohrn, another Weather Underground veteran.
What has them in a lather is Ayer’s comment, made a few years ago, that he has no regrets for the organization’s having set off several bombs back in the early 1970s, and that in fact they "should have set of more."
(Incidentally, as Robert Parry notes, those comments were made before 9-11, not, as Hillary Clinton charged duplicitously in the April 16 Philadelphia debate, right after 9-11.)
In fact, it’s important to remember that while three members of the Weather Underground died at their own hands because of a failed bomb they were constructing, no one else died at their hands. The group scrupulously worked to make sure that their attacks were on property, not people.
It’s also important to remember that they were targeting a government that was engaged in a criminal war against a peasant country half a world away, that had killed nearly two million Indochinese people, most of them civilians, and that was well on the way to pointlessly sending 58,000 American troops to their deaths.
The actions of the Weather Underground may have been misguided and quixotic, but they were not terrorists in the sense of trying to cause mass terror among the American public, in the way that Al Qaeda terrorists or other terror groups indiscriminately attack civilians. They were much more carefully targeting the levers of power, and in effect, trying to "bring the war home."
While many in the anti-war movement condemned the actions of the Weather Underground, I would argue that they, like the militant Black Panthers, performed an invaluable role by sending a loud, clear message to the nation’s ruling elite that if they continued the war, things would get worse at home.
Their actions made the peaceful mass protests against the Indochina War far more potent, because they forced the ruling elite in the US to have to ponder what would happen if those masses turned to the same kind of violent measures against them.
Ayers has long since earned the nation’s respect, whatever one may think of his youthful radicalism, by devoting his life to the challenge of helping educate those who have a hard time breaking the cycle of poverty and ignorance, which makes it obscene to criticize Obama for sharing a boardroom with him (Obama was 8 when Ayers was in the Weathermen back in 1970).
But Ayers and his comrades should also be honored for having been willing to go the extra mile and put their lives on the line to end a criminal war.
We could use that kind of courage and militancy today in the anti-war movement–if not in the form of another underground bombing campaign, then at least in the form of a willingness put bodies on the line to blockade and undermine an American imperial war machine that has chewed up the lives of tens of thousands of young Americans and killed over a million innocent Iraqis.
Five years into a war with no end in Iraq, it’s clear that just going about our business, and making periodic marches along the boulevards of Washington, New York or San Francisco is not enough.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s newest book is "The Case for Impeachment", co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org