It couldn’t have been easy for Bill Ayers to keep quiet while the McCain campaign tarred him as the Obama’s best friend, the terrorist. Unfortunately, the silence was too good to last. On Saturday’s New York Times op-ed page, he announced that “it’s finally time to tell my true story.” Like his memoir, Fugitive Days , “The Real Bill Ayers” is a sentimentalized, self-justifying whitewash of his role in the weirdo violent fringe of the 1960s-70s antiwar left.
“I never killed or injured anyone, “Ayers writes. “In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village.” Right. Those people belonged to Weatherman, as did Ayers himself and Bernardine Dohrn, now his wife. Weatherman, Weather Underground, completely different! And never mind either that that “accidental explosion” was caused by the making of a nail bomb intended for a dance at Fort Dix.
Ayers writes that Weather Underground bombings were “symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam War.” That no one was killed or injured was a monumental stroke of luck– an unrelated bombing at the University of Wisconsin unintentionally killed a researcher and seriously injured four people. But if the point was to symbolize outrage, why not just spraypaint graffiti on government buildings or pour blood on military documents?
Spectacular violence, and creating fear of it, was the point. Along with beating people up and ridiculous escapades like running naked through white-working-class high schools shouting “Jailbreak!” It was what the Weatherpeople were all about.
“Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war,” Ayers writes. ” So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.” I’m not so sure that terrorism necessarily involves intentional attacks on people, but okay, let’s say Ayers wasn’t a terrorist. How about thuggish? Vainglorious? Egomaniacal? Staggeringly irresponsible? And illogical, don’t forget illogical: as Hilzoy points out, the idea that because “peaceful protest” hadn’t ended the war, bombs would is missing a couple of links. It’s like a doctor saying, Well, chemo didn’t cure your brain tumor, so I’ll have to amputate your leg. It’s not as if there was nothing else to try, after all. While Ayers and Dohrn were conveying their outrage, other people were doing the kind of organizing work that the Weather Underground despised as wimpy. Today Ayers blends himself into that broader movement, the “we– the broad we” that “wrote letters, marched, talked to young men at inductions centers” etc., but at the time, Weatherpeople had nothing but contempt for the rest of the antiwar left. Writing letters? Off the pig! you might as well… become a community organizer!