In his never-ending publicity tour, Bill Ayers is transforming himself into a contemporary “hero” of the “progressive” movement. Just look at the transcript of the interview he and Bernardine Dohrn gave to Amy Goodman on her Democracy Now television program. First Ayers claimed “I was not a terrorist. I was never a terrorist.” And later in the interview, Dohrn too says “Nothing the Weather Underground did was terrorist.” They only engaged in what Dohrn says were “direct actions that were symbolic, that were recognizable and understandable to the American people.” They made sure they acted with “restraint.”
Should we respond to such claims with gales of laughter or with sadness about how these brazen lies are being spread by today’s gullible media? A more correct picture of what the Weather Underground was all about can be found in a rather unknown but brilliant book by Nigel Young, An Infantile Disorder? The Crisis and Decline of the New Left, published in 1977 by Westview Press. Young writes that the Weathermen organized as a “conspicuously para-military” organization that justified their ideology with the following argument:
“America was violent; SDS apparently had to become increasingly violent to defeat it. America was racist; so [the Weathermen] prepared to support racism in reverse…America was imperialist, and this fact could consistently be used to justify, apologize for or ignore other imperialisms, including Chinese, Russian or Vietnamese expansionism, or the invasion of Czechoslovakia [by the Soviet Union.] America’s legendary militarism became mirrored and echoed in [their] own armed mythology, rhetoric and posture; in its final year, New Left Notes literally portrayed guns on every page.”
Later Young writes that “there were undeniably terroristic elements in the Weatherman approach- with a definite tendency to endorse violence against others.” For Ayers, Dorhn and their comrades, armed violence and bombing took the place of political analysis and organizing- the exact opposite of what they claim to have believed today. The violence engaged in under the auspices or inspiration of their faction of SDS, Young writes, “ranged from killing police and taking hostages to arson; during a phenomenal fifteen months of bombings, there was a rapidly escalating violence on campus…and trashing…in the community; there were sharply violent direct responses to the [1968 Chicago] Conspiracy Trial convictions.” This is the brutal truth, not the claim by Ayers that they were only “fighting against war and against injustice and for peace.” There are many examples by Dohrn of what they called for in the 1960’s. Dohrn thus instructed her comrades in 1969: “Revolutionary violence is the only way. Now we are adopting … classic guerilla strategy…in the technically most advanced country in the world.”
What is most instructive is how different the Weather Underground’s nearest affinity group in Germany- the Baader-Meinhof gang, is treated today. Undeniably, the violent West German New Left group, led by Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, was much more successful in its use of violence and murder than their American counterpart. But there were similarities in the two organizations. They called their group The Red Army Faction (RAF), and you can read about them in Jeffrey Herf’s insightful article in the new issue of Telos. Called “An Age of Murder: Ideology and Terror in Germany,” historian Herf gives us an inkling of what The Weather Underground had in mind for their own country had they been able to continue.
In Germany, the many victims of the RAF have told their stories and Herf notes how their airing is a “welcome change from a media obsession” and of the “embarrassing radical chic among intellectuals-about the RAF members.” In our country, however, a romanticization of the Weathermen is just picking up steam, as the media willingly lends itself to Ayers’ and Dohrn’s obscene attempt to rewrite the history of their past.
A new German film, The Baader-Meinhof Complex, which is having its first American screening this weekend, shows the German’s ability to candidly appraise their own New Left terrorists. Here’s one review from the British press. Reviewer Philip French calls it a “powerful movie” because of the “factual exposition.” No glamorization in this movie of the German New Left. Is it too much to ask that American journalists and someone out there in the film world try to show people like Ayers and Dohrn as they really were, and not the sugar coated image that they are now pedaling to the American public?
Addendum: Today, on “Fresh Air,” Terry Gross confirmed my argument by giving Bill Ayers an entire 45 minute segment. You can listen to it here.