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December 06, 2008

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Everyone glad to see hilzoy back & at full strength, raise your hand (xanax raises hand).

*Raises hand*

But was I the only one flummoxed by this:
"Starting his narrative in 1970 allows Ayers to omit the time when Weatherman was not trying not to harm people..."

Double negatives, why hilzoy, why? Took me so long to find that second "not". Literally minutes of confusion.

Forgive me for going OT, but really, Bill Ayers doesn't deserve any better.

So is the nomination of Eric Shinseki to head Veterans Affairs a flipped bird towards certain parts of the Bush Administration, or is it a cynical maneuver, or both?

Ayers piece was a narcissistic way to try to salvage his reputation. The SDS and the weather underground has done more to stifle dissent in this country than the illegal wiretaps.

I recommend Vida, by Marge Piercy. Piercy was an active member of Students for Democratic Society from 1962 to 1969, when her health began to fail and when SDS began to break up into factions, one of which was the Weathermen (presented fictionally in Vida as "the Little Red Wagon"). I do recommend it to anyone who wants to get a feeling of what it was like then among those most committed and most discouraged.

Well said, Hilzoy. Double points for the South Park reference (which is still funny a decade later)!

"A knight growing old and full of scars from battle
Awaits on the edge of the tournament field
He stands all alone and no-one sees his sorrow,
For he has no-one to be Champion to."
...Edward Zifran of Gendy

I looked first at "Americanization of Emily" but found nothing. Not worth the time to find enough wit to express the irony (considering the shrine at upper right) in whom hilzoy grants her favours to.

And The Wars Go On. And the Winners write history.

Go Hilzoy!
Life is not a thrill ride or an adrenaline rush especially when others are hurt or killed in the process. How someone with so little sense of responsability becomes an "expert" on education is flabbergasting. What a legacy we boomers bequeath to our children. This financial crisis included.

hizoy,

Glad to see you are well. Now tell me, are you old enough to have experienced those years as a young adult? No, wait. That is not a fair question. Let us rephrase. What is a rational response by a minority to a brutal genocidal and unjustified war conducted by the majority (that would be Viet Nam)? No. Not rational. Let us say justifiable. I mean, we killed three million, ya' know.

I don't mean to put you on a spot. So consider a remoter episode, say, Bloody Kansas.

What is sad about Ayers may not so much be his methods as the lunatic juvenile ideological cant, the flight from reality, and the actually quite comical tactical failures of the Weathermen in the 60's.

Their failure was one of farce. I agree Ayers should never have written the editorial. He should have remained quiet out of embarassment. Maybe he has not yet grown up. But to condemn 'terror' oh so casually is oh so careless. Like, tell it to the Algerians, or even to some of our more exuberant revolutionaries in the late 1790's. OK?

i.e., your rant exhibits some of the same tendencies. I would urge you to trod with care through this moral minefield.

Well said.
His acts have not saved the life of a single Vietnamese (or American soldier, for that matter).
He could have done so many things to make this world a better place: organize peaceful anti-war rallies and sit-ins, set up a grassroots campaign to influence public opinion on the war, raise funds to help wounded Vietnamese civilians, advocate the outlawing of Agent Orange to Congress, just to name a few things off the top of my head.
But no, those things weren't glamorous enough.
So instead, he chose to use counterproductive violence and turn off many Americans from the anti-war movement. It really was all about him and about wanting to live an exciting life at the expense of others.

agreed. which is maybe why he said he wished he'd done more.

he was young.

he was passionate.

he was right.

when your government is wrong... fuck'em.

civil disobedience.

he was ready to pay his price.

blame nixon.

i wouldn't repent either...

i too would say knowing what i know now... i'd wish i'd done more.

"To me, though, he's just a shallow rich kid who took himself and his revolutionary rhetoric much too seriously, helped inspire people to do things that got them killed,"

WHo does that remind me of?

Not that the compariason makes Ayers's arguments more honest or his crimes less bad. However the fratrat-in-chief has, through his narcisistic selfindulgence, killed a lot more people.

bobbyp: I was a kid during the 60s, but a kid who was very interested in politics, so I do remember it.

I find being frustrated, appalled, and furious about Vietnam completely comprehensible. But before someone decides to e.g. try to kill a bunch of army NCOs and their dates because of that, they ought to figure out how, exactly, their bomb is going to accomplish that. In this particular case, there was no plausible way. Did that stop Weatherman? No. But it should have.

Look: I oppose torture, even though I think that some of the people who did it probably had something good in mind, like protecting the country. But before you move from a good end to action, you have to ask yourself about the means you propose to use. Are they moral? And will they achieve that end? If not, good ends are not a justification.

I don't see that Ayers et al ever asked those questions seriously. I mind that in the case of Cheney and Yoo, and I mind it in his case as well.

"when your government is wrong... fuck'em."

Bombings weren't against abstractions of government, but carried the risks of killing actual people, people who did not make the decisions to carry on an immoral war.

Taking into your own hands the decision to commit explosive violence, and possibly kill people, is right under very very limited circumstances, and whether the cause you're fighting for being just, or the cause you're fighting against being terribly wrong, doesn't change the rightness or wrongness of one's decision.

"I don't see that Ayers et al ever asked those questions seriously."

Well, they did. One doesn't go from peace marches and sit-ins to bomb throwing on a whim. As you so aptly point out, they just didn't reach the right answers. Yes, they were hasty, deluded, angry, irrational, and ultimately nihilistic, but I'll bet they gave it more thought than the guy in McClean, VA, who guides a drone into a wedding party in Afghanistan (the questions you ask pertain here, too). Where does innocence end and guilt begin? Is it always a bright line? I'm not so sure anymore in my dotage.

Means v Ends. Too bad that case hasn't yet reached the Supreme Court. Lord knows it's been around long enough.

Hilzoy is right, but he's actually just scratching the surface. Seriously, the dude co-wrote a book dedicated to Sirhan Sirhan:

http://www.zombietime.com/prairie_fire/

Ayers wasn't violently anti-war, he was violently in favor of Maoist overthrow of the US government. Which makes him just another irrelevant, impotent 60s kook, so really, after the election, the issue isn't Ayers-- it's why the New York Times is giving the man such a prominent platform to promote his book and himself with half-truths, lies by omission, and outright lies.

I wasn't a teen then, but I hear that an awful lot of people were. And somehow almost all of them managed to refrain from setting any bombs, let alone fantasizing about sending their stubborn opponents to death camps by the tens of millions.

Ayers wasn't just a terrorist, he was a terrorist for communism. That's like doubly distilled evil.

Also glad to see Hilzoy back and hope your recovery continues well.

I was peripherally involved in the antiwar movement in the sixties, and I completely agree with Hilzoy's comments. Ayers and his wife are self-centered jerks. If not for his father's wealth and connections neither of them would be where they are today, and maybe a little more introspection would have resulted. They damaged the entire antiwar movement and allowed war supporters to dismiss the movement by association with these crazies.

For madrigraal, you say "What a legacy we boomers bequeath to our children. This financial crisis included." I never understand the impulse to blame a whole group (we boomers) for the actions of a distinctly separate group. (I don't even think everyone involved in creating this crisis is a boomer, and certainly I am not taking any responsibility for it!) And again, how am I or other boomers responsible for the fact that Ayers is an idiot or is regarded as an education guru?

I'm not going to defend the Weathermen or "terrorism" here, but in the face of 3 million dead people, the concern "whether any janitors were still in the buildings they bombed" seems a bit precious to me.

*both hands raised in the "rock on" gesture*

The ends never justify the means. Not ever. I can appreciate youthful passion and frustration, though those years are behind me, but the ends can simply never justify the means, no matter how great the ends.

I feel this same way about torture. Truth is, no torture that the US has engaged in has saved a single life, but even if it had, nothing can justify the act itself.

Beyond that, actions such as these injure the perpetrator as much as the victim. Violence is always a double-edged sword, and a sharp one at that. I can't remember the link, but there is a fascinating article written by a soldier who participated in torture all about the terrible effects the torture had on him, as the torturer. My sympathies are more with the torturee, but it is an viewpoint I hadn't considered before.

Too bad Ayers never considered it.

"I'm not going to defend the Weathermen or 'terrorism' here, but in the face of 3 million dead people, the concern 'whether any janitors were still in the buildings they bombed" seems a bit precious to me.'

I don't see any contradiction, or anything "precious," about being concerned about the murder of innocent human lives, be they millions of Vietnamese, or one janitor, of whatever nationality.

I think lack of concern about murder, both mass, and individual, is wrong.

I'm also capable of simultaneously thinking that many folks not around during the Sixties (I was only born in 1958, mysefl, but I was a newsjunkie by 1967, and obsessively reading on recent history by not long after) aren't apt to understand the events and motivations of people back then, as of any other time that one is neither well-read upon, or otherwise experienced with, and also thinking that that complex moral adage "two wrongs don't make a right" is rarely wrong.

I also think that, as on most any subject, it's easy for some folks to consider the full picture of a complex time in a superficial and one-sided fashion, and to write accordingly.

That, too, is avoidable.

Anybody who hasn't made a dumb mistake hasn't done anything. (Yeah, yeah, double negative.) But most of us -- even George Bush, the most famous resident of the introspection-free zone -- eventually realize that "youthful indiscretions" are "indiscretions." I'd say bombing buildings that might have innocent people in them is a tad worse than "indiscretions." Yet Prof. Ayers, even decades after the fact, can't come to grips with his and his wife's bad acts. He's ineligible for parole, in my book. The Times should not have given him a sounding board, at least not without publishing a factual rejoinder, as Hilzoy has.

The Constant Weader @ www.RealityChex.com

The ends never justify the means. Not ever. I can appreciate youthful passion and frustration, though those years are behind me, but the ends can simply never justify the means, no matter how great the ends.

I disagree with this. There are very, very few means that can't be justified by some, logically possible, ends. In looking at Ayers (or anyone else), what's important isn't the ends that one wants. It's the ends that will result from your means. Quite aside from the question of what ends Ayers really wanted (I'm inclined to the Maoist overthrow interpretation myself), there was zero possibility of his means producing any desirable ends.

Combining evil means with no possible good benefit just means that you are evil. End of story. Go away, Bill Ayers. I admit that you were accomplishing some useful things over more recent years, but your effectiveness is now gone. In part, that's because the Republicans ran a vicious, dishonest campaign that smeared Barack Obama. They didn't smear you, though. In order for them to have done that, you would have to be repentant. That is your responsibility, and yours alone.

But before someone decides to e.g. try to kill a bunch of army NCOs and their dates because of that, they ought to figure out how, exactly, their bomb is going to accomplish that. In this particular case, there was no plausible way.

To be fair to them, every successful insurgency/revolution/terrorist campaign -- of which there have been a lot -- did begin with the seemingly quixotic efforts of the few.

Violence remains the most powerful political statement, even if that power is hard to direct. There will always be people tempted to use it, and the examples of its success are far too numerous for us to dismiss the practitioners of political violence, tempting as that may be. Mumbai -- clearly an enormous success for those that set it in motion -- is just the most recent, heartbreaking example.

I abhor violence, terrorism included. But if we are really serious about stopping terrorism, we have to acknowledge that it frequently works, that its practitioners are far from crazy, and that there is a very fine line (often fine enough only to be discernible with hindsight) between the supposed 'kooks' like the Weathermen and those who ultimately prevail in their causes.

Or in other words, underestimate any committed terrorist at your peril.

bobbyp,

What is a rational response by a minority to a brutal genocidal and unjustified war conducted by the majority (that would be Viet Nam)? No. Not rational. Let us say justifiable.

I am old enough to have experienced those years as a young adult (late teens/early twenties). I don't think it's necessary to specify what constituted a rational response in order to be able to identify some responses as wildly irrational. There was no way the WU or whatever was going to end the war with its tactics. Its members simply put others' lives at risk, pointlessly, as part of an insane ego trip.

One doesn't go from peace marches and sit-ins to bomb throwing on a whim. As you so aptly point out, they just didn't reach the right answers.

Nonsense. They reached terrible answers - answers that were obviously wrong. If I ask you who the second President of the US was, and you say "Thomas Jefferson," that's wrong. If you say "Benito Mussolini," that's idiotic. Ayers' answer was more Mussolini than Jefferson.

Or, what Emma said.

Those who do not learn from history, or in some cases, actually experience the history itself, are doomed to write shallow, lazy rants designed to bolster their own credibility at the expense of others not girded with the absolute clarity of cheap seat hindsight.

Which is easy, yes. But of limited value.

I didn't approve of Bill Ayers' actions then, and I don't approve of them now. But to sweep all the other Vietnam era sins under the rug and focus only on the sins of someone who in a misguided way was young, disillusioned with the extremely corrupt foreign policy of his country, caught up in a revolutionary spirit of the times - a movement in which people had already, for years, tried nonviolent approaches to end the war, is ridiculous. We have forgiven the government officials, soldiers, proponents, who violated international law in the conduct of the war, had a policy of committing atrocities against an untold number of civilians, including bombing. No one held John McCain's bombing civilians against him; no one holds Colin Powell's actions in ignoring information about My Lai - we can go on and on about people who took positions during the Vietnam War era which were wrong, destructive, ruined or ended lives (by the thousands). We forgive them because they were associated with the government - even though the actions of the government were demonstrably wrong, and there was an organized effort to stop the wrongdoing. Instead, we've turned their stories into "service to country" myths, and despite our feelings about the war, we call the people who furthered that destruction heroes.

Okay, so Ayers was wrong and misguided. Everyone in the antiwar movement should have been pacifists, should have refused the draft and gone to jail, and by filling the jails and refusing to fight, the war would have come to an end. Is there any evidence that such a thing would have happened? It didn't happen because it would have taken individual courage and commitment and sacrifice of thousands of young people. I wish it had happened that way, but it became obvious to Ayers and others that something else had to happen. Ayers chose a wrong path, but is he more to blame so, so, so many others on the other side, whose sins we have all agreed now to ignore?

It was self-indulgence taken to an extreme, the same extreme to which Bush's self indulgence took this nation. Both Ayers and Bush seem to very much heros in their own eyes, noble fighters for the good, striking noble blows against the established order. Both seem to think that overpowering emotion justifies bad judgement. Both seem to think that the ends justifies the means even when the means will not logically lead to the end. Not reasoners, either one. Rationalizers, bullshitters, yes, but not reasonable people. Comic book heros in a comic book world. Both came form rich backgrounds and both were rescued from their screw ups by their daddies ( Bush multiple times, Ayers just onec.) bush killed a lot more people. None of this detracts at all from hilzoy's point with which I totally agree. I'm just pointing out the bias or hypocrisy of those who hate Ayers and excuse Bush. They--Bish and Ayers-- seem to me to be remarkably similar in type with Bush the worse in degree.

So I wonder if twenty years from now there will be an effort by rightwing revisionist historians to justify Bush on the grounds that his intentions were noble and his decisions were made during a time of great stress for the nation and the means he used , even if if not effective, were justified given the end he was pursuing...yabbitty yabbitty yab.

Not worth the time to find enough wit to express the irony (considering the shrine at upper right) in whom hilzoy grants her favours to.

I'd just like to point out that Andrew Olmsted died trying *not* to kill the guys that shot him.

To me, though, he's just a shallow rich kid who took himself and his revolutionary rhetoric much too seriously, helped inspire people to do things that got them killed

That's my take on it, too.

There are lots and lots of things you can do to make your point without risking other people's lives.

Thanks -

What is a rational response by a minority to a brutal genocidal and unjustified war conducted by the majority (that would be Viet Nam)? No. Not rational. Let us say justifiable.

Well, it seems that the US has brought about the deaths of well over a million Iraqis through an insane and unjustified war. We could argue over the academic question of whether starting a totally unjustified war that was predicted to cause immense death and suffering due to the sectarian violence it unleashed really constitutes genocide when "only" 1 million people end up dead, but why bother? There are people who look at what we have wrought and feel that they are witnessing a genocide no less strongly than Ayers did when he gazed upon US efforts in Vietnam. So, are those people allowed to do anything now? Is it OK for them to plant a bomb at an Army recruiter's office? Maybe kill some soldiers at a bar?

bobbyp, I'm curious to hear where you'd draw the line for them today. Is there any limit on the forms their impotent rage may take before you'd say "that's too much, too unjustified, too disconnected from real grievance, too pointless"?

I do enjoy reading people who lived in the 60s as they ever so patiently explain that those of us born later cannot possibly hope to understand what life was like back then. Imagine, a whole generation of unique and precious snowflakes whose life experiences transcended that of the mere mortals that came before and after them! Surely, the world has never known a generation of young people who watched helpless as their government engaged in a pointless slaughter of innocents in a far off land. I can't even imagine what it must be like to live in the United States while the US military was busying itself destroying a society across the globe.

Note about what Emma said: I agree that the strategy Emma outlines was the right strategy. Unfortunately, it was tried, and tried, and tried, and tried. I'm not saying that Bill Ayers' way was the next step. The Weatherman movement was an embarrassment to people who were anti-war, who always had to explain it away. But, in fairness, it was no worse than what the war was all about - unbridled, pointless destruction.

"Nonsense. They reached terrible answers - answers that were obviously wrong."

Nonsense yourself. They reached wrong answers, answers that were laughably unworkable. And really, being lectured by another one above who claims "the ends never justify the means". Oh, really? Most of the responses here are pegging my outrage meter.

I would do the j'accuse! thing and rip in to what I see as smug self satisfaction and the blatant moral relativism masked as high moral dungeon in many of these posts. But what's the use? I thought the wingnut right was the embodiment of pearl clutching! Grab the smelling salts!!! Bill Ayers is not sorry enough!!!

Three million dead. Three million dead. A million more dead in Iraq. But by all means, let us condemn Bill Ayers. Let us be especially nasty about it, too. Let us be vicious in our condemnation. In fact, more vicious than when we condemn Bush and Cheney ("they thought they were right"? My God!!!!) Let us make it known that WE shall NEVER stand for such a thing. Let us shout from the rooftops that "violence never works!" Let us chide each other that "the ends never justify the means". And by all means, let us pay taxes, go about our daily lives, vote for 'good democrats' and not be cognizant that we, too, are a part of this killing machine.

Like Tallyrand said, "It was worse than a tragedy. It was a mistake."

A million effing dead. You betcha'. If you don't feel the least twinge of guilt or the least bit of the responsibility for this, you have no call lecturing Bill Ayers about 'morality', or means and ends for that matter.

And what byrningman said.

Turbulence,

As hard as it may be to understand, it was a different time, an absolutely crazy time, and in ways that may seem precious to those raised on The Breakfast Club or Buffy. But there is some worthwhile perspective to be gained from having lived thru it. Much as your own expertise re Michael Anthony Hall and Xander will one day be worth greater recognition.

And as for the limits of your imagination regarding destruction across the globe, what you miss is the destruction that was happening at home at the time, including the Draft. When you're waiting for your lottery number? It sorta takes the fun out of spectating.

Turbulence,

Spare me the sarcasm. Answer the question.

Hilzoy has it right, as she usually does. But..it's entirely too easy for some to think about this time without sufficient context. There was a whole lot of State violence in the late 50s and 60s, and it wasn't just in Vietnam. The constant terror visited on civil rights activists was an object lesson for a lot of people who were radicalized. It's easy for some to gloss over just how brutal that stuff was - the decades of lynching and terror, and then the reaction to MLK et. al. Also fresh in people's minds was the little matter of the police riot in Chicago in 1968. And, of course, there was the pointless, brutal war in SE Asia, going on and on.

I don't defend Ayres' and the other's humorless, infantile, dangerous political fantasies. But it's not that hard, if you crank up your imagination a little, to *understand* their rage. I'd also suggest that our contemporary relative docility is not really something to be smug about or proud of.

BTW, Richard Elrod was not just 'a lawyer'. He was a guy who wanted to be (and became) Cook County Sheriff. He was ambitious and freelancing. He didn't deserve to get his back broken, but the idea that he was just 'a lawyer' is a little misleading.

But to sweep all the other Vietnam era sins under the rug and focus only on the sins of someone who in a misguided way was young

Who exactly is doing this sweeping? Can you cite specific comments please?

We have forgiven the government officials, soldiers, proponents, who violated international law in the conduct of the war, had a policy of committing atrocities against an untold number of civilians, including bombing.

"We" have? Why wasn't I informed!

In general, conversation works best when claims are narrow enough to justify. "We" did no such thing. Perhaps you did. Perhaps many other people did. I certainly did not, and I know for a fact that a number of other people here did not either.

No one held John McCain's bombing civilians against him

I did.

no one holds Colin Powell's actions in ignoring information about My Lai

I did. I even mentioned it in comments to posts on this very blog when Powell's name came up in the past.

You might have a point if you're talking about the general public or some subset thereof. I'm not sure. But you have to be specific if you're going to make these kinds of claims.

"bobbyp, I'm curious to hear where you'd draw the line for them today. Is there any limit on the forms their impotent rage may take before you'd say "that's too much, too unjustified, too disconnected from real grievance, too pointless"?"

Let us stand this question on its head, sir. I'm curious to hear where you'd draw the line as a citizen of a government committing international crimes? How "big" do the crimes have to be before you will do ANYTHING to stop them? How big?

I guess a million dead is no big deal in your book.

bobbyp, what specific question would you like me to answer?

I'd be happy to answer whatever you like, but I'd like you to answer my question: where do you draw the line on random violence from people who think they're witnessing a genocide? Is it OK to rape and mutilate a women who happens to be an NCO? What about bombing a PX and killing a few dozen military family members? I mean, that sort of thing would get on the news and might do something, so would it be OK for a modern day Ayers to do that?

How "big" do the crimes have to be before you will do ANYTHING to stop them? How big?

I won't do something that I don't think will be effective. I won't engage in action just so that I can feel that I'm doing "something". I won't do that because I'm not a narcissist.

In my view, there is nothing feasible that I can do to staunch the bloodshed in Iraq; that train has already left the station. My biggest fear would be having a President McCain try a do-over in Iran, so I voted a certain way, but that was it. Now, if you can convince me that a particular piece of random violence will save the lives of a million people, I might very well do it, but you have to actually make a plausible case and Bill Ayer's idiot logic doesn't cut it.

"I'd also suggest that our contemporary relative docility is not really something to be smug about or proud of."

Damn. That's what I was trying to say. Thanks, jonny. Maybe I just need to crank down the volume.

My older brother was an Army paratrooper in the late '60s and was in some of the worst fighting of the Vietnam war. Years later, he went through an extended phase of spouting extremist right wing rhetoric. I finally hit the wall on my liberal tolerance for free speech and differing points of view when he told my young son that Timothy McVeigh was a revolutionary hero "just like George Washington." I actually succeeded in cuffing him into line, and by the end of his life (he died of a sudden heart attack a few years ago) he was exploring Berkeley hippie culture and studying Buddhism (I don't take primary credit for this, but I know I strongly influenced him).

My son is now a a poli sci major at UC Berkeley (he spent the summer in Washington as a DNC intern). From the vantage point parenthood provides of glimpsing things through the younger generation's eyes, I tell him you can't really understand what motivated people back then unless you lived through it. It was a truly crazy time in a very different way than what we've lived through in recent years.

I haven't paid much attention to the Ayers flap other than to where it seemed important to defend Obama's connection to him. It doesn't sound like he has anything substantive to add to the contemporary dialogue, and I don't have a lot of faith at present in the mainstream media's ability to frame things in a historical context that serves to advance understanding of complex issues.

Hopefully that will evolve under Obama's leadership, because Mumbai is just the latest example of why we accept simplistic explanations offered by the mainstream establishment at our peril.

bobbyp,

Three million dead in SE Asia does not justify one dead in Washington, or Madison, if you prefer.

No matter how much you may oppose the Iraq War, you are not entitled to go into the street and start shooting at random to express your opposition. if you do so you are responsible for your actions, quite apart from the morality of the war.

This is not even a question of means vs. ends. Ayers' ends were unattainable by the means he chose.

One additional point. Hilzoy did not just decide to criticize Ayers out of the blue. Ayers published an op-ed in the NYT defending his behavior. That justifies a specific response. This is not a question of deciding, arbitrarily, to pick on Ayers. It is a question of addressing the arguments he chose to make in a widely read newspaper. There is no requirement to comment on all the world's horrors before doing that.

The period of say from 67 to 72 was a dark age, a period of national psychosis, but I don't think that one should use that to excuse the behavior of one of the major psychotics.

But he was only one psychotic among many and if one is going to start assigning degrees of nefariousness to people who were players back in the day, Ayers wouldn't be in the top tier.

Change of subject: it seems odd to me that the millenials, who have so much much much more to be outraged about than my generation are so much better behaved. I hope that means that they will be more effective at influencing politics.

I do enjoy reading people who lived in the 60s as they ever so patiently explain that those of us born later cannot possibly hope to understand what life was like back then. Imagine, a whole generation of unique and precious snowflakes whose life experiences transcended that of the mere mortals that came before and after them!

Screw you. Seriously. 50,000 dead in Nam. How many of your loved ones died, were drafted or were seriously traumatized in Iraq?

After the Bush administration, I understand how this generation could know disempowerment and apathy and even hate, but to use that experience to discount what a generation went through in Viet Nam is downright nasty.

My people still remember a genocide of two and three centuries ago, yet yours is already forgetting the travesty of two generations past. Don't your parents tell stories?

"bobbyp, what specific question would you like me to answer?"

You're being dense, right? I mean you blockquote it to start your post @ 10:22 above.

As I pointed out to Hilzoy, I find off-the-shelf moral condemnation of 'violence' or 'terrorism' rather tedious, and delusionally abstracted from history. I hold no book for Bill Ayers. He failed miserably as a 'revolutionary'. He seems to have done some good since then. Good for him I say.

I have read through a lot of condemnatory remarks above, and have yet to see much in the way of forgiveness, or let bygones be bygones. Me? I say it's a fart in a whirlwind, but a bunch here seem really worked up about a failed 60's radical who helped drive the New Left off the cliff. And the high moral standard demanded, yes, demanded of poor Bill. Why I doubt any of us live up to that. The bar seems pretty damnned high around here. My. My. My.

But by all means, do lecture me about the 60's. Buy why stop there? Lecture me about the Haymarket Riot, and the IWW, too. I love it.

"No one held John McCain's bombing civilians against him; no one holds Colin Powell's actions in ignoring information about My Lai - we can go on and on about people who took positions during the Vietnam War era which were wrong, destructive, ruined or ended lives (by the thousands). We forgive them"

Beg pardon, but whom else besides yourself are you authorized to speak for in the plural?

"Ayers chose a wrong path, but is he more to blame...."

Which writer here made that assertion?

"I do enjoy reading people who lived in the 60s as they ever so patiently explain that those of us born later cannot possibly hope to understand what life was like back then."

Cite?

"In general, conversation works best when claims are narrow enough to justify."

Indeed.

"I thought the wingnut right was the embodiment of pearl clutching!"

The extent of various folks engaging in pearl clutching in this thread, from a variety of "sides," including yourself, should demonstrate that it's a common human trait.

"I guess a million dead is no big deal in your book."

This sort of accusation and presumption is far more likely to generate heat and anger than it is to make for productive conversation. It's probably best avoided.

(Really, if someone said this sort of thing to you, do you think it would encourage you to take a calm and thoughtful tone?)

But it's not that hard, if you crank up your imagination a little, to *understand* their rage.

Sure, I agree with that. But so what? There are lots of groups that feel rage today and I understand their rage; sometimes I even sympathize with it. That includes Al Queda members, Timothy McVeigh, people who are horrified at Iraq, people who are horrified at our foreign policy in general, etc. Lots of rage. So what do I do? I still think that killing random people is unjustified no matter how enraged you feel.

Look, there is a lot of rage out there. Some of it is justified, and some of it just isn't. If we open the door to random killings whenever people feel enraged, well, I'm not sure you're going to like where that road takes us.

I'd also suggest that our contemporary relative docility is not really something to be smug about or proud of.

Can you expand on this? My sense is that if people today were more willing to kill random strangers in pursuit of political goals, things would be worse not better, but perhaps I'm misreading you.


I tell him you can't really understand what motivated people back then unless you lived through it. It was a truly crazy time in a very different way than what we've lived through in recent years.

I'm sure it was. But can you name a single generation in the last two hundred years that didn't feel the same way? Stuff happens. That's life. And while that stuff may seem unique and unknowable to those who were not there, that may just be hubris talking.

Also, I still don't understand why the special nature of the times changes anything in hilzoy's argument. No matter how crazy the times were, there is no plausible sequence of events by which killing random NCOs increases the likelihood of ending the war. I don't know why Americans have difficulty with this concept, but when you threaten to kill people unless they do what you want, they rebel. That's why our terror bombing campaigns in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and Iraq failed to end the conflicts. Now, if you threaten to annihilate them (and can plausibly do it), things are different, but Ayers didn't have nuclear weapons.

Turbulence, "if you can convince me that a particular piece of random violence will save the lives of a million people, I might very well do it, but you have to actually make a plausible case..."

Well that's pretty silly, and I am not trying to make that case. Apparently, you prefer not to listen, or like putting words in others' mouths. Too bad. You seem like a nice enough fellow, otherwise.

With all due respect,

"I tell him you can't really understand what motivated people back then unless you lived through it."

I don't think that's true at all. Everyone who "lived through it" lived through only their own unique, fragmentary, limited, POV. While a lot of people lived through experiences unique to the era, few lived through more than a smattering of the crucial events of the Vietnam era. Rather, they were familiar with the times, and otherwise largely read about events, or saw them on tv, or saw distant echoes of them. Endlessly more people were influenced by the events surrounding the Democratic convention in Chicago, or any given assassination or riot, than were actually present for said event.

And most people were distant from all of it, no closer than their tv and newspaper and local impressionable teenager.

So, sure, living through those times is a big aid in understanding them, but hardly a requirement: intense study, via books and documentaries and the like, can do fine.

Forgive me for pointing this out, but I find this commonplace absolute assertion pretty annoying, because it's very wrong, and dismisses the understanding of untold numbers of people, no matter that it's vaguely in the neighborhood of a somewhat true far less absolute statement.

And it's really unhelpful to assert to people that they can't understand something when, in fact, if they make a considerable effort, many certainly could.

They just have to put in the effort.

This is what studying history (or anthropology) is all about.

(Really, if someone said this sort of thing to you, do you think it would encourage you to take a calm and thoughtful tone?)

Ach! I have been Farberized.

But to answer your question, I like to think that under certain circumstances such a remark just might make my light bulb go on. I mean, when somebody calls you out on a stupid remark (now don't get angry, I know that "the stupid" often in the eye of the beholder) and you realize it, don't you get a bit calmer? I should hope so.

""We" have? Why wasn't I informed!"

Me neither. Nobody ever tells me anything.

i agree that ayers was/is a smug, hypocritical, ass. however, i can't hold him responsible for his recent notoriety. that goes to mccain/palin who desperately tried to spin into willie horton redux. take him for what he is, a vain, out of date crackpot. may we never have to hear his name again.

Dear Gary, Turbulence, et al., Again, as I have in other threads, I apologize for being not particular enough in my comments. My point, however about John McCain, Colin Powell, etc., was that they weren't vilified by the entire country to the extent that they had to make a public statement defending themselves against being a universally condemned pariah. Instead, both have been considered by many in the country to be viable candidates for President. And yet, Hilzoy devotes a column to condemning Ayers for trying to defend himself against the onslaught of vilification that he endured during the election. Do I accept his version of history? Not entirely. But because I respect Hilzoy so much, I wonder about her priorities in choosing to pile on against someone who, in his youth, was motivated by anger and alienation in the face of extreme wrongdoing by his government to do things that were (although misguided and counterproductive) an effort to change the status quo.

There would be no argument from me that Ayers and others started down the road of a mob-like frenzy, much like those that characterized some of the most horrifying social movements of our time (Nazis and Maoists come to mind). I'm glad they didn't get very far. I forgive them now, and am grateful that they embarked on a more constructive path. But it does all beg a question (asked or suggested by jonnybutter, bobbyp, coyote and perhaps others): how many deaths did we all prevent in Vietnam and Iraq so far by marching on Washington, holding candles in vigils, etc.? I'm glad we all elected Obama recently (finally, someone who's thoughtful) but it's a little late... Maybe we should all ask ourselves, Next time our country elects someone who wants to conduct a horrific war, is there anything we can do that will actually stop it? Because it's bound to happen again. (And no, I'm not suggesting that bombing an NCO dance is the answer.)

"The period of say from 67 to 72 was a dark age, a period of national psychosis, but I don't think that one should use that to excuse the behavior of one of the major psychotics."

Bill Ayers wasn't in the least psychotic, by any remotely accurate definition of the word. "Psychotic" does not mean "person I highly disagree with and disapprove of," or "person whose morality or decisions shocks me."

"Change of subject: it seems odd to me that the millenials, who have so much much much more to be outraged about than my generation are so much better behaved."

Doesn't seem odd in the least to me; these are vastly calmer times overall, by orders of magnitude. When we have hundreds of metropolitan neighborhoods burned down in riots, multiple assassinations of top political leaders, endless assassinations of neighborhood activists, a COINTELPRO program, endless Jim Crow, endless killings of civil rights protestors, local responses like that of Bull Connor as the absolute norm across much of the country, over 16,000 U.S. troops being killed per year, an unfair draft, a belief on the part of both the government, and many opposed to it, that revolution was imminent, as part of a worldwide revolutionary movement, and the like, things might be remotely comparable.

And I've just begun to hint at some of the reasons things were so extreme then. Why anyone would think contemporary times are even remotely the way they are then, or should be, I find difficult to understand.

"...who have so much much much more to be outraged about than my generation...."

Could you clarify what you mean? Because I really don't see it at all. To what are you referring? Thanks!

"I have read through a lot of condemnatory remarks above, and have yet to see much in the way of forgiveness, or let bygones be bygones."

I'm fine with Bill Ayers being a professor at the U. of Chicago, and I see little to seriously criticize him for -- certainly nothing remotely on the level of being a major figure in Weatherman -- in his behavior in the last three decades.

I'm unaware I have an obligation to discuss these, or other, opinions while also commenting on other matters.

I have nothing too substantial to add but a few questions:

1) @ a few of you, including hilzoy: Why is Ayers being so frequently characterized as "spoiled" or "rich" or even "narcissistic" or (ugh) "vain" in condemnation? I think this reinforces a lot of bullshit "elitist" slander flung at the left. Given that large swaths of the U.S. actually supported the Vietnam War, even late into the game after Tet, (and that this is a position far more morally rank than any of Ayers' misguided tactics, could we call them either "spoiled rich kids" or "stupid poor hicks"? How is Ayers' any vainer or more pretentious or more self-indulgent than your standard kneejerk nationalist? I think whatever good points hilzoy makes are drowned out by unnecessary rhetoric...

2)A lot of people (including me) seem to condemn Ayers because of his pie-in-the-sky view of how effective such isolated acts of destruction would be. But then is the real problem that a few radicals resorted to violence, or rather that the greater anti-war movement didn't become more violent after the failure of pacifistic civil disobedience to alter the course of anything? How do you feel about John Brown? Is your opinion of Harper's Ferry at all tied to the Civil War? If Ayers' and the WU had more "support", wouldn't that make their actions more condonable? If the U.S. instigates another conflict in, say, the next 10 or 20 years, would you even bother to participate in a peaceful street demonstration any longer? Not to say that violence would be the correct strategy, but why waste any more posterboard...

He has done enough harm already. Now he should do the decent thing and leave us in peace.

As highly as I esteem you, hilzoy, I do have to disagree with the last line of your post, quoted above.

Ayers has"[left] the public in peace"; it wasn't his wish or his decision to become part of the 2008 campaign. Having been dragged out of semi-obscurity by people using him to attack Obama, he's entitled to respond. (I note that, unlike the Reverend Wright, Ayers didn't and hasn't make a self-justifying public spectacle of himself at Obama's expense.)

The problem for Ayers- and for Dorn, and the other revolutionaries, or wanna-be revolutionaries, from the 60s - is that their moment passed, along with their cause, and left them in the position of having to make some kind of life for themselves. Perhaps there's a moral case to make that they should stay out of public life out of shame for their past actions, but I can't fault them for not doing so - for, instead, continuing to seek a meaningful life, involving themselves in causes that are important to them.

And, along with other commenters here, I certainly can't see the justice in saying Ayers et al. should "shut up and go away" when people who committed far worse enormities, with far worse body counts, continue to enjoy public acclaim and respect - people like, say, Henry Kissinger, and even Nixon himself - whose mea culpas are either non-existent or even more self-pitying and self-excusing than Ayers'.

bobbyp: What is a rational response by a minority to a brutal genocidal and unjustified war conducted by the majority (that would be Viet Nam)? No. Not rational. Let us say justifiable.

I thought I explained my answer but apparently I was insufficiently clear. So I'll try again. Rational or justifiable responses depend on the situation, so we cannot say precisely what they will be, but we can characterize them by describing what properties they must possess. Any rational or justifiable response must have some plausible mechanism by which it could affect positive change with a relatively high probability of success. So in WWII, killing Hitler is OK. Killing some random German secretary is not OK. I could come up with other properties to make this a complete formal statement of my beliefs, but I won't bother: I think this one property is sufficient to cover the case at hand.

Look, if Ayers killed a bunch of innocent people while attempting some bold action that might actually have made a difference, things would be different; I might support him depending on the details. But he didn't.

I've tried my best to answer your question so I'd like to ask you again: do you think someone who believes we've committed genocide in Iraq is justified in raping and mutilating an NCO or bombing a PX? I'm really curious to see where you draw the lines here.

Crappity crap crap. I could swear I closed that tag.

I invoke The Powers That Be, to make the italics go away.

"Ach! I have been Farberized."

I'm not at all clear what you mean by that.

"I mean, when somebody calls you out on a stupid remark (now don't get angry, I know that 'the stupid' often in the eye of the beholder) and you realize it, don't you get a bit calmer?"

You wrote: "I guess a million dead is no big deal in your book."

First of all, that this sort of comment would make someone "realize" that they've been "stupid" seems less than crystal clear.

Secondly, a comment that essentially says "I guess you're just a stupid and morally blind or indifferent person" does not, by my observation, tend to make most people calmer. Not even a bit. Your Mileage May Vary.

(If I wrote, "I guess you're just too stupidly dense to realize that," would that help your calmness level? I'm really dubious. I could, to be sure, be wrong. I just kinda doubt it.)

(If I am, in fact, wrong, and you're one of those quite unusual people who finds that sort of thing calming, do mention it, so I'll make a note as to how to best respond to you in future.)

(Or maybe not. But, heck, people do surprise me at times.)

"I'm unaware I have an obligation to discuss these, or other, opinions while also commenting on other matters."

No such obligation has been stated or implied. Furthermore, you can comment on anything you want.

Besides, the guy called me a "snowflake". You expect me to stand idly by and just take it?

Geez.

"I tell him you can't really understand what motivated people back then unless you lived through it."

I don't think that's true at all. Everyone who "lived through it" lived through only their own unique, fragmentary, limited, POV.

Sure. They lived through the draft, and the deaths, and the agony of anticipation for that letter in the mail. What the hell could they know about being angry with their government. About being lied to. Your going thorough some bull, so this must be as bad as it gets, right? Who could possibly know something you don't? What can a person live through and still be whole?

Arrogance is the main barrier to knowledge.


can I make the italics begone?

weee

"And yet, Hilzoy devotes a column to condemning Ayers for trying to defend himself against the onslaught of vilification that he endured during the election."

I think there are perfectly valid ways of writing about how to better understand the context of Bill Ayers' foolishness Back In The Day, and to defend Obama from guilt-by-association, and to defend Ayers from more extreme accusations, without giving him a blanket pardon, particularly given that his own statements about his past actions have been inconsistent, and taken a lot less responsibility than he could, or in my view, should, have.

Just because a lot of his attackers are inappropriately black-and-white with their self-righteousness is no reason to mirror them. One can always go with that old liberal standby: a bit of nuance.

"...someone who, in his youth, was motivated by anger and alienation in the face of extreme wrongdoing by his government to do things that were (although misguided and counterproductive) an effort to change the status quo."

Change out that "his government," and you have a defense of Lt. Calley, too.

It would be a lot easier to strongly defend Bill Ayers if he'd ever said truly clearly "engaging in violence that could have led to murder, and at least some of which was intended to lead to murder, was wholly wrong, no matter out idealistic motivations, and the great evil we sought to fight against," or something like that.

Unfortunately -- and I wish it were otherwise -- his statements have, looked at closely and in detail, been inconsistent, and mealy-mouthed. He's never fully taken responsibility for his acts and past intentions. That fuzzes up matters to a point.

As I wrote, I think it's perfectly appropriate for him to be a professor at U. of C. He's done good work in recent decades. I wouldn't support punitive action against him.

But that doesn't mean I can't note that he simply has never taken full responsibility for his long ago acts and intentions. Neither do I have to give my bona fides as a leftist, or an opponent of the Vietnam war, to make said note.

Look, if Ayers killed a bunch of innocent people while attempting some bold action that might actually have made a difference, things would be different; I might support him depending on the details. But he didn't.

I agree completely. But if you had been compelled to act, and make a difference in the war, would you have been Ayers or Ghandi?

Or would you have just posted on a blog?

"But it does all beg a question (asked or suggested by jonnybutter, bobbyp, coyote and perhaps others): how many deaths did we all prevent in Vietnam and Iraq so far by marching on Washington, holding candles in vigils, etc.?"

To answer this: in Vietnam, countless hundreds of thousands, if not more. The fault otherwise lies with Richard Nixon, and Henry Kissinger, as well as earlier with LBJ and McNamara and William Bundy, and the leading associates of both Presidents.

But for all that LBJ took years to get the message, and for all that Richard Nixon committed evil of the worst sort by seeking a "decent interval," purely for political reasons, before settling for more or less the same deal he could have gotten when he was first elected (and he did this utterly consciously), if it weren't for all the domestic upheaval and protests against the war, the war could have, and would have, gone on far longer.

Since you asked.

It didn't beg a question, either.

"Any rational or justifiable response must have some plausible mechanism by which it could affect positive change with a relatively high probability of success."

Turbulence. Have you ever seen that movie, "The Bridge Over the River Kwai"? Have you ever marveled at a John Wayne movie where a small band takes on overwhelming odds? Should Britain have given up in '40? How high was their probability of success?

When judging whether or not to take an action it would seem there are other variables than "the probability of success".

And what of the moral dimension? If an action "has a high probability of success" does that alone rationalize it? I certainly do not know. But many here seem to have no problem condemning Ayers because he missed the boat on this.

To err is human. Aw, what the hell. All I said to Hilzoy is that her condemnation of Ayers' rather innocuous editorial struck me as facily drawing bright moral lines on a canvas of gray.

"But if you had been compelled to act, and make a difference in the war, would you have been Ayers or Ghandi?"

Gandhi. Gandhi. Gandhi. Gandhi.

"Why is Ayers being so frequently characterized as 'spoiled' or 'rich'...."

Because that's how he grew up?

[...] He is the son of Thomas G. Ayers, former Chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison[4] (1973 to 1980), Chicago philanthropist and the namesake of the Thomas G. Ayers College of Commerce and Industry.
As a rule, when you grow up the child of a millionaire, you're characterized as "rich"? What about this strikes you as unusual?
[...] Ayers served as chairman of the Board of Trustees of Northwestern University, the Erikson Institute, the Bank Street College of Education in New York City, the Chicago Symphony, the Chicago Community Trust, the Chicago Urban League, the Community Renewal Society, the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry, Chicago United, the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, and Dearborn Park Corp.,[1] and served as vice president of the Chicago Board of Education.[2]

Ayers also served on the board of directors of Sears, G.D. Searle, Chicago Pacific Corp., Zenith Corp., Northwest Industries, General Dynamics Corp. of St. Louis, First National Bank of Chicago, the Chicago Cubs, and the Tribune Co.[1]

This isn't rich?

My point, however about John McCain, Colin Powell, etc., was that they weren't vilified by the entire country to the extent that they had to make a public statement defending themselves against being a universally condemned pariah.

So what? What they did really has no bearing on whether what Bill Ayers did is worthy of condemnation. I don't let my outrage at one person interfere with my outrage at someone else who deserves it. Bill Ayers actions deserve condemnation. Full stop. George W. Bush's actions deserve condemnation. Full stop. The latter would be easier to get across if Ayers would shut the hell up, and go away. He's a distraction, and, as long as he can't even bring himself to be remorseful, he has no place on the stage, which includes a spot on the op-ed page of the New York Times.

A lot of people (including me) seem to condemn Ayers because of his pie-in-the-sky view of how effective such isolated acts of destruction would be.

No. I am condemning Bill Ayers because he engaged in wanton acts of destruction. This is subtle, but, I think, important difference. I really don't care what his views of its effectiveness were. Their uselessness is an objective fact.

Having been dragged out of semi-obscurity by people using him to attack Obama, he's entitled to respond.

He has a right to respond, but no one has an obligation to listen to him. Bill Ayers was not slandered in any way by the Republicans. He is, in fact, guilty of exactly what they accused him of. Barack Obama was slandered, and I care what his response is.

The problem for Ayers- and for Dorn, and the other revolutionaries, or wanna-be revolutionaries, from the 60s - is that their moment passed, along with their cause, and left them in the position of having to make some kind of life for themselves.

No, their problem is that they engaged in pointless, wanton acts of destruction, and don't seem to think that they did anything wrong. Their moment didn't pass; it never was.

And, along with other commenters here, I certainly can't see the justice in saying Ayers et al. should "shut up and go away" when people who committed far worse enormities, with far worse body counts, continue to enjoy public acclaim and respect - people like, say, Henry Kissinger, and even Nixon himself - whose mea culpas are either non-existent or even more self-pitying and self-excusing than Ayers'.

Again, this isn't relative. Yes, Henry Kissinger should be publicly flogged for his crimes. Yes, it's a pity that justice will never be served upon. I wish he would go away.

None of that changes the fact that Bill Ayers should also disappear.

Sapient, thanks for clarifying, I appreciate it.

My point, however about John McCain, Colin Powell, etc., was that they weren't vilified by the entire country to the extent that they had to make a public statement defending themselves against being a universally condemned pariah.

I agree with you on this issue. We Americans suck. We don't care about the lives of foreigners. Sometimes I wonder at how different we are from other human beings in that regard, but we clearly fail in comparison to our own lofty rhetoric.

how many deaths did we all prevent in Vietnam and Iraq so far by marching on Washington, holding candles in vigils, etc.?

I don't know. I do think there is a difference between doing things for effect and doing things because you want to make a point. Even if the protests were not useful, I think a lot of people felt the need to publicly take a stand, and that seems like a good thing to me. It is part of how communities establish and prioritize shared values over time.

Maybe we should all ask ourselves, Next time our country elects someone who wants to conduct a horrific war, is there anything we can do that will actually stop it? Because it's bound to happen again. (And no, I'm not suggesting that bombing an NCO dance is the answer.)

I doubt it. We live in a very militaristic culture and war makes people feel good. By the time we've got a President demagoguing for war, things might very well be too late. It is like asking what can we do to stop a committed terrorist who has a nuke downtown. By that time, it is too late. What you should have done is spent lots of time and money reducing the factors that promote terrorism, securing loose nukes, putting time and energy into law enforcement and counterterrorism, etc. So I think we should ratchet down the US' military capabilities and try to establish institutions that make crazy military adventurism harder. We have some now, but they need more teeth.


I certainly can't see the justice in saying Ayers et al. should "shut up and go away" when people who committed far worse enormities, with far worse body counts, continue to enjoy public acclaim and respect - people like, say, Henry Kissinger, and even Nixon himself - whose mea culpas are either non-existent or even more self-pitying and self-excusing than Ayers'.

Why do you assume that I don't hate Nixon and Kissinger and friends with the passion of a thousand burning suns? Because, I do. And since I hate them so much, I don't really feel I have to apologize for condemning idiots who killed on a much smaller scale.


Screw you. Seriously. 50,000 dead in Nam. How many of your loved ones died, were drafted or were seriously traumatized in Iraq?

Are you seriously asking me, a man from the middle east who has family in Iraq, to enumerate how many of my relatives have been killed, raped, and mutilated? All I can say is that...my hands lack the number of middle fingers needed to give you an appropriate response.

But I would like to thank you for demonstrating once again how very special you are. None of us could possibly imagine what it is like to watch our friends and family die for nothing because the US government is run by madmen.

"But then is the real problem that a few radicals resorted to violence, or rather that the greater anti-war movement didn't become more violent after the failure of pacifistic civil disobedience to alter the course of anything?"

Could you outline your views on how the latter course would have worked out better, please?

"How do you feel about John Brown?"

That he was an ineffective murderer?

I'm not a pacifist, but I do require that violence, among other requirements to be justified, be effective at creating more good than evil. Brown scared the bejeezus out of slavers, and that accomplished what, exactly?

John Brown murdered random people. Are you for that, if the murderers hate something bad? Should we just go kill random people whom we believe to have supported the Iraq War? If not, what are you saying?

"The problem for Ayers- and for Dorn"

Dohrn.

"They lived through the draft, and the deaths, and the agony of anticipation for that letter in the mail."

In point of fact, most people during the Vietnam war did not live through any of this. Most people were not, in fact, subject to the draft.

Thus my point. Claiming that everyone, or the majority, of people lived through these experiences is just false. Factually untrue.

"Have you ever seen that movie, 'The Bridge Over the River Kwai'? Have you ever marveled at a John Wayne movie where a small band takes on overwhelming odds? Should Britain have given up in '40? How high was their probability of success?"

We'll have to agree to disagree that these cases are comparable to Weatherman. I don't know which is more brow-wrinkling: citing John Wayne movies, or comparing Britain's chances of survival, and moral cause in resisting Nazism, to Weatherman.

"To err is human."

I'm unclear how this broad a brush couldn't apply to the perpetrators of the Vietnam War. Why, LBJ didn't intentionally intend to kill people pointlessly; he genuinely hoped he was doing the right thing. Why not forgive and forget?

Isn't there some middle ground between utter condemnation, and utterly condoning? What's with the seeming insistence that there can be no criticism of Bill Ayers, as to say that even the slightest condemnation of random attempted murder is somehow to justify or insufficiently condemn the perpetrators of the Vietnam War? What's wrong with condemning murder, period? What's wrong with condeming not taking responsibility for one's actions, period?

The point of The Bridge On The River Kwai was that Alec Guiness' character was a moral idiot, btw.

Are you seriously asking me, a man from the middle east who has family in Iraq, to enumerate how many of my relatives have been killed, raped, and mutilated? All I can say is that...my hands lack the number of middle fingers needed to give you an appropriate response.

No. I'm asking how many people you honestly cared about were subject to these things. Folks have lots of family, most of whom they could care less about. Do you sincerely believe that the generation who went through Viet Nam doesn't know something about lies and war and pain that maybe you don't?

In point of fact, most people during the Vietnam war did not live through any of this. Most people were not, in fact, subject to the draft.

So what? How many folks had loved ones who were? Who died or came back a different person? Is that in your damn statistics?

"The latter would be easier to get across if Ayers would shut the hell up, and go away."

This seems a bit off to me, though. He said not a word during the campaign, other than an oblique comment on his blog, and since then he gave a brief interview for a small comment in The New Yorker, and now wrote a single piece for the Op-Ed page of the NY Times. He's hardly been doing a Sarah Palin, or making a publicity tour, or acting like Jeremiah Wright did, so I'm unclear what you're protesting.

Moreover, for all that I think it's fine to point out that he's never taken full responsibility for his actions, or to condemn his actions, without need to put in a lot of qualifiers about the virtues of his cause, or the evils of his enemies, I don't see that he needs to disappear from public life; I believe in rehabilitation of criminals, and so far as I know, Ayers has made a lot of contributions in Chicago in the last thirty years or so. I don't see that he needs to be driven out of that life, or the justice in calling for that, and if you're not calling for that, I'm unclear what exactly it is you're calling for.

"...he has no place on the stage, which includes a spot on the op-ed page of the New York Times."

He was made a huge figure of demonization during the presidential campaign. Huge. It seems entirely just to me that he get a couple of rights of reply. It's not as if he's being offered a column in the Times, which I would not favor. (And it surely would be nice to see the hind end of William Kristol there, speaking of.)

Once again, there's a middle ground between, say, (hypothetically) supporting someone for Senator, and (hypothetically) demanding they change their name and never be heard from again. Why is it so many people seem to argue only for extremes?

"So what? How many folks had loved ones who were?"

Plenty, which is entirely irrelevant to my point, which you seem entirely uninterested in addressing, so I think I'll bow out of further interchanges with you now.

"Is that in your damn statistics?"

I didn't mention any statistics, and you appear now to be just ranting, saying stuff that has nothing whatever to do with what I wrote, and so I wish that you enjoy your self-righteous anger-working-out issues.

Turbulence: "Why do you assume that I don't hate Nixon and Kissinger and friends with the passion of a thousand burning suns? Because, I do. And since I hate them so much, I don't really feel I have to apologize for condemning idiots who killed on a much smaller scale."

Ditto. It's never either/or.

Do you sincerely believe that the generation who went through Viet Nam doesn't know something about lies and war and pain that maybe you don't?

Judging by how eagerly this country leapt into a war that made no sense, I don't think that most people in the Vietnam generation learned shit about lies and war.

So no, I don't think there is some special knowledge that most people from the Vietnam generation know but that I do not.

"In point of fact, most people during the Vietnam war did not live through any of this. Most people were not, in fact, subject to the draft."

In fact, most male people of the relevant age group were subject to the draft, or at least had to worry about it. There was a lottery, and if a young man's draft card had a low number, he was drafted unless he had a deferment. Everyone was worried about it. You might want to look at the Vietnam casualty figures. You missed the draft, apparently, but boys five or six years older than you (and older) spent their youths planning around it.

"Isn't there some middle ground between utter condemnation, and utterly condoning? What's with the seeming insistence that there can be no criticism of Bill Ayers, as to say that even the slightest condemnation of random attempted murder is somehow to justify or insufficiently condemn"....blah, blah, blah.

I'm all for middle ground. In fact, there is a line of theological thought that contends we all go to heaven, Stalin, Pol Pot, Hiter, yes, even Bill Ayers. I kinda' like the logic of it. But I digress.

Like Turbulence, you persist in destroying straw men. If you will take the time to read my first post, I pointed out that the over the top rebuke to one little editorial was imposing bright moral lines when caution is indicated. But no, it seemed to bring out the worst, a race to see who could dennounce Ayers most vociferously. I even threw in a few Ayer insults of my own. The avalanch could not be stopped.

But now we get to the bottom of this thread, and Gary Farber is claiming there was "seeming insistence" that there "can be no criticism" of Bill Ayers.

Like what thread were you reading? Your assertion is absolutely false.

And tell me, Gary. In August, 1940, what chance would you have given of British success against the Nazis? Very little? Should they have then persisted in violent resistance to the nazis? I suspect you would say yes (I guess so would I). Turbulence has another take, since the violence would, if I read his view correctly, not be justified because of the "low probability of sucess". Obviously, I do not agree this is some kind of universal principle.

You are free to disagree.

I also find the complete silence on McCain's terrorist to be deafening. We're supposed to all collectively forget that the war started out for the U.S. as an attempt to keep the French colonialists in power, and we're supposed to replace images of endless bombs dropped on villages (yes, there were people down there) with patriotic photo ops of young pilots on their aircraft carriers. The sad truth is that the politicians at the time were probably much more responsive to Ayers than they were to people waving flowers in the streets--although in the end, it was the successful violence of the Vietnamese against their American attackers that ended the war. As for janitors, was anyone concerned during the election that McCain didn't check to make sure that the janitors weren't cleaning up late at night in the Vietnamese villages before he let his bombs drop? The very idea of posing this question is considered to be ridiculous--a sign of how ridiculous our discourse has become when we get worked up about Ayers.

Gary,

And here I thought that great movie was about the futility of war...little did I know.

Cordially,

"He should leave us in peace" .... Ok, very good, but who brought him up in the first place???

Karlo,

To paraphrase, there is 'seeming insistence' here that if only we dennounce Bill Ayers more vociferously, vehemently, and maybe even more loudly, that the stain of John McCain's war crimes, and maybe even the good senator himself will vanish, even though he has not admitted to having any remorse, which of course, is the ultimate crime against humanity.

But hey, he lost the election, didn't he?

Maybe they are on to something?

"In fact, most male people of the relevant age group were subject to the draft, or at least had to worry about it."

In fact, most people in the U.S. weren't male, and of age. What's your point of disagreement? Only young men count as people? Presumably not, so?

Is there some compulsion people have to argue for arguing's sake? Are you really arguing that if you lived in a time, you completely comprehended and personally experienced every aspect of it, but if you didn't, you can't comprehend any major aspect of it? If not, what are you with arguing with me about? If so, well, then. Just to argue? Because my only point was, as I stated, that the notion I state here that merely being born in an era gives comprehensive knowledge is nonsense, and that not being born in an era makes one absolutely incapable of understanding events and times.

Are these really controversial views?

"And here I thought that great movie was about the futility of war...little did I know."

I'm pretty sure. The futility of war? You mean Japan's Imperial System survived unchanged, and so did the Nazi system. Um, what?

The American Civil War would have been the same no matter who won? The American Revolutionary War wouldn't have changed anything if the British won? WTF are you talking about?

"We're supposed to all collectively forget that the war started out for the U.S. as an attempt to keep the French colonialists in power, and we're supposed to replace images of endless bombs dropped on villages"

Basically, this seems to be made up out of pure imagination. If there's a cite to anyone in this thread, do give it. Absent that, you're just making crap up out of voices in your head you want to object to.

"To paraphrase, there is 'seeming insistence' here that if only we dennounce Bill Ayers more vociferously, vehemently, and maybe even more loudly, that the stain of John McCain's war crimes, and maybe even the good senator himself will vanish"

Ditto. It would be nice if people would restrain themselves to addressing actual writing by people here, rather than the voices in their head.

Give cites. If you can't, talk to your wall to work out stuff with voices in your head, I suggest.

I recognize that lots of folks have lots of issues to work out with Characters They've Once Encountered. This isn't the place. This is a place for debating real people, with cites and quotes. Try working on that, and avoiding rants about People We Once Heard Somewhere We're Still Mad At, I suggest.

"...avoiding rants about People We Once Heard Somewhere We're Still Mad At, I suggest."

Pot. Meet kettle. You're the one who asserted that some were "insisting" there could be "no criticism" of Bill Ayers. An assertion that is absolutely false in every way imaginable.

WTF indeed.

I'm not going to defend the Weathermen or "terrorism" here, but in the face of 3 million dead people, the concern "whether any janitors were still in the buildings they bombed" seems a bit precious to me.

People who justify torture in a "ticking bomb" scenario at least offer a minimally plausible explanation of how their action could produce a good result. But how planting a bomb in a building that might kill a random janitor would stop the war is even more far-fetched than the ticking bomb. Ayers' whole assumption, which you seem to accept, is that the stronger the measure, the better. I would say, the more effective the measure the better, and if it is unlikely to do any good, the stronger the measure the worse.

Even if you are just saying to get some sense of proportion, one bombing is not as bad as a whole war, really that is sort of like saying waterboarding isn't so bad, why look at the Mahdi Army, they drive power drills through people's skulls. And for that matter, the worst we did in Vietnam doesn't even match up to some of the things Hitler did, so why oppose the war at all?

I don't doubt that no matter how you are, you can always find someone else who is even worse. But that's a pretty poor justification, either for Ayers or for anyone else who uses it.

Finally, what do you mean we are setting the bar impossibly high? All Hilzoy or the rest of us are asking of Ayers is that he not throw bombs that might kill people. I think it safe to say that most of us can live up to that.

"WTF are you talking about?"

Mr. Farber. I can understand if we see things differently. You may disagree that the Bridge Over the River Kwai was one of the greatest anti-war films ever made. It may, well actually it does, strike you as unbelievable that some critics see it otherwise.

That's fine, but the heavy handed sarcasm of your "rebuttal" was really poorly done.

Don Rickles you are not.


"I'm unclear how this broad a brush couldn't apply to the perpetrators of the Vietnam War. Why, LBJ didn't intentionally intend to kill people pointlessly; he genuinely hoped he was doing the right thing. Why not forgive and forget?"

Unless you lived during WWII, you couldn't understand why LBJ would support U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

It was just a crazy time. Millions of people died. Congressmen in their early thirties signed up for the war voluntarily, then specifically requested combat duties.

It's too bad that the people of Ayers' generation couldn't understand what life was like for LBJ's generation.

how many deaths did we all prevent in Vietnam and Iraq so far by marching on Washington, holding candles in vigils, etc.?

Every bit as many the Weathermen prevented with their bombs. But with one important difference. The marches, candellight vigils, etc did not put random lives in danger.

Even if Ayers has rehabilitated himself (debatable) and become a productive member of society (IMO he has) then the most it earns him in my book is "shut the f--k up, lay low, and go about your business" status. I'm not interested in anything the guy has to say if it's not contrition.

"I also find the complete silence on McCain's terrorist to be deafening. We're supposed to all collectively forget that the war started out for the U.S."

You're making this up out of whole cloth. Straw is the easiest thing to attack.

"You may disagree that the Bridge Over the River Kwai was one of the greatest anti-war films ever made."

I might, but as this is a nonsequitur, I don't. I just go all wtf about it. Maybe you'd like to make an argument rather than saying a film says... what?

"To paraphrase, there is 'seeming insistence' here that if only we dennounce Bill Ayers more vociferously, vehemently, and maybe even more loudly, that the stain of John McCain's war crimes, and maybe even the good senator himself will vanish,"

So far as I can tell, you're simply making this up 100% out of voices in your head in elsewhere. If not, do please link to the specific comments here you are citing. If you can't, you lose.

"...avoiding rants about People We Once Heard Somewhere We're Still Mad At, I suggest."

Pot. Meet kettle.

I'd find it educational to find out whom I'm Still Mad at. Identify, please, since you make the claim? Many thanks!

"You may disagree that the Bridge Over the River Kwai was one of the greatest anti-war films ever made."

I'm competely baffled, is what I am, as to what your point is. Alec Guiness;s Colonol Nicolson was foolish enough to ignore the context of what he was doing. He was wrong. What is your point about BOTWQ? Can you state it clearly, and how it refutes some other point made in this discussion? Thanks! What critics think of the film seems to have nothing to do with anything, does it?

What does a "great anti-war film" mean to you, precisely? Please elaborate?

Meanwhile, it might help to stick to non-imaginary arguments about people's beliefs, rather than making up crap it makes us feel better to denounce.

Claiming no one has criticisized John McCain's actions in the vietnam war is, of course utterly imaginary straw. Beyond that, I dunno what we're alking about.

I'm a big fan of The Bridge On The River Kwai. What you're trying to say about it, I'm unclear.

Coyote: "...would you have been Ayers or Ghandi?"

Talk about a false choice. And if I recall only one managed to have an impact.

"It may, well actually it does, strike you as unbelievable that some critics see it otherwise. "

See, purely imaginary and incorrect statements like this only convince me that you are inclined to give false statements in bad faith.

Might want to avoid that. Just don't tell imaginary lies about what other people think, and you're off to a good start. Vice versa, not so much.

"It may, well actually it does, strike you as unbelievable that some critics see it otherwise."

To be clear, this is wildly nonderivable from anything I wrote, and completely false. This sort of reasoning doesn't help your arguments. It's just made up out of whole cloth, having nothing whatever to do with reality, or what I believe.
Claiming you know my point of view, when you get it completely wrong, isn't convincing.


The Bridge Over The River Kwai is one of my favorite movies of all time, a movie I first saw at least 33-plus years ago, an anti-war movie, a movie against the irrationality of following orders without thinking, and a movie that made clear that Alec Guinesses' lack of consideration for the consequences of what he was doing was immoral and unwise.

Contest any of that you wish.

BOTWQ

Bridge on the Wiver Quai?

"In fact, most male people of the relevant age group were subject to the draft, or at least had to worry about it."

In fact, most people weren't males, or of the relevant age group. This is a really dumb argument, unless the argument is that only males subject to the draft counted. They didn't, so that's wrong, so what's the effing argument?

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Whatnot


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