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December 06, 2008

Comments

I think Gary and hilzoy have covered most of the bases pretty well.

My only contribution is to counter the notion that Ayers has withdrawn except for the nasty Republicans dragging him around. That just isn't true. First, this NYT essay wasn't dragged out of him by Republicans. Second, a similar thing wasn't dragged out of him on 9/11/01 where a similar thing was published. (Sheesh can't he take a hint? Last time you tried this it was published on the date of the most serious successful terrorist attack against the US.) The reason he is useful to Republicans is because he really is a loud and unrepentant example of crazy 70s leftism.

Such clear and unambiguous statements from Ayers have been made - and ignored! - years ago.

Clear and unambiguous statements against violence directed at people are made in the Op-Ed he wrote hich you have ignored.

I don't think Ayers can say anything that anyone who has eaten the Ayers Is Evil Cookies will find acceptable.

First, I haven't eaten any f'ing cookie.

Second, I don't think of Ayers as evil, not evil, or anything in particular. I don't think about him much at all.

When I do think about him, here are my thoughts:

1. I've never read any statement of his that took any actual personal responsibility for the violence he was involved in, or that actually makes a clear and unambiguous statement that the activities his friends were involved in when they blew themselves up were *wrong*. I find his statements in the op-ed and elsewhere self-serving and mealy-mouthed. My two cents.

2. To my knowledge, the man hasn't done a damned thing in his life since then that thousands upon thousands of other folks haven't done, and generally done for far less recognition and compensation.

So I don't see what the hell is so freaking special about Bill Ayers.

The only reason anyone is talking about Bill Ayers is because right wing slime merchants tried to make more out of the association between him and Obama then was there.

He kept the hell out of it during the election, and I thank him for that. Now that the election's done, he's had his fifteen minutes and some column inches on the NYT op-ed page to share his thoughts.

Now I think it would be great if he'd go back to whatever the hell it was he was doing before.

I don't give a crap how wild and hairy the times were. You don't blow people up with nail bombs.

And yeah, I know Ayers wasn't one of the folks actually building the bomb. Lucky him.

Thanks -

Sebastian: My only contribution is to counter the notion that Ayers has withdrawn except for the nasty Republicans dragging him around. That just isn't true. First, this NYT essay wasn't dragged out of him by Republicans.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Cookie for you, Sebastian!

Jesurgislac: Ben, the main point of that op-ed isn't about the events of 40 years ago - nor is it about the horrible deaths of three of Ayers's friends in 1970...It's about how the media made use of Ayers to pick on Obama.

Absolutely. But whether or not events of 40 years ago are the main point of the op ed, Ayers is dishonest about events of 40 years ago in his op ed. I don't think his dishonesty is among the hundred most serious problems facing the republic today. But it does undermine the main point of the op-ed and is worth pointing out and criticizing.

Ayers isn't the most evil person in the US: he's not the person who did the worst and most unforgiveable thing ever.

I couldn't agree with you more. There are thousands (perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands) of unrepentant Americans with more innocent blood on their hands than Bill Ayers. Many of these people are also more politically significant than Bill Ayers; some of them will be members of the incoming Obama administration.

All of which is a very good argument that more effort should be spent criticizing, say, Robert Gates than criticizing Bill Ayers.

But as long the subject is Bill Ayers, the fact that there are others more guilty does not excuse Ayers' dishonesty about his past. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Sorry for being absent from the thread for so long.

Harley, in my defense, Hilzoy made some comments early in the thread responding to some of the marginal Ayers-love. Maybe if Hilzoy commented more, I'd find more to disagree with .... we'll never know.

Slartibartfast, you owe 15 Hail Marys and at least seven good works for bringing up the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie. It's an abomination! Joss' vision was destroyed!

Miller, I tend to think Buffy was appreciated by folks of all ages .... it wasn't really a coming of age thing for any particular group. (Unlike, say, the Breakfast Club or [let's be honest] the Porkey's movies). Maybe that's because movies like the Breakfast Club, Ferris Buellers' Day Off, and the others roughly described my coming of age period (Breakfast Club in the theaters was a little before my time, but available on video by the late 80s) .... and I still found myself addicted to Buffy.

Or, consider this: A disproprotionate number of Buffy fans seemed (to me) to be in their late 20s through late 30s. Might Buffy be the "Thirtysomething" of the post-Boomer era? Discuss.

Hmm. What would be the Thirtysomething of the post-Boomer era? (Pause to mention just how awful Thirtysomething was.)

Given the tenor of the times...

Seinfeld
Friends
LA Law
Buffy
Dawson's Creek.

Okay. Just kidding about Dawson's Creek.

All in all it has been a most interesting thread but nobody seems to want to answer the underlying question; how great must an evil be in order to justify the taking of innocent lives to stop the evil? I have wrestled with this for forty years and have come no closer to an answer. I have lived a life as a pacifist and I assure you, unless you are a simpleton, the moral turbulence that comes with that decision is with you daily. It is all too easy to reduce it to a Sophomore dorm discussion along the lines of, "Knowing what we know now, would we be justified in traveling back in time to kill Hitler as a young boy?" At it's most basic, Mr. Ayers felt then, and continues to feel, the evil was so great his actions were justified. I disagree and as I said earlier, found his actions abhorrent. Apparently what angers many people in this thread is he actually USED his right of free speech to defend himself. Hilzoy's point seemed to be, "You may have the right of free speech, but I don't want to hear what you have to say, so shut up" Excuse me, but unless you are mentally dead, you are no longer the person you were forty years ago. While I found his article shallow in the extreme, I'm glad I had the chance to read it. I've always felt any information is worth having. I'm just silly that way.

how great must an evil be in order to justify the taking of innocent lives to stop the evil?

Pretty freaking bad.

I'd also add the following.

There needs to be no realistic alternative.
There needs to be some chance that violence will actually make something, anything, better.

"Being angry" is not, remotely, enough of a reason.

The thing that I find really wrong-headed is the calculus of "we killed N, but they killed 100 times N".

Killing is killing. There isn't a scale whereby it's morally better to kill fewer people.

Thanks -

But whether or not events of 40 years ago are the main point of the op ed, Ayers is dishonest about events of 40 years ago in his op ed.

In your view.

I don't think his dishonesty is among the [million] most serious problems facing the republic today.

Fixed that for you.

But it does undermine the main point of the op-ed and is worth pointing out and criticizing.

No, it really doesn't undermine the main point of the op ed, unless - like Hilzoy - you have joined the other side and believe that Bill Ayers is somehow Teh Evil and the Republican attacks on him and on the "liberal media" for not making a great big noisy fuss about his "connection" to Barack Obama were all 100% totally justified. In which case the op-ed is already undermined, because there's nothing at all Ayers could say that you would be able to approve of, so there's no point Ayers trying to target his op-ed to suit you, is there...?

Russell,

how great must an evil be in order to justify the taking of innocent lives to stop the evil?

The very question I asked way, way, way upthread, like in the beginning.

Pretty freaking bad.

Yup.

There needs to be no realistic alternative.
There needs to be some chance that violence will actually make something, anything, better.

Welcome to the moral minefield. Think Algeria. Camus vs. Sartre. Camus was right? mostly?, but things were pretty tough in Algiers.

"Being angry" is not, remotely, enough of a reason.

Few here made that claim, inferred it, well, yeah. Ayers strikes me a guilty as charged on this score, but the times were charged. That's not an excuse. It's a statement of fact. There is a case to be made that Ayers was driven over the edge after a debate with somebody from the Progressive Labor Party (if you've ever debated a LaRouchie, you would know this feeling), but I jest.

The thing that I find really wrong-headed is the calculus of "we killed N, but they killed 100 times N".

Agree.

Killing is killing.

Yes. So if you met John McCain and Bill Ayers in a dark alley, and they both held out their hand in welcome, whose would you spit in first?

Thanks -

No. Thank you. You're one of the best commenters here. Just my 2 cents.

Welcome to the moral minefield.

You know, I actually do get that.

I'm sitting here wearing a Kent State hoodie. I got it while visiting my in-laws a couple of years back. My wife is a KSU alum, and was on campus on May 4, 1970, when four kids, two of them totally unrelated to any protest whatsoever, were shot dead by the OH national guard.

Never mind millions killed on the other side of the world. What is the right response when your own countrymen shoot you and your peers down in cold blood?

I honestly don't know the answer to that. I hope that, should I ever be in a situation like that, I'd respond in a way that was constructive, but I really have no idea what I would do. Probably crap in my pants and run away.

But you never know.

My beef with Ayers is his wishy-washiness. His equivocation. He neither stands up and says yes, it was right to take up arms against the government, nor does he say it was wrong. It strikes me as self-serving.

He's neither fish nor fowl. He's neither hot, nor cold, so I spit him out of my mouth. As it were.

It's nice that he does research in education now. Apparently, he's involved in some constructive things in Chicago. I hope he returns to all of that, and that we don't hear much from him either way going forward. At least, not about the 60's. If he wants to talk about education, that might be an interesting conversation.

So if you met John McCain and Bill Ayers in a dark alley, and they both held out their hand in welcome, whose would you spit in first?

I wouldn't spit in either man's hand.

Thanks for your kind words about my comments. There are a lot of really fine thinkers and writers here, it's a privilege to be part of the community. My goal is to not suck too much or too often, and to not be a total ass.

Thanks -

I wonder what freaking bad is. If we can't count the several million bodies (as opposed to one), how do we determine freaking bad?

And effective? If I'd been a villager in Vietnam, would I have been justified in killing the guy throwing the napalm, even if doing so wasn't effective (because his buddy would just throw more)? Not that I would have had a weapon or a chance to resist.

I think that some of the people who thought that violence was the answer (and I don't agree with them) thought that people in this country can claim to be really sad and shocked about the fact that we are burning villages full of people on the other side of the world, but since nobody in the shelter of the "homeland" ever seems to get bruised, things are never "pretty freaking bad". Some people (wrongly, ineffectively) thought that maybe people here needed to know what bad is.

To the extent that people were killed or harmed, it was all tragic, and for nothing. But if we're going to think about why and when and who was wrong and what we should do, we should answer all of those questions. Not just the one about who was wrong.

If I'd been a villager in Vietnam, would I have been justified in killing the guy throwing the napalm

IMO, and FWIW, yes.

But nobody was throwing napalm at Ayers.

Look, many thousands of people in this country are in jail for very long periods of time for the heinous act of smoking dope. If you're a black man, and live in certain places, you're far more likely to go to jail than to go to college. And many of our jails are violent hellholes.

So, let's go shoot cops. That's the answer! Stick it to the man! Off the pigs!

That, to my mind, is the mentality of the Weathermen. It's puerile.

And last but not least, I find Ayers denials of involvement in any violence against people to be fatuous.

The question of when political violence is justified is a good one. But part of the calculus has to be that you take responsibility, real responsibility, for what you do. Ayers does not do that.

Thanks -

So, let's go shoot cops. That's the answer! Stick it to the man! Off the pigs!

That, to my mind, is the mentality of the Weathermen. It's puerile.

I agree. Many 24-year-old men are puerile.

I find Ayers denials of involvement in any violence against people to be fatuous.

I don't. I don't know of any evidence that he was "involved" in violence against people. Speech isn't violence against people. Property damage isn't violence against people (although it's certainly serious, and the law treats crimes like arson and bombing a building as seriously as violence against people because of the risk involved - but that doesn't mean someone who did those things without hurting anyone has to take responsibility for hurting someone). I don't like what Ayers did but he has a right to speak.

"I wonder what freaking bad is. If we can't count the several million bodies (as opposed to one), how do we determine freaking bad?"

What does the 'badness' of Vietnam have to do with it? Several million bodies isn't a justification for killing your daughter in preschool. It isn't a justification for a killing a cop on the beat in Chicago. It isn't a justification for risking the life of some female secretary (typing-style) who might stay late and go to the bathroom.

Your justification has *absolutely nothing* to do with the actions Ayers actually took.

Your justification has *absolutely nothing* to do with the actions Ayers actually took

I wasn't aware that Ayers killed anyone's daughter in a preschool or anything else you mentioned. What actions exactly you do think that "Ayers actually took"? From what I've read, Ayers didn't actually hurt anyone.

Sapient, I believe this is a classic example of Sebastian valuing the lives of hypothetical people who might have got hurt if things had turned out differently, above the actual lives of actual people actually dying.

(Also, I noticed a right-wing meme going round based on an anecdote from someone who thought that, had the Weathermen succeeded in a particularly nefarious plan, they might have been killed by the Weathermen as a small child: and that this justifies touting themselves as "Ayer's child victim". I think that's it. You know, I was considering taking a holiday in New York in September next year, back in 2000, but in the end I took a different holiday and so wasn't anywhere near Manhattan on 9/11/01. Does that justify me touting myself as a possible victim of September 11?)

Thanks, Jusurgislac, for helping me cling to sanity.

By the way, I had almost overcome my obsession with this thread when I saw Ayers being interviewed on TV by Chris Matthews, after which Michelle Bernard criticized his appearance - earrings and hippy countenance. No wonder they didn't want him speaking out, she shuddered, the way he looks. So I looked back here and saw Sebastian's comment. Best that I go read a book now, and quit thinking about it.

Jesurgislac,

Are you arguing here: a) Bill Ayers isn't being dishonest about his past; b) if Bill Ayers were being dishonest about his past, it wouldn't matter; or c) both?

Argument "a" is reasonable, though I disagree with it. But if you want to make it, I think you have to make a more affirmative case for the honesty of Ayers's tale (hilzoy and others have done a fine job of making the case for the dishonesty of Ayers's story).

Arguments "b" (or "c") I still don't get. Regardless of the focus of an op-ed, whitewashing the past is worthy of criticism and dishonesty in the presentation of evidence makes arguments less effective.

For whatever it's worth, I accept your "fixing" of my statement regarding the importance of l'affaire Ayers (however snarky your intent). There are probably a million more serious problems facing us today than Bill Ayers's dishonesty about his past.

But if you want to make it, I think you have to make a more affirmative case for the honesty of Ayers's tale

Well, as I see it, the key thing that makes the difference about "Did the Weathermen intend to kill people, or were they just intending to cause property damage" is the nail bomb that went off prematurely, killing three of the Weathermen: two of whom were close friends of Ayers.

When Ayers' friends were killed, he was 25. He had known both Diana Oughton and Terry Robbins for four or five years - an intense period of anyone's life, and clearly a particularly intense period for the three of them - a time when (I think) people can make more passionate friendships than they can at any other time.

And then they were killed. If Ayers is telling the truth, he didn't know what they planned. What he's left with is the knowledge that two of his closest friends are horribly dead, and under the circumstances, he has absolutely no means of ever knowing exactly what they planned to do with the bomb that killed them.

To dismiss Ayers as dishonest because he passes over that part of his life story - the loss of two of his closest friends - in a step that puts as positive a spin as one can on what they did/what happened to them - is, it seems to me, to fail to understand that Ayers loved his friends, they're dead and can't defend themselves, and to demand that he denounce them and what they did so that he may be forgiven - well, hell, you know: I wouldn't do that.

I wouldn't support a friend, no matter how much I loved them, in their intention to plant a nail bomb (or any kind of bomb - but a nail bomb is intended to kill people, it has no other purpose). I'd inform on them in a hot minute if I knew about it before they used the bomb. But, if they were dead, killed by their own bomb, and I was told "you can buy your way back into public approval by denouncing and reviling your dead friends"... well, I don't think anything could make me do that. It is possible to have loyalty even to the dead, who are most completely defenseless.

I don't know if that is why Ayers simply evades the issue of the nail-bombers who were killed by their own bomb. I just see that as a natural, human reaction - you don't revile your dead friends - and not, as Hilzoy seems to think, evidence that Ayers is lying scum.

Hey Jes -

I appreciate what you're saying here.

Re: this -

If Ayers is telling the truth, he didn't know what they planned.

Can you show me where he says this? I'm not calling "cite" on you, I've just never heard or read a statement by him to that effect.

To be honest, what I'd appreciate hearing from Ayers is a simple, unequivocal statement to the effect that the folks in the Greenwich Village explosion were planning to kill people, and that he thought was wrong. Period.

Not, as I have heard him say, that *he* would never do such a thing, etc etc etc.

I'd like to hear him say that they were, in fact, planning to kill people, and that he believed that to be wrong.

Not that Bill Ayers owes me a damned thing either way. But if he's on the record to that effect, I'd like to read it.

Thanks -

Thanks for that, Jes. I certainly agree that it's ridiculous to demand that Ayers ritually denounce his deceased friends. However, I think he could have addressed the Weatherman period far more honestly without having to do so.

For those still following this discussion, I strongly recommend reading Meteor Blades's recent diary over on the Great Orange Satan.

MB is one of the more interesting regulars over there. He was involved in SDS from 1965-69, though he was among those who opposed Weatherman.

At any rate, this diary nicely juxtaposes Ayers's recent statements with those of Mark Rudd, a member of Weatherman who has a rather different take on the lessons of those years. Without in any way embracing the inane and empty ritual denunciations that many are demanding from Ayers, Rudd has a much clearer sense of what a disaster Weatherman was for the left, however noble its members' intentions.

Also worth noting is MB's attitude toward Ayers and Weatherman, which is deeply critical but nonetheless respectful.

As they say, read the whole thing!

Can you show me where he says this? I'm not calling "cite" on you, I've just never heard or read a statement by him to that effect.

I appreciate your making the distinction. I've never heard or read a clear statement by Ayers that he knew what they planned to do, and several that seem to imply that he didn't. But it is ambiguous - as has occurred to me re-reading this and reading Ben Alpers link (thank you for that, Ben) makes me think again. But I somehow doubt my thoughts are going to lead me to any clear place.

The Vietnam war was evil. The anti-war movement was the right side to be on at that time. Ayers and the other Weathermen were puerile fools at best, terrorists at worst. Pacifism is the right course when opposing the violence of the state... and this all happened a lifetime ago. Nearly 40 years ago.

In a later thread, the attempt to make comparisons between Chuck Colson and Bill Ayers points up for me how pointlessly vicious the right's attack on Ayers has been during the past year - and how disappointed I am that people who ought to know better joined in.

To refuse to denounce/revile/attack is not identical with expressing support. One may refuse to join in with a lynch mob, even where you are sure the victim is guilty, without this being taken as evidence that you support rape.

Terry Gross interviewed Bill Aters just after the election. He declined to apologize for his actions, BUT his explanations we're more than adequate for me. His declining to apologize came with the caveat that no one on the other side has apologized, but he would be very interested in a Truth & Reconciliation Commission. My sense is that he more than regrets his actions, but with the understanding that whatever damage he may have done pales in comparison to the damage done by the Pentagon, the government infiltrators who instigated most violence within protests, racist police departments, etc. This country made a mistake when Nixon was not jailed, and whatever advances we have made against racism, unjust war, etc. has been without any punishments for those who perpetuated it. And within a decade Bill Ayers saw the rise of Reagan, the proxy invasions in Central America, etc...and went on to create good contributions to our society. To ask Bill Ayers to "go away" when he never inserted himself in any form is wrong. His history with Obama was a fabrication, perpetuated by individuals who have done far more damage to the world than he ever has, few of whom will ever express any regret in the fashion Mr. Ayers has.

Other than the Vietnam War, I think the thing that made the most indelible impression on me about the 1960s, was how totally un-cool it is to fire up a doobie in a room full of high explosives. –William C. Ayers, 2008

Politicians lie about corruption, deny corruption, and justify corruption until corruption seems not only second nature, but also quite the thing to do. Politicians rarely get punished. They argue that everybody does it. Why single them out? Crime pays for elected officials. What's a senate seat among friends? Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the political criminal circus (and it is criminal) is that it's so interrelated, so endemic. According to Slate Magazine: Over the last 30 years, at least three governors, a mayor, and a few dozen local government officials in Chicago have been convicted of criminal offences. From 1994 to 2004, 469 Illinois politicians were found guilty of corruption – more than any other region except Central California.

Located on California’s Central Coast, Fort Ord was a staging ground for American forces during World War II in the Pacific theatre; places like the Gilbert Islands and bloody Tarawa. But during the 1990s, something strange happened to the venerable fort. It fell without a shot being fired. Now the Battle Of Fort Ord has raged for over a decade – a whopping victory to date for the Clintons, the Panettas, and the Smiths. Political scientists attribute this kind of corruption to machine politics and one-party rule. And, the money generated from your tax-dollar will continue to have untold negative repercussions. A lot of good men and women have already been chewed to pieces. Granted, one must pick one’s battles wisely. But good does not automatically triumph over evil: http://theseedsof9-11.com

"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."

I have friends and family who lived through the war (thanks to new technology) but who have traumatic brain injuries and missing limbs, who have been shat on by the VA and who have been ignored by the government. All in the name of invading and occupying a nation for no justifiable reason, and killing untold numbers of brown people in that nation. Don't you DARE act like your generation is the only generation that has been through something like this. FFS. I can be plenty mad about Iraq, FISA, the Patriot Act, wiretapping, and all that BS and still not kill a few (apparently "precious" and inconsequential) working-class people in the name of the freaking revolution.

That arrogance? You've got plenty.

Seriously, coyote? Screw you right back.

Will BILL AYERS please go away and dont ever consiter comming back unless its when your dead then come creamated in a urn

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