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December 06, 2008

Comments

Sapient: 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.

If you're speaking of the general media focus on Bill Ayers as Teh Evil, I agree. And Hilzoy has demonstrated in the past year that she's as capable of anyone else of getting caught up in the blogmobbing spirit caused by media focus.

That said, I don't disagree with anything Hilzoy's said in this blogpost - except perhaps the first sentence. Bill Ayers became a national figure in the 21st century because of a blogmobbing attempt to link the Weather Underground to Barack Obama. You can certainly argue that he should not have been a national figure - that the attempts to link him to Obama were a complete nonsense, given the dates - but he was, and he decently kept shtum during Obama's electoral campaign, under what must have been considerable provocation: if he wants to get up and have his say now, well, that's his business.

The New York Times has given a platform to far more morally despicable people than Ayers - don't they still have Bill Kristol as a regular columnist? - wouldn't they likely accept an op-ed from Donald Rumsfeld if he wanted to write one? The notion that Bill Ayers ought not to be allowed to sully their columns with his op-ed because of his terrible past?

Nonsense. The Weather Underground was a stupid ugly faction of a left-wing movement: Marge Piercy and other contemporary eye-witnesses believe it may have been inspired by agents provocateurs: blowing up buildings is a dangerous and wrong tactic: but the three members against whom there is strong circumstantial evidence they meant to kill people rather than destroy property died as a direct result of their actions, and yes, one of the people who was killed was a close friend of Bill Ayers. After nearly forty years, is that tragedy something for which Ayers must still be condemned, even though we don't know if Ayers was directly responsible for that bomb or if he knew about that group's plans before the bomb went off?

During the campaign, I asked someone who strongly identified as a Christian and who felt that not only should Bill Ayers not be forgiven, neither should Obama for associating with him, whether this applied to all sinners or just specifically Bill Ayers. (I asked in those terms because he certainly was expressing a very Mr Collins idea of Christianity.) He wouldn't answer me.

Is Bill Ayers unforgiveable because the things he did were so awful that even after nearly 40 years he ought to be condemned and silenced for what he did? As someone said upthread, Colin Powell's never apologized or acknowledged wrong-doing over My Lai... Or is it just that the blogmobbing which attempted to turn him into a national hate figure because of his associations with Barack Obama in later life, has succeeded so well that even Obama supporters feel that Bill Ayers is somehow unforgiveable?

God, I hate the Six Apart broken-page comments!

I got to the foot of the first page, and for some reason, didn't notice the "Next" indicating that there were at least some comments following the first fifty. My comment was written in response only to the first fifty comments: I apologize for not registering that the debate had already moved on....

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.

Good for you, I happen to disagree. I am infinitely more troubled by the 2 million innocents (let's leave soldiers out of the equation for a minute) who have actually been killed and what made it possible that they were killed, than by Ayers' concern or lack thereof for the handful of janitors that might have been killed, but weren't actually killed.

Now, I think in a serious discussion about ethics both hilzoy's and my position would be defensible as such and by illustrating them with various examples from the philosophical tradition. And if we were both forced to strictly adhere to the principle of charity, I'm sure we would find some common ground. Yet, I have become increasingly doubtful about the possibility of the comments section of a blog providing the right framework for such a discussion.

(And yes, I am aware that these doubts and my commenting here are somewhat contradictory and I am as guilty as anybody else of making such a discussion difficult or impossible).

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

Guinness

Emma, folks tried all that stuff and it went nowhere.

Ayers is unforgivable because one key component of forgiveness is repentance. And he's not repentant.

And he hasn't rehabilitated himself, he's found a niche where he can do more damage: A generation of youth educated by a generation of teachers taught by an unrepentant terrorist who was fighting for the triumph of evil. (He wasn't fighting to end the war, he was fighting for the other side to win!) He's doing more damage today than he ever did with his bombs.

A case can be made that the degree and nature of Obama's association with Ayers wasn't such as to taint Obama. But that case can't rest on Ayers not being tainted.

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 am infinitely more troubled by the 2 million innocents (let's leave soldiers out of the equation for a minute) who have actually been killed and what made it possible that they were killed, than by Ayers' concern or lack thereof for the handful of janitors that might have been killed, but weren't actually killed.

Jesus, I knew being a janitor put me at the bottom of the totem pole, but I didn't think it made me

To paraphrase renowned historian Dave Barry, 60s radicals are clear about two things: they represent The People, and they hate people.

The missing word there is "expendable."

Oh, HTML, you and your capricious whims.

To use a Thersian expression "this is all my bum." Hello? Violence as a tool of political action? That was the official US policy throughout the world at the time in question. Violence directed at janitors never solved anything? Tell that to the US government that was engaged, happilly, in killing janitors, babies, women, etc... with extreme abandon not only in Vietnam but in the US as well. And tell that to the families of janitors and teens swept up in the draft. I don't defend the Weathermen but try for five seconds to imagine or remember just how frustrating the complaisance, fear, smugness, and murderous efficiency of the American people and their war machine. Try taking seriously the notion that something needed to be done and that ordinary means of political opposition in a democratic state were not available or effective. As people said way upthread the quiescence of the American people in the face of the Iraq war was simply stunning. To this day I talk to people who opposed it who never for one second thought that protest or even besieging their own congressman with stern letters of rebuke was required of them.

SDS, then the Weathermen, then the WU may have been deluded, childish, angry etc... They may have been, and almost certainly were, infiltrated and manipulated by a government that had no problem killing "problem" people, wiretapping, gassing etc.. in pursuit of a more quiescent populace. But at least, however foolishly, they attempted to turn the war machine around. All of this shrieking about the fate of *janitors who were not harmed* or things Bernardine might have said (might have) about the manson murders is simply absurd.

People, people, people. No janitor was harmed by those bombs, so wailing that someone might have been is simply misdirection. And as for "mean things people say about the various victims of popular culture?" Jeez, get back to me when you have tried to stage a performance of "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" and been attacked and pilloried for it. Juvenile and cruel things get said *every day* about people whose deaths make them public figures in a sensationalistic way. (remember the poor first victim of toxic shock syndrome? For a while you couldn't escape cruel commentary on her fate). Such talk is, oddly enough, not admissible in a court of law as a form of serious impeachment of character because it doesn't represent anything but a generic human tendency to respond to horrible events with callous humor.

And as for the ceaseless cries that Bill and Bernardine should "repent! repent!" I put those down in the same oubliette with the general right wing demands that all right thinking people are, well, right thinking people. Haven't we just had eight years of the right wing telling us who to listen to, how to listen, and what is an appropriate measure of rage or grief? Isn't that just their shtick? We celebrated too much at Wellstone's funeral? We laugh too much, cry too much, get too angry? Who made Brett Bellmore or any other right wing apparatchik the boundary keeper for human experience and morality? (Roy at alicublog has a searingly apposite little bit up today about the usual right wing cries that we aren't filled with bloodlust over Mumbai.)

It was a time of torment, a time of fear, a time of extreme violence in the streets and in people's homes. A guy I know didn't want to serve but "knew his father would kill him" if he tried to avoid the draft. A woman we know was *strangled* by a returning vet with PTSD and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. I spent the tail end of the war in terror that my brother would be drafted. But we were all helpless to affect things. You were either in, or out. Being in meant you were the catspaw of a violent, repressive, chaotic war machine and being out took tremendous guts.

Hilzoy imagines Bill and Bernardine as "entitled" spoiled rich kids. Perhaps they were--certainly Ayres came from wealth and went back to it. But what she fails to grasp is that it is often only such people who, shaken out of their class based securities, can become outraged enough to do something while others merely suffer and do as they are told. There is a reason that radicals and revolutionaries are often drawn from two classes--the lowest and the highest--because it middle and the working class is often paralyzed by cultural traditions of trying to please everyone (either family or bossses). Its not surprising that Ayres et al were "spoiled" or "rich" or whatever--but you have to grasp that among their class they were at least trying to do something political to protect other people, to stop the war, while their co-classmates were simply avoiding responsibility (bush et al) or even profiting from the war.

aimai

By the way, in an interview on NPR, Ayers said, regarding the dance-bombing (which he opposed), that he likes to imagine that his then-girlfriend was trying to convince the other two to abort when the bomb went off.

So for anybody defending his hardcore by-any-means-necessary philosophy, he disgrees with you.

"And the high moral standard demanded, yes, demanded of poor Bill. Why I doubt any of us live up to that."

Speaking only for myself, I've never been involved with a group of wildly incompetent domestic terrorists who tried to kill innocent, low ranking military personnel.

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

At least as many as Ayers prevented by blowing stuff up. Most likely way more.

In fact, I think it's safe to say that not one innocent life was saved by Ayers' actions.

Broaden that to the Weathermen as a whole, and the opposite is, in fact, true.

Thanks -

Emma, folks tried all that stuff and it went nowhere.

Actually, this is wrong. "That stuff" changed a lot of people's minds about the war, which is actually what ultimately what led to us getting out. The war became politically unsustainable, so it ended.

What "that stuff" did not do was end the war immediately in a big heroic blaze of glory. FBOW most things in life are like that.

Or would you have just posted on a blog?

Wins the thread for "taking it beyond irony".

Thanks -

sorry I'm late in answering. At the risk of trying to step into the same stream twice:

Turb:

*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. (...) I still think that killing random people is unjustified no matter how enraged you feel.

I'm not disagreeing with you, Turb, although I would say - as per publius' recent post - that sometimes terrorism 'works'. It certainly works very well when it's the State promulgating the terror. And I'd say it has worked pretty well for Out groups at various times, too, ( e.g. Begin/King David Hotel). I don't condone it even if it 'works', but the fact that it often does makes this a potentially difficult question.

*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 was making a general point in response to the commentor who just wrote off the entire generation. Being less docile does not necessarily mean killing random strangers in pursuit of political goals, in fact it usually doesn't, thank god. However effective physical protest was or wasn't, I bristle at people who have never and will never put their own butts on the line for anything other than their own careers/families be smug about people who did.

Just noticed something in the Elrod link:

Thus it was that in 2001, just before the September 11th attacks, Elrod accepted an invitation to dinner with two of the onetime leaders of Weatherman-Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. At a restaurant in downtown Chicago, Elrod and his wife listened as the two former radicals, now long married, with a family of their own, apologized for the heartache and suffering Elrod endured as a result of that day. The pair made it clear that they did not believe Flanagan caused Elrod's injuries, and that they were not disavowing their militant beliefs. Still, "they were remorseful," Elrod says. "They said, ‘We're sorry that things turned out this way.'" (Calls and e-mails seeking comment from Dohrn and Ayers were not returned.)

And no, that does not stand as an excuse for every action taken back in the day. But the decision to ignore it in the post itself, along with the slippery description of Elrod himself, is just another aspect of a thoroughly dishonest piece of hackwork.

(And as for the NY Times and 'reasons best known to themselves' -- Ayers was made into a target by Senator McCain and Governor Palin for the last several weeks of the campaign, after months of attacks by the usual lackwits -- Hannity et al. One doesn't require partial attendance in a high school journalism class to understand why the editors at the Times may have found Ayers response to all of this newsworthy. I'd like to see the same opportunity extended to Rashid Khalidi.)

But hey, on the plus side? This Sista Souljah moment -- a particularly cowardly species of political positioning -- will no doubt be met with cheers and knowing nods of approval from some unusual suspects. Got a Reynolds nod yet?)

Taking into your own hands the decision to commit explosive violence, and possibly kill people, is right under very very limited circumstances,

and

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.

This is interesting. How would people characterize the Resistance in WWII? Not trying to Godwin anything here, but that was an example of an effort that, by itself, had very limited effects and, due to reprisals, one could argue caused more harm to the civilian population than to the occupying power. Was violence justified there? How about in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. There it was successful, but arguably at a gigantic cost.

Thank you, Hillzoy.

The man let the very middle class people he recruited into the violence, rot in jail with lifetime sentences, while he and his wife were "rescued" by the same rich Daddy he had advocated killing to begin with. He ran right back to the same American society he had condemned, and bragged about the fact that he got off scot free, the little bastard.

Spoiled rich kids, indeed.

He came to the 1968 convention INTENDING violence, but told only a few of his private friends, and no one else in the SDS, who were interested in peaceful demonstrations. Ayers and his small group brought weapons to that convention, and the violence he smilingly initiated, set back the anti-war movement, gave Nixon a reason to appeal to the "Silent Majority," and gave Nixon a landslide.

Despicable little rich prick.

Because Bill Ayers was allowed to publish the drivel he wrote in the New York Times, I have removed the NYTimes from my favorites list. For those of us involved in the anti-war movement at the time, Ayers and the NYTimes should not be allowed to rewrite any history at all.

For whatever else about John McCain, he was absolutely right to call Ayers a "washed-up terrorist."

The greatest irony about Ayers is that the wealth of his politically powerful Daddy, the American society he supposedly despised, is exactly what saved his rich, spoiled little ass, while others without rich Daddies went straight to prison, for life.

But you know, Bill Ayers has a book coming out soon, and his capitalistic character knows he needs to begin plowing the ground for publicity.

Stupid bastard.

Well said, Scott P. I was trying to make the same point, but made the mistake of writing that The Bridge Over The River Kwai was about the futility of war or something, and then was accused (repeatedly it would seem) of bad faith.

I am so ashamed. If I repent, will all be forgiven?

Brett: Ayers is unforgivable because one key component of forgiveness is repentance. And he's not repentant.

I noticed this in the last thread discussing Ayers: how OCSteve ignored anything anyone could point out to him about Ayers being sorry for the violence he had caused and committed.

Evidently Bill Ayers being unrepentant is a really powerful right-wing meme - the sort that overcomes any and all actual facts.

Could I just say that I'm 57 years old and don't give a sh*t about Ayers one way or another? GWB, Rumsfeld, and even Laura Bush have killed more innocent people than Ayers has AFAIK. Aren't there bigger problems to rant about?

It's hardly surprising that the right-wing Unrepentant Meme has slipped into view. Demonizing Bill Ayers is right wing sport, after all. And pretty effing thin sport, IMO. The kind usually plied by moral absolutists who think nuance is for Communists.

It appalled me to see it during the campaign. It dismays me to see it in here.

TJ: Aren't there bigger problems to rant about?

That's crazy talk, TJ. The Republicans and their media lackeys have every right to decide what the big problems are that everyone should be ranting about. That's how blogmobbing works.

A few random thoughts...

1) Plenty of people, indeed most people, in the Left made more sensible political choices in the late 1960s and early 1970s than Ayers, Dohrn, and Weatherman did. Thus I find appeals to the craziness of the times to be quite insufficient as a justification or even an explanation for their mistakes.

2) I totally agree with Gary Farber (and Jesurgislac and others) that Ayers is not in the least responsible for his current bout of fame/infamy, which was entirely brought about by the smear campaign on Barack Obama. Under the circumstances, a chance to speak up for himself seems entirely reasonable. I have no problem with his being given space in the New York Times. On the other hand, that he has earned such a platform does not mean that he has anything particularly useful to say. Bottom line: it's fine to criticize the content of Ayers's op-ed; it's silly to be outraged at its very existence.

3) This whole conversation suggests that many of us (and I'd actually include myself here) do not have entirely coherent moral views on political violence in general. While I happen to think that pacifism is actually an entirely reasonable political position, most online discussions of pacifism take the form of out-of-hand rejections of it...except when folks like Ayers come up. Suddenly, ends never justify means. Even John Brown is a bit of a red herring here. What does the Obsidian Wings commentariat think of the American Civil War itself? Or the American Revolution? Or U.S. involvement in WWII? Or the Warsaw ghetto uprising? To get back to Ayers, saying that he was a political fool whose actions were futile is very different from saying that the ends never justify violent means.

4) On Ayers wealth and narcissism: I'm still not sure how this is relevant to a criticism of his politics. American political life tends to be filled with wealthy narcissists who are otherwise quite unlike each other. Off the top of my head: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, TR, FDR, JFK, Teddy Kennedy, George W. Bush, among many, many others can all justifiably be called wealthy narcissists. Though doing so helps me understand their biographies, it hardly adds to my assessment of their political successes and failures.

5) Jesurgislac: Is Bill Ayers unforgiveable because the things he did were so awful that even after nearly 40 years he ought to be condemned and silenced for what he did? As someone said upthread, Colin Powell's never apologized or acknowledged wrong-doing over My Lai... Or is it just that the blogmobbing which attempted to turn him into a national hate figure because of his associations with Barack Obama in later life, has succeeded so well that even Obama supporters feel that Bill Ayers is somehow unforgiveable?

Just had to reprint that because I think it's spot on. There's a general "no friends to my left" principle at work on the American "left"...or, as Glenn Greenwald recently put it, we've gone from Sister Souljah moments to "Sister Souljahism as an operating principle, a way of life." I don't feel moved to defend Ayers in any way, but I find the desire to pile on such a roundly irrelevant figure to be highly questionable. Perhaps I'm an anti-anti-Ayersist.

Ben Alpers: it's fine to criticize the content of Ayers's op-ed; it's silly to be outraged at its very existence.

Thanks, Ben. That articulates what made me uncomfortable about Hilzoy's post.

Unhelpful

The resort to violence didn't discredit the Left or the anti-war movement. If resorting to violence discredited political movements in this country, then Nixon and Kissinger would have been several hundred thousand times more discredited than the the Weather Underground by 1972.

The two differences between Nixon and his gang, and Ayers and his, were:
1) the scale of violence they committed
2) the success at getting the electorate to blame the victims rather than the perpetrators of the violence
"Advantage" on both counts overwhelmingly to Nixon et al.

That Ayers and his gang were so wildly unsuccessful at getting 2) to work for them definitely makes it easier to mock, criticize and disparage them. Americans love a winner and despise a loser. But their lack of success also makes it quite unneccessary to pile on. You don't need to speak truth to powerlessness, reality already has.

It would be far more worthwhile to continue to try to understand how Nixon et al managed to make 2) work so well for them. We're still living with the consequences, because the Right, unlike Ayers, was never discredited, but got away with its much larger crimes. Doing massive violence to others, whom we then blame for it in order to get elected, remains the safest way to political power in this country. Even Obama found it necessary to go along with big chunks of that dynamc in order to get elected. Even you seem to find it a good idea to join the crowd and pile on the losers.

So yes, it's really cute and clever of you to characterize the unsuccessful attempt by the Left to commit violence and blame the victims as the Gnome Underpants Theory. Ha. Ha. Now that you've had your laugh, figure out how the Right actually has made it work for them, so that we can stop it from dominating our politics.

Brett Bellmore you assert that Ayers has been harmful to a generation of young people educated on his ideas.
1. Let's make sure tht Nixon hacks and Bushites aren't allowed to continue to infest universities before worrying about Ayers. They tend to get into places where they teach their political philosophies as viable, responsible, useful theories.

2. I don't know what Ayers teaches beyond the vague idea tht he is in the field of education. The Anneburg Foundation work he did was bipartisan, sponsored by a rich Republican. Can you provide sites and quotes which would demonstrate that Ayers is using his current position to promote his past political views?

"Let's make sure tht Nixon hacks and Bushites aren't allowed to continue to infest universities before worrying about Ayers."

I suppose that depends on which you consider more odious, mushy centrism or genocidal communism.

Just a couple of observations: first of all, it's never a waste of time to participate in conversations here - thanks for that.

But I've been interested in seeing flashes of generational defensiveness crop up on this thread. I do think that people who were draft eligible, the older "baby boomers", those who talk about 'being there", have a special insight into the Vietnam war years (although it's obvious that there's no consensus among those people). That age group experienced a sea change in the way America saw itself: as children of WWII vets, they were brought up seeing their country as "savior of the world", an image that shifted dramatically for many people into one as "perpetrator of atrocities". In addition, boys that age were being consigned against their will to die or kill people, or both, for something they, in many cases, opposed.

I don't understand the hints of generational resentment that seem to characterize the discussion when people that age make claim to special insight.

As someone who has participated in marches and vigils against various wars (in order to take a stand and be counted), I believe they're worthwhile just as a gesture to stand and be counted. But the Vietnam war didn't end because of protest. It ended because despite our heavy casualties (and the many more suffered by the Southeast Asians), Vietnam remained a communist country and we elected political leaders who finally wanted out of a losing battle. It's not surprising that people who were being forced to participate in the war, and who opposed it, were confused about what to do in the face of all their failing efforts to stop it.

Boys were faced with this choice: "It's likely that I will be forced to die or kill in a cause I don't believe in. I should: 1) go "do my duty", 2) go to jail, 3) try to get a deferment, 4) enlist and hope I get a favorable assignment, 5) be a conscientious objector if the government accepts my application, 6) move to Canada, 7) try to do something to stop the war (by whatever means I see available). Women who were sisters, significant others and friends of these boys were thinking about those things too, in a very personal way.

Whatever other crises may have befallen people who were not Americans of that age group, I don't think it's too much for them to concede that they haven't had to face those decisions in quite the same way. (This isn't to diminish other people's particular experiences or crises, sometimes even more poignant or courageous.) It's time to quit judging the people that lived through that time (and forgiving them all), while still considering how ordinary people can best affect the policies of their government when things go terribly wrong.

I suppose that depends on which you consider more odious, mushy centrism or genocidal communism.

How charming to see you dismiss the rampant lawbreaking and overseas warmongering of the Nixon and Bush administrations as "mushy centrism." You're a real piece of work.

Maybe my reading of Ayers' op-ed was colored by having listened to his interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, but it seemed to me that Ayers was not trying to justify his radical past. He pretty much said that the Weather Underground did not accomplish any good. He explained why he'd been silent during the presidential campaign (he thought any thing he said would just feed into a dishonest, right-wing smear attempt), he stated for the record that his acquaintance with Obama was superficial, and he categorically rejected the validity of "guilt by association" arguments. Those all seem like legitimate goals to me.

Hilzoy says "To me, though, he's just a shallow rich kid. . . . " I think the tense of that sentence explains Ayers motive to speak out. What he WAS is not what he IS, and yet for the past year he's been repeatedly equated with a characterization of his distant past. I don't blame him for wanting to publicly reassert his own sense of identity before moving on with his life.

the Right, unlike Ayers, was never discredited, but got away with its much larger crimes. Doing massive violence to others, whom we then blame for it in order to get elected, remains the safest way to political power in this country. [You should] figure out how the Right actually has made [this] work for them, so that we can stop it from dominating our politics.

Thank you, Glen Tomkins.

I think what sticks in people's craw about this post is the dredging up and singleing out of Ayres for attention, a perhaps too energetic, too fastidious deliniation of what an emerging new progressivism shouldn't be. The fact that ObWi is largely about what progressiveism should and shouldn't be is what makes it such a vital, excellent blog. But, as someone upthread rhetorically asked, who - in the progressive sphere - really cares about Ayres? How many Maoists are there in Progressive World? The answer is, practically none. It was the RW noise machine who resusitated Ayres in the first place.

Of course people can blog about whatever they want, and I've noticed that Hilzoy has a special borgia in her personal Hell for the Weatherman-types (which is fair enough), so maybe that explains it. But, really, how important are they? I think they were less important then than she suggested (and than they themselves thought they were) - the anti-war movement continued to grow despite them - and they are *really* unimportant now.

I think there are other more difficult, more fruitful areas of progressive self-criticism ripe for exploration - like illiberalities in 3rd wave feminism, or in the Church - than the Weatherman, but i guess everyone is entitled to their own pet peeves.

The New York Times has given a platform to far more morally despicable people than Ayers - don't they still have Bill Kristol as a regular columnist? - wouldn't they likely accept an op-ed from Donald Rumsfeld if he wanted to write one? The notion that Bill Ayers ought not to be allowed to sully their columns with his op-ed because of his terrible past?

I don't understand this point at all. I don't think the NYT should have wasted space on Ayers. I don't think that they should waste space on Rumsfeld or Kissinger or Kristol. These two feelings are not mutually exclusive.

I'm not disagreeing with you, Turb, although I would say - as per publius' recent post - that sometimes terrorism 'works'. It certainly works very well when it's the State promulgating the terror. And I'd say it has worked pretty well for Out groups at various times, too, ( e.g. Begin/King David Hotel). I don't condone it even if it 'works', but the fact that it often does makes this a potentially difficult question.

I think you've hit upon a critical point: the efficacy of terrorism depends a lot on the power of those wielding it. The US government has had some limited success employing terror abroad. Random individual Americans employing terror at home? Fail.

Seriously, did McVeigh's bombing bring about the social change he sought? Of course not. Ayers must have been aware of the fact that he lacked the power of the US government, and as such, his random terror bombings would be significantly less effective.


How would people characterize the Resistance in WWII?

Which resistance and when? I'd be happy to characterize specific actions, but I need details. I think some resistance actions were justifiable and some were not. I'm pretty sure that, for example, raping random women in the hopes that people would blame the Germans is...unacceptable. The probability of such a thing positively contributing to the campaign seems too low to justify the real harm. Killing German soldiers just because you hate them seems unjustifiable, but killing soldiers as part of a plan to tie up particular elements of the German army so that allies can enter an area unimpeded is different.


I do think that people who were draft eligible, the older "baby boomers", those who talk about 'being there", have a special insight into the Vietnam war years (although it's obvious that there's no consensus among those people).

OK. So what is that insight? I mean, insights are only relevant to the conversation to the extent that they help you reach a non-obvious conclusion right? What specifically does this special insight help us understand?

I don't understand the hints of generational resentment that seem to characterize the discussion when people that age make claim to special insight.

I can only speak for myself, but I find these claims to special insight to be mildly irritating. Becoming disillusioned as you discover the happy myths you were taught as a child are mostly lies? That's universal. Watching your country kill people half a world away for no reason? Every post war generation of Americans has experienced that.

Beyond that, I don't see any evidence that the special experience of the Vietnam generation changed them for the better when it came to war. I mean, I would hope that after suffering through so much, they would have internalized some measure of skepticism toward government claims about war and the vital need for war. But polling indicates that boomers were no less willing to support the war than other Americans. Maybe the awful experience of Vietnam really did change a generation, but if that change didn't manifest in the belief that governments lie about war, how significant was it? I mean, lots of things happen to generations of people, but most of those things aren't relevant to any particular discussion, right?

The whole tenor of this discussion strikes me as strange. I'm being told that some people have special "insight". What this insight is no one can say. How it benefits the discussion, no one can say. And now you expect me to privilege voices of people with this "insight"? It seems like these claims of insight have a lot more to do with ritual demands of fealty to the Vietnam generation's sense of uniqueness and specialness than to any substantiative addition to the discussion. But I could be wrong.


I think there are other more difficult, more fruitful areas of progressive self-criticism ripe for exploration - like illiberalities in 3rd wave feminism, or in the Church - than the Weatherman, but i guess everyone is entitled to their own pet peeves.

I agree, but I think part of the reason people are interested in the Weathermen is that they illuminate a divide on practical ethics that interests folks. I find it curious how many people are willing to suggest that pointless senseless violence isn't really wrong when committed by people opposed to really bad guys. This isn't the sort of divide I would have predicted, so the discussion had proved...illuminating for me at least.

Consider the fact that when my wife and I discuss politics, we spend a great deal more time discussing what we disagree about than we do talking over points of agreement.

Hm. Must've missed the exasperated posts from Hilzoy asking Rumsfeld and Kissinger to also "go away". I'm sure it's just an oversight on my part.

Yes, yes -- I realize no blogger is obligated to post about anything and everything. Which is my point: why did you feel obligated/inspired to write the way you did about this particular individual, Hil? Is it really "Sister Souljahism as an operating principle, a way of life", as Greenwald put it?

I'm asking in earnest, btw -- hopefully my respect for you doesn't need to be reaffirmed. ;-)

(Oh, and going back to the first [OT] post, *mattt raises hand* Am immensely pleased to see that you are doing well.)

Also, this isn't the first time since the election that Ayers has broken his silence. In addition to the Fresh Air interview mentioned by Todd, Ayers also spoke with Salon's Walter Shapiro not long after the election. Interesting interview, recommended even for those who wish Ayers would disappear (a position I sympathize with, btw--even if I think this post and some of the resulting comments veer towards Two Minutes Hate territory.)

Turbulence: I find it curious how many people are willing to suggest that pointless senseless violence isn't really wrong when committed by people opposed to really bad guys.

I don't find that curious at all: it's the basic rationale for the attack on Afghanistan following 9/11, and for the practice of torturing prisoners because this is a War on Terror, or indeed the fifteen years that the US spent bombing the crap out of Vietnam and neighboring countries because otherwise Communism would take over the world. It was the justification for the violent attacks on the anti-war movement, because the anti-war movement was made up of really bad people, so it was OK to attack them violently. Hell, this was the justification for the attacks on demonstrators outside the RNC this year, remember?

Justifying pointless senseless violence in terms of the purity of your cause is always wrong, regardless of what your cause is. Which is something that Bill Ayers does seem to have learned - in the decades since he was in the Weather Underground - while George W. Bush, in the decades since he was a deserter from the cushiest branch of the National Guard, hasn't.

I also think that, just as it's worthwhile understanding why Palestinians resort to terrorism - and why Israelis resort to pogroms against Palestinians - it's worthwhile understanding why the Weather Underground formed when it did, rather than just assuming "they were bad stupid rich kids, they haven't changed in forty years, go away!". Which is why my first comment on this thread was a link to one of the most enlightening novels I've read about that period, by someone who experienced that era firsthand.

"How charming to see you dismiss the rampant lawbreaking and overseas warmongering of the Nixon and Bush administrations as "mushy centrism." You're a real piece of work."

Did Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush kill lots of people? Yeah, sure, they ran the government, and that's part of what governments DO. Why do you think I get so pissy about you folks wanting the government involved in more of our lives? This I will say with utter confidence: Under Obama, the US government will kill many people.

I, being an American, would prefer that as few of them as possible be Americans.

I don't think Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and now Obama, particularly want(ed) to herd tens of millions of Americans into death camps. I think Ayers did.

So don't try to pretend Ayers is made of the same stuff. Presidents do a lot of harm because they're people of modest evil with a lot of power. Ayers is a person of monstrous evil with very little power. Put him in the same position as Obama, and we'd have a genocide if he could pull it off.

To answer the questions of Turbulence:

What specifically does this special insight help us understand?

The insight I was referring to had to do specifically with their being subject to the draft - the draft was the main point of my post. No Americans born after 1953 really knew what it was like to be faced with the strong likelihood of being sent against his will into a war (and an unpopular and immoral war, at that). I agree with you that the insight didn't translate into wisdom about the war in Iraq (say) or American foreign policy in general. But I do think they have a better understanding of what motivated Bill Ayers, and the feeling of urgency the anti-war movement faced then.

I would hope that after suffering through so much, they would have internalized some measure of skepticism toward government claims about war and the vital need for war.

I entirely agree (although many of them did internalize such skepticism, but why it wasn't more universal I don't know). What is particularly frustrating to me, as I may have mentioned in an earlier post, is the phenomenon of the chicken hawk, those who for whatever reason seemed to feel that they didn't fully explore their manhood during the Vietnam era, so became particularly enthusiastic about sending other people's kids to go fight an unnecessary war. No, I'm not taking the position that the entire generation has a special wisdom. I do believe that they have a special insight in (what I believe) was a unique time in the history of the United States, where America's magnificence suddenly turned really ugly. Maybe it's because I still buy into the "magnificence" (which, of course, is severely flawed), that I also buy into the fall.

we spend a great deal more time discussing what we disagree about than we do talking over points of agreement

Yeah.

Did Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush kill lots of people? Yeah, sure, they ran the government, and that's part of what governments DO.

I have read the Constitution and am fairly certain that, in fact, it is not, but convince me.

Why do you think I get so pissy about you folks wanting the government involved in more of our lives?

We'll leave aside "you people," and simply point out that, in fact, most of the things you most frequently and most vocally object to would not only in all likelihood not kill anyone at all, but are in fact to stop, say, business owners from killing people. So spare it. "We people" (whatever THAT means) aren't anywhere near the level of stupid we'd need to be for you to sell that one.

This I will say with utter confidence: Under Obama, the US government will kill many people I, being an American, would prefer that as few of them as possible be Americans.

B-b-b-but the libertarian objection -- for example -- to labor laws and tariffs and protectionism is that it shouldn't matter whether a job belongs to an American or Laotian! Now you're telling me we should be preferentially killing non-Americans? What kind of piss-poor excuse for a libertarian are you?

I don't think Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and now Obama, particularly want(ed) to herd tens of millions of Americans into death camps. I think Ayers did.

Of course, he did not, no matter what the fever dreams of Sean Hannity might tell you.

So don't try to pretend Ayers is made of the same stuff. Presidents do a lot of harm because they're people of modest evil with a lot of power. Ayers is a person of monstrous evil with very little power. Put him in the same position as Obama, and we'd have a genocide if he could pull it off.

Well, the same would be true if we put YOU in charge, since we've tried it your way in this country and it wasn't very good except for the most privileged few. Nonetheless, let me kindly suggest that you're kind of full of shit, and that -- US universities supposedly being hotbeds, in the psychotic imaginations of the Brett Bellmores, of exactly the kind of genocidal socialism and communism you accuse Ayers of here -- we should already have had such a genocide many times over if your feared effects of having Ayers and others like him at universities reflected anything even approaching reality. I mean, where do you think our current crop of leaders come from?

Your comments about Ayers are spot on!! Evidently it never occurred to this chap that the very reason why J E Hoover was infiltrating the "radical" (or stupid) Left with agents provocateur to encourage and help bring about violent acts was to discredit the Left. I feel somewhat the same way about self-styled radicals who delighted in verbally abusing bourgeois folks on the street, calling them obscene names for no reason other than they they were assumed to be pro-war. The only result was to alienate them, not educate them. It must be said, though, that such stupidity was most likely born of the frustration of trying to stop such an obviously wrong policy as the US war against Vietnam when the US government was composed overwhelmingly of either brutal jerks who reveled in the war or moral cowards who lacked the courage to oppose it even though they knew it was either wrong or disastrous. Then, as in the past few years, there was effectively no available channel to oblige our government to do right. Elections? Well, the country got conned repeatedly then. Maybe this will happen again. We'll have to wait and see. But we also have to keep the pressure on our putative "spokespeople."

Let me speak as someone who was there and choose a different path than Mr. Ayers. When the SDS split, it was primarily over the question of violence. As a passionate pacifist, I found his position abhorrent. But consider, at the opposite extreme I was willing, if grudgingly so, to allow others to be killed rather than kill someone to stop it, and yes that included my family. Likewise, I was quite willing to die rather than harm my assailant. That philosophy raises the difficult question, if I can stop someone from being killed, but refuse to do so, am I not, at the very least, complicent in their deaths? Our society allows, even encourages, killing in self defense or to save the lives of others. Mr. Ayers felt that any action was justified in order to stop the killing. I felt that no violent action was justified. With forty years of thought, I suspect we were both wrong.

The more serious aspect of Mr. Ayers actions was to cause irreparable harm to the peace movement and, in my humble opinion, slowed the ending of the war thus leading to even more deaths. It is this, even more than the inept acts of violence, that was and is Mr. Ayers greatest blind spot.

As an interesting historical aside, I too refused to cooperate with the draft and fully expected to spend several years with friends in Federal prison. However, my draft board consisted entirely of very old people who had never been put in this position. They just couldn't find it in themselves to send a young man to prison regardless of how much they disagreed with my action. They found some very ingenious ways to delay taking action against me. Then the draft lottery came and my number was as the very bottom. Believe it or not I was extremely disappointed I was denied the opportunity to help "fill the jails". That, dear people, was the level of passion and commitment I saw everyday. And no, unless you were there, all the reading in the world will not make you feel that deep in your gut.

Thanks, Giraffe. Your experience with the draft illustrates very vividly the point I was trying to get across.

matttbastard: I'm not sure how to google it, but I think I have, in fact, suggested that the decent thing for Rumsfeld to do would be to find some distant place in which he could devote himself to obscure good works in silence. I pretty clearly recall having an internal debate about whether or not to suggest that the decent thing would be to commit suicide (or maybe that in previous generations, that would have been the expected thing for someone who had a similar track record?); I think I decided against it, on the grounds that I should not even seem to recommend someone's death.

Kissinger is a different story. There are reasons, which I won't go into, why I don't write about him. But it's not for lack of agreeing with you.

Brett==do you have any evidence that Ayers is taching genocidal communism RIGHT NOW? Or that he has been teaching that content since he got his university gig? My knowledge, which is limited, is that he is interested in ed. reform and interested in current progressive politics. Which in Red State wing nut world might equate to genocidal communism but my assumption is that you are not stupid and don't make such a ridiculous equation.
On the other hand Yoo is teaching in San Fransico and he is teaching the same crap he peddled in the Bush administration. Right now at Goergetown the dumbest guy on earth is teaching neocon ideas to students who may go on to careers in diplomacy.

Centrist? Only if extreme right is center.

Universities, think tanks, amd tradional media outlets reward rightwing loons with positions from which they can spread their ideas even after their ideas have been discredited and haved caused thousands of unnecessary deaths. Yet you use all this hyperbole--teaching genocide! destroying a generation of students! for one professor who is at worst ( at least so far as I know and you have not provided any other info) is teaching normal mainstream to liberal stuff.-sheesh, get a sense of porportion.


Hilzoy, you've written a well-thought out post and your comments throughout the thread are spot on. There were times during the election when I wanted to pull out my hair while reading your posts, but you've been on a roll recently. (This is not to say that I agree with all your views, only that you've become a lot more interesting a writer to me post-election.)

That said, allow this embittered Generation X-er to make one comment in response to the boomers way, way upthread.

Unless you were placed in suspended animation at age 15, it was impossible to grow up on both "The Breakfast Club" (1985) and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997). [Snark] Of course, you boomers wouldn't know that because most of y'all were too self-centered to notice what your children were doing between 1984 and 1997. [/snark]*

von

*I have two wonderful, loving, brilliant boomer parents and many, many more boomer friends and associates.** But this whole "it was a different time, man" has got to go. World War II was a different time. The Great Depression was a different time. The roaring 20s was a different time. The booms and crashes of the 1880s and 1890s were different times. The crusades were different times. The establishment of the Ming Dynasty was a different time. The fall of the Roman Empire was a different time. They were all different, unique times ... and your children and grandchildren had (and will have) their own different unique times. Get over yourselves: History did not start with you, and the rules of common sense, logic, philosophy, and morality did not get suspended for you.

Actually, it's precisely because you have in the past expressed loathing for Rummy (this one has always been a favourite of mine) that I was surprised to see his recent NYT op-ed pass by without a little bit of teeth-gnashing on your part. ;-)

Re: Kissinger, fair enough. I realize there are conditions that sometimes limit what you can and cannot opine about.

Anyway, I'm not all that concerned with the lack of reflexive hateration directed towards alleged GOP war criminals on your part, but rather what you believe makes Ayers in particular worthy of Rumsfeldian loathing. Were it not for campaign maneuvering and wingnut demonization, we wouldn't even be having this discussion (and Ayers likely wouldn't be featured in the NYT op-ed page). So why bother further legitimizing (and, subsequently, burning) the evil straw-Ayers that was originally erected by disingenuous outrage manufacturers trying to tar Obama by (vague) association?

If one really wants Ayers to go away, stop making his ears burn.

Yes, Ayers resorted to despicable means to get his point across. That said, his point is as valid today as it was then. The US foreign policy of that era is utterly reprehensible. We were not for freedom, independence or democracy. History has proven the domino theory to be false. Even the perpetrators of that war have largely agreed that American policy of that time was intentionally misleading and wrong. It is interesting that none of Ayers' detractors mention that the US actually killed millions of Vietnamese, most of them innocent civilians. Most of his detractors are from the 'US can do no wrong' camp. Blind jingoism should not confused with patriotism.

I have to throw in a couple of quick comments.

First is that this has been one of the most interesting threads that I have read in a long time. Many of the comments have an air of self-righteouness (coming from both ends of the spectrum) that I have actually found quite refreshi8ng, in that it shows how little self awareness there is in a lot of people when they are accusing other people of pomposity.

Secondly,as I was in college in the late 60's and grad school in the early 70's, there was little of what was happening that I missed. People sometimes forget that a lot of the demonstrating on college campuses had absolutely nothing to do with the war. The rebel for rebellion's sake was a common mantra at the time.

Finally, I really love the whole let's look down on the other generations thing rather trite and passe. I don't know of one generation that has the right to tell another generation that its experiences don't mean anything.

von, I really appreciated your comment. But just to let you know, although I never really got into The Breakfast Club, Buffy was a major bonding experience between my younger son and me. Even boomers could appreciate the subtle sarcasm and humor of that show.

And no, unless you were there, all the reading in the world will not make you feel that deep in your gut.

OK, but so what? Why is feeling this deep in the gut relevant to the conversation? What exactly does it add? If you make ethical evaluations by reflecting on what your feelings are without any kind of introspection, then I guess feeling the spirit of the times deep in your gut might be really important in analyzing this case. But discussion of ethics has to involve more than reiterating what your feelings are: productive discussion should come down to principles. We can debate principles meaningfully, but we can't debate your feelings. So, I ask, yet again, what meaningful ethical principles are illuminated by having been there that escape those of us born much later? Alternatively, what facts does your experience bring you that we lack?

People who experienced Vietnam were extremely passionate because it was life and death for them and their friends. I get that. But you know what? Lots of people are extremely passionate about what they consider to be life and death issues today. It is not OK for passionate people to kill random people just because they're passionate about terrible crimes that are killing other people.

Some people go through this phase in high school or college where they become enraged at the suffering of some large victim group and then contemplate what sort of violent means they might use to put things right, batman like. That's fine for young people, but you're supposed to grow out of it. You're supposed to eventually realize that being really angry about legitimate atrocities does not give you carte blanche to kill people only tangentially related. At least that was my experience. I had assumed it was more widely shared, but perhaps that was foolish.


So why bother further legitimizing (and, subsequently, burning) the evil straw-Ayers that was originally erected by disingenuous outrage manufacturers trying to tar Obama by (vague) association?

Um, while right wingers said lots of crazy stuff about Ayers, the man was a terrorist and a profoundly stupid one at that. He published a piece that claimed he was not a terrorist. Critiquing such claims has nothing to do with the imaginary straw Ayers that right wing folk invented; it has to do with the real Bill Ayers and the real piece that he wrote for the NYT.


Most of his detractors are from the 'US can do no wrong' camp. Blind jingoism should not confused with patriotism.

That might be true. But on this comment thread, I'd wager that most of Ayers' detractors have condemned aspects of US foreign policy quite strongly. You might want to try engaging with the people that are actually here as opposed to the people you imagine disagree with you.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997)

Uh...I think you meant "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1992)

Maybe not, though. There are probably all kinds of ways that a movie can be compared with a TV series, but on first glance this was kind of one of these things is not like the other.

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

And, as it happens, most people were not, in fact, male, and of the limited, relevant, age group. I'm unclear what's hard to understand about this. Most people in the Sixties were not, in fact, subject to the draft. Stating otherwise is wrong. Factually incorrect. Not true. Most people didn't experience it. Quit claiming otherwise.

(Not that my point was remotely limited to such a small falsehood.)

"Well said, Scott P. I was trying to make the same point, but made the mistake of writing that The Bridge Over The River Kwai was about the futility of war or something, and then was accused (repeatedly it would seem) of bad faith."

Cite?

"So yes, it's really cute and clever of you to characterize the unsuccessful attempt by the Left to commit violence and blame the victims as the Gnome Underpants Theory. Ha. Ha. Now that you've had your laugh, figure out how the Right actually has made it work for them, so that we can stop it from dominating our politics."

I'm not entirely clear whom this is addressed to, although a good guess seems Hilzoy.

My own response is to repeat, again, that hatred of one set of folks doesn't remotely interfere with hatred of the morals or acts of another, opposing set of folks.

To condenm Bill Ayers not taking full responsibility for his actions has not a whit to do with the unbelieveably evil actions of, say, Richard Nixon.

And I'm more than a little tired of people implying or saying otherwise. Hahaha, now STFU, YFA.

"I don't think Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and now Obama, particularly want(ed) to herd tens of millions of Americans into death camps. I think Ayers did."

That seems very ignorant.

I don't hold any brief for the political views of Weatherman folks at the time, and it's a subject I happen to know a great deal about. But this statement is just moronic, ignorant, stupid, and wrong. In short, you have no idea what you're talking about.

"Uh...I think you meant "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1992)"

Probably not, since the tv series was great, and aside from a single death scene, the movie was not.

As a Canadian, reading all the comments has been really interesting. It's all very US-centric - as if Americans were the only people going through all this during 60s (or even now). While it's true that the US was the main aggressor in Vietnam and the Weather Underground was fighting (in its own weird way) the US aggression, the whole discussion completely ignores the global context. The Weather Underground was only one of a number of groups that engaged in violent acts against capitalists and the state during the 1970s. They were all inspired to one degree or another by the national liberation movements that had swept much of the global south in the decades after WWII at a time when the US, engaged at it was in the cold war, was supporting people much like Saddam Hussein in numerous countries. It's not like the Weather Underground were a bunch of loonies or isolated extremist zealots - they were - and they saw themselves as - part of a worldwide movement fighting imperialism, capitalism, racism, etc, much of which had crystallized in the fight against the war in Vietnam. The fact that they (and others) were so frustrated that they felt impelled to violence is not so much an index of their own immaturity as it was of the victory of the US and its allies in over national liberation movements around the world and domestic political opposition at home. Don't forget that the formation of the Weather Underground was preceded by COINTELPRO and the murder of Fred Hamption.

"I think there are other more difficult, more fruitful areas of progressive self-criticism ripe for exploration... but i guess everyone is entitled to their own pet peeves."

Hilzoy has a stated interest in ethical philosophy. Maybe that's it.

"OK, but so what? Why is feeling this deep in the gut relevant to the conversation? What exactly does it add? If you make ethical evaluations by reflecting on what your feelings are without any kind of introspection, then I guess feeling the spirit of the times deep in your gut might be really important in analyzing this case. But discussion of ethics has to involve more than reiterating what your feelings are: productive discussion should come down to principles."

First, I don't think the argument was that Ayers' actions were justified by his experiences or "the times". The argument was that we non-snowflakes ought not to be so judgemental of Ayers because we don't know what it was like to live through those times.

So there are a couple of ways that the gut emotions could be relevant:

1. The emotions in question prevented the moral actor from making a good judgement. In this case, the emotions would be something like an excuse for the wrong behavior. If we understood the emotions involved, we might be inclined to be more lenient.

2. Emotions play a proper and important role in forming moral judgements. If this is so, then principles are only part of the story, and we would need to understand the emotions as well in order to judge the moral actor fairly.

What's interesting to me is the claim that we couldn't understand the emotions without having experienced them in a particular context. We can understand the facts and the principles and the reasoning from afar in space and time -- but not the emotions.

Von!

Praising Hilzoy for her 'spot-on' comments throughout the thread would be more convincing if in fact she had made a single comment relating to the post in question. I mention this only becuz the absence of any comment or defense or explanation seemed odd to me. Sorta like throwing a bomb into a room and running from the wreckage.

Maybe you were thinking of some other thread. :)

Gary,

You're wrong, and by an embarrassing margin, about the draft. Almost everyone experienced it. Every draft aged young man, of course. But also? Every parent of every kid who was subject to the draft. Every sibling. Every grandparent and every friend. It had an absolutely pervasive impact.

I'm unclear what's hard to understand about that.

Maybe this is one of those times when reading about an event leads to a limited emotional understanding of it, particularly when dealing with details not easily gleaned from statistics.

"Maybe you were thinking of some other thread. :)"

Maybe WaMo. She did respond there. It's interesting (and sometimes frustrating) to read the threads on two different sites.

The Weather Underground were extremist zealots. They weren't isolated extremist zealots.

They incorrectly assessed that the U.S. was in a revolutionary situation. So did some other activists of the period. The Weather Underground's own actions, and those of the people who bombed the Army Math Research Center in Madison, Wisconsin, clarified for a great many more people at the time how extremely wrong that analysis was.

I mention this only becuz the absence of any comment or defense or explanation seemed odd to me.

Yeah, we haven't heard a single word from hilzoy. She's been totally silent except for her comments here, here, and here. I'm glad to see that your continuing to contribute the high quality comments that you've consistently delivered throughout this thread.

Turb,

Your first two links lead to the post itself. Your third leads to Hilzoy's sole comment on the thread that is actually about the post itself. Which I missed. My bad. (There are two other comments that touch on other subjects; perhaps they were the source for the inept links.)

Thanks for the assist.

It had an absolutely pervasive impact.

That's absolutely true. The impact of getting called up by a government that consistently lied to kill people far away for no reason or die trying was huge. It was so huge that people who lived through those times believed the current administration's lies about another war hook, line, and sinker. But boy, the impact was huge. Not huge enough to actually makes them suspicious of more government lies about a war that makes no sense, but you know, really huge.

Have you ever met anyone who survived a genocide? You, know, folks from Rwanda? Ever met anyone whose family was murdered by US backed death squads in Latin America? Those people really suffered and they have every right to be pissed off at the US. In fact, they suffered a whole lot more than the average draftee. Our government did things to them that you can't even imagine. And yet I don't see them blowing up buildings or killing random people. Somehow, decent human beings can avoid killing innocent people even when they're really mad.

Harley, since you're new here, let me explain this to you: links at this site have been broken since a botched software upgrade a few weeks ago. The links I gave are the original links on the comments themselves. I don't get paid enough to clean up by hand the mistakes that any marginally competent freshman computer science student would be ashamed of making. If you want to see the comments, I suggest you explore your browser's search command. Hint: comments written by hilzoy include the text "Posted by: hilzoy".

Tur,

Thanks! But we're still locked in at three comments. Only one that relates to the post itself. Which was and is my point. It seems this is the kind of post that warrants defending, particularly given the broad range of response.

As for 'new here.' Yeah, sorry. But not completely new.

Harley, since you're new here... .

Harley isn't new. He just hasn't been around for a while.

(He also posts quicker than the average bastard. ;-) )

Heh. You're no average bastard.

Turb:

People who experienced Vietnam were extremely passionate because it was life and death for them and their friends. I get that. But you know what? Lots of people are extremely passionate about what they consider to be life and death issues today.

There's a difference between something which is literally life and death for you and your friends, and something you 'consider to be a life and death issue'! Again (and again and again) I agree with you and Hilzoy that what Ayres et. al. did was simply wrong, and his attempt to partially sanitize his own history is a bit pathetic. But the idea that their reaction to events was somehow uniquely and almost unfathomably stupid and awful actually gives credence to what you say you find irritating: that these boomers thought they were somehow out-of-time Special. They weren't, of course. Their reaction was really fairly understandable - stupid and morally flawed, but fairly understandable.

von:

..this whole "it was a different time, man" has got to go. World War II was a different time. The Great Depression was a different time. The roaring 20s was a different time.(...)Get over yourselves: History did not start with you, and the rules of common sense, logic, philosophy, and morality did not get suspended for you.

I like the last sentence, because I know all about Insufferable Boomers. But the other part of your comment doesn't have much to do with it. Yes, every different time is...different. I would say that what's important in the context of this discussion is that the 60s-70s in the US were indeed quite different from now in specific ways. The last 35 years have produced more cultural atomization and domestication - successfully terrorized culture, if you will - than in the previous period. Subsequent generations have been, whether you can see it or not, and for better and worse, much more obedient. Consumerism had not, in the 60s-70s, bloomed and risen to become our salient feature. And there was a good chance then that you or your friend or brother or uncle would be forced to personally confront Vietnam - kill or be killed or flee (and I'm not mentioning the civil rights movement or urban riots, just to save time). It *is* a different world now, for both better and worse. Yes, boomers can be absolutely insufferable - I could scoff at them for a year and never run out of material. But I get mildly irritated sometimes at the fetish-envy-hatred some younger people have for those people and that time. Notwithstanding the narcciscism they are perhaps a little unfairly famous for, they were/are just people and they mostly deserve a modicum of understanding and basic human charity, just like you.

What's interesting to me is the claim that we couldn't understand the emotions without having experienced them in a particular context. We can understand the facts and the principles and the reasoning from afar in space and time -- but not the emotions.

Which eliminates both the point and the possibility of art.

I dearly hope I won't be around for it but it'll be interesting (in that supposed-Chinese-curse way) to see the generational repercussions of the Iraq invasion.

Still a very strange friend for our new president to have had. Especially so since BO initially lied about the relationship.

What's interesting to me is the claim that we couldn't understand the emotions without having experienced them in a particular context. We can understand the facts and the principles and the reasoning from afar in space and time -- but not the emotions.

I find it interesting that people assume that they can fully understand the experience of those living in an era with a completely different zeitgeist. Although I am fascinated by history, especially the time in which my parents and grandparents lived, it's never occurred to me that I could appreciate everything about the context in which they lived. My grandparents, living on a subsistence farm during the Great Depression without many of the modern conveniences and communications devices that I take for granted, were no doubt concerned with millions of other subtle issues that I wouldn't even think to ask about - I mean, isn't it somewhat presumptuous that one can assume knowledge of another's life and circumstances? Is the appropriate response to someone whose actions we don't understand to say "'Please go away' - I don't even want to listen to what you might have to say?"

I read and read and inquire and inquire, but still don't know enough to judge. I can only have opinions and hope that if I'd lived in Nazi Germany I would have resisted (fat chance?). Or whatever else and time I can imagine.

I don't get it that so many people, not confronted with issues faced by others, are so quick to judge. I even watched the Robert McNamara documentary with heartache and sympathy. I don't get it - I really don't get it that people are unable to put their petty judgments aside to try to understand what people were thinking and why.

Turbulence: The impact of getting called up by a government that consistently lied to kill people far away for no reason or die trying was huge. It was so huge that people who lived through those times believed the current administration's lies about another war hook, line, and sinker. But boy, the impact was huge. Not huge enough to actually makes them suspicious of more government lies about a war that makes no sense, but you know, really huge.

Turb, you're just really off base here. My generation, the Viet Nam generation, was in the lead of opposition to the Iraq war. It was a broad-based opposition including all age groups, but there is no getting around the reality that boomers were the key organizers of the earliest, most active opposition.

I honestly don't know where you get the idea that people 50-65 were any more in favor of the war, or accepting of the Bush administration's lies, than any other generation.

Nell, I might have gotten the idea from here, as I pointed out in a previous comment. I don't know whether you're correct or not in asserting that boomers were the leadership behind the anti-war movement. But I do know that leadership roles, by definition, are few and far between. So even if you are correct (you provide zero evidence to suggest that is the case), it wouldn't tell us anything about the average boomer, now would it? I can easily understand a few thousand people being deeply moved by their experience with the Vietnam war, but that's not the claim that is being made here. The claim being made is that a whole heck of a lot more than a few thousand boomers were deeply impacted in such tremendous ways that we can't hope to understand the tremendous moral burden that folks like Ayers felt. Talking about the extremes isn't good enough to back a case about the average. You're a few million boomers short.

they were/are just people and they mostly deserve a modicum of understanding and basic human charity, just like you.

And who is depriving them of that deserved modicum? Not me. Not anyone on the planet. But those of us who follow in their wake are heartily sick of their bullshit.

"I can't be a racist! I was in a sit-in at Duke!" That's a direct quote, from my boss. Who's lily-white, as am I, as are all the people in our department, her husband, their daughter, their grandkids, and everyone I've ever seen her with.

Which does not mean that my boss IS racist. I have no idea, and I'm really not interested in finding out. What pisses me off is that she actually thinks that something she did 40 years ago inoculates her from the tiresome burden of thinking about her actions in the present.

I think josefina's comment illustrates that nobody likes an old fart who rants about the past, especially if the old fart is an annoying boss in a tiresome work situation.

"I don't get it that so many people, not confronted with issues faced by others, are so quick to judge. I even watched the Robert McNamara documentary with heartache and sympathy. I don't get it - I really don't get it that people are unable to put their petty judgments aside to try to understand what people were thinking and why."

Not to pick nits, Sapient, but your use of the word "petty" implies a judgement on your part. By your own reasoning, you simply don't understand what those people who are making "petty" judgements are thinking and why.

More generally, can you think of any perpetrators of violence for whom you find yourself unable to feel sympathy? And if so, do you see this as a defect in yourself?

asterisk, did you see the Robert McNamara documentary, "The Fog of War"? What was your reaction? And, no, I don't see it as a defect that I try to do what my mom taught me: to look for the humanity in people. Sure, I do make judgments about people's judgments - especially people who make a study of dismissing the formative experiences of a entire generation of people.

@Turb:
I never made any claim about the impossibility of anyone else understanding what my generation experienced, so I'm not part of that argument. That's not why I responded to your assertion.

I'm specifically disagreeing that my generation somehow forgot or was unaffected by the experience of a war of aggression by our government based on lies and conducted with lies, so that we, as a group, "believed the current administration's lies about another war hook, line, and sinker". My experience has been that our generation was substantially readier to assume that Bush was lying from the start -- but I acknowledge that because I move in activist circles, my sense of my generation as a whole may be wrong.

Although I'm not ready to accept that on the basis of one poll moment from the summer of 2003 (even in the poll cited, boomers were no more supportive of the war in the fall of 2002 and in the months immediately before the invasion than other age groups), it could be true that once the war began, my generation supported it at a greater rate and/or for longer than others.

If it's so (which I'm not prepared to believe without much more evidence), that could have something to do with the sentiment Frank Luntz articulates in the linked article: For decades, centrists and rightists have been strenuously trying to discredit left and liberal positions by linking them with the excesses that occurred when we were young. The non-activist, non-left-leaning members of my generation may indeed have been looking for a chance to cleanse themselves of the taint of radicalism and hippiedom.

I'm betting, though, that the fact that those of us "stuck in the sixties" turned out to be absolutely right about the war on Iraq resulted in my generation peeling off support for the war earlier and to a greater extent than other age groups from late 2003 to 2006 (since then, positions on Iraq have remained fairly static).

Still a very strange friend for our new president to have had. Especially so since BO initially lied about the relationship.

At the risk of troll-feeding, I don't want to let this crap pass uncommented upon (since such smears about Obama are 100% responsible for Bill Ayers taking up so much of our time now).

Why is Ayers a "strange friend" for Obama to have had? Putting aside the fact that it's not at all clear that the two are "friends," Ayers has been very involved in politics in Obama's Chicago neighborhood. And both were involved in an educational reform project sponsored by that notable Maoist-terrorist front group, the Annenberg Foundation. Given Ayers's place in Chicago political life, it would have been very surprising if he and Obama had had no relationship whatsoever.

And how has Obama lied about his relationship with Ayers?

This being the end of "Messiah" week - two rehearsals and three performances in the last seven days - I have been doing little blog-reading and less commenting, so much has passed me by. But now I've managed to read through the entire Ayers thread, and think that perhaps I have something to add.

Not on Ayers himself: others have expressed all of the various views I've entertained. Much less on the general principles governing political violence.

But I'm one of the few pre-boomers (by a year or two) in this menagerie, and probably the only one who has not only lived through the "Vietnam War" era, but taught classes on the war, intermittently from the 1970s until this decade. So perhaps some of my thoughts will be considered germane by others.

I will express them in the form of opinions, sparked by the thread, but not linked to any specific comments. If you think I'm criticizing *you*, I'm not; I don't even remember who said what.

Opinion 1: Yes, all generations differ from those before, and all parents lecture their children, and all children resent their parents, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Classic cartoon: Adam turns to Eve, as they are being expelled from the Garden of Eden, and says "We live in an age of transition.") Having said that, I believe that for American society over the past 150 years or so the decade from roughly 1965 to 1975 saw greater shifts in the public articulation of ideas and values than any other comparable period. The Vietnam War was part of this, but so was the rise of second-wave feminism and the sex/psychedelic/rock&roll "revolution" and the eventual driving of an American president from office. And much more.

Obviously this view can be disputed, and just as obviously there can be no effective resolution of this dispute, but I do believe it's worth considering. To have lived through those years - to bridge both the "before" of the Eisenhower era and the post-Woodstock, post-Watergate world - was an experience that was remarkable, to say the least, and hard for anyone not there to imagine (though Gary Farber is of course right that those with the will to study history can invoke most of it).

I'm going to break here, lest the machine refuse my offering, and continue shortly with Opinion 2

The discussion of Bill Ayers embrace of violence ignores the heroes who brought the Vietnam War to an end- US soldiers who defied their orders. Fragging, desertion, "combat refusal", and drug taking destroyed the US combat readiness and terrified the generals.

Wholesale mutiny was in the air- the only cure was to abolish the draft, get the troops out of Vietnam and start again with a volunteer military.

Peace marches and Congress also played a role, but the troops brought themselves home. And Bill Ayers friends were trying to murder them.

Continuing from above

Opinion 2: Nevertheless, there was nothing even remotely resembling a uniform experience of these years, these events. So the suggestion that the "boomers" all went through the same struggles, and do/should therefore have the same interpretation of them, or evolution beyond them, is nonsense. (I believe it was "Turbulence" who asked whether the argument was that the emotion of the time was a plea for leniency for moral defects, or the basis for a unique moral philosophy; I would definitely subscribe to the former, rather than the latter, view.)

Leaving aside the gap between hippies and squares, or between leftist youth and the Young Republicans, let me advert in particular to the war, which had vastly different impacts on different people, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

As compared with WWII ("The Big One"), the Vietnam War was a relatively small-scale affair. Instead of all-out mobilization, we had "Selective Service," and a military that was comparably much smaller. Many - I suspect most - Americans did NOT have a close family member in the military, or even if they did, said family member was probably not in Vietnam. It was entirely possible to ignore the war, and many people did, for long stretches at a time.

Militating against this were two primary factors, as I see it. (1) It was the first "Living Room War," televised on a daily basis, and with much more detail (even in black and white) than Americans had ever seen before, or have ever been able to see since. (One of the lessons the Pentagon learned from VN was how to minimize and control war coverage by the media; we see far less from Iraq than VN.)

(2) The draft, which is of course the huge difference between VN and Iraq. Yes, every male between the ages of 18 and 30 (?) or so was eligible, and we thought about it from time to time, and of course we often started thinking about it even younger, and of course our friends and relatives also thought about it. But for most of us, most of the time, it was not a full-time pre-occupation.

First, some young men either volunteered or simply accepted the draft when it came, whether out of patriotism or some kind of belief that military service was a necessary part of achieving manhood. (The fathers of most of my generation had served, one way or the other, in WWII.) For them, the draft was not really an issue, although the war itself might be, depending on where they were sent and what they were asked to do. (FWIW, only a fraction of Americans in the military actually served in Vietnam, and of those who did go to "Nam," only a fraction saw regular combat.)

For the rest of us, the draft was a potential threat, but not necessarily a terrifying one. There were many many paths to exemption, of which being a student was the one with which I (like Bill Clinton) was most familiar. But there were also medical exemptions, quasi-religious ones (as a conscientious objector), occupational ones (farmer, teacher), familial ones ("surviving son," married man [briefly]), etc. AND there were branches of the service that, although they might knock a couple of years out of your life, which was annoying, presented minimum risk of actual combat: the National Guard (hello, Dan Quayle), the Reserves (GWB), the Coast Guard, etc. Even the Navy (if you could stay out of the Marines) and the Air Force were perceived as relatively safe alternatives to being a grunt humping the boonies. And, of course, you could flee to Canada or Sweden if you didn't like any of the alternatives.

(If anyone wants to read more about these possibilities, and what kinds of people took them, I strongly recommend Chance and Circumstance: The Draft, the War, and the Vietnam Generation by Lawrence M. Baskir and William A. Strauss (Jun 1978).)

So what you did was, you set up a strategy (often involving Plan A, Plan B, &c.) and then saw how it worked. Once you registered, you could request a deferment (on any of the above grounds), normally for one year, so if you got it you could safely ignore the question for another year, most of the time. Of course you kept your ear to the ground and tried to figure out if they were changing the rules, and thus the odds, and perhaps you sounded out the options of marriage or seminary or Sweden or the National Guard, just to see if they looked better than your current Plan . . . but otherwise, you got on with your life. And this is how most Americans lived with the War between 1965 and 1973.

Now there were many notable exceptions, and I do not want in any way to diminish their dilemmas. There were those who actually wound up in Vietnam, one way or another, and I do not envy any of them the choices they then had to make. There were those who failed to "game" the system and make the best of their opportunities to avoid the draft, and so faced imminent peril of conscription. There were those (myself NOT among them) sufficiently principled to oppose the war and try to stop it even if they themselves were not in danger of being drafted: more credit to them.

Thus the Vietnam Era could be a terrible and troubling time, and it was for many people, and I am not suggesting for a moment that they should not have expressed their grief and anger, either at what they themselves (or their relatives) were being exposed to or simply at what we were doing to the Southeast Asians - not just Vietnamese, but Cambodians and Lao as well.

But it is an error, I believe, to think of our entire "generation" as being affected in the same way. Most Americans, even of the target generation, managed to get through the war without directly experiencing crisis or tragedy, and although we all thought we learned "lessons" from the war (vastly contradictory ones, it turns out), mostly we were happy enough to put the war behind us and move on with the 1970s.

Not very heroic, but then most people are not very heroic. I certainly wasn't. For those who think personal details are relevant (I'm not sure that they are) I "strategized" poorly at first, so wound up in the Army, but then managed to stay out of Vietnam my entire tour (1968-69). I've got no moral standing on anyone. But I was there.

I thought by the time I reached the end, I'd have a powerful conclusion, or at least a striking Opinion 3. But I really don't. Except this: there is no such thing as the "wisdom" of a whole generation, but sometimes individuals from a generation not your own know things that you don't. Listen to them.

Harley Peyton and Bobby P

You are exhibit A for why the right wing dominated this country from 1968 to 2008.

What you're saying not only doesn't persuade me, it repulses me. Your advocates for anarchy based on personal whim

We have a democracy in this country, and free speech rights. What Ayers and his ilk did, is that they tired of trying to persuade people by reasoning with them, and instead tried to violently force them, upon fear of death or injury, to do what he wanted.

You can analogize it to the crime that OJ Simpson is going to jail for a long time for -- it doesn't matter whether he thought those people had his property, there is a legal process for obtaining your property. You just can't go get it yourself at gunpoint.

What Ayers did, in essence, is say do as I say, or I'll kill you.

It turns out, that's not a popular stance.

I was kind of hoping the thread would end with Dr Ngo's two splendid comments, but I guess we had to have yet another right-wing troll who has eaten the Ayers Is Evil cookies...

Dr. Ngo, thanks for your thoughtful post. I always enjoy reading anything you care to share.

Look, the Vietnam period was a weird time. Crazy and violent. The Weathermen were, frankly, just a small piece of it all.

What I really think is wrong-headed is the idea that the times justified acts of violence against other people.

Ayers' friends died while building a nail bomb that they intended to use to kill Army officers at a dance. I don't care what your opinion was, or is, of that war, blowing up a bunch of officers and their dates with a nail bomb is not justified.

A clear and unambiguous statement from Ayers to that effect would be great. No such statement is to be found in his editorial.

So, I'm with hilzoy. It's great that he stayed out of the picture during Obama's campaign. He's had his moment, along with a very public platform, to explain himself to us all.

Now it would be great if he would go back to his previously scheduled programming.

For those who think the non-violent path was simply ineffective, and that extreme, violent action was called for, I offer this thought experiment. Different context, same times, and I think a reasonable analogy.

Who had a greater effect on changing race relations in the US: Martin Luther King, or H Rap Brown?

Thanks -

A clear and unambiguous statement from Ayers to that effect would be great.

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.

"Demonization, guilt by association, and the politics of fear did not triumph, not this time. Let’s hope they never will again. And let’s hope we might now assert that in our wildly diverse society, talking and listening to the widest range of people is not a sin, but a virtue."

You can analogize it to the crime that OJ Simpson is going to jail for a long time for -- it doesn't matter whether he thought those people had his property, there is a legal process for obtaining your property. You just can't go get it yourself at gunpoint.

Can you invade another country?

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

I'm generally with you in this discussion, Jesurgislac.

But the problem with Ayers' op-ed is that he is deeply dishonest about his own past attitude--and the attitude of organizations that he helped lead--toward violence directed at people. hilzoy is right that he gets around discussing these things in the op-ed by only talking about Weather Underground and not Weatherman, by skipping the period between his joining SDS and the explosion in Greenwich Village (the story of which is also narrated dishonestly in the op-ed).

I don't think I've eaten the "Ayers is Evil Cookies" (they were out of KoolAid?), but I would take his pronouncements more seriously if he discussed his own past behavior more truthfully.

"They damaged the entire antiwar movement and allowed war supporters to dismiss the movement by association with these crazies."

and who did that benefit? Then they magically were never caught, or prosecuted. If I was conspiratorially inclined I might come to the conclusion that they might have served the purpose of a bunch of governing elites quite nicely.

"In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to."

(SOURCE: http://www.two--four.net/comments.php?id=P1912_0_1_0)

pj,

Sorry about the last forty years. My bad.

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. (Terry Robbins and Diana Oughton were both close friends of Ayers and were both blown to pieces, along with a third member of the Weathermen, Ted Gold.)

It's about how the media made use of Ayers to pick on Obama.

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

There are people living now who killed anti-war demonstrators, who were never punished for that: there are people living now who dropped cluster bombs on cities knowing that children would pick them up and die as horribly as Ayers' friends did. Warren Anderson is still, as far as I know, living out a peaceful and healthy retirement in New York, while the survivors of Bhopal retch their lungs out in penury. Shall we condemn every politician in the US for their evil associations if they spent any time with executives of Union Carbide or Dow Chemical Company after 1984? Maybe we should, but does anyone?

Robert Gates is allowed to continue as Obama's Secretary of Defense, and both Hilzoy and Publius have written posts praising this decision without feeling the need to even mention that the US military under Bush tortures prisoners and that Gates is irrevocably tainted as Bush's SecDef becaue of this. These crimes of the US military were not committed thirty and forty years ago, but they are, it seems, to be forgotten even before Obama takes office.

Bill Ayers has expressed regret for what he did, and acknowledged it was wrong. I don't believe he should be required to condemn his friends for building a nail bomb that in the end killed only them, each and every time he mentions them, when what he is writing about is not the actions of a few decades ago, but the political hate campaign that tried to make Ayers into a national hate figure in order to smear Obama by their association.

It wasn't just the draft that colored people's attitudes. That it was indeed a very different time from now does NOT excuse the Weatherman, et al. But, even though this era was not so long ago chronologically, some of the comments here still remind me of people who, for example, dismiss Lincoln as racist because of Liberia, etc - who unwisely and a bit unfairly apply current standards to people in the past.

Turb:

I think you've hit upon a critical point: the efficacy of terrorism depends a lot on the power of those wielding it.

Of COURSE State terror tends to be more effective than the grass roots kind - terror is a pillar of State power! But the bottom line is that terror works best when it's employed the least. Overt terror, from any quarter, tends to backfire, whether it's a police riot in Chicago, the National Guard killing students at Kent State, McVeigh blowing up that federal building, or bin Laden's 9/11 attacks. Internalized, individualistic fear works much better and is much tidier; people stay in line of their own volition. Modern governments and their corporate patrons have figured this out. Suggesting that younger people are more docile and obedient now than in the 60s-70s is not just a cheap sneer. I don't really blame them. But we today have very little to be smug about vis a vis the 60s. I'm hopeful that we are finally turning the page now. But take a look at American culture as it has changed in the last 30 years: it's better in some ways, but *much* worse in others. We practically *have* no civil culture at all, for one thing (let's hope we're going to start building one now). Phony, overweening hippies and deranged people like Ayres are convenient scapegoats - and they didn't help matters, to be sure - but are they fundamentally responsible for our current state of spiritual and civic rot? No.

I don't think I've eaten the "Ayers is Evil Cookies" (they were out of KoolAid?)

Cookies are easier to broadcast over the Internet than KoolAid is.

Then they magically were never caught, or prosecuted.

Not "magically" - due to a series of flaws in the behavior of the police/the FBI, which made evidence against them impossible to use in court.

I don't want to defend Bill Ayers/the Weathermen. I really don't. I just don't see that what they did back then was sp appalling compared to what the US military were doing in Vietnam and neighboring countries, or that the US civil authorities were doing to the anti-war movement in the US. Please note my "compared to": I think it was wrong. I think it was appalling. But set it against deciding to drop napalm to burn up villages, or Agent Orange to destroy foliage, or the massacres of Vietnamese civilians such as My Lai or the tons of conventional bombs dropped on that area of South-East Asia, and if I've already called what Ayers did appalling, what do I call that? With what do we compare Ayers, if not how the Chicago police attacked the anti-war protestors in 1968, or the other violent attacks on the anti-war movement?

Rick Perlstein's Nixonland is a good read in this regard. It not only gives a vivid sense of the emotional tenor of the times, but links it specifically to a political strategy. Calling the times 'crazy' is probably not enough. Perlstein goes out of his way to list as many of the maimed and murdered as he can, including seemingly 'unimportant deaths' -- like the hippie shot in the back by Sheriff's deputies because, you know, he was a hippie. (What an odd sentence to write. Odd because, of course, it's true.) It does not require a great deal of imagination to understand how some people, however misguided they may have been, felt a violent reponse was not only justified, but necessary. There were two wars underway at the time, in other words. And one of them was here.

As to strategy? That's what irks me the most about this. The Bill Ayers show trial was never an honest attempt to assess the man, it was a right-wing political strategy designed to defame Obama. I must confess the last place I expected to see that strategy perpetuated, was in here.

And it remains largely undefended by its author. JFTR.

It is an interesting question how bad things have to get before violence is justifiable. And if violence is ever justifiable, how it should be organized in order to be "effective" when it's (obviously) illegal to organize it. I'm really glad Obama won, because I'm not sure that we haven't been approaching such a time recently.

I'm a proponent of passive resistance, and general strikes. Not many people (at least not enough) were interested in organizing a nonviolent general strike against the Iraq war - something that was being talked about by a few (including a writer from Harper's - and I wasn't reading ObWi, so I don't know if it was discussed here). It would be great to organize a whole country to do something nonviolent and effective, and that's what I would support if something other than the normal electoral process were necessary. But a huge number of people have to get behind such a movement, and by the time that happens, a whole lot of damage may have been perpetrated.

I don't agree with what Bill Ayers did, and I supported the nonviolent anti-war movement. But I don't think any of that had any effect on our war policy. We left Vietnam because we lost. There was no number of bombs and no lengths of destruction that could convince the Vietnamese people that we were there to bring them a benevolent government.

Props for most misplaced pop- culture reference since the founding of the blog, Hilzoy.

Step 1: argue facts
Step 2: ???
Step 3: incisive and targeted political commentary!

The strange thing is of course how it's possible to describe Ayers and apparently condemn him for no particular reason. This is necessary, because condemning him for being a violent thug - well, that's not really something you want to do as a responsible conservative. Condemn him for killing people, or at least lacking moral clarity when it really did count - rather than playing at the populistic streak so painfully present at that time? Once again, a very difficult thing to do. For a reasonably read conservative.

To be perfectly honest, I do not think this argument shows up as frequently as it does because of conscious manipulation and self- suggestion. No, it is always plain to see that the wish is for a certain feeling of discomfort to disappear.

To paraphrase Hilzoy: if they only did. If only one conservative had the balls to actually face up to what these seemingly disconnected arguments spring from.

On second thought, maybe Hilzoy's post is extremely appropriate: take care not to squander what leverage you do have this time, kids. Forget about stupid and/or dangerous theories - Maoism or hippie-conservatism then, perhaps post-modernism now. Focus on the practical and on developing empathy for anyone. Obama has correctly pointed out that change is going to be neither easy nor fast. Take him at his word. Just having a functional economy again is going to take quite a bit of doing.

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