December 16, 2008

We are the bomb squad and we're coming to town: Bill Ayers, 40 years on





"We tried to build a clandestine organisation that could survive what we thought was an impending American fascism and escalating repression and to make the war painful for the warmakers. And so we targetted symbols, and we targetted war targets. We did not target people. We never kidnapped, assassinated or brought mass destruction on anyone. And therefore it wasn't terrorism ... It doesn't induce fear at 2.00 in the morning if you knock out a computer in the Pentagon that's waging an air war against the Vietnamese. You could say it was stupid and I'm not defending it now. You could call it a lot of things but calling it 'terror' is what I'm arguing against. And if you want, and I believe we want to in this country, have a truth and reconciliation process about the Vietnam war, then what we would have to do is line up people like myself and my partner [Bernardine Dohrn] and we'd also have to line up John Kerry and Bob Kerrey and John McCain and Henry Kissinger and George Bush and Dick Cheney and ask everyone, 'What did you do while the United States murdered 2000 people a month? What was your responsibility?' And in that company I'm happy to say exactly what I did and take full responsibility for it. But without that kind of process it seems that a small organisation that came out of the student movement, the anti-war movement, is asked to stand for everything backward and violent while Henry Kissinger goes to state dinners and advises the State Department. That makes no sense whatsoever."
These days, former Weather Underground man Bill Ayers is so far out of hiding that he's happily chatting with Kathryn Ryan on National Radio. Even with Ryan's scepticism running at full strength, this managed to be fairly moving -- so imagine what a sympathetic interviewer could have made of it. Ayers managed to plug his memoir Fugitive Days a couple of times, so consider this entry a plug for the movie that followed -- the excellent documentary The Weather Underground by Sam Green and Bill Siegel that, I've just realised, made my ten-best list back in 2003:
This fascinating festival documentary tracks the secret history of a notorious anti-war protest group that operated beneath US law enforcement radar in the early 1970s, bombing government buildings to bring the Vietnam war home – America is described as “the most violent society that has ever existed”. Although comparisons between then and now are inescapable, the wider context is really the general shift from 60s radicalism to the new conservatism of the 80s – a shift adroitly summarised in contrasting images of Jane Fonda, from the “Hanoi Jane” who supported the Vietnamese communists to the Fonda who hawked aerobics videos.  
Speaking of adroit summaries, the Ryan/Ayers interview also included this exchange:
Ryan: You've come out of the period of living underground, yourself and your wife. You both ended up essentially as members of the establishment. A law professor, an education professor.
Ayers: Is that bad or good?
Ryan: I have no judgement on it.
Ayers: I'm shocked. You should have.