Saturday, November 15, 2008

Questioning the Weatherman

I subscribe to The Democracy Now! The War and Peace Report podcast, a daily independent news show out of the US. I admit, it's pretty lefty (surprise, surprise), but what I appreciate most about the show is that host Amy Goodman questions everyone, for example when a guest called Karl Rove a liar, she asked them to back it up, even though most people wouldn't dispute that statement. So when I heard former Weather Underground members Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn were going to be on the program, I got excited. Sure, the Weather Underground were lefty radicals, but many people believe they took it too far, myself included, and I thought for sure Amy Goodman and co-host Juan Gonzales were going to take these two to task.

To give you a bit of background on The Weather Underground and where I formed my opinions on them, they were a radical anti-Vietnam war group during the late 1970s, who bombed banks, New York City Police Headquarters, the US Capitol, and The Pentagon. I learned about them through watching the documentary The Weather Underground a few years ago. The group usually bombed buildings at night when no one was supposed to be around, but during a bomb making session in a Manhattan town house, three Weather Underground members were killed. The bombs they had been making were supposed to be used to bomb a dance at an army base.

I know the 1960s and early 1970s were a tumultuous time — government corruption, racism, violence, an unpopular and unjust war that killed millions of Vietnamese and Americans. Even though we face similar circumstances right now, it's nothing compared to the upheaval the Western World, the USA in particular, was going through. Nevertheless, I can't condone bombing; The Weather Underground (or The Weathermen as they were originally known) could have hurt innocent people, and did kill some of their own members as a result of their actions. How does that make them any different than sending off poor kids, many of them black, to their deaths in Vietnam?

On the show, Bill Ayers denied The Weather Underground were ever a terrorist organization because no one ever got hurt. But terrorism doesn't have to result in people getting hurt or killed, by definition it is violence and intimidation used for political gains, and there's little more violent or intimidating than a bomb. Sure, the people responsible for the Vietnam war, the beating of protesters, the beating and murders of African Americans deserved a nice wallop of karma coming their way, but violence isn't the answer to violence.

Unfortunately, when the townhouse explosion came up in the Democracy Now! interview, when Bernadine Dohrn said it was after this explosion that the group decided human casualties were no longer acceptable, neither Goodman nor Gonzales pressed Dohrn or Ayers about whether they had intended to kill people originally, and/or why were human casualties acceptable. 

Goodman then went on to ask Ayers about an accusation Bill O'Reilly made about The Weather Underground bombing a police station and not regretting it, and he skirted the question, speaking generally about him not condoning the groups actions in his latest book Fugitive Days (which had the initial, unfortunate, release date of September 11, 2001). Yet later Ayers says he has no regrets about what they did. 

I'm not seeking justice here — most of The Weather Underground members served their time and are now getting on with their lives. It's the fact they don't see the error of their ways, or the possible consequences that bothers me. I see where they were coming from, and I understand their rage, but bombing banks and police stations are not and were not the way to get the government to listen to what you had to say. While I'm sure some of the "bad" people were intimidated by the bombings and actions of The Weather Underground, many more innocent people were scared and thus turned off from their ideas. Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lennon  were assassinated, but their messages of peaceful protest and change have reached far more people than The Weather Underground's bombings. 

I'm not going to stop listening to Democracy Now! because of this interview, as it's otherwise an informative program not only about the United States but situations happening all around the world. However this has put a damper on my excitement about the program — as journalists it's our job to question people, even if they're our heroes, our best friends, or our own mothers, and in this interview I don't think that criteria was met. 

1 comment:

Jillian Leigh, esq said...

I became pretty obsessed with the Weather Underground a few years ago, and it still haunts me how serious so many of their actions were. Um, THEY BOMBED THE PENTAGON.

I get what was behind a lot of this movement: white guilt, feelings of angry helplessness, and an over-identification with the Black Power movement (which now seems a mixture of embarrassing and downright dangerous). But still: it's like a car wreck I'm craning my neck to see.

Following the post-Weatherman careers of the members is also pretty interesting--you have the still-ardent radicals, like Ayers and Dohrn, alongside Mark Rudd's obvious regret and haste to condemn. Guess no love was lost, hey?

Good post. I always like to hear more about this topic.