Sunday, December 07, 2008

'And Therein Lies Cause For Real Regret'

I'm not bragging, mind you, but I may be in a better position than many folks to judge whether Bill Ayers is the "unrepentant terrorist" that the guilty-by-association crowd relentlessly accused him of being while tarring Barack Obama with the same brush or a guy who has come to terms with -- and has regrets over -- his involvement in the Weather Underground.

As I noted during the election campaign to the shock and horror of some right-wing bloggers, I knew several of Ayres' cohorts back in the day and am a longtime friend of one whom I invited into my home when he was a fugitive. I further noted that even in the context of those crazy times, the Weathermen were a bunch of zonked-out wannabe revolutionaries who ultimately diverted attention from their occasionally worthy causes by doing some really bad stuff.

Ayers is back in the news on his own terms -- an op-ed piece in The New York Times titled "The Real Bill Ayers" -- and now that Obama is president-elect seeks to make the case that he himself was not a monster:
"The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.

I cannot imagine engaging in actions of that kind today. And for the past 40 years, I’ve been teaching and writing about the unique value and potential of every human life, and the need to realize that potential through education.

I have regrets, of course — including mistakes of excess and failures of imagination, posturing and posing, inflated and heated rhetoric, blind sectarianism and a lot eAyerslse. No one can reach my age with their eyes even partly open and not have hundreds of regrets. The responsibility for the risks we posed to others in some of our most extreme actions in those underground years never leaves my thoughts for long.

The antiwar movement in all its commitment, all its sacrifice and determination, could not stop the violence unleashed against Vietnam. And therein lies cause for real regret."
Ayers is correct that he and others in the Weather Underground cadre who took to the streets were not terrorists as we have come to use and understand the term in the post-9/11 world.

But while it is welcome to read that Ayers has regrets and is not unrepentant, he is being disingenuous in claiming that property and never people were always the targets of the Weathermen, because people did get hurt and I don't recall any regret being expressed when that happened.

In the end, Ayers fighting the violence of Vietnam by using his own form of violence accomplished nothing. And was to cause considerable anguish four decades later for a rising political star who happened to be in the same room with him a few times.

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