What do we really know about Bill Ayres?

I offer no guarantees as to the accuracy of this article by Bill Ayres the ‘unrepentant terrorist’ whom Obama was supposed to be ‘palling around with’, but I thought it was interesting and others might like to check it out.

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Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
13 years ago

Had the Weather Underground targeted innocent people or even recklessly put them in harm’s way, that would have put them beyond the pale in any decent person’s estimation. But as far as I understand, they didn’t. So the question is whether someone who destroys government property in a democracy, in any circumstances, is beyond the pale. The circumstances in this case were that these young people were convinced that their government was pursuing an illegal and immoral war, that in the name of decency this had to be stopped, and that all other avenues for stopping it had been exhausted. We all have to make a judgement about whether destroying government propert was a sanctionable course of action in these circumstances, but I don’t think the answer is self-evident.

SBS broadcast this 2002 documentary about the WU about six months ago, long before the Obama-Ayers issue flared up. I can’t testify to how balanced it was overall, but it certainly gave the lie to any terrorist label.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor(@geoff-honnor)
13 years ago

As much as the attack on the so-called Ayres/Obama “connection” was hysterically overwrought and laughably exaggerated, I’m left pondering Bill’s curious assertion that… “our effectiveness can be and still is being debated.” Really?

All the Weathermen are really remembered for now is the Darwin Award-winning ineptitude they displayed in blowing themselves up while manufacturing a nail bomb (presumably intended for totally non-violent purposes) and their boringly platitudinous Cultural Revolution-speak, much in vogue among newly “radicalised” college kids in the late 60’s. As Bill himself puts it…..”mistakes of excess and failures of imagination, posturing and posing, inflated and heated rhetoric, blind sectarianism and a lot else.”

So what’s “to debate?”

Bill Ayers was the classic bourgeois rich kid who really stuck it to Dad by growing his hair long, reciting Mao’s Little Red Book aphorisms and vowing to smash the state, monogamy etc, etc. He just took a bit longer to grow out of it than most.

steve from brisbane
steve from brisbane
13 years ago

Nicholas, if you haven’t seen it before, you would be well advised to check Timothy Noah’s savage 2001 mini-review of Ayers’ autobiography, and then re-consider the sincerity of some of the stuff Ayers’ now says.

13 years ago

Agree with Geoff. The Obama guilt-by-association wind-up was a crock, but Ayers should be rotting in gaol. Kathy Boudin still is, even in liberal New York.

steve from brisbane
steve from brisbane
13 years ago

I’ve just done some further reading on Ayer’s memoir “Fugitive Days”: the New York Times criticised it strongly too. And there are many strong reader reviews against it at Amazon’s site.

It actually kind of surprises me that there was not more publicity specifically about this memoir in the election campaign. I mean, the thing came out only 7 years ago.

And finally: you know Ayers must really get up everyone’s nose when even The Nation runs an article getting stuck into him about his recent New York Times column that this post was about!

12 years ago

That Nation article is even better Steve. A quote:

“Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war,” Ayers writes. ” 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’m not so sure that terrorism necessarily involves intentional attacks on people, but okay, let’s say Ayers wasn’t a terrorist. How about thuggish? Vainglorious? Egomaniacal? Staggeringly irresponsible? And illogical, don’t forget illogical: as Hilzoy points out, the idea that because “peaceful protest” hadn’t ended the war, bombs would is missing a couple of links. It’s like a doctor saying, Well, chemo didn’t cure your brain tumor, so I’ll have to amputate your leg. It’s not as if there was nothing else to try, after all. While Ayers and Dohrn were conveying their outrage, other people were doing the kind of organizing work that the Weather Underground despised as wimpy. Today Ayers blends himself into that broader movement, the “we– the broad we” that “wrote letters, marched, talked to young men at inductions centers” etc., but at the time, Weatherpeople had nothing but contempt for the rest of the antiwar left. Writing letters? Off the pig! you might as well… become a community organizer!