The guy they called the “domestic terrorist” turns out to be a nice guy who took a fork in the road he wishes he hadn’t!
by Charlie Leck
They were difficult times back then. It was tough trying to decide what to do. The question we struggled with was loyalty to country and what it meant. There were a lot of simpletons around who chanted: “My country right or wrong!” Those red-necks and faux-patriots simply did not understand the depth of the mistakes their nation was making.
The Vietnam War days were tough ones indeed! Many of you weren’t around and you’ll never understand, but the nation was more divided than it had been since the Civil War. By the fall of 1966 I had learned enough about the history of the Vietnam situation, and the manner in which the U.S. entered that war and conducted itself during it, that I totally opposed our nation’s involvement in it.
Naturally, that drew scorn from many corners, along with jeers and catcalls. Many called me unpatriotic. In fact, my loyalty to country never wavered. What did waver was my loyalty to certain politicians, like President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and my faith in them.
I marched in my first demonstration in the summer of ’67, through the streets of downtown Minneapolis to the U.S. Federal Building. I was surprised how many of us were ordinary people from ordinary jobs, wearing carefully pressed, neat clothes.
The Republicans were already talking about the communist organizers who were putting the demonstrations together. As far as I could tell, the organizer was a middle-aged housewife from southwest Minneapolis.
“Don’t want to go to war no more, no more!” That was my favorite chant. I remember shouting it hundreds and hundreds of times. Of course, I wouldn’t go to war. I was classified 4F and didn’t need to worry about it. Some of the young guys who did worry were also considering a slide into Canada.
The American Legion and the VFW called them cowards. How quickly they forgot the lessons of the World War II criminal prosecutions. Does one participate in an unjust war?
Martin Luther King began to recognize that the civil rights movement was inextricably tied to the anti-war protests. He moved his organization against the war. The FBI claimed it was communists who convinced King to begin fighting on a second front. The crazy-right was seeing Boogiemen everywhere.
We had heroes back then. Gene McCarthy would become one! We jumped on his bandwagon. Bobby Kennedy would pull us off that one and on to his! Hubert Humphrey became a poor, but only substitute for a hero after Bobby was killed.
When thousands of peaceful protests against the war showed no evidence of impact on anyone or any institution, a less peaceful, and sometime violent, element began to take seed. The CIA and the FBI and the right-wing claimed it was organized by international communists. That was laughable. Even those protests were organized by ordinary, frustrated people who wanted to awaken a sense of justice in the American government and people.
Ted Ayers, who has been made famous again by the McCain/Obama presidential campaign, was a part of the movement that moved beyond peaceful demonstration.
Contrary to the misstatements in the campaign, no one was killed as a result of Ayer’s work. Ayers was a draft-resister during the middle and late 60s. There were thousands of them. The right-wing called them cowards. We, over on the left, called them heroes. Their resistance had purpose. It got the attention of the press and, then, the attention of the people.
Ayers was an organizer for Students for a Democratic Society. The righties called that a communist organization. We laughed at the thought. It was our organization. It was designed to lead us into more powerful demonstrations against the war that was wrong. Thousands of people were being slaughtered in Vietnam and many of them were our own soldiers. It was just damned wrong. It was a stupid war without purpose and without just cause.
In 1970, the Weather Underground (WU) was formed. Bill Ayers was one of its founders. The righties really began to scream about communists. Those involved thought of themselves as more like the protestors at the Boston Tea Party (a rather violent, disruptive affair). WU did plant some explosives in a number of empty offices, including at the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon.
Though WU had gone further than I was willing to go, I understood the movement. There’s strong disagreement about just how effective the organization was. It certainly got people’s attention.
With great anger in her voice, Sarah Palin called Ted Ayers a “unrepentant domestic terrorist.” I wanted to scream at her and tell her to lighten up.
Ted Ayers was a young guy who loved his country and saw that it had involved itself in a war that was both unjust and immoral. The peaceful demonstrations didn’t get the message across. WU crossed that murky, sometimes indiscernible line between legality and illegality, and between right and wrong, in order to awaken the nation. One man’s terrorist is another’s hero.
And, as Ayers recently wrote, it is difficult to call it terrorism:
“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 inure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.”As any real man would, Ayers owns up to the mistakes of his approach. As you read his admissions, just be aware that there were dozens of organizations like WU and some were much more violent in their approach, and many of the organizers from those movements have never admitted to error. It was an intense and incredible time. You had to be there. Though there is some revisionism going on now, history proved the war to be a terrible mistake and the motives for our involvement in it very questionable.
Ayers goes on:
“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.Bill Ayers is just a guy. He’s one of thousands of us who were fiercely angry about the immoral war in Vietnam. Our extraordinary troops were being asked to die for a stupid, unnecessary cause. And, we were killing people in that nation who should not have died.
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 else. 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.”
Making Ayers the bad guy deflects again from the truth of the matter. The bad guys were those who were making war unnecessarily. I don’t believe it is a concept that Sarah Palin is capable of understanding. She is in the camp that believes “my country right or wrong.” They are dangerous people – more dangerous than the gentle, peaceful Bill Ayers.