Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bill Ayers

Bob Somerby on Tuesday took up the accusation that Obama once or twice talked to Bill Ayers, former Weather Underground (WU) member in his Daily Howler column of 10/07/08.

He makes the point that even if you think the Weather Underground were demons from Hail, Bill Ayers has long since become an active figure in establishment Chicago politcs. Somerby cites the following passages from Scott Shane's Obama and ’60s Bomber: A Look Into Crossed Paths New York Times 10/03/08:

Since earning a doctorate in education at Columbia in 1987, Mr. Ayers has been a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the author or editor of 15 books, and an advocate of school reform.

“He’s done a lot of good in this city and nationally,” Mayor Richard M. Daley said in an interview this week, explaining that he has long consulted Mr. Ayers on school issues. Mr. Daley, whose father was Chicago’s mayor during the street violence accompanying the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the so-called Days of Rage the following year, said he saw the bombings of that time in the context of a polarized and turbulent era.

"This is 2008," Mr. Daley said. "People make mistakes. You judge a person by his whole life."
Joan Welch took up the issue in Ugly time Salon 10/06/08:

The McCain campaign may be going off a cliff. Sarah Palin hit a new low -- and that's hard for her -- when she smeared Barack Obama with his association with '60s radical Bill Ayers, by claiming that Obama sees America "as imperfect enough to work with a domestic terrorist who tried to kill his own people" -- as though Obama's concerns about American society led him to ally himself with terrorism. Break it down, folks, and that's what she's saying. Palin's got some syntax problems when she talks, so maybe she didn't mean it that way -- but I think she did. She's found slightly different ways to say the same thing two days in a row, even after multiple news organizations criticized her take on the Obama-Ayers connection.
Among other things, she points out that Obama was a child when the Weather Underground was bombing buildings. "Is Palin saying the Democratic nominee was a member of WeatherKids?" she asks.

But seeing the current film about the German Red Army Faction (RAF) and researching a bit about them for my post on the film, I'm reminded that the RAF's level of violence was really in a whole different league than the Weather Underground. The WU carried out some spectacular bombings, including one inside the Pentagon and one in the Capitol building. Plus they sprung LSD guru Timothy Leary from a low-security prison with no violence. They did not carry out kidnappings or assassinations, much less set of bombs in public places to deliberately kill and injure civilians, as the car bombers and suicide bombers so frequently do these days in the Middle East.

The only case in which a death may have been connected to the WU's actions was a bombing of the mathematics building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which has sometimes been linked to the WU, with what degree of credibility I don't know. A graduate student working at night in the building was killed.

So - not that any Democratic Party spokesman is going to make the point for fear of having it turned into a "gotcha" soundbite - Palin's statement calling Ayers "a domestic terrorist who tried to kill his own people" is also not true. It's bad enought that the guy, who has apparently lived as a perfectly respectable, law-abiding citizen for the last nearly three decades (however distasteful some of his current views may be to many) is being held up as a poster boy for Evil. The White Princess is also falsly accusing him of being an attempted murderer.

At the end of the film Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex, the Brigitte Mohnhaupt characters explains to her fellow RAF members in relation to their leaders who committed suicide in prison that they really had committed suicide, they weren't murdered as the RAF claimed, and tells them, you should look at them as something that they weren't. Which could also be the coda to the film.

It's a good guideline for the reality-based ín looking at terrorism. Let's look at the phenomenon and its practitioners for what they are, not just make up anything we find it comforable to think about them.

Previous related posts:

Terrorism, the old-fashioned kind 06/04/07

Was the antiwar movement against the Vietnam War counterproductive? 08/14/07

Remembering 1968: Ralf Fücks gives a Green view 05/14/08

"Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex" film 10/05/08

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