Episodic Notoriety–Fact and Fantasy

Day in and day out I go about my business, I hang out with my kids and my grandchildren, take care of the elders, I go to work, I teach and I write, I organize and I participate in the never-ending effort to build a powerful movement for peace and social justice; now and then (and unpredictably) I appear in the newspapers or on TV with a reference to my book Fugitive Days, a memoir of the revolutionary action and militant resistance to the Viet Nam War—the years of miracle and wonder—and some fantastic assertions about what I did, what I said, and what I believe. The other night, for example, I heard Sean Hannity tell Senator John McCain that I was an unrepentant terrorist who had written an article on September 11, 2001 extolling bombings against the U.S., and even advocating more terrorist bombs. Senator McCain couldn’t believe it, and neither could I.

My e-mail and my voice-mail filled up with hate, as happens, mostly men with too much time on their hands I imagined, all of them venting and sweating and breathing heavily, a few threats—“Watch out!”; “You deserve to be shot”; and from satan@hell.com, “I’m coming to get you and when I do, I’ll waterboard you”—all of it wildly uninformed. I’ve written a lot about the Viet Nam period, about politics, about schools and social justice, and I read and speak about all of it. I encourage people to argue, to agree or disagree, to discuss and struggle, to engage in conversation. I believe deeply in the pedagogical possibilities of dialogue—of listening with the possibility of being changed, and of speaking with the possibility of being heard—and I believe in revitalizing the public square, resisting the eclipse of the public and expanding the public space, searching for a more robust and participatory democracy. Talking to one another can help.

So in that spirit here is another attempt at clarity:

1. Regrets. I’m often quoted saying that I have “no regrets.” This is not true. For anyone paying attention—and I try to stay wide-awake to the world around me all/ways—life brings misgivings, doubts, uncertainty, loss, regret. I’m sometimes asked if I regret anything I did to oppose the war in Viet Nam, and I say “no, I don’t regret anything I did to try to stop the slaughter of millions of human beings by my own government.” Sometimes I add, “I don’t think I did enough.” This is then elided: he has no regrets for setting bombs and thinks there should be more bombings.

The illegal, murderous, imperial war against Viet Nam was a catastrophe for the Vietnamese, a disaster for Americans, and a world tragedy. Many of us understood this, and many tried to stop the war. Those of us who tried recognize that our efforts were inadequate: the war dragged on for a decade, thousands were slaughtered every week, and we couldn’t stop it. In the end the U.S. military was defeated and the war ended, but we surely didn’t do enough.

2. Terror. Terrorism—according to both official U.S. policy and the U.N.—is the use or threat of random violence to intimidate, frighten, or coerce a population toward some political end. This means, of course, that terrorism is not the exclusive province of a cult, a religious sect, or a group of fanatics. It can be any of these, but it can also be—and often is—executed by governments and states. A bombing in a café in Israel is terrorism, and an Israeli assault on a neighborhood in Gaza is terrorism; the September 11 attacks were acts of terrorism, and the U.S. bombings in Viet Nam for a decade were acts of terrorism. Terrorism is never justifiable, even in a just cause—the Union fight in the 1860’s was just, for example, but Shernan’s March to the Sea was indefensible terror. I’ve never advocated terrorism, never participated in it, never defended it. The U.S. government, by contrast, does it routinely and defends the use of it in its own cause consistently.

3. Imperialism. I’m against it, and if Sean Hannity and others were honest, this is the ground they would fight me on. Capitalism played its role historically and is exhausted as a force for progress: built on exploitation, theft, conquest, war, and racism, capitalism and imperialism must be defeated and a world revolution—a revolution against war and racism and materialism, a revolution based on human solidarity and love, cooperation and the common good—must win.

We begin by releasing our most hopeful dreams and our most radical imaginations: a better world is both possible and necessary. We need to bring our imaginations together and forge an unbreakable human alliance. We need to unite to transform and save ourselves as we fight to change the world and save humanity.

123 Responses to Episodic Notoriety–Fact and Fantasy

  1. Jack Janski says:

    Hey Robert,

    An apology for what?? For speaking the truth about Billy Boy?? For bringing to light the asshole’s violent past? Take your request for an apology and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

  2. bill maybe i’m wrong as i had to scim your article fast but i don’t think u said the obvious which is the truth and i think would help u greatly- the Weather people NEVER hurt ANYONE- that was it’s humane policy- it only bombed PROPERTY of those guilty of TRUE TERRORISM ie US targts that engaged in the sluaghter of innocents and the rightous (though i hate big “C” Communism) Indochinese fighting for independence.

    Ya gotta say u had a policy of not even hurting the guilty and u never made a mistake ie NO ONE got hurt in Weather’s actions- except of course your 3 people who hurt themselves but that’s irrelevant.

    for the youth like me back then Weather etc lifted morale like crazy and we did our own stuff.

    ALSO ya GOTTA SAY revolutionary bombings, arson etc were a dime a dozen back in the “60’s”- Weather only did a relative handful of stuff. stuff went on ALL the time.

    PLEASE WRITE. I’d like to help.

    stay strong.

    The Enigmatic Emmisary,


  3. D.C. Washington says:

    What would be most helpful is to tell us the actual quote and the context. In your blog, you use the phrase “no regrets.” But in the New York Times article, you are quoted as saying, “‘I don’t regret setting bombs.” But in typical journalistic fashion, we don’t know if this is an excerpt from your book Fugitive Days or if it was from Dinitia Smith’s interview with you. So please set the record straight: What was the actual quote and what was the context? Open-minded people deserve no less. Thank you.

  4. james gyre says:

    the vitriol some of the people are spraying at bill is very hypocritical.

    do any of you direct the same amount of hate and anger to our government, that has killed well over 1 MILLION PEOPLE in iraq in the last ten years?

    talk about innocent lives… think of the kids we’ve “liberated” from their limbs.

    all these people shouting about bill are, in my mind, MORE VIOLENT due to their complacency with the ongoing state-sponsored terrorism… don’t be fooled, people.

  5. james gyre says:

    also, well done, bill, leaving these people’s comments up and not censoring. they become a strong message AGAINST themselves by their displays of hate, faulty logic and as i said above, hypocrisy.

  6. CharlieMansion says:

    Let’s investigate a bit of hypocrisy – Bill has and continues to take an active stance against the “government”; yet, Bill is employed by the same government he detests. The UIC is a state university that receives funds from Illinois and the federal government. I don’t understand the hipocrisy. Whoops — maybe in the end, it is all about money – book revenue, the cush job of a tenured government employee, etc. Those Cuba jerseys don’t come cheap.

  7. Baxter says:

    I would be proud to call you a friend.

  8. Sean says:

    Ayers is a coward he doesn’t have the balls to go on Hannity

  9. Skeeter says:

    You people angry at this man for his “terrorist” deeds done in the past are RIDICULUS! Your arguments are that of a 15 year old. you’re just a bunch of pouty depressed souless fools following a flawed republican agenda.

    Why are we traitors for being anti-war? I’m broke goddamnit! I wasn’t in 2000.. then bush came along and well the country is in the shitter! This war has destroyed our economy.. For fuck’s sake we took over an oil producing country and gas prices have increased steadily ever since.

    How bout we apply the monroe doctrine to ourselves! Instead of spending all this money in the middle east, lets spend it here and make life better for everyone.

  10. scott wallace says:

    I remember the terror and confusion I felt in High School being at the mercy of Ayers “people”. Ayers ilk were and are the bullies of the left. They are the the perfect opposite of the jocks, student council, and cheerleaders. These were and are the kids that were protected by marxist teachers just the way the cheerleaders were protected by the gym teacher and PTA. And they were always the product of priviliged homes the way that the frat biys were. Ayers people were just mentally quicker but physically slower. Using Ayers logic- hopefully someone will explain this to his grandchildren.


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