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.

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123 Responses to Episodic Notoriety–Fact and Fantasy

  1. Mark D says:

    I read your blog from March, where you offered a decent apology. I withdraw my comment above. I personally think your penance should be to have to spend the rest of your life studying the minutia about when violence is justified. Why were your actions wrong? could they have been right? When is violence right? Those are tough questions. Offering people something constructive in exchange for violence seems like good pennance– for an intellectual that would mean answers to very hard questions.

  2. Michael Hureaux says:

    You pricks accusing Ayers of being Pol Pot and shit have no sense of proportion, and certainly no sense of history. What the hell is wrong with some of you geniuses?

  3. Matt says:

    I would like clarification on a few points Mr. Ayers. Professor you stated,” In the end the U.S. military was defeated, and the war ended.” This was in reference to Viet Nam. Would you please explain to me how a military would define defeat? The U.S. military never suffered a “defeat” in Viet Nam. Now before the rhetoric starts, lets look at the reason in going to S.E. Asia. And no that is not a missed key stroke, S.E. Asia is where the conflict insued. The U.S. Military, following the orders of YOUR elected officials, deployeed forces to Viet Nam. The overall mission was to stop the spread of communism in S.E. Asia. I ask how many countries in S.E. Asia fell to communism while there were U.S. forces deployeed on the ground? The fall of Saigon in ’75 was not a defeat of U.S. Forces. There was a contingent of Marines defending the embassy, and a small number of “advisors” with the operational forces of South Viet Nam. Considering that a defeat would be similar to your favorite football team losing a game when only the punter showed up for the game. Calling the fall of Saigon a defeat in military terms is a reach.
    I completely agree wtih your definition of terrorism. Please, for those of us who are unable to understand, explain how you have not committed acts of terrorism, and therefore are not a terrorist. The U.S. involvement in any conflict can be descibed as terrorism. Any conflict, starting with the Revolution. Although, here is the caveat, we are not looking to force, that means by scaring, strong arming, threatening, and ruling with out elections the populace of that foreign state,to agree with the US government. I am certain that we the people, have the greatest country in the world. There is undoubtedly room for improvement. I don’t believe that your beliefs and convictions are that of the people. Your convictions are to be applauded. Your convictions run parallel with those of us who have defended this country with military service. WE, you and I, have both believed in, and loved something enough to KILL for it. I, and those that have gone before me, have given you the freedom to defame and disgrace our flag and our freedom. With heavy hearts, sleepless nights, and the memories of brothers that never returned to the land that they killed for, YOU ARE WELCOME!
    Semper Fidelis NON SIBI SED PATRAIE

  4. Byron Jack says:

    America kills thousands of innocent Iraqiis and calls it installing Democracy.

    When you never question the actions of the state you are complicit.

  5. julia says:

    Speaking as an anti-war liberal, this is pathetically weak. Your ideology didn’t put the blood on your hands, your tactics did. You made the decision that you could take life if you framed it as an anti-war statement, and people did in fact die.

    I’m not questioning people who fought the war by peaceful means or what they did. I’m questioning you and what you did.

    By all accounts you’ve done a lot of good things since, but it’s far from a sophistry to say you’re defending your violent acts, and you really need to stop it.

  6. d brier says:

    Can’t believe this site’s gibberish. billy is an avowed anti-American phoney. So can’t this nonsensical site see this faux “Che” wanna be. He’s a rich father’s (Tom Ayers’) wayward son, whom Tom hid and then saw fit to equip with rigged scholastic credentials. Hyde Park knew billy wasn’t qualified for a janitor’s job. Tom Ayers, reared in Chicago politics, covered for his screwball son, billy’s psychotic wife, and billy’s wayward brothers. But billy continues to crow about wanting to murder/ maim folks like me, my wife, kids and grandkids. You know, I’d like to meet with billy boy and his lovely wife and his crazy brothers much like obama would. Maybe we could figure out what billy’s and his lovely wife’s problem is with me and my family and maybe i could solve billy’s and his wife’s problem. Maybe they would finally see or maybe not. For sure, though, vermin stink, don’t they, like hell in their own time. We’ll get it all settled, for sure.

  7. d brier says:

    billy ayers and his seriously disturbed wife are now targeted marxists, and they damn well know they’re now fair/ in-season game — though, crazily, vicariously, they seem to enjoy it. billy’s screwball father, Tom and his silly wife, sequestered and abetted them and thus deserve the American public’s most malevolent chagrin. Tom, may you, you complete asshole, and your goofy wife, and your felonius children, and all their homicidal friends — may you rot and then die slowly, ignominiously. billy’s got the IQ of a ferrott .

  8. Robbins Mitchell says:

    Billy,I just wanted you to know that I’m still dragging your whore’s filthy lower class pussy through the mud like a piece of garbage and telling people what a bloodthirsty little punk she’s been spreading her criminal legs for all these years…..how long do you think it’s going to be before your family finds out that you don’t have the balls to do anything about it?…..I’m a patient man,Billy….I’ve got lots of time to flush you and your whore down history’s political toilet…..how much time do you have?….how long do you think you would live if your little ‘revolution’ actually did break out?….got any idea how many people have put you and your whore on their hit list?

  9. Jess says:

    Just a note to all of the right wing idiots posting here: Terrorism is attacking innocent PEOPLE. What Bill Ayers did was attacking BUILDINGS and STATUES. He never targeted people, and he never killed or injured nayone. What Bill Ayers did was at worst vandlaism. Property is not the same as people. Property does not have any rights, like people do, despite what your idiotic right wing ideology teaches.

  10. Mug says:

    It amazes me how many people who uphold freedom have no real concept of what freedom is. I read some of the repsonses here and some of them sickened me. One man talked at length about how capitalism is what free people do. Promoting democracy at the point of a gun is just thinly veiled tyranny and that’s exactly what was done in Vietanam. For those of you who call yourselves patriotic and bash Dr. Ayers, you need to actually read the constitution. The right to bear arms was put in the constitution to protect Americans from their own government, not so that Sarah Palin can shoot wolves from a helicopter. Should the leaders of the government place their own political agenda ahead of the will of the people, it was provided in the constitution that the citizens should rise up and through force of arms, overthrow the corrupt government and re-establish democracy. The idea of the right bear arms was that the people should have the same weapons as the military. Our forefathers never comprehended that the military would one day have weapons that could not be safely placed in the hands of ordinary people and that ordinary people would not be able to stand up against them. During the Vietnam Era, the vast majority of American people were against the war. The government wasn’t listening to them and thus had become corrupt and fascist, at least in foreign policy. What Bill Ayers did is what any true American patriot would have done. If our forefathers were alive, they would have joined him in his cause. Free thinking people will not blindly follow government like lemmings. Those who do are not true Americans.

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