Clarifying the Facts— a letter to the New York Times, 9-15-2001

September 15, 2001

To The Editors—

In July of this year Dinitia Smith asked my publisher if she might interview me for the New York Times on my forthcoming book, Fugitive Days. From the start she questioned me sharply about bombings, and each time I referred her to my memoir where I discussed the culture of violence we all live with in America, my growing anger in the 1960’s about the structures of racism and the escalating war, and the complex, sometimes extreme and despairing choices I made in those terrible times.

Smith’s angle is captured in the Times headline: “No regrets for a love of explosives” (September 11, 2001). She and I spoke a lot about regrets, about loss, about attempts to account for one’s life. I never said I had any love for explosives, and anyone who knows me found that headline sensationalistic nonsense. I said I had a thousand regrets, but no regrets for opposing the war with every ounce of my strength. I told her that in light of the indiscriminate murder of millions of Vietnamese, we showed remarkable restraint, and that while we tried to sound a piercing alarm in those years, in fact we didn’t do enough to stop the war.

Smith writes of me: “Even today, he ‘finds a certain eloquence to bombs, a poetry and a pattern from a safe distance,’ he writes.” This fragment seems to support her “love affair with bombs” thesis, but it is the opposite of what I wrote:

We’ll bomb them into the Stone Age, an unhinged American politician had intoned, echoing a gung-ho, shoot-from-the-hip general… each describing an American policy rarely spoken so plainly. Boom. Boom. Boom. Poor Viet Nam. Almost four times the destructive power Florida… How could we understand it? How could we take it in? Most important, what should we do about it? Bombs away. There is a certain eloquence to bombs, a poetry and a pattern from a safe distance. The rhythm of B-52s dropping bombs over Viet Nam, a deceptive calm at 40,000 feet as the doors ease open and millennial eggs are delivered on the green canopy below, the relentless thud of indiscriminate destruction and death without pause on the ground. Nothing subtle or syncopated. Not a happy rhythm. Three million Vietnamese lives were extinguished. Dig up Florida and throw it into the ocean. Annihilate Chicago or London or Bonn. Three million—each with a mother and a father, a distinct name, a mind and a body and a spirit, someone who knew him well or cared for her or counted on her for something or was annoyed or burdened or irritated by him; each knew something of joy or sadness or beauty or pain. Each was ripped out of this world, a little red dampness staining the earth, drying up, fading, and gone. Bodies torn apart, blown away, smudged out, lost forever.

I wrote about Vietnamese lives as a personal American responsibility, then, and the hypocrisy of claiming an American innocence as we constructed and stoked an intricate and hideous chamber of death in Asia. Clearly I wrote and spoke about the export of violence and the government’s love affair with bombs. Just as clearly Dinitia Smith was interested in her journalistic angle and not the truth. This is not a question of being misunderstood or “taken out of context,” but of deliberate distortion.

Some readers apparently responded to her piece, published on the same day as the vicious terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, by associating my book with them. This is absurd. My memoir is from start to finish a condemnation of terrorism, of the indiscriminate murder of human beings, whether driven by fanaticism or official policy. It begins literally in the shadow of Hiroshima and comes of age in the killing fields of Southeast Asia. My book criticizes the American obsession with a clean and distanced violence, and the culture of thoughtlessness and carelessness that results from it. We are now witnessing crimes against humanity in our own land on an unthinkable scale, and I fear that we might soon see innocent people in other parts of the world as well as in the U.S. dying and suffering in response.

All that we witnessed September 11—the awful carnage and pain, the heroism of ordinary people—may drive us mad with grief and anger, or it may open us to hope in new ways. Perhaps precisely because we have suffered we can embrace the suffering of others and gather the necessary wisdom to resist the impulse to lash out randomly. The lessons of the anti-war movements of the 1960s and 70s may be more urgent now than ever.

Bill Ayers Chicago, IL

63 Responses to Clarifying the Facts— a letter to the New York Times, 9-15-2001

  1. Greg says:

    Jon Janski and SteveIL.

    Man, I gotta say it…you show such intelligence.
    Vulgar, crude, vile personal attacks.
    Total Lack of reason, or evidence in support of your claims.

    When faced with facts and reason, you retort. “STFU”

    Ah, such reason, such restraint, such elegance.

    Where can I learn such eloquence?


    Anyone who would heed such vapid, disgusting posts certainly doesn’t come with much in the way of intelligence, thought, reason or insight.


  2. Justin Smiley says:

    I didn’t realize how many ignorant people there were in the world until I retired from the US Army, yes I am a Vietnam Veteran, and started teaching high school. The Education Establishment lives in a different world of theories about how life should be. Mr Ayers is nothing but a physical and moral coward that is sucking his living off of a bunch of elite ninnyhammers that think they know better than anyone else about how to shape society. After all, they have written one thesis after another on the subject and if we little people would just listen everything would be hunky dory. The truth is they are a bunch of leftist facists that would open re-education for the unwashed masses in order to bring them into their ideal of utopia. Mr. Ayers never faced another human in combat, he did his dirty deeds at night and ran off so as not to get caught. Takes real courage to do that. I hope he rots in hell for his crimes against humanity with his facist leftist crap he peddles for a living.

  3. Jim Pharo says:


    Your passion is certainly admirable, but you have been poorly served by both your educationand your news media. Much of your world view rests on falsehoods that are easily debunked with a little reading.

    I am always interested in hearing the veiws of those on the right. I hope you’ll keep listening to those of us on the left, and maybe do some light reading on your own country’s history. Any fair reading of American foreign policy over the last 60 has got to give one considerable pause.

    And yes, it’s possible for me without any trouble to hate the action the American government has taken in our name, and to love the country that bore me. One of the things that makes that possible is my faith that most Americans share most values. The difference is a large portion of Americans have been deceived into a worldview in which America does no wrong, which simply isn’t accurate.

  4. vaporland says:

    I am much more afraid of the right wing vitriol spewed by some posters here than any communist ‘straw men’.

    I guess JJ, etc, would be perfectly OK with bombing abortion clinics and the Olympic Games, since these were initiated by ultra-right extremists.

    I guess you red-state rednecks would agree that “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” – that is, as long as it is YOUR version of liberty and justice.

  5. SteveIL says:

    “How about an executive which refuses to obey the laws made by congress?”

    Which ones?

    “How about a President who lies to the people of America to take them into a war of choice?”

    Still peddling that pathetic lie?

  6. SteveIL says:

    “How about the abandonment of the people of New Orleans when disaster struck? How about the fact that now, almost THREE YEARS later, people are still living in FEMA trailers because the government and people of america care so damn little about poor black people that they won’t do anything to help them rebuild?”

    You know what, that’s another bald-faced lie from the liberals. Liberal Democrats have run New Orleans and Louisiana into the ground as it was up to them to protect themselves. Yet, it is liberals who keep blacks poor in order blame others, using this blame to keep getting re-elected. Answer me why the liberals haven’t recovered their own city yet? Of course, the answer is that liberals want more government to keep these people poor and dependent, It is so obvious. Yeah, it is heartbreaking that the liberal New Orleans politicians choose to screw their own people to maintain power.

    “Oh yeah, and I’m sure there are some college professors who get some of their income from my taxes whose opinions I disagree with, too.”

    Any of them terrorists? Doubtful.

    And now I will use take from the Al Gore school of debate to comment on liberal policies. There is no more debate on this, liberal policies are abject failures and giving the various levels of government more power over the citizens, in opposition to what the U.S. Constitution stands for. Liberal policies on hate speech are destroying the 1st Amendment, giving the vast majority of people less rights to say what they want. Liberal policies are destroying the 2nd Amendment by lying to the people that the government will defend them (every American city run by liberals has massive gang problems; liberals “solve” the problem by taking away the peoples’ abilities to defend themselves, and coddling the gangs). Liberal policies are destroying the 4th Amendment (and I don’t mean the terrorist surveillance program, which is entirely constitutional). Liberal policies are destroying the 5th Amendment; see the Kelo decision.

    And finally, liberal policies are making a mockery of Article I. It’s bad enough members of Congress are able to steer contracts to family and friends in regards to appropriations for defense and federal law enforcement (those items that are priority one of any government). Now, the government is competing with the private sector for health care and education, and the same appropriations problems are expanded. The government is competing with charities in helping out the poor, with the charities losing. And now, the federal government is getting too far into the energy industry, again to steer contracts to buddies like Al Gore.

    Face it, what you would call liberal policies is a complete failure, and isn’t really liberal at all since all of these policies are old and past their prime. Ayers wanted to violently foist these Marxist (let’s call them what they really are) policies down the throats of America, killing anyone who stood in his way. He may now be a “teacher”, but what lessons should we learn? That he is false, what he believes is false, and that the idea of progressive policy and liberalism is nothing more than Marxism with pleasant face. Forget it. I’m not falling for it. And anybody who believes a terrorist like Ayers is a loser.

  7. This is beyond ridiculous. To begin with, Ayers is being quoted out of context to fit whatever argument a right-wing pundit is trying to make. It happened nearly seven years ago and it’s happening now. People who are basically devolving to the level of name-calling conveniently forget that, after three members of the WUO were killed when a bomb short-circuited during assembly, the WUO adopted a “no casualties” policy when planting an explosive device. One cannot say the same for the authorities on the local, state and federal level. Those men were all too happy to kill anyone and destroy anything that got between them and their goals. As for the “We didn’t do enough” comment, so what? It’s obvious that ALL of the anti-Vietnam War organizations didn’t do enough to end the war, with the exception of curbing the covert (and illegal) invasions of Cambodia and Laos. In case you forget, the war ground on until 1975, well after the WUO had begun to draw to a close. Finally, Ayers’ “Marxism/Socialism”: SOMETHING had to be done differently, as the status quo was producing millions of dead Vietnamese and tens of thousands of dead Americans (take note of the huge disparity in numbers there). The politics of the New Left as it existed in the 1960s and early ’70s were a natural progression from the left as it existed from the 1930s until the early ’50s. FYI, pure “Marxism” or “Communism” has never really been tried as a system of government. Power-hungry members of revolutionary parties in the past have always seized on the stage of the dictatorship of the revolutionary council (my own phrase) and failed to hand over power to the proletariat. However, a characteristic of the major New Left organizations was a lack of desire to hold power. No-one, from the SDS to the Black Panthers to the AIM wanted to establish a political dictatorship of any kind. This applies most of all to the WUO. These groups, judged on their words and actions, genuinely wished to establish a better society that would benefit all within it, not just those who could afford better treatment due to the color of their skin or the size of their trust fund. So think about it, do some research, and then come back and make your anti-liberal argument from a base of reasoned opinion rather than what you’ve heard on Fox News Network.

  8. Ex-Leftist That Grew Up says:

    My God, Ayers, you are STILL being duped by the one-sided so-called moral outrage of the left? Didn’t it ever strike you how they condemn American, and ONLY American crimes both real and imagined? People like you who go along with that obvious con are called “useful idiots.” Likewise, where is their outrage about the crimes of the Marxists? Likewise, where is the outrage from the so-called “antiracists” about the massive number of racially-motivated prison rapes against whites, the anti-white slurs common in rap music or the disproportionate amount of black-on-white violence in DOJ crime statistics? When did the “antiracist” lobby ever converge when a white person is a victim of racial attacks and/or discrimination? Where were they to defend the Duke 5 against false charges and railroading by the DA? NOWHERE… So much for “antiracism.” But of course, those of you on the left are so brainwashed by decades of white-guilt propaganda that these either never struck you or you excuse them away with white-guilt group condemnations while berating us all to judge others as individuals. The glaring moral inconsistencies prove that this leftist “outrage” has nothing to do with true morality or any sense of justice. Its all a lie. This is all nothing short of anti-American subversion cooked up by the left which originated with the Marxist thinkers that produced Critical Theory. Are you foolish as to follow the worldview that inspired the Soviet Union?! Leftist brainwashing obviously forms the worldview from which your perceptions of things around you are formed, and therein is the flaw. I discovered and discarded that mistake in my early 30s, and you seem to be still immersed in it. Its like a cult, and its god is Political Correctness. You’ve apparently been acting like a brainwashed automaton since before I was in utero. If you really think that white Americans are a problem, then do us all a favor and be the first to pitch yourself off a cliff. Im sure your choice of the WordPress theme “Contempt” is no accident. Must suck being you.

  9. nicholsg99 says:

    Lol, there are simply people in the world who will always believe that, no matter what any government does, it is simply unthinkable to stand up that government. Bill Ayres, the Weather Underground, guys who burned their draft cards, etc., along with college students who protested, all variously broke the law, engaged in civil disobedience in that time. Anyone who was not there will not be able to understand the extent to which the country was torn apart by that illegal war and the 50,000 American lives it tore apart.

    Educated young folk read enough and knew enough to know the war was immoral and based on shaky justifications. Robert McNamara talks about this in his Fog of War. If you go back and read The Ugly American, you can see that, well before the war began to escalate, plenty of people would understand how we managed to get into it. Ayres and others were part of a generalized need to protest and stand up to the illegal and immoral actions of the government, particularly given that those same young people were being drafted and sent to kill the people of Vietnam.

    The bigger point is, condemning Bill Ayres for his actions of 40 years ago is a tip-off to what kind of people are posting those comments. It wouldn’t matter what Ayres had done, nor under what circumstances – the message from the anti-Ayres’ folks is, “the government is always right, and ordinary citizens are never allowed to challenge the government’s actions, nor to call attention to any mistakes, nor blunders, nor any mishandling of any situation. The government is perfect and must never be questioned. A person who questions past or current actions is anti-American, and probably a Communist.” It is pointless to argue with this mentality.

  10. Robert Tobey says:

    I do believe you’re getting railroaded and libeled by the media–to a quite outrageous degree–and I think Dinitia Smith’s piece from the 9/11 NYT is a slam-job–it oozes contempt, insinuation, mockery. But the quote she begins with, “I don’t regret setting bombs…” –I’m willing to put those five words into a variety of ameliorating contexts, but it’s still not clear to me whether or not you actually said that. So, while I believe she shuffled around other quotes to make you seem still violence prone, you haven’t outright disclaimed that one. Can you illuminate?

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