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

April 21, 2008

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

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A Classroom Dialogue

November 24, 2007

It was— as it always is with Matthew Cone’s classes— an invigorating treat to be invited into your ongoing consideration of and engagement with the world. Thank you all. Keep this experience in mind— this immersion in provocative texts, this dialogue around issues that matter to you and to the future of humanity, this struggling with problems and questions  that are in some ways ineffable and that always defy glib and sunny solutions— as you go forward in your formal and informal learning. A long and continuous “I don’t know” is the great engine of forward motion—the already known or established or agreed upon is pretty tame stuff by comparison. Even a brief glance at history will tell you that most of what is taught in school is simply the opinions and prejudices of the time and place you happen to be living puffed up and presented as truth. But nothing is fixed, my friends,everything moves, and to be fully a part of it, you must be in motion yourselves. To be a passionate learner is to be willing to plunge into the unknown, to dive into the wreckage, to thrash around in the stormy seas of uncertainty rather than to sit calmly on the beach basking in what you believe (falsely most of the time) to be intractable and unyielding answers. You modeled that for me last week.

Many loose ends:

Yes, I think there ought to be a draft into public service, no exceptions—maybe every 10 years from the age of 18 onward we should each give a year to what we determine in a democratic process to be the common good.  In a democracy we should take on certain tasks as a whole people, a collective citizenry, a public: Education, Public Safety, Access to clean air, water, and food, Transportation, Health care, Defense, and more. We should struggle then over access and equity and the meaning and direction of our common pursuits, and the struggles could be intense, but we do have a common interest in an educated citizenry, for example, a healthy public and so on. And in regard to the military adventures the US so routinely initiates, I can imagine a much more robust debate if  each of us had to take personal responsibility for those decisions. What we have now is a mercenary military, much like the French Foreign Legion made up of paid foreign nationals, and an economic draft—unfair, anti-democratic, easily manipulable— that discriminates against poor and working people. With the recent creation of 19th Century labor conditions in most of the world in the service of 21st Century consumption habits in the over-developed countries, poor kids have no real choices: many of my students, like the Jessica Lynch’s and Lindy England’s, are kids who aspire to teach or do some other good work and can find no path out of poverty or into higher ed except through the fire and the minefields of unwanted war. We should all be ashamed of that.

I think pacifism is a noble choice and there’s a range of ways to claim that mantle. I favor the Dorothy Day way or the Dave Dellinger way: non-violent direct action on all fronts against all forms of violence, hidden or overt. It’s a hard life, but worthy of our awe and admiration. Most people who pay lip service to peace and love are demonstrable hypocrites—they offer huge exceptions to who should not be killed or coerced, or they ignore the monstrous violence roiling just beneath the surface of things— including leaders of major religious denominations, government officials, commentators and public intellectuals. It’s a stretch for most of us to claim any relationship to pacifism simply because we never killed anyone and we abhor fighting—good for us. But  we do live in a remarkably violent society— the largest arms maker and exporter, the hugest military machine ever established, war after war marking our national history, violent social relations from occupation to invasion to vast forced inequities in terms of access to wealth— and our unawareness of  the facts of our situations is largely due to the privilege of wilful blindness. So we return to the first requirement of choosing a moral life: we must open our eyes and look beneath the lights and noise and beyond the bread and circuses.

There is no easy way to solve the mess we created in Iraq, and I include in my indictment the mess we created decades ago, not merely the current catastrophe. Viet Nam is a different story altogether—VN was after all a popular peasant-led social revolution that reordered economic and social relations and was embraced by the Vietnamese people—even though there are many similarities in terms of the attitude and understanding of the invaders. We have a tendency in our culture to see everything here and now and instantly or easily grasped. It’s not how the world works. A good rule of thumb is to historicize everything, connect everything, keep asking how things link up and move from one to another. The US may well bomb Iran: What happened in 1953 that contributed to the situation today? Who was Mossadegh and who was the Shah? What was the hostage crisis? We could try to look more deeply/historically into the collapse of European imperialism, the rise of revolutionary nationalism, the murder and suppression of secular progressive by the West, the coming of religious fundamentalism as a reaction of despair and fatalism, and more. But what we must also do is to look at deep problems whose resolutions will go a long way toward justice and then peace: inequitable distribution of resources, widening gap between haves and have-nots, huge imbalances in power and self-determination, and more. And then we might be vigilant about opportunities to push our government to become a nation among nations, a leader in justice, peace, and balance, rather than the dictatorial uber-nation that rules an inevitably increasingly unstable world.

I do hope you all commit to doing good in the world, and I hope too that you see that good intentions are never enough. Oprah starts a school and is shocked when things go wrong—the local papers say that’s just the way things are in Africa with “those people.” Angelina adopts a bunch of kids and there are millions more to go. French humanitarian workers are arrested in Chad kidnapping 100 kids to be adopted “for their own good.” And so it goes. The problem isn’t that they need to do more, it’s that they need to do different.
They need to see things from a wider angle of regard. They and you need to work in solidarity with not in service to. You need to see that African poverty, for example, is neither natural nor inevitable, but the result of choices made, actions taken, systems and structures and laws and policies made by human beings, and subject then to your intelligent inquiry and understanding, and subject to debate and change. Don’t aspire to be Lady Bountiful; look instead to Ella Baker and Franz Fanon, Myles Horton and Jane Addams, Nelson Peery and Deborah Meier, Grace Lee Boggs and Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Each made a mark, and each lived out the ethical principle of the oneness of humanity. We don’t need now to calculate what is enough in terms of devotion and commitment; we only need to calculate what is a start. This is the urgency: Live!!! And have blooming in the noise of the whirlwind.

Best, Bill

To see: Central Station; The Battle of Algiers
To read on Africa: King Leopold’s Ghost; Reflections on Exile(Said); We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Children; The Wretched of the Earth; Things Fall Apart; How Europe Underdeveloped Africa…….


DEFEND WARD CHURCHILL

April 27, 2007

Dear Colleagues,

In Brecht’s play Galileo the great astronomer sets forth into a world dominated by a mighty church and an authoritarian power: “The cities are narrow and so are the brains,” he declares recklessly. “Superstition and plague. But now the word is: since it is so, it does not remain so. For everything moves my friend.” Intoxicated with his own radical discoveries, Galileo feels the earth shifting and finds himself propelled surprisingly toward revolution. ” It was always said that the stars were fastened to a crystal vault so they could not fall,” he says. “Now we have taken heart and let them float in the air, without support… they are embarked on a great voyage—like us who are also without support and embarked on a great voyage.” Here Galileo raises the stakes and risks taking on the establishment in the realm of its own authority, and it strikes back fiercely. Forced to renounce his life’s work under the exquisite pressure of the Inquisition he denounces what he knows to be true, and is welcomed back into the church and the ranks of the faithful, but exiled from humanity—by his own word. A former student confronts him in the street: “Many on all sides followed you with their ears and their eyes believing that you stood, not only for a particular view of the movement of the stars, but even more for the liberty of teaching— in all fields. Not then for any particular thoughts, but for the right to think at all. Which is in dispute.”

The right to think at all, which is in dispute—-this is what the Ward Churchill affair finally comes to: The right to a mind of one’s own, the right to pursue an argument into uncharted spaces, the right to challenge the church and its orthodoxy in the public square. The right to think at all.

It’s no surprise that this outrage against Professor Churchill occurs at this particular moment— a time of empire resurrected and unapologetic, militarism proudly expanding and triumphant, war without justice and without end, white supremacy retrenched, basic rights and protections shredded, growing disparities between the haves and the have-nots, fear and superstition and the mobilization of scapegoating social formations based on bigotry and violence or the threats of violence, and on and on. There’s more of course, and this isn’t the only story, but this is a recognizable part of where we’re living, and a familiar place to anyone with even a casual understanding of history. Here the competing impulses and ideals that have always animated our country’s story are on full display: rights and liberty and the pursuit of human freedom on one side, domination and war and repression on the other. The trauma of contradictions that is America.

Ward Churchill is under a sustained, orchestrated, and determined attack because of his political beliefs and statements and activities, and nothing more. No one doubts his productivity or his accomplishments. But the attack on Churchill is neither isolated nor innocent— the high school history teacher on the west side of Chicago gets the message, and so does the English literature teacher in Detroit and the math teacher in an Oakland middle school: be careful what you say; stay close to the official story; stick to the authorized text. If someone of Ward Churchill’s stature and standing for so many years at the University of Colorado can suffer this kind of campaign, what chance do I have?

Every committee, every investigation, every report plays out under a shadow of the star chamber; everyone must choose who to be and how to act in response. For this reason I support Ward Churchill unequivocally, unapologetically, whole-heartedly. I urge my colleagues and my students and everyone who values education as a grand enterprise geared toward enlightenment and liberation to speak out forcefully and fearlessly now on behalf of the liberty of teaching and learning, on behalf of the right to think at all.

Sincerely,
William Ayers
Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar
University of Illinois at Chicago
billayers.org


Letter to Marv

March 27, 2007

February 2, 2007

Dear Marv—

Thank you, thank you for encouraging people to read the books, certainly, and for inviting me to speak with your wonderful colleagues and the incredible Urban Teacher folks.  I left energized and excited—mostly to meet a group of young people who are so smart and engaged, reflective and curious, hard-working and energetic, ethically ambitious and committed.  What a wondrous teaching life you’re inhabiting.
But I also left gasping for breath—so many roads opened, so many issues raised, so much flying through the air, and nothing really brought to an end.  I felt inadequate to the task in a thousand ways.  So, for me and for you, for everyone I think, the conversation must simply continue.
Large contradictions productively punctuated much of the discussion, I thought, and several specific questions floated within them.  One, of course, was the tension for teachers of working in real classrooms in real schools and systems while fighting to hold on to and find ways to enact their best thinking about learning and teaching.  This is a contradiction I’ve never resolved in my own teaching, but one that I think must be acknowledged and addressed continually.   In other words, teachers who put the tension easily to rest by embracing one or the other branch, will find themselves less productive with students and ultimately dissatisfied with themselves.  The alternative is to choose this tension as a space within which to discuss and to struggle, a place to live, a contradiction to teach into.
I think all conscientious teacher need to ask themselves this: What do I need to know in order to be successful with this kid and with this one and with this one?  Surely knowledge of subject matter and the curriculum and the disciplines is an important part of the answer.  And, of course, knowledge about the school and its expectations.  But no less important is knowledge about the child, and more: knowledge about the contexts and circumstances of his or her life—family, community, culture, and on and on—knowledge of the society and the world we’re initiating youngsters into.  And don’t forget knowledge of yourself.  This is not only vast, but it’s also dynamic and swirling and expanding and changing.  So our work is cut out for us.
But to say either, “My job is to get kids ready for the real world, for society as it is,” or “My job is to water the little seedlings and watch them grow” is to misunderstand the contradiction and reduce the complexity.  The real world?  Which one?  When I was first teaching I had an argument with colleagues who thought that since the real world was vicious, tough, unfair, competitive, and mean, we should turn our Head Start center into a boot-camp for three-year-olds.
And on the other side, the watering-the-seeds side: I’ve known lots of teachers who wanted desperately to be kind and to be liked, and failed then to challenge kids to read.  “I love these kids so much,” one would say, “and their lives are so hard, I just want to nurture them.”  Failing to teach them to read is not exactly an act of love.
So the tension: I teach them to read as an act of love; I struggle to nourish and challenge in the same gesture; I respect the people who walk through the door, embrace them as fellow human beings, and I invite and push them toward deeper and wider ways of knowing.
And more: all children need to be given a sense of the unique capacity of human beings to shape and create reality in concert with conscious purposes and plans.  This means that our schools need to be transformed to provide children with ongoing opportunities to exercise their resourcefulness to solve the real problems of their communities.  Like all human beings, children and young people need to be of use.  They cannot just be treated as “objects” and taught “subjects.”  Their cognitive juices will begin to flow if and when their hearts, heads and hands are engaged in improving their daily lives and their surroundings.  Make some space for that.
Just imagine how much safer and livelier and more peaceful our neighborhoods would be almost overnight if we reorganized education.  If instead of trying to keep our children isolated in classrooms, we engaged them in community-building activities with the same audacity with which the civil rights movement engaged them in desegregation activities 40 years ago: planting community gardens, recycling waste, organizing neighborhood arts and health festivals, rehabbing houses, painting public murals.  By giving children and young people a better reason to learn than just the individualistic one of getting a job or making more money, by encouraging them to exercise their minds and their hearts and their soul power we would get their cognitive juices moving.  Learning would then come from practice.
Instead of trying to bully young people to remain in classrooms isolated from the community and structured only to prepare them for a distant and quickly disappearing and hostile job market, we need to recognize that the reason why so many young people drop out from inner city schools is because they are voting with their feet against an educational system which sorts, tracks, tests, and rejects or certifies them like products of a factory.  They are crying out for another kind of education that gives them opportunities to exercise their creative energies because it values them as human beings.
In fact, formal education as it is now structured bears a large part of the responsibility for our present crisis.  By its failure to provide young people with experiences in how to be responsible citizens, it has produced several generations of morally sterile technicians who have more know-how than know-why.
Look at Article 29 (1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: “State Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a)  The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
(b)  The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
(c)  The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country form which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different form his or her own;
(d)  The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and person of indigenous origins;
(e)  The development of respect for the natural environment.”
We might start in our classrooms by trying to live up to this simple, eloquent internationally recognized standard.
Of course we’re up against a series of obstacles, and we talked some about expectations and stereotypes concerning teachers, kids, whole communities.  The path ahead isn’t easy for anyone.  There’s no formula or easy way laid out to become a great teacher.  The one commitment we can each make—a kind of standard we can aspire to forever—is to work toward living our teaching lives in such a way that they don’t make a mockery of our teaching values.

Best,

Bill


A Visit to Champaign-Urbana

October 29, 2006

To Daniel and the Energetic, Wondrous, and Hopeful Early Childhood Education Students:

That was fast! Zoom! Zoom! I was back in Chicago at 4:30, but sorry to leave so abruptly. Next time I’ll stay.
I think I answered a few of your question—3? 4?—but didn’t get to most. So here goes:
1) On discipline and classroom management: Try hard to create a classroom culture that is purposeful, varied, engaging, fair. Try to have a range of relevant activities available. Try to have materials that people can use without much external direction and assistance. Every day ask: Is the classroom engaging? For everyone? Is the pace and sequence and rhythm of the day appropriate?
Get this right (and it’s never perfect, but rather always a work-in-progress) and lots of behavioral stuff will take care of itself. But ok, people mess up. When someone does, that’s not an occasion for anger or shock, but rather, it’s the occasion for a “teachable moment”—a time to talk about why we use words and not fists, or why that hurt her feelings, or why…
The repertoire in too many schools is narrow, and runs from humiliation to exclusion. Promise yourself that you’ll never humiliate a student, and that you seriously, truly do not want to exclude anyone. We strive for the dignity of each in an inclusive community. Try to live up to that promise.
2) Alternative assessment: All this means is that teachers make judgments and assessments all the time, and you should search for ways to understand your students that go deeper than a score on a test. You should build a system to collect, save, and display student work—massive amounts of it. You should interview each kid regularly—at least once a month and often informally—to get a feel for how each is experiencing class. You should help each articulate goals and agendas. And you should keep observational notes (observe kids at work at least 15 minutes morning, and 15 minutes afternoon) on the class, review them regularly, and see who you’re missing. You can ask focusing questions to help you observe: Why have I not seen Maria in my notes for several weeks? When is Hector more engaged?
3) Starting with strengths: This is the challenge—to see human capacity in an environment that surfaces weaknesses. In a prison, toughness is visible; in too many classrooms there bad behavior is visible. Build a space with multiple entry-points and several pathways to success. I know an extraordinary prison (it’s true!) where writers’ workshops reveal the poet inside the thugish exterior, the gardener inside the felon. If they can do it, you—with a class of six-year-olds—can do it too.
4) Avoid burnout: Create provisions for Teacher Talk, a professional conversation where you can get support and ideas (see To Teach). Do things at your own adult level that you advocate and want your kids to do: read good books, eat well, sleep at night, be an involved citizen in some civic organization, make art, exercise. Being able to notice that the world is crazy doesn’t make you sane; resisting the madness actively, opposing things that offend your humanity is the path to balance.
5) Favorite teachers: I’ve loved so many—Miss Erickson in kindergarten because she was “nice” and she told marvelous stories and she loved me; Mr. Ainsworth, my gay high school math teacher, because he had two little dogs named “Trig” and “Geo” who came to class with him, and because he liked us; Professor Mayer because he challenged me to think deeply about the world and he liked us; Maxine Greene because she blew my mind, and she liked us.
Here’s the pattern: memorable teachers come to teach, and they embrace their students’ humanity—they like us.
6) I included “Everything I Needed to Know…” because it was just new when I published my first book—it wasn’t yet a cliché—and because it contains an essential truth: the deep and mysterious lessons are available to human beings from the start. Everything else is just elaboration.
7) As you teach, you learn. I’ve learned so much, mostly specific and local—Darryl loves to sing left to himself, Hannah gets disruptive when she’s hungry, Angel can work hard early but tires easily. Sometimes I’ve learned about myself—I need to read more in this or that area; I need to be more directive and less laid-back; I have trouble being patient with whiny people. Sometimes I’ve learned from students about huge (but invisible to me) parts of the world—illegal immigrants, alcoholism and anorexia, homelessness, gambling, workers at the race track. One thing I know: follow any human being two steps into her or his lived life and world, and all the received wisdom, easy assumptions, clichés, and stereotypes fall away. Each of us is an entire universe, the one and only who will ever trod this earth, a work-in-progress and an unruly spark of meaning-making energy on a voyage toward infinity. How great is that?
8) There’s more, of course. See http://www.billayers.org if you like. Peace!


In Defense of Poetry….A Letter to the NYT, October, 2002

October 2, 2006

To The Editors:

The logic and structure of good journalism are poorly fitted for poetry. Spreading myths and printing falsehoods may violate the standards of a decent newspaper but they are the very stuff of poetry, and that’s why no one with an ounce of sense goes to Homer or Neruda or Schymborska or Bob Dylan for the facts. When you instruct your readers that the “proper response” to reading Amiri Baraka is “discussion and condemnation” you both confuse the register of poetry, and you beg the question. The great Chicago poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, once asked, “Does man love Art?” Her response: “Man visits art but squirms. Art hurts. Art urges voyages.”

William Ayers

October 2, 2002


A Letter to the Times Found Five Years Later…

September 26, 2006

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 he 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 form 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