You Don’t Need a Weatherman

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: 1960s, Weather Undergrounde



Jon Wiener is a regular contributor to LARB, The Nation, and other periodicals. His most recent book is How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America. 

IT’S NOT HARD to understand what Bill Ayers and his friends in the Weather Underground were thinking in the early 1970s, when they made plans to bomb the Capitol and other sites. The Vietnam War was raging, Nixon was president, the antiwar movement seemed stuck. The people in power were causing immense destruction, but the system seemed impervious to challenge.

The government was supposed to be democratic, but the American people were so distracted by the media, or blinded by ideology, or bought off by consumerism that they would never wake up; except, that is, for Bill Ayers and his friends. They saw what was going on. They knew that the hour was getting late, that too many people had died, and that it was time to get serious — no more fun and games. Although they were few, they felt they were not powerless. Because they were white and privileged, they could strike back from within the heart of the empire. And by the strategic use of targeted violence, they could make sure their actions were not ignored. Their violence, they hoped, would create images that would be irresistible to the media, and they would thereby turn the ideological weapons of the powerful against them. They would reveal the system’s vulnerability. They would bring a bit of fear to the hearts of the rulers, show them that they would pay a price for their crimes....

I was in SDS the same time Ayers was, and argued with friends about what I later called “the Weatherman temptation." At the time I thought they were helping to wreck SDS, and that we should keep trying to win people to the antiwar cause, instead of dismissing them as hopeless. I still think so....




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