11/18/08: Fresh Air's Terry Gross interviews anti-war activist, Bill Ayers, whose name came up frequently during the 2008 campaign of Barack Obama. Ayers, a member of the Weather Underground during the early 1970's who was accused of setting bombs in the Pentagon and elsewhere, is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an acquaintance of Barack Obama in Chicago. They served together on at least one education board. That acquaintance was the subject of a good deal of criticism from Senator Obama's political opponents.
Soundclip: Vice-presidential candidate, Governor Sarah Palin, is heard during a campaign speech: ""Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country..."
Terry Gross: The person Sarah Palin described as a terrorist during the campaign is my guest, Bill Ayers. He was a focal point of the McCain-Palin campaign's attacks against Barack Obama. Ayers didn't speak to the press during the campaign. But now that it's over, we asked him to tell us about his experiences during the campaign, his relationship with Obama, and to explain his radical past. What motivated his actions? Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground which broke away from SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] in the early '70's to take more military action against the war in Vietnam -- including setting off a bomb in the Pentagon. Federal charges against Ayers were dismissed because of government misconduct. Now Ayers is a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of several books about education. In 1997, he won Chicago's Citizen of the Year award for his work in education reform. Bill Ayers lives in the same neighborhood in Chicago as Barack Obama. They've served on boards together of two Chicago philanthropic groups and an education reform organization. When Obama first ran for state senate, Ayers and his wife held an event for him at their home. Ayers' 2001 book, "Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Anti-war Activist," has just been republished with a new afterword.
Soundclip: Presidential candidate John McCain is heard during a debate with Senator Obama: "As for Mr. Ayers, I don't care about an old washed-up terrorist. But as Senator Clinton said in her debate with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship."
TG: Well, Bill Ayers -- welcome to Fresh Air! I have to say that what John McCain said was a triple whammy for you! Not only were you a terrorist, but you were old and washed-up!" Before we get to the terrorism part, how did it feel to be called "old and washed-up"?
Bill Ayers: I don't think I heard that when it happened. I was unwittingly and unwillingly thrust into this campaign but I missed a lot of it.
TG: You didn't try to help -- in the sense that you intentionally remained silent until the campaign was over. There were a lot of requests for you to talk to the press and you declined. Why did you take that position -- that you wouldn't talk until it was over?
BA: Well, I didn't exactly remain silent. The narrative now is "he's breaking his silence! he's up from the underground!" That's not exactly right. I taught. I lectured at universities. I spoke to my students. I spoke in certain public forums. But what I didn't do was respond to microphones being thrust in my face and being asked, "What is your relationship with Obama? Are you an unrepentant terrorist?" And I felt like, Gee, how does one enter into that discussion when the premises are so profoundly dishonest that I didn't know where to get a purchase on the question! Just jumping into the conversation is like jumping into a dishonesty I didn't want to promote. So I decided that when they thrust microphones at me, I would turn away. And I did.
TG: Let's talk about some of the things that were brought up during the campaign and how you would respond to them now and see if you can put them into context for us. Hillary Clinton had said, and John McCain said, that we need to know the full extent of the relationship you had with Barack Obama. What would you say about that now?
BA: I'd say that the full extent of the relationship I had with Barack Obama is quite apparent right on the surface. The full extent is that I knew him as well as thousands or tens of thousands of other people. We served on a board together. He took the vice-chairmanship of the board of an initiative that I founded. That board was filled with Republicans. It wasn't shadowy. It wasn't shaky. But again -- to go back to the premise, you have this idea that somehow if two people are in a room together or share a conversation or a cup of coffee -- or a bus ride downtown or a thousand other associations -- that somehow implicates those people in sharing policy perspective, outlook, and so on. And it's that that I wanted to reject. To me, in a wild and diverse democracy like this, each of us should be trying to talk to lots and lots of people outside of our own comfort zone or community. And that injunction goes even further for political leaders. They should talk to everyone. They should listen to everyone. And at the end of the day they should have a mind of their own which Obama clearly does.
TG: Before we get to more of the charges that were made against you during the presidential campaign, I'm interested in what it was like to be you during the presidential campaign. When Sarah Palin started talking about how Obama was "pal-ing around with terrorists," meaning you, did you start getting a lot of death threats?
BA: Yes. But when the charge was made, attempts to demonize me were made, it was very clear to me that was a cartoon character or a caricature that was thrust up on the stage. Even though it looked alarmingly like me and had my name, it wasn't me. So I ignored it. When the threats escalated -- and they escalated terribly after Governor Palin had the pep rally where they chanted "kill him" -- it felt to me a little bit like the moment in George Orwell's "1984" of the two-minutes hate where the party faithful would gather and the enemy would be cast on the screen and people would begin to work themselves into a frenzy of anger and hatred and begin chanting "kill him!" I think I did feel a little like Goldstein thrust into that role. And yet I felt that most of the hate that was coming in was nutty and from people who were just hyperventilating on their computers!
TG: Has it ever been awkward or odd -- for you or for the police -- to be working together to protect you. In the sense that, in the '60's and early '70's you were kind of at war with the police!
BA: Awkward? I would say no. I suppose there is some weirdness. I'm very close to the people at the university and very close to people in my neighborhood. I know them all. Over the years we've had the occasion to laugh about some of the inflated rhetoric of the '60's. I had an incident last week -- a couple of incidents that were interesting. One was that I was standing in my front window talking on the phone and a police officer drove by. He slowed down and waved. I waved because I know him. He went down to the corner and turned around, came back, opened his passenger window, and held up a copy of my book, "Fugitive Days" and put his thumb up! And I thought, Where am I living! This was too good! But then also part of the dishonest narrative that's gone on -- and we'll probably get into this in a little bit -- has been the idea, promoted by some people on Fox News and others, that we were involved in lots of killings. Which is absolutely not true. One of my friends in the Chicago Police Department -- I was having coffee at a coffee shop and he stopped by. We were chatting. He said, "So tell me, Bill, did you guys kill cops in the '60's?" And I said, "Absolutely not!" He said, "Oh, I didn't think so, but it's a discussion going on at the precinct." I said, "Well, tell people to come on in here and we'll talk about it." Where did he get that? Well, he got it from a big lie being spun on some blogs and some right wing talk radio and TV. He got it because, in the course of reporting about this campaign against me -- this demonization -- the New York Times ran an article about me that tried to discredit any of the charges. But it did say that in 1970 there was a killing of a police officer in San Francisco credited to the Weather Underground. That's not true. That never happened. And yet, there it is...
TG: What never happened? The attack never happened? The death never happened? The Weather Underground ...
BA: ... The Weather Underground never killed a police officer, never tried to, never did.
TG: Was a police officer killed in that attack?
BA: There was a police officer killed in 1970 in San Francisco. It's an unsolved crime. No one's ever -- to my knowledge -- credited the Weather Underground. And yet that was the quote used by the New York Times.
TG: I'm sure this is the last thing you feel like hearing now, but I want to play an excerpt of a McCain ad that was run, using you as the centerpiece.
"Obama just responded, 'He's a guy who lives in my neighborhood.' That's it? You know Bill Ayers ran the violent leftwing activist group called 'Weather Underground'. We know Bill Ayers' wife was on the FBI's '10 Most Wanted' list. We know they bombed the Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home. We know Ayers has said, 'We don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough.'"
TG: Did you hear that ad as it was running?
BA: I did.
TG: And your reaction to it was...?
BA: Well, the ad is -- again -- profoundly dishonest in two directions. One is that it's not true the Weather Underground did the things they said we did. It is true that we were a militant organization that came out of Students for a Democratic Society. It is true that we made certain choices which I think we should talk about -- which is why those choices were made. The dishonesty goes, as I said, in two directions. It expands and inflates the idea that the Weather Underground was this terrorist organization. Which we were not. We were never a terrorist organization. And it tries to make some shadowy link between Weather Underground and Barack Obama. And there is no link. So it's hard to get into answering it because the dishonesty is so profound that it's hard to get a purchase on it.
TG: That ad refers to a quote in the New York Times that was published in a feature story about you on September 11, 2001 , the day of the terrorist attacks. The interview was given before anyone had any knowledge that the terrorist attacks were going to happen. So the context was that it was printed on the day of the attacks. You said -- and this is the lead sentence -- ''I don't regret setting bombs,'' Bill Ayers said. ''I feel we didn't do enough.'' When you said you didn't do enough, a lot of people interpreted that as meaning "I didn't feel we'd planted enough bombs." Is that what you meant?
BA: First, I was misquoted by the Times. I wrote a letter to them explaining that, which they didn't run right away. But what I meant... you know the theme of the review of "Fugitive Days" when it first came out was "no regrets." That was the headline of the Chicago Magazine review. That was the headline in the New York Times. The idea was that I was somehow regretting nothing. The truth is, you can't get to be 60 years old with your eyes even partially open and not have a lot of regrets! And I have plenty! Some of them political, lots of them personal. But at the same time, what I don't regret is opposing a murderous terrorist war, waged largely against the civilian population. With all of my energy and might. And it's that lack of regret that gets seized upon as implying that I meant we should have done more of this or that tactic. What I mean and what I meant -- and I'll say it again -- was that we, and I mean the large "we", the antiwar movement, the American people, couldn't end a war that we knew and agreed massively was wrong. We knew it was illegal. We knew it was immoral. We knew that every day that the war went on, hundreds of people were being killed in our name. And we couldn't stop it. So in my view we didn't do enough. And I mean the big "we".
TG: Let's get back to the ad. It says you ran the Weather Underground. Do you object to that?
BA: Absolutely! I was one of the leaders of the Weather Underground. I was one of the founding members, it's true. We existed for six years. In that six years there were tens of thousands of [incedents of] vandalism and bombings and arson in government targets. The Weather Underground took credit for something like two dozen. It crossed certain lines of legality, of propriety, maybe even of common sense. But it was not terror. It never targeted people. It never meant to hurt or injure anyone. And, thank god, it never did hurt or injure anyone.
TG: But the question was whether you ran the Weather Underground?
BA: I didn't run the Weather Underground. We were a collective group.
TG: Your wife was on the "10 Most Wanted" list, Bernadine Dohrn. That is true.
BA: That's true. Yes.
TG: The ad said you bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol, and judge's home.
BA: The Weather Underground took credit for the Capitol and the Pentagon and never bombed anyone's home. Ever.
TG: ... Earlier we talked about the death threats that you were receiving, particularly after Sarah Palin talked at rallies about how Obama was "palling around with terrorists" -- meaning you. When you were getting those death threats, did you think at any point that the McCain-Palin campaign had crossed the line into irresponsibility?
BA: Yes. I think much of the news media and the McCain-Palin campaign crossed into irresponsibility -- not just because there were personal threats against me, but because they were creating a mob mentality. When people are chanting "Kill him!" at a rally and it's ambiguous as to whether they're saying "Kill the candidate for president" or "Kill this guy he was so-called palling around with," that's pretty dangerous stuff. It seem to me they had a responsibility to put an end to it. I think one of the deep ironies of the campaign is that I was created as a caricature and thrown up on the stage in an attempt to sink the Obama campaign. Every time my name was mentioned, the poll numbers of McCain-Palin went down a point or two. So I think it didn't work. I think it's a great credit to the American people that it didn't work mainly. But I think it was irresponsible to raise and dangerous. I think they had a big responsibility to correct that.
TG: Now that the campaign is over, have the death threats stopped?
TG: Escalated? Why do you think?
BA: I'm not sure, but I've gotten a lot of threats that talk about civil war and the fact that we now have a "socialist government" and that the war is on. I sent all of these threats to the police because I don't know how to handle them.
TG: A lot of people called you an unrepentant terrorist and I think a lot of people want to hear a full-fledged apology and feel like you haven't given it. I'm not going to ask you your answer to that question now. I want to save it for the end of the interview, after we've heard more of your story. The Weather Underground split from the SDS, the Students for Democratic Society, to become more military, to do things like bombings. Explain why you thought it was justified then to have a splinter group that was about militant action, including actions like bombing the Pentagon.
BA: The split in Students for Democratic Society took place in 1969-1970. But here' s the context in which the split took place. I was arrested for opposing the war in Vietnam in 1965 in a draft board sit-in. In most of my life, including quite recently, I've been engaged in direct, non-violent action to oppose injustice, to fight for peace, and to fight for justice. In 1965, something like 70% of Americans supported the war. By 1968, something like 65% opposed the war. So those three years were quite significant. For me the significance included trying to be an organizer against the war, going into neighborhoods, trying to get people to sign petitions, organizing draft resistence, resisting the draft myself. These were things that characterized those three years for me. Perhaps more importantly, the black movement for civil rights came out fairly strongly -- and prominent leaders like Martin Luther King came out against the war. That began to really turn the tide. But most important, perhaps, veterans came home and told the truth about what they saw and what they were asked to do there. At that moment, Lyndon Johnson announces that he won't run for reelection. He'll try to end the war. That was March 31st 1968. Those of us in the antiwar movement were jubilant. We felt that we had won an important and decisive victory to end the killing. Three years of the war were more than enough -- let's end it. Four days later Martin Luther King was dead. Two months later Robert Kennedy was dead. And a couple of months after that, it was clear the war wouldn't end but would expand. And so the question facing us was, in a situation where the American people have come out against the war, and people of the world have been against the war for much longer, what do you do when 2,000 people a week are being murdered? How do you respond to that? The question was answered in a variety of ways. Some people went into the Democratic Party and tried to build a peace wing. Some people left for Europe and Africa saying they had to leave the madness. Some people organized communes and alternative communities. Some people went into factories and organized the industrial working class. We decided we would try to create an organization that would survive what we thought of as impending American fascism and take the war to the warmakers. Were we brilliant? I don't think so! Were we leading? No. Was our strategy -- or our idea -- particularly profound? I don't think so. But if you think of any of those alternative courses of action, what should we have done? Who did the right thing? And who can claim they knew exactly how this would play out and that they had the perfect response? I would argue that none of us did the right thing. All of us did something that was right, all of us tried our best, none of those things are completely nuts, but none of those things actually accomplished what we wanted.
TG: ... Let's talk about the bombing of the Pentagon, an action you were involved with and the Weather Underground took credit for. First, why did you want to bomb the Pentagon? (And when we say "bomb," we're talking about a 3-lb. bomb with dynamite.)
BA: It's kind of odd to talk about today. The way I talk about it in "Fugitive Days" is to describe the feelings of anger and frustration at not being able to end the war. I describe in the book two groups of young Americans. One group despairing, a little off the tracks and also hopeful that things can change, entering into the Pentagon, finding a way to penetrate the Pentagon, putting a small explosive device in a restroom. It knocks out an Air Force computer kind of unintentionally and shuts down the air war for a couple of days. Then I describe another group of young Americans, also despairing, also a bit off the track, marching into a Vietnamese village and murdering everyone who was alive and everything that was alive -- every animal, all the livestock -- and then burning the buildings to the ground, destroying the village. And I raised the question: what is terrorism? And what I'm trying to do in that chapter, what I'm trying to do in thinking about it, is figure out how do we have a kind of truth and reconciliation process where we look at what everyone did. We don't hold the Weather Underground as the most insane, crazy, and off the tracks group without also asking, What did you do, Robert McNamara? What did you do, Henry Kissinger? What did you do, John McCain? What did you do, Bill Moyers? In other words, all of us were there. We all had choices to make. While many choices were exteme and off the tracks, I would be happy to stand up in a process where all of us are accounting for our deeds and our misdeeds and take responsibility for the things I actually did. In that context, I think the actions of the Weather Underground will be seen as ... yes, dramatic, a screaming cry against this war, but not particularly destructive and not particularly horrible compared to other things that were going on.
TG: Let's get back to "the not particularly destructive." You set a bomb off in the Pentagon. It's not only the center of US security. I know you'd argue it's the center of war, but it's also the center of security. A lot of people work there. Would you say it was your intention to harm property but not people?...
BA: Absolutely. The intention was to hard property -- we use to call it "armed propaganda" -- and to create a symbolic response but a screaming response against the war. And you're right. The Pentagon can be viewed many ways. But our view of it, and the aspect that we wanted to draw attention to, was that it was the headquarters of invading and occupying another country. Those people had little response or recourse. We felt like we should raise an alarm and point people to the fact that the Pentagon isn't simply about security. It's also about war and aggression.
TG: So what did you do to try to prevent casualties?
BA: Every time the Weather Underground did anything, it happened late, late in the night, with a lot of warning and -- again, I suppose, I'd say we were lucky -- nobody was ever hurt or injured or killed. In all those extreme acts of vandalism, no one was hurt. But again, to set up the context, it's easy to forget that the CIA's Phoenix Program was killing 50,000 civilians at the same time in Vietnam. The COINTELPRO, the FBI program, was murdering African American leaders. Six Jesuit priests and thousands were killed in El Salvador and Guatemala. So these are the contexts in which the Weather Underground came to life.
TG: Does your three-pound bomb in the Pentagon seem different in post 9/11 when terrorists flew an airplane into the Pentagon and really destroyed a lot, killed people, hurt people?
BA: Yes. I think the events of 9/11 were terrorism pure and simple. They were crimes against humanity. They were an attempt to murder and harm and intimidate. You can see that so clearly. But then it's important to remember that terrorism can be the actions of a group of religious fanatics, or a cult, or a group of any kind of extremists. But it can also be the work of a government, a state, an organized and legitimized group of people. So when you say "yes" to "does it look different?", it does look different! But, on the other hand, the American assault in Vietnam, the American assault in Iraq also look like terror to me. And again, I would want to raise those things up in parallel and comparison. Because we're not free of it. We're not innocent. Most of us would like to think of our government and our country as benign. But when you're looking down the barrel of a B-52 coming at you, American power does not look benign.
TG: You mentioned that no one was killed in Weather Underground bombings, but three members of the Weather Underground were accidentally killed by bomb that they were making when the fuse accidentally went off. One of the three, Diana Oughton, was your girlfriend. The other two people killed were Terry Robbins and Ted Gold. I know it was devastating for you personally. What about politically? How did it affect your thinking about violent action when the bomb your friends were making accidentally killed them?
BA: I tried to reimagine that moment. Nobody really knows what went on in that house at that time. I try to reimagine it and imagine Diana trying to stop it, trying to stop what was going on. I'm not sure. I don't know. And I've thought about it for all these years.
TG: You want to imagine her saying, "Let's not make this bomb"?
BA: I want to imagine her stopping the bomb-making. It affected ...
TG: ... Let me ask you why you want to do that. You've just made an argument in support of the Weather Underground's actions, setting bombs to destroy property, set off the alarms but not hurt people. Why do you imagine her wanting to stop this particularly bomb from being made?
BA: Because at that time there was a great debate about what we were doing and where we were going amongst us. While we came to a consensus, the Weather Underground really begins with the deaths of these three people. We were uncertain about what territory we were entering into. After the events of the townhouse and the deaths of our three friends, we began to rethink what path we were on. We felt -- we thought -- that those folks were building a bomb that was going to hurt people. And we were the first people to call that question, to ask whether that was true, and to expose it. We spent the first couple of years underground -- among other things trying to get people to see that there was a huge difference between hurting people and attacking property. We ourselves never went down that road. So I imagine Diana Oughton being a voice -- because she was a pacifist, because she had come up a pacifist. I imagine her trying to stop the use of any kind of weapon against people. That's what I try to do in the book. I try to reimagine that. It was devastating to me personally. It was also a time when we really, really began to take stock and pull back from what might have been a really disastrous direction. We made the decision in the weeks and months after the town house that while we were all wanted by the FBI and didn't intend to give ourselves up, and while we were determined to go forward in our opposition to the war, we were equally determined not to become terrorists.
TG: You said you were afraid this bomb was designed to kill people. The bomb was set to go off at a non-commissioned officers' dance at Fort Dix. That would have hurt the people at the dance, yes?
BA: Absolutely. That's what we, again, blew the whistle on just weeks afterwards. We said, "This is what we think was going on, and this should never go on."
TG: One question that gets brought up is, "Does the end justify the means?" If people are using violence in a war? If America is engaged in a violent war, does that justify violence in America?
BA: That's an important question and a question that everyone should wrestle with. But it's also a question, if you put it to me as somebody who played a long role but a small role in a giant, wild, diverse antiwar movement against the Vietnam War -- and I've played a role and want to play a role in the antiwar movements of today. But if you put that question to me, a question that I should wrestle with and have to wrestle with, you should also put it every time you meet with a US senator, every time you meet with a member of the administration or the cabinet. They get a pass on this question. They argue that of course, the end justifies the means! That's why we're devastating Afghanistan today. That's why we've devastated Iraq. That's why we continue to support the occupation of Palestine. Because the ends certainly justify the means from their point of view. I don't agree with them. Again, if you want to -- and I do want to -- put a ban on all bombing, that would be great! Let's do it! Starting with the Pentagon!
TG: ... Do you think in the long run that the bombs the Weather Underground set off did more to stop the war or did more to turn people against the antiwar movement because it scared them and alienated them?
BA: I don't see any evidence that people were turned against the antiwar movement by anything that the antiwar movement did. The antiwar movement grew and grew and grew. GI's came home. They formed their own organizations. They joined the antiwar movement in droves. I don't see that there was anything that turned people against antiwar. They might have been the movement per se, but they weren't pro-war because of any outrageous demonstration or any outlandish action or any statement by Mohammed Ali, or anything the Weather Underground did. On the other side of the question, did we contribute to stopping the war? I can't say I can make a causal claim there either! But then I could ask, "Well, did the people who went to the communes -- did they help stop the war?" "Did the people who ran away to Europe and Africa -- did they help?" "How about people who went into the Democratic Party -- and that led to the nomination of George McGovern -- did that end the war?" The fact is, we didn't do enough. And we didn't do it well enough. And the proof of that is that the Amerian war in Vietnam went on for a decade. Three million people or so were murdered needlessly. And the end came when the Vietnamese threw the Americans out. That's a sad comment on our antiwar movement! Let's do better this time!
TG: What I've found myself wondering sometimes during the presidential campaign: do you think that perhaps one of the reasons why McCain was so willing to use you in the campaign against Obama was because he was a prisoner of war during the war that you were opposing and he felt strongly -- and continues to feel -- that when America is at war that people at home should be doing their best to support it?
BA: I can't speculate on what his motives were. I may be wrong, but I think this may be the last national election where the '60's is raised in this kind of way. That it's kind of the bloody shirt that tries to get eople agitated. And I think that's mostly a good thing. But there's a bad aspect to it. It's good because it's a new generation and most people don't need to keep having the '60's as kind of the touchstone. And I myself, even though I was very much identified with that decade, I don't feel any kind of singular identification with the '60's. I'm living now! I want to be a part of today! And I want to be a part of changing the course of this country today. I'm not nostalgic for the '60's. The bad part of leaving that conversation behind is that there's stuff to learn still that we have not learned as a country or as a culture or as a people. There's a lot to learn. One thing to learn, if we did ever go through a truth-and-reconciliation process, is that invading other countries and occupying them is a bad business. It's a business that we've not come to terms with in Vietnam, and therefore we continue to repeat it. We could also learn about the black freedom movement and the ways in which its goals, its ideals, its hopes for justice were only partially realized. That would be something else we could rethink and reexamine and wonder about. But as it is, those lessons are left unlearned and we continue to labor in ignorance.
TG: Let's talk about what led you personally to the place of becoming a radical, a self-described revolutionary. In your memoir, "Fugitive Days" -- and I should mention [your] memoir has just been republished with a new afterword -- you describe why you didn't become involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Going south to find it but not really succeeding in finding a place for yourself. And then, when you heard about the war in Vietnam, your first response was to consider enlisting because, as you say, you'd read Norman Mailer and you say, "Perhaps I'd taken the kind of searing sensation I could write about." So how did you go from considering enlisting to fight in the war -- in part for literary reasons! -- to becoming a radical antiwar activist? What changed you?
BA: I think I was trying to describe there a young person trying to figure out who he was as he negotiated his way through this particularly thorny period of American history. I was in the Merchant Marines. I came back to Ann Arbor. As luck would have it, I found myself drawn to a group of antiwar people. And I describe the naivete of a young man growing up in privilege in the suburbs of Chicago finding himself in a discussion about what we ought to do to turn the tide in our country. I was drawn into this antiwar movement as a young recruit. I feel very, very lucky to have gone down that road.
TG: You write in your memoir: "Because we were so singleminded and serious, everything we did had to have a justification, a place in our political line. But, because we were so young, much of what we did was unruly and disruptive."
TG: Do you think some of the tactics that you took on were in part this kind of youthful expression of anger? Something only a young person would do?
TG: What fits into that category?
BA: I think that you're caught up in a street demonstration and you are young and full of fire. Spontaneously you find yourselves spilling out into the streets and leaving the line of march and deciding to throw a rock at the window of a military recruiter. That's spontaneous opposition. It's not well thought out. It makes a certain amount of sense but it's not part of a larger strategy that's thought through.
TG: ... Is there a level of doubt that you feel that, when you were young, you didn't allow yourself to entertain because you had to feel so committed to the cause and to what your plan was that you couldn't allow certain doubts to enter your mind?
BA: Yes. I think that I live with doubt today -- every day, all the time. And it is different that being young and certain and jacking yourself up to do certain things. I argue to my students, I argue to young people all the time, that you cannot live a political life -- you can't live a moral life -- if you're not willing to open your eyes and see the world more clearly. See some of the injustices going on. Try to make yourself aware of what's happening in the world. When you are aware, you have a responsibility to act. And when you act, you have a responsibility to doubt. And when you doubt, you can't get paralyzed: you have to used that doubt to act again. That then becomes the cycle. You open your eyes; you act; you doubt; you act; you doubt. Without doubt, you become dogmatic and shrill and stupid. But without action, you become cynical and passive and a victim of history. That should never happen.
TG: At the beginning of the interview, I said I'd save till the end the question I know a lot of people have asked. A lot of people have called you "an unrepentant terrorist." I think a lot of people want to hear you make a full-fledged apology for some of your actions with the Weather Underground, such as bombing the Pentagon. I want you, now that we've heard a lot of your story, to give us your answer to that.
BA: Well, my answer is that the culture of apology doesn't appeal to me. If I had something specific to think about apologizing for, I might. But it's kind of a blanket statement that what we did was so extreme and so wrong that I ought to just say that it was crazy. I respond by thinking it would be a good thing if everyone from that era stood up and said, "This is what I did." Some people were official apologists for that murderous policy in Vietnam. Some people participated in it. Some people made the decisions. We opposed it. And our opposition took an extreme form. It was never terrorism because it never targeted or, in fact, resulted in death or injury to anyone. We were issuing a screaming response to murder and to terror. I think we were right in that. I don't think everything we did was brilliant. As I said, some of the examples of extreme vandalism and property destruction could be challenged as stupid, backward, misguided and so on. But I don't think they can be conflated with terrorism. Nor should they be. And I think I don't feel any real regret for taking action against this war. But again, I'd be happy to stand up and measure what I did -- what was negative and bad about what I did -- with what other people did. Looking backward, I don't see who did the right thing and who can claim that this is a proper way to end a war. Clearly we're involved in a war now. Clearly I'm not advocating any kind of action that's illegal, and I've bee involved in the antiwar movement from the beginning. However, I don't think any of us know how to stop this war in Iraq. We seem to be stalled. We seem to be unable to take the next step. I'm hoping we can continue to build a movement for peace that can put pressure on the administration to do the right thing.