Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Facts re Bill Ayers's past

By Cliff B. Lewis

With Bill Ayers slated to speak at Millersville on March 19, the media has again fallen abuzz for the former Vietnam-era radical. At least in Lancaster, it has. And again, as was the case with the national media coverage last fall, there remain two critical facts regarding Ayers that have been absent from public discussion.

Ayers was a founding member of the Weather Underground, a politically Leftist organization that focused the majority of its efforts on ending the Vietnam War. There was a potent sense of urgency among those involved, as Ayer’s elaborated in a 2004 interview: "Two thousand people a day were being murdered in Vietnam in a terrorist war, an official terrorist war… This was what was going on in our names. So we tried to resist it, tried to fight it…. And every day we didn’t stop the war, two thousand people would be killed."

The Weather Underground was a group of impassioned activists, opposed to a massive war, and propelled by the sheer magnitude of that which they sought to resist.

There are two clarifying points that are often neglected in the public debate regarding Ayers’ past:

1. The Weather Underground, at its most militant, never targeted civilians. In the first year of the group’s existence, some unexecuted plans had involved casualties, but even these campaigns were directed only at Government or military agents.

2. Nearly all of the organization’s bombings were executed at vacant Government facilities. After three members died in an accidental blast in 1970, the group prioritized their strategy and became committed to avoiding all human casualties of any kind and in any sector. As Ayers’ described it, "We were very careful … to be sure we weren't going to hurt anybody, and we never did hurt anybody. Whenever we put a bomb in a public space, we had figured out all kinds of ways to put checks and balances on the thing and also to get people away from it, and we were remarkably successful."

These facts need not sway one's opinion regarding whether or not Ayers' actions were abominable, nor need they affect one’s opinion regarding whether Ayers should be invited to speak at Millersville this month. These facts, however, are useful in maintaining an equitable and balanced perspective, free of generality and foregone conclusion.