Focus; Fugitive Days: A Memoir
I think it's fair to say that Americans remain conflicted about the Viet Nam war. Some still feel the U.S. did the right thing to fight the spread of communism wall. Others see our prosecution of the war as the height of U.S. arrogance and hypocrisy. But by anyone's lights the history of the Vietnam War would have to include the My Lai massacre the secret bombing of Cambodia leading to a horrendous civil war and the rise of the Camaro Rouge. The shooting deaths of student protesters at Kent State and Southern Mississippi State Universities and the bombing of the Pentagon by members of the Weather Underground. Violence begets violence all around. I skipped a few chapters but you get the idea. The history of the Vietnam War would have to include the deep divide among Americans and the bloody battles to end the war fought on American soil. During this our focus 580 We will talk with someone who served as a warrior in the anti war movement. Bill Ayres became a member of the Weathermen. In fact one of its leaders. After several acts of planned violence including the F-4 mentioned bombing of the Pentagon the FBI placed him on its most wanted list along with several of his fellow weathermen.
He remained underground for 10 years until 1991 when he and his wife Bernadine Dohrn turned themselves in. Bill Ayres journey from a middle class upbringing in Glen Ellyn to his increasing radicalization in the civil rights and anti-war movement. Is recounted in his memoir Fugitive Days just published by the Beacon Press. During this hour focus 580 We will talk with Bill Ayers about that story about war terrorism and what we might draw from the lessons of the past to better deal with the events of today as we talk with Bill Ayres during this hour of the show you are invited into the conversation. You can call us around Champaign-Urbana at 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. That's the champagne Urbana number 3 3 3 W I L L. If you match the letters with the numbers that's what you get. We also have a toll free line. Anywhere you hear it's around Illinois Indiana. Parts of the states our signal travels over the air and the rest of the globe on the internet to use or toll free line. And we will pay for the call 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5
again around Champaign-Urbana 3 3 3 W I L L and toll free anywhere you hear us. Eight hundred two two two. Well we were supposed to be connecting with Bill Ayres in Chicago via ISDN and I think we're having a little bit of technical difficulty getting that connection made. I always hate to see engineers scrambling around at the last minute while I'm giving the guests introduction. But that's the situation here. Let me take a moment while we're waiting to make that connection to mention some upcoming shows on focus 580 the rest of the week. First of all tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock we will have a guest host for the guest host. I'm filling in for David Enge our guest host tomorrow will be Fred Stoltzfus he is interim director of the University of Illinois School of Music and director of the choral music program and he will be talking with Robert Kapilow cultural commentator for what makes it great on NPR that's a segment you hear on performance today and we'll talk about what makes it great
and also talk about classical music. What makes it great and why people love it hate it etc.. We're making connections I guess I'll just continue here with a couple other shows coming up tomorrow morning at 11:00 I'll be back in this chair and our guest will be Holly Sklar She's co-author of the book raise the floor wages and the policies that work for all of us about the working poor in America. And policies that might address the problem of people working full time but still remaining below the poverty level so that's coming up tomorrow on the show at 11:00. Thursday at 10:00 we'll talk about new American foreign policy with Doug Cassel He's director of the Center for Human Rights at Northwestern University. And Thursday at 11:00 we'll talk with Dr. Larry Dorsey author of the book Healing beyond the body medicine and the infinite reach of the mind. Friday at 10:00 politics the Middle East with Syrah Roy from the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University and finally Friday at 11:00 we'll talk with Robert McChesney who is a
professor of the Institute of communications research here at the University of Illinois will talk about the media and the war on terrorism. We have our guest connected by telephone now also let me just invite you again if you'd like to join us by telephone. You can call us around Champaign-Urbana 333 W. WEIL Well toll free elsewhere 800 1:58. Well Bill Ayers has come a long way from the underground since 1981. He's now a distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois Chicago and director of the Center for youth and society. He is widely regarded as a great teacher and has written a number of books on education including a kind and just parent and to teach His latest book Fugitive Days is drawing rather strong reactions as may become clear during this hour. Bill Ayers Good morning good morning thanks so much for joining us. I'm glad to I'm sorry that this has to be by phone. I mean you know I don't have a studio fixed up yet I guess. Well here we are. That's OK. Glad to have you by phone. Thank you. Or any other
means. Let's start the beginning of the book I don't know if you heard the introduction you probably did and I did not. OK all right. Well I just sort of gave a brief synopsis of what the book is about. Let's start sort of at the beginning you grew up in Glen Ellen. That's right. Had a life of relative privilege. You seemed normal enough and even enjoyed going to see war movies. I'm still normal. Well what happened after. I mean that sort of took you off the path of you know everyone else who seemed to think that was OK. Well I don't know that everyone did but I thought I. By 1968 almost no one did but you know what. What my memoir is an attempt to do is. You know to tell the story of one boy waking up in the 1050 since sixties to a world in flames and. And it's an attempt to describe kind of what it felt like to be there then and how a boy like this got into a place like that. In other words how as you say a fairly
normal sounding kid with a relatively privileged and and wonderful in some senses upbringing ended up in in one of the most radical opposition to war that we've seen in this country. And so what I try to do and what I intended to do was really to write a memoir although as you noted in some ways especially I think since September 11th it's been read as a as a manifesto which it was never meant to be. It really is one ten year period out of my life the years of the war in Vietnam and how I came to make the decisions I did not to defend them not to. You know her paralyze them in any way but in a sense just to describe what it felt like to be there then. I'm getting that some people are reading it as a sort of a manifesto or justification on your part for the events of that time. Right and I don't know how you read it but as I read it it's filled with both
self-criticism and irony and doubt and skepticism. You know the reason I chose to write it now and I've worked on it over the last three years was because I'm still young enough to remember some of the resonant feelings of those times but old enough to have some perspective on it. And I don't read it as a defense I read it as a description and I take myself having learned something about this over the last few years I take as kind of the main requirement of memoir that it takes the reader into that cultural life world. What did it feel like to be there then to this singular soul and like all memoir This is a. A distinct story a specific story it doesn't represent a group it doesn't represent how other people might have felt. It's really my story of how I negotiated a terribly complicated time in America. Sure. Well I think that after September 11th you know people read it with a different attitude perhaps without a doubt without a doubt and I re read it in parts of it
absolutely made me weep. After the 11th of course like most Americans unlike most people around the world I think the events of September 11th not only cracked the world open for me but everything before September 11 seemed so far away and long ago. It's hard to talk about anything else and in a funny and ironic way. My book tour which began September 10th and then stalled for the next couple of weeks I am back again reading in bookstores and the audiences are bigger and I think more vigorous in some ways. And people really want a forum to talk about the events of today so my book tour has turned more into a. Rolling in on the current situation teaching which I'm no expert but like other citizens concerned and and troubled. I'm a little bit hesitant to call right away but we have someone on a car phone on Highway 55 but I don't want to make them run off the road and not thank them by all means. OK so let's let's talk with this caller and win them for good morning also 580.
Yeah right. I don't quite get where you say of the military family my great great grandfather was in the civil war. I had one who was General another one for my grandfather was in World War One were to him a Korean War and with that in our home we were thinking Good morning to you and my father is a veteran of D-Day am in the battle of the bull's eye if I am why I grew up that I was going to fight in a war I just kind of a fool. You know that that's what men did when they grew up. By the time I was fifteen or sixteen I realise that I would not go to fight for the wholly indefensible war. However I can. Myself I consider myself all that on again and I think that's the way it's been in history that war was totally in the family all that was damn well work to it was now or were one and certainly wasn't the Civil War in many ways I view that
war as the Confederacy coming alive again around our country. So that's all I have to say I think the people who fought against the Awam are veterans and said to them OK I appreciate the call and I actually have in many ways I agree I think that not only was the Vietnam War indefensible it wasn't World War 2 it wasn't also the situation we're in today I know the situation we're in today. Many people see it as. My father's generation tends to see it as Pearl Harbor all over again I don't think that's a an accurate metaphor. People of my generation tend to see Vietnam all over again I don't think that's exactly accurate either. But I think that we learned a lot of lessons in Vietnam and I fear that many of them are are lost. But I agree with the caller that. In many ways what we had in Vietnam was not only in the illegal and immoral war in some sense a terrorist war against the Vietnamese people because Whole swaths of the country were targeted for just annihilation. And
those who fought the war did the right thing and should be proud and should think of themselves as veterans of an anti-war effort. I think that was a proud thing to be. As you became involved in the anti-war movement it was essentially through the civil rights movement was it not. Or at least the people that you were with saw the two as sort of you know in twined. Yeah I think that I came to the anti-war movement. A veteran of civil rights and in many ways I think the history of those years is a history of the Civil Rights Movement raising issues of justice and social justice and freedom. And those issues were in the air so that when the war began many many people felt themselves in conflict with the government policy because they were hyper aware hyper engaged with issues of civil rights and justice. I don't think there would have been any anti-war movement had there not been the civil rights movement the civil rights movement provided a moral framework an energy
that led to all kinds of progressive outpourings of the peace movement being one the women's movement being another gay liberal the gay liberation movement. And in many ways the environmental movement spinning off of those as well so when justice is in the air lots of good things can happen. You mention the moral framework and energy of the time. I'm the people that you were at the University of Michigan at this point. That's not in Ann Arbor. And it seems that there was a lot of sort of you know intense reading of history and really grappling with ideas and arguing about things and really trying to understand and it seems like you and your colleagues at the time were really you really felt like you know you knew what was going on that you had a different perspective on things and really knew that the you know the reality were as our leaders had totally lost sight of that. Well in a funny way though I mean what I try to narrate is the story of a kid coming from a prep school outside Chicago and
finding myself waking up to a world in flames and trying desperately to learn what was going on and to understand it. So there's a piece in there about the original teach in which was held in Ann Arbor in 1965. And for me I didn't know much but I was learning and I was learning fast. When I was waking up to and I think one of the themes of the book is that as Americans and especially as privileged Americans we tend to be asleep we don't know our place in the world. After September 11th being a teacher I went to my first class and I I asked us all to draw a map. A free hand sketch of Central Asia. Nobody could do it I couldn't do it. Nobody in the class could speak a language of Africa Asia or the Middle East. It was a an awakening to a sense that where are we in the world what do we actually know. And during those years you're describing 165 to 68 say gee we were on the steepest learning curve imaginable we were scrambling to understand
where in the world we were and what our position was and where we were and what we what we turn to is something we might well turn to now which is teach ins. These weren't things where everybody knew everything these were things where we were you know listening and learning pose not in a telling and self-righteous pose. And I learned a lot in those years about Asia and about America's role in the world. In addition to the teachings as you mentioned there were also protests a variety of sort of street theater and other efforts to call attention to it. Same more intense of course as time went on because in 1965 when I was at that first teach in I was just learning a few a few days later. I joined many other students in a protest at the draft board in 39 of us were arrested which was considered a huge civil disobedience at that time. What's often forgotten is that we were surrounded by a thousand students who thought we should be expelled at least and perhaps beaten and dragged through the streets. I mean it wasn't a
popular thing to do. But by 1968 really we had nearly convinced ourselves but convinced the majority of the American people that the war was wrong and our leaders continued. You may remember that in 1988 Lyndon Johnson resigned I mean basically announced he would not run for reelection to the presidency and and Vietnam was was the decisive reason for that. And I remember leading a protest demonstration in Ann Arbor to the president of the university house. And he came out on the steps and he said congratulations you've won now the war will end. And he believed it and we believed it. 1968 the war of course would drag on for seven more years another million and a half people would be killed. So it was a bitter and difficult time. Of education and then of protest and resistance and then of despair. Let me ask you to talk about this transition between nonviolent
protest and the sorts of more violent to put it mildly activities that you know in later years you engaged in. And perhaps I don't know maybe I'm reading this wrong but maybe the 1968 Democratic convention was a sort of a turning point. I think there were a couple turning points for me one was certainly that the 68 Democratic convention and I describe what happened there and I describe a feeling that took hold of me and I think many others which was before 1968 whenever we had a protest or a meeting or a demonstration we would sing. And after 1968 it seemed every time we open our mouths to saying we could only scream in despair in anguish in anger. So that was one definite turning point another turning point for me was living in Cleveland in an African-American community where I was an organizer and the riots that swept through Cleveland in those years and. And kind of witnessing up close a kind of brutality that I didn't know
existed. And I didn't know American citizens so I think there was a lot that that changed in those years. I also think in those years from 165 to 68. Veterans began returning home from the war and brought with them urgency about ending the war and some facts about the war that were little known. And this also added a kind of an urgency a kind of desperation and an intensity to the anti-war movement. But you asked me to describe moving from nonviolence to. To more violent resistance and I can describe it again in the book I describe it in some detail I don't defend it in many ways I think that we were off the tracks and off the hook but here is what I described. I describe a young kid who goes to Michigan gets caught up in the civil rights and anti-war movement. Begins a kind of career of nonviolent resistance. Sitting in a draft board
being arrested bearing witness to what we consider that I consider unacceptable behavior and eventually I considered a kind of colonial imperialist or terrorist behavior or official terrorism on the part of our own government which was shocking to me. But I moved then from trying to sit in a draft board trying to shut the draft board down by destroying files by not allowing the draft board to function and I moved from that to trying to. To a whole week of demonstrations where we tried to stop young men from being able to go into the draft boards kind of running street confrontations in the late 60s around draft boards where we tried to stop the functioning of the draft board because it was a visible sign within our communities of this unjust unfair illegal and immoral war. And from there moving to burn the draft files burn the draft board down wasn't a huge step
even though it was a decisive turn for some of us and certainly was illegal behavior. We defended it and a member defending it at the time as what we called the necessity defense. That is what we're doing is illegal. The laws we're breaking are not bad laws but we're breaking them to offer a piercing cry against a much greater harm that's going on in our name and that harm is the killing of Vietnamese people. I think it's also true that you know in many other ways the 960 were a very violent time. Maybe more than we care to remember. I mean there were several Sasa Nations President Kennedy's brother Robert Griffin Martin Luther King Jr. there were riots people were killed in cities all over the country there were students shot by the National Guard I mean that certainly I mean I think that we feel that today the world is spinning out of control but I think the feeling then was also you know in some ways similar.
I think you're absolutely right in many ways. But what I thought. I mean I saw the violence around me I describe in the book as seeing the bodies in Cleveland stacked up I describe Vietnam in the kind of death chamber that was being stoked there. But you're also right I mean I I saw I mean civil rights workers were killed and violently excel and Goodman Schwerner and Chaney murders in the south. We saw students shot and we you know we witnessed a lot of violence right in front of us. That's true. But the other thing that I came to believe and I think it's also important. It is in some ways an important part of the book is that in many ways America has a has a kind of obsession with violence but it's all a kind of a distance of violence a kind of a glorified violence. Violence from afar. And what I came to believe and still think is troubling is it is some social relationship. Violence is built into that relationship. The most obvious and I don't want to make a claim here that that
what I witnessed was the moral equivalent of slavery but the most obvious in our history is slavery. Slavery is a violent relationship. If someone moves to end that relationship they would be accused of perpetrating violence but who perpetrated the violence where did it come from. And how would one choose that. And that in many ways what I try to take the reader back to is what it felt like to be in 1968 69 desperately trying to end the war convincing the American people that the war was wrong and somehow the war going on. Whatever choices people made in those years I don't have any contempt for any choices people made but we certainly made and I made very extreme choices. But I don't think there was exactly a right choice. Standing there saying choose me choose me. I think there were you know adequate choices and we didn't we couldn't end the war we couldn't stop it. We tried and eventually it stopped and looking back we can say well
it was a horror but it was only 10 years living through it. It didn't feel like only 10 years it felt like a war without end until it didn't. We're about halfway through our conversation with Bill Ayres. He's a distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois Chicago and director of the Center for youth and society in Chicago. He currently lives in Hyde Park and he's the author of the book we're discussing Fugitive Days a memoir about his days in the 1960s and 70s culminating in going underground as part of the Weather Underground. Those of you listening. You can join our conversation if you have questions. The number around Champaign-Urbana 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. We also have a toll free line. Anywhere you hear it's 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. The people that you were with the time seemed to almost you know seem to be like a competitor. That is huge in terms of who could go for this. You know I think that was part of the culture of the day. I mean I think that that the
60s was in many ways both demonized and reified as a time of transgression. I mean I think people all the old ways were breaking down all the old guys were failing. And so for young people the question was always will what's next what else. And in terms of the culture in terms of music in terms of drugs in terms of behavior dress the question always was well what's the next boundary to burst through. And in some ways I try to capture something of both the the exhilaration of that as well as the giddiness and the stupidity of that. But that was definitely part of the air I was breathing in Ann Arbor in 1963. We have another call to talk with let's include them in a conversation. Here in Chicago on line number four good morning you're in focus 580. Well yes that's you. Oh I want to question you know I got up and what I've known
of these is how the little person list some movies for you Don. Maybe time something happened. Do you see anyway that is my dental deliberate silence as people used to just travel back into there now not only have to put them you search you in order not to see some kind of injury. Oh they were regular individual losing his own freedom and part of what we used to enjoy in this country we were about to lose it even though didn't it. Well only as usual but we didn't think some of that freedom. That's your comment on that in terms of the current situation you mean. Right now it's going up to him. You know I think that that's a real concern and I think lots and lots of people share that concern. And the question really I think that people are grappling with is how can we as a people be how can we grieve together how can we be angry together about what happened on September 11th. And at the same time how can we not be stupid together how can we stay
free. How can we not allow this to be a moment of kind of panic or jingoistic frenzy. And I think that's a very complicated thing. I must say as I look at the kind of national scene between September 11th and October 6th I was very impressed with the state. Miss from all of our leaders about not turning against against Arab-Americans or people of other nationalities or immigrants and trying to show some restraint since October 6 since the bombing started I've seen less restraint and I'm not thrilled about it but I worry with you I worry that that in a time like this a time of crisis a time of entering into the unknown. We couldn't willingly give away a whole lot of our freedoms in the interest of security but that interest in security can never be fully achieved without safeguarding freedom and democracy. I'd like to say something like that really.
Yes those billions of dollars and I know that it's rules and I think that we must be a great opportunity to take charge on our lives. And I wanted some reason because I had a lot of good and I think the American government moved in large. This time I don't want it but the one about it and I think that's good. I think the point that's missing is that we've got to be dressed you know at least up to a drug. Women are some about it here in this country. We see somebody if you have a man like the government you don't lead. Sure I believe we should complement looks kind of quiet and less open to new and I'd be willing to be a lot of the money less but it was posted in
full and let alone anyone. And yeah well I think you make a couple of excellent points one thing I'm glad you mentioned is that you have a short wave and you're listening to a lot of news sources I think this is hugely important that we get out of our kind of narrow view of the world and start listening to the BBC and Canadian radio and. And so on because there are perspectives that we're completely in the dark about and we need to be smarter not stupider about our place in the world. Secondly I think you're right in the long run that part of what this moment should do is wake us up to the fact that we are one nation in a world of nations we are not the one and only the kind of self designated world's only superpower rings a little hollow today. We should be we should find a way to live with others and not do not go it alone constantly. Maybe this is a moment when that could happen.
Certainly among the things we should be looking very hard at as our leader should be looking very Arnett and I pray that there's a robust conversation going about this is the right of not only Israel to a nation in self-determination but to Palestine for a nation and self-determination. We should be rethinking our role in Iraq and in Saudi Arabia and so on. All these things have to happen. We need to be self-critical about why we as a nation a decade ago and two decades ago armed fundamentalists religious fanatics right wing fanatics Why did we do that and why is that now coming back to haunt us. So all those things are true. Having said all that in the short run we also have to be. Protect the safety of our of our citizens and how to do that is a tricky business. Certainly the panic that you feel in the streets is something that should be resisted. I think most people are resisting it.
I'm kind of troubled by the fact that without much thought we've kind of the people who made a lot of the mistakes that got us here we kind of turn around and say well that's ok now that get us out of it. The fact is that in Europe or Japan if something like this had happened governments would have fallen and ministers would have resigned. At a minimum. But with any luck and with some hope we can both protect American citizens protect others and not kind of march off to war mindlessly. Everywhere in the world is a bunch of things I want to ask you about this this latest thread of our conversation and I think the caller for raising that but I also want to get back to the book because you know there's a lot of ground to cover there to try to tie them together a little bit by noting a quote that you include from James Baldwin. Why people are trapped in a history they do not understand. And until they understand it they cannot be released from it. Does that have something to do with the terms of debate the over the current
situation. I don't think there's much of a debate now but certainly to the extent that there's a discussion that should be the watchword of the discussion. I mean one of the things that Americans have to get over involved in goes on in that same quote to talk about that that was unforgivable is the kind of claim of innocence we pretend we don't know anything. You know we're always the good guys were always have straight white teeth and we're always marching off on a good cause. But the fact is that the way we appear not us as people but the way our government policies appear in much of the world is not admirable. We should be smarter about that we should learn more about that. And that's why I say since September 11th I think this is a time for listening hard to victims to the people who were hurt in September 11th or their families but also to the people around the world who feel hurt. We should be listening we should be learning we should know something of the history that we're floating through and not assume that just because we're good people who work hard and take care of our families and just because we're nice and that that is all there
is to know about our role in the world. We have to be smarter. And that seems to me essential. We have about 15 minutes left with our guest Bill Ayres author of the book Fugitive Days A Memoir. And if you'd like to join the conversation the remaining time the number around champion Abana 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. Toll free anywhere you hear or 800. 2 2 2 9 4 5 5. I want to make sure we talk a bit about you know the later days of your activism in the Weather Underground which sure if that's even what you called it at the time we did it. Yeah we call it kind of crazy right. It was taken from a line we wrote a turgid manifesto a close reading of which would drive you blind. But we ended up giving it a whimsical title from a line from about Dylan and the title of the paper was you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. And so when STF became more fractionalized when the student movement
became more fractionalized and was coming apart for convenience people referred to us as the Weathermen. And when we went underground we were called the Weather Underground. Talk a bit about. What you did how you operated What what were you doing. Well what I tried to capture in the book is a sense of what it was like to build a culture. You know resistance in a culture on the run and we we in many ways with I think surprising to people is that we live very ordinary lives most of the time. That is to say I worked ordinary jobs I worked outside the kind of paper economy I waited tables and worked as a migrant worker. And I worked in a labor kinds of places and we lived relatively ordinary lives but we we also felt that we had a grand purpose and that purpose was to end the war and so we felt very much a part of a larger movement and we felt that we were a militant uncompromising part of that larger
movement trying to stop the war. The effort as you described was to bring the war. Home that's what we called it in 1969 exactly and and again it was in some ways the excessive rhetoric of the times in some ways it was an attempt to articulate something that we found pretty strongly about which was it wasn't enough. After a while the say and the war bring the troops home. When when what that meant in Richard Nixon's flecks election for example was a war from the sea and a war from the air. In other words if we were going to Vietnam into the stone age which is what one of the chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time. That wasn't enough. We couldn't just say bring the troops home and go ahead with the air war. We had to say no if you're going to make one of the people are the people going to make war on you. We did make a distinction and a very important distinction between the government and the American people we never had any
I mean we never had any sense that the American people were the big problem the big problem was the government and its unwillingness to listen to its own people. And at some point to be blunt Dynamites enter the picture. That's right. In fact one in one chapter. Later on I narrate to narrate two stories both through my imagination. In one group of young Americans a despairing determined somewhat off the tracks decides that they're going to steel themselves to enter the Pentagon itself with a small homemade pipe put it in a drain pipe and two in the morning call in warnings and do damage to the Pentagon itself. And then I imagine myself with another group of young Americans also despairing also slightly off the tracks frightened who enter a Vietnamese village
in the morning and kill three hundred forty seven people. Outright rape torture burn. And then I raise the question which which act is terror. Which one is terrorism. Because to me while what we what what the Weather Underground did was certainly illegal. And off the charts in some ways in terms of a domestic protest and resistance. It wasn't it wasn't even in the same neighborhood as what that group of young Americans did to that one village that one day in Vietnam and was that ordinary behavior not completely but it wasn't so different than what ordinary behavior was either. In fact the recent revelations in the spring from Senator Kerry of his operation where they went into a village and slit the throats of some old people and their grandchildren in order to try to capture somebody
who they never did capture and they killed between 10 and 30 people. That's terrorism. That is an example of terrorism though it's not something we know up close and personal the way we've experienced September 11th. But it is known up close and personal by some human beings. And it's equally despicable. It's interesting to hear you talk about these events and I know that you know I certainly understand the point you're making. I also sense that you feel still regret. Or conflicted about the things you did. Oh I think look I think that you know there's a there's a great point there's a great momentum to say that that I have no regrets. I don't think you can be 56 years old and have lived a normal life with your eyes open and not be just filled with regret. And certainly that's true for me I mean I have a lot that I feel sorry about today. I feel sorry for things I
did things I said people feelings I hurt someone. But there's a larger question and frankly I think that violence is one of the terrible terrible things in the world. But violence is overt and it's covert. Terrorism is sometimes official and sometimes the work of madmen. So so while I think it's a terrible thing I also feel like what when America was conducting in those 10 years was so off the charts in terms of what it asked young American boys to do in terms of what had visited upon a small country in Asia. That that crying out an alarm against it was necessary and the fact that I did it in a way that was illegal and in many ways as I say despairing and extreme. You know I I regret the despairing regret the extremity. What I don't regret is crying out with every ounce of my
being against that killing. You describe at the very beginning and also later in the book the the accidental detonation of a bomb in a townhouse where a civil of your colleagues including the woman who you were with the time were killed. Yes. This was seems to be a big turning point. It was huge and of course it led to all kinds and all kinds of ramifications. But what you know what that event did I think is is consolidated in in those of us who survived a sense that we could that there were lines we couldn't cross and that we wouldn't cross and that one of those lines was killing. And so we never did kill anybody. And that made us both different than than the American forces in the end that made us different than a lot of other kind of radical formations of that time in Italy and Spain and England in a lot of other places
Japan. We pulled back from that and never did. We never intended to and in fact we never did kill anyone. So that was a line we didn't cross. After that you essentially I mean you were underground prior to this but certainly after that more so. And I wonder maybe if I could ask you to talk a bit about those days how how does one remain. Maybe this has some sort of strategic relevance to today underground in you know in a place where you know. Well you know one thing you should remember about those days we were homegrown radicals and we were not unknown I mean some of us were quite well-known in youth circles and some of us had our pictures on the cover of Time magazine and so and so we were not we were homegrown entirely. We were some of us were well-known. And yet in those 11 years we were never
betrayed no one ever turned me in. No one ever sought a reward for my head. And I think that's because even though we were an extreme and and in some ways outside the bounds organization we were also very much part of the anti-war movement. No one even people who didn't support us tactically or strategically or politically still believe that. The war itself was the greater evil and more willing to support us. I hope that we survive and so on. For 10 years you are on the FBI his most wanted list and yet were never were never captured in 227 right. I wonder. In 1975 when the US finally withdrew. You describe a scene in which you and Bernadine Dohrn are sitting there watching this on television you're finding out. You know the war is over essentially right. What do you feel. Well huge relief. Vindication. I hope that things would
turn in a better direction. And just great relief and in some ways that was the end of the Weather Underground. I mean it limped along for a little while but basically the end of the war was the end of that resistance. And a few years later part of the united under so then we had by then a couple of children. And so that was the end of that chapter in our lives. We both went on to work with children. We both went on to. Live lives we hope. Purposeful you know progressive change. And the only reason I wrote this book and I never really wrote it thinking that it would end for a very calm political environment was because I thought it might be a good opportunity to tell the truth of those days as I saw it. And maybe that would invite other people to tell the truth of those days as they saw it and in some sense maybe that could lead lead to some reconciliation around what that chapter in American history means. I fear that since September 11th that kind
of calm deliberative discussion about the years 1965 to 75 may not be able to happen right now. But I still think it's important and I think it's important at all times that we look seriously at our history and our choices and try to make sense. Well let me ask you. Are there some lessons from that era that you know we maybe ought to remind ourselves of when one lesson that jumps out at me you know I mentioned that I re read the book after September 11. If you don't mind I just read Sure it is from the you know the end of the book because this is something that's relevant to today. This actually when I re read it it actually made me weep. But what I say is I think back to my childhood to the houses in trim rows in the identical laws and the neat fences and I remember every one sleeping that deep American sleep the sleep that still engulfed us and from which I worry we might not awaken. We live our isolated lives in our shattered communities
and in our names. The U.S. shatters community elsewhere in the Middle East. In Colombia in the Philippines the world royals in agony and despair. The catastrophe deepens. But our ears are covered and our eyes are closed. That is a theme that I think is. It is relevant to today. We have to wake up to the fact that we're part of the world. We're not the period to the world. We're not the only part of the world but we are in an interdependent relationship with the world and we should be conscious of that. And one of the things I hope I wish more than I can describe the September 11 that never happened this monstrous act in in the service of a monstrous ideology but it has and one question we can grapple with is will this allow us to feel other people's pain because we're in such pain. Could we now look to the world and say Let us be partners let us be multilateral not unilateral. Let us be one among
many not the one and only. Limit is that we wake up I mean I guess that's that's one of the themes of the book is blinking ourselves awake and knowing how the world feels to others. What would you say to those student anti-war activists of today who maybe. Working upon the path that you took 30 30 some years ago I don't I don't they're not a bird it was. It was generous it was of the time. But but I think that I agree with people who are troubled by two things One is I'm troubled by the war metaphor. I think it is a metaphor. I think what we witnessed was a group of right wing thugs fundamentalist feudalistic thugs who committed a massive crime against humanity and the solution that we have to speak is a criminal justice solution. We should be strengthening the UN weakening it. We should be strengthening the World Court not ignoring it. Because these people who perpetrate this should be brought to justice.
If it's a war and then we say it's a war against 40 countries then the the dream of the bin Laden people is coming true. We're that much closer to World War. There are more that much closer to an arid one dimensional society. We have to resist them. We have to resist war and we have to resist kind of the imposition of a singular way of being. So I'm. I'm troubled by a lot of what's going on in my advice to anti-war people I guess is learning to be smart. Reach out organize. Always organize. Always try to talk to other people and don't be self-righteous. I mean one of the things I hope the book is written against is that sense of self-righteousness that gripped us the sense that we knew everything. I hope that that young people who are eager to find a progressive solution to the conundrums wanted do not resort to self-righteousness to pump themselves up but rather always are involved in dialogue faught reaching out. Having a mind of your own. All those
- Fugitive Days: A Memoir
- Producing Organization
- WILL Illinois Public Media
- Contributing Organization
- WILL Illinois Public Media (Urbana, Illinois)
- AAPB ID
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/16-q52f766q87).
- With Bill Ayers, author, Distinguished Professor of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago. Host: Jack Brighton
- Talk Show
- Biography; Books and Reading; Foreign Policy-U.S.; Government; History; International Affairs; Politics; Vietnam War; weather underground; student protests
- Media type
Guest: Ayers, Bill
Host: Brighton, Jack
Producer: Brighton, Jack
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: focus011023b.mp3 (Illinois Public Media)
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: focus011023b.wav (Illinois Public Media)
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “Focus; Fugitive Days: A Memoir,” 2001-10-23, WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 10, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_16-q52f766q87.
- MLA: “Focus; Fugitive Days: A Memoir.” 2001-10-23. WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 10, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_16-q52f766q87>.
- APA: Focus; Fugitive Days: A Memoir. Boston, MA: WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_16-q52f766q87