I wasn’t a radical like Bill Ayers, but I knew young men and women very much like him. While I disagreed with violent protests, what we’d be justified in calling domestic terrorism today, I understood their motivations very well. I was a student at Michigan State, one of the primary campuses where the anti-war movement took shape (link)*. I was an anti-war protester and leader of my graduate department’s student anti-war group. I knew several members of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and very possibly a Weatherman or Black Panther, at least to say hello to. Did that make me a pal of terrorists? Hardly.
There’s no proof Barack Obama and Bill Ayers are or were anything but associates in one or two endeavors, and neighbors.
Palin, and subsequently Republican pontificaters, are making a big point about the New York Times article “Obama and ’60s Bomber: A Look Into Crossed Paths”, studiously ignoring the last two words of the headline and the text which explains that their association was minimal.
But that begs the issues. So what if they were now really close buddies? Ayers by any accounts is as patriotic an American today as any of us, McCain and Palin included.
To understand the fear and fervor that led to people like William Ayers to engage in violent anti-war protests you’d either have to have been there or be a pretty damn good historian of the era.
McCain wasn’t there. He was being the good soldier, aviator in his case, following the family tradition, no doubt believing in the rightness of the cause. Of course he missed the anti-war movement entirely having been a POW.
Palin, had she been old enough, would probably have been one of the “America, Love it or Leave It” types who believed in the mantra “our country right or wrong” pro-war zealots.
But in those days we were zealots on both sides.
Few people had no opinion.
I remember one pro-war man got so enraged at anti-war protesters that he drove his car through a march of some 20,000 men, women and children as it made its way from the university to the state capitol building. He injured several people.
58,260 names are carved in polished black granite on the Vietnam Memorial Wall thanks to American politicians, and there would likely have been more if there was no public hue and cry to get the hell out.
I once got out of a movie and smelled tear gas wafting in the wind. I looked up the street and saw crowds of police and students, I saw rocks hurled and windows of stores being broken.
On another occasion I watched a group of students come into the student union with their heads all bloody. They been at a small protest where the police had beaten them with billy clubs because they wouldn’t disperse.
Undercover FBI and police agents not only infiltrated student groups but tried to incite groups wanting to protest peacefully into committing violent acts. Peaceful demonstrators were always being photographed from rooftops, we now know, by members of what was called the Michigan State Police Red Squad.
This was a time of us against them and the “them” was the United State government. The “them” was drafting us and sending us to kill, die or be maimed in a useless war.
As students we studied this, and in many cases we knew more than the general public who were being fed propaganda.
I managed to stay out of the military as did most of my student friends, but we watched others not lucky enough to get low lottery numbers or deferments ship out, some never to return, and others to come back as broken human beings.
In my own career as the director of a mental health center a decade later I started one of the first PTSD treatment programs for Vietnam veterans which wasn’t part of the Veteran’s Administration. (Eventually I contracted with the VA to pay for a therapist. * see below)
The next worst thing to being there or having lost a loved one in the war was having a vet with PTSD who you were close to. My staff and I got to know many veterans very well. They brought the war home in the form of severe PTSD and their struggles and suffering profoundly effected us.
Our evening therapy groups never ended on time and usually spilled out into the parking lot where members stayed on to talk after I had to lock up and go home myself. The police never minded since some of our members were police officers themselves.
Our program helped a lot of vets but we also had a suicide, a spouse’s suicide, a suicide homicide, and a death from agent orange caused cancer. And that was the worst. I got to know many vets who despite the best therapy possible would live with indelible scars, memories not only of the typical horrors of war but of things they did that they could never forgive themselves for.
So, Sarah Palin, just shut up about Bill Ayers. You don’t know anything.
* Michigan State anti-war protests
The book “Campus Wars: The Peace Movement at American State Universities in the Vietnam Era.” chronicles the anti-war protest movement at Michigan State University and several other state universities. Almost all the Michigan State professors and students described in this book review I knew or knew of.
Michigan State University gained notoriety with a 1966 Ramparts Magazine article. It was a cover story with a drawing of Vietnamese first lady Madame Nhu as a MSU cheerleader, “The University on the Make”. This article is “a specific, if shocking, documentation of the degree of corruption and abject immorality attending a university which puts its academic respectability on lend-lease to American foreign policy.” The article exposed the cooperation between MSU and the CIA that occurred during the 1960’s.
**My experience with Vietnam vets a decade after the war.
Picture: Nov. 4, 1982 Ingham County News, articles about Mason Mental Health’s Vietnam vets program.
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