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.In 1982, the Mason Mental Health Center was one of the first programs to receive a grant from the Veterans Administration to operate a program to treat Vietnam veterans suffering from delayed post traumatic stress disorder. In fact, I believe we were one of only two community mental health centers to receive such a grant. Eventually the VA itself opened outreach programs themselves all over the country, and programs like ours were phased out.
Our program began in November of 1981 without any involvement with the VA. Not a veteran myself, I had been working with a few Vietnam combat veterans in therapy. They were involved in a Vietnam veterans' organization and were contacted by the local PBS television station, WKAR in East Lansing, MI, to put together a group to take phone calls at the station after they aired a special on post Vietnam stress syndrome.
They suggested that I be one of the resource people available, not to take calls, but to assist those vets who were. The phone calls began to pour in after the program and I decided on the spot to offer a group at Mason Mental Health for any vets who wanted to attend. A few nights later 25 showed up for the first of many vets groups, and spin-off groups for spouses of vets.
That was how we did business in those days. If we saw a need, we tried to met it. We weren't volunteers, one of "the thousand points of light." We were paid for what we did, but we did it because it needed to be done. The real heroes of the Vietnam veterans programs were the clients themselves. They hung together and helped each other through touch times as they dealt with inner demons.
One man in particular went on to be appointed to the Governor's Agent Orange Commission where he distinguished himself, until he succumbed to a cancer that was probably caused by agent orange. I am certain he would give me permission to publish his name as he made no secret of having been part of the Mason Mental Health program as a client. I still have to maintain his confidentiality, but those who read this will know who he is.
I would have liked to keep the program independent from the VA, but I knew that I needed to hire a Vietnam veteran who was also a professional psychotherapist, and there weren't many of them around. So when VA funds became available I wrote the grant and we were able to hire the first of several dedicated therapists.
Unfortunately, the VA took over much of the control of the program and while it continued almost until Mason Mental Health closed, our relationship with the VA was never very good. They insisted on approving clients before we saw them, even for first time emergency sessions that we were willing to do for free. We had to attend regular meetings at a VA center 60 miles away, and our therapists ended up having two supervisors. One hated bureaucracies and the other seemed to thrive in one of the biggest bureaucracies in the government. One knew his therapists could empathize with Vietnam veterans far better than he could and the other... well, I'm sure you get the idea.
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