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Will the real Bill Ayers please ... go away?

Posted by Christopher Shea  December 9, 2008 12:14 PM

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Bill Ayers, the ex-Weatherman and '60s radical whose re-absorption into respectable Chicago society occurred with mystifying smoothness, wisely kept his head down during the recent Presidential election, so as not to hurt the electoral chances of his acquaintance and Hyde Park neighbor Barack Obama. Last week, he emerged with an op-Ed piece in the New York Times, attempting to knock down any misimpressions people may have got of him (a terrorist? moi?), and to explain who "The Real Bill Ayers" is.

Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings, a noted liberal blogger, is having none of it. Referring to Ayers's notably mild summary of his past exploits, she writes:

The "accidental explosion" Ayers refers to occurred when three Weathermen blew themselves up while making nail bombs to detonate at a dance at Fort Dix [an Army base in New Jersey]. One was Ayers' girlfriend, "who was later identified from a fragment of finger."

After three of their own were blown up, Weatherman tried not to hurt people, though they did blow up property, and seem to have placed a lot of trust in their ability to tell, for instance, whether any janitors were still in the buildings they bombed. And after that explosion, according to Ayers, the Weather Underground got a new name. But when his co-Weathermen blew themselves up, they were planning to kill a whole lot of people. Weatherman was never nonviolent.

Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground did more than "cross lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense." They were, by any standard I can think of, terrorists. As one historian says, "The only reason they were not guilty of mass murder is mere incompetence … I don't know what sort of defense that is."

Hilzoy concludes: "He has done enough harm already. Now he should do the decent thing and leave us in peace."

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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