Archive for December 15, 2008

William Ayers

December 15, 2008 Leave a comment

I hardly need to review the ways in which the McCain campaign twisted the relationship between Barack Obama and William Ayers during the presidential campaign this fall, the low point being Palin’s description of Obama as “palling around with terrorists.” Ayers remained mute throughout the campaign, but he spoke up in a New York Times op-ed piece recently.

I was very disappointed in what he had to say. The passage that most troubled me was the following:

We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.

I don’t understand in what sense “symbolic acts of extreme vandalism” fall short of being terrorism. Here in Seattle, in May 2001, members of the Earth Liberation Front set fire to an office at the University of Washington’s Urban Horticultural Center, destroying a building as well as the research, contained within the intended office, of Professor Toby Bradshaw. Their choice of Professor Bradshaw’s research as a target reflected enormous ignorance on their part as to what he was doing, but my point is that this was an act of terrorism — eco-terrorism, just as the work of the Weather Underground was terrorism.

For other comments, on Ayers op-ed, see hilzoy and Katha Pollitt. Here are Pollitt’s closing two paragraphs:

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Categories: Politics

The Forever War

December 15, 2008 Leave a comment


I’m reading Dexter Filkins’ book The Forever War, partly about war in Afghanistan but largely about Iraq, based on his reporting for the Los Angeles Times a decade ago and for the New York Times in recent years. It’s an extraordinary book. I bought it after reading Robert Stone’s review on the front page of the Sunday New York Times Book Review in September, started it, found it painful, and set it aside, but now I’ve returned to it and I’m almost halfway through it.

Filkins writes simply and directly, in a sequence of vignettes, about incidents he sees, recounting what the people around him — townspeople, soldiers, officials — have to say. The last few chapters have been about Iraq during 2003 and 2004. What comes through most powerfully is the arrogance and delusion of higher-level US military and government officials. This isn’t exactly news, and Filkins doesn’t even say it himself, but it is so starkly inescapable as one reads the stories. The lack of interest in local culture and history, the inability to listen or see.

Because I saw the now-famous shoe-hurling incident at the press conference with President Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki yesterday during breaks from reading the book, I was not at all surprised that Muntader al-Zaidi is now a hero in Iraq. One learns in page after page of the book how disliked Americans are.

Did we learn nothing from Vietnam?

Categories: Books, Politics, Today's News