Last week’s airborne terrorism
scare in Britain continues to send shockwaves around the world. Those
who are trying to understand what’s going on could start by watching a
2002 documentary screened Tuesday evening on SBS, The Weather Underground.
Dylan had sung: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind
blows”. So, in the late 1960s, a number of American radicals decided
that they just knew a worldwide revolution was on the way, and they
wanted to be on the right side of it. As Wikipedia puts it,
they believed “there was no time to build a vanguard party and that
revolutionary war against the United States and the capitalist system
should begin immediately.”
The documentary showed how the
weathermen became disillusioned with non-violent protest after it
failed to stop what they saw as their country’s criminal aggression in
Vietnam. They started to engage in violent resistance, and planned a
major terrorist strike to attract public attention – what one of them
called “the most horrific hit that the United States government had
ever suffered on its territory”. As another said, they were “ready to
be mass murderers.” Sound familiar?
But here’s the punchline:
they weren’t Muslims. As far as I could see, they weren’t religious at
all; they were undoubtedly fanatics, but their goals were very much
The big terrorist strike never came off; a few
weathermen blew themselves up accidentally, the rest went underground
or fled the country, and the movement petered out in the late 1970s –
after the Vietnam war had ended and the world revolution manifestly
failed to materialise.
The FBI engaged in clearly illegal
tactics to fight the weathermen, but they were of doubtful
effectiveness. No-one suggested that it was necessary to tear up the
constitution to counter the threat. And what really ended it was not
law enforcement, but the removal of the underlying causes. That, and
the fact that some of the participants eventually grew up.
Some of this might be worth keeping in mind when we consider the “home-grown terrorists” of today.
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