Re: Regarding the Weather Underground... (multiple posts)
Mon, 21 Dec 1998 15:26:02 -0500

rom: david horowitz <>
Harold Jacobs edited a contemporary book on the movement called Weatherman which
would answer some of your questions. I interviewed thirty members of the Weather
Underground for the article "Do It!," which Peter Collier and I wrote for Rolling
Stone, which is included in our book Destructive Generation.

"Fritz V. Wilson" wrote:

> I'm currently working on a project about the Weather Underground,
> and the manner in which it emerged from the anti-war movement. To date, I've
> read a number of texts concerning the radicalization of the movement and the
> subsequent SDS split in 1969; "The Way the Wind Blew" by Ron Jacobs was
> particularly insightful. I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts on the
> manner in which the Weathermen were perceived by other activists, then and
> now. There is certainly a lot of controversy surrounding the group...I've
> read critiques of them in which they've been praised for energizing the
> movement, pitied as "idealists gone sour", or denounced outright as violent
> criminals. This question may have some relevance to the list, given a recent
> past thread about the Black Panthers which sought to answer the "criminal
> vs. revolutionary" question. I would particularly be interested in hearing
> from people who had direct contact with the Weathermen: What was appealing
> or appalling about the movement? Any information would be greatly appreciated.
> Fritz V. Wilson
> Northwestern University


As one who could be described as an "other
activist" of the time, I'll share my thoughts about
the Weather Underground, with the benefit of hind-
sight about my whole experience as a left activist
in the Vietnam era.

I began this endeavor in 1966, at age 19. At that time,
I was operating under the illusion that there was genuine
political freedom in the USA, and that I was free to
severely criticize the government and even advocate
fundamental change (socialism) without suffering any
negative consequences. This is what had been taught
to me in public schools. l learned the lessons so well
that I was able to pass the university's introductory US
government course by advanced standing exam.

You can summarize my experience by calling it a process
by which I was slowly disengaged from this naivete. Numerous
catastrophes in my own life were inflicted on me in retaliation
for my having participated in non-violent dissent. I also heard
about the repression suffered by others. I was led to under-
stand that what passes for American democracy is a pretense.

As for the Weathermen, in retrospect I find them naive and
unsophisticated on the question of political violence. Openly
declaring intentions to engage in armed struggle is stupid.
In their case it was all the more stupid because there was
no mass base of support for it.

The Weathermen would have done well to study the modus
operandi of the French Resistance, the Irish Republican
Army, and other organizations which have made effective
use of guerilla warfare in modern urban settings and with
some degree of popular support. The IRA is particularly
instructive. It has operated as an underground organization,
probably utilizing the guerilla cell structure wherein no
member, if captured, would be able to betray the identities
of more than 2 others. (I'm speculating on this point, since
IRA members obviously have not made me privy to their
organizational secrets).

The IRA pursued the same goals as the Sinn Fein, an open
and legal political organization devoted to Irish unification
and expelling the British from the North. Yet I doubt if any
Sinn Fein members would have even been able to identify
any IRA guerillas, and certainly none of the Sinn Fein,
in contrast to the infantile Weathermen, would have ever been
heard spouting off publicly about the glorious "armed
struggle." They knew something about discipline.

Once an Irish immigrant explained to me the origin of "Black
and Tan" as the name of a drink involving the mixing of the
dark Guinness brew with the lighter Harp. The Black and
Tan were a uniformed group of British assassins sent to
Ireland during its war of Independence following the Easter
Rebellion of 1916. To IRA guerillas sharing drinks in a pub
while concealing their identities from any British spies who
might be present, the phrase "Bartender I'll have me a Black
& Tan" had a double meaning. To those not in on the secret,
it was just a lad ordering a drink. To IRA partisans who were
present, it was a signal that one of the Black & Tan was going
to be assassinated.

I cannot imagine the shrieking Weathermen engaging
in such subtlety. Their antics did little more than tarnish
radicalism with the image of mindless violence and provide
more fuel for the engines of repression.

Perhaps the more sophisticated approach to guerilla
activity evolved in a situation in which the participants
were less encumbered by the illusion that their adversaries
were going to play the game by democratic rules.

-- Michael Wright

From: Stephen Denney <>

I think the extreme rhetoric and violent actions of the Weather
Underground alienated many young people who otherwise supported the
anti-war movement and related causes from the radical left. With the rise
of the WU, the focus of the anti-war movement shifted away from mass
demonstrations and toward institutional work, lobbying Congress,
campaigning for friendly candidates, etc.
- Steve Denney