I’m basicially a child of the late 60’s/early 70’s at least that is the period where I came to consciousness. My earliest date-able memories were the riots in Detroit. I remember watching the Viet Nam war on TV while we ate dinner every night. The latest fad seemed to alternate among hijackings, assassinations and bombings.
I was a kid and grown-ups like to keep kids in the dark about a lot of things in the hopes kids won’t worry. But the lack of straight information was maddening. I remember watching “Helter Skelter” when it first aired in 1976. I was 13 and I remember having to change the channel whenever my mom came in the room so she wouldn’t know what I was watching. Needless to say, that didn’t make for a satisfying viewing experience and to this day there are parts of the whole Manson case I don’t know let alone understand.
That’s why it’s been really refreshing for me to see a couple documentaries about real-life terror in recent months, namely “The Weather Underground (2003)” and “Guerrilla: the Taking of Patricia Hearst (2004)” I remember sketchy details about both the Weathermen and the Symbionese Liberation Army from back in the day. In fact, when Patty Hearst was kidnapped I remembered being grateful that I was the son of a schoolteacher and not that of a plutocratic publisher since I would not make a likely kidnap victim. A couple years later, though, a girl who lived a few blocks away was abducted, raped and murdered. So much for my theory of security through lack of notoriety…
The two movies beg for comparison. Both do a good job of describing some of aspects of American society at the time, at least the aspects that spurred the extreme radicalism of certain groups. The Weatherman movie, I think does a better job of tracing how progressive ideals can splinter off piece by piece into more and more extreme forms of radicalism. By contrast, something that seems evident in the opening minutes of the Patty Hearst movie is that the SLA start off seriously crazy. Granted they develop out of a group that visits prisoners which is all things being equal a laudable task but the SLA’s first public act is to murder a black school official. By contrast, the Weathermen interviewed assert that their attacks were always calculated to destroy property and not people… though I don’t know enough about the facts to know if this was actually true. I tried to explain the Weathermen movie to an older friend of mine, one who was a hippy… heck, he probably STILL could be considered a bit of a hippy and his initial response was to cut me off mid-sentence “The Weathermen? Those murderers?” The Weathermen interviews certainly got a little coy when discussing the bank robberies that funded their operations during the group’s later stages. Both groups at least seem relatively effective at spreading terror whether it advanced a discernible political agenda or not.
It should be obvious by now that my interest in the radical terrorists of a by-gone era isn’t very serious. I haven’t read any books on the subject. I haven’t even looked up the key players on wikipedia (except to find the dates for the TV movie “Helter Skelter”) I haven’t looked very hard because I really don’t think I’m going to find the answer to what I really want to know which is why would it ever occur to anyone to try to motivate change, especially progressive change through fear?