DAYS OF RAGE: AMERICA’S RADICAL UNDERGROUND, THE FBI, AND THE FORGOTTEN AGE OF REVOLUTIONARY VIOLENCE
By Bryan Burrough
Penguin Press, $29.95, 608 pages
As a Marine Corps second lieutenant in 1971, the first article I wrote for the Marine Corps Gazette addressed the real possibility of an urban civil war in which the military might be called on to fight radical elements of my own generation who were advocating and actively working for the violent overthrow of the United States government. Looking back over four decades, my concern now seems unwarranted, but at the time, it was a very troubling possibility. Most Americans who lived through the era want to forget its violent antics, but author Bryan Burrough believes they should be documented. “Days of Rage” is his attempt to do so. He probably gives us more information than we need to know, but it is an instructive read for those who are interested.
Mr. Burrough chronicles how extreme elements along with the predominately benign flower power and civil rights movements morphed into homegrown terrorist groups attempting to foment the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Their brief period in the limelight, and their eventual fade into irrelevance and obscurity, are now a historical oddity. Unlike the Civil War, there are no “Lost Cause” legends; nor are there Daughters of American Seventies Radicals organizations to keep the myth alive.
Until the present millennials, the baby boom generation was perhaps the most pampered that the nation had ever produced. Concerned that their children should never have to live through the Depression of their youth, parents tried to give their offspring what they themselves didn’t have as children. By the time my generation was college age, many fell prey to the hedonism of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Faced with a war in Vietnam, many males justified their avoidance of it by claiming that the war was immoral. Crowds chanted, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is going to win!” and waved Viet Cong flags at the troops. That protest movement morphed into the more radical Weathermen, and finally to the extreme violence of the Weather Underground.
Meanwhile, radical elements of the civil rights movement became the Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army in waging a war on whites, particularly the police. Their credo of “offing the honkies and pigs” was adopted by the Weather Underground, a group that the Black Panthers often dismissed as a bunch of effete and incompetent Jews; the author notes that many in the Weather movement were of Jewish descent.
In the 1970s, the twin revolutionary movements evolved into a loosely organized violent revolutionary underground referred to generically as the “Movement” dedicated to overthrowing “Amerika” — which it defined as anyone representing authority. Fortunately, they weren’t very good at it. Although it did a lot of bombing, the Weather Underground’s most famous explosion was one where they managed to blow themselves up in a New York townhouse. The Black liberation portion of the movement was marginally more competent, and engaged in a series of vicious police killings and bank robberies, most in the early “70s.
Vaguely Marxist in ideology, the Movement more resembled the Marx brothers than Ho Chi Minh; however, the Weathermen engaged in Stalinist-style purges to rid themselves of people not mindlessly loyal to the rantings of loons such as Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. Mr. Burrough is an award-winning reporter on economic issues. He tells a good story, but the book bogs down a little in the middle in describing court trials and FBI investigations.
In the end, the Movement became rebels without a cause. President Nixon wound down the war in Vietnam and ended the draft in the early ‘70s. White boomers lost interest in revolutionary themes once their precious little selves were spared the threat of actually having to fight for their country. Most black Americans realized that the urban riots and violent radicals had subverted the good done by the Rev. Martin Luther King and civil rights pioneers by alienating much of their support among moderate whites and despoiling the neighborhoods that they had to live in.
The Movement largely died with a whimper rather than a bang. Its last violent hoorah was in the vicious and murderous antics of the Symbionese Liberation Army, most famous for its kidnapping and brainwashing of Patty Hearst and subsequent destruction in a fiery gunbattle in the mid-‘70s. To avoid arrest, surviving members of the Movement went deep underground or fled the country.
In an epilogue, the author gives a “where are they now?” account of the Movement’s survivors. Sadly, many are educators polluting the minds of today’s youth in public schools and universities; happily most are of retirement age.
• Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel, is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.