No alternative to vigilance
The editor of Law & Liberty asked me to look back on the townhouse explosion 50 years later. (It has been 51 years since that event, but we are close enough.) He also asked me to comment on recurring cycles of political violence. Length: 2,500 to 3,500 words. I went to the max and beyond: about 125 words over.
Alan Charles Kors says I’ve left out a lot. Boy did I – maybe more than he knows. Many books and many other articles have been written on these subjects. I wrote some of these articles myself. I suppose that’s why the editor hired me.
Mr. Kors says I missed the details of the romantics of left militants. I’ve written pieces on the subject – specifically – including this one from 2012 (“Aren’t they cute?”).
Every journalist knows that he has to decide: “How will I spend my place?” One man’s decision is likely to be different from another man’s. I have been asked to bring up one or more very broad topics. I told a few of the many stories I could have told. I have told you a few of the many facts that I could have told. Of the many points that I could have made. . .
My critics would have written a different piece than me. No problem.
Mr Kors goes on to say that I am saying “nothing new”. My conclusions are “rather unoriginal”. I can plead guilty for that. There’s really nothing new under the sun. I think most of what we do is repackage or repurpose what has been discovered, thought, expressed.
He also accuses me of a “shoplifted narrative”. Ah – worn out for him maybe. But my understanding was that I should write for a general audience, not specialists. Speaking to Alan Charles Kors, I could just say, “Weather. Townhouse. Brink’s. Bernardine. “These terms are as familiar to him as his own name. But to others?
It’s amazing how time flies. (Talk about a mundane observation!) I have a lot of young employees – let’s say 25 years old. You’re just as far from the townhouse explosion as I was from the premiere of John Ford’s film Stagecoach when I was 25. In this essay, I wrote for everyone or wanted to.
At the end of his play, Mr. Kors makes a remark about National Review that I don’t understand. But maybe I should say here and now that in my essay I spoke for myself and not for my employer. So please set it free!
Michael Anton says I left the impression that the New Left was a New York phenomenon. I beg again: I was asked to write about the townhouse explosion. It’s not my fault that the explosion was in New York. (The same goes for the heist of the Brink in Nyack, about 30 miles north of Manhattan.) If I’d been asked to write about the Black Panthers, my play would have contained a lot of the Bay Area (plus Leonard Bernstein’s party and so on).
Mr. Anton says I could have written about Chesa Boudin. Oh, I could have it – it’s a piece of its own (and there were so many). Mr. Anton goes on to say that I left out the “most notorious” statement from Bill Ayers. Look, he’s filled his life with statements like that – they could be recited ad nauseam.
Later on, Mr. Anton accused me of “evading”, “posing”, etc. I can assure readers that my views are my views, which are sincere and openly expressed. I don’t evade anything. Or pose for anything. You may think my views are stupid or evil or what do you have – but they are my honest views.
According to Mr. Anton, I snuck into an implication, “unspoken but inevitable”. What is it? “If both sides are to blame, then it is everyone, and if everyone is to blame, it really is nobody.” I promise you I am a great debtor. It’s hard to blame me. I am damned – I am the enemy of – anyone who threatens the law and liberty, no matter who they are. I don’t care which tribe he belongs to, which jersey he wears. We are all responsible for our actions.
(Throughout my career I have been accused of judgment. It is a new experience to be accused of shrinking from judgment. So maybe there is something new under the sun.)
There will always be people who want what they want, when they want it, and are ready to use their fists, weapons, or bombs to get it. As I see it, there is no alternative to perpetual vigilance, although such vigilance may be weary.
The phrase “law and freedom” reminds me: I once asked Robert Conquest how he would describe himself – what label he would label himself if he had to. He said “Burkean Conservatives” would do. He also said that Orwell spoke of “the lands of law and freedom”. He, Conquest, would be happy to be known as the “Man of Law and Freedom”. I know exactly what he means.
Back to Michael Anton’s article, for anyone interested in January 6th there is ample video evidence and more than 300 arrests and trials. Regarding which groups and individuals pose a threat to the country, I am relying on officials like the Secretary of Homeland Security and the FBI Director whom I believe will know.
Mr. Anton says that my piece “ends with the laziest and hottest faux comparison of all: Kristallnacht”. I didn’t think I’d make a comparison, faux or vrai. I trust most readers will understand me. My point was – unoriginal (and no less true, of course) – the fragility of civilization. I’ve spent a good part of my life in Salzburg. You have never seen a more peaceful place. It seems like the safest and most civilized place in the world. But in vivid memory it was the site of an explosion of savagery – for which people should be on guard. There will always be people who want what they want, when they want it, and are ready to use their fists, weapons, or bombs to get it. As I see it, there is no alternative to perpetual vigilance, although such vigilance may be weary.
Finally, Mr. Anton despairs that “the law” can be represented by people like me. He can rest easily. To reiterate, I don’t represent anyone but myself, which is hard enough. I remember a line from our old story. It has been pronounced in a romantic context, but it applies to others, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” That’s the best many of us can aspire to: speak for ourselves. And let others pile up however they want.
Harvey Klehr mentions Bill Ayers and his academic standing (as did other respondents). Readers may want to know something additional – one of the many, many things that I left out of my essay in order to decide how to use the space.
When Ayers announced his resignation from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2010, he was retired. He was denied it after a passionate speech by the Chairman of the University Council, Christopher G. Kennedy.
In 1974, Ayers and other weathermen published a book called Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism. It was dedicated to a long list of “revolutionary” figures – over 200 of them – including Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert F. Kennedy, Chris’ father.
In his play, Will Morrisey writes: “Where does morality come from? For centuries, of course, the answer was ‘God’. ”This reminded me of a memory. Some will know what I’m going to tell, but I’m offering it to a general audience. And even some who already know may not mind hearing it again.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born in 1918, one year after the Bolshevik Revolution. Growing up, he heard simple old people say, “All of this happened because people forgot God.” Solzhenitsyn was a very clever boy. He found this conversation kind of silly.
He studied and endured communism for over 50 years. And in his full maturity he came to the conclusion that he could not improve on what those old, superstitious people had said in his youth: “It all happened because people had forgotten God.”