KENT, Ohio — Bill Ayers says people can’t equate the bombings that he and others in the Weather Underground did 40 or so years ago with the April 15 twin bombings during the Boston Marathon that killed three people.
Ayers, a keynote speaker at Saturday’s annual May 4 commemoration of the National Guard shootings at Kent State University in Ohio in 1970 that left four students dead, spoke briefly after giving his talk before an estimated 350 people on the university’s Commons.
There is no relationship at all between what Weather Underground members did and the bombings that two brothers allegedly committed on April 15 in Massachusetts, Ayers said in response to a reporter’s question. No one died in the Weather Underground bombings.
“How different is the shooting in Connecticut from shooting at a hunting range?” Ayers said. “Just because they use the same thing, there’s no relationship at all.”
Ayers, a retired professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago, co-founded the anti-Vietnam War Weather Underground group that bombed the U. S. Capitol, the Pentagon and other buildings in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. The radical Weather Underground took its name from lyrics in a Bob Dylan song.
The United States is the most violent country that has ever been created, Ayers said.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., committed daily war crimes in Vietnam “and I get asked about violence when what I did was some destruction of property to issue a scream and cry against an illegal war in which 6,000 people a week are being killed,” Ayers said. “Six thousand a week being killed and I destroyed some property. Show me the equivalence. You should ask John McCain that question … I’m against violence.”
“To conflate a group of fundamentalist people (in Boston) who are nihilistic in some way with a group of people who spent their lives trying to oppose the murder of 6,000 people a week … and still the killing went on. And still the killing went on. What would you have done?” Ayers said. “There’s no equivalence (with Boston). Property damage. That’s what we did.”
This was the first time Ayers has participated in the annual memorial that in part honors the memory of the four students killed: Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder. Nine other students were wounded in a protest against the war and the Guard on campus. The ceremonies also marked the dedication of the May 4 Visitor Center on campus
Ayers said his wife, Bernardine Dorhn, also a prominent former member of the Weather Underground and now a Northwestern University law professor, spoke several years ago at a Kent State May 4 commemoration.
“I have many, many friends here,” Ayers said.
“My message to young people is the same again and again, I don’t believe in the myth of the ’60s. That’s all marketing,” Ayers said. “I’m a person of this generation. We’re all inter-generational people… . What I think is, we have a hard moral responsibility to look at the world as it is, to open our eyes, to be astonished at both the beauty of the world and the unnecessary suffering we visit on the world. And then to act. I’m an activist. I have been since I was 20 years old. And activists are people who remind us that when the town crier says all is well, all is not well.”
The Weather Underground never accomplished what it set out to do: to end the Vietnam War, to end the system that created war and to create a more just society, he said.
Ayers said he still holds out hope for the creation of a peace culture and a peace movement in the nation.
In his talk to the crowd, Ayers mentioned that in 1970, he lost three friends in the Weather Underground, including his lover, Diana Oughton. He did not explain in his talk how they died — they were killed when nail bombs they were making in a Greenwich Village townhouse blew up.
Telling the crowd the circumstances of those deaths would have been “inappropriate,” Ayers said afterward. “Everybody here knows,” he said.
Authorities said the bombs were intended to be used at a dance at the Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey.
“No one knows for sure but I think they were. And had they carried it out it would have been a catastrophe,” Ayers said. “But they didn’t and it didn’t happen. But what did happen is, on that same day John McCain murdered civilians. Do we have any responsibility for that? Should there be any reconciliation for that? Should he tell the truth about it?”
North Canton, Ohio, resident Tom Jones, a Kent State graduate and Vietnam War veteran with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, said the left and the right need to reconcile over the tragic shootings at the school from 43 years ago. This was his fourth time coming to the May 4 commemoration, the 72-year-old said.
“This theme of reconciliation needs to happen here,” he said. One side that includes National Guard members has accepted responsibility for the shooting but the other side has yet to accept its share of responsibility, he said.
“I like to stand on the edge of the crowd and watch. I like the interaction,” Jones said.
Other speakers included Tom Hayden, 73, a 1960s antiwar activist, former head of Students for a Democratic Society, California politician, author and ex-husband of actress Jane Fonda.
“There’s no worse death than the death of forgetting,” Hayden said in his closing comments.