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Sarah Palin & the Vietnam War Era: Shall we reduce our history to bumper sticker slogans?

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I figure I can keep prefacing my posts with this anecdote until it no longer applies: I once knew a man whose parrot could say “shit.” While the bird had no idea what the word meant, it nonetheless spent its days repeating, “shit” (along with “open the door” and “what’s up?”) daylong, come rain or come shine. 

Sarah Palin is like this. Her scriptwriters have given her some zingy speeches, phrases and one-liners, which she delivers with a fair degree of skill. Problem is, she hasn’t the foggiest idea what she’s talking about. It’s one thing to memorize the facts. It’s another thing, entirely, to understand those facts — and particularly to understand them within their historical context.

Oh, that the lessons from the ugliest chapters in our national history could be reduced to bumper sticker slogans, which we could forever intone in times of trouble, to save us from all future calamity. The world doesn’t work that way. Anyone who thinks so is just plain wrong. And any national leader who thinks so is just plain dangerous. In this vein, I feel compelled to set the record straight on the Vietnam War era, which served as the backdrop to those notorious and violent protests of William Ayers that have recently become the subject of Sarah Palin’s bumper-sticker slogans — those carelessly delivered slogans that carry the same potential for deadly violence as any of the Weathermen’s bombs.    

The Vietnam War Years: some sorely needed perspective on those horrible times

William Ayers’ activities with the Weathermen were abhorrent, no matter that he committed them in the cause of ending the war in Vietnam. I can state, without a doubt (and even lacking statistics) that nearly all Americans were opposed to bombing government buildings in protest of the war. It would be a lie,  however, to say that Ayers was out of the mainstream in his beliefs that the war was wrong and needed to end. 

The fact is, during the height of Ayers’ anti-war activities, the majority of Americans were of the same mind as Ayers in opposing the war in Vietnam. Depending on the age group, the opposition ranged from 66% to 77% of Americans opposing the war in Vietnam War.

Again, we can all overwhelmingly agree today that William Ayers’ violent methods were wrong (wrong, wrong, wrong). But let’s be clear. It would be a lie to say that his opposition to the war was “un-American” as Sarah Palin would like us to believe, unless you’re the sort who believes that the majority opinion, within a democracy, is undemocratic, or that citizens who protest when they believe their government is wrong are “unpatriotic.” Because, if you’re that sort, then you’re also the sort who would paint as treasonists and terrorists men like Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson…..

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. — Thomas Jefferson

During the height of the Vietnam War, millions of Americans took to the streets in protest against the war, with the majority of violent acts being committed — not by the protesters, but by law enforcement. Even this is an over-simplification. The point here is that Sarah Palin knows shamefully little about the history of the country she’d like to rule, much less the rest of the world. In this vein, I offer, below, an exceedingly brief historical context of the Vietnam War era, because it seems history’s been re-written into things that were and were not. 

My effort here will no doubt inspire the wrath of some. I suspect this is why we don’t see an outpouring of such efforts, even as there are no doubt countless millions in this country who would agree with what I’m saying. I’m of the mind that, lest we remember the lessons of our history, we will be forced to relearn them over and over. Ain’t no bumper sticker can save us from ignorance. I am particularly mindful and fearful of this when I hear the hateful, violence-inciting vitriol of Sarah Palin’s stump speeches.  

ABOVE: A May 1964 conversation between President Lyndon Johnson and his National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, one year before the fatal escalation of troops. Here, Johnson voiced his strong reservations about escalating this war: Looks to me we’re getting into another Korea. It just worries the hell out of me….. I don’t think it’s worth fighting for, and I don’t think we can get out, and it’s just the biggest damn mess that I ever saw….. It’s damned easy to get into a war, but it’s going to be awfully hard to extricate yourself if you get in.

ABOVE: Four years after this conversation, Walter Cronkite denounced the war in Vietnam in a broadcast that effectively put an end to Johnson’s aspirations for re-election. Would that we had, today, such journalists of integrity.

ABOVE: For those who didn’t live through the Vietnam years, this is a sampling of what we saw on the evening news. For those who did live through those years, but have forgotten the national climate at that time, here is a sampling of the 66% to 77% of Americans who, like William Ayers, were opposed to the war. This footage at least shows us that the Bush Administration took one lesson from the Vietnam War — namely, that if you shut out the media (don’t show the slaughtering of women and children, and don’t show those coffins arriving home) you can keep the American public in the dark about the realities of a war and, thereby, reduce the level of negative opinion and protest.  (note: the sound quality on this video is uneven — scratchy, then loud, then soft — but well worth the 10 minutes to watch).

Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people. — Thomas Jefferson

 

See our related posts:

Sarah Palin Hurls William Ayers: A Molotov Cocktail with a Twist of Lies 

The Terrorist Tactics of Sarah Palin & John McCain: It’s time to tell the media “Enough is Enough!”

McCain & Palin — Palling Around with Terrorists While Rome Burns

 

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Sarah Palin Hurls William Ayers: A Molotov Cocktail with a Twist of Lies

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Trickery and treachery are the practices of fools that have not the wits enought to be honest. — Benjamin Franklin

In 1972 — back when Sarah Palin was in, like, 2nd grade, and Barack Obama was in 5th grade — William (Bill) Ayers was a militant Vietnam war protester, involved in those most notorious activities that are now being used to smear Barack Obama’s good name.

It was to be another 23 years before the two men’s paths would actually cross. By that time, Ayers had been married with two children for nearly two decades. The charges against him for the violent protests he waged while a member of the Weathermen had long ago been dropped. He’d since earned his Masters in Early Childhood Education, followed by a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction, in 1987.  Ayers is currently a professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, holding the honor of Distinguished Professor.

By the time Barack Obama first met him in 1995, William Ayers had spent the previous two decades channeling his energies into early childhood education issues, with emphases on urban education reform and poverty & social justice. With both men actively working on the same issues, in the same town, it was only inevitable that their paths would cross. 

A CORRECTED HISTORY: Who, Why, When, Where, What & How

Barack Obama and William Ayers first crossed paths in 1995, as the two men served on the board of an educational organization, called The Chicago Anneberg Challenge, which has been described as “the largest public/private endeavor in U.S. history dedicated to improving public schools.” During this same year, Ayers and his wife held a “meet-and-greet” in their Hyde Park home, at which time State Senator Alice Palmer introduced Barack Obama as her chosen candidate for the 1996 Democratic primary. Obama’s and Ayer’s paths again crossed in 1999, as both served on the board of The Woods Fund, an anti-poverty grantwriting group in Chicago. According to Deborah Harrington, the president of the The Woods Fund, the two men were selected for the board because of their solid academic credentials and passion for social justice. In 2001, William Ayers contributed $200 to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Regarding any untoward motives involved with this donation, Harrington commented:

This whole connection is a stretch. Barack was very well known in Chicago, and a highly respected legislator. It would be difficult to find people round here who never volunteered or contributed money to one of his campaigns.

Regarding any untoward connections between the two men, Obama campaign spokesman, Bill Burton, said:

Senator Obama strongly condemns the violent actions of the Weathermen group, as he does all acts of violence. But he was an eight-year-old child when Ayers and the Weathermen were active, and any attempt to connect Obama with events of almost forty years ago is ridiculous.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve been involved in the arts and local theater in my own town. I wonder, were I to ever run for public office, would I be indicted for some notorious decades-old activities of a fellow thespian or artist? ]

Obama’s and Ayers’ paths crossed again, quite literally — and for the last time — in 2007, as described by an Obama campaign spokesman this past August: 

“The last time Obama saw Ayers was about a year ago when he crossed paths with him while biking in the neighborhood. The suggestion that Ayers was a political adviser to Obama or someone who shaped his political views is patently false.”

A fact that should be mentioned here is that the above-mentioned Chicago Annenberg Challenge, headed by the same William Ayers, would not have been possible without the generous support of Walter Annenberg, a staunchly conservative Nixon appointee, major GOP donor and longtime friend of Ronald Reagan.  In fact, Walter Annenberg was President Nixon’s Ambassador To Great Britain From 1969-1974, and, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan awarded him the nation’s highest civilian honor, The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

As if that weren’t endorsement enough, Walter Annenberg’s widow, Leonore Annenberg ( the current president of the Annenberg Foundation) is on John McCain’s recently released list of 100 former ambassadors endorsing McCain’s candidacy.

Hardly what you could call, “palling around with terrorists”

But, then, Sarah Palin is hardly what you’d call a politician who “pals around with the truth.” In her Ayers-smears against Obama, Sarah Palin is not only guilty of taking malicious liberties with the facts, but she is also guilty of a profound ignorance of these facts, particularly with respect to their historical context. This would be harmless enough, coming from an everyday hockey mom, but for a politician aspiring to be vice-president (and back-up president)  of the United States, her ignorance is also profoundly dangerous. It is one thing to own a rote memorization of the facts. It’s another thing, entirely, to own an  understanding of those facts.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I once had a friend whose parrot could say “shit.” While the bird had no idea what the word meant, it nonetheless spent its days repeating, “shit” (along with “open the door” and “what’s up?”) daylong, come rain or come shine. 

Sarah Palin has proven that she can deliver a script, a bumper-sticker slogan or a phrase, such as the zinger she hurled yesterday in her smear against Obama when she said: “Our opponent… is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country….This is not a man who sees America as you and I do.”

Just who are the “you and I” in this equation? They are, of course, the good guys and the bad guys. In Sarah-world, the good guys love America, and the bad guys hate America. It’s that simple. All we really need is a pep talk for the good guys, and a few stern warnings about the bad guys, and we’ll all be okay. Problem is, the world is an infinitely more complex place than that bean-brained vision inside Sarah Palin’s head. 

This is as true today as it was 232 years ago when our country was founded by a handful of dedicated people (John Hancock, Paul Revere, John Adams, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin…) who understood that imperfection is as much the nature of government as dissent is the means to perfecting that government. Perhaps this is what inspired Thomas Jefferson to pen the following words, which were immortalized in our Declaration of Independence:

Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government — Thomas Jefferson

Our American founders are surely roiling in their graves over the state of our union, in much the same spirit as the millions of living, breathing Americans who’ve spent the past 8 years watching helplessly as the Bush Administration systematically dismantled the very foundations or our country — playing reckless with our economy, cooking intelligence to take us to war, chipping away at our Constitution, staining our relationships with our allies and otherwise wrecking the integrity of our country. Barack Obama is not alone in his observation that we find ourselves in a less-than-perfect place.

 

But what does this have to do with William Ayers? Um. Nothing. 

But this surely won’t stop politicians like Sarah Palin and John McCain from playing these filthy, dirty political games for the next 29 days, even as our country is teetering on the brink of collapse. Apparently, this is the best hope they have to offer our country: throwing gasoline onto the fire in the hope of saving their campaign. Here, their methods aren’t so different than William Ayers’ methods.  Hopefully, the majority of Americans today are wiser than they were 8 years ago. Hopefully, enough of us have learned the difference between the real thing and a cheap imitation of a patriotic American.