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The Weathermen Underground

November 8, 2010
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In 2002, Upstate Films released the documentary “The Weather Underground”, a story of youth extremists who sought to overthrow the American government in the name of justice.  This group of young people, like millions of others growing up in the late 1960’s to 1970’s, found themselves in the midst of worldwide revolution.  In China, France, Mexico City, Ireland, Uruguay and Africa ideas of reform and a call for change sparked revolutions that seemed to take over the globe.  At home in the United States, the country stood deeply divided on its own controversial issues such U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and the struggle for social equality between the whites and the blacks.  Inspired by domestic revolutionists such as Malcom X, the “Weathermen”, as they would later come to be known, branched off from the student organization Students for a Democratic Society (or SDS).  They felt the nonviolent protests of the SDS had done little to invoke change in a government they saw as corrupt and unjust.  They disagreed with American imperialism and supported the idea of a classless world in which no group was oppressed. The goal of their violent revolution? In their own words, “to bring the war home”.  They hoped to interfere with government affairs, cause turmoil, and draw attention to the injustice occurring overseas, specifically in Vietnam.

After the death of a prominent Black Panther member at the hands of police, the Weathermen went underground and declared war on the American government and capitalism.  From 1969 to 1985, The Weathermen Underground launched a series of attacks including bombings of public buildings, riots, robberies, and prison breaks all in the name of a more just society. But was their cause just?  Like political theorists and activist before them, The Weathermen Underground, unsatisfied with their government, looked to basic political principles of the relationship between the government and the people to dictate the direction of their cause. The Weathermen Underground threw the country into Hobbe’s definition of the state of nature.  They caused a domestic war of sorts, and unleashed chaos fear and diffidence upon a country that prided itself on maintaining peace and democracy.

On page 150, Hobbes describes natural man as having a “fear of oppression” and a “strong opinion of their own wisdom in matter of government”.  The Weathermen Underground epitomized the combination of paranoia, distrust, arrogance, and hostility, which characterizes man in the Hobbesian state of nature.  However, acting, especially revolutionizing, in such a state often proves harmful.  Burke compares this “spirit of liberty” to intoxication (502). It dulls the senses and turns the concept of liberty into a “noble freedom”, carrying an “imposing and majestic aspect”(503).  The spirit of revolution engulfed the Weathermen Underground.  Like a drunkard, all rationale disappeared in the face of the infectious and romanticized idea of the fight for change. Burke warned of radical change, suggesting that a movement should not be supported until time has been allowed for the benefits of the cause to be confirmed (502).  In acting out of irrationality, The Weathermen Underground endangered their fellow American citizens, angered political activist groups that had once been their supporters, spread fear and chaos, and the majority eventually ended up in prison. Though unsuccessful, The Weathermen Underground serve as a chilling example of the dangers of a passionate revolution spirit in the name of justice.



One Comment
  1. emilywiho permalink
    November 8, 2010 11:19 PM

    I found your post an intriguing and mind-provoking read. Indeed, the spirit of rebellion and revolutions have both been successful and destructive. The glorious connotation with revolution, possibly due to its part in French and American history has probably been the most common perception of revolution. When there are extremely strong opinions and sentiments against the governments, people are passionately aroused by the spirit of revolution in hopes of making a change and being actively involved.

    My personal sentiments on revolution, however, are different. As Chinese person who had spent most of her life in Hong Kong, I have always heard, learnt and read about the Chinese revolution and its impact on the country. After learning of personal accounts of the traumas experienced during the revolution from family friends, I realized that under the heroic impression of ‘revolution’ is a darker and more sinister side. No matter how great or wonderful the aims and purpose of the revolution is, the many more people affected by it during and after is unimaginable.

    Therefore I agree very much with you last comment regarding the “dangers of a passionate revolutionary spirit in the name of justice”

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