“All War Is Terrorism”
A conversation with Mark Rudd of The Weather Underground on violence, the FBI, Che Guevara and a Palestinian named Jesus
In “The Real Side” ["Now Starring in the People's Republic of Albuquerque!" Oct. 26-Nov. 1], I wrote about the curious coincidence of Albuquerque attracting former leaders of The Black Panther Party, EarthFirst! and The Weather Underground. In the column, I imagined the ex-radicals holding forth about their regrets and their take on current events. Mark Rudd, formerly of The Weather Underground, accepted that invitation. Here’s my conversation with a man who helped form an organization that bombed the Capitol and for a decade waged war against the United States of America.
Let me begin by correcting myself. I wrote you made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted, but it was your comrade in arms, Bernadette Dorn, who earned that dubious honor. The FBI hunted you for seven years, yet you recently lectured at Quantico. Quite a switch.
I went to talk with mid-level police executives who are students at the FBI academy.
How did you go from attacking the government to being a guest at the FBI's training school?
I went because I believe strongly in the nonviolent principle to not dehumanize the enemy. Better to talk with them as people, to help them understand what we are about. The police can either criminalize dissenters or treat us as fellow Americans with rights. The instructor asked me to tell my story and answer questions, which I did. Nothing I said I haven't said or written in public before, including on my website. I hope that my speaking with them moved at least one police executive to understand protest as a necessary part of this society, not as criminal terrorism.
What insights did you gain on making a difference from your years of activism, both above and below ground?
I was privileged to have been, along with millions of others, a part of the movement that helped end the war in Vietnam. This was a historical event, the people of an imperial aggressor nation successfully demanding their government stop a brutal and illegal war of conquest. From this experience I learned mass movements can be effective at changing society.
Vietnam is a booming free-market economy. I’ve never understood why we killed more than a million of their people, or why nearly 60,000 Americans had to die. Did we learn anything?
Actually, we murdered between three to five million in Indochina, according to the American Friends Service Committee. That puts us in the big leagues of mass murderers. Did we learn anything? Between 1975 and 1991, there was something called “the Vietnam Syndrome,” which blocked the military’s ability to use American troops in colonial wars of conquest like Vietnam. So they had to use surrogate armies, as in Central America in the ’80s. By 1991, because enough people had forgotten the lesson of Vietnam, that the U.S. can’t win a war of occupation, U.S. troops were used in the Persian Gulf War. Only they, wisely, didn’t occupy Iraq then. In 2003 the occupation began and the result is the current disaster.
Who were your heroes while you were in The Weather Underground?
My No. 1 hero was Che Guevara. He was and still is the symbol of resistance to U.S. domination of Latin America and of the world. When Bush went to Argentina last year he was greeted by 50,000 people protesting his presence, carrying huge posters of Che.
Unfortunately, Che’s strategy of revolutionary guerilla warfare was a disaster. He and thousands of others died behind the strategy. I was among a handful of people who tried to put it into effect in this country. I realized it was going to be a bust after less then a year and withdrew from active participation in the underground.
Your heroes now?
Nelson Mandela. Every individual who's ever engaged in nonviolent action for social change. And Issa. He is a Palestinian who was made a paraplegic by a bullet through his spinal cord, shot in his garden while trying to get village children to safety during an Israel Defense Force incursion. Issa says he will never succumb to hating the Israelis. Issa is Arabic for Jesus, incidentally.
You’ve written that Palestinians practicing nonviolence is “dangerous to Israel.” Meaning what?
Palestinian violence confirms the militarist and religious-nationalist position that there's no living with the Palestinians. In that respect, the second intifada was a boon to [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon in his policy of building the wall, establishing permanent settlements and dismembering a contiguous, viable Palestinian land base. That's why he provoked it!
Nonviolence implies that in the long run people may be able to live together. The right-wing in Israel fears that. They want a Jewish state, with a Jewish majority; that means excluding even "Israeli Arabs," certainly not ever giving them full citizenship.
On the Israeli (Jewish) side, there is a trend away from ideological Zionism: People just want to live normal, American consumer lives, do business. Even Thomas Friedman admits that. So Zionism needs the threat of violence from Palestinians to keep it alive as an ideology. Otherwise, Israel might degenerate into a normal democratic state: one-person, one-vote. I think that will happen in a few generations, but many more people will die as a result of violence from both sides before then.
The Palestinians are so weak, they have nothing left but their bodies to use as weapons. They have been humiliated and embarrassed for generations. It takes a lot of strength and pride to develop a nonviolent strategy. Still, many people are doing that. But the Islamic fundamentalists and the macho tough guys have been dominant. They've played into Israel's hands.
You yourself engaged in violence to win peace.
It wasn't only for peace. It was to change the system that gave us endless colonial wars such as Vietnam and all the future ones. Forty years ago, we foresaw the Central America war in the ’80s and Iraq now. The theory was that at that time, 1969-1970, this country was on the verge of revolution. A small group starting guerilla warfare would gain support and grow into a popular mass movement to end U.S. imperialism. It would ally with nonwhite people here at home in revolt and with many future Vietnams around the world. It didn't work, obviously.
The morality of revolutionary violence is that a small amount of violence is necessary to stop a much larger violence (U.S. domination around the world). It's the exact same reasoning as "just war." I no longer believe in revolutionary war or in just war. I believe all war is immoral. All war is terrorism. What makes Bush believe his massive violence is moral? You might ask him that.
You’ve moved from violence to the values of Gandhi and Reverend King. What happened?
I came to my senses. My first realization was practical: When I saw, right after I went underground, that we weren't attracting support, it was a break in the theory.
At the time I went underground I was overwhelmed with grief about what our country was doing in the world. When you’re in grief, a natural reaction is to want to hit back.
Later I realized that the idea of killing or harming people for whatever cause is entirely inimical to our goals of freedom and justice. Shedding blood hardens people in too many ways. It creates the desire for revenge, among other things.
I am still in grief, but have realized it took five hundred years for European colonialism to produce American global domination and it will take many years more before the empire falls. I have a longer perspective.
My hope is that international law replaces war.
Speaking of war, what can we do about Iraq?
No individual can do anything. But mass social movements have changed this society many times. Look at civil rights, labor, the women's movement, that of gays, the disabled. Building an antiwar movement will take an organizing strategy and the models are not readily at hand. One thing is sure: We need a social coalition. That’s what made the civil rights movement successful.
Also, we must create a political opposition, probably within the Democratic Party. One such attempt, 20 years ago, was Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, which united working people, minorities, environmentalists, community-based organizations, elements of the old New Deal coalition. Jackson got 6.5 million votes in the 1988 Dem primary. That's a lot!
Will Democrats truly do more for peace than Republicans? I ask because when you began protesting the Vietnam War, Democrats ran the Pentagon. And a Democratic Senate voted in 2002 to authorize attacking Iraq.
I'm positive [the] Democratic victory Nov. 7 will disrupt the Republican stranglehold on government. That alone is a good thing. These people in power are mass murderers and war criminals. Their power has got to be disrupted any way we can.
Unfortunately, the Democrats don't seem to have a plan for ending the war. Yes, Vietnam was a bipartisan war, which is why I became a radical. Corporate money has been shifting over to the Democrats lately, so they will probably wind up doing their bidding.
Frank Rich of the New York Times says [after Nov. 7] "the adults" will move in and impose a plan to end the war. He means James A. Baker, the elder Bush's consigliere. The war is hurting the U.S. politically and economically, and the corporate interests, so willing to go along with the adventure three years ago, are now going to force the clique in power to withdraw.
Many readers may not understand nonviolence. We haven’t seen it on a large scale for decades. Who teaches nonviolence locally?
All the local groups working out of the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, located at 202 Harvard SE, are pledged to nonviolence. By nonviolence, I mean strategies and tactics ranging from electoral to educational to petitions to civil disobedience.
Actually, we’ve seen a lot of nonviolent political action in recent years. The fall of the Soviet Union and the satellite countries was entirely nonviolent. The Shah of Iran, a U.S.-backed dictator, fell nonviolently.
That website you mentioned?
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