Obama’s “Problem” With William Ayers

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Recently the Presidential campaign of 2008 has taken a nasty turn. As the McCain/Palin ticket continues to fall behind to the Democratic team of Obama/Biden, allegations are flying to discredit Obama. Some of this is not new. Even during a spirited Democratic primary campaign, pictures of Obama in traditional Kenyan dress were posted to imply this candidate was Muslim – as if that were automatically a dirty term. Rumors that Obama attended a madrassa for school in Indonesia were floated to further the “smear” that our first bi-racial major party candidate was in league with “terrorists”.

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Now, Sarah Palin, on the defensive for her pathetic performance in an interview with CBS’ Katie Couric, has claimed a close relationship between Obama and former Weatherman radical, William Ayers. Even though Ayers is now a respected professor in Chicago, his past leadership in a violent, radical, anti-war group in the 60s has provided new ways to link Obama to “terrorists” because Ayers held a fundraiser for Obama more than 13 years ago!

I don’t wish to defend the political actions used by the Weathermen group that split off from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) over a disagreement with tactics. As the Vietnam War continued on and on with the resulting deaths of thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese, the Weathermen movement sought to bring some of the costs of the war “home”. They planted bombs in buildings and caused several deaths and much fear in some circles. While Ayers is routinely castigated for actions taken 40 years ago, John McCain is lionized for his.

Do we need to take another, more critical look at this “national hero”? Why was John McCain held as a Prisoner of War for more than five years? What had he been doing before he was “captured”? As a US Navy pilot, McCain flew many bombing raids over the capitol city of North Vietnam, Hanoi. Dropping bombs from an airplane –even if the targets are considered “military” when located in a very populous city – will inevitably kill “civilians” or other “non-combatants”. Although this practice has continued since the end of World War I, aerial bombardment clearly violates International Law of War restrictions on the use of weapons that are “indiscriminate”.

We don’t know if McCain’s planes also dropped napalm or Agent Orange. We do know that he is responsible for much more destruction and death than William Ayers. But because he was wearing a uniform at the time, does that obviate the need for critical analysis? Was the Vietnam War a “just war”? It certainly wasn’t a declared war by the Congress even though most members continued to fund it with young men and money. Even in a so-called “just war”, there clearly are actions that are morally impermissible. Would dropping bombs on a city fail such a test?

Make no mistake; some of the actions John McCain took as a prisoner of war were heroic – even if the circumstances of capture were the result of criminal acts. While he must be held accountable for his own actions, certainly those political and military leaders directing the policy and execution of that war are more complicit. Now that John McCain is a US Senator and a loud proponent of the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he is more culpable for the bombing of civilians that are happening every week in both those wars – even though the mainstream media refuses to cover it. But the McCain campaign ads slam Barack Obama for criticizing “our troops” when he condemned some of the killing of civilians in Afghanistan.

I don’t know if Ayers has “repented” for some of his anti-war tactics and actions back in the 60s. The neighborhood organizing and other political and community-building work he has done more recently demonstrate at least a change of tactics if not a change of heart. Can we say the same of McCain? Who is the present supporter of “terrorism”?