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In Defense of Terrorism

By Richard E. Hyland

THE ONLY reason I wouldn't blow up the Center for International Affairs is that I might get caught. But the desire is there. As it is for the 7094 computer, the Instrumentation Labs, and the Center for International Studies at M.I.T., draft boards, army bases, the Pentagon, the White House, the Capitol, New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Harvard University. I would probably remove the authentic examples of Egyptian and Sumerian art from the Semitic Museum at the Center first. The copies, though, should probably go.

The Center is a good example. If everyone woke up one morning and found it gone, who would miss it? President Pusey? Robert Bowie? Maybe a couple of others, for sentimental reasons. Most people don't care about

The Center, and anyone who knows anything about it wishes it didn't exist.

What has happened to our generation is that we never got what we wanted. We've only been led to believe that we have. Capitalist production has created desires which it has, for better or for worse, satisfied. In the same process, however, the things we really wanted, and needed, were set just above our reach. They were either labeled fantasy and psychosis or were put on TV so that we could receive the pleasure vicariously.

We have come to believe that any desire that has not been created can not be satisfied. That is what they would like us to believe. The market place has become like a Woolworth's in a small town. What you can't get there, you don't get.

This is why many of us took so long to believe seriously in the necessity of an American withdrawal from Vietnam. That was the first time we had wanted something without first being told to want it. Professor Landes is fond of saying that our generation wants' everything quickly because we have always received everything we want. I think he has misjudged the phenomenon.

Many of us know now what we want. Or at least we know what we don't want. We don't want the war or any part of the society that made it. We may not even want any part of the whole civilization. It might be necessary to go back two hundred years and start again.

The point is that modern philosophy, maybe since Marx has taught us the necessary correlation between theory and practice. You don't really believe something unless you are acting for it. We want to abolish the Center, for example, but we don't know how. And so we have an irreconcilable tension in our existence all the way from breakfast to bedtime.

Blowing up a bad thing will relieve much of that tension. So that the preceding sentence doesn't become evidence for any of the rampant psychological reductionism theories about radicals, it should be pointed out that the psychological problems most of us have are very directly capitalism's fault. In fact most of what you could blow up in this society is a cause of at least a few people's psychosis.

It is from this point in the argument that most of the rebuttals start. We will examine a few.

THOSE who agree with everything up to this point will say that the chief activities of the Center could move easily from Cambridge to the Pentagon. That is a good argument. I will even help refute the tenuous reasons that the Center finds for remaining at Harvard. They say that they need the library, the faculty colleagues, the intellectual community, and the money. All of that is doubtful.

In fact as long as I am setting up some kind of a theoretical framework. I might as well begin to argue from it. The arguments that follow need a preface, however. I may have learned only two things in my four years at Harvard. The first is that an equally intelligent, rational, and valid argument can be made on all sides of any question from any and all premises. The second is that those arguments have no relationship to anything but themselves.

To make this more clear. I will affirm that I do not think there exists any argument that can justify American foreign policy. The point is that arguments based on reason and the valid laws of discourse can prove anything within their system. It is the feeling I have in my stomach against the War that matters. Any argument in favor of it does not.

From what I have said, though, I think one could argue that it would be good for the Center to move to the Pentagon after we blew it up in Cambridge. We would then be able to blow it up again. Each time, a little of the classified information would be lost and a few of the people would quit from anxiety or frustration. Like a big animal, it would begin to die from the limbs.

The next major argument concerns tactics. I will admit that I have never understood tactics. They have always seemed to me a way to forget about getting from one place to another. The argument says that blowing up buildings does not organize anyone. I will respond that blowing up buildings is not intended to organize anyone. It is intended to blow up buildings. Those people who want to organize should denounce those who blow up buildings. They could claim that someone from Nepal did it.

That is answer enough for me. There are other logical ways out, though. If people on the Left really mean what they have been saying for the past four years about "raising the cost to the ruling class." then they would admit that if everyone did all he could to blow up buildings, that would "raise the cost" more than any mass organizing we will do in the next ten years. It may even be that exploding buildings helps to open consciousness. You never know whether you really want something until someone takes it away from you and you have to build it again. The old theory-practice idea would say that you don't want something unless you are building it constantly. Once the Center was gone, what reasons could you find for rebuilding it?

Other critics claim that terrorism would "antagonize" people. Does that mean that it would antagonize them more than, say, a peaceful march or even a long-haired college kid? Or is it that white people finally noticed the problems of black people only after the blacks burned down Watts, Detroit, and Newark? Blowing up buildings can show that you're serious.

The only empirical data I have are from France. I have friends there who blew up buildings in Paris during the Algerian war. It required the threat of civil war before France would withdraw from Algeria. It may take the same thing in the United States. No one knows whether terrorism will work here. No one has tried it.

There is one additional rationalization for terrorism. It is probably the most obvious. Jean Paul Sartre says that what the U.S. is doing in Vietnam is genocide. What the U.S. is doing is like what Hitler did to the Jews. It is not any less genocide because we promise to stop if the other side capitulates. It may in fact be worse because everyone has seen the pictures in his own living room. If someone had blown up the ovens at Auchwitz or Buchenwald. they would have been rebuilt or the prisoners would have been shipped elsewhere. That is no reason for not blowing them up. The Jews in Germany were caught in their own pragmatism. They did not fight back because it would have made no difference. That could be though the very reason to fight.

THE MAIN part of any defense of terrorism, however, lies in the advantages. The most important one, certainly, is the re-establishment of transcendence. Bourgeois values are inherently material. That is why, for example, we have come to laugh at religion. Religion seems to fulfill no role in the market-place or its mirror in the mind, the arena of rational discourse. Religious ritual can be important only to those who need to have abstract, transcendent belief acted out on a concrete level. For those without the need religion is without purpose. I am Jewish, but I can not watch the Communion or the Elevation without feeling my spirit begin to escape. It is all the better, when the service is in Latin and I can feel I am observing a mystery. Capitalism has smothered that spirit. It would like to have you believe that because spiritual needs are not "rational." they are not real.

The bourgeois attitude toward death is a good example. We are led to believe that we will transcend death if we are successful in this world. Most people think of life as a bell-shaped path. We have to make it to the top of something or else it's all wasted. To that end, people run for President. write poetry and play football. Life itself can be of no value unless it is used, converted into a product.

There are currently over 2000 practicing American historians. If you figure two books and four articles each, that makes 4000 books and 8000 articles from the current generation of historians. Their ranks are increasing. America has a great need for history. It must invent some way of escaping the human condition, for it certainly does not live with it. I think I agree with Leslie Whyte; history is a bag of tricks played upon us by the dead.

When there was only enough room in history for kings, then the people had to find another meaning in life. Only a pharaoh could be content to have pyramids built to his glory. Now that everyone has a biographer, or at least an autobiographer, no one needs to look at life itself.

Terrorism could help restore the understanding of transcendence. Blowing up buildings destroys the product. It destroys what was once thought to be permanent. If buildings begin to blow up all around, people may well ask for a new inquest into the permanent. People might abandon the idea of suffering through life to build a permanent monument. They might adopt the idea of enjoying and participating in the humility towards something else but oneself. This might be possible only after a socialist revolution where self could be rejected for community. Exploding buildings may help the transition.

ANOTHER of the pillars of capitalism is driven firmly into the soil of rationality. By some incredible sleight of hand, we are taught that the world is structured in some relationship to the electrical connections in our heads. And even more, we are taught that these electrical connections can have some average, which we will call the Truth, which can be discovered. I do not think that God structured the universe like man's mind. I am amazed that He would even structure man's mind as He did.

We are told continually that knowledge will make us free. We are taught to ignore irrational consequences and to put our faith in reason. Anyone who has tried to organize against the war knows that it is not the mind alone that defends the war, but the whole personality. We are fed reason in order to give an inferiority complex to the rest of our emotions and senses. What capitalism requires is a decision-maker who thinks his choices are rational.

We are trapped in a philosophical system of cause and effect. Rationality binds the mind and restricts the soul. It might even destroy the brain cells. We need to be liberated. We should be constrained no longer by possible rational consequences. We should begin to allow other emotions to dictate our actions.

One of the chief motivations for blowing up a building is the sheer malignity of, for example, the CFIA. If we may for a moment lapse into a non-rigorous use of moral epithets, we might go so far as to include the CFIA in a category of existential evil. That means that put into any context, what the Center is doing is bad. With the destruction of such evil, you may be able to endow an action with meaning. It may be, in fact, the only way to do so. What is more, if you are

living in a situation like Germany during World War II or the U.S. today, in which all of your actions contribute at least in part to the wrong side, you may be forced into terrorism. To the German living in Nazi Germany, he could only exist as a member of the human race by blowing up everything in sight. Efficacy is not an issue. That German could have blown up banks, freight yards, and missiles indiscriminately. His only proof of existence to himself would have been continual destruction.

The existential question leads into a related one. This one is more difficult to explain. As far as I can see, you can never take a relative action. If you participate in a peaceful protest against the war. you have made an absolute decision about the merits of the war. You have said that the war is, on the whole, wrong. In effect, actions always change beliefs into absolutes. There is no way to act against the war by 40 per cent. Any protest at all proves that you have decided that the war's benefits are outweighed by its faults.

Many people misunderstand action. They think that a more timid action shows a more relative position. It may show an uncertain state of mind. It does not show a firmly committed mind that realizes that the war is, in some absurd simplification, only 60 per cent wrong. If you believe that the war is wrong, it becomes totally wrong when you decide to act. You cannot march with one foot in a YAF parade and the other in an SDS demonstration. Therefore, once the decision to fight is made. it is made absolutely. If that decision is not made, the resulting inaction is equally absolute.

The point is that blowing up buildings is justified by the same kind of evil that justifies peaceful protests in front of those buildings. It is fallacious to think that explosions are justified only by 100 per cent evil while peaceful protest is justified by 51 per cent evil.

Five years ago, there was a chasm between SDS and the Young Democrats. Either you rejected the system totally, or you worked for change inside it. Today, there is an entire gradation of political activity from liberalism to radicalism. Because of the proliferation of political groups, it is no longer possible to organize someone for action, knowing that action will produce commitment and in turn more action.

It is certainly true that opinions are forged more in action than in reflection. But many of those who worked for McCarthy then worked for Lowenstein, and deepened their commitment to moderate politics. It is again time to show new vistas of possible action. When radicals are not describing the new, they are enforcing the old.

I HAVE SAVED one tactical argument on which to conclude because it fits in more closely with the rationale for action. The critics of terrorism claim that governments would become much more repressive if terrorists blew up buildings. The point of that criticism must be that this repression would hurt those who are not responsible. It is up to those who act to judge the consequences to themselves. It is up to others in the movement to try to ascertain the consequences for the rest. I think, though, that I could almost argue the opposite. The Weatherman attack on the CFIA made the subsequent Guided Tour much more palatable. When blacks burnt down stores in ghettoes, they legitimized bus boycotts and sit-ins. Blowing up buildings would make sit-ins and building occupations that much easier.

We are now at a point where we can talk about the Weatherman action at the Center without hysteria. There are three things to say. The first is that no one should have been hurt. All of the arguments above are good only for violence against inanimate property. Violence to people can sometimes be justified. Those arguments, however, are much more complex. The N.L.F. is certainly justified in killing Americans. Their justification, however, comes from some combination of possibilities and a progressive view of history. The Vietnamese could no more have begun their revolution by hurting people than we can ours. As a rule of thumb, buildings should be blown up after 5 p.m.

There is another reason for not hurting people. We should try to reaffirm the difference between people and property. One of the deepest philosophical bases of capitalism is the belief that a person is his property. Since you are what you can buy, your purchases are an extension of yourself. Indeed, as Marx writes in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, "If money is the bond which binds me to human life, and society to me, and which links me with nature and man, is it not the bond of all bonds? Is it not therefore also the universal agent of separation?" (Bottomore edition, p. 192)

Money and property become the mediating forces between life and everything else, including people. By the deification of property, capitalism can continue to make people think that their property is part of themselves. To separate people from an identity with their possessions, it will be necessary to show people the transience of those possessions.

"Let us assume man to be man, and his relation to the world to be a human one. Then love can only be exchanged for love, trust for trust, etc. If you wish to enjoy art you must be an artistically cultivated person: if you wish to influence other people you must be a person who really has a stimulating and encouraging effect upon others. Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression. corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. If you love without evoking love in return, i.c., if you are not able by the manifestation of yourself as a loving person, to make yourself a beloved person, then your love is impotent and a misfortune." (ibid. -. p. 194)

People should learn to think of themselves apart from the needs that capitalism creates in them. We should have a particular vengeance, then, against property, because of the role capitalism forces property to play. We see a difference between people and property. We should not kick a researcher in the CFIA. He is not a file cabinet, but a person.

Second, I don't think the Weatherman tactic was destructive enough. In America in 1969, it will take a lot more than a few obscenities to startle most people. The CFIA, again with the exception of most of the Semitic Museum, should have been destroyed.

Finally, people on the Left should take advantage of attacks against imperialist institutions to explain the function of those institutions. A self-indulgent criticism of all tactics but one's own is usually a retreat rather than an advance.

It is difficult to decide exactly how to fight capitalism. People on the Left have been quick to turn their repressed violence toward themselves rather than bourgeois society. One's allies are often far weaker than one's enemies. The very virtue of terrorism, in fact, is that it allows a spontaneous release of the frustrations caused by capitalism. Capitalism should receive the blows from the bent up hostility that it causes.

At this point in the argument, I will make a concession to a friend of mine who is an "organizer." Up until now I have said that terrorism against capitalism is always justified. I believe that. My friend, however, argues that I should wait to blow things up until people have at least some awareness of how bad they are.

I decided to compromise. We agreed that everyone understood that draft boards and induction centers helped fight the war. I could blow those up, he said. The second part of the agreement was that I would help organize against the CFIA, and wait until people understood what it does before I blow it up.

With all of the words and images we have around us, it may be that action is the only way to open fresh areas of consciousness. In any case, it will take a very concrete destruction of the material foundations of the wrongs we are fighting before we are rid of them.

Only then will we be able to plant trees and flowers all over our woes, and begin again.

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