Weather Underground Background- During Almost Every Major Film Review

Excerpt from Film Review :

Weather Underground

Background- During almost every major conflict in United States history there have been protests against involvement in that conflict. However, it was not until the Vietnam "Police Action" of the 1960s and 1970s that so much popular student protests coalesced into such a popular uprising that it had a significant effect upon foreign policy. Really, though, it was not just the U.S. presence in Vietnam that caused the protests, it was more a reaction of the past twenty years of middle class growth and social change. Among these, a large surge in births, meaning more younger people during the 1960s; more permissive social mores in terms of child rearing, television and popular culture teaching this demographic that happiness was important (e.g. many of these people were the first generation that had modern television coverage as part of their childhood and adolescence); and the media allowing them to experience major world events -- first hand. Additionally, it was not just the United States that had a great deal of Student Protests during the era, although the Civil Rights Movement, and the idea that change could occur from the bottom up was most popular on American college campuses, typically a hotbed for new ideas, coupled with the cultural changes of the 60s, finally turning into a ferment for such movements as the Peace Movement, the Anti-Nuclear Movement, The Feminist Movement, and the entire embrace of New Left Politics (distrust of the conservative government, leanings toward social programs, a grasp of the veneer of life in America vs. reality -- think "Leave It To Beaver" or "Ozzie and Harriet" and then the actual reality of life at the time (Lewis, 2002).

Summary- The involvement of the United States in the political situation in Southeast Asia, had a profound effect on U.S. politics and culture. In 1950, Communist China and the Soviet Bloc recognized the North Vietnamese government as the legitimate government of the entire country. NATO and the U.S., however, recognized South Vietnam's Saigon government. Since the late 1940s, tensions were high between the communist and non-communist world, and the major thrust of U.S. foreign policy was that every country that became communist, or "went red" would be a significant affront to world democracy and would, like a board of dominoes, result in communism being exported to more countries (Brigham, 2006).

The Weather Underground is a 2002 documentary film based on the American radical organization of the 1960s called "The Weathermen." In 1969 a group of leftist college students were so opposed to the Vietnam War and the lack of cohesive student policies that they decided to radicalize and overthrow the U.S. government. The film explores the way the organizers of the movement were so very passionate about the issue that it consumed their lives. The documentary also looks at "The Weathermen" in the cultural and social context of the Black Panther Movement and the Students for a Democratic Society. For instance, Naomi Jaffe, one of the organizers, noted that, "we felt that doing nothing in a period of repressive violence is itself a form of violence. That's really the part that I think is the hardest for people to understand. If you sit in your house, live your white life and go to your white job, and allow the country that you live in to murder people and to commit genocide, and you sit there and you don't do anything about it, that's violence" (Green & Siegel, 2002).

Major Issues- Of course, the major issues within the documentary coincide with the thought process of the members of the group to become so radical during a time of societal turmoil. We seem to forget just how polarized the country was during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, this era of protests really changed the course of American politics through the Student Protest Movements, really epitomized with the Kent State Riots of 1968 and the resultant Anti-War movement centered around colleges and universities. The Kent State students were vigorously protesting the American invasion of Vietnam and Cambodia, and especially the manner in which President Richard Nixon ordered more and more bombings of civilian targets. Protestors began to throw bottles and break shop windows, and the mayor feared a crisis and called in the National Guard. By the end of the weekend, there were over a thousand guardsmen on campus, escalating tension even more. The Guard ordered the crowd to break up, the crowd refused, and the Guardsmen fired tear grass into the crown while students verbally harassed the police. The situation deteriorated to the point of four deaths, nine injuries to the crowd and minor injuries to a few Guardsmen. But the real power focused on the media attention and the nationwide sympathy the protesters received (Corcoran, 2006).

The Weathermen, however, while agreeing with the other movements and the outrage felt about Kent State, saw the only real solution to the problem to be extreme -- the radical overthrow of the U.S. government, whom they believed were waging an illegal war in Vietnam and illegally sending young Americans to their death. Originally organized as a faction of Students for a Democratic Society their goal was nothing less than a violent revolution. To this end, their revolutionary positions used much of the rhetoric of the Black Panthers. The Weathermen conducted a campaign of bombings through the early to mid-1970s, including aiding the jailbreak of LSD discoverer Timothy Leary. I fact, in 1970 they issued a "Declaration of a State of War" against the United States, which, with the bombings targeted toward government buildings and rhetoric, landed them as top targets for the FBI (Weather Underground, 2008).

Analysis- The film is well made; in fact it was nominated for an Academy Award for best Documentary in 2004. It did win Best Documentary at both the Seattle and San Francisco International Film Festivals (The Weather Underground, 2004). Two reasons make this quite a powerful film: the use of documentary footage from the era which makes the audience feel like they are part of the issues; and the manner in which interviews from the time period and 2002 are integrated to form a larger story. For this viewer, the film brought an era to life that is glossed over during most history classes -- the anger, the resentment, the feelings of betrayal, and the feeling that, at least as the FBI and President Nixon seemed to believe, that it was entirely possible the American people just might revolt.

What was both interesting and though-provoking was the passion these people had for their cause, something we rarely see today. It is almost as if the 70s and the disillusionment with the Presidency, then the decade of greed in the 1980s, simply changed the common person's view of whether they could elicit political and social change. The film correctly mirrors the culture of the time, though, and allows one to see and feel real fear. The founders of The Weathermen were schooled in the 1950s and 1960s and truly believed in the democratic process and their ability to find sympathy and commonality with the youth movement. There is a certain degree of pathos, though, after 1976 when ex-Weathermen went on national TV to plead with those remaining underground to engage the system legally. By 1981, with the Brinks Robbery bombing, it seemed that the impetus for radical change had fizzled out a bit, and that the group no longer felt the passion or the ability to elicit social change at their level -- almost as if their reason raison d'etre had died, and they were now 10 years older, tired of living the lives of fugitives, and not feeling like there were enough people supporting them, or their viewpoint. Mark Rudd noted, "I think that part…

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