William T. Hathaway – TRANSCEND Media Service

An interview with a domestic insurgent from the book Radical Peace: People Refusing War

I first met the man we’ll call Trucker in 1970 at a rally against the Vietnam War. Our demo was going to start on the Berkeley campus and continue with a march down Telegraph Avenue. This was shortly after the National Guard and police had murdered six demonstrators at Kent State and Jackson State, so the mood was extremely tense. The Berkeley city government had denied us a permit to march and called in police reinforcements from Oakland. The Oakland cops had a reputation for brutality (based on their treatment of the black population), and we were expecting an ugly and possibly violent confrontation. Out of fear, many people decided not to march, but others of us argued that marching was now more important than ever. We needed to defy the government’s attempts to scare us into silence.

After speeches and music in front of Sproul Hall, we marched off the campus and were met by a wall of police sealing off Telegraph Avenue. Some of our hard-cores in front tried to break through the barrier but were clubbed down. Cops began firing what looked liked shotguns, and people started screaming and running in panic, but it turned out to be tear gas.

A demonstrator wearing a biker helmet, swim goggles, and a cloth around his face picked up a gas canister with gloved hands and hurled it back at the police ― a classic scene of a brave individual defying tyranny. Inspired, I pulled off my old green beret that I’d been wearing and used it to protect my hands as I scooped up a hot canister and threw it back where it came from. I thought about all the grenades I’d thrown in Vietnam and felt much better about this one.

The first line of cops, those who were firing, wore gas masks, but those behind didn’t, and I felt a surge of triumph seeing them run from their own gas. But the ones in masks kept advancing and firing, looking like robots.

The peace marchers fell back, fleeing down side streets. Agonized from the tear gas, I sank to my knees, hacking convulsively. My eyes were seared, nose and throat raw, skin burning. Through the tears I saw the guy in the biker helmet approaching. He helped me off the street into a doorway and pulled out a first-aid kit. From a squeeze bottle he squirted glycerin water into my eyes and nose, helped me rinse my mouth and throat with regular water from a canteen, then rubbed moist baking soda under my eyes. He was firm but gentle, like a good combat medic. I saw the cloth around his face was a towel wet with vinegar to absorb some of the gas. This man was equipped.

As soon as I could walk better, we straggled away from the scene. The police strategy had worked: the march was broken up, scattered in all directions. We walked down to People’s Park, angry, bitter, exhausted.

The park was full, and no cops dared to show, although they and other agents were probably there undercover. Joints were being passed around, and we got high. Smoking grass back then had an innocence to it that it hasn’t had since. Cannabis helped us to abandon the death world we saw around us and resurrect our child-selves. Stoned people were learning to play again, singing, blowing giant iridescent soap bubbles, juggling pine cones, tossing Frisbees back and forth. But under it seethed a mood of defiance and rebellion. A statement in Ramparts magazine summed up our feelings: “Alienation is when your country is at war and you want the other side to win.” But I would have spelled it “a-lie-nation.” A group of conga drummers were playing, and their furious, insistent beat seemed to herald a rising tidal wave of protest that would sweep the militarists out of power.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but this wasn’t the beginning of the wave but its crest, and in the next years it would dwindle down. But this was better than no wave at all. It didn’t sink the ship of state, but it did slosh over the deck. And now a new one is rising that may go even higher.

The events of the day bonded Trucker and me as friends, and although our lives took different directions after that, we stayed in touch. Years ago he went totally underground, changing his identity and location, and since then all I’ve had for him is a webmail address, through which we held the following interview.

“Why don’t you start by telling us why you became a saboteur.”

“Well, like Jerry Garcia said, ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been.’ After you went back to New York I joined an anarchist affinity group, and we worked with the Weather Underground to move demos in the direction of revolt ― trashing the headquarters of war corporations, barricading the entrance to the Oakland Army Terminal, throwing rocks at the cops. By then the fuzz had refined their tactics and had special squads that would target the activists, rush into the crowd and grab the hard-cores. They clubbed me, kicked me, punched me, then charged me with assaulting a police officer. I did four months in the Alameda County Jail. Later I found out our group had been infiltrated. One guy who was always pushing us to be more violent was actually an agent. He gave them all our plans, even photos of us he’d made with a hidden camera.

“After that I gave up on groups and since then have focused on individual guerrilla insurrection, autonome actions, monkeywrenching the machine. Especially now with the Patriot Act, that’s become the safest way to work. There’s a good book, Leaderless Resistance, on how to organize that without getting smashed. You can’t totally prevent being infiltrated, but you can prevent the agents from knowing much.”

“I remember back then you were complaining about all the infiltration, and I thought you were paranoid, but it turned out you were right.”

“Yeah, the government took our threat very seriously and did everything they could to smash us. But they couldn’t.

“One of the great days of my life was seeing pictures of the last Americans scrambling onto the helicopters on the roof of the embassy in Saigon, running, as John Lennon said, ‘like pigs from a gun.’

“Everyone in the peace movement was deliriously happy. We’d finally ended the war.”

“I know that a lot of people in the peace movement think they ended the war, but to me that’s stealing credit from the Vietnamese. It’s an Americentric attitude ― ‘We’re the all-powerful ones’ ― similar to the attitude of the politicians who thought they could win the war in the first place.

“The Vietnamese won the war by defeating us. Their resistance made it impossible for us to stay there. They chased us out.

“The peace movement helped encourage us to leave, but the necessity of our leaving was the work of the Vietnamese. The peace movement grew only because the Vietnamese were winning. If the US had been winning, there wouldn’t have been mass protests.

“The same thing is happening now. The Iraqi and Afghan resistance fighters are winning the war, and the protests in the US are a result of that.”

“Well, you were on the ground, and your perspective could be more accurate. I’ll grant you that. I probably have slipped into some arrogance about this. It was such a bitter struggle. The government came down so hard on us. But maybe we’ve claimed too much for our efforts.

“Anyway, once the war was finally over, I and lots of other people were totally burnt out. We needed a break, to depressurize. But after a while exhaustion turned to apathy, and many people lost interest in the ongoing struggle.

“I remember when Nixon violated the Paris Peace Agreement by refusing to pay the reparations we’d promised to help Vietnam rebuild their infrastructure and buy medical supplies. Refusing this humanitarian aid was an outrageous, criminal act, and some of us tried to organize a mass protest. We ended up with a hundred people on the steps of the San Francisco County Courthouse. The momentum was gone.

“I too began to focus more on my personal life. I’d met a woman I wanted to build a future with. We were both tired of being poor. Living on the fringe is a struggle, it wears you down. Neither of us wanted to work for the Man and go the yuppie route, and we wanted something with a bit of adventure to it.

“I’d done a little dealing before, but now we got into it in a big way. Just grass and hash, though ― natural plants. I never liked hard drugs. Went to Mexico and spent a long time in Michoacán finding a good connection. Not just price and quality, but also good personal vibes.

“We moved to San Diego, and I cut my hair and shaved my beard. Customs was using dogs on the border by then, but we came up with a way to beat that. Formed a little company called Baha Divers, stenciled this on the sides of a van. I’d drive south across the border about every other day with the van full of scuba tanks and gear, supposedly to give diving lessons to the tourists at Rosarito Beach. The US border guards thought of course American tourists would rather learn to dive from an American. In Mexico we sealed the stuff inside the tanks. We filled them with hash because it’s more concentrated. I had cut the tanks in the middle and had an airtight way to reseal them. Then we would wash them off with ammonia, to get rid of any smell. The first couple of times I was totally nervous and was afraid the guards would pick up on that, but they didn’t. Pretty dull bunch. After a while they didn’t even bother to put the dog in the van, just waved me through.

“People I’d known in the Bay area were now spread all over the West Coast, so before long we were supplying all the way up to Vancouver.

“But one day the border guards flagged me into the inspection lane. They knew exactly what they were looking for, took the tanks apart and handcuffed me. It turned out that one of our guys on the Mexican side had got busted by the Federales, and he traded his way into a lower sentence by ratting me out.

“It looked bad, like I’d be going back to the Bay area ― all the way to San Quentin. But we hired a very good, VERY expensive lawyer, and he got me off. I had to plead guilty as part of a plea bargain but ended up with a suspended sentence.

“After that we switched to boats across the border. The ocean out there is so beautiful. We’d see whales migrating down to their breeding grounds, porpoises playing. Flying fish would land on the deck, we’d toss them back in. Water and sky everywhere. I never knew there were so many different kinds of blue. And the birds and clouds, different whites. All of it moving together but to different rhythms. And we were just a little part of it rocking along.

“We were always tense, though, could never totally relax. That’s the trouble with dealing. Coast Guard checked us a couple of times, but we had everything hidden in a lower hull. And plenty of fishing gear and beer as camouflage. After the bust I’d got a new ID, so my name wouldn’t get flagged in a routine check.

“Once a gang of Crips highjacked a whole shipment from us at the dock. They had guns and acted like they wanted to use them. Highly unpleasant.

“But they weren’t as bad as the Mafia. When the syndicate moved into grass and hash, they made it clear they didn’t want competition. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse ― a bust or a bullet. If I didn’t ‘retire,’ they’d first set me up for a bust. If that didn’t get rid of me, the bullet would.

“I knew other dealers they’d set up on busts. The DEA went along with it because they needed the arrests and because they’d rather do business with the Mafia than with a bunch of hippies. Most of us freelancers wouldn’t bribe them like the wise guys did. It sounds funny, but I thought it would be immoral to bribe the police. Selling grass was one thing, but bribing a cop was another. I was actually shocked when I found out a lot of them were taking money.

“I decided to get out while I was ahead … while I still had a head. By then our savings were enough to buy a spread of land with an old farmhouse in Oregon. We settled down, went back to college, got involved in local issues and environmental organizing.

“Then it all exploded in our faces. We let a guy, friend of a friend, stay with us for a couple of weeks. He was going through hard times and needed some peace and quiet out in the country. He was active in the Black Panthers, and so of course the cops were hassling him, but what we didn’t know was that they had warrants on him for the armed robbery of three supermarkets. They tracked him out to our farm and arrested everybody there, charged us all with the robberies. He had some of the loot with him, and he’d given us some bills that turned out to be marked, so that tied us in. Cops found a few pot plants in our garden and added drug charges. They could tell we were radicals, so they wanted to send us away for as long as they could. They had only my new name, but I knew before long they’d match my prints with the California busts, and I’d be looking at major time as a repeat offender.

“We decided to scram. Sold the house and land. Our forfeited bail took a huge chunk of that, but since we weren’t going to pay taxes, we came out OK. With the help of some of our old contacts, we transferred the money off shore, then followed it and kept moving, got passports under new names. We thought about staying overseas and becoming ex-pats, but we both missed the US. The thing is, we like the country. We just don’t like the people running it.

“We had some facial surgery ― my wife loves her new nose ― and after a couple of years came back as different people. We haven’t been back to the West Coast, though, don’t want to push our luck. And we’re super law-abiding, except of course for the small matter of burning military vehicles. We don’t even jaywalk.

“Cutting ties was hard. Both our are families are conservative and had shut us out a long time ago, so that part wasn’t so difficult. That was pain we’d already gone through. But we had to let go of a lot of friendships. We have webmail with a few close and trusted folks like you, but none of them know where we live or our names.”

“Thanks for including me on your list.”

“Well, we go back a long time. And those were very formative times.

“But by the time we came back, the country was deep into the Big Chill. Straight and retro. Women were abandoning feminism and returning to femininity, joining the Fascinating Womanhood movement. Guys were majoring in business and wearing suits with suspenders like their grandfathers. Bill Gates replaced John Lennon as the generational hero. Disgusting.

“Maybe as part of our trying to fit into the mainstream, we became tamer ourselves. Got married, in church yet. Stopped smoking dope … pretty much at least.

“Politically, we started thinking that the way to bring change was through the Democrats, gradual reforms. Now we see that was a trap.

“We turned radical again when Clinton ignored the chance for disarmament that the collapse of the Soviet Union offered. He could’ve turned the end of the Cold War into a new era of peace. Instead he saw the chance for empire and went for it. Modernized the military with high-tech weapons, clamped sanctions on Iraq that led to millions of children dying from lack of medicine, bombed Yugoslavia and built a huge base there. Rather than communists, the people who opposed the empire were now called terrorists.

“Domestically he declared war on welfare. Thanks to his policies, millions of single mothers were forced away from their children and into crummy, low-paying jobs. Their kids grew up just as poor but much more neglected.

“Underneath the big smile, Clinton was just a loyal servant of the corporations and the military. Both Clintons were masters of giving the impression of working for real change, but it’s just show. And Obama and Biden are even better at that show than they are.

“The Democratic Party leadership serves the interests of the mercantile side of the business establishment. They support slightly higher wages and unemployment benefits so people will have money to keeping buy stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t go any farther than that. The basic injustice of the system is never challenged. The Democrats just bring mildly expansionist policies to stimulate the economy.

“The Republicans bring mildly contractive policies that serve the interests of the fiscal side of business. They keep wages low, which holds costs and inflation down and thus preserves the value of capital.

“Although these two tendencies conflict, they’re two complementary ways that corporations maintain their control over us, two sides of the same gold coin. Both are necessary for them, and trading the power back and forth keeps things running in a wobbly balance.

“The goal of both parties is to continue this system with little changes here and there, fine tuning. Neither one is going to take it apart and rebuild it, which is what we need. And both parties support an aggressive foreign policy to force US economic and military power into other countries, which is what nobody needs except the corporations they represent.

“Although there’s little difference in their policies, there’s a great deal of difference in how the parties are marketed to us. Liberal candidates are sold as figures of great hope. We’re supposed to think, Finally someone who’ll change things. But their changes turn out to be trivial. The system stays mostly the same, and we slump back into disappointment. As the disappointment builds to mass discontent, another fresh liberal face is presented to us with new slogans. But they’re all tied to the system. The only candidates that have a chance of getting nominated are those supported by business. They’re in their pockets. That’s the price of their coming to power.

“Look back in the past. The only major changes to come out of congress have been the New Deal in the 1930s, passed to stave off a total economic collapse, and the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s, passed under the threat of armed insurrection. And congress has been whittling away at them ever since.

“We have to take the power away from both parties, close down their whole show. Or else we’ll keep on being their vassals.

“We fall for their shell game because we have a desperate need to believe the US is a great country and our personal lives will turn out well. So we ignore what our leaders are doing in the rest of the world and cling to their mirage of a better future. That’s comforting. But things are not improving, they’re declining. And that’ll continue until we get rid of this corporation government, both parties. We can’t build a new system until we break the power of the current one.”

“How long do you think that’ll take?”

“I’m an optimist. I think the whole thing is a house of cards. It could fall anytime. A currency crisis could bring it down.”

“What’ll happen then?”

“That depends on who the soldiers and cops side with. If it’s with the people, we could have a peaceful transition. If it’s with the government, it’ll be bloody. We’ll have helicopter gunships firing on crowds trying to take over banks and factories. It’ll be Kent and Jackson State, but this time with machine guns. And the victims will be called domestic terrorists.

“I’d a lot rather that the transition be peaceful. But one way or another it has to happen.

“The war needs to come home. The violence and oppression that the US has been supporting overseas for decades has to come back on us. Then we’ll see change.

“The government’s already worried about this. That’s why we’ve got the Patriot Act ― to be used against us. And that’s one of the reasons for the big scare about child pornography on the internet ― to justify blocking websites and searching our computers. The other reason is to divert the grief and suppressed rage people feel at our military for killing thousands of children. The conservatives defuse that anger by channeling it onto boogie-man targets ― pornographers, child molesters, abortionists.

“When Bush & Co invaded, I knew I couldn’t just sign petitions and march in demonstrations anymore. That wasn’t going to have any effect on these guys. I had to do what I could to keep them from waging war, to take away their equipment, to bankrupt them. The people running the show are just businessmen. If they see it’s costing them more than they can get out of it, they’ll stop. So I decided to start destroying expensive military items.

“I took off in a pickup truck with a camper and a dirt bike to become a domestic guerrilla. Slept in the camper so I didn’t leave records at motels. Showered at truck stops. I used the bike to scout out targets and escape routes.

“I found out that security around the big bases was tight, so I started checking out National Guard branches. I liked the idea of taking revenge on the Guard for Kent State. I found a unit that had all their trucks and jeeps locked in the motor pool behind a chainlink fence, but someone had left a staff car parked behind the building. I guess the colonel didn’t want to have to walk very far.

“I decided to go for it, but this first time was damn near my last. I set myself on fire. I made the mistake of starting at the top. I poured gasoline over the trunk of the car above the gas tank, and then more under the tank. But without my knowing it, the gas ran down onto the sleeve of my coat. When I flicked the lighter, my whole arm caught fire. The car did too, of course, and I had to run away from it with a blazing arm. By the time I got the coat off, I had third degree burns. Hurt like hell but I couldn’t scream. Scared to.

“But it was great seeing the car go up. When the vapor in the gas tank gets hot enough, it explodes, not a huge explosion, but enough to set off the whole tank, which erupts into a fireball that swallows the car. You can feel the concussion and a blast of heat. Everything is flames. It’s quite a scene, a real charge.

“Getting away, I could hardly steer the bike, my arm hurt so much. I didn’t sleep that night because of the pain. Terrible oozing blisters, skin peeling off. I’d brought a first-aid kit with salve and stuff, but this was way past that.

“I was afraid to go to the emergency room because they might call the cops ― a guy comes in with burns right after an arson fire. But next morning I headed for the down side of downtown.

“I had tried heroin once years ago and didn’t like its down, shut-off feeling. But now I needed it. I went to the bus station, knowing that’s a good place to score in most cities. I could pick up on dealer vibes, having been one myself, so I talked to this guy who was hanging out there, standing and looking around rather than just sitting and waiting for a bus. At first he was suspicious, but he sensed I wasn’t a cop. A dealer has to have that instinct or he won’t last long.

“I probably paid twice as much as his regular customers, but I got a balloon. Mixed a quarter spoonful with orange juice, drank it down. Bitter. I threw up and had to take some more. But a half hour later I was fine.

“I bought the newspaper and read about “Arsonist Torches National Guard” with a picture of the burned-out car. I felt great. I knew that the money it was going to take to replace that car couldn’t be used to bomb Afghanistan. This had a lot more impact than writing a congressman or shouting slogans in a protest march. It made a bottom-line difference. I wanted to save the newspaper, but it could’ve connected me, so I threw it away.

“By then I was getting woozy. Went back to the truck and passed out. Pain woke me up in a few hours, I took some more smack and nodded out again.

“I’ve still got the scars, patches of turkey skin.”

“That didn’t make you stop?”

“No, it made me realize what all the people who’ve been hit by US napalm and white phosphorous are going through. Right this moment men, women, and children are crying in agony because of our bombing. And they don’t have the luxury of pain killers.

“It’s worse for the kids. They have a lifetime of pain ahead of them, because the scars don’t grow. As the skin around them grows, that stretches the scars. The tissue becomes very thin and sensitive. It hurts for the rest of their lives.

“Hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam and Cambodia are still living with this on a daily basis. And now Iraqi and Afghan children are facing this future.

“My pain gave me just a taste of what they are suffering. It also made me aware how terrible it would be if someone got caught in one of my fires. I’d never torch a building. Just vehicles. I even look in those to make sure no one’s sleeping in the back.

“My burns made me see that what I was doing was important, trying to stop this war machine.

“If Americans knew, I mean really opened our hearts to the mass suffering we’re inflicting on Iraq and Afghanistan at this moment, we’d overthrow this government. Not to mention what we did in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, Indonesia, the Congo, Iran, and so many more. But we don’t want to know. We turn it off ― it’s a long ways away. And the media sure don’t want us to tell about it. Their job is to distract us from it with all sorts of nonsense.

“We close our eyes to the killing because it conflicts with the patriotic fantasies about America we learned as children. Reality is too disturbing, so we deny it. Our love of country has blinded us.

“But deep down we do know. We push it away, but it sinks into our subconscious and festers there and pops out in sick ways. That’s why we have so many crazy shootings.

“We’re convinced our society is good, because that’s what we were taught. But good societies don’t kill millions of people. Pathological ones do that. And you don’t cure pathology with reforms. It needs major surgery.”

“What do you see as your greatest triumph?”

“The Air National Guard watches their planes pretty carefully, but I found one parked at an unguarded airstrip. This was in the middle of the day, and I was hoping it would still be there at night. It was, and no one around. I needed more gas because the flames had to reach higher, and I wasn’t sure where the tanks were. I soaked some boards with gas and laid them against the fuselage and on the wings. The plane went up fine. A beautiful sight. Had a different smell because of the kerosene.”

Are you going to get more planes?”

“I hope so, but the vehicles are easier to find. My favorite are the deuce-and-a-halves, those big trucks with canvas covers. They make a huge fireball, and they’re expensive. That’s what this game is about ― make the war too expensive, so it becomes bad economics. There’s lots of ways to do that, and this is my way.

“A couple of times a year, but not in any regular pattern, I take off and look for targets of opportunity. My wife keeps the home fires burning while I go out and set a fire. I follow the basic principles of guerrilla warfare ― pick the time and place to attack, make it quick, and get out before the enemy can react.

“Once I almost got caught. I always pick Guard units of the edge of town, somewhat isolated. Those are less likely to be patrolled by the police, and they offer quicker access to escape routes, trails where only the bike can go. This place looked good, and they’d left a truck out. Right after it erupted in flames, though, I heard a siren and saw flashing lights. A patrol car must’ve been cruising nearby.

“He was between me and my escape route, so I had to take off on the bike in the other direction. He saw me, even though I was running without lights. I was hoping he’d first go to the fire, but no such luck ― he charged after me. The bike is fast, but so was he. I kept turning corners because I could do that faster than he could, but he caught up on the straights. I zigzagged back onto the main road towards the escape trail, but by then other sirens were approaching from different directions.

“He was right behind me as I got to the trail. I was afraid he was going to run me over and claim it was an accident. As I slowed down to turn left onto the trail, he swung beside me into the oncoming lane and blocked me off. I couldn’t turn, just had to keep going.

“Up ahead was an intersection. I sprinted towards it and swung a wide U-turn in the middle of it, so I could get back to the trail. But he turned his car sideways to block the road. His front tires covered the right shoulder I wanted to drive on, and I couldn’t turn sharp enough to get behind him.

“I was still going fast and had only a split second to react. I plunged the bike down into the drainage channel next to the shoulder of the road, right in front of his headlights. I could barely hold it stable. I skidded on the wet bottom of the channel, almost laid it down, but kicked out with my foot and managed to stay up. Then I hit an old tire and lost control. The bike bounced up and keeled over, and I scraped through the mud, wrenching my leg and banging my knee, and finally stopped, front wheel still spinning. I was hurting covered and with dreck.

“The patrol car was backing around to get me. My engine had stalled, but it started again on the first kick. I roared up the side of the channel at an angle, back onto the pavement.

“The cop was closing fast, and I moved onto the shoulder so he couldn’t cut me off from the trail again. Another patrol car was speeding from town, red lights flashing, siren blaring, but he wasn’t close yet. Approaching the trail, I slowed just enough to slue through the turn. As I careened down the trail away from the road, I imagined the cop swearing at me in frustration.

“I was on a tractor path leading into a big area of cornfields, and the tall corn swallowed me up in a second, friendly and protective. It was dark in there, but I kept my lights off so they wouldn’t reflect off the stalks and show my position. I slowed down and laughed out loud in the warm, fragrant September night.

“The fields ran for miles, gridded with other tractor paths, and I was sure they couldn’t find me here in the dark. The feed corn was so dense that even with a helicopter they’d have to be right above me before they could spot me. I was safe here until dawn.

“This was my territory now, but the streets were enemy territory, and I was going to have trouble getting out of here. When I had to try, my best bet would be a road with lots of traffic, so I could blend in. The cops couldn’t be everywhere.

“A state highway ran north of town, and I headed for it, now pushing the bike so they couldn’t tell my direction from its sound. It took hours. I had to cross a couple of gravel roads, first waiting out of sight until it felt safe, then running across. Finally I could hear the highway ahead. It was almost dawn, but I wanted to wait until rush-hour traffic, so I lay down and tried to sleep. The ground was cold, I was hungry, my knee hurt, and a field mouse scampered over me, but I managed to doze.

“About 7:30 I crept up towards the highway, peering out from my tractor path, afraid again. To my relief, there were enough motorcycles on the road that I figured the cops couldn’t stop them all. I waited until I felt lucky, then started the bike, accelerated along the shoulder, and joined the stream between two big trucks. I saw one cop, but he was going the other way. I kept expecting a patrol car to pull beside me with a shotgun leveled out the window, but it didn’t happen.

“I stopped in the next town and hid the bike near a shopping center. I was covered with mud, so I bought new clothes, cleaned up as best I could and changed, then ate a big farmer’s breakfast of steak and eggs, grits, and three cups of coffee. It was the sort of place where cops might stop for doughnuts, but none came in. Poor guys must’ve all had to work overtime.

“I took a cab back to near where my truck was parked, drove back to the bike and loaded it in, drove a hundred more miles, and collapsed into the bunk. My body was still clogged with fear, my leg was swollen and aching, I had a nervous tic in my cheek, but I was almost glowing with bliss as I sank into sleep.

“It was a long time before I went on another sabotage mission, though.

“Once I had a close call at what looked like a perfect set up ― a jeep parked behind a Guard admin building, secluded, dark, no one around. As usual I waited an hour after the bars closed, so the streets would be emptier. Also it was a regular work night, so fewer late partygoers. But as soon as I took the lid off the gas can, this car pulls in and two guys get out, drunk. They were fumbling at their zippers to piss when they noticed me by the jeep. They shouted at me ― probably thought I was trying to steal it. Seeing their chance to become heroes, they forgot about their bladders and started towards me. One of them pulled out a knife.

“Part of me wanted to throw the gas can at them and light it, but I couldn’t do that. I know what burns are like. Instead I threw the can at an angle between us. The gas spewed out in a long trail, and when I lit it, the flames leaped up, high enough to reach their zippers if they’d tried to get through. That stopped their charge long enough for me to take off on the bike while they were shaking their fists and swearing at me.

“Never did get that jeep. Went back a year later and everything was locked up.

“Once I found two jeeps and a truck parked together. What a blaze they made! Someday I’m hoping to get a whole motor pool … or a squadron of planes.”

“Your work sounds pretty violent.”

“It’s not violent! Violence means harming people. I’m very careful not to do that.

“It’s only because our culture worships property that we see destroying war machines as violence. What I’m doing is depriving the military of their tools of violence. I’m decreasing their ability to harm people. Since they refuse to disarm, I’m doing it for them.

“But I admit I’ve got some psychological quirks. I like fire ― the huge eruption of flames is magnificent. Torching is an adrenaline high … like dealing. Apparently I need that. Maybe that makes me neurotic, but if so, I’ve managed to channel my neurosis into a socially useful activity ― destroying war machines. The real crazies are those who go along with this system and think they’re sane.

“It’s probably true that certain personality traits make people more likely to oppose their society. But conservatives use that to discount the rebels’ objections by branding them abnormal. They say radicals have psychological problems, they’re not well adjusted, they have a bad relationship with their father.

“But what does it mean to be well adjusted to a society like this? It means you’ve accepted and internalized its values. If you think about what those values really are, it’s insane to do that. The people who do are normal only in the sense that they’re the majority.

“And since most fathers are the spear carriers of patriarchy, since they are the power structure, how can we not oppose them? That kind of authority needs to be defied.

“Having a ‘good’ relationship with your father isn’t necessarily good. It tends to make people support the powers that be, to want to please them. Kids who need their father’s approval turn into toadies. That’s the only way to please a patriarch. If we want to build a new kind of person, we have to become different from the old kind, and that usually means displeasing them.”

“Would you prefer matriarchy?”

“I’d prefer no-archy. No group should have power over another group. That’s what anarchy means.

“Conservatives conveniently forget that they’re supporting this culture because of their own personality traits. And look at those ― the desire to placate authority rather than defy it, to actually become the authority and have power over others, to preserve with violence if necessary an unjust economic system that denies the majority of humanity the basics of a secure life. Those are conservatives. And if you put them under pressure, they become fascists, as we’re seeing.”

“What amazes me, though, is how few people are seeing it. Most of them are going along with it. Young people too. They seem more interested in fitting into the system than in changing it.”

“Well, most of us were too, really. As soon as the draft ended and we knew we weren’t going to have to fight in Vietnam, most of our generation stopped protesting and went to work for business. The goals changed from ending war to buying a new car.

“You’re right, though. A lot of the younger people coming after us became conservatives. But they grew up under a media barrage about how terrible radicals are. We were portrayed as scary, depraved freaks, like Charles Manson, who actually wasn’t a radical at all, but a right-wing racist. Radicals were painted as evil villains who want to destroy everything. The political changes we want were totally ignored.

“The media try to erase dangerous concepts from our minds by wiping out the meaning of the words. They’ve become our brain police. ‘Radical’ comes from the Latin word for ‘root.’ A radical is someone who wants to solve social problems by changing their root cause, instead of the liberal way of surface reforms that leave the structure the same.

“This concept of fundamental change is threatening, so the media distorted the meaning of the word ‘radical’ by using it for both right- and left-wingers, anyone outside the political center. They turned it into a synonym for ‘extremist,’ a lunatic fringer. But right-wingers can’t be radical in the true sense. They’re trying to preserve the root structure and roll back what changes have been made.

“The media also use ridicule to undercut dangerous ideas. A peace activist becomes a peacenik, some weirdo nut. The threat of scorn has a great effect on young people, who need to fit in, to be accepted. Being branded as a geek is death for them. They sense intuitively how status-oriented and competitive our society is, how many losers there are, and they desperately don’t want to be in that group, because those are the weak people. You can finally feel strong by putting them down.

“Other words ― like ‘imperialism,’ ‘bourgeoisie,’ ‘system’ ― have important meanings, but the words have been made to seem gauche and out of style, so people are embarrassed to use them, and thus the ideas fade away. The war of the words.

“Another successful media campaign was to change the public perception of the Vietnam War and the US military. The movie The Deerhunter was crucial in this. It showed nice American prisoners of war being tortured by sadistic Vietnamese. Instead of being invaders and aggressors, Americans became the victims. The media erased My Lai from our minds by reversing the roles.

“This perceptual switch was reinforced by the MIA movement. Tremendous press attention was given to rumors that Vietnam was still holding US prisoners. Stories of our poor soldiers languishing away in jungle prison camps were being burned into our minds decades after the war ended. Clearly Vietnam had nothing to gain by this, and no evidence for it has ever been found. But the propaganda convinced Americans that these communists are totally vicious people.”

“I agree, the ballyhoo over MIAs was a fraud. In that war there were all sorts of ways to die and never have your body found.”

“I think the purpose of all the furore was to prevent any public recognition of our guilt in the killing of millions of people just because we didn’t like their economic system. If we could have confronted this and accepted our responsibility and tried to change, we could’ve grown into a more peaceful society. But then we wouldn’t want to invade other countries, and that would be threatening to the empire.

“After the war Hollywood also produced many movies designed to improve the image of the peacetime military. They showed soldiers as admirable people and military life as positive, like films of the 1950s did after the Korean War.

“So kids growing up in the ’70s and ’80s were subjected to a PR campaign to restore good feelings about America. And it worked. But now the image has cracked again, and people can see through it.

“We’ve got a whole new group of militant kids coming up. They have a deeper understanding than we did. That’s partly because they learned from us, especially from our mistakes. They’re not as into drugs, and they don’t think you can end war just by playing the guitar.

“But they’re also more militant because their lives are harder than ours were. Most of them don’t have the same chance to sell out that our generation did. The cushy jobs aren’t there anymore, and living outside the economy has got tougher. Welfare is gone. More cops to bust you. Jail time is longer and meaner. It’s a locked-down land.

“The young people who are standing up to that are a courageous bunch. My wife and I have got to know a new network of traveler kids who’ve turned against the mainstream. They stay on the move, poor as can be, most of them smart, all of them refusing to live the franchised life that surrounds them. They’re determined to ‘Live free or die.’

“Some of them do die. One girl we knew jumped bail on a bad check charge to avoid three years in prison. She was hiding out, camping, but didn’t have the right gear. She got caught in a sleet storm, chilled to the bone, everything she had soaked. When she got sick, she thought it was just a cold. When it got worse, she thought about going to the emergency room, but she heard the cops check the register there, so she decided to tough it out. She didn’t have money for a private doctor. Her temperature shot over 105, and she died of pneumonia. A bottle of IV antibiotics would’ve saved her.

“A young friend, talented musician, got busted for credit card fraud, and the judge gave him a hard nickel ― five years without possibility of parole. At nineteen, five years seemed the rest of his life. He hung himself in his cell.

“Another guy, his girl friend was pregnant, they were happy about it but had no place to raise the baby, couldn’t afford the three months upfront rent for an apartment. He got desperate, felt he had to be the male provider, so he stuck up a liquor store. Clerk shot him in the back as he was leaving with $300.

“It’s hard to survive as a young rebel these days, and I respect these kids. They’re under the hammer.

“I think with them we’re building up to another period like the ’60s, a mass outbreak of rebellious energy. And this time we get to be the wise elders, like Herbert Marcuse and Frantz Fanon were for us.”

“I don’t think any of our generation measure up to Marcuse and Fanon.”

“No, not as theorists. But now we don’t need more theory. What the younger generation needs is practical guidance in how to bring the system down without getting crushed in the process. And we’ve learned about that because we’ve seen how many of us did get crushed. Those of us who’ve stayed in the struggle and survived have a lot to teach.”

“Do you have a protégé, someone to, so to speak, pass the torch on to?”

“No. This business is too risky. I’d feel terrible if something happened to them. Also there’s the security issue. With all the government surveillance and infiltration, this sort of work has to be done alone. No one knows what I do except my wife, and they can’t make her testify against me.”

“Why tell me?”

“I know you won’t turn me in. And if they waterboarded you ― always a possibility these days ― well, you don’t know where I live or what my name is now. All you have is a webmail address.

“But it is a calculated risk. I want to go public in an anonymous way to let people know what’s happening with the resistance movement. The government is hushing up about all the sabotage that’s going on. It’s not just me. I’m just a small part of it. There’s a growing movement to undermine the machine from within. People are trashing recruiters’ offices, slashing their tires, cutting their phone wires, grafittiing-out their billboards. In universities they’re squirting glue into the locks of ROTC departments, stealing their mail, hacking into their computers. Autonomes are vandalizing the homes of politicians and corporate execs. The government and corporations have had to set up internal security units to catch their own people who are sabotaging them ― leaking secret memos, destroying equipment, zapping computer files. A Black Bloc-er threw a log under the wheels of an arms train and derailed it. It’s only a matter of time before a vet sets up a mortar outside an air base and starts blowing up Stealth bombers.

“The war is coming home where it belongs. But this is just starting, and the government doesn’t want people to know. They’re scared it’ll spread.”

“Do you want it to spread?”

“Yes. I’m convinced that’s the only way to stop these wars. Make it too costly for the US to extend its empire. We need to lame the beast so it can’t attack anymore. We have to maximize chaos on all fronts, a thousand different kinds of uprisings so the country becomes ungovernable. That’s the only way to break their hold and build something new.”

“That’s going to make things tougher at home.”

“Yep, it will … for a while. And that’s why a lot of people are against it. They don’t want to lose their comfort level. That’s more important to them than the lives of millions of people overseas … and the lives of their own grandchildren.

You can’t blame people for wanting to have a pleasant life, but in times like these that turns them into accomplices with the system. The only way life can stay pleasant now is if you play along. The punishments for opposition are getting increasing unpleasant.

“But rebelling is invigorating. It’s an authentic life, not the superficial pleasantries of a lackey life.

“Even the lackeys are going to lose their precious comfort level before long. Things are getting worse and worse here because that’s the nature of the system. It devours everything.

“The country is run by corporate robots. They’re squeezing the people at home and strangling them overseas. And the military is their enforcer. It’s become a monster rampaging out of control, fighting enemies that it itself created, like Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban. This beast knows only to kill, and it does that reflexively, mechanically, massively. The leaders elected to stop it end up serving it. Amerika is running amok in a koma of unconscious killing. Amerika is a berserker battling the universe, a gut-shot hyena devouring its own entrails.

“We have to stop doing this … and we can. We don’t need to live this way, by bombing and killing.

“I want people to know there’s a movement here to resist militarism. It’s rolling. They can be part of it … in many ways.”

“Would you recommend that people burn trucks?”

“I would not. It’s very dangerous.”

“What would you recommend that people do?”

“That’s a question only they can answer.”

“What if you get caught? Would you shoot it out?”

“No, I don’t have any weapons. I don’t believe in killing people for peace. And cops are still people.

“I’d probably spend the rest of my life as a prisoner of war in Guantánamo West, that new supermax in Colorado.”

“Doesn’t that scare you?”

“You bet it does. But even if that happens, my life will have meant something. I’ll have done what I could to stop this monster from invading more countries and murdering more people.

“But I don’t think it will happen. I’m very careful. I want to continue the struggle. As Ed Sanders said, ‘Resist and Survive.'”


William T. Hathaway is a Special Forces combat veteran and an emeritus Fulbright professor of American Studies in Germany. His book Radical Peace: People Refusing War presents the experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists who are working to change U.S. ‘warrior’ culture. His novel Lila, the Revolutionary is a fable for adults about an eight-year-old girl who sparks a world revolution for social justice. Hathaway’s novel of the climate change, Wellsprings: A Fable of Consciousness, tells of an old woman and a young man healing nature through techniques of higher consciousness. Chapters are posted HERE. His peace novel, Summer Snow, is the story of an American soldier falling in love with a Sufi Muslim and learning from her that higher consciousness is more effective than violence. Chapters are posted HERE.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Oct 2022.

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