Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Way the Wind Blew Reviews Part Three

two not so positive reviews and one from The Journal of American History

The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground By Ron Jacobs. (New York: Verso, 1997. viii, 216 pp. Cloth, $50.00, ISBN 1-85984-861-3. Paper, $15.00, ISBN 1- 85984-167-8.)

Ron Jacobs begins his history of the Weather Underground where most analyses of the move- ments of the 1960s leave off, with the splintering of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1968 and the "Days of Rage" in 1969. His focus is solely on Weather, which turns out to be his book's major strength but also accounts for some of its weaknesses. Jacobs's first chapter, "1968: SDS Turns Left,' recounts the disintegration of SDS into factions that included Weather, Progressive Labor (PL), the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM), and others. While the reader gains a careful analysis of the ideological differences among these groups, what is lost is the context out of which this all emerged. There is no discussion of the history of SDS or even of the political careers that led members of the Weather Underground to this point. (There are some biographical tidbits in a brief appendix entitled "The Cast.") From this moment on, however, Jacobs re- tells with care the stages of Weather activity coupled with discussions of its developing theoretical positions and growing cognizance of other political issues, including the emerging feminist movement. One virtue of his work is his decision to take Weather seriously and not to indulge in the kind of sensationalistic discussions of their interpersonal, communal, and sexual side, topics that have tainted other analyses. We witness the evolution of Weather's positions from the initial "You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows" (1968) through "New Morning, Changing Weather" (1970) and, finally, Prairie Fire. The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism (1974).
On the other hand, some further examination of the connection between their personal and political sides, including a more textured discussion of underground life, would have more fully rounded his portrait. An added value of this work is to remind older readers and inform younger ones of the domestic political events that occurred after 1968 and 1969, events which are too often merely thought of as footnotes to 1960s history, if not altogether forgotten. We learn not only of the explosion in a New York townhouse in 1970, where members were constructing bombs, and of other Weather bombings but also of the May Day demonstrations of 1971 that aimed to shut down Washington, D.C., the various legal struggles of the Black Panthers, and the short-lived media frenzy surrounding the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and its kidnapping and subsequent conversion of the newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.
What is striking as one reads and remembers the attention paid to the Weather Underground is how small the cadre was, given its importance in both the movement and the media. In part, this is not unusual in the history of the American Left. Numerous well- remembered and oft-studied factions of the Communist and Socialist parties had surprisingly few adherents. Yet we would not be able to find an equivalent amount of mainstream press attention paid to these groups. Through a combination of flamboyant rhetoric, publicity- grabbing activities, and its positioning of itself at the extreme edge of the rebellious impulse of the era, Weather became the most prominent, if not the most representative, group of the last phase of 1960s activism. Jacobs's study, while keeping to a slightly too narrow retelling of their activities, nevertheless provides an accessible, readable, and compelling history of their ideas and their activities.

Alexander Bloom Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

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