We can think of the Western world as being an idealized place where the pursuit of democracy and the right to live in freedom is all good and perfect. But that would be a lie. We are not a utopian state. Look to all corners of the globe and you’ll find a state of war – even if the news won’t tell you about it. And it’s nothing new either. We have a well-documented history of fighting, both on the offensive and in the defensive. Many would say it climaxed in America in the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s with Vietnam.
It began as a necessary evil in the fight on Communism. But as the fighting dragged on, justification for the loss of life on both sides became harder and harder. With the media’s presence, public opinion eventually swayed in favor of peace, love and understanding but before that there was a small group of radicals called the Weather Underground.
Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s documentary The Weather Underground reflects on the history of the group presents a fascinating look at one side of the story – the subversive side that ‘da man’ might not want you to hear. But it’s also told at a distance that almost feels nostalgic, if low-grade terrorism can actually be viewed as such.
The Weather Underground was a splinter movement of the Students for Democratic Society, one of the biggest groups of organized protesters during the Vietnam war. Frustrated that peaceful demonstrations alone weren’t going to bring the troops home from Vietnam, a handful of the SDS’s brightest minds formed the Weathermen. Their philosophy was that if there was a war happening on the other side of the world, one should also be waged at home. Americans were readying to become terrorists at home. The group made names for themselves by carrying out several bombings in the early parts of the 1970’s to protest and bring attention to various injustices happening around the country. Few supported their actions then and they’ve disappeared into relative obscurity now.
The film mixes old news footage, much of which should be familiar as it highlights the key points in the televised Vietnam as a way of setting the context, with interviews from several of the Weathermen’s key players. The Weather Underground provides a good history of not only what the group did but tries to answer the question of why they went to such extremes. It’s a fascinating and critical look at the volatile political climate of the 1970’s although considering that the film’s subject’s were so extreme I expected something just a little more. While many of the ‘why’s of the past are answered, some more background on how these people changed would have rounded things out some more. It wouldn’t have taken much, but with such a strong reliance on recycled images most have seen, it would have added another element to the final product.
Even still, I was into it from beginning and end. Perhaps it’s my car wreck mentality of wanting to watch extremes – in this case a group of well-to-do kids being critical of their own country and what came of it, both good and bad. But it’s the thought of telling the other side of the story, or at least the side that has been forgotten, that makes the subject matter so refreshing and enthralling.
The Weather Underground Gallery