Todd Gitlin
The Sixties

By conservative estimate, between September 1969 and May 1970 there were some two hundred fifty major bombings and attempts linkable with the white left—about one a day. (By government figures, the actual number may have been as many as six times as great.) The prize targets were ROTC buildings, draft boards, induction centers, and other federal offices. As far as is known, almost all these acts were committed by freelance bombers and burners, though the Weathermen, the most organized phalanx, were probably some inspiration to greener terrorists. For every bomber and arsonist there were several who mulled over the idea. The members of one Berkeley commune liked to go out at night, for example, randomly trashing Safeways (in support of striking farm workers) or banks (against imperialism); massive retaliation might be imminent, they thought, and for that contingency they kept a Molotov cocktail in the basement, designed to the specifications of the New York Review of Books cover of 1967. A San Francisco grouplet, impressed by the attention the media paid to political explosions, hoarded dynamite and talked seriously about blowing up Grace Cathedral (which had been a refuge for antiwar meetings) as an act of protest.

As antiwar militants turned against imperialism, attacks turned to the headquarters of multinational corporations. On February 4, a riot in Isla Vista, outside Santa Barbara, in protest against the guilty verdicts in the Chicago Conspiracy trial, culminated in the burning of the local branch of the Bank of America. (A student explained, 'It was the biggest capitalist thing around.') Five nights after the townhouse explosion, bombs went off in the Manhattan headquarters of Socony Mobil, IBM, and General Telephone and Electronics; a note to the press denounced 'death-directed Amerika.' No one knows how many people committed all these acts; probably only a hundred or two, including police agents. (The most famous was Thomas Tongyai, 'Tommy the Traveler,' who expertly posed as an SDS organizer in upstate New York and taught militants how to make Molotov cocktails to burn down a campus ROTC building.) Many antiwar militants were reduced to cheer-leading. 'The real division is not between people who support bombings and people who don't,' wrote Jane Alpert, herself a secret member of a freelance bombing collective, 'but between people who will do them and people who are too hung up on their own privileges and security to take those risks.'

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.