So many discussions – so many wonderful responses – tonight it was our Peace Cafe, on “defining terrorism” – 60+ stayed for an hour after the show to discuss the process by which yesterday’s “freedom fighter” becomes today’s “terrorist” – how last generation’s “radical” is today’s “Islamo-fascist friend” – how fighting for justice, and enactments of civil disobedience might, in some definitions, also constitute acts of willful disregard of the law which might lead to fomenting “terror” even without resorting to “violence.” In short, good complicated conversation. We may wind up hearing more about this.
And before that, this past Sunday, the panel “Protest Movements and the Internet: Political Activism Today” with young organizers using new tools to achieve real and important ends. Thanks to Niv Ellis (of Quotidian Dissent), Mia Cambronero (of Avaaz.org) and Amy Spitalnick of J Street for their inspiring takes on our play.
And before that, and before that… there were more conversations, video soon to be posted. And soon we are to be posting one last (newly added) discussion.
Saturday, October 2 at 9:30 pm: “David Horowitz responds to the portrait of Gene Biddle” with author and historian Ron Radosh; and actor Rick Foucheux reading the comments of prominent neo-conservative author, David Horowitz, on whom the character of Gene Biddle is, in part based; together with actor Norman Aronovic reading the response of playwright Willy Holtzman; a post-show panel moderated by artistic director, Ari Roth.
Below begins, David Horowitz’s response to Something You Did. In our follow up, we’ll post our playwright’s response.
Something We Did
by David Horowitz
Just before Labor Day this year, a theater review in the Washington Post alerted me to the fact that someone had made me, or a fictional representation of me, into a principal character in his play. Something You Did purports to be a drama about the parole appeal of an actual person, Kathy Boudin, who forty years ago was a member of two violent organizations and was directly involved in the violent deaths of six human beings. Although I myself was never the member of any violent group and never so much as threw a rock in the Sixties, the author cast my character as the bad guy in his fiction, an embodiment of the forces that Kathy Boudin opposed then and that he opposes now.
The day after the review appeared, I received a confirming email from my friend of nearly sixty years, Ron Radosh, who had just attended a performance and who sent me a scanned copy of a statement by the author explaining his play. The author identified me as the villain of his drama and said he had chosen me because I had written what he called the most “corrosive” attack on Kathy Boudin when she came up for parole; also because I was “a former radical turned outspoken neo-conservative” and it was his intention to have his play make a statement about the present. Finally, he described the play as asking (and answering) this loaded question: “Whether the radical sins of the past can be forgiven even as the reactionary sins of the present multiply.” Since this is self-evidently a loaded question there is no suspense as to the answer. Boudin caused the deaths of three innocent people and left nine children fatherless. But she is to be forgiven, because she has remained a radical and therefore her heart was and is in the right place. Whatever mistakes she committed, her intention was to save the Vietnamese and other oppressed people from conservatives like myself.
A fiction based on reality can provide useful insights but only if the structure of the facts remains intact. Here are some of the facts, which the author of the play so distorts or misrepresents as to deprive his fiction of the ability to provide insights that are useful for understanding what happened.
First, allow me to clear up his malicious claim that there is a moral parallel between Kathy Boudin’s criminal acts and David Horowitz’s “contribution” to the death of Betty van Patter at the hands of the Black Panthers. Kathy Boudin knowingly joined the Weather Underground a radical group whose purpose was to conduct an actual war inside the United States. It set bombs, possibly murdered two police officers (there is a continuing cold case investigation into this) and inadvertently blew up three of its members, when an anti-personnel device intended for others went off prematurely. She then joined a second violent group with identical aims and participated in an armed robbery in which three officers were killed.
There is no parallel in what I did as a New Left radical. I never joined a violent organization. I was the editor of Ramparts, the largest magazine of the left. I never joined the Black Panthers but offered to help them purchase and build a school. I did so only after their leader, Huey Newton, publicly proclaimed it was “time to put away the gun.” When I recommended Betty van Patter as bookkeeper for the school I was a thorough in the New Left’s views of the Panthers as noble force and had no idea the Panthers were capable of cold-blooded murder. At the time I set out to help them, the New York Times was comparing Huey Newton to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther. Literally. Nonetheless, I should have read the signs and known the dangers, and that is what the conservative part of my life is about. I have written an extensive memoir of these events and taken full responsibility for what I did, and in particular for not knowing what I should have known. If Kathy Boudin had done the same, if she had attempted to re-examine the premises that led her to commit her crimes and had made a full accounting, I would not have judged her as harshly as I have.
A crucial fact the play ignores is that I did not need to become a conservative to become a critic of Kathy Boudin and the Weather Underground. I wrote a widely read article in Ramparts attacking the Weather Underground in 1971. It focused on the unplanned explosion of a bomb that Kathy Boudin’s cell was planning to detonate in a terrorist act. Three members of the cell were killed in the accident, which destroyed the Greenwich Village townhouse they had turned into a bomb factory. Boudin was in the townhouse at the time and survived – and went on to continue her chosen path of radical terrorism.
The townhouse episode includes crucial facts, which the playwright suppresses in order to load his case for redeeming Boudin, through her character in the play Alison; and also for defending the leftist views that inspired her. In the play, Alison claims that her terrorist acts were aimed at property not people. She is presented as someone innocent of the purposes for which the bomb is to be used. In the play it is my character who persuades her to buy the nails that will be used to turn the bomb into an anti-personnel weapon. The black policeman who becomes the inadvertent victim of the bomb is killed by one of those nails. In the play Alison’s alleged innocence of the bomb’s malicious purpose is central to the plot and to the playwright’s plan to create sympathy and forgiveness for Alison/Kathy and to indict me as the villain.
In real life, however, in that Greenwich Village townhouse, Kathy Boudin and her comrades were deliberately building a bomb filled with nails, which they intended to detonate at a social dance at Fort Dix — a dance that would be attended by 18-year-old draftees and their dates. In real life, Kathy Boudin was a calculating terrorist and no innocent dupe. My opposition to her parole then and now is because of the criminal acts she committed and her refusal to face up to them — not because she opposed the Vietnam War.
The only article I ever remember writing about Kathy Boudin’s parole begins with this sentence: “The separate reality of radicals, which made them unable to comprehend their own deeds, was made vivid for me in a New York Times story I read later, about the parole appeal of … Kathy Boudin.” The author of Something You Did, who never sought to interview me to find out who I was or what views I had of these events. He is a perfect example of those radicals who inhabit a separate reality, which makes them unable to understand how others see them and therefore unable to comprehend themselves.
In Something You Did I am represented as a cynical narcissist and a representative specimen of the system I once opposed. My character, “Gene,” cuts million dollar on the basis of his fame presumably as a radical turncoat and receives $50,000 speaking fees to spread his noxious views. I wish. Perhaps he is thinking of Cornel West or Michael Moore, who resonate with current literary and academic cultures and who might actually command such contracts and fees. The character allegedly based on me is also portrayed as an embittered racist, and a xenophobic Jew.
I will take these canards one at a time. First, in constructing my character as a wealthy cynic the author chooses to confront a radical cliché rather than the reality of the person who was Kathy Boudin’s most corrosive critic. I am pretty much the same individual I was when I was on the left, though hopefully wiser from experience. I am still a missionary, not the avaricious operator portrayed in the play. My conservative views are driven by what I see as the destructive ambitions and practices of the left, and their negative impact on the very people — blacks, the poor, and the Vietnamese – whom radicals claim to support. Any honest reader of my work would know that. A confrontation between a radical and a former radical who has had second thoughts about the practical results of his commitments would have provided a more interesting center for this play than the progressive cliché the author has chosen.
But cliché it is, and therefore the conservative antagonist must also be exposed not only as an opponent of radical terrorists but as a racist, and since he is Jewish, a tribalist – in a word, a “reactionary.” In the play my character refers to the murder of “two” civil rights workers in Mississippi deliberately omitting the third, James Chaney, because he was black and only Jews count. Just on a personal note, my three black grandchildren would not appreciate this. The point I made in my autobiography Son about these issues which the author of this play has grossly misrepresented is that Jewish radicals like Kathy Boudin feel superior to the groups they are claiming to help, in this instance blacks, and so fail to understand them as individuals. The terrorist act, which is the basis for this play, was committed by a group of violent black criminals whom Boudin mistook for black victims and comrades. Stokely Carmichael, who is a focus of the remarks by the character associated with me in the play was a black anti-Semite and racist whom Jewish progressives mistook for an ally. That very specific point has simply been distorted beyond recognition by the author in order to smear conservatives as racists.
The conclusion of the play is Alison’s plea to the parole board. She defends herself by claiming that whatever she did, and whatever mistakes she made, were in behalf of the Vietnamese and Cambodians, and that the real criminals are the Americans who supported the anti-Communist cause. I have two problems with this. The first is that Kathy Boudin and the anti-war left really didn’t care that much about the Vietnamese and the Cambodians. When America left Indo-China in 1975 and the Cambodians and Vietnamese were being slaughtered by the Communists in one of the largest genocides of the 20th Century, there were no protests by the American left of those atrocities, not by Kathy Boudin and not by her comrades-in-arms.
My second problem with Alison’s appeal is that the factual premise on which it is based is a lie. Kathy Boudin was responsible for the death of a black policeman, Waverly Brown, actually first black policeman hired by the Nyack police force. But the act that killed him was not and could not have been a protest against the Vietnam War. Officer Brown was killed by Kathy Boudin and her friends in 1981, when the Communists were in power in Vietnam, and the United States had been out of Indochina for six years.
In sum, this play is dishonest in its core. It misrepresents the reasons Kathy Boudin committed her crime, it misrepresents the crime itself, and it whitewashes her culpability as a supporter of terrorist acts. Finally, it misrepresents who I am and why I opposed her parole.