Kathy Boudin walked free from the Bedford Hills correctional facility last week, but the debate over the parole granted to the one-time “Weather Underground” fugitive continues, as do the legal efforts of police organizations to secure a reversal of the parole board’s action. A police union leader described himself as “physically ill” at watching Miss Boudin’s release, but the 60-year-old former student radical also has her sympathizers. “We ought to see in this moment an opportunity to recognize her life in prison as a model for others to emulate,” commented the editors of The Nation.
This debate between the family members and professional associates of the victims of Miss Boudin’s crime on the one side and advocates of judicial leniency on the other is missing a crucial element. What was it that Miss Boudin and her comrades were trying to accomplish when they undertook the Brinks car robbery that culminated in the murder of a guard and two policemen? Miss Boudin’s larger goals may be worthy of juridical consideration, as the purposes behind a crime often are. More important, however, than her own fate is the way that Americans will remember the movement of which she has become the final embodiment.
The goal of the Miss Boudin’s group was nothing less than the destruction of American democracy, which they regarded as bogus, bourgeois, and repressive. They sought its replacement with a revolutionary regime, led by themselves, along the model of those headed by men they lionized: Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro. Since Americans would not have gone gently into this dark totalitarian night, Miss Boudin and company would have had to kill millions, as did Mao and Pol Pot, and consign millions more to gulags or “reeducation camps,” as Ho’s regime called them.
That the Weather Underground would not have shrunk from such stern measures of revolutionary necessity, if they had had the chance, was suggested not only by their choice of foreign idols but by their own repressive actions. Before they went into hiding, they fought to still the voices of ideological competitors on campuses. As they grew ever more “radicalized,” they turned to terrorism, planting bombs in the Capitol building and other public places, and cultivating a revolutionary’s disregard for human life that was so vividly displayed in the gunning down of the three officers in the Brinks robbery.
Of course, in reality this little band of would-be Lenins had not a snowball’s chance in hell of achieving their goals, even after hitching their wagon to an even more nihilistic and violent group of black extremists. Their grandiose ambition was the delusion of spoiled, narcissistic kids who had been raised too affluent. All they could accomplish was the murder of a few working stiffs, shattering three families.
But the fact that their reach vastly exceeded their grasp does not diminish the monstrousness of what they hoped to do. It would have been the crime of the century in a century already filled with incomprehensible crimes. They would have demolished the world’s great bulwark of human liberty: the existing American policy which, with all its imperfections, defended the world against the likes of Hitler and Stalin. Had that been accomplished it is uncertain that liberty could have survived anywhere. The flourishing of the human spirit might have been set back by centuries.
In all likelihood the courts will not overturn the parole board, and Miss Boudin will live the rest of her years enjoying the American freedoms she struggled so violently to abolish. Whatever the legal rights and wrongs of this decision may be, she is the symbol of a political current that Americans ought to recall with a little fear and much loathing.