Mark Rudd, now a math teacher at a community college in New Mexico, says that when he tells his students he spent his younger days fighting for the overthrow of the U.S. government, they look at him like he's from another planet. He's certainly from another era ' the late '60s and early '70s, when, to those who couldn't wait for it to get here, world revolution seemed right around the corner. The Weather Underground, a documentary by Sam Green and Bill Siegel, not only takes us back to that hurly-burly time, it tries to help us understand why a group of middle-class white kids would want to blow up the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and various other pillars of the liberal establishment. In a nutshell, they were driven crazy by the war in Vietnam.
Combining TV and newsreel clips with interviews that the former members have given recently, Green and Siegel take us through the Weatherman saga ' the split from Students for a Democratic Society, the ill-attended Days of Rage, the bomb that accidentally went off, killing three members and sending the rest into hiding. And thanks in part to some grueling war footage (e.g., the little girl running naked down the highway, her back seared by napalm), we're put in a let's-face-it-something-had-to-be-done frame of mind. But one of the most interesting things about The Weather Underground is finding out how the group now feels about its legacy. 'Violence didn't work,' Rudd says, thereby turning his back on the organization's raison d'Ãtre: fighting fire with fire, bombing the bombers.
Other members are less regretful. Naomi Jaffe says that, given the chance to do it all over again, she would, with slight changes. Interestingly enough, the documentary glides past the Brinks robbery, which left a guard and two policemen dead. The robbery occurred five years after the group disbanded, in 1976, but participation by former members left a dark smudge on Weatherman's otherwise perfect record of blowing up buildings without blowing up people. In fact, the members seem to take pride in how careful they were, ignoring the fact that it takes both care and luck, as Madison's own explosive history would suggest. To their credit, the filmmakers don't try to defend such extreme measures, just explain why they seemed necessary at the time.