In 2013, the term “radical chic” is a cultural reference so dated that it is more or less the moral equivalent of someone mouthing the catch phrases of the Roaring Twenties in the 1960s. The era when liberal intellectuals and elite cultural figures paid homage to a violent and radical left is so far distant that it may be difficult for Americans growing up in the second decade of the 21st century to sense its significance. Suffice it to say that the willingness of so many people who ought to have known better to think of either Weather Underground terrorists or Black Panther thugs as idealists is among the most dishonorable moments in America’s cultural history.
The notion that America was on the verge of a revolution in the late ’60s and early ’70s was the sort of patently absurd idea that only intellectuals and those so choked with hatred for their country could buy. It led inevitably to violence and murder and, like the rest of the far left’s ideas that seemingly died with the Berlin Wall, lives on only in the imaginations of campus radicals and the fever swamps of the far left. Although that era has been hopelessly romanticized by a country that has amnesia about everything about the time except its music, fortunately most Americans today see left-wing terrorism as ancient and deservedly forgotten history.
But not Hollywood, or at least the portion of it in which Robert Redford and his colleagues on the new film The Company You Keep which takes up the theme of a ’60s radical still on the lam 30 years after his crimes. The willingness of Redford to promote the fraudulent premise that these radicals were true patriots rather than murderous thugs cannot be excused by artistic license. Nor should it go unanswered. To claim, as he did on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today, that the tale of the Weathermen trying to evade justice is a new version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, isn’t merely a movie absurdity. It is the worst sort of historical revisionism that ought to bring down on the former heartthrob’s head the sort of opprobrium that was once reserved for Jane Fonda.
The film is loosely based on the events of the real life 1981 Brinks robbery in Nyack, N.Y. in which a gang of radicals who had been previously involved in Weathermen bombings murdered two police officers and a security guard while stealing $1.6 million to fund their activities. Michelle Malkin’s takedown of the film is a must read, as is our John Podhoretz’s column in today’s New York Post about Kathy Boudin, the getaway driver in the Brinks case.Boudin was eventually caught and served 22 years in jail before being sprung after some artful lies about her violent career to a credulous parole board. But after her release, she has become, like Bill Ayers, another former Weathermen who was friendly with Barack Obama before he became a presidential candidate, a petted idol of the academic world. As John writes, Columbia University’s decision to name the unrepentant killer an adjunct professor of social work is nothing less than a disgrace.
There will be those on the left who will chide conservatives for their anger over Redford’s film. Like those who mock the persistence of historians who have ferreted out the truth about Soviet spies like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Alger Hiss, they will ask us why we are so concerned about debunking these former left-wing icons. But those who ask right-wingers why they are so exercised about the past need to pose the same question to Redford and other liberals who think cinematic and literary attempts to vindicate these radicals are worthwhile endeavors.
If Redford believes the impulse to bomb buildings and commit murders in the name of changing “Amerika” is really the moral equivalent of Jean Valjean’s crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child then his moral compass is profoundly out of order.
But the offense here is not just to Hugo, or as Malkin rightly noted, to the families of those murdered by Boudin and the real Brinks killers. Any effort to turn the history of that tortured era upside down and make violent ideologues the good guys diminishes all Americans as well as the rule of law. This won’t be the first Hollywood film to falsify history or to give villains the undeserved status of heroes. But in an era when our collective historical knowledge has become so flimsy it is all the more dangerous. The Weathermen radicals deserve to go down in history as the bloody-minded and evil killers that they truly were. The lies that Redford and his cheering section in the chattering classes and the arts tell must not be allowed to change that.