Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Deconstructing Karleton Armstrong

Badger Ordnance, target of antiwar aerial bombers in 1969

In the film River's Edge, a former student radical-turned-middle-school-teacher bullies from his pulpit: "We stopped a war, man".   I've been rethinking a nostalgic post I wrote back here last spring about the Sterling Hall bombing in Madison. Not rethinking in the sense of changing my opinion, but rather deepening and wishing to augment what I wrote then. This was prompted by my reading up on the Kent State shootings.

Karleton Armstong, Sterling Hall bomber/ring-leader, has stated that the Kent State shootings were the catalyst which turned him violent later that summer: linkage Fellow bomber David Fine also stated:
Really, after Kent State [in May 1970], I think people's viewpoints really changed. They saw people shot and that sort of upped the ante, or so we thought. That was the real motivating factor.
I dissent from that opinion based on facts:  Kent State occurred in May of 1970, after Armstrong et al. had attempted to bomb Badger Ordnance from a Cessna aircraft on December 31, 1969.  It was that attempted bombing which gave the bunch their name, the New Year's Gang.

Can one argue that the attempted bombing of Badger Ordnance was somehow less violent-that accidental deaths would not have occurred?

It's reasonable that they were thinking that Badger would shut down that New Year's Eve and everybody would be home or out celebrating. But such a place was never empty-empty and someone like a night watchman could have died had their unexploded aerial bomb gone off.  Would Armstrong and Fine have reasoned that such a death was justified? Who knows.

Kent State was a horrific event which needlessly accelerated unrest. But but I'm still not buying Armstrong's motivational reasoning, based on chronological facts.

[added:  My brother reminded me the other day of a story my grandfather passed down through an uncle. My grandfather worked at Badger Ordnance in the 40s and 50s.  At the time there were strict no smoking rules defined according to area (they were handling mostly gunpowder).  Apparently, there was an explosion on site back in the early days, caused by a careless worker who had ignored the rules.  According to urban legend, all they ever found of him were his boots.]

1 comment:

  1. I attended the UW at Madison at the time and was active in the antiwar movement. I can testify that Fine was telling the truth about how people viewed their own motivations. The small, homemade "bomb" was dropped in the middle of an empty tarmac and was so incompetently made that it failed to explode. People in Madison at the time thought of it as a prank with an antiwar twist. Later that spring, the killings at Kent State permanently altered the political climate. By that summer, many people, like Armstrong and Fine, were ready to justify an escalation in violence for the antiwar movement. Only with the death of Robert Fassnacht did the movement pull back from the insanity of that violence.