Tonight We Bombed the U.S. Capitol: The Explosive Story of M19, America’s First Female Terrorist Group by William Rosenau
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I feel badly for what I’m about to write — largely for the authors, as I know how much time, labor, sweat, etc., is invested in writing a book, let alone a book like this. But I’ve got to be honest. I bought this book and started it in May 2020 and nearly 2 1/2 years later, having read, stopped, started again much later, stopped, repeat, repeat, I’m now just giving up in massive frustration. And you know, I’m guessing my reaction might not have been so bad if not for the marketing, or more precisely the misleading book title that set me up with massive excitement & lofty expectations only to make me feel — consistently bored every fu**ing time I read just a paragraph — that has to be among my top 10 literary disappointments of all time. Which is saying a lot. It bored me endlessly, almost to the point of just shy of begging for physical torture so I could be released from my mental torture due to the constant knowledge that I was experiencing the most UNDERwhelming book of my life! God, I feel cheated. And I resent that. It was so NOT what the title states or promises. Explosive story? Possibly a play on words as some of these women were loosely attached (largely in a support role) to a few Black Panther/BLA bombers. Even then, that would be a lousy trick & not worth crap. But if that title is meant to be literal, that’s false advertising if I’ve ever seen it.
Think about it. If we’re sticking solely with nonfiction, in no specific order & off the top of my head, I can think of a number of books that both I & probably a number of others would describe as at least as explosive or exciting, if not more. And I’m aware this is subjective, but at the moment I don’t have the time to address that. Nonetheless, some options might include:
– Cliff Stoll’s The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage
– Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter
– The Rape of Nanking by Iris Change
– The infamous Anarchist Cookbook
– The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
– Bernard Fall’s Hell In A Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu
– God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction by Dan Barker
– (and by far the most exciting & explosive nonfiction I’ve ever read…)
Ken Follett’s On Wings of Eagles
And adding to that list might be any number of books published about 1/6, Trump, his cronies, various forms of corruption, sedition and so forth. There now seem to be so many that I don’t know who would be able to pick some of the better ones out there, particularly as that’s an ambitious and slightly dangerous subjective term/idea/concept, etc. There are so many other books I could add but I see little point. Moving on, just sticking with the overall theme & era, there are/were so many groups within the US & globally — some almost more fringe & unknown than M19 — that there seems to be an endless supply of resources. But as most would expect, there’s a plethora of resources on a number of the usual people or groups, which doesn’t make them illegitimate to read about, but does cause the forever curious, like myself, to seek out info on more fringe, unknown, suppressed groups, people and topics & as this is the only book I had come across on M19, I was pretty excited. One can only read so much increasingly redundant stuff on groups labeled “dissident, militant” & soon “domestic terrorists.” Some include the SDS, Weather Underground, Black Panthers, German Red Army Faction (RAF) (which, like many, had ties to Carlos the Jackal, the most notorious terrorist, but one of whom I feel is correct to include despite not working his violence for personal political reasons — many of his clients WERE), SLA, BLA, American Indian movement, Italy’s Red Brigades, etc. I’ve known there were others yet some seem to be lacking nearly any resources, info, etc., which simply served to make me all the more eager to locate nearly any info for the really underground ones. And M19CO (related name) was one of those.
To generalize badly, the smallish group was largely comprised of female Jewish college graduates or dropouts, nearly all from mid-to-upper class families, most of whom had gone to elite schools, whether Ivy League or more women-traditional like a Smith or Wellesley, many to most of whom were lesbians (neither here nor there — just part of the overall description, as were the prep schools, etc., et al), who had caught the revolutionary buzz circulating among both thousands of students (typically of similar backgrounds) or historically oppressed minorities, many of which initially formed as both community defense groups (from the police, such as the Black Panthers) or/as well as groups that gave out free breakfast to neighborhood children, set up free medical clinics, preached “black power” in some cases, etc. Some were radical in their speech & ideas while others became quite dangerous, yet often as many were being literally destroyed by the FBI in Hoover’s infamous program you all probably know about. M19 has been attributed with some of the more infamous bombings of the late ’70s & early ’80s, but even though I read a large section of the book, I can’t name a single instance in which they either didn’t have massive aid from their BLA friends or were themselves little more than watchers & getaway drivers while the men did the dirty work. I’m under the impression that changed with time, but I was so ticked off at what I viewed as false advertising due to the title, as well as being bored beyond description & hoping the women would eventually become the dominant players they were supposed to be that I didn’t even care anymore. Lesser known groups (& causes) that interested me were the various & many Puerto Rican “Freedom fighter”/”terrorist” groups fighting a war dating back to the beginning of the century. A war against the US government, trying to earn their freedom as a nation instead of what the people there had been forced to endure as an American trophy obtained via the Spanish-American War and later as a federal territory, though never a state. If you want to read about some horrors long suppressed in American textbooks, look up info on Puerto Rico since about 1900 & its relationship with the US government. (While not recommending any specifically, some might include Militant Puerto Ricans: Migrants, Armed Struggle & Political Prisoners or War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony.) Anyway, there were many such dissident groups in the US, one of the foremost of which was called the Young Lords. One of the least known, least publicized yet most violent ended up, I believe, bombing more government & other important commercial locations/buildings than any other (120+!!!) was FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional). Some of their more infamous bombings included Wall Street — literally — the Rockefeller Center, courthouses, theaters, New York Life & Metropolitan Life’s NY headquarters, as well as attempts against government officials like Carter & Bush, etc. While little known to the public & aside from their leader, virtually unknown to most of the government, a group of them were captured in Illinois around 1980. So, you want government acknowledgment, let alone details? Do your best looking because basically the only thing the government has ever produced as available to the public and not classified is something I have in many formats, including the actual book produced by Congress. Many of these versions have different titles, but they are all literally the same. The book held in my hand right now is called Clemency For the FALN: A Flawed Decision? Otherwise formally known as a “Hearing Before the Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives, One Hundred Sixth Congress, First Session September 21, 1999, Serial No. 106-44.” And it’s a copy of the most boring drivel, the actual Congressional hearing so important about this dangerous FALN, that its purpose was to crap all over Clinton for granting clemency to these men who had just spent close to 20 years in prison. Yep, that’s it. Now, try to find info, docs, lit, etc BY FALN. There are a couple of books about or including FALN. But it’s hard. There’s not much there by the group itself. Two German universities had a couple of documents awhile back. It’s possible to find some materials, but not much at all. Yet FALN is still around though, unlike virtually all of these other groups, leaving them all, like M19, in the dust. (M19’s era lasted from the late ’70s to around 1985.)
My point is that I would prefer to read about any of these other groups rather than M19, or perhaps a different author/publisher might have made or would make a difference. Considering my interest in the subject, let me make clear about just how much I do not recommend this book. I’d rather read Sartre’s tome Being & Nothingness (I love his fiction & drama but Being?), which has to be among the most brain-addling & rather blasé book (or maybe I’d rather read about algorithms?) I’ve read yet. So while everyone is different & some have liked this M19 book, I guess it’s little surprise to me that its rating on Goodreads is below a 3.5. Sorry, a valient topic but I won’t recommend this book.