Review: American Anarchist

A week ago, Darling Hubby and I watched American Anarchist on Netflix. (You can also find it on Amazon.)

I think just about everyone has heard of this infamous book, but you may not know the author.

William Powell was nineteen years old and obviously rebelling against parental authority--all authority in fact, as many young people did in the 1960's.

American Anarchist is about Powell, the author of The Anarchist's Cookbook which has been used by those who have committed horrendous acts of terrorism.

Compelling Documentary

The documentary is compelling as Charlie Siskel, the writer and director (and the nephew of the late film critic Gene Siskel), unfolds the narrative with photos from the counterculture period of the late 60's and early 70's and interviews with Powell and his wife of many years.

First Thing That Struck Me

Two things struck me about this film. The first was Mr. Powell's insistence that he was ignorant of all that had been done, using his  infamous book, which he had compiled mostly from free booklets obtained from the Government Printing Office.

Ironically, Mr. Powell had become a teacher, serving in third world countries where he and his wife tried to make a difference. They were both well-respected as educators and as people. Until a fateful day when the officials who ran the school where he was currently employed were notified of his connection to a book that had figured prominently in terrorist bombings.

In all the years since The Anarchist Cookbook was published in 1971, the Powells claim they knew nothing about its connection to the bombing atrocities. I suppose that could be true since they lived abroad for decades and didn't own a television, they said.

I believe they wanted to be like an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand--oblivious and ignorant--because the alternative was soul-crushing to a man and woman who had devoted their lives to teaching young people.

Second Thing That Struck Me

When I watch a documentary, I'm expecting an insightful story, presented fairly, about a particular subject. I'm not expecting an example of hard-nosed investigative reporting, but that's what this film seemed to be.

Charlie Siskel, the writer and director, seemed determined to make William Powell admit his sins. He kept throwing statistics about various atrocities at Powell. In today's world of video journalism where interview subjects are slapped in the face with "how does that make you feel," Siskel seemed intent on making Powell take responsibility for each and every single maiming and killing.

Would it have been better if that book had never been published? Maybe. Who is to say? The information was already out there. Anyone could have ordered the pamphlet from the Government Printing Office. My goodness, the blueprints for the atomic bomb were once available for free to the public also. (I don't know if that's still true--probably is.)

Takeaway Truth

 I found the documentary interesting and...sad. I felt sorry for Powell who did a stupid, rash thing when he was an unhappy, rebellious kid.

He grew up to be a good person, but everything good that he did in life will always be overshadowed by that horrible book.

Is it any wonder he died suddenly, a year after the documentary was completed?

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