Our youth is a time of discovery. Finding out who we are and what our purpose on this earth is. Alienation is a common thread connecting many people’s teenage years. Only few people find their place easily.
It was this feeling of being different that helped shape me as a youth. I didn’t fit with the popular social groups and eventually gravitated to a group of outcasts. And punk rock music gave a voice to our frustrations. It was these themes of rebellion and anarchy that first drew my interest. I was becoming aware of the world around me socially and politically. Maybe I’d never be a revolutionary leader but the ideas were captivating.
I found my manifesto one day while at a friends house. His parents worked from home on computers. This was a bit rare in the 1990’s. They had internet access running 24/7. So, when my friends parents took a vacation, we began to surf the web. We looked for tits and all the standard teenage stuff. But then, somehow I discovered a printable version of The Anarchist Cookbook.
A book written in the 1970’s that mixed radical ideology with “recipes” on how to make silencers, bombs, instructions on growing weed, and many survival techniques. They were accompanied by handy diagrams
The writing style was crude but full of exciting rhetoric that was a call to action
The author made fanatical claims and called for a bloody revolution.
That author was William Powell. An American by birth, William was raised in England. His father worked for the UN and he moved there at age 5. William experienced much bullying because he was American. And his headmaster was abusive. Also his father put great expectations on William as a kid. Telling him he expected his son to attend the prestigious Cambridge school, despite some academic trouble. This led William to feel unacceptable. He became shy.
Then, the Powell family had to move back to the States. William’s family settled in New York City. William hoped that he would be more welcome in the US than he was by his British classmates. But it wasn’t to be. They perceived William as British due to his thick accent. Again he found himself isolated. As he developed in his teenage years, William fell in with a burgeoning new scene in the late 1960’s. The peace and love era was fading. Gone were the days of placing a flower in a soldiers gun barrel as an act of protest. Now the police would beat you down. After a 19 year old William Powell witnessed police storm a rally held to celebrate the yippie lifestyle and bloody the teens inside with clubs, he decided his time for action was now. If the government would act against it’s citizens using military techniques, then he would help level the playing field by educating the other side. William went to the public library and poured over military instructional manuals for any useful information. It was in these manuals where he found information on how to make dynamite, proper techniques to bomb a bridge, and how to blend in. He would intertwine these with revolutionary talk. He felt it was only fair for both sides to have access to the same information.
Initially William was proud to be 19 years old and be a published author. Despite not trying any of the dangerous things advocated in his book, he also felt accomplished in doing his part to change a system he saw as flawed.
Over time though, William changed. He no longer agreed with the violent actions his book advocated. He married and became a teacher for emotionally challenged youth. He did great work all around the world for children. But the book continued to haunt him.
There is a Netflix documentary called American Anarchist that deals with William’s feeling 40 years after writing the book. The connection to domestic terrorism and school shootings are shown to him. William claimed to be unaware of just how broad of an impact the book had on many people. He addressed the connection to the Columbine killings with great horror. He was clearly upset that his work was used to injure children, after spending a lifetime helping them.
In a very poignant moment, William is asked if he regrets writing the book. He says he has no regrets, only remorse. The interviewer pushes him to explain the difference. After a long pause, a blurry eyed William says he feels remorse for the innocent people that get hurt because of his actions as a 19 year old kid. But is reluctant to say he regrets writing the book. You can clearly see the emotional struggle inside the man as he tries to rectify everything in his head.
Most of us are vastly different people as adults than we were as teenagers. What seemed like pure ideals back then just end up as unpractical thoughts once you gain real life experience.
Luckily for me, my teenage thoughts weren’t published more than 2 million times for the world to read.