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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

Patty Hearst wanted poster Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst offers insights into American history topics including cultural and political shifts in the late 1960s and early 1970s; popular disillusionment with government and the plutocracy following the Vietnam War, President Nixon's resignation, and official responses to dissent; student movements including anti-war, prisoners' rights, and anti-poverty efforts; class relations; race relations; the role of the media in reporting violent acts including kidnappings; the use of violence and terror to promote a cause; law enforcement responses to terrorism; hostage psychology; and more. Use the film or this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

This teacher's guide is adapted from the 2004 Schools at the Festival Study Guide developed for Guerrilla when it screened at the 47th San Francisco International Film Festival. It was developed by Lisa Katovich and Joanne Parsont, and is reprinted here by permission.

Classroom Discussion and Activities

To enrich the students' experience, we recommend pre-viewing and post-viewing activities for Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst. Teachers are encouraged to adapt the study guide to meet their own learning objectives for their students.

Grade Levels

We recommend Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst for high school students only. The program does not depict violence but it deals with violent themes.

Suggested Subject Areas

  • American/World History

  • Social Studies

  • Journalism

  • Film Studies

Learning Objectives

After viewing the film and discussing the questions in the study guide, students will be able to:

  • Analyze point of view and the concept of objectivity, especially as it relates to documentary film.

  • Explain the history of the Symbionese Liberation Army and why they chose kidnapping as a tactic in their struggle.

  • Discuss how the climate of revolution at the time impacted the student movement.

  • Discuss the media's role and its effect on the Patricia Hearst kidnapping.

  • Discuss the new style of broadcast news and media that emerged following the live shoot-out in Los Angeles of six S.L.A. members in 1974.

  • Articulate a point of view about using violence to promote a cause.

  • Discuss changes to the student revolutionary climate as the Vietnam War ended and President Richard Nixon resigned.

Pre-Viewing Information

The teacher can share the film overview with the students and introduce some or all of the following:

  • Definition of documentary film.

  • Background on student protests and movements of the 1960s and 1970s in the U.S. and the rest of the world and their root causes.

  • The definition of terrorism and its many forms.

  • Background on student movements, such as the anti-war movement in the Vietnam era, the Bay Area prisoners' rights movement, the Weather Underground, etc.

Post-Viewing Discussion: Comprehension Questions

The questions that follow gauge the students' comprehension of the film. These questions can be answered immediately after the film, for homework or during class discussions the following day.

  1. What types of revolutionary movements were going on in the country and in the world in the late 1960s and 1970s?

  2. Probably because Randolph Hearst was in charge of a media empire, the kidnapping of his daughter became one of the most publicized events of that era. Did the media feed terrorism? Did the media use the story as a fascinating moneymaker?

  3. Did the police use overly aggressive tactics in ending the group in the L.A. shoot out? Did they use aggressive tactics in trying to understand and capture the S.L.A. prior to the shoot out?

  4. How did the S.L.A. gain access to Patty Hearst?

  5. What happened in Berkeley following the L.A. shoot out?

  6. What methods did the FBI agents use to try to catch the S.L.A. members?

  7. How did the killing of six members of the S.L.A. impact the remaining members?

  8. Why did the S.L.A. shoot Marcus Foster?

  9. What changes did the group want to bring about in American society and in the world?

  10. How did the prison movements of the early 1970s impact the S.L.A.?

  11. Recently in the news for sentencing in the death of Myrna Opsahl, how do the former members of the S.L.A. feel about what they did?

  12. Did the S.L.A. ever instigate social change? If so, what kind?

Post-Viewing Discussion: Analysis Questions

The questions that follow can be used for discussion or writing assignments.

  1. Could you identify a point of view of the filmmakers? Did that point of view influence your opinion of the subjects?

  2. What impact did the kidnapping recordings and live footage of the Hearst family reactions have on you?

  3. The film ends with Patricia Hearst responding to a talk show host's question about her childhood. What is her response and why do you think the filmmaker ended the film this way?

  4. Sociologist Todd Gitman says that the behavior of the S.L.A. was "a reverberation of something that had already happened, and no one told them it had died." Was the climate of the times ripe for such a movement? What does he mean?

  5. Did the use of violence have a positive or negative effect on their cause? Explain.

  6. How do you feel about the actions they took? Do you think they were right or wrong?

  7. Would you consider the beliefs and behavior of the S.L.A. to be patriotic?

  8. What do you think of the government's reaction to the movement? Can you draw any parallels in recent history? Do you see any similar behaviors by our current administration?

  9. Is violence ever justified to bring about social change? Specifically look at the history of the United States (for example, the colonial "Tea Party" participants in the Revolutionary War, ecoterroists of EarthFirst!, animal rights activists destroying the property of Chiron Corporation). Or you can look outside the U.S., for example, at the U'wa People, an indigenous community of 5,000 people living in the mountain forests of Colombia, South America (they have vowed to commit mass suicide if an oil drilling project by Los Angeles-based Occidental (OXY) Petroleum moves ahead in their ancestral territory), the French Underground Resistance against the Nazis in WWII, the current war in Iraq.  Discuss the difference between terrorism that targets people versus terrorism that targets property only.

  10. How did the S.L.A. use race as an issue in their cause?

  11. Do you think this kind of terrorist act could happen today?

  12. Do you think the members of the S.L.A. faced the appropriate consequences for their actions?

Post-Viewing Activities

These can be used for class discussion, role-plays or research.

  1. Write a letter to the filmmaker, critiquing the film, being as specific as possible. Your letter may be forwarded to the filmmaker. Please be honest, but respectful.

  2. Pick a cause that you and some of your peers feel strongly about. It could be local, national or global. What strategies would you use for your own student movement? What would the campaign look like? How would you recruit members? How would you get the message out?

Possible Essay Questions

  • Today terrorism seems to be all around us. It is always in the news. Bomb blasts, trials and plots. Throughout human history mankind has been faced with two ways to bring about change: rational discussion or dramatic violent actions. Men and women driven by moral, psychological, and cultural perceptions often become impatient with political processes and the speed at which the wheels of the government turn. Is violence ever justified?

  • One thing history tells us is that most terrorist plots have failed and that generally such failure sets back the cause that has been so promoted. Use the S.L.A. and/or other groups to illustrate this.

  • Today we face more than bomb blasts. Technology has given terrorists more tools to inflict violence upon society. Can tools of destruction ever truly be contained?

  • S.L.A. members considered their crimes insurrectionary acts. The assassination of Marcus Foster was justified in a "warrant order" issued by the "court of the people" to prevent "the forming and implementation of a Political Police Force operating within the School of the People." Hearst's kidnapping was explained as a Robin Hood gesture to use the heiress's family fortune to finance a $2 million food giveaway. The Hibernia Bank robbery was called an "expropriation." Did these dangerous illusions have any connection to the popular revolt of the 1960s and its mass movement that influenced the course of the nation's political life?

  • The S.L.A. sought to end capitalism, "give back to all people their human and constitutional rights," to abolish legal marriage, to hand out old-age pensions, to bring women and minorities into the mainstream of economic life. Did they accomplish anything, or was theirs just a criminal rampage aimed at innocent bystanders?

  • In the summer of 1973, four hostages were held in a bank vault for six days during a botched bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. At the end of their captivity they had become attached to their captors, actively resisting rescue. They refused to testify against their captors, raised money for their legal defense and, according to some reports, one of the hostages eventually became engaged to one of her jailed captors. This phenomenon was dubbed the Stockholm Syndrome. Even though the captives themselves were not able to explain it, they displayed a strange association with their captors, identifying with them while fearing those who sought to end their captivity. According to psychologists, the abused bonded to their abusers as a means to endure violence. The syndrome occurs when a captive cannot escape and is isolated and threatened with death, but is shown token acts of kindness by the captor. It typically takes about three to four days for the psychological shift to take hold. Notorious in the U.S. is the case of Patty Hearst. The syndrome explains what can happen in hostage-taking situations, but can you think how it can be used to understand the behavior of battered spouses, members of religious cults and other situations?

  • A California resident, John Walker Lindh, willingly collaborated with the Taliban in Pakistan, espousing beliefs alien to American culture and ideals. He was a teenage Taliban soldier, a part of the Islamic militia that ruled Afghanistan until U.S.-led forces defeated them. The U.S. military captured him during air strikes. He is now serving a 20-year prison term for conspiracy to kill U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. Is he a demon traitor, a victim, or a young idealist who truly believed he was following the path of righteousness to a better world?

  • The Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Nixon in 1974 occurred during the time of the S.L.A. What impact did these events have on American politics and groups like the S.L.A.?

  • The 1970s altered basic concepts about the individual, race, economics, politics and society. Culture and popular attitudes profoundly changed. Called the Me Decade, it was the time of Watergate and the end of Vietnam. What was its significance? What were the major changes in our country?

About Terrorism

Terrorism has become a major issue in current times, but it is not a new practice, and it has roots in the 1970s as well as in many decades before. There was a dramatic difference in the character and motivating factors of domestic terrorism of the Vietnam War period. Widespread discontent among a large segment of the American people -- particularly among college-aged youth -- with the United States government and its involvement in the war, combined with racial tensions and an anti-establishment movement, fueled a wide variety of violent demonstrations, riots, and terrorist actions. Groups such as the Weathermen Underground, Ku Klux Klan, Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, The New Year's Gang and many others too numerous to mention, were instrumental in conducting an unprecedented assault on almost all aspects of life in the United States. In California alone, an average of twenty bombs per week rocked the state throughout the summer of 1970. (Information from Nina J. Easton, "America the Enemy," Los Angeles Times Magazine, 18 June 1995.)

The decade of the 1970s was riddled with terrorism. Why were the 1970s so prone to terrorism? Some reasons are...

  1. Poorly run government services caused many to feel oppressed by their own government and encouraged them to retaliate, sometimes in the form of terrorism.

  2. Poorly run government services caused many to feel oppressed by their own government and encouraged them to retaliate, sometimes in the form of terrorism.

  3. The overall spreading of Utopian ideals, such as Marxism, led many to desire such unattainable systems. This encouraged Ideological Inspiration.

Types of Terrorism in the 1970s

  1. Ideological Inspiration
    A group that terrorizes in the name of an ideological idea or society is known to practice ideologically inspired terrorism. Two groups that practiced Ideological Inspiration were the Baader-Meinhoff Gang in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy. Both of these groups were in favor of Marxism, also known as Communism. The Red Brigades were the most successful of terrorist gangs in Europe during the early 70s as they assassinated over 300 political and public figures and kidnapped or crippled hundreds of others. They also pioneered the brutal tactic of knee capping, where they would shoot their victim directly on the kneecap, or club them with a baseball bat-type weapon on the knee, crippling the victim for life. Typically this type of terrorism is not inspired by a religious cause.

  2. Nationalistic Ideals
    A group that uses terrorism to further its own nationalistic ideals for forming a new nation-state falls into this category. The Irish Republican Army Provisional Wing (I.R.A. Provos) was notorious for bombing and the assassination of public figures who were opposed to the formation of Northern Ireland as an independent nation-state.

  3. Opposition to Oppressive Regimes
    If a terrorist group is only trying to battle its government, which it considers oppressive, and without any secondary motivation, then it is just considered to be opposing an oppressive regime. Two American groups that practiced this were the Black Panthers and the Symbionese Liberation Army (S.L.A.). The Black Panthers were not primarily a terrorist organization, but in 1972 members of the group hijacked a plane out of Florida and took it to Africa with ransom money; this was an important event in terrorism history as it marked the first time commercial airliners were used against the American public by terrorists.

  4. Ethnic Liberation
    This category is very similar to the Nationalistic Ideals category, except that terrorists in this group acted not to form a single nation-state but rather in the name of their ethnic group, organization, or religion. A group from this category was the Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.), which had its members commit the single most notorious terrorist attack during the decade by kidnapping and murdering eleven Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. What makes this group different is that it was committing terrorist acts for religion and not for a nation-state or against a nation-state.

  5. State Sponsored
    The most radical category is that of state-sponsored terrorism, where a country harbors and defends terrorists fighting its enemies. A prime example was during the Iranian Hostage crisis of 1979. Iranian revolutionaries ambushed the American Embassy located in Tehran, Iran, and took 65 Americans hostage. They held the hostages for fifteen months while in a standoff with the American government. The Iranian government would not cooperate with the United States when the U.S. demanded the hostages' release, making the terrorism state-sponsored. President Jimmy Carter made a strong connection that the holding of the hostages was not the act of a group but of the Iranian government during his State of the Union Address in 1980. "We continue to pursue these specific goals... to convince and persuade the Iranian leaders... if the American hostages are harmed, a severe price will be paid. We will never rest until every one of the American hostages is released."

Definition of Terrorism
Terrorism is when a group or individual uses force or the threat of force against the public or a government with the purpose of intimidating victims. Three elements are needed to classify an action as being that of a terrorist:

  1. There must be violence or the threat of violence.

  2. The targets of the action must be innocent.

  3. The action must have been taken to accomplish some political, religious, or social goal.

Modern terrorism is a prevalent issue in current events. With the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, terrorism was forced into the public eye as it rarely had been before. The September 11th attacks fall into the classification of State Sponsored Terrorism. They are state-sponsored because the group blamed for the attack, Al Qaeda, was protected by the Afghanistan government. Had Afghanistan turned over Osama bin Laden when the United States came for him, then it would not have been state-sponsored. Terrorism also exists in many other parts of the world today. For example, in Israel there is ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Some interesting facts about terrorism from Walter Laqueur's book, No End to War: Terrorism in the 21st Century:

  • Almost no terrorism occurs in the world's poorest 49 countries, and the September 11 terrorists all came from middle- and upper-middle-class families.

  • Similarly, the 20th century's most repressive regimes (Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany) were free of terrorism, while in South America in the 1970s terrorism first broke out not in the harshest dictatorships, but in Uruguay, the most democratic state.

  • Contrary to the conventional wisdom, then, terrorism flourishes in countries "democratic in character, or alternatively, in a wholly inefficient dictatorship," Laqueur writes.

  • Contrary to conventional wisdom, suicide terrorism isn't a "purposeless manifestation of despair," but rather a tool of highly organized groups that train, guide, and arm terrorists.

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