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They block ports, ships, submarines, trains full of weapons, trucks full of weapons, and gates to military bases. They take hammers to weapons of mass destruction, cause millions of dollars worth of damage, hang up banners, and wait to be arrested. They cause weapons systems to be canceled, facilities to be closed, and Pentagon policies to be changed. They educate and inspire greater resistance.
The people who do this take great risks. U.S. courts are extremely unpredictable, and the same action can easily result in no jail time or years behind bars. Many of these people have families, and the separation is usually painful. But many say they could not do this without their families or without their close-knit communities of like-thinking resisters. A support network of several people is generally needed for each resister.
More often than not, a great sacrifice is made with no apparent success in terms of governmental behavior, either immediately or even after a lengthy passage of time.
Police are becoming more violent. Sentences are growing longer, and prisons are becoming more awful.
Increasingly, the corporate media ignores such actions, dramatically reducing the educational and inspirational benefits. When Steve Downs was arrested for wearing a "give peace a chance" t-shirt in a shopping mall, a reporter called up a local peace group and tried to get them to admit they'd prompted Downs' action. When they said they'd never heard of him, the reporter replied, "Oh, then it's a legitimate story!" "In other words," says Downs, "if a group protests in support of their constitutional rights, it's not a legitimate story. If one hapless individual blunders into an arrest, then it is!"
And yet, people who devote themselves to nonviolently resisting war can know that they are part of a movement that does result in improved policies. And they can know that if more people joined them their chances of success would increase without limit. That is to say, if enough people joined in, complete success would be guaranteed. That is to say, peace on earth.
Rosalie Riegle has just published a wonderful collection called "Doing Time for Peace: Resistance, Family, and Community," in which she transcribes her interviews of 68 peace resisters, friends, and family members -- selected from 173 whom Riegle interviewed between 2004 and 2007. The book is not in the least polemical, more sociological. The speakers struggle with their memories and goals, and with questions about whether what they do is worth it.
The question of whether a sacrifice has been worth the effort often remains an open question for a very long time. This book collects heroic, inspiring, and eye-opening actions and presents them with undeniable honesty and humility. Imagine if millions of people were to read this book. Suddenly countless actions done quietly or with little notice would be having a whole new kind of impact, and actions engaged in decades back would be revived -- perhaps in a more illuminating manner than before, as a result of the insights gained by the participants.
One resister quoted in "Doing Time for Peace," Kathleen Rumpf, recalled an action she was part of in 1983:
"[W]e went [into the hangar] and saw the B-52 and began hammering. My little hammer would ping and then almost fly in my face without even leaving a mark. I painted on the plane: 'This is our cry, this is our prayer of peace in the world.' And the symbols we brought with us -- the pictures of the children, the indictment that we put on the plane, the blood we poured . . . . I hung paper peace cranes on the different engines. (The FBI kept calling the cranes 'paper airplanes' like they called blood 'red substance.')
"We had decided we'd do twenty minutes of hammering and putting our stuff around, no more. In reality, we were there for about two and a half hours. We didn't want to do more destruction, and we kept wondering what to do next. We phoned the press from their top security lines. We sang and prayed out on the tarmac. We went back in to go to the bathroom. We went up into a B-52 and looked around. Now, we were charged with sabotage. Had we been about that, we certainly would have had time to do it. Anyway, finally we were able to wave somebody down to arrest us. They were going to take us to the Burger King and drop us off, like they usually do for protests at Griffiss. I said, 'Well, gee! You might want to check Hangar 101 before you release us.'
"So they go to the hangar and then they get on the walkie-talkies, and then we had about sixteen or eighteen guys with forty-inch necks, marching double time with M-16 rifles. They made us kneel in the sand, holding rifles on us.
"Then sitting on that bus . . . for eight, nine hours . . . with my hands behind my back and hearing this constant 'Shut up! Shut up!' We'd say, 'Well, we didn't join the military, you did.'"
The heroes -- and I use the term intentionally -- in this book include atheists and members of various religions, but they are disproportionately Catholic and part of the Catholic Worker movement. This raises all sorts of questions for an atheist like myself who believes both that the world would be better off without religion and that the world would be better off if more people behaved as do these religiously motivated Catholics.
The primary problem with activists is their insistence on knowing that success is likely before they act. This results in a tremendous amount of inaction. So, when these religious activists say they do not care about success, or they are acting in order to suffer, or they are seeking personal transformation, I'm not eager to reject their position. I believe we are facing a crisis of militarism and environmental destruction that threatens human survival. I believe we have a moral duty to act, regardless of the chances of success. These peace resisters speak of opposing militarism in appropriately moral terms, I think. But I believe our duty is to act in the manner most likely to succeed, as far as we can identify it. Sometimes I think that is this sort of nonviolent resistance, but not always.
The resisters do not agree on everything. Some go limp when arrested. Some plead guilty. Some request the harshest sentence. Some view their defense in court and their attempt to achieve acquittal to be a central part of the action.
And some have moved toward a type of action unlikely to result in prison time, namely travel to nations threatened by or under attack by the U.S. government or its allies. Sending peace teams into zones threatened with war or facing ongoing war and occupation can involve great risk and sacrifice. It can employ the hands-on, face-to-face interactions that peace resisters value. Friendships and alliances can be built across borders that help to educate the people of both nations and influence their governments. And all without the months behind bars.
Peace resisters are my kind of Catholics. Compare them to the Pope, a former Nazi-youth whose Christmas message this week was, first, hatred for gay people, and, second, interaction between the world's religions -- not disarmament, not a cease-fire. Outgrowing the need for religion, and in the process losing a cause of deadly division, wasn't mentioned, of course. But the resisters in Riegle's collection often include their disbelief in death as part of what motivates them, what takes away their fear. And why would I want to take that away from them?
Albert Camus, generally identified as an atheist, is a frequent source of inspiration for religious resisters. Camus was very much a mournful ex-theist ever in the process of very-regretfully losing his religion and proclaiming the world absurd without it. These resisters manage to erase that absurdity. They eliminate their worries over risks of horrible fates, through their willingness to put everything on the line. Perhaps to some extent they believe they're fully insured. They clearly feel a sense of freedom when they set all worry behind them and declare their willingness to accept any suffering whatsoever in order to promote peace and resist war making.
More of us, all of us, should be moving in that direction.
Daily Kos sent an email on December 6 promoting a strategy to eliminate the "Bush" tax cuts on the wealthy:
I've been grumbling to peace activists that they should stop presenting Chuck Hagel as a force for peace and an "Iraq war critic" or an "Iraq war skeptic." It makes it sound as if he opposed a war that he voted for, voted repeatedly to fund, and never took any radical action to end. "Iraq war opponents" in the U.S. Senate routinely voted to fund what they opposed. Funding war is not what comes to mind when one first hears "war opponent."
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
George Mason's original draft reads:
"That the People have a Right to keep and to bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, composed of the Body of the People, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe Defence of a free State; that Standing Armies in Time of Peace are dangerous to Liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided as far as the Circumstances and Protection of the Community will admit; and that in all Cases, the military should be under strict Subordination to, and governed by the Civil Power."
Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights had put it this way 12 years earlier:
"That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power."
The Right-To-Bring-Assault-Weapons-to-School Second Amendment turns out to have its origins in an attempt to avoid maintaining standing armies. In place of standing armies, the states of the new United States were to create well-regulated militias. The first half of the Second Amendment explains why people should have a right to bear arms:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State ... "
Bearing arms in a well-regulated militia did not mean bearing guns that can reliably shoot well, since such didn't exist. It certainly didn't mean bearing guns that can kill entire crowds of people without reloading. It didn't mean bearing arms outside of the well regulated militia. Much less did it mean bearing arms in school and church and Wal-Mart.
By "free state" many supporters of this bill of rights meant, of course, slave state. And by "people" they meant, of course, white male people -- specifically people who would be taking part in well regulated militias.
The Third Amendment reads:
"No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."
The Second and Third amendments originated as restrictions on what we would later create and come to call a Military Industrial Complex, a permanent war machine, a federal tool of abusive power.
The militias of the Second Amendment are meant to protect against federal coercion, popular rebellions, slave revolts, and -- no doubt -- lunatics who try to mass-murder children.
The descendants of those militias that we call the National Guard are meant, in contrast, to recruit ill-informed young people who imagine they'll be rescuing hurricane victims into endless occupations of oil-rich lands far from our shores.
To comply with the Second Amendment we must end federal control over the National Guard, regulate such state militias and police forces well, regulate their weapons well, and deny such weapons to all others and for any other use.
The Second Amendment has been made to mean something very different from what was originally intended or what any sane person writing a Constitution would intend today. This means that we must either reinterpret it, re-write it, or both.
Roy Hange is a Mennonite pastor in Charlottesville, Va., who has spent 30 years studying Western Asia (the Middle East). He has lived for 3 years in Egypt, 6 in Syria, and 1 in Iran. Hange has taught peace building at Eastern Mennonite University and the University of Virginia. Hange discusses prospects for peace in Syria and Iran.
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Will Obama cave? How deeply will Obama cave? Why did Obama cave again? Were you hoping Obama would change his caving ways? President Barack Obama, one begins to understand, must be our spelunker in chief.
Frank Richards recalled:
"On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with 'A Merry Christmas' on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one. Platoons would sometimes go out for twenty-four hours' rest -- it was a day at least out of the trench and relieved the monotony a bit -- and my platoon had gone out in this way the night before, but a few of us stayed behind to see what would happen. Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench.
"Buffalo Bill [the Company Commander] rushed into the trench and endeavoured to prevent it, but he was too late: the whole of the Company were now out, and so were the Germans. He had to accept the situation, so soon he and the other company officers climbed out too. We and the Germans met in the middle of no-man's-land. Their officers was also now out. Our officers exchanged greetings with them. One of the German officers said that he wished he had a camera to take a snapshot, but they were not allowed to carry cameras. Neither were our officers.
The other day I tweeted an article that reported on a rather horrible story. It seems that the Israeli government gives African women drugs that keep them from reproducing.
I think if this story had been about Canada, Korea, France, or Brazil people would have read it. The conversation would not have immediately shifted to my alleged hatred of all Canadians.
Since it was about Israel, some people chose to announce that I hated Jews. Such a response is not only baseless and nonsensical, but it shifts attention to me and away from the story, which in the end isn't seen.
Now, I don't know any more about that story than what I've read at that website (the website of a Jewish organization, as it happens). The report may be accurate or not. Israeli newspapers seem to report it as fully established, neither doubted nor challenged. The story at least seems to merit investigation. The point is that nobody told me it was inaccurate (news that would have delighted me). Instead, they told me that I was anti-Semitic.
This happens with the United States too, of course. If I criticize the U.S. government a few thousand times, and if the president is a Republican, I'll hear from some disturbed individual who wants to recommend that I leave the country since I hate it so much. Why one would try so hard to reform the government of a country he hated is never really explained.
With Israel, such nonsense is triggered much more swiftly. I haven't made a career of trying to reform Israel's government. All I had to do was tweet a link to an article. Those who have gone to greater lengths to criticize the crimes of the government of Israel have, in some cases, seen themselves censored, vilified, and their careers derailed. Many persevere despite this climate.
There is, however, a way to speak openly and honestly about Israel. Not everyone can do it. The trick is to be a veteran of the Israeli military. This approach helps people whose "service" was years ago. And it helps those whose memories of what they did "for their country" are very fresh. Not only does such status shield one from a great deal of criticism, but it provides a substantive advantage in being able to report first-hand on what the Israeli military has been doing. Just as Veterans For Peace are able to speak with some legitimate authority in the United States against the use of war (see Winter Soldier now if you haven't), members of the Israeli military, and those who recently were Israeli soldiers, command attention.
A new book called "Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies from the Occupied Territories 2000-2010," collects the accounts of numerous Israeli soldiers, although withholding their names. Videos of some of the soldiers telling their stories can be seen online. The online database sorts the stories into categories: › Abuse› Assassinations› Bribery› Checkpoints› Confirmation of killing› Curfews/closures› Deaths› Destruction of property› Human shields› Humiliation› Looting› Loss of livelihood› Routine› Rules of engagement› Settlements› Settler violence.
"Supporting the troops" is usually understood to exclude listening to the troops. But these troops should be listened to. Their experiences are very similar to those of the U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq. But their war has lasted much, much longer, and with no end in sight. Their testimonies make clear that their tactics do not serve the supposed purpose of reducing violence, and are in fact not intended to do any such thing. The bizarre ordeals imposed on the soldiers outdo Kafka and pale in comparison to the nightmares imposed on Palestinians. The driving forces are quite clearly racism, sadism, imperialism, and excessive obedience.
A very few of the many samples I was tempted to provide:
"They called us to some location, they found [rockets] in the minaret of a mosque. What do you do? You look for someone to go up to the mosque and take down the [rockets] because it's dangerous for us. So they knocked on doors in the area. There's always someone with us who speaks Arabic. . . . So they knocked on the doors and found someone. He was retarded. They said, 'Go up to the mosque. There are pipes in the minaret. Bring them down.' They didn't even tell him it was explosives."
"There was an operation in the company next to mine where they told me that a woman was blown up by [an explosive used to break through doors], her limbs were smeared on the wall, but it wasn't on purpose. They knocked and knocked on the door and there was no answer, so they decided to open it [with live ammunition] . . . . and just at that moment the woman decided to open the door. And then her kids came over and saw her. . . . someone said it was funny, and everyone cracked up, that the kids saw their mother smeared on the wall."
"[T]he brigade commander . . . briefs us, 'Any kid you see with a stone, you can shoot at him.' Like, shoot to kill. A stone!"
"[I]t's unbelievable how in the end the report on the radio was, 'In an operation in Tul Karem the IDF captured,' like, you know, 'twenty suspects, ten weapons, and fertilizer suspected for use in manufacturing [explosives], a ton and a half of fertilizer.' So it's a success, because you hear it on the radio, and you say, 'Hey, look, like we went there, this is what we got, we did what we were supposed to do.' And what we did was just the opposite. Because what did we do? We committed crimes. We destroyed homes. No house that we went into was the same when we left."
"There was this house we captured in Hebron . . . we took this house. You know the procedure: the family moves down a floor. Now, what did we do? We were . . . on the third floor, the guys set up a pipe, a pipe to pee, so they could pee outside. They put the pipe, we put the pipe exactly so that all the piss would flow into the courtyard of the house below us. There were a few chicken coops just there, it all poured out there. That was the joke every day, waiting for the father or one of the kids to go to the coop, and then everyone stands and pisses."
"Apparently, that captain had gone to Takua, which is a pretty hostile village -- they were throwing stones at the jeep. So, he just stopped a Palestinian guy who was passing, forty-something years old, and tied him to the hood of the jeep, a guy just lying on the hood, and they drove into the village."
"The Palestinians didn't know there were soldiers behind them, and the soldiers would just spray their legs. . . . His one goal was to lure Palestinian children, just to cut off their legs."
"We had a commander in the unit who would just say in these words, . . . 'I want bodies. That's what I want.'"
"You're not ranked by arrests -- you're ranked by the number of people you kill."
"[The company commander] taught us about rubber bullets, and they showed us how it comes in what's called a 'tampon,' which is a kind of plastic bag that contains the bullets. So they said, 'You need to separate them, meaning you tear open the package and put them in one by one so you cause damage.' And they actually explained it to us, in this really pornographic way, 'Aim for the eyes so you take out an eye, or at the stomach so it goes into the stomach.'"
"Try to imagine it: I see my officers with their backs to me, laughing, falling about, and below I see the Border Police beating people up, guys being choked, one guy bleeding. And I think, 'This is just like the books I read.' . . . Whenever people get shot, I have this image in my head, I must've seen it in a movie, of Nazis shooting Jews in pits, and officers standing at the side, laughing."
The troubled souls (generally known in the media as "monsters" and "lunatics") who keep shooting up schools and shopping centers, believe they are solving deeper problems. We all know, of course, that in reality they are making things dramatically worse.
This is not an easy problem for us to solve. We could make it harder to obtain guns, and especially guns designed specifically for mass killings. We could take on the problem with our entertainment: we have movies, television shows, video games, books, and toys promoting killing as the way to fix what ails us. We could take on the problem of our news media: we have newspapers and broadcast chatterers promoting killing as a necessary tool of public policy. We could reverse the past 40 years of rising inequality, poverty, and plutocracy -- a trend that correlates with violence in whatever country it's found.
What we can't do is stop arming, training, funding, and supporting the mass murderers in our towns and cities, because of course we haven't been supporting them. They aren't acting in our name as our representatives. When our children run in horror from classrooms strewn with their classmates' bloody corpses, they are running from killers never authorized by us or elected by us.
This situation changes when we look abroad.
Picture a family in a house in Pakistan. There's a little dot very high up in the sky above. It's making a buzzing noise. The dot is an unmanned airplane, a drone. It's being flown from a desk in Nevada. The family knows what it is. The children know what it is. They know their lives may be ended at any moment. And they are traumatized. They are in a constant state of terror. And then, one bright clear morning, they are torn limb from limb, bleeding, screaming, groaning out their last breaths as their home collapses into smoking rubble.
Picture a family in a house in Afghanistan. They're asleep in their beds. A door is kicked in. Incomprehensible words are shouted. Bullets fly. Loved ones are grabbed and dragged away, kicking and screaming with horror -- never to be seen again.
The troubled souls (generally known in the media as "tax-payers") who keep this far greater volume of violence going, believe they are solving deeper problems. But when we look closely, we see that in reality we are making things dramatically worse.
That is the good news. There is violence that we can much more easily stop, because it is our violence. The U.S. Army last week said that targeting children in Afghanistan was perfectly acceptable. The U.S. President maintains a list of men, women, and children to be killed, and he kills them -- but the vast majority of the people killed through that program are people not on the list, people in the wrong place at the wrong time (just like the people in our shopping malls and schools).
In fact, the vast majority of the people killed in our foreign wars are simply bystanders. And they are killed in their homes, their stores, their schools, their weddings. The violence that we can easily end looks very much like the violence we find so difficult to address at home. It doesn't take place between a pair of armies on a battlefield. It happens where its victims live.
Were we to stop pouring $1.2 trillion each year into war preparations, we would also be stopping the public funding of the manufacturers of the weapons that rip open our loved ones and neighbors in our schools and parking lots. We would be altering dramatically the context in which we generate public policy, public entertainment, and public myths about how problems can be solved. We would be saving lives every bit as precious as any other lives, while learning how to go on to saving more.
One place to start, I believe, would be in withdrawing U.S. troops from over 1,000 bases in other people's countries -- an imperial presence that costs us $170 billion each year while building hostility and tensions, not peace. There's a reason why, at this time of year, we don't sing about "Peace in My Backyard." If we want peace on Earth, we must stop and consider how to get it.
David Swanson's books include "War Is A Lie." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook.
If you're like me, there are some things you would like to abolish. My list includes war, weapons, fossil fuel use, plutocracy, corporate personhood, health insurance corporations, poverty wages, poverty, homelessness, factory farming, prisons, the drug war, the death penalty, nuclear energy, the U.S. Senate, the electoral college, gerrymandering, electronic voting machines, murder, rape, child abuse, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and the Washington Post. I could go on. I bet you can think of at least one institution you believe we'd be better off without.
All of us, then, can almost certainly learn a thing or two from the men and women in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in England who abolished first the slave trade and then slavery within the British empire. I highly recommend watching a film about them called "Amazing Grace." If you like it, you'll love a book called "Bury the Chains."
You'll discover that this was in many ways the original activist movement. It created activist committees, with chapters, newsletters, posters, speaking tours, book tours, petitioning, boycotts of products, theatrical props, and investigative journalism -- pioneering all of these now familiar tactics. It achieved great success without voting, as only a tiny fraction of the population could vote. That, in itself, should be a lesson to those who believe elections are the only tool available.
The abolition movement had stamina. Looking back, its gains appear stunningly swift. At the end of the 1700s the world was dominated by slavery. Slavery was the norm. Before the end of the 1800s it had been outlawed almost everywhere. Yet, those who worked night and day against the current of their times to create the abolition movement faced endless defeats. Many of the hardest working activists didn't live to see the final success. And yet they kept working. That too may be a lesson for us.
A war between England and France halted progress, and could have stopped it cold. But the war ended, and the movement was revived -- in large part with a new cast of characters, a younger generation of radicals. Freezing all forward momentum for wars has been the rule over the ages. It's a hard lesson for us to face, as we've now accepted that we live in an era of permanent war. The difficult truth may be that we must escape that era if we are to make headway on numerous fronts.
When the abolition movement sprang into being in England, it was a moral movement demanding rights -- but, unlike most movements we've seen -- demanding rights for other people. The Britons were not demanding their own freedom. In fact, they were willing to make sacrifices, to risk a reduction in their own prosperity, and to boycott the use of slave-grown sugar. This is a useful fact in an age when we are often told that people can only care about themselves. Never mind the dead Afghans and Pakistanis, we're advised, just make sure that Americans know the financial cost of the wars. Perhaps that advice can be questioned after all.
However, Adam Hochschild, the author of "Bury the Chains," believes that Britons were able to appreciate the evil of the slave trade because of their own experience with the practice of naval impressment. That is to say, because they themselves lived in fear of being kidnapped and enslaved by the British Navy and forced to sail naval vessels around the world, and in fear of their loved ones meeting that fate, they were able to imagine the misery of Africans living in fear of being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the West Indies.
Where might this insight lead us? Americans do face random senseless gun violence. Can we appreciate the evil of a drone buzzing over a village and then blowing up a family because we know that our shopping mall or school could soon be the scene of mass murder? Americans have also been taught to fear foreign terrorism. Can we appreciate the need to stop funding foreign terrorism in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, foreign terrorism carried out by the U.S. military?
We do have another tool available to us. We can make use of video, audio, and instantaneous reporting on the victims of war or other evils. Perhaps, understanding that morality can move people, we will figure out a better way to communicate what needs to be abolished. The original abolitionists did not have this ability.
The original abolitionists made great use of newspapers and books which -- unlike those in France and other nations that failed to develop a similar mass movement -- were completely uncensored. (We come back to the need to abolish our corporate media cartel.) The original abolitionists benefitted from the egalitarian organizing of the Quakers, at whose meeting any man or woman could speak -- although they were remarkably slow to make use of the voices of freed slaves who could have spoken of slavery first-hand, and who eventually did so to great effect.
The movement to abolish the slave trade was aimed at Parliament. It did not demand freedom or rights for blacks. It threatened the livelihood of ship captains but not of the wealthy whose investments were in the plantations across the sea. The movement persuaded MPs of just enough to pass the legislation desired -- and even less, as abolitionists slipped through Parliament a bill designed to damage the slave trade but not advertised that way or understood by its opponents until the vote had been taken.
The movement was launched in 1787 and by 1807 had outlawed the slave trade. By August 1, 1838, all slaves in the British empire were free.
The slaves themselves heard of these efforts, of course, and their own struggles for freedom may have done more than anything else to win the day. The rebellions in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Jamaica, and elsewhere had a significant impact on British thinking about slavery. In fact, the first generation of abolitionists, now aging, failed to keep pace with public sentiment. Their proposals for a slow and gradual end to slavery had to make way for the demand of immediate emancipation advanced by younger men and the now very active groups of women. And ultimately a reform bill had to be passed to somewhat democratize the government before the popular demand for slavery's abolition could be answered.
Activists were somewhat disappointed when Parliament chose to compensate slave owners for the liberation of their slaves. The slaves themselves were, of course, not compensated. They had little but hard times ahead.
But the compensation of slave owners offered a model that might have served the United States better than bloody civil war. During the American revolutionary war, the British had recruited slaves to fight on their side by promising them freedom. After the war, slave owners, including George Washington, demanded their slaves back. A British commander, General Sir Guy Carleton, refused. Thousands of freed slaves were transported from New York to Nova Scotia to avoid their re-enslavement. But Carleton did promise to compensate the slaves' owners, and Washington settled for that.
The original British abolitionists, including Thomas Clarkson, greatly influenced Americans like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick
Douglas Douglass. But few picked up on the idea of compensated emancipation, which had not originated with the abolitionists.
Elihu Burritt was an exception. From 1856 to 1860 he promoted a plan to prevent a U.S. civil war through compensated emancipation, or the purchase and liberation of slaves by the government, following the example that the English had set in the West Indies. Burritt traveled constantly, all over the country, speaking. He organized a mass convention that was held in Cleveland. He lined up prominent supporters. He edited newsletters. He behaved, in other words, like Clarkson and many an activist since.
And Burritt was right. Britain had freed its slaves without a civil war or a slave rebellion on the scale that was possible. Russia had freed its serfs without a war. Slave owners in the U.S. South would almost certainly have preferred a pile of money to five years of hell, the deaths of loved ones, the burning and destruction of their property, and the uncompensated emancipation that followed, not to mention the century and a half of bitter resentment that followed that. And not only the slave owners would have preferred the way of peace; it's not as if they did the killing and dying.
When a former slave found his voice in London, told his story in a best-selling book, filled debating halls, and became a leader in the movement to free all others, he was a man who had been a slave in my home state of Virginia. His name was Olaudah Equiano. He was one of, if not the first, black to speak publicly in Britain. He did as much to end the slave trade as anyone, and it might have gone on considerably longer without him.
I've never seen a monument or memorial in Virginia to Equiano. In contrast, just down the street from my house in Charlottesville is a tree called Tarleton's Oak. Next to it is a gas station by the same name. The tree is not old, having been planted to replace an enormous aging oak that I recall seeing. Under that one, supposedly, during the revolution, British troops camped. They were led by a young officer named Banastre Tarleton. He later got himself into Parliament, and there was no more obnoxious defender of the slave trade than he. Africans themselves, he maintained, did not object in the least to being enslaved. Tarleton lied at tremendous length without a hint of shame. His memory we mark, not Equiano's.
Erica Chenoweth is co-author with Maria J. Stephan of "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict." Their research finds that nonviolent action works against tyrannical rule with a higher success rate than violence and with longer-lasting results. Their book has received the 2013 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, as well as the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, which the American Political Science Association gives annually to the best book on government, politics, or international affairs published in the U.S. during the previous calendar year. Listeners to Talk Nation Radio can pick up the newly-released paperback at a 30% discount from http://www.cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-15682-0/why-civil-resistance-works by using the discount code WHYCHE. Learn more at http://ericachenoweth.com
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Here's a useful new report from the International Peace Bureau. Globally, the report finds, spending on war preparations is higher than ever as an absolute amount and as a percentage of public spending (if not as a percentage of GDP). This spending is led and dominated by the United States, which of course pressures other nations to try to keep pace. The United States also dominates the manufacture and sale of weapons to other nations.
The figures that the IPB uses admittedly leave out many types of military spending. In fact, they capture less than 60% of U.S. military spending. So, the conclusions are all extremely "conservative" -- that is to say: dramatically wrong. Without knowing how much of other nations' war preparations spending is missing, one cannot do the calculations correctly. Nonetheless, IPB's conclusions are stunning and include these:
--the world's military spending is 12.7 times higher than its official development assistance, and
--604 times higher than UN budgets for peace, security, development, human rights, humanitarian affairs, and international law, and
--2,508 times higher than the combined expenditures of the UN's International Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Organizations.
--the war preparations spending of the world is $249 per day per person on earth. [UPDATE: This cannot be correct.]
--about 5% of that would meet the UN's Millenium Development Goals by 2015.
In other words, war spending does not just generate the well-known Military Industrial Complex's pressure for more war, which takes more lives, but the failure to use a little of that money for something useful means the failure to save and improve countless lives as well. Our budgets are at once sins of commission and omission. The millenium goals are goals for ending poverty and hunger, providing education, and protecting health, sustainability, and human rights.
There may not be a war on Christmas, but if our "leaders" have their way there will be several wars on Christmas, and we're paying for them in several senses of the word.
Peace on Earth. Pass the ammunition.
How did right-wing politics in the United States survive the 1960s and 1970s and thrive beyond? Not only did the wealthy invest in the corruption of politics, but the politicians invested in the normalization of treason.
When presidential candidate Richard Nixon sabotaged the peace process in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson privately called it treason and publicly kept his mouth shut.
By the time Bush the Elder, also involved in that earlier treason, worked with Robert Gates and William Casey to sabotage President Carter's efforts to free hostages in Iran, the normalization was well underway.
The corruption of Watergate involved not only no-holds-barred political thievery, but also Nixon's fear that Daniel Ellsberg or the Brookings Institution or someone else had possession of a file detailing Nixon's successful 1968 efforts to prevent the war on Vietnam from ending.
The Iran-Contra scandal that grew out of the U.S.-Israeli-Iranian plot to replace Carter with Reagan, and the Iraq-gate scandal that followed, witnessed a last fling of half-hearted pushback in Congress and the corporate media. Today such non-sexual scandals no longer end in -gate. In fact, they are no longer scandals.
Piling George W. Bush's blatantly stolen elections onto the history of recent U.S. politics calls into question the ability of Republicans to get elected to national office without cheating. But the normalization of treason has been very much a bi-partisan affair.
Robert Parry, who runs the invaluable website ConsortiumNews.com, has a new book out called "America's Stolen Narrative." My recommendation is to immediately read this book from Chapter 2 through to the end. The introduction and chapter 1 depict President Barack Obama as having nothing but the best intentions, glorify the American Revolution, argue in favor of a strong federal government, and defend the practice of requiring people to purchase private health insurance (a Republican idea in its origins, of course, although Parry has adopted it as Democratic and good). Also, Chapter 3 takes a detour into arguing unpersuasively for lesser-evilism. If you're into that sort of thing, knock yourselves out. But in my view such discussions muddle and belittle the significance of the rest of this tremendously important book.
The "stolen narratives" referred to in the title are the accurate accounts that Parry presents of the treasonous acts I've mentioned above. Parry is an investigative journalist who has unearthed powerful evidence of the crimes of Nixon, Reagan, and others. Parry not only details the evidence but recounts the processes of coverup and distortion that the U.S. media has made its second nature. The result of this history is, I'm afraid, far worse than Parry's opening pages let on. Not only do Americans imagine that their politicians mean well when they do not, particularly in the area of foreign policy, but the United States has fundamentally accepted unlimited presidential powers. Nixon's crimes during his famous coverup, and the far worse underlying crimes as well, have now been legalized and accepted. Presidents do not answer to Congress or the public or the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. To a great extent, the people of our country have accepted temporary despots, and to a great extent our people falsely believe themselves powerless to act. They imagine the left did something wrong through acting. This is part of how history must be explained when leaving out the fact that the right has been cheating.
Parry's account of Nixon's undoing of peace in Vietnam, allowing for another four years of slaughter in Southeast Asia, is the best I've seen and alone worth the purchase of "America's Stolen Narrative." Parry imagines what it might have meant, not only for peace in the world, but also for social justice and the "war on poverty" in the United States had Hubert Humphrey defeated Nixon. To the extent that Nixon's successful electoral sabotage in 1968 opened the door to dirtier politics ever since, the damage can be multiplied.
Needless to say, that door was always somewhat opened. The Business Plot of 1933 was hardly less treasonous than anything Nixon did. Nixon's go-between with the Vietnamese in 1968 was the widow of Claire Lee Chennault who had worked to provide China with U.S. planes, pilots, and training, to plan the firebombing of Japan and provoke Japan into the attack on Pearl Harbor. Our false narratives still require the acceptance or glorification of all things related to World War II, but in fact one can see a bit of the husband in the widow Chennault. And then there's the assassination of President Kennedy, which evidence suggests George H.W. Bush played a role in as in most of Parry's post-1960's narrative.
But Parry's case that we turned a corner toward a nastier political world with the Nixon presidency is a strong one.
The account of the Carter-Reagan October Surprise is also the best I've seen, in terms of the evidence presented and the background provided, including on the central role of the Israeli government. The same gang that hung President Carter out to dry for failing to free the hostages had earlier pressured him to bring the Shah of Iran to the United States, thereby provoking the fears of Iranians and the seizure of the U.S. Embassy. The weapons shipments to Iran later grew into the Iran-Contra scandal, but common understanding of that scandal fails to trace it to its roots in the treasonous bargain that kept the hostages prisoners until the day of Reagan's inauguration.
Parry devotes whole chapters to the history of corrupt manipulation by a couple of the dirtiest individuals in Washington: Colin Powell and Robert Gates. These two manage their heights of corruption and influence, in part, through their cross-partisanship. Democrats in Parry's worldview seem to be largely battered wives failing to push back, failing to speak out, refusing to investigate or prosecute or impeach. True enough, as far as it goes. But I think there is a great measure of complicity and outright expansion of bipartisan abuses that must be credited to the Democrats as well. An accurate understanding of exactly how evil some of our Republicans have been need not turn us into cheerleaders for the party of the current president, his record classifications, his groundbreaking secrecy claims, his record whistleblower prosecutions, his record levels of warrantless spying, his imprisonments without trial, his wars without Congress, his war-making CIA, or his "kill list" murder program. Instead, an accurate understanding of how evil some of our politicians have been should move us to become, like Robert Parry, dogged pursuers of the facts that those in power seek to bury or beautify.
Whereas the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not self-enforcing,
Whereas statement of the inherent dignity and of the equal and supposedly inalienable rights of all members of the human family achieves little without a struggle against greed, injustice, tyranny, and war,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights could not have resulted in the barbarous acts that have outraged the conscience of humankind without the cowardice, laziness, apathy, and blind obedience of well-meaning but unengaged spectators,
Whereas proclaiming as the highest aspiration of the common people the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want doesn't actually produce such a world,
Whereas nonviolent rebellion against tyranny and oppression must be a first resort rather than a last, and must be our constant companion into the future if justice and peace are to be achieved and maintained,
Whereas governments do not reliably conduct themselves humanely toward other nations' governments or peoples unless compelled to do so by their own people and the people of the world,
Whereas a common understanding of human rights and freedoms is false if it omits the eternal vigilance, struggle, and sacrifice necessary to create and maintain them,
Now, Therefore we proclaim THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RESPONSIBILITIES as a common standard of practice for all people, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by energetic use of creative nonviolence to promote the actual observance of what have never been but indeed should be made universal, equal, and inalienable rights and freedoms,
- Human beings are born into every variety and degree of freedom and oppression, privilege and poverty, peace and war. All have a responsibility to work for the betterment of the condition of those around them and those less well off.
- Everyone is obligated to work at building understanding and equality across lines of race, color, sex, ethnicity, sexual-orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, and birth or other status. Everyone is obligated to actively reject the privileging of or discriminating against any such group, whether their own or others', with no exceptions created by the presence of or participation in war.
- Everyone has the responsibility to help organize and take part in resistance to any violation of anyone's right to life, liberty or security of person, whether that violation impacts a single individual or a large number, but in particular including resistance to war of any kind.
- Everyone has a responsibility to work for the swift elimination of slavery and servitude in all their forms.
- Everyone has a responsibility to expose any instance of torture or of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or of any conspiracy to facilitate such acts, and a responsibility to work to end these practices and to prosecute those responsible in a fair and open court of law.
- Everyone has a responsibility to work and to sacrifice something of their own comfort to ensure that every other human being is afforded equal recognition as a person before the law.
- All are obliged to actively oppose any discrimination in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and against any incitement to such discrimination.
- Everyone has the responsibility to insist upon, for themselves and all others, an effective remedy by the competent local, national, or international tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Everyone has a responsibility to treat the arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, of anyone else as though it were that of themselves or a loved one.
- Everyone has a responsibility to understand and require for every human being the right to full equality and to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of their rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against them.
- (1) Everyone is obligated to ensure for anyone charged with a penal offense the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defense.
- (2) Everyone is obligated to ensure that no one shall be held guilty of any penal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offense, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed, and that no heavier penalty shall be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offense was committed.
- All are responsible for not taking part in and for working to eliminate and to legally prohibit any arbitrary interference with anyone's privacy, family, home or correspondence, or attacks upon their honor and reputation.
- (1) Everyone has the responsibility to protect everyone's freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
- (2) Everyone has the responsibility to protect everyone's right to leave any country, including their own, and to return to their country.
- Everyone has the responsibility to protect for all the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution but not from prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes.
- Everyone has the responsibility to protect for all the right to a nationality and the right to change that nationality.
- All are obliged to protect the right of free and fully consenting adults to marry.
- All are obliged to defend the right of all others to own property.
- Everyone has the responsibility to protect freedom of thought for all.
- Every human being has a duty to help communicate to others to the greatest extent possible information about injustice and war, and information about nonviolent efforts to achieve justice and peace. This duty includes a responsibility to work for the creation of meaningful freedom of the press in which the communication of neither current events nor history is dominated or controlled by any privileged group within a society.
- Everyone has the responsibility to frequently exercise or attempt nonviolently to exercise the right to peaceful assembly and association in opposition to injustice or war, and in support of the rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Everyone has the responsibility to work for the creation and maintenance of democratic and/or representative government uncorrupted by bribery of any form, by an unfree press, or by arbitrary restrictions on participation as electoral candidates or voters.
- Everyone has a responsibility to struggle nonviolently to alter the political and economic world so as to increase the opportunity for every human being to live, learn, and work in dignity with security from fear and want.
- Everyone has the responsibility to work with others to ensure the protection of one and all to a free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, to protection against unemployment, to the freedom to join a trade union and to strike, to equal pay for equal work, and to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for themselves and their family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
- Everyone has the responsibility to work not only at their primary career but also for the betterment of society and the establishment of the rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Everyone has the responsibility to work for a more just and less wasteful distribution of resources to ensure that one's own and all future generations can provide every single human being, including every child, a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood.
- Everyone has the responsibility to assist in the education of themselves and others and to work toward the provision of free, high-quality education, including education in civil responsibilities and the history of social change through people's movements, education directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, education that promotes understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and education that furthers the creation and maintenance of peace.
- Everyone has the responsibility to defend and exercise the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits, and the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which they are the author.
- Everyone has the responsibility to organize, agitate, sacrifice, and struggle nonviolently and strategically for sustainable environmental practices, demilitarization, the development of democratic and representative structures of government, and the realization of the rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Don't people who are wrong annoy you? I just read a very interesting book called "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error," by Kathryn Schulz. Of course I read it with an eye toward figuring out how better to correct those other people who are so dangerously and aggravatingly wrong. And of course the book ended up telling me that I myself am essentially a creature of wrongness.
But if we're all wrong, I can live with that. It's being more wrong than other people that's intolerable. However, statistics show that most of us believe we're more right than average, suggesting a significant if not downright dominant wrongness in our very idea of wrongness.
Even worse, we're clearly not wrong by accident or despite the best of intentions. We go wrong for the most embarrassing of reasons -- albeit reasons that might serve unrelated purposes, or which perhaps did so for distant ancestors of ours. For example, when asked to solve simple and obvious problems that a control group of similar people has no trouble solving, a disturbing number of humans will give the wrong answer if stooges planted in the room confidently give that wrong answer first.
Even more disturbingly, measurements of brain activity during this process suggest that those giving such wrong answers actually perceive them as correct following careful consideration of the question with no particular energy expended on consideration of peer relationships. In other words, people believe their own obvious B.S., even though its been blatantly placed in their minds by a bunch of fraudsters. (I am aware of the redundancy in making this observation during what has been an election year in the United States.)
A lone dissenter in the room can change the dynamic (which perhaps explains why Fox News quickly cuts off the microphone of any guest straying from the script, why a sports announcer who denounces our gun culture must be punished, why a commentator who questions Israel's crimes must be silenced, etc.), but why should we need someone else to dissent before we can?
Well we don't all or always. But a disturbing amount of the time a lot of us do.
Even more disturbingly, few of us are often inclined to say we are undecided between possibilities. We are inclined toward certainty, even if we have just switched from being certain of an opposing proposition. As we are confronted with reasons to doubt, it is not uncommon for our certainty to grow more adamant. And we are inclined to greater certainty if others share it. Many of us often admire, and all too often obey, those who are certain -- even about things they could not possibly be certain about, even about things there is no great value in being certain about, and even about things these "leaders" have been wrong about before.
Now, I think Schulz is wrong in her book on wrongness not to place greater emphasis on the issue of why politicians change their positions. If they do so for corrupt reasons, to please their funders, we have corruption as well as indecisiveness to dislike. But if they do so in response to public pressure and we still condemn them for indecisiveness, we are condemning representative government along with it. But there is no doubt that many people -- sometimes disastrously -- can be inclined to prefer the certain and wrong to the hesitant and ultimately right. A baseball umpire who's wrong but adamant is the norm, because one who corrects himself is soon out of a job.
We begin our careers of wrongness early. If you show a toddler a candy box and ask what's in it, they'll say candy, completely free of doubt. If you then show them that it's actually full of pencils, and ask them what they had thought -- five seconds earlier -- would be in the box, they will tell you they thought it was full of pencils. They will tell you that they said it was full of pencils. Schulz says this is because young children believe that all beliefs are true. It could also be a result of the same desire to be right and not wrong that we find prevalent in adults, minus adults' ability to recognize when the evidence of their wrongness is overwhelming. A psychologist in 1973 asked 3,000 people to rank their stances on a scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree" with positions on a range of social issues like affirmative action, marijuana legalization, etc. Ten years later he asked them to do so again and to recall how they thought they had answered 10 years prior. The what-I-used-to-think answers were far closer to the people's current positions than to their actual positions of a decade back.
A decade back I would have told you that it might be valuable to work for progressive change within the Democratic Party. Now I'd tell you that's counterproductive. Never mind if I was wrong then or am wrong now, or perhaps there's not enough information in such brief statements to know whether I'm not perhaps wrong in both positions. The point is that I only know how misguided I used to be because my blog doesn't edit itself, and I go back and read it. Not so with my brain. It edits itself quite efficiently. We have no idea how wrong we are, and much less idea how wrong we used to be. And we absolutely do not want to know.
"It isn't that we care so fiercely about the substance of our claims," writes Schulz. "It is that we care about feeling affirmed, respected, and loved." This helps explain why a common response to being wrong is to make the situation significantly worse and facilitate new cases of being wrong in the future. Medical mistakes in our hospitals kill a great many more Americans than any of the commonly thought of but statistically trivial causes of death (like terrorism) or even the truly major causes of death (like automobiles). And hospitals typically respond with evasion, defensiveness, and denial.
We see this across the field of public policy. Alan Greenspan may admit the error of his ways on the way out the door. So may President Eisenhower, albeit without calling it a confession. Even Secretary McNamara may recant his love for warfare before he dies. But those vigorously pursuing careers usually avoid admitting wrongness. And those proven wrong are typically replaced with new people willing to push the identical mistaken policies.
Members of the public who support wrongheaded policies (the markets will take care of themselves; weapons spending makes us safer; global warming doesn't hurt; the wealth will trickle down; etc.) often manage to continue with those policies despite their glaring debunking in particular instances or their recantation by particular officials. This is what I hoped to get some insight on in reading this book (as in reading a lot of books), and I don't think I failed. (I wouldn't, would I?)
Believers in Iraqi WMDs, when confronted with the facts, have in many cases nonsensically doubled down on their beliefs or, at the very least, continued to imagine the best intentions on the part of those who pushed the propaganda. Of course, a proper understanding of wrongness must lead us to accept the possibility that many who appear to be lying actually believe what they say. And the well-documented dishonesty, intentional fraud, and pressure on others to lie in the case of the Iraq War marketing campaign doesn't change the fact that many who helped spread the lies believed them to one degree or another.
Dropping the WMD belief would mean accepting that respected leaders were either mistaken or lying. It would also mean admitting that hostile opponents in a very public and long-lasting debate were right. Hence the tenaciousness of those still believing that Saddam Hussein hid his massive stockpiles in a magical land somewhere.
A few lessons can be gathered, I think. One is that when we're speaking with those who disagree, we should not refer to magical lands as I've just done, not mock, not gloat, not set up a hostile competition over who was right and who was wrong. Recounting previous instances of war supporters being wrong to illustrate the universality of the phenomenon could help or backfire depending on how it's done. Ultimately it must be done if the same mistakes are not to be repeated forever. It's certainly appropriate to demand that television networks stop limiting their crews of experts to those who have always been wrong before. Ultimately there must be accountability for the leaders of wrongness (regardless of the degree of honesty or good-intention involved). But there are those who will simply believe that Spain blew up the Maine even if they had never heard of that incident before in their lives, if you -- their opponent -- bring it up, even if you intend it as a comforting example of how others have screwed up too.
Clearly, focusing on the numerous times someone has themself been wrong is unlikely to help, but conveying the fact that we have been wrong too might. People should feel that they can remain or become secure, safe, respected, and loved while dropping their misguided belief, and without substituting a new zealotry in favor of another belief (even ours!) -- that they can become more cautious, more willing to remain in doubt, and more willing to continue that way in the face of the certainty of others. Ideally, people should be urged toward better beliefs by a friendly and welcoming and large group of others. There's no reason peer pressure can't be put to good use, even while seeking to reduce its power.
More importantly perhaps, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If we can prevent people developing attachments to lies about Syria or Iran, we will save ourselves endless headaches trying to rid them of those lies later. If we can establish not just that Iraq was unarmed but also that Iraq's being armed would have been no justification for bombing its people, we will shift the conversation onto favorable ground. If Syria killing Syrians with the wrong kind of weapons is understood not to justify the United States killing more Syrians with the right kind of weapons, we won't have to engage in a fast-break competition to determine and then prove whether Syria is using weapons that the United States claims it is using.
The preceding paragraph is the theme of a book I wrote called "War Is A Lie," which I intended for war preparedness in the sense of preparation to resist common types of lies about wars. In that book, I did not follow all of the advice above. People in fact have complained to me (a small minority of readers I should say) that the book is at times sarcastic or mocking or contemptuous. In my defense, I see a value in entertaining as well as educating those already in large agreement, as well as in reaching through as powerful a manner as possible those without ossified views on the subject. But then again, there is always and forever the possibility that I'm horrendously wrong.
It warms one's heart to recall in the depths of winter that over half the taxes we labor to submit to our government each year go into war preparations. Such bountiful spending is required, because one never knows when the Japs or the Serbians or the Iranians may attack. To appreciate the need for creating so many weapons-producing billionaires and millionaires, we must recall with fondness the glory days of the war that three-quarters of a century back gave us the military industrial complex, the Air Force, the CIA, nuclear weapons, witch hunts, intense environmental destruction, and some 70 million dead bodies.
Ah, who can forget . . .
Nazi Germany, we actually tend to overlook sometimes, could not have existed or waged war without the support for decades past and ongoing through the war of U.S. corporations like GM, Ford, IBM, and ITT. U.S. corporate interests prefered Nazi Germany to the communist Soviet Union, were happy to see those two nations' peoples slaughter each other, and favored the United States entering the oh-so-good-and-necessary World War II on the side of England only once the U.S. government had made that very profitable.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's fervent hope for years was that Japan would attack the United States. This would permit the United States (not legally, but politically) to fully enter World War II in Europe, as its president wanted to do, as opposed to merely providing weaponry and assisting in the targeting of submarines as it had been doing. Of course, Germany's declaration of war, which followed Pearl Harbor and the immediate U.S. declaration of war on Japan, helped as well, but it was Pearl Harbor that radically converted the American people from opposition to support for war.
On December 7, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt drew up a declaration of war on both Japan and Germany, but decided it wouldn't work and went with Japan alone. Germany quickly declared war on the United States, possibly in hopes that Japan would declare war on the Soviet Union.
Getting into the war was not a new idea in the Rosevelt White House. FDR had tried lying to the American people about U.S. ships including the Greer and the Kerny, which had been helping British planes track German submarines, but which Roosevelt pretended had been innocently attacked. Roosevelt also lied that he had in his possession a secret Nazi map planning the conquest of South America, as well as a secret Nazi plan for replacing all religions with Nazism. This map was of the quality of the Associated Press's recent "Iranian bomb graph," or Karl Rove's "proof" that Iraq was buying uranium in Niger.
And yet, the people of the United States didn't buy the idea of going into another war until Pearl Harbor, by which point Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created a huge Navy in two oceans, traded old destroyers to England in exchange for the lease of its bases in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and — just 11 days before the "unexpected" attack — he had secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.
On April 28, 1941, Churchill wrote a secret directive to his war cabinet:
A few thoughts in praise of backwardness.
"We don't look backward," says President Obama in reference to imposing justice on powerful large-scale criminal suspects. Of course, as we don't prosecute future crimes but only crimes of the past, "not looking backward" is a euphemism for immunity -- an immunity not granted to those accused of small-scale crimes or crimes with no victims at all.
"Forward!" says President Obama, making that seemingly vacuous word his slogan. But the word has meaning; it means continuing thoughtlessly in the current direction, without seeking guidance from the mistakes or accomplishments or untested inspirations of the past.
The secrecy of the Obama White House, including record levels of classification, ground-breaking legal claims to secrecy, and record-level prosecutions of whistleblowers, moves us in practice to the position of rolling "forward" without a clear idea where we are or where we've just been. This is nearly as fatal to good public policy as "looking forward" is to law enforcement.
We need to know our immediate history, but equally we need to know the history of distant times and places, for otherwise we can be greatly deceived by those in power -- including with that greatest deception of all: the idea that we are powerless. Only history shows us what works and what doesn't in attempting to improve the world.
Only history reveals, as well, how dramatically different patterns of life and thought and notions of "human nature" can be in cultures separated by time and/or space. It is always easier to imagine radical changes for the better after examining how radically different people have already been.
In 1888 Edward Bellamy wrote a book called "Looking Backward," which told the story of a man put into a trance in 1887 and awakened in the year 2000. In 1888 people bought as many copies of this book as could be printed, created clubs and organizations inspired by it, and developed a political movement the lasting (though indirect) benefits of which are no doubt tremendous.
Bellamy was, of course, looking forward, but we must look backward to recall an age in which anyone looked forward in a terribly useful or inspiring way. In 1888, people imagined the world could be made a much more pleasant place to live. In 2012 we are lucky if we can muster any confidence that the world will not collapse into an environmental or military or plutocratic hell on earth.
Bellamy got his prediction of the year 2000 largely wrong, but of course he was prescribing more than predicting. He got his prescription wrong as well. That is to say, what he prescribed was probably to some extent unworkable and undesirable. But it is tempting for us to confuse these questions, to imagine that whatever hasn't happened couldn't have or shouldn't have.
Bellamy had no accurate notion of what technology would look like in the year 2000. He idealized large and centralized bureaucracy. He valued military-like discipline rather than cooperation in the workplace. He imagined, absurdly I think, that a perfect society need not contain a mechanism for additional major changes. He believed -- and I have doubts on the point -- that religion and superstition could persist harmoniously with extreme ethical enlightenment.
In questionable moves, Bellamy bestowed greater power on the old than the young, built elitism into systems of governance and justice, and condoned the use of solitary imprisonment. In notable silences, Bellamy's vision did not address the question of environmental sustainability or the problem of outsourcing -- which is not to say that his utopia could not have incorporated solutions to such concerns.
But Bellamy advocated nonviolent change over violent in a manner suggesting an understanding of history he had not lived through. He argued plausibly for the elimination of debt, interest, and -- in fact -- money (which is not to say all forms of compensation). He laid out plans for peace, relative equality of wealth, security for all, an elimination of (most) prisons and virtually all crime, and the serious and nonviolent elimination of something all men and women have longed for since at least the age of Shakespeare: lawyers and law schools.
Bellamy's world would be prosperous and wealthy despite a retirement age of 45, in part through the elimination of debt, of militaries, of prisons, of tax assessors, of crime, of advertisements, of wasted or duplicated efforts (think of how much our "health insurance" system costs us compared to those of other nations), and -- here's the bit our current president would like, at least for the rich and powerful -- of a criminal justice system. (I'm afraid the steps that could conceivably bring us closer to Bellamy's world would need to come in a proper order, with the elimination of accountability for those in power evolving late in the process).
Bellamy may have been deluding himself if he imagined a world free of dangerous levels of selfishness. But he was certainly on the right track in envisioning a world that did not promote selfishness as a virtue, that valued instead one's responsibility to society, to children, and to future generations. Bellamy imagined huge advances for women's rights, many of which have in fact materialized. But other dreams of "Looking Backward" remain dreams.
Can we have competition, checks, and balances, but no advertising or systemic motivations to deceive? Can we have media outlets democratically managed by their consumers? Can we put one umbrella over a sidewalk when it rains instead of each carrying our own?
Dare I say it? Yes, we can.
But not until we abandon our affection for cries of "Forward!"
A coalition of groups has launched a new campaign at http://jobs-not-wars.org
Talk Nation Radio speaks with national coordinator of U.S. Labor Against the War Michael Eisenscher and national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice Michael McPhearson, who is also a board member of Veterans For Peace.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Engineer: Christiane Brown.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
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Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at http://davidswanson.org/talknationradio
Here's audio of a great show discussing "fiscal cliff," Bradley Manning, Palestine, and drone wars:
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One tool being employed by the government of Israel to evict Palestinian people from their homes is the claim that doing so will allow archaeologists to discover historical evidence of the existence of King David. Such evidence is intended to strengthen the claim that Jews are returning to land occupied by Jews millennia ago.
Yet the living people moved off their land by Israeli expansion are denied any right to return to it.
The King David in the book of Samuel is greedy and cruel, thoughtless of the pain he causes others. David is punished for his actions, but appears to learn nothing from the punishment. The lesson that Nathan attempts to teach David, to condemn evil actions in oneself that one would condemn in others, is a difficult lesson to learn.
We encourage the government of Israel to try.
David R. Applebaum, professor, USA
David Bacon, photographer, USA
David Barkham, film-production-designer, South Africa
David Becker, environmental-lawyer, USA
David ben Or, computer-scientist, USA
David J. Biviano, educator, USA
David Berrian, videographer, USA
Dave Bleakney, educator, Canada
David Booth, software-architect, USA
David Brast, appliance-repairer, USA
David Brookbank, social-worker, USA
David B. Buehrens, editor, USA
David Camfield, professor, Canada
David Cobb, activist, USA
David Cole, researcher, USA
David Cone, webmaster, USA
David Crowningshield, consultant, USA
David Earnhardt, filmmaker, USA
David Ecklein, computer-consultant, USA
David Finke, printer, USA
David Finkelstein, filmmaker, USA
David Graeber, anthropologist, UK
David Scott Halenda, rambler, USA
David Hall, MD, physician
David Hartsough, activist, USA
David J. Heap, professor, Canada
David R. Heap, actor, Ireland
David Janzen, activist, Canada
David Klein, professor, USA
David Korten, author, USA
David Kubiak, journalist, Japan
David Lambert, Activist, USA
David Lerner, PR guy, USA
David Levy, computer-consultant, USA
David Lindorff, reporter, USA
David Lippman, songwriter, USA
David Lloyd, Professor, USA
David L. Mandel, attorney, USA
David Marsh, broadcaster, USA
David R. Marshall, guitarist, USA
David McGiffen, atheist, UK
David McNally, professor, Canada
David McReynolds, activist, USA
David Meserve, activist, USA
David J. Milne, peace-and-justice-worker, Canada
David Morris, musician, USA
David Neff, manager (retired), USA
David Norris, city council member, USA
David I. Robinson, professor, USA
David Rovics, musician, USA
David Rubinson, activist, France
David Schaich, physicist, USA
David Schott, partnership-coordinator, USA
David Shelton, entrepreneur, USA
David Shewan, Environmentalist, UK
David Eric Shur, salesman, USA
David A. Smith, sociologist, USA
David Solnit, author, USA
David Soumis, human, USA
David Stark, executive director, USA
David Swanson, author, USA
David Tykulsker, attorney, USA
David Underhill, descendant, USA
David Weiss, environmental-activist, USA
David Welsh, labor organizer, USA
David Witham, educator (retired), USA
David Zaworski, pastor, USA
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Many of us have heard the current period referred to as a second gilded age. Or we've seen the current inequality in wealth in the United States compared to that of 1929. But we have not all given sufficient thought to what ended the first gilded age, what created greater equality, what created the reality behind that category our politicians now endlessly pretend we are all in: the middle class. We have a sense of what went wrong at the turn of each century, but what went right in between?
This is the theme of Sam Pizzigati's new book, "The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph Over Plutocracy That Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970." I take away three primary answers short enough to include in a brief summary. First, we taxed the riches right out from under the rich people. Second, we empowered labor unions. And third -- and this one came first chronologically as well as logically -- we developed a culture that saw it as absolutely necessary for the greater good that the rich be made poorer.
Nowadays, it's not hard to find people who would like the poor to be richer. But who wants the rich to be poorer? It seems so impolite and improper and cruel. Surely Bill Gates earned, deserves, and needs his $66 billion. While he might live exactly as comfortably as before if he lost 65 of those billions, how could we expect others to do all the good Gates has done (surely he's done some) if they can't expect to also be permitted to hoard $66 billion while other people starve and go homeless. In fact, without the possibility of hoarding your own $66 billion, nobody will work (will they?) or "create jobs" for others, and in the end if we took $65 billion away from Gates it would vanish into the air leaving the poor even poorer than they'd been. Or so we like to fantasize.
Pizzigati points to the polling that shows that Americans imagine their nation is much more equal than it is, and that they would like it to be more equal still -- would in fact far prefer Sweden's distribution of wealth to our own. But what does this tell us about our willingness to do what it takes to get there? I just saw an article in Mother Jones Magazine claiming that President Obama's caving in and permitting the continuation of the "Bush" tax cuts for the super wealthy was actually a progressive victory because of other things Obama got in the process. Such analyses suffer, I think, not just from hero-worship and partisan defensiveness, but from misplaced priorities. Taxing the rich is absolutely essential to every humanitarian cause and the viability of representative government.
"We can have democracy in this country," Louis Brandeis accurately said, "or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
The history that Pizzigati tells demonstrates this. Democracy and wealth concentration rise and fall in opposition to each other. Limitations on extreme wealth do nothing to reduce work and initiative. Extreme wealth impoverishes the poor; it doesn't enrich them. Trying to enrich the poor while allowing the rich to grow richer is an uphill if not impossible struggle, as the super-rich rewrite the rules to their own advantage. Thus "Tax Cuts For Everybody!" is an even worse policy than we commonly understand. It's not just that Congress rigs such deals to give the wealthiest the biggest cuts, but beyond that the wealthy will gain the power to quickly enact even worse legislation for the rest of us.
In the decades before World War I, authors and activists built an understanding that survived that horror, an understanding that the rich needed to be brought down if the poor were going to be brought up, that a rising tide doesn't lift all ships, that voodoo economics doesn't work just because preaching it can get you elected. It took decades of struggle, partial victories, and many setbacks. It took civil disobedience. It took third political parties. It took a willingness to spend money on World War II that we have yet to compel our government to spend on green energy or infrastructure or education or health. It took the alternative of communism competing for the world's approval. It took until the 1940s and 1950s for success to come. It was never a perfect success, and it came under greater threat of reversal the more people came to take it for granted. The success came after some who had worked for it had died. It came slowly.
And this is what worries me. Dave Lindorff speculated the other day that the rich and powerful in the United States may be driving climate disaster forward because they actually think that they and their friends will be able to weather the storms (and the millions who will suffer and die be damned). If at the start of the last century global warming had been what it is now, the struggle for success by mid-century in bringing down plutocracy would have come too late. We don't have a half century to play with. We can't leave power in the hands of maniacs willing to destroy the planet for a half century. "Those who succeed us," said Senator William Andrews Clark at the turn of the last century as he proposed hacking down the national forests, "can well take care of themselves." Many U.S. senators clearly feel the same way today under the cloud of greater dangers.
This is not an argument against reading Pizzigati's book. It's an argument for reading it immediately and acting on it even more swiftly than that. It's an argument for building a cultural awareness, not of hatred and vengeance, not of violence, not of counterproductive spasms of rage, but of awareness that aristocracy is incompatible with democracy, that in one form or another 99% of us must join together, undo the status of the 1%, and then welcome them as 1% among equals. There is much we can learn from the history of how the rich have sometimes lost.
Is there ought we hold in common with the greedy parasite
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong.
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
that the union makes us strong.
Unmanned killer robot planes have convinced certain people that there is a better way of waging war.
But these drones have now made the United States as unpopular in places like Pakistan and Yemen as any nation has ever been in another. Making our nation hated does not make us safer. It endangers us.
These drone wars are not a reduction in war-making but an expansion. They're underway in nations the United States was not previously at war with. They're beginning to result in the addition of ground troops, the opposite result of the image we have in our heads of drones taking the place of ground troops.
Drone pilots in Afghanistan have been targeted and killed. Drone pilots in the United States suffer PTSD at higher rates than real pilots.
Drone victims are 98% innocent civilians according to a recent Stanford/NYU study. The other 2% are targeted victims of murder without charge, trial, due process, or in many cases even knowledge of the target's name.
Drones buzzing over houses traumatize children before they kill them. That those children are (in most cases) not American hardly diminishes the immorality.
Drones are rapidly being developed and deployed by other nations. It is time for Americans to ask themselves: Do I support the equal right of other nations to kill with drones in the United States? And if not, why not? And how can I apply a different standard to my own government?
Did you know that the White House has refused to allow Congress, the institution charged by the U.S. Constitution with making every law, to see its legal reasoning that supposedly justifies killing men, women, children, Americans, and non-Americans anywhere on earth without any charge or trial?
Did you know that even the current president believes no Republican president should ever be allowed the powers he has himself created?
The following organizations have decided to do something about this:
Arlington Green Party
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space
Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace
Jeannette Rankin Peace Center
The Northampton Committee to Stop War
Sitkans for Peace and Justice
Veterans For Peace
Veterans For Peace Chapter 27
Voices for Creative Nonviolence
These groups have decided to urge:
- the United Nations Secretary Generalto investigate the concerns of Navi Pillay, the U.N.'s top human rights official, that drone attacks violate international law -- and to ultimately pursue sanctions against nations using, possessing, or manufacturing weaponized drones;
- the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Courtto investigate grounds for the criminal prosecution of those responsible for drone attacks;
- the U.S. Secretary of State, and the ambassadors to the United States from the nations of the world, to ratify a treaty forbidding the possession or use of weaponized drones;
- President Barack Obama, to abandon the use of weaponized drones, and to abandon his "kill list" program regardless of the technology employed;
- the Majority and Minority Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate, to ban the use or sale of weaponized drones.
You can join this movement and put your name on the petition being delivered to those authorities. It will take you 10 seconds or so, right here:
Glen Ford of blackagendareport.com discusses what the Obama presidency has meant for black society, black activism, and progressive activism in the United States.
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Engineer: Christiane Brown.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
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Liberal groups have been organizing protests of the looming "grand bargain" (a bargain between two political parties aimed at saving us from the fictional "fiscal cliff" by giving more of our money to the super-rich and the war machine). But they've been doing so only in Republican Congressional districts and with messages placing all the blame on "the Republicans," thus telegraphing the message that all shall be tolerated if labeled "Democratic."
We're supposed to be against a bargain, but only against one of the two partners to the bargain. Any bets on how well that'll work?
Meanwhile Obama's senior advisor David Plouffe hypes the danger of the "fiscal cliff," calls for lower corporate taxes and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, but says not one word about military spending. He also claims to want to end tax cuts for the wealthy but is much more passionate about the danger of ending those cuts across the board, suggesting -- as did Obama's statements and silences at his first post-election press conference -- that the White House will not in the end refuse to extend the "Bush" tax cuts for everyone, including the multi-billionaires -- just as it's done before. At the same press conference, Obama volunteered that we need "deficit reduction that includes entitlement changes."
Liberal groups have written to the president politely suggesting what they'd like, but with nothing in the way of consequences if they don't get it. And what they'd like is slightly higher taxes on the super-rich, and no cuts to Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid. Or else . . . or else . . . they'll be sadly loyal until death do them part.
Neither Plouffe nor Obama nor any liberal activist group mentions that half of discretionary spending goes into war preparations. None proposes to raise corporate taxes, restore the estate tax, remove the cap on Social Security taxes, tax financial transactions and capital gains, tax carbon emissions, massively and urgently invest in green energy jobs, or cut the $1.3 trillion war preparations budget in half.
We are not broke. We are being robbed.
I get emails every day now on the "This isn't what we voted for" theme. "TPP is not what we voted for." "Drone kills are not what we voted for." As if you can ignore the candidate's platform and vote for your own fantasy under his name, and then "pressure" him to become what you fantasized even while swearing your allegiance to his party come hell or high water or hurricanes. Well, guess what, the Grand Bargain is what Democrats and Republicans voted for. But that doesn't mean we have to stand for it. Having voted against it wouldn't have stopped it. Only getting out of our houses and nonviolently resisting it now will stop it.
The peace movement is ready to take to the streets and the suites, but worried that it doesn't have the size to do the job. Of course it does have the size to start something big if it merely finds the determination. But imagine what could happen if Tahrir Square inspired us all again and more seriously, and with four years rather than two years to work with before the next debilitation by the latest "Most Important Election of Your Lifetime." Imagine if liberal organizations and labor unions openly recognized where all the public money is (in the war machine) and demanded it for useful purposes.
The peace movement is in favor of everything they're in favor of: the right to organize, civil liberties, an end to for-profit prisons and drug wars and racism, affordable housing, a living wage, education, healthcare, and a sustainable environment. The enemy of these things is the military industrial complex, and if it remains beyond challenge, a just society will remain unachievable. When Dr. King opposed "racism, extreme materialism, and militarism," he didn't mean for us to ignore the third one. He didn't mean for us to imagine that the three were separable and that we could oppose one or two of them effectively without opposing the combination.
Let's stop obediently opposing the worst bits of a Grand Catastrophe and begin denouncing and resisting the whole charade, replacing it with a grand vision of our own devising. RootsAction.org, created just last year, is already approaching 200,000 active members, and has been flooding Congress and the President with this message:
"Here's a grand bargain we want: expand Medicare and Social Security, invest in green energy, raise taxes on the rich and corporations, and cut military spending back to the level of 12 years ago."
The message is editable, meaning that you can and should add your own comments. I encourage everyone to do so, to ask friends to do so, and to be preparing for serious nonviolent action.
We're approaching three years since Howard Zinn left us, and to my ear his voice sounds louder all the time. I expect that effect to continue for decades and centuries to come, because Zinn spoke to enduring needs. He taught lessons that must be relearned over and over, as the temptations weighing against them are so strong. And he taught those lessons better than anybody else.
We like to use the word "we," and to include in it everything the Constitution pretends to include in it, notably the government. But the government tends to act against our interests. Multi-billionaires, by definition, act against our interest. Zinn warned us endlessly of the danger of allowing those in power to use "we" to include us in actions we would otherwise oppose. It's a habit we carry over from sports to wars to economic policies, but the danger of a spectator claiming "we scored!" doesn't rise to the same level as millions of spectators claiming "we liberated Afghanistan."
We like to think of elections as a central, important part of civic life, and as a means of significantly impacting the future. Zinn not only warns against that misperception with incisive historical examples, and with awareness of the value of the struggle for black voting rights in the Southern United States, but he was a part of that struggle and warned against misplaced expectations at the time.
We like to think of history as shaped by important stand-out individuals. We like to think of war as a necessary tool of last resort, as demonstrated by our list of "good wars" which generally includes the U.S. war of independence, the U.S. civil war, and the second world war (debunked by Zinn as 'The Three Holy Wars'). We imagine that political parties are central to our efforts to shape the world, but that civil disobedience is not. We imagine that we often have no power to shape the world, that the forces pushing in other directions are too powerful to be reversed. If you listen to enough Howard Zinn, each of these beliefs ends up looking ludicrous -- even if, in some cases, tragic.
If you haven't had enough Howard Zinn lately (and who has?), there's a new book of his collected speeches just published, called Howard Zinn Speaks. Of course it's just a tiny sampling of his speeches, as he gave innumerable speeches over the years. With one exception, these have been transcribed from speeches given without pre-written remarks. Zinn doesn't have his footnotes in hand. He paraphrases people rather than quoting them. But he also says what he believes to be most needed, what he has thought about most deeply, what pours out of him in ever-changing variation on his one and only theme: We can shape the future if, and only if, we make use of the past.
The speeches collected here are themselves part of the past. There's one from the 1960s, two from the 70s, two from the 80s, four from the 90s, and over half the book from the Bush-Obama years. But the examples Zinn draws on, the stories he tells to make his points, go back for centuries into a past that most Americans only dimly recognize.
Zinn traces the roots of racism and wars through Columbus, slavery, colonialism, and current U.S. wars. "The abolition of war," he says, "is of course an enormous undertaking. But keep in mind that we in the antiwar movement have a powerful ally. Our ally is a truth which even governments addicted to war, profiting from war, must one of these days recognize: that wars are not practical ways of achieving their ends. More and more, in recent history, the most powerful nations find themselves unable to conquer much weaker nations."
Four years ago, Zinn warned: "It is dangerous to look just to Obama. This has been part of our culture, looking to saviors. Saviors will not do it. We cannot depend on the people on top to save us. I hope that people who supported Obama will not simply sit back and wait for him to save us but will understand that they have to do more than this. All of these are limited victories."
In April, 1963, Zinn spoke in similar terms -- if anything even more forthrightly -- of President Kennedy. "This is beyond the South," he said. "Our problem is not basically that Eastland is vicious, but that Kennedy is timid."
Obama Zinn criticized Kennedy for his actions and inactions in 1961 and again in 1963 when the Senate had the opportunity, as it always does, at the beginning of each new session, to change its own rules and do away with the filibuster. Kennedy, Zinn had concluded, wanted to allow the racists to filibuster against civil rights. Echoes of Zinn should be amplified between now and January loudly enough for current senators, and the current president, to hear.
In May of 1971, Zinn said, "It's been a long time since we impeached a president. And it's time, time to impeach a president, and the vice president, and everybody else sitting in high office who carries on this war." In 2003, Zinn said, "There are people around the country calling for Bush's impeachment. Some people think this is a daring thing to say. No, it's in the Constitution. It provides for impeachment. . . . Congress was willing to impeach Nixon for breaking into a building, but they're not willing to impeach Bush for breaking into a country."
"It is true," Zinn says of our endless and perhaps permanent elections hang-up, "that Americans have been voting every few years for Congressmen and presidents. But it is also true that the most important social changes in the history of the United States -- independence from England, Black emancipation, the organization of labor, gains in sexual equality, the outlawing of racial segregation, the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam -- have come about not through the ballot box but through the direct action of social struggle, through the organization of popular movements using a variety of extralegal and illegal tactics. The standard teaching of political science does not describe this reality."
Later (years later) Zinn says, without self-pity: "So if we don't have a press that informs us, we don't have an opposition party to help us, we are left on our own, which actually is a good thing to know. It's a good thing to know we're on our own. It's a good thing to know that you can't depend on people who are not dependable. But if you're on your own, it means you must learn some history, because without history you are lost. Without history, anybody in authority can get up before a microphone and say, 'We've got to go into this country for that reason and for this reason, for liberty, for democracy, the threat.' Anybody can get up before a microphone and tell you anything. And if you have no history, you have no way of checking up on that."
But if you do have history, Zinn says, then you gain the additional advantage of recognizing that "these concentrations of power, at certain points they fall apart. Suddenly, surprisingly. And you find that ultimately they're very fragile. And you find that governments that have said 'we will never do this' end up doing it. 'We will never cut and run.' They said this in Vietnam. We cut and ran in Vietnam. In the South, George Wallace, the racist governor of Alabama: 'Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.' Enormous applause. Two years later, Blacks in Alabama had in the meantime begun to vote and Wallace was going around trying to get Black people to vote for him. The South said never, and things changed."
The more things change . . . the more we need to hear Howard Zinn.