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A Pre-Conspiracy Theory: What If Our Premature Nobel Laureate President’s Having a ’63-Style Kennedy Moment?
By Dave Lindorff
I’m going to engage here in a thought experiment which may make some readers a little queasy, but bear with me.
It’s been half a century since the wrenching experience of having a charismatic young president cut down by bullets in what most Americans apparently still believe was a dark conspiracy by elements of the US government unhappy with the direction he was taking the country in international affairs.
Originally Posted at AcronymTV
With the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination upon us, it will be hard to avoid watching the Zapruder film and debating with your friends and in online forums like the comment section of this video, who killed President John F. Kennedy, and why?
The fact is that JFK’s assassination started a brutal trend. In the five-year period between 1963 and 1968, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy were all killed.
Stephen Kinzer's latest book, which he discusses, is called The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War.
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[The illustrations in this piece come from Joe Sacco’s The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme with the kind permission of its publisher, W.W. Norton, and the slightly adapted text, which also appears in that book, comes originally from Adam Hochschild’s To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 and is used with the kind permission of its publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.]
In a country that uses every possible occasion to celebrate its “warriors,” many have forgotten that today’s holiday originally marked a peace agreement. Veterans Day in the United States originally was called Armistice Day and commemorated the ceasefire which, at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918, ended the First World War.
Up to that point, it had been the most destructive war in history, with a total civilian and military death toll of roughly 20 million. Millions more had been wounded, many of them missing arms, legs, eyes, genitals; and because of an Allied naval blockade of the Central Powers, millions more were near starvation: the average German civilian lost 20% of his or her body weight during the war.
A stunned world had never experienced anything like this. In some countries for years afterward, on November 11th, traffic, assembly lines, even underground mining machinery came to a halt at 11 a.m. for two minutes of silence, a silence often broken, witnesses from the 1920s reported, by the sound of women sobbing.
Like most wars, the war of 1914-1918 was begun with the expectation of quick victory, created more problems than it solved, and was punctuated by moments of tragic folly. As the years have passed, one point that has come to symbolize the illusions, the destructiveness, the hubris, the needless deaths of the entire war -- and of other wars since then -- has been the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
The preparations for that battle went on for months: generals and their staffs drew up plans in their châteaux headquarters; horses, tractors, and sweating soldiers maneuvered thousands of big 13-ton guns into position; reconnaissance planes swooped above the German lines; endless trains of horse-drawn supply wagons carried artillery shells and machine gun ammunition up to the front; hundreds of thousands of soldiers from across the British Empire, from the Orkney Islands to the Punjab, filled frontline trenches, reserve trenches, and support bases in the rear. All was in preparation for the grand attack that seemed certain to change the course of the war. And then finally on the first day of July 1916, preceded by the most massive bombardment British artillery had ever fired, the battle began.
You can see the results of the battle’s first day in dozens of military cemeteries spread out across this corner of France, but perhaps the most striking is one of the smallest, on a hillside, screened by a grove of trees. Each gravestone has a name, rank, and serial number; 162 have crosses and one a Star of David. When known, a man’s age is engraved on the stone as well: 19, 22, 23, 26, 21, 20, 34. Ten of the graves simply say, “A Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God.”
Almost all the dead are from Britain’s Devonshire Regiment, the date on their gravestones July 1, 1916. Most were casualties of a single German machine gun several hundred yards from this spot, and were buried here in a section of the frontline trench they had climbed out of that morning. Captain Duncan Martin, 30, a company commander and an artist in civilian life, had made a clay model of the battlefield across which the British planned to attack. He predicted the exact place at which he and his men would come under fire from the machine gun as they emerged onto an exposed hillside. He, too, is here, one of some 21,000 British soldiers killed or fatally wounded on the day of greatest bloodshed in the history of their country’s military, before or since.
Dreams of Swift Victory
In almost every war, it seems, the next planned offensive is seen as the big breakthrough, the smashing, decisive blow that will pave the way to swift victory. Midway through the First World War, troops from both sides had been bogged down for the better part of two years in lines of trenches that ran across northern France and a corner of Belgium. Barbed wire and the machine gun had made impossible the war of dramatic advances and glorious cavalry charges that the generals on both sides had dreamed of.
To end this frustrating stalemate, the British army planned an enormous assault for a point near where the River Somme meandered its slow and weed-filled way through French wheat and sugar-beet fields. A torrent of supplies began pouring into the area to equip the half million British Empire troops involved, of whom 120,000 would attack on the first day alone. This was to be the “Big Push,” a concentration of manpower and artillery so massive and in such a small space that the German defenses would burst open as if hit by floodwaters.
After the overwhelmed Germans had been bayoneted in their trenches, it would be a matter of what General Douglas Haig, the British commander in chief, called “fighting the Enemy in the open,” and so battalions were trained intensively in maneuvering across trenchless meadows. Finally, of course, streaming through the gap in the lines would come the cavalry, three divisions’ worth. After all, hadn’t glorious charges by men on horseback been a decisive element in warfare for millennia?
Troops unrolled 70,000 miles of telephone cable. Thousands more unloaded and piled ammunition in huge dumps; stripped to the waist and sweltering in the summer heat, they dug endlessly to construct special roads to speed supplies to the front. Fifty-five miles of new standard-gauge railway line were built. With as many British soldiers crammed into the launching area as the population of a good-sized city, new wells had to be drilled and dozens of miles of water pipe laid. No detail was forgotten.
British troops, the plan went, would move forward across no-man’s-land in successive waves. Everything was precise: each wave would advance in a continuous line 100 yards in front of the next, at a steady pace of 100 yards a minute. How were they to be safe from German machine gun fire? Simple: the pre-attack artillery bombardment would destroy not just the Germans’ barbed wire but the bunkers that sheltered their machine guns. How could this not be when there was one artillery piece for every 17 yards of front line, all of which would rain a total of a million and a half shells down on the German trenches? And if that weren’t enough, once British troops climbed out of their trenches, a final “creeping barrage” of bursting shells would precede them, a moving curtain of fire riddling with shrapnel any surviving Germans who emerged from underground shelters to try to fight.
The plan for the first day’s attack on July 1, 1916, was 31 pages long and its map included the British names with which the German trenches had already been rechristened. Preparations this thorough were hard to conceal, and there were occasional unnerving signs that the German troops knew almost as much about them as the British. When one unit moved into position, it found a sign held up from the German trenches: WELCOME TO THE 29TH DIVISION.
Several weeks before the attack, 168 officers who were graduates of Eton met for an Old Etonian dinner at the Hotel Godbert in Amiens, a French city behind the lines. In Latin, they toasted their alma mater -- “Floreat Etona!” -- and raised their voices in the school song, “Carmen Etonense.” Enlisted men entertained themselves in other ways. A haunting piece of documentary film footage from these months, taken from a Red Cross barge moving down a canal behind the lines, shows hundreds of Allied soldiers stripped completely bare, wading, bathing, or sunning themselves on the canal bank, smiling and waving at the camera. Without helmets and uniforms, it is impossible to tell their nationality; their naked bodies mark them only as human beings.
Riding a black horse and with his usual escort of lancers, General Haig inspected his divisions as they rehearsed their attacks on practice fields where white tapes on the ground stood for the German trenches. On June 20th, the commander in chief wrote to his wife, “The situation is becoming more favourable to us.” On June 22nd he added, “I feel that every step in my plan has been taken with the Divine help.” On June 30th, as the great artillery barrage had been thundering for five days, Haig wrote in his diary, “The men are in splendid spirits.... The wire has never been so well cut, nor the Artillery preparation so thorough.” For good measure, the British released clouds of deadly chlorine gas toward the German lines.
As it grew close to zero hour, 7:30 a.m. on July 1st, men detonated 10 enormous mines planted by British miners tunneling deep beneath the German trenches. Near the village of La Boisselle, the crater from one remains, a stark, gaping indentation in the surrounding farmland; even partly filled in by a century of erosion, it is still 55 feet deep and 220 feet across.
When the artillery barrage reached its crescendo, 224,221 shells in the last sixty-five minutes, the rumble could be heard as far away as Hampstead Heath in London. More shells were fired by the British this week than they had used in the entire first 12 months of the war; some gunners bled from the ears after seven days of nonstop firing. At a forest near Gommecourt, entire trees were uprooted and tossed in the air by the shelling and the forest itself set on fire.
Soldiers of the First Somerset Light Infantry sat on the parapet of their trench, cheering at the tremendous explosions. Officers issued a strong ration of rum to the men about to head into no-man’s-land. Captain W.P. Nevill of the Eighth East Surrey Battalion gave each of his four platoons a soccer ball and promised a prize to whichever one first managed to kick a ball into the German trench. One platoon painted its ball with the legend:
THE GREAT EUROPEAN CUP
EAST SURREYS V. BAVARIANS
Throughout the British Isles, millions of people knew a great attack was to begin. “The hospital received orders to clear out all convalescents and prepare for a great rush of wounded,” remembered the writer Vera Brittain, working as a nurse’s aide in London. “We knew that already a tremendous bombardment had begun, for we could feel the vibration of the guns... Hour after hour, as the convalescents departed, we added to the long rows of waiting beds, so sinister in their white, expectant emptiness.”
“God, God, Where’s the Rest of the Boys?”
Haig waited anxiously in his forward headquarters at the Château de Beauquesne, 10 miles behind the battlefield. Then, after a full week of continual fire, the British guns abruptly fell silent.
When whistles blew at 7:30 a.m., the successive waves of troops began their planned 100-yards-a-minute advance. Each man moved slowly under more than 60 pounds of supplies -- 200 bullets, grenades, shovel, two days’ food and water, and more. But when those soldiers actually clambered up the trench ladders and over the parapet, they quickly discovered something appalling. The multiple belts of barbed wire in front of the German trenches and the well-fortified machine gun emplacements were still largely intact.
Officers looking through binocular-periscopes had already suspected as much. Plans for any attack, however, have tremendous momentum; rare is the commander willing to recognize that something is awry. To call off an offensive requires bravery, for the general who does so risks being thought a coward. Haig was not such a man. Whistles blew, men cheered, Captain Nevill’s company of East Surreys kicked off its four soccer balls. The soldiers hoped to stay alive -- and sometimes for something more: troops of the First Newfoundland Regiment knew that a prominent young society woman back home had promised to marry the first man in the regiment to win the Empire’s highest medal, the Victoria Cross.
The week-long bombardment, it turned out, had been impressive mainly for its noise. More than one out of four British shells were duds that buried themselves in the earth, exploding, if at all, only when struck by some unlucky French farmer’s plow years or decades later. Two-thirds of the shells fired were shrapnel, virtually useless in destroying machine gun emplacements made of steel and reinforced concrete or stone. Nor could shrapnel shells, which scattered light steel balls, destroy the dense belts of German barbed wire, many yards thick, unless they burst at just the right height. But their fuses were wildly unreliable, and usually they exploded only after they had already plummeted into the earth, destroying little and embedding so much metal in the ground that soldiers trying to navigate through darkness or smoke sometimes found their compasses had ceased to work.
The remaining British shells were high-explosive ones, which could indeed destroy a German machine gun bunker, but only if they hit it with pinpoint accuracy. When guns were firing from several miles away, this was almost impossible. German machine gun teams had waited out the bombardment in dugouts as deep as 40 feet below the surface and supplied with electricity, water, and ventilation. In one of the few places where British troops did reach the German front line on July 1, they found the electric light in a dugout still on.
Unaccountably, an underground mine had exploded beneath the German lines 10 minutes before zero hour, a clear signal that the attack was about to begin. Then, like a final warning, the remaining mines went off at 7:28 a.m., followed by a two-minute wait to allow the debris -- blown thousands of feet into the air -- to fall back to earth before British troops climbed out of their trenches to advance. Those two minutes gave German machine gunners time to run up the ladders and stairways from their dugouts and man their fortified posts, of which there were roughly a thousand in the sector of the line under attack. During the two minutes, the British could hear bugles summoning German riflemen and machine gunners to their positions.
“They came on at a steady easy pace as if expecting to find nothing alive in our front trenches,” recalled a German soldier of the British advance. “...When the leading British line was within 100 yards, the rattle of [German] machine guns and rifle fire broke out from along the whole line... Red rockets sped up into the blue sky as a signal to the artillery, and immediately afterwards a mass of shells from the German batteries in [the] rear tore through the air and burst among the advancing lines.”
The Germans, like the British, had plenty of artillery pieces; these were under camouflage netting and had simply not been used during the preceding weeks, so as not to reveal their positions to British aircraft. Now they fired their deadly shrapnel, whose effects the Germans could see: “All along the line men could be seen throwing their arms into the air and collapsing never to move again. Badly wounded rolled about in their agony... with... cries for help and the last screams of death.”
Plans for the orderly march forward in line abreast were quickly abandoned as men separated into small groups and sought the shelter of hillocks and shell holes. But there was no question of the hard-hit British troops turning back, for each battalion had soldiers designated as “battle police,” herding any stragglers forward. “When we got to the German wire I was absolutely amazed to see it intact, after what we had been told,” remembered one British private. “The colonel and I took cover behind a small bank but after a bit the colonel raised himself on his hands and knees to see better. Immediately he was hit on the forehead by a single bullet.”
Because the artillery bombardment had destroyed so little of the barbed wire, British soldiers had to bunch up to get through the few gaps they could find -- making themselves an even more conspicuous target. Many soldiers died when their clothing, especially the loose kilts of the Scotsmen, caught on the wire. “Only three out of our company got past there,” recalled a private of the Fourth Tyneside Scottish Battalion. “There was my lieutenant, a sergeant and myself.... The officer said, ‘God, God, where’s the rest of the boys?’”
The vaunted “creeping barrage” crept forward according to the timetable -- and then continued to creep off uselessly into the far distance long after British troops who were supposed to be following behind its protective cover had been pinned down by the tangles of uncut German wire. The cavalry waited behind the British lines, but in vain. Some of those who had survived in no-man’s-land tried, after dark, to crawl back to their own trenches, but even then the continual traversing of German machine gun fire sent up showers of sparks as bullets hit the British barbed wire.
Of the 120,000 British troops who went into battle on July 1, 1916, more than 57,000 were dead or wounded before the day was over -- nearly two casualties for every yard of the front; 19,000 were killed, most of them within the first disastrous hour, and some 2,000 more would die in aid stations or hospitals later. There were an estimated 8,000 German casualties. Because they led their troops out of the trenches, the toll was heaviest among the officers who took part in the attack, three-quarters of whom were killed or wounded. These included many who had attended the Old Etonian dinner a few weeks before: more than 30 Eton men lost their lives on July 1st. Captain Nevill of the East Surreys, who had distributed the soccer balls, was fatally shot through the head in the first few minutes.
The First Newfoundland Regiment, awaiting its Victoria Cross winner and the young woman who had promised herself as his reward, was virtually wiped out. There were 752 men who climbed out of their trenches to advance toward the skeletal ruins of an apple orchard covered by German machine gun fire; by the day’s end 684 were dead, wounded, or missing, including every single officer. The German troops the Newfoundlanders attacked did not suffer a single casualty.
Attacking soldiers had been ordered not to tend injured comrades, but to leave them for stretcher bearers who would follow. The dead and wounded, however, included hundreds of stretcher bearers themselves, and there were nowhere near enough men to carry the critically injured to first aid posts in time. Stretchers ran out; some wounded were carried off two to a stretcher or on sheets of corrugated iron whose edges ravaged the bearers’ fingers. Many wounded who lived through the first day never made it off the battlefield. For weeks afterward their fellow soldiers came upon them in shell holes, where they had crawled for shelter, taken out their pocket Bibles, and wrapped themselves in their waterproof groundsheets to die, in pain and alone.
In other ways as well, the terrible day took its toll after the fact. One battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel E.T.F. Sandys, having seen more than 500 of his men killed or wounded during that day, wrote to a fellow officer two months later, “I have never had a moment’s peace since July 1st.” Then, in a London hotel room, he shot himself.
A Quiet Trench
Engraved on a stone plaque in the small cemetery holding the Devonshire Regiment’s casualties from this day are the words survivors carved on a wooden sign when they first buried their dead:
The Devonshires held this trench
The Devonshires hold it still
In the cemetery’s visitors’ book, on a few pages the ink of the names and remarks has been smeared by raindrops -- or was it tears? “Paid our respects to 3 of our townsfolk.” “Sleep on, boys.” “Lest we forget.” “Thanks, lads.” “Gt. Uncle thanks, rest in peace.”
Only one visitor strikes a different note: “Never again.”
Joe Sacco, one of America’s foremost political cartoonists, is author of the new book The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme, from which the illustrations in this piece are taken. His books include Palestine, winner of the American Book Award, Footnotes in Gaza, winner of the Ridenhour Book Prize, and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, co-authored with Chris Hedges. His Safe Area Goražde was named best comic book of the year by Time magazine. His drawings are reproduced by permission of W. W. Norton & Co.
Adam Hochschild is the author of To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918, from which this text, used in Sacco’s book, is drawn. It won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. His previous books include Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son, and Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, a finalist for the National Book Award. This text is reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Illustrations reprinted from The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme by Joe Sacco. Copyright © 2013 by Joe Sacco. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Copyright 2013 Joe Sacco and Adam Hochschild
President Dwight Eisenhower is often admired for having avoided huge wars, having declared that every dollar wasted on militarism was food taken out of the mouths of children, and having warned -- albeit on his way out the door -- of the toxic influence of the military industrial complex (albeit in a speech of much more mixed messages than we tend to recall).
But when you oppose war, not because it murders, and not because it assaults the rights of the foreign places attacked, but because it costs too much in U.S. lives and dollars, then your steps tend in the direction of quick and easy warfare -- usually deceptively cheap and easy warfare.
President Obama and his subordinates are well aware that much of the world is outraged by the use of drones to kill. The warnings of likely blowback and long-term damage to U.S. interests and human interests and the rule of law are not hard to find. But our current warriors don't see a choice between murdering people with drones and using negotiations and courts of law to settle differences. They see a choice between murdering people with drones and murdering people with ground troops on a massive scale. The preference between these two options is so obvious to them as to require little thought.
President Eisenhower had his own cheap and easy tool for better warfare. It was called the Delightfully Deluded Dulles Brothers, and -- in terms of how much thought this pair of brothers gave to the possible outcomes of their reckless assault on the world -- it's fair to call them a couple of drones in a literal as well as an analogous sense.
John Foster Dulles at the State Department and Allen Dulles at the CIA are the subject of a new book by Stephen Kinzer called The Brothers, which ought to replace whatever history book the Texas School Board has most recently imposed on our children. This is a story of two vicious, racist, fanatical jerks, but it's also the story of the central thrust of U.S. public policy for the past 75 years.
The NSA didn't invent sliminess in the 21st century. The Dulles' grandfather and uncle did. Cameras weren't first put on airplanes over the earth when drones were invented. Allen Dulles started that with piloted planes -- the main result being scandal, outrage, and international antagonism -- a tradition we seem intent on keeping up. Oh, and the cameras also revealed that the CIA had been wildly exaggerating the strength of the Soviet Union's military -- but who needed to know that?
The Obama White House didn't invent aggression toward journalism. Allen and Foster Dulles make the current crop of propagandists, censors, intimidators, and human rights abusers look like amateurs singing from an old hymnal they can't properly read.
Black sites weren't created by George W. Bush. Allen Dulles set up secret prisons in Germany, Japan, and the Panama Canal Zone, the MKULTRA program, and the Gladio and other networks of forces staying behind in Europe after World War II (never really) ended.
The Dynamic Dulles Duo racked up quite a resume. They overthrew a democratic government in Iran, installing a fierce dictatorship, and never imagining that the eventual backlash might be unpleasant. Delighted by this -- and intimately in on it, as Kinzer documents -- Eisenhower backed the overthrow of Guatemala's democracy as well -- both of these operations being driven primarily by the interests of Foster Dulles' clients on Wall Street (where his firm had been rather embarrassingly late in halting its support for the Nazis). Never mind the hostility generated throughout Latin America, United Fruit claimed its rights to run Guatemala, and who were the Guatemalans to say otherwise?
Unsatisfied with this everlasting damage, the Dulles Brothers dragged the United States into a war of their own making on Vietnam, sought to overthrow Sukarno in Indonesia, teamed up with the Belgians to murder Lumumba in the Congo, and tried desperately to murder Fidel Castro or start an all-out war on Cuba. The Bay of Pigs fiasco was essentially the result of Allen Dulles' confidence that he could trap a new president (John Kennedy) into expanding a war.
If that weren't enough damage for two careers, the Disastrous Dulles Dimwits created the Council on Foreign Relations, shaped the creation of the United Nations to preserve U.S. imperialism, manufactured intense irrational fear of the Soviet Union and its mostly mythical plots for global domination, convinced Truman that intelligence and operations should be combined in the single agency of the CIA, sent countless secret agents to their deaths for no earthly reason, unwittingly allowed double agents to reveal much of their activities to their enemies, subverted democracy in the Philippines and Lebanon and Laos and numerous other nations, made hysteria a matter of national pride, ended serious Congressional oversight of foreign policy, pointlessly antagonized China and the USSR, boosted radically evil regimes likely to produce future blowback around the world and notably in Saudi Arabia but also in Pakistan -- with predictable damage to relations with India, failed miserably at overthrowing Nasser in Egypt but succeeded in turning the Arab world against the United States, in fact antagonized much of the world as it attempted an unacceptable neutrality in the Cold War, rejected Soviet peace overtures, aligned the U.S. government with Israel, built the CIA headquarters at Langley and training grounds at Camp Peary, and -- ironically enough -- radically expanded and entrenched the military industrial complex to which "covert actions" were supposed to be the easy new alternative (rather as the drone industry is doing today).
The Dulles Dolts were a lot like King Midas if the king's love had been for dogshit rather than gold. As icing on the cake of their careers, Allen Dulles -- dismissed in disgrace by Kennedy who regretted ever having kept him on -- manipulated the Warren Commission's investigation of Kennedy's death in a highly suspicious manner. Kinzer says no more than that, but James Douglass's JFK and the Unspeakable points to other grounds for concern, including Dulles's apparent coverup of Oswald's being an employee of the CIA.
Lessons learned? One would hope so. I would recommend these steps:
Abolish the CIA, and make the State Department a civilian operation.
Ban weaponized drones, and avoid a legacy as bad as the covert operations of the 1950s and 1960s.
Stop the disgustingly royalish habit of supporting political family dynasties.
And rename Washington's international, as well as its national, airport.
By Dave Lindorff
A revealing page-one article in today’s New York Times (“Tap on Merkel Provides Peek a Vast Spy Net”) reports on how the NSA’s global spying program, dating back at least to early in the Bush/Cheney administration, was vacuuming up the phone conversations (and no doubt later the internet communications) of not just leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but opposition leader Merkel before her party took power in Germany.
This November 11th at 11 a.m. will mark 95 years since World War I ended. Next July 28th will mark 100 years since it started. The world war, the great war, the war for no good reason, the war of poison gas, the war to end all wars, the war of mass stupidity, the war that went on for days after the Germans agreed to end it, the war that continued until 11 a.m. as that time had been set to end it, the war whose last man killed in action was a suicidal American who ran at the Germans at 10:59, the war that in fact was intentionally not ended but extended into mass-punishment of the German people until World War II could be commenced, this century-old piece of historical stupidity that shames our species is about to be commemorated on a serious scale -- so dust off your gas masks and get ready.
A hundred years. A hundred ever-loving years, and we've neither learned that wars don't end wars nor ever really ended World War II, ever brought the troops home from Japan and Germany, ever scaled back the taxation and military spending and foreign basing and war profiteering.
The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten War by Richard Rubin is 500 pages of excellent history of World War I but without the appropriate rejection of the decision to go to war or the embarrassment one should feel for those who thought they could find glory or goodness by joining in that mass murdering madness. We tend to look down on all sorts of aspects of early 20th century morality. Colonialism, sexism, racism, corporal punishment in schools, creationism -- you name it, we've moved on. Yet writers still recount wars as if the decision to take part in them were neutral or admirable.
In a way this makes sense, given what we're all taught about history. The Khan Academy is a wonderful website for kids (or anyone) to use in learning math. But if you click over to the section on history it's literally nothing but wars. Perhaps they plan to add in a few unimportant things that happened during the pauses in between wars, but they haven't done so yet. It's nothing but war after war after war. That's history. President Kennedy supposedly said Lincoln would have been nothing without the Civil War -- it takes war to make greatness. It takes war to be in the history books.
Richard Rubin found and interviewed the last remaining U.S. veterans of World War I before they died. As he spoke with them their average age was 107. Everything he learned and recorded is of great interest, but much of it is simply about what it's like to become 107. Such a study could have been done of non-veterans. A comparison could have been made of veterans and non-veterans. Or a study like this one could have looked at World War I resisters. That there's not a similar book about them, and now can never be, says little about them and a great deal about all of us. A comparison of the lifespans of veterans and refuseniks would have been an interesting test of the author's theory that going along to get along increases your life.
It is perhaps not too late to track down and interview the last remaining survivors of the strongest peace movement the United States has known -- that of the 1920s and 1930s -- but somebody would have to do it and do it soon.
Perhaps Richard Rubin will take up that idea, but I tend to doubt it. His fascination is with war, not wisdom. And not just his fascination, but most people's. The sad fact is that, in Rubin's telling, these World War I veterans didn't tend to develop an appropriate sense of regret over a period of 85 years. There are, no doubt, cases of slave owners who by 1950 were able to express some regret over slavery. But slavery was on its way out. War is ever on its way in.
Despite my lengthy caveat, The Last of the Doughboys really is an excellent book, for what it is. The discussions of World War I songs and World War I books, and so forth, are quite wonderful. And Doughboys is not blatantly dishonest war hype. It includes the facts about the Lusitania (that Germany had warned Americans not to get on a ship with arms and troops as it would be sunk). It doesn't look closely at the war propaganda, but it is straightforward enough on the clampdown on speech and civil liberties, and the vicious demonization of Germans and the Kaiser. It doesn't mention the Wall Street coup or the name Smedley Butler, but its coverage of the Bonus Army is otherwise good. It doesn't focus on opposition or alternatives, but it does convey the pointlessness of the horror, and it does recount the badly misguided way in which the war was ended.
Yet, ultimately, Rubin is striving to give more credit and honor to warriors unfairly overshadowed by the glorification of World War II. The heroes of the original world war saved the world in the snow and shoeless and uphill both ways. Rubin wants World War I to get its due -- unlike some wars. The war on the Philippines, for example, he calls "not much of" a war, despite the fact that it cost the population involved a greater percentage of its lives than any other U.S. war has inflicted on any other population, including the population of the U.S. -- including in the U.S. Civil War. Go to the Philippines and say it wasn't much of a war, I dare you. It was the model for the costly, pointless, racist, one-sided slaughters of the 21st century. World War I was a model only for its expansion into World War II. Otherwise it's obsolete.
My friend Sandy Davies, who knows this stuff, recently looked up what the costs have been of the ongoing warmaking by the United States since the pair of World Wars. I think it's relevant because every single time I speak about ending war and take questions on the topic I'm asked "What about Hitler?" In the days since Hitler's been gone, as the world has moved on from Hitler-like expansionism, as a great portion of the world has moved away from war, the United States, according to Davies, has spent $37-40 trillion (in 2013 dollars) on war and preparations for war.
There's $32 trillion since 1948 in Department of So-Called-Defense spending documented in http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2014/FY14_Green_Book.pdf plus $780 billion to the War Department in 1946-7 before it was rebranded. Extra funding to the Energy Department, the V.A. and other departments is harder to find, but can be estimated at:
Nuclear weapons (DOE): $1.7 - 3 trillion
V.A.: $1.3 to 2.5 trillion
Other departments: $1 to 2 trillion
Then there's the real cost: 10 to 20 million dead in wars the U.S. has been directly involved in, or 15 to 30 million if you count the DRC, Cambodia, the French War in Indochina, and the Iran-Iraq War. "These numbers are very conservative," says Davies, "based on publicly available estimates, generally ignoring Les Roberts' findings in Rwanda and the DRC that passive reporting methods generally only count 5-20% of deaths in war zones." These figures include:
Korea: 2.5 to 3.5 million
Vietnam: 2 to 4 million
Iraq: 400,000 to 1.5 million
Afghanistan (total): 1 to 2 million
China: 1.75 million
Indonesia: 500,000 to 2 million
Angola: 500,000 to 1 million
Somalia: 300,000 to 500,000
Guatemala: 200,000 to 300,000
East Timor: 100,000 to 220,000
El Salvador: 100,000 to 120,000
Syria: 90,000 to 130,000
Operation Condor: 60,000 to 100,000
Colombia: 50,000 - 200,000
Laos: 40,000 to 100,000
Nicaragua: 30,000 to 55,000
Libya: 25,000 to 50,000
plus smaller numbers in many other countries.
Either we're on a record streak of greatest generations after greatest generations, or we've caught a war addiction so badly that we've come to imagine it's normal, and that -- in fact -- it's all that ever has happened in the world.
by Nicolas J S Davies
When video of the October 14th edition of Thom Hartmann's TV show appears online (here) it will include him asking me to justify not attacking Hitler. Thom has asked me this repeatedly during multiple appearances on his show, each time a little differently, and each time provocatively. He's right to ask it, and he's been right in some of the answers he's helped provide in the asking.
Without Hitler, the U.S. military would collapse.
For 68 years, wars on poor countries have been justified by the pretended discovery of Hitler's reincarnation. Each time it has turned out to be a false alarm. Every post-WWII war looks disastrous or at least dubious in retrospect to most people. And yet, the justification of the next war is always ready to hand, because the real, original Hitler remains alive in our memories, and he just might come back -- who's to say?
Actually, I think anyone vaguely aware of basic facts about the current world ought to be able to say that Hitler is gone for good.
How do I justify not going to war with Hitler, beyond explaining that Assad isn't Hitler, Gadaffi isn't Hitler, Hussein isn't Hitler, and so on?
Increasingly, I believe we must start with the fact that we live in a different world. Colonization is gone. Empires of the old model are gone. No powerful nation is plotting that sort of global conquest. In fact, no powerful nation is seriously considering war with other powerful nations.
During these past 68 years of misidentifying new Hitler after new Hitler, there has in fact been no World War III. We haven't just made it 25 years. We'll hit the 75-year mark during the next U.S. presidency. Nuclear weapons, awareness of the costs, understanding of the lack of benefits, established norms against the seizure of territory, the utter unacceptability of colonialism, and the vast increase in understanding of the power of nonviolent action all work against the waging of wars among the wealthy, armed nations. Instead, we have proxy wars, wars of exploitation, and poor-on-poor warfare. And even those wars fail miserably on their own terms. Occupations collapse. Puppets grow legs and wander off.
When World War II happened, war had never been prosecuted as a crime. The prosecutions that followed the war were the first. The seizure of territory was only beginning to be delegitimized. Colonialism was still understood as the route to riches, power, and prestige. War was imagined as a contest between armies on a battlefield, rather than what World War II transformed it into: the slaughter of civilians in their homes.
When World War II happened, there were no nukes, no satellites, no drones. There was no (or little) television, no internet, no WikiLeaks. There was no understanding of the tools of nonviolence. History contained no nonviolent overthrows of dictatorships, few examples of creative nonviolent resistance to tyranny, no teams of human shields, no Arab Spring, no Civil Rights movement, no overcoming of Apartheid, no bloodless revolutions in Eastern Europe, no peace studies programs, no expertise in conflict resolution, and no viable alternatives to war -- much less the thousands of tools since devised, tested, and refined.
When we look back at Thomas Jefferson's slavery, we like to excuse it because he lived in an age in which lots of other people engaged in slavery. He didn't know better, we like to say. He didn't have an easy way out that would be equally profitable with so many side benefits. I think we're a bit generous in this act of forgiving, but I think there's also a grain of truth there. Times do change, and actions are taken in contexts.
When we look back at Franklin Roosevelt's war-making, perhaps we should remember that it took place in an era when nothing else was imagined by many people. Punishing the entire nation of Germany following World War I was not recognized as the time bomb it was, not by most people. Funding fascism as preferable to the horror of communism was not recognized as the Frankenstein experiment it was, not by most people. Hyping the danger of a Nazi takeover of the world and jumping into a war, and then escalating that war into the very worst thing the world has ever seen, was not viewed as a barbaric choice, was not viewed as a choice at all -- not by many people.
We live in a different era. When our President claims he simply must send missiles into Syria, we tell him to think harder. We can forgive FDR for war-making as we forgive those who engaged in slavery or dueling or blood feuds or witch hunts. They were products of their times. But we need not go on acting as if it is forever 1945 -- no matter how much that pretense profits certain people.
If we were to recognize that Hitler isn't coming back, and that we could resist him without war if he did, we might suddenly begin demanding the things that other nations have and the U.S. could easily afford: healthcare, education, a secure and adequate income, parental leave, vacation leave, retirement, public transit, sustainable energy, etc. Lockheed and Raytheon and Northrop Grumman would start making solar panels or start departing this world for the pages of history. In other words, we might shut down the other half of the government from the half that's shut down right now.
The following is an excerpt from my book, War No More: The Case for Abolition:
"There Never Was a Good War or a Bad Peace" or How to Be Against Both Hitler and War
Benjamin Franklin, who said that bit inside the quotation marks, lived before Hitler and so may not be qualified—in the minds of many—to speak on the matter. But World War II happened in a very different world from today's, didn't need to happen, and could have been dealt with differently when it did happen. It also happened differently from how we are usually taught. For one thing, the U.S. government was eager to enter the war, and to a great extent did enter the war, in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, prior to Pearl Harbor.
Pre-WWII Germany might have looked very different without the harsh settlement that followed World War I which punished an entire people rather than the war makers, and without the significant monetary support provided for decades past and ongoing through World War II by U.S. corporations like GM, Ford, IBM, and ITT (see Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler by Anthony Sutton).
(Let me insert a parenthetical remark here that I hope many will find quite silly, but that I know others will need to hear. We are talking about World War II, and I've just criticized someone other than Hitler—namely U.S. corporations—so let me hasten to point out that Hitler still gets to be responsible for every hideous crime he committed. Blame is more like sunshine than like fossil fuels; we can give some to Henry Ford for his support of Hitler without taking the slightest bit away from Adolph Hitler himself and without comparing or equating the two.)
Nonviolent resistance to the Nazis in Denmark, Holland, and Norway, as well as the successful protests in Berlin by the non-Jewish wives of imprisoned Jewish husbands suggested a potential that was never fully realized—not even close. The notion that Germany could have maintained a lasting occupation of the rest of Europe and the Soviet Union, and proceeded to attack in the Americas, is extremely unlikely, even given the 1940s' relatively limited knowledge of nonviolent activism. Militarily, Germany was primarily defeated by the Soviet Union, its other enemies playing relatively minor parts.
The important point is not that massive, organized nonviolence should have been used against the Nazis in the 1940s. It wasn't, and many people would have had to see the world very differently in order for that to have happened. Rather the point is that tools of nonviolence are much more widely understood today and can be, and typically will be, used against rising tyrants. We should not imagine returning to an age in which that wasn't so, even if doing so helps to justify outrageous levels of military spending! We should, rather, strengthen our efforts to nonviolently resist the growth of tyrannical powers before they reach a crisis point, and to simultaneously resist efforts to lay the ground work for future wars against them.
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, which was not then part of the United States, President Franklin Roosevelt had tried lying to the American people about U.S. ships including the Greer and the Kearny, which had been helping British planes track German submarines, but which Roosevelt pretended had been wrongly attacked. Roosevelt also tried to create support for entering the war by lying 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. However, the people of the United States rejected the idea of going into another war until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, by which point Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created and begun using 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 secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.
When President Roosevelt visited Pearl Harbor seven years before the Japanese attack, the Japanese military (which, just like Hitler or anyone else in the world, gets full blame for all of its inexcusable crimes) expressed apprehension. In March 1935, Roosevelt bestowed Wake Island on the U.S. Navy and gave Pan Am Airways a permit to build runways on Wake Island, Midway Island, and Guam. Japanese military commanders announced that they were disturbed and viewed these runways as a threat. So did peace activists in the United States.
In November 1940, Roosevelt loaned China $100m for war with Japan, and after consulting with the British, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau made plans to send the Chinese bombers with U.S. crews to use in bombing Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
For years prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy worked on plans for war with Japan, the March 8, 1939, version of which described "an offensive war of long duration" that would destroy the military and disrupt the economic life of Japan. In January 1941, the Japan Advertiser expressed its outrage over Pearl Harbor in an editorial, and the U.S. ambassador to Japan wrote in his diary: "There is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course I informed my government."
On May 24, 1941, the New York Times reported on U.S. training of the Chinese air force, and the provision of "numerous fighting and bombing planes" to China by the United States. "Bombing of Japanese Cities is Expected" read the subheadline.
On July 24, 1941, President Roosevelt remarked, "If we cut the oil off, [the Japanese] probably would have gone down to the Dutch East Indies a year ago, and you would have had a war. It was very essential from our own selfish point of view of defense to prevent a war from starting in the South Pacific. So our foreign policy was trying to stop a war from breaking out there." Reporters noticed that Roosevelt said "was" rather than "is." The next day, Roosevelt issued an executive order freezing Japanese assets. The United States and Britain cut off oil and scrap metal to Japan. Radhabinod Pal, an Indian jurist who served on the war crimes tribunal in Tokyo after the war, called the embargoes a "clear and potent threat to Japan's very existence," and concluded the United States had provoked Japan.
The U.S. government is imposing what it proudly calls "crippling sanctions" on Iran as I write.
On November 15, 1941, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall briefed the media on something we do not remember as "the Marshall Plan." In fact we don't remember it at all. "We are preparing an offensive war against Japan," Marshall said, asking the journalists to keep it a secret.
Ten days later Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote in his diary that he'd met in the Oval Office with Marshall, President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Admiral Harold Stark, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Roosevelt had told them the Japanese were likely to attack soon, possibly next Monday. It has been well documented that the United States had broken the Japanese' codes and that Roosevelt had access to them.
What did not bring the United States into the war or keep it going was a desire to save Jews from persecution. For years Roosevelt blocked legislation that would have allowed Jewish refugees from Germany into the United States. The notion of a war to save the Jews is found on none of the war propaganda posters and essentially arose after the war was over, just as the idea of the "good war" took hold decades later as a comparison to the Vietnam War.
"Disturbed in 1942," wrote Lawrence S. Wittner, "by rumors of Nazi extermination plans, Jessie Wallace Hughan, an educator, a politician, and a founder of the War Resisters League, worried that such a policy, which appeared 'natural, from their pathological point of view,' might be carried out if World War II continued. 'It seems that the only way to save thousands and perhaps millions of European Jews from destruction,' she wrote, 'would be for our government to broadcast the promise' of an 'armistice on condition that the European minorities are not molested any further. ... It would be very terrible if six months from now we should find that this threat has literally come to pass without our making even a gesture to prevent it.' When her predictions were fulfilled only too well by 1943, she wrote to the State Department and the New York Times, decrying the fact that 'two million [Jews] have already died' and that 'two million more will be killed by the end of the war.' Once again she pleaded for the cessation of hostilities, arguing that German military defeats would in turn exact reprisals upon the Jewish scapegoat. 'Victory will not save them,' she insisted, 'for dead men cannot be liberated.'"
In the end some prisoners were rescued, but many more had been killed. Not only did the war not prevent the genocide, but the war itself was worse. The war established that civilians were fair game for mass slaughter and slaughtered them by the tens of millions. Attempts to shock and awe through mass slaughter failed. Fire-bombing cities served no higher purpose. Dropping one, and then a second, nuclear bomb was in no way justified as a way to end a war that was already ending. German and Japanese imperialism were halted, but the U.S. global empire of bases and wars was born—bad news for the Middle East, Latin America, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and elsewhere. The Nazi ideology was not defeated by violence. Many Nazi scientists were brought over to work for the Pentagon, the results of their influence apparent.
But much of what we think of as particularly Nazi evils (eugenics, human experimentation, etc.) could be found in the United States as well, before, during, and after the war. A recent book called Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America collects much of what is known. Eugenics was taught in hundreds of medical schools in the United States by the 1920s and by one estimate in three-quarters of U.S. colleges by the mid 1930s. Non-consensual experimentation on institutionalized children and adults was common in the United States before, during, and especially after the U.S. and its allies prosecuted Nazis for the practice in 1947, sentencing many to prison and seven to be hanged. The tribunal created the Nuremberg Code, standards for medical practice that were immediately ignored back home. American doctors considered it "a good code for barbarians." Thus, we had the Tuskegee syphilis study, and the experimentation at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital in Brooklyn, the Willowbrook State School on Staten Island, Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia, and so many others, including U.S. experiments on Guatemalans during the Nuremberg proceedings. Also during the Nuremberg trial, children at the Pennhurst school in southeastern Pennsylvania were given hepatitis-laced feces to eat. Human experimentation increased in the decades that followed. As each story has leaked out we've seen it as an aberration. Against Their Will suggests otherwise. As I write, there are protests of recent forced sterilizations of women in California prisons.
The point is not to compare the relative levels of evilness of individuals or people. The Nazis' concentration camps are very hard to match in that regard. The point is that no side in a war is good, and evil behavior is no justification for war. American Curtis LeMay, who oversaw the fire bombing of Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, said that if the other side had won he'd have been prosecuted as a war criminal. That scenario wouldn't have rendered the disgusting war crimes of the Japanese or the Germans acceptable or praiseworthy. But it would have led to the world giving them less thought, or at least less exclusive thought. Instead, the crimes of the allies would be the focus, or at least one focus, of outrage.
You need not think that U.S. entry into World War II was a bad idea in order to oppose all future wars. You can recognize the misguided policies of decades that led to World War II. And you can recognize the imperialism of both sides as a product of their time. There are those who, by this means, excuse Thomas Jefferson's slavery. If we can do that, perhaps we can also excuse Franklin Roosevelt's war. But that doesn't mean we should be making plans to repeat either one of those things.
The above is excerpted from War No More: The Case for Abolition.
By John Grant
All we are saying is give peace a chance
- John Lennon
Whether war or cooperation is the more dominant trait of humanity is one of the oldest questions in human discourse. There are no satisfying answers for either side exclusively, which seems to suggest the answer is in the eternal nature of the debate itself.
After decades US still has huge poison gas stash: Washington Demands Syria Destroy Chemical Weapons Lickety-Split
By Dave Lindorff
The US is demanding, in negotiations at the UN, that all Syrian chemical weapons, stocks and production facilities be eliminated by June 30 of next year. This has an element of hypocrisy, because the US itself has been incredibly slow about eliminating its own stocks of chemical weapons.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has referred to Syria as having one of the largest chemical stockpiles in the world. But the US and Russia both still have stocks of chemicals many times as large. Syria’s neighbor Israel, which refuses to admit it has the weapons and has yet to ratify the treaty banning them, is suspected of also having a large arsenal.
By John Grant
The media didn’t waste time lining up US leaders to trash Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent op-ed in The New York Times. There was the expected outrage that such a “dictator” and “tyrant” had the gall to lecture the United States of America. Bill O’Reilly referred to Putin as “a criminal monster.” Charles Krauthammer kept it real and called Putin "a KGB thug.”
For a timely explanation of the crisis of the militarization of America, days after popular opposition, in a historic first, blocked a US war -- in this case against the sovereign nation of Syria -- check out this film by Lanny Cotler and Paul Edwards of Class War Films
To view the film, please go to: www.thiscantbehappening.net
Cross-Posted from FireDogLake
On September 9, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director David Petraeus -- who also formerly headed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) International Security Assistance Force for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and co-wrote the Counterinsurgency Field Manual -- began a new job as an adjunct professor at City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College.
Hopeful and disturbing signs in an unscientific neighborhood survey: Anti-War Conservatives and War-Monger Liberals
By Dave Lindorff
I just had two discussions with neighbors in my suburb of Philadelphia that offer both a hope that the Republican-run House may block President Obama’s war on Syria, and a warning that liberal Democrats could hand him the narrow majority he needs to claim Congressional backing for his war.
The United States, which has deployed its CBW arsenal against the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, Haitian boat people and Canada, plus exposure of hundreds of thousands of unwitting US citizens to an astonishing array of germ agents and toxic chemicals, killing dozens of people.
The US experimentation with bio-weapons goes back to the distribution of cholera-infect blankets to American Indian tribes in the 1860s. In 1900, US Army doctors in the Philippines infected five prisoners with a variety of plague and 29 prisoners with Beriberi. At least four of the subjects died. In 1915, a doctor working with government grants exposed 12 prisoners in Mississippi to pellagra, an incapacitating disease that attacks the central nervous system.
WASHINGTON—In light of increased pressure on President Obama to order a military strike on Syria, leading historians and military experts on Tuesday simply pointed to the United States’ longstanding and absolutely impeccable record of successful bombing campaigns over the past 60 years. “The record clearly shows that, in every instance since the Second World War in which the U.S. government has launched strategic missile attacks on foreign soil, our military forces easily targeted enemy assailants with total precision, leaving no civilian casualties, collateral damage, or any long-term negative consequences for the affected country or region, American foreign policy, or international relations as a whole,” said Harvard University historian Dr. Michael Carmona, adding that such past U.S. bombing operations have gone particularly well in Middle Eastern countries over the last century. READ THE REST AT THE ONION.
By John Grant
Here we go again.
Polls suggest the American people are fed up after two full-bore wars and the killing of an ambassador in Benghazi following our escapade in Libya. Yet, the Obama administration seems poised to launch another war in Syria.
“We can’t do a third war in 12 years!"
A 40-year reunion is being planned for the end of this month in Gainesville, Fla., of the Gainesville 8. Sadly, Richard Nixon won't be able to join them, although his presidential library has just released more audio recordings of his descent into madness -- or what we like to call today: standard government practice.
The Gainesville 8 were eight men, seven of them members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), who planned to nonviolently demonstrate at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. They were wrongfully prosecuted for planning violence, and they were all acquitted by a jury on August 31, 1973, in a highly publicized trial.
Under the shadow of the chaos that surrounded the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, VVAW took extra steps to avoid violence at the '72 RNC, meeting with the Miami police and with right-wing groups in an effort to prevent conflicts. And yet, prior to the convention, President Nixon's FBI began preemptively arresting VVAW leaders, accusing them of plotting murder and mayhem, and attempting to prevent them from taking part in what they were really plotting: a nonviolent march to the convention, where they would request to meet with the president.
Many VVAW members managed to pull off the march, during the course of which they came upon an activist carrying weapons; they turned him in to the police. Three vets, including Ron Kovic, made it into the convention to pose some uncomfortable questions to some long-distance, stay-at-home war supporters.
Just prior to the arrests of the VVAW members in Florida, burglars working for Nixon had been arrested breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate. When the Watergate burglars were captured, one of them, James McCord, explained that they were investigating a link between the Democrats and the VVAW which they believed was planning trouble at the upcoming Republican National Convention. McCord submitted an affidavit to the Gainesville 8 defense team restating this. The Gainesville 8 defense argued that their prosecution was aimed at strengthening Nixon's thugs' phony case for the Watergate break-in.
One of several infiltrators and would-be provocateurs who made up the fabricated case against the Gainesville 8 was Vincent Hanard. He said that Nixonian henchmen Howard Hunt, Bernard Barker, and Frank Sturgis had asked him to infiltrate VVAW and cause trouble. Another hired trouble-maker, Alfred Baldwin, was employed both monitoring a bug at the Watergate and infiltrating VVAW with a goal of embarrassing Democrats if VVAW demonstrated at the RNC.
Another professional provocateur named Pablo Fernandez was summoned to a grand jury investigating Nixonian henchman Donald Segretti. Fernandez said he'd tried to sell the VVAW guns and been turned down (something the Miami police confirmed), and that he'd spied on the veterans using electronic devices. In fact, he'd tried to record a conversation with VVAW leader Scott Camil, but Fernandez' hidden microphone had failed.
Other of the government's many infiltrators in the VVAW included William Koehler, Karl Becker, Emerson Poe, and William Lemmer. Poe had become best friends with Camil (or so Camil thought). Poe sat in meetings with the defendants right up until he was called as a prosecution witness, thus blowing his cover -- about which the government had previously lied under oath. Lemmer was the star witness, however, alleging wild tales of violent plans. He was himself violent and unstable. Lemmer had already set up a 17 year old to vandalize a building in Arkansas and arranged to have the FBI waiting for him. Lemmer had helped bust six people for marijuana. His specialty was talking people into considering the use of violence. He just wasn't very convincing as a witness.
Scott Camil was the southeast regional coordinator of VVAW. His lawyer's office was broken into during these proceedings, and his file taken. Also, FBI agents with electronic gear were found hiding in a closet of the room that the defendants and lawyers were meeting in during the trial.
"It's not really 11 years till 1984," Camil said in his closing statement (PDF) in court. "It's a lot closer than that."
This sounds odd to us, living in 2013. Technology, if not morality, has made great leaps forward. There's no more need for bungling idiots with brief cases full of spy gear hiding in closets. The government can spy on us without making its presence known. But provocateurs are still employed to manufacture crimes, and much of what was considered illicit under Nixon is treated as acceptable established practice under Obama.
A careful study of the FBI's own data on terrorism in the United States, reported in Trevor Aaronson's book The Terror Factory, finds one organization leading all others in creating terrorist plots in the United States today: the FBI. Peace groups today, including chapters of Veterans For Peace, have been redefined as "security threats" and "potential terrorists." The police have been militarized. Free speech cages are established at great distance from political conventions. Preemptive detentions before demonstrations don't always bother with charges or prosecutions at all. And the corporate-state media has internalized these practices as normal. In 1973, CBS sued for the right to cover the Gainesville 8 trial. Today I think it would be easier to find a media outlet willing to pay money to avoid having to cover something. Chelsea Manning's trial was covered by bloggers.
Camil represented himself in court, and included no apologies, as observers of Chelsea Manning's trial might have expected. Camil's opening statement should be read in full (PDF). He put the government and the war and President Nixon on trial. Here's an excerpt:
"The evidence will show that the seven of us who went to Vietnam spent a total of 111 months over there, received 57 medals and citations, and were all honorably discharged. The evidence will also show that we threw our medals away out of shame, because we knew that what they stood for was wrong. For myself, the throwing away of the medals I once cherished was the cutting of the umbilical cord between myself and the government lies, such as, 'We are helping the people of Vietnam,' 'Our purpose is honorable,' the covering up, such as, 'We are not bombing Cambodia,' 'We are not murdering unarmed civilians,' 'We are not bombing hospitals,' the immorality, such as 'free fire zones,' where all life was fair game, to show the American people back home that we were winning the war by giving them a tool of measurement to judge, and that tool of measurement was the use of dead human beings -- it was called 'body count.'"
On August 31st the jury quickly acquitted all of the defendants. VVAW said at the time:
"The government needed, first of all, to defuse the anti-war issue in the 1972 presidential campaign. What better way to do this was there than by portraying a leading anti-war group as a bunch of vicious killers? With the public outcry caused by the Watergate scandal, a secondary purpose for the trial can be found: an attempt to partially divert attention away from the Watergate affair by fabricating a phony 'threat to national security.' James McCord specifically named VVAW/WSO as the chief villain in this 'threat to national security' and as a justification for their actions."
The Gainesville 8 were John Briggs, Scott Camil, Alton Foss, John Kniffin, Peter Mahoney, Stanley Michelson, William Patterson, and Don Perdue. All but Briggs were Vietnam veterans. Kniffin and Patterson are now deceased.
Four of the eight are gathering for a reunion in Gainesville this month: Peter Mahoney, Don Perdue, Alton Foss, and Scott Camil. Joining them are three of the lawyers who worked on the defense: Larry Turner, Nancy Stearns (Center for Constitutional Rights), and Brady Coleman (Texas National Lawyers Guild). Also coming are jurors from the trial: Donna Ing, and the husband of Jury Foreperson Lois Hensel who is now deceased. Plus members of the defense committee: Nancy Miller Saunders, Nancy Burnap, and Carol Gordon. And John Chambers who spent 40 days in jail for refusing to answer questions from the grand jury. And Richard Hudgens who was subpoenaed to the grand jury. The Oral History Department at the University of Florida will be doing interviews.
I went ahead and did my own interview of Scott Camil. "We came home from Vietnam," he said, "and saw that the government was not telling the truth about the war. We exercised the Constitutional rights that we fought to protect and tried to educate the public to the truth. The government came after us with a vengeance, trampling on our rights in an effort to silence and intimidate us. We stood up to the government and prevailed."
And what has happened since?
"Things have gotten much worse since then -- the illegal activities that brought down President Nixon are now legal. Then the press accepted its role as the 4th estate. Today the press has become a propaganda arm of the National Security State. Today the National Security State wipes its boots on the Constitution. And the public, rather than standing up for the Constitution, cowers and hides its head in the sand.
"Today's whistleblowers trying to educate the public to what is being done in our name with our tax money are under attack as we once were. I hope that they are able to prevail as we once did."
Cross-Posted from Mint Press News
Nearly two months ago, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden handed smoking-gun documents on the international surveillance apparatus to The Guardian andThe Washington Post in what’s become one of the most captivating stories in recent memory.
Wars exist because lies are told about past wars.
When President Obama escalated the war on Afghanistan, he revived virtually every known lie about the war on Iraq, from the initial WMD BS to the "surge." While Americans remain unfathomably ignorant about the destruction of Iraq, a majority says the war shouldn't have been fought. A majority says the same about the war on Afghanistan. This is, pretty wonderfully, impeding efforts toward a U.S. war on Syria or Iran.
The new wars were supposed to cure the Vietnam Syndrome -- that public reluctance to support mass murder for no good reason. The Pentagon is now turning to the source of the disease. The war in most need of beautification for Americans, the military has decided, is the war the Vietnamese call the American War.
Jody Williams' new book is called My Name Is Jody Williams: A Vermont Girl's Winding Path to the Nobel Peace Prize, and it's a remarkable story by a remarkable person. It's also a very well-told autobiography, including in the early childhood chapters in which there are few hints of the activism to come.
One could read this book and come away thinking "Anyone really could win the Nobel Peace Prize," if people in fact told their children they could do that instead of telling them they could be president, and if one was thinking of Nobel peace laureates as saintly beings. In a certain sense, of course, anyone can win the Nobel Peace Prize, as it's often given to good people who have nothing to do with peace, and at other times it's given to warmongers. To win the Nobel Peace Prize and deserve it, as Williams did -- that's another story. That requires, not saintliness, but activism.
Activism is usually 99% perspiration and the dedication that drives it, just like genius. But in the case of the Nobel Peace Prize, and of the sort of rapid success it honors when applied in accordance with Alfred Nobel's will, the perspiration is 49%. The other 50% is timing. The activists who recruited Williams to lead the campaign to ban landmines had the timing perfect. Williams tapped into something powerful. She orchestrated some initial successes, communicated the viability and importance of the project, worked night and day, and watched many other people, in many countries, throw themselves into the campaign in a manner that people only do when they believe something will dramatically and rapidly improve the world.
How does one pick the right issue at the right time? Following the example of the land mine campaign, one must pick a topic on which the rest of the world can do some good without the participation of the U.S. government, and in fact succeed despite fierce opposition from the U.S. government, and then drag the U.S. government along, kicking and screaming, once the rest of the world has moved forward.
What strikes me most about the first half or so of Williams' book is how hard we always make it for anyone who wants to work for a better world to find appropriate employment. We dump billions into recruiting young people into the military or into business careers. Imagine if young people had to find those paths on their own. Imagine if television ads and video games and movies and spectacles at big sporting events were all used to recruit young people into nonviolent activism for peace or justice. Williams and many others could have found their way more quickly.
Williams argued with her father over the U.S. war on Vietnam. He began to come around with the exposure of the Gulf of Tonkin incident as fictional, and with the looming threat of a son being drafted -- and no doubt also as a result of Williams' persuasiveness.
What got Williams into full-time paid activism, years later, was a flyer handed to her at a Washington, D.C., metro stop. The headline read: "El Salvador: Another Vietnam?" Eventually, Williams found herself engaged in activist work that "didn't feel like work." I take this to mean that for something to "feel like work" it needed to be a waste of time. Activism, of course, is not. Think about what sort of society we have constructed in which the norm is uselessness.
Finding activism does not, of course, mean finding an easy life. It means sacrifice and risk, but fulfilling sacrifice and risk. Williams risked death and injury in Central America and suffered, among other things, rape. Years later she publicly told that story before an audience of 2,000 as part of The Vagina Monologues. "I felt it was time to use the example to tell women they didn't have to let horrible experiences ruin their lives. I didn't let it ruin mine." She didn't let all sorts of other horrible experiences stop her either.
Once Williams had begun organizing the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), success began coming much more rapidly than she expected. Resistance grew right along with it. Landmines don't kill people, governments said, people kill people. The United States was the worst, proposing to use "smart landmines" that would switch off when wars ended, thus killing the right people but not the wrong ones, killing soldiers but not farmers and children. Williams recounts the way she cursed at and denounced a U.S. diplomat who was trying to persuade her of the merits of "smart landmines." Williams didn't find peace "in her heart" or in her personal interactions in order to advance peace in the world. She advanced peace in the world through passion, and through smart strategy. The people of the world were not prepared to get passionate about working for a ban on dumb landmines. A campaign to ban dumb landmines would have resulted in nothing at all.
Williams gave not an inch in response to then-President Bill Clinton's speeches against landmines, which accompanied his policy in fierce defense of landmines. "Soaring rhetoric does nothing to save lives," she remarked -- a piece of advice of potentially endless value to supporters of President Obama's speeches against his own policies.
Campaigns against landmines developed, with Williams' help, in many countries. In Italy, activists forced the issue into the media and moved the minister of defense to support a ban. They also convinced the trade unions whose members produced landmines for a living to support a ban. Williams participated in a long march to a factory town, where four women workers held up a banner that said "We will not feed our children by making landmines that kill other people's children." Imagine creating a culture in the United States in which people took that step in significant numbers! Maybe it's starting.
The ICBL combined diplomacy with activist pressure. At a meeting with government officials in Geneva, campaigners arranged to have the sound of a landmine explosion projected every 20 minutes, and a counter display the rising count of victims around the world (one every 20 minutes). Photos of victims were displayed. Ads and stickers were everywhere. In France and Austria, campaigners delivered piles of empty shoes to prominent locations. In some African nations, the ICBL helped develop an activist civil society where there hadn't been one.
Williams had to deal with all the usual divisions that arise in a movement. Some objected to the cost of meetings when money was needed for the "real work" of removing landmines. "They somehow managed to avoid understanding that, without the pressure generated by meetings, there would have been little interest in putting up money for mine clearance at all."
In 1996, Canada took the lead in proposing to sign a treaty banning landmines in 1997. Nation after nation committed. But the United States went to incredible lengths to try to sabotage the process. At a meeting in Oslo, activists arranged for diplomats to enter the building through a simulated mine field, and to confront landmine victims when they'd made it in. Pressure was building in the right direction, but "the degree and crudeness of U.S. bullying was hard to fathom."
Williams built momentum for a very clear demand: "no loopholes, no exceptions, and no reservations." But the United States strong-armed nations and just about turned Canada against its own initiative. The ICBL began calling Canada the 51st state. Props mocked Canada even as pro-ban Canadian diplomats passed by. "What the fuck is your government doing?" Williams demanded of a Canadian official. "You started all this! If Canada caves, we will publicly fry your foreign minister."
Then came the Nobel Peace Prize, and Williams famously calling President Clinton a weenie for refusing to support the ban. It was a peace prize that actually helped a movement, and a peace prize whose recipient responded appropriately, rededicating herself to peace.
Then came the treaty to ban landmines. Then came virtually complete compliance with it, including by the United States which has still not signed on.
In her Nobel speech, Williams said this was the first time the leaders of governments had heeded a public demand. That is, of course, not true. Exceptions include August 27, 1928, when the nations of the world banned war. But such an occurrence is very rare, and the question is how to make it happen again. Blinding laser weapons were banned in 1996, and cluster bombs in 2008.
There is a movement now forming to try to ban autonomous drones. There's a parallel there to landmines, if one thinks of both as killing without human discretion. Yet, the family visited by hellfire missiles simply will not care whether a human pressed the button. And the revulsion those living under the drones feel in particular toward unmanned airplanes hardly has room to expand should those drones become autonomous. Drone murders already look like murders, even to many Americans, in a way in which much killing in war does not. Why, I wonder, shouldn't the movement be to ban weaponized drones?
Or should the movement perhaps be to enforce the ban on war? Perhaps somehow partial movements against elements of war should begin advancing an understanding of total abolition along the way. A movement to ban military bases in foreign nations, for example, could be pursued with a fundamentally anti-war philosophy. In any case, we can certainly learn about the best way forward by picking up Williams' book and engaging in a little of that practice that President Obama so despises: looking backwards.
Harry Truman spoke in the U.S. Senate on June 23, 1941: "If we see that Germany is winning," he said, "we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible."
Did Truman value Japanese lives above Russian and German? There is nothing anywhere to suggest that he did. Yet we debate, every August 6th or so, whether Truman was willing to unnecessarily sacrifice Japanese lives in order to scare Russians with his nuclear bombs. He was willing; he was not willing; he was willing. Left out of this debate is the obvious possibility that killing as many Japanese as possible was among Truman's goals.
A U.S. Army poll in 1943 found that roughly half of all GIs believed it would be necessary to kill every Japanese person on earth. William Halsey, who commanded the United States' naval forces in the South Pacific during World War II, thought of his mission as "Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs," and had vowed that when the war was over, the Japanese language would be spoken only in hell. War correspondent Edgar L. Jones wrote in the February 1946 Atlantic Monthly, "What kind of war do civilians suppose we fought anyway? We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones into letter openers."
On August 6, 1945, President Truman announced: "Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British 'Grand Slam' which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare."Hiroshima was, of course, a city full of people, not an Army base. But those people were merely Japanese. Australian General Sir Thomas Blamey had told the New York Times: "Fighting Japs is not like fighting normal human beings. The Jap is a little barbarian…. We are not dealing with humans as we know them. We are dealing with something primitive. Our troops have the right view of the Japs. They regard them as vermin."
Some try to imagine that the bombs shortened the war and saved more lives than the some 200,000 they took away. And yet, weeks before the first bomb was dropped, on July 13, 1945, Japan sent a telegram to the Soviet Union expressing its desire to surrender and end the war. The United States had broken Japan's codes and read the telegram. Truman referred in his diary to "the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace." Truman had been informed through Swiss and Portuguese channels of Japanese peace overtures as early as three months before Hiroshima. Japan objected only to surrendering unconditionally and giving up its emperor, but the United States insisted on those terms until after the bombs fell, at which point it allowed Japan to keep its emperor.
Presidential advisor James Byrnes had told Truman that dropping the bombs would allow the United States to "dictate the terms of ending the war." Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal wrote in his diary that Byrnes was "most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in." Truman wrote in his diary that the Soviets were preparing to march against Japan and "Fini Japs when that comes about." Truman ordered the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6thand another type of bomb, a plutonium bomb, which the military also wanted to test and demonstrate, on Nagasaki on August 9th. Also on August 9th, the Soviets attacked the Japanese. During the next two weeks, the Soviets killed 84,000 Japanese while losing 12,000 of their own soldiers, and the United States continued bombing Japan with non-nuclear weapons. Then the Japanese surrendered.
The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that,"… certainly prior to 31 December, 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated." One dissenter who had expressed this same view to the Secretary of War prior to the bombings was General Dwight Eisenhower. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William D. Leahy agreed: "The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender."
Whatever dropping the bombs might possibly have contributed to ending the war, it is curious that the approach of threatening to drop them, the approach used during a half-century of Cold War to follow, was never tried. An explanation may perhaps be found in Truman's comments suggesting the motive of revenge:
"Having found the bomb we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, and against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international law of warfare."
Truman doesn't say he used the bomb to shorten the war or save lives. He says he used the bomb because he could. "Having found the bomb we have used it." And he provides as reasons for having used it three characteristics of the people murdered: they (or their government) attacked U.S. troops, they (or their government) brutalized U.S. prisoners, and they (or their government) -- and this is without any irony intended -- oppose international law.
Truman could not, incidentally, have chosen Tokyo as a target -- not because it was a city, but because we (or our government) had already reduced it to rubble.
The nuclear catastrophes may have been, not the ending of a World War, but the theatrical opening of the Cold War, aimed at sending a message to the Soviets. Many low and high ranking officials in the U.S. military, including commanders in chief, have been tempted to nuke more cities ever since, beginning with Truman threatening to nuke China in 1950. The myth developed, in fact, that Eisenhower's enthusiasm for nuking China led to the rapid conclusion of the Korean War. Belief in that myth led President Richard Nixon, decades later, to imagine he could end the Vietnam War by pretending to be crazy enough to use nuclear bombs. Even more disturbingly, he actually was crazy enough. "The nuclear bomb, does that bother you? … I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes," Nixon said to Henry Kissinger in discussing options for Vietnam.
I just want you to think, instead, about this poem:
by Sherwood Ross
I am the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto
A graduate of Emory College, Atlanta,
Pastor of the Methodist Church of Hiroshima
I was in a western suburb when the bomb struck
Like a sheet of sunlight.
Fearing for my wife and family
I ran back into the city
Where I saw hundreds and hundreds fleeing
Every one of them hurt in some way.
The eyebrows of some were burned off
Skin hung from their faces and hands
Some were vomiting as they walked
On some naked bodies the burns had made patterns
Of the shapes of flowers transferred
From their kimonos to human skin.
Almost all had their heads bowed
Looked straight ahead, were silent
And showed no expression whatever.
Under many houses I heard trapped people screaming
Crying for help but there were none to help
And the fire was coming.
I came to a young woman holding her dead baby
Who pleaded with me to find her husband
So he could see the baby one last time.
There was nothing I could do but humor her.
By accident I ran into my own wife
Both she and our child were alive and well.
For days I carried water and food to the wounded and the dying.
I apologized to them: "Forgive me," I said, "for not sharing your burden."
I am the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto
Pastor of the Methodist Church of Hiroshima
I was in a western suburb when the bomb struck
Like a sheet of sunlight.
Celebration of the Life of Quaker Bayard Rustin, organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
Friends Meeting of Washington
2111 Florida Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Sunday, August 25, 2013
2:00pm -- Quaker-style worship
3:00pm -- Light refreshments
3:30pm -- “Brother Outsider” film & panel discussion with filmmaker Bennett Singer (schedule permitting), Mandy Carter (National Coordinator Bayard Rustin 2013 Commemoration Project National Black Justice Coalition), David McReynolds (War Resisters League)
Sponsored by Friends Meeting of Washington Peace & Social Concerns Committee and endorsed by American Friends Service Committee and Friends Committee on National Legislation
Friends Meeting of Washington is just north of Dupont Circle Metro (Red Line)
For more information, contact Stephen McNeil, American Friends Service Committee:
firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-350-9305
By John Grant
Every generation occupies itself with interpreting Trickster anew.
As I head off to a rally for Trayvon Martin, I notice a column by Bob Koehler in which he says the unpaid work of slaves in the United States is now estimated at $1.4 trillion. Oddly, that's not terribly far from the $1.2 trillion or so, possibly more now, that we spend each year preparing for and fighting wars. If we abolished war we could perhaps afford to compensate descendants of those victimized by slavery. If we abolished prisons, we'd have at least another $100 billion. And, of course, we'd have all those savings again the next year and the next year and the next year.
By Robert C. Koehler, Tribune Media Services
How many years are we away from a national apology over slavery?
Wait, scratch that word, “apology.” Too late, not possible. The scope of the wrong was too great. Make that a national atonement — an owning up to the crime, a pause in the collective heartbeat, eye contact, prayer, remorse. And the question: What can we do to right matters?
Perhaps the time is no longer to be measured in generations.
Let’s begin with the names of the insured: Aaron, Abby, Abraham … Chloe, Congo, Courtney … all the sundry Jacks and Jims and Williams … Winney, Woodley, Woodson, Zach. Human beings with single names, like pets. Commodities, severed — for legal purposes — from their souls. No ties to a past, no depth of existence. Here, boy. They came when you whistled. They had a function. And they were worth money to their owners.