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“Dear Fredrik, Last Friday I went to an event organized by the Carnegie Corporation on the anniversary of the end of WWI. I was struck by how similar Andrew Carnegie’s ideas, as well as his philanthropy, were to Alfred Nobel’s. Do you know whether they were ever in contact? All best, Peter [Weiss].
“These are Peter’s questions: Why the similarities? Were Carnegie and Nobel ever in contact? And this is mine: Why is the connection so interesting – and consequential? –Fredrik S. Heffermehl.”
The above was the announcement of a contest at NobelWill.org that I just won with the following:
We do not know of, but also cannot exclude, a meeting face to face, or an exchange of letters, between Alfred Nobel and Andrew Carnegie that can explain how strikingly “similar Andrew Carnegie’s ideas, as well as his philanthropy, were to Alfred Nobel’s.” But the similarity is partially explained by the culture of the day. They were not the only tycoons to fund war abolition, just the wealthiest. It may be further explained by the fact that a primary influence on both of them in their peace philanthropy was the same person, a woman who met them both in person and was in fact very close friends with Nobel — Bertha von Suttner. Further, Nobel’s philanthropy came first and was itself an influence on Carnegie’s. Both offer fine examples for today’s super-rich — far richer, of course, than even Carnegie, but none of whom have put a dime into funding the elimination of war. They also offer excellent examples for the legally mandated operation of their own institutions which have strayed so far off course.
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) and Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) lived in an era with fewer super-wealthy individuals than today; and even Carnegie’s wealth did not match that of today’s wealthiest. But they gave away a higher percentage of their wealth than today’s wealthy have done. Carnegie gave away a higher amount, adjusted for inflation, than all but three living Americans (Gates, Buffett, and Soros) have thus far given.*
No one in the Forbes list of top 50 current philanthropists has funded an effort to abolish war. Nobel and Carnegie funded that project heavily while they lived, and engaged in promoting it apart from their financial contributions. Before they died, they arranged to leave behind them a legacy that would continue funding efforts to reduce and eliminate war from the world. Those legacies have done a great deal of good and have the potential to do a great deal more, and to succeed. But both have survived into an era that largely disbelieves in the possibility of peace, and both organizations have strayed far from their intended work, changing their missions to match the times, rather than resisting a militarization of culture by sticking to their legal and moral mandates.
What is interesting and consequential about the similarities between Nobel and Carnegie is the extent to which their philanthropy for peace was a product of their time. Both became engaged in peace activism, but both favored the abolition of war before becoming so engaged. That opinion was more common in their age than now. Philanthropy for peace was also more common, though usually not with the same scale and consequence that Nobel and Carnegie managed.
What is most interesting is that the consequences of what Nobel and Carnegie did remain to be determined, by the actions living people take to fulfill the promise of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as well as by the actions we take to pursue the peace agenda outside of those institutions, and perhaps by current philanthropists who might find ways to emulate these past examples. In 2010, Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates encouraged billionaires to donate half their wealth (not up to the Nobel-Carnegie standard, but still significant). Buffett described the first 81 billionaires’ signatures on their pledge as “81 Gospels of Wealth,” in tribute to “The Gospel of Wealth,” an article and book by Carnegie.
It would be hard to prove that Carnegie and Nobel never corresponded. We are dealing here with two prolific letter writers in an age of letter-writing, and two men whose letters we know have vanished from history in huge numbers. But I have read a number of biographical works of the two of them and of friends they had in common. Some of these books refer to both men in such a way that if the author knew them ever to have met or corresponded it certainly would have been mentioned. But this question may be a red herring. If Nobel and Carnegie came into contact with each other, it was clearly not extensive and certainly not what made them similar in attitudes toward peace and philanthropy. Nobel was a model for Carnegie, as his peace philanthropy preceded Carnegie’s in time. Both men were urged on by some of the same peace advocates, most importantly Bertha von Suttner. Both men were exceptional, but both lived in an era in which funding progress toward the elimination of warfare was something that was done, unlike today when it is something that just isn’t done — not even by the Nobel Committee or the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
One could list a hundred similarities and dissimilarities between Nobel and Carnegie. Some of the similarities that might have a slight bearing here include these. Both men had immigrated in their youth, Nobel from Sweden to Russia at age 9, Carnegie from Scotland to the United States at age 12. Both were sickly. Both had little formal schooling (not as rare back then). Both were longtime bachelors, Nobel for life, and Carnegie into his 50s. Both were lifelong travelers, cosmopolitans, and (particularly Nobel) loners. Carnegie wrote travel books. Both were writers of numerous genres with a wide array of interests and knowledge. Nobel wrote poetry. Carnegie did journalism, and even happened to remark of the power of news reporting that “Dynamite is child’s play compared to the press.” Dynamite was of course one of Nobel’s inventions, and also a product someone once used to try to blow up Carnegie’s house (something one historian I asked pointed to as the closest connection between the two men). Both were in part but not primarily war profiteers. Both were complex, contradictory, and certainly to some extent guilt ridden. Nobel tried to rationalize his manufacture of weapons with the thought that extreme enough weapons would persuade people to abandon war (a somewhat common idea up through the age of nuclear nations waging and losing numerous wars). Carnegie used armed force to suppress workers’ rights, had got his break running telegraphs for the U.S. government during the U.S. Civil War, and profited from World War I.
The argument that those who grow rich will know best what to do with their hoarded wealth is actually supported by the examples of Nobel and Carnegie, although they are in this regard — of course — exceptional cases rather than the rule. It is very hard to argue with the general thrust of what they did with their money, and the assignment that Carnegie left behind for his Endowment for Peace is something of a model of morality that puts any professor of ethics to shame. Carnegie’s money was to be spent on eliminating war, as the most evil institution in existence. But once war has been eliminated, the Endowment is to determine what the next most evil institution is, and begin working to eliminate that or to create the new institution that would do the most good. (Isn’t this what any ethical human being should be engaged in, whether paid for it or not?) Here’s the relevant passage:
“When civilized nations enter into such treaties as named or war is discarded as disgraceful to civilized men, as personal war (dueling) and man selling and buying (slavery) have been discarded within the wide boundaries of our English-speaking race, the trustees will please then consider what is the next most degrading remaining evil or evils, whose banishment — or what new elevating element or elements if introduced or fostered, or both combined — would most advance the progress, elevation and happiness of man, and so on from century to century without end, my trustees of each age shall determine how they can best aid man in the upward march to higher and higher stages of developments unceasingly, for now we know that as a law of his being man was created with the desire and capacity for improvement to which, perchance, there may be no limit short of perfection even here in this life upon earth.”
Here’s the key passage from the will of Alfred Nobel, which created five prizes including:
“one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Both Nobel and Carnegie found their way to opposing war through the general culture around them. Nobel was a fan of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Carnegie’s notion quoted above of progress in overcoming slavery, dueling, and other evils — with war to be added to the list — could be found in early U.S. abolitionists (of slavery and war) like Charles Sumner. Carnegie was a 1898 anti-imperialist. Nobel first raised the idea of ending war to Bertha von Suttner, not the other way around. But it was the relentless advocacy of von Suttner and others that moved the two men to engage as they did in what was a very top-down, respectable, not to say aristocratic peace movement that advanced through the recruitment of VIPs and the holding of conferences with high-level government officials, as opposed to marches, demonstrations, or protests by anonymous masses. Bertha von Suttner persuaded first Nobel and then Carnegie to fund her, her allies, and the movement as a whole.
Both Nobel and Carnegie viewed themselves as a bit heroic and viewed the world through that lens. Nobel established a prize for an individual leader, though it has not always been administered as intended (sometimes going to more than one person or to an organization). Carnegie similarly created a Hero Fund to fund, and to make the world aware of, heroes of peace, not war.
Both men, as cited above, left formal instructions for the continued use of their money for peace. Both intended to leave a legacy to the world, not just to their personal families, of which Nobel didn’t have any. In both cases the instructions have been grossly disregarded. The Nobel Peace Prize, as well detailed in the writings of Fredrik Heffermehl, has been awarded to many who have not fit the requirements, including some who have even favored war. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has openly rejected its mission of eliminating war, moved on to numerous other projects, and re-categorized itself as a think tank.
Of numerous individuals who reasonably might have been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize but have not been — a list that usually begins with Mohandas Gandhi — one nominee in 1913 was Andrew Carnegie, and the laureate in 1912 was Carnegie’s associate Elihu Root. Of course, mutual friend of Nobel and Carnegie, Bertha von Suttner received the prize in 1905 as did her associated Alfred Fried in 1911. Nicholas Murray Butler received the prize in 1931 for his work at the Carnegie Endowment, which included lobbying for the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. Frank Kellogg got the prize in 1929, and Aristide Briand already had in 1926. When U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt received the prize in 1906 it was Andrew Carnegie who persuaded him to make the trip to Norway to accept it. There are numerous connections of this sort that all came after Nobel’s death.
Bertha von Suttner, mother of the war abolition movement, became a major international figure with the publication of her novel Lay Down Your Arms in 1889. I don’t think it was false modesty but accurate assessment when she attributed the success of her book to a sentiment already spreading. “I think that when a book with a purpose is successful, this success does not depend on the effect it has on the spirit of the times but the other way around,” she said. In fact, both are certainly the case. Her book tapped into a growing sentiment and dramatically expanded it. The same can be said for the philanthropy (truly loving of people) of Nobel and Carnegie that she encouraged.
But the best laid plans can fail. Bertha von Suttner opposed one of the first nominees for the peace prize, Henri Dunant as a “war alleviator,” and when he received it, she promoted the view that he’d been honored for supporting the abolition of war rather than for his work with the Red Cross. In
1905 1906, as noted, the prize went to warmonger Teddy Roosevelt, and the year after to Louis Renault, causing von Suttner to remark that “even war could get the prize.” Eventually people like Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama would make the list of laureates. A prize meant to fund demilitarization work was awarded in 2012 to the European Union, which could fund demilitarization most easily by spending less money on weaponry.
It did not take long for Carnegie’s legacy to slip off track as well. In 1917 the Endowment for Peace backed U.S. involvement in World War I. After a second world war, the Endowment put leading warmonger John Foster Dulles on its board along with Dwight D. Eisenhower. The same institution that had backed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which bans all war, backed the UN Charter which legalizes wars that are either defensive or UN-authorized.
As the disregard of climate change in the 1970s and 1980s helped create today’s climate crisis, disregard of Nobel’s and Carnegie’s intentions and legal mandates in the early and mid-twentieth century helped create today’s world in which U.S. and NATO militarism are widely acceptable to those in power.
Jessica T. Mathews, current President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes: “The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is the oldest international affairs think tank in the United States. Founded by Andrew Carnegie with a gift of $10 million, its charter was to ‘hasten the abolition of war, the foulest blot upon our civilization.’ While that goal was always unattainable, the Carnegie Endowment has remained faithful to the mission of promoting peaceful engagement.”
That is, while denouncing without argument my required mission as impossible, I have remained faithful to that mission.
No. It doesn’t work that way. Here’s Peter van den Dungen:
“The peace movement was especially productive in the two decades preceding World War I when its agenda reached the highest levels of government as manifested, for instance, in the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907. A direct result of these unprecedented conferences – which followed an appeal (1898) by Tsar Nicholas II to halt the arms race, and to substitute war by peaceful arbitration – was the construction of the Peace Palace which opened its doors in 1913, and which celebrated its centenary in August 2013. Since 1946, it is of course the seat of the International Court of Justice of the UN. The world owes the Peace Palace to the munificence of Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American steel tycoon who became a pioneer of modern philanthropy and who was also an ardent opponent of war. Like no one else, he liberally endowed institutions devoted to the pursuit of world peace, most of which still exist today.
“Whereas the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice, guards its high mission to replace war by justice, Carnegie’s most generous legacy for peace, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), has explicitly turned away from its founder’s belief in the abolition of war, thereby depriving the peace movement of much-needed resources. This could partly explain why that movement has not grown into a mass movement which can exert effective pressure on governments. I believe it is important to reflect on this for a moment. In 1910 Carnegie, who was America’s most famous peace activist, and the world’s richest man, endowed his peace foundation with $10 million. In today’s money, this is the equivalent of $3.5 billion. Imagine what the peace movement – that is, the movement for the abolition of war – could do today if it had access to that kind of money, or even a fraction of it. Unfortunately, while Carnegie favoured advocacy and activism, the trustees of his Peace Endowment favoured research. As early as 1916, in the middle of the First World War, one of the trustees even suggested that the name of the institution should be changed to Carnegie Endowment for International Justice.”
I’m not sure any two economists calculate the value of inflation the same way. Whether $3.5 billion is the right number or not, it is orders of magnitude larger than anything funding peace today. And $10 million was only a fraction of what Carnegie put into peace through the funding of trusts, the building of buildings in DC and Costa Rica as well as the Hague, and the funding of individual activists and organizations for years and years. Imagining peace is difficult for some people, perhaps for all of us. Maybe imagining someone wealthy investing in peace would be a step in the right direction. Maybe it will help our thinking to know that it’s been done before.
*By some calculations some of the early robber barons were, in fact, wealthier than some of our current ones.
By Dave Lindorff
I’m going to say it: I am ashamed to be a US citizen. This doesn’t come easily, because having lived abroad and seen some pretty nasty places in my time, I know there are a lot of great things about this country, and a lot of great people who live here, but lately, I’ve reached the conclusion that the US is a sick and twisted country, in which the bad far outweighs the good.
By Dave Lindorff
I’m going to say it: I am ashamed to be a US citizen. This doesn’t come easily, because having lived abroad and seen some pretty nasty places in my time, I know there are a lot of great things about this country, and a lot of great people who live here, but lately, I’ve reached the conclusion that the US is a sick and twisted country, in which the bad far outweighs the good.
Go to war and every politician will thank you, and they’ll continue to do so -- with monuments and statues, war museums and military cemeteries -- long after you’re dead. But who thanks those who refused to fight, even in wars that most people later realized were tragic mistakes? Consider the 2003 invasion of Iraq, now widely recognized as igniting an ongoing disaster. America’s politicians still praise Iraq War veterans to the skies, but what senator has a kind word to say about the hundreds of thousands of protesters who marched and demonstrated before the invasion was even launched to try to stop our soldiers from risking their lives in the first place?
What brings all this to mind is an apparently heartening exception to the rule of celebrating war-makers and ignoring peacemakers. A European rather than an American example, it turns out to be not quite as simple as it first appears. Let me explain.
December 25th will be the 100th anniversary of the famous Christmas Truce of the First World War. You probably know the story: after five months of unparalleled industrial-scale slaughter, fighting on the Western Front came to a spontaneous halt. British and German soldiers stopped shooting at each other and emerged into the no-man’s-land between their muddy trenches in France and Belgium to exchange food and gifts.
That story -- burnished in recent years by books, songs, music videos, a feature film, and an opera -- is largely true. On Christmas Day, troops did indeed trade cigarettes, helmets, canned food, coat buttons, and souvenirs. They sang carols, barbecued a pig, posed for photographs together, and exchanged German beer for British rum. In several spots, men from the rival armies played soccer together. The ground was pocked with shell craters and proper balls were scarce, so the teams made use of tin cans or sandbags stuffed with straw instead. Officers up to the rank of colonel emerged from the trenches to greet their counterparts on the other side, and they, too, were photographed together. (Refusing to join the party, however, was 25-year-old Adolf Hitler, at the front with his German army unit. He thought the truce shocking and dishonorable.)
Unlike most unexpected outbreaks of peace, the anniversary of this one is being celebrated with extraordinary officially sanctioned fanfare. The British Council, funded in part by the government and invariably headed by a peer or knight, has helped distribute an “education pack” about the Truce to every primary and secondary school in the United Kingdom. It includes photos, eyewitness accounts, lesson plans, test questions, student worksheets, and vocabulary phrases in various languages, including “Meet us halfway,” “What are your trenches like?,” and “Can I take your picture?” The British post office has even issued a set of stamps commemorating the Christmas Truce.
An exhibit of documents, maps, uniforms, and other Truce-related memorabilia has been on display at city hall in Armentières, France. A commemorative youth soccer tournament with teams from Britain, Belgium, France, Austria, and Germany is taking place in Belgium this month. The local mayor and the British and German ambassadors were recently on hand for a soccer game at a newly dedicated “Flanders Peace Field.”
Volunteers from several countries will spend three days and two nights in freshly dug trenches reenacting the Truce. Professional actors, complete with period uniforms, carol-singing, and a soccer match, have already done the same in an elaborate video advertisement for a British supermarket chain. One of the judges for a children’s competition to design a Truce memorial is none other than Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.
What Won’t Be Commemorated
Given the rarity of peace celebrations of any sort, what’s made the Christmas Truce safe for royalty, mayors, and diplomats? Three things, I believe. First, this event -- remarkable, spontaneous, and genuinely moving as it was -- did not represent a challenge to the sovereignty of war. It was sanctioned by officers on the spot; it was short-lived (the full fury of shelling and machine gunning resumed within a day or two, and poison gas and flamethrowers soon added to the horror); and it was never repeated. It’s safe to celebrate because it threatened nothing. That supermarket video, for instance, advertises a commemorative chocolate bar whose sales proceeds go to the national veterans organization, the Royal British Legion.
Second, commemorating anything, even peace instead of war, is good business. Belgium alone expects two million visitors to former battle sites during the war’s four-and-a-half-year centenary period, and has now added one or two peace sites as visitor destinations. The country is putting $41 million in public funds into museums, exhibits, publicity, and other tourism infrastructure, beyond private investment in new hotel rooms, restaurants, and the like.
Finally, the Christmas Truce is tailor-made to be celebrated by professional soccer, now a huge industry. Top pro players earn $60 million or more a year. Two Spanish teams are each worth more than $3 billion. The former manager of Britain’s Manchester United team, Sir Alex Ferguson, even teaches at the Harvard Business School. Five of the world’s 10 most valuable teams, however, are in Britain, which helps account for that country’s special enthusiasm for these commemorations. The Duke of Cambridge is the official patron of the sport’s British governing body, the Football Association, the equivalent of our NFL. It has joined with the continent-wide Union of European Football Associations in promoting the Christmas Truce soccer tournament and other anniversary hoopla. That packet of material going to more than 30,000 British schools is titled “Football Remembers.”
While such sponsorship represents only a tiny percentage of the public relations budgets of these organizations, they have surely calculated that associating soccer with schoolchildren, Christmas, and a good-news historical event can’t hurt business. All industries keep a close eye on their public image, and soccer especially so at the moment, since in many parts of Europe audiences for it are declining as a barrage of other activities competes for people’s leisure time and spending.
For nearly four years, as we reach the centenary mark for one First World War milestone after another, there will be commemorations galore across Europe. But here’s one thing you can bank on: the Duke of Cambridge and other high dignitaries won’t be caught dead endorsing the anniversaries of far more subversive peace-related events to come.
For example, although soldiers from both sides on the Western Front mixed on that first Christmas of the war, the most extensive fraternization happened later in Russia. In early 1917, under the stress of catastrophic war losses, creaky, top-heavy imperial Russia finally collapsed and Tsar Nicholas II and his family were placed under house arrest. More than 300 years of rule by the Romanov dynasty was over.
The impact rippled through the Russian army. An American correspondent at the front watched through binoculars as Russian and German enlisted men met in no-man’s-land. Lack of a common language was no barrier: the Germans thrust their bayonets into the earth; the Russians blew across their open palms to show that the Tsar had been swept away. After November of that year, when the Bolsheviks -- committed to ending the war -- seized power, fraternization only increased. You can find many photographs of Russian and German soldiers posing together or even, in one case, dancing in couples in the snow. Generals on both sides were appalled.
And here are some people who won't be celebrated in “education packs” sent to schools, although they were crucial in helping bring the war to an end: deserters. An alarmed British military attaché in Russia estimated that at least a million Russian soldiers deserted their ill-fed, badly equipped army, most simply walking home to their villages. This lay behind the agreement that halted fighting on the Eastern Front long before it ended in the West.
In the final weeks of the war in the West, the German army began melting away, too. The desertions came not from the front lines but from the rear, where hundreds of thousands of soldiers either disappeared or evaded orders to go to the front. By early autumn 1918, the Berlin police chief estimated that more than 40,000 deserters were hiding in the German capital. No wonder the high command began peace negotiations.
Don’t hold your breath either waiting for official celebrations of the war’s mutinies. Nothing threatened the French army more than the most stunning of these, which broke out in the spring of 1917 following a massive attack hyped as the decisive blow that would win the war. Over several days, 30,000 French soldiers were killed and 100,000 wounded, all to gain a few meaningless miles of blood-soaked ground.
In the weeks that followed, hundreds of thousands of troops refused to advance further. One group even hijacked a train and tried to drive it to Paris, although most soldiers simply stayed in their camps or trenches and made clear that they would not take part in additional suicidal attacks. This “collective indiscipline,” as the generals euphemistically called it, was hushed up, but it paralyzed the army. French commanders dared launch no more major assaults that year. To this day, the subject remains so touchy that some archival documents on the mutinies remain closed to researchers until the 100th anniversary in 2017.
Parades for Whom?
From Bavaria to New Zealand, town squares across the world are adorned with memorials to local men “fallen” in 1914-1918, and statues and plaques honoring the war’s leading generals can be found from Edinburgh Castle to Pershing Square in Los Angeles. But virtually nothing similar celebrates those who served the cause of peace. The Polish-German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, who argued against the suppression of free speech both in the Kaiser’s Germany and in Soviet Russia, spent more than two years in a German prison for her opposition to the war. The eloquent British philosopher Bertrand Russell did six months’ time in a London jail for the same reason. The American labor leader Eugene V. Debs, imprisoned for urging resistance to the draft, was still in a federal penitentiary in Atlanta in 1920, two years after the war ended, when he received nearly a million votes as the Socialist Party candidate for president.
The French socialist Jean Jaurès spoke out passionately against the war he saw coming in 1914 and, due to this, was assassinated by a French militarist just four days before the fighting began. (The assassin was found innocent because his was labeled a “crime of passion.”) Against the opposition of their own governments, the pioneer social worker Jane Addams and other women helped organize a women’s peace conference in Holland in 1915 with delegates from both warring and neutral countries. And in every nation that took part in that terrible war, young men of military age -- thousands of them -- either went to jail or were shot for refusing to fight.
Jump half a century forward, and you’ll see exactly the same pattern of remembrance. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first official U.S. combat troops in Vietnam, and already a duel is shaping up between the thankers and those who want to honor the antiwar movement that helped end that senseless tragedy.
The Pentagon has already launched a $15 million official commemorative program whose purpose (does this sound familiar?) is “to thank and honor veterans of the Vietnam War... for their service and sacrifice.” Meanwhile, more than 1,000 people, many of us veterans of the U.S. military, the anti-war movement, or both, have signed a petition insisting that “no commemoration of the war in Vietnam can exclude the many thousands of veterans who opposed it, as well as the draft refusals of many thousands of young Americans, some at the cost of imprisonment or exile.”
A recent New York Times article covered the controversy. It mentioned that the Pentagon had been forced to make changes at its commemoration website after Nick Turse, writing at TomDispatch.com, pointed out, among other things, how grossly that site understated civilian deaths in the notorious My Lai massacre.
Perhaps when the next anniversary of the Iraq War comes around, it’s time to break with a tradition that makes ever less sense in our world. Next time, why not have parades to celebrate those who tried to prevent that grim, still ongoing conflict from starting? Of course, there’s an even better way to honor and thank veterans of the struggle for peace: don’t start more wars.
Adam Hochschild’s most recent book, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. During the Vietnam era, he was a U.S. Army Reservist and a founder of the Reservists Committee to Stop the War.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2014 Adam Hochschild
By David Swanson
As we read Ulysses on Bloomsday every June 16th (or we should if we don't) I think that every December 7th should not only commemorate the Great Law of 1682 that banned war in Pennsylvania but also mark Pearl Harbor, not by celebrating the state of permawar that has existed for 73 years, but by reading The Golden Age by Gore Vidal and marking with a certain Joycean irony the golden age of anti-isolationist imperial mass-killing that has encompassed the lives of every U.S. citizen under the age of 73.
Golden Age Day should include public readings of Vidal's novel and the glowing endorsements of it by the Washington Post, New York Times Book Review, and every other corporate paper in the year 2000, also known as the year 1 BWT (before the war on terra). Not a single one of those newspapers has ever, to my knowledge, printed a serious straightforward analysis of how President Franklin D. Roosevelt maneuvered the United States into World War II. Yet Vidal's novel -- presented as fiction, yet resting entirely on documented facts -- recounts the story with total honesty, and somehow the genre used or the author's pedigree or his literary skill or the length of the book (too many pages for senior editors to be bothered with) grants him a license to tell the truth.
Sure, some people have read The Golden Age and protested its impropriety, but it remains a respectable high-brow volume. I may be hurting the cause by openly writing about its content. The trick, which I highly recommend to all, is to give or recommend the book to others without telling them what's in it.
Despite a filmmaker being a main character in the book, it's not been made into a film, as far as I know -- but a widespread phenomenon of public readings could conceivably make that happen.
In The Golden Age, we follow along inside all the closed doors, as the British push for U.S. involvement in World War II, as President Roosevelt makes a commitment to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as the warmongers manipulate the Republican convention to make sure that both parties nominate candidates in 1940 ready to campaign on peace while planning war, as FDR longs to run for an unprecedented third term as a wartime president but must content himself with beginning a draft and campaigning as a drafttime president in a time of supposed national danger, and as FDR works to provoke Japan into attacking on his desired schedule.
The echoes are eerie. Roosevelt campaigns on peace ("except in case of attack"), like Wilson, like Johnson, like Nixon, like Obama, and like those members of Congress just reelected while blatantly and unconstitutionally refusing to stop or authorize the current war. Roosevelt, pre-election, puts in Henry Stimson as a war-eager Secretary of War not altogether unlike Ash Carter as a nominee for Secretary of "Defense."
Golden Age Day discussions might include some known facts of the matter:
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, as expected, quickly declared war on the United States.
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 had 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.
As of December 6, 1941, eighty percent of the U.S. public opposed entering a war. But 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 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: "It may be taken as almost certain that the entry of Japan into the war would be followed by the immediate entry of the United States on our side."
On August 18, 1941, Churchill met with his cabinet at 10 Downing Street. The meeting had some similarity to the July 23, 2002, meeting at the same address, the minutes of which became known as the Downing Street Minutes. Both meetings revealed secret U.S. intentions to go to war. In the 1941 meeting, Churchill told his cabinet, according to the minutes: "The President had said he would wage war but not declare it." In addition, "Everything was to be done to force an incident."
From the mid-1930s U.S. peace activists -- those people so annoyingly right about recent U.S. wars -- were marching against U.S. antagonization of Japan and U.S. Navy plans for war on 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 February 5, 1941, Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner wrote to Secretary of War Henry Stimson to warn of the possibility of a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor.
As early as 1932 the United States had been talking with China about providing airplanes, pilots, and training for its war with Japan. In November 1940, Roosevelt loaned China one hundred million dollars 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.
On December 21, 1940, China's Minister of Finance T.V. Soong and Colonel Claire Chennault, a retired U.S. Army flier who was working for the Chinese and had been urging them to use American pilots to bomb Tokyo since at least 1937, met in Henry Morgenthau's dining room to plan the firebombing of Japan. Morgenthau said he could get men released from duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps if the Chinese could pay them $1,000 per month. Soong agreed.
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.
By July, the Joint Army-Navy Board had approved a plan called JB 355 to firebomb Japan. A front corporation would buy American planes to be flown by American volunteers trained by Chennault and paid by another front group. Roosevelt approved, and his China expert Lauchlin Currie, in the words of Nicholson Baker, "wired Madame Chaing Kai-Shek and Claire Chennault a letter that fairly begged for interception by Japanese spies." Whether or not that was the entire point, this was the letter: "I am very happy to be able to report today the President directed that sixty-six bombers be made available to China this year with twenty-four to be delivered immediately. He also approved a Chinese pilot training program here. Details through normal channels. Warm regards."
The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force, also known as the Flying Tigers, moved ahead with recruitment and training immediately and were provided to China prior to Pearl Harbor.
On May 31, 1941, at the Keep America Out of War Congress, William Henry Chamberlin gave a dire warning: "A total economic boycott of Japan, the stoppage of oil shipments for instance, would push Japan into the arms of the Axis. Economic war would be a prelude to naval and military war."
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 after the war, called the embargoes a "clear and potent threat to Japan's very existence," and concluded the United States had provoked Japan.
On August 7, 1941, the Japan Times Advertiser wrote: "First there was the creation of a superbase at Singapore, heavily reinforced by British and Empire troops. From this hub a great wheel was built up and linked with American bases to form a great ring sweeping in a great area southwards and westwards from the Philippines through Malaya and Burma, with the link broken only in the Thailand peninsula. Now it is proposed to include the narrows in the encirclement, which proceeds to Rangoon."
By September the Japanese press was outraged that the United States had begun shipping oil right past Japan to reach Russia. Japan, its newspapers said, was dying a slow death from "economic war."
In late October, U.S. spy Edgar Mower was doing work for Colonel William Donovan who spied for Roosevelt. Mower spoke with a man in Manila named Ernest Johnson, a member of the Maritime Commission, who said he expected "The Japs will take Manila before I can get out." When Mower expressed surprise, Johnson replied "Didn't you know the Jap fleet has moved eastward, presumably to attack our fleet at Pearl Harbor?"
On November 3, 1941, the U.S. ambassador sent a lengthy telegram to the State Department warning that the economic sanctions might force Japan to commit "national hara-kiri." He wrote: "An armed conflict with the United States may come with dangerous and dramatic suddenness."
On November 15th, U.S. 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, which as far as I know they dutifully did.
Ten days later Secretary of War 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. It was through intercept of a so-called Purple code message that Roosevelt had discovered Germany's plans to invade Russia. It was Hull who leaked a Japanese intercept to the press, resulting in the November 30, 1941, headline "Japanese May Strike Over Weekend."
That next Monday would have been December 1st, six days before the attack actually came. "The question," Stimson wrote, "was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. It was a difficult proposition."
The day after the attack, Congress voted for war. Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin (R., Mont.) stood alone in voting no. One year after the vote, on December 8, 1942, Rankin put extended remarks into the Congressional Record explaining her opposition. She cited the work of a British propagandist who had argued in 1938 for using Japan to bring the United States into the war. She cited Henry Luce's reference in Life magazine on July 20, 1942, to "the Chinese for whom the U.S. had delivered the ultimatum that brought on Pearl Harbor." She introduced evidence that at the Atlantic Conference on August 12, 1941, Roosevelt had assured Churchill that the United States would bring economic pressure to bear on Japan. "I cited," Rankin later wrote, " the State Department Bulletin of December 20, 1941, which revealed that on September 3 a communication had been sent to Japan demanding that it accept the principle of 'nondisturbance of the status quo in the Pacific,' which amounted to demanding guarantees of the inviolateness of the white empires in the Orient."
Rankin found that the Economic Defense Board had gotten economic sanctions under way less than a week after the Atlantic Conference. On December 2, 1941, the New York Times had reported, in fact, that Japan had been "cut off from about 75 percent of her normal trade by the Allied blockade." Rankin also cited the statement of Lieutenant Clarence E. Dickinson, U.S.N., in the Saturday Evening Post of October 10, 1942, that on November 28, 1941, nine days before the attack, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., (he of the catchy slogan "Kill Japs! Kill Japs!" ) had given instructions to him and others to "shoot down anything we saw in the sky and to bomb anything we saw on the sea."
General George Marshall admitted as much to Congress in 1945: that the codes had been broken, that the United States had initiated Anglo-Dutch-American agreements for unified action against Japan and put them into effect before Pearl Harbor, and that the United States had provided officers of its military to China for combat duty before Pearl Harbor.
An October 1940 memorandum by Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum was acted on by President Roosevelt and his chief subordinates. It called for eight actions that McCollum predicted would lead the Japanese to attack, including arranging for the use of British bases in Singapore and for the use of Dutch bases in what is now Indonesia, aiding the Chinese government, sending a division of long-range heavy cruisers to the Philippines or Singapore, sending two divisions of submarines to "the Orient," keeping the main strength of the fleet in Hawaii, insisting that the Dutch deny the Japanese oil, and embargoing all trade with Japan in collaboration with the British Empire.
The day after McCollum's memo, the State Department told Americans to evacuate far eastern nations, and Roosevelt ordered the fleet kept in Hawaii over the strenuous objection of Admiral James O. Richardson who quoted the President as saying "Sooner or later the Japanese would commit an overt act against the United States and the nation would be willing to enter the war."
The message that Admiral Harold Stark sent to Admiral Husband Kimmel on November 28, 1941, read, "IF HOSTILITIES CANNOT REPEAT CANNOT BE AVOIDED THE UNITED STATES DESIRES THAT JAPAN COMMIT THE FIRST OVERT ACT."
Joseph Rochefort, cofounder of the Navy's communication intelligence section, who was instrumental in failing to communicate to Pearl Harbor what was coming, would later comment: "It was a pretty cheap price to pay for unifying the country."
The night after the attack, President Roosevelt had CBS News's Edward R. Murrow and Roosevelt's Coordinator of Information William Donovan over for dinner at the White House, and all the President wanted to know was whether the American people would now accept war. Donovan and Murrow assured him the people would indeed accept war now. Donovan later told his assistant that Roosevelt's surprise was not that of others around him, and that he, Roosevelt, welcomed the attack. Murrow was unable to sleep that night and was plagued for the rest of his life by what he called "the biggest story of my life" which he never told.
Have a Meaningful Golden Age Day!
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
Just days after attorneys representing Denton, Texas submitted their initial responses to two legal complaints filed against Denton — the first Texas city ever to ban hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") — environmental groups have filed an intervention petition. That is, a formal request to enter the two lawsuits filed against the city after its citizens voted to ban fracking on election day.
Denton Drilling Awareness Group and Earthworks are leading the intervention charge, represented by attorneys from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Earthjustice. The drilling awareness group runs the Frack Free Denton campaign.
No more grand juries: Coercive 13th Century Relics, They Serve the Political Interests of DAs, not Justice
By Dave Lindorff
In case people didn’t get it earlier, it’s time to recognize that the ancient institution of the grand jury has outlived its usefulness, and should be eliminated, as its only real purpose today is to give prosecutors political cover and an added cudgel with which to intimidate witnesses.
By Linn Washington Jr.
When discredited Missouri prosecutor Robert P. McColloch recently defended his calculated manipulation of a grand jury which led jurors to free the policeman who fatally shot Michael Brown last summer, McColloch declared piously that eyewitness accounts must “always match physical evidence.”
McColloch, however, did not apply that ‘always match’ standard in the case of Antonio Beaver, a St. Louis man wrongfully convicted by in 1997 of a violent carjacking case tried by McColloch.
President Obama, who is just now un-ending again the ending of the endless war on Afghanistan, has never made a secret of taking direction from the military, CIA, and NSA. He's escalated wars that generals had publicly insisted he escalate. He's committed to not prosecuting torturers after seven former heads of the CIA publicly told him not to. He's gone after whistleblowers with a vengeance and is struggling to keep this Bush-era torture report, or parts of it, secret in a manner that should confuse his partisan supporters.
But the depth of elected officials' obedience to a permanent war machine is usually a topic avoided in polite company -- usually, not always. Back in 2011, the dean of the law school at UC Berkeley, a member of Obama's transition team in 2009, said publicly that Obama had decided in 2009 to block prosecutions of Bush-era criminals in part because the CIA, NSA, and military would revolt. Ray McGovern says he has a trustworthy witness to Obama saying he would leave the crimes unpunished because, in Obama's words, "Don't you remember what happened to Martin Luther King?" Neither of those incidents has interested major media outlets in the slightest.
As we pass the 51st anniversary of the murder of President John F. Kennedy, many of us are urging Senator Mark Udall to make the torture report public by placing it into the Congressional Record, as Senator Mike Gravel did with the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Gravel is alive and well, and there's every reason to believe that Udall would go on to live many years deeply appreciated for his action. But there is -- let us be honest for a moment -- a reason Udall might hesitate that we don't want to speak about.
The general thinking is that because Udall's term ends this month, he doesn't have to please those who fund his election campaigns through the U.S. system of legalized bribery, and he doesn't have to please his fellow corrupt senators because he won't be working with them any longer. Both of those points may be false. Udall may intend to run for the Senate again, or -- like most senators, I suspect -- he may secretly plan on running for president some day. And the big payoffs for elected officials who work to please plutocracy always come after they leave office. But there is another consideration. The need to please the permanent war machine ends only when one is willing to die for something -- what Dr. King said one must be willing to do to have a life worth living -- not when one leaves office.
Presidents and Congress members send large numbers of people to risk their lives murdering much larger numbers of people in wars all the time. They have taken on jobs -- particularly the presidency -- in which they know they will be in danger no matter what they do. And yet everyone in Washington knows (and no one says) that making an enemy of the CIA is just not done and has not been done since the last man to do it died in a convertible in Dallas. We've seen progressive members of Congress like Dennis Kucinich leave without putting crucial documents that they thought should be public into the Congressional Record. Any member of Congress, newly reelected or not, could give the public the torture report. A group of 10 of them could do it collectively for the good of humanity. But nobody thinks they will. Challenging a president who does not challenge the CIA is just not something that's done.
To understand why, I recommend reading Jim Douglass' book JFK and the Unspeakable. Douglass is currently writing about three other murders, those of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy. Distant history? Something that doesn't happen anymore? Perhaps, but is that because we've run out of lone nuts with guns? Clearly not. Is it because the permanent war machine has stopped killing its enemies? Or is it, rather, because no one has presented the same challenge to the permanent war machine that those people did? Peace voices are no longer allowed in the U.S. media. Both political parties favor widespread war. War has become a matter of routine. Enforcement has become unnecessary, because the threat, or other influences that align with it, has been so successful.
I recommend checking out ProjectUnspeakable.com, the website of a play by Court Dorsey that recounts the killing of JFK, Malcolm, Martin, and RFK. (Or check out a performance in Harlem planned for February 21.)
The play consists almost entirely of actual quotes by public figures. While no attempt is made, of course, at including a comprehensive collection of information, enough evidence is included in the play to completely erase belief in the official stories of how those four men died. And evidence is included showing who actually killed them, how, and why.
As if that weren't enough to persuade the viewer that our society is mentally blocking out something uncomfortable, the glaring obviousness of what happened in those years of assassinations is highlighted. President Kennedy was publicly asked if he might be murdered exactly as he was, and he publicly replied that it could certainly happen. His brother discussed the likelihood of it with Khrushchev for godsake. The killing of Malcolm X was not the war machine's first attempt on his life. He and King both saw what was coming quite clearly and said so. Bobby Kennedy knew too, did not believe the official account of his brother's murder. King's family rejects the claim that James Earl Ray killed MLK, pointing instead to the CIA killer shown in the photographs of the assassination but never questioned as a witness. A jury has unanimously agreed with King's family against the government and the history books.
The attention to President Kennedy has always been so intense that fear and suppression have been required. The doctors said he was shot from the front. Everyone agreed there were more bullets shot than left the gun of the official suspect, who was positioned behind the target. But investigators and witnesses have died in very suspect circumstances. The other deaths have not been in exactly the same glaring spotlight. New evidence in the killing of Robert Kennedy emerges every few years and is chatted about as a curiosity for a moment before simply being ignored. After all, the man is dead.
Let's try an analogy. I live in Charlottesville, Va., where the University of Virginia is. This week, Rolling Stone published an article about violent gang rapes of female students in a fraternity house. I had known that rape victims are often reluctant to come forward. I had known that rape can be a hard charge to prove. But I had also known that young women sometimes regret sex and falsely accuse nonviolent well-meaning young men of rape, and that UVA held rallies against date rape, and that opposition to sexual assault and harassment was all over the news and widely accepted as the proper progressive position. With California passing a law to clarify what consent is, I had assumed everyone knew violent assault had nothing to do with consent. I had assumed brutal gang attacks by students who are expelled if they cheat on a test or write a bad check could not go unknown. And now it seems there's something of a widely known unspoken epidemic. In the analysis of the Rolling Stone article, women deny rape goes on to shield themselves from the fear, while men deny it in order to shield themselves from any discomfort about their party-going fun-loving carelessness. And yet some significant number of students knew and stayed silent until one brave victim spoke, just as every whistleblower in Washington exists alongside thousands of people who keep their mouths shut.
What if someone in Washington were to speak? What if the unspeakable were made speakable?
By John Grant
By Linn Washington Jr.
Repeated lies and law-breaking forced the 1974 resignation of then U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, leading to Nixon’s subsequent, and continued inclusion on the list of the "Worst Presidents" in American history.
By Nu’man Abd al-Wahid
Whether one is critical of the alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States or in favour of the so-called "Special Relationship" it is perceived to be an amicable, natural and trans-historical partnership between two nations who share the same language and whose global interests are more or less the same. Over the last fifteen years these two nations assumed the lead in their continuing support of the colonialist state of Israel and waging war on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and calling for more military intervention in Syria and Iran. So it is no surprise that many find it hard to accept that this alliance is a recent advent rooted in geo-political exigencies of the historical moment at hand. British imperialism was animus, if not outright antithetical, in the first 150 years of the Republic.
Writing, if not gloating, in the midst of the American civil war in the nineteenth century, the future British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (a.k.a. Robert Cecil) heralded not only the end of the United States of America but democracy itself or as he referred to it the "evil of universal suffrage." American democracy and the vaunted republic he gleefully boasted were not only a failed experiment and a busted flush but the "most ignominious failure the world had ever seen." It had become, in our esteemed Lord's eyes, what today would be referred to derogatively and pejoratively, as a 'failed state'.
The main reason for this inevitable failure according to Cecil was that the United States had rejected and overthrown its natural leaders, i.e. the British establishment. As such they are now richly "reaping a harvest that was sown as far back as the time of Jefferson." The Americans had substituted genuine leadership for a dreamer's theory (the works of Thomas Jefferson) and more so, in the present climate, Abraham Lincoln was an "ass", an incompetent and "the most conspicuous cause of the present calamities."
Another British Minister, William Gladstone too had little time for Lincoln and came out in support of the Southern Confederacy. The Gladstone family had become wealthy largely owing to the family's slave camps in Jamaica and William's maiden speech in parliament was a defence of the family business which arose from the slave trading port of Liverpool. Although William Gladstone represented constituents in the family's native parliamentary seat of Midlothian, Scotland, his father had represented Liverpool in Parliament.
Prof. Boyle may be wrong, but he may be right: With a Government this Vile and This Secretive We Need to Ask Questions
By Dave Lindorff
A few days ago, I published a short story linking to a PRN.fm radio interview PRN.fm radio interview I did with noted international law attorney Francis Boyle, whom I pointed out was a drafter of the US Biological Weapons and Anti-Terrorism Act passed into law in 1981, which supposedly barred the United States from continuing to keep or to develop new germ warfare weapons.
Boyle told me, on last Wednesday’s radio program “This Can’t Be Happening!,” that he believes the Zaire Ebola strain that is wracking Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in west Africa, originally came from one of several BSL4-level bio-research labs operated in those countries and funded by a combination of the Center for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health and the US Defense Department, perhaps because of testing of Ebola being conducted there, or because of some containment breach.
According to a book by George Williston called This Tribe of Mine: A Story of Anglo Saxon Viking Culture in America, the United States wages eternal war because of its cultural roots in the Germanic tribes that invaded, conquered, ethnically cleansed, or -- if you prefer -- liberated England before moving on to the slaughter of the Native Americans and then the Filipinos and Vietnamese and on down to the Iraqis. War advocate, former senator, and current presidential hopeful Jim Webb himself blames Scots-Irish American culture.
But most of medieval and ancient Europe engaged in war. How did Europe end up less violent than a place made violent by Europe? Williston points out that England spends dramatically less per capita on war than the United States does, yet he blames U.S. warmaking on English roots. And, of course, Scotland and Ireland are even further from U.S. militarism despite being closer to England and presumably to Scots-Irishness.
"We view the world through Viking eyes," writes Williston, "viewing those cultures that do not hoard wealth in the same fashion or make fine iron weapons as child-like and ripe for exploitation." Williston describes the passage of this culture down to us through the pilgrims, who came to Massachusetts and began killing -- and, quite frequently, beheading -- those less violent, acquisitive, or competitive than they.
Germans and French demonstrated greater respect for native peoples, Williston claims. But is that true? Including in Africa? Including in Auschwitz? Williston goes on to describe the United States taking over Spanish colonialism in the Philippines and French colonialism in Vietnam, without worrying too much about how Spain and France got there.
I'm convinced that a culture that favors war is necessary but not sufficient to make a population as warlike as the United States is now. All sorts of circumstances and opportunities are also necessary. And the culture is constantly evolving. Perhaps Williston would agree with me. His book doesn't make a clear argument and could really have been reduced to an essay if he'd left out the religion, the biology metaphors, the experiments proving telepathy or prayer, the long quotes of others, etc. Regardless, I think it's important to be clear that we can't blame our culture in the way that some choose to blame our genes. We have to blame the U.S. government, identify ourselves with humanity rather than a tribe, and work to abolish warmaking.
In this regard, it can only help that people like Williston and Webb are asking what's wrong with U.S. culture. It can be shocking to an Israeli to learn that their day of independence is referred to by Palestinians as The Catastrophe (Nakba), and to learn why. Similarly, many U.S. school children might be startled to know that some native Americans referred to George Washington as The Destroyer of Villages (Caunotaucarius). It can be difficult to appreciate how peaceful native Americans were, how many tribes did not wage war, and how many waged war in a manner more properly thought of as "war games" considering the minimal level of killing. As Williston points out, there was nothing in the Americas to compare with the Hundred Years War or the Thirty Years War or any of the endless string of wars in Europe -- which of course are themselves significantly removed in level of killing from wars of more recent years.
Williston describes various cooperative and peaceful cultures: the Hopi, the Kogi, the Amish, the Ladakh. Indeed, we should be looking for inspiration wherever we can find it. But we shouldn't imagine that changing our cultural practices in our homes will stop the Pentagon being the Pentagon. Telepathy and prayer are as likely to work out as levitating the Pentagon in protest. What we need is a culture dedicated to the vigorous nonviolent pursuit of the abolition of war.
By Robert C. Koehler
“When somebody asks, ‘Why do you do it to a gook, why do you do this to people?’ your answer is, ‘So what, they’re just gooks, they’re not people. It doesn’t make any difference what you do to them; they’re not human.’
“And this thing is built into you,” Cpl. John Geymann testified almost 44 years ago at the Winter Soldier Investigation, held in Detroit, which was sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. “It’s thrust into your head from the moment you wake up in boot camp to the moment you wake up when you’re a civilian.”
The cornerstone of war is dehumanization. This was the lesson of Nam, from Operation Ranch Hand (the dumping of 18 million gallons of herbicides, including Agent Orange, on the jungles of Vietnam) to My Lai to the use of napalm to the bombing of Cambodia. And the Winter Soldier Investigation began making the dehumanization process a matter of public knowledge.
It was a stunning and groundbreaking moment in the history of war. Yet — guess what? — the three-day hearing, in which 109 Vietnam veterans and 16 civilians testified about the reality of American operations in Vietnam, doesn’t show up on the “interactive timeline” of the Department of Defense-sponsored website commemorating, as per President Obama’s proclamation, the 50-year anniversary of the war.
This is no surprise, of course. The awkwardly unstated, cowardly point of the site, as well as the presidential proclamation — “they pushed through jungles and rice paddies, heat and monsoon, fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans” — is to “nice-ify” the ghastly war, wipe off the slime, return public consciousness to a state of unquestioning adoration of all U.S. military operations and banish “Vietnam Syndrome” from the national identity.
So what if somewhere between 2 and 3 million Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians were killed in it, along with 58,000 American soldiers (with, by some measures, a far greater number of vets committing suicide afterward)? A bad war is nothing but trouble for those who want to wage the next one. It took a generation of retooling before the military-industrial economy was able to launch the war on terror, which itself no longer has massive public support. Maybe restoring Vietnam to a state of false glory is part of a larger plan to make the American public proud of all its wars and, thus, more compliant about the idea (and the reality) of permanent war.
The Vietnam War Commemoration website is generating serious pushback, such as the Veterans for Peace “full disclosure” campaign; and a petition, signed by such iconic antiwar activists as Tom Hayden and Daniel Ellsberg, demanding that the tidal wave of protests against the war in the ’60s and ’70s be included as part of the war’s legacy. I agree, of course, but hasten to add that there’s far more at stake here than the accuracy of the historical record.
As long-time journalist and Middle East scholar Phyllis Bennis told the New York Times, “You can’t separate this effort to justify the terrible wars of 50 years ago from the terrible wars of today.”
I repeat: The cornerstone of every war is the dehumanization, a terrifying process with long-lasting and infinitely unfolding consequences. And the Vietnam War was the first in which the full horror of this process, stripped of all glory and pseudo-necessity, reached significant public awareness.
The website’s effort to undo this awareness is pathetic. In an early version of the timeline, for instance, the My Lai massacre was dismissed as an “incident.” Public objection forced the website to bite the bullet and acknowledge, in its March 16, 1968 listing: “Americal Division kills hundreds of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai.”
Ho hum. It was still a good war, right? My Lai was just an aberration. A scapegoat was arrested, tried, convicted . . .
But as the vets’ Winter Soldier testimony and numerous books and articles make horrifically clear, My Lai was not an aberration but situation normal: “They’re just gooks, they’re not people.”
As Nick Turse and Deborah Nelson pointed out in a 2006 article in the Los Angeles Times (“Civilian Killings Went Unpunished”), based on the examination of declassified Army files: “Abuses were not confined to a few rogue units, a Times review of the files found. They were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam.” The documents substantiated 320 incidents of torture, abuse or mass murder of Vietnamese civilians, with many hundreds more reported but not substantiated, they wrote.
The article describes in detail a number of incidents of wanton killing of Vietnamese civilians and includes a letter an anonymous sergeant sent to Gen. William Westmoreland in 1970, which “described widespread, unreported killings of civilians by members of the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta — and blamed pressure from superiors to generate high body counts.”
The letter stated: “A batalion [sic] would kill maybe 15 to 20 [civilians] a day. With 4 batalions in the brigade that would be maybe 40 to 50 a day or 1200 to 1500 a month, easy. If I am only 10% right, and believe me it’s lots more, then I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay [sic] each month for over a year.”
And there’s so much more. Some of the testimony is unbearably gruesome, such as Sgt. Joe Bangert’s testimony at the Winter Soldier Investigation:
“You can check with the Marines who have been to Vietnam — your last day in the States at staging battalion at Camp Pendleton you have a little lesson and it’s called the rabbit lesson, where the staff NCO comes out and he has a rabbit and he’s talking to you about escape and evasion and survival in the jungle. He has this rabbit and then in a couple of seconds after just about everyone falls in love with it — not falls in love with it, but, you know, they’re humane there — he cracks it in the neck, skins it, disembowels it. he does this to the rabbit — and then they throw the guts out into the audience. You can get anything out of that you want, but that’s your last lesson you catch in the United States before you leave for Vietnam where they take that rabbit and they kill it, and they skin it, and they play with its organs as if it’s trash and they throw the organs all over the place and then these guys are put on the plane the next day and sent to Vietnam.”
This much is perfectly clear: American soldiers were pressured from above, indeed, trained and ordered, to treat the “enemy” – including civilians, including children – as subhuman. All the carnage that followed was predictable. And as the morally injured vets who home from Iraq and Afghanistan keep letting us know, it’s still the way we go to war.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
© 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.
By John Grant
I saw the masked men
Throwing truth into a well.
When I began to weep for it
I found it everywhere.
By John Grant
I’m a leftist, but I have a weakness for my brothers and sisters on the right. For some reason, I’m compelled to see what troglodytes like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly are thinking. They’re all quite entertaining as they do their best to un-man Barack Obama and advocate day-in, day-out for a war with Islam. They are masters of malicious fog.
Then there’s a writer like New York Times columnist David Brooks, a man who must sit around observing current events until he figures out a safe, center-right position he can express in the most reasonable, muddled language possible. Reading David Brooks is like trying to get a grip on jello.
As the United States’ armchair warriors sit in their comfortable homes and offices and decide on which country it is time to invade, attack or bomb, little consideration is given to those that must carry out their decisions. Sound bites for the evening news are far more important that human suffering.
Libeling a movement and its activists: Accusing Hong Kong Activists of Being Tools of US Policy is Both Ignorant and Dangerous
By Dave Lindorff
A number of progressive and left-leaning writers in the US have jumped on a report by Wikileaks that the neo-con dominated National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and various other US-government linked organizations with a history of subversion and sowing discord abroad are operating in Hong Kong to make the leap of “logic” that the democracy protests in Hong Kong must therefore be a creation of US policy-makers.
By John Grant
Ain’t no time to wonder why.
Whoopee, we’re all gonna die.
- Country Joe MacDonald
Freedom’s just another word: US Launches Wars and Backs Coups in the Name of Democracy, but Won’t Back Real Democracy Activists
By Dave Lindorff
The US claims to be supporting democracy from Ukraine to Cuba, and from Somalia to Iraq, often by bombing the alleged opposition, or by supporting proxy wars and subversion. But one place where real democracy activists are battling against the forces of repression they are curiously getting no backing from the United States: Hong Kong.
By Elliott Adams
On the surface, The Nuremberg Tribunals were a court assembled by the victors which prosecuted the losers. It is also true Axis war criminals were tried though Allied war criminals were not. But there was a greater concern at the time about stopping wars of aggression than prosecuting individual war criminals, since no one thought the world could survive one more world war. The intent was not retribution but to find a new way forward. The Tribunal in its Judgment said “Crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced."
Nuremberg was starkly different from the typical case of victor's justice of the time. With Nuremberg the victors turned away from the accepted vindictive punishment of the vanquished. The motivation to punish those who started a war which killed seventy two million, including sixty one million on the victor's side, was immense. Justice Robert Jackson, US Supreme Court Justice and the main architect of the Nuremberg Tribunals, said in the opening statement of the Tribunals "The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated." Stalin proposed a suitable deterrent would be executing the top 50,000 living German leaders. Given the wanton killing on the Eastern Front experienced by the Russians, it is easy to understand how he considered this to be appropriate. Churchill countered that executing the top 5,000 would be enough blood to assure it would not happen again.
The victorious powers instead set a new path, one of criminal trials, the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals. Justice Jackson declared "That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason."
Acknowledged as imperfect, Nuremberg was an effort to establish the rule of law to deal with sociopathic and despotic leaders and their followers who would start wars of aggression. "This Tribunal, while it is novel and experimental, represents the practical effort of four of the most mighty of nations, with the support of seventeen more, to utilize international law to meet the greatest menace of our times - aggressive war." said Jackson. The experiment provided that each defendant be indicted, have the right to a defense before a court, similar to a civilian court. And there seems to have been some level of justice since some were found completely innocent, some were only found guilty of some charges and most were not executed. Whether this was just a victor's court dressed up in fancy trappings of justice or the first faulting steps of a new way forward would depend on what happened in the years after, even what happens now. Some of what is accepted as normal today comes to us from Nuremberg like the terms war crimes, crimes against humanity
Jackson said "We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well." They knew they were only writing the first part of the story of Nuremberg and that others would write the ending. We can answer this question about victor's justice by looking just at 1946. Or we can take a broader perspective and answer it in terms of today and of the future, in terms of the long term results from Nuremberg.
Whether it was justice only for the benefit of the victors is our challenge. Will we let international law be a tool only for the powerful? Or will we use Nuremberg as a tool for "Reason over Power"? If we let the Nuremberg Principles be used only against the enemies of the powerful it will have been victor's justice and we will be "putting the poisoned chalice to our own lips." If instead we, we the people, work, demand and, succeed in holding our own high criminals and government up to these same laws it will not have been a victor's court. Justice Jackson's words are an important guide today, "The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils."
Going back to the original question - Were the Nuremberg Tribunals only victor's justice? - that depends on us - that depends on you. Will we prosecute our own high war criminals? Will we respect and use the obligations of Nuremberg to oppose our government's crimes against humanity and crimes against peace?
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Elliott Adams was a solider, a politician, a businessman; now he works for peace. His interest in international law grew out of his experience in war, in places of conflict like Gaza, and being on trial for peace activism.
In 1969, at the height of the U.S. war against Vietnam, Edwin Starr recorded a song called ‘War’, that reached number one on the charts. Among the lyrics are these:
War: What is it good for?
Much as one would like to believe these simple lyrics, there are facts that belie them. In a report from the Financial Times from March of 2013, it is stated that private contractors earned at least a whopping $139 billion dollars from the U.S. war against Iraq up to that time, and that total is ever increasing. Kellogg, Brown and Root, a former subsidiary of Haliburton, the company once run by former Vice President Dick Cheney, the architect of this war, earned nearly $40 billion.
By Linn Washington
Two acts of ugly terrorism occurred in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963.
One act was widely abhorred. The other act ignored.
Many across America know about the 9/15/63 Birmingham murders of four little girls slain in the bombing of a black Baptist church 18-days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his stirring “I Have A Dream” speech.
By Dave Lindorff
The separatist rebels of eastern Ukraine and the government in Kiev that controls the Ukrainian army have reached a cease-fire in place that leaves the separatists largely in control of the Russian-majority regions of the eastern part of that country.
By John Grant
I just thank God I’m out of this place.
- Henry Lee McCollum
First there was Ferguson, Missouri and the gunning down of an unarmed black youth and the ad-nauseum follow-up emphasizing over-and-over the shooting officer’s fear. Now it’s the release of two half brothers in North Carolina clearly railroaded into convictions and death sentences by a notoriously remorseless, good-'ol-boy district attorney.