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In 2006, with U.S. troops occupying Iraq, the great historian and humanitarian Howard Zinn expressed his desire for what the end of the war would bring: “My hope is that the memory of death and disgrace will be so intense that the people of the United States will be able to listen to a message that the rest of the world, sobered by wars without end, can also understand: that war itself is the enemy of the human race.”
At least in a formal sense, our country’s memories of war are to be found in school history textbooks. Exactly a decade after the U.S. invasion, those texts are indeed sending “messages” to young people about the meaning of the U.S. war in Iraq. But they are not the messages of peace that Howard Zinn proposed. Not even close.
Let me offer as Exhibit A the textbook adopted for global studies classes in Portland, Oregon, the district where I spent my career as a social studies teacher, and which is used in countless school districts across the country: Holt McDougal’s Modern World History.
The section in Modern World History on the U.S. war with Iraq might as well have been written by Pentagon propagandists. In an imitation of Fox News, the very first sentence of the Iraq war section places the 9/11 attacks and Saddam Hussein side by side. The book presents the march to invasion as reasonable and inevitable, while acknowledging: “Some countries, such as France and Germany, called for letting the inspectors continue searching for weapons.” That’s the only hint of any anti-war sentiment. In fact, there was enormous popular opposition to the war, culminating on Feb. 15, 2003, a date that saw millions of people around the world demand that the United States not invade Iraq—if you’re keeping track, the largest protest in human history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. This, of course, is a pattern in corporate textbooks: Conflate governments with the people; ignore social movements.
Just as textbooks fail to begin the story of the Vietnam War in the 1940s (or before), so that students might have some context to evaluate later U.S. military intervention, today’s textbooks similarly ignore an earlier U.S. relationship with Iraq. For example, Modern World History says nothing about the role of the United States in aiding the Ba’ath party and Saddam Hussein for years, as they crushed all opposition and later waged war against Iran—a history summarized in a recent article by Iraqi sociologist Sami Ramadani, who fled Saddam Hussein’s repression in 1969. As Ramadani writes, “But when it was no longer in their interests to back him, the U.S. and U.K. drowned Iraq in blood.”
The official title of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Modern World History uses this term without any discussion of the “freedom” that this invasion might offer. The section ends with the terse conclusion that “the coalition had won the war.” And what about that supposed freedom? Silence.
By John Grant
Sean Hannity grinned and seemed to bounce up and down like he was plugged into an electric socket as he ripped into Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president who had just succumbed to cancer. Hannity was joined in his death gloat by Michelle Malkin, one of the more delightfully odious voices on the far right.
By John Grant
"The experience we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is thus a lie -- the truth lies rather outside, in what we do."
-- Slavoj Zizek
Class War Films, the brainchild of three filmmakers, Lanny Cotler, and Paul and Jason Edwards, have offered to provide ThisCantBeHappening! with occasional short videos on topics like this, military spending, political fraud, financial crime, etc. They are working on creating a website, which will be called ClassWarriors.org, which should be functioning "soon" we are informed.
We're happy here at TCBH! to be able to help get their films out to a wider public.
By Dave Lindorff
I’m fed up with the trashing of the Baby Boom generation.
Sure you can find plenty of scoundrels, freeloaders, charlatans and thugs who were born between 1946 and 1964, but you can find bad and lazy people in every generation. In fact, the so called “Greatest Generation” who preceded the Boomers abounds in them. That doesn’t prove anything.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
On September 10, 2012 the Los Angeles Times published an article with the headline: “LAPD to hold meetings on use of force policies.”
Top Los Angeles police officials announced those community meetings to counter growing criticism about videoed brutality incidents involving LA police officers in the preceding months, that article noted.
On February 15, 2003, the world protested a long-announced pending war of aggression by the United States against Iraq. The protest was the largest in world history, and we haven't topped it since. It persuaded many nations of the world and the United Nations to oppose the war. It built an international movement that went on to limit, reduce, and prevent wars, including thus far a fullscale war on Iran, as well as to educate a new generation about the evils of war. This movement helped to delegitimize warmaking, a process still not complete.
By Dave Lindorff
Let’s not be too quick to dismiss the “ranting” of renegade LAPD officer Chris Dorner.
Dorner, a three-year police veteran and former Lieutenant in the US Navy who went rogue after being fired by the LAPD, has accused Los Angeles Police of systematically using excessive force, of corruption, of being racist, and of firing him for raising those issues through official channels.
By John Grant
In The New York Times February 6th on pages 20 and 21, across from each other, there were two tragic stories centered around the themes of sex, race and power. You might call them love stories, though they were definitely not Hallmark card or Harlequin romances.
Most violence we face we've provoked. Those confronting us with violence are exactly as wrong as if we hadn't provoked them. But we are not as innocent as we like to imagine.
This seems like a simple concept awaiting only factual substantiation, but in fact it is dramatically at odds with most people's ridiculously ill-conceived notion of how blame works. According to this common notion, blame is like a lump of clay. Whoever holds it is to blame. If they hand it to someone else, then that person is exclusively to blame. If they break it in half, then two people can each be half to blame. But blame is a finite quantity and the clay is very difficult to break. So once the clay is attached to one person, everybody else is pretty well blameless.
I faulted President Obama for instructing the Justice Department not to prosecute anyone in the CIA for torture, and someone told me that Attorney General Holder was in fact to blame, and therefore Obama was not. I faulted easy access to guns for mass shootings, and someone told me that antidepressant medications were to blame, and therefore gun laws were not. If you're like me, these sorts of calculations will strike you as bizarrely stupid. The question of whether Obama is to blame is a question of what he has done or not done; Holder doesn't enter into it at all. The question of whether Holder is to blame comes down to whether Holder acted against the interest of the greater good; it has nothing to do with Obama. One or both or neither of them could be to blame. Or they could both be to blame and 18 other people be to blame as well. We have problems with gun laws, psychiatric drugs, films, tv shows, video games, examples set by our government's own violence, and many other elements of our culture; none of them erase any of the others.
Blame is unlimited. Rather than a finite lump of clay, blame should be pictured as water droplets condensing out of the air on a cold glass. There is no limit to them. They appear wherever another glass is cold. Their quantity bears no relation to the quantity of the harm done. A million people can carry the blame for a trivial harm, or one person can be alone to blame and to blame only slightly for a most horrible tragedy.
Another type of example may help explain where the common conception of blame comes from. A man convicted of murder is proven innocent, but loved ones of the victim want him punished anyway (and in proportion to the harm done). Another is proven insane or incompetent or underage, but he is punished just the same. Blame is perceived as a burning hot ball of clay that must be tossed from person to person desperately until it can be attached to someone deserving of it. Once that is done, there is no rush to find anyone (or anything) else who might also be to blame. Blame is a concept that is tied up in people's muddled minds with the concept of revenge. It's hard to seek revenge against numerous people or institutions all bearing different types and degrees of blame. It's much easier to simplify. And once the demand for revenge is satisfied in the aggrieved, it ceases to search for new outlets.
When hijackers flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, they were given blame. Anyone who helped them was given blame (after all, it's hard to seek revenge against the dead). But anyone who provoked or accidentally permitted those crimes was deemed absolutely blameless. There wasn't any more clay to go around. To blame the U.S. government for having spent years arming and training religious fanatics in Afghanistan and provoking them in Palestine and Saudi Arabia would mean unblaming the hijackers. To blame the U.S. government for not preventing the hijackings would mean unblaming the hijackers.
This kind of infantile thinking has prevented us from grasping anything like the true extent of blowback our nation has encountered.
There are individual encounters in which zero-sum blame thinking appears to work. Someone who kills in self-defense is given less blame than someone who kills an innocent victim. But translating this to the public or even international arena seems to me to fail. Violent social movements are wrong and to blame even when they are resisting injustice. Crimes of resistance by Native Americans and slaves can be seen as crimes even as we understand them as blowback. The World War II era crimes of Japan create a great deal of blame for Japan, and that is unchanged by understanding the history of how the United States brought war making and imperialism to the Japanese. Often in U.S. history we have been confronted by a Frankenstein monster of our own creation, and one intentionally provoked at that. This is different from the myth of our innocence and of the other's irrational random aggression. A more informed understanding doesn't excuse the aggression. It erases our (the U.S. government's) innocence.
Saddam Hussein was our creature. So was Gadaffi. And Assad. "Intervene" is Pentagon-speak for "switch sides." Our dictators remain guilty of their crimes when we learn that we funded them. Every graduate of the School of the Americas who heads off into the world to murder and torture is to blame for doing so, and so is the School of the Americas, and so are the taxpayers who fund it and the governments that send students to attend it.
We imagine that crazy irrational Iranians attacked us out of the blue in 1979, whereas the CIA's coup of 1953 made the embassy takeover predictable -- a completely different thing from justifiable.
Britain and its apprentice / master-to-be the United States long feared an alliance between Germany and Russia. This led to facilitation of the creation of the Soviet Union. And it led to support for the development of Nazism in Germany. The goal was Russian-German conflict, not peace. When war is imagined to be inevitable, the great question is where to create it, not whether. The post-World War I talks at Versailles laid the groundwork for World War II, helped along by the West's financial and trade policies for decades to come.
Also at Versailles, President Wilson refused to meet with a young man named Ho Chi Minh -- an initial bit contribution perhaps to a great deal of future blowback. The Cold War was of course provoked by lies, threats, and weapons development.
Even if you assume that the United States should dominate the globe militarily, some of the military bases being built right now are very hard to explain, except as thoughtless overreach or intentional provocation of China. One can guess how China is perceiving this. And yet, while the U.S. military spends many times the amount of money spent by China's each year, Chinese increases provoked by U.S. troop deployments, are being used in the U.S. media to justify U.S. military spending. Most Americans have no more idea that their own government is provoking China than most Israelis have a remotely accurate conception of what their government does to Palestinians. Watch these young Israelis exposed for the first time to their nation's occupation of Palestine. Their world is altered.
Imagine if people in the United States were to learn what their funding and weaponry are used for. U.S. weapons account for 85% of international weapons sales. While the NRA bought a political party, Lockheed Martin bought two. We don't talk about it, but many U.S. wars have been fought against U.S. weapons. U.S. wars like the recent one in Libya result in more violence in places like Mali. U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and Afghanistan are generating intense anger, and blowback that has already included the targeting and killing of drone pilots, as well as attempted acts of terrorism in the United States.
When will we ever learn? The hacker group Anonymous replaces government websites with video games to "avenge" Aaron Swartz, and we laugh. But vengeance is at the root of our inability to think sensibly about blame, which is in turn at the root of our inability to process what is being done to the people of the world in our name with our funding. Because war is not inevitable, everywhere we stir it up is somewhere that might have lived without it. We spend $170 billion per year on keeping U.S. troops in other people's countries. Most people living near U.S. military bases do not want them there. Many are outraged by their presence. The blowback will keep coming. We should begin to understand that it is normal, that it is the theme of our entire history, that its predictability does not of course justify it, that we are to blame, and that there's plenty of blame for anyone else who's earned it.
And this story is a true one, drawn from history -- as could be many more if we chose to look in the right places.
But don't take it from me. I read it to a 6 year old who liked it too, so you can take if from him.
By Michael Uhl
Jonathan Schell‘s probing review of Nick Turse’s new book Kill Anything That Moves originated on Tom Dispatch and migrated to Salon, where it appeared under the head “Vietnam was even more horrific than we thought.”
By Dave Lindorff
What is wrong with America?
Thomas Jefferson created his own Bible, and the Humanist Press has just republished it together with selections from what Jefferson left out, and selections labeled the best and worst from the Old Testament, the Koran, the Bhagavadgita, the Buddhist Sutras, and the Book of Mormon.
Jefferson created his Bible using two copies of the King James Bible and a razor blade. He cut what he liked out of the New Testament, and left the rest. What he chose to include was supposed to tell the story of a teacher of morality, stripped of all supernatural pretensions. In Jefferson's Bible, virgins don't give birth, dead people don't walk, and water doesn't turn into wine. But Jesus teaches the love of one's neighbor, of one's enemy, of strangers and children and the old.
It's an admirable effort. Someone raised in Christianity but convinced that death is death and humans are responsible for their fate might want to read the good bits of their religious heritage and not be bothered by the rest. Congress printed 9,000 copies in 1904 and handed them out to new House and Senate members for a half century.
But I find Jefferson's Bible a fairly weak and incoherent concoction. Someone who insists on being treated like a god without actually being a god comes off as an inexplicable egomaniac. Someone who engineers his own death and really dies appears to be nothing more than a suicide. Jesus, stripped of the context of his deity, ends up looking like Socrates without all the cleverness.
Imagine if we told the story of Thomas Jefferson without the Declaration of Independence, without the role of founding father. He'd be transformed into an over-educated self-indulgent slave owner, rapist, and advocate of genocide who began a tradition of U.S. warmaking in the Middle East and bestowed upon us the two-party system.
Jefferson's Bible, ironically, serves a purpose other than what he intended. It ends up revealing that the good moral lessons in Jesus' teaching don't amount to all that much. Yes, of course, we should be kind to each other and learn to forgive and befriend our enemies. There is nothing more important, and nobody says that basic lesson better. Jefferson included the parable of the Good Samaritan.
But should we take polygamy and patriarchy and slavery and cutting off hands and other ancient practices for granted as Jesus does? Should we take currently unquestioned practices like war, meat-eating, and fossil-fuel consumption for granted as many do today? What should we question or change? What should we keep as it is? How should we be good and kind? In what way should we love our neighbors and enemies? Should we also love future generations?
Jefferson is thought to have believed that his Bible would educate Native Americans. His policies, in reality, helped to destroy them. Rather than editing an ancient text and translating it into four languages from another continent, might Jefferson have better spent his time giving native Americans the respect that Jesus -- on one occasion but not others -- recommended giving to Samaritans? Jefferson might have discovered that no people exists without an understanding of kindness, love, and humility. The Indians needed Christian kindness, not Christian arrogance. But the Indians weren't called Samaritans, and Jefferson didn't recognize them.
The Humanist Press edition of Jefferson's Bible does help broaden our understanding, as it includes similarly nice and horrific excerpts from a variety of the world's ancient religions (plus Mormonism, the text of which largely mimics ancient cultural norms).
Jefferson was not aiming for the "historical Jesus" but for a naturalist one. The Humanist Press, in its selections of the worst of each religion, is not aiming for simply the most immoral bits but also the most supernatural. The immoral is there in abundance however:
Matthew 10:34-37 "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword. . . ."
Luke 14:26 "If a man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
John 6:43-55 "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life. . . ."
The Old Testament includes the same good lessons and the same out of date barbarism, or very similar, as the New Testament. The lessons are deeper and more expansive, the barbarity more horrific -- including numerous instances of advocating genocide, slavery, sex-slavery, war, the mutilation of corpses, torture, the mass-slaughter of children, and the celebration of revenge.
The Koran and the other texts, too, contain basic fundamental moral precepts, but few specific recommendations of much use to us right now. I don't mind being advised not to bury female infants alive, but I had no plans to do so. I want to know how to balance duty to family with duty to humanity. I want to know how to integrate charity and respect. I want to learn how to oppose militarism, corruption, oligarchy, greed, consumption, environmental abuse, and all forms of bigotry. I want to know how to be kind to real people in real ways.
Religion doesn't seem to help much. Neither does atheism, of course, except by clearing the deck. The lessons of Judeo-Christian-Muslim religions are packaged in arguments from authority and promises of imaginary rewards and punishments. When that packaging is stripped away, something is lacking. We now need to be told the actual benefits to ourselves of being kind to others: the sense of satisfaction and joy, the love of oneself that is facilitated, the widening of one's knowledge and understanding that comes from accepting the viewpoints and experiences of those unlike oneself.
We do not, of course, need a new Bible. We need novels, memoirs, autobiographies, essays, histories, and poetry. And we need to feel as free as Jefferson did to slice out the parts we find most valuable, piece them together, and expand our understanding from there.
According to one theory, U.S.-Iranian relations began around November 1979 when a crowd of irrational religious nutcases violently seized the U.S. embassy in Iran, took the employees hostage, tortured them, and held them until scared into freeing them by the arrival of a new sheriff in Washington, a man named Ronald Reagan. From that day to this, according to this popular theory, Iran has been run by a bunch of subhuman lunatics with whom rational people couldn't really talk if they wanted to. These monsters only understand force. And they have been moments away from developing and using nuclear weapons against us for decades now. Moments away, I tell you!
According to another theory -- a quaint little notion that I like to refer to as "verifiable history" -- the CIA, operating out of that U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1953, maliciously and illegally overthrew a relatively democratic and liberal parliamentary government, and with it the 1951 Time magazine man of the year Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, because Mossadegh insisted that Iran's oil wealth enrich Iranians rather than foreign corporations. The CIA installed a dictatorship run by the Shah of Iran who quickly became a major source of profits for U.S. weapons makers, and his nation a testing ground for surveillance techniques and human rights abuses. The U.S. government encouraged the Shah's development of a nuclear energy program. But the Shah impoverished and alienated the people of Iran, including hundreds of thousands educated abroad. A secular pro-democracy revolution nonviolently overthrew the Shah in January 1979, but it was a revolution without a leader or a plan for governing. It was co-opted by rightwing religious forces led by a man who pretended briefly to favor democratic reform. The U.S. government, operating out of the same embassy despised by many in Iran since 1953, explored possible means of keeping the Shah in power, but some in the CIA worked to facilitate what they saw as the second best option: a theocracy that would substitute religious fanaticism and oppression for populist and nationalist demands. When the U.S. embassy was taken over by an unarmed crowd the next November, immediately following the public announcement of the Shah's arrival in the United States, and with fears of another U.S.-led coup widespread in Tehran, a sit-in planned for two or three days was co-opted, as the whole revolution had been, by mullahs with connections to the CIA and an extremely anti-democratic agenda. They later made a deal with U.S. Republicans, as Robert Parry and others have well documented, to keep the hostage crisis going until Carter lost the 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan. Reagan's government secretly renewed weapons sales to the new Iranian dictatorship despite its public anti-American stance and with no more concern for its religious fervor than for that of future al Qaeda leaders who would spend the 1980s fighting the Soviets with U.S. weapons in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Reagan administration made similarly profitable deals with Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq, which had launched a war on Iran and continued it with U.S. support through the length of the Reagan presidency. The mad military investment in the United States that took off with Reagan and again with George W. Bush, and which continues to this day, has made the nation of Iran -- which asserts its serious independence from U.S. rule -- a target of threatened war and actual sanctions and terrorism.
Ben Affleck was asked by Rolling Stone magazine, "What do you think the Iranians' reaction is gonna be?" to Affleck's movie Argo, which depicts a side-story about six embassy employees who, in 1979, avoided being taken hostage. Affleck, mixing bits of truth and mythology, just as in the movie itself, replied:
"Who the FUCK knows – who knows if their reaction is going to be anything? This is still the same Stalinist, oppressive regime that was in place when the hostages were taken. There was no rhyme or reason to this action. What's interesting is that people later figured out that Khomeini just used the hostages to consolidate power internally and marginalize the moderates and everyone in America was going, 'What the fuck's wrong with these people?' You know, 'What do they want from us?' It was because it wasn't about us. It was about Khomeini holding on to power and being able to say to his political opponents, of which he had many, 'You're either with us or you're with the Americans' – which is, of course, a tactic that works really well. That revolution was a students' revolution. There were students and communists and secularists and merchants and Islamists, it's just that Khomeini fucking slowly took it for himself."
The takeover of the embassy is an action virtually no one would advocate in retrospect, but asserting that it lacked rhyme or reason requires willful ignorance of Iranian-U.S. relations. Claiming that nobody knew what the hostage-takers wanted requires erasing from history their very clear demands for the Shah to be returned to stand trial, for Iranian money in U.S. banks to be returned to Iran, and for the United States to commit to never again interfering in Iranian politics. In fact, not only were those demands clearly made, but they are almost indisputably reasonable demands. A dictator guilty of murder, torture, and countless other abuses should have stood trial, and should have been extradited to do so, as required by treaty. Money belonging to the Iranian government under a dictatorship should have been returned to a new Iranian government, not pocketed by a U.S. bank. And for one nation to agree not to interfere in another's politics is merely to agree to compliance with the most fundamental requirement of legal international relations.
Argo devotes its first 2 minutes or so to the 1953 background of the 1979 drama. Blink and you'll miss it, as I'm betting most viewers do. For a richer understanding of what was happening in Iran in the late 1970s and early 1980s I have a better recommendation than watching Argo. For a truly magnificent modern epic I strongly encourage getting ahold of the forthcoming masterpiece by M. Lachlan White, titled Waking Up in Tehran: Love and Intrigue in Revolutionary Iran, due to be published this spring. Weighing in at well over 300,000 words, or about 100,000 more than Moby Dick, Waking Up in Tehran is the memoir of Margot White, an American human rights activist who became an ally of pro-democracy Iranian student groups in 1977, traveled to Iran, supported the revolution, met with the hostage-takers in the embassy, became a public figure, worked with the Kurdish resistance when the new regime attacked the Kurds for being infidels, married an Iranian, and was at home with her husband in Tehran when armed representatives of the government finally banged on the door. I'm not going to give away what happened next. This book will transport you into the world of a gripping novel, but you'll emerge with a political, cultural, and even linguistic education. This is an action-adventure that would, in fact, make an excellent movie -- or even a film trilogy. It's also an historical document.
There are sections in which White relates conversations with her friends and colleagues in Iran, including their speculations as to who was behind what government intrigue. A few of these speculations strike me as in need of more serious support. They also strike me as helpful in understanding the viewpoints of Iranians at the time. Had I edited this book I might have framed them a little differently, but I wouldn't have left them out. I wouldn't have left anything out. This is a several-hundred-page love letter from a woman to her husband and from an activist to humanity. It is intensely romantic and as honest as cold steel. It starts in 1977.
On November 15, 1977, at the White House, our human rights president, Jimmy Carter, was holding an outdoor press conference with his good friend the Shah. The police used
pepper spray tear gas on the protesters, including Margot White, in front of the White House. But then the wind shifted. Carter and the Shah ended up in tears as their wives fled indoors. Later that day, White and an Iranian friend were attacked with a knife, chased by spies, and occupied with hiding the wallets of anti-Shah protesters in a D.C. hospital from pro-Shah forces eager to identify them. In December, White was off to Iran to meet with the opposition, including those who had backed Mossadegh a quarter century before. She learned the size and strength of the movement and came to understand its power to overthrow the Shah better than did the U.S. government or the U.S. media. White was followed by the Shah's secret police, SAVAK, during her stay.
By Charles M. Young
A 21st century psychotherapist steps into a time machine and comes out in Atlanta in 1855. Having no other marketable skills, he hangs out a shingle and promises new remedies for mental illness. A well-dressed gentleman knocks on the door and inquires if the psychotherapist might come to his plantation to examine the slaves.
By Linn Washington Jr.
Listening to NRA chief Wayne LaPierre lash out at any notion of gun control during that staunch gun advocate’s first public appearance in the wake of the horrific Connecticut school shooting triggered flashbacks to defiance I once heard from 1960s-era segregationist George Wallace.
Wallace rode a racist declaration from his 1963 governorship inauguration in Alabama to campaigns for the U.S. presidency years later: “Segregation now…Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever!”
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
George Mason's original draft reads:
"That the People have a Right to keep and to bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, composed of the Body of the People, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe Defence of a free State; that Standing Armies in Time of Peace are dangerous to Liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided as far as the Circumstances and Protection of the Community will admit; and that in all Cases, the military should be under strict Subordination to, and governed by the Civil Power."
Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights had put it this way 12 years earlier:
"That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power."
The Right-To-Bring-Assault-Weapons-to-School Second Amendment turns out to have its origins in an attempt to avoid maintaining standing armies. In place of standing armies, the states of the new United States were to create well-regulated militias. The first half of the Second Amendment explains why people should have a right to bear arms:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State ... "
Bearing arms in a well-regulated militia did not mean bearing guns that can reliably shoot well, since such didn't exist. It certainly didn't mean bearing guns that can kill entire crowds of people without reloading. It didn't mean bearing arms outside of the well regulated militia. Much less did it mean bearing arms in school and church and Wal-Mart.
By "free state" many supporters of this bill of rights meant, of course, slave state. And by "people" they meant, of course, white male people -- specifically people who would be taking part in well regulated militias.
The Third Amendment reads:
"No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."
The Second and Third amendments originated as restrictions on what we would later create and come to call a Military Industrial Complex, a permanent war machine, a federal tool of abusive power.
The militias of the Second Amendment are meant to protect against federal coercion, popular rebellions, slave revolts, and -- no doubt -- lunatics who try to mass-murder children.
The descendants of those militias that we call the National Guard are meant, in contrast, to recruit ill-informed young people who imagine they'll be rescuing hurricane victims into endless occupations of oil-rich lands far from our shores.
To comply with the Second Amendment we must end federal control over the National Guard, regulate such state militias and police forces well, regulate their weapons well, and deny such weapons to all others and for any other use.
The Second Amendment has been made to mean something very different from what was originally intended or what any sane person writing a Constitution would intend today. This means that we must either reinterpret it, re-write it, or both.
Frank Richards recalled:
"On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with 'A Merry Christmas' on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one. Platoons would sometimes go out for twenty-four hours' rest -- it was a day at least out of the trench and relieved the monotony a bit -- and my platoon had gone out in this way the night before, but a few of us stayed behind to see what would happen. Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench.
"Buffalo Bill [the Company Commander] rushed into the trench and endeavoured to prevent it, but he was too late: the whole of the Company were now out, and so were the Germans. He had to accept the situation, so soon he and the other company officers climbed out too. We and the Germans met in the middle of no-man's-land. Their officers was also now out. Our officers exchanged greetings with them. One of the German officers said that he wished he had a camera to take a snapshot, but they were not allowed to carry cameras. Neither were our officers.
By Dave Lindorff
The US is on the way out as a hegemonic power.
That is the primary conclusion of a new report out of the National Intelligence Council -- a government organization that produces mid-term and long-range thinking for the US intelligence community.
If you're like me, there are some things you would like to abolish. My list includes war, weapons, fossil fuel use, plutocracy, corporate personhood, health insurance corporations, poverty wages, poverty, homelessness, factory farming, prisons, the drug war, the death penalty, nuclear energy, the U.S. Senate, the electoral college, gerrymandering, electronic voting machines, murder, rape, child abuse, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and the Washington Post. I could go on. I bet you can think of at least one institution you believe we'd be better off without.
All of us, then, can almost certainly learn a thing or two from the men and women in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in England who abolished first the slave trade and then slavery within the British empire. I highly recommend watching a film about them called "Amazing Grace." If you like it, you'll love a book called "Bury the Chains."
You'll discover that this was in many ways the original activist movement. It created activist committees, with chapters, newsletters, posters, speaking tours, book tours, petitioning, boycotts of products, theatrical props, and investigative journalism -- pioneering all of these now familiar tactics. It achieved great success without voting, as only a tiny fraction of the population could vote. That, in itself, should be a lesson to those who believe elections are the only tool available.
The abolition movement had stamina. Looking back, its gains appear stunningly swift. At the end of the 1700s the world was dominated by slavery. Slavery was the norm. Before the end of the 1800s it had been outlawed almost everywhere. Yet, those who worked night and day against the current of their times to create the abolition movement faced endless defeats. Many of the hardest working activists didn't live to see the final success. And yet they kept working. That too may be a lesson for us.
A war between England and France halted progress, and could have stopped it cold. But the war ended, and the movement was revived -- in large part with a new cast of characters, a younger generation of radicals. Freezing all forward momentum for wars has been the rule over the ages. It's a hard lesson for us to face, as we've now accepted that we live in an era of permanent war. The difficult truth may be that we must escape that era if we are to make headway on numerous fronts.
When the abolition movement sprang into being in England, it was a moral movement demanding rights -- but, unlike most movements we've seen -- demanding rights for other people. The Britons were not demanding their own freedom. In fact, they were willing to make sacrifices, to risk a reduction in their own prosperity, and to boycott the use of slave-grown sugar. This is a useful fact in an age when we are often told that people can only care about themselves. Never mind the dead Afghans and Pakistanis, we're advised, just make sure that Americans know the financial cost of the wars. Perhaps that advice can be questioned after all.
However, Adam Hochschild, the author of "Bury the Chains," believes that Britons were able to appreciate the evil of the slave trade because of their own experience with the practice of naval impressment. That is to say, because they themselves lived in fear of being kidnapped and enslaved by the British Navy and forced to sail naval vessels around the world, and in fear of their loved ones meeting that fate, they were able to imagine the misery of Africans living in fear of being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the West Indies.
Where might this insight lead us? Americans do face random senseless gun violence. Can we appreciate the evil of a drone buzzing over a village and then blowing up a family because we know that our shopping mall or school could soon be the scene of mass murder? Americans have also been taught to fear foreign terrorism. Can we appreciate the need to stop funding foreign terrorism in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, foreign terrorism carried out by the U.S. military?
We do have another tool available to us. We can make use of video, audio, and instantaneous reporting on the victims of war or other evils. Perhaps, understanding that morality can move people, we will figure out a better way to communicate what needs to be abolished. The original abolitionists did not have this ability.
The original abolitionists made great use of newspapers and books which -- unlike those in France and other nations that failed to develop a similar mass movement -- were completely uncensored. (We come back to the need to abolish our corporate media cartel.) The original abolitionists benefitted from the egalitarian organizing of the Quakers, at whose meeting any man or woman could speak -- although they were remarkably slow to make use of the voices of freed slaves who could have spoken of slavery first-hand, and who eventually did so to great effect.
The movement to abolish the slave trade was aimed at Parliament. It did not demand freedom or rights for blacks. It threatened the livelihood of ship captains but not of the wealthy whose investments were in the plantations across the sea. The movement persuaded MPs of just enough to pass the legislation desired -- and even less, as abolitionists slipped through Parliament a bill designed to damage the slave trade but not advertised that way or understood by its opponents until the vote had been taken.
The movement was launched in 1787 and by 1807 had outlawed the slave trade. By August 1, 1838, all slaves in the British empire were free.
The slaves themselves heard of these efforts, of course, and their own struggles for freedom may have done more than anything else to win the day. The rebellions in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Jamaica, and elsewhere had a significant impact on British thinking about slavery. In fact, the first generation of abolitionists, now aging, failed to keep pace with public sentiment. Their proposals for a slow and gradual end to slavery had to make way for the demand of immediate emancipation advanced by younger men and the now very active groups of women. And ultimately a reform bill had to be passed to somewhat democratize the government before the popular demand for slavery's abolition could be answered.
Activists were somewhat disappointed when Parliament chose to compensate slave owners for the liberation of their slaves. The slaves themselves were, of course, not compensated. They had little but hard times ahead.
But the compensation of slave owners offered a model that might have served the United States better than bloody civil war. During the American revolutionary war, the British had recruited slaves to fight on their side by promising them freedom. After the war, slave owners, including George Washington, demanded their slaves back. A British commander, General Sir Guy Carleton, refused. Thousands of freed slaves were transported from New York to Nova Scotia to avoid their re-enslavement. But Carleton did promise to compensate the slaves' owners, and Washington settled for that.
The original British abolitionists, including Thomas Clarkson, greatly influenced Americans like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick
Douglas Douglass. But few picked up on the idea of compensated emancipation, which had not originated with the abolitionists.
Elihu Burritt was an exception. From 1856 to 1860 he promoted a plan to prevent a U.S. civil war through compensated emancipation, or the purchase and liberation of slaves by the government, following the example that the English had set in the West Indies. Burritt traveled constantly, all over the country, speaking. He organized a mass convention that was held in Cleveland. He lined up prominent supporters. He edited newsletters. He behaved, in other words, like Clarkson and many an activist since.
And Burritt was right. Britain had freed its slaves without a civil war or a slave rebellion on the scale that was possible. Russia had freed its serfs without a war. Slave owners in the U.S. South would almost certainly have preferred a pile of money to five years of hell, the deaths of loved ones, the burning and destruction of their property, and the uncompensated emancipation that followed, not to mention the century and a half of bitter resentment that followed that. And not only the slave owners would have preferred the way of peace; it's not as if they did the killing and dying.
When a former slave found his voice in London, told his story in a best-selling book, filled debating halls, and became a leader in the movement to free all others, he was a man who had been a slave in my home state of Virginia. His name was Olaudah Equiano. He was one of, if not the first, black to speak publicly in Britain. He did as much to end the slave trade as anyone, and it might have gone on considerably longer without him.
I've never seen a monument or memorial in Virginia to Equiano. In contrast, just down the street from my house in Charlottesville is a tree called Tarleton's Oak. Next to it is a gas station by the same name. The tree is not old, having been planted to replace an enormous aging oak that I recall seeing. Under that one, supposedly, during the revolution, British troops camped. They were led by a young officer named Banastre Tarleton. He later got himself into Parliament, and there was no more obnoxious defender of the slave trade than he. Africans themselves, he maintained, did not object in the least to being enslaved. Tarleton lied at tremendous length without a hint of shame. His memory we mark, not Equiano's.
By William Blum
"Nuclear, ecological, chemical, economic — our arsenal of Death by Stupidity is impressive for a species as smart as Homo sapiens" 1
The hurricanes, the typhoons, the heat waves ... the droughts, the heavy rains, the floods ... ever more powerful, ever new records being set. Something must be done of course. Except if you don't believe at all that it's man-made. But if there's even a small chance that the greenhouse effect is driving the changes, is it not plain that, at a minimum, we have to err on the side of caution? There's too much at stake. Like civilization as we know it. Carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere must be greatly curtailed.
How did right-wing politics in the United States survive the 1960s and 1970s and thrive beyond? Not only did the wealthy invest in the corruption of politics, but the politicians invested in the normalization of treason.
When presidential candidate Richard Nixon sabotaged the peace process in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson privately called it treason and publicly kept his mouth shut.
By the time Bush the Elder, also involved in that earlier treason, worked with Robert Gates and William Casey to sabotage President Carter's efforts to free hostages in Iran, the normalization was well underway.
The corruption of Watergate involved not only no-holds-barred political thievery, but also Nixon's fear that Daniel Ellsberg or the Brookings Institution or someone else had possession of a file detailing Nixon's successful 1968 efforts to prevent the war on Vietnam from ending.
The Iran-Contra scandal that grew out of the U.S.-Israeli-Iranian plot to replace Carter with Reagan, and the Iraq-gate scandal that followed, witnessed a last fling of half-hearted pushback in Congress and the corporate media. Today such non-sexual scandals no longer end in -gate. In fact, they are no longer scandals.
Piling George W. Bush's blatantly stolen elections onto the history of recent U.S. politics calls into question the ability of Republicans to get elected to national office without cheating. But the normalization of treason has been very much a bi-partisan affair.
Robert Parry, who runs the invaluable website ConsortiumNews.com, has a new book out called "America's Stolen Narrative." My recommendation is to immediately read this book from Chapter 2 through to the end. The introduction and chapter 1 depict President Barack Obama as having nothing but the best intentions, glorify the American Revolution, argue in favor of a strong federal government, and defend the practice of requiring people to purchase private health insurance (a Republican idea in its origins, of course, although Parry has adopted it as Democratic and good). Also, Chapter 3 takes a detour into arguing unpersuasively for lesser-evilism. If you're into that sort of thing, knock yourselves out. But in my view such discussions muddle and belittle the significance of the rest of this tremendously important book.
The "stolen narratives" referred to in the title are the accurate accounts that Parry presents of the treasonous acts I've mentioned above. Parry is an investigative journalist who has unearthed powerful evidence of the crimes of Nixon, Reagan, and others. Parry not only details the evidence but recounts the processes of coverup and distortion that the U.S. media has made its second nature. The result of this history is, I'm afraid, far worse than Parry's opening pages let on. Not only do Americans imagine that their politicians mean well when they do not, particularly in the area of foreign policy, but the United States has fundamentally accepted unlimited presidential powers. Nixon's crimes during his famous coverup, and the far worse underlying crimes as well, have now been legalized and accepted. Presidents do not answer to Congress or the public or the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. To a great extent, the people of our country have accepted temporary despots, and to a great extent our people falsely believe themselves powerless to act. They imagine the left did something wrong through acting. This is part of how history must be explained when leaving out the fact that the right has been cheating.
Parry's account of Nixon's undoing of peace in Vietnam, allowing for another four years of slaughter in Southeast Asia, is the best I've seen and alone worth the purchase of "America's Stolen Narrative." Parry imagines what it might have meant, not only for peace in the world, but also for social justice and the "war on poverty" in the United States had Hubert Humphrey defeated Nixon. To the extent that Nixon's successful electoral sabotage in 1968 opened the door to dirtier politics ever since, the damage can be multiplied.
Needless to say, that door was always somewhat opened. The Business Plot of 1933 was hardly less treasonous than anything Nixon did. Nixon's go-between with the Vietnamese in 1968 was the widow of Claire Lee Chennault who had worked to provide China with U.S. planes, pilots, and training, to plan the firebombing of Japan and provoke Japan into the attack on Pearl Harbor. Our false narratives still require the acceptance or glorification of all things related to World War II, but in fact one can see a bit of the husband in the widow Chennault. And then there's the assassination of President Kennedy, which evidence suggests George H.W. Bush played a role in as in most of Parry's post-1960's narrative.
But Parry's case that we turned a corner toward a nastier political world with the Nixon presidency is a strong one.
The account of the Carter-Reagan October Surprise is also the best I've seen, in terms of the evidence presented and the background provided, including on the central role of the Israeli government. The same gang that hung President Carter out to dry for failing to free the hostages had earlier pressured him to bring the Shah of Iran to the United States, thereby provoking the fears of Iranians and the seizure of the U.S. Embassy. The weapons shipments to Iran later grew into the Iran-Contra scandal, but common understanding of that scandal fails to trace it to its roots in the treasonous bargain that kept the hostages prisoners until the day of Reagan's inauguration.
Parry devotes whole chapters to the history of corrupt manipulation by a couple of the dirtiest individuals in Washington: Colin Powell and Robert Gates. These two manage their heights of corruption and influence, in part, through their cross-partisanship. Democrats in Parry's worldview seem to be largely battered wives failing to push back, failing to speak out, refusing to investigate or prosecute or impeach. True enough, as far as it goes. But I think there is a great measure of complicity and outright expansion of bipartisan abuses that must be credited to the Democrats as well. An accurate understanding of exactly how evil some of our Republicans have been need not turn us into cheerleaders for the party of the current president, his record classifications, his groundbreaking secrecy claims, his record whistleblower prosecutions, his record levels of warrantless spying, his imprisonments without trial, his wars without Congress, his war-making CIA, or his "kill list" murder program. Instead, an accurate understanding of how evil some of our politicians have been should move us to become, like Robert Parry, dogged pursuers of the facts that those in power seek to bury or beautify.
Don't people who are wrong annoy you? I just read a very interesting book called "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error," by Kathryn Schulz. Of course I read it with an eye toward figuring out how better to correct those other people who are so dangerously and aggravatingly wrong. And of course the book ended up telling me that I myself am essentially a creature of wrongness.
But if we're all wrong, I can live with that. It's being more wrong than other people that's intolerable. However, statistics show that most of us believe we're more right than average, suggesting a significant if not downright dominant wrongness in our very idea of wrongness.
Even worse, we're clearly not wrong by accident or despite the best of intentions. We go wrong for the most embarrassing of reasons -- albeit reasons that might serve unrelated purposes, or which perhaps did so for distant ancestors of ours. For example, when asked to solve simple and obvious problems that a control group of similar people has no trouble solving, a disturbing number of humans will give the wrong answer if stooges planted in the room confidently give that wrong answer first.
Even more disturbingly, measurements of brain activity during this process suggest that those giving such wrong answers actually perceive them as correct following careful consideration of the question with no particular energy expended on consideration of peer relationships. In other words, people believe their own obvious B.S., even though its been blatantly placed in their minds by a bunch of fraudsters. (I am aware of the redundancy in making this observation during what has been an election year in the United States.)
A lone dissenter in the room can change the dynamic (which perhaps explains why Fox News quickly cuts off the microphone of any guest straying from the script, why a sports announcer who denounces our gun culture must be punished, why a commentator who questions Israel's crimes must be silenced, etc.), but why should we need someone else to dissent before we can?
Well we don't all or always. But a disturbing amount of the time a lot of us do.
Even more disturbingly, few of us are often inclined to say we are undecided between possibilities. We are inclined toward certainty, even if we have just switched from being certain of an opposing proposition. As we are confronted with reasons to doubt, it is not uncommon for our certainty to grow more adamant. And we are inclined to greater certainty if others share it. Many of us often admire, and all too often obey, those who are certain -- even about things they could not possibly be certain about, even about things there is no great value in being certain about, and even about things these "leaders" have been wrong about before.
Now, I think Schulz is wrong in her book on wrongness not to place greater emphasis on the issue of why politicians change their positions. If they do so for corrupt reasons, to please their funders, we have corruption as well as indecisiveness to dislike. But if they do so in response to public pressure and we still condemn them for indecisiveness, we are condemning representative government along with it. But there is no doubt that many people -- sometimes disastrously -- can be inclined to prefer the certain and wrong to the hesitant and ultimately right. A baseball umpire who's wrong but adamant is the norm, because one who corrects himself is soon out of a job.
We begin our careers of wrongness early. If you show a toddler a candy box and ask what's in it, they'll say candy, completely free of doubt. If you then show them that it's actually full of pencils, and ask them what they had thought -- five seconds earlier -- would be in the box, they will tell you they thought it was full of pencils. They will tell you that they said it was full of pencils. Schulz says this is because young children believe that all beliefs are true. It could also be a result of the same desire to be right and not wrong that we find prevalent in adults, minus adults' ability to recognize when the evidence of their wrongness is overwhelming. A psychologist in 1973 asked 3,000 people to rank their stances on a scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree" with positions on a range of social issues like affirmative action, marijuana legalization, etc. Ten years later he asked them to do so again and to recall how they thought they had answered 10 years prior. The what-I-used-to-think answers were far closer to the people's current positions than to their actual positions of a decade back.
A decade back I would have told you that it might be valuable to work for progressive change within the Democratic Party. Now I'd tell you that's counterproductive. Never mind if I was wrong then or am wrong now, or perhaps there's not enough information in such brief statements to know whether I'm not perhaps wrong in both positions. The point is that I only know how misguided I used to be because my blog doesn't edit itself, and I go back and read it. Not so with my brain. It edits itself quite efficiently. We have no idea how wrong we are, and much less idea how wrong we used to be. And we absolutely do not want to know.
"It isn't that we care so fiercely about the substance of our claims," writes Schulz. "It is that we care about feeling affirmed, respected, and loved." This helps explain why a common response to being wrong is to make the situation significantly worse and facilitate new cases of being wrong in the future. Medical mistakes in our hospitals kill a great many more Americans than any of the commonly thought of but statistically trivial causes of death (like terrorism) or even the truly major causes of death (like automobiles). And hospitals typically respond with evasion, defensiveness, and denial.
We see this across the field of public policy. Alan Greenspan may admit the error of his ways on the way out the door. So may President Eisenhower, albeit without calling it a confession. Even Secretary McNamara may recant his love for warfare before he dies. But those vigorously pursuing careers usually avoid admitting wrongness. And those proven wrong are typically replaced with new people willing to push the identical mistaken policies.
Members of the public who support wrongheaded policies (the markets will take care of themselves; weapons spending makes us safer; global warming doesn't hurt; the wealth will trickle down; etc.) often manage to continue with those policies despite their glaring debunking in particular instances or their recantation by particular officials. This is what I hoped to get some insight on in reading this book (as in reading a lot of books), and I don't think I failed. (I wouldn't, would I?)
Believers in Iraqi WMDs, when confronted with the facts, have in many cases nonsensically doubled down on their beliefs or, at the very least, continued to imagine the best intentions on the part of those who pushed the propaganda. Of course, a proper understanding of wrongness must lead us to accept the possibility that many who appear to be lying actually believe what they say. And the well-documented dishonesty, intentional fraud, and pressure on others to lie in the case of the Iraq War marketing campaign doesn't change the fact that many who helped spread the lies believed them to one degree or another.
Dropping the WMD belief would mean accepting that respected leaders were either mistaken or lying. It would also mean admitting that hostile opponents in a very public and long-lasting debate were right. Hence the tenaciousness of those still believing that Saddam Hussein hid his massive stockpiles in a magical land somewhere.
A few lessons can be gathered, I think. One is that when we're speaking with those who disagree, we should not refer to magical lands as I've just done, not mock, not gloat, not set up a hostile competition over who was right and who was wrong. Recounting previous instances of war supporters being wrong to illustrate the universality of the phenomenon could help or backfire depending on how it's done. Ultimately it must be done if the same mistakes are not to be repeated forever. It's certainly appropriate to demand that television networks stop limiting their crews of experts to those who have always been wrong before. Ultimately there must be accountability for the leaders of wrongness (regardless of the degree of honesty or good-intention involved). But there are those who will simply believe that Spain blew up the Maine even if they had never heard of that incident before in their lives, if you -- their opponent -- bring it up, even if you intend it as a comforting example of how others have screwed up too.
Clearly, focusing on the numerous times someone has themself been wrong is unlikely to help, but conveying the fact that we have been wrong too might. People should feel that they can remain or become secure, safe, respected, and loved while dropping their misguided belief, and without substituting a new zealotry in favor of another belief (even ours!) -- that they can become more cautious, more willing to remain in doubt, and more willing to continue that way in the face of the certainty of others. Ideally, people should be urged toward better beliefs by a friendly and welcoming and large group of others. There's no reason peer pressure can't be put to good use, even while seeking to reduce its power.
More importantly perhaps, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If we can prevent people developing attachments to lies about Syria or Iran, we will save ourselves endless headaches trying to rid them of those lies later. If we can establish not just that Iraq was unarmed but also that Iraq's being armed would have been no justification for bombing its people, we will shift the conversation onto favorable ground. If Syria killing Syrians with the wrong kind of weapons is understood not to justify the United States killing more Syrians with the right kind of weapons, we won't have to engage in a fast-break competition to determine and then prove whether Syria is using weapons that the United States claims it is using.
The preceding paragraph is the theme of a book I wrote called "War Is A Lie," which I intended for war preparedness in the sense of preparation to resist common types of lies about wars. In that book, I did not follow all of the advice above. People in fact have complained to me (a small minority of readers I should say) that the book is at times sarcastic or mocking or contemptuous. In my defense, I see a value in entertaining as well as educating those already in large agreement, as well as in reaching through as powerful a manner as possible those without ossified views on the subject. But then again, there is always and forever the possibility that I'm horrendously wrong.
It warms one's heart to recall in the depths of winter that over half the taxes we labor to submit to our government each year go into war preparations. Such bountiful spending is required, because one never knows when the Japs or the Serbians or the Iranians may attack. To appreciate the need for creating so many weapons-producing billionaires and millionaires, we must recall with fondness the glory days of the war that three-quarters of a century back gave us the military industrial complex, the Air Force, the CIA, nuclear weapons, witch hunts, intense environmental destruction, and some 70 million dead bodies.
Ah, who can forget . . .
Nazi Germany, we actually tend to overlook sometimes, could not have existed or waged war without the support for decades past and ongoing through the war of U.S. corporations like GM, Ford, IBM, and ITT. U.S. corporate interests prefered Nazi Germany to the communist Soviet Union, were happy to see those two nations' peoples slaughter each other, and favored the United States entering the oh-so-good-and-necessary World War II on the side of England only once the U.S. government had made that very profitable.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's fervent hope for years was that Japan would attack the United States. This would permit the United States (not legally, but politically) to fully enter World War II in Europe, as its president wanted to do, as opposed to merely providing weaponry and assisting in the targeting of submarines as it had been doing. Of course, Germany's declaration of war, which followed Pearl Harbor and the immediate U.S. declaration of war on Japan, helped as well, but it was Pearl Harbor that radically converted the American people from opposition to support for war.
On December 7, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt drew up a declaration of war on both Japan and Germany, but decided it wouldn't work and went with Japan alone. Germany quickly declared war on the United States, possibly in hopes that Japan would declare war on the Soviet Union.
Getting into the war was not a new idea in the Rosevelt White House. FDR had tried lying to the American people about U.S. ships including the Greer and the Kerny, which had been helping British planes track German submarines, but which Roosevelt pretended had been innocently attacked. Roosevelt also lied that he had in his possession a secret Nazi map planning the conquest of South America, as well as a secret Nazi plan for replacing all religions with Nazism. This map was of the quality of the Associated Press's recent "Iranian bomb graph," or Karl Rove's "proof" that Iraq was buying uranium in Niger.
And yet, the people of the United States didn't buy the idea of going into another war until Pearl Harbor, by which point Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created a huge Navy in two oceans, traded old destroyers to England in exchange for the lease of its bases in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and — just 11 days before the "unexpected" attack — he had secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.
On April 28, 1941, Churchill wrote a secret directive to his war cabinet:
A few thoughts in praise of backwardness.
"We don't look backward," says President Obama in reference to imposing justice on powerful large-scale criminal suspects. Of course, as we don't prosecute future crimes but only crimes of the past, "not looking backward" is a euphemism for immunity -- an immunity not granted to those accused of small-scale crimes or crimes with no victims at all.
"Forward!" says President Obama, making that seemingly vacuous word his slogan. But the word has meaning; it means continuing thoughtlessly in the current direction, without seeking guidance from the mistakes or accomplishments or untested inspirations of the past.
The secrecy of the Obama White House, including record levels of classification, ground-breaking legal claims to secrecy, and record-level prosecutions of whistleblowers, moves us in practice to the position of rolling "forward" without a clear idea where we are or where we've just been. This is nearly as fatal to good public policy as "looking forward" is to law enforcement.
We need to know our immediate history, but equally we need to know the history of distant times and places, for otherwise we can be greatly deceived by those in power -- including with that greatest deception of all: the idea that we are powerless. Only history shows us what works and what doesn't in attempting to improve the world.
Only history reveals, as well, how dramatically different patterns of life and thought and notions of "human nature" can be in cultures separated by time and/or space. It is always easier to imagine radical changes for the better after examining how radically different people have already been.
In 1888 Edward Bellamy wrote a book called "Looking Backward," which told the story of a man put into a trance in 1887 and awakened in the year 2000. In 1888 people bought as many copies of this book as could be printed, created clubs and organizations inspired by it, and developed a political movement the lasting (though indirect) benefits of which are no doubt tremendous.
Bellamy was, of course, looking forward, but we must look backward to recall an age in which anyone looked forward in a terribly useful or inspiring way. In 1888, people imagined the world could be made a much more pleasant place to live. In 2012 we are lucky if we can muster any confidence that the world will not collapse into an environmental or military or plutocratic hell on earth.
Bellamy got his prediction of the year 2000 largely wrong, but of course he was prescribing more than predicting. He got his prescription wrong as well. That is to say, what he prescribed was probably to some extent unworkable and undesirable. But it is tempting for us to confuse these questions, to imagine that whatever hasn't happened couldn't have or shouldn't have.
Bellamy had no accurate notion of what technology would look like in the year 2000. He idealized large and centralized bureaucracy. He valued military-like discipline rather than cooperation in the workplace. He imagined, absurdly I think, that a perfect society need not contain a mechanism for additional major changes. He believed -- and I have doubts on the point -- that religion and superstition could persist harmoniously with extreme ethical enlightenment.
In questionable moves, Bellamy bestowed greater power on the old than the young, built elitism into systems of governance and justice, and condoned the use of solitary imprisonment. In notable silences, Bellamy's vision did not address the question of environmental sustainability or the problem of outsourcing -- which is not to say that his utopia could not have incorporated solutions to such concerns.
But Bellamy advocated nonviolent change over violent in a manner suggesting an understanding of history he had not lived through. He argued plausibly for the elimination of debt, interest, and -- in fact -- money (which is not to say all forms of compensation). He laid out plans for peace, relative equality of wealth, security for all, an elimination of (most) prisons and virtually all crime, and the serious and nonviolent elimination of something all men and women have longed for since at least the age of Shakespeare: lawyers and law schools.
Bellamy's world would be prosperous and wealthy despite a retirement age of 45, in part through the elimination of debt, of militaries, of prisons, of tax assessors, of crime, of advertisements, of wasted or duplicated efforts (think of how much our "health insurance" system costs us compared to those of other nations), and -- here's the bit our current president would like, at least for the rich and powerful -- of a criminal justice system. (I'm afraid the steps that could conceivably bring us closer to Bellamy's world would need to come in a proper order, with the elimination of accountability for those in power evolving late in the process).
Bellamy may have been deluding himself if he imagined a world free of dangerous levels of selfishness. But he was certainly on the right track in envisioning a world that did not promote selfishness as a virtue, that valued instead one's responsibility to society, to children, and to future generations. Bellamy imagined huge advances for women's rights, many of which have in fact materialized. But other dreams of "Looking Backward" remain dreams.
Can we have competition, checks, and balances, but no advertising or systemic motivations to deceive? Can we have media outlets democratically managed by their consumers? Can we put one umbrella over a sidewalk when it rains instead of each carrying our own?
Dare I say it? Yes, we can.
But not until we abandon our affection for cries of "Forward!"
By Dave Lindorff
It is amazing to watch politicians trying to weasel their way around their promises. President Obama is providing us with a good illustration of the art.
We're approaching three years since Howard Zinn left us, and to my ear his voice sounds louder all the time. I expect that effect to continue for decades and centuries to come, because Zinn spoke to enduring needs. He taught lessons that must be relearned over and over, as the temptations weighing against them are so strong. And he taught those lessons better than anybody else.
We like to use the word "we," and to include in it everything the Constitution pretends to include in it, notably the government. But the government tends to act against our interests. Multi-billionaires, by definition, act against our interest. Zinn warned us endlessly of the danger of allowing those in power to use "we" to include us in actions we would otherwise oppose. It's a habit we carry over from sports to wars to economic policies, but the danger of a spectator claiming "we scored!" doesn't rise to the same level as millions of spectators claiming "we liberated Afghanistan."
We like to think of elections as a central, important part of civic life, and as a means of significantly impacting the future. Zinn not only warns against that misperception with incisive historical examples, and with awareness of the value of the struggle for black voting rights in the Southern United States, but he was a part of that struggle and warned against misplaced expectations at the time.
We like to think of history as shaped by important stand-out individuals. We like to think of war as a necessary tool of last resort, as demonstrated by our list of "good wars" which generally includes the U.S. war of independence, the U.S. civil war, and the second world war (debunked by Zinn as 'The Three Holy Wars'). We imagine that political parties are central to our efforts to shape the world, but that civil disobedience is not. We imagine that we often have no power to shape the world, that the forces pushing in other directions are too powerful to be reversed. If you listen to enough Howard Zinn, each of these beliefs ends up looking ludicrous -- even if, in some cases, tragic.
If you haven't had enough Howard Zinn lately (and who has?), there's a new book of his collected speeches just published, called Howard Zinn Speaks. Of course it's just a tiny sampling of his speeches, as he gave innumerable speeches over the years. With one exception, these have been transcribed from speeches given without pre-written remarks. Zinn doesn't have his footnotes in hand. He paraphrases people rather than quoting them. But he also says what he believes to be most needed, what he has thought about most deeply, what pours out of him in ever-changing variation on his one and only theme: We can shape the future if, and only if, we make use of the past.
The speeches collected here are themselves part of the past. There's one from the 1960s, two from the 70s, two from the 80s, four from the 90s, and over half the book from the Bush-Obama years. But the examples Zinn draws on, the stories he tells to make his points, go back for centuries into a past that most Americans only dimly recognize.
Zinn traces the roots of racism and wars through Columbus, slavery, colonialism, and current U.S. wars. "The abolition of war," he says, "is of course an enormous undertaking. But keep in mind that we in the antiwar movement have a powerful ally. Our ally is a truth which even governments addicted to war, profiting from war, must one of these days recognize: that wars are not practical ways of achieving their ends. More and more, in recent history, the most powerful nations find themselves unable to conquer much weaker nations."
Four years ago, Zinn warned: "It is dangerous to look just to Obama. This has been part of our culture, looking to saviors. Saviors will not do it. We cannot depend on the people on top to save us. I hope that people who supported Obama will not simply sit back and wait for him to save us but will understand that they have to do more than this. All of these are limited victories."
In April, 1963, Zinn spoke in similar terms -- if anything even more forthrightly -- of President Kennedy. "This is beyond the South," he said. "Our problem is not basically that Eastland is vicious, but that Kennedy is timid."
Obama Zinn criticized Kennedy for his actions and inactions in 1961 and again in 1963 when the Senate had the opportunity, as it always does, at the beginning of each new session, to change its own rules and do away with the filibuster. Kennedy, Zinn had concluded, wanted to allow the racists to filibuster against civil rights. Echoes of Zinn should be amplified between now and January loudly enough for current senators, and the current president, to hear.
In May of 1971, Zinn said, "It's been a long time since we impeached a president. And it's time, time to impeach a president, and the vice president, and everybody else sitting in high office who carries on this war." In 2003, Zinn said, "There are people around the country calling for Bush's impeachment. Some people think this is a daring thing to say. No, it's in the Constitution. It provides for impeachment. . . . Congress was willing to impeach Nixon for breaking into a building, but they're not willing to impeach Bush for breaking into a country."
"It is true," Zinn says of our endless and perhaps permanent elections hang-up, "that Americans have been voting every few years for Congressmen and presidents. But it is also true that the most important social changes in the history of the United States -- independence from England, Black emancipation, the organization of labor, gains in sexual equality, the outlawing of racial segregation, the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam -- have come about not through the ballot box but through the direct action of social struggle, through the organization of popular movements using a variety of extralegal and illegal tactics. The standard teaching of political science does not describe this reality."
Later (years later) Zinn says, without self-pity: "So if we don't have a press that informs us, we don't have an opposition party to help us, we are left on our own, which actually is a good thing to know. It's a good thing to know we're on our own. It's a good thing to know that you can't depend on people who are not dependable. But if you're on your own, it means you must learn some history, because without history you are lost. Without history, anybody in authority can get up before a microphone and say, 'We've got to go into this country for that reason and for this reason, for liberty, for democracy, the threat.' Anybody can get up before a microphone and tell you anything. And if you have no history, you have no way of checking up on that."
But if you do have history, Zinn says, then you gain the additional advantage of recognizing that "these concentrations of power, at certain points they fall apart. Suddenly, surprisingly. And you find that ultimately they're very fragile. And you find that governments that have said 'we will never do this' end up doing it. 'We will never cut and run.' They said this in Vietnam. We cut and ran in Vietnam. In the South, George Wallace, the racist governor of Alabama: 'Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.' Enormous applause. Two years later, Blacks in Alabama had in the meantime begun to vote and Wallace was going around trying to get Black people to vote for him. The South said never, and things changed."
The more things change . . . the more we need to hear Howard Zinn.
Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznik have produced a phenomenally great book of U.S. history, and an accompanying television series premiering on Showtime on Monday. Having just read half the book and having watched an advance copy of the first episode, my conclusion is that the book is dramatically better than the TV show, but that both are at the top of what's available in their respective genres.
The Untold History of the United States is not people's history in the sense of telling the stories of popular movements. This is very much top-down history dominated by key figures in power. But it is honest history that tears through myths and presents a reality not expected by most Americans -- and backs it up with well-documented facts.
This is a history that focuses on foreign policy, and -- at least in the book -- begins with World War I. No book can include everything one might have liked to see included, but this one is a terrific sampling of things I've wished were told more often and things I never knew before. Some will call it a depressing tale lacking "all the good things the United States has done too." I call it a refreshingly honest tale aimed at improving our conduct going forward. I also come away with a deep sense of gratitude that -- for the moment anyway -- our society is still around at all. After considering the steps that certain presidents and scientists have taken to destroy life as we know it, one has to be amazed we're still here. Truman and Eisenhower figure prominently, and I believe that I have found in these authors a couple of men who might just agree with me that Harry Truman is the worst president we've ever seen. They certainly make that case quite powerfully.
The book is excellent on World War I and on the New Deal, as well as on forbidden topics like the Wall Street Putsch of 1934 or the Nye Committee hearings on war profiteering. The section on the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Japan is the best I've seen. The history of the Cold War and who started it is invaluable. The authors take on McCarthyism, the Eisenhower presidency, the Mossadeq overthrow, the Guzman overthrow, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and numerous other topics with great skill and insight -- and careful research.
The Kennedy assassination, which Stone has famously dramatized on film before, gets a mere two paragraphs. The discussion of the formation of Israel leaves much to be desired, but at least it's there. The Korean War account is incomplete to say the least, as is the discussion of moves to impeach Truman -- for which there were motives the authors don't touch on. But this is quibbling. I would love for everyone to read this book, and I'll read the second half on Monday.
The book's take on World War II is far superior to that of the television show's first episode. The episodes don't line up with the chapters, and so -- for whatever reason -- the TV viewers begin in World War II, not World War I. The book has more useful material than the film and is lacking some material the film ought to have left out too. The authors are very much in favor of U.S. entry into the war and wish it had come earlier. They claim that Pearl Harbor was a surprise and reject claims that it was "abetted" by the U.S. government. But who claims that? Many have well documented that it was expected and in a certain sense desired by the Roosevelt White House. But Stone and Kuznick's account makes crystal clear Roosevelt's desire for some such war-beginning incident, and their general account of the war is miles above any taught in any U.S. school I've ever seen. (Kuznik teaches at American University, so students might consider enrolling there.)
The TV episode on WWII lacks background and context that the book provides in various chapters. The bulk of it is standard history of supposed forces at work and intentions acted on. The "untold" bits include Truman's racist murderousness, and a particular focus on the starring role the Soviet Union played in "winning" the war. If Episode I serves to ease viewers into the fact-based reality being presented in "The Untold History," I'm all for it. I suspect, however, that some of the other episodes that I haven't yet had time to watch will be far more engaging and exciting, as well as controversial -- or because controversial. The episode on the dropping of the nuclear bombs might be the one to start your viewing with. Or, if you really want to take my strongest advice: read the book!