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By Robert C. Koehler, Tribune Media Services
How many years are we away from a national apology over slavery?
Wait, scratch that word, “apology.” Too late, not possible. The scope of the wrong was too great. Make that a national atonement — an owning up to the crime, a pause in the collective heartbeat, eye contact, prayer, remorse. And the question: What can we do to right matters?
Perhaps the time is no longer to be measured in generations.
Let’s begin with the names of the insured: Aaron, Abby, Abraham … Chloe, Congo, Courtney … all the sundry Jacks and Jims and Williams … Winney, Woodley, Woodson, Zach. Human beings with single names, like pets. Commodities, severed — for legal purposes — from their souls. No ties to a past, no depth of existence. Here, boy. They came when you whistled. They had a function. And they were worth money to their owners.
Peter Kuznick is an associate professor of history at American University. Together with Oliver Stone he has authored The Untold History of the United States, and the series by the same name airing on Showtime. As director of American University’s award winning Nuclear Studies Institute, Kuznick takes students on an annual study abroad trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oliver Stone will be on the trip this August, and you can go too.
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One knows things are bad in Palestine when even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, known for his brutal heavy-handiness against the Palestinians, has to decry what he calls ‘acts of hooliganism’ against them. These behaviors, known as price-tag attacks, are committed against Palestinians and Israeli security forces by Jewish youth living in violation of international law in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. The point, apparently, is to extract a ‘price’ for actions taken against their illegal settlements. What actions Israeli security forces are taking, or have taken, were not mentioned.
How Many Years Will It Be?
By Andrew J. Bacevich, TomDispatch
For well over a decade now the United States has been “a nation at war.” Does that war have a name?
It did at the outset. After 9/11, George W. Bush's administration wasted no time in announcing that the U.S. was engaged in a Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT. With few dissenters, the media quickly embraced the term. The GWOT promised to be a gargantuan, transformative enterprise. The conflict begun on 9/11 would define the age. In neoconservative circles, it was known as World War IV.
By John Grant
By John Grant
It was the summer of 1981. I was working on an ambulance in Philadelphia, transporting a cancer patient to a hospital for radiation treatments. The man was in his sixties, and I felt he knew his days were numbered.
In my conversations with the man, it came up that I was a Vietnam veteran. He told me he was in the CIA in Saigon in the early 1970s.
“What did you do?” I asked.
By Helen Jaccard and David Swanson, http://warisacrime.org/vieques
Ten years ago May 1, the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico and their supporters from around the world defeated the most powerful military machine ever, through mass civil disobedience and without firing a single shot. On May 1, 2003 the bombing stopped and the bases were officially closed. People from all over the world supported the struggle on Vieques, and the activists and residents have an incredible victory to celebrate.
There were decades of resistance, civil disobedience and arrests. But those hoping and laying the groundwork for greater resistance were given an opportunity on April 19, 1999, when a U.S. Marines pilot missed his target and killed civilian security guard David Sanes Rodriguez. That spark lit a fire of nonviolent resistance that brought together Viequenses, Puerto Ricans, and supporters from the United States and around the world. A campaign of non-violent civil resistance that began in 1999 lasted four years, including a year-long occupation of the bombing range, and saw over 1,500 people arrested. The Navy was forced to close the bombing range on May 1, 2003. Peace loving people had won most of the first of their demands for the island: demilitarization.
A huge commemoration is planned in Vieques for the anniversary from May 1 – 4, 2013.
Beautiful Vieques island is only 21 miles across and 5 miles wide, and 7 miles from the main island of Puerto Rico. It is home to about 9,300 people, as well as endangered turtle species, rare Caribbean plants and animals, bio-luminescent bays, and miles of what look like unspoiled beaches.
But crabs with three claws, grossly deformed fish laden with heavy metals, once-beautiful coral reefs, and beaches and seas that have been decimated by military activity tell a story of environmental disaster with huge health impacts on people, plants, and animals.
An incredible three-quarters of the island was appropriated in the 1940s and used by the U.S. Navy for bombing practice, war games, and dumping or burning old munitions. This was a terrible attack on an island municipality, one the United States was not at war with.
Now, Vieques Island, a paradise in trouble, is one of the largest superfund sites in the United States, together with its little sister island of Culebra, which took the brunt of the bombing until 1973, when the Culebra bombing range closed (also due to protests) and the bombing practice was transferred to Vieques.
In 2003, the Navy did not return the land to the people, but transferred its Vieques land to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates beaches that were never used for military activities.
Viequenses fear that keeping the U.S. Government in control of their lands could result in future re-militarization of the island. Residents aren't happy that their land has not been returned to them and that they are fined for staying on their land past sunset or collecting crabs -- a mainstay of their historic diet. There are also two military occupations of lands -- a ROTHR radar system and a communications area, and the people want these closed as well. You can add your name to Viequenses' demand for peace here.
For over 2,000 years people known as Taino inhabited Vieques, which they called Bieque. The Taino found and left behind them a paradise of fertile soil, fresh water, and trees. In 1493, the conquistadors arrived. In 1524, the Spanish killed every remaining resident. Vieques was then left uninhabited by humanity for 300 years, interrupted by a few British, French, and Spanish attempts to set up forts or destroy each other's efforts.
From 1823 into the 1900s, Vieques was used by the Spanish and French to grow sugar. English-speaking people of African origin, from nearby islands, were kept in slavery or the nearest thing to it, and forced to grow the sugar cane. They revolted in 1864 and 1874, and in the 1915 Sugar Strike. The United States took Puerto Rico from the Spanish in 1898 and made residents U.S. citizens in 1917. The depression of the 1930s, together with two hurricanes in 1932, brought on harder times than ever.
In 1939 the United States bought 26,000 of the 30,000 acres of land on Vieques from big sugar plantation owners. Living on that land were 10,000 to 12,000 workers who also raised crops to feed themselves. The U.S. Navy gave families $30 and one day's notice before bulldozing houses. Most people were left without means of subsistence, but many stubbornly refused to leave the island.
Carlos Prieta Ventura, a 51-year-old Viequense fisherman, says his father was 8-years-old in 1941 when the Navy told his family their house would be bulldozed whether or not they accepted the $30. Ventura says he has always resisted the Navy's efforts to force people off the island.
From 1941 to 2003, the U.S. military flew planes from aircraft carriers based on the main island of Puerto Rico dropping bombs over Vieques. Bombs "rained down," and you could feel the ground shake within the base, as one U.S. veteran told CNN. Bombs fell at all hours, all day, all week, all year, amounting to approximately a trillion tons of ordnance, much of which (some 100,000 items) lies unexploded on land and in the sea. Vieques was systematically poisoned by heavy metals, napalm, Agent Orange, depleted uranium, and who knows what all else that the Navy has not announced publicly -- having falsely denied using depleted uranium before finally admitting to it, and having dumped barrels of unknown toxic substances into the clear blue Caribbean.
The arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, and aluminum in the bombs are also found in hair samples of 80% of the people living on Vieques, who suffer at far higher rates than on the main island (and possibly anywhere else on earth) from cancer (30% higher than Puerto Rico), cirrhosis of the liver, kidney failure, hypertension (381%), diabetes (41%), birth defects, stillbirths, and miscarriages.
The impact of the U.S. occupation that began in 1941 was felt far more swiftly than cancer. According to Ventura, some 15,000 troops were routinely set loose on Vieques looking for booze and women. Women were dragged out of their homes and gang raped. A boy was killed by gang rape. Ventura says people had only a machete and a hole in the wall by the door where they could try to stab the Marines who would come to take women. A dozen people were killed over the years directly by the U.S. weapons testing. And the Navy banned fishermen from various areas, advising them to try food stamps instead. Fishermen attempted civil resistance actions, and many were arrested during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.
Lydia Ortiz, a Viequense who grew up in the small town of Esperanza, recalls the bombing: "A lot of houses had their roofs falling in and everything as a result of the vibrations from the bombs for many years. It was pretty nerve wracking because you never knew what was going to crash down in your house. We lived quite close to where the bombing was happening. When I was a child they were dropping bombs near me. In the school, you could hear the bombing. You couldn't even hear the teacher because of the noise. People were afraid to go anywhere near the base or the beach so it was very difficult for many years. It seems like just yesterday or only 5 or 6 years ago that the bombing stopped, even though it is really almost 10 years ago."
A celebration of the 10-year anniversary is indeed in order. We must remember victories as they have remarkable power to motivate others around the world.
But the Navy's presence and the environmental disaster it created continue to afflict Vieques today. The U.S. government has not cleaned up the poisons and bombs and continues to use practices that further endanger the people. There is no bomb explosion chamber on the island. The United States has disposed of what unexploded bombs it has disposed of by blowing them up, further spreading the contaminants that are killing the people of the island.
There is also no hospital on the island, few ferries to the island, few and overpriced airplanes, a handful of taxis and public vans, and very limited tourist facilities. There is no college or university, and very few jobs of any kind. Business licenses are issued in San Juan and require bribes. Viequenses' families are ravaged by cancer, but also by illiteracy, unemployment, violent crime, and teen pregnancy. All of the water -- like all electricity -- comes in a pipe from the main island. Two of the residents said that the one resort on Vieques sometimes uses all the water. Seven thousand Viequenses sued the U.S. government over their health problems, but the U.S. Supreme court refused to hear the case.
With very little land available for farming, Vieques, like all of Puerto Rico, imports almost all of its food. Some people have become so desperate that they gather old munitions to sell for a little money to someone who will melt the metal for aluminum cans. But heavy metals and depleted uranium endanger the metal gatherers and whoever later drinks from the cans.
Presidential candidate Obama wrote to the Governor of Puerto Rico in 2008: "We will closely monitor the health of the people of Vieques and promote appropriate remedies to health conditions caused by military activities conducted by the U.S. Navy on Vieques." But that promise remains unfulfilled.
Robert Rabin Siegal of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques writes in a letter to President Barack Obama,
"Although I cannot claim the Navy and military toxics caused my cancer, you don't have to be a quantum physicist to understand how decades of exposure to heavy metals in the food chain, air, water and land, combined with the socio-economic pressures from the loss of two thirds of the island’s lands, would clearly contribute to high cancer rates. The Navy dropped radioactive uranium projectiles here, we believe, in large quantities, in preparation for military actions in the Balkans and the Middle East. The list of dangerous chemical components from munitions dropped on Vieques is extensive, as is the number of illnesses they cause.
"Mr. President: you received the Nobel Peace Prize; we demand peace for Vieques. An island and people used to protect U.S. interests since WWII, forced to sacrifice its land, economic prosperity, tranquility and health, deserves at least the hope of peace for this and future generations."
". . . A handful of powerful US based corporations have pocketed most of the more than 200 million dollars spent on clean-up over the past decade. We urge you to order technology transference to promote the creation of Puerto Rican and Viequense companies to carry out the clean-up of Vieques, thereby transforming that process into part of the economic reconstruction of the island as well as assuring community confidence in this crucial element in the healing of Vieques."
People anywhere in the world can take one minute to sign a petition to the Pentagon, Congress, and the White House in support of justice, at long last, for Vieques:
"I join the people of Vieques in demanding:
"Health Care -- Provide a modern hospital with cancer treatment facilities, early screening and timely treatment for all diseases. Create a research facility to determine the relationship between military toxins and health. Provide just compensation to people suffering poor health as a result of the Navy's activities.
"Cleanup -- Fund a complete, rapid cleanup of the land and surrounding waters, still littered by thousands of bombs, grenades, napalm, Agent Orange, depleted uranium and other explosives left by the Navy. Cease the ongoing open detonation of unexploded ordnance. Guarantee community participation in the cleanup; train Viequenses as managers, administrators, and scientists, and foster Viequense companies to do the work.
"Sustainable Development -- Support the Master Plan for Sustainable Development of Vieques which promotes agriculture, fishing, eco-tourism, small guest houses, housing, collective transportation, archaeology, and historic and environmental research, among other things.
"Demilitarization and Return of the Land -- Close the remaining military installations still occupying 200 acres of Vieques. Return to the people of Vieques all land still under the control of the U.S. Navy and the federal government."
For extensive documentation, see the attachments below and others at this link.
Helen Jaccard is Chair of the Veterans For Peace -- Environmental Cost of War and Militarism Working Group. She spent October, 2012 in Vieques doing research about the environmental and health effects of the military activities. Her previous article about Sardinia, Italy can be found at http://www.warisacrime.org/sardinia .
By Dave Lindorff
What’s wrong with the Obama administration’s proposal to change the way Social Security checks are adjusted for inflation from using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to instead using something called a “chained” CPI?
Let’s start with the fundamental problem: Social Security is not a cause of the federal budget deficit, and will not be for years, even if nothing is done to raise more revenue for the program.
By John Grant
“The elite always has a Plan B, while people have no escape.”
- Ahmad Saadawi
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.