Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Letter from Henry Kroll on the importance of Boulder Book Store and my reading tomorrow night

In my post on my talk/reading/signing on Black Patriots and Loyalists at Boulder Book Store, tomorrow (May 31) at 7:30 here, I emphasized the threat that independent book stores and libraries are under. The money-hungry culture of the 1% does not value education and independence of mind for the 99% or scholarship.

Henry Kroll wrote me a fine letter about the role of people who work in and run bookstores: his wife worked at Stacey's in San Franciso which has now, sadly, closed and comments on how helpful people are at the Boulder Book Store in working around the new admission fee for talks. He also makes the shrewd point that were J.K. Rowling to come, the store could collect whatever admission fee they liked, but for lesser known authors and for sometimes unusually good books, the fee probably diminishes the audience. It thus does exactly what a serious bookstore aims not to do (again, the terrible competition which such bookstores now face pushes them to seek additional sources of revenue, sometimes unwisely).

Henry rightly worries that the Boulder Book Store will be forced to cut back (ironically, Tattered Cover, though it has three stores, is less stocked with good books than the old Cherry Creek store - TC was the main reason I and my family went to Cherry Creek - and is also today gradually "trimming"). He makes the point that we all can work to support independent book stores. No community which is not a spiritual desert can do without a good bookstore.

"Hi Alan,

Like you I am very concerned with survival of ind. bookstores in communities all over (Boulder, Golden, Denver, San Francisco et al).

My wife ran for 6 years a one woman business - employment bookstore in San Francisco and worked then at Stacey's ... one of SF's oldest, best and well regarded store on Market Street which also hosted readings and programs some VERY progressive! With key window displays on one of the West's major boulevards. Stacey's (owned by Brodart Industries which makes and markets furniture and supplies for libraries and schools over over USA) closed about 2 or 3 years ago.

Likewise, I was aghast at the BBS $5 charge for admission for the book talks.

Clearly they CAN be counter productive.

However living in Boulder and attending many programs sometimes with out of town authors who I know from San Francisco
and others...I discern that the problem is NOT the fee itself. For noted authors who are well known to wider community and "famous" to some degree...the fee does not seem to keep a full house from forming at the store for the author's talk.

It is those who are "unknown" OR whose material is deemed "esoteric" by many that results in low turnout. Of course, the FEE may be an added obstacle.

However, the folks at the store on the night of the event .... have been very liberal in allowing those browsing the store or otherwise showing up to access the talk many times WITHOUT charging the fee. A simple curiousity and request to observe seems to get "last minute" folks in without the charge. Many on the staff agreed with us that the charge is counter productive. And it should be noted Tattered Cover DOES NOT charge for a program and in many cases, the same authors are covering BOTH Boulder Books and The Cover on a Colorado book tour.

With all that said, perhaps you can encourage your e mail readers to attend the program tomorrow [Hope I have...].

Even those paying the $5 charge can use the coupon towards a purchase that evening of ANY book in the store ... (or other items too such as DVD, Cards, et al - I believe).

Hopefully, Boulder residents and others nearby will NOT be discouraged and work with Boulder Books to help secure their survival and ask them to review their policy now that it has been in place nearly 2 years.

From one of the executives - I had learned that sales in February were down significantly. And while, it is unlikely a store such as Boulder Books in this university town with so many college grads working professionally ... will close down completely ... reduction of staff, floor space and diversity of titles might be coming unless the people keep supporting their local independent bookstores.

All the best,

Henry Kroll
Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder (UUCB)
member and Chair, Forum Planning Committee
Social Justice Council - UUCB
and National Board member, Action Coalition for Media Education"

In addition, Freedy Cole Shebaka, a singer/activist from Sierra Leone, wrote to me:

"Hi Professor Gilbert,

My name is Freddy Cole Shabaka and I'm a singer/songwriter from Sierra Leone based in the U.S. I just came across your name with regard to your work on the Black Loyalists and I just wanted to make contact with you. I recently released a song and video called "The Black Loyalists" after researching my own history. I am a Creole and we are descended from the Black Loyalists who are called Nova Scotians in Freetown, The Maroons from Jamaica, and other Africans collectively known as the "Recaptives" who were taken into slavery and released in Freetown by the British Navy patrols as they were enforcing the abolition of the slave trade. As I was researching my own ancestors I was able to make a connection to the Black Loyalists and found out that a very good friend of mine is a descendant of Thomas Peters and another friend of mine is descended from David George. I gave a little help to Maya Jasanoff in her book "Liberty's Exiles" as she planned her visit to Freetown to research the Black Loyalists.

It is very important that the story of the Black Loyalists be told as many people are unfamiliar with their story. We recently held a Black Loyalist event at a small cafe in Washington DC to help tell their story. We had Kevin Lowther who recently wrote a book on the Black Loyalist John Kizell, and we also had Nemata Blyden a history professor at George Washington University. I plan on doing more events to help tell this story to a wider audience. I wish you well in your work and I'm sure our paths will cross at some point. Black Loyalist Video Article on Black Loyalist event -video of event

Take Care

I wrote back:

"You will like Black Patriots and Loyalists. Unlike previous accounts, I emphasize the fight for democracy from below led by Peters and Isaac Anderson, around Granville Sharp's ideas, and against the autocracy and exploitativeness of the abolitionist Sierra Leone Company. The literature had portrayed the rebellion not as the first great fight for democracy in Africa (and hence a precursor of the Paris Commune in France), but as an early nationalism. But that view runs into the difficulty that of course David George and the Baptists supported Clarkson and paid quit-rents to the later governors; it was the Methodists, taking up Sharp's ideas, who rebelled in favor of serious local organization and democracy. This puts the democratic experiment in Sierra Leone in a context of radical democratic movements which is of broad, international historical interest (would that Toussaint had had some of these ideas in leading the revolt in Saint-Domingue!)."

I am also going to be in Washington from the evening of June 23rd till the morning of the 29th giving a talk at the Treasury Executive Initiative and appearing on the Marc Steiner show in Baltimore and hope to see Freddy and others in the Washington/Baltimore area.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Talk on Black Patriots and Loyalists, Boulder Book Store, this Thursday, May 31 at 7:30

I will talk about and sign Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence at Boulder Book Store this Thursday, May 31 at 7:30.

As a result of recent conversations about the book, I am increasingly connecting the failure of gradual emancipation in the South - a contingent or political failure, I argue in the book - with the reactionary character of the Constitution and how it shapes reaction, for instance, the Senate's fostering of the 1%, even now.

I have also been interested in what it means to find the right question: why I pursued the issue of a revolution for abolition internationally which surged into the American revolution and Haiti and beyond, while others have not (even in the case of Robin Blackburn's The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, memorable on the interplay of Saint Domingue/Haiti and the French Revolution, he dismissed this great story in the light of the economic restoration after the Revolution and the subsequent growth of bondage in the South*). For some of these discussions, see here, here and here.

The Boulder Book Store has been very helpful, but has the counter-productive, if increasingly common policy of charging a $5 admission which can be used toward the price of a book (several people have written to me about it). Like most independent book stores, Boulder Book Store is under threat from vacant - soulless - competition from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

The beauty of book stores where you can go in and look through books, be intrigued by something you didn't expect, begin reading to see if you like a book, sit down and get lost in it for a while, and then buy it and take it home, of owners who are interested in books and some of the subject matter and connecting with readers, of people working there who love to read and find, despite the difficulties, some joy in working in a bookstore - all this is being gradually lost, collections thinned out, the internet and virtual reality substituting for the physical pleasures of searching and reading, of living among books...

Unfortunately, the store's new policy will probably limit, to some extent, those who will come. Yet anyone who sets foot in the Boulder Book Store is likely to buy something, and any book beats the admission fee several times without stirring annoyance (since I feel it, I expect others do, too). The change in policy reveals the slow dying of an older epoch about reading (the moving of campus libraries largely off campus, the diminution of the stacks is part of this; going down in libraries to search for relevant and unexpected books has been a great experience since Cordoba and Alexandria and flourished until very recently...).

Driving people away who would come otherwise is, in any case, counterproductive.

Yet this is a fine book store, which plays an important role in the community in Boulder. I hope you will come, anyway. For those outside the area, I hope to get a videotape or audiotape up on the web shortly.

*In Blackburn's case, this is a problem of studying a number of revolutions, not probing the United States in depth, not doing a comparison with gradual emancipation in other independence movements in the hemisphere, and allowing economic determinist predispositions to cloud his judgments about North America. At the end of his second volume, written 10 years later, however, he mentions the tens of thousands of blacks who escaped and fought for the British as one of three great instances of slave revolt. That late glimmer might have led him to recast his earlier account, but so far, he has not.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What remains of American law?

The rule of law is what people fought for in the Revolution (though the Constitution enshrined slavery), in the Civil War which finally did in slavery, and in World War II against Nazism. It is the mark of freedom.

A free regime is one in which every human is recognized as free (no slaveries or sexisms or heterosexisms). It is one in which habeas corpus is upheld, in which each prisoner gets a day in court and is not subjected to torture. World War II vets have expressed pride that the US did not, as the Japanese and German fascists did, torture prisoners (or slaughter them).

But often, American patriotism seems connected with the opposite. In the Bush period, the little metal flags sported by officials accompanied the open propagation of torture, the rule of a police state. And what happened to Arabs, like the red crescent worker Lakhdar Boumedienne, was linked to the prison system in the United States (Charles Graner, a former prison guard locked up for Abu Ghraib as the scapegoat for Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzalez and Bush, had learned his techniques of sexual abuse by practicing them on black men in Florida). The massiveness of the American system of imprisonment is revealed in the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s 8 part series on the biggest prison system in the world, the one in Louisiana. This is a for profit system in which the rule of law has been deep-sixed – see here and Charles Blow’s startling column on "Plantations, Prisons, and Profits" Saturday in the New York Times here. It is revealed in Michelle Alexander’s account of the New Jim Crow – 2.3 million prisoners in the US (25% of the world’s prison population) and 5.1 million more on probation. It is revealed in the massive unemployment and foreclosure statistics of the current economic crisis, in debt-slavery for education to the banks (so much for democratic education), and in the revelations of the 99%.

Just as freedom at home and its propagation are linked (to fight for freedom against the Nazis in World War II and mobilize black soldiers among the recruits helped lead to Brown v. Board of Education and the civil rights movement – freedom is “chain connected” in John Rawls’s phrase), so, conversely, are oppressions at home and abroad. The treatment of prisoners – in American history in the 13th amendment’s permitting the enslavement of convicted prisoners and the leasing of convict labor through the late 19th and into the 20 the century; see Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name and here – and the practice of lynching under segregation was linked to the impoverishment of poor whites in the South (and throughout the country). And the abuse of prisoners of war today (in the so-called war on terror) is tied to the prison-probation complex and the impoverishment of the many.

For 7 years Lakhdar Boumediene was terrorism "suspect" 10005 and tortured by American authorities at Guantanamo (an Algerian who helped orphans in Sarajevo):

“An aid worker handling orphans in Sarajevo, Mr. Boumediene (pronounced boom-eh-DIEN) found himself swept up in the panic that followed Sept. 11, 2001. He likens himself to a caged cat, toyed with and tormented by fate and circumstance.

‘I learned patience,’ Mr. Boumediene, 46, said. He is a private man, trim and square-jawed and meticulously kempt, his eyes set in deep gray hollows. ‘There is no other choice but patience.’

The United States government has never acknowledged any error [let alone crime!} in detaining Mr. Boumediene, though a federal judge ordered his release, for lack of evidence, in 2008.”

Lakhdar fought his torturers through a law suit which bears his name now. And he went on hunger strike for the last 28 months of his imprisonment and was force-fed (how Gandhi would have been treated by the Bush administration/CIA if they had had him and not the British). What he did was civil disobedience to uphold the rule of law. And the American force-feeding, too, was torture…

Today Boumedienne is trying to put together a life, being an innocent but having been "judged" and tortured by the CIA at Bush's command far from any field of battle. He cannot now get a job. In the black hole of Guantanamo, his resume, helping orphans until 2001, is a black hole afterwards.

Most of those at Guantanamo were innocent. A few were guilty of actual or plotted crimes against American citizens, but torture was not a legal or moral or practical (it elicits what the torturer wants to hear, not useful information) way to deal with them. See "What the torturer knew" here.

No torture was involved in Obama taking out the mass murderer Osama Bin Laden.

The war criminals at Guantanamo were mainly the cowards in the White House, and, sadly, today the Democrats who, by protecting them, become accomplices.

I am for Truth and Reconciliation hearings for anyone who would tell the truth about these crimes, though the offenses committed, including the murder of over 100 prisoners in American custody according to the Pentagon, are, under American law, possible death sentence cases (it would be good to become a more civilized culture, one which barred capital punishment, a long way up from here…). The reason Obama doesn’t permit independent bipartisan hearings, let alone an independent prosecutor, however, is that the case in the public record against each of the principals is unfortunately a “slam-dunk,” legally speaking (with the likely exception of Colin Powell who seems to have opposed it in White House meetings – though there is yet no public record released beyond Cheney okaying the torture and Rice urging Geoge Tenet to go "do it," i.e. torture supposedly to get “information”).

Boumediene is a courageous and honorable man trying to put his life together on this memorial day, living in what the article calls quiet anger. He is symbolically the man in the iron mask – and everyone who hears his and all the stories must come to terms with the “America” which was (until Obama’s election) the most hated nation in the world. In a 2003 Pew Poll Bush was deemed the most dangerous tyrant in the world by 84%. Saddam Hussein 7%, Kim Jong-il 6%, other 1%. Obama now approaches these figures in the middle east.

One must pray that Boumedienne can cope. He has seen the enemies of freedom.

It is what soldiers sometimes do (though he is not a soldier). It is a courage that this day might also honor in a more courageous and freedom-loving country. I heard Tom Brokaw on AMC barking for pay about the well-beloved war movies that the History channel and AMC are showing all day. We will honor our warriors, he said.

We should honor and work to heal our soldiers. But too many crimes have been committed by the occupying armies in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the US - in the person of Romney and most of the Republicans but fortunately Obama still stands in the way - and Isreal now threaten Iran) to feel that Brokaw is anything other than a propagandist. Jonathan Shays’ books, Achilles in Vietnam, Odysseus in America, are now read even in the military to get a grip on the terrible consequences, for the soldiers, of war. Ptsd is now part of our vocabulary, the tip of an iceberg…

The soldiers here who hurled their medals at the NATO leaders this week are the genuine patriots of today.

But it would be a country that learned the lesson of Boumediene that could celebrate today with grace. That lesson is not only that he deserved habeas corpus – the best Supreme Court decision in recent times (one which Chief Justice Roberts naturally voted against) and one that looks increasingly like an outlier in that this Court consistently abridges the decency that underpins democracy – but that torturing disgraces the cause of freedom and what the soldiers fight for. See here.

It is honesty about Boumedienne and the resolve never again to do it which would mark such a day. It is honesty about the Iraq and Afghanistan occupation – why are only 27% of the American people today in favor of the war in/occupation of Afghanistan?* – which would mark such a day.

It is, sadly, not this celebration.

After Guantánamo, Starting Anew, in Quiet Anger
New York Times
Published: May 25, 2012

Nice, France

Lakhdar Boumediene was kept at Guantánamo from January 2002 until May 15, 2009 as terrorism suspect No. 10005, when he was released and put aboard a plane to France.

IT was James, a thickset American interrogator nicknamed “the Elephant,” who first told Lakhdar Boumediene that investigators were certain of his innocence, that two years of questioning had shown he was no terrorist, but that it did not matter, Mr. Boumediene says.

The interrogations would continue through what ended up being seven years, three months, three weeks and four days at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

An aid worker handling orphans in Sarajevo, Mr. Boumediene (pronounced boom-eh-DIEN) found himself swept up in the panic that followed Sept. 11, 2001. He likens himself to a caged cat, toyed with and tormented by fate and circumstance.

“I learned patience,” Mr. Boumediene, 46, said. He is a private man, trim and square-jawed and meticulously kempt, his eyes set in deep gray hollows. “There is no other choice but patience.”

The United States government has never acknowledged any error in detaining Mr. Boumediene, though a federal judge ordered his release, for lack of evidence, in 2008.

The government did not appeal, a Defense Department spokesman noted, though he declined to answer further questions about Mr. Boumediene’s case. A State Department representative declined to discuss the case as well, except to point to a Justice Department statement announcing Mr. Boumediene’s transfer to France, in 2009.

More than a decade has passed since his arrest in Bosnia, since American operatives shackled his feet and hands, dropped a black bag over his head and flew him to Guantánamo. Since his release three years ago, Mr. Boumediene, an Algerian by birth, has lived anonymously in the south of France, quietly enraged but determined to start anew and to resist the pull of that anger.

He calls Guantánamo a “black hole.” Islam carried him through, he says. In truth, though, he still cannot escape it, and is still racked by questions. “I think back over everything in my life, all the stages, who my friends were, who I did this or that with, who I had a simple coffee with,” Mr. Boumediene said. “I do not know, even now, why I was at Guantánamo.”

There were early accusations of a plot to bomb the American Embassy in Sarajevo; he lived in that city with his family, working for the Red Crescent, the Muslim branch of the Red Cross. President George W. Bush hailed his arrest in a State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 2002.

In time, those accusations disappeared, Mr. Boumediene says, replaced by questions about his work with Muslim aid groups and suggestions that those groups financed Islamic terrorism. According to a classified detainee assessment from April 2008, published by WikiLeaks, investigators believed that he was a member of Al Qaeda and the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria. Those charges, too, later vanished.

In a landmark case that bears Mr. Boumediene’s name, the Supreme Court in 2008 affirmed the right of Guantánamo detainees to challenge their imprisonment in court. Mr. Boumediene petitioned for his release.

In court, the government’s sole claim was that Mr. Boumediene had intended to travel to Afghanistan to take up arms against the United States. A federal judge rejected that charge as unsubstantiated, noting that it had come from a single unnamed informer. Mr. Boumediene arrived in France on May 15, 2009, the first of two non-French former detainees to settle here.

Mr. Boumediene retreated into himself at Guantánamo, he says. He speaks little of his past now; with few exceptions, his neighbors know him only as a husband and a father. He lives with the wife and two daughters from whom he was once taken, and a son born here two years ago. More than vengeance, or even justice, he wants a return to normalcy.

He lives at the whim of the French state, though. France has permitted Mr. Boumediene to settle in public housing in Nice, where his wife has family, but he is not a French citizen, nor has he been granted asylum or permanent residence. His Algerian and Bosnian passports, misplaced by the American authorities, have not been reissued, leaving him effectively stateless.

Money comes in a monthly transfer to his French bank account. He does not know who, exactly, pays it. (The terms of his release have not been made public or revealed even to him.) He has been seeking work for years.

RECRUITERS typically scan his résumé with an air of approval, he said, until noting that it ends in 2001. He tells them that his is a “particular case,” that he spent time in prison. He avoids the word “Guantánamo,” he said, as it often stirs more fear than sympathy.

Mr. Boumediene arrived at Guantánamo on Jan. 20, 2002, nine days after the camp began operations. He was beaten on arrival, he said. Refusing food for the final 28 months of his detention, he was force-fed through a tube inserted up a nostril and down his throat, he said. There was a hole in the seat of the chair to which he was chained, sometimes clothed, sometimes not; as the liquid streamed into his stomach, his bowels often released.

He emerged gaunt, with wrists scarred from seven years of handcuffs, almost unable to walk without the shackles to which he had grown accustomed, he said. Crowds terrified him, as did rooms with closed doors, said Nathalie Berger, a doctor who worked with Mr. Boumediene shortly after his release.

Dr. Berger was moved, she said, by his equanimity and his “strength to live.”
“He has no hate for the American people,” she said, though Mr. Bush is another matter. Mr. Boumediene has been disappointed too by President Obama, who pledged to close Guantánamo but has not done so.

Born in the hills of northwestern Algeria, Mr. Boumediene served for two years in the Algerian military before following a friend to Pakistan in 1990, to aid refugees of the Afghan civil war.

He found work as a proctor at an orphanage and school operated by a Kuwaiti aid organization, a post that investigators later seized on as evidence of ties to terrorism.

A man identified as a director of the group, Zahid al-Shaikh, is the brother of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, who has been held at Guantánamo since 2006 and is now to be tried before a military court. Mr. Shaikh’s signature appeared on Mr. Boumediene’s contract, but the two had little interaction, Mr. Boumediene said.

He moved to Yemen, studying at the French cultural center in Sana; fighting there drove him to Albania, where he worked for the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. Deadly riots erupted in 1997, and he received a transfer to Bosnia.
Violence seemed to trail him, his interrogators noted. He has come to understand their suspicions, he said.

In Nice, Mr. Boumediene has grown friendly with a neighbor, Babette. She brings him coffee, he said, and gifts for his young son. They share meals at Christmas and on Muslim holy days.

He feared she might no longer come if she knew his past. In January, though, it was the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and there was media coverage. Babette asked if it was true.

“I told her, ‘It’s fate, and it’s life,’ ” Mr. Boumediene said. She still comes to call, he said, and still calls him “my brother.”

“Little by little, now, there are people who know who I am,” he said. Some offer cautious words of encouragement, others their apologies.

“I do not know what the right reaction is,” he said, but he does like a reaction, just the same.

*See Anne Gearon, of the Associated Press, "Support for Afghan war at new low," The Denver Post, May 10, 2012, p. 15A.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

KGNU can be heard in real time anywhere on the worldwide web

Duncan Campbell just sent the following note, relevant to our dialogue tomorrow at 12:30 - see here:

All programs on KGNU are simulcast on the worldwide web, so can be listened to in real time from anywhere at at the correlative time where the listener is located - e.g., 12:30-1pm in Colorado, 11:30-noon in Pacific time zone, 2:30-3pm in Eastern time zone, etc. around the world. This May 27 Living Dialogues Part 2 program will be archive accessible after the broadcast/simulcast at:, and Part 1 is accessible at www,

I will be on Living Dialogues with Duncan Campbell, Sunday, 12:30 pm on KGNU, AM 1390, FM 88.5

I will be on Living Dialogues with Duncan Campbell, Sunday, 12:30 pm on KGNU AM 1390, FM 88.5. This is the second part of a conversation about the success of the revolution for emancipation, described in Black Patriots and Loyalists, in the North - analogous to the independence movement which achieved gradual emancipation under Bolivar in Venezuela - but its failure, determined largely for political reasons, in the South. The conversation begins from the surprising centrality of black soldiers on both sides in the decisive battle at Yorktown as reported by Georg Daniel Flohr, a German private fighting for the Royal Deux-ponts on the Patriot side, who walked around the field and surveyed the corposes: a majority, he wrote, were "Mohren" (Moors, blacks).

Duncan raises an important consequence of the defeat of emancipation in the South: the Constitution enshrined slaveowners (Presidents for 52 of the first 72 years of the Republic, and the only ones elected to two terms). See here for part 1 of the conversation, here and here. The 3/5th rule (article 1, section 2 paragraph 3) - counting fractions of slaves to create pseudo-votes on behalf of their masters - caused the election of Jefferson and increased the representation of slave-owners in Congress by roughly a third with many evil consequences, including the genocide toward the Cherokee in Georgia.

Article 1 section 9 forbidding citizens to aid escaped slaves was a) a reaction to mass escape to and fighting with the Crown against the colonists during the Revolution (the infamy of the colonists' cause: "how come we hear the greatest yelps for liberty from the drivers of slaves?" asked Samuel Johnson, of Tom Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, bitingly), Along with a force of 50,000 troops, the section underpinned the seizure and deportation of Anthony Burns against a great crowd of abolitionists in Boston in 1854 - there is a powerful sermon of James Freeman Clark denouncing this - and the infamous Dred Scott decision (Justice Roberts has not quite achieved the distinction of Roger Taney but on Guantanamo and other matters, he is working hard at it).

The discussion in this second part will explore the consequences of the anti-democratic character of the Constitution for current developments, including the new debt-slavery of students. For those not in the Colorado area, the audio will also be available on KGNU's website - - shortly after the show.

This Thursday, May 31, I will be talking about/signing Black Patriots and Loyalists at Boulder Book Store at 7:30.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Amartya Sen and the Cloud of Ignorance

Amartya Sen has a wonderful sense of humor. And in commenting on the travesty of European austrity, he pokes at the misguidedness of the 1/10 of 1% without quite saying that a cloud of malign ignorance is what has banished science. Keynsian economics, as I have emphasized previously, for instance, here, says what to do about a depression. Put money into the hands of poor people through work (as in the stimulus) and they will spend it immediately and in the local economy. The multiplier effect will get the economy going again.

Give money, on the contrary, to Goldman Sachs and Mitt Romney and they will spend in China, or perhaps on a house abroad or bury it in a Cayman Islands account, and there will be little to no multiplier.

This insight, which Keynes had initially to fight through neoclassical ideology to gain, is not rocket science. It does, once again as in the case of the stimulus which avoided a great depression, make a huge difference.

This past year, George Demartino, my friend and colleague, organized a wonderful series of talks at the Korbel School on ignorance or humility - as opposed to the cloud of obscurantism - and social "science." In the economics profession, the Koch brothers and other narrow-minded billionaires have thrown sand in the eyes of economists and students, resulting in ignorance or at least underestimation, in the United States and in Europe, about this central Keynsian point. In a book edited by Seymour Harris, Saving American Capitalism (1946), my father, Richard Gilbert, once wrote forcefully about this insight and what had been learned in combatting the depression (which notably included the war economy launched in World War II).**

But politically, as we can see in the massive attacks on Obama (a centrist with very limited Keynsian tendencies, one perhaps overly influenced by Chicago "economics") and the elevation of Romney - with a blueprint for doing to social security and medicare what he did to firms at Bain Capital: sucking them dry to benefit the 1% - and the horrendous Republican cry for austerity (extending even to Ron Paul), sound insight - or science in so far as one can speak of social science - is mocked. The cure for gross inequalities - public spending to employ those who are unemployed, coupled with, for example, public financing of higher education (instead of creating debt-slavery to banks) - is known; how capitalism might not founder could be realized, but politics, or the overwhelming influence of the 1/10 of 1% in politics crushes this, and as Krugman emphasizes, imposes enormous, unncessary human misery.

As Europe founders, so will America (and the US, with a trillion dollars backing Romney, might even elect him - "corporations, my friend," he says happily, "are people" - and enforce even greater austerity on the poor), leading to a renewed depression which may make the "great depression" seem halcyon (for poor blacks and Chicanos, the average rate of unemployment in the depression already does). It is a bad thing to toss away morally useful and important knowledge...

In Development of Freedom (Amartya’s best book, I think), he ties serious economic development to the realization of individual capabilities (substantive freedom). If one looks at life expectancy (a big part of capabilities), for example, "backward" but egalitarian and anti-sexist Kerala in India beats the US.

The aim of economics, as he suggests in "The Crisis of European Democracy" below, improving Keynes, is to enable people, through providing enough income to exercise their basic rights, to participate in democratic deliberations. It takes a certain level of income or redistribution to do this; it may even take radical egalitarianism to make democratic participation, short of revolt, effective, though in extreme cases, as Amartya emphasizes about preventing famines, even the existence of an opposition newspaper may be sufficient.

This point in the book is a decisive argument for democracies compared to authoritarian regimes (it contrasts with the much hyped but currently vacant democratic peace hypothesis, since America has overthrown some 15 non-white democracies by CIA sponsored coups and under Bush corrupted Europe to set up secret sites for torture. See here, here, here and here. The hypothesis would only be true of some more genuinely democratic regimes, ones which served a common good, not that were organized to achieve what Rousseau calls a "will of all" in an oligarchy with parliamentary forms (in today's terms, elections to approve the will of the 1%).**

Amartya rightly notes that the European experts who enforce austerity (notably the Germans still fearful of a repeat of the 1923 inflation and irrationally invoking this as a mantra instead of looking clearly at today's circumstances) are anti-democrats. They do not care to explain supposed economic "necessities" to the poor or argue in some serious way for why they are victimizing the 99% and elevating a narrow stratum of bankers...

Perhaps that is because there is no such case to be made. Amartya adds cuttingly that the Greeks were not doing badly in terms of debt until the great recession of 2008 hit. The moralizing (and or racism) toward Southern Europe - a big deal among Germans as I learned vividly in Mallorca a few years ago - is empty and false.

Sen has done a lot to make the economics profession and development economics serious. The clarity of this op-ed piece is a sign of the distinction of that work.

The Crisis of European Democracy

Published: May 22, 2012
Cambridge, Mass.

IF proof were needed of the maxim that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the economic crisis in Europe provides it. The worthy but narrow intentions of the European Union’s policy makers have been inadequate for a sound European economy and have produced instead a world of misery, chaos and confusion.

There are two reasons for this.

First, intentions can be respectable without being clearheaded, and the foundations of the current austerity policy, combined with the rigidities of Europe’s monetary union (in the absence of fiscal union), have hardly been a model of cogency and sagacity. Second, an intention that is fine on its own can conflict with a more urgent priority — in this case, the preservation of a democratic Europe that is concerned about societal well-being. These are values for which Europe has fought, over many decades.

Certainly, some European countries have long needed better economic accountability and more responsible economic management. However, timing is crucial; reform on a well-thought-out timetable must be distinguished from reform done in extreme haste. Greece, for all of its accountability problems, was not in an economic crisis before the global recession in 2008. (In fact, its economy grew by 4.6 percent in 2006 and 3 percent in 2007 before beginning its continuing shrinkage.)

The cause of reform, no matter how urgent, is not well served by the unilateral imposition of sudden and savage cuts in public services. Such indiscriminate cutting slashes demand — a counterproductive strategy, given huge unemployment and idle productive enterprises that have been decimated by the lack of market demand. In Greece, one of the countries left behind by productivity increases elsewhere, economic stimulation through monetary policy (currency devaluation) has been precluded by the existence of the European monetary union, while the fiscal package demanded by the Continent’s leaders is severely anti-growth. Economic output in the euro zone continued to decline in the fourth quarter of last year, and the outlook has been so grim that a recent report finding zero growth in the first quarter of this year was widely greeted as good news.

There is, in fact, plenty of historical evidence that the most effective way to cut deficits is to combine deficit reduction with rapid economic growth, which generates more revenue. The huge deficits after World War II largely disappeared with fast economic growth, and something similar happened during Bill Clinton’s presidency. The much praised reduction of the Swedish budget deficit from 1994 to 1998 occurred alongside fairly rapid growth. In contrast, European countries today are being asked to cut their deficits while remaining trapped in zero or negative economic growth.

There are surely lessons here from John Maynard Keynes, who understood that the state and the market are interdependent. But Keynes had little to say about social justice, including the political commitments with which Europe emerged after World War II. These led to the birth of the modern welfare state and national health services — not to support a market economy but to protect human well-being.

Though these social issues did not engage Keynes deeply, there is an old tradition in economics of combining efficient markets with the provision of public services that the market may not be able to deliver. As Adam Smith (often seen simplistically as the first guru of free-market economics) wrote in “The Wealth of Nations,” there are “two distinct objects” of an economy: “first, to provide a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or, more properly, to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services.”

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Europe’s current malaise is the replacement of democratic commitments by financial dictates — from leaders of the European Union and the European Central Bank, and indirectly from credit-rating agencies, whose judgments have been notoriously unsound.

Participatory public discussion — the “government by discussion” expounded by democratic theorists like John Stuart Mill and Walter Bagehot — could have identified appropriate reforms over a reasonable span of time, without threatening the foundations of Europe’s system of social justice. In contrast, drastic cuts in public services with very little general discussion of their necessity, efficacy or balance have been revolting to a large section of the European population and have played into the hands of extremists on both ends of the political spectrum.

Europe cannot revive itself without addressing two areas of political legitimacy. First, Europe cannot hand itself over to the unilateral views — or good intentions — of experts without public reasoning and informed consent of its citizens. Given the transparent disdain for the public, it is no surprise that in election after election the public has shown its dissatisfaction by voting out incumbents.

Second, both democracy and the chance of creating good policy are undermined when ineffective and blatantly unjust policies are dictated by leaders. The obvious failure of the austerity mandates imposed so far has undermined not only public participation — a value in itself — but also the possibility of arriving at a sensible, and sensibly timed, solution.

This is a surely a far cry from the “united democratic Europe” that the pioneers of European unity sought.

Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate and a professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard, is the author, most recently, of “The Idea of Justice.”

* Even Romney and the Republicans are "military Keynsians."

** That "elected" leaders survive while enforcing austerity - for the majority or the 99% - while the rich make unheard of profits is a puzzling phenomenon. Capitalism may make itself politically - and against science - hard to save (unfortunately, it is taking all of us down with it...).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vets hurl their medals at the NATO – imperialist - leaders in Chicago

The occupy and anti-war movements swept together in Chicago to battle NATO. NATO is an agency of war in Afghanistan, and which takes some of the financial heat off American militarism. The news covers the President’s view, Obama trying to get others to do "their share," Merkel to back off austerity a little, not drive Greece into the ground, out of the Euro (and as it fails to add, producing bank runs, further economic collapse and shock waves that would engulf America and the world). The media try again to talk down Occupy, even Andrew Sullivan and his blog (Andrew is quite reactionary about movements from below).

But the march Sunday was of some fifteen thousand. While there was a brief clash with police – Chicago under Rahm Emmanuel is an armed camp, a police state on behalf of the 1/10 of 1% - the most significant anti-war action was carried out by some 40 soldiers from Iraq Veterans against the War. They marched as a unit, then spoke briefly, each dedicating throwing away the war medals with which she or he had been decorated, to, for example, the Afghanis occupied and routinely slaughtered by the US/NATO – 2 women from Afghanis for Peace were there – murdered and displaced Iraqis, women sexually abused in the army, and Americans misled about what each war the US engages in is about. Take a few minutes to listen to their words here.

Each of the 40 spoke briefly and eloquently about how they had signed on after 9/11, prepared to fight the enemies of democracy and human rights, and found out, in Afghanistan and Iraq, that they themselves were among those enemies. Official words betrayed these men and women.

In contrast, their words are powerful, their throwing the medals toward the sick NATO meeting apt – there is no support for these wars in Europe and 2/3 of Americans want the US out of Afghanistan. The mainstream or oligarchic political spectrum is pulling in the opposite direction: Obama who escalated, though is now withdrawing forces slowly; Romney who demands more escalation and military spending....

That American politics has little to do with democracy or the will of ordinary people except in exceptional circumstances and given protest movements from below is captured in the polling about resistance to Afghanistan (the American people are also in large majorities for universal health coverage - try to get it by Congress and medical insurance companies, however; for bringing down the size of the prison system - 25% of the world's prisoners, 2.3 million - but privatized prisons and a whole bureaucracy of prison authorities block the way and so forth...).

Scott Olsen was one of the veterans who spoke. He tossed four medals at the NATO generals - toward the gate of the Nato "summit" - and then marched in a black helmet to protect his head. Freeing himself of American illusions, seeing the war on the ground, he became very critical of the US government while in Iraq. Back in Oakland, he went to an Occupy demonstration on October 25 and was shot by in the skull by a beanbag canister from a far off cop, his skull fractured, unable to speak for weeks. But he is now able to talk eloquently with Amy Goodman and embodies a courage in demonstrating against NATO which is exemplary for all of us who need to stand up against these aggressions/imperial wars. See here.

A march of several hundred against the closing of mental hospitals had gone to Rahnm Emmanuel’s house Saturday. See here.

But the corporate press would not cover any of it. Debbie Delgado who has been in a mental hospital - recently thrown out for lack of funding - whose son has ptsd from holding his dying brother, killed by a gang - now is leading the sit-ins against the smug Emmanuel. She had voted for Emmanuel and names his betrayal. She says her son cannot even now get money to cover visits with psychologists for treatment. But the Congress and Obama spend on the military, Rahm on the Cubs and on the police state clamping down on protest against NATO...

What is, she asks, of real importance in America?

In a Hegel and Heidegger seminar yesterday morning, I asked: what happened of major significance in Chicago over the weekend? Most people did not have a clear idea except that the police had combatted protests.

Yvonne Barela, a military leader in Iraq who has spoken of the corruption of the military and the joy of being in Occupy, had watched the protests on C-Span, seen the demonstrators refuse to disperse (hands at their sides, some pushed into the police). The police attacked them.

But even Yvonne had not heard the soldiers' words.

What DemocracyNow ran on Monday was a major story about the human meaning of American militarism. These soldiers had not gained their military honors lightly. Their words and their throwing the medals at NATO name the truth.

And the coverage of all the mainstream papers - the war complex led by the New York Times was nothing but imperial progaganda. No emptier words could have been found about protestors in Putin's Russia in Russian newspapers today (or in Pravda during the Soviet era) or in Iran about the Green movement.

A recent New York Times story admitted that even Obama did not want to escalate the war in Afghanistan, knew Al-Qaida was in Pakistan (Pak-Af not Af-Pak). Nonetheless, being President of an empire, he buckled to militarism and launched the surge. He is now, however, drawing the surge down, just not rapidly enough. Of course, Obama's use of drones, advised by the war criminal John Brennan, has killed many innocent people in Pakistan (and Yemen and Somalia, inter alia), and bred hatred for the United States. That is what it means to be even a clever - striving for the more decent possibilities within an indecent spectrum - head of the Empire.

American militarism or the war complex (or to spell it out, the military-industrial-Congressional-academic-media-think tank-intelligence-with a large foreign component like the Egyptian military dependent on US weapons largesse-complex) is part of American imperialism. Last night Hilary Putnam and I were talking and Hilary read a passage from the powerful introduction by F.M Cornford, a Trinity College at Cambridge translator of Plato's Republic, written in 1945. Here the idea of fascism as nothing but the advantage of the stronger is vivid, and Cornford easily connects Thrasymachus in book one of the Republic - see here, here, here and here - and the Athenian ambassadors at Melos (“the strong take what they can and the weak suffer what they must”) with imperialism.

It was not then hard to see that Hitler and Mussolini and Franco represented murderous imperalism on the part of an elite headed by a strong Fuehrer/Duce/"commander in chief power." It was not then hard in England to remember that the British empire was one on which the sun never set. The defeat of Churchill, a good war leader but an odious imperialist, was a precondition for the 1947 independence of India and Pakistan.*

Cornford was one of many Britains who saw the dangers in imperialism - the corruption of the Athenian ambassadors and Thrasymachus - and wanted no part in empire. He refers to the term – one of Lenin’s apt ideas – easily, in a way that is absent from today's American political and academic discourse.

But the need to dominate the world, to ship products and move capital here and there, to create the WTO to overrule any democratic decisions made within nation under pressure from below to protect the environment or human rights (see Michelle SforzaWhose Trade Organization), to have 1280 military bases secretly abroad, to spend a trillion dollars on militarism, to create the financial casino that brought the world economy down (Eduardo Porter reports in the Times today that the financial crisis lost 3 and one-half years of the world's economic output, and cost households $19.3 trillion dollars - see here), to serve the raider Romneys and odious Bloombergs and “barely Democratic” Jamie Dimons of this world while the 99% suffer is imperialism. The reign of finance capital which Lenin foresaw during the first World War has now achieved, with credit default swaps and derivatives, a degree of mathematical bizarreness - or a harmful to the common good rot - which he could not have imagined.

Arguably, the restrictions of the New Deal on the unbridled rule of finance capital - unemployment insurance, social security and Glass-Steagall (preventing banks from speculating with the deposits of ordinary people) – at least in tandem with the war economy in the Second World War – staved off such extremes of luxury and poverty for an epoch. But today what Lenin foresaw (and something even more ferocious than what Marx and Engels foresaw in the Manifesto where the proletariat was supposed to be the majority, but not the bottom 80% and in certain ways, even the bottom 99%) is startling.

I speak as a faculty member in a School of International Studies where no matter how corrupt American policy, the misnaming of American policies still echoes the State Department and Presidents (imperialism is, as it were, the sun, and the media and even many academics distant planets). America can not, can not, they say, be an empire; Presidents at least intend something good. While the leaders of America's enemies wear the "emperor's new clothes" - Iran tortures in its prisons - America engages in "enchanced interrogations" so the New York Times' reporting puts it and no one is brought to trial for what has been made - not legally, but as a matter of propaganda - a non-crime.

Academics do not speak of Obama as an imperialist, i.e. in English (Bush presses the matter, but in this fantasy, even he is not a war criminal and an imperialist).

Listen, once again, to the voices of these soldiers who threw their medals at NATO. Barack Obama is trying to save the American elite from its depradations (a collapsed economy and a destroyed planet is also not a survivable place to flourish even for the 1/10th of 1%). Only the force of Occupy, however, impelled Obama to recover himself...

Obama has apparently set himself the goal of being a more able President for the empire than others. American imperialism, hidden by New York Times propaganda and academic circumlocution, is a corrupt thing. Occupy and the new anti-war movement are making the truth known.

Here are Cornford’s refreshing words, ones that would not be said by today's Struassian interpreters of Plato - a few wishful enthusiasts like Bill Kristol allude to a "benevolent hegemon" - or others, but should be heard afresh:

"Born in the year of the revolution at Corcyra and the revolt of Mitylene, Plato, as a child of twelve, had seen the Athenian fleet set sail on the disastrous expedition against Syracuse, and he was twenty-three when Athens capitulated and lost her empire to Sparta. The steps by which this empire had grown out of a defensive league of maritime states, formed after the repulse of the Persian invader at Salamis( 480), are traced in the first book of Thucydides. The rule of Periclean democracy over subjects who had once been allies had not been oppressive; but the Athenians themselves, as represented by their envoys at Sparta on the eve of the war, can find no better excuse than the plea that empire was forced upon them by the three most powerful motives, ambition, fear, and interest.

'We are not the first who have aspired to rule; the world has ever held that the weaker must be kept down by the stronger. And we think that we are worthy of power; and there was a time when you thought so too; but now when you mean expediency you talk about justice. Did justice ever deter anyone from taking by force whatever he could? Men who indulge the natural ambition of empire deserve credit if they are in any degree more careful of justice than they need be. How moderate we are would speedily appear if others took out place.'

The same philosophy of imperialism is even more frankly expressed by the Athenian representatives in the dialogue with the Melians which Thucydides prefixed to his story of Athens' aggression against Syracuse. It is also the philosophy of Thrasymachus in the first Part of the Republic.

The Peloponnesian War was, to a greater extent than Thucydides seems to have realized, a struggle between the business interests of Athens and Corinth for commercial supremacy in the West: all wars, Plato remarked, are made for the sake of getting money.** And, as at other times in the world's history, the same all-powerful motive was inflaming, within the several states, the ever-present conflict between oligarch and democrat or, in simpler terms, between rich and poor -- the conflict which it was one of Plato's chief aims to extinguish."***

*Divide and rule was an horrific policy which helped split apart the United India of Badshah Khan, leader of the Pathans, and Gandhi. See here. 13 million people were slaughtered along the borders. But one should not forget that the movement, including Gandhi’s and Khan’s nonviolence, had removed any patriarchal “moral” authority from the Crown, revealed the nakedness of imperialism as Occupy has of the 1/10th of 1%, and after the war against fascism, contributed decisively to bringing the Empire down.

**Perhaps Cornford is thinking of Glaucon's demand for a city of luxuries, a fevered city, which as Socrates points out, must aggress against others.

"Then we must further enlarge the city [, says Socrates]. The well-founded city we started with will not be enough. It must be extended and filled up with superfluities. There will, for example, be hunters aplenty. There will be crowds of imitators, those who paint and sculpt. Others will make music; there will be poets and their attendants, rhapsodizers, players, dancers and impresarios.There will be a market for a greater variety of goods, and stylish women will want dressmakers and more servants. Will not tutors be in demand as well along with wet-nurses and dry-nurses, barbers and beauticians, cooks and bakers? We shall also require swineherds. There was no need for them in our original city, for there were no pigs there. Now, however, we shall need pigs as well as other kinds of animals for those who will eat them."

"You are right" [Glaucon]

"And this way of life will require many more doctors than were needed before." [Socrates]

"That is certain" [Glaucon]

"Must we assume that the territory that was once sufficient to feed the city will no longer be adequate?" [Socrates]

"Yes." [Glaucon}

"So we shall covet some of our neighbor's lands in order to expand our pasture and tillage." (Republic, 373b-d)

***The city in speech seems to do this. But since that city is also Glaucon's city, a send-up and not a philosopher's city (an ideal which is hinted at in the Republic, but also a small city), one might wonder whether in actual cities, Plato hoped to do more than bridle such depradations. See here. Socrates (and I suspect, in his own way, Plato), stood for a modified Athenian democracy, one in which philosophy and questioning would be tolerated, one in which mad and self-destructive imperial efforts like Israeli or American bombing of Iran, would be stopped. Cornford, nonetheless, gives apt names to the policies.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Interview today with Donnie Betts, KGNU, AM 1390, FM 88.5 at 3 pm

Donnie Betts will interview me today about Black Patriots and Loyalists on KGNU AM 1390, FM 88.5 on Metro at 3pm. Donnie is currently making a film about Vincent Harding and is a longtime activist against racism. As one can see from previous posts, I am engaged in a further conversation, beyond the book, about the international revolution for abolition as well as one about the shaping of American institutions in order to preserve slavery, the side effects of which - for instance, genocide against indigenous people, the obstruction of New Deal legislation, student debt-"slavery" and the prison-probation complex today are devastating. See here, here, here and here. The conversation should be lively.

For the facebook page about Black Patriots and Loyalists, see here.

An evening at Tattered Cover

For a video of my talk/reading at Tattered Cover, see here, here, here and here.(h/t Rich Rockwell and Sage Bard-Gilbert) Tattered Cover is a Denver institution, a great independent book store which I and my family have gone to for many years. Joyce Meskis who owns it has stood up against tyrannical subpoenas to demand the titles of books people read and won. Friends have worked at TC (once upon a time, at the original Cherry Creek store, a woman was visited by someone from Highlands Ranch peremptorily demanding a generic “book, a book” for a gift; fortunately, most of those who shop at TC are not like this). And many have been delighted by the look and feel of the books, the sitting in comfortable chairs, the few minutes entering a book or perhaps even longer, getting lost in it. This independent bookstore has survived in three settings, yet in somewhat reduced form, the competition of corporate emptiness for "leading titles" diminishing it {the shell that is Barnes and Noble propagates...). The competition has killed the six poetry book stores in Denver which existed two decades ago, each of which had more interesting and diverse offerings than even TC once upon a time and certainly than TC now. Yet Tattered Cover stands.

Talking about Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence at TC was special. Friends from as long as 30 years came out, students from now and strangers. Pat who works at the bookstore was very welcoming, the book itself is stunning (Chicago Press did a wonderful job with it, notably the cover, but every aspect is as good), the table with all the books invitingly arranged, and Debbie Main who introduced my talk was charming on how she had commented to me a few weeks ago that when she had met me in 2006, I was just getting started on the book, and I had to laugh – “I have 10 years in on it already.”

It ought to be natural for authors at the University of Denver to read at Tattered Cover. And yet, more simply academic books – though Black Patriots and Loyalists is also based on discoveries in many archives, opened up by the questions I had come to ask about seemingly well known material – do not figure in the list of Tattered Cover readings. So at least at the Korbel School, I am the first faculty member to have read there (Paula Boardwell, a former student, read from her book on David Petraeus - All In – a couple of months ago). But many wonderful people – novelists, chefs, political figure, travel writers and political scientists like Andrew Bacevich, with his powerful indictment of American imperial policy, written as an officer who has lived the code of honor and whose son died for it in Iraq, have read there over many years. This was, for me, a resonant event.

In the video, perhaps more sharply than elsewhere, I connect the two revolutions and the heroism and sacrifice of those who fought for equality, from Gabriel to my friend Andy Goodman. During and after independence, the revolution from below for gradual abolition won in the North; its defeat in the South has shaped American history down to the racism – is there much else? – of the Romney campaign?*

The influence of the slaveholders continues in the senate – I mean the constitutional design of Madison, see here** - and was also realized in the President being a slave-master 52 out of the first 72 years of the republic and during segregation - see, for example, Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by another Name about the prison system. Enslavement of those convicted of “crimes” in the South was written into the Thirteenth Amendment while the real criminals, those who threw away the lives of black children and poor whites, the Senators, Vice Presidents (Garner under FDR) and the like, lived in mansions:

"Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Following the sacrifices of the Civil War, Congress did a good thing in adopting the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Union soldiers marched into battle singing "John Brown's Body lies amoulderin' in the grave but his soul goes marching on."*** Those who depict the war simply as mere empty slaughter (it was horrific...), let alone as the embodiment of the "glory of the lost South,"**** apologize for, if not extol slave-owners and blot out the commitment to freedom and equality of these soldiers.

Still, in passing the amendments, Congress could not just do a good thing. For in a decent regime, to imprison someone for a crime cannot be to enslave them. Any aspect of bondage - for instance, today's prison/probation complex - undermines equal freedom, a free regime for everyone else (if prisoners csn be thrown away, those on probation and citizens outside can be more fiercely oppressed). The "except as punishment for a crime" clause is thus one of the worst passages in the constitution.

In general, nothing unambiguously good happens in politics, let alone in mainstream American politics. Put differently, the politics of the civil rights movement or the anti-war movement from below or of Arab spring or of Occupy is, broadly speaking, good but that is rarely true of establishment or corporate politics in a highly inegalitarian regime. Perhaps this is one of the things that my colleague and friend Arthur Gilbert was driving it in his first question (one I did not answer at the talk) on the complexity of revolutions (and politicians).

Even the Emancipation Proclamation, very important, did not free, let alone make citizens of all slaves in the United States, just those in states that seceded, and only as "freedmen" and initially 20,000.*****

The marvelous holiday of Juneteenth, celebrating emancipation in Texas in 1865 (Texas was omitted in the Proclamation), is the important American holiday about abolition. See here. It is currently mainly celebrated by black people with some whites (Martin Luther King day is more encompassing). While he was mayor of Denver, Wellington Webb would have the celebration in Five Points dispersed at its conclusion with fire hoses (he here incarnated the black middle class; no mayor would disperse a mainly white crowd in Cherry Creek or on the 16th street mall with fire hoses). Arthur, who combines teaching my book, Blackmon's and Michelle Alexander's to provide insights into the central thread of racism in American history, sadly but unsurprisingly, did not include Juneteenth in his comment...

And the Bill of Rights is stated harmlessly to embrace state's rights (Amendment 10), but these long included slavery and segregation...

One might wish that Obama were more like the original campaigner and less a politician (and push him from below in the direction of decency – Occupy has actually restored him to himself and he needs to be pushed much further). This, too, is unsurprising. For there is nothing simply good in American documents (or politicians) even the Declaration of Independence indicts King George for supposedly stirring domestic insurrections (slave revolts) against the colonists - blacks initiated the revolts; those who purport to seek freedom do not enslave others - and unleashing on them native americans whose supposed "known rule of warfare" is to kill every woman and child. The latter is a genocidal projection on Jefferson's part and a knowing lie.

As I say in response to questions, it must have been the white folks murdered at Sand Creek by indigenous people. In American propaganda, the actual perpetrators of genocide, General Chivington whose statue still stands at the State House and Governor Evans for whom Mt. Evans, Evans Blvd, Evans Chapel at the University of Denver and Evans professors at DU and Northwestern are named, cannot be…white.

To become a leader of this regime is to be at best deeply flawed – so one had best limit one’s expectations of imperial Presidents, see and protest the obscene policies of each. Nonetheless, an authoritarian imperial police state is even more what America will become if Obama is not reelected (and we will have to protest and push a lot from below to prevent the intensification of such a police state and maintain a rule of law even with Obama). Note the important movment in Colorado against war with Iran – the conference of some 80 on May 12th here.

The questions – the last 20 minutes – are very good. Arthur Gilbert, who has read my book, led off with some interesting thoughts about how much revolutions actually accomplish. Now even revolution is enormously ambivalent, marked by class conflict, vengefulness and unknowing about what to do in complex circumstances on the part of those who make it – life is far more interesting and surprising than any preceding thought, as Marx says in celebrating the real movement of the workers, i.e the Paris Commune.

Nonetheless, in the French Revolution, the serfs – subjected to a thousand burdens including the right of the first night for the lord with the wife after a peasant wedding – burned down the chateaux and became men. They made themselves citizens of a republic, no longer the beasts of burden of aristocrats and monarchs. The French Revolutionaries did not yet recognize women. Still it would be hard to have influenced humanity more in the direction of mutual recognition and human rights internationally than the French Revolution did. To the extent that feudalism has been put of business and new feudalisms challenged, action for "liberte, egalite, fraternite" is its initiating point, its watchword.

Upon Hitler’s victory in early 1933, Joseph Goebbels proclaimed: “The Year 1789 is hereby extinguished form history.” If one wants to understand Heidegger and, sadly, even Nietzsche as, in this respect, enemies of humanity and decency, this contrast with the French Revolution – the uprising which insists we are all human as distinct from the rule of one – a Fuehrer or Duce or in embryo commander in chief power - who ravages humanity is stark.

And then, there is the greatest revolution of the 18th century in Saint Domingue, the one successful slave uprising in all of history, where blacks, defeating the French, Spanish and English monarchies and Napoleon, made Haiti in 1804. There is a statue in Port-au-prince of a slave standing up, his hands pulling apart, breaking the chains. So resonant is this revolution that its history - one has but to hear of it to admire it - has been buried and shunned in American culture and academia, even in the accounts of my teacher Barrington Moore (Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy) and Theda Skocpol (The Structure of Social Revolutions).

As Robin Blackburn righty argues in The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, the Revolution in France in 1789 triggered the revolution in Saint Domingue in 1791 (in fact, as C.L.R. James, the brilliant West Indian Marxist indicates, Saint Domingue was the economic jewel of the French empire; there was uncanny oppression but no "crisis of the productive forces" there, as an economic determinist Marxism might expect; in fact, the cracks and tensions in the French elite, leading to the explosion of the revolution in Europe, helped trigger internationally the uprising of those even more oppressed in Saint Domingue. These revolutions reinforced each other; the high point of Jacobinism in 1794 was the freeing of all the slaves throughout the French colonies. This was the second revolution, the one for emancipation, sweeping into France and Europe.

In this perspective, James's title is a weak point. The Haitians were not "Black Jacobins"; on the contrary, Robespierre, Saint-Just and Hebert would have been larger historical figures if they had become, as to some extent they did, the "white Toussaintians." For some related thoughts on the international complexities of revolution, see "Abolition, intrnationalism and the constitution," here.

On the revolutionary approach to bondage, the anti-slavery satires of Montesquieu in book 15 of De l'esprit des lois (Spirit of the Laws) and the pre-colonized images in Rousseau and especially Diderot (see the Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage) prepared the ground for Abbe Raynal’s Histoire des deux Indes (History of the two Indias) which conjures a black liberator for Saint Domingue. The book found its way into the library of Toussaint L’Ouverture’s white owner, where Toussaint read it. So the interplay internationally of revolutionary ideas and revolutions plays a startling role (a little like the mutually inspiring Arab spring, Greek and Spanish indignados, Madison and Occupy). See here.

In response to Arthur, despite its complexities, revolution makes a big difference in the emergence of modern decency and the struggle for human rights.

But a comment - raising a question - of Arthur’s that I did speak to is the thought that the American revolution and regime is white in the sense of serving most whites and backed by most whites. Arthur nicely contrasts his working class childhood as a Jew in Providence with mine – a more middle class one - in New York, Westport and Cambridge. One aspect of it is that Arthur was harassed and beaten by some Catholic bullies.

I know separately of an Easter menu passed around by some teenagers in Providence – perhaps somewhat later - that included scrambled eggs, toast and “Burnt orange jews.” (I emphasize, in contrast, the holiness of many Catholics, but there has been a lot that is unspeakable in that religion and in Protestantism; criticizing the state of Israel and the horrific orthodox community among the settlers, I would hardly exempt Jews. Organizations for holiness are often unholy.). I, too, experienced some anti-semitism, but no one beat me up as a kid. See the peome about my debate with McGeorge Bundy in 3:AM magazine here:

"and Dick Blau
behind his knitting
aunt and mother

'which one’s the young
'the wooly haired

And the one about my mother See "From a distant spo t" here (my father had taught at Harvard for more than a decade , not being able to get tenure before World War II because he was a Jew, and then – the first Keynsian economist in the United States - advised FDR, but in the early 1950s, couldn’t get a house, working in New York, in Greenwich or Darien, Connecticut and finally was admitted to Westport):

"while you ran for School Committee
in our town – 'But after all, Jews
can’t live in Greenwich' –
by the Connecticut sound

you who taught your children how to read
but told no childhood tales
for all the world was Westport

blown from a distant spot."

But the murderous character of anti-semitism I never took in personally as a child whereas Arthur had to, and perhaps inferred, mistakenly, that all the comparatively privileged were bullies or at least supported them. No, John Laurens and the sailors who were abolitionists subjected to press gangs by England) and John Brown and Andy Goodman are all whites, and the idea of multiracial unity is enshrined in the black and white hand shake, the symbol of the once radical CIO - Congress of Industrial organizations . Poor whites from Tennessee and Kentucky fought on the Northern side in the Civil War against the plantation owners and the great Southern Tenants Alliance and early Populist movement (see Michael Schwartz, Radical Protest and Social Structure), as well as the Sharecroppers Union of the 1930s, led by the CIO and the Communist Party, and the civil rights movement were all, strikingly multiracial (see Democratic Individuality, ch. 10 for the evidence of such movements in deciding against Weber’s theory of status where blacks and whites or Poles and Germans are supposedly inimical like "cats and dogs").

That some ordinary people (and everyone else) make depraved decisions (the mob that murdered Andy Goodman, James Cheney and Michael Schwerner led by the sheriff, a minister named Edgar Ray Killens – see here and here - and a big farmer, who owned the property on which they were buried in an earthen dam probably included some poor whites) does not mean that many others do not see through racism or at least sometimes act for humanity (the same goes for members of the elite). And that is even true when most whites are vicious (again, one should be careful: many white women drove blacks around in support of the Montgomery bus boycott and, in effect, challenged segregation). Even fascism can only extinguish humanity for a time.

As Thoreau says in "Civil Disobedience," one can always say: no. If everyone else wanted to lynch someone in "vengeance" for 9/11, that doesn’t mean that any of us has to participate or need not act, with whatever force we have, to stop it.

Haider Ali Khan, my friend and colleague, asked about the radical democracy in Sierra Leone, designed by Granville Sharp, as a predecessor of the Paris Commune. Very good historians have, nonetheless, bought into the silly idea that this democratic movement was simply a predecessor of black nationalism. On the contrary, even such nationalism, in Nkrumah in the Gold Coast and Mandela in South Africa, is a striving for nonviolent democracy from which the world can learn.

In late 18th century Sierra Leone, many black Baptists supported the white colonial leadership; other blacks, notably Methodists, fought for democracy, taking up the ideas of Granville Sharp (a white). The struggle opposed the autocracy of a white abolitionist company (profit-seeking at the expense of and demeaning blacks) to a democracy organized to serve ordinary people and a shorter working week than in England and the United States (48 as opposed to 72 hours).

Signing in some detail the great pile of books, especially for many people I knew, was also a thrill.

*What does Mr. 1/10 of 1%, one might ask, offer to any of us ordinary people? One might nominate Romneycare, i.e. Obamacare, but he now denounces it...

**The good aspect of the Senate is that it enforces deliberation on new laws. They are not to be enacted hastily, or in Rousseau's idiom as a transient will of all. Even so, it is quite limited at stopping acts of tyranny, consider the Patriot Act of 2001 and its reaffirmation or the Authorization of Military Force. The Congress, one might say, has worked overtime since 9/11 to abolish the rule of law.

In addition, its routine bad side is to constrict sharply common good-seeking democratic measures. For instance, the House led by Nancy Pelosi passed some 140 bills, fostering growth, education and attempting to deal with climate change, that were overturned by "filibuster" in the Senate (even Madison did not envision the "requirement" of a 60 vote "majority" to pass a bill). To the extent that the constitution and the basic laws are sound, then this limitation is a good thing. But when the constitution preserves slave-owning and oligarchy, when the politicians are mostly paid for and made "respectable," by an oligarchy, the way the Senate works - as in the case of slavery, segregation and the prison-probation complex - is odious.

***The Battle Hymn of the Republic is written over these words, which are too anti-racist for elite America - long home of segregation. But the original words capture what is best - and has long been fought for from below - in this regime.

****The melody of "wish I was in Dixie..." sung for children - I liked it once upon a time - gives an early dose of racism before they can know what it means.

*****The Emancipation Proclamation proclaimed the freedom of slaves in the ten states then in rebellion, thus applying to 3.1 million of the 4 million slaves in the U.S. at that time. The Proclamation immediately freed 50,000 slaves, with nearly all the rest (of the 3.1 million) freed as Union armies advanced. The Proclamation did not compensate the owners, did not itself outlaw slavery, and did not make the ex-slaves (called freedmen) citizens

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Franco's Holocaust

Francoism is today often apologized for. This has been particularly true in the United States – Eisenhower made agreements with Franco for military bases like Rota and the corporate press and gradually academia fell into line (see here). And there has been no accounting in Spain, no Truth and Reconciliation Commission as in South Africa. When Judge Balthasar Garzon heroically moved to investigate the stealing of some 30,000 babies from their families (“leftists”), he was removed from the Court and subjected to trial himself by the machinations of a corrupt proseuctor – Zaragoza – acting, in this respect, as an agent of the fascists, and, sadly, the Obama administration.*

In Spain, however, there is an increasing movement to recall in memory all of those murdered and kidnapped who have been denied. In January, 2011 in Barcelona, I wrote several posts on this issue, focusing on recent revelations in El Pais and the contrast of George Orwell, fighting on the Republican side and for decency and Carl Schmitt, ornamenting Franco’s Spain in analogy to Nazism. See here, here and here.

There is in Spain, just as in Nazism, stealing of children from their families and resettling them in “better” households (there is the sad contribution of the “psychiatrist” and military officer Antonio Vallejo-Nagera who thought “reds” psychically inferior and so “medically” advised and coordinated kidnapping their children – see here and here). But there is also an enormous murderousness finally told of in Preston’s Spanish Holocaust. Adam Hochschild’s review underlines the depravedly anti-modern character of Franco’s murders – they cut off the ears of their victims and paraded around with them on their guns as souvenirs, shot and buried large numbers of people and danced in their blood, sang of how fascists are in love with death (of others), murdered pregnant women from maternity homes, branded women’s breasts with fascist symbols…

There is something particularly odious about their ostensible manliness. The movies of Luis Bunuel, particularly Viridiana, capture the twisted, sadistic character – bent to the Church – of Spanish fascism. This is an extension of the cruelties of the Inquisition, of the genocide of indigenous peoples in the New World, an avatar of Espana negra, the “dark Spain.”

One might want to contrast some aspects of Italian fascism – its modernism and futurism, though of course Dali had this a bit in Spain - and the mechanized murders of Nazism. Describing a mass murderer in Berlin who sold the flesh of his victims on the black market as fancy potted meat in the early 1920a, Bertolt Brecht suggested presciently “He exhibited German industriousness, diligence, frugality. They should have given him a Ph.D.” Here, Brecht sensed the spirit of the SS.

As Picasso’s "Guernica" suggests in depicting the bombs, Franco depended on Nazi aid for his success. Since Spain was not overthrown in World War II and Franco ruled on for forty years, the imprints of Francoism in today’s democratic Spain are still very considerable. And in America, one is inclined to say (I did before spending time in Spain) that Franco was perhaps less murderous, less odious, than Mussolini or at least Hitler (Franco, like Mussolini, also lacked the anti-Jewish fixation).

Really, really, one might suppose knowing little, fascism, though murderous, cannot have been so bad, Nazism the exception. But one should be careful about such intuitions, particularly in an America where similar forces recently have exerted a terrible influence in eviscerating the rule of law and the Constitution, in making torture and surveillance normal, in denying science, and the like. Many believe that no new such thing can come to pass in America. But with the destruction of the American middle class and enormous militarism happening before our eyes, one might want to be careful about such judgments. The victory of Obama seemed to point a new direction. But with “Republican” unity against all decent measures, the rule of law, let alone decency** is hard to come by. Regimes which go bad can go very very bad.

As Preston’s book shows, underestimating the murderousness of American allies like Franco is also a terrible mistake.

Both Hochschild's review and Preston's book capture an important feature of the modern/antimodern character of the Spanish (and fascist) holocaust. In contrast, the most striking feature of Gandhi’s and King’s nonviolence is the recognition that opponents who do evil must be stopped by mass militant noncooperation but not killed. They recognize that oppressors, too, have souls and that being on the seemingly decent side can be thrown away by murderousness. But what is common in fascisms is the denial of the humanity of “subhuman” enemies – interestingly, Hochschild notes, the poor in Spain were deemed another race by the aristocrats and the Church who sneered at agricultural unionists as “Rif tribesmen” from Morocco and exhibited sheer murderousenss in dealing with them. Once again, only Bunuel perhaps gets the true spirit – the sadism, perversion, torture, murderousness and oddly, helplssness (a decadent elite did nothing well except murder) of Spanish fascism.

If one takes union leaders, militants and Communists in Germany, the idea that they were all Jewish is similar (in a medieval vein combined with modernity, that is, IQ testing – that pseudo-science is an instrument of racism, tracking every discrimination in public schools as “natural”; intelligence is, operationally and emptily speaking, “what IQ tests test”; the tests are actually designed, however, to predict who will do well in class stratified schools*** and Heidegger’s philosophy. See here, here, here, here and here.

No healing will occur for the victims and their families or in Spain as a whole until some genuine account of these matters occurs. Paul Preston’s book (and Hochschild’s review) are a step in this direction.

As the Spanish Holocaust reveals, the fascists and their descendants must work hard to cover up their crimes – it is now 37 years since the death of Franco. Preston also makes the point that republicans were frequently barbarous (the setting in war with Franco helps to explain the crazed slanders and murders by Communists of anarchists, for instance, what is described by Orwell in Homage to Catalonia, though of course it does not even slightly excuse them). But as Hochschild also underlines, this conduct on the Republican side is atypical, is sometimes stood up against by individuals and newspapers, and is not something ordered from above.

Preston offers the story of Father Fernando Huidobro Polanco, a decent priest who stands up against Franco’s murderousness and is murdered for it. The Catholic Church thought about sanctifying Huidobro – he was an enthusiastic fascist who, nonetheless, protested murder - but did not because he was slaughtered not by republicans, but by fascists for calling them to account.

When I returned to Spain to teach in Cordoba in 2003, I was briefly sympathetic to the Pope who had opposed Bush’s aggression in Iraq. But one day, I read a column about his sainting those who fought for the fascists in Spain and realized the error of the sympathy. I later took students to the Valle de los Caidos, Franco’s tomb, surrounded by some 3,000 graves of fascists with a few republicans thrown in at the last minute to get the new democracy to keep it open.

There is a functioning Catholic church there with a small reliquary which contains a beautiful silver dagger sent by that fine “Catholic” Mussolini to that other fine "Catholic" Francisco Franco. It says a great deal about the Catholic Church that it failed to sanctify father Huidobro because of its pro-fascism.

There are myriad saintly Catholics, Dorothy Day, and the liberation priests who work with ordinary people, and the three nuns Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson who shed their blood on a missile silo in Colorado (at one of the 49 missile sites in Colorado where anti-Iraq war people went – as the signs read, “WMDs: Colorado 49, Iraq 0” as the signs read). They waited 45 minutes for Homeland ”Security” to arrive. A district attorney succeeded in getting them sentenced to four years (showing, once again, that the response of the state authorities in the United States, to those who value humanity and seek to preserve it is evil).

Today the Church protects priests who abused children. It bridles nuns who seek to defend medical care for the poor (and hence, Obamacare). And it defends and sanctifies fascists, and does not honor even a priest who gave his life to prevent such murders.

Such things need to be unearthed and spoken about, as Preston’s book does – it is the vocation of historians. Those responsible, including the Church, need to seek Truth and Reconciliation as in South Africa (Bishop Tutu’s No Future without Forgiveness underlines the possibility of healing). The Spanish Holocaust shows how heavy, even if only along a few of several dimensions (consider crimes toward indigenous people by the dark Spain) the shadow of evil extends into “Western” institutions…

Process of Extermination
‘The Spanish Holocaust,’ by Paul Preston

[the program does not reproduce photographs]
Photograph courtesy of ICAS-SAHP, Fototeca Municipal de Sevilla, Fondo Serrano
Miners captured by General Franco's forces in 1936, before their execution in Seville.

Published: May 11, 2012

In “Homage to Catalonia,” his memoir of the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell remarks that Francisco Franco’s military uprising against Spain’s elected government “was an attempt not so much to impose fascism as to restore feudalism.” Paul Preston’s magisterial account of the bloodshed of that era bears this out. Fascism may belong to the 20th century, but Franco’s grab for power evokes earlier times: the parading soldiers who flourished enemy ears and noses on their bayonets, the mass public executions carried out in bullrings or with band music and onlookers dancing in the victims’ blood. One of Franco’s top aides talked of democratically chosen politicians as “cloven-hoofed beasts,” and anything that smacked of modernity — Rotary Clubs, Montessori schools — seemed to draw the regime’s violent wrath. Echoing the Inquisition, Franco ordered particularly despised foes put to death with the garrote, in which the executioner tightens an iron collar around a person’s neck.

There’s also something medieval in the fierce class divisions of 1930s Spain, with its great latifundistas, whose estates were worked by landless peasants so hungry they stole acorns from pigs’ troughs. Preston describes the “near racist” loathing Franco’s officials had for the lower classes; one contemptuously referred to unionized farmworkers as being like “Rif tribesmen.” Indeed, Franco’s leading commanders were mostly, like him, Africanistas, veterans of Spain’s bloody colonial wars in North Africa. As a young man, the generalissimo himself led troops on a raid that brought back the severed heads of 12 Moroccan tribesmen.

With Hitler and Mussolini supplying arms to Franco, and the Soviet Union to the embattled Spanish Republic, the death toll of the 1936-39 war was enormous. Some 200,000 soldiers died in battle, and a further large but unknown number of civilians were killed by Franco’s bombing of Spanish cities and of vast columns of refugees in flight. But Preston’s subject is something else: the approximately 200,000 men and women deliberately executed during the war, the 20,000 supporters of the Republic shot after it ended, and the additional tens of thousands of civilians and refugees who died in concentration camps and prisons.

An eminent and prolific British historian of modern Spain, Preston says this was “an extremely painful book to write.” It is also, unlike several of his other works, a difficult book to read. The newcomer to Spanish history will nowhere learn the difference between the Assault Guard and the Civil Guard, or between a Carlist and an integrist. Chapters roll on for 40 or 50 pages without a break. A blizzard of names of thousands of perpetrators and the towns where they carried out their tortures and killings overwhelms the reader. “The Spanish Holocaust” is not really a narrative but a comprehensive prosecutor’s brief. With its immense documentation — 120 pages of endnotes to both published and unpublished material in at least five languages, including corrections of errors in these sources — it is bound to be an essential reference for anything written on the subject for years to come.

In quashing democracy and timid agricultural reform, and in restoring the traditional hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, the army, big landowners and an authoritarian state, the Spanish version of fascism was very much a fundamentalist movement. And like so many political and religious fundamentalisms, it had a particular ferocity toward women. Franco’s troops practiced gang rape to frighten newly captured towns into submission, and until media-savvy superiors silenced them, his officers even boasted about this to American and British correspondents. Tens of thousands of women had their heads shaved and were force-fed castor oil (a powerful laxative), then jeered as they were paraded through the streets soiling themselves. Many had their breasts branded with the Falangist symbol of yoke and arrows. In Toledo, a United Press correspondent reported, Franco’s soldiers shot more than 20 pregnant women from a maternity hospital. Much larger all-female groups were executed elsewhere. Troops marched through one town waving rifles adorned with the underwear of women they had raped and murdered. “It is necessary to spread terror,” one of Franco’s senior generals declared. “We have to create the impression of mastery, eliminating without scruples or hesitation all those who do not think as we do.”

Although Preston’s sympathies are clearly with the doomed Republic, to his credit he is equally thorough in exposing the killings committed under that government. Many supporters of the Republic had their own version of class hatred, murdering large numbers of captured army officers, other right-wingers and, most notoriously, nearly 7,000 members of the Catholic clergy and religious orders, who were seen as accomplices of the reactionary landowners. Among hundreds of other atrocities on the Republican side, Preston details the evasions of the longtime Communist Party leader Santiago Carrillo regarding his involvement in the massacre of more than 2,200 rightist prisoners in Madrid; the operations of some Soviet “advisers” who, supposedly on hand to aid the Republican Army, devoted themselves to hunting down anti-Stalinists on the Spanish left; and the harshly sadistic prisons operated by the Republic’s military intelligence service. Of the 200,000 estimated civilian wartime executions, more than 49,000 took place in Republican territory — a much smaller toll than that taken by the fascists, but still enormous.

There were crucial differences, however. Most, though by no means all, Republican killings were by mob violence, not deliberate policy, in the first six months of the war, as popular outrage welled up after air raids and news of fascist atrocities. But — sometimes effectively, sometimes not, and often at great personal risk — certain Republican officials managed to restrain and sometimes even prosecute killers of civilians. Unlike the tightly controlled press in Franco’s territory, some newspapers condemned the killings. And the Republican government saved many lives by evacuating from the country more than 10,000 businessmen, priests and other right-wingers thought to be at particular risk. Nothing similar happened on the Falangist side.

Franco’s rule became less murderous in later times, but in the early years he ranks morally with Hitler and Stalin. In such a regime, I always wonder, were there any decent people who tried to stop the slaughter? Yes, it turns out. Preston gives one brief but haunting example. Father Fernando Huidobro Polanco was a 34-year-old Jesuit who enthusiastically volunteered as a chaplain for Franco’s troops. But he was dismayed to see them routinely shooting all their prisoners. He sent protests to high-level army officers and finally wrote to Franco himself that “many are dying who do not deserve such a fate and who could mend their ways.” To Franco’s adjutant, he protested in despair that “we are falling back into barbarism. . . . I do not want the new regime to be born with blood on its hands.” He was wounded but then returned to the front, ever more vocal. In 1937, he was killed in battle, supposedly by shrapnel from one of the Republic’s Soviet artillery shells. Ten years later the Jesuits began the lengthy process to have him canonized as a saint. But in the course of the investigation, it came out that he’d been shot in the back by a soldier from his own unit, “tired perhaps of the preaching of his chaplain,” Preston writes. “When it was discovered that Huidobro had been killed by the Francoists and not by the Reds, the Vatican shelved his case.”

Adam Hochschild is the author, most recently, of “To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.” He is writing a book about Americans in the Spanish Civil War.

Here is a poem of mine about the period and its heritage:


city in the mountains

summerpalace cool with waters

caliphs employ catolicos and judios

ciudad fascista

lost paradise

Columbus from the Alhambra




Lorca its song



murdered its poet

*Bush and then Obama worked to suppress any investigation or legal proceeding in the murder by American troops of Jose Couso, a Spanish photographer, at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in 2003.

**I except Ron Paul who often stands up for civil liberties and against militarism though he is, sadly, an unreconstructed Scrooge on the economy and a “loyalist” of an imperial, authoritarian party.

***In a traditional Jewish community, intelligence has a correlation of 1 with being male, of 0, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Yentl” notwithstanding, with being female