Friday, August 31, 2012

The ANC-state murders South African miners and charges the rest with "common purpose"



It is right to admire Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu and the nonviolent transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are a model to the world.

But the state, led by the African National Congress and supported by the main unions and the Communist party, is not nonviolent. Faced with a miners' strike at the Marikana mine, the police murdered 34 strikers. Not content with this atrocity, the Prosecutors' office charged the rest of the 270 workers under arrest for striking with the murder of the 34. Perhaps those wounded by the police are being prosecuted because they "shot themselves." Perhaps the prosecutors will dig up the corpses of the 34 and charge them with "self-murder."

The Associated Press and others refer to an apartheid law which continues in democratic South Africa. Shamefully, it does. But the doctrine of common purpose is exactly the same as joint enterprise in Britain and complicity in the United States. See here, here, here and here. In Britain, Jordan Cunliffe, a blind white then 16 year old, is now serving a life sentence because he had gone fishing with a group of young men, two of whom had gotten in a fight with a homeowner. One kicked the home-owner in the throat in which he had a medical device implanted and murdered him. He and the other man who participated in the fight were rightly charged.

But Jordan who was legally blind - had keracotonus, could see only colors - and one of a crowd - how was he guilty of murder? Joint enterprise does not require the prosecution to say.

"Common purpose" in South Africa is a satire even of this satire, Oppressed miners go on strike, the government horrendously murders 34 of them, and then charges the miners themselves with the deaths (no police officers have so far been indicted). The government murders and then uses the courts to suppress - drastically - protest from below against the horrors of mining, including these murders by the police.

For the "law," it is 1984 - the murdered and their comrades become...the murderers.

In the case of apartheid, the ANC, supported by the Communist Party, settled with the old regime nonviolently.

In the case of a London mining company, the ANC-state murders the miners and charges the miners with the death of their comrades.

Yes, the ANC has revived the violence of apartheid in the service of capitalism.

But it also carries out the latest in draconian police techniques, of which England (17% of prisoners with life sentences compared to 3% everywhere else in Europe, aside from Russia) and the United States (2.3 million prisoners, 25% of the world's prisoners, the biggest police state in the world even under President Obama - and look to Romney to make "America" even more "number one" as a police state) are the pioneers.

The Anglo-Dutch colonial regime had long roots in this worst feature of Anglo-Saxon law.

The basic criterion of that law, habaes corpus - the right to a day in court and not to be tortured - is disgraced by the doctrines of "common purpose" and "joint enterprise." In contrast, the "laws" of a tyranny enable the regime to seize suspects, torture them, and throw them away. Tyranny enables the "authorities" to murder strikes and then...charge the strikers with murder.

The bright lights in the Prosecutor's office asked themselves "did the miners shoot themselves?" and answered: "Yes!"

The democratic outrage, in South Africa and around the world, is strong. An ANC spokesman today tried to distance the government from the prosecutor's actions.

But nonviolence needs to be consistent and to be a way of changing the society to make it decent, to abolish not only apartheid in the mines but dangerous and ultimately exploitative conditions. The miners stood for this. The ANC and the main trade union which support it not only do not, but perpetrated this shooting and the further horror about "justice."

Truth and Reconciliation this is not.

***

Common Dreams
08.31.12 - 1:13 PM
In South Africa, Striking Miners Charged with Murder of Those Shot By Police

In a bizarre twist, the 270 miners arrested during violent strikes in South Africa have been charged under an obscure apartheid-era law with the murder of 34 colleagues shot dead by police. The action - along with charges of attempted murder for 78 miners injured and complaints by many jailed miners that they've been beaten - has prompted an outcry among South Africans wondering how much has changed since the end of apartheid.

"The policemen who killed those people are not in custody, not even one of them," said Julius Malema, former African National Congress Youth leader who was expelled from the ANC. "This is madness."


the photo would not reproduce

A group of men carry the coffin of Mpuzeni Ngxande, one of 34 striking miners killed by police.


South Africa’s Unfinished Revolution and the Massacre at Marikana
Wed, 08/22/2012

The massacre of 34 miners at Marikana lays bare the central contradiction of the South African “arrangement.” Back in 1994, “the ‘revolution’ was put on indefinite hold, so that a new Black capitalist class could be created, largely from the ranks of well-connected members of the ruling party and even union leaders.” The regime now represses Black workers on behalf of capital.

South Africa’s Unfinished Revolution and the Massacre at Marikana
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

When thousands of miners went on strike at South Africa’s largest platinum mine, in Marikana, they were confronting not only the London-based owners, but the South African state, which since 1994 has been dominated by the African National Congress (ANC); COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions; and the South African Communist Party. This week, the full weight of the state was brought down on the Black miners, 34 of whom were massacred by police gunfire. Many of the survivors face charges of murder in the earlier deaths of two policemen and eight other miners.[this is a preceding use of common purpose, which the state has been working at].

The National Union of Mineworkers, whose representation the strikers rejected, and the Communist Party head in the region claim the strikers are at fault, that they have committed the sin of choosing an alternative union to argue their case for higher wages and, therefore, deserve severe punishment. They are “anarchists,” say these two allies of the South African state, and guilty of fomenting “dual unionism” – which is now, apparently, a capital crime. With a straight face, the Communist Party had the gall to call on all South African workers to “remain united in the fight against exploitation under capitalism.”

That is precisely what the Marikana miners were doing – the struggle they gave their lives for. However, since the peaceful transition to state power to the ANC and its very junior partners, the COSATU unions and the Communist Party, in 1994, the South African state has had different priorities. The “revolution” was put on indefinite hold, so that a new Black capitalist class could be created, largely from the ranks of well-connected members of the ruling party and even union leaders. It is only logical that, if the priority of the state is to nurture Black capitalists, then it must maintain and defend capitalism. This is the central contradiction of the South African arrangement, and the massacre at Marikana is its inevitable result.

“The central truth is that South Africa did not complete its revolution.”

The 1994 agreement between Nelson Mandela’s ANC and the white South African regime was a pact with the devil, which could only be tolerated by the masses of the country’s poor because it was seen as averting a bloodbath, and because it was assumed to be temporary. But, 18 years later, the arrangement has calcified into a bizarre protectorate for foreign white capital and the small class of Blacks that have attached themselves to the global rich. Apologists for the African National Congress regime will prattle on about the “complexity” of the issue, but the central truth is that South Africa did not complete its revolution.

The fundamental contradictions of the rule of the many by the few, remain in place – only now, another layer of repression has been added: a Black aristocracy that has soaked itself in the blood of the miners of Marikana.

South Africa remains the continent's best hope for a fundamental break with colonialism in its new forms. But, as in all anti-colonial struggles, the biggest casualties will occur in the clash between those who truly desire liberation, and those who are intent on an accommodation with the old master.

For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Poem: Bro ken



s lo w ly

s lo wl y

in Rafah



the bu l l doz er m oves the orange shirt



pushes the mound

st ops



b ac ks over



bro ken



Rachel Cor rie






*A video of a beautiful and sad 4 minute interview with the eloquent Rachel Corrie is at the end of the article here. H/t Ilene Cohen.

No justice for Rachel Corrie



Israel is in bad shape as a regime and increasingly as a society. Today, after a several years trial, an Israeli “court” ruled that the killer had both warned Rachel Corrie and had not seen her where he drove over her and backed over her again. The killing was an “accident.”

Hard to warn and not to see…

The military “investigation” was no investigation. The judge was a prisoner of the military.

The war that Oded Gershon refers to was the home of a doctor which the Israeli aggressors had ordered bulldozed.

Rachel Corrie was standing in a bright orange raincoat in front of the house.

Is this the “appearance” or facsimile of justice?

What happened to the rule of law?

Israel is also a society in which teenagers, imitating the Ku Klux Klan or the Brown Shirts, attempt to murder victims. See the New York Times story here.

Arabs and Americans…

There are many Israelis who are horrified by these things. Some refuse to bomb Iran. See here. Some join with the Palestinians in non-violent protest.

Surely, these things are against the fundamental interests and well-being of Israelis.

Is it worth sacrificing the soul and decency of Israel to keep its death grip on the occupied territories?

See the letter I wrote to the Flaming Eggplant Collective at Evergreen State about Boycott and Divestment, emphasizing Rachel Corrie here.


HAARETZ


What can we learn from the Rachel Corrie case
By Amira Hass | Aug.28,2012 | 9:45 AM | 2

The Haifa District Court rejected on Tuesday accusations that Israel was at fault over the death of American activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed by an army bulldozer during a 2003 pro-Palestinian demonstration in Gaza.

Corrie's family had accused Israel of intentionally and unlawfully killing their 23-year-old daughter, launching a civil case in the northern Israeli city of Haifa after a military investigation had cleared the army of wrong-doing.

In a ruling read out to the court, judge Oded Gershon called Corrie's death a "regrettable accident", but said the state was not responsible because the incident had occurred during what he termed a war-time situation.

At the time of her death, during a Palestinian uprising, Corrie was protesting against Israel's demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
"I reject the suit," the judge said. "There is no justification to demand the state pay any damages."

He added that the soldiers had done their utmost to keep people away from the site. "She (Corrie) did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done."

Corrie's death made her a symbol of the uprising, and while her family battled through the courts to establish who was responsible for her killing, her story was dramatized on stage in a dozen countries and told in the book "Let Me Stand Alone."

"I am hurt," Corrie's mother, Cindy, told reporters after the verdict was read.
Corrie came from Olympic, Washington and was a volunteer with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement.

Senior U.S. officials criticized the original military investigation into the case, saying it had been neither thorough nor credible. But the judge said the inquiry had been appropriate and pinned no blame on the army.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Crispus Attucks as a sailor: interview with Justin Desmangles for Pactifica (KDVS)



Crispus Attucks is celebrated as the first martyr – and first black man martyred – in the American Revolution (see the page from African-American History newsletter below). But he is also significant as a sailor and part of a movement of sailors against press-gangs. In addition, as Black Patriots and Loyalists emphasizes, he was part of a sweeping international movement of slave revolt. Crispus Attucks is also, and just as importantly, a symbol of the fight for emancipation (on the words "just as importantly": the revolution for independence was formally for freedom and initially extended the freedom mainly of whites; emancipation was for the freedom of all, and that revolution produced the gradual emancipation of blacks in the North).

Half black, half native American, Attucks escaped slavery and went to sea. Sailors had a rough life, but were “formally” free – if not impressed by the Crown - and could voyage far. Attucks effectively vanished from his “owner” in this way.

The essay below notes that the “riots” – more aptly, just popular rebellions - against press-gangs, in which revolutionaries fought British enslavement of sailors – “pressing” them into the navy – were an important feature of the period leading up to the Revolution. Plainly uprisings from below of the poor, artisans and sailors, they were as important as the Boston Tea Party and rebellions against the Stamp Act.

But as Black Patriots and Loyalists emphasizes, a revolution against bondage had already surged in the Caribbean. Between 1750 and 1770, some 20 slave uprisings occurred. Sailors who had been seized off the streets by press-gangs and told to climb the mast or die (and were often dispensable) identified, unsurprisingly, with slaves. Consider also the case of Crispus Attucks – he had been a slave and unlike the free who were seized, may have experienced being at sea as liberating. Nonetheless, he understood and fought the wrongs of bondage and impressment…

Sailors brought the word of the slave revolts to London where they met with J. Philmore who wrote Two Dialogues concerning the Man-Trade in 1760. In Boston, they met with James Otis, who wrote The Rights of the British Colonists Asserted and Proved (1764) which proclaimed “the natural rights of every man, black as well as white.” These ideas were widely discussed in the taverns frequented by the poor, and shaped every revolutionary crowd.

As I suggest to Justin Desmangles in the interview here, that idea has remained buried in American history – lost in official accounts - just as the point that most delegates at the Democratic Convention in 2004 opposed the Iraq aggression escaped the New York Times and other corporate media. Medea Benjamin, leader of Code Pink, unfurled a banner – US Out of Iraq - when Teresa Heinz Kerry was speaking. She was hauled out unceremoniously. The Times may have noticed this, but it didn’t effect its false, pro-Imperial war coverage.

Actually, most of the delegates probably agreed with her, and many had probably taken part in the huge protests before the War. Even Kerry probably knew better (he once testified to Congress against US crimes in Vietnam).

Similarly, the crowds in the American Revolution, often led by sailors like Crispus Attucks, were abolitionist. Along with the fact that there are significant anti-slavery leaders of the Revolution like John Laurens, Tom Paine, Alexander Hamilton and Ben Franklin and that gradual emancipation occurred in the North during and after the Revolution, the role of rank-and-file abolitionists in the Boston Tea Party and other revolutionary crowds has long been whited out. What Attucks did at the beginning was to strive, along with many others, to make the American Revolution consistently for freedom.

Justin is a fine interviewer (see here, here, and here for other striking interviews with Richard Marshall in London, Marc Steiner in Baltimore and Duncan Campell in Boulder). He was shocked at the newness of what the book reveals. This reaction is that of someone reading Black Patriots and Loyalists straightforwardly, not hampered by the nagging fear that there couldn’t have – couldn’t have been - blacks in the Revolution. And if there were, there must be just a few…

This prejudice is characteristic to this moment of the Times - see here and here - and it sways the previous historical literature. Even Gary Nash, a great historian, treats blacks as The Forgotten Fifth (the book is, however, far better than the title...)

But I don’t treat Crispus Attucks as the Lone Ranger (let alone, Tonto in the American racist idiom), although in the incident itself, Attucks took the lead as a fighter for freedom for all…

The ending of slavery is the issue of freedom in the American Revolution. The “second” revolution as I call it, the revolution for emancipation, viewed internationally, was the setting for the American Revolution and much of its later significance (on both sides) abroad. It is intertwined with and the deepest significance of the Revolution for self-determination (the freedom of some). Black Patriots and Loyalists reimagines the Revolution in a reasonable, fact-based, anti-racist frame.

But in the America of 2012, there is an election in which one candidate is very white and many people oppose a conservative, smart, mixed race President on the basis of heated fantasies – he is a National Socialist-Socialist-Commie- Kenyan anti-colonialist (Newt Gingrich), without a birth certificate (Romney has now pounced on this), etc. It will be Romney's theme song in the rest of the campaign (viz. his lying about welfare).

Worse yet, though Obama can be President, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has written very well here, he could not, in the first term, deeply take on effects of racism (the plunging of a large part of black youth and all youth in the prison-industrial complex with its 2.3 million prisoners, 25% of the world’s prisoners; the phony war on drugs used to jail 8 times as many people as were in prison in the 1970s; the incredible rates of unemployment among blacks, Chicanos and poor whites - these levels resembled a depression before the collapse; on December 22, 2008, a New York Times editorial mentioned that 4% of poor black teenagers looking for work found it – an unemployment rate of 96%). Coates’s article is well worth reading.

Racism - and the interests of the .0001% - are also responsible for attacking the decent things Obama has done, notably the stimulus which lifted the US out of an even deeper depression and emphasized green energy. See Mike Grunwald here.

Black Patriots and Loyalists tells many stories of people who, like Attucks, fought back against the greatest odds and moved the mountain of bondage. It is possible, still, against great odds, to move mountains…


***

African-American History
was crispus attucks a sailor?

A Biography of Crispus Attucks
From Lisa Vox, former About.com Guide

The first person to die in the Boston Massacre was an African-American sailor named Crispus Attucks. Not much is known about Crispus Attucks prior to his death in 1770, but his actions that day became a source of inspiration for both white and black Americans for years to come.

Attucks in Slavery

Attucks was born around 1723; his father was an African slave in Boston, and his mother was a Natick Indian. His life up until he was 27 years old is a mystery, but in 1750 Deacon William Brown of Framingham, Massachusetts, placed a notice in the Boston Gazette that his slave, Attucks, had run away. Brown offered a reward of 10 pounds as well as reimbursement for any incurred expenses to anyone who caught Attucks.

The Boston Massacre

No one caught Attucks, and by 1770 he was working as a sailor on a whaling ship. On March 5, he was having lunch near Boston Common along with other sailors from his ship, waiting for good weather so they could set sail. When he heard a commotion outside, Attucks went to investigate, discovering a crowd of Americans clustered near the British garrison.

The crowd had gathered after a barber's apprentice accused a British soldier of not paying for a haircut. The soldier struck the boy in anger, and a number of Bostonians, seeing the incident, gathered and shouted at the soldier. Other British soldiers joined their comrade, and they stood as the crowd grew larger.

Attucks joined the crowd. He took leadership of the group, and they followed him to the custom house. There, the American colonists began throwing snowballs at the soldiers guarding the custom house.

The accounts of what happened next differed. A witness for the defense testified at the trials of Captain Thomas Preston and eight other British soldiers that Attucks picked up a stick and swung it at the captain and then a second soldier.

The defense laid the blame for the actions of the crowd at Attucks's feet, painting him as a troublemaker who incited the mob. This was may have been an early form of race-baiting as other witnesses refuted this version of events.

However much they were provoked, the British soldiers opened fire on the crowd that had gathered, killing Attucks first and then four others. At the trial of Preston and other soldiers, witnesses differed on whether Preston had given the order to fire or whether a lone soldier had discharged his gun, prompting his fellow soldiers to open fire.

The Legacy of Attucks

Attucks became a hero to the colonials during the American Revolution; they saw him as gallantly standing up to abusive British soldiers. And, it is entirely possible that Attucks had decided to join the crowd as a stance against perceived British tyranny; as a sailor in the 1760s, he would have been aware of the British practice of impressing (or forcing) American colonial sailors into the service of the British navy. This practice, among others, exacerbated tensions between American colonists and the British.

Attucks also became a hero to African Americans. In the mid-nineteenth century, African-American Bostonians celebrated "Crispus Attucks Day" every year on March 5. They created the holiday to remind Americans of Attucks sacrifice after African-Americans were declared non-citizens in the Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) supreme court decision. In 1888, the city of Boston erected a memorial to Attucks in Boston Common. Attucks was seen as someone who had martyred himself for American independence, even as he himself had been born into the oppressive system of American slavery.

Sources

• Langguth, A. J. Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.
• Lanning, Michael Lee. The African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell. Seacus, NJ: Citadel Press, 2004.
Thomas, Richard W. Life for Us Is What We Make It: Building Black Community in Detroit, 1915-1945. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Poem: sisterAntigone



her brother
torn on the field

she laid dust over the
marks of birds

and the king said
strip him

king in daylight
torn brother

shutherinacave
andtheprinceherlover


stalactitesof

flesh
raindown

kin g
camedown

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The noise of dominos



Gloria Morrison is a leader of JENGbA - Joint Enterprise No Guilt by Association - whom I met in London. A white woman, she welcomed Kenneth, a black teenager and friend of her son, into her home, befriended him, keeps in touch with him, and has campaigned against joint enterprise since he was sent away for life. Joint enterprise makes a cell phone call by one person to someone who later commits a crime evidence of conspiracy - and subjects without further evidence of the content of the call, the caller to possible life imprisonment. It is profoundly guilt by association. See here, here, here, and here.

Gloria is someone who, in Staughton Lynd’s phrase, accompanies those who are oppressed See here. Staughton has written a book manuscript distinguishing organizing from accompanying. Organizing is an often poorly paid post in which the organizer comes in, helps the workers, and then leaves for another assignment, something with a lot of dedication but perhaps lacking the full spiritual significance or commitment of accompaniment. Consider accompanying as a version of what is best in organizing. For instance, naming US and Salvadorian elite oppression and murderousness, Archbiship Romero accompanied the people of Salvador until he was murdered.

Attending the Wellstone community center threatened with closure (Prime Minister Cameron’s “Big Society” appears to threaten many places where the old and young socialize in a life-sustaining way and he often attacks and “criminalizes” the young – see here - she saw the role of dominos there and in prison. People are often loud when they play dominos.

The stress of imprisonment (especially unjust imprisonment), the stress of a communal space being shut down - these are the parameters that give the game, at least for winners, a momentary oomph…

As an accompanier (or organizer), one often encounters small meetings. And some people become dispirited because building a movement, no matter how sharp the cause, is a slog.

But the truth is, in accompanying as in teaching, one never knows whom one is going to meet. One can often find in a small class students who teach one something or becoming each their own person, and perhaps their own kind of teacher; the same is true, as Gloria underlines, of accompanying. Perhaps this, too, is like dominos. So one had be fully there to talk with whoever comes, to join the journey, and see what happens.

Another way of putting this: one shouldn't to get too high on a movement when it is going well - some of the expectations for Occupy when it was emerging all over America and changing the conversation, revealing the 99% pitted against the 1%, were like this - or too low when not so many people come. No decent movement from below ever gets favorable publicity from the elite (Occupy has held lively meetings at DU and in Denver in the spring and summer, but gets no publicity in the Denver media). And Occupy needs to grow into multiracial unity and mass civil disobedience. So the activity of accompanying, not the larger consequences, is the motivation - the future is often unclear and difficult - even as one also thinks about what the larger consequences might be.

“THURSDAY, 26 JULY 2012
The Domino Effect

Yesterday evening JENGbA was invited to talk to the community group The Tottenham Defence League by their Chair Dougie Williams. Dougie had met myself, Sharon Spenser and Patrick Davis a few weeks ago in North London - we explained our campaign to him, highlighting the cases we represent. Dougie, a respected community campaigner, like most people you tell about how the doctrine of joint enterprise is being abused was shocked and angered by what we told him.

When I arrived at the Wellborne Centre you could see this vital community building had seen better days. Another community space, used by the public for their own meetings threatened by the Council for closure as they say it is no longer 'fit for purpose' yet same Council take rent on a building they say is now longer 'fit for purpose'. I suppose it depends on whose purpose? The Tottenham Elders were partaking in their regular dominoes gathering; a social event but also a highly competitive tournament.

I was struck by the noise of the competitors banging the dominoes onto the table. I told Dougie that the last time Kenneth had called me from prison he had a rant (which is unlike him), He said he was pissed off with being told when to go to bed and when to get up, pissed off with the smell of manure which wafts through the prison, and amongst many other things (long rant) he was pissed off with being told he was playing dominoes too loudly. Now, seeing how this Elders were playing it I could understand, one woman did a dramatic jump up before slamming her domino down. Dougie laughed and said it was a great way to release anger and stress. So as hard as it was to hear Ken sound so low, at least he has some way to vent his anger rather than take it out on others, just like these Elders who face losing the space they had long created to socialise and play a simple game of dominoes.

The meeting with the TDL was not hugely attended but all who did expressed their outrage at learning about how joint enterprise was targeting working class and BEM [black and ethnic minority] groups. But numbers are never important in the meetings we attend - if the nine people who were there go out and tell nine others, who go on to tell nine other - we have our very own JENGbA [Joint Enterprise No Guild by Association] Domino effect.

Since meeting Dougie that first time, he has invited us to do local radio SLR several times, which led to other local radio stations contacting us. He introduced us to Professor Alan Gilbert who is blogging and supporting us in the USA. He also gave us the contact number for BEN TV and Sharon and myself recorded a live interview with them a couple of weeks ago. Domino effect indeed.

Gloria”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What happens when a young woman asks questions to a member of the “National Security Elite”?


Jennifer is a student in security studies at the Korbel School and took a course with me in ethics and international affairs. She was an undergraduate at the University of North Texas. Her paper, which is worth reading every word of, is below.

In the seminar, I mentioned James Woolsey, the former CIA director under Clinton, and head of the Pentagon Review Board under Bush, the first public crusader for the Iraq War starting on September 20, 2001. Note that he is a “bi-partisan expert.”* “Admiral” Woolsey got $300,000 in anti-biological weapons contracts from the Bush administration in 2002 and went around speaking about “World War IV” and the need to preempt – that is commit aggression against - Iraq.

He is, in other words, a war criminal, technically, a leader – in an official role - in the violation of UN Charter Article 2, section 4 which bars aggression and in violation of Article 6, section 2, the Supremacy Clause of the American constitution, which makes treaties signed by the United States the highest law of the land. He is called "Admiral," - he was under-Secretary of the Navy under Jimmy Carter from 1977-1979 - but never went to sea: “If you stick to your desk and never go to sea, you, too, can be the captain of the Queen’s navy”…as the Gilbert and Sullivan song goes.

But fantasies aside, the US government shot war criminals after the Tokyo trials for committing the crime of aggression…

And the United States, led by later Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Jackson, fought for Article 2, section 4 against aggression.

Woolsey had, sadly, been invited by Stephen Foster, the rabbi at Temple Emmanuel, to offer calculated lies – remember, he was Clinton’s director of the CIA and knew more about the “quality” of this information than even Cheney and Rice - about weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s alleged ties to Al-Qaida. It was just at the start of the war so no big crowd turned out to protest. But 10 of us went to leaflet.

Among these 1,000 attendees, the war was unusually okay – this group was very pro-Israel’s leadership (none of these wars is in the interest of ordinary Jews) and were much less skeptical about it than most Americans. About 200 were fanatics. One woman refused to take a leaflet from me, walked 5 paces on, spun around, and screamed: “Go back to Saudi Arabia!”

That a Jew might be critical of the Iraq aggression and – she didn’t even know - of Israel's domination of Palestinians apparently transmogrified me; ironically, the leadership in Saudi Arabia stirs the madrassas which build fanaticism against Israel, and at the same time, work with Israel and the United States against Iran.

While I was telling this story, Jennifer reacted to the mention of Woolsey – it is why I told the full story here - and told us the remarkable story below (without some of the details she has now added). She spoke as a student from North Texas, invited to the Naval Academy, as was her friend from Iraq, as an outsider but someone who had written well on Middle Eastern issues and might contribute to a discussion. But she was to be seen and not heard. Woolsey was sure he could intimidate her.

What she did is a paradigmatic act of courage and what a student might do in any field where the powerful feel free to lie and spout platitudes, and refuse to confront the dreadful consequences – for human beings – of their policies. In policy studies, particularly in academic institutions too closely associated with the US government, the need for this is, unfortunately, not unusual…

“Woolsey and The Art of Bullshit

In my senior year of college, the university selected me to serve as its official representative at the United States Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference being held in Annapolis, Maryland, in April 2010.

The Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, or NAFAC (pronounced “NAY-fak”), which has been held every spring since 1960 at the U.S. Naval Academy, brings together 150 elite undergraduate delegates from around the world to discuss a particular theme in current global affairs.1 During the week-long conference, delegates participate in a series of roundtable panel discussions on a specific area of global affairs. These roundtable discussions include ten university delegates, two or three foreign delegates, two midshipmen delegates, a midshipman moderator and two senior advisors.2 Delegates are required to submit an original research paper prior to the conference and are assigned to specific panels based on their research interests. Delegates also attend speeches given by prominent individuals from the U.S. foreign policy community—past speakers include George H.W. Bush, Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton, John Huntsman, Joe Biden, Steven Hadley, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, and Condoleezza Rice. The distinguished guest speakers invited to the conference the year I attended included Robert Gates, who was the sitting U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time, and R. James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence.

According to NAFAC’s official website,

"The conference provides an outstanding opportunity for the midshipmen to come to understand the global forces that may project them into duty in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Korea, North Africa or Latin America. Good officers need a sophisticated under- standing of current affairs; this conference puts them together for a week with their civilian counterparts as well as with young officers and civilian delegates from about two dozen countries for conversations in which they can develop that understanding. The conference also offers an excellent occasion for the midshipmen to show off the Academy and the Navy at its best. Each year they produce an impressive event, handling without a visible hitch the many logistical difficulties of transporting, housing, feeding and entertaining scores of guests, some of them of flag rank or international reputation."3

Thus, the purpose of the conference is two-fold: 1) To expose midshipmen at the Naval Academy to points of view outside of the military establishment in order to help them develop a more “sophisticated” understanding of international affairs and 2) To display the power and prestige of the U.S. Naval Academy, and by extension, the U.S. military, to the foreign delegates in attendance (most of whom are military officers in training, like the midshipmen are, not civilian undergraduate students, like I was).

Each year’s conference is structured around a different theme in international affairs.

Past years’ themes include “A New Multilateralism” (1996), Terrorism” (2001), “Strangers in a Common Land: Preserving Israel and Palestine” (2003), and “Bridging the Gap: Combatting Global Poverty” (2009). The theme for the 2012 conference, held this past spring, was “The Eclipse of the West?” The year I attended the conference (2010), the theme was “National Security Beyond the Horizon: Changing Threats in a Changing World.” Under this heading, there were several sub-topics that made up the different roundtable discussion panels. These included “Terrorism: A New Dimension of National Security,” “The Rise of the BRICs,” “Cuba Conundrum,” “The End of Suburbia,” and “Conflict and Peace in the Middle East.”

As my research interests were focused heavily on terrorism, the roundtable discussion panel to which I was assigned was “Terrorism: A New Dimension of National Security.” Each day of the five-day conference, I and my fellow panelists sat around a big table in a conference room on the Naval Academy campus and discussed and debated issues related to terrorism, from the rise of “homegrown” terrorists to the roots of Islamic extremism to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. As the Iraq War was still very much on the minds of Americans in those days, the discussion often went into issues about the connection (or lack thereof) between the Iraq War and 9/11 and about the entire concept of a “Global War on Terror.”

Among the participants in my panel were several undergraduate students from various prestigious universities in the U.S.; a handsome and exceedingly polite young naval officer from the Australian navy; two young officers from the Saudi military who were also members of the Saudi royal family (and looked barely out of their teens), along with their incredibly stern minder, a high-ranking Saudi military official who never left their sides and monitored every single word they said; and a brilliant and hilarious young Iraqi man named Omar, a Rhodes scholar who was currently living in New York and working as a freelance journalist for Reuters and other respectable other news outlets. Omar had interviewed some of the most influential figures in the Middle East, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Omar had also lost his entire family, including his two-year-old daughter. They had all been killed in the chaos and violence that descended on Iraq following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Omar and I immediately hit it off on the first day of the conference, due in large part to the fact that he and I shared almost identical views on just about everything, and the fact that these views almost always pitted the two of us against everyone else in our roundtable discussion panel. For instance, Omar and I both believed that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East was at least partly to blame for the rise of violent Islamic extremism. The others in our group generally did not. Omar and I both saw the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq as fundamentally unjust and immoral. The others in our group did not. Omar and I believed that the fact that the U.S. claims to be a beacon of democracy and a defender of human rights while it props up vicious dictators is a bit ridiculous. The others did not.

The two young Saudi military officers defected to the Middle East roundtable after only two days. This was undoubtedly in response to a particularly lively discussion in which Omar and I pointed out that the government of Saudi Arabia was a bit repressive and that it bore some of the responsibility for the rise of Islamic extremism because of its extensive bankrolling of Wahhabi madrassas across the globe. Understandably, this did not sit well with the two Saudi royals, and they left. Miraculously, our roundtable panel survived the loss of these two young men, who were so unbelievably arrogant and removed from reality that in response to criticism regarding Saudi Arabia’s prohibition against women driving, one of them replied, with complete and utter sincerity, “But the women of Saudi Arabia do not need to drive! They all have drivers!” Evidently, the idea that there might be women in their country who were not extravagantly wealthy had never even occurred to them.

On the second day of the conference, R. James Woolsey, the former Director of Central Intelligence and head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), came to give a speech. At the time, I did not really know who he was, as his tenure in office had taken place in the early- to mid-1990s (1993-1995), while I was still a child. I did not yet know the critical role he had played in selling the American people on an unjust and immoral war. Of course, I knew the names Wolfowitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, etc., and I was quite familiar with figures such as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, but the name Woolsey meant little to me at the time. Thus when I sat down next to Omar in the huge auditorium, filled to capacity with all of the NAFAC participants and organizers, to hear Woolsey speak, I had no preconceived ideas about him. I did not yet know the full extent of his crimes against human decency and rational thought. To me, he was just some “distinguished” guest speaker they had paid to come talk to us about the wonderful world of foreign policy.

That all changed as soon as he opened his mouth. Woolsey talked about how the world had changed since the end of the Cold War and about the “new” security challenges facing the U.S. in the post-9/11 world. Woolsey, with a cocky swagger and a snide, flippant tone, reminisced about the “good old days” of the Cold War, when we at least had a “civilized” enemy (the Soviets). This was in contrast to today’s enemy (some ill-defined amalgam of Iran, al- Qaeda, and Muslim “fanatics”). Woolsey explained that back during the Cold War, you could sit down with your enemy over a bottle of wine and have a decent conversation like two human beings. Not so with these fanatics today. I do not have the exact transcript of what he said in his speech, but in an interview he gave in January 2009, Woolsey expressed almost the exact same sentiment:

“I have started talking about the great war of the 21st Century, or the long war of the 21st Century, because when people hear the phrase World War they think of Normandy
 and Iwo Jima and whereas the Cold War is probably a better analogy. But in the Cold War, our enemy, the Soviet Union, its ideology was effectively, by the 1950s pretty much dead. It was pretty live back in the ‘20s and ‘30s, but by the 1950s, I say slightly tongue in cheek there were probably more true believing communists in the bookstores in the upper west side of Manhattan than there were in the Kremlin. These were basically— Soviet leadership were thugs with a cover story. And they didn’t want to die for the principle of each according to his ability, to each according to his need. They wanted to keep their dachas. That’s not what we have now. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Ahmadinejad, a number of Wahhabi clerics in Saudi Arabia are fanatically in favor of the propagation of Jihad. They are in many ways theocratic, totalitarian, genocidal maniacs. They are not thuggish bureaucrats like most of our Soviet adversaries. So it’s a very different kind of war.”4

This is almost word-for-word what Woolsey said in his 2010 NAFAC speech. 
As Woolsey spoke, I grew more and more angry. His over-the-top caricature of “the enemy,” his glib portrayal of the Cold War (in which millions of people lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation and millions more in the so-called “Third World” suffered from the effects of U.S. and Soviet proxy wars fought in their homelands—apparently all while Woolsey and his Soviet counterparts sat around drinking wine), and his blatant arrogance and egotism made me shake with anger. He represented everything that was wrong about U.S. foreign policy.

After Woolsey was finished speaking, he remained on stage and took questions from the audience. I do not remember the questions that were asked by the audience members who went before me. I do know that they were all softball questions, because Woolsey was laughing and smiling. All I remember is looking at Omar, who was just as visibly upset as I was, hearing him whisper to me, “GO!,” and standing up and walking up to the microphone. Standing there in front of the microphone, hundreds of eyes fixed upon me, I suddenly got tunnel vision. The rest of the world dropped away, and it was just me and Woolsey, face to face.

I began: “Mr. Woolsey, I find your comments about the nature of our “enemy” to be incredibly condescending. You seem to lump al-Qaeda, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and suicide bombers in Iraq together into one big category, when in reality they all have very different motivations. Do you think that lumping everyone together and calling them all ‘fanatics’ and ‘genocidal maniacs’ is the best way to approach the security issues currently facing the U.S. and the world?”

Then I went and sat down.

The auditorium was silent. Woolsey stood there on the stage, frozen in place, his face turning a fiery red. And then he unleashed a whirlwind of self-righteous indignation, accusing me of being naive and uninformed. He essentially said that anyone who does not think “these people” are pure evil and want to destroy everything the United States stands for is deluding themselves and insinuated that people like me were the real problem. I sat there watching this “distinguished” guest speaker lose all composure on stage in front of hundreds of people and I took Woolsey’s abuse. Several chuckles rippled through the audience at my expense. I really didn’t care. I had said what I needed to say.

Outside after the speech, as we all trekked across the campus to the cafeteria for lunch, a number of people came up to me and told me they liked what I had said and thanked me for saying it. Almost all of these people were Arabs. One was Pakistani. None were white. I am still friends with most of these people to this day. Most of the rest of the NAFAC participants generally avoided me for the rest of the conference. A few of the midshipmen offered me covert nods of appreciation when their superior officers were not looking.

Later that afternoon, I sat in my roundtable panel discussion talking about the rise of al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Anwar al-Awlaki (who was still alive back then), when all of a sudden the door opened and in walked Woolsey with a big smile on his face. That is, until he looked around the room and saw that I was there. Then his smile disappeared. However, not one to cede defeat to some 20-something college girl, Woolsey imperiously commandeered the seat at the head of the table and announced that he would take questions from the panel.

Of course, I couldn’t resist.

I asked him if, knowing what we know now, given all the American and Iraqi casualties, the billions of dollars spent on the war, the horrendous civil war that had decimated Iraq and destroyed almost all of its working infrastructure, and the fact that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, he still thought the Iraq War was a good decision. He responded, “Yeah, you know, I think that if Iraq emerges as a stable democracy, it will have been worth the sacrifice.”

Next to me, I saw Omar start shaking with emotion.

I responded: “First of all, that is one hell of a big ‘if.’ Second, which sacrifices are you referring to? The over 100,000 Iraqi civilians who have been killed in the war or the 4,000 U.S. military deaths? Because maybe—maybe—you have the right to speak about the sacrifices made by the U.S. military, but who the hell gave you the authority to speak about the sacrifices of over 100,000 innocent Iraqis? ‘If’ Iraq emerges as a stable democracy—meaning one that is friendly to the U.S.—then the slaughter of over 100,000 innocent men, women, and children will have been ‘worth it’?”

Woolsey, visibly rattled, shot back: “Look! Saddam was a bad guy, okay? You mean to tell me that the Iraqi people aren’t better off now that he’s gone?”

Finally, Omar, who had been mostly silent up to this point, spoke up. With a shaking yet powerful voice thick with loss and suffering, he looked right into Woolsey’s eyes and said: “I am from Iraq. My entire family is dead. It was not your decision to make. Saddam was our problem. It should have been our decision to get rid of him, not yours. Yes, Saddam was a bad guy. Trust me, I know this better than you do. I lived under Saddam. But under Saddam, my family was alive. ”

Woolsey said nothing.

The Naval Academy midshipman in charge of moderating our panel quickly stepped in and changed the subject.

Over the next hour or so, Omar and I (and occasionally a few others on the panel) continued to debate Woolsey on U.S. foreign policy issues. None of the answers he provided or the arguments he offered were satisfactory. When trying to justify various U.S. policies, he would give one of three answers: 1) Because we support democracy and freedom! 2) Because they’re bad guys! or 3) Because that is how foreign policy works! (The answers always half- shouted in exasperation, as if they were so obvious that he was irritated to have to explain it to such mindless idiots.) All his arguments were a variation of these three answers. Asked why he thought a nuclear Iran was such a serious threat that the U.S. should go to war to prevent it:“Because they’re bad guys!” Asked why the U.S. should provide such massive military support to Israel? “Because we support democracy and freedom, and they’re a beacon of democracy in the Middle East!” and “Because Hamas and Hezbollah are really bad guys!” Asked why, if we support democracy and freedom and are against “bad guys,” do we support dictators and oppressive regimes in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia? “Because that’s just how foreign policy works!”

All nuanced arguments, to be sure.

Woolsey flat refused to admit that U.S. policies in the Middle East helped create the problems we now face and absolutely would not accept that some of our “enemies” may actually have legitimate grievances. As far as Woolsey was concerned, all of America’s enemies “hate us for our freedom.” That is all there is to it.

When Woolsey finally left, he walked out the door just as arrogant and self-righteous as he had been when he walked in. I came out of the experience more horrified than ever about the level of ignorance, arrogance, and self-deception that exists among some of the top policymakers involved in the Iraq War and in U.S. foreign policy in general. Recent statements made by other senior figures in the Bush administration, especially Condoleezza Rice, regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq display this same arrogance and self-deception.

Coming to the realization that in 2010, nine years after 9/11 and seven years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, influential people at the top of the foreign policy establishment still believe we were attacked on 9/11 and were being attacked in Iraq because “they hate our freedom” was beyond disturbing. It simultaneously made me want to work for the government, with the idea that thoughtful, intelligent people like me would gradually replace the ignorant fools currently working there and eventually change the tide of U.S. foreign policy, and to run screaming in the other direction, with the thought that they would somehow turn me into one of them and that one day I would be as stubbornly deluded as Woolsey.

Today I graduate from graduate school. And I’m still not sure which direction I will go.

1 2012. “What is NAFAC?” U.S. Naval Academy. Online at www.usna.edu/NAFAC/about.html.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Woolsey, R. James. 2009, January 19. “Uncommon Knowledge with Peter M. Robinson” [Interview]. The Hoover Institution. Transcript online at http://media.hoover.org/sites/default/files/documents/ uk_woolsey_transcript.pdf."

With the adoption of torture by the Bush administration and the Obama administration's refusal to allow investigations, war crimes have become as American as apple pie and my student Condi is now the poster-child, mistakenly I think, for the University of Denver. See here, here, here, here and here.

What can be said among powerful people (trustees of Universities, the bankrollers of the “Democratic” and “Republican” parties, rich investors in universities) is mostly platitudes. It is often the opposite the truth. And even diplomacy, when not aggressive, is notorious merely for smooth words...

But as in the case of Jennifer, some people have an affection for words and the truth.

Much is made in academia (see here) of Weber's ethic of responsibility - the idea that politicians take into account real circumstances, i.e. for him, great power rivalry - and estimate the consequences for human life of their actions. This contrasts with an ethic of intention or as it is sometimes translated, "ultimate aims," which seems good on the surface - for Weber, legalism or a Christian nonviolence - promising to protect lives and decency, but letting the big killers roam free.

In foreign policy studies rather than foreign policy making, realism is a leading view and Weber often mentioned. In foreign policy making, an official realism, one pertaining to US elite interests, is commonly invoked, but policy-makers are in a bubble, unmoored from reality (see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? for a contrast of sophisticated realisms and official realism). Woolsey's excoriation of Jennifer for "being naive" is the cliche version of Weber's ethic of responsibility.

But in Weber's idiom, Woolsey has an extreme ethic of intention - his is a fantasy world in which the recent goals of US foreign policy, say conquering the Middle East and installing "democracies" at gun-point, articulated by ideologues like Bush and Cheney, are substituted for reality and any ability even to respond to reality, i.e. fact-based arguments. Ideologues emphasize the aim to protect Americans, so they say, against frightening, non-white and "hating us for our freedom" terrorist-fanatics. And they adopt increasingly police-state tactics domestically, i.e. the "Patriot" Act (I name this anti-democratic feedback in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?).

Now in reality, Woolsey receives a lot of prestige and money from proclaiming such "important" fantasies. But in Weber's terms, he could not be more wantonly murderous and irresponsible.

With regard to Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg, a former undersecretary of Defense, read through the documents that became The Pentagon Papers and was increasingly appalled. He had been a true believer in the War, gone on a patrol with the Special Forces and bragged, in a debate at Harvard with Stanley Hoffmann, about killing Vietnamese. But the scales fell from his eyes. He found no rationale for American funding of French colonialism against the Vietminh or for violating the Geneva accords, taking over from the French and escalating the aggression afterwards. No reasoned case based on evidence.

About Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice, the lies about Iraq were comical and refuted in the back pages of the very newspapers like the New York Times that were blaring them, with Judith Miller and Michael Gordon, on the front. The basis for going after Saddam rather than Al-Qaida existed only in a silly fantasy world enforced in the government by the rather fearsome apparatus of Cheney. As Jane Mayer reports in the Dark Side when Head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jack Goldsmith and Assistant Attorney General James Comey wanted to withdraw Yoo's torture memoranda - still not available in the light of day because they are acts of criminality - they invented a special language to communicate in; they sought to elude their minders and if they were discovered, very likely enemies. Change the names and the idea that this was Saudi Arabia (as Jennifer's letter describes), Russia or Germany, comes easily to mind; one might even say that this is the kind of "thoughtful" atmosphere encouraged by the Woolseys and Cheneys of this world, once one graduates to working for them, for places where they seek to commit aggression.

This is the real foreign policy "bubble." Democratic foreign policy flacks also become "neo-neo cons" urging Obama to fire off drones and kill civilians - it is the only weapon "we" have against Al-Qaida; it's better than large-scale aggression (no more troops to send; no more money to spend...); any young man in the area with a suspected terrorist is himself a terrorist (keeping the count of murders of civilians down). None of this will withstand questions.

Consider this "bubble" as generated by what I name the war complex - the military-industrial-congressional/political-media-think tank/academic-"intelligence" complex. It is a more than trillion dollar enterprise each year (the formal and unstated Pentagon budget was $704 billion in 2009). Militarism is thus the most powerful force in American political life, and people like Admiral Woolsey its creatures. Even Cheney was at least as much shaped by it as shaping it.

Woolsey is part of a policy elite which cannot deal with questions or arguments (as Johnson in Vietnam, Bush in Iraq). An aggressive elite - and I mean this "bipartisan" elite - is anything but responsible, as a modern Weberian might say. This is why only mass movements from below can help settle the matter of American belligerence.

The effect of this elite in the world is to isolate America and breed enmity against what are often – as with drone killings of civilians or torture – crimes.

Through her questions, Jennifer shook a belligerent, “entitled” and powerful war criminal with some audience support – it was the naval academy, after all, though, of course, there are many good people in the navy, including those cadets who, when officers were not present, nodded at Jennifer, and some have contempt for Woolsey - but no substance.

****

*As Steve Walt reports, the current odds for each of us of being killed in a terrorist attack this year are estimated by two scholars at 1 in 3.5 million. For this, these scholars estimate, $1 trillion has been spent since 9/11 on the “terrorism” industry – Admiral Woolsey has made a killing, so to speak – and there are still two American occupations (though Iraq has been drawn down some), the firing of drones in another 3 sovereign countries with which the US is "not at war," and the endless airport security:

"What terrorist threat?
Posted By Stephen M. Walt Monday, August 13, 2012 - 12:42 PM

Remember how the London Olympics were supposedly left vulnerable to terrorists after the security firm hired for the games admitted that it couldn't supply enough manpower? This "humiliating shambles" forced the British government to call in 3,500 security personnel of its own, and led GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to utter some tactless remarks about Britain's alleged mismanagement during his official "Foot-in-Mouth" foreign tour last month.

Well, surprise, surprise. Not only was there no terrorist attack, the Games themselves came off rather well. There were the inevitable minor glitches, of course, but no disasters and some quite impressive organizational achievements. And of course, athletes from around the world delivered inspiring, impressive, heroic, and sometimes disappointing performances, which is what the Games are all about.

Two lessons might be drawn from this event. The first is that the head-long rush to privatize everything -- including the provision of security -- has some obvious downsides. When markets and private firms fail, it is the state that has to come to the rescue. It was true after the 2007-08 financial crisis, it's true in the ongoing euro-mess, and it was true in the Olympics. Bear that in mind when Romney and new VP nominee Paul Ryan tout the virtues of shrinking government, especially the need to privatize Social Security and Medicare.

The second lesson is that we continue to over-react to the "terrorist threat." Here I recommend you read John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart's The Terrorism Delusion: America's Overwrought Response to September 11, in the latest issue of International Security. Mueller and Stewart analyze 50 cases of supposed "Islamic terrorist plots" against the United States, and show how virtually all of the perpetrators were (in their words) "incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational and foolish." They quote former Glenn Carle, former deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats saying "we must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are," noting further that al Qaeda's "capabilities are far inferior to its desires."

Further, Mueller and Stewart estimate that expenditures on domestic homeland security (i.e., not counting the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan) have increased by more than $1 trillion since 9/11, even though the annual risk of dying in a domestic terrorist attack is about 1 in 3.5 million. Using conservative assumptions and conventional risk-assessment methodology, they estimate that for these expenditures to be cost-effective "they would have had to deter, prevent, foil or protect against 333 very large attacks that would otherwise have been successful every year." Finally, they worry that this exaggerated sense of danger has now been "internalized": even when politicians and "terrorism experts" aren't hyping the danger, the public still sees the threat as large and imminent. As they conclude:

`... Americans seems to have internalized their anxiety about terrorism, and politicians and policymakers have come to believe that they can defy it only at their own peril. Concern about appearing to be soft on terrorism has replaced concern about seeming to be soft on communism, a phenomenon that lasted far longer than the dramatic that generated it ... This extraordinarily exaggerated and essentially delusional response may prove to be perpetual.'

Which is another way of saying that you should be prepared to keep standing in those pleasant and efficient TSA lines for the rest of your life, and to keep paying for far-flung foreign interventions designed to 'root out' those nasty jihadis."


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Interview with Justin Desmangles today on KPFK at 5 pacific time



Here is the link to listen.

Justin Desmangles, chair of the Before Columbus Foundation, sent me the following announcement of the program:

This week, on the 4 o'clock hour, saxophonist, composer, Darius Jones, returns to New Day Jazz to discuss his most recent recording, Book of Mæ'bul (Another Kind of Sunrise), part 3 his continuing Man'ish Boy series on AUM-Fidelity. Mr. Jones is among the most innovative and exciting alto saxophonists in his generation, and one of the most inspiring voices in the jazz world today.

Later in the program, on the 5 o'clock hour, we are joined by Alan Gilbert for a discussion of his most recent book, Black Patriots and Loyalists Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence, new from the University of Chicago Press. Mr. Gilbert is a John Evans Professor in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He is the author of Marx’s Politics: Communists and Citizens, Democratic Individuality, and Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?

“Most of us think we know the story of the American Revolution, but after reading Alan Gilbert’s amazing book I realize that what most of us know is less than half of the story. Gilbert’s account rests on years of careful research, and on the ability to keep track of events whose actors were moved by complex and often contradictory motives. Gilbert shows that there were two revolutions going on in the American colonies at the same time: the revolution for independence, that succeeded, and a black revolution for emancipation whose goal was not achieved until decades later. And Gilbert shows how the consequences of the “forgotten” black revolution extended far beyond those years, and beyond American shores, to Canada, to Sierra Leone in Africa, as well as to the liberation of Haiti from France, and reinforced the struggle for abolition of slavery in the British Empire that was to succeed in 1833. This is an important book as well as an attractively written example of significant and morally engaged scholarship.” - Hilary Putnam, Harvard University



Friday, August 17, 2012

Staughton Lynd on Gandhi and Socrates, part 3



Staughton Lynd offered three comments on the recent posts on Gandhi and Socrates here and here. The essays were motivated by Gandhi's stunning translation of Plato's Apology into Gujerati and Gandhi's comments on it. I had not imagined Gandhi's close attention to the Apology before, and the translation suggests that although Socrates and Plato do not have a term for civil disobedience, Socrates's is a paradigm story, not only for King in his Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, but for Gandhi as well.

This post will respond to Staughton's first comment, which raises profound and complicated issues. I will respond later to the other two except for a brief note of clarification on the second: I only said that Gandhi did not look to the black poor in South Africa in his initiation of satyagraha; as Staughton's and Alice's experience illustrates, Gandhi and his followers were deeply involved, after supporting Ethiopia against Mussolini's aggression, in solidarity with blacks in the United States. See, for example, Sudarshan Kapur's wonderful Raising up a Prophet on 30 years of contact between African-Americans and Gandhi preceding the emergence of King in Montgomery.

Here is Staughton's letter:

"Alan,

Three comments from one who shares your basic worldview.

1. I think you don't do justice to the theme of patriotism in Socrates and Gandhi. Socrates was not only a foot soldier at Marathon. He declined to flee Athens to avoid death because "Athens bores me." Incidentally, I think the deepest expression of internationalism and nonviolence in Athens was not in Socrates but in Euripides' "The Trojan Women." As for Gandhi, not only did he mobilize Indians to serve the British as medics in the Boer War but actively recruited for the British Army in World War I.

2. You say Gandhi "did not look to the black poor in the South." Circa 1952 or 1953, shortly after Gandhiji's assassination, Alice and I attended a very small gathering at the University of Chicago addressed by Ashadevi Aryanayakam, a disciple. We spoke to her of our interest in visiting India. She said Gandhi would wish us to turn our attention to the black poor in the South, which we did.

3. About organizing the poor, I think the fundamental problem is with the conception of "organizing" the poor rather than, to use Archbishop Romero's term, "accompanying" them. I have a book coming out on this topic and would be glad to send you the page proofs if you are interested.

Staughton"

Staughton is right that I did not do justice to Socrates’s and Gandhi’s patriotism. A way of seeing this is to consider the speech of the laws in the Crito (see here and here).* Socrates goes to his death with the words of the laws of Athens, murmuring in his ear as the Corybants, the participants in the mystery religions of whom Socrates was one, hear the droning murmur of the flutes.

Yet what argument of the laws convinces Socrates, as opposed to Crito for whom Socrates conjures the quite contradictory speech, is left unclear. In Plato's subtle way of writing, it remains for the reader to figure out. For uniquely at the end of this dialogue, Socrates warns Crito – you may bring up any further question you have but you will not convince me. He is, in other words, further along a path of arguments, is no longer questioning, has made up his mind. But Crito is convinced by the speech of the laws; he has nothing to say. Only the reader who wants to figure out the problems, philosophically and politically, with the command of the laws to pay the price of death for continuing to question, needs to go further.

For this further, unstated argument is not so easy to see, as the Apology warns, because Socrates's decision to go to his death instead of sneaking off brings dishonor on Athens and democracy far into the future as the city that murdered its wise man. In fact, Athens' murder of Socrates helped bring about its enormous decline.

The hidden argument, I think, is that Socrates stands in an intrinsic relationship to good laws. As a just man, he must, in reality, honor them, regardless of the consequences for the reputation of Athens. By sneaking off and thus acting unjustly himself, he cannot, he suggests, save them from the consequences of the unjust decision of the Athenians. Socrates seeks to honor the laws for the most part (he will not give up questioning, however...). He seeks justly both to serve them (and to maintain philosophy) and to improve them where he must. This is, as Staughton suggests, a profoundly patriotic argument.

In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls modeled his subtle account of civil disobedience in a democracy on the Apology and Crito. Civil disobedience is disobedience to an unjust law in the context of overall fidelity to the laws. One has to think highly - in Socrates, patriotically - of the laws to offer such fidelity.

Note that the patriotism here derives from the overall justice of democratic laws; it is a justice-based, democratic patriotism, sometimes permitting just but often illegal actions, i.e. satyagraha, to improve the laws. It is radically distinct from mindless or chauvinist "patriotism."

Now Socrates is famed, particularly on the Right (Heidegger, Strauss), for looking down on democracy. Reactionaries neglect that Socrates went to his death with the democratic laws of Athens murmuring so powerfully in his mind that he could hear no other voice or argument...

Some democrats – certainly Meletus and others who put Socrates to death for questioning – deserve contempt and determined resistance. Theirs is a kind of deficient or tyrannical lynch-mob "democracy."

Socrates (and Plato) put forward the thought that one clever leader often knows best – one which overemphasized, leads in an authoritarian direction. Socrates also says in the Apology that a good man cannot participate in ordinary politics (even the politics conditioned by democratic laws) because he will meet a swift death. He gives two illustrations of his own participation which almost resulted in death. First, within the democracy, Socrates's deme held the prytany; he was called upon to serve as head of a trial of naval leaders. He disagreed with a crowd which sought to put the commanders to death for not picking up the dead in the water in the midst of battle (alternately, in Xenophon, the story is about a storm). He spoke justly, as most later saw. Still, shouts rang out for Socrates's death (Athenian democracy was rowdy and sometimes bullying)

The other story, however, occurs during the Tyranny of the Thirty. When Critias, Socrates's student and others commanded Socrates along with 4 others, to arrest Leon of Salamis and bring him to be slaughtered - the Tyranny murdered 1,500 Athenians - the other four did so. Socrates went home, thus initiating what we call civil disobedience. Had the Tyrants not fallen, Socrates might well have been put to death for this (Apology, 31e-33a).

The third illustration of Socrates's point is the trial itself.

One should underline that the murderous politics Socrates confronts in Athens is not simply (defectively) democratic, but also of a more explicit tyranny: the Thirty. But the attack on Socrates, though within the laws of a democracy, was also inimical to questioning or dissent, bullying, murderous, and thus, tyrannical.

In the Apology, in the sentencing phase, Socrates strives to remake Athenian democracy as a better home for questioning. He suggests that if the Athenians had the practice of a four day trial for a capital offense as other cities had (Athens allowed but a single day), he might have convinced them. He was sent to death by only 60 votes out of 500; a switch of 30 votes would have changed the verdict. He thus defends doing philosophy – asking questions – and seeks, through the public trial and submitting to the decision (going honorably to his unjust death), to create or maintain a space for it within the democracy. He seeks by suffering to shame the Athenians for their crime and make them reconsider. This was a heavy price to bring the Athenians to themselves, to their better selves. As illustrated in the Apology and Crito, Socrates's act is distinctive in founding satyagraha.

To do this is not to attack the democracy; it is to strive to make it a better, common good-sustaining regime. Democracy does not just mean one thing (i.e. sometimes, democracies are common good-based and decent). The contrast between a common good and philosophy-sustaining (or permitting) democracy which Socrates affirmed, and a McCarthy- or Meletus-like tyranny - what we might speak of as being a shadow of democracy or a deficient democracy - which he scorned is decisive.

On a careful reading of the Republic, Socrates is not shown in Plato as advocating a “philosophical king” in the sense of an authoritarian ruler. That proposal is largely a satire and in response to the change in the direction of the argument of the Republic produced by the interventions of Thrasymachus and Glaucon** and a send up of the Athenian charges (what would it take to purify all thoughts of the Greek gods? massive censorship of a sort that would also make a Socrates or a philosopher, except perhaps as a shadowy king, impossible. See here, here, here, here, here and here). Instead, Socrates is shown subtly to exercise political leadership – another sense of philosophical kingship – in the trial itself and in the vision of Athens as a common good – sustaining democracy, one that permits questioning, i.e. dissent, in the public sphere as well as in philosophy. See here, here, here and here.

The two contrasting visions, of a common good-sustaining democracy, one that has intrinsically good laws (for the most part) and a Meletus-like tyranny, mark out a central distinction, basic to political philosophy or democratic theory, between good regimes or ones that realize, in Rousseau’s idiom, a general will, and bad regimes. ones that realize a transient will of all.

Patriotism to mainly decent laws is a theme in Socrates, even as he defines in his actions, in his life and death, fighting an unjust law (the so-called law against impiety) or at least a law unjustly applied by men (cf. the Crito, 54c). He prefigures Gandhi, who translated the Apology into Gujerati, on satyagraha, as the first two essays here and here noted, or civil disobedience in Thoreau, Tolstoy and King.

As the Apology emphasizes, Socrates held his place in battle for Athens at Delium and Amphipolis. Socrates analogizes this to Achilles going down for honor as well as to holding his place to test the saying of Apollo’s oracle that he was the wisest of them all by questioning those who seemed wiser. What the Oracle said was strange since Socrates knew that about the most important things (the idea of justice or beauty or the divine), he didn’t know. To put it precisely, he knew examples of just acts, beauty, and perhaps divinity; about the idea of each fully worked out, he did not know. Socrates tests the saying of the oracle by questioning the politicians, sophists and poets and earns their enmity, through showing that they do not know what they - with hubris - as well as others think they do.

As Socrates stuck to the post assigned him by the democracy in battle, so he stuck to his post, in the way of exploring the saying of the god designed by himself, by questioning. He did, in the deepest way, what he decided on and yet, in the face of the Athenian charge, was pious to the saying of Apollo.

In the Symposium, Alcibiades describes Socrates as the soldier with the greatest presence of mind, a dangerous adversary, one who saves Alcibiades himself in battle and then, bids the generals to give Alcibiades the credit. Socrates is, on a deep level, a very serious patriot who asks little from the city for himself.

This story in the Symposium casts a new and sharper light on his statement in the sentencing section of the Apology that what he deserves is to be fed with the Olympic athletes in the Prytaneuem. For this statement, too, is a form of civil disobedience – Socrates challenges, absolutely, the expectations of the crowd that he - the philosopher, the wise man - will grovel for his life before them. But as the juxtaposed passages reveal, this is no exercise of pride. Socrates seeks no acclaim in Alcibiades' story for the greatest heroism of the sort the city admires. Instead, Socrates displays a philosophical heroism - a prototype of civil disobedience - only in a particular kind of extremity, one where a will of all or a defective democracy seeks to demean philosophy or questioning, to put it out of existence.

Socrates's act is misread by Xenophon who was away fighting in Persia at the time and told the story only by Hermogenes, as one of sneering contempt for the democracy as a way of committing an odd form of suicide. Instead, Socrates defends who he is and the integrity of questioning within a democracy. To do this, he must go to his death...

Socrates was, in fact, an egalitarian and abolitionist, as one can see from the conversation with the slave in the Meno. See the last essay here, here and here. He did not believe in Greeks enslaving other Greeks or anyone else, and was skeptical of Pericles as a war leader. Though these principles or stands are part of what we might call internationalism, nonetheless, Socrates does not explicitly affirm such a principle. He goes to his death with the words of Athenian democratic laws in his ears, a patriot. Nonetheless, considering the Meno makes Socrates's internationalism deeper.

But one might also say that many of the Atheians conquests which Socrates gives no direct sign of opposing – for instance at Corcyra or Melos – were disgraceful (and against Socrates's principles). His view, if spelled out in this way, perhaps contradicts these acts. And though he also does not explicitly discuss Melos, it is Thrasymachus who offers the words of the Athenian ambassadors that justice is "nothing but the advantage of the stronger"; "the strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must" - and Socrates who questions and rejects them.

This tension in Socrates's practice can be resolved by speaking of his patriotism in circumstances where patriotism is called for. But this would be defending Athens against aggression, i.e. the war against the Persians and Xerxes, not fighting in the Peloponnesian war...So perhaps the issue remains. In this context, Staughton's invocation of Euripedes's Trojan Women is especially apt.

In any case, as Socrates's own experience and these further thoughts show, civil disobedience is necessary many times over in a democracy - as one confronts new situations, learns more deeply the meaning of principles - and to the current day (as Staughton courageously went to Hanoi as part of the anti-Vietnam war movement, his own stance is much more internationalist than Socrates's in an evident way).

Gandhi was also a patriot - if one can speak in those terms - for the British empire. As Staughton notes, he worked for the British in the Boer War, serving in the medical corps, and again in World War I. And the patriotism was motivated by trying to overcome British bigotry against Asians, and, as his Autobiography suggests, to a limited extent, it did. But his patriotism has a difficulty that Socrates does not. He served the very empire which held Indians, including Gandhi, prisoner and demeaned them. The Empire was no democracy (least of all a democracy among Indians). So arguably, his civil disobedience in World War II – he was not against England in the war against Germany, but he sought to free India in the Quit India movement and went to jail for it – is more consistent (it has the difficulty that the Nazis were a profound evil, one worse than the Boers in South Africa or the Kaiser in World War I, though not as obviously - not yet - toward India. But British colonialism in India was also evil).

Thus, it is hard to admire what Gandhi did in the Boer war and World War I. In a way, it was patriotic and there are many good things about the rule of law in England. But as Gandhi said later and more consistently when asked what he thought of English civilization, “it would be nice…”

That the British Empire in India was a decent regime and had a call on Indians to be patriotic is implausible. That the regime can be reasonably compared to Athenian claims on Socrates and other citizens is even more doubtful. So Gandhi’s patriotism is more of a problem or a confusion than Socrates’s which, in this comparison, seems more consistent, admirable, and even defining or modelling what we call civil disobedience in a decent regime (perhaps Gandhi imitated this, during World War II).

But on another level, as I have also emphasized, Athenian democracy was an empire for which Socrates fought. Serving in the Peloponnesia War was not self-defense against aggression (the standard view of decency in wars from early on, as Michael Walzer reports in Just and Unjust Wars - see also Democratic Individuality, ch. 1). It is not good to fight "patriotically" for imperial conquest over others, even for the ordinary people who serve in the conquest; the defeat and decline of Pericilean Athens is a pointed example.***

I have spent my life fighting against imperial wars. Obama’s killing of Bin Laden and the intervention in Libya, if it staved off a massacre, are perhaps the only two decent acts (both highly flawed; for Marta Soler's interesting challenge on the possibility of capturing Bin Laden and the rule of law, see here) in my adult lifetime. One might perhaps include Carter's failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran. Every other major use of American force including and since Vietnam has been reprehensible. So it is natural to be skeptical of the Empire, and to have thus, mistakenly understated in my two previous essays on Gandhi and Socrates a democratic patriotism which marks civil disobedience as Socrates exemplified it and ever since.

Democratic patriotism is not the last refuge of scoundrels and is the opposite of Meletus-like “patriotism.” It is this distinction and its link to civil disobedience which Staughton’s first question about my essays on Gandhi, Socrates and satyagraha raises. I hope in this response to have done his comment justice.

****

*Norman Finkelstein, corruptly deprived of exercising his great skill as a teacher by Depaul, gave a talk in my ancient political theory seminar last year on the Crito. This talk was mainly a series of dazzling questions to students, posing the issue of obligation sharply. Norman is fascinated by Socrates’s affection for the law and the claim it has on each person who thinks and feels deeply about a decent society. He even suggested that a black person in the segregated South might have an obligation to obey an unjust law (he was forgetting Socrates's adherence to questioning against an unjust law or at least a vote of men which unjustly sent him to death). Peter Gibbins, one of my students from Metro, talked about how the experience of segregation, under the law and down to lynching, gave black men no obligation of this sort. Peter was right.

Socrates did not defend fealty to law in general, i.e. to the laws of a tyranny. He had fealty to the laws of Athens (quite deficient laws), in the context of disobeying an unjust one - or an unjust decision of men (and a doubtful law). He founded what Gandhi calls satyagraha.

Norman has also thought deeply about Gandhi. After reading some half of Gandhi’s collected works (he said, if I recall, 55 volumes), Norman has made the point in recent times that a two state solution to the question of Israel's fierce oppression of the Palestinians is a real one on which there might come to be an international consensus.

There is much in this thought, and it shows, again, the benefit of thinking deeply about Gandhi and Socrates. Mass civil disobedience – as in the Boycott and Divisestment campaign and something stronger – must be based on a perceptible injustice, which everyone - including the Israeli government, at least under pressure - can respond to: Palestinians are human; the occupation and their continuing dispossession is radically unjust.

But Israel is unwisely expanding (further oppressing the Palestinians and driving them from the territories), and very likely, because its policy is so radically against justice, undermining itself. Whether there can be a Jewish state if this expansion succeeds is doubtful; if a mass movement and outside pressure overturns apartheid by nonviolence from below, the state could be a rights-based democracy, but not a Jewish one. Or it could be an apartheid based non-democracy as appears to be Netanyahu's intent, but such a state is a disgrace to everything decent in the Jewish tradition and the prophets led by Amos would not affirm it. Or Israel, out of fear and paranoia, could instigate larger war in the Middle East and over time, nuclear war, All these and particularly the last two are possibilities which a more sane Israeli leadership or a firmer American policy could, with a Gandhian sense in this respect, have avoided (See also Tutu’s description of his relations with Israel and Palestine in No Future without Forgiveness). The first solution is a reasonable one in the abstract, but one very hard practically to achieve (about this issue Norman has some good Gandhian points). Norman is working for a mutually livable two state solution, one far less barbarous than the other two solutions...There is a lot, one might say, to studying Gandhi and Socrates...

** From the first page, the Republic has an element of force directed at Socrates,a premonition of his trial and death. But Polemarchus, whose name means war leader and is a leading democrat, responds to Socrates's questions by beginning to think. He is shown in the process of becoming a philosophical youth even in the first book of the Republic (this is how he is characterized by Socrates in Phaedrus). See here. But the interventions of Thrasymachus and Glaucon revert to and exacerbate the bullying strain in Polemarchus's original arrest of Socrates and his quite common political idea that "justice" is to benefit friends and harm enemies.

***The ruins sit on the hills above the modern city and it is somehow a different people that made them – the Roman conquerors slaughtered the last Athenian men in the beginning of the first century B.C. Yet the recent democratic protests of working people against austerity have revived and trasnsformed earlier traditions of direct democracy – see here and here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Poem: Taos


a boy
beats on an icy
pond with a
stick

dis lodgingthe

winter moon
on a hillside


Monday, August 13, 2012

What CBS wants you to know about the American Revolution


In a seminar on Ethics and International Affairs last Tuesday, Debbie Main was giving a talk on Black Patriots and Loyalists. On July 30th, she noted, ABC did nationwide coverage of a new museum on the American Revolution soon to open in Philadelphia. See here.

Given the tone of the report, her feeling about it was pretty acid:

“Hi Alan

I have to attend our homeowners board meeting at 600p (about pigeons), and will be over to DU a little after 700p. I have read most of your book and am prepared to talk. I've answered the first question, but the two comments that I would like to make concern research ethics. I was so pleased by your approach of including as many "fragments" as you could from blacks. I take away that their numbers are seriously under-reported for a variety of reasons, their individual names were not worthy of being collected [with a movement from below, this has, over 50 years, changed among historians and even the D.A.R, see here], and although most were illiterate, I guess that the reasons for so few personal stories are deeper.

I think it is important for people to be able to tell their own story, as opposed to white historians in the vein of Wood who on CBS news last night said that ‘all the things we believe in came out of the revolution.’ I'm sure that he was only referring to all the positive things, and from a white perspective. A romantic version of the war for sure. Please have a listen.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57480968/revolutionary-war-will-get-a-museum-filled-with-artifacts-from-collection/

Debbie”

In the CBS interview, Gordon Wood, an important historian of the American Revolution over the last 40 years, made two comments. First, he noted, there are museums to many American historical figures, but none to this “most important event” in our history: the revolution for independence.

The museum will open with 3,000 objects. Among them are George Washington’s tent which the curator burbled over, a recently discovered letter about the alliance with France [nearly all of Washington’s works are on line and in several published collections] and a powder horn whittled with the phrases: “kill or be killed” and “liberty or death.” A printed recruiting announcement stresses the importance of fighting for the liberties of the American colonists in the fledgling “ustates.”

Why is there no museum to the American Revolution until now, 2012, 229 years after the Revolution? Neither Wood nor the curator offers an answer. CBS does not ask…

Are Americans really so forgetful about their liberties?

Why for two decades are most of the books on the New York Times best seller lists biographers of revolutionary heroes, endlessly recycled, ever shiny accounts of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, but with little new?

Why are most books on the French Revolution, except Ruth Scurr‘s Robespierre – see here – especially books by French historians, histories of class struggle?

Black Patriots and Loyalists reveals some of these secrets. For instance, a second great revolution, one against bondage, preceded the American – the first revolution for independence – and shaped it. Thus, there were some 20 slave uprisings throughout the Caribbean in the 1750s and 1760s. Sailors, black and white, brought emancipatory ideas to J. Philmore in London (1760, Two Dialogues concerning the Man Trade) and James Otis in Boston (1764, The Rights of British Colonists Asserted and Proved). Otis spoke of the “natural rights of all men, black as well as white…”

These sailors had been dragged by roaming press-gangs into the Imperial navy, kidnapped and enslaved aboard ship. Riots against press gangs were a leading feature of the pre-Revolutionary period (along with demonstrations against the Stamp Act and the price of tea) and shaped the outlook of revolutionary crowds.

In the 1760s, sailors and artisans had long discussed abolitionist ideas in taverns catering to the working poor.

The elite did not, except for John Laurens, Tom Paine, and gradually Benjamin Franklin speak out against slavery. But in churches, ministers like Samuel Hopkins denounced “this sin of crimson dye,” responsible for every American defeat by the Crown. Like those who opposed the second Gulf War but did not make corporate newspaper or media headlines or the Democratic platform of 2004 (when Medea Benjamin of Code Pink was dragged out for unfurling a banner "US out of Iraq," perhaps 90% of the delegates agreed with the thought...), poor revolutionaries were often abolitionists (see also pp. 255-56 on Western Massachusetts farmers in the Shays rebellion).

Meanwhile, the great charge by Britain against the Revolution was offered in “Taxation No Tyranny” by Samuel Johnson: “How come we hear the greatest yelps for liberty from the drivers of slaves?” I discovered this devastating quip while doing research for this book. No one taught it to me in high school or college – there is no British side or account in the American Revolution as taught in the United States - and no breath of it occurs in Gordon Wood’s often good books.

Wood’s primary thesis is that the revolution centered around the value of equality. It was the outlook which shaped this first revolution, which gave it a radical character. This is a powerful thought, one linked to the actual fight for equality – that each might equally hold property in her own person – of blacks. But he abstracts from the actual history of the Revolution into claims about ideals. So his thesis is belied by his omission of blacks for whom the Constitution – preserving bondage in the American South, treating blacks as 3/5ths a man to elect their owners President and Congressmen - traduced the very idea of liberty (see my conversations with Duncan Campbell here and here).** In this important sense, the Constitution betrayed the first words of the Declaration of Independence as well as the fight for abolition from below.

Surely, the ending of the bondage of a person for her whole life, as the New Jersey Quaker David Cooper said in 1775, is more important than a three penny tax on tea…

It is shocking, as Cooper said, to discover that by the freedom of all men, the Declaration of Independence means only white men…

Though unmentioned by Wood, black freedom was not secondary to Wood’s revolution for freedom and equality. On the contrary, freedom is for all. The uprising against slavery was thus integral to and the culmination of the American Revolution.

Blacks also played a central role in the fighting of the Revolution.

And a sense of social history would have forced Wood to confront the fact that gradual emancipation occurred during and after the Revolution in and only in the North. The first place was Vermont in 1777 (not one of the original 13 states), then Pennsylvania 1780, Massachusetts 1782, Rhode Island and Connecticut 1784, New York 1799 and New Jersey 1804.

Recognition of these facts might also include the thought that political equality was restricted even in the North. There, freedom was fully achieved only when the last gradual emancipees were finally set free in New York and New Jersey in the 1840s – some 60 years after the Treaty of Paris which ended hostilities….

On April 12, 2012, Wood gave a C-SPAN interview on his new short book on The American Revolution: a History. He here ignores what happened in the North and the social history of the last 20 years, asserting a false, silly and rather ill-read thesis that this interest is an "anachronism":

"LAMB: Go back to your comment about your peers not liking the fact that Newt Gingrich was heralding your book. There are conservatives watching this program that are saying, 'Yeah, that's what's wrong with academia. They're not the slightest bit interested in the other side.'

WOOD: Well, there is, of course, and has been over the last, well, maybe 30 years, a good deal of criticism of ourselves. It's self-criticism. I don't think that's wrong. I think any democracy, any healthy democracy has to have a certain amount of self-criticism, and that often takes the form, for historians, of writing critically about the past. I think there can be excesses in that, and I think people who say that the American Revolution was a failure are making a mistake. But nonetheless, one understands that self-criticism is a healthy thing. And I have no gripe with that.

And it goes on all the time, and I think that's good. I think it goes too far if you begin to see your past as totally full of faults and not see any good at all. As I try to say in the introduction to this book, I don't think our history should be seen as a moral tale, either good or bad. I think historians should try to understand where we came from as honestly as we can, without trying to say this was a great celebration or that this was a disaster. I don't think either of those extremes are true of our history.

LAMB: I don't want to put words in your mouth, but are you saying that a lot of academics think that the Revolution was bad?

WOOD: Well, I -- that's too strong. I think there are a lot of academics who have emphasized over the last 30 years that we didn't do enough. We didn't, for example, free slaves. We didn't change the lot of women. And because those are current issues, there is always a tendency in history to go back and to look at the past through the lenses of the present and lament the fact that slavery was not abolished and that the lot of women did not change substantially and that the lot of Indians was worsened by the Revolution. That -- those are -- those facts are true, but I think it's anachronistic to apply 21st century standards to an 18th century world." See here.

Pace Wood, I have yet to meet the American who thinks that a revolution for freedom, even quite limited, against English colonialism, was a "failure." But surely the role of demands for abolition in making that revolution successful and realizing its claims of freedom at least in the North was important. And seeing that former slaves played a leading role in the fighting at Yorktown on both sides - that the efforts culminating in gradual emancipation, realizing the Revolution's promise. in the North are just as significant as the sinking back into bondage in the South, expressed in leading provisions in the Constitution - is not only central to Black Patriots and Loyalists, but to sound history writing about the Revolution. One might also underline, as I do, the heroic role of black troops, led in battle by John Laurens and Alexander Hamilton, on the Patriot side. But neither Wood nor this new Museum nor CBS is anything but sleepy about these central issues.

Unsurprisingly, social history is also weakly covered in New York Times’s book reviews And among historians, most of the writing about blacks – Gary Nash, Sylvia Frey, Graham Hodges and Simon Schama, for example – is primarily about the Crown. They treat freedom as important, but name it a matter of identity politics (though there is a deeper tone about this, particularly in Frey, Nash and Hodges). The fact that most blacks fought for and were liberated by the British is the “dirty secret” of the Revolution for independence (Nash, The Forgotten Fifth).

An exception is Douglas Egerton’s Gabriel’s Revolt (1993), see here.***

Second, in the CBS broadcast, Wood spoke well of what it is to be an American. It is to affirm the values of the American Revolution, all of which, he says, are enshrined in it. This is true of freedom for whites and some blacks and the Bill of Rights. But bondage was a betrayal of that Revolution which took a later Civil War to resolve….

Wood’s snippet is false. His writings do not create a different impression.

In contrast, Black Patriots and Loyalists explodes the still common view among historians that blacks were occasional participants, on the American side, in the Revolution. See here and especially the University of Chicago Facebook page on the book here. And it gives a new and international importance, to emancipatory efforts on the Imperial side, particularly to the black democracy in Freetown, Sierra Leone, founded by black Loyalists and led by Thomas Peters and Isaac Anderson. See here.

It is interesting that even after the publication of Black Patriots and Loyalists by the University of Chicago Press, the publicity on the American Revolution and its new museum is as empty and racist as ever…


*Henry Wiencek’s biography, Imperfect God: George Washington, his Slaves and the Creation of America 2004, did focus importantly on bondage, Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, also 2004 and winner of the George Washington Book Prize, did include his relationship with John Laurens, including a fleeting reference to Hamilton’s bisexuality. see here, and a lot on the Laurens’ proposal to recruit and free 3,000 blacks in South Carolina and 2,000 in Georgia.

**From 1788 until the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, slave-owners were President 52 of the first 72 years of the Republic, and the only Presidents elected to two terms.

***In Herbert Apheker’s Negro Slave Revolts (1943), Benjamin Quarles' Negro in the American Revolution – 1961 – Vincent Harding's There is a River (1981), and Mike Goldfield’s, The Color of Politics (1997), there is also a different tone. And Frey's Water from the Rock treats blacks as a third force, operating with their own revolutionary motivations.