Wednesday, June 24, 2015

John McCamant, October 15, 1933- May 6, 2015

   
         John was a great human being and friend.  He was a teacher, a farmer, a man who saw, with long and sometimes painful effort, what was true, and who grew beautiful things.  John was a man of integrity and humility, who lived and acted from his heart.

       Before I came to GSIS, John was doing research in Chile.  While he was there, the US government organized the overthrow of President Salvador Allende.  John was at the National University having lunch downstairs when the National Guard came in, stormed to the second floor and shot 5 Psychology professors…

        John loved growing beautiful flowers and food.  In studying Chile, he had worked with his student and friend Dave Cusack on quinoa.  They decided to disseminate it in the US, help farmers in the Andes and perhaps grow it themselves;  the presence of quinoa now, say at Whole Foods, comes from their vision.

        Dave was murdered by the Chilean government and perhaps the CIA.  John founded his farm to continue this work in the US.  He had taken up quinoa, with Dave, as a kind of spiritual obligation; that commitment marked his farming as well as concern for its beauty and engagement with food and the inevitable difficulties, for a faculty member/farmer of innovative commerce.

      Early in my time at the Graduate School of International Studies, John was arrested for a sit in against Governor Lamm sending the national guard to Honduras for operations against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.  The pretence and hypocrisy of US foreign policy came home to him in the deepest and most moving, one might say Quaker way.

     He also wrote about this in a memorable, exemplary article on Repression that spoke against ordinary, anodyne uses of the term state and the secretive distortions of research by the US government, and worked long on trying to recast the study of politics to bring it nearer the truth. 

       Partly because of John’s experiences, the School of International Studies barred CIA recruitment for 20 years.  Our community wrote about/debated the issue for 6 weeks in a newsletter edited by Baffour Agyeman-Duah (some time after this healthy discussion, the school administration shut down letters and comments in the newsletter, saying that they made a bad impression on “certain alumni and trustees”).   

    We had, however, a rare community meeting to decide about the CIA which gathered over a hundred people.  John talked about the undercover role of the CIA in the overthrow of democracy  in Chile, particularly Salvador Allende and in Guatemala, Jacopo Arbenz.  John said memorably to our colleagues: “Maybe you won’t vote against CIA recruitment for killing people, but you should vote against it for misleading scholarship, for distorting what many of us do.”

     John was not cynical, but he was blunt about and wounded by what he regarded as his colleagues’ weak capacity to say or act on what was true (I should underline: many of our colleagues did come through in the following vote).  John spoke about how the leading newspaper in Guatemala, El Mercurio  – its “New York Times” -  had published CIA-planted lies about Arbenz, leading up to the coup, and he had, as a young scholar trained to be suspicious of  radicalism in the United States, relied on it, until he learned the truth.  He had some deep anger about this, a feeling of having being taken by the way this material to be researched was often covertly falsified by the US government, the way he had been educated and the trauma of what he had seen – he did not speak about it very much – in Chile.

      John’s speech centrally moved the meeting which voted 95 to 6, to bar CIA recruitment.  This ban, unique among International Studies Schools and a shining example of how the integrity of individuals and democratic discussion can defeat pressure from above, lasted about 20 years (until the second Iraq War when the knowledge-gathering wing of the CIA briefly became a bastion of sanity against Cheney/neocon falsification…).

     John struck out differently not only as a teacher but in his farming.  It was as if a symbol of his life was to work with the earth to speak out in beauty and nourishment about what the US government often represents.

     John was also, equally, a teacher and as those here indicate, many ripples came from this.  He brought Heraldo Munoz from Chile who had worked in the government and then gone underground after the coup against Allende as well as Claudio Gonzalez (a Mapuche who has long taught in Chile).  Heraldo is now Chile’s Foreign Secretary.  He was the United Nations Ambassador and the head of the Security Council when it voted on George W. Bush’s proposal to wage aggression in Iraq.  Heraldo led the Council in defeating this irrational and immoral proposal, though the opposition of humankind and common sense were not enough to curb the madness of America’s leaders…

      Many of you have written and spoken about what John’s mentoring/nurturing meant.


      Out of small things in this life, day by day, large things are sometimes made.  Those who knew and loved John McCamant know this.  A great human being, family member, father, teacher, colleague and farmer, someone reluctant to engage in politics but who honored his commitments fully, a man at one in spirit with the ordinary people and indigenous farmers of Chile and Guatemala whom he studied and worked with, a man who lived uniquely and profoundly on this beautiful earth and in the powerful words of Pope Francis this week, sheltered and added to its beauty, John, go well…

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          Here is a tape of John talking about the difficulties quinoa production at White Mountain Ranch at an International Quinoa Research Symposium in Pullman, Washington in 1992...

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