There's No There There There's No There There blog brought to you by History News Network. Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 Zend_Feed_Writer 2 (http://framework.zend.com) https://hnn.historynewsnetwork.org/blog/author/40 The Ukrainian Mess: Where Are The Skeptics?

Murray Polner is a blogger, writer and editor.

Poor Katrina van den Heuvel and husband Stephen Cohen, she the editor of The Nation and he a scholar of Russian history and the author of a definitive biography of Nikolai Bukharin, who was executed during Stalin’s mad blood purges, and more recently, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: Stalinism and the New Cold War.

Almost twenty-five years after the collapse of the USSR, they wrote, “The White House declared a new Cold War on Russia—and that, in a grave failure of representative democracy, there was scarcely a public word of debate, much less opposition, from the American political or media establishment” -- not to mention the craven silence of our usually voluble pro-peace groups and liberal Democrats. “Both sides in the confrontation,” they wrote –correctly-- “the West and Russia, have legitimate grievances. Does this mean, however, that the American establishment’s account of recent events should not be questioned? That it was imposed on the West by Putin’s ‘aggression’ and this because of his desire ‘to re-create as much of the old Soviet empire as he can’”?

Still, they aren’t entirely alone. Henry Kissinger  challenged Washington’s hawks, always ready for war (so long as their own kids never have to serve). In the Washington Post he called for a cease fire in eastern Ukraine, while denouncing “the demonization of Vladinir Putin,” which, he wrote,  are not policies but rather are “alibis for the absence of one.” 

 A serious objection found in even in so unlikely a site as the Wall Street Journal. There, in the House of Murdoch, Hans-Werner Sinn, president of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research in Germany, reminded readers that, while “the annexation of Crimea was a violation of international law,” which it was --- emulating the way the U.S. stole Guantanamo from Cuba in 1903 -- “It must be borne in mind that the present crisis was triggered by the West. The overtures made by NATO to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in recent years effectively threatened to encircle Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the only ice-free port at its disposal.” 

That’s the point: The whole mess was instigated by western hawks. Even more: On and off hawk Thomas Friedman has actually acknowledged some facts about the origin of the crisis, which are rarely found in his paper’s editorials or Op Eds. In early May, he questioned the decisions of the “Bush I and Clinton teams to expand NATO [which] laid the seeds of resentment that helped create Putin and Putinism” and at the same time blessed our new best friends in Kiev who have in the past specialized in civic corruption.

The Times did finally run a sensible, thoughtful and absolutely necessary Op-Ed “The War on Truth in Ukraine” by Keith A, Darden of American University. He pointed out how little we know about what has been happening, drawing attention to all the manipulation, lies, half-truths and whole truths on all sides. Who, for example, was responsible for that anti-Semitic leaflet in the “Donetsk Republic” in eastern Ukraine? Who burned the union building in Odessa causing the deaths of so many pro-Russians? And who sprayed “Swastika-like symbols on the building, along with graffiti reading ‘Galician SS’ ” ? Is there still a stench of anti-Semitism despite official denials? And who murdered so many people in Kiev’s Maidan Square last January? How influential are the extremist Right Sector and Svoboda in the interim Kievan government? Do the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine answer to Moscow? Did Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s UN ambassador to the UN, have any hard evidence when he told two Times reporters “there were English-speaking foreigners among “ultranationalist groups” in Slovyansk” a dramatic game-changing event if true but which the US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power promptly called a lie. Why did our Vice-President and CIA director suddenly fly to Kiev? Was Victoria Nuland, with very close family ties to the neocons, sent to Ukraine by John Kerry, her ostensible boss, or was she acting on her own? And what, exactly, is Putin, no libertarian he, up to? In all the frenzied chatter about a new Cold War, sanctions, and rumors of troops, tanks and copters, does anyone really know? Or is this another replay of the Vietnam and Iraq eras when our mass media merely echoed government spokespeople?

The Guardian’s Suemas Milne has been on the scene since the earliest day of the revolt in Kiev and, unlike many reporters, he wrote that the Maidan Square insurgents were largely from the Right Sector and Svoboda parties, both of whom have claimed that they were the leaders of the revolt against the ousted democratically elected President, while Putin has been compared to Hitler (see Hillary C., our putative Democratic candidate for the Presidency). “The role of the fascistic right on the streets and in the new Ukrainian regime has been airbrushed out of most reporting as Putinist propaganda,”  Milne wrote. He then offends pro-Ukrainian/American policy makers: “By what right is the U.S. involved at all, incorporating under its strategic umbrella a state that has never been a member of NATO, and whose last elected government came to power on a platform of explicit neutrality. It has none, of course—which is why the Ukraine crisis is seen in such a different light across most of the world. There may be a few global takers for Putin’s oligarchic conservatism and nationalism, but Russia’s counterweight to its imperial expansion is welcomed from China to Brazil.” He may sound like an unreconstructed Red to our home front warriors, but at least he was there when it all unfolded.

And then there’s Noam Chomsky,  controversial but often prescient about many crises (East Timor, Vietnam, Israel and Palestine, etc.) and usually persona non grata in our mass media. Writing in the small circulation and leftwing, In These Times, he returns to a distant, more optimistic, era when Gorbachev, then the post-Communist president, agreed to the reunification of Germany and its inclusion into NATO, but with a quid pro quo. “The U.S. said NATO would not move “one inch eastward,” meaning east of East Germany. The pledge was soon broken by the U.S. and NATO, a direct challenge, and when Gorbachev protested, Chomsky says “he was turned away, the US telling him that “it was only a verbal promise, so without force.” Please, can anyone in Washington’s celebrated if mute press corps ask Obama, Kerry, or John McCain, our resident senatorial hawk, about this the next time they hold a press conference? If need be, they can read John J. Mearsheimer in Foreign Affairs, and The  Atlantic’s Jeffrey Taylor,  based in Moscow, whose perceptive  “The Way Out of the Ukraine” is worth reading. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian mess festers. Washington, NATO and Putin certainly know that nuclear war is the nightmare that awaits future provocative acts such as inviting Ukraine to join NATO setting off  another Cold War and the pressure by Washington and Moscow hawks to “do something.”

 There is only one way out of this. Patient, deliberate, nonviolent diplomacy. Hans-Werner Sinn’s WSJ article proposed inviting Russia and Ukraine into a free trade pact with the West, a sort of “change through rapprochement” once put into practice by Willy Brandt with East Germany. Or neutrality for Ukraine, unattached to any one side, as outliers like the anti-neocon The American Conservative proposed and which Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, once the chief aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell, seconded, while warning hotheads in Washington and Moscow to cool it since two major nuclear powers are involved. “Otherwise, they” –and all of us too—“are going to regret it sorely in the future.”

In the end, there’s always the indefatigable William Pfaff in the Times’s International Herald Tribune (for some inexplicable reason its New York owner doesn’t run his columns). Still, Pfaff often has the last, smartest words: “In all, it doesn’t seem quite the time for either side to turn this virtual war in Ukraine into a real one. One hopes that the advisors of both Presidents Obama (including Joe Biden) and Putin have grasped that. But probably one group or the other has not. It’s an old army maxim, explaining disasters, that 'there’s always 10 percent that didn’t get the word.' ”

And now back to van den Heuvel and Cohen: Any skeptics out there?

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153493 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153493 0
Like it or not we now have an Obama Doctrine

Murray Polner is a blogger, writer and editor.

It was only an item on page 5 of the NY Times about an incident on the Estonian-Russian border. The Estonians charged that one of their officers had been kidnapped, or detained—take your pick-- by the Russians who promptly denied the story. The Estonians, empowered by their membership in NATO and Obama’s recent visit are quite aware that  Article 5 of the NATO treaty obliges every member nation to come to their aid if attacked.  Far from his nation’s voters who think less and less of him,  Obama seems to have given little Estonia a blank check when he said that if anyone—meaning Russia-- made a move against the Baltic states  Russia would have to fight the US too. That’s our President. Tough abroad and weak at home.

Fortunately, nothing has happened on the border, at least not yet. But continually calling every border episode an “invasion,” as Ukraine does, is designed to get  the attention of NATO and Washington, especially since the US pays the major portion of NATO’s bills and nothing can happen without its approval.

No wonder Ukraine desperately wants to be included in NATO and why our perpetually bellicose hawks would like nothing more than to give Putin, no angel he, a good whack  and teach Moscow who’s the real boss. All this, of course, without calling in American ground troops (and scaring Americans at home), as Obama  and everyone in Washington’s Iraq-tainted War Party keeps repeating, while wink-winking, knowing that no-one really believes in that fairy tale should things take a bad turn.

Ukraine, bankrupt and corrupt, has become our latest freedom-loving heroes, battling the brutal pro-Russians in its eastern region while hosting our Vice-President, CIA Director and super hawks like John McCain. Overlooked are some of the new champions of liberty we’ve inherited. 

Tom Parfitt, who writes for the conservative British daily Telegraph,  has been on the scene watching Ukrainian militia groups—some of them openly neo-Nazis—in the battle against eastern Ukrainian dissidents. One of them, the Azov Battalion, wrote Parfitt, “use the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook) symbol on their banner and members of the battalion are openly white supremacists, or anti-Semites.” Azov, by the way, has the official backing of the Kiev government and is overlooked  by all those visiting American officials and politicians who have flocked to Kiev, apparently—but who knows?—with Obama’s approval. “Forgive them God for they know not what they do.”

The fact is that Ukraine has been in Russia’s sphere of   influence for centuries and like it or not is infinitely more vital to its national security than it is to the US. Provoking the nuclear-armed Russian Bear by expanding NATO to its borders and trying to integrate Ukraine with the West is risky and dangerous. Provocatively, the US has sent an anti-ballistic missile ship into the Baltic Sea  to “promote peace.”  200 US soldiers are now in Ukraine, 120 air force personnel and six F-16 fighter planes will participate  in another military "exercise." exercise in Poland while several US naval ships have been in the Black Sea, ever closer to Odessa and Russia’s Navy in its only warm water seaport. The possibility of war is never mentioned.  Can you imagine the hysteria and fear mongering  in  Washington if Putin dared send 200 Russian soldiers to, say, Cuba, Venezuela , Bolivia or Ecuador, and Russian naval ships were sailing around the Gulf or Mexico or the Caribbean?

Like it or not we now have an Obama Doctrine.  Beyond Europe he has  committed the US to the so-called “pivot to Asia,”  involving “close-in” aerial and naval scrutiny of China, and where the US is bound by treaty to defend Japan  should its dispute with China over some rocky uninhabited islands end in a shoot out or worse. There are also 25,000 US marines stationed in Australia for a mission neither explained by the administration nor investigated by our mass media.

And then, of course, there is the Middle East, where we should never have intervened save for our appetite for oil and defense of Israel, a nation which can defend itself given its vast horde of nuclear weapons, mastery of  American politics and intimidation of American presidents. And now, unexpectedly, ISIS has become the code word for a new and  endless Middle Eastern war with a brutish and cruel  enemy who hate America and Americans.

Everywhere, we still hear about regional menaces that, if left unchecked, supposedly and regularly threaten US interests and even our mainland. No matter that the US hasn’t won a war since 1945, the reliance on military might remains the same. From Reagan to Bush 2, it’s been used to project American power in Central America, Panama, Kuwait the Balkans, the Middle East and even against Grenada, that menacing Caribbean military-industrial power.

Eric S. Margolis, an insightful commentator rarely if ever seen in our mass media or TV (left dissenters are generally unwelcome), has posed the central question of our time: “Who came down from the mountain and said the US must police the globe from the South China Sea to the jungles of Peru? After losing wars in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq, the US should reconsider its overly militarized foreign policy and exaggerated international pretensions. You can’t rule the globe on  money borrowed form China and Japan,” adding that, “he who spends on wars everywhere, ends up broke. And he who ignores domestic needs for the sake of imperial glory is cruising for a bruising.”

Poor Barack Obama.  Everyone seems to want him to “Do Something,” subtly reminding him of Munich and the dangers of “isolationism.”   Seeking advice, he recently called together a group of carefully selected foreign policy “experts,” not a dove among them, such as George Ball  who warned the liberal icon  JFK not to mess around in Southeast Asia. But JFK knew better and told him, “George, you’re crazier than hell.” Ball tried again with LBJ, warning him to stand down before Vietnam destroyed his presidency, but LBJ wasn’t going to be the first president to lose a war and be damned by home front warriors.  Failing to stop Ho would sooner or later have us fighting on American soil, or so the old line went, and still goes. 

Naturally, no one asked me but I would have invited to the seminar Andrew J, Bacevich, retired army colonel, Vietnam veteran, academic, whose lieutenant son was killed in Iraq and whose book “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War” challenges the views of all the invited guests and their mantra of the “indispensable nation.” And I would have also  invited  Noam Chomsky, who’s been prescient about East Timor, Vietnam  Israel and Palestine, et.al., and whose presence would have resulted in an livid,  heated, absolutely necessary debate.

Expect nothing very good to happen. As Madeleine Albright, Clinton’s  former Secretary of State, once said  to Colin Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military  that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it”?

It’s a temptation too hard to resist. Doing business the same old way is much easier for the world’s policeman.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153498 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153498 0
Washington's War Fever

Murray Polner is a blogger, writer and editor.

Before President Obama delivered his recent televised talk to the nation about ISIS, he assembled a group of Washington-based political junkies--foreign policy specialists and ex- government officials  -- probably not a dove among them-- to hear him ruminate about his decision to strike at ISIS.

The NY Times’s Peter Baker described the meeting  in which the president recalled the coming of the Iraq War, stimulated by war fever  in Washington. “It would have been fascinating,” he said, looking back at 2002 and 2003, “to see the momentum and how it builds.” Well, Cheney, the neocons and a genuflecting mass media surely helped.  According to Baker, Obama saw the same thing in his time, “a virtual fever rising in Washington, pressuring him to send the armed forces after the Sunni radicals who swept through Iraq and beheaded American journalists.”

Even so, he said he wouldn’t be rushed into any decision but instead would be cautious and deliberate. But why then did our reluctant and introspective president, nuanced and brainy, so unlike Bush the Second, decide to resume one war and expand yet another?

Was it because  a “virtual fever” is only heard  in our insular Imperial City and nowhere else in the country? Washington is overflowing with living room heroes whose kids go to college rather than into the military and who bear no responsibility for the appalling outcomes of the wars they urge on the nation and its presidents. It is a city replete with Think Tanks, dozens of whom, the Times recently revealed, are doing very well financially, taking money from foreign governments and writing “policy papers” and  whose advice is often taken too seriously by the city’s power people.  As the Times headline put it, “Foreign Powers Influence Think Tanks.”

Washington’s “virtual war fever” was assailed by an ordinary Times reader, Len DiSesa of Dover, NH, in a letter to the Times (I’ve never met him): “As a Vietnam veteran all I can say is, please—not again. Once more we go down that slippery slope where Americans are put in harm’s way to carry out a political objective….  Have we learned from our past mistakes?  Or are we doomed to repeat the history we are ignoring? Where are voices of the Vietnam veterans”? Sorry, Len, but the Vietnam War and invasion of Iraq are ancient history in today’s Washington.

So we’re back at war again, a so-called limited war, taking on ISIS, that savage, beheading crowd that we are informed by the war fever crowd threatens to attack our homeland.  President Obama, no fanatical warrior, has said over and over again that this limited war may take three years to finish and he may have to hand the ISIS problem over to the next president while he goes off to write his memoirs and work for some prestigious law firm or university.

“Mama, don’t raise your son to be a soldier” went the old tune. Well, maybe not (or maybe yes, if the draft is reinstated) but Obama, our introspective and reluctant warrior pledged over and again there will be no “boots on the ground.” Woodrow Wilson and FDR also made that promise.  It depends on who you believe and whether our latest war opens a new can of Middle Eastern worms, with new groups of rebels or terrorists (take your pick) to fight, naturally, with no U.S. ground forces. General Martin Dempsey, no doubt with Pentagon vetting, isn’t so sure, telling a Senate committee “ I, of course, would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. ground forces.” If that happens, let’s hope that the VA scandal has been resolved and its hospitals are ready to handle the new wave of wounded troops. When a columnist at Obama’s gathering asked what he would do if bombing failed, the president would not speculate. How could he, given that bombing alone rarely defeats guerrilla forces.

If Hunter S. Thompson were alive today rest assured  he would not have been invited to Obama’s get-together but the astute HST, while  no foreign policy expert, famously and prophetically uttered after 9/11: We are AT War—with somebody—and we will stay AT War with that mysterious enemy for the rest of our lives.”

Meanwhile, to shore up the dispatch of more and more bombers over Iraq and Syria, Obama has also embraced the peculiar notion that he and most likely every other president after him can take the nation to war without asking Congress, the Constitution be damned. The very idea aroused Yale’s Bruce Ackerman in a heated Times Op Ed.  It “marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition. Nothing attempted by his predecessor George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris.” My favorite commentator Andrew J. Bacevich put it best: “Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues to drift, guns blazing.”

In any event,  ISIS or no ISIS, war remains a treasured American tradition.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153505 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153505 0
Silent Rabbis  

 Silent Rabbis

 

One of  the smartest, most courageous and provocative rabbis I ever  knew was Arthur Hertzberg, raised in a Hasidic family, a congregational rabbi, historian of Jewish life and Zionism, university professor, a member of the Zionist Jewish Agency who once publicly rebuked Prime Minister Golda Meir for her pro-Vietnam War views, and regularly criticized Israel’s occupation and settlement policies.

 

Hertzberg, who died in 2006, also took on American Jews for their unquestioning worship of Israel, wondering as well if Zionism and Judaism were identical. Judaism, he once told me (he wrote a regular column in a magazine I edited) was a faith of universal morality, not a nationality.  The quasi-religious reverence for Israel, right or wrong, tainted the beauty and grandeur of Judaism. Too many rabbis, he wrote (in an article which inspired me to write a book about American rabbis), resembled “institutional executives” and were "entertainers” in sparsely attended non-Orthodox synagogues.

 

I was reminded of Hertzberg’s candor in the recent run up to our High Holy Days after reading Sarah Posner’s wide-ranging article in the invaluable online Religion Dispatches (followed soon after by a shorter piece in the N.Y. Times) that some non-Orthodox rabbis were very worried about mentioning in their sermons anything even remotely critical about Israeli policies lest some of their congregants and donors take offense. She cited a 2013 Jewish Council for Public Affairs report that about half of about 500 Reform and Conservative rabbis polled “hold views on Israel that they won’t share publicly, many for fear of endangering their reputation or careers.”

 

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of the non-denominational LGBT inclusive  Congregation Beit  Simchat Torah synagogue in Manhattan told Posner, “I think there’s a larger chilling effect in the American Jewish World, yes; I’ve gotten so many phone calls and voice mails [from people] who have had something happen to them.”  Posner also quoted Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood: “There’s far too much intolerance in the American Jewish community, the Conference of Presidents, the AIPAC people, people on the right. They need to grow up. Jews argue. We need civil discourse.” Posner’s article also took me back to the handful of Mississippi rabbis I knew personally or through their writings who dared confront the KKK and other bigots during the civil rights era.

 

For decades Israel has been a third rail. Presidents and politicians have been intimidated and silenced.  Christians who fail to agree with the party line are denounced as anti-Semitic. Jewish critics are excoriated as Jew hating Jews, at times driven out of public Jewish life by the guardians of Israeli purity. what Michael Walzer—he wrote “Just and Unjust Wars” -- recently described in a fundraising letter for Americans for Peace Now, as a “defensive, blinkered American mindset. Too many of us have hardened our hearts in order to rationalize the dehumanization, injustice, and brutality of the occupation in the name of  presenting a unified front to the non-Jewish world.”  

 

So who then really speaks for American Jews?

 

The fact is that many of the Israel Lobby’s Jewish groups are no more than names on a letterhead, with few or no paid members, supported by a handful of wealthy donors. Hertzberg shrewdly detected  a trend in 1990 that has continued growing. “American Jewry,” he said, “is an organized and aging half moving right and a younger, more liberal group increasingly abandoning Jewish organizations and declining to offer financial support.”

 

M.J. Rosenberg agrees there is a growing demographic problem. He once worked for AIPAC and is now considered an apostate by the “true  believers” for his widely publicized dissents. “Every poll shows baby boomers and their kids are far less interested in Israel than their parents, the WWII’s ‘greatest generation.”

 

And here’s Rosenberg’s central point: “Today, politicians think the easy way to a Jew’s heart and pocketbook is through Israel.  Soon enough they will understand that the way is through social justice issues here in America.”

 

The truth is the Israel lobby doesn’t speak for the majority of us. We were never “One” as a long-discarded UJA fundraising slogan once went. We’re extremely diverse: Zionist, non-Zionist, anti-Zionist, radical, liberal, conservative, reactionary. Noam Chomsky is as Jewish as the ADL’s Abe Foxman. Rabbis hiding in their studies or keeping their views to themselves are doing themselves and everyone else a  disservice.  They ought to read some of Hertzberg’s articles and books and mull over what he once told me: “A rabbi should be where the real issues are, not where  the safe platitudes are.”

 

The dovish Israeli novelist David Grossman, whose IDF son was killed in one of the many skirmishes between Israelis and Palestinians, wrote “An Israel Without Illusions,” in which both sides “blindfolded, our heads bowed in stupor, collaborating with hopelessness—continue to turn the grindstone of this conflict, which crushes and erodes our lives, our hopes and our humanity.” Now that’s a great theme for a sermon.

 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153509 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153509 0
Same Old, Same Old Same Old, Same Old.

 

By Murray Polner

 

Dick Cheney is my favorite political figure. Who else but our secretive, still influential uber-hawk who managed to obtain five draft exemptions and then  famously bragged to the Washington Post’s George C. Wilson, “I had other priorities in the ‘60s than military service” could have been so upfront and meant it? But gee, Dick, so did I and millions of others have “other priorities” but we still had to show up and learn to march, salute and do KP.

 

“Game Change,” that razor-sharp film (based on the Heinemann and Halperin book) about the McCain-Palin presidential race in 2008 is an even better Cheney story, apocryphal or not. Centering on Palin’s astonishing lack of knowledge, the film has McCain’s  dejected  inner circle sitting around trying to fathom what went wrong when Jamey Sheridan, the actor playing McCain speech writer Mark Salter, suddenly speaks up.

 

“You know what Dick Cheney said when we picked her?”

 

“What,” asks Woody Harrelson playing campaign boss Steve Schmidt.

 

“Said we made a reckless choice.”

 

Long, pregnant pause.

 

And then  “Salter” adds, “When you lose the moral high ground  to Dick Cheney you have to rethink your entire life.”

 

Beautiful!

 

 

 

But never underestimate Cheney. He’s a shrewd survivor. His vision of an America strong enough to police the world and take on all comers still commands extensive support. Tom  Engelhardt is his complete opposite. In his latest book Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars and a Global Security State in a Single-Power World, he writes that  Cheney and his friends and allies were convinced that Watergate and Vietnam had placed the president in “chains” and after 9/11 they set out to “take the gloves off.”  And then, “From this urge flowed the decision to launch a ‘Global War on Terror’—that is, to establish a ‘wartime’ with no possible end that would leave a commander-in-chief president in the White House till hell froze over.”

 

Engelhardt’s  estimable online TomDispatch is a valuable source for anyone desperate for alternatives to  America’s historic addiction to war. It publishes writers rarely read or viewed in mainstream media and, very much in  the  hallowed  tradition of  George Seldes’s “In Fact” and I.F. Stone’s weekly -- or for that matter, the contemporary libertarian Antiwar.com and the smart anti- neocon The American Conservative.  Reading TomDispatch and like-minded sites we  can visualize the infestation of our Capital City with its bought and sold politicians, predisposed think tanks--  many  subsidized by foreign governments according to the New York Times – and its multitude of  pundits and lobbyists, all doing quite well  financially, thank you,  engaged in what Engelhardt charmingly calls the “national and homeland security racket.”  It’s also what he puts down as the “Lockdown State,” where secret people run secret wars using secret  torture hideouts with secret  torture chambers.

 

But in the end, we cynics  need to say: Great stuff, Tom, far better than Cheney’s take,  but what do we do with all this information and criticism, a rough cross between Ron Paul and George McGovern? How do we change things?  Engelhardt offers several ideas but one in particular stands out as absurd as anything our ex-VP ever uttered. To Engelhardt.  the move to a volunteer army was a grave error since it detached the military from the rest of us, rendering  our military a sort of “foreign legion.” Vietnam’s disproportionately conscript army was “at the edge of rebellion,” he says, quoting one source, and was “voting with its feet against an imperial war.”  With the advent of the volunteer army, Engelhardt continues, a “1 percent version of American war was coming to fruition, “unchecked by a draft Army” [my italics]. A new book, The Invisible Soldiers by Anne Hagedorn, confirms the continual and growing use of private contractors – according to a 2013 Congressional Research study they comprised half the military in Iraq and Afghanistan and they’re a lot cheaper than a draft in the long run since they receive no lifetime medical care or pensions. What then?

 

When I first read those words – unchecked by a draft Army-- I thought he was kidding. I don’t know if Engelhardt ever served on active duty in a conscript army but he needs to explain how 20 year old draftees can “check” warmakers dead set on making war. A new draft, some on the left have argued, will help keep us out of war or at the least help close it down.  Too fast.

 

How so?  I assume Engelhardt and advocates of a draft mean by a return to passionate sixties-style marches, fiery demonstrations, aroused college students, and discontented voters. I have my doubts, but preventing or stopping wars certainly won’t come about by drafting a new generation of kids while the rest of us stay-at-homes hope they’ll rise against their masters once they put on a uniform. Yes, there was “fragging,”underground newspapers, discontent, and lots of dope smoked in Vietnam but millions of draftees and short term enlistees  had little to do with ending the war, which eventually came about  when powerful political and economic interests chose to call it quits. And while the draft was still on, Nixon called on “silent” Americans to speak up in defense of the war  and Americans voted overwhelmingly for him against McGovern, a genuine peace candidate.

 

It’s a sixties  fantasy that our bellicose hawks can be intimidated  by shanghaiing a new generation of our into the military rather than countering them by working very hard educating, organizing, voting, building constant pressure and offering serious, realistic antiwar alternatives. Lib-left dreamers to the contrary, if you give our homefront warriors a million or more draftees a year a chance to show the world who’s still boss, they surely will, Remember Madeleine Albright’s gem when she challenged Colin Powell, advocate of more limited military interventions: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

 

All a draft can ever do is whet the appetite of those always ready to reach for their guns. The truth is we had a draft before Korea and Vietnam and we know how much that accomplished to prevent or shorten those wars, where 100,000 GIs, so many of them draftees, were killed while so many others were damaged in body and mind.

 

Cheney preferred working the sidelines but he recently reminded his fellow Republicans that the true path to victory in the GWOT is to keep strengthening the military and battling the [alleged] growth of American isolationism at home. That’s  our policy and will  be even after we choose a new president in 2016 who, you can bet, will end up following the same old, same old, track, pretty close to Cheney’s views.  I wouldn’t want to hand the next man or woman in the White House a million or so draftees to play around with.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153519 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153519 0
Daily Life in Our Frightened National Security State Related Link Court orders immediate release of 85-year-old nun, fellow anti-nuclear activists (May 2015)

I am thinking about Sister Megan Rice, an 84-year old nun and two  army veterans, Michael Walli, 65, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 58, all of them sitting behind prison bars for doing far less than the fraudsters and political thugs who took u into Iraq and killed and tortured so many. Sister Rice & Friends are in prison  for daring to protest America’s long  love affair with  nuclear  weapons, a dilemma which has drawn little or no media interest. Sister Megan received a 35 month sentence and the two men 62 months each.

So what was their crime? Cutting a hole in a  barbed wire fence in one of Oak Ridge’s  ultra-secret National Security sites on July 28, 2012, and then crossing over into prohibited ground,  hammering on the Highly Enriched Uranium Material Facility and  spray painting some “Biblical graffiti,” leaving behind  Isaiah’s  subversive aphorism about beating swords into plowshares.

You would think that the break-in at the highly secretive, presumably well-protected   Y-12 National Security Complex at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, nuclear facility, their subsequent federal trial in Knoxville, why they did it yet failed to convince the jury, let alone the American public, would merit some serious attention from the handful of  remaining inquisitive American newspapers, or network TV’s evening  “news.” But no one was murdered or even wounded by a hail of bullets from vigilant guards. No one was captured and beaten. No one resisted arrest.  The trio did what they did, and surrendered, willing and eager to explain.

The NY Times’ William J. Broad did have a substantial piece, “The Nun Who Broke Into the Nuclear Sanctum” about Sister Megan Rice but that was back on August 12, 2012, after the break-in. The last time I’m aware of any interest on their part was October 31, 2012, when an article discussed the failure of the site’s security, where incredibly, no-one at the facility shouted, “Halt, who goes there?” at the trespassers.  Since then, silence except for a tiny Reuters sidebar on Feb. 19, 2014 announcing their sentences—35 months for Sister Megan Rice and 62 months for Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed. 

In any event, the trio was tried and found guilty in federal court in Knoxville and fined $52,053--which the government will obviously never collect since in all probability a nun, a house painter, and an unemployed activist do not usually generate much financial gain from a personal portfolio of stocks and bonds nor do they have any ties to a hedge fund. And anyway, what they accomplished wasn’t much, just shutting down some Oak Ridge activities for two weeks. But they also reminded the guardians of the nuclear site that apparently anyone—even people bent on doing real damage—could just saunter in and possibly do as they pleased. So here’s another question for our national media, print and online media: What are we paying those private security companies for?

It’s as if the Berrigan brothers suddenly returned for a second act. It was Phil’s quixotic brainstorm, which he called the Plowshares movement and which rejected our never-ending unaccountable government-sponsored violence. Some one hundred men and women during the eighties and nineties hammered on and spray- painted MX missiles, Trident submarines, B-52 bombers and components of the strategic nuclear triad, sending some to prison but essentially unnoticed by a bored and distracted nation.

Phil Berrigan once spoke about how hard it was to get fellow Americans interested in what they were saying. “Even sympathizers thought Plowshares actions look ridiculous now, a sermon to the converted, ignored by the government and the media, the public no longer listening.”  Of course he was right. All the same, he and his friends left a gift to anti-nuke radicals like Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed who would never lose their faith, however naive it may sound to most, in the power and majesty of nonviolence, much like that old revolutionary, Isaiah, and a few other Hebrew prophets.

But back to Oak Ridge   If obsolete cameras and barbed wire fences could not keep three older people out of the Y-12 National Security Complex, should  any independent investigative journalists still left  in the Obama Era of Espionage Act Violations  not ask why all those pricey weapons? Against whom are they supposed to be used? At the trial, the prosecuting U.S. attorney told the jury that nuclear deterrence was vital for our defense but no-one outside of that Knoxville courtroom seemed very interested in asking why.

But what if we have a nuclear accident, or just another Petrov Incident? Remember that?  When Soviet Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov in 1983 saw a missile heading for Moscow on his radar screen and soon after, four more U.S. missiles approaching, he didn’t report it  because he was smart enough to suspect a computer glitch. Had he done so and his bosses retaliated with their nukes, most of us would no longer be among the living. There have been other near-misses, some reported, some not. You’ll need an FOI request to find out.  Given the frightened and often confused reactions in our Nuclear Age, War on Terror Age anything can happen.

During the trial, the judge said he hadn’t found the defendants “contrite.”  Kathy Boylan, a longtime peace worker, testified in their behalf, even alluding to the Holocaust. She quoted Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, peace and nonviolence activist, opponent of conscription, all wars. and a faithful Catholic who may yet wind up beatified by the Church, saying, “If we wouldn’t put people in gas chambers, why would we fling gas chambers at them?”

“Michael,” Boylan told the court, referring to Walli, “is trying to save lives. Your life,” she told the Judge, and then turning toward the prosecutor, “Your life. All our lives.”

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153522 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153522 0
A Real, Genuine, Memorable, Worthy American Cold War Hero A Real, Genuine, Memorable  True American Cold War Hero

 

By Murray Polner

 

It was the great liberal Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis who best described the fate of civil liberties in wartime: “During a war…all bets are off.” What he might well have added is that it is also true that in the aftermath of war as widespread ignorance, revenge, mindless hysteria, and fear follow in its wake.

 

In this country the madness and shame of the Red Scare that followed the end of WWII  (preceded by the same insanity after WWI) damaged far too many people who were neither Stalin’s apologists nor KGB spies. In his book, “Washington Gone Mad,” Michael Ybarra shrewdly noted, “There actually were Communists in Washington. But it was the hunt for them that did the real damage.”

 

0ne of the many victims was James Kutcher, an unheralded and long forgotten genuine American hero, His challenge to the U.S. Government, portrayed in his memoir published in 1953 and updated in 1973, remains strikingly relevant given the dilemma it presents to critics and dissenters in a nation which is today consumed with dangerous, radical imperial dreams and its threat to initiate a series of endless wars.

 

Kutcher was a member of the fractious Socialist Workers Party, a fringe Trotskyist group. Drafted in 1941, he lost both legs in combat on the Italian front. Fitted with prosthetics, he learned to walk with them and two canes and returned home to live with his working class family in a federal low-rent housing project in Newark, N.J. The Veterans Administration also hired him for $40 a week.

 

The story begins in 1948 when the VA decided to fire him because he and his party were “subversive,” a term with no precise legal definition (any more than who is and is not a “loyal” citizen today) but which is a favorite tool of repressive governments everywhere.

 

How Kutcher fought back is the heart of his book, The Case of the Legless Veteran.  0riginally published by a small British house in 1953 since no American publisher would dare touch it, terrified lest its appearance on its lists might bring Washington’s inquisitors down on its neck.  “Sooner or later McCarthy or those other congressional committees are going to start in on the publishing business,” an editor told him. “You can call it cowardly, if you want to, but I call it caution and common sense.” Pioneer Publishers, another miniscule  Trotskyite publisher, finally issued it here. Twenty years later, still a loyal SWP member, he added two additional chapters.

 

The book opens with a modest disclaimer.  “In most respects,” Kutcher begins, “I am an ordinary man. I have no special talents. I never showed any capacity for leadership.”

 

Even so, he was no Milquetoast. Because of his dismissal he became tough and single-minded.

 

He went public and received the backing of non-communist labor unions and civil libertarians of all stripes—few of whom sympathized with the SWP. Conservatives such as Harold Russell, his onetime hospital buddy who had lost both his hands in the war, came to his support (Russell was best known for his role in the classic post-World War II film “The Best Years of 0ur Lives”).  The once famously liberal (pre-Murdoch)  New York Post and its superb columnist Murray Kempton rushed to his defense. In a frightened era when so few people and media lacked the courage to challenge America’s false patriots and powerful, threatening, repressive  government, Kutcher relentlessly battled back and ultimately won. In 1956 the VA finally rehired him.

 

“Legless Veteran” was aimed at two targets: The U.S. Government and opportunistic and scurrilous profiteers of an anti-Red crusade and the despicable  Communist Party, perhaps because of the longstanding bitterness between Stalin and Trotsky. But mainly I believe it was because of the Party’s dishonesty and duplicity.

 

 Nowhere was this more evident than in 1941, while Kutcher was still in the Army, when eighteen SWP members and other Trotskyists were convicted under the infamous Smith Act.  The Communists and their sycophants cheered --together with conservatives and liberals --disappointed only that the sentences meted out had not been harsher.  Seven years later, when their leadership cadres were indicted under the same outrageous law, they unashamedly denounced it as a challenge to civil freedom and called for all friends of freedom to fight the charges.

 

 In 1949, their leaders already in the dock, the West Coast party newspaper “Daily People’s World” had the gall to turn on Kutcher. “What is being touted as the ‘case of the legless vet’ and a ‘test case’ for civil liberties hasn’t the remotest connection with the defense of civil rights,” they commented. In other words, convicting Party leaders was a violation of the Constitution but Kutcher’s cause was not. Their reasoning was eerily similar to that of the government’s Loyalty Board, which approved his dismissal from the VA.

 

During his ordeal there were other hard-to-believe obstacles he had to confront. In 1952 he and his family received a letter from the local public housing authority ordering them to sign a loyalty oath and swear that no Kutcher family member belonged to any of the 203 groups cited on the U.S. Attorney General’s list of subversive groups. Failure to do so, they wrote, would mean eviction. The order was in compliance with a new federal law demanding that every tenant in federal low-rent apartments sign loyalty oaths.

 

Kutcher’s father was furious, more so at his son for not quitting the SWP. He pleaded with the public housing bureaucrats: “I have begged [my son] again and again to leave this organization but he refuses, saying it is not subversive and he is not subversive…What should I do I want to sign the certificate [but] I do not want to break up my family because my son needs help to take care of him. Please help, please tell me what to do, so that I can keep my home.”

 

Naturally, no one answered his plea. The law was sacrosanct, no matter how unjust, faceless bureaucrats must have reasoned. Besides, no one wanted to defend “subversive and disloyal” people. So Kutcher turned to the American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully persuaded a court to issue a restraining order preserving the apartments of the Kutchers and eleven other families who refused to swear that they were “loyal Americans.”

 

James Kutcher left the SWP in 1983 and died in 1989. During the years since his reinstatement, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI carried on extensive spying on the SWP until the group sued and won its case. In essence, the court ruled that they like others had a right to be as political as they wished.

 

In 2014-15 and beyond it remains to be seen how much we have learned. We need to wonder if freedom of expression will survive the war on terrorism.  I never met James Kutcher but his legacy is that we need not genuflect before any current or future Torquemadas.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153523 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153523 0
Rembering the Dead  

Remembering the Dead

 

By Murray Polner

 

I used to commute to work by rail with a neighbor. I had once been drafted into the army while he had been an Air Force officer during the Vietnam War with a most unusual, no, awful, job. He had been assigned to visit families and tell them that their husband, son, grandson, nephew had been killed in a war that the overwhelming number of Americans favored, at least until 1973 or so after nearly 58,000 GIs had been killed. It was LBJ''s call but many, many millions shouted out their love for USA USA in support of the war while others did the bleeding and dying.

 

Tell me more, I asked my commuting neighbor one morning. “I’m sorry I told you, forget it.” Then he added that he’d never allow his two sons to join the military.

 

Some memories.  My boyhood pal Porky was drafted and never returned from the Korean War. The laconic and pleasant Trinchintella boy who helped around his father;s neighborghood gas stateion trained for the Vietnam War as a helicopter gunner, was grievously wounded and died in a military hospital in Japan, his parents sitting helpless in the hospital corridor (His uncle told me this). My  African American  former high school student Ronald Boston, shy, unathletic, a kid who tried so hard to make good grades. His mother tended my mother in  a nursing home. One day she told me about her dream in which Ronald was killed in the war.  Poor Mrs. Boston. Poor Ronald. He never did make it home except in a casket. Some years later I received an email from Cathy R. Boston, Ronald’s sister. Her niece had found my mention of Ronald on the web and she wrote me:

 

“So I decided to write you a short email to say thank you for writing and remembering. My Mom and Dad never recovered, in fact the family never recovered from Ronnie’s death.  The subsequent ‘wars’ have been protested in this household and will continue to be protested. Please do not give-up the fight as I have not.”

 

In our earlier “Good War,” Irving Starr, whose family owned the deli next door, was killed during a raid over the Romanian Ploesti oil fields. His body was never found. Phil Drazin, who used to play ball with us younger boys, also died. When his father heard the news my friends and I watched as he ran out of his grocery store screaming into Straus Street. Screaming. Crying. I wish I could remember the name of the 18- year- old whose family had recently moved into an adjoining apartment to us before the kid was drafted. One humid and hot summer afternoon I watched from my window as his father stumbled toward the apartment entry and began sobbing. My mother, who was very good about such things, embraced him as he continued to cry.

 

I have never forgotten them. I am in fact obsessed. I’ve read Paul Fussell, Samuel Hynes, W.Y. Boyd, E.B. Sledge, all of whom lived through the carnage. I even memorized Donald Hall’s poem “1943” (“They toughened us for war…Dom died in the third wave at Tarawa…”) During the Vietnam War I interviewed several hundred combat vets for a book I later wrote and concluded, “Never before in American history have as many loyal and brave young men been as shabbily treated by the government that’s sent them to war.”

 

The neocons and the right-wingers, along with the liberal hawks, yesterday and today, always ready to fight—with other parents’ sons and daughters, rarely if ever their own. (Congress Quarterly once wrote that only 14 members of Congress had a son or close relative serving during the Vietnam War). No one was ever held accountable, no one blamed for the decision to invade Vietnam –or for that matter to invade Iraq. Few remember.

 

War lovers like Theodore Roosevelt and  Rudyard Kipling changed their tunes once their sons died in WWI. Kipling could only assuage his grief and guilt in this shattering couplet:

 

                If any question why we died

               Tell them, because our fathers lied.

 

 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153524 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153524 0
Left and Right Against War Left and Right against War

 

By Murray Polner

 

“Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.  We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”

 

                                                 ---General Omar Bradley

 

“Canada must be ours [say the war hawks]. We have nothing to do but to march into Canada and display the standard of the U.S., and the Canadians will immediately flock to it.”

                                                     --Rep. Samuel Taggart, whose antiwar article during the War of 1812 revealed how similar the prowar arguments then were as false as they were before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

 

 

 

In short, the United States of America is historically addicted to war, more so than ever today with its vast “national security” apparatus, almost one thousand  military bases, and a nation torn between those who believe in military intervention for humanitarian causes and those who extol wars as a way of maintaining the country’s worldwide hegemony. Now, as 2014 turns into 2015 and beyond, we are faced with endless wars in the Middle East while the drums are beating for war against Iran in Washington and Jerusalem and hawks dream of teaching Putin a lesson as they eye Ukraine..

 

Years back Thomas Woods, Jr. asked me to collaborate with him in a book we titled We Who Dared Say No To War: American Antiwar Writing from 1812 to Now  (Basic Books). We wanted to portray a broad American antiwar tradition often absent from classrooms, Hollywood films, TV and the new media. Tom is a conservative libertarian who is also antiwar and a dedicated civil libertarian, and I a left liberal and believer in nonviolent activism. We differ on some things, especially on economics and the role of the federal government but not on our opposition to our nation’s reliance on war and conquest.

 

We had no illusions that our book can deter contemporary warmakers or outwit the fabrications and manipulations of governments and propagandists past and present. We were (and are) instead motivated by the hope that arguments for war should be critically examined as the men and women of different political persuasions we quote in the book have done. As we wrote:  We intend the book to be a “surprising and welcome change from the misleading liberal-peace/conservative-war dichotomy that the media and our educational establishment and popular culture have done so much to foster.”

 

During our efforts to find appropriate, acute, essays, speeches and documents, I reread Americans who had shaped my own thoughts about war: Randolph Bourne, the physically handicapped prophet who died far too young at age 32 but memorably and rightfully wrote that “war is the health of the state;”

 

And Robert A. Taft who condemned the incarceration of Japanese American citizens in 1943 by the FDR administration. Bitterly assailed as an isolationist—to the end of his life he was very suspicious about military interventions --- he  opposed Truman’s undeclared entry into the Korean War, where some 38,000 GIs died, many more were wounded in body and mind and several million Korean civilians were killed, saying “the President has no right to involve the United States in a foreign war;” Russell Kirk, the founder of postwar America’s genuine conservatism, urging “a policy of patience and prudence” against “preventive war” and decrying how “A handful of individuals…made it their business to extirpate the populations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. And then there was a man I proudly voted for in 1972, George McGovern, who publicly excoriated his senatorial prowar colleagues by saying each of them was “partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave." This chamber,” said this onetime WWII bomber pilot unforgettably, “reeks of blood,” adding as well, Edmund Burke’s cautionary words: “A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood.”

 

 

Unsurprisingly, Tom and I  found that the same arguments used in all our wars are still used. We began with Daniel Webster’s speech in December 1814 after the war hawks (the term was coined during America’s aggressive war to capture Canada) urged a draft: “Where is it written in the Constitution,” he asked, “in what article or section is it contained, that you make take children from their parents, and parents from their children, and compel them to fight the battles of any war, in which the folly of the wickedness of Government may engage it?”

 

During our war of aggression against Mexico in 1846-48 we found the abolitionist William Goodell who called President Polk’s invasion a “war for slavery.” And many others:  Rep. Abraham Lincoln’s denunciation of the Mexican War, describing Polk’s war message as “the half-mumbling of a fever dream,” and Polk a “bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man.” Before the U.S. entered WWI,  Eugene Debs, the  heroic, memorable Socialist labor leader, spoke truth to power:  It is “the working class who freely shed their bloods and furnish the corpses” his words a crime in Woodrow Wilson’s administration and for which Debs received a ten year prison sentence (pardoned by the denigrated Warren Harding).  Senator George Norris, the progressive Republican from Nebraska ( long ago the Midwestern states  had many such sensible  Republican politicians) who condemned U.S. entry into WWI and their advocates: “Their object in having war and in preparing for war is to make money.” (117,000 GIs died in the war and 206,000 were wounded). Think, too, of contemporary war profiteers who have made so much money in Iraq and Afghanistan while future wars promise untold riches as well). War is a racket, angrily said Norris.

 

And we went on to note the hysteria generated during the Cold War, a frenzy which consistently and deliberately exaggerated Soviet military capabilities while frightening and punishing many Americans. (See, for example, the declassified documents released in September 2009 by George Washington University’s private and invaluable National Security Archive).

 

Our book featured a lot of tough words, echoed by many men and women (Helen Keller, Jane Addams, Jeannette Rankin, Rep .Barbara Lee, Gold Star mothers, etc.) whose words we rescued from obscurity. Had we had the room we would also have written about the military decimation of our Native American tribes and the habitual economic and military interference in the affairs of Caribbean and Central American states.

 

What we learned in writing this book was that lies, deliberate manipulation of patriotic feelings, scare tactics, a compliant, often indifferent media, and bribery of legislators kept and keeps the war machine oiled and too many decision makers in clover. Virtually everything heard in the past is still heard today. We quoted William Jay’s observation after the invasion of Mexico: “We have been taught to ring our bells, and illuminate our windows and let off fireworks as manifestations of our joy, when we have heard of great ruin and devastation, and misery, and death, inflicted by our troops upon a people who never injured us, who never fired a shot on our soil and who were utterly incapable of acting on the offensive against us”

And we concluded, “Everything we’ve seen recently, we’ve seen before. Time and again.”

 

In the end, I have personal favorites: William Graham Sumner, an irascible Yale academic who opposed the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars and the nation’s growing appetite for imperial conquest and world power; Marine Commandant David Shoup, who said of our Vietnam adventure, “Let’s Mind Our Business; W.D. Ehrhart (read his books!), a combat Marine veteran of Vietnam, who enlisted at age 18 and years later told students at a Pennsylvania school, “I am no longer convinced that what I owe to my country is military service whenever and wherever my government demands it…if I owe something to my country, my country also owes something  to me…it owes us the obligation not to ask for our lives unless it is absolutely necessary;” Howard Zinn, WWII bombardier turned pacifist,  who argued, “We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, other imperial powers of world history” and instead “assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation,” to  libertarian  Llewellyn Rockwell, Jr.’s (editor of LewRockwell.com) for writing, “Do we reject war and all its works? We do reject them?” and especially Andrew Bacevich, a Vietnam War veteran, retired Boston University professor, and father of a son killed in Iraq, whose distressing “I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose; We Were Both Doing Our Duty” is unforgettable. 

 

We Who Dared Say No To War will not change the course of history. Still, it reflects our mission, our passion—to encourage debate and discussion, especially in our nation’s classrooms as well as among our compatriots, now drowning in a mass culture that celebrates trivia, “amusing themselves to death” in the sainted and late Neil Postman’s incisive words.  Tom Woods and I would like to encourage an alternative patriotism that does not goes abroad every few years to seek and destroy imagined “enemies” while sacrificing a new generation of our young.

 

 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153525 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153525 0
Sodliers, Vets & the Rest of Us  

 

Soldiers, Veterans & the Rest of Us

By Murray Polner

 

 Fort Hood, in Texas, is named after Confederate General John Bell Hood, who lost his arm and leg at Gettysburg and Chickamauga but was defeated at Nashville and Franklin, Tennessee. It employs 50,000 troops and civilian employees and is close by the city of Killeen, population 130,000, and which, like most military satellite cities and towns, thrives because of their location, selling food, goods of all sorts, housing, and loans, some no doubt predatory. In fact, as Kenneth T. MacLeish described it, Killeen, population 130,000, is “more prosperous than Austin, the state capital, home to a large university and a booming tech sector.” When he asked soldiers what impression off-base civilians mistakenly held of them he was told “That we have a lot of money.”

 

What McLeish, assistant professor of medicine, health, and society at Vanderbilt University, has done in “Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community” is explore the impact of our recent wars on the military men and women and their families and loved ones. For those who have never served in the military “Making War at Forth Hood” is a humane and penetrating look in some depth at a huge military base and its military and civilian inhabitants. Some of his material is very familiar, given the combat experiences of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. But what he does that is different is put it all into context.

 

MacLeish frankly admits at the outset that we – presumably himself too--Americans “don’t know as much as we think we do about what the violence done by and visited on soldiers means for them or for us.”    Nor, that the decision to invade Iraq was a huge gamble urged on by neocon poseurs and Cheney-like amateurs in and around Bush II.

 

 Dime –a pseudonym, like all his interviewees—is a 35 year old veteran of Iraq, married with kids, who joined up at age 31 so his kids would have health insurance, who tells MacLeish the first time they met,” Don’t fuckin’ leave any of this shit out.”

 

“We did what we could,” Dime says. “We did it so you didn’t have to go over and do it,” the only rationale he and others can hold onto. After all, in war –the unjust as well as the just - virtually anything goes.  Randy, a wounded mid-30 year old NCO with PTSD tells him that the most painful  yet most gratifying part of having fought in Iraq is really “hardest to convey to someone who hadn’t been there.” He then tells MacLeish, “The best thing was taking care of soldiers, 19 and 20 years olds,” adding “Most who are fighting are children—seventeen, eighteen-, and nineteen year old kids who haven’t really seen the world yet.” When the son of a former army friend assigned to his squad in Iraq is killed he is consumed with guilt that he could not save the boy. “Randy’s story,” MacLeish comments, “ is just one of many I heard in which a type of nurturing, responsible, parental love frames the lives of soldiers’ lives cut short by war.” He returns to Dime. “Fuckin;’ nineteen years old, getting their asses blown the fuck up. They haven’t even felt the warm embrace of a real woman and a real relationship…. Sorry, that sucks. In my eyes, that blows. Never being able to have kids.” Or, as Randy put it, those young troops are “just doing what they’re told.” `

 

More than a few of Fort Hood’s families have suffered separation anxiety, troubled kids, alcoholism, ruptured marriages,  PTSD and  TBI, inexplicable  suicides, debt, and recurring tours into the war zone. But it happens amid the superficially normal atmosphere of everyday life where class distinctions are very evident: “distinctions between soldier and civilian, enlisted and officer, those who had been deployed and those who hadn’t, the injured and the healthy, the green and the experienced, the ignorant and the wise, the dedicated and the lazy, those who saw combat and those who stayed inside the wire, soldiers and spouses, and men and women,” groupings which are often fluid and in a constant state of flux.

 

 

Modern military life has at times proved beneficial to African Americans but racial diversity sometimes collides with daily subtle affronts, which might mean comradely joshing or, as MacLeish overheard, some nasty racial remarks when whites were alone together. Of course the Army promotes a policy of color blindness where soldiers must and do work together and  function as a team. But apparently women soldiers also cause some problems for some males and  even female soldiers, the latter “deeply invested in the male homosociality of Army corporate culture.” And eager to be accepted by males as equals. Adds MacLeish:  “I heard from many male soldiers that they were disruptive of good order, relied on their femininity as a crutch, and were generally less capable.” a sentiment shared by “many” women troops MacLeish encountered. “Dana” a female soldier, told him, “I hate females so much.” A surprising comment, because since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, an estimated 280,000 women have served, many in combat situations.

 

Despite strained and broken marriages and adulterous affairs, and despite MacLeish’s detached yet affecting witness to troops saying farewell as they departed for the Middle East, there is also much contentment at Fort Hood. Life goes on. Many reunions are picture perfect, some marriages are OK, and often he found the wounded and hurt comforted and perhaps healed to some extent by the love of their partners.

 

All the same, as everyone, vets and civilians alike, by now should realize, people are changed by war.  Even older men like “Childs,” a National Guard chaplain in his sixties, who was hurt and suffered from TBI with recurrent “mood swings, memory loss, and Tourett’s-like swearing fits.” At home he had a mild but frightening stroke. When his wife spotted blood on one of his boots, the blood of a soldier who died near him, he told his uncomprehending wife. “That’s Browning’s blood,” “No it’s not,” she said. “You don’t love me anymore.” His response was that he wanted to return to Iraq to be with his fellow soldiers.

 

All this suffering and sacrifice for a war that was dreamed up and promoted by distant ideologues, most of whom had never served a day in the military (their kids go on to college rather than basic training!)  That may be a topic for debate among civilians but politics is rarely discussed at Fort Hood, at  least not when MacLeish was near. However, Ernie, an infantry NCO, criticizes visiting politicians who, while in Iraq pledged support for the troops, spoke of reducing the money flow and pulling out upon their return home

 

Cindy, the wife of a helicopter pilot, organized a nonpartisan military wives group critical of the Army and government for denying treatment for PTSD and TBI veterans who had received bad conduct discharges. “Most military folks are at least a little uncomfortable with this level of politicization,” Cindy, a law school graduate, explains to MacLeish: “Everybody knows what it’s like to love somebody. It’s not political. We just want someone to take care of our husbands! We can speak when they can’t.”  Or as Kristen, another wife said, “In regular everyday life, you don’t have to sit around and wait to hear whether or not your husband’s dead.”

 

More than 4400 U.S. troops have died and about 32,000 wounded in a war that was initially and overwhelmingly supported by most Americans, a majority of both congressional parties, ubiquitous think tankers, and virtually the entire print and TV mass media. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed and about two and a half million  fled. Today a cruel internal battle rages in chaotic Iraq between religious and political sects. ISIS threatens.  For all this, no American policy maker will ever be held accountable.

 

But more to the point, how will we find the many billions to care for these veterans’? A question that will no doubt remain unanswered and probably forgotten as the decades pass and more young men and women are forced to fight our inevitable  future wars. MacLeish’s unrivaled study is, he angrily concludes, “an argument for recognition—for collective and social responsibility for violence done in the name of preserving the sociality that we inhabit. The logic of the gift tells us that this responsibility will never expire, so why not let it take the form of an open question?”

 

Indeed.

 

 

 

 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153528 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153528 0
War Crimes: Who Arre Accuntable? War Crimes: Who Is Accountable?

 

By Murray Polner

 

In October 1944, General Tomoyuki Yamashita was assigned to lead the Japanese forces in the Philippines. Ten days later U.S. army units began landing in Luzon and Leyte to open the campaign to liberate the Philippines. Before and after Yamashita’s arrival the Japanese had carried out the identical brutality they had too often meted out to civilians and POWs throughout Asia and elsewhere.  Filipinos and foreigners living in the islands were singled out, especially in Manila where a bloodbath had been carried out,

 

It was called the Manila Massacre, which Yamashita insisted he never ordered. He was arrested soon after the Japanese surrendered. In the first war crimes trial of the Pacific war, he was tried by five generals, found guilty, and executed by hanging. His chief counsel, the American Col. Harry Clarke objected, saying he was not found guilty for having done something specific but rather “solely with having been something,” in this instance  commander of troops who had committed war crimes. When the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and judgment denied, two justices, Frank Murphy and Wiley Rutledge, described the verdict as unjust.

 

What is most significant is that the Supreme Court has never rejected this principle, which holds that a military commander can be blamed for murder, rape and other horrible crimes carried out by troops under his command even if he had not ordered them to do so. Since then the “Yamashita Standard” as it is known, has been upheld as the law of the land.

 

Allan A. Ryan relates the entire story in Yamashita’s Ghost: War Crimes, MacArthur’s Justice and Command Accountability (Kansas 2012). He once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Byron White, was a U.S. Marine Corps judge advocate, as well as chief prosecutor of Nazis who fled to the U.S. and lied about their criminal past, has written an impressive and important book about the case in which he is unashamedly sympathetic to Yamashita and critical of the military judges and their superior, the imperious Douglas MacArthur.

 

Ryan’s sums up the case this way:

 

 “But Yamashita’s ghost lingers in the law. Born in an unprecedented and ambiguous

charge by a vindictive American general, nurtured by a misbegotten trial by his subordinates, deferentially upheld by America’s highest court, shaped by two panels of American judges at Nuremberg, and incorporated into official American policy and international tribunals, it has loomed over the international law of war for too long.”          

 

Yamashita’s Ghost notes that the general was the conqueror of Malaya and Singapore in 1942. Somehow, he alienated the hawkish Hideki Tojo and his war party who exiled him to northern China, by then hardly a war zone. After the fall of Tojo he was sent by the successor military regime in Tokyo to the Philippines, by then virtually a lost cause as American forces had destroyed the Japanese navy and was on the brink of a land invasion.

 

To Ryan, Yamashita “was a dignified and thoughtful man” respected by the American military lawyers who defended him in court. Yamashita, he agreed, never ordered the “Manila Massacre” and instead had ordered his officers to leave the city when invading American forces approached. The breakdown of communications and an aggressive Japanese naval command allowed the slaughters and rapes to proceed. Why, then, did MacArthur insist that Yamashita be tried? “What motivated MacArthur” asks Ryan? Admittedly no-one knows, not even his biographers. The chief prosecutor speculated that MacArthur wanted people to learn about the atrocious crimes committed by the Japanese. MacArthur explained the execution of Yamashita this way: He “failed his duty to his troops, to his country, to his enemy, to mankind; has failed entirely his soldier faith.”

 

We can only guess that MacArthur’s domineering personality and the fact that he was the son of the early 20th Century American commander of the Islands may have played a role. Or perhaps it was the earlier loss of the Philippines in 1942, one of the greatest single defeats in American military history. What we do know is that MacArthur wanted Yamashita (and General Masaharu Homma, the man who defeated him in ’42) executed as quickly as possible.

 

The military judges he selected were answerable to him. They were without legal experience and during the trial accepted hearsay and even double hearsay as evidence. When Frank Reel, a defense lawyer, protested the court’s acceptance of a suspected Japanese collaborator’s testimony that he heard another collaborator, Artemio Ricarte, claim he had personally heard Yamashita's order to kill, General Russell Reynolds, the presiding judge, asked Reel to explain “if all hearsay is excluded in court testimony.” Reynolds’ lack of legal knowledge astounded all the lawyers present. “Imagine the judge asking the defense counsel what the law is,” later wrote Lt.George Mountz, a defense lawyer. In any event all their objections were rejected. Robert Trumbull of the New York Times who covered the trial could only conclude “the rule of evidence set forth in General MacArthur’s directive can be boiled  down to two words: anything goes.”

 

A prosecution witness stated that the late Artemio Ricarte’s grandson, fluent in Japanese, had actually interpreted Yamashita’s remarks ordering the carnage, a statement contradicted by the 14-year-old grandson who was reared in Japan and testified in Japanese. Time and again the boy vehemently denied ever having heard such a remark. “I know that any talk that my grandfather and General Yamashita talked together  [hearing the orders being given] is a lie, and I came here today hoping to prove that.” His testimony stunned the court though it never altered the ultimate unanimous verdict. “In ten minutes,” Ryan comments, “the defense had obliterated the only evidence so far that, however dubiously, had actually linked Yamashita personally to the horrors that Japanese soldiers had committed.” The case, Robert Trumbull wrote in one of his reports, was “entirely in MacArthur’s hands.”  No-one in Washington objected.

 

Ryan also poses a very difficult question: To what extent can the Yamashita Standard be used to prosecute those who instigated and led the U.S. invasions of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, where there may well have been war crimes?  Had the Yamashita Standard been used in these wars, what high ranking generals and political leaders might have been held responsible for My Lai, Abu Ghraib and torture? Is no-one at the top ever accountable?

 

In the midst of the My Lai investigation General Telford Taylor, who had been a chief counsel at Nuremberg, published  his book Nuremberg and Vietnam—An American Tragedy,, which raised the implications of  the Yamashita ruling.   Punishing only junior officers and enlisted men was hardly the point.  According to Taylor, the chain of command from generals in the field up to the Joint Chiefs of Staff should be accountable for the behavior of troops in Vietnam. Of course, no American general or politician will ever be convicted because troops may have tortured and killed enemy prisoners. “The United States,” Ryan angrily concludes, “devised the Yamashita precedent, but it has never lifted the chalice to its own lips”

 

A quarter of a century after he argued Yamashita’s case before the  Supreme  Court, Frank Reel, a Yamashita defense lawyer, wrote a letter to the New York Times quoting Taylor that “Under the Yamashita rule as set down by the United States Supreme Court, [Vietnam War General] Westmoreland would be convicted.” Now he was absolutely not urging that American generals or presidents be tried under the Yamashita Standard [because] “the concept of punishing a man, not for anything he has done but because of a position he has held is abhorrent. It smacks of totalitarian tyranny rather than Anglo-Saxon law.” In affect, he was reminding Americans of the injustice of Yamashita’s trial and punishment.

 

 

Ryan’s challenging and brilliant book cites Dick Camp’s 2008 Talking with the Enemy,” published in Leatherneck in 2008, in which Marine Major Harry Pratt, the Yamashita trial’s chief interpreter, described the experience as “very worrisome. War crimes trials are a function of the victors. I could then and still find, that this law of command responsibility might well be charged against our own commanders under circumstances beyond their control.”

 

Before he was hung, Yamashita thanked his captors and lawyers “for their tolerance and rightful judgment,” adding, “I don’t blame my executioners. I will pray God bless them.” MacArthur sent three generals to observe the hanging.

 

 

And before Homma, a general held responsible for the Bataan Death March –which he denied--was killed, he told the officer in charge of his firing squad, “I’m being shot tonight because we lost the war.”

 

                                                                                                                                                                               

 

 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153529 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153529 0
Stalin & American Myths Stalin, Hiroshima & American Myths

 

By Murray Polner

 

To historian David Murphy, author of What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa, Stalin was cunning and cruel yet a failure when confronted by one of the central events in Soviet history. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s Stalin was equally cunning and cruel but a shrewd and unforgiving diplomat in the closing months of WWII.  To me, both judgments are correct. And both their books are exemplary additions to the vast literature of WWII and the Cold War.

 

For decades, a major question raised by historians is why the Soviet Union was so unprepared for Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion on June 22, 1941. Until their defeat at Stalingrad, German forces threatened to overrun European Russia. Had they been successful, they might then have turned their full attention toward defeating the Americans and British in Western Europe or perhaps worked out a negotiated settlement, both of which could very well have happened. 

 

As late as June 21, Stalin and his sycophants were gathered at his Kremlin apartment. “The atmosphere was tense,” said Anastas Mikoyan who was present. “Stalin still held to the view that Hitler would not begin a war.” The next morning, June 22, 1941, Georgi Zhukov awakened him with the news that German armies had attacked.

 

The problem was that Stalin turned his back on his intelligence operatives and associates who told him that the Germans had targeted the Soviet Union for attack. Instead, he foolishly believed Hitler’s denial in “confidential” correspondence the two dictators exchanged. It was the fear-ridden system he had developed, says Murphy, which led him to accept Hitler’s word. He alone decided what was and was not accurate intelligence.  When the Soviet master spy Richard Sorge, whom Moscow’s spy apparatus had successfully placed inside the German Embassy in Tokyo, reported on May 15 that the German invasion was set to start between June 20-22, -- and again on June 13 that the date for the attack was June 22!-- Stalin, paranoid and self-centered, denigrated Sorge as “a little shit who has set himself up with some small factories and brothels in Japan.”  But of course Sorge was right and millions paid with their lives because of Stalin’s obstinacy and ignorance. And what, asks Murphy, was Sorge's reward? While awaiting execution, the Japanese proposed swapping him for a Japanese military officer. Murphy quotes Hasaya Shirai of the Japanese-Russian Center for Historical Research, who reported Stalin’s reply: “Richard Sorge: I do not know a person of that name.”  [Interested readers may wish to consult a fascinating book, The Case of Richard Sorge by the British historians F.W. Deakin and G.R. Storry (Harper, 1966)].

 

Murphy, once chief of the CIA’s Berlin station and later its chief of Soviet operations, relied heavily on the two-volume collection of documents, 1941 god (The year 1941) published by the Moscow-based International Democracy Foundation, which casts the central blame for accepting Hitler’s word on Stalin.

 

What is clear is that Soviet military officers and intelligence were required to fit their findings to the state’s political requirements, a reckless and dangerous tactic for the Soviet Union then --- and for the U.S. in the Iraq War. “As is well known,” as Stalin was always fond of saying, fear of retribution or contradiction was endemic. When, for example, Pavel Rychagov of the Soviet Air Force appeared to blame Stalin for planes he described as “coffins,” Stalin took that as a criticism and told him, “You should not have said that.” Rychgarov, like other Soviet skeptics, had “sealed his fate” and was executed without trial in October 1941.

 

Scholars have always wondered why he also murdered so many of his senior military leaders, including Marshal Tukhashevsky. Murphy believes, quite reasonably, that it was to conceal his lethal blunders by intimidation or murder.  Pavel Volodin, Air Force Chief of Staff, for example, was arrested five days after the invasion and shot in October. Why? Like so many others, he knew the truth about Stalin’s appalling policy of trusting Hitler. Comments Murphy: “Much of his [Stalin’s] concern, as the Red Army suffered its tragic losses on the battlefields, would be to ensure that others, then in prison, who knew or suspected the truth of his culpability would never live to testify against him.”

 

Sadly, despite the heroic work of Memorial, a Russian group that continues to remember and honor Stalin’s victims, no one has ever been punished for their crimes.

 

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Professor History and Director of the Center for Cold War Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has also written an authoritative account based on American, Japanese and Soviet archives. He concludes, despite American mythology, that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not end the war with Japan.

 

What did bring it to a close, Hasegawa argues from his study of evidence released after the war, was Stalin’s invasion of Sakhalin and the Kurils --which were promised him at Potsdam-- and his refusal to heed Tokyo’s pleas that he help mediate a truce ending the war. The Japanese had good reason to fear Soviet power. Their military commanders had not forgotten the lessons of the Battle of Nomonhan, when in 1939, a Soviet army commanded by Marshal Georgi Zhukov smashed Japan’s crack Kwantung Army in a battle fought over a wasteland lying between Mongolia and Manchuria. In ten days, 70,000 Soviet and Japanese soldiers were killed. The preeminent scholar of that conflict, Alvin D. Coox, in his magisterial study, Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939, [Stanford, 1988] emphasized that the defeat scared the Japanese war lords who from then on, remained leery about challenging the Soviets, even signing a neutrality pact with them. Six years later, in yet another long forgotten crucial battle, the Soviets fought the Japanese in the battle of Shimushu in the Kurils on August 18, 1945—after the atom bombs were dropped.

 

Shimusu, where between 1000-1500 Soviet soldiers died needlessly, was World War II’s final battle. Why, asks Hasegawa, was it necessary when Stalin could have accomplished the same thing by negotiating a cease-fire? It may have been a “miscalculation” or a “bad judgment” but he wisely speculates that,  “Stalin needed the blood of Soviet soldiers spilled on the battleground in order to justify his claim that the Soviet Union had earned the Kurils—all the Kurils—paid for with the blood of the sons of the motherland.”  

 

Terrified that the Red Army might make a move toward Hokkaido, the northernmost main Japanese island, Japan surrendered the next day.

 

But what if Truman had not demanded unconditional Japanese surrender but instead permitted Tokyo to quit the war as a constitutional monarchy? Truman, Hasegawa believes, was determined to punish Japan because of Pearl Harbor and because he feared political repercussions at home. 

 

The myth, as Hasegawa calls it, is that Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved American GI lives and ended the war. Nonetheless, this widely accepted but inaccurate invention is not supported by his examination of Japanese archives. What the myth did was justify “Truman’s conscience and ease the collective American conscience.”  Hasegawa goes on to assert that his evidence also proves that alternatives to the A-Bombs existed, none of which the U.S. chose to pursue.

 

“And it is here, in the evidence of roads not taken, that the question of moral responsibility comes to the fore… Although much of what revisionist historians argue is faulty and based on tendentious use of sources, they nonetheless deserve credit for raising an important moral issue that challenges the standard American narrative of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

 

1945 marked the real start of the Cold War as Stalin and Truman sought to outmaneuver each other. World War II had left some sixty million dead; the ensuing Cold War would leave millions more killed and wounded. The killing has never stopped.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153530 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153530 0
Remembering Al Campanis: Was Justice Done? Remembering Al Campanis: Was Justice Done?

By Murray Polner

 

I often think of Al Campanis, a true baseball old-timer I knew, who was drummed out of the game he so loved in 1987 because of his thoughtless remark on “Nightline” TV about black players lacking “the necessities” to be managers or front office executives.  He’d been a Montreal Royal shortstop in 1946 playing alongside Jackie Robinson at second base, barnstormed off-season with a racially integrated squad, a Brooklyn Dodger scout who unearthed Roberto Clemente and Sandy Kourfax, and who reached the peak of his profession as General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and took them to four pennants and one World Series title. He even prevented a former black Dodger from killing himself. And then he was suddenly, abruptly, unexpectedly, and permanently blacklisted by a business, which until 1947 and Branch Rickey made a move, had barred black players.

 

In late 1987 or early 1988 Al Campanis phoned me.  Out of a job since that TV performance, he asked if I would help him write his autobiography. He had come to me, he said, because I’d written a biography of his former mentor and boss Branch Rickey. So, the next week I drove up the coast from Laguna Hills where I was living to Fullerton in Orange County in southern California where Al and his wife lived in a modest suburban home not far from Angels Stadium.

 

Born out of wedlock in 1916 in Kos, part of the Dodecanese Islands (once part of Italy but returned to Greece in 1947) Campanis and his mother arrived in the U.S. when he was six. He graduated from New York University, played football there though he loved baseball more, and then joined the Navy.  Once discharged, he began playing minor league baseball.

 

On five more occasions I drove north to Fullerton, where Al and other expatriate former Brooklyn Dodgers had moved in 1957 when Walter O’Malley kidnapped the team and moved to L.A.  (As the hoary joke among unrequited Brooklyn fans went and still goes: A diehard Brooklyn fan walks into a bar with a gun and sees Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley. Guess who he shoots?).

 

We talked and talked, drank coffee, ate sandwiches and sat around his comfortable but hardly luxurious kitchen, his wife always gone for the day. He was about 71 or 72, tall, agile, a still-vigorous, handsome, if aging athlete with a commanding, “I’m the GM” tone. A man accustomed to lead, or so I thought when I first met him. He spoke quietly of his past, how Rickey taught him how to evaluate baseball players and the skills needed to build a successful ball club. He was especially proud of a small book he had composed detailing what he had learned and practiced, The Dodger Way to Play Baseball, and autographed a copy for me and offered me as well a signed photo of himself.  Looking back, I felt like a cub reporter, a feeling which gradually left me the more we met and talked. Before too long,. I could see the man was hurt, badly hurt.

 

On other days he was more relaxed, warmer, less interested in impressing me with his baseball past.  He wanted an honest book, he said over and again, one that told his life story good and bad. He proudly spoke of players, especially black ones, he had treated fairly and honorably, like Roy Campanella and of course Robinson, who he said  he taught various infield skills while playing together for the Dodger’s top farm club Montreal in the International League. He told me  how a deeply depressed John Roseboro, once a star catcher for the Dodgers,  tried to commit suicide in his office when Campanis somehow persuaded him to drop his gun. It was as if Al was asking me, desperately, how can anyone call me a racist or bigot?

 

He was in truth unhappy and wounded, profoundly regretful, and thoroughly crushed. “Even prisoners get parole or probation, don’t they?”  he blurted out one day, managing a feeble smile.  What was hardest for him was that he had mindlessly squandered what he treasured most in life: authority, companionship, responsibility, the respect of his beloved baseball community. The seasonal Chase. The Game.  He told me that soon after the “Nightline” debacle he appealed to Rachel Robinson for advice and she wisely, compassionately, told him, “Forget it, Al. Move on with your life.”.

 

In all our meetings he always returned to that late- night TV show in the vacant Houston Astrodome, where he expected to join Don Newcombe, the black ex- pitcher-- who never appeared because his flight had been cancelled due because of bad weather-- Roger Kahn of Boys of Summer fame, and Rachel Robinson to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the significance of her husband’s arrival and impact. While he was waiting , he told me he  kept staring into the dark screen of a camera, far from the producer in New York and interviewer Ted Koppel in Maryland.  

 

And then it came: Koppel lobbed him a softball asking why there were virtually no black managers, front office executives or owners, and whether racial bias was widespread in baseball. His convoluted answer would follow him into his grave. “No, I don’t believe it’s prejudice. I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager.” 

 

Al tried to explain to me how he only meant to refer to their lack of actual experience. But in truth many white managers have been employed without major league experience and some teams preferred filling their front office from their all-white, old boys roster of pals.  Nor did he consider the power of super-wealthy white owners, “Jock sniffers” in Robert Lipsyte biting, felicitous phrase, who had often inherited or married into money and power. (“Behind every fortune there is a crime,” said Balzac, one of my favorites)  He was  certainly unaware of what Rev. Billy Kyles, a close ally of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., meant when he told Tim Wendel in Summer of ‘68  that King and his best friends closely watched sports with “an historical eye.”

 

In our final meeting he told me he was initially blindsided by the question and became confused, unable to respond sensibly. No, he hadn’t been drinking though he may have been feeling sickly. And no,  Ted  Koppel had not been unfair. In parting that last day, I left believing that despite his stupid remark he was a proud and honorable man who had been badly treated by the pitiless world of professional baseball and its self-righteous moral (or amoral?) guardians.

 

He was forced to resign and would never again be hired to run a baseball team despite accolades from black players, managers and others who knew him. Nor for that matter, would the brainy, courageous Robinson who was treated just as ruthlessly, never hired for any job in baseball, leading him to look elsewhere and forced to serve as a GM for the New York Stars, a minor league Continental League football  team who played under a bridge on an island off Manhattan to meager crowds.

 

Dusty Baker, the African American manager and former Dodger outfielder, said, "You hate that any man's career is ruined in a couple of minutes. What he said was wrong, but he was always cool to minorities when I was there, especially the Latin players, and the blacks.”  Harry Edwards, a sociologist at Berkeley and a civil rights activist, worked with Campanis after “Nightline.” On ESPN’s  “Outside the Lines” documentary he explained, “It wasn’t a simple case of Al being a bigot — to say he was just a bigot is simply wrong—people are more complex than that. To a certain extent, it was the culture Al was involved with. To a certain extent, it was a comfort with that culture. And at another level, it was a form of discourse he was embedded in.”

 

It’s an old American temptation.  Punish the words, not the deeds. Don Imus, Andy Rooney, Jesse Jackson and Rush Limbaugh spring to mind. Some like Imus and Rooney didn’t suffer too much and managed to recover. Jesse Jackson and his “Hymietown” remark faded and he’s carried on in Washington. Rush Limbaugh lost lots of advertisers (temporarily) while keeping his many radio outlets and millions of loyal fans. And according to Larry Elder in Jewish World Review, even Harry Truman in his correspondence once called New York “Kiketown”. Richard Nixon couldn’t stand Jews – except, maybe, Henry Kissinger-- and told his tape recorder all about it, but he survived his foul mouth and anti-Semitism—Watergate and his resignation is another matter.

 

So I ask years after his death: Should  Al Campanis have been pilloried and permanently blacklisted for one blunder? Or did white fear of being branded bigots allow groupthink to take over?  In 1987, five managers and eight general managers or team presidents were hired, none of them black. Someone had to shoulder the blame for baseball’s  institutionalized racism. Al Campanis was the perfect scapegoat.

 

He died in 1998, but his life was effectively over in 1987. His punishment never fit the crime. He should have been suspended and then allowed to return to work. Baseball owes him a belated apology.

 

His autobiography was never written.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153531 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153531 0
Hiroshima & Nagasaki 69 Years Later  

Hiroshima & Nagasaki: 69 Years Later

 

By Murray Polner

 

The 69th anniversary of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was approaching last August and a neighbor, a retired fireman and WWII veteran, asked if I thought the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified. He said he did because otherwise many American soldiers and marines might have been killed in a land invasion of Japan’s main islands. Okinawa, he said, was bad enough, he added, given the carnage that resulted. Invading Japan would have been far worse. In no way was he dismissing the killing of so many civilians but like virtually all Americans at the time he unquestioningly believed the Government’s assertions –obviously not stated in this precise way—that because of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the many American deaths occurred while hopskotching across the islands of the Pacific, it was perfectly alright to kill vast numbers of enemy civilians in war. President Truman’s announcement at the time avoided dealing with the issue when he emphasized that Hiroshima was a military base. Ergo, the city was a legitimate wartime target. He never tried to explain Nagasaki.

 

A memory: On an army transport on the way home from my military service I met a young, newly married couple. He was a U.S. airman with a new Japanese bride who had lived in Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945 the bomb dropped. Her mother, she explained, was so terrified that she sent her to grandma and grandpa in Nagasaki, just in time to live through the attack on Nagasaki three days later.

 

My wife and I rented a TV film “Trinity” made in 1980, featuring interviews by and about J. Robert Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, General Leslie Groves and the team of physicists who developed the first atom bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico. We viewed the film on August 6th, completely forgetting that the sixth of August was the date a Japanese city was incinerated and the world changed forever.

 

But were the two bombings warranted?  

 

Hiroshima was never a military base. Tokyo, another possible target, had already been devastated by firebomb raids. Still, either Truman had no real knowledge about Hiroshima or simply fabricated a tale that it was a military city. In future years he never expressed the slightest doubt about the green light he had given to his bombers. (0r, for that matter, taking us into the Korean War without congressional approval; obviously, he’s not my favorite president). Truman, reputedly a prodigious reader, never bothered reading John Hersey’s classic 1946 book Hiroshima, once widely read and studied by American students from high school through college. Hersey’s description of what the bombers did to Japanese civilians is unbearable as in a scene when he depicts the melting of human eyeballs from the intense heat. “In a city of two hundred and forty- five thousand, nearly a hundred thousand people had been killed or doomed at one blow,” wrote Hersey; “a hundred thousand more were hurt.”

 

Americans cheered the bombing, the victory and the technological achievement but not everyone among Washington’s elite circles agreed.  Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, FDR and Truman’s chief of staff, for example, was horrified, saying, “The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender,” adding, “My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”  Bravo to  Admiral Leahy!

 

David Swanson’s perceptive book War is a Crime quotes the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey stating that Japan would have surrendered no later than November 1, 1945 or by the end of December 1945 “even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped.” General Dwight Eisenhower, like Leahy, supported the SBS’ conclusion but both were overwhelmed by those eager for retribution and possibly an eventual go at the Soviets.

 

Today, nine nations possess nuclear arsenals (U.S., Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel, France, the U.K., China and North Korea) and repeated  but thus far false accusations are regularly aimed at Iran  (Israeli propaganda aimed at its pets in Congress) for either harboring or working on a Bomb. Some American politicians love saying that all options are “on the table” when referring to Iran and North Korea.  I wonder under what circumstances the U.S. would repeat Hiroshima and Nagasaki and be willing to destroy, say, millions in Teheran or Pyongyang. 

 

To my neighbor who asked if the two atomic attacks were justified, I said that I thought it was not since the war was already won and a land invasion was unnecessary. But above all else, I added, the reasons for an attack that may or may not have been war crime (though future nuclear attacks should certainly be judged as crimes) were manufactured by policymakers and subsequently became the gospel, and thereafter echoed by millions.

 

 

 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153532 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153532 0
Resisting Evil  Resisting Evil

 

By Murray Polner

 

What more is there to say about the Holocaust that hasn’t been said before?

 

Herded into concentration camps, one-third killed far from the death camps, dragged from their homes in the Baltics, Ukraine, Poland, Belgium, France, Greece, Croatia and every other country under Nazi and Fascist control, one- and a half million of their children slaughtered, their women and girls raped, and still far too many people believe that they didn’t fight back.

 

But if anyone resisted and fled where could they find sanctuary? How could my Ukrainian Jewish aunt and her family and neighbors in the small town of Lyubar have defied the einsatzruppen, Christopher Browning’s “ordinary men” and their homicidal Ukrainian and Romanian  henchmen before she and others were hung and shot by them? Who actually believes that ordinarily peaceable civilians could stand against an enemy who by 1941 had conquered much  of Europe? Yet, in spite of all the obvious hurdles, many did fight back as best they could.

 

Richard Middleton-Kaplan, professor of English and Humanities at Harper College, has wisely observed, “Given the evidence that exists to disprove the myth [that Jews failed to resist], a historian might consider the issue to require no further discussion. But if Jewish resistance has been amply demonstrated to specialists, public perception remains unaware of the proof.”

 

Patrick Henry’s masterly collection of cerebral and quite readable essays  in Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis (Catholic University Press, 2014) , proves that Jews fighting the Nazis and their allies, violently and nonviolently,  was fairly common.  Frequently relying on unfamiliar sources, Henry’s essayists depict all kinds of resistance, from futile skirmishes with a handful of axes, hammers and rocks as in the late 1944 revolt at Auschwitz, then the last remaining death camp, to the larger revolts in the Bialystok, Vilna and Warsaw ghettos.  

 

 Henry, an emeritus professor at Whitman  College  (full disclosure: he is a contributing editor for Shalom)  explains that these desperate actions and many more  took place “without any hope of forcing the Germans to change their minds.” But they had some benefits. Timothy Snyder, in  his Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, shrewdly remarked that ghetto resistance “worked powerfully against the anti-Semitic stereotype, present in the Home Army and in Polish society that Jews would not fight.” 

 

Powerlessness, “Henry rightly emphasizes, “is not synonymous with passivity,” There were in fact many kinds of resistance. Some fought back by saving children, their own and others as well. Alexander Donat, the printer of a magazine I once edited, sent his 5- year-old son to a Polish Catholic convent where courageous nuns saved his life. Pacifist Huguenots in France shielded Jewish children and extraordinary people such as Raoul Wallenberg and others rescued many desperate Jews.  Fleeing was another form of nonviolent resistance. 76,000 French Jews were sent eastward by Vichy and their German overlords but some managed to cross the Pyrenees into Spain while others found refuge in places like Shanghai, Bolivia and the United States.

 

Even within the heart of Nazi-controlled  Europe many Jews resisted.  In Berlin, as early as 1933 and until 1941 anti-Nazi Jewish young women (some as early as fourteen) began provoking Nazis when they brought flowers to the graves of antiwar socialists Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht, both assassinated  years before by the neo-Nazi Freikorps. In late as 1942, Dieter Kuntz of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum describes how the Herbert Baum group,  comprised of anti-Nazi Jews and non-Jews, quixotically tried to destroy an anti-Soviet, anti-Jewish exhibit and were publicly guillotined.

 

Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis portrays numerous examples of Jewish resistance. In Suzanne Vroman’s essay –she is  professor emerita of sociology at Bard College and lived in Belgium when the Germans invaded in 1940; a year later she and her family escaped and found refuge in the Belgian Congo. “Anti-fascist Jews and non-Jews were an active minority of [Belgian] resisters but “the clandestine Communist organization of foreigners were primarily Jewish.” Elsewhere, young Zionists fought, as did Mischlinge or half-Jews and their non-Jewish spouses, the latter carrying out the only successful protest against the Gestapo as Nathan Stoltzfus’s Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany made clear.

 

Citing Abba Kovner, the partisan fighter and later Israeli poet, Steve Bowman, Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Cincinnati, writes that “the forefront of the battle against the Nazi invaders in Lithuania consisted of Jews” and “The Lithuanian division in the Red Army was 70 percent Jewish, including officers, and the language was Yiddish.”

 

Robert Jan van Pelt of the University of Waterloo served as an expert witness for the defense in the civil suit brought by British Holocaust denier David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. He tells of  Sonderkommando revolts in Treblinka in August 1943, Sobibor in October 1943 and Auschwitz in October 1944.  Henry also wisely included selections on lesser known fighting in Italy, Greece, Romania, Scandinavia, Slovakia and also several accounts of children resisting in the only way they could “through Diary writing and Song.”

 

Esther Gitman escaped as a toddler with her mother from pro-Nazi-and Ustase-occupied Croatia. Years after she wrote When Courage Prevailed: Rescue and Survival of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia, 1941-1945. In it, she writes that most Croatian Jews  initially  tried to ignore the Croatian Ustasi’s virulent  anti -Semitism and pro-Nazi sentiments. Eventually, though, 1600 Jews joined the partisans as doctors, nurses, writers, cooks and fighters. In his revealing book 1941: The Year That Keeps Returning (not cited by Henry), Slavko Goldstein, a Croatian Jew, wrote  that the Ustase murdered 32,000 Jews plus 40,000 Romani and 350,000 Serbs.

 

If asked why Jews didn’t resist, Berel Lang, professor emeritus at SUNY-Albany, responds: “To whom are the Jews being compared?” Three million Soviet troops were taken prisoner yet remained essentially passive in spite of horrendous treatment. “Of the seven prisoner rebellions in concentration and death camps,” adds Middleton-Kaplan, “six were enacted by Jews; the only other one was by Soviet prisoners of war.” Then think of the million or so victims of Pol Pot in Cambodia  and the Hutus in Rwanda who did little or nothing to battle their mass  killers.

 

Yehudah Bauer, former director of Yad Vashem and author of Jews for Sale? and  Rethinking the Holocaust, used the Hebrew word amidah or “standing up against” to include armed and unarmed resistance. In Eastern European ghettos, theaters, religious and musical groups, art exhibits, food sharing, schools and orphanages were organized while under siege,  and that too were acts of resistance, “life sustaining activities that fostered human dignity.” And when his orphanage children were deported to Treblinka, the nonviolent resister and teacher Janus Kolchak famously refused to abandon the kids, choosing to die alongside of them in the gas chamber.

 

There were also countless examples of spiritual, nonviolent resistance as when the Shidlowitz rebbe, Rabbi Haim Rabinowitz ( not included in this book) comforted people pressed up against him in cattle cars for four days without food or water. "Fellow Jews,” he assured them, “do not fear death. To die for Kiddush Hashem (“sanctification of the Name”) is a great privilege.” 

 

In the end, then, the myth of Jewish passivity during the Holocaust era is just that: A myth.

\

At the very end of his luminous introduction, Henry, a Catholic, wonders whether the long history of Christian, especially Catholic, anti-Semitism contributed to the Nazi nightmare. Why, we must ask, were so many Catholics in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Ukraine –- where they were in the majority-- so eager to collaborate with the Nazis and their genocidal schemes? Henry offers his hope that “Christian apologies to the Jews and burgeoning examples of interfaith reconciliation offer a ray of hope that whatever residue of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism” still exists will in time be erased.

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153535 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153535 0
How Much Freedom for Journalists? How Much Freedom for Journalists?

By Murray Polner:

F or far too long it was Edward Snowden, Snowden, Snowden, and Snowden everywhere, at least in spyworld, euphemistically dubbed our “Intelligence Community,” which in spite of its longtime claims of success, once famously misread the collapse of the Soviet Union and the coming of the Arab Spring, et.al.. Now, I’ve taken the trouble to re-readEric Schmitt’s Times front page article, anonymously sourced, “CIA Noted Its Suspicions Over Snowden. Red Flags Overlooked 4 Years Before Leaks.” Schmitt’s comprehensive piece about the CIA’s failure to spot and report Snowden’s alleged problems also carried coverage of the four American whistleblowers (ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern, Jesselyn Radack formerly of the Justice Department, Coleen Rowley who once was an FBI agent and former NSA official Thomas Drake) who  haveawarded Snowden in Moscow what they called the Sam Adams award which, in McGovern’s words, was for his “decision to divulge secrets about the NSA’s electronic surveillance of Americans and people round the globe.”

Still, the issue goes well beyond Snowden’s contributions, which raised the question: How much freedom shall American journalists be allowed [my italics] by their government to publish stories critics say may cause great harm to “national security.”

Some words of warning of what reporters now face and what may lie ahead has just been provided by a surprising new report issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Written by Leonard Downie Jr.,(assisted by Sara Rafsky) who once ran the Washington Post, DC’s preeminent establishment newspaper, it quotes among others, David Sanger, the Times’ chief Washington correspondent, who charged that the Obama White House is “the most closed control-freak administration I’ve ever covered,” an accusation backed, he continued, by “a memo [that] went out from the chief of staff a year ago to White House employees and the intelligence agencies that told people to freeze and retain any e-mail, and presumably phone logs, of communications with me.” Consequently, long-term sources were afraid to talk with him. “They tell me, ‘David, I love you, but don’t e-mail me. Let’s don’t chat until this blows over.” His colleague Scott Shane also told Downie, that “seemingly innocuous e-mails not containing classified information can be construed as a crime.” They’re echo by the Washington Post’s Dana Priest. “People think they’re looking at reporters’ records. I’m writing fewer things in e-mail. I’m even afraid to tell officials what I want to talk about because it’s all going into one giant computer.”

While not Chinese, Russian or Saudi Arabian media censors, Obama’s continual use of the 1917 Espionage Act and its Insider Threat Program, which demands federal workers report colleagues’ suspicious behavior, and led Michael Hayden, who ran the NSA and CIA for the second Bush, to tell Downie that the ITP “is designed to chill any conversation whatsoever.”

It may be that Obama has been facing demands from Congress and intelligence agencies to stop national security leaks but if so, he has certainly given into their pressure. The result is what Downie’s report described as a “fearful atmosphere” among Washington-based reporters, including Times people.  Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal gave it a good play, posting the AP dispatch “Report: Obama brings chilling effect on journalism.”

The question of press freedom also cropped up in The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson’s perceptive article “When Journalists Are Called Traitors.” In it, she recalled the 1962 Der Spiegel scandal when Konrad Adenauer and his Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss falsely charged the magazine with endangering German national security, using the words traitors and treason, once among the older Germany’s kindest words for its opponents, even Jewish kids. The publisher was jailed for a hundred and three days and several others were imprisoned as well. Police were stationed in Spiegel’s offices before charges were dropped and Strauss let go. Davidson’s lesson: “the strands connecting the Spiegel and Snowden affairs are many and instructive—and are a reminder, above all, of why press freedom is worth fighting for.”

Relating it to the storm around Snowden, and praising the CPJ report, Davidson asked if it was a journalists’ job to publish pieces that the government considered secret and potentially damaging. How dare they place their judgments above government priorities and secrets? Documents are secret for state reasons, critics say, and have to be obeyed. Her response: “The professional secret- keepers are phenomenally bad at distinguishing between the threat of terror and their terror at being threatened—or worse, as with Strauss, at being humiliated. They need the press not just to shake them up but also to keep them from being destabilized by their own weaknesses and vanities.”

Not to be outdone, our ever loyal British allies in war and peace are very upset about Snowden’s leaks. Its conservative officials have been sneering at the leakers and the Guardian. The M15 chief Andrew Parker defended its Tempora program (similar to the NSA’s Prism, divulged by Snowden) without saying anything specific about the sort of data collected. He called Snowden’s tapes, which had appeared in the Guardian, a “gift” to terrorists. Soon after, the conservative Daily Mail snarled that the Guardian was “The Paper That Helps Britain’s Enemies.” Not to be outdone, and more ominously because Britain has no Bill of Rights, PM David Cameron accused the Guardian of harming national security, even suggesting, however vaguely and never followingthrough, that the paper’s editor be called before Parliament.

About the same time  ex-Times editor Jill Abramson was interviewed by British TV interviewer Jeremy Paxman who asked why her newspaper had turned down a British request that it give them documents based on Snowden’s information. Abramson, a very experienced journalist, remembered the uproar about the Pentagon Papers and read him some history: “When the New York Times published the Pentagon papers back in the 1970s, the same claims were made, that publishing did grave harm to national security, and yet a couple of years after we published them, the same officials who said that admitted that actually there had not been any real harm to national security.” Perhaps now the paper will talk about and analyze Downie’s report.

Sooner or later, and the sooner the better, the question how to cover honestly and fearlessly critical matters of national security needs to be resolved. Any resolution will need to keep the First Amendment in mind since accountability is essential. That’s still a part of democracy, right? Failure to do so, the CPJ report concludes:

“With so much government information digitally accessible in so many places to so many people, there are likely to be more Mannings and Snowdens among those who grew up in a digital world with blurred boundaries between public and private, shared and secret information. That makes access by the press to a range of government sources of information and guidance more important than ever.”

Downie then turned to Lucy Dalglish of the  valuable Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, for steps the Obama administration might take to fulfill the president’s campaign pledge of transparency, Downie summarized her suggestions: “fewer secrets, improve the FOIA process, be open and honest about government surveillance and build better bridges with the press, rather than trying to control or shut it out.”

Fair warning. For Obama’s remaining two years and his successor, whoever he or she may be.y

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153536 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153536 0
Putin, Putin, Putin & More Putin  

 

Putin, Putin, Putin, Putin & More Putin

 

By Murray Polner

 

I rarely agree with Henry Kissinger, our latter day Metternich, but his recent Washington Post Op Ed was on the mark: Western “demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” He suggested instead that the U.S. goal should be to find a way for the two Ukraines to work together, not favoring the domination of one side or the other. “We should seek reconciliation, not the domination oif a faction.”  Bravo, Henry K.

 

Like lots of people I’ve been trying to figure out Vladimir Putin, our latest foreign devil. I doubt if many of our born-gain Russian experts could pass a simple test evaluating and explaining the possible impact of Russia’s history—imperial and communist—on Russia’s present direction under Putin? How many instant experts know enough about Russia’s past to write a comprehensive essay about say, Mikhail Bakunin, Dora Kaplan, Alexander Herzen, Nicholas I, General Vlasov, Nestor Makhno, Anton Denikin, Vera Figner, Alexander Kerensky, Serge Witte, Baron Wrangel,  A.K. Kolchak, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the Dekabristi, or even U.S. General William Graves?

 

My guess is that few can. Who cares about Russian  history anyway? Instead, our media chatter is about a revived economic, military and political cordon sanitaire or encirclement of the Moscow fiends.  Meanwhile, the Crimean coup is viewed superficially here as an attack on “freedom” and self-determination, at times evoking an image of the Nazi’s 1938 Anschluss of Austria.

 

Comments about Putin have been almost universally hostile --he worked for the KGB, ignoring that Bush I ran the CIA.  A more reasonable comment came from Fiona Hill, who once worked in the Bush II administration and co-wrote Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin. “He’s not delusional,” she wisely concluded, “but he inhabits a Russia of the past, a version of the past that he has created. His present is defined by it and there is no coherent vision of the future.”

 

Like most world leaders today.

 

“What is Putin thinking?” asked  Shaun Walker, the UK Guardian’s Moscow-based reporter. He’s been writing about Russia’s deep--seated sense of injustice and supposed unfair treatment by the West because of “ an unwillingness to take Russia’s interests into account.” Putin went out of his way in his St. George’s Hall speech a few months ago to deride Americans pretensions “in their exclusivity and exceptionalism that they can decide the destinies of the world and that only

they can ever be right.” Walker has described the thinking of Russia’s elite and presumably Putin: “This ideology envisions Russia’s emergence as a conservative world power in direct opposition to the geopolitical hegemony and liberal values of the West --- a hint of a traditional Romanov-like restoration?

 

The New Yorker’s editor David Remnick covered Russia and wrote a fine book about his experiences. He concluded that the move against Crimea “demands condemnation.” But a shrewder comment came from  an unlikely source, comedian-commentator Bill Maher, who asked why, given that 58% of Crimeans are Russians happy to rejoin Moscow. Remnick’s reasoning  included his outrage that  Ukraine, a “sovereign state” was violated—though so too were all the sovereign nations attacked throughout our history–  Mexico in 1846, Spain in 1898, Haiti, Nicaragua, pre-WWI Mexico, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua again, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Korea, North Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, drone-drenched-Pakistan, et.al., et.al.

 

Meanwhile, our hawks are at it again, never having absorbed the lessons of defeat in Vietnam, Iraq or in today’s unwinnable obsession with the volatile, alien, unmanageable Middle East.

 

Hillary, hardly a dove,  has compared Vladimir to Adolf and politicians like Biden tells Estonians that Article 5 of NATO mandates that, if attacked, the U.S. as  charter member will be required to spring to its defense. Some American political figures even love tossing around empty threats like “all options are on the table,” whatever that means. Maybe nuclear, chemical and biological warfare? No-one asks and no-one dares bother to explain to the American people that there are no more major American military alternatives left in Eastern Europe or anywhere else.

 

 “The U.S. has treated Russia like a loser since the end of the Cold War,” wrote our former ambassador to Moscow, the non- conforming and insightful Jack Matlock, Jr. in the Washington Post. When NATO , which operates under the watchful eyes of the Pentagon, moved closer to Russian borders, Putin objected, interpreting the move as amounting to encirclement.  Matlock reminded his readers that, like him or not, Putin worked with the U.S. when it invaded Afghanistan and also abandoned Russian bases in Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam and in Cuba.  In return, NATO reached into the Balkans and the Baltics and involved itself in the “orange revolutions” of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan and hinted that its doors were open to former SSRs. With little or no historical knowledge, and oblivious to the risks, American heirs of the Monroe Doctrine refused to concede that a nuclear- armed Russia would be hypersensitive to foreign - dominated military alliances approaching or actually on their doorstep.

 

Some historians of Russian history are trying to understand, even if our domestic hawks always equate “understand” with “Munich.”  Diplomatic historian Sheldon Stern’s “Putin Didn’t Seize Crimea Because Obama is ‘Weak,’ ” tells us that “It would be surprising if Putin did not intervene in the Crimea after [Ukrainian PM] Yanukovych’s overthrow  threatened  Russia’s access to its warm water base in Sebastopol and its dominant political influence in Kiev. Only in the ahistorical world of pundit-land chatter would Putin be restrained by who happened to be president of the United States—as demonstrated by Russia’s actions in 1948, 1956, 1962 and 2008.” He cites historian Daniel Larison, a blogger for the paleo, anti-neocon The American Conservative: “Russia behaved the way that it has because it already thought that western interference in Ukraine was too great.”

 

Mark Sternberg just edited the eighth edition of Nicholas Riasanovsky’s definitive A History of Russia and is now writing a history of the 1917 Russian Revolution. In “Putin’s Russia is Far More Complicated Than a Mere Autocracy,” he drew attention to a serious misinterpretation drawn from Churchill's famous Westminster College speech in 1946 when he warned the West about its former WWII ally.

 

“Winston Churchill famously called Russia ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’—a phrase that makes me cringe when it shows up in contemporary journalism…Part of the problem is that we forget Churchill’s point: “Russian national interest” [my italics]

 

Another pundit I don’t always agree with is the smart and genuine conservative (unlike the loonies on the far right) Ross Douthit of the NY Times. After the hysteria about Crimea,  Douthit’s advice was for the U.S. was to take it slow, very slow. It was Bismarck who once said that Europe’s 19th Century wars were a lesson that they “weren’t worth the bones of a Pomeranian Grenadier” – the same advice that should have been applied to the brainless invasion of Iraq and its many victims. Douthit sensibly added: “Even the most bellicose U.S. politicians aren’t ready to say that South Ossetia or Simferopol is worth the bones of a single American marine”—not even Joe Biden’s NATO member Estonia. 

 

What we don’t need is a tit-for-tat contest before someone decides to create another unexpected shoot-the Austrian-Archduke incident.  So here's  Douthit’s and my main point about Putin and Ukraine: “When illusions are shattered, it’s easy to become reckless, easy to hand-wring and retrench. What we need is realism: to use the power we have, without pretending to powers we lack.”

 

It’s as far as we dare to go to go in the nuclear age of Obama and his successors.

 

 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153538 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153538 0
Are Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine, etc. Worth the Life of a Single U.S. Soldier or Marine?

Murray Polner is a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

Some years back when an off-Broadway play opened with the delicious title  “Now That Communism is Dead My Life Feels  Empty” I immediately thought of Mark Danner’s classic quote that, years after the collapse of Soviet Communism, we were more than ever “marooned in the Cold War.”  Stranded and beached in the past, still drilling into the minds of loyal, patriotic and distracted Americans that the world is desperate for our armies, flow of trillions of dollars, and instructions how to govern themselves. Nicaragua, El Salvador, Georgia, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, China are only our most recent needy pupils -- cheered on by our well-subsidized home front neocon warriors and the Imperial City’s horde of private contractors, lobbyists for our merchants of death eager to produce a never-ending supply of advanced killing machines, and the cloistered foreign policy experts and think tankers ready to do the bidding of the rich and powerful so long as there’s money to be made.

Now that John McCain and his wrecking crew are back, we’ll soon be yearning  for renewed American “hegemony” and global responsibilities. What we could instead are a few memorable  razor-sharp portrayals of our failed and failing imperial policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and the explosive Middle East to jack us up. So here’s General (ret.) Daniel Bolger’s Veterans Day Op Ed in the New York Times: “If insanity is defined a s doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, I think we’re there.”

Bullseye!

Still, I long for another George Ball, the model ‘60s White House dissenter. When JFK -- very reluctantly, we are repeatedly told by his uncritical admirers—decided to send 16,000 “trainers” (see Obama and Iraq and ISIS) to Vietnam to teach the South Vietnamese how to fight the Reds from sweeping over all of Southeast Asia, billions were shipped to Saigon’s corrupt rulers and  their cohorts while more and more “advisors” kept arriving.

Ball, the only nonconformist in Kennedy’s “Best and Brightest” posse pleaded with JFK to keep in mind France’s Indochinese defeat. “Within five years we’ll have 300,000 men in the paddies and jungles and never find them again” he warned the liberal icon. But JFK knew better, caustically answering, “George, you’re crazier than hell. That just isn’t going to happen.”

Ball also tried but failed to convince LBJ to stand down in Vietnam before it destroyed his presidency and the lives of tens of thousands of Americans, not to mention a few million Asians. But LBJ wasn’t going to be the first president to lose a war. Failing to stop Ho & Co., LBJ’s advisors argued, would sooner or later have us fighting them on Waikiki Beach.

But, hold on, there’s some good news. As William Greider, a shrewd  observer of Washington goings-on,  wrote in The Nation, “the real meaning of America’s Catch-22 now is “a self-made trap in which the nation can neither win the endless, borderless conflict nor get free of the impossible obligations claimed for the US military.”

More promising, insists Barry Posen, Director of the Security Studies Program at MIT and author of Restraint,  are “A small but growing number of US scholars, policymakers and politicians who are beginning to subscribe to a new view of US grand strategy,” “We believe,” he wrote, “the US needs to restore discipline to its foreign policy—set priorities more rigorously and calculate the costs and chances of success with a more skeptical eye"—unlike the Iraq fiasco, et.al.  In late October, Posen criticized our failed and failing bipartisan foreign policy, calling for an ethic of moderation and self-control opposed to the “liberal hegemony” backed by party leaders.

And there’s more hope. Posen’s talk in Washington was sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute—yes, the  very same Charles Koch liberals like myself oppose -- a meeting designed to bring left and right in one room by introducing  libertarians to foreign policy “realists.” An observer, J. Arthur Bloom, was present and asked if left liberals like myself would “prefer Rand Paul to a  Democratic Party controlled by machine-gun-toting messiahs like Samantha Power?”

It’s a trick question, of course, but I hope this early dissatisfaction leads to an abandonment of the bogus fantasy of regime change and toward the adoption a non-interventionist foreign policy foregoing preventive wars, freezing new commitments and  reassessing our far too many obligations so we can determine what’s really, seriously, honestly in the national interest.  If the Chinese decide to take over one of the barren and rocky  isles in the South China Sea does this mean that our pact with Japan and/or the Philippines means War? Or if Estonia, a NATO member, gets in a tussle with Moscow, are we obligated then to drop a few nukes on Moscow? Looking for a sharper definition, I like The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison characterization of non-interventionism (“a rather clunky and unappealing label for a  set of very appealing ideas”) which has the US minding its own business and acting with restraint (echoing Posen), respecting other nations, and pursuing peace. Peace. How un-American.

And more potentially good news: Former Senator James Webb, a Vietnam veteran who opposed the Iraq war, called Bush’s decision to invade “the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory.” In his sympathetic review of Andrew Bacevich’s new and essential book, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, Webb would only commit the US military if the country was directly endangered. Webb, who could very well end up opposing Hillary the hawk for the 2016  Democratic nomination, disparaged Washington’s warriors as "a group of theorists, most of whom have never seen the inside of a military uniform," whose Trotskyist notion -- presumably referring to the late ex-Trotsky follower Irving Kristol, who was a WWII veteran -- and his legacy of opportunistic and belligerent neocons, "that America should be exporting its ideology around the world at the point of a gun."

Like Webb, Andrew Bacevich is a Vietnam vet and a former colonel, who recently retired as a Boston university professor of history and international relations. Unlike all those pro-Iraq, pro-regime change amateurs and experts, his lieutenant son was killed in Iraq.

 “Today,” wrote Bacevich, in The Limits of Power,  “a new political elite whose members have a vested interest in perpetuating the crises that provide the source of their power” have produced a series of “reckless misjudgments” and  misread and overstated fears. In another of his necessary books, Washington Rules; America’s Path to Permanent War, he says that even the cause of the Vietnam War remains a mystery. No single factor can explain it. Badly informed about Vietnamese history and the impact of French rule and its defeat, regarding communism as monolithic and Hanoi’s historic sense of nationalism as unimportant, intimidated by the bogus Munich analogy, wedded to the non-existent domino theory and domestic anti- communism, it was easy at first  to maintain Washington’s “consensus” by dispatching  58,000 to fight the Red Horde and die in battle.

Alyssa Rubin, an intrepid Times reporter in Iraq, returned home in the plane she was traveling in with a silent companion,” a coffin of a dead 20 year old soldier. He was killed when  a roadside bomb hit his Humvee.

“What were his parents thinking, his sister or brother, his fiancée—if he had one? A haunted and saddened Rubin asked herself.  “I hoped he had died quickly. I wondered what exactly he had died for” [my italics]. “And although I did not know him, I felt melancholy as we flew onward, accompanied now by ghosts and memories of loss.”

Meanwhile, Cheney is alive and well and still offering sage advice about the conduct of foreign policy and Bush 43 is now celebrating his new book about 41, his father, and pleased, as the Times put it, enjoying “his own more modest revival in public standing since leaving office, according to polls.”

Unlike the former president and his veep, Harry Browne, long forgotten, once ran for the White House on the hugely ignored Libertarian ticket in 2000 but who unforgettably -- at least for me — said: “War is genocide, torture, cruelty, propaganda , dishonesty and slavery. War is the worst obscenity government can inflict upon its subjects. It makes every political crime—corruption, bribery, favoritism, vote-buying, graft, dishonesty—seem petty.”

So I’m a latter day Diogenes, looking Right, Left and Center and to likes of Posen, Webb, Bacevich, Larison, et.al., for a new  way that will save kids now in junior and senior high school from our inevitable and entirely unnecessary and ideologically-driven future wars. A way that says only vital  national interests trump ideology.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153542 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153542 0
Deja vu, Afghans: We're Ba-a-a-a-ck!

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons features two men picketing while holding competing signs. One reads “No War” and the other “Some War,” sounding a lot like a description of Barack Obama’s on-again-off-again foreign policy moves. I see him patiently backing John Kerry’s attempt to work out an arrangement with Iran over the heated objections of Iranian hardliners, Israel, AIPAC and their congressional flatterers, and McCain’s incoming wrecking crew. And then there’s Ukraine and Russia and of course the rest of the Middle East.

Early in Obama’s term of office I was invited by the relentlessly anti-neocon magazine The American Conservative to write an assessment of the new man I had voted for. It was Obama, unlike Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who had damned the Iraq invasion as a “dumb war, a rash war.” I wondered if he could be a different sort of president, or so my fellow antiwar liberals and a few antiwar conservatives hoped. So, in the face of his current decision to continue undeclared war against ISIS and send 9,000 combat “trainers” to Afghanistan, along with his sudden firing of defense secretary Chuck Hagel, as well as spending billions more on out of date and unnecessary nukes, what happened?

Barack happened. More eloquence than substance happened. More political caution than audacity or hope.  Over the next six years there was an absence of dovish advisors or anyone from the realist school of national interest in his inner circle. Then too, there was a recognition by his political managers that he could best fend off Obama-haters from an ill-defined center to keep the neocons and McCains off his back while tossing an occasional bone to his disappointed left, and thus allowing our self-appointed foreign policy elite in Imperial City to carry on with their delusions and posturing about our endless wars.

Last May he deceived Americans when he declared over and again that no US combat troops would be sent back to Afghanistan. Clearly unsure of  himself, with the rise of ISIS and shifting positions and changing strategies—remember it was Putin, the British Parliament and American public opinion who saved his skin over bombing Assad’s Syria—he has sent in the troops. The secret decision was leaked to the NY Times, which reported that the return to combat was made over the objections of some of his civilian aides. Obama, who never wore a military uniform, was apparently intimidated by the military, which still believes against all evidence, that its bombs and its “combat enabler” status (“military gobbledygook for F-16 fighter planes, B-1B bombers and plenty of drones to destroy the Taliban, who by the way are Afghans, unlike the American interlopers) can “save” Afghanistan.  Other candidates for “rescue” and regime change are apparently on some neocon’s agenda in Washington. On to Damascus or Yemen or whatever may be the next battle cry of our War Party.

And then there’s poor Chuck Hagel, the newest scapegoat for Obama’s fluctuating policies. Fired or not, Obama we are told, who relies almost entirely on a very tight cluster of friends and aides, wanted him out, hypocritically praising him while shoving him out the door. Then the whispers and leaks began, probably coming from the White House staff. Hagel was no antiwar activist but after ISIS suddenly appeared, overlooked by our vaunted and overhyped intelligence agencies, his fate was decided.

Was he fired/resigned because he refused to support the renewed US combat role? Did the American involvement in the Ukraine and the start of a new cold war with Moscow trouble him? Or was he just too feeble to fight both the Pentagon bureaucracy and Obama’s trusted insiders? We’ll know more when their memoirs appear in future decades.

The more hawkish Obama becomes the less difference between him and his deservedly maligned predecessor. But of this I’m certain: In his final two years in office, but for a few crumbs here and there, his once-formidable and dedicated antiwar base will not be welcome at the White House. Plus ca change.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153544 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153544 0
Happy Holidays, President Obama! Harding Pardoned Debs So Why Not Pardon Snowden and Manning Too?

Murray Polner is a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

The New York Times once ran a series of comments about President Obama’s reluctance to use his power of pardon. Obama, perhaps recalling Bill Clinton’s outrageous pardon of Marc Rich, has pardoned, I believe, only 39 people. Professor Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas Law School wrote that even Haley Barbour, the conservative former Republican Governor of Mississippi, once pardoned 215 prisoners, including some who had killed. Why? Barbour explained, “Christianity teaches us forgiveness and second chances.” Excellent advice for Christians and everyone else, including Barack Obama. For guidance, he might look back at a predecessor named Warren Harding.

Almost ninety-two years ago, Harding, an unlikely and undistinguished American president who had just succeeded Woodrow Wilson, an unpopular and increasingly spiteful  president, commuted the prison sentence of Eugene V. Debs, the antiwar, anti-draft socialist who had spent three years of his ten year sentence in Atlanta Penitentiary for opposing America’s entry into World War I.  

In June 1918, Debs delivered the speech that landed him in prison and became the Government’s biggest catch. The three-time Socialist Party candidate for the presidency -- he would run again in 1920 while still a prisoner, his campaign button featuring his portrait along with the words, “For President: Convict No. 9653”—openly defied U.S. foreign policy and the hated draft, telling his audience: “The master class has all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose—especially their lives. They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command.…They alone declare war and they alone make peace….”

For this “crime” he was indicted by a federal grand jury and arrested in Cleveland for violating the Espionage Act. The following November he received that ten-year sentence.

Pardoning so prominent a dissident as notorious in his era as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning are to ours, was hardly easy. It was also a highly political move, wisely reflecting Harding’s campaign promise of a presidency dedicated to “normalcy.” But at the same time it was a remarkably humane act.

After issuing his order to release the prisoner, Harding had the audacity to invite Debs to visit him in the White House, where the two men, so different in so many ways, shook hands, and spent an hour talking, much to the mortification of hardliners in Congress, the bellicose American Legion, his wife Florence, as well as Republicans who had voted for him and considered Debs a traitor.

But Harding – always falsely rumored to be part-black – was very different from the bigoted Wilson who disliked Blacks and who once told his secretary, Joe Tumulty, that Debs “was a traitor to his country and he will never be pardoned during my administration.” Forever tainted by his corrupt appointees, Harding has since been portrayed by most historians as one of our worst presidents. Still, unlike most presidents since Lincoln, he tried to broach the question of racial inequality and supported anti-lynching legislation. He once dared tell a gathering of whites in Birmingham, Alabama, “We cannot go on, as we have for more than a half century, with one section of our population … set off from real contribution to solving our national issues, because of a division on race lines,” an extraordinary presidential statement in the 1920s.  He also supported the Washington Naval Conference, a genuine if ultimately futile effort to limit the navies of Britain, Japan and the U.S. and prevent future wars.

By contrast, it was Wilson who introduced the Espionage Act in 1917, aimed ostensibly against real spies and which remains a widely used if highly questionable tool of today’s Justice Department. It was followed by congressional approval in 1918 of the Sedition Act, the first time since John Adams’s infamous act of the same name and which, for the first time, criminalized dissent but which his successor Thomas Jefferson wisely and promptly repealed.

Snowden and Manning exhibit something of Debs’s understanding that dissent is not disloyalty. Drawing on the courage of—yes—Warren Harding, while offering clemency, would not be politically easy.  But it would in time burnish Barack Obama’s current and dubious civil liberties legacy.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153547 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153547 0
Who Knows Eric Fair?

Murray Polner is a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

Before we Americans become bored with all that talk about torture and move on to our next distractions about celebrity breakups, sex and political scandals, and the arrival of Republican demolition crews dedicated to wrecking Obama’s timorous and second-rate presidency, a few barely noted references to our gambol with torture are in order.

Quick, My Fellow Americans:  What, specifically, are “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” (EIT) the officially-approved euphemism CIA apologists and its defenders have been proclaiming without bothering to define it? What was it before it was “enhanced?” Stuffing a man inside a tiny box for eleven hours? Dressing him in women’s underwear? Feeding him rectally? I imagine that Hollywood’s tough and handsome spies would inform us that we’d know it when we saw it, which of course we can’t and won’t. But we still need to wonder why no big shots were ever held responsible. To make it even worse, President Obama, who once forgave all of them for whatever they’d done since 2003,  has now asked that a court not release any of the Justice Department’s inquiry into the CIA’s role, which included rundowns of some one hundred witness interviews,  and also not say why charges were never filed. Not in the Imperial City, by God. Still, someone, somewhere must have given the go ahead sign to have some fun with prisoners.

Almost as invidious was how some reporters and publications wanted badly to do right by the CIA, the capital’s pro-war lobbies, their bosses, and the Good Old USA. We now know that the CIA leaked classified documents to favored journalists the better to persuade the nation that EIT -- whatever it was, whenever it started—had in fact prevented future 9/11s and was engaged full-time protecting us.

Unlike 1975, when the crusading Senator Frank Church of Idaho (yes, Idaho once actually had a Democrat in the Senate) revealed that journalists, reporters and publications were paid off by the CIA to manufacture the American party line. The names of many of the corrupted remains a secret today even though most have probably long since passed on.  But a few names are named in the current torture report. As in 1975, the CIA "leaked secret material" -- the New York Times reported in December 2104 -- to favored reporters and newspapers, including the Times.

Leaking, or course, is a favorite game in Washington unless outsiders and peacenik critics try it. And then, since hypocrisy and scapegoating remain a cherished principle, the crackdown begins. Whistleblower Edward Snowden languishes in Moscow and Chelsea Manning in a Fort Leavenworth prison. And because he spoke to reporters about what his agency was up to, longtime CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriako was sentenced to thirty months imprisonment, where he remains.

There are those who rightfully deplore torture because they say it betrays our sacred values and history. Well-meaning as they are, they somehow overlook slavery, the treatment of Native Americans (Sand Creek, anyone?), and perhaps our invasion of the Philippines 1898-1902, when widespread torture and the killing of civilians were common. Long forgotten is the CIA’s Phoenix program in Vietnam and what it did to add to Vietnamese misery. Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t much different. War always brings out the worst in us, the Constitution be damned. With all our folk tales about our innate goodness and freedom-loving ways, the Real America has always tortured when it wished to do so, emulating the murderous regimes we have regularly supported and opposed since the start of the Cold War.

Anyway, who ever heard of Eric Fair, an army veteran and later a contract interrogator at Abu Ghraib in 2004? “I tortured,” he confessed in “I Can’t Be Forgiven for Abu Ghraib” his New York Times Op Ed in December. Referring to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, he warned, “I’m not surprised. I assure you there is more; much remains redacted.”

 “Most Americans haven’t read the report,” sanely concluded Fair. “Most never will. But it stands as a permanent reminder of the country we once were.”

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153558 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153558 0
It's SUPER BOWL Time!!!!

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

Sometime last year a critical blogger whose name I’ve forgotten called out NY Times columnist Joe Nocera who, he claimed, was far too negative about – God help us—football, America’s  auxiliary religion. Drawing on the conservative elitist William F. Buckley’s memorable wisecrack that he’d rather be ruled by the first 2,000 people in the Boston phone directory than by 2,000 Harvard professors, the blogger expanded Buckley’s maxim to include Nocera’s employer as well: “For my part I’d prefer to be governed by anybody rather than the editors and columnists of the NY Times.”

From his perch at the Times, Nocera is fully capable of defending himself. But I have no doubt what the blogger would make of the comments by Susan Douglas of In These Times and Harper’s Christine Smallwood. Not much, given that Douglas was critical of pro football’s violent “multi-billion dollar industry, and as a form of entertainment, community identity, cultural ritual and bonding,” while Smallwood was unhappy that “championships come at the highest cost” and “The life expectancy of an NFL player is 55 years.”  

Even so, pro football’s Super Bowl is almost here. It’s become a kind of auxiliary religion and cultural landmark for far too many. 108 million people are said to have watched it on TV in 2014, compared to a measly 40 million audience for the Oscars. It’s entertaining, with celebrity singers, flags, Air Force jets zooming over the stadium, and men and women in military uniform standing proud and tall during the reverential singing of the National Anthem--- an indelible symbol that the USA, the NFL and the 1% team owners are one and the same. But not quite, as writer Ron Briley has perceptively reminded us. “The careful manipulation of patriotic and military symbols in support of consumer culture and advertising dollars obscure a political agenda in favor of capitalism, militarism, and empire at the expense of more humanitarian values.”

Would it also be impolite to mention that the NFL doesn’t pay taxes (though individual teams do) other than for income derived from the NFL Network and the sale of merchandise?  In 1966, Congress reaffirmed a ruling made by the IRS twenty-four years earlier whereby the NFL received its tax-exemption status as a non-profit 501© 6 organization. One reason was that Huey Long’s son Russell, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Hale Boggs, two powerful Louisiana politicians, worked out a deal with Pete Rozell, the NFL Commissioner, that in exchange for that privileged status, New Orleans would get a football team. Hence the birth of the Saints.

It’s kickoff time.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153571 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153571 0
Are You Ready To Fight Putin's Russia? Murray Polner is a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor

“Who came down from the mountain and said the U.S. must police the globe from the South China Sea to the jungles of Peru”? -- Eric S. Margolis

For my sins, I’ve just finished reading the latest report by three of Washington’s centrist think tanks, “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression.” From their peaceful,  safe and  posh offices they urge President Obama to get tough with Moscow and supply “defensive” weapons to Ukraine, while sanctimoniously concluding, as LBJ and Bush Junior’s  echo chambers did in 1965 and 2003, that “assisting Ukraine  to …. defend itself is not inconsistent with the search for a peaceful political solution.”

As if Iraq, Syria, ISIS, Iran, Cuba, Yemen, Obama’s  anti-China “pivot to Asia,” and the Republican train wreckers who now control Congress aren’t enough, there’s a permanent taste for war among the Imperial City’s hawks, now ready to fight with your kids (never theirs) to teach that bastard Vladimir Putin a lesson and show him who’s boss. We did it to Grenada and Panama and we can do it again.

According to the think tankers, “The West - has the capacity to stop Russia. The question is whether it has the will,” sounding exactly like the blind and arrogant men who took us into Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Aside from the fact that, given Russia’s military backing, sending in weapons cannot defeat the Eastern Ukrainian separatists, and that we’ve never had any vital  interest in Crimea or the Donbass region, what then? Our think tankers are banking on the delusion that Putin, no bargain he, but no Hitler -- as Hillary Clinton once mindlessly blurted out, thereby cementing her hawkish credentials for the 2016 run -- will cravenly commit to a settlement because of “defensive” weapons.  If that doesn’t tame the feral Putin maybe our “Indispensable Nation’s” volunteer military, National Guard, Reserves, even conscripts?

The truth is that every Cold War leader feared a U.S.-Soviet hot war. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, refused to intervene in the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 because, as his biographer Stephen Ambrose wrote, “Eisenhower knew that there were limits to his power and Hungary was outside those limits.” Ike also shut down the Korean War. Who in authority now speak of “limits” and mean it? Like it or not, Ukraine is historically within Moscow’s sphere of influence, just as all Latin America has been in Washington’s sphere of influence, at least since 1823 and its unilateral Monroe Doctrine. In 1962, the U.S. was ready to fight a nuclear war to keep the Reds out of Castro’s Cuba, “our Cuba,” the playground of foreign exploiters and the Mafia.

The truth is U.S. and NAT0 instigated the Ukrainian civil war by brazenly drawing ever closer to the Russian border.   Unanswered is why Obama has exerted no control over Joe Biden, John Brennan and John Kerry’s alleged State department subordinate Victoria Nuland, all of whom spent time in secret negotiations with Kiev.

Mikhail Gorbachev, no friend of Putin, is adamantly opposed to shipping weapons to Ukraine. He has repeatedly said that in 1990 Bush senior promised him (never put into writing but never denied by the U.S.) that, in return for allowing German unification to proceed and the former satellite states to go their own way, NATO would never approach Russia’s borders.  A nation that had lost some 20 million civilians and soldiers after yet another western invasion, remains understandably sensitive about foreign armies camped on their doorstep. Those who dare to speak of this today are often smeared as Putin-lovers and worse.

Then too, the presence of neo-Nazis among the Ukrainian military is rarely if ever reported by our conforming mass media. For that you need to read the British press, where Suemas Milne of the liberal Guardian has been on the scene since the Maidan Square uprising. He writes: “The role of the fascistic right on the streets and in the new Ukrainian regime has been airbrushed out of most reporting as Putinist propaganda.” And more: “By what right is the U.S. involved at all, incorporating under its strategic umbrella a state that has never been a member of NATO, and whose last elected government came to power on a platform of explicit neutrality. It has none, of course.”

The Guardian too liberal for you? Then try Tom Parfitt in the conservative Daily Telegraph, who reported that the Azov Battalion, one of a number of Ukrainian militias involved in the Eastern Ukrainian war, “uses the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook) symbol on their banner and members of the battalion are openly white supremacists, or anti-Semites.”

And then there’s this final consideration which somehow escaped the think tankers: Russia has almost as many nuclear bombs as we do. Sending American military “trainers” and eventually more and more into a killing zone next door to Russia means that an unexpected blunder leading to an exchange of nukes could happen. Sarajevo anyone?

For now, despite intense pressure to “Do Something,” Obama is offering no hint what he will do. There are of course peaceful alternatives, among them establishing Ukraine as a neutral state, unattached to any one side. But now more than ever, he needs to sit down and talk to some antiwar people who helped elect him but who he has snubbed. Andrew Bacevich for one. A West Pointer, Vietnam War veteran, recently retired professor of history and International relations whose son was killed in Iraq, he’d be an excellent partner for a private chat in the Oval Room.  Maybe Bacevich could bring along his valuable book “Washington Rules,” which ends this way: “Promising prosperity and peace, the Washington rules are propelling the United States toward insolvency and perpetual war. Over the horizon a shipwreck of epic proportions awaits…. To willfully ignore the danger is to become complicit in the destruction of what Americans profess to hold dear. We, too, must choose.”

Call him, Mr. President. It’s getting late.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153578 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153578 0
After Obama's Executive Order Against Venezuela, We'll Be Hearing "Yanqui, Go Home" Once Again

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

In early March, President Obama issued a surprising and unexpected Executive Order declaring Venezuela, that mighty South American military behemoth, has become “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Obama’s alarm may be great news to Miami’s affluent exiles interested in spreading some money around Congress. But what prompted it? Was it another “Wag the Dog” tactic to take everyone’s mind off the Republican Neanderthals he daily confronts? Or possibly a good way to show  the  Imperial City’s home front warriors that he too can be a tough guy, especially when it comes to those who call themselves Bolivarian socialists. The Union of South American Nations, representing twelve independent countries, was furious at the statement, which it saw as a threat. And former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica framed his protest in a rational way that too often eludes Washington’s contentious bubble. “Whoever looks at the map and says that Venezuela could be a threat to the United States has to be out of his mind,” adding, “Venezuela has problems and they should be solved by Venezuelans.” Smart guy.

Fact is, most Latin Americans have had enough of American imperialism. Obama’s order sounded like most of our past presidents whose policies have led to so much injustice and suffering. All that is but Herbert Hoover, raised a Quaker, and was one of the few who, “In Latin America, refused to resort to the gunboat diplomacy the U.S. has practiced intermittingly since 1898,” wrote Gary Scott Smith’s in “Religion in the Oval Office.” (Oxford).

The Guatemalan people were one of the first post-WWII victims of America’s alliance with the Latin American uber-right.  In 1954, the U.S. organized a coup against Jacobo Arbenz’s democratically elected government. Thanks to Karen Weld’s new and important book “Paper Cadavers” (Duke) and her scrutiny of Guatemalan police archives, as well as Peter Canby’s keen essay-review in The Nation, the CIA once put together a list of 70,000 opponents of the Guatemalan junta which it then sent to our new far-right friends who promptly slaughtered many on the list.  Before the bloodletting was over, some 200,000 non-military men and women were killed including about 45,000 murdered by death squads, a specialty of many of allies throughout the continent.                      

This was by no means unique. Nixon had warm feelings for Pinochet’s murderous regime in Chile, where once again a democratically elected President was overthrown. The Reagan administration and neoconservative allies gave enthusiastic support for the Dirty Wars of a later era in Argentina and Central America.        

But back to Venezuela and 0bama’s Executive Order. Whatever the Madero government is or is not, dare any reporter at the next presidential press conference ask if Caracas is thinking of attacking Dallas or Miami? Or if the CIA and its private army is planning another coup attempt as it supposedly did in 2002 against Hugo Chavez? 

Meanwhile, Obama has made a smart move aimed at reinstating civilized relations with Cuba, hopefully shutting down Eisenhower’s mindless 1959 embargo, which was no surprise given that before Fidel arrived, Washington just loved Fulgencio Batista.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153593 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153593 0
Why Three Jailed Pacifists Took on the Empire and What We’ve Learned Because They Broke the Law.

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

In February 2014, I wrote— portions reprinted here, with a few modifications-- about three imprisoned religious pacifists in the defunct, much-lamented www.NYTimesExaminer.com.

I began: 

“I am thinking about Sister Megan Rose, an 84-year-old nun and two army veterans, Michael Walli, 65, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 58, now behind prison bars for daring to protest America’s historic addiction to war and nuclear weapons. By doing so they revealed how poorly our nuclear-arms sites are protected, theoretically offering an invitation to anyone who might wish to do a 9/11 repeat, but this time with nukes. Sister Megan received a 35 month sentence and the two men 62 months each.

“What, exactly, was their crime? They cut a hole into a barbed wire fence, hammering on the Highly Enriched Uranium Material Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee’s ultra-secret national security  nuclear site and then crossed over into prohibited ground, spray painting some ‘Biblical graffiti’ bearing Isaiah’s subversive aphorism about “beating swords into plowshares.”

No privately employed guards stopped them. No one shouted, “Halt, who goes there?” The three just walked in and awaited the arrival of guards, showing that anyone could do the same.

With the exception of a few leftist social media, our print and TV media couldn’t be bothered. Neil Postman’s deservedly famous phrase describing contemporary Americans as “Amusing themselves to death” was a perfect portrayal. Postman added another taunt. “When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual sound of entertainment, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a real possibility.”

So why I am still obsessed with three obscure pacifists, now felons after a jury’s guilty decision in a federal court? For one thing, because Jim O’Grady and I wrote “Disarmed and Dangerous” (Basic Books), a biography of Dan and Phil Berrigan, and we came to know (though not Sister Megan and the two veterans) many essentially uncelebrated pacifist and religious dissidents.  

But more so I’m drawn to them now because of Eric Schlosser’s very long and brilliant essay “Break-In at Y-12” in The New Yorker of March 9, 2015.  Both mesmerizing and extraordinary, it is replete with original reporting about these three nonviolent resisters in the context of our militaristic culture.  

Sister Megan, Walli, and Boertje-Obed had many inspirational figures in their lives, such as Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Once viewed as a traitor for opposing all wars and conscription, later widely admired and respected for her service to the poor and homeless for decades a dedicated Catholic, she is currently under consideration for sainthood, endorsed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the conservative Archbishop of New York.

Michael Walli is a Vietnam veteran of two tours—Phil Berrigan was also a veteran but of WWII. Schlosser tells us Walli contacted PTSD and “a spiritual crisis” in combat, turning him into a “warrior for peace,” a la Dorothy Day and the Berrigan brothers.  Motivated by St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Dorothy Day, who he considered God’s gift, he’s lived in voluntary poverty while helping the most vulnerable among us, living as Jesus had among “the rejected ones, the scorned ones,” as the writer Robert Coles once said of Dorothy Day.

Sister Megan grew up in Manhattan and her parents were close friends of Dorothy Day even before the founding of the Catholic Worker. At 18, she joined the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, and in 1962 went to work in Nigeria and subsequently spent almost thirty years in Africa. Schlosser mentions that her uncle “had spent time in Nagasaki not long after its destruction by an atomic bomb and his stories of the aftermath greatly disturbed her.” When she returned to the U.S. in the eighties to care for her aging mother, she joined others protesting at the Nevada Test Site. “She even persuaded her eighty-four-year-old mother to get arrested there.”

 Greg Boertje-Obed had also served in the Army as a First Lieutenant and he and his wife Michelle Naar-Obed, the parents of a daughter, had both participated in Plowshare actions while occasionally living in Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister’s Jonah House—they too had kids, three of them-- in a poor Baltimore neighborhood. When Boertje-Obed wasn’t protesting or helping to plan an action, he and Phil painted houses for a living.

In 1980 Phil started his quixotic Plowshares movement with a raid on General Electric’s Reentry Division assembly facility in King of Prussia, near Philadelphia. He, Dan and a small group, used a hammer to disarm some partially assembled warheads, ended up smashing two of them, and then spilt blood –a reprise of Vietnam era’s draft board raids-- on blueprints, work orders and some equipment. They then knelt, prayed, and patiently waited for forty-five minutes for the police to arrive.

Schlosser mentions another Plowshares action in January 2010 (“the worst nuclear-security lapse in the history of the U.S. Navy,”) which resembled Y-12. Carried out by two priests and a nun, 83-year- old Sister Anne Montgomery who would also take part in the later GE raid. (Her father, she once told me, had been a U.S. Admiral in WWII and her brother a pilot who died in an air crash). These other Plowshare activists had slipped easily into the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific in Kitsap Naval Base, in Washington State, “a storage area containing hundreds of nuclear warheads for Trident missiles.” They were punished, but leniently, so chaotic and unpredictable had been the earlier response to Plowshare break-ins.

Schlosser also raises the issue of how little some foreign countries do to protect their nuclear materials. “At least twenty-five countries now possess two pounds or more of weapons-grade fissile material, and some nuclear sites overseas don’t even have armed guards.” In the U.S., as Y-12 revealed, security guards may not always help. “Managers,” he cautions, “too often become complacent about long-time employees and don’t consider the possibility that someone may be blackmailed, or coerced into helping terrorists.” And he quotes an anonymous security specialist who offers an ominous caveat: “Any vulnerability assessment which finds no vulnerabilities or only a few is worthless and wrong.”

When a congressional hearing about the failure of security in Y-12 was held in September 2012, Sister Megan and Michael Walli were present but not asked to speak. Still, conservative Republican Rep. Joe Burton of Texas asked Sister Megan to stand and then said, “We want to thank you for pointing out some of the problems in our security.”  Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democratic liberal added, “Thank you for your actions. Thank you for your willingness to focus attention on this nuclear weapons buildup. We thank you for your courage….You should be praised because that is ultimately what the Sermon on the Mount is all about.” Phil Berrigan and his allies would have said the same thing.

But while Presiding Judge Amul R. Thapar said he regretted putting “good people behind bars,” he also rebuked them. “If all that energy and passion was devoted to changing the laws, perhaps real change would have occurred by today.”  A prosecutor added that because Soviet Russia and the U.S. possessed huge nuclear arsenals the two never fought a hot war during the Cold War. It’s called nuclear deterrence and most Americans would probably agree it’s done the job, at least so far. All that is, except Plowshare resisters and the sympathizers.

I ended my original article with longtime peace worker Kathy Boylan‘s testimony on their behalf. “Michael,” she told the court, referring to Walli, “is trying to save lives. Your life.” Turning toward the prosecutor, she added, “Your life. All our lives.”

Schlosser went further. At the end of his article, after visiting Boertje-Obed, he is outside Leavenworth Penitentiary. “The walls of the penitentiary guarding the pacifist,” he finally concludes, “were taller and more impenetrable than any of the fences at Y-12.”

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153598 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153598 0
The Neocons: First in War, Last in Peace

Irving Kristol

Murray Polner is HNN’s senior book review editor and a blogger.

I was hired in 1972 by the American Jewish Committee to serve as editor of a new magazine I named Present Tense. My vague assignment was to be more “Jewish” than the well-established and influential Commentary magazine, which, while also parented by the AJC, had shifted its primary attention to more worldly interests under Norman Podhoretz, its smart and creative editor, who had abandoned his and the magazine’s traditional liberalism and moved right, very far right, into the brawling territory of U.S. foreign policy and national politics. From 1972 to 1990, when we were closed down, my office was one flight below that of Commentary.

From the very beginning Present Tense was “a sort of counter-Commentary,” even a “step-child” as Susan Jacoby, one of our regular columnists, shrewdly noted in her illuminating book, “Half-Jew: A Daughter’s Search for Her Family’s Buried Past.”  Early on, a reader wrote us that we were doomed to obscurity and worse because the further we veered left, the more we became too liberal for the AJC’s conservative donors (they also had liberal donors, equally unhappy with Commentary). Even so, we lasted for many years, sometimes taking on the Israel Lobby, disdainful  of Reagan for Iran-Contra and his proxy war in Central America, while celebrating his anti-nuke huddle with Gorbachev and publishing all sides of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict—and I mean, all sides, including right, center and left.  We also refused to forgive and forget the ugly legacy of McCarthyism and how its impact still blunted dissent in the American Jewish world, as the novelist and journalist Ann Roiphe, another of our intrepid columnists, pointed out in our final issue.

“Not since Holland’s Jews read Spinoza out of the people have Jews so quickly drawn lines of who is outside, and used these lines as political weapons, one against the other.”

But Commentary was the AJC’s star attraction to the media and politicians. I often saw Pat Moynihan in our East 56th Street building in Manhattan during his dalliance with the neocons. (In Jacob Heilbrunn’s “They Knew They Were Right,” the best book yet on the neocons, he quotes Moynihan telling the New York Times’s Tom Buckley in 1975 that “when it came to Zionism, Jewish history, anti-Semitism and related topics, Podhoretz is Moynihan’s maven.”

Irving Kristol, the quintessential neocon and Grand Master of the neo-conservative movement, would occasionally visit Commentary’s suite of offices. More than most on all sides of the perennial and bitter political clashes of those years, Kristol knew how to use politics and power to grow his fledgling ideological enterprise. “Kristol’s power is not in his visibility; it is his ability to guide ideas,” wrote Geoffrey Norman in Esquire. Before too long he would lead the neocons away from Henry Jackson’s Democratic hawks and into the Republican Party, aligning them with the Imperial City’s War Party. Just as significant, he attracted a lot of the super-rich interested in his ideas.

Still, despite our ideological differences most of us had common backgrounds. We were the sons and daughters of the working class. Our Yiddish-speaking East European Jewish immigrant parents had been ardent FDR voters. Kristol, though, was a bit unique. While still young, and at the urging of fellow CCNY student Irving Howe, he became a follower of Leon Trotsky, Stalin’s most acerbic critic, who also had an authoritarian streak a mile wide that Kristol and other young Trotskyists seemed to have overlooked.

The neocon Founders and their acolytes were largely Jews scarred by the Holocaust, much like the men and women with whom I tended to associate. To their credit few of them had suffered any illusions about Stalin’s Russia. But the same was true of those of us on the non-Communist left. Irving Howe -- Kristol’s former pal and later his bitter ideological adversary, who would write an introduction to a volume of Present Tense profiles I edited-- loathed the neocons, and vice versa. He once wrote a biting Op Ed mocking neocons for defending Reagan’s alliance with Contra “freedom fighters” in its secret proxy war against Nicaragua. Inspired, I assigned an amazing journalist, Tina Rosenberg, who later moved on to the New York Times, to cover the troubles south of the border, which she did in several impressive reports, none of which I imagine the bellicose pro-Reagan neocons on the floor above appreciated After the U.S.-favored Chilean-Pinochet coup against the elected Salvador Allende, Rosenberg quoted a popular joke among Chileans. “Why is there no military coup in America?” The answer: “There’s no U.S. Embassy.”

Kristol was drafted in World War II. Unlike most second generation successor neocons who avoided military service in wars they passionately supported, he saw combat in France and Germany as an infantryman in the 12th Armored Division. After his discharge, he and wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, who would become a respected and distinguished historian, moved to England where she had earned a scholarship at Cambridge University. It was there Kristol started writing for the American Jewish Committee’s new magazine Commentary, and when the couple returned home he became its managing editor. By then he had abandoned the Trotskyists and moved on to neo-conservatism or, as he explained, how a liberal’s politics shifted after being mugged. In 1952, he continued his movement to the right. In his Commentary article, “Civil liberties 1952-A Study in Confusion” he wrote, “For there is one thing that the American people know about Senator McCarthy; he like them, is unequivocally anti-Communist. About the spokesmen for American liberalism, they feel no such thing.”  His break with liberals and moderates was now set in cement and he was forever stigmatized by those who despised the fraud from Wisconsin. He then returned to London to co-edit with Stephen Spender the journal Encounter, which was later revealed to have been secretly subsidized by the CIA, which Kristol denied knowing. 

 During the tumultuous Vietnam War era, Kristol, a supporter of the war, began to draw the attention of wealthy free marketers as well as incipient Wilsonians ready to reshape the world, by force if necessary. His star was about to rise and the movement to take flight. When Walter Goodman, a family friend who wrote for Commentary as well as Present Tense, was preparing an article about Kristol for December 1981 publication in the New York Times’s Sunday magazine, Walter told me Kristol announced he was leaving Manhattan for Washington because that was where the real action was.

In all those years Commentary continued to be the flagship for Kristol’s dream of a new (neo) conservative politics. And we remained second stringers, barely noticed in the national secular media until the Times ran one lone and favorable editorial reference to us and then published a goodbye piece by Roger Cohen announcing the end of our run.  Some of our articles did, however, draw attention, especially in Jewish and liberal publications, notably Robert Spero’s heavily documented and brave “Speaking for the Jews,” a brilliant expose about “A growing number of American Jews, including many inside the Jewish establishment, [who] are fed up with the hard-line views of Jewish leaders whom they did not elect and whom, in any case, do not speak for them.” Then  we published Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, the preeminent  American historian of Zionism, on the “neoconning of America” in which he took direct aim at its extremism: “American Jewish right-wingers are almost without exception partisans of the Likud policy of de facto annexation of the West Bank,” he wrote,  adding “The hard-liners are bad, very bad for Jews—and for all Americans….Jews have survived best, and have been most authentically themselves, when they have practiced restraint,” a la Maimonides’ “middle way.”

The middle road did not quite suit Kristol’s contrarian, free-thinking nature, especially after he made Jacobo Timerman and his  1981 book “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number,” a target. The book detailed his prison experiences and the torture he was subject to in neo-fascist Argentina. Mario Diament, an Argentine journalist and former executive editor of La Opinion when the paper was taken over by the military in 1977, argued in our pages that Timerman did not exaggerate as Kristol had alleged.

Alfred Kazin (Present Tense once awarded him our annual  “Lifetime Achievement” award, which we sincerely meant and he deserved, but which also brought us a bit of publicity), no friend of Communism, but very much an anti-fascist, blistered Kristol’s declaration of war against Timerman in the Wall Street Journal. According to his biographer, Richard Cook, an incensed Kazin said, “It was not enough for Timerman to have electrodes applied to his private parts, he must be attacked in the Wall Street Journal.” Kazin, yet another son of the Jewish immigrant working class, went on to call the Patron Saint of neo-conservatism “a rightwing salesman.”

Anyway, Kristol had plenty on his mind after the coup by fascist-minded generals in Argentina.  In the Wall Street Journal in 1981, its editorials as neocon as Commentary’s –- in 1987, the novelist Carol Ascher’s wrote for us “Greed and Ambition on Wall Street: Can’t Anyone Tell Right From Wrong?” a prophetic warning of things to come—Kristol famously wrote: “The military regime in Argentina, for all its military aspects, is authoritarian, not totalitarian,” sounding much like Jean Kirkpatrick’s  neocon-ish adage in  her 1979  Commentary piece that Red regimes were totalitarian and stable, frozen in time and unable to change, while authoritarian governments were open to change, which  allowed neocons to justify the Reagan administration’s defense of dictators in Guatemala, Argentina, the Philippines, and UNITA in the Angolan civil war.

Kristol’s sort of, kind of, nice words about the Dirty War and its principals, was a lame rationalization for the junta’s butchering of political opponents and dissidents, its practice of tossing people out of planes into the ocean and even snatching babies from new mothers. But still, there was something his critics preferred to discount. In the early nineteen seventies radical leftist Argentinean gangs killed and kidnapped their “enemies,” frightening ordinary Argentineans and infuriating and encouraging those who despised democratic rule. It may well have helped  a bit to create the political climate which  gave way to the road to fascism,  Argentine-style, just as German Communists had helped smooth the path for the Nazis in the infamous 1933 election by turning on the Social Democrats and thus allowing the Nazis to win a plurality of the votes and take total control.

Kristol’s loathed liberal and left intellectuals who, he argued in his book “Reflections of a Neoconservative”-- and elsewhere, of course--were alienated from “the American way of life,” unlike the American people. Susan Jacoby in another of her important books, “The Age of American Unreason,” took aim at Kristol’s “alienation” theory, the forerunner of his “culture war” fixation. “One would never guess from this passage,” wrote Jacoby, “that Kristol himself was a New York Jewish intellectual through and through and that what separated him from those wrongheaded other intellectuals so at odds with the American Way of Life was his embrace of the Republican Party.                                                                                               

Other than his short-lived venture with Public Interest, a journal he co-edited with Daniel Bell, and which concentrated on domestic affairs, most of today’s neocons have little or no interest in domestic affairs, especially in reaching out to the poor and most vulnerable among us. I’m not sure that even the most articulate among them have had much to say about what happens here at home. The late Milton Himmelfarb, Irving’s scholarly wife’s scholarly brother and a neocon Commentary contributing editor--the leading neocons were once and to an extent remain, a family affair—wondered in Commentary (where else?) why “Jews earned like Episcopalians  and vote like Puerto Ricans.” A response was offered by Earl Shorris in his sharp-edged 1982 anti-neocon book “Jews without Mercy: A Lament.” In it, he condemned the neocons and their “self-interest, without mercy for the old or the poor, a movement that condemns oppression only when it serves the interests of the movement to do so.” Shorris would have been delighted to have been at an AJC staff meeting, as I was, when Milton Himmelfarb insisted that there was no such thing as social justice in Judaism. To which a leftist staff member shot back, if there isn’t any social justice in Judaism there isn’t any Judaism.

Most of the Founders are now dead or retired. Their successors’ time to shine came during the Bush-Cheney era, when they enthusiastically supported the invasion of Iraq. To the second generation neocons who rarely if ever wore a military uniform or expressed any interest in apologizing to the war dead’s families, the Iraq War was an integral part of their unshakable faith that they and they alone knew how to reshape  and inject democratic rule into the autocratic, complex and chaotic  Middle East.

Today, the spirit and message of Kristol’s neocons live on, eagerly awaiting another Bush-Cheney White House. Meanwhile, Washington is overrun with their well-funded think tanks, publications, responsive pundits, politicians and lobbyists. Their official doctrine is to push for more of the same, in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Ukraine, et.al. and lend full support to the current Israeli government’s policy against Iran, who our neocons hate as much as they once hated Saddam and the vast store of WMDs he was hiding. I like to think that had Present Tense not been shut down we would have gladly taken on the neocons and their sophomoric dreams of a Middle Eastern cakewalk..  

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153610 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153610 0
Obama's Dangerous Legacy Could Include a War in Russia's Backyard

Murray Polner is HNN’s senior book review editor and a blogger.

When all the biographies, memoirs and histories are written about Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy it will be a mixed one, ranging from the indulgent because of complex and unsolvable challenges to disappointed assessments from the idealistic left and also from the confrontational right. Personally, I liked how David Bromwich once portrayed him after five years of his presidency: “The world’s most important spectator.”

“Obama has a larger-spirited wish to help people than any of his predecessors since Jimmy Carter,” Bromwich began, “though caution bordering on timidity has kept him from speaking.”

Well, not quite anymore, given his new-found courage in finally taking on Netanyahu and his congressional bootlickers who’d love to see the USAF level Tehran but also avoid a land invasion we would surely lose even if Israel joined in. As a prudent warning once went, “If you liked Iraq, you’ll love Iran.”

Obama’s legacy will also be positively burnished with his move to undo the too-long, ideologically-grounded isolation of Cuba while the US simultaneously befriended death squad and neo-fascist El Presidentes south of the border. Remember them?  Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista.

But there’s also a worrying side to Obama’s legacy, specifically the risky games he’s playing with Putin’s increasingly Tsarist Russia, where both sides have a huge pile of ready-to-use nuclear bombs and where, without any debate or concern outside of the Imperial City’s political class, the US has now become deeply involved in a revived East-West battle. In 2014-15, the US and NATO gifted to Kievan Ukraine, a dysfunctional and corrupt state whose current politicians assumed power after an American-supported coup, military, political and financial aid with which to fight Russia’s breakaway Donbas proxy.

It is precisely in Eastern Europe that Obama fits Bromwich’s portrayal of him as a “spectator.”  Some of his State Department people behave like virtual free agents, with Obama muttering scripted, supportive lines. State’s leading neoconservative regarding Ukraine is Victoria Nuland, whose husband Robert Kagan is a major DC neocon.

Meanwhile, if there is any coherent plan about Eastern Europe in particular and Ukraine in general, it is to establish a cordon sanitaire circling Russia. It didn’t work in 1941-45 and it won’t work now, even though NATO’s Article 5 could lead a former Soviet satellite like NATO members Latvia or Lithuania -- and presumably, one day, Ukraine, if the neocons have their way -- to claim it had been attacked and then invoke Article 5, whereby the US is obliged to come to the aid of any attacked member nation.

Make no mistake. The US is now an active player in regions Russia views as an integral part of its sphere of influence. As if the hopeless, insolvable mess in the Middle East isn’t enough of a burden, the US has recently sent 300 US soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade to Ukraine for six months to “train” Ukrainian soldiers.  In another move barely known if at all to John and Mary Doe, Americans and Bulgarians will hold joint Balkans military drills, while NATO ships prowl the Black Sea, Russia’s sole warm waterway and home to its fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea. This led Aleksandr Grushko, Russia’s envoy to NATO, to warn of his country taking “necessary countermeasures.” (American tanks and more than 120 armored components have also been shipped free of charge to Latvia.) More ominously, Putin’s press secretary warned that “The participation of instructors or specialists from third countries on Ukrainian territory” could destabilize the present fragile truce between eastern and western Ukraine. Not to mention Putin’s not so veiled threat about nuclear war.

What ever happened to diplomacy? Melvin Goodman, a former CIA analyst recently proposed in the NY Times nothing less than negotiations to cool everyone down and avoid provoking a still-powerful Russia in its own backyard. “Isn’t it time to recognize the ‘existential’ importance of Ukraine to Russia,” asked Goodman, “to prevent the worsening of the crisis and to ensure continued cooperation in the arms control arena as well as conflicts in the third world?”

This may sound like Munich-style appeasement to our Washington-based “ostentatious warmongering” base – as Christian Lorentzen, a British editor put it -- but as Henry the K. offered, regular condemnations of Putin are no substitute for a  coherent, well-considered policy. While dispatching air patrols, shipping sophisticated war materials and piles of free money to former Warsaw Pact states, and providing potentially inflammatory “training” exercises may not be Act One of a future Big War, it could lead to an unintentional or deliberate incident or alibi (Sarajevo in 1914, Poland in 1939, Korea in 1950, Tonkin Gulf in 1964, Bush’s WMDs in 2013) causing a war, possibly nuclear, which will surely blow Obama’s legacy, and the rest of us, to hell.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153613 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153613 0
Kent State: After 45 Years We Need a Serious Look at What happened and Why

"Mary Ann Vecchio gestures and screams as she kneels by the body of a student, Jeffrey Miller, lying face down on the campus of Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio. On publication, the image was retouched to remove the fencepost above Vecchio's head." (Wikipedia)

It’s been 45 years since draft-deferred Ohio National Guardsmen aimed their M-1 rifles and .45 pistols at unarmed Ken State College students, killing four and wounding nine on May 4, 1970. You have to be well into middle age now to remember that day. My memory is stirred whenever I look at three photos: John Filo’s striking shot of teenager Mary Ann Vecchio on her knees weeping as she bends over student Jeffrey Miller’s body, a photo I took of Jeffrey’s grieving mother for a magazine my son Alex once edited, and a picture of two of the forever crippled in wheelchairs, KSU student Dean Kahler and wounded Marine Vietnam vet Ron Kovic of ‘Born on the Fourth of July” fame.

On the 41st anniversary of the shootings in 2011, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the state’s largest newspaper, concluded, “There has never been a completely satisfactory explanation for why the Guard fired.” In fact, it went on, “The central unresolved question in the Kent State affair has been why several dozen Ohio Guardsmen pivoted in unison and fired” and for 13 agonizing seconds killed and wounded so many of their peers. The previous year the paper had reported the finding of an audio recording where a Guard office was said to shout, “All right, prepare to fire.” This led to an editorial urging the state to take another look “and give full account of that tragic day.”

“That tragic day” followed Nixon’s announcement that the U.S. had invaded Cambodia and expanded the war, causing antiwar college students throughout the nation to go on strike. It was a time when the President called antiwar students “bums” and Ohio’s Republican Governor James Rhodes, in a tight and ultimately losing race, described students against the war as “worse than brown shirts and the communist element and also night riders and vigilantes. They are the worst type of people that we harbor in America.”

A majority of blinkered Americans agreed. Apprehensive and uncertain, yearning for a return to an allegedly untroubled era before the tumultuous sixties, and manipulated all their lives to believe that only an “exceptional” America protected them against Communist and Asian hordes, they supported the shootings, as a  Gallup poll reported. Pat Moynihan thought May 4th amounted to a pro-war plebiscite, a prescient remark given that two years later Nixon overwhelmingly defeated George McGovern, an unflinching dove. And Milton Viorst, one of the sharpest pundits of those years, thought, “The 1960s ended in a small town in Ohio named Kent.”

  After several trials, a presidential commission, and books galore, no one was ever held responsible despite a final settlement of a meager $674,000 distributed among the thirteen families. It did, however, lead to the development of the superb May 4th Collection at the KSU Library with its rich lode of material. One is Charles A. Thomas’s memoir. He had worked for the National Archives and was asked to examine films used by the Scranton (investigating) presidential commission. His finding: “it looked very much as if someone had doctored the evidence to minimize any impression of the Guard’s brutality and to plant the spurious notion that the soldiers had been confronted with a raging student mob,” a charge refuted by the Justice Department when it summarized the FBI’s  findings. There’s much more in the May 4th Collection.

It also includes the long-forgotten Scranton commission’s devastating verdict that, while liberally casting responsibility on all parties, something happened that should never have happened: “the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable.” Period!

Still, the case is now deemed to be dead. Why? Who cares? Who remembers? Who wants to remember?

My own judgment is that while I know of no smoking gun or deathbed confession the “guilty” one (s) got away, the “guilty” being the person or persons who ordered the Guardsmen to open fire.  So many unanswered questions remain about Governor Rhodes’s close ties with the FBI, an armed FBI informer on campus, what if anything relevant college, local and state police discovered. And what role, if any, did VIPs in Washington’s uber-secret chambers play? Contemporary critics have regularly and repeatedly proposed many more questions.

Years after May 4, 1970, Caroline Arnold, a Kent resident, wrote a column for the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier in which she reminded her small-town readers that “Truth wasn’t murdered at Kent State. People were murdered, people were wounded, hurt, frightened and bewildered, and much damage was done across the community and university.”

For our national political elite unwilling to publicly confront those responsible for the slaughters of the pointless Vietnam and Iraq/Afghan wars, it may be too much to expect anyone to bother themselves with a piddling four deaths and nine wounded college kids.

Still, I have to ask if anyone in the White House on down has the audacity to call for a new investigation? Anyone?

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153619 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153619 0
The Great Deal David Petraeus Got Shows a Double Standard at Work

When David Petraeus left a federal courtroom last April in Charlotte, NC, contrite, humiliated, and guilty, it was less a victory for our system of justice than another example of how our pretense of equal justice for all is simply untrue.

David Petraeus, former four-star General and boss of our endless and aimless Afghan war, Obama’s choice as CIA director who was once viewed by the Imperial City’s power brokers as presidential timber. admitted he had leaked his private notebooks filled with confidential, classified data to his biographer and lover. The material also included the identities of clandestine agents. He was also charged with lying to the FBI, normally a swift one-way ticket to the nearest federal jailhouse. Court papers had Petraeus describing the stuff he handed his lover/biographer: “They are highly classified, some of them.”  For this he received 2 years’ probation and a $100,000 fine.

So why the uproar? “Some in the FBI and the Justice Department,” the NY Times reported, believed that Eric Holder, Obama’s Attorney General, had used, or so the Times noted, a “double standard.”  Why the selective prosecution when Holder had been so hard on less important, commonplace government employees who had fed information to reporters about actions they believed to be illegal and been sent to prison? Why was Holder so easy on Petraeus? Anyone else of lesser star power would surely have wound up behind bars. Is it that a wall of silence and an uninformed and therefore uninterested public allows agencies to continue on surreptitiously and unaccountably?

Personally, I’m not interested in seeing someone like Petraeus -- who had, after all, served his country well -- hauled off to join our jam-packed prison population, but it’s the disparity between the soft landing he received and the harsh sentences handed out to many victims of the racist Woodrow Wilson’s still extant 1917-1918 Espionage Act that is bothersome.

 Remember the Espionage Act of 1917? It was the child of wartime hysteria, when hundreds of nonconformists – if not more -- were prosecuted. Its best-known victim was Eugene Victor Debs, the Socialist Party and labor union leader, who was handed a ten-year sentence for daring to oppose the sanctity of the draft. Debs, by the way, was not released until a far more generous and tolerant President Warren Harding commuted his sentence and then invited him to join him for breakfast in the White House. (Hopeful suggestion to President Obama: Snowden, our premier whistleblower, languishing in Moscow, would surely welcome a meal with you even though much earlier you had delivered your verdict: “No, I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot.”)

If not Snowden then why not Thomas Drake or Shamai Leibowitz or Stephen Jin-Woo Kim or Jeffrey Sterling, etc., former government employees, for telling things considered too hush-hush for non-Washington outsiders.

Or. If not them, why not John Kiriakou, still serving his 30 month sentence in a federal prison? He was for twenty years a CIA employee who told a reporter about a covert CIA agent in its “interrogation” unit. When Rep. James Moran (Dem-VA) asked Obama last November to pardon Kairiakou – did he ever receive a response? --- he said, “The real issue here is the extremely selective prosecution of John [and every other whistleblower/leaker-- MP] and the ongoing efforts to intimidate him from talking about our intelligence community’s misfires.”

And how about former Pfc. Chelsea Manning’s draconian sentence for revealing information about torture and the “Collateral Murder” video when on July 12, 2007 an Apache copter raid near Baghdad killed twelve civilians including two Reuter’s staffers. It so alarmed him that he asked his superiors to intervene and was instead ignored and what the video revealed dismissed. Unable to persuade his supervisors that something awful had occurred—the Apache crew was later essentially absolved by the military -- he sent the compromising video to WikiLeaks. Who, then, was the moral soldier: Manning who spoke out and risked her life or the military judges who preferred she keep her mouth shut?

Even so, a military court judge ruled that whatever Manning did was not “aiding the enemy,” but rather a violation of Wilson’s old Espionage Act and the theft of U.S. property. Only a low level soldier in the military’s pecking order, she was a scapegoat in our cruel, insoluble Middle Eastern wars. No probation or fine a la Petraeus. For Manning, it was 35 years in a Leavenworth cage. It was Obama who once said about Manning “We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate…. He broke the law.”  So, no breakfast in the White House for her, either.

Shipped back the states, Manning, still untried, received such punishing treatment in the Marine brig in Quantico, VA., that Amnesty International and the ACLU felt compelled to protest. Happily for all Americans, a singular and honorable American hero named P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, emerged. Standing out from the usual run of sycophants in Washington, Crowley objected to Manning’s treatment and quit.

Petraeus is now off the hook, having joined KKR Global Institute, one of the world’s leading private equity firms. Politico also reported that he “recently provided the White House with advice on how to deal with the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” And now the Internet is awash with allegations that Eric Holder has been hired by JPMorgan Chase for a very handsome salary plus bonuses.

Still, wouldn’t it would be a healthy sign for our Republic if some congressional committee politely asked Holder why the disparity in punishment? We’ll probably never know but it’s still worth asking.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153621 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153621 0
William Pfaff: The Pundit Who Hated Militarism & War

Murray Polner is HNN’s senior book review editor and a blogger.

William Pfaff died on April 30,2015. His death is nothing less than a serious loss to the shrinking number of American daily newspaper columnists who question and contest American Exceptionalism and its “unnecessary and unwinnable” wars.

Pfaff was the singular heir of American writers who preceded him in condemning our historic addiction to war. And the more he criticized the U.S .for shooting first and thinking later, the fewer America dailies printed his columns. The New York Times, which owns the International Herald-Tribune where his work regularly appeared, rarely if ever published his piercing anti-interventionist columns. He was, after all, an outspoken opponent of the Iraq invasion when the paper went overboard in favor of the war. His few daily newspaper outlets were limited essentially to Newsday and the Chicago Tribune though liberal journals like the New York Review of Books, William Shawn’s New Yorker, which printed some seventy of his pieces, and Commonweal, the liberal Catholic magazine, welcomed him.

Search the major print and electronic media and there aren’t many bigtime pundits writing for bigtime newspapers who condemned LBJ’s or Bush 1 and 2’s wars and questioned our obsession with a “guns first” approach. There aren’t too many wondering aloud why we remain bog down in the Middle Eastern quicksand and have poked our slowly increasing military noses nose into the Russian-Ukrainian struggle. Pfaff, virtually alone, raised a fundamental question rarely posed: “Has it been a terrible error for the U.S. to have built an all-but-irreversible worldwide system of more than 1,000 military bases, stations, and outposts? This seemingly was created to enhance U.S. national security, but what if it has actually done the opposite, provoking conflict and creating the very insecurity it was intended to prevent”? That was William Pfaff, smarter, shrewder and more razor-sharp than all the rest. If you doubt this please read his last book, The Irony of Manifest Destiny and comment.

Russell Baker, another notable pundit, said that Pfaff, in “article after article [wrote] what should have been said week after week [in Washington] as Bush’s cheery civilian warriors marched us into the Middle East.” And it’s still the same as the Imperial City’s resident hawks, their wealthy donors and bribers, the unaccountable culture of second-hand Think Tankers, our Merchants of Deaths and everyone’s money-making lobbyists for special and foreign interests, are as immersed as ever in the old tough guy Cold War mythology. Not many pundits have lately asked who has ordained that our sons and daughters be sent everywhere to intervene militarily in age-old and basically unsolvable religious-political conflicts that are none of our business. Pfaff, with a minimum of banalities, practically alone and fiercely independent, would have none of it.

Here are a few of his gems:

“The ‘war of civilizations’ explanation is wrong and dangerously so…it is essential that the west now cease its interference, it cannot reconcile the Syrians or the Sunnis and Shiites, or the conflicts in the Maghreb and the Sahel  mainly produced by climate and history.  The West has suffered the delusion that a war on these people would produce modernity and democracy. War is a destroyer, which includes among its victims those who initiate it.”

He took on Israel’s American take-no-prisoner supporters, the Third Rail of American politics. Fortunately for Pfaff, the ground had already been prepared for the right of the bravest of the brave of a non-Jew taking on the burden of criticizing Israeli policies. The U.S., he wrote, has given Israel massive financial, diplomatic and military support and has the right to tell Jerusalem to settle with the Palestinians and establish a genuine two-state agreement.

Truth is, there are a shrinking number of American Jews who now equate any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism – a falsehood which has silenced non-Jewish critics, but never Pfaff, who was in no way anti-Jewish. (Confession: I once published one of his articles in a Jewish publication I co-edited). As my late friend, the prescient Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, among the more learned of scholars of Zionism, predicted twenty-five years ago: American Jewry “is an organized and ageing half moving right and a younger, more liberal group increasingly abandoning Jewish organizations and declining to offer financial support” – the real money comes from the relatively few billionaires and millionaires whose wishes determine organizational and Israel Lobby policies. M.L. Rosenberg, who once worked for AIPAC, added, “politicians think the way to a Jew’s heart and pocketbook is through Israel. Soon enough they will understand that the way is through social justice issues here in America.” That includes uninterrupted warmongering.

This was amply demonstrated in the heated debate in 2013 over Obama’s selection of Chuck Hegel as Defense Secretary. The Israel lobby, Christian Zionist, neocon and assorted 0bama haters opposed Hegel with a variety of arguments. Happily, Sen. Dianne Feinstein put a temporary stop to their views when she told her colleagues, “We cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war.”

That’s pretty close to what Pfaff was inferring.  “Why should Iran not have nuclear weapons?” he asked about the current debate. “Israel has them, India and Pakistan have them. Europe is full of them,” and of course the U.S., Russia, China and North Korea. But they’re all “unusable.” In Iran and Nuclear Weapons he decried the exaggeration of the danger and the emotional use of the word “existential,” used repeatedly by Netanyahu and then endlessly and mindlessly by so many others, implying that Israel’s very survival is at stake. A better, more rational solution, Pfaff offered, was an equitable and just diplomatic settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he predicted – though could not, of course, prove, who can?—would calm relations between Teheran and Jerusalem.

He was one of a handful (or less) of regular columnists to point out that the American love affair in the 70s with the Shah of Iran occurred while Washington’s schemers visualized him as “the agent of American power in the Middle East ended in provoking a fundamentalist Iran that became the most important American enemy in the region. The American invasions of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and Sunni-ruled Iraq turned both into ruined and corrupt puppet regimes…. Whereupon Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab members have once again announced their dependence upon a foreign and interventionist power to defend their own integrity, an admission of impotence,” while their people “suffer the consequences.”

And then there’s Ukraine.  In a series of columns and virtually alone save for a few historians of Russian history, Pfaff saw the Ukrainian crisis as an American-initiated crisis, one that at times  created the possibility of an accidental war, a la Sarajevo. Rather than “a Russian strategy of aggressive expansion into Ukraine,” Pfaff saw it as “a bungled and essentially an American attempt to annex Ukraine to NATO and the European Union and to undermine the domestic political position of President Putin—which all has gone wrong badly and dangerously wrong.”

Since America’s military-industrial elites requires an enemy every few decades, the U.S. and its compliant mass media have routinely demonized  Vladimir Putin as an almost- Tsarist, not-yet-Stalinist absolute monarch bent on conquest. Putin, hardly an angel (but who is?) has been damned for refusing to accept NATO’s (read the U.S.) military advance toward the very doorstep of Russia’s borders. NATO and American military hardware are in the Baltic States and Ukraine. Maneuvers are a regular feature.  American “trainers” are now in Ukraine. Western warships cruise the Black Sea, home of Russia’s only European warm water port and its Black Sea fleet.

“There is only one possible solution now: negotiated truce on the Ukraine frontier, followed by Russo-American and EU agreement on the permanent existence of an independent and autonomous Ukraine. The alternative could be major war.”

And more: “What is Barack 0bama’s interest in all this? What about the Washington hawks responsible for what is happening? Why have they done this without an explanation to the American people?” The more Obama accedes to the hawks the more we need William Pfaff and people like him to remind us that Russia too has nuclear bombs. Lots of them.  

What’s that definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and again, failing, and then doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome? Back in Vietnam days, Sen. Fulbright called it “the arrogance of power.”

Pfaff had his critics, both thoughtful and feverish. He was, for example, far too certain that had JFK lived he would never have dispatched hundreds of thousands of troops to Vietnam. A recent critical and credible rejoinder comes from Godfrey Hodgson’s observant new book JFK and LBJ where he expresses his doubts, especially because Washington’s VIPs, including JFK and his advisors (but never George Ball), had always bought into the notion that Moscow was pulling the strings of its alleged puppets in Hanoi and had to be stopped.  

Pfaff was no outsider despite his dissenting views and that he and his wife were permanently settled in Paris. Yet he was more “American” than many of his critics. Reared in Iowa and Georgia, educated at Notre Dame, and unlike the many hawks who had never worn a military uniform he served as an infantry officer and Special Forces member during and after the Korean War. In addition, he never denied that he had worked for the CIA-funded Free Europe Committee, a Cold War group that sent broadcasts and literature behind the Iron Curtain.

I believe Scott McConnell of the invaluable anti-neocon American Conservative magazine put it best when he wrote that with Pfaff’s death, “Nowhere in the elite establishment newspaper sphere could you find regular, sustained, and well-informed criticism of an aggressive and overly militarized American foreign policy.”

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153624 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153624 0
"Who Was That Lady I Saw You With Last night? Speak Up!" It was only Nicole Perlroth’s easily overlooked but important article in the business section of the New York Times in mid-May that drew me to the tribulations of Sherry Chen, a 59-year-old hydrologist with the National Weather Service. One day, six FBI agents showed up in her Wilmington, Ohio, office and, without explanation and in front of her colleagues, this supposedly dangerous and frightened middle-aged woman was shackled and driven away.

Happily, her Chinese-American defenders immediately rose to her defense, alleging she was victimized by racial profiling. The Times had earlier reported that she’d been investigated as a suspected Chinese spy though all charges were eventually dropped “without explanation.” Never mind the emotional, physical and financial toll she bore.  With the help of Rep. Ted Lieu and Asian-American groups,  Sherry Chen is  now fighting for reinstatement, back salary, and most important, an apology, which she’ll probably never get. George Koo of the Committee of 100, put it this way: “Whenever the relationship [between China and the U.S.] is poor, Chinese-Americans suddenly become suspected spies for China. Sherry Chen is just the latest example.”

So, Good Luck, Sherry Chen, dealing with a presidential administration which will leave as one of its legacies an unprecedented number of prosecuted leakers and whistleblowers.  

But, wait, there’s more. Rep. Lieu and four California congressional Democrats, Barbara Lee, Michael Honda, Judy Chu and Mark Takano have pointed to yet another possible reason for Sherry Chen’s troubles, namely the Insider Threat Program. According to Perlroth, Rep. Lieu claimed a federal employee had initially fingered Chen.

The intrepid Marisa Taylor and Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy Newspapers described the ITP in 2011 as an “an unprecedented government-wide crackdown under which federal bureaucrats and contractors must watch out for ‘high-risk persons or behavior’ among co-workers. Those who failed to report them could face penalties, including criminal charges.”

If Taylor and Landay are correct, and I believe they are, law-abiding and patriotic federal employees now know they have to keep an eye on their fellow workers. Need some help? How about placards warning, “If you hear something, say something.” 0r avoid the too-liberal New York Times and NPR or even Fox TV if the wrong people ever capture the White House. It’s much like those old propaganda films which allowed us to feel morally superior when some brainwashed German or Soviet kids ratted on their skeptical family, earning Mom and Dad a late night visit from you know who.

Thus far, I’ve only read of sporadic objections amid mystifying silence. But if Big Media won’t take a detailed crack at Sherry Chen’s situation and the ITP, then let’s hope Onion will. We could use lots more levity, mockery and wit these days.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153630 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153630 0
"Stop Watching Us": Who Gets Pardoned

The maligned Warren Harding commuted Eugene V. Debs’s prison sentence and then invited the socialist anti-war felon to join him for breakfast in the White House. Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, who otherwise might have landed in Leavenworth.  George H.W. Bush pardoned Elliott Abrams after Iran-contra. Bill Clinton, neither moralist nor saint, pardoned the fugitive crook Marc Rich. Barack Obama, who forgave all our chicken hawks, neocons, and torture lovers who lied us into Iraq, has offered not one word of understanding about the hard  choices taken by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning except to say he didn’t “think Mr. Snowden was a patriot” and that Manning “broke the law.”

Snowden, though, has enthusiasts who applaud his dissemination of material about Americans spying on Americans. Like the anonymous sculptors (why anonymous? Who are they afraid of?) who put up a sculpture of Snowden in Brooklyn’s Fort Green Park, which frantic park employees rushed to cover up before hauling it away. 0r Mozilla, a software collective, which Jill Lepore, the intrepid Harvard historian and New Yorker essayist told us, have begun an online petition, “Stop Watching Us,” to  be sent to  Congress  saying that Snowden’s disclosures were about a “type of blanket data collection by the government [which] strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy.” Good luck, Mozilla, especially with so many troglodytes seated on the right side of the House and Senate, and so detached a president.

It goes without saying (of course, I exclude the capital’s many war lovers and its heavily subsidized neocon home front heroes) that without 9/11 and Iraq, our latest era of mindless hysteria, careerism, profit-making, military adventurism, and public apathy, no online petition or park sculpture would have been necessary. Our vaunted “intelligence community” and political class which has helped bury tens of thousands of American soldiers, plus countless Asian and Mideastern civilians, now has to contend with Snowden the deceptively mild-mannered and very smart techie, a libertarian who voted for Ron Paul in 2012, and who did what he did without asking for a handout. In Washington, the center of an empire awash with bribers and piles of money, few skeptical pundits, special interests, greed and opportunities galore, not many want to jeopardize their careers by fretting publicly about the exiled Snowden or Chelsea Manning’s draconian prison sentence. So that leaves us with Barack Obama who rarely offers any pardons.

A new and sympathetic book The Snowden Reader has just appeared. David P. Fidler, James Louis Calamaras Professor in the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University, its editor, has a perfect dedication for our perplexing and troubled times: “To my students, whose generation has so much at stake when national security dangers, innovative technologies, and commitment to civil liberties converge.”  

One of the book’s writers, Nick Cullather, professor of history at Indiana, says Snowden’s most politically embarrassing and harmful revelation  was “the complicity of the watchdogs charged with protecting the public interest, the oversight [congressional] committees, and the FISA court which “acquiesced when the NSA overstepped even the residual safeguards left standing after 9/11.”  Indiana U’s political scientist William E. Scheuerman argues,  “Snowden’s actions meet most of the demanding tests outlined in political thinking about  civil disobedience,” citing his “moral and political seriousness.” And more: “The Obama administration’s abrupt cancellation of his passport rendered him effectively stateless, dependent on a Russian government ... at the whim of a former KGB spymaster.”

And finally, in addition to the raft of valuable documents included -- suitable  for curious teachers and students from high school through graduate school -- we have Lee Hamilton, who from 1965 to 1990 served in Congress where he chaired House  committees on foreign affairs and intelligence and later served as vice-chair of the 9/11 national commission. Hamilton, the politician, is tough and unforgiving. “The amount of misinformation from the government on surveillance programs has simply been astounding and appalling.” About the national director of national intelligence who allegedly lied to Congress, Hamilton pours it on: “I am still waiting for the attorney general to indict him for a clear-cut case of perjury.”  By this administration?

Realistic about the way Washington works, he writes that, given voters’ short and waning memories , the diversions of popular culture and the flood of one-sided views, people will lose interest and the status quo, with a few minor alterations, will win out. The misnamed Patriot Act’s successor, the USA Freedom Act, promises to respect the Fourth Amendment. But the new law could vanish the moment there’s a real or imagined terrorist attack and hysterical responses become the law of the land. For Hamilton, “The lack of outrage [among Americans} is palpable and perhaps signals they accept the expansion of government power…and appear to favor security over liberty.”

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for a companion book, The Manning Reader. Snowden once called Manning “a classic whistleblower,” a category unappreciated by an Obama White House dedicated to relying on Woodrow Wilson’s archaic Espionage Act. Compare Obama’s indifference to the very harsh treatment, bordering on torture, given Manning in the Marine brig at Quantico and then read how in contrast his courageous subordinate, P.J. Crowley, a State Department press spokesman, quit in protest.

From his cell, Manning has been an occasional columnist for the US and UK Guardian newspapers (he also has a Twitter account). In one Guardian column he explained why he released unclassified but “sensitive” material that bared possible American war crimes. Another Guardian column had a subhead, “Americans need to know more about the battles fought in their name,” the last thing many of our doyens want.

 He also wrote an Op-Ed in the NY Times on June 2015 (“I chose to disclose classified information in 2010, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others”).When none of his superiors seemed to care about the secret Collateral Murder video, showing a US Apache helicopter killing defenseless Iraqi civilians and two Reuters newsmen, he sent the video to WikiLeaks. He also sent WikiLeaks an “Afghan War Diary,” about civilian deaths and wounded.

It would be a simple act of justice if Barack Obama pardoned both of them before he left office. But that will take “audacity.” Even so, I’m still hoping.

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UPDATE: On May 8th I wrote “The Great Deal David Petraeus Got Shows a Double Standard at Work.” Now one month later comes news that a group of media organizations (AP, Bloomberg, Dow Jones, Charlotte Observer, First Look Media, NPR, NY Times, the Washington Post and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press) have urged the court to make public all materials connected to the sentencing. As Hannah Bloch-Wehba wrote in News Media Update on June 8th: “The secrecy in Petraeus’s case was also unusual. In other prosecutions of defendants who have pleaded guilty to charges related to alleged leaks of classified information, sentencing-related documents have been made public. And Petraeus’s position as a former high-ranking military officer and public official made his prosecution especially noteworthy.” Stay tuned.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153634 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153634 0
After He Leaves, What Will They Say About Obama’s Foreign Policy?

Murray Polner is HNN’s senior book review editor and a blogger.

With only eighteen months remaining, Barack 0bama’s foreign policy legacy will be much debated after he leaves the White House. Excluding our crackpots and bigots, historians, memoirists and biographers will surely take into account the challenges he faced because of the two wars he inherited--one of which, Afghanistan, he always supported.

Even so, as we faced the rest of the world, Obama was going to be different, or so we hoped. The hundreds of thousands who joyously hailed him in Grant Park and the 1.5 million who turned out for his first inauguration were ecstatic with anticipation. The policies of the past were dead and gone. Or so we innocents thought.

While Obama Care and his TPP trade pact may or may not prove significant in any future assessment, his final legacy will certainly be based more on what he does and doesn’t do about the Middle East, Iran, China and Russia. Obama once told reporters in the summer of 2014 that his guiding principle was “Don’t do stupid shit,” a lesson that he seemed to have taken to heart when he tried dealing rationally with Iran despite Israel and its American acolytes’ fierce opposition, and with Cuba, ignoring the fevered disapproval by unforgiving Florida-based Cuban émigrés.

All the same, dovish and disillusioned liberals and leftists have lately begun scrutinizing Obama’s record. David Bromwich’s recent judicious Harpers’ piece, “What Went Wrong: Assessing Obama’s Legacy” put it this way: “Much as one would like to admire a leader so good at showing that he means well, and so earnest in projecting the good intentions of his country as the equivalent of his own, it would be a false consolation to pretend that the years of the Obama presidency have not been a large lost chance.”

Even more critical is Sherle Schwenniger’s essay in The Nation: “How Obama Went From Being a Peace Candidate to a War President.” How? By listening to the people who promoted the catastrophic invasion of Iraq and who now “finds himself pursuing an open-ended war against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), prosecuting an expanded counter-terrorism campaign from Central Asia to North Africa, overseeing a new Cold war with Russia, and pivoting toward what could become one with China in East Asia.”

Why his eagerness to pass TPP, The Trans-Pacific Partnership, an integral part of his “pivot to Asia” policy and aimed directly at China? Why his support for the war against Libya, which has proved to be a Pyrrhic victory at best? Why the new obsession with setting up “lily pads,” a string of U.S. bases manned by troops and ‘trainers” which hadn’t worked when it was tried in Afghanistan?  Ronald Reagan, who knew little or nothing about foreign policy, found the courage and brains to warm up to Gorbachev at Reykjavik (and infuriate the neocons) and help cool off the still-simmering embers of the Cold War. Even Nixon (and Kissinger) went to China. But Obama?

And then there’s a nuanced view in the forthcoming WorldMaking: The Art & Science of American Diplomacy by British historian David Milne and Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope & the American Political Tradition by James Kloppenburg. Barack Obama, Milne and Kloppenburg believe, is a pragmatist, a man without dogma and doctrine, which can be interpreted as Obama the disorganized plodder or Obama the grounded realist.

So what happened? Barack Obama happened. More eloquence than substance happened. More political caution than audacity or hope. Convinced that it was best to govern from some ill-defined center and make nice to his many haters while acting tough abroad to keep the home front warriors off his back while throwing an occasional bone to his left. Has he endangered everyone now and in future years by renewing the Cold War with a nuclear Russia and threatening nuclear China with his “pivot to Asia”? What are we to make of his approval for the current war games with Latvia where B-52s have unloaded ersatz bombs less than 200 miles from the Russian frontier, sent all those costly war toys to Baltic and Eastern European states eager to provoke U.S. involvement in a fight with their former masters, and where American and Russian planes lately flew within ten feet of each other. Sarajevo, anyone?

To all these, and to the Pentagon's and State Department’s inflammatory moves in Ukraine (in Russia’s backyard), Obama seems both approving and absent. Who in 2008, exhilarated by his election, would have, could have, believed that their assumed savior would turn hawkish?

Did Obama have any alternatives? Did he really have to continue the American obsession to intervene everywhere and anywhere? “Demilitarizing the Military,” an illuminating essay by Gregory D. Foster of the National Defense University in Washington, recommends—at least it does to me—that when Obama arrived, “a unique historical opportunity” had presented itself. But “preparing for a waging war,” writes Foster, “can no longer – if it ever could—produce true peace. Warmaking is capable only of producing more war…. Today there is no possibility of victory.”

Yes, there were alternatives, especially when the Democrats took control of Congress in 2010. In this huge nation of ours couldn’t he find a handful of realists, left, right, and center, to supply some new and potentially workable approaches to break the send-in-the-troops craziness? Why did his very tight and shrinking circle of advisors initiate the attack on Putin (backed strenuously by the NY Times’s influential editorial board and most of our obedient media) while encouraging and subsidizing NATO to move ever closer to a Russia historically obsessed with the defense of its borders and fierce opposition to foreign encirclement? Even the Putin-loathing Thomas Friedman has asked “When did it all go sour?” and answering, “When we [the two Bushes and Clinton, with few or no objections] fired the first shot when we expanded NATO toward the Russian border even though the Soviet Union had disappeared.” Why the sudden, swift Obamian support for a Ukrainian coup backed by, among others, Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups, which ousted a corrupt, bankrupt, democratically-elected president for an equally corrupt and bankrupt crowd? Why his silence (and John Kerry’s too) about the provocative actions in Ukraine of some State Department neocons? Why the concerted effort to surround Russia (and China) with military bases and military exercises? Would we accept Russian-Venezuelan-Cuban war games in the Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean?

George Kennan and Henry Kissinger -- yes, Henry Kissinger despite all! -- wisely and realistically warned that Ukraine should never be tied to NATO, unless we’re prepared to fight a nuclear war. And on occasions, the Metternichian Kissinger understands the heart of the issue: “Demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one,” adding, “Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. Russian history began in what is and what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries…. The U.S. needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington…. Leaders on all sides should return to examining outcomes, not compete in posturing…. We should seek reconciliation, not the domination of a faction.” That’s diplomatic talk, not the confrontational sort favored by Washington’s warriors.

After almost seven years of Obama’s presidency, and through the remainder of his term, we remain an empire of military colonization, what Tom Engelhardt smartly dubbed “The Theology of American National Security,” or American Exceptionalism’s delusion that militarism and lots of dead American troops are the price the children and grandchildren of ordinary people have to pay for worldwide supremacy.

I like best what Andrew Bacevich, former West Pointer, Vietnam War colonel, retired Boston University professor of International Relations, and father of a son killed in Iraq, who said, memorably, “leadership ought to mean something other than repeating and compounding past mistakes. It ought to require more than clinging to policies that have manifestly failed. To remain willfully blind to those failures is not leadership, it’s madness.” An historic American tradition which, sadly, has continued during Barack Obama’s presidency. And just as sadly, we no longer have a viable antiwar movement.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153638 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153638 0
Iran, Israel & American Jews

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

The struggle over the Iran Agreement reminds me of the seventeen years I spent as editor of Present Tense, a liberal Jewish-oriented magazine, published by the American Jewish Committee. 

In 1990, we featured a detailed investigative piece, “Speaking for the Jews.” Our cover blurb read:  “A growing number of American Jews, including many inside the Jewish establishment, are fed up with the hard-line views of Jewish leaders whom they did not elect and who, in any case, do not speak for them.” Some members of The Lobby were quite upset and Present Tense was shut down soon after for debatable reasons. Even so, the article’s writer, Robert Spero, and the magazine’s editors, were absolutely on target in 1990 and even more so today. In short, the Israel Lobby doesn’t speak for American Jews.

In addition to the fabrications and fantasies concocted by PM Netanyahu’s Israel and endlessly repeated by his followers, it is that for the first time in memory a foreign country — Israel— is publicly fighting an American president’s  foreign policy on American soil. Israel’s allies include Obama-hating Republicans, intimidated and largely Jewish Democratic politicians, and Bibi-supporting Jewish and Christian Zionist lobbies — none of whom have ever offered any lucid or rational alternatives, and many of them empowered by a few mega-rich and hawkish American Jews. 

The truth is that the core of the Iran Agreement is that Iran and six nations decided that Teheran had accepted stringent restrictions for ten years on its nuclear activities and international inspectors will be allowed full access.

Polls indicate that American Jews largely support the Iran Agreement and do not accept that American foreign policy in the Middle East should be determined by Israeli lobbyists or that of any foreign government. Nor are Israelis completely united against the deal. Former officials of Mossad and Shin Bet, the ex- deputy director-general of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, and many in Israel’s national security establishment, as the [Jewish]Forward’s J.J. Goldberg has reported, have broken with Netanyahu on the Iran Agreement.  

“As unanimous as the politicians are in backing the prime minister,” he wrote, “the generals and spymasters are nearly as unanimous in questioning him. Generals publicly backing Netanyahu can be counted on–well—one finger.”

To reject the Iran Agreement means that sooner or later the hopes and prayers of American uber-hawks that the U.S. would be drawn into a war with Iran may well be answered.  For those who love the idea of fighting such a war with sons and daughters not their own, the old saw still applies: “If they loved Iraq, they’ll love Iran.” Meanwhile, no one has yet dared to utter a word about Israel’s vast array of uninspected nuclear bombs. 

But for American Jews like me, it’s “Ein Breira,” meaning there is no alternative.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153656 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153656 0
Hey, World, American Weapons Are Available for (Nearly) Everyone This post is by Murray Polner, a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

So who won the ‘war’ about the Iran Agreement?

Millions were spent for a stream of ads on TV and radio and in major newspapers in the ‘war’ over Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. But one day while clicking through TV’s vacuous channels I picked up a story about a local reporter visiting a Midwest diner asking diners what they thought of the Iran deal and was told they had never heard of it.

Back in the world, though, a bruising battle was on. Opponents were indifferent to the possibility of more war, which Obama said would result if the deal was rejected, meaning, I thought, so long as their kids didn’t have to fight. Supporters were branded Israel-haters and worse and several pro-deal Jewish Democrats were told they belonged in the ovens, the familiar consignment of adversaries to Auschwitz.

In my hometown (Great Neck, NY), with at least 26 synagogues and lots of Iranian and 0rthodox Jews, panicky local Democratic politicians, Jewish and non-Jewish, none of whom I presume ever read the huge, highly technical text of the agreement or had ever taken a public stand on foreign policy, quickly moved to oppose the deal as did many liberal Jewish politicians in areas inhabited with lots of Jews, most prominently Charles Schumer (when did he become Chuck?) even though several polls indicated America’s Jews were pro-deal. When it seemed that the antis were going to lose, the New York Times claimed the Israel Lobby “Suffered a Stinging Defeat” and Newsweek added that the Iran nuclear pact “weakened AIPAC, Washington’s most powerful interest group,” two conclusions based on nothing more than wishful thinking. I say that because those two august publications have published little about how effectively AIPAC has mastered how to work Congress.

Closer to what happened was the realization that the unelected leaders of the Israel Lobby spoke only for themselves and that Bibi, as he claimed after the Paris killings, did not speak for world Jewry. What the Iran Agreement battle did was emphasize the growing gap between older and younger American Jews, between those who believe Israel is Judaism --while overlooking its humane social ethic and prophetic vision of the just community-- and that Israeli and America’s national interests are the same, dismissing those who favor negotiation and diplomacy rather than aligning themselves with confrontational conservatives and neocons willing to risk another Middle Eastern war.

So, who won?

For a clue I turned to a long-forgotten and treasured 1934 book, Merchants of Death, by H.C. Engelbrecht and F.C. Hanighen, the contents of which led me to crown the winner: The Merchants of Death who “sell the instruments with which humans are killed, gassed and maimed” and from which “they reap a tremendous profit … [in] a world which recognizes and expects war cannot get along without an enterprising, progressive. and up-to-date arms industry.”

The book portrayed the intimate relationship between the weapons business, banks, government, media and the citizenry, an observation even more apt today, especially if we throw in our bought politicians. This existing connection helps nurture our endless conflicts and while occasionally revealed, especially by online crusaders, is barely noticed in the larger political world, let alone acted upon.

The Forward, one of the few independent American Jewish newspapers, was among the first to sense what was happening, asking, “Will American Weapons Flood Middle East After Iran Deal?

Of course it will, even after 14 years of American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Libya, and with zillions spent to continue on forever, the blind leading the blind with failed quick fixes. But business is business and there’s tons of money to be made in the munitions game. Meanwhile, in addition to the billion dollar deals that have already been consummated, as Nathan Guttman, the Forward’s Washington bureau chief and former Haaretz and Jerusalem Post correspondent, found. Now that the Iran Agreement is about to be history, he wrote, the next stage is “a new arms race fueled by U.S. efforts to reassure Israel and various Sunni countries that feel threatened by the Shi’ite Islamist government in Tehran.” It’s a bit puzzling to Iranians, he added, one of whom asked at a New York briefing, “If the United States wants tranquility to prevail why is it adding to the arsenal there?”

New weapons are now being offered to all the regional actors, especially Israel, which is scheduled to receive more additions to its missile intercept system, more F35 fighter jets, bunker-busting bombs, and much much more.

If they get all that they want, U.S. aid to Israel, much of which is required by law since 2012, will only keep growing, the total approaching $6 billion for further missile defense and research and development, according to former NY Times Israel bureau chief David Shipler. Yet even with all these freebies, the U.S. has made no effort to use its influence and money to work out an arrangement restricting the spread of settlements or even seriously raising the issue of the plight of occupied Palestinians.

Drowning in money, the autocratic Gulf Sunni states will also receive more than they need, and one day ISIS and other assorted murderers and criminal gangs still unknown will have bought, stolen or been gifted with some of these weapons, which led a former State Department official to tell Nathan Guttman: “What the Israelis are concerned about is regime change in Saudi Arabia” — or even the Gulf states fortified with advanced military systems — asking, “what would happen with all these weapons under a different regime?”

The super-rich Saudis are also in line to get anything they want, including an enormous $1 billion weapons contract to restock Saudi arsenals, whose weapons have shattered whatever is left of civic life in impoverished Yemen’s vicious, and to the American people, mass media and Washington’s Think Tank “experts,” incomprehensible civil war.

I know it’s a dumb question, but are there enough VIPs in the Imperial City and elsewhere who really care enough about unrestricted arms races and the wars they instigate?

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153673 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153673 0
The Blind Leading the Blind: Everyone’s Middle Eastern Madness This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

ISIS takes credit for blowing up this temple in Palmyra

“There is a holy mistaken zeal in politics as well as in religion. By persuading others, we convince ourselves,” or so said the forgotten English writer Junius in the mid-18th century. When I read his words the other day I was reminded of other situations where ideology and ignorance of history replaced reason.

Operation Unthinkable  is one of many such  examples, a loonie scheme hatched in early 1945 by Winston Churchill, who was exhausted by six years of war, drinking heavily, with a loathing for his Soviet nemesis – though he once told Field Marshal Montgomery he and Stalin could resolve all their problems if only they met weekly over dinner fortified with an ample supply of scotch and vodka.

Churchill wanted to forgive the Nazis and instead have 100,000 of their Wehrmacht troops link up with the British and Americans to attack the victorious Red Army as it sped toward Berlin and therefore “impose the will of the Western Allies on the Soviets.” The plan was clearly insane and unenforceable yet Churchill ordered the British Armed Forces Joint Planning Staff to develop his idea until rational members of his inner circle said no.

I thought of Churchill’s obsession after reading that Cato, the libertarian think tank, recalled John Judis describing in the New Republic “what it was like to oppose the [Iraq] war in 2003,” to which Cato writer Gene Healey added, “It was pretty damn lonely.”

During the run-up to the war, with the chicken hawks leading the charge, there was near unanimity among our think tank policy elites that the war was a just war – that is, all but Jessica Matthews at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Cato’s chair, the late Bill Niskkanen, both of whom dared to object.

Now, as we enter another year of the endless Afghan war (Brian McFadden, the Times’s smart political cartoonist, sent a greeting: “Happy Anniversary! Afghanistan. 14 years and you’re more intractable than ever”) not much has changed except that a few more American VIPS now dare question American Exceptionalism and the fantasy of regime change. After all, it was US involvement in Afghanistan and its invasion of Iraq which helped produce the chaos, mass deaths, ISIS, and indirectly that 3-year-old Kurdish boy, the child of desperate refugees, lying dead on a Greek beach.  We could do much worse than read Gareth Porter, one of our more acute and thus ignored specialists on the Middle Eastern disaster, whose online Truthdig article, “Why the US Owns the Rise of Islamic State and the Syrian Disaster” is worth a hundred columns by our punditocracy. The late great NY Times writer David Carr understood better than his paper’s Op Ed-ers that, “while America was done with Iraq” “Iraq was not done with America, not by a long shot.” Had he lived he could just as well have said “Middle East.”

(My conscript father served as a combat soldier in Imperial Russia’s terrible WWI army and after the Bolshevik Revolution was dragooned into White General Kornilov’s pro-Tsarist, anti-Red force, where he told me, he witnessed horrendous brutality on all sides, a familiar Middle Eastern sight today).

 Now hard-line Putin, no liberator he, has entered the game. What’s he up to, “experts” around the world keep asking? No doubt Putin and his own resident hawks, with no apparent domestic dissent (so far) are pushing him to keep in mind Russia’s historic Middle Eastern role while reminding him as well of the need to save Assad and the Alawite and Christian minorities and by doing so, demonstrate with force of arms that his Russia is no longer a Yeltsin-Gorbachev pushover. But Russia’s entry also demonstrates that there are no good guys and bad guys in this dangerous game of Russian Roulette. Putin has challenged the US, which since the end of WWII, has believed – with virtually no dissent at home – that the Middle East is its exclusive playing field.

In the region’s complex and intricate tangle of religious and political rivalries, Shiite Iraq, Iran, Assad’s Syria, Hezbollah and Russia, now welcomed by Egypt’s authoritarians because of its contempt for the Muslim Brotherhood in its midst, have formed a de facto alliance opposed to the US, and its “coalition,” including Turkey, a member of NATO but mainly concerned with keeping the Kurds in check along with Sunni Persian Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, both of whom are ready to fight until the last American soldier.  If necessary, even repentant remnants of Al Qaeda and its Nusra Front, once considered by the US to be terrorists, might be recruited if things get really dicey.

Meanwhile, America’s hawks, safe and secure at home, are fuming, assuring themselves that “We Are (Still) Number One.” They’d love to send the troops in again (but never their own kids) but are afraid of a quagmire or defeat, and, naturally, political retribution at home. Their latest chestnut is calling for a “no-fly” zone, never explaining how it would deter Russian aircraft. So everyone holds fast to the unworkable “Assad must go,” policy before  considering any possibility of a  US-Russian compromise to jointly fight ISIS and only after worrying about persuading Assad to retire to a beautiful Swiss resort.

At least the hard-pressed Obama has (so far) rejected the idiocy emanating from his hawkish critics. “Half-baked ideas as if they are solutions or trying to downplay the challenges involved in the situation,” he said. “What I’d like to see people ask, specifically, precisely, what exactly would you do and how long would you fund it and how would you sustain  it? And typically, what you get is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.”

We need to look elsewhere for different views. David Shipler, who once covered Israel for the Times and managed to come away clear-headed now writes his insightful online Shipler Report. He points out there have been important understandings between 0bama and Putin (possible precedents?), most notably saving Obama from his “red line” blunder about bombing Damascus for its alleged use of chemicals as weapons (still unproven) and both supporting the  5+1 Iran Agreement.

Then there’s Charles Glass, former ABC News Chief Middle East Correspondent who wrote Syria Burning: ISIS the Death of the Arab Spring. Glass, whose maternal grandmother was born in a locale now part of Syria, wrote in the New York Review of Books that, heading into the sixth year of the Syrian civil war, “Neither side has the power to defeat the other.”

Recently returned from Damascus, he worries about the “savagery from all sides in what has become an apocalyptic struggle for dominance and survival,” where the US has “encouraged the opposition [to Assad] from the very beginning,” thus helping to trigger the civil war, which has become a “free-for-all in which everyone pursues his own interests to the detriment of the Syrians themselves,” who are suffering “unimaginable torment.” And more: “The regime’s security services practice torture on an industrial scale. Both sides besiege villages and both sides commit massacres” and Glass asks, no, pleads, that the civil war be stopped.”What are they waiting for?”

It’s an optimistic dream. War trumps peace in today’s Middle East. There are mountains of money to be made and shipped to secret bank accounts, ancient religious feuds to be settled with mass murders, Great Power muscles to be flexed, and political reputations to be burnished. There is no easy way out, let alone caring about the fate of the shattered and demoralized Syrian people. Far easier to imagine that in the bowels of the Pentagon nuclear plans are being drawn, when and if ordered. No doubt the Russians are doing the same.

Dmitry Kiselyov, director of the TV network Russia Segodnya, pulled no punches. “Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the US into radioactive ash.” Yes, Dmitry, my friend, but two crazies can play the same game. 

Sarajevo anyone, but this time with nukes?              

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153679 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153679 0
Policymakers in DC Are Once Again Scaring Hell Out of the American People Murray Polner is HNN’s senior book review editor and a blogger.

In 1947 Michigan’s Senator Arthur Vandenberg advised the ill-equipped President Harry Truman on the eve of the Cold War that the best way to convince the public to support cold and hot wars was “scaring the hell out of Americans.”  Truman “did just that,” wrote Robert Mann in  his first-rate A Grand Delusion: America’s Descent into Vietnam, by “painting a picture of a world teetering toward communist domination.” With an ample supply of “enemies” readily available it’s been the Holy Grail since then, leading directly to our valiant victories over the military behemoths of Grenada and Panama, and then on to Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many more to come.

The New York Times recently featured an article which, for a newspaper that once served as Bush-Cheney’s echo when it initially backed the invasion of Iraq  — and later apologized because it claimed their sources got it wrong—was headlined, “Despite Cuts, Army Is Alert for Threats In Europe." An ominous sentence cited “an expanding effort to deter the latest threats [sic] from Russia with a fraction of the forces it had once deployed across the continent.” That’ll scare ‘em.

Undeterred, the paper followed up with another (leaked?) piece, claiming Putin’s Russia is militarily stronger than previously believed, both articles implying that we are short of more “defense” money, more weapons, more nukes and more contracts for our Merchants of Death. But since conventional journalism sometimes requires two sides to an argument someone happily inserted a brief protestation in the first article by quoting a rare critic, Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat: “We should not continue to subsidize the defense of wealthy European nations against a Soviet threat that ceased to exist two decades ago.”

But who ever heard of Polis or even Jacob Hornberger, a libertarian editor, who wondered in his blog, “How can anyone still be an interventionist?”—especially after decades of military failures.

Easy. Never forget Arthur Vandenberg’s counsel and add in plenty of satanic foes and then spread the word in schools, mass media, and by opportunistic pundits, politicians and presidents.

Not to be outdone, a column in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, the flagship of American Capitalism & Exceptionalism, fretted about the Chinese danger arising in the mysterious East where “the credibility of America’s security guarantees to its Asian allies is on the line.” At least the writer had the good sense to warn that a war with China “would be unlike any America has faced since WWII.”

Still, with the possible exception of the Iran Agreement, regime change and reliance on military muscle remain the favored  solution in a Washington swarming with Chicken Hawks eager to send your soldier-kids to foreign lands armed with wonderfully innovative and sophisticated killing machines designed to tell the world that America’s “credibility” remains the last best hope of mankind, which Kevin Phillips once put down when he rejected talk of an invasion of Iraq in the American Conservative magazine  as “a war-policy recklessness that makes Barry Goldwater look like Mahatma Gandhi.”

David Brooks, the Times’s philosophical Burkean conservative, added his own mournful latter-day lament from on high about those glorious years when America owned the world. “The United States,” wrote Brooks in his Times column, “is no longer willing to occupy the commanding heights and oversee global order.” Not so fast, David. The US military is in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, not to mention Ukraine, the Baltic States and the waters close by Putin’s Russia, as well around the globe in hundreds of military bases.

But I like best the way the late Charley Reese, a Menckenesque iconoclast and longtime Orlando Sentinel columnist who asked, at the height of the Vietnam War, if his readers were willing to send their kids to their local recruiting station.

“There is an easy way to assess foreign policy initiatives such as making defense commitments or sending American troops on foreign missions,” wrote Reese. “First of all, determine the objective. Then ask yourself these two questions: Would you be willing to die to achieve this objective? Would you be willing to see my children die to achieve this objective? If the answers are no, then oppose it.”

So be wary of our many right, center and left hawks who are willing to send your son or daughter to war while their own dwell in safety. Ask our pugnacious home front warriors what, precisely, they and their family are prepared to sacrifice in our next war. But please don’t expect an answer.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153683 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153683 0
Are We Going to Go to War Over the Spratly Islands?

Combat ship USS Fort Worth patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

It was all reminiscent of that historic American milestone in 2004 when President George W. Bush, wearing an Air Force suit that made him resemble a genuine combat veteran, stood proudly on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner triumphantly heralding another “Mission Accomplished” for the world’s “indispensible” nation.

So too in November 2015 when Ashton (Ash) Carter, our Defense Secretary, was on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt warning the Chinese that the US means business if they dare interfere with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and our domination of the region now and into the future.

The US had recently dispatched a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese islet in the Spratly Archipelago, some of whose barren and rocky islets are claimed by the Chinese but also by other Southeastern Asian nations who expect the US military and its “boots on the ground” to fight and if necessary die on their behalf in the event of war.

“Teddy Roosevelt’s presence there and our visit is a symbol of our commitment to our rebalance [to Asia] and the importance of the Asia-Pacific to the United States,” Carter declared, somehow overlooking that the real Teddy loved war, I mean he LOVED it, that is until his son died in WWI.

 Still, given the oil and natural gas reserves in the area plus the extensive presence of commercial shipping and fishing, President Obama added, “The United States will continue to sail, fly and operate anywhere that international law involves.” Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen didn’t question Obama’s judgment, but he wisely advised prudence. “It does no good for the region if there are incidents.”

Certainly, the defense of freedom of navigation is vital but sending in well-armed warships repeatedly, as the US says it will do, while relying on Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” is ominous since an increasingly muscular China is doing what others did to it when they were smitten by dreams of empire. Sorry, but it’s no longer Boxer Rebellion time.

But there’s more. What if the Chinese lobbed a few shells at the next warship they spy inside their claimed 12-mile zone? 0r if Chinese hardliners (they have them too) violate Alaska’s territorial limits as they did in 2012 or even one day risk an improbable challenge to our sainted if tainted Monroe Doctrine by sending a few warships for a Gulf of Mexico cruise defying  US domination of South and Central America? Other than our fuming legion of pugnacious home-bound patriots who demand action (“War hath no fury like a non-combatant” presciently observed the British journalist and WWI combat officer Charles Edward Montague) what could the US do?

China now has plenty of nukes as do its putative Russian and North Korean allies, so who is fooling whom? Would the US actually go to war over Spratly’s islets and freedom of navigation in a distant sea? (Would China, close by?) If not, why is the United States making idle threats? The truth is the powerlessness of nuclear powers to fight one another and win, let alone survive. Before he became President, Ronald Reagan said the US could fight and win a limited nuclear war, a notion that was and remains insane. In Asia (as with Putin’s Russia and Ukraine), the war business has changed drastically and a new game plan is desperately needed before things get out of control.

There are no easy answers to complex situations compounded by extreme nationalism and widespread ignorance. Standing on warships and talking tough while invoking Teddy’s Big Stick mantra will no longer wash. So how about a little quiet diplomacy? If it appears to be working between Washington and Tehran why not also Washington and Beijing (and Moscow too)?

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153690 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153690 0
Quicksand: Or How and Why the U.S. Created its Very Own Middle Eastern Quagmire

Official US Army Image

When I read that Dick Cheney was memorialized in marble in the U.S. Capital’s Emancipation Hall and that George W. Bush has been earning big bucks for making speeches since he left the White House, I thought of Gore Vidal’s incomparable description of our nation as “The U.S. of Amnesia.”

And then following the Paris and San Bernardino killings a NY Times/CBS Poll of 431 Republican primary voters and 384 Democratic primary voters reported that Americans are suffering from “a deep anxiety” and “gnawing sense of dread” A few days later the newspaper added “an existential fear of foreign infiltration, unfamiliar minorities and terrorist attacks.”

So it’s now official gospel: Americans are scared and whenever the next terrorist act occurs, temperatures will soar, and as our past bears out, bad things will surely happen as ambitious  politicians, goaded by the mass media, rush to avenge the criminals, guilty or not. Meanwhile, the morally and politically myopic men and women who  entrapped us in a no-win Greater Middle Eastern hornet’s nest will continue advising our leaders how to beat ISIS and finally win our never-ending wars.

But how, precisely, to accomplish that remains a tricky and elusive problem. Since we have no significant allied Arab or Western ground forces on the scene, what to do? Dispatch once more hundreds of thousands of our troops back to the cradle of civilization and then, victorious, hang around for a few more decades as unwanted occupiers? Or maybe just carpet bomb everything and everyone?

Before they took the plunge into Afghanistan and Iraq, the American political-imperial class, comprised of both parties’ hawks, can-do think tankers and neocons spoiling for a war fought with your kids, not theirs, neither knew nor cared about injecting the U.S. military into remote and enduring religious conflicts between Sunni and Shia, which by now have helped wreck Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen.

Those still dreaming of America as the region’s master are imperial descendants of the whiz kids who dragged us into the Middle East in 1953 (the democratically elected Iranian president Mohammed Mossadegh ousted by the CIA and the British) and again in 1990 (the Persian Gulf War) and 2003 (Saddam and his WMDs). As the wars continue with no solutions even remotely in sight, wouldn’t it be nice if some smart elites recognized, as they finally did in Vietnam, that it was their political class who took us into war and then decided to call a halt to the bloodshed?.

But that won’t happen, at least not yet. Now, with the entirely unexpected emergence of ISIS, more war is the name of the game. It’s being fought with an imaginary coalition of Arab nations against ISIS, but in reality it’s basically American guns, Special Forces and bombers plus a handful of French and British aircraft and a German frigate. With the West recklessly tiptoeing into a new Cold War, Russian efforts in Syria are dismissed, because we are advised by Washington and the mass media to hate Putin, no angel he, but whose decision to bomb is less to save Assad than to keep its restive Caucasus Muslims in line and above all remind the U.S. and its NATO agents that they won’t be intimidated by efforts to encircle them in Europe and that they too have lots of nukes.

The real problem, then, is that the U.S. has no feasible strategy or goal other than killing as many ISIS members as possible. If that doesn’t work, then there is no Plan B because most of the six Arab coalition members are fighting or suspiciously eyeing one another. Some even send money and weapons to ISIS. And no Arab state is willing to jeopardize its vital interests by sending ground forces to fight on America’s behalf. Assad’s army is battling ISIS and Syrian “moderates” alike and while he’s no bargain, there aren’t many Arab leaders either who can make Amnesty International’s A-list.

It’s time to abandon our disastrous obsession that we can do anything we wish to anyone we wish and get away with it. Maybe against Grenada and Panama but against who else these days? For the time being, though, there is simply no easy way out of the Greater Middle Eastern mess we alone created.  

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153699 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153699 0
My Memorable Seven Men To Do Justly: The Life and Times of Henry Schwarzschild Trailer from Jacob Condon on Vimeo.

This post is by Murray Polner, a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

At the close of every year editors like to list the previous year’s most famous crimes, deaths, scandals, and never-ending political and military battles. So allow me, at age 87, to offer my own list of six heroic people, four of whom I knew. I want to remember them because in different ways they refused to surrender to the liars, frauds and chicken hawks that manipulate and distort our lives.

1. Ronald Boston and His Family. Ronald was a student in the high school where I taught during the sixties. I remember him as a shy, intense African American boy, curious and interested in my subject, Social Studies. After graduation he was drafted. Months later, my ailing and Alzheimer-afflicted mother was in a nursing home where her attendant ironically turned out to be Ronald’s mother. One day, while visiting my mom, she called me aside.  My sister had told her that I knew her son. “I had a dream last night,” she began, “and I dreamed Ronnie was dead.” Nonsense, I assured her, most soldiers, as I had, return safe and sound. Not long after news arrived that Ronald had been killed in Vietnam. Much later I wrote a short piece about him and several years after that I received an unexpected reply from his sister.

“My name is Cathy R. Boston,” read her email. “I am the sister of Ronald Boston. Our niece found your piece on the web so I decided to write you a short email to say thank you for writing and remembering.

“My mom and dad never recovered. In fact, the family never recovered from Ronald’s death. The subsequent ‘wars’ have been protested in this household and will continue to be protested. Please do not give up the fight as I have not.”

2. M.L. Rosenthal. Mac was a poet, critic, NYU professor of English and Present Tense’s poetry editor, a magazine I once edited. He brought a sharp eye and fiercely independent mind to modern poets such as Yeats, Frost, Pound, Eliot and William Carlos Williams but also to his own work as well. Raised in a Yiddish-speaking Chicago household, he never genuflected before wrongheaded authority. Here is a poem he brought to the magazine by Dan Pagis, an Israeli poet, a poem which in very few words summed up the effort to eradicate the Jews of Europe.

Here in the carload

I am eve

With Abel my son

If you see my other son

Cain son of man

Tell him i

And Mac’s even shorter version:

Near the Wailing Wall

An old women standing in the sum

Head hanging

And then this gem by Mac at his angriest, saddest, most frustrating and yet still hopeful.

Dear God, whose existence has yet to be determined, let alone justified. We’ll forgive you only if You’ll show Yourself and admit that Creation's out of hand. You’ve tried it all-- Christianity, Judaism, Manichaeism, Buddhism, Islam, deism, antidisestablishmentarianism, what not—and nothing has worked. Or, alternatively, could you just cause all the pompous chatter to vanish? Could you, please, let us start all over again with, say, antibiotics and a few cures for  cancer, AIDS, religious and nationalist killers and the madness of creeds and ideologies?

And finally this closing of his poem referring to the senseless deaths of soldiers and “the orators extolling the silent, sacrificed dead.”

A blackout of the heart undercuts all reasons

The ceaseless death-avalanche paralyzes pity

O, presidents, ‘leaders.’ All fighters for ‘justice.’

That is the ‘political problem’ behind all others.

3. Henry Schwarzschild. I knew Henry well. He reminded me that “Jews are defined by neither doctrine nor credo but by task. That task is to redeem the world through justice, here and now, in our own city, our own state, our own country, not because our well-being depends on it, but because Judaism does.”

He was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, taken to Berlin by his parents after Kristallnacht because they thought it was safer and then they reached the U.S. in 1939 when he was 14.

He organized the ACLU’s program for amnesty for Vietnam War refuseniks. A razor-sharp polemicist, he berated the hypocrisy of a Congress and White House eager to absolve the men who led us into an unnecessary war but would not extend the same generosity to those who refused to serve. Before a congressional committee he ridiculed the politicians whose sons never wore a military uniform but who opposed amnesty for those who refused to fight. Who really broke the law, he would ask anyone and everyone, prominent and obscure? “Amnesty, he said, “would be a noble act. We have not had many noble acts from our government in a long time.”

He despised the death penalty. I once asked him how he found the strength to visit and fight for doomed men on death rows. He had heard this question asked many times. Someone had do to it, he said. In New Hampshire during a presidential primary campaign he learned that Bill Clinton, then the Arkansas governor, had left New Hampshire to authorize the execution of an inmate with a 68 IQ. Henry encountered Clinton at a tree planting/political ceremony while another execution in Arkansas was pending and approached him. “You won’t remember the tree but you’ll remember the people you executed.” Henry said he didn’t oppose the death penalty because he liked alleged murderers but because after Auschwitz and Hiroshima, he was against granting governments the license to execute its citizens.

 In 1961 he was arrested for taking part in an early Freedom Ride (his wife was a southerner) but returned South regularly and formed a group of pro bono lawyers to defend blacks and whites arrested and imprisoned for daring to demand the right to vote and protest. He never gave up.

4. Henry Spira. When I first met this genial, ferociously autonomous animal rights man I quickly understood why he had chosen to devote his life clashing with humans and institutions numb and indifferent to the brutalization and exploitation of animals. Or as the great Yiddish writer and Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer put it, “For animals every day is Treblinka.” Henry Spira so loved the quote that he read all the Singer books I sent him. When Singer won the Nobel Prize for Literature I threw a party to celebrate the writer. With Henry in the audience I asked Singer why he was a vegetarian. “Because I like chickens,” he answered.  

I first met Henry outside the Museum of Natural History on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Henry was leading a long parade of men and women demonstrating against the museum’s twenty year practice of experimentation on cats — he preferred calling it torturing and mutilating— to study their sexual lives. On that day Henry was my picket partner and we spoke about his campaigns against corporate America and how he was dedicated to informing people how many of their everyday products, cosmetics, for example, were using animal ingredients. He relied on picket lines and nonviolent pressures on manufacturers. In time, many companies simply gave up, accepting Henry’s mantra that their businesses would be best served by not alienating large numbers of its customers. Another of his other successful campaigns – he had failures too, such as protecting the billions of animals raised and killed for food –was persuading public opinion that the toxic Draize and L-D 50 not be used on helpless animals.

He arrived as a young man from Belgium and joined the Merchant Marine. A union man, he soon turned rebel union seaman, editing a newspaper battling union corruptors and their thugs. Sturdy and confident, physically and mentally strong enough to fend off threats, the experience taught him how to resist the bosses and their sycophants and how to organize the opposition.

He also began looking at animal rights groups who’d been competing for attention and money for decades and decided that it only doomed them to small, transient victories. For him, some half-way victories could bring faster relief to the sufferers. He allied with Temple Grandin, who had devised less painful, less stressful, means of slaughter. She couldn’t stop the mass killing any more than Americans could be persuaded overnight to become vegetarians. People, they argued, wanted to eat meat but did the slaughter have to be so appalling, so agonizing? With Henry’s full support, Grandin, a true humanitarian, convinced large abattoirs to adopt her less excruciating methods. Some long-established animal people took exception to his half-way approach and thought Henry was on a fool's errand. But not Peter Singer, the Australian ethicist and Princeton teacher of moral philosophy and author of the seminal book “Animal Liberation” who wrote an admiring biography of Henry.

When Henry came to my 70th birthday party he was dying of cancer. I told the guests how honored I was by the presence of so brave a voice for the voiceless.

5. James Kutcher. I saw him only once and that was inside a bookshop. We did not talk but I knew who he was. I never saw him again. Even so, he was hard to forget. He’d been a member of the miniscule Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party. Drafted during WWII, he lost both his legs in the Italian campaign. When he was fitted with prosthetics he returned home to live with his working class parents in their federal low-cost housing project in Newark. The VA then hired him for $40 a week.

Then his troubles began. In 1949 the VA fired him because he and his party were “subversives,” a word with no legal meaning but a favorite weapon of governments eager to do away with dissent and dissenters.

No easy mark, Kutcher fought back. In his book, The Case of the Legless Veteran, which was originally published by a small British house in 1953 because no mainstream American publisher would dare touch it during the fevered wave of anti-Communism that swept the Republic lest its appearance on their lists bring the Inquisitors down on them? The book opened with Kutcher’s modest disclaimer: "In most respects I am an ordinary man. I have no special talents. I never showed any capacity for leadership.” Maybe so, but he was no Casper Milquetoast. He was tougher and braver than his craven pursuers.

He chose to go public about his firing. Harold Russell, his onetime hospital buddy who lost his hands in the war and had played the wounded returning sailor in the popular postwar film “The Best Years of Our Lives” came to his defense as did a few non-communist unions and civil libertarians like Murray Kempton in the pre-Murdoch, once  liberal New York Post.  He would eventually win back his job with the VA.

During his long ordeal he and his family received another gift from their landlord, the public housing authority. It ordered them to sign a loyalty oath swearing that no-one in the family had belonged to any of the 203 groups on the U.S. Attorney General's list of “subversive” organizations—a list compiled without any of the groups allowed the right to defend themselves in a court of law or even  challenge the “evidence.”

Once again, Kutcher would not give in and he recruited the ACLU, which then persuaded a court to issue a restraining order saving the Kutcher and eleven other families’ apartments, all of whom had refused to swear they were loyal Americans.

Kutcher, who quit the SWP in 1983, set his sight on three targets. The U.S. Government, opportunistic and scurrilous profiteers of the anti-Red crusade, and the Communist Party. When the U.S. used the Smith Act to indict and imprison eighteen SWP leaders in 1943, the Communist Party cheered since Trotsky and their beloved Stalin had been implacable enemies. But when their own leaders were sent to prison for violating the same infamous Smith Act they denounced the charges as a profound challenge to civil freedom.  In 1969, a west coast Communist newspaper returned to the old wars and again turned on Kutcher. “What is being touted as the ‘case of the legless vet’ as a real test case for civil liberties hadn’t the remotest connection with the defense of civil rights.” No matter their moral dishonesty. James Kutcher, a genuine Cold War hero, was a better man than all his enemies.

6. Robert Friedman. I was in my office when the  building’s security chief phoned. A young man had left a parcel for me and since the building owners and its insurers were careful about unsolicited packages he asked if I wanted it. I did, and found an article typed on loose-leaf, lined school notebook paper.

The writer was Robert Friedman, a Jewish kid from Colorado (many of his subsequent critics said he couldn’t be a Jew because he wrote so critically about certain Israeli policies). He had studied and worked in Israel and later wrote a biography of Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League—once declared a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel. Both baseball fans, Robert and the American-born Kahane had developed an odd relationship. Visiting and reporting from Israel, Robert predicted early on that with the election in 1977 of the Jabotinsky devotee and Likkudnik Menachem Begin as Prime Minister, Israel would begin moving to the right, which of course it has under Netanyahu. For his labors, Robert was severely beaten one or more times  by Israeli right-wingers.

But the Greater Middle East was his territory too.  He wandered about Palestinian areas on the West Bank and East Jerusalem and witnessed and wrote about the corruption and paralysis of its leaders. He traveled widely, often accompanied by his wife Christine Dugas, a USA Today reporter. In Syria he learned about the savagery of Assad senior, the current Syrian leader's father. Back home, Robert was unwelcomed by the organized Jewish community because he dared to question many aspects of Israel at a time when relatively few American Jews did but at the same time was welcomed by the once-vibrant Village Voice, New York Times, New York magazine and Present Tense.

I asked him about his sources and he smiled at my naiveté. “I know people, even in the FBI and intelligence groups,” he said, mysteriously. It paid off when he broke the story of the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and then cautioned that the country wasn't paying enough attention to more serious threats ahead. He next turned to the Russian mobsters who had arrived claiming to be political refugees. He said his Italian Mafia sources had initially given him some contacts but warned him that the Russians were too dangerous, too brutal, even for them. Still, he forged ahead, visiting their haunts in Brooklyn and Miami and environs, but always tense when dealing with them. The Russian Mafia put out a $100,000 contract on his life, which he detailed in his subsequent book, Red Mafiya.

In 1996, on assignment in India trying to expose sexual slavery, which he believed had helped produce and spread AIDS, he was infected with a rare blood disease, which eventually killed him. On 9/11, we called off a lunch date at a restaurant in the World Trade Center. A few days before, though terribly weakened by his ailment, he told me he had helped a cop chase down a robber.

7. Rabbi Charles Mantinband, Southern Rabbi. In the mid-seventies I was roaming the puzzling state of Mississippi (at least to Blue staters) doing research for a book I was writing.  Before heading south I read W.J. Cash’s Mind of the South. Cash, a non-Jew, wrote that Mississippi Jews were considered “aliens even when their fathers had fought in the Confederate armies … a butt and a scapegoat as old as Christianity.” In a region intensely zealous about their religion, many Southerners still believed Jews had killed Jesus.

On the way down I visited the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati and found a memo by a student rabbi in a Mississippi synagogue. He had been to Starkville, where Mississippi State University was located, and watched as thousands of students and townspeople were cheering on the hanging of a Confederate flag on the main flagpole. Nearby, from the limbs of two massive oak trees he saw JFK and James Meredith hanging in effigy.  The student rabbi wanted to write about the chilling scene he had witnessed. “I saw hate, destruction and the will to kill,” he wrote. Moreover, his part-time congregation, racial “moderates” in those years, was badly frightened by the possibility of violence.

It was in this strange world that I wandered about until reaching Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where I learned about its onetime rabbi, Charles Mantinband. “Jewish life is pleasant and easy in Mississippi,” he wrote. But then came Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Riders, black and white.

Mantinband grew up in Virginia and served small Jewish congregations in Florence, Sheffield and Huntsville, Alabama, and finally, Hattiesburg, until he was fired because he publicly supported the civil rights movement. He died in 1974, blind, almost eighty, forgotten.

Here is vintage Southern-born Mantinband:

“From the very beginning I had to make up my mind what I would do. I vowed that I would never sit in the presence of bigotry and hear it uttered. And when they would say to me, 'God is a segregationist because the Bible is full of it' I always ripped out a Bible and I’d open it to wherever the opposite is stated and say, 'you mean here? Or do you mean there? Or do you mean some other place?’ ”

It’s easy to dismiss his approach as mere talk. But the lawless ran the state. “A closed society,” wrote the intrepid James Silver, an Ole Miss historian. Hattiesburg in the’50s and ‘60s was Klan and Citizens Council country. One hundred and seventy-five Jews lived there, having risen from peddler-storekeeper to the upper middle class and even merchant prince status. Mantinband was quite aware of their dependence on the goodwill of whites and understood their fear of rampaging white mobs. Yet when asked to join the Citizens Council, he said no. 

During those dangerous and turbulent years he was a different breed from virtually all the state’s Christian and Jewish clergy (save the Jackson and Vicksburg rabbis): Outspoken, unafraid, a man of deeply-held ethical standards who refused to be comfortable with the bigotry that came so easily to many of Hattiesburg’s respectable white citizens. More than any other southern rabbi Mantinband publicly took the side of the oppressed. He called Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney “innocent martyrs” and praised “my good friend Medgar Evers.” When a synagogue board member asked him why Black people were welcomed in his home he answered, “we have things in common.” And  shortly after the 1958 bombing of the Atlanta synagogue, he was threatened. The head of the local Citizens Council, a former Hattiesburg mayor, an active Presbyterian and banker, told the Citizens Council that he was the trouble maker. “And I know his habits, where he lives. If you want to get him….” Mantinband's recollections of this incident are in his papers in the American Jewish Archives where he says he told the ex-mayor he would write out exactly what was said to him  and send it to the FBI “and say you threatened me. If anything happens to me in the next ten years I’m going to call for your arrest for creating the climate [of hate].” He happily noted: “That fellow never looked me in the face again because I had called his hand.”

In February 1963, after his dismissal, Rabbi Leo Bergman of New Orleans’ Touro synagogue was sent by the Conference of Christians and Jews to speak at a final dinner in Mantinbad’s honor, an affair most Hattiesburg Jews skipped,. “Later,” commented Rabbi Bergman in a sermon at Touro, “I was told they [the town Jews] feared Rabbi Mantinband’s religious honesty endangered their business interests.”

And, finally, “Courage,” by the poet Margaret R. Saraco.

How does it feel to be a lone wolf walking

Through a green forest on a dark silhouetted night

Wolf, do you hear your own footsteps sound

Or, do you bristle at slight tremors

Made from other creatures who watch

Waiting for you to falter

Fall, lay down and

Die, will you 

Keep to your

Path

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153707 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153707 0
A Few Women vs. The Greatest Superpower the World Has Ever Known

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

“Before one more mother’s child is lost.” - Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in the Bush-Cheney-Neocon war in Iraq.

Many women have always played crucial roles  supporting, worrying about, and grieving for their family  members while others have actively opposed our historic addiction to war. Some of the women I write about here are fairly well-known but others are not.

Naomi Goodman. My wife Louise says we can only hope to grasp glimpses of another’s life, especially their hidden, private inner life.  Naomi Goodman, my friend and colleague, died at age 85 in 2005 and I delivered a eulogy at her memorial service. But I think Louise was right about Naomi, whose public life was well known in feminist and anti-war, anti-draft circles but little was known about her innermost feelings  until her poetry, about which I knew nothing were published soon after she died.

I first met her during the Vietnam years when she was serving with the National Council to Repeal the Draft, a coalition of left and right groups trying to end conscription, which only whetted the appetite of our resident warmakers. I stopped by to ask her about some young men—really, boys—I was draft counseling. We then went to a nearby luncheonette and I told her that I’d been a pacifist since the day I was honorably discharged from the army. I had nothing against the army or my fellow soldiers only the psychopaths in Washington and elsewhere who loved war so long as they and their kids never served.  I also told her I was looking for a Jewish group which closely reflected my views and which counseled Jew and non-Jews alike.

I learned she was “an active pacifist and feminist historian,” as someone described her to me, and that she was involved with the Jewish Peace Fellowship (JPF), a group founded in 1941 to defend the interests and rights of WWII Jewish COs who had been condemned by most American Jewish organizations and often abandoned by their families. The JPF was committed to active nonviolence, drawing on the Torah and the Talmud and Jewish ideals and experience which offered inspiration for a nonviolent way of life. Martin Buber, Judah Magnes and Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel, Abraham Cronbach, Isidor Hoffman and Leo Baeck, Berlin’s last rabbi before the cattle cars arrived.

For many years she was the JPF’s president, where she favored a two-state solution for the interminable, intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She and I were invited to Brandeis University and schools and synagogues and churches to present our views. We co-edited two books, “The Challenge of Shalom: The Jewish Tradition of Peace and Justice” and “Nonviolent Activist: The Heart & Mind of Edward Feder.” She and JPF member Henry Schwarzschild worked against the death penalty and she always fought for political and peaceful solutions. During Reagan’s undeclared war in Central America, when the former actor was calling Central American murderers “freedom fighters,” she would only buy coffee gown in Nicaragua. More importantly, her friends came in all skin colors.

Outwardly quiet, unassuming, she was never intimidated and insisted that, while American Jews need to maintain their ties with Israel the plight of Palestinians could not be dismissed. My wife and I and hundreds of thousands of others marched with her in demonstrations and parades protesting our many wars, Naomi always proudly carrying JPF’s banner. Elsewhere, she stood for “Pacifism, not Passivism—Feminism Not Pseudo-Machismo.” She also took time to celebrate the memory of Jeanette Rankin, the sadly forgotten Republican Montana pacifist congresswoman who, together  with 56 members of Congress, opposed entry into WWI and later stood alone against war with Japan.

Percival, her loving husband, was an eminent architect of synagogues and community centers across the U.S., the designer of NY’s Jewish Museum, and a pioneering and daring urban planner who, with his polymath brother Paul, addressed the ecological and human needs of ordinary women and men in their book “Communitas.” Yet I also remember her telling me that in all the years of meetings and parties and engagements with the prominent primarily male intellectuals she interacted with, no one ever asked for her opinion.

But of course she had plenty of opinions. As a member of the Institute for Research in History she published "Images of Women in Judaism: Male Control of Women’s Reproductive Functions as documented in the 0ld Testament,” where she argued that Hebrew Scriptures considered the main function of women to be producing children (Naomi had a son and daughter).  Women, however, were powerless, since the males developed such controls to fortify their male-only religious system.

In her friend Taylor Stoehr’s preface to Naomi’s slim volume, “On Borrowed Times; Poems of Two Centuries,” he wrote that superficially they seemed obsessed with death and despair and the wrench of loss and subsequent loneliness. But, Stoehr shrewdly added, “Naomi has not spent her life brooding.” Peace, freedom for political prisoners, racial justice, women’s rights, biblical scholarship (she even co-edited a cookbook, “The Good Book Cook Book”) her poems remind us of “the courage necessary to affirm life and humanity in world full of suffering and death.”

Two of Naomi’s poems that illustrate her rich life:

“A Saint Sat in Our Living Room” (after a visit by Thich Nanh Hanh, “self-exiled leader of Vietnam’s pacifist Buddhists,” to her  West 77th Street apartment in Manhattan.

Squirming on the foam-cushioned, comfort-angled chair

And said: You have many things of beauty

He spoke without envy

He spoke without judgment

And left me with guilt.

 Guilt for the curve of the tropical palm leaf

Growing greenly in the artificial heat.

Guilt for the life, the extras, the leisure

That permitted the creation of art objects Amid the improbable plants

Sixteen stories above the dirty street

I was embarrassed for our ease.

*******

And  for  all women:

“Women Must Live Longer”

To have equal time

Since they have so much more to do;

Years of bearing,

Years of caring for the children

(Birth is not an equally opportunity employer),

And for the others:

Fathers, sisters, brothers, friends,

Husbands,nieces, nephews,cousins;

They haven’t spent time in dailyness,

Drowning in the details

Of others’ lives,

Mothers have to live longer

To have the same time men have

For themselves.

So….

   “Choose Life

    So that you and your children

    Will live.”

     (Women’s anti- Vietnam War poster)

Sister Megan Rice. After spending two years in prison for entering and defacing a nuclear facility, 85 year old Sister Megan Rice, a nun of the Roman Catholic Society of the Holy Child and her co-defendants, army veterans Michael Walli, 66, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 59, were released in May 2015 by Order of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

And their crime? Cutting a hole in a barbed wire fence in one of Oak Ridge’s ultra-secret national security sites on July 28, 2012, and then crossing into sacred, prohibited ground, hammering on the Highly Enriched Uranium Material facility and spraying some Biblical graffiti, leaving behind Isaiah’s subversive adage about beating swords into plowshares.

The trio were tried and found guilty in Knoxville and fined $52,053—which the government will obviously never collect since in all probability a nun, a house painter and an unemployed activist do not usually own stocks, bonds or have a hedge fund account.

Jim O’Grady and I wrote “Disarmed and Dangerous,” a biography of Daniel and Philip Berrigan, and the Oak Ridge trio’s project was born of Phil’s idealistic Plowshares brainstorm, which flatly rejected the nuclear arms race. Since the early eighties and nineties some one hundred and women have hammered on and spray-painted MX missiles, Trident submarines, B-52 bombers and components of the strategic nuclear triads, sending lots of them to prison even as they were ignored by a distracted and apathetic nation.

During their federal trial in Knoxville the Judge said he hadn’t found the defendants “contrite.” Kathy Boylan, a longtime peace worker, testified on their behalf and alluded to the Holocaust, quoting Dorothy Day. “If we wouldn’t put people in gas chambers, why would we fling gas chambers at them?’ Interviewed after her release, Sister Megan Rice told the NY Times that  should the feds appeal the verdict and win, and she is returned to prison, “It would be an honor. Good Lord, what would be is better than to die in prison for the anti-nuclear cause?”

And a few more including Daddy Warbuck’s Women….

Maggie, Jill, Molly and Valentine. Inspired by the Berrigans and the Catonsville draft board raid (two of whom were women, Mary Moylan and Marjorie Melville, Maggie Geddes, Jill Boskey, Molly Finnegan and Valentine Green dubbed themselves "Women Against Daddy Warbucks” and raided a draft board in—of all places—Rockefeller Center, tearing up 1-A files and sending them to the head of Dow Chemical and General Lewis Hershey, director of Selective Service. As Jim O’Grady and I wrote in “Disarmed and Dangerous,” they told the two very important men “they were holding in their hands a piece of someone else’s life. The fact that they were female was deliberate. It was the first shot of the modern female antiwar movement. The women were never punished since the investigators spent their time hunting for the men they believed had directed the women.”

Dorothy Day. Anarchist, pacifist, protestor against injustice, saving angel to the desperately poor and homeless, and co-founder of the Catholic Worker, she is now being considered for Sainthood by the Catholic Church. She was initially troubled by the raids, unhappy about the secrecy in which they were hatched and its potential for violence. But in the end she praised Catonsville and the other raids as “an act of liturgy…an act of prayer,” adding, “I have to admire all those who have been participating… they are laying down their lives and going to prison.”

Molly Rush. A married mother of six children and a grandma too, as well as a member of Phil Berrigan's Plowshares movement. She pounded on a warhead nose cone in GE’s nuclear weapons factory and was sent to prison.  Molly co-founded the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh dedicated to raising interest in social justice, militarism, poverty, the rights of working people and of course nuclear arsenals. In an article she later wrote for Christianity and Crisis she explained: "It is not in nuclear weapons that I place my trust. It is not in that world of blindness and fear and hatred where I place my trust.”

Barbara Sonneborn. I never met her but Jeff Hurvitz, her husband, was killed in Vietnam in 1968. In her exquisite and poignant 1999 film “Regret to Inform,” she portrayed the anguish of war widows like herself, Vietnamese and American.  Of her film she said, “Making this has been Jeff’s gift to me. It has expanded my understanding of sorrow and suffering, of love and joy. I want people to see war differently than they’ve seen it before.  I want them to look war in the face, to ask themselves, ‘Am I going to allow this to happen ever again’? I want people to so deeply realize the humanity of other human beings that they won’t be able to kill them.”

Mr. and Mrs. X. For my book “When Can I Come Home?” I spent time with parents whose 23 year old son had fled to Canada rather than serve in a war he despised. His mother, Mrs. X., was completely sympathetic with her son’s decision. She told me how the draft had brought so much misery to families  she had since encountered, people who had never spent much time worrying how a distant foreign policy elite’s policies might possibly affect their kids.  Congressional Quarterly would later report that only fourteen House and Senate members had a son or grandson on active military duty.

Rivka Polner. Mom knew best. She had lived through vicious pogroms and the post-WWI Russian-Polish-Ukrainian civil war and was permanently scarred by her experiences. One day, in 1944, after trying to comfort our next door neighbor whose son had been killed somewhere in Europe, she turned to me and said she could never support any war and hoped I would someday feel the same way too. “Only plain people like us get hurt.”

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153716 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153716 0
Barack Obama: More Hawk Than Dove

This post is by Murray Polner, a blogger, writer and HNN Book Department editor.

In early 2010, one year after Barack Obama was inaugurated as President, the paleo-conservative American Conservative magazine asked me to write an assessment of how he would manage the country’s foreign affairs.

I concluded that, “but for a few crumbs here and there, antiwar views will rarely be welcomed by his White House. And when marginalized antiwar voters complain, the president’s men will remind them that they were told Afghanistan was a ‘necessary war’ and 'national security’ is everything. Plus ca change.”

Yes, there was Obama’s opening to Cuba and there was his major deal with Iran when he managed to stand up to Netanyahu and his American Jewish and non-Jewish sycophants. Otherwise, his hawk side has dominated his dove side, as when he talked about Russia and Ukraine, often sounding more like DC’s gang of war-lovers.

He escalated the permanent war in Afghanistan and Iraq, went ahead with the disastrous intervention in Libya, and relied on drones to assassinate thousands including countless numbers of civilians in the Greater Middle East. He did nothing when the US Navy twice played Russian Roulette in disputed territorial waters near the Spratly Islands while at the same time creating a ring around China which one day could very well lead to yet another failed American Asian war.

He abruptly fired the moderate Republican combat veteran Chuck Hagel without offering any serious explanation and appointed instead a Pentagon insider, a move which probably warmed the hearts of its analysts, clerks and mystery men and women, and also its generals, who have never defeated anyone in a protracted war since 1945 and, for all we know, may be eager to show they know how to “win.”

More ominously, Obama’s policies  threaten nuclear-armed, nationalistic  Russia with American weapons and troops on its borders and neighboring Baltic and Black seas. Would it surprise anyone if some future administration decides to place nuclear weapons on Russia’s doorstep and Russia retaliates, potentially inviting mutual catastrophe.

The Pentagon has recently proclaimed Russia as our Number One enemy, and the U.S. is building a cordon sanitaire around Russia. According to the New York Times, Secretary of Defense Carter has proposed quadrupling military spending in Europe in 2017, “the sheer size of the spending increase seems like a return to the Pentagon’s blank-check ways during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” a budget pleasing to our Merchants of Death, the arms-makers. (“Endless money, the sinews of war, Cicero in Phillippics, V.25, astutely reminded us long ago but with obviously little persuasive power.) Will Obama fight the Pentagon on this, much as he allowed neocon elements in the State Department to openly take sides in Ukraine?  Once our great hope for a different kind of foreign policy, Obama has, with few exceptions, capitulated to our home front warriors and their fellow travelers who truly exemplify Charles Edwards Montague’s hallowed adage: “War hath no fury like combatants.”

Ronald Reagan, who was largely ignorant about foreign affairs, went to Reykjavik, and after he and Gorbachev found common ground faced down his furious neocon critics. Nixon courageously traveled to Beijing. George Kennan and even Kissinger, no less, warned  that Ukraine should never be tied to NATO dreams unless we were ready to fight a nuclear war.

As Obama prepares to depart to write his memoirs, oversee his presidential library, and await the judgment of history, and while his long-disappointed liberal fans now cheer ObamaCare and his final year of worthwhile executive orders dealing with domestic affairs, the rest of us have to wonder whether the seeds of future wars his administration has planted will come to fruition.  

Then there is or was George McGovern. Largely dismissed today because he was swamped in the 1972 presidential race, McGovern, a WWII combat veteran, memorably spoke of America’s criminal  adventure in Vietnam and leveled an unforgettable  accusation against his fellow senators, an indictment which can be applied equally to the Establishment’s  support for today’s wars, and tomorrow’s as well, whenever and wherever a new “enemy” is detected or invented.

“This chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across of the land—young men without legs or arms, or genitals. Or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys  who think this war is a glorious adventure….”

So what might Barack Obama have tried as alternatives to war and intervention?

As commander-in-chief he might have demanded genuine financial accountability in the Pentagon.  He might have tried to push hard for arms control, which is highly preferable to another nuclear arms race. He might have pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan and allowed Middle Eastern states and non-states and its religious groups to settle their differences in their own way and thus saving the lives of an incalculable number of Americans and Middle Eastern civilians.

He might too have explained why we’re still at war. Does anyone really know or even want to know, especially now when we’re on the brink of dispatching ever more “boots on the ground?”

And he might have dared recruit a different breed of advisors willing to support alternatives to the futile status quo. Given his popularity he could also have cultivated the building of peace-oriented coalitions from the millions who marched and worked against the invasions of Iraq and Vietnam.

Perhaps he saw himself as Lincoln, FDR, and George the First. Unfortunately, he was none of them, at least in foreign policy. While he probably meant well, soon after he entered the Oval Office he took on the coloration of the DC’s political elite and their sacred status quo. That will be part of his legacy.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153728 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153728 0
Gorby, Ron and Nancy Too: What Might Have Been

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN's senior Book Department editor.

The first and only time I saw Mikhail Gorbachev was when his motorcade sped down Manhattan's Third Avenue one sunny day in the eighties while tens of thousands cheered the man who was trying to reform his morally and politically bankrupt nation and reduce the threat of cold and hot wars. As his car raced by I raised two fingers in  V, Dove-like, style.

I also saw Ronald Reagan once when I caught sight of him as he and Nancy entered a posh Manhattan hotel for some party bash. The large crowd cheered, but I didn't raise my fingers in salute. I had, after all, voted for the Carter and Mondale.

Who thought then that Gorby the communist, and Ron the hawk, urged on by his shrewd and smart wife to meet and talk with the Russian, would become friends and warm pen pals and more importantly, advocates for a more peaceful, non-nuclear world, as we now definitively know from the release of the Gorbachev File, which marked the Russian's  85th birthday on March 2, 2016, by the non-governmental National Security Archive, which houses an invaluable collection of declassified material.

The Gorbachev File covers once-secret British and American documents from March 1985 to 1991 and especially the Reagan-Gorbachev correspondence. After meeting Gorbachev in London in December 1984, Margaret Thatcher was so taken with him that she wrote Reagan that the Russian was "fully in charge" and "determined to press ahead with his internal reform," except on nuclear abolition, which she opposed but Reagan did not. Still, she told Reagan, whom she liked and admired, "I like Gorbachev. We can do business together."

Three months later, the CIA agreed, accepting that something new and different was happening in the Soviet Union and Gorbachev was "the new broom," a conclusion Washington's unreconstructed cold warriors and especially its neocons, always ready to fight wars with our kids but rarely if ever with theirs, found hard to accept.

But the CIA had its doubts and still considered Gorbachev a "tough" hard-liner who would be a difficult partner at any summit meeting. They believed his "new broom" only applied to domestic affairs, which was an error, comments the National Security Archive, given that, for example, the old Stalinist Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko was soon dumped by the moderate Eduard Shevardnadze, indicating that Gorbachev was in fact concerned with foreign policy.

In 1985, Reagan sent Gorbachev a handwritten letter (Reagan, as we know, was a compulsive, serious writer who kept a diary and  often wrote his own letters, without secretarial help) telling him he was ready "to cooperate in any reasonable way to facilitate" a "Russian removal" from Afghanistan, Moscow's calamitous version of the American debacle in Vietnam.

That same year the two men met for the first time in Geneva. According to the National Security Archive, "both spoke about the mistrust and suspicions of the past and of the need to begin a new stage in U.S.-Soviet relations.... They both spoke about their aversion to nuclear weapons."

Gorbachev quoted the Bible about moving past disagreements and Reagan responded by remarking  that "if the people of the world were to find out that there was some alien life form that was going to attack the Earth approaching on Halley's Comet, then that knowledge would unite all peoples of the world." Here again is the National Security Archive: "The aliens had landed, in Reagan's view, in the form of nuclear weapons, and Gorbachev would remember this phrase, quoting it directly in his famous 'new thinking' speech at the 27th Party Congress in February 1986."

Visibly impressed, Reagan again wrote Gorbachev of his wish to work with him on arms control measures to "provide us with a genuine chance to make progress toward our common ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons," yet another outrage to Washington's entrenched hawks when they learned of Reagan's intentions. They were even more indignant when Reagan invited Gorbachev to a summit in Washington where their friendship deepened.

Gorbachev, obviously pleased, wrote back that the USSR and USA had to maintain peace and "not let things come to the outbreak of nuclear war, which would inevitably have catastrophic consequences for both sides."

Was Reagan, untutored in the intricacies and duplicities of foreign policy, a man who had once played dumb about Iran-Contra and backed a proxy war in Central America simply naive and too trusting? Yet somehow, unknown to his closest aides, let alone his pugnacious supporters, Reagan, the loner, was taken by his fear of a nuclear clash. Their correspondence and the 1986 Reykjavik, Iceland, summit shows them trying to pursue a course which their successors have ignored. NSA's post has Reagan's letters "sometimes personally dictated, even handwritten, explain their positions on arms control, strategic defenses, and the need for nuclear abolition."

When they met in Iceland, they shocked many of their advisors and supporters by agreeing "in principle"  to remove intermediate range nukes from Europe and to restrict the number of missile warheads and then all nukes by within ten years.

The deal fell apart for a variety of reasons such as differences over "trust and verify" and the Star Wars Initiative, which Thatcher considered unworkable. The next year, however, saw some progress with the approval of the INF treaty but for both nation's unrepentant hawks, the two leaders had been too nice to one another, too forgiving, too willing to forgive and forget. Reagan was denounced as an appeaser by some of his former admirers, and Gorbachev would be forced out in 1991. Among his other sins: Letting East Germany go without killing rebels, as the Chinese did at Tiananmen Square, and withdrawing Russian troops from Afghanistan, something Bush2 and Obama have not done. For both nations, then, negotiation was out and escalation was in.

All the same, one supportive group, the National Threat Initiative, chaired by former Senator Sam Nunn, had it right: Reykjavik "has remained in history as a near successful attempt of leaders of nuclear powers to agree on complete elimination of nuclear weapons."

With Reagan retired, the deposed Gorbachev opposed the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1995, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and especially, despite American promises, the US-NATO move ever closer to Russia's borders, which he believed represented a serious threat. Interviewed by the British newspaper, the Telegraph, in May 2008, he sounded bitter. "We had ten years after the Cold War to build a new world order and yet we squandered them," adding, "The United States cannot tolerate anyone acting independently," and "Every U.S. president has to have a war." The article was headed, "Gorbachev: The U.S. Could Start a New Cold War."

But still, Mikhail Gorbachev never forgot Ronald Reagan and their unusual friendship and what they hoped to accomplish. In 2004, he represented Russia at Reagan's funeral and also traveled to Eureka College, Regan's old school, where the aging Russian reformer was named "Honorary Reagan Fellow of Eureka College."

And when Nancy died, Gorbachev told Interfax: "It was with deep sorrow that I learnt the sad news and I can rightfully say well done, Nancy. She said to Ronald Reagan: when you quit the post of U.S,. president, you need to go as a peacemaker. And the fact that we established human relations, which led to trust was mainly Nancy's merit. Without trust, there is and can be no moving forward."

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153739 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153739 0
Committing Crimes In Our Name

This post is by Murray Polner, a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

Does anyone remember James Kutcher, a victim of one of our Red Scares?

]]> Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153749 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153749 0 "Support Our Troops" Or Who Made All That Money From Bumper Stickers and Weapons?

This post is by Murray Polner, a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

"Two weeks before he killed himself, around the time of Aurora's first birthday, he went to see his mother, who lives in a tiny town in Northern Iowa called Chester. 'I'm not worth nothing. I'm not worth nothing,' she remembers him saying." -- David Finkel, "Thank You For Your Service."

Does it really matter that none of the men and women who've been running for a presidential nomination for the past two years have ever served on active duty in the military? Must one have worn a uniform to understand why so many soldiers during and after our many wars have harmed themselves? 

A guy I barely knew  slept in the bunk above me when we were both draftees and tried to hang himself, but was mercifully cut down by someone who happened to walk into the barracks and called the medics. The guy - he was only a boy, really-- had been a violinist, a scared, improbable and unwilling soldier who could barely keep up with the platoon and was  rumored  to be related to a big time politician. I once heard him whisper to our imposing sergeant with his menacing wartime facial scar that he'd be a better soldier in an easier slot, maybe a typist-clerk. Rescued, he was sent to the base hospital, his absence barely noted and no-one spoke about it until the sergeant, a lifer,  reluctantly mentioned the incident. He told us to forget it. "People do crazy things which we can't understand. Better to mind your own business."

But I couldn't, then and now, so many decades later. Why did he try to commit suicide? He was never in combat unless the very idea of shooting an M-1 or a bazooka or practicing with a bayonet  and wearing a gas mask terrified him about things to come. Once, far from a battlefield, he was near a few of us when someone was killed by a defective grenade.  

Ann Jones spent much time in Iraq and wrote "They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America's Wars: The Untold Story" and thought she knew so many have preferred death to life. Maybe. To her, it's the lack of communication between those who fought in a war no-one understood while the rest of us were at home "amusing ourselves to death," in Neil Postman's perfect words.

Read Iraq vet Phil Klay's bitter  sentiments in "Redeployment" about the rest of us safe at home: "Gluttonous fat, oversexed, over consuming, materialist at home, where we're too lazy to see our own faults,"  let alone understand why some came home and killed, and why the rest continue to accept our historic addiction to war.

Still, can we truly explain why soldiers kill themselves, ever after returning home? In the latest of our wars-- always "just wars" mind you -- possibly  our volunteers and National Guard conscripts (for that what they were) retained complicated forms of guilt, associated with death encounters--guilt because they survived and their buddies did not, guilt for having killed or maimed others. Guilt for having joined in or at least witnessed the destruction of a culture and civilization they never knew, or hated. Guilt for having seen civilians suffer and die, that is  especially unbearable when few know why the battle is being fought.

Iraq,  George W. Bush's gift, and Afghanistan, a "necessary war" according to Barack 0bama, both non-veterans,  had the results of their bequests to the nation described by the NY Times's Denise Grady  as far back as 2006 in her "Struggling Back from War's 0nce-Deadly Wounds."

"Survivors are coming back home with grave injuries, often from roadside bombs, that will transform their lives; combinations of damaged brains and spinal cords, vision and hearing loss, disfigured faces, burns, amputations, mangled limbs, and psychological ills like depression and post-traumatic stress."

Add that to the recent American Journal of Psychiatry  article in April 2016: "The cumulative strain of 14 years of war on service members, veterans, and their families, together with continuing global threats and the unique stresses of military service, are likely to be felt for years to come."

So, please, ask all of us stay-at-homes who will be their minders and caretakers every day of the weeks and months and years thereafter? I saw a single mother on TV tending to her bedridden veteran, an only son, and the voiceover said he'd probably be on his back the rest of his life. He was not alone.

Who among our sheltered politicians, pundits and think tankers who sent them to war will visit their graves and console their widows and children and parents? Who will demand increased taxes to pay for their forever care? Who of our current living room warriors want a draft, the better to fight more wars? How about your son dying for Saudi Arabia or Ukraine? 0r now that girls may be used in combat, as Jacob Hornberger, a perceptive if barely known libertarian writer-editor, added, "your  daughters dying for South Korea and Eastern Europe." Charley Reese, a former columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, once offered his personal but rational test: If you don't want your kid to join up and fight then the war isn't worth it.

Soldier  suicides and stories of permanently crippled vets have  largely vanished from our media, the survivors ignored but for predictable  Memorial Day editorials and those self-righteous and bogus "Salute To 0ur Wounded Warriors” nights at ballparks filled with healthy young non-vets on and off the field and in the press boxes. At the end they all stood and cheered the national anthem. No-one then and after suggested the ritual wouldn't have been necessary had non-veteran ideologists not lied us into a state of permanent war.

 So which will it be? Erich Maria Remarque's  lament  that his WWI wartime generation "shall fall into ruin." 0r an ordinary mother, listening to her son tell her 'how bad it was to be a Vietnam vet, how doves think you've committed a sin, and hawks make so much over you because they're guilty of sending you there in the first place' and how he then tells me when I interviewed him for a book I once  wrote about Vietnam combat vets, "My mother, she sat straight up. 'Michael, ' she said to me, holding my hand, 'I do believe it was all for nothin.'"

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153755 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153755 0
Obama's Gift To Our Next President: War With China and Russia?

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

May I break into our vacuous presidential nomination/election campaigns where candidates hardly ever  talk seriously about our history of lying the country into war, as for example the Spanish-American and Philippine wars, WWI, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, et.al. Lies, mythology and then silence is of course the best way to persuade far too many patriotic if uninformed Americans to regularly send their kids to war.

With Barack Obama allegedly at the helm of foreign policy, the lies are now growing  but this time against China and Russia, our latest semi-official enemies. Neither of them are angelic but neither are we. But Obama, as President, is responsible for trying to erect a wall around them, even at the risk of inciting a real war. As his term crawls to its end,  the US and China, as the  NY Times notes, "are jockeying for dominance in the South Pacific," which could amount to a time bomb if diplomacy or mutual economic interests fail to intercede. Both are  playing Russian Roulette ostensibly but not really over essentially barren islets in the South China Sea, the Chinese building an airfield and claiming sovereignty over a few and the US dispatching warships and planes close to Chinese vessels and planes, both sides risking a catastrophic struggle.

From the time US marines were sent to Australia a few years ago (for what, exactly, has never been explained let alone publicly questioned or debated) to 0bama's wooing of a  hard-line and unrepentant Japanese government eager to discard its American-installed post-WWII pacifist constitution and rearm against China and with new US attachments to India and Vietnam, the 0bama containment policy is clearly aimed at China. In the latest US move the US Navy will participate in joint patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea and, according to the Associated Press, "eventually will conduct air patrols." Then, too, the US will donate some $40 million to the Philippines for military use, for which the US will receive "access to five Philippine military bases to house American forces,"  the better, I assume, to fight a war on the Asian mainland at the same time it copes militarily and unsuccessfully with the Greater Middle East.

Word also arrives that a Russian plane flew " 'dangerously close' to an American ship" as the NY Times inadequately reported. Turns out, as their rival the Washington Post properly reported, that an innocent "American ship" --engaged in the US effort to contain Putin's Russia-- was no cruise ship filled with fun-loving tourists but instead was a destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, which "carries an arsenal that includes rocket launchers, antisubmarine missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles." Many US ships and planes have  previously and regularly been sent to the Black Sea, all "international waters," or so the US  claimed. Still, Obama has never been asked -- probably because unlike all his 20th Century predecessors he rarely, in fact, very rarely, holds a press conference --  how the US would react if Russian ships suddenly showed up in the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean Sea claiming they too were in "international waters."

There are fewer antiwar skeptics and dissenters left in the mainstream press and TV like the heroic Randolph Bourne. Of course you remember his memorable "War is the health of the state?" He was unique. A rarity.  Much easier for leaders to lie, reach for guns and bombs, and send sons and daughters not their own to fight their needless wars.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153759 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153759 0
In War We Trust, Even If It's Nuclear?

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

I recently watched Stanley Kramer's Cold War classic, "On the Beach," where Gregory Peck, Fred Astaire, Ava Gardner and Anthony Perkins are fated to die along with everyone else after a worldwide nuclear war. It sounded a bit like Revelation chapter nine, verse 15, which predicts that the most destructive war is yet to come. But no, it really reflected Kramer's anxiety about reckless and feckless leaders and the damage they do. At least the film had Peck and Gardner to console the victims on their final destination.

The US has always needed real or imaginary enemies to make its historic addiction to war more palatable. Nowadays it's perfectly acceptable to damn Vladimir Putin as an authoritarian but he's no more authoritarian than some of America's closest allies.  The problem is that, like the US, he commands thousands of nuclear bombs, a subject about which I've been writing since the start of what sounds like another Cold/maybe Hot War era. The hawkish Hillary Clinton compared him to Hitler after Moscow's annexation of Crimea. But Henry Kissinger of all people saw through the hot air emanating from Washington's inner circles (echoed by an uncritical media) when he wrote that excoriating Putin was no substitute for shaping a sane policy, which our foreign policy elites have regularly disdained to do, especially after past and present incompetents and worse have caused the deaths of some 38,000 US military in Korea, 58,000 in Vietnam and 7,000 in Iraq, not to mention millions of innocent Asians and Middle Easterners. No VIP has ever been tried or imprisoned for these deaths.

The US noose around Russia began in earnest when our most lethal weaponry began pouring into Russia's erstwhile satellites adjacent to Russian borders, (great news for Merchants of Death stockholders). US troops are now stationed in the Baltics and Poland targeting Russia and its 8,000 nuclear bombs and a history of successfully destroying invaders, even absorbing 27 million deaths fighting and defeating German armies -- and thus ironically saving the West from defeat. The new US commander of NATO, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, seemed oblivious to this aspect of Russian history while sworn in recently as NATO's latest military commander, saying NATO (read the US, its major funder) must be ready to "fight tonight." How many Americans, "amusing themselves to death" in Neil Postman's deathless prose, are ready for that? And "tonight," no less?

For every provocative move by the US and NATO, the Russians have retaliated by recklessly buzzing US naval ships and aircraft. Moscow added that it will send three army divisions to their western borders and, more ominously, nuclear warheads will be placed on its new Iskander missiles and set down near Kaliningrad, close to Lithuania and Poland and targeted at Western Europe just as the US-NATO buildup is aimed at Russia.That's Russian Roulette and can easily "lead to miscalculation," noted a NY Times piece.

 Igor Ivanov was once Boris Yeltsin's foreign minister and also worked for Putin and now runs a Russian government think tank. "The risk of confrontation with the use of nuclear weapons in Europe is higher than at any time in the 1980s," he told the London Express. Both sides, incidentally, are about to conduct war maneuvers much like the darkest Cold War or pre-1914 years.

"This new conflict is shaping up to be extraordinarily dangerous, entailing a broad confrontation that will play out in various proxy theaters around the world and bringing back the ever-present possibility of nuclear war," warns Samuel Charlap of the Center for American Progress and Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' issue (vol. 72, Issue 3, 2016) devoted to US-Russian relations. "A misreading of this man [Putin] -- now one of the most consequential international political figures and challengers to the US-led world order since the end of the Cold War--could have catastrophic consequences."

 As Dmitry Kiselyov, director of a Russian TV network put it, pulling no punches. "Russia is the only country in the world which is realistically capable of turning the US into radioactive ash." But Dmitry, please bear in mind that the US can play the same game.

 Meanwhile, President Obama has approved all the moves directed at Russia and given a green light to those who want to confront the Chinese, a nuclear power, in the South China Sea, most recently near the Fiery Cross Reef, a miniscule pile of rocks where the Chinese have built an airstrip. Tit for tat, the US aircraft carrier John Stennis, named after the late Mississippi segregationist, was prevented from docking in Hong Kong. The US says its warships are in the region to protect freedom of navigation but China sees it as the US trying to maintain regional hegemony, with force if necessary. So the dangerous game goes on between the three powers until someone either devises a diplomatic solution with people they may not like or we slip mindlessly into a nuclear war. Then a brainy entrepreneur can start selling up-to-date bumper stickers reading "Support Our Troops on Fiery Cross Reef"-- that is, if anyone is still alive to read it.

While writing this blog Daniel Berrigan, the antiwar, nonviolent Jesuit priest-activist whose life was dedicated to creating "a world uncursed by war and starvation," and Donald Duncan, the Vietnam Green Beret who turned against his war, had died, Dan in May and Don in March. Once discharged, he joined William Sloane Coffin, Benjamin Spock and David Dellinger in mass rallies where draft cards were burned. He also defended the Green Beret Dr. Howard Levy, who also turned against the war and was jailed by the very liars and murderers whose policies had cost the lives of millions. Had Dan and Don been physically able in our new Cold War-ish atmosphere they would surely be warning Americans that our policies may well force them and their people into yet another calamitous war, but this time a nuclear war brought to you courtesy of our latest generation of American, Chinese and Russian madmen.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153768 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153768 0
Those Fabulous Sixties

Chicago Police helmet and billy club circa 1968 By Bill Abbott

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

So what, after all, was so crucial about the sixties and especially the election of 1968?

Take your pick: The lacerating and legendary decade began with JFK's murder or in the Deep South and the nonviolent battle for racial justice. In its wake arose unprecedented challenges to the status quo by SDS, the New Left and the Black Power, Gay, Feminist and Chicano movements, the Berrigan and Catholic Left's draft board raids, rebellions in the military here and in Vietnam and mass antiwar demonstrations.

Michael A. Cohen's outstanding American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division makes sense of so explosive, emotional and intense decade, which has since  been cherry-picked by left and right, revered by one and loathed by the other. Cohen's telling, in spirited and vigorous prose, while more narrative than analysis, is a carefully-researched account of what happened and how it affected future developments.

Equally enlightening was Bernard von Bothmer's compelling 2010 book, Framing the Sixties: The Use and Abuse of a Decade from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, in which he explained why prowar conservatives believed as they did. "The sixties for the conservatives," he wrote, "is a time of 'uppity blacks,' of 'vociferous women,' feminists, of angry riots and lack of patriotism." Theirs was an imaginary era of the post-WWII fifties (conveniently overlooking the Korean War where 38,000 Americans were killed in a dubious war, not to mention several million dead Koreans) when authority and elders were supposedly respected and people of all classes and races knew their place. Anthony Dolan, Reagan's speechwriter for eight years, told von Bothmer that the right, not the left, was the beneficiary of the turmoil.  "The sixties gave us Ronald Reagan [and] the primary political phenomenon of the last forty years has been the rise of the conservatives and their triumph."

Cohen doesn't entirely disagree with Dolan's interpretation, but he retells the story of Chicago, where in 1968 a distant war was fought in its streets and parks while the Democratic Party was gathering to choose its presidential candidate. The late and  great journalist Haynes Johnson, who saw it all, wrote that Mayor Richard Daley -- superbly etched in Mike Royko's Boss -- had surrounded the International Amphitheatre where the Democratic convention was to be held, with "armed and helmeted police mingled with dark-suited agents of the Secret Service," over which hung a large -- sardonic? -- sign, HELLO DEMOCRATS! WELCOME T0 CHICAGO."  Johnson described Chicago police lobbing tear gas at the crowds and flailing Billy clubs and yelling "Kill, Kill, Kill." The National Guard was also present, fully-armed, with orders "to shoot to kill, if necessary" at essentially peaceful protestors and a lesser number of not-so-peaceful provocateurs, a portent of the horrendous and inexcusable Kent State murders in May 1970 of four students and the wounding of nine others by Ohio National Guardsmen, some of whom had joined to avoid the draft.

Inside the Convention Hall Cohen's coverage shines, especially his account of the Daley-Ribicoff confrontation, when Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff went to the podium and said that if George McGovern were nominated "we wouldn't have Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago."

Cohen comments: "The audacity of Ribicoff's words momentarily stunned the delegates into silence. Then the crowd exploded. Antiwar delegates rose to their feet in adulation. Mayor Daley stood too." yelling at Ribicoff," "Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch, you lousy motherfucker, go home."

But there's more. "The conflict between urbane, liberal Ribicoff and the profane, working class Daley exposed another widening gulf among Democrats" between its educated, urban- suburban loyalists and their onetime  allies among the working  and lower middle class,  "precisely the divide clearly expressed by the appeal" of George Wallace's independent run for the presidency and perhaps even Donald Trump in 2016.

Observing closely, Theodore White summed up the chaos in Chicago in one of his "Making of the President" volumes, concluding, "1968 crushed the idealism of the Democratic Party." If not entirely correct,  it was nearly so, and went a long way to understanding how and why the party abandoned its New Deal and Great Society heritage and became accommodating Republican-lite. That and the persistent assaults about the sixties by every Republican president since Reagan "put the Democrats on the defensive on all matters regarding the era," as von Bothmer put it.

Cohen then turns to the nine men running for their party nomination. Richard Nixon, the winner, had earned the respect of the faithful in the fifties when he fought the once liberal New York Post's accusation of personal corruption by emphasizing instead Pat's cloth coat and his daughters' cute little dog. His rivals were: George Romney, Mitt's politically moderate father and successful American Motors automobile executive who self-immolated when he confessed to having been "brainwashed" about  Vietnam by U.S. officials; Nelson Rockefeller, the last major Republican to urge federal intervention and money to help the most vulnerable; and Ronald Reagan who would one day electrify Republicans  with his optimistic and scripted "Morning in America" shtick along with other vacuous lines like, "Our problems are many, but our capacity for solving them is limitless."

The Democrats, intimidated and reeling since the "Who lost China?" and McCarthyite libels of the fifties, featured a motley group of contenders, first of all the Party leaders' choice, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, the old liberal warhorse said to have grave doubts about the war but which he kept to himself. Bullied by the bully LBJ, he obediently refrained from any criticism of the war.

Eugene McCarthy, a true outlier, poet, faithful Catholic, inspirer of "Clean for Gene" kids -- a la Bernie's Millennials -- whose campaign, notes Cohen,  "ended with a desultory whimper," after which he twice ran quixotic races for the presidency on miniscule third party lines and ended up supporting Reagan on 1980. 

Robert Kennedy, a late entry whose passionate media followers such as the Village Voice's Jack Newfield painted him as the defender of America's black and white working class. Cohen suggests RFK was really a centrist-liberal who ran because he despised LBJ (and vice versa) and would in any event never have been able to beat Humphrey.  Maybe so, maybe not. But when his body was sent north for burial tens of thousands respectfully lined the railroad tracks, an honor never accorded any of the others in either party.

 George McGovern, a WWII bomber pilot who flew 36 missions, an unapologetic antiwar liberal, a decent and honest man, who angrily told his Senate colleagues in 1970 that "Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave.  This chamber reeks of blood," sentiments for which he was severely punished by patriotic voters when he ran against Nixon in 1972.

Hovering over all the campaigners was LBJ's savage war and the despised and feared draft. Cohen, born in 1971 and von Bothmer, born in 1967, overlooked the draft and the anxiety and stress it caused. As a former college teacher (and onetime draftee) I think I understood what my male students were undergoing,  "I won't go," I remember hearing a student at a draft counseling session telling his WWII veteran father, "because I believe in Jesus' message of peace." At which his father slapped him. In America," he whispered loud enough for me to hear, "We trust our leaders and love our country."

And then there was third party candidate George Wallace, fervent supporter of the war, menacing and fascinating, the proponent of "Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow, Segregation forever" and his exaltation of the so-called "common man." He charmed his reverent pre- Tea Partyish audiences with down home humor, live country music, and vicious attacks on anyone he viewed as critical power brokers. He wound up shocking pundits and politicians when he received ten million votes, many of them former loyal Democrats. It was Wallace who put a match to the widespread resentment many whites held then and now against blacks. But as Cohen astutely observes, it was his view of Washington's limited role which became the conservative's gold standard in the decades ahead.

"The idea that the federal government does direct harm to the  American people, that its expansion constitutes a usurpation of freedom, that it imposes its own values and moral conceits on ordinary people is a pro forma critique out of the mouths of Republican politicians (and occasionally Democrats).... No politician did more to change the narrative and language of American politics than Wallace."

In the end, the election of 1968 widened the gap between Republicans and the badly torn Democrats. By the time Bill Clinton arrived, his "triangulation" policies sounded much like the Republicans with his call for severe welfare curbs on the poorest of the poor, eliminating Glass -Steagall, and support for NAFTA.  And then there was his pro-death penalty view. He once left his New Hampshire presidential primary campaign to fly home to Arkansas to sign the death warrant for a prisoner with an IQ somewhere in the 60s.  

Still, things may -- or may not -- be changing. Cohen is not alone in presuming that the growing number of African Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans will change our political direction. "The Democrats now hold the political trump card," he concludes, or hopes. "No longer could the Republican Party run successfully on the template of anxiety, resentment, and white backlash fashioned out of the election of 1968." Perhaps, but von Bothmer reminds us that presidential elections since the sixties showed that its memories and impact will remain with us "so long as politicians who came of age in the 1960s seek high office--and perhaps longer-- the tensions of the era will retain their power."

About Hillary, Bernie and Donald, who knows? The scars of 1968 are still with us.

]]> Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153773 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153773 0 The NY Times: Smarter and Better

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor. 

"Instead of honoring our troops, whose chief virtues are obedience and aggressiveness, we could honor our great dissenters and conscientious objectors." - Roy Scranton, Iraq War veteran, NY Times, 7/3/16.

I once was a columnist for the defunct NYTimeseXaminer.com, a serious, well-informed, but cash poor watchdog covering the NY Times, its singular motto "An antidote to the 'paper of record.' "

Our country's preeminent newspaper has had its 'hills and valleys,' from the high point of the Pentagon Papers and its support for reporter James Risen while he was hounded and harassed for seven years by the feds for refusing to reveal a confidential source down to the lower depths, when it backed the invasion of Iraq (for which they eventually apologized though of course the dead remained dead) which was urged on by Washington's living room warriors, whom General "Stormin'Norman" Schwarzkopf had in mind when he said, "After Vietnam we had a whole cottage industry develop, centered in Washington, D.C., that consisted of a bunch of military fairies that had never been shot at in anger." And yes, the Times, incredibly, once hired the neocon's Big Chief William Kristol as a columnist.

My column critically covered the Times's shameful treatment of Snowden and Manning (Obama abandoned them while refusing to punish any VIPs for Iraq), Ukraine ( I wrote "Muddle & Lies, Manipulation and Silence" and "Is Ukraine Worth a War?"), the paper's obsession with Putin as our latest #1 Man of Evil, and Obama's wide-ranging use of the 1917 Espionage Act against government whistleblowers while his Justice Department treated General David Petraeus gently and kindly, a la Bill Clinton's never-explained pardon on the last day of his presidency of the indicted fugitive Marc Rich.

But the Times has another, far more positive side which it has been displayed recently in two investigative series and a number of significant dissenting editorials.

A  lengthy examination in June 2016 by Dave Philipps ("Decades later, Sickness Among Airman After a Hydrogen Bomb Accident") revealed how the U.S. disregarded the low-ranking airmen it sent without adequate explanation or protective clothing into rural Palomares, Spain, after a U.S. plane carrying hydrogen bombs crashed on January 16, 1966, spreading deadly radiation through the area.

"There was no talk about radiation or plutonium or anything else," said veteran Frank B. Thompson, a trombone player in an Air Force band and one of the cleanup airmen. "They told us it was safe, and we were dumb enough, I guess, to believe them." Now 72, Thompson has liver, lung and kidney cancer and has been denied government treatment because of the Air Force's insistence that no toxic radiation was present where the plane crashed. But instead the Times reports that newly declassified documents reveal that "Radiation near the bombs was so high it sent the military's monitoring equipment off the scales."

 Arthur Kindler, another Palomares veteran and a supply clerk, developed testicular cancer and cancer of his lymph nodes three times.

"You have to understand, they told us everything was safe. We were young. We trusted them. Why would they lie? Years after, sick, he asked the VA for help. "They denied me. Eventually I gave up."

Nona A. Watson, a dog handler, has had kidney cancers and other ailments. "I think it ruined my life. I was young, in good shape. But since that day I've had problems all the time." The Times adds that "recent abnormal blood tests suggested leukemia."

After the Times article appeared angry letters to the paper arrived. James C. Whiteside of Danbury, CT., demanded the Air Force be forced to "cough up the names of the heartless wonders of command who refused to treat these 1600 airman with fairness, and the Spanish villagers ignored for the same reasoning."  

Vietnam veteran Bruce W. Rider, in Grapevine, Texas, expressed no surprise at how the airmen were treated. He recalled that it took him "almost 18 years to receive service-related compensation for blindness after serving in Vietnam," and for developing Type-2 diabetes from Agent Orange, adding, "The effects of war are endless, for friend and foe alike."

The most unforgettable letter about yet other Times piece was by Edward W.Wood Jr. of Denver, a badly wounded WWII combat veteran. "Real combat," he wrote, "bears no resemblance to their Hollywood image of war. The reality of a firefight is a form of madness: shifting silhouettes, dimly perceived, pop of weapons, freezing fear, trembling hands, most of all the stink: sick, sweet odor of blood mixed with the odor of feces and urine stale sweat, cordite. Who and where is my enemy?"

 Their second investigation by Mark Mazetti and Ali Younes of Al Jazeera ("Thefts Redirect Arms From C.I.A.")  described how U.S. - manufactured weapons were shipped by the CIA and Saudi Arabia to Jordan meant for allegedly"moderate" --never defined--anti-Assad freedom-loving Syrians. It soon hit the black market and wound up probably sold by many Jordanian officials to assorted criminal gangs. The Times said that after the arms bazaars were shut down the Jordanian crooks were allowed to keep their pensions and money earned and commented, "This scandal should be a warning to those, including Hillary Clinton, who want to deepen American military involvement in Syria."

The Times then took after the leaked letter by 51 anonymous (what were they afraid of?) State Department civil servants urging bombing attacks against Assad's Syria and more support for those ubiquitous  "moderate" Syrian rebels. In "The False Lure of Military Intervention" it rightly asked how that would help end the Syrian tragedy. "There have never been good options in Syria, and the situation is getting worse. But no one has yet made a persuasive case that direct American military intervention against Assad is the answer." Shoot first, think later, has run out of answers.

A recent libertarian CATO Institute forum urged "restraint" in our foreign policy. Since the issue still isn't publicly debated, the U.S. remains trapped, as CATO noted, by "decades of rigorous military interventions and long-term military alliances [that] have caused more problems than they solved." What's needed instead is "a grand strategy of [military] restraint [which] aligns with the fundamental values at the core of our nation's founding."

No more war would be a damn good slogan.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153783 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153783 0
SHOW BIZ, or Thoughts About Our Two Conventions

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

"Why in a nutshell, was our reporting different from so much other reporting? 0ne important reason was that we sought out the dissidents and we listened to them, instead of serving as stenographers to high-ranking officials and Iraqi exiles." -- John Walcott, McClatchy's Washington bureau chief, the first recipient of the Nieman Foundation's I.F.Stone Award in 2008 for his critical reporting during the run-up to the Iraq War.

***

Watching the two lavishly-produced and enthusiastic spectacles in Cleveland and Philadelphia from afar and listening to two weeks of scripted hot air, I wondered why so much money and energy was spent on an election where less than 50-55% will even bother voting and those who do, have already made up their minds about which candidate they love least.

 TV coverage and all the commentators offered little fresh about the odious and vacuous Republican gala and its appalling nominee save perhaps PBS News Reports and its reporter Lisa Desjardins in Cleveland. She's informed and knows her way around politics and politicians, as does Amy Walters at PBS's desk who also tends to look more at long run implications than most. Across from Walters sat the eminent conservative pundit David Brooks, who once flatly stated that Donald stood no chance of winning the Republican nomination. And then there were all those Fox people, skeptics in Philadelphia, but somewhat subdued cheerleaders in Cleveland now that Roger Ailes was gone.

And then, without warning, came Wikileaks' release of secret files revealing Democratic Party dirty tricks against Sanders. No one has yet discovered or tried to discover who among the party's VIPs gave this scheme the green light.  Certainly it wasn't only Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Hillary's sycophant.

Anyway, the media was shocked, shocked, I say, while Democratic strategists quickly changed the subject and the compliant media happily complied. Who else, most agreed, but Vladimir Putin could have committed such a dastardly trick? Putin, of course, is our latest Public Enemy # 1 since America must always have an adversary to keep the war machine running smoothly. Shocked, I repeat, much like Claude Rains in "Casablanca." Imagine one nation playing dirty tricks on another, as if the Cold War and American interventions in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Latin America never occurred.

Some history, please.

As is so often the case skepticism was taboo (anyone still remember Iraq?) After the NY Times reported on its front page that anonymous intelligence agencies had "high confidence" that Moscow was behind the theft, its follow-up paragraph (does anyone still read past the lead?) reported that similarly unnamed "intelligence officials cautioned that they are uncertain  whether the electronic break-in at the [Democratic] committees' computer systems was intended as fairly routine cyber espionage -- of the kind the U.S. also conducts around the world -- or as part of an effort to manipulate-the 2016 presidential election."

Better to forget that the purloined files not only tried to submarine Bernie but also revealed the Party's intimate ties to the 1% and that every favor is geared to them rather than working America, to whom the Party always professes allegiance. And while we can be sure that Donald will repeatedly harp on it until November, Hillary and her entourage are no doubt counting on our detestation of Donald as well as our collective amnesia to allow it to pass painlessly.

But for Bernie's fans, foreign policy and our 13-year war was barely mentioned. Some of the featured speakers, including the President, chose to take the politically smart path of spreading around hope and optimism, a la Ronald Reagan. Ukraine, Israel-Palestine, Saudi Arabia, the South China Sea, Russia, Syria, nukes, were all too risky to bring up. Much safer to grovel before the military, which, by the way, hasn't won a major war since 1945, when the Red Army offered some help. Easier to extol Democratic Hillary, the liberal hawk and Trump, the troglodyte.

And of course, speakers in Philadelphia went out of their way to exalt America the Global Cop, appealing to the USA/USA crowd and even our neocons.  Martin O'Malley, an ex-Governor who lost to Hillary in the primary, told the audience Hillary "will stand up to ISIS. She will stand up to the Russians." Leon Panetta, an -ex-CIA director  and Secretary of Defense, went after Trump, who sounds dumber with every Twitter message. He also tried to  ignore Bernie's Oregon delegates holding signs "End the drone wars," while  shouting "No more war," forcing Panetta to pause while someone ordered the lights in the Oregon seating area be shut down. So much for the right to dissent.

Panetta went on to tell us that Hillary "is smart. She is principled. She is tough, and she is ready." For exactly what he didn't explain. But rest easy. Russia (and maybe China) are now our official foes and she is, we've been reminded, "tough."

 For some fresh air I read the New Yorker's John Cassidy and (Ret. Lt. Col.) W.J. Astore's "Bracing Views" blog.

Still, most compelling of all was the Times's  conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, who, after listening to Trump's bizarre acceptance speech, wrote that "the greatest danger of a Trump presidency might not be his transparently authoritarian tendencies, but rather the global chaos that a  winging-it Great Man in the Oval Office could unleash."  

But he also added his central argument, the most perceptive I heard these past two weeks, namely that the sentiments Trump expressed were "rooted in the broken promises of both left and right, in 15 years of economic disappointment and military quagmire, in the percolating threat of globalized jihad, in an ever-more balkanized culture governed by an ever-more insulated elite."

And once this weird election is over, and whoever wins, "Trumpism," concluded Douthat, "will come around again."

Maybe so, maybe not. But sadly, liberal hawks and authoritarian troglodytes have few answers, like many of their predecessors in the White House.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153795 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153795 0
Smith, Snowden, Manning, Kaepernick & Moral Courage

Murray Polner, HNN's senior book review editor, wrote "Branch   Rickey: A Biography." 

In 2003 I published an article  in The Nation about Toni Smith, a senior captain of a Division III women's basketball team at Manhattanville College, located -- according to its website -- in "a safe and scenic community" in Westchester County, some thirty minutes from Manhattan. What she dared do from her suburban haven was refuse to salute the American flag. Afterwards, she told me, "For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded into the American system have bothered me. I can no longer, in good conscience, salute the flag. The [Iraq] war we will soon be entering has reinforced my beliefs."

Her silent, solitary, nonviolent protest resulted in a mountain of denunciations in the press and sports talk radio. She also received a large number of critical hits on Manhattanville's website.  Some critics said that while they respected freedom of speech her protest was out of place on a college basketball court and, perhaps as well, unpatriotic. Still, for her defiance of conventional patriotism,  she was condemned by  our unforgiving super-patriots, the kind who chant  USA/USA from the safety of their stadium seats and most recently at the 2016 Democratic Party convention, when Bernie's Oregon supporters were shouted down by those ubiquitous USA/USA chants because they were raining on Hillary's coronation. At Kings Point, N.Y., some merchant marine students, recipients of a free college education, showed up at one of her games shouting "leave our country," somehow neglecting to mention that Smith, part-Jewish, part African American, had some of her ancestors dragged here against their will from Africa. Toni Smith, gutsy and principled, reminded us of Muhammad Ali's famous refusal, as well as Craig Hodges of the Chicago Bulls during the Gulf War and later Carlos Delgado of the NY Mets also spoke out as did Tommie Smith and John Carlos who raised their clenched fists at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

 Filip Bondy, then a New York Daily News sportswriter, came up with this beauty: "If sports events are inappropriate forums for political statements, then what exactly is 'The Star Spangled Banner' ?"

During a recent "Salute the Military" night for a 49er game in no-questions asked pro-military San Diego, QB Colin Kaepernick was, as expected, roundly booed along with teammate safety Eric Reid, who also dropped to a knee when the anthem was played. All the same, Kaepernick's  act (First Amendment, anyone?) has surprisingly made a serious dent in the NFL-USA monopoly of patriotism, which masks forever our many wars and defeats, quagmires and military provocations in endless search for global hegemony.

For African American protestors it's about repeated murders of black men, women and children by police. Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwayne Wade have now spoken out publicly and Rajon Rondo has been on ESPN condemning the racial split. Even Michael Jordan has offered critical views, as did three Philadelphia Eagles who recently refused to stand for the anthem before a game with the Chicago Bears. And while Kaepernick and his detractors may be miles apart, it's his country too. In the meantime, his jersey is currently outselling everyone else's in NFL stores.

So, as some of the new generation of sportswriters have suggested, at last there's a hole in the "say-nothing" dike, which for me resembles Curt Flood's valiant refusal to be traded without his permission, a daring act which eventually opened the door to baseball's free agency.

Here's Kaepernick, like Smith, half-black, half white, refusing to cave before critics telling reporters, "There is police brutality --people of color have been targeted by police. You can become a cop in six months and don't have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist. That's insane. Someone that's holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun and are going out on the streets to protect us."

And then there's Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. On the eve of the opening of 0liver Stone's film "Snowden," a House Intelligence Committee unanimously -- Democrats and Republicans--issued a three-page summary condemning Snowden, while refusing to release its larger findings. The Washington Post then editorially opposed a pardon, a stance criticized by Barton Gellman, its crack investigative journalist who broke the story of Snowden's revelations and NSA's spying.

So much for Washington's sycophants. In New York, Oliver Stone's film was praised by A.O. Scott, the Times's lead reviewer who in the good old days would have been tarred as a Commiesymp for writing this review. A pro-pardon 0pEd column in the paper was soon accompanied by the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty urging President Obama to pardon Snowden.

But they have the wrong President in mind. The much- denigrated Warren Harding pardoned Debs and then had the backbone to invite him to breakfast in the White House. Not Obama, whose administration has prosecuted and punished more government whistleblowers than every other presidency combined, relying on Woodrow Wilson's flawed and infamous Espionage Act of 1917.  Obama essentially pardoned Bush 43 and his crew who invaded Iraq, causing chaos and mass deaths throughout the Greater Middle East. Bush's CIA tortured prisoners and renditioned others to America's still-secret friends who must have delighted in applying electrical batons to male genitals and raping women, while  allowing our putative war criminals to enjoy their post-VIP life, except for a few low level soldiers in Abu Ghraib.  

And then there's Chelsea Manning, whose release of hundreds of documents included one showing a U.S. Apache helicopter killing Iraqi civilians and two Reuters correspondents.  He was severely punished during  two years in solitary  and then put away for 35 years in Leavenworth, a bit harsher and longer penalty than handed David Petraeus for his crimes.

Journalists who cover the White House often have few kind words for the Obama administration, if we are to believe the Society of Professional Journalist's Paul Fletcher, who complained in the Times on September 17th of "Officials' blocking requests by reporters to talk to specific staff people"; "refusing to give reporters what should be public information unless they agree not to say who is speaking"; "Federal agencies' blackballing of reporters who write critically of them," and "Lack of meaningful visual access to the president by an independent press pool."

Not be outdone, the Obama Administration, which came into office pledging a policy of sunshine and transparency, was taken to task in 2013 by the Committee to Protect Journalists in a report written by Leonard Downie, Jr., who once ran the Washington Post. He quoted David Sanger, the Times's chief Washington correspondent, who charged the Obama White House is "the most closed control-freak administration I've ever covered." To Americans who distrust, even despise, journalists challenging and questioning governmental secrets, Downey rightfully concluded, "The professional secret-keepers are phenomenally bad at distinguishing between the threat of terror and their terror at being threatened -- or worse ...  at being humiliated."

And the Insider Threat Program, which demands that that federal employees observe and if need be report on their colleagues' suspicious behavior. Not even Bush 43, for all his sins, went that far. Michael Hayden, who ran the NSA and the CIA for 43, told Downie that the ITP "is designed to chill any conversation whatsoever." Exactly.

On his final day in office Bill Clinton, no paragon of morality and ethics, pardoned the fugitive crook Marc Rich. It was an outrageous and highly suspicious act but wouldn't it be a wonderful surprise if Obama had the audacity to do the same for the much more deserving Snowden and Manning.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153815 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153815 0
Losing Our Souls or Why the New Cold War Will Be Worse than the Old Cold War

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

The older I become the more I realize that the movies I watched as a kid  somehow taught us how to deal with enemies, real and imagined, at home or abroad. In my beloved cowboy films everything boiled down to good guys/bad guys, moral oversimplifications and victories delivered by six-shooters. It was clean, swift and uncomplicated, with no remorse.

A very smart, if cynical John LeCarre put it another way with his more realistic "Rule One of the Cold War," which is just as true in today's emerging new Cold War: "Nothing, absolutely nothing is what it seems. Everyone has a second motive, if not a third." That's certainly true in today's Syria and everywhere else.

And here's another long forgotten gem.

Jacksonian scholar Edward Pessen's modest but invaluable warning in Losing Our Souls: The American Experience in the Cold War, the old one, that is. It was published in 1993 after Pessen died (it was completed by Athan Theoharis, the distinguished historian who tracked Hoover's relentless and often illegal attacks on nonconformists).

Pessen's most credible lesson for Americans today is simply this: "The most baneful affect of our anti-Soviet policy is the unprecedented insecurity it brought to the US. For the first time in the nation's history it could be almost destroyed and most of its people killed in matter of minutes by weapons against which we had [have] no effective defense."

Nowadays, Washington's gung-ho cold warriors, few of whom have ever worn a military uniform, and  our obsequious mass media, have convinced far too many Americans  to dutifully accept the Grand Illusion that, despite many failures since 1945 and an ongoing  fifteen year war,  America's role is to right the wrongs of the world, a mission with little or no penalties or costs for the home front save the loss and crippling of  hundreds of thousands of killed and wounded U.S. troops not to mention millions of  dead civilians we allegedly set out to save.

The lessons our foreign policy elites drew from the old Cold War, wrote Pessen, aren't much different from today, namely, the itch to intervene everywhere, relying on "sabotage, demolition, assassination and out and out warfare." Brutal dictatorships were backed with arms and money and support for torture and death squad hoodlums. "National Security," a Cold War term that predates 9/11, was the mantra.  Along the way, after the collapse of the USSR and the coming of rational politicians like Gorbachev, our cold warriors threw away the chance for peace.

Today, far from terrified and dying refugees and appalling photos of Aleppo and the potential for more death and destruction in Mosul, Yemen, Crimea, Kabul, Kiev and the South China Sea, assorted foreign policy mavens, aware as we all are of the catastrophe in Syria and elsewhere, want the U.S. to do "something" to settle the mess once and for all, while glossing over the possible consequences and ignoring our spectacular diplomatic and military failures.  Let us pray they don't have in mind a "no-fly zone," the latest panacea proposed by hawks who once cheered on the invasion of Iraq and which could well trigger another Sarajevo, but this time a nuclear one.

The battle for Syria is in reality an extraordinarily complicated and multifaceted proxy war between the U.S., Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, ISIS, a variety of jihadists and what's left of Assad's Syria. While weeping crocodile tears for the monumental humanitarian crisis they alone have created they are there for no other reason than to maintain their regional influence and power.

We'd all like the bloodletting and suffering to end. The best solution I can think of is to provide humanitarian aid and try and try and try again for a deal with the Russians and the others. It may not be much and hard to deliver but does anyone have a better idea?

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153824 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153824 0
Trumpism: At Home & Abroad

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

I wonder how many Hillary voters ever talked with Donald supporters. I did, though only accidentally. While I was a patient in the ER of a local hospital my Cat-scan operator told me without prompting that he was voting for Trump, a view seconded by a middle-aged woman awaiting her turn at the machine. Days later, in a local supermarket, a man I had never met commented favorably on my NY Mets cap and then explained why he, a self-described independent and moderate Republican, was pro-Trump. And a guy working in my kitchen explained his pro-Trump vote. All of them were white, employed and educated. One had a college degree and another expressed sympathy for the large number of African Americans killed by cops. Despite the anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic sentiments expressed by some pro-Trump voters, the people I talked with weren't KKK, neo-Nazis, rednecks or bigots. The thread that ran so true between them was a deep loathing for Hillary that "passeth understanding."

They had other complaints, now aired everywhere as the media and pollsters are obsessed with how they could have been so wrong.  Clinton was -- unfairly -- the centerpiece of Trump voters who apparently believed an arrogant, corrupt, indifferent and privileged America on our east and west coasts had cut them out, sent their kids to failed and endless wars, which represented a "massive disconnect" between Americans, as J. D. Vance, the Appalachian-born author of the first-rate book Hillbilly Elegy aptly put it. Many believe that working people, once reliably Democratic, had been abandoned. Writing to his supporters, Bernie Sanders echoed this. "The declining middle class is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics, and the establishment media" and the post-Trump Democratic Party must again become the party "that working people know will work for their interests."

The people I met rarely if ever spent time reading the NY Times, New Yorker, New York magazine or bothered with the PBS's sophisticated Nightly Reports, all of whom were clearly on Clinton's side. Newsweek's pre-election cover was devoted to "Madame President" and subtitled "Her historic journey to the White House" -- the magazine said it was mistakenly sent out -- which seemed, however, reminiscent of Liberty magazine calling the 1936 election for Alf Landon rather than FDR or the Chicago Tribune's headline reporting Dewey's victory over Truman in 1948. Whether by design or ignorance, or just plain carelessness, virtually all our mass media walled itself off in a self-inflicted cocoon and convinced themselves and us that Trump was a certain loser and no more than a lying, sexist, tax-cheating, badly informed rogue.

But like it or not he's the next President and Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie, and Rudy Giuliani (maybe Sarah Palin too?) now get to ride in limos, fly free  in chartered planes, and flash their uncompromising views across the world while their congressional pals try to end Obamacare, abortion, forget about holding Wall Street accountable for its many sins and also privatize Medicare and Social Security, while ignoring climate change and selling off  federally owned and protected western lands, undeterred by  a castrated, traumatized and divided Democratic Party.

While our pet domestic policies are sure to take a sharp rightward hit I hope we may see major changes in foreign affairs. Trump, the heretic and outlier, has challenged the strangulating effect of American Exceptionalism, regime change and promiscuous use of military force. He has questioned NATO's moves to the Russian border (he once asked, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could get along with Russia?") and was subjected to McCarthyite attacks by Clinton and her sycophants for being Putin's boy toy.

In contrast, Clinton offered nothing but a renewal of a new Cold War in Europe and East Asia with her talk about a no-fly zone over Syria, which many in the Pentagon think risks a war with Russia, and her incessant attacks on Putin, the tough guy who runs a very large country with thousands of nukes. Obviously, we've always needed a Public Enemy, the better to mask our needless wars. But in the campaign she offered no vision and no hope beyond endless wars in East Europe, the Greater Middle East and East Asia, alienating many of Bernie's supporters and, I hope, as well the  pro-Trump people  with whom I spoke.

Still, does Donald Trump, a foreign policy amateur, really mean it when he countered Clinton's hawkishness by questioning our role as self-appointed world policemen?  Does he have any feeling for Eisenhower's warning about our military industrial complex? Will he recruit allies and form coalitions to fight alongside of him to resist Washington's bellicose neocons and influential home front warmongers, a critical press and pundits?  Or will he be overwhelmed by the pressures brought by our hawks, empire-builders, lobbyists and subsidized think tankers and cave while submissively accepting the same old failed policies of presidents who have preceded him?

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153847 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153847 0
An Election John Wayne Would Have Liked

This post is by Murray Polner, a blogger, writer, HNN's senior book Department editor and author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, and When Can I Come Home, about those who refused to go to war.

"What kind of nation chooses as national leader a verbally abusive, politically inexperienced, temperamentally volatile, maddenly narcissistic, scapegoating demagogue?" asked  Peter Steinfels, my onetime editor  of Commonweal, in a recent issue of  the liberal Catholic magazine.

I may have found a partial answer years ago when I flew into Southern California's Orange County Airport after it had been renamed in honor of John Wayne, "a man of humility and a hero of the American West [who] was a symbol of the world of the traditional American values," or so the Airport's press release went. Looking up, there was The Duke on the Arrival level, 9 feet tall, and the hero of so many cinematic battles in so many wars.

One Hollywood maverick was the blacklisted actor Lionel Stander, he of the raspy voice who had appeared in "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," and "The Loved Ones" and once the blacklist vanished, as Max, the faithful servant-driver on TV's "Hart to Hart." Stander had been an uncooperative and combative HUAC witness who condemned celebrities who had begged their inquisitors for forgiveness for their ill-advised leftwing politics.

Unlike The Duke, Stander had served three years in the Air Force. He was so bothered by the honor accorded Wayne that he told the NY Times, "I nominate John Wayne for a special Academy Award for the best non-supporting performance in WWII. He was just an unimportant cowboy actor at Monogram who happened to hit it big when the big stars, Robert Montgomery and Jimmy Stewart and Gable were away at war [while] Wayne never served a day."

As a veteran it also bothered me that a pro-war actor who cheered on Vietnam and condemned its draft resisters could be honored by local patriots and not those who had actually served or refused to bear arms, like WWII's Lew Ayres, Hollywood's Dr. Kildaire.

I wonder if the tribute to Wayne was a reflection of "American Exceptionalism," the indelible faith ingrained in us since elementary school whereby most of us believe that our way of life is eternally unique and merits worldwide admiration and respect even when we bomb the hell out of them.

Why shouldn't foreigners want to be like us? Think of all those countries we attacked who failed to appreciate their American liberators: Cuba, the Philippines, Russia, Mexico, American Indians, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Somalia. Have I forgotten any?

Still, Special Operations Iraq War vet Lt. Col. Bill Russell Edmonds wrote in "God is Not Here: A Soldier's Struggle with Torture, Trauma and the Moral Injuries of War" about his fellow Americans "who live with their heads down, blind and oblivious to others who do their bidding, who do their dying."

For those, like The Duke, who support wars with someone else's family members doing the fighting and dying, it's what Hemingway called "that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it." 

During Ronald Reagan's proxy war in Central America, I hung Irving Howe's NY Times op-ed on my office wall because he suggested that the editors of two hawkish pro-contra wWar magazines  –  none of whose sons would ever wear a military uniform --might help "some American hearts beat a little fast at the sight of " their right-wing editors "donning fatigues to become contra 'freedom fighters.' "      

  "The truth is," wrote Walter Capps in The Unfinished War: Vietnam and the American Conscience,  his rational 1990 book, "A great nation, even when it means well, can do more harm than good when it does not understand precisely what it is doing."

Did putting up that statue reflect some psychological need made worse by a constant series of American military defeats since 1945, a war won with considerable, if not always acknowledged, help from the Russians? Our vaunted, ultra- expensive military has only been able to smash the Grenadian and Panamanian behemoths and since 2001 remains buried in the Greater Middle East.

But back to Peter Steinfels's question. My guess is that many good people voted for Trump for the same reason the good citizens of Orange County decided to honor The Duke: The passion to bring back an imagined and idyllic past, when women and racial minorities knew their place, abortions and same-sex marriages were crimes, when intellectuals were "eggheads," when wars were won and when the Duke, Our Hero, Helped Make America Truly Great.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153858 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153858 0
Has Obama "Betrayed " israel at the UN?

Guess Blog. Published on The National Interest Source URL (retrieved on December 28, 2016).By Henry Siegman

Henry Siegman is President Emeritus of the U.S./Middle East Project. He is a former senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations and formerly headed the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America.Has America’s president betrayed Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his government bitterly accused after President Obama failed to veto a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israel for its settlements in the West Bank?True, President Obama told the international community in his address to the UN General Assembly in 2011 that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement can only be achieved by the parties themselves, not by outside imposition.Obama, a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, surely knows the notion that international bodies have no role in the resolution of international conflicts to be entirely spurious, particularly when applied to a belligerent occupation that has been in place for half a century. It is an argument he presumably made to provide Netanyahu more time to advance a two-state agreement with the Palestinians without outside intervention, in the expectation, based on Netanyahu’s previous solemn promises, that he would do so.Obama’s argument against outside intervention, in generous support of Netanyahu, should have persuaded Netanyahu to halt Israel’s settlement expansion and prove to the world that outside intervention is not necessary to advance the peace process. Instead he doubled down on the expansion of Israel’s settlements, proving to the world that a two-state solution will not happen without such intervention.Netanyahu’s “j’accuse” against Obama and his administration is a concoction of the lies and deceptions that have characterized Israel’s defense of its settlement project from the outset.The Security Council resolution did not contain any reference whatever to terms for a permanent status negotiation (as necessary as such provisions actually are), and therefore did not violate President Obama’s strictures against outside imposition of terms for an agreement. The resolution was limited to a reconfirmation of the flagrant illegality of the settlements in the Occupied Territories and of the changes made unilaterally by Israel to the internationally-recognized pre-1967 border.Netanyahu lost whatever right he might have thought he had to President Obama’s and the world’s trust when he shamelessly and unapologetically reversed himself and declared publicly during the last Israeli national elections that he would not allow a Palestinian state to come into existence as long as he is Israel’s prime minister. For good measure, he added that he would not remove even a single Jewish settlement, no matter how remote its location from the pre-1967 border, even though such settlements were placed there to block the possibility of a Palestinian state.Netanyahu and his fellow ministers are accusing President Obama of having violated President George W. Bush’s promise to support Israel’s retention of certain settlement blocs adjoining the pre-1967 border. They have claimed for some time now that President Bush’s commitment allows them to enlarge construction in these settlement blocs to their heart’s content.This is a bald-faced lie. Both in his letter to Prime Minister Sharon and in his subsequent references to that letter, President Bush said clearly that his support for Israel’s retention of certain settlement blocs would come into play only when negotiations of the major permanent status issues took place. In 2006, Condoleezza Rice told Israel’s foreign minister Tzipi Livni, “the President did say that at the time of final status it will be necessary to take into account new realities on the ground that have changed since 1967, but under no circumstances… should anyone try and do that in a pre-emptive or predetermined way, because these are issues for negotiation at final status.” [Emphasis added]Another lie is Netanyahu’s and his fellow ministers’ criticism of Obama for his acceptance of a resolution that refers to Israel’s settlements as “illegal,” instead of “illegitimate”—the euphemism Obama’s administration has used until now.Israel’s government knows there is no real difference between these two terms—if settlements were legal, they would also be legitimate. They also know that it was Israel’s legal advisor to its ministry of foreign affairs Theodor Meron who ruled in a formal communication dated September 18, 1967, immediately following the 1967 war, that “civilian settlement in the administered territories contravene explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” and that the prohibition against such settlements is “categorical and not conditional upon the motives of the transfer or its objectives.”The biggest lie of all has been Netanyahu’s claim to support a two-state solution. His scam should have been obvious to our diplomats from the get go. Why? Because he never presented the two-state idea for formal approval to any of the four governments he has headed. Because the official platform of the Likud opposes Palestinian statehood anywherein PalestineAnd because most ministers who form Netanyahu’s government are members of a parliamentary caucus—the largest in Israel’s Knesset—whose official mandate is the prevention of Palestinian statehood anywhere in Palestine.Is it not high time for Israel’s public to wake up to Netanyahu’s deceptions? The countries that voted for this Security Council resolution are not anti-Semitic outliers. They included every major democratic country that belongs to the Security Council. Not one of them voted for the Zionism is Racism resolution, to which Netanyahu so demagogically compared this resolution. Are UK Prime Minister Theresa May or German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose foreign minister warmly welcomed the Security Council’s action, anti-Semites? It was only yesterday that Netanyahu boasted of his friendship with Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, who voted for the resolution. Are they now Israel’s enemies?If there has been a betrayal in this latest chapter of America’s relations with Israel, it is Netanyahu who has betrayed President Obama. The Obama administration has done more than any of its predecessors to assure Israel’s security. The tragedy is that everything that President Obama and his predecessors have done to protect Israel’s security will have been for naught as Netanyahu’s mad drive with the settlements towards an apartheid regime threatens to end Israel’s existence as a democratic and Jewish state, something its enemies could not have achieved on their own.With President-elect Trump and his newly appointed far-right, settlement-promoting ambassador-designate to the Jewish state cheering Netanyahu on, that apartheid outcome is now clearly in sight._____________]]>
Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153866 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153866 0
American Civil Obedience: Patriotically Accepting War

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

After the end of the Civil War, with 750,000 killed and many more wounded in body and mind, the historian Frederick Jackson Turner famously informed Americans in 1893 that the frontier was closed, suggesting to some that perhaps an era of peace lay ahead. Even so, the U.S., historically addicted to adventurism and expansionism, could never remain at peace for long. The 1890s opened, for example, with the attack on Wounded Knee, where 146 Sioux were massacred by U.S. cavalrymen and ended with the conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico and Guam. A world dominated by rapacious empires now had a new member of the club.  

But first Cuba. Though Spanish cruelty was irrefutable, the invasion of that island was aided and abetted by a stream of lies offered by the U.S. and  the press,  along with crocodile tears about poor, suffering Cubans, a sympathy which vanished once white Americans learned that many Cubans had dark skins.  William Graham Sumner, the acerbic  Social Darwinist and likely founder of modern sociology,  wrote a fuming essay, "The Conquest of the United States by Spain." " My patriotism is of the kind which is outraged by the notion that the United States was never a great nation until in a petty three months' campaign it knocked to pieces a poor, decrepit, bankrupt old state like Spain."

It got worse. When Spain surrendered Cuba in the Treaty of Paris in December 1898 Americans were allowed to buy the Philippines, a Spanish colony, for $20 million. But Americans knew little or nothing about that distant archipelago, or as the American satirist Finley Peter Dunne, AKA the Irish bartender Mr. Dooley, put it in his wonderful brogue, Americans barely knew if the Philippines were islands or canned goods.

In 1896 a revolt  in the Philippines against Spain was  begun by a secret society, the Society of the Sons of the Country, or Katipunan, as it was commonly called by the local native elite who spoke Tagalog, which had much appeal to ordinary Filipinos.  A few days after Admiral George Dewey's armada, acting on TR's orders after his boss went on vacation, arrived in Manila Harbor and destroyed the Spanish fleet, the influential expansionist Senator Albert Beveridge told an audience in the Middlesex Club in Boston: "We are a conquering race...we must obey our blood and occupy new markets, and if necessary new lands." He later expanded his highly popular views to the Senate: "We will not renounce our part in the mission of our [white] race, trustees under God .... [who] has marked us as his chosen people."

And so it has been ever since. America as the unquestioned exceptional and indispensable nation.

 Emilio Aguinaldo, the Filipino leader, hoped  the U.S. would recognize his self-proclaimed government. But the U.S.  was convinced that acquisition of the islands would not only be very good for business, (with Guam as a naval station) but that it would also provide an entryway to potentially lucrative East Asia markets, and at least for President McKinney, it was God's will to have "benevolent assimilation" foisted on needy and ignorant Filipinos.

10,000 US troops were dispatched to the Philippines; by 1900 there were 70,000.  In the end, an estimated 120,000  U.S. troops served there.  Like Vietnam, and to some extent Iraq as well, "Pacification of the rural population was sometimes affected by versions of forced relocations and other cruel actions," wrote Alfonso W. Quiroz in  "A War in Perspective, 1898-1998: Public Appeals, Memory and the Spanish American Conflict" for a NY Public Library exhibit.  

The war, hailed by the overwhelming majority of Americans and their political leaders, led to the death of 4,234 American troops and 2,818 wounded, and an estimated 25,000 Filipino irregulars and 200,000 civilian casualties, writes Stephen Kinzer in his intriguing new book, "The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain and the Birth of American Empire." Both sides rarely refrained from torture, including waterboarding, an American specialty in Iraq. Once the Filipinos were put down, the road was open to future wars against Japan and North Korea and a growing competition with nuclear-armed North Korea and China.

Still, there dissenters at home, notably the Anti-Imperialist League, "perhaps the most disjointed anti-war movement in U.S. history," wrote Michael Kazin in "A Godly Hero," his illuminating  biography of William Jennings Bryan. Kazin called the League "mugwumps over the age of sixty" who, while exposing an unjust war and the carnage were, however, "unwilling and unable to stage mass demonstrations or mount a concerted lobbying campaign." The League included eminent elitists Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, ex-Presidents Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison, Samuel Gompers. Williams James and Charles Francis Adams, Carl Schurz and Senator George Frisbie Hoar yet were hardly a match for passionate  pro-war Americans cheering on their "boys" in a brutal colonial war, much like the "Support Our Troops" campaign which masked the incredible blunder of invading Iraq and then setting the Mideast on fire.

Yet to their credit and despite bitter condemnations by war supporters, the League's dissidents bravely protested as best they could, writing, publishing and lecturing. Divided by class interests and politics (e.g., the capitalist Carnegie and labor leader Gompers), at least they said "no," while most opponents of the war were silent.  Not  E.L. Godkin, The Nation's editor, who put it in its true context:

"An immense democracy, mostly ignorant and completely secluded from foreign influence finds itself in possession of enormous power and is eager to use it in brutal fashion against anyone who comes along, without knowing how to do it, and is therefore constantly on the brink of some frightful catastrophe."

It's the sort of comment hard to find nowadays. 

When the war finally ended, there was a short-lived presidential  boom for Admiral Dewey. And General Frederick Funston, "Fearless Freddie," who helped plan Aguinaldo's capture, received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1900. He was accorded a hero's welcome when he returned home. In New York he denounced Filipinos as "a drunken uncontrollable mob" and said "all Americans who had recently petitioned Congress to sue for peace in the Philippines should be dragged out of their house and lynched."

I rather prefer Massachusetts Senator George Hoar, my favorite Anti-Imperialist Leaguer. He delivered his final shot against the neocons of his era: "You chose war instead of peace. You chose force instead of conciliation... sacrificed nearly ten thousand [sic] American lives, the flower of our youth. You have devastated provinces. You have slain uncounted thousands of people you desire to benefit. You have established concentration camps. Your generals are coming home from their harvest, bringing their sheaves with them, in the shape of other thousands of sick and wounded and insane...."

Who, asks Stephen Kinzer in "The True Flag," gave the U.S. the right to make decisions for the rest of the world? Or as one of our more astute pundits, Eric Margolis, posed in a slightly different way, "Who came down from the mountain and said the U.S. must police the globe?"

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153869 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153869 0
They Stood Their Ground Against War

Trenches in World War 1

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

"War, what is it good for?"--Elaine Benes, Seinfeld's friend.

"What harm did he do Thee, O Lord?"--An inscription placed by parents on their son's grave, killed at Gallipoli.

The Iraq-Afghan war is nothing compared to the Great War. Adam Hochschild's absolutely brilliant and eloquent "To End All Wars: A Study of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918" reported that a US War Department study in 1924 concluded that more than 8.6 million soldiers were killed and over 21 million were wounded in the four-years of mass, industrialized violence and the prostitution of science for purposes of sheer destruction--which continues apace today in American and Russian and Chinese laboratories getting ready for WW III.

WWI was a slaughterhouse, and the more cannon fodder the disputants needed the more they drafted anyone left standing including married men with children. In Britain, the upper, educated class's young men were killed and crippled at an alarming rate, which fascinated Americans drawn to the aura of a war with no blood or amputated limbs in "Upstairs Downstairs" and Downton Abbey." The realty was quite another thing, Hochschild tells us. Lord Salisbury, a former British PM, lost five grandsons; PM Herbert Asquith's eldest son was killed in battle as were the two sons of the future PM Bonar Law. 18-year old John Kipling died in France after which his super hawk father Rudyard, the perennial flag waver who never wore a military uniform, grieved deeply, and composed a couplet "Epitaph of the War:  If any question why we died/Tell them because our fathers lied."

Hochschild's book recalled the courage of the British men and women who so objected to the war they instead chose to suffer prison, starvation, torture, loss of jobs, family breakups and death threats. 20,000 Britons chose conscientious objection and prison, among them Tom Attlee, the elder brother of Clement Attlee, the future Prime Minister and Bertrand Russell, who also led a campaign to delegitimize the pointless Vietnam War.

Caroline Moorhead's equally incisive and revealing "Troublesome People: The Warriors of Pacifism" described her nation's resisters' experiences during the war. "Some have risked the death penalty rather than alter their view and some indeed have died for it, a few, their health and spirit broken by punishment, have gone mad. There is stubbornness, obduracy, about pacifism that can be infuriating; it can be heroic, admirable."

From where did their refusal to kill come? From many sources, of course, but essentially religious and secular beliefs. From Leo Tolstoy, whose "The Kingdom of God is Within You" greatly influenced Gandhi. Tolstoy preached refusal to accept war and freeing men and women from its curse. "Universal military service," said Tolstoy, "is the last stage of violence that governments need for the maintenance of the whole structure ... and its removal would bring down the whole building." In the US, Objectors were moved by the pencil-maker Henry Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience," who preferred an overnight jailhouse stay rather than support Polk's imperial, pro-slavery war with Mexico and with socialism, however they defined the term.

Books I've just read or re-read look back at the failed antiwar efforts to prevent WWI.  In 1915, one year after the European empires began butchering millions of their men and women, soldiers and civilians alike, a pop song swept American music stores whose chorus began "I didn't raise my son to be a soldier." Many decades later the soldier-son of a bereaved and angry mother named Cindy Sheehan was killed in Iraq chasing those Bush-Cheney WMDs, for which she was rebuked for defaming the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave "Before one more mother's child is lost," she shouted, and we are now entering our seventeenth year of war.

Michael Kazin's new book "War Against War: The American Fight for Peace 1914-1918" vividly  takes us back to Woodrow Wilson's reign and evokes the story of the lies, propaganda and bitter debates of that era. The men and women Kazin respects and admires tried for three years to keep the US from entering the war.

At the start, Kazin explains his point of view: "I wish the US had stayed out of the Great War. Imperial Germany posed no great to the American homeland and no long-term threat to its economic interests, and the consequences of its defeat made the world a more dangerous place."

What Kazin, professor of history at Georgetown, does is look at the pacifists and the socialists, trade unionists, women's groups, and others who chose to say NO! as Wilson and America remained on the sidelines for three years before deciding that the nation had to enter the war.  "War Against War" is a convincing warning about the falsehoods and self-deception that drew us into WWI and later into Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The people he and I honor are Morris Hillquit, the Socialist Party labor lawyer; Crystal Eastman, a mesmeric organizer and editor, the leading light who helped organize women and liberal pacifists; Jane Addams, the most remembered of all,  pacifist, Hull House co-founder, Women's Peace Party organizer  and Nobel Laureate who, in 1915,  explained that "the chief skepticism pacifism meets comes from a widely accepted conviction that war is a necessary and inevitable factor in human affairs," adding, "children should no longer be slain as living sacrifices upon the altar of tribal gods," subversive words which led the Daughters of the American Revolution to revoke her membership"; Claude Kitchin, the southern House Majority Leader, whose father fought for the Confederacy; Randolph Bourne whose words "War is the health of the state"  are more than ever relevant today; A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, African American socialists, anti-war and anti-imperialists; Robert and  Fola LaFollette, Wisconsin's husband and wife progressives;  pacifist  Rabbi Judah Magnes, inspired by the prophet Jeremiah and Gandhi, first president and Chancellor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and advocate for an Arab-Jewish bi-national country; Senator George Norris ("Their object in having war and in preparing for war is to make money .... Wall Street considers only the dollars and cents.") and the pacifist-socialist Helen Keller (" Congress is not preparing to defend the people of the US. It is planning to protect the capital of American speculators and investors [and] benefit the manufacturers of munitions and machines"). Their names and achievements have been erased from our national memory.

We've also largely forgotten, as the late Tom Hayden put it in his final book, "Hell No. The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement," the  "draft resisters, opposition among GIs, deserters to Canada and other countries, prayer vigils, moratoriums, letters written to Congress, civil disobedience, peace campaigns for Congress and massive teach-ins." And I would add Senator George McGovern and Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered anti-Vietnam War speeches at the Riverside Church in Manhattan in April 1967 and then at a huge rally in Central Park. And, Dorothy Day, Dan and Phil Berrigan and Rabbi Abraham Joshua  Heschel and the millions of Americans who marched and worked and took risks to end a sinful war that killed 58,000 US soldiers, far more wounded in body and mind, and several million Asians. So many protestors yesterday, so silent today.

I've just read Denise Grady's NY Times article buried on page 15 (Jan. 15, 2017) of the 1,367 young soldiers who received devastating wounds to their genitourinary tracts in Iraq or Afghanistan and many may never be able to conceive a child. Many have also received traumatic brain injuries, pelvic fractures, colorectal damage and amputations.

That's because in the end, loyalty to one's country prevails in every war in every nation. W.B. Sledge was a Marine in WWII and his striking book, "With The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa," reeks with misery and death and sadness. "War," concludes this Marine combat vet, "is brutish, inglorious and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it." But then he closes with the dominant appeal of blood and faithfulness and the sense of what he owes to his country. "As the troops used to say, 'If the country is good enough to live in, it's good enough to fight for.' With privilege comes responsibility." Such sentiments, even about wars that should never have been fought, have always trumped those who tried to resist their country's war party. Rest assured, patriotic Americans, no VIP who sent them to the Middle Eastern wars will ever be reprimanded.

I leave the last wise words to Kazin, whose book deserves your attention. The WWI anti-war heroes argued "passionately and consistently, that a durable settlement depended on the US forging a tolerant, non-aggressive relationship with other nations -- one based not on preparing for war but on avoiding it."

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153878 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153878 0
Blacklists

Sen. Joe McCarthy

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

I remember my older apolitical sister telling the family that her favorite high school typing- steno teacher had been fired. Why, she didn't know.

Years later I learned that the fired teacher's Marine son had been killed on Guadalcanal.  In the same high school my teacher of Spanish, the comedian Sam Levinson, had named his son in honor of the typing-steno teacher's dead son. Levinson was a moonlighter and wrote a column for a left-wing newspaper and came close to losing his day job after he was "exposed" by one of the for-profit rags that outed Communists, party and non-party, and all sorts of left-leaning liberals.  He took the smart way out. I was told he paid them off so he could be "cleared" and allowed to continue teaching and telling jokes.

Yet another of our teachers was kicked out for his political views, which, incidentally, I never heard him express in my social studies classroom.  I did hear rumors later that he had become a milkman to support his family.

All this--and much more--happened because the Cold War had arrived soon after Germany surrendered. It was a new postwar anti-Red world and the NYC Board of Education caved before unrelenting pressure brought by extreme rightists, unctuous and opportunistic politicians and local Hearst-owned papers. Firing experienced leftist teachers was their specialty.

I recently ran across a brief NY Times obituary dated February 3, 2009.

"Samuel Pines, noted mathematician and physicist, a victim of the McCarthy blacklist, whose names and reputation were cleared by the defense department after a precedent -setting legal struggle in 1955."

I had never heard of Samuel Pines but his attempt to save himself and his reputation suggested the concomitant rise of a scurrilous and innovative network egged on by Hoover's FBI, HUAC  and its copycats (e.g., the avenging Tenney Committee in California, which demanded college faculty members sign loyalty oaths) and an army of ex-Communists who apparently needed money and favorable publicity.

People like Harvey Matusow, who did fairly well financially after naming more than 200 people as Reds or sympathizers in the early 1950s only to recant and later admit he lied in every instance.

Or Martin Berkeley, an actor on Broadway and later a screenwriter, a former Communist Party member, who presented HUAC with more than one hundred names.

"In Hollywood during the HUAC days, friend became afraid of friend," wrote Victor Navasky in his seminal 1980 book "Naming Names," adding "The  free-floating guilt that was in the air visited the innocent--Communist and non-Communist alike." Navasky  cited a NY Times piece by reporter Warren Hoge about the travails of the apolitical actress Mildred Dunnock, who played Willie Loman's wife in The Death of a Salesman." It neatly summed up the blacklist's sins. She couldn't find additional work because the right-wing "Red Channels," mentioned her alongside Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan.

"It gave me an emotional understanding of being accused," said Dunnock. "I felt contaminated. I felt I had leprosy. I felt I had incriminated my husband, a conventional man."

She was not alone. J. Edward Bromberg, a character actor, killed himself after he was named, as did Philip Loeb, Molly Goldberg's TV husband, after he too was named. Bromberg's son, Conrad, remembered, "You didn't know who was for you or against you."

The late Merle Miller, who wrote biographies of  Truman and General Ike, called "Naming Names" a "book about a very dark time in our recent history. While there are those who would like to pretend it never happened, it did, and we must remember it lest we repeat it"-- an appropriate warning for our  times.

Clancy Sigal, a Hollywood  agent, later blacklisted, whose agency's clients included Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger, Barbara Stanwyck  and Peter Lorre, also wrote "Going Away," one of the more memorable and striking memoirs  of that anxious era. His new sharp-eyed  book, "Black Sunset: Hollywood Sex, Lies,  Glamour, Betrayal, and Raging Egos" raises central questions about the dirty era of blacklisting: "In this vast cosmology of informers there are exquisite ranks, grades, reason, excuses. Do they voluntarily engage in the destruction of their friends or are they dragged unwilling.... Blackmailed? Do they take pleasure or pain from betraying? The eternal problems of guilt assigned or evaded."

Not many dared defend the victims by challenging the Torquemadas. Far easier to simply accept the judgment of powerful people who can harm you. I remember watching a man and two women asking ordinary passersby to sign their names in favor of the Bill of Rights. It was next to the East NY Savings Bank on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn's Brownsville neighborhood. Only one elderly woman signed. But that was understandable given that those were the flowering of the Cold War Consensus years and  fear of a coming nuclear war with  Russia. There certainly were plenty of Russian spies as there were no doubt  plenty of American spooks. But what criminal acts had Bromberg, Loeb, my high school's teachers, and Clancy Sigal, et.al. committed? At most many of the Communists and others were guilty of moral complicity for ignoring Stalin's many crimes.  0r belonging to New Dealish left and labor groups. Or signing petitions. Or voting for Henry Wallace in 1948. Or even worse: John Gregory Dunne, the great stylist and cynic who covered Hollywood for years wrote that the imprisoned Hollywood Ten writers mainly produced--surprise! -- mediocre films. But crimes?

The dread and silence were not broken until the '60s but not before countless numbers of famous people rushed to swear allegiance to The Land of The Free and The Home of the Brave. Like the liberal senators who co-sponsored the "Emergency Detention Act" aimed at sending "subversives" to internment camps during alleged national emergencies.

 I just read Spencer Woodman's  "Intercept" article headed "Republican lawmakers in five states propose bills to criminalize peaceful protest. And, too, Frank P. Barrajas's justifiably outraged HNN piece, "Professor, You're Being Watched," describing how he and 200 other professors were named by neo-blacklisters who alleged they "discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom."

So what's next as we enter a new presidential administration where newly-empowered Trump men and women, some apparently seething with rage and bitterness, could go after teachers and professors, liberal actors and screenwriters for saying and writing the wrong things?  Maybe burning their books? Or closing down some opposition newspapers and websites and reinstating loyalty oaths? 0r how about refurbishing some rendition centers in torture-friendly countries?  I don't always agree with conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks but heartily agree with his recent warning about our country: "A mean wind is blowing."

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153884 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153884 0
Whose Kids Are Ready to Fight and Die for Kiev and Tallinn?

Putin commemorating 9-11 in NYC 2001  –  Kremlin.ru CC BY 3.0  via Wikimedia Commons

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

While analyzing Vladimir Putin, our latest foreign devil, I wonder if many of our born-again Russian experts could pass a simple exam evaluating and explaining the possible impact of Russia’s past on him. How many know enough about Russian history to know about Mikhail Bakunin, Alexander Herzen, Nicholas I,  the Crimean War, Nestor Makhno, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, Anton Denikin,  Serge Witte, P.N. Wrangel, A.V. Kolchak, the Czech Legion, the Cordon Sanitaire, or even U.S. General William Graves on their  relevance to  current Russian history? Would they know anything about Nicholai Danilevsky, who dreamed up Pan-Slavism, a principle based on the hypothesis that a common cultural tie and language formed a brotherhood, or at least ought to form one, among Slavic people? My guess is that most are instant experts. What we now see and read is offered up with barely a hint of dissent.

Many have tried to understand Putin's Russia. A plausible explanation came from Fiona Hill, who once worked in the Bush II, administration and co-wrote Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin. “He’s not delusional, but he’s inhabiting a Russia of the past, a version of the past that he has created. His present is defined by it and there is no coherent vision of the future.”

Like most world leaders yesterday and especially today.

From Moscow,  Shaun Walker, the Guardian’s reporter, asked, “What is Putin thinking?” and then  describes his and Russia’s “deep-seated sense of injustice of  unfair victimization from the west” because of  “an unwillingness to take Russia’s interests into account. Walker goes on to describe the thinking of Russia’s elite: “This ideology envisions Russia’s emergence as  a  conservative world power in direct opposition to the geopolitical hegemony and liberal values of the west”  – a hint of a Romanov-like restoration?

In the meantime, Baltic and East European nations are assured and reassured by U.S. politicians that Article 5 of NATO mandates that, if attacked (by Putin’s Russia, who else?), the U.S., a charter member, will be required to spring to its defense and then our officials will once again have to urge Americans to tell their kids to hide under their school desks when they hear the alarms and get their sons ready to be drafted.

“The U.S. has treated Russia like a loser since the end of the Cold War,” wrote our former ambassador to Moscow, the non-conforming and shrewd Jack Matlock, Jr. in the Washington Post.  When NATO moved eastward and dangled membership to Russia’s neighbors, Moscow objected, interpreting the moves as nothing less than encirclement. Putin worked with the U.S. when it invaded Afghanistan and also abandoned its bases in Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam and Cuba, Matlock reminded us. In return, NATO reached into the Balkans and Baltics, invaded Iraq without Security Council endorsement, involved itself in the “Orange Revolutions” of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan while hinting that it also might include Georgia and Ukraine, former SSRs.

With little or no historical knowledge “Americans, inheritors of the Monroe Doctrine, should have understood that Russia would be hypersensitive to foreign dominated military alliances approaching or touching its borders.” Crimea, he warns, worsens the break between east and west, a situation where “there would be no winners, only losers, most of all Ukraine itself” and, I add, an angry, isolated, bitter and uncompromising nuclear rivalry.

I recently turned to historians who, while not defending recent Russian moves, are trying to understand, even if our domestic hawks equate “understand” with “Munich.” Diplomatic historian Sheldon Stern’s “Putin Didn’t Seize Crimea Because Obama is ‘Weak’ ” tells us that “It would be surprising if Putin did not intervene in the Crimea after President Yanukovych’s overthrow threatened Russia’s access to its warm water base in Sevastopol and its political influence in Kiev. He then cites Daniel Larison, a historian and blogger for the paleo-con The American Conservative: “Russia behaved the way that it has because it already thought that western interference in Ukraine was too great.”

Mark  Sternberg has just edited the eighth edition of Nicholas Riasanovsky’s definitive A History of Russia and is now writing a history of the Russian Revolution. In “Putin’s Russia is Far More Complicated than A Mere Autocracy,” he draws attention to what he views as a serious misinterpretation drawn from Churchill’s famous Westminster College speech in 1946, when he warned the west about his former ally Stalin.

 “Winston Churchill famously called Russia ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’ – a phrase that makes me cringe when it shows up in contemporary journalism…. Part of the problem is that we forget Churchill’s point: There is a 'Russian national interest' ” (my italics).

Dreams of unlimited pretensions of near-perfection are natural in the West. Putin went out of his way in his St. George’s Hall speech to deride American posturing “in their exclusivity and exceptionalism, that they can decide the destinies of the world that only they can ever be right.”

Western “demonization of  Vladimir Putin is  not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one” said the cynical, occasionally realistic Henry Kissinger in the Washington Post. He suggests the U.S. goal should be to seek a way  for the two Ukraines to work together, and we not favoring the dominion of one side or the other. “We should seek reconciliation, not the domination of a faction.”

Western/American policy remains unknown and confusing.  Perhaps the U.S. has been too naïve about post-Soviet Russia, or conversely, dismissed its anxieties and interests too hastily. Still, the  best outcome of the complex Crimean mess is to take it slow, very slow. I don’t always agree with Ross Douthat, the Times’s brainy and conservative Op Ed columnist, but he’s on to something. Bismarck managed to keep the peace in Europe after a series of wars, and handed down to us his pithy reminder that his generation’s Balkan crises weren’t worth the bones of "a Pomeranian Grenadier."  Echoing the great European  conservative and unlike some demented neocons and liberal hawks, Douthat  wisely writes that “even the most bellicose U.S. politicians aren't ready to say that South Ossetia or Simferopol is worth the bones of a single American marine.”

"Where Douthat is right is in recognizing that our treacherous tit-for-tat contest with Russia has to slow down before someone shoots a modern-day version of the poor Austrian Archduke. In his real life genuine conservative mode, Douthat properly calls for 'Balance,'  explaining that, in dealing with an [allegedly] weak and [potentially] treacherous Russia,  the U.S. 'has been both too naïve about Putin’s intentions and too incautious in its commitments and that a new containment need not require a new Cold War.' ” Then he comes to his main and eminently sensible  point. “When illusions are shattered, it’s easy to become reckless, easy to hand-wring and retrench. What we need instead is realism: to use the powers we have, without pretending to powers that we lack.”

 It’s as far as we dare go in a nuclear age. And that goes for Moscow and Washington and the rest of the members of the Nuclear Club.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153891 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153891 0
A Nuclear War?

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

Here's what Senator Chuck Schumer said after Washington erupted in a nasty civil war between Trump & Company and the Intelligence Community's accusation of Russian hacking. Chuck warned that our new President was "really dumb to criticize the intelligence community because they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you." Translated, that means that even so powerful a guy as the Senate Minority Leader has to take great care before he and presumably others in Washington dare cross what Mike Lofgren once famously dubbed "The Deep State."

As  Lofgren, who spent 28 years working for Congress put it in his book The Deep State, a "shadow government" of corporate and national security interests from Wall Street to Washington, are the real bosses and not the White House, Congress and the courts, many of whom are tied one way or another to the real  movers and shakers. "The Deep State," he wrote," is the big story of our time. It is the thread that runs through the war on terrorism and the militarization of foreign policy."

Agree or not, we're currently inundated with accusations that Trump is Putin's stooge while his presidential responses only add to the confusion and inflames our domestic war.

We could use some clarity and common sense.  Arthur Pearl, a  writer I admire, warned  long before the emergence of Donald Trump and his critics that the most reasonable and probable result of arguments and counter-arguments without a defensible alternative is a change that is really no change.

Which is precisely what the memorable Admiral Gene La Rocque, who died last October 31 at age 98, tried to do. He wrote an article or two for a magazine I edited and as a result I once had a leisurely lunch with him and his friend John Glenn.  They agreed that Ike's farewell warning about the failure to heed the growing power of our military-industrial complex was a critically missed opportunity.

La Rocque, a combat veteran of 13 major naval battles in WWII and recipient of the Legion of Merit, was effectively dumped by his postwar comrades because he believed the Vietnam War was a mistake.  He co-founded  the Center for Defense Information, its main aim to avoid a nuclear war with the Russians while keeping a close eye on the very lucrative military-industrial complex, all of which challenged views held by many of  his erstwhile comrades, who deemed his views  an unpardonable offense.

We can use similar realists now. Avoiding a nuclear war with Russia (or for that matter any nuclear power) will sooner or later involve dealing with Vladimir Putin. He (or his successors) runs a vast country spanning nine time zones from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean and occupying one-sixth of the earth's land mass. It also possesses, thanks to the original Cold War, thousands of nukes.

Putin is no angel but calling him a war criminal and a monster as some American politicians and pundits have been doing is not exactly helpful.  He's a classic Holy Mother Orthodox Church Tsarist ruler, though still without gulags. He reminds me of Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the lay head of the Russian Orthodox Church from 1880 until 1905 and chief advisor to the Tsar, a powerful Russian who loathed democracy, censored the press, crippled the zemstvos (local governments established by a reform-minded Tsar), excommunicated the great Tolstoy, who he called "a madman," and silenced prominent critics like Vladimir Soloviev, the theologian, as I described in my 1965 Foreword to his book Reflections of a Russian Statesman.

Putin certainly violated international law by annexing Crimea.  But somehow in all the outraged, sometimes justified, commentaries about that peninsula's takeover there was little said about other violations of international law, let alone morality, as in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada and Panama, a bloody proxy war in Central America,  helping wreck Libya and turning it into a terrorist's paradise, and now inflicting misery on Yemen.

These days few Washington-based VIPs (pro and con Trump) seem too concerned about the potential for a nuclear war with Russia, now that an erratic and unpredictable President controls the nuclear button. At the very least we desperately need  a law requiring that,  unlike Truman, LBJ, Clinton, Bush 2,  and Obama, no President can make war or declare a state of emergency, without congressional approval.

I like best what David Foglesong, a rational professor of history at Rutgers, wrote recently:

"Trump must vigorously make the case for cooperation--as Reagan did with Gorbachev and as Kennedy did in his American University speech of June 1963, when he urged Americans 'not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodation as impossible, and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threat.' "

I know it's commonplace to say that a nuclear war would finish most of us off. But as Robert McNamara explained in the documentary "The Fog of War," few outside JFK's inner circle knew how close we came  to a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963.  It can happen again if we're not careful, very careful.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153901 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153901 0
On Obama's Failure to Reshape US Foreign Policy

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

I wrote this in early 2010 for The American Conservative, an anti-neocon  magazine. 

Suddenly and surprisingly, we have a Bush-like Obama Doctrine. To the applause of liberal hawks and formerly critical neocons, the president declared in his Nobel Peace Prize speech that the U.S. will continue to wage war—though naturally, only “just” war—anywhere and against anyone it chooses in a never-ending struggle against the forces of evil. His antiwar supporters can take seats on the sidelines.

It’s all reminiscent of John F. Kennedy and the prescient George Ball, and afterward Ball and Lyndon Johnson. In the early ’60s, JFK—reluctantly, we are told by his admirers—decided to send 16,000 “trainers” to Vietnam to teach the South Vietnamese how to play soldier and to stop the Communists from sweeping over Southeast Asia. Vast quantities of money and assorted advisers were shipped without accountability to the corrupt gang of thugs running and ruining that country.

Ball, the one dissenter in Kennedy’s entourage, pleaded with JFK to recall France’s devastating defeat in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu and throughout Indochina. “Within five years we’ll have 300,000 men in the paddies and jungles and never find them again,” he warned the liberal icon in the White House. But JFK thought he knew better, caustically answering, “George, you’re crazier than hell. That just isn’t going to happen.”

Ball would also press Lyndon Johnson to stand down in Vietnam before he destroyed his presidency, domestic agenda, and more importantly the lives of tens of thousands of American soldiers and their families, not to mention a few million Southeast Asians. But LBJ wasn’t going to be the first president to lose a war and be blasted by pugnacious home-front warriors. Failing to stop the North Vietnamese would sooner or later have us fighting them on Waikiki Beach, or so the Cold War line went.

Ever since then, we have continued to hear about regional menaces that supposedly, if left unchecked, will threaten vital U.S. interests or even Americans at home. Ronald Reagan employed that rationale in defending the proxy war in Central America waged by U.S.-backed Contras. George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton extended the tradition of intervention, sending troops to theaters of combat as far-flung as Panama, Kuwait, and the Balkans, while the second Bush launched invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. They have all been war presidents.

But Barack Obama was going to be different, or so my fellow antiwar liberals—and a few antiwar conservatives—hoped. He was to herald the end of that uncompromising and unilateral era of preventive war. The hundreds of thousands who joyously greeted the president-elect in Grant Park or the 1.5 million at his inauguration were ecstatic with anticipation. Left-wing pundits wrote excitedly about FDR’s One Hundred Days and projected great plans onto the new Man From Illinois. In countless articles, Republicans were declared brain dead, and the Bush-Cheney policies that got us into Iraq, Afghanistan, and the torture business were buried.

One year after those celebrations, it’s the neocons cheering, seeing in Obama’s policies a vindication of the late administration. Who would have dreamed that following Obama’s West Point speech announcing 30,000 more troops destined for Afghanistan, William Kristol would laud Obama in the pages of the Washington Post, writing, “the rationale for this surge is identical to Bush’s,” and praise the Democratic president for having “embraced the use of military force as a key instrument of national power”? War makes strange bedfellows. Michèle Flournoy, Obama’s under secretary of defense for policy, has been invited to speak about the president’s hopes for a new Afghanistan on a panel led by Frederick W. Kagan at the American Enterprise Institute, the heart of neoconservatism.

Why did Obama buy what the hawks sold him? What if he had leveled with the nation and acknowledged that, however obnoxious and cruel the Taliban may be, they pose no danger to the United States? What if he had vowed that we would not dispatch tens of thousands of additional troops to a civil war in an agrarian, impoverished, largely illiterate country divided by tribal loyalties?

It was not to be. Instead, as New York Times columnist David Brooks stated approvingly, “With his two surges, Obama will more than double the number of American troops in Afghanistan.” Charles Krauthammer was direct and sharp: “most supporters of the Afghanistan war were satisfied. They got the policy; the liberals got the speech”—and no say in the construction of that policy.

After West Point and Oslo, neocons saw Obama as a more coherent Bush, an electrifying orator who had dazzled antiwar Democrats and independents and then promptly dumped them. When the New York Timesprinted a photo of the men and women who helped Obama reach his decision to escalate, not one dove was present.

Were there no alternatives? In this huge country, could he not find a handful of realists, whether Left or Right, to supply some workable ideas for eliminating third and fourth tours for our overextended troops and the resulting suicides, amputations, epidemics of post-traumatic stress disorder, and legions of weeping relatives at gravesides?

Hold on, Obama’s loyal liberal defenders counter, shuddering at the memory of Bush. Why blame him for the miserable decisions he has to make based on impossible situations he did not create? They would prefer not to explain why they and their allies in the think tanks and Congress have so little influence.

Granted, some of Obama’s base reacted negatively. In December, MoveOn .org sent its millions of members a scorching email denouncing Obama’s troop escalation for “deepen[ing] our involvement in a quagmire.” Anti-Vietnam War rebel Tom Hayden removed the Obama sticker from his car. United for Peace and Justice, the main organizer of mass peace rallies around the country, announced, “It’s Obama’s War, and We Will Stop it.” The widely read liberal TomDispatch.com dubbed its former champion the “Commanded-in-Chief” for giving way to the hardball pressures exerted by the generals. Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive, founded by the fabled anti-militarist Robert M. LaFollette Sr. in 1909, compared Bush and Obama’s rhetoric and wrote an article called “Obama Steals Bush’s Speechwriters.”

But these protests notwithstanding, we remain—and will throughout Obama’s presidency—an empire of military colonization, the goal for decades of neoconservatives and assorted liberal hawks. In anthropologist Hugh Gusterson’s wonderfully evocative words, “The U.S. is to military bases as Heinz is to ketchup.” American forces are stationed at approximately 1,000 military bases in 120 countries at a cost topping $100 billion annually. Diego Garcia, a remote island in the Indian Ocean midway between Africa and Indonesia, is apparently so essential a base that 5,000 locals were thrown out of their homes so the U.S. could have yet another top-secret facility from which to conduct its perpetual wars.

Far from being a consensus-seeking peacenik, Obama would not even sign the Landmine Ban Treaty, which Bush also refused to endorse, thus leaving the U.S. the only NATO nation unwilling to participate. Said Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division, “they have simply decided to allow the Pentagon to dictate terms.” A shocked Bill Moyers pointed out that 5,000 people died from mine explosions in 2008, noting the disconnect between Obama’s refusal to enlist the support of the government he leads and the Oslo speech in which he maintained, “I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do and isolates and weakens those who don’t.”

In another instance of history repeating, the first Obama defense budget has been virtually the same as Bush’s military appropriations. Obama has reduced spending on Cold War weapons such as the F-22 fighter, but he reportedly plans to ask Congress for an extra $33 billion for the ongoing wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. To his credit, the president is trying to negotiate a new nuclear-arms reduction pact with Russia and close a few of the CIA’s clandestine prisons. But in many other vital areas of defense and national security, like warrantless wiretaps and renewal of much of the Patriot Act, he persists in activities that violate fundamental freedoms. He has also refused to hold anyone from the Bush-Cheney era accountable.

There’s more: his administration has just signed an accord with Colombia granting the U.S. a ten-year right to use seven of its bases, including the centerpiece of the agreement, Palanquero AFB. Take heed, any leftist South American government that dares defy Uncle Sam. At the same time, Obama blinked at the coup d’état in Honduras. “They really thought he was different,” said Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to Latin America’s opinion of Obama. “But those hopes were dashed over the course of the summer.”

So what happened?

Barack Obama happened. More eloquence than substance happened. More time-honored political caution than audacity or hope. Liberal and conservative Cold Warriors as key advisers. A reluctance to cross wartime profiteers. A recognition by his poll-counters that, with future elections in mind, it was best to govern from some ill-defined center, acting tough abroad to keep the neocons off his back while throwing an occasional bone to his left.

That strategy may buy him a second term as fruitless as his first—or it could render him indistinguishable from his deservedly maligned predecessor and cost him re-election in 2012.

The Left howls now, but from the very start, Obama signaled his lack of interest in McGovernite ideas of change in foreign policy. There was a time when he talked about pressing Israel to dismantle its settlements. But thus far he has been cowed by Netanyahu and his American backers, betraying any hope for a genuinely independent Palestinian state. There was that stirring speech in Cairo and then silence. There was talk about closing Guantanamo but no mention of the much larger Bagram prison in Afghanistan.

The sad truth is everything we are seeing we have already seen. Despite presidents who come and go, permanent war is a hallowed American institution. Start if you will with the War of 1812, the invasion of Mexico, and the carnage of a Civil War. Move to the mass murder of Native Americans and theft of their property, the killing, torture, and prison camps in the Philippines, then the blood-drenched 20th century. The 21st likewise dawns red. It never changes. Doves protest, hawks rule, ordinary people pay the penalty. All wars are “just.”

As surely as the bloodletting persists, so does the opposition. The old chestnut that liberals have always stood for peace and conservatives for war is historically false. In fact, our past is rich with anti-militarist heroes of surprisingly varied political colors. Daniel Webster opposed the War Hawks and the draft they proposed in 1812. Abolitionist Theodore Parker denounced the Mexican War and called on his fellow Bostonians in 1847 “to protest against this most infamous war.” Henry Van Dyke, a Presbyterian minister and ardent foe of the annexation of the Philippines, told his congregation in 1898, “If we enter the course of foreign conquest, the day is not far distant when we must spend in annual preparation for wars more than the $180,000,000 that we now spend every year in the education of our children for peace.” Socialist and labor leader Eugene Debs received a ten-year prison sentence for daring to tell potential draftees in 1918 that it was “the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish the corpses.” Against U.S. entry into World War I, Republican Sen. George Norris of Nebraska asked, “To whom does this war bring prosperity? Not to the soldier … not to the brokenhearted widow … not to the mother who weeps at the death of her baby boy … . War brings no prosperity to the great mass of common and patriotic citizens … .War brings prosperity to the stock gambler on Wall Street.” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the only member of Congress in 2001 who voted against George W. Bush’s decision to invade Afghanistan, warned her colleagues to be “careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target.” Conservative Russell Kirk laid out a post-World War II program for conservatives by reminding them, “A handful of individuals, some of them quite unused to moral responsibilities on such a scale, made it their business to extirpate the populations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima; we must make it our business to curtail the possibility of such snap decisions.”

Anti-militarism is very much an American tradition, but it has never been a majority position. Who now reads Finley Peter Dunne, the Chicago newspaperman who invented the brogish bartender Mr. Dooley speaking to his customer, Mr. Hennessey, while deriding American excesses and the national passion for imperial expansion? He wondered why many leaders and everyday Americans passively embraced, without much knowledge, our devotion to world hegemony—specifically in his time, the decision to invade and occupy the Philippines. “’Tis not more than two months,” he told his pro-annexation readers, “ye larned whether they were islands or canned goods.”

Yet just as certain as opposition to foreign adventuring arises, again it goes unheeded. As we begin President Obama’s second year in office, of this we can be certain: in global affairs, but for a few crumbs here and there, antiwar views will rarely be welcomed by this White House. And when these marginalized voters complain, all the president’s men will remind them that they were told Afghanistan was a “necessary war” and “national security” is everything. I can imagine Obama’s advisers confidently telling him that however many troops he ships to these and future wars, however much money he spends on military hardware, his anguished allies have no place else to go. Plus ça change.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153905 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153905 0
The Road to Success: Bombs, Missiles, Maybe Even Boots on the Ground Murray Polner is HNN's Senior Book Review Editor and  the "There's No There There" blogger.

Anyone remember Michael Moore's 1995 film "Canadian Bacon," where a President with plunging approval ratings began a secret vilification campaign against Canada to resuscitate his candidacy and get the people to rally 'round the flag.

Or Barry Levinson's brilliant 1998 satire "Wag the Dog," where a President eager to deflect attention from a sex scandal hires a spin specialist to provoke a war against Albania?

Since lies and fake news are so fashionable today, we need to keep in mind that so many of our government's leaders and sycophants have always lied when it intervened in the Caribbean, the Philippines, Africa, Korea, Grenada, Iran, Central America, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and et al.

I don't know if Donald trump and the peculiar collection of men and women he has gathered around him know much about the Diversionary Theory. But it's the theme of both films and possibly an escape route for our widely disliked President now struggling mightily with an approval rating hovering around 35%. For some of our past White House occupants, Polk, McKinley, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan and Bush 1, their solution was to kick off a nice little war or two and then hope the crowds would start celebrating.  The bombing of Syria and potential future victims will also allow the people who tell us what and how to think  –  our well-paid editorial boards, pundits and subsidized think tankers  – to shift gears and begin championing a "New Trump," the tough guy who has really made America Great again by smacking around some punk like Assad.

So why wouldn't our reactionary and inexperienced President, who somehow managed to escape military service and has yet to figure out a genuine and rational domestic program, not start thinking of himself as the toughest guy on the world scene?

But even a diversionary war has its limits.  We know  –  or at least I hope we know  –  that we can't fight Russia with its thousands of nukes or even heavily armed Iran and its 70 million people, about whom General Anthony Zinni was said to warn, "If you liked Iraq you'll love Iran."

But then there's North Korea, about whom lots of home front heroes in Washington believe should be our next "slam dunk." Trump's very green ExxonMobil Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has said the U.S. should think about about a pre-emptive war against that peculiar, secluded country. So while the U.S. theoretically flattens Pyongyang and the Marines race toward the Yalu, Kim Jong-un's missiles and nukes eliminate Seoul and much of South Korea, U.S. bases and troops in Japan and Okinawa, and even a few Japanese cities.

Now North Korea could never win an all-out war with the U.S. but neither could the U.S., which since WWII, hasn't been militarily successful in Asia or the Middle East or even if it decides to send in the troops to intervene in the extremely complex  civil war that is modern Syria. Max Fisher's NY Times "Interpreter," added this convincing warning:  "A full war, entered deliberately or accidentally, would risk terrible costs....  North Korea would almost certainly succeed in launching some nuclear and chemical weapons, potentially killing millions."

So who's next? Anyone?

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153916 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153916 0
Nuclear War Anyone?

Murray Polner is an HNN book reviewer and blogger.

"You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." –  Attributed to Leon Trotsky

CQ Roll Call recently reported that the Defense Science Board (DSB), a Pentagon panel, had advised our new president to prepare the military to use a "tailored nuclear option for limited use."

Great News.

Even though, as CQ Roll Call added (and the "realist" National Interest commented on extensively in "Could America Really Win a 'Limited' Nuclear War?"), this "recommendation is more evolutionary than revolutionary," it was Jim who once wisely explained to Huck Finn, that "time goes fast." Above all, the DSB's recommendation reminded me of the experts who once fantasized that limited or even top of the line nuke blasts would somehow allow post-attack millions to live on and thrive. T.K. Jones, a Pentagon official, famously advised his fellow Americans in 1982, "If there are enough shovels to go around everybody's going to make it." And so school kids were told to duck under their desks and apartment house owners set aside basements as shelters.

All the same, ordinary Americans have not always been so trusting, especially since Vietnam. Millions protested the draft and a war based on lies, marched for a nuclear freeze and before 2003 against the invasion of Iraq. And while the mass protests after Trump's election avoided foreign policy it shouldn't take long to arouse Americans if we find ourselves buried in permanent and unwinnable wars against, say,  North Korea and Iran and the despised draft reinstituted to provide cannon fodder.

 An anxious NY Times reader reflected that view when he wrote, "The times we live in are truly more dangerous than I thought." Another, a self-described 20 year Marine veteran, wrote "We are the provocateurs, not the North Koreans." He wondered why the constant threats to the cruel hermit nation, "an unstable regime with a delusional leader. Perhaps we are the crazy ones," adding that we should let countries solve their own problems. An anonymous reader, in the often insightful paleo-conservative American Conservative magazine, offered this gem: "The U.S. cannot defeat Iran or Russia [or for that matter, China, should it choose to intervene as it did in 1951 if it sees North Korea being destroyed]  –  or other targets  –  because to do so takes far more sacrifice than the American people are willing to make. Ordinary Americans are not convinced," he continued, that these wars pose enough of a threat to volunteer themselves, or send their own children, to be killed or maimed in a pointless exercise." And from England an interpretation rarely heard from our comfortable, far from the battlefield foreign policy elites: "The hubris of American officials is that somehow what they devise will alter the violent Middle East landscape."

Today, as Trump's neophyte agents Michael Pence and Rex Tillerson saber-rattle, the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet, armed with tactical nukes, patrols nearby waters while U.S. bombers can easily make the trip from North American bases to North Korea, which also has nukes but chemical and biological weapons too, the same sort of weapons used so extensively by the U.S. in Vietnam.

Historian Bruce Cumings, who wrote The Korean War, is one of a relatively few scholars who questions the existing groupthink. "North Korea is the only country in the world to have been systematically blackmailed by U.S. nuclear weapons going back to the 1950s, when hundreds of nukes were installed in South Korea," he wrote. "Why on earth would Pyongyang not seek a nuclear deterrent? But this crucial background doesn't enter the mainstream American discourse. History doesn't matter, until it does  –  when it rears up and smacks you in the face."

Critics who might agree with him have been silent. Fewer even have spoken and written that the certain outcome of any U.S. nuke attack on North Korea, deliberately or by miscalculation, could lead to a calamitous war, leaving Pyongyang and Seoul in ashes and its millions vaporized, including tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and Japan.

John Dower, MIT professor emeritus of history and author of Embracing Defeat, which received the Pulitzer Prize, has written a new and thoughtful if depressing book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two, in which he offers these words of warning about our addiction to war:  "The mystique of exceptional [American] virtue does not accommodate serious consideration of irresponsibility, provocation, intoxication with brute force, paranoia, hubris, reckless and criminal actions, or even criminal negligence."

Now it is President Donald Trump's turn to decide who, if anyone, gets nuked.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153923 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153923 0
You Can Say Anything You Want, but ... Murray Polner is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

Former second round draft choice and ex-San Francisco 49er QB Colin Kaepernick, who once led the team to a Super Bowl, can't find a job today because he protested racism in this country by refusing to stand for the playing of the National Anthem. No job even as a backup QB on one of the NFL's mediocre teams. His sin? Ostensibly, it was refusing to stand for the anthem and thereby confronting the all-powerful NFL's insistence that the USA, the NFL and its 1% owners are one and the same. Only the distant, under-reported Canadian Football League has shown any interest in him. Canadians also have a Bill of Rights but because I once taught in a Canadian university I can say that they rarely have to be reminded that an open mind is the best mind.

Much the same is true with baseball, the other major sports behemoth. Curt Flood a St. Louis outfielder, an All -Star and Gold Glover, famously refused to bend and would not accept a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969. In a direct challenge to baseball's revered and set-in-stone reserve clause, which tied players to their clubs, granting then few career options, Flood sent a letter to Bowie Kuhn, the Baseball Commissioner, saying, "I do not regard myself as a piece of property to be bought or sold." Insofar as I know, just two former players, Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg, publicly defended him even as few players, black and white, during the Civil Rights Era, fearful of losing their jobs, dared not take sides against the owners. Flood received his share of death threats and denunciations for endangering America's Game and never found any job openings after that. Skipping 1970, he played in only 13 games for Washington in 1971.

The celebrated rebel, Muhammad Ali, was revered only after he was unanimously absolved by the Supreme Court.  Still, two fearless athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their clenched fists against racism at the Mexico City Olympics, were roundly condemned and were never accorded much respect or honor then or in their later years. On the right, Curt Schilling, an outspoken conservative and first-rate pitcher, received no support from outraged liberals when he backed George W. Bush for the presidency in 2004 or rejected evolution and promoted other right wing positions, so offending his TV employers that he was fired.

I'm a veteran, certainly no hero, but I do like attending or watching Memorial Day celebrations. Last May was no different as I viewed a televised NY Mets-Milwaukee Brewer game. The stands were draped with flags, there were repeated camera shots of military men and women  in uniform and one of them sang Irving Berlin's trite pop song, "God Bless America," which has somehow become a backup for our atonal anthem. A sharp camera operator caught an officer proudly saluting a tune which was ancient history until Kate Smith was hired to sing it at Philadelphia Flyer hockey games. Later, the authoritarian George Steinbrenner made it a mandatory feature of the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium. If anyone wouldn't stand at its airing, or of course, for the National Anthem  –  such as the Met's first baseman Carlos Delgado  – patriots from the safety of the stands reviled them as turncoats and worse.

Still, I confess to naïveté because on this past Memorial Day I had hoped, as I always do, at least for a word or two, from someone on or off the playing field, with the backbone to say that this is a free country with real freedom of  speech. That even people like Colin Kaepernick, Curt Schilling, Curt Flood, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, et al. should be free to say what they want and still be able to find work at their trade and mean it.

I guess I'll have to wait until next year.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153941 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153941 0
We Really Could Use Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev Now

This is Murray Polner's blog. He is the author of "No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran," co-authored with Thomas Woods Jr., "We Who Dared Say No To War" and  "Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Lives and Times of Daniel & Philip Berrigan" (with Jim O'Grady).

Since they lost the election Democrats have been searching for reasons, any reasons, which might explain why someone like Donald Trump could defeat Hillary, their prematurely crowned Queen. Now the Party lies in a state of shock, an empty shell clinging to hatred for Trump and his alleged pal, Vladimir Putin, and hoping and praying for an impeachment.

Their verbal denunciations about Russian meddling in our 2016 election are common. "This past election, our country was attacked. We were attacked by Russia," said Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California." A similar sentiment was expressed by California Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, who declared Russia's interference was "an act of war, an act of hybrid warfare." Other Democrats like New Jersey's Rep. Bonnie Watson called it "a form of war on our fundamental democratic principles."

Where once many Democrats supported detente with Moscow and challenged the Domino Theory's flawed faith that the Reds were always behind everything wicked (leading the U.S., as many of us seem to have forgotten, directly into Korea and Vietnam with millions of military and civilian dead) and backed arms negotiations to defuse tensions with its competitive nuclear giant, few Democrats today will dare do the same, terrified less they be accused of being soft on Putin and "national security" – and thus helping to join Putin's Russia in creating favorable soil for a potentially bloodier new Cold War.

The views of a few nationally prominent skeptics are rarely critically examined. David Brooks, the NY Times's conservative columnist who loathes what Trump is doing to the remnant of his treasured Republican Party, wrote in anger in "Let's Not Get Carried Away": "There may be a giant revelation still to come. But as the Trump-Russia story has evolved, it is striking how little evidence there is that any underlying crime occurred  – that there was any actual collusion between the Trump campaign and the official Russians. Everything seems to be leaking out of this administration, but so far the leaks about actual collusion are meager." He then added: "I'm not saying there shouldn't be an investigation into potential Russia-Trump links. Russia's attack on American democracy was truly heinous, and if the Trump people were involved, that would be treason.  I'm saying first, let's not get ahead of ourselves and assume that this link exists."

Three experienced CNN staffers recently resigned after their network retracted a story tying a Trump supporter to a Russian money fund supposedly facing a congressional inquiry, a story grounded on only one anonymous source. CNN also apologized to the pro-Trump backer. A Washington Post story blamed the Russians  – who else?  –  for hacking into Burlington, Vermont's electrical grid. That, too, turned out to be untrue when the local electrical utility denied it had been hacked.

We've also been repeatedly told that that all seventeen U.S. Intelligence agencies had established that Moscow had hacked our election. But on June 29, the NY Times printed a "Correction" admitting their error: "The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies  – the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency.  The assessment was not [my italics] approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community."

And more: When the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Russia's ally, supposedly ordered Khan Sheikhoun bombed with Sarin nerve gas, and Trump immediately ordered a retaliatory missile attack on a Syrian military airfield, U.S. politicians and media, many Democrats included, rushed to praise Trump. Finally, they exulted, a positive Trump decision even if in a brutal, endless and utterly confusing multi-sided civil war.

Assad had to be guilty or so apparently went their reasoning. Everyone but Seymour Hersh, the veteran investigative reporter, who had broken stories about My Lai and American torture of Iraqi prisoners. Hersh found no proof that Assad had used Sarin in Khan Sheikhdoun. I have no idea whether he is right or wrong but prestigious publications rejected his article until the German Welt am Sonntag ran the piece, a site few Americans would or could read.

So, can't we wait until the Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, finishes his inquiry? And while I tend to think that Moscow did in fact carry out some Election '16 hanky panky (as illegal as so many U.S. interventions in so many countries for so many decades) in the end, if the NY Times, Washington Post and et al. are right there'll be prestigious awards for everyone. But if they're wrong, there'll be hell to pay, as when too many accepted the Tonkin Bay and WMD lies.

Until then, can we please stop demonizing Vladimir Putin 24/7, and blaming him for all the world's ills? He is not the latest version of Josef Stalin. Instead, he has always reminded me of Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the Tsar's lay head of the Orthodox Church and chief advisor to Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II. In my Foreword to an updated translation of his 1896 book, "Reflections of a Russian Statesman" I described Pobedonostsev as: "Reactionary, obscurantist, chauvinistic," someone who excommunicated Tolstoy from the Orthodox Church and harassed religious and ethnic minorities. Someone resembling Putin, at least in part.

Fiona Hill, who was the top intelligence officer on Russia during George Bush I's administration, national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council and co-author of "Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin" rightly put it this way, "[Putin is] not delusional, but he's inhabiting a Russia of the past, a version of the past that he has created. His present is defined by it and there is no coherent vision of the future."

Like most world leaders today, including our own.

And then there's the neocon Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell's nuanced speech at conservative Hillsdale College and his Claremont essay, both of which  offered a portrait of Putin as an historically Tsarist Russian reactionary. His influences can be found in the writings of pre-communist and anti-Communist Russian philosophers, Ivan Ilyin, Vladimir Soloviev, Nikolai Berdyaev, even Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Caldwell asked if any of his American critics know that "he has made the reading of 'Gulag Archipelago' compulsory in secondary schools"?

 Putin's Russia, Caldwell added, is a country "moored between Orthodox Christianity and Machiavellian realism" – tied to Slavophilism and Old Russia, a nation with vivid memories of the Soviet Union's 24 million dead in WWII. He sees his job, Caldwell continued, as "Defending the interests of his people, the first of which is its independence. At this task he has succeeded against long odds. Since the Ukrainian revolution, this success has come at a considerable price in both diplomatic isolation and lost trade." 

But then the conservative Caldwell concludes with sentiments rarely heard here today:  "We will understand nothing about Putin until we realize that, in the eyes of most of his countrymen, he has been right to pay it." 

Respect or trust him or not, we may one day need Russia to help resolve perilous, seemingly intractable problems in the Middle and Far East, perhaps even in Europe. Kissinger, nowadays more sensible than the current Washington crowd, wrote in 2014 that "demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for an absence of one."

Mindless, out of control Putin-bashing, will only encourage and promote a new gang of demagogues here and abroad inflaming our latest and ominous Cold War while bringing us closer to nuclear war.

The basic problem, as Thomas Woods and I wrote in our 2008 book "We Who Dared To Say No To War," is that there are few constraints on our devotion to global intervention. Our foreign policies are frozen, its  fundamental assumptions barely challenged and regular provocations and threats of war, even nuclear war, seems normal.

Danger ahead. 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153955 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153955 0
"Kill Jpan" or My High School Life During WWII

USS Arizona during the attack

Post by Murray Polner, the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

On the morning of December 8, 194, my 8th grade pal Marvin, livid at what the Japanese "rats" has done to his country in a place he had never before heard of, carried a can of black paint and a brush to the sidewalk in front of Gibalovitz's pharmacy on Herzl Street in Brooklyn's Brownsville neighborhood and inscribed his immortal if ephemeral fighting words: "Kill Jpan."

We both attended P.S. 165 in Brownsville, an overwhelmingly Jewish neighborhood not far from Irish Flatbush, Italian Canarsie and Ocean Hill and a scattering of blacks living in shabby tenements. If Marvin couldn't spell he was nonetheless on to something. We were on our way to high school. It was 1942, the war was on, and by the time we graduated four years later, older neighborhood boys  like Irving Starr, whose family owned a delicatessen, had died somewhere over the Ploesti oilfields in Romania and Phil Drazen, the son of our grocery store owner as well as a 19 year old rifleman who lived new door to us, were dead somewhere in Europe. My sister's husband was drafted and spent four years on the lookout for Japanese planes. Moe, the only non-Jew I knew in the neighborhood, managed to get home but his body and mind were shattered forever.

I cared, I guess, when I heard the radio reports of death and devastation. And my father never forgot that he had been a combat veteran of WWI's Tsarist army who deserted after the Revolution and was later shanghaied by an anti-Semitic band of White renegades under General Kornilov, who forced him to fight on their side during the devastating, if largely unknown, 1918-21 civil wars when Reds, Whites, Poles and Ukrainians tried to kill each other and their civilians, until he again deserted.  Still, during the four years I was in Samuel J. Tilden High School, like my classmates, I was more or less oblivious to the fighting and killing. I acted in plays including a musical. I was on the football team and a school newspaper editor. I may be wrong, but I can't recall a single article any of us wrote in Tilden Topics about the war or politics.  It's not that war wasn't discussed in my home. After all, we were Jewish and deeply concerned about relatives still left behind after Operation Barbarossa, when the Wehrmacht stormed into Russia and people like my father's younger sister and her family were killed and his parents and niece fled for their lives to Kazakhstan.

But the war insisted on intruding into our rather innocent, sheltered lives of ball playing, girl-chasing and indifference. People like Gunther would suddenly appear. Short, muscular, curly-haired, he and his mother had somehow escaped from Europe – Germany to France-to-Latin America – after his father was taken by the Nazis. But once here, never another word from him or us. One of our Irish Catholic bachelor women teachers tried to get him to share his experiences, but Gunther refused, even objecting to his mother showing up on Open School Week. So the silence continued.

Quite unknown to us, we were unconsciously preparing for our future. Eugene would become an air force officer, Jerry a school principal, Marty a musician, Norm a businessman, Milt a state trooper, and most of us, me included, were eventually drafted. I never saw Gunther or Marvin again though another boy, a running back who played on our winless football team, told me years after that I was the only one on the team who ever read a book.

But above all we were unquestioning patriots, like Marvin. We trusted our government, our politicians and our leaders. Whenever the Movietone Newsreel would show a U.S. naval ship on the screen of our local movie theater situated  close by the entrance to the Saratoga Avenue IRT EL and a few years earlier the hangout for our local mobsters and murderers, we'd stand, reverently, and cheer; a few even saluted. We collected metal products and left them at curbside so someone somewhere would melt it down and turn it into more weapons to kill Marvin's "rats." I joined the Air Raid Wardens as a Messenger, proudly wearing a white helmet and a blue arm band and loved running down the streets yelling for people to shut their lights because I imagined the Luftwaffe was heading for us. One older woman refused. "How else I can see the blackout?" she yelled back.

One rainy Saturday morning in October 1944, I watched an obviously frail FDR wearing a black cloak being driven down Pitkin Avenue in an open car on his way to Ebbets Field to speak. Everyone I knew adored FDR though when I dared say to my friends that Wendell Willkie, his Republican rival, wasn't a bad guy (though I changed my mind when he supported conscription) they took turns punching me. Mr. Miller, who lived across the street in an apartment house and was the local Democratic Party's top man, hurled invectives at anyone not in love with FDR. A man once screamed at me because I was not in uniform fighting FDR's war. His son, he shouted, was in the army. Why wasn't I too? "I'm only 15, mister," I screamed back and he advised me to do something to myself physically impossible.

There were few dissenters; the Communists were our pals until the Cold War split the two erstwhile allies. The Japanese, alleged subversives, were interned in camps scattered through the western deserts. And the Democratic loyalists, virtually none of whom said anything about 100,000 Japanese-American citizens imprisoned behind FDR's barbed wires, were out every Election Day eve speaking on Saratoga and Pitkin avenues for every party but the Republicans (the only Republican I ever knew was a lawyer, a perennial losing candidate for a congressional seat, whose office beneath my friends' parents' dress store drew lots of tenants suing their landlords).

After I graduated, the Cold War and the anti-Red crusade began to take its toll, on America and Tilden HS. My apolitical sister told me that her favorite high school typing-steno teacher had been fired from Tilden by the NYC Board of Education. Why she didn't know. I also I heard that her fired teacher's Marine son had been killed on Guadalcanal during the war and also that our school's teacher of Spanish, the comedian Sam Levinson, who had named his son in honor of the fired teacher's dead Marine son and also wrote a humor column for a left-wing newspaper came close to being "exposed" by one of the for-profit rags that earned its dirty keep by outing Communists and left-leaning liberals. Later I heard allegations that he had taken the smart way out and paid them some money so he could be "cleared" and allowed to continue teaching, writing and of course telling very funny jokes.

Another of my favorite high school teachers  – whose name I've sadly forgotten  – was kicked out for his political views, which I never heard him express in my social studies classroom. I did hear rumors that he took a job delivering milk to support his family. Anyway, by the time I graduated, the war was over.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153966 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153966 0
The Deep South and the Rest of Us

Murray Polner is an HNN blogger and the author of "Rabbi: The American Experience," "Branch Rickey: A Biography" and co-author of "Disarmed & Dangerous," a dual bio of the Berrigan brothers.

I only spent less than a year in the Bible Belts of Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi in the early fifties and seventies, alien places for non-southerners. I first went South with the US Army before heading overseas, then as a writer, and finally as a tourist. Each time I carried with me southern-born W.J. Cash's fascinating 1941 book Mind of the South. A paragraph he wrote still sticks with me.

"Proud, brave and honorable by its lights, courteous, personally generous, loyal, swift to act, often too swift, but signally effective, sometimes terrible in its action--such was the South at its best. And such as its best remains today, despite the great falling away in some of its virtues. Violence, intolerance, aversion and suspicion toward new ideas, an incapacity for analysis,  an inclination to act from feeing rather than from thought, an exaggerated individualism and too narrow a concept of social responsibility, attachment  to fictions and false name of those values, sentimentality and a lack of realism--these have been its characteristic vices in the past. And, despite changes for the better, they remain characteristic vices today." 

Still, I remember remarkable southerners such as Stanley Dearman, who edited and owned the Neshoba Democrat, a Philadelphia, Mississippi weekly, who condemned the killers of the three civil rights volunteers, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney. I remember too Hodding Carter's  Delta Democrat-Times, a fine newspaper whose major advertisers--especially the local  Jewish merchants--refused to cancel their ads when the paper was assailed for their liberal position on racial matters.  And it's hard for me to forget P.D. East, now ancient history, who ran The Petal Paper in Petal, Mississippi, from 1953-1971 and "who represented the small, and generally cautious, segment of white southern society" as someone wrote on his University of Southern Mississippi archive. East's Petal Paper lost its ads and local subscribers and had to move to another small town in Alabama because of his support for equal and fair treatment for African Americans. Confronted by a hostile white population, but far braver than the south's white newspapers and most of the national media, he survived as long as he did because of donations from other parts of the country.

There were of course, many others like the northern housewife Viola Liuzzo who volunteered as a driver; but for Gary May's incisive The Informant: The FBI, the Ku Klux Klan and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo and a memorial erected in her memory near Selma by the  Southern Christian Leadership Conference she has been forgotten. Like so many others she was murdered while hate-filled newspapers and local TV stations excoriated her and other victims.  One of the few outspoken whites, Ole Miss historian James Silver, damned the state as a "closed society -- totalitarian, monolithic and corrupt" and eventually left to teach at Notre Dame.  It's easy to forget the state's repressiveness in the 1960s and how hard it was to dissent. Mississippi was then under the control of the most lawless racist elements. A police state, one Mississippian told me, looking back. Phones were tapped. Mail opened. Faculty fired. Clergy warned.  

Confederate flags hung from modest homes even into the eighties. An Augusta, Georgia, middle school faculty voted overwhelmingly to quit their public school and join a private and segregated academy, a move opposed only by my Augusta teacher wife and one of her colleagues. Cities like Charleston, South Carolina, a city of 70,000 on the eve of secession and civil war, had 2,800 whites owning 37,000 slaves, its slave trade the largest in the country. "Slavery built this city and the culture that built slavery defined how people behaved," wrote Mark Smith, an historian at the University of South Carolina in The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War. When I asked a tour guide in Charleston in the eighties why she had excluded Black Charleston, she immediately apologized, changed gears and reeled of a detailed history of segregation and the cruelty it fostered, while leading us into black neighborhoods. There were too the ubiquitous religious reminders to remember Jesus and attend church.  Hard-shell Baptism and other fundamentalist creeds represent a thriving business in the state, as politically potent as it is religiously significant. Such aggressive, unquestioning and orthodox practices are anomalous in secular America. And given the apostolic basis upon which these practices are grounded, a foundation which science and rationalism have ridiculed but not undermined, local mores demand a degree of conformity.

Until Washington's pressures, LBJ, black and white activists, pacifists and the awakening of a long-quiescent media, those states were symbolized as Theodore Bilbo, Jesse Helms, Pitchfork Ben Tillman, George Wallace  and Lester Maddox Country, a distant land of Black Codes and legalized lynching,  when, since the end of the Civil War, thousands of African Americans were hung -- "public murders that were tolerated by state and federal officials" and whose killers, as Bryan Stevenson recently wrote in the NY Review of Books, were never punished. Moreover, hostility toward blacks were encouraged by politicians and voters, north, west and south, denouncing reforms as catering to welfare queens, busing and affirmative action. Ronald Reagan famously opened his campaign for the presidency at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia and Barry Goldwater hid behind his States Rights beliefs while voting against Civil Rights bills. Northern and western towns and cities also carried on unremitting warfare against black Americans, practicing residential and school discrimination and disregarding police misconduct. When a northerner criticized southern racial practices a southerner asked him to write as well about Boston's angry protests against integrating their schools. And while the Deep South has in fact changed since W.J. Cash's 1941 version, far too many Americans, in the Deep South and elsewhere, still treat African American citizens as lesser beings.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153972 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153972 0
Hush,Hush, Silent Democrats "Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land-- young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes."--Senator George McGovern's denunciation of senators of both parties who refused to condemn the Vietnam War. 9/1/70.

I've been reading Thomas Knock's new biography of George McGovern, "The Rise of a Prairie Statesman." Yes, the same George McGovern who was a real life WWII war hero who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross as well as the super-dove who was overwhelmingly rejected by voters  in his run for the presidency in 1972. And for decades before and after, McGovern and McGovernism were dismissed by Democratic Party VIPs upset by his efforts to develop a seriously restrained foreign policy and maintain limits on our military empire and its unwinnable wars. It was the hallowed era of our celebrated "bipartisan foreign policy," whose basic principles were rarely challenged and those who tried to do so were often denounced as irrelevant, even dangerous, by a sycophantic press and politicians.  All the same, before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 McGovern warned about America's latest brainstorm on WABC's "John Batchelor Show":  "Mark my words: this is a tragic error that will haunt us." And still does.

Years later, in 2015, three think tanks,  the Atlantic Council, Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs  turned to Ukraine and  issued a report, "Preserving Ukraine's Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do," after Putin's Russia annexed Crimea. It urged the sending of "lethal defensive arms --- so that Ukraine is better able to defend itself" and concluded, "The West has the capacity of stop Russia. The question is whether it has the will." Somehow they failed to mention Moscow's thousand-plus nukes, even as it reminded me of Mark Danner's obliging, classic phrase, "Marooned in the Cold War."

McGovern's long-term legacy is that the party which rejected his views needs an alternative approach to war and peace and not another Hillary trying to show they're tougher than the Republicans. 

 After all, our generals haven't won much since their heroic victories over mighty Grenada and Panama.  And, incredibly, the Democratic primary campaign in 2016 had little or nothing to say about foreign policy, neither from Hillary the Hawk nor Bernie the Dove. Since then hardly a word from Democrats about NATO threatening nuclear Russia by provocatively moving ever closer to its borders with planes, ships and troops. Not a word about Yemen where a vicious civil war is armed by the U.S. and bombed by its Saudi and its Middle Eastern friends. There is a quietness from prominent Democrats about exploring  possible diplomatic solutions with North Korea, or Trump committing us to yet another generation of war in Afghanistan, or our empire's 80 or so military bases, and of course little or nothing said about the soaring profits earned by weapons makers hard at work turning out killing machines.

If George McGovern was too radical for Vietnam-era Democrats, I hope some present-day Senator will echo him on the floor of the Senate and remind his colleagues about the anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer who warned his fellow Germans that "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil" and that "Not to speak is to speak and not to act is to act."

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153977 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153977 0
Baseball, the Brooklyn Dodgers and Me

Murray Polner is an HNN blogger and the author of "Rabbi: The American Experience," "Branch Rickey: A Biography" and co-author of "Disarmed & Dangerous," a dual bio of the Berrigan brothers.

"Surely God must have been with me when I picked Jackie," Branch Rickey said after he looked back at his unprecedented signing of Jackie Robinson to a baseball contract in 1947.

When Robinson died in 1972 of diabetes and hypertension, some white sports columnists wrote that his coming was no big thing and would have happened sooner or later.  0thers, more cynical, described Rickey's motive as greed.  But the fact is that before Rickey no one had done it or even seriously proposed doing it.  That's his legacy.

And I guess it's mine too since when I received a publisher's contract to write a biography of Rickey I knew I had to find out why  so believing and trusting a Christian conservative and Republican supporter of Cold War policies would dare to change the game he revered forever. Very quickly I understood the central role his religious faith played. And for most of his post-Jackie life he peppered his speeches with references to the absence of fairness and justice for Black people and other minorities.

"Why is there an epidemic of racism in the world today"? he began a talk on one steamy summer day in the late fifties in Buffalo to stomping, cheering NAACP delegates.  When visited by Rutgers University philosophy professor Houston Peterson in his suburban Pittsburgh home, he called out "Let's go to church."  They then drove to a black church and when the 76 year old Rickey entered, cane in hand, congregants stood and shouted "God Bless you, Mr. Rickey," while Peterson told me the minister shouted 'Amen.'"

I was born in Brooklyn, NY. When I entered my early teenage years little mattered but baseball, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Ebbets Field, which opened in 1913 and drew scores of unique and unusual fans like Hilda Chester ringing her cowbell (immortalized in SABR by Rob Edelman's first-rate portrait of her), a harebrained and annoying fan constantly yelling "Cooookie," for third baseman Lavagetto, and the atonal, amateurish Dodger Sym-phony, which paraded around the lower stands between innings. A few priests occasionally blessed the team, even though their prayers went unheeded for years and the Catholic Church pressured baseball in 1947 to ban Durocher for a year for his supposed immoral behavior.

Actually, we lived a myth, namely that Brooklyn was an ethnic paradise of mutually tolerant Irish, Jews, Italians, Scandinavians, Blacks. In reality, we lived separate lives but still it was a community of Dodger-obsessed fans who happily accepted Robinson's arrival if not their sons' infatuation with baseball. In Peter Levine's "Ellis Island to Ebbets Field,” he quotes Abraham Cahan, a Jewish immigrant from Russia and editor of the Yiddish language Jewish Daily Forward newspaper answering a question from a father complaining about his son playing ball. 'I want my boy to grow up to be a mensch, not a wild American runner," the father wrote. To which Cahan, an assimilationist and dedicated American patriot, replied:  "Let us not raise the children that they should grow up foreigners in their own place."

Until then, Ebbets Field was my cathedral and passion for the Dodgers my faith. One thing about Rickey was that he understood the extraordinary hold the team had on its fans. When he was forced out by Walter O'Malley --he who kidnapped the team and fled to LA (0ld joke: An armed Brooklyn man enters a bar and sees Hitler, Stalin and 0'Malley: Who does he shoot?) -- he wrote about his years in Brooklyn.

"They were wonderful years. A community of over three million people, proud, hurt, jealous, seeking geographical, social, emotional status as a city apart and alone and sufficient. 0ne could not live for eight years in Brooklyn and not catch its spirit of devotion to its baseball club, such as no other city equaled. Call it loyalty and it was."

He was referring to a tradition where speed and technology could never quite supplant his ingrained nineteenth century deep-seated belief that baseball, and the profound city-loyalties it fostered, symbolized continuity in a world fractured by irreparable disruption and unforgivable high crimes. How, he once asked in a speech, can anyone explain the murders of one and a half million Jewish children by the Nazis and their allies?

In 1936 I saw my first Brooklyn Dodger game with my Hebrew school class, shepherded by our rabbi's brother, sadly a Yankee fan. Bucky Walters, a Philly third baseman converted into a pitcher with a windmill motion faced my favorite, Fred Frankhouse, the idol of Port Royal, PA. After the game I broke loose from my classmates and planted myself near the door to the Dodger clubhouse and cornered Frankhouse for his autograph. He signed my scorecard and told me I was a nice boy. In 1989 when I read he had died I sent his family a sympathy card and audaciously signed it, "a loyal Brooklyn and Frankhouse fan since 1936."

By the next year or so, with money I had earned as a delivery boy for a delicatessen and a Garment Center company, and regularly fortified with a sandwich and banana provided by my mother who had somehow begun to understand what baseball meant to me, I took the subway to Ebbets Field and sat alone in the bleachers.  

I've never forgotten certain special players now ancient history like Gene Hermanski, the first Dodger to welcome Robinson and whose photo appears with Rickey on the cover of my hardcover book and who tried unsuccessfully  to get all the players to wear Robinson's number 42 because of threats against his life; slugger and Hall of Famer Joe Medwick who came from the Cardinals in a trade pushed by cheapskate Cardinal owner Sam Breadon and executed by cheapskate Cardinal GM Branch Rickey and was promptly accidentally beamed by Cardinal pitcher Bob Bowman; third baseman Joe Stripp, dubbed without imagination by a sportswriter "Jersey Joe" because he came from New Jersey and whose major contribution was being traded for four players for Durocher; catcher Babe Phelps who was afraid to fly and preferred trains and buses; Luis 0lmo, the team's first Puerto Rican position player; Ralph Branca, who surrendered the infamous homerun to the Giant's Bobby Thomson in 1951 (the Giants stole the Dodger catcher's signal by telescope, as the Wall Street Journal reported a half century later), and was an early supporter of Jackie Robinson; Canadian outfielder Goody Rosen and Brooklyn-born pitcher Harry Eisenstat, my favorite Jewish players (there weren't many but Branca later revealed he had a Jewish mother) and Chris Hartje, an obscure backup catcher in 1939, who hit a double before leaving baseball forever, drafted into the Army preparing for WWII.

To keep up on all their doings I was a voracious reader of two gossip, scandal-drenched and loud-mouthed tabloids, the NY Daily News owned by the New Deal & FDR- hating Joseph Medill Patterson, and the other Hearst's Daily Mirror, sketchy and shallow, which- featured Walter Winchell, who I admired until he became Joe McCarthy's ugly echo. Both papers though were blessed with opinionated columnists, as did the Brooklyn Eagle, which to its everlasting credit hired Walt Whitman for a two-year stint as its editor in 1846.

When the Dodgers won the pennant for the first time in 20 years in 1941, the Eagle spread a 12 pt."WE WIN" across Page 0ne and Peewee Rosen and I played hooky to cheer on the players as they were driven by in open cars in downtown Brooklyn.

 And then there was the Daily Worker, perpetually blind to Stalin's monstrous crimes while falsely claiming that its Party and sports writers had played an important role in persuading Rickey to sign Robinson. That Rickey, an inveterate anti-Communist and Cold Warrior paid any attention to Communists is not believable and there is no evidence that he ever listened to them. Then, too, he would never have accepted what a non-Communist writer, the late leftist Jules Tygiel, erroneously wrote, namely that the Party and especially the Daily Worker "had played a major role in elevating the issue of baseball's racial policies to the level of public consciousness," a deeply flawed conclusion with little or no supporting confirmation.

In my opinion, the best article on the subject  disputing Tygiel's inaccurate judgment remains Henry D. Fetter's definitive study, "The Party Line and the Color Line: The American Communist Party and the Daily Worker and Jackie Robinson," which puts the alleged contribution of the Communists to rest. In truth, as I also found long before, was that Rickey's faith-driven dream and Robinson's great courage led the way to the historic end of racial segregation in baseball.

My baseball. A bucolic game, endless and timeless. Slow, unchangeable and reactionary even as it struggles nowadays to absorb the challenge of analytics and sabermetrics. I know: It's excessively commercial, subservient to corporate control, silent about pointless American wars and gravely harmed by an inexcusable imbalance between the haves and have-nots. I know, I know. But it's still baseball, my baseball. And now, it's my Mets too.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153981 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153981 0
The Vietnam War: An American Crime “Our government has no right to send American boys to their death in any battlefield in the absence of a declaration of war…and no war has been declared in Southeast Asia, and until a war is declared, it is unconstitutional to send American boy to their death in South Vietnam or anywhere else in Southeast Asia. I don’t know why we think, just because we’re mighty, that we have the right to substitute might for right. And that’s the American policy in Southeast Asia.”

--Senator Wayne Morse, who with Senator Ernest Gruening, were the only two senators who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin

 resolution, which gave the U.S. and President Lyndon B. Johnson a free hand to wage war.

More than a half a million U.S. troops were sent to serve in what was in reality a civil war. B-52s dropped as many or more bombs on rural North Vietnam than they did on Nazi Germany.  58,209 American servicemen and women were killed, a disproportionate number of them conscripts, and 153,303 were wounded, many forever damaged in body and mind.  Millions of Southeast Asians died or suffered grievous wounds.

The U.S. was defeated by a largely guerilla force.

Historian Robert Schulzinger’s shrewd judgment in his book A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975 cannot be easily dismissed:“Had all American leaders not thought that all international events were connected to the Cold War, there would have been no American war in Vietnam” And no Vietnam Memorial.

The U.S. supported post-WWII France as it sought to retain its Southeast Asian colonies. That is, until 1954, when the French occupiers, having been badly defeated by the Germans and everyone else since the Napoleonic wars, were just as badly beaten by the North Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu. They quickly abandoned their colony, leaving in their wake the U.S. as its imperial successor. A conference at Geneva divided North and South Vietnam at the 17th parallel and a pledge by the conferees to hold elections. The southern ruling circles, many of whose leaders had served in the French army, and Eisenhower’s pugnacious Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, balked at any election, leaving their erstwhile allies in the south to shape a viable government, which they never could.

Still, in May 1961, Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, as most American politicians who traveled to Saigon would do—that is, until the final American defeat in 1975-- chatted with US Generals living in air-conditioned comfort, and then pontificate to the press and the nation that victory was just around the corner. Most Americans and the mass media agreed with him. For them, ignorant and indifferent, the war was justified. LBJ also came away praising Ngo Dinh Diem, the American puppet, as the “Winston Churchill of Asia” though this ersatz version of Churchill would be assassinated in 1963 in a CIA-supported coup. By the time President John F. Kennedy was killed in November 1963, he had dispatched 16,000 U.S. military “advisors” to Vietnam and a few more to Laos. After 1965 more and more American troops poured in while, with very few exceptions virtually all VIPs, congressmen and the Capital’s pro-war hawks saw to it that their draft-eligible sons avoided active military duty. During Dick Cheney’s 1989 confirmation hearings as Secretary of Defense he was asked why he had requested five draft deferments, which kept him safely at home. “I had other priorities in the ‘60s than military service,” he answered.  “I don’t regret the decision I made…Was it [the war] a noble cause? Yes, indeed, I think it was.”

In the Congress, political courage was rare. The post-World War II rise of anti-colonialism was drowned out by the obsessive and paranoid anti-Communism of every U.S. President and nearly every politician. Kennedy’s gift to his successors in the White House was Vietnam, where as early as 1963, the North had virtually won the war.

One year later the House of Representatives voted unanimously to approve the Tonkin Resolution, which allegedly resulted from two North Korean torpedo boat attacks against two U.S. destroyers near the North Vietnamese coast.  Before too long this dubious incident—much like the sinking of the Maine in 1898 and the post- 9/11 fabrication about Saddam Hussein’s Iraq having weapons of mass destruction -was used by Johnson Administration hawks to urge on a somewhat reluctant President what they avidly desired: a land war on the Asian mainland, against which many military experts had long warned.  It was also used to persuade—and frighten-- the American people that distant, insignificant, and rural North Vietnam posed a major threat to their country and the western world.

Even so, two Senatorial dissenters emerged: Wayne Morse of Oregon and Alaska’s brave and principled Ernest Gruening, who would always vote against spending for a war he detested. And in the White House circle, senior advisor and Under Secretary of State George Ball stood alone as he warned against going to war, accurately predicting that a disaster lay ahead, only to be overwhelmed by Johnson’s inner circle and the capital’s foreign policy “elite” panting for war.

Cheered on by most Americans and the media who had been schooled to believe that the Soviets were out to conquer all and only the U.S. stood in their way, the Domino Theory was dreamed up by American theorists (that all of Southeast Asia and more would fall if Hanoi wasn’t stopped; of course, no dominoes ever fell) and  became the unquestioned mantra until 1967-68, when at last a growing and articulate antiwar movement began taking shape, especially after Johnson’s pro-war Republican presidential successor, Richard Nixon, and his principle advisor Henry Kissinger arrived.

By 1968, popular opposition to the war at home was widespread and it seemed as if the nation was undergoing a nervous breakdown, especially after the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy and later, in 1970, the killing of Kent State and Jackson State students.  When the Vietnam Memorial was dedicated and became a sacred shrine to the dead, no one in political authority who had helped dream up this colossal bloodletting were ever held legally accountable, thereby insuring that few if any lessons would be learned in the decades ahead as we charged into Iraq and the Greater Middle East.

“Now I hate every Memorial Day, no matter which president presides over it,” wrote Philip D. Beidler, a Vietnam combat vet and lieutenant of armored cavalry and now a professor of English at the University of Alabama, in his unflinching book American Wars, American Peace: “I’m fed up with hearing speeches from people who don’t know any better, profaning the memory of people who most always, at least as I remember it in the decades since I came home, died scared and alone holding their wounds, or with piss and shit running down their legs, or with chunks of them blown off—or even drowned in an overturned tank.”

Vietnam was, to paraphrase General Omar Bradley when he famously criticized America’s decision to go to war in Korea in 1950, “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.” It was yet another defeat after Korea, which however, granted more Americans in the years ahead the courage and independence of mind to publicly question whether there are limits to American military power. Should such an admirable skepticism ever take hold our children and grandchildren will never again be mere cannon fodder, playthings for home front warriors.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153982 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153982 0
Loose Talk of Nuclear War

Murray Polner is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

"So that you and your children will live."  –  Nuclear Freeze movement poster 1980s

In October 1962 a friend and I stood silently near the UN's Isaiah Wall anxiously awaiting news of the Russian ships loaded with nukes heading for Castro's Cuba.

Two decades later we were still at it, our Cold War administrations and foreign policy elites urging us to prepare for a possible Russian nuclear attack. The US Postal Service faithfully complied when it announced plans to issue emergency change-of-address cards to its patrons, which presumably could prove useful after our power grids were destroyed by nuclear bombs along with our homes, neighborhoods, hospitals, schools, water and food suppliers-- all turned to ashes.  

The US National Security, Presidential Review memorandum #19, June 1977, estimated to a distracted majority of Americans that 140,000,000 people would die if the US and Russia chose to fight it out with nukes. My hunch is that somewhere today in the bowels of an obscure federal agency or think tank study estimates of deaths are more up to date and even greater in number, especially in East Asia and the Middle East. I imagine that such revised guesstimates now take into account the misery and unrelieved suffering that will follow nuclear war with men, women and children screaming to be killed to relieve their suffering, a snapshot of civilizations approaching their end.

We also told school kids to hide under their desks after the sirens went off and that apartment houses need to set aside their basements as bomb shelters We were reassured by a State Department consultant's article in 1980 in the journal Foreign Policy that a nuclear war could only kill about 20 million people, "a level compatible with survival and recovery."And in 1982, Thomas K. Jones, Deputy Under Secretary for Strategic Nuclear Forces, told Robert Scheer of the LA Times we could survive a nuclear attack if we dug a hole and covered it with enough dirt. Meanwhile, the Express in Great Britain recently published an article, "How to survive a nuclear attack? What to do when a nuclear missile strikes" – yet another hawkish delusion by our overseas friends.

But more sophisticated and sure-fire techniques are apparently still needed. The New Yorker ran a piece about how some of our ultra-rich are building what they hope will be nuke-resistant homes very very far from urban enemy targets. Their assumption seems to be that after LA, Seattle, Miami. Washington, Chicago and New York lay in ruins they will still be alive, their kids still catching school buses and their commuter trains on time  –  a living testimony to Trump's fictional Great America.

And so our never-ending wars continue  –  years after year, decade after decade. I've been absorbed by the Ken Burns-Lynn Novack epic TV documentary, "The Vietnam War," which details  our criminal adventure against South East Asians and the American cannon fodder about whom I wrote in 1971 in No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran:

"Never before in American history have as many loyal and brave young men been as shabbily treated by the government that sent them to war, never before have so many of  them questioned as much... the essential rightness of what they were forced to do." 

And now it's time for Kim Jong-un and his feral twin Donald Trump, two alleged tough guys threatening millions of us, sounding much like end-times lunacy. Our doves and middle of the roaders are silent, forgetting that "Silence" as  Dr. King rightly warned us decades ago, "was betrayal."

Watching the Burns-Novack film, I think of Bao Ninh, once a 17 year old North Vietnamese combat soldier and later novelist (The Sorrows of War) who says of the killing he experienced:  "Only a stone would not be terrified" –  though the majority of Americans, non-combatants, supported the war to the very end while allowing other parents' sons and daughters to be sacrificed for a cause few appreciated or understood.

 Among the few US survivors of Vietnam's  Hill 825, some soldier  in the documentary eerily echoes  the remaining troops at WWI's  bloody Battle of the Somme when so many on both sides died for a few pieces of worthless land, saying, "we accomplished nothing," even while a majority of unquestioning and patriotic Americans circled the wagons and believed what their lying leaders told them.

In the film LBJ listened to General Westmoreland's endless requests for more and more troops, including a growing numbers of draftees, and always seemed to ask, before giving way, "Where does it all end?" In defeat, Under Secretary of State George Ball once prophetically answered years earlier to LBJ and  a deaf foreign policy elite audience eager to save Southeast Asia from communism.

Back in October 1962 my friend and I stood at the Isaiah Wall, obviously relieved when a radio report  announced that the Russian ships had turned back, a diplomatic solution apparently reached. Still, it left us with no real protection against a future nuclear war save our national fantasy of being indestructible. As we left, I turned to my friend and recited Isaiah's subversive aphorism about beating swords into plowshares. 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153984 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/153984 0
What I've Been Reading Lately Murray Polner is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

"All that I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice.' –  Albert Camus, 1948

Milton Viorst's probing and relevant "Zionism: The Birth and Transformation of an Ideal" (St. Martin's Press) will not be appreciated by our obedient American Israel lobby and the many American governments and politicians whose support for Jewish money and votes have ruined any possibility for a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian bitter dispute.

For me, the book recalls my former American Jewish Committee boss, David Gordis,   who bravely and publicly called  today's Israel "a failure... distorted by a fanatic, obscurantist and fundamentalist religion which encourages the worst behavior rather than the best"-- as it also tries to silence   any and all criticisms of Israeli policies  by  American Jews and non-Jews. 

Viorst, a longtime observer of the Middle East, poses a central problem and offers some answers to "How did Zionism, over the course of a century, evolve from the idealism of providing refuge for beleaguered Jews to a rationalization for the army's occupation of powerless Palestinians?" And, too, how and why did "Zionism became increasingly defined by military power?"

*******

The New York Times, which initially approved George the whiz kid Bush's decision to invade Iraq, recently, published an angry editorial, "America's Forever Wars," in which it asked Americans "how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate." The august newspaper, which had initially backed  the invasion of Iraq, had the gall to quote Andrew Bacevich, a conservative  dove, and  retired army colonel and Boston University professor, whose  soldier son was killed in Iraq, writing that "a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America..."

True enough, but in his essential and imperative book, "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, (Metropolitan, Holt)" Bacevich wisely points to the continuing bloody blunders and misinterpretations born of ignorance and set in concrete--or crimes by our leaders if you prefer -- "from the era of Forrestal and Nitze to the present, [they] have repeatedly misconstrued and exaggerated existing targets with perverse effects."If anyone needs yet another example and they haven't already done so, they need to view the latest Ken Burns-Lynn Novick fascinating if quite imperfect documentary about our defeat in Vietnam or if in Manhattan. visit the New York Historical Society's exhibit. "The Vietnam War," 1945-1975."

So who's next? Iran?  North Korea? Syria?  Russia? Maybe we're crazy enough to invade Venezuela?

*******

"The lifeblood of anticommunist propaganda was conspiracy theory,"  argues Nick Fischer, an Austrian scholar in his compelling   "Spider Web: The Birth of American  Anticommunism  (University of Illinois), dangerous nonsense which soon became the rationale for our  worthless wars and  baloney like the Cold War's Domino Theory,  the widely- accepted notion that the Commies were everywhere and every place ,a  potent menace, at home and abroad,  an overstatement repeated ad nauseum  and which became the unquestioned mantra for why we  had to kill so many people.

 0ur hysterical obsession with -Communism led to ugly and indefensible Red Scares and blacklists. The lack of interest by our courts in our unconstitutional Presidential  wars,  (see what the Founding Fathers said about the process of  going to war) meant that people were deported  or  went to prison for their political beliefs. Thus, many of our wars could never end without the approval of those who started and defended them.

"The intellectual, moral and psychological paralysis of paranoid anti-communist conspiracy theory," wrote Fischer, was fostered and operated by those who benefitted politically and financially from 1917-to the first Cold War era and now threatens to continue as a sequel.  And of course "It led to the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers in external wars of choice," about whom few Americans care or remember.

*******

But back to the NY Times and its why Americans haven't protested our nonstop, senseless wars editorial (Have the Times' editors?)  The editorial implies that one explanation is the absence of a draft. (As a veteran, I absolutely disagree)  With a draft, it means non-military families will then  care about our wars and their sons and daughters will once again shutdown their campuses, and march on Washington shouting "Hell No, We Won't Go." To which Bacevich smartly adds that sort of hot air is "akin to the notion that putting Christ back in Christmas will reawaken American spirituality. A pleasant enough fantasy, it overlooks the forces that transformed a religious holiday into an orgy of consumption in the first place." The truth is that all a draft can do is stimulate the appetite of our conservative, neocon and liberal hawks and lead to more wars, more graves and more monuments in Washington.

*******-

Then to  Central America, where the underlying principle -- especially since Reagan ---  was that the Commies were coming, the weathered theme  beloved by  our bellicose  neoconservatives, few if any had ever worn  a military uniform or sent their kids to war  Still, Nick Fischer shrewdly understands the propaganda barrage aimed at the US public about  the Red Menace and wrote that it also  "justified the violent overthrow of  democratically elected governments in Latin America  (and Iran)."'Secrets of State: Declassified History of the Chilean Dictatorship," recently shown at an exhibition in Santiago, Chile, revealed once more  about  US-assistance offered by the amoral Nixon regime in  overthrowing the democratically-elected Salvador Allende, the Socialist  President and  which brought Chileans  the US puppet Pinochet,  a  dedicated homicidal fascist. There is now speculation in Chile that the estimable Chilean poet, the Communist Pablo Neruda, did not die of cancer, as claimed by the Pinochet gang, but instead may have been murdered, But at this point in time that's  conjecture.

But it's hardly  speculation  when writing about  what America's anti-communist  serial killer  friends did elsewhere, as  in Guatemala where they and their Israeli friends tried to evade congressional limitations on  arms for the Guatemalan army which the Guatemalan Truth Commission  concluded had executed 100,000 of their countrymen and women.   Much the same happened in El Salvador, one of the poorest and most repressive nations in the Western Hemisphere. There, its repressive rulers were backed by --who else? -- the US, which believed the Salvadoran rebels were Reds in disguise. Their civil war lasted twelve gory years   And at war's end, some 75,000 Salvadorans were dead and its Truth for El Salvador Commission reported in 1993 that "the government forces" --our buddies-  :were responsible for eighty-five percent of the atrocities and human rights abuses."

Raymond Bonner's brilliant investigative report, "Weakness and Deceit: America and El Salvador's Dirty War" (0R Books) was one of two intrepid reporters (Bonner of the NY Times and Alma Guillermoprieto of the Washington Post and later The New Yorker the other) were the first to tell of the El Mozote mass murders, when some 900 residents of the small village of El Mozote were butchered by our pals in the Salvadoran army in December 1981.  

Bonner is on the mark when he closes. "Having learned little or nothing from the Vietnam debacle, the US read the coming of the leftwing Sandinistas in Nicaragua as the start of yet another version of the Domino Theory"-- which sees the entire Western Hemisphere as American private property, yet denies Russia and China the right to define it own --equally unjustified-- national interests in their regions of influence. `

*******

And what about future wars involving Russia and NATO --the latter basically a Washington rental?

 Dave Majumdar,is the defense editor for the centrist  "National Interest" and his essay, "This is What a NATO vs. Russia War Over the Baltics Would Look Like" concludes that such a war isn't in the  immediate cards,  at least for now,  but  some unexpected mix-up could always  lead to big trouble, a la Sarajevo.   Majumdar winds up: "If NATO forces cross into Russian territory that might provoke a nuclear response from Moscow." Now here's the good news. "Such a war will almost certainly escalate into a full-up nuclear war between the planet's only two nuclear superpowers--which means everyone loses."

*******

And then there's Iran, where our  civilian neoconservatives    who brought us the invasion of Iraq-- would love seeing it smashed by Americans storming the beaches of Iran, an imaginary replay of D-Day, and its bombers killing millions of ordinary Iranians.

Writing in the paleo-conservative"The American Conservative," Harry J. Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest offers his take.

In "I Fought a War Against Iran--and It Ended Badly, he referred to war games he had participated in 2013, which ended with the US and Iran at war but which now has him wondering, "Is war with Iran inevitable?" His answer: "It seems possible. And then he appends his personal feelings:"I'm scared to death" and explains. "It doesn't take a lot of imagination to dream up a situation where Washington and Teheran come close to the brink of war quite quickly. Indeed, it isn't out of the question that America could soon face what could be the ultimate foreign policy nightmare--crises with both Iran and North Korea at the same time."

*******

Cindy Sheehan, whose soldier- son was killed in Iraq and was then mocked by our war lovers for her public mourning when she camped out near George W. Bush's Texas ranch in 2005. Referring to the recent dustup about what to say to a dead soldier's family, Sheehan told "The Daily Beast":

"I wish the conversation [with Trump and Bush and the family of dead military men] was about the barbarism of war and, in this instance, why are there special ops forces in Niger. Where is the movement to oppose US wars, instead of liberal handwringing over botched messages of condolences? My grief was exploited by Democrats and Republicans alike to score political points and win elections. And the wars I swore to stop are still going, and have expanded dramatically."

Dear Cindy Sheehan: Thank you for your wonderful words of wisdom. But the truth is that our historic addiction to war -will go on and on and on. Sadly, Plus ca change....

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154000 0
The Doomsday Clock and the "Nuclear Monarchs"

Famous color photograph of the "Trinity" shot, the first nuclear test explosion.

 Murray Polner is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

It's 4 am in Washington and our President, whoever he or she may be, is awakened by a call from the Pentagon's watch officer. "Sir," he shrieks hysterically," our computers show nukes heading for us. What'll we do?"

Still sleepy, possibly disbelieving the caller but with less than ten minutes to determine if it's yet another nuclear false alarm  –  in the past, Moscow has had three and we've made the same number of mistakes  – the president can pray and kiss his wife goodbye or do nothing and hope that some of his countrymen and women will survive a catastrophic nuclear exchange.

Or with unchecked power to do as he wishes, he has the legal authority to order his commanders and nuclear subs to fire away. And if our current president  –  unrestrained, reckless, emotional, inexperienced  – who has had it with, say, North Korea  and decides to give his military leaders a green light, thereby sealing the fate of millions in Seoul, Tokyo, Guam, and, after Pyongyang retaliates, even some of our west coast cities. So the real question  for amnesiac, distracted Americans, is whether any American President, now or in the future, can be stopped or delayed even though he or she has the sole right to decide when and if to start a nuclear war.

I hold no brief for Dick Cheney but in December 2008 he said  –  correctly, I believe, though some think otherwise  – that a president "could launch a kind of devastating attack the world's never seen."

"He doesn't have to check with anybody. He doesn't have to call the Congress. He doesn't have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in."  Moreover, Bruce Blair, who once worked at the Brookings Institution, served as  a nuclear launch officer and is the co-founder of Global Zero, which favors nuclear abolition,  says, "there  is no way to reverse the president's order. And there would be no recalling missiles once launched." Blair's chilling article appeared in Politico in the summer of 2016 and asked, "What Exactly Would It Mean to Have Trump's Finger on the Nuclear Button?"

As Trump-hating Democrats and a small but growing number of Republicans have hinted at, his unpredictable mind and finger is on the nuclear button.  In one editorial, the NY Times reminded readers, as if they needed reminding, that Trump has only himself to blame with his casual "fire and fury" rhetoric and  self-indulgent and juvenile insults aimed at the equally feral Kim Jong-un. In another editorial, the aroused and obviously agitated Times editorial board cited his menacing, seemingly off the cuff if not deranged non-sequitur threat about "the calm before the storm," leaving world capitals and anxious civilians disturbed about what, if anything, he meant, especially since the US has never disavowed the first-strike option when, without any precedent, it struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In 1998, newly declassified U.S. documents revealed the Cold War secret that in late 1959 President Eisenhower had allowed certain senior commanders to use nukes in specific demanding situations. These "Predelegations" as they were called,  would then allow a rapid response by someone other than the president while the nation faces a much-feared Soviet  Cold War nuclear attack. Whether it is still in place remains a deep a secret but more than likely the Soviets also have reciprocal Predelegations, especially since  the dawn of Cold War 2 in Eastern Europe.

"There is no way to reverse the president's order" to bomb away, says Bruce Blair. And once the order is given, there is "no way of recalling missiles once launched." Nor are there any "restraints than can prevent a willful president from unleashing this hell."

Because 15-30 minutes are the difference between life and death for millions, Blair was worried less about a president's rash actions but whether he was able to  "really take command of the situation, exercise independent judgment and brake a runaway train" Meanwhile, Gareth Porter, one of our shrewder analysts, wondered  in Truthout  if Trump is "planning a first strike on North Korea," a move which some believe may well  have to involve US  ground troops, which would trigger "yet another unnecessary and terrible war."

Still, some aspects of presidential nuclear war-making powers remain top secret, hidden from the public, an arrangement designed for rapid decisions, not debate and deliberation. Until some alternative remedy is developed there is "no perfect solution" as a letter writer to the Times wrote, other than nuclear disarmament, which no one expects.

So, here are a few words of warning to all of us from an old general named Omar Bradley:

"Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living."

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154023 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154023 0
7 Days in May or Treason?

Illustration by historian Josh Brown

Murray Polner is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing, is what it seems.  Everyone has a second motive, if not a third."--John LeCarre' rule about the Cold War, then and now in "The Pigeon Tunnel."

So, looking back, what was the 2016 election all about? A private deal between Moscow's Putin and Washington's Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton, which some liberal Trump-hating Democrats called an "act of war." Or was it instead the Deep State's conspiracy to set the stage for impeaching Trump and shaping the direction of foreign policy?

When Hillary Clinton and her friends sought an explanation for her unexpected defeat to an utterly inexperienced tweeting pretender they rushed to blame Vladimir Putin, and in a taint that became part of the group-think for our major media outlets, many stressed his role as a former  KGB colonel (overlooking that  the elder Bush had once run the CIA). It seemed that almost daily, a new scoop broke about a new and alleged Russian effort to derail Clinton's campaign on the front pages of the NY Times and the Washington Post. Few bothered to mention that the U.S. has interfered one way or another in many countries' elections for many decades.

"We were attacked by Russia," said one outraged Democratic representative, obviously a Clintonite, an assault "ordered by Vladimir Putin."  Another Democrat called the alleged interference "an act of ar."

When Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, an advocate for a restrained U.S.  Foreign policy, dared criticize Montenegro's membership in NATO, the bellicose anti-Russian Senator John McCain, McCarthy-like, smeared him, saying he "is now working for Vladimir Putin."  And when Obama reportedly told Putin to "cut it out" it became easier to accuse the Russians.

I picked up a copy of Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes's new book, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign. In it there are a relatively few mentions of Russian meddling. On October 7, 2016 the "Intelligence Community" stated that Moscow led the hacking to interfere with the U.S. election. The charge  was largely  ignored by her campaign because of other distractions  that day such as Wikileaks's publication of the first group of John Podesta's emails and Trump's "Access Hollywood" tape, both of which dominated the ensuing headlines. Otherwise, the book has tales of staff problems, James Comey, Bernie Sanders, and above all, an inability by Hillary and her speech writers to define why she was running and what her prospective presidency offered voters.

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by a Republican, called on Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, to show up with relevant documents, presumably because some senators, especially Democrats, may think her minuscule number of votes ruined Hillary's chances.  To the best of my knowledge, the Times, a major critic of Trump, has yet to comment editorially or in its Op Ed columns.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on the Rachel Maddow program he thought Trump was "being really dumb" after he had belittled the motives of the  intelligence community.

"Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you," said Schumer.

What Schumer meant was rarely if ever questioned by the punditry or political writers, most of whom were apparently content to allow his ominous comment to die quietly, unexplained.

Glenn Greenwald, who covered the Snowden affair, and Robert Parry  of the highly critical Consortiumnews.com, have noted many media errors, such as the false claims that the Russians penetrated the U.S. by  breaking into a Vermont electrical company's computers and that the "intelligence community" that linked Team Trump to Russia consisted of just three of a total of 17 intelligence agencies in Washington and only three hand-picked unnamed agency analysts  were involved.

I also wondered how we can determine whether some Russian-paid ads on Facebook had influenced enough white working class voters to mark their ballots for the plutocrat Trump. Masha Gessen, the Russian-American journalist, staff writer for the New York Review of Books and a serious and persistent critic of Putin, does not believe Russians affected the race.  "Is there any reason, at this point, to think that a tiny drop in the sea of Facebook ads changed any American votes? The answer to all of these questions is: no, not really," and she concluded, "A great many Americans want to prove that the Russians elected Trump, and Americans did not."

Writing in the London Review of Books, Jackson Lears, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers University, also dissented from the conventional view.

Lears pointed to two American academicians, Frances Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner of Boston University, who studied the vote in three states that Clinton lost--Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan--and where, according to Shen and Kriner, once loyal Democratic voters went for Trump supposedly because they found "a significant and meaningful relationship between a community's rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump."

And then this potential if unsubstantiated blockbuster from Lear: "Edward Snowden and others familiar with the NSA say that if long-distance hacking had taken place the agency would have monitored it.... In September, Snowden told Der Speigel that the NSA 'probably knows quite well who the invaders were." But if the German magazine or NSA knows anything they have remained silent.

For a broader perspective I turned to the conservative Christopher Caldwell's Claremont Review of Books essay, "The Prince," about Steven Lee Myers's book The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin. Caldwell writes for the neocon Weekly Standard and occasionally for The Times.  In his Claremont review he  concluded that, while Russians under Putin "have come to believe that the West is not content to live with a weakened and humbled Russia; it wants Russia broken and humiliated," for which he has paid a substantial price both diplomatically and in sanctions. Says Caldwell: "We will understand nothing about Putin until we realize that, in the eyes of most of his countrymen, he has been right to pay it."

Would Putin have dared intrude into  the 2016 election and risk even more severe retaliations ? Like everyone else  I'll  have to await the judgment of special prosecutor Robert Mueller,  whose verdict  may or may not be accepted in a political city whose culture is too often marked by a lack of integrity, and tarnished by subsidized special interests and think tanks.

In any event, what happened during the 2016 race?

So I turned to Fiona Hill, a  former Brookings Institution scholar of Russian affairs who co-wrote the psychoanalytical study, "Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin," and now works for Trump's National Security Council. About Putin she has written, or rather speculated, "He's not delusional," adding, "but he inhabits a Russia of the past, a version of the past that he has created. His present is defined by it and there is no coherent vision of the future."

Like most world leaders, including Americans, yesterday and today. 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154043 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154043 0
Trump's War? Murray Polner is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

As I wrote several years ago, after our intelligence community warned us to prepare for the possibility of a Soviet attack, the Postal Service blissfully announced plans to distribute emergency change-of-address cards in the event of a nuclear war.

So it wouldn't surprise me if fear of the Russians and North Koreans repeated that sort of idiocy and politicians and special pleaders will soon start demanding more and more nukes while a few geniuses will tell us how a nuclear war can be won and, failing that, how we can survive an attack.

Meanwhile, whether Donald Trump is nuts enough to order an attack against North Korea remains a mystery. A worrying, ominous paragraph buried deep in a NY Times article in early February reported, "At multiple Army bases across the country this month, more than 1000 reserve officers are practicing how to set up so-called mobilization centers, which move reservists overseas in a hurry." You have to wonder why the Pentagon is playing real life war games.

Regrettably, the Democrats, many of whom were once  doggedly antiwar, have become silent about a war against the North, obsessed as they are with blaming Russia for Hillary's defeat and perhaps triggering Cold War 2, while clearly trying to hasten Trump's impeachment, a very difficult task given  the way the system works  Talk about diplomacy, deterrence, even living side by side a nuclear-armed North, is rarely if ever heard from the Democrats and their long list of wannabe candidates for the White House and Congress.

The truth is that many Americans, insiders too, have probably sensibly concluded that a nuclear attack on North Korea cannot be won. Period. While our planes and bombs can destroy the North and most of  its men, women and children  it will also certainly result in nuclear and chemical retaliation, causing millions of earth-shattering casualties in South Korea and Japan where  tens of thousands of  civilian and military Americans also live, work and are stationed. Whether our hotheaded President likes it or not, North Korea has believed since the end of the Korean War in 1953 that it needed nuclear bombs to defend itself from the Americans. Above all, it will never surrender its nuclear weapons no matter how much our president insults the North's dear leader.

In the meantime, should Trump ever give the Pentagon a green light can anyone stop him? And how will Americans respond? With flag-waving sloganeering by our living room chicken hawks? With supportive editorials and Op Eds by liberal and conservative pundits as happened when Bush Two unforgivably invaded Iraq in 2003 and set off the forever Greater Middle East wars? 0r with the hope that some officers, trained to obey orders, will somehow refuse to act in so pointless a suicidal war. And by the way, whatever happened to the peace movement in the USA?

And, before nuclear bombs ever make their reappearance, does anyone inside the power structure really care enough to say NO!  Anyone courageous enough to publicly condemn a looming catastrophe? Anyone?

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154060 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154060 0
Way Down South Things Have Changed

Confederate memorial services, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, June 5, 1922. (Library of Congress)

Murray Polner is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

I first went South with the US Army before heading overseas  and each time carried with me a fascinating  book Mind of the South, published in 1941 by southern-born and bred W.J. Cash.

When I returned as a journalist, and then as a tourist, I developed a love for the rich scent of its warm, wet late winter earth, its unhurried pace, the cadence of Southern speech and many of the men and women who were certainly different.However, rather than my admittedly simplistic views, Cash had long since written of a more complex and realistic southern society.   Some words he wrote still stick with me."Proud, brave and honorable by its lights, courteous, personally generous, loyal, swift to act, often too swift, but signally effective, sometimes terrible in its action--such was the South at its best. And such as its best remains today, despite the great falling away in some of its virtues. Violence, intolerance, aversion and suspicion toward new ideas, an incapacity for analysis,  an inclination to act from feeling rather than from thought, an exaggerated individualism and too narrow a concept of social responsibility, attachment  to fictions and false name of those values, sentimentality and a lack of realism--these have been its characteristic vices in the past. And, despite changes for the better, they remain characteristic vices today."The first thing my wife and I realized was that it was hard not knowing how to express our liberal racial views in a southern community. When my wife applied for her Georgia driver's license white state troopers moved her to the front of the line, explaining to her, but not to the black people also waiting on long lines, that "a lovely lady like you shouldn't have to wait on so long a line."  I listened and I said nothing.But we became a bit bolder after that, joining the library of the all-black Paine College and sitting in the rear of buses as long as we were permitted.  I attended gatherings of several groups, mainly black but with several whites too, fighting for the right to vote. In the early fifties, in Augusta, Georgia, a middle school faculty voted overwhelmingly to quit their public school and join a private and racially segregated academy, a move opposed only by my Augusta teacher-wife and one of her northern-born colleagues.  Even so, as  late as in Mississippi in the seventies, two businessmen who described themselves as moderate, said that Theodore Bilbo, their racist and anti-Semitic senator, wasn't  too bad once you got to know him.Still, what I remember are the few white southern editors I reached out to. Stanley Dearman, edited and owned the Neshoba Democrat, a Philadelphia, Mississippi weekly that operated in the same town where the murderers of Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman lived. When I visited him he only wanted to speak of how much he wanted the killers caught and prosecuted. He even visited New York City to interview Carolyn Goodman, Andrew's mother. Jerry Mitchell, the best of white southern newspapermen, said Dearman "was blessed with an internal moral compass that drove his courageous work as a journalist."In Greenville, Hodding Carter's Delta Democrat-Times's advertisers, many of whom were local Jewish merchants, refused to cancel their ads when the paper was condemned by segregationists and KKK-types for its liberal position on race  He also called for fair treatment for Nisei veterans, because some readers had disparaged them.And then there was P.D. East, who ran Petal Paper in Petal, Mississippi, from 1953-1971, a virtual lone wolf who dared to speak out against the state's ruling bigots and death threats. He'd lost his local subscribers though a few remaining ones, like me, continued subscribing to the paper.I'm not sure if the heroic story of a handful of southern liberal whites who refused to remain silent has ever really been told. Perhaps the closest may be Diane McWhorter's superb Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution.Edith Wharton's celebrated lecture, "America at War" highlighted that America's development was "saturated in the blood of others," including Native Americans and of course African slaves. Yet the curse of slavery's legacy has never really faded, or so it seems to me.   NY Times reporter Campbell Robertson recently wrote "Church, Race and My Childhood," an article about black congregants quitting white majority churches. Robertson, born and raised a Baptist in small-town Alabama, saw the still-small number of departures as large enough to suggest "the unraveling of decades of efforts at racial reconciliation." African Americans told her that Trayvon Martin's death in 2012 was a sign that not too many whites cared about black kids getting killed.There were of course, many other exceptional whites, like the white northern woman and mother Viola Liuzzo, who volunteered as a driver and but for Gary May's perceptive book, The Informant: The FBI, the Ku Klux Klan and the Murder of Viola Liuzzo, and a lone memorial erected in her memory near Selma by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has now been forgotten. Like so many others she was slain while hate-filled media, common people and politicians excoriated her and other victims.One of the few truthful academics, Ole Miss Historian James Silver, damned the state as a "closed society -- totalitarian, monolithic and corrupt" and eventually left to teach at Notre Dame.  It's easy to forget that Mississippi was then under the control of the most lawless and racist elements. It was a police state, one Mississippian told me. Phones were tapped, Mail opened. Faculty fired.  Dissenting clergy warned. The last time I toured a southern town  in the late eighties Confederate flags could be seen hanging from modest homes   Years later, the Confederate monuments issue made the racial question, however subtle, come alive and reveal yet again the rage and bitterness that triggered the issue."Slavery built the culture that built slavery and defined how people behaved," then and now, explained Mark Smith, a historian at the University of South Carolina in The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War. Cities like Charleston in South Carolina, a city of 70,000 in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, had 2,800 whites owning 37,000 slaves, its slave trade by far the largest in the country. When I once asked a tour guide in Charleston in the late nineteen eighties why she had excluded Black Charleston, she apologized, changed gears, and began a factual history of slavery's brutalities while she led us on an exploration of black neighborhoods.Until the Civil Rights era,  the Deep South was rightly associated with Theodore Bilbo, Jesse Helms, Pitchfork Ben Tillman, George Wallace  and Lester Maddox, a distant land of Black Codes and where, thousands of African Americans were lynched -- "public murders that were tolerated by state and federal officials," and their killers, as Bryan Stevenson, a Montgomery, Alabama lawyer whose group Equal Justice Initiative defends the jailed and condemned poor, has painfully pointed out were never punished.Antagonism toward African Americans was encouraged by northern politicians and voters. The once liberal Ed Koch, the popular ex-NYC Mayor, regularly denounced reforms meant to relieve the poor as catering to "welfare queens" and "poverty pimps." Ronald Reagan famously opened his campaign for the presidency at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and Barry Goldwater hid behind his States Rights beliefs while voting against civil rights bills.Northern and western towns and cities also carried on unremitting resistance against black Americans by permitting residential and school discrimination.  Cycles of Segregation, a new book by Maria Krysan and Kyle Crowder, emphasizes that while the Fair Housing Act of 1968 banned residential bias due to race, a half century later nothing much has changed. A  cynical southerner told me  that as I write my critical account of southern racism to add the story of Boston's bitter protests against integrating their public schools.  I know too that Great Neck, my town,  once heatedly refused to allow  a  small number of poor black kindergartners from Jamaica, Queens,  to enroll in its affluent schools.Far too many Americans, in the Deep South but equally in the North too, still treat African American citizens as lesser beings, demanding they live their apart, which amounts to "Separate but Equal."While much has changed since W.J. Cash's 1941 Mind of the South, things have in fact changed but there are many miles to go, north and west as well as south.]]>
Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154077 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154077 0
The Rare Pundit Who Understood War & Militarism: In Memoriam Murray Polner, formerly HNN's senior book review editor, blogs at There's No There There. He is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

The end of April will mark the third anniversary of William Pfaff's death.

His passing marked a severe reduction in the dramatically shrinking number of American newspaper and magazine columnists who still dare to challenge our pointless and unwinnable wars.

After Pfaff died, The American Conservative Magazine's Scott McConnell, once an editorial writer for Rupert Murdoch's NY Post, put it best.

"Nowhere in the elite establishment newspaper sphere could you find regular, sustained, and well-informed criticism of an aggressive and overly militarized American foreign policy."

Written by a principled conservative and not a timid Democrat, whose party never recovered from the 1968 debacle in Chicago when the establishment's elite chose war rather than peace.

Except for the brilliant  liberal columnist  Russell Baker, who in "article after article [in 2002-3]" Pfaff   wrote "what should have been said week after week as Bush Two's cheery civilian warriors marched us into the Middle East."

William Pfaff was reared in Iowa and Georgia, educated at Notre Dame, and unlike the far too many hawks that infest Washington who have never served in the military  Pfaff was an infantry and Special Forces officer during and after the Korean War.

It's still the same today as  bellicose hawks, really unaccountable desk warriors in subsidized think tanks safe from shooting wars, are immersed  in their latest flirtation, Act 2 of the Cold War.

For a number of years I was a columnist for the now-defunct NY Times Examiner, a rarely welcomed, external ombudsman  journal scrutinizing the august NY Times where so few of its Op Ed writers, let alone its Cold War-ish editorial writers, ever frontally took on our historic addiction to war, past and present.  Now that Putin's Russia is habitually denounced for "meddling" in the 2016 election    our "meddling" in Italy, Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Libya, Ukraine, et al. is convienently ignored. Have I missed any?

I wonder what Pfaff might have written about the ignorance and hysteria exhibited by today's  liberal Democratic  know-nothing  congresswomen and men calling the "meddling," as several  have, "an act of war"?  Or when   Sen. John McCain, a Russophobe from way back, objecting to Sen. Rand Paul's view on admitting Montenegro into NATO, said, "the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin." 

Joe McCarthy anyone?

Or when the US and its NATO auxiliary  moved eastward to Russia's very doorstep on land, seas [Baltic and Black] and in the air, "without an explanation to the American people" as  Pfaff wrote,  especially since it could lead  suddenly, unexpectedly,  to a nuclear war which could turn all of us into instant ashes.  This was accomplished after the US had  pledged to Gorbachev  it would  avoid such provocative moves,  all of which were recently revealed in its entirety in declassified documents just issued by the National Security Archive  at George Washington University, and which the NY Times, like most of our free press, somehow overlooked. They and other Cold Warriors also love mentioning that the authoritarian Putin, certainly no angel he, was a former KGB officer but somehow never seem to note as well that Bush 0ne ran the CIA.

And then there's Ukraine. In a series of columns and virtually alone save for a few historians of Russian history, Pfaff saw the Ukrainian crisis as an American-initiated crisis, one that also included the possibility of an accidental war.

Rather than "a Russian strategy of aggressive expansion into Ukraine," Pfaff viewed it as "a bungled and essentially an American attempt to annex Ukraine to NATO and the European Union and to undermine the position of President Putin-- which all has gone wrong badly and dangerously wrong."

Here are two  more of his many gems:

"The 'war of civilizations,' explanation is wrong and dangerously so.... It is essential that the west now cease its interference, it cannot reconcile Syrians or the Sunnis and Shiites, or he the conflicts in the Maghrab and the Sahel mainly produced by climate and history. The West has suffered the delusion that a war on these people would produce modernity and democracy. War is a destroyer, which includes among its victims those who initiate it."

"Has it been a terrible error for the US to have built an all-but-irreversible worldwide system of more than 1,000 military bases, stations and outposts?  This seemingly was created to enhance US national security, but what if it has actually done the opposite?"

That was William Pfaff, wiser and more perceptive than so many others. If you doubt this, recall  that we are still locked into our 18th year of permanent wars with more surely on the way. And then please read his last book, "The Irony of Manifest Destiny."

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154087 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154087 0
A Perfect Recipe for a Nuclear War?

Murray Polner, formerly HNN's senior book review editor, blogs at There's No There There. He is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

John LeCarre, my favorite spy novelist and former M15 and M16 agent was speaking last Fall to friends and readers at the Royal Festival Hall in London about Donald Trump's America."Something truly, seriously bad is happening and from my point of view we have to be aware of .... I think of all things that were happening across Europe in the 1930, in Spain, in Japan, obviously in Germany. To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it's contagious, infectious."Yet as Cold War II replaces Cold War I, the behavior of powerful rivals are no different, as Elisabeth Asbrink put it in her extraordinarily illuminating 1947: Where Now  Begins:  "the  lines that divide the world are now more sharply drawn. The Cold War map is reduced to black and white. Power against power, light against darkness. Nuances of gray: nonexistent. Doubts, compromise, signs of weakness: ditto."A perfect recipe for a nuclear war.Now that the missiles have fallen on Syria, presumably allowing Assad to wreck havoc on rebel Syrians so long as they don't do it with chemicals, Trump and his fellow home front warriors such as John Bolton and Nikki Haley, et al., can ruin the anticipated talks with North Korea while hugging the Saudis, armed with U.S. weapons, as they kill and maim thousands of Yemenis. Later, they can even threaten war with China, Iran and Russia.

Paralyzed by the passivity and gullibility of the mass media (remember with virtually no exceptions they backed the invasion of Iraq) and the absence of skepticism among most of the Imperial City's subsidized Think Tanks and Congress, Trump surely recognized he could then forge ahead with his imitation of TR's "Splendid Little War"(as Secretary of State John Hay dubbed it), though I'm  inclined to think this one sounded more like "Wag the Dog," given the  investigations by Robert Mueller, of the FBI's seizure of Michael Cohen's papers and James Comey's appearances seemingly everywhere as he promotes his new, critical book about our leader. Too much heat?

I have no idea if LeCarre's warning is correct. But  historian  Benjamin Carter Hett's intriguing and gripping new book, The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power & the Downfall of the Weimar Republic, concludes with words of  warning aimed at  all of us  today:

"Few Germans in 1933 could imagine Treblinka or Auschwitz, the mass shootings at Babi Yar or the death marches of the last months of the Second World War.  It is hard to blame them for not foreseeing the unthinkable. Yet their innocence failed them and they were catastrophically wrong about their future. We who come later have on advantage over them: we have their example before us."

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154090 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154090 0
It’s been 48 years since Kent State Murray Polner, formerly HNN's senior book review editor, blogs at There's No There There. He is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

It’s been 48 years since Ohio National Guardsmen on May 4, 1970 aimed their M-1 rifles at unarmed Kent State College students and killed four and wounded nine others. You have to be at least 55-60 years of age to have a vivid memory of the events.

Despite several trials, a presidential commission, articles galore, a flood of books and protests, and the creation of a splendid archive, the May 4th Collection at the KSU Library, no one was ever really punished but for the imposition of a very small fine. But to me, the bloodied campus represented the way things have always been done here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave: Shooting and killing striking workers, African Americans, radicals, religious dissenters, Native Americans, antiwar people. Gun 'em down, mythological cowboy style, and get away with it.

The truth as a handful of intrepid historians have pointed out is that had there not been a Cold War mentality there would never have been a Vietnam. And had there not have been a Vietnam War there would never have been a bloodbath at Kent State.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154093 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154093 0
"War Hath No Fury Like a Non-Combatant" – Charles Edward Montague

Murray Polner, formerly HNN's senior book review editor, blogs at There's No There There. He is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

These are the words a grieving father wrote Truman during the Korean War:  "Mr. Truman, As you have been directly responsible for the loss of our son's life in Korea, you might just as well keep this emblem [his son's Purple Heart] on display in your trophy room, as a memory of one of your historic deeds. … 0ur major regret at this time is that your daughter was not there to receive the same treatment as our son received in Korea." (Atlantic Monthly, May 2018)

The Cold War: A World History, a new book by historian Odd Arne Westad, concluded that Korea War was "perhaps one of the biggest calamities of the Cold War," while "Its direct consequences are with us today.... Worst of all, it was an entirely avoidable war, created by the intensity of ideological conflict among Koreans and a Cold War framework that enabled Superpower interventions." 

Congress in 1950, was, as usual, paralyzed, the mass media virtually all pro-war, and  Truman, intimidated by the "Who Lost China" hysteria of the era  and fear of Russia, devastated  by WWII,  took the nation into a conflict which wasted the lives of some 37,000 Americans and a few million Koreans in a conflict neither he nor they ever understood.

The Cold War gave birth to the deceptive Domino Theory, which identified anyone on the Left as Moscow's puppets, a fiction which was accepted as the holy writ by most Americans at home and abroad. Its tally of deaths since 1945 has far surpassed the numbers killed in wars by Russian, Chinese and North Korean tyrants. Now, 200,000 American military are stationed worldwide at 800 bases and 26,000 troops are in combat zones, ready to fight  our latest authorized "enemies." 

The ousting of Iran's democratically-elected President Mohammed Mossadegh in 1954  by the oil-and profit-mad British and the CIA's "intelligence community" frantically eyeing post-Stalin Russia, is a large reason for the ensuing Middle Eastern chaos, now  complicated by Netanyahu's exaggerations and fictions about Iranian threats while hoping to involve  U.S. troops in any coming conflict. And after being mired in intricate Middle Eastern cultural, religious and sectarian civil wars, all the rivals have become victims of their own fantasies and propaganda.

Earlier, wars in Angola, Cuba and Latin America and later ones in Ukraine and elsewhere trace their origins and motivations to the "Russians Are Coming" syndrome, which remains popular among western capitals as long as Americans are willing to send their kids to fight and die for them. After the collapse of Communism in 1991, reconciliation and equal and peaceful relations were rarely on many western agendas When the Warsaw Pact shut down, for example,  NATO and the European Union  "survived, expanded, and continued blindly to behave as if the rule of the Cold War that had formed them still applies," wisely commented Neil Ascherson  (May 24, 2018, New York Review of Books). The U.S. and its NATO sycophants rejected Gorbachev's offer of a live and let live policy. 

The National Security Archive, which specializes in publishing declassified documents, reported "NATO's Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard": "Washington D.C. September 12, 2017- U.S. Secretary of State James Baker's famous ‘not one inch eastward’ assurance abut NATO's expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991 according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted by the National Security Archive at George Washington University." 

The "assurances" were never honored.

Edward Pessen’s prescient 1995 book, Losing Our Souls or Why the New Cold War Will be Worse Than the Old Cold War, offered a new generation of Americans a few lessons, which have been predictably overlooked. 

As Pessen wrote, our actions during the first Cold War were designed to carry out "sabotage, demolition, assassination and out and out warfare," not to mention countless instances of meddling in other nations' elections and forms of government. (Sound familiar?) 

And more....

 "The most baneful effect of our anti-Soviet policy is the unprecedented insecurity it brought to the U.S.," wrote Pessen. "For the first time in the nation's history it could be almost destroyed and most of it killed in a matter of minutes by weapons against which we have no effective defense."

So much for the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. and the former Worker's Paradise. 

My best advice:

"Time to calm down, America. Whatever RussiaGate (and the Greater Middle East) ultimately turns out to be, it won't be anything that's worth a single drop of American or Russian blood,” or anyone else’s.  Who said this?  Thomas L. Knapp, a sane voice about whom you've probably never heard. 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154096 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154096 0
Seymour Hersh Vs. Our Official Narratives

Murray Polner, formerly HNN's senior book review editor, blogs at There's No There There. He is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

The more I read about Hillary Clinton's disappointment and her loyalists' accusations leveled against Russia's "meddling" in the 2016 election that supposedly cost her the presidency, the more I think of an editor I knew slightly and a journalist.

The first is Jimmy Wechsler, the late editor of the once-liberal NY Post who, while harassed and pursued by Hoover's FBI and McCarthy and assorted Torquemadas, helped smooth the way for modern investigative reporters, His paper broke a story about a secret hoard of money received by then Vice-President Nixon from secret donors.

The second is Seymour Hersh and his fellow reporters. Like Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter who tried to crack what he believed to be was a CIA-Contra drug connection before dying of a still-mysterious suicide. Think too of Barbara Ehrenreich, who dug down deeply to explore and expose the lives of cleaning women who do our dirty work, Naomi Klein and her critical work about neoliberalism and worldwide global corporate domination, Jane Mayer's disturbing unraveling of some billionaires and the use they made of their fortunes, my late friend Robert Friedman, who probed Israel's ultra-sensitive subjects like its West Bank conquests and also the Russian Mafiya in the U.S., Newsday's Bill Dedman, who earned a Pulitzer for tracking down mortgage lenders whose loans strengthened housing segregation, Woodward and Bernstein, of course, and the estimable Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept and its stable of splendid investigative writers such as James Risen and Jeremy Scahill.

Toward the end of his life Wechsler reminded his contemporaries in the mass media -- I would especially add today's surviving dailies and their threatened staffs-- that their task is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfort able," while maintaining its ethical and moral values.

Hersh, whose compelling memoir "Reporter" has recently been published, has done just that for decades, repeatedly challenging the official lies and obfuscations of governments and lobbyists and their apparatchiks and apologists. We would all benefit if Hersh, now 81, would take on the "Russia-did-it" frenzy plus some of the Trump-related scandals that come and go swiftly without context or depth. Writing and working for the UPI, AP, NY Times, New Yorker and London Review of Books, he has broken story after story: The My Lai, killings, torture in Abu Ghraib prison, Kissinger's career ("the man lied the way most people breathed" Hersh wrote) Israel's nukes and more.

As a people we Americans understand little of the past and our many wars, Flag-waving replace facts. The current near-universal condemnation of Russian "meddling" in the 2016 election overlooks that the U.S. has a long history of invading countries and toppling elected governments. Dissenters like Hersh are rarely given time on our major home screens where most Americans get their news--with the result that too many American military and Asians have died needlessly while civilian Americans don't care about holding the guilty parties accountable, leaving our hawks, conservative and liberal, free to plan more wars.

Hersh has made mistakes such as blaming the U.S. Ambassador to Chile Edward Korry for being involved in the ousting of Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president killed by Chilean neo-fascists, when Korry had actually been frozen out by Washington's hawks, He also mistakenly claimed in his bio of JFK that Kennedy had a pre-Jackie wife from whom he never legally divorced.

Even so, it's his instinctive skepticism born of questioning authority and cultivating sources deep in the heart of the beast that has allowed him to find and document so much hidden stuff. That's what makes his approach so special; informing readers that one of his early editors advised him to approach reporting with the idea, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

When Hersh broke the My Lai story, for which he received a Pulitzer, he had searched for and finally found Lt. William Calley by wandering around a huge arm base where he's been hidden. He interviewed Vietnam vet Ron Ridenhauer, a genuine hero for his role in publicizing the murders.Ridenhauer wondered why no other reporter had spoken with him. Robert Miraldi, in his fine biography of Hersh, ("Seymour Hersh: Scoop Artist") noted that many Americans blamed Hersh, since they could not bring themselves to accept that American soldiers were capable of committing such monstrous deeds and then, rationalized that, after all, "war was war."

There were plenty of others to blame. Reviewing Steve Coll's "Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan," in the London Review of Books, Thomas Powers, one of our more perceptive historians and intelligence analysts, put it this way about our botched adventures and wars.

"Forty-plus years after our final failure in Vietnam, the United States is again fighting an endless war against a culture and a people we don't understand for political reasons that make sense in Washington but nowhere else.... we don't know how to win or how to stop... what lies ahead [is] an endless sliding sideways at some annual cost in money and lives that the American public will tolerate because we don't know how to win and we don't know how to stop."

And then there's our latest "enemy," Vladimir Putin (0fficial America, it seems, always need an "enemy"). The insightful Christopher Caldwell, who also writes for the NY Times, in a nuanced review in the conservative Claremont Review of Books, of former NY Times Russia correspondent's Steven Lee Myers's book "The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin" offers a different take. Caldwell doesn't seem to view Putin as a second coming of Stalin but rather as an heir of pre, anti-Communist religious Russian philosophers Vladimir Soloviev and Nikolai Berdyaev. I would add too, Konstantin Podonostsev, the arch-reactionary Procurator of the Holy Synod, who excommunicated the great Tolstoy from the 0rthodox Church. But Putin also sounds much like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose book "Gulag Archipelago," by the way, is compulsory reading in Russian secondary schools. He was imprisoned from 1945-1953 and his book "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: was the first published book condemning Stalinist gulags to appear in the USSR.

As Putin might see it, writes Caldwell, the armed overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government on Russia's border, with the diplomatic (and eventually, some American diplomatic and military support) has him believing that Myers's version of the "Ukrainian conflict is one of the more balanced to have appeared from a mainstream Western reporter."

The annexation of Crimea, widely excoriated almost everywhere, has yet another plausible explanation. The Peninsula is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol and an anti-Russian Ukraine dependent on the U.S. would have gladly let the U.S. "borrow" it if Moscow hadn't acted as it did. Can you imagine Russia "borrowing" Baja California from Mexico and the U.S.'s reaction? 0r have we forgotten the Cuban missile crisis?

In the end, Caldwell concludes that Putin, as every other leader, is "defending the interests of his people, the first of which is independence."Since the Ukrainian revolution, this success has come at a considerable price, in both diplomatic isolation and lost trade. We will understand nothing about Putin until we realize that, in the eyes of most of his countrymen, he has been right to pay it."

Still, while Putin is no beacon of liberty neither were and are our many leaders who have lied since the Spanish American War, the brutal invasion of the Philippines, recurring occupations of Caribbean mini-states, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Korean war, Reagan's proxy wars in Central America, and Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the 1979 version of Erich Maria Remarque's memorable anti-war film "All Quiet on the Western Front" (still available) a German draftee and combat veteran tries to make sense of the mass butchery he has experienced and concludes that only those who benefit from war support its continuance. It's just a true today.

So who's next? Iran? Syria? China? Russia? During 0bama's presidency U.S. forces and their Hessian pawns in NATO have moved up to the Russian borders, patrolled neighboring Black and Baltic seas and skies and are prepared, because of Article 5 of the NATO pact, to intervene if a NAT0 member is attacked, as Joe Biden, when Vice-President, reassured Estonia.

It was Hermann Goering, one of the great monsters of the 20th Century, who said that people always tend to follow their leaders as war approaches. All you have to do is tell them again and again that they're endangered. "It works the same in any country," he said. But it wasn't Goering's credo alone and it's continually used by others. Here, the Korean and Vietnam wars were fought to "save" us and East Asians from communism and Iraq was invaded because Saddam was tied to 9/11 or so a majority of Americans believed. 70% of Americans, including the NY Times and the New Yorker, supported Bush s invasion of Iraq.

Until specific proof is presented the truth (at least so far) is that Hillary Clinton lost the election because of the Constitution's un-democratic Electoral College and not because of Putin and Russia. Please: We could use Hersh, et.al. working on this case.

Meanwhile, The real danger is the revival of the new Cold War between nuclear U.S. and Russia. Jack Matlock Jr., our Ambassador to Russia from 1987 to 1991, has pointed a way out, arguing that we have to "desist from our current Russophobia insanity and work to restore cooperation in josses of nuclear safety, nonproliferation, control of nuclear materials and nuclear arms reduction. This," he concludes, "is in the vital interest in both the U.S. and Russia. That is the central issue on which all sane governments and sane publics should focus their attention."

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154121 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154121 0
Seymour Hersh vs.0ur 0fficial "Truths" Seymour Hersh versus 0ur 0fficial "Truths"

 By Murray Polner

 

The more I read about Hillary Clinton's disappointment and her loyalists' accusations leveled against Russia's "meddling" in the 2016 election that supposedly cost her presidency, the more I think of an editor I knew slightly and a journalist.

The first is Jimmy Wechsler, the late editor of the once-liberal NY Post who, while harassed and pursued by Hoover's FBI and McCarthy and assorted Torquemadas, helped smooth the way for many modern investigative reporters, His paper once broke a story about a secret hoard of money received by then Vice-President Nixon from secret donors.

Toward the end of his life Wechsler reminded his contemporaries in the mass media -- I would especially add today's surviving dailies and their threatened staffs-- that their task is now more than ever  "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

 

My second choice is Seymour Hersh and his fellow investigative reporters. Like Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter who tried to crack what he believed to be was a CIA-Contra drug connection before dying of a still-mysterious suicide. Think too of Barbara Ehrenreich, who dug down deeply to explore and expose the lives of cleaning women who do our dirty work, Naomi Klein and her critical work about neoliberalism and worldwide global corporate domination, Jane Mayer's disturbing unraveling of  some billionaires and  the use they made of their fortunes, my late friend Robert Friedman, who probed Israel's ultra-sensitive subjects like its West Bank conquests and also the Russian Mafiya in the U.S., Newsday's Bill Dedman, who earned a Pulitzer for tracking down mortgage lenders whose loans strengthened housing segregation, Woodward and Bernstein, of course, and the estimable Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept and its stable of astute investigative writers such as James Risen and Jeremy Scahill.

 

 

Hersh, whose compelling memoir "Reporter" has recently been published, has done just that for decades, repeatedly challenging the official lies and obfuscations of governments and lobbyists and their apparatchiks and apologists. We would all benefit if Hersh, now 81, would take on the "Russia-did-it" frenzy plus some of the Trump-related scandals that come and go swiftly without context or depth. Writing and working for the UPI, AP, NY Times, New Yorker and London Review of Books, he has broken story after story: The My Lai, killings, torture in Abu Ghraib prison, Kissinger's career  ("the man lied the way most people breathed" Hersh wrote) Israel's nukes and more.

 Americans collectively seem to understand little of the past and our many wars. Flag-waving and emotion replaces facts. The current condemnation of Russian "meddling" in the 2016 election overlooks that the U.S.,  like Russia,  has a long history of invading countries and toppling elected governments. Dissenters like Hersh  are rarely given time on our major home screens where most Americans get their news--with the result  that many Americans and Asians have died needlessly while civilian Americans don't care much about holding the guilty  parties accountable, leaving our hawks, conservative and liberal, free to plan more wars.

 

Hersh has made mistakes such as blaming the U.S. Ambassador to Chile Edward Korry for being involved in the ousting of Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president killed by Chilean neo-fascists, when Korry had actually been frozen out by Washington's hawks, He also mistakenly claimed in his bio of JFK that Kennedy had a pre-Jackie wife from whom he never legally divorced.  

Even so, it's his instinctive skepticism born of questioning authority and cultivating sources deep in the heart of the beast that has allowed him to find and document so much hidden stuff. That's what makes his approach so special; informing readers that one of his early editors advised him to approach reporting with the idea, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."

When Hersh broke the My Lai story, for which he received a Pulitzer, he found Lt. William Calley by wandering around a huge army base where he'd been hidden. Robert Miraldi, in his fine biography of Hersh, ("Seymour Hersh: Scoop Artist") noted that many Americans blamed Hersh, since they could not bring themselves to accept that American soldiers were capable of committing such monstrous deeds and then, rationalized that, after all, "war was war."

 

Despite our many failed wars since 1945, and their unforeseen disasters of "deaths and destruction," as Trump mentioned to the NATO last July, the policy of repeating failures after failures continue, supported by our Military industrial Complex and their pliant politicians and ideologies.

 

Reviewing Steve Coll's "Directorate S: the CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan: in the London Review of Books, Thomas Powers wrote that, "Forty-plus years after our final failure in Vietnam, the United States is again fighting an endless war against a culture and a people we don't understand for political reasons that make sense in Washington but nowhere else.... we don't know how to win or how to stop... " especially because only those who benefit from war support its continuance.

And now there's our latest "enemy," Vladimir Putin.

 0fficial America has always needed an "enemy"). In the conservative Claremont Review of Books, the former NY Times' Russia correspondent's Steven Lee Myers's 20016 book, "The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin" offers a somewhat different take. Caldwell doesn't seem to view Putin as a second coming of Stalin but rather as an heir of pre, anti-Communist religious Russian philosophers Vladimir Soloviev and Nikolai Berdyaev. I would add too, Konstantin Podonostsev, the arch-reactionary Procurator of the Holy Synod, who excommunicated the great Tolstoy from the 0rthodox Church and denounced democracy. But Putin also sounds much like the religious nationalist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, whose book "Gulag Archipelago," by the way, is compulsory reading in Russian secondary schools. He was imprisoned from 1945-1953 and his book "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich: was the first published book condemning Stalinist gulags to appear in the USSR.

        

The armed overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government with American diplomatic and military support has Caldwell believing that Myer's version of the "Ukrainian conflict is one of the more balanced to have appeared from a mainstream Western reporter." For example, the widely excoriated annexation of Crimea, has yet another plausible rationale. The Peninsula is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. Anti-Russian Ukraine heavily dependent on the U.S. would have gladly let the U.S. "borrow" it if Moscow hadn't acted as it did. Can you imagine Russia "borrowing" Baja California from Mexico and the U.S.'s reaction? 0r have we already forgotten the Cuban missile crisis?

In the end, Caldwell concludes that Putin, as every other leader, is "defending the interests of his people, the first of which is independence."Since the Ukrainian revolution, this success has come at a considerable price, in both diplomatic isolation and lost trade. We will understand nothing about Putin until we realize that, in the eyes of most of his countrymen, he has been right to pay it."

 

Still, while Putin is hardly a beacon of liberty and truth neither were and are many of our leaders who have been lying since the Spanish American War, the brutal invasion of the Philippines, recurring occupations of Caribbean mini-states, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Korean war, Reagan's proxy wars in Central America, and Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

Who's next? Iran? Syria? China? Russia? Venezuela?  During 0bama's presidency U.S. forces and   NATO have moved up to the Russian borders, patrolled neighboring Black and Baltic seas and skies and are allegedly  prepared, because of Article 5 of the NATO pact, to intervene if a member is attacked.

It was Hermann Goering, one of the great monsters of the 20th Century, who said that people always tend to follow their leaders as war approaches. All you have to do is tell them again and again that they're endangered. "It works the same in any country," he said. But it wasn't Goering's credo alone and it's continually used by others. The Korean and Vietnam wars were fought to "save" us-- and presumably Asians-- from communism. Iraq was invaded because Saddam was supposedly tied to 9/11 and had all  70% of Americans, including the NY Times and the New Yorker, supported Bush's invasion of Iraq. And remember, Afghanistan was a "necessary war," or so said 0bama.

Meanwhile, the real danger we all face is the revival of a new Cold War between nuclear U.S. and nuclear Russia. Jack Matlock Jr., our Ambassador to Russia from 1987 to 1991, has argued that we have to "desist from our current Russophobia insanity and work to restore cooperation in nuclear safety, nonproliferation, control of nuclear materials and nuclear arms reduction. This," he concluded, "is in the vital interest in both the U.S. and Russia. That is the central issue on which all sane governments and sane publics should focus their attention-- a sensible solution echoed recently  on the PBS NewsHour by John Kasich, 0hio's Republican governor."

Bravo to both men.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154125 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154125 0
Tokyo, a Few Remembered Moments Tokyo: A Few Remembered Moments  

By Murray Polner

Set down suddenly in Japan in the early 1950s my first reaction was that I was an exile. I was to live in an American occupied compound in Tokyo as a drafted soldier--but happily, not far from a British compound where I was welcomed and could read all the British, Canadian and Australian publications I wished while enjoying an occasional scotch with a Commonwealth soldier and ordering custom-made- jackets (the first time in my life!) from the talented Japanese tailor they had hired.

Even then  the city resembled  every  mammoth, sprawling city  I'd ever lived in, with  its  strangulating traffic, jammed subway cars that required "pushers"  who shoved late arriving  travelers  into an already jammed subway car. The Japanese language when spelled in kanji high on signs seemed like Hebrew. The  people also seemed to be , isolated from one another,  redeemed and saved only by their extended families, Japan's complex code of mutual obligations,  and their neighborhoods, each a separate  entity of its own. The devastating war and the extensive US firebombing of the city seemed far away, at least for younger men and women.

But far from the city center's chaos, evenings brought out a different world. There were fire wardens with their clacking of two wooden sticks when they found all was well, and the plaintive, melancholy horn of the soba (noodle) peddler and the clacking of clogs or Gaeta, beating underfoot against the cobblestones and paved sidewalks. In the more modest neighborhoods there was the absence of nighttime traffic, the silence broken only by distant elevated trains and the shopkeepers and home owners shutting up as they closed their wooden sliding doors and windows.

 

 The children, though, were the absolute joy and delight of the Japanese. I often wondered why their obedient parents gave them up so easily to mad warrior-rulers. From the time they were carried on their parents' backs until they were ready for school and the intense competition that awaited them for entry into much-prized higher education.  They were deliciously rosy-cheeked, uninhibited though always shy before a foreigner and exceptionally pampered until considered ready to assume some responsibility --generally depending on the family's economic condition. The kids bought their tickets in the form of candied sweets and jellied lollipops, their pleasures distracted only for a moment when I stopped to snap their pictures in another part of this teeming city, in an infamously conformist society.

Out for a walk one evening, I watched an elderly man banging two wooden sticks together. He was the peripatetic story teller and from every corner kids suddenly appeared to listen to their beloved narrator with his portable stage perched on his bicycle, his dramatic personae painted on brightly colored placards, his own personality lending voice to his expressions of comedy and melodrama. The fare on that night was as involved as the highly decorous kabuki, sometimes as severe as a Noh play. And all for one yen or so, then the U.S. equivalent of 1/360th of a dollar.

Elsewhere, nighttime in Shinjuku, an area dedicated to entertainment, was lusty and diverse. I walked past its tiny alleyways and beneath its brightly colored neon lights offering in the English language massage parlors, strip clubs, coffee shops, and hotels for overnight guests with Japanese women. As I moved about two teenage girls approached offering themselves.

 

I met young males who spoke English, which, since 1945, had become virtually the second language for high school and university students.  0ne young man, about 22, was the son of a prosperous manufacturer and a graduate of a liberal arts college and talked to me about investing in a magazine for the literary avant garde.  Another one I met in a coffee shop was the second son of a prefecture official. The failed war meant little to him, as did the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or so he told me. He was conservative and loyal to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which he said would always reassure the Japanese people that  because Americans were so afraid of the communists taking over, would always be ready to fight and die for pacifist Japan if and when necessary. Along the way I was introduced into a circle of Jewish businessmen who had made their money in Dutch-owned Indonesia, Southeast Asia and Japan. They had been interned by the Japanese Kempetai (secret police) during the war but otherwise were physically unharmed --probably paid them off-- though several told me they had been "humiliated."

 I  met a Jewish US Air Force guy whose Japanese wife had experienced Hiroshima and after which her parents sent her to grandma and grandpa  in Nagasaki which  had gone though the second atomic attack. When I asked her what she remembered she said she still had regular nightmares. I repeated what she told me to my landlady who told me she would never have rented to me if I had been in the US Air Force.

0ther than the endless search for profits why did the U.S in 1853-54  send the US Navy under Commodore Matthew Perry to "open" Japan, as if it were 'closed.'? Perry was a veteran of two US wars of aggression: 1812 against Canada and 1846 against Mexico. Decades earlier Catholic priests had arrived to teach Japanese the virtues of Catholicism and were executed by Japanese who thought they knew enough about religion..

All the same, with no navy the Japanese acceded to US demands that it open several ports to US traders and agreed to sign the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854.   But the Japanese, beginning with the Meiji Restoration,  had learned much from western military technology and its industrialized military.  Able students of war the Japanese armed themselves, and then fought and defeated China in 1895 and Russia  in 1905-- the first  time an Asian nation had  beaten a European power (though Tsarist Russia was by then a rotten shell and would be gone in twelve years).

Before and after WWI, Japan began eyeing portions of Siberia and more of China as well as Korea, which they occupied  and brutalized as early as 1910, an omen of things to come in the thirties and after. When Britain and France tried to destroy Bolshevism in its cradle in 1918-21 and with Woodrow Wilson's US joining in  and sending troops to Archangel and Murmansk in the north and also dispatching Gen. William Graves, a smart general with 7,000 US troops to Siberia where the Whites were battling the Reds. Graves never figured out why he and his troops were there,  but mainly it seemed to watch over the Japanese who were greedily eying portions of Siberia.  He certainly had little or no interest in fighting the anti-Bolshevik Whites .

After their defeat in WW II Japan became a puppet state of the USA. The relationship brought them many benefits but also made them a virtual US colony.

 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154126 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154126 0
Canada's Advantage Over the USA

Murray Polner, formerly HNN's senior book review editor, blogs at There's No There There. He is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

It could very well have been my home country had my parents immigrated to Winnipeg in 1920 to join their cousins who, like my folks, had also fled Eastern Europe in 1921 and the bloodletting and savagery of a three-year civil war between Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Reds, Whites, Brits, French and Americans , often with Jews as its main targets. Instead. they chose to live in Brooklyn, USA.

The Good 'ol USA. Home to the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, Honor the Red, White and Blue, all empty slogans pundits later described as examples of American Exceptionalism, but only a catchphrase which is no more than a contrived PR term. In addition to the best features of American life such as freedom and liberty for its people, mainly the white ones, the USA has also been the home of racism, residential segregation, corporate domination, schoolroom murders, constant wars and threats of war fueled by our Merchants of Death.

At various times in our history, immigrants were barred entry, such as the Chinese in 1882, eastern and southern Europeans in 1924, and of course today, when "Keep 'em out" is now part of the system.

By comparison, how generous were most Canadians when they welcomed our men and women who refused to join in America's criminal war in Vietnam. At its best, Canada is a land of diversity and moderation ---save to its First Canadians and Roman Catholic indigenous children who were forced into boarding schools run by the Catholic Church and and where many were of the kids were victims of beatings, rape and other horrors, reported Canada's national Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

My favorite Canadians are novelist Mordechai Richler and his wonderful books about his Montreal Jewish neighborhoods and Pierre Trudeau senior, who welcomed thousands of American exiles during Vietnam and about whom I wrote in my book "When Can I Come Home?" When I decided to write and edit the book I interviewed men and often the women who had accompanied them into exile in Denmark, Sweden, France, the UK and of course Canada.

Now I ask myself how is it that Canada has not gone the way of Trumpism and his white working and lower middle class xenophobes.

So it was with delight that while the US was undergoing a nervous breakdown in the sixties, shooting black and white Americans at home and abroad, killing two Kennedys and King, and some 58,000 US soldiers and a million or so Vietnamese, I was offered a position as Visiting Professor of History at St. Dunstan's University, a small Catholic college in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, a somewhat remote and ignored maritime Canadian province.

All of us Polners  – Lou, Beth, Alex, Rob and of course Mottke Goniff, our mixed Collie-Shepherd  –  took off in our ancient, well-dented Dodge, roaring through New England and then into Maine (where I'd teach history the next year at the University of Maine) along the notorious Route 9 into New Brunswick and finally landing at the old farm we had rented, a few miles from the college.

Day One at St. Dunstan's University

Before I ever stepped into a classroom the faculty, all priests, asked me to lunch. The Vietnam War was very much on their minds and for two hours exhausting but fascinating hours --questions followed questions. For a while I wondered if they regretted hiring me even though the history chairman earlier told me he had prayed to God for a summer replacement since he had a free trip to France awaiting him.

After questioning me about the war and related subjects, the chairman concluded that though I was a bit too conservative for them I was very welcome. Actually, the priests had been worker priests in France, an effort by Church "liberals" who wanted priests to work in factories because they feared the French working classes were leaving the Church and uncritically turning toward left-wing and communist causes.

Looking and living like workers , the movement was terminated by the conservative church hierarchy. Remnants of the movement were found among the American Catholic Left during the sixties, among Liberation Theology followers in Latin America and now among my new colleagues at St. Dunstan's.

My students were well-informed and wrote well and critically. I asked lots of questions and challenged and/or praised them for their responses. The nuns were well-read and flirted. Alternative theories and nonconformist views never seemed to deter them. 0utside the classroom, Father Arsenault, a professor of English, became my friend and told me that I was the first Jewish faculty member the college had ever hired. Confidentially, he added, they want to hire me as a permanent faculty member, with free housing and a fair salary. Sadly, I would eventually say No to their offer since my widowed mother needed me and Louise and the kids needed, I believe, their home country.

Too bad. Charlottetown, the capital, was a small city, looking almost as it might have in the twenties and thirties. Often we'd wander about visiting a blanket factory and with no union to protect their employees' interests, their factory floor resembling the squalor of a Victorian-Dickensian industrial unit, the shreds of blankets gagging the workers. We used the invaluable Canadian national health plan. We were invited to weekend parties and their church dinners, and witnessed at first hand the bleak lives of local farm boys (girls rarely seen)

Meanwhile, our conversations continued here and there, my colleagues often testing my liberal views, which were turning left/libertarian but always anti-war.

When Al Campanis, who had played shortstop next to Jackie Robinson at second base for the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodger's major International League farm team, asked me to write his autobiography because I had written a bio of Branch Rickey (who brought Jackie Robinson into previously white baseball), I was thrilled at the possibility of returning to Canada to do interviewing and research but other things intervened later, especially for poor Al, who lost his job with the LA Dodgers (see my sad essay about him) and the book was never written.

We loved PEI, St. Dunstan's University and Canada. Years later Alex would take his family to this Goldene Medina. And in 1969, St. Dunstan's merged with a renamed entity called Prince Edward Island University. My guess is that they simply ran out of money or the passionate ex-worker priests grew old and simply retired.

Canadians, said George Woodcock, the Vancouver writer, "pride ourselves on our ironic modesty." No wonder then and now it has accepted so many refugees fleeing persecution and has so easily accepted multilateralism. The Trudeaus, father and son, reflected that sentiment when one of them said that Canada should never "lecture another country how they choose to govern themselves."

A good lesson for Good 'Ol USA!!

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154130 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154130 0
Tokyo Tokyo: A Few Remembered Moments  

By Murray Polner

Set down suddenly in Japan in the early 1950s my first reaction was that I was an exile. I was to live in an American occupied compound in Tokyo as a drafted soldier--but happily, not far from a British compound where I was welcomed and could read all the British, Canadian and Australian publications I wished while enjoying an occasional scotch with a Commonwealth soldier and ordering custom-made- jackets (the first time in my life!) from the talented Japanese tailor they had hired.

Even then  the city resembled  every  mammoth, sprawling city  I'd ever lived in, with  its  strangulating traffic, jammed subway cars that required "pushers"  who shoved late arriving  travelers  into an already jammed subway car. The Japanese language when spelled in kanji high on signs seemed like Hebrew. The  people also seemed to be , isolated from one another,  redeemed and saved only by their extended families, Japan's complex code of mutual obligations,  and their neighborhoods, each a separate  entity of its own. The devastating war and the extensive US firebombing of the city seemed far away, at least for younger men and women.

But far from the city center's chaos, evenings brought out a different world. There were fire wardens with their clacking of two wooden sticks when they found all was well, and the plaintive, melancholy horn of the soba (noodle) peddler and the clacking of clogs or Gaeta, beating underfoot against the cobblestones and paved sidewalks. In the more modest neighborhoods there was the absence of nighttime traffic, the silence broken only by distant elevated trains and the shopkeepers and home owners shutting up as they closed their wooden sliding doors and windows.

 

 The children, though, were the absolute joy and delight of the Japanese. I often wondered why their obedient parents gave them up so easily to mad warrior-rulers. From the time they were carried on their parents' backs until they were ready for school and the intense competition that awaited them for entry into much-prized higher education.  They were deliciously rosy-cheeked, uninhibited though always shy before a foreigner and exceptionally pampered until considered ready to assume some responsibility --generally depending on the family's economic condition.

Out for a walk one evening, I watched an elderly man banging two wooden sticks together. He was the peripatetic story teller and from every corner kids suddenly appeared to listen to their beloved narrator with his portable stage perched on his bicycle, his dramatic personae painted on brightly colored placards, his own personality lending voice to his expressions of comedy and melodrama. The fare on that night was as involved as the highly decorous kabuki, sometimes as severe as a Noh play. And all for one yen or so, then the U.S. equivalent of 1/360th of a dollar. The kids bought their tickets in the form of candied sweets and jellied lollipops, their pleasures distracted only for a moment when I stopped to snap their pictures in another part of this teeming city, in an infamously conformist society.

Elsewhere, nighttime in Shinjuku, an area dedicated to entertainment, was lusty and diverse. I walked past its tiny alleyways and beneath its brightly colored neon lights offering in the English language massage parlors, strip clubs, coffee shops, and hotels for overnight guests with Japanese women. As I moved about two teenage girls approached offering themselves.

 

I met young males who spoke English, which, since 1945, had become virtually the second language for high school and university students.  0ne young man, about 22, was the son of a prosperous manufacturer and a graduate of a liberal arts college and talked to me about investing in a magazine for the literary avant garde.  Another one I met in a coffee shop was the second son of a prefecture official. The failed war meant little to him, as did the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or so he told me. He was conservative and loyal to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which he said would always reassure the Japanese people that  because Americans were so afraid of the communists taking over, would always be ready to fight and die for pacifist Japan if and when necessary. Along the way I was introduced into a circle of Jewish businessmen who had made their money in Dutch-owned Indonesia, Southeast Asia and Japan. They had been interned by the Japanese Kempetai (secret police) during the war but otherwise were physically unharmed --probably paid them off-- though several told me they had been "humiliated."

 I  met a Jewish US Air Force guy whose Japanese wife had experienced Hiroshima and after which her parents sent her to grandma and grandpa  in Nagasaki which  had gone though the second atomic attack. When I asked her what she remembered she said she still had regular nightmares. I repeated what she told me to my landlady who told me she would never have rented to me if I had been in the US Air Force.

0ther than the endless search for profits why did the U.S in 1853-54  send the US Navy under Commodore Matthew Perry to "open" Japan, as if it were 'closed.'? Perry was a veteran of two US wars of aggression: 1812 against Canada and 1846 against Mexico. Decades earlier Catholic priests had arrived to teach Japanese the virtues of Catholicism and were executed by Japanese who thought they knew enough about religion..

All the same, with no navy the Japanese acceded to US demands that it open several ports to US traders and agreed to sign the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854.   But the Japanese, beginning with the Meiji Restoration,  had learned much from western military technology and its industrialized military.  Able students of war the Japanese armed themselves, and then fought and defeated China in 1895 and Russia  in 1905-- the first  time an Asian nation had  beaten a European power (though Tsarist Russia was by then a rotten shell and would be gone in twelve years).

Before and after WWI, Japan began eyeing portions of Siberia and more of China as well as Korea, which they occupied  and brutalized as early as 1910, an omen of things to come in the thirties and after. When Britain and France tried to destroy Bolshevism in its cradle in 1918-21 and with Woodrow Wilson's US joining in  and sending troops to Archangel and Murmansk in the north and also dispatching Gen. William Graves, a smart general with 7,000 US troops to Siberia where the Whites were battling the Reds. Graves never figured out why he and his troops were there,  but mainly it seemed to watch over the Japanese who were greedily eying portions of Siberia.  He certainly had little or no interest in fighting the anti-Bolshevik Whites .

After their defeat in WW II Japan became a puppet state of the USA. The relationship brought them many benefits but also made them a virtual US colony.

 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154131 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154131 0
Why I've Still Got My Doubts that the Russians Hacked the DNC

Murray Polner, formerly HNN's senior book review editor, blogs at There's No There There. He is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

I think blaming the Russians for hacking our 2016 elections may well be legitimate though I still find it hard to believe that Trump "colluded" politically with Russians for any other reason than to make more and more money. As the renowned philosopher Bertrand Russell wisely concluded in 1922 in "Free Thought and Propaganda," "What we need is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out."

There are, however, some skeptics.

The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of former US intelligence officials who once discredited Colin Powell's claim at the UN that Saddam had WMDs, have issueda widely-ignored document dubbed VIPS50, insisting that no one hacked the Democratic Party's emails in 2016 but they were instead leaks,  perhaps aimed at defeating Bernie Sanders. 

Someday historians, declassified documents and personal testimonies will presumably tell us accurately and truthfully if the authoritarian Putin did indeed lead Russians to hack The Donald and defeat Hawkish Hillary. Or maybe it was Jean Stein and her handful of Greens? Or Rand Paul and his fading libertarians? Or, just an un-American invention organized by our sainted Founding Fathers, which they called the Electoral College?

Still, we should ask if there are honest and independent observers still available to sort out the truth or has everyone already chosen sides? "We have been attacked. We are at war," charged the actor Morgan Freeman for the Russophobian and hawkish Committee to Investigate Russia, whose Advisory Board includes Rob Reiner, Max Boot, James Clapper, Michael Hayden, Michael Morell and Leon Panetta. Meanwhile, John McCain, who is now revered since his death, denounced Rand Paul on the Senate floor, claiming the Kentucky senator "is now working for Vladimir Putin." In other words, is there a traitor in the Senate? And maybe another in the White House?

Does this mean that  Democrats and liberal independents who rightly detest the beleaguered Trump have become unquestioning protectors of  the  FBI they once loathed – even if the agency's findings may be a case of  inflating Moscow's astuteness and our supposed defenselessness?  My old pal, the onetime blacklisted novelist and screenwriter Clancy Sigal and author of one of the literary gems of the McCarthy Era, "Going Away" (who, sadly, recently died), observed about Washington's swarm of well-subsidized  propaganda and opinion mills: "J. Edgar Hoover never died, and his paranoid ghost stalks us."

The first time I wondered about the official party line was on January 3, 2017 when Senator Charles Schumer announced on Rachel Maddow's TV show that Trump was "being really dumb" for arguing with anonymous and accusatory intelligence officials about Russia's cyber break-ins.

"Let me tell you," said Schumer, by then head of the Senate Democrats, "You take on the Intelligence Community [and] they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you."

What could the Senator have meant? Whatever he intended to say went largely unexplored by journalists out to get Trump and win some Pulitzers. Schumer's comments quickly vanished from public sight, never to be heard or seen again.

Where is all this supposed to lead? A new Red Scare against dissidents? An end-to-civilization war with nuclear-armed Russia? 

If Russiagate is not another Iraq-has-WMDs lie, then Americans need to be reminded again and again that not too long ago 58,000 American soldiers were played for suckers by right and left during Vietnam while only 14 members of our hyper-patriotic Congress had kids in Vietnam, none of whom were shipped home in a body bag. 7,000 have since died in the Iraq and Afghan wars and countless others have been scarred forever. Unlike many of us who served in the military, four recent presidents and two vice-presidents have evaded active military duty and no American VIP has ever been held responsible for the misery they've caused.

"I hate every Memorial Day," Philip D. Beidler wrote memorably and painfully in his stirring book American Wars American Peace. Beidler survived combat as an armored cavalry platoon leader and now teaches English at the University of Alabama.

 "No matter which President presides over it. I'm fed up with hearing speeches from people who don't know any better, profaning the memory of people who almost always, since I came home, died scared and alone holding their wounds, or with piss and shit running down their legs, or with chunks of them blown off...."

In addition to recent indictments, tons of headlines and cable news "Breaking News" headlines, what we have also produced is a massive campaign to convince Americans that Russia's "meddling" in our elections (our mass media rarely notes that the U.S. has always "meddled" in other countries, e.g., Italy, Iran, Iraq, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, Canada, et al.) requires ever greater Pentagon budget increases and continued readiness for future wars.

Meanwhile, after America's bogus frenzy about the annexation of Crimea, the NY Times's smart conservative op-ed writer, Ross Douthat, offered some uncommon advice. Referring to Bismarck's wisdom that Europe's 19th Century wars "weren't worth the bones of a Pomeranian Grenadier," Douthat sensibly added:  "Even the most bellicose U.S. politicians weren't ready to say that South Ossetia or Simferopol is worth the bones of a single American Marine.  What we don't want is a tit-for-tat before someone decided to create another Shoot-the-Archduke incident. So here's Douthat's and my main point about Putin, Ukraine and Crimea:  "What we need is realism: to use the power we have, without pretending to powers we lack."

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154144 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154144 0
We Jews Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, who saved a number of Jews during the massacre in Pittsburgh's Tree of Light Synagogue, spoke for all of us when he said, "What happened yesterday will not break you.  We will continue to thrive and sing and worship and learn together. We will not be ruined by this event."

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154155 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154155 0
The Bipartisan Consensus on Foreign Wars Murray Polner, formerly HNN's senior book review editor, blogs at There's No There There. He is the author of No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran, Branch Rickey: A Biography, and co-editor of We Who Dared Say No To War.

 

"Try to calm down, America. Whatever RussiaGate (and the Greater Middle East] ultimately turns out to be, it won't be anything worth a single drop of American or Russian blood"--or anyone else's."

--Thomas L. Knapp, The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism

 

Even if our erratic and mendacious President follows through and actually withdraws a few thousand soldiers from Syria and ultimately Afghanistan, I remain fixated on the silence of Democrats, especially about our foreign policies and what we've done. Few of them explained or debated our never-ending imperial wars. But a few years ago I thought I glimpsed a peek at what we do and why when, on January 3, 2017, I watched Senator Charles (Chuck, since he left friendly Brooklyn for Washington) Schumer belittle Donald Trump on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC-TV show. Schumer argued that the President was "being really dumb " for refusing to accept the "Intelligence Community's" allegations about Russian interference in our 2016 election.

"Let me tell you," said the influential leader of the Senate Democrats, "you take on the Intelligence Community [and] they have six ways from Sunday at getting back to you."   Since then I've wondered what so powerful a politician might have meant.  And whatever he might have intended was promptly overlooked or dismissed by reporters out to nail Trump and, with hope, win a few journalism prizes. 

When Trump impulsively decided recently without consultation and despite almost unanimous condemnation by the Imperial City's opinion-makers, practically everyone who mattered condemned the possible withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Syria. The same universal joy that was expressed for taking down Saddam and his "WMDs" in 2003 was reflected when Trump made his current choice about Syria. 

There were of course relatively few rational supporters for pulling out, such as Michael Moore and Brent Scowcroft  (the first Bush's close advisor, who wrote a prophetic prewar warning in the Wall Street Journal), but they spoke out on their own and not on behalf of any political party. Still, our imperial agenda embraced -- and continues to embrace --the American-Saudi Arabian-Israeli obsession with Teheran, when a handful of experienced Iranian hands wisely warn, "If you liked Iraq you'll love Iran."

So where, then, are the Democratic Party Big Shots and why the Silence?

In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, the venerable leftwing dissenter I.F. Stone tried to explain. In "Who Are the Democrats?" he asked, citing our enormous military bureaucracy, "and all the careers and interests which depend upon it and require Pax Americana which depend on it." Stone asked his readers to think of "all the careers which depend on it and require continuance of the Pax Americana "which have rendered us ‘prisoners of this machine.’ ” It has, he charged, also led to "that unspoken ideological consensus within which the two-party operates" --- bipartisanship in foreign policy. 

Since then, Harper Magazine's Washington editor, Scott Horton, reveals in his new and disturbing book, "Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America's Stealth Warfare," that all sorts of critical decisions are now made by self-directed, independent and unelected national security types, leaving Americans with little room for debate or challenge. We have become an oligarchy, rightly concludes Horton.

In any event, even after their recent electoral victories, trying to make a U-turn on foreign policy will not be easy for progressive Democrats. Many Democrats are not Doves and some are even indistinguishable from pugnacious neocons. Meanwhile, Putin is deeply resentful of the cordon sanitaire the U.S. and NATO has drawn about Russia, especially after the West probably broke its promises about keeping the U.S. and NATO far from Russian borders. The Chinese will only become tougher. And then there are the Israelis, whose unforgiving  Israel Lobby will never forgive anyone saying critical things about Israel and are always ready to pounce with allegations of  anti-Semitism. Faced with those hurdles, Climate Change and a possible recession will be reliatively easy.  

Until that great day arrives when we can sensibly manage the way we conduct our foreign policies, we're  stuck with unending  undeclared wars. I wonder, how long will Gore Vidal's U.S. of Amnesia continue fighting senseless wars with mounting debts? Or do we stay in Syria, attack Iran, and keep contributing to the myth of American idealism and purity which forces us to fight indefensible, crazy new wars? 

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154172 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154172 0
A News Junkie Reflects on the New York Times

"Nowhere in the elite establishment newspapers could you find regular, sustained, and well-informed criticism of an aggressive and overly militarized American foreign policy."

---- Scott McConnell, The American Conservative Magazine.

1.

 

I've always been a newspaper junkie. Encouraged by Irving, my older brother, who read the dignified Times every day, I read parts of the paper and lots of local ones too.  So when Paul Benov, my high school's  journalism  teacher, told me he had heard  the Times was looking for a HS student to help out with its HS sports reporting I was beyond excited. “Gimme a nickel," I told Irving, and I'll call them." "No you won't," he said, just as excited as I was. "You'll get on the train and go down and volunteer. Now."  

 

Which I did, though the job opening was only a rumor. But a sympathetic Times reporter, seated nearby, told me that other NY dailies had openings and suggested several leads. 

 

 Back on the subway with editor's names in hand, I was hired that very day by both the Brooklyn Eagle and NY World-Telegram to cover Saturday's HS football games. And they paid!! ("So much," my Mom said, proudly). I was the Tilden Topics HS sports editor and center on its football team for several years and immediately set out to organize other school sports editors in Brooklyn and Queens. I had them call me once their teams' games had ended, then paid them a portion of what I  received and, with all the high and low lights of the borough's games, I'd call my two papers with details. "Nice job," Jimmy Murphy, the Eagles' gracious and encouraging editor told me. Ah, the Eagle, my favorite paper, which covered my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers with every possible detail.

 

Still, they weren't the NY Times. Walter Goodman, a family and personal friend, and a veteran Times reporter and columnist, set me straight about the paper years later. When I complimented him on a column he said he'd rewritten virtually the entire piece. But didn't the original  byline author object? "Listen," I remember him telling me, "There are writers who'd gladly kill their grandmothers to get a Times byline. They never care what changes you make."

 

As an adult, I was hooked and began stringing and freelancing for the Times:  book reviews, travel pieces and op eds. I wrote longer articles about bigoted owners and buyers in Levittown who refused to allow Black WWII vets to buy homes, Vietnam and Iraqi-Afghan vets and their post-war suffering, Agent Orange and the devastating impact on some of their newborns, and insecure Asian immigrants as they tried to acculturate.

 When friends asked me who I was writing for I usually  answered, anyone who'd have me, left, right and center, the more varied the better: I co-authored one book with Jim O'Grady (Basic Books) about the Berrigan brothers, priests  who burned 1-A  Vietnam War draft files, and another with Tom Woods Jr. (also with Basic Books), a conservative-libertarian, whose only common ground we had was that he and I were both deeply anti-war. I also wrote regularly for Newsday. When Abba Eban died, the editor asked me for a full and deserving obituary and I complied it since in those years Newsday was the superior of the Times in every way (My youngest son was a reporter for the paper but had nothing to do with my assignments or employment).

 

And during my military  service I published in foreign language newspapers wherever I could make a contact: a  Japanese editor about American baseball, British editor who loved US politics, and a Yiddish-language daily fascinated with Israeli life (the latter thrilled my Russian-born, Yiddish speaking and reading father.) Another  book I wrote and  meant the most to me was "Our Family," which was inspired by my friend Layle Silbert's moving poem, "Round":

     in my head, house of bone

     lay my mother and father

     when I die

     in whose head will I lie?

....and who will remember

...my mother and father?

 

2.

All the same, my lifelong love affair with the NY Times had begun to fade a bit. I joined an external ombudsman, the New York Times Express, where I wrote a column "Keeping Score," about how the Old Man was slipping. 

 

I wrote about its opposition to MLK's radical approaches to  war and poverty, my differences with the paper's view of  Truth-Tellers Snowden and Manning,  why Al Campanis (LA Dodger General Manager and onetime minor league shortstop to Montreal second baseman Jackie Robinson) was unjustly punished and driven out of baseball,  and how quickly we've forgotten the murder and wounding of the Kent State and Jackson State  students not to mention the 58,000  GIs who never made it back home from Vietnam or the 38,000 dead in Iraq and elsewhere while smug opinion-makers in the States ignored the shabby treatment received by  our sickened, even suicidal  combat veterans.

 

I wrote about the paper's lack of interest in the newly released unclassified documents reporting that the US and its NATO allies lied to Russia even after declassified documents released in December 2017 show without a doubt that Secretary of U.S. State James Baker had declared "not one inch eastward" with an oral assurance given to Gorbachev and overheard by NATO ministers on February 9, 1999 specifically that NATO would never expand eastward toward the Russian borders. I have yet to find a serious, searching  Times article about the documents (still looking), which are housed at the National Security Archive in Washington (http://nsarchive.gwu.edu) but am willing to keep looking. And then there's that unsatisfying connection with corrupt Ukraine, whose anti-Semitic history leaves me cold.  Above all, I was increasingly bothered about the paper's ambivalence toward  powerful interests the distant editorial board didn't like.

 

And then there was its support for the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which it hurriedly withdrew with an embarrassing public apology. A band of non-veteran neocons, mainly Israel Firsters and their key backer, Dick Cheney and his pals captured the incompetent Bush Two's White House, whose invasion then set the Greater Middle East afire. The newspaper's uncomfortable but necessary confession, widely reprinted throughout the world, confessed that it had fallen for lies about Iraq's non-existent WMDs.

 

I'm also bothered because at times the Times seems to fall for insider leaks from the huge and very secret  "Intelligence Community" in our post 9/11 national security state, a development embraced by our some of our most aggressive haters. Add that to the growing hostility to Russia, China and Iran, which  could bring us perilously close to triggering  an accidental conflict.

Who, then, is left to challenge our militarism and imperialism? 

 

So today, while the Times, faults and all, remains the best newspaper we have, there's always a real possibility of a second Cold War instigated by our rigid ideologists and their sightlessness. The late historian's Edward Pessen's "Losing Our Souls or "Why the New Cold War Could Still Be Worse than the Old Cold War” could use some serious discussion in the newspaper of record. Pessen's point is that a second Cold War could kill most of us "in a matter of minutes."

 

So much for the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave and the former Worker's Paradise. 

 

"in a matter of minutes.....”

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154176 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154176 0
The Activist Origins of Mother's Day Murray Polner, who writes book reviews for HNN, is the author of “No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran” and “When Can We Come Home? A Debate on Amnesty for Exiles, Anti-War Prisoners and Others."

 

 

After the carnage of the Second World War the members of the now defunct Victory Chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers in St. Petersburg, Florida, knew better than most what it was to lose their sons, daughters, husbands and other near relatives in war. “We’d rather not talk about it,” one mother, whose son was killed in WWII, told the St. Petersburg Times fifteen years after the war ended. “It’s a terrible scar that never heals. We hope there will never be another war so no other mothers will have to go through this ordeal.” But thanks to our wars in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan –not to mention our proxy wars around the globe-- too many Moms (and Dads too) now have to mourn family members badly scarred or lost to wars dreamed up by the demagogic, ideological, and myopic. 

 

But every year brings our wonderful Mother’s Day. Few Americans know that Mother’s Day was initially suggested by two peace-minded mothers, Julia Ward Howe, a nineteenth century anti-slavery activist and suffragette who wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and Anna Reeves Jarvis, mother of eleven, who influenced Howe and once asked her fellow Appalachian townspeople, badly polarized by the carnage of the American Civil War, to remain neutral and help nurse the wounded on both sides.  

 

Howe had lived through the Civil War, which led her to ask a question that’s as relevant today as it was in her time: “Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the costs?” Mother’s Day, she insisted, “should be devoted to the advocacy of peace doctrines.” Howe soon moved beyond her unquestioned support for the Union armies and became a pacifist, opposed to all wars. “The sword of murder is not the balance of justice,” she memorably wrote. “Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicates possession.”

 

Though not a mother, my favorite female opponent of war and imperialism was  the undeservedly forgotten poet and feminist Katherine Lee Bates who wrote “America the Beautiful” as a poem in 1895, which is now virtually our second national anthem for all Americans, left, right and center.  The poem I love best is her “Glory,” in which an officer heading for the front says goodbye to his tearful mother.

      

       Again he raged in that lurid hell

       Where the country he loved had thrown him.

       “You are promoted!” shrieked a shell.

       His mother would not have known him.

 

More recently there was Lenore Breslauer, a mother of two, who helped found Another Mother for Peace during the Vietnam War and also helped coin their memorable slogan: “War is not healthy for children and other living beings.”  Years later I came to know three mothers named Carol (Adams, Miller and Cohen, plus my wife Louise) who formed Mothers and Others Against War to protest President Jimmy Carter’s absurd resurrection of draft registration. They stayed on to battle Ronald Reagan’s toxic proxy wars in Central America.

 

On this Mother’s Day we could use more anger and dissenting voices of many more women of all political stripes to protest the needless and cruel sacrifice of their sons, daughters, wives and husbands as cannon fodder, as Russian mothers did in protesting Moscow’s invasions of Afghanistan and Chechnya. In Argentina and Chile, mothers and grandmothers marched against U.S.-supported torturers and murderers during the late seventies and early eighties. And in this country, the anti-war movement has often been led by women who no longer believe “War is a glorious golden thing…invoking honor and Praise and Valor and Love of Country”—as a bitter, disillusioned and cynical Roland Leighton, a WWI British combat soldier, wrote to his fiancée, Vera Brittain, the great British anti-war writer.

 

Sadly, on Mother’s Day yesterday, today, and in the years ahead, peace and justice seems further away than ever. How many more war widows and grieving families do we need? Do we need yet another war memorial to the dead in Washington?  More bodies to fill our military cemeteries? More crippled and murdered soldiers and civilians so our weapons manufactuers's stock prices can rise? Do we really need to continue disseminating the myth –and lie-- that an idealistic America always fights for freedom and democracy? 

 

Vietnam, Korea, the Middle East, etc., more than one hundred thousand American men and women have been killed or grievously harmed in our endless wars, not to mention several million Asians and Middle Easterners, including Israelis and Palestinians. Do enough Americans care? They all had mothers.

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Fri, 24 May 2019 19:01:00 +0000 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154210 https://historynewsnetwork.org/blog/154210 0