Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 3, 2011

USA chant falls flat

Filed under: war — louisproyect @ 9:59 pm

Code name Geronimo

Filed under: Jihadists,pakistan,war — louisproyect @ 1:50 pm

The code name for Bin Laden was “Geronimo.” The president and his advisers watched Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, on a video screen, narrating from his agency’s headquarters across the Potomac River what was happening in faraway Pakistan.

“They’ve reached the target,” he said.

Minutes passed.

“We have a visual on Geronimo,” he said.

A few minutes later: “Geronimo EKIA.”

Enemy Killed In Action. There was silence in the Situation Room.

Finally, the president spoke up.

“We got him.”

–NY Times, May 2, 2011

* * * *

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/the-big-question-who-was-geronimo-and-why-is–there-controversy-over-his-remains-1714167.html

The Big Question: Who was Geronimo, and why is there controversy over his remains?

By Guy Adams
Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Why are we asking this now?

The US government has been dragged into a bizarre legal battle between descendants of the Apache leader Geronimo and a secret society of Yale students called Skull and Bones, whose members allegedly raided his grave during the First World War. Yesterday, the Justice Department asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed in February, on the 100th anniversary of Geronimo’s death, seeking to recover the legendary warrior’s remains and re-bury them near to his birthplace in the Gila Wilderness of southern New Mexico.

The legal action, by 20 descendants of Geronimo, claims a group of Skull and Bones members, including George W Bush’s grandfather, Prescott, took his skull from Fort Sill in Oklahoma in 1918. The artefact has allegedly been stored in a glass case at the organisation’s clubhouse in New Haven, Connecticut ever since. The Justice Department became involved because Barack Obama and his defence secretary Robert Gates are named alongside the Skull and Bones society as co-defendants, due to the fact that Geronimo was initially buried on public land.

So who was Geronimo?

For much of his lifetime, Geronimo was considered the greatest terrorist in America. These days, he’s feted as a fearless guerrilla fighter, whose famously brave troops were the last American Indian force to hold out against the United States.

Born Goytholy, meaning “the one who yawns,” he took up arms when his wife, children and mother were massacred by Mexicans in 1851. His nickname stems from daring retaliatory raids, when he led men on cavalry charges, often into a hail of bullets. Legend has it that victims would scream a plea to St Jerome (hence “Jeronimo!”) as they died.

Geronimo evaded capture for more than three decades. Though wounded countless times, he was never defeated, and his men are perhaps the most effective light cavalry force in military history. They numbered no more than a couple of hundred at any one time, but are said to have killed more than 5,000 enemies.

Why did he fight?

Geronimo was a member of the Chiricahua Apache tribe whose homelands in the deserts of New Mexico were annexed first by Mexico and later by the United States during its expansion into the south-west during the 19th century. His insurgency was part of a wider rebellion by Native Indians against their treatment by white settlers, who carried out what in modern terms might be called ethnic cleansing: removing tribes from ancestral territories and (in some cases) placing a bounty on their scalps. Geronimo’s success was down to old-fashioned derring-do, and sheer good luck. Because of repeated close shaves with mortality, many followers believed he was resistant to bullets. His men were adept at using their opponents’ technology – including rifles and pistols – against them.

How was he captured?

After more than 30 years the US General Nelson Miles tracked Geronimo to Arizona. The rebels were exhausted after decades on the run, and their number had dwindled to just 36 men, many of whom (including their leader) had taken to heavy drinking. In the autumn of 1886, Geronimo negotiated a tactical surrender, agreeing to lay down his arms on condition that his followers would be allowed to disband and return home to their families. But the US reneged on its promises, and promptly took Geronimo and his troops into custody. They spent seven years in prison in Alabama before being transferred to Fort Sill, where they lived out the rest of their days in a form of open prison.

What became of him?

Ironically, Geronimo’s fame only grew during his year in captivity. He became a local celebrity, charging visitors to Fort Sill to have their photo taken with him, and keeping a stock of autographed cards and other souvenirs to sell to tourists. In old age, he was constantly interviewed (for a small fee) by the US press, and took part in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Circus, where performers recreated his most daring battles. He was a star attraction at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis, and had a prominent place in Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade in 1905.

Having embraced capitalism, Geronimo also took up the white man’s religion, converting to Christianity saying he believed it to be “better than the religion of my forefathers.” He joined the Dutch Reformed Church in 1903, but was expelled four years later, apparently for gambling. He died in 1909, at the age of 79.

What happened to his remains?

Three members of the Skull and Bones society, including Prescott Bush, were stationed at an artillery school at Fort Sill during the First World War. In a bizarre prank, they are rumoured to have dug up his grave, and taken his skull and femurs back to their alma mater.

Why does this matter?

Although unproven, the alleged desecration of Geronimo’s grave carries significant political baggage. Like Chief Sitting Bull, who defeated General Custer at the battle of Little Bighorn, Native Americans view him as a symbol of their people’s righteous rebellion against white colonialists. Geronimo is also firmly embedded in the US psyche as a symbol of bonkers bravado. Paratroopers shout his name after leaping from aeroplanes, apparently as part of a tradition that began in 1940, when they prepared for their first mass jump by watching the film “Geronimo.” In a scene based on one of its subject’s many narrow escapes – and mimicked by generations of schoolchildren – the movie’s hero yells his own name as he leaps from a cliff into a river to escape capture by approaching soldiers.

What is the Skull and Bones?

Adding to the intrigue is long-standing public fascination with the Skull and Bones society, an organisation of privileged Yale Students whose alumni include both Presidents Bush and John Kerry. The club, founded at the Ivy League school in 1832, selects 15 new members each year. They are sworn in at the “Tomb,” a windowless campus clubhouse which is purported to hold the skulls of a range of famous figures, including Che Guevara. During the initiation ceremony, recruits are apparently required to kiss the skull of Geronimo, which is said to be held in a glass case near the door, and take a solemn oath to support fellow members.

Since the society is secret – it has never clarified the exact contents of the “Tomb” – some regard it as vaguely sinister. Others say it is a harmless networking organisation. In this respect, it is perhaps best described as an upmarket version of the Freemasons.

What happens next?

The lawsuit by Geronimo’s descendants was filed in a federal district court in Washington DC, and seeks: “to free Geronimo, his remains, funerary objects and spirit from 100 years of imprisonment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the Yale University campus at New Haven, Connecticut and wherever else they may be found.”

Presuming the case isn’t immediately thrown out – and the political ramifications of doing so would be enormous – the court’s immediate next step must be to determine if the Skull and Bones society really does own Geronimo’s disputed skull.

Does the Skull and Bones society really have Geronimo’s skull?

Yes

*The Skull and Bones has repeatedly refused to discuss the skull, still less surrender it for DNA testing

*A letter written in 1918 by a society member says it gained possession of it

*A history of the society written in 1933 claimed that Prescott Bush ‘engaged in a mad expedition’ at Fort Sill to obtain Geronimo’s skull

No

*Geronimo’s grave was miles from where Prescott Bush was stationed

*The exact location of Geronimo’s grave was unmarked at the time of the alleged theft

*Historians say that, while the Skull and Bones may very well have a Native Indian’s skull, it is unlikely to be that of Geronimo

January 28, 2011

Bill Keller’s hatchet job on Julian Assange

Filed under: media,war,Wikileaks — louisproyect @ 7:59 pm

Bill Keller

For obvious reasons, the New York Times does not like Julian Assange very much although they don’t spell out their political differences,  preferring to use cheap ad hominem attacks. For example, John Burns described him as “erratic and imperious” in an October 23rd story. Indeed, it seems almost impossible for the Times to write about Assange without including such terms.

This Sunday the magazine section will include an 18 page article on Assange by the paper’s executive editor, one Bill Keller. It is basically an exercise in character assassination relieved only by a pro forma defense of the Wikileak founder’s right not to be kidnapped, tortured, killed or imprisoned. Keller writes:

But while I do not regard Assange as a partner, and I would hesitate to describe what WikiLeaks does as journalism, it is chilling to contemplate the possible government prosecution of WikiLeaks for making secrets public, let alone the passage of new laws to punish the dissemination of classified information, as some have advocated. Taking legal recourse against a government official who violates his trust by divulging secrets he is sworn to protect is one thing. But criminalizing the publication of such secrets by someone who has no official obligation seems to me to run up against the First Amendment and the best traditions of this country. As one of my colleagues asks: If Assange were an understated professorial type rather than a character from a missing Stieg Larsson novel, and if WikiLeaks were not suffused with such glib antipathy toward the United States, would the reaction to the leaks be quite so ferocious? And would more Americans be speaking up against the threat of reprisals?

If Keller had simply left it at this, one might have forgiven him despite his extensive record as a willing accomplice to imperialist war. Implicit in his hatchet job on Assange is the idea that someone hostile to American foreign policy is beyond the pale. For a newspaper that has been responsible for Judith Miller’s lies that led to a massive loss of Iraqi lives, it is high time for it to reexamine its role as propagandist. Of course, as long as there is a class system in the US, this is not likely to happen.

On February 8th, 2003, Keller wrote an op-ed piece in the Times titled The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club that stated among other stupidities:

We reluctant hawks may disagree among ourselves about the most compelling logic for war — protecting America, relieving oppressed Iraqis or reforming the Middle East — but we generally agree that the logic for standing pat does not hold. Much as we might wish the administration had orchestrated events so the inspectors had a year instead of three months, much as we deplore the arrogance and binary moralism, much as we worry about all the things that could go wrong, we are hard pressed to see an alternative that is not built on wishful thinking.

This is really what sticks in their craw when it comes to someone like Julian Assange or a Noam Chomsky. These two dissidents stubbornly refuse to buy into the “arrogance and binary moralism” that are at the heart of American foreign policy whichever party is in power. Furthermore, despite Keller’s assurance that he “deplores” such a stance, he is the living embodiment of it. The only reason the NY Times has written anything critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that they have turned sour. If you go back and review coverage of the invasions of Grenada or Panama, you will find nothing of the sort. Imperialist liberals of Mr. Keller’s persuasion only begin to think twice about American foreign policy when it fails to achieve its immediate goals.

In the first paragraph of Mr. Keller’s attack, he makes sure to remind his readers that his target is an “eccentric former computer hacker”. Okay, we get it. Our enemies are “eccentric” while the inhabitants of the White House are normal. It doesn’t matter very much if these normal people are killing thousands of civilians just as long as they wouldn’t raise eyebrows at a cocktail party thrown at some NY Times editor’s house in the Hamptons.

In order to establish that Assange would never get such an invitation, Keller cites a communication from Eric Schmitt, a reporter assigned to work with Wikileaks:

On the fourth day of the London meeting, Assange slouched into The Guardian office, a day late. Schmitt took his first measure of the man who would be a large presence in our lives. “He’s tall — probably 6-foot-2 or 6-3 — and lanky, with pale skin, gray eyes and a shock of white hair that seizes your attention,” Schmitt wrote to me later. “He was alert but disheveled, like a bag lady walking in off the street, wearing a dingy, light-colored sport coat and cargo pants, dirty white shirt, beat-up sneakers and filthy white socks that collapsed around his ankles. He smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in days.”

Despite these fashion notes, it appears that Schmitt’s background is not in the fluffy, idiotic Style section that appears in the Thursday edition of the NY Times. Of course, if Assange had shown up in a perfectly fitting Armani suit, that would have made little difference to these cheap propagandists. With respect to his body odor, one could only assume that it is difficult sometimes to bathe when you are on the run. We can assume that Mr. Keller and Mr. Schmitt are perfectly groomed since their professional life would hardly ever make them the targets of Interpol, the CIA, MI5 or other armed bodies on the same side of the class divide as the newspaper of record.

The article continues to paint Julian Assange as a kind of dirt bag. On page three, we learn that “reporters came to think of Assange as smart and well educated, extremely adept technologically but arrogant, thin-skinned, conspiratorial and oddly credulous.” I have never been in Assange’s position, but I probably would find myself rather “thin-skinned” in the presence of a sartorial hawk like Eric Schmitt especially since my own socks have occasionally dropped around my ankles.

While the NY Times decided to form a partnership with Wikileaks (one that no longer exists because of John Burns’s hatchet job, no doubt), it was obvious that it recoiled at some of the more incendiary leaks that pointed to American war crimes. It was one thing to include chatty obiter dicta from American embassies overseas (that is, until Tunisia exploded) but it was another to publicize anything that proved we were involved with war crimes. Keller writes:

The Guardian, which is an openly left-leaning newspaper, used the first War Logs to emphasize civilian casualties in Afghanistan, claiming the documents disclosed that coalition forces killed “hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents,” underscoring the cost of what the paper called a “failing war.” Our reporters studied the same material but determined that all the major episodes of civilian deaths we found in the War Logs had been reported in The Times, many of them on the front page. (In fact, two of our journalists, Stephen Farrell and Sultan Munadi, were kidnapped by the Taliban while investigating one major episode near Kunduz. Munadi was killed during an ensuing rescue by British paratroopers.) The civilian deaths that had not been previously reported came in ones and twos and did not add up to anywhere near “hundreds.” Moreover, since several were either duplicated or missing from the reports, we concluded that an overall tally would be little better than a guess.

Of course, it is understandable why Keller would be agnostic on whether casualties amounted to “hundreds” based on the reporting of Stephen Farrell. The Kunduz incident alone resulted in the death of 90 Afghans, but you really could not tell from Farrell’s article whether the dead people were insurgents or innocent civilians. He made sure to include these disclaimers:

Though there seemed little doubt some of the dead were militants, it was unclear how many of the dead were civilians, and with anger at the foreign forces high here, NATO ordered an immediate investigation.

In explaining the civilian deaths, military officials speculated that local people were conscripted by the Taliban to unload the fuel from the tankers, which were stuck near a river several miles from the nearest villages.

German forces in northern Afghanistan under the NATO command called in the attack, and German military officials initially insisted that no civilians had been killed. But a Defense Ministry spokesman in Berlin later said the ministry believed that more than 50 fighters had been killed but could give no details about civilian casualties.

This kind of “balance” is what makes the NY Times so worthless. If there were 90 people supposedly dead as a result of a Taliban attack, trust me that one of its reporters would not be so careful to include “the other side” of the story.

Finally, a word about Keller’s likening of Assange to figures in a novel that I am currently reading:

I came to think of Julian Assange as a character from a Stieg Larsson thriller — a man who could figure either as hero or villain in one of the megaselling Swedish novels that mix hacker counterculture, high-level conspiracy and sex as both recreation and violation.

As one of my colleagues asks: If Assange were an understated professorial type rather than a character from a missing Stieg Larsson novel, and if WikiLeaks were not suffused with such glib antipathy toward the United States, would the reaction to the leaks be quite so ferocious? And would more Americans be speaking up against the threat of reprisals?

I will have a lot more to say about Stieg Larsson after I am finished reading “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” but one wonders if Mr. Keller has read the author. The obvious connection is between Julian Assange and Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, the two extremely likable characters who come together as partners in an investigation of murders committed by members of a bourgeois family with Nazi connections and corporate crime carried out by another wealthy magnate. One wonders what would make them villainous in Keller’s eyes. Was it their willingness to take on corporate power?

Indeed, it is very likely that the NY Times would have had exactly the same bourgeois snobbery and anti-leftist animosity when it came to Stieg Larsson who created these memorable characters. As a young man, Larsson was a militant of the Trotskyist group in Sweden and dedicated to bringing down the system that Julian Assange is opposed to. If Larsson had not died as the result of a heart attack, I can easily imagine him participating in Assange’s defense. The main message of his novels is the abuse of corporate power, something that American writers need to adopt as well in the face of financial collapse, greed and, class divisions on a scale not seen since the Great Depression or earlier. If I had the ear of such a novelist, I would tell them to take a close look at Bill Keller, a real villain by any estimation.

November 24, 2010

A guest post on Timothy Snyder

Filed under: anti-Communism,Fascism,ussr,war — louisproyect @ 3:02 pm

This originally appeared as comments by Dermokrat under my last post titled An American “Revisionist” Historian.  He buttresses his arguments with passages from Jacques Pauwel’s essential Myth of the Good War. Since it a major contribution to the discussion, I wanted to make sure that it received the widest attention.

Hi Louis,

I actually posted Kotz’s article on my facebook a while back, although not because of his refutation of Snyder, but because of his worthy condemnation of fanatic, anti-Soviet Baltic nationalism. Nevertheless, one of my friends took me to task over Katz’s argument vis-a-vis Snyder. I didn’t actually read the response by Snyder before I posted Katz’s commentary. My friend quickly pointed out that Snyder notes in his rebuttal:

I didn’t and don’t equate Hitler and Stalin. Katz puts ‘somewhat equal’ in quotations, but I never use any such phrase. Zuroff says that I ‘posit’ that the Soviet Union was Nazi Germany; I most certainly do no such thing. What I try to do, in the 28 September article and generally, is understand what it means for a vast east European territory and several east European peoples to have been touched by both Nazi and Soviet power. Despite some critical remarks of Bloodlands in an otherwise perceptive and generous (London) Times review of 26 September, which perhaps Zuroff and Katz read, I don’t equate Stalin with Hitler in that book either. Instead, I try to reckon with the crimes that both regimes committed in the lands between Berlin and Moscow, where 14 million people, including more than 5 million Jews, were killed in the 12 years that both Hitler and Stalin were in power.

He then pointed out that Katz undermines his own argument that Snyder fails to distinguish between the two when he writes:

And finally, it is not possible to ignore Snyder’s certainty that ‘Jews could not help but see the return of Soviet power as a liberation. Soviet policy was not especially friendly to Jews, but it was obviously better than a Holocaust.’

Indeed, in his rejoinder, Snyder writes: “I am not saying that [Soviet atrocities] were equivalent to the Holocaust. I am saying that a number of German and Soviet policies meet the standard of genocide.”

I pointed out to my friend that having read Snyder’s original piece and his response, I agreed that both Katz and Zuroff had somewhat exaggerated or misinterpreted Snyder’s arguments in the original article (excerpted from Bloodlands), but nevertheless make valid points re: the kind of historiography to which you refer at the beginning of your article (the kind that Baltic nationalists have adopted wholesale).

All that said, however, Snyder’s arguments about Soviet “genocide” are still unconvincing. To be sure, Stalin was a totalitarian monster who presided over mass slaughter of many innocent people, but it is difficult to claim that he was committing “genocide” as it is conventionally understood; i.e. “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.” While the Ukrainian nationalists and American/British anti-communists have long claimed that Stalin intentionally engineered the famine to punish Ukraine or even exterminate Ukrainians, there is simply no evidence for this. The last most serious inquiry into this question was carried out by Terry Martin in his Affirmative Action Empire. After exhaustively examining the documentary record (including all of Stalin’s correspondence with Kaganovich and Molotov during those years), Martin concluded:

The Poliburo’s development of a national interpretation of their grain requisitions crisis in late 1932 helps explain both the pattern of terror and the role of the national factor during the 1932-1933 famine. The 1932-1933 terror campaign consisted of both a grain requisitions terror, whose primary target was the peasantry, both Russian and non-Russian, and a nationalities terror, whose primary target was Ukraine and subsequently Belorussia. The grain requisitions terror was the final and decisive culmination of a campaign begun in 1927-1928 to extract the maximum possible amount from a hostile peasantry. As such, its primary targets were the grain-producing regions of Ukraine, the North Caucasus, and the Lower Volga, though no grain-producing regions escaped the 1932-1933 grain requisitions terror entirely. Nationality was of minimal importance in this campaign. The famine was not an intentional act of genocide specifically targeting the Ukrainian nation (quote on p.305 but see 282-307 for the full explanation).

The famine is still to be blamed on Stalin and his henchmen, since it stemmed from the policy of forced collectivization, which in turn was pursued not out of a kind of Marxist orthodoxy (as anti-communists like to claim), but in order to facilitate grain exports to Europe to acquire the hard currency needed for industrialization (this was inspired by Preobrazhensky’s socialist primitive accumulation – see Kagarlitskii’s Empire of the Periphery for a good summary). In this way, the Ukraine/Kuban famine was very much like what the British did in India as documented so well by Mike Davis in his Late Victorian Holocausts (ironically, this would have been a nice comparative study for Conquest back when he was writing Harvest of Sorrow!). At any rate, the famine caused by collectivization and terror requisitions was indeed a small ‘h’ holocaust of sorts, but it was not genocide.

Moving on, Snyder writes: “It is hard not to see the Soviet “Polish Operation” of 1937-38 as genocidal: Polish fathers were shot, Polish mothers sent to Kazakhstan, and Polish children left in orphanages where they would lose their Polish identity. As more than 100,000 innocent people were killed on the spurious grounds that theirs was a disloyal ethnicity…”

There’s a lot to unpack here. Unfortunately, it was not just the Poles who were subjected to this. Many “diaspora” groups living along Soviet borders were subjected to this kind of treatment – basically any national minority groups that had a “national homeland” outside the USSR, especially those living along the borders, were considered suspect. Like the Polish and Germans, many members of these “alien” communities were forcibly relocated and/or arrested and shot. The Poles and Germans living in the Ukrainian borderlands were particularly targeted because they had been the most prone to insurrection during collectivization and the years that followed. In fact, throughout the early 30s many Polish and German rebels did make appeals to the German and Polish government for aid and hoped they would intervene against the Soviet government on their behalf. Obviously this resistance was blowback from the collectivization campaign, and change in Soviet policy should be compared with what Terry Martin terms “the Piedmont Principle” of 1920s, whereby the Soviets hoped these border communities would become a sort of showcase for their national comrades living across the border.

Unsurprisingly Soviet officialdom’s views changed rapidly in the post-collectivization years – a period that also coincided with a decidedly hostile international relations environment, where the Nazis and Polish governments made no secret of their desire to do the Soviets in (see Affirmative Action, passim and Craig Nation’s Black Earth, Red Star, pp. 74-112; and Hirsch’ Empire of Nations, pp. 273-308 for more details on these things). Ironically, Soviet nationality policy in the Ukrainian borderlands was a victim of its own success, which led to the paradoxical situation where the Soviets officially promoted all the trappings of national life (national education, newspapers, theater, etc), but then accused local officials in charge of these things of promoting nationalism. This situation is not irrelevant to understanding what happened in the region in the runup to the war. While Snyder is right that Poles were increasingly being deported from the borderlands in the mid to late 30s simply for being Poles (and not for “class” reasons), not all the Polish communities living in the border regions were affected. As Kate Brown points out in her study of Soviet nationalities policy in the Ukrainian borderlands:

Some commentators on Soviet history have interpreted the deportation of national minorities as a plan ordered from Moscow and motivated in large part by a growing ethnic xenophobia and Russian chauvinism, led in large part Joseph Stalin (himself, of course, member of a minority far from mainstream Russia). The 1935-36 deportations, however, did not emanate from a racial or biological understanding of the deported population. Despite the order to deport specifically Poles and Germans, security agents did not deport ALL Germans and Poles in the borderlands, but only Germans and Poles with suspicious biographies or personal connections. Instead of an encompassing racial conception of nationality, national categories informed existing political and class categories to determine who should go and who should stay. About half of Soviet Poles and Germans were deemed dangerous for the border zone, but the other half was cleared to stay. In 1936, to be Polish or German was still dependent on one’s actions, biography and personal connections…Border cleansing was not a universal policy. As mentioned above, Poles and Germans were not shipped from Belorussia at this time although its profile was very similar to that of Ukraine: both had mixed populations, a long history of a leading Polish elite, a substantial number of German colonists and other scattered groups. Both bordered on Polish territory and had volatile and rebellious records during the 1930 collectivization campaign. The major difference between the two territories is that Ukraine established its national minority program in 1925, while the Dzerzhinskii Polish Region in Belorussia was formed in 1932. The people in Belorussia had only a few years to live in nationalized space and create national behavior. Rather than a universal plan from Moscow to deport all diaspora borderland populations, this disparity suggests that policy grew out of a more specific connection to how land and populations were configured in various territories of the Soviet Union (A Biography of No Place, p. 147).

This probably explains why there were still roughly 200,000 Poles living in these borderlands in 1959, all still granted certain “national rights” – albeit highly circumscribed by that point, as they were for all national minorities. Yet if we believe Snyder, the Soviets engaged in a campaign with the Nazis to eliminate all educated Polish people in a bid to undermine their continued existence as a people (the Soviets then went on to maintain a Polish state after WWII – thoroughly Stalinized, of course, but that’s not the point).

By the way, it’s worth noting that the United States adopted a similar policy of deportation and internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Although it did not, to my knowledge, include summary executions, many peoples lives were ruined due to the fact that they were forcibly uprooted and sent to the camps. Does Snyder consider this American policy as genocidal?

Lastly, we should keep in mind that, despite Stalin’s seemingly best attempts to deform the sciences in the USSR, the Soviet Union – in stark contrast to Germany and much of the West at that time – was adamantly opposed to eugenics and race science. In fact they broke all research ties with Germany once such a science took root in German universities. According to Francine Hirsch:

…in 1931 the Soviet regime prevailed on its anthropologists and ethnographers to disprove German race theories. In particular, the Soviet experts were to wage a war against biological determinism: to prove to audiences at home and abroad that ‘all narodnosti can develop and flourish’ and that ‘there is no basis whatsoever for supposing the existence of some sort of racial or biological factors’ that would make it impossible for certain peoples to participate in ‘socialist construction’. Soviet ethnographers and anthropologists, most of whom were themselves troubled about the German turn to ‘Nordic race science’, and none of whom wanted to be accused of anti-Soviet tendencies, set out to refute German claims in scientific terms and prove that the Marxist vision of historical development – grounded in sociohistorical, not sociobiological, laws – was the correct one (empire of nations, p. 232).

These genocide equivalencies, however, were not Snyder’s principle claim. It was that the Soviets enabled Hitler’s Holocaust(s):

We all agree that Hitler had the horrible aspiration to eliminate the Jews from Europe. But how exactly was Hitler to do so in summer 1939, with fewer than 3% of European Jews under his control? Hitler needed war to eliminate the Jews, and it was Stalin who helped him to begin that war. As I said in my original article, we don’t know how the war would have proceeded without the treaty on borders and friendship; what we do know is that the war as it actually happened, with all of its atrocities, began with a German-Soviet alliance. What if the Soviets had simply opted for neutrality in 1939? How exactly would the Germans have overcome the British blockade without Soviet grain? Or bombed London without Soviet oil? Or won their lightening victory in France without security in the rear?

I think we can all agree that this is really cute. As the German historian Bernd Martin pointed out “Hitler’s fundamental political conviction, his self-imposed duty from the moment he had embarked on his political career was the eradication of Bolshevism [which he defined as a Jewish conspiracy].” This was understood by Western elites. As Jacques Pauwels points out:

Everywhere in the industrialized world there were statesmen, corporate leaders, press barons, and other influential personalities who encouraged him openly or discreetly to realize his great anti-Soviet ambition. In the United States, Nazi Germany was praised as a bulwark against communism and Hitler was encouraged to use the might of Germany to destroy the Soviet Union by people such as Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt’s predecessor in the White House (The Myth of the Good War, p. 44).

Pauwels points out, though, that “It was primarily in Europe itself that the social and political elites expected great anti-Soviet achievements of Hitler. In Great Britain, for example, the eastern ambitions of the Fuhrer enjoyed at an early stage the approval of respectable and influential politicians, such as Lloyd George, Lord Halifax, Lord Astor and his circle of friends, the so called “Cliveden Set”…The Duke of Windsor even traveled to Berchtesgardern to have tea with Hitler…and encouraged him in his ambition to attack Russia: ‘[Hitler] made me realize that Red Russia [sic] was the only enemy, and that Great Britain and all of Europe had an interest in encouraging Germany to march against the east and to crush communism once and for all…I thought that we ourselves would be able to watch as the Nazis and the Reds would fight each other (p.45).’”

This explains the so called appeasement strategy. Per Pauwels:

And so it came to the infamous “appeasement” policy, the theme of a brilliant study by two Canadian historians…The quintessence of this policy was as follows: Great Britain and France ignored Stalin’s proposals for international cooperation against Hitler, and sought by means of all kinds of diplomatic contortions and spectacular concessions to stimulate Hitler’s anti-Soviet ambitions and to facilitate their realization. This policy reached its nadir in the Munich Pact of 1938, whereby Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to the Fuhrer as a kind of springboard for military aggression in the direction of Moscow. But Hitler ultimately demanded a higher price than the British and the French were prepared to pay, and this led in the summer of 1939 to a crisis over Poland. Stalin, who understood the true objectives of appeasement, took advantage of the opportunity and made a deal of his own with the German dictator in order to gain not only precious time but also glacis – a strategically important space – in Eastern Europe, without which the USSR would almost certainly not have survived the Nazi onslaught in 1941. Hitler himself was prepared to deal with his arch-enemy because he felt cheated by London and Paris, who refused him Poland. And so the appeasement policy of Great Britain and France collapsed in dismal failure, first because the USSR did not disappear from the face of the earth, and second, because after a short blitzkrieg in Poland, Nazi Germany would attack those who had hoped to manipulate in order to rid the earth of communism. The so-called ironies of history can be extremely cruel indeed (pp.45-46).

Even after the debacle in Poland, however, the French and British kept hoping Hitler would turn his guns on Russia. Pauwels writes, “The French and British governments and high commands busily hatched all sorts of plans of attack during the winter of 1939-1940, not against Germany, but against the USSR, for example in the form of an operation from the Middle East against the oil fields of Baku (p. 48). Similarly, “after Germany’s victory in Poland…the American ambassador in Berlin, Hugh R. Wilson, expressed the hope that the British and French would see fit to resolve their inconvenient conflict with Germany, so that the Fuhrer would finally have an opportunity to crush the Bolshevik experiment of the Soviets for the benefit of all ‘Western civilization’ (p.48).

Moreover, Snyder makes a big deal of the Soviet’s assistance to Germany in the form of trade, but this was marginal compared to the assistance the Reich received from America’s business elite (who, by the way, were no friend of the Jew), some of whom were actually receiving medals of honor from the Germany government (such as Mooney of GM, Henry Ford and Watson of IBM). On American business’ invaluable assistance to Hitler, Pauwels writes:

Without trucks, tanks, planes and other equipment supplied by the German subsidiaries of Ford and GM, and without the large quantities of strategic raw materials, notably rubber as well as diesel oil, lubricating oil, and other types of fuel shipped by Texaco and Standard Oil via Spanish ports, the German air and land forces would not have found it so easy to defeat their adversaries in 1939 and 1940. Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and wartime armament minister, would later state that without certain kinds of synthetic fuel made by US firms, Hitler ‘would have never considered invading Poland’. The American historian Bradford Snell agrees, alluding to the controversial role played by Swiss banks during the war, he comments that “the Nazis could have attacked Poland and Russia without the Swiss banks, but not without General Motors.’ Hitler’s military successes were based on a new and extremely mobile form of warfare, the blitzkrieg, consisting of extremely swift and highly synchronized attacks by air and by land. But without the aforementioned American support and without state of the art communications and information technology provided by ITT and IBM, the Fuhrer could only have dreamed of blitzkrieg and blitzsiege (p.37).

Oh by the way, re: Churchill, Johann Hari reviewed a new book that examines his unsavory role in maintaining the British Empire:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/books/review/Hari-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

As soon as he could, Churchill charged off to take his part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples.” In the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, he experienced, fleetingly, an instant of doubt. He realized that the local population was fighting back because of “the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own,” just as Britain would if she were invaded. But Churchill soon suppressed this thought, deciding instead that they were merely deranged jihadists whose violence was explained by a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill.”

He gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, writing: “We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation.” He then sped off to help reconquer the Sudan, where he bragged that he personally shot at least three “savages.”

The young Churchill charged through imperial atrocities, defending each in turn. When the first concentration camps were built in South Africa, he said they produced “the minimum of suffering” possible. At least 115,000 people were swept into them and 14,000 died, but he wrote only of his “irritation that kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men.” Later, he boasted of his experiences. “That was before war degenerated,” he said. “It was great fun galloping about.”

After being elected to Parliament in 1900, he demanded a rolling program of more conquests, based on his belief that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” As war secretary and then colonial secretary in the 1920s, he unleashed the notorious Black and Tans on Ireland’s Catholics, to burn homes and beat civilians. When the Kurds rebelled against British rule in Iraq, he said: “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.” It “would spread a lively terror.” (Strangely, Toye doesn’t quote this.)

Of course, it’s easy to dismiss any criticism of these actions as anachronistic. Didn’t everybody in Britain think that way then? One of the most striking findings of Toye’s research is that they really didn’t: even at the time, Churchill was seen as standing at the most brutal and brutish end of the British imperialist spectrum. This was clearest in his attitude to India. When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

This hatred killed. In 1943, to give just one example, a famine broke out in Bengal, caused, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proven, by British mismanagement. To the horror of many of his colleagues, Churchill raged that it was their own fault for “breeding like rabbits” and refused to offer any aid for months while hundreds of thousands died.

June 23, 2010

Rules of Engagement and engaging with a NY Times reporter

Filed under: Afghanistan,war — louisproyect @ 6:12 pm

CJ Chivers

A key part of the Vietnam syndrome has been how to win American objectives in one armed intervention or another without antagonizing the local population. This has meant fine-tuning the “rules of engagement” that separate normal killing from out-and-out war crimes. James Webb, the Virginia Democratic Party Senator who was Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy (go figure), was executive producer and co-writer of the 2000 movie “Rules of Engagement” that is a convoluted defense of war crimes under extenuating circumstances, including a slaughter of Yemeni protesters who apparently had it coming to them, based on this NY Times review of the movie:

When Childers [Samuel Jackson] becomes involved in a situation in Yemen that seems a contemporary My Lai, he seeks out Hodges [Tommy Lee Jones] as legal counsel. ”I don’t want some Starbucks drinker who’s never seen combat,” Childers growls. In rescuing the United States ambassador (Ben Kingsley, employing the same dead-voiced American accent he used as the vice president in ”Dave”) and his family from the embassy while under attack, Childers ordered a retaliatory strike on a crowd. He’s the only surviving member of his unit to have witnessed the crowd’s fire on the defenders, but to the rest of the world it looks as if he initiated an attack on innocent civilians.

Yes, you don’t want to be associated with a Starbucks drinker who has never seen combat. That’s more or less the vibe I got from NY Times reporter CJ Chivers, a former Marine who has more journalism awards than James Webb has medals. When I took him to task for today’s article that drew attention to American GI’s chafing under the rules of engagement established jointly by Obama and McChrystal, he asked me if I had ever been in a firefight. I replied:

I have been in zero firefights. In 1967 I came to the realization that the USA has no right to police the world and did everything I could to stay out of the army. After reading so many articles in the NY Times about Afghan weddings, etc. being bombed by drone attacks, it just shocked me to see your article. Too bad Chris Hedges is not overseeing what gets printed rather than Pinch Sulzberger.

To Mr. Chivers’s credit, this is the first time I have ever heard back from a NY Times reporter after sending them email. Generally, I don’t expect a response when I do so. For me it is mainly a way to relieve frustration, more or less the function that a “close” button serves in many elevators. The elevator will not go anywhere until a certain amount of time has elapsed, like 30 seconds or so, but allowing the passengers to press the button gives them the feeling that they have some control over their environment. That’s pretty much the function of emailing a NY Times reporter, I’m afraid.

According to Mr. Chivers, the troops in Afghanistan are tired of having their hands tied behind their back:

The rules have shifted risks from Afghan civilians to Western combatants. They have earned praise in many circles, hailed as a much needed corrective to looser practices that since 2001 killed or maimed many Afghan civilians and undermined support for the American-led war.

But the new rules have also come with costs, including a perception now frequently heard among troops that the effort to limit risks to civilians has swung too far, and endangers the lives of Afghan and Western soldiers caught in firefights with insurgents who need not observe any rules at all.

Young officers and enlisted soldiers and Marines, typically speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, speak of “being handcuffed,” of not being trusted by their bosses and of being asked to battle a canny and vicious insurgency “in a fair fight.”

Who knows what it means to stop “being handcuffed”? More wedding parties getting blown to smithereens? After 8 years of war, the only thing that makes sense is for the U.S. to withdraw immediately. The controversy over McChrystal’s “insubordination” is practically beside the point. The real question is imperialism, the 800 pound gorilla that the newspaper of record prefers to ignore.

Everything going back to September 11th is related to American imperialism. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was the inevitable outcome of a foreign policy that is designed to safeguard oil resources and uphold American hegemony in Central Asia. I think that Mr. Chivers knows this, like all clever ivy-league educated reporters at the NY Times, but will have to wait until he is retired from the bourgeois media to tell the truth—that is, if he has 1/100th of the guts and integrity that Chris Hedges has.

Finally, it should be understood that despite the undeserved reputation that the newspaper of record has for upholding liberal values after a fashion, it has been the source of many articles in the past that adhere to the “being handcuffed” narrative. This one by Hanson Baldwin titled “The Case for Escalation”, written on February 27, 1966 will live in infamy:

What any military man who is not Genghis Khan must do is to try to wage war as to hurt the enemy the most at the least possible cost to his own men and to innocent bystanders. The United States is trying to do this in Vietnam. This does not mean that there are not lapses, vicious divergences from the norm. But those who shed tears over the horrors of tear gas, the poor, bound Vietcong captives, the children, the civilians wounded and killed should look at the other side of the coin. The American soldier maimed by a grenade thrown by a 10-year old child, the village chief whose family was murdered by the Vietcong—are these, too, not worthy of tears?

Log of exchanges with CJ Chivers:

1. LP:

Unleash the military in Afghanistan? Really? This is the same nonsense I used to hear in the 1960s but not so much from the NYT. It tended to come from people like John Wayne, Georgie Jessel, Al Kapp and my barber.

2. CJ:

louis,

i’m surprised you read that article that way. no one said they want to see the military “unleashed.” the troops do have strong concerns that they are being asked to work in ways that neither pressure the taliban nor allow them to protect themselves. you might not like that point of view; fair enough. but it’s a point of view in play on the ground and part of the ongoing discussion about the workings of the war. how many firefights have you been in? do you think those who are in the fighting should have any input in the rules guiding how they fight? things to consider.

thanks for writing, and keeping an eye on our copy.

chris

3. LP:

I have been in zero firefights. In 1967 I came to the realization that the USA has no right to police the world and did everything I could to stay out of the army. After reading so many articles in the NY Times about Afghan weddings, etc. being bombed by drone attacks, it just shocked me to see your article. Too bad Chris Hedges is not overseeing what gets printed rather than Pinch Sulzberger.

4. CJ:

i respect your sense of this, louis. i just would hope that you might differentiate between the troops thinking through, and asking aloud, whether the rules are too tight and advocating bombing weddings.

war is a fucked-up and terrible thing; it presents problems of all forms. some of its miseries and horrors happen to be experienced by soldiers. whatever you think of them or the decisions that send them to afghanistan, their voices have a place in the conversation. that the nyt has covered errant strikes and civilian casualties — i have covered many myself — shows we clearly see the ground-level perspective of the afghans, too. and whoever will be commanding this war going forward faces unrest from the ranks, which is news.

thank you again for writing. really.

chris

May 19, 2010

Trotsky predicting the rise of the USA

Filed under: financial crisis,Trotskyism,war — louisproyect @ 1:16 pm

May 14, 2010

Creative Destruction

Filed under: economics,media,war — louisproyect @ 8:18 pm

Catherine Rampell: thinks that creative destruction has its uses

Two days ago the New York Times ran an article by economics editor Catherine Rampell titled The New Poor: In Job Market Shift, Some Workers Are Left Behind that focused on the largely middle-aged unemployed who will probably never work again. For example, 52 year old administrative assistant Cynthia Norton has been working part-time at Walmart while sending resumes everywhere but nobody gets back to her. She is part of a much bigger picture:

Ms. Norton is one of 1.7 million Americans who were employed in clerical and administrative positions when the recession began, but were no longer working in that occupation by the end of last year. There have also been outsize job losses in other occupation categories that seem unlikely to be revived during the economic recovery. The number of printing machine operators, for example, was nearly halved from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009. The number of people employed as travel agents fell by 40 percent.

But Ms. Rampell finds the silver lining in this dark cloud:

This “creative destruction” in the job market can benefit the economy.

Pruning relatively less-efficient employees like clerks and travel agents, whose work can be done more cheaply by computers or workers abroad, makes American businesses more efficient. Year over year, productivity growth was at its highest level in over 50 years last quarter, pushing corporate profits to record highs and helping the economy grow.

The term “creative destruction” might ring a bell. It was coined by Werner Sombart in his 1913 book “War and Capitalism”. When he was young, Sombart considered himself a Marxist. His notion of creative destruction was obviously drawn from Karl Marx, who, according to some, saw capitalism in terms of the business cycle. With busts following booms, like night follows day, a new round of capital accumulation can begin. This interpretation is particularly associated with Volume Two of Capital that examines this process in great detail. Looking at this material, some Marxists like Eduard Bernstein drew the conclusion that capitalism is an infinitely self-sustaining system.

By 1913, Sombart had dumped the Marxist commitment to social revolution but still retained the idea that there was a basis in Karl Marx for upholding the need for “creative destruction”, a view buttressed by an overly positive interpretation of this passage in the Communist Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind. The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe.

By the 1930s, Sombart had adapted himself fairly well to the Nazi system although he was not gung-ho  like Martin Heidegger or Carl Schmitt. The wiki on Sombart notes:

In 1934 he published Deutscher Sozialismus where he claimed a “new spirit” was beginning to “rule mankind”. The age of capitalism and proletarian socialism was over and with “German socialism” (National-Socialism) taking over.

But despite this, he remained critical. In 1938 he wrote an anthropology text that found fault with the Nazi system and many of his Jewish students remained fond of him.

I suspect, however, that Ms. Rampell is familiar with Joseph Schumpeter’s use of the term rather than Sombart since Schumpeter was an economist, her chosen discipline. In 1942, he wrote a book titled Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy that, like Sombart, retained much of Karl Marx’s methodology but without the political imperative to destroy the system that utilized “creative destruction”. He wrote:

The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation–if I may use that biological term–that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in. . . .

The wiki on Schumpeter claims that this theory is wedded to Nikolai Kondratiev’s “long wave” hypothesis that rests on the idea that there are 50 year cycles in which capitalism grows, decays and enters a crisis until a new round of capital accumulation opens up. Not only was the idea attractive to Schumpeter, it was a key part of Ernest Mandel’s economic theories. Unlike Schumpeter, Mandel was on the lookout for social agencies that could break the cycle and put development on a new footing, one based on human need rather than private profit.

Returning to Ms. Rampell’s article, there is one dimension entirely missing. She assumes that “creative destruction” will operate once again in order to foster a new upswing in the capitalist business cycle. But how exactly will that manifest itself? All the signs point to a general decline in business activity unless there is some kind of technological breakthrough equivalent to the computer revolution that fueled growth for decades. Does anybody believe that “green manufacturing” will play the same role? I don’t myself.

One thing does occur to me. Sombart’s book was written in 1913, one year before WWI and was even titled eerily enough “War and Capitalism”. One wonders if the Great War would be seen as part and parcel of “creative destruction”. War, after all, does have a knack for clearing the playing field with even more finality than layoffs. Schumpeter wrote his in 1942, one year into WWII. My guess is that he did not theorize war as the ultimate (and necessary?) instrument of creative destruction but history will record that WWII did introduce a whole rafter of new technology, including aluminum, radar, nuclear power, etc., while bombing old modes of production into oblivion. What a great opportunity it was for capitalism to rebuild Japan, especially after firebombing and atomic bombs did their lovely work.

In my view, there’s something disgusting about this “creative destruction” business especially when it is articulated by a young, snot-nosed Princeton graduate like Catherine Rampell who wrote for Slate, the Village Voice and other such b-list publications before crawling her way up into an editorial job at the NYT. She clearly has learned how to cater her reporting to the ideological needs of the newspaper of record, growing more and more reactionary as the crisis of capitalism deepens.

The Obama wit

Filed under: Obama,pakistan,war — louisproyect @ 2:16 pm

Victim of a Predator drone attack

April 15, 2010

Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks’s “The Pacific”

Filed under: television,war — louisproyect @ 7:23 pm

HBO’s The Pacific is the latest installment in an ongoing project launched by Stephen Spielberg and Tom Hanks to pay tribute to what newscaster Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation”, in other words the combat forces whose victories in Europe and Asia helped propel the U.S. to the status of number one imperial power.

In keeping with a proper post-Vietnam sensibility, Hollywood liberals such as Spielberg and Hanks would never dream of churning out the kind of flag-waving propaganda that was made during WWII, some of which involved Communist Party members. For example, the 1945 Back to Bataan starring John Wayne is filled with blood-curdling anti-Japanese racism despite being having a screenplay written by Ben Barzman, a Communist, and directed by Edward Dmytryk, another Communist (who would go on to name names.)

Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg and Hanks’s initial foray into this genre, was anxious to depict the Americans as the “good guys” but not in the clumsy, rah-rah fashion of the pre-Vietnam war era. In my review, I noted:

Standing above this film like a canopy are a whole set of assumptions about American “decency.” Not only is General George Marshall decent enough to rescue a single GI from the fighting, the GI’s themselves are also more decent than the despicable Nazis. There is one plot device that drives this point home. Hank’s men have captured a German soldier. They want to kill him but Hanks says that this would not be right and sends him off. In the climax of the film, this soldier turns up again and plunges a knife into one of the “good guys” in hand-to-hand combat. After he is captured once again, a GI shoots him in cold blood. The moral of the story is that it is forgivable to shoot Germans in this manner because they are embodiments of pure evil, just as they were in Schindler’s Tale.

In 2001, Spielberg and Hanks teamed up to produce Band of Brothers, an HBO series based on Stephen Ambrose’s book about the war in Europe. Not having cable TV at the time, I was not able to see it. At some point, I might rent it from Netflix out of curiosity—especially since my father was involved in combat during the Battle of the Bulge, an important episode in the series.

A review of Ambrose’s book that appeared in the July 13, 1992 Washington Post gives you some idea of how far he had gone in the direction of de-romanticizing “the good war”. This sounds like something straight out of Inglourious Basterds:

When, at the end of the war, Easy Company got up to Berchtesgaden near the Austrian border, it heard stories about high-ranking German officials who were likely candidates for war trials. One of them, the reputed commander of a slave labor camp, was living nearby on a farm.

Speirs called in 1st Sergeant Lynch . . . , [and] then gave his order: ‘Take Moone, Liebgott and Sisk, find [the Nazi] and eliminate him.’ . . . They got to the farm and without a struggle took the Nazi prisoner. . . . They prodded the man out of the vehicle. Liebgott drew his pistol and shot him twice.

The prisoner began screaming. He turned and ran up the hill. Lynch ordered Moone to shoot him.

“You shoot him,” Moone replied. “The war is over.”

“Skinny Sisk stepped forward, leveled his M-1 at the fleeing man and shot him dead.” It was murder but it didn’t matter.

Of course, it is a lot easier for the bourgeois media to accept this account uncritically since nobody loves a Nazi. But it is a bit harder to work up the same kind of frenzy when it comes to the Japanese, whose image was softened considerably by Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, a movie that had the temerity to treat them as not much different than the Americans bent on murdering them.

While Pacific makes no effort to include the Japanese perspective, the U.S. Marines are about as unglamorous as any that have been seen in an American movie. Spielberg and Hanks made the somewhat risky decision to cast the war in the Pacific as a prelude to the current “war on terror”, something that has enraged tea party types:

Comments actor and producer Tom Hanks made in interviews regarding the conflict with the Japanese during World War II are sparking controversy.

In an interview with Time magazine, Hanks, who starred in the World War II drama “Saving Private Ryan” and produced both “Band of Brothers” and the current HBO series “The Pacific” with Stephen Spielberg, compared the Japanese conflict to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Back in World War II, we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods,” he told the magazine. “They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?”

Hanks brought up the comparison again while promoting “The Pacific” during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“‘The Pacific’ is coming out now, where it represents a war that was of racism and terror. And where it seemed as though the only way to complete one of these battles on one of these small specks of rock in the middle of nowhere was to – I’m sorry – kill them all. And, um, does that sound familiar to what we might be going through today? So it’s– is there anything new under the sun? It seems as if history keeps repeating itself.”

The remarks have stirred a backlash from conservatives.

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly said Hanks is trying to “inject racism” into both wars.

“We had to kill the Japanese because the Japanese wouldn’t surrender, period…and the jihadists, if they were Thais, Burmese, and they attacked us, we’d be doing the same thing today,” O’Reilly said on Saturday.

Karl Rove, in an interview with O’Reilly on Monday, said that Hanks is “impervious to rational discussion.”

I have now watched the first half of The Pacific and confess that I find it rather unremarkable as drama. The series alternates between mundane personal drama involving the Marines on leave as they bed Australian women and battle scenes that don’t begin to approach the excitement of Saving Private Ryan, a rather accomplished bit of war porn. Most of the battle scenes take place at night and don’t involve hand-to-hand combat, a sine qua non for this sort of business. They also utilize the dubious “shaky camera” technique that smart directors should have dumped long ago. I also wonder if budget constraints forced HBO to forgo the casting of hundreds of Asian extras. Who knows?

There have been two major battles dramatized in the series. The first is Guadalcanal, where the U.S. made the first effort to dislodge Japanese forces from an occupied island since Pearl Harbor. The teleplay is adapted from Robert Leckie’s memoir Helmet for My Pillow and includes him as a character, played by James Bridge Dale.

Leckie is a totally uninteresting character who serves mainly to illustrate the point that war is hell. After fighting in Guadalcanal, he has a bad case of post-traumatic stress and a case of enuresis (uncontrollable urination) that sends him to a hospital on Banika Island where he meets a fellow marine who has been locked up in the mental ward for trying to steal an airplane to fly back to the U.S. This is not exactly John Wayne territory.

The next major battle takes place on Peleliu Island and is seen from the point of view of another Marine private named Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazzello) who also wrote a memoir titled With the Old Breed: at Peleliu and Okinawa, portions of which can be read on Google Books.

In the last episode, number five, that deals with the landing at Peleliu, Sledge—the son of a family that had officers fighting for the Confederacy—is aghast at a fellow Marine plucking the gold teeth from a dead Japanese soldier. If you, like me, had heard stories about this being done to dead Jews at places like Auschwitz, you will share Sledge’s sense of disgust. He says nothing in the HBO movie, but had this to say in his book:

I hadn’t budged an inch or said a word, just stood glued to the spot almost as in a trance. The corpses were sprawled where the veterans had dragged them around to get into their pants and pockets. Would I become this casual and callous about enemy dead? I wondered. Would the war dehumanize me so that I, too, could “field strip” enemy dead with such nonchalance? The time soon came when it wouldn’t bother me a bit.

And well it wouldn’t. After all, what these Marines were doing was simply what their nation was doing on a scale writ large.

February 27, 2008

Beyond Belief

Filed under: Film,war — louisproyect @ 8:07 pm

Susan Retik and Patti Quigley

One of the most underreported stories about the aftermath of 9/11 has been the refusal of some victims to conform to the xenophobic model created in the name of American patriotism by George W. Bush and company.

“Beyond Belief”, a documentary directed by Beth Murphy opening at the Cinema Village in N.Y. on Friday and nationwide thereafter, tells the story of two women who lost their husbands on 9/11 when the airplanes they boarded that day crashed into the World Trade Center. Susan Retik and Patti Quigley were both pregnant on September 11 and complete strangers to each other, living comfortable lives as “soccer moms” in the suburbs of Boston.

After their devastating loss, they looked each other up and decided before long to launch a charity on behalf of their counterparts in Afghanistan, women who lost their husbands in war. The film shows them raising money for their foundation by riding bicycles from N.Y. to Boston, doing interviews and reminiscing about their husbands.

Eventually they decide to visit Afghanistan to check up on the results of their contributions, which were mostly dedicated to making widows self-sufficient through small businesses, including raising poultry. This is deadly serious business considering the unraveling of the “war on terror” over the past few years. Suicide bombs and kidnappings have grown more frequent, including one that nearly cost the life of their chief liaison in Afghanistan, a CARE worker named Clementina Cantoni.

The final section of the movie shows the women meeting with Afghan women and talking about their respective losses and their hopes for the future. While the politics of their project is obviously different from the one that I was involved with in 1980s Nicaragua, there is something of the same feeling of shared humanity. While the film is fairly conventional in its treatment of the subject matter, the final moments of the film will bring tears to the eyes of just about everybody who watches it. There was far more genuine emotion on display than just about anything I have seen in a big budget Hollywood production for some time.

I could not help but think of Barack Obama’s campaign as I watched this movie. Although I am a long-time critic of the Democratic Party and have written an article exposing the rightwing tendencies of his economic advisers, I find the support consolidating around his campaign to be most encouraging. After 8 years of war, racism and greed, the American people seem to be doing everything they can to repudiate the status quo. By ignoring all the attempts to brand Barack Hussein Obama as some kind of secret jihadist, they are making a statement that they are sick of business as usual.

For more information on the work of Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, go here.

 

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