Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
Edmund S. Phelps, McVickar Professor of Political Economy and Director of the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia, writing in the WSJ (Jan. 5, 2004):
Booms are not all alike. Nor slumps. Shocks and institutions are never exactly the same. Yet the late 1990s boom, the slide into slump and recent rebound has a striking similarity to the boom of the roaring 1920s, the deep decline in the early '30s and initial rebound. I see the two experiences as primarily driven by analogous forces and common mechanisms -- both non-monetary. And I believe that the rest of the present decade will tend, barring new shocks, to resemble the rest of the '30s -- a recovery with investment and employment below historical norms.
Causes aside, both experiences began with an investment boom, then a downturn in investment while consumption held up pretty well. Economic activity closely tracked investment: Employment and hours worked were elevated from 1925 to 1929 (unemployment at 3.2% in the odd years), then plunged till 1933 (hours worked falling 25%); they were again elevated from 1997 to 2000 (unemployment reaching 3.9%), then fell until mid-2003 (hours worked by about 8%).
Each boom was caused by the advent of a new general-purpose technology -- commercially available electric power in the '20s, the information and communication technologies in the '90s. By mid-decade there were high and rising expectations of profits to be earned in the decade ahead from applications of the new technology. In the boom years these expectations fueled a wave of preparatory investing -- much of it in infrastructure and employee training. The force of the expectations may be roughly gauged by the take-off of share prices. Take the S&P Composite stock price index adjusted for inflation -- the"real S&P." From pre-boom 1924 it rose 20% by 1925 and 104% by 1928; from the pre-boom 1996 level it rose 30% by 1997 and 98% by 1998.
The basic mechanisms are simple, though not widely understood: New visions of future profits raise the values (per unit) that entrepreneurs and CEOs put on new investments in business assets -- in job-ready employees, new customers, and plant and equipment -- without raising the cost of acquiring them; this prompts stepped-up investing in such assets. In addition, increases in these asset values sooner or later lead to a sympathetic rise in share prices, despite errors and distortions; and that raises both firms' financial power and financiers' power to fund new projects and new firms. These developments in turn have labor-demand effects pulling up wages, hours and employment. Of course, decreased profit expectations operate in reverse.
Entrepreneurs, financiers and investors had to be deeply uncertain, however, over exactly where profits from the developments of the new technology would emerge and how large they would be. With profit expectations resting more than usually on guesswork, business asset values and their reflection in share prices could easily lurch up, or down. (Markets may have been spooked by the slow rise of profits, which they did not understand would zoom later, when the big productivity gains were achieved.) When asset values weakened in mid-1929, climaxed by the October crash, investing of all kinds was cut back. The resulting decline in output and employment led to an unexpected decline in profits and hence a further decline of asset values and share prices, thus also of investment. And so on in a vicious circle. The real S&P bottomed in 1932 -- 14% below its pre-boom 1924 level.
The markets' unnerving in 2000 and subsequent climbdown were broadly parallel, with the real S&P bottoming (October 2002) in pre-boom 1996 territory.
The saga of the"recovery," which began in 1933, is overdue for re-examination and is of special interest now in view of the recent rebound of stocks and jobs. Of course, recovery from the Depression never meant regaining the record investment and employment levels of the boom, since they rested on expectations of an extraordinary lift in productivity and profit ahead, not on expectations that might recur from decade to decade. But it could reasonably have been believed in 1933 that the economy would tend to recover at least to pre-boom investment and employment levels. The stock market seemed to be a believer. In 1933, a year after its low, the real S&P regained and passed its pre-boom 1924 level. In 1934 the real S&P average passed the 1925 level; in 1935 it reached the 1926 level. The latter level held up for the rest of the decade! These data are notable since the"unsustainable" share prices of the '20s boom were Exhibit A in the charge that the stock market was no way to run an economy. It is true that the market in late 1928 and early 1929 probed heights later proved too high to be justified. But one might as well say the market in 1925 set prices too low.
This soar of share prices might be thought to have galvanized the economy onto a course of rapid recovery toward normal activity. But, after four years of rebound, hours worked in 1937 was still 17% below its pre-boom 1924 level and unemployment, at 14.3%, was way above the 5% level of 1924 and 1920. There is a lesson in this for the present day, in which the recovery in the stock market and recovery of the economy are taken to be virtually the same thing. The '30s showed that recovery of real share prices is not sufficient for recovery of jobs....
The technological developments and overseas tensions that slowed and limited the '30s recovery have clear parallels in the economy's present situation. The 350,000 employees sent into the jobless pool every week is a significant hurdle on the way to getting unemployment back to the pre-boom rate of 1995-96 (5.5%), let alone the 5% level envisaged by some. Although the real S&P 500 climbed 19% between 1996 and third-quarter 2002, productivity climbed 13.5%, offsetting most of the stimulus from the former. It is only in the past year that share prices have spurted way ahead. But with hourly productivity now rising at 4% yearly, the real values put on business assets -- and their reflection, real share prices -- must now rise at 4% just to keep investment incentives from slipping. Finally, these times do not lack international tensions. We cannot be certain that these several influences will be the decisive forces in the years ahead. But if they are, investment and employment levels will be below historical norms for the decade -- unless new policies come to the rescue.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
Any good historian must be frustrated at both the coverage and analysis of the situation in Iraq and the war on terror in general. For its part, the intelligence community has turned its back on history as the foundation of long-term and short-term analysis and embraced political science. Because of this trend, its vision is narrow and blurred.
If reports are accurate, a new study done by the CIA concludes the Iraqis are growing increasingly impatient with the occupation and that the coalition's failure to stop terrorism in the so-called Sunni triangle has convinced those in Iraq who oppose the coalition that they can win. A political scientist might draw such conclusions from the available evidence, but a historian never would.
For those conclusions to be valid, the Iraqis would have to be moronic masochists. For more than 30 years, Saddam lived off the blood of his countrymen. Indeed, the trademarks of his regime were mass murder, torture and rape rooms.
The coalition has uncovered mass graves of 300,000 slain men, women and children. Saddam engaged in three disastrous wars. He spent lavishly on himself and his cronies and allowed the country's infrastructure to cascade into ruin. Only the beneficiaries of that hateful regime would willingly acquiesce in its continuation.
It is possible some Iraqis of good will are tired of the occupation. But they're really concerned about whether we, their liberators, have the stomach to help them secure their liberty or whether, if we leave too soon, we will deliver them back to the devil with whom they're painfully familiar.
A new University of Chicago study challenges the left's and the religious pacifists' naive contention that containing Saddam's ambitions would have obviated the need to go to war.
The study concluded containment would have cost $380 billion, as opposed to $200 billion to drive Saddam from power and rebuild Iraq. It also estimated Saddam would have continued to brutalize his people and would have murdered as many as 200,000 more Iraqis.
The study appears to assume Saddam could have been contained at that cost. This may be overly optimistic. Past efforts to contain Saddam had been ineffective. If we had left Saddam in power again, we would have sent a clear signal to everyone in the neighborhood and to our enemies far and near that we lacked the courage to stand up to his evil and theirs.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
Juan Cole, writing in his blog (Jan. 4, 2004):
According to the Telegraph Dick Cheney has managed to put through a plan to have the US CIA train an Iraqi secret police (mukhabarat) and fund it at $3 bn., as part of the"black" CIA budget. The article claims that this secret police apparatus will allow the US to continue to control Iraq even after a civilian Iraqi government is supposedly installed on July 1. I have to say that this plan worries me. At a time when the CIA is all that stands between al-Qaeda and several tall US buildings, I think the Agency should be concentrating its efforts on tracking down Bin Laden and other persons of similar mindset. Does it have a spare $3 bn. in its budget for that?
It would have been nice to see an Arab country without a secret police. Why aren't ordinary police enough? I remember when, after the CIA overthrew elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, it then trained the notorious SAVAK, an Iranian secret police that went on to terrorize ordinary Iranians for decades under the increasingly repressive and megalomaniacal shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Eventually, SAVAK tactics helped sour the people on the shah to the extent that they overthrew him in the 1978-79 Revolution.
Cheney has been dealing with the Middle East for at least 15 years now. He is a bright man, and in his youth did work toward a Ph.D. in political science. Surely he knows what happened in Iran, and how unwise it would be to put a strongman in power in Baghdad, backed by a US-trained secret police? It has Yogi Berra's phrase,"deja vu all over again," written all over it. I wouldn't give such a government even odds of surviving a decade, much less two. But, well, Cheney gets to decide these things. The rest of us will just have to live with the consequences of his unwisdom, 10 or 20 years down the road.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
Daniel Pipes, writing in the WorldNetDaily.com (Jan. 2, 2004):
The United Muslims Association of Florida, Tampa Bay Area Chapter is a group that openly and closely aligns itself with the Council on American-Islamic Relations , and other Islamist organizations. Not long ago, it posted with pleasure on its website news that the University of South Florida ( known in the bad old days of Sami Al-Arian's tenure as"Jihad U." ) will include two courses on Islam in the Spring 2004 semester. (They are"Islam in World History," taught by William Cummings, and"Islam in America," taught by K. O'Connor). So far so good. But then UMA follows the news with this line:
In order to make sure that these professors, of course all in good faith, insha'Allah, [if God wills] portray Islam correctly, having some Muslim students in the classroom would be beneficial, even though these courses do not fill general requirements.
There you have it, in black in white: Islam at the university must be taught in a pious, Sunday-school manner. Implicit in this demand (note the"insha'Allah") is that such courses serve da`wa purposes, namely that they attract converts to Islam.
To make sure this is the case, an Islamist organization recruits Islamist students to make their presence felt. Presumably, should the instructor say something they disapprove of, the students will complain loudly and their grievances will be dealt with as legitimate, to the point that the careers of professors Cummings and O'Connor could well be affected. They will presumably feel pressure to present Islam and Muslims uncritically.
This process of apologetics is already well underway at university-level Middle East studies. I have documented one key symptom , the unwillingness of Middle East specialists to acknowledge the meaning of jihad . More broadly, my colleague Jonathan Calt Harris has shown how scholars avoid the whole topic of militant Islam.
On the high-school level, a prominent textbook and a widely-used curriculum unit , both for seventh-graders, overtly recruit for Islam in public schools. One even finds da`wa of this sort in publicly-supported television documentaries .
To which I say, Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to incipient dhimmitude , a state in which (among other features) non-Muslims dare not say anything critical about Islam and Muslims.
Back to the classroom: while students certainly have the right to attend the classes of their choice, in the spirit of staving off dhimmitude, I offer the services of Campus Watch to professors who find themselves subjected to pressure by an Islamist organization.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
Martin E. Marty, of the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School, writing in his newsletter, Sightings (Jan. 5, 2004):
Today is the Twelfth Day of Jesusmas, a.k.a. Christmas. The word Christmas, or"Christ"+"mass," gives many citizens problems today. The mass part, an issue when anti-Catholicism was prime, is no scandal: Americans are patient with each others' rituals. But Christ means anointed, as in the Anointed of God. That is what offends many.
That Jesus is no scandal, no offense, becomes clear from reading Stephen Prothero's American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon . National icons are inoffensive: think Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty. A Son of God, on the other hand, is something to trip over (which is what the Greek word for scandal means). And that's what the earliest Christian writers said would happen, should happen, over the claim that Jesus was the Son of God, the Anointed.
Boston University's Prothero, one of today's more gifted and high-achieving cultural historians who specialize in religious themes, knows his way around the nation and its icons. He writes well about how rationalist Thomas Jefferson snipped all the miracles out of his New Testament. (A non-supernatural Jesus was no problem, except for the"Son of God" worshippers.)
Prothero, for the most part, is fascinated with pop-cultural renditions of Jesus; he does not condescend. He finds plenty of kitsch and moves on, untroubled, to examples of Jesus as: businessman, moral teacher, favorite of late-stage hippies (who styled themselves Jesus People just before they vanished), rock star, marketable megachurch item, rabbi (with respect by some Jews), black, and more. Jesus, in Prothero's astute reading, is a reflecting glass for Americans of all sorts; they see their own faces and ideals in his smiling one.
And this is good for Jesus, Prothero shows, as he slights" conventional" Catholics, mainstream Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and non-commercial evangelicals, for whom Jesus Christ is, somehow,"the Son of God" before he is an American icon. Some of them are put off by the Jesus-loving, Christ-neglecting, church-hating remakers of Jesus, as icon, in each generation.
Answers to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's question,"Who is Jesus Christ for us today?" get postponed in the cultures Prothero describes. On the other hand, as Prothero's anecdotes, vignettes, stories, and trend-analyses well show,"Who is Jesus for us today?" is easily answered. Jesus is the usually nice and moral person, teacher and friend, who is essentially plastic and malleable, refashionable to meet our tastes whoever we are.
Icon? Try mirror.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
David Klinghoffer, a columnist for the Jewish Forward and author of the forthcoming Why the Jews Rejected Christ: In Search of the Turning Point in Western History, writing in the LAT (Jan. 1, 2004):
Mel Gibson's forthcoming movie about the death of Jesus, "The Passion," has created an angry standoff between the filmmaker and Jewish critics who charge him with anti-Semitism. It's a controversy that will continue to affect relations between Christians and Jews unless some way to cool it can be found. One possible cooling agent is an honest look at how ancient Jewish sources portrayed the Crucifixion.
According to those who have seen a rough cut, Gibson's film depicts the death of Christ as occurring at the hands of the Romans but at the instigation of Jewish leaders, the priests of the Jerusalem Temple . The Anti-Defamation League charges that this recklessly stirs anti-Jewish hatred and demands that the film be edited to eliminate any suggestion of Jewish deicide.
But like the Christian Gospels that form the basis of Gibson's screenplay, Jewish tradition acknowledges that our leaders in 1st century Palestine played a role in Jesus' execution. If Gibson is an anti-Semite, so is the Talmud and so is the greatest Jewish sage of the past 1,000 years, Maimonides.
We will never know for certain what happened in Roman Palestine around the year 30, but we do know what Jews who lived soon afterward said about Jesus' execution.
The Talmud was compiled in about the year 500, drawing on rabbinic material that had been transmitted orally for centuries. From the 16th century on, the text was censored and passages about Jesus and his execution were erased to evade Christian wrath. But the full text was preserved in older manuscripts, and today the censored parts may be found in minuscule type, as an appendix at the back of some Talmud editions.
A relevant example comes from the Talmudic division known as Sanhedrin, which deals with procedures of the Jewish high court: "On the eve of Passover they hung Jesus of Nazareth. And the herald went out before him for 40 days [saying, 'Jesus] goes forth to be stoned, because he has practiced magic, enticed and led astray Israel . Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and declare concerning him.' And they found nothing in his favor."
The passage indicates that Jesus' fate was entirely in the hands of the Jewish court. The last two of the three items on Jesus' rap sheet, that he "enticed and led astray" fellow Jews, are terms from Jewish biblical law for an individual who influenced others to serve false gods, a crime punishable by being stoned, then hung on a wooden gallows. In the Mishnah, the rabbinic work on which the Talmud is based, compiled about the year 200, Rabbi Eliezer explains that anyone who was stoned to death would then be hung by his hands from two pieces of wood shaped like a capital letter T -- in other words, a cross (Sanhedrin 6:4).
These texts convey religious beliefs, not necessarily historical facts. The Talmud elsewhere agrees with the Gospel of John that Jews at the time of the Crucifixion did not have the power to carry out the death penalty. Also, other Talmudic passages place Jesus 100 years before or after his actual lifetime. Some Jewish apologists argue that these must therefore deal with a different Jesus of Nazareth. But this is not how the most authoritative rabbinic interpreters, medieval sages like Nachmanides, Rashi and the Tosaphists, saw the matter.
Maimonides, writing in 12th century Egypt , made clear that the Talmud's Jesus is the one who founded Christianity. In his great summation of Jewish law and belief, the Mishneh Torah, he wrote of "Jesus of Nazareth, who imagined that he was the Messiah, but was put to death by the court." In his "Epistle to Yemen ," Maimonides states that "Jesus of Nazareth ... interpreted the Torah and its precepts in such a fashion as to lead to their total annulment. The sages, of blessed memory, having become aware of his plans before his reputation spread among our people, meted out fitting punishment to him."
It's unfair of Jewish critics to defame Gibson for saying what the Talmud and Maimonides say, and what many historians say. Oddly, one of the scholars who has most vigorously denounced Gibson -- Paula Fredriksen, a professor of religious studies at Boston University -- is the author of a meticulously researched book, "Jesus of Nazareth," that suggests it was the high priests who informed on Jesus to the Roman authorities.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
Virginia Postrel, author of The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture and Consciousness, writing in the NYT (Jan. 1, 2004):
THOSE who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. To that old saw, an economist might reply, "If only it were so easy." Then every country could be rich.
Alas, the process of economic development is hard to repeat. The great mystery is why. In recent years, economists have returned to their field's oldest question: What accounts for the wealth of nations?
"The real question now that everybody wants to know is, 'Why isn't the whole world rich? Why can't they be like us? Why couldn't the former Soviet Union become immediately like Switzerland or Denmark ? Why is Africa mired in this horrible pool of poverty?"' says Joel Mokyr, an economic historian at Northwestern University .
"Once you admit that that question is on your agenda, which it now is, you can't do without history," he continues, "because you want to know how the rich countries got to be where they are. You need to look at their experience and compare it to the experience of the others." Those who do not learn from history may in fact never repeat it.
Professor Mokyr is the editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, a five-volume set just published by Oxford University Press. The encyclopedia took 10 years to complete, a short time given its scope. "Economic history," Professor Mokyr writes in the preface, "covers nothing less than the entire material existence of the human past."
The encyclopedia gives theoretical economists a way to check their ideas against the realities of the past. "You guys can't write these big, fancy models without looking at the details," Professor Mokyr says.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
Kiron K. Skinner, assistant prof. at Carnegie Mellon University and co-editor of Reagan: A Life in Letters, writing in the NYT:
Historical analogies are always fraught with incongruities. Yet we make them anyway, perhaps to reassure ourselves that even though the present seems grim, the past either predicts that things will improve or at least reminds us that things aren't as bad now as they once were. So looking back at the international scene in 1983, the height of what became known as the"renewed cold war," might help us come to terms with the war we fought in 2003. And looking back at 1984, the year in which marked improvements on the most deadly issues in Soviet-American relations became manifest, might give us hope for a better New Year.
In the fog of war, be it cold or hot, we sometimes forget that atmospherics, headlines and punditry typically belie a more fundamental reality. That is the lesson of 1983. It was a year in which America's position in the world seemed most precarious, but it was also a time in which remarkable international cooperation was beginning to take hold. Although not visible to the public, turning points in the cold war were occurring. And despite vigorous protests against American foreign policy on both sides of the Atlantic, the Western alliance was becoming stronger and more durable. Sounds familiar.
As in 2003, the American president was widely blamed in 1983 for risking his country's security and future. President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy was called into question when American military forces were killed in Lebanon and invaded Grenada in October. And President Reagan was dubbed a warmonger when, within a span of little more than two weeks in March, he called the Soviet Union an"evil empire" and then announced that he was authorizing research and development for strategic defense.
Many in the United States and the Soviet Union thought that the Strategic Defense Initiative undermined the spirit and the letter of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty signed by Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev in 1972. Furthermore, President Reagan was seen as not committed to arms control because he firmly held to the position that unless a bilateral agreement on intermediate-range nuclear missiles could be reached, he would deploy such weapons on Western European soil by the end of the year to counter Russian missiles behind the Iron Curtain.
In the United States and in Europe, demonstrations calling for a nuclear freeze (some instigated by the Soviet Union) were mounting. There was lingering rancor among Western European leaders over Mr. Reagan's 1982 decision — partly in response to the Soviet crackdown on the political liberalization in Poland — to punish licensees and subsidiaries of American companies in Europe working on the Siberia-to-Western Europe natural gas pipeline.
Still, despite this friction in allied relations, the leading Western industrial nations concurred on a security communiqué at their annual summit meeting in May 1983. The document essentially endorsed Mr. Reagan's stance at the intermediate nuclear arms talks in Geneva. The French, Germans and Japanese came on board, and it didn't stop there.
Much to the chagrin of the Soviet leadership and the protesters, 1983 lived up to its sobriquet as"the year of the missiles." In a stunning set of votes in the fall of 1983, Western European Parliaments approved the deployment of American cruise and Pershing II missiles on their soil. Tomahawk cruise missiles arrived in Great Britain on Nov. 14; two days later, Italian legislators voted in favor of deployment; on Nov. 22, the West German Parliament approved allowing the missiles; the next day, the Soviets walked out of the talks on intermediate range nuclear forces.
Shortly thereafter, Moscow declined to set a date for resuming talks on strategic arms reduction and on conventional armaments. Looking stern and with their backs turned to each other, President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, appeared on the cover of Time as"Men of the Year." Apocalyptic predictions were everywhere.
Yet amid this doom and gloom, several crucial diplomatic events were taking place. After the opening of a back-channel dialogue between President Reagan and Soviet leaders in early 1983, two Soviet Pentecostal families who had taken refuge in the American Embassy in Moscow nearly five years earlier were allowed to leave the Soviet Union. As Secretary of State George P. Shultz noted,"this `special issue' was the first successful negotiation with the Soviets in the Reagan administration."
Quiet diplomacy was gaining momentum. In an exchange of letters in the summer of 1983, Mr. Reagan and Mr. Andropov wrote of their shared desire to reduce the nuclear threat. Though not publicly visible at the time, these cold-war"escape routes" were being put into place.
And in 1984, the improvements in Soviet-American relations became visible to the public — and they were striking. On Jan. 16, President Reagan gave a comprehensive speech about peace and cooperation. Having established military and political resolve, he argued, America was now prepared to engage in negotiations with the Soviet Union and work toward reducing nuclear arsenals. On Sept. 28, he had his first meeting with a member of the Soviet Politburo, Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, and the two undertook a comprehensive review of the state of bilateral relations....
As with Mr. Reagan's speech on negotiation with the Soviet Union in 1984, some have characterized these recent events as part of a grand scheme to ensure President Bush's re-election. Well, as much as we might want to think so, American domestic politics isn't the prime motivating factor for all that happens in the world.
It was the strategy of strength and resolve in 1983 that marked the final turning point of cold war. A similar strategy might be at work again. If so, 2004 won't just be an election year, but a year in which the world could change. There is such a thing as history redux.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
It is tempting ... to consider the administration's proposed immigration reforms, unveiled last week, as a bid for the Hispanic vote. Yet such a view, with its narrow focus, would be a big mistake -- not least on the part of the Democrats. The fact is that these reforms, which are intended to cover illegal immigrants from everywhere -- unlike the administration's pre-9/11 proposals, which offered relief only to Mexican illegals -- reflect a fundamental rethink of our immigration policy toward illegals from that underlying the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
That law assumed that the problem of illegals in our midst could be solved by a two-pronged approach. The existing stock of illegals would be eliminated by an amnesty, while the flow of new illegals would be stanched by tougher enforcement, including employer sanctions. We would then have fulfilled two objectives central to our concerns: one,"regained control of our borders," with legal immigration left as the only route into the U.S.; and two, an end to the ethical blight of an illegal underclass, simply because there would be hardly any left!
But the intended results did not materialize, exactly as some of us had anticipated. The legislation, even as it reduced the stock of illegals, did not seriously diminish the illegal inflow. And attempts at enforcement simply created major disruptions in the lives of the illegals in this country -- while not dissuading potential incomers from trying to breach the fortress....
Since the realists among us have now accepted that illegal immigration will continue, and that eliminating it cannot be done by policies that befit a civilized country, a fundamental change of attitudes has come to pass. Thus, the labor unions, which were big supporters of the 1986 law's philosophy, have thrown in the towel. The AFL-CIO, in a remarkable reversal, has now decided that if the illegals are going to be here anyway, the unions are better off bringing them up from the underground, giving them the rights that legal immigrants and natives enjoy -- and giving them union membership cards. This is enlightened self-interest rather than solidarity, but it is good enough.
Furthermore, the growing numbers of immigrants with votes -- partly due to the earlier amnesty of 1986, which added more than three million voters -- has also led to immense pressure for a humane policy toward the illegal immigrants, not just from Hispanic communities.
So, both morality and practical politics have meant that the time has come for a fundamental shift in immigration policy toward illegals. Since their arrival is inevitable, we have to learn to give them rights, without necessarily granting amnesty. Blanket amnesties would mean that the distinction between legal and illegal entrants disappears, and that we have de facto open borders. But giving them rights (including the right to unionize) is essential to their welfare; it is also the surest way, as the unions have realized, for union politics to gain ground quickly.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
Arnold Beichman, writing in the Washington Times (Jan. 13, 2004):
On Jan. 21, the United States Postal Service will issue a stamp honoring a man who:
* Greeted the promulgation of Josef Stalin's "Constitution" in 1936 as "an expression of democracy, broader in scope and loftier in principle than ever before expressed."
* Supported the Stalin-Hitler pact and the Soviet invasion of Poland along with Hitler's invasion which started World War II.
* Supported as "defensive" the Soviet invasion of Finland.
* Was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in 1952.
* Denounced the Hungarian uprising as instigated by the "same sort of people who overthrew the Spanish Republican government," meaning the revolutionaries were fascists.
* Recalled in a 1953 memorial tribute on Stalin's death an episode in 1937 when he saw Stalin enter a box at the Bolshoi Theater: "I remember the tears began to quietly flow and I too smiled and waved. Here was clearly a man who seemed to embrace all. So kindly — I can never forget that warm feeling of kindliness and also a feeling of sureness. Here was one who was wise and good — the world and especially the socialist world was fortunate indeed to have his daily guidance." This was at the height of the infamous Moscow Trials.
* Defended in a Daily Worker interview the Moscow trial frame-ups and executions in these words: "From what I have already seen of the workings of the Soviet government, I can only say that anybody who lifts his hand against it ought to be shot."
* Rejoiced in the Great Terror with these words: "It is the [Soviet] government's duty to put down any opposition to this really free society with a firm hand, and I hope they will always do it, for I already regard myself at home here [in Moscow]. ... It is obvious that there is no terror here, that all the masses of every race are contented and support their government."
* Characterized the 1947 Truman Doctrine intended to rescue Greece and Turkey from communist coups, "as remarkably similar to the anticommunist smokescreen of the fascist aggressors. ... "
* Declared in 1949: "I am truly happy that I am able to travel from time to time to the U.S.S.R. — the country I love above all. I always have been, I am now and will always be a loyal friend of the Soviet Union. ... the country I love above all."
I could cite dozens and dozens more of similar quotations from the collected speeches and writings of Paul Robeson, the African-American concert artist who died in 1976 at age 78. To the end, he remained an unrepentant Stalinist despite the revelations by Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, of the Great Terror. And it is this man, Paul Robeson, whom the U.S. Postal Service honors with a commemorative postage stamp.
The homage accorded Robeson, so goes the Postal Service alibi, is due to his achievement as an artist on stage, screen and in the concert hall. It is part of the Postal Service's Black Heritage Series.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
Susan Jacoby, writing in the NYT (Jan. 8, 2004):
When I lecture on college campuses, students frequently express surprise at being told that the framers of the Constitution deliberately omitted any mention of God in order to assign supreme governmental power to ''We the People.''
Dismissing this inconvenient fact, some on the religious right have suggested that divine omnipotence was considered a given in the 1780's -- that the framers had no need to acknowledge God in the Constitution because his dominion was as self-evident as the rising and setting of the sun. Yet isn't it absurd to suppose that men as precise in their use of language as Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison would absentmindedly have failed to insert God into the nation's founding document? In fact, they represented a majority of citizens who wished not only to free religion from government interference but government from religious interference.
This deep sentiment was expressed in letters to newspapers during the debate over ratification of the Constitution. One Massachusetts correspondent, signing himself ''Elihu,'' summed up the secular case by praising the authors of the Constitution as men who ''come to us in the plain language of common sense, and propose to our understanding a system of government, as the invention of mere human wisdom; no deity comes down to dictate it, nor even a God in a dream to propose any part of it.''
The 18th-century public's understanding of the Constitution as a secular document can perhaps best be gauged by the reaction of religious conservatives at the time. For example, the Rev. John M. Mason, a fire-breathing New York City minister, denounced the absence of God in the preamble as ''an omission which no pretext whatever can palliate.'' He warned that ''we will have every reason to tremble, lest the governor of the universe, who will not be treated with indignity by a people more than individuals, overturn from its foundations the fabric we have been rearing and crush us to atoms in the wreck.'' But unlike many conservatives today, Mason acknowledged -- even as he deplored -- the Constitution's uncompromising secularism.
Americans tend to minimize not only the secular convictions of the founders, but also the secularist contribution to later social reform movements. One of the most common misconceptions is that organized religion deserves nearly all of the credit for 19th-century abolitionism and the 20th-century civil rights movement. While religion certainly played a role in both, many people fail to distinguish between personal faith and religious institutions.
Abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator, and the Quaker Lucretia Mott, also a women's rights crusader, denounced the many mainstream Northern religious leaders who, in the 1830's and 40's, refused to condemn slavery.
In return, Garrison and Mott were castigated as infidels and sometimes as atheists -- a common tactic used by those who do not recognize any form of faith but their own. Garrison, strongly influenced by his freethinking predecessor Thomas Paine, observed that one need only be a decent human being -- not a believer in the Bible or any creed -- to discern the evil of slavery.
During the 20th-century civil rights struggle, the movement's strongest moral leaders emerged from Southern black churches. But the moral message of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. obviously ran counter to the religious rationales for segregation preached in many white churches in the south.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
Historian Mike Davis, writing on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute (Jan. 2004):
When delirious crowds tore down the Berlin Wall in 1989, many hallucinated that a millennium of borderless freedom was at hand. Globalization was supposed to inaugurate an era of unprecedented physical and virtual electronic mobility.
Instead neoliberal capitalism has promptly built the greatest barrier to free movement in history. This Great Wall of Capital, which separates a few dozen rich countries from the earth's poor majority, completely dwarfs the old Iron Curtain. It girds half the earth, cordons off at least 12,000 kilometers of terrestrial borderline, and is incomparably more deadly to desperate trespassers.
Unlike China's Great Wall, the new wall is only partially visible from space. Although it includes traditional ramparts (the Mexican border of the United States) and barbed-wire-fenced minefields (between Greece and Turkey), much of globalized immigration enforcement today takes place at sea or in the air. Moreover borders are now digital as well as geographical.
Take, for example, Fortress Europe, where an integrated data system (upgrading the existing Strasbourg-based Schengen network) with the sinister acronym of PROSECUR will become the foundation for a common system of border patrol, enforced by the newly authorized European Border Guards Corps.
The European Union (EU), moreover, has already spent hundreds of millions of Euros beefing up the so-called"Electronic Curtain" along its expanded Eastern borders as well as fine-tuning the Surveillance System for the Straits that is supposed to keep Africa on its side of Gibraltar.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently asked his fellow EU leaders to extend white Europe's border defenses into the heart of the Third World. He proposed so-called ‘protection zones' in key conflict areas of Africa and Asia where potential refugees could be quarantined in deadly squalor for years.
His obvious model is Australia, where rightwing Prime Minister John Howard has declared open war on wretched Kurdish, Afghan and Timorese refugees. After last year's wave of riots and hunger strikes by immigrants indefinitely detained in desert hell-holes like Woomera in South Australia, Howard used the navy to intercept ships carrying refugees in international waters and intern them in even more nightmarish camps on Nauru or malarial Manus Island off Papua New Guinea. Blair, according to the Guardian , has similarly explored the possibility of using the Royal Navy to interdict refugee smugglers in the Mediterranean and the RAF to deport immigrants back to their homelands.
If border enforcement has now moved far offshore, it has also come into many front yards. Residents in the US Southwest have long endured the long traffic jams at ‘second border' checkpoints far away from the actual line. Now stop-and-search operations, pioneered in Germany, are becoming common in the interior of the EU.
As result, even notional boundaries between border enforcement and domestic policing, or between immigration policy and the"war on terrorism," are rapidly disappearing."Noborder" activists in Europe have long warned that Orwellian data systems used to track down and deport non-EU aliens will inevitably be turned against local anti-globalization movements as well.
In the United States, trade unions and Latino groups similarly regard with fear and loathing Republican proposals to train up to one million local police and sheriffs as immigration enforcers. (Pilot programs have already been authorized by Congress in Alabama and Florida.)
Meanwhile the human toll from the new world (b)order grows inexorably. According to human rights groups, nearly 4,000 immigrants and refugees have died at the gates of Europe since 1993: drowned at sea, blown up in minefields, or suffocated in freight containers. Hundreds, perhaps thousands more, have perished in desperate attempts to cross the Sahara desert simply to reach Europe's borders. The American Friends Service Committee, which monitors the carnage along the US-Mexican border, estimates that a similar number of immigrants (3,000-5,000) have died over the last decade in the furnace-hot deserts of the Southwest.
In the context of so much inhumanity, the White House's recent proposal -- dramatically announced on the eve of the Summit of the Americas -- to offer temporary guest-worker status to undocumented immigrants and others might seem a gesture of compassion in contrast to the heartlessness of Europe or the near fascism of Australia.
In fact, as immigrant rights and labor groups have quickly pointed out, it is an initiative that combines sublime cynicism with ruthless political calculation. The Bush proposal, which resembles the infamous Bracero program of the early 1950s, would legalize a subcaste of low-wage labor without providing a mechanism for the estimated 5 to 7 million undocumented workers already in the United States to achieve permanent residence or citizenship.
Toilers without votes or permanent domicile, of course, represent a Republican utopia. The Bush plan would provide WalMart and MacDonalds with a stable, almost infinite supply of indentured labor. It would also throw a lifeline to neoliberalism south of the border. The decade-old North American Free Trade Agreement, even many former supporters now admit, has proven a cruel hoax, destroying as many jobs as it has created.
Indeed the Mexican economy has shed jobs four years in a row and the future employment outlook has been described in the business press as ‘horrendous. The White House neo-bracero proposal offers Mexican President Vincente Fox and his successors a crucial economic safety-valve for rural producers displaced by American corn imports.
It also provides Bush with an issue to woo the swing-vote Latinos in the Southwest next November. Karl Rove (the president's grey eminence) undoubtedly calculates that the proposal will sow wonderful disarray and conflict amongst unions and liberal Latinos.
Finally -- and this is truly sinister serendipity -- the offer of temporary legality would act as irresistible bait to draw undocumented workers into the open where the Department of Homeland Security can identify, tag and monitor them. Far from opening a crack in the Great Wall, it heals a breach, and ensures an even more systematic and intrusive policing of human inequality.
Mike Davis is author, most recently, of the kids' adventure, Land of the Lost Mammoths (Perceval Press, 2003) and co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: the San Diego Tourists Never See (New Press, 2003). He is currently working on a book about the recent political earthquake in California, Heavy Metal Freeway (to be published by Metropolitan Books).
Copyright C2004 Mike Davis
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
Melvin Konner, writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Jan. 19, 2004):
Anthropologists take the long view.
For instance, when we hear historians say "ancient," we smile a bit indulgently and say "recent," as in "the recent invention of agriculture" --- by which we mean 10,000 or 12,000 years ago. This event may be twice as old as recorded history, or for that matter twice the age of the Creation according to biblical legend, but it is quite recent to us.
As for historians' use of the word "origins" to refer to something that happened only two or three centuries ago, they might as well be talking about last week.
It is often instructive to look at current events in this perspective. For instance, there is a common notion that affirmative action has been tried and has not succeeded. Or that it has succeeded --- quite implausible, given the ongoing gross inequalities in jobs, education, health and criminal justice. In either case, it is argued, we should now move on.
Affirmative action has been tried? In less than 30 years of clumsy official programs, carried out in a context of ongoing informal bigotry? That isn't "tried." That is barely a dry run, a pilot program, a half-hearted swipe at a try. Considered against the background of even a few centuries of African-American history, to call this a try is an insult to even a historian's patience, and to almost anyone's intelligence.
A single generation has grown up under this plan. We have not even been able to see what they will do. But how long do we need to wait? How will we know when a try has indeed been made? When can we, in all honesty, say, "Fair is fair, but it's done now," or "I guess that wasn't such a good idea"?
The first African-American slaves were imported to the Virginia colony in 1618. The slaves remaining in captivity were freed, sort of, by a reluctant President Lincoln in the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was certainly an important recent (very recent) step in the real emancipation of African-Americans. But it was not affirmative action. One could reasonably date affirmative action, in the legal sense, from a Supreme Court case in 1971 or from the Equal Employment Act of 1972.
Now, there is no real symmetry here, since obviously slavery was far more of a burden than affirmative action could ever be a boost. But for the sake of comity and closure, we could ask African-Americans to pretend, with us, that such symmetry exists. On this account we have presently completed 32 or 33 years of a 245-year test.
Considering that we are only a bit over 10 percent into this assessment, affirmative action has not done badly.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
Kiron Skinner, co-editor of Reagan: A Life in Letters, writing in the NYT (Jan. 19, 2004):
On Oct. 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan came to national political prominence. In a televised speech he endorsed the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater, the Republican senator from Arizona.
Mr. Goldwater was considered a foe of the civil rights movement. In fact, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was moved to publicly oppose his candidacy. As a result of the Goldwater endorsement, Mr. Reagan, who two years earlier had been a registered Democrat, was soon seen by many as being on the opposite side of everything the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for at the time. Yet two decades later, in November 1983, President Reagan signed a bill establishing a national holiday in honor of Dr. King.
How do we understand this twist of history? After all, there was little hint of the convergence of the two men's views — even a month before Mr. Reagan signed the holiday into law. Responding to questions at a press conference on Oct. 19, 1983, the president refused to dispute the notion that Dr. King might have been a Communist sympathizer. And while he said he would sign legislation authorizing a King holiday, he made clear that he"would have preferred a day similar to, say, Lincoln's birthday, which is not technically a national holiday." His remarks stirred considerable controversy, and the president called Coretta Scott King to offer his apologies a few days later.
Some have wondered whether Mr. Reagan's subsequent, enthusiastic support of the King bill was simply an astute political move. The start of a presidential election year lay just two months ahead and he was seeking re-election. But the president and his advisers surely knew that signing the King bill would not deliver the black vote to the Republicans. Furthermore, whatever his failings, Ronald Reagan was not a political panderer; to critics and supporters alike, he was perceived as being rooted in his beliefs.
Something else was at work. And it goes to the heart of why the King holiday has evolved into a powerful and positive American symbol. Party affiliation and politics — and, surely, background and race — separated the president from Dr. King."Finding material for the remarks was easy," says Peter Robinson, the White House speechwriter who drafted the speech that the president delivered when he signed the King holiday into law."The dignity of the individual, the equality of all men before God, the promise that America could set an example for the world — I kept finding passage after passage in King's work that Reagan might almost have written himself."
Indeed, when one looks closely at each man's writings, it's clear that they shared an unswerving commitment to democracy, liberty and equality. Having spent years studying and archiving the former president's letters and speeches, I have concluded that he overcame his reservations about the King bill by tapping into his personal experiences — and coming away with an understanding of the ways in which racism and bigotry violate the basic American values he and Dr. King worked to make real.
In his private writings, Ronald Reagan has always maintained that his earliest encounters and views on race were shaped by his parents' quiet activism. Mr. Reagan has told the story of how, one bitterly cold night, his father slept in his car to protest a hotel's policy of not admitting Jews. The president's father also refused to allow his sons to see the movie"Birth of a Nation," on the ground that it glorified the Ku Klux Klan.
Posted on: Thursday, January 22, 2004 - 21:41
James M. Banner Jr., Writing in the Los Angeles Times (Dec. 4, 2003)
Constitution-making is never easy. But the Europeans who recently failed in Brussels to pull together a workable, agreed-on document to govern themselves should take heart from the hard-fought history of the U.S. Constitution. That constitution, too, was difficult to draft -- yet it was ultimately written and ratified, and it has survived.
If the leaders of the European Union can summon fresh effort and political will, their defeat in Brussels will probably be only temporary.
When the American framers fashioned their document in four months in 1787, they had certain advantages that the Europeans don't have today. They were writing upon a relatively blank historical slate. Centuries of warfare, land-trading treaties and memory did not burden their deliberations.
The American people spoke a common tongue, and the vast majority shared a Protestant faith. None of the uniting states had ever been at war with each other as colonies. Because no new states were about to join the original 13, the just-born nation didn't face the double crisis of writing a constitution while admitting new members -- the situation Europe faces today.
Like the Europeans today, the framers of the U.S. Constitution had to compromise on many deep differences; the Americans had to deal with representation, the power of the presidency, the political integrity of existing states and, most critically, slavery. Like the Europeans, they had to improvise and make up institutions (such as federalism and the electoral college) that would gain the document acceptance as they went along. They had but a single summer to conclude their work. Otherwise, the chance for union would probably be gone forever, and the states would return to their relative autonomy.
The framers scoured the records of the past for examples to emulate and avoid but concluded that their situation was too novel for old wisdom. History gave them examples but also made them wary. To escape it, they created mechanisms and institutions never before known. They constituted a new nation through a frame of government that sought to use the best of, and avoid the worst of, the lessons they found in the past. The past, rather than being a burden to them, energized their search for something better.
For Europe, more weighed down by a long and fractious past, it's vastly different. The wonder is that, since 1945, the divided continent has come as far as it has. The wonder, too, is that it has come so close to drafting a constitution in only 16 months of deliberation. Centuries of state and civil warfare, radical revolution and Holocaust have scarred Europe's face and poisoned relations among its peoples. Representative democracy has had to be extracted out of feudal and royal rule, its nations created from petty dukedoms and principalities. The people's will has sometimes had to be gained by radical act at the barricades. A babble of tongues, different faiths and distinct cultures have long divided its many peoples.
The stumbling block now is that of representation in the European Council. Americans should recognize that obstacle, and Europeans should not wonder that it's a tough one to surmount. In 1787, the most populous American states claimed precedence over the less-peopled ones; the smaller states sought protection from the large. The resulting compromise -- equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House -- was only one of many agreements struck in Philadelphia.
The creation of that curious and undemocratic institution, the electoral college, and the devil's bargain of counting three-fifths of the slaves for representation in the House, were necessary to win ratification.
Though slavery and slave representation are gone, the first of these mechanisms mars American government still. The electoral college still favors rural, little-populated states at the expense of the vast majority who live in larger, more urban states. The U.S. Constitution is not perfect and never has been.
Europe's struggle to create a constitution out of the diverse traditions and histories of its states cannot be easy. That the pace has been slower than the Americans' more than two centuries ago, and that there's now a crisis in the process, should occasion neither surprise nor particular worry. Unlike the framers, the nations of Europe don't have to finish in a short time.
"So hard and huge a task it was to found the Roman people," Virgil wrote in the Aeneid about 2,000 years ago. A similar huge difficulty is to be expected as Europe seeks to reconstitute itself through an unprecedented written constitution under conditions vastly different than those the American framers faced. No doubt its constitution will be written before long. And then, like the United States before it, Europe is likely to emerge stronger rather than weaker for the struggle, its compromises and their eventual acceptance.
Posted on: Monday, January 5, 2004 - 20:41
George Bush took an unequivocal stand on the Arab democracy debate, in a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy:
Time after time, observers have questioned whether this country, or that people, or this group, are "ready" for democracy--as if freedom were a prize you win for meeting our own Western standards of progress. In fact, the daily work of democracy itself is the path of progress....The United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results.
I guess he was talkin' to me, because I've been one of those doubting Thomases. I laid out the counter-case to the President's in an address I delivered last year: Should America Promote a Liberal, Democratic Middle East? My answer: at its peril.
A lot of the press coverage compares the President's idealism to Ronald Reagan's. An analysis in the Washington Post called it "Reaganism distilled, the 150-proof stuff." Frankly, the President's speech reminded me more of Jimmy Carter's human rights idealism, with its heavy overtones of missionary purpose. At the end of the day, Carter's human rights diplomacy in the Middle East undermined only one regime: the Shah's. The result was not a net gain for human rights or U.S. interests.
I know a few of the new missionaries, and I wish them well. I hope they've thought out what the "new policy" means in practical terms, especially regarding countries like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Their rulers are likely to feel its impact long before the despots of Syria and Iran do. And whatever their "Plan A," I would urge them to start working now on "Plan B." They just might need it--sooner than they think.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:36
This month's setbacks in Iraq the downing of American helicopters, the suicide bombing of an Italian headquarters have made President Bush's mantra of "progress" ring increasingly hollow. It's true that 80 percent of Iraq remains peaceful and stable, but we seem to be losing in the other 20 percent, mostly among Sunni Muslims who benefited from Saddam Hussein's rule. The escalating violence lends credence to critics who see parallels with Vietnam.
In truth, there is no comparison: In Vietnam, we faced more than 1 million enemy combatants backed to the hilt by North Vietnam and its superpower patrons, China and Russia. In Iraq we confront a few thousand Baathists and jihadis with, at most, limited support from Iran and Syria. But even if this isn't "another Vietnam," we can still learn important lessons from that earlier war about how to deal with the insurgency.
The biggest error the armed forces made in Vietnam was trying to fight a guerrilla foe the same way they had fought the Wehrmacht. The military staged big-unit sweeps with fancy code names like Cedar Falls and Junction City, and dropped more bombs than during World War II. Neither had much effect on the enemy, who would hide in the jungles and then emerge to ambush American soldiers. Seeing that his strategy wasn't working, Gen. William Westmoreland, the American commander, responded by asking for more and more troops, until we had 500,000 soldiers in Vietnam. And still it was not enough.
President Bush seems so intent on avoiding this mistake that the Defense Department has unveiled plans to cut the total number of troops in Iraq next year from 132,000 to 105,000. It is hard to see what, in the current dismal strategic picture, convinces the Pentagon that this makes sense. Such a slow-motion withdrawal will only embolden our enemies in Iraq and discourage our friends....
What proved most effective in Vietnam were not large conventional operations but targeted counterinsurgency programs. Four known as CAP, Cords, Kit Carson Scouts and Phoenix were particularly effective.
CAP stood for Combined Action Platoon. Under it, a Marine rifle squad would live and fight alongside a South Vietnamese militia platoon to secure a village from the Vietcong. The combination of the Marines' military skills and the militias' local knowledge proved highly effective. No village protected under CAP was ever retaken by the Vietcong.
Cords, or Civil Operations and Rural Development Support, was the civilian side of the counterinsurgency, run by two C.I.A. legends: Robert Komer and William Colby. It oversaw aid programs designed to win hearts and minds of South Vietnamese villagers, and its effectiveness lay in closely coordinating its efforts with the military.
The Kit Carson Scouts were former Communists who were enlisted to help United States forces. They primarily served as scouts and interpreters, but they also fought. Most proved fiercely loyal. They had to be: they knew that capture by their former Vietcong comrades meant death.
Phoenix was a joint C.I.A.-South Vietnam effort to identify and eradicate Vietcong cadres in villages. Critics later charged the program with carrying out assassinations, and even William Colby acknowledged there were "excesses." Nevertheless, far more cadres were captured (33,000) or induced to defect under Phoenix (22,000) than were killed (26,000).
There is little doubt that if the United States had placed more emphasis on such programs, instead of the army's conventional strategy, it would have fared better in Vietnam.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:36
VICTOR DAVID HANSON: We still have lost about 300 Americans, which is just 10 per cent of what we lost in one hour on 9/11. We lost 262 in Lebanon in 1983. So after taking over two countries, if I could use that term, and liberating 50 million people and planning to install consensual government at a cost of 300 lives, and not having another 9/11, is a pretty amazing military record, although you'd never get that in the media.
LEIGH SALES: So if we do look at what's going on in Iraq in the context of history, how would you characterise the progress of the occupation?
VICTOR DAVID HANSON: I think it's going very well. I think we are dealing with a very difficult period.
I'm afraid that we made a few critical mistakes by trying to not stop looters, shooting looters would have been a good, that would have established authority right away, or sending more troops into the Sunni triangle.
But I think now we're going to have to arm the Kurds and some of the Shia and start to cordon off the Sunni triangle, and when we have Americans killed and people cheering, we're going to have to change that dynamic.
LEIGH SALES: How long can the instability in Iraq be expected to last?
VICTOR DAVID HANSON: If we can pressure the Syrians and the Iranians to stop sending troops and capital in there and then isolate I think within a year it will be much better.
LEIGH SALES: How do you think the lessons of what's happened in Iraq will influence the Administration as it thinks about how to possibly deal with the problems posed by Syria and Iran?
VICTOR DAVID HANSON: Well, I think the world is going to have to realise that there's going to be consequences for their deductive anti-Americanism, in the sense that if you have France or Russia telling Saddam Hussein that don't worry, we're going to ensure the Americans won't invade, which Mr Aziz just said, or you're going to have people say that we're too pre-emptive, then the Americans are going to probably give them their wish they're going to probably tell the South Koreans go up to the DMZ on your own, or they're going to tell the Turks if you don't want to participate in an alliance then there's no reason for Americans to be there. Or if they're going to tell the Germans why should 80,000 Americans be in Germany.
So, I think there's a mood in America now that we're going to be more pre-emptive, unilateral, but from the point of view of American security, and the world's going to have to understand if they're going to be so deductively anti-American, then their own security will be in their own hands.
LEIGH SALES: So how you do think that's going to make the world look in, say, 25 years?
VICTOR DAVID HANSON: I'm very worried about that, because I think the world was so worried about America, and when you have a European poll, as we saw this week, that said America was right up there with Israel, to be lumped together with Iran and North Korea, stretched to the world. And most Americans, be they Republican or Democrat, left or right, are going to want to wash their hands of these collective security arrangements.
And I think the Europeans are going to find out in about 10 years that we get another Balkans, or there's a madman in one of the Soviet republics, or there's a north African problem, it's all their problem, it's going to their concern.
LEIGH SALES: Is there a way that that scenario can be avoided?
VICTOR DAVID HANSON: I don't think so. I really don't. I think that what I've seen in America is a very strange political coalescence. Right now Republican and Democrats are angry at each other, and blaming each other.
But if you distil carefully and soberly what the message is, the message is on left and right it doesn't make much sense to force people to want to protect or do something in their own long-term security.
So, England, Australia, Japan Americans are more than willing to participate with them, they have a high regard. But the Europeans, other people, theyre thinking well these people aren't worth it. Let em go and do what they have to do on their own. That's going to be very, very important in the next 20 years.
LEIGH SALES: So then if you look ahead even further in say to 50 years, or 100 years, how will the world look then?
VICTOR DAVID HANSON: I don't know. I think that the United States is going to have to look to its own national security interests, whether it's missile defence or it's bilateral relations with particular allies.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:35
There are 130,000 American troops in Iraq now - twice the number Bush predicted would remain by this month - but, as in Vietnam, their morale is already low and sinking. Bush's poll ratings have fallen dramatically. He needs more soldiers in Iraq desperately and foreign nations will not provide them.
In Vietnam, president Nixon tried to "Vietnamize" the land war and transfer the burdens of soldiering to Nguyen Van Thieu's huge army. But it was demoralized and organized to maintain Thieu in power, not win the victory that had eluded American forces.
"Iraqization" of the military force required to put down dissidents will not accomplish what has eluded the Americans, and in both Vietnam and Iraq the US underestimated the length of time it would have to remain and cultivated illusions about the strength of its friends.
The Iraqi army was disbanded but now is being partially reconstituted by utilizing Saddam's officers and enlisted men. As in Vietnam, where the Buddhists opposed the Catholics who comprised the leaders America endorsed, Iraq is a divided nation regionally and religiously, and Washington has the unenviable choice between the risks of disorder, which its own lack of troops make likely, and civil war if it arms Iraqis.
Despite plenty of expert opinion to warn it, the Bush Administration has scant perception of the complexity of the political problems it confronts in Iraq. Afghanistan is a reminder of how military success depends ultimately on politics, and how things go wrong.
Rumsfeld's admission in his confidential memo of October 16 that "we lack the metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror" was an indication that key members of the Bush Administration are far less confident of what they are doing than they were early in 2003.
But as in Vietnam, when defense secretary Robert McNamara ceased to believe that victory was inevitable, it is too late to reverse course and now the credibility of America's military power is at stake.
Eventually, domestic politics takes precedence over everything else. It did in Vietnam and it will in Iraq. By 1968, the polls were turning against the Democrats and the Tet offensive in February caught President Lyndon Johnson by surprise because he and his generals refused to believe the CIA's estimates that there were really 600,000 rather than 300,000 people in the communist forces. Nixon won because he promised a war-weary public he would bring peace with honor.
Bush declared on October 28 that "we're not leaving" Iraq soon, but his party and political advisers are likely to have the last word as US casualties mount and his poll ratings continue to decline.
Vietnam proved that the American public has limited patience. That is still true.
The real lessons of Vietnam have yet to be learned.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:35
Relatively few Americans will see the CBS Television mini-series, "The Reagans," when it's released in the months ahead. A barrage of protests from Republicans and conservative groups evidently convinced CBS executives that the controversial series was more appropriate for a small, paying Showtime audience than a network broadcast.
Reagan supporters also warned leading advertisers about the series and dropped hints about a possible conservative boycott of CBS programming. Their success in frightening executives at CBS revealed that intimidation still works in the entertainment industry. Political partisans managed to block a dramatic presentation of history that they did not like. These actions serve the cause of censorship, but critics of the television series do not acknowledge that their actions represent an assault on freedom of speech that is little different than an attempt to suppress publication of a novel. Instead, they claim to be advocates of "accurate" and "balanced" history.
Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee, complained that the CBS script contains language that Ronald Reagan never actually used, and that the film's interpretation is excessively critical of the former president. The Republican chairman asked CBS to allow Reagan's associates to examine the film for historical accuracy. Otherwise, said Gillespie, the network should place a disclaimer on the screen every ten minutes advising viewers that the drama contained fictional material. If filmmakers were to follow Gillespie's recommendations, just about every historical drama would be off-limits for Hollywood and network television. "Docudrama" is, by its very nature, interpretive. Dramatic representations of the past always contain inventions, because the creators of these films must imagine conversations and actions that have not been recorded by historians. The films are unbalanced because artists can never represent an entire life in their stories. They must select examples, and those choices reflect judgments.
Since the time of Shakespeare's historical plays, virtually all docudramas have offered hard-hitting, opinionated viewpoints. Most film and television dramas that have excited public interest in history have delivered partisan portrayals of events and people. They were all "controversial" in some way. "Roots," the influential television series that aroused the American public's interest in the history of slavery, portrayed most blacks as noble and depicted most whites as exploitative.
"The Reagans" contains information that can please both enthusiasts and detractors. A reporter who saw the script indicated that it shows the president's political skills and commitment to his beliefs and gives him credit for ending the Cold War. On the other hand, it highlights his forgetfulness and loose control over his staff, and it portrays his wife, Nancy, as a control-obsessed First Lady who sought advice on policy matters from astrologers.
Partisans may contest the placement of this information in a dramatic film, but they need as well to acknowledge that reports about these matters appeared frequently in newspaper accounts. Conservatives are particularly angry about a line in the script that suggests Ronald Reagan was not motivated to act aggressively when the AIDS crisis appeared. The president says in the drama, "They that live in sin shall die in sin."
After much protest, CBS agreed to remove the offending statement, but the comment is not completely out of character. Edmund Morris, Reagan's authorized biographer, reports the President once said, "Maybe the Lord brought down this plague" because "illicit sex is against the Ten Commandments."
Do critics of the CBS mini-series feel that the only truthful portrait of Reagan is a saintly and heroic one? Must all dramas about Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, overlook his ownership of slaves? Should filmmakers crafting films about FDR or JFK avoid reference to their dalliances with women? In fact, should historical novels, also, present only inspiring depictions of national figures? The emphasis on positive portrayals suggested by Gillespie and his colleagues can leave us with a sterile and limited understanding of history.
Those unhappy with the program also insist that docudramas should present stories about the deceased, not living figures such as Ronald and Nancy Reagan. If that requirement applies, we may need to wait thirty or more years to see a drama about Bill Clinton, Tony Blair or other notable figures from public life. The complaints leveled by Gillespie and others do not constitute a noble effort to ensure fair treatment of a historical subject. They represent a form of intimidation. These protesters do not agree with the point of view offered by CBS Television's docudrama, and they wish to prevent broadcast of the mini-series. We do not have formal censorship these days, but the actions of Gillespie and others come close to giving us the suppression of ideas that our laws and traditions aim to prevent.
NOTE: This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.
Posted on: Friday, January 2, 2004 - 19:34