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.
SOURCE: The Nation (7-30-10)
One thing was missing from the reunion: a visit to the library's new Watergate exhibit, which was supposed to have opened July 1—but didn't....
Posted on: Saturday, July 31, 2010 - 15:31
SOURCE: Huffington Post (7-29-10)
A subtle change has been happening right before the eyes of Americans. Our troops are being told they're no longer primarily citizen-soldiers or citizen-airmen; they're being told they're warriors. Indeed, they're reminded of this linguistic turn in" creeds" that many of them (and often their families) display with pride.
Here's an excerpt from the new Airman's Creed (2007):
"I am an American Airman.
I am a Warrior.
I have answered my nation's call.
I am an American Airman.
My mission is to fly, fight, and win.
I am faithful to a proud heritage,
a tradition of honor,
and a legacy of valor."
The Army's Soldier's Creed (2003) makes the same point about the need to be a warrior first and foremost.
Now, some would say there's nothing wrong with this. Our troops are at war. Don't we want them to have a strong warrior ethos?
The historian (and retired citizen-airman) in me says"no," and I'm supported in this by a surprising source: An American army pamphlet from World War II with the title"How the Jap Army Fights." After praising the Japanese for their toughness and endurance, the pamphlet, citing a study by Robert Leurquin, makes the following point:
"The Japanese is more of a warrior than a military man, and therein lies his weakness. The difference may be a subtle one, but it does exist: The essential quality of the warrior is bravery; that of the military man, discipline."
In 1942, our army cited the"warring passion" of the Japanese as a weakness, one that inhibited their mastery of"the craft of arms." Yet today, our army and air force extol the virtues of being a"warrior" to young recruits.
Today's cult of the warrior, as represented by these new" creeds," may seem cosmetic, but it cuts to the core of our military's self-image. That most Americans have no knowledge of it speaks volumes about the ongoing militarization of our language and even of our country.
After nearly a decade of war, we don't need more"warrior ethos." What we need are disciplined citizen-airmen and citizen-soldiers who know their craft, but who also know better than to revel in a warrior identity. We knew this in 1942; how did we come to forget it?
Posted on: Friday, July 30, 2010 - 16:31
SOURCE: National Review (7-29-10)
Recent polls show that more than 70 percent of the public holds an unfavorable view of Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) wins about a 10 percent approval rating; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has similarly rock-bottom poll numbers.
Why this astounding — and growing — disdain for our lawmakers? After all, Congress has had plenty of scandals and corruption in the past, such as the House post-office and check-kiting messes, the Charles Keating payoffs, and the Abscam bribery.
But lately, Congress seems not merely corrupt, but — far more worrisome — without apparent concern that it has become so unethical....
Members of Congress should employ pay-as-you-go lawmaking. It is easy to win friends by handing out someone else’s money, but harder to ask voters to pay the ensuing bill. Appropriate the money first; spend it second....
Our self-absorbed Congress should start to reform, fast. Right now, the American people seem to think that the main purpose of holding congressional office is to boost egos and get rich later on — and in the process make the rest of us poorer.
Posted on: Friday, July 30, 2010 - 10:49
SOURCE: WaPo (7-30-10)
The prospect of an exit from Iraq and Afghanistan has sparked rumblings on Capitol Hill that it's time to cut the defense budget. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, says, "I'm pretty certain cuts are coming -- in defense and the whole budget." Defense Secretary Bob Gates is already pushing to cancel some big-ticket programs and to wring savings out of the existing budget.
If there were ever evidence that it's impossible to learn from history -- or at least that it's difficult for politicians to do so -- this is it. Before they rush to cut defense spending, lawmakers should consider the consequences of previous attempts to cash in on a "peace dividend."
After the American Revolution, our armed forces shrank from 35,000 men in 1778 (plus tens of thousands of militiamen) to just 10,000 by 1800. The result was that we were ill-prepared to fight the Whiskey Rebellion, the quasi-war with France, the Barbary wars and the War of 1812 -- all of which might have been averted if the new republic had had an army and a navy that commanded the respect of prospective enemies, foreign and domestic.
After the Civil War, our armed forces shrank from more than a million men in 1865 to just 50,000 in 1870. This made the failure of Reconstruction inevitable -- there were simply too few federal troops left to enforce the rule of law in the South and to overcome the ruthless terrorist campaign waged by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. Segregation would remain a blot on U.S. history for another century....
Posted on: Friday, July 30, 2010 - 10:35
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (7-30-10)
[Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History and the Middle East scholar at the University of Michigan. He has written extensively on the Middle East and the West-Islam relations.]
It finally happened. The Jerusalem Post has declared archeology itself anti-Semitic.
To tell you the truth, I am frankly worried about some of my colleagues who are committed Zionists having difficulty in dealing with reality in the wake of the severe difficulties facing the Zionist project in historical Palestine.
Caroline Glick’s inaccurate and angry attack on me in the Jerusalem Post reminded me again of why I am anxious about the Closing of the Zionist Mind.
Glick is actually alleging that anyone who practices critical history of the ancient world or the Middle East in general is thereby an anti-Jewish bigot. Glick, from Chicago, was a captain in the Israeli army and a judge advocate-general during the first Intifada or Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which the Israeli army brutally crushed. She seems to be going off the deep end, having made herself notorious with the sick satirical video ‘We Con the World,’ which made fun of the civilian aid workers killed by Israeli commandos on May 31 of this year (and which appears to have had some backing from the Israeli government itself)....
One time some Orthodox students approached me at a conference to say that in their reckoning, Israeli settlers on the West Bank had almost never done any harm to anyone and maybe in total had killed 14 persons, for which they were sorry. I was frankly outraged. I mean, what world did these university students live in? Had they never read even one academic book on the effects of the Israeli Occupation on the Palestinians of the Palestinian West Bank? Why invent fairy tale statistics, and what is with the passive aggressive ‘apology?’ There is something wrong with this way of thinking, and it is a kind of group think that reinforces itself in small, tight, communities of discourse....
Since the government of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is doing its best to run out the clock on a two-state solution, the only two plausible outcomes in Israel/Palestine in the coming decades are long years of dreary Apartheid or a one-state solution. It is not plausible that the Israelis will be allowed to keep the Palestinians stateless and without, ultimately, any real rights, forever. So Zionists (Israel nationalists) are increasingly suffering from Failing Nationalism Syndrome, and it is causing them to flail about saying the strangest things....
Posted on: Friday, July 30, 2010 - 10:20
SOURCE: Truthout (7-29-10)
[Cary Fraser is a historian of international relations, who teaches the history of American foreign policy, American and Caribbean history in the 20th century and the history of the African Diaspora in the Atlantic world at Penn State University. He is the author of"Ambivalent Anti-Colonialism" (Greenwood Press, 1994), and his essays and articles have been published in Canada, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and the United States. He is currently writing a study of race in American politics and foreign policy in the mid-20th century.]
The recent firing of Shirley Sherrod by the secretary of agriculture after an excerpt of a video of her speech at an NAACP event was used to portray her as a poster child for anti-white racism by Andrew Breibart, the conservative media personality, provoked a firestorm of controversy about race and its legacies in American life. The unseemly rush to escape the fallout from the video excerpt by the Department of Agriculture leadership and which invoked unverified White House pressure to have her resign as quickly as possible, led to the denial of due process to Sherrod at the Department of Agriculture. When she was condemned by Benjamin Jealous, the president of the NAACP ( later retracted) and commentators like Bill O'Reilly of Fox News (also retracted), it was evident that Sherrod had become a target of the vituperative politics, which has transformed American public debate into an incessant stream of calumny. The rapid dissemination of the video excerpt across the mainstream media outlets added to the reckless coverage of the story that ensued.
The hysteria dissipated as soon as the full video of Sherrod's speech was made public. It revealed that her story was one of personal transcendence of the crippling legacies of racial resentments due to the murder of her father in rural Georgia, where the perpetrator went unpunished, and her evolution as an activist committed to challenging the institutionalized politics of divide-and-rule among racial groups that has governed American life. Like her husband, Charles Sherrod, who had emerged as a prominent leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee in the 1960s during the height of the civil rights struggle, Sherrod revealed herself to be another exemplar of the generation of African-Americans whose generosity of spirit and vision of citizenship made it possible for America to escape the philosophical penury of the "Jim Crow" legal regime and its sterile political culture. In effect, Sherrod's personal story in her address to the NAACP audience was a metaphor of the challenge that faces America in contemporary context - finding ways for the society to rise above its sordid history of racist politics.
It was left to Barack Obama as president to remind the American public of the most important lesson from the episode: "We have to take our time and think these issues through."(1) For a society where racist sentiment remains deeply embedded in the body politic and is often inflamed for political agendas - large and small - Obama's caution reflected the awareness that his own ascent to the presidency has unleashed destabilizing currents of racist resentment in American society. As the current anti-immigrant campaign in Arizona suggests, those resentments are not directed solely against African-Americans. The emergence of the Latino/Hispanic community as the largest minority group in contemporary America and an increasingly critical constituency in elections across the country, has triggered competition by the two major parties for their votes. The volatile issue of undocumented workers, creating a route to legal status for these migrants and the threat of police profiling and harassment of both American citizens and immigrants, have all become volatile issues in Arizona with implications for the midterm Congressional and local elections later this year. The increasing cultural pluralism that defines race and citizenship in contemporary America and the fact that the United States is being led by its first African-American president, have combined to expose the ugly legacies of white supremacist politics in American life.
The contemporary context is a reminder that changes in the American racial status quo are never comfortable for all Americans and trigger irrational outbursts that have to be contained in a society that is prone to episodes of violence against minority communities and individuals. As Mark Twain observed more than a century ago in his parody of American cultural mores at the turn of the 20th century - "The United States of Lyncherdom" - lynching had become "a fashion which will spread wide and wider, year by year, covering state after state, as with an advancing disease." In the course of its spread in post-Civil War America as a cultural, political and quasi-religious phenomenon, lynching and its collective counterpart, pogroms, became devices used by whites to exorcise the "threat" that African-Americans - and others not accepted as "white" - were perceived to pose to the sanctity of segregation and white supremacy in Jim Crow America. Lynching, thus, encapsulated the finding of the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision in 1857 which ruled that: "They [the Negro African race (to use the term from the original decision)] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect ..."(2)
It is arguable that Sherrod, in being denied due process to defend herself when faced with a smear campaign designed to portray her as an anti-white racist and being fired summarily in response to the video excerpt of her speech, was made subject to a discredited legal doctrine that remains a subconscious reflex in contemporary America. Happily for her, the recognition of the grave injustice done to her has been recognized and she has been made an offer to return to the US Department of Agriculture. This legacy of racism as legal doctrine and psychological conditioning is also at the heart of the hysterical efforts by the "Birther" movement to question the legitimacy of Barack Obama's birth in Hawaii. For Americans who have been socialized into the notion that whites can lay claim to American citizenship and political office without question, Obama is seen as an interloper whose accession to the presidency is simply unimaginable.
It is striking that very little attention has been paid to the fact that John McCain, who ran for president against Obama, was born in the Panama Canal Zone where his father was serving in the US Navy.(3) Being white, a former military officer and son of a military officer and Republican, the issues of the place and legitimacy of McCain's birth are/were apparently not considered as important as Obama's origins in Hawaii. Again, according to the Dred Scott decision on the issue of eligibility for citizenship in the early American Republic: "The first of these acts is the naturalization law, which was passed at the second session of the first Congress, March 26, 1790 and confines the right of becoming citizens 'to aliens being free white persons."'(4) Thus, the lack a sustained campaign to question McCain's citizenship can be interpreted as the deference to the notion that whites have an unquestioned entitlement to American citizenship while people of color, including the large numbers of people of Native American and Hispanic origin in McCain's home state, Arizona, can be subject to stop and search procedures by law enforcement officials under recent immigration legislation signed by the Governor of that state. It is to the Obama administration's credit that it has decided to mount a court challenge to the Arizona legislation.
The Sherrod episode has provided powerful insights into the politics of calumny that has increasingly overtaken contemporary American public life and the undercurrents of race that have driven debates over race, citizenship, rights and justice in an increasingly fractured society. It is, perhaps, time to reflect upon Teddy Roosevelt's 1906 State of the Union Address:
"The members of the white race on the other hand should understand that every lynching represents by just so much a loosening of the bands of civilization; that the spirit of lynching inevitably throws into prominence in the community all the foul and evil creatures who dwell therein. No man can take part in the torture of a human being without having his own moral nature permanently lowered. Every lynching means just so much moral deterioration in all the children who have any knowledge of it, and therefore just so much additional trouble for the next generation of Americans.
Let justice be both sure and swift; but let it be justice under the law and not the wild and crooked savagery of a mob."
Roosevelt, as a Republican president, had invited Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House in 1901. He was roundly condemned by Southerners for violating the color line and offering a symbolic recognition to African-Americans that was dangerous to the Jim Crow order. The invitation to dinner suggested that an African-American was the social equal of the president. Notwithstanding his own racial prejudices that were shared by the majority of his contemporaries, Roosevelt, as president, was sensitive to the corrosive effect of racism upon American life and culture in the early 20th century.
It is striking that at the beginning of the 20th century, Mark Twain, the vociferous critic of American imperialism, and Teddy Roosevelt, an architect of the American imperial project, shared a recognition that the psychology that drove lynching in American life was "beyond the pale." The Sherrod episode should encourage Americans in the first decade of the 21st century to reflect upon the fact that, notwithstanding the election of an African-American president, the society is still trapped by spasms of racial hysteria that illustrate "a loosening of the bands of civilization ..."
2. Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856).
3. See Carl Hulse, "McCain's Canal Zone Birth Prompts Queries About Whether That Rules Him Out," The New York Times, February 28, 2008, for an account of the issue.
4. Scott v. Sanford.
Posted on: Thursday, July 29, 2010 - 16:38
SOURCE: NYRB Blog (7-27-10)
...It is time for me to break a silence I have observed for over a year, against my better judgment. On June 30, 2009, I and eight other historians were invited to a dinner with President Obama and three of his staffers, to discuss what history could teach him about conducting the presidency. I was asked shortly after by several news media what went on there, and I replied that it was off the record. I have argued elsewhere that the imposition of secrecy to insure that the president gets “candid advice” is a cover for something else—making sure that what is said about the people’s business does not reach the people. But I went along this time, since the president said that he wanted this dinner to be a continuing thing, and I thought that revealing its first contents would jeopardize the continuation of a project that might be a source of information for him.
But there has been no follow up on the first dinner, and certainly no sign that he learned anything from it. The only thing achieved has been the silencing of the main point the dinner guests tried to make—that pursuit of war in Afghanistan would be for him what Vietnam was to Lyndon Johnson. At least four or five of the nine stressed this. Nothing else rose to this level of seriousness or repeated concern.
I will let others say what they want (some already have). But I will now reveal what I contributed that night. I told him that Richard Nixon had advised Ronald Reagan not to make too many public statements himself—let others speak on a daily basis, and save his appearances for big issues....
Posted on: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 15:03
SOURCE: Lawyers, Guns, and Money (Blog) (7-28-10)
[Prof Scott Lemieux is a member of the History and Political Science Faculty at the College of Saint Rose.]
You might think that Jeffrey “how dare Shirley Sherrod call a mob beating someone to death because of his race a lynching” Lord would try to stop digging once he saw that even his colleagues at the American Spectator wanted nothing to do with his grotesque arguments, but you would be wrong. Some people really have no shame.
Since he has decided to keep embarrassing himself, I thought I’d discuss one of the many bizarre arguments made in his initial article. In an attempt to cast his “liberals are the real racists” net as widely as possible, in the tradition of Jonah Goldberg and Mark Levin he decides to drag former Supreme Court justice Hugo Black down into the mud:
Nary a word from Ms. Sherrod about Hugo Black, the man who can easily be said to have rescued Bobby Hall’s murderers. Much less is there a solitary thought from Sherrod about why Black was on the Supreme Court in the first place.
Justice Hugo Black, you see, was two things. Like Ms. Sherrod he was a committed liberal activist, a progressive of the day. He was a staunch supporter of FDR’s New Deal as the Senator from Alabama. But Hugo Black was also something else: a “Gold Passport” lifetime member of the Ku Klux Klan. Which is to say, a committed racist.
This argument is ridiculous on many levels — why should Sherrod discuss the background of a justice who cast one vote in a case related to the lynching she’s discussing? — but it’s also a very misleading portrayal of Black.
It’s true that Black has been a member of the Klan in the 20s, and even if this was during its “populist” phase and was explained by political necessity for someone running for the Senate in Alabama in the 1920s it is unquestionably a black mark on his record. But the idea that Black was a “committed racist” as a Supreme Court justice is just absurd. While his record on civil rights was not spotless, it was very good for a white man of his generation of any region (let alone for an elite Alabaman.) Unlike conservative icon William Rehnquist — who Lord’s former boss saw fit to make Chief Justice of the United States — Black was always unwavering in his belief that segregation was an egregious violation of the Constitution. Unlike conservative icon Robert Bork — who Lord’s former boss nominated for the Supreme Court — Black never had the slightest doubt about whether the Civil Rights Act was constitutional. Trying to use Black to condemn Democrats as the “real racists” is almost as silly as using Shirley Sherrod to do so.
And, of course, this stuff about Black just makes Lord’s argument even more incoherent. On the one hand, Black proves that Democrats are totally the real racists. On the other hand, his argument that the lynching described by Sherrod wasn’t a lynching rests on the authority of Hugo Black. When your mode of argument consists of throwing as much slime on the wall as possible, this is the kind of glaring contradiction that will happen. And the fact that the Supreme Court decision in questions was in fact entirely silent about whether the killing of Sparks was a lynching — and that the facts it described were perfectly consistent with both legal and colloquial definitions of lynching — is just icing on the cake.
This Lord is a real find. I expect Breitbart to make him the editor-in-chief of his new “Big Civil Rights” site by the end of the week.
Posted on: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 14:30
SOURCE: The Daily Beast (7-27-10)
...In the summer of 1934, the leading columnist for the New York Times, Arthur Krock, summed up FDR’s situation with two words: TROUBLES AWAIT. “Business is still ailing,” Krock noted. “The hoped-for lift has not yet come.” Though the economy had begun growing again, the recovery was not yet a fact of life for most Americans. Unemployment remained shockingly high: nearly 20 percent of the workforce. “If there are immediate solutions,” Krock continued, Roosevelt’s “counselors do not know them.” The New Deal seemed in many ways a spent force, and FDR had no big, new initiatives to replace it....
Then, in November 1934, Roosevelt defied gravity.
Voters gave Democrats three quarters of the Senate—the widest margin ever in that chamber—and nine more seats in the House. The election—widely and rightly portrayed as Roosevelt’s victory, though he did not appear on the ballot—obliterated the truism that in off-year elections, the president’s party inevitably lost seats. FDR emerged, in the view of the New York Times, with “the greatest power that has ever been given to a Chief Executive.”
Nothing that President Obama says or does is going to make history repeat itself this fall. Though FDR’s approval ratings were sinking in 1934, they remained higher than Obama’s are today; and the recovery, while halting, was strong enough for Roosevelt to boast about it during the campaign. Obama has neither of these advantages. Even so, there’s a lot he can learn from Roosevelt’s midterm triumph. One of the main reasons FDR prevailed—then and thereafter—was his ability to paint a clear, consistent picture of the kind of country he wanted America to be, the kind of country we needed to be in the industrial era....
Posted on: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 13:24
SOURCE: National Review (7-28-10)
According to a popular myth, President Obama’s declining poll numbers are a consequence of his failure to be liberal enough. On race, in the wake of the Shirley Sherrod mess, we are told he needs to appoint more African Americans and bring in more advisers from the black community. On the economy, liberal economists decry his unwillingness to borrow and stimulate more.
This is lunatic in political terms....
In terms of poll ratings, Obama is in poor shape, but not necessarily in poorer shape than various past presidents who eventually were reelected. His problem is not, as he alleges, that he inherited a worse mess from Bush than Reagan did from Carter or Bush did from Clinton. Nor is his problem that he slightly deviated from his left-wing hope-and-change rhetoric and disappointed his base. His problem is more fundamental: It is one of self-knowledge.
Obama and his supporters have somehow convinced themselves that 2008 was the result either of (1) a left-wing American majority that finally came out of the shadows, or (2) a mesmerizing personality that by sheer force of rhetoric and charisma could take America where it otherwise did not wish to go. Neither is true. America remains a center-right country, andObama , the teleprompted messiah, has grown tiresome. If the president wishes to recovery politically, he must embrace a responsible, workmanlike centrist agenda, just as Bill Clinton did between 1994 and 1996.
Obama can choose to be a successful triangulating Clinton, or he can insist on being a failed ideological Carter. As the November election draws closer, those bad and worse choices will become even clearer to the president and his liberal supporters.
Posted on: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 13:20
SOURCE: The Australian (7-29-10)
WE have been raised to think of the historical process as an essentially cyclical one.
We naturally tend to assume that in our own time, too, history will move cyclically, and slowly.
Yet what if history is not cyclical and slow-moving but arhythmic, at times almost stationary, but also capable of accelerating suddenly, like a sports car? What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night?
Great powers and empires are complex systems, which means their construction more resembles a termite hill than an Egyptian pyramid. They operate somewhere between order and disorder, on "the edge of chaos", in the phrase of the computer scientist Christopher Langton.
Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time; they seem to be in equilibrium but are, in fact, constantly adapting.
But there comes a moment when complex systems "go critical". A very small trigger can set off a phase transition from a benign equilibrium to a crisis....
Posted on: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 12:14
SOURCE: CNN.com (7-28-10)
...The past year and a half have been bruising for Democrats on Capitol Hill. The sluggish economic recovery and two wars have left many constituents drained and fearful. In addition, the president has asked congressional Democrats to carry his water on hugely controversial pieces of legislation: health care and financial regulation....
If the tensions become worse, Obama can find himself politically hamstrung in his final two years. When presidents don't nurture their congressional base, the White House usually finds itself isolated in difficult times.
President Jimmy Carter is the classic example. He focused on a series of controversial proposals in his first two years, such as energy reform and the Panama Canal treaties that did little for congressional Democrats whose constituents wanted relief from stagflation.
President George H.W. Bush also angered members of his own party. In 1990, Bush agreed to a deficit reduction plan that included a substantial tax increase. By signing onto the package with the Democratic Congress, the president abandoned his campaign pledge not to raise taxes and violated a signature tenet of the conservative movement. Minority Whip Newt Gingrich and his allies were furious with Bush and refused to provide him support in the final two years of his presidency....
Posted on: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 12:13
SOURCE: Dissent (7-26-10)
[Melvyn Dubofsky is Distinguished Professor of History & Sociology Emeritus, Binghamton University SUNY, and author of numerous books and essays in U.S. history, including a major history of the IWW, a biography of John L. Lewis, a study of the role of the federal government in regulating labor-capital relations, and a collection of essays on labor history under the title Hard Work.]
FOR NEARLY forty years now the labor movement in the United States has been on the defensive and in decline. But for a brief moment, it appeared that the election of Barack Obama might offer labor an opportunity to revive. That moment seems to have come and gone. To recapture it, my good friend and colleague, Nelson Lichtenstein, offers labor leaders lessons from history about how to build a stronger movement.
Lichtenstein draws his primary lessons from the 1930s and 1960s. To prove that he is a realist and not a dreamer who romanticizes an unrepeatable past, Lichtenstein cites Mark Twain’s aphorism, that “History never repeats itself, but sometimes it rhymes.” To which I would add, it offers no hard and fast truths.
The primary lesson that Lichtenstein derives from the past is that labor and its friends must act as “difficult and demanding allies of our president.” According to Lichtenstein, that is precisely what labor and its allies did during the 1930s and 1960s. Labor and civil rights movements, he claims, “achieved their greatest influence when the Democratic administrations in power perceived the leadership of these social movements as troublesome, unreliable, and unpredictable…” Moreover, he adds that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s White House advisers worried constantly about John L. Lewis, Phillip Murray, and Walter Reuther “going off the reservation.”...
Posted on: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 - 11:47
SOURCE: Student Activism (Blog) (7-26-10)
[Angus Johnston is a historian of American student activism]
So the American Spectator has a piece up claiming that Shirley Sherrod of the USDA — the Shirley Sherrod who recently lost her job after Andrew Breitbart disseminated distorted clips from a speech she’d given to the NAACP — lied in that speech when she said her relative Bobby Hall was lynched in Baker County, Georgia back in the early 1940s.
Now, the Spectator is wrong about this, as has been noted. They’re wrong because they’re under the impression that lynching requires a rope, and that because Bobby Hall was beaten to death rather than hanged, “lynching” isn’t what happened to him.
Never mind that he was beaten to death while in police custody.
Never mind that he was a black man beaten to death by a white sheriff — Claude Screws — and his two white deputies.
In his hometown’s courthouse square.
According to the Spectator this extrajudicial murder, carried out in a public square by three law enforcement officers, was no lynching because there was no rope.
Andrew Serwer has the goods on this, including the text of the law that the folks at the Spectator cite in their argument, a law which they obviously didn’t bother to read, a law which utterly eviscerates their position.
But I just wanted to mention it myself, because as a white man I think it’s important for us white people to educate ourselves about this country’s past. Not out of a sense of guilt, but out of a sense of obligation. If we’re going to construct an identity for ourselves as white people that isn’t stained with the sins of our forefathers, we need to not just repudiate those sins but understand them. We need to align ourselves with the Leonidas C. Dyers of our history rather than the Sheriff Claude Screwses, and we need to do it in a concrete and substantive way.
We need to show our friends and colleagues of color, and our own children, and ourselves, the respect of learning the history of race in this country.
The Spectator embarrassed itself today. It embarrassed itself by seeking to use the history of lynching to score cheap political points against an honorable woman.
But more than that it embarrassed itself by proudly trumpeting its ignorance of a subject of which no decent American has the right to remain ignorant.
Update | The Spectator piece was written by one Jeffrey Lord, a former Reagan administration official, and it would be remiss of me not to point out that two of his colleagues have already disowned it. John Tabin calls Lord’s assertions “untrue” and “utterly bizarre,” while Philip Klein says he’s “rendered speechless” by the article’s wrongness.
Late Update | A third Spectator writer has disavowed Lord’s piece. Quin Hillyer says the article is “off base,” adding, “I just don’t get Jeff’s point, sorry to say.”
Still no correction on the article itself.
Posted on: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - 15:11
SOURCE: End is Coming (Blog) (7-22-10)
This past month, the general in charge of allied troops in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal resigned (was fired) by President Obama due to criticisms made by the General and his aides that appeared in a Rolling Stone Magazine article entitled “Runaway General”. They had let comments and insinuations fly about VP Biden, UN envoy Richard Holbrooke and the Obama administration in general while being interviewed by a journalist for the publication. Unsurprisingly, everything made it to print and once the article made it to newsstands, it was not long before McChrystal was summoned back to Washington, dismissed and effectively forced into retirement. This is but one of many battles of egos between an American Head of State and General in charge of their armed forces in US history. As we will see, through differing priorities and the eternal battle between military and civilian authority, the US has a distinctive history of bouts at the top that resulted in embarrassment, public bickering and the eventual dismissal of the nation’s top soldiers.
“The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system”, President Obama reacted to the McChrystal article by stating something that American Presidents have wanted to make abundantly clear for centuries now, namely that the American President is the Commander in Chief of the US Army. All generals, no matter how many stars adorn their lapel, must answer to the highest office in the land. As such, President Obama swiftly replaced McChrystal with General Petreus, former leader of the Iraqi taskforce (that was so incredibly successful). That being said, the Obama administration assured us there would be no change in the mission or method of the allied forces in Afghanistan so the change in command is unsubtly just a message of the President’s supreme authority of the armed forces. Some have even speculated that the White House finally got the opportunity it needed to justify sacking General McChrystal. Highly esteemed in the army and beloved by the Afghan government, McChrystal was not at his first faux pas with the media. In 2009 for example, the General publicly sent out his evaluation of the Afghan mission, the immediate need to redirect troops there and the vital need for the President to focus more on this country. This in fact “forced” the President’s hand to act due to the public pressure that ensued. The senate even asked for his head on a platter but McChrystal’s circumventing of official channels was not enough to dismiss the decorated soldier. The repeat offense against established policy has finally been dealt with; in much the same way as in the past.
If we go back to the nineteenth century, we find out that Honest Abe Lincoln had a similar problem. His generals kept losing to the secessionist South and kept disagreeing with the President on how to conduct the Civil War. This is why he ended up dismissing General McDowell…and General Meade…General Hooker…General McClellan, General Pope and General Burnside. Lincoln’s administration briefly questioned the carousel of passing generals that were being put aside at a time of great need but the President prevailed by replacing them with General Ulysses S. Grant. The North won and Grant went on to be President himself. As for the dismissed generals, one gave us the Sideburns and another the term for army accompanying prostitutes.
Further on and once again in a time of war for the US, Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy had to contend with the popularity, stubbornness and, some might say, paranoid insanity of General Curtis LeMay. This general was a strong proponent of the “Nuke the Soviets Now” camp for most of the 50s and 60s, which gained him some strong conservative admiration for a time. When the United States entered French Indochina to battle one of the longest and most frustrating engagements in American History, his aggressive and impulsive comments earned him less such praise and he was promptly fired. LeMay proposed a plan to firebomb AND carpet-bomb North Vietnamese cities (not military bases but cities) and to drop two nuclear devices on the main administrative centres. The subordination of military to civilian elected government in this case seems to have averted nuclear war.
Following the Vietnam War, President Jimmy Carter had his own McChrystal in the person of General John Singlaub. This General wanted American troops stationed in Korea since the fifties to be better used abroad. President Carter insisted that the American troops protecting the Korean ceasefire (The Korean War has officially never ended) were an important instrument to keep the peace in the Far East and a show of good will on America’s part. Singlaub wanted none of it and disagreed…publicly. In March of 1977, President Carter simply announced that, as his boss, he was firing General Singlaub for overstepping his bounds and failing to respect the President’s authority.
He may have been president for only 4 years a long time ago and the poster boy for humanitarianism but Jimmy Carter was once an unmistakable hard-ass.
Finally, the granddaddy of all Presidential-Top soldier confrontations came following the Second World War. President Truman already had the difficult task of replacing Franklin Roosevelt (a 4-term President) as the head of state but he also had to maintain the authority of the White House in a country where soldiers had become heroes of legend. While General Eisenhower had led the Allies to victory on the beaches of France (and would later be elected as president), General Douglass MacArthur had been the victor of the Pacific and annihilator of the Japanese Imperial Fleet. He was lauded as hero of the American people (and way of life) and hailed as a liberator in Japan. He was one of very few Generals in American History to be given four stars, the highest ranking achieved by a soldier in office. This last general however was not ready to play politician and would see the pacific as his personal responsibility. Thus when the Korean War erupted in 1950, no one else could even be considered to lead the American (NATO) forces against the Communist invasion of Korea.
The Korean War was a conflict of exchanges. One month the Americans had pushed on to the communist capital, another month South Korea was reduced to a beach on the southernmost point of the peninsula. What was described as a battle for Korean unification was in all actuality an American (NATO) capitalist South Front battling a Soviet funded and China manned Communist North Front. Not many Koreans were involved at all (except the ones dying on the fields). Macarthur became increasingly frustrated with the involvement of global communism in the affair (especially China’s). He openly started calling for Chinese withdrawal, criticizing White House pacifism and eventually promoted a plan to invade and bomb China with atomic weapons. Of course Truman could not afford to fire MacArthur but did what he could to keep him in line. He avoided open conflict with him, met many times in private with the General and issued a directive that all military officers be required to clear all public statements with the State Department and that they refrain from speaking to “newspapers, magazines and other publicity media”. MacArthur responded by not speaking with the Press, but with China instead. While President Truman worked on a ceasefire agreement, General McArthur issued an ultimatum demanding that China surrender to him personally. Enough was enough and the General was fired.
Many Presidents have struggled with high-ranking officials that appear larger than life but it always comes down to the basic structure of American democracy. Whereas both men always seem to act in the best interest of the country they serve, The President must always hold the ultimate veto because he is elected by the people. The electorate directs government and thus directs the army. Despite official statements and the pomp and circumstance that has accompanied these honourable discharges, President Truman sums up the true spirit of these confrontations with a statement to Time Magazine in December 1973: “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.
In conclusion, I evoke the present story of Obama versus McChrystal because another high-ranking official went against the party line this week but in North Korea. Kwon Ho Ung, Pyongyang’s envoy responsible for talks with South Korea for many years, was deemed a failure because he failed to keep worldwide opinion from turning against Kim Jong-il’s government. He was “dismissed” by firing squad on Monday. There are seemingly worse things than being dismissed in the public eye. One thing that seems obvious and omnipresent in the different ideological governments of the world: there remains a hierarchical structure in every government and a constant tension between civilian and military institutions. Whereas this results in military coups and army-conducted revolutions here and there, the American government has succeeded in maintaining the submission of military heroes to the people despite the delicate dance of egos and insidious fights for authority among the great men of the past few centuries.
Posted on: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - 11:46
SOURCE: The New Republic (7-26-10)
Yesterday, in Cambodia, a perpetrator of one of the twentieth century’s great crimes was sentenced. Kang Kek Lew, also known as Comrade Deuch, was the head of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, and was at least partly responsible for the murder of more than 12,000 people. Now he will serve 19 years in jail.
But, after the West spent nearly a hundred million dollars to create a tribunal in Cambodia, this is all we have to show for it, at least so far: a solitary conviction of a man who was involved in less than one percent of the 1.5 to 2 million murders that took place in the country from 1975 to 1978. No one knows for sure if the next phase of the tribunal—the trial of the four highest ranking Khmer Rouge leaders still alive—will occur in 2011, 2012, or even at all. Some of the accused are elderly and frail, and may die before their trial begins, as another arrested leader, Ta Mok, did in 2006.
Even if the other trials do go forward, it will be difficult to argue that justice has been served. Authority at the tribunal is divided between international and Cambodian officials, and the two sides cannot agree on how many people to prosecute. International prosecutors want to charge at least five more individuals for their role in the mass killings. But Cambodia’s current leader, Hun Sen, has said that he does not want any more trials, and the Cambodian team has argued against further indictments. Moreover, even if those additional trials were to take place, it would still leave the vast majority of the guilty unpunished. It took more than ten people to murder up to 2 million Cambodians. It is now certain that none of the thousands of lower-level murderers will ever stand trial.
How did the matter of justice in Cambodia go so badly awry? The answer begins with the fact that the current Cambodian regime is riddled with former members of the Khmer Rouge. But part of the fault also lies with the United States....
Posted on: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - 10:30
SOURCE: The Edge of the American West (Blog) (7-24-10)
Daniel Schorr, who died yesterday, is being remembered for his remarkable, decades-long career as a print, radio, and television journalist. I’m familiar with one small slice of this story: I did an intensive study of his coverage of the intelligence beat for CBS News from 1974 to 1976 – coverage that ultimately cost him his job. I came away from my research and from my interview with Schorr profoundly impressed by his commitment to disclosure and democracy. Schorr was true believer in the public’s right to know, and the historical record is richer for it.
It was not easy to get Schorr to talk with me about the most painful incident in his career. In the early 1990s, I began researching my dissertation on the congressional and journalistic investigations of the intelligence community after Watergate. Both the Church committee in the Senate and the Pike committee in the House included several members who fought hard to disclose information to the public, despite an intense and savvy campaign of resistance from the Ford White House (a campaign coordinated by deputy chief of staff Dick Cheney). But though there were many congressmen who fought for disclosure, I soon discovered that the category of “journalists who investigated the CIA after Watergate” was limited to two people, Seymour Hersh (then with the New York Times) and Schorr of CBS. The rest of the press was too easily intimidated by the Ford administration’s claims of “national security” to break any stories of significance.
Schorr played a dramatic role in the revelations of CIA abuses in 1975 and 1976. He was the first to disclose that the CIA had tried to assassinate foreign leaders, and that the agency’s plots against Fidel Castro might have played a role in John Kennedy’s assassination. “An arrow launched into the air to kill a foreign leader may well have fallen back to kill our own,” he said in his report. The revelation forced the Church committee to restructure its agenda and to write its comprehensive report, Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders.
Schorr also obtained a copy of the final Pike Committee report, which the House had voted to suppress. He did some stories for CBS on the highlights of the report, but he wanted the public to read the entire report, not just hear excerpts on the TV news. He talked to his bosses about arranging publication. “We owe it to history to publish it,” he said. When CBS refused to publish the report, Schorr secretly arranged for the Village Voice to run it. This provided the defenders of government secrecy with a tremendous opportunity. The contents of the report were potentially devastating to the CIA, but its unauthorized release allowed the Ford administration to divert attention from what it said to how it was disclosed. Schorr was hauled before the House Ethics Committee, where he refused to name his source. CBS fired him over the scandal.
To evaluate CBS’s coverage of the intelligence scandals, I watched every story that aired from 1974 to 1976 that mentioned the FBI or CIA. It added up to eight hours of stories, most of them by Schorr. Standing out amid the blandness of television journalism, Schorr was known for his literate pieces (he had begun his career as a print journalist) and for his rumpled appearance (a magazine profile described him as “gray, grouchy, and pouchy, looking like a refugee from an Alka-Seltzer ad”).
As I watched the clips, I became impressed by two points. First, Schorr’s stories were many times better than anything on the television news in the 1990s: he was smart, he made connections between events, he understood history, and he wasn’t afraid to challenge government claims of secrecy. Second, his stories were also much better than the ones by his colleagues at CBS in the 1970s. It wasn’t that a golden age in television news had come and gone: he was unique, even for the time.
Since many of the actors in my dissertation were still alive, I had an opportunity many historians lack: I could try to answer my questions by asking my sources directly. I planned a ten-day trip to Washington to talk to as many public officials, intelligence agents, and reporters as I could. Surprisingly, it was one of the journalists who proved the most unwilling to sit for an interview.
I sent a letter to Schorr, explaining my project and asking for a short interview, but heard nothing back. So I sent another. When no reply arrived, I started calling. I left polite messages on his voicemail at NPR, describing my project and my need to interview him. One day, I got a response from his assistant, saying that Mr. Schorr had received my messages, and would get in touch with me if he had time. It was not a complete refusal, so I continued to leave messages on his machine.
I should point out that I was not nearly so pushy with any of the former senators or congressmen I interviewed. But I was trained as a journalist, and I knew that journalists understood the importance of talking to sources. I was reopening a painful chapter in his life – the man had lost his job – and he had every reason to want to forget all about it. But I gambled that Schorr would be grudgingly impressed rather than annoyed by my persistence.
And I was right. On my last day in Washington, once again I started to leave a message on his machine, but this time that familiar voice interrupted me. “Well, Miss Olmsted, you’re persistent, I’ll give you that,” he said. “You have 20 minutes. Go.”
In the end, he gave me much longer than 20 minutes, and he answe‘We owe it to history to publish it.’, after the book version of my dissertation came out, I came home one day to find that voice on my answering machine. He left a long, positive message about the book, talking about what he described as our mutual interest in informing American citizens about what secret government agencies do in their name. I popped the tape out of the machine to save it. It was the best review I ever got.
Posted on: Monday, July 26, 2010 - 16:54
SOURCE: The New Republic (7-25-10)
Based on initial press reports, the leaking of “90,000 classified documents” related to the Afghanistan war doesn’t really tell us much that we don’t already know. Our Afghan partners are less than reliable. Nation-building is a painstakingly slow enterprise. At least some Pakistanis are playing a double game. NATO forces continue to kill non-combatants, despite universal acknowledgment that doing so alienates the people whose affections we are desperate to win. The insurgents are on the march. Who, if anyone, is likely to find any of this news? Does it come as a shocking revelation to learn that U. S. special operations forces are conducting secret raids aimed at eliminating Taliban leaders?...
Posted on: Monday, July 26, 2010 - 12:57
SOURCE: TomDispatch (7-26-10)
[Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books), has just been published. You can catch him discussing it on a TomCast video by clicking here.]
Have you ever thought about just how strange this country’s version of normal truly is? Let me make my point with a single, hardly noticed Washington Post news story that’s been on my mind for a while. It represents the sort of reporting that, in our world, zips by with next to no reaction, despite the true weirdness buried in it.
The piece by Craig Whitlock appeared on June 19th and was headlined, “U.S. military criticized for purchase of Russian copters for Afghan air corps.” Maybe that’s strange enough for you right there. Russian copters? Of course, we all know, at least vaguely, that by year's end U.S. spending on its protracted Afghan war and nation-building project will be heading for$350 billion dollars. And, of course, those dollars do have to go somewhere.
Admittedly, these days in parts of the U.S., state and city governments are having a hard time finding the money just to pay teachers or the police. The Pentagon, on the other hand, hasn’t hesitated to use at least $25-27 billion to “train” and “mentor” the Afghan military and police -- and after each round of training failed to produce the expected results, to ask for even more money, and train them again. That includes the Afghan National Army Air Corps which, in the Soviet era of the 1980s, had nearly 500 aircraft and a raft of trained pilots. The last of that air force -- little used in the Taliban era -- was destroyed in the U.S. air assault and invasion of 2001. As a result, the"Afghan air force” (with about 50 helicopters and transport planes) is now something of a misnomer, since it is, in fact, the U.S. Air Force.
Still, there are a few Afghan pilots, mostly in their forties, trained long ago on Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters, and it’s on a refurbished version of these copters, Whitlock tells us, that the Pentagon has already spent $648 million. The Mi-17 was specially built for Afghanistan’s difficult flying environment back when various Islamic jihadists, some of whom we’re now fighting under the rubric of “the Taliban,” were allied with us against the Russians.
Here’s the first paragraph of Whitlock’s article: “The U.S. government is snapping up Russian-made helicopters to form the core of Afghanistan's fledgling air force, a strategy that is drawing flak from members of Congress who want to force the Afghans to fly American choppers instead.”
So, various congressional representatives are upset over the lack of a buy-American plan when it comes to the Afghan air force. That’s the story Whitlock sets out to tell, because the Pentagon has been planning to purchase dozens more of the Mi-17s over the next decade, and that, it seems, is what’s worth being upset about when perfectly good American arms manufacturers aren’t getting the contracts.
But let’s consider three aspects of Whitlock’s article that no one is likely to spend an extra moment on, even if they do capture the surpassing strangeness of the American way of war in distant lands -- and in Washington.
1. The Little Training Program That Couldn’t: There are at present an impressive 450 U.S. personnel in Afghanistan training the Afghan air force. Unfortunately, there’s a problem. There may be no “buy American” program for that air force, but there is a “speak American” one. To be an Afghan air force pilot, you must know English -- “the official language of the cockpit,” Whitlock assures us (even if to fly Russian helicopters). As he points out, however, the trainees, mostly illiterate, take two to five years simply to learn the language. (Imagine a U.S. Air Force in which, just to take off, every pilot needed to know Dari!)
Thanks to this language barrier, the U.S. can train endlessly and next to nothing is guaranteed to happen. “So far,” reports Whitlock, “only one Afghan pilot has graduated from flight school in the United States, although dozens are in the pipeline. That has forced the air corps to rely on pilots who learned to fly Mi-17s during the days of Soviet and Taliban rule.” In other words, despite the impressive Soviet performance in the 1980s, the training of the Afghan Air Force has been re-imagined by Americans as a Sisyphean undertaking.
And this offers but a hint of how bizarre U.S. training programs for the Afghan military and police have proven to be. In fact, sometimes it seems as if exactly the same scathing report, detailing the same training problems and setbacks, has been recycled yearly without anyone who mattered finding it particularly odd -- or being surprised that the response to each successive piece of bad news is to decide to pour yet more money and trainers into the project.
For example, in 2005, at a time when Washington had already spent $3.3 billion training and mentoring the Afghan army and police, the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report indicating that “efforts to fully equip the increasing number of [Afghan] combat troops have fallen behind, and efforts to establish sustaining institutions, such as a logistics command, needed to support these troops have not kept pace.” Worse yet, the report fretted, it might take “up to $7.2 billion to complete [the training project] and about $600 million annually to sustain [it].”
In 2006, according to the New York Times, “a joint report by the Pentagon and the State Department... found that the American-trained police force in Afghanistan is largely incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work, and that managers of the $1.1 billion training program cannot say how many officers are actually on duty or where thousands of trucks and other equipment issued to police units have gone.” At best, stated the report, fewer than half of the officially announced number of police were “trained and equipped to carry out their police functions.”
In 2008, by which time $16.5 billion had been spent on Army and police training programs, the GAO chimed in again, indicating that only two of 105 army units were"assessed as being fully capable of conducting their primary mission," while"no police unit is fully capable." In 2009, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction reported that “only 24 of 559 Afghan police units are considered ready to operate without international help.” Such reports, as well as repeated (and repetitive) news investigations and stories on the subject, invariably are accompanied by a litany of complaints about corruption, indiscipline, illiteracy, drug taking, staggering desertion rates, Taliban infiltration, ghost soldiers, and a host of other problems. In 2009, however, the solution remained as expectable as the problems: “The report called for more U.S. trainers and more money.”
This June, a U.S. government audit, again from the Special Inspector General, contradicted the latest upbeat American and NATO training assessments, reporting that “the standards used to appraise the Afghan forces since 2005 were woefully inadequate, inflating their abilities.” The usual litany of training woes followed. Yet, according to Reuters, President Obama wants another $14.2 billion for the training project “for this year and next.” And just last week, the Wall Street Journal’s Julian Barnes reported that new Afghan war commander General David Petraeus is planning to “retool” U.S. strategy to include “a greater focus on how Afghanistan’s security forces are being trained.”
When it comes to U.S. training programs then, you might conclude that Afghanistan has proved to be Catch-22-ville, the land where time stood still -- and so, evidently, has the Washington national security establishment’s collective brain. For Washington, there seems to be no learning curve in Afghanistan, not when it comes to “training” Afghans anyway.
And here is the oddest thing of all, though no one even bothers to mention it in this context: the Taliban haven’t had tens of billions of dollars in foreign training funds; they haven’t had years of advice from the best U.S. and NATO advisors that money can buy; they haven’t had private contractors like DynCorp teaching them how to fight and police, and strangely enough, they seem to have no problem fighting. They are not undermanned, infiltrated by followers of Hamid Karzai, or particularly corrupt. They may be illiterate and may not be fluent in English, but they are ready, in up-to platoon-sized units, to attack heavily fortified U.S. military bases, Afghan prisons, a police headquarters, and the like with hardly a foreign mentor in sight.
Consider it, then, a modern miracle in reverse that the U.S. has proven incapable of training a competent Afghan force in a country where arms are the norm, fighting has for decades seldom stopped, and the locals are known for their war-fighting traditions. Similarly, it’s abidingly curious that the U.S. has so far failed to train a modest-sized air force, even flying refurbished Italian light transport planes from the 1980s and those Russian helicopters, when the Soviet Union, the last imperial power to try this, proved up to creating an Afghan force able to pilot aircraft ranging from helicopters to fighter planes.
2. Non-Exit strategies: Now, let’s wade a little deeper into the strangeness of what Whitlock reported by taking up the question of when we’re actually planning to leave Afghanistan. Consider this passage from the Whitlock piece: “U.S. military officials have estimated that the Afghan air force won't be able to operate independently until 2016, five years after President Obama has said he intends to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But [U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael R.]Boera said that date could slip by at least two years if Congress forces the Afghans to fly U.S. choppers.”
In other words, while Americans argue over what the president’s July 2011 drawdown date really means, and while Afghan President Hamid Karzai suggests that Afghan forces will take over the country’s security duties by 2014, Whitlock’s anonymous “U.S. military officials” are clearly operating on a different clock, on, in fact, Pentagon time, and so are planning for a 2016-2018 target date for that force simply to “operate independently” (which by no means indicates “without U.S. support.”)
If you were of a conspiratorial mind, you might almost think that the Pentagon preferred not to create an effective Afghan air force and instead -- as has also been the case in Iraq, a country that once had the world’s sixth largest air force and now, after years of U.S. mentoring, has next to nothing -- remain the substitute Afghan air force forever and a day.
3. Who Are the Russians Now?: Okay, let’s move even deeper into American strangeness with a passage that makes up most of the 20th and 21st paragraphs of Whitlock’s 25-paragraph piece: “In addition,” he reports, “the U.S. Special Operations Command would like to buy a few Mi-17s of its own, so that special forces carrying out clandestine missions could cloak the fact that they are American. ‘We would like to have some to blend in and do things,’ said a senior U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the clandestine program.”
No explanation follows on just how -- or where -- those Russian helicopters will help “cloak” American Special Operations missions, or what they are to “blend” into, or the “things” they are to do. There’s no further discussion of the subject at all.
In other words, the special op urge to Russianize its air transport has officially been reported, and a month later, as far as I know, not a single congressional representative has made a fuss over it; no mainstream pundit has written a curious, questioning, or angry editorial questioning its appropriateness; and no reporter has, as yet, followed up.
As just another little factoid of no great import buried deep in an article focused on other matters, undoubtedly no one has given it a thought. But it’s worth stopping a moment and considering just how odd this tiny bit of news-that-won’t-ever-rise-to-the-level-of-news actually is. One way to do this is to play the sort of opposites game that never quite works on this still one-way planet of ours.
Just imagine a similar news item coming out of another country.
*Hot off the wires from Tehran: Iranian special forces teams are scouring the planet for old American Chinook helicopters so they can be well “cloaked” in planned future forays into Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province.
*The People’s Daily reports: Chinese special forces operatives are buying relatively late model American helicopters so that... Well, here’s one problem in the opposites game, and a clue to the genuine strangeness of American activities globally: why would the Chinese need to do such a thing (and, in fact, why would we)? Where might they want to venture militarily without being mistaken for Chinese military personnel?
That might be a little hard to imagine right now, but I guarantee you one thing: had some foreign news source reported such a plan, or had Craig Whitlock somehow uncovered it and included it in a piece -- no matter how obscurely nestled -- there would have been pandemonium in Washington. Congress would have held hearings. Pundits would have opined on the infamy of Iranian or Chinese operatives masking themselves in our choppers. The company or companies that sold the helicopters would have been investigated. And you can imagine what Fox News commentators would have had to say.
When we do such things, however, and a country like Pakistan reacts with what’s usually described as “anti-Americanism,” we wonder at the nationalistic hair-trigger they’re on; we comment on their over-emotionalism; we highlight their touchy “sensibilities”; and our reporters and pundits then write empathetically about the difficulties American military and civilian officials have dealing with such edgy natives.
Just the other day, for instance, the Wall Street Journal’s Barnes reported that U.S. Special Operations Forces are expanding their role in the Pakistani tribal borderlands by more regularly “venturing out with Pakistani forces on aid projects, deepening the American role in the effort to defeat Islamist militants in Pakistani territory that has been off limits to U.S. ground troops.” The Pakistani government has not been eager to have American boots visibly on the ground in these areas, and so Barnes writes: “Because of Pakistan’s sensitivities, the U.S. role has developed slowly.”
Imagine how sensitive they might prove to be if those same forces began to land Russian helicopters in Pakistan as a way to “cloak” their operations and blend in? Or imagine just what sort of hair-trigger the natives of Montana might be on if Pakistani special operations types were roaming Glacier National Park and landing old American helicopters outside Butte.
Then consider the sensitivities of Pakistanis on learning that the just appointed head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service turns out to be a man of “impeccable credentials” (so says CIA Director Leon Panetta). Among those credentials are his stint as the CIA station chief in Pakistan until sometime in 2009, his involvement in the exceedingly unpopular drone warin that country’s tribal borderlands, and the way, as the Director put it a tad vaguely, he “guided complex operations under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable."
Here’s the truth of the matter, as Whitlock’s piece makes clear: we carry on in the most bizarre ways in far-off lands and think nothing of it. Historically, it has undoubtedly been the nature of imperial powers to consider every strange thing they do more or less the norm. For a waning imperial power, however, such an attitude has its own dangers. If we can’t imagine the surpassing strangeness of our arrangements for making war in lands thousands of miles from the U.S., then we can’t begin to imagine how the world sees us, which means that we’re blind to our own madness. Russian helicopters, that’s nuthin’ by comparison.
Posted on: Monday, July 26, 2010 - 11:24
SOURCE: LA Times (7-24-10)
The online premiere last month of a Black Panther animated series was an exciting event for diehard comic geeks. The Panther, the first black superhero from Marvel, inspired me as a young comic fan. Now, all grown up with academic credentials to justify my comic habit, I can see the good and the bad in the new "motion comic" (a 21st century way to say cartoon). Moving it off the printed page and into animation is an important benchmark, but I'm concerned about its solely digital presentation.
In the 1960s, the Panther's debut — in Fantastic Four comics — marked a historic push for diversity. Marvel always courted diverse readers with its hip, inclusive style, but African Americans were largely absent from its pages until 1966, when the Black Panther changed everything. T'Challa (the Panther's real name), king of Wakanda and defender of its people, was for many African Americans the first positive depiction of a black person they remember in comics (not the first African American but the first black person)....
I know that a digital release maximizes potential benefits for Marvel. No DVDs to manufacture, ship or store, and minimal profit-sharing with a distributor. Yet, given the symbolism a black hero can have, let's hope Marvel pushes for wider release so that everyone gets the chance to be inspired by his deeds.
Posted on: Monday, July 26, 2010 - 10:42