Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
Margot Adler, on NPR News (Feb. 23, 2004):
If you are talking about a single marriage law that covers both heterosexual and homosexual couples, the history of same-sex marriage is only three years old. Today such laws exist in the Netherlands , in Belgium , as well as two provinces in Canada , British Columbia and Ontario . Gay registered partnerships, the equivalent of civil unions, go back further. Denmark was the first country to legalize them in 1989. Norway followed in 1993. There are several other European countries with some form of domestic partnership arrangement.
Here in the United States , the legal history of attempts by gays to get a marriage license go back at least to the early 1970s. In 1971, two cases, one in Minnesota and one in Washington state, challenged bans on gay marriage. Both failed. Other cases followed. They, too, failed. In 1984, the Unitarian Universalist Association voted to approve ceremonies celebrating same-sex unions. Several other denominations followed.
If you go back further in time, facts are much harder to come by. There are historical examples of gays attempting to marry. Louis Crompton, Americas professor of English at the University of Nebraska , cites one. He is the author of "Homosexuality in Civilization." Crompton quotes the Venetian ambassador in Rome in 1578, describing an incident involving Portuguese and Spanish men.
Professor LOUIS CROMPTON (Author, "Homosexuality in Civilization"): And they were part of a group--and I'll quote what he wrote about them--"who had assembled in the church where they performed some ceremonies of a horrible wickedness which sullied the sacred name of matrimony." Two years later, the French philosopher Montaigne visited Rome and commented on the incident. And he identified the church, which is still standing, as the Church of St. John at the Porta Latina. The men were later captured and burned in the square in Rome where heretics were regularly executed.
ADLER: Many other examples of gay unions in history are contested. A controversial historian, the late John Boswell, claimed liturgical ceremonies in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches sanctioned gay unions, but many historians dispute his scholarship.
Mr. DANIEL MENDELSOHN ( Princeton University ): I thought that Boswell's book was extremely problematic.
ADLER: Daniel Mendelsohn is a writer who also teaches classics at Princeton University . He says the ceremony that Boswell describes, called the Adelphopoiesis, the making of brothers, was never meant as a marriage.
Mr. MENDELSOHN: People have always known about this ceremony, which he presented as this spectacular, new, earth-shaking find. It had always been satisfactorily explained as a sort of official blood-brother ceremony used to reconcile, say, the heads of warring clans.
ADLER: Mendelsohn says Boswell and others have also attempted to find gay marriage in the classical world. Ancient Greece and Rome are often seen as models of societies that accepted homosexuality. Mendelsohn says although there was one satirical ceremony in Rome where an emperor married a slave during a banquet, and in classical Athens there were clearly homosexual bonds...
Mr. MENDELSOHN: There was nothing like a marriage between men, which would have been looked on really with horror by most Athenians. You know, you had at some point this sort of boyfriend, but you were always supposed to be married to a woman, to procreate, to make babies who would grow up to be good Athenians.
ADLER: When you turn to indigenous societies, both past and present, there are some examples. Some Native American peoples have a concept of two-spirit people, people who are not tied to one gender. In some tribes, there are special ceremonies to determine if a child is a two-spirit person. Gilbert Herdt is a professor and director of human sexuality studies at San Francisco State University . He says the designation of someone as a two-spirit person can sometimes create a same-sex marriage.
Professor GILBERT HERDT (San Francisco State University): Which means that biologically, it may be a male, in the case of a male-male arrangement, but they have the designation of two-spirit, which means that the social role they take as two-spirit obviates or, if you like, overrules their biological gender.
ADLER: But not many people fall into this category. Herdt also argues that over the last few hundred years in the West, people who were not in heterosexual marriages with children have not been seen as true adults or accorded social and political power. In the postmodern world, he says, that definition is now being challenged socially, legally and scientifically by reproductive technologies.
Prof. HERDT: And that's why this whole debate is so dramatic and is so wrenching to people who come very much from the historical and cultural and religious perspective of the modern period. They deeply that a full person or a full citizen is someone who is heterosexually married and produces children. And they cannot accept that you would extend that definition to someone else.
ADLER: Perhaps this subtext is why, history or no history, the stakes in the battle over gay marriage are so high. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York .
Evan Thomas, in Newsweek (Feb. 23, 2004):
John Kerry did not have to think all that hard about joining the military and going to Vietnam . He had doubts about the wisdom of U.S. intervention in Vietnam , which was rapidly escalating during 1965-66, his senior year at Yale. But Yale leaders were expected to serve, as the school song went, "for God, for Country, and for Yale." His closest friends in Skull and Bones, the Yale senior society for the best and the brightest, were signing up. Fred Smith, who would go on to found Federal Express, was joining the Marines. So was Dick Pershing, grandson of World War I Gen. "Black Jack" Pershing. There wasn't a lot of anguished debate, recalls Kerry's fellow Bonesman David Thorne, who, like Kerry, joined the Navy. But, he added, "if it had been '68, we might have made a different decision."
What a difference two years makes: 1968 was the year George W. Bush graduated from Yale. By then, virtually no Yale graduates were going into the military, if they could possibly avoid it. The war and the counterculture it spawned had transformed Yale. Preppy boys in coat and tie were rapidly giving way to long hair and angry protesters. The prom was canceled for lack of interest; marijuana was replacing beer. A throwback, good-time frat brother, young Bush had little use for the antiwar movement. On the other hand, he didn't want to go to Vietnam . Draft deferments for graduate school were ending that spring of 1968. The Texas Air National Guard offered another way. "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada ," Bush explained to The Dallas Morning News back in 1990. "So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes."
The two men were still fighting the Vietnam War last week. Kerry was defending himself from conservative radio talk-show hosts who accused him of siding with "Hanoi Jane" Fonda to undermine the war effort when he came home as an angry vet. The White House was showering reporters with documents attempting to show that Bush had not gone AWOL from the National Guard, as some Democrats allege. But flaps were mostly side-shows based on sketchy facts (Kerry barely met Fonda; Bush apparently did his time in the Guard, if a bit sporadically). The Vietnam era was critically important in the lives of both men. But the vastly different outcomes for the two men were the product of a subtle interplay of class and character and of small but critical differences in time and place.
From the editorial page of the WSJ (Feb. 5, 2004):
(Editor's note: Sen. Kerry delivered this speech on the Senate floor Feb. 27, 1992. The previous day, Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Vietnam veteran and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, spoke in Atlanta, where he criticized fellow candidate Bill Clinton for his lack of military service during Vietnam.)
Mr. President, I also rise today--and I want to say that I rise reluctantly, but I rise feeling driven by personal reasons of necessity--to express my very deep disappointment over yesterday's turn of events in the Democratic primary in Georgia.
I am saddened by the fact that Vietnam has yet again been inserted into the campaign, and that it has been inserted in what I feel to be the worst possible way. By that I mean that yesterday, during this presidential campaign, and even throughout recent times, Vietnam has been discussed and written about without an adequate statement of its full meaning.
What is ignored is the way in which our experience during that period reflected in part a positive affirmation of American values and history, not simply the more obvious negatives of loss and confusion.
What is missing is a recognition that there exists today a generation that has come into its own with powerful lessons learned, with a voice that has been grounded in experiences both of those who went to Vietnam and those who did not.
What is missing and what cries out to be said is that neither one group nor the other from that difficult period of time has cornered the market on virtue or rectitude or love of country.
What saddens me most is that Democrats, above all those who shared the agonies of that generation, should now be refighting the many conflicts of Vietnam in order to win the current political conflict of a presidential primary.
The race for the White House should be about leadership, and leadership requires that one help heal the wounds of Vietnam, not reopen them; that one help identify the positive things that we learned about ourselves and about our nation, not play to the divisions and differences of that crucible of our generation.
We do not need to divide America over who served and how. I have personally always believed that many served in many different ways. Someone who was deeply against the war in 1969 or 1970 may well have served their country with equal passion and patriotism by opposing the war as by fighting in it. Are we now, 20 years or 30 years later, to forget the difficulties of that time, of families that were literally torn apart, of brothers who ceased to talk to brothers, of fathers who disowned their sons, of people who felt compelled to leave the country and forget their own future and turn against the will of their own aspirations?
Are we now to descend, like latter-day Spiro Agnews, and play, as he did, to the worst instincts of divisiveness and reaction that still haunt America? Are we now going to create a new scarlet letter in the context of Vietnam?
Certainly, those who went to Vietnam suffered greatly. I have argued for years, since I returned myself in 1969, that they do deserve special affection and gratitude for service. And, indeed, I think everything I have tried to do since then has been to fight for their rights and recognition.
But while those who served are owed special recognition, that recognition should not come at the expense of others; nor does it require that others be victimized or criticized or said to have settled for a lesser standard. To divide our party or our country over this issue today, in 1992, simply does not do justice to what all of us went through during that tragic and turbulent time.
I would like to make a simple and straightforward appeal, an appeal from my heart, as well as from my head. To all those currently pursuing the presidency in both parties, I would plead that they simply look at America. We are a nation crying out for leadership, for someone who will bring us together and raise our sights. We are a nation looking for someone who will lift our spirits and give us confidence that together we can grow out of this recession and conquer the myriad of social ills we have at home.
We do not need more division. We certainly do not need something as complex and emotional as Vietnam reduced to simple campaign rhetoric. What has been said has been said, Mr. President, but I hope and pray we will put it behind us and go forward in a constructive spirit for the good of our party and the good of our country.
Mr. Kerry, who served as a Navy lieutenant in Vietnam, is a Massachusetts senator and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Anne E. Kornblut, and Lyle Denniston, in the Boston Globe (Feb. 26, 2004):
History shows that presidents rarely influence the fate of constitutional-amendment proposals; the Constitution gives them no role in the process at all. It is also a lengthy ordeal that, in this case, will almost certainly last beyond the November elections.
As a result, it is relatively easy for Bush, like presidents in the past, to embrace the idea of a constitutional amendment during election season without having to follow up with any real time investment - or suffer the blame if it passes or fails.
"Presidents really don't have much effect on the amending process," said Richard B. Bernstein, a constitutional historian who is a specialist on that process. "Most presidents play games with the process; it happened a lot in the 1980s and 1990s."
For example, Bernstein said, "Ronald Reagan talked a lot about a balanced-budget amendment, but he never fully committed to making it a reality. The same with [the first] President Bush; he never committed his political capital to that amendment."
Bush has expressed his desire to block attempts to legalize gay marriage for more than a year, and there is little doubt that Bush sincerely opposes an expansion of marriage beyond the union of a man and a woman....
In the past, presidents have had almost no impact on the constitutional-amendment process, which tends to be driven more by advocacy groups and members of Congress.
President Carter got some credit for embracing the Equal Rights Amendment, to give women full legal equality, which eventually failed. His role, however, was apparently not much greater than that of his wife, Rosalyn, who signed a resolution endorsing ERA's passage. "The impetus came more from the women's movement, working with their friends in Congress," not Carter, said Sylvia Law, a New York University professor of constitutional law.
Perhaps the only president to move an amendment forward was Abraham Lincoln, who led the way for the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery. "He was really involved in getting it through Congress, really exerting pressure," noted Daniel Farber, a constitutional historian and law professor at Boalt Hall, the law school at the University of California .
But even Lincoln was not involved in the process of drafting the changes, a measure of how unimportant a president's stamp of approval can be.
From the Congressional Record, quoting Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) (Feb. 25, 2004):
Mr. McDERMOTT . Mr. Speaker, the President's presidential prayer team is urging us to ``pray for the President as he seeks wisdom on how to legally codify the definition of marriage. Pray that it will be according to Biblical principles.''
With that in mind, I thought I would remind the body of the biblical principles they are talking about.
Marriage shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women . That is from Genesis 29:17-28.
Secondly, marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives . That is II Samuel 5:13 and II Chronicles 11:21.
A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin . If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed . That is Deuteronomy 22:13.
Marriage of a believer and a nonbeliever shall be forbidden . That is Genesis 24:3.
Finally, it says that since there is no law that can change things, divorce is not possible, and finally, if a married man dies, his brother has to marry his sister-in-law. Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10
George Will, writing for the Washington Post (Feb. 25, 2004)
It used to be said that anti-Catholicism was the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals. Today anti-Semitism is the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals.
Not all intellectuals, of course. And the seepage of this ancient poison into the intelligentsia -- always so militantly modern -- is much more pronounced in Europe than here. But as anti-Semitism migrates across the political spectrum from right to left, it infects the intelligentsia, which has leaned left for two centuries.
Here the term intellectual is used loosely, to denote not only people who think about ideas -- about thinking -- but also people who think they do. The term anti-Semitism is used to denote people who dislike Jews. These people include those who say: We do not dislike Jews, we only dislike Zionists -- although to live in Israel is to endorse the Zionist enterprise, and all Jews are implicated, as sympathizers, in the crime that is Israel.
Today's release of Mel Gibson's movie"The Passion of the Christ" has catalyzed fears of resurgent anti-Semitism. Some critics say the movie portrays the governor of Judea -- Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect responsible for the crucifixion -- as more benign and less in control than he actually was, and ascribes too much power and malignity to Jerusalem's Jewish elite. Jon Meacham's deeply informed cover story"Who Killed Jesus?" in the Feb. 16 Newsweek renders this measured judgment: The movie implies more blame for the Jewish religious leaders of Judea of that time than sound scholarship suggests. However, Meacham rightly refrains from discerning disreputable intentions in Gibson's presentation of matters about which scholars, too, must speculate, and do disagree. Besides, this being a healthy nation, Americans are unlikely to be swayed by the movie's misreading, as Meacham delicately suggests, of the actions of a few Jews 2,000 years ago.
Fears about the movie's exacerbating religiously motivated anti-Semitism are missing the larger menace -- the upsurge of political anti-Semitism. Like traditional anti-Semitism, but with secular sources and motives, the political version, which condemns Jews as a social element, is becoming mainstream, and chic among political and cultural elites, mostly in Europe....
...The appallingly brief eclipse of anti-Semitism after Auschwitz demonstrates how beguiling is the simplicity of pure stupidity. All of the left's prescriptions for curing what ails society -- socialism, communism, psychoanalysis,"progressive" education, etc. -- have been discarded, so now the left is reduced to adapting that hardy perennial of the right, anti-Semitism. This is a new twist to the left's recipe for salvation through elimination: All will be well if we eliminate capitalists, or private property, or the ruling class, or"special interests," or neuroses, or inhibitions. Now, let's try eliminating a people, starting with their nation, which is obnoxiously pro-American and insufferably Spartan.
Europe's susceptibility to political lunacy, and the Arab world's addiction to it, is not news. And the paranoid style is a political constant. Those who believe a conspiracy assassinated President Kennedy say: Proof of the conspiracy's diabolical subtlety is that no evidence of it remains. Today's anti-Semites say: Proof of the Jews' potent menace is that there are so few of them -- just 13 million of the planet's 6 billion people -- yet they cause so many political, economic and cultural ills. Gosh. Imagine if they were, say, 1 percent of Earth's population: 63 million.
Tracey Kaplan, Kansas City Star (Feb. 25, 2004):
President Bush on Tuesday joined a long, proud - and mostly unsuccessful - line of Americans that stretches back 215 years: those who have tried to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Even before the notion of banning same-sex marriage became grist for constitutional debate, Congress had considered 1,186 proposed amendments to the nation's defining document. They range from a flag-burning ban in 1989 to an 1810 law that would have stripped the citizenship of anyone who kept or accepted a title of nobility from a foreign land.
But only 27 made it into the Constitution, most recently a 1992 ban on members of Congress raising their own pay between elections. And more than a third of the 27 constitutional postscripts were approved more than 213 years ago as a package - the 10-amendment Bill of Rights.
Historically, amendments that expand the rights of citizens have fared far better than those proscribe rights. The lone amendment that took away rights from citizens, the hugely unpopular prohibition of alcohol, was tossed out 14 years after it became law - and it took another amendment to do that.
Despite Bush's support, the gay-marriage amendment will have a hard time obtaining the necessary support even within the president's own party, experts say. Republicans expressed strong reservations Tuesday about the championing the amendment proposed by U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave and Sen. Wayne Allard, both Republicans from Colorado.
And even proposals with broad political support face a daunting challenge to becoming part of the Constitution.
Purposely reserving amendments only for" certain great and extraordinary occasions," the founding fathers required that any Constitutional amendment be approved by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress and then ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Right now, the GOP has only a two-seat majority in the Senate, making it tough to get a super-majority there.
"Our biggest hurdle is here inside the beltway," said Aaron Johnson, Musgrave's chief of staff.
In contrast, another hotly debated Constitutional change, the Equal Rights Amendment sailed through Congress in 1972 on a wave of the modern feminist movement but stalled in state legislatures and ultimately failed. ...
Only one successful amendment, the 18th, which banned manufacture or use of alcohol after its ratification in 1919, but was rescinded in 1933, set limits on citizens' rights, scholars said. In contrast, limits on voting rights for blacks and women that were in the original Constitution were removed through the amendment process.
Given their own party's opposition, Republican advocates of the marriage amendment are unlikely to succeed in bringing the issue to a vote in Congress before the November election. The measure's ultimate success could hinge on the timing because politics and national events can have such a crucial effect on attitudes.
For example, giving 18-year-olds the vote had been proposed 11 times since the early 1940s without success. But after languishing for almost three decades, the proposal sailed through Congress in 1971, the midst of the Vietnam War, when 18-year-olds were eligible for an unpopular draft, and was quickly ratified as the 26th amendment the same year.
Adam LeBor, writing in the Times (London) (Feb. 25, 2004)
Slobodan Milosevic spends his free time at the United Nations detention centre in The Hague reading John Grisham thrillers and listening to Frank Sinatra. His choice of music is appropriate.
During the two years of his trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the former Serbian President has been doing things his way.
He refuses to recognise the tribunal's legitimacy or to appoint a defence counsel, although he is aided by legal teams in The Hague and in Belgrade. From the dock of the heavily protected Court No 1, he has personally cross-examined most of the 298 witnesses produced by the prosecution: survivors of massacres, former paramilitaries, historians, diplomats, journalists, politicians and some who have testified in closed session to protect their identities.
Now, with the prosecution about to complete its case, observers believe that he might escape conviction on the most serious charge of genocide.
In another blow for a trial already well behind schedule, Richard May, the presiding judge, has announced his resignation on health grounds from May 31, around the time that Mr Milosevic is likely to begin his defence. His replacement will have to be briefed on thousands of pages of evidence and testimony. That, and inevitable attempts by Mr Milosevic to secure a retrial, could delay the process for several more months....
...In court he has proved combative and pugnacious, although generally respectful to the judges who have the power to turn his microphone off when he launches into harangues about the broad sweep of Balkan history.
He has relished his duels with high-profile witnesses, including Lord Owen, the European Union's former envoy to Yugoslavia, Wesley Clark, the former Nato commander, and Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, the international community's High Representative in Bosnia. Nevertheless, for all his grandstanding, Mr Milosevic remains a prisoner, the first head of state to be charged with genocide.
In an interview with The Times, Tim McFadden, head of the UN detention unit, said that the man once known as the"Butcher of Belgrade" spends each evening with his lawyer, preparing for the next day."They go over the evidence. He takes some exercise and has a sleep. He sometimes works until midnight."
The prosecution must prove that the former President of Serbia and Yugoslavia had command responsibility for the Serb forces that committed atrocities and ethnic cleansing: that he planned or ordered these events, or knew about them and failed to stop them; or that he failed to punish those responsible.
Most informed opinion holds that Mr Milosevic is likely to be found guilty of crimes against humanity in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia....
...High-level insider witnesses have laid out in detail the connections between Belgrade and the battlefield, and the prosecution has produced extremely incriminating telephone intercepts.
Yet repeated attempts to link Mr Milosevic directly to the Srebrenica massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys, Europe's worst postwar atrocity, have floundered for lack of concrete evidence. General Clark testified that Mr Milosevic had foreknowledge of the plans by General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander, to slaughter the Muslims. Mr Milosevic dismissed General Clark's testimony as"a blatant lie".
Stacy Sullivan, The Hague bureau chief for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, said:"The prosecution may not succeed with the charge of genocide. But it has proved a connection between Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leadership and the paramilitaries who carried out the ethnic cleansing. It has undermined his defence that he had no authority over Bosnian Serbs."
Once the prosecution has finished, the court will adjourn for three months. Six weeks before his defence starts, Mr Milosevic is required to submit his list of witnesses.
He has said already that he will call Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and General Clark to the stand. This scenario could prove highly embarrassing for Western leaders who courted the Serbian leader while he was in power. The trial could stretch well into 2006, with a verdict as late as 2007.
In the meantime, according to Mr McFadden, Mr Milosevic is a"stabilising influence" on the Serb, Croat and Muslim prisoners being held at the UN's detention centre. The three groups proved incapable of sharing a country, but, within the confines of the centre in the Netherlands, ethnic tension is extremely rare.
Detainees are held in comparative comfort in single cells. The centre has a gym and kitchen and receives cable television from Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo, as well as international channels.
"He does not give us any trouble," Mr McFadden said."He is an intelligent man and he understands our role in the judicial process -that we are a remand centre." However, Mr Milosevic has been hit hard by the absence of his wife and lifetime love, Mira Markovic. The had been together since the 1950s. He has not seen her for more than a year, since she fled, probably to Moscow, after Serbian police tried to interview her in connection with the murder in 2000 of Ivan Stambolic, once Mr Milosevic's best friend and mentor....
David Aaronovitch, writing for the Guardian (Feb. 24, 2004)
I know it's true that, as an old friend in Australia pointed out to me in an email last week,"It doesn't really matter very much if you were wrong or I was wrong. One hundred years from now, some very clever historians with access to material we all know nothing about may prove the point conclusively, one way or another. What matters is what happens now."
Now, nearly a year after the beginning of the coalition invasion of Iraq, something is beginning to be created, and it doesn't look like anything that anybody quite anticipated. It is more complex, more difficult, more beset by difficulties and tragedies than anyone who supported the invasion ever allowed before the war.
Judging from those relatively few reports that do not deal with the security situation, it seems that parts of the national infrastructure of Iraq, such as electricity and water supply, have taken far longer to repair or construct than expected. Many hospitals still suffer terrible shortages. Unemployment is over 50%. Crime and fear of crime are very high in some places, with many abductions and murders. There is widespread disappointment at the gulf between the material promises and the reality of post-Saddam Iraq.
And, of course, there are the bombings and ambushes, aimed at the Iraqi police, NGO offices, CNN journalists, Shi'a clerics, communists and soon, doubtless, as those targets protect themselves, at buses and markets. The security failure above all has helped to create the other failures. Attempts by coalition forces to contain such attacks have had the inevitable effect of alienating sections of the population whose houses have been raided or who have been subject to rough treatment by occupying forces.
I bundle these negatives together because we are now four months away from the handover of power from the coalition authority to the new sovereign Iraqi entity; an entity whose shape and origin we are still not sure of. And because, between them, they constitute a major reason why the influential organisation, Human Rights Watch, made the judgment a few weeks ago that the invasion of Iraq could not be justified on humanitarian grounds, the grounds that people like me have specifically used to justify it."The difficulty of establishing stable institutions in Iraq," wrote HRW,"is making the country an increasingly unlikely staging ground for promoting democracy in the Middle East."...
...And here we come to it. Three weeks ago, a few days after the devastating bombs in the Kurdish city of Erbil, a representative of the Kurdish PUK, Barham Salih, addressed a meeting of the council of the Socialist International in Madrid."Friends," he told them,"our nightmare of the Saddam Hussein fascist tyranny is over. The world should have acted sooner to end the killing fields and stop mass graves in Iraq. Good social democrats should be making the moral argument that the war of liberation in Iraq came too late for so many innocent victims of Saddam's fascist tyranny. And the lesson for the international community should be (that) it must be prepared to act in time and pre-empt terrible tragedies from happening again anywhere else in the world."
I respect HRW, but there is, in Salih's words, a reproach and a demand, neither of which can be ignored."Most Iraqis," Salih went on,"see the moral and political imperative for the war of liberation as overwhelming." The Guardian's own Salam Pax put it in his different way, two weeks ago."Saddam is gone, thanks to you. Was it worth it? Be assured it was. We all know that it got to a point where we would have never been rid of Saddam without foreign intervention; I just wish it would have been a bit better planned."
Meanwhile many good things have been happening. The Free Prisoners Association, for victims of the old regime, now has 17 offices throughout Iraq. There are 200 newspapers and Iraqis can debate and watch and listen freely. There is, for the first time in the country's history, a woman police officer, and women's organisations are active and demonstrating for equal rights. The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) has recognised the Iraqi Federation of Trades Unions as"the legitimate and legal representatives of the labour movement in Iraq", despite an unexplained American raid on the IFTU's HQ in December. The UN is back in Iraq and helping to prepare the ground for elections in the next 18 months. The green shoots of civic society are pressing through what Salih has called the"broken clay" of the Iraqi state. This is despite the killing and bombing of organisations associated with this new Iraq...
...You could, as Tariq Ali and John Pilger have suggested, desire victory for the Iraqi"resistance" despite its massacres of the innocent, on the basis that, as Ali has put it,"Occupations are usually ugly. How, then, can resistance be pretty?" Or, in Pilger's words,"While we abhor and condemn the continuing loss of innocent life in Iraq, we have no choice now but to support the resistance, for if the resistance fails, the 'Bush gang' will attack another country. If they succeed, a grievous blow will be suffered by the Bush gang."
Or you could decide to heed Salih."I call upon you to help Iraqi democrats in this critical juncture of the history of the Middle East. To help us transform our country from the land of mass graves and aggression to the land of peace, justice and democracy. I can see an Iraq that is democratic, that is an anchor for peace in this troubled part of the world and a partner to civilised nations in pursuit of the universal values of human rights and justice. Thank you."
Craig Gordon, in Newsday (Feb. 22, 2004):
They gathered in a Detroit motor lodge in early 1971, veterans calling on brother veterans to speak of the unspeakable - war crimes and atrocities they had committed in Vietnam in the name of America .
The so-called Winter Soldier meetings were controversial even then, and a young John Kerry made their most horrific testimony the opening paragraphs of his own address to a Senate panel three months later, an appearance that catapulted him to a leading role in the anti-war movement.
Kerry told senators that more than 150 veterans testified in Detroit that they or fellow soldiers had raped Vietnamese women, cut off ears and heads, used electrical torture, cut off limbs, "razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam . . ."
Since then, Kerry has sought to downplay his own involvement with the three-day Winter Soldier meetings. His campaign said Friday that Kerry "did not speak" at the event - and that he did not testify to his own personal experiences in Vietnam - but was there only as an observer and to record what was happening.
Yet a transcript of the meetings in the Congressional Record shows Kerry did have a role at Winter Soldier that he has not generally acknowledged - that of a "moderator" on one of the panels of veterans who testified, a role organizers now say was to question the veterans and draw out the most remarkable aspects of their testimony.
Douglas Brinkley, a historian who wrote a book on Kerry's experiences in Vietnam and in the anti-war movement, said his research also showed that Kerry had acted as a moderator.
"Kerry participated in Winter Soldier in the sense that for the Vietnam veterans that came there, there were moderators, and there were eyewitnesses. And Kerry was a moderator or questioner. He was there asking questions of all these guys - without revealing what he did over there," Brinkley said in an interview.
Brinkley sees Kerry's role in observing the testimony in Detroit as similar to what he did while tape-recording oral histories while in Vietnam . "He was really trying to get an indictment going against the U.S. government - for misadventures in Vietnam , or, one might say, war crimes."
Brinkley agrees that Kerry did not play a central role in Winter Soldier, but said, "I don't think that's fair to say, he didn't speak at all, that he was mute in the corner. . . [he was] playing more a reporter role than a spokesperson, more of a questioner, questioning these guys."
Late yesterday, Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade acknowledged that Kerry did play a role in the Winter Soldier hearings but said it was far less formalized than the title of "moderator" would suggest - because, Wade said, the event itself was relatively informal, with small groups of veterans gathering throughout the day to offer their stories. Kerry did not know he was listed as a "moderator" in the Congressional Record but viewed his role as a "quasi-journalist" gathering information he later compiled into a book....
The historical record shows that atrocities did occur in Vietnam, as in the My Lai massacre or the so-called Tiger Force activities that were recently uncovered, but Kerry's emphasis on them in 1971 infuriated many veterans, even some of his former crewmates.
Republicans already have signaled that they plan to use the other part of Kerry's Vietnam experience against him as fodder for television ads, including his decision to speak at an anti-war rally with Jane Fonda, who bankrolled the Winter Soldier meetings.
Fonda later became a deeply divisive figure for her 1972 trips to North Vietnam . An anti-Kerry veterans site has posted a photo of the two in the audience at a September 1970 rally at Valley Forge , Pa. , with Kerry several rows behind Fonda. A flier on the rally also lists Kerry and Fonda as speakers, but Fonda recently said, "I don't even think we shook hands."
Kerry's testimony before the Senate panel in April 1971 wasn't the only time he had addressed the question of atrocities. On "Meet the Press" in 1971, Kerry said he believes he himself had committed "atrocities" simply by engaging in some of the tactics common among U.S. forces in Vietnam - firing into free-fire zones, where anything that moved was a target.
Yet on the campaign trail now, Kerry offers a somewhat selective recitation of his post-war days. He rarely mentions the most dramatic moment of a weeklong protest he organized in Washington - when hundreds of veterans tossed away medals, ribbons and other items in protest. It was revealed years later that he had thrown his ribbons but not his own medals, instead tossing the medals two veterans who couldn't attend had given him.
Kerry's campaign has not highlighted the Winter Soldier part of his Senate testimony, but instead has noted another famous line from the speech - "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
Kerry denies charges that his Senate testimony insulted veterans. "If you read what I said, it is very clearly an indictment of leadership. ... And it's the leaders who are responsible, not the soldiers," Kerry said last week. "The fact is if we want to re-debate the war on Vietnam in 2004, I'm ready for that. It was a mistake, and I'm proud of having stood up and shared with America my perceptions of what was happening."
Wade said Kerry has chosen to highlight his other anti-war activities instead of Winter Soldier because he had a much greater role in those - conceiving and organizing the Dewey Canyon event, giving speeches and publishing a book.
In the Congressional Record, the transcript does not delineate between what Kerry and fellow moderator Jan Crumb said on the panel that day, attributing all quotes simply to "moderator." Crumb, who now goes by the name Jan Barry, said in an interview he couldn't recall but concurred that Kerry did not play a central role in the event.
Yet the three days of gripping testimony made a deep impression on Kerry, who said the Winter Soldiers described not "isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
Even among some who testified at Winter Soldier, there was a bit of surprise that Kerry chose to highlight the most graphic charges made during the three-day hearing - charges they feared would cement the image of Vietnam vets as "baby killers."
"I was surprised when he gave his speech in Washington that he referred to the things like raping women, shooting dogs," said Dennis McQuade, a Wisconsin social worker who said he testified at Winter Soldier under his former name, Dennis Butts. "It grabs attention, but again, not all the testimony was about that kind of thing."
Kerry critics, like Mackubin Thomas Owens, a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam who now teaches at the Naval War College , accused Kerry of helping "slander a generation of soldiers who had done their duty with honor and restraint." One professor, Guenter Lewy, wrote a 1978 book that attacked the credibility of the Winter Soldier hearings, saying a Navy investigation found some coached or bogus testimony.
Editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Feb. 23, 2004):
For both sides [in the gay marriage debate], the Constitution is more than what the word literally means: a system for "constituting" the federal government. Especially after the addition of the Bill of Rights and post-Civil War amendments designed to protect recently freed slaves and their descendants, the Constitution is at least semi-sacred, and not lightly to be changed.
It isn't just that amending the Constitution requires super majorities -- two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-fourths of the states. There is a popular conception that the Constitution and what the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan called its "majestic generalities" encode timeless truths. It follows that the document should be amended only on rare occasions -- even if such a cautious approach locks in unfortunate interpretations of the Constitution by the courts.
Seventeen years ago I participated in a sort of mini-constitutional convention sponsored by the American Assembly. Participants -- judges, constitutional lawyers, political scientists, historians , journalists -- were given a blank check to revise the Constitution, perhaps undertaking radical revisions like a move toward a British-style parliamentary system. When the oratorical dust cleared, we had concluded anti-climactically that the structure of the Constitution "has, in general, proved sound, given the Civil War amendments and other adjustments. There is no fundamental reason to believe that it will not work as well in the closing years of this century and into the next."
This sense of caution also helps to explain the moribund state of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. True, some feminists still agitate for adoption of the amendment declaring that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." Yet the effort has stalled. That is partly because some of the legal victories the ERA was to have produced have been secured under the current Constitution, such as the Supreme Court's 1996 decision requiring that women be admitted to the Virginia Military Institute. But it also probably reflects a preference for new rights to be discerned by courts in the Constitution as it is.
This attitude is not new. In his book "A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture," Michael Kammen cites the results of a Roper poll taken in 1939 and again in 1946. Respondents were asked:
Which of the following most nearly represents your opinion of the American form of government?
1) Our form of government, based on the Constitution, is as near-perfect as it can be and no important change should be made in it.
2) The Constitution has served its purpose well, but it has not kept up with the times and should be thoroughly revised to make it fit for present-day needs.
Kammen notes that "a strong preference for the first option persisted."
The notion that the Constitution is "near-perfect as it is" (or as it has been interpreted by the courts) may be the best check against not only a marriage amendment but two others that are waiting in the wings. One is the much-introduced amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions protecting the right to burn the American flag as a political protest. The other is a "religious freedom amendment," newly fine-tuned by its author, Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma .
John Tierney, in the NYT (Feb. 22, 2004):
[John] Edwards has been criticized for not having enough government experience, but a pleasant disposition can overcome a lot of handicaps. Intellectuals made fun of Eisenhower's mangled syntax, but they were outnumbered by voters wearing"I Like Ike" buttons. Gary Hart's candidacy in 1988 was ended by his sexual indiscretion, but Bill Clinton survived his, thanks in no small part to his charm. Al Gore may have been a better debater than George W. Bush, but the audience was put off by his supercilious manner.
"A majority of Americans disagreed with Ronald Reagan's policies in 1984, but he won because they liked him personally," said Mr. Luntz, who has advised Republican candidates."People look at presidential candidates in a special way because they can't get away from the president. They can ignore a senator or governor, but a president will be in their living rooms for four years. At a minimum they have to like him."
Michael Deaver, the crafter of Mr. Reagan's image, said that in his cheerfulness Mr. Edwards reminded him of Mr. Reagan, as did Mr. Edwards's response to criticisms by Mr. Kerry.
"Edwards responded to Kerry's negative statement by saying, 'Well, I wouldn't put it that way. I would say it this way,'" Mr. Deaver recalled."That was exactly the way Reagan would rephrase a negative question and put a positive twist on it."
Daniel Hill, the author of"Body of Truth," an analysis of body language, has studied the candidates' styles by tracking 23 facial expressions during televised debates. He counts, for instance, the number of"social smiles" using just the mouth,"genuine smiles" using the eyes and mouth and signs of disgust or anger.
"Dean consistently showed anger by pressing his lips together or tensely holding his mouth slightly open," Mr. Hill said."Last fall, Kerry was showing definite signs of contempt and disgust by raising his upper lip, but that's gone now. He's trying to be more likable by smiling more, but rarely can he get past the social smile to the genuine smile. Edwards gets there much more often. He conveys the most optimism, and lately he's been adding gravitas by knitting his eyebrows to show that he feels the pain of the other America."
If Mr. Edwards wins the charm contest, why is Mr. Kerry winning the primaries? Likability is not everything, especially in times of war. Richard Nixon proved that in 1968, when he defeated everyone's favorite uncle, Hubert Humphrey. Just as voters then worried about the Vietnam War and social unrest, today's voters are concerned about Iraq and terrorism, and they may prefer Mr. Kerry, a war hero, even if they don't particularly want to invite him for drinks.
When Americans were asked to describe Mr. Kerry in a national poll last week by the Pew Research Center, two of the most common words of praise were"good" and"qualified," while two criticisms were"arrogant" and"phony." The strengths of his character and experience outweighed the objections to his personality, giving him an overall favorable-to-unfavorable rating of two to one. Mr. Edwards had the same favorable rating.
Gary Younge, in the Guardian (Feb. 23, 2004):
As civil war encroaches, civil society implodes and civil political discourse evaporates, one of the few things all Haitians can agree on is their pride in Toussaint L'Ouverture, who lead the slave rebellion in Haiti that established the world's first black republic."The transformation of slaves, trembling in hundreds before a single white man, into a people able to organise themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement," wrote the late Trinidadian intellectual CLR James in his book The Black Jacobins. The transformation of that achievement into a nation riven by political violence, ravaged by Aids and devastated by poverty is a tragedy of epic proportions.
The nation's 200th anniversary this year looks back on 13 coups and 19 years of American occupation, and now once again looks forward to more bloodshed and instability. The country's political class must bear their share of responsibility for where they go from here. Western powers, particularly France and the United States, must also take responsibility for how they got to this parlous place to begin with. If Haiti shows all the trappings of a failed state, then you do not have to look too hard or too far to see who has failed it....
But if the bicentennial offers a bleak backdrop for the immediate fate of the first black republic, it also offers the opportunity to place these events in some historical perspective. For ever since Haitian slaves expressed their desire to breathe freely, western powers have been attempting to strangle its desire for democracy and prosperity at birth.
"Men make their own history," wrote Karl Marx."But they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under given circumstances directly encountered and inherited from the past."
From the outset Haiti inherited the wrath of the colonial powers, which knew what a disastrous example a Haitian success story would be. In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte:"The freedom of the negroes, if recognised in St Domingue [as Haiti was then known] and legalised by France, would at all times be a rallying point for freedom-seekers of the New World." He sent 22,000 soldiers (the largest force to have crossed the Atlantic at the time) to recapture the"Pearl of the Antilles".
France, backed by the US, later ordered Haiti to pay 150m francs in gold as reparations to compensate former plantation and slave owners as well as for the costs of the war in return for international recognition. At today's prices that would amount to £10bn. By the end of the 19th century, 80% of Haiti's national budget was going to pay off the loan and its interest, and the country was locked into the role of a debtor nation - where it remains today.
Any prospect of planting a stable political culture foundered on the barren soil of economic impoverishment, military siege and international isolation (for the first 58 years the US refused to even recognise Haiti's existence). In 1915, fearing that internal strife would compromise its interests, the US invaded, and remained until 1934.
Richard S. Dunham, in Business Week (Feb. 23, 2004):
It was reckless for Academy Award winning filmmaker Michael Moore to accuse Bush of"desertion" because of gaps in his National Guard service record, when the son of the then-U.N. ambassador was working on a Republican Senate campaign in Alabama. It was shameful when retired General Wesley Clark, then a Presidential candidate, declined to disavow comments by Moore, a Clark supporter. And it was hysterical hyperbole when Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe charged that Bush had gone AWOL. No facts back up the Democratic boss's McCarthyesque charge.
McAuliffe may have achieved his purpose. The news media focused determinedly on Bush's inability to verify his 1972 whereabouts. The White House's stumbling response to the press frenzy only made the story bigger -- at least for a few days. McAuliffe can proudly declare,"Mission Accomplished."
But just because the gambit paid off for McAuliffe, at least in the short run, doesn't mean it was right. His charge was the equivalent of Joe McCarthy's infamous phantom list of supposed communists in the State Dept. Guilty until proven innocent.
"THE COMRADE APPEARS." Back to Kerry. The Democratic front-runner has also become a target of the modern-day McCarthyites -- using the Internet. Doctored Vietnam-era photos have shown up in cyberspace, in an attempt to discredit the decorated Navy lieutenant as an unpatriotic antiwar radical. One particularly odious example: A photo of Kerry at a congressional hearing was altered to insert a Viet Cong flag in the background. Another picture conveniently added radical actress Jane Fonda (hated by pro-war forces as"Hanoi Jane") to an otherwise routine photo of young Kerry.
It reminds me of a terrific exhibit at the Newseum a couple of years ago called"The Commissar Vanishes." In that exhibit, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin excised the images of communist functionaries as he had them executed or exiled. History was altered to suit the political needs of the day. This anti-Kerry conspiracy could be called,"The Comrade Appears."
Those of us baby boomers who came to political consciousness during Vietnam -- including this correspondent, who was a bit too young to face the dilemma of Bush and Clinton -- still are deeply affected by the conflict that poisoned a generation of public discourse. Younger voters don't understand what all the fuss is about."Ancient history," some of them declare."Get over it."
NO-WIN DECISIONS. That's good advice. Democrats and Republicans alike should try to get over it. Most voters have. According to a Feb. 18-19 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll, 79% of Americans say Bush's National Guard experience will make no difference in their voting decision. Three-fourths of voters said the same thing about Kerry's Vietnam experience.
Just 21% of voters -- almost all Republicans -- said Kerry's activism in Vietnam Veterans Against the War would make them less likely to support him, while 14% said they'd be more liable to cast a vote for him because he became a protester. The overwhelming majority, once again, couldn't care less.
Bush, Clinton, and Kerry all faced no-win decisions over service in Vietnam. Kerry went to Southeast Asia and has medals to show for it. Bush protected the Texas coast from the Vietnamese, as Arizona GOP Senator John McCain put it in a 2000 campaign jest. Bush has an honorable discharge to show for his service.
Michael McAteer, writing for the Toronto Star (Feb. 21, 2004)
U.S. President George W. Bush will be re-elected in November in a landslide.
We have it on the highest authority: God.
It appears that God passed the prediction on to TV evangelist and right-wing Christian fundamentalist Pat Robertson who passed it on to his television flock via his 700 Club program on the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network, which he founded.
"I think George Bush is going to win in a walk," Robertson said, telling his TV audience the revelation came after several days of prayer."I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blow-out election in 2004. It's shaping up that way."...
...Ever since he found God in the 1980s, giving up the bottle for the Bible to help kick his alcoholism, Bush has courted the religious right to further his political ambitions.
Making no secret of his own religious conviction that the world is engaged in a moral battle between good and evil, he has peppered his speeches with biblical language and imagery like a preacher at a Bible-belt revival meeting....
..."We Americans have faith in ourselves, but not in ourselves alone," Bush said in his 2003 State of the Union address."We do not know, we do not claim to now all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the living God behind all life, all history. May He guide us now. And may God bless the United States of America."Bush is said to read the Bible daily, pray in the Oval office and occasionally open cabinet meetings with prayer. Jesus is the political philosopher and thinker he most admires.
The problem, as U.S. theologian suggests, is not with Bush's sincerity but with his evident conviction that he's doing God's will. With the words"God wills it," Pope Urban blessed the first Christian crusade against the"infidels" in 1095, leading to almost two centuries of bloody battles and wholesale laughter. If Bush believes he is God's agent and sees military victories as a validation of a God-entrusted mission, then only God knows how far his anointed will go.
Some mainstream theologians conclude that Bush suffers from a messianic complex, that his theology is that of John Calvin's, the French/Swiss Protestant reformer who believed he was called by God to reform the church, intertwined politics and religion, and divided the world into the elect and the damned.
Jim Wallis of Sojourners, a U.S. ecumenical justice and peace Christian community working for justice and peace, says that Bush, by confusing nation, church and God, has embraced a theology more American civil religion than Christian faith. But, as Wallis argues, God has not given the responsibility for overcoming evil to a nation-state much less to a superpower with enormous wealth and particular interest."To confuse the role of God with that of the American nation, as George Bush seems to do, is a serious theological error that some might say borders as ideology and blasphemy," Wallis says. In a recent article in the British newspaper, The Guardian, theologian, historian and author Karen Armstrong notes that you don't hear much about the Beatitudes from the Christian right."The Christian right today has absorbed the endemic violence in American society: they oppose reform of the gun laws and support the death penalty," she writes."They never quote the Sermon on the Mount but base their xenophobic and aggressive theology on (the Book of) Revelation."... ...God bless us and save us.
Dan Eggen, in the Washington Post (Feb. 14, 2004):
President Bush agreed to meet privately with the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but has ruled out offering any testimony in a public setting, according to a White House statement released last night.
In addition, the commission's executive director said that Vice President Cheney, former president Bill Clinton and former vice president Al Gore have tentatively agreed to provide similar private testimony to the panel. None has committed to testify publicly.
Commission officials and historians said Bush's decision appears to be unprecedented, allowing an outside, nonprosecutorial panel to question a sitting president about some of the most sensitive national security issues of his administration. During the investigation into the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, for example, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson submitted a three-page statement to the Warren Commission but was not subjected to questioning.
"Outside of a legal investigation, I cannot recall any sitting president meeting with an investigative body of this kind," said Philip D. Zelikow, the commission's executive director, who is a history professor at the University of Virginia. "It is highly unusual."
Among the issues likely to be pursued during interviews with Bush and the others are whether either the Bush or Clinton administration had specific clues that could have provided a warning of the Sept. 11 plot and whether the government was sufficiently focused on the threat posed by al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, commission sources said. The questioning is also certain to include discussions of intelligence reports known as the President's Daily Brief, including one from Aug. 6, 2001, that discussed the possibility of hijackings by al Qaeda, sources said.
From the LAT (Feb. 15, 2004):
A look at Bush's military record
During the Vietnam War, George W. Bush was admitted to the Texas Guard and received a commission as a second lieutenant. Some important dates:
January: While still at Yale, Bush completes Air Force officer qualification test in New Haven, Conn.
May: Texas Air National Guard Commander Col. Walter B. "Buck" Staudt meets with Bush, recommends him for a direct commission to second lieutenant and acceptance for pilot training. Bush joins the Guard on May 27 as an enlistee at Ellington Air Force Base, near Houston.
July 12: Federal Recognition Examining Board says Bush is qualified for promotion to second lieutenant with the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.
July 14: Enters basic training in San Antonio, Texas.
August: Completes basic training.
September: Promoted to second lieutenant.
November: Undergoes pilot training at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
December: Begins serving as a trainee with the 111th Squadron.
January: Assigned flight duty as an F-102 fighter pilot with the 111th Squadron.
August: Three-member board recommends promotion to first lieutenant.
Regularly attends drills and alerts at Ellington; begins working at a Houston agricultural company.
January-April: Continues service in the Texas Air National Guard.
May 24: Requests permission to transfer to Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, so he can work in the Senate campaign of Winton "Red" Blount Jr. , a family friend. Texas unit does not approve transfer.
August: Fails to take required flight physical.
September: Suspended from flight status.
September: Requests and receives approval for a three-month transfer to 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group in Montgomery, Ala.
October: Is paid for two days service; it is not certain where he served.
November: Returns to his Texas unit at Ellington, serves four days.
January: Serves six days; according to White House records, has a dental exam at Dannelly Field Air National Guard Base in Montgomery, Ala., on Jan. 6.
April-July: Serves 40 days, participating in nonflying drills. Last day for which he is paid is July 30.
September: Requests discharge from the Texas Air National Guard so he can attend Harvard Business School.
October: Receives honorable discharge eight months before the end of his enlistment.
Renato Redentor Constantino, a writer and painter based in the Philippines, writes a weekly column for the Philippine national daily, TODAY (whose online partner is abs-cbnnews.com), in www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute (Feb. 20, 2004):
And so here we are, at the crossroads of another day, speechless and troubled by what is before us, so anxious to engage in a conversation with what ought to be, and yet so unaware of or indifferent to a past waiting to explain itself, to be heard, to be remembered.
"You have to understand the Arab mind," said Capt. Todd Brown, a U.S. company commander with the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq, who had led his troops in encasing Abu Hishma in a razor-wire fence to contain the resistance suspected to be coming from the village."The only thing they understand is force."
Over a century ago, during a period of history that few Americans today can recall, another U.S. general uttered similar words. It would take at least"ten years of bayonet treatment" to make Filipinos accept American rule, said Gen. Arthur MacArthur, even as, to deprive the"enemy" of popular support, U.S. troops herded whole Filipino villages into concentration camps -- precursors of the strategic hamlets used by the United States during the Vietnam War and the razor-wire fences now employed by the troops commanded by Capt. Brown to enclose defiant Iraqi villages.
History. How much better off we would all be today if only we remembered more -- beginning with the origins of the relationship between the Philippines and the United States, a chapter which in our history is called the Philippine-American War; a chapter that began on February 4, 1899 and lasted an endless decade, which largely defined not only the pathways Filipinos were forced to take over the next century but the imperial directions that have framed recent U.S. history as well.
By returning to this vast and incredibly brutal conflict, Americans (and Filipinos) today may yet find what they have lost: the key to understanding the depravities of the present and, perhaps, their collective deliverance.
The triggers for war
For an empire perennially weighed down by the necessity of justifying aggression, triggers for war are providentially everywhere, to be pulled expediently whether real or not. In the spring of 2003, it was weapons of mass destruction in Never-Never Land or al-Qaeda connections. In 1964 in Vietnam, it was an attack by North Vietnamese gunboats. In 1899, it was"savages attacking our boys." Anything will do.
When Lyndon Johnson's administration launched its long-planned full-scale bombing campaign in Vietnam, it did so using the authority granted by Congress under the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, named after the site where North Vietnamese torpedo boats allegedly attacked U.S. destroyers on August 2 and 4, 1964. With domestic concern growing over an escalating U.S. military intervention, the Tonkin Gulf incidents gave the Johnson government the leverage it needed to pressure Congress to authorize an open assault on Vietnam. Reports of the alleged attacks caused such a rumpus that, by August 7, 1964, within three days of the second incident, Congress had passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution by a vote of 416 to 0 in the House of Representatives and with just two dissenting votes in the Senate.
Only later was it revealed that a draft version of the resolution had been prepared prior to the alleged attacks; that the provocation on August 2 actually came from the U.S. side -- an American destroyer deliberately entered North Vietnam's territorial waters escorting South Vietnamese boats -- and that the August 4 attack did not take place at all. By the time the Johnson administration's manipulation of the incidents was exposed, however, the US was already deeply" committed" to a full-scale American-led war in Vietnam.
As we cycle backwards in history, we find a similar and no less bloody tale of cold-blooded imperial calculation and script-writing.
To kill a republic
The last decade of 1890 was an invigorating time for Filipino revolutionaries. After four centuries of largely inchoate revolts, Filipinos had united in 1892 under the banner of an organization whose goal was to overthrow Spanish colonial rule and create a democratic Filipino republic. By 1896, born out of well-articulated aspirations for national economic and political independence, open revolutionary war had commenced. By the first few days of 1899, the revolutionary movement had not only defeated Spain, but assembled a government ready to administer to the needs of a victorious if war-weary populace.
Such a dream of an emergent republic was not to be, however, for an expansive America had different ideas about how the islands should be ruled. Behind the backs of the Filipinos, the government of President William McKinley ended its brief war with Spain by signing the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. Under it, the Philippines was conveniently ceded to the United States. The constitution, however, prevented the implementation of a treaty annexing Asia's first republic without ratification by two-thirds of the Senate.
McKinley knew he lacked that required two-thirds vote, but this did little to stop him from pushing through the treaty. If the US took possession of the islands, Philippine cane sugar would be allowed to enter the country with no tariffs placed on it, thus reducing costs for sugar refiners, the biggest of which was the American Sugar Refining Company, a backer of the president. This was at a time when some in Congress were arguing that Americans could enjoy all the economic opportunities the Philippines had to offer without bothering with annexation. But as Admiral George Dewey -- who would soon play a major role in the occupation -- put it,"Capital would not feel safe to invest in the Philippines unless the United States annexed the islands."
In the end, outright bribery -- the 19th century version of present-day PACs, hordes of lobbyists, and"revolving doors" -- did the trick for McKinley, delivering a large portion of the needed votes into his hands. In order to tip the balance, however, the president needed one more thing, a trigger for war that would drive the rest of the votes his way.
Weeks before war broke out, the War Department began to issue announcements meant to prepare the public for the fact that"U.S. forces would have to defend themselves" if attacked by"natives" -- even as American troops were deployed to Manila itself. On February 2, the Navy dismissed all Filipinos employed on its ships in Manila harbor, while Army regimental commanders were given orders to provoke a conflict with the Filipino forces. On the same day, a U.S. regiment deliberately occupied an area called Santol where Filipino republican troops were already positioned. The Filipinos protested but, not wishing to ignite hostilities, eventually withdrew.
On the evening of February 4, 1899, US soldiers in Santol were instructed to venture yet further into territory held by Filipino troops, with the order"to shoot if the need arose." The Americans soon encountered Filipino sentries whom they immediately fired upon. The private who first opened fire reportedly shouted to his companions,"Line up, fellows, the niggers are in here all through these yards." Hours later, McKinley announced to the press"that the insurgents had attacked Manila." The next day he dispatched instructions to crush the Filipino army.
An emissary from the Filipino side was dispatched to the American commanders to request"a cessation of hostilities" and explain that the provocation actually came from their own troops. He was rebuffed by the Army commander, who told him that the fighting"having begun, must go on to the grim end." News of"savages" and"barbarians" who had"fired on the flag" soon filled American newspapers. On February 6, the Senate ratified the treaty by exactly one vote more than the needed two-thirds and the Philippines formally became a colony of the United States amid soaring promises of better lives for Filipinos. Yet it would take the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of those same Filipinos in a decade-long orgy of pacification before armed resistance to U.S. rule was finally crushed.
"You never hear of any disturbances," said a U.S. congressman just back from Manila at a moment when McKinley had launched a campaign of"Benevolent Assimilation" in the Philippines,"… because there isn't anybody left to rebel… The good Lord in Heaven only knows the number of Filipinos that were put under the ground. Our soldiers took no prisoners, they kept no records; they simply swept the country, and wherever and whenever they could get hold of a Filipino they killed him."
Before he took command of the Army during the war, Gen. J. Franklin Bell announced:"All consideration and regard for the inhabitants of this place cease from the day I become commander. I have the force and authority to do whatever seems to me good and especially to humiliate all those … who have any pride."
"I want no prisoners, I wish you to kill and burn: the more you kill and burn the better you will please me," was the order Gen. Jacob Smith issued a century ago as his troops slaughtered civilians and Filipino revolutionaries alike defending the first republic in Asia and the freedom they had just wrested from Spain. Smith had ordered his troops to turn the island of Samar into a"howling wilderness" so that"even birds could not live there." When asked by a soldier to define the age limit for killing, Smith replied,"Everything over ten." Foreshadowing the fate of Lt. William Calley, who was found guilty of leading U.S. soldiers in perpetrating horrors in the Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai and who served only four and a half months of his life sentence behind bars after which he was pardoned by Richard Nixon, Gen. Smith was court-martialed for issuing his barbaric orders, found guilty, and sentenced to - an admonition.
Explaining the brutality meted out by American soldiers to Filipinos, a Boston Herald correspondent covering the war commented,"Our troops in the Philippines … look upon all Filipinos as of one race and condition, and being dark men, they are therefore 'niggers,' and entitled to all the contempt and harsh treatment administered by white overlords to the most inferior races." As early as April 1899, a US commander was already predicting,"It may be necessary to kill half the Filipinos in order that the remaining half of the population may be advanced to a higher place of life than their present semi-barbarous state affords."
As it turned out, however, not that many died. As early as 1901, the number of Filipinos who had been killed or had died of disease as a result of America's vile occupation was pegged by a U.S. general at a"mere" 600,000 -- a horrific figure considering that it took the United States another decade to literally wipe out Filipino resistance.
And America keeps asking itself,"Why do they hate us so?"
"We're going to become guilty, in my judgment, of being the greatest threat to the peace of world," said Senator Wayne Morse, who voted against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in the U.S. Senate."It's an ugly reality, and we Americans don't like to face up to it. I hate to think of the chapter of American history that's going to be written in the future in connection with our outlawry in Southeast Asia."
When Americans are ready to ask the question,"Why have we learned so little?" they will see hands extended to them waiting to be grasped; people elsewhere eager to tell them, in Arundhati Roy's words,"how beautiful it is to be gentle instead of brutal, safe instead of scared. Befriended instead of isolated. Loved instead of hated." Folks waiting to whisper in their ears,"Yours is by no means a great nation, but you could be a great people."
References: Leon Wolff, Little Brown Brother , 1991; Saul Landau,"The Iraq ploy and Resemblances to the Start of the Cold War," November 28, 2002; Gabriel Kolko, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, The United States and the Modern Historical Experience , 1985; Daniel Boone Schirmer, Republic or Empire: American Resistance to the Philippine War , 1972; Jonathan Shephard Fast and Luzviminda Bartolome Fransisco, Conspiracy for Empire: Big business, Corruption and the Politics of Imperialism in America, 1876-1907 , 1985; Dexter Filkins,"US tightens grip on Iraq with tough new tactics," TODAY, December 8, 2003; Kim Petersen, Dissident Voice , July 29, 2003; Arundhati Roy,"Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy, Buy One Get One Free," transcript of audio address in New York, May 13, 2003.
Copyright C2004 Renato Redentor Constantino
Mr. Constantino's recent works can be accessed at www.redconstantino.blogspot.com . Constantino is currently working full-time on climate and energy concerns with Greenpeace China. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jay Tolson, in US News (Feb. 16, 2004):
America, John Quincy Adams once famously declared, "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy." Those cautionary words of 1821 are currently enjoying a second round of fame, largely because no discussion of George W. Bush's foreign policy can seem to avoid them.
Pithy as the sentence is, though, does it really explain how the sixth president's vision of America's place in the world might bear on American grand strategy in the 21st century? Two new books come to contrary conclusions. And while that contrast inevitably reflects opposing partisan views in the heated debate over national security strategy, it might also suggest ways of seeing beyond the intransigent positions.
In America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, two former Clinton National Security Council staffers, Ivo Daalder and James Lindsey, claim that Bush has pulled off nothing less than a Copernican revolution in foreign policy. In the aftermath of 9/11, they say, Bush adopted a doctrine of pre-emption to justify action against rogue states that develop weapons of mass destruction or harbor terrorists. At the same time, he elevated go-it-alone ventures over multilateral cooperation and aggressively asserted America's role as the world's only superpower.
The authors' analysis rejects the conventional wisdom in foreign-policy circles--that is, that Bush was duped into adopting his ambitious grand strategy by a stealthy cabal of neoconservative thinkers. The revolution is his own, they say, set in motion by 9/11 to be sure, but guided by his own instincts and the input of a wide range of advisers. By far, though, their most controversial claim is that Bush has repudiated not only the internationalist thinking of such recent leaders as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman but also America's oldest foreign-policy traditions by arguing that "the United States should aggressively go abroad searching for monsters to destroy."
Well, not quite, suggests Yale University historian John Gaddis in his forthcoming book, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. Far from seeing it as a revolution, Gaddis reads Bush's strategy as a return to the guiding principles of pre-emption, unilateralism, and hegemony that were first laid down by--you guessed it--old John Q. himself. Indeed, Gaddis argues, American foreign policy has undergone three major transformations, each on the heels of a deeply traumatizing surprise attack. Responding to the burning of the White House and the Capitol by the British in 1814, Adams--at that point America's leading diplomat and soon to be James Monroe's secretary of state--became even more unilateralist in his thinking. And in 1818, when Andrew Jackson entered Spanish Florida in pursuit of marauders, Adams persuaded Monroe not only not to apologize but to claim the right of pre-emptive action. That principle was used by later presidents as justification for U.S. expansion, notably in Texas and other parts of the West. The Monroe Doctrine, inspired largely by Adams, was the first assertion of national hegemony in this hemisphere and a clear warning to Europeans to stay out.
Turning point. Those three principles were elaborated and expanded right up through the first half of the 20th century. But then came Pearl Harbor, which enabled Roosevelt to overcome America's go-it-alone isolationism and forge a multilateral system, combining U.S. power and leadership with cooperative alliances and new international institutions.
September 11, Gaddis contends, compelled America-- strategically adrift since the end of the Cold War--to return to older principles. But the point of reconciliation between his views and those of Daalder and Lindsey is this: While pre-emption and a certain unilateralism might be necessary in today's world, their success depends on utmost diplomatic tact and utmost caution, including good intelligence openly evaluated in order to support pre-emptive actions. And while exporting democracy may be a noble goal, Gaddis concludes, the United States might better emphasize exporting its own federalist principles, forming even more consensual alliances and wielding power "while minimizing arrogance."
James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, in the Gulf News (Middle East) (Feb. 17, 2004):
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The dynamic in today's Israeli-Palestinian and US relationship is distur-bingly similar to the Zionist-Palestinian-British relationship of the 1920s.
Back then, the Zionists made no secret of their intent to take advantage of the mandate to prepare the foundation of their future state. And so they brought into Palestine tens of thousands of Jewish settlers, acquired Arab land, built colonies and created the infrastructure of a nascent state within the mandate.
The Arabs of Palestine, at the same time, had no coherent response to this growing threat. To be sure, they convened congresses and passed resolutions arguing that the mandate had no legitimacy and the Balfour Declaration was without legal foundation.
As pressure grew, from the impact of Zionist immigration and land acquisition, the Arabs demonstrated, rioted, and, faced with overwhelming force, were beaten. For their part, the British who created and allowed this dilemma to develop and fester, acted as arbiters to what they termed" competing cla-ims".
At times, they appeared beleaguered by their burden (never acknowledging that it had been largely of their own making). But by their actions and inactions they enabled the Zionist enterprise to succeed.
Today a similar set of dynamics is at work. The Israeli colonial enterprise in the West Bank has continued unabated since the late 1960s. During the 1990s – the years of Oslo – Israeli governments, both Labor and Likud, pursued what could only be described as a massive 'land grab'.
Settler population in the occupied Palestinian lands doubled and settler blocs along the Green Line, in strategic fingers cutting deep into the West Bank, and in a large section of land around occupied Jerus-alem, grew massively.
More ominously, while negotiators met, a network of Israeli highways was being built connecting these colonies to Israel proper, making clear a strategic plan to maintain control of these burgeoning Jewish-only communities. In the process, Palestinians lost control of more and more land and saw their dream of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza evaporate.
As Palestinians became corralled into several blocs, cut off by colonies and security roads, they demonstrated, rioted and ultimately resorted to horrific acts of violence.
In response, Israel acted to further consolidate its hold over these colonies by building a wall and barrier fence that has taken more Palestinian land and disposed more Palestinians of their livelihood and their hopes.
The official Palestinian response to all of this has been to issue appeals for justice. They've gone to the United Nations and passed resolutions and now they have gone to the World Court seeking a judgment.
The United States, self-declared inheritor of the British mantle, acts as beleaguered as its predecessor as it proclaims, in frustration, its weary attempt"to balance competing claims". But the United States, like the British before them, is more enabler than mediator.