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For some fifty years, Richard Pipes has been an eminent historian of Russia and the Soviet Union and a Cold War polemicist of the first rank. He also once served as an advisor, albeit a controversial and troublesome one, to President Reagan on Soviet and Eastern European affairs. He has now written his autobiography, Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger, in which he offers us a vivid and pugnacious account of his long, rich, and productive life. Make no mistake; this is no typical academic memoir. It is not filled with quibbles and carefully qualified statements, nor does it trouble to be politically correct. Pipes is a man who knows his own mind and is eager to give us a piece of it.
Pipes, of course, has given us generous pieces of it before. He is the author of an impressive number of historical works, always fiercely argued, filled with biting, contentious assessments, and buttressed by energetic scholarship. A short list would include Russia under the Old Regime; The Russian Revolution; Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime; The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917-1923; Property and Freedom; Communism: a History; The Degaev Affair: Terror and Treason in Tsarist Russia; the truly groundbreaking Social Democracy and the St. Petersburg Labor Movement, 1885-1897; and an outstanding two-volume biography of the tragically forgotten liberal, Peter Struve. Each one of these works has received generous praise. Nearly every one of them, however, has also become a subject of controversy due to the author’s crotchety tendencies to ignore the scholarship of others, to push his arguments to the limits of intellectual respectability, and to allow his ideological preferences to boil to the surface on nearly every page.
Vixi is the story of the man behind all those books—the story of how a young, indifferently educated Jewish refugee became a Harvard professor, an internationally recognized scholar, and one of America’s most widely recognized Cold War warriors. It tells how the Pipes family survived the anti-Semitic atmosphere of Poland before the Nazi invasion, narrowly evaded the Holocaust, and finally reached the U.S. by way of Italy and Spain. Young Pipes found himself uprooted in America, and he felt the separation from his homeland keenly. He looked on powerlessly over the years as Poland was ravaged by fierce ideologies, first by German fascism with its crazy racial hatreds, then by communism with its power-mad utopian schemes.
Those were savage times that are recounted in Vixi, and they taught brutal lessons that left a deep imprint on the young man. To his lasting credit, Pipes, a man of prodigious energies, overcame all, rising to the very heights of his profession. By the time that Pipes had survived the flight from Europe and his frenetic scramble up the American academic ladder, he had become a combative, unyielding, tightly controlled man. Sadly, and to the detriment of his scholarship, these experiences seem to have engendered in him an intellectual style dominated by moral rigidity and marred by his habit of splitting the world into opposing camps. Vixi shows, in Pipes’s own words, that his world has long been a bifurcated one, made up of good men and evil men. Of course, all of that works as a wonderful form of moral shorthand for a young man caught up in dark and murderous events. It also works as impeccable training for a polemicist. It is not, however, an ideal emotional foundation for mature, subtle, and scrupulous scholarship.
Vixi is at its best, therefore, when these matters do not command front and center, that is, when it reads like a condensed, but invigorating crash course in themes that the author has developed over the last five decades and more. He reminds us, for example, of his deeply considered contention that the development of the institution of private property in the western nations was a sine qua non for political freedom, a brake on the power of the state. He also is once again eager to argue, and he is probably correct, that the tsarist autocracy in Russia left such a social and political void after it collapsed that there was almost no chance for the development of democratic socialism under Lenin and Stalin. Pipes also tells how his research convinced him that the Bolsheviks under Lenin came to power with nothing like mass support. He carried that conviction into the Reagan administration and it informed his belief that the Soviet Union was a deeply unpopular, ramshackle system that would surely fall if enough pressure could be brought to bear from outside. Pipes, never a man of half measures, did not stop there, but called for directly confronting a deeply suspicious enemy armed with a vast array of nuclear weapons, most of which were directly aimed at the United States. Can any one doubt why his critics called him reckless?
But what of the other luminaries who crossed his path, both in the groves of academe and in the halls of political power? Pipes is a sheer delight on this score, offering clearly delineated character sketches of the Hamlet-like George Kennan; the dazzling Isaiah Berlin; the imperious and impenetrable Solzhenitsyn; the grasping Alexander Haig; and the morally august, but basically simple-minded Ronald Reagan. Vixi’s rapid-fire assessments are usually of the poison-pen variety, but they are colorful and incisive, and they are delivered with thunderous authority. Who would expect otherwise?
We are also treated to the author’s sometimes comic, sometimes rebarbative social attitudes. Pipes was not the sort of man who would have much truck with the student activists of the 1960’s, and he despised them. The professors who curried favor with the activists are characterized as self-serving cowards. Nearly forty years later, Pipes still moans about graduate assistants demonstrating for higher pay and Jewish students demanding kosher foods in the Harvard cafeterias. It seems never to have occurred to him that one ought to love a country where everyone has an unalienable right to gripe publicly about low pay and bad food. He also expresses his contempt for efforts made by Harvard over the years to achieve sexual and racial diversity, even to the point of drawing shrill, ridiculous comparisons with the Soviet Union.
For all of these reasons, Vixi is an entertaining and instructive read that lays bare the connections between Richard Pipes’s private and public lives. To this day, the man clings to his hidebound notions and the lessons that he learned too well. Vixi shows, in Pipes’s own words, how he remains stubbornly resistant to many of the social and cultural developments associated with modernity, as well as to his critics, a man proud and aware of his strengths, but purblind to his flaws.
The flaws, however, will prove fatal to his reputation. A hundred years from now, Richard Pipes will not be remembered as one of the twentieth century’s great historians. He will be remembered as a polemicist par excellence of the Cold War. His story will be that of a man who allowed his hatreds and anxieties to constrict his vision and pollute his judgement. A man of his tremendous gifts might otherwise have left behind a body of work as elegant and lasting as that of George Kennan, as breath-taking as that of Hannah Arendt, or as sweeping as that of Barrington Moore or Karl Wittfogel. That he has not done so marks him as still one more tragic victim of the Cold War.
New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison began his investigation into the JFK assassination by exposing alleged contradictions in the Warren Report, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President Kennedy. Joan Mellen asserts that Oswald was no Marxist and was in fact working with both the FBI and the CIA, as well as with U.S. Customs, and that the attempts to discredit Garrison’s investigation reached the highest levels of the U.S. government.
Mellen claims to have uncovered new evidence establishing the intelligence agencies’ roles in both a president’s assassination and its cover-up. She believes the cover-up began well before the assassination. Oswald, she alleges, was closely connected to CIA-sponsored anti-Castro figures in New Orleans who included Clay Shaw, David Ferrie private investigator Guy Banister and his associate Jack Martin.
Central to Mellen’s thesis is her assertion that the CIA and FBI worked with the conspirators to cover up the assassination.The massive cover-up began, Mellen posits, when Oswald, in the company of Shaw and Ferrie, applied for a job at the mental hospital in Jackson, Louisiana. According to Garrison, conspirators wanted Oswald working at the hospital so they could later switch his records to support a frame-up in which Oswald would be characterized as a mental patient. On the strength of an interview with anti-Cuban exile Angelo Murgado (alias Angelo ‘Kennedy’) she also alleges – most strikingly of all - that Robert Kennedy was aware of Oswald and his connection to the FBI before the assassination. RFK purportedly put Oswald under surveillance and had his Cuban associates tracking Oswald's movements during the summer of 1963.
On ‘Black Op Radio’ (Show 234, 2005), Mellen stated that, in March 1967 it was her to-be- husband, Ralph Schoenman (- a JFK conspiracy advocate and committed Marxist), who gave Jim Garrison the now infamous articles about Clay Shaw that had been published in the Italian newspaper ‘ Paese Sera’. The articles stated that Shaw had been on the board of directors of an organisation in Rome which the articles alleged had been a CIA front. As Max Holland has demonstrated, the evidence indicates that these articles convinced Garrison that Shaw was a CIA agent and that the agency was behind the assassination.
Despite Max Holland’s debunking of the Italian newspaper’s stories in his article ‘The Lie That Linked The CIA To The Kennedy Assassination’ Mellen unashamedly gives credence to their distorted facts. As Max Holland wrote, ‘Paese Sera’s successful deception turns out to be a major reason why many Americans believe, to this day, that the CIA was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.’
Mellen’s ‘proof’ of the invalidity of Holland’s research centers around the simple denials of the editors of Paese Sera who said their reporters were not duped by the KGB and that ‘Garrison had focused on the CIA well before the publication of the Paese Sera articles’.This is a pivotal issue because Garrison, in his memoir ‘On The Trail Of The Assassins’, lied about when he received the articles; that lie suggests the true significance of these articles to him. Moreover, the articles were NOT already in the works long before Shaw’s arrest, as Mellen claims, on the basis of interviews conducted by the aforementioned Ralph Schoenman. It was Shaw’s arrest that prompted those stories. And Garrison only knew of the alleged CIA/Shaw connection through the newspaper articles. Readers should also be aware that the KGB was doing everything in its power to link the JFK assassination with the CIA, and that Paese Sera was an outlet for KGB disinformation, as the recently released Mitrokhin Archive proves.
Branding authors who reject JFK conspiracy theories as 'CIA assets' is Mellen's favourite smear tactic in the book. It is a common tool used by JFK conspiracy writers - it is also 'McCarthyite' in nature. Don Bohning, a former Miami Herald reporter and author of 'The Castro Obsession' (2005) is incensed with references made by Mellen that he was a 'CIA sponsored' reporter. Bohning contacted the book's publishers, suggesting it was libelous. They contacted Mellen and said she agreed to change the description to 'CIA linked.' The reference is still extremely misleading, Bohning said. “ (I)...never took a cent from the CIA and was outraged by the implication - along with the terms 'writer asset' and 'utilized'.” (Email to the author, 3.10.2005)….Top editors at the Herald were well aware – and approved – of my contacts with the CIA during the 1960s.”(Email to the author 9-10-05).
Mellen’s theories, which center around a CIA conspiracy, make little sense once examined closely. Her allegations that Clay Shaw was created and supervised by the CIA have been examined time and time again by JFK researchers and found to be false. In reality, Clay Shaw had simply been one of thousands of businessmen who had once been a source for the CIA through its Domestic Contact Service (DCS). (See John McAdams’s website). Instead, as Patricia Lambert has proven, in a far superior examination of the Garrison case, ‘False Witness’, Shaw was a Kennedy supporter, a decorated war veteran and a gifted intellectual who had rightly been found innocent of the conspiracy charges Garrison made against him.
Mellen’s allegations that the CIA wanted to impede Garrison’s investigation is true but not because the Agency had something sinister to hide. The Agency was in a quandary because of its innocuous relationship with Shaw and it monitored Garrison’s investigation, alarmed that the New Orleans DA was wrongly linking the Agency with the JFK assassination. As Max Holland wrote, “Shaw was not ……developed as a covert operative…. the relationship (with the CIA) just lapsed. He had never received any remuneration and probably considered the reporting a civic duty that was no longer urgent once the hostility between the two superpowers became frozen in place and a new world war no longer appeared imminent…. Garrison’s allegations— the “grossest we have seen from any responsible American official”—gave the Agency fits, just as they did Shaw and Shaw’s lawyers.” (see: The Lie That Linked CIA to the Kennedy Assassination by Max Holland)
It is difficult to exaggerate the number of previously debunked myths Mellen resurrects.In fact her book is no different from previous JFK conspiracy books which promote theories based on gossip, innuendo and tall tales from unreliable sources. She rehabilitates old shibboleths about the Garrison investigation including the myth that Oswald was in possession of ‘a Minox spy camera’ and Ferrie’s alleged possession of Oswald’s library card both of which have been examined carefully over the years and found to be false. Mellen’s thesis also depends on the veracity of New Orleans ‘character’ Jack Martin and countless other actors in the New Orleans ‘drama’ whose stories have been fully researched. There are too many to cover in this book review but the following are examples as to the lengths to which this author will go in building her conspiracy tale.
Mellen recycles as if true the testimony of witnesses who were discredited before the Shaw case came to trial in 1969, or who were never called to testify precisely because they lacked credibility. She apparently assumes that readers will not know that these witnesses were discredited. Her ‘new’ revelations almost always center around the tales told by anti-Cuban exiles and others on the periphery like Thomas Edward Beckham, a semi-literate who claims, along with dozens of other fantasists, to have observed Ferrie, Oswald and Ruby together; Richard Case Nagell and Jules Rico Kimble, known liars and fantasists, (see http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/nagell1.htm )
Mellen also plays the conspiracists’ game of ‘A knows B who knows C who knows D therefore A must know D’.
One witness who Mellen interviewed is Angelo Murgado, mentioned earlier, who changed his name to ‘Angelo Kennedy’. Angelo purports to have known about RFK’s pre-assassination knowledge of Oswald. Yet Don Bohning’s Cuban exile contacts in Florida have poured scorn on Murgado’s credibility. (email to the author, 3.10.2005) He joins the battalions of ‘soldier of fortune’ types who have, for 40 years, claimed some knowledge of the JFK assassination – all of them supplying no credible evidence of their participation whatsoever.
The most important witness in the trial of Clay Shaw, was Perry Raymond Russo and Garrison's case was built around Russo's testimony. According to Mellen, Russo was truthful - but the facts reveal otherwise. Russo began recanting his conspiracy stories almost immediately, beginning in 1967 to his polygraph examiners. In 1971, Russo recanted to Clay Shaw’s attorneys, admitting to them that he was coached, brainwashed and hypnotized into lying under oath. In the mid-1990’s, shortly before his death from a heart attack, he recanted again, this time to author Patricia Lambert.
A particularly glaring example of the kind of distortions Mellen routinely engages in concerns a CIA officer named Joseph James Martin. Mellen cites CIA documents about him, and alleges he is identical to the ‘Jack Martin’ who was an associate of Guy Banister. It is a preposterous claim when the full CIA record on this issue and Jack Martin’s FBI biography is examined. Garrison’s initial ideas and actions were based on allegations made by Martin who was frequently characterized by people who knew him as a notorious storyteller. Acting on Martin's stories David William Ferrie, a former airlines pilot who had worked for Carlos Marcello’s lawyer, G. Wray Gill, was put under round the clock surveillance. It was years before Martin's allegations against Ferrie were discovered to be inspired by a long-standing grudge.The mystery is why Garrison, who knew Martin was alcoholic, fabricated information, and had received treatment for mental illness, took his allegations seriously. Hubie Badeux, the former chief of the New Orleans Police Intelligence Division told author Gerald Posner, "[Martin] was goofy to begin with and lied all the time". Badeux said Martin had a reputation for "wild and crazy stories." Jack Martin later claimed, with some justification, that Garrison's investigation was based on “information” he and a friend, David Lewis, "made up".
In constructing her story Mellen takes many leaps of the imagination. For example she states that Oswald wanted to name his first child David, if it was a boy. She then links this fact with the ridiculous assertion that the only ‘David’ in Oswald’s life was David Ferrie. Mellen posits this as proof of Oswald’s connection to the alleged JFK conspirator.This is not analysis but paranoia.
Mellen’s book has the façade of scholarship but it is in fact a hocus pocus act. Many of her strongest assertions are not footnoted and thus undocumented. Incredibly, she gives credence to an anonymous telephone call to Garrison in which the caller, allegedly a friend of Shaw’s, said the DA’s suspicions about Shaw were correct. She also ignores documents she doesn’t like, i.e. that contradict her inferences. She claims, without backing it up, that the FBI and CIA files are ‘papered’, which presumably means they contain false documents. She also claims that incriminating documents were destroyed. Yet she also (mis)uses CIA and FBI documents to ‘make’ her case when it suits her purpose. She has created a researcher’s ‘perfect universe’.Documents she doesn’t like are inserted concoctions, and important documents that would prove her allegations are missing (though she purports to know their contents)..One wonders why she bothers with documents at all. The answer is it gives her book a façade of accuracy.
People who want to believe Mellen doubtless will, but those who are at least a little skeptical should read Patricia Lambert’s book ‘False Witness’. Lambert meticulously traces Garrison's story from the very beginning of his investigation, through the Shaw trial and its aftermath. She provides compelling evidence that Jim Garrison's case against Shaw was non-existent, and that Garrison himself was a reckless, mentally unstable demagogue.
Mellen’s book is typical of many conspiracy books in that the impact of her tome depends on the reader having little independent knowledge of the facts of the case or the dramatis personae in this shocking tale of the abuse of a District Attorney’s power. Judged on its merits, the book should have no impact on the history of the JFK Assassination .
In November 1997 the Assassination Records Review Board, instituted by Congress as a result of public pressure after the release of the movie 'JFK', released Clay Shaw's secret diary. In it he wrote of being wrongly persecuted, "I am still dismayed to find myself charged with the most heinous crime of the century but I am completely innocent and the feeling of being a stunned animal seems to have gone now." In another section of Shaw's diary he wrote about his feelings of being accused of having associated with Lee Harvey Oswald and David Ferrie, "Aside from any questions of guilt or innocence,” wrote Shaw, “anyone who knows me knows that I would have better sense than to plot with two nuts like that."
Goodman is an astute observer-participant of events and people, which have exacerbated the seemingly endless war between Jews and Palestinians. Appalled at the problems created by the Jewish settlers who believe the West Bank –they call it Judea and Samaria--was promised to Jews by God, he is just as horrified at Palestinian retaliations against civilians. He opposed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, but is justly proud that 400,000 Israelis turned out to protest that war (a war, incidentally, which was applauded by virtually all mainstream American Jewish organizations and Christian fundamentalists) and the resulting massacres of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. Phalangist thugs did the killing, “but the mark was on Israel’s forehead,” writes Goodman. “Israel was responsible.” For Goodman the choice is clear: unless the two rivals reach a compromise solution there can be no peace and no democratic Jewish state.
Perhaps the theme of his remarkable and at times sad memoir is best exemplified by a story he relates about his son, an honorably discharged Israeli conscript. After his military service ended, he did what many Israeli ex-soldiers do, depart for distant parts. Shai Goodman fled to India and remained there for three years. When he returned he peddled posters on Vienna streets, hoping to earn sufficient funds to return to India. Why not come home to Israel, the elder Goodman asked his son. “I can’t Daddy,” Shai answered. “I am too angry. I will never forgive the country for what it made me do.”
One of the not-so-surprising reasons why the bellicose and ideologically-driven neocons and the White House -–not to mention liberal and conservative war hawks who supported the invasion of Iraq -- were dead wrong in expecting cheers and victory parades to greet them was that virtually no-one in the War Party or their camp followers knew much about Iraqi history or spoke and read Arabic. William Polk does both, having read Arabic and Turkish at Oxford, studied in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries and worked on the Middle East and North Africa for the State Department.
Understanding Iraq can be considered of as an intelligent person’s guide to what we should have known before launching the invasion. Succinct and convincing, he notes the many incursions into the land that became Iraq by the Ottoman Turks and Persian Safavids and afterwards by England, Germany and Russia. Later, there was American support for Saddam Hussein until the first Gulf war, leading up to today’s ongoing military, political and moral quagmire. The cliché, “staying the course,” argues Polk, won’t work since the U.S. will have to leave eventually –say, five years, he speculates-- which by then he estimates, “another thirty or forty thousand Iraqis will die or be killed while the U.S. armed forces will lose perhaps five thousand dead and twenty thousand seriously wounded.” Instead, he proposes choosing the time to leave instead of being forced out and thus leaving an even greater bloody and contentious legacy in its wake. If, however, the U.S. refuses to recognize the limits of its power and stubbornly stays on, the best it can gain “is a fig leaf to hide defeat; the worst, in a rapid collapse, would be humiliating evacuation, as in Vietnam.”
Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East. By Leon Hadar (Palgrave/ Macmillan).
Hadar, a Research Fellow at the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank, and former UN bureau chief for the Jerusalem Post, is no fan of the Bush/Cheney/neocon war in Iraq as well as their fantasies about transforming the Middle East into a democratic paradise. A practitioner of realpolitik, he argues convincingly that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is a mess, which has long ignored vital national American interests. The neocons’ uncritical pro-Israeli party line, for example, “implies a willingness to accept Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians.” Moreover, the ideological neocon party line about relying on the military to inject “freedom” into the Middle East will only find the U.S. “trapped in an intellectual and policy quagmire.” Iraq, Iran, and Syria anyone?
Nazi Empire-Building and the Holocaust in Ukraine. By Wendy Lower. (University of North Carolina Press).
Lower, a former Visiting Scholar at the U.S.Holocaust Museum in Washington, now teaching at Towson University, writes about the three year German occupation of the Ukraine following Operation Barbarossa. In addition to killing and torturing every Jew they could find, they also sought to create Himmler’s ethnic dream of a German colony he called Hegewald. An original and important work because it details events about WWII, which for a variety of reasons still remains largely overlooked.
We Wept Without Tears. Testimonies of the Jewish Sonderkommando from Auschwitz. By Gideon Grief (Yale University Press).
For years Gideon Grief, an Israeli researcher at Yad VaShem, interviewed ex- Sonderkommandos still alive and residing in Israel. They were Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau compelled by their German captors to do all the dirty work associated with the mass exterminations. The challenges they confronted were daunting and unimaginable. Most have since tried to sort through the guilt and horror of their experience. To his credit, Grief’s gentle and revealing interviews and their testimonies document further the fate of 1.5 million abandoned and forsaken Jews –90% of the prisoners—and others in that German abattoir.
A Writer at War. Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945. Edited & Translated by Antony Bevor & Luba Vinogradova (Pantheon Books).
Vasily Grossman was arguably the greatest Russian novelist since Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Indeed, his magisterial novel, Life and Fate, is a Tolstoyan epic, rivaling War and Peace. In it, he portrayed his horror at Stalinist excesses plus the fate of his fellow Jews, including his mother, during the German invasion and occupation. Together with Ilya Ehrenberg, he was the county’s preeminent Red Army war correspondent. His reportage, collected and translated, describes what he witnessed: Stalingrad, the massive battle of Kursk, the defense of Moscow and other horrific events of that savage war. Grossman and Ehrenberg, incidentally, were on Stalin's hit list after the war because they were members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, whose leaders were secretly tried and executed in 1952. Luckily, the two writers were saved by Stalin’s fortunate demise in 1953. Grossman’s book is a masterpiece of war reporting.
Rethinking War and Peace. By Diana Francis. (Pluto Press)
It’s hard to keep count of all the wars fought since the end of WWII. Brutal and unremitting, their real motives were and are always camouflaged with appeals to “freedom,” evil and threatening enemies, and assorted lies. Convinced by the lying and greed, patriotic flag wavers emerge, pundits approve, simplistic slogans appear, foes demonized, and opinion poll support rises, at least until the dead and wounded begin arriving home. Francis would like to see wars outlawed, and she offers more than three -dozen alternatives for peace-minded citizens and organizations. She doesn’t have any sure-fire solutions, but who does? Still, she is no dreamer. What’s more practical than refusing to play the eternal bloody games of bellicose war parties?
SOURCE: LewRockwell.com ()
I have never recommended a book as strongly as I am recommending Neoconned and Neoconned Again, two new collections of essays that make just about every argument you can think of against the war in Iraq. Now if you’re thinking that you’ve read enough about this subject already, or that such books just aren’t your cup of tea, or that you have too much to read as it is, I urge you to abandon such thoughts right away. These books need to be purchased by everyone, right away, this minute, and need to be circulated just as far as possible.
I was asked early last year to contribute an essay to these volumes. At that time I was consumed by the task of writing The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, along with my usual dozen other projects, and unfortunately had to decline. All I can say is, they sure didn’t need my essay. Light in the Darkness Publications has assembled one of the most impressive lineups of scholars and commentators I have ever seen on any subject.
Worth the price of the two volumes alone is the very lengthy interview with the late, great Jude Wanniski, the supply-side theorist who had such influence on President Ronald Reagan (and who therefore cannot be dismissed so easily as a leftist peacenik). In recent years Wanniski had become – along with all too few other conservatives – skeptical not only of government intervention on the domestic front but of its foreign interventions as well. (Recall Joe Sobran’s amusing dictum: if you want the government to intervene domestically you’re a liberal, if you want the government to intervene abroad you’re a conservative, if you want the government to intervene both domestically and abroad you’re a moderate, and if you don’t want the government to intervene either domestically or abroad you’re an extremist.)
It may sound like an exaggeration to say that just about every major claim made about Iraq and Saddam by the U.S. government since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait has been misleading or simply false, and that the mainstream media has bought into these distortions with nary a peep of opposition, but that’s just about the only conclusion one can draw from Wanniski’s case. If you think it’s an open and shut case that Saddam “gassed his own people,” not to mention countless other episodes routinely cited to work us into a frenzy for war, you need to read this. (Saddam did brutally suppress uprisings against his regime, but violence in the service of nationalism seems to disturb the neoconservative conscience only selectively – China and Iraq bad, Russia and the United States [under Lincoln] good.)
Although not every essay touches on the issue explicitly, the first of the two volumes is organized around Catholic just-war theory and what it has to say about the war in Iraq. Now hold on a minute before you say you’re non-Catholic and just move along. The principles of Catholic just-war theory, long appropriated and developed by a great many non-Catholics, are widely regarded as useful tools for moral reflection, and you’ll be surprised at just how satisfying it is to see how dramatically short the war in Iraq falls on the basis of every one of those principles.
Wanniski also reminds us of the real history of the past 15 years. He recalls the destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, including the deliberate targeting of water treatment facilities (followed by a sanctions regime that forbade the entry into Iraq of equipment needed to repair them) and other installations vital to civilian life. This was all necessary, say the shills, because Saddam was such a bad person. The sanctions, too, which led to half a million children dead – “worth it,” according to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who did not question that figure – were routinely defended on the same grounds. (Wanniski also addresses the “if Saddam hadn’t built so many palaces he could have fed his people” argument.) A prosperous, secular country that was liberal by regional standards, and which could boast one of the finest health care systems in the Middle East, was reduced to an economic basket case, and plagued by a nightmare of disease, malnourishment, and sick and deformed children – all as the result of a vain effort to dislodge its leader. If the “Saddam was bad” defense strikes you as insufficient to justify the infliction of this degree of suffering – of which this is the tip of the iceberg – welcome to the human race.
That people who describe themselves as Christians supported this policy is but the icing on the cake. As I recall, there was a Christian theologian of no small importance who condemned the idea that we should “do evil that good may come.”
A surprising contributor to these volumes is Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, who headed what in his day was known as the Holy Office of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Ottaviani was known for his outspoken opposition to the new rite of Mass, which he considered an intolerable liberal innovation, so it would not be easy to accuse him of “liberalism.” And yet the editors include for us a wonderful and compelling essay of his called “Modern War Is to Be Absolutely Forbidden.” Let’s see pro-war Catholics wiggle out of this one.
Professor Peter Chojnowski, another traditional Catholic, contributes a surprisingly radical essay on the right of conscientious objection. He reminds us of an important statement by the Ethics Committee of the Catholic Association for International Peace six decades ago. That committee included distinguished and orthodox scholars such as Fulton Sheen (who wrote scholarly books early in his career) and Msgr. John A. Ryan. It concluded:
Practically speaking, the task of deciding the justice or injustice of any particular war devolves upon the conscience of the individual conscript or soldier. It is his conscientious duty to decide, as a matter of concrete fact, whether any particular war is aggressive or defensive, and, if defensive, whether it is justified or unjustified, and, in consequence, whether he is free or obliged or forbidden to participate formally in it, whether he is free or obliged or forbidden to be a conscientious objector.
That’s another small taste of the hidden history that these books have made available.
Volume 2 is, if anything, more impressive still, and features a wider variety of ideological perspectives. No, I don’t much care for some of what Noam Chomsky says, but I am prepared to give a respectful hearing to anyone with the intelligence and the strength of character to denounce wickedness and folly, especially this particular case of wickedness and folly. Featuring an introduction by former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, volume 2 includes dozens of essays by such authors as Claes Ryn, Kirkpatrick Sale, Alexander Cockburn, Gordon Prather, Mark and Louise Zwick, Justin Raimondo, Robert Fisk, and Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski.
Like many Americans, I’ve grown sad and frustrated at the triumph of neoconservative foreign policy. It was sold to Americans not merely on the basis of lies, but also by means of bumper-sticker slogans trotted out – and dutifully absorbed and repeated by shills determined to live down to every caricature of conservatism ever devised – by a White House that cynically exploited ordinary people’s patriotic inclinations in order to prosecute a war whose aims remain obscure to this day.
These books, a small victory in themselves, actually lifted my spirits. It was a great pleasure to see how many serious, intelligent observers were keeping a watchful eye on the Bush administration well before criticism of the Iraq misadventure became fashionable, and to see their case against it laid out with such devastating precision. That case is so powerful and overwhelming that it will leave you more dumbfounded than ever that anyone ever fell for it, that anyone got away with denouncing skeptics of transparent White House propaganda as “unpatriotic,” or that so many people believe conservatism involves no higher value than giving intellectual cover to a series of ever-changing, ad hoc rationalizations for war.
These books deserve to become bestsellers. To those who opposed the Iraq war, think of purchasing these books as casting a vote against the War Party, against the war-war choice of Bush/Kerry that we got in 2004, and against a cowardly, servile mainstream media whose mea culpas about pre-war intelligence came, well, rather too late.
If you have friends on the left or the right, or even in the center for that matter, please forward this column to them. The same supposedly “liberal” media that brazenly repeated White House fabrications that a simple Google search could have refuted are unlikely to showcase these books. (Can someone please remind the major conservative publications that the “liberal” media supported this war with a vengeance?) They belong not only in Americans’ homes but also in classrooms, libraries (buy a set and donate it!), and wherever intelligent Americans may be found.
Ordinary Americans who were too busy with their own lives to investigate the administration’s claims too closely may come to see they’ve been had, if they haven’t realized it already. But the most outspoken of the war’s supporters are all but impossible to persuade. Some of them are simply venal, eager to curry favor with the regime no matter how idiotic or intellectually insulting the line they are expected to tow. Others, whether they realize it or not, look at the world as a giant baseball game, with the U.S. government as our team. They’ll rush out of the dugout to protest an obviously sound call at first base or a called strike that was in fact well within the strike zone. When in matters of foreign policy their team sets forth a barrage of propaganda they would have laughed at had it come from the Soviet Union in the 1980s or Syria today, they cannot defend it enthusiastically enough. Go, team.
Such a juvenile mentality would have been considered utterly beneath conservatism in, say, the 1940s. At that time, you could find major conservatives who were willing to hold their own government to the same moral standards they applied to others. Even a man known as “Mr. Republican,” Senator Robert Taft, could cast a skeptical eye on the Truman administration’s early Cold War foreign policy as – no, this isn’t a misprint – gratuitously provocative.
Today, even to look for motivations behind 9/11 is to invite accusations of “blaming America” for the attacks, as if a detective seeking a killer’s motive should be accused of blaming the victim for his fate. It is next to impossible to render serious judgments about foreign policy when public discourse is dominated by anti-intellectual hysterics calling themselves patriots. These two books do the best job yet.
It may be worth noting, if only in order to underscore the intensity of my feelings about these volumes, that not only do I have no relationship to Light in the Darkness Publications, an imprint of IHS Press (no relation to the Institute for Humane Studies), but I have actually had some public and contentious exchanges with J. Forrest Sharpe, one of the editors of Neoconned, on unrelated matters. I am happy to let bygones be bygones. Sharpe has done his country and the cause of truth a valuable service and deserves only the most enthusiastic support.
It is not possible to do these books justice in a single review. All I can say is that they are of the utmost importance. I cannot urge readers strongly enough: put aside any inclination you may have to let these volumes pass you by, or even to put off buying them until a later date. Buy them right now. You will not regret it.
This review appeared originally in www.LewRockwell.com.
SOURCE: London Review of Books ()
The book cites by name 363 interviewees in 38 countries, including two former US presidents; Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore; the Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko; the Mao aide and later Chinese head of state Yang Shangkun; a former Japanese cabinet secretary who confided that Mao escorted his prime minister to the lavatory in Zhongnanhai; Mao’s daughter and grandsons; and the Red Guard leader Kuai Dafu. Chang and Halliday also cite dozens of interviews with anonymous sources, including a laundry worker who describes the fine cotton used for Mao’s underwear in Yan’an; a pharmacist who allegedly prescribed lysol for one of Mao’s political rivals in the 1940s; Mao’s daughter’s nanny in Yan’an; staff at Mao’s villas; and ‘multiple’ Mao girlfriends. They have used about a thousand non-archival written sources, including published and unpublished works in Chinese, English, Russian, French and Italian. These include many that are unfamiliar to me and perhaps to many other specialists on Chinese Communist history and politics.
As their subtitle proclaims, in virtually every chapter Chang and Halliday have turned up ‘unknown stories’ of Mao. Some, if true, will be big news for historians. Mao amassed a private fortune during the Jiangxi Soviet period; his troops fought only one real battle during the Long March; their break-out from Nationalist military encirclement was deliberately allowed by Chiang Kai-shek; the most famous battle of the Long March never took place; Mao attacked India in 1962 with the support of the Soviet Union.
Other scoops have important implications for Mao’s character. He poisoned a rival during the Yan’an period. He would send his own soldiers to be massacred if it would help him to move up the ranks of the Party. He took pleasure in the slow, agonising death of Liu Shaoqi. We already knew that Mao was selfish and ruthless. Chang and Halliday add that he was a brutal, sadistic power-monger lacking in vision or ideals, comfort-loving and often lazy, riding the revolution to power to satisfy a lust for torture and sex.
It is hard to imagine a more panoramic subject in terms of time, geography and historical forces. Yet Chang and Halliday focus tightly on Mao. ...
SOURCE: London Review of Books ()
A set of urban legends has sprung up around her visit to Hanoi in the summer of 1972: a prisoner of war, ordered by his captors to describe his ‘lenient and humane’ treatment to the visiting actress, spat on her instead and was beaten almost into blindness; prisoners secretly gave her their social security numbers to prove their existence to the outside world – Fonda turned the numbers over to their captors and men were supposed to have died from the beatings that followed. The reliability of such tales is suggested by a piece that appeared in the Washington Times, a right-wing daily, in 1989: a former pow, Air Force Major Fred Cherry, recalled Fonda’s voice ringing out over the prison public address system during an ‘extended torture siege’ in 1967. Fonda didn’t speak out against the war until 1970.
The cult matured in the 1980s when America finally began to accept that it had lost a war which hadn’t been worth fighting in the first place. This was around the time Ronald Reagan observed: ‘Boy, I saw Rambo last night. Now I know what to do next time this happens.’ The moment had come to fix the blame where it properly belonged: not on Lyndon Johnson, not on Richard Nixon, but, as Burke points out, on the oldest story in the world, ‘the seductive woman who turns out to be a snake’.
Last year, the Fonda cult allowed thousands, even millions of anguished veterans and their sympathisers to hold onto their shaky faith in American innocence, while acting as the conduit for the character assassination of the Democratic presidential candidate. ‘They’re the men who served with John Kerry in Vietnam,’ the announcer said in the notorious TV commercial produced by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. ‘And they’re the men who spent years in North Vietnamese prison camps. Tortured for refusing to confess what John Kerry accused them of . . . of being war criminals.’ The tropes come straight from the Fonda mythology. A doctored photograph was circulated (it showed up in several newspapers) showing Kerry on a speakers’ platform with Fonda. The picture was found to be a fake, but the association had already been planted. ‘John Kerry with Tits’: five syllables full of implications for the politics of gender, power and anxiety in America.
In Jane Fonda’s War Mary Hershberger does a good job of describing how this state of affairs came about. The story begins with an apolitical young woman whose anti-Communist convictions were so conventional that in 1959 she accepted the ceremonial title of ‘Miss Army Recruiter’. A budding Method-trained actress, the daughter of an American icon, she fell in love with Roger Vadim, the Nouvelle Vague’s ‘pope of hedonism’, and assumed the particularly confining public role of sexually liberated woman. Thanks to Vadim’s productions, her naked image was consumed like no other American actress’s – in one case eight storeys high, on a billboard over a Broadway theatre promoting 1964’s Circle of Love. Barbarella (1968), starring Fonda as an instantly available space nymph, was pornography in all but name. The poster, the New York Times Saigon bureau chief A.J. Langguth later recalled, ‘was a favourite GI pin-up’.
In 1965 the pin-up shot a movie in Louisiana, during which the (racially mixed) cast received death threats. She saw the 1967 Pentagon protest on TV while living in Paris: ‘I watched women walking up to the bayonets that were surrounding the Pentagon and they were not afraid. It was the soldiers who were afraid. I will never forget that experience. It completely changed me.’ She watched the Tet Offensive unfold, and like many Americans, finally understood how badly she’d been lied to about Vietnam. She read. She gave birth to Vadim’s child, then separated from him and returned to the US to make They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? She decided to stay. By the spring of 1969 – they called it ‘finding yourself’ back then – she took off for a Wanderjahr around the country, and made university campuses and anti-war GI coffee houses the bases of her itinerary....
SOURCE: Natonal Review Online ()
Plainly, what we have been needing is an account of world history written from the linguistic point of view. Well, here it is. Nicholas Ostler is a professional linguist and currently chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages. His loving fascination with languages is plain on every page of Empires of the Word, and in the many careful transcriptions — each with a brief pronunciation guide and a translation — of passages from Nahuatl, Chinese, Akkadian, and a host of other tongues. Ostler actually has a feel for languages that, he has convinced me, goes into something beyond the merely subjective. He speaks of “some of the distinctive traits of the various traditions: Arabic’s austere grandeur and egalitarianism; Chinese and Egyptian’s unshakeable self-regard; Sanskrit’s luxuriating classifications and hierarchies; Greek’s self-confident innovation leading to self-obsession and pedantry; Latin’s civic sense; Spanish rigidity, cupidity, and fidelity; French admiration for rationality; and English admiration for business acumen.”
The story he tells — the story of the languages of human civilization — is illustrated with dozens of maps, as a book of this sort ought to be, as well as a scattering of drawings and photographs. After a brief introductory section, the narrative divides into three parts. The first describes the spread of languages, mainly by land, from the remotest past up to the Middle Ages. The second covers the last half-millennium, when European languages planted themselves all over the world, carried mainly by sea (Russian being the chief exception here). In a short final section, Ostler surveys the current language map, and offers some speculations about the future....
Robert Parmet is Professor of History at York College of the City University of New York and author of Labor and Immigration in Industrial America.
His biography of David Dubinsky is the much-needed story of a powerful labor leader during the halcyon post-WWII era for labor unions (disclosure: I know him). It arrives, however, at a very different and difficult time for American labor.
America’s industrial engine has largely been abandoned and service industries with low paid non-union employees predominate. We now live in an “anything goes” economy replete with corrupt and cutthroat competition and widespread firing of loyal employees who played by the rules and still got sacked. Stock prices often decide which firms and workers live or perish.
Outsourcing, cheap foreign imports, and manufacturers, retailers and consumers racing to buy anything produced as cheaply as possible in places most Americans have never heard of is our way of life.
Unions no longer attract educated professionals except for service jobs, and civil service employees. The future seems even more dismal, given the recent AFL-CIO split. And especially hurt by these sweeping changes is New York’s Garment Center, once the source of Dubinsky’s influence and authority.
All the more reason to welcome Robert Parmet’s exceptional portrait of the life and times of a powerful labor leader who for years moved easily in and out of the halls of power, welcomed by the likes of FDR, LBJ and JFK.
Once the boss of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, he was an ally and sometime rival of fellow unionists and liberal politicians. Politicians and VIPs, liberals and conservatives, made sure they checked with Dubinsky and his close friend, the AFL-CIO’s George Meany, on legislation affecting their members. It was an ethnic coalition—Jews, the ILGWU’s Italian local, and Irish Catholics—except that blacks and Latinos were kept out of the mix for decades. Ironically, however, and to Parment’s credit, he details the contentious and shameful conflict when ILGWU employees tried to organize their own union but were bitterly opposed by Dubinsky and his colleagues. That alienated the late great American journalist, Murray Kempton, in his New York Post column (when that paper hadn’t yet become a knee-jerk rightwing organ) when he warned Dubinsky that it was “always easier to break a union than to organize one.” Dubinsky was also rightly criticized by the veteran Socialist Norman Thomas in the conservative New York Herald Tribune, who cautioned the ILGWU that refusing to allow its own people to form a union wouldn’t help its efforts to reach millions of unorganized working people.
Dubinsky, though, as Parmet effectively points out, was a man of considerable talents. His was a remarkable if controversial life -- a self-educated immigrant who fought to provide decent living wages and housing for working people. Almost as significantly, he was a Cold War anti-Communist liberal who played a vital role in fending off efforts by American Stalinists to wrest control of various unions. He courageously fought the Communist-dominated Progressive Party in 1948 when it nominated Henry Wallace. He also helped form New York’s Liberal Party, which became an opponent of the leftist American Labor Party. The ALP eventually disappeared during the wave of McCarthyite hysteria but the minuscule Liberal Party still exists, though it is nothing more than a supplicant for political patronage.
Abroad, Dubinsky aligned himself with other trade union leaders in battling communist control of unions in France and Italy. Following Meany’s rigid support for the Vietnam War (Meany refused to recognize that the war he so passionately supported was consuming the lives of many of his union members’ families), Dubinsky also backed the war but unlike his hawkish ILGWU colleagues, he refused to resign from the anti-war Americans for Democratic Action even though Parment believes he hoped to get the ADA to change its mind and support the war, which it never did. Anyway, it was 1967. Americans had already turned against the mass killing.
Before he died at age ninety in 1974, he wrote, “The important thing is that the union goes on.” Years after, in 1995, the ILGWU merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, renamed itself UNITE and claimed 350,000 members. “We do not live in the past but the past lives with us,” Parmet quotes Jay Mazur, the newly elected leader. Maybe so, but it will take a very long time before unions are able to recapture the economic muscle and prestige once held by past leaders like Walter Reuther, John L. Lewis, Sidney Hillman and David Dubinsky. Still, Parmet suggests, Maser’s UNITE is also dedicated to the actions and principles of “social unionism,” pioneered by Dubinsky and Hillman. In a nation now committed to “anything goes,” where everybody is supposedly on their own, caring about American working people may yet be the best way to get more men and women to join unions.
SOURCE: NYT ()
Yet somehow, between the presidencies of Jefferson and Lincoln, the top-down government bequeathed by the founding fathers evolved into a more participatory, bottom-up government recognizable, in its broad outlines, as modern American democracy. The process was messy, the battles fiercely waged, and the outcome often in doubt.
"American democracy did not rise like the sun at its natural hour in history," writes Sean Wilentz, a professor of history and director of the American studies program at Princeton University. "Its often troubled ascent was the outcome of human conflicts, accommodations and unforeseen events, and the results could well have been very different than they were." He uses the term "rupture," rather than "evolution," to characterize the changes that reshaped the old "politics of deference" and installed in their place a system of government in which citizens did not merely select their rulers but also gained access to the machinery of government.
"The Rise of American Democracy" goes over this contested terrain at great length and in great detail, with an emphasis on political ideas and party politics, rather than economics or social trends, as driving forces. Region by region, state by state, Mr. Wilentz traces the rude awakening of farmers, mechanics and the rest of the lesser fry who, in myriad ways, organized to demand their democratic rights and worked out the means to achieve them.
Progress was uneven. In Rhode Island it took something close to a civil war in the 1840's to overturn the state's colonial charter and loosen the grip on power of its landowning and merchant elite. In Louisiana the Creole elite in New Orleans held sway until a large influx of small farmers in the northern and central regions of the state exerted enough pressure to force a rewriting of the state's restrictive constitution in 1845. South Carolina retained its uncompromisingly aristocratic system of government until the end of the Civil War.
But by 1821, 21 of 24 states had eliminated property ownership as a requirement for voting, and in the election of 1828, more than a million Americans voted, four times the total of 1824. Voter turnout for the presidential election was 80 percent, a figure that held more or less steady for the rest of the 19th century. Women and blacks could not vote. But the vastly expanded pool of white male voters leapt at the opportunity to play an active political role unimaginable in the late 18th century. ...
SOURCE: Japan Focus ()
[Ben Kiernan, author of The Pol Pot Regime, is the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History and Professor of International and Area Studies at Yale University, and editor of Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World, 1939-1983.]
Note by Ben Kiernan: The New York Times revealed on October 31, 2005 that an in-house historian of the US National Security Agency has investigated the August 4, 1964 'Tonkin Gulf Incident' that the US government used to escalate the Vietnam War. According to this official U.S. historian, what happened that fateful day was deliberately misrepresented by officials who quickly discovered important mistakes in their agency's real-time reporting but immediately covered them up. A non-existent 'attack' then became a lie that took the United States into a new war against North Vietnam, at a cost of 58,000 American lives and over a million Vietnamese. It now seems clear that not one but both of the most disastrous conflicts in U.S. history, those in Vietnam and Iraq, were sparked by US officials disseminating lies and convincing the American public to go to war. Indeed, according to the New York Times, the NSA historian's extensive analysis of the official dishonesty was scheduled for publication in 2002-03, but the work was withheld from the public once the case then being disseminated to take the US into war against Iraq (its 'weapons of mass destruction') was itself already becoming controversial.
Among the earliest and most prominent Western opponents of the Vietnam War was the Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett, who died in 1983. Having first opposed US involvement in the Korean War, in which Australian troops also participated, Burchett had by then become the target of a decades-long official witchhunt which saw him barred from his home country for twenty years. Only with the election in 1972 of an Australian Labor government did Canberra finally restore his Australian passport, at the same time withdrawing the country's forces from Vietnam. In a right-wing political vendetta, even Burchett's children were long denied their Australian birthright. Some of the conservative criticism of Burchett's pro-communist views was sincere and correct, but inadequate in the eyes of his personal and political enemies. They waged a long campaign to blacken his name with lies while preventing him from returning to Australia.
Only after Burchett's death in exile did much of the truth come out, in a series of studies written by Gavan McCormack, a leading Australian historian of Japan and Korea. These included McCormack's seminal articles, "An Australian Dreyfus?" and "Burchett in Korea" in the monthly Australian Society (August 1984 and September 1985), and "The New Right and Human Rights: 'Cultural Freedom' and the Burchett Affair" (Meanjin 3, 1986), as well as a 50-page chapter entitled "Korea: Wilfred Burchett's Thirty Years' War," in my 1986 anthology Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World, 1939-1983. Recent Australian research in British and US archives has since vindicated much of what McCormack wrote twenty years ago, highlighting the scandalous official mistreatment of Burchett and his family throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This mistreatment helped not only to silence Burchett's on-the-spot war reporting but also to mislead the Australian and American publics, at great human cost.
As a youthful traveler in inter-war Europe, Burchett had helped rescue German Jews from Hitler, and had then covered the Pacific War for British newspapers. But it may have been his experience as the first Western reporter into Hiroshima after the A-bomb, and the first to break the story of radiation, that turned him into a dissident. Horrified at what he saw of the human and physical destruction of the Japanese city, and also at its censorship by US officials, Burchett soon commenced his career-long opposition to several American wars in Asia. He entitled one of his last books Shadows of Hiroshima.
Yet there was also an important Australian dimension to his writing. Burchett's son George, an artist now living in Sydney, has co-edited a long-lost work, his father's unpublished autobiography, covering his early life as well as his world-wide career. At the Melbourne launch of Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist, published in 2005 by the University of New South Wales Press, the distinguished Australian historian Stuart McIntyre, Dean of the Arts Faculty at Melbourne University, stressed Burchett's youthful upbringing in an independent Australian farming family as an important influence on Burchett's inimitable style of reporting against the grain in a series of international crises.
Nick Shimmin explains in the preface to this book how Wilfred Burchett’s son George obtained the typescript of Wilfred’s autobiography: it was kept, along with other papers, by his widow Vessa, who lived in Bulgaria, and brought back to Australia two years ago by George’s wife Ilza.
Despite its length, George read the entire book in one weekend — and so did I, last weekend.
It’s difficult to put it down because it is written with the freshness and immediacy of an outstanding reporter who was there when history was made: in Germany on the eve of World War Two assisting Jewish refugees, with Wingate on the Burma Road, in China as the Red Army struggled against the Japanese and Kuomintang forces, in Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped (despite attempts to prevent his access), and then in Germany after the war, in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, China, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and many other arenas of contestation and conflict.
He was not only there, he had first-hand knowledge and personal dealings with the decision-makers: Macarthur, Harriman and Kissinger, Zhou Enlai, Ho Chi Minh and Sihanouk.
But this book is something more than an eye-witness record of contemporary history. It’s also the story of a remarkable man. Wilfred Burchett reported events for a large number of news outlets, and he also wrote some 35 books, which were translated into as many languages.
The story he tells of himself is of a largely self-educated man (he taught himself a number of languages simultaneously and by rote while labouring on the land) who came from a strong, close family background of nonconformity, perseverance and industry, and practised all the family characteristics.
The Burchetts came to Australia from south-east England in the 1850s and were pioneers in southern Gippsland in the 1870s, enterprising builders in Melbourne during the 1880s, then forced back onto the land by the depression of the 1890s. Wilfred’s father similarly went into the building industry but was ruined by the depression of the 1930s, and Wilfred (the younger son) went onto the track, experiencing the hardship and exploitation and mateship of an itinerant adventurer.
He was in Sydney in 1934 when a Methodist minister and family friend died at the Domain when speaking out against the refusal to permit Egon Kisch to enter Australia. Kisch, a flamboyant roving reporter and publicist for left causes, clearly inspired Wilfred’s career. Burchett remembers him here as a champion of noble causes, ‘the world was his beat’. And Kisch was also the victim of official surveillance and vilification.
Wilfred Burchett made the world his beat, championed noble causes and also incurred victimisation. He became a marked man in Japan after the Second World War when he defied the American control of information to publicise the effects of atomic radiation.
He lost the support of his Fleet Street editors as the Cold War gripped Europe. He was accused of aiding the enemy in Korea, and of interrogating or even brainwashing American and Australian prisoners of war. He was subsequently accused of working for the KGB, and living in luxury, while he plied his trade, always at the front line, surviving danger and sickness, hammering out stories on his typewriter.
He was persecuted by another Australian journalist, Denis Warner, who himself had close links with ASIO. When I googled Wilfred Burchett, the entry for Denis Warner’s papers in the National Library was close to the top because they contain an extensive Burchett file.
Wilfred’s passport was stolen in the mid-1950s and he was refused entry back into his own country and threatened with violence when eventually he did return by light plane from Noumea.
The autobiography concludes with his subsequent and unsuccessful suit against the DLP’s former Senator Pat Kane, his failure to gain justice and the ruinous award of costs that effectively kept him out of his homeland for the rest of his life.
As early as 1953 Wilfred Burchett was the subject of a book published by the Australasian Book Society, He Chose Truth. In 1986 Ben Kiernan edited a collection of essays that appraised his work. His own memoirs appeared in two previous versions, Passport in 1969, and then the bowdlerised and heavily reduced version of this one, At the Barricades, which appeared in 1981. The Memoirs conclude with the libel suit and omit a final chapter from At the Barricades.
There has been a hostile life of Wilfred by the ineffable Roland Perry, a far less distinguished journalist, who then turned his attention to John Monash and Don Bradman; there are security files in Canberra and other places, and there have been countless spiteful and derogatory articles.
Burchett’s journalistic career was always something more than reportage, it was a commitment to a cause. That cause for Burchett was the liberation of humanity from oppression, the defeat of fascism, the success of national liberation movements and the building up of an alternative political, economic and social order.
He insisted that he was not a member of the Communist Party, and non of his critics have ever shown that he was. But he was a supporter of the communist movement in a period when the bipolar logic of the Cold War interpreted that support as treachery. His very ability to work on the other side (despite western attempts to prevent his doing so) allowed him to report world events with knowledge and insights denied to others.
Burchett repeatedly broke stories. He was the man on the spot who did not rely on official briefing and handouts, but went and saw for himself. He drew not just on his interviews with leading figures in China, Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere but intimate contact with other participants.
As Ben Kiernan has observed, he was at his best when a story was breaking and he could take the reader behind the scenes, or in challenging and rebutting the spurious allegations that were part of the Cold War propaganda battle.
He was less successful in his judgement of communist regimes. As Ben Kiernan has observed, he was no analyst and he could not assess the direction of slow historical changes. He praised the achievements of Stalinism and downplayed its repression.
He was a crusading journalist who almost instinctively took a contrary line to Western news and news commentary. Hence he was gullible at best in his reports on the show trials in Eastern Europe after the Second World War; and he was slow to see the murderous character of the Khmer Rouge regime, or recognise the plight of boatpeople who fled Indochina.
But to suggest he simply hoed the party line is to ignore the fact that he had to and did take sides in the conflict within the communist bloc. He supported the Soviet Union against Tito, China against the Soviet Union, Vietnam against China.
Moreover, his informed knowledge was respected by conservative diplomats such as Frederic Eggleston and Keith Waller.
We are indebted to George Burchett and Nick Shimmin for preparing the memoirs for publication. It is perhaps inevitable that there are some slips Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s journalist father appears in the index as Crabbe, Wallace, but such are the hazards of a double-barrelled surname. Zelman Cowan lacks an e in his surname, Gregory Clark gets a superfluous one in his.
These are minor flaws in the remarkable life-story of a remarkable Australian.
SOURCE: NYT Book Review ()
"You should buy that book," said my translator, a gaunt, bookish young man named Ghaith, who had risked his life under Saddam Hussein by reading American novels in public. "If you read one book about Iraq it should be Thesiger."
He was right. I sat up late that night, devouring Thesiger's account of his travels with a group of Bedouin tribesmen through Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter, where he hunted oryx and lived on dates and on water that tasted of camel urine. It was a far, far cry from the air-conditioned compound where I cowered behind my laptop eating PowerBars. It was also my first glimpse of the Arab history that lay beneath the rubble of Baghdad.
Like many other reporters, I had dutifully tossed a handful of paperbacks into my duffel before coming to Iraq in 2003. "Out of the Ashes," by Andrew Cockburn and Patrick Cockburn, was among the most readable of the lot, along with Dilip Hiro's "Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm." Michael Kelly's excellent book of dispatches about the first gulf war, "Martyrs' Day," was a model for aspiring war correspondents, as was Rick Atkinson's "Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War."
All these books were useful primers for covering the fall of Saddam Hussein. ...
One of the strangest and most wonderful things about Iraq, to Western eyes, is that the ancient past is so interwoven with the present. It's not just the Babylonian ruins poking up among the housing projects. I have spoken to weeping pilgrims who seemed to make no distinction between the killing of the Shiite martyr Hussein in A.D. 680 and of friends and relatives who died last week. Politicians routinely impugn their rivals as Iranian stooges by calling them Safawees, as if the Safavid empire of Persia (1502-1736) still existed. Insurgents toting AK-47's openly say they want to bring the country back to the early seventh century. ...
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com & NY Review of Books ()
Few lawyers have had more influence on President Bush's legal policies in the "war on terror" than John Yoo. This is a remarkable feat, because Yoo was not a cabinet official, not a White House lawyer, and not even a senior officer within the Justice Department. He was merely a mid-level attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel with little supervisory authority and no power to enforce laws. Yet by all accounts, Yoo had a hand in virtually every major legal decision involving the U.S. response to the attacks of September 11, and at every point, so far as we know, his advice was virtually always the same -- the president can do whatever the president wants.
Yoo's most famous piece of advice was in an August 2002 memorandum stating that the president cannot constitutionally be barred from ordering torture in wartime -- even though the United States has signed and ratified a treaty absolutely forbidding torture under all circumstances, and even though Congress has passed a law pursuant to that treaty, which without any exceptions prohibits torture. Yoo reasoned that because the Constitution makes the president the "Commander-in-Chief," no law can restrict the actions he may take in pursuit of war. On this reasoning, the president would be entitled by the Constitution to resort to genocide if he wished.
Yoo is now back in private life, having returned to the law faculty at the University of California at Berkeley. Unlike some other former members of the administration, he seems to have few if any second thoughts about what he did, and has continued to aggressively defend his views. His book The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11 shows why Yoo was so influential in the Bush administration. It presents exactly the arguments that the president would have wanted to hear. Yoo contends that the president has unilateral authority to initiate wars without congressional approval, and to interpret, terminate, and violate international treaties at will. Indeed, ratified treaties, Yoo believes, cannot be enforced by courts unless Congress enacts additional legislation to implement them. According to this view, Congress's foreign affairs authority is largely limited to enacting domestic legislation and appropriating money. In other words, when it comes to foreign affairs, the president exercises unilateral authority largely unchecked by law -- constitutional or international.
Yoo is by no means the first to advance such positions. Many conservatives favor a strong executive, especially when it comes to foreign affairs, and they are generally skeptical about international law. What Yoo offers that is new is an attempt to reconcile these modern-day conservative preferences with an influential conservative theory of constitutional interpretation: the "originalist" approach, which claims that the Constitution must be interpreted according to the specific understandings held by the framers, the ratifiers, and the public when the Constitution and its amendments were drafted.
The problem for originalists who believe in a strong executive and are cynical about international law is that the framers held precisely the opposite views -- they were intensely wary of executive power, and as leaders of a new and vulnerable nation, they were eager to ensure that the mutual obligations they had negotiated with other countries would be honored and enforced. During the last two centuries, of course, executive power has greatly expanded in practice; and the attitude of many U.S. leaders toward international law has grown increasingly disrespectful as the relative strength of the U.S. compared to other nations has increased. But these developments are difficult to square with the doctrine of "original intent," which, at least as expressed by Justice Antonin Scalia and other extreme conservatives, largely disregards the development of the law for the past two centuries. Yoo's task is to reconcile the contemporary uses of American power with his belief in original intent. His views prevailed under the Bush administration, and therefore should be examined not only for their cogency and historical accuracy, but for their consequences for U.S. policy in the "war on terror."
On its face, the Constitution divides power over foreign affairs. It gives Congress substantial responsibility, especially with respect to war. Congress has the power to raise and regulate the military; to declare war and issue "Letters of Marque and Reprisal," which authorize lesser forms of conflict; to define offenses against the law of nations; and to regulate international commerce. The Senate must confirm all treaties and all appointments of ambassadors. The president is named as the "Commander-in-Chief," and appoints ambassadors and makes treaties subject to the Senate's consent. In addition, the words "executive power" have, since the beginning of the republic, been regarded as giving the president an implicit authority to represent the nation in foreign affairs.
These divisions of responsibility were conceived for widely recognized historical and philosophical reasons. The Constitution was drafted following the Revolutionary War, in which the colonies rebelled against the abuses of the British monarchy, the prototypical example of an unaccountable executive. The new nation so distrusted executive power that the first attempt to form a federal government, the Articles of Confederation, created only a multi-member Continental Congress, which was in turn dependent on the states for virtually all significant functions, including imposing taxes, regulating citizens' behavior, raising an army, and going to war. That experiment failed, so the Constitution's drafters gave Congress more power, and revived the concept of a branch of government headed by a single executive. But they insisted on substantial limits on the power of the new executive branch, and accordingly assigned to Congress strong powers that had traditionally been viewed as belonging to the executive -- including the power to declare war.
Many of the framers passionately defended the decision to deny the president the power to involve the nation in war. When Pierce Butler, a member of the Constitutional Convention, proposed giving the president the power to make war, his proposal was roundly rejected. George Mason said the president was "not to be trusted" with the power of war, and that it should be left with Congress as a way of "clogging rather than facilitating war." James Wilson, another member, argued that giving Congress the authority to declare war "will not hurry us into war; it is calculated to guard against it. It will not be in the power of a single man, or a single body of men, to involve us in such distress; for the important power of declaring war is vested in the legislature at large." Even Alexander Hamilton, one of the founders most in favor of strong executive power, said that "the Legislature alone can interrupt [the blessings of peace] by placing the nation in a state of war." As John Hart Ely, former dean of Stanford Law School, has commented, while the original intention of the Founders on many matters is often "obscure to the point of inscrutability," when it comes to war powers "it isn't."
In the face of this evidence, Yoo boldly asserts that a deeper historical inquiry reveals a very different original intention -- namely, to endow the president with power over foreign affairs virtually identical to that of the king of England, including the power to initiate wars without congressional authorization. He argues that the power to "declare War" given to Congress was not meant to include the power to begin or authorize a war, but simply the power to state officially that a war was on -- a statement that would be "a courtesy to the enemy" and would authorize the executive to exercise various domestic wartime powers. At most, Yoo contends, the clause giving Congress power to "declare War" was meant to require congressional approval for "total war," a term Yoo never defines, but it left to the president the unilateral decision to engage in all lesser hostilities. He quotes dictionaries from the founding period that defined "declare" as "to pronounce" or "to proclaim," not "to commence." He points out that the Constitution did not give Congress the power to "engage in" or to "levy" war, terms used in other constitutional provisions referring to war. And he notes that unlike some state constitutions of the time, the federal constitution did not require the president to consult Congress before going to war.
All the evidence Yoo cites, however, can be read more convincingly to corroborate the view he seeks to challenge -- namely, that the Constitution gave the president only the power, as commander in chief, to carry out defensive wars when the country came under attack, and to direct operations in wars that Congress authorized. British precedent is of limited utility here, since the framers consciously departed from so much of it. Dictionary definitions of "declare" also offer little guidance, since Yoo ignores that there is a world of difference between someone's "declaring" his or her love for wine or Mozart and a sovereign's declaring war. "Declare War" was in fact a legal term of art, and there is evidence that it was used at the time to mean both the commencement of hostilities and a statement officially recognizing that war was ongoing. The use of the word "declare" rather than "levy" or "engage in" simply reflects the division of authority under which the president actually levies -- or carries on -- the war once it is begun. Indeed, the framers famously substituted "declare" for "make" in enumerating Congress's war powers for just this reason. And the framers had no reason to require the president to consult with Congress before going to war since it was Congress's decision, not the president's.
Most troubling for Yoo's thesis, his account renders the power to "declare War" a meaningless formality. At the time of the Constitution's drafting, a formal "declaration of war" was not necessary for the exercise of war powers under either domestic or international law, so Yoo's hypothesis that the declaration served that purpose fails. Yoo's further suggestion that the clause recognizes a distinction between "total wars," which must be declared, and lesser wars, which need not be, has no historical basis. Despite his ostensible commitment to originalism, Yoo cites no evidence whatever to suggest that any such distinction existed for the founding generation. Nor does he ever explain what the distinction might mean today. And the fact that the text grants Congress both the power to "declare War" and to issue "Letters of Marque and Reprisal" strongly suggests an intent that Congress decide on all forms of military conflict other than repelling attacks. Once these explanations evaporate, all that is left for Yoo's theory of the war clause is that it gives Congress the power to provide a "courtesy to the enemy" -- hardly a persuasive refutation of the clear language of the framers quoted above.
Yoo's evidence does not undermine the conclusion that the framers intended Congress to take responsibility for the decision to send the nation into war. But in some sense, arguments against his theory are academic. Modern practice is closer to Yoo's view than to the framers' vision. Beginning with the Korean War, presidents have routinely involved the nation in military conflicts without waiting for Congress to authorize their initiatives. Yoo notes that while the nation has been involved in approximately 125 military conflicts, Congress has declared war only five times. Were the framers lacking in practical judgment when they gave Congress this power?
Yoo claims that since September 11, it is all the more essential that the nation be able to act swiftly and without hesitation, even preemptively, to protect itself. We can't afford to wait around for Congress to figure out what it wants to do. The "war on terror" does not permit democratic deliberation, at least not in advance. And, as Yoo repeatedly insists, Congress remains free to cut off funds for any military action that it does not like.
But there is as good reason today as there was when the Constitution was drafted to give Congress the power to authorize military activities. As the framers accurately predicted, presidents have proven much more eager than Congress to involve the nation in wars. It is easier for one person to make up his mind than for a majority of two houses of Congress to agree on a war policy.
Presidents also tend to benefit from war more than members of Congress, by increasing their short-term popularity, by acquiring broader powers over both the civilian economy and the armed forces, and, sometimes, by the historical recognition later accorded them. Moreover, as the Vietnam War illustrated, even when a war becomes extremely unpopular, it is not easy to cut off funds for the troops.
It is true, as Yoo observes, that, since Harry Truman, presidents of both parties have generally resisted the view that they need congressional authorization to commit forces to military conflict. But this attitude is in fact a relatively recent development. While formal declarations of war have been rare, Yoo fails to note that presidents have generally sought congressional authorization for military actions. Until the Korean War, presidents either openly acknowledged that congressional authorization was necessary or offered rationales for why a particular military initiative was an exception to that rule. Thus, the view that Yoo promotes as "original" has in fact been advanced only during the last fifty years, and only by self-interested executives.
This view is particularly disputed by Congress, as can be seen in the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which sought to reaffirm and restore Congress's constitutional role in deciding on whether to go to war, and also in the legislative debates that inevitably take place when presidents talk of going to war. As the war in Iraq has painfully underscored, the decision to go to war, especially a war initiated by the president without broad international support, can have disastrous consequences; and extricating the country from such a war can be extremely difficult. Were Congress to be eliminated from the initial decision-making process, as Yoo would prefer, the result would almost certainly be even more wars, and more quagmires such as the one in Iraq. On this issue, the framers were persuasive, and it is Yoo who has failed to understand both the checks on executive power they imposed and the reasons they did so.
Yoo's interpretation of the treaty power, like his view of the war power, departs dramatically from the text of the Constitution and its traditional understanding. The Constitution's Supremacy Clause explicitly provides that
"all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby.
On the strength of that clause, and statements made about treaties at the time of the framing, it has long been accepted that treaties have the force of law in the United States, create binding obligations, and may be enforced by courts. Indeed, the Supreme Court long ago stated that treaties are "to be regarded...as equivalent to an act of the legislature."
In the modern era, Congress often specifies when ratifying a treaty that it should not be enforceable in court until further legislation is enacted. And even without such directives, courts sometimes find treaties not to be judicially enforceable; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit did so recently in rejecting a Guantánamo detainee's claim that his pending trial in a military tribunal violated the Geneva Conventions.
Yoo would go further, insisting on a presumption against judicial enforcement unless Congress clearly specifies otherwise. On this view, treaties lack the force of law, and become mere political promises, having about as much force as campaign rhetoric. And he further claims that the president has unilateral authority to interpret, reinterpret, and terminate treaties, effectively rendering presidents above the law when it comes to treaties.
To support these revisionist views, Yoo relies heavily and repeatedly on a rigid dichotomy between foreign affairs -- which he sees, in the British tradition, as the executive's domain -- and domestic matters -- which he sees as the province of the legislature. But as we have seen, the Constitution's framers explicitly rejected such a rigid division, giving Congress and the Senate substantial power over functions that the British saw as executive in nature, including the power to make war and treaties, and expressly assigning the judiciary the responsibility to enforce treaties as the "Law of the Land."
If anything, Yoo's historical evidence is even thinner with respect to the treaty power and the Supremacy Clause than it is with respect to the clause on declaring war. As Jack Rakove, one of the foremost historians of the federal period, has concluded, the framers "were virtually of one mind when it came to giving treaties the status of law." As other historians have pointed out, one of the principal incentives for convening the Constitutional Convention was the embarrassing refusal of state governments to enforce treaties. The Supremacy Clause solved that problem in as direct a way as possible -- by making treaties the "Law of the Land," enforceable in courts and binding on government and citizenry alike. That treaties were not thought to need further implementing is underscored by the framers' unanimous decision to omit treaty enforcement from Congress's enumerated powers, "as being superfluous since treaties were to be ‘laws.'" Yoo's account turns that conclusion on its head; his reading would render superfluous the Supremacy Clause's assertion that treaties are laws. If treaties had domestic force only when implemented by a subsequent statute, as Yoo maintains, then the statute itself would have the status of the "Law of the Land," not the treaty.
Yoo is no more convincing with respect to presidential interpretation of treaties. He maintains that because foreign policy is an executive prerogative, the executive must be able to reinterpret and terminate treaties unilaterally. But while the Constitution plainly envisioned the president as the principal negotiator of treaties, it also gave clear responsibilities for treaties to the other branches; all treaties must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate, and once ratified, treaties become "law" enforceable by the courts. The president must certainly be able to interpret treaties in order to "execute" the laws, just as he must be able to interpret statutes for that purpose. But there is no reason why his interpretations of treaties should be any more binding on courts or the legislature than his interpretations of statutes.
The Rule of Law
Yoo's views on the war and treaty powers share two features. First, they both depart radically from the text of the Constitution. He would reduce the power to "declare War" to a mere formality, a courtesy to the enemy; and he would render entirely superfluous the Supremacy Clause's provision that treaties are the "Law of the Land." It is ironic that a president who proclaims his faith in "strict construction" of the Constitution would have found Yoo's interpretations so persuasive, for Yoo is anything but a strict constructionist. One of the arguments most often made in defense of "originalism" is that interpretations emphasizing a "living" or evolving Constitution are too open-ended, and accordingly they permit judges to stray too far from the text. Yoo unwittingly demonstrates that his brand of originalism is just as vulnerable to that criticism as other approaches, if not more so. He not only departs from the text, but contradicts the principles that underlie it.
Second, and more significantly, all of Yoo's departures from the text of the Constitution point in one direction -- toward eliminating legal checks on presidential power over foreign affairs. He is candid about this, and defends his theory on the ground that it preserves "flexibility" for the executive in foreign affairs. But the specific "flexibility" he seeks to preserve is the flexibility to involve the nation in war without congressional approval, and to ignore and violate international commitments with impunity. As Carlos Vazquez, a professor of law at Georgetown, has argued in response to Yoo, "flexibility has its benefits, but so does precommitment." The Constitution committed the nation to a legal regime that would make it difficult to go to war and that would provide reliable enforcement of international obligations. Yoo would dispense with both in the name of letting the president have his way.
Even if Yoo is wrong about the original understanding in 1787, is he wrong about 2005? As the subtitle of his book indicates, his argument rests not just on revisionist history, but also on arguments about what is practically necessary in a twenty-first-century world threatened by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. He contends that these developments demand that the president have the leeway to insulate his foreign policy decisions both from the will of Congress and from the demands of international law.
Here it is worth reviewing the positions Yoo advocated while in the executive branch and since, and their consequences in the "war on terror." At every turn, Yoo has sought to exploit the "flexibility" he finds in the Constitution to advocate an approach to the "war on terror" in which legal limits are either interpreted away or rejected outright. Just two weeks after the September 11 attacks, Yoo sent an extensive memo to Tim Flanigan, deputy White House counsel, arguing that the President had unilateral authority to use military force not only against the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks but against terrorists anywhere on the globe, with or without congressional authorization.
Yoo followed that opinion with a series of memos in January 2002 maintaining, against the strong objections of the State Department, that the Geneva Conventions should not be applied to any detainees captured in the conflict in Afghanistan. Yoo argued that the president could unilaterally suspend the conventions; that al-Qaeda was not party to the treaty; that Afghanistan was a "failed state" and therefore the president could ignore the fact that it had signed the conventions; and that the Taliban had failed to adhere to the requirements of the Geneva Conventions regarding the conduct of war and therefore deserved no protection. Nor, he argued, was the president bound by customary international law, which insists on humane treatment for all wartime detainees. Relying on Yoo's reasoning, the Bush administration claimed that it could capture and detain any person who the president said was a member or supporter of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and could categorically deny all detainees the protections of the Geneva Conventions, including a hearing to permit them to challenge their status and restrictions on inhumane interrogation practices.
Echoing Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, then White House counsel, argued at the time that one of the principal reasons for denying detainees protection under the Geneva Conventions was to "preserve flexibility" and make it easier to "quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors." When CIA officials reportedly raised concerns that the methods they were using to interrogate high-level al-Qaeda detainees -- such as waterboarding -- might subject them to criminal liability, Yoo was again consulted. In response, he drafted the August 1, 2002, torture memo, signed by his superior, Jay Bybee, and delivered to Gonzales. In that memo, Yoo "interpreted" the criminal and international law bans on torture in as narrow and legalistic a way as possible; his evident purpose was to allow government officials to use as much coercion as possible in interrogations.
Yoo wrote that threats of death are permissible if they do not threaten "imminent death," and that drugs designed to disrupt the personality may be administered so long as they do not "penetrate to the core of an individual's ability to perceive the world around him." He said that the law prohibiting torture did not prevent interrogators from inflicting mental harm so long as it was not "prolonged." Physical pain could be inflicted so long as it was less severe than the pain associated with "serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."
Even this interpretation did not preserve enough executive "flexibility" for Yoo. In a separate section of the memo, he argued that if these loopholes were not sufficient, the president was free to order outright torture. Any law limiting the president's authority to order torture during wartime, the memo claimed, would "violate the Constitution's sole vesting of the Commander-in-Chief authority in the President."
Since leaving the Justice Department, Yoo has also defended the practice of "extraordinary renditions," in which the United States has kidnapped numerous "suspects" in the war on terror and "rendered" them to third countries with records of torturing detainees. He has argued that the federal courts have no right to review actions by the president that are said to violate the War Powers Clause. And he has defended the practice of targeted assassinations, otherwise known as "summary executions."
In short, the flexibility Yoo advocates allows the administration to lock up human beings indefinitely without charges or hearings, to subject them to brutally coercive interrogation tactics, to send them to other countries with a record of doing worse, to assassinate persons it describes as the enemy without trial, and to keep the courts from interfering with all such actions.
Has such flexibility actually aided the U.S. in dealing with terrorism? In all likelihood, the policies and attitudes Yoo has advanced have made the country less secure. The abuses at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib have become international embarrassments for the United States, and by many accounts have helped to recruit young people to join al-Qaeda. The U.S. has squandered the sympathy it had on September 12, 2001, and we now find ourselves in a world perhaps more hostile than ever before.
With respect to detainees, thanks to Yoo, the U.S. is now in an untenable bind: on the one hand, it has become increasingly unacceptable for the U.S. to hold hundreds of prisoners indefinitely without trying them; on the other hand our coercive and inhumane interrogation tactics have effectively granted many of the prisoners immunity from trial. Because the evidence we might use against them is tainted by their mistreatment, trials would likely turn into occasions for exposing the United States' brutal interrogation tactics. This predicament was entirely avoidable. Had we given alleged al-Qaeda detainees the fair hearings required by the Geneva Conventions at the outset, and had we conducted humane interrogations at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Camp Mercury, and elsewhere, few would have objected to the U.S. holding some detainees for the duration of the military conflict, and we could have tried those responsible for war crimes. What has been so objectionable to many in the U.S. and abroad is the government's refusal to accept even the limited constraints of the laws of war.
The consequences of Yoo's vaunted "flexibility" have been self-destructive for the U.S. -- we have turned a world in which international law was on our side into one in which we see it as our enemy. The Pentagon's National Defense Strategy, issued in March 2005, states,
"Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak, using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism."
The proposition that judicial processes -- the very essence of the rule of law -- are to be dismissed as a strategy of the weak, akin to terrorism, suggests the continuing strength of Yoo's influence. When the rule of law is seen simply as a device used by terrorists, something has gone perilously wrong. Michael Ignatieff has written that "it is the very nature of a democracy that it not only does, but should, fight with one hand tied behind its back. It is also in the nature of democracy that it prevails against its enemies precisely because it does." Yoo persuaded the Bush administration to untie its hand and abandon the constraints of the rule of law. Perhaps that is why we are not prevailing.
Copyright 2005 David Cole
[Note: This piece originally contained numerous footnotes, which can be found in the November 17 issue of the New York Review of Books or, next week, at that magazine's website where the piece will be also posted.]
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.