This Department features reviews and summaries of new books that link history and current events. From time to time we also feature essays that highlight publishing trends in various fields related to history.
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SOURCE: H-Net ()
Reviewed by Steven Schwab
Published on H-War (December, 2008)
Commissioned by Janet G. Valentine
At a press conference in 1975, Senator Frank Church castigated the CIA as "a rogue elephant on the rampage." As Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Church had been investigating alleged abuses of power by the CIA and the FBI, including attempts to assassinate or overthrow foreign leaders. One of the main objects of the Church Committee's investigations was the CIA's sponsorship of covert actions in Chile from 1964 to 1974, and especially its role in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, which quickly led to the military dictatorship headed by General Augusto Pinochet. As a direct consequence of the Church Committee's published reports, President Gerald Ford issued an Executive Order prohibiting any U.S. involvement in, or sanction of, assassinations of foreign leaders. The Committee's exposure of abuses of law and power by the CIA and FBI, and more generally, within the Executive Branch also led to the creation of permanent intelligence oversight committees with broad powers in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
In its closed hearings, the Church Committee did uncover a lengthy record of CIA activities in Chile, including covert funding designed, initially, to thwart Allende's accession to power, and, later, to undermine his government. But it did not produce evidence that directly linked the CIA to the coup itself. In essence, it failed to provide any further substantiation to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's cryptic telephone comment to President Richard Nixon that: “We didn't do it. I mean we helped them ... created the conditions as great as possible." Moreover, the fact that thousands of documents pertaining to Chile remained classified until President Clinton authorized the Chile Declassification Project in 1999 long inhibited scholars from a fuller examination of the historic record.
Now, using these newly declassified records and his own interviews with senior U.S. officials, Kristian Gustafson has produced a well-documented analytical study that argues persuasively that the real hostility toward Chile originated in the Nixon White House and that the CIA, far from being omnipotent, was often a mere instrument of White House directives that frequently ignored intelligence in favor of ill-conceived solutions. In support of this strong assertion, Gustafson quotes an official CIA assessment that "during Nixon's years in office, the relationship between the President and the CIA reached the lowest point in the Agency’s history" (p. 17).
Gustafson's monograph opens with an excellent introduction that frames the rest of his work. Almost immediately he states that his sole purpose is "to better establish the facts of a particular series of covert actions initiated by the U.S. government and executed largely by the CIA" (p. 4). Gustafson makes it clear that he does not harbor the assumption that all covert action is evil. On the contrary, he asserts that "it is a tool of statecraft used by all the major world powers, whose study is important for its future use" (p. 4). This chapter also contains a useful review of the literature on Allende's fall, both in Spanish and English. Surprisingly, Gustafson has discovered that almost all Chilean writers do not hold Washington responsible for the Chilean coup. The rest of the work adheres to a chronological treatment of the events leading to the imposition of the military junta. Gustafson notes that both CIA planners and Secretary Kissinger were surprised by "the permanence of the junta and of Pinochet's grip on the apparatus of government" (p. 235).
Gustafson portrays CIA operations in Chile as mostly reactive and haphazard, and frequently out of touch with political realities. His research indicates that instead of trying to organize a coup against Allende in 1973, the CIA had reduced its contacts with military plotters and was relying largely on its sources within the Christian Democratic Party for political intelligence. Unfortunately for the CIA, military plotters did not trust Christian Democrats. "Thus the CIA did not have the best intelligence on the coup plot as it developed," and in the post-coup period "the CIA focused on the political machinations of a party that the junta planned to marginalize" (p. 231).
In many respects, this book is a case study of a series of misguided covert actions that lacked the benefit of congressional oversight. Gustafson characterizes the Church Committee's investigations as "a lamentable and partisan inquisition against the CIA," but he also recognizes that these hearings produced a "codified approval process for covert action," and thus "served a beneficial purpose" (p. 243). As both a well-trained scholar of intelligence and a former military officer, Gustafson appreciates the reality that the United States, acting as a superpower in a dangerous world, will continue to utilize covert action as an instrument of both its defense and foreign policies. He also accurately observes that the U.S. government may be the best known, but it certainly is not the only practitioner of covert action. Yet, in the case of Chile, CIA's operations ultimately produced results that "were neither beneficial to the state nor desirable to the people." Worse, they led the United States "down the garden path to association with the Western Hemisphere's most reviled dictator" (p. 18).
This harsh judgment of U.S. operations in Chile, which cannot be avoided, suggests that even this persuasive study fails to answer the most important question: to what extent did U.S. covert machinations contribute to the overthrow of Allende and the ascendency of Pinochet? It would have been instructive for Gustafson to have consulted Covert Action (1988) by Gregory Treverton, who served on the staff of the Church Committee and years later as a senior official of the Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, it was Treverton who authored most of the Church Committee's report to Congress on covert actions in Chile. In his discussion of how the CIA helped to instigate a strike by Chilean truckers that paralyzed commerce and justified a military intervention, Treverton finds that "what is most striking is how artificial the distinction was between supporting the opposition and seeking a change of government. It was a distinction [only] in the minds of Americans, not Chileans. Those Chileans in the opposition did not want merely to exist; they wanted to succeed.... Their paramount purpose was the end of the Allende government."
. See http.www.gwu.edu/~nsaarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB123/chile.htm.
. Gregory Treverton, Covert Action: The Limits of Intervention in the Postwar World (New York: Basic Books, 1988), 141-143.
Avraham Burg has a fascinating biography. His father Joseph Burg, was a German Jew who arrived in Palestine in 1939 as a refugee from Nazism. For many years, he led Israel’s National Religious Party and served as a government minister. His mother’s family lived in Hebron for generations before she was driven out in the 1929 anti-Jewish riots that killed over 100 Jews including half her family.
Born in 1955 in Jerusalem, Avraham Burg is an observant Jew, yet has always been identified with the Israeli left. He joined Peace Now and participated in the movement against the Israel’s first Lebanon War in 1983. He was injured in the same grenade attack by an Israeli right-winger on a Peace Now demonstration that killed another protester. Entering the political mainstream, he was elected to the Knesset as a Labor Party candidate in 1988, became Speaker of the Knesset in the 1990s and mounted a serious challenge for leadership of the Labor Party in 2001. Along the way, he served as president of the two pillars of the Zionist establishment---the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization.
First published in Hebrew in 2007, as Defeating Hitler: The Holocaust is Over it caused a storm of controversy. For too long, Burg argues, Israel has been obsessed with the Holocaust. The slaughter of the 6 million Jews in Europe has become internalized to the extent that Israelis view themselves as a nation of victims. Although armed with a powerful military, including nuclear weapons and allied with the sole super power, Israel acts as if it is threatened with annihilation. Its political discourse is laden analogies to the plight of Jews in pre-war Europe and with the Holocaust itself. “We have pulled the Shoah out of its historical context”, writes Burg, “and turned it into a plea and generator for every deed. All is compared to the Shoah, dwarfed by the Shoah and therefore all is allowed—be it fences, sieges… curfews, food and water deprivation or unexplained killings. All is permitted because we have been through the Shoah and you will not tell us how to behave.”
Burg uses the language of psychology to describe the mentality of the majority of Israeli Jews. Abused as a “child,” it has become an abusive “parent.” The suffering of Jews in Nazi Europe becomes the rationale to show no mercy to the Palestinians and other Arabs. First Nasser, then Arafat and Saddam Hussein and now Hamas and Iranian president Ahmanidejad are equated with Hitler. Displacing their anger from Nazis to Arabs, right wing settlers and ultra -orthodox fundamentalists have fostered a “Jewish racist doctrine” shared to various degrees by mainstream Israelis that consider Arabs as inferior beings who do not deserve equal rights.
Ironically, Burg reminds us, the initial reaction to the Holocaust in Israel was one of shame. Jews supposedly went like sheep to the slaughter because they were mired in the slavish habits of the “galut” or exile. Holocaust survivors in Israel were discouraged from telling their stories. The turning point was the Eichmann trial in 1961, where testimony from Jewish victims broadcast live on the radio struck a powerful chord with the Israeli populace. This should have been a catharsis. Instead, according to Burg, it became “a theological pillar of modern Jewish identity” exploited by Zionist leaders to convince Jews that “the whole world is against us.” Or as he calls it, “a boundless paranoia that is no longer able to distinguish between friend a predator, a primitive suspicion of every one, all the time about every issue.” Zionism promised to purge Jews of their “ghetto mentality.” Instead Israel has reproduced it on a larger scale, continuing to believe “the entire world is against us.”
Questioning Zionism is a cardinal sin throughout the Jewish world, although it has a long history among Jews including Vladimir Medem, Elmer Burger, Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, Judah Magnes, Isaac Deutscher, Noam Chomsky and many others. Burg would like to see Israel become “a state of all its Jews and all its citizens with the majority determining its character.” This would entail repealing the Law of Return that grants preferential immigration rights to Jews and all laws that discriminate between Jews and non-Jews. An ethno-religious state would give way to one based on humanistic Jewish values.
The best traditions in Judaism, Burg avers, are now honored more in the Diaspora than in the Jewish state. In order to return to them, mixed groups of Jewish and Arab youth should be taken on a grand tour of Europe from Spain to Germany and Poland to explore both the Jewish and Muslim experience in Europe, past and present. Auschwitz should not be on the itinerary. Another trip should bring Israeli Jewish students to the US to learn “how life with national meaning can be lived without an external enemy, and with full trust between Jews and the non-Jewish environment.”
Burg’s arguments are not entirely new. Israel journalist Tom Segev explored the tortured relationship between Israelis and the Holocaust in his book The Seventh Million, published in Hebrew in 1991 and in a 1993 English-language edition, and which came to the same conclusions. Neither proposes that Israelis forget the Holocaust. Rather they need to draw different lessons. As Burg has said, “There are two kinds of people coming out of Auschwitz. Those who said never again for the Jews and those like me who say never again for any human beings.”
If Burg set out to provoke, he succeeded. The danger is that this book is too provocative, debunking too many Zionist sacred cows at once to earn a fair hearing. The Jewish establishment in Israel and elsewhere consider Burg persona non grata. A minority on the left, mainly youth, consider him a prophet. Let’s hope that unlike so many others, he is appreciated in his own time.
The Iraq War has been among the greatest disasters in modern American history. Michael Schwartz’ illuminating new book War Without End: The Iraq War in Context provides a comprehensive overview of the ideological roots of the war and its harrowing social costs for the Iraqi people. He argues quite convincingly that rather than it being purely a matter of administrative incompetence and mismanagement, the ideological zealotry of leading neo-conservatives was a principal cause of the American failure to establish political legitimacy after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He shows how neo-liberal policies and the rapid privatization of state resources backed by a doctrine of massive force helped to exacerbate the suffering of ordinary Iraqis who increasingly turned to resistance against U.S. power and rule and remain disdainful of the occupation.
According to Schwartz, a professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, America’s war aims were clear from the outset: to create a strategic base for the establishment of control over the Middle East’s prized energy reserves and to usher in an economic transition from the “socialist dictatorship” of Saddam Hussein to an unfettered free-market capitalist state capable of serving as a model for the region. In the aftermath of the invasion, Lieutenant L. Paul Bremer and his staff moved to rapidly privatize state resources, including the formerly state-owned oil industry and all sectors of the economy including the health and educational systems. They rewarded multinational corporations like Haliburton and Bechtel with major contracts to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure, which had been devastated during the shock and awe campaign and previous wars and economic sanctions.
The consequences of these policies were profound: They confirmed for a large number of Iraqis that America had invaded the country for self-serving reasons. Furthermore, they caused a social and economic crisis of epic proportions, which gave strength to the insurgency. The dismantling of state industries caused the loss of thousands of jobs, which were replaced by foreign contractors. Local businesses were bankrupted by the flooding of the country with cheap imports and by a lack of regular electricity. Unemployment rates in the once prosperous nation skyrocketed to over 60 percent. Massive corruption in the rewarding of contracts and the dismissal of skilled local technicians resulted in gross inefficiency. This trend was typified by a failed $70 million dollar Halliburton project to reconstruct an oil pipeline in Al Fatah, which came to resemble, as one observer put it, “some gargantuan heart-bypass operation gone nightmarishly bad.”
Most disconcerting was the decline in health and educational services bred by the U.S. occupation and war. Schools damaged by the fighting were never properly repaired and lacked basic textbooks and school supplies. The U.S. military sometimes even used schools as a staging base for military incursions. By 2007, UNICEF reported that only one-sixth of Iraqi children were being educated at all. After dismantling the state health-care system, which had been among the best in the Arab world before Hussein’s ascent to power, occupation officials promised to construct dozens of private clinics across the country. Most of these never materialized, resulting in a decline in accessibility of basic medicines and equipment. In the newly “liberated” Iraq, doctors would fill out prescriptions that the pharmacies could not provide. Family members of patients even had to serve as nurses and IVs and needles had to be reused. Over time, doctor shortages and the imposition of curfews in cities made the situation grow worse. The inability of occupation officials to provide clean water throughout the country resulted in outbreaks of cholera and other diseases which the hospitals were ill-equipped to treat. The overflow of raw sewage into city streets was another factor breeding disease in the teeming urban slums of Iraqi cities which came to resemble something out of a Charles Dickens’ novel.
One of Schwartz’ important contributions is to show how the failure of America’s privatization and “nation-building” programs contributed to the rise of the insurgency in Iraq. Rather than being composed of “dead enders,” in Donald Rumsfeld’s now infamous words, or foreign jihadists or ex-Bathists, he demonstrates how resistance was in fact driven by “local factors that grew strength from deep grievances and a widespread hostility to the presence of foreign troops,” as U.S. intelligence analysts concluded. In the early phases, many Iraqis staged demonstrations against the occupational authorities demanding basic social services and jobs. Rather than seeking to respond to their demands, the authorities instructed the military to greet any act of dissidence as suspicious and to shoot at any perceived threat. U.S. soldiers consequently fired upon peaceful crowds and killed and wounded civilians, thus stoking popular anger. Many more innocent civilians were killed by fearful Marines at often poorly marked checkpoints throughout the country. The routine raiding of homes designed in part to strike fear among the population helped to further stoke popular anger and resentment, as did the prevalence of deplorable prison conditions and the revelations of torture as at Abu Ghraib. The U.S. construction of a gaudy multi-billion dollar embassy made apparent America’s ambitions to remain in Iraq indefinitely.
In order to try to maintain its grip on power, and in clear violation of international law, the U.S. adopted a doctrine of collective punishment designed to annihilate not only the insurgent fighters but anyone who harbored and supported them. The consequence was the perpetration of many massacres, such as the notorious incident at Haditha where 24 civilians, including women and children were slaughtered by Marines. The doctrine of collective punishment was on display during the siege of Fallujah where the U.S. military killed thousands of people and turned the entire city into “a desolate world of skeletal buildings, tank-blasted homes, weeping power lines and severed palm trees,” in the words of New York Times journalist Erik Eckholm. A marine lieutenant proclaimed afterwards: “This is what happens if you shelter terrorists.” As these comments reveal, the siege of Fallujah was intended as a warning sign to others that it would suffer the same fate if it defied U.S. power.
Much like the Vietnamese in an earlier American failed colonial intervention, the Iraqis refused to bow to U.S. pressure and thus paid a high price in fighting for their sovereignty and independence. The backbone of the resistance took root in Sunni as well as some Shia cities like Sadr city where local warlord Muqtada Sadr gained in prestige not only by defending Iraqi cities from attack but also by seeking to provide basic social services that had been abandoned under the occupation. The resistance in Iraq, however, was never unified and became factionalized and ridden by sectarian tensions which culminated in the onset of full-scale civil war. The war’s ugliness was compounded by the tactics of many insurgent fighters - particularly the small number of Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq whose agenda was to expel the U.S. from Iraq and establish a caliphate through the Arab Middle East embodying the principles of Salafi Islam. They adopted terror techniques such as suicide and car bombings directed against supposed colonial collaborators and Shia, which only intensified public suffering. Criminal gangs seized upon the violence and chaos to carry out the looting of public resources and facilities and to extort money for ransom.
According to Schwartz, the United States bears a large share of the blame for creating a climate in which these trends emerged. In his view, the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq resemble those of the U.S. in Fallujah with the aim of inducing civilians to withdraw their support for the enemy once they experienced the agony of punishment. Contrary to the false impression given by a majority of America’s mainstream media, through the extensive air campaigns and search and destroy missions, U.S. forces and their proxies bear responsibility for the majority of both civilian and combat deaths, which scientific studies have placed at well over one million. Schwartz estimates plausibly that the U.S. has been responsible for at least 57 percent of the killings, many of which he attributes to a hysterical use of firepower by American troops in urban combat zones. The much vaunted “surge” strategy of President George W. Bush only worsened the carnage and further inflamed Iraqis, which remains weary of the American presence and continues to live in conditions of utter destitution. The U.S. backed Maliki government and military, meanwhile, remain predominantly powerless outside Baghdad’s Green Zone due to the growing strength of the sectarian militias who control many neighborhoods.
On the whole, while destined to create controversy, Schwartz has written a very powerful book on the U.S. occupation of Iraq and its devastating consequences for the country. He sheds great insight into the mindset of American policy-elites and military officials and documents the stark brutality of their programs. He demonstrates furthermore that the rise of insurgency in Iraq was not irrational or driven exclusively by an Islamicist agenda or hate but was rather a product of the arrogance of American occupying officials and the failure of U.S. state-building policies and neo-liberalism, which failed to guarantee basic social services and thereby helped to facilitate Iraq’s social decay. Most of all, Schwartz reminds us who the true victims of the war are. In order to move forward the next administration needs to accept accountability and not simply withdraw troops but provide reconstruction and reparations aid so that Iraqis can rebuild their country on their own terms.
Historians have long been interested in the impact of Europeans on Asia, though the focus has begun to shift in recent years, with some now emphasizing the dominant role of the intra-Asian marketplace on the growth of world trade, especially from the Ming period onwards. Professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom is one such revisionist, whose empirically based study of Shanghai’s emergence as a global city challenges the predominant Eurocentric view that pushes a discourse of an East-meets-West metropolis. Even during the treaty-port era, when Shanghai was so often described as the ‘Paris of the Orient’, it was, argues Wasserstrom, the result of more than “simply an East-meets-West” dynamic, for there “were always non-Western and non-Chinese actors playing key roles in the story of Shanghai’s globalization.” When the Public Garden was off-limits to Chinese other than servants, for example,
it might be visited by a businessman from Korea and a family of Baghdadi Jews, who had come to listen to the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra, in which Filipinos were among the musicians, and when they entered to hear the band, they might have passed by a Gurkha constable at the gate. Most significantly, of course, among the non-Western and non-Chinese participants in Shanghai’s initial rise to global city status were the many Japanese who, as investors, as tourists, as literary influences, and as invaders and then conquerors, figured prominently in shaping the history of the city throughout the first half of the twentieth century.
The same holds true for Shanghai today, argues Wasserstrom, with the city’s re-globalization again being “very much an East-meets-East as well as an East-meets-West story.” Japanese companies have been heavily involved in creating many of Shanghai’s postmodern new landmarks, “including what is just now the tallest skyscraper on earth, the World Financial Center,” and Taiwanese and Hong Kong investors have “played a crucial part” in the city’s resurgence. Xintiandi for example, one of the city’s leading entertainment and retail districts, “was bankrolled primarily by a Hong Kong developer. Even the management team in charge of the city’s Starbucks franchise is based not in Seattle but in Taipei.
Although “the rapidity with which Shanghai has been changing and continues to change makes it difficult to predict what lies in store for it,” Wasserstrom believes that Shanghai’s hosting of the World Expo in 2010 will be an important moment in the city’s history, as there is an expectation that the event will draw an estimated 70 million tourists to Shanghai, not only from the West, “but from other parts of the Chinese mainland, from Hong Kong, and from countries near to China, especially Japan and Korea as well as Singapore and Taiwan.” The event then, will not only increase Shanghai’s status as a global city, but will also “lead to yet another face-lift for its waterfront” in order to provide docking space for large cruise ships and to make room for national pavilions.
Another of Wasserstrom’s many interesting predictions, is that Shanghai will provide a model for other cities with global aspirations to follow:
Looking beyond Shanghai and into the future, we can expect to see the city, due to its success at using ideas about the local past to serve its present globalizing goals, stand out more and more as a model for other urban centres that had golden ages as cosmopolitan hubs. This has happened already with Bombay (Mumbai), where some boosters have invoked Shanghai as having blazed a path that their city should follow. And it is easy to imagine developers in a Havana or Hanoi of 2020 trying to figure out how to create a local counterpart to Xintiandi that would simultaneously, like that site, point to a storied past and an ambitious future.
A city that is constantly re-inventing itself, post-socialist Shanghai, says Wasserstrom, is not only the city of the present, but also of the future. In a line reminiscent of Marshall Berman’s description of modernity, where we as subjects are “alive to new possibilities for experience and adventure” while also being “frightened by the nihilistic depths to which so many modern adventures lead,” the futuristic city, writes Wasserstrom, is “one that regularly inspires dreams and nightmares, not just within but also well beyond its borders, and one that is thought of as rich in disturbing portents and also promise.”
Shanghai’s potent “mix of sensation and spectacle, exploitation and excitement” not only attracts international capital, but also those of us who, like Wasserstrom, find magnetic the global dynamism of such cities of perpetual disintegration and renewal.
Adopting a global rather than Eurocentric perspective, Wasserstrom has produced a fascinating, well-researched and empirically grounded study that sheds much needed light on Shanghai’s emergence, and re-emergence, as a cosmopolitan city of global importance. Highly recommended.
[Mr. Ayton is the author of The JFK Assassination : Dispelling The Myths ( 2002), Questions Of Controversy: The Kennedy Brothers (2001), A Racial Crime – James Earl Ray And The Murder Of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, (2005) and The Forgotten Terrosist – Sirhan Sirhan and the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (2007). In 2003 he acted as the historical adviser for the BBC’s television documentary, The Kennedy Dynasty and has appeared in Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel documentaries. He has written articles for David Horowitz’s Frontpage magazine, Max Holland’s Washington Decoded, History Ireland, Crime Magazine and the History News Network.]
Gus Russo and Stephen Molton have produced a well-researched and compelling study of the role Cuban, Soviet and American intelligence agencies played in keeping track of Lee Harvey Oswald, the self-styled ‘revolutionary’ who assassinated President John F. Kennedy, in the years before Dallas. Their book provides details of how the Soviets passed information about Oswald on to the Cuban intelligence agencies who in turn decided Oswald may be of some use in their attempts to hit back at the United States for its efforts in trying to topple the Castro regime. Their investigation into the movements of Cuban Intelligence agent Fabian Escalante Font before and after the assassination is also central to their thesis that the assassination can be placed firmly at Castro’s door. The authors have utilized hundreds of documents from KGB, Cuban, Mexican Secret Police, and recently unredacted U.S. government files and combined them with their own interviews of the players in the JFK/Castro conflict to support their thesis.
Additionally, one would have thought that there was nothing more to learn about Lee Oswald especially in his relationship with his wife Marina but Russo and Molton have done exactly that and they also provide the reader with additional insight into the character and motives of the assassin. The authors are particularly informative about Oswald’s activities in the Soviet Union and his friendship with Cuban students in Minsk. Particularly revealing are the snippets of information about Oswald which reveal how the assassin manipulated Cuban and American intelligence agencies into believing he had an important role to play in what turns out to be his own fantasy game of building himself up to be some sort of important figure.
Brothers In Arms also provides further conclusive proof that the facts of the assassination were concealed in order to hide the truth about Robert Kennedy’s determination to assassinate Castro so the younger brother could protect the family’s legacy. The facts were also concealed from the Warren Commission because of Lyndon Johnson’s desire to protect national security.
Two of the most important failures of the Warren Commission were in not investigating the possible links between the CIA’s plots to kill Castro and the assassination of the president and the Commission’s poor job in determining if there was more to Castro’s agents in Mexico City than had previously been discovered. Former CIA Director Allen Dulles, a Warren Commission member, failed to tell his colleagues on the Commission or staff investigators about the Castro plots. This knowledge could have given investigators an important lead on Oswald's time in Mexico City in the short period before the assassination. Commission members Richard Russell and Gerald Ford also knew about the CIA’s attempts to kill the Cuban leader. However, if no link existed between Oswald and the Soviet or Cuban governments, they reasoned, there was no reason to inform their staff investigators who wrote the Commission’s report.
Yet there was definitely a political motive for Oswald’s actions which should have provoked the Commission into investigating these important links. Russo and Molton have succeeded where the Commission failed. Oswald had spent his adolescence and early manhood pursuing a communist dream and searching for some kind of involvement in revolutionary activities. Disillusioned with his time spent in the Soviet Union the young Oswald returned home searching for a new cause. He found it in his hero, Fidel Castro, and began planning a way to help the revolution. As his wife Marina said, “I only know that his basic desire was to get to Cuba by any means and all the rest of it was window dressing for that purpose.” His friend Michael Paine said Oswald wanted to be an active guerrilla in the effort to bring about a new world order. The Commission also had knowledge that a Cuban Intelligence agent defector had provided information about his agency’s interest in Oswald. Lyndon Johnson was adamant that such information should not be disclosed even if it were true as he believed it would have disastrous consequences.
Russo and Molton provide evidence that this self-styled revolutionary and Castro worshipper may have had contact with Cuban agents when Oswald visited the Soviet and Cuban Mexico City embassies a short time before the assassination. They claim that Castro had been aware of Oswald’s desire to murder the American president and Cuban agents, either acting on their own or with Castro’s blessing, spurred him on. This may have been true. The evidence the authors provide includes a Cuban intelligence agent’s intercepted telephone conversation in which she gleefully reports JFK’s assassination and hints she had prior knowledge of Oswald’s intentions to kill Kennedy and multiple reports of Cuban agents stationed at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City quickly leaving and returning to Cuba after the Kennedy assassination. The inference is that Cuban agents directed Oswald each step of the way. However, there is also a compelling case to be made that Oswald simply presented proof of his authentic ‘revolutionary’ activities in New Orleans to the Cuban agents who then encouraged him to assassinate Kennedy but had no hand in the mechanics of the act.
Russo and Molton have introduced the possibility that Oswald may have had assistance from Cuban agents in Dallas or, at the very least, an observer to make sure the assassin carried out the crime which they encouraged. However, this remains, at best, speculative. Questions still remain about how Cuban intelligence could have placed Oswald in the Texas School Book Depository and why they allowed Oswald to use his own less-than-reliable rifle to commit the assassination. Ruth Paine and Linnie May Randle were the two people responsible for securing the book depository job for Oswald and it beggars belief that Cuban agents would want Oswald to use a cheap rifle which could have misfired at any time during the assassination attempt.
Additionally, Cuban agents would have had no way of knowing JFK’s travel plans or the route the motorcade took in Dallas which placed the president in sight of his assassin - unless they formulated the purported plot only days before the campaign trip. However, would Cuban agents have allowed Oswald to threaten an FBI agent in a note he delivered to the Dallas FBI offices? Would Oswald’s co-conspirators have allowed the assassin to carry only a few dollars with him when he escaped from the Texas Book Depository? Russo and Molton also cannot explain why Cuban agents would risk the possibility of Oswald giving up his co-conspirators in the 48 hours or so between the time he was arrested and his murder by Jack Ruby.
If Russo and Molton fall short of providing concrete proof that Castro organized the assassination of JFK they have, nevertheless, come closer than anyone else to explaining Oswald’s mysterious trip to Mexico City. With the eventual fall of the communist regime in Cuba, Russo and Molton may in time be proven to be correct and the truth of Castro’s role in the assassination established. In the meantime, their thesis cannot either be ignored or rejected. This impressive work comes closer than any other author's efforts, with the exception of Vincent Buglisosi, in establishing the truth of the JFK assassination.
The terms Left and Right were coined in 1789 to describe seating arrangements for the National Assembly during the early stages of the French Revolution. Those seated to the podium’s right wanted to preserve parts of the past; those on the left hoped, in the name of progress, to invent a new future. But the maneuverings of politics soon muddied the initial transparency of these terms into an enduring illegibility. The ideas of the bloody minded right-wing reactionary Joseph de Maistre, the intellectual arch-enemy of the Revolution, for instance, became an inspiration for the early socialists—and so it has gone ever since.
The flamboyant French litterateur Bernard-Henri Lévy, widely known in Paris as BHL, acknowledges the problem. In his new book, he writes that “the famous split between Left and Right that has structured French politics . . . has become harder and harder to believe in.” That is because, to his dismay, much of the Left, cuckolded by history, no longer believes in progress or modernity. He describes the contemporary Left, with its signature scowl of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and anti-liberalism, as “that great backward falling corpse which the worms have already started to chew.”
Despite his disdain for much of the current Left, and despite the fact that many of those closest to his point of view in France endorsed the presidential candidacy of the “right-wing” flag bearer Nicholas Sarkozy, a personal friend, Lévy refused to abandon the Socialist ticket. His dilemma, he told Sarkozy, was that no matter how much he liked, respected, and even agreed with the French president, he couldn’t support him because “the Left is my family.” Lévy’s new book is an effort—part memoir, part essay, part polemic—to explain the nature of those family ties.
“And does my insistence, on sticking with the Left that has done everything to empty itself of its substance mean I’m clinging to yesterday . . . to nostalgia? . . . Yes, maybe,” Lévy writes. “But not only.” Lévy’s “not only” refers to the images he treasures of his father in the uniform of the Spanish Republicans who fought Franco; of the great resistance hero Jean Moulin; of the brave socialist Prime Minister of the 1930s, Leon Blum. He acknowledges that “images are not enough” and describes the events that shaped his loyalties and those of his parents. These include the Dreyfus Affair, Vichy France, and the Algerian War, as well as being a young man during the uprisings of May 1968. He wonders if he is worthy of his illustrious ancestors, such as the “young left-wing captains in Portugal 1975 bringing down the Salazar dictatorship.” But here again, he backtracks and adds, “It is true that none of these events can completely justify the clear division of Right and Left.” He recognizes that some on the Right supported Dreyfus and the events of May ’68, while “many socialists . . . pacifists and sometimes Communists” took part in Vichy’s crimes. “These events,” he concludes, “are split by the same dividing line that they purport to draw.”
Some American readers will find themselves exasperated by Lévy’s very French form of discursive, emotional writing, which lacks the concision and specificity of the best English-language essays. BHL criticizes Sarkozy for supposedly writing off the Arab and Islamic rioters of the banlieues who need to be incorporated into France, for example. But his moralizing leaves no room to discuss the rigid terms of France’s statist economy, which makes it almost impossible to create jobs for the unemployed beurs, who have plenty of time to fester on welfare. And some of his concerns are far more salient in a European context than in an American one. Most Americans don’t realize that much of Tony Blair’s cabinet in England consisted of former far-leftists; or that Massimo D’Alema, Italy’s prime minister at the end of the 1990s, was formerly a communist; or that Lionel Jospin, French Prime Minister from 1997 to 2002, had earlier been a Trotskyist for two decades.
But, argues BHL, whatever the considerable failings of those older iterations of Leftism, until the fall of the Soviet Union the Left still had something like a positive agenda. Since then, Leftists—reduced to “the joint ownership of resentment”—have increasingly turned against their parentage, the Enlightenment. The Left now defines itself so closely by its hatred of America and Israel that anti-globalization activists even draw on counter-Enlightenment figures—such as the philo-Nazi political theorist Carl Schmitt—to create what BHL calls “a right-wing left.”
The Left’s once proud universalism has devolved into an ethnic particularism, of the sort that once found its home in the fever swamps of the far Right. “We are in a world in which, on the one hand, we have the United States, its English poodle, its Israeli lackey—a three-headed gorgon that commits all the sins in the world—and, on the other side, all those who, no matter what their crimes, their ideology, their treatment of their own minorities, their internal policies, their anti-Semitism and their racism, their disdain for women and homosexuals, their lack of press freedom and of any freedom whatsoever, are challenging the former” and are thus to be defended, Lévy laments. Here he refers, among other examples, to the case of British Leftist playwright Harold Pinter who became, during the Bosnian slaughter of the 1990s, an ardent defender of Slobodan Milošević.
Lévy has fought the good fight. His courageous book Who Killed Danny Pearl, based on his extensive travels in Pakistan, unflinchingly described the radical evil of our time. But under the spell of a hopelessly confused nomenclature, BHL, sticking to his anti-Sarkozy guns, concludes with a call for what he terms “melancholy liberalism.” The phrase may sound odd to American ears, but its content is quite familiar. It’s another name for the disillusioned liberalism of 1950s America, with its strong sense of nuance, irony, and complexity. It’s a chastened liberalism worthy of admiration. But after following BHL’s stylish twists and turns in describing the creation of a “right-wing left,” the reader is bound to ask at least two questions. First, when is it time to leave a dysfunctional family? And second, is it not time to free ourselves, as much as possible, from a hopelessly outdated and unavoidably misleading set of political categories?
The Brooklyn Navy Yard has had a long life. A shipyard along the East River, it was owned and operated by the United States Government from 1801 to 1966, purchased by New York City in 1967, and then reopened in 1971 as an industrial park. Two years later, Frank Trezza found a job there as a marine electrician for Seatrain Shipbuilding. Under conditions that he describes in vivid detail in his autobiography, Brooklyn Steel-Blood Tenacity, he worked on four VLCCs (very large crude carriers), an ice breaker barge, eight ocean going barges, and two roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ros) until two herniated discs and nerve damage along his right leg incurred on the job forced him into retirement from Seatrain.
Determined not to be sidelined permanently, he afterward worked at the Bath Iron Works in Maine, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire, and a European defense contractor in South America. In 1999, at age forty-six, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from the University of Southern Maine. Interestingly enough, at the same time his son received a BA in political science from the same school.
Though Trezza provides a brief historical perspective on the Yard toward the end of his account, what he essentially presents is autobiography, the story of how he and his wife, Milagros, managed to survive and have three children under difficult circumstances.
Trezza and his fellow shipbuilders endured long layoffs, twelve-hour work days, seven-day work weeks, an often treacherous workplace with dangerous walkways, falling equipment, icy decks in winter, hot decks in summer, toilets without privacy, and obnoxious human beings. Labor relations in building the VLCC Williamsburg, for example, involved dealing with the “rat patrol,” people who would raid the restroom and take note of the workers who were there rather than at work and then accuse them of not producing enough, which was punishable by suspension without pay or dismissal. One such individual, “Mr. Rat,” received his comeuppance on a bus, where he was beaten in the face with a tow truck chain. While building the Stuyvesant (“Economic Hell!”), workers gained revenge on an unpopular supervisor by making a voodoo doll to represent him and then sticking pins in its crotch.
More pleasant is what happened to Mary Lindsay, the wife of Mayor John Lindsay. Before a crowd of some 5,000 people, she attempted to christen the Brooklyn by smashing a bottle of champagne on a bracket over the bow. To everyone’s dismay, her aim was poor and the bottle not only failed to break, but also fell out of her hands onto the dry dock below. To the rescue came a marine electrician, who had anticipated the problem, with another bottle of champagne, which he smashed as the crowd cheered.
Along with this account of a ceremony are those of accidental deaths, reminiscent of Upton Sinclair’s indictment of the meatpacking industry in The Jungle. For example, one worker died from loss of blood after his legs were crushed by an I-beam, and another from a forty-foot fall when he lost his footing on an overhead crane.
Despite the sometimes terrible working conditions, Frank Trezza expresses gratitude for the opportunity to have worked for Seatrain Shipbuilding, which fell victim to international competition and economic conditions and shut its gates in 1979. “A very large group of economically disadvantaged minorities living in the bowels of poverty were given a chance to work and better themselves against all odds.”
Those people, coming from diverse backgrounds, which the author does not stress in his account, are this book’s heroes. They were workers struggling with each other, their union, and their bosses, as they built great ships. Trezza tells his story and theirs without pretense, in the often raw language of the workplace, and illustrates it with his own photographs.
Today the United States finds itself in the midst of an interregnum between outgoing and incoming presidents. A high level of public interest attends this transfer of power because it intersects with a sharp economic reversal. But things could be much worse. In the broader sweep of world history, convulsions often accompany regime change. And the United States has not been immune.
The most dangerous transfer of power in American history occurred in the winter of 1860-61, following Abraham Lincoln’s election as president. Before he even took office, seven states in the Deep South—from South Carolina west to Texas—declared themselves out of the Union and began to organize the government for a separate nation, the Confederate States of America.
Electoral systems are supposed to assure orderly successions. In theory, those who participate in an election pledge themselves to abide by the result. Certainly Lincoln and his fellow Republicans expected the South to acquiesce. But theory and practice do not always coincide. Many white Southerners considered Lincoln’s victory an intolerable affront. Refusing to accept a “Black Republican” president, they demanded that their states secede from the Union.
During the four months following the election in early November 1860, the outgoing lame-duck president, James Buchanan, was responsible for dealing with the secession crisis (until 1936, American presidents were inaugurated on March 4, not January 20). Buchanan insisted that no state could legally secede, but he feared that any use of armed force against the secessionists would make a bad situation worse. As the Union unraveled, Lincoln could only await events. No incoming president before or since has faced such a vexing crisis.
In his inaugural address, Lincoln declared that the Union was perpetual and that it remained “unbroken.” His oath of office obligated him to take care that the laws “be faithfully executed in all the States.” But he eagerly hoped that national authority could be restored without “bloodshed or violence.” And he ended with words that President-elect Barack Obama quoted on election night earlier this month: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” (Basler, ed., Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, IV:262-71, quotations on 264-66, 271.) Because Lincoln will always be remembered as a war president, we rarely recall that he came to power hopeful that the peace might yet be preserved.
Harold Holzer has just published a hefty new study of Lincoln’s role during the excruciating interval between his election and his inauguration. One approaches this book with high hopes. Holzer is the author or editor of thirty books on various aspects of Lincoln’s life and the Civil War. He commands a wide audience. His Lincoln at Cooper Union was awarded the Lincoln Prize. This latest venture is being vigorously marketed and carries glowing endorsements from prominent scholars.
Lincoln President-Elect provides an almost linear catalog of Lincoln’s daily routines and movements between early November 1860 and early March 1861. Two-thirds of the volume is situated in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln remained until early February. Another hundred pages detail his roundabout railroad trip to Washington, D.C. The final few chapters sketch the pressure-packed ten days between February 23 and March 4, after Lincoln reached the national capital and had to make weighty decisions about his inaugural address, about the roster of his cabinet, and about the dread matter that hung over everything—his policy toward the disaffected South.
Anything a reader might wish to know about Lincoln’s appearance, attire, and diet may be found here. The book is definitive on his post-election decision to grow whiskers. We learn about the furnishings of his Springfield home, many of which were sold as he prepared to move. We find him besieged by a growing volume of visitors. Holzer also has ransacked many odd nuggets from Lincoln’s incoming mail—counterparts to the miscellaneous avalanche of gifts and mementos that steadily accumulated in a room of the Illinois State House.
Holzer contends that Lincoln’s secession crisis role has been insufficiently appreciated. He takes exception to the idea that the president-elect picked his way tentatively through the shocks and surprises of the interregnum. He rejects David M. Potter’s tart view that Lincoln “groped and blundered” as he began to realize that the seceding states were in earnest. (Potter, Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis, 315.) Holzer’s Lincoln, by contrast, navigated “brilliantly” (458) through all the snares of the secession winter and had a clear vision of the road ahead.
Part of Holzer’s case is compelling. On one key point Lincoln was adamant—he repeatedly demanded that Republicans maintain their opposition to slavery in the territories. “Hold firm, as with a chain of steel,” he insisted (159). He feared that the party would no longer stand for anything if it backed down from its core principles. He feared too that radicals would defect and cripple his new administration.
Although Lincoln consistently rejected a territorial compromise, in other ways his response to the crisis was opportunistic. New Mexico was the only territory south of the old Missouri Compromise line (36°30´). Lincoln could tolerate its admission to the Union as a slave state. He wasn’t keen to put a non-Republican Southerner into his cabinet, but he decided to offer a position to North Carolina’s John A. Gilmer, who nonetheless declined it. He rewrote his inaugural address so as to emphasize his hopes for peace. Once in office, he anguished for most of a month before deciding to risk war.
Lincoln President-Elect is an imperfect guide to the political crisis that was at the center of Lincoln’s consciousness between November and March. Part of the problem is conceptual. However much a relentless day-by-day format may inform readers about Lincoln’s activities, it is ill-suited to illuminate the various tangled strands of the story. Most historical writing examines particular topics within the broader context of chronology. Only rarely do scholars attempt a rigidly chronological approach.
By focusing so intently on Lincoln, Holzer tends to overlook important parts of the story that did not take place in Springfield. Thus, he barely touches the crisis that engulfed Buchanan’s cabinet in late December, after Major Robert Anderson boldly moved his besieged garrison of federal soldiers in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, from Fort Moultrie, a defenseless sandspit, to Fort Sumter, a mile offshore. The little that he writes about it shows that Holzer should have studied the subject more carefully. Sumter was destined to become Lincoln’s biggest headache of all.
Lincoln President-Elect has other limitations. Holzer tends to turn everything into biography or personality. For example, his account of Thurlow Weed’s visit to Springfield just before Christmas manages to misunderstand why Weed was far more alarmed than Lincoln about the situation in the South. Holzer depicts instead two veteran storytellers trading yarns with each other. A “delighted” Weed, fortified with a “hearty breakfast of sausages,” headed back east with warm feelings about his new friend (170). This glimpse conceals more than it explains.
Holzer knows a bewildering amount about Lincoln—and he cannot restrain himself from putting it all in the book. But he simply hasn’t done the research to write with full authority about the secession crisis. He has not consulted the papers of the other key players—William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, James Buchanan, Stephen A. Douglas, and Charles Francis Adams, for starters. And he knows so little about the South that he keeps making mistakes. Georgia’s Alexander Stephens had never been a U.S. Senator. James A. Bayard, identified here simply as a Philadelphian, was in fact a powerful U.S. Senator from Delaware.
For many weeks Lincoln remained confident that the South would come to its senses. He continually refused to make conciliatory statements or to offer reassurances of his good intentions. Holzer celebrates Lincoln’s stance and castigates those who saw the matter differently. Holzer cannot comprehend why any self-respecting Republican might have supported efforts to enact some kind of compromise legislation.
A recent book by a young scholar, Russell McClintock, Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession (North Carolina, 2008), offers far more depth and perspective on the crisis that led to war. More succinct than Holzer’s bloated volume, McClintock’s book also covers Lincoln’s first crucial six weeks in office. McClintock understands—as Holzer does not—the complexity of what was happening in the slave states. An anti-secession insurgency in the Upper South tempted some Republicans, especially Seward, to heed warnings from Virginia about the need for compromise and about the danger of maintaining federal control over Fort Sumter, the powder keg in Charleston harbor. In the end, McClintock, like Holzer, strongly affirms Lincoln’s leadership. But McClintock’s case rests on far more persuasive foundations.
Holzer shortchanges the one previous book that covers the exact same ground as his—William E. Baringer’s A House Dividing: Lincoln as President-Elect (Abraham Lincoln Association, 1945). An accomplished Lincoln scholar, Baringer wrote more economically than Holzer and did not get bogged down in detail. So too, a wider research base enabled Baringer to grasp some aspects of the crisis that eluded Holzer. Baringer explained more clearly why pressures to enact a modified compromise intensified in January and February, once it could be depicted as a way of supporting Union-loving anti-secessionists in the Upper South.
In the end, Lincoln did prove willing to accept one key compromise—a constitutional amendment forever safeguarding slavery in the states where it already existed. He made this position explicit in his inaugural address. Holzer reprints the inaugural as an appendix, but his own narrative does not breathe a word about Lincoln’s position on the constitutional amendment. To do so would admit too much paradox. Holzer must depict Lincoln as someone who, unlike Seward, would never countenance the permanence of slavery (213-14).
Holzer refuses to see that the man we now hail as the “Great Emancipator” never expected to become a war president and never expected to preside over the forcible destruction of the slave system. Only rarely do Lincoln’s modern admirers come to grips with the “plain evidence of his earnest efforts to avoid that course altogether.” Lincoln was, in fact, “reluctant to become an Emancipator,” David Potter wrote, “and the conflict which immortalized him was a conflict which he had believed he could avert.” (Potter, Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis, 315.)