Readers of this blog will know—I hope—that I have a nearly physical revulsion toward all things imperial and militarist. But sometimes I have a reaction that points in the opposite direction. When terrible things happen to other people in other countries, and the cries for humanitarian intervention mount, I feel an emotional tug: We should do something to stop those terrible things! But then I think about someone who lives somewhere that doesn’t house a planetary armory. Does my doppelganger in Costa Rica or Lichtenstein feel that same tug? I don’t mean the natural human empathy for people who suffer; I mean that combination of guilt and duty that makes one feel like a shit, a bad person, for not doing anything or for opposing those who want to do something. I’m curious about this—how the state’s possession of a global artillery, and its assumption of a global duty, insinuates itself into the inner life of the imperial citizen, how a humanitarian sense of guilt and responsibility is the privilege, the lived experience, of imperial power. At least as that power is experienced by its holders.
The economist Gary Becker has died. Kieran Healy has a great write-up on Foucault’s engagement with Becker; Kathy Geier has a very smart treatment of, among other things, feminist critiques of Becker’s theory of the family. And some more personal reminiscences of taking a class with Becker.
Kathy mentions this article that Becker wrote in 1997 about the Chicago Boys who worked with the Pinochet regime. Becker’s conclusion about that episode?
In retrospect, their willingness to work for a cruel dictator and start a different economic approach was one of the best things that happened to Chile.
No real surprise there. Many free-marketeers, including Hayek, either defended the Pinochet regime or defended those who worked with it.
But the Becker piece reminded me of that infamous Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) conference in Viña del Mar in 1981, about which I wrote at length two summers ago. The MPS is an organization of economists, philosophers, and assorted action intellectuals and businessmen dedicated to spreading the free market gospel across the globe. In the late 1970s, at the height of Pinochet’s repression, Hayek and a few grandees from Chile began discussions about holding the MPS’s annual conference in the seaside city where the coup against Allende had been planned. The purpose in meeting there would prove avowedly propagandist. As the organization’s own newsletter later acknowledged, the conference provided participants with an opportunity
for becoming better acquainted with the land which has had such consistently bad and misrepresenting press coverage (and, perhaps for that reason, it was appropriate to have Reed Irvine, head of Accuracy in Media as one of the first speakers in the first session).
Becker was originally targeted or slated to speak on a conference panel titled “Education, Government or Individual Responsibility?” His name appears on an early agenda with a “T” next to it. For “tentative.” But Becker either never confirmed or pulled out. No matter: Milton and Rose Friedman, along with James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, were there to show the flag—and the calculus of their consent.
Vo Nguyen Giap, the military leader of the Vietnamese resistance to French and American domination, has died. The Washington Post has a decent obituary, but this bit of language really caught my eye. Listen carefully to the different verbs that are used to describe the actions of the US versus those of the Vietnamese, post-Geneva Accords.
At the Geneva Conference that followed the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam was divided into two countries: north and south. In the north, the Communist Party ruled under the leadership of Ho. With the French colonialists out of the picture, an ambitious land-reform program was undertaken, for which Gen. Giap would later apologize. “[W]e . . . executed too many honest people . . . and, seeing enemies everywhere, resorted to terror, which became far too widespread. . . . Worse still, torture came to be regarded as a normal practice,” he was quoted as having said by Neil Sheehan in his Pulitzer-winning 1988 book, “A Bright Shining Lie.”
In the south, the United States replaced France as the major foreign influence. CIA operatives worked to blunt communist initiatives, and by the early 1960s, U.S. soldiers began arriving as “advisers” to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Men and supplies flowed southward from Hanoi, and indigenous guerrilla units throughout South Vietnam began raiding government troops and installations. The United States increased its level of support, which by 1968 had reached 500,000 military personnel.
So in 1954, Vietnam was merely “divided.” By no one. In the North, the Communists “ruled,” “executed” innocents, and “tortured.” In the South, the US merely “replaced” France as an “influence.” The CIA “worked,” American soldiers “arrived,” supplies “flowed,” the US “increased support.”
Sixty years later, America’s imperial scribes are still at the top of their game.
We charge this Offender with…nothing, that does not argue a total extinction of all moral principle; that does not manifest an inveterate blackness of heart, died in grain with malice, vitiated, corrupted, gangrened to the very core….We charge him with nothing, that he did not commit upon deliberation;…They were crimes, not against forms, but against those eternal laws of justice….
…We have brought before you the Chief of the tribe, the Head of the whole body of Eastern offenders; a Captain-general of iniquity, under whom all the fraud, all the peculation, all the tyranny, in India, are embodied, disciplined, arrayed, and paid. This is the person, my Lords, that we bring before you. We have brought before you such a person, that, if you strike at him with the firm and decided arm of justice, you will not have need of a great many more examples. You strike at the whole corps, if you strike at the head.
There might have been a time in the American empire when that last bit was true of Kissinger. Sadly, no more.
Readers who grew up in the New York area in the 70s will remember the “It’s 10 pm. Do you know where your children are?” tagline.
Update (11:30 am)
Turns out, we do: he’s meeting with John Kerry about Syria.
Who would you rather be?
Or this guy?
The twentieth century was the century of Matusow, Kazan, and other assorted informers, informants, and snitches, behind the Iron Curtain, in Nazi Germany, in Latin America, in the United States. Everywhere.
Let the 21st be the century of Snowden, Manning, and more.
Penny Lewis, a sociologist at CUNY’s Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, has a new book out: Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory.
It’s a revisionist account of the movement against the Vietnam War that completely upends our sense of who was for and against the war. Even more interesting, it tells us how we came to such an upside down view of the antiwar movement.
Luckily I don’t have to summarize the book because Penny’s got a terrific piece out in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education where she lays out the argument.
Just a quick excerpt:
The story we tell ourselves about social division over the war in Vietnam follows a particular, class-specific outline: The war “split the country” between “doves” and “hawks.” The “doves,” most often conflated with “the movement,” were upper-middle-class in their composition and politics. The movement was the New Left, and a big part of what made the New Left “new” was its break from the working-class politics and roots of the Old Left. Think of Dr. Benjamin Spock, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Students for a Democratic Society, Weathermen: students, intellectuals, professionals, celebrities; liberal or radical privileged elites.
And what of the “hawks”? Beyond the military brass, war supporters are often imagined as “ordinary” Americans: white people from Middle America (a term coined in the 1960s), who supported God, country, and “our boys in the ‘Nam.” They were working-class patriots who insisted that criticism of the war meant criticism of the soldier. “If you can’t be with them, be for them,” as the sign read. Many of these Middle Americans epitomized moderate middle-class solidity and stolidity, while the workers among them, or members of the lower middle class, are remembered for having supported George Wallace and Richard Nixon, and their status as Reagan Democrats was imminent, even immanent, as early as 1968.
Most accounts of the working class depict them as largely supportive of the war and hostile to the numerous movements for social change. We need look no further than the most enduring image of the working class from that period, a certain cranky worker from Queens, N.Y. The TV character Archie Bunker, who brought the working class to prime time as white, bigoted, sexist, homophobic, and yearning for the good old days before the welfare state, when everybody pulled his weight, when girls were girls and men were men.
“Hardhats,” a stereotype based primarily on construction workers in New York City who assaulted antiwar protesters at a Manhattan rally in May 1970, were the iconic hawks. The most important working-class institution in the postwar era, the AFL-CIO, is remembered for being virulently anticommunist and vociferously pro-war; big labor’s embrace of the Vietnam cause confirmed the image of the working-class patriot who shouts “Love it or leave it!” at young, entitled hippies.
But this memory of the Vietnam era contains only half-truths, and overall it is a falsehood. The notion that liberal elites dominated the antiwar movement has served to obfuscate a more complex story. Working-class opposition to the war was significantly more widespread than is remembered, and parts of the movement found roots in working-class communities and politics.
In fact, by and large, the greatest support for the war came from the privileged elite, despite the visible dissension of a minority of its leaders and youth. The country was divided over the war, alongside many other pressing social issues—but the class dynamics of those divisions were complex, contradictory, and indeterminate.
Many books briefly discuss the discrepancy between our historical impression of class-based sentiment and its reality. Yet no account systematically explains why such a misperception exists, its extent, or its impact.
So read Penny’s piece. And then go buy her book. Trust me: you won’t regret it.