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The Washington Post: America’s Imperial Scribes

4 Oct

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.

I feel about Henry Kissinger the way Edmund Burke felt about Warren Hastings

11 Sep

I feel about Henry Kissinger the way Edmund Burke felt about Warren Hastings:

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.

It’s 9/11. Do you know where Henry Kissinger is?

11 Sep

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.


Well, it’s 9/11, the 40th anniversary of the coup that overthrew Allende. Do you know where Henry Kissinger is?

Update (11:30 am)

Turns out, we do: he’s meeting with John Kerry about Syria.

Snitches and Whistleblowers: Who would you rather be?

10 Jun

Who would you rather be?

This guy?

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Or this guy?

Harvey Matusow testifying before Senate Internal Subcommittee

Harvey Matusow testifying before Senate Internal Subcommittee

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.

Everything you know about the movement against the Vietnam War is wrong

16 May

Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks

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.

Ronald Reagan: Ríos Montt is “totally dedicated to democracy”

10 May

Reagan and Rios Montt


So much of the discourse around the US and genocide focuses on the sin of omission, the failure of the US to prevent or stop genocide elsewhere. Now that former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt has been found guilty of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in prison—a fact established by a UN truth commission in 1997 but often ignored in the literature about genocide and intervention, which tends to focus on Rwanda and Bosnia—perhaps we can attend to the sin of commission. For the US support for Rios Montt was extensive. I wrote about it in the London Review of Books in 2004:

On 5 December 1982, Ronald Reagan met the Guatemalan president, Efraín Ríos Montt, in Honduras. It was a useful meeting for Reagan. ‘Well, I learned a lot,’ he told reporters on Air Force One. ‘You’d be surprised. They’re all individual countries.’ It was also a useful meeting for Ríos Montt. Reagan declared him ‘a man of great personal integrity . . . totally dedicated to democracy’, and claimed that the Guatemalan strongman was getting ‘a bum rap’ from human rights organisations for his military’s campaign against leftist guerrillas. The next day, one of Guatemala’s elite platoons entered a jungle village called Las Dos Erres and killed 162 of its inhabitants, 67 of them children. Soldiers grabbed babies and toddlers by their legs, swung them in the air, and smashed their heads against a wall. Older children and adults were forced to kneel at the edge of a well, where a single blow from a sledgehammer sent them plummeting below. The platoon then raped a selection of women and girls it had saved for last, pummelling their stomachs in order to force the pregnant among them to miscarry. They tossed the women into the well and filled it with dirt, burying an unlucky few alive. The only traces of the bodies later visitors would find were blood on the walls and placentas and umbilical cords on the ground.

Photograph via Indypendent (h/t Peter Wirzbicki)

Look Who’s Teaching at CUNY!

29 Apr

It was only a matter of time


h/t Liza Featherstone

Petraeus is Coming to CUNY. Just “like the invasion of Iraq.”

29 Apr

In case you were wondering about this

David H. Petraeus, who resigned as director of the Central Intelligence Agency last November after having an extramarital affair with his biographer, will serve as a visiting professor at the City University of New York next academic year, the university announced on Tuesday.

Mr. Petraeus, who will be the next visiting professor of public policy at the university’s Macaulay Honors College, had been approached by many universities, but settled on CUNY because he admires its diversity of students, locations and offerings, his lawyer, Robert Barnett, said in an interview.

Buzzfeed reports this (h/t Michael Busch):

There is a quiet and conventional path from shame to redemption for American political figures brought down by personal sins, and David Petraeus has, just six months after resigning as director of the CIA, followed it with his signature focus on strategy and on his own image.

“The rollout is devised like the invasion of Iraq,” said one person who spoke recently to Petraeus.

But people around Petraeus say he’s been thinking hard about how to manage his comeback, his image, and his new role outside the national security apparatus in which he’s been a key player for a decade, and in which he’s spent his entire adult life. Petraeus has always been famous both for his intelligence and for his ability to manage the press, and he has signaled that he has thought hard about his predicament.

From the Annals of Imperial Assymetry: Greg Grandin on the Venezuelan Election

17 Apr

Latin American historian Greg Grandin is a longtime friend of the blog. He’s been one of the main voices of wisdom and sanity on Venezuela over the years, whether in The Nation, or on Charlie Rose or Up With Chris Hayes (transcript here). This morning on FB he made a quick comment on the Venezuelan election, which I’m reproducing here with his permission.

• • • • •

On November 2, 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry 50.7 percent to 48.3 percent. Venezuela’s foreign minister immediately (either that night or the day after) recognized the results: “we will hope that in this second mandate we can improve our relations.”

Fast forward nine years, and Nicolás Maduro beats Henrique Capriles with 50.7% of the vote and the US refuses to recognize the result. “Look, we’re just not there yet,” said a State Department spokesman (who now works for—wait for it— John Kerry). “Obviously, we have nearly half the country that had a different view. And so we’ll continue to consult, but we’re not there yet.” [Leading Nathan Newman to quip on FB: "Maybe Kerry thought Venezuela jumped the gun back then, and this is pay back."]

Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and other Latin American countries have recognized the results, but Washington’s refusal gooses the opposition, who have ransacked and burned government buildings. There have been up to seven deaths. If anyone has any doubts about the flimsiness of Capriles’ claim that he was robbed, read this post by Francisco Toro, who is as antichavista as they come.

One Newspaper, Two Elections: The New York Times on America 2004, Venezuela 2013

15 Apr

In November 2004, 50.7% of the American population voted for George W. Bush; 48.3% voted for John Kerry.

The headline in the New York Times read: “After a Tense Night, Bush Spends the Day Basking in Victory.”

The piece began as follows:

After a long night of tension that gave way to a morning of jubilation, President Bush claimed his victory on Wednesday afternoon, praising Senator John Kerry for waging a spirited campaign and pledging to reach out to his opponent’s supporters in an effort to heal the bitter partisan divide.

“America has spoken, and I’m humbled by the trust and the confidence of my fellow citizens,” Mr. Bush told a victory party that was reconstituted 10 hours after it broke up inconclusively in the predawn hours. “With that trust comes a duty to serve all Americans, and I will do my best to fulfill that duty every day as your president.”

Flanked by his wife, Laura, and their daughters, Barbara and Jenna, and Vice President Dick Cheney and his family, Mr. Bush stood smiling and relaxed on a stage at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to thank the campaign team that helped him to a decisive victory, outline his agenda and, 78 days before his second inauguration, speak somewhat wistfully of eventually returning home to Texas.

The Times “News Analysis” read as follows:

It was not a landslide, or a re-alignment, or even a seismic shock. But it was decisive, and it is impossible to read President Bush’s re-election with larger Republican majorities in both houses of Congress as anything other than the clearest confirmation yet that this is a center-right country – divided yes, but with an undisputed majority united behind his leadership.

Fast forward to 2013. Tonight, 50.6% of the Venezuelan population voted for Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro; 49.1% voted for his opponent Henrique Capriles.

The Times headline this time: “Maduro Narrowly Wins Venezuelan Presidency.”

And here’s how the article begins:

Nicolás Maduro, the acting president and handpicked political heir to Hugo Chávez, narrowly won election to serve the remainder of Mr. Chávez’s six-year term as president of Venezuela, officials said late Sunday. He defeated Henrique Capriles Radonski, a state governor who ran strongly against Mr. Chávez in October.

Election authorities said that with more than 99 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Maduro had 50.6 percent to Mr. Capriles’s 49.1 percent. The turnout, while strong, appeared to be somewhat below the record levels seen in October, a sign that Mr. Maduro may not enjoy the same depth of passionate popular support that Mr. Chávez did.

Update (1 am)

Nathan Tankus just pointed out on Twitter another point of comparison I missed: “I love the focus on ‘hand picked successor’. Pretty sure ‘son of former president’ sounds more nepotistic.” Nathan then updated that the phrase was “hand picked political heir,” which makes the comparison even starker!


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