Archive for 30 junio 2014

Now On Display: The Civil Rights Act of 1964

Prologue: Pieces of History  June 30, 2014

Today’s post comes from David Steinbach, intern in the National Archives History Office.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., others look on, 07/02/1964. (The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation.

The first and the signature pages of the act will be on display at the National Archives Rubenstein Gallery in Washington, DC, until September 17, 2014. These 50-year-old sheets of paper represent years of struggle and society’s journey toward justice.

The most comprehensive civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction era, the Civil Right Act finally gave the Federal Government the means to enforce the promises of the 13th,  14th, and 15th Amendments. The act prohibited discrimination in public places, allowed the integration of public facilities and schools, and forbade discrimination in employment.

But such a landmark congressional enactment was by no means achieved easily. Indeed, developments within the civil rights movement were critical in motivating the bill’s movement through Congress. The push for legislation accelerated in May 1963, when nightly news broadcasts displayed footage of Eugene “Bull” Connor cracking down on demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama.

In this atmosphere, President John F. Kennedy demanded a strong civil rights bill in a national address on June 11: “The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.”

Pressure for legislation continued to build when thousands of Americans engaged in the peaceful March on Washington on August 28. Two weeks later, a bomb in Birmingham killed four young African American girls. With civil rights at the forefront of the national consciousness, these and other developments encouraged House Democrats to introduce amendments strengthening the bill.

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Sen. Richard Russell, 12/07/1963. (The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

External pressure made up only one chapter in the story of the bill’s passage, as supporters of the legislation had a battle of their own to wage in Congress. Just five days after Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, President Johnson urged lawmakers “to eliminate from this Nation every trace of discrimination and oppression that is based upon race or color.”

Despite the President’s support, the bill encountered significant difficulties in both chambers of Congress. It took a 70-day hearing process for the legislation to clear the House in February 1964.

As soon as the bill entered the Senate, southern senators commenced a 60-day filibuster—the longest continuous debate in Senate history. With the help of Democratic Senator Hubert Humphrey, supporters softened language concerning government regulation of private organizations and finally won over a bloc of conservative lawmakers.

After clearing the Senate and House, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2. Thanks to public pressure and political maneuvering, the nation finally had a substantive civil rights bill.

This 50th anniversary represents a rare opportunity to see the original Civil Rights Act.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signature page, July 2, 1964 (National Archives Identifier 299891)

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signature page, July 2, 1964 (National Archives Identifier 299891)


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The Still Elusive Joseph P. Kennedy

HNN June 29, 2014


Joseph Patrick Kennedy, the paterfamilias of the Kennedy clan, continues to be scrutinized in lengthy biographies as well as in numerous studies of his most famous progeny.1 The reasons for this persistent interest are not especially difficult to understand. Kennedy’s intriguing career is well documented in print, in archival collections, in recordings, and on film. Of course, much the same can be said of the life of Senator Prescott Bush, the founder of the Bush clan. However, the Kennedy family story has taken on a unique and almost mythic quality because of the dramatic historical events which destroyed JPK’s own political ambitions and the tragedies that consumed his sons and two of his daughters.

Historian and biographer David Nasaw, the most recent scholar to take on the JPK story, was offered unrestricted access by the Kennedy family to the papers of Joseph P. Kennedy at Boston’s Kennedy Library. Nasaw insists that there were no strings attached—that he received permission to read and cite any and all materials in the JPK papers. However, he has acknowledged in a TV interview, that even after he agreed to write the book it took nearly 18 months to finalize a legal agreement between the Kennedys and the author—inevitably creating speculation about the precise nature of the issues which required such lengthy negotiations.

When I was a graduate student in history in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 1960s, I was offered $10,000 [about $80,000 today] by my next door neighbors, the granddaughters of Congressman Oakes Ames—disgraced in the great railroad stock scandal of the Grant administration—to write an exculpatory account of their ancestor. That would have been the ultimate example of a strings attached biography! There are, however, more subtle ways in which an author, whether deliberately or not, can shade the evidence to give the benefit of the doubt to his or her subject and their family. And there are some legitimate questions—not accusations—along these lines that historians should ask about Nasaw’s JPK biography.

The most fundamental question is: has Nasaw, in a laudable effort to be fair and balanced, gone too far in filing down the rough edges of Joe Kennedy’s personality and career? Early in the last decade, for example, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz described David McCullough’s widely acclaimed biography of John Adams as “a prudent but deeply admiring study of an enormously talented and remarkable patriot.” But, at the same time, Wilentz wondered if McCullough, in emphasizing the “goodness” of Adams’ character, had all but lost sight of Adams’ “suspicious, pugnacious, and at times pig-headed” intellect as well as his political “ponderousness, his pettiness, and his sometimes disabling pessimism.” Has Nasaw, whether consciously or unconsciously, also opted for a kinder and gentler JPK?

Nasaw covers Kennedy’s extraordinarily successful business career in about 130 pages—1/6 of the 787 page book. We learn about his remarkable ability “to jiggle numbers and accounts” and to profit from a bull market. But, “when it came to making money,” Nasaw tells us, “in up markets and down markets, good times and bad, Joseph P. Kennedy was in a league by himself.” In Hollywood, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he substantially increased his net worth. Nasaw makes clear that Kennedy used all the tricks of the trade (such as stock pools, insider trading, and selling short). These practices were rife in the rampant market speculation of the 1920s. And, of course, they were not yet illegal.

But, for example, in his detailed account of the sale of Pathé to RKO in 1931, from which JPK made a great deal of money, Nasaw fails to mention that Kennedy allegedly shafted Guy Currier, the man who had helped launch his early career with a position at the Fore River Shipyard. Currier’s daughter and granddaughter, quoted in Ronald Kessler’s 1996 JPK biography, insisted that Currier had been betrayed and “didn’t realize how corrupt he [Kennedy] was.” If Nasaw disagreed with Kessler on this question, he should have dealt critically with the Currier episode instead of disregarding it.2

Likewise, Kessler weaves a sordid tale of how Kennedy apparently fleeced Alexander Pantages, the owner of some sixty luxurious “movie palaces” through the use of bribes, payoffs, and even false charges of rape. Again, it is entirely possible that Kessler’s account is inaccurate and even false. But Nasaw never mentioned Pantages and did not list Kessler’s book in his bibliography.

Nasaw also discusses JPK’s 1937 effort to rescue his friend William Randolph Hearst from possible bankruptcy by arranging a bank loan “predicated on Kennedy ‘taking over the financial management of all the Hearst properties.’” Kennedy would reorganize Hearst’s empire “and spin off the magazines into a new company that he would control.” Hearst’s financial advisers rejected the deal and Kennedy denied that he was “stealing the magazines from Mr. Hearst.” Armand Hammer, a businessman who dealt personally with Hearst at the time, is quoted by Kessler as claiming that Kennedy’s plan was “self-serving” and that the $8 million price offered “was only a fraction of what the properties were worth.” Nasaw did not cite any of the contemporaneous critics of Kennedy’s proposed deal.

Later that same year, FDR decided to appoint JPK to the post of American ambassador in London. It was a daring move; Kennedy would become the first Irish-Catholic to hold that post. Nasaw concludes that Roosevelt needed someone to provide reliable intelligence about Europe’s political situation and the thoughts of its leaders, industrialists, press and public. “This Kennedy might be able to provide. Say what you might about the man,” Nasaw concludes, “he was a superb analyst and reporter, a clear-headed, tough-minded, independent thinker who appeared not to be swayed by ideology, belonged to no political faction, was beholden to no industrial sector, and was loyal to the president.”

This judgment, however, seems to contradict not only many other far more critical assessments of JPK, but much of the evidence in Nasaw’s own book. JPK may not have been beholden to any specific industrial sector, but he was certainly closely bound to the financial/banking/stock market sector. Kennedy’s loyalty too, was very malleable. After working in and contributing to FDR’s 1932 election campaign, JPK reacted furiously to the fact that he was passed over for any significant position in the new administration. Roosevelt brain truster Raymond Moley recalled that Kennedy’s disappointment “turned very soon to deep indignation. … I heard plenty of Kennedy’s excoriation of Roosevelt, of his criticisms of the President-elect, who according to Kennedy, had no program—and what ideas he had were unworthy of note.” One of Moley’s associates later claimed that JPK had been “spreading malicious stories about the president.” Kennedy’s close friend and loyalist Arthur Krock predicted in the New York Times that Roosevelt was planning to move far to the left by 1936 and was distancing himself from conservative businessmen and former advisers such as Joseph Kennedy. It seems highly unlikely that Krock would have named Kennedy without the latter’s prior knowledge. Soon after, as American Ambassador in London, Kennedy told his diplomatic and political contacts not to worry about FDR’s hostility to Nazism because after the 1940 election his friends would be in the White House.

Likewise JPK soon demonstrated that he was very easily swayed by ideology, political/economic self-interest, and group-think in his not very “clear-headed, tough-minded” evaluation of the growing Nazi threat in Europe. In 1934, he essentially endorsed an assessment by Joseph Kennedy, Jr., who had visited Germany and seemed to be parroting what Nasaw calls “a script prepared for him by Nazi propagandists.” JPK’s eldest son argued that Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies were a “well founded” response to a situation for which the Jews themselves were responsible. He observed that the “brown shirts were very nice and polite … and one sees no sign of brutality.” JPK noted that Nazi racial violence may “be covered up” in the presence of foreigners, but nonetheless praised his son’s “very keen sense of perception” and added, “I think your conclusions are very sound.” Kennedy, Sr.’s stance on Nazi racial policies seems to have been all but decided long before his appointment as ambassador in London.

In a similar vein, when discussing JPK’s pressure on President-elect Kennedy to appoint Robert Kennedy as attorney general, Nasaw concludes that JFK’s “past experiences had proven to him that more often than not Joseph P. Kennedy knew what he was talking about.” The book, on the contrary, is littered with examples of JPK’s opinions, which more often than not demonstrated that he did not know what he was talking about. For example: Kennedy told FDR that Hitler was bluffing on annexing Austria—and was proved wrong within hours; JPK praised Chamberlain because, unlike Roosevelt, he had been a businessman and still thought like one—which was a plus; the ambassador declared that the crisis between Czechoslovakia and Germany “will solve itself without interference” by other European powers and that Italy’s annexation of Ethiopia was “the beginning of a step in the right direction;” Kennedy told his wife that the Munich agreement “may be the beginning of a new world policy which may mean peace and prosperity once again;” he even argued that “if we had to protect our lives we would do better fighting in our own backyard” rather than in Europe; on the first night of the blitz in London, he told an aide: “I’ll bet you five to one any sum that Hitler will be in Buckingham Palace in two weeks;” when Chamberlain resigned, Kennedy told him that “Your conception of what the world must do in order to be a fit place to live in is the last sensible thing we shall see” and predicted that “Democracy is finished in England. It may be here [in the US].”

In 1940, he told his wife, “My God how right I’ve been in all my predictions. I wish I’d been wrong. … I know more about the European situation than anyone else and it’s up to me to see that the country gets it.” During the Battle of Britain, he callously grumbled to Lord Beaverbrook, “The bombers may be tough in London but the ill-disposed newspapers are tougher in America;” in 1944 he complained again to Beaverbrook, “I wonder if this war will do anything for the world;” and, even after the defeat of Nazism and Fascism, and the indisputable proof of the Holocaust, he asked Churchill in early 1946, “After all, what did we accomplish by this war?”

Finally, the staggering fact of the “Final Solution” makes it is essential to confront one of the most contentious issues relating to Joseph P. Kennedy—his purported anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitic thread, Nasaw documents incontrovertibly, runs consistently through JPK’s life and career. Kennedy went to Hollywood in the 1920s to rescue the industry from “the unscrupulous, money-hungry, immoral Jews,” pants pressers “who didn’t understand business, banking, or accounting—and never would.” He cast himself as “Hollywood’s white, non-Jewish knight,” a Harvard-educated financier who would rescue the film industry “from the suspicion that its pictures were not to be trusted because they were produced by men who through breeding and background were morally untrustworthy.” His films would be “American films for Americans.”

A decade later, as US ambassador in London, Kennedy quickly fell under the spell of Lady Astor and the Cliveden set—sharing their enthusiasm for appeasement and anti-Semitism. (The boy from East Boston, aspiring to social acceptance by the condescending British elite, was able to overlook the Astors’ openly anti-Catholic views.) Nasaw asserts that JPK was not a “member” of the Cliveden set and was not “unduly influenced by their views.” But, he acknowledges that Kennedy—a foreign diplomat expected to avoid becoming entangled in internal British politics—“had no problem with Lady Astor’s pronouncements about the Jews, in large part because she was simply saying in public what others, Kennedy included, were saying in private. Kennedy had no intention of staying away or encouraging any member of his family to do so. … He continued to see a great deal of the Astors, almost in defiance of those who criticized him for doing so.” The claim that JPK was not a “member” of the Cliveden set, (whatever that means) is a rhetorical distinction without a real-world difference, and it certainly fails to let him off the hook for blatantly undiplomatic and disloyal behavior that infuriated FDR and Cordell Hull, the secretary of state.

In June 1938, Kennedy met with the German ambassador in London and declared that Hitler’s desire to “get rid of the Jews” was entirely justified, but deplored the unnecessarily “loud clamor” associated with these measures. He claimed to understand Nazi racial and religious policies because he was from Boston and Jews had been barred from private clubs there for fifty years—casually equating this comparatively trivial example of the pervasive Irish-Catholic anti-Semitism of that era with Nazi Germany’s persecution, dispossession and murder of its Jewish citizens.

When his appeasement was criticized in the American press, he attributed the attacks to a vast Jewish conspiracy that controlled both the press and the State Department. He simply ignored the fact, “that in numbers and ferocity, his gentile critics far outnumbered the Jewish;” His chief detractor, Walter Lippmann, was Jewish, but so was his most influential defender, Arthur Krock—“jokingly referred to” by members of JPK’s own family as “the ambassador’s spy in Washington.” He also claimed that the Jews were “so powerful in that they were steamrolling their proposals for [Jewish] refugee resettlement through Washington.” In fact all these efforts failed miserably; Jews had no influence whatsoever in the State Department or over US foreign policy.

Shortly before the 1944 presidential election, Kennedy warned FDR that some “old line Democrats—the Irish and the Italians” might not vote for him for a fourth term because he was “Jew controlled [sic].” The former ambassador specifically mentioned the ostensibly excessive influence of Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Roosevelt responded defensively, “Why, I don’t see Frankfurter twice a year.” JPK, increasingly convinced of the power of this elusive and secret Jewish conspiracy, replied: “You see him twenty times a day but you don’t know it because he works through all these other groups of people without your knowing it.”

The reader, therefore, is left with no doubt about the author’s conclusions about Joe Kennedy’s anti-Semitism. But, when Nasaw spoke about the book at the JFK Library, he stressed that he had tried from the beginning to determine whether JPK was indeed an anti-Semite:

I concluded that to be an anti-Semite, like Henry Ford, like Lindbergh, like Lady Astor… a real anti-Semite has to believe there’s something in the genetic make-up, in the blood of Jews which makes them sinister, evil and destructive of Christian morality. I think Henry Ford believes that. I think Lindbergh believes that. They have a real, racist, racial understanding. Kennedy doesn’t believe that at all.

On the other hand, Kennedy believes that—and he’s brought up that way—that the Jews are another tribe. They’re different; they’re culturally different. They look after themselves, just as Irish Catholics look after themselves. The Jews are smarter because they’re better organized in the United States than Irish Catholics. The Jews get what they want. But his admiration of the Jews allows him, permits him, encourages him to buy into thousand-year-old anti -Semitic myths while he is ambassador to Great Britain. And it is frightening, indeed. And I’m glad that his family didn’t have to read some of his letters and some of his diaries, and some of his conversations that other people recorded.

This distinction is, to say the least, an incredible stretch. The “genetic make-up, in the blood” arguments were largely a product of late 19th century “scientific” and “racialist” anti-Semitism in Europe (for example, in the writing of Arthur de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain). Joe Kennedy’s historical/religious/theological anti-Semitism had flourished for more than a thousand years before genes were even discovered. As Jean Paul Sartre famously declared, the anti-Semite’s experience did not produce his view of the Jew, rather his view of the Jew explained his experience: “If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.”3

It is striking that Nasaw utilized this historically artificial distinction at the Kennedy Library, allowing him, in that particular setting, to fudge the issue of whether JPK was an anti-Semite—which he did not do in the book. Also, the ambiguous final sentence in the Kennedy Library quote, referring to the “frightening” anti-Semitism in JPK’s letters, diaries, and conversations “that his family didn’t have to read,” hints that Nasaw may have chosen to leave at least some of these very disturbing remarks out of the book.

Finally, there is a compelling irony about Joseph Kennedy’s toxic convictions about Jews. JPK was dogged throughout his life by charges that he was a corrupt banker and Wall Street operator, an insular, amoral, ruthless, greedy, selfish, conniving and secretive robber baron who believed that everyone had a price and anything could be bought. For example, soon after Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, Kennedy met with King George VI who concluded that the American ambassador spoke “a different language” and calculated “everything from the angle of his own investments.” In other words, JPK himself exhibited the same stereotypical behavior which anti-Semites associate with Jews.

“It can be argued,” Doris Kearns Goodwin concluded in 1987,

that Kennedy embodied many of the traits traditionally associated with the Jews. It was said that the Jews did not cultivate the earth or work at mechanical trades, preferring to live by their cunning and wit in the ‘unproductive’ role of creditors, speculators and middlemen. It was said that the Jews were unscrupulous profit-takers who made their gains from the labor of others. It was said that the Jews were pushing for social acceptance too hard and too soon, while their voices were still uncouth and their sense of tact still in the stage of the pushcart peddler. All of these charges could be equally laid against Joseph Patrick Kennedy.4

During my years as historian at the Kennedy Library, I heard JFK’s pal Dave Powers tell a revealing story about “old man Kennedy.” When 13-year-old Edward Kennedy was a student at the Fessenden School, he would buy candy bars during lunch break and then sell them at wildly inflated prices to his hungry fellow adolescents during the afternoon. Joe Kennedy thought Teddy’s behavior was admirable, but joked that perhaps a Jew had gotten over the fence and secretly infiltrated the family in the distant past. It obviously never occurred to Kennedy, Sr. that his youngest son did not need an allegorical or mythical Jewish ancestor to explain his behavior; he was emulating someone very close at hand—his own father.

1For example: Richard Whalen, The Founding Father: the Story of Joseph P. Kennedy, 1964; David E. Koskoff, Joseph P. Kennedy: A Life and Times, 1974; Doris K. Goodwin, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga, 1987; Nigel Hamilton, JFK: Reckless Youth, 1992, Ralph G. Martin, Seeds of Destruction: Joe Kennedy and His Sons, 1995; Ronald Kessler, The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded, 1996; Amanda Smith, Hostage to Fortune: The Letters of Joseph P. Kennedy, 2001; Lawrence Leamer, The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963, 2001; David Nasaw, The Patriarch: the Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, 2012.

2Kessler’s book is relentlessly hostile to JPK; but, as the author of nine books, a former investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, and the winner of sixteen journalism awards—including two George Polk Awards—he should not be ignored.

3Jean Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew, Schocken Books, 1965, p. 13.

4Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga, Simon and Schuster, 1987, p. 473


Sheldon Stern received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1970 and is the author of numerous articles and “Averting ‘the Final Failure’: John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings” (2003), “The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis” (2005), and “The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths vs. Reality” (2012), in the Stanford University Press Nuclear Age Series. He was Historian at the John F. Kennedy Library from 1977 to 2000. 


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“Counter-Revolution of 1776”: Was U.S. Independence War a Conservative Revolt in Favor of Slavery?

Democracy Now    June 27, 2014

As the United States prepares to celebrate Independence Day, we look at why July 4 is not a cause for celebration for all. For Native Americans, it may be a bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought fatal diseases, cultural hegemony and genocide. Neither did the new republic’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” extend to African Americans. The colonists who declared their freedom from England did not share their newly founded liberation with the millions of Africans they had captured and forced into slavery. We speak with historian Gerald Horne, who argues the so-called Revolutionary War was actually a conservative effort by American colonists to protect their system of slavery. He is the author of two new books: “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America” and “Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow.” Horne is professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in Chicago with our next guest. Juan González is in New York.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, next weekend, the United States celebrates the Fourth of July, the day the American colonies declared their independence from England in 1776. While many Americans will hang flags, participate in parades and watch fireworks, Independence Day is not a cause for celebration for all. For Native Americans, it is yet another bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought fatal diseases, cultural hegemony and full-out genocide. Neither did the new republic’s promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness extend to African Americans. As our next guest notes, the white colonists who declared their freedom from the crown did not share their newly founded liberation with the millions of Africans they had captured and forced into slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Gerald Horne argues that the so-called Revolutionary War was actually a counterrevolution, in part, not a progressive step forward for humanity, but a conservative effort by American colonialists to protect their system of slavery.

9781479893409_FullFor more, Professor Horne joins us here in our Chicago studio. He’s the author of two new books: The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America and another new book, just out, Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. Professor Horne teaches history and African American studies at the University of Houston.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. So, as we move into this Independence Day week, what should we understand about the founding of the United States?

GERALD HORNE: We should understand that July 4th, 1776, in many ways, represents a counterrevolution. That is to say that what helped to prompt July 4th, 1776, was the perception amongst European settlers on the North American mainland that London was moving rapidly towards abolition. This perception was prompted by Somerset’s case, a case decided in London in June 1772 which seemed to suggest that abolition, which not only was going to be ratified in London itself, was going to cross the Atlantic and basically sweep through the mainland, thereby jeopardizing numerous fortunes, not only based upon slavery, but the slave trade. That’s the short answer.

The longer answer would involve going back to another revolution—that is to say, the so-called Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, which, among other things, involved a step back from the monarch—for the monarch, the king, and a step forward for the rising merchant class. This led to a deregulation of the African slave trade. That is to say, the Royal African Company theretofore had been in control of the slave trade, but with the rising power of the merchant class, this slave trade was deregulated, leading to what I call free trade in Africans. That is to say, merchants then descended upon the African continent manacling and handcuffing every African in sight, with the energy of demented and crazed bees, dragging them across the Atlantic, particularly to the Caribbean and to the North American mainland. This was prompted by the fact that the profits for the slave trade were tremendous, sometimes up to 1,600 or 1,700 percent. And as you know, there are those even today who will sell their firstborn for such a profit. This, on the one hand, helped to boost the productive forces both in the Caribbean and on the mainland, but it led to numerous slave revolts, not least in the Caribbean, but also on the mainland, which helped to give the mainlanders second thoughts about London’s tentative steps towards abolition.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Gerald Horne, one of the things that struck me in your book is not only your main thesis, that this was in large part a counterrevolution, our—the United States’ war of independence, but you also link very closely the—what was going on in the Caribbean colonies of England, as well as in the United States, not only in terms of among the slaves in both areas, but also among the white population. And, in fact, you indicate that quite a few of those who ended up here in the United States fostering the American Revolution had actually been refugees from the battles between whites and slaves in the Caribbean. Could you expound on that?

GERALD HORNE: It’s well known that up until the middle part of the 18th century, London felt that the Caribbean colonies—Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, in particular—were in some ways more valuable than the mainland colonies. The problem was that in the Caribbean colonies the Africans outnumbered the European settlers, sometimes at a rate of 20 to one, which facilitated slave revolts. There were major slave revolts in Antigua, for example, in 1709 and 1736. The Maroons—that is to say, the Africans who had escaped London’s jurisdiction in Jamaica—had challenged the crown quite sternly. This led, as your question suggests, to many European settlers in the Caribbean making the great trek to the mainland, being chased out of the Caribbean by enraged Africans. For example, I did research for this book in Newport, Rhode Island, and the main library there, to this very day, is named after Abraham Redwood, who fled Antigua after the 1736 slave revolt because many of his, quote, “Africans,” unquote, were involved in the slave revolt. And he fled in fear and established the main library in Newport, to this very day, and helped to basically establish that city on the Atlantic coast. So, there is a close connection between what was transpiring in the Caribbean and what was taking place on the mainland. And historians need to recognize that even though these colonies were not necessarily a unitary project, there were close and intimate connections between and amongst them.

AMY GOODMAN: So, why this great disparity between how people in the United States talk about the creation myth of the United States, if you will—I’m not talking about indigenous people, Native American people—and this story that you have researched?

GERALD HORNE: Well, it is fair to say that the United States did provide a sanctuary for Europeans. Indeed, I think part of the, quote, “genius,” unquote, of the U.S. project, if there was such a genius, was the fact that the founders in the United States basically called a formal truce, a formal ceasefire, with regard to the religious warfare that had been bedeviling Europe for many decades and centuries—that is to say, Protestant London, so-called, versus Catholic Madrid and Catholic France. What the settlers on the North American mainland did was call a formal truce with regard to religious conflict, but then they opened a new front with regard to race—that is to say, Europeans versus non-Europeans.

This, at once, broadened the base for the settler project. That is to say, they could draw upon those defined as white who had roots from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains, and indeed even to the Arab world, if you look at people like Ralph Nader and Marlo Thomas, for example, whose roots are in Lebanon but are considered to be, quote, “white,” unquote. This obviously expanded the population base for the settler project. And because many rights were then accorded to these newly minted whites, it obviously helped to ensure that many of them would be beholden to the country that then emerged, the United States of America, whereas those of us who were not defined as white got the short end of the stick, if you like.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gerald Horne, as a result of that, during the American Revolution, what was the perception or the attitude of the African slaves in the U.S. to that conflict? You also—you talk about, during the colonial times, many slaves preferred to flee to the Spanish colonies or the French colonies, rather than to stay in the American colonies of England.

GERALD HORNE: You are correct. The fact of the matter is, is that Spain had been arming Africans since the 1500s. And indeed, because Spain was arming Africans and then unleashing them on mainland colonies, particularly South Carolina, this put competitive pressure on London to act in a similar fashion. The problem there was, is that the mainland settlers had embarked on a project and a model of development that was inconsistent with arming Africans. Indeed, their project was involved in enslaving and manacling every African in sight. This deepens the schism between the colonies and the metropolis—that is to say, London—thereby helping to foment a revolt against British rule in 1776.

It’s well known that more Africans fought alongside of the Redcoats—fought alongside the Redcoats than fought with the settlers. And this is understandable, because if you think about it for more than a nanosecond, it makes little sense for slaves to fight alongside slave masters so that slave masters could then deepen the persecution of the enslaved and, indeed, as happened after 1776, bring more Africans to the mainland, bring more Africans to Cuba, bring more Africans to Brazil, for their profit.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to historian Gerald Horne. He’s author of two new books. We’re talking about The Counter-Revolution of 1776. The subtitle of that book is Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. And his latest book, just out, is called Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. He’s professor of history and African American studies at University of Houston. When we come back, we’ll talk about that second book about Cuba. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Slavery Days” by Burning Spear, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman in Chicago. Juan González is in New York. Before we talk about the book on slavery, I want to turn to President Obama’s remarks at the White House’s Fourth of July celebration last year. This is how President Obama described what happened in 1776.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: On July 4th, 1776, a small band of patriots declared that we were a people created equal, free to think and worship and live as we please, that our destiny would not be determined for us, it would be determined by us. And it was bold, and it was brave. And it was unprecedented. It was unthinkable. At that time in human history, it was kings and princes and emperors who made decisions. But those patriots knew there was a better way of doing things, that freedom was possible, and that to achieve their freedom, they’d be willing to lay down their lives, their fortune and their honor. And so they fought a revolution. And few would have bet on their side. But for the first time of many times to come, America proved the doubters wrong. And now, 237 years later, this improbable experiment in democracy, the United States of America, stands as the greatest nation on Earth.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Obama talking about the meaning of July 4th. Gerald Horne, your book, The Counter-Revolution of 1776, is a direct rebuttal of this, as you call, creation myth. Could you talk about that?

GERALD HORNE: Well, with all due respect to President Obama, I think that he represents, in those remarks you just cited, the consensus view. That is to say that, on the one hand, there is little doubt that 1776 represented a step forward with regard to the triumph over monarchy. The problem with 1776 was that it went on to establish what I refer to as the first apartheid state. That is to say, the rights that Mr. Obama refers to were accorded to only those who were defined as white. To that degree, I argue in the book that 1776, in many ways, was analogous to Unilateral Declaration of Independence in the country then known as Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in November 1965. UDI, Unilateral Declaration of Independence, was in many ways an attempt to forestall decolonization. 1776, in many ways, was an attempt to forestall the abolition of slavery. That attempt succeeded until the experiment crashed and burned in 1861 with the U.S. Civil War, the bloodiest conflict, to this point, the United States has ever been involved in.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Gerald Horne, how does this story, this, what you call, counterrevolution, fit in with your latest book, Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow?

GERALD HORNE: Well, there’s a certain consistency between the two books. Keep in mind that in 1762 Britain temporarily seized Cuba from Spain. And one of the regulations that Britain imposed outraged the settlers, as I argue in both books. What happened was that Britain sought to regulate the slave trade, and the settlers on the North American mainland wanted deregulation of the slave trade, thereby bringing in more Africans. What happens is that that was one of the points of contention that lead to a detonation and a revolt against British rule in 1776.

I go on in the Cuba book to talk about how one of the many reasons why you have so many black people in Cuba was because of the manic energy of U.S. slave traders and slave dealers, particularly going into the Congo River Basin and dragging Africans across the Atlantic. Likewise, I had argued in a previous book on the African slave trade to Brazil that one of the many reasons why you have so many black people in Brazil, more than any place outside of Nigeria, is, once again, because of the manic energy of U.S. slave traders and slave dealers, who go into Angola, in particular, and drag Africans across the Atlantic to Brazil.

It seems to me that it’s very difficult to reconcile the creation myth of this great leap forward for humanity when, after 1776 and the foundation of the United States of America, the United States ousts Britain from control of the African slave trade. Britain then becomes the cop on the beat trying to detain and deter U.S. slave traders and slave dealers. It seems to me that if this was a step forward for humanity, it was certainly not a step forward for Africans, who, the last time I looked, comprise a significant percentage of humanity.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Gerald Horne, so, in other words, as you’re explaining the involvement of American companies in the slave trade in Brazil and Cuba, this—that book and also your The Counter-Revolution of 1776 makes the same point that slavery was not just an issue of interest in the South to the Southern plantation owners, but that in the North, banking, insurance, merchants, shipping were all involved in the slave trade, as well.

GERALD HORNE: Well, Juan, as you well know, New York City was a citadel of the African slave trade, even after the formal abolition of the U.S. role in the African slave trade in 1808. Rhode Island was also a center for the African slave trade. Ditto for Massachusetts. Part of the unity between North and South was that it was in the North that the financing for the African slave trade took place, and it was in the South where you had the Africans deposited. That helps to undermine, to a degree, the very easy notion that the North was abolitionist and the South was pro-slavery.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Gerald Horne, what most surprised you in your research around Cuba, U.S. slavery and Jim Crow?

GERALD HORNE: Well, what most surprised me with regard to both of these projects was the restiveness, the rebelliousness of the Africans involved. It’s well known that the Africans in the Caribbean were very much involved in various extermination plots, liquidation plots, seeking to abolish, through force of arms and violence, the institution of slavery. Unfortunately, I think that historians on the North American mainland have tended to downplay the restiveness of Africans, and I think it’s done a disservice to the descendants of the population of mainland enslaved Africans. That is to say that because the restiveness of Africans in the United States has been downplayed, it leads many African Americans today to either, A, think that their ancestors were chumps—that is to say, that they fought alongside slave owners to bring more freedom to slave owners and more persecution to themselves—or, B, that they were ciphers—that is to say, they stood on the sidelines as their fate was being determined. I think that both of these books seek to disprove those very unfortunate notions.

AMY GOODMAN: So, as we move into the Independence Day weekend next weekend, what do you say to people in the United States?

GERALD HORNE: What I say to the people in the United States is that you have proved that you can be very critical of what you deem to be revolutionary processes. You have a number of scholars and intellectuals who make a good living by critiquing the Cuban Revolution of 1959, by critiquing the Russian Revolution of 1917, by critiquing the French Revolution of the 18th century, but yet we get the impression that what happened in 1776 was all upside, which is rather far-fetched, given what I’ve just laid out before you in terms of how the enslaved African population had their plight worsened by 1776, not to mention the subsequent liquidation of independent Native American polities as a result of 1776. I think that we need a more balanced presentation of the foundation of the United States of America, and I think that there’s no sooner place to begin than next week with July 4th, 2014.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Gerald Horne, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Historian Gerald Horne is author of two new books: The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America as well as Race to Revolution: The U.S. and Cuba During Slavery and Jim Crow. He’s a professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston.

That does it for our broadcast. Happy birthday to Jon Randolph. Democracy Now! has two job openings — administrative director, as well as a seasoned Linux systems administrator — as well asfall internships. Check out democracynow.org/jobs for more information.



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Mississippi Burning: 50th Anniversary of KKK Murder of 3 Civil Rights Workers

Democracy Now   June 20. 2014

UnknownSaturday marks the 50th anniversary of the killing of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, a pivotal moment in the 1960s struggle for equality.

On June 21, 1964, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were ambushed by a gang of Klansmen. The three were beaten and shot, their bodies found weeks later buried in an earthen dam. They had come to Mississippi to register African-American voters as part of the Freedom Summer campaign.

A number of Klan members were convicted on minor charges, with none serving more than six years. It took 41 years before a murder conviction was handed down in the case, with former Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen found guilty of manslaughter in 2005.

Democracy Now! aired a special report on the murder case in 2010, which was featured in the documentary, “Neshoba: The Price of Freedom.” Although dozens of white men are believed to have been involved in the murders and cover-up, only one man, a Baptist preacher named Edgar Ray Killen, is behind bars today. Four suspects are still alive in the case.

In this report, we air excerpts of “Neshoba” and speak with its co-director, Micki Dickoff. We are also joined by the brothers of two of the victims, Ben Chaney and David Goodman.


We also speak with award-winning Mississippi-based journalist Jerry Mitchell of the Clarion-Ledger, who has spent the past 20 years investigating unresolved civil rights murder cases, as well as Bruce Watson, author of the book, “Freedom Summer: The Savage Season that Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy.”

Click here to watch this special report.

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Allende, the Third World, and Neoliberal Imperialism

Chris Dietrich

Imperial & Global Forum June 18, 2014

allende“Allende was assassinated for nationalizing the . . . wealth of Chilean subsoil,” Pablo Neruda wrote on September 14, 1973. Neruda was lamenting the overthrow and death of his friend, Chilean President Salvador Allende, a week before he himself succumbed to cancer.  “From the salt-peter deserts, the underwater coal mines, and the terrible heights where copper is extracted through inhuman work by the hands of my people, a liberating movement of great magnitude arose,” he continued.  “This movement led a man named Salvador Allende to the presidency of Chile, to undertake reforms and measures of justice that could not be postponed, to rescue our national wealth from foreign clutches.”  Unfortunately, Allende’s flirtation with economic nationalization ran up against the country’s multinational business interests, particularly those that had support from the U.S. government. His socialist reforms were also ill timed; the U.S. government’s ideological view towards the global economy tended towards the Manichean.

So what was the American role in Allende’s overthrow?

The Chilean coup, as such a vivid moment of crisis, continues to occupy a murky and ambiguous position on the moving line that divides the past and the present. And owing to the release of new material, the episode has received a good deal of renewed coverage in the past half-decade. In particular, the recent publication of volumes on U.S. foreign policy toward Chile between 1969 and 1973 by the Historian’s Office of the U.S. State Department and the National Security Archive at George Washington University have led to a flurry of new studies.

CIA2Earlier this month, self-described CIA “spymaster” Jack Devine stirred the pot again with a Foreign Affairs article entitled “What Really Happened in Chile.” Based on his personal experience in Chile at the time, Devine explains “how the U.S. government learned of the coup in Chile” only two days before it happened. Although admitting that the CIA supported an earlier coup attempt against Allende in 1970, Devine takes great pains to shift the blame away from Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. He instead argues that the U.S. government did not plot with the Chilean military in the successful overthrow of Allende; what the U.S. government did do was attempt to reduce support for Allende and exacerbate the political opposition he already faced “from not only the wealthy but the middle and working classes as well.” Accusations that the Nixon administration played a greater role, Devine concludes, do little more than “muddy the waters.”

In this interpretation, Devine follows the likes of historian Mark Falcoff, Nixon’s secretary of state, William Rogers, and Kissinger himself, who have sought to exculpate the Nixon administration. Duke University professor Hal Brands controversially expanded upon this line of argument in Latin America’s Cold War in 2012. If a major historical trend in the past generation has been an emphasis on agency from below, Brands asks, why haven’t historians sought interpretations of Latin American insecurity and violence that move U.S. foreign policy from the center to the periphery of analysis? In other words, shouldn’t Latin American leaders be held accountable for their own actions in their own nations? In this reading, left-wing extremism led to right-wing extremism, or vice-versa, in a vicious circle. Both were part of “a larger cycle of radicalism and reaction” that was largely indigenous.

But others have found damning evidence that points to a more important role for the Nixon administration.   Most vocal among them is Peter Kornbluh, who in 2013 released a revised edition of his award-winning book, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability. Kornbluh has long held that the policies of Henry Kissinger made a singular contribution “to the denouement of democracy and rise of dictatorship in Chile.”  In particular, Kissinger spearheaded a Nixon administration campaign that fed money to opposition groups in politics and civil society, escalated aid to the military, financed dissenting journals and newspapers, and advocated other policies designed to weaken the government. In making these claims about immorality and interventionism, Kornbluh is joined by historians Stephen Rabe, Jonathan Haslam, Kristian Gustafson, Lubna Qureshi, the journalist Stephen Kinzer, and most famously, the late leftist intellectual Christopher Hitchens.

harmer allendeNevertheless, the story is more complicated than what London School of Economics historian Tanya Harmer calls “the blame-game.”   In her authoritative 2012 international history of the coup, Allende’s Chile and the Inter-American Cold War, she asks the crucial question: If not directly responsible for the events of September 1973, what role did the United States play? The answer Harmer provides suggests that the Nixon administration decided to undertake close consultation with like-minded governments in South America, in particular Brazil, to coordinate efforts to not only oppose Allende but also to improve the relations with friendly military leaders in the hemisphere. Like Kornbluh, Harmer argues that the United States helped frame and apply a campaign to subvert Allende’s government from the moment of his election. But Kissinger and Nixon did not direct events. Rather, they worked closely with the military regime of General Emílio Garrastazu Médici in Brazil, who became the most powerful campaigner for regime change in Chile. At the same time, disagreements between Allende and Cuban president Fidel Castro pointed to a great degree of variation in leftist policies in the region.

Transforming the Third World Economic Order

Harmer thus explores what New York University historian Greg Grandin has called “a metaphysics of Allende-hating” in terms of an inter-American Cold War of many itineraries. For Grandin, though, the driving cause of the Nixon administration’s concern about Chile built upon, and went beyond, standard Cold War arguments of “national security and economics.”  He is right, but divergent understandings of the past and future of the global economy drove that metaphysics.  In other words, the problem was not that Allende was an avowed Marxist or even that he pushed through a constitutional amendment nationalizing the huge copper investments of Cerro, Anaconda, and Kennecott on July 16, 1971.  Nor was it the threat that a socialist Chile, along with new nationalist governments in Bolivia and Peru, would provide a toe-hold for Cuba and the Soviet Union in the region.  (In fact, the intransigence the White House felt towards Chile contrasted markedly with the easing of relations with the Soviet Union and the opening up of China at the same time.)

Nixon and Kissinger were less concerned about those problems than about the example Allende would set in Latin America and beyond. “Everyone agrees,” Kissinger wrote in 1969, that Allende would seek a socialist and Marxist state that would line up ideologically and politically with the USSR and Cuba.  The consolidation of Allende in power would thus “pose some very serious threats to our interests and position in the hemisphere and . . . elsewhere in the world.”  Nixon felt the same way. “Our main concern,” he told the National Security Council on November 5, 1970, “is the prospect that he can consolidate himself and the picture projected to the world will be his success.”

More than anything, these quotes remind us that the stakes of Allende’s success or failure were global.  Actors in Chile certainly took on a perspective that looked beyond their borders.  One of Allende’s spokesmen recalled the recent “liquidation of the left in Indonesia” to dramatize the danger of counterrevolution.  Allende himself became a vocal proponent of the Third World’s broader challenge to the international economy, which was directed through the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the Group of 77, and the Non-Aligned Movement.  Since the end of the Second World War, groups from Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa had discussed the problem of imperial continuity in the international economy.

Theirs was a widely shared moral and political stance of concise logic; decolonization entailed more than political independence from a colonial master, and nowhere did imperial power exert itself with greater vigor than in the material worlds of law and economics.  This Third World challenge also held a particular policy prescription designed to end economic domination — if the “poor lands” remained ensconced in the shadow of empire, the use of national legal power offered an escape. In this context, the CIA reported in January 1969, “further steps toward greater government participation in or even outright nationalization of” the holdings of multinational corporations in Chile were “inevitable.”

Based on the guiding principal of permanent sovereignty, advanced in the previous two decades as part of a new international law in the UN General Assembly and Economic and Social Council, developing nations held the right to “rebalance” the international economy. Upon nationalizing the major copper mines in Chile, Allende pushed to host the third ministerial meeting of the UN Conference on Trade and Development in 1972.  When he gave a stirring address welcoming the diplomats to Santiago, he was followed to the podium by Raúl Prebisch, who by that time was considered the father of the Third World critique of global economic inequality.  Prebisch thanked Allende for hosting the conference, and began his speech.  The joint problem of the poor nations was “above all to achieve sovereignty in a full sense,” he said.  The poor nations needed “to establish it on solid foundations and then pass from the present relationship of dependence—which is unacceptable in the light of the political maturity of our peoples—to interdependent relationships which involve new forms of cooperation.”

One can see the thrust of this position in any number of the meetings that preceded the 1974 UN Declaration of a New International Economic Order, which was the culmination of the Third Worldist program of “economic emancipation.”  For example, the 59 foreign ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement regrouped in Guyana months after the Santiago meeting.   There, they signed the 1972 Georgetown Declaration, which gave  “full support” to Allende and other leaders that “in the exercise of their sovereign rights over the natural resources of their countries [had] nationalized the interests of powerful foreign monopolies.”  As in Santiago, the ministers turned directly to the expression of sovereignty as a legitimate and moral international stance.  “[I]t is fundamentally important to stress that the full exercise of their sovereignty over natural resources is essential for economic independence,” the foreign ministers wrote.  Moreover, economic emancipation was “closely linked to political independence, and that the latter is consolidated by strengthening the former.”

If the imperial past required correction, there was clearly space within that argument for more nuanced, less dialectical national policies.  For example, Allende did not see the July 16, 1971 constitutional amendment nationalizing Chilean copper investments as contradictory to his stated policy of utilizing access to investment capital in the “Western financial system” to develop the national economy.

In fact, U.S. Ambassador Edward M. Korry had negotiated with Allende and other government leaders a compromise by which the Constitutional Amendment was modified to provide compensation to the affected multinational companies.  (To the great ire of Korry, the Nixon administration, and corporate executives, Allende deftly used the compromise to insist that “excess profits” from the past be deducted from the settlement.)

At the same time, Allende had already concluded sales agreements for nationalized copper with other multinational corporations, including RCA, Bethlehem Steel, and Bank of America.  What the State Department called the “Chilean propaganda attack” on two firms, Anaconda and Kennecott, was thus more of an attempt to isolate the larger and more controversial businesses from other U.S. investors than to attack foreign capital investment writ large.

Linking Neoliberalism to Its Imperial Past

But the position linking global capitalism to the imperial past remained widespread, and not only among Allende, Prebisch, and other leaders of the developing world.  In 1973, two special subcommittees of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, both headed by Idaho senator Frank Church, began investigations of multinational corporations, intelligence activities, and U.S. foreign policy.  Although U.S. involvement in Chile was only one subject of the investigations, the reports condemned the Nixon administration for using the powerful position of U.S. firms in Chile to “make the economy scream” during Allende’s period as president.

Such outbursts of outrage were relatively scarce, though.  Most actors in the United States and Western Europe recoiled at the Third World demands for a New International Economic Order in 1974 and after, and warned that “economic emancipation” would further disrupt a fragile global economy, which already stood on shaky foundations in the early 1970s because of skyrocketing oil prices, runaway inflation, and the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system.  Above all, nationalization programs like Chile’s were viewed as serious hindrances to private capital flows.

The gravitas of that ideological battle was dramatized in a 1972 conversation between Allende and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, George Herbert Walker Bush, who sought to set Allende straight regarding recent public statements in which he labelled U.S. foreign policy imperialist.  “I told him that we did not consider ourselves “imperialists,” Bush reported.

[T]hat we did not recognize that people were correctly identifying us when we were termed imperialists, and that we still had a deep conviction that our free enterprise system was not selfish but was the best system—certainly for us, though we had no intention to insist on it for others. And when it went abroad it did not “bleed” other people.”

When Allende responded that his speeches had clearly differentiated “between the government of the United States, the people of the United States, and multinational corporations,” Bush had an easy answer: “because of our deep conviction in the free enterprise system, the people, the government, and the system were all interlocked.” 

That was exactly the implication that Neruda and a generation of Third World intellectuals were left with after the 1973 coup.  A month later, an “energy crisis” gave multinational companies and their supporters in the U.S. government an opening to exploit the convergence that Bush described.  When the oil producers also invoked the international law of sovereignty as a means to legitimize their four-fold increase in the global price of oil, the response was ready-made. 

Neoliberal diplomacy, in particular U.S. government protection of foreign investments, became the basis of a new foreign policy for the 1970s and beyond.  

Nowhere was that neoliberal policy more evident than in Chile, where Milton Friedman’s “Los Chicago Boys” applied a series of policies designed to “open up” the Chilean market.  At the same time, the United States strengthened the new military regime of Augusto Pinochet, providing both economic and military support.

General Pinochet meeting with Milton Friedman.

General Pinochet meeting with Milton Friedman.

Whether or not the neoliberal policies of Chile promoted development or, more broadly, societal well-being is an open question.  It is certain, though, that the Chilean trajectory gave credence to a generation of critics who would link U.S. foreign policy and the “free-market” basis of contemporary globalization to the concept of imperialism.

The World Peace Council, meeting in the newly independent nation of Guinea Bissau, saw the connection in 1975.  Not only had the U.S. Gulf Oil Corporation financed the founding of a separatist organization that challenged the government.  It was also “significant” that members of the Brazilian “Death Squad,” who the Peace Council believed were involved in the “CIA-engineered overthrow of the Allende Government,” have been spotted in Pinochet’s Chile.  Algerian president Houari Boumedienne called the rise of Pinochet “a tragic scene,” part of a longer-running “imperialist plot…stirred up through the multinational companies.”

For the Algerian jurist Mohammed Bedjaoui, a long-time civil servant at the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, the lesson was more optimistic, but only slightly so.  The acts of men like Allende, and the broad movement they represented, had deprived imperialism of legitimacy for all time.  “[T]he major revolution of our time that began with decolonization” had not ended, he wrote in a 1976 tract on the Non-Aligned Movement and international law, funded by the Carnegie Foundation. The process of self-assertion, begun in the United Nations and continued in the Non-Aligned Movement and elsewhere, instead was a first step that “enriched the content of cardinal notions like that of sovereignty.” Yet he dedicated the work to Salvador Allende.  The dedication used a phrase coined by Régis Debray in his martyr’s tribute—mort dans sa loi, or “dead by his own law.”  The fall of Allende came not just at the hand of military traitors or multinational corporations, but because of a system of western interests that had a greater meaning.

Voices across the world joined Neruda, Bedjaoui, and Boumedienne in celebrating the sovereignty of Chile, decrying the fall of Allende, and blaming the United States for his overthrow and death. Months later, Gabriel García Márquez wrote that the overthrow may have taken place in Chile “to the greater woe of Chileans, but it will pass into history as something that has happened to us all, children of this age, and it will remain in our lives forever.”

The role of the United States in the coup, as well as its bloody aftermath, remains an important one.  But the findings will do little to overthrow Allende’s global Third World legacy, especially in an era in which market-based national economic policies remain prominent in the global economic system.

Chris Dietrich is Assistant Professor of History at Fordham University. His first book monograph analyzes the rise and fall of anti-colonial law and economics in the twentieth century. His second project is a psychoanalysis of American neoliberalism in the 1970s and 1980s.

Follow on Twitter @C_R_W_Dietrich

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The Warren Court Decisions Earl Warren Said Were the Most Important … “One Person, One Vote” 

 HNN   June 18, 2014

In an age of increasingly sophisticated, computer driven gerrymandering, an imagined, but non-existent, epidemic of voter fraud that has led to a profusion of voter identification laws, and an infusion of corporate money into the electoral system, we as Americans continue to wrestle with basic notions of fair representation. As we struggle to make our political system more truly democratic, we ought to consider the bold and historic actions taken by the Supreme Court of the United States fifty years ago this month.

On June 15, 1964, just four days after the United States Senate brought an end to the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a series of decisions that established the principle of “one person, one vote” in all state legislatures. For the remainder of his life, Chief Justice Earl Warren maintained that these decisions trumped all others made during his tenure, including the segregation decisions, in terms of their importance to American democracy.

Prior to the reapportionment rulings, American democracy was a deliberately misshapen enterprise. In a U.S. version of “rotten boroughs,” district boundaries in almost every state were readily drawn to give some citizens a far greater voice than others. In California in 1960, for example, a state senator from the Eastern Sierra had a mere 14,000 constituents, while a peer from Los Angeles represented more than six million.

Like Jim Crow, this practice seemed to defy the most elementary notions of democracy as a system of popular self-rule – and yet it had many defenders. Malapportionment circumscribed the political power of labor and civil rights advocates and promoted a pro-business, anti-labor agenda of low taxes, limited government spending, and minimal regulation. In the American South, malapportionment served as a cornerstone of white supremacy, ensuring the overrepresentation of the most ardent segregationists and thus further delaying the realization of civil and voting rights for African Americans. As the 20th century proceeded, urban and suburban populations swelled dramatically while legislative districts remained roughly the same. As a result, minority rule intensified.

After World War II, individual citizens, municipal officials, and civic organizations began to seek relief, but repeatedly failed, thwarted by a conspiracy of inaction among lawmakers and judges.

Finally, in 1962, the Supreme Court decided the time had come to intervene. In Baker v. Carr, a majority of the Warren Court ignored the angry dissent of Felix Frankfurter and ruled that federal courts did have jurisdiction to consider whether or not legislative malapportionment violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Deliberations in Baker proved so exacting that they contributed to the physical decline and ultimate resignation of Frankfurter and one of his colleagues.

Baker v. Carr did not establish a standard for states to follow in drawing legislative districts, but the decision did open the doors of the federal courts to litigants to challenge malapportionment. Within two years, attorneys and plaintiffs in more than three-dozen states had done just that.

During a tumultuous term that began in October 1963 and was tragically interrupted by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments and issued full opinions in seven of these cases. In February 1964, the Court announced that each state’s districts for the U.S. House of Representatives must contain, as nearly as possible, the same number of people. What came next proved far more controversial.

On June15, 1964, Warren delivered the Court’s opinion in Reynolds v. Sims. Declaring that “legislators represent people, not trees or acres,” he announced that the Equal Protection Clause required both chambers in a state’s bicameral legislature to be apportioned according to the principle of “one person, one vote.”

Although less well-known than Reynolds, a companion case, Lucas v. Forty-Fourth General Assembly of Colorado, turned out to be the most important decision handed down that day. In it, the Court made clear that its ruling in Reynolds left no room for states to deviate from straight population equality in either branch of a bicameral legislature, even if a state’s voters supported a less rigorous standard in a referendum. In one broad stroke , the Court effectively rendered unconstitutional almost every state legislature in the nation. By the end of the decade, the Court had determined that apportionments for all elective municipal and county offices—including city councils, boards of supervisors, and school boards, among others—must adhere to the same standard.

Proponents of reapportionment hailed the decisions as “magnificently liberating,” a step “toward establishing democracy in the United States,” while opponents denounced them as the most significant “usurpation of power by the judicial branch” in American history. Opposition to the decisions of June 15, 1964, soon coalesced around Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, the Republican Minority Leader who enjoyed close ties with national business organizations. Dirksen championed a constitutional amendment that would have allowed state legislatures to apportion one branch of a bicameral legislature on factors other than population. When this approach failed to draw enough support in the Senate, he and others took a more radical step. In order to overturn the court’s decision, they sought to hold the first Constitutional Convention since the founding convention of the 1780s. Over the course of five years, from 1964 to 1969, thirty-three states, just one short of the constitutional threshold, petitioned for such a convention.

Ultimately, time proved the most important ally of the pro-reapportionment forces. The principal of “one person, one vote” soon became the norm in every state and led to a profound transformation in American democracy. In many states, the stranglehold of rural voters was broken, as residents of the burgeoning suburbs exerted more influence.

As the essence of majority rule confronts new challenges, most especially from a profusion of corporate money into the electoral process and a frightening retreat from the massive achievements of the Voting Rights Act, we would do well to remember the reapportionment revolution of the 1960s and its reminder of the need for constant vigilance against counter-majoratarian impulses in our democracy.

J. Douglas Smith is the author of On Democracy’s Doorstep: The Inside Story of How the Supreme Court Brought “One Person, One Vote” to the United States, published by Hill & Wang, June 10, 2014.


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No End of a lesson- Unlearned

William R. Polk

HNN June 15, 2014

America appears once again to be on the brink of a war. This time the war is likely to be in Syria and/or in Iraq. If we jump into one or both of these wars, they will join, by my count since our independence, about 200 significant military operations (not all of which were legally “wars”) as well as countless “proactive” interventions, regime-change undertakings, covert action schemes and search-and-destroy missions. In addition the United States has provided weapons, training and funding for a variety of non-American military and quasi-military forces throughout the world. Within recent months we have added five new African countries. History and contemporary events show that we Americans are a warring people.

So we should ask: what have we learned about ourselves, our adversaries and the process in which we have engaged?

The short answer appears to be “very little.”

As both a historian and a former policy planner for the American government, I will very briefly here (as I have mentioned in a previous essay, I am in the final stages of a book to be called A Warring People, on these issues), illustrate what I mean by “very little.”

I begin with us, the American people. There is overwhelming historical evidence that war is popular with us. Politicians from our earliest days as a republic, indeed even before when we were British colonies, could nearly always count on gaining popularity by demonstrating our valor. Few successful politicians were pacifists.

Even supposed pacifists found reasons to engage in the use of force. Take the man most often cited as a peacemaker or at least a peaceseeker, Woodrow Wilson. He promised to “keep us out of war,” by which he meant keeping us out of big, expensive European war. Before becoming president, however, he approved the American conquest of Cuba and the Philippines and described himself as an imperialist; then, as president, he occupied Haiti, sent the Marines into the Dominican Republic and ordered the Cavalry into Mexico. In 1918, he also put American troops into Russia. Not only sending soldiers: his administration carried out naval blockades, economic sanctions, covert operations — one of which, allegedly, involved an assassination attempt on a foreign leader — and furnished large-scale arms supplies to insurgents in on-going wars.

The purpose, and explanation, of our wars varied. I think most of us would agree that our Revolution, the First World War and the Second World War were completely justified. Probably Korea was also. The United States had no choice on the Civil war or, perhaps, on the War of 1812. Many, particularly those against the Native Americans would today be classified as war crimes. It is the middle range that seem to me to be the most important to understand. I see them like this.

Some military ventures were really misadventures in the sense that they were based on misunderstandings or deliberate misinformation. I think that most students of history would put the Spanish-American, Vietnamese, Iraqi and a few other conflicts in this category. Our government lied to us — the Spaniards did not blow up the Maine; the Gulf of Tonkin was not a dastardly attack on our innocent ships and Iraq was not about to attack us with a nuclear weapon, which it did not have.

But we citizens listened uncritically. We did not demand the facts. It is hard to avoid the charge that we were either complicit, lazy or ignorant. We did not hold our government to account.

Several war and other forms of intervention were for supposed local or regional requirements of the Cold War. We knowingly told one another that the “domino theory” was reality: so a hint of Communist subversion or even criticism of us sent us racing off to protect almost any form of political association that pretended to be on our side. And we believed or feared that even countries that had little or no connections with one another would topple at the touch — or even before their neighbors appeared to be in trouble. Therefore, regardless of their domestic political style, monarchy, dictatorship. democracy., it mattered not, they had to be protected. Our protection often included threats of invasion, actual intervention, paramilitary operations, subversion and/or bribery, justified by our proclaimed intent to keep them free. Or at least free from Soviet control. Included among them were Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Indonesia, Vietnam and various African countries.

Some interventions were for acquisition of their resources or protection of our economic assets. Guatemala, Chile, Iraq, Iran and Indonesia come to mind.

Few, if any, were to establish the basis of peace or even to bring about ceasefires. Those tasks we usually left to the United Nations or regional associations.

The costs have been high. Just counting recent interventions, they have cost us well over a hundred thousand casualties and some multiple of that in wounded; they have cost “the others” — both our enemies and our friends — large multiples of those numbers. The monetary cost is perhaps beyond counting both to them and to us. Figures range upward from $10 trillion.

The rate of success of these aspects of our foreign policy, even in the Nineteenth century, was low. Failure to accomplish the desired or professed outcome is shown by the fact that within a few years of the American intervention, the condition that had led to the intervention recurred. The rate of failure has dramatically increased in recent years. This is because we are operating in a world that is increasingly politically sensitive. Today even poor, weak, uneducated and corrupt nations become focused by the actions of foreigners. Whereas before, a few members of the native elite made the decisions, today we face “fronts.” parties, tribes and independent opinion leaders. So the “window of opportunity” for foreign intervention, once at least occasionally partly open, is now often shut.

Delta Force of Task Force 20 alongside troops of 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, at Uday Hussain and Qusay Hussein’s hideout (Wikipedia)

I will briefly focus on five aspects of this transformation:

First, nationalism has been and remains the predominant way of political thought of most of the world’s people. Its power has long been strong (even when we called it by other names) but it began to be amplified and focused by Communism in the late Nineteenth century. Today, nationalism in Africa, much of Asia and parts of Europe is increasingly magnified by the rebirth of Islam in the salafiyah movement.

Attempts to crush these nationalist-ideological-religious-cultural movements militarily have generally failed. Even when, or indeed especially when, foreigners arrive on the scene, natives put aside their mutual hostilities to unite against them. We saw this particularly vividly and painfully in Somalia. The Russians saw it in Çeçnaya and the Chinese, among the Uyghur peoples of Xinjiang (former Chinese Turkistan).

Second, outside intervention has usually weakened moderate or conservative forces or tendencies within each movement. Those espousing the most extreme positions are less likely to be suborned or defeated than the moderates. Thus particularly in a protracted hostilities, are more likely to take charge than their rivals. We have seen this tendency in each of the guerrilla wars in which we got involved; for the situation today, look at the insurgent movements in Syria and Iraq. (For my analysis of the philosophy and strategy of the Muslim extremists, see my essay “Sayyid Qutub’s Fundamentalism and Abu Bakr Naji’s Jihadism” on my website.)

What is true of the movements is even more evident in the effects on civic institutions and practices within an embattled society. In times of acute national danger, the “center” does not hold. Centrists get caught between the insurgents and the regimes. Insurgents have to destroy their relationship to society and government if they are to “win.” Thus, in Vietnam for example, doctors and teachers, who interfaced between government and the general population were prime targets for the Vietminh in the 1950s.

And, as the leaders of governments against whom the insurgents are fighting become more desperate, they suppress those of their perceived rivals or critics they can reach. By default, these people are civilians who are active in the political parties, the media and the judiciary . And, as their hold on power erodes and “victory” becomes less likely, regimes also seek to create for themselves safe havens by stealing money and sending it abroad. Thus, the institutions of government are weakened and the range of enemies widens. We have witnessed these two aspects of “corruption” — both political and economic — in a number of countries. Recent examples are Vietnam and Afghanistan.

In Vietnam at least by 1962 the senior members of the regime had essentially given up the fight. Even then they were preparing to bolt the country. And the army commanders were focused on earning money that they sold the bullets and guns we gave them to the Vietminh. In Afghanistan, the regime’s involvement in the drug trade, its draining of the national treasury into foreign private bank accounts (as even Mr. Karzai admitted) and in “pickpocketing” hundreds of millions of dollars from aid projects is well documented.  (See the monthly reports of the American Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.)

Third, our institutional memory of programs, events and trends is shallow. I suggest that it usually is no longer than a decade. Thus, we repeat policies even when the record clearly shows that they did not work when previously tried. And we address each challenge as though it is unprecedented. We forget the American folk saying that when you find yourself in a hole, the best course of action is to stop digging. it isn’t only that our government (and the thousands of “experts,” tacticians and strategists it hires) do not “remember” but also that they have at hand only one convenient tool — the shovel. What did we learn from Vietnam? Get a bigger, sharper shovel.

Fourth, despite or perhaps in part because of our immigrant origins, we are a profoundly insular people. Few of us have much appreciation of non-American cultures and even less fellow feeling for them. Within a generation or so, few immigrants can even speak the language of their grand parents. Many of us are ashamed of our ethnic origins.

Thus, for example, at the end of the Second World War, despite many of us being of German or Italian or Japanese cultural background, we were markedly deficient in people who could help implement our policies in those countries. We literally threw away the language and culture of grandparents. A few years later, when I began to study Arabic, there were said to be only five Americans not of Arab origin who knew the language. Beyond language, grasp of the broader range of culture petered off to near zero. Today, after the expenditure of significant government subsidies to universities (in the National Defense Education Act) to teach “strategic” languages, the situation should be better. But, while we now know much more, I doubt that we understand other peoples much better.

If this is true of language, it is more true of more complex aspects of cultural heritage. Take Somalia as an example. Somalia was not, as the media put it, a “failed state”; it was and is a “non-state.” That is, the Somalis do not base their effective identify as members of a nation state. Like almost everyone in the world did before recent centuries, they thought of themselves as members of clans, tribes, ethnic or religious assemblies or territories. It is we, not they, who have redefined political identity. We forget that the nation-state is a concept that was born in Europe only a few centuries ago and became accepted only late in the Nineteenth century in Germany and Italy. For the Somalis, it is still an alien construct. So, not surprisingly, our attempt to force them or entice them to shape up and act within our definition of statehood has not worked. And Somalia is not alone. And not only in Africa. Former Yugoslavia is a prime example: to be ‘balkanized’ has entered our language. And, if we peek under the flags of Indonesia, Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo, Mali, the Sudan and other nation-states we find powerful forces of separate ethnic nationalisms.

The effects of relations among many of the peoples of Asia and Africa and some of the Latin Americans have created new political and social configurations and imbalances within and among them. With European and American help the governments with which we deal have acquired more effective tools of repression. They can usually defeat the challenges of traditional groups. But, not always. Where they do not acquire legitimacy in the eyes of significant groups — “nations” — states risk debilitating, long-term struggles. These struggles are, in part, the result of the long years of imperial rule and colonial settlement. Since Roman times, foreign rulers have sought to cut expenses by governing through local proxies. Thus, the British turned over to the Copts the unpopular task of colleting Egyptian taxes and to the Assyrians the assignment of controlling the Iraqi Sunnis. The echo of these years is what we observe in much of the “Third World” today. Ethnic, religious and economic jealousies abound and the wounds of imperialism and colonialism have rarely completely healed. We may not be sensitive to them, but to natives they may remain painful. Americans may be the “new boys on the block,” but these memories have often been transferred to us.

Finally, fifth, as the preeminent nation-state America has a vast reach. There is practically no area of the world in which we do not have one sort of interest or another. We have over a thousand military bases in more than a hundred countries; we trade, buy and sell, manufacture or give away goods and money all over Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe. We train, equip and subsidize dozens of armies and even more paramilitary or “Special” forces. This diversity is, obviously, a source of strength and richness, but, less obviously, it generates conflicts between what we wish to accomplish in one country and what we think we need to accomplish in another. At the very least, handling or balancing our diverse aims within acceptable means and at a reasonable cost is a challenge.

It is a challenge that we seem less and less able to meet.

Take Iraq as an example. As a corollary of our hostility to Saddam Husain, we essentially turned Iraq over to his enemies, the Iraqi Shia Muslim. (I deal with this in my Understanding Iraq, New York: HarperCollins, 2005, 171 ff.) There was some justification for this policy. The Shia community has long been Iraq’s majority and because they were Saddam’s enemies, some “experts” naively thought they would become our friends. But immediately two negative aspects of our policy became evident: non-specialists: first, the Shiis took vengeance on the Sunni Muslim community and so threw the country into a vicious civil war. What we called pacification amounted to ethnic cleansing. And, second, the Shia Iraqi leaders (the marjiaah) made common cause with coreligionist Iranians with whom we were nearly at war all during the second Bush administration. Had war with Iran eventuated, our troops in Iraq would have been more hostages than occupiers. At several points, we had the opportunity to form a more coherent, moral and safer policy. I don’t see evidence that our government or our occupation civil and military authorities even grasped the problem; certainly they did not find ways to work toward a solution. Whatever else may be said about it, our policy was dysfunctional.

I deserve to be challenged on this statement: I am measuring (with perhaps now somewhat weakened hindsight) recent failures against what we tried to do in the Policy Planning Council in the early 1960s. If our objective is, as we identify it, to make the world at least safe, even if not safe for democracy, we are much worse off today than we were then. We policy planners surely then made many significant mistakes (and were often not heeded), but I would argue that we worked within a more coherent framework than our government does today. Increasingly, it seems to me that we are in a mode of leaping from one crisis to the next without having understood the first or anticipating the second. I see no strategic concept; only tactical jumps and jabs.

So what to do?

At the time of the writing of the American Constitution, one of our Founding Fathers, Gouverneur Morris, remarked that part of the task he and others of the authors put it, was “to save the people from their most dangerous enemy, themselves.” Translated to our times, this is to guard against our being “gun slingers.” All the delegates were frightened by militarism and sought to do the absolute minimum required to protect the country from attack. They refused the government permission to engage in armed actions against foreigners except in defense. I believe they would have been horrified, if they could have conceived it, by the national security state we have become. They certainly did not look to the military to solve problems of policy. They would have agreed, I feel sure, that very few of the problem we face in the world today could be solved by military means So, even when we decide to employ military means, we need to consider not only the immediate but the long-term effects of our actions. We have, at least, the experience and the intellectual tools to do so. So why have we not?

We have been frequently misled by the success of our postwar policies toward both Germany and Japan. We successfully helped those two countries to embark upon a new era. And, during the employment of the Truman Doctrine in Greece, the civil war there ended. There were special reasons for all three being exceptions. Perhaps consequent to those successes, when we decided to destroy the regimes of Saddam Husain and Muammar Qaddafi, we gave little thought of what would follow. We more or less just assumed that things would get better. They did not. The societies imploded. Had we similarly gone into Iran, the results would have been a moral, legal and economic disaster. Now we know — or should know — that unless the risk is justified, as our Constitution demands it be by an imminent armed attack on the United States, we should not make proactive war on foreign nations. We have sworn not to do so in the treaty by which we joined the United Nations. In short, we need to be law abiding, and we should look before we leap.

Our ability to do any of these things will depend on several decisions.

The first is to be realistic: there is no switch we can flip to change our capacities. To look for quick and easy solutions is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The second is a matter of will and the costs and penalties that attach to it. We would be more careful in foreign adventures if we had to pay for them in both blood and treasure as they occurred. That is, “in real time.” We now avoid this by borrowing money abroad and by inducing or bribing vulnerable members of our society and foreigners to fight for us.. All our young men and women should know that they will be obliged to serve if we get into war, and we should not be able to defer to future generations the costs of our ventures. We should agree to pay for them through immediate taxes rather than foreign loans.

The third is to demand accountability. Our government should be legally obligated to tell us the truth. If it does not, the responsible officials should be prosecuted in our courts and, if they violate our treaties or international law, they should have to come before the World Court of Justice. We now let them off scot-free. The only “culprits” are those who carry out their orders.

Fourth, in the longer term, the only answer to the desire for better policy is better public education. For a democracy to function, its citizens must be engaged. They cannot be usefully engaged if they are not informed. Yet few Americans know even our own laws on our role in world affairs. Probably even fewer know the history of our actions abroad — that is, what we have done in the past with what results and at what cost.

And as a people we are woefully ignorant about other peoples and countries. Polls indicate that few Americans even know the locations of other nations. The saying that God created war to teach Americans geography is sacrilegious. If this was God’s purpose, He failed. And beyond geography, concerning other people’s politics, cultures and traditions, there is a nearly blank page. Isn’t it time we picked up the attempt made by such men as Sumner Wells (with his An Intelligent American’s Guide to the Peace and his American Foreign Policy Library), Robert Hutchins, James Conant and others (with the General Education programs in colleges and universities) and various other failed efforts to make us a part of humanity?

On the surface, at least, resurrecting these programs is just a matter of (a small amount of) money. But results won’t come overnight. Our education system is stogy, our teachers are poorly trained and poorly paid, and we, the consumers, are distracted by quicker, easier gratifications than learning about world affairs. I had hoped that we would learn from the “real schools” of Vietnam and other failures, but we did not. The snippets of information which pass over our heads each day do not and cannot make a coherent pattern. Absent a matrix into which to place “news,” it is meaningless. I have suggested in a previous essay that we are in a situation like a computer without a program. We get the noise, but without a means to “read” it, it is just gibberish.

Our biggest challenge therefore comes down to us: unless or until we find a better system of teaching, of becoming aware that we need to learn and a desire to acquire the tools of citizenship, we cannot hope to move toward a safer, more enriching future.

This is a long-term task.

We had better get started.

William R. Polk was a professor of history at the University of Chicago. During the Kennedy and part of the Johnson administrations, he was the member of the Policy Planning Council responsible for North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Among his books are “Understanding Iraq, Violent Politics and Understanding Iran.” He is vice chairman of the W.P. Carey Foundation

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