Feeds:
Entradas
Comentarios

Posts Tagged ‘Cold War’

rosenbergs

olice photos of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (Source: Exhibits from the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Case File, 03/13/1951 – 03/27/1951)

New Rosenberg Grand Jury Testimony Released!

David Greenglass Transcript Opened by Court Order in Case Brought by National Security Archive and Historical/Archival Associations
Greenglass testimony at trial helped send his sister Ethel Rosenberg to the electric chair, but to the grand jury he said the opposite: “I never spoke to my sister about this at all.”
Edited by Thomas Blanton
Posted – July 14, 2015
Updated – July 15, 2015, 1 p.m.

Washington, D.C., July 15, 2015 – The newly released grand jury testimony by Ethel Rosenberg’s brother David Greenglass suggests he committed perjury on the witness stand in the Rosenberg spy trial, according to experts who analyzed the documents released today and posted by the National Security Archive.

The grand jury testimony from August 1950 shows Greenglass resisting prosecutors’ questions implicating his sister, in one case (page 30) insisting: “I said before, and say it again, honestly, this is a fact: I never spoke to my sister about this at all.”

But at trial in March 1951, Greenglass and his wife Ruth put Ethel at the center of the conspiracy, typing up handwritten notes for delivery to the Soviets and operating a microfilm camera hidden in a console table – neither of which is mentioned in the grand jury statements.

Decades later, after Greenglass served nearly 10 years in prison and his wife was not even indicted, Greenglass admitted to journalist Sam Roberts that he had lied on the stand to protect his wife, whom the grand jury testimony shows was far more central to the spying than was Ethel.

Experts participating in a briefing today at the National Security Archive decried the prosecutors’ behavior as either having suborned false testimony, or presenting testimony they had reason to know was false. Attorney David Vladeck, who led the litigation to open the Rosenberg grand jury records on behalf of petitioners including the National Security Archive and the major historical associations, pointed out that prosecutors intended to use Ethel to put pressure on Julius to confess, but neither did so and thus “called the Justice Department’s bluff” in a miscarriage of justice.

Legal scholar Brad Snyder described the mistake of the U.S. Supreme Court in not accepting cert in the Rosenberg case in 1953, thus enabling their execution, when the contrast between grand jury testimony and trial testimony showed “reversible error.”

Author Steve Usdin, whose book Engineering Communism (Yale University Press) describes two of the Rosenberg spy ring’s members who went on to build the Soviet Union’s Silicon Valley, commented that the Greenglass testimony was “the last important evidence we’re likely ever to have on the Rosenberg case.” Usdin pointed out that the documents provided answers to three key questions: Were the Rosenbergs guilty of spying? Yes. Was their trial fair? Probably not. Did they deserve the death penalty? No.

Archive director Tom Blanton summed up the discussion by describing the Cold War narrative of the Rosenberg case as a black-and-white argument – supporters said they were framed, critics called them traitors. The evidence now shows both were right – a much more nuanced and difficult story. Yes, Julius Rosenberg led an active spy ring; no, Ethel Rosenberg was not an active spy, even though witting. Blanton commented that the case should be a warning about the perils of unchecked prosecutors’ power.

* * * * *

[Press Advisory]

New Rosenberg Grand Jury Transcripts To Be Released Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Key Testimony from Ethel’s Brother, David Greenglass, May Show Perjury

Result of open records lawsuit by National Security Archive and historical associations

Briefing scheduled by plaintiffs, experts, at 2 p.m., Gelman Library, George Washington University

Posted – July 14, 2015

For more information:
National Security Archive, nsarchiv@gwu.edu, 202.994.7000

Washington D.C., July 14, 2015 – Tomorrow the public will see for the first time the actual transcripts of previously secret grand jury testimony by Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, David Greenglass, in the espionage trial from the early 1950s that sent Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to the electric chair on charges of spying for the Soviet Union.

To explain the documents and provide context, the National Security Archive will host a press briefing at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, July 15, at Gelman Library, George Washington University, 7th floor (where the Archive is located), 2130 H Street NW, Washington D.C. 20037.

The U.S. government has decided not to appeal the federal court decision on May 19, 2015 ordering the release of the Greenglass testimony, in a lawsuit brought by the National Security Archive and major historical and archival associations.

Previously in 2008, the petitioners succeeded in winning release of most of the other Rosenberg grand jury testimony, but Greenglass – who was still alive at the time – objected and the court declined to include his transcripts. Greenglass passed away in 2014 and the plaintiffs re-opened the case before Judge Alvin Hellerstein in federal district court in New York.

Police mugshots of David and Ruth Greenglass (public domain)

The transcripts will show whether Greenglass mentioned to the grand jury what became his most incendiary charge at trial against his sister, that she had typed up his handwritten notes for delivery to the Soviets. Historians have now concluded that he lied on the witness stand.

Copies of the transcripts will be available on the Archive’s web site,www.nsarchive.org, and at the press briefing at 2 p.m. The government has announced that the National Archives and Records Administration will also post the transcripts starting at noon on July 15 at www.nara.gov.

Together with the Archive, the petitioners included the American Historical Association, the American Society of Legal History, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists, and journalist Sam Roberts who authored a biography of Greenglass. Representing the petitioners are Georgetown University Law Center professor David C. Vladeck and Debra L. Raskin of the New York firm Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, who also authored the original 2008 petitions that opened the previous Rosenberg grand jury records.

Participating in the briefing will be Rosenberg case experts Brad Snyder and Steve Usdin, together with Archive director Tom Blanton and the petititioners’ lead attorney David Vladeck.

For background on the case, and previous news-making releases, see http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/news/20150519/

Read Full Post »

Pope John Paul II in Battery Park, New York, 1979. Photo by Gilles Peress/Magnum

For centuries, Americans saw the Catholic Church as a dangerous foreign enemy. Not any more. What changed?

Maura Jane Farrelly

For nearly 350 years, anti-Catholic bias was a reliable and powerful presence in the political and religious culture of the United States. Today, when the Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, for example, insists that Muslim immigrants ‘want to use our freedoms to undermine… freedom’, it can be easy to forget that for most of US history, Catholicism, not Islam, was the bogeyman against which Americans defined themselves as a free, noble and (some have said) ‘chosen’ people.

It was a desire to get away from what the English Puritan Samuel Mather in 1672 called ‘the manifold Apostasies, Heresies, and Schisms of the Church of Rome’ that drove the Puritans to Massachusetts in the 1620s and ’30s. They believed that the Church of England was tainted by the remnants of Catholic theology, and they thought these ‘popish relics’ destroyed the freedom people needed in order to accept salvation from God. Because Americans held onto this Puritan understanding of Catholicism for centuries, the idea that the founding of Massachusetts had been a bold bid for ‘freedom’ became an almost religious truth. Even though people were actually executed and banished in colonial Massachusetts because they held ideas about religion that were considered ‘newe & dangerous’, schoolchildren still learn this myth in US classrooms.

In 1774, John Adams felt sorry for the Catholics he observed at a mass in Philadelphia. The ‘poor wretches,’ the future US president told his wife, were ‘fingering their beads [and] chanting in Latin, not a word of which they understood’. A century later, the cartoonist Thomas Nast was less sympathetic on the pages of Harper’s Weekly. Nast’s Catholics in the 1860s and ’70s were violent and drunk ‘Paddys’ and ‘Bridgets’ too ignorant to think for themselves and dominated by priests who worked to obliterate the separation between church and state.

In 1960, the self-help guru Norman Vincent Peale worried that Catholic voters were theocracy-loving minions who’d put a man, the Catholic John F Kennedy, in the White House who couldn’t ‘withstand the determined efforts of the hierarchy of his church’ to meddle in US politics. So Peale (the original ‘positive thinker’) formed the National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom and campaigned for Richard Nixon.

For most of US history, voters, ministers and lawmakers believed that there was something fundamentally un-American about Roman Catholics. They weren’t ‘free’ – and they couldn’t be free so long as they worshipped within the Church of Rome. Catholics were an element in US culture that had to be kept as far away as possible from the centres of political, military, economic and educational power. Letting such an intrinsically enslaved element ‘have its say’, so to speak, would constitute an existential challenge to the US, since at its core, the country was just an idea – the idea of freedom.

Given how long Americans feared Catholicism, the years that have passed since Kennedy’s election in 1960 have been remarkable. Today, six of the nine justices on the US Supreme Court are Catholic. The US hasn’t had another Catholic president since Kennedy, but that’s not because Protestants still fear the corrupting potential of Catholicism. Jeb Bush, a Catholic convert, is already being held up as the frontrunner for the Grand Old Party for 2016. Paul Ryan and Joe Biden both spoke proudly of their Catholic upbringing when competing to be vice-president in 2012. Ryan talked about the Catholic concept of ‘subsidiarity’ when recommending that Medicare be turned into a voucher programme, and Biden pointed to the ‘dignity in every man and woman’ that he’d learned about from priests and nuns when supporting President Barack Obama’s overhaul of the healthcare system.

The former altar-boy John Kerry failed to win the White House in 2004, but it wasn’t because Protestant voters had concerns about his Catholic faith. If anyone had concerns about Kerry’s faith, it was his co-religionists. More than half of the Catholics who voted in 2004 cast their ballots for George W Bush, the evangelical incumbent from Texas, rather than the Catholic senator from Massachusetts, in part because Kerry’s record on abortion didn’t reflect the teachings of his church. In this sense, the senator’s Catholicism might have been a political burden for him – but not in the way it was a burden for Al Smith, the 1928 Democratic nominee for president, who swept the Catholic vote, but lost the election in a landslide because many Americans saw him as being on the side of ‘rum, Romanism, and ruin’.

The story of anti-Catholicism’s dramatic disappearance from the cultural landscape in the US (Dan Brown’s novels notwithstanding) is a complicated one. It would be a mistake, however, to see the story as proof that the destiny of the US is to become a place of complete religious tolerance. Americans no longer consider Catholicism to be a threat because the very idea of ‘freedom’ in the US has changed into something more compatible with the corporate approach to freedom that the Catholic Church has always insisted upon. The Catholic understanding of religious liberty and church-state relations has also changed, becoming more compatible with the US vision and the reality of religious pluralism.

But what hasn’t changed – at least not fundamentally – is a need in the US to oppose religious groups that don’t define freedom in modern liberalism’s terms. Indeed, this need has only expanded in recent years into parts of western Europe where concepts of freedom also contribute to national identity, but immigration has forced native-born people to confront the reality that some don’t understand freedom to be a matter of liberté and egalité.

For example, the status or condition of women in many cultures that define freedom as ‘submission’ to the will of God is repugnant to people who understand freedom to be the exercise of certain individual rights, such as the right to personal expression or a jury of one’s peers. But repugnant, too, has been the condition of some women in Western countries such as the US and Austria, where an overweening respect for the rights to privacy and personal property enabled Ariel Castro and Josef Fritzl to keep women imprisoned in their basements for decades, even though both men had been visited by police officers and had next-door neighbours.

Americans are actually less violent today than they used to be when encountering a religious ‘other’. The protests over building of an Islamic cultural centre near the World Trade Center site in 2010 did not deteriorate into deadly riots, the way rumours of Catholic efforts to remove Protestant bibles from public schools sparked protests in 1844. At least 15 people were killed that year in the Kensington and Southwark Bible Riots in Philadelphia, and more than 50 were injured. Two Catholic churches and a seminary were destroyed, and when the fighting was finally over, the collective property damage exceeded $150,000, at a time when yearly household incomes averaged less than $900.

Signs and bullhorns were the only weapons anyone brought to the protests in New York in 2010. But make no mistake: the impulse that drove those people to gather in downtown Manhattan, predicting and decrying the implementation of Sharia in New York City, is the same impulse that brought Protestants in Philadelphia to the streets in 1844 – the urge to protect the US from the perceived threat of a religious population that understands freedom in terms that are very different from those of most Americans.

One of the ironies of the American Revolution is that the colonists’ opposition to British rule began as what they thought of as a defense of their rights as Englishmen. England had once been a ‘land of freedom and delight’, according to the Calvinist minister Abraham Keteltas, whose sermons helped to bring skeptical residents on Long Island over to the Patriots’ side. The country had grown corrupt, however, its governmental ministers in London made greedy by the spoils of colonialism. Colonists thought that ministerial corruption threatened the freedom that people on both sides of the Atlantic believed was their ‘birthright’ as Englishmen. Only the colonists, though, were strong and virtuous enough to see this truth and do something about it. It was for the sake of liberty, Keteltas insisted in 1777, that ‘the present civil war is carried on by the American colonies’.

When he justified the revolutionary conflict in this way, Keteltas was essentially saying that there was a new sheriff in town. England’s government was no longer the world’s best protector of the ‘absolute rights of individuals’, which included the rights to property, political representation, personal security and the rule of law. Individual rights had a new set of protectors who lived in North America; their names were Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

Rights that were ‘absolute’ were inalienable ‘gifts of God to man at his creation’, according to Anglo-American jurists such as William Blackstone. They were not, in other words, something governmentsgave to people; absolute rights were something governments protectedfor people. History had shown, however, that kings and politicians were more than capable of insulting God’s wishes and becoming tyrants. It had happened in England in the late 1680s, as all colonists knew. And now, nearly a century later, it seemed to be happening again.

The events of 1689 loomed large in the minds of the men and women who pushed for independence in the 1770s.  England’s king that year had been James II and, in his short time on the throne, he’d managed to dismiss Parliament, expand the size of the army, and suspend the charters of seven colonies in North America.

The reason he’d done all of this was clear – at least to many members of Parliament. James was a Catholic. He’d converted after fleeing to France at the age of 15, following the execution of his Anglican father, King Charles I, during the English Civil War, the Calvinist-tinged uprising of the 1640s. While his conversion might have been understandable, given the way Protestants in his home country had treated his father, many still felt it was ‘inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant kingdom to be governed by a popish prince’. Catholicism, after all, was a faith that demanded blind obedience, crushed independent thought, and inculcated the habits of ‘tyranny and arbitrary power’ into its adherents. It was no surprise, really, that James had chosen to disregard the God-given rights of his subjects; he was just treating the English people the way the Pope treated Catholics. And in 1689, the Anglicans and Calvinists in Parliament realised he would have to be stopped.

To that end, they ‘invited the prince of Orange to vindicate their liberties’, according to the well-known history that Keteltas recited to his congregants in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War. William of Orange was the Calvinist stadtholder of several provinces in the Netherlands. He was also James II’s son-in-law, married to the king’s oldest child, Mary, who’d been raised as an Anglican by her mother. Forty years earlier, Anglicans and Calvinists had hated each other enough to fight a civil war that led to the execution of the king. But in a classic diplomatic move, whereby the ‘enemy of my enemy’ becomes ‘my friend’, England’s Protestants united in 1689 to launch a coup that forever linked ‘English’ and ‘Protestant’ identity. To this very day, Roman Catholics are barred from sitting on the English throne – though since 2013, heirs to the throne have been permitted to marry Catholics, provided they don’t convert.

However, what became known as ‘the Glorious Revolution’ did more than just link ‘English’ and ‘Protestant’ identity. It also settled the question of what ‘freedom’ was, and defined the concept for English-speaking people in thoroughly Protestant terms. Freedom became the absence of outside restraint – or ‘the power of acting as one sees fit,’ in the words of Blackstone. Rights were something held wholly and intrinsically by the individual, because without them, individuals could not fulfill the responsibilities given to each person by God. The Protestant emphasis on sola scriptura obliged people to read their Bibles and use their reason to construct a personal piety that began with the Word and the undeniable reality of their sinfulness. Freedom, in this Protestant way of thinking, was something given to human beings by the Creator so that they might choose to receive God’s grace. Governments that respected an understanding of freedom that began with the rights of the individual, then, were thought to be ‘godly’ governments.

Freedom was not something to be realised by human beings only with the help of others. This way of thinking reflected the Vatican’s belief that truth was something too complex for any one person to access on his own. It’s not that there was no freedom within early modern Catholicism; however, freedom was the fulfillment of God’s wishes for humanity, and Scripture and human reason, on their own, were not enough to understand what those wishes were. For this reason, God had created a ‘Brain Trust’ of really smart men to advise Him on the ‘New Deal’. These men studied Scripture and the teachings of earlier theologians to uncover the fullness of God’s grace. Governments that allowed themselves to be guided by the Church, therefore, were the only godly governments for a Catholic before the modernising influence of the Second Vatican Council of 1962.

In the wake of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the vast majority of English-speaking people believed that freedom did not exist within the confines of the Catholic Church. What they called ‘popery’ (to emphasise Catholics’ servile obedience to the Pope) was synonymous with ‘slavery’. In the decades that followed 1689, the colonists in North America considered the king and parliament to be the best checks against popery the world had ever seen. That’s why they spoke of the rights that God had given to them as ‘the rights of Englishmen’. But following the Seven Years’ War (1754-63), England’s colonists became convinced that parliament was no longer respecting their rights. And even though not a single MP was Catholic, they expressed their fears in the familiar language of anti-Catholicism.

Political leaders predicted that the US would soon be ‘fed with blood by the Roman Catholic doctrines’ and subjected to the kind of ‘tyranny under which Europe groaned for many ages’. Newspapers fretted that ‘the medium of French law and popery’ would soon be ‘established’ in the colonies, ‘the one enslaving the body, the other the mind’. In 1827, one veteran recalled that ‘the real fears of popery… stimulated many timorous people to send their sons to join the military ranks’. The common cry of the Patriots, he recounted, was ‘NO KING, NO POPERY!’

These concerns about ‘Jesuitical designs’ didn’t go away after the war was over, but public expressions of anti-Catholicism did decrease considerably in the years following independence, partly because US Catholics had sided with the Patriots, and partly because there weren’t many Catholics in the US to stimulate the fear. The first US bishop, John Carroll, estimated the country was home to 30,000 Catholics in 1790, the year the nation’s first census put the overall population at nearly 4 million.  Catholics were ‘as rare as a comet or an earthquake’ in the US, according to John Adams. But that situation was soon to change.

The first Catholic immigrants to come to the US in large numbers were not the starving and destitute, famine-fleeing Irish who dominate the narrative in survey courses on US history. They were Germans who started coming over in the 1820s to get away from religious violence in their home provinces. Some of these Germans stayed in the coastal cities where they first landed, but many more headed inland to places such as Cincinnati and Chicago, both in sparsely populated territories that had only recently become states.

This mass migration convinced many leaders that a papal conspiracy to undermine US freedom was afoot. In words that could easily be mistaken for those of modern-day, anti-Islamic politicians such as France’s Marine Le Pen and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, the prominent Congregationalist minister Lyman Beecher warned in 1835 that Catholics ‘do design the subversion of our institutions’. Theirs was a religion ‘enslaving and terrible in its recorded deeds’, and their numbers in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois were becoming ‘too great and influential for the safety of republican institutions’. Priests, Beecher claimed, were ‘wield[ing] in mass the suffrage of their confiding people’, telling Catholics to vote for laws and leaders who would ultimately destroy democracy.

Beecher’s fears eventually led to the formation of the American Party, which was nativist and anti-immigrant. Popularly known as the ‘Know-Nothing’ Party, its stance on immigration was similar to the Tea Party’s today – though Know-Nothings didn’t have any existing immigration restrictions to appeal to. The American Party never captured the White House, but their candidate in 1856, Millard Fillmore, had spent two and a half years there, since he’d been vice president at the time of Zachary Taylor’s death in 1850. The mayors of Chicago, Boston and Washington, DC were members of the American Party in the 1850s. The party won control of the state legislatures in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania in 1854, and several congressmen and at least one governor, J Neely Johnson of California, also belonged to the American Party.

There is no historical evidence that anything resembling a Catholic conspiracy against US democracy ever existed. At the same time, the fact is that Catholics in the 19th and early 20th centuries did conceive of freedom differently from most Protestant Americans. While Catholics weren’t the patsies that Beecher made them out to be, they were not obsessed with their individual rights the way many Protestants were. They listened to their bishops when those bishops warned them that public schools were a place where ‘all classes, Protestants, Jews, and Infidels meet promiscuously’, and they used their hard-earned money to send their sons and daughters to Catholic schools because – in the words of Rochester’s Bishop Bernard McQuaid – ‘watchful Christian parents would never allow their children to associate with such [people], justly fearing contamination’.

The ‘contamination’ that McQuaid and others feared was the ‘false theory of authority’ underpinning Protestants’ understanding of freedom. That theory, Father James Keogh of Pittsburgh explained in 1862, elevated ‘the principle of private judgment’ above ‘the one power on earth that has the right to decide whether the civil law be in accordance with, or in opposition to, the law of God. That power is the Church of Christ.’

So damaging was this false theory of authority that Pope Leo XIII felt the need to speak out against it in 1899. The word he used to identify the false theory was ‘Americanism’.  Manifested in everyday life, Americanism consisted of ‘the passion for discussing and pouring contempt upon any possible subject, [and] the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject and to set them forth in print to the world’. Such freedoms, Pope Leo insisted, ‘wrapped minds in darkness’ and fostered a climate of individualism that was dangerous because it caused people to ‘become unmindful of both conscience and of duty’.

Leo XIII’s words captured the attention of the US press. The Boston Daily Advertiser called the Pope’s position ‘a solemn manifestation of the intransigent spirit of Catholicism’. The New York Times Magazineand the Milwaukee Sentinel each printed a syndicated editorial suggesting that Catholicism wasn’t ‘compatible with the virility and independence of the American people’. The Times added a hopeful observation, however: Catholics in the US, it noted, couldn’t ‘escape the atmosphere of liberty in which they live’.

Leo’s disdain for the idea that a person might actually have a right to his opinions is as odious to Americans today as it was in 1899. But his concern that a preoccupation with individual rights could cause people to forget their duty to ‘be solicitous for the salvation of one’s neighbour’ does sound a bit different to a 21st-century audience that has accepted (to varying degrees) the premise behind Theodore Roosevelt’s trust-busting, his cousin Franklin’s ‘New Deal’ reforms, and the programmes that came out of Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Great Society’.

In a broad sense, the history of the 20th century was the history of how Americans came to terms with the reality that individual rights alone could not produce a society that was both free and industrialised. In an age of modern corporations – lawmakers gradually learned – freedom needed some extra help.

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Johnson declared a ‘war on poverty’ that gave good government the obligation of protecting not just an individual’s rights, but also her potential. The housing, food and educational assistance programs he put forward were designed to ‘give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capabilities’. Drawing upon FDR’s ‘four freedoms’ address of 1941, Johnson called for the US to be ‘a nation free from want’, expanding the conditions of freedom well beyond the rights to property and political representation outlined by Anglo-American jurists in the 18th century.

Just as the Catholic Church has always taught that reason alone cannot help an individual access truth, US policies and institutions (even many of the conservative ones) now teach that rights alone cannot help individuals access the freedom that is available to them as human beings. This shift in Americans’ understanding of what makes freedom possible is one of the reasons they no longer view Catholicism as an existential threat.

The Catholic Church has also changed its understanding of freedom – specifically religious freedom. Until 1965, the church/state separation enshrined in the US Bill of Rights was anathema to the Catholic Church. ‘Error has no rights’ was the phrase that animated the Vatican’s relations with secular authorities, and as the only earthly institution that contained the fullness of divine truth, the Catholic Church was believed to be a proper partner for any and all states.

But in the early years of the Cold War, Pope John XXIII worried that the world was being threatened by ‘a temporal order which some have wished to reorganise excluding God’. Under such circumstances, any belief in God became preferable to Communism. Therefore, in 1962 the Pope convened the Second Vatican Council to consider several modern questions, including the questions of religious liberty and ecumenism. The result was Dignitatis Humanae (1965), which recognises religious freedom as a social and civil right, grounded in ‘the dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself’.

The Catholic Church embraced a Protestant understanding of religious freedom in 1965 in response to a perceived threat – the threat of godless Communism. Today, some Protestants in the US are embracing an older, pre-Vatican II understanding of Catholic religious freedom in response to another perceived threat – in this case, the growing number of lawmakers and courts that have insisted gays and lesbians have a fundamental right to marry.

This trend is the reason evangelical voters turned out in droves in 2012 to support the candidacy of Rick Santorum, a traditionalist Catholic who attends a Latin Mass and has insisted he doesn’t ‘believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute’. Support for Santorum was strong among evangelical Protestants even before he announced his candidacy – so strong, in fact, that in 2005, Time magazine named him one of the ‘25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America’, in spite of his Catholicism.

The idea that the Church should have ‘no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country’, according to Santorum. On this point the Republican from Pennsylvania has something in common with many of the world’s Muslims – though naturally, he’d disagree with them about which religion ought to have an influence. A survey conducted in 2012 by the Pew Research Center found that 98 per cent of the Muslims in Jordan, 97 per cent of them in Pakistan, and 92 per cent of them in Egypt believe that the teachings of Islam should ‘hold sway’ over the laws in their country.

Interestingly, in the US, Muslim immigrants feel differently. Only 28 per cent of US‑born Muslims think that mosque leaders should refrain from politics, but 60 per cent of Muslim immigrants recently told researchers at Pew that mosque leaders should ‘keep out of political matters’. It’s a directive that suggests Muslim immigrants in the US might be more ‘American’ than some of the Catholics and Protestants voting and campaigning in the US today.

 

Maura Jane Farrellyteaches American studies and journalism at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. She is the author of Papist Patriots(2012), and lives in the Boston area.

Read Full Post »

JENNIFER DELTON Rethinking the 1950s: How Anticommunism and the Cold War Made America Liberal

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2013
by CHRISTINE M. LAMBERSON
New Books in History  APRIL 23, 2015

Jennifer Delton

Conventional wisdom among historians and the public says anticommunism and the Cold War were barriers to reform during their height in the 1950s. In this view, the strong hand of a conservative anticommunism and Cold War priorities thwarted liberal and leftist reforms, political dissent and dreams of social democracy. Jennifer Delton is a professor of history at Skidmore College, and her new book, Rethinking the 1950s: How Anticommunism and the Cold War Made America Liberal (Cambridge University Press, 2013) encourages us–as the title suggests–to rethink that conventional view. She argues that in fact the Cold War and anticommunism promoted and justified many liberal goals rather than stifling them. Her book demonstrates that supposed conservatives championed many liberal causes while many liberals genuinely supported the Cold War and anticommunism. For example, she discusses the liberal beliefs and actions of business leaders and politicians like Dwight Eisenhower, who are often thought of as conservative figures, to show the dominance of liberal political ideas during this period. On the other side, she also argues that liberals, such as many labor activists, were themselves strongly anticommunist because they saw communism as truly damaging to their cause, not simply because they aimed to avoid the taint of a communist label. These sentiments had important effects on policy as well. From high taxes to regulation, civil rights and the continuance of New Deal programs, liberal ideas held sway. They had a powerful effect on policy, not in spite of, but because of the larger Cold War context. In the interview, Delton discusses her book and its importance in reforming both historians’ views of the period and our broader thinking about partisan politics and nationalism.

Read Full Post »

seddon-main-image-470x260

PREVENTING ‘ANOTHER CASTRO’: JOHN F. KENNEDY AND LATIN AMERICA

In December, Presidents Barak Obama and Raul Castro announced that they would be taking steps to normalise US-Cuban relations thereby ending decades of animosity between the two governments. In a public statement, Obama declared it time ‘to cut loose the shackles of the past’ and do away with the enmity that brought about the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Although Cuba is currently in the headlines, the Caribbean island does not figure as prominently in US politics as it once did. During the Cold War, developments in Cuba had a profound effect on US policy towards Latin America as a whole. In particular, Washington officials feared that the Cuban Revolution would pave the way for other communist governments, allied with the Soviet Union, to emerge throughout the region. For President John F. Kennedy, this prospect made Latin America ‘the most dangerous area in the world’.

As a senator, Kennedy had initially called for a ‘patient attitude’ towards Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro who, after coming to power in January 1959, repeatedly denied being a communist. However, as Castro nationalised US property, delayed elections and accepted aid from the Soviet Union, Kennedy’s view shifted. 1 In the run up to the 1960 election, he repeatedly argued that Latin America was threatened by future communist revolutions.  ‘I have seen Communist influence and Castro influence rise in Latin America’ he declared and asked ‘By 1965 or 1970, will there be other Cubas in Latin America?’ 2

As President-Elect, Kennedy’s fears were supported by a government report which warned that ‘the present Communist challenge in Latin America resembles, but is more dangerous than, the Nazi-Fascist threat of the Franklin Roosevelt period and demands an even bolder and more imaginative response.’ A response came as, once in office, Kennedy established the ‘Alliance for Progress’ which ostensibly aimed to undermine support for radical social movements by funding Latin America’s economic development. 3  Kennedy asserted that the Alliance should aim to ‘eliminate tyranny’but as historian Thomas C. Field Jnr has revealed, in practice, US aid was used to support the increasingly authoritarian regime of Bolivian President Víctor Paz Estenssoro. 4

In 1961, Kennedy’s advisor Arthur M. Schlesinger cautioned that ‘Bolivia might well go the way of Cuba’ and argued that ‘we simply cannot let another Latin American nation go Communist; if we should do so, the game would be up through a good deal of Latin America.’ 5 By providing Paz with financial support and military hardware, Washington was able to ensure that the country’s leadership maintained an anti-communist stance and liberalised the national economy against the wishes of armed, left-wing trade unions. Yet the authoritarianism that Washington encouraged ultimately inspired civilian and military revolt against Paz, culminating in the 1964 coup that overthrew him. 6

Fears of ‘another Castro situation’ also informed Kennedy’s attitude towards British Guiana which, by 1963, was taking steps towards independence from the British Empire. At the time, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) held a majority in the colony’s assembly but US officials had concerns regarding the possible ‘communist connections’ of its leader Cheddi Jagan. Fearing that British Guiana would emerge as a ‘Castro-type state in South America’, Washington was keen to see the more conservative Forbes Burnham, leader of the People’s National Congress (PNC), assume leadership of the colony following its independence.

The US government persuaded London to alter British Guiana’s electoral system to proportional representation and, in 1964, despite receiving the highest share of the popular vote, Jagan’s PPP lost its majority status in the legislative assembly to a coalition led by the PNC. Subsequently, in May 1966, the colony became an independent state, renamed Guyana and led by Burnam. 7

The Kennedy administration’s interventions in Latin America took a number of forms with each aiming to prevent ‘another Castro’.  As Thomas G. Paterson has argued, US officials were gripped by the ‘fear that the Cuban Revolution would become contagious and further diminish United States hegemony in the Western Hemisphere.’ 8 Now, with the Cold War concluded, this fear has diminished and at least some US officials desire a more cordial relationship with Havana.

Significant steps have already been taken to improve US-Cuban relations with prisoners released and the announcement that Washington will ease restrictions on commerce and travel between the two countries. Fidel Castro has tentatively backedhis brother’s rapprochement with Obama who intends to set up an embassy in Havana but tensions remain as officials from both countries have continued to criticise the others’ human rights record. While the future of this relationship is uncertain, it seems unlikely that Cuba will ever again be so central to US foreign policy as it was during the Kennedy presidency.

Mark Seddon completed his PhD at the University of Sheffield in 2014. His research focuses on British and US interventions in Latin America during the Second World War and Cold War. You can find him on Twitter @MarkSedd0n.

For an overview of Kennedy’s policy towards Latin America see: Stephen G. Rabe, The Most Dangerous Area in the World: John F. Kennedy Confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America (Chapel Hill, NC, 1999)

Notes:

  1. Thomas G. Paterson, ‘Fixation with Cuba: The Bay of Pigs, Missile Crisis, and Covert War Against Castro’ in Thomas G. Paterson (ed.) Kennedy’s Quest for Victory: American Foreign Policy, 1961-1963 (Oxford, 1989), pp. 124-125. 
  2. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29403 
  3. Jeffrey F. Taffet, Foreign Aid as Foreign Policy: The Alliance for Progress in Latin America (New York, NY, 2007), pp. 11-28. 
  4. Thomas C. Field Jr., From Development to Dictatorship: Bolivia and the Alliance for Progress in the Kennedy Era (New York, NY, 2014). 
  5. Ibid., p. 14. 
  6. Ibid., pp. 189-196. 
  7. Stephen G. Rabe, U.S. Intervention in British Guiana: A Cold War Story (Chapel Hill, NC), pp. 105-151. 
  8. Thomas G. Paterson, ‘Fixation with Cuba: The Bay of Pigs, Missile Crisis, and Covert War Against Castro’ in Thomas G. Paterson (ed.) Kennedy’s Quest for Victory: American Foreign Policy, 1961-1963 (Oxford, 1989), p. 127. 

Read Full Post »

 The Cold War and the Origins of US Democracy Promotion

Robert Pee

U.S. Studies Online   Forum for New Writing

May 8, 2014

Soft power is the power to influence foreign governments, foreign publics, and world public opinion through the non-forcible projection of culture, ideology and political value systems. Soft power, in short, as its foremost scholar Joseph Nye explains, is “attractive power”. It has been a key facet of US foreign policy since the outbreak of the Cold War and its significance has continued to grow through the expansion of global communication networks and the ideological conflicts of the post-9/11 era.

This Featured Blog Series interrogates US soft power in terms of its historical and contemporary deployment, investigating the strategies, organisational frameworks and tactics which have shaped the US deployment of soft power, how this deployment has interacted with other foreign policy tools, and how overseas populations and elites have received US soft power and negotiated its meaning.


NEDDuring its time in office the Bush administration channelled over $1 billion to Arab democrats through the US Agency for International Development, the State Department and the Middle East Partnership Initiative,[1] with much of this funding going to democratic groups in previously-favoured dictatorships, such as Egypt. The Bush administration argued that the shift was necessary to safeguard US security by containing Islamist movements.[2] This equation between support for democratic groups overseas and US national security was not new, however; instead, the idea originated during the final stages of the Cold War, when a loose network of American intellectuals persuaded the Reagan administration to support the foundation of the National Endowment for Democracy. According to this network, strengthening pro-US parties and civil society groups in the Third World could be used to shore up the Washington’s geopolitical position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union by blocking Marxist movements from seizing power in allied dictatorships.

Democracy promotion was conceptualised by actors outside the national security bureaucracy from 1972 onwards to resolve the strategic and organisational tensions which had marked US attempts to export democracy as a tool of national power in the Cold War. Strategically, policy-makers had disagreed over whether to support authoritarian regimes in the Third World or democratising economic and social reforms. Those who advocated support for right-wing dictatorships argued that attempts to create democratic governments would destabilise friendly states and possibly result in Communist takeovers; supporters of the democratic option claimed that it was the repression and inequality which characterised dictatorships that drove Third World populations to support Communist movements.[3] This division in the foreign policy elite led to an incoherent and disjointed strategic approach, in which democratising reforms were supported in some cases but not in others, and were often soft-pedalled or abandoned if they began to threaten existing US interests. Organisationally, the state had struggled to direct a covertly-funded state-private network of US civil society groups, deployed to co-opt key foreign demographic groups to the US cause, in a way that both preserved the credibility of US groups as private actors and was effective in achieving national security goals.[4]

Democracy promotion was proposed after these modes of intervention had declined. The exposure of the state-private network’s covert state funding in 1967[5] destroyed the credibility of the groups involved as private actors, and thus their operational effectiveness, while the Nixon administration implemented an overall strategy of supporting authoritarian regimes to contain Communist/radical movements. The basic blueprint for democracy promotion was outlined shortly after by William Douglas, a development theorist.

The new democratisation strategy outlined by Douglas strove to avoid the strategic dilemma which had led the state apparatus to implement inconsistent policies, and the credibility issues caused by the exposure of covert funding of private groups. Strategically, Douglas called for a democracy campaign embracing the whole Third World arguing that the creation of democratic states would produce governments less vulnerable to Communist subversion and prevent the West from being cut off from important raw materials.[6] To achieve this, socioeconomic reforms and the projection of democratic ideology should be replaced by direct aid to democratic parties overseas delivered by a non-state League for Democracy composed of Western and Third World democratic parties. This organisational arrangement would ease disagreements over whether the US should support dictatorships or democratic reform as the best guarantee of stability in the Third World, as the US government could maintain its support for dictatorships in the short-term while handing over diplomatically sensitive reform programs to a non-state actor, meaning that both strategies could be pursued simultaneously. The credibility problems caused by the exposure of the state-private network’s covert funding in 1967 could be solved by making government contributions to the League overt and transparent, or by turning to foundation grants or private donations as sources of funding. However, neither the Executive nor US civil society were interested in the idea initially. The Nixon administration believed efforts to democratise friendly dictatorships to be destabilising, while many US liberals linked democratisation and modernisation to the failure of US policy in Vietnam.

This changed in the second half of the 1970s as the US faced a growing wave of Third World revolutions,[7] re-opening the question of how political intervention could best be implemented to block the emergence of radical governments. The Carter administration attempted to steer a middle course between support for authoritarianism or democratisation by pressuring existing dictatorships to liberalise in order to defuse popular anger while leaving the structures of the regimes essentially unchanged – the essence of Carter’s Human Rights policy in the Third World.[8]However, the administration proved unable to implement the competing policies of preserving relations with allied authoritarian regimes and fostering reform through the US national security bureaucracy. Pressure for reform was often blunted or blocked by bureaucratic struggles between the Bureau of Human Rights and other agencies such as the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, the State Department’s Bureau for Security Assistance, and the Department’s regional bureaux, which sought to preserve relations with friendly authoritarian regimes such as the Philippines and Pakistan.[9]

Politicians in the Democratic Party offered a solution to this problem by founding a non-state organisation which could act as a channel for such initiatives outside the state apparatus – the American Political Foundation – in 1979. The APF was inspired by the West German Party Foundations: political training institutes, each linked to a West German political party, which implemented political assistance programs overseas with West German government funds.[10] The APF was established by George Agree, a former Congressional aide to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to follow this example by forging transnational party links to defend and extend democracy.[11] However, the organisation was small and lacked a clear strategy, adequate funding from business or foundations[12] and support from the Carter White House.

The decisive shift which opened up the possibility of convergence between non-state democracy promoters and the national security bureaucracy was the failure of Carter’s policies to prevent revolution in Nicaragua. The administration had failed to manage the competing imperatives of pressuring the Somoza dictatorship to liberalise so as to draw popular support away from the Marxist FSLN insurgency, while maintaining a regime strong enough to combat the insurgents militarily. The administration’s last-ditch attempt to remove Somoza in favour of a government of pro-US democrats to ward off the final FSLN victory failed because its chosen proxies within Nicaragua lacked the political skills and organisational strength to block a revolutionary takeover.[13]

A solution to this problem was conceived by Michael Samuels of the CSIS, who contacted the APF in early 1980. Samuels proposed that political aid programs to strengthen democrats in friendly authoritarian states threatened with revolution should be begun before these revolutions materialised. These programs would create strong pro-US political movements which could take power after the breakdown of a dictatorship and block revolutionary takeovers, preserving the target country’s geopolitical alliance with the US. They would be carried out through the “American Political Development Foundation”, a semi-private organisation receiving US government money overtly[14] — a further development of Douglas’ League for Democracy and Agree’s APF, but one which was wholly American rather than transnational, and tied to a current and specific US foreign policy problem, which made it more likely to gain the support of policy-makers.

Samuels’ proposal led to the coalescence of a loose network of non-state democracy promoters, including Douglas and the APF, which successfully lobbied the Reagan administration to support the initiative.[15] This led to the foundation of the legally private but government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, headed by Carl Gershman, a neoconservative and former Reagan administration official, in 1983 to channel funding to democratic groups overseas.[16] Under Reagan and George H.W. Bush the organisation aided the democratic forces which succeeded pro-US dictatorships in the Philippines and Chile, and those which replaced Marxist governments in Nicaragua and Poland,[17] thus safeguarding US national security interests in the final phase of the Cold War. The NED’s programs were also precursors of the later governmental initiatives in USAID and the State Department deployed by George W. Bush and Barack Obama in the Middle East. The NED itself is still active and counts among its board members former George W. Bush administration figures, such as previous NSC official Elliott Abrams, responsible for policy towards the Near East and Global Democracy Strategy, and Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq.[18]

The origins of US democracy promotion were bound up with the search for an effective method of preventing the emergence of revolutionary governments in the Third World, which could damage Washington’s geopolitical position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. The democracy promoters’ solution to the strategic dilemma of whether to support dictatorships to achieve short-term stability or democratic reform to create long-term stability was to lodge democracy programs in a non-state organisation. This would make democracy programs credible to Third World democrats and plausibly deniable to dictatorships, allowing the US to support dictatorships and strengthen democratic successor movements simultaneously. The strategic considerations which originally drove Cold War democracy promotion reappeared in US foreign policy towards the Middle East after the 9/11 attacks,  with the growth of democracy being expected to contain a disparate collection of Islamist groups, rather than Marxist rebels supposedly acting at the behest of Moscow.

However, previous strategic tensions re-emerged as the George W. Bush and Obama administrations both soft-pedalled democracy promotion in friendly Middle Eastern states such as Egypt when it clashed with immediate geopolitical objectives,[19] and were able to do so because the US government funds the NED and now implements the bulk of US democracy promotion programs.[20] Due to this back-tracking the fall of the authoritarian Mubarak regime was followed by a power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military rather than a pro-US democratic successor elite. Thus, the tension between the pursuit of democracy and short-term US national security interests, which democracy promotion was originally generated to resolve, continues to operate as a basic feature of US foreign policy.


Footnotes

[1] Eric Patterson, “Obama and Sustainable Democracy Promotion”, International Studies Perspectives, 13 (2012): 29.

[2] Bush argued in 2003 that “As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export.” George W. Bush, “Remarks at the 20thanniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy,” 6th November 2003, available from http://www.ned.org/george-w-bush/remarks-by-president-george-w-bush-at-the-20th-anniversary, accessed 2nd May 2014.

[3] Compare the assertion of George Humphrey, Eisenhower’s Treasury Secretary that “whenever a dictator was replaced, communists gained” with Kennedy’s argument that “Dictatorships are the seedbed from which communism ultimately springs up.” Quoted from Tony Smith, America’s Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993), 192 and David F. Schmitz, The United States and Right-wing Dictatorships, 1965-1989 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 261.

[4] For further details on the state-private network see Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2008).

[5] Tity de Vries, “The 1967 Central Intelligence Agency Scandal: Catalyst in a Transforming Relationship between State and People,” Journal of American History 98, no. 4 (2012).

[6]William A. Douglas, Developing Democracy (Washington DC: Heldref Publications, 1972).

[7] Richard Saull, The Cold War and After: Capitalism, Revolution and Superpower Politics (London: Pluto Press, 2007), 139.

[8] James Earl Carter, Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 1982), 143; and also Anonymous, “Presidential Review Memorandum 28: Human Rights”, Jimmy Carter Library, 8th July 1977, accessed 20th March 2009, http://www.jimmycarterlibrary.org/documents/pddirectives4.

[9] Victor Kaufman, “The Bureau of Human Rights during the Carter Administration,” The Historian 61, no. 1 (1998).

[10] Donald M. Fraser, “A Proposal that the Democratic National Committee employ at least one staff member assigned to follow and work with political movements abroad”, 1977, Folder 6: Reports and Proposals, Box 1, George E. Agree Papers, Library of Congress, hereafter LOC.

[11] George Agree, “Proposal for a pilot study of international cooperation between democratic political parties,” 9thMay 1977, Box 1, Folder 6: Reports and Proposals, Box 1, George E. Agree Papers, LOC.

[12] Difficulties with securing funding were mentioned in the minutes of organisation’s annual board meetings in 1980 and 1981. See APF, “Minutes of 1980 Annual Meeting, Board of Directors of American Political Foundation”, 19thMarch 1980 and “APF, Minutes of 1981 Annual Meeting, Board of Directors of American Political Foundation”, 7th July 1981, Folder 3: APF Minutes, Box 1, George E. Agree Papers, LOC.

[13] See Robert A. Pastor, Not Condemned to Repetition: the United States and Nicaragua, (Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 2002), 82-99 and Morris H. Morley, Washington, Somoza and the Sandinistas: State and Regime in US Policy towards Nicaragua 1969-1981 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994), 174-181.

[14] Michael A Samuels, Project Proposal: A Comprehensive Policy Response to Expanding U.S. Interests in the Third World, 1980, 1, attached to George Agree, Letter to Mr Michael A. Samuels, 15th February 1980, Folder 1: APF Correspondence, Box 1, George E. Agree Papers, LOC.

[15] See General Accounting Office, Events Leading to the Establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy, 6th July 1984, accessed 27th December 2006, http://www.gao.gov/products/NSIAD-84-121, 1, for meetings between democracy promoters and officials and Alexander Haig, memo to the President, 8th March 1982, DDRS, accessed 11thDecember 2006, for the proposal of a semiprivate democracy institute to Reagan in the wake of these meetings.

[16] Nicholas Guilhot, The Democracy Makers: Human Rights and International Order (New York, Chichester: Columbia University Press, 2005), 90.

[17]William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention and Hegemony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 129-137, 175-193 and 221-239; Thomas Carothers, In the Name of Democracy: US Policy Toward Latin America in the Reagan Years (Berkeley & Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1991), 94-95 and 158-160; and Gregory Domber “Supporting the Revolution: America, Democracy and the End of the Cold War in Poland, 1981-1989” (PhD thesis, George Washington University, 2008),  accessed 15th July 2013, http://transatlantic.sais-jhu.edu/ACES/ACES_Working_Papers/Gregory_Domber

_Supporting_the_Revolution.pdf, 209-216, 335-350 and 410-411

[18] See http://ned.org/about/board, accessed 3rd May 2014.

[19] Fawaz Gerges, Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 162-164.

[20] The Obama administration cut US government funding for democracy promotion in Egypt and restored the Egyptian government’s ability to veto the transfer of US funds to Egyptian groups, thus limiting the freedom of USAID and of NDI and IRI, NED’s Republican and Democratic Party Institutes, which provide aid to foreign democratic political parties. Richard S. Williamson, “Turning a Blind Eye to Egypt”, September 30th 2010, available from http://www.iri.org/news-events-press-center/news/iri-board-member-richard-williamson-urges-support-egypts-democratic-ac, accessed 26th April 2014

blog snapshotRobert Pee has recently graduated the University of Birmingham with a PhD. His thesis, titled “Democracy Promotion, National Security and Strategy under the Reagan Administration: 1981-1986”, examines the relationship of democracy promotion to national security in US strategy, with a particular focus on the origins of the National Endowment for Democracy and on democracy promotion during the Reagan administration. His research interests include US Democracy Promotion during the Cold War and the War on Terror, national security strategy, the role of non-state actors in the formation and execution of US foreign policy, and US policy towards the Arab Spring

Read Full Post »

US-Cuba Embargo Goes Beyond the Cold War

The unequal US-Cuban power relationship stretches back to the turn of the 20th century.

Cuban propaganda poster in Havana featuring a Cuban soldier addressing a threatening Uncle Sam. Photo by KPu3uC B PoccuuCuban propaganda poster in Havana featuring a Cuban soldier addressing a threatening Uncle Sam. Photo by KPu3uC B PoccuuPresident Obama’s decision to reopen the US embassy in Havana and to begin easing commercial and travel restrictions continues to be regarded by supporters as the highpoint of Obama’s foreign policy agenda to date. But the move has its fair share of detractors, too. To understand the predominantly Republican opposition to trade liberalization with Cuba, we must look beyond the Cold War. We must look further back into America’s imperial past.

More Than a Cold War Hangover

The Democratic leadership has explained Obama’s sizeable shift in US policy toward Cuba. ‘We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests’, Obama stated. ‘Neither the American nor the Cuban people are well-served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.’ Nancy Pelosi similarly noted that ‘we must acknowledge our policy towards Cuba is a relic of a bygone era that weakens our leadership in the Americas and has not advanced freedom and prosperity in Cuba.’

Obama and Pelosi should look much farther back than the 1961 Cuban Embargo. The unequal US-Cuban power relationship stretches back to the turn of the 20th century.

Americans may have largely forgotten the first 60 years of US interventions in Cuban affairs – from the late 19th century to the mid-20th – but Cuban memories are longer. When Fidel Castro took power in 1959, his justification for doing so was not in stark cold-war anti-capitalistic terms. Rather, he harkened back to an earlier era of US-Cuban relations and to Cuba’s right to international freedom of trade. In a January 1959 speech, he warned that American diminution of Cuban sovereignty, stretching back to the late 19th century, would no longer be tolerated, and in front of the United Nations in 1960, Castro denounced American economic nationalist policies toward Cuba, declaring that it was an inalienable right that Cuba be allowed to freely ‘sell what it produces’ and to see its exports increase: ‘Only egotistical interests can oppose the universal interest in trade and commercial exchange.’ So when the Eisenhower administration showed itself indisposed toward normalizing US-Cuban relations, Castro turned instead to the other major geopolitical player, the Soviet Union, ‘to sell our products’.

In January 1961, stemming in part from the Cuban-Soviet trade agreement, the United States put in place the now infamous trade embargo against Cuba and severed diplomatic relations. The embargo has since stunted Cuban political and economic growth, and has accordingly served as an easy scapegoat for Fidel and his brother Raúl by allowing them to blame the United States for any and all economic woes befalling Cuba.

Even a cursory look at US trade policies toward other communist states shows how the US embargo against Cuba was – and remains – far more than a Cold War hangover.

Republican Imperialism of Economic Nationalism

In other words, if the embargo were merely an antiquated relic of the Cold War, how do we reconcile the contradiction of American trade liberalization with communist China during the Cold War, but not with Cuba even a quarter century after Cold War’s end? Is it perhaps from political pressure from anti-Castro groups within the United States? Considering that a majority of Cuban-American voters and US business interests would now favor easing political and economic restrictions against Cuba, that line of argument looks increasingly flimsy.

The primary inspiration for the Cuban embargo is something much more emotional and irrational than some outdated fear of communism at America’s backdoor. It is something that reaches back more than a century to America’s imperial past, something ingrained in the American psyche, a collective unconscious support for the nineteenth-century Monroe Doctrine: the self-ordained, unilateral US right to intervene in Western Hemispheric affairs. More specifically, the Cuban embargo is a modern-day manifestation of the Republican party’s longstanding imperialism of economic nationalism.

After the American Civil War, the Republican party stood proudly upon a political economic platform of high protectionism. And by the 19th century’s fin de siècle, it also stood proudly in demanding American colonialism. These two Republican planks – imperialism and economic nationalism – became entwined.

Republican President William McKinley, the ‘Napoleon of Protection’, oversaw the acquisition of a formal American empire following a successful US war against the Spanish in 1898. Newly obtained American colonies now included the Philippines and Puerto Rico, and, more informally, Cuba.

Cuba had been guaranteed ostensible independence from the United States, but the 1901 Platt Amendment allowed the United States ‘the right to intervene’ in Cuban affairs, including through military occupation, throughout the early twentieth century. The Republican administration of Teddy Roosevelt soon thereafter doubled down on undermining Cuban sovereignty through the restrictive 1903 Reciprocity Treaty, which maintained a discounted protective policy toward Cuban exports to protect US sugar growing interests. Following the treaty’s passage, Roosevelt expressed his private delight at the coercive idea of pulling Cuban political-economic strings through Republican-style trade reciprocity.

This despite the fact that Cuban liberals wanted free trade with the United States. In 1902, for example, the Corporaciones Económicas, an influential conglomerate of Cuban creole businessmen, lobbied the US Congress for Cuban-American free trade. Luis V. de Abad, representing Cuban tobacco interests, at the same time was also appealing to Washington for trade liberalization instead of ‘prohibitive’ tobacco duties of over 125 percent, which had left the Cuban worker with ‘less bread and butter in his home’, and more ‘worse off than under Spanish domination’. And Juan Gualberto Gómez, leader of the Cuban Liberal Party, similarly castigated the 1903 Reciprocity Treaty, calling instead for unrestricted free trade with the United States.

But Republican economic nationalist politicians ignored such cosmopolitan Cuban demands. As historian Mary Speck has explored, Republican protectionist unwillingness to grant free trade to Cuba would thereafter culminate in the 1930 Hawley-Smoot Tariff, ushering in a new Cuban ‘era of economic depression and political unrest’.

Cuba’s Century-Long Desire for Free Trade

So when Raúl Castro called for an end to the embargo based on economic and humanitarian grounds in late December, he was therefore just reiterating a century-long Cuban call for free trade with the United States – a call that has for so long fallen on deaf American ears.

From this longer perspective of US-Cuban trade relations, the 1961 Embargo Act marked not the beginning, but the high-water mark of American economic nationalist imperialism towards Cuba.

When Republican politicians today like former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida say liberalizing trade ‘undermines the quest for a free and democratic Cuba’, or when House Leader John Boehner suggests that normalizing relations ‘should not be revisited… until the Cuban people enjoy freedom’, they are in fact undemocratically ignoring a century of Cuban demands for free trade.

Republican opponents of diplomatic normalization and trade liberalization also appear woefully ignorant of the fact that since the Second World War, Democratic and Republican administrations alike have advocated international trade liberalization for the expressed purpose of increasing political and economic freedom throughout the globe, even more so since the end of the Cold War. As Bill Clinton’s National Security Council advisor Anthony Lake put it in 1993: ‘On one side is protectionism and limited foreign engagement; on the other is active American engagement abroad on behalf of democracy and expanded trade.’

Thus, when Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio says ‘this entire policy shift… is based on an illusion, on a lie, the lie and the illusion that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people’, he is reflecting a bygone Republican sentiment that was used to justify American imperialism toward Cuba a century ago: a protectionist sentiment that baldly contradicts the Republican party’s own neoliberal free-market rhetoric that it has espoused in the decades following the Second World War.

Rubio and other Republican detractors of Obama’s Cuban policy must throw away the antiquated remnants of America’s imperial past. Ending the Cuban embargo would be an excellent start.

Dr. Marc-William Palen is a lecturer in imperial history at the University of Exeter, and a research associate in US Foreign Policy at the US Studies Centre, University of Sydney. His forthcoming book with Cambridge University Press is The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalization, 1846-1896.

 

Read Full Post »

Transcripts Kept Secret for 60 Years Bolster Defense of Oppenheimer’s Loyalty

William J. Broad

The New York Times   October 11, 2014

A detonation over the Marshall Islands in 1952 was the first test of a hydrogen bomb. Credit Underwood Archives, via Getty Images

At the height of the McCarthy era, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the government’s top atomic physicist, came under suspicion as a Soviet spy.

After 19 days of secret hearings in April and May of 1954, the Atomic Energy Commission revoked his security clearance. The action brought his career to a humiliating close, and Oppenheimer, until then a hero of American science, lived out his life a broken man.

But now, hundreds of newly declassified pages from the hearings suggest that Oppenheimer was anything but disloyal.

Historians and nuclear experts who have studied the declassified material — roughly a tenth of the hearing transcripts — say that it offers no damning evidence against him, and that the testimony that has been kept secret all these years tends to exonerate him.

“It’s hard to see why it was classified,” Richard Polenberg, a historian at Cornell University who edited a much earlier, sanitized version of the hearings, said in an interview. “It’s hard to see a principle here — except that some of the testimony was sympathetic to Oppenheimer, some of it very sympathetic.”

Photo

J. Robert Oppenheimer Credit Associated Press

A crucial element in the case against Oppenheimer derived from his resistance to early work on the hydrogen bomb. The physicist Edward Teller, who long advocated a crash program to devise such a weapon, told the hearing that he mistrusted Oppenheimer’s judgment, testifying, “I would feel personally more secure if public matters would rest in other hands.”

But the declassified material, released Oct. 3 by the Energy Department, suggests that Oppenheimer opposed the hydrogen bomb project on technical and military grounds, not out of Soviet sympathies.

Richard Rhodes, author of the 1995 book “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb,” said the records showed that making fuel to test one of Teller’s early H-bomb ideas would have forced the nation to forgo up to 80 atomic bombs.

“Oppenheimer was worried about war on the ground in Europe,” Mr. Rhodes said in an interview. He saw the need for “a large stockpile of fission weapons that could be used to turn back a Soviet ground assault.”

The formerly secret testimony “was immensely relevant to Oppenheimer’s opposition,” he said, adding, “There’s a lot here for historians to digest.”

Robert S. Norris, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and the author of “Racing for the Bomb,” a biography of Lt. Gen. Leslie R. Groves, the military leader of the World War II project to develop the atomic bomb, said a reading of the formerly secret testimony showed it had little or nothing to do with national security.

“In many cases, they deleted material that was embarrassing,” he said in an interview. “That’s pretty obvious.”

The Energy Department, a successor to the Atomic Energy Commission, offered no public analysis of the 19 volumes and no explanation for why it was releasing the material now. It did, however, note that the step took 60 years. Sidestepping questions of guilt or innocence, it referred to the 1954 hearing as a federal assessment of Oppenheimer “as a possible security risk.”

Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ project on government secrecy, called the release “long overdue” and added, “It lifts the last remaining cloud from the subject.”

Priscilla McMillan, an atomic historian at Harvard and author of “The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer,” applauded the release but also expressed bafflement at its having taken six decades, saying her own research suggested that the transcripts held “zero classified data.”

An eccentric genius fond of pipes and porkpie hats, Oppenheimer grew up in an elegant building on Riverside Drive in Manhattan, attended the Ethical Culture School and graduated from Harvard in three years. After studies in Europe, he taught physics at the University of California, Berkeley.

As a young professor, he crashed his car while racing a train, leaving his girlfriend unconscious. His father gave the young woman a painting and a Cézanne drawing.

In the 1930s, like many liberals, Oppenheimer belonged to groups led or infiltrated by Communists; his brother, his wife and his former fiancée were party members.

The physicist Edward Teller. In secret hearings in 1954, Teller said he did not trust Oppenheimer’s judgment. Credit Associated Press

The physicist Edward Teller. In secret hearings in 1954, Teller said he did not trust Oppenheimer’s judgment. Credit Associated Press

In the 1940s at Los Alamos in New Mexico, in great secrecy, he led the scientific effort that invented the atomic bomb. Afterward, as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission’s main advisory body, he helped direct the nation’s postwar nuclear developments.

Oppenheimer’s downfall came amid Cold War fears over Soviet strides in atomic weaponry and Communist subversion at home. In 1953, a former congressional aide charged in a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation that the celebrated physicist was a Soviet spy.

Troubled by the allegation, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered “a blank wall” erected between Oppenheimer and any nuclear secrets.

No evidence came to light that supported the spy charge. But the security board found that Oppenheimer’s early views on the hydrogen bomb “had an adverse effect on recruitment of scientists and the progress of the scientific effort.” He died in 1967, at 62.

Experts who have looked at the declassified transcripts say they cast startling new light on the Oppenheimer case. Dr. Polenberg of Cornell, for example, expressed bewilderment that 12 pages of testimony from Lee A. DuBridge, a friend and colleague of Oppenheimer’s who discussed the atomic trade-offs and the European war situation, had remained secret for 60 years.

“A difference of opinion doesn’t mean disloyalty,” he said. “It’s hard to see why it was redacted.”

Dr. Polenberg also pointed to 45 pages of declassified testimony from Walter G. Whitman, an M.I.T. engineer and member of the Atomic Energy Commission’s advisory body. “In my judgment,” Mr. Whitman said of Oppenheimer, “his advice and his arguments for a gamut of atomic weapons, extending even over to the use of the atomic weapon in air defense of the United States, has been more productive than any other one individual.”

Asked his opinion of Oppenheimer as a security risk, he called him “completely loyal.”

Alex Wellerstein, an atomic expert at the Stevens Institute of Technology, said in a comment on the secrecy blog of the Federation of American Scientists that years ago he had asked the government to declassify the secret Oppenheimer testimony.

The department’s public silence on his request, he said, made the unveiling look like “the result of an internal interest in the files rather than prodding from an outside historian.”

A few of the declassifications cast new light on what were already famous moments in Oppenheimer’s downfall.

Isidor I. Rabi, a Nobel laureate and veteran of the Manhattan Project who staunchly defended the beleaguered physicist, told atomic investigators that he found the hearing “most unfortunate” given what “Dr. Oppenheimer has accomplished.”

The restored transcript adds a deleted phrase in which Dr. Rabi mentioned the hydrogen bomb, then also known as the Super. It underscored the depth of his fury.

“We have an A-bomb,” he told the hearing, as well as “a whole series of Super bombs.” He added: “What more do you want, mermaids?”

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »