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Friday, May 29, 2009

Obama' "indefinite detention" is Cheneyism without Cheney...

Justin Raimondo has a dense, cogent, attack on what he calls Cheneyism without Cheney.

Despite the popularity of military memory in the United States, we remain a country without memory. It isn't about forgetting the sacrifices of the past or our debts to our forfathers. It's about remembering what we ourselves were thinking and saying as recently as six months ago:

This Memorial Day should be devoted to reviving and refreshing the failing memory of the American people, or, at least, those millions who voted for Obama in hopes of a better day. Remember the campaign promises, the soaring rhetoric about "the rule of law" and our "constitutional liberties"? Remember this: "Gitmo. That’s an easy one: close it"? Remember the promise of "change"?

Rachel Maddow's piece on MSNBC, linked to the article, is worth listening to closely. She doesn't go into the constitutional history, but she doesn't need to. All we have to do to start is compare the current administration with the last one.

I would almost say she didn't go far enough in her comments about Obama's proposal to create a new legal framework for arrest and indefinite detention without trial, however. The whole thing reminds me - someone who thought the claims of creeping fascism under Bush II made by authors like Naomi Klein to be alarmist - of the German Ermaechtigungsgesetz - the Enabling Law that let the Nazis do whatever they wanted. That was the creation of a new legal framework, a legalized carte blanche for the executive. As Maddow rightly points out, what Obama is proposing is already far more dangerous than in any comparable democracy on earth. We need to be watching this process very closely.

I would like to thank David Beito for pointing out the article.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

‘Underground’ Regrets

May 17, 2009
‘Underground’ Regrets

To the Editor:

From Paul M. Barrett’s review of Mark Rudd’s memoir, “Underground: My Life With SDS and the Weathermen” (May 3), one might imagine that Rudd had written an unrepentant, unreflective, shallow defense of his activist days with “some mistakes” tossed in.

In his introduction, Rudd expresses the hope that his story will help young people “figure out what they can do to build a more just and peaceful world.” The reviewer is indignant. How can this would-be terrorist claim that “his exploits” should “offer inspiration” to anyone? However, Rudd is not making this claim. Although he never repudiates the causes of his youth or the perception that something drastic needed to be done, he is quite clear that violence is not a remedy for social injustice or for illegal wars.

Rudd expresses deep sorrow for what he terms “disastrous mistakes.” He has remained silent about his past activities for over 25 years because of his abiding sense of shame and self-doubt. In unflinching detail, he demonstrates how political conditions, psychological need and poor judgment produced decisions that destroyed his own movement and inflicted immeasurable pain on others, including his loving parents. What makes this memoir so affecting is the absence of excuses, the refusal to blame others, the willingness to accept responsibility — more perhaps than the circumstances warranted.

As a student protester at Columbia, I knew Mark Rudd and disagreed with him much of the time (a point alluded to in the book). However, it takes no special acuity to see that his memoir is the work of a 60-year-old man with many regrets but an abiding commitment to learn from mistakes and make a positive contribution to the world.

As an aging historian, I have been reading the declassified papers of other men of that period who made plans to set off bombs in the middle of cities. Some had their doubts, some were neutral, some were plainly excited and enthusiastic about the damage they could do. Unlike the Weathermen, whose elaborate schemes never materialized, these men carried out their plans, not once but thousands of times, with excruciating human consequences. None has ever apologized or been called to account. To this day, those who are still alive are described as statesmen, not “terrorists,” and when they publish books they are treated respectfully.

The writer, a professor of American diplomatic history at Hofstra University, is completing a book about the foreign policy of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

Friday, May 08, 2009

[haw-info] National Call-In Day: Fund Diplomacy, Not the Wars! Tuesday, May 12

This message is sent on behalf of Carolyn (Rusti) Eisenberg, a member of the HAW Steering Committee and of the legislative task force of the anti-war coalition United for Peace and Justice, which issued this appeal.

National Call-In Day: Fund Diplomacy, Not the Wars!
Tuesday, May 12

The Obama Administration has asked Congress for another $83.4 billion in Supplemental funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As it stands now, the House Appropriations Committee has actually increased this amount to $94.2 billion. Members of Congress need to hear from their constituents that this war funding bill is not acceptable!

Voting on the Supplemental will be happening as early as next week. It is vitally important that people across the country send a clear rapid message that this bill continues and extends the failed policies of the past administration.

On May 12, join the National Call-In Day and let Congress know that while we support funding for the safewithdrawal of troops, and for diplomacy, economic assistance and humanitarian aid, we oppose more money for war. While making that call, urge them to co-sponsor a bill by Congressman James McGovern that would require President Obama to provide an exit plan for Afghanistan no later than December 2009.

Last week, Secretaries Clinton and Gates testified before the full Senate Appropriations Committee to explain their strategies and budget needs in preparation for a vote on the Supplemental. Although both senior officials repeatedly said economic assistance and diplomacy are the keys to stability and security, only 8% of the funding in this bill is for non-military activities -- the remainder for military operations. There is no military solution to the problems of Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. The American air strikes inside Afghanistan and Pakistan are stirring up more suffering, fear and hatred towards the United States, while decreasing the prospects of a negotiated settlement. Congress needs to re-think and re-direct American resources.

Key Talking Points:

  • At a time of economic crisis and multiplying domestic needs, the 2009 Supplemental is an appalling waste of our money.
  • The Supplemental funds the increase of troops to Afghanistan, escalating the war rather than ending it.
  • The Supplemental places no restrictions on American bombings in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, despite the disproportionate harm to civilians.
  • The Supplemental maintains a high level of American troops in Iraq for the duration of FY 2009.

Join the National Call-in Day on Tuesday, May 12! The Congressional switchboard number is 1-800-517-5696. Let them know that you reject another 'blank check' for war!

Go to the National Priorities Project for information on the local costs of the war in Afghanistan: www.nationalpriorities.org

Click here to see the OMB analysis of the War Supplemental funding request (in PDF) and click here for analysis of the Supplemental from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Fischer's Historians' Fallacies as peace history...

Many of us are familiar with David Hackett Fischer's Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. It has been a useful text in many graduate methodology seminars since its publication in 1970. I discovered it only recently when I "overheard" some of my online students "talking" about it in one of my classes.

In it, HAW's own venerable Staughton Lynd comes in for several pages of criticism in the chapter on Fallacies of Significance. Lynd, along with others, is accused of the "pragmatic fallacy," that is, selecting "useful facts in the service of a social cause." Examples are found in several of Lynd's early works. Lynd is quoted from his 1968 essay A Profession of History as writing, "As one considerably alienated from the American present, I wanted to know if there were men in the American past in whom I could believe." If that is a fallacy, it is one we face as an organization as well as one which some of us face in other contexts. Whether we consciously or unconsciously pick historical examples to suit our current views, whether that be as a true reflection of our views on history or as a conscious corrective to what we perceive as dishonest propaganda history from others, there is an inherent tension between history as a science and history as context for current policy. I have done this myself - whether it be drawing attention to particular facets of the historical record here at this blog to provide aid, comfort and context to a peace position or whether it be encouraging my students to investigate figures such as Bartolome de las Casas, Friedrich Spee or even someone like Robert G. Ingersoll as examples of voices of opposition to prevailing trends in the past.

Fischer lands another blow in the concluding chapter of Historians' Fallacies as well. After dismissing (rightly, I think) several of the commonly forwarded justifications for the study of history, he singles out the historians of the New Left and their search for a "usable past" as an example of history as propaganda. Although they are writing from the left, they are "methodologically reactionary." History used to legitimize some subversive policy or view is no more accurate than history used to legitimize power.

It is surprising then to read how the book ends several pages later. When he finally turns to what history can be good for, we find a peace agenda. Writing during the Vietnam War and against the background of the Cold War arms race, he closes the book with a warning about nuclear proliferation and makes good history writing a matter of human survival in the 21st century. The connection is found in several of the reasons he lists for the study of history.

History can, for example, "...clarify contexts in which contemporary problems exist." It can put historians' "temporal sophistication" to use in making suggestions about the future, something historians usually shy away from, or in mobilizing the algorythmic kind of thought in which economic historians engage, illuminating the conditions under which certain things are likely to happen. It can train people to think historically and help them avoid the political extremism that results from the abuse or misunderstanding of the past. An historian "against the war" can find no small degree of encouragement in these pages of Fischer's book.

Finally, with history, we can "learn about ourselves" and "about other selves." "And nothing is more necessary to the peace of the world." He is not, he argues, making a special plea for any "humbug" about the brotherhood of mankind. It is not, he writes, about "goodness," but about "survival." I understand this to mean that an historian is not trapped in a fallacy, is not abandoning history as a science, if he or she consciously sees his or her work as a contribution to the understanding of policy or current events (whether for or against a particular ideology or policy, left or right). If we remind people of the colonial history of Iraqi statehood, that is a contribution to understanding the "other self" that is the Iraqi citizen who knows that past. If we teach about traditional Afghani approaches to conflict resolution, we are not justifying sharia or siding with terrorists. We are showing that there are real differences between peoples that need to be taken into account and providing relevant information for formulating more nuanced views of the problem. If we talk about the anti-imperial tradition in the United States, we "clarify contexts in which contemporary problems exist" by showing that opposing empire is not new, not solely a product of recent invention.

I do not think that David H. Fischer has himself landed on the horns of a delimma or trapped himself in a fallacy or contradiction. There is simply no sharp dividing line between a truly scientific history useful for survival on the one hand and that written by those consciously concerned with that survival for the explicit purpose of contributing to that survival on the other. We must make every effort to be fair to our sources and to the context, we should not distort the record for the purpose of legitimizing a political state of affairs or policy position, but we cannot pretend to have a no perspective, to occupy some kind of "view from nowhere."