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Report on May 31, 2003 HAW Meeting

(Note: there is a discussion thread on this meeting on the History News Network.)

HAW supporters:

Attached is a report on the HAW meeting held last Saturday in NYC. The report is necessarily a bit lengthy, so we want to highlight here the establishment five working groups in various areas of activity nationally and regionally: the educational system, the historical profession, war crimes and government deception, research on empire and resistance, and media and public outreach. Again, these working groups are described in the report. If you are interested in working with any of these groups, please contact us immediately at this e-mail address. Please let us know -- we are anxious to get these groups up and running!

Andor Skotnes
Van Gosse
HAW Co-chairs

Historians Against the War Meeting
10 a.m. to 4 p.m., May 31, 2002
CUNY Graduate Center, NYC

Twenty historians participated in the meeting, all from the Northeast (NYC, New York State, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey). Another 40 to 50 historians from across the US had sent regrets, and a dozen or more had sent suggestions and ideas for the meeting. The discussion began with the history and current state of HAW, then focused on whether HAW should continue and, if so, how. All present were strongly in favor of continuing HAW, and a wide-ranging discussion ensued of its potentialities and possibilities.

We came to consensus that HAW should view itself as a national network - or perhaps several interrelated networks - united by a broad sense of purpose and coordinated by a national steering committee. We did not endeavor to write a mission statement or a set of unifying principles (something we will need to do as we develop), but we did agree on several broad purposes that might be summarized as follows:

1. We are a network of historians who are opposed to the current empire-building and war-making activities of the United States government at home and abroad; we stand for global justice.

2. As historians (broadly defined to include historically-oriented intellectuals), our principal concerns are historical knowledge and historical education; as HAW, we seek to be active both in the formal educational system (primary, secondary, and higher), in the professional associations, and in the broader arena of public discourse.

3. We will focus on both the domestic/national sphere and on the international sphere, and on the links between the two.

After developing this consensus, we then put nine or ten proposed activities for HAW nationally on the table, grouped them into major areas, and discussed how each might be implemented. Our plan here was to discuss the advisability of each proposal, take volunteers to begin organizing working groups for each activity, and brainstorm ideas to help those volunteers with their organizing. We decided tentatively to establish working groups in the following areas:

1. The Educational System - There was much agreement that HAW should work at both the K-12 and the college/university levels, and that that our work should include both curriculum and resource development, and extra-curricular education (forums, teach-ins, work with students, etc.). Much emphasis was placed on activities on the secondary level and on recruiting more secondary educators into HAW. Barbara Winslow volunteered to begin organizing a working group in this area and Atina Grossman volunteered to work with this in the fall.

2. The Profession Dimension­ The meeting supported a proposal that HAW continue to work for academic freedom and against repression, and that a particular target of activity be professional association meetings, where HAW will raise issues about Iraq, empire, etc, as well as about repression. Concretely, we decided to sponsor a roundtable (perhaps in the form of a debate) on “Imperial Crisis and Domestic Dissent” at the 2004 American Historical Association meeting next January in Washington DC; this roundtable will be listed in the AHA program. Also at this meeting we plan to hold a HAW meeting on the current crisis (we may expand this into a national HAW organizational meeting), and we may initiate a resolution of academic freedom and civil liberties for the AHA business meeting. Jess Lemisch and Andor Skotnes volunteered to build a working group in this area.

3. Research and Investigation - We decided to attempt two working groups in this area:

a. US War Crimes and Government Deception - The meeting decided that HAW should join an effort in this regard being initiated by the Center for Constitutional Rights (see proposal to HAW attached). Included in our concerns here is the destruction of antiquities allowed by the US forces in Iraq. Jess Lemisch volunteered to organize work in this area and several others joined him.

b. Research the American Empire and Resistance - The meeting supported a proposal to create a work group to organize wide-ranging research into empire and resistance. This group will work in conjunction with existing centers of research and would develop ties to researchers internationally. Alan Dawley volunteered to take the lead in this area and several others joined him.

4. Public Outreach

a. Media and Public Outreach ­ Much discussion of the need to focus on media and public discourse has taken place in HAW circles. The meeting supported a coordinated effort to produce op ed pieces, to educate media editorial boards, and to concertedly place anti-imperialist, historical analysis before the public. No one present at the meeting was able to take leadership in developing a working group in this area, but some people not present were mentioned as possibilities, and the steering committee was charged with following up. (After the meeting, David Applebaum offered to help get this working group up and running.)

d. Electoral Work - Two proposals on electoral work were discussed at the meeting, but no action was taken on these at the time because of resources and questions of organizational and tax status. Also, some questions were raised about the appropriateness of such activity for HAW.

5. International Work - Several of the working groups established have a strong international dimension; additionally the meeting assigned the task of developing international contacts and liaisons to the steering committee.

The meeting also discussed - on two different occasions during the day - the question of changing HAW’s name. Some sentiment was expressed for leaving the name as it is, with the understanding that “the war” concerned is the current US policy of an ongoing, permanent state of war for empire. By and large, though, a name change was favored, and (as is the case in such discussion) many new names were suggested including: Historians Against War and Empire, Historians Against the Empire, Historians Against Empire, Historians Against Empire at Home and Abroad, Historians for Global Justice, Historians for a Just World, Historians for Peace and Democracy, Historians Without Borders. We decided to postpone a decision on a name change, organize a broader discussion around this question, and come to a decision sometime in the fall.

Finally, began the process of constituting a steering committee that includes those heading the efforts to build the working groups, plus others who are willing and able to help with the work of coordinating HAW. The core of the SC established is Barbara Winslow, Jesse Lemisch, Alan Dawley, Yukiko Hanawa, Rusty Eisenberg, David Applebaum, Eliza Reilly, Irene Gendzier, Marc Becker; Van Gosse and Andor Skotnes were asked to continue as co-chairs. The steering committee must also include members from the various regions of the country, and others who have taken leading roles in HAW in the past will immediately be asked to join the SC.

Finally, the meeting endorsed HAW’s continuing participation in the process, recently initiated by the MLA radical caucus, of developing a grouping of left academic caucuses and progressive professional organizations. And Andor Skotnes and Van Gosse were supported as HAW representatives to the United for Peace and Justice national meeting in Chicago, June 6-8; HAW is a member of UFPJ.

Overall, the meeting participants were very pleased with the discussion, the sense of camaraderie, and the decisions made at the meeting. While all meeting decisions are necessarily tentative and dependent on input and participation from HAW supporters across the country, we feel that progress was made in consolidating HAW and setting it on a new path.

Andor Skotnes, HAW co-chair
(This report was reviewed by the meeting participants)
June 2, 2003


Addendum: Proposal on war Crimes and Government Deception from the Lynds, Lobel, Watt, and Lemisch

On May 22 there was a conference call to discuss legal and historical approaches to US war crimes in Iraq, government lies before the war, and related topics. Participants were: Alice Lynd, Staughton Lynd, Jules Lobel and Steven Watt of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and me.

Below is Staughton's summary. Our aim in posting it here is to contribute to HAW's quest for programmatic focus and to attempt to organize, through HAW, a group to do the kind of research suggested below, leading to suit or other public action.

I look forward to discussion of this at our May 31 meeting, and welcome reactions on this list before then.

Jesse Lemisch

Staughton's summary:

After discussion, two topics of historical research were outlined.

1. The pretexts used by the United States to justify its aggressive war against Iraq. Where did the bamboozlement about weapons of mass destruction come from? Presumably as a byproduct of the decision in mid-summer 2002 to go to the UN? Did anyone in the US government at any time believe this pretextual rationale to be true? And how do we now show definitively that it was false? To the extent that this topic could be comprehensively developed, it might lead to well-publicized legal and political initiatives such as a FOIA request.

2. Assuming that the Fourth Geneva Convention not only seeks to protect individual civilians in an occupied territory from discrete kinds of oppression, but also seeks to prevent the occupying power from assaulting the social and cultural character of the society under occupation, how is the United States approaching the task of creating an "interim authority" or other proto-government in Iraq? Some Iraqi voices have been saying, in effect, even the British in the 1920s gave us more sovereignty than this. Again, could this topic be effectively articulated, it might very well provide a springboard for legal and quasi-legal challenge to the policies of the United States empire in Iraq."