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A Moral Fabulist

A couple of weeks ago Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and self-appointed moral conscience for Holocaust survivors, praised the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes to make way for yet more illegal settlements in Jerusalem. His chilling statement ran in an ad placed in Ha’aretz. Here are Wiesel’s appalling words:

“As Sukkot begins, we are thrilled to bless the tens of new families joining us at this time in the Jewish settlement in the City of David. We salute the Zionist action in Jerusalem of those involved. Strengthening the Jewish presence in Jerusalem is a challenge that we all face and with this act of settlement you are raising our stature. Together with you we will receive the pilgrims, the holiday visitors. We value and cherish you.”

Though Wiesel offers himself as a paragon of moral virtue, the truth is somewhat seamier. As detailed in this myth-shattering piece by Alexander Cockburn from the February 2006 print edition of CounterPunch, Wiesel assiduously campaigned for the Nobel Prize and has for decades tried to pass off his short book “Night” as a true account–a “testimony” in his words– of his experiences at Auschwitz, even though key scenes in the book have been exposed as fiction.
–Jeffrey St. Clair

When in trouble, head for Auschwitz, preferably in the company of Elie Wiesel. It’s as foolproof a character reference as is available today, at least within the Judeo-Christian sphere of moral influence. One can easily see why Oprah Winfrey and her advisers saw an Auschwitz excursion in the company of Wiesel as a sure-fire antidote to salve the wounds sustained by Oprah’s Book Club when it turned out that James Frey had faked significant slabs of his own supposedly autobiographical saga of moral regeneration, A Million Little Pieces.

Published in 2003, Frey’s irksome book swiftly became a cult classic. (The present author was offered it in the summer of 2004 by a young relative, presumably to assist in his moral regeneration, but after glancing through a few pages returned it, on the grounds that it wasn’t his kind of thing.) Winfrey picked it for her Book Club in September 2005, and it rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists.

For Frey the sky fell in when, on January 7, 2006, the Smoking Gun website published documents showing that Frey had fabricated many facts about himself, including a criminal record. There were later charges of plagiarism. Frey ran through a benign gauntlet of trial-by-Larry King on January 11, and Oprah called in to stand by her Pick of the Month. She said that what mattered was not whether Frey’s book was true (the Fundamentalist claim for the Holy Bible) but its value as a therapeutic tool (the modern Anglican position on the Good Book).

But by now every columnist and books page editor in America was wrestling the truth-or-fiction issue to the ground. Oprah turned on Frey. On her show on January 26, he clung to the ropes, offering the excuse that the “demons” that had driven him to drink and drugs had also driven him into claiming that everything he wrote about himself was true. Publishers including Random House, which has made millions off him, had rejected the book when he’d initially offered it as a “fiction novel”. Oprah brushed this aside.

“Say it’s all true” is what demons often whisper in an author’s ear. Ask T.E. Lawrence. Did the Bey of Deraa really rape him? Lawrence suggests it in the Seven Pillars of Wisdom in paragraphs of fervent masochistic reminiscence. This and other adventures in Lawrence’s account of British scheming in Mesopotamia against the Ottomans met with the ecstatic admiration of the Oxford-based equivalent of Oprah’s Book Club back in the early 1920s, after Lawrence had the 350,000-word “memoir” privately printed and circulated. He’d written an earlier version in 1919 but claimed this had been stolen while he was changing trains in Reading, on the way to Oxford from London. (Reading has surely been the site of more supposed thefts and losses of “completed manuscripts” and PhD dissertations — “I didn’t make a copy!” — than any railway station in the world.)

Half a century later it occurred to Colin Simpson and Phillip Knightley of the London Sunday Times to ask the supposed rapist for his side of the story. They hurried off to Turkey and tracked down the town to which the Bey had retired, arriving at his home only to learn he’d died not long before. Relatives told the British reporters that the Bey would not have found Lawrence appetizing prey. The Turk was a noted womanizer, and when in Mesopotamia was always getting the clap from consorting with whores on his excursions to Damascus.

It’s fun to think of Oprah grilling Lawrence about his claims, freshly exposed on Smoking Gun, telling him she felt “really duped” but that, “more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of Orientalizing masochists who believed you”.

But hardly had Frey been cast down from the eminence of Amazon.com’s top bestseller before he was replaced at number one by the new pick of Oprah’s Book Club, Elie Wiesel’s Night, which had the good fortune to see republication at this fraught moment in Oprah’s literary affairs. Simultaneous with the Night selection came news that Oprah Winfrey and Elie Wiesel would shortly be visiting Auschwitz together, from which vantage point Oprah, with the lugubrious Wiesel at her side, could emphasize for her ABC-TV audience that there is truth and there is fiction, that Auschwitz is historical truth at its bleakest and most terrifying, that Night is a truthful account and that Wiesel is the human embodiment of truthful witness.

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The trouble here is that in its central, most crucial scene, Night isn’t historically true, and at least two other important episodes are almost certainly fiction. Below, I cite views, vigorously expressed to me in recent weeks by a concentration camp survivor, Eli Pfefferkorn, who worked with Wiesel for many years; also by Raul Hilberg. Hilberg is the world’s leading authority on the Nazi Holocaust. An expanded version of his classic three-volume study, The Destruction of the European Jews, was recently reissued by Yale University Press. Wiesel personally enlisted Hilberg to be the historical expert on the United States Holocaust Commission.

If absolute truth to history is the standard, Pfefferkorn says, then Nightdoesn’t make the grade. Wiesel made things up, in a way that his many subsequent detractors could identify as not untypical of his modus operandi: grasping with deft assurance what people important to his future would want to hear and, by the same token, would not want to hear.

The book that became Night was originally a much longer account, published in Yiddish in 1956, under the title Un di Velt Hot Geshvign(And the World Remained Silent). Wiesel was living in Paris at the time. By 1958 he had translated his book from Yiddish into French, publishing it in that year under the title La Nuit. Wiesel says it was severely cut down in length by Jerome Lindon, the chief editor at Editions de Minuit. In 1960 came the English translation, Night, published by Hill & Wang. The 2006 edition of Night is translated from the 1958 French version by Wiesel’s wife, Marion, and in the introduction Wiesel says he has “been able to correct and revise a number of important details”.

In the New York Times for January 17, Michiko Kakutani wrote in her usual plodding prose, with her usual aversion to any unconventional thought, that “Mr. Frey’s embellishments of the truth, his cavalier assertion that the ‘writer of a memoir is retailing a subjective story,’ his casual attitude about how people remember the past — all stand in shocking contrast to the apprehension of memory as a sacred act that is embodied in Oprah Winfrey’s new selection for her book club, announced yesterday: Night, Elie Wiesel’s devastating 1960 account of his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald.”

Amazon.com got the message quickly enough. The site had been categorizing the new edition of Night under “fiction and literature” but, under the categorical imperative of Kakutani’s “memory as a sacred act” or a phone call from Wiesel’s publisher, hastily switched it to “biography and memoir”. Within hours it had reached number 3 on Amazon’s bestseller list. That same evening, January 17, Night topped both the “biography” and “fiction” bestseller lists on BarnesandNoble.com.

Nonetheless, over the next few days there were articles in the Jewish Forward and in the New York Times, also a piece on NPR, saying that Night should not be taken as unvarnished documentary. In the Forwardarticle, published January 20, challengingly titled “Six Million Little Pieces?”, Joshua Cohen reminded Forward readers that in 1996, Naomi Seidman, a Jewish Studies professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, had compared the original 1956 Yiddish version of the book with the subsequent, drastically edited translation.

“According to Seidman’s account, published in the scholarly journal Jewish Social Studies”, Cohen wrote, “Wiesel substantially rewrote the work between editions — suggesting that the strident and vengeful tone of the Yiddish original was converted into a continental, angst-ridden existentialism more fitting to Wiesel’s emerging role as an ambassador of culture and conscience. Most important, Seidman wrote that Wiesel altered several facts in the later edition, in some cases offering accounts of pivotal moments that conflicted with the earlier version. (For example, in the French, the young Wiesel, having been liberated from Buchenwald, is recuperating in a hospital; he looks into a mirror and writes that he saw a corpse staring back at him. In the earlier Yiddish, Wiesel holds that upon seeing his reflection he smashed the mirror and then passed out, after which ‘my health began to improve.’)”

That said, Cohen emphasized that whereas “Frey, for one, seems to have falsified the facts of his life in order to satisfy ego and the demands of the market, Wiesel’s liberties seem more like reconsiderations, his process less revision than interpretation. Reading Night, one encounters the birth of thought about the Holocaust – the future of history, concomitant with its study. In both versions, the book’s intent is to engage not the undeniability of the Holocaust, but the man who has undeniably emerged from its horror.”

This reverent tone about Wiesel and his work is customary. People mostly write about him and his work with the muted awe of British tourists reading guidebooks to each other in a French cathedral. In The Jewish Press for February 1, Andrew Silow Carroll was a bit friskier. He cited Wiesel as declaring to the New York Times that Night “is not a novel at all. All the people I describe were with me there. I object angrily if someone mentions it as a novel.” And yet, Silow Carroll went on, “in the past, Wiesel hasn’t helped matters in this regard. In 1972, Hill & Wang packaged Night with two other books, Dawn and Day (previously titled The Accident), which Wiesel clearly identified as novels. The set’s cover refers to the works as ‘Three Tales by Elie Wiesel.’ In a later edition of the same volume, Wiesel refers to all three books as ‘narratives,’ although he calls Night a ‘testimony,’ and the other two ‘commentaries.’”

There are some rather comical instances of Wiesel’s relaxed attitude to autobiographical truth, as excavated in Norman Finkelstein’s book, A Nation on Trial: The Goldhagen Thesis and Historical Truth. Wiesel was one of Goldhagen’s main supporters. In his 1995 memoir, All Rivers Run to the Sea Wiesel writes that at the age of 18, recently liberated from Auschwitz, “I read The Critique of Pure Reason ­don’t laugh! ­ in Yiddish.” Finkelstein comments, “Leaving aside Wiesel’s acknowledgement that at the time ‘I was wholly ignorant of Yiddish grammar’ The Critique of Pure Reason was never translated into Yiddish.” Imagine the lacerations Frey would have endured for making that sort of empty boast.

Though sales have now soared, I’m not sure how many people will read Night now, beyond buying the new edition as a gesture of solidarity with Oprah and survivors of the Holocaust. It doesn’t take a background in literary criticism to see that Night is artfully fashioned as a kind of symbolic narrative about the relationship between sons and fathers (there are four such portraits in the short book) and, crucially, between the Christian God (the Father) and his Son. The style seems influenced by Albert Camus, particularly L’Etranger. Camus won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957, one of the youngest recipients ever. This was the time during which Wiesel was reworking his Yiddish narrative into the far more terse, Camusian work, with its Camusian title.

As a piece of historical witness to the experience of the inmates, the doomed and those who survived inside Auschwitz and Buchenwald, there are books far superior to Night, starting with Primo Levi’s writings, or the late Ella Lingens-Reiner’s extraordinary memoir of Auschwitz,Prisoners of Fear, published in 1948. Night’s focus is extremely narrow, primarily on the main character, Eliezer, and his father. One learns with a certain surprise that though Wiesel’s sister Tzipora died in the camps, two other sisters survived. In the new edition, Wiesel doesn’t mention them.

Night certainly contains none of the context offered by Levi or Lingens-Reiner, or much more recently, by Kenneth Waltzer, professor of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University, who is writing a book called The Rescue of Children at Buchenwald and whose interesting letter was published in Forward at the end of February:

“The January 20 article on Oprah Winfrey’s selection of Elie Wiesel’s Night for her Book Club was on the mark (‘Six Million Little Pieces?’). Any memoir is a reconstruction shaped by purpose and audience rather than a direct statement of memory — and even Wiesel’s Night is not an exception.

“Night focuses primarily on the relation of father and son in Auschwitz and in Buchenwald. When Wiesel loses his father in January 1945 at Buchenwald, he drifts into a listlessness and fog from which he emerged only after liberation. He recalls in Night only the terrible final days of the camp, in April 1945, when the Nazis sought to evacuate Jewish prisoners and then all prisoners.

“Wiesel writes of his relation with his father, the presence of God, and his own survival and its meaning. He does not describe the social context in which he existed during the final months. The barracks, his place in the camp, his relation to others — other prisoners, Jews, boys — remain murky.

“What is omitted in Night is that the 16-year-old was placed in a special barracks created by the clandestine underground as part of a strategy of saving youth. Block 66 was located in the deepest part of the disease-infested little camp and beyond the normal Nazi S.S. gaze. It was overseen by Czech Communist Antonin Kalina and by his deputy, Gustav Schiller, a Polish Jewish Communist.

“Schiller, who appears briefly in Night, was a rough father figure and mentor, especially for the Polish-Jewish boys and many Czech-Jewish boys; but he was less liked, and even feared, by Hungarian- and Romanian-Jewish boys, especially religious boys, including Wiesel. He appears in Night as a distant figure, armed with a truncheon.

“After January 1945, the underground concentrated all children and youth that could be fit into this windowless barracks — more than 600 in total. Younger children were protected elsewhere. When the U.S. Third Army arrived April 11, 1945, more than 900 children and youth were found among 21,000 remaining prisoners.

“Wiesel since has acknowledged the role played by the clandestine underground but did not attend to it in Night. Fellow barracks members recall being protected from work and getting extra food. They recall efforts by their mentors to raise their horizons. They also recall heroic intervention by Kalina or by Schiller during the final days to protect them.

“Even then, many boys were lined up at the gate, to be led out April 10. However, American planes flew overhead, sirens sounded, the guards ran and Kalina, who was with them, ordered the boys back to the barracks. They were still in the barracks the next day when units of the U.S. Third Army broke through the barbed-wire fences.

“Wiesel’s Night is about becoming alone. But Wiesel was also among hundreds of children and youth aided by a purposeful effort at rescue inside a concentration camp.”

Forward slightly trimmed Waltzer’s contribution, from an article to a letter. In the fuller version, which he has kindly supplied, Professor Waltzer wrote his last paragraph as follows:

“In Night, Wiesel writes about viewing himself in the mirror after liberation and seeing a corpse gazing back at him. But another picture taken after liberation shows Wiesel marching out of the camp, fourth on the left, among a phalanx of youth, moving together, heads high, a group guided by prisoners who had helped save them.”

A photograph accompanying Waltzer’s text, credited to Jack Werber, of Great Neck, New York, shows exactly that. The young Wiesel’s head is high, like the others’. But this parable of a triumph for human solidarity was absolutely contrary to the parable Wiesel was set on rewriting in French from the Yiddish volume. In the late 1950s a man with instincts as finely tuned as Wiesel’s to useful frequencies on the political dial probably would not have thought it advantageous to dwell on the heroic role of Communists in the death camps. All the more is this true in recent years, when Wiesel’s most celebrated moments have come when hunkering down for sessions of amiable moral counsel with Ronald Reagan (who wanted to pretend that the SS should be retrospectively forgiven because, after all, they weren’t Communists and fought the Great Satan) and George Bush, on whom Wiesel urged the war on Iraq as a necessary moral act, declaring that “the world faced a moral crisis similar to 1938″ and “the choice is simple”.

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This is not the first time bombing has elicited a positive endorsement from the great moral standard-bearer. In 1999, as NATO’s bombs descended on Yugoslavia, blowing up civilians on train and bus, as well as journalists in their broadcasting studio, Wiesel was questioned by Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s Larry King Live. Declared one government toady to another: “I think it [the bombing] had to be done, because all the other options had been explored.” This balderdash put Wiesel, morally speaking, on a par with Cardinal Spellman, blessing the B-52s as they set off to drop napalm on children in the Vietnam era.

(For a decidedly irreverent assessment of Night’s merits On February 10, 2006, Candian tv viewers were able, in February, to watch and hear the former editor of Harper’s magazine, Lewis Lapham, delivering a lecture at the University of Ottawa, on the invitation of the university’s Graduate Students Association. Lapham’s lecture, entitled “The Politicization of Research,” was carried on C-PAC, Canada’s parliamentary TV channel, several times in the days that followed. In the Q and A session after the lecture, in response to an enquiry about the decline in the quality of education, Lapham replied:

“I have had three children. My youngest is now 25, my eldest is 32. They all went through a very high-end American education, both secondary schools and colleges. The syllabus of books that they were given in the English courses was terrible. I mean, the books were all tracts.

“There was a big fuss about Oprah Winfrey and the James Frey book, and she’s now going to put on [her TV show] Elie Wiesel’s Night. This is really one of the worst books I have ever read, and I’ve had to read it three times to my three children; and it’s junk. But it’s the kind of junk that has become very de rigeur in American universities. It’s a propaganda
poster. With the kind of books the kids are given to read, I mean, it would turn them off books forever. No wonder! Because they are being given tracts. And, the big subject of course is victimology.”)

One of the perennially fascinating things about Wiesel is the preternatural sensitivity of his antennae for the opportune audience, his sense of what will, so to speak, “play” usefully for him. This brings us, by way of Eli Pfefferkorn, to Francois Mauriac.

These days Eli Pfefferkorn, age 77, lives in Toronto. A man, on the evidence of several phone conversations, of alert intelligence and charm, he too is a concentration camp survivor. Originally from Poland, he spent seven weeks in Maidanek, then in three labor camps, then in Buchenwald, then in Rehmsdorf. Near the end of the war he endured a death march to Theresienstadt in Moravia, where the surviving inmates were liberated by the Red Army on May 8, 1945. Pfefferkorn’s parents perished in other camps, and he tells me he owes his life to his mother, who shook his hand loose from hers when the family was about to be deported, and told the 13-year-old boy to scram.

Pfefferkorn eventually came to the United States, taught, and spent some time working with Wiesel on the conceptual design of the Holocaust museum. Once an uncritical admirer, his present estimate of Wiesel is not favorable, and he sets his views forth at length in a fascinating manuscript he is preparing to submit to publishers. He was kind enough to send me some chapters. By no means short-changing Wiesel on what he regards as his genuine achievements, Pfefferkorn can be unsparing: “He’s become a eulogist of the dead but he doesn’t raise his mellifluous voice against the wrong done to survivors, 35 per cent of them below the poverty line in the US.”

There are piercing passages in Pfefferkorn’s memoir concerning Wiesel’s opportunism and betrayals in the murky battles over the design of the Holocaust Museum, and above all in his artful pursuit of the Nobel Peace Prize, which he was awarded in 1986. “Would Wiesel,” Pfefferkorn asks, “ever have received this prize for his work as a journalist?” Pfefferkorn answers his question, “It’s hard to imagine. No. Wiesel got the prize because he elevated himself as the spokesman for the survivors. His mostly absurd pretensions to be a ‘peace missionary’, had nothing to do with it.”

Then, once he had the prize he so fiercely pursued, Wiesel gradually, but consistently ­ so Pfefferkorn stresses ­ “alienated himself from the survivors”.

In Night, Pfefferkorn isolates a number of episodes in which he makes a convincing case that Wiesel dumped truth in favor of fiction. The two I cite here involve a boy playing a violin amidst a death march, and the second is one of Night’s most famous scenes, the hanging of three inmates.

Of the first episode, Pfefferkorn writes:

“The story of the ‘violin episode’ takes place during the death march from Auschwitz to Buchenwald with a short gap at Gleiwitz in January of 1945. Mercilessly driven by the SS guards, stragglers were shot at and shoved to the side road. The columns of inmates arrived in Gleiwitz, after having dragged themselves through the snow-swept roads in freezing temperatures for about fifty kilometers. Immediately upon arrival, they were herded into barns. Drained, they dropped to the floor — the dead, the dying and the partially living piled one on the other.

“Under this heap of crushed humanity laid Juliek, cradling a violin, which he has carried all the way from Auschwitz to Gleiwitz. Eliezer, somehow, stumbles on Juliek, “…the boy from Warsaw who played in the band at Buna… ‘How do you feel, Juliek?’ I asked, less to know the answer than to hear that he could speak, that he was alive. ‘All right, Eliezer … I’m getting on all right … hardly any air … worn out. My feet are swollen. It’s good to rest, but my violin…’

“Eliezer — the inmate — wonders, ‘What use was the violin here?’ Wiesel — the memoirist — does not find it necessary to give an answer to the question. Such an answer, I assume, should be of interest to the reader for if Wiesel were to provide an answer, the veracity of the story would dissolve like the morning mist in the Sinai desert. Maintaining hold on a violin as one marched the March of Death is highly improbable. However, a violin in the midst of human debris strains the imagination and questions memory. How did Juliek hold on to the violin on the death journey? Deprived of food and drink, when each step stubbornly refused to follow the next one, how did Juliek manage to clutch the violin in his numb fingers, let alone play Beethoven on it? Would the SS escorts have let him keep it? (Also, as an Irish reader of a draft of this article remarked to me: “as a professional musician, who has played a wide variety of string instruments for 40 years, including fiddle, guitar, banjo, and mandolin, I immediately thought, How did the violin strings survive the severely cold temperatures and the long march? It’s a minor point perhaps, but very improbable, especially since it was 1945 and they were not modern strings.”)

Pfefferkorn continues:

“And from this anus mundi, suddenly the melody of a Beethoven concerto is heard, wafting through the corpses, the groans of the dying, the stench of the dead. Eliezer had never heard sounds so pure. ‘In such a silence. It was pitch dark. I could only hear the violin, it was as though Juliek’s soul were the bow. He was playing his life. The whole life was gliding on his strings — his lost hopes, his charred past, his extinguished future. He played as he would never play again.’ This powerful and emotionally moving scene, celebrating the triumph of the human spirit over the grinding SS machinery is the very stuff that heroic fiction is made of. But is it a memoir factually recorded? Obviously, Wiesel’s putative memoir, written while on a boat to Brazil, is but a recollection of experiences seen through the eye of his creative imagination. And yet, the melancholy melodies that came out of Juliek’s violin were the first strains of a myth orchestrated by Wiesel and his disciples, over a period of thirty years.”

A major scene in Night, one that contributed hugely to the book’s success in the West, and its impact on many Christians starting with Francois Mauriac, was the execution of three inmates in the Buna work camp. As Pfefferkorn writes, “The fascination of Christian theologians with the Wiesel phenomenon must be traced back to a hanging that the 16-year-old Eliezer witnessed in Auschwitz.”

In the incident, two adults and a little boy are being led to the gallows. The little boy refused to betray fellow inmates who have been involved in an act of sabotage; to protect his fellow inmates, the boy is willing to pay with his life. Each one climbs to his chair and his neck is slipped into the rope’s noose. The scene continues as follows in the 1960 English version of Night:

“The three victims mounted together onto the chairs. The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses. ‘Long live Liberty!’ cried the adults. But the child was silent.

“’Where is God? Where is He?’ someone behind me asked. At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs tipped over. Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting.

“’Bare your heads!’ yelled the head of the camp. His voice was raucous. We were weeping. ‘Cover your heads!’ Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive…. For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice within me answer him: ‘Where is He? Here He is — He is hanging here on this gallows’”

Not surprisingly, the graphically described hanging scene has been etched into the imagination of the Christian theologians because of the numerous parallels to the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Now, while he was working on the memoir, La Nuit, Wiesel had cause, on behalf of an Israeli newspaper, to visit and interview Francois Mauriac, the Catholic writer and Nobel Laureate in literature. They got on well. Then Wiesel gave him the manuscript of La Nuit. Mauriac found in it an answer to his own anguish at descriptions of the mass slaughters in the death camps, particularly of children.

Mauriac fastened instantly on, in Pfefferkorn’s words, “a resemblance between the crucifixion and Wiesel’s description of the young boy’s hanging. In response to Wiesel’s questioning of God’s benevolence and man’s humanness, Mauriac writes the following in his Foreword to Night: ‘And I, who believe that God is love, what answer could I give my young questioner, whose dark eyes still held the reflection of that angelic sadness which had appeared one day upon the face of the hanged child? What did I say to him? Did I speak of that other Israeli, his brother, who may have resembled him — the Crucified, whose Cross has conquered the world?’”

Pfefferkorn continues:

“The hanged child dangling on the rope is reflected in Eliezer’s eyes, whose image resembles that of the crucified Jesus. Thus in one stroke, Mauriac has drawn a triptych reminiscent of the medieval paintings, making young Eliezer the link connecting the two watershed events in the history of Western civilization, namely the Crucifixion and the Holocaust. Mauriac leaves no doubt as to his Christological interpretation of the Auschwitz hanging. In the year 1960, he published a biography of Christ entitled The Son of Man dedicated to ‘E.W. who was a crucified Jewish child, who stands for many others.’

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“Mauriac explains what it was in his interview with Wiesel that drew him so powerfully to the young Israeli: ‘That look, as if a Lazarus risen from the dead, yet still a prisoner within the grim confines where he had strayed, stumbling among the shameful corpses.’ Wiesel’s painfully gaunt demeanor set against the backdrop of the concentration camps’ corpses have inspired a generation of Christian theologians to view Wiesel as a latter day Lazarus.

“It is highly speculative to suggest that from the very inception of his writing, Wiesel consciously laboured to present himself to the Christian world as a composite of a Christ Lazarus figure. However, once the seeds of the myth were sown in Paris at Mauriac’s instigation, and took roots in the soil of Christian America, Wiesel has done his share to encourage the ‘Lazarus risen from the dead parallel.’ But Wiesel has done so more by gesture than act, silence than utterance, indirection than direct statement. The unspoken, the mute, the covert are his metier; albeit an ambiguity laced through with shrewd intelligence that would make many a professional diplomat envious.”

In a letter to David Hirsch dated October 6, 1994, Alfred Kazin writes that at the beginning of their friendship, “I liked him [Wiesel] enormously, and I was in awe of him because of his suffering in Auschwitz.” But at the same time “… it was impossible, when he expanded at length about his experiences under the Nazis, it was impossible to miss the fact that he was a mystifier”.

One who says he directly observed the hanging scene described by Wiesel was Zygfryd Halbereich, who testified at the Auschwitz State Museum on October 19, 1973. Halbereich’s testimony was matter-of-fact, clear and direct. He was acquainted with the three inmates and knew about their escape plans.

“On the whole,” Pfefferkorn writes, “Halbereich’s testimony is in agreement with Wiesel’s narrative, and differs only in one minor detail. But this is an inconsequential disagreement that does not change the substance of the hanging story. What does affect it, however, is the age of one of the condemned, as given by Wiesel. And the age of the condemned is the crux of the matter.

“In the original Yiddish Un di Velt Hot Geshvign and in the French and the English translations, one of the three condemned is frequently referred to as a child or a young boy. Halbereich is silent about the ages of the condemned, and this omission is surprising. For in Wiesel’s painfully elaborate description of the hanging, the young boy’s execution stirred up deep emotions among the inmates standing on the roll call. The Kapo who was assigned to administer the hanging ‘ excused himself from serving as a hangman. He did not want to hang a child.’ A Kapo’s refusal to obey an SS order was tantamount to a death sentence. His extraordinary behaviour would have certainly registered with Halbereich, whose testimony is meticulously detailed. Halbereich’s silence on the Kappo’s courage calls into question Wiesel’s account of the hanging. One of the skeptics is the known Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg, who is, in his own words, a seeker of truth.

“Cautious by temperament and scholarly discipline, Hilberg gingerly raises the issue related to the hanging scene. In a review written for the Boston Globe about Wiesel’s autobiographical book All Rivers Run to the Sea, Hilberg makes mention of the three hangings. ‘Describing the incident in his [Wiesel's] book Night,’ Hilberg notes, ‘he recalled someone behind him asking: Where is God? At that moment Wiesel believed that one of the three was a boy, and in his mind identified the child with God.’ Citing Kazin’s contention that the entire event is fiction, Hilberg concludes, ‘To be sure, the doubters may claim a concession.’”

Pfefferkorn’s considered judgement is harsh on Wiesel’s claims for the absolute truth to life of Night:

“If the hanging scene turns out contrary to Wiesel’s description in his purported memoir Night, a fictionalized episode as Kazin claimed and surmised from Halbereich’s testimony, then Wiesel’s entire moral and theological edifice collapses, bringing down with it the ‘Suffering Servant’ theology, which first gave him recognition and eventually led him to fame.

“Though it is virtually impossible to verify the exact ages of the condemned, it must be noted, as Hilberg observed, that in Wiesel’s recent autobiography ‘the suffering body is no longer that of a boy.’”

Quite aside from the theological questions, part of the impact of the scene derives from Wiesel’s description of this boy whose weight was too insubstantial for the noose to swiftly strangle him. Does this, in the last analysis, really matter? It does if you are disobligingly contrasting Frey to Wiesel’s “apprehension of memory as a sacred act”. All the same, I don’t suppose Smoking Gun would ever gleefully feature the third victim’s birth certificate.

After talking to Eli Pfferkorn and reading chapters from his memoir, I called Raul Hilberg, now 80, at his home in Burlington, Vermont.

“From a purely academic viewpoint”, Hilberg began, “it would be interesting to have a scholarly edition, comparing the Yiddish version with subsequent translations and editions, with appropriate footnotes, Wiesel’s comments etc. He was addressing two entirely different audiences, the first being the Yiddish-speaking Jews, members of the world of his youth whom he addressed in nineteenth-century terms. There’s more detail, more comment. I made that suggestion to Wiesel and he didn’t react favorably.”

Hilberg turned to the crucial scene: “I have a version of the hanging from an old survivor with the names of all three adults.” That survivor had said that there was no boy among the three. Hilberg mentioned this in a review of Night, in which, he told me, “I made no secret of our differences. But whereas it [the age of the central figure in the hanging] may seem somewhat small, it makes a very big difference to Christians, particularly Catholics, because it’s very clear that mystics are intensely interested in the scene because it seems to replicate the crucifixion. It made a considerable impact. So the fact that this figure may not have been a boy at all is disturbing.”

“It would appear”, Hilberg went on, “from the record I have, that some witnesses have questioned whether this scene took place at all. I have a long statement by an older man, a man whom I judge to be quite trustworthy, though one must always remember that things are sometimes observed or heard about later. I talked recently to a survivor of that section of the camp who said it [the hanging of the three] didn’t take place, but maybe it took place earlier. I don’t know. Dating these tings is hard for survivors. Some have doubted this would have taken place. Buna was a work camp, so this other survivor, a PhD in history and a very intelligent man, didn’t believe it. I said to him, ‘How do you know this didn’t happen?’ I consider it not only a possibility but plausible. But age is a big issue to some people. That’s something he did not discuss in the new edition of the book.”

“Wiesel’s is the most read of all Auschwitz memoirs”, Hilberg remarked, “not only because of its brevity but because it has something mystic, surrealistic in it.” He mentioned the episode of the little boy playing the violin, and said how it evoked images from the Russian-Jewish mystic painter Chagall, also of Fiddler on the Roof.

“Wiesel comes from Sighet, a city in Romania. In Sighet there were many religious Jews, also Ukrainians. Much of Sighet was rather primitive at the time Wiesel was growing up. Most roads were not paved. It was shtetl life. However an assimilated group of Jews was emerging. I went there when I was 11, in 1937, and spent the summer. There was a tennis court, very middle-class. My aunt and her husband, a Sigheti, manufactured violins in Sighet where there was a major tradition of violin playing. I heard quartets in our garden. Wiesel’s parents had a store. So in some respects Sighet was very nineteenth century, and in others there were all the earmarks of a group of Jews emerging into the twentieth century who were evidently wide awake to modern civilization. So was the violin scene realistic, or was it a fantasy? Certainly, for Jews the violin was the instrument of choice. It was portable.

“So I would not say that the violin scene is impossible, even though I know someone from the death march who said it was utterly impossible. He was in Auschwitz, also Wiesel’s age. But that still doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Nothing is inconceivable.

“The model of all survivor accounts is of an idyllic childhood, then the hell of the Holocaust, then since they survived they underline the fact that it was only by luck they survived. With Wiesel, his original title was And the World Was Silent. It’s accusatory. Nightis more surreal and mystic. It goes back to Middle Ages. Wiesel fits right into that style. It’s not a novel, but what it does have is the imprint of someone who wants to leave behind the impression that if you weren’t there, you cannot know what it was like, but then that dooms trying to write what it was like.”

I asked Hilberg what accounts of the death camps and the Holocaust did he admire most. “That really depends on the reader. I don’t have that kind of favorite. For my purposes, obviously they have to be correct. There’s an account by Filip Mueller, who was on the gas chamber detail in Auschwitz in 1942, written in collaboration with two people:Eyewitness Auschwitz. It has to be read with care. Another book is Rudolf Vrba’s I Cannot Forgive, written with Alan Bestic. Vrba escaped from Auschwitz. He became professor of pharmacology at the University of British Columbia. This is the most remarkable of survivors, a man of absolutely incredible energy and abilities. In sheer ability to cope with the situation, this man is beyond belief.”

I didn’t press the point, but Hilberg, who stressed to me that he admires Wiesel, did not include Night in this little list. A clue to this omission may be found in Hilberg’s often acrid memoir, The Politics of Memory,published in 1996. In the chapter “Questionable Practices”, notable for a devastating account of underhanded behavior by Hannah Arendt, Hilberg discusses “areas of inappropriateness or illegitimacy”. “I try to nod wisely when poets or novelists step forward with their art, which in its very nature is much less disguised than mine. Nor am I disturbed when popularizers of history excavate the monographs of the footnote writers [among whom Hilberg included himself] and, distilling the contents, highlight story and drama for a large reading public.There are, however, limits. Among the practices that give me discomfort is the creation of a story in which historical facts are altered deliberately for the sake of plot and adventure.”

Then a page later Hilberg continues, “If counterfactual stories are frequent enough, kitsch is truly rampant The philistines in my field are truly everywhere. I am surrounded by the commonplace, platitudes, and clichés.The first German publisher of a small volume, containing my introduction and documents about the railroads [viz. their role in the destruction of the Jews] inserted a poem for which, he said, he had paid good money, describing human beings in freight cars including children whose eyes glowed like coal . The manipulation of history is a kind of spoilage and kitsch is debasement.”

Reading those lines, my mind did go at once to some of the scenes in Night: ­ Juliek playing his violin on the death march for example, ­ which hover on the edge of kitsch or, to take a less forgiving view, plunge into it.

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“In 1981″, Pfefferkorn remembers, “Wiesel invited me to give a talk to his seminar students at Boston University. In the course of my talk, I discussed the relationship between memory and imagination in a number of literary works. I then pointed out the literary devices he used in Night, devices, I stressed, that make the memoir a compelling read. Wiesel’s reaction to my comments were swift as lightning. I had never seen him as angry before or since. In the presence of John Silber, the then President of Boston University, and my own Brown University students whom I invited, he lost his composure, lashing out at me for daring to question the literalness of the memoir. In Wiesel’s eyes, as in the eyes of his disciples, Night assumed a level of sacrosanctity, next in importance to the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. In terms of veracity, it is a factually recorded work, virtually meeting Leopold von Ranke’s benchmark of historical accounts: Wie es eigentlich gewessen, how it really was.”

As he roosts on his pile of gold amid the abuse of Oprah and the literary world, Frey can comfort himself with the thought that Night is not how “it really was”, and that even though there is a vast gulf between what Wiesel actually endured and Frey’s lies about his own life, when it comes to making literature he and Wiesel were both in the business of artistic and emotional manipulation, of dressing fiction up as truth.

As Pfefferkorn stresses, you didn’t survive in the death camps just by luck. “Securing a spot in a desirable labor detail, for instance, involved shoving to the head of the line, seen as a risk worth taking. Upon encountering opposition, however, one had to know when to retreat into the chameleon-pyjama-like background of the concentration camp. This was also true about lining up for soup. Finding the right spot in the line could mean a thicker bowl of soup -which may add a week’s longevity, but this entailed rough elbowing, as well as timing.”

Pfefferkorn says now that one of the greatest disappointments of his life was Wiesel’s “betrayal” ­ (Pfefferkorn’s word) of the survivors. Looking at the man’s career overall, I’d say that as a moral fabulist, Wiesel has far more than Frey to answer for. Should not Oprah ask him about the millions he could have helped with the moral stature won by the Nobel peace prize he so unrelentingly campaigned for with his rough elbows, but whom he has betrayed for reasons of base political calculation?

Although the Nobel committee extolled him as a “messenger to mankind” it is difficult to find examples of Wiesel sending any message on behalf of those victimized by the policies of the United States, and virtually impossible when it comes to victims of Israel.

Wiesel’s pusillanimity was well illustrated in an interview with The National Jewish Post & Opinion for November 19, 1982. Asked about the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila, he said he felt “sad”. Lest anyone leap to the conclusion that Wiesel was at last expressing sadness for the victims of Israel’s invasion — he remained silent throughout the bombing of Beirut — Wiesel added that this sadness was “with Israel, and not against Israel”. As he put it, “After all, the Israeli soldiers did not kill”. In 1985, Wiesel was asked by a reporter from Ha’aretz about Israel’s aid to the military junta in Guatemala. By way of response Wiesel remarked that he had received a letter from a Nobel laureate (Salvador Luria of M.I.T. had written to him on this subject a month earlier) documenting Israel’s contributions to mass murder in Guatemala and urging Wiesel to act privately to pressure Israel. Wiesel “sighed”, the Ha’aretz reporter wrote, and said, “I usually answer at once, but what can I answer him.”

Wiesel could, I suppose, argue that a sigh constitutes a technical breach of silence, but why did he not go further?

In an interview published in the second volume of Against Silence,Wiesel says that, as a Diaspora Jew, the “price I chose to pay for not living in Israel . . . is not to criticize Israel from outside its borders.” In another interview, published in the London Jewish Chronicle for September 10, 1982, he lamented criticism of Israel during the Lebanon invasion and asked these rhetorical questions:

“Was it necessary to criticize the Israeli government, notwithstanding the spate of lies disseminated in the press? Or would it not have been better to have offered Israel unreserved support, regardless of the suffering endured by the population of Beirut? In the face of hatred, our love for Israel ought to have deepened, become more whole-hearted, and our faith in Israel more compelling, more true.”

It’s unclear how many times, if any, Wiesel has ventured criticism inside Israel’s borders. Wiesel himself mentions one occasion on which he exerted what is usually called quiet pressure.

Commentary on Wiesel in the Hebrew-language press in Israel following the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 was more robust than the statutory honorifics printed in the United States. In Davar, for example, a reporter named Miri Paz discussed the troubled course of a conference on holocaust and genocide held in Israel in the summer of 1982. Responding to the urgings of the Turkish government, the Israeli Foreign Ministry demanded the removal of six items on the agenda concerning the Armenian genocide. Several people on the conference’s organizing committee, including its chair, Professor Israel Charny, refused to bend to such interference. But Wiesel, who headed the conference, did weaken. He pulled out of the conference, explaining, in Paz’s words, that “as a Jew he cannot act against the government of Israel”.

In Koteret Rashit, a liberal weekly, the Israeli journalist Tom Segev wrote of Wiesel:

“He is always careful not to criticize his nation. . . . What does he have to say about the situation in the territories? When people from Peace Now asked him to criticize the Lebanese War he evaded the request. He’s never been in the habit of standing up seriously against Israeli leaders. . . . What in fact has he done to realize his fine intentions? Bob Geldof has done more. . . . How nice it would have been if they had divided the prize among those truly good people of the world, those still alive, those people who endangered their lives at the time of the Holocaust in order to save Jews.

“Who symbolizes the lesson of the Holocaust as they do?

“Who is as worthy of the respect of the world as they are?”

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

Footnote: an earlier version of this essay ran in CounterPunch newsletter for February, 2006, #3/4.

(Reprinted from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
 
Riots and the Underclass

What’s a riot without looting? We want it, they’ve got it! You’d think from the press that looting was alien to British tradition, imported by immigrants more recent than the Normans. Not so. Gavin Mortimer, author of The Blitz, had an amusing piece in the First Post about the conduct of Britons at the time of their Finest Hour:

“It didn’t take long for a hardcore of opportunists to realise there were rich pickings available in the immediate aftermath of a raid – and the looting wasn’t limited to civilians.

“In October 1940 Winston Churchill ordered the arrest and conviction of six London firemen caught looting from a burned-out shop to be hushed up by Herbert Morrison, his Home Secretary. The Prime Minister feared that if the story was made public it would further dishearten Londoners struggling to cope with the daily bombardments…

“The looting was often carried out by gangs of children organized by a Fagin figure; he would send them into bombed-out houses the morning after a raid with orders to target coins from gas meters and display cases containing First World War medals. In April 1941 Lambeth juvenile court dealt with 42 children in one day, from teenage girls caught stripping clothes from dead bodies to a seven-year-old boy who had stolen five shillings from the gas meter of a damaged house. In total, juvenile crime accounted for 48 per cent of all arrests in the nine months between September 1940 and May 1941 and there were 4,584 cases of looting.

“Joan Veazey, whose husband was a vicar in Kennington, south London, wrote in her diary after one raid in 1940: “The most sickening thing was to see people like vultures, picking up things and taking them away. I didn’t like to feel that English people would do this, but they did.”

“Perhaps the most shameful episode of the whole Blitz occurred on the evening of March 8 1941 when the Cafe de Paris in Piccadilly was hit by a German bomb. The cafe was one of the most glamorous night spots in London, the venue for off-duty officers to bring their wives and girlfriends, and within minutes of its destruction the looters moved in.

“Some of the looters in the Cafe de Paris cut off the people’s fingers to get the rings,” recalled Ballard Berkeley, a policeman during the Blitz who later found fame as the ‘Major’ in Fawlty Towers. Even the wounded in the Cafe de Paris were robbed of their jewellery amid the confusion and carnage.”

A revolution is not a tea party, sniffed Lenin, but he should have added that it often starts off with a big party. Perhaps he was acknowledging that when he said a revolution was “a festival of the oppressed.” After the storming of the Winter Palace in October 1917 everyone was drunk for three days, conduct of which the prissy Vladimir Illich no doubt heartily disapproved.

The riots in London in August 2011 started in Tottenham in an area with the highest unemployment in London, in response to the police shooting a young black man, in a country where black people are 26 times more likely to stopped and searched by the cops than whites. Stop-and-searches are allowed under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, introduced to deal with football hooligans. It allows police to search anyone in a designated area without specific grounds for suspicion. Use of Section 60 has risen more than 300 per cent between 2005 and last year. In 1997/98 there were 7,970 stop-and-searches, increasing to 53,250 in 2007/08 and 149,955 in 2008/09. Between 2005/06 and 2008/09 the number of Section 60 searches of black people rose by more than 650 per cent.

The day after the heaviest night of rioting we saw Darcus Howe, originally from Trinidad and former editor of Race and Class, now a broadcaster and columnist, being questioned by a snotty BBC interviewer, Fiona Armstrong. We ran it last week as website of the day. Howe linked the riots to upsurges by the oppressed across the Middle East and then remarked that when KillingTrayvons1 he’d recently asked his son how many times he’d been stopped and searched by the police, his boy answered that it had happened too often for him to count. To which point Ms Armstrong, plainly irked by the trend in the conversation in which Howe was conspicuously failing in his assigned task – namely to denounce the rioters – said nastily, ““You are not a stranger to riots yourself I understand, are you? You have taken part in them yourself?”

“I have never taken part in a single riot. I’ve been on demonstrations that ended up in a conflict,” the 67-year old Howe answered indignantly. “Have some respect for an old West Indian negro and stop accusing me of being a rioter because you wanted for me to get abusive. You just sound idiotic — have some respect.” The BBC later apologized to those offended by what it agreed was “a poorly phrased question.”

Back in 1981, Cockburn interviewed Howe in his Race and Class office after the Brixton and Toxteth riots. Overweening police power and state racism were fuelling unofficial racism, with innumerable murderous attacks on blacks in a Britain ravaged by Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies. At the start of April, 1981, the police launched Operation Swamp 81 to combat street crime. More than 1,000 people were stopped and questioned in the first four days. The uprising in Brixton began on April 9 and lasted through April 11. There were 4,000 police in the area and 286 people arrested. By the weekend of July 10-12 riots were taking place in 30 towns and cities – black and white youths together and in some case white youths alone. They were scenes, as Lord Scarman said of Brixton, “of violence and disorder… the like of which had not previously been seen in this century in Britain.

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“The riots opened up an entirely new political ethos,” Howe said back then. “To understand the organizational stages that we are moving to, it is essential to know that in the late 1960s there were black-power organizations in almost every city in this country. A combination of repression – not as sharp as in the United States – but repression British style and Harold Wilson’s political cynicism undermined that movement. What he did was offer a lot of money to the black community, which set up all kinds of advice centers and projects for this and projects for that. So, in some black communities, if you have a headache somebody is onto you saying, ‘Well, look, I have a project with blacks with headaches.’ That paralysed the political initiative of blacks. It was done for you by the state and, as you know, Britain is saturated with the concept of welfare.The riots have broken through that completely, smashed it to smithereens, indicating that it has no palliative, no cure for the cancer.”

AC: “You’re looking toward a black/white mass organization?”

“Black/white mass movement. But one must always point to what we are heading for. What are we aiming for? Are we aiming for the vulgarity of a better standard of living. I think a passion has arisen in the breasts of millions of people in the world for a kind of democratic form and shape which would equal parliamentary democracy in its creativity and innovation.”

AC: “Let’s look at a likely future for Britain: enormous structural unemployment, the creation of a permanent underclass..”

“Permanent unemployed, that is what is on the agenda, with the revolutionizing of production, with the microchip. Now what the British working class has to do is break out of this demand for jobs, which characterized the 1930s, the Jarrow marches, and so on. They will have to lift themselves to the new reality, which will of course call for the merciless shortening of the working day, the working week, and the working life, and a concentration on leisure and the quality of work… They say, ‘March for jobs.’ What jobs?”

AC: It’s stimulating to hear you say this, because the left seems to have a lot of illusions about this. The slogan should really be, ‘Less work,’ not ‘More work.’

“’Less work, more money.’ And that’s a vulgarity too. ‘Less work, more leisure.’ We have built up over the centuries the technological capacity to release people from that kind of servitude.”

AC: So then you have to talk about redistribution of wealth.

“Free distribution. A completely new ethos. And we are on the verge of it. “

AC: Don’t you think that pathological symptoms, including racism, will increase as people fight on the scrap heap, as the economy goes down?”

“I agree. Something else increases too. Side by side, living in the same atom as pathology, is the possibility to lift. You can’t reach the lifting stage without the pathological stage. Crabs in a barrel. Or you leap. The leap depends on what dominant political ideology is presented to the population.”

AC: You view the current decline of the Labour Party with considerable optimism?”

“Considerable optimism.”

It was six in the evening and outside the Race and Class offices people were sloshing through the puddles on the way home from work, or standing about in doorways. Howe got up and stretched, then picked up a document.

“Listen to this,” he said. “After the uprising in Moss Side last July they appointed a local Manchester barrister called Hytner to enquire into what happened. Here’s what he writes:

“At about 10.20 pm a responsible and in our view reliable mature black citizen was in Moss Side East and observed a large number of black youths whom he recognized as having come from a club a mile away. At the same time a horde of white youths came up the road from the direction of Moss Side. He spoke to them and ascertained they were from Wythenshawe. The two groups met and joined. There was nothing in the manner of their meeting which in any way reflected a prearranged plan. There was a sudden shout and the mob stormed off in the direction of Moss Side police station. We are given an account by another witness who saw the mob approach the station, led, so it was claimed, by a nine-year-old boy with those with Liverpool accents in the van.’”

Howe smiled. “Whites from Wytheshawe, blacks from Moss Side, no prearranged plan. They gather. There was a shout. ‘On to Moss side police station.’ That gives you some indication. You must have a convergence of interests in order for that to happen.”

That was a interchange at the start of the Eighties. Here we are thirty years later, structural unemployment etched ever more deeply into the economy of Britain, now in a melding of Thatcherism and New Labor’s follow-on from Thatcherism, abysmal poverty and hopelessness in Tottenham and similar districts coexisting at close quarters with profligacy and corruption saturating the higher social tiers and the political sector in one of the most unequal, class-divided cities in Europe.

As the Daily Mash puts it:

“Many of these kids are less then two miles away from people who get multi-million pound bonuses for catastrophic failure and live in a culture where the material excess of people who are famous for nothing is rammed relentlessly into their faces by middle-brow tabloid newspapers. And of course later today the looters will be condemned in Parliament by a bunch of people who stole money by accident.”

Bands of youths make for stores in Central London in part to exact revenge on places that contemptuously rejected their applications for a job. One group methodically worked its way through a tony restaurant in Notting Hill Gate, relieving the clientele of their wallets.

It’s difficult to assess what levels of political organization there are in the ghettos, nor the possibility of unity, amid the stories of murderous racial clashes between blacks and Asians, with Turks and Sikhs arrayed in defense of their modest stores and temples.

On the state agenda of every advanced industrial nation, in the ebb from the great post World War 2 economic boom, is the simple question: amid vast structural unemployment and diminished social expectations how best to assuage the alarm expressed by James Anderton in 1980, when he was Chief Constable of Greater Manchester. Anderton gave it as his considered opinion that “from the police point of view … theft, burglary, even violent crime will not be the predominant police feature. What will be the matter of greatest concern will be the covert and ultimately overt attempts to overthrow democracy, to subvert the authority of the state.”

Britain had its Notting Hill Gate riots in 1958, and Justice Salmon sent nine white Teddy Boys to long terms in prison, saying, “We must establish the rights of everyone, irrespective of the color of their skin … to walk through our streets with their heads erect and free from fear.”

Twenty years later, in 1978 Judge McKinnon ruled that Kingsley Read, head of the fascist National Party, was not guilty of incitement to racial hatred when he said publicly of 18-year-old Gurdip Singh Chaggar, set upon by white youths and stabbed to death, “One down, one million to go.”

In the interval British governments, both Conservative and Labour, falteringly, with occasional remissions and bouts of bad conscience, proceeded down the path to racism. Pace David Cameron’s recent pronouncement of its death, between the late 1940s and the late 1960s the chance of establishing a multiracial society was squandered.

In the 1960s, America saw fearsome ghetto riots from Newark, to Detroit, to the city of Watts in Los Angeles. The state’s response was a threefold strategy: first, buy your way out. Money sluiced into “urban renewal schemes” basically aimed as various forms of ethnic cleansing and wholesale destruction of black neighborhoods. Gentrification and deindustrialization assisted in this process. Across the next twenty years, for example, the manufacturing base of Los Angeles simply disappeared.

Since these shifts involved the creation of new ghettos, the second strategy was ever more stringent policing, with federal money pouring into city law enforcement across the country, the creation of heavily armed SWAT teams, even in tiny communities. The third strategy was the conversion of a political threat – political activism by the Black Panthers and other national organizations (many of whose leaders were straightforwardly murdered by the police) – into a crime problem, a.k.a the “war on drugs,” launched in 1969 by Richard Nixon who emphasized to his chief aide, H.R. Haldeman, that the whole problem [drugs] was really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

There is plenty of evidence that the strategists of the state’s response to black political insurgency were far from unhappy to see poor neighborhoods demobilized by drugs, black-on-black violence, as gangs fought bloody turf wars for street corner concessions.

Across the next 35 years the U.S. prison population rose relentlessly, the cells disproportionately filled with blacks and Hispanics. The “system” had devised a useful differential in sentencing that saw blacks and other poor people serving vastly longer terms for possession of crack, rather than powder cocaine – a middle-class preference.

The last major race riot in America was in 1992, following the release of a video of a black man, Rodney King, being savagely beaten by Los Angeles cops. By the 1990s, the “buy-out” strategy had evolved into vast programs of prison construction, paralleling the rise of gated residential communities replete with walls and armed guards keeping the bad guts out.

America has been slowly waking up to two increasingly self-evident truths: violent crime rates – for murder, robbery, aggravated assault and rape – have been falling, and are now at their lowest level for nearly 40 years. Fears that the 2008 crash and indisputably harsh economic times for poor people would produce a new crime wave have proved to be baseless. In 2010, New York saw 536 murders – 65 more than in 2009, which was the lowest since 1963.

All crime rates in Los Angeles have been dropping for two decades. Homicides plunged 18 percent last year. Violent crime is roughly the same in LA as in Portland, Oregon, the whitest major city in America, the same as it was in the lily-white LA of the early 1960s. The 1960s, when crime rates rose, had roughly the same unemployment rate as the late 1990s and early 2000s, when crime fell.

Twenty years ago, conservative criminologists here were drawing up graphic scenarios of cities held hostage by gangs of feral black youth. City police forces compiled vast computer data banks of “gangs,” and suspects linked to a gang drew heavier sentences, shoved into a penal system where remedial counseling, post release job training had vanished.

Did crime fall because all the bad guys were locked up? No one claims this beyond 25 percent of the reduction – itself a very high estimate. Another theory is that by the mid 1990s the crack wars were over, and the victors enjoying their hard-won monopolies under the overall supervision of the police. Other theories were recently explored by professor James Q. Wilson, an influential conservative sociologist:

“There may also be a medical reason for the decline in crime. For decades, doctors have known that children with lots of lead in their blood are much more likely to be aggressive, violent and delinquent. In 1974, the Environmental Protection Agency required oil companies to stop putting lead in gasoline. At the same time, lead in paint was banned for any new home (though old buildings still have lead paint, which children can absorb). Tests have shown that the amount of lead in Americans’ blood fell by four-fifths between 1975 and 1991. A 2007 study by the economist Jessica Wolpaw Reyes contended that the reduction in gasoline lead produced more than half of the decline in violent crime during the 1990s in the U.S. and might bring about greater declines in the future.”

Cocaine use has been declining. Wilson cites a study of 13,000 people arrested in Manhattan between 1987 and 1997, a disproportionate number of whom were black: “Those born between 1948 and 1969 were heavily involved with crack cocaine, but those born after 1969 used very little crack and instead smoked marijuana. The reason was simple: the younger African Americans had known many people who used crack and other hard drugs and wound up in prisons, hospitals and morgues. The risks of using marijuana were far less serious. This shift in drug use, if the New York City experience is borne out in other locations, can help to explain the fall in black inner-city crime rates after the early 1990s.”

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Simultaneous with the drop in violent crime rates has come the discovery that America can’t afford to lock up 2.3 million people for years on end. It’s too expensive. When he’s not praying to a Christian God to save America, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is trying to save the state’s budget in part by getting convicts out of prisons and into various diversion programs.

So, by after a nearly 40-year detour into a gulag Republic, with 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, America is retrenching toward softer solutions. The War on Drugs and the War and Crime carry a heavy price tag. A generation’s worth of “wars on crime” and of glor ification of the men and women in blue have engendered a culture of law enforcement that is all too often vicious ly violent, contemptuous of the law, morally corrupt, and confident of the credulity of the courts. In Chicago, police ignored witnesses, dis counted testimony, as they bustled the innocent onto Death Row. In New York, a plain-clothes posse of heavily armed cops roamed the streets, justifiably confident that their lethal onslaught would receive official protec tion, which it did until an unprecedented popular uproar brought the perpetrators to book.

These aren’t isolated cases. There isn’t a state in the union where cops aren’t perjuring themselves, using excessive force, targeting minorities.

Those endless wars on crime and drugs – a staple of 90 percent of America’s politicians these last thirty years – have engendered not merely 2.3 million prisoners but a vindictive hysteria that pulses on the threshold of homi cide in the bosoms of many of our uniformed law enforcers. Time and again, one hears stories attesting to the fact that they are ready, at a moment’s notice or a slender pretext, to blow someone away, beat him to a pulp, throw him in the slammer, sew him up with police perjuries and snitch-driven charges, and try to toss him in a dungeon for a quarter-century or more.

The price for decades of this mythmaking and cop boosterism? It was summed up in the absurdity of the declaration of the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2000, that flight from a police officer constitutes sound reason for arrest. Actually, it constitutes plain common sense.

Emergency laws, rushed through by panicked politicians, are always bad. It will take America many decades, if ever, to restore civil liberties, approach crime rationally – and this will only come with courageous and inventive political leadership in the poor communities. Britons should study carefully the lessons of Americans’ 40-year swerve.

Back in 1981 Howe put the right questions on the agenda. We’ve got further away from answering them, and in fact the left rarely asks them at all, bobbing along in the neoliberal backwash that began in the early 1970s.

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 edition of CounterPunch.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray) will be published this summer by CounterPunch Books. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

(Reprinted from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Counterpunch Archives, Looting, Urban Riots 

The most compelling argument against the existence of a vast conspiracy orchestrating the assassinations of Jack and Bobby Kennedy is that the brothers were never threats to ruling power. The Kennedys were card-carrying members of the global elites, ran in their circles, catered to their whims, administered their political and economic bidding. (Just ask Fidel Castro.) With MLK, it could be a different matter. And with the infinitely more radical Malcolm X it certainly was. Whatever King’s actual function–and the Reverend was given a hard time as something of an Uncle Tom by radicals in the later Sixties–the ruling power construed him as a threat.

King was assassinated almost forty-six years ago, at just after 6 in evening, as he stood on a balcony of the Lorraine motel in Memphis, Tennessee. A single rifle bullet hit him in the jaw, then severed his spinal cord. James Earl Ray, a white man, was convicted of the killing and sentenced to 99 years. Ray was certainly the gunman.

But there are credible theories of a conspiracy, possibly involving US Army intelligence, whose role in the life and death of Martin Luther King was explored by Stephens Tompkins in the Memphis Commercial Appeal in 1993.

The Army’s interest in the King family stretched back to 1917 when the War Department opened a file on King’s maternal grandfather, first president of Atlanta’s branch of the NAACP. King’s father, Martin Sr., also entered Army intelligence files as a potential troublemaker, as did Martin Jr. in 1947 when he was 18. He was attending Dorothy Lilley’s Intercollegiate School in Atlanta and 111th Military Intelligence Group in Fort McPherson in Atlanta suspected Ms Lilley of having Communist ties.

King’s famous denunciation of America’s war in Vietnam came exactly a year before his murder, before a crowd of 3,000 in the Riverside Church in Manhattan. He described Vietnam’s destruction at the hands of ”deadly Western arrogance,” insisting that ”we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.”

US Army spies secretly recorded black radical Stokely Carmichael warning King, “The Man don’t care you call ghettos concentration camps, but when you tell him his war machine is nothing but hired killers you got trouble.” Carmichael was right.

After the 1967 Detroit riots 496 black men under arrest were interviewed by agents of the Army’s Psychological Operations Group, dressed as civilians. It turned out King was by far the most popular leader. That same year, watching the great antiwar march on Washington in October 1967 from the roof of the Pentagon Major General William Yarborough, assistant chief of staff for Army intelligence, concluded that “the empire was coming apart at the seams”. He thought there were too few reliable troops to fight the war in Vietnam and hold the line at home.

The Army increased surveillance on King. Green Berets and other Special Forces veterans from Vietnam began making street maps and identifying sniper sites in major American cities. The Ku Klux Klan was recruited by the 20th Special Forces Group, headquartered in Alabama, as a subsidiary intelligence network. The Army began offering 30.06 sniper rifles to police departments, including that of Memphis. King was dogged by spy units through early ’67. A Green Beret unit was operating in Memphis the day he was shot. The bullet that killed him came from a 30.06 rifle purchased in a Memphis store. Army intelligence chiefs became increasingly hysterical over the threat of King to national stability.

After his Vietnam speech the major US newspapers savaged King. Fifteen years later the New York Times was still bitter when the notion of a national holiday honoring the civil rights leader was being pressed–with ultimate success–by labor unions and black groups. “Why not a Martin Luther King Day?” an NYT editorial asked primly. “Dr King, a humble man, would have objected to giving that much importance to any individual. Nor should he be given singular tribute if that demeans other historical black figures.” Give one of them a holiday and they’ll all be wanting one.

Within hours of King’s murder rioting broke out in 80 cities across the country. Dozens of people, mostly black were killed. On April 6 the Oakland cornered the Black Panther leadership and when one of the young leaders, Bobby Hutton, emerged with his shirt off and his hands up, shot him dead. Further police executions of Panthers followed, most notoriously the killing of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, as they slept, by the Chicago police, with FBI complicity, in December, 1969.

In contrast to Hutton, the Panthers and above all Malcolm X, slain in 1965, white liberal opinion, resentments at the disloyalty of the Riverside Church speech conveniently forgotten, has hailed King as a man who chose to work within the system and who furthermore failed to make any significant dent on business as usual.

In his last years King was haunted by a sense of failure. Amid a failed organizing campaign in Chicago he was booed at a mass meting there and, as he lay sleepless that night he wrote later that he knew why: “I had urged them [his fellow blacks ] to have faith in America and in white society They were now booing because they felt were unable to deliver on our promises They were now hostile because they were watching the dream they had so readily accepted turn into a nightmare.”

As the radical journalist Andrew Kopkind wrote shortly after King’s assassination, “That he failed to change the system that brutalizes his race is a profound relief to the white majority. As a reward they have now elevated his minor successes into major triumphs.”

Forty years on, America is still disfigured by racial injustice. Militant black leadership has all but disappeared. To black radicals Obama’s sedate homilies and respectful paeans to America’s ladders of advancement available to the industrious are to the fierce demands for justice of Malcolm X and of King in his more radical moments, as Muzak is to Charlie Parker.

Obama is caught, even as King was. The moment whites fear he is raising the political volume, he’s savaged with every bludgeon of convenience, starting with the robust sermons of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose sin is to have reminded whites that there are black Americans who are really angry. “Damn America,” roared the Rev Wright. King was just as rough at Riverside Church in the speech that so terrified the white elites: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”

Honesty of this sort from a black politician in America extorts due retribution.

This article is adapted and expanded from a piece which originally appeared in the January 2009 print edition of CounterPunch.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature, Grand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

(Reprinted from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: History • Tags: Counterpunch Archives, Martin Luther King 

Note: On the eve of the fateful Israeli elections in 2001, Alex and I wrote a long profile of the vicious, sinister career of Ariel Sharon. In the wake of Sharon’s death, I revamped the essay as a corrective to the drooling eulogies which have gone so far as to label him an “Israeli Moses.” — JSC

Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel on February 
6, 2001. Some incorrigible optimists then suggested that only a right-wing extremist
 of Sharon’s notoriety would boast the credentials to broker lasting peace
 with the Palestinians.

Maybe so. History 
is not devoid of such examples. But Sharon’s record was not encouraging.
 His crucial role in provoking Palestinian uprisings by his excursions 
under heavy military protection to holy sites in Jerusalem is well known. A 
little more faintly perhaps people recall the verdict of an Israeli commission
of inquiry finding that Sharon bore some responsibility for the dreadful Phalangist 
massacres in Palestinian refugee camps outside Beirut.

But in fact 
Sharon’s history as a terrorist, with documented participation in what 
can be fairly stigmatized as war crimes, goes back to the early 1950s. Here 
is a brief resume, culled in part from a two-part series on Sharon in
 the well-respected Hebrew-language Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

Sharon was 
born in 1928 and as a young man joined the Haganah, the underground military 
organization of Israel in its pre-state days. In 1953 he was given command of
 Unit 101, whose mission is often described as that of retaliation against Arab 
attacks on Jewish villages. In fact, as can be seen from two terrible onslaughts, 
one of them very well known, Unit 101’s purpose was that of instilling 
terror by the infliction of discriminate, murderous violence not only on able-bodied 
fighters but on the young, the old, the helpless.

Sharon’s
 first documented sortie as a terrorist was in August of 1953 on the refugee
 camp of El-Bureig, south of Gaza. An Israeli history of the unit records 50 
refugees as having been killed; other sources allege 15 or 20. Major-General
 Vagn Bennike, the UN commander, reported that “bombs were thrown”
 by Sharon’s men “through the windows of huts in which the refugees 
were sleeping and, as they fled, they were attacked by small arms and automatic 
weapons.”

In October
 of 1953 came the attack by Sharon’s Unit 101 on the Jordanian village of
 Qibya, whose “stain” Israel’s foreign minister at the time, Moshe
 Sharett, confided to his diary, “would stick to us and not be washed away 
for many years.”

Israeli historian Avi Shlaim, cited in a petition demanding 
retribution against Sharon for war crimes, describes the massacre thus:

“Sharon’s 
order was to penetrate Qibya, blow up houses and inflict heavy casualties on
its inhabitants. His success in carrying out the order surpassed all expectations.
 The full and macabre story of what happened at Qibya was revealed only during
 the morning after the attack. The village had been reduced to rubble: forty-five
 houses had been blown up, and sixty-nine civilians, two thirds of them women
 and children, had been killed. Sharon and his men claimed that they believed
 that all the inhabitants had run away and that they had no idea that anyone
 was hiding inside the houses.

“The UN 
observer who inspected the scene reached a different conclusion: ‘One story 
was repeated time after time: the bullet splintered door, the body sprawled
 across the threshold, indicating that the inhabitants had been forced by heavy 
fire to stay inside until their homes were blown up over them.’ The slaughter 
in Qibya was described contemporaneously in a letter to the president of the
 United Nations Security Council dated October 16, 1953…from the Envoy Extraordinary 
and Minister Plenipotentiary of Jordan to the United States. On 14 October 1953 
at 9:30 at night, he wrote, Israeli troops launched a battalion-scale attack
 on the village of Qibya in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (at the time the
 West Bank was annexed to Jordan).

“According 
to the diplomat’s account, Israeli forces had entered the village and systematically
 murdered all occupants of houses, using automatic weapons, grenades and incendiaries.
On 14 October, the bodies of 42 Arab civilians had been recovered; several more 
bodies had been still under the wreckage. Forty houses, the village school and
a reservoir had been destroyed. Quantities of unused explosives, bearing Israel
 army markings in Hebrew, had been found in the village. At about 3 a.m., to 
cover their withdrawal, Israeli support troops had begun shelling the neighboring
 villages of Budrus and Shuqba from positions in Israel. The U.S. Department
 of State issued a statement on 18 October 1953, expressing its ‘deepest
 sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives’ in the Qibya attack
as well as the conviction that those responsible ‘should be brought to
 account and that effective measures should be taken to prevent such incidents 
in the future.’”

Let us move
 next to Sharon’s conduct when he was head of the Southern Command of Israel’s
 Defense Forces in the early 1970s. The Gaza “clearances” were vividly 
described by Phil Reeves in a piece in The London Independent on January
 21, 2001:

“Thirty
 years have elapsed since Ariel Sharon was the head of the Israel Defence Forces’ southern command, 
charged with the task of ‘pacifying’ the recalcitrant Gaza Strip after 
the 1967 war. But the old men still remember it well. Especially the old men
 on Wreckage Street. Until late 1970, Wreckage, or Had’d, Street wasn’t 
a street, just one of scores of narrow, nameless alleys weaving through Gaza
 City’s Beach Camp, a shantytown cluttered with low, two-roomed houses, 
built with UN aid for refugees from the 1948 war who then, as now, were waiting 
for the international community to settle their future. The street acquired
 its name after an unusually prolonged visit from Mr Sharon’s soldiers. 
Their orders were to bulldoze hundreds of homes to carve a wide, straight street.
 This would allow Israeli troops and their heavy armoured vehicles to move easily
 through the camp, to exert control and hunt down men from the Palestinian Liberation
 Army.

“‘They
 came at night and began marking the houses they wanted to demolish with red 
paint,’ said Ibrahim Ghanim, 70, a retired labourer. ‘In the morning 
they came back, and ordered everyone to leave. I remember all the soldiers shouting 
at people, Yalla, yalla, yalla, yalla! They threw everyone’s belongings 
into the street. Then Sharon brought in bulldozers and started flattening the
street. He did the whole lot, almost in one day. And the soldiers would beat 
people, can you imagine? Soldiers with guns, beating little kids?’

“By the
 time the Israeli army’s work was done, hundreds of homes were destroyed,
 not only in Wreckage Street but through the camp, as Sharon ploughed out a grid
of wide security roads. Many of the refugees took shelter in schools, or squeezed
 into the already badly over-crowded homes of relatives. Other families, usually 
those with a Palestinian political activist, were loaded into trucks and taken 
to exile in a town in the heart of the Sinai Desert, then controlled by Israel.”

The devastation of Beach Camp was far from the exception. As Reeves reported:

“In August 1971
 alone, troops under Mr Sharon’s command destroyed some 2,000 homes in the
 Gaza Strip, uprooting 16,000 people for the second time in their lives. Hundreds 
of young Palestinian men were arrested and deported to Jordan and Lebanon. Six
 hundred relatives of suspected guerrillas were exiled to Sinai. In the second
half of 1971, 104 guerrillas were assassinated. ‘The policy at that time
 was not to arrest suspects, but to assassinate them,’ said Raji Sourani,
 director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza City.”

As defense
 minister in Menachem Begin’s second government, Sharon was the commander 
who stunned his colleagues by instigating the full-dress 1982 assault on Lebanon,
 with the express design of dispatching all Palestinians to Jordan and making
Lebanon an Israeli client state. From the vantage point of 20 years, we can see 
it was a war plan that cost untold suffering, many thousands of Palestinian 
and Lebanese lives, and also the deaths of over 1000 Israeli soldiers.

Sharon also 
engendered the infamous massacres at Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. The slaughter
 in the two contiguous camps took place from 6 at night on September 16, 1982 until 
8 in the morning on September 18, in an area until the control of the Israel Defense
 Forces (IDF). The perpetrators were members of the Phalange militia, the Lebanese 
force that was armed by and closely allied with Israel since the onset of Lebanon’s 
civil war in 1975. The victims during the 62-hour rampage included infants,
 children, women (including pregnant women) and the elderly, some of whom were 
mutilated or disemboweled before or after they were killed.

To cite only 
one post-massacre eyewitness account, that of pro-Israeli journalist Thomas Friedman
 of The New York Times: “Mostly I saw groups of young men in their 
twenties and thirties who had been lined up against walls, tied by their hands 
and feet, and then mowed down gangland-style with fusillades of machine-gun
fire.”

An official
 Israeli commission of inquiry–chaired by Yitzhak Kahan, president of Israel’s
 Supreme Court–investigated the massacre, and in February 1983 publicly
 released its findings (without Appendix B, which remained secret). The Kahan
Commission found that Ariel Sharon, among other Israelis, had direct responsibility 
for the massacre. The commission’s report stated:

“It is our view
 that responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defense for having disregarded
 the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalangists against the 
population of the refugee camps, and having failed to take this danger into 
account when he decided to have the Phalangists enter the camps. In addition,
 responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defense for not ordering 
appropriate measures for preventing or reducing the danger of massacre as a
 condition for the Phalangists’ entry into the camps. These blunders constitute
the non-fulfillment of a duty with which the Defense Minister was charged.”

Sharon refused 
to resign. Finally, on February 14, 1983, he was relieved of his duties as defense 
minister, though he remained in the cabinet as minister without portfolio.

Sharon’s career
 was in eclipse, but he continued to burnish his bloody credentials as a Likud ultra.
 Sharon was always against any sort of peace deal, unless on terms entirely 
impossible for Palestinians to accept. In 1979, as a member of Begin’s cabinet, he voted
against a peace treaty with Egypt. In 1985 he voted against the withdrawal of 
Israeli troops to the so-called security zone in Southern Lebanon. In 1991 he
 opposed Israel’s participation in the Madrid peace conference. In 1993 
he voted no in the Knesset on the Oslo agreement. The following year he abstained
in the Knesset on a vote over a peace treaty with Jordan. He voted against the
 Hebron agreement in 1997 and objected to the withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

Sharon believed 
in establishing “facts on the ground.” As Begin’s minister of
 agriculture in the late 1970s, he established many of the West Bank settlements
 that are now a major obstruction to any peace deal. His unwavering position? Not
 another square inch of land for Palestinians on the West Bank. He would agree
 to a Palestinian state on the existing areas of either total or partial Palestinian 
control, 42 percent of the West Bank. Israel would retain control of the highways 
across the West Bank and, most crucially, the water sources. Jerusalem would remain under Israeli sovereignty 
and he pushed to continue building around the city. The Golan Heights would remain
 under Israel’s control.

It can be argued
 that Sharon represents the long-term policy of all Israeli governments, without 
any obscuring fluff or verbal embroidery. Ben-Gurion was complicit in the terror
 missions of Unit 101. Every Israeli government has condoned or overtly supported
 settlements and building around Jerusalem. But that doesn’t begin to confront
 Sharon’s sinister, violent shadow across the past half century.

That shadow 
is, perhaps, best evoked by a young Israeli woman, Ilil Komey, 16, who confronted Ariel 
Sharon when he visited her agricultural high school outside Beersheva on the eve of the elections.
 The scene was aired on Israeli television. The teenage girl whose father suffered 
shell shock during the Lebanon war stood and pointed her finger at the 72-year-old
 Sharon. “I think you sent my father into Lebanon,” Ilil said. “Ariel
 Sharon, I accuse you of having made me suffer for 16 some odd years. I accuse
 you of having made my father suffer for over 16 years. I accuse you of a lot
 of things that made a lot of people suffer in this country. I don’t think 
that you can now be elected as prime minister.”

Sadly, Ilil
 was wrong. Sharon was elected, not in spite of his savage resumé but because of it. That’s the grim truth of the 
situation.

This essay is adapted from a piece that ran in CounterPunch on the eve of the 2001 Israeli elections.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature, Grand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

(Reprinted from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
 
The Bombing of Pearl Harbor: What FDR Knew

Each Pearl Harbor day offers a fresh opportunity for those who correctly believe 
that Franklin Roosevelt knew of an impending attack by the Japanese and welcomed it as
 a way of snookering the isolationists and getting America into the war. And year by year the evidence continues to mount. The Naval 
Institute’s website featured a detailed article by Daryl Borgquist to
 the effect that high Red Cross officials with close contacts to Roosevelt quietly 
ordered large quantities of medical supplies and experienced medical personnel
 shipped to Hawaii well before Dec. 7, 1941.

In 1995, Helen Hamman, the daughter
of one of these officials, wrote to Bill Clinton a letter disclosing that her 
father had told her in the 1970s that shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack Roosevelt 
had told her father of the impending raid and told him to send Red Cross workers
 and supplies to the West Coast to be deployed in Hawaii. Roosevelt, Ms. Hamman 
wrote, told her father “the American people would never agree to enter the
 war in Europe unless they were attack [sic] within their own borders.” Borgquist’s 
research, now published in Naval History magazine, shows 
that the Red Cross was indeed staffed up and on a war footing in Hawaii by November 
1941.

Foreknowledge 
by FDR of the “surprise attack” on Pearl Harbor has been demonstrated
 about every five years, ever since the Republicans made a huge issue of it after
 World War II. Each time there’s a brief furor, and then we slide back into
 vaguer language about “unproven assertions” and “rumors.”
 It’s one of the unsayables of 20th-century history, as Charles Beard discovered 
in 1948 when he published his great book President Roosevelt and the Coming 
of the War (1941), subtitled “A Study in Appearances and Realities.” 
Beard effectively disposed of the “surprise attack” proposition after 
researching official government documents and public hearings. For example, the 
State Dept.’s own record showed that FDR’s Secretary of State Cordell
 Hull conferred with the British ambassador on Nov. 29, 1941, and imparted the 
news that “the diplomatic part of our relations with Japan was virtually 
over and the matter will now go to the officials of the Army and Navy.” As 
Beard and others pointed out, the U.S. had already not only undertaken the blockade 
and embargoes that forced Japan into the war, but also knew that Japan was about 
to attack and waited for it to do so, so the isolationists could be outmaneuvered 
and the U.S. could enter the war on a tide of popular feeling.

At
dawn on Dec. 7, 1941, the first wave of Japanese planes flew in from the east
over the Waianae Mountains, leaving about 4000 American casualties with 2400 dead. 
Beard’s scholarly but passionate investigation into secret presidential diplomacy 
incurred venomous abuse, as did his judgment that the ends (getting the U.S. into 
the war) did not justify the deceptive means.

Back 
in the early 1980s John Toland published his excellent book Infamy, which
 mustered all the evidence extant at that time about U.S. foreknowledge. He advanced 
the thesis that though FDR and his closest associates, including Gen. Marshall, 
knew the Japanese naval force was deployed with carriers in the North Pacific, 
they were so convinced of the impregnability of the base that they didn’t 
believe the attack would have much serious effect. They thought a surprise Japanese
 raid would do little damage, leave a few casualties but supply the essential trigger 
for entering the war. Toland quoted from Labor Secretary Frances Perkins’
 diary an eerie description of Roosevelt’s ravaged appearance at a White House 
meeting the night of Dec. 7. He looked, Perkins wrote with extraordinary perception,
”not only as though a tragedy had occurred but as though he felt some more 
intimate, secret sense of responsibility.”

The 
U.S. military commanders on Honolulu, Husband Kimmel and Walter Short, were pilloried,
 destroyed, set up to bear the major responsibility. For many years they fought 
to vindicate themselves, only to face hidden or destroyed evidence and outright 
perjury from their superiors.

In 
May of 1983 an officer from the Naval Security Group interviewed one of Toland’s 
sources who had previously insisted on remaining anonymous. The person in question
was Robert Ogg, who had been an enlisted man in Naval Intelligence during the 
war, and was one of those who detected the presence, through radio intercepts,
of a Japanese task force working its way toward Pearl Harbor in the first week
 of December 1941. This force had been under radio silence, but the “silence”
 had been broken on a number of occasions.

Both 
Ogg and his immediate superior, Lt. Hosner, reported their intercepts and conclusion 
to the chief of intelligence of the 12th Naval District in San Francisco, Capt.
Richard T. McCullough. McCullough was not only a personal friend of Roosevelt’s 
but enjoyed assured access to him through Harry Hopkins’ phone at the White
 House. Ogg confirmed in 1983 that McCullough had said at the time that the information 
about the Japanese task force had been passed to the White House. British code-breakers 
at Bletchley had also passed the news to Winston Churchill that Pearl Harbor was 
to be attacked.

The 
lesson here is that there is no construction too “bad” or too “outrageous” 
but that it cannot be placed upon the actions of powers great or small, though 
usually great. When Toland’s book was published there were many who scoffed 
at the “inherently implausible argument,” the “fine-spun conspiracy 
theory.” Gazing up the newly emerging national security state and the dawn 
of the Cold War, Beard argued that the ends did not justify the means, and concluded 
thus:

ORDER IT NOW

“In short, with the Government of the United States committed under 
a so-called bipartisan foreign policy to supporting by money and other forms of
 power for an indefinite time an indefinite number of other governments around 
the globe, the domestic affairs of the American people became appendages to an 
aleatory expedition in the management of the world… At this point in its history 
the American Republic has arrived under the theory that the President of the United
States possesses limitless authority publicly to misrepresent and secretly to 
control foreign policy, foreign affairs and the war power.”

Truer words were 
never written.

The 
”Good War”

Just as FDR’s foreknowledge of the attack is rediscovered every few years, so, too, is the fact that the Pacific war was a very nasty affair. Every so often new accounts and photographs emerge documenting the cruelties of that war. In 2001, the BBC aired
 combat film of American soldiers shooting wounded Japanese and using bayonets
 to hack at Japanese corpses while looting them. “Former servicemen interviewed 
by researchers spoke of the widespread practice of looting gold teeth from the
 dead–and sometimes from the living.”

The 
archival film is fresh evidence of the atrocities, but the war crimes themselves 
are an old story, best told by John Dower in his 1986 book War Without Mercy.
 Back in the February 1946 issue of The Atlantic the war correspondent Edgar 
L. Jones wrote, “We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed 
lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded,
 tossed the dying in a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled the flesh 
off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones 
into letter openers.”

By 
the spring of 1945 the Japanese military had been demolished. The disparities 
in the casualty figures between the Japanese and the Americans are striking. From 
1937 to 1945, the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy suffered 1,740,955 military 
deaths in combat. Dower estimates that another 300,000 died from disease and starvation.
 In addition, another 395,000 Japanese civilians died as a result of Allied saturation 
bombing that began in March 1945. The total dead: more than 2.7 million. In contrast,
American military deaths totaled 100,997. Even though Japan had announced on Aug.
10 its intentions to surrender, this didn’t deter the bloodthirsty Gen. “Hap”
Arnold. On Aug. 14, Arnold directed a 1014-plane air raid on Tokyo, blasting the 
city to ruins and killing thousands. Not one American plane was lost and the unconditional
surrender was signed before the planes had returned to their bases.

This 
raid, like the dropping of the A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was aimed at
 Moscow as much as Japan, designed to impress Stalin with the implacable might
 of the United States. The Cold War was under way, and as Beard prophesied in 1948,
 democracy wilted amid the procedures of the national security state, whose secretive
malpractices are still being exhumed.

Papers 
released by the American Dept. of Energy showed that scientists from the UK Atomic 
Energy Authority removed children’s bones and bodies to ship to the United
States for classified nuclear experiments. There is a transcript of a secret meeting in Washington of “Project
 Sunshine,” where Willard Libby, a scientist who later won the Nobel Prize 
for his research into carbon dating techniques, told colleagues, “Human samples 
are of prime importance, and if anybody knows how to do a good job of body-snatching, 
they will really be serving their country.”

British 
scientists from Harwell and the Medical Research Council supplied not only American
 researchers but their own labs with body parts, collecting about 6000 corpses
between 1955 and 1970. As The Observer reported, Jean Prichard, whose baby 
died in 1957, said her child’s legs were removed by hospital doctors and 
taken to Harwell without permission. To prevent her from finding out what had 
happened, she says she was forbidden to dress her daughter for her funeral. “I
 asked if I could put her christening robe on her, but I wasn’t allowed to, 
and that upset me terribly because she wasn’t christened. No one asked me
 about doing things like that, taking bits and pieces from her.”

The Pearl Harbor essay is adapted from an article that appeared in the June 2001 edition of CounterPunch.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature, Grand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

(Reprinted from Counterpunch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: History • Tags: Classic, Counterpunch Archives, World War II 
“I’ve Never Met a Mormon Man Who Has Any Real Respect for Women”

Editor’s Note: Tonight Mitt Romney will accept the Republican nomination for president and publicly embrace his Mormon faith. For the first time, a Mormon stands a very good a chance of being the president. But what is Mormonism? What is it like to be a woman inside the Church of Latter Day Saints? Becky Grant, known to thousands of CounterPunchers as our business manager, was raised a Mormon. This spring Alexander Cockburn talked to her about the Church.

–Jeffrey St. Clair

What can we expect from a Mormon man in the White House?

All the Mormon men I know are good at justifying anything with the doctrine of the Church. Take my uncle, former Mormon bishop, a chemist and head of what used to be called Morton Thiokol. He’s a sweet guy, and would call himself a good Mormon. He believes his know-ledge of science is a gift from God that he needs to exercise to its fullest. He’s gone on to hold patents for most of the explosives used by the Army. He’s done some good things. He holds the patent for the propellent in the airbag. But he’s says that his patent for the explosive that’s used for fracking is for the environmental good.

You would assume that a Mormon guy would be honest and trustworthy and forthright, but the Mormon religion is not like branches of Christianity where they’re just basing things on the Bible. Mormons are basing it on doctrine that can be renewed all the time, whatever the current prophet – the president of the Church – says. If the prophet says, Support proposition 8 (the California Marriage Protection Act), for example, then the Church puts money into it. I think their ethics are completely backward.

What the prophet says goes?

Yes, he receives prophecies from God, I don’t know, maybe on a daily basis. LDS General Conference comes twice a year, and whatever he says is the new doctrine.

I’ve never met a Mormon man who has any real respect for women. First of all, if you’re a Mormon man, then you believe you’re going to have multiple wives in the afterlife. So, even though he’s not acting on the will of God at this point in time here, on earth, to have many wives, a Mormon will tell you that this will be a commandment again definitely in the afterlife. To Mormons, life on earth is just a twinkling of an instant in the rest of your life. If you’re a good Mormon, you can go on to become a god and have your own planet and worshippers. So, there’s no basis to really and truly love and respect your wife because there’s going to be another, or many more, in the afterlife.

So, Mitt Romney, clearly a devout Mormon, looks at Mrs. Romney and he’s thinking, I love Ann, but …

Yes, he might be looking at the Relief Society president of his ward and thinking, Wow, maybe she’ll be mine in the afterlife. It just doesn’t exactly lead to respect for women to have their husbands thinking like that.

Because here’s this wife you have just for the twinkling of an eye, and then, when you die…

Well, she’ll be your wife still, but maybe your sister-in-law will be your wife too.

What are women meant to think of this?

Women aren’t privy to all the information in the temple. For example, when you go to the temple – and I haven’t been because I was never worthy – the Mormon man in the temple gets a secret name, and his wife has a secret name that he knows and she knows, but she doesn’t get to know his secret name.

Women are the descendants of the “evil” Eve. Women aren’t allowed to hold the priesthood. For example, in my first marriage three bishops and my father all told me – these are all Mormon men – that my utmost duty as a new wife was to please my husband, make sure dinner was on the table, make sure he was well taken care of, to put on makeup before he came home from work, and to please him in any way. And when I went to a couple of different bishops, because I was sort of tattled on by my ex-husband (he went to the bishop and said I wasn’t doing my wifely duties), they told me that I was pushing him into affairs by not fulfilling my duties and that it was my job to please him any way he sought.

It’s a bit different these days because women work more outside of the home, but if you’re a real good Mormon woman, you stay at home, you don’t have a career. If you aim to have one, you can forget about it because right away it’s time to start breeding. My husband has cousins, and one of them was once asked, “How many kids are you planning to have?” And he said, “As many as my wife’s body can handle.” Most of the people I went to school with have four or five kids by the time they were 35.

I’m always struck by the fact that former Mormon women are quite feisty, get-up-and-go types.

Well, you might say that of me.

You mean the regular Mormon woman is a pretty oppressed creature. The husband rules.

ORDER IT NOW

The husband ultimately rules. My mom has been working for my dad her whole life. My grandmother wanted to go out and get a job after the kids left home, but my grandpa didn’t want her to. Most women are in charge of taking care of the home. Some of them are probably fine with that. The man is ultimately head of the house; he’s the one who holds the priesthood. So, if you hold the priesthood, when it comes to big decisions, you’re the one who has the ultimate say, to say the prayer to ask God to tell you what the answer should be. If you have the priesthood, you also have the power to heal, also the power to receive counseling from the Holy Ghost, more so than the wife would, even though the Holy Ghost is available to anyone who has been baptized. But women will never hold the priesthood – though maybe some day they will. They were never going to let blacks into the Church and ultimately they did.

What about Mormon men and money?

Well, if you’re making a lot of money, you’re blessed; so, the more you make, the more blessed you must be.

So, if Romney makes $23 million in 2010, which he did, that’s a sign that God is blessing him powerfully?

Exactly.

And he’d tithe 10 per cent to the Church?

Yes, and you’re also supposed to be giving to the missionary fund and other funds. There’s a whole list of them on the tithing slip. They expect you to give a lot more. At the end of the year you go to tithing settlement, and they call you in, you meet with the bishop – the head of your ward, that is – and he says, did you give 10 per cent? My parents and most of the people in the ward took their checkbooks in because they wanted to make sure they were going to get all their blessings. Everyone paid more than 10 per cent.

And if you don’t pay your 10 per cent, presumably God isn’t too happy.

Yes, if you’re not paying tithing, that’s a sin, basically. I wouldn’t say it’s akin to adultery, but it’s really looked down upon if you don’t pay tithing.

Let’s say there are three candidates for the White House – a Southern Baptist, a Mormon, and an Episcopalian – would you think we’d be worse off with a Mormon president?

Yes, I think so, because, on the environmental front especially, he’ll have no qualms. If you’re a good Mormon, you’re going to be a god someday and you’re going to have your own planet, so, it doesn’t matter what happens on this earth.

Just move on.

Yes, it doesn’t really matter because this is so temporary – earth is practically like a motel on the interstate. So, there are no ethics about what happens to the environment; plus, if you’re doing something for science, that’s backed by God, so environmental considerations get overruled.

Mormons have no tolerance for abortion or gays. That’s a generalization, of course. I do know Mormons who say, We’re all God’s children, but if you ask most Mormon men about being gay, they see it as a disease gay people want to spread. I heard that my whole childhood. It’s a slippery slope, they say. If you support gay marriage, it’s just one more step toward a gay guy sleeping with an 8-year-old boy. The slippery slope thing is huge. You start drinking coffee. Pretty soon, you’re on to beer and wine … It’s funny, because Mormons take a lot of Prozac, more per capita than in any state in the union.

Mormons are more depressed?

Western medicine is a technology that God gave us; so, we might as well use it. All those years of following, of being a lamb, of being told to shove difficult things under the rug – that does something to you. Besides, we’re only here temporarily, so why not feel warm and fuzzy. Yes, Mormons are often depressed. When I was growing up, three neighbors committed suicide, men in their 60s. There are lots of Mormon suicides.

What appeals to converts about Mormonism?

A lot of it is social. You go to church and church activities; it’s happy; you sing songs and you get a burning in the bosom, and it’s all good. They say the burning in the bosom is God, but you can also get a burning in the bosom watching Toy Story 3.

My mom moved from Chicago and went to Brigham Young University, converted pretty quickly; my dad was born and raised a Mormon. There were only one or two kids in my elementary school who weren’t Mormon. They were Catholic. I loved going over to their houses. There was one boy who was a Jehovah’s Witness. He had a hard time, especially when he had a broken arm and wasn’t wearing a cast, just a dishtowel.

Did the Church give you some good things?

Sure, the ability to push through and look on the bright side, plus my mom was really into canning in the 1970s – it’s kind of had a resurgence with Martha Stewart. Self-sufficency and getting stuff done. I think Mormons are pretty driven. Take the Mormon logo – the beehive, called Deseret, which is also the pet name for the state. Being a worker bee … My favorite hymn is “Put your shoulder to the wheel and push along.” I have to give credit to the Mormons for that. They take some things too far – or, my Mom did … like believing cleanliness is next to Godliness. They’re a little over the top on that.

To get statehood, Mormons had to get rid of polygamy, but it’s rampant in Utah Valley. It’s still around. It hasn’t gone away. The way we would know is we’d be driving along as kids and we’d see a house like a big square apartment building in a field with a bunch of Suburbans parked around the outside. It was in southern Utah more than Utah Valley. Apparently there’s a lot more in Las Vegas now.

What about the White Horse prophecy?

I only heard the phrase recently – it’s something Glenn Beck has talked about – but, as kids, we were told that some day a Mormon would be president and we should go to Church every week and make sure our names were on the rolls for every class we attended, because somehow this would be checked on when the Mormon became president and we would only be protected if we had been going regularly. I always thought it sounded really scary. It could be part of the MBSN – the Mormon BullShit Network – but there was a lot of that kind of thing, stories to scare us into being obedient children.

Here’s an excerpt, adapted for Vanity Fair , from Michael Kranish and Scott Helman’s book The Real Romney , which recounts the 1983 pregnancy saga of Peggie Hayes. According to the book, Hayes was a single mother raising a young daughter at the time. Romney was her church leader and helped set up the 23-year-old nurse’s aide with what the authors describe as “odd jobs for other church members.” Hayes recalled that Romney “was really good to us. He did a lot for us.”

When Hayes became pregnant that year, Romney sat down with her and “said something about the church’s adoption agency.” Hayes, who recalled that she “wanted to” have the second child, eventually came to the realization that Romney “was urging her to give up her soon-to-be-born son for adoption, saying that was what the church wanted.”

More from Vanity Fair :

Hayes was deeply insulted. She told him she would never surrender her child. Sure, her life wasn’t exactly the picture of Rockwellian harmony, but she felt she was on a path to stability. In that moment, she also felt intimidated. Here was Romney, who held great power as her church leader and was the head of a wealthy, prominent Belmont family, sitting in her gritty apartment making grave demands. “And then he says, ‘Well, this is what the church wants you to do, and if you don’t, then you could be excommunicated for failing to follow the leadership of the church,’” Hayes recalled. It was a serious threat. At that point, Hayes still valued her place within the Mormon Church. “This is not playing around,” she said. “This is not like ‘You don’t get to take Communion.’ This is like ‘You will not be saved. You will never see the face of God.’” Romney would later deny that he had threatened Hayes with excommunication, but Hayes said his message was crystal clear: “Give up your son or give up your God.”

Hayes eventually decided to have the baby, but when she did give birth to her son Dane, he had health problems that required surgery. Looking past their uncomfortable conversation before Dane’s birth, she called Romney and asked him to come to the hospital to confer a blessing on her baby. Hayes was expecting him. Instead, two people she didn’t know showed up. She was crushed. “I needed him,” she said. “It was very significant that he didn’t come.” Sitting there, in the hospital, Hayes decided she was finished with the Mormon Church.

Fits with your experience and memories?

Sounds familiar. Bishops take on all kinds of roles – the Church believes you should always go to your bishop first – about everything. They play family counselor, psychologist, life coach, etc., … and usually these guys are not qualified to do this. All the suicides in our neighborhood – these were all guys going to the bishop, going to church. The power given to bishops really should be considered unlawful. I know somebody personally who is a sexual offender – a pedophile – and he was counseled by his bishop to ask for forgiveness from God and the parents of the kids he molested, but they didn’t tell him to get help. Now he’s a father and a Boy Scout leader, and I have to wonder if the kids who are around him on regular basis are safe.

I had the option of utilizing the Mormon adoption service and was encouraged to, but not pressured, luckily. There were about five Mormon girls within a block of my house who all got pregnant at the same time – these were 16 and 17-year-old girls – all Mormon. It demonstrates that something is seriously going wrong when all these girls in a neighborhood are getting pregnant – it wasn’t just “in the water,” liked they joked. One friend of mine used the adoption service, and she’s recently reunited with her daughter, who is my son Nick’s age now. Another neighbor girl was forced to conceal her pregnancy and then give her baby up for adoption – she’s never been the same, and finally she’s left the Church and is living happily with a non-Mormon guy. I think that the three different bishops who blamed me for my ex looking at Hustler, cheating on me, etc., … and for not doing my wifely duties – as a pregnant 17 and 19-year-old – were hugely out of line. My dad was right there on board in their court too – and my uncle gave me similar advice. All these Mormon men were basically telling me that I was the property of my husband and, in the eyes of God, I was sinning by not being submissive to his needs – inviting in the devil. It seems like another lifetime, and retrospectively I just really feel disgusted that a teenage girl could be pressured like that. It’s really sick.

Alexander Cockburn’s latest book, Guillotined, is just out from CounterPunch.

(Reprinted from CounterPunch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Tags: Counterpunch Archives 
CounterPunch Diary

Two years after he was sacked by President Obama as the top commander in Afghanistan for suggesting to Rolling Stone magazine that the real enemy were “the wimps in the White House”, General Stanley A McChrystal has recycled a perennial chestnut: Bring back the draft – i.e. a conscripted army, not the volunteer army of today.

These days McChrystal teaches at Yale with what must be a protection unique in the annals of academic freedom. According to CounterPunch’s David Price, everything he tells his students is by contractual agreement off the record.

But he made his proposal about the draft in a public venue. McChrystal claimed:

“I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn’t be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population,” McChrystal said at a late-night event June 29 at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”

It’s certainly true that the volunteer army is a mess. Suicides are surging among the troops. According to AP, the 154 suicides for active duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the US forces killed in Afghanistan. The volunteer army also struggles with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, and domestic violence.? ?Liberals like the idea of a draft army because they think it would curb any president’s eagerness to go to war. There are indeed sound arguments for a draft. They were put eloquently not so long ago by Bill Broyles, a Vietnam vet: “In spite of the president’s insistence that our very civilization is at stake, the privileged aren’t flocking to the flag.”

The war, Broyles wrote, is being fought by Other People’s Children. If the children of the nation’s elites were facing enemy fire without body armor, riding through gauntlets of bombs in unarmored Humvees, fighting desperately in an increasingly hostile environment because of arrogant and incompetent leadership, then those problems might well find faster solutions.

But the truth is that despite all these fine words, a draft is never going to happen. The military industrial complex needs the money – it’s why they’re cutting back troops right now.

When Obama introduced ‘the new strategy’ last year, he emphasized that the Pentagon will be getting more money not less. In the past five years the US has spent $2.59 trillion on defense. The new plans call for an allocation of $2.725 trillion between 2013 and 2017. So much for any peace dividend when the troops come home from Afghanistan.? ?As my brother Andrew Cockburn recently predicted, the budget will grow but the military will shrink. There will be no more “nation building” with its long and expensive occupations. Overall, troop levels will be cut by about 100,000 soldiers and marines. Fewer new planes will be built. America will no longer be equipped to fight two full-scale wars at the same time – an official requirement for decades.

Such was the military-cultural context for calls for the draft: huge ground forces stocked with draftees. What we have now is precisely the opposite – robot/drone wars, with no need for suicidal soldiers or politically awkward draftee casualties. The money all goes to Lockheed and the other big aerospace companies.

Remember there’s a good reason why they abolished the conscript army. It mutinied in Vietnam and thus was a prime factor in America’s defeat.

(Reprinted from CounterPunch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, Counterpunch Archives 

Since what is now going is being described as “the greatest financial scandal in the history of Britain” — the Barclays imbroglio – I have a question to ask. Where are those tents outside St Pauls? Or ones in solidarity this side of the Atlantic? Where are the vibrant reminders that – as has happened in the Barclays case – there is most definitely one law for the 1% (none, in fact) and another for the 99 %?

It was very hard not to be swept away by the Occupy movement which established itself in New York’s Zuccotti Park last September and soon spread to Oakland, Chicago, London and Madrid. And indeed most people didn’t resist its allure.? ?Leninists threw aside their Marxist primers on party organisation and drained the full anarchist cocktail.

The Occupiers , with their “people’s mic”, were always a little hard to understand. And as with all movements involving consensus, everything took a very long time.? ?Was there perhaps a leader, a small leadership group, sequestered somewhere among the tents and clutter? It was impossible to say and at that point somewhat disloyal to pose the question. Cynicism about Occupy was not a popular commodity.? ?But new movements always need a measure of cynicism dumped on them. Questions of organization were obliterated by the strength of the basic message – we are 99 per cent, they are one per cent. It was probably the most successful slogan since ‘peace, land, bread’.

The Occupy Wall Street assembly in Zuccotti Park soon developed its own cultural mores, drumming included. Like many onlookers, I asked myself, Where the hell’s the plan?

But I held my tongue. I had no particular better idea and for a CounterPuncher of mature years to start laying down the program seemed cocky. But, deep down, I felt that Occupy, with all its fancy talk, all its endless speechifying, was riding for a fall.

Before the fall came there were heroic actions, people battered senseless by the police. These were brave people trying to hold their ground.

There were other features that I think quite a large number of people found annoying: the cult of the internet, the tweeting and so forth, and I definitely didn’t like the enormous arrogance which prompted the Occupiers to claim that they were indeed the most important radical surge in living memory.

Where was the knowledge of, let along the respect for the past? We had the non-violent resistors of the Forties organising against the war with enormous courage. The Fifties saw leftists took McCarthyism full on the chin. With the Sixties we were making efforts at revolutionary organisation and resistance.? ?Yet when one raised this history with someone from Occupy, I encountered total indifference.

There also seemed to be a serious level of political naivety about the shape of the society they were seeking to change. They definitely thought that it could be reshaped – the notion that the whole system was unfixable did not get much of a hearing.? ?After a while it seemed as though, in Tom Naylor’s question in this site: “Is it possible that the real purpose of Occupy Wall Street has little to do with either the 99 per cent or the one per cent, but rather everything to do with keeping the political left in America decentralised, widely dispersed, very busy, and completely impotent to deal with the collapse of the American empire…

“Occupiers are all occupied doing exactly what their handlers would have them be doing, namely, being fully occupied. In summary, Occupy Wall Street represents a huge distraction.”

Then the rains of winter came. Zuccotti Park came under repeated assault, the tents were cleared from zucotti Park and from St Paul’s Cathedral and by early this year it was all over.

People have written complicated pieces trying to prove it’s not over, but if ever I saw a dead movement, it is surely Occupy.

Has it left anything worth remembering? Yes, maybe. With Bob Diamond squirming before British MPs, and politicians jostling to apportion blame for the Barclays scandal, memories of the 99 per cent and the one per cent are surely at least warm in the coffin.

Everything leftists predicted came true, just as everything hard-eyed analysts predicted about the likely but unwelcome course of ecstatic populism in Tahrir Square also came true. ·I do think it’s incumbent on those veteran radicals who wrote hundreds of articles more or proclaiming a religious conversion to Occupyism, to give a proper account of themselves, otherwise it will happen all over again.

(Reprinted from CounterPunch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Banking System, Britain, Counterpunch Archives 
CounterPunch Diary

The predictable word is in from Rio: failure. The conference twenty years on from the huge Earth Summit, Rio 92, has been unable to produce even the pretense of an energetic verbal commitment of the world’s community to “sustainable principles.”

The reason? These conferences have always been pretty fraudulent affairs, lofted on excited green rhetoric and larded with ominous advisories that “this time we cannot afford to fail” and that “the tipping point” is finally here. But failure has been a loyal companion, and many a tipping point has tipped without amiss. There is no such thing as a world “community.” There are rich nations and poor nations, all with differing national interests and the former will never accede willingly to the agendas of the latter, however intricate the language of the final windy “declaration”. Since Gro Bruntland lofted it to glory in 1987, the word “sustainable” has long been drained of all meaning.

The general absurdity of these earth summits – Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, Durban, and now Rio again, is summed up in what the green forces hoped could be a concluding declaration this time in Rio to which enough nations could fix their name and declare Victory for the planet. Originally it was to be the commitment to a “Green World” but not enough nations cared for that so the fall-back face-saver was a plan for a UN treaty to protect the international high seas.

To the greens’ utter astonishment, early on Tuesday, it turned out that the US and Venezuela were vetoing this plan. Whatever Hugo Chavez’s motives, the reason for the US veto was obvious and should have been so from the moment the plan was mooted. The International Treaty on the Law of Sea, was ratified in 1982 and the US has always refused to sign it. Shouts of betrayal mounted. “The future we want has gotten a little further away today. Rio+20 has turned into an epic failure. It has failed on equity, failed on ecology and failed on economy,” said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace. “This is not a foundation on which to grow economies or pull people out of poverty, it’s the last will and testament of a destructive twentieth century development.” The businessman Maurice Strong, a big player at these events, said the world had gone backward since 1992.

The Brazilians threw in the towel, insisting on a spineless final declaration. “Sustainability” was suddenly thrust forward as a face-saver. Like some Trollopian parson, somehow surviving the bureaucratic infighting, was the Commission on Sustainable Development which had been leading a quiet and unassuming life in some UN back office. Now the hitherto toothless commission will be elevated into a high-level body charged with monitoring and enforcing “sustainable development goals” (SDGs) and will report to the UN General Assembly. Among its possible areas of concern: food security and sustainable agriculture; sustainable energy for all; water access and efficiency; sustainable cities; green jobs, decent work and something called social inclusion.

By the time the actual world leaders settled into their suites — U.S. President Barack Obama, Britain’s David Cameron and German leader Angela Merkel were all no-shows — there was absolutely nothing to do: no rousing declarations, just muted jawboning about how the mere fact that these sessions were taking place was important for the planet.

So much for the fantasy land of the Green conferences, touchingly evoked by last Sunday, by the Guardian’s newspaper’s “sustainable business editor” who wrote from Rio:? “While the politicians are finding it difficult to find common ground, we are elsewhere witnessing the movement… to multi-dimensional collaborations. This is probably one of the most exciting developments we are likely to see coming out of Rio+20 and will offer the first tantalizing evidence of the ability to start taking projects to scale.”

A friend of mine, based in the Middle East, came to know Yemen’s minister of the environment. A large portion of the Yemeni’s duties, decently remunerated by the UN, was attending not just the big green conferences, but also the preparatory ones, four times a year. These are where the so-called sherpas – itinerant bureaucrats whose life is give over to these grim tasks — draft the Zero document, which then becomes the object of months , even years of wrangling. Our Yemeni was of course only too happy to get out of Sana’a. Now multiply him and his diminutive delegation by the 170 odd nations whose platoons of Green delegates consume millions a year of UN money in travel fees, accommodation – often lavish – and of course remuneration. We can safely assume that many of these conferees form stimulating personal relationships, which only increases their loyalty to the process as it loiters through the decades.

These and other conferences continue, year by year, a kind of fiscal stimulus for NGOs and the hospitality industry. Ban Ki-moon himself admits nothing useful will be agreed in Rio but says calling such conferences “junkets” is irresponsible. He says: “If you can find any alternative, please let me know.”

The role of the left has been influential in the formation of this itinerant, gabby pantechnikon with its dramas and deadlines and final null termination. They’ve grown to love huge international assemblies, preferably located in pleasant surroundings, in which to palaver about issues of the economy, democracy and so forth. No less that 50,000 attended Rio+20, earnestly mooting ten thousand green schemes in the conference seminars.

For their part the western governments are prepared to take a mouldy cabbage or two tossed at them by disappointed greens. They’ve done nothing substantive in 20 years. Why should they start now?

Tumbril Time!

A tumbril (n.) a dung cart used for carrying manure, now associated with the transport of prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Related to “play by the rules, ” justly guillotined a few weeks ago, is “pay your fair share” — a demand from those who aren’t paying their fair share for more from those they have already robbed. Eric Rosenbloom.

“troubling” (don’t bother me with these grisly details)

“concerned” (ditto) Clancy Sigal

Hi Alex, Has Prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville done his due diligence on “due diligence”? Bill Hatch

Since I cited the Marquis de Sade’s narrow escape from the guillotine last week, several readers have urged I remind CounterPunchers of the much better known escape of Tom Paine. Herewith, courtesy of Mark Scaramela, assistant editor of the great Anderson Valley Advertiser:

ORDER IT NOW

Paine lived in France for most of the 1790s, becoming deeply involved in the French Revolution. He wrote the Rights of Man (1791) in part a defense of the French Revolution against its critics. His attacks on British writer Edmund Burke led to a trial and conviction in absentia in 1792 for the crime of seditious libel. In 1792, despite not speaking French, he was elected to the French National Convention. The Girondists regarded him as an ally. Consequently, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, regarded him as an enemy. In December of 1793, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris at the Bastille.

Paine was set to be executed, but escaped it by some freaky chance. A guard walked through the prison placing a chalk mark on the doors of the prisoners who were due to be sent to the guillotine the next day. He placed a “4″ on the door of Paine’s cell, but Paine’s door had been left open to let a breeze in, because Paine was seriously ill at the time. That night, his other three cellmates closed the door, thus hiding the mark inside the cell. The next day their cell was overlooked for the tumbril. “The Angel of Death” had passed over Paine. He kept his head and survived the few vital days needed to be spared by the fall of Robespierre (July 27, 1794).

(Reprinted from CounterPunch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Counterpunch Archives, Environment 

Regard the Greek political landscape and how dramatically it has changed from last November. On November 2, 2011, Greek prime minister George Papandreou flew to Cannes before a G20 meeting and received one of the most humiliating rebuffs in European history since Pope Gregory VII left Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV shivering in the snow. (Actually that fracas ended well for Henry, badly for Gregory, which people often forget.)

Papandreou went to Cannes to moot his referendum aimed at coercing the Greeks to back the austerity program being imposed on their country. It was a tactic, not a bad one. Sarkozy and Merkel received Papandreou with insults and derision and sent him and his referendum packing. Papandreou’s colleagues in PASOK picked up the hint, and not long thereafter Papandreou’s political career was over.

Now move forward to May. There were new elections. This time there was a left coalition, Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) filling the void left by the utterly discredited PASOK. It had capable leaders like Alexis Tsipras.

In the election PASOK a party that has been in power longer than any other party in recent Greek history scored 13.20 per cent, its lowest score since 1974. New Democracy – rightist – did not manage to gain from the fall of PASOK, also had its worst electoral result (18.85 per cent) and saw the splinter ‘Independent Greeks’ party reaching more than 10 per cent. The total of all pro-austerity parties was less than 42 per cent, a clear evidence of the rejection of neoliberal policies.

Syriza was in second position with 16.78 per cent (the last time the Left had such a position was in 1958) and total percentage of the Left (Syriza, Communist Party and Anti-capitalist Left) was at almost 27 per cent, which is the largest electoral presence of the Left in modern Greek history.

Note that Tsipras and his Syriza colleagues have confined themselves to one substantive aim. They pledge to strike down the November 2011 agreement which locked Greece in banker-forged handcuffs of austerity. They don’t want to leave the Eurozone or challenge the EU. Tsipras says rather emolliently:

“Greece is a link in a chain. If it breaks it is not just the link that is broken but the whole chain. What people have to understand is that the Greek crisis concerns not just Greece but all European people so a common European solution has to be found.

“The public debt crisis is hitting the south of Europe but it will soon hit central Europe. People have to realise that their own country could be threatened.

“We are here to explain to people in Europe that we have nothing against them. We are fighting the battle in Greece not just for the Greek people but for people in France, Germany and all European countries.”

“I am not here to blackmail, I am here to mobilize,” he said.

“Greece gave humanity democracy and today the Greek people will bring democracy back to Europe.”

This is not the kind of talk a European banker likes to hear, particularly from a man who after this coming Sunday, may be negotiating a coalition in which he could be the next leader. Already in May the arrogant tones of the bankers modulated. The mere fact of a substantive left threat affected them greatly and they saw that a pose of constructive listening to Greeks might be more productive than hammering the table.

Sunday’s elections will see whether this Left challenge to the bankers can be sustained. Syriza is playing a delicate game. Greeks don’t actually want the huge upheavals of default, leaving the Eurozone. So Syriza, assuming it has any coercive power, will have to be very artful in its efforts to maneuver the bankers to less monstrous austerities.

I’m sure CounterPunchers will have anticipated the moral of this story. Obama treats the left just as Sarkozy and Merkel treated Papandreou, with contempt. There is no reason to do otherwise. And I am not treating this as an opportunity for a last-minute rallying call for the left to muster in some electorally crucial state to menace Obama.

I took my stand on this issue in November 2010, just as George Soros had called for a candidate of the left to prepare himself for a race against the dismal Obama. I wrote:

My view is that we have a champion in the wings and one whom I am sure George Soros would be only too happy to support. In fact he’s a candidate who could rally not only Soros but the Koch brothers to his cause.

This champion of the left with sound appeal to the populist or libertarian right was felled on November 2, and he should rise again before his reputation fades. His name is Russ Feingold, currently a Democrat and the junior senator from Wisconsin.

Why would he be running? Unlike Teddy Kennedy challenging Jimmy Carter in 1979, Feingold would have a swift answer. To fight against the Republicans and the White House in defense of the causes he has publicly supported across a lifetime. He has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His was the single Senate vote against the Patriot Act; his was a consistent vote against the constitutional abuses of both the Bush and Obama administrations. He opposed NAFTA and the bank bailouts. He is for economic justice and full employment. He is the implacable foe of corporate control of the electoral process. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January was aimed in part at his landmark campaign finance reform bill.

The left must abandon the doomed ritual of squeaking timid reproaches to Obama, only to have the counselors at Obama’s elbow contemptuously dismiss them, as did Rahm Emanuel, who correctly divined their near-zero capacity for effective challenge. Two more years of the same downward slide, courtesy of bipartisanship and “working together”?

All we can do in our humiliating prostration, is wish the Greek left the best of luck.

Tumbril Time!

A tumbril (n.) a dung cart used for carrying manure, now associated with the transport of prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

I’d never realized, until reading Neil Schaffer’s biography, how close Sade came to being guillotined by the Committee of Public Safety.

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His trial, which would also have been his death sentence followed by instant decapitation, was scheduled for July 27, 1794. But the bailiff never came for him at his prison at Picpus. There’s no clear explanation why. Bribery of the bailiff by Sade’s faithful friend Mme Quesnet may have been Sade’s salvation. That same day, July 27, spelled Robespierre’s own doom, on 9 Thermidor, in the revolutionary calendar. The next day Robespierre was executed and Sade was safe. He was freed on October 15, 1794. This was not the end of his experience in prison. By the end of 1801 Sade was in Charenton, dying there in 1814, his final liaison being with Magdeleine LeClerc, a 17-year old. He was 74 and there seems to have been affection on both sides. He recorded her visits to the prison meticulously, as was his habit. The last embrace was their 94th.

Poor Mme de Sade. She had to run around Paris looking for glass test tubes that would serve as dildoes for her husband, the Marquis, to use in auto-erotic stimulation in his prison in Vincennes. She had to order them from a glass-blowing factory, where the salesfolk would ogle respectable Renee, indicating their view that these glass flasks –– Sade wanted some of them 9.5 inches in circumference –– were intended for her own gratification. In 27 months, Sade noted, he used such flasks a total of 6,536 times, an average of eight a day.

Names Sade called his wife in one letter sent from Vincennes in the late fall of 1783 “Mohammed’s delight,” “heavenly pussy,” “fresh pork of my thoughts,” “shining paintbox of my eyes,” “mirror of beauty,” “spur of my nerves,” “violet of the Garden of Eden,” “seventeenth planet of space,” “discharge of angelic spirit,” “rose fallen from the bosom of Graces,” “my baby doll.”

(Reprinted from CounterPunch by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Counterpunch Archives, Eurozone, Greece