Monday, April 27, 2009

False Saviors - Harry Truman

This is the greatest thing in history.

-----Harry Truman, on receiving news of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima

The war was almost over, Hitler and Mussolini gone, Japan in ruins, when Harry Truman gave the order to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Upwards of 200,000 people were killed, a few eerily vaporized into the concrete on the Aioi Bridge (Hiroshima), thousands more hurled through the air like missiles, then buried under piles of fallen debris, countless others doomed to a slow, agonizing death from radiation poisoning. While Truman gloated, saner minds recoiled in shocked horror: cultural historian Lewis Mumford accused the U.S. government of having reverted to Bronze Age barbarism and “reversed the whole course of human history.”

That Japan was already putting out peace feelers through its emissary in Moscow did not induce Truman to call off the atomization of defenseless cities, nor did the awesome nuclear destruction itself bring an end to the slaughter. Five days after Nagasaki, General “Hap” Arnold staged a 1000-plane raid that bombarded what remained of Japanese cities, killing thousands as leaflets fluttered to the ground announcing the Japanese surrender. This is how Truman ended "the good war."

For the cocky new president, the end of one war was but the prelude to beginning another - the Cold War. He was not concerned with the crimes of the USSR, real or imagined, but with the apparent success of the Soviet model of development, which enjoyed wide appeal. There was also concern that the Soviets might be considering offering support to working people in the West, and for that matter, exploited and oppressed people wherever they might be. The failure of Eastern Europe to resume its customary role of supplying food and raw materials to the West, aggravated these worries. The problem was not Communist human rights abuses, but political independence and the appeal of its example.

So with the U.S. public tired of killing and eager for demobilization and disarmament, Truman whipped up an atmosphere of permanent crisis and hysteria against "Communism," sharply escalating the military budget and shaking his fist at the USSR, which had just suffered 20 million dead (roughly every third male was killed) defeating a German army that destroyed the Soviet economy and vast reaches of its territory for the second time in a generation. If the U.S. had suffered proportionate destruction, William Mandel points out, it would have been as if everything east of Chicago had been burned to the ground.

Given the amazingly favorable circumstances Truman inherited, there was no need for a revived Cold War. The U.S. had 75% of the world’s investment capital, two-thirds of its industrial capacity, and a GNP that had doubled while Europe, Japan, and the USSR were reduced to rubble. It exercised military control over both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and had twelve million soldiers under arms throughout the world, backed up by an atomic monopoly. Both economically and militarily the U.S. enjoyed a security unparalleled in modern history.

But rather than establish peace, Truman turned his attention to instituting an American national security state. Although Joseph McCarthy carries the stigma of the repressive era that bears his name, it is Truman who deserves more of the credit. For it was his demand for loyalty oaths that formed the basis of a nationwide attack on unions, working class culture, and independent thought that eliminated the prospects for post-war democracy and plunged the country into an anti-Communist hysteria that did not abate until the popular revolts of the 1960s, and was not eradicated even then.

The anti-Communist purge started with Truman’s signing of Executive Order 9835, which authorized the government to probe the beliefs and associations of all its federal employees and “ferret out any infiltration of disloyal persons.” The accused were denied the right to confront their accusers or even to know the charges against them, while Attorney General Howard McGrath was granted the power to deny jobs, passports, federal housing, and even tax exemptions to anyone displaying “sympathetic association” with any of hundreds of “subversive organizations." Thus were ideas converted into crimes and petition-signing into treason.

While trembling government workers attempted to recall dollar donations and any deviant publications they may have read, Seth Richardson, Truman's point man in the Federal Employee Loyalty Program, explained that "the government is entitled to discharge any employee for reasons which seem sufficient to the government, and without extending to such employee any hearing whatsoever." Truman assured federal workers that the loyalty police existed "to safeguard their rights," then announced that "subversive elements must be removed from the employ of government."

Referring to the scope of the problem, Attorney General McGrath warned in 1949 that “Communists . . . are everywhere---in factories, offices, butcher stores, on street corners, in private businesses . . . each carry[ing] in himself the germ of death for society.” Millions of investigations were carried out using secret evidence, undercover and often paid informers, but without a judge or jury. In 1951, with the nation in the grip of utter panic, Truman expressed concern that civil liberties were being adversely affected, then amended his program for the worse, signing a new Executive Order altering the basis of dismissal from “reasonable grounds” of disloyalty to “reasonable doubt” of loyalty, thus shifting the burden of proof onto the accused. After years of traumatic upheaval, not a single case of espionage was ever uncovered.

Thus did Truman subordinate U.S. democracy to the needs of a world empire. As WWII approached its savage conclusion, he and his advisors planned a “Grand Area,” - a region “strategically necessary for world control” - to be subordinated to the needs of U.S. capital and administered by Wall Street financiers and Washington power brokers. The area modestly included the Western hemisphere, the former British domains, the Far East, the Pacific, and the richer half of Europe. The Communist world was regretfully considered out of reach, but only temporarily. Hopes were high that it could be obtained later through conquest or collapse. Such vast U.S. control was necessary, future Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas said, “as part of our obligation to the security of the world.”

With Europe and much of Asia in ruins, Truman’s main goal became dissuading desperate peoples from forging an accommodation with the Soviets that would leave important sectors of the world independent of U.S. control. To head off this threat his administration backed fascist collaborators and traditional right-wing business interests in putting down popular formations that had been instrumental to winning the war, but threatened the terms of capitalist peace. In Greece, Truman backed the fascist-riddled Tsaldaris regime and denounced anti-fascist guerrillas challenging monarchists and Axis collaborators as an example of “outside forces” attacking “free peoples.” In France, the U.S. withheld desperately needed food aid to insure popular obedience while paying gangsters to organize goon squads and crush labor agitation. In Italy, the American military government rekindled friendly relations with fascism, banned politics, imposed censorship, and crushed a thriving labor movement that had achieved alarming levels of self-government and direct democracy before American troops arrived to “liberate” it.

Elsewhere the pattern was much the same, with methods often considerably more brutal. In China, the Truman administration backed Chiang Kai-shek’s bloody dictatorship until the bitter end, then declared his Formosa regime the “real” China against 400 million Communist impostors on the mainland. In Korea, the U.S. blasted and napalmed the country into a vast, barren graveyard to preserve Japan’s pre-war dictatorship. In Japan, General MacArthur beat back a surging labor movement, prohibiting a general strike and restoring authority to the militarists and ultranationalists. In the Phillipines, U.S. forces rounded up and shot Huk guerrillas who had helped Washington expel the Japanese, then burned their villages to the ground. In Vietnam, Truman ignored France’s deliberate policy of starvation, which Ho Chi Minh claimed had killed two million people, and never responded to his letters reminding the U.S. president of the self-determination commitments of the Atlantic Charter. In Latin America, the Truman administration insisted the region not entertain “excessive industrial development,” and opposed policies “designed to bring about a broader distribution of wealth and to raise the standard of living of the masses.”

Meanwhile, in Germany, the U.S. shut down the operations of anti-fascist worker councils that had taken over hundreds of German companies, returned Nazis to power, and forced the division of the country by insisting that “West” Germany join an anti-Soviet military alliance (NATO). The Truman administration supported the Atlantic alliance, not to deter Soviet aggression against Western Europe, but to integrate Germany in a capitalist bloc permanently hostile to the USSR. In the early postwar years a neutralist movement in Europe was considered intolerable. Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson warned in 1952 that the Soviets might be disposed to exploit Third World political conflicts in an effort to “force the maximum number of non-Communist countries to pursue a neutral policy and to deny their resources to the principal Western powers,” which meant, of course, to deny them on the preferential terms the capitalist powers insisted on. Preparing for the meeting that established NATO in April 1949, U.S. policymakers became convinced that the Soviets might actually be interested in negotiating a deal that would unify Germany and end the division of Europe. This was regarded not as a welcome opportunity to end the Cold War, but as a threat to the primary national security goal of harnessing Germany’s economic and military potential to the anti-Communist Atlantic Community while blocking the “suicide of neutralism.” “The trend of our thinking,” George Kennan, a leading State Department dove wrote, “means . . . that we do not really want to see Germany reunified at this time, and that there are no conditions on which we would really find such a solution satisfactory.” Therefore, the U.S. occupation of Germany would continue, even if the Soviets proposed a mutual withdrawal. Germany was to be integrated as a subisidiary part of the anti-Communist West headed by the U.S. The Soviets would have no significant say in the outcome, would not receive reparations, and would not influence German industrial development. This, after having absorbed 80% of the casualties in defeating the Nazi war machine.

Encouraged by Senator Vandenberg to “scare hell out of the American people” to extract financing for its fledgling world empire, Truman falsely presented permanent war as a defensive reaction to Communism’s alleged drive for world domination and called for a Holy War against the Godless Red Hordes. But the idea that the U.S. was required by the Cold War to project force beyond its borders ignores the fact that it was independent nationalism, not Bolshevism, that U.S. planners really feared, while dismissing the abundant evidence that U.S. imperialism long pre-dated Communism. In truth, Truman’s invoking of the Red Menace was simply a convenient pretext to justify U.S. interventions taken for quite other reasons, typically greed for cheap labor, strategic resources, profits, markets, and a secure overall system of U.S. global power. These motives were paramount in the Truman administration’s post-war Pax Americana, as the U.S. repeatedly intervened abroad to destroy incipient independence movements and make the world safe for U.S. domination.

Seeking to avert “economic, social and political” chaos, prevent the collapse of American exports, achieve “multilateralism” and dissipate the growing strength of indigenous communist parties throughout Europe, Truman unveiled the Marshall Plan, dangling economic assistance before war-ravaged Europe with powerful effect. In the absence of massive aid, his administration feared, the devastated continent might forsake capitalism for “experiments with socialist enterprise and government controls,” which could “jeopardize private enterprise,” even in the U.S. A major anxiety was the “dollar gap,” which kept Europe from being a market for U.S. manufactures, threatening to produce a glut of unbought goods that could drag the U.S. into economic chaos. Habitually presented as confirmation of the Robin Hood nature of U.S. foreign policy, the Marshall Plan in fact advanced U.S. strategic designs to subordinate Europe to American corporations, narrowing the European political spectrum, coercing choices, limiting welfare and wages, and paving the way for “large amounts of private U.S. direct investment in Europe,” in the words of President Reagan’s Commerce Department. A non-negotiable element of the plan called for the exclusion of “Communists” from power, a broadly defined demon class that included major elements of the wartime anti-fascist resistance and trade union movements. Through 1948, Truman’s Secretary of State George Marshall made it clear that U.S. aid would cease should the wrong candidates be voted into office, a blackmail policy that carried considerable force given European conditions at the time.

In addition to his disastrous anti-Communism, Truman was also responsible for succumbing to Zionist lobbying pressure to recognize the new state of Israel. On the afternoon of May 14, 1948 a group of Jewish leaders met in a museum in Tel Aviv, Palestine to decide the future of their “homeland” on the edge of Western Asia. As midnight struck, the British Mandate over Palestine expired, and the Jewish leaders declared a Jewish state “in the name of the Jewish people,” making no mention of borders or the indigenous Arab majority. Minutes later, President Truman extended official recognition to the state, whose citizens were not the inhabitants of the land, but the Jewish people wherever in the world they happened to be. Whereas a Jew from Brooklyn belonged, a fortieth generation Palestinian from Haifa did not. Under the circumstances, war was inevitable.

According to U.S. historian Walter LaFeber Truman’s recognition of Israel was “astonishing” in that the Arab nations, who were on good terms with the U.S. and whose oil was a strategic resource of fantastic value to Washington’s national security state, were violently opposed to a Jewish state and had been for decades. Nevertheless, Truman ignored bitter opposition from Secretary of State George Marshall and Defense Secretary James Forrestal, opting instead to win the Jewish vote in the fall elections that year. While he got out the Jewish vote, Israel kicked out the Arabs, ethnically cleansing Palestine of hundreds of thousands of them in bloody massacres that have continued in one form or another for sixty-one years.

Truman liked to declare that "The Buck Stops Here." But in this case the buck was passed to transnational Jewry, with permanently disastrous results for the Palestinians and the world.

Few policies seem quite so difficult to forgive.

The Sources:

Michael Hogan, "The Marshall Plan," (Cambridge, 1987)

Noam Chomsky, "Year 501 - The Conquest Continues," (South End, 1993)

Noam Chomsky, "What Uncle Sam Really Wants," (Odonian, 1993)

Cedric Belfrage, "The American Inquisition," (Bobbs-Merrill, 1973)

Lewis Mumford, "My Works and Days," (Harcourt, 1979)

Griffin Fariello, "Red Scare: Memories of the American Inquisition," (Avon, 1995)

Lawrence S. Wittner, "Cold War America: From Hiroshima to Watergate," (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1978)

Alfred M. Lilienthal, "The Zionist Connection," (Dodd, Mead, 1978)

Carolyn Eisenberg, "Drawing The Line - The American Decision To Divide Germany, 1944-1949," (Cambridge, 1996)

Laurence Shoup and William Mintner, "The Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy," (Monthly Review, 1977)

Howard Zinn, "A People's History of the United States," (Harper, 1995)

Peter Wyden, "Day One," (Simon and Schuster, 1984)

Richard D. Walton, "Henry Wallace, Harry Truman and the Cold War," (Viking, 1976)

Walter LaFeber, "The American Age," (Norton, 1989)

William Mandel, "Saying No To Power - Autobiography of a 20th Century Activist and Thinker," (Creative Arts, 1999)

Howard Wachtel, "The Money Mandarins," (M. E. Sharpe, 1990)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Iranian President Calls Racists "Racist," Appeasers of Racism Walk Out

In Geneva, representatives from twenty-three European nations walked out of a UN conference on racism Monday (April 20) after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accurately described Israel as a "cruel and repressive racist regime," while the audience applauded. Israel, the state of "the Jewish people" throughout the world, denies human rights to the indigenous Palestinians because they are not Jews.

In response to the walkout Ahmadinejad questioned the sincerity of the departed advocates' belief in "freedom of speech." "Why is it that the so-called advocates of freedom of information fear hearing other people's opinions?" the Iranian president asked.

Speaking at a news conference after his address, Ahmadinejad described the countries which boycotted or walked out of the UN anti-racism summit as "arrogant and selfish.""In our opinion, this is arrogance and selfishness and the root cause of the world's problems," he said. "The subject of this conference is anti-racism and the advocates of racism did not attend this summit," he added. The Durban conference is being boycotted by the United States, Israel, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Poland, and New Zealand.

Ahmadinejad provided clarifying historical context to highlight ongoing Jewish racism in Palestine. "After World War II, under the pretext of Jewish suffering and by taking advantage of the Holocaust, they used aggression and military force to turn an entire nation into refugees. And they transplanted people (Jews) from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world into their land, establishing a thoroughly racist government in occupied Palestine."

In the teeth of Jewish supremacist hysteria, he pointed the way to peace: “We will be able to experience peace and brotherhood when we all develop a more tolerant vision and improve our capacity to listen to each other. Please pay attention to this last point. They threaten us with war. The Zionist regime threatens to take military actions against us, again and again. But we do not believe in war. We think the solution to global problems should be based on humanitarian solutions, democratic solutions, based on the free votes of all nations.”

Ahmadinejad received an ovation after proposing that the veto power of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council be immediately abolished. The United States, far and away the world leader in Security Council vetoes, uses this anti-democratic privilege to block progressive change throughout the world, especially in Palestine.

The Iranian president also recommended that steps be taken to prevent racist forces like the Jewish state from taking advantage of international political institutions to gain support. Zionism is the epitome of racism and has used the religious sentiments of uninformed people to hide its ugly nature, he said.

Ahmadinejad urged all free nations of the world to show determination and uproot Zionism. The eminent fiction writer Elie Wiesel provided comic relief by equating this position with a call to exterminate the Jews.

Ahmadinejad also said that capitalism, like communism before, has reached a dead end and a new system based on justice, freedom, and love should be developed.

Sources:

"Diplomats Walk Out on Ahmadinejad over Israel Comments," Democracy Now, April 21, 2009

"Ahmadinejad applauded at Durban II for call to abolish UN veto," Teheran Times, April 21, 2009

"What befell freedom of speech?" Press TV, April 22, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Nicaraguan President Gives Brilliant Address at Summit of the Americas

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega gave a brilliant address at the recently concluded Summit of the Americas, calling for the U.S. to end its bloody interventions in Latin America designed to thwart the popular will.

Ortega unfavorably compared Washington's interventionism with the help Cuba gives in ending illiteracy in Latin America. He read excerpts of the declaration of the ALBA Summit (Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas), in which Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela protested that the declared plan of the Fifth Summit of the Americas is "insufficient and unacceptable."

President Ortega maintained that he felt ashamed and uncomfortable at the Summit of the Americas due to the fact that a country like Cuba, that had cooperated with its neighbors to eradicate illiteracy and poverty, was excluded from that summit, in contrast to the United States, a country that led the war against Nicaragua and other Central American countries in the 1980s and 90s, played a leading role in the 1961 invasion of the Bay of Pigs (Cuba), and was involved in the coup d'etat in Venezuela in 2002.

Ortega's remarks were made last Friday night (April 17) at the Fifth Summit of the Americas held in Trinidad and Tobago. His was the second speech, following Argentina's Cristina Fernandez Kirchner, calling for an end to the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba.

Ortega explained that he had had occasion to meet three American presidents in the past, with Obama being the fourth. Of Ronald Reagan he asked that he end the war that the U.S. imposed against Nicaragua in the 1980s. When he later met with President Jimmy Carter, Carter told Ortega that, the Somoza dictatorship having ended, "it was time that Nicaragua changed." Ortega replied to Carter: "Nicaragua doesn't need to change. Nicaragua never invaded the United States, it hasn't mined the harbors of the United States, it hasn't thrown a single stone at the American nation, nor has it imposed governments there. Therefore, 'You are the ones that need to change, not Nicaragua!'" Ortega later met with George Bush senior as well.

In his speech Ortega recalled that, during the Reagan years, Nicaragua filed a claim against the United States in the International Court of Justice. The Court handed down a ruling that the United States must stop all of its military actions, such as mining Nicaragua's ports and financing the Contra war. "They were ordered to tell where they had placed mines, but they refused to divulge that information. In addition, they were ordered to compensate Nicaragua for the economic and commercial blockade."

"To this day, that sentence has not been fulfilled by U.S. governments. We hope that someday we can raise this topic with U.S. administrations truly respectful of international law and the rights of peoples."

After commenting on U.S. aggression against Central America, Ortega explained that, although the war against Nicaragua was over, poverty, misery, unemployment and inequality persisted in the region. Cuba, and Fidel and Raul Castro, he pointed out, unconditionally helped to spread literacy, now with the help of Venezuela and Hugo Chavez.

Ortega recalled that, when he assumed the presidency the first time (1979), Nicaraguan illiteracy was over 60%, but on handing over power in 1990 it had fallen to 12%. Later, after returning to the presidency in 2008, he found that illiteracy had risen to 35%. He blamed that fact on the privatization of health and education, as well as on other neo-liberal policies carried out in Nicaragua.

"Cuba has extended unconditional solidarity to our people, and for that very reason is sanctioned, is punished, is excluded. And therefore I don't feel comfortable at this summit, I don't feel comfortable at this summit. I feel ashamed at this summit."

"Another country that is not present at the summit is Puerto Rico. It is still subject to colonialist policies. I refuse to call this the Summit of the Americas."

Ortega also recalled other American interventions, like the Bay of Pigs, when U.S. forces were involved in an invasion of Cuba. Ortega emphasized that Obama, who was only a little more than three months old when this event occurred (editor's note: actually, he wasn't even born until several months after the event) obviously didn't have any responsibility for the Bay of Pigs, but that in any case the facts related to the event can hardly be considered ancient history. Ortega reminded his audience that on April 11, 2002 the United States was also involved in an attempt to overthrow and assassinate Hugo Chavez, and that, through its spokespeople, recognized the coup plotters and said they were in the right. "We have reason to say that this isn't ancient history, when scarcely seven years ago these acts against a nation and its popular institutions occurred."

In spite of this apt reminder that U.S. interventions in Latin America continue to the present day (Bolivian President Evo Morales stated at the Summit that there has been no change in U.S. attempts to undermine his government since Obama assumed power), President Obama indicated in his speech that we can dismiss Ortega's historical indictment on the basis that "we've heard all these arguments before," meaning it's old hat, a "stale debate," and we'd better just forget about it. But in Turkey the week prior to the Summit of the Americas Obama took the opposite view vis-a-vis Turkish crimes of state against Armenians, to wit: "History is often tragic, but unresolved, it can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there's (sic) strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915.... And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive." (emphasis added)

In any event, President Ortega also explained that the causes of immigration lie in the underdevelopment and poverty that Central American peoples suffer, "and the only way of stopping this flow of immigrants towards the United States isn't by raising walls and reinforcing military security, or by sponsoring joint patrols or repressive policies. The only way of stopping immigration towards the United States is by providing funds - without political conditions or International Monetary Fund conditions - to Central American countries."

Ortega reminded his listeners that "we all want change," referring to the phrase that made Barack Obama famous during his presidential campaign. But he emphasized that Nicaragua, along with Haiti, Bolivia, Honduras and other countries, is among the poorest countries of the hemisphere, and this in spite of "fulfilling to the letter the neo-liberal prescription, applied for 16 years between 1990 and 2007."

"We want change, but we have to come to agreement about what kind of change. Change in order to maintain the status quo, or in order to save a development model that has demonstrated itself successful in concentrating wealth and expanding poverty and multiplying misery? It's an ethical and moral problem."

Ortega indicated that Nicaragua is this year suffering a drop in economic growth of at least 1.5%, whereas last year it had growth of between three and four percent. "The region today demands more than ever resources for development, in order to be able to recover previous growth rates."

Ortega also criticized the G-20 nations. "It is neither ethical nor moral that the G-20 makes the big decisions for our peoples. It's time that it become the G-192, that is, everybody. Everybody discussing and debating, contributing solutions for the crisis, not least the countries of Central America."

Ortega read an excerpt of the Declaration of the ALBA Summit, in which Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela protested that the declared project of the Fifth Summit of the Americas is "insufficient and unacceptable," due to the fact that "it doesn't offer answers to the Global Economic Crisis" and "unjustifiably excludes Cuba, without mentioning the general consensus that exists in the region in condemnation of the blockade and the (U.S.) attempts at isolation" of the island.

"Capitalism is finishing off humanity and the planet. What we are living through is a global economic crisis, of a systemic and structural nature, and not just another cyclical crisis. Capitalism has provoked the ecological crisis by subordinating the conditions necessary for life on the planet to the domination of the market and profit.

"The global economic crisis, climate change, the food crisis, and the energy crisis, are products of the decline of capitalism, which threatens to terminate its own existence as well as that of life and the planet. In order to avoid this tragic outcome it's necessary to develop an alternative model to the capitalist system. A model of:

Solidarity and complementarity, not competition

A system of harmony with our Mother Earth and not of plunder of natural resources

A system of cultural diversity and not of crushing of cultures and imposition of cultural values and styles alien to the realities of our countries

A system of peace based on social justice and not on imperialist policies and wars

A synthesis, a system that recovers the human condition of our societies and peoples and doesn't reduce them to being simply consumers and merchandise.

"We want a world where all the countries, large and small, have the same rights and where empires don't exist. We champion non-intervention, strengthening, as the only legitimate channel for discussion and analysis, bilateral and multilateral agendas of the continent, the basis of mutual respect between states and governments, governed by the principle of non-intervention by one state against another, and the inviolability of the sovereignty and self-determination of peoples.

"With respect to the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba and the exclusion of this country from the Summit of the Americas, we the countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America, reiterate the Declaration that all the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean adopted this past December 16, 2008, about the necessity of ending the economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by the government of the United States against Cuba, including the application of the Helms-Burton Law.

"We are firmly convinced that change, in which everyone has hope, can only come from the organization, mobilization, and unity of our peoples."

"The prevailing development model is no longer possible, it is no longer sustainable. To continue with the prevailing model is to continue digging the common grave toward which we are all headed. The only way to save ourselves is by changing the model, for ethical and moral reasons.

Sources:

"Ortega avergonzado por la ausencia de Cuba en Cumbre de las Americas," www.aporrea.org

Christopher Hass, "President Obama in Turkey: 'You cannot put out fire with flames,'" April 6, 2009, www.mybarackobama.com

"Remarks by President Obama at the Summit of the Americas Opening Ceremony," April 17, 2009, archived by Council on Foreign Relations at www.cfr.org

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rebranding A Failed Product

Creating a new label in order to sell an old product has long been a successful marketing technique, and our new president has developed rebranding methods with more finesse and as little substance as past administrators. While he plans to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan and spend billions more for weaponry, he has renamed the “war on global terror”. It is now called “overseas contingency operations”. That changes things, doesn’t it?

As in all cases with the Obama ad campaign, these new strategies are exercised in a nuanced and pragmatic way, to guarantee support from those who desperately need to believe that image is substance. This, although it does little for arch conservatives who suffer panic attacks when they hear about new political labels, thinking they actually represent new political products.

Leadership double-talk that says “revenue enhancement” when it means taxes, and “collateral damage” when it means murder, still fools many into buying rancid old vinegar when it’s sold as newly labeled wine . Our language confusion creates mental dissonance so that we can be focused on something called “war crimes”, and miss the fact that the mass murder of war is the real crime , not how we commit those murders.

Giving an old detergent, toothpaste or politician a new label often works in the market place, but that’s where most of our problems originate, not where they are solved. And new labels can’t create housing, employment or peace for people who are homeless, jobless or suffering war. The implication that rebranding means change in an old product has helped create political economic disasters, many inviting more marketing efforts to profit from them. While capital claims we can end pollution by giving credits to firms that pollute less - while they continue polluting - it also tells us that murder according to legally approved methods is right, but slipping from the civilized techniques of slaughter is wrong. So our attention is on whether we torture prisoners instead of burning them to death in the civilized way rationalized as legal war. Kill them? Of course, they’re the evil enemy; but if you capture them, for god’s sake, don’t hurt them. Makes sense, if you think that having a terminal disease means your in good health.

Corporate America’s new CEO inherited a capitalist crisis which will probably get a little better and eventually get much worse, but he was hired to maintain and not change that system. He can speak, with what some call eloquence, out of both sides of his mouth, enabling many to disregard his sibilant center and believe only what strikes them as reassurance that things are looking up and nothing will change but the way we label those things. While the appealing style still beguiles his supporters, the missing content increases discontent among critics, some of them becoming nearly deranged.

There is great need for a social movement to force him much further than he is willing to go , and while the signs of its development are numerous but still feeble on the left, they are passionate, mindless and growing far more dangerous on the right. Conservative fanatics are hysterical in claims that Obama is a socialist, an Islamic fundamentalist or an alien from outer space , while the majority that voted for him or acquiesced in hopeful silence are left wondering if his promised journey in a new direction is only a different path leading to the same dead end.

While Obama’s rhetoric is often of peace and nuclear disarmament, his military budget has increased by 20 billion dollars. He seems to extend a hand to the islamic world we have alienated, but patronizes Iraq with lessons on how to recreate what we destroyed. As we increase the death toll in Afghanistan and spread it to Pakistan, he continues demagogic slurs directed at Chavez in Latin America. And regarding the apartheid Jewish state at the core of our problems in the middle east, nothing separates the failed Zionist controlled policy of the past 60 years from the still failing Zionist policy of this regime.

But Obama provides photo ops of a handsome family, a dog , a garden, and quotes repeated by people who don't know or have forgotten that the same words were used by past presidents who were supposedly opposites in political philosophy. Just as Richard Nixon made things “perfectly clear” as he honestly lied, Barack Obama wants to be “very clear” in his straightforward double speak. George Orwell might laugh, or cry .

Orwell contrasted language with reality in his famous criticism of left or right wing tyranny - depending on a readers’ bias - but whether in politics or real estate , double talk still rules. Our very loud conservatives and very soft liberals are confused by some regime rhetoric, but capital knows that it got exactly what it paid for. The words that say we must bail out corporate finance because it is too big to fail, and the deeds that do it by taking wealth from millions too small to matter, are in perfect balance . It is only the public that is fed rhetoric with little connection to reality, and while that could lead to a right wing explosion of social insanity, it could more hopefully bring about a left wing movement for sensible social change.

Our leadership class understands that actions speak louder than words, while we still need to learn that merely rebranding a mortally dangerous product will not solve our problems but only make them worse. Changing our path from Wall Street back to Main Street is meaningless if we continue heading for the same destination. Sooner or later, we will have to face the fact that to really change direction we don’t need a slick campaign for economic rebranding, but a serious campaign for social revolution.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Frank Scott. All rights reserved.

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frank scott
email: frankscott@comcast.net

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

False Saviors - FDR

Probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a 6-hour period than at any [equal time period] in the history of man.

-----U.S. War Department on the 1945 firebombings of Japan

One of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all history.

-----Brigadier General Bonner Fellers, a key aide to General MacArthur, commenting on the firebombings

As Commander in Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII FDR should have gone down in history as a war criminal. Fortunately for his legacy, the Allies framed their Nuremberg indictment to exclude crimes committed by the winning side, thus establishing the principle that a lost war is the only real crime.

But let us judge for ourselves. In March, 1945 hundreds of U.S. B-29s bombarded Tokyo’s tightly-bunched wooden houses with fwo-foot-long napalm sticks. Almost instantly canals began to boil, buildings burst into flame, streets ignited into canyons of fire. The huge sheets of fire leaped from building to building, swelling into a molten tidal wave that turned live people into blazing matchsticks. While the hapless victims fruitlessly leaped into boiling ponds, the planes dropped bombs on them and napalmed the water. Thousands of Japanese civilians were incinerated without ever making it out of their wooden shelters.

Buffeted by an immense turbulence, U.S. bombing crews vomited from air-sickness and the nauseating stench attending the mass cremation on the ground. Somewhere between eighty and one hundred thousand civilians were “scorched and boiled and baked to death,” in the words of General Curtis LeMay, mastermind of the new strategy of fiery extermination. An observation plane radioed LeMay with the good news: “Target completely slight . . . All Tokyo visible in the glare. Total success.”

Thus did FDR embrace the ethics of extermination. At Hamburg, Dresden, and finally Tokyo, Allied planes tendered the West’s unconditional moral surrender, burning hundreds of thousands of civilians alive in incendiary raids that surpassed all known records for mass killing. And for what it’s worth, U.S. plans for mass cremation of civilians were drawn up before Pearl Harbor. In November 1941 U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall called on his staff to prepare plans for "general incendiary attacks to burn up the wood and paper structures of the densely populated Japanese cities." The justification was clearly revealed two months later when Admiral Leahy, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote an internal memo stating that "in fighting with Japanese savages all previously accepted rules of warfare must be abandoned."

Abandoned they were.

Labor and the New Deal

An aristocrat who inherited early, the code phrases of national loyalty and the open shop came easily to FDR. After American Legionnaires lynched a Wobbly lumberjack in 1919, he praised their murderous efforts to prevent unionization: “I particularly wanted to make this visit to Centralia. I regard it as a pilgrimage to the very graves of the martyred members of the American Legion who here gave their lives in the sacred cause of Americanism. Their death . . . aroused the patriotic people of our great nation to the task of ridding this land of the alien anarchist, the criminal syndicalist and all similar anti-Americanisms.”

In point of fact, the Wobblies were as American as apple pie, and proved themselves indispensable in the fight for free speech and other basic human rights denied to generations of American workers. And what made syndicalists “alien,” “criminal,” and “anti-American” in Roosevelt’s eyes was their determination to put workers in charge of the productive machinery that made modern life possible, thus establishing a true democracy. For FDR, this was a nightmare to be avoided, not a legitimate aspiration in need of fulfillment.

The problem with FDR’s approach to class relations was that he sought to harness workers to the capitalist system, not liberate them from it. He delegated government authority to experts dedicated to controlling them and retaining power in the business class. Though sincere in his efforts to ameliorate the worst symptoms of the profit system, he did so only in order to stabilize class exploitation and prevent stronger measures from being undertaken by angry workers determined to find a cure for the cyclical booms, busts, panics, and crashes that had imposed untold misery on millions of workers for generations. For example, the Wagner Act was designed to reverse labor's radical direction and restore passivity and continuous production by institutionalizing the authority of conservative labor leaders over the rank and file. (Note: “labor boss” is an oxymoron). The intent was to channel worker militancy into legalistic procedure and away from sit-down strikes. In general, FDR's labor laws sought to make labor "responsible" by inducing its leaders to become dependent on state and corporate support that could later be contracted or withdrawn.

Similarly, federal relief was implemented to cool off mass protest, limit violent upheaval, and banish the threat of revolution. Wherever organized labor was strong, the New Deal offered concessions, but where it was weak it declined to help; and when militant protest abated, aid was sharply cut, imposing suffering worse than any since the Crash.

New Deal reforms did go well beyond prior legislation, but they never contemplated far-reaching changes in the system that had crashed into disaster. The Roosevelt Administration's reforms called not for a realignment of classes, but for industry cooperation in implementing government-directed reforms. As a result, men were paid to rake leaves and build mausoleums but not to work idle machines so they could produce the means to feed and clothe themselves. Only massive public enterprise could have moved the U.S. fully into the era of social democracy, but the New Deal shunned social planning and rejected government responsibility for full employment in favor of high joblessness and unemployment insurance. Charity for workers and entitlement for the corporations that held them down continued to be the operative values.

While alleviating but a fraction of the agony the working class was forced to endure, the New Deal proved a boon for private industry. Drawn heavily from the ranks of big business, the "code authorities" of the National Recovery Administration restricted production and set prices that benefited major corporations at the expense of their smaller rivals, while priming the production pump by funneling torrents of public cash into the hands of financial elites. In nine years the Reconstruction Finance Insurance Corporation extended big business $15 billion in loans.

The federal housing program awarded subsidies to construction firms and insured the loans of mortgage bankers. Agricultural price supports and production cutbacks aided large producers while displacing tenant farmers and sharecroppers when federal acreage rental programs withdrew lands from cultivation. The Civilian Conservation Corps provided subsistence jobs for just 250,000 of the 15 million people out of work. The Works Project Administration sporadically employed 9 million people at wages below the norm in private industry. Of twelve million people working for less than 40 cents an hour, only half a million benefited from the minimum wage law - just over 4% of them. The Social Security Act covered but half the population and offered no medical insurance or protection against pre-retirement illness. Welfare programs were funded not by a wealth tax, but by regressive payroll and sales taxes.

Furthermore, it was not the New Deal, but the massive war orders of the 1940s that lifted the economy out of Depression. And when researchers finally bothered to check, they found that income inequality had persisted nearly unchanged through the Hoover, Roosevelt, and Truman years.

Race Relations

As President Wilson’s Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt had readily assumed the white man’s burden without apparent pangs of conscience, helping suppress revolution in Mexico and assisting the Marine occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He was convinced that such imperial forays civilized the “backward” countries, which, in Haiti’s case, constituted helping people he regarded as “little more than primitive savages.” He declined to comment on the civilizing effects of slave labor on the corvee or the thousands of Haitian deaths resulting from the U.S. occupation overall, but when Marine Corps Major Smedley Butler machine-gunned fifty-one Haitians to death at Fort Riviere, he let his actions speak for him: he made sure Butler got a Congressional Medal of Honor for it. Meanwhile, regarding his own role in the occupation, he bragged, “I wrote Haiti’s constitution myself, and if I do say it, I think it was a pretty good constitution.”

On the domestic racial front, Roosevelt appointed a Klansman to the Supreme Court and resolutely refused to tackle the uniquely American barbarism of lynching that had killed thousands of American blacks dating back to Reconstruction. Lynchings were festive community ceremonies announced via radio and newspaper in which mobs of men, women, and children worked themselves into a bloodlust watching a black victim being slowly tortured to death. Following ritual cremation, the mobs would sift through smoldering embers in search of souvenirs - a charred piece of flesh, a tooth fragment, a blackened bone. This longstanding American tradition proved useful to Adolf Hitler, who boasted that Germany treated Jews better than the U.S. treated blacks.

In 1934, Eleanor Roosevelt joined a growing movement of opposition to lynching, but her husband would not speak out against the horrific custom. In the fall of 1933 he he was asked at several press conferences to comment on three lynchings that occurred within weeks of each other, but each time FDR replied, “no comment.” His silence on the matter provoked the Philadelphia Tribune to ask, in October 1933, how the president of the U.S. could get an honorary degree from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, while remaining mute on the lynching that occurred just hours before in Princess Anne County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. George Armwood, the 24-year-old victim, was stripped naked, tortured, and hung, after which his corpse was dragged half a mile on Main Street to a bonfire in the middle of the street. FDR did not condemn lynching until weeks later when two white men were seized from a jail and hung in San Jose, California. But he continued to withhold support for the Wagner-Costigan anti-lynching bill, which was backed by long lists of mayors, governors, ministers, journalists, writers, artists, college presidents, along with the National Council of Jewish Women, the YWCA, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the ACLU, the Writer’s League Against Lynching, and other groups representing millions of Americans. Fearing that Congressional Dixiecrats might torpedo all his legislative proposals, he flatly refused to “challenge the Southern leadership of his party.” But as Walter White of the NAACP noted, violent groups were being strengthened all over the country, including the KKK, “Nazi, Fascist, and other reactionary groups, who are so bitterly fighting the President’s recovery program.” In short, FDR’s silence was emboldening those most opposed to the New Deal.

The Costigan bill was withdrawn in the face of an almost unanimous white South whose Congressional representatives were prepared to filibuster the legislation for months. Walter White wrote to FDR: “It is my belief that the utterly shameless filibuster could not have withstood the pressure of public opinion had you spoken out against it.” Meanwhile, the Des Moines Register mockingly reminded Roosevelt of his 1932 campaign statement that the federal government has an obligation to help the desperately needy: “When the next mob dances in the light of flames about a stake in the south, that declaration of high duty and intent will be a ghostly wisp of smoke, drifting off toward the heavens.”

It should not come as a surprise that FDR refused to desegregate the U.S. military.

Democracy and Fascism

Had FDR had any interest in a war between democracy and fascism, assistance to the Spanish anarchists who put down General Franco's insurrection would have been high on his priority list. It wasn't.

Proclaiming himself the “Savior of Christianity” against “Godless Bolshevism,” Franco rose against the Spanish republic in July 1936, joined by top army officers, Moorish mercenaries, and fascist troops supplied by Mussolini and Hitler. He promised to abolish the republic, establish totalitarian rule, revoke land reform, outlaw unions, and restore the feudal estates of the grandees, so that 20,000 landowners could once again rule over 28,000,000 unwilling subjects.

The socialist-liberal government in Madrid vacilated, unable to accept the coup, but unwilling to arm the working class against it. Anarchist workers took matters into their own hands, breaking into government arsenals to overwhelm Franco’s garrisons in Madrid, Valencia, Albacete, Bilbao, Barcelona and myriad small towns, denying the Nationalists power throughout the country. Only in Morocco did they retain control.

In succeeding months a remarkable and largely spontaneous social revolution blossomed over much of republican Spain. Primarily anarchist-led, and based on three generations of experimentation, it had no "revolutionary vanguard" but nevertheless effected a far-reaching social transformation. Peasant assemblies and workers’ committees established a new society, taking direct control of factories, fields, harbors, villages, even hotels and restaurants. New techniques of self-management dispensed with bosses and eliminated dividends, as producers’ collectives mechanized and rationalized production across the board. Prices fell and production boomed while scattered enterprises were drawn together in mutual aid, commercial structures were simplified, and new social projects for children, the elderly, the disabled, workers, and the infirm were advanced and implemented. In some areas money was eliminated and the necessities of life were allocated according to need. Security was provided by armed workers patrolling the streets and a volunteer militia of elected commanders whose rank conferred no social, material, or symbolic privileges. The revolution remained independent of the central government in Madrid: outside the trade unions there was no effective authority at all.

Indulging illusions of "neutrality," the Roosevelt Administration indirectly aided the Nationalists, imposing an arms embargo on the legal Spanish government while Hitler and Mussolini poured in weapons and soldiers to Franco. Meanwhile, in violation of its contracts with the Republic, Texaco shipped oil to Franco instead of Madrid: five American tankers on the high seas at the time of the Generals' revolt were diverted, the first of millions of dollars in oil the Generalissimo would receive on credit, all with the permission of the Roosevelt State Department. In addition, Washington urged the Martin Aircraft Company not to honor an agreement to supply aircraft to the Republic made prior to the revolution, and pressured Mexico not to ship war materials purchased in the U.S. to Spanish republicans. On the other hand, the State Department announced that American exporters were perfectly within their rights in landing supplies in Spanish ports under Franco's control.

After FDR pushed the Neutrality Act through Congress in January 1937, Franco thanked him for behaving like a "true gentleman," and praised his Spanish policy as “a gesture we Nationalists shall never forget.” The Spanish people, whose promising revolution was drowned in blood (with approximately a million Spanish lives lost between 1936 and 1939) and succeeded by four decades of Franco’s dictatorship (a government the Roosevelt Administration immediately recognized), weren’t likely to forget it either.

Turning to Germany, FDR resolutely refused to fight Nazism until Germany declared war on the United States in the wake of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor - almost nine years after Hitler came to power. It took nearly another year before U.S. troops saw their first action against the Germans in North Africa.

A major factor contributing to this conspicuously long period of non-confrontation is the fact that FDR and U.S. leaders in general viewed the rise of fascism sympathetically. The extreme nationalism characteristic of fascist regimes welcomed Western economic penetration and persecuted labor and the political left to the point of eradication, an agenda that U.S. state managers and wealthy American investors found to be a proper antidote to "excessive democracy," that is, almost any democracy at all. For his part, FDR preferred fascism to any variety of socialism or robust social democracy, largely equating these social forms with Bolshevik heresy. Therefore, it is not really surprising that for years he approved Hitler as a "moderate" who represented order, anti-Communism, and a favorable investment climate, a welcome obstacle to any possibility of radicalization of the allegedly unthinking masses.

FDR’s preference for Hitler, rather than the radical left, was shared by the U.S. corporate class in general. This is evidenced by the fact that U.S. investment shot up in Germany while the Nazis rose to power, despite the Depression and Germany's default on nearly all of its commercial and government loans. Commerce Department reports indicate that U.S. investment in Germany increased 48.5% between 1929 and 1940, while declining sharply everywhere else on the continent. Moreover, many U.S. companies traded with Germany right through the war years - with Washington's support - even when slave labor was involved. Allied pilots were instructed not to bomb factories in Germany owned by U.S. firms, a policy that in at least one case provided a convenient bomb shelter for German civilians.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany William Dodd's repeated warnings that Hitler's munitions factories were booming on the strength of U.S. raw materials shipments went unheeded. Dodd's loathing of the Third Reich only led to his replacement by Hugh Wilson in 1938, a man much more acceptable to Nazi leaders. Both FDR and his close confidant Sumner Welles praised the Munich capitulation that allowed Hitler to dismember Czechoslovakia, with Welles waxing optimistic about the prospects for a just international order that the accords presumably opened up. Furthermore, official U.S. belief in Hitler's benign intentions continued post-Munich. Writing of Sumner Welles' diplomatic tour of Europe in February 1940, British Permanent Under-Secretary of State Alexander Cadogan wrote: "We had the distinct impression that Welles had in mind an outline for peace which would not require elimination of Herr Hitler's Nazi regime." In April 1941 - nineteen months after the German invasion of Poland - George Kennan wrote from his diplomatic post in Berlin that the Nazis had no desire to "see other people suffer under German rule," and were "most anxious that their new subjects should be happy in their care."

U.S. support for Italian fascism was even more enthusiastic. As the Depression provoked massive civil and political unrest in Europe, Mussolini became a hero in the U.S. for straitjacketing class conflict with armed Blackshirt terrorism while erecting a highly authoritarian investor's paradise. With loans pouring in from the House of Morgan, the Italian dictator increased public debt, slashed social welfare spending, abolished unions, strikes, and the 8-hour day, boosted unemployment and bankruptcy, weakened the lira, and kept Italian wages among the lowest in Europe. As these policies were being carried out, FDR praised Mussolini (in a letter to a friend) as "that admirable Italian gentleman."

Meanwhile, FDR’s Ambassador to Italy William Philips was "greatly impressed by the efforts of Mussolini to improve the condition of the masses" and found "much evidence" to support the Fascist conviction that "they represent a true democracy in as much as the welfare of the people is their principal objective." Philips regarded Mussolini's achievements as "astounding . . . a source of constant amazement," and sang hosannas to his "great human qualities." The Roosevelt State Department hailed his "magnificent" attainments in conquering Ethiopia and praised Fascism for having "brought order out of chaos, discipline out of license, and solvency out of bankruptcy." As late as 1939 FDR rated Italian fascism "of great importance to the world [although] still in the experimental stage."

The crimes of Japanese “fascism” did not initially pose an obstacle to good relations with the Roosevelt Administration either. Before Pearl Harbor much of the American business community and many government officials rejected the idea that Japan was an aggressive power in the Pacific. FDR’s Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew explained in a 1939 Tokyo speech that the U.S. objected not to Japan's human rights policy but rather to its imposition of "a system of closed economy . . . [which] depriv[ed] Americans of their long-established rights in China." Market access, not systematic brutality, was the grievance, so Grew omitted mention of incidental matters like Japan's invasion of Manchuria, the orgy of rape and murder that killed over 140,000 Chinese civilians in Nanking, and occupation policies that would ultimately cause the death of millions more by starvation and disease.

Furthermore, the Pacific War no more represented a contest between democracy and fascism than the war in Europe did. Neither the British nor the U.S. had ever entertained democracy for Asian peoples and FDR's idea of a cure for Japanese imperialism was to eliminate Japan’s congenital "barbarism" by crossbreeding Japanese with "docile" Pacific Islanders. Meanwhile, the notoriously brutal and corrupt Chiang Kai-shek remained a staunch U.S. ally throughout the war. As British historian Christopher Thorne observes, "if the term 'fascist' is to be employed in a non-European context for the 1930s, to no regime is it more appropriate to attach it than that of the Kuomintang in China."

In spite of the democratic rhetoric employed for strategic reasons, a racist attitude permeated the entire U.S. war in the Pacific. U.S. troops committed atrocities in the field similar to those carried out a generation later in Vietnam, with press coverage depicting the Japanese as monkeys, rats, and lice who deserved whatever they got. What they got was succinctly summarized by war correspondent Edgar L. Jones: "We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off 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."

What historian Gabriel Kolko calls the "problem of the left" made it impossible for the Roosevelt Administration to embrace a genuinely anti-fascist ethic. The problem of the left was that European anti-fascist resistance movements were led by socialists, social democrats, and Communists, whose convictions clashed with Anglo-American hegemonic designs. As British historian Basil Davidson explains, the wartime collapse of traditional ruling groups and fascist collaborators yielded a situation where "large and serious resistance came and could only come under left-wing leadership and inspiration . . . the self-sacrifice and vision required to begin an effective resistance, and then rally others to the same cause, were found only among radicals and revolutionaries." These, in turn, were mostly men and women who "followed the hope and vision of a radical democracy." As South African Prime Minister Jan Christiaan Smuts warned Winston Churchill after the fall of Mussolini, "with politics let loose among those peoples, we may have a wave of disorder and wholesale Communism set going all over those parts of Europe." Communism meant not domination by Moscow but the ascendancy of popular movements dedicated to collective social designs, which placed fundamental human needs ahead of private gain. For capitalists, nothing can be placed ahead of profit.

Thus it is not really surprising that FDR's favorable treatment of fascism continued in the wake of successive Allied victories on the battlefield. In 1942 in North Africa the U.S. installed in power Admiral Jean Darlan, a Nazi collaborator. Darlan allowed the Nazis to use Vichy airports in Syria and route resupply aid to Rommel via Tunisia. He enforced laws barring Jews from the professions, denying them education, and preventing them from buying property. But French generals who extended aid to Hitler lived in splendor, surrounded by illiterate masses ground down by poverty.

In 1943, with an Allied victory certain, the Italian Fascist Grand Council, led by Ethiopian war hero Field Marshal Pietro Badoglio, deposed Mussolini and appealed to Roosevelt and Churchill for aid in preventing an imminent working class revolution. They got it and Badoglio was put in power. Meanwhile, in France FDR contemplated another deal with Vichy leader Henri Petain, but was unwilling to collaborate with the French Resistance.

In 1944, the Allies entered Rome to find armed partisans waving revolutionary banners and running their own government. They confiscated their weapons, put them in jail, and threatened them with the firing squad. Meanwhile, in Northern Italy, small groups of militant partisans who had driven out half a dozen German divisions were governing themselves and promising "the radical reconstruction of the political, moral and social life of our country." The U.S. dispersed the resistance and turned civil administration back to the fascists. In the Philippines former Vice President Sergio Osmena landed with General MacArthur on Leyte and issued a statement exonerating Filipinos who had collaborated with the Japanese. MacArthur set about putting the collaborationist police in the service of the U.S. and began reversing a peasant based social revolution.

In truth, FDR’s strategy in WWII was not to risk everything on behalf of democracy, but rather, to let others fight fascism. As he once confided to his son, the U.S. was trying to function as "reserves" while the Soviets exhausted themselves holding off the Nazi onslaught, after which Washington was to deliver the coup de grace, which is very much how things turned out. According to Roosevelt scholar Warren Kimball, "aid to the Soviet Union became a presidential priority" only on the assumption that Red Army victories would obviate the need for U.S. troops to fight a ground war in Europe. Senator Harry Truman went even further, stating after the German invasion of Russia in June 1941 that the U.S. should strive to bring about the two countries' mutual annihilation: "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill as many as possible."

In short, FDR did nothing to stop American firms from bankrolling Mussolini and continuing to ship him oil even after he invaded Ethiopia in clouds of mustard gas. He helped Franco into power by imposing a unilateral arms embargo on republican Spain, complained of Japan's closed door rather than its massive atrocities in China, refused to join the U.S.S.R. in a united front against Nazism until far too late, failed to prosecute the major firms trading with the Axis all through the war, and installed or helped install fascist collaborators in the wake of one military victory after another (North Africa, Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Korea, the Philippines, etc.) Finally, in a war effort that many Americans take to be a human rights crusade against Germany's vicious treatment of Jews, he sent segregated troops into battle, dispatched 120,000 Japanese to concentration camps, and adopted wholesale extermination of civilians as a routine tactic of war.

That's no hero.

The Sources:

Rick Atkinson, An Army At Dawn - The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, (Henry Holt, 2002)

Reinhold Billstein, et al, Working For The Enemy: Ford, General Motors and Forced Labor During the Second World War (Bergahn, 2000)

Murray Bookchin, To Remember Spain - The Anarchist and Syndicalist Revolution 1936-39, (Frederick A. Prager, 1968)

Richard O. Border and Herbert M. Morais, Labor's Untold Story (United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, 1955)

Noam Chomsky, The Chomsky Reader, (Pantheon, 1987)

Noam Chomsky, Year 501: The Conquest Continues (South End, 1993)

Noam Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins - Historical and Political Essays (Vintage, 1969)

Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival - America's Quest For Global Dominance, (Metropolitan Books, 2003)

Noam Chomsky, Failed States - The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (Henry Holt, 2006)

Alexander Cockburn, The Golden Age Is In Us, (Verso, 1995)

Basil Davidson, Special Operations Europe: Scenes From The Anti-Nazi War, (Gallancz, 1980)

John W. Dower, War Without Mercy - Race & Power in the Pacific War (Pantheon, 1986)

Charles Higham, Trading With The Enemy - An Expose of the Nazi-American Money Plot, 1933-1949, (Delacorte Press, 1983)

Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War - The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945, (Random House, 1968)

Douglas Little, Malevolent Neutrality - The United States, Great Britain, and the Origins of the Spanish Civil War, (Cornell, 1985)

Michael Parenti, Democracy For The Few, Sixth Edition, (St. Martin's, 1995)

Michael Parenti, The Sword and the Dollar - Imperialism, Revolution, and the Arms Race (St. Martin's, 1989)

Paul Preston, Franco, (Basic Books, 1994)

Hans Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934, (Rutgers, 1995)

David F. Schmitz, The United States and Fascist Italy, 1922-1940, (University of North Carolina, 1988)

David F. Schmitz, Thank God They're On Our Side - The United States & Right-Wing Dictatorships, 1921-1965 (University of North Carolina, 1999)

Steven Shalom, VJ Day: Remembering the Pacific War, Z Magazine, July/August 1995

Christopher Simpson, The Splendid Blond Beast - Money, Law, and Genocide in the Twentieth Century, (Common Courage, 1995)

John Spritzler, The People As Enemy - The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in World War II, (Black Rose, 2003)

I. F. Stone, The War Years, 1939-1945, (Little, Brown and Company, 1988)

John Tisa, Recalling the Good Fight - An Autobiography of the Spanish Civil War, (Bergin & Garvey, 1985)

Blanche Wiesen-Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 2, 1933-1938 (Penguin, 1999)

Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present, (Harper, 1995)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

False Saviors - Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson once enjoyed a popularity that would put Barack Obama to shame. Arriving in Europe in the wake of the WWI armistice, huge throngs turned out to greet him as "the New Messiah," "an instrument in the hands of God," "the King of Humanity," and "the great American prophet of peace." The entire town of Brest greeted him at the docks, and when he sped by train to Paris that evening, peasants kneeled beside the tracks to pray for him.

Paris hailed him with gun salutes and a huge crowd singing and dancing in the streets. President Poincare invited him to sit in the state victoria where kings once perched, while the crowd swayed and roared out, "Wil-son -- Wil-son." In London the press described his reception as, "A welcome unprecedented in history," with two million people showing up to watch him ride in state carriage with the King and Queen, while cannons boomed. In Italy, peasants hung portraits of Wilson on the walls of their homes, and crossed themselves when passing before his image.

But when Wilson's promised permanent peace failed to materialize, his popularity sank like the Titanic.

Wilson, a Ph.D. holder and former president of Princeton University, was similar to George W. Bush in his childlike faith in a monarchical God steering history to the fulfillment of Grand Designs, designs that co-existed comfortably with with what Wilson regarded as the eternal hierarchies of gender, color, and property.

At the same time as he hailed a "New Freedom," Wilson restored segregation to federal offices in Washington, let a suffrage bill languish in Congress for seven long years, invaded Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico (twice), Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the Soviet Union (twice), and destroyed a promising socialist movement by plunging the country into the bloodiest war in human history (WWI) at the time. Meanwhile, with corpses stacking up like cordwood in U.S. cities due to a "Spanish flu" epidemic, Wilson chose to issue no public comment on the disease, which ultimately killed tens of millions of people around the world.

W. E. B. DuBois responded to Wilson's segregation order as follows: "Public segregation of civil servants in government employ, necessarily involving personal insult and humiliation, has for the first time in history been made the policy of the United States government. In the Treasury and Post Office Department colored clerks have been herded to themselves as though they were not human beings. We are told that one colored clerk who could not actually be segregated on account of the nature of his work had consequently had a cage built around him to separate him from his white companions of many years."

Ever the humanitarian, Wilson explained to Oswald Garrison Villard that he "honestly thought segregation to be in the interest of the colored people as exempting them from friction and criticism in the departments . . . a number of colored men with whom we have consulted have agreed with us. . . . "

In Wilson's third year in office he screened D. W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" at the White House. The film depicted virginal white womanhood threatened by black rapists while a prostrate South was led back down the evolutionary scale to savagery by ape-like black legislators. The movie quickly became a national sensation, inciting racial violence throughout the country. W. E. B. DuBois complained that "the Negro [was] represented either as an ignorant fool, a vicious rapist, a venal or unscrupulous politician or a faithful but doddering idiot." Wilson, a well-published historian, praised the movie as "all so terribly true."

That same year the U.S. Marines invaded Haiti, restoring the Haitian treasury to the U.S.-controlled Banque Nacionale and putting U.S. naval officers in charge of collecting customs duties. Colonel L. W. T. Waller, appointed absolute ruler of the country, expressed Washington's traditional contempt for the locals: "These people are niggers in spite of the thin varnish of education and refinement . . . . They are real nigger and make no mistake - There are some very fine looking, well educated polished men here but they are real nigs beneath the surface." Engaging in diplomatic niceties with such specimens struck him as an utter disgrace: "What the people of Norfolk and Portsmouth would say if they saw me bowing and scraping to these coons - I do not know."

When Wilson's occupation proved unpopular with the occupied, the U.S. declared martial law and imposed censorship. Secretary of State Robert Lansing informed the president that such methods lacked all legal basis: "I confess that this method of negotiation, with our Marines policing the Haytien Capitol, is high handed. It does not meet my sense of a nation's sovereign rights and is more or less an exercise of force and an invasion of Haytien independence." Wilson was unmoved.

Cloaking its imperialism in concepts like "benevolent purpose" and the alleged "gratitude" the Haitian people felt for their occupiers, the Wilson Administration presided over the gunning down of thousands of men, women, and children during pacification and the restoration of virtual slavery on a highway construction program connecting Camp Haitien and Port au Prince. In 1920, the New York Times cited the "noted traveler and authority on the West Indies," Henry A. Franck in documenting U.S. atrocities in Haiti:

"....American marines, largely made up of and officered by Southerners, opened fire with machine guns from airplanes upon defenseless Haitian villages, killing men, women, and children in the open market places . . . . natives were slain for 'sport' by a hoodlum element among these same Southerners; and . . . the ancient corvee system of enforced labor was revived and ruthlessly executed, increasing through retaliation, the banditry in Haiti and Santo Domingo."

In 1916, the U.S. Marines invaded the Dominican Republic with an eye to controlling the customs house. At the time the island was in revolutionary upheaval following eleven years of U.S. imperial intervention that had reduced the country's sovereignty to a legal fiction. Threatening to bombard Santo Domingo "without restriction," unless resistance to foreign rule ceased, the U.S. imposed martial law, banned meetings, muzzled the press, and threatened to court martial anyone who protested.

In a message to Congress, Wilson suggested improbably that the U.S. was not imposing its will on anyone: "It does not lie with the American people to dictate to another people what their government shall be or what use shall be made of their resources." Secretary of State Lansing, proofing the draft, evidenced a greater sense of realism, scrawling a list of U.S.-savaged countries into the margin: "Haiti, S. Domingo, Nicaragua, Panama." Wilsonian idealism continued.

In 1917, Wilson plunged the U.S. into WWI. In spite of an official posture of "neutrality" the Wilson Administration had extended the Allies unlimited credit, cured the 1913 depression on the strength of massive European war orders, and initiated a huge anti-German "preparedness" campaign dedicated to the proposition that compromise with the Kaiser was tantamount to an endorsement of the Devil. Given this stance, it was only a matter of time before the U.S. entered the war. While complaining of losses due to German submarine attacks, Wilson overlooked the vastly greater number of deaths due to starvation and disease caused by the Allied blockade of Germany and its allies. By war's end the German Health Office calculated that the blockade had caused 763,000 deaths, not including 150,000 who died from Spanish influenza but might not have had they been spared four years of worsening malnutrition due to the Allied blockade. U.S. deaths on American and British ships due to German attacks were in the low hundreds.

Taking advantage of war powers for the president, Wilson elevated himself to virtual Divine Kingship in the war years, assuming dictatorial control of finance, the press, the farms, and commerce and transportation. Anti-war critics were arrested without warrants, detained without bail, and tried in an atmosphere of vengeful hysteria, after which they were assigned long prison terms. Meanwhile, journalism was destroyed: newspapers were censored, editors arrested, mail permits canceled. Socialist publications were run out of business.

Any suggestion of German identity became a crime. The German language was banned, German street names were changed, sauerkraut was renamed "liberty cabbage," and German books were burned in the streets. The Boston Symphony Orchestra was forbidden to play Beethoven. Mennonite preachers were attacked and strung up by mobs.

When the hysteria finally subsided, Wilson was the key player in negotiating the Versailles peace treaty. At the time he was commander in chief of the freshest, best-equipped, and the only expanding army in the world. The U.S. had all the money left in the world and controlled a majority of the world's food supply. In short, Wilson had the whip hand. Nevertheless, he allowed the Allied powers to assign Germany sole war guilt and hand down the most punitive peace ever imposed on a great power. The words of Germany's Foreign Minister Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau in being treated with open contempt are well worth recalling: "In the past fifty years the imperialism of all European States has chronically poisoned the international situation . . . the disregard of the rights of peoples to determine their own destiny contributed to the illness of Europe, which saw its crisis in the World War . . . . Crimes in war may not be excusable . . . The hundreds of thousands of noncombatants who have perished since November 11 (1918) by reason of the [Allied food] blockade were killed with cold deliberation after our adversaries had conquered and victory had been assured to them. Think of that when you speak of guilt and punishment."

Wilson was not unaware of what a truly progressive presidency would have entailed. His most trusted advisor from his days as president of Princeton, George L. Record, wrote him a letter in 1919 pointing out that "you have ignored the great issue . . . the question of economic democracy, abolition of privilege, and securing to men the full fruits of their labor or service." He asked if Wilson thought that the yawning social inequalities then existing were what "our fathers had fondly hoped for?" Further observing that over the previous century frontier territories and their unbounded resources had allowed Washington to award land grants to all comers, Record noted that this had "covered up the fact that by establishing political democracy we had not rid ourselves of privilege." By the time of Wilson's presidency industrial conditions were beginning to resemble those of the Old World, with resources concentrated in few hands and the percentage of owned homes and farms declining rapidly. Millions of Americans worked long and hard for bare subsistence while the Food and Meat Trusts gouged the public without legal penalty. Meanwhile, noted Record, those who sought a political remedy were promptly punished. "Our courts send to prison for long terms poor, weak socialists, who have been driven to intemperate speech by the contemplation of monstrous injustice."

The Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations would not end war, predicted Record. "The League of Nations idea will not help . . . it does not go to the root of the problem." All modern states were in the hands of a privileged few, which controlled the railroads, lands, mines, banks, and credit. "These men thus obtain enormous and unearned capital, for which there is no use in the country where it is produced, because the poverty of the workers limits the home market. Those who control this surplus capital must seek new countries and new people to exploit, and this clash of selfish interests leads to war." In short, Wilson's much declared "permanent peace" couldn't be at hand, since all governments in the League denied justice to their own peoples.

Meanwhile, the greatest social experiment in history - Bolshevism - proceeded apace in Russia, and threatened to spread to Germany. Record warned Wilson not to denounce Communism or put its proponents in jail. The problem of industrial democracy's unequal classes had to be squarely faced, he warned. "If you fail to attempt to solve this problem, you will stand in history . . . . exactly as the leaders of the Whig and Democratic parties stood when they turned their backs on the rising question of slavery."

Record proposed an agenda: (1) public ownership of all railroads, public utilities, pipe lines and natural resources now controlled by Trusts; (2) opening of all patents to general use; (3) employment of all land now held out of use for speculation or monopolistic purposes; (4) the limitation of large fortunes by inheritance and income tax.

Wilson ignored the letter and orchestrated a red-baiting campaign that rivaled the hysteria of the anti-Kaiser crusade. In August, 1918, he had sent U.S. forces, as part of a 14-nation contingent, into Soviet Russia to overthrow the Bolshevik government. Conservatively estimated at 40,000 troops, U.S. forces supported reactionary White Guard armies and participated in widespread atrocities, including the robbery and killing of civilians. U.S. General William S. Graves, in charge of American forces in Siberia, had this to say on who was responsible for the death tolls: "There were horrible murders committed, but they were not committed by the Bolsheviks as the world believes. I am well on the side of safety when I say that the anti-Bolsheviks killed one hundred people in Eastern Siberia, to every one killed by the Bolsheviks."

Wilson loathed the principle of social equality espoused by the Bolsheviks, which his secretary of state (Robert Lansing) explained, sought "to make the ignorant and incapable mass of humanity dominate the earth." The Bolsheviks, said Lansing, appealed "to the proletariat of all countries . . . to the ignorant and mentally deficient, who by their numbers are urged to become masters." Wilson expressed concern that American blacks returning from abroad might become convinced by the Bolshevik heresy that black people had human rights, too. He also worried that corporations might have to permit lowly workers to sit on corporate boards of directors.

Many wars and a century later we are approaching human extinction due largely to continuing private control over public resources. Like Wilson before him, President Obama is utterly blind to the necessity of overturning the dictatorship of private capital over society. Unless an aroused public forges an intellectually sophisticated revolution against the tyranny of global oligarchy, the human future promises to be brief and brutal.

The Sources:

Philip Foner, "History of the Labor Movement in the United States, Vol. 5 - The AFL in the Progressive Era," (International Publishers, 1980)

Gabriel Kolko, "The Triumph of Conservatism - A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916," (Free Press, 1963)

Oswald Garrison Villard, "Fighting Years - Memoirs of a Liberal Editor," (Harcourt Brace and Co., 1939)

Arthur S. Link, "Woodrow Wilson - Revolution, War, and Peace," (Harlan Davidson Inc., 1979)

David Levering Lewis, "W. E. B. DuBois - Biography of a Race, 1869-1919," (Henry Holt, 1998)

David Levering Lewis, "W. E. B. DuBois - The Fight For Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963," (Henry Holt, 2000)

James W. Loewen, "Lies My Teacher Told Me - Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong," (New Press, 1995)

Page Smith, "A People's History of the Progressive Era and WWI - America Enters the World," (McGraw Hill, 1985)

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, "The Rebel Girl," (International Publishers, 1955)

Sydney Lens, "The Forging of the American Empire," (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1971)

Wiesen-Cook, Blanche, "Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 1, 1884-1933," (Penguin, 1992)

Walter Millis, "The Road to War, 1914-1917," (Houghton Mifflin, 1935)

Charles Callin Tansill, "America Goes to War," (Little, Brown and Co., 1938)

Hans Schmidt, "The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934," (Rutgers, 1995)

Julius W. Pratt, "Challenge and Rejection - The United States and World Leadership, 1900-1921," (Macmillan, 1967)

Walter LaFeber, "The American Age - United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad since 1750," (W. W. Norton, 1989)

William S. Graves, "America's Siberian Adventure, 1918-1920," (New York, 1931)

Paul C. Vincent, "The Politics of Hunger - The Allied Blockade of Germany, 1915-1919," (Ohio University Press, 1985)

Noam Chomsky, "Propaganda and the Public Mind - Conversations With Noam Chomsky," (South End, 2001)

Michael Parenti, "Contrary Notions - The Michael Parenti Reader," (City Lights, 2007)