Monday, April 30, 2007

Who does this sound like?

It reminds me of somebody...

Olmert fights to save career as inquiry cites 'serious failings' by Donald Macintyre Independent 05/01/07:

Ehud Olmert was fighting for his political survival last night after a government commission excoriated the Israeli Prime Minister for his leading role in the "very serious failings" in last summer's Lebanon war.

The unexpectedly scathing first report from the commission, headed by the retired judge Eliyahu Winograd, blamed Mr Olmert for a "serious failure in exercising judgement, responsibility and prudence" at the outset and during the 34-day war. The report was also withering in its criticism of Amir Peretz, the Defence Minister, and the now-departed Israel Defence Forces' chief of staff Dan Halutz, for a series of decisions, including starting the war without proper consideration of the alternatives or consequences.

But it made no effort to deflect blame from a Prime Minister who the report said had "made up his mind hastily [to go to war] despite the fact that no military plan was submitted to him and without asking him for one". ...

It added that Mr Olmert did not "adequately consider political and professional reservations presented to him" before the "fateful" decisions taken after the seizure of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah on Israel's northern border on 12 July. (my emphasis)
It sounds so familiar. But I can't quite place who it reminds me of.

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 30: The strange world of neo-Confederacy

Every year when I do this daily series of posts in April, I worry that I won't be able to find material to use. And every year I wind up thinking there was a lot of other stuff I intended to use but now the month's over.

I'll close this year's series with some comments about an article that appeared in the Biloxi Sun-Herald 04/12/01, during the Mississippi Confederate state flag campaign, Our flag was never intended to be a symbol of hate. Fly it proudly and change hearts instead. by Wallace Mason, "commander of Sam Davis Camp 596, Sons of Confederate Veterans". A copy of it is posted at, the far-right Web site. I haven't checked it word for word against my hard copy, but it appears to be the same thing.

That title reminds me. One of the pitches that the partisans of the Confederate-themed flag used was that fighting over the flag was a distraction from more useful ways of promoting racial reconciliation. So after the election, I was expecting to see the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the League of the South and the White Citizens Council all getting together with the NAACP, the Urban League and other civil rights groups to protest police racial profiling, help enforce anti-discrimination laws, campaign for better public services, have meetings across the state to promote better understanding among the races, stuff like that.

But, darn, for some reason I just never heard about any of that stuff happening. I wonder why?

Mason, who called the Civil War the "War for Southern Independence", recites a pretty broad range of neo-Confederate slogans: only black bigots oppose the Confederate flag; slavery was not the cause of the war, oh, no, not at all; slavery would have faded away peacefull if those damnyankees hadn't forced reluctant Southerners into a war; greedy damnyankees wanted to force a tariff on the South and that had something or other to do with the war; the Emancipation Proclamation was no big deal and didn't do much for the slaves; the slaves just luu-uuved their Massas; lots and lots and lots of blacks served in the Confederate armed forces, I mean, they were totally enthusiastic about fighting for the Confederacy; not many Confederate soldiers owned slaves so how could the war have anything to do with slavery?; the South was deeply, passionately committed to the abstract principle of State Rights and so they had to secede from the Union because the damnyankees were threatening that but it had nothing to do with slavery (did I mention that already?); Southerners wanted lower taxes, too; the Confederacy stood for Honor and Duty and other fine Southern stuff like that.

I particularly like this part:

[The Confederate-themed state flag] was there as the 1950s closed and
the 1960s began, ushering in the turmoil of segregation and integration and
people marching for freedom. Our flag represents all people. Flower power and
the hippie generation and free love were all a part of Mississippi. Our flag was
there when its sons and daughters were sent to the jungles of Vietnam, a
political fiasco that would cost the lives of young men and women, white, black
and Indian, before their time.
Yes, folks, the Confederate flag represents hippies and flower power. (I wish I had known about all the free love around when I lived there!) And it represents civil rights marches against integration.

Now, you're probably thinking, how can anyone offer up a steaming pile of horse-poop like this and expect anyone to take it seriously?

Because, except for those few whose brains have been completely fried by OxyContin or other intoxicants, they don't take it seriously. Neo-Confederate hokum isn't history, neo-Confederate routine is not really about history. It's a political ideology, whose main purpose so far as I can see is to sneer at black people and generally promote authoritarian attitudes. The history just serves as window-dressing to provide slogans and symbols. Like with Holocaust denial, at a basic level it's meant to be a sneer rather than anything serious, for all its pretensions at scholarly trappings. Hey, 93,000 black people fought for the Confederacy! Translate that into what comes through to Rush Limbaugh fans after the words are processed through a heavy OxyContin filter, and it means, "Yuck, yuck, even n*****s fought for the Confederacy, haw haw!"

This is the kind of white folks' that is the heart of neo-Confederacy, from Mason's article, with added commentary in brackets:

And what will the new flag represent? Will it represent those [bad black people] who constantly complain of racism and their remembrance of slavery? Will it represent those[white] businessmen who are worried about the dollar bill or image? Will this new flag represent all those [white] Mississippians who have sacrificed so much in order for us to enjoy what we have today? The new flag would represent absolutely nothing [good from the viewpoint of white supremacists].

Our [white people's] state flag and the Confederate battle flag are symbols of our [the white people in our] region and [white] Southern heritage. That heritage is a culture of contributions from white, black, American Indian and an increasing number of races. [Yuck, yuck, yeah, you know we're real mul-ti-cul-tural at the Sons of Confederate Veterans] As [white] Southerners, we are going to have to do a better job of protecting our heritage [heritage of the white race] because tomorrow it will be our [white bigots'] very freedom.

Those [bad black people] who attack our [white people's] state flag are the ones being intolerant and racist. No one is attacking their [worthless black] heritage. Tolerance has to to work both ways [yuck, yuck, we're real tolerant of black folks as long as they know their place], but, for [white bigors in] the South, that is not happening. Southern [white people's] heritage is being removed for the sake of appeasement and compromise [with bad black people] that will lead only to more compromise [with bad black people].
Yesterday, I quoted a neo-Confederate article from the San Francisco Chronicle that referred to "60,000 and 90,000 black men, both free and slave" who allegedly did something vaguely defined as having "served under the banner of the Stars and Bars," by which he means the Confederate flag. Mason's article says:

Black soldiers did serve in the Confederate army and navy. Professor Ed Smith, director of American Studies at American University, calculates that between 60,000 and 93,000 blacks served the Confederacy in some capacity. They served, not to stay as slaves, but so there would be a better future for them.
Another vague formulation, "served the Confederacy in some capacity". Like, what, being a slave cook at a plantation where a few Confederate cavalrymen stopped by to have lunch one day? As I said yesterday, the notion that any significant number of black, free or slave, served as Confederate soldiers is a favorite claim of neo-Confederates, but it's not true. If this figure about black who "served the Confederacy in some capacity" is true in some sense (though I doubt it's true in any sense), both this article and the one in the Chronicle on Sunday use it to imply with technically saying so that these were soldiers. This kind of thing is thought by crackpot writers to be cagey and clever, though it's really just dissembling and slippery.

There is an Edward C. Smith in the American Studies program at American University.  I'll have to follow up on that particular claim later.

Neo-Confederacy: a bottomless pit of nonsense. And of maudlin phrases about "heritage".

Zorro: Capítulos 51-54 (Apr 23 - Apr 27)

Only four episodes this week, thanks to the Billboard music awards that pre-empted Telemundo's other shows on Thursday.

Often a novela will change its theme song midway through its run. Miguel Bosé's new album of duets features a song, "Amante Bandido", that would be a good one for Zorro:

Seré tu amante bandido bandido
corazón corazón malherido
Seré tu amante cautivo cautivo seré
pasión privada, adorado enemigo
huracán huracán abatido
me perderé en un momento contigo
por siempre...

[I'll be your outlaw, outlaw lover

love, my primitive love

I'll be your captive lover, captive, I'll be

a secret passion, adored enemy

hurricane, swooping hurricane

I'll lose myself in a moment with you



Trust me: it sounds much better in Spanish than in my literalistic translation.  Kinda sorta literalistic; "corazón corazón malherido" is a tough one in that context.  "My love, my badly brought up love" doesn't quite cut it.  The melody and instrumentation are also arranged to suggest a galloping sound, especially on the chorus.


Alejandro was struggling this week with the twin headaches of leading a revolution against el Comandante Montero and managing his Big Love polygamy arrangement with Almudena and Yumalay. Alejandro dug out his army uniform (he was a successful officer in Europe) and organized his men and other campesinos to retake his hacienda to serve as a base for operations against Montero. Meanwhile, Yumalay was sitting around moping and grouching. While she was arguing with Alejandro at some point, Almudena shows up. Geez, can't you give the guy a break? He's got enough problems as it is, can't you just let him argue with one wife at a time?

Yumalay has to put up with barbaric Spanish marriage customs

Almudena, being the proper Spanish lady, is supposed to pretend not to notice that her husband and the scantily-clad Indian beauty are getting all hot and sweaty with each other. Eventually, she may get around to making an ultimatum to Alejandro, "Okay, you get rid of the slut now!" But for the moment, she's taking the tack of love-bombing her. She confessed to Yumalay that she had been jealous of her. But after Yumalay acted so self-sacrificing in helping Alejandro organize the revolution and offered to go search for the missing Diego, Almudena realized what a wonderful person Yumalay is. Then she hugs her. Yumalay had a look of consternation on her face, probably thinking something along the lines of, "I wonder if I can shoot her in the back with a arrow like I did Alejandro and pretend that was a mistake, too?".

Pizarro is a useful ally if he doesn't strangle you with his bare hands first

Meanwhile, on the Esmeralda front, we left her the previous week on the verge of being captured by the sadistic Capitán Pizarro. Her friend and admirer Renzo the gitano intervened to help her, but Pizarro wound up taking both of them prisoner. Back at the prison, though, Pizarro tells them he's scheming against Montero and they agree to help him find Sara Kalí, who successfully evaded Montero's men with the gitano band all week. But Esmeralda and Renzo are being very cautious in their cooperation. Good thing, because we saw Pizarro's notion of loyalty when he strangled one of his soldiers that was cooperating in his plot with his bare hands just to make sure he wouldn't present any complications.

My man Hermano Aaron successfully exorcised Sor Suplicios, whose basic problem this week seems to have been she was never properly baptized. After the exorcism, Padre Tomás baptizes her and she reconciles with the still-ailing María Pia. I was afraid the wild-eyed exorcist was leaving us. But after el Gobernador Fernando stumbles around nekkid in the town square for a while, he eventually hooks with with Hermano Aaron who's on his way out of town. He asks Fernando what he's seeking. Fernando says he looking for God. Aaron says, "I'm looking for God, too", and they go off together. This looks promising.

Our main hero, Diego/Zorro, was pretty much comic relief all week. He found the Zorro costume and left the cave. He didn't remember his faithful steed Tornado's name, so he named him Gaspar, after a rich man he stole food and jewels from. In town, he encountered Tobías dressed as Zorro, so the two Zorros fought each other and then together fought off a bunch of soldiers. Padre Tomás finally caught up with him and convinced him to come back to the hacienda with him. He also explained to him that he was Zorro.

Esmeralda and Diego: only in their dreams, for the moment

Back at the now-liberated De la Vega hacienda, Diego is faced with his Jezebel wife, Mariángel, who takes the chance offered by his amnesia to try to seduce him. Diego was pleased to find he had such an attractive wife. But Padre Tomás had warned him not to trust her and that he was in love with another woman. Will he escape from Jezebel's treacherous clutches? We should find out in capítulo 55 tonight.

Toward the end of Friday's episode, back in the Old Country the current Queen discovers that her husband the King has apparently committed suicide by plunging to his death from a balcony. But the calculating way el Duque Jacobo comforted her and promised to stick by her leaves us wondering if the King did have a little help in that salto mortal (fatal dive).

And Alejandro is getting ready to raid the prison and take  on Montero frente a frente. Plus, he needs something to distract him from his problems with his two competing wives.

(All photos: Telemundo)

Joe Biden

We had commute hell in the San Francisco Bay Area this morning, because a freeway melted after a truck full of gasoline crashed and burned on what's called the MacArthur Maze in Oakland. I didn't know it was called that until it collapsed, but what the heck. See The maze meldown: Eyewitness sees driver emerge from inferno by Patrick Hoge, Demian Bulwa, Peter Fimrite San Francisco Chronicle Online 04/30/07; Maze detours make for brave new commute by George Kelly and Malaika Fraley Oakland Tribune Online 04/30/2007. The Chronicle's dramatic photo of the blaze is here. Although a lot of people seem to have adapted by adjusting their schedules, working from home for the days, and so forth, so the actual morning commute wasn't as nightmarish everywhere as it could have been. The return commute in the evening is sure to be more problematic, because its the lanes leading east out of San Francisco that are blocked, not the other way around.

What does all this have to do with Joe Biden? Nothing directly. But remember the terrorists who actually try to attack American targets? They read the news, too:
Accident sparks worries about copycat attacks by Ian Hoffman Oakland Tribune 04/30/2007. Now, state officials will try to connect nearly anything to terrorism if there might be extra federal funds attached. But still, instead of spending $100 billion a year on (Biden's number on Sunday) on the Iraq War, I would feel a lot safer if we had been reinforcing obvious vulnerabilities like airplane cargo compartments, port security and freeways that melt. And in many cases, the kind of improvements that would boost security in case of attack would also be good for public safely in non-terrorist accidents like this one. Fortunately, this one took place in the dead of night. If it had happened during rush hour, it's inconceivable that no deaths would have resulted.

Biden was on
Meet the Press Sunday for an hour with Tim Russert. (The transcript doesn't seem to be available yet as of this writing.) He mentioned the need for better domestic precautions against terrorist attacks, which has been a standard Democratic talking point for years. But this disaster reminds me that it's a valid priority, even allowing for the inevitable hype and scamming around the still-hot topic of terrorism. This road collapse is likely to mess up the commute in a seriously bad way for months. All large cities and all states need to have workable plans in place that can be implemented quickly for dealing with these kinds of emergencies.

And if those preparations wind up being used for accidents and natural disasters more than for responses to terrorism, so what? The OxyContin crowd won't like it. But bitching and moaning and slinging sleaze at the Democrats about everything is just what they do all the time anyway.

I was also thinking as I dragged myself out of bed 45 minutes early and rushed to leave for work an hour and 15 minutes early, that around here a disaster like this makes for a really aggravating commute. If we lived in Baghdad, this kind of accident that would mean new traffic jams would be life-threatening to commuters. Because it would mean more time in traffic jams, and therefore more chances for snipers, car bombers and kidnappers to strike people stuck in traffic. Maybe that sounds like a case of trying to find somebody that's worse off than you, and maybe it is. That's generally pretty easy to do. Unless you live in Baghdad or Anbar province or Darfur.

Biden talked a lot about the Iraq War and foreign policy issues. He had a couple of good things to say. But it was disappointing, on the whole. The best thing he said was a point I've been saying for a while that the Democrats should be making: that the October 2002 war resolution did not authorize the invasion of Iraq that Cheney and Bush launched in March of 2003. Chuck Hagel, the rightwing Nebraska Senator who passes for a "moderate" in today's authoritarian Republican Party, also makes the same point in an interview with Salon ("
We cannot stay as an occupying force in the Middle East" 04/30/07):

Iwasn't convinced [of WMD] or in any way connected Saddam Hussein with 9/11. Before we even had the vote I said that. Some get the resolution wrong. It wasn't a resolution to go to war ... Ultimately it was giving the president authority to use force if all the diplomatic efforts fail. If there was no other recourse it would allow the president to use force. I believed the president and others who said they would exhaust all diplomatic efforts. Which they did not. They told us they would and they did not. (my emphasis)
Neither Biden nor Hagel mentioned the other official goal of the war specified in that resolution besides dealing with the nonexistent WMDs, which was to deal with the nonexistent operational links between Saddam's regime and Al Qaida and as part of that to specifically to retaliate for Saddam's nonexistent role in the 9/11 attacks.

Biden did okay in terms of style responding to Russert's trademark gotcha questions asking about things he had said before that sound different than what he's saying now. But in terms of substance, Biden is still caught up in the fact that he foolishly took a hawkish position on the war up until last year, so he winds up dissembling to justify a dovish-sounding position now.

When I saw
Tom Hayden speak in San Francisco last November, he stressed that politicians are especially good at double-talk, so the antiwar movement will have to keep the pressure on all of them to continue to pull the troops out. That is, once we start pulling troops out rather than sending more in. Biden's MTP interview Sunday reminded me of that.

I've written here before about how I'm concerned by the current Congressional pullout plan because it leaves a wide-open loophole to have troops to keep fighting "Al Qaida" in Iraq, which already seems to be leading the war fans to make Al Qaida sound like it has a huge role in the guerrilla war there. But during the current veto fight over the war, I'm content that the message most voters and people in other countries will get will be, "Bush is in favor of continuing the war, the Democrats want to end it."

But Biden on Sunday used the various qualifications in the Congressional plan to step on the general Democratic antiwar message. None of his comments on the Iraq War were particularly encouraging for war critics; he even managed to smother his observation that Bush's invasion in 2003 violated the Congressional war resolution with confusing talk about how it authorized Bush to go to war but not really stressing the conditional nature of that authorization.

He emphasized that the current Democratic position is not a deadline date for US withdrawal from Iraq, but a target that is "flexible". He is still justifying his vote for the war resolution in 2002. He's claiming that he was voting to give the President authority for war under certain conditions in order to avoid war. That is a disingenious argument. While I've said that it's important to recognize how Bush violated the war resolution, there was also no doubt at the time that the practical effect of passing that resolution was to give Bush effective permission to launch an invasion on his own say-so.

Biden also said that when the UN inspectors left in 1998, they were still saying Iraq had large quantities of material that could be weaponized as WMDs. Now, my entire staff of fact-checkers are still caught in the commute. But I'm pretty sure what they said was that there were certain amounts of materials not accounted for.

On a related whopper, I don't need the fact checkers to know he was repeating a falsehood when he said that Saddam kicked out the inspectors in 1998. The facts are worth remembering since this was one of several lies used to justify going to war and killing and wounding a lot of people including American soldiers for no good reason. Iraq blocked inspectors from their work in 1998 because they discovered that the UN team included members that were passing information to the CIA. The US government later admitted this was the case. Then Scott Ritter who was heading the inspection team at the time decided on his own to remove the inspectors. Yet here's Joe Biden the famous "realist" still repeating this false war-propaganda point.

The rest of Biden's interview also wasn't that encouraging. He sneered at "the French" for criticizing the effects of the economic sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s; in reality, a realistic look at those sanctions should be one of the most important "lessons of Iraq" to examine. He wants to send more American troops to Afghanistan and also to Darfur. I can't say I'm thrilled about either prospect - even if we could pretend that this current administration had the ability to manage either situation competently, which they certainly do not.

He said correctly that Medicare is more of a financial problem than Social Security. But he said more than once, clearly including Social Security, that he wants to "put it all on the table" in looking at solutions. "You have to," he said. No, we don't have to put Social Security "on the table". And the Republicans' phase-out schemes ("privitization") should be permanently off that famous metaphorical table.

Biden also supported the so-called "partial-birth abortion" ban. He said he was alarmed by the Supreme Court's apparent positioning in a case unsuccessfully challenging that law seems to be setting the stage to overturn Roe v. Wade. But defending the right to choose on abortions clearly does not seem to be the higest priority for Biden.

After Biden's gab-fest with Russert, I watched Chris Matthews' 30-minute Sunday show, where Matthews and various pundits kicked around fogettable comments about the Presidential candidates. Clarence Paige, generally one of the more sensible among the Big Pundits, made the remarkable observation that the 2008 election will be the "first big election since 9/11".

Say what? Let's see, there was the 2002 election that handed the Senate back to Republican control, insuring that virtually no Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch would occur during the next four years. There was that little Presidential election in 2004 that retained Dear Leader Bush as President. Last year the Congressional elections turned both Houses of Congress back to the Democrats in a striking protest against the disaster known as the Iraq War.

I can only wonder what counts as a "big election" in the world of our Wise Pundits.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Senate Democrats and the Dean Of All The Pundits

Glenn Greenwald asks if we're seeing A genuine political sea change? Salon 04/28/07. He's referring among other thingsto last week's drama around David Broder, the Dean Of All The Pundits.

Broder wrote a Washington Post column trashing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and strong implying (though without specifically saying) that quite a few Senate Democrats were ready to dump him as leader.

Some real reporters then following up and actually talked to Senate Democrats and couldn't uncover any sign of this brewing party revolt. Then, all 50 of Reid's Democratic Senate colleagues - yes, even including Holy Joe Liberman! - signed a letter to the Post praised Reid's leadership and expressing their confidence in him.

Now anyone remotely familiar with the Democratic Party knows that it's a near-miracle for all the Dems in one of the Congressional Houses to agree on anything. He sees that as one sign among several that the Dems are ready to buck "Wise Beltway Wisdom, which endlessly warns them not to adhere to their beliefs too steadfastly or to defy Republican decrees, especially on foreign policy". And I'm willing to be cautiously optimistic on that score, too.

But what is particularly significant to me about the Senate Dems' letter to the Post is that they realized they had to fight the press in this instance, and not let the long-braindead Of All The Pundits get a new press script started about how Reid is embarassing the Dems, is out of touch with his caucus, and yadda, yadda. These phony press scripts have been devastating to Democrats the last 15 years. So let's hope this new habit is more than a passing moment!


Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 29: Neo-Confederacy in San Francisco

John C. Calhoun: his (white-supremacist) soul goes marching on, too

Well, in the San Francisco Chronicle, anyway:
Give the Confederate flag a break by Jaime O'Neill 04/29/07. O'Neill claims to be a devotee of the honorable heritage of the Confederate flag. You have to wonder how devoted he is to actual history, though, when the Confederate flag that is disputed is the Confederate battle flag (although the rectangular form that is usually seen would be more accurately called the Confederate Navy Jack flag) but he refers to it as the "Stars and Bars", which was the first official flag of the Confederacy. The familiar one to us today features the St. Andrews Cross or Southern Cross, which is not even included on the Stars and Bars.

But you stumble across stuff like this all the time in the faith-based but factoid-cluttered world of Lost Cause devotion. I was going to focus for today's post on a newspaper manifesto of the Lost Cause from a Mississippi newspaper in 2001. But when I saw the Chronicle article, I decided to do that one today and save the other for tomorrow.

The Stars and Bars, the first official flag of the Confederate States of America

I'm going to summarize it here. It's only fair to say that it won't be an entirely reverent summary. And I'm going to "desublimate" some of the subtext that commonly lies behind these sentiments, though of course O'Neill can deny any such intent for things he didn't actually say.Lost Cause advocates, like most other rightwingers, can be as obsessive as Protestant fundamentalists in comma-dancing on the sentences of their critics. When it comes to reading history, though ideology and fantasy serve just as well as actual facts for them. After the summary, I'll say a few other things about this stuff.

So by all means read O'Neill's little piece of radical-right ideology. You'll find several common pieces of the neo-Confederate/Lost Cause faith in his article:

1. Most importantly, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton criticize the Confederate flag, if you know what I mean.

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton criticize white people who make bigoted cracks about black people? Why should us poor persecuted white folks have to listen to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? (I should mention here that "Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton" is a common phrase for Republicans to mean "bad black people" because they are the two most famous civil rights leaders in the US right now.) The whole first part of the article is about race, including whining about how pore ole Imus got criticized for his "nappy headed ho's" crack, reminding us of course that such talk by white people is all the fault of black people.

But the Confederate flag has nothing to do with racism or slavery, oh no! Except because Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton make a big deal about it.

The Confederate flag most people know today; this is the Navy Jack; the battle flag was the same design but square

2. Robert E. Lee was the greatest human being since Jesus Christ.

Maybe better, because, you know, that Jesus fellow was a Jew!

3. Nathan Bedford Forrest loved black folks.

Pay no attention to the massacre of black prisoners at Fort Pillow. O'Neill doesn't mention Fort Pillow, but he does mention that Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan. So maybe that means the KKK likes black people, too!

4. Most Confederate soldiers didn't own slaves.

Most American soldiers in Iraq don't own oil wells, either. What does either of those things say about the purpose and goals of either war?

5. The Confederate Army had droves of black soldiers.

Oh, yeah, the Confederate Army - the whole Confederate nation, in fact! - was a near-paradise of multicultural tolerance.

6. The American flag symbolizes racism and slavery.

Why do neo-Confederates hate America? My guess is, they hate us for our values.

7. The Confederate flag symbolizes racial diversity.

Yeah, Sanjaya is a great singer, Richard Nixon was not a crook and Dick Cheney is a nice guy. And for just $500, I can send you the exclusive secret story on what happened to Saddam Hussein's WMDs!

8. Only some black people resent the Confederate flag.

Like, you know, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton! O'Neill says that an unnamed "recent survey" shows that most young blacks today associate the Confederate flag with the TV show
The Dukes of Hazzard, which "many of them had grown up with."

You Lost Cause fans might better update that one. The idea you want to convey is "black kids are so stupid they don't know what the Confederate flag is". Plus they enjoy white-redneck humor. But that TV series ran from 1979 to 1985. So pretty much anyone who remembers seeing it in the first run would be in their 30s or 40s now. I mean, it is a creative thought (as racist ideas go, anyway), combining several insults, sneers and pure nonsense in one sentence. But it's time to update that one, white boys.

John C. Calhoun, the godfather of secession

9. Country music fans like the Confederate flag.

I suppose this would be persuasive to someone who knew nothing whatsoever about country music.

10. Yankees and liberals sneer at us persecuted white bigots.
Why are damnyankees and damnliberals so insensitive to white bigots? What about a little inclusive attitude for white racists, huh?

A corollary of this is the Democratic Party should kiss up to white bigots. Oh, yeah, with a few kind words, all the Confederate flag fans will be happy to vote for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

I want to elaborate on a couple of points. O'Neill writes:

Any country music concert you might attend will be festooned with that flag, either in the parking lot, or in the apparel of those attending, whether the group appearing is Alabama, Willie Nelson, Toby Keith or the Dixie Chicks. Does that mean that all those people are professing a belief in the rightness of slavery? Are they all racists?
Uh, dude, Willie Nelson and Toby Keith are individual people, not "groups", but we'll let that slide.

But when I think back, I've been to country music concerts in the South and in California for years. I can remembers seeing Emmylou Harris, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Gillian Welch, Steve Earle, Buck Owens, Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell, Alison Kraus and Union Station, Kelly Willis, Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels [gag! choke!], Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash and June Carter, Dwight Yoakum, Kte Campbell, Nanci Griffin, Utah Phillips, Haxel Dickens, Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, Bruce Robison, the Del McCoury Band, Ramblin' Jack Eliot, Iris Dement, Stacey Earle, Bill Monroe, Eliza Gilkyson, Doc Watson, Buddy and Julie Miller, Kasey Chambers, John Prine, Tony Rice, Peter Rowan, to mention the ones I can remember right off.

I don't actually recall seeing a Confederate flag of any kind at any of those concerts, though I'm sure there were some around when I saw Chuckie (CHARLIE DANIELS) live. He may have even displayed one on the stage in some form.

But I guess if you go to the Theodore Bilbo Country Jackasses or the Ross Barnett Bluegrass Boys or groups with names like that, you might see a Confederate flag. I remember seeing a Confederate flag displayed on a door in the Spanish island of Mallorca once, in the German tourist section of town. You didn't have to ask to know that it was some kind of neo-Nazi or other far-right group that used that particular place.

You often see American flags at country music concerts, though.

This business about blacks fighting in the Confederate Army is also a favorite pile of horse-poop for the Lost Cause crowd, too. O'Neill writes:

Between 60,000 and 90,000 black men, both free and slave, also served under the banner of the Stars and Bars.
There's the Stars and Bars thing again. Though if you wanted to comma-dance on it, the actual Stars and Bars flag was the official flag of the Confederacy from March 1861 to May 1863. So any blacks that actually did serve in the Confederate armed forces could have served under the Stars and Bars.

My April 3 post this year dealt with a case of what certainly appears to be a Lost Cause advocate using fabricated evidence to pump this "black Confederate soldiers" business. As I said there, this business about blacks fighting for the Confederacy and for the sacred right to be held in slavery by white people is a favorite theme of neo-Confederate pseudohistorical hokum. My impression is that it's meant not so much to be taken seriously but rather as a sneer at African-Americans and at anyone who prefers reality-based history.

The paper I linked there,
Retouching History: The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, Jr., cites this book review on the topic, Desperate Measures: Were slaves really so loyal to their masters that they went to war to defend the Confederacy? by David Blight Washington Post 03/05/06, saying:

In the past decade, the neo-Confederate fringe of Civil War enthusiasm (with tentative support from some academic historians) has contended that thousands of African Americans, slave and free, willingly joined the Confederate war effort as soldiers and fought for their "homeland." A quasi-debate over the existence of "black Confederates" has seeped into academic conferences, historical journals and many Web sites. The issue of competing popular memories is driven largely by the desire of current white supremacists to re-legitimize the Confederacy while tacitly rejecting the victories of the modern civil rights movement. What could better buttress the claims of "color-blind conservatism" in our own time than the notion that the slaveholding leaders of the Confederacy were themselves the true emancipators and that many slaves were devoted to the Southern rebellion? George Orwell warned us: Who needs real history when you can control public language and political debate?
This, by the way, is a typical tack for pseudohistory of all kinds. Invent some kind of whopper and assert it as obvious fact. Even a specialist in the field might immediately realize it's horse-poop but still not be able to come up immediately with a factual refutation. You see this in Holocaust denial all the time. Holocaust deniers like to say, for instance, that even Austrian Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal said that there were no death camps in Germany, implying that he was denying their existence. Wiesenthal actually said that, and it's true: only four of the concentration camps were designated by the Nazis as death camps, intended to kill people in mass numbers with efficient industrial organization. All of those were outside the borders of Germany. There was no shortage of concentration camps in Germany, though, many of them death camps in fact for a lot of their prisoners.

But unless you are familiar with the particular fabrication or slight-of-hand, you wouldn't necessarily know what to make of it. In that sense, bald-faced liars can have a short-term advantage over honest people in a dispute like that. Real scientists encounter the same kind of thing in debate "creationists", which is why scientists active in refuting them have become much more canny about the conditions under which they will debate them face-to-face.

Blight's article is a review of Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves by Bruce Levine, which addresses this particular Lost Cause claim. This claim is largely based on the fact that, in desperation in early 1865, the Confederate Congress actually considered a proposal to allow slaves to fight in the army and be rewarded by emancipation for it. Blight writes:

In late February and early March 1865, after intensive debate and facing huge desertion rates in the Southern forces, the Confederate Congress adopted a halfhearted bill authorizing black enlistment. The House voted 40-37 and the Senate 9-8 to allow [Jefferson] Davis to implement a voluntary plan in which no slaves were to be conscripted. Owners had to come forward and give their slaves to the cause. The law itself did not free a single slave and operated, as one of its proponents admitted, as a "free-will offering." Gen. Lee demanded urgent action to usher black men into his army, which was about to collapse in front of Petersburg. The war ended before anything could come of this last-ditch Confederate effort to find manpower - which now looked, as a Mississippian gravely confessed, "like a drowning man catching at straws." Only in Virginia were any blacks actually mustered into companies, totaling at most perhaps 200 men. None saw meaningful combat, and, as Levine found, some of those who did wear Confederate gray did so as a means of running away to Union lines.

... [Levine's] conclusions are judiciously tethered to the evidence. And how can he avoid letting despairing Confederates speak for themselves, as does a South Carolina planter with remarkable candor right after Appomattox? "Born and raised amid" slavery, said Augustin Taveau, he had believed "that these people were content, happy, and attached to their masters." But "the conduct of the Negro in the late crisis of our affairs convinced me that we have all been labouring under a delusion." That delusion both made and unmade the Confederate quest to save their slaveholders' republic by arming blacks. In the end, Levine successfully counters the "spirit of reactionary nostalgia" that has fueled the "black Confederate" mythology. For more than a century, the pernicious story of the faithful slave took deep root in the American imagination, where it still provides an active, if declining, currency in race relations. (my emphasis)
The Handler and Tuite article links above tells us:

The actual 1st Louisiana Native Guards, consisting of Afro-Creoles [i.e.,mulattos], was formed of about 1,500 men in April 1861 and was formally accepted as part of the Louisiana militia in May 1862. The Native Guards unit (one of three all-black companies) never saw combat while in Confederate service, and was largely kept at arm’s length by city and state officials; in fact, it often lacked proper uniforms and equipment. “The Confederate authorities,” James Hollandsworth has written, "never intended to use black troops for any mission of real importance. If the Native Guards were good for anything, it was for public display; free blacks fighting for Southern rights made good copy for the newspapers." The unit apparently was never committed to the Confederate cause, and appears to have disobeyed orders to evacuate New Orleans with other Confederate forces; instead it surrendered to Union troops in April 1862. (my emphasis)
Such is the fidelity of the Lost Cause ideologists to the actual heritage of real American history.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 28: Confederate "heritage" in Mississippi, 2001

Antislavery fighters in Kansas, 1856

It's been almost six years since Mississippi had a statewide referendum on an issue that was essentially all about neo-Confederate hype and the Lost Cause viewpoint of history and politics. It was a vote on replacing the official state flag, which consisted of three stripes with a replica of the Confederate battle flag in the upper left corner. The proposed new flag would be very similar except it would replace the Confederate battle flag with a cluster of stars.

A native Mississippian like me could hardly fail to appreciate - or maybe "recognize" would be a better word - that there was something distinctively Mississippi about that vote. It came about through some quirk in the law that led the state Supreme Court to hold that the old flag wasn't technically the official state flag.

So there was a statewide vote held in April 2001, in which the flag was the only issue on the ballot. It's rare, maybe even unique, for a state to vote on an issue that is essentially purely symbolic. The very fact that the vote at all was being held was bad public relations for the state. The fact that the Confederate state flag won was bad PR, too. In that sense, it was a no-win decision.

Small states in the US, like small countries in the world, tend to make the news only when there's a natural disaster (we read plenty about Mississippi after the Katrina disaster, though not as much as about New Orleans) or something politically obnoxious happens. On the other hand, once the occurence is over, the national press tends to quickly forget about it.

So it's unlikely that Mississippi suffered any measurable damage from it. There weren't even any formal boycotts over it, because those are basically only meaningful for tourist events like large conventions and trade shows, and Mississippi doesn't have the kinds of facilities to attract those kind of larger events. Their main tourist draw is casino gambling, and thatbusiness isn't that subject to boycotts because it tends to be individuals or small groups coming for that. There's also some Civil War tourism, but that's also not that subject to boycotts. Are people not going to go the federally-run national park at Vicksburg because the state flag inlcudes Confederate symbolism? Not likely.

The Confederate battle flag became a symbol of white resistance to integration in the 1950s. It wasn't strongly associated with Lost Cause memorials or white-supremacist politics prior to that. But now it's about the only Confederate flag popularly known. It's sometimes erroneously called the "Stars and Bars". But the "Stars and Bars" flag was the official flag of the Confederacy; the one that's most known now is the battle flag. Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion sing a song of his called "Gervais" about South Carolina's well-known Confederate flag:

An eye for an eye and we'll go blind
That's what the man said and it stuck in my mind
We've hearing the ringing off these walls today

Still flying the flag upon Gervais
Was a battle flag, now we can put it away
Given its racially-charged symbolism, it's not surprising that the vote tended to split heavily along racial lines, though African-American voter turnout there is generally lower than among whites. Of the 16 counties with a black population of 60% or more, only three (Quitman, Sharkey and Issaquena) squeaked out a majority to retain the Confederate state flag. Of the 57 counties of 50% or more white, a grand total of two (Madison and Oktibbeha) voted for the replacement flag. And in the eight counties with 50-60% black population, five voted for the Confederate state flag. It's hard to read those results as other than heavy black opposition for the Confederate-themed flag and heavy white support, with a lower proportional black turnout accounting for the pro-Confederate-symbol vote in the five of eight counties with 50-60% black population. (The Jackson Clarion-Ledger published these results from the Associated Press online - "Totals by majority race" - but the link has expired.

Of the counties where I lived in Mississippi, Clarke County voted 65% for the Confederate-themed flag, Forrest County voted 63% for it, and Hinds County (where the capital Jackson is) voted 65% against.

The campaign for the Confederate state flag was most actively supported by the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), which was then in the process of largely being taken of by hardline white-supremacists (not that they were exactly a human-rights group before!), and the crackpot League of the South, which actually advocates secession now, which is actually a minority position among today's neo-Confederates. The Council of Conservative Citizens, the successor group to the White Citizens Council, also pushed the Confederate-themed flag.

Sadly, the pro-new-flag side struck a high-minded, Chamber of Commerce tone. And lost. When the Confederate side was using a simple slogan with emotional resonance like, "It's mah heritage!" and the American side is saying things along the line of, "It would be much preferable for the state to project and more respectable image by selecting a more appropriate state flag", good grief!

They would have been better off to run an in-your-face campaign. They could have runs adds in heavily black areas showing the Confederate flag and photos of lynch-murders to encourage black turnout. They could have done pitches to white voters along the lines of, "Are you patriotic Americans or Confederate-loving fools who hate America?" Or use ads showing some of the more crackpot positions of the League of the South, the SCV and the White Citizen's Council and tag lines like, "Do you really want to vote for white supremacist scumbags like this?" They might still have lost. But it couldn't have been any less effective than the bland, politely and losing Chamber of Commerce approach.

What the election did do, though, is provide a public debate, directed at ordinary voters, not at historians or activists for far-right groups, that aired the issues that neo-Confederacy is really about. Here I'll give some examples from the letters-to-the-editor section of the Clarion-Ledger, with the reminder that letter-to-the-editor are often eccentric and that the Clarion-Ledger editorially supported a new flag. Tomorrow I'll mention some of the other more elaborated arguments.

One fine American patriot, Lilliane Bobbitt of Cleveland (MS) wrote in a letter published 04/10/01:

The flag with the St. Andrew's cross [the Confederate-themed state flag] was designed to commemorate all the soldiers, black and white, who died defending Mississippi from Union soldiers.

You seem to think we should discard this symbol just because blacks are unhappy with it.

I am astonished how a whole race will let themselves be manipulated by liberals and others who have no interest in them or in the welfare of our state. Until recent years there was little mention of or notice given to our state flag. But, more than 40 years ago blacks began to push, demand and boycott guided by agitators like Jesse Jackson.

Our flag is not only a symbol. A spiritual force surrounds our flag just as the American flag and the Christian cross are surrounded by a spiritual force.

No race has the right to push their selfish ends to the destruction of another culture.

Surely, you know this.
Dadgum, how could them liberals ever imagine that support for the Confederate battle flag was about "hate" instead of "heritage"? Or that it might have something to do with white racism? Where do these dang liberals git such ideas?

Cartoonist Ramsey Marshall captured the moment after the vote (from the Clarion-Ledger 04/20/01)

Also on April 10, R. Charles Van Buren of Jackson shared his thoughts on Christian respect:

According to The Clarion-Ledger (NAACP planning strategy in flag vote, Feb. 6), the Rev. Dolphus Weary, a member of the state flag advisory commission, believes we should change our state flag and justifies this with a biblical mandate, "If there's something that offends your brother, you need to move it off the table."

Now, I have heard the Rev. Weary preach and I consider him to be a brother in Christ and a good man. However, has he considered the other side? I, and many others, feel offended by the statements and attitudes of many of the flag opponents. Particularly the implication that if I support the 1894 flag or the displaying of other symbols of the confederacy, I am a racist. The many untruths and half truths put forth about theflag and great Americans such as Robert E. Lee offend me greatly.

Are not my feelings and the feelings of those who share my views just as important as anyone else's?

What can be done if people on both sides of the issue feel offended and angry?

Well, what could have been done if the issue had not been hijacked by radical's was a simple compromise for which I would have voted - replace the [Confederate-themed] 1894 flag with one of the older state flags, particularly the 1861 flag which celebrates our heritage. I am now forced to choose between two positions which I dislike. I will not give in to radical hate mongers so I will vote for the 1894 flag and pray that in the future we are offered a true compromise that will defuse this issue.
Gol-lee! You just cain't help but feel sorry for those pore white folks who're picked on by that there n-double-a-c-p, can you?

This is the kind of dissembling horse-poo that segregationists raised to an art form. Or maybe a full-blown neurosis. "Ah don't have nothin' against black folks. Some of my best friends are black. Ah just don't like them radicals like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton tellin' me whut to do." Yeah, right.

Finally, in the April 12 paper, one Tip H. Allen, Jr. of Starkville pleaded for sympathy for those sadly persecuted white people:

Flags are symbols. In the eyes of the viewer they are regarded as either good or bad symbols. The U.S. flag is perceived by most as a glorious symbol, yet it has had a darker side: It flew over slave ships in 1788 to 1808.

Supporters of the present Mississippi flag with the battle emblem view the emblem not as a symbol of hate, or slavery or segregation, but as a symbol of heritage.

Walter Lord in his book The Past That Would Not Die notes that of the 78,000 Mississippians who joined in the fight for Southern independence, only 28,000 returned. A majority of the soldiers in the Confederate army came from families who did not own slaves. Soldiers of the Confederacy regarded themselves as fighting for country, not slavery.

Significant progress in race relations in Mississippi during recent years has come from a spirit of tolerance on the part of both races. White Mississippians have recognized the importance of African-Americans preserving their heritage. There were no protest marches or threats of boycotts when scores of street names were changed to honor Dr. King or when Black History Month was established.

Now, supporters of the [Confederate-themed] 1894 flag ask for a similar display of tolerance in permitting them to honor an important part of their heritage. Alleged economic gain or political correctness should not bring down the 1894 banner.
Got that? The Confederate flag had nothing to do with racism. But the American flag does!

Is it any surprise that people who become accustomed to this kind of through-the-looking glass thinking can also believe other incredible whoppers like Dick Cheney's claims about the Iraq War?


Friday, April 27, 2007

Russia suspends key force-limitation treaty; US press too focused on John Edwards' hair to notice

Okay, that title is a big bit of hyperbole. But the group we generously call our American "press corps" doesn't seem to think this is much of a big deal. Hardly worth noticing, in fact: 'Grave concern' as Putin freezes defence pact The Australian/AFP 27.04.07; Putins gefährliches Vermächtnis von Uwe Klussmann Der Spiegel Online 27.04.07. The Australian's report says:

In heated NATO talks in Oslo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Russia was to halt its application of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty and could even pull out if the allies did not endorse it.

"It means that we will halt the compliance of our obligations under the treaty," he told reporters, after launching what was described by a US official as a 20-minute "diatribe" against NATO.

His remarks came after Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a state of the nation address, called for the freeze in response to the US missile shield plans.
It sounds like a pretty doggone big deal to me!

Meanwhile, Condi-Condi says that the Cheney-Bush administration is losing patience with the "Soviets". What the [Cheney]? And Condi's academic specialty is Russia. See
Putin Plays Hard Ball as Rice Reassures 'Soviets' Der Spiegel International Online 04/26/07.

The issue at dispute is the plan of the Cheney-Bush administration to deploy its "missile shield" in Europe, which the Russians (the Soviet Union dissolved a while ago, Condi) interpret as a hostile military action. Why, you may ask, are the Russians worried about a boondoggle, useless corporate-welfare project like the Star Wars "missile shield"? US weapons expert Philip Coyle explains in 'I'm Against Deploying Systems that Don't Work' Der Spiegel International Online 04/26/07. On the not working part:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Coyle, who would a US missile defense system in Poland protect? Europe or the East Coast of the United States?

Coyle: For all we know, neither one. The missile defense systems already deployed in California and Alaska have not demonstrated the capability to destroy enemy missiles under realistic conditions. And the equipment to be deployed in Poland is no different.
On why the Russians officially see it as a threat:

SPIEGEL: Russia is sharply critical of the missile defense plans and feels threatened. Justifiably?

Coyle: If Russia were installing missile defense systems in Canada or Cuba, we would react pretty much the same way. We are surrounding them and getting closer to their territorial boundaries.

SPIEGEL: The current administration of George W. Bush claims that missile defense serves as a deterrent. Long-term, the argument goes, such a system would lead to states abandoning the development of such weapons.

Coyle: All this will not lead to a safer world. Countries will simply build up so many missiles that they could overwhelm the most futuristic missile defense system. So far, the Chinese do not believe that our technology works. Who knows what they would do if that changes.
Other articles on Russia's suspension of compliance with the CFE treaty:

Putin Threatens to Withdraw From Armed Forces Treaty by Mark Sweetman and Hannah Gardner 04/26/07

Putin retaliates for American antimissile plan by David Holley Los Angeles Times 04/27/07

US and Nato dissect Putin treaty threat by Neil Buckley and Daniel Dombey Financial Times 04/27/07:

US and Nato officials were yesterday scrambling to understand Vladimir Putin's surprise threat to pull Russia out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, a cornerstone of security on the continent.

The accord is a guarantee against the remilitarisation of Europe, the risk of which has now all but vanished.

But a moratorium could halt Russia's co-operation with the CFE's transparency and inspection regime, which has played an important role in confidence-building by demonstrating compliance with arms limits. Moscow has said it is unfair that the treaty restricts movement of military equipment within its own borders.
Russian forces closer to Norway? Norway Post 28.04.07

The Washington Post found room for the story on page 16:
Russia to Suspend Compliance With Key European Pact by Peter Finn 04/27/07.

Russia's treaty threat irks Nato 04/26/07


Gernika (Guernica)

Yesterday, April 26, was the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the town of Gernika, Spain, in 1937 which was immortalized in Picasso's famous painting, one of the great statements of antiwar art of all time. Though it wasn't a statement against all war as such. At the time it was done, it was a statement against Francisco Franco's forces and against his German and Italian allies who did the actual bombing.

This PBS Web site that focuses on Picasso's famous painting gives a brief summary of the infamous event:

On April 27th, 1937, unprecedented atrocities are perpetrated on behalf of Franco against the civilian population of a little Basque village in northern Spain. Chosen for bombing practice by Hitler's burgeoning war machine, the hamlet is pounded with high-explosive and incendiary bombs for over three hours. Townspeople are cut down as they run from the crumbling buildings. Guernica burns for three days. Sixteen hundred civilians are killed or wounded.
The bombing was not done only by the Germans though. The notorious German Condor Legion joined with the Italian Aviazione Legionaria in the attack. Among other things, it allowed them to test the effect of their current air war technology.

It wasn't the first time air power had been used in war. In the First World War there had even been some primitive instances of dropping bombs from a plane, with minimal effect. But this was the first full-scale assault on a city by aerial bombing. Events since then make it almost impossible to imagine how the prospect of such a thing was viewed then. Air power was even considered by many to make war essentially impossible, because the devastation that countries could cause each other would be so great it would be a huge deterrent. It didn't work out that way.

La memoria de Gernika de Eva Lamarca El País 19/04/2007 recounts the events mainly through interviewing several living survivors of the attack.

See also the then-and-now photos at
La memoria de Gernika. (Photo by Carlos Luján El País 20.04.07)

Luis Iriondo was 14 years old at the time. He recalls hiding in an air-raid shelter. Shelters had been hastily constructed after Franco's forces bombed Durango on March 31. He recalls the first round of attacks, "A los tres minutos, ya no podíamos respirar. Éramos tantos y aquello era tan pequeño, sin ventilación, ni luz? Morir enterrado vivo me aterraba". (For those three minutes, we couldn't even breathe. There were a lot of us, and the space was very small, without ventilation or light. To die buried alive terrified me.")I don't know whether he was consciously using a literary touch in that last sentence with "enterrado...aterraba" but it comes out that way.

Luis talks about his friend Cipriano Arrien, who, like boys will, wanted to see the action. He refused to go to the shelter with Luis. Luis remembers thinking to himself, "¡joer, lo estará viendo todo y yo no podré contarle mañana ni cómo son los aviones!", ("Dang, he'll see everything and I wouldn't even be able to tell you tomorrow what the airplanes are like!") After the attack was over and Luis came out of the shelter, he looked for Cipriano were he had left him; "lo encontro muerto" (he found him dead).

When Luis went to look at his family's house and saw, "Nada. Se quedó sin nada. Sin ropa, sin comida, sin morada." ("Nothing. Nothing was left. No clothes, no food, no home.")A single photograph of himself is all that remained to him from his things of that time.

According to Eva Lamarca's article, 71% of the Gernika's population lost their homes in the attack. When the brutality of the attack became known to the world, the Francoists were worried about public reaction, in particular that of the Catholic Church, which was supported Franco's fascist revolt. So they put out the story that it was actually the "reds" (the defenders of the democratic Republic) who had bombed the town to make it look like the fascists had done it. The cover story wasn'tterribly convincing.

José Ángel Etxaniz, who is part of the Fundación Gernika-Gogoratuz, a group of six (most of whom are historians), explains in the article that the official casualty figures put out by the Republic at the time were 1,654 dead and 889 wounded. Obviously, the fact that death were greater than wounded looks odd. Lamarca quotes another member of the group as saying that the number of death was no more than 150, and also that 99% of the buildings in the town sustained some kind of damage. She quotes Josefina Odriozola as also saying that only 1% of the buildings in town were left undamaged, while the rest were damaged or completely destroyed.

It's a reminder of the destructiveness of air power and the very serious questions about to what extent it should be used. According to the official figures from the Air Force, during the month of March 2007, flew 1,663 "close-air support" missions in Iraq and 1,264 in Afghanistan, at least some of them involving the dropping of 500-lb. and 2,000-lb. bombs. Every one of those bombs is creating a little bit of Gernika.

And yet the air war in both places is virtually unreported in the mainstream press. When the histories of those wars are written, the role of air power will loom much larger than it does in contemporary reporting. The air power true believers will, as always, profess to find brilliant results. But the actual results deserve a hard look from Congress, the press and the public, as well as military analysts.

Jeffrey Record of the Air War College gives us a glimpse of how European military planners viewed air power in the 1930s in his paper
Appeasement Reconsidered: Investigating the Mythology of the 1930s (US Army Strategic Studies Institute) August 2005:

Both governments and publics in Britain and France were gripped by a generic dread of mass air attacks on cities, and governments misread the size and nature of the German Luftwaffe, taking at face value Hitler’s announcement in 1935 that Germany already had air parity with Britain. They saw in war with Germany immediate and massive air attacks on London and Paris. The dread of air attack stemmed from a belief that strategic bombardment was irresistible and that its potential effects could include rapid disintegration of the political and social order. In 1932 British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin had famously declared: "There is no power on earth that can protect [its people] from being bombed. . . . The bombers will always get through. The only defense is in offense, which means that you have to kill more women and children than the enemy if you want to save yourselves." Baldwin’s view was certainly the starting point for British and American air power advocates from the early 1920s onward. They believed that air power, not armies and navies, would determine the outcome of future wars, and that the best defense against air attack was a good offense in the form of massive bomber forces. They rejected investment in defenses which (in the days before radar and “pursuit” aircraft that could fly as fast as bombers) they rightly regarded as futile, and they were firmly opposed to diverting air power to assist ground and naval forces.(pp. 30-31; my emphasis)
Tammy Davis Biddle also addresses the view of air power by both military professionals and the public in those days in the U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Policy and Strategy, 2nd Edition (2006):

During the interwar years, public views on warfare tended to embody extremes — either a determination to avoid the topic altogether, or a tendency to articulate it in the most apocalyptic terms. Perhaps this should be unsurprising in the aftermath of the unremittingly grim experience of World War I, but its effect was to leave little room for rigorous or considered analysis. Dark forebodings in the realm of popular culture resulted in a flurry of books addressing the apocalyptic side of the spectrum: The Poison War, The Black Death, Menace, Empty Victory, Invasion from the Air, War Upon Women, Chaos, Air Reprisal, and What Happened to the Corbetts. The impact of these was augmented not only by the futurist scenarios being played in the (increasingly popular) cinemas, but also by the ominous and troubling events of the 1930s, including the Japanese attack on Manchuria, the Italian attack on Abyssinia, and the Spanish Civil War.

By this time as well, the ideas of Italian air enthusiast General Giulio Douhet were becoming more widely known in English-speaking countries. Douhet's 1921 book, The Command of the Air, had painted a graphic vision of societal collapse in the face of air attack. Indeed, it was the futurist drama he conveyed rather than the analytical rigor of his ideas that gave Douhet a lasting place in the canon of air warfare. A poet, painter, playwright, and amateur novelist, Douhet brought to bear on his work "the intense modernist fascination with the latest advances in science and technology — with the automobile, with electricity, with gas, and finally with the aeroplane — prevalent in prewar Italian protofascist avantgarde culture." Though both British and American airmen had developed indigenous theories of air warfare that did not depend on Douhet — and though there is no evidence that Douhet was read widely in Britain or the United States before the 1930s — his ideas were cited thereafter and used to support apocalyptic visions of air warfare. His prose seemed to capture an important element of the mood in the West, and it seemed to capture, as well, a kind of archetypal image of the airplane as weapon. (p. 336; my emphasis in bold)
Other Gernika references:

Fundación del Museo de la Paz de Gernika (Gernika Peace Museum): also available in English. The Documentation Center at that site includes this account:

The technical aspects of the bombing of Gernika are still one of the most passionate topics of modern history. The destruction of Gernika was perpetrated by the German Condor Legion and the Italian air force, acting on the commands of Franco’s rebel army. The military tactics applied were so devastating that Gernika has gone down in history as the first experiment in total war.
And they quote Martínez Bande:

The planes took off from the aerodrome at Vitoria, flew out over the sea and then performed a half-turn to follow the Oca valley and attack Guernica from North to South. Apparently there were three types of plane: Heinkel 111s and Junker 52s for bombing purposes, and Heinkel 51s for air combat and machine-gunning. They must have come in two groups working in shifts, and there is general discrepancy as to the numbers of each. We calculated that between 15 and 20 bombers and fighter planes took part in eachwave of bombing. Their numbers were quite sufficient. The tactics employed were to drop ordinary shells first, and then small incendiary cluster bombs, at the same time machine-gunning any villagers who had not yet reached cover - not only in the town itself, but also in its outlying districts and also around the neighbouring parishes.
Gernika El País editorial 27/04/2007. This is about a current controversy involving Gernika. The town is located in the Basque country, which has a history of separatism that is particularly strong among conservative Catholics. Juan José Ibarretxe, the head of the Basque provincial government, has demanded that the government of Spain officially apologize for the bombing as the German government did a decade ago. But, the editorial says, "la Guerra Civil no fue una lucha entre España y Euskadi, en contra de lo que muchos nacionalistas vascos se obstinan en proclamar." (The Civil War was not a fight between Spain and Euskadi [the area's name in the Basque language], despite what many Basque nationalists obstinately proclaim.")

¿Quién tiene que pedir perdón por Gernika? de Pablo Sanz Yagüe El País 27/04/2007, an opinion piece on the same subject.

Gernika pide la paz como "valor supremo" de Alberto Uriona El País 27/04/2007. Alberto Uriona writes, "Gernika se convirtió ayer en un foco mundial de reivindicación de la paz." ("Yesterday, Guernica became a world focus for rededication to peace.")

Gernika, capital mundial de la paz El País 26/04/2007:

Gernika es hoy la capital mundial de la paz. A primera hora de la mañana se han reunido en el Ayuntamiento los alcaldes de varias ciudades que sufrieron bombardeos durante la II Guerra Mundial: Hiroshima (Japón), Hamburgo, Pforzheim y Desdre (Alemania), Volgogrado y Stalingrado (Rusia) y Varsovia (Polonia).

[Guernica today is the world capital of peace. At the first hour of the morning, the mayors of various cities that suffered bombing during the Second World War met in the Ayuntamiento: Hiroshima (Japan), Hamburg, Pforzheim and Dresden (Germany), Volgograd and Stalingrad (Russia) and Warsaw (Poland).]
PSOE e IU desbloquean la Ley de la Memoria Histórica al acordar la ilegitimidad de las sentencias durante el franquismo Cadena Ser 19-04-2007.

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Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 27: More on John Brown

Black and white Union sailors serving together

Last year, I devoted a number of posts to the career of the still-controversial John Brown. And I'm still interested to read various views of his actions and impact.

I'm about half-way through William Freehling's new The Road to Disunion, Vol 2: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 (2007). While Freehling is one of my favorite sources on the antebellum era, he didn't get Brown quite right. Like the reviewer I discussed in yesterday's post, he gives a distorted and misleading version of the Pottawatomie killings of 1854. I looked at those in several posts last year, beginning with
this one of 04/14/06, so I won't belabor it here.

Freehling admits to having changed his view over time on the plausibility of Brown's Harpers Ferry mission, specifically in relation to the possibility of attracting local slaves to his fight in Harpers Ferry itself.  Freehling's current judgment of the outcome seems reasonable to me:

There transpired one of the most stupendous scenes in American history. In the dark night, Brown's freedom fighters easily captured Harpers Ferry's federal armory, arsenal, and engine house. They sliced the telegraph wires. They halted a train. They dispatched messengers to a nearby plantation, Lewis Washington's (a great-grandnephew of George Washington's), there to alert slaves to spread the invasion. No other firststrike has ever been better planned or carried out (which is only to say that John Brown here perfected his lifelong specialty).

No other following tactics have ever been botched so badly (which is only to say that John Brown here succumbed to his lifelong flaw). ...

Where Brown and his men needed to transport Harpers Ferry's potentially highly consequential firearms to the nooks and crannies of the mountains in a great big hurry, the raider stayed in Harpers Ferry's death trap. While whites gathered to hurl themselves at the furious old man, their prey jailed himself inside the most innocuous corner of his caputred fortress, the engine house. There, the self-imprisoned raider found no food.

The night after Brown struck, U.S. Marines arrived, led by Robert E. Lee. The next day, Lee's assaulters fed Brown's hungry raiders stell for breakfast.
Freehling also gives a good account of the subsequent slave-insurrection panic that spread through the South.

I also want to mention an essay by Bertram Wyatt-Brown that makes the best case I've seen for John Brown having suffered from depression, "'A Volcano Beneath a Mountain of Snow': John Brown and the Problem of Interpretation" in His Soul Goes Marching On: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid, Paul Finkelman, ed., (1995).

"Psychohistory" is always tricky, and a lot of it isn't worth the paper it's printed on. It's especially tricky in the case of someone like John Brown whose enemies often tried to portray him as a fanatical lunatic. Wyatt-Brown manages to talk about Brown's personal psychology without getting too far out ahead of the available evidence and also without reducing his politics or his religion to a personal quirk. Or, worse, to a personal pathology. He writes:

If Brown's composure under fire at the engine house and his later serenity as he faced the prospect of the gallows testified to his religious strength of character, it also bespeaks his melancholy satisfaction in ending a life of inner rage and darkest mood. He had contemplated his own death for many years, and the issue was now settled. Without having to encounter the moral dilemma of self-destruction, long considered an offense against God's will, Brown could face the terminus of his life with devout tranquility. Thus he entered the most creative period of his antislavery career, fulfilling the roleof martyr with almost artistic perfection. ... When asked by by his captors who had sent him, he replied, "It was my own prompting and that of my Maker, or that of the devil, whichever you please to ascribe to it." The sentiment was almost jocular, but one wonders if Brown himself did not feel that he was inspired by both supernatural elements — an amalgamation of the Manichean division that seemed to have empowered him to create the tumult he wished for. ...

Brown's self-possession as he faced death was perhaps the most significant manifestation of the melancholy state of mind with which he had so long contended.
In conclusion, Wyatt-Brown describes John Brown as "a singular, complex, and nigenious agitator" who "profoundly touched the life of a nation". And he observes how "the very depth of Brown's dispondency helped to shape his own creative vocation as a martyr who aspired to free a nation from a moral yoke and a race from its hideous bondage."

I think Brown would be proud to be remembered that way.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Varieties of Islamist experience

John Esposito addresses the "why do they hate us?" question (or doesn't anyone even ask that any more?) in It's the Policy, Stupid: Political Islam and US Foreign Policy Harvard International Review 11/02/06. He reminds us that there are various forms of "political Islam", most of them not violent jihadist. (Don't tell Danny Goldhagen!)

Esposito writes:
History demonstrates that political Islam is both extremist and mainstream. On the one hand, Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, and Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda as well as terrorists from Morocco to Indonesia have espoused a revolutionary Islam that relies on violence and terror. On the other, many Islamist social and political movements across the Muslim world have worked within the political system.

Since the late 20th century Islamically-oriented candidates and political parties in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia have opted for ballots, not bullets. They have successfully contested and won municipal and parliamentary seats, held cabinet positions, and served in senior positions such as prime minister of Turkey and Iraq and president of Indonesia. (my emphasis)
Now, this doesn't mean that these are necessarily nice people running these parties or that their policies are all good and constructive. They aren't. But it does mean that there are varieties of "political Islam" or "Islamists" out there in the world who don't have as their main goal in life killing Americans because "they hate our freedoms".

A lot of Esposito's article discusses opinion polling results on various attitudes toward the United States, many of which may seem surprising.

And a big issue affecting those attitudes is US support for Israel and its policies in the occupied territories. Referring specifically to the effect of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, he writes:
The administration’s responses in Gaza and in Lebanon undercut both the president’s credibility and the war on terrorism. The United States turned a blind eye to Israel’s launching of two wars in which civilians were the primary casualties. The United States failed to support UN mediation in the face of clear violations of international law, refused to heed calls for a ceasefire and UN intervention, and continued to provide military assistance to Israel. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s criticism of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon as an "excessive use of force" was countered the next day by the New York Times headline United States speeds up bomb delivery for the Israelis.

America’s unconditional support of Israel cast it in the eyes of many as a partner, not simply in military action against HAMAS or Hizbollah militants, but in a war against the democratically elected Palestinian government in Gaza and the government of Lebanon, a long-time US ally. The primary victims in Gaza and Lebanon were hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, not terrorists. In Lebanon, more than 500 were killed, 2,000 wounded, and 800,000 displaced. Israeli’s military destroyed the civilian infrastructures of both Gaza and Lebanon. International organizations like the United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have criticized Israel for violating international law. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch has specifically cited the use of collective punishment and war crimes. The regional blowback from the approach that the United States has taken will be enormous and enduring.
Esposito's article doesn't go into great detail about how to untangle that nest of difficult issues. What he says here is reasonable:
A more recent and complex challenge is dealing with resistance movements like HAMAS and Hizbollah. Both are elected political parties with a popular base. At the same time they are resistance movements whose militias have fought Israeli occupation and whom Israel, the United States, and Europe have labeled as terrorist organizations. There are established precedents for dealing with such groups, such as the ANC in South Africa and Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA in Ireland, groups with which we've had to come to terms. The United States and others need to deal with the democratically elected officials, while also strongly condemning any acts of terrorism by their militias. Diplomacy, economic incentives, and sanctions should be emphasized, with military action taken as a last resort. However, overuse of economic sanctions by the Clinton and Bush administrations has reduced US negotiating leverage with countries like Iran and Sudan.

Equally difficult, the United States, while affirming its enduring support for Israel’s existence and security, must clearly demonstrate that this support has clear limits. The United States should condemn Israel’s disproportionate use of force, collective punishment, and other violations of international law. Finally, most fundamental and important is the recognition that widespread anti-Americanism among mainstream Muslims and Islamists results from what the United States does - its policies and actions - not its way of life, culture, or religion. (my emphasis)
Of course, it's not that hard to come up with general comments that sound sensible. Getting the actual arrangements in place is normally incredibly difficult in that situation.

Esposito makes an important point about economic sanctions. They have become widely accepted by both Democrats and Republicans as a peaceful alternative to military coercion and threats. But their results are not always optimal. And laying on economic sanctions can also lead to further, less peaceful involvement. Especially if the goal, as with the neocons and the Cheney-Bush administration in Iran, is changing the country's regime rather than the regime's behavior.
Another huge problem with US policy in the Middle East right now is the Cheneyite view that negotiating with a country is some kind of reward rather than a means of resolving problems and disputes.  Until we can get beyond that, it's hard to see how much diplomatic progress in the Middle East will be possible.