Ayers on Fresh Air

by Harry on November 24, 2008

Terry Gross had Bill Ayers on Fresh Air last week. The page is here, or you can cut straight to the show.

As I indicated in my comments on The Company You Keep, I am not pre-disposed to be sympathetic to Weather or its members, being inclined to see the turn to violence in a liberal democracy as not only elitist and self-indulgent, but also reckless about the effects on other people on the left. I am not a pacifist, and understand that sometimes violence is legitimate if there is a prospect of it preventing something much worse; the idea that a campaign of violence by a small group of leftists could have contributed to ending the Vietnam War seems as fantastic to me. My own political formation took place much later (I’m younger even than Obama), but none of my friends who were politically active on the far left in the 60’s and remain active today have a good opinion of Weather, and their views of the matter lead me to suspect that had I been around then my disposition to them would be more actively hostile than it, in fact, is.

But during the campaign I was struck, and rather impressed, by the discipline with which Ayers refrained from taking advantage of the moment for his own ends.

I assumed that it was because, like the rest of us, he did not want to cause trouble for his favoured candidate, even though his politics are very different from the candidate’s (when my daughter suggested that I get a “Socialists for Obama” button, I tried to explain why that was probably not a good idea, but couldn’t quite get it across). This is not the reason he gives to Terry Gross, but then I guess it would be a bit self-defeating, even after the fact, to give that reason if it were your reason.

Otherwise, I’m curious what people make of the interview. His attitude toward the activities of the Weather Underground still seems somewhat cavalier. For example, he says that they planted bombs only to go off when there was a very small chance that anyone would be around, and gave plenty of warning, and that they withdrew from bombing when they suspected the the bomb that killed Diana Oughton had been made to take lives, not just to destroy property (maybe I’m not quoting him exactly, I haven’t gone back to listen; it seems obvious that it was made to take lives). They were young, I suppose, but it seems both naive and arrogant to suppose that once you start making bombs none among your number will seek to take life; and reckless to suppose that just because you give plenty of warning no-one will be killed. If you place a high value on not killing innocents, you do not set bombs anywhere; if you just place a pretty high value on not killing innocents you remain physically present until the bomb detonates. It was moral luck, and not good judgment, that they did not kill anyone, and I wish that Terry Gross had pushed him harder on that. She did push him on whether he was willing to apologize for his actions in the 60’s and he, all but categorically, refuses to apologise, arguing, implicitly (and rightly), that there is a lot more to apologise for than what he did, and suggesting that he would apologise only in the context of a generalised process of truth and reconciliation. (I know people who I am certain did much worse things than Ayers did, and who will never apologise because they believe that they have nothing at all to apologise for in any context). Still, I’d have liked her to push him on what he would apologise for if he were apologising. What, exactly, is at stake in refusing to answer that question? I’d also like an entirely separate interview with him on school reform, and request that, if she does so, she refrain entirely from mentioning his involvement in the 1960’s.

{ 155 comments }

1

John Emerson 11.24.08 at 9:52 pm

I may have had my own bit of moral luck during that period. In any case, I understand reasonably well where Ayers was coming from.

I don’t think that the criticisms of the Weatherpeople was primarily because of their violence. One criticism was their advocacy of youth revolution, which is sort of a doomed strategy. Another was the fact that they were somewhat of a media creation and a lot of their strategy involved attempts to get media coverage. (Not unique to them, of course.) And then, they were mostly Ivy League types. And IIRC the internal organization of their group was initially rather hierarchal and authoritarian, though also, again IIRC, it tended to splinter into autonomous regional groups.

In actual fact, there really were no legitimate ways of effectively opposing the Vietnam War while it was happening. Before 1968 it was a bipartisan Democratic War which most Republicans supported. Attempts to work within the Democratic Party came to nothing, in part because of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination. Neither Johnson nor Nixon needed actual positive support for the war; as long as people worked and paid taxes, and as long as it was possible to find soldiers somehow, the war could proceed in the face of widespread opposition and doubt. So basically the war was going to continue 1968-1972, regardless.

People at the time perceived that by 1972 the Vietnam War would have lasted 7 years by any count, which is already a long war. The feeling was that the choices were resigned acceptance, personal-conscience dissociation from what was happening, or some kind of escalation of opposition by committed anti-war people, who were demographically a not very large minority.

Pragmatically it can be argued either that a.) a less violent, less nihilistic anti-war movement would have gained more popular support and would have been more effective, or that b.) at a certain point the domestic chaos caused some leadership group to decide that the war wasn’t worth it.

“A” just seems wrong to me. Nixon didn’t need active support, he just needed acquiescence. “B” doesn’t necessarily seem right either: from 1965 (escalation) to 1973 (US withdrawal) is eight years, a nice long war. I tend toward Chomsky’s opinion, c.) by devastating SE Asia with bombs the US intimidated the rest of the world and pretty much won. There was really no “Two, three, many Vietnams”.

My argument would be different with someone who felt that the Vietnam War was justified or at least tolerable.

2

klajsdhf 11.24.08 at 9:54 pm

Comment here
I wish I could claim responsibility.
All hail Rotwang.

3

gmoke 11.24.08 at 10:01 pm

There was a documentary on the 60s™ that included an interview with a very thoughtful man with an extremely kind face. At least, that was the impression that came to me through the images on the screen. That seemingly gentle man turned out to be Karleton Armstrong who was convicted and served a prison term for the Sterling Hall bombing at the University of WI which killed Robert Fassnacht.

Having lived through that time and a period of martial law during riot season, I knew there were gentle and thoughtful people who considered extreme violence against property and did their best to make sure that there were no human casualties. Of course, it didn’t work out that way but I know that even bombers can be compassionate.

I am thankful that my political activity runs to organizing community gardens, farmers’ markets, and solar barnraisings. I do take the opportunity to question directly some of the media and political bigwigs who appear at Harvard and MIT but they are usually so skilled at BS that my poor attempts at pointedness are easily rebuffed.

Bill Ayers has already faced more public oppobrium than the Bush/Cheney Junta of torturers will ever receive.

4

JV 11.24.08 at 10:26 pm

Ayers was as hedgy on his answers to some of Gross’ questions as any politician. I was not necessarily unsympathetic to him before hearing the interview, but I came away from it actively disliking the man, not for his youthful mistakes, but for the manner in which he deals with them (or rather, doesn’t deal with them) today.

5

Sebastian 11.24.08 at 11:10 pm

“She did push him on whether he was willing to apologize for his actions in the 60’s and he, all but categorically, refuses to apologise, arguing, implicitly (and rightly), that there is a lot more to apologise for than what he did, and suggesting that he would apologise only in the context of a generalised process of truth and reconciliation.”

This seems to be a weird (to me) view of ‘apologize’. You apologize for the things you do. The fact that Stalin really ought to have apoligized to the Russians, or that Pinochet should have apologized to Chileans doesn’t really impact that fact that I should apologize to my sister for pulling her hair.

The fact that Kissinger existed and exists has almost nothing to do with the innocent people that Ayer’s put in harm’s way by blowing up statues in Chicago (Kissinger not present), Molotov cocktails endangering the family of a judge in his home, random people living near them in Greenwich village, random low level police officers in New York city, or women (none high ranking as yet) going to the bathroom at the Pentagon.

And frankly the ‘notifications’ excuse is garbage. You are notifying organizations which you believe are either corrupt or incompetent or both, and then relying on these corrupt or incompetent organizations to keep innocents out of harm’s way.

6

DC 11.24.08 at 11:17 pm

“If you place a high value on not killing innocents, you do not set bombs anywhere…”

Can that claim be squared with your non-pacifism Harry? Do you mean to say that it is impossible to go to war while placing a high value on not killing innocents?

7

rea 11.24.08 at 11:23 pm

Do you mean to say that it is impossible to go to war while placing a high value on not killing innocents?

Can’t speak for Harry, of course, but yeah, if you go to war, you pretty much guarantee that innocents will get killed.

8

DC 11.24.08 at 11:26 pm

“…if you go to war, you pretty much guarantee that innocents will get killed.”

Of course, of course. But that is not necessarily inconsistent with placing a high (though clearly not absolute) value on avoiding or minimising such casualties.

9

harry b 11.24.08 at 11:39 pm

Sebastian — yes, I meant that he was right that there was a lot to apologise for, not that that observation yielded the implict conclusion that he has no obligation to apologise for anything absent others apologising. There is an interesting issue about to whom he should apologise.

DC — I meant it as an immanent criticism. He says very clearly that they went to great lengths to avoiod killing innocents, implying that they placed a very high value on not taking innocent life. It seems to me, in fact, that they did not go to the pertinent lengths.

Me, I place a very high value on not killing, and also on saving, innocents. But it is very easy to be overconfident in one’s own assessment of one’s ability to save some innocents by putting fewer other innocents at risk. I suspect that the main vice of the members of Weather Underground was their susceptibility to this standard human weakness. It may well be that Kissinger, McNamara, Bush, Rumsfeld etc have all been susceptible to this weakness, but in none of their cases could it be thought that it was their main vice.

10

John Emerson 11.25.08 at 12:28 am

Opponents of the Vietnam War were pretty aware of the possibility of taking innocent life. It was happening all the time. Realists on both sides steeled themselves to the possibility.

The Weatherperson’s crime was presumption, not violence. There are things that the state can legitimately do that no one else can do, and taking innocent life is one of them. (Holding people in involuntary servitude is another, as we then found). They were setting themselves up as a competing quasi-state entity on American state territory.

Ex-Senator Kerrey of Nebraska, now a university President, has a “taking innocent life” skeleton in his closet that he, too, refuses to apologize for.

11

tom 11.25.08 at 1:07 am

JMHO but the last 40 years speak for themselves. The carnage wrought by politicians on a still unsuspecting public. I wish Bill a sucsessful future.

12

Adam Kotsko 11.25.08 at 1:32 am

Emerson, If there had been a movement in the United States with sufficient strength to stage a coup and control the state apparatus for at least long enough to get US troops out of Vietnam, would you say that they’d have been justified in doing so?

13

seth edenbaum 11.25.08 at 1:38 am

“There are things that the state can legitimately do that no one else can do, and taking innocent life is one of them.”

So the Israelis have the right to take innocent lives but the Palestinians do not. Ditto native Americans and any colonized peoples who lived on unstaked land. And the US has the right to bomb civilians, which as I remind people often enough a hallmark of modern war.

“…being inclined to see the turn to violence in a liberal democracy as not only elitist and self-indulgent..”

If a North Vietnamese agent had managed to blow up something in this country it would have been an act in a continuing war begun by the French and continued by the US and not self-indulgent at all. General Giap has nothing to apologize for. 10 years ago a retired American officer offered to shake his hand. He refused.

It’s not violence per se, it’s dim-witted thoughtless violence and then hypocrisy in its defense. The Weathermen were interested mostly in living their own myth. Hamas makes use of strategies and tactics, some of which are extreme. But they’re not just indulging in theatrics; and that’s why serious Israelis are willing to negotiate with them. The Weathermen on the other hand in their spoiled stupidity are the ancestors of the nihilists of Al Qaeda, Another cult led by another spoiled rich kid.

14

John Emerson 11.25.08 at 2:01 am

Yeah, Adam, but the concept is laughable.

15

John Emerson 11.25.08 at 2:28 am

Basically, Seth and Adam, I don’t think that we ever realized how bad things were, even though we felt hopeless. America was really hard-wired for war, and it still is. That’s just what nations are.

16

Charlie 11.25.08 at 3:26 am

Personally, I think the reason a lot of people on the left vilify Ayers is that, deep down in their bellies, they know they would never have had the guts to do what he did.

It’s easier to wring your hands and deplore him, than it was to get out there and risk your own life and limb, your freedom, your reputation, and the good opinion of your fellow man in order to back up your big talk with some actual balls.

Fact is that risking a few innocent American lives to end a war of genocide was entirely appropriate. After all, why should villagers in East Armpit Massachusets not have to worry about bombs exploding, when villagers in Viet Nam watched it happen EVERY DAMNED DAY.

It was a criminal war, prosecuted by criminals, who all got away clean. That’s the tragedy here. If you want to pick on Ayers, why aren’t you hanging Henry Kissinger From the nearest tall oak?

Sophistry, Shame, and Impotence… For the first time in at least a year, this blog disappoints me.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Heh, Indeed…

17

MarkUp 11.25.08 at 3:37 am

It’s easier to wring your hands and deplore him, than it was…

Sex in the Oval Off bad; “depleted” uranium good. Impeach or eat a peach.

That’s just what nations are.

Some nations.

18

John Emerson 11.25.08 at 3:48 am

In their small ways even nations like Belgium and Denmark have done that kind of stuff in the not too distant past. (Belgian Congo, Danish West Indies). America isn’t peculiar that way.

19

harry b 11.25.08 at 4:04 am

Charlie,
Ayers went on the radio, I listened, and commented, not especially negatively. Not picking on him especially. If you have actual arguments (as, eg, emerson has supplied, rather well in my opinion) those would be nice to hear. Otherwise your comment just sounds like the kind of macho claptrap that I’m sure prompted a lot of bad decisionmaking in the sixties on the left and the right.

20

seth edenbaum 11.25.08 at 4:14 am

My parents were up to their eyeballs in illegal activity, all non-violent. I grew up with a tapped phone. A friend of the family was in Paris covering the peace talks. One of the North Vietnamese representatives gave him a medal with the request to give it to the man he new doing the most to fight the war. I still have it.
The weathermen were teenage idiots. Full stop.

21

Sandwichman 11.25.08 at 4:40 am

I was a “draft dodger” from the Vietnam war. That is to say I was a war resister who immigrated to Canada. Before I left the U.S. I was active in the April 1967 New York City mobilization against the war. Things looked pretty grim. Hundreds of thousands of people could march in the streets and you didn’t read about it in the paper or see it on T.V. Politicians called for the death penalty for war resisters. That was considered to be within the spectrum of acceptable rhetoric.

At the same time there were millions of young men who were “against the war”, who didn’t enlist but didn’t resist either. They stayed in school, got student deferments and got on with their quiet little lives. Fine, those who were silent are welcome to remain silent. The only people who earned the standing to criticize violent opposition to the war are those who committed and accepted the risks of non-violent civil disobedience. The alternative to violence is NOT grudging acquiescence. The alternative is active non-violence.

22

geo 11.25.08 at 4:51 am

harry: violence is legitimate if there is a prospect of it preventing something much worse; the idea that a campaign of violence by a small group of leftists could have contributed to ending the Vietnam War seems fantastic to me

Harry’s judgment seems exactly right to me. There was very little excuse for people (even teenagers) who knew all about what was happening ten thousand miles away not knowing that actions like theirs would produce a vast political backlash, which would nearly destroy any good effects the New Left may have had on American democracy. The violence of the New Left was certainly overstated by Republican (and Democratic) demagogues, but what there was did alienate a lot of voters and helped elect Nixon and Reagan. This is a heavy historical responsibility to bear.

23

Glen Tomkins 11.25.08 at 4:52 am

The Weather Underground needs to be understood in terms of what it was reacting against

The Vietnam War was far worse than what we are doing in Iraq. This is true by any measure, whether quantitative measures such as the number of American troops killed, or the number of Vietnamese killed, or qualitative measures, such as the intentional killing of enemy civilians, as opposed to combatants, to advance our war aims. More to the point, there is an even starker contrast between the misbehavior of our government at home, as it reacted to anti-war and racial dissent then, and the much milder official criminality we are seeing now. There were police riots, there were police assassinations of radicals, there were show trials and imprisonment, there was the National Guard shooting students at Ohio State, there was eavesdroping and other secret police persecution, and of US citizens, and not just foreigners apprehended on the field of battle. Oh, and those people would have been happy to have just gotten idefinite detention in Guantanamo, which really is Club Med compared to Con Son Island. Folks we captured in battle in Vietnam, or whom we had rounded up from their homes, almost all ended up dead in tiger cages.

But the key difference between then and now, is that the government got away with it all back then, and did not, at the point the Weather movement split off from the SDS in 1970, seem to have any prospect of paying for its behavior at the polls. Everyone understood after Tet that the war was lost, Nixon even ran on that position. But then, once elected, he found that prolonging the war was useful to him for purely political reasons, in that he could use Silent Majority fear of the anti-war movement, and other threats to “law and order” to gin up electoral support as needed. He prolonged the war, at the cost of more than half of the casualties in that war, and the worst excesses of targetting civilians, and inflamed racial tensions in this country, just to get re-elected.

The system seemed to have failed, far worse than at any time in the past eight years, and with far less hope that the electorate would ever, by the practice of ordinary electoral politics, be brought around. In this war, the trend was against the president as early as the Fall 2003, and he seemed in real trouble by Spring 2004. In contrast, by 1970, five years into the war, and two years after everyone paying any attention to its conduct had given it up for lost, the political trend was actually in the opposite direction.

Yes, the radicals of that day can be faulted for impracticality, because violence, even bombs in buildings carefully selected to be empty on detonation, only played into the hands of the right-wing fear-mongers. That was obvious even at the time. But to even think about whispering a word of condemnation of them for “resorting to violence” as a moral failing, as if they were the ones in our politics of the time to “resort to violence”, until and unless you have had Henry Kissinger et al drawn and quartered for their crimes, is a gross miscarriage of justice. That hard rain has yet to fall on the violent political criminals of the Right of that era.

The irony is that the violent revolution that was impractical in the 70s, when some people with high visibility but little practical influence espoused it as a less intolerable alternative than tolerating the crimes of the Right, may come upon us now, long-delayed, when no one expects it, much less espouses it, or looks to it as a solution to our present crisis. The complete triumph of the Right a generation ago both made them proceed so stupidly and unself-critcally that their policies have caused this crisis, and made their way seem so inevitable and unbeatable that they can arrogantly steal billions, as in this CitiGroup bailout, with no apparent thought that the masses of people losing their jobs and their homes in this crisis might not react well to the spectacle. If we get through the next four years without a guillotine set up in the Mall, I will be surprised. Violent revolution seems much closer now than it ever did to me in the worst of the late 60s and 70s.

24

John Emerson 11.25.08 at 5:08 am

Geo is shifting from “violence is wrong” to “violence is imprudent and impolitic”. I don’t think that in the heat of events it’s reasonable to expect or demand that kind of prudence.

I think that it was wrong to think that, if nonviolence didn’t work, violence would. But the reality was that nothing would work. The machine was in operation.

25

Charlie 11.25.08 at 5:14 am

If you feel your blog post is not critical of Ayers and his methods, not negative or ‘picking on him’, then you are guilty of one of the worst sins in rhetoric: You have no idea what you actually wrote. Your post pretty solidly condemns Ayers methods, motivations, his character, and the efficacy of his methods. Posing your condemnation as a request for comments on the interview is pretty poor camouflage for what is essentially a hit piece on both Ayers and the Weather Underground.

Incidentally, I actually suspect you are correct in thinking that the Weathermen did little or nothing to affect the war, and that many of their plans were futile. But then, a campaign of deadly bombings and political assassinations, which might have actually had the desired effect was outside of both their capability and their apparent moral limits. Pity we can’t say the same for MacNamara, Kissinger, et al.

An interesting side issue to my thesis comes to mind: At what point is one mans terrorist actually not a freedom fighter at all, but just a terrorist. What separates Timothey McVeigh from Che Guevara? Is it really something as cynical as who won?
How do we decide when revolution, armed or otherwise, is justified?

Seth: I have never met a teenage non-idiot, but hey, at least we can’t say they were apathetic!

26

Charlie 11.25.08 at 5:24 am

I disagree with you on one count, Glen. You say that Viet Nam was much worse than what is now occurring in Iraq (and in terms of the quantifiable horrors and evils, you are quite correct), but in one sense I disagree: It is in some ways worse because by now we should know better.

Not the politicians, who have always known what war really means (and just don’t seem to care), but the people. It was arguable that in Viet Nam, the populace was at first unbelieving, and then numbed by the colour tv carnage that they saw in their living rooms, but this is the second time around. This time, ignorance can’t be an excuse.

27

Lisa 11.25.08 at 5:44 am

Offhand, I’d say violence should be avoided as a means to effect political change with very, very few exceptions–there is quite a lot to say about why. A major reason is that it is usually ineffective in establishing genuine conditions of social justice.

But I wonder about the idea that somehow liberal democracy makes it particularly wrong. Has the U.S. been a liberal democracy all this time? I can think of many cases in U.S. history where violence was justifiable in one sense because of the structural violence of the state and its questionable legitimacy but unjustifiable because of its likely failure to accomplish anything but more terrible violence. John Brown’s violence was unjustified because it was so unlikely to do anything but create a violent backlash. Except for that, the circumstances justified it. I’d say the same thing for the American Indians, possibly for the Japanese who were being interred, for the Vietnam War. And for the war in Iraq. (Again, setting aside for the moment the most relevant consideration–that violence might harm innocent people and be useless. But if you can’t stop your state from an unjust war that kills hundreds of thousands by any other means? For Iraq, violence is totally off the table. But–and this is just a kind of thought experiment, not a conspiracy theory– what if the U.S. did enter into some general period of violent imperialist conquest?) Maybe I doubt the legitimacy or the mechanisms available to effect change during quite a few periods of U.S. history, for significant numbers of people. Is that why the presence of liberal democracy makes violence illegitimate? Or is there some other reason? (And what is the ‘liberal’ part doing here? Why does the fact the democracy is liberal matter for this question?)

I’m really curious, not trying to push a view.

28

Barry Freed 11.25.08 at 7:03 am

Ayers and his wife and fellow WU alum was just on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! It’s a two-parter; watch, listen or read the transcripts:

http://www.democracynow.org/2008/11/14/exclusive_in_first_joint_broadcast_interview

http://www.democracynow.org/2008/11/24/democracy_now_exclusive_part_2_bill

29

Dave 11.25.08 at 8:40 am

Shorter Lisa @26: Just how bad does it have to get before you say ‘Fuck it’ and come out swinging?

The answer will be different for everyone, but whatever your answer, you can bet that someone somewhere will soon enough be scoring points off you in their own personal sanctimoniousness stakes.

Without regard to too much of the details of the Ayers case, I do find the semi-consensus that he really ought to apologise faintly nauseating. What conceivable difference, except to commentators’ sense of self-righteousness, would it make if he did? Either an apology lets him off the hook, in which case what he did can’t have been all that bad; or it doesn’t, in which case it’s an exercise in public humiliation without any larger closure.

The past has no cure. Really, it doesn’t.

30

bad Jim 11.25.08 at 10:22 am

Lisa, it’s generally agreed that Gandhi and King demonstrated that non-violent opposition can indeed effect change in liberal democracies, while comparable tactics proved ineffective in totalitarian states like the Soviet bloc, China or Myanmar, to name a few. The sort of violence practiced by the Weathermen and the Black Panthers in the U.S., by ETA in Spain or the Red Brigades in Italy never seemed to accomplish much of anything. The IRA may have gotten some leverage when they switched from terrorizing the populace to targeting commercial infrastructure, but their price to performance ratio leaves something to be desired.

In general, resistance is futile, unless it has at least plurality support in a fairly democratic state which has limited tolerance for atrocities against its citizens, which is bad news for anti-war activists but holds some promise for oppressed minorities.

31

curious citizen 11.25.08 at 10:52 am

bad Jim: “it’s generally agreed that Gandhi and King demonstrated that non-violent opposition can indeed effect change in liberal democracies…”

Yes, but ‘non-violence’ invariably involved considerable violence (even if provoked by a most deliberate ‘passivity’) and the victims of that violence were not exclusively the practitioners of non-violence.

A different kind of violence to that practiced by the Weatherman, surely, but a violence, nonetheless.

I believe such (non)violence to have been justified. If you also feel so, what do you think justifies such tactics? If not their efficaciousness, what is it about these violent tactics (which killed many and injured many more) that makes them acceptable, whereas a campaign that was much less humanly destructive is unacceptable? Is it the personal risk to which the practitioners of non-violence exposed themselves (as well as others) to? Their courage? Their greater ‘objective’ political sophistication? The cause they were dedicated to?

32

MR Bill 11.25.08 at 11:11 am

Looking back, I’ve come to feel the 60s Radicals allowed themselves to become symbols for the Right of disorder and social dysfunction, and are more important historically in that way; the way that the Republicans tried to use Ayres in this election: as symbols of bad stuff. Their symbolic use was a lot more important than any actual policy they effected, and as symbols they were used to further the War and it’s culture.
I think it notable that this line of argumentation about Ayres only took root for some of the Right, and the Right was unable to demonize huge numbers of people (probably because there just weren’t that many 60s Radicals) as they did in the Red Scares of the 50s, much less make this an effective political issue, despite a strong push to demonize Ayres and smear Obama by association.
And remember the times: the Chicago demonstration that became police riot, the Chicago 7 (or whatever number)trial, Kent State, the race riots; the whole countercultural bloom/idiocy, that would soon be co-opted (I mean, Lee Atwater was a blues guitarist, fewgawdsakes) as the culture..

33

Bill Gardner 11.25.08 at 11:54 am

The Weatherman were Leninists, so the impracticality of their politics was a feature, not a bug. But “impractical” doesn’t quite get it. “Farcical”?

34

harry b 11.25.08 at 1:23 pm

Well, Charlie, I preferred it when you were taunting me for being girlie. I’ve re-read my post, and I am fairly upfront in the first main paragraph about my pre-existing views of Weather. I should, perhaps, have been more explicit about my reaction to the interview — I was impressed by it while I was listening to it, and to my surprise I agreed with nearly everything Ayers said, but my feeling that he was being evasive increased over time, as did my feeling that Terry Gross was letting him get away with something, but I couldn’t quite figure out what. I tried to formulate what it was in the second para, but in fact Sebastian expressed it more clearly. Ayers sometimes seemed to equivocate between 2 views, both of which are wrong: one is that there are no moral issues here (yes there are; the fact that Kissinger and McNamara committed great evils is a fact, but that does not mean that there is no issue of evaluating the actions of those who opposed them); the other is that the duty to evaluate one’s own actions only kicks in when others evaluate theirs. My criticism is more of Gross (who is one of the few truly great interviewers) for not pushing him to be more explicit about various issues, than of him. And I was quite genuinely curious about the reactions of others, willing to be swayed, etc. Accusations of girlie-ness and bad faith won’t sway me, but they also won’t get in the way.

35

Michael Turner 11.25.08 at 1:51 pm

Lisa, it’s generally agreed that Gandhi and King demonstrated that non-violent opposition can indeed effect change in liberal democracies, while comparable tactics proved ineffective in totalitarian states like the Soviet bloc, China or Myanmar, to name a few.

I think the key distinction isn’t in “liberal democracy” — surely late colonial India was not a “liberal democracy”, even if Great Britain itself was. I believe it is more in a distinction made by Gandhi himself, and relevant for this discussion: non-violent opposition effects nation-scale change only where violent opposition could also have been effective. (A necessary but not sufficient condition; see my remarks about educated classes below.) It’s really a question of the relative quality of outcomes between the two choices. Yes, there is also the relative morality of the two approaches; but recall we’re talking politics here, and also that I’m a Machiavellian when it comes to issues of liberation, and therefore not wedded to ends-means moral consistency in such cases.

There’s no question that a politically unified Indian insurgency could have thrown out the British by force of arms. The problem is that going the armed route would have meant throwing out the British using a coalition of armed actors that, soon afterward, might have simply turned on itself, with devastating results for all, and with democracy a very unlikely outcome on any side. Indeed, post-British India was bloody enough. Ghandi himself succumbed to the resulting paroxysm. Blood is still spilled in Kashmir and in India to this day. And yet, India is a remarkable achievement, and props to the Mahatma for it: it fairly peacefully contains the second-largest national population of devout muslims in the world, under a separate civil law arrangement. Yes, Pakistan spun out, bloodily, and then Bangladesh, and there is still the running sore of Kashmir. However, had the subcontinent descended in total civil war after the exit of the British, India wouldn’t be the place it is today. Armed insurrection would have increased the chances of such a total civil war immeasurably. Thank you, Gandhi, for averting that one.

Dictatorships can be terrible situations to try non-violent revolution, because it’s really very hard to organize any kind of revolution under a dictatorship. Of course, we’ve had a number of relatively successful “people power” transitions. However, virtually all of them featured a sizeable educated urban elite (of the kind staffed government offices) crowding the streets. All of them enjoyed that virtually necessary condition for success even in armed revolutions: the middle class was joined by that part of the educated urban elite known in those nations as “the military officer class” — i.e., a group that, had there been no “people power”, might just as well have staged a reformist coup on their own. The character of that military matters very much.

Myanmar? Run by a not terribly well educated, not terribly urban military officer class. China? Much of China is still as backward and rural as some countries in Africa, and again: when the regional heir to the Mongol’s power, the Yang family, rolled into Beijing in their tanks and crushed the demonstrators in Tian An Men Square, it was an overarmed peasant army coming to the aid of the Party, not the kind of people who clinked glasses with the cadres very often, or who were likely to send their children to universities in the cities. India, by contrast, had (courtesy of relatively enlightened British rule) a segment of the population that was very educated and cosmopolitan. Remember, Gandhi was a lawyer from South Africa who had trained in Great Britain. He was more a citizen of Empire than a subject of it, and found his footing in India in part by swimming in a large pool of likeminded Indians there. Man of the people, salt of the earth, and all that, but also a very connected guy.

Could the militants of the Black Power movement have been successful in America, with no non-violent civil rights movement to drain and channel its natural constituency? I’d say so. You’re not talking about some tiny sliver of self-important Ivy League punks here, but a huge portion of the American population, easily large enough to establish majority rule in several U.S. states if it came to that, and in a country with relatively easy access to guns. Their commanders? Probably not the poseurs in the Panthers, in the end, but black Vietnam war veterans, first-hand students of effective insurgency strategy and with a leg up on what sort of counter-insurgency doctrine they’d be facing.

Again, the question would have been one of the quality of the success. Black nationalism established in one or more states of the Union (especially if in the South) might have given rise to a white backlash in other states — not “go back to Africa!”, but “go to Alabama (or wherever) if you don’t like it here!” It would have been intolerably ugly, a huge step backward in most ways, a further legitimation of segregation rather than a blow against it. Far better to have gotten where we are today: a departing administration with a black sitting Secretary of State (and a black former Secretary of State who before that was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among other things), giving way to an administration with a black president. Quite honestly, if I’d read a projection like that for 2008 in a science fiction novel written in the early 1970s (when I was attending Martin Luther King Junior High school in Berkeley), I would have been amused, but still far more willing to suspend my disbelief for the part about the manned mission to Mars. Putting away childish things, now: forget Mars, it can wait, this is the real frontier, and welcome to it.

36

Laleh 11.25.08 at 2:55 pm

Michael Turner: “All of them enjoyed that virtually necessary condition for success even in armed revolutions: the middle class was joined by that part of the educated urban elite known in those nations as “the military officer class”—i.e., a group that, had there been no “people power”, might just as well have staged a reformist coup on their own.”

Not applicable to the Iranian revolution (which was a genuinely popular revolution).

The military officer class remained loyal to the Shah; and it was the footsoldiers turning over their barracks to armed guerrillas that led to the final victory of the revolutionary forces.

37

John Emerson 11.25.08 at 3:06 pm

The Weatherpeople were a small part of the craziness of that time. I think that the reactive rejection of The Left was not based on specific acts but on a general feeling that society was spinning out of control. The political killings were just one piece of evidence. The civil disorder 1967-8 (urban/black riots, Chicago ocnvention 1968, Cambodian invasion disorders 1970) was frightening regardless of death tolls. The drug culture terrified people regardless of death tolls.

My inventory is that the white left death toll during the Vietnam war was three self-killings and one actual murder (in Madison), with three spinoff killings in 1980 or so. If you add the insane, isolated, spiritual/political SLA group, seven self-killings and six other-killings. If you add the racist Manson gang (which the popular mind did) you get fourrteen other-killings. I haven’t tallied the black numbers which were greater though killings of radicals by police far outnumbered killings by radicals.

This kind of statistical rationalization is never convincing, but nonetheless: the number of left-wing killing nationwide 1965-1975 was statistically tiny for a country as big and murderous as the US. (Detroit had 366 murders in 2003, for example). The violence was a hook to hang other sorts of fears onto.

For example, public opinion did not take the seven anti abortion murders 1993-1998 to discredit the anti-abortion cause or to mean that society was breaking down. The scattered killings by many organized militias and neo-Nazis were also rather calmly received. And when almost 200 people were killed in Oklahoma City, as soon as people found out that the killer was a.) white, b.) a native-born American citizen, and c.) not a left-winger or a hippy, for reasons that are very interesting to think about people became less alarmed.

So violence and illegality aren’t the variable here. Anything radical is more objectionable and frightening than anything reactionary. Bill Ayers is more to be despised than Tim McVeigh (who “went too far”.) Law-abiding people with McVeigh’s views are respectable, and law-abiding people with Ayers’ views are not.

My understanding now is that nations are war machines and that national leaders engaging in aggressive wars go into them expecting domestic opposition and planning to ignore it, and that in general they’re right to ignore it, because until there’s an enormous amount of pain and cost anti-war constituencies almost never become powerful enough to overthrow or vote out a government. Perhaps a completely non-violent mass movement would have been more effective, but it’s pretty unrealistic to expect or hope for every member of a mass anti-war tendency to be nonviolent.

38

Michael Turner 11.25.08 at 3:44 pm

Good point, Laleh, thank you. Wikipedia version of those events: “The final collapse of the Pahlavi dynasty occurred shortly after on February 11 when Iran’s military declared itself “neutral” after guerrillas and rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the Shah in armed street fighting. Iran officially became an Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979.” That’s more like the upper officer class capitulating.

Still, unless the rebel troops put themselves under the command of guerrilla leaders, they must have had some officers of their own. Were the rebel troops composed entirely of footsoldiers? Coups are (in)famously made by colonels and majors capable of commanding the loyalty of officers under them — truly a class — rather than generals, who are a small collection of individuals. Also, the Supreme Military Council hadn’t exactly gone to bat for the Shah — he’d been missing from the country for about two weeks, when the events you mention took place. Replace my “support” with “eventual acquiescence” if you like.

We’re getting far afield here. The issue was violent vs. non-violent resistance, and what the Weather people were aiming at, with their particular brand of violence. IIRC, what Ayers et al. were trying to do with those bombs had nothing to do with being popular. They’d given up being seen as leaders of popular revolution. That doesn’t make them “nihilistic” — they were still trying to achieve something.

There is a strain of strategic thinking in movements that resort to terrorism and/or sabotage that goes like this: attack The System. The System responds, and cracks down generally. This makes the System widely unpopular, and that’s what leads to popular revolution. But the attacks themselves need not be popular — quite the contrary. My understanding was that this is the point the Weather people reached.

39

DC 11.25.08 at 4:30 pm

I take it that most people here would accept that the Vietcong were justified in their resistance efforts against the American war effort (and that of its south Vietnamese allies)? (Not in every particular tactic or action, but in jus ad bellum terms). How about if they directly aided the Vietnamese by, say, forming an international brigade and fighting in Vietnam itself? What about civil disobedience of any and all kinds short of violence in America?

I’m just trying to tease out what people think would have been (un)justified to stop the war and why. In a sense all anti-war activites threatened the kind of quasi-fascist backlash that seems to be a reason for people’s condemnation of the WU, no?

Incidentally, don’t know if it’s in the cinemas stateside (as it is in Ireland/UK at the moment) but The Baader-Meinhof Komplex is worth checking out for people thinking about this stuff.

40

Katherine 11.25.08 at 4:39 pm

“After all, why should villagers in East Armpit Massachusets not have to worry about bombs exploding, when villagers in Viet Nam watched it happen EVERY DAMNED DAY.”

I would say because no one should have to worry about bombs exploding in their village, but that’s just me.

41

chris y 11.25.08 at 5:38 pm

I don’t think that in the heat of events it’s reasonable to expect or demand that kind of prudence.

If you’re setting yourself up as a “revolutionary vanguard”, it’s not merely reasonable but necessary that people demand it of you. Understanding prudence is part of what leadership is about, even if it’s not much to be expected in idiot teenagers. But if Ayers is still vacillating on the rights and wrongs of that campaign now he’s in late middle age, it suggests to me that he’s got major problems.

(Incidentally, Bill Gardner, Lenin would have had a short way with the Weather gang as a dangerous distraction from serious revolutionary activity – even if they did claim to be in his fan club.)

42

Scott N. 11.25.08 at 5:42 pm

See David Winer’s post on the interview and followup. He was upset with Terry Gross’s for her interview tactics.

43

John Emerson 11.25.08 at 5:49 pm

We’re still back at the point of deciding whether it was the violence and illegality or the imprudence that we’re objecting to.

To most Leninists The Weatherpoeple were adventurists, infantile leftists, or ultra-leftists. But then, we’re not Leninists here.

I’m not proposing Ayers as a great and wise leader. The Weatherpeople were not universally admired at the time and their politics didn’t work. I’m just arguing against the idea that the Weatherpeople’s turn to violence was a major cause of the rightward swing after 1968. The whole era was chaotic, and the majority of the right believes that the war was justified and that all anti-war people — violent and non-violent, active and passive — were stabbing the troops in the back. (And many of them also despise MLK).

I also believe that the Weather violence was a response to what was accurately perceived to be futility.

44

kmack 11.25.08 at 6:12 pm

“Ayers sometimes seemed to equivocate between 2 views, both of which are wrong: …the other is that the duty to evaluate one’s own actions only kicks in when others evaluate theirs.”

This seems uncharitable. I thought that Ayers has refused to issue a public apology–quite different from refusing “to evaluate one’s own actions,” which presumably can be done privately, through introspection. In fact, “in suggesting that he would apologise only in the context of a generalised process of truth and reconciliation,” he implicitly concedes that he does have reason to apologize.

So the real complaint appears to be that Ayers is not publicly repentant. He rightly takes public repentance to be primarily a political act. And in the political realm, it does seem kind of bizarre to get particularly worked up about Ayers’s refusal to apologize given that “there is a lot more to apologise for than what he did.”

35: Helpful post. A sense of proportion ought to go a long way–say, in resisting the urge to scapegoat and the tendency to get morally distracted.

38: That’s convenient, so long as you don’t live in the likes of Vietnam or Iraq and are confident that bombs won’t regularly be exploding in your village.

No, I have no love for fringe radicals or careless violence.

45

harry b 11.25.08 at 6:25 pm

kmack — thanks, I think I agree with just about all of that, including the comment that the reading is uncharitable. Just to be clear, I am not worked up about it at all, more bemused. The one thing I am not sure about is that public repentance is a political act — I’m not sure what that means, or whether I agree. I guess one complicated thing is that the conversational situation of a Fresh Air interview makes lack of frankness sound evasive in way that is harder to accept than it would in a less friendly environment.

I also agree with you about 35: emerson is reminding me why I like having him here to discuss everything except political philosophy.

46

Ralph Hitchens 11.25.08 at 6:40 pm

One thing that irked me about Obama’s high road to the presidency is that he refrained from defending his association with Ayers in the one way that would have skewered Sarah Palin and the Christian right. To me, Ayers’ story is one of redemption, regardless of what he says in interviews these days. Upon emerging from the underground he turned his life around, went to college and grad school, wrote books, and became one of the country’s leading experts on primary education. “Man of the Year” in Chicago, and all that. As Jesus said, “by their works ye shall know them,” and redemption is at the heart of Christian doctrine. Ayers’ works over the last couple of decades speak volumes. Obama might simply have asked what it was about Jesus’ teaching that a good Christian woman like Palin failed to understand.

47

Righteous Bubba 11.25.08 at 6:46 pm

One thing that irked me about Obama’s high road to the presidency is that he refrained from defending his association with Ayers in the one way that would have skewered Sarah Palin and the Christian right.

He won and Palin looked like a nitwit talking about Ayers. I’m happy with that.

48

MarkUp 11.25.08 at 6:59 pm

“…is that he refrained from defending his association with Ayers in the one way that would have skewered…”

…a large swath of the center into feeling guilty/culpable for certain events they’d rather not have to own up to, possibly losing him the election. We still have Hope™ he has the ability to address these concerns without the immediacy of electoral realities bearing down. BTW has Monica apologized for giving US GWB?

49

Steve LaBonne 11.25.08 at 7:35 pm

So the real complaint appears to be that Ayers is not publicly repentant. He rightly takes public repentance to be primarily a political act. And in the political realm, it does seem kind of bizarre to get particularly worked up about Ayers’s refusal to apologize given that “there is a lot more to apologise for than what he did.”

Thank you. I’ve been trying to sort out my own rather murky thinking about this stuff, and that is one of the most genuinely helpful ways of looking at it that I’ve come across.

50

PersonFromPorlock 11.25.08 at 7:58 pm

Sigh. The 60s ‘youth movement’ was less principled than it was self-indulgent and self-interested: the anti-war protests pretty much disappeared once we stopped sending draftees to Vietnam. The members of ‘violent’ activist groups like WU and the Black Panthers were basically Drama Queens, striking revolutionary poses the rest of us were supposed to admire. Every once in a while they’d injure somebody so the rest of us wouldn’t yawn and ignore them.

As far as the Vietnam war goes, well, it was a mess. The politicians had no plan beyond not being the ones to lose it, the South Vietnamese government was flagrantly corrupt and our military was in the hands of ‘careerist’ officers whose bureaucratic instincts were far more finely honed than their sense of mission. But don’t kid yourselves that there was much virtue on the other side: the VC and NVA were brutal as a matter of policy and the re-education camps, boat people and Cambodian holocaust are nothing for the American Left to be proud of helping to bring about.

51

Steve LaBonne 11.25.08 at 8:06 pm

But don’t kid yourselves that there was much virtue on the other side…

Straw man alert! Straw man alert!

52

Dan Simon 11.25.08 at 8:29 pm

For example, public opinion did not take the seven anti abortion murders 1993-1998 to discredit the anti-abortion cause or to mean that society was breaking down.

Perhaps that’s because society, far from breaking down, took care of the threat with admirable efficiency and dispatch, apprehending the anti-abortion murderers, convicting them, and give them extremely harsh sentences.

Bill Ayers is more to be despised than Tim McVeigh (who “went too far”.)

Despised by whom? Tim McVeigh was executed. Bill Ayers was given tenure.

Law-abiding people with McVeigh’s views are respectable, and law-abiding people with Ayers’ views are not.

Look, I know it’s fun to think of oneself and one’s kindred spirits as wild, dangerous outcast rebels battling gamely against a repressive establishment and trying to awaken an indifferent public. But when your example holder of “respectable” views was in fact refused military burial by a specific act of Congress after his widely-applauded execution, and your example lonely outcast rebel is in fact a successful writer, academic, and good friend of the president-elect, I’m afraid your fantasy starts to look more like delusion.

53

roy belmont 11.25.08 at 9:07 pm

The members of ‘violent’ activist groups like WU and the Black Panthers were basically Drama Queens…

Sigh. Big sigh. Big long aspirated sigh.
That’s a statement in response to received media imagery, built on nothing more than media imagery. Smug, fatuous, substanceless.
Conflating the Panthers with Ayers et al. well gosh. Gee whiz.
Conspicuous in their absence here are Susan Jane Olson, Leonard Peltier, Angela Davis, Fred Hampton, George Jackson, Randy Weaver…and umpteen many that never made headlines but got taken down just the same.
Sadness, futility, violence. Loss.
And what was really there nicely covered over in simple flat images that can pass for historical accuracy.
As far as the Vietnam war goes, well, it was a mess.
Yep. Yeppers. Sure was.
And thank heaven we’re all done with messes now, boy howdy for sure you betcha.
He won and…
Something won, and Obama is the face of that.
It was a very cathartic election. But then so were the last three before it.

54

Righteous Bubba 11.25.08 at 9:20 pm

Something won, and Obama is the face of that.

When my cat eats a bug, something eats, and my cat is the face of that.

55

Donald Johnson 11.25.08 at 10:27 pm

“When my cat eats a bug, something eats, and my cat is the face of that.”

Well, I don’t always agree with Roy, to put it mildly, but I think there’s a bit more substance to his comment than that.

Not speaking for Roy, but for me one of the things that won with Obama was the Beltway’s (largely undeserved) self-regard. Bush is out and now everyone in Washington who is not part of Bush’s inner circle thinks we can all be one big happy bipartisan family again–no regrets, nothing to get too self-reflective about (like hundreds of thousands dead and 4 million refugees, for example.) Kind of funny imagining that someone like McCain or Hillary, for instance, could be tainted if they had been friends with Ayers.

56

bianca steele 11.25.08 at 10:37 pm

John E.,
I never understood before what it meant when people said “after 1968 the opportunities for political action dried up.” Thanks.

57

bianca steele 11.25.08 at 10:37 pm

John E.,
I never understood before what it meant when people said “after 1968 the opportunities for political action dried up.” Thanks.

58

Righteous Bubba 11.25.08 at 10:44 pm

Not speaking for Roy, but for me one of the things that won with Obama was the Beltway’s (largely undeserved) self-regard.

That there may be ancillary winners and losers in is a trivial observation, but none of these were on the ballot of the election Obama won. If Roy wants to say that “something” won he can spell out what the something was or not write content-free sentences.

59

roy belmont 11.25.08 at 10:51 pm

N-E-O-C-O-N
Oh wait, that’s not it.
No really, the neocons lost right?
So all those destructive policies, all that anti-American self-interested dual loyalty b.s.
All gone now.
Oh wait, my cat has a tapeworm.
So…when he eats…the tapeworm eats!
Synergy!
Symbiosis!
Something!

60

Righteous Bubba 11.25.08 at 11:00 pm

N-E-O-C-O-N

Ah. Neocon won. Thanks for that not-at-all nutty point.

61

MarkUp 11.25.08 at 11:07 pm

“Something!”

Trickledown?

62

Patrick 11.25.08 at 11:08 pm

1. Ayers is reacting. He does not strike me as avidly seeking national attention, except in academic circles, and has been granting interviews rather than letting other people (Sarah Palin, et al.) define him. Explaining his position, when people who have direct ideological, political and personal connections to Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon are trying to defeat a moderately liberal African American Democrat seems to me a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Whatever else, the horse’s ass STFU is a serious misreading of what he’s about at the moment.

2. I was a stupid, pacifist teenager in 1970, when bombing became a moral issue among the movement people I associated with. Ayers was 26. Whatever else is true about the Weather Underground, they weren’t teenagers. (Stupid and arrogant is a whole other story.) The were twenty-somethings who had been engaged in civil rights and antiwar activities for several years. They were exhausted and despairing and fell prey to a stupid, arrogant, rigid, anti-democratic way of thinking. They were used by the right to discredit the non-violent left, and the non-violent left helped, just as in this comment thread.

3. Apologies require an audience. Ayers should apologize to anyone his actions injured, as should any reasonable moral agent. If you want him to apologize, you should be clear to whom the apology should be directed. Who would that be? (Wikipedia says that he did in fact apologize to Richard Elrod, who was hurt during the Days of Rage. That seems like the right thing to do.) The people killed in NYC and their families, for sure, because he participated in campaign that got them in the room with the bomb. Anyone injured by his actions, and by his inactions deserves an apology. I don’t think that group includes Terry Gross, or most of the writers on this comment thread. It certainly doesn’t include a country that elected Richard Nixon twice, Ronald Reagan twice, and George Bush twice, assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. to preserve segregation, and has invaded who-knows-how-many countries in Ayers’s lifetime. Maybe we should stop making ourselves feel good by demanding that Ayers apologize and make our own list of the people we should apologize to, starting with the families of the Vietnamese people who died because we didn’t do enough (peacefully) to stop our government from napalming them.

4. I tend to think of this in terms of frustration: Ayers screwed up. But, hey, the nonviolent left didn’t get much done either. Silly as it may seem, and as pacifist as I was, I sometimes worried that SDS and WU were doing more than I was to end the war and racism, even though it was obvious they were wrong, tactically and morally. They made me feel like a dilletante (I was, btw). I suspect they had the same effect on others, and since that self-doubt revealed itself as romantic blather, we’ve wanted them to apologize to us. I did it to myself. Ayers and the rest don’t owe me an apology. You either.

63

roy belmont 11.25.08 at 11:18 pm

No Bubba, the neocons lost. Victory! Yay!
But that wasn’t it even when it was it, was it?
So whatever that was that wasn’t it but was, really, was what won.
With Obama as its face.
Instead of Bush.
Now.
Whatever it was that neocon wasn’t, was it, and that was what won.
But for those who read this exchange with honest incomprehension, my point was the sad and bitter fact that the innocence and idealism that put him in office has already been betrayed by Obama, and that what people thought they were electing, just like in 2006, is not at all what they’re getting.
Just like it was not then what it was they thought they got, then, it is that, now, what they are not getting. Again.
Spell it anyway you want.

64

Beryl 11.25.08 at 11:37 pm

I may regret asking, but can someone deconstruct “all that anti-American self-interested dual loyalty b.s.” for me?

65

Righteous Bubba 11.25.08 at 11:44 pm

Clearly it is just the face of the something that it is.

66

peter 11.26.08 at 12:57 am

Regardless of whether or not one could find a compelling moral justification for a policy of violence by those opposed to the Vietnam War (for instance, on the basis of the prior failure of all non-violent means), and regardless of whether or not such a policy of violence were to be ultimately successful in achieving its stated aim of ending the war, a policy of violence is inherently flawed for a more fundamental reason: violent means always vitiate the ends they seek to achieve. Violence corrupts all it touches.

Evidence for this statement lies in the manner in which successful revolutions almost invariably eat their own children. Once established as a legitimate and successful policy tool, violence begets more violence, and gets to be used for every end, not just the original one, and not just those ends for which a compelling moral case may be constructed, nor even just for those for which all other means have been tried and failed. The immense and unredeemed moral corruption of Robert Mugabe and the leadership of ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe provide a contemporary example.

It is odd that people purporting to be on the left lacked even the basic historical understanding needed to apprehend this truth. It is this moral failing – the lack of an historical understanding — for which the members of the Weather Underground still owe those of us opposed to the Vietnam War apologies.

67

Jay 11.26.08 at 2:14 am

Peter: This country was founded on revolution. How does that square with your statement?

68

Dan S. 11.26.08 at 3:14 am

There’s no question that a politically unified Indian insurgency could have thrown out the British by force of arms. The problem is that going the armed route would have meant throwing out the British using a coalition of armed actors that, soon afterward, might have simply turned on itself, with devastating results for all, and with democracy a very unlikely outcome on any side. ” (Michael Turner, #33)

See also this Obsidian Wings post by Hilzoy:

Back in 1983, I sat in on a conference on women and social change. . . . During this conference, there was a recurring disagreement about the role of violence in fighting deeply unjust regimes. On one side were the women from India, who argued against the use of violence, generally on Gandhian grounds. On the other were many of the women who lived under deeply unjust regimes; I recall, in particular, the South Africans arguing that however laudable nonviolence might be, their situation was sufficiently desperate that they could not afford the luxury of waiting for nonviolence to work. . . .

. . . By contrast, many of the arguments made by the Indians turned on the effects that achieving self-government through violence had on one’s own people. Don’t do this, they seemed to be saying: once you win your freedom, you will find that you and your people have grown accustomed to settling disputes by force and to demonizing your opponents. Think now about how to use the struggle you are waging to teach yourselves how to become citizens and to practice self-government. Do not wait until you win your independence to discover that self-government requires not just political power, but political responsibility.”

69

Dave 11.26.08 at 8:34 am

“Do not wait until you win your independence to discover that self-government requires not just political power, but political responsibility.”

How profoundly true that observation is; and how profoundly fortunate we are that so many posters in discusssion of this ilk will never be in a position to fail to learn that lesson.

Yours, waiting to see if this post will be randomly ‘moderated’ out of existence, like several others of mine.

70

virgil xenophon 11.26.08 at 9:08 am

John Emerson@#1

“My argument would be different with someone who felt that the Vietnam war was justified or at least tolerable.”

O.K. If I were were to tell you that I am one of those someones, (and I am) what would that different argument be? Would you yourself have preferred “Two , three, many Vietnams?” And by “many” do you mean the sight of war-torn nations–or do you mean Communism triumphant? Or both, if achieving the latter perforce entailed the necessity of the former?

71

Katherine 11.26.08 at 9:44 am

38: That’s convenient, so long as you don’t live in the likes of Vietnam or Iraq and are confident that bombs won’t regularly be exploding in your village.

It was a statement of principle, not a description of fact.

The implication from the earlier statement that “why should villagers in East Armpit Massachusets not have to worry about bombs exploding, when villagers in Viet Nam watched it happen EVERY DAMNED DAY.” seemed to me to imply that people in East Armpit Massachusets should be bombed because they were no more deserving of peace and security than the occupants of a village in Vietnam. I’ll agree with that latter point, but the idea that this means everyone (or rather, the poor schmucks of East Armpit) deserves to be bombed is stupid and vindictive.

72

Katherine 11.26.08 at 9:56 am

“BTW has Monica apologized for giving US GWB?”

Has Bill?

73

MarkUp 11.26.08 at 1:56 pm

Has Bill?

“For this purpose, I am greatly in need of a little money, and I come to you, brother, with my heart full of contrition.”
~ Vic Hugo

Seems that’s his sentiment at every speaking event. So in a sense, every time he’s handed a speakers fee it’s really an apology and I’m sure once he hits the billion mark he’ll sum it all up. ;)

74

J Thomas 11.26.08 at 2:38 pm

“My argument would be different with someone who felt that the Vietnam war was justified or at least tolerable.”

O.K. If I were were to tell you that I am one of those someones, (and I am) what would that different argument be?

I’ll tell you mine. At the time I thought the war was justified and necessary. If we couldn’t band together behind our military, we’d lose. It’s bad for the USA to lose wars. We had to stick it out and win, or bad things would happen. And our experts knew a lot more about what was going on than I did, if we didn’t trust our military experts who could we trust?

Afterward I rethought it. Even from my original assumptions we got a bad result. Would that result have been better if we’d been more resolute? Hardly. Putting more resources into vietnam wouldn’t have gotten us a better result. The absolute best we could have hoped for would have been a nation like south korea — after suffering enough millions of civilian casualties they could perhaps have wound up another nation of utter hypocrites.

The central problems were:

1. Lots of vietnamese were nationalists. They wanted to kick out the foreigners and have their own nation. They’d experienced being overrun by the chinese, and the french, and the japanese, and they didn’t want it. They were ready to fight us because we were the latest foreigners dominating them.

2. South vietnamese were not sufficiently ready to fight as a unified team. That was partly our doing. We let vietnam have an election and then when the results didn’t come out like we wanted, we threw it out. We went along with a south vietnamese government dominated by catholic christians, when something more representative might have gotten more support. When that government didn’t do what we wanted we tolerated coups — repeatedly. And then the south vietnamese weren’t unified and didn’t adequately fight the north vietnamese for us, so we had to do much of the fighting ourselves.

Again, looking back, it seems to me that there are two different kinds of wars we might want to fight. There are wars where we support foreign democracies against various threats. And there are wars where the foreign public wants something we don’t want them to have, so we fight to keep them from getting what they want.

The philippines were the second kind. We wanted to control their ports so we couldn’t let them have control.

The Bay of Pigs was the first kind. We wanted the cuban people to to rise up against their oppressors and create a democracy. (Though we hadn’t done anything for democracy when they had Batista, who let us have ports.) But the cuban people didn’t do that, so we pulled out.

Our latest invasion of panama was the second kind. The dictator of panama stiffed us about control of the panama canal. So he had an accident and died, and the new dictator of panama also stiffed us about control of the canal. So we went in and arrested him on drug charges, and we appointed a democracy to take over, and we mostly pulled out. Did the panama public oppose their dictator? Not enough to have much chance to overthrow him with our help. Did they want to stiff us about control of the canal? What do you think? But we imposed a democracy on them anyway.

Our civil war was the second kind. We didn’t like the way southern states ran their democracies, so we moved in to force them to do things our way.

When we want to promote democracy, it works better to actually promote democracy. Election fraud and unrepresentative government and coups, like vietnam, do not promote democracy. When we set up local elections in iraq but then threw out the winners and appointed iraqis who’d emigrated to america in their place because the winners were “religious”, it made us look like utter hypocrites. We need to move in, take power from the bad guys, hold honest elections, and move out when they want us to or a bit before. If they don’t want democracy enough to uphold it on their own, then too bad. We can’t force them to be democratic.

When we want to prevent a foreign nation from doing something its citizens support, then we need to move in, smash the stuff we don’t like, and probably move out with the warning that if we catch them doing that stuff we’ll come back. Or occupy them until they either can’t do the bad stuff or they change their mind and don’t want to (crafty hypocrites!) or we find something more important to do.

Looking back, I think we would have done better to noncoercively encourage the south vietnamese to run a more representative government, and given them supplies and training to fight off invasion. Encourage them to get the viet cong to elect representatives to the government and openly lobby for what they want. And if they can’t learn how to fight for themselves quick enough, pull out the advisors. And in that case we might find ways to help emigrants get settled somewhere else.

Similarly, we started out doing pretty much the right thing in afghanistan. We found afghans who wanted to take over the government and we gave them training and supplies, while we got the pakistanis to cut off support to Taliban. They won handily. But then we didn’t find a way to encourage democracy in an afghan context, and we didn’t fund them much after they won, so the coalition fell apart. Now we’re committed to fighting Taliban for them because they aren’t ready to do the fighting themselves. This is unlikely to end well.

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John Emerson 11.26.08 at 3:22 pm

Dan S. at 52: Yeah, that was excessive. People like Eric Rudolph and Claude Dallas were local heroes in Republican parts of the country, but they never became respectable or publicly accepted, especially not nationally. Though on the other hand, Ayers never did kill anybody, and was only not jailed because of prosecutor misconduct.

76

J Thomas 11.26.08 at 4:13 pm

….and your example lonely outcast rebel is in fact a successful writer, academic, and good friend of the president-elect….

They’re good friends? Then why oh why did Obama get elected? I thought they had just barely met each other back when they were in the same civic group or something.

Are you sure about this? Is there some kind of evidence?

77

lemuel pitkin 11.26.08 at 5:17 pm

Patrick’s 62 is really good. Thanks.

78

sg 11.26.08 at 5:46 pm

Jay at 67, good question. How could a nation as pacifistic, as internally peaceful, as non-interventionist and as unwarlike as the US possibly have had violence as its foundation?

Maybe there are a million dead Iraqis who could ponder this profound question better than you – if they were still alive.

79

libarbarian 11.26.08 at 6:00 pm

Peter: This country was founded on revolution. How does that square with your statement?

So what?

There is no such thing as “original sin” and the fact that a nation was founded in violent revolution simply does not necessarily imply anything about it’s fundamental nature.

80

Righteous Bubba 11.26.08 at 6:03 pm

the fact that a nation was founded in violent revolution simply does not necessarily imply anything about it’s fundamental nature.

Fine if you’re talking about “a nation” but if you’re talking about America it’s pretty important that it was founded in revolution and yes in America’s case it has an impact on its fundamental nature.

81

MarkUp 11.26.08 at 6:11 pm

simply does not necessarily imply anything about it’s fundamental nature

Surely it does “imply” something, unless of course we’ve been limited to but one ‘original’ nature, otherwise we’d not be arguing about 2nd amendment rights and kids blowing their heads off at machine gun camps, gun show loopholes and how being by far the biggest spender on all that is military and the biggest by far supplier of weaponry to the rest of the world…

82

bjk 11.26.08 at 7:36 pm

And after we hear from Bill Ayers on education reform, Osama bin Laden will provide his perspective on the latest financial crisis.

83

Brett Bellmore 11.26.08 at 8:16 pm

During the 90’s I was tangentially involved with the Michigan Milita, a group I’m sure everyone here loaths as much as I loath the Weathermen. (In part, I think, due to a very carefully crafted ignorance of what we were really about.) I think it’s worth noting that, at a time when the government was killing it’s own citizens for peacefully exercising an explicit civil right, we generally did NOT resort to terroristic violence, and rightly despised those few who did.

And yet, I’m haunted by the thought that maybe McVeigh was right, in the sense that the government would never have pulled back from the abyss it was teetering at the edge of, if somebody hadn’t seen to it that it got a taste of it’s own, and removed that sense of invulnerability. That’s the sort of thought that keeps me sleepless some nights.

Just thought I’d share that.

As for Ayers, my only thought is what a pity he didn’t meet the same fate as McVeigh.

84

Righteous Bubba 11.26.08 at 8:21 pm

we generally did NOT resort to terroristic violence

Belongs in the nitpicking of writing thread. I hope.

85

roy belmont 11.26.08 at 8:41 pm

Fundamental nature.
Creation myths have some bearing there as well. The Judeo-Christian Fall of Man.
The Jewish Passover, the Christian Redemption, neither has a fundamental regard for the “natural” world, the biological, more like disdain than anything else. As if biology weren’t fundamental at all, but something superficial.
The Chumash of California came out of the sea as dolphins, and took up life on land. That story informed something deep and central in them, shaping their attitudes toward what is after all essential to all of us, land and sea . It also resonates pretty tightly with the creation myth of contemporary science.
How much of the violence in America’s founding is carried forward to today doesn’t seem as important as how far the once fiercely independent “fundamental nature” of the US citizenry, embodied in men like Franklin and Paine, has shifted toward childish obedience and complacent unquestioning acceptance of what is basically an unseen authority.
Thus the stunned but not really outraged posture of those who are getting reamed by the so-called economic crisis.
These conditions are very similar to what produced the American Revolution in the first place.
But violence, which then enabled the severing of the parasitic attachments of corrupt power, which as revolution was the founding of the US as nation, while now evident as hell in the actions of the government itself as it serves and protects the interests of its masters, is, former militiamen notwithstanding, nowhere to be seen in its citizenry.

86

MarkUp 11.26.08 at 8:44 pm

(In part, I think, due to a very carefully crafted ignorance of what we were really about.)

¿
I’m sensing heat from a double ended candle here; fear and loathing in [the] UP? Was Tim’s tangent with the MM different than yours, rental truck aside? Or are you somehow saddened that Ayers did not go far enough?

87

Brett Bellmore 11.26.08 at 9:31 pm

“Tim’s tangent with the MM”, references to him being “linked to” them aside, (Wonderfully ambiguous word, “linked”; Delightfully self-referential at times, too.) consisted of a boot to the rear accelerated trip out the door. We used to say that you could identify the federal infiltrators, because they were the ones urging that we commit crimes… Our view of what we were about was rather different from what Ayers thought he was up to. We thought we were preparing in case the government became a tyranny that needed to be warred against, not that it already was such a tyranny.

No, I don’t wish Ayers had been more violent, I’m just disturbed by the possibility that a moral monster had a clearer grasp of the situation than those of us with more scruples; Ghandi used to say that non-violence would only work against civilized opponents, that against the truly evil it was suicide. Did McVeigh correctly identify the nature of what we were up against, because like recognized like?

88

seth edenbaum 11.26.08 at 9:47 pm

62: “Ayers is reacting. He does not strike me as avidly seeking national attention, except in academic circles,…”
That’s a good point. Ayers didn’t put himself in the position of having to defend himself, but having been put in that position he’s come off badly.

Ayers doesn’t need to apologize, necessarily, but he needs to take responsibility one way or the other, and he hasn’t. And when I called them teenagers I meant they were behaving like teenagers. The people I grew up with were active when Ayers et al. were in nursery school. Political activism, and frustration at its failure, did not begin in this country with the generation born in 1946.

As to the larger issue: non-violence is a strategy; as an ideology it makes as much sense as an ideology of violence. It’s good to remember sometimes that Gandhi was a religious fundamentalist who thought it would be better to let a child die of starvation than feed him meat. Similarly it’s good to remember that in history there are no right answers outside cases., that nearly all humility is false humility, that claims of sincerity are claims to good intention, and that adults do not “react.” But adults in any society are few and far between.
It’s amuses me sometimes to remember that Marcel Reich-Ranicki said the only German he ever met who understood the full moral significance of the holocaust to was Ulrike Meinhof.

89

MarkUp 11.26.08 at 10:37 pm

Our view of what we were about was rather different from what Ayers thought he was up to.

My eyes sees a strong similarity, the biggest difference being the when the “in case” occurred[s] / definition of tyranny.

disturbed by the possibility that a moral monster had a clearer grasp

Did they/he not undertake actions against the machine they deemed tryannical, something you/MM were prepared to also do upon whatever definition y’all had arrived at – knowing that Congress or SCOTUS for example, were unlikely to make such a declaration on their own and thereby sanction your violence?

On a side tangent there’s been much talk here about the non-violence of Ghandi [which in and of itself is highly admirable] that tries to negate it seems the fact that a considerable portion of his/their success was owing to massive amounts of violence in the form of world wars that both altered their oppressors thoughts/behavior in terms of colonialism and their ability to maintian it if it did turn to mass violent action. Maybe we should all practice brahmacharya….

90

Beryl 11.26.08 at 11:28 pm

Brett @ 87,

Ghandi used to say that non-violence would only work against civilized opponents, that against the truly evil it was suicide.

His notion of non-violence was a little more peculiar (and to my mind abhorrent) than that. It included suicide. In fact (i.e. after the fact) that’s exactly what he thought the Jews should have done. According to his biographer Louis Fischer, Gandhi regarded the Holocaust as “the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs… It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany.”

Uh huh.

http://die_meistersinger.tripod.com/gandhi9.html

91

Michael Turner 11.27.08 at 6:16 am

Beryl, I went there and I looked at that. And what I came away with was different: that Gandhi was faulting German Jews for not resisting en masse. Well, what does “Never Again!” mean but “never again shall we be so meek”? I also seem to read that Gandhi thought that a self-sacrifice of “hundreds”, even “thousands” would have brought the Holocaust (or perhaps even pre-Holocaust depredations) to the attention of the world in ways those events hadn’t already. This seems a far cry from what it sounds like you think he was saying: that all six million should have killed themselves, rather than ever resort to violence resistance.

92

Michael Turner 11.27.08 at 6:26 am

Just thought I’d share that.

Thanks so much for sharing, Brett. It reminded me of my idiosyncratic interpretation of the 2nd Amendment: that the right of the people to keep and bear arms should not be infringed, in part because the people need some effective way to deter (in the words of the amendment, keep “well-regulated”) any potential rogue militias, and anything that looks like a militia, from reaching for power over the free state that hosts them.

93

Beryl 11.27.08 at 3:12 pm

@91,

In case you thought I was being unfair (from the same site)…

If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, [i.e. non-violence] he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength. The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the godfearing death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep.

‘Deliverance’? ‘Joyful’? ‘Refreshing’? These were not the words that came to mind when I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington last year.

94

Righteous Bubba 11.27.08 at 3:47 pm

Gandhi’s fantasy seems kinda dumb to me, but…

In case you thought I was being unfair (from the same site)…

and then you write

‘Deliverance’? ‘Joyful’? ‘Refreshing’? These were not the words that came to mind when I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington last year.

Jews did not follow Gandhi’s path, and using the example of those who didn’t as proof Gandhi was wrong is indeed unfair.

95

Beryl 11.27.08 at 4:13 pm

R. Bubba,

I didn’t say Gandhi’s prescription was “wrong”. (Given the context, I can hardly imagine how it could have been “right”.) I simply called it peculiar. And his post-Holocaust remarks are abhorrent. Coating it all in religious mysticism does not lessen its repugnance.

96

Righteous Bubba 11.27.08 at 4:26 pm

I didn’t say Gandhi’s prescription was “wrong”.

You are correct, my apologies. It nevertheless is unfair to judge his path – however strange – by the tragedy of those who did not follow it.

97

roy belmont 11.27.08 at 4:59 pm

Beryl 11.25.08 at 11:37 pm:
I may regret asking, but can someone deconstruct “all that anti-American self-interested dual loyalty b.s.” for me?

Beryl 11.27.08 at 3:12 pm
These were not the words that came to mind when I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington last year.

98

Dan Simon 11.27.08 at 5:27 pm

Thank you for the clarification, Roy. It’s refreshing, in a way, when somebody who expresses such unhinged hatred for “neocons” comes right out and says, “…and by ‘neocon’, of course, I mean, ‘Jew'”.

Now, we’ll see who gets into more trouble around here–you, for warning darkly about those disloyal, parasitical, Holocaust-obsessed “neocons”, or me, for pointing this out.

99

roy belmont 11.27.08 at 5:44 pm

Dan, we’re both in trouble already.
What I clarified was the dishonesty in Beryl’s first statement.
Disingenuous at best, manipulative and deceitful at worst.
Our, and by that I mean you and me and Beryl and all the rest of us, inability to have open honest discussion, argument, explication, about these issues, which are central to this historical moment,in any open forum anywhere, has consequences, dire consequences in my opinion, for all of us.
And by all of us I mean you and Beryl and me, inclusive.
Possibly not that Bubba person though.

100

J Thomas 11.27.08 at 6:08 pm

It’s refreshing, in a way, when somebody who expresses such unhinged hatred for “neocons” comes right out and says, “…and by ‘neocon’, of course, I mean, ‘Jew’”.

That wasn’t in this thread, was it? I don’t find anybody saying that.

There’s nothing about judaism that’s incompatible with being a loyal american. It’s only american zionists who must suffer divided loyalties between nations whose interests are fundamentally opposed.

101

Dan Simon 11.27.08 at 6:24 pm

There’s nothing about judaism that’s incompatible with being a loyal american. It’s only american zionists who must suffer divided loyalties between nations whose interests are fundamentally opposed.

What’s all this about “zionists”? That wasn’t in this thread, was it? I don’t find anybody talking about that.

Beryl was talking about the Holocaust and Gandhi’s attitude towards it. That, in Roy’s view, made her an example of “anti-American, self-interested, dual-loyalty b.s.”. Do the math.

As for Zionists and “dual loyalties”, is any American who supports any nation or group outside the US thereby guilty of “dual loyalties”, if you consider that support to be against American interests? Am I entitled, for instance, to consider any pro-Palestinian American guilty of “dual loyalties”, given the Palestinian population’s and leadership’s constant, virulent, occasionally violent anti-American animus?

It seems to me that reasonable debate about foreign policy is impossible if any disagreement about America’s best interests can be attributed to fundamental disloyalty rather than good-faith differences of opinion.

102

roy belmont 11.27.08 at 7:28 pm

That, in Roy’s view, made her an example of “anti-American, self-interested, dual-loyalty b.s.”.
No, that is not Roy’s view.
Roy’s view is that when she so innocently asked “…can someone deconstruct “all that anti-American self-interested dual loyalty b.s.” for me?” Beryl already knew, not only how that could be “deconstructed”, but how volatile the essence of that statement was and is, and how dangerous it is in American public opinion to express it directly.
So that by asking it Beryl moved that part of the discussion directly toward the threat modality that is a constant feature of this subject.
It was a chess move, not an honest question, is Roy’s view.

103

Beryl 11.27.08 at 8:52 pm

I suppose I do regret asking, after all. I thought there must be something more insightful to the comment and I was missing it. I was wrong. Now that I see what was crawling underneath, perhaps I should not have lifted this rock.

104

Beryl 11.27.08 at 9:28 pm

And just so that I don’t get conscripted in anyone else’s war…

*I am not an ex-Trotskyite and do not subscribe to any neo-conservative agenda, though I haven’t compared all my positions against those of The Project for the New American Century.
*I am not Jewish (why on earth should that matter!?) and whatever Catholicism (of the Irish variety) I was born with has long since been sloughed off.
*My antipathy to Gandhi’s philosophy does not extend to his monumental political achievements (nor to his descendants, one of whom is a relation by marriage).
*And, not least, I voted for Obama (in Vermont; does that count?).

105

John Emerson 11.27.08 at 9:31 pm

“Neocon” means “People who called themselves neocons up until the Iraq War they strongly advocated went bad and was blamed partly on them.” Many, but not most, studied with Leo Strauss, and many, but probably not most, are Jews.

106

harry b 11.27.08 at 9:57 pm

You’re not an ex-trotskyist, you mean….

107

Beryl 11.27.08 at 10:11 pm

Harry,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trotskyism

A follower of Trotskyist ideas is usually called a “Trotskyist” or (in an informal or pejorative way) a “Trotskyite” or “Trot”

Hmm, can’t decide between informal or perjorative.

108

J Thomas 11.27.08 at 10:16 pm

What’s all this about “zionists”? That wasn’t in this thread, was it? I don’t find anybody talking about that.

This was:
It’s refreshing, in a way, when somebody who expresses such unhinged hatred for “neocons” comes right out and says, “…and by ‘neocon’, of course, I mean, ‘Jew’”.

I say that the point here is not “Jew” but “zionist”. It should not be an issue that the large majority of central neocon planners were Jewish. It should be an issue that they were zionists, that their primary loyaltyies were to a foreign power whose interests were opposed to ours.

Beryl was talking about the Holocaust and Gandhi’s attitude towards it. That, in Roy’s view, made her an example of “anti-American, self-interested, dual-loyalty b.s.”. Do the math.

I found that quote in #59. I didn’t find the one about by ‘neocon’, of course, I mean, ‘Jew’” anywhere before your #98. Roy appears to me to be talking about neocons in #59. I don’t see that he called Beryl a neocon.

As for Zionists and “dual loyalties”, is any American who supports any nation or group outside the US thereby guilty of “dual loyalties”, if you consider that support to be against American interests?

Yes. Americans can talk that way. So when Melina Mercouri spoke out against the greek Junta which the US government supported on the grounds they were anticommunist, americans could talk like she was being antiamerican (and also antigreek). And some did.

On the other hand, when zionists give vital US military secrets to israel, and israel sells them to russia etc, that isn’t dual loyalty. That’s treason. That isn’t a political opinion, that’s law. And US general unwillingness to prosecute because of the political repercussions from zionist voters and campaign contributors etc is … well, treason seems too harsh a word but I can’t think of a softer one that fits.

When US military veterans who are currently serving in the israeli military use their US-supplied training to attack US forces, there isn’t a question of divided loyalty. It’s pretty clear where the loyalties are.

But those are special cases. When it’s just american citizens accusing other american citizens of being zionists, and in return getting accused of being antisemitic, it’s just politics as usual.

Am I entitled, for instance, to consider any pro-Palestinian American guilty of “dual loyalties”, given the Palestinian population’s and leadership’s constant, virulent, occasionally violent anti-American animus?

Oh, absolutely. You can go further and consider any US citizen who is not of palestinian descent himself, who expresses any sympathy whatsoever for any palestinian to be an antisemite, who you can say is only favoring palestinians because it’s a way to hurt israel. That’s a workable political stand.

And if he is of palestinian descent then that’s enough to argue that he should be completely ignored since he’s bound to be biased.

It seems to me that reasonable debate about foreign policy is impossible if any disagreement about America’s best interests can be attributed to fundamental disloyalty rather than good-faith differences of opinion.

Oh, emphatically agreed. So, you’re real good at dishing it out but you’re not so good at taking it huh.

109

Beryl 11.27.08 at 10:18 pm

[pejorative – sp!]

110

Beryl 11.27.08 at 10:43 pm

J Thomas @108,

Maybe I’m just being obtuse, but I read Roy Belmont’s #97 comment as reducing Washington’s Holocaust Museum to “anti-American self-interested dual loyalty b.s.”. Or am I the target of that calumny?

(P.S. to anyone else reading this comment: As affecting as the Washington Holocaust Museum – but in different ways – and just down Independance Ave, is the National Museum of the American Indian. Well worth a visit.)

111

J Thomas 11.27.08 at 10:50 pm

I didn’t say Gandhi’s prescription was “wrong”. (Given the context, I can hardly imagine how it could have been “right”.)

Well, I can see a way it could have been right. But it would have required a tremendous agreement among the european jewish community, something that jewish communities are not noted for.

Suppose for the moment that many germans thought of jews as a threat. They thought it was not just a few jewish bankers and bureaucrats etc that created the bad armistice and the tragic Weimar republic, but a more-or-less-universal conspiracy. Then jews anywhere would look like a threat.

I remember a story from the relatively early days, where the SS found a collection of jews including a bunch of children, and the local commander gave the order to kill the children too. His argument was, “Why should we let these children grow up when they will be our ineveitable enemies?”.

In the USA when our WWII started we went after each german citizen in the USA and the FBI interviewed his friends etc to get an idea whether he’d be a threat. A few germans got “concentrated”. But japanese were rounded up wholesale, perhaps because the FBI didn’t trust their friends to tell the truth about them. We didn’t particularly mistreat them because we didn’t need to, they were a relatively small number of people and we were winning handily. We could afford to give them plywood and window screens and even medicine, and let them grow gardens etc.

So, just suppose that these germans thought that jews were a threat. And suppose that jews could strongly show that they weren’t a threat. That would tend to get germans to question their choices. Direct resistance couldn’t work, it would only persuade germans that they had been right all along, and the strength difference was too large.

(Could they have gotten some results with suicide bombing? Yes, they could have made the nonjewish population take larger losses, but if anything they would have been killed more remorselessly.)

It would have taken a lot of dedication. A small minority of jews doing violence would have scared people. Maybe it was impossible. In far less extreme circumstances it worked for US blacks. Most of them presented themselves as nonviolent christians, and we got some civil rights instead of a great big clampdown. Even though there was a certain amount of arson etc. I figure the more extreme the situation is already, the less violence it takes to make it worse.

In general, if you can’t win a fight and you aren’t even strong enough to deter one and you can’t run away, the best approach is to look harmless. Exactly how to look harmless will vary by circumstance. It isn’t a sure thing but there aren’t any sure things in that case.

112

J Thomas 11.27.08 at 11:12 pm

Beryl, Ray explained his response, in his #99 and also his #102.

Perhaps you don’t understand US politics well enough to see what he was saying. Here is some background.

We have had 50 years of utterly partisan single-issue lobbying from zionists whose only loyalty is to israel. They have been utterly dishonest. This may have come as a response to antisemites who were also utterly dishonest. But they won that war — the antisemites are far more despised than liberals now. An open antisemite can’t get any attention in political discussion except as a horrible example.

And the zionists did not change their tactics after they won. Any opposition to their agenda gets people labeled as hidden antisemites with the open demand that they should be ignored for that reason.

Of course people have gotten tired of the whole thing, to the point that zionist legislation mostly doesn’t get discussed — it just gets voted in by Congress and implemented by the President without much discussion. On many political blogs, people who bring up zionist issues tend to get banned or at least warned never to do that again, because it’s invidious. (“Invidious” means “likely to cause ill-will”.) Not that the people who run the blogs are zionists or antisemites, they just don’t want to wade through the poison.

So when you first acted like you didn’t know what Roy was talking about, but then you let slip that you exposed yourself to intense zionist propaganda and tried to spread it, I think Roy jumped to the conclusion that you were one of the dishonest people who argue in favor of zionism, as opposed to somebody who was so clueless you didn’t know what was going on.

This is all my interpretation and may not match up to Ray’s thoughts.

HTH.

113

Righteous Bubba 11.27.08 at 11:16 pm

intense zionist propaganda

I haven’t been to the museum. Is it that?

114

J Thomas 11.27.08 at 11:24 pm

Righteous Bubba, I think there’s room for legitimate disagreement about the purposes of the Holocaust museum.

I can easily see that many people would not consider it zionist propaganda at all, but merely a remembrance of the Holocaust in which the plurality of death camp inmates were jewish. It could be considered important to dwell on those events to help make sure they never happen again — to jews, or to europeans, or something like that.

Perhaps you could observe it yourself and see what you think.

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Beryl 11.27.08 at 11:29 pm

but then you let slip that you exposed yourself to intense zionist propaganda and tried to spread it, I think Roy jumped to the conclusion that you were one of the dishonest people who argue in favor of zionism, as opposed to somebody who was so clueless you didn’t know what was going on.

To all CT-ers:

My sincere apologies. I truly never realized how insidious Zionism could be. I promise to be more careful in the future.

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J Thomas 11.28.08 at 12:11 am

https://crookedtimber.org/2006/07/04/torture-and-rules/#comment-163106
https://crookedtimber.org/2006/08/01/war-and-its-consequences-2/#comment-166970
https://crookedtimber.org/2006/07/13/lebanon-and-gaza/#comment-164035

Beryl, a very quick scan of some of your old comments leaves me unable to believe that you are unaware of the partisan issues around zionism in the USA and on this blog.

Therefore I must discount your sincerity. You are not clueless, you know what you’re doing.

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Beryl 11.28.08 at 1:03 am

I’m sorry, J Thomas; “expos(ure)” to “intense zionist propaganda” can do that to people. Maybe they could post a warning sign outside the museum.

118

djw 11.28.08 at 1:49 am

I couldn’t care less whether neocon’s loyalties lie with the US, Israel, Mozambique, or whatever. Their preferred policy outcomes are demonstrably and obviously very bad for US and Israeli security (not to mention the rest of the world). That’s really all I need to know. Questioning loyalties, outside of specific cases of espionage, etc. don’t add much to the already overwhelming case against the Weekly Standard worldview.

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J Thomas 11.28.08 at 2:18 am

Beryl, you were taking partisan one-sided positions in 2006, so I think we can discount a single visit to the Holocaust Museum last year as an explanation for your behavior.

120

Dan Simon 11.28.08 at 4:41 am

Well, well–we seem to have come back to the original topic of this thread: people with odious, despicable views who live in freedom and comfort and even receive completely undeserved respect and deference, but nevertheless imagine themselves to be lonely, oppressed defenders of truth and justice in a world dominated by their evil enemies.

I’m not going to waste my time addressing Thomas’ and Belmont’s supposed arguments, which consist mostly of hateful ad hominems impugning the motives of their enemies, larded with historical ignorance and ugly stereotyping. But as with my response about Ayers above, I’ll simply observe that for all their preening and posturing about the dangerousness and forbiddenness of their views, they feel perfectly comfortable expressing them here–on a respectable academic blog. On the other hand, Beryl’s challenge to their views was accompanied by (somewhat understandably) timid disclaimers of any political hetorodoxy or ethnic/religious, uh, unreliability. (Not that these protected her from the wrath of Thomas, of course.)

As for me, I’ve actually been banned from one CT poster’s comments for daring to say the obvious: that CT is rife with conspiracy theories about “Zionists”/”Likudniks”/”neocons” that are completely indistinguishable from standard anti-Semitic propaganda about Jewish power, Jewish disloyalty and ZOG. Others, too, have been sternly warned here that even noting the self-evident character of these conspiracy theories will not be tolerated. Around here, at least, it’s pretty apparent whose views are being repressed, and it’s not those of Belmont and Thomas.

I understand the defensiveness–to those who embrace comforting myths, obvious truths are a terrible threat. But when Thomas complains that “[o]n many political blogs, people who bring up zionist issues tend to get banned or at least warned never to do that again, because it’s invidious”, I wonder just how many times he’s actually been banned, as opposed to simply being identified as the foul hatemonger he is.

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Beryl 11.28.08 at 5:43 am

Beryl, you were taking partisan one-sided positions in 2006, so I think we can discount a single visit to the Holocaust Museum last year as an explanation for your behavior.

No, you’re probably right. I was ripe for the picking. It’s remarkable how they can recognize the weak ones.

http://preview.tinyurl.com/5q5fnt

122

PHB 11.28.08 at 6:19 am

J Thomas is wrong, we have not had ‘fifty years of lobbying from people whose only loyalty is to Israel’, that would perhaps not have caused so much harm. What we have had is people lobbying for their own interests and a theoretical construct that never existed.

It is the same the world over. Sikhs in Birmingham England take it into their heads to fund a terrorist separatist movement. Ex-Pat Irish in New York decide to fight for a united Ireland. And all the folk who contribute to these causes and their political enablers are safely thousands of iles away from the death and destruction they are causing. The Taleban was funded from Pakistan, and so it goes on.

Just as anti-Semites like to pass themselves off as anti-Zionists, folk who talk about ‘transfer’ (Likud-speak for ‘ethnic cleansing’) and make up all manner of excuses for what are pretty obviously apartheid practices prefer to call themselves ‘Zionists’ rather than bigots.

That does not mean that there are only two types of people in the world. Most people are neither Jew-haters or Palestinian-haters. Dan Simon employs a somewhat extended ad-hominem argument, the fact that some anti-Zionists are anti-Semites does not make all anti-Zionists anti-Semites. In fact it does not mean that every anti-Zionist is even an anti-Zionist, since they might simply be expressing their opposition to anti-Palestinian hate-mongers like Dershowitz, Krautheimer and co. who happen to describe themselves as ‘Zionist’.

The problem with the bigots is not that they have appropriated the term ‘Zionism’, it is the fact that they routinely accuse any and every opponent of being motivated by either anti-Semitism or if the opponent is a Jew, self loathing. And this mode of argument becomes tedious in the extreme.

Now there is the somewhat unfortunate fact that the activities of certain members of the neo-con cabal do bear an amazing similarity to certain anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The only problem is that it is also pretty clear that the influence of the Jewish contingent on starting the Iraq war was merely to supply a pretext for a decision that was already made by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld for their own personal reasons.

An astute political observer who is of the opinion that the Bush administration may have been endowed with a degree of political cunning if not actual competence, might well consider the possibility that Perle, Wolfowitz and the rest were chosen for such prominent roles precisely for the purpose of giving the enterprise the appearance of an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory which Rove and co recognized is the one trope that the US media could not possibly turn to.

So lets drop the term ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘Zionism’ and ‘conspiracy’. They are terms whose definitions have been entirely framed by the bigots in order to try to force us all to pick one side or the other. Lets use the term ‘Jew-hater’ and ‘Palestinian-hater’ for the bigots and not use any labels at all for the vast majority of reasonable people who reject both extremes. ‘Anti-semitism’ was Hitler’s term, why should we let him of all people frame debate. ‘Zionism’ is far too nebulous a term to be pinned down with a single definition and it is not the aspect of the neo-con faction, Likudniks &ct that is objectionable: its their racism that is objectionable. So lets call them out for what they are.

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dsquared 11.28.08 at 7:54 am

As for me, I’ve actually been banned from one CT poster’s comments

do you have any idea how ridiculous you are, Dan?

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J Thomas 11.28.08 at 8:21 am

I’m not going to waste my time addressing Thomas’ and Belmont’s supposed arguments, which consist mostly of hateful ad hominems impugning the motives of their enemies, larded with historical ignorance and ugly stereotyping.

I know you are, but what am I? ;)

As for me, I’ve actually been banned from one CT poster’s comments for daring to say the obvious

Well, that fits. See, people don’t like to see this argument come up — people who can be reasonable on other topics wind up flaming each other, using scorched-earth defenses, etc. And after they quit in disgust nothing has been settled, nothing improved, just another example of the same. So it’s only natural that reasonable moderators might want to just drop the subject when it comes up, regardless which side brings it up.

I wonder just how many times he’s actually been banned

I don’t recall being banned over the zionism thing, probably because each time a moderator says to drop the topic I drop it immediately. I was quickly banned from Powerline, Redstate, LGF, etc because I made comments that weren’t appreciated. My guess is that they weren’t Republican enough but in each case there was no explanation.

Anyway, it’s silly to have a competition about who’s censored the most.

“Oh, what a giveaway! Did you hear that? Did you hear that, eh? That’s what I’m on about! Did you see him repressing me? You saw him, Didn’t you?”

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dsquared 11.28.08 at 8:31 am

CT is rife with conspiracy theories about “Zionists”/”Likudniks”/”neocons” that are completely indistinguishable from standard anti-Semitic propaganda about Jewish power, Jewish disloyalty and ZOG

and while it is not my place to decide on comments policy for one of Harry’s posts, this transparent bollocks surely shouldn’t go completely unchallenged.

126

Michael Turner 11.28.08 at 8:51 am

Uh-oh. Zionism. Anti-semitism. Neo-cons. I’m stayin’ out of this. But somewhere back where all this was ignited . . .

Beryl @ 93 — I see you equating “general massacre” with “Holocaust”. I don’t think that’s Gandhi’s meaning there and I don’t think that’s correct in any case. I see Ghandi saying that the “deliverance” of the Jews would have been in their rescue by Western powers once their plight was brought to unavoidable global attention, not in their death at the hands of the Nazis. I also see him saying that the relative few who did die in nonviolent resistance (even if that “relative few” would be measured in hundreds of thousands) would at least see heaven.

The Holocaust was not a massacre. Not even a “general massacre.” From his resistance experiences in South Africa and India, Gandhi was equipped to know the difference. (And from his legal training, I think he was equipped to express important distinctions in very precise English.) Rather, the Holocaust was an industrialized genocide that relied to an amazing degree on Jews being docile, being herded onto mechanized transport, with many of them imagining that, somehow, things wouldn’t turn out so bad for themselves and their families. Never have so many been killed so quietly and inconspicuously.

Imagine if there had been the kind of resistance Gandhi recommended, with the understanding on the part of demonstrating participants that they had a very good chance of meeting large-scale lethal reactions. If such force had materialized in a “general massacre” (which , again, I do not interpret as “virtual extermination”, because even most general massacres never achieve that), it would have been a very conspicuous event indeed. It would have erased any doubts on the part of Jews thinking “I’ll be alright, the Nazis can’t be that murderous.” It would have erased any such doubts in the rest of the world, as well. Blood running in gutters for block after block in a city makes a statement that a smudge of greasy smoke at the edge of a town could never make. If it was the blood of people who fought back violently, the Nazis might still have been able to turn it into a case for anti-semitism somehow: “See, we told you the Jews were dangerous!” The blood of noncombatants would have been quite another thing.

Let me put it this way: if you believed there was some course of action the Jews could have taken against the Nazis before (or not long after) the death camps had started up, that would have resulted in tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of deaths among the Jews, but that would also have had a very good chance of preventing the millions of Holocaust deaths that followed, would you have advocated it? I believe this is what Gandhi was doing. I don’t see any direct contradiction of that interpretation in anything you’ve pointed to. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough. This is not to say that Gandhi was necessarily right, that it could have turned out the way he hoped. Maybe armed resistance would have had more “propaganda of the deed” value in stirring global sympathy. It’s just that I think you’re taking him wrong here.

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J Thomas 11.28.08 at 9:03 am

J Thomas is wrong, we have not had ‘fifty years of lobbying from people whose only loyalty is to Israel’, that would perhaps not have caused so much harm. What we have had is people lobbying for their own interests and a theoretical construct that never existed.

You’re right. At various times the israeli government has seemed to me to mirror them, but even then the americans have been more extreme.

Most people are neither Jew-haters or Palestinian-haters.

Support for fantasy “israel” doesn’t equate to palestinian-haters, though. It isn’t exactly arab-haters or muslim-haters either. It’s hate for all fantasy enemies of israel including americans who don’t “support” israel enough.

So lets drop the term ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘Zionism’ and ‘conspiracy’

My first thought was that this would do no good. But you’re right that the labels are vague and tend to lead the brouhaha into the same abstract patterns each time. If we were to look at individual issues, who knows what might result? So it’s worth a try.

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J Thomas 11.28.08 at 9:09 am

We were discussing Ayers and the Weathermen’s tendency to play guerrillas in a nation where that was counterproductive — the same sort of fantasy PHB attributes to some americans wrt israel, ireland, etc except they kept it at home and they did the dirty work themselves.

I say that political violence is mostly useless in the absence of censorship. To win, you need to persuade at least a large plurality of the people to your side. Without that the best you can hope for is a narrow dictatorship that keeps down your enemies. And if the government isn’t silencing you and the people don’t agree with you, whose fault is it? Get violent and people won’t support you, at best they’ll get rid of their government for being incompetent at suppressing you, and then will set up a government that’s better at suppressing you.

With censorship there’s no good way to tell how many people are against the government but afraid to be the first to speak up and be punished. Then you might as well try to overthrow the government and find out what people think — will they hide you? Will they help you? You don’t find out until you bet your life on it.

So here’s the USA, if a randomly-sampled 2/3 of the public believes it’s time to overthrow the government, it will happen. It doesn’t even take a bunch of civilians with handguns and hunting rifles — if the government tries to repress people, a bunch of soldiers will have their grandmothers asking them why they’re on the wrong side. The army will split, or maybe it will mostly come out against the government.

The necessary and sufficient condition is that you convince the public, and you plant bombs instead? Not workable. Exciting fantasy.

Then we got to Gandhi. I presented a possible interpretation of Gandhi’s view of the Holocaust. I think the logic is sound but it’s a hard strategy to follow. It did not work for tibetans when the chinese army took tibet because it wanted their food. No matter how well you persuade the chinese army that they are not justified in what they do, they’ll still take your food rather than starve themselves.

Would it have worked for iraqis? I think so. Our justification for staying in iraq has always been that we intended to stop the violence by lethal force. If the iraqis were not violent that justification would be gone. But we stopped mass nonviolent protest in the early days by shooting at them. A whole lot of iraqis decided that americans didn’t respond to nonviolence. It’s a fine balance — if violence against the invaders is an excuse for them to stay, but passive resistance leads them to say you welcome them, and nonviolent protest gets you massacred, what do you do? It made a difference that most US soldiers didn’t speak the language, and that almost all communication channels between iraqis and american civilians were co-opted by the US military. There was so much talk about iraqi bloggers, but what did it amount to?

I guess sometimes you just can’t win. Maybe sometime you can’t even survive and the question becomes what kind of death you want. Would you rather die attacking enemy armor? Or die attending a nonviolent protest? Or just wait for your number to come up randomly? When practicality is gone, what’s left but whatever fantasy you like best?

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Dave 11.28.08 at 10:19 am

@128: on the last point, it is fundamental to the western tradition that in such circumstances one goes down fighting, clawing the eyeballs out of the tyrant’s lackeys with the last ounce of one’s strength, leaving a glorious example for those that will come from the shadows to continue the struggle. Since Horatius at the bridge it has been thus [not that he died…] “We shall fight them on the beaches… fields … landing-grounds … hills… never surrender…”

Unfortunately it sometimes turns out that you were the one that was on the wrong side. As the French singer Renaud remarks in one of his opuscules, with the history of both the Resistance and Algeria behind him, “We’re not all Jean Moulin”.

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J Thomas 11.28.08 at 12:02 pm

Dave, western tradition also has a thread of christian martyrdom running through it. You don’t have to fight back to be martyred.

The big deal both share is to die reasonably quickly and not get tortured into publicly supporting your torturers first. Jean Moulin with his hypothetical multiple suicide attempts on capture is a good example of that, and one we can all resolve to follow if it becomes necessary.

131

Katherine 11.28.08 at 12:20 pm

The trouble with suggesting that Jews in Germany laying down their lives in perhaps the hundreds of thousands might have averted the Holocaust somehow is that it rather insidiously demands magical perception on their part that the Holocaust was something that was going to happen.

Since very few believed at the time it could be possible that human beings could do something so monstrous, why should it be demanded of the ultimate victims, who probably had families and jobs and lives that they wanted to protect thank you very much, that they forsee the unforeseeable, and then lay down their lives?

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J Thomas 11.28.08 at 1:24 pm

Katherine, what you say makes sense. It made sense to german jews that nothing too terrible could happen so they should do nothing. A fair number saw hard times coming and tried to individually emigrate and a few succeeded.

My own view is that when you’re surrounded by people who think you’re a threat, you should either threaten them enough to get them to lay off and make it clear what you’re ready to fight over, or else persuade them you aren’t a threat after all, or leave. I think these strategies are best whenever people think you’re a threat, whether you think they are about to kill you or not.

….why should it be demanded of the ultimate victims, who probably had families and jobs and lives that they wanted to protect thank you very much, that they forsee the unforeseeable….

Nobody can demand anything of them now. They did the best they knew how under the circumstances and more than half of them died. It’s only natural to think of alternatives that might have worked better. No way to test how an alternative might have worked, without alternate worlds. Maybe there was no possible way.

Lots of stories got out about the work camps, where prisoners were relatively slowly starved and worked to death. That was bad enough. Easier to not believe them, to hope that things would work out OK. That didn’t work but what would have worked better? By ignoring the problem a lot of people saved themselves a lot of worry. If they had put the pieces together rationally and thought about what to do it might have worried them to death. They were spared that.

Which reminds me, we might be heading into a deeper depression than the 1930 one. What am I doing to prepare? I have less than a hundred pounds of rice and flour stored, and less than fifty pounds of dried beans. One sack of charcoal and a bunch of twigs to run my Zip stove. If the condo association doesn’t pay the water bill I have a somewhat-polluted stream running through the back yard. If a bunch of guys with guns tell me to pack up and leave, how much flour could I carry on my back even if they let me? I don’t have the worst case thought out at all. I’m trying not to think about it.

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Martin Wisse 11.28.08 at 2:31 pm

The idea that there wasn’t any resistance to the Holocaust, or even that if only “the Jews” had better resisted it it wouldn’t have happened is ridiculous and offensive. There was resistance and it didn’t stop it.

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J Thomas 11.28.08 at 2:57 pm

Martin, violent resistance confirmed germans in their opinions. They thought they were dealing with deadly enemies who must be destroyed. There wasn’t enough violent resistance to win and probably there could not have been. So I say that means there was too much.

Barring escape, the other choice is to make a big public show of being harmless and of not deserving bad treatment. The details of that could vary, but it would certainly be dangerous to organizers and participants. The germans could be expected to generate extreme provocations hoping for violent responses that they could then point to.

It’s harder to be sure whether it could have worked. For violent resistance you can get some idea by counting violent individuals and guns and ammo and such. Probably there was not enough. For changing public opinion, who knows? My guess is that it would have failed, that german public opinion would be mostly unchanged and foreign public opinion would not have translated into a quicker war. Sometimes problems have no solution. But that’s only my guess.

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Dave 11.28.08 at 3:08 pm

Xian martyrdom is for wimps, real men burn witches.

No, I am not being serious, but then this discussion left those shores a while ago.

136

Michael Turner 11.28.08 at 3:10 pm

Katherine writes: The trouble with suggesting that Jews in Germany laying down their lives in perhaps the hundreds of thousands might have averted the Holocaust somehow is that it rather insidiously demands magical perception on their part that the Holocaust was something that was going to happen.

Actually, it only demands the perception that things were bad and getting worse, and the imagination to see life as hardly worth living at whatever endpoint was reached. From my reading of the treatment of Jews during the Third Reich, such a perception would hardly have been “magical”.

At what point does it become worth risking one’s own life for other people’s freedom? Or do you have to be absolutely sure that you’re risking your own life to save other lives, before you’ll be self-sacrificial?

Martin Wisse writes: The idea that there wasn’t any resistance to the Holocaust, or even that if only “the Jews” had better resisted it it wouldn’t have happened is ridiculous and offensive. There was resistance and it didn’t stop it.

I never suggested there was no resistance. I haven’t noticed anyone else here suggesting that either.

As for what might have happened with more and better resistance, who knows? “There was resistance, it didn’t work, therefore no resistance could have worked” is lacking something in the logic department.

Gandhi had his beliefs about what could have been effective. I’m mainly trying defend what he said against what looks like serious misinterpretation. I’m not arguing that he was absolutely right. I’m far from sure of that. For all I know, there were intelligent Nazis who thought about how an organized program of nonviolent mass resistance might thwart their plans for the Jews, and who either concluded (rationally) that it wouldn’t happen (or that it wouldn’t work if it did happen), or designed the system of oppression so that no such resistance program could take root anyway.

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Beryl 11.28.08 at 4:00 pm

Michael Turner @126,

The stench from this thread is hard on my breathing, but yours is a thoughtful comment that deserves notice.

I see Ghandi saying that the “deliverance” of the Jews would have been in their rescue by Western powers once their plight was brought to unavoidable global attention, not in their death at the hands of the Nazis. I also see him saying that the relative few who did die in nonviolent resistance (even if that “relative few” would be measured in hundreds of thousands) would at least see heaven.

Michael, I’ve looked at the pertinent quote again…

But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant.

… and still hold to my understanding. But there is too much religious mumbo-jumbo in these words for me to dispute your interpretation.

On the other hand, everything I know about 1933-45 suggests that the plight of the Jews was brought to Western attention. Repeatedly after 1938. (The Holocaust Museum has much documentation to this effect.) And yet (dare I compare them to the Cambodians, Rwandans, Bosnians and Darfurians?) the Jews were pretty much left to their own inadequate devices. Western Jews marched and held rallies, to no avail. Their governments had other issues that they considered politically more pressing. Their borders remained closed to refugees. To be sure, even into 1943-44, the enormity of the Holocaust, the sheer industrial scale of the genocide (a label I don’t think is as easily applied to the catastrophes I mentioned above), was still hard to accept. This wasn’t an obscure atrocity happening a distant corner of the third world. It was taking place in the heart of the “civilized” world, in the lands of Beethoven and Chopin and Tchaikovsky. Many Jews themselves, who after centuries of persecution had learned not to make waves, found it hard to believe that this pogrom was different.

But all of this is hindsight. What I find particularly objectionable are Gandhi’s post-Holocaust comments. It’s as if he’s scolding the Jews for not taking his advice. Had they done so, he is implying, they would have had death with honor. As opposed to what?! I find his position far too close to that of what today we might call “concern trolls”, always ready to offer friendly advice to the Jews. At least Gandhi was criticizing them for being too meek. These days — it would seem from some commenters here — they control the world.

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seth edenbaum 11.28.08 at 4:41 pm

The human need to find someone, anyone, to speak about or for without facing them directly never ceases to amaze me.
“The stench from this thread is hard on my breathing,”
As if you don’t contribute your fair share of the fumes. As if the discussion of the holocaust says anything at all about the right to “return” to Palestine.

“If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been antisemitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?”
David Ben Gurion

A Jewish state?
As I’ve said before, I’ll take the Rhineland.

139

Dan Simon 11.28.08 at 4:50 pm

CT is rife with conspiracy theories about “Zionists”/”Likudniks”/”neocons” that are completely indistinguishable from standard anti-Semitic propaganda about Jewish power, Jewish disloyalty and ZOG

Important clarification: CT’s comments section is rife with such conspiracy theories. The posters themselves have never, to my knowledge, explicitly endorsed any such claims, although they do allow them to be freely promoted in the comments, and occasionally clamp down hard on commenters such as myself who identify them for what they are.

Dan Simon employs a somewhat extended ad-hominem argument, the fact that some anti-Zionists are anti-Semites does not make all anti-Zionists anti-Semites.

I don’t dispute that for a moment–in fact, I’ve made it myself in the past. For example, DJW, above, offers a point of view that I obviously disagree strongly with, but that is utterly, blissfully devoid of the kind of ugly anti-Jewish conspiracy-mongering that accompanies such a distressingly large fraction of the debate on this subject around here. (Indeed, if he/she hadn’t mentioned “Israeli security” at all, and simply declared an anti-Israel policy to be in America’s national interest, the assertion by itself, while completely wrong in my view, would still have given no offense.

On the other hand, the ZOG crap being peddled by the likes of Belmont, Thomas and others…

140

Michael Turner 11.28.08 at 5:15 pm

Beryl @ 136 – “there is too much religious mumbo-jumbo in these words for me to dispute your interpretation.”

OK, I’m with you there. Maybe we can split the difference and say it’s ambiguous? And that Gandhi might have gotten a bit too full of himself, as if he’d invented a political panacea? Gods with feet of clay and all that.

As for the evidence that the world’s attention had been brought to the Nazi pogrom, I’ll take your word for it. I doubt that much more attention would have brought Americans into action on the issue, if only because America itself was hardly free of anti-Semitism at the time. FDR threatening to go to war (or even to heavier sanctions) over treatment of Jews in Europe might only have fanned American anti-Semitism at a time when he had enough problems.

Hope your breathing gets easier.

141

J Thomas 11.28.08 at 6:11 pm

On the other hand, everything I know about 1933-45 suggests that the plight of the Jews was brought to Western attention. Repeatedly after 1938. …. To be sure, even into 1943-44, the enormity of the Holocaust, the sheer industrial scale of the genocide (a label I don’t think is as easily applied to the catastrophes I mentioned above), was still hard to accept.

I think that was part of it. Sure, the camps where political dissidents including jews were worked to death were bad, they were as bad as the russian gulag. Ideally we would have conquered germany and russia both over that.

But it was hard to believe in the industrial-scale genocide. It was easy to think that was just disinformation, lies intended to fan the war effort. And in reality it was not the major thing — perhaps 4 million people died in the death camps, including probably more than 2.5 million jews, when the other stuff — work-to-death, rifle and grenade raids, etc — killed something like 7 to 9 million including around 3 million russian POWs.

But the information before 1945 was not obviously reliable. People had every reason to think they were being lied to about german atrocities just as they had been in WWI. The death camps were hard to believe, and the stuff that was clearly true was true of our russian allies too.

142

Katherine 11.28.08 at 7:03 pm

Actually, it only demands the perception that things were bad and getting worse, and the imagination to see life as hardly worth living at whatever endpoint was reached. From my reading of the treatment of Jews during the Third Reich, such a perception would hardly have been “magical”.

Oh well, if that’s all it demands, then the path was clear. Sacrifice yourself, your children, your spouse and your parents (the suggestion was a few hundred thousand, yes?) on the chance that death by riot police would be preferable to, well, death. If only those silly Jews had had the imagination to realise it!

God, I think I’ve rarely heard something so offensive. I’m sure you’ll be the first in front of the guns next time your imagination leads you to the conclusion that the unimaginable is coming.

143

J Thomas 11.28.08 at 8:20 pm

God, I think I’ve rarely heard something so offensive. I’m sure you’ll be the first in front of the guns next time your imagination leads you to the conclusion that the unimaginable is coming.

Some people believe they own the Holocaust, but it’s been shared so widely it’s public property.

I hope that Michael and I both take early action when the big threats come again. But times have changed and it’s too soon to say what could work. The germans had asked for mercy after WWI and they didn’t get it. So they decided they weren’t going to be all hypocritical, they were going to say openly that nobody liked them and the only way they could get by was to take what they wanted by brute force. And millions of jewish civilians wound up individually begging for mercy from them and they didn’t get it either. What’s particularly horrifying is the lack of hypocrisy, the germans came right out and said what they were doing.

And so after the war a lot of israelis took the wrong lesson from all that, they went out and took what they wanted too, though they kept a halfway-decent level of hypocrisy.

Very different from the british in india. Indians tolerated british rule just fine when they were clearly better than the Raj. They set up telegraph and railroad, they built textile factories that made cloth cheap, etc. The british didn’t begin to have the military force in india to suppress revolt — they depended on native troops for much of that. So when a whole lot of indians were ready for the british to go, the british were going to go. Gandhi figured out that it didn’t take violence, and his plan worked that time. It was a best-case example. Note that the british didn’t and couldn’t control communications in india. There just werent enough brits there. They could impose some censorship on some official channels, but it was mostly hopeless.

So, say that something like the Holocaust was starting in the USA. The official communications are all tightly controlled. We have things like blogs, but bloggers mostly get their news from official sources and then discuss it.

So, like, we find out we’re putting illegal immigrants in camps while they wait to be deported. Nothing special there, right? We do that.

And say we find out that death rates in the camps are higher than you’d expect. That’s old news too. Well, we aren’t putting them up at the Ritz. They shouldn’t have come here.

And say we find out that advocates for illegal immigrants are getting thrown into the camps with the IIs. Hey, it isn’t strictly legal but it’s what they deserve. I haven’t seen this in the news. Maybe it won’t happen.

And by the time rumors about what’s actually happening in the camps leak out, would maybe a lot of americans approve? We’ve had such a series of wishy-washy PC administrations that haven’t actually gotten anything done. At last a US government that means business. And as the rumors persist, there’s just that little bit of fear — if you stand out in your disapproval it could happen to you.

Would you organize a sit-down strike? Get a parade permit? Say the police decide the parade is cancelled and tell everybody to go home, and they arrest everybody who doesn’t go home, how many details would get into the news? They call your boss and tell him you couldn’t make bail. They call your family. “We understand that you didn’t know Katherine was a terrorist, or you would have turned her in. None of you are in trouble.”

And if you’re in a camp and your story never got told, what good did your sacrifice do to anybody?

The technology is different. The hypocrisy is different. The responses would have to be different too. But if nobody does anything preventive, then I guess we just have to hope nobody will choose to do the bad stuff.

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Katherine 11.28.08 at 11:09 pm

I really have no idea what point you are trying to make there, J Thomas.

My point was not that no one could or should do anything to protest injustices, and I think that’s clear. It’s also clear that some people did try to do so at the time.

My point is that to look backwards with 20/20 hindsight and say “oh, if only a hundred thousand Jews had the imagination to offer themselves up for death, then they’d have saved millions” is victim-blaming of the worst kind.

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roy belmont 11.29.08 at 1:17 am

Beryl 11.27.08 at 10:11 pm
can’t decide between informal or perjorative
And thank you Dr. Freud so very much.

Dan Simon 11.28.08 at 4:41 am:
…they feel perfectly comfortable expressing them here…

Keeping in mind that the strawman, the alternate me these arguments, such as they are, are leveled against, subscribes to, believes in, espouses the “conspiracy theory” that the US is being run by, has been run for some time by, a zionist-occupied-government, or “ZOG” as Dan Simon helpfully reminds us, and keeping in mind that the US is a much less free society now than it was 7 years ago, one in which people can be disappeared, can be tortured if they appear to be a threat to the government or its citizenry, and that the head of the Homeland Security Dept, a government agency with seemingly unlimited power to deny freedom to, to detain and torture anyone they want with impunity, Mr. Chertoff the Homeland Security Secretary is, it is my understanding, a Jew, as is I believe the Attorney General of the United States, Mr. Mukasey, keeping in mind that the strawman holder of those beliefs in ZOG, in Jewish conspiracy, would be expressing those antagonistic beliefs in that perceived as oppressive and dangerous context, then no, not comfortable.
You would not expect comfort to be the experience of those espousing that view and speaking against that ZOG business publicly.
But that’s the strawman me.
The real me sees Jews as as capable of perfidy and iniquity as anyone else, and equally as capable of nobility.
One need go no further than comment 88, 2nd para. closing sentence, to see Edenbaum’s filial piety rise to the level of inspiration.
In fact I thought to not say that here as it may appear to be propititating, which it is not, nor intended to be.
Also I thought to mention that my disappearance from this thread, in the midst of having leveled at me what was, and is, real calumny,
Beryl 11.27.08 at 8:52 pm:
Now that I see what was crawling underneath…
Beryl 11.28.08 at 4:00 pm
The stench from this thread is hard on my breathing…
Dan Simon 11.28.08 at 4:41 am:
…people with odious, despicable views who live in freedom and comfort and even receive completely undeserved respect and deference, but nevertheless imagine themselves to be lonely, oppressed defenders […] Thomas’ and Belmont’s supposed arguments, which consist mostly of hateful ad hominems impugning the motives of their enemies, larded with historical ignorance and ugly stereotyping…
thank you Drs. Freud, Jung, and Adler.
As I say I thought to mention that my absence from the conversation, which was due to purely practical domestic cause as my writing workstation is also the house dining table, which was, in its fashion, yesterday laden with Thanksgiving fare, set to by a merry company til late in the evening, thus occupied, and only now this afternoon returned to its mundane role, as my desk.
And I have photographic evidence to back that claim.
I thought to mention it but then thought “No, it’s no one’s nevermind why. Explanation’s too close to ass-kissing.” Then I thought “Yes, because image is important in this” then “No” then…
I won’t presume to speak for my own efforts, but there is nowhere in JThomas’ writing here the stench of the odious, only the odor of honest sweat figuratively speaking earned in service to the truth as he sees it, sincerely delivered against dishonest and unhealthy attempts to silence, not him, or me, but the truth itself, of which neither of us nor any other can claim to have the whole part, but that we both in our own way have tried to reach through conscientious application of an individual open mind to the task at hand, explicated with an open heart, J Thomas far more eloquently than I, who spend far too much effort on self-amusement in these things than I should.

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J Thomas 11.29.08 at 1:49 am

Ah, Katherine! Now I see! OK, I dont see that it’s victim-blaming, though I can understand that interpretation.

In my mind the point is to look at alternatives and see if there’s one that might work. And it looks to me like that one could possibly work, though in the specific case of nazis and jews it looks pretty doubtful.

Why look for better choices? We can’t do anything to change the past, but we might possibly do better in the future.

There’s something else that might have an effect too. Real americans don’t like to admit when there’s nothing they can do. We always want to think there’s some possible way to win, if we can only find it. That’s a good thing when the alternative is to give up and die, though it causes us trouble in places like vietnam and iraq and afghanistan where we just refuse to pull out and defend somewhere else.

So when we see something that looks like no-hope, it really bothers us. We look for a way out. And it isn’t disrespectful to the victims who did not find a way out. The attempt to look at what happened and try to find ways to keep it from happening again — no disrespect implied.

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roy belmont 11.29.08 at 2:39 am

And now to the bend in the actual thread, concerning Gandhi and his urging of the Jews toward self-immolation, and his chastising of them for not.
There’s a place in Korea called Nakhwaam, the Rock of Falling Flowers.
3000 women of the Paekche court threw themselves from the top of it, 500 hundred feet straight down into the Baekma River and death, rather than surrender to the invading Silla and subsequent ill use at their hands.
Romantic tragedy versus squalor and a fate worse than death.
With your shield or on it.
One thing’s sure, those women are remembered far more distinctly in Korea and have been for much longer than others who, faced with that awful circumstance, didn’t take the immediate and final path, but chose to follow the dictates of fate, and live as long as possible.
Making judgments about the judgment of people in the midst of such circumstance when far from it oneself seems bizarre and uncalled for to me, and I sure am not going to do so.
But it’s good to remember there are alternatives, to obedience, to submission, especially obedience and submission to a power that despises you for simply being what you are, and promises to abuse and degrade you, and worse.
Also there’s a triangular pink marble block set into the pavement in Amsterdam, some blocks from the Anne Frank house. It commemorates the gays who were shipped off to extinction as the Nazis attempted to purify the blood of northern Europe.
You’d think there’d be a monument somewhere to the Roma, whose numbers were reduced greatly in that same heartless campaign. Possibly there is, but I’ve never heard of one.
There’s a lot of semi-underground semi-not bigotry against gays right now still which could easily turn toxic and overt with only a little turn in the wheel. And the Roma are hurting now, right now, from racist bigotry and its attendant cruelties, in Italy and Albania and Greece and Romania, and other places where they can still be found.
How inspiring to see the official champions of Jewish suffering and victimhood open their arms to these their still suffering brothers and sisters, should it happen.
The same selflessness that informs Jewish insistence on the recognition of Palestinian suffering as first cause, and first step toward cure.
Katherine seems to see Gandhi’s solution to the Final Solution as grotesque and unthinkable, but I don’t. More like his delivery and timing were insensitive, off, and borne of an incomplete understanding.
I can’t help but think that at least some of what’s at work there is a refusal to see the call for what it is.
The “Live Free or Die”, the “Liberty or Death” call. That one, that makes lots of us uncomfortable when we hear it.

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Katherine 11.29.08 at 9:13 am

“Katherine seems to see Gandhi’s solution to the Final Solution as grotesque and unthinkable, but I don’t. More like his delivery and timing were insensitive, off, and borne of an incomplete understanding.

I agree with you actually. Who knows, such actions may have worked. There is no way of knowing, mind you, and the arrogance of saying “if you’d just done that, then this would have happened” is exactly the kind of crap that leads into trouble, well, pretty much anywhere.

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Katherine 11.29.08 at 9:41 am

And guaranteed that if such a thing had happened – 100 thousand Jews had metaphorically thrown themselves on their swords and this averted the Holocaust (although I’m not clear on the mechanics of how this would have worked – what, it would have motivated the Allies to win the war faster somehow?), someone would be saying: “those silly Jews, why did they have to throw themselves on their swords? It was only labour camps after all. If only they’d had the imagination to realise that a few years of backbreaking work is worth it to save themselves, they’d have come out the other end alive.”

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Michael Turner 11.29.08 at 11:12 am

“God, I think I’ve rarely heard something so offensive.”

You haven’t had access to the Web for very long, obviously.

Look, I’m not blaming European Jews for not following Gandhi’s advice. Arguably, there wasn’t much in his advice to believe in anyway, since the Quit India movement hadn’t even achieved its objectives until after the Holocaust. In any case, as I said to Beryl, I’m mainly talking about how Gandhi might have been misinterpreted here.

If you need to take offense at anything I else didn’t say, why not Google on the word “the”, start down the list, and pin on me every offensive statement you find? I promise I won’t respond violently. Or at all, actually, since I’m now leading the Quit Crooked Timber’s ‘Ayers on Fresh Air’ Comment Thread movement, and I will be too busy planning the publicity campaign for my hunger strike to bother cheating and sneaking a peak now and again.

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roy belmont 11.29.08 at 6:38 pm

Katherine – I’m way overburdened with post-holiday cleaning to develop it at the moment, but there’s a resonant congruity or something from Rosa Luxemburg et al. naming their valiant little coterie the “Spartacus League”. Having to do with futility and overwhelming odds and going on anyway.
There’s this pervading sense now, of pragmatic survivalism being the only virture, and I heard it a lot in the early rah-rah days of the Iraq so-called war. Where soldiers were defending indefensible acts, and their defenders at home doing the same, saying they had to, or thought they had to, because their lives were threatened.
This from and in r.e. soldiers, so imagine how these same minds confront threats to their own mortalities outside the field of war.
The idea being that even the most craven acts are justified if there’s nothing else to be done but throw yourself on your sword, over the cliff, into the cauldron etc.
That that kind of self-sacrifice is unthinkable and even slightly ludicrous, idealistic and childish, ineffective.
Which has a kind of logic to it, if you think about the ones who would do that actually doing it, then ipso facto they’re not here anymore, and over time…
What are the lessons of Rosa Luxemburg’s life?
Back to the vacuum and sponge for me.

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virgil xenophon 11.30.08 at 12:01 am

Roy Belmont:

Just what EXACTLY were those “indefensible acts” that the soldiers were “defending?”
And please don’t begin with Abu Ghraib; no one defended those singular acts–neither the soldiers in the field nor their fellow citizens at home.

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roy belmont 11.30.08 at 1:13 am

According to the military, the driver of the car ignored signals and commands to stop, so troops fired shots to disable the vehicle.
.
The United States military is investigating an incident in which U.S. soldiers shot dead at least seven women and children in a car at a checkpoint in central Iraq.
.
And, with its hinkiness index considerably higher:
As soon as news broke on March 4 about U.S. troops firing on reporter Giuliana Sgrena’s Baghdad airport-bound car and killing Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari in the process, the clash of accounts began almost immediately. The Americans put the blame squarely on the Italians for driving too fast and not heeding supposed warnings; Sgrena and the surviving Italian intelligence officials, however, said the car was going at a reasonable speed, and that no warnings were given.

The deadly shooting of an Italian intelligence officer by U.S. troops at a checkpoint near Baghdad on Friday was one of many incidents in which civilians have been killed by mistake at checkpoints in Iraq, including local police officers, women and children, according to military records, U.S. officials and human rights groups.
U.S. soldiers have fired on the occupants of many cars approaching their positions over the past year and a half, only to discover that the people they killed were not suicide bombers or attackers but Iraqi civilians. They did so while operating under rules of engagement that the military has classified and under a legal doctrine that grants U.S. troops immunity from civil liability for misjudgment.

.
Possibly Virgil, your contention is with “indefensible”, which ends up being sort of pretty much subjective. Which was the point of the original statement.
What should be morally indefensible is shifting over to the defensible by virtue of being a response to threat.
This is neither a marginal nor unique to me view. The entire so-called War on Terror comes right out of that mind-set, or rather support for it from the little people does.
And calling Abu Ghraib “singular” is perp-talk.
We know about Abu Ghraib, therefore it’s all there is to know about. Not itself a defensible position.

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matt mckeon 11.30.08 at 2:11 am

Actually I doubt anything Jews in the 1930s and 40s could have done would have changed the Nazis’ plans. That’s what strikes me about Gandhi’s statement. He should have addressed his remarks to German gentiles. They were the vast majority of the country and they had the responsible positions in the military, industry and government. Maybe if they had done a little embracing joyous deaths and sacrificed themselves and so forth it would have slowed down the killing process.
This blah blah about they should have resisted more, no, they should have resisted less, no they should done this, no they should have done that. It’s in bad taste, and a little stupid.
Maybe Germany shouldn’t have sold its collective soul to a genocidal monster.

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seth edenbaum 11.30.08 at 3:16 am

Let’s try this one:
Actually one group who came in for abuse in Israel after it’s founding were German Jewish survivors who were seen as passive in the face of their own destruction. The myth and cult of the Strong Jew came about, was fostered, as a result of what is seen as that failure.

I brought up Gaza because of what’s happening there. In the context of this discussion the silence is fully deserving of mockery.
delete this comment too.

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