Repercussions & Reflections

A Journal of the Intersection of ideas and actions on Global Conflict and Local Initiatives published by the William Joiner Center

April 24, 2013
by pothanchand.yarr001


By Brian Wright O’Connor

Father Calter at Bu DopThe tall priest in combat boots and a camouflage chasuble leans forward and places both hands in blessing on the bowed head of a GI in a trench. Other soldiers, their weapons set aside, await his benediction. They stand in the curved trench-line, framed by the blasted trees and scarred earth of the battlefield.

The photographer, holding a battered black Leica, peers through the viewfinder, ready to shoot. The rim of his helmet is pushed up on his forehead.

The soldier grins through the dirt of combat into the face of a fellow infantryman. A black scarf hangs loosely around his neck, streaked and grimed. The morning light shines off the side of his face. His eyes, alive and intent, welcome survival.

Three men, three images of war from the Central Highlands of Vietnam, 80 miles north of Saigon near the Cambodian border. Their lives converged briefly in December 1967 at a defensive base about three kilometers southeast of the remote village of Bu Dop, where, unbeknownst to them, North Vietnamese troops were staging incursions into the Republic of South Vietnam in preparation for the Tet Offensive the following month.

What happened there did not change the course of the war but it unalterably changed their lives. The ripples of that conflict, 44 years later, move slower now than when automatic gunfire cracked through the trees and mortar rounds fell in chilling arcs. But move they do.

The soldier, 37-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Mortimer Lenane O’Connor, air assaulted into the landing zone on December 6, jumping off the Huey helicopter on a cleared-out patch near the Bu Dop airstrip used by a Special Forces outpost.

O’Connor had taken command of “the Black Scarves” of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment of the storied U.S. Army First Division just six weeks before. He arrived with about 500 men under his charge – three rifle companies, artillery, reconnaissance and heavy weapons platoons, and support staff. Back in the U.S., his wife Betsy and six children awaited his return. My mother knew Mort didn’t fly halfway across the world just to keep his head down, do his duty, and get his ticket punched for promotion up the ranks. He was a gung-ho infantry officer, a West Pointer with a sense of gallows humor who believed that large-force engagements were the quickest way to conclude the war. In other words, kill as many of them in direct action as possible. “It’s a lousy war,” he said to a friend over the telephone before he left, “but it’s the only one I’ve got.” Among the men of the Black Scarves, also known as the Dracula Battalion, his call sign was “Drac 6.”

Horst Faas taking photoHorst Faas, 34, had already won a Pulitzer Prize for his work in Vietnam when, alerted at the AP bureau office in Saigon about action near the border, he landed at Bu Dop. Faas grew up in grim post-war Germany and had covered war in the Congo and Algeria before arriving in Vietnam, his third assignment in the crumbling French empire of overseas colonies. He was compact and tough and unafraid – an inspiration to the stable of photographers he mentored during his 10 years as the AP’s photo bureau chief in Vietnam.

Father Arthur Calter, the son of a church sexton and laborer, was 36 when he followed his two priest brothers into service as a military chaplain. Less than a year after leaving behind his family in Boston and the comfortable parish of St. Francis Assisi in Braintree, he was wearing a Black Scarf along with his vestments, saying Mass and hearing confessions in hostile territory. Over the PRC-25 radio, the battalion knew the priest was on the move when they heard the call-sign “Drac 19.”

Mort O’Connor’s version of events at Hill 172 in Bu Dop exists in dry after-action reports, filled with numbers denoting enemy dead and wounded, weapons captured, and his own battalion’s casualties during the search-and-destroy mission known as Operation Quicksilver. It also survives in media accounts and letters, written nearly every day, to Betsy, living in Tucson, Arizona, close to Mort’s father, a retired West Point general, and his mother Muriel. On December 9, after an unusual three-day break in communications home, Mort wrote, “On the afternoon of 7th, we made contact with a small NVA unit; that night we received a heavy attack from two battalions, the 1st and 3rd, 173rd Regiment, NVA.”

Mort After Battle Bu DopThose two clauses, separated by a semicolon in Mort’s urgent but grammatical scrawl, tersely summarize three days of action, including an all-night assault on the battalion’s perimeter which nearly resulted in the enemy breaking through to overrun the outmanned U.S. position. Later intelligence reports showed that the attacking regiment was the 273rd – a seasoned Viet Cong force that fought the Americans from the outskirts of Saigon to the Cambodian border throughout the war.
The action for Faas began as soon as he stepped off the helicopter from Saigon. He had been to Bu Dop before to dodge the snapping of bullets through the thick bamboo stands – one of the many positions that went back and forth between enemy and U.S. hands during the long conflict. Haas spent the day of December 5 with the Black Lions of the 28th Regiment, another battalion of the Big Red One deployed to Bu Dop to conduct search-and-destroy patrols around the Special Forces camp and airstrip. He hunkered down at night within the crowded command post, putting a bit of cover over a hastily dug bunker. “In the middle of the night, the command post came under rocket attack – there were four or five fatalities and much damage from two or three well-executed attacks from several sides. It was obvious that the enemy were determined and numerous,” he told me in an interview several years ago from his home in London.

The next morning, Faas caught a ride two kilometers south to the position being dug by the Black Scarves on the only high ground in the area. He walked inside the perimeter, snapping photos within the 50-meter zone where soldiers spent as much as six hours digging foxholes from the red basalt clay. “I met the colonel that morning. He wasn’t happy to see me,” said Faas. There was no touch of the romantic around Mort that day, no hint of the Ph.D. candidate from the University of Pennsylvania or a passion for Beowulf and Old English tales of berserkers and monsters lurking in the dark. “I asked if I could stay in the command post, but he said it would be too crowded and that I had to dig my own hole. I’d already been in Vietnam five years and usually got a better reception.”

Haas left the Night Defensive Perimeter under construction and walked out toward the wire, where he spotted Father Calter saying Mass to the boys in the trench. He took photos of the tender exchange between the Boston priest and the wary soldiers and later wrote about it in an AP story that ran on the wire: “The chaplain stood in the open and recited  Mass. Huddled in trenches, men of the U.S. First Infantry Division looked toward him and listened. They wore their combat gear. They were filthy, covered with the red dirt that covers everything here. ‘This will be a different Christmas than you have had before,’ said Chaplain Arthur M. Calter of Boston. ‘There will be no jingle bells, no Christmas trees. But don’t forget, Christ is with you in these trenches.”

Calter, a gregarious cleric and a gifted Irish baritone, now lives in a high-rise for retired priests in the old West End of Boston. His days of hitting overhead smashes on the tennis court and snatching melodies out of the air on battered parish pianos are long gone. His eyes narrowed as he looked back over nearly half a century to that battlefield where cordite hung in the air like fear and incoming rounds sent men ducking in their trenches. “I told them to stay there while I said Mass in case anything happened,” said Calter. “The place was so uncertain and hot. I was exposed but tried to be as careful as possible because, let’s face it, I was a perfect target.”

Calter looked around the small sitting room, bordered by a sliding glass door with a view of the ether dome of the nearby Massachusetts General Hospital. “I used to have a picture around here,” he said, his voice trailing off. “During one Mass, a mortar round came in and exploded nearby. I went flying through the air and someone got a picture of me looking like superman with my chasuble stretched out behind me like a cape.”

Back at the command post, O’Connor received radio reports of enemy contact. His reconnaissance platoon spotted several scouts within a kilometer of the Night Defensive Perimeter. It was impossible to tell whether they were Vietcong, local communist militia, or soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army. All he knew is that they were coming in for a look. He urged his men to dig in faster, set up the battery of four 105 mm Howitzer cannons, and to string barbed wire at the perimeter, just inside the listening posts set up to monitor enemy movements.

Intelligence reports came in identifying the presence of troops from the NVA’s 271st Regiment, which were launching mortar and rocket attacks against the Special Forces camp. Returning from their security sweep, the Delta Company commander informed O’Connor that the lead element of the Recon Platoon had made contact with an enemy patrol that was observing the battalion setting up the NDP. The firefight resulted in a recon soldier being wounded in the leg, but the VC patrol was chased off.
Hours after taking the picture of Calter saying Mass, Faas was following a patrol among the rubber trees of the old Michelin plantation when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded nearby, spraying his legs with shrapnel. A medic was called immediately. When he reached the photographer, both of Faas’s legs were spurting blood. The right leg was badly hit above the knee. The medic applied a tourniquet and struggled to find a vein for an injection of albumin, which helps stanch blood loss. “Will you hurry up with that?” asked Faas, whose face had turned an ashen grey. Within 20 minutes, an evacuation helicopter landed in a nearby clearing.

Father Calter, alerted to the evacuation, rushed to the landing site. “They couldn’t wait to pick up the wounded and the dead after the fighting. They had to evacuate immediately to save the wounded,” said Calter. “I was never far from the medics.” Arriving at the helicopter, Calter grabbed one of the stretcher poles and helped load Faas onto the aircraft. “He was hurt pretty bad but conscious. I remember him saying he’d send the pictures to me when he landed.” Faas was dusted off to the hospital at Long Binh, the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Vietnam command located 30 kilometers outside Saigon. “Sure he was hurt, but he didn’t ask for last rites. I didn’t do that a lot anyway. I would pray with the soldiers but even if it they were badly wounded I wanted to give them some hope of surviving.”

Calter continued to follow the medics, moving around the battlefield. But the enemy had withdrawn. By late afternoon, the priest was back at the NDP, finishing his foxhole. The battalion settled in for the long night.

The battalion commander called in the patrols. Shortly after nightfall, troops out on the LP heard enemy movement but it was difficult to establish their positions without compromising their location. They reported the VC digging in approximately 100 meters from the perimeter. The prospect of a large-force engagement was unusual in other parts of the war zone, but not at Bu Dop, where three major ground attacks at defensive positions had already taken place. Throughout the fall of 1967, the NVA persistently pressed attacks in the face of significant defensive advantages and overwhelming U.S. firepower, including artillery at Fire Support Bases, helicopter gunships and strafing F-4 fighters armed with rockets and bomb. As the clock ticked toward midnight, the battle at Hill 172 would provide another example of the enemy’s deadly intent.

The clash began in the first hour of December 8 with a barrage of 122 mm rockets launched into the NDP from all sides, quickly followed up with mortar and RPG rounds. Anticipating a ground assault, O’Connor ordered the listening post and ambush patrols to come into the NDP. The first U.S. casualty was taken when one of the LP soldiers was killed trying to return to the perimeter.

The first attack occurred at Charlie Company’s position on the northeast, with a smaller force leveled at Delta Company to the south. Bunkers armed with .50 caliber machine guns opened with full automatic fire on the onrushing enemy, which came in wave after wave of hundreds of troops. For three hours, the North Vietnamese charged the NDP, keeping up a withering barrage of 60 and 80 mm mortars, 75 mm recoilless rifles, and RPGs along with AK-47 assault rifles. O’Connor called in support from helicopter gunships and artillery from the Fire Support Base, directed by an artillery forward observer.

At one point, the battalion commander left the command post to check the men positioned on the berm of earth built along the rim of the NDP. In his absence, a mortar round hit the dirt piled around the bunker. The battalion’s operations officer took a piece of shrapnel to the helmet but it didn’t penetrate. O’Connor quickly returned, surveyed the damage, and continued to direct operations.

The attacks persisted. Finally, O’Connor ordered the muzzles of the 105 mm Howitzers lowered and filled with explosive charges. As the next waves of enemy charged the wire, the cannons, their barrels parallel to the ground, fired like giant shotguns into the wire, stopping the attack in its tracks.
The enemy assault ceased. Battalion soldiers heard movement along the wire and beyond but held their own fire. As dawn broke over the charred and smoking battlefield, the Black Scarves saw enemy dead hung in the wire and strewn over the landscape.

Faas had already been airlifted but another photographer, the UPI’s Kyoichi Sawada, remained with the battalion throughout the night. His iconic black-and-white images of the clash at Hill 172 depict broken bamboo stumps, blackened terrain, and men tensely holding weapons through the roar of gunfire and muzzle flashes. His photo of a maniacally happy Mort O’Connor never made the wire – what did was a photo of the battalion commander, a cigar between his teeth, frisking a young prisoner. Sawada’s radio report to the UPI spurred news agencies throughout Saigon to load up for a trip to Bu Dop.

“The morning of the 8th – in fact all day – we patrolled and policed up bodies and prisoners,” wrote Mort. “So far we’ve found 48 dead and captured 6 POWs. The battalion lost 4 killed in action and 14 wounded. We figure, based on intelligence reports and PW interrogations in the past, that we probably killed another 50 and wounded 100. In other words, we’ve effectively decimated one-half of two battalions.”
Interrogations also revealed that the enemy, blocked by the Delta Company’s security sweep, was unaware that six lines of concertina wire had been strung around the battalion position – a formidable barrier to a night-time charge.

Chief on their minds of war correspondents rushing to Bu Dop was not the narrative of the engagement, but rather getting visual confirmation of enemy dead. Reports of inflated body counts in order to mollify the anxious public and Pentagon brass about the positive prosecution of the war were already circulating in the press. Initial reports of a large count of enemy dead needed to be confirmed.

Well before noon, “we had a lot of reporters,” wrote Mort. “They came up to interview us, look at the war booty – 16 AK-47’s, four light machine guns, three rocket launchers, and huge quantities of rockets, small arms and mortar rounds. Most of all, they wanted to see the bodies – there is a great suspicion about body count, but we had 48 to be seen.”

CBS footage of interviews and images remained locked in the network archive until former General William Westmoreland sued “60 Minutes” over its claim of his complicity in enemy body counts. A call to CBS in 1988 yielded videotapes of the footage, which had been catalogued in preparation for the trial. More than 20 years had elapsed since the aftermath of the Battle of Bu Dop.

The footage shows a visibly nervous CBS reporter Bob Schackne interviewing Mort O’Connor and Regimental Commander Col. George “Buck” Newman within yards of the carnage. B roll shows captured weapons, prisoners, stacked bodies and an airlift of the enemy dead by a Chinook helicopter carrying them away on a web sling attached by cables to the aircraft. “These were living, breathing men yesterday,” says Schackne in the voice-over. “Today, there are just a sanitation problem.”

“Very often after a major battle, it’s hard to tell who won and who lost,” continues Schackne, standing to the side of O’Connor and Newman.

“But in this battle, the evidence of victory is very clear. Why was this battle so one-sided?” he asks O’Connor.

Mort, standing with his right arm over an M-16, his face shielded from the sun by his angled helmet, clears his throat. “A number of reasons. First of all, Charlie was above ground and we were below ground. That is, we had the advantage of defensive fortifications. The second reason is that we had magnificent fire-support. He can’t touch us when it comes to fire-support. Aircraft from the Air Force, gunships from the Army, all sorts of artillery – four-deuce, 105, 155, direct-lay 105 – plus the assets of my own battalion. A1 mortars, rifles, machine guns. He just can’t match us in firepower.”

Still nervous, Shackne rephrases the question, asking whether it was because of the firepower that the losses were so one-sided.

“Last night, the fact was that Charlie tried to do something stupid. He tried to overrun a tough position and when he does something stupid, he pays the price for it.”

The newsman then drills in on his real target – body counts. “Well, there’s often a lot of skepticism about the casualty figures, particularly about the claims we make about the damage we do to them because it’s so one-sided. In this case, there doesn’t seem to be any doubt about it,” he says.

O’Connor steps to his right in what appears to be a pre-arranged transition to the regimental commander’s boilerplate response about battlefield protocol to count enemy dead.

Parts of the footage ended up on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Newman, who had ordered the bodies airlifted because of the difficulty of digging a burial hole in the hard clay, had to answer for the gruesome images of VC being carted away like freight.

“The TV pictures are pretty gruesome and we were stacking them in a huge helicopter sling to carry them out,” wrote Mort. “They were carried over to district chief’s headquarters to be buried – I definitely didn’t want my people to fool around with the job; the ground’s too hard.”

“When – and if – you see the pictures on TV, don’t be concerned with the way I sound. I was quite hoarse. Also, and I hope it shows up, the kids in the battalion did a magnificent job. They are proud as hell of themselves and their confidence is way up, The assistant division commander said that this is the way Dracula used to perform all the time; the battalion is on its way up. Hell, it’s here!”

Less than 48 hours later, the Black Scarves had pulled out – on their way to the next battle farther south.
Horst Faas, recuperating in Long Binh, would spend six months in the hospital. On crutches and confined to the bureau for months, he eventually returned to the field and stayed in country another three years – not long enough to see the war’s end, but he knew it would come. “It was demoralizing to see the troops return so many times to the same ground,” he said. “Bu Dop, Hamburger Hill – occupied, taken, and abandoned over and over again.”

Faas went on to win a second Pulitzer Prize, this time during the conflict in Bangladesh, where he photographed gripping scenes of tortures and executions. In 1976, he relocated to London as AP’s senior photo editor for Europe, until his retirement from the news agency in 2004, still hobbled by his war wounds. In 1997, he co-authored “Requiem,” a book about photographers killed on both sides of the Vietnam War and was co-author of “Lost over Laos,” a 2003 book about four photographers shot down over Laos in 1971 and the search for the crash site 27 years later. He also organized reunions of his brave band of lensmen, who met in Ho Chi Minh City, Vienna, and other capitals over the years.

But he never forgot the men of the Black Scarves. He visited the medic who saved his life at his home near Geneva, N.Y., and wrote about his experience.

He died in May 2012, age 79, leaving his wife, Ursula, and one daughter.

Calter remembered the blood on the ground and the charred, lacerated bodies of the VC the night after the assault. “It’s seared into my memory,” he said. “We were in a daze, happy to be alive but not really feeling it. Looking over the battlefield, I asked myself, ‘Was it all worth it?” He left the battalion at the end of 1967. Before returning home, he visited Faas in the hospital. “He was in good spirits,” said Calter, “eager to return to the bureau and the field.”

The priest’s return to the U.S. was short-lived: he re-uped for another tour. Assigned to the 101st Airborne, Calter found himself visiting familiar terrain throughout the next two years.
“When I went back the second time and we were fighting for the same spots, I began questioning the wisdom of what we were doing there,” said Calter. “We just had to put the white flag up and give it all up at some point.”

His faith in the war already rattled by his first tour, Calter found little solace in the second. “I remember a battle where the Viet Cong couldn’t claim their bodies. There was such an odor it took a two-ton truck to move them all and I wasn’t even touched by it. I remember in the evening thinking, ‘What is happening to me?'”

An intelligence officer shared with him letters and photos found in the pockets of one of the VC dead. “It was pure poetry – writing about the flashes of gunfire in the night, the touch of his children. He wrote to his wife about the aromas of her cooking, the sounds of his children’s laughter. It made me realize those were men just like ours who were victims of circumstances.”

Calter left Vietnam for good in 1970. He spent two years in Germany, then several more at posts in the U.S. His last stop was close to home – Ft. Devens, Massachusetts. He became pastor of several Archdiocesan parishes in the Boston area before retiring in 2000.

“War sometimes comes to us and we have to respond,” said Calter. “But I’m all for reconciliation. It takes courage to do that.”

The Black Scarves continued on search-and-destroy missions in the Iron Triangle north of Saigon in the aftermath of the January Tet Offensive, coming in contact several times with elements of the forces that had attempted to overrun their camp in Bu Dop.

On April 1, 1968, while O’Connor was personally leading a patrol, the squad was pinned down by machine gun fire. “Mort, who was near the center of his battalion column, spontaneously moved up to the fight,” wrote his West Point classmate Bob Rogers. “Along with him moved his radio man with the distinctive tall antenna of the command radio set. As if waiting for that one unique target, a Viet Cong rose out of a spidertrap and fired at Mort. The burst of gunfire put an end to the special cadence of Mort O’Connor’s heart. He died instantly, imparting to his life in that moment a unity of purpose few men enjoy, doing what he had been born to do – leading men forward in battle.”

By the time the knock on the door came in Tucson, Betsy already knew. She’d been working in the house the day before. “I suddenly heard a shot and stood up. I went cold,” she said years later. “I just knew.”
Days later, he was laid to rest at West Point in a cold April rain. Nearby was the grave of his uncle, a First Infantry colonel killed in the World War II invasion of Sicily, who was one of four brothers to attend the academy.

His wife and children stood beneath a white canopy. Over the grave were bouquets of tropical flowers flown in from Hawaii, where he had been born at reveille at Schofield Barracks.
Seven soldiers in dress uniform snapped to attention and delivered three volleys from their M1 rifles. Brass cartridges bounced off gravestones.

Those volleys, reverberating through the rain and the huddled trees of the old burial ground, echo still.

April 9, 2013
by pothanchand.yarr001

An Enfant Terrible Stumbles Upon the Vietnam War

By Michael Uhl

“…the most unjust war ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.”  Ulysses S. Grant (speaking of the Mexican War)

Comes now Nick Turse, forty years after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, with Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, a compendious retelling of the horrors once inflicted by the United States of America against a tiny South East Asian adversary and its entire population.  As a foundation for this grisly retrospective the author has assembled hundreds of sources, virtually all of which date from the time of the original telling, and to which he has joined the testimony of veterans and veteran observers along with the voices of Vietnamese victims unavailable for interview until long after the war had ended.

The impulse to resurrect en masse the record of this dirty war, what Turse characterizes as its “hidden history,” resulted from an epiphany the author experienced in 2001 at the National Archives.  As a graduate student “researching post-traumatic stress disorder among Vietnam veterans,” Turse confides that he “stumbled upon… the yellowing records of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group… more than 300 allegations of… atrocities that were substantiated by army investigators.”  The files, Turse says, were “long hidden away and almost forgotten.”

Well, yes and no.  A decade earlier, these same files had been scanned and duly cited by Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim, whose Four Hours in My Lai was motivated by a similar premise, that the notorious massacre of March 16, 1968 had suffered from “twenty years of cover-up and willed forgetfulness.”  Nick Turse, quite rightly, goes much farther in applying his indictment of  “forgetfulness” to the entire Vietnam conflict, where, in the once familiar mantra of antiwar veterans who had witnessed these horrors first hand, and then publically condemned them, My Lai was just the tip of the iceberg.  But by now, Turse laments, “the other atrocities perpetrated by U.S. soldiers have essentially vanished from popular memory.”

Come to think of it, what hasn’t?  “Popular memory,” assuming the concept isn’t completely spurious, is at best a labile thing.  Moreover, what can one expect the popular memory to retain?  We might with some charity assign a collective D- to the powers of retention of historical detail – informed or otherwise – by our fellow Americans.  The comic genius Groucho Marx devilishly exhibited this national deficiency on his television quiz show in the Fifties.  When a pair of contestants failed to answer a single question correctly on some current or historical topic, Groucho offered them a consolation prize if they could tell him who was buried in Grant’s Tomb, or what was the color of Washington’s white horse; sometimes they couldn’t.

The example may seem trivial, but the point still holds.  Can Vietnam hope to fare any better if we are to depend on popular memory to remind us of its truths?  What if anything beyond the most abbreviated commonplaces does popular memory recall of our prior “Vietnams” – the Indian Wars, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War in Cuba and the Philippines, Central America for over a century – our dark tradition of turning superior fire power against weaker nations we target for the sake of our destiny to dominate and pillage?  As for Iraq and Afghanistan, the public didn’t even catch them the first time around.

A fellow Vietnam veteran and memoirist John Ketwig relays an anecdote that illustrates the problem sharply.  Ketwig wrote me recently of “a long ago conference at Gettysburg College [where] … the audience and presenters consisted of professional soldiers from the nearby Army War College at Carlisle, PA.”  During the morning session Ketwig “along with W.D. Ehrhart and other prominent Vietnam [War] authors” served up the by-then familiar inconvenient truths about the criminal nature of the war they’d recently been fighting.  After which, Ketwig recalls, “an old lifer Sergeant Major spoke, pointed to us and very specifically stated, ‘These whining, complaining Vietnam veterans will die off.  I want to assure you, we have written the history of the Vietnam war your grandchildren will read.’”

If the Old Lifer imagined he was addressing History-with-a-capital- H, clearly his prediction was overwrought by wishful thinking.  The bibliographic catalog is well stacked against the diehard apologists, not least the self-justifying screeds by those who cheered and managed the debacle and their revisionist disciples who have followed.  The real whining would come, of course, from the likes of Robert J. McNamara.  No amount of breast beating about dangers born of Cold War tensions has made what lies beneath the My Lai iceberg suddenly vanish from the historical record, to which Kill Anything That Moves now provides a striking addendum.

Obviously Nick Turse’s ambition for this book ranges far beyond serving scholarly mills,  or reaching whatever limited market this subject still commands among its core readers.  Turse intends Kill Anything That Moves as mass-shock treatment to override the public’s amnesia, aggressively demanding that we re-examine Vietnam’s horrors with even greater intensity today than we did forty to fifty years ago.  But how does this agenda square with the public mood?   That query returns us to the chilling side of that Old Lifer’s prophesy, because the views on the Vietnam War our millennials are forming today suggest strongly that the indoctrination he boasted of is well underway.

Citing a recent Gallop poll, journalist Robert Sheer reports that “a majority of Americans ages 18-29 believe sending U.S. troops to Vietnam was not a mistake… the young now approve of an irrational war in which 3.4 million Indochinese and 58,000 Americans died…”  Holding steady across the age divide, “70% of those 50 or older… with contemporary knowledge…” retain their beliefs in the war’s essential wrongness.  This leaves Nick Turse addressing an aging choir that already knows the hymnal by rote, while among his own peers, not to mention Sheer’s “18-29 year olds,” his thunder confronts a formidable headwind.

When Kill Anything That Moves was launched in such a promising whirl of enthusiasm from the more respectable corridors of the Left media ghetto, it fleetingly appeared as if Turse might indeed have re-set the historical clock.  But the dust stirred by that initial thrust settled quickly.  And the sound of silence greeting Turse’s book from the elite opinion-making heavyweights, whose reviews and news stories are essential for gaining the kind of national recognition the author and his sponsors had clearly hoped for, has been deafening.

Perhaps because so much of what Turse has reassembled already appeared – if not in every specific, certainly in kind – within its pages while the war was in progress, The New York Times, for example, may judge Kill Anything That Moves as twice-warmed news.  Such thinking would provide the paper’s managers all the sanctimonious cover they’d need to help stymie any genuinely healthy re-examination of American crimes against humanity in Vietnam, oft reported, but never officially acknowledged, much less repented.  But why would the Times and the other great organs and outlets of bounded propaganda, whatever else divides them, want to re-air the real history of Vietnam today?   The last thing the elite political class wants is to reconnect Vietnam to the present, certainly not in the direction that Nick Turse has failed to provoke them.  They know Vietnam was not a mistake; it’s a template.

To jump start a renewed public conversation about Vietnam that aims at eliminating that template as a future military option – presumably Turse’s more elusive and essentially unpainted target – apparently demands a bigger boost than one explosive charge dredged from the archives can deliver.  This assumes that the Vietnam template isn’t already losing favor among national security managers.  In which case, asks W.D. Ehrhart, still in the conversation long after that conference at Gettysburg, what particular end is Turse’s so-called “hidden history” meant to serve beyond exhibiting “a randomly presented litany of mayhem?”

Bill Ehrhart has spent decades since being wounded during the Battle of Hue bringing to literature, classroom and public forums – in consort with a large community of like-minded veterans – compelling eyewitness accounts of the systematic nature of atrocities committed by the U.S. military throughout Indochina.  In a recent email, having read my essay criticizing Jonathan Shell’s breathless review of Kill Anything That Moves, Ehrhart expressed the opinion that “Schell’s reaction to Turse’s book is ridiculous.”  What Schell gushes over as novelty, Ehrhart calls “old news.”  And, after examining the book,  he dismisses it with a terseness both unsparing and poetic: “disjointed, disorganized, without direction.”

But that’s hardly the worst of it, and these next sentiments of Ehrhart’s deeply echo my own.  “If Turse were a true journalist and scholar, he would be shouting, ‘Why didn’t anyone listen to veterans who told these stories forty years ago?’  He ripped off our history shouting – Look what I discovered! – and presented the case as if it’s being told for the first time.”

Turse’s claims to originality are slippery enough, but the “rip off” exceedingly worse.  Regarding the former we are told that, as the author’s research deepened over the years, he “began to get a sense of the ubiquity of atrocity during the American War,” a hip way of showing he knows how the Vietnamese refer to the same conflict.  And elsewhere, “…I came to see the indiscriminate killing of South Vietnamese non-combatants… was neither accidental not unforeseeable.”

We might overlook this silly pretense were it not at the expense of a consciously organized veterans’ resistance which arose following the belated revelation of My Lai, and operated within the larger antiwar movement where the narrative of Vietnam genocide had been long evolving.  In the very language and political formulations that Turse now appropriates, often literally, a veritable legion of veterans loudly proclaimed those very revelations that the author wishes to showcases as novel insights.  Moreover, we based our evidence for the ubiquity of American war crimes on our actual wartime experiences, as we helped sway the public to finally reject the war we ourselves had been fighting in.  These are the unique historical episodes that Turse completely ignores.

In his account antiwar veterans appear, not as a movement making history, but as a handful of individual “whistle-blowers within the ranks or recently out of the army…” whose denunciations were “marginalized and ignored.”  For the rest, Turse buries our unprecedented story in a thicket of footnotes, devoid of their original contexts, and where only a disciplined scholar might be able to reassemble them into anything approximating what actually occurred.  A reader may judge for herself, if the public testimonies on U.S. war crimes policies in Vietnam delivered by antiwar veterans during the final years of the conflict were, as Turse suggests, “marginalized and ignored.”  She might discover that the veterans were being heard at the time, if not listened to, much more than Turse is today.

Nick Turse’s decision to airbrush from the record the provenance of the Vietnam war crimes narrative, and the roles of veterans within it, defies explanation.  As already noted, the scope of research under display in his copious list of sources makes evident that he knew this story well.  My own emails with the author, who had seen my pre-published version of this history while still in dissertation form – thick and unwieldy as he rightly chided me – date from 2007.  And while it touches me less personally, though only slightly, Turse’s use of similar methods for downgrading the stature and significance of the American antiwar movement is equally perplexing.

No old Movement hand intimately familiar with those times could fail to notice how Turse prunes the most powerful unarmed force of domestic resistance to governing authority in U.S. history to the status of a sideshow.  Here’s one particularly ham fisted sample of his distorting style.   He characterizes as pitiful Movement efforts to reveal the true nature of the war through “pamphlets, small press books and underground newspapers,” that, if even glancingly noticed by empowered insiders, were dismissed as “leftist kookery.”

When one turns to the footnote for this passage to scan the names of these presumably obscure “pamphlets, small press books and underground newspapers,” one finds instead that the printed matter antiwar forces produced to advance their war crimes accusations was packaged by the very titans of American trade and newspaper publishing: Random House, Simon and Schuster, Holt Rinehart, Vintage –  the quality paperback imprint, Avon – the mass paperback imprint of the Hearst Corporation, a couple of smaller but respected houses like Beacon and Pilgrim Press, two or three international publishers, their reputations unknown to me, and The New York Times.

I understand that many of the interested parties who may see this essay will simply react to the issues I have raised here with a resounding, “So what?”  Maybe Turse got some of the story wrong, they might admit, even in ways that make him appear amateurish, if not perverse.  But he nails the big picture bearing on the carnage and destruction, to a large degree intentionally orchestrated by the U.S. during its aggressive war against Vietnam.  But I would take issue even with that.  On the thin narrative thru-line where Turse strings the graphically descriptive details of one atrocity after another, he seems to weigh the vile handywork of individual GIs operating in the field on a par with the far more deadly toll that sprang from cold hearted policies of mass murder designed by high level commanders, political bureaucrats and academics: the indiscriminate use of artillery and air power to remove and disrupt populations, and which caused the overwhelming number of deaths and casualties among the South Vietnamese.

Turse certainly reports on, and strongly denounces, pacification’s deadly harvest of non-combatants.  But by placing so much emphasis on the 300 Pentagon investigations that originally ignited his zeal for this subject, the statistical significance of his soldier-initiated atrocities pales before the ranks of two and a half million draft aged men who’d served in Vietnam during the war.  Let’s assume those 300 cases of substantiated atrocities are actually representative of  thousands of unreported heinous incidents committed by thousands of individual soldiers – which I firmly believe was the case.  That still would leave a substantial body of other veterans with clean hands, to the degree any soldier at war can make such a claim.  Let’s just say they weren’t involved in rape, torture, mutilation, pre-meditated murder or manslaughter, or willful destruction of livestock or property.

A very large number of veterans therefore might feel unfairly tarred by Turse’s sweeping brush, assuming they ever became aware of his book in the first place.  I sense this would matter very little to Nick Turse.  As he makes no effort to conceal in a recent essay, “Who Did You Rape in the War, Daddy”, Turse seems to harbor a truly bizarre resentment toward war veterans, notably the many he has interviewed over the years and now accuses of not coming clean to him about the things they’d seen or done.  Reading that, it occurred to me that Turse had learned very little about veterans when his research was initially focused on PTSD.  He seemed to have missed the fact that deep issues of trust determine who veterans will talk to about war, and as is commonly understood, that they generally talk only with each other.

But now Turse is pissed, and he engages in a bit of shadow boxing with veterans as ghostly adversaries.  “I know a lot about war without fighting in one,” he defiantly lectures some unidentified veteran other.   And, it has cost him.   But he expresses pride because this “just isn’t the sort of knowledge that’s easy to come by,” and who said it was?   Anyway, this could be one digression too many, so read his essay cited above and judge for yourself.   My own take is that Turse is suffering from the equivalent of penis envy in having been denied firsthand experience with warfare.  He has had to find compensation, but his vicarious knowledge of war is made harder to come by because veterans are deceitful, and won’t “come clean.”   Turse judgment here is clouded by his temper tantrum.

Turse’s other signal observation is that accounts of Vietnamese viewpoints and victimhood are largely absent from the 30,000 volumes covering the American representations of the war.  This is hardly surprising since the opportunities for serious research and interviewing in Vietnam are relatively recent.  By the time mass tourism had blossomed there, returning veterans have typically expressed astonishment that the recovered Vietnam they find today is totally unrecognizable from the country they had once fought in. This is the Vietnam in which the kind of research Turse brags about is finally possible.  Long before that, veterans established humanitarian projects in Vietnam and have for decades been in the forefront of campaigns to raise public awareness of the human suffering still afflicting so many Vietnamese who survived the war, not least the toll in human lives from herbicide poisoning and unexploded ordinance, all reaching now into the third and fourth post-war generations.

Neither Bill Ehrhart nor I, among thousands of others – veterans and non-veterans alike – have ever abandoned through our writing and political action, and in classrooms where we have taught or been invited to speak, our commitments to keep the flame of truth about the real American war in Vietnam from being extinguished.  To that protracted struggle, Nick Turse has added his flawed and impassioned contribution.  But the impulse that will lead, if ever, to the cleansing of our butchery in Vietnam from the national conscience, is unlikely to come from collective, much less individual, efforts of the progressive camp.

It is an odd fact of our culture that, when controversial topics are avoided or suppressed, they can sneak back in as entertainment.  Who knows if Vietnam won’t suddenly slip into the popular media slot that’s been vacated by the Greatest Generation?   It’s a fair bet.  But when, and in what form, it’s impossible to predict.  Will  the space be dynamic enough to air the most damning facts, and here Turse’s indictment could be included when the papers are served.   How much energy remains in the aging antiwar crowd to re-fight these old battles?   Is the Old Lifer bound to win, or will the young break the propaganda spell?  And, if our side won, what would that look like?  It’s something to think about.  We’re not waiting for the Rapture.  Some of us are already preparing for the opening, if and when it comes. Here’s a previous essay by me and one by John Grant from In The Mind Field responding to the Pentagon’s Vietnam War Commemoration Project.

February 5, 2013
by pothanchand.yarr001
1 Comment

Why Do We Honor Warriors?

By Peter P. Mahoney

Ok, let me get my reservations out up front.   I am someone whose self-identification is based on a period in my life of two years ten months and twenty-two days duration that ended some forty-two years ago. So, yes,  I have used the fact of being a Vietnam veteran to give myself some small amount of status in the world.   Perhaps what I like most is that what I have to say often presents a contrast to what most people expect to hear from veterans.  Veterans in American society, after all, have traditionally played the role of cheerleaders for the next war.  I, for one, have always refused to pick up the pompoms.

Make no mistake.  It’s a fuckin hard balancing act, trying to maintain some sort of pride in your military service, even as you are criticizing the institution in which your service was rendered.  And the fact is, on some level, I have NO real pride in having been a soldier – and all that it entailed.  Being a soldier SUCKS.  You give up your freedom, your individuality.  You check your rights as an American citizen at the recruiter’s door. There is no place for softness, for sensitivity, for empathy.  You are taught – some would say brainwashed – to be hard, cold, unfeeling — an unthinking, uncritical automaton who will do things without question that you would never think of doing as a civilian.  You are taught to kill other human beings.  You are given a whole science of murder and mayhem and violence, and you are rewarded – indeed HONORED – for being a skillful practitioner.

“What is the spirit of the Bayonet?  To KILL.”

Yes, there is another side of being in the military, of being in war.  Let’s be honest, it’s a fuckin rush, Jack.  There is no feeling that I have ever experienced that comes close to being in combat.  You are utterly terrified, each second that passes can perhaps be your last, you watch in horror as some around you experience that last second, and you feel so utterly, incredibly ALIVE as each of those potential last seconds passes.  And you look down at your best friend, his brains splattered all over the ground (Scaramouche, Scaramouche, can you do the fandango?), and in that brief moment as his life terminates, you are glad – fuckin THRILLED – that it was him instead of you.  Yeah, war is a rush, man, a great, guilty pleasure, the triumph of the id over the super-ego.  It is the ultimate test of manhood.  I stood (or laid) across from another man who tried to kill me, and I am here and he is not.  I am a man. I killed, therefore I AM.  The second thoughts come later, sometimes, or sometimes they do not come at all.

The pride I may feel now does not come from what I did, or had to do.  It is bestowed on me by others, who somehow look up to me, think maybe I’m something special, because I was a soldier in war once upon a time.  It comes from the fact that, as terrible and difficult and traumatic as that experience in war was, the person I am today – the person I am proud of being today – was formed by that experience.  It comes from the fact that I have tried to use that experience as a tool to teach others, particularly youngsters, the things I learned the hard way.  Not an easy lesson, always.  I used to speak in high school classes as what we called a “counter-recruiter”.  I thought I would just go in there, and tell them of the horrors of being in war, and that would convince them.  Then I saw those eager young faces, lapping up everything I could dredge up from the depths of my soul, images of glory and honor and manhood dancing in their eyes, and I knew that “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” would probably win the day.

So where am I going with all this, beyond the jaded rantings of a faded warrior?  It is this.

I have a bumper sticker on the back of my car “Honor the Warrior, not the War”. It’s produced by the organization Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and I pasted it on my car because it identifies me as an anti-war veteran.  But now I have a question:

Why do we honor warriors?

What is it about warriors or ex-warriors that deserves such unquestioning adulation?  Why do we not honor teachers, or doctors, or EMTs, or research scientists, or musicians, or poets in the same way?  Why warriors?

Certainly, having served in the military gives no one a monopoly on “The Truth”.  On the contrary.  Where do the right-wing politicians go for a friendly audience for their latest militaristic adventure stories?  Why, military and veteran audiences, of course.  Actually, my stance as an anti-war veteran is made more special precisely because there are so few military or ex-military who would stand for the same things.  I admit, a few times when arguing a point on a blog, I have tried to silence an adversary with the line, essentially “I am right because I was in the military, and you were not!”  It is, of course, a bullshit argument. My point should always stand or fall on its own, and not be given any additional credibility based on how I spent three years of my youth.  So, there it is.  Even as I question the status my service has given me, I use it when it suits my purposes.

Yes, there are some outstanding individuals in the military.  Sure, the ranks are filled with misguided patriotic youth, “ardent for some desperate glory” (hey, I was one, once), and economic draftees looking to learn a trade and escape the `hood.  Sure, the Guard is packed with ordinary Joes and Janes, trying to make a few bucks to support that mortgage, or make that car payment, or save for that kid’s college.  But there is also a plethora of careerists, boot-lickers, sadists, thugs, crooks, and mediocrities who populate this most reactionary of our national institutions. When I was in the Army, the highest praise – praise which was rather uncommon – heard for a “lifer” was “He could have made it on the outside.”

So why do we honor warriors?  Is it not a reflection of the militaristic sub-text that has pervaded American life since WWII?  Economic fortunes and political careers have been built on the myth of the great external threat.  First communism, now terrorism.  These “threats” keep us living in fear, unable to question, unable to offer an alternative point of view.  If we are so “threatened”, of course, then we need protectors.  The glorification of the military and the adulation of the warrior are part and parcel of the myth used to keep us in our place.

But wait; it gets better.  Here it is: the Royal Scam.  Create the climate of fear, foster adulation for the warriors who “protect” us, then use them to rape the rest of the world, while we sit by and applaud their efforts.

Rape?  Yes, does anyone question the connection between the macho, militaristic glorification of “The Warrior”, and the treatment of women in our society?  Do the two not flow from the same source?  Rape is a crime of violence, of power, of subjugation.  Is it any wonder that a society that so celebrates the cult of the warrior would not also be so tolerant of the rapists who walk among us?

And what of so-called progressives?  How many of us feel compelled to preface any anti-war remarks with “Of course, I support the troops, but …”?  Why?  Because we have bought into the myth – the right-wing meme – that supporting the troops, honoring the warriors, is a fundamental component of patriotism, and one cannot “patriotically” oppose the war unless one also supports the troops.  But how do you support the troops without supporting the mission they are undertaking?  How do you honor the warriors, but not the war?  And if, indeed, these cannot be separated – the troops from the mission, the warrior from the war – then why are we supporting and honoring those who are the instruments of the policies we oppose?

Well, I don’t really know the answer to that question, not, at least, in the frame in which it is asked.  I frame it differently.

Is not the education of our children a matter of national security?  Is not the health of our citizens a matter of national security?  Is not the financial well-being of our nation a matter of national security?  Which is the better expenditure of funds for national security, funds for education, health, and economic well-being, or funds for military hardware?  Which is the better way to deal with national security issues, military force to bend other nations to our will, or diplomacy to solve issues cooperatively?  Is national security only about guns and bombs and soldiers, or is it something more?

So what of “the troops”?  Do we call them baby-killers and spit on them when they come home?  Do we blame them for the failed policies of the government that sent them, as many did to the returning troops from Vietnam (I remember well the insinuation of the WWII vet at the VFW bar, “Well, we won OUR war.”)?  Do we forget about them, and leave them to suffer in private with the physical and spiritual wounds they will come back with?

Of course we don’t.  We show respect for the individuals who have earned it.  We give assistance to those who need it.  We work our butts off to get them out of harm’s way quickly, and we resolve that we will never sit by and allow them to be put in such a situation again.

A soldier’s job is tough, it’s brutal, it’s sometimes necessary.

Honorable?  Frankly, I’m not so sure.

February 5, 2013
by pothanchand.yarr001

“The Mother” by David Rankin

To introduce myself, once upon a time I became a mercenary while on a humanitarian mission. For years I suppressed my experience and its validity because I was never a member of any military and the conflict itself has never really been recognized. My exposure to conflict, however, is no less real for all of that.

Recently I began creating a series of performance poetry and paintings which I am transforming into a multimedia project to enhance consciousness about contemporary conflicts – child soldiers, refugees, created famine, effects on women, commercially driven polarization, destabilization for economic gain, etc.

October 9, 2012
by pothanchand.yarr001
1 Comment

THE CAT (Meow) AND THE ROOSTER (Cock-a-doode-doo)


The author was born in Israel and now resides in western Massachusetts. He was educated at Hebrew University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Yeshiva University. While a graduate student he provided valuable assistance to Professor David Wyman for his major work The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945.

(Meow) A cat has a thousand dreams, all about mice.

(A Palestinian Arab proverb)

First heard in Jerusalem at a conversation with Abram Sorramello, 1970.

Dedicated to Dianne (DD) and her cats, which

     had difficulties catching mice.

THE CAT (Meow) AND THE ROOSTER (Cock-a-doode-doo):

THE INVENTION OF SHLOMO SAND (ZAND) AS A RESPONSIBLE Israeli, patented thinker,and gifted israeli Historian


         In New York City many years ago, I used to visit Hillel Kook and Samuel Merlin at their east-side office, sometimes several times a week.  It was the end of the 1970’s and early 1980’s.  I was a student, and my studies on America and the Holocaust were near their end.  Our topic of conversation focused on the future of the Israelis, as a modern people who achieved sovereignty in 1948.  As a result of these conversations, I became aware of the fundamental issues relating to Israeli political identity that bothered these two elderly individuals, who mainly spoke of this grand missed opportunity for the Israelis to have become a modern people and a new nation with a written constitution, i.e., a constitution for all Israelis within its territorial sovereignty (not a constitution for New York Jews).  They spoke about an Israeli Republic, or, as they called it in the 1940’s, a Hebrew Republic.  Critical for them was the issue of an Israeli political identity, versus the old issues of “Jewishness.”  They were brilliant thinkers.  Talking to them, I first grasped the beginning of what was to become my own intellectual approach to a different way of looking into Israeli society, and at Jews wherever they reside.  Their main argument was, since Israel never wrote a constitution defining itself, the political identity of the Israelis is totally unclear, and thus for a nation this omission causes a variety of political as well as personal crises of identity.

This array of anomalies, internally or externally, very few Israeli historians till today understand.  Not in any way do I suggest that Professor Sand is immersed in these issues of Israeli political identity.  However, in his second book, The Invention of the Land of Israel, he most profoundly attempts to explain to the Israelis and to the world Israeli ideas, as well as critical Israeli and Jews’ history.  His writing tilts between Tolstoilean narrative to Isaiah Berlin’s literary and historical criticism, and to great effect, Professor Sand is profound in his approach to straightening out the outline of Israeli and Jew’s history.


         I met with Professor Shlomo Sand (Zand, in Hebrew) twice, both times on the campus of Tel Aviv University.  We had punctuated exchanges, primarily about his thoughts on the subject matter of his research, as well as some exchange of ideas on the history of Jews.  He is an original: a leftist Israeli sort of a thinker who has presented a Classical interpretation of history from the point of view of neither left nor right, thus avoiding a history that is totally twisted, inaccurate and misleading.  A historian’s task is to present facts, and the interpretation of facts, which might lead to “History” or “Philosophy.”  In my view, Professor Sand (Zand) is thus not exactly a Leftist.  To me, he can better be defined as a very concerned Israeli.  In a nutshell, he is an Israeli patriot, as well as a thoughtful historian who has researched the history of nations.  His expertise lies in his attempt to explain to the Israelis as well as the worlds’ readers the misconception of the generic term “nationality,” any nationality.  To me, his uncompromising attempt to explore Jews’ history dating back to ancient times is not only absolutely courageous, but also essential for the future of the Israeli nation, as well as for lives of Jews wherever they reside.

In order to explain a bit of Professor Sand’s (Zand’s) book on Jews’ history as a cultural religious phenomenon, I have to take a turn first to relate or explain some other issues I have encountered over the past forty years dealing with Jews’ history.  My attempt to understand myself as a Jew and an Israeli, as well as Israeli history and the history of Jews, began at an early age, and it was not until I completed my MA at Yeshiva University in New York City that I gained a bit of a better understanding of Jews’ history.  Looking carefully at Jews’ recorded history, we have been around for at least 2½ thousand years, if not more.  My first encounters with the difficulty of explaining the history of Jews came when I was writing my Master’s thesis at Yeshiva University. The subject of my research was an analysis of the initial response of the American Jewish leadership to the massacre of European Jewry between November 1942 and April 1943.  The idea to work on this project was conceived at the University of Massachusetts.  My professor Dr. David S. Wyman, who taught modern American history, was at that time involved in an attempt to unravel the FDR Administration’s response to the Holocaust.  My research for him was eventually incorporated into his book The Abandonment of the Jews published in 1984.  From the beginning his book was, and will continue to be, a profound contribution to Holocaust studies.  To me personally he was helpful, but perhaps not respectful enough academically.  In the course of our work together, Dr. Wyman introduced me to Hillel Kook (a.k.a. Peter Bergson) and Samuel Merlin.  In America during the Holocaust, Kook and Merlin carried on their shoulders the burden of responsibility to stand for the rescue of the dying Jews of Europe during the Holocaust years in America.  Various books and movies have been made about them; their activities during the Holocaust demand a good history.  Politically, they belonged to the right wing of Zionism, Jabotinsky’s political camp.  In reality, they were members of the proto-Israeli group called the “Irgun” (an explanation of this term will follow).   As a young Israeli, born on September 15, 1948, growing up I had absolutely no inkling about them, nor had I heard or learned about their activities, because the history of their activities during WWII was not taught in any public schools or universities in Israel.  But to my great benefit, I ended up working at their office in New York City while finishing up my MA, as well as while attempting to write my PhD at the Graduate Center of City University.

         Here I am going to step back a bit again to introduce another individual who made and impact in my life.  He, too, was connected to research on the Holocaust.  While I was working on my MA and PhD, I became acquainted with S. Beit-Zvi.  “S” stood for “Shabtai,” and “Zvi” was the name of his son who was killed while fighting in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.  We first met at his home in Tzahala, a suburb of Tel Aviv , where he lived with his wife.  He was in his 70’s at that time, a former teacher, and the author of a book on the Zionist leadership during the Holocaust.  Remarkably, he was not a trained historian, but he had the mind of an historian, and as a matter of fact, his book, which criticizes the Palestinian/Zionist leadership during the Holocaust years, has today become a mainstream Israeli history book.  But that was not so in 1976 when the book was published, and it took years to sink into the Israeli historical mind.  In recent years his book has emerged as a contender to Yad Vashem’s official Holocaust history.  Beit-Zvi and I met many times in Tel Aviv and in New York, and we developed an excellent relationship that lasted until he died.  The main argument of his book is: the Zionist movement was not really focused on saving European Jewry.  Self-published after years of research by one who was not exactly an historian, Beit-Zvi’s book initially was a total failure.  The universities, as well as Yad Vashem, banned him.  But he had one strong supporter –me — and we understood each other very well.  My MA confirms what he wrote.  We shared conversations as well as letters in a relationship that lasted for many years.  Politically speaking, Shabtai’s work should have shaken up the Israeli political leadership, but that did not happen.  As a matter of fact, it is still not happening.  The fact that Ben Gurion and his cronies did not do much to save European Jews during the Holocaust is still an issue that haunts Yad Vashem as well as every Israeli government until today.

         While in New York, Hillel Kook introduced me to an Israeli philosopher, Gershon Weiler, who then in the 1970’s was a visiting professor at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.  He was a very interesting person, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary who after WWII came to Israel as a Zionist.  But as his life developed, he became influenced by the Canaanite movement.  Intellectually, the Canaanites advocated the interaction of Israelis into the region, that is the Middle East.  He was a learned man in philosophy, as well as in Jewish studies, and had written a book which was published in 1976, the same year that Beit-Zvi published his book.  However, Weiler had the backing of a very respectful publisher, Am Oved.  In his book, titled Jewish Theocracy, Weiler’s basic and most fundamental argument was that Jewish theology inherently stands against the establishment of a modern Israeli nation.  The book is a scholarly attempt to explain that concept.  Weiler was brokenhearted: his book, while contradicting Zionist political theories and challenging Israeli political theory vis-à-vis religion and nation, was ostracized and criticized and basically led to the end of his career as a lecturer.  I met him a few times in New York, in Tel Aviv, and at his home in Rechovot.  He was a broken man.  Israelis could not understand what he had written, and besides, Israeli society was moving swiftly into the realm of political fantasy and deep religious swings, so nobody paid any attention to him or his book.  His book was later translated into English, but his message was never understood both by intellectuals nor the public.

         I was born in Tel Aviv on September 15, 1948, and grew up in Rishon LeZion.  As a curious kid, I read a lot.  I am not suggesting by any means that I understood better than others what I read, but I read a lot, and as a matter of fact, I aspired to become a writer of some sort, but I was not sure exactly how to achieve that goal; at the ripe age of 64, I am still not sure how to make that work.  But more important, Rishon LeZion is the birthplace of modern Hebrew.  It is the place where, for the first time in 3000 years of Jews’ history, the “Rishonim” opened up a kindergarten and primary school where Hebrew was taught in Hebrew (rather than as a translation from some other language) as early as the 1890’s.  Of course, Hebrew used as a text material existed for thousands of years, but, as a spoken everyday language it was only first practiced in Rishon LeZion.  And it was complicated.  For fifty years after the beginning of modern Hebrew in Rishon, when a million and a half Jews arrived in Israel, and thousands of them came to Rishon, among them my parents, when Israeli independence started, those immigrants spoke Yiddish or other languages, and the newly developing Hebrew became even more complicated.  My teachers, with all best intentions, did not speak proper Hebrew.  So I, the Israeli-born Sabra, whose parents’ Hebrew was only mediocre, whose teachers’ Hebrew likewise was difficult to grasp…, no wonder I had difficulties learning and understanding via the broken Hebrew that I was surrounded by.  Math and Physics were difficult enough for me, but to try to study them in Hebrew with teachers who did not speak proper Hebrew – I was lost.  This school system simply did not fit my needs.  Consequently, I left high school.  After completing my high school degree on my own, it was only after my three years of military service that I returned to school, enrolling at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  What a thrill it was for me when I took a course in Israeli Hebrew Literature with Professor Gershon Shaked!  Many years later I became familiar with the work of Professor Paul Wexler and his student Ghil’ad Zukermann and their analysis of our current status of Israeli Hebrew.  According to them, the DNA of modern Hebrew is recycled Yiddish. Thus, the difficulties Israelis have in expressing themselves in recycled Yiddish.  I am reminded of the Israeli joke about a man who just got married and immediately afterwards takes his wife to the Western Wall.  When his friends ask him why, he replies, “I want her to learn how to talk to the wall” — in Hebrew, ledaber eim hakeer, which is a direct translation utilizing the Yiddish expression, red tzu de vant.  In another example, when a clerk at a local store in Queens that sells Israeli products asks his customer how much cheese to give her, the Israeli-American woman answers, “I vont a little bit….”  In Hebrew, ani rotza k’tzat…; in Yiddish ich vil abis’lNu?  Let us imagine Ludwig Wittgenstein visiting Rishon LeZion in the 1930’s, trying to confirm his theories on language and uncertainty.  I cannot imagine a more thrilling situation for Wittgenstein – he probably would have written a thousand-page book on the invention of the new Hebrew (Yiddish) language.  Next, imagine if you come from Morocco or Iraq and you try to express yourself in Hebrew (i.e., Yiddish Hebrew) — it is almost a farce.  How to solve the Israeli problem of self-expression will take a long time.

         Another cardinal issue relating to understanding the Hebrew language in modern times is demonstrated in the use of the term “leumi.”  For example, the organization “Irgun Tzvai Leumi,” was established during the end of the 1920’s into the early 1930’s in Jerusalem and disbanded in 1948.  Irgun means “organization,” Tzvai means “military,” and Leumi means “nationality.”  The question is, what “nationality” were they referring to?  Most Israelis would say, “Jewish.”  But, that cannot be, because nationality as a political concept has never been politically defined, and to me the political definition of Israeli nationality represents the quintessential issue of Israeli survival; otherwise, we cannot hope to endure in the modern world.  The Israeli Declaration of Independence carries within it the duality of “Israeli” and “Jewish.”  Today’s Prime Minister, B. Netanyahu, with his coalition members, wants Israel to be a “Jewish” state.  But, politically, one cannot define Jewishness; religiously, one can.  So, does Netanyahu mean that Israel will transform itself into a religious “Jewish” state, thus being one that can be neither democratic nor Jewish, and definitely not Israeli?  Or, to make things more interesting, the human race of homosapiens in Israel will become “homozionists” or “homojewish” – of course, this is a farce.  The political goal of Zionism that was achieved in 1948 was meant to integrate “Jews” of the world community into a new nation that was called the Israeli nation, but still the essence of the concept of  “nation” or “leom” in Hebrew remains fuzzy and undefined.

         For many who are not aware of it, the issues of self- and critical-expression have created major obstacles in linguistics as well as in thinking  for the Israelis.  Perhaps then it is no wonder that Israel has produced great scientists, great doctors, great generals, great felafel-makers and great Israeli-salad makers, but not a single great intellectual.  To understand the depth of the meaning of “the Intellectual,” it is important to look at a book by Edward W. Said, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994).  It is sort of ironical, but not unusual, that an American professor of Palestinian descent who taught at Columbia University wrote a classic piece on the Intellectual; Said was definitely an example of an intellectual.

         Moving on from this odyssey that I have taken to explain Eliyho Matz’ trip to Ithaca ( cf “Ithaca,” a poem by C.P. Cavafy), I would now like to describe what I see as the most important event in Israeli history in recent years.

         Throughout his life, Professor Shlomo Sand (Zand) has been, it can be said, sort of a radical person.  For awhile a leftist and Communist, he later became associated with Palestinian rights and is now standing on the frontline of their fight, presumably appreciated by some of those whose cause he is trying to support.  As for his education, he had a difficult path to higher education, but he made it.  Professor Sand is a concerned Israeli patriot with his eyes on the future of the Israeli nation.  Over the past few years, through teaching and studying the broad aspects of nationality, he has done what no other scholar has done in Israel.  His study of Jews’ history, as reflected in his first book, The Invention of the Jewish People, is a testimony to his unique efforts to explain to Jews their history.  What he reveals is a different type of history – though the entire academic world was not ready for it.  His general theory that he demonstrates unequivocally is that Jewish survival is due to conversion, whether Jews like to hear it or not; that conversion is the pivotal source of success in Judaism throughout the ages, which is the main point of his book.  In his second book, The Invention of the Land of Israel, Sand goes on to deal with the overriding attitude of Judaism, which is how Judaism views the Land of Israel.  In this book he makes a very interesting point.  He demonstrates that historically Jews scattered throughout the world, and the Land of Israel, represented two distinct and separate entities, that although they supposedly seemed connected, they were not really connected.  That is because throughout the centuries, the core rabbinical thought was against settling the Land of Israel; praying for the land was the acceptable norm, but to settle there was totally forbidden.  It was only the Zionist ideology in modern times that began mixing and connecting the concept of a modern nation with an ancient land, and the consequences are brutal.  His book is a scholarly attempt to explain this concept of bringing together the people and the land, and its ramifications.

         The final chapter of Professor Sand’s (Zand’s) book is a reflection on Israeli military, political and religious extremism.  Tel Aviv University where he teaches stands on the ruins of a Palestinian village.  Sand’s historical narrative includes a mild suggestion for a way for Israelis or Tel Aviv University to put a sign to memorialize the Arab village of Sheik Mounes, but only time will tell if anything will be done to rectify what he points to.  The title of this chapter is “The Scorpion and the Frog,” which reminds me of another professor, Isaiah Berlin of Oxford University, who wrote an important and elegant essay many years ago titled, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” which was Berlin’s attempt to explain Tolstoy’s great novel War and Peace to the English-speaking world.  He was one of the brightest intellectuals of the Twentieth Century.  Apropos to the subject of Holocaust and rescue, during WWII Berlin aided the British government in New York and Washington by providing secret reports on America and its Jews.  How many Jews in Occupied Europe died as a result of his work, I do not know, but too much concern for the exterminated European Jews he did not have.  He is not the only Jewish intellectual residing in New York or the United States who did not pay attention to the events of the Holocaust; many other intellectuals felt no urgency in this regard.  As a general theory on intellectuals, Jewish intellectuals were not in the business of saving Jews.  Here I would like to introduce some radical ideas of my own on the subject of the Holocaust.  Aside from the fact that most Jewish intellectuals did not deal with the Holocaust while it was occurring, one should mention that the entire rabbinical establishment as well as the organized Jewish lay leadership also failed in their response to the Holocaust.  Shouldn’t that teach us something?  Shouldn’t we modern Jews look back at out our two-millennium rabbinical Jewish authorities and conclude that something with Judaism went wrong?  But of course, Jewish life continues without looking back, until the next disaster will arrive.

         Most of my university studies centered around American Jews, American Jewish leaders and the Holocaust, but eventually it became obvious to me that I had to turn my focus to the Holocaust and its aftermath.  What I mean by “aftermath” is explained in my book Who is an Israeli?, which has been published as an Amazon Kindle e-Book.  The Israeli nation, that was born in 1948, has been my concern ever since I became aware of all sorts of issues connected to its establishment.  Many years ago, when I visited Abram Sorramello, I heard from him the famous Palestinian-Arabic saying, “The rooster is dead, but his eye is still looking at the garbage pail.”  Thus, all the historians and philosophers I mentioned have been like the cat or the rooster: very, very focused.  To add to Professor Sand’s (Zand’s) dreams, I would like to suggest a performance by Simon and Garfunkel on the bridge of the Yarkon, which is very close to Tel Aviv University, singing their song “A Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  And since I live in the Berkshires of Massachusetts in the vicinity of Arlo Guthrie shrine to his father Woody Guthrie, the great American balladeer, I have suggested to him in a letter that he join with Simon and Garfunkel to perform Woody’s popular American folk song “This Land is Your Land” with a choir of Chassids and Palestinians singing a cappella.

         Benedict Baruch (in Yiddish, Borech or Berel) Spinoza, in his famous Theological Political Tract in which he analyzes the fall of the Second Temple, concluded that a nation can not exist unless there is a separation between church and state.  This tenet of Spinoza entered into our modern world, though with difficulties, but is normally accepted in the Western tradition of government.  Spinoza, hopeful about the Jewish experience in the future, saw no problem in the future creation of a new Jewish political entity that would follow his recommendation.  It is very unfortunate that today’s modern Israeli nation has not followed his line of thinking.

         Good luck Shlomo Sand (Zand).  I hope they follow your advice.

[The famous Italian actor Marcello Mastroiani, the quintessential Don Juan who knew his way around women, once said, “Not a single woman has ever applauded me while having sex.”  I think Marlon Brando would probably concur.

Shlomo, don’t wait for the applause….]

May 29, 2012
by pothanchand.yarr001

Across 100 Miles of Ocean

 United States and Cuba

Experiments in Capitalism and Socialism

[A narrative for the ‘Global Warming Timeline’ chart]

Akio Tanaka


The Age of Enlightenment ushered in revolutions in France and the US, but the revolution that really threatened the dominant global order was the revolution mounted by the slaves of French Haiti in 1804. In response to the revolt France and the US, a nation founded on slave labor and appropriated Indian land, joined forces to suppress the Haitian revolution. The US has intervened militarily in Haiti repeatedly since 1804, most recently in 2010 to maintain the lowest sweat-shop wages in the hemisphere.

The Age of Industrialization began with the inventions of the steam engine at the end of the eighteenth century and the internal combustion engine at the end of the nineteenth century. However, both coal and oil produce carbon dioxide which contributes to global warming. With the exponential growth in the world population over the past hundred years there has been corresponding exponential increase in the global temperature which is threatening the ecological survival of the planet.

During the last century the industrialized world was divided between two competing economic systems: Communism led by the Soviet Union and Capitalism led by the United States.

In 1989 the Soviet Union collapsed, and the United States saw it as a victory of Capitalism over Communism.  The Democratic Party joined the Republican Party’s full embrace of the corporate agenda, and the corporations felt empowered to seek profits with absolutely no regard for the consequences to Earth and all its life forms. The US became a corporate-military empire using its military to secure oil for its oil based economy.

The world urgently needs an alternative to the radical ecological destructiveness of capitalism and the global warming of oil based economy.

Although Haiti has been under the US boot for two hundred years, another narrative was taking place next door just 100 miles south of the US.

Cuba had also been under the US boot since the Spanish American War in 1898, but in 1959 Cuba staged a socialist revolution, removed the US backed dictator Battista, and aligned with the Soviet Union. The Cuban government went on to provide resources of education and health care for its people that are unsurpassed in the hemisphere, but their economy was based on oil like the rest of the industrialized world.

Cuba was getting its oil from the Soviet Union, so when the Soviet Union collapsed Cuba lost its source of oil. It was a time of extreme hardship, but instead of cutting back on social programs, Cuba developed an economy based on sustainable organic agriculture and in the process managed to create a post peak oil economy and thus help stem global warming. They are creating a society based on environmental socialism.

Capitalism and Globalization

During the Gilded Age, 1865-1901, the corporation became the dominant form of business organization in the US, and the financial elements in the large centers owned the government. The US also became an Imperial Power in 1898 after the Spanish-American War during which they acquired the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam and Cuba.

Theodore Roosevelt tried to steer the Republican Party in the direction of Progressivism, including trust busting and increased regulation of businesses, but the country reverted back to free market ways after his administration. The 1920’s was a decade of increased consumer spending and economic growth fed by laissez faire economic policy. The resulting overproduction of goods and the speculation on the Stock Market led to the Crash of 1929.

The Depression which followed the Crash of 1929 was severe and prolonged, and to counter the threat being mounted by Bolshevik forces, the business community allowed FDR to propose legislations to put limits on business and measures to help the public. These were the measures that had been championed by progressives since the 1890’s: the Glass-Steagall Banking Act ’33 separated commercial banking from investment banking, the Security and Exchange Commission ’34 regulated the stock market, the Telecom Act ’34 created the FCC to regulate the airwaves, the Social Security Act ’35 and the Farm Security Act ’37 assured some measure of economic security for the workers and the farmers, and the Wagner Act ’35 legalized the Unions that were being organized by the workers. President Roosevelt’s also introduced public works programs, WPA and CCC, to put unemployed workers to build the physical infrastructure of the country.

[Atom Bomb – The imperialistic ambitions of several nations led to World War I (1914-18) and World War II (1939-45) which saw the development of the atomic bomb. Subsequently other nations developed the atomic bomb as an insurance against being blackmailed. 65 years later mankind is minutes away from total annihilation by the 20,000 nuclear warheads on operational alert.

The nuclear industry has promoted nuclear energy as clean energy that does not contribute to global warming; however, there are other problems with nuclear energy. There are currently 550 million pounds of spent fuel rods from the 500 nuclear reactors that remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, and there is no way to contain the radiation from an accident such as the ones that happened at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. A world renowned cancer specialist, Carmelo Iacono said: “Nuclear radiation is the most carcinogenic thing that exists and it cannot be kept under control, as Fukushima tragedy proved.”]

After WWII, the world was divided between Communism led by the Soviet Union and Capitalism led by the US, competing to gain control over the natural resources of the former colonies of Europe that were struggling to liberate themselves. The United States created the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency to counter Communism.

The IMF and the World Bank provided the development funds to third world countries in return for access to their natural resources. If the country was not willing to participate, the US sent in the CIA or the military to put in place a compliant government: Iran ‘53, Guatemala ’54, Vietnam ’55, Turkey ’60, Congo ‘60, Brazil ’64, Greece ’67, Indonesia’67, Iraq ’68, Chile ‘73, Uruguay ’73, Afghanistan ’73, Argentina ’76, Nicaragua ’81, Grenada ’83, Panama ’88, Haiti ’91, Yugoslavia ’92, Honduras 2009.


The US tried but failed to overthrow the governments of Cuba in 1961 and Venezuela in 2002.


On the home front, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program was used to neutralize any domestic threat to the capitalistic system: the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers, the Puerto Rico Independence Movement, Earth First!.

Workers in the US, on the other hand, did very well after the war. With the rest of the world’s industry destroyed by the War, the US became the dominant manufacturing country, so through the 50’s, 60’, and 70’s American workers enjoyed a high level of employment and prosperity.

Children of the middle class, freed of the deprivation of the Depression, joined many progressive movements like the civil rights movement. During the early 60’s the US passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, and in the later years of that decade the anti-war activism against the Vietnam War fueled a larger activist movement that challenged the capitalistic system. Led by the consumer advocacy of Ralph Nader, the Congress passed astounding number of progressive legislation: the Freedom of the Information Act ‘66, the Environmental Protection Agency ‘70, the Clean Air Act ‘70, the Occupational Safety and Health Act ‘70, the Consumer Product Safety Act ‘72, the Endangered Species Act ‘73, the Clean Water Act ‘77. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.

In response, the same forces that opposed FDR’s New Deal began to mount a counteroffensive. In 1971, Lewis Powell, who was nominated to the Supreme Court by Nixon, sounded the alarm in his Memorandum, ‘Attack on the American Free Enterprise System’: “Perhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business is Ralph Nader, who — thanks largely to the media — has become a legend in his own time and an idol of millions of Americans… There should be no hesitation to attack the Naders, the Marcuses and others who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.”  

Powell prefigured the neoliberal agenda that would unfold between 1980 and 2010.

The creation of American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 1973 was a corporate blowback to the Nader’s reforms. The organization’s membership includes both state lawmakers and corporate executives, which over the following decades helped draft many of the legislations that attack workers’ rights, roll back environmental regulations, deregulate major industries, and privatize education and other government programs.

The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was a watershed which marked both the end of FDR’s New Deal Era and the re-ascendancy of pre-Progressive era corporate rights over peoples’ rights. President Reagan signed into law the Economic Recovery Tax Act which cut taxes on the wealthy and the corporations; he appointed James Watts, who was hostile to environmentalism and supportive of the development and use of federal lands by foresting, ranching, and other commercial interests, as Secretary of the Interior; he appointed corporate attorney Anne Gorsuch as the Director of EPA, who gutted environmental protections by hiring staff from the industries they were supposed to be regulating ; and he broke the power of the unions by breaking the air traffic controllers (PATCO) strike.

The breaking of the PATCO strike marked the beginning of the end of the post-war American middle class. Between 1980 and 2010, the corporations and the rich became wealthier as the tax burden was shifted from corporations to individuals, and among individuals, from the rich to the middle class. In the 1940’s corporations paid 60% of the federal income tax, but in 2010 they paid 20%. In the 1960’s, top income tax rate for individuals was 91%, but in 2010 the top rate was reduced to 35%.

In 1985, with the increasing conservative backlash against the civil rights, women’s, and labor movements and the success of the Reagan Revolution, the Democratic Party founded the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to cater to corporate interests.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, the US saw it as a victory of capitalism over communism, and the Democratic Party joined the Republican Party’s full embrace of the corporate agenda.

Although the Democratic Leadership Council hailed the election of President Clinton in 1992 as proof of the viability of third way, what the 1990s and Clinton’s era represented was the consolidation of a new kind of political discourse, and a new involvement by the corporations in shaping it. The two major political parties are completely absorbed in self-perpetuation and only serve the narrow sector of powerful elites and corporate interests that fund and thereby control them. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz observed that the US has a government “Of the 1%, by the 1%, and for the 1%”.

The two party system which was originally created in 1860’s to exclude newly emancipated blacks from political participation was now being used with unlimited corporate money to exclude the 99% from political participation. To maintain the duopoly the Two Parties collude to exclude Third Party candidates from ballot access and debates, thereby limiting voter choice and real debate. The Two Parties still go through an elaborate charade of holding an election; however, they mainly differentiate themselves over social issues which are of no concern to the corporations, such as guns, abortion, the death penalty, and gay and immigrant rights.

The Republicans position themselves as the defenders of white American cultural values. By conflating the freedom of individuals with the freedom of huge corporations to make profit and by appealing to the vulnerabilities and racial resentments of poor and working class whites, they cruelly and cynically dupe the poor and working class white supporters into voting against their own economic interests. The Democrats remain only as nominal defenders of progressive values, trotting out Dennis Kucinich every four years to convince any straying Democrat that there is at least one good progressive among the bunch and duped their constituency in 2008 with an empty and cynical promise of ‘Hope and Change’.

The President who dismantled many of the progressive New Deal legislations of FDR was Democrat Bill Clinton: the Telecom Reform Act ’96 paved the way for corporate control of the media including the Internet, the Welfare Reform Act ’96 removed the safety net for the poor, the Freedom to Farm Act ’96 removed the protections for the family farms and led to the gigantic subsidies for the corporate agribusiness, and most fatefully the Banking Reform Act ’99 took away the government oversight of the banking system.

Clinton also pushed and got the Congress to pass NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) and WTO (World Trade Organization) Agreements which allowed corporations to pursue profit free from constraints of the US environmental and worker protection laws. The current illegal immigration crisis in the US is also a direct result of NAFTA, where importation of cheap subsidized genetically modified corn from the US drove Mexican farmers off their land. Globalization is the face of financial imperialism.

During Clinton’s administration there were two major transformations of the national political economy: financialization (the shift of investor preference from industrial production to finance, insurance, and real estate) and the off-shoring of production. The off-shoring destroyed the real productive economy and the middle class, and the financialization ushered in the era of predatory banks that plundered the American middle-class with the Dot-com Bubble of 2000 and the Subprime Mortgage Housing Bubble of 2008.

[Genetically Modified Organism – Besides extracting gigantic government subsidies, the corporate agribusiness is corroborating with US Department of Agriculture to control the very basis of civilization which began with the cultivation of grains 10,000 year ago; they are trying to hijack the world’s grain supply by forcing the farmers to use patented genetically modified grains. More than 85% of American corn are genetically modified to either repel pests or to be tolerant to herbicide used to kill weeds in cultivated field.

Aside from imposing new feudalism on the world, there are other problems with GMO. The genetically-engineered organisms include genes that are designed to overcome natural reproductive barriers between organisms which make it possible to transfer genes over from another organism. One problem is that genetically engineered organisms are thus more likely to crossbreed and this gene flow results in the loss of unique varieties and eventually leads to a monoculture of GMO. GMO has already contaminated many of the native Mexican corn. Another problem is that the same mechanism which allows the transfer of genes can jump across organisms to create mutant new organisms, e.g. transforming intestinal flora into allergen factories. Corporate agribusiness is playing Russian roulette with the very basis of life.]


On the world front, the coup in Russia in 1989-91 brought an end to the Cold War and presented the US with an opportunity and a problem.

Since the invention of the automobile in 1885, the petro-fueled engine has been the engine of commerce and war, and oil became the one key strategic resource. Control of the oil is tantamount to control of the industrial world and the developing industry throughout the world.

In 1971 gold standard for the dollar was finally replaced with the oil standard because of the strain of federal expenditures for the Vietnam War. With the financialization of oil, the multinational corporations which depend on a stable international currency have advanced the US military presence over the oil fields of in the Middle East and Central Asia in order to stabilize the price of oil.  Another consideration was that India and China with their huge populations where both eyeing the oil fields in Central Asia which are right next door.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the US saw the opportunity to use its military dominance to secure the oil fields of the Middle East and Central Asia.

The problem was that the end of the Cold War also deprived the military of an enemy to justify its bloated budget, and the public, caught up in the euphoria over the fall of the Berlin Wall and the lifting of the Iron Curtain, were clamoring for peace dividend and de-militarization. The US needed a way to engage militarily in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The problem was partially solved in 1990 by the First Gulf War which was the opening gambit in a war to secure the Middle East oil.  The US suckered Iraq into Kuwait in order to be able to drive them out militarily and take over Kuwait. On July 25, 1990, then US Ambassador April Glaspie told the Iraqis, “[US] have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.”, but when Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the US took immediate military action against Iraq and took over Kuwait. Kuwait was the real target of the 1990 war against Iraq. With oil replacing the gold standard, Kuwait had become the new Fort Knox.

The US kept a financial and trade embargo on Iraq through the 90’s and in the late 90’s intervened in Yugoslavia to bring the former Communist country under free-market globalization. However, the US found it difficult to garner public support for military intervention to secure the oil fields in Central Asia.

In 1998, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his book ‘Grand Chess Board’, wrote that the key strategic plan for the US was to secure the Central Asian gas and oil fields, but he acknowledged the problem of garnering public support: “[US] may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat“.

In September of 2000, the neo-conservative think tank, The Project for the New American Century, published a report entitled ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources for a New Century’ calling for the transformation of the US military to establish American hegemony, but the report also acknowledged the problem: “the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor”.

The problem was finally resolved in 2001 with the 9/11 Incident which was a catastrophic and catalyzing event” “of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat”.

President Bush used the 9/11 Incident to establish military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to secure US access to Middle East and Central Asian gas and oil. Islamic fundamentalism was already on the rise in the Muslim countries, so the US military occupation of Muslim countries ensured what Robert Fisk calls ‘The Great War for Civilization’ between Islamic Fundamentalism and the Judeo-Christian West, providing the National Security State with a permanent new enemy. The ‘War on Communism’ segued into the ‘War on Terrorism’, and the Military Industrial Complex was able to keep its one trillion dollars annual franchise. The two political parties help keep the war economy on track by not allowing anyone to question the basis for the ‘War on Terror’.

President Bush also used the 9/11 Incident to enact the Patriot Act, drastically scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, and detention of suspects. The 342 page Patriot Act was part of the Continuity of Government (COG) Plan to suspend the Constitution and declare Martial Law in case of nuclear attack that was expanded in the 1980’s to include any national emergency.

The US is putting in place the apparatus of a police state where Orwellian sounding Department of Homeland Security (DHS) subjects air travelers to full body scans and routinely monitors electronic communications of ordinary citizens. FBI agents and militarized police units, which were first used for War on Drugs, are deployed with increasing frequency against anyone involved in environmental, anti-war and pro-solidarity activism, especially Palestinian solidarity. Although the police state has been justified by the need to fight terrorism, its real purpose is to enforce the extreme inequality, the 1% vs. the 99%, that results from the neoliberal political economy, e.g. the nationally coordinated repression against the Occupy Movement. The Occupy Movement so unnerved the establishment that a provision was added to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act allowing the US military to indefinitely detain without charge or trial anyone deemed a threat to the domestic order.


The corporations also saw the coup and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-91 as triumph of capitalism over communism, and they pushed for repeal of government regulations and the privatization of government assets and programs, including education, with the ultimate goal of privatizing Social Security.

Even though the Reagan era deregulation of Savings & Loan industry had resulted in collapse of the S&L industry and the $150 billion government bailout, during the Clinton administration, the banking industry pushed for the deregulation of the banking industry and succeeded in getting the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (Banking Reform Act) passed repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, which was enacted after the 1929 Crash to prevent the banks from gambling with their depositor’s money.

During the Bush administration, Wall Street used the new banking deregulation signed into law by President Clinton in 1999 to perpetrate an egregious fraud that plundered the middle class America by creating the subprime mortgage housing bubble. First the banks lowered the interest rate and loan requirements for mortgages, and then they made enormous profits trading the derivatives on the inflated value of the housing market. When the housing bubble burst in 2008 precipitating the credit crisis, they extorted from Congress massive taxpayer bailouts and guarantees. In addition to the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) the Federal Reserve has transferred trillions of dollars of public funds into private banks. The banks are also foreclosing on homes of people affected by the ensuing recession.

During the Presidency of George Bush, dangers to the Republic that two former Presidents had warned about came to pass:

Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about the military industrial complex (MIC):  “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Thomas Jefferson warned us about the banking system:  “If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their money… the banks and corporations that will grow up around them, will deprive the people of their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

To the American public traumatized by the Bush Presidency, corporate America poured enormous amount of money to market an African American man, Barack Obama, as the candidate of ‘Hope and Change’ in 2008; however, once in office, President Obama kept Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, in charge of the Military Industrial Complex and tapped Lawrence Summers, who as President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary pushed for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, as the Director of the White House National Economic Council. Not only has President Obama kept Guantanamo Bay detention camp open, he has expanded the use of Predator drones for extra-judicial assassinations and the prosecution of government whistleblowers.

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, was asked in 2010, what difference he saw between Bush and Obama. He succinctly answered ‘color of their skins’.

The Republic that was founded to free the colonies from the British monarchy was taken over by a corporate-military state. To underscore the absurdity, the Supreme Court which first established corporate personhood in 1886 in Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific, gave full first Amendment rights to corporations in 2010 in Citizen United vs. Federal Election Commission freeing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. In 2011, the court expanded the rights of corporate free speech by striking down the Arizona’s public financing election law.

The United States whose wealth was originally built on the backs of slave labor and appropriated Indian land had turned on its own citizens and the world.

To secure natural resources, the US has an empire of over 850 military bases around the world, garrisoned proxy states of Israel in the Middle East and Colombia in South America and pending AFRICOM base in Africa; three regions with large oil reserves. At home Americans are now subjected to destructive resource extractions: mountaintop removal coal mining which poisons the watershed, ‘fracking’ of earth for natural gas which poisons the water table, the off shore drilling with consequent disastrous blowout that poisoned the Gulf, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that could compromise the Ogallala Aquifer. The water is also being poisoned by the chemicals used in agribusiness and manufacturing. The average newborn has over 200 different chemicals and heavy metals contaminating its blood when it takes its first breath.

To secure cheap labor, the US created NAFTA and WTO. These policies transferred manufacturing to sweat shop labor in countries like Mexico and China where there are no environmental or worker protection laws. At home American workers saw their manufacturing jobs decline from 53% of the economy in 1965 to 9% in 2006. They saw their education funding cut, private medical insurance cost soar, and face increasing unemployment and increasing foreclosures.  The most telling statistic is the US incarceration rate, which increased from 500,000 in 1980 to 2,500,000 in 2010. The US has 5% of the world population but 25% of the world prison population. Much of this increase was due to War on Drugs which is a deliberate policy to reverse the gains of the civil rights movement by criminalizing and incarcerating African-Americans. Not only are the US prisons being privatized, the private prisons are selling inmate labor to Fortune 500 corporations at subminimum wages.

Meanwhile a gaggle of cackling imbecilic corporate media hacks like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck fan the flames of anger and frustrations of the American workers onto immigrants, Muslims, Third World leaders, environmentalists, liberals and the poor; the beleaguered public is turning in increasing numbers to the appeals of patriotic fascism, evangelical fundamentalism, and the culture of illusion.

The ruling power of our country manipulates the habits and opinion of the masses through television. Americans watch on the average five hours of television per day. The invisible government manipulates this media using the public relations and propaganda techniques pioneered by Edward Bernays whether they are trying to sell a soft drink, a political candidate, or war.

Global Warming and World Population

On top of the tragedy and farce of the capitalistic system, the world also faces the looming ecological disaster of global warming.

Over the past 100 years, with the ready availability of fossil fuels, the world population has increased exponentially to 7 billion people. Since fossil fuels release greenhouse gases the average temperature which has stayed relatively stable over the preceding 10,000 years has also risen exponentially over the past 100 years. Global temperature is tracking the world population.

So what is driving the population to increase? The mantra of capitalism is growth and profits. The capitalism needs growing population to increase market size and to reduce labor cost. The capitalist nations have been able to supply the grains to feed the ever growing world population using their massively subsidized agribusiness.

The IMF and the World Bank regimen on third world countries always follow the same pattern. In return for development money, they force the country to sign away their natural resources and accept the importation of cheap subsidized grains which drives the farmers off their land. Corporations make money by producing manufactured goods from extracted natural resources, so the displaced agrarian labor is forced into minimum wage jobs like sweatshop manufacturing and mining. Populations in countries like Mexico and Pakistan have increased over threefold between1960 and 2010.

The year 2010 saw the inkling of the emerging ecological calamity caused by global warming. Russia had series of hundreds of wildfires that broke out across the country due to record temperatures (the hottest summer in Russian history) and crop failures caused by drought.  The warming oceans resulted in unprecedented monsoon rain that flooded much of Pakistan and caused massive mudslides in China.

In 2011, the US had major blizzards in the Northeast, a historic flooding of the Mississippi River, nation’s deadliest single tornado in more than sixty years, and massive wildfires in the Southwest, yet the House of Representatives voted 240-184 to defeat a resolution that said “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.”

Peak-Oil and Cuba

So what is the solution to population growth and global warming? What is the alternative to capitalism?

Democratic socialism in Western Europe works to a degree. Their populations are stable, and the governments do an adequate job of meeting the health, education and welfare of the people, but much of their economy is based on oil just as in rest of the world.

More profound change has taken place in Cuba. Cuba kept building on their socialism experiment, so instead of suffering from the stasis of European communism, they have managed to create a dynamic society that meets the health, education and welfare needs of its people.

It was evident from the beginning that Cuban revolution placed importance on empowering the people. First task that the government embarked on was the Maestra Program where literacy workers, including many youngsters, were sent all over the island to teach people how to read and write. In 1962 UNESCO certified that Cuba was free of illiteracy. (Documented in the film, ‘Maestra: Teacher’: 2011.)

Then the government embarked on providing for the health care needs of its citizens. In spite of the constant threats and the embargo by the US and the subsequent empty shelves, it offers resource of education and health care unsurpassed in the hemisphere. In fact Cuba even trains thousands of doctors from other countries for free so that they can go back and help the people in their own countries, including students from America’s inner cities. (Documented in the film, ’Salud: Cuba and the Quest for Health’: 2006.)

Cuba has also done amazing things internationally. Cuba played a decisive role in the liberation struggles in Angola and South Africa, and it sends health care missions around the world, from Pakistan to Haiti. In Haiti they aren’t just treating people. Even before the massive earthquake of 2010 they were literally setting up a health care system in the country and have helped Haiti more than any other country by far.

Salvador Allende was overthrown in 1973 because the US feared that success of democratic socialism in Chile might become a model for other Latin American countries. The Nicaraguan revolution, which was modeled on the Cuban revolution, was crushed in 1980’s because it posed ‘the threat of a good example’ to other nation in the area. But, since 1959 Cuba has remained a beacon for socialism as an alternative to rapacious capitalism.

In 1999, populist Hugo Chavez won the Presidency of oil rich Venezuela and started to use the oil revenues to help the poor. The US tried to overthrow Chavez in 2002 in a failed coup attempt. Since then the progressive elements in other countries followed Venezuela in rejecting the neoliberal agenda: Lula in Brazil ’03, Kirshner in Argentina ’03, Vazquez in Uruguay ’04, Molares in Bolivia ’06, Corea in Ecuador ’06, Bachelet in Chile ’06, Zelaya in Honduras ’06, Ortega in Nicaragua ’07, Humala in Peru ’11, and they are all democratic in ways the US never will be. The US finally intervened staging a coup against President Zelaya of Honduras in ’09.

But the most amazing thing Cuba accomplished is what it did domestically after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. Until then Cuban agriculture was based on oil like the rest of the world using herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. With the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost its source of oil. This, in addition to the trade embargo, the constant threat of invasion, and numerous assassination attempts on Fidel Castro by the US.

Facing this severe cut back in oil, Cuba did not cut back on education and healthcare, but instead embarked on coming up with post peak-oil agriculture to feed its people. In the process they developed cutting edge bio-tech research and innovative, sustainable, organic agriculture. (Documented in the film, ‘The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil’: 2006.)

Cuba is a still a third world country and has its own problems which include a bloated bureaucracy and scarcity of goods caused by the US embargo, but they have stabilized the population just as the socialist democracies in Europe have done and done so with a largely post peak-oil economy thus reducing their contribution to global warming.

Joel Kovel in his book ‘The Enemy of Nature: The end of capitalism or the end of the world?’ wrote: “Firsthand experience with Cuba and Nicaragua has convinced me, as it has many others, that what was being geminated there remains of inestimable value to future of humanity if value is measured in terms of dignity and generosity instead of money.”


The Cold War is over. Elites of both sides of the Cold War have gotten rich by abandoning their people. In China and Russia, the Communist Party members have appropriated state assets, and are using ‘capitalism’ to enrich themselves. In the US the Capitalist elite are using ‘corporate socialism’, the privatization of profit and the socialization of risks, to enrich themselves by means of massive taxpayer bailouts, subsidies, no-bid cost-plus contracts, and giveaway drilling, mining and logging rights of taxpayer assets on public land.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the US corporations won but the American people lost. Ironically, the Cuban people also won.

The US has become a corporate-military empire engaged in an Oil War to secure the oil for its oil based economy, while its citizens have signed away their civil liberties and are facing cutbacks to their health, education and welfare. The US has embraced the late University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman’s radical free market Capitalism, in which huge corporations are empowered to seek profits with absolutely no regard for the consequences to Earth and all its life forms.

Cuba has realized the “commons” of Karl Marx’s Communism. Cuba has developed an economy based on post peak-oil sustainable organic agriculture and in the process managed to stabilize their population and help stem global warming. They not only provide for the health, education and welfare of their own people, they send armies of doctors abroad to take care of health needs of other countries’ people.

It is a true David versus Goliath matchup across 100 miles of ocean, and we should all be rooting for the little guy for the sake of our planet.

Cicero said, “Freedom is participation in power”. When the 99% and the Occupy Movement take back the power from the corporations and America truly becomes the Republic “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, it will be the dawn of a new day for America and the world.


… from the novel ‘Resurrection’ by Leo Tolstoy [1828-1910].
“Though men in their hundreds of thousands had tried their hardest to disfigure that little corner of the earth where they had crowded themselves together, paving the ground with stones so that nothing could grow, weeding out every blade of vegetation, filling the air with the fumes of coal and gas, cutting down the trees and driving away every beast and every bird – spring, however, was still spring, even in the town.

The sun shone warm, the grass, wherever it had not been scraped away, revived and showed green not only on the narrow strips of lawn on the boulevards but between the paving-stones as well, and the  birches, the poplars, and the wild cherry-trees were unfolding their sticky, fragrant leaves, and the swelling buds were bursting on the lime trees; the jackdaws, the sparrows, and the pigeons were cheerfully getting their nests ready for the spring, and the flies, warmed by the sunshine, buzzed gaily along the walls. All were happy – plants, birds, insects and children.

But grown-up people – adult men and women – never left off cheating and tormenting themselves and one another. It was not this spring morning which they considered sacred and important, not the beauty of God’s world, given to all the creatures to enjoy – a beauty which inclines the heart to peace, to harmony, and to love. No, what they considered sacred and important were their own devices for wielding power over each other.”


 The Old Man in ‘The Village of Water Mills’ from the film ‘Dreams’ by Akira Kurosawa [1910-1998].
“We try to live the way man used to.

That’s the natural way of life.

People today have forgotten they are really just part of nature.

Yet, they destroy the nature on which our lives depend.

They always think they can make something better.
Especially the scientists.

They may be smart, but most don’t understand the heart of nature.
They only invent things that in the end make people unhappy.

Yet they are so proud of their inventions.

What’s worse, most people are too.

They view them as if they were miracles.

They worship them.
They do not know it, but they are losing nature.

They don’t see that they are going to perish.
The most important things for human beings are clean air and clean water and the trees and grass that produce them.
Everything is being dirtied… polluted forever.

Dirty air, dirty water… dirtying the hearts of men.”


Global Warming Timeline

US Politics

Akio Tanaka is a retired electronic engineer from Oakland, California with a specialty in computer chips who became interested and concerned about global warming and his study’s scope grew to encompass the growth of human population and the development of civilizations.

He is on the board of the nation’s most progressive radio station KPFA-Pacifica, and is an active member of the Alameda County Green Party.

His research on Milankovitch cycles and global population was derived from web searches. His temperature profile came from published material by James Hanson.
Other sources are: Stephen J. Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess shale and the Nature of Life (W.W. Norton, 1990); James D. Watson, The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1997); and William mcNeill, A World History (Oxford University press, 1998).

Skip to toolbar