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Over My Shoulder #45: How Empire comes home in sado-statism and police brutality. From Fred Woodworth, “Evil Empire Notes,” in The Match! # 107 (Summer, 2009)

Here’s the new rules:

  1. At the top of the post, make a list of the books you’ve read all or part of, in print, over the course of the past week, at least as far as you can remember them. (These should be books that you’ve actually read as a part of your normal life, and not just something that you picked up to read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Pick one of those books from the list, and pick out a quote of one or more paragraphs, to post underneath the list.

  3. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, which should be more a matter of context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than they are a matter of discussing the material.

  4. Quoting a passage absolutely does not entail endorsement of what's said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn't really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the books:

  • Sonia Johnson (1989). Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution. (Albuquerque: Wildfire Books. I picked it up some time ago through BookMooch.)
  • Richard Gombin (1975), The Origins of Modern Leftism. Translated from the French by Michael K. Perl. (Baltimore: Penguin. Picked up this very week for 49¢ from the Shaman Drum used books sale rack!)
  • Fred Woodworth, The Match! Issue No. 107 (Summer, 2009). (Tucson: Fred Woodworth. PO Box 3012, Tucson, Arizona 85702. I picked my copy up last week from May Day Books in Minneapolis.)

And here’s the quote. This is taken from Fred Woodworth’s Evil Empire Notes, Issue No. 107 of The Match! (Summer 2009; also, incidentally, the 40th anniversary issue of The Match!). This was airplane reading, taken in somewhere in the sky between Minneapolis and Las Vegas.

GIVEN all the millions of horrifying stories in the naked country, now and then it’s good to pluck out one to hear an authentic voice rather than a statistic. Amnesty International printed up this one, by Donald Boyd of Chicago:

I have been a victim of racial profiling since I was 17 years old. Once when I was walking to the cleaners, I stopped to talk with some young men…. When I walked away, the police just automatically accused me of purchasing drugs. Two officers jumped out of a car and kept asking What did they sell you? I repeatedly replied no one sold me anything. … They cuffed me and drove me to a police substation.

… The next morning they loaded 45 people into a van made for 32. The men were almost all black and Latino. When we arrived at the jail, sheriff’s deputies, dressed in riot gear, met us. They shouted obscenities and threats. The deputies assaulted several people, including me, for supposedly not complying with their every word.

At each step in the process–arrest, detention and bond hearing–we were lined up, and numbers were scribbled on our arms with black marking pens…. In court, you appear before a judge, but via a television screen. You don’t get to speak, and the judge never even looks you in the face…. They treat our communities with disdain and contempt. I had to hire a lawyer and spend thousands of dollars to get the charges dismissed….

AS Law becomes increasingly complex, with hundreds of thousands and even millions of laws stacked on top of each other, almost no one can confront officialdom in any way without a lawyer. But what happens when your lawyer takes your money and does no work, don’t file basic motions or writs, and essentially shafts you? Not much. Bar associations have a cap of compensatory payments they sometimes make to incompetent or dishonest lawyers’ clients, but the amouts are often based on century-old, or even older, stated maximums. And it’s next to impossible to go after such a lawyer legally, because to do so you need… another lawyer.

. . .

EIGHT COPS raided a home in Minneapolis in ’08. They shot up the place, accidentally not killing anyone. Well, it was the wrong house (there is no right house for something like this). This is completely comparable to a surgeon amputating the wrong leg, but if the doctor who did this to you then got a commendation from the medical association, wouldn’t you feel absolutely floored? So did the family whose home was raided and shot up. All eight cops received medals.

Undoubtedly this sounds like hyperbole or mere rhetoric, but the simple fact is that there is no conceivable way anyone can interpret this but as an official statement of Good Work, Men to stupid, negligent, incompetent thugs for terrorizing and injuring innocent people.

NOT SURPRISINGLY, when humanitarian spirit is dead in officialdom it’s not partly alive; it really is extinct and defunct. Also in Minnesota, a poor wild bear somehow got a plstic jar or bucket stuck on its head. Official solution: shoot the bear. No sympathy for an unfortunate creature; no imaginative or bold remedy. Just kill.

AS REPORTED by the Washington Post, prison guards at Prince George’s County Jail in Maryland are apt to be the kind of guys the average person expects to hear of as BEHIND bars. An investigation by the paper found guards who’ve been charged with assault, theft, beating and threatening their wives with death, having sex with prisoners, robbery at gunpoint, and other crimes.

Among the nine officers was Mark R. Bradley, whose then-wife asked for a protective order in 1998, claiming he had threatened, taunted, punched and slapped her… When she reached for the phone, Bradley who had been on the force for almost four years, yanked it away… His wife recalled him saying: Call the police… Make me lose my job. I’ll kill you. Almost a decade later, he was still on the payroll at the jail, despite three protective orders issued against him in the late 1990s. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to assaulting another woman, whose rib was broken. The woman, who had been pregnant with his child, told police that after a beating days earlier, she had a miscarriage. A judge put Bradley on probation and ordered him to take an anger management class.

AIRPORT FASCISM is being extended to railroads. Amtrak, the railroad passenger company, has brought in a SWAT-style phalanx of agents in full combat gear to sweep through train stations, randomly screening and searching passengers. The randomly chosen passengers will have to place their bags on a platform and be swabbed with chemicals that are claimed to react to traces of explosives. You can also be ratted out by dogs.

ONE OF THE factors that propelled the United States as far along into the police state that it now is, was the Vietnam War. There’s plenty of evidence that soldiers in ALL wars become brutalized, but something extraordinary seems to have taken place in Vietnam. Whatever it was, American men who went there (and survived) tended to come back in a vicious state of mind. Ordinary people were their enemy. They made up stories (essentially none has ever been verified) of people spitting on them when they arrived at stateside airports; and they formed cliques of us-versus-them. Looking for work, a high proportion of them went into law enforcement, and there they reinforced and amplified the already-existing us versus them mentality, ratcheting the propensity toward police brutality to amazing heights.

Now the same thing is happening with Iraq. Our guess is that the psychological corruption happens when soldiers fight amid a culture and a language that has few points of contact with the west and with Indo-European languages. It is one thing to fight, say, Germans or Italians, whose general culture is largely familiar (same religions, for instance) and whose languages have a large percentage of words that are the same or nearly enough so to be comprehensible even to the monolingual standard American youth. But in Vietnam–and now in Iraq–these military people are surrounded by words and behaviors utterly alien to them. Our own idle theory, therefore, is that this operate on their minds in such a way that the enemy becomes completely dehumanized. This creates the us-versus-them, and when they return to the USA, they still have it.

Then they go into law enforcement.

Already we are beginning to read about cases in which police–now Iraq war veterans–are opening fire on people merely running away from them. And already, too, the convoluted excuses are starting to evolve: Re-experiencing a war zone is one of several classic signs of combat stress reaction, says the Department of Veterans Affairs. If persistent and untreated, the Department goes on, this can result in post traumatic stress disorder.

Whatever verbal gimmickery you haul out to gloss over the facts, the truth is that these men (generally they are men) have been ruined, corrupted fatally and irretrievably, by being sent out to murder masses of people for no good reason in a country where they ought never to have gone. Mostly it’s their own fault, too, since ultimately it was their own volition that was compliant in their going there.

The bottom line is that Bush’s freudian effort to surpass his father’s Panama coup by similarly taking Saddam Hussein, unresisted by the press and the American people at the outset, is now going to result in thirty or forty more years of ever-worsening police violence against the public here. With this on top of everything else–the overpopulation, insanely burgeoning law-pollution, disastrous shift to digital culture, etc.–America is rapidly turning into an unliveable hell. Then add global warming.

IMMIGRATION PRISONS, where you’re sent for not having adequate proof of being a so-called citizen, are the new concentration camps of the Evil Empire. There are now a whole class of persons of various ethnicities who are afraid to travel outside of the towns or cities where they live, because of the possibility of being stopped by some profiling trick excused as a broken taillight, and then being sent sprawling into a cell at an immigration prison.

A recent well-publicized case in some of the larger newspapers (and excluded from the local dailies) concerned one Hiu Lui Ng, who’d come to the US from Hong Kong. Making the mistake of going to immigraiton headquarters in New York City to get a green card (legal authorization to live and work in this country), he was grabbed and put behind bars. There he developed cancer, was in severe pain, laughed at by the medical matrons, and eventually died from the rampaging and untreated disease.

. . . They denied him a wheelchair and refused pleas for an independent medical evaluation. Instead, … guards at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, dragged him from his bed on July 30, craried him in shackles to a car, bruising his arms and legs, and drove him two hours to a federal lock-up in Hartford, where an immigration officer pressured him to withdraw all pending appeals of his case. (New York Times.)

One out of hundreds of thousands.

–Fred Woodworth, Evil Empire Notes, in The Match! Issue No. 107 (Summer, 2009). 19–21.

See also:

Bow down before the one you serve

(Via Lew Rockwell 2008-05-09: Young Heretics vs. the Flag Religion.)

I spent my first few years of school in a Montessori co-op school with a large contingent of aging New Leftists and burned-out hippie types among the parents. But after that it was all government schools, and, as far as I can remember, every government school I ever attended started business each day with the Pledge of Allegiance. I started having problems with the Pledge around the time I got to junior high school; I didn’t like being expected to chant out one nation, under God, and I figured it violated my religious liberty, so I stopped saying that. In high school I refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance at all, and I usually wouldn’t stand up, either, unless I felt like someone in the room was eyeing me. It’s not that I was trying to make some kind of anarchist protest; I was a fairly boring sort of Democratic Party-identified state Leftist for most of the time I was in high school, and didn’t become an anarchist until after I spent a couple years kicking around more radical forms of Leftism in college. But even then I considered the whole ritual Strength-Through-Unity exercise stifling and creepy, and I didn’t want to participate. So I feel a lot of personal, not just political, solidarity for these three teenagers in western Minnesota:

Three small-town eighth-graders were suspended for not standing at the start of the school day Thursday for the Pledge of Allegiance.

My son wasn’t being defiant against America, said Kim Dahl, mother of one of the students, Brandt, who attends Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Junior High School in western Minnesota. She said her son offered no reason for sitting.

Brandt told the Fargo Forum that Thursday’s one-day in-school suspension, was kind of dumb because I didn’t do anything wrong. It should be the people’s choice.

Kim Dahl said the punishment didn’t fit the crime. If they wanted to know why he didn’t stand, they should’ve made him write a paper.

— Paul Walsh, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribue (2008-05-09): Principal who punished 3 who sat pledge foresees policy rewording

I understand the desire to try to protect your son from abuse in a case that’s sure to draw the howling attention of the Patriotic Correctness bellowing blowhard bully brigade. But, in all honesty, what would it matter if he were being defiant against America? Everyone’s got the right their convictions and nobody should be forced to participate in theo-nationalist rituals that violate their conscience. I also understand the desire to try to get a lighter punishment for your kid when the school is so clearly throwing its weight around in an attempt to bully and intimidate through a heavy punishment. But, in all honesty, what possible justification could there be for forcing this kid to take on extra academic work or to explain himself any further than he cares to do so freely?

She said that Brandt has not been standing all year, and all of a sudden it became an in-school suspension.

The district today is defending the punishments. The school’s handbook says all students are required to stand but are not obligated to recite the pledge. The same is true for all four schools in the district, a school official said.

These three [students] didn’t, and they got caught, said Mel Olson, the district’s community education director. He said he backs the punishment, being a veteran and a United States of America citizen, absolutely. Olson served in the Marines in Japan during the Vietnam War.

— Paul Walsh, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribue (2008-05-09): Principal who punished 3 who sat pledge foresees policy rewording

Another thin-skinned Veteran Against Individual Freedom, I guess, who has nothing better to do with his time than rant and cry about how nobody gives the military and its obsessive flag protocol the respect they allegedly deserve.

One of the things that makes me happy to see is that there is vigorous debate in the comments section on this story, with many posts from people who condemn the school’s actions (and the very idea of forcing children to recite a pledge of loyalty to the federal government on a daily basis), with reasonable argument and also, at times, with the ridicule and withering sarcasm that this asinine school administration deserves. The only thing there that’s irritating is the number of people who feel compelled to say things like, Oh, I think that everybody ought to jump up and shout Sir, yes Sir! when it comes time to say the Pledge, but I’m not sure that it’s really right to force people…. Whatever your personal views about flag protocol may be, this is an argument that can and should be made without doffing your hat to Patriotic Correctness.

As for the commenters who have posted in defense of the school’s actions, they’ve offered three different sorts of arguments, each one of which is beneath contempt. In order of increasing outrageousness, here are some examples of each.

First, there’s the standard Patriotic Correctness argument, along with several direct invocations of love it or leave it, some bizarre non sequiturs about caring about the Constitution (which is nowhere mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance, has nothing to say about the Pledge or about flag protocol, and seems to mean absolutely nothing in the mouths of the people citing it except as a synecdoche for the authority of the United States federal government), and the usual long litany of demands for unearned respect in return for unasked-for services. The idea here is that the kids ought to be punished for daring to hold, or at least to express, anything other than glassy-eyed unquestioning loyalty to the federal government of the United States of America:

Out of respect for our country..

Its really not that hard to stand up and show some respect- not merely for the flag, but for the values that the flag represents: liberty, justice, and truth. Yes, this is a free country, but that also means that these families are free to leave if they cannot respect our nation.

olin157 @ 9 May 2008, 10:07 AM


Snot Nosed Brats

These snot nosed brats should not only stand but they should gladly participate in the pledge. At a minimum they should obey the rules of the school which means get off you rear and stand. You don’t have to harm your little sensibilities by actually pledging allegiance to the only country you have, just stand up for goodness sake. The school was right, ACLU and these punks are legally wrong.

seanintucson @ 9 May 2008, 12:21 PM

Not to mention:

Idol Worship?

Are you people serious? It has nothing to do with the sort. You are not idolizing anything by standing up during the pledge. Hey, you don’t have to say it, the all powerful Supreme Court has brought that commandment down, if you will. Have we forgotten so soon what the Standard represents? Have you Baby-Boomers forgotten your parents who fought to raise that same flag during WWII? How about the current generation, your grandparents fought for it in WWII or Korea, parents in Vietnam and your friends now in Iraq and Afghanistan. I AM a current soldier, not retired, and HAVE served two tours in Baghdad. I truly believe you have the right to free speech, which is why you can go ahead and not say the pledge, but for the sake of my brethren who have fallen and those in the past who have died, show THEM the respect they deserve. Parents, you need to be teaching that this country isn’t about the government, but the people, and the people who formed it. This country’s freedom has, and is, constantly being paid for with the lives of its fighting men and women. While you may have the luxury of sitting back and saying its a free speech thing, just remember who gave you that same free speech.

SGT_M on May. 9, 08 at 12:26 PM

I should pause to note that my father was indeed in the Army in Vietnam, and my father’s father was in the Army in Korea. The claim that either my father, or my father’s father, fought for free speech, or this country’s freedom, is absurd. Neither the North Korean government nor the North Vietnamese government, let alone the occupied countries of South Korea and South Vietnam, ever posed any threat to free speech or freedom in the United States of America. They did nothing in the Army to give me free speech because freedom of speech in the U.S. was not at risk in the first place.

The claim that either my father or my grandfather fought to raise a damned flag on the other side of the world is also absurd. The reason that my father and his father were in the Army is because the federal government sent each of them a letter announcing that if he did not join the Army, he would be arrested and thrown in prison. I’ll be damned if I sit around and listen to some sanctimonious volunteer soldier talk about how the United States Army, which conscripted both my father and my grandfather against their will, deserves my respect and gratitude for guarding individual freedom during the wars on Korea and Vietnam

As for the statement Parents, you need to be teaching that this country isn’t about the government, but the people, and the people who formed it, I’m inclined to agree, but I think the upshot is not quite what SGT_M takes the upshot to be. And I certainly don’t know what any of it has to do with standing during the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge of Allegiance is not about the country, much less about the people; it’s about loyalty to *the government*, and it says so right at the beginning:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

And to the republic, for which it stands.


For the second argument, there’s the These snot-nosed punks got no respect line. This is, honestly, even worse than the belligerent appeals to American theo-nationalism, because, as disgusting as the latter is, the former involves singling out harmless kids for sneering speculation on their motivations and character. And also because they are is no longer attacking a difference of view and an exercise of liberty because they think something more important (love of the government and its symbols, or whatever) overrides it, but rather attacking difference and liberty just as such, because these teenagers are acting like free human beings instead of doing as they’re told by the wise and powerful authorities. Thus:


Even if you do not like the Pledge of Allegiance for what ever reason. You should respect others who care and stand! The lack of respect is the main part of our trouble in this rough times.

hussman02 @ 9 May 2008 10:05AM


If it’s a school rule and he doesn’t have an answer as to why he didn’t stand – then he clearly is just being obstinate. I can’t believe a parent would support their kid in this situation!!!

Cartert1 @ 9 May 2008, 9:55 AM


$10 says these are pain-in-the-rear kids with pain-in-the-rear parents that hover around their kids and never make any acknowledgment that their kids could ever do anything wrong. If these kids were formally and legitimately protesting the United States they should not have been punished, but the tenor of the article suggests they are just smart asses and that they did not have any political/personal convictions when they sat out the pledge.

pipress1487 @ 9 May 2008, 10:23 AM

I don’t think that Brandt Dahl’s statement that I didn’t do anything wrong. It should be the people’s choice. suggests they are just smart asses without any political/personal convictions. But suppose this were true. Then so what? Freedom of speech and expression don’t depend on you having something to say that fits some highly stylized model of formal and legitimate protest. The chief value of freedom of association just is being able to be a lazy smart-ass and live your ordinary life as you see fit, rather than spending your time protesting and fighting an overbearing, invasive government. While the right to speak out against injustices is vitally important, what’s even more important, and in fact what makes the right to speak out against injustices as vitally important as it is, is the right to just be left the hell alone and not be subjected to the officious demands of busybodies and blowhards on your time and energy.

If these kids are just trying to be pains in the ass over a ritual that they find stupid and tiresome, I support them and salute them. I can think of no better reason to refuse to participate.

The third, and worst, of the arguments seems (surprisingly, for me, anyway) to be the most common: the idea that even if the school policy is unjustified, and even if schools oughtn’t force students to stand, and even if the kids have got a legitimate beef with the school board, it does not matter, because they broke The Rules, and you got to punish anybody who steps out of line, even if they had a perfectly good reason to object. Now it’s no longer a matter of attacking them for having the wrong beliefs about public political devotion, and no longer a matter of attacking them for being thoughtless or not following orders that the authorities had good reason to hand down. It’s a matter of attacking them for not subordinating their own considered judgment and obeying orders which are admittedly arbitrary and perhaps even wrong in themselves. (If you have some free time and a high tolerance for pain, feel free to count the number of times that people repeat, verbatim, the phrase rules are rules.)


he wasn’t protesting.

he didn’t have a reason why he didn’t stand, he just didn’t want to! what happens when mom and dad have house rules that he doesn’t want to follow? should they force him to follow their rules? life is full of rules that different people think are pointless, it just depends on whose ox is being gored. so now he’s learning that he doesn’t really need reasons for his actions, just whether he wants to do it or not. and we wonder why our youth have become so complacent today!

K_Zemlicka @ 9 May 2008, 10:37 AM

And (all-caps is from the original):



securpo on 9 May 2008, 10:43 AM

Of course, there are two kinds of consequences in this world. There are the natural consequences of an action, and then there are the artificial consequences that people attach to an action by their chosen responses. In this case the only natural consequence of not standing for the Pledge is getting to spend a minute longer sitting rather than standing. The consequences that these three teenagers are being forced to deal with are better described as the choice of school administrators to flip out and try to make teenagers suffer in the name of Old Glory. In any case, statist logic aside, the fact that school administrators flip out when you don’t obey this stupid policy can hardly be used as a justification for their flipping out, without making your argument do doughnuts around the parking lot.

And then there’s this:

I find it interesting that the school has a policy that students must stand during the Pledge. But, policy is policy and rules are rules, so I agree that the students should be punished. I do think it’s an anti-patriotic policy though and standing for the Pledge would be made more meaningful if kids are allowed to do it through free will.

ttepley @ 9 May 2008, 10:28 AM

In other words, God forbid that anyone should sit down when there are rules to be followed. Students should be punished for refusing to co-operate with a policy which you yourself believe to be foolish and wrong, because rules and authority need no rational justification, and indeed can defy any rational justification, and they ought to be obeyed nevertheless.

And then there’s this:

My son wasn’t being defiant against America

My son wasn’t being defiant against America, said Kim Dahl, mother of one of the students, Brandt, who attends Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Junior High School in western Minnesota. Yet The school’s handbook says all students are required to stand but are not obligated to recite the pledge. So her son wasn’t being defiant against America, but defiant to the school policy itself. Ignorance is not a justifiable defense.

pizann0 9 May 2008, 12:12 PM

I can’t stand flag creeps. I think that kind of belligerent theo-nationalism is absurd, contemptible, and dangerous. But what’s even worse than those who believe that every individual conscience should be turned towards a servile worship of the State, are those who believe that whatever your individual conscience is turned towards, you damn well ought to ignore it and follow the rules, because being defiant to authority is itself a mortal sin, whatever that authority may be and however pointless or wrong may be the rules that they are trying to impose. Where the complaint is not that they ought to be worshipping the one true God, but rather that they had damn well better bow down, no matter what may be before them at the altar.

Incidentally, the state ACLU says that punishing these students is against the rules, as set out in the U.S. Constitution and in rulings by the Supreme Court. I don’t care, and neither should anybody else.

See also:

Official national hero types

(Via Gene Expression 2008-04-04.)

Here’s the Danny Bonaduce of the Blogosphere, marking the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., to reflect on the comforting lies about Dr. King, which the New Class political-intellectual complex has spent the last 40 years manufacturing and promoting:

Kai Wright has an excellent piece on the forgotten radicalism of Martin Luther King, Jr. — always a point worth making in a day and age when conservatives would like you to think they would have been standing right beside King when he marched on Washington.

That said, to some extent I think the creation of the King Myth and the displacement of the more authentic radical King is a good thing. A country doesn’t get official national hero types without mythologizing and sanitizing them to a large extent, and it’s a good thing, at the end of the day, that King has moved into national hero status.

— Matt Yglesias, The Atlantic (2008-04-04): MLK’s Radicalism


It seems to me that if the only way you can get official national hero types is by oversimplifying, lying, and thus eviscerating the substance of a world-changing life of work and body of thought, then official national hero types are worth less than nothing. What interest do they serve, and what are we supposed to need them for?

Certainly not the interest of honesty, or truth, and it seems to me that in these times those are coins far rarer — and therefore far more dear — than the pompous deliveries of the cosseted clique of power-tripping politicians and professional blowhards, who have convinced themselves that their collective in-jokes, shibboleths and taboos constitute the public life of a nation. I don’t give much of a damn, in the end, whether or not King gets ritualistically name-checked by men and women who were or would have been his mortal enemies to make stentorian speeches supposedly on his behalf. What I give a damn about is what the man, for all his many faults, actually cared about, fought for, and died for: the struggle of ordinary men and women for their own freedom, which meant their struggle to defy, resist, or simply bypass the consolidated violence of the belligerent power-mongers and the worse-than-useless moderate hand-wringers who made their living peddling excuses, apologetics, and the endless counsel of wait, wait.

This, not public-school pageants and official national hero types, is what the vast majority of us, who get no profit from the fortunes of the political-intellectual complex and its pantheon, need:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.

… All the while the people read our leaflets and received the regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move on or be destroyed by our bombs.

So they go, primarily women and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the hospitals with at least twenty casualties from American firepower for one Vietcong-inflicted injury. So far we may have killed a million of them, mostly children. They wander into the towns and see thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers.

What do the peasants think as we ally ourselves with the landlords and as we refuse to put any action into our many words concerning land reform? What do they think as we test out our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe? Where are the roots of the independent Vietnam we claim to be building? Is it among these voiceless ones?

We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation’s only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the unified Buddhist Church. We have supported the enemies of the peasants of Saigon. We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men.

Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness. Soon the only solid physical foundations remaining will be found at our military bases and in the concrete of the concentration camps we call fortified hamlets. The peasants may well wonder if we plan to build our new Vietnam on such grounds as these. Could we blame them for such thoughts? We must speak for them and raise the questions they cannot raise. These, too, are our brothers.

… These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

… A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, This way of settling differences is not just. This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.

— Martin Luther King, Jr. (1967-04-04): Beyond Vietnam

And also this:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was well timed, according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the words Wait! It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This Wait has almost always meant Never. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that justice too long delayed is justice denied.

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet-like speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, Wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading white and colored; when your first name becomes nigger, your middle name becomes boy (however old you are) and your last name becomes John, and your wife and mother are never given the respected title Mrs.; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodiness; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that An unjust law is no law at all. … So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a more convenient season. Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is merely a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, where the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substance-filled positive peace, where all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. …

… You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of the extremist. … But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist for love — Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you. Was not Amos an extremist for justice — Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ — I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Was not Martin Luther an extremist — Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God. Was not John Bunyan an extremist — I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience. Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist — This nation cannot survive half slave and half free. Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist — We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice–or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

For anybody other than a self-appointed public intellectual, honest appraisal and serious engagement with the real life, virtues, foibles, questions, and struggles of a creative extremist like King are things more profound, more beautiful, more powerful, more passionate, and ultimately more useful than all the combined hagiographies and bed-time stories of the canonized saints of American theo-nationalism.

Further reading:

Politics by other means

This appeared in the March 2008 issue of Wired:

On the morning of October 27, 1969, a squadron of 18 B-52s — massive bombers with eight turbo engines and 185-foot wingspans — began racing from the western US toward the eastern border of the Soviet Union. The pilots flew for 18 hours without rest, hurtling toward their targets at more than 500 miles per hour. Each plane was loaded with nuclear weapons hundreds of times more powerful than the ones that had obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The B-52s, known as Stratofortresses, slowed only once, along the coast of Canada near the polar ice cap. Here, KC-135 planes — essentially 707s filled with jet fuel — carefully approached the bombers. They inched into place for a delicate in-flight connection, transferring thousands of gallons from aircraft to aircraft through a long, thin tube. One unfortunate shift in the wind, or twitch of the controls, and a plane filled with up to 150 tons of fuel could crash into a plane filled with nuclear ordnance.

The aircraft were pointed toward Moscow, but the real goal was to change the war in Vietnam. … Frustrated, Nixon decided to try something new: threaten the Soviet Union with a massive nuclear strike and make its leaders think he was crazy enough to go through with it. His hope was that the Soviets would be so frightened of events spinning out of control that they would strong-arm Hanoi, telling the North Vietnamese to start making concessions at the negotiating table or risk losing Soviet military support.

Codenamed Giant Lance, Nixon’s plan was the culmination of a strategy of premeditated madness he had developed with national security adviser Henry Kissinger. The details of this episode remained secret for 35 years and have never been fully told. Now, thanks to documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, it’s clear that Giant Lance was the leading example of what historians came to call the madman theory: Nixon’s notion that faked, finger-on-the-button rage could bring the Soviets to heel.

… Kissinger had suggested the nuclear maneuvers to give the president more leverage in negotiations. It was an articulation of the game theory he had studied before coming to power. What were [the Soviets] going to do? Kissinger said dismissively.

— Jeremi Suri, Wired 16.03 (March 2008): The Nukes of October

This is how the State and its exquisitely trained court intellectuals protect you: they steal your money; they use your stolen money to hire armed men who will keep you corralled inside an artificial border; on the basis of their arrogated power over everything inside border, they then throw themselves into ridiculous posturing and pissing contests with other States, over whose artificial borders should go where, over geopolitical prestige and influence, and over politicians’ dreams of a historical legacy; and then, in the name of their own pride, they commission their trained theoretical experts to devise a thermonuclear game of chicken to play for leverage in the Great Game. It was, after all, only the lives of a few hundreds of millions of ordinary people that were hanging in the balance; not like it was anything important compared to the personal honor of Richard Milhous Nixon, or a negotiated settlement that wouldn’t embarrass the United States federal government in front of all the other governments.

… On the most obvious level, the mission failed. It may have scared the Soviets, but it did not compel them to end their support for Hanoi, and the North Vietnamese certainly didn’t dash to Paris to beg for peace. … More than 35 years after Giant Lance, I asked Kissinger about it during a long lunch at the Four Seasons Grill in New York. Why, I asked, did they risk nuclear war back in October 1969? He paused over his salad, surprised that I knew so much about this episode, and measured his words carefully. Something had to be done, he explained, to back up threats the US had made and to push the Soviets for help in Vietnam.

No, it didn’t.

Bomb after bomb

Last weekend, CounterPunch featured Howard Zinn’s introduction to elin o’Hara slavick’s book of cartographic drawings of American aerial bombing, Bomb after Bomb. I agree with Mark Brady that this is one of the best things that Zinn has ever written. Some of the most important stuff in the essay has to do with patriotism, the conflation of the country with the State, and the criminality of aerial warfare as such. A sample:

We have had enough experience, with the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders, with the bombings carried out by the Allies, with the torture stories coming out of Iraq, to know that ordinary people with ordinary consciences will allow their instincts for decency to be overcome by the compulsion to obey authority. It is time therefore, to educate the coming generation in disobedience to authority, to help them understand that institutions like governments and corporations are cold to anything but self-interest, that the interests of powerful entities run counter to the interests of most people.

This clash of interest between governments and citizens is camouflaged by phrases that pretend that everyone in the nation has a common interest, and so wars are waged and bombs dropped for national security, national defense, and national interest.

Patriotism is defined as obedience to government, obscuring the difference between the government and the people. Thus, soldiers are led to believe that we are fighting for our country when in fact they are fighting for the government — an artificial entity different from the people of the country — and indeed are following policies dangerous to its own people.

My own reflections on my experiences as a bombardier, and my research on the wars of the United States have led me to certain conclusions about war and the dropping of bombs that accompany modern warfare.

One: The means of waging war (demolition bombs, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, nuclear weapons, napalm) have become so horrendous in their effects on human beings that no political end– however laudable, the existence of no enemy — however vicious, can justify war.

Two: The horrors of the means are certain, the achievement of the ends always uncertain.

Three: When you bomb a country ruled by a tyrant, you kill the victims of the tyrant.

Four: War poisons the soul of everyone who engages in it, so that the most ordinary of people become capable of terrible acts.

Five: Since the ratio of civilian deaths to military deaths in war has risen sharply with each subsequent war of the past century (10% civilian deaths in World War I, 50% in World War II, 70% in Vietnam, 80-90% in Afghanistan and Iraq) and since a significant percentage of these civilians are children, then war is inevitably a war against children.

Six: We cannot claim that there is a moral distinction between a government which bombs and kills innocent people and a terrorist organization which does the same. The argument is made that deaths in the first case are accidental, while in the second case they are deliberate. However, it does not matter that the pilot dropping the bombs does not intend to kill innocent people — that he does so is inevitable, for it is the nature of bombing to be indiscriminate. Even if the bombing equipment is so sophisticated that the pilot can target a house, a vehicle, there is never certainty about who is in the house or who is in the vehicle.

Seven: War, and the bombing that accompanies war, are the ultimate terrorism, for governments can command means of destruction on a far greater scale than any terrorist group.

These considerations lead me to conclude that if we care about human life, about justice, about the equal right of all children to exist, we must, in defiance of whatever we are told by those in authority, pledge ourselves to oppose all wars.

— Howard Zinn, Introduction to elin o’Hara slavick’s Bomb after Bomb

Read the whole thing.

(Via Mark Brady @ Liberty & Power 2007-12-15.)

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