No. 257, Dec.18-24, 2003

SECCIÓN EN ESPAÑOL

CULTURE





To read an article, click on the headline.

Vietnam’s lingering voice

Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs

Global systems selling out indigenous

Of Senators and Framers

 



Vietnam’s lingering voice

By Kim Phillips-Fein

Dec. 11 — Near the end of the Vietnam War, as the antiwar movement roiled domestic politics and the Viet Cong showed no signs of giving in, a group of black soldiers formed an underground society named the Mau-Maus, in reference to a 19th-century uprising against the British in Kenya. Other soldiers, at about the same time, put up posters at Army bases reading, “Don’t Do What They Tell You, Tell What They Do,” and went on “search-and-avoid” missions — told where the enemy was, they’d march in the opposite direction. In 1971, for the Fourth of July, soldiers at one base held a peace rally, calling for “immediate and total American troop withdrawal.”

These were only a few signs of an army in revolt and a foreign policy in collapse.

At home, Nixon composed his infamous list of political enemies, and used federal agencies to harass them. The “Plumbers,” his secret agents, broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to find documents that might be used to smear him after he released the Pentagon Papers. Vietnam veterans threw away their medals in front of the White House. Early in the morning before an antiwar demonstration on the Washington Mall, Nixon wandered down without Secret Service men in attendance, and gave a rambling speech to the college-age protesters, telling them to travel and see the world.

Such stories of Vietnam-era unraveling — and many more — can be found in Christian Appy’s Patriots: An Oral History of the Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides. Appy has interviewed soldiers, generals, North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, antiwar protestors, politicians, Cold Warriors, artists, poets, flight attendants, conscientious objectors, draft dodgers and more. Juxtaposing the narratives of the men who planned the war with those who fought in and against it, the deepest theme of Appy’s book is the self-deception and moral blindness of American leaders, and their inability to justify the war — to American soldiers, to the general public, even to themselves.

The Vietnam War, Appy suggests, was the first war fought by a major global power against a Third World country after the decline of the old European empires, in a world irrevocably shaped by the Cuban Revolution and by nationalist movements in India and Africa, in which the desire of one country to control the politics of another was no longer an adequate justification for war. What’s more, many of the working-class and black Americans who were drafted to fight in Vietnam were not persuaded by the anti-communist arguments of the State and Defense Departments. They did not see how the peasant country could possibly pose a threat to the United States, and they certainly didn’t find a people asking to be liberated.

Patriots demonstrates that the anti-Communist theories of the war’s architects blinded them to the real nature of the war in Vietnam, its horrific violence and the fact that it would not be winnable. Paul Kattenberg, a Vietnam specialist in the ’50s, tells of attending a National Security Council meeting in 1963: “What struck me more than anything else was just the abysmal ignorance around the table of the particular facts of Vietnam, their ignorance of the actual place. They didn’t know what they were talking about. It was robot thinking about Vietnam and no distinctions were being made.” James Thompson, who served as an adviser to McGeorge Bundy in the early ’60s, tells of authorizing “armed reconnaissance” missions without knowing what they were: “Armed reconnaissance planes basically flew up and down both halves of Vietnam and over Laos, taking pictures and shooting at anything they wanted to. Many months later I realized I was authorizing quite a bit of killing with no knowledge of what it was all about and it staggered me.”

Morton Halperin, a deputy assistant secretary of defense under Johnson, refused even to have a map of Vietnam in his office until the Tet Offensive. “People would come in and they’d start to tell me something about the Mekong Delta or the Ho Chi Minh Trail and they would say, ‘Where’s your map of Vietnam?’ I’d say, ‘Use that map.’ Half of them couldn’t find Vietnam on the world map and the other half would say, ‘Vietnam is too small on this map to show you what I want to show you.’ I would look at them and say, ‘That’s the point!’”

Only planners possessed by illusions and contempt could have sought to win the support of a people they were in the midst of bombing (the overwhelming majority — 75 percent — of American bombs fell on South Vietnam). The US military strategy sought to break the will of the Vietnamese communists, not by seizing territory but by killing as many people as possible. One adviser remembers Kissinger saying, “Every country, like every human being, has a breaking point, Vietnam included.” Yet while pursuing an inhumane strategy that could lead all too easily to the massacre of noncombatants, the Americans were supposed to be protecting the Vietnamese from the cruelties of Communism.

Almost every page in Appy’s book reveals a different contradiction in US policy: Hospitals bombed instead of military installations; starvation in the strategic hamlets that were supposed to be incubators of support for the South Vietnamese government; battles waged along with supposed Vietnamese allies who turned out to be double agents. In one particularly dubious psychological-warfare operation, peasants were kidnapped and taken to an outpost of a fake Northern resistance movement, named the Sacred Sword of the Patriot League, where they were given propaganda and food and sent back to their villages. The program was never shown to have any positive results.

Many American soldiers found themselves incapable of tolerating the war’s inhumanity, and the army was collapsing by the war’s end. One journalist who lived in Vietnam in the early ’70s says, “When I hear people say we could have won the war, I always think: Where were you going to get the soldiers?” Yet while the American soldiers served one-year tours of duty, punctuated by rest-and-recuperation debauchery, often spending time in rear-area bases with televisions, slot machines, beer, hot showers and warm meals, the North Vietnamese soldiers endured vast deprivation, living in the jungle for years on end, with scant food, sickness, exhaustion and a death rate nearly 20 times that of the Americans. Why were they able to tolerate such conditions, where American soldiers crumbled under much less?

Appy suggests that the basic difference was that North Vietnamese soldiers understood themselves as fighting a political war against an occupying power.

North Vietnamese strategy, therefore, involved building support for resistance to the Americans (and before them, the French) throughout Vietnamese society. For example, Vo Nguyen Giap, a leader of the anti-colonial struggle against the French and a general in the American War (as it is called in Vietnam), remembers Ho Chi Minh telling him that as long as they had the support of the peasantry, weaponry was unimportant. Artists, entertainers, actors, singers and musicians traveled with the North Vietnamese troops.

At the same time, the North Vietnamese military planners made a deep effort (perhaps not always successful) to identify with America’s revolutionary tradition, and to blame the planners of the war, not the grunts. According to Appy’s sources, North Vietnamese soldiers read American literature, carrying books by US authors among the few items in their rucksacks. In short, the North Vietnamese army endured because it sought to give its soldiers a sense of being participants in a deep struggle against injustice, arbitrary power and violence.

It is impossible to read Patriots without thinking of the ongoing war in Iraq. Despite obvious differences , no force in Iraq is comparable to the Viet Cong and Saddam Hussein was no Ho Chi Min, there are deep similarities in the American position. The war, after all, was supposed to vanquish the “Vietnam syndrome.”

But can it? Once again the United States has entered a war on false pretenses with little knowledge of the history, culture or even language of the invaded country. American leaders now, as during the Vietnam War, seek political support among a people they just bombed, seeking to win the “hearts and minds” of Iraqis after killing 8,000 to 10,000 civilians. The soldiers, once more, are working-class men and women, many of color, quite a few of whom seem already to harbor grave doubts about the war they have been sent to fight.

The similarities may run deeper still. No matter what military superiority the United States may possess, it is not so easy to win a war. The Vietnam War was possible, in the end, because the people leading the United States were motivated by a criminal, casual sense that the world was theirs to rule. Yet as Patriots shows, they were mistaken. Ideology and politics matter in fighting wars, and a war justified by lies is unlikely to be a war that people will want to — or prove able to — fight for long.

Source: In These Times


Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs

By the Curious George Brigade, Mosinee, WI, 2003, 154pp, $6.

Review by John Brinker and Egg Syntax

For a few years, the CrimethInc. collective has been willfully monkeying around with our assumptions about anarchism. Most recently, the CrimethInc. mantle has been taken up by a collective calling itself the Curious George Brigade. With Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs (AAD), the Brigade romps on the jungle gym of anarchism with an innocence both inspiring and exasperating.

Big-hearted and rough-around-the-edges, AAD reads like a compilation of late-night journal entries: inspired, rambling, and alternating between profound and hokey. Its central metaphor is that anarchists — small, warm-blooded creatures — are poised to inherit the Earth after the inevitable fall of pleistocene capitalism. Are our values so natural and good that they will effortlessly replace the old order? Perhaps some anarchists share this conceit with other left-liberal ideologues.

The Curious George Brigade doesn’t really believe in that old teleology, though; they just like to toss ideas around. Past all the tangents and feints, a shape begins to emerge. The real mission is never admitted but implied everywhere: the book is a ragged and eloquent apology for lifestyle anarchism.

The Brigadiers defend the idea that anarchism should be a philosophy of living, rather than political ideology or organizational platform. This idea is still provocative because it threatens to sever anarchism’s connection to the thread of Enlightenment thinking, away from the Berkmans and Bakunins, away from the Paris Commune and the Spanish Civil war — away from historical touchstones.

The authors want to see modern anarchism join the flux of what they call Folk Anarchy. Not a faction, splinter group, or rebellion against another tendency, their magpie approach promotes anarchy as culture, as a lived reality, from Peruvian shantytowns to nodes in the North American “traveler kid” scene. It’s a rhizomatic anarchy that pops up everywhere in new guises, adapts to different cultural climates, and still retains its essential character.

In a book filled with hip jargon, Folk Anarchy may be the one term from AAD that we still might be discussing ten years from now. The authors’ favorite trick is to unearth some dialectic embedded in modern anarchist debate and then rhetorically transcend it by inventing some third category that makes a compromise or reframes the argument. So, taking a cue from Erich Fromm, they find a tension between duty and joy and supercede its meaning. Instead of anarcho-purity, we should be practicing anarcho-pride, and so on.

The worst thing that CrimethInc. has inherited from the anarchist writing of the past 30 years is a love for the rhapsodic power of the word over the ability to communicate. At its worst, <i>AAD</i> slides into early-1990s fluff as in the chapter heading: Surfing the Fractal Waves of Revolution. That kind of stuff isnít even printed on rave fliers anymore! Elsewhere, they play the old CrimethInc. trick of misattributing and detourning quotes, subverting the reader’s attempts to situate ideas in the framework of Western philosophy. While their disrespect for intellectual property is admirable, this practice can come off as flippantly avoiding attribution of sources.

Confounding our notions of what a book should be, AAD’s various chapters sketch out ideas in a ëzine style. With its tentative quality, this book is consistent with all the ideas that make CrimethInc. projects so vital and challenging. AAD deals briefly with many of the hot topics in anarchist circles today, like consensus decision-making and race in anarchism. New areas of interest, like ‘heroic communities’ mutiny, intentional inefficiency, and the Third World city make brief appearances in AAD.

A section on the shantytown as a model for the anarchist city is both inspiring and a little off base. The authors demonstrate why the shantytown is the apotheosis of anarchist living: robust public space, ownership-by-use, a functioning gift economy. Yet they simultaneously run the risk of over-romanticizing and minimizing the crippling poverty, squalor, and political disempowerment that many residents of these communities face.

The essay on inefficiency is, in some ways, the heart of AAD. For good reasons, some will never accept the kind of challenge that the Curious George Brigade mounts against bedrock Western values. But this essay is in many ways the best recent distillation of the zero-work philosophy as applied to collective organizing. While refraining from dogmatic prescriptions or lists of banned tools and activities, the authors challenge us to imagine new ways of valuing our time.

Like the Tin Man, North American anarchism seems at times to be missing a crucial organ. Perhaps CrimethInc. is our Wizard, placing a softly beating heart into all of our cold constructions. Who cares if the Wizard is bogus, so long as his gifts have the desired effect? AAD is a book that feels better than it thinks, but it looks you in the eye and dares you to start up a conversation with it. And we’d be missing out if we turned down the offer.

Source: Fifth Estate

Global systems selling out indigenous

By Marty Logan

Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 12 (IPS) — In one part of the northern Philippines, the naming of a child begins with a history “lesson.”

Two weeks after he or she is born, village elders gather to select a name, a process that includes narrating the history of each family member, explains Minnie Degawan of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance.

Sharing that knowledge is a way to place the burden of responsibility for raising the child — according to the qualities of his or her namesake — on both the child’s parents and the entire village.

“This is one example of how our community can speak knowledge,” says Degawan. And it is knowledge with responsibility, she asserts, much different from the information that today’s “wired” citizens can passively take from the Internet and other information and communications technologies (ICTs).

Today, that culture of knowledge and responsibility is threatened by attempts to commodify symbols and other traditional knowledge (TK), Degawan and other speakers told the Global Forum on Indigenous Peoples and the Information Society at the World Summit on the Information Society, which closed Friday in Geneva.

And the global copyright system designed to protect intellectual property does not help indigenous peoples, they added.

Much of Inuit culture was historically protected by customary law, said Violet Ford, a vice president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, which represents 155,000 Inuit people in Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia.

“Now it is in the ‘public domain’,” and governments say it does not require protection, she added.

Symbols such as the Inuit kayak, amauti (traditional women’s coat) and Inukshuk (a pile of rocks used as a navigation marker) have been copied and used to sell myriad products. The Inukshuk, for example, now adorns the box of a product used to combat erectile dysfunction, said Ford.

But while the copyright system does not accept the concept of a group registering its traditional knowledge, more than 100 individuals and companies in Canada alone have applied for a copyright on the Inukshuk, she added.

“Without protection, Inuit culture will continue to be sought after as a commodity — devalued and minimized.”

Indigenous peoples have long called for nations to establish ‘sui generis’, new and unique national systems to protect their traditional knowledge, but have made little headway.

The bodies that regulate copyright, including the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), are suggesting other solutions, including that indigenous peoples enter into contracts with those who wish to use their cultural symbols and other knowledge.

Violet Ford says that path is full of obstacles, particularly because many indigenous groups do not have much experience in contract law and would be at a disadvantage in negotiations.

“The current position of the Inuit is to work globally (to reform the copyright system) via WIPO,” she added.

A WIPO official says some indigenous groups have successfully completed contracts that protect their traditional knowledge.

“The point is to work out what elements of your culture are likely to be misused,” says Tony Taubman, head of WIPO’s traditional knowledge division.

“Often it’s the well-meaning academic researcher (who misuses TK). They see this as information in the public domain and want to report on it as an academic (exercise),” he added in an interview.

Taubman says he recognizes that indigenous peoples are debating whether they should work within the existing system of copyright protection or insist on creating something unique, and that WIPO must do more to reach out to them to try and resolve the issue, as long as they are willing to cooperate.

Degawan is sure that she does not want to adhere to that system. For one, it would ”crystallise” her culture.

“Knowledge is not something that you own but is something that is developed over the ages, through practice — you have to share it because if you don’t share it, it becomes static.”

“We need to inform the WIPO that what they have may be appropriate for them à but it is not appropriate for my culture,” Degawan added.

Of Senators and Framers

By John R. MacArthur

Dec. 5 -- The cramped gift shop on the Senate side of the US Capitol sells only one book by a serving senator—a slim, red volume misleadingly titled The Senate of the Roman Republic. Misleading because its author, US Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, composed it not as straightforward history but as a cautionary tale about the death of the Roman republic, a story of self-inflicted decline intended by Byrd to galvanize Americans into defending their constitutional treasures.

Byrd’s book (14 bound speeches) is urgently worth reading. But if, at the end of his funeral oration for Roman self-government, the interested citizen remains unmoved, unconvinced that the American republic is threatened by incipient tyranny, he might be fortunate enough to be persuaded in person by the 86-year-old Democrat in his spacious Capitol office. Which is where I found Byrd in late October, fresh from another in a yearlong series of utterly remarkable speeches denouncing the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq and an ongoing “policy based largely on propaganda, hype and prevarication.”

Addressing his colleagues on October 17, Byrd outdid himself rhetorically — and came as close to losing his temper as his deeply engrained courtliness will permit. Railing against the $87 billion supplemental appropriations bill for occupation and “reconstruction” in Iraq, the dean of the Senate reprised the fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” to illustrate how the country was marched into war by a Praetorian guard of confidence men egged on by a president’s vanity — and how the con game persists.

“We were frightened with visions of mushroom clouds, but they turned out to be only vapors of the mind,” Byrd thundered. “We were told that major combat was over, but 101 [over 400 as of Dec. 17] Americans have died in combat since that proclamation from the deck of an aircraft carrier by our very own emperor in his new clothes. Our emperor says that we are not occupiers, yet we show no inclination to relinquish the country of Iraq to its people.”

Byrd has been speaking since September last year to a largely empty chamber, ignored by his war-fevered Republican colleagues and most of his “sheep-like” Democratic ones, as well as their handmaidens in the media. But this time his scathing eloquence hit home, provoking a rejoinder, at once nasty and ignorant, from Sen. Ted Stevens, Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

“Think of the young men and women in Iraq … They get [your speech] on C-SPAN,” Stevens growled. “Think of what they are thinking when a senator says they are over there because of a falsehood, because the president of United States lied. … Those who vote against this bill will be voting against supporting our men and women in the field.” Unsurprisingly, Stevens expressed child-like faith in the president’s fairy tale. Unsurprisingly, Byrd took umbrage at such a “canard.”

“Let the record not stand with the senator’s words … that those who vote against this bill are voting against the troops,” Byrd replied. “I defy that statement … and hurl it back into the teeth of the senator from Alaska. … There are millions of people out there … there are many men and women in Iraq who believe that we who vote against this bill today speak for them. … Yes, I voted against sending troops into Iraq. Yes, I am one of the 23. And if I had it to do over again, I would vote the same way again—10 times, 10 times a hundred against this doctrine of preemptive strikes. Fie on that doctrine! Fie on it!”

This time the senior senator from West Virginia was one of 12 to vote no. Two weeks later, on November. 3, when the final version of the appropriation came to a voice vote, Byrd’s was the only audible dissent heard in the Senate chamber. Classical to the end, he termed the bill’s passage a “pyrrhic victory” for the administration.

A more sedate Byrd received me, but the anger still smoldered. The Senate “lost its way” when it passed the war authorization bill on October 11, 2002, in direct contravention of the intent of the “forefathers.” S.J. Res. 46, as Byrd still refers to it, was unconstitutional because it handed over Congress’ war-declaring power to the president, who henceforth became war legislator and war commander. “[This] pernicious doctrine of preemption cannot be constitutional because the framers thought it was wise to put the making of war and the declaring of war in different hands,” he said. “Therefore, they put the power to declare war … in the Congress, so that such a momentous decision could not be by one man but by many. We placed the declaring of war in the hands of one individual. Out of 275 million, one man was to declare war. … The lives of untold thousands men and women were placed in that one man’s hands. The framers would have been really disturbed if they’d have been here.”

And they would have been horrified by the Senate’s decline as an institution. The passage of S.J. Res. 46 “represented more than just intimidation and fear of reprisal at the polls,” he said. Senators had “lost this quality of pride and dedication, to something that’s higher than politics, than Bush being elected and re-elected, the higher goal of service to the nation, the recognition of the Senate’s place [as] the bedrock of the constitutional system.”

By contrast, “Roman senators served without pay. They believed that service to the state was of the highest order” and they were deeply proud to be Roman citizens. Today’s US senators are no longer grounded in the classics of Greek and Roman literature, or even the Federalist Papers, and thus lack “a deeper feel of what makes the senator in the Senate.”

“They’re very bright, well read as to current events,” Byrd said of the younger generation. “And they’re quick on their toes — they come up with the 10-second sound bytes, whereas, it takes me several minutes to say howdy. I try to think before I speak.”

Along with reflection, civility has declined. When the unprepossessing Byrd was sworn in to the “more genteel” Senate of 1959, “there was not so much the partisan bitterness, not so much the fighting, the slash and burn that you find today. Those senators were here because they wanted to be senators, not because they wanted to be president.”

And they took more seriously the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to debate (at length) and amend (at will) bills sent up from the House of Representatives. Byrd was outraged that the war resolution passed, not only with so little discussion but lacking a sunset provision that would have forced Bush to return to Congress for re-authorization. Byrd’s 12-month sunset amendment garnered 31 votes: “That was absolutely amazing that senators, especially Democratic senators, would vote against sun setting the provision. I think [they] were intimidated by the false cry of being seen as unpatriotic.”

Byrd understands the danger of open-ended war resolutions. Having been mislead into voting for Lyndon Johnson’s fraudulent Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, he wasn’t going to be fooled again. S.J. Res. 46 was even worse, he said, because the Tonkin Gulf authorization specified Congress’ right to terminate military action.

In all this fawning deference to Bush, Byrd sees “a kind of subliminal hero worship or feeling that the White House and the occupant thereof are clothed with the vestigial remnants of royalty.” To Byrd, “the president is just another hired hand, like I am.” Under the Constitution, “the Senate can send him packing, but the president cannot send the senators packing.”

That’s just what the tyrants Julius Caesar and Mark Antony did to the Roman Senate. And if the fall of republican Rome is any guide, then the American republic is in grave danger.

It’s no coincidence that Byrd’s rhetorical tour de force on Iraq bears a strong resemblance to the speeches of Cicero, who also viewed himself as the principal defender of the Senate as institutional bulwark against a military usurper. Eight days before Caesar crossed the Rubicon, Antony, as tribune, vetoed a proposal to declare Caesar a public enemy if he refused to disband his army. “You rejected all efforts to open negotiations with you about upholding the authority of the House,” Cicero wrote in the most famous of his Philippics against Antony. “Yet the matter at stake was nothing less than your itch to plunge the whole country into anarchy and desolation. … You, Antony, were the man who provided the pretext for this most catastrophic of wars.”

“Vote to save your country,” Byrd exhorted his colleagues when he clashed with Stevens. “No commander in chief brought me here, and no commander in chief is going to send me home. My first and last stand by which I live and by which I hope to die is this Constitution of the United States.”

Antony had Cicero murdered for his defiance. Byrd and his ilk are being killed by silence.

John R. MacArthur is the publisher of Harper’s Magazine and author, most recently, of The Selling of Free Trade.

Source: In These Times