Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hate War - Always - we must - part 6

(MG) I quote extensively from Daniel Ellsberg's 1972 Book Papers on the War. The final chapter of the book is entitled The Responsibilities of Officials In A Criminal War. As all readers of this blog (both of you) know, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has been a criminal enterprise from the start. Based on lies, our troops invaded a nation that had caused us no harm. These lies were transparent from the start. But the nation sat transfixed to the tube, watching with detached interest while the networks and cable news provided us with another video game war.

(MG) In fact, there were preemptive strikes AGAINST dissent to the war, with right-wing hate-talk radio (and cable TV) accusing dissidents of treason (which brings a death sentence upon those found guilty of it), or not supporting the troops, etc, et.

(MG) Had the invasion "turned out better", of course there would have been celebration in the streets. The non-existent weapons of mass destruction have been eliminated (except for the car bombs, of course), the evil dictatorial leader Saddam Hussein removed from power and executed, and "free and democratic" elections have been held. But Iraqis continue to do the things "insurgents" do - they resist the occupation. For this very reason, in other wars, people resiting occupiers were called "resistance fighters" or "underground".

(MG) Ellsberg's last chapter begins with quotes from Albert Spear's book, Inside The Third Reich.

... not to have tried to see through the whole apparatus of mystification--was already criminal. At this initial stage my guilt was as grave as, at the end, my work for Hitler. For being in a position to know and nevertheless shunning knowledge creates direct responsibility for the consequences--from the very beginning.

... In the final analysis I myself determined the degree of my isolation, the extremity of my evasions, and the extent of my ignorance ... Whether I knew or did not know, or how much or how little I knew, is totally unimportant when I consider what horrors I ought to have known about and what conclusions would have been natural ones to draw from the little I did know. Those who ask me are fundamentally expecting me to offer justifications. But I have none. No apologies are possible.

The ordinary party member was being taught that grand policy was much too complex for him to judge it. Consequently, one felt one was being represented, never called upon to take personal responsibility. The whole structure of the system was aimed at preventing conflicts of conscience from even arising.
(MG) These are rather remarkable ideas. Speer clearly has looked into the mirror and hated what he has seen. But he HAS faced the evil in himself, and he pleads - GUILTY as charged. Immediately following, Ellsberg offers quotes from Milton Mayer's book They Thought They Were Free.

"What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague of mine, a philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people: Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn't make people close to their government to be told that this is a people's government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

"What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people little by little to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the Government has to act on information which the people could not understand or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of
national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him made it easier to widen this gap, and reassure those who would otherwise have worried about it.

"This separation of government from the people, this widening of the gap took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms to)
so occupied the people they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of the Government growing remoter and remoter."

(MG) Ellsberg then begins the narrative, his remarks having first been made at a lecture given in Boston, 23 May, 1971.

I find myself ... thinking a great deal about Germany in the 1930's and 1940's. I have felt compelled ... to try to define the responsibilities of the citizens and officials of our country in terms related to the German experience; and I find myself doing this not as a Jew but as an American.

One of the first times I felt challenged in just this way was a little more than a year ago, when I was invited, in the spring of 1970, to a conference in Washington sponsored by ten Congressmen on the subject of "War Crimes and the American Conscience."

On the second day of the conference, I looked around a very large seminar table of participants ... and it came to me that I was the only person present who was a potential defendant in a war crimes trial ...

... How could it be that our country has for the last ten years--twenty years would be more accurate-- remained engaged in the brutality of our policies in Indochina? How could our leaders--honored and respectable men--have involved us so long in this hopeless butchery? How could we have let them, with so little protest?

... [these questions] deserve close attention. We are too likely to dismiss them just because they are painful, not because the answers are really obvious.

The Germans face a somewhat different question: "How could we have allowed such an obvious gang of criminals to rule over us for so long and to do the things they did?" They can reply to their own young people: "Well, it was the Nazis' criminal willingness to use terror against us--on their own people--that's the answer. We could do nothing except at the risk of our lives, we were prevented from knowing any of the truth by a totally censored press, etcetera."

But as Americans, we don't have so easy an explanation. To begin with, as Townsend Hoopes has pointed out, "It is well to remember that the advisers [of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson] were widely regarded when they entered government as among the ablest, the best informed, the most humane and liberal men who could be found for public trust. And that was a true assessment."

I must say that I think it's necessary to do what Townsend Hoopes does not do: to reexamine his judgment of these individuals--and of the Eastern Establishment from which they largely wre drawn, whose values and perspectives they truly represented--in the light of what we now know they have done over the last decade. But this reexamination will not give us the excuse that their values greatly differed from those of large parts of the population.

So the question remains: How could such respected, "humane, liberal" people--and through them, all of us--have beeninvolved in the burning of villages; herbicides; defoliation; torure; the creation of millions of refugees; air and ground invasions; and the dropping of over six million tons--six megatons, they would say at the Rand Corporation--of explosives from the air, and another six million tons of artillery shells, on the people of Indochina since 1965?


As my background indicates, I cannot view the question of the responsibility of officials from the perspective of someone who has held himself aloof from what the government was doing, much less of one who can say that he had opposed this war or seen through it from the beginning. On the contrary. So, rather than address the question as an outsider, I think it is better for me to do what a few Germans after the war were led to do. That is to think very hard--as Albert Speer put it to himself as he began his memoirs back in 1945--about how it could have taken me so long to see the wrongness of what we were doing, and to make some guesses about my colleagues and superiors in office.

I know of very few Americans as y et who have really confronted that question closely. And I think it is not too early to do so, even though the war is not over--because some of the officials now in office are as "liberal," as "humane," as any we've had in the past, with assistants as conscientious as I was helping them, and they are still continuing th war. Still keeping secrets well, still lying and killing. And I think they and others like them are likely to continue this for a long time, for many of the same reasons as in the past, unless we develop new standards both for them and for ourselves in our relation to them. So I will not wait for the others to do it; let me begin and ask myself how these things looked to me.

To go back to the question: "How could we ...?" I think the answer goes back in part to an event we all remember, in August, 1945. ... the month in which the United States ended a World War with an unprecedented act of genocide, unleashing the power of the sun on the people of Hiroshima.

I remember feeling, at fourteen, some uneasiness about one aspect of that event--the very evident lack of uneasiness in the announcement by our President, Harry Truman. I remember his voice on the radio as he announced in a euphoric tone the great technical achievement of the United States in using this power to save American lives and to end the war. Even then I had a feeling that this was as decision that would better have been made in anguish.

... the backgournd to that lack of anguish is known to all of us who lived through that war. Although the atom bomb did begin a new era in the technical capabilities of wiping out mankind, that event was not in itself totally unprecedented by the usual quantitative standards which we used, then as now, to measure such achievements: the body count. As a matter of fact, the atom bomb did not kill as many people as the fire raids on Tokyo, during a period of a day or two earlier that year. Those raids created a firestorm: people who took refusge in the canals were boiled alive; the asphalt in the street boiled; and the city of Tokyo was destroyed. And that holocaust had been preceded by similar ones: the firestorm in Dresden; the firestorm in Hamburg; and the raids which were comparably destructive on Cologne and Berlin.

These were things that we had been doing for several years. That period was an education process for the United States: it taught us that there were simply no limits to what was permissible for the United States President to order and carry out--without consulting Congress or the public--once he determined that the stakes were sufficiently high. We emerged from that education potentially a very dangerous nation.

There is an idea that fascinated Dostoevski's Ivan Karamazov: If God does not exist, then everything is permitted. In the four years after 1941, Americans learned: Hitler exists, therefore everything is permitted. There was no limit at all--we learned from our own actions--to what one could justifiably do against such an enemy: one who threatened our existence, who used deception and terror, who stopped at nothing--one who carried out actions each more terrible than the last. Even before we learned of the nearly complete destruction of the European Jews, we knew that twenty million Russians were dying in that war, and not in gas chambers. The Japanese, meanwhile, had attacked us directly. So it seemed very clear in fighting such enemies--in fighting for one's life--that secrecy, deception of the public along with the adversary, concentration of power in the Executive, mobilization of all resources, and the use of absolutely unlimited violence were all justified, even required.

Albert Speer tells us he has no doubt that if Hitler had been given the atom bomb, he would have used it against England. but we have no doubt what WE would have done with the atom bomb, since we did get it, and used it.

All of this created a supreme experience for many Americans, but particularly for officials close to the President. Their role had come to seem absolutely central in the world. ... The role of Congress ... is much diminshed, and so is that of the courts and of the press. War is the health of the Presidency, and of the departments and agencies that serve it, the Executive branch. In no other circumstances can the President and his officials wield such unchallenged power, feel such responsibility and such awful freedom.

So what we learned--especially members of the Executive--in those four years from 1941 to 1945 was how exhilarating, in a certain sense, it was to have an opponent like Hitler, if one were to have an opponent at all. And we have not lacked for opponents, in the thirty years since 1941, as our officials took on what they perceived to be the challenge and responsibilities of leading half the world.

But in the last quarter of a century, Hitler has not existed, so it has been necessary to invent him. And we have invented Hitlers again and again. Stalin made a plausible one; Mao, somewhat less so. Even Fidel Castro. Ho Chi Minh, Nasser, and other nationalist leaders of obstreperous former colonies have taken on the guise of Hitler in the eyes of various Western powers seeking to maintain their rule, however exaggerated the image may have seemed to their own allies. Thus, Eisenhower, hoping to keep the French fighting in 1954 by united U.S./U.K. support, suggested to Churchill that the challenge posed by Ho Chi Minh at Dien Bien Phu--for example, to British interest in Malaya--was equivalent to that of Hitler in the Rhineland or at Munich.

If I may refer again to history' we failed to halt Hirohito, Mussolini, and Hitler by not acting in unity and in time. That marked the beginning of many years of start tragedy and desperate peril. May it not be that our nations have learned something from that lesson? ...

Eden and Churchill--men of some authority on the dangers of "appeasement"--refused to rise to this rather blatant appeal to their own past. Eden deprecated Dulles' warnings of Ho's military and expansionist potential and rejected, almost curtly, both the analogy and linkage of the security of French interest in Indochina to those of the British in Malaya: "French cannot lose the war between now and the coming of the rainy season however badly they may conduct it"; Referring to the rest of Southeast Asia, [Eden] said the British were confident that they had the situation in Malaya in hand ... He said there was no parallel between Indochina and Malaya ... Eden said there was obviously a difference in the United States and the United Kingdom estimates and thinking ..."

John Foster Dulles was so offended by their skepticism that diplomatic relations were strained. But only two years later, Eden convinced himself that the destruction of Port Said from the air and the invasion of the Canal Zone were required and justified because he was fighting an Arab Hitler in Nasser. Surely, from the perspective of the Israelis threatened by Nasser, the analogy was not far-fatched at all. But that was scarcely the perspective of the British, concerned about the loss of imperial control of the Suez Canal, or of the French, concerned about imperial control of Algeria.


Even earlier, I had come to believe substantially all the Cold War premises, which linked nearly every "crisis" ultimately to our confrontation with the Soviet Union, and identified that with the challenge we had faced before and during World War II. If I accepted then an official American interpretation of events that now seems, at best, ideological and misleading, it was not because I had grown up as a conservative. ... Nor had my thinking been influenced by Senator McCarthy. But what McCarthy and his fellow thugs were exploiting, in fact, was in part a credibility gap that had opened on the Left in those same years.

Just as conservatives had lost both credit and confidence in the Depression, and "isolationists" likewise with Pearl Harbor--tow developments that weakened Congress in its later relations with the Executive--much of the Left suffered similarly in the late forties from reflexes that led to an implausible and apologetic stand with respect to Stalin's actions. My own political awareness did not begin much before the Truman Doctrine ... and as I read the news in subsequent years of Czechoslovakia, the Berlin blockade, political trials, Korea, and uprisings in East Europe, official U.S. Government interpretations simply came, increasingly, to seem more plausible and reliable than those of "radical" critics who defended Soviet foreign policy. (I wish now that the range of available interpretations in those days had been broader--allowing for great skepticism toward both sides ...)