Roger’s note: The other 9/11. Another case of U.S. imperial, militaristic, CIA lead murderous intervention in Latin America, a tradition that goes back to the Monroe Doctrine and continues today most blatantly in Venezuela, Colombia and Honduras (with the wilful support of Obama and the enthusiastic support of Hillary Clinton).
Today is the 41st anniversary of Chile’s 9/11, when Pinochet and his CIA-backed military junta overthrew Salvador Allende, Latin America’s first democratically elected Socialist leader, and began a 17-year reign of terror. Marking “a milestone” in the tragic story of their most famous and beloved victim, Chilean officials last week announced the arrest of three more former army officers in the murder of poet and songwriter Victor Jara, who was arrested soon after the coup with over 5,000 others and held, beaten and tortured for days; had his hands broken; and valiantly tried to sing the iconic Allende hymn “Venceremos” before being cut down by 44 Fascist bullets on September 16. Thanks in part to his indefatigable widow Joan’s decades-long fight for justice for Jara, the three officers join eight others charged in 2012. Another 700 military officials still await trial; the Jara family have also filed a civil lawsuit against another former officer now living in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, given newly revealed documents showing that President Reagan considered making Pinochet “a guest of our government” with an offer of political asylum, there’s been no move toward extradiction. In Chile, meanwhile, Jara remains a much-mourned hero and powerful symbol of freedom. Thousands attended a moving 2009 funeral for him when he was publicly re-buried, and the stadium where he died, now a sports venue and Chile’s largest homeless shelter, bears his name. A plaque there marks his death and that of so many others with a few wrenching, hopeful lines from the last thing he wrote. More in tribute here and here.
Sixty-nine years ago last week, a slender woman named Tomiko Shoji was struck and sent aloft by a bright white light. She’d just arrived at her secretarial job, at a tobacco factory, and was standing by the door when the flash occurred; the light’s source had a nickname, Little Boy, but it meant nothing to her at the time. She flew backward under the crushing force of the office door, passed out, and awoke with shards of glass in her head and an expanse of bodies around her—some dead, some alive but dazed, and many more, she soon found, floating “like charcoal” in nearby rivers. The nineteen-year-old climbed up and out of the shell of her younger self; she had survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Nearly seven decades later, Keni Sabath, Shoji’s youngest granddaughter, started to wonder: Had the bombing’s aftermath reshaped not just the psyche of her bachan (grandmother) but also, in ways both culturally and historically particular, her own?
In recent years, a public-health hypothesis has emerged that one of the world’s most poorly understood pandemics isn’t a conventional virus—like H1N1, say, or some hemorrhagic fever. This hypothesis suggests that untended wartime trauma can move vertically and horizontally through individuals and families, morphing across years, decades, or even centuries. Sabath began considering the prospect as early as high school, after certain overpowering symptoms emerged on a family visit to Hiroshima when she was six. It was Sabath who had arranged for me to visit her bachan at her aunt’s home in Hilliard, Ohio, where Shoji agreed to share her first full account of the bombing and the family mysteries that followed.
* * *
On my way to Hilliard, I carried my copy of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima.” (My 1989 edition bears the cover endorsement “Everyone able to read should read it,” and I agree.) Its text first appeared as an entire issue of this magazine, on the one-year anniversary of the bombing, and followed the fates of six civilians in the aftermath. Even now, on a more distant anniversary, Hersey’s granular rendering gives an urgency to these stories: of a young clerk, Shoji’s age, who found herself crushed beneath a pile of books; of a Methodist pastor who charged his way back into the city to help, passing victims whose eyebrows had been singed off and women with the flower patterns of kimonos burned into their skin.
As I entered Shoji’s home, on a quiet cul-de-sac, she swept my hand into hers and pressed her cool forehead against mine by way of welcome. Her eldest daughter, Minori, gave me a pair of slippers to wear inside; as the three of us shuffled into the kitchen, where fresh berries and tea cakes awaited, we paused to examine photographs of the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, the same pastor who weaves his way through Hersey’s narrative, and who also, apparently, stood at the center of Shoji’s. She first came across him preaching in an open-air bazaar in Hiroshima not long after the bombing; he gave her a piece of paper with information about his church, and she soon converted to Christianity. (He later baptized her grandson, Isao, who served as my translator well into the early evening.) Some of the first words Shoji spoke to me in Japanese were about the Reverend: “He would say, ‘Tomiko, why don’t we go all over the world together and tell them of our experiences with the bomb?’ ”
Tanimoto made a second career out of his own suggestion; on the fortieth anniversary of the bombing, Hersey wrote a follow-up story for the magazine, “Hiroshima: The Aftermath,” in which he described the pastor’s extensive U.S. speaking tour to promote peace. But Shoji wasn’t ready to speak freely at the time. This past July, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped Little Boy, died in Stone Mountain, Georgia, having given many interviews. By then, Shoji had made up her mind that, in her eighty-eighth year, she would share her own account of what happened on the other side of the bomb. So we began right there, with the flash.
* * *
“Radiation! Heat! The wind from the bomb!” When Shoji began to describe her recollections from August 6, 1945, she took on a staccato pattern of speech, gesticulating rapidly. A tiny woman with pixie-gray hair and a sweet, flushed face, she slapped her small hands together and pummelled her head with pinched fingers, as if to imitate flying debris from the blast. At one point, she pretended to fling burned skin across the room like zucchini peels. Then she closed her eyes and went into a deep repose, resurfacing with a sudden phrase: “I’m scared to meet people,” she said, speaking in the present tense of her teen-age self, who might also be herself at eighty-eight. “Something could just blow up. I’ve seen it before.”
On the morning of the bombing—it was 8:15, the start of the workday—Shoji recalls briefly losing consciousness at the Bureau of Tobacco. “When I got up, I ran down to the first floor, down to the bomb shelter,” she said. “All over was smoke; the entire city was covered with smoke. I saw people coming across the bridge just completely black—covered by blood, coming towards us. … The whole city was a sea of fire. And then, at night, it rained black rain.”
Collecting herself, she began walking with colleagues across the city’s many bridges, toward the sea. She caught a train in Hiroshima’s west hoping to find her sister, to no avail; en route were whole trolley cars that had been blown off their tracks, filled with singed corpses. After spending the night, she returned home to find a note from the same sister, which read, “You can find me at the school.” The two stayed in the school turned shelter for some time thereafter, living in a true dystopia. “There were tens of thousands of flies from the dead bodies,” she recalled. “Our greetings to each other became: are you having diarrhea?”
For all those who perished in the bombing, many more survived, day by day. Only later would some, like Shoji, come to discover that the most devastating aftereffects were like ghosts: coming and going on a whim, wreaking forms of havoc often incomprehensible to outsiders and, sometimes, even to those who suffered it.
* * *
I’d always assumed, in ignorance, that to survive the atomic bomb—to be ahibakusha, or “explosion-affected person”—was to have conferred upon you a certain esteem or deference, not unlike that afforded to the bearer of a Purple Heart. Shoji’s family wasted no time correcting me. To be a hibakusha, they explained, was not an honorific but a source of shame, a secret to be closely held. Even grandchildren have often feared telling romantic partners of their grandparents’ experience, worried that their genetic material would be perceived as spoiled goods.
Eventually, Shoji’s family planned for her to enter an arranged marriage with a prominent policeman in Taiwan, where she relocated in her early twenties. They kept her hibakusha status hushed, and refused to allow the two to talk before the ceremony, so as to better seal the secret. “My hands were shaking, holding my bouquet,” Shoji recalled. When her husband learned the news afterward, he spiralled into a rage that never lifted. For the rest of the marriage, Shoji’s daughter Minori said, “He felt he’d been cheated.”
The next several decades brought a parade of physical ailments that were easily traceable to the bomb: Shoji’s eyes and ears gave up early; her insides felt perpetually cold; her teeth fell out, requiring dentures in her forties. But perhaps most debilitating were the psychological symptoms that she didn’t think she could attribute to the radiation. “For thirty or forty years, I was so afraid of thunder and lightening,” she told me, as one of many examples. “It would just crush me. I just lost control.” Raising four daughters was a challenge of another scale. “Nobody understood me; I was like a beggar,” she said, recalling that when her children were young she faced almost daily bouts of overwhelming panic. At night, in dreams, she shouted, “The Earth—the Earth is going to fall!” “At the time, I didn’t know what was affecting me so badly,” Shoji said. “I couldn’t talk about it. Even before I opened my mouth, I would collapse with fear.”
Minori chimed in, gently stroking her mother’s shoulder: “When we would go into her bedroom in the morning, we would see her get so angry—she would throw things. When we were young, I never saw her laugh—she was quiet, and weak.” Back then, neither Shoji nor her children spoke openly about this behavior as tied to the bomb. Remarkably, Shoji says that the idea didn’t come easily to her. She was unfamiliar with the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder, or shell shock, or its classic presentation (nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance); these traits seemed unrelated to her experience. “Every year I have these crazy episodes—my family is so good to me, but I have these outbursts, these moments when I lose control,” she said. Years ago, she insists, it all seemed completely inexplicable.
Still, somewhere within her, she began to trace a clear line between her inner state and the events of her nineteenth year. “After I go married, the family would yell at me, and even when I’m beaten, I can’t respond, and I don’t know why. But deep inside, I remember, oh, that’s what it is: the bomb, the aftereffects of the bomb. It’s worse than the day of the bomb.”
* * *
Shoji’s granddaughter Keni Sabath grew up in Hawaii and Texas, the child of a New Jersey-born Navy JAG officer and a fashionable Taiwan-born language tutor. Like her older sister Zena, Keni often spent her days with her bachan, who lived in their home for years before joining Keni’s aunt Minori in Ohio. In the summers, the family would travel back to Japan. “I first became aware of my grandmother’s experience in a very disturbing way, when I was six years old,” Keni Sabath told me after my Ohio visit. “I went to the Peace Park in Hiroshima with my grandmother and my mom. We walked by the river and my mom would translate, ‘This river here was turned into a blood river, and people would jump into it and their skin would burn off.’ ” The family proceeded to the local memorial museum, where life-size wax statues depicted local children fleeing the bombing site, their skin melting and their clothing singed. “The children were my height!” Sabath said. “It was so hard for me to reconcile that hell with the current city. I couldn’t understand: How were people over it?”
Sabath’s crying became incessant thereafter. She couldn’t sleep; each time she saw a plane in the air, she panicked, just as her grandmother continued to do. “My mother ended up taking me to a witch doctor,” she told me. “They thought I was haunted by the ghosts of Hiroshima” (called yurie, or faint spirits). For years, the yurie resurfaced in Sabath each summer, making her anxious, watchful, her eyes skyward.
In recent years, a growing body of scholarship has sought to better understand accounts like Shoji’s and Sabath’s through the framework of “trans-generational trauma,” which traces experiences of catastrophic loss across the span of a family or a community. A wide range of studies have examined evidence of “secondary trauma” in the children of Holocaust survivors, the wives of Vietnam veterans, and, more informally, in the families of U.S. veterans who’ve faced P.T.S.D. after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, a study on the wives of fifty-six traumatized war veterans in Croatia found that more than a third of the veterans’ wives met the criteria for secondary traumatic stress; often, this meant symptoms “similar to those present in directly traumatized persons: nightmares about the person who was directly traumatized, insomnia, loss of interest, irritability, chronic fatigue, and changes in self-perception, perception of one’s own life, and of other people.” More recently, speaking to Mac McClelland for an article on trauma in the families of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the clinical psychologist Robert Motta said, “Trauma is really not something that happens to an individual.” Instead, he proposed, “Trauma is a contagious disease; it affects everyone that has close contact with a traumatized person.”
But even metaphors of trauma as contagion feel inadequate, or even potentially counterproductive; for one thing, they can get mixed up with questions of shame and stigma, seeming to assign blame or stir up anxieties about contamination where the antidote to both is needed. And stigma, too, gets internalized. As a small child, Sabath said, when she began to fear a plane above, “I would think, how could I let the plane know that I was American?” She would beg her father to come along to Japan during the summers, thinking, “My white military dad—a Navy JAG officer—he signalled my identity, my patriotic Americanness.” Only in his presence could she feel, as the mixed-race grandchild of a hibakusha, that “there is no way you would ever harm us.”
When she reached high school, Sabath became a debating champion and made nuclear proliferation her focus. She went on to college at Yale and visited the White House as a student leader for Global Zero, the international nuclear-disarmament group, for which she recently authored a personal essay on herbachan’s “scenes of living hell.” “I hope you will remember my grandmother’s message and act upon it,” she wrote.
* * *
In the late nineteen-fifties, the Japanese government began issuing certificates to hibakusha, entitling them to certain health benefits, and Shoji became the first survivor living abroad to travel back to Japan to reap the benefits. Over the course of those treatments, Shoji gathered for the first time with other survivors, at healing hot springs. It was in that community that she got her first glimpse of psychological relief, and perhaps began to decipher some of her experiences and speak of them to others. Last fall, she traveled to Yale to say to her granddaughter’s classmates, “I want with every breath, with all my strength, to tell people” about the bomb.
In the final pages of Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” he observed that many people he met there were often reticent to speak or even think about the ethics of the bomb; instead, they would offer approximations of “Shikata ga nai,” a Japanese expression that he translated as “It can’t be helped. Oh well. Too bad.”
At eighty-eight, Shoji seems to have thrown off that cosmic shrug. When we finished in the dining room, her daughter gave me a bundle of pastries and fruit, and we all shuffled to the foyer. The whole family stood in the doorway and waved goodbye. Shoji’s cheeks looked pink, and, as I drove off, it was easy to imagine how she might have appeared on her way to work at nineteen, looking up at the August sky.
Sarah Stillman is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a visiting scholar at the N.Y.U. Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
Roger’s note: Miko Peled was born in Jerusalem in 1961 to a prominent Zionist family with deep roots in Palestine. His father, General Peled, fought in the wars in 1948 and 1967 and later became a peace activist. Take a half hour to watch the most informative and moving discussion of Israeli oppression you will ever come across. It was filmed before the current massacre but after the 2008 slaughter. What Peled’s daughter said when her daughter was killed by a terrorist bombing is precious. Watch the video.
Miko Peled is a peace activist who dares to say in public what others still choose to deny. Born in Jerusalem in 1961 into a well known Zionist family, his grandfather, Dr. Avraham Katsnelson was a Zionist leader and signer of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. His Father, Matti Peled, was a young officer in the war of 1948 and a general in the war of 1967 when Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and Sinai.
Miko’s unlikely opinions reflect his father’s legacy. General Peled was a war hero turned peacemaker.
Miko grew up in Jerusalem, a multi-ethnic city, but had to leave Israel before he made his first Palestinian friend, the result of his participation in a dialogue group in California. He was 39.
On September 4, 1997 the beloved Smadar, 13, the daughter of Miko’s sister Nurit and her husband Rami Elhanan was killed in a suicide attack.
Peled insists that Israel/Palestine is one state—the separation wall notwithstanding, massive investment in infrastructure, towns and highways that bisect and connect settlements on the West Bank, have destroyed the possibility for a viable Palestinian state. The result, Peled says is that Israelis and Palestinians are governed by the same government but live under different sets of laws.
At the heart of Peled’s conclusion lies the realization that Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace as equals in their shared homeland.
Roger’s note: Defenders of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings allege that they saved the lives of untold thousands of American and Japanese soldiers who would have died in an invasion of Japan. This, as a justification for the unleashing of atomic warfare and the massive civilian death and destruction, is highly questionable speculation. Credible historians have concluded that Japan was already defeated and that the bombings were unnecessary to achieve surrender. Some point to evidence that the bombings were a warning signal to the Soviet Union.
August 6, 1945 and not December 7, 1941 is truly the day that will go down in infamy.
Hiroshima, Japan in the wake of the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on August 6, 1945. (Photo: flickr / cc)
“I hate war,” Koji Hosokawa told me as we stood next to the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japan. The skeletal remains of the four-story building stand at the edge of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The building was one of the few left standing when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, the U.S. dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed—many instantly, and many more slowly from severe burns and what would come to be understood as radiation sickness.
The world watches in horror this summer as military conflicts rage, leaving destruction in their wake from Libya, to Gaza, to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine. Never far from the dead and injured, nuclear-armed missiles stand by at the alert, waiting for the horrible moment when hubris, accident or inhumanity triggers the next nuclear attack. “I hate war,” Hosokawa reiterated. “War makes everyone crazy.”
Koji Hosokawa was 17 years old in 1945, and worked in the telephone exchange building, less than 2 miles from ground zero. “I miraculously survived,” he told me. His 13-year-old sister was not so fortunate: “She was … very close to the hypocenter, and she was exposed to the bomb there. And she was with a teacher and the students. In all, 228 people were there together with her.” They all died.
We walked through the park to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. There, on display, were the images of death: the shadows of victims burned into the walls of buildings, the pictures of the fiery chaos that followed the bombing, and of the victims of radiation. Almost seven decades later, Hosokawa’s eyes tear up in the recollection. “My biggest sorrow in my life is that my younger sister died in the atomic bomb,” he said.
The day before my meeting with Koji Hosokawa, I sat down in Tokyo to interview Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was 10 years old in 1945. “When Japan experienced the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this was a greater catastrophe than anything we had ever known,” he told me. “The feeling of having to survive this, go beyond this and renew from this, was great.”
Now nearing 80, Kenzaburo Oe thinks deeply about the connection between the atomic bombings and the disaster at Fukushima, the nuclear power plant meltdown that began when Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The Nobel laureate told the French newspaper Le Monde: “Hiroshima must be engraved in our memories: It’s a catastrophe even more dramatic than natural disasters, because it’s man-made. To repeat it, by showing the same disregard for human life in nuclear power stations, is the worst betrayal of the memory of the victims of Hiroshima.”
After the Fukushima disaster, Oe said, “all Japanese people were feeling a great regret … the atmosphere in Japan here was almost the same as following the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of the war. Because of this atmosphere, the government [in 2011], with the agreement of the Japanese people, pledged to totally get rid of or decommission the more than 50 nuclear power plants here in Japan.”
A-bomb survivors like Koji Hosokawa, writers like Kenzaburo Oe, and hundreds of thousands of others, now elderly, have lived through the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945 and seen its potential for devastation recently, at Fukushima. Nuclear-weapon arsenals and nuclear power plants each pose separate, horrific risks to humanity, yet the two are connected, with the byproducts of some power plants usable as material for nuclear warheads. Whether from an act of war, or an act of terrorism from a so-called loose nuke in the hands of a non-state actor, or from an uncontrolled meltdown at a nuclear power plant, nuclear disasters are massively destructive. Yet they are completely preventable. We need a new way of thinking, a new effort to eliminate nuclear weapons and shift to safe, renewable energy, worldwide.
As we were leaving the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Koji Hosokawa told me to stop. He looked me in the eye, and told me not to forget the victims: “People lived here. They lived here.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
Roger’s note: The entirely “unnecessary” Vietnam War cost nearly 60,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands wounded and emotionally and physically destroyed. But this doesn’t begin to approximate the cost in lives and physical destruction to the Vietnamese people. There were more than a million deaths, a large percentage civilian.
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were the commanders in chief who were directly responsible for the slaughter, but Eisenhower and Kennedy served as presidents during the the early years of American political and military intervention. Of course there were many more, including the 98 senators who fell for the Bay of Tonkin hoax. My generation will well remember such warmongers as Secretary of Defence (i.e. WAR) McNamara and General Westmoreland (Waste more land). And then there is always Napalm (Dow Chemical) and Agent Orange (Dow and Monsanto). And let’s not forget the vultures of the war profiteering arms industry.
The above named mass murderers will never be indicted, except perhaps by “history,” for what that’s worth.
I am reminded of Crime and Punishment’s Raskolnikov’s musing about his crime of murdering a despised old money lender versus the hundreds of thousands killed in Napoleon’s wars. A single mother convicted of shop lifting to feed her children will suffer more at the hands of the criminal justice system than than the astute politicians, military and corporate elites mentioned above. I don’t know why, but this somehow offends my sense of justice.
And why does all this seem not just a matter of history, but just as relevant today?
HOI AN, VIETNAM. “I believe that history will record that we have made a great mistake,” Sen. Wayne Morse (D, OR) declared fifty years ago this week. He was referring to congressional passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the decisive step into one of the greatest tragedies in American history. That resolution would be used for nearly a decade by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon as authorization to conduct war in Vietnam.
A look at Vietnam today makes plain just how mistaken and tragic the American venture into war there was. First, though, a brief summary of how the decisive turn into that disastrous mistake a half century ago occurred.A BLANK CHECK FOR WAR
Nearly unanimous (of the 516 members of Congress who voted, only Morse and Sen. Ernest Gruening of Alaska opposed) passage of the resolution was secured on August 7, 1964, on the basis of the claim that three days earlier North Vietnamese boats had launched an unprovoked attack on two American ships. Believing that the argument that he was “soft” on communism and the fight in Vietnam was the only thing that Republican nominee Barry M. Goldwater had as a potentially effective argument against him in the November election, President Johnson seized upon the apparent attack to get what he had wanted for months: a Congressional resolution giving him a blank check to conduct whatever military operations in Vietnam he deemed necessary and that would pass “quickly, overwhelmingly, and without too much discussion of its implications.”AN ATTACK THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN
As Johnson was moving to launch retaliatory airstrikes against North Vietnam on August 4, reports reached the Pentagon from the scene off the coast of North Vietnam that there was serious doubt that an attack had occurred and from Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Jr., at Pacific Command in Hawaii, suggesting that “a ‘complete evaluation’ be undertaken before any further action.” There is no indication that Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara informed the President of these communications during the crucial hours when the airstrikes were being set in motion.A 2000 National Security Council historical study reached an unambiguous conclusion about the alleged North Vietnamese attack on August 4: “No attack happened that night.” But an event that didn’t happen led to a resolution that served as the concept sketch for the script of a major tragedy.
Fifty years later, the magnitude of that mistake is unmistakable in Vietnam.
VIETNAM AND CHINAAmong the reasons given for undertaking the war, the most prominent were to block the expansion of Chinese influence into Southeast Asia and to oppose communism.
What was needed to accomplish the first objective was a strong, unified Vietnam. The Vietnamese have hated China for two thousand years, and having a communist government would not alter that basic fact in any way. Ho Chi Minh was by far the best bet to achieve this American goal.Less than four years after Hanoi’s reunification of Vietnam in 1975, the Communist regime was engaged in a brief but bloody border war with its putative comrades from China. And currently tensions between the two countries over islands in the South China Sea (Vietnam rejects that name and calls it the Eastern Sea) are high. Vietnam and the United States find themselves virtual allies in opposing Chinese expansionism.
MORE SOCIAL DARWINIST THAN SOCIALIST
As for the other main war aim, how communist is Vietnam in 2014?There is a store in Hanoi called “Shop Aholic.” There must be steel cables restraining the preserved body of Ho Chi Minh so it doesn’t spin in its glass coffin in the nearby mausoleum.
Versace store, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
(image by Robert McElvaine)
On a walk in Saigon–its current official name notwithstanding, it is not now and never has been Ho Chi Minh’s city–from Notre Dame down Dong Khoi (the famous Rue Catinat in the days of the French Empire, when it was considered Saigon’s Champs Ãlysees) to the Hotel Continental, the Opera House, and beyond, one passes all the familiar ration outlets of a communist country: Cartier, Versace, Dior, Piaget, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Rolex . . . . “Dong Khoi” means “Total Uprising Street.” The total uprising taking place along it and throughout Vietnam is an explosion of capitalism.
When one visits the still more-or-less-communist country of Cuba, among the many indelible impressions is the nearly complete absence of trucks on the highways. They have no products to move around. Has anyone ever seen “Hecho en Cuba” on anything? They make, in a word, nada. Superimpose the roads in Vietnam on those in Cuba and the result would be a chiaroscuro painting. Vietnam’s highways are clogged with trucks moving goods around, reflecting the entirely market-based economy in this nominally socialist country.If they look at many aspects of Vietnam today, conservative Republicans in the United States might see the paradise of which they dream. This “socialist” nation has a paddle-your-own-canoe-or-sink economy. There is no welfare, no minimum wage, no unemployment insurance, no national healthcare, no old-age pensions for most people, no free education beyond middle school ….
Shrine to Ho Chi Minh, Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam
(image by Robert McElvaine)
Ho Chi Minh’s countenance appears everywhere in contemporary Vietnam, benevolently smiling upon policies that he strongly opposed. It is much like the situation with many “Christians” in the United States who do the opposite of what Jesus taught. The farther self-identified followers get from the teachings of their supposed leader, the louder they proclaim his name. Uncle Ho has been deified–to the point of being portrayed like the Buddha on a lotus blossom. But when it comes to actual economic practice in Vietnam today, the altars at which worship takes place are those of William Graham Sumner and Ayn Rand.
But outside the economic realm the role of government is large. Vietnam remains a one-party political system in which corruption is rife and basic freedoms are restricted. The Vietnamese receive none of the benefits of positive government, but bear all the burdens of negative government. There are neither political nor economic checks and balances.A proposal was made in 2013 to change the country’s official name from the “Socialist Republic of Vietnam” back to what Ho had named it in 1945: the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam.” That would constitute a lateral move–from one wholly inaccurate name to another, equally inaccurate, one. By no stretch of the imagination is contemporary Vietnam either socialist or democratic.
If they want to adopt a name that reflects reality, they should call the nation the “Social-Darwinist Dictatorship of Vietnam.”A WAR FOR NOTHING
American policymakers in 1964 sought a Vietnam that was capitalist, would block China, and with which they could have good relations.The United States fought a war at terrible cost to achieve those ends and lost. Today, though, Vietnam is staunchly capitalist, adamantly opposed to China, and friendly to the United States. Had the war never been fought, it is highly likely that all of those ends would have been achieved at a much earlier date.
What, then, was this “b*tch of a war,” as Lyndon Johnson would later call it, to which the President proposed marriage a half century ago this week, with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as the engagement ring, good for?Absolutely nothing.
Raul Hilberg in his monumental work “The Destruction of the European Jews” chronicled a process of repression that at first was “relatively mild” but led, step by step, to the Holocaust. It started with legal discrimination and ended with mass murder. “The destructive process was a development that was begun with caution and ended without restraint,” Hilberg wrote.
The Palestinians over the past few decades have endured a similar “destructive process.” They have gradually been stripped of basic civil liberties, robbed of assets including much of their land and often their homes, have suffered from mounting restrictions on their physical movements, been blocked from trading and business, especially the selling of produce, and found themselves increasingly impoverished and finally trapped behind walls and security fences erected around Gaza and the West Bank.
“The process of destruction [of the European Jews] unfolded in a definite pattern,” Hilberg wrote. “It did not, however, proceed from a basic plan. No bureaucrat in 1933 could have predicted what kind of measures would be taken in 1938, nor was it possible in 1938 to foretell the configuration of the undertaking in 1942. The destructive process was a step-by-step operation, and the administrator could seldom see more than one step ahead.”
There will never be transports or extermination camps for the Palestinians, but amid increasing violence against Palestinians larger and larger numbers of them will die, in airstrikes, targeted assassinations and other armed attacks. Hunger and misery will expand. Israeli demands for “transfer”—the forced expulsion of Palestinians from occupied territory to neighboring countries—will grow.
The Palestinians in Gaza live in conditions that now replicate those first imposed on Jews by the Nazis in the ghettos set up throughout Eastern Europe. Palestinians cannot enter or leave Gaza. They are chronically short of food—the World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 percent of children in Gaza and the West Bank under 2 years old have iron deficiency anemia and reports that malnutrition and stunting in children under 5 are “not improving” and could actually be worsening. Palestinians often lack clean water. They are crammed into unsanitary hovels. They do not have access to basic medical care. They are stateless and lack passports or travel documents. There is massive unemployment. They are daily dehumanized in racist diatribes by their occupiers as criminals, terrorists and mortal enemies of the Jewish people.
“A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently of the Palestinians. “They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion.”
Ayelet Shaked, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home Party, on her Facebook page June 30 posted an article written 12 years ago by the late Uri Elitzur, a leader in the settler movement and a onetime adviser to Netanyahu, saying the essay is as “relevant today as it was then.” The article said in part: “They [the Palestinians] are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
The belief that a race or class of people is contaminated is used by ruling elites to justify quarantining the people of that group. But quarantine is only the first step. The despised group can never be redeemed or cured—Hannah Arendt noted that all racists see such contamination as something that can never be eradicated. The fear of the other is stoked by racist leaders such as Netanyahu to create a permanent instability. This instability is exploited by a corrupt power elite that is also seeking the destruction of democratic civil society for all citizens—the goal of the Israeli government (as well as the goal of a U.S. government intent on stripping its own citizens of rights). Max Blumenthal in his book“Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” does a masterful job of capturing and dissecting this frightening devolution within Israel.
The last time Israel mounted a Gaza military assault as severe as the current series of attacks was in 2008, with Operation Cast Lead, which lasted from Dec. 27 of that year to Jan. 18, 2009. That attack saw 1,455 Palestinians killed, including 333 children. Roughly 5,000 more Palestinians were injured. A new major ground incursion, which would be designed to punish the Palestinians with even greater ferocity, would cause a far bigger death toll than Operation Cast Lead did. The cycle of escalating violence, this “destructive process,” as the history of the conflict has illustrated, would continue at an accelerating rate.
The late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, one of Israel’s most brilliant scholars, warned that, followed to its logical conclusion, the occupation of the Palestinians would mean “concentration camps would be erected by the Israeli rulers” and “Israel would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.” He feared the ascendancy of right-wing, religious Jewish nationalists and warned that “religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism.” Leibowitz laid out what occupation would finally bring for Israel:
The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.
Israel is currently attacking a population of 1.8 million that has no army, no navy, no air force, no mechanized military units, no command and control and no heavy artillery. Israel pretends that this indiscriminate slaughter is a war. But only the most self-deluded supporter of Israel is fooled. The rockets fired at Israel by Hamas—which is committing a war crime by launching those missiles against the Israeli population—are not remotely comparable to the 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs that have been dropped in large numbers on crowded Palestinian neighborhoods; the forced removal of some 300,000 Palestinians from their homes; the more than 160 reported dead—the U.N. estimates that 77 percent of those killedin Gaza have been civilians; the destruction of the basic infrastructure; the growing food and water shortages; and the massing of military forces for a possible major ground assault.
When all this does not work, when it becomes clear that the Palestinians once again have not become dormant and passive, Israel will take another step, more radical than the last. The “process of destruction” will be stopped only from outside Israel. Israel, captive to the process, is incapable of imposing self-restraint.
A mass movement demanding boycotts, divestment and sanctions is the only hope now for the Palestinian people. Such a movement must work for imposition of an arms embargo on Israel; this is especially important for Americans because weapons systems and attack aircraft provided by the U.S. are being used to carry out the assault. It must press within the United States for cutoff of the $3.1 billion in military aid that the U.S. gives to Israel each year. It must organize to demand suspension of all free trade and other agreements between the U.S. and Israel. Only when these props are knocked out from under Israel will the Israeli leadership be forced, as was the apartheid regime in South Africa, to halt its “destructive process.” As long as these props remain, the Palestinians are doomed. If we fail to act we are complicit in the slaughter.
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Staff at al-Shifa Hospital treat a victim of Israel’s current attack on Gaza. (Photo: Basel Yazouri / ActiveStills)
Doctors treating patients in Gaza have accused Israel of using experimental weapons on Palestinian civilians.
Addressing reporters at a press conference on Sunday, Youssef Abul Resh, undersecretary of the health ministry in Gaza said, “Medical teams have registered injuries consistent with those caused by DIME [dense inert metal explosives] and other banned weapons.”
He added, “Israel has mercilessly targeted Palestinian civilians leaving many of them with life-threatening injuries and future handicaps.”
DIME bombs contain tungsten, a cancer-causing metal that helps to produce incredibly destructive blasts which slice through flesh and bone, often decapitating the lower limbs of people within the blast radius.
Renowned Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert, who witnessed the horrific injuries caused by DIME bombs during Israel’s 2009 Gaza onslaught, told The Electronic Intifada over the phone from al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City that patients are showing up with DIME-related injuries.
“A good number of the injuries seen here are consistent with the use of dense inert metal explosives, or DIME, that we saw during the 2009 attack and also in 2006,” said Gilbert. “The bodies are pretty much destroyed by enormous energy released by the explosives that are shot near them or at them.”
Gilbert first witnessed the effects of DIME munitions on the human body during Operation Summer Rains, Israel’s 2006 months-long attack on the Gaza Strip that killed more than four hundred Palestinians. “Large chunks of flesh, of muscles were cut away. We didn’t find any shrapnel and [the wounds] were delivering a strange fume. Gradually we came to understand these must have been the new DIME weapons developed by the US Air Force together with the Israelis.”
The experimental weapon was used on a larger scale during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, which killed 1,400 Palestinians, including 352 children.
“We had a large number of patients who came in with these horrendous injuries where arms and legs were cut off as though a huge ax had chopped off their limbs with a direct immense force, cutting through skin, muscles and bones. Bones would be shattered and completely cut off,” Gilbert recounted. “In addition we saw very very destructive burns coming from some extreme temperature that turned skin, muscle and even bones into charcoal.”
Gilbert said that governments around the world should send forensic experts to Gaza to “analyze the tissue samples from the wounds of the injured and analyze more thoroughly those who are killed,” as well as scientists to follow up with those who have survived DIME blasts. Those survivors have an extremely high risk of developing cancer, Gilbert fears.
But Gilbert warned that focusing on the DIME weapons, which are not explicity banned under international law, risks distracting from Israel’s far more damaging crimes against the people of Gaza.
“The siege and the constant bombing of civilian targets — those two issues are much more important than if [the Israelis] choose to use a traditional shell with a grenade or a DIME weapon,” he argued.
In early July, the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) released a report authored by Gilbert, detailing the fragile state of Gaza’s health sector, crushed under the weight of extreme medical supply shortages as a result of Israel’s ongoing illegal siege.
With Israel’s latest assault flooding Gaza’s already overwhelmed medical facilities with scores of life-threatening injuries, the situation has deteriorated even further, forcing Gaza’s health ministry to declare a state of emergency.
The only thing preventing Gaza from total collapse, according to Gilbert, is the dedication of doctors, nurses and first responders, who are currently working for free.
“One of the most important deficiencies in Shifa hospital right now is money to pay the hospital staff their salaries. They have not had a normal salary for one year now and for the past three months, since April, they have not received a single nickel in salary and prior to that they had fifty percent salaries for eight months,” he said. “That is really an illustration of their extremely high working morale and their consistent energy to put up with the most intense hardship in order to support the people and treat their wounded. It’s nothing short of heroic.”
Scarred for life
The rising death toll in Gaza has largely reduced the estimated 1,200 people wounded to an afterthought. But many of their injuries are disabling and will scar them for life.
Among the most debilitating injuries Gilbert has seen are amputations. He also described fractures and severe head injuries, especially among children rescued from beneath the rubble of their collapsed homes.
“When they bomb these buildings the roofs collapse and the buildings collapse on the children and they get fractures and head injuries, which are extremely serious,” Gilbert explained. “We have a five-year-old who is now in critical condition with a serious head injury from an Israeli rocket hitting the neighbor’s house and it took down the whole ceiling in his bedroom. Many of these children will be marked for life by their injuries.”
“As a doctor, my prescription is very clear. Number one, stop the bombing, and that means stop Israel from bombing civilians and indiscriminately hitting families. Number two, lift the siege. And number three, find a political solution,” said Gilbert.
“And at the core of the political solution is equity and justice for the Palestinian people to be treated in an equal way as all other human beings protected by international law with UN security, dignity and the right to live their lives in peace.”
Rania Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass and marginalized. Her work has appeared at Common Dreams, Salon, The Nation, In These Times, Citizen Radio and more. To see more of Rania’s work visit her blog Dispatches from the Underclass and follow her on twitter @RaniaKhalek.
(Photo: Reuters)GAZA – I tried to write two days ago, but I did not know where I should start.
Do I start talking about the terror and the fear that we feel due to continuous bombardment of houses and agricultural lands across Gaza by Israeli warplanes? Or do I tell you about the bombing by marine boats all that make us feel that we are threatened with death at any time?
But I decided to write about last night; it was the hardest and the heaviest. Many homes and mosques were bombed randomly. A hospital and association for the disabled were targeted too. We spent all night in fear and tension without electricity trying to calm the children. No matter how hard we tried, they did not stop crying.
In the area where I live, three houses and a mosque were bombed in a period of 15 minutes. Messages reached the many of the people ordering them to leave their homes, some residents left and others decided to stay.
I called my friend Maha after I heard the news about the bombing of several houses in the Deir al-Balah Refugee Camp and I could not reach her. My heart was racing. She contacted me after hours to tell me that they left their home. Their neighbors had received a warning message before their home was bombed. Four floors with four families and they had just three minutes to leave the house.
They live in a very crowded residential area with no space between homes. All of the refugee camps in Gaza are like this. So they told all their neighbors about the warning message.
What could they do in 3 minutes? Is it enough to come to grips with the shock or to take the papers, clothes and property?
They did not take anything with them.
The house was bombed while people were leaving their homes. It was then bombed again killing and injuring a lot of people, mostly women and children, and caused many houses in the area to collapse.
My friend Maha’s family is one of hundreds of families whose houses were destroyed, leaving them homeless without anything. They went to her uncle’s house where 20 people are living in less than 120 square meters (1200 square feet).
This is happening all over Gaza. The same story is repeated every hour with a different family.
We have endured a very bad situation for years due to the siege. And now we are threatened with death at any time.
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Safaa El Derawi, Gaza Project Assistant for Middle East Children’s Alliance, is an environmental engineer living in Nuseirat Refugee Camp, Gaza. In addition to her work with MECA, she volunteers with youth groups working on issues related to water and the environment and providing awareness to the community about the causes of Palestine’s water crisis, their water rights, and the suggested solutions.
Oxfam supports a mobile clinic to bring healthcare to some of the poorest communities in Gaza. Today many of these neighborhoods are too dangerous to travel in. (Photo: Oxfam)
People keep asking me how the situation in Gaza is right now, and I don’t know how to begin describing it. Scary. Dangerous. Confusing. So many emotions.
The airstrikes happen everywhere, anytime, day and night. At night is the most difficult time. The bombing intensifies and I can feel it getting closer and closer. I’m exhausted but I try and force myself not to fall asleep… the explosions are even scarier when they wake you up. I prefer to be awake when they strike.
It’s Ramadan, the holy month, and we should be celebrating. The “Iftar” meal – at sunset to break the day’s fasting – is usually a huge family occasion. My brother’s and sister’s families would join us, or I’d go to the beach with friends. But this year we spend Iftar on our own, withthe sound of explosions and ambulances in the background, phoning relatives to check they are safe. My nine year old niece – named Arwa after me – calls me first thing every morning for reassurance that things will be ok. People keep saying they will be, but you can tell they aren’t sure. I call my friends every day and I’m terrified there will be bad news.
During the day we try and work, as much as security allows. Today Oxfam has been distributing food vouchers to families who have had to flee their homes. The needs are growing by the hour – a water system for 70,000 people completely destroyed, a health clinic for pregnant women seriously damaged. The violence goes on and civilians are the ones paying the highest price. I speak regularly with Oxfam’s partners – engineers assessing the latest damage; hospitals struggling to cope with all the casualties and shortages of fuel; fishermen who have had their boats destroyed.
The news in Gaza is full of death and destruction
Often we’re at home and it’s too dangerous to go out - the streets are empty, shops are closed. Time goes so slowly at home… we are constantly watching the news for updates, full of children being killed and homes destroyed. Sometimes I want to turn the news off and watch something else – a drama, a comedy – but I feel guilty. It’s the World Cup and the cafes are usually full of men watching the football – now it’s too dangerous.
People in Gaza are very resilient. This is the third big military crisis we’ve been through in six years. I think of children like my niece and I don’t want them to get used to this. My sister’s children are so frightened. A bomb fell next door to their house, smashing all the windows. Fortunately they were sleeping in the living room because it has only one window, so nobody was hurt. Now they don’t want to leave her side, even when she goes to the bathroom.
Peace and justice for the future of our children
Even in between major military escalations, in the “calm” periods, there are still frequent airstrikes and the blockade continues to cripple our lives. It leaves people unable to get jobs, move freely or enjoy a normal life. People in Gaza want to live in peace and justice. We need a long-term solution for Gaza, to give my niece and others the better future they deserve.
Copyright 2014 Oxfam
Arwa Mhanna is Communication and Media Officer for Oxfam in Gaza.
Roger’s note: When we think of fascism we think of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco. But fascism, as defined functionally, is when the state is indistinguishable from corporate capital. Such was the case in both Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy. Under these conditions, individual rights and civil liberties and imperial war mongering inevitably follow, with their accompanying brutality and bloodshed. When we look at the United States today we see corporate capital more and more every day in control of the three branches of government, and what else to we see? We see torture, police state violence against peaceful protest, the loss of habeas corpus, uncontrollable government spying, and gross violations of both the constitution and the Geneva Conventions (drone missiles, torture, targeting of civilian populations [US supported Israel vs. the Palestinians], presidential assassination lists, indefinite detention, indiscriminate bombing, undeclared wars, etc.).
I happen to be reading at the moment, William Shirer’s classic “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” What we see in the 1930s are the capitalist democracies, principally England and France, not simply appeasing Hitler, but in fact by their cowardice and narrow self interest, actually enabling Hitler. By the time the Allies got their act together to confront Hitler, he had already armed Germany and moved into the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The Soviets early on had been pushing England and France to form an alliance to stop Hitler, but they declined and were more afraid of being infected with Bolshevism.
I believe that the struggle today is not narrowly against terrorism or Islamic extremism, but rather the same fight against fascism. This article gives us some historical perspective on that fight.
In late 1944 as a high school senior I rushed off to a U.S. Navy recruiting station ready to take on world fascism. Cooler heads insisted I wait until my graduation in June. After boot camp I served in “The Pacific Theater”—Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Hawaii, Saipan, Japan, and the China Sea.
Anyone who has gone through school in the United States knows that history textbooks devote a lot of attention to the so-called “Good War”: World War II. A typical textbook, Holt McDougal’s The Americans, includes 61 pages covering the buildup to World War II and the war itself. Today’s texts acknowledge “blemishes” like the internment of Japanese Americans, but the texts either ignore or gloss over the fact that for almost a decade, during the earliest fascist invasions of Asia, Africa, and Europe, the Western democracies encouraged rather than fought Hitler and Mussolini, and sometimes gave them material aid.
From Hitler’s rise to power, the governments of England and France, with the United States following their lead, never tried to prevent, slow, or even warn of the fascist danger. They started by greeting Japan’s attack on Manchuria with disapproving noises, and continued to trade with Japan. It was a prelude to Japan’s 1937 invasion of China.
Mussolini, seeking an “Italian Empire” in Africa, threw his army and air force against Ethiopia in October 1935. Fascist planes bombed and dropped poison gas on villages. Emperor Haile Selassie turned to the League of Nations and speaking in his native Amharic described fascist air and chemical attacks on a people “without arms, without resources.” “Collective security,” he insisted, “is the very existence of the League of Nations,” and warned “international morality” is “at stake.” When Selassie said, “God and history will remember your judgment,” governments shrugged.
However, in the midst of a worldwide “Great Depression,” citizens in the distant United States were aroused to help Ethiopia. Black men trained for military action—an estimated 8,000 in Chicago, 5,000 in Detroit, 2,000 in Kansas City. In New York City, where a thousand men drilled, nurse Salaria Kea of Harlem Hospital collected funds that sent a 75-bed hospital and two tons of medical supplies to Ethiopia. W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson addressed a “Harlem League Against War and Fascism” rally and A. Philip Randolph linked Mussolini’s invasion to “the terrible repression of black people in the United States.” A people’s march for Ethiopia in Harlem drew 25,000 African Americans and anti-fascist Italian Americans.
In Chicago on Aug. 31, 1935, as the fascist noose on Ethiopia tightened, Oliver Law, a black Communist from Texas, organized a protest rally in defiance of a ban by Mayor Edward J. Kelly. Ten thousand people gathered and so did 2,000 police. Law began to speak from a rooftop, and was arrested. Then one speaker after another appeared on different rooftops, to shout their anti-fascist messages, and all six were arrested.
By May 1936 before many volunteers or help could reach Ethiopia, Mussolini triumphed and Haile Selassie fled into exile. The Americans devotes a puny two paragraphs of its 61 pages of war coverage to this pre-Pearl Harbor conflict. And the drama of democracy versus fascism in Spain merits another whispered two paragraphs in The Americans.
In July 1936 pro-fascist Francisco Franco and other Spanish generals in Morocco launched a military coup against Spain’s new Republican “Popular Front” government. By early August, Hitler and Mussolini provided vital assistance. In the world’s first airlift, Nazi Germany dispatched 40 Luftwaffe Junker and transport planes to ferry Franco’s army from Morocco to Seville, Spain. Italy’s fleet in the Mediterranean sank ships carrying aid or volunteers to Republican Spain, and 50,000 to 100,000 Italian fascist troops began to arrive in Spain. Hitler and Mussolini had internationalized a civil war—and revealed fascism’s global intentions.
But one of the first lessons learned from Spain was fascist aggressors had nothing to fear from the Western democracies. The Luftwaffe destroyed cities such as Gernika in the Basque region of Spain, and Nazi gestapo agents interrogated Republican prisoners. But English and French officials, and their wealthy corporations with financial ties to Nazi Germany, greeted the fascist march with a shrug, quiet appreciation, or offers of cooperation. In England, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin prodded Germany and Italy to march east toward the Soviet Union. The British ambassador to Spain told the U.S. ambassador, “I hope they send in enough Germans to finish the war.”
The Nazi Luftwaffe overhead, Franco’s legions rolled toward Madrid and Franco expected a fast victory. But at the gates of Madrid everything changed. Under the slogan “They shall not pass,” members of unions and political and citizen groups formed military units and headed toward the front carrying lunch and a rifle. Madrid’s women, wearing pants and carrying rifles, took part in early skirmishes. Other women ran the first quartermaster corps.
A scattering of foreign volunteers began to arrive: Jewish and other refugees fleeing Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, some British machine gunners, and athletes fresh from an anti-Nazi Olympics in Barcelona.
By November the volunteer rush became a torrent: An estimated 40,000 men and women from 53 nations left home to defend the Republic. For the only time in history, a volunteer force of men and women from all over the world came together to fight for an ideal: democracy. The volunteers brought a message that ordinary people could resist fascist militarism.
Though most volunteers had little military experience, they hoped their commitment, courage, and sacrifice would persuade the democratic governments to unite against the fascist march, and head off a new world war.
But the Western governments ignored Spain’s plea for “collective security.” And some countries outlawed travel to Spain. France closed its border to Spain so volunteers faced arrest and had to scale the Pyrenees at night. England formed a Non-Intervention Committee of 26 nations that blocked aid to the Republican government, but not to Franco’s rebels.
U.S. policy followed England and France. The United States stamped passports “Not Valid for Spain.” The State Department tried to prevent medical supplies and doctors from reaching Spain. The Texas Oil Company sent almost 2 million tons of oil, most of Franco’s oil needs. Four-fifths of rebel trucks came from Ford, General Motors, and Studebaker. U.S. media outlets, isolationist and wealthy groups, and the Catholic Church cheered Franco’s fight against “Godless Communism.”
In the United States some 2,800 young men and women of different races and backgrounds formed the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” Seamen and students, farmers and professors, they hoped that their bravery could turn the tide, or at last alert the world to the fascist drive for world domination. Most made their way to Spain illegally as “tourists” visiting France.
In a time of massive unemployment, lynching, segregation, and discrimination, 90 of the volunteers were African American. “Ethiopia and Spain are our fight,” said James Yates, who fled Mississippi. The United States had only five licensed African American pilots, and two came to join the Republic’s tiny air force (one brought down two German and three Italian planes).
Most of the African American volunteers had marched with white radicals to protest lynching, segregation, and racism, and to demand relief and jobs during the Great Depression. These men and women of color—one was nurse Salaria Kea—formed the first integrated U.S. army. Oliver Law became an early commander of the Lincoln Brigade.
The brave young men and women of the Lincoln and other International Brigades slowed but did not stop fascism. In 1938, fascism’s overwhelming land, sea, and air power defeated the Republic. Many volunteers had died, including half of the Americans, and others suffered serious wounds.
What is remembered as World War II began the next year in 1939, when Germany attacked Poland. It would take a massive, multinational effort to defeat Hitler, Mussolini, and Imperial Japan, and cost tens of millions of lives.
In 1945, world fascism was finally defeated. But for a crucial decade the democracies did not oppose and often emboldened the fascist advance into Manchuria and China, Ethiopia and Spain. But students today don’t learn this. Instead, texts present World War II as an inevitability and the Allies as anti-fascists and saviors of democracy. A fuller history of the failure of the United States to fight fascism at its outset—and even its multifaceted support of fascism—would help students rethink this supposed inevitability. Today’s students deserve more than a few textbook paragraphs describing the fight against fascism before 1939 while the governments of the United States, England, and France encouraged its aggressions.
Roger’s note: Just as the Civil War had the “side effect” of ending slavery in the United States but was really fought in order to preserve the Union, World War II is often characterized as a war to promote freedom and defeat racism, but that too was mostly propaganda, the real dynamic was a power struggle between the Allied nations and the nations of the Axis. Just as government sponsored racism is alive and well today in the U.S. (cf. the recent Supreme Court decision against affirmative action), racism was universally upheld by the leadership and governments the the victorious Allied nations of the second world war, the so-called free world.
By Mike Thomson
Presenter, Document, BBC Radio 4
Many of the “French” division which led the liberation of Paris were Spanish
Papers unearthed by the BBC reveal that British and American commanders ensured that the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 was seen as a “whites only” victory.
Many who fought Nazi Germany during World War II did so to defeat the vicious racism that left millions of Jews dead.
Yet the BBC’s Document programme has seen evidence that black colonial soldiers – who made up around two-thirds of Free French forces – were deliberately removed from the unit that led the Al lied advance into the French capital.
By the time France fell in June 1940, 17,000 of its black, mainly West African colonial troops, known as the Tirailleurs Senegalais, lay dead.
Many of them were simply shot where they stood soon after surrendering to German troops who often regarded them as sub-human savages.
Their chance for revenge came in August 1944 as Allied troops prepared to retake Paris. But despite their overwhelming numbers, they were not to get it.
The leader of the Free French forces, Charles de Gaulle, made it clear that he wanted his Frenchmen to lead the liberation of Paris.
I have told Colonel de Chevene that his chances of getting what he wants will be vastly improved if he can produce a white infantry division
General Frederick Morgan
Allied High Command agreed, but only on one condition: De Gaulle’s division must not contain any black soldiers.
In January 1944 Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, was to write in a memo stamped, “confidential”: “It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel.
“This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white.”
At the time America segregated its own troops along racial lines and did not allow black GIs to figh t alongside their white comrades until the late stages of the war.
Given the fact that Britain did not segregate its forces and had a large and valued Indian army, one might have expected London to object to such a racist policy.
Yet this does not appear to have been the case.
Charles de Gaulle wanted Frenchmen to lead the liberation of Paris
A document written by the British General, Frederick Morgan, to Allied Supreme Command stated: “It is unfortunate that the only French formation that is 100% white is an armoured division in Morocco.
“Every other French division is only about 40% white. I have told Colonel de Chevene that his chances of getting what he wants will be vastly improved if he can produce a white infantry division.”
Finding an all-white division that was available proved to be impossible due to the enormous contribution made to the French Army by West African conscripts.
So, Allied Command insisted that all black soldiers be taken out and replaced by white ones from other units.
When it became clear that there were not enough white soldiers to fill the gaps, soldiers from parts of North Africa and the Middle East were used instead.
In the end, nearly everyone was happy. De Gaulle got his wish to have a French division lead the liberation of Paris, even though the shortage of white troops meant that many of his men were actually Spanish.
We were colonised by the French. We were forced to go to war… France has not been grateful. Not at all.
Issa Cisse Former French colonial soldier
The British and Americans got their “Whites Only” Liberation even though many of the troops involved were North Af rican or Syrian.
For France’s West African Tirailleurs Senegalais, however, there was little to celebrate.
Despite forming 65% of Free French Forces and dying in large numbers for France, they were to have no heroes’ welcome in Paris.
After the liberation of the French capital many were simply stripped of their uniforms and sent home. To make matters even worse, in 1959 their pensions were frozen.
Former French colonial soldier, Issa Cisse from Senegal, who is now 87 years-old, looks back on it all with sadness and evident resentment.
“We, the Senegalese, were commanded by the white French chiefs,” he said.
“We were colonised by the French. We were forced to go to war. Forced to follow the orders that sai d, do this, do that, and we did. France has not been grateful. Not at all.”
Mike Thomson presents Radio 4’s Document at 2000BST on Monday 6 April