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U.S. Democracy a Sham? May 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Democracy, Democracy.
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, May Day, 2009.


When Gandhi was asked by a journalist what he thought of Western Civilization, he replied famously that he thought it would be a good idea.  He could have said the same for American democracy.


Now that there is a Democrat in the White House and a Democratic majority in the Senate, there is much discussion about the necessity to obtain a “filibuster-proof” majority of 60 seats.  Somehow the Republicans when in power got their program through with a simple majority.  Both these data tell us more about the Democrats than the Republicans.  Google the word “Republicrat” and see how many entries you get.


In an essay I wrote some time ago and posted on this Blog last August, (https://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/category/rogers-archived-writing/political-essays-roger/the-constitution-is-unconstitutional/) I analyzed the various injustices inherent in the original United States Constitution, some of which have been amended out of existence (slavery, women’s non-sufferance, etc.), and focused on what I characterize as one of the most undemocratic institutions in existence, the United States Senate.  I showed how both in theory and in practice, representatives of much less than a majority of Americans control what does and does not get legislated in that astute body.


Since Obama does not yet have his 60 – only the goddess knows when Coleman will give up, and you can never count on sleazebag Lieberman – let’s take a look at the present contingent of Republican Senators, who have in effect a veto over the legislative process. Let’s see what percentage of the American population these 40 Republican Senators actually represent.


(I have taken the population data from the U. S. Census Bureau estimates for July 1, 2008 [http://www.census.gov/popest/states/NST-ann-est.html; “Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008 (NST-EST2008-01”].  At that the estimate for the entire country was 304,060,000 [all estimates are rounded off to the nearest thousand]).


In the following states both senate seats are held by Republicans:


State                    Population


Alabama              4,662,000          

Arizona               6,500,000

Georgia               9,686,000

Idaho                    1,524,000

Kansas                 2,802,000

Kentucky            4,269,000

Maine                    1,316,000

Mississippi           2,939,000

Oklahoma             3,642,000

South Carolina     4,480,000

Tennessee               6,215,000

Texas                        24,327,000

Utah                          2,736,000

Wyoming                   533,000


Total                           75,631,000


The following states are represented by one Republican Senator:


Arkansas             2,855,000  

Florida               18,328,000

Indiana                6,377,000

Iowa                    3,003,000

Louisiana            4,411,000

Missouri              5,912,000

Nebraska             1,783,000

Nevada                2,600,000

New Hampshire  1,316,000

North Carolina   9,222,000

Ohio                      11,486,000

South Dakota        804,000


Total                             68,097,000


Let’s do the math.  By adding the total population for the states in which both Senators are Republican (75,631,000) to half of the population of the states in which there is one Republican Senator (68,097,000/2 = 34,049,000) we get a sum total of 109,680,000. 


This figure represents 36% of the overall American population.  The representatives of those 36% in the United States Senate essentially hold the country hostage with respect to legislation (this is based upon the assumption is that all Senators will vote according to the dictates of the party leadership; although this is not always the case, it is not unreasonable to assume that those who cross over from each party cancel each other out).


36%.  U.S. democracy in action.


In my original essay (“The Constitution is Unconstitutional”) I compared California with Wyoming with respect to democratic representation in the Senate.  Using the updated 2008 population data, let’s take a new look.  We have California with a population of 36,757,000 and Wyoming with a whopping 533,000.  Yet each state has exactly two representatives in the Senate.  One Senator for every 267,000 Wyomingites; one Senator for each 18,379,000 Californians.  If you live in Wyoming you have 69 times more senatorial political power than someone living in California.


69 to one.  U.S democracy in action.


So big deal, you say, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  Instead of whining about it, why don’t you suggest what can be done.  In my original essay I argued that the Constitution seemed to establish the Senate in a way that it could never be amended.  I am quite possibly wrong about that; perhaps a Constitutional Amendment could democratize the Senate or abolish it.  But can you imagine that happening in a dozen lifetimes?  No way, Ho Zay. 


So what then?  In my article I argued for revolution.  If you’re interested, read the article.  Here again is the link: https://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/category/rogers-archived-writing/political-essays-roger/the-constitution-is-unconstitutional/

Confessions of a War Resister April 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
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by Matthis Chiroux

“When asked why I thought the war was unconstitutional, I pulled from my back pocket my Constitution. I opened it and told them I’d read from Article 6, Paragraph 2, the Supremacy Clause. The ‘government’ objected immediately, insisting the document was irrelevant.” (emphasis added)

“We were taught that people from the middle east were Haji’s, Sand Niggers and Rag Heads, and that terrorists were going to kill our families if we didn’t go kill them and theirs first. We were taught that civilians could never understand and should never be trusted. We were taught the “Army family” was all we had.”

“I will not conform to war crimes. I will not confirm to sexism, racism and homophobia. I will not conform to injustice nor ignorance. I will not be silenced by fear. I will share my life, for better or for worse, like an open book, for people are not meant to live in shame. We are meant to live proud and free as individuals of principle and courage. But even people of principle and courage are wrong sometimes, and when we can realize it, apologize if necessary, and confess that which we are ashamed of, we can know peace, both in our hearts and in our world.”


Yesterday was a great victory for me, the entire peace movement and for troops and civilians all over the world. I faced the military for my refusal to deploy to Iraq, and I walked away a free man with a general discharge from the Army’s Individual Ready Reserve.

This does not affect my discharge from Active Duty Service, however, which is the term of enlistment from which my G.I. Bill does derive. My benefits are mine, and I will use them to attain education, as all people have the right to do and should not have to fight in any armies to realize.

The hearing was attended by my three JAG attorneys, my civilian representation, James Branham, Prof. Marjorie Cohn, the President of the National Lawyers Guild, and my mother Patricia, both of whom testified on my behalf. The hearing was also attended by Mike McPherson, Executive Director of Veterans for Peace, Bill Ramsey, of St. Louis Instead of War, and Alexandra, by beloved.

My eyes were glued to the board the whole time. I looked those officers in the eyes, and I could see the humanity in each of them. I don’t know if they agreed with me, but there was humanity, and their hearts and minds were open.

The prosecution, or literally ‘government,’ opened by reading a list of when they sent me the call-up, when I contacted them in Feb. 2008 and asked for a delay to finish a semester of school I had just paid $4,500 for. They tracked when they issued me several delay orders until the final orders were issued for June 15th. They tracked when they sent me several failure to appear notices and when they finally initiated the discharge process against me.

After this, they showed the youtube video of my refusal to deploy after Winter Soldier on the Hill. They followed it by a portion of my speech from Fathers Day, the day I was supposed to report, and then a Democracy Now interview I did the day after.

They questioned a young Captain about the paperwork process, and then they called me to testify.

I thought I’d be more nervous than I was, but I very much felt relieved. You know, there’s all kinds of nifty ways to communicate now-a-days, and maybe call me old fashioned, but there’s nothing like looking someone in the eyes and telling them what’s in your soul. And I bared it for them.

I told them I believe that the war is illegal, and that as a Soldier, I thought it was my responsibility to resist it. I told them I was originally planning on deploying, despite my belief that the war is illegal, but that after I was exposed to Winter Soldier, Iraq and Afghanistan, I found clarity, and I found courage.

We later submitted the Winter Soldier book, as well the IVAW-produced Warrior Writers book to the record as exhibits that I believe can be referenced by future IRR boards, at least in the Army, which would take place in the same building as my hearing did.

When asked why I thought the war was unconstitutional, I pulled from my back pocket my Constitution. I opened it and told them I’d read from Article 6, Paragraph 2, the Supremacy Clause. The ‘government’ objected immediately, insisting the document was irrelevant.

After much deliberation, the lead council of the board, a civilian lawyer, shut down debate and said the board wouldn’t hear the constitution, and that questioning should continue.

So I said fine, I can just quote it, and I quoted, “this Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”

I said when we violated the U.N. Charter to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, when we systematically defy the international laws of war to wage occupation, we violate U.S. Law and the Constitution, and that it is every Soldiers’ responsibility to resists the crimes of our Government for which we are ultimately responsible.

I focused upon the eyes of each board member as I spoke. I told them I was there because they needed to know that we are not cowards, and we are not traitors, we are people who are dedicated to doing what’s right beyond any measure.

Startlingly, they stared back at me with no disgust in their eyes. They heard me, and they considered what I said, and they did not threaten, nor did they smile. They listened, and I beared my soul with no fear of persecution. And I felt so relieved, as every word rolled off my tongue. I felt a world of weight lifted from me. I suddenly felt the solidarity of millions there in the room with me.

And not just from now, or from the people demonstrating outside the hearing, but since the beginning of organized warfare. Military resistence has been heralded for millennia by the premier scholars, poets, philosophers, scientists and spiritual leaders of humanity.

I thought of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian citizen who refused to fight in Hitler’s army. His head was removed after every chance was given him by the authorities to accept some duty, even if without a weapon.

I thought of those brave G.I.’s in Vietnam who stood against the system, who worked to prevent the victimization of their brothers and sisters by resisting the continued genocide. Many went to jail. One was shot and killed while trying to escape.

I thought of my brothers and sisters in IVAW. Those who realize the humanity in us all deserves to be respected beyond what the military trained us to think. We are sacred; we are beautiful. We are not killers, we are women and men of dignity and justice.

The ‘government’ tried to rattle me by asking if I’d have objected to simply taking photos, and I told him any act to support an illegal war, from the front lines to a state-side base, was a violation of the Oath of Enlistment.

I took my leave of the witness chair feeling satisfied that everything I had come to say and do had been done, and then Marjorie Cohn walked in!

Prof. Cohn gave the most thorough, detailed, understandable and spot-on breakdown of the illegalities of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan I’ve ever heard. She focused on the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremburg Tribunals, U.S. Federal and Constitutional law and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

She spoke with elegance and grace about some very hard subjects, and when the ‘government’ asked if she thought every Soldier in the Army who had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or supported the occupations from the states were a party to war crimes, she answered honestly.

Marjorie will always be a hero to me, as well Kathleen Gilberd of the NLG, who has provided me priceless council and support since the earliest stages of my resistance.

After we broke for lunch, my mother was given a chance to testify, during which she nearly broke my “military bearing” when she recounted the last thing I said to her in July of 2002 before I got out of the car to catch a ride to basic training: “I have to go be a grown-up now.” I had no real idea what I was being led in to.

My mother told them how much she loves me and that I am a man of honor. She said I am kind and principled, and that I take everything I do very seriously. She told them I am not selfish, nor am I vain. She said that I had sacrificed much to be there and that she was ever so proud of me.

My mother has always been my hero for reasons only she and I could ever understand. I love you, Mama.

The closing arguments were laid out. The ‘government’ accused me of trying simply to get attention for myself so that I could launch a career in politics. They said I didn’t care about the law, that I just wanted to get out of doing my duty, and that they should give me a dishonorable discharge as a result.

My lead JAG attorney told a story of his father, a retired sergeant major. He said he was shocked to learn one day that his father supported Mohammad Ali’s decision to refuse deployment to Vietnam, despite the fact that he had done two tours himself.

His father told him that he disagreed with Ali’s decision but had respect for any man who would stand up for what he believed in and be held accountable by his own will. His father told him this is what it means to be honorable. “Sgt. Chiroux is an honorable man,” said John Adams. “He could have stayed home. He’s here. He’s a man of honor. He deserves an honorable discharge.”

With this, we were sent off for the board to deliberate. Upon our return I stood as the decision was read.

The Army found me guilty of misconduct for refusing to deploy to Iraq, but recommended I only be discharged from the reserves with a general discharge under honorable conditions.

I left the building with the biggest smile I’ve had for years. I feel truly vindicated, in more ways than one. My ass is mine, and so is my soul. I’m not guilty of misconduct, but that board is human and bound to make mistakes. Perhaps it’s a decision than can be overturned in time. But they got the overall principle right. My refusal was not an act that falls outside of honorable conditions.

Which brings me to Winter Soldier, St. Louis, which occurred later that afternoon. I’ve been hesitant for years to talk about certain details of my military service, and my life prior to the military. The time finally came that I felt I could share, and IVAW was there, and so was the town of St. Louis.

On the afternoon of April 21st, 2009, I, Matthis Chiroux, did confess to a number of secrets that I had not made broadly known to the public before this date, but I brought forward at Winter Soldier (of which video will follow as soon as it’s processed).

I confessed to having been physically abused by my father from a young age until 13 and emotionally abused until well after. I confessed to having had extensive problems with the authorities in Alabama beginning after I smoked my first joint at age 16.

I told the world that before I graduated high school, I had been incarcerated for nearly six months over several periods of time in juvenile prison, correctional boot camp and a state-run drug rehabilitation facility for minors. My crime: The possession of one eighth of a GRAM of marijuana and a pipe in the middle of the woods, or as they put it, private property.

I confessed that upon graduating high-school, I was kicked out of my house and did move into a tent in the woods near the center of town, and that shortly after, I did sell a small amount of psychedelic mushrooms I had gathered from a cow field to a few friends and to my step-brother for food money. My step brother returned home to be caught by my father under the influence and did inform him that I was the source.

As a result, I was brought into the courthouse, specifically before my probation officer, where I first met Sgt. Whitetree, the man who would put me in the Army. I was threatened with serious prosecution, though the state had no physical evidence against me. I was told I could be looking at 10 to 20 years in “big boy pound you in the ass prison,” as Sgt. Whitetree put it, or I could enlist for a term in the Army.

While I believed I could beat the charges, I saw myself as a young man with very few options by design. I agreed to enlist, but I spent the weekend in jail anyway.

It almost felt like home sweet home at that point. I’d been on that same block so many times before, and this time, I was staring into a system that I at least thought could surely be no worse than where I was coming from. I was mistaken.

Before I was released from custody Monday morning, the Judge presiding in Lee County, Judge Richard Lane, willfully back-dated my release from probation 30 days so that I could proceed directly to the recruiting station and sign my butt into the Army.

After signing initial papers and attaining waivers for my juvenile marijuana conviction, and before heading to MEPS for the first time, Sgt. Whitetree bought me a system flushing drink so that I would not test positive for marijuana on my initial drug test to get into the Army. At every step it was made totally clear to me that should I choose not to enlist in the military, I would face charges stemming from the incident with my step-brother.

What happened to me was illegal, and I am not alone. I am living proof we do not have an all-volunteer Army, and I’ve met countless throughout my time in the military that could tell similar to identical tales. And if not forced by the police, then because they saw themselves on a destructive path and were in fact seeking a way out similar to me. Or those who really just wanted to go to college, which should be a basic human right for all anyway. Or those with mouths to feed other than their own. Or those who just never knew any other way. Or those who were lied to and told they would serve freedom and justice.

War is not a natural state for man. We are propelled to war and destructiveness in all forms by forces which seem beyond our control; that reach into our lives and move us to some drastic end. That is why in a truly just society, war would not exist. But when the sacrifice of war becomes less than the sacrifice of life, we must look at ourselves and ask, “what have we created?”

I confessed, I was tortured by the Army, as are we all. We are beaten down, we are brutalized and dehumanized in all forms, physically, emotionally and sexually. We are taught that human life is cheap, and that all things burn if you get them hot enough. We are taught where and how to stab bayonets into people, we are taught to kill from great distances using bullets and bombs, we are taught that napalm sticks to kids.

We were taught that people from the middle east were Haji’s, Sand Niggers and Rag Heads, and that terrorists were going to kill our families if we didn’t go kill them and theirs first. We were taught that civilians could never understand and should never be trusted. We were taught the “Army family” was all we had.

We were taught that woman were objects, and were to be treated like objects, and though we had cute little classes about sexual harassment and racial sensitivity, the practice of male chauvinism and exploitation of women was rampant, especially in Japan and the Philippines, which I believe to be indicative of racism in the military toward non-whites.

I confessed that while I was stationed overseas four and a half years, I saw rampant prostitution on and around military bases. I confessed that my conscience is not clean of this disgusting act. Twice in Japan, I solicited prostitutes with fellow members of my unit. These were acts not only meant to make us feel powerful as men and Americans, they were to bond us together as a unit that works together, plays together, eats together and even ‘fucks’ together.

I’m happy to say on both these occasions my conscience got the better of me and I could not produce an erection. For fifty dollars each time, I was supposed to have sex with those women, and instead I asked them to rub my back for the half- hour while I listened to my comrades on the other side of hanging sheets defile the miracle of life.

I’ll never forget on the second occasion the piercing, painful and sustained scream of one women being taken on by my comrade whose name I will not share. After ferocious laughter erupted from his throat, he said in a very matter of fact kind of way, “she doesn’t like it up the ass!”

I remember laughing because I couldn’t believe what was going on. I knew something was wrong, but it’s like I didn’t know I was supposed to care. As long as it wasn’t me doing it or receiving it, I felt free to giggle away. These were prostitutes, I was taught, and they were there to service us as men, even if it was just to rub my back because I couldn’t ‘get it up,’ which is a fact I did not share with my comrades out of shame. Little did I know it was evidence to be proud of, that even when my mind forgot what is right and wrong, my body did not, or not in Japan, anyway.

The first of the two prostitutes I did have sex with was in the Philippines. This act has haunted my conscience for years. It continues to haunt me even now. Even though I have publically confessed it and asked for the forgiveness of all who I treated like objects, including my those former girlfriends of mine who I was unfaithful to in all of these acts.

After weeks of working in the Joint Information Bureau with American and Philippine military personal in Puerto Princesa, the officers of the operation decided they wanted to reward us for a job well done. I was told to put on civilian clothes and meet in front of our building immediately following work.

At the time we had orders not to leave the base unless under armed guard by Philippine Soldiers as there were rebel forces in the area likely to target American forces if given the opportunity. So we were met by a squad of armed Soldiers with a military vehicle which we rode in off base to a local disco.

Upon arrival, the armed soldiers took up post in front of the door, and I was given beer and invited to display my dancing moves to my comrades and the women present in the club. When one came up to me and started dancing, I thought nothing too fishy of it. A Philippine officer came over and put his hand on my shoulder. He asked me if I thought the girl was pretty, and I said yes and continued dancing.

This officer, after a few more minutes of observing, whistled to a woman behind the bar and pointed at the girls me and the other Americans were dancing with. He made the international sign for money and he pointed toward the vehicle. It was then that I knew, I had just been purchased a human being.

Our armed escort drove me, two other enlisted guys and the officers to a collection of one-room bungalows that was the hotel. Each troop retired to a bungalow with a woman, and soon, the sounds of men having their way with women filled the damp night air.

I sat in my bungalow with a young girl, who couldn’t speak a word of English, which is strange for people from the Philippines, which makes me believe this young girl was a victim of human trafficking. She was obviously frightened that I would push myself on her in some violent way, which made me feel sick and uneasy.

To ease my churning stomach and scared heart and her as well, I began teaching the girl English. I thought her to say “how are you,” and “I am 18.” I taught her to say “Love” and “I have to pee,” when she did so in a bucket in the back of the room. I then kissed her, because I wanted to, and she kissed me back.

I left the room, when I heard my comrades talking outside under the palm trees in dark. They were drinking from a bottle of whiskey and talking about the sex they just had with “their” women. And they were talking with the officers, who had also had their way with several women. When they asked me what I had done, I told them I taught the girl to speak a little English, and that I’d watched her pee in a bucket and kissed her, but that was about it.

They laughed and told me I was a nice boy, but that they hadn’t paid for the woman so that I could teach her English. They said if I didn’t go back inside and “be a man” with that girl, they’d be offended. In one moment, I felt every ounce of not only my manhood questioned, but also my main mission of “fostering positive relations with Philippine counterparts.”

I went back inside the bungalow, and I had sex with a person who I treated like an object. But I did it, and will forever feel violated for it. I had unprotected sex with a woman who’s only purpose in being with me was money that she may not have even been receiving. I broke her heart, and I broke my own. I sold out on my manhood that night.

When it was done I wanted to hug her, but I could tell she wanted to lie nowhere close to me. She didn’t love me, she didn’t want to be with me. We had defiled a beautiful act of creation and intimacy without ever having taken any responsibility for ourselves. I felt as though I had raped her. I felt as though I had raped myself.

But we did it, and it was what it was. We didn’t stand near to each other after that, though she sat with me in the front seat of the van as we took the women back to the disco. I vaguely remember someone in the car commenting that they’d never “pissed in a whore’s ass before,” before a very angry woman started screaming in Tagalog. I was so ashamed. I couldn’t hold her hand. I could barely hold the contents of my own stomach. I knew I had done wrong, and it killed every relationship I had from that point forward.

I couldn’t come to grips with myself as a man after that. I couldn’t feel like a sacred thing, anymore. We’re all miracles; burning, walking miracles, but we cover ourselves in thick robes of guilt, isolation and despair, and we forget to see the spiritual wholeness and actualization of a human being as sacred, as it is, as we are. And if we did, we wouldn’t do things like I did, we wouldn’t do things like we do, and like what’s still being done by our good boys and girls in untenable situations.

But this followed me, and I took it to Germany where one evening while I was out in Frankfurt with a Major and a former Provost Marshal (like the chief of the military police), I found myself in a legal, medically-approved brothel where I did have sex with a Columbian girl. Almost immediately after we started, however, I snapped out of what felt like a haze and told her I really wanted to leave and that I’d pay her the money anyway. I knew I didn’t want to be there. I realized I was just trying to impress some Major who turned out was actually trying to hit on me, though I was a little slow on the uptake at the time.

I apologize from the bottom of my heart to the women I’ve hurt as a result of my sexual dehumanization. This includes every one of my girlfriends while in the Army, all of whom I cheated on when they got too close to my heart, and I broke many of their hearts in doing so. This includes my girlfriend, my love, Alexandra, who has stood so bravely and non-judgmentally by me during these revelations. My apology includes my mother and my sister, both of whom I know will be hurt by this information that I refuse to conceal anymore. This includes every woman who reads this horrible testament to the truth of sexuality in the U.S. military. This includes every woman who has ever been sexually preyed upon by U.S. troops in countries all over the planet. This includes every woman, every where, those who hate me and those who love me. Those who will never know my story. I’m sorry for the wrong I have done to womankind. I am not the careless, heartless, thoughtless and highly-trained boy I once was. My heart weeps everyday for the wrong I have done in this world.

Since I left the Army in August of 2007, I have struggled severely with Depression, probably due to post-traumatic stress. In fact, the night before I returned from Germany to Brooklyn not really knowing what I was going to do, I confessed to my then girlfriend that I was having suicidal feelings. I confessed to her that I had an image of myself blowing the back of my skull out with a .45 that I could not get out of my head. This would become somewhat of a recurring image to me, as I struggled to get my feet under me in Brooklyn.

Even with my freedom, I was struggling, and I didn’t know why. I wondered why I didn’t want to talk to people or get to know anyone at my school. I couldn’t figure out why no matter how much weed I smoked, or other shit I dabbled in, I couldn’t find peace of mind. I was on the road to being a student, which is all I thought about, all those years in the military, and yet I was crashing in on myself, and that damn .45 kept going off in my mouth!

And then I got my call-up orders for Iraq, and I disappeared into my room for days and days upon end. I felt so trapped. So cornered, and I had nowhere to turn. I had no family in New York, one of my only friend was struggling with PTSD herself from two deployments in Iraq, and all she could talk about was wanting to go back. I felt doomed, and I broke into pieces. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to suicide, and my greatest fear to this day is that I will die by my own hand.

But then I found IVAW, and slowly started peeling off my blankets of guilt and isolation. And with every blanket I shed, I found the strength to shed a few more and a few more. And now I stand before the world today, a free man, free of the military, free of his secrets, free to be whoever I choose to be.

And I choose to be a good man. I choose to be one who sees all women and men as created equal, and as equally miraculous in this universe of ordered chaos and deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness through all means which have been withheld from us. I feel great remorse for the wrong that I have done but will WORK to make right those things I HAVE made wrong.

I felt like a coward for years in the military because I knew what we were doing was wrong, but I simply couldn’t find the legs to stand against it. Conformity was valued above all else, and though for years the quote above my desk read, “Whoso wouldst be a man must be a non-conformist,” those words never really took root before this past year.

I will not conform to war crimes. I will not confirm to sexism, racism and homophobia. I will not conform to injustice nor ignorance. I will not be silenced by fear. I will share my life, for better or for worse, like an open book, for people are not meant to live in shame. We are meant to live proud and free as individuals of principle and courage. But even people of principle and courage are wrong sometimes, and when we can realize it, apologize if necessary, and confess that which we are ashamed of, we can know peace, both in our hearts and in our world.

I’m sorry for the wrong I have done and forgive the wrong that has been done me. I will learn from my mistakes and live as a man of conscience. I will love without limit and share all I have with those who need and may not even know it. I will be humble until the end of my days and thankful for all that I have, including a woman who loves me despite all of these things and who IS the love of my life and has set me free more than she’ll ever understand. And she was at my hearing, and she was my cornerstone. I love you Alexandra like I’ve never before been capable of feeling.

But I will struggle. I will struggle until all my brothers and sisters all over the world are free from militarization and imperialism. I will struggle to see the end of Racism, Sexism, Homophobia and the commodification of the human body in all forms. I will struggle to see that our planet is left to our Grandchildren in FAR better shape than it was left to us. I will struggle to free the world of economic inequality. I will struggle to prevent any more war resisters from being jailed by the military and for the freedom of those who are currently incarcerated. I’m looking at you, Robin Long (among MANY others)!!! You’re still a hero of conscience and we can’t wait for your return to freedom!!!

The battle is won, but the war is FAR from over. Please continue to struggle to end our illegal occupations and horrible practices all over the world, from Iraq to Japan to the Philippines! The U.S. military must be brought home in its entirety and reformed into a force for purely national defense and not murder, rape, torture and war!

We are not bad people. We are not war criminals. We are the victims of lies, brutality, dehumanization and exploitation. We know the true war criminals by their hoards of bloody money and oil barrels overflowing with the tears of Iraqis, Afghans and servicemembers world-wide who have had their lives stripped from them by these criminal occupations and policies.

And that is why I’m releasing the remainder of my legal defense fund, I believe around $2,000, as well I’m turning over the remainder of the money I’ve collected from my website, just over four hundred dollars which represents nearly half of the money which has been donated to me through my paypal since I started it last summer, to Iraq Veterans Against the War.

IVAW represents the voices of conscience for an entire generation of Americans, and really our entire society. We, the Winter Soldiers of the War on Terror, who will speak our truths, no matter what the personal cost, and stand our ground no matter what adversity we may face, and reflect openly and honestly upon ourselves, we represent hope for this nation.

In South Africa after Apartheid fell, truth and reconciliation commissions were set up to investigate crimes committed by both Apartheid forces and rebel forces. To bring about witnesses to reveal crimes which they participated in or knew about, the commission had to grant amnesty to a large number of people who testified to things not greatly different than we do.

And we risk everything to come forward and are asking for NOTHING but an ear to hear us, and the means to carry on, and the willingness to know the truths of our government’s policies. And it lays so many of us so very low, as we struggle in a society that would rather shut our real histories, us, who we are, out, for a lie, one big murderous soul-sucking lie.

Well we’re done taking it, we’re done being victims, and we are organizing a victory, for truth, for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, for our nation in distress, for the people of the world who we have treated like dispensable objects for too long! For the troops, who languish and grow further away from us while our nation worries about paying rent! For the veterans, who are sleeping homeless on the streets and stuck with the image of a gun in their mouth, or with the sounds of screaming babies. For the women, who are first and most being made the victims of these policies and occupations, and for the female Soldiers in Iraq, don’t ever forget that THIS IS NOT NORMAL!!! And for the Muslim people in the United States who have languished in this climate of racism and hate. We are sorry! Your liberation is most important to us!

IVAW represents hope for all these people, and it represented hope for me, when I needed it most, and it continues to represent so much hope to me. We are going to end this war and we need the support right now folks, more than ever, and we need your energy as we move into Spring and Summer.

We are strong, and we are determined. We acknowledge there are still illegal occupations being waged, and human rights violations occurring at the hands of Americans world wide, and we pledge to bear witness to the truth and nature of our experiences to bring about change from the front lines of the real struggle, right here at home.

May we stir now with the coming Spring and blossom hope for all the world to see. Hope in acknowledging we’ve done and are doing wrong, taking responsibility for ourselves by halting the wrong from occurring and seeking the forgiveness and to offer healing to those we know we’ve hurt.

Onward with the struggle, forever!

Matthis Chiroux is a member of the Iraq Veterans Against the War

Looking Forward to What, Mr. President? April 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Justice, About War, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Pakistan, Torture, War.
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.com, April 24, 2009


O.K.  Let’s for a moment entertain the president’s thesis.  The problems facing the country are enormous.  No one can deny that.  Are they that critical, however, so as to justify ignoring the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes and violations of the United States Constitution of the gravest nature?


Since this is hypothetical I am willing for the moment to grant the president his argument: to wit, the need for the government to attend to critical matters is so vital that at the very least investigations and prosecutions of the Bush era crimes have to be put off.  In other words, as the president has put it, we need to look forward not backwards.


(There are those supporters of the president’s position who allege that those who are screaming for investigation and prosecutions are extreme leftists, partisan, out for revenge, etc.  There arguments are too facile and prima facie ridiculous to merit a response.  All I am granting here for the sake of argument is the hypothesis that it is in the country’s interest to attend to matters other than the Bush era crimes.)


What then, are we “looking forward” to?


In foreign policy the president has made a promise about withdrawal from Iraq that is so full of loopholes and caveats that any serious analysis cannot but conclude that the generals will have there way and the U.S. military presence, supported by an army of mercenaries, dozens of military bases, combat troops operating under a different name, and the largest embassy in the history of the world, will be extended indefinitely.  The president has gone ahead with a major escalation of the futile aggression in Afghanistan along with an escalation of the bombarding border areas of Pakistan with unmanned drone missiles.  His generals have assured him that the value of the “military gains” will outweigh the recruiting boon to al qaeda and the Taliban (who as we speak are marching towards Kabul) that results from the massive killing of civilians (the ghost of light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-troops-home-for-Christmas General Westmoreland lives on)  .  With respect to the Middle East, so far President Obama has followed the Bush agenda to a tee, with uncritical support of Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip.  Whether he has the guts to stare down Netanyahu with respect to the latter’s threats to attack Iran remains to be seen.


On the home front looms the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the catalyst of which was the sub-prime mortgage scandal and the massive Ponzi schemes that the banks (banksters) and finance industry have run with toxic illegal loans and the unregulated derivatives market.  The president has put in charge of dealing with the crisis the very team (Geithner, Summers, Rubin) that created it and is throwing taxpayers monies down the same Black Hole created by George Bush, known as the Toxic Assets Relief Program (TARP), the premise of which is that bad debts equal money.  The “relief” goes to the Wall Street mafia while the nations’ mortgage defaults and employment goes through the ceiling.


In one of the country’s other most critical issues, that of health care reform, a major plank in the president’s campaign platform, the president apparently has reneged on his previous support for a single-payer national program (similar in theory and practice to Medicare), which he now tells us is “off the table.”  This can be considered as nothing less than sacrificing the national interest by caving in to the bloated blood-sucking private health care industry.


Well, Mr. President, I have gone along with you in agreeing on the seriousness of the problems facing our nation; but if what you have shown us about how you intend to deal with them is your justification for putting aside taking steps to achieve JUSTICE (and restore a semblance of respect for the rule of law) for the most heinous of war crimes and constitutional violations, then you have failed miserably to make your case.


You can count me out, and despite the psychotic-like ranting and ravings of the radical right (to which you have not stood up) and a mainstream media that has its collective head in the sand, I believe that I am part of a rapidly growing soon to be majority.


Someone, Mr. President, perhaps it was you, once quoted FDR telling those who were crying for radical reform to “make me do it.”  Well, Mr. President, do it.

Torturers Should Be Punished April 22, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Amy Goodman

SPOKANE, Wash. – George W. Bush insisted that the U.S. did not use torture.But the four Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel memos released last week by the Obama administration’s Justice Department paint a starkly different picture. The declassified memos provided legal authorization for “harsh interrogation techniques” used by the Bush administration in the years following Sept. 11, 2001. They authorized (as listed in the Aug. 1, 2002, memo by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee) “walling … facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, insects placed in a confinement box, and the waterboard.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the OLC under Bush “became a facilitator for illegal government conduct, issuing dozens of memos meant to permit gross violations of domestic and international law.”

The memos authorize what the International Committee of the Red Cross called, in a leaked report, “treatment and interrogation techniques … that amounted to torture.”

These torture techniques were developed by two psychologists based in Spokane, Wash.: James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Their company, , provided specialized training to members of the U.S. military to deal with capture by enemy forces. The training is called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Mitchell and Jessen, both psychologists, were contracted by the U.S. government to train interrogators with techniques they claimed would break prisoners.

They reverse-engineered the SERE training, originally developed to help people withstand and survive torture, to train a new generation of torturers.

The memos provide gruesome details of the torture. Waterboarding was used hundreds of times on a number of prisoners. The Bybee memo includes this Kafkaesque authorization: “You would like to place [Abu] Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him.”

After President Barack Obama said there should be no prosecutions, he was received with great fanfare at the CIA this week. Mark Benjamin, the reporter who originally broke the Mitchell and Jessen story, said when I questioned him about Obama’s position: “If you look at the president’s statements and you combine them with the statements of Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, and Eric Holder, the attorney general … you will see that over the last couple of days the Obama administration has announced that no one, not the people who carried out the torture program or the people who designed the program or the people that authorized the program or the people who said that it was legal-even though they knew that it frankly wasn’t-none of those people will ever face charges. The attorney general has announced that … the government will pay the legal fees for anybody who is brought up on any charges anywhere in the world or has to go before Congress. They will be provided attorneys … they have been given this blanket immunity … in return for nothing.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein asked Obama to hold off on ruling out prosecutions until her panel finishes an investigation during the next six months. Though Obama promises to let the torturers go, others are pursuing them. Bybee is now a federal judge. A grass-roots movement, including Common Cause and the Center for Constitutional Rights, is calling on Congress to impeach Bybee. In Spain, Judge Baltasar Garzon, who got Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet indicted for crimes against humanity, has named Bybee and five others as targets of a prosecution.

For years, people have felt they have been hitting their heads against walls (some suffered this literally, as the memos detail). On Election Day, it looked like that wall had become a door. But that door is open only a crack. Whether it is kicked open or slammed shut is not up to the president. Though he may occupy the most powerful office on Earth, there is a force more powerful: committed people demanding change. We need a universal standard of justice. Torturers should be punished.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 700 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.

Eric Holder v. America’s legal obligations April 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
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(updated below)

Can anyone reconcile these?:

Barack Obama, yesterday:

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.

Eric Holder, yesterday:

It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.

Convention Against Torture — signed by Reagan in 1988, ratified in 1994 by Senate:

Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law (Article 4) . . . . The State Party in territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found, shall in the cases contemplated in article 5, if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. . . . An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

Geneva Conventions, Article 146:

Each High Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts.

Charter of the International Tribunal at Nuremberg, Article 8:

The fact that the Defendant acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility, but may be considered in mitigation of punishment if the Tribunal determines that justice so requires.

U.S. Constitution, Article VI:

[A]ll Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.

I agree entirely that it is the DOJ lawyers who purported to legalize torture and the high-level Bush officials ordering it who are the prime culprits and criminals, as compared to, say, CIA agents who were proverbially just following orders and were told by the DOJ that what they were doing was legal.  But leave aside the question of whether prosecutions would produce good or bad outcomes.  After all, the notion that the law can and should be ignored whenever we think doing so would produce good results or would constitute good policy was the engine that drove Bush lawlessness.  If, as Barack Obama proclaimed yesterday, “the United States is a nation of laws” and his “Administration will always act in accordance with those laws,” isn’t it the obligation of those opposing prosecution to justify that position in light of these legal mandates and long-standing principles of Western justice?  How can they be reconciled?


UPDATE:  Anonymous Liberal responds and makes the best case he can for arguing against prosecutions of CIA officials in light of these legal obligations.  There is much worthwhile discussion that follows in his comment section. 

To be clear:  I’m not contesting that the focus of the investigations should be on top Bush officials and DOJ lawyers rather than mid-level CIA officials — I think it should be.  Nor am I contesting that there may be sound policy reasons for refraining from prosecuting the CIA officials who applied these torture techniques.  There also may be good reasons of standard prosecutorial discretion (such as a low likelihood of conviction) to refrain from prosecuting.  I just don’t think that decreeing in advance that there will be no prosecutions based on the notion that prosecutions would be “unfair” or that DOJ said these things were legal is remotely consistent with our treaty obligations (i.e., our binding law), which seem explicitly to bar these excuses.

Dubois’s Revenge: Reinterrogating American Democratic Theory … or Why We Need a Revolutionary Black Research Agenda in the 21st Century March 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Uncategorized.
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William (Bill) Strickland

www.blackcommentator.com, March 26, 2009


In 1899, one year after completing what many consider to be the first real Black Study, his magisterial sociological analysis, The Philadelphia Negro, W.E.B. Du Bois addressed the American Academy in Philadelphia and proposed what might also be considered the first real Black Research Agenda.

To the white scholars gathered in Philadelphia, Du Bois proposed a path-breaking study of the Negro people:

The American Negro deserves study for the great end of advancing the cause of science in general. No such opportunity to watch and measure the history and development of a great race of people ever presented itself to the scholars of a modern nation.  If they miss this opportunity—if they do the work in a slipshod, unsystematic manner—if they dally with the truth to humor the whims of the day, they do far more than hurt the good name of the American people; they hurt the cause of scientific truth the world over. . .” (emphasis mine) [1]

However, persuaded that they were already in possession of ‘the truth’ about race, and perhaps equally unpersuaded that Negroes belonged to ‘a great race of people,’ the Academy declined to participate in Du Bois’s project.


Characteristically then, and largely unaided, Du Bois, for the next twenty years—first from Atlanta and later from New York—pursued the racial research we now know as the famous Atlanta University Studies; constructing virtually single-handedly, to all intents and purposes, what was the first Black Studies program in America.  (By celebrating Du Bois in this way, there is no intent to slight George Washington Williams, who Vincent Harding calls “the first substantial scholarly historian of Blacks in America,” [2] and whose 1883 opus, History Of The Negro Race In America From 1619-1880 V2: Negroes As Slaves, As Soldiers, And As Citizens , still stands as the original foundational text of black history.  Nor can one overlook Carter G. Woodson, generally regarded as the Father of Negro History.  Rather one wishes simply to call attention to the fact that in regard to Black Studies, Du Bois was, as in so much else, there “at the creation.”)

But Du Bois’s work in pursuit of the truth about the race’s past and present increasingly led him into a collision with America’s self-definition as a “democratic land” which, despite its negligible “negro problem,” still saw and proclaimed itself, in the classical Panglossian sense, “the best of all possible worlds.”

Du Bois vs. the Historical Establishment

Du Bois’s confrontation with the American historiography that had not changed its opinion of the essential unworthiness of the Negro in the three plus decades since Philadelphia, came to a head in 1935 when he published his seminal reinterpretation of the Reconstruction era, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880.


Concluding the volume with a chapter entitled, “The Propaganda of History,” Du Bois charged that “the facts of American history have in the last half century been falsified because the nation was ashamed.  The South was ashamed because it fought to perpetuate human slavery, the North was ashamed because it had to call in the black men to save the Union, abolish slavery and establish democracy” (emphasis mine). [3]

This critique was both revolutionary and heretical since it not only attributed what we now routinely describe as “agency” to black people but it also struck a Joe Louis-like blow against white supremacy by asserting that black people had been the Salvationists of the Civil War Republic!  Therefore what Du Bois’s perspective represented and what it called for, implicitly, was a new history of America.

Du Bois made that implication explicit on the global level as well in a 1943 letter to Will Alexander, a special assistant in the office of the War Manpower Commission who had written Du Bois from Washington that “there is a small group of scholars here, men of wide experience in international matters, who feel that there is need of a universal history of racism as it has appeared in various places around the world.” [4]

Two weeks after receiving Alexander’s November letter, Du Bois responded from Atlanta “that a universal history of racism would be an excellent undertaking but . . . if you are going to take the wide definition of race including nationalism, minorities, status, slavery, etc., it would be attempting a new universal history on a vast scale” (emphasis mine). [5]

Du Bois’s view that applying a “wide” definition of race to world  history would, ipso facto, produce a new historical paradigm, a virtual reformulation of the way that one thought about the past and present world, is what I want to suggest is also both true and necessary for American political history and theory; that the need to reinterrogate the various ways that race and racism have impacted upon and, indeed, shaped the American nation state is also a history that must be reconceptualized “on a vast scale” if we wish to take up Du Bois’s crusade for “scientific truth.”

At bottom, the question that underlies such an enquiry is quite simple: Since public policy and constitutional law in America have sanctioned slavery, segregation, discrimination and institutional racism, how is it possible to reconcile the democratic theory of the state with the black civic experience?  For example, the state may be conceptualized as an autonomous actor, a neutral arbiter, a gendarme, or an instrument of race, class and gender oppression.  But whichever way the state is conceived, it unquestionably performs a certain role in allocating wealth, status, privilege and resources to some while withholding those perquisites from others.  Moreover, although a taboo subject in conventional American appraisals, the chief means employed by the state and society to maintain and perpetuate the racial social order has been the resort to violence. 


Slavery was violent and was only overthrown by violence.  Reconstruction was dismantled by violence.  The system of Jim Crow rested upon the theory and praxis of violence and the resistance to the freedom movement was, at its core, violent.  The challenge, therefore, is to look longitudinally at American political history to try and gain a more accurate understanding of how the Republic has related actually, rather than mythically, to the black presence in its midst.   Consider this example both of one problem unexamined and the kind of research needed to bring it to light.

The Southern Question

In 1944, Adam Clayton Powell was elected to Congress from Harlem and arrived in Washington in 1945, the last year of World War II’s fight against fascism. [6]

But what did Adam have to contend with once he had taken his seat?  He had to contend with the racist rantings of Southern Congressmen like John Rankin of Mississippi who were still freely indulging the epithet “nigger” on the House floor.  (Rankin was an equal opportunity bigot since he also assailed columnist Walter Winchell as “a little kike.”) [7]

To his credit, and despite the expectation that freshmen Congressmen were to be seen and not heard, Adam rose after another Rankin outburst to say that “the time has arrived to impeach Rankin, or at least expel him from the party.” [8]

So how do we theorize about this incident?  Were Rankin’s fulminations simply an individual expression of racist sentiment or symptomatic of something more organic to American political life?  What, for example, did the apparent tolerance of the behavior signify?  And how far back did this normative racism go?  All the way back to 1790?  Or was it only a twentieth century phenomenon?  That is, did racial insults abate in Congress during the thirty years, from 1871 to 1901, when black men sat in the Congress?  In fine, what is the historical record of racist discourse—and the advancement of racist interests–in the House and Senate of the United States?  Researching that question in the Congressional Record, the Congressional Globe, et al., would be a massive undertaking—and aside from William Lee Miller’s Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress (Knopf, 1995) which details the 1830’s Congressional fight over petitions against slavery–so far as I know no one has yet done it.  But questions such as these need to be answered if we are ever to truly fathom the nature of the American racial state.

Also one might raise many other questions about Dixiecrat power for one’s research agenda, like the political side of the reparations question.  For while the subject of reparations for unpaid slave labor has generated heated political discussion for decades, there has been no similar effort to systematically appraise the cost of federal programs and public policy which the South steered to itself on the backs of the expropriated political power of disenfranchised Blacks.

We know, for example, that the Freedmen’s Bank was burgled by government-affiliated speculators after the Civil War.  We know that many black veterans of World War I were never given their pensions.   We know that the Union army paid its black soldiers only half of what they paid white soldiers until black soldier protest and war exigencies forced the government to relent in the last year of the war.  And we know that the funds of the New Deal programs were discriminatorily disbursed during the Depression.  But we can’t put a dollar figure on these serial betrayals by the national government nor on the spin-off benefits which the South enjoyed because of its stolen political power.  How many public projects and military bases were sited in the former Confederacy, one wonders?  And government subsidies?  And tax breaks?


The questions are endless but the answers will help us illuminate the suppressed dimension of the American racial state.

So where might we begin?  At the beginning, of course, with the sacrosanct foundation myths of American exceptionalism.


“The United States was the land of captivity, of slavery rather than liberty, and the discovery of the New World represented not the founding of a shining city on a hill but the start of the crime against Africans.” [9]   –Manisha Sinha

The problem of reinterpreting America’s history and politics is only partly a problem of new discovery since much of the actual history is known.  It exists in records, documents, oral history and in books, both old and new.

The problem is that non-mainstream history is an embarrassment to the national myths that make up America’s identity so it is banished from the national memory; hidden from national view; concealed behind what Du Bois called The Veil.  What we are left with is invented history, abetted by various “masking devices” such as historical patterns that go uncommented upon; euphemistic language such as “landed gentry” instead of slave-owners; “racial riots” instead of pogroms; “violence” instead of murder; “harassment and intimidation” instead of racial terror, ad infinitum. (emphasis mine)  Another ploy is the examination of the “thoughts” and “minds” of Great White Men while shying away from their deeds.

But the most persistent disguising tradition has been simply to ignore the messenger. . . the fate of most black critical voices over the ages.  Indeed, Manisha Sinha, in the January 2007 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly, points out that “Historians have yet to fully appreciate the alternative and radical nature of black abolitionist ideology. . . [that] not only pointed to the shortcomings of American revolutionary ideals but also exposed their complicity in upholding racial slavery.” [10]   And, if ignoring the messenger did not suffice, then the reaction was to professionally slay the renegade scholar.  That was the fate meted out to the late Fawn Brodie whose 1974 volume, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, dared to suggest an “intimate relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. . .”   Her reward was to be almost unanimously pilloried by the academic establishment.  So what, at bottom, are we dealing with?

Is America just another case of national vanity run amok since nearly all societies, like nearly all religions, tend to think of themselves as special and adhere to creation myths which attest to their uniqueness?   Or is something more at stake?  Something like America’s aspiration to world leadership based on its self-image of being specially favored and specially blessed?  It is to answer that question that one turns to the past because it is the past which best contextualizes today’s diabolical policies of preemptive war, international kidnappings, secret prisons, sanctioned torture, the gulag of Guantanamo, the excesses of the FBI and the administration’s scornful disregard of the Constitution, the Geneva Convention, and the right of habeas corpus.


The past conceptualizes these practices because, although chronologically new, they are remarkably akin to deeds which Du Bois deplored some fifty years ago:

There was a day when the world rightly called Americans honest even if crude; earning their living by hard work; telling the truth no matter whom it hurt; and going to war in what they believed a just cause after nothing else seemed possible.  Today we are lying, stealing and killing.  We call all this by finer names: Advertising, Free Enterprise, and National Defense.  But names in the end deceive no one; today we use science to help us deceive our fellows; we take wealth that we never earned and we are devoting all our energies to kill, maim and drive insane men, women, and children who dare refuse to do what we want done.  No nation threatens us.  We threaten the world. [11] (emphasis mine.)

Seem familiar?

The significance of Du Bois’s critique is that he saw America not as most Americans see it but through his own racial lens; utilizing the second sight he had gained as a lifelong racial outsider in the land of his birth:

Had it not been for the race problem early thrust upon me and enveloping me, I should have probably been an unquestioning worshipper at the shrine of the established social order and of the economic development into which I was born. But just that part of this order which seemed to most of my fellows nearest perfection, seemed to me most inequitable and wrong; and starting from that critique I, gradually, as the years went by, found other things to question in my environment. [12]   (emphasis mine)

So Fawn Brodie questioned an icon while Du Bois questioned the “social order.”  Both interrogations suggest new interpretative spaces where the meaning of America can be remapped in order to investigate the line of historical continuity from the international slave trade to the multi-national corporation, from the Indian “wars” of yesterday to the Iraqi occupation of today, from America’s oft-invoked democratic claims to its oft-enacted undemocratic actions.


To review American political history from top to bottom is obviously beyond the scope of this paper.  What it seeks to do is reanalyze America’s founding years by piggy-backing on some of the excellent works written both recently and in past years, which have significantly contributed to our understanding of non-mythical American history.


In that connection James Loewen’s pioneering, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Revised and Updated Edition (New Press, NY, 1995) must be mentioned as well as THINKING AND RETHINKING U.S. HISTORY , edited by Gerald Horne and published by the Council on Interracial Books for Children in 1988.  (In fact, Horne has been exemplary in resurrecting neglected history as in his Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920 (American History and Culture Series) (NYU Press, 2005). [13]   He has also provided us with a critically new perspective on the role of race in World War II in his Race War!: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire (NYU, 2004) which “delves into forgotten history to reveal how European racism and colonialism were deftly exploited by the Japanese to create allies among formerly colonized people of color.” [14] )

The methodology of inquiry will be to carry on a dialogue with these books; outlining what new historical hypotheses they seem to represent and what new questions and issues arising from them might deservedly constitute a research agenda of the future.


In 1964, Eli Ginsberg and Alfred Eichner published their book Troublesome Presence: American Democracy and the Black-Americans (hereafter G&E) which painted quite a different picture of American settlers from the archetypical image of freedom-seeking Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620.   They wrote that. . . “of the several million persons who reached Great Britain’s North American colonies before 1776, it is conservatively estimated that close to 80 percent arrived under some form of servitude.” [15]   (emphasis mine)

Since we are accustomed to think of servitude and/or slavery as being the lot only of Africans and their descendants and also know that, as of the first official census in America in 1790, these persons comprised approximately 20 percent of the American population, we are left to wonder about the status of this majority of  unknown white settlers.  Who were they, these non-Pilgrims? 

A partial answer can be found in G&E and also in Gary Nash’s classic work of colonial history, Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America (5th Edition).   Both direct our attention to the Jamestown Landing of 1607 where the two constituent elements of American exceptionalism first came into being, i.e., the awarding of “free” land to the settlers and their gaining of the right to vote.  However, both of these bestowals by the architects of the Jamestown project, the Virginia Company of London, arose out of the financial imperatives of settlement not out of any sentiments of democratic idealism.  More importantly these concessions were made by the London businessmen whose desperate hope was to turn Jamestown into a successful profit-making enterprise as the Spaniards had done in Mexico and Peru. 

Witness Gary Nash:

The English founded their first permanent settlement in the Americas at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.  But it was not a colony at all. . . Rather it was a business enterprise, the property of the Virginia Company of London, made up of stockholders and a governing board of directors who answered directly to James 1.” [16] (emphasis mine)

Thus America was birthed by capitalism, not by freedom.  Indeed the Jamestown Project’s partnership between the corporation and the state was to serve as a useful model later in the century when the Royal African Company was granted a monopoly of the English slave trade with West Africa in 1672 by King Charles II.

Not Colonists But Conquistadors

We have come to think of slavery and the slave trade as the prime incubators and instigators of American racism with the American South as its birthplace.  Except. . . the first racial slaves in America were not Africans but Indians and the first state to legally sanction slavery was not Virginia in 1661 but Massachusetts in 1641. [17]


Moreover Massachusetts’s involvement in the slave trade antedates even their first slave law, e.g., “The first definitely authenticated American-built vessel to carry slaves was the Desire built in Marblehead [Massachusetts] and sailing out of Salem in 1638 [carrying] a cargo, among other things, of seventeen Pequot Indians, whom she sold in the West Indies.” [18] (emphasis mine)   What this neglected history of Indian slavery suggests is that we must see the Indian as well as the African as the original racial “other,” the negation of whose humanity was the dialectical affirmation of white superiority in America; that slavery and the slave trade tie Massachusetts and Virginia together and demonstrate the North-South national pattern of racial exploitation that evolves so seamlessly into racism.

Any new research agenda thus needs to reconceptualize white–Indian along with white-African relations to gain a fuller understanding of the role of race in shaping both the racial and cultural identity of America and in making possible its political and economic development.  Volumes such as Almon Lauber’s Indian Slavery in Colonial Times (Amsterdam, NY, 1969 but originally published in 1913), Allan Gallay’s The Indian Slave Trade, 1670-1717 (Yale, New Haven, 2002), and others like Karen Ordahl Kupperman’s Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (Cornell, NY, 2000) and her most recent book, The Jamestown Project (Harvard, Cambridge, MA, 2007) tell the more inclusive story of how considerations of race dominate early American relations. . .  As we can see by returning to the saga of Virginia:

“In the autumn of 1607. . . when food supplies were running perilously low and all but a handful of Jamestown settlers had fallen too ill to work, the colony was saved by Powhatan, whose men brought sufficient food to keep the struggling settlement alive until the sick recovered and the relief ship arrived.” [19]   (emphasis mine)  So Powhatan, more famous in the white-washed history as the father of Pocahontas, saves the Jamestown settlers in 1607, years before the Pilgrims landing and years before the holiday we now celebrate as Thanksgiving.  But Powhatan’s life-saving graciousness has gone unlearned, unappreciated, unspoken of—even this year, the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s Founding.  Perhaps that is because, as Du Bois wrote about the black contribution to the Civil War, the settlers were ashamed of being indebted to those whom they considered their inferiors. Or maybe it’s the historians who should be held accountable. Whatever….  In the historical scheme of things, this oversight does not seem to have mattered because the new settlers soon re-righted their racial world at the behest of their superiors; to wit:

In 1609, the royal governor of Jamestown was ordered by the Virginia Company “to effect a military occupation of the region . . . to make all tribes tributary to him rather than to Powhatan, to extract corn, furs, dyes, and labor from each tribe and, if possible, to mold the natives into an agricultural labor force as the Spanish had done in their colonies.” [20]   (emphasis mine)

“As the Spanish had done in their colonies” meant, of course, that the settlers, told to emulate the Spanish conquistadors, were to subjugate the Indians to their will, establish racial rule over them, divide and conquer where possible, appropriate anything of value the Indians might possess—from food provisions to trade goods—and, first and foremost, enslave them . . . or as the company delicately put it—“mold them into an agricultural labor force.”

But the 30,000 Indians of the Chesapeake would not be “molded.”  They perished from the white man’s diseases.  They fought back.  So the Company had to try a new business plan of luring settlers to Virginia by promising them free land at the end of seven years labor.  But after five years the strategy of trying to turn a profit from these white indentured servants had also not succeeded so the company again raised the inducements for settlement:  “This time 100 acres of land was offered outright to anyone in England who would journey to the colony. . . [Thus] Instead of pledging limited servitude for the chance to become sole possessor of the land, an Englishman trapped at the lower rungs of society at home could now become an independent landowner in no more time than it took to reach the Chesapeake.” [21] (emphasis mine)

It is in this fashion that American exceptionalism is born via the gift of land which in Europe is owned by the monarchy, the church and the aristocracy.  But in America it is made available in a transaction of profit-making speculation.  Englishmen “trapped at the lower rungs of society” can then rise to become “independent landowners.”

But there was still one more “gift” to come: “In 1619 the resident governor was ordered to allow the election of a representative assembly, which would participate in governing the colony and thus bind the colonists emotionally to the land.” [22] (emphasis mine)


The pillar of democracy, the right to vote, was conferred upon the settlers not by the Goddess of Liberty but by the Goddess of Capitalism, as was the means of social and economic uplift, the land of the Indian.  And all of this occurred, we are reminded once again, by 1619—and before the fantasy-ennobling year of 1620.  Two other momentous things, whose significance, historian Lerone Bennett, Jr. reminds us, cannot be overstated, also took place in 1619.

Speaking of the first Africans to arrive in British America whom he calls the Jamestown Twenty, Lerone sums up the contradictions of Jamestown which were to become America’s own:

“In the months preceding the arrival [of the Africans], the colony had installed the new House of Burgesses [i.e., House of Citizens], formalized a new system of white servitude, shipped its first load of tobacco to England, inaugurated a new system of private property, and welcomed a shipload of brides, who were promptly purchased at the going rate of 120 pounds of tobacco eachThus, white servitude, black servitude, private property, ‘representative democracy,’ and bride purchase were inaugurated in America at roughly the same time.” [23] (emphasis mine)

Or to put it another way, the Jamestown Experiment codified the race, class, gender and political identity of America.  It also demolishes the myth of American exceptionalism because it establishes America as simply one of a number of white settler states like the former Rhodesia, South Africa and French Algeria, and those like New Zealand, Australia, et al. who have  morphed from those origins to the “civilizations” we see today.  Speaking of Australia, we can now answer the question that we posed pages ago about who these non-Pilgrim white colonists were.


Some were servants, and some were indentures and redemptioners as we have seen.  Others were  slaves like the white women sold at Jamestown, and many were the victims of kidnappings because:

Exporting white indentured servants became a big business… and closely resembled the African slave trade.  Drunkards were carried on shipboard.  Children were lured away with promises of candy and officials were bribed to turn over convicted criminals to the procurers. . . called ‘spirits’ because their victims were spirited away. . . [24]

But many of these “settlers” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were criminals .  Between 1718 and 1785 Britain banished 50,000 convicts to America, a fact rarely cited in American textbooks. [25]   In fact, it seems a matter of some historical discomfort to reveal the fact that America was Britain’s first penal colony.  Australia only assumed that role after the American Revolution when America’s shores were closed to that traffic.  Indeed the whole subject of white servitude and convict labor has received scant historical attention.  But the evidence is there.  It just is not permitted to confront or alter the tenets of mainstream history.

Again, Gary Nash:

“The colony had been initiated not by men seeking political or religious freedom but by profit-hungry investors in England and fortune-hunting adventurers and common riffraff from the back alleys and prisons.” [26]   The truth about Jamestown’s history, like the truth about American history itself, is gagged, shunted away in the closet to protect the myth of American perfection.  One re-engages with that history not simply to expose unflattering and suppressed truths but because so long as the myth of American perfection reigns, there will be no momentum for change in America.  And look at the world around us today.  Does it not suggest that change, more than likely, is the only hope that we have left?

“One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over.”  — W.E.B. Du Bois, 1935

his commentary also appears in Souls.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board Member William L. (Bill) Strickland Teaches political science in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is also the Director of the Du Bois Papers Collection. The Du Bois Papers are housed at the University of Massachusetts library, which is named in honor of this prominent African American intellectual and Massachusetts native. Professor Strickland is a founding member of the independent black think tank in Atlanta the Institute of the Black World (IBW), headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Strickland was a consultant to both series of the prize-winning documentary on the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize (PBS Mini Series Boxed Set), and the senior consultant on the PBS documentary, The American Experience: Malcolm X: Make It Plain.  He also wrote the companion book Malcolm X: Make It Plain. Most recently, Professor Strickland was a consultant on the Louis Massiah film on W.E.B. Du Bois – W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices. Click here to contact Mr. Strickland.

[1] Du Bois, W.E.B., Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois, International Press, NY, 1988,

p. 200.

[2] Vincent Harding, “Beyond Chaos: Black History and the Search for New Land,” in Amistad I: Writings on Black History and Culture, ed. John A. Williams and Charles F. Harris (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), p. 271.

[3] Du Bois, W.E.B.  Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. Athenaeum, NY, 1983, p. 711.

[4] Aptheker, Herbert. Correspondence of the W.E.B. Du Bois, 1934-1944, vol. 2, UMass Press, 1978, p. 369.

[5] Ibid., p. 370.

[6] The irony of Amerca’s fighting fascism abroad while segregating Blacks in the military and permitting lynching at home inspired the black community in those war years to launch “the double V” campaign: Victory over the enemies without and within.

[7] Haygood,  Wil. King of the Cats. Houghton Mifflin, NY. 1993, p. 118.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Sinha, Manisha.  “To ‘cast just obloquy’ on oppressors: Black radicalism in the age of revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 64, #1, January 2007, p. 153.

[10] Ibid., p. 160.

[11] Du Bois, W.E.B. Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois, International Press, NY, 1988,

p. 415.

[12] Ibid., p. 155.

[14] Horne, Gerald, Race War: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire, New York University Press, 2004, book jacket.

[15] Eli Ginsberg and Alfred Eichner, Troublesome Presence: Democracy and Black Americans, New Jersey, p. 11.

[16] Nash, Gary.  Red White and Black: The People of Early North America, Prentice Hall, NJ, 1974, p. 46.

[17] G&E, p. 16.

[18] Mannix & Cowley, Black Cargoes, Viking, New York, 1962, p. 6.

[19] Nash, p. 56.

[20] Ibid., p. 59.

[21] Ibid., p. 52.

[22] Ibid., p.52.

[23] Johnson, The Shaping of Black America, Chicago, 1975, p. 8.

[24] Mannix & Cowley, p. 56.

[25] A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The transportation of British convicts to America, 1718-1785, (Clarendon, Oxford, 1990).

[26] Nash, ibid., p. 52.

The Constitution is Unconstitutional August 22, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Political Essays (Roger), The Constitution is Unconstitutional.
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(I recently got a hold of a copy of the United States Constitution, and I read it from cover to cover – it’s not that long a document.  I remember having had to memorize the preamble when I was a student.  It is quite an idealistic statement; and it is too bad that neither the Constitution itself nor the general thrust of our nation’s history come near to living up to it.  In my humble opinion, of course.)



They bought and sold human flesh, had a profound mistrust of anyone who didn’t own real property, and were misogynist to the core.  Their only redeeming characteristics were a healthy disdain for organized religion and feudal nobility.  Surely you will recognize their names: Nicholas Gilman, Jonathan Dayton, George Clymer, Richard Basset, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, and Richard Dobbs Spright, et. al. 




Signers of the Constitution of the United States.  Our revered Founding Fathers.


In high school they had us memorize the Preamble to the Constitution, an eminently noble document; and I can only speculate whether it might have been the intention of its authors, perhaps unconsciously, for its stunning idealism to lull the reader into a state of tranquility so as to lose sight of some of what followed.


It jumps right out at you on page one of the United States Constitution – Article I, Section 2, “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several states … according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons …three fifths of all other Persons.” “Other Persons?”  What could our noble Founding Father possibly have meant by that?  Oh, yes, I forgot: slaves.  Today we call them Afro-Americans.


The meaning and impact of counting of slaves (those “Other Persons” so dearly important to the nation’s economy at the time) is often misunderstood.  It is not, as it appears on the surface, that slaves were considered two fifths less than human.  It’s worse than that.  Much worse.  The Constitution allocated to its resident slaves not three-fifths, but rather zero rights.  As human beings they were “worth” nothing, not three fifths.  The reason they jacked them up to three fifths of a person in the Constitution was only so that those who governed the Southern slave states –their Masters – could have a larger number of representatives in the House of Representatives (where a state’s number of representatives is determined by that state’s population).  This, of course, had the effect of giving the Southern slave states more political power.  Three fifths of the slaves’ bodies were thereby enshrined in the Constitution so that those who rule them could have more power to deny their very existence as human beings, consider them property, and deny human rights not only to their bodies, but to their minds and souls as well.


It was a classic and tragic case of adding insult to injury.


The Civil War and the Fourteenth Amendment put an end to that little indignity, but, there are others.  The disenfranchisement of women, for example, until the Nineteenth Amendment put an end to that political peccadillo in 1920, seven years after the guys gave themselves the right to dun our paychecks with the Sixteenth Amendment.  You can see where the priorities lie.


Whereas in recent years Americans have become painfully aware of the Constitutionally ordained method for choosing their president through the arcane and Byzantine Electoral College and the winner-take-all principle of presidential primaries (thereby in effect potentially disenfranchising up to 49.9% of the voters in any given state), there exists what in my estimation is the most unjust and undemocratic principle written into our Constitution, and it is still there, and hardly anyone ever notices the implications, and it is virtually unamendable.  I refer to the institution of the Senate of the United States of America.


There it is again in Article I.  Section 3 reads simply, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State …”   Fifteen of the most undemocratic words you will ever read.  Perhaps only second to the President him or herself (some day), the U.S. Senate has emerged as one of the most powerful institutions in the country.  Its responsibilities are roughly parallel to those of the House of Representatives (known, significantly, as the “lower” house), but its powers to “advise and consent” on Presidential appointments give the Senate a great deal of extra leverage.  And given that there are nearly five times the number of Representative than Senators, it gives each individual Senator just that much more power.


Consider how radically undemocratic is the United States Senate.  California with a population of roughly thirty five million gets two measly Senators.  One for every seventeen and a half million citizens.  Wyoming, with its population of a half million, gets the same number as senators as California, one for every two hundred and fifty thousand citizens.  That gives the Wyoming voter seventy times more senatorial power than the California voter.  Not exactly consistent with the “one person one vote” principle.  How this works in practice is even scarier.  Traditionally Southern and rural states have been able to frustrate the will of the majority of Americans through its manipulation and control of the Senate.  Their members accrued seniority and exercised power though the Senate’s inviolable Old Boy seniority system.  This phenomenon was to a great extent responsible, for example, of maintaining racial segregation in the United States from the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s until the Supreme Court stepped in 1954, and the Civil Rights Movement pressured the Congress into enacting the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


That has been the practice.  In theory it could be even worse.  The population of the United States is approximately 290 million.  The largest 25 states (population-wise) make up a full 240 million of that (the population of California and Texas and New York combined is roughly equivalent to the population of the 32 smallest states: in the Senate, 6 votes versus 64).  Therefore, representatives (overwhelmingly male and White to this day) of little more than 50 million Americans could in theory constitute a majority in the Senate and frustrate the will of the remaining 240 million.  While it may never reach this extreme, it has and will continue to give drastically disproportionate power to a minority of Americans.


And guess what?  It will probably never change.  The British and Canadians, our two closest ideological neighbors, have made the British House of Lords and the Canadian Senate – their two “upper houses” – into largely ceremonial bodies.  We could do the same, you exclaim.  Thank God for the Amendment provision.  Think again.  I am no constitutional scholar, but what can Article V. of the Constitution mean if not an undemocratic Senate in perpetuity?  It reads, “…no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” (my emphasis).  Can you imagine in your wildest dreams a State giving up its Senatorial votes?  I have nothing against Wyoming, but really.


I choose to judge the Constitution by its own Preamble, which reads in part, “We the people of the United States, in order to … establish Justice.”  They capitalized “Justice.”  A nice touch, but I would prefer the substance to the image.


You will not find political parties mentioned in the Constitution, but they soon appeared in full force with the election of the second U.S. President, John Adams in 1796.  By and large there have always been two predominant parties, although they have changed names and philosophies over the years.  This has had the effect of limiting choice and discriminating against visionary points of view.  It certainly has favored moneyed interests, given the huge costs of election campaigning, and the lack of teeth in campaign spending legislation.  The Founding Fathers would have had no problem with this.  They were big on property and money.  It just took them a few years to get their act together.  Historians and politicians and pundits speak proudly of our two party system.  Along with our perfect self-correcting Constitution, they say, it provides for stability. 


Oh, in this era of Clintonian “Republicrat-ism” and King Bush the Second’s hijacking of the presidency, how one longs for a little political instability.


And, what is more, nowhere in the Constitution do we see the words “checks and balances,” that principle we were taught in high school civics classes that the Constitution reflects in creating the three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.  This is the principle that is supposed to guarantee democracy forever and make revolutionary change anachronistic. What it doesn’t account for is a single political party gaining effective control over the three branches.  It’s bad enough when a single party controls both the Congress and the Presidency, which combine to make and enforce our Laws, including laws about how we vote, how electoral districts are drawn, how population is counted, etc. (was anyone surprised that President George W. Bush didn’t veto the redistricting legislation that gave the Republican party additional seats in his home state of Texas?).  But when the Supreme Court is in their back pocket as well (in 2000 they stopped the vote count in Florida when their boy was ahead), is there really that much left of our treasured Constitutional Democracy?


Our country was born in revolution.  Today “revolution” is a dirty word.  We have been indoctrinated into believing that our Constitution protects us forever and ever against tyranny and injustice. 


Here’s what the Declaration of Independence says:


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness … That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness … when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”


Did I read the word “duty?”  Did I just see the Declaration of Independence telling us that revolution is not only the People’s right but their duty?


Al Gore, not exactly a wild-eyed left wing radical communist, in a Martin Luther King Day speech a couple of years ago, made just that argument about the current George W. Bush government, that it may have rendered our democracy despotic beyond democratic repair.  It is a speech worth reading.


Many treat the United States Constitution the way fundamentalist Christians treat the Bible, that is, as an infallible document.  This ignores the reality that it is human beings collectively who, for better or for worse, control their own destiny.  As Shakespeare said, “It is not in the stars.”  No political system, including and especially democracy in a world of capitalist economics, is infallible.  The deeper truth that we must not forget is that the price of liberty lies not in a piece of paper, however elegant, but in eternal vigilance.