Thomas Piketty is a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality. He is the director of studies at the Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales (EHESS) and professor at the Paris School of Economics. He is the author of the best selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), which emphasizes the themes of his work on wealth concentrations and distribution over the past 250 years. The book argues that the rate of capital return in developed countries is persistently greater than the rate of economic growth, and that this will cause wealth inequality to increase in the future. To address this problem, he proposes redistribution through a global tax on wealth.
Piketty was born on May 7, 1971, in the Parisian suburb of Clichy. He gained a C-stream (scientific) Baccalaureat, and after taking scientific preparatory classes, he entered the Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS) at the age of 18, where he studied mathematics and economics. At the age of 22, Piketty was awarded his Ph.D. for a thesis on wealth redistribution, which he wrote at the EHESS and the London School of Economics under Roger Guesnerie.
After earning his PhD, Piketty taught from 1993 to 1995 as an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1995, he joined the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) as a researcher, and in 2000 he became director of studies at EHESS.
Piketty won the 2002 prize for the best young economist in France, and according to a list dated November 11, 2003, he is a member of the scientific orientation board of the association “À gauche, en Europe”, founded by Michel Rocard and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
In 2006 Piketty became the first head of the Paris School of Economics, which he helped set up. He left after a few months to serve as an economic advisor to Socialist Party candidate Ségolène Royal during the French presidential campaign. Piketty resumed teaching at the Paris School of Economics in 2007.
He is a columnist for the French newspaper Libération, and occasionally writes op-eds for Le Monde.
In April 2012, Piketty co-authored along with 42 colleagues an open letter in support of then-PS candidate for the French presidency François Hollande. Hollande won the contest against the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in May of that year.
In 2013, Piketty won the biennial Yrjo Jahnsson Award, for the economist under age 45 who has “made a contribution in theoretical and applied research that is significant to the study of economics in Europe.”
Piketty specializes in economic inequality, taking a historic and statistical approach. His work looks at the rate of capital accumulation in relation to economic growth over a two hundred year spread from the nineteenth century to the present. His novel use of tax records enabled him to gather data on the very top economic elite, who had previously been understudied, and to ascertain their rate of accumulation of wealth and how this is compared to the rest of society and economy. His most recent book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, relies on economic data going back 250 years to show that an ever-rising concentration of wealth is not self-correcting. To address this problem, he proposes redistribution through a global tax on wealth.
Piketty has used data covering three centuries and more than twenty countries with the help of theoretical framework and statistical studies. This book is accessible to all people , even those without technical training or an economics background. The basic reason for inequality according to Piketty is :
” when the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output and income as it did in the nineteenth century, capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values in which democratic societies are based“.
He recommends that,
“democracy can regain control over capitalism by ensuring that general interest takes precedence over private interests, preserving economic openness and avoiding protectionist and nationalist tendencies”.
Debate on Wealth Distribution
Intellectual and political debate on wealth distribuiton is prejudiced and facts are scarce. Novels by Jane Austen and Balzac, films etc exposes wealth distribution, hierarchy and its implications on men and society. The significance of inequality is it’s visibility and political conflict arises from the subjective perception and judgment of each class of people. Social scientific research systematically and methodically searches for facts, patterns, informs debate and scrutinize facts, even though it is tentative and imperfect. But for a long time this was based on a limited set of firmly established facts and a wide variety of theoretical speculations. Some of the previous thinkings are given below.
Though it seems that the old economic theories of the classical school are ridiculous in retrospect, the political, social and economic changes in the late 18 th and early 19 th centuries were huge and traumatic for the contemporary economists and observers to foresee doom for wealth distribution and class structure. And they were right too in several respects.
Thomas Malthus, (English economist and demographer, one of the most influencial members of the classical school of Economics, best known for his theory that population growth will always tend to outrun the food supply and that betterment of humankind is impossible without strict limits on reproduction) in his 1798 essay, ‘Essay on Principle of Population‘ attributes reasons for upheaval to overpopulation. His source was the diary of the traveller, English agronomist, Arthur Young who chronicled the poverty, overpopulation and French Revolution while travelling through France. The overpopulation of France in the 18 th century that led to decrease in wages and increase in land rents was one of the reasons of resentment towards the aristocracy and the political regime that led to thhe revolution in 1789. He was convinced that mass poverty would lead to political upheavel and worried about the inclusion of commoners to sit along with the aristocrats in the French Legislativve Assembly in 1790. Thus wealth distribution could be seen entangled with politics, class privileges and interests. Malthus borrowed these ideas and somewhat more radically and prejudicially argued to halt welfare assistance to the poor in England and to scrutinize reproduction by the poor, lest overpopulation would lead to a political upheaval in England too.
The two most influential economists of the 19 th century, David Ricardo and Karl Marx believed that a small social group- landowners for Ricardo and Industrial capitalists for Marx- would claim a steadily increasing share of output and income. There also were optimists, liberals like Adam Smith who dismissed that distribution of wealth would be unequal in the future and Jean Baptiste Say who believed in natural harmony. None of these people had any credible statistical data as empirical source to base their observations on.
Ricardo‘s “Scarcity Principle” was explained in his ‘Principles of Political Economy and Taxation‘ (1817). Population and output increase would lead to scarcity of land which inturn would lead to increase in land prices and rent, thus increasing the share of national income going to the landlords. Ricardo suggested a steadily increasing land rent tax to offset the resulting inequilibrium. Though, his prediction did not materialize in the long run as the share of agriculture in national income decreased during the industrial revolution. But his principle explains the effect of price system in destabilizing entire economies and societies. In the 21 st centuries, the principle holds true, we just need to replace the the land with booming real estate and oil prices. Two solutions to this supply and demand mechanisms are- one, if price increases due to reduced supply, switch over to alternate ways which inturn might decrease the price , two- increase the supply of the scarce good. But both these take a long time to achive the desirable results. Thus this interplay between supply and demand affects distribution of wealth linked to extreme changes in certain relative prices.
Karl Marx explained the theory of “Infinite Accumulation” in his work, ‘Capital‘ in 1867. Rise of industrial capitalism in the second half of the 19 th century caused the national economy to grow, but inspite of that and also due to the urban migration and population increase, the proletariat wage stagnated. The sordid reality of poverty and urban misery, child labor were caught in literature such as Oliver Twist, Les Miserables, Germinaland Engel‘s ‘Condition of Working Class in England’. The economy of France and England boomed, but in spite of or because of that worker’s wage stagnated( Historian Robert Allen calls this wage stagnation, “Engel’s Pause“”) from 1800’s to 1870’s. Wages caught up with the growth and economy slightly declined in the final third of nineteenth century, but inequality remained the same. From 1870 to 1914(WW 1), the inequality just stabilized at an extremely high level and wealth accumulation shot up. This inequality was reduced by the powerful economic and political shocks of WW1.
The first communist and socialist movements grew around 1840’s when the capital contnued to prosper while the labor incomes stagnated. After half a centruy of industrial growth from the 1800′ suntil 1840’s masses remained poor. All the politicians could do was only the prohibition of child labor. It was at this time(1848) that Marx published his Communist Manifesto on the eve of ‘ the spring of nations‘ (revolutions across Europe). Over the next two decades Marx proposed the first ever scientific analysis of capitalism and its collapse through his work Capital. Like Ricardo, Marx also explained the internal logical contradictions of the capitalist system. He explained the unlimited accumulation of capital in a few hands. Marx’s conclusion was that capitalism is doomed to an apocalyptic end either by reduced returns which inturn cause conflict among capitalists or inexorably flowing returns which cause the workers to revolt.
Marx’s prophecy was derailed in the last part of 19 th century until 1914, when wages increased, purchasing power increased, but inequlaity still worsened. Communist revolution took place only in the poorest part of Europe, Russia where industrial revolution had only scarcely begun. The richer parts of Europe introduced new social democratic changes benefiting the people. Like Ricardo, Marx was also mistaken and did not take into account the technological progress in future that could to some extent offset the accumulation of wealth sometimes. The probabale reasons are lack of proper research, and statistical data, hasty pronouncements due to political fervor etc…He did not give much thought to politicoeconomic, social situations when capital is abolished, a complex and tragic one as shown by the totalitarian governments abolishing capital.
In the 20 th century magical post war period( “Trente Glorueuses” in French- 30 glorious years from 1945 to 1975), economist Simon Kuznet proposed a theory(1955) directly antithetical to the apocalyptic theories of Marx and Ricardo , that income inequality would automatically decrease in advanced phases of capitalist development regardless of economic policies until it is stabilized at an acceptable level. The economist, Robert Solow(1956) also put forward a balanced growth path where all the variables of capitalism grow at an equal pace thus reducing inequality. These optimistic predictions mirrored the optimism of Adam Smith, Jean Baptiste Say and Proudhon of 19 th century.
Kuznet, an Ukranian -American economist, Harvard educated was the first one to postulate an inequality study based on statistics of income distribution in the US over aperiod of 1913 to 1948, . In 1953 he published his ‘Shares of Upper Income Groups In Income And Savings‘. It used two groups of data- US Federal Income Tax Returns(income tax was created in 1913 only) and Kuznet’s estimates of US National income ( two indispensible data for assessing inequality). Thus he became the first person to study the national accounts of US and the first to publish a historcal data on inequality. His optimistic theory was well received in the 1980 s and 1990 s and even today by some. The data on national income became available in many countries in the period between WW1 and WW2, when income tax was introduced to tax a certain segment of the population.
Kuznet noted a sharp reduction in income inequality between 1913 and 1948. With the data available, he calculated that the top 10% of income earners claimed 45 to 50% of the national income while the rest 90%( middle and low income earners) claimed 30 – 35% of the national income in the initial part of the time period. Calculations done in 1940 showed a drastic reduction in inequality with the top 10 % claiming 30 -35% of national income and the rest 90% claiming 65- 70 %. This decrease of 10% points in the top 10% earners amounted to half the income of the poorest 50% Americans. The reduction in inequality was objectively and empirically shown by Kuznet for the first time with the positive news that inequality in US was decreasing in the 1940′ s. While the 19 th century economics were just theoretically postulating hypotheses.
But Kuznet himself was aware that the reduction in income of the top 10% between 1913 and 1948 was due to the multiple shocks triggered by the Great Depression and WW1 and WW2 that reduced the fortune of the rich and not due to the mobility of wealth from top to bottom. Though he warned people not to generalize his interpretations in his 1953 book, he gave a much more optimistic explanation for reduction in inequality in a 1954 Detroit meet of American economists. He formulated a bell curve called ” Kuznet’s Curve” ( Inverted U- Curve) which shows that in the early stages of industrialization inequality increases and then in later stages it decreases. In a 1955 paper, he reminds readers to interpret data cautiously and note the importance of exogenous shocks in reducing inequality, he suggests that the economic development could also naturally follow this optimistic path without policy interventions or external shocks , not withstanding the speculative nature of the theory. The phenomenon was thought to be reproducible in underdeveloped and developing countries too, thus it became a powerful political weapon. Kuznet reminded the listeners in the meet the optimistic predictions were intended to maintain the underdeveloped countries within the orbit of the free world. Thus Kuznets Curve was a product of the Cold War, created for the wrong reasons. Since the 1970 s inequality has been increasing in the rich countries.
Rapid growth of China and some other poor and emerging countries have contributed to the reduction in inequality at a global level. The “balanced growth path” where all economic variables are supposed to grow at the same pace is disproved by the disequilibria in different economic sectors like oil, finance, real estate etc. Piketty has used an extensive set of historical data for understanding past and present trends, patiently establishing facts and patterns comparing different countries to get a clear idea for the future.
One – sources of inequality and distribution of income.
Two- Sources of distribution of wealth and relation of wealth to income.
Piketty has challened Kuznet’s relation between economic development and distribution of wealth. As per himself, nobody has systematically pursued Kuznet’s work since the tax historical record statistics he had used falls in a no- man’s land, too historical for economists and too economistic for historians. Piketty maintains that income inequality can only be studied in a long- run perspective which is possible by making use of tax record. The household income and budget studies by the national statistical agencies rarely date before 1970 s and also tend to seriously underestimate the upper income groups’ income. But tax records tell more about high incomes and we are able to look at it at least a century back. Piketty has used the same method, sources and concepts as Kuznet to retrospectively analyse the tax records, national and average incomes and chart the patterns in France and all the rest of the 20 countries. The income tax returns allow us to study changes in income inequality and estate tax returns studies the changes in inequality of wealth. In some countrie studied, estate tax predates income tax and so wealth inequality data is much more than income inequality data. Picketty deals not only with the level of wealth and income inequality, but also the structure of inequality(their origin i.e, inherited wealth or savings) among social groups and the systems of economic, social, moral and political justification for defending or condemnng these inequalities.
One reason the book stands out from others is the long historical data to study the dynamics in retrospective, available to the author. Sometimes dating back to 18 th century as in the case of France and Britain. Some long term changes did not emerge clearly until data for the 21 st century became available due to the fact that certain shocks due to the world wars persisted for a very long time. Until the 70 s and 80 s such studies were done manually, but technological advances has made it possible to use a better and quick mode to study these.
Major Results of the Study
The first conclusion: To be wary of, i.e, economic determinism( a theory suggesting that economic forces determine, shape, and define all political, social, cultural, intellectual, and technological aspects of a civilization.). The history of inequality and wealth distribution had always been deeply political. Example: The reduction of inequality in developed countries between 1910 and 1950 was due to the policies adopted to cope up with the consequences of war. The resurgence of inequality after 1980 is due to the changes in taxation and finance, again political decisions. Thus inequality is the joint product of political, social and economic factors combined.
The second conclusion: The dynamics of wealth distribution reveal powerful mechanisms pushing alternatively towards convergence(reduction in inequality) and divergence(rise in inequality). There is no natural. spontaneous process to prevent the destabilising forces to prevail permanently.
Knowledge and skill diffusionis the key to overall productivity growth as well as reduction in inequality both within and between countries. By adopting the modes of productivity of rich countries and acquiring skills the less developed countries have increased their productivity and national incomes. eg. China.
From a theoretical standpoint, other forces can push towards greater equality. For example: requirement of greater skills of production will lead to more empowerment and income of skilled workers thus increasing the human capital over financial capital. A scientist or reasearcher or engineer who is highly skilled would make inequality meritocratic and static. Thus technological rationality leads to economic and democratic rationality.
No matter how potent the forces of skill and diffusion of knowledge is in promoting convergence between countries and within countries, powerful forces can thwart this. Eg: Educational policies, lack of investment in or access to training, availability to acquire skills and of instituitions in turn affect societal groups. Some groups benefit, while some others do not.
Deriving Picketty’s r>g as the fundamental equation of inequality
Taking two worrisome forces of divergence, Piketty tells us that the first one is less worrisome than the second. First, top earners suddenly separate from the rest by a wide margin, means they get into the top 10%. The reason according to Picketty is either the sudden increase in the skills and productivity leading them to be top earners or more plausibly that they acquire the power to set their own remuneration in some cases without limit or in many cases without clear relation to their individual productivity. This is seen mainly in the US. Second, the accumulation of wealth and capital returns when growth of economy is weak, which has the most potent destabilizing effect of the two.
To explain the divergence, Picketty has extended the Kuznets curve over a period from 1910 to 2010. Taking the income inequality of the US first, the top 10% earners claim 45 to 50% of the national income during 1910 – 1920, drops to 30 to 35% at the end of 1940, remains static from 1950 -1970, then a rapid rise in inequality after the 1980’s until the present. By 2010 it is 50% of the national income. After the Kuznet’s Bell curve, it leads directly to an U-shaped curve from the 1940 s to 2010. The rapid rise of inequality after 1980 s in the US is due to a veritable separation of the top managers to the top 10% from the rest of the labor force as mentioned before.
He plotted a second graph of the total value of the private wealth in Britain, France and Germany expressed as ratio of national income in years (capital: national income) from 1870 to 2010. In the late 19 th century, the private wealth is 6 to 7 years of national income, very high. It becomes 2 to 3 years of national income following the shocks of war during 1914 – 1945( inequality decreases). It rises after 1950 and in the twenty first century the private fortunes in al the three countries seem to be on the verge of 5 or 6 years of national income( inequality increases). We get the same U- shaped curve. The return of high capital to income ratio over the past two decades is due to slow growth of economy according to Picketty. Those already having wealth only needs a slight flow of savings to increase the stock of wealth steadily and substantially.
Thus if the rate of return on capital is significantly above the growth rate, which is more likely when growth rate is low, the risk of divergence in the distribution of wealth is high. This fundamental inequality which Picketty writes as r>g, where r stands for the average annual rate of return on capital including profits, dividend, interests, rent and other income from capital, expressed as percentage of the total value of capital and g stands for the rate of growth of the economy, i.e the annual increase in national income or output, sums up the overall logic of Picketty’s conclusions.
Returns on capital were higher than the growth rate in the 18 th centuries and early 19 th centuries and again after 1970’s. Inherited wealth is important since it logically follows that inherited wealth grows faster than the output or income. People with inherited wealth need to save only a portion of their income from the capital to see that capital grow more quickly than economy as a whole. Thus inherited wealth dominates wealth amassed by lifetime labor by a wide margin, capital accumulates, incompatible to the meritocratic values and social justice in a democracy. Also the savings rate increases with wealth. Means , the richer one is , the wealthier one gets. This destabilization factor leading to divergence worried Kuznet, who expressed this in his 1953 book, ‘ Shares of Upper Income Groups in Income and Savings‘. These forces for divergence was also central in James Mead‘s book, ‘Efficiency, Equality and the Ownership of Property‘ and also to Atkinson and Harrison in their ‘ Distribution of Personal Wealth in Britain‘.
To sum up, the process of wealth accumulation and distribution contain powerful forces pushing towards divergence. Though forces of convergence exist, the forces of divergence can attain an upper hand at any time, as is happening now at the beginning of 21 st century. The likely decrease in the growth of population and economy in the coming decades makes this trend all the more worrisome.
Picketty’s conclusions are less apocalyptic than those implied by Marx’s principle of infinite accumulation and perpetual divergence ( Marx’s theory implicitly relies on assumption of zero productivity growth in the long run). Picketty stresses that the main force of divergence in his theory of r>g has nothing to do with any market imperfection . Contrarily, the more perfect the capital market, the more likely r>g. He suggests instituitions and policies that would counter this by progressive global tax on capital . But, they need considerable international co ordination.
The book relies primarily on the historical experience of the leading developed countries- US, Japan, Germany and Britain. British and Frech data are significant, the data for these countries are available as far back as 18 th century. They were the leading colonial and financial powers in the 19 th and 20 th centuries. Their history is indispensable in studying what had been called the first globalization of finance and trade(1870-1914), which was prodigiously inegalitarian. He has given particular significance to the study of France since the French estate records dating back to the 18 th century are probably the richest in the world over the long run. The French Revolution did not create a just society. The population increase over the past 200 years, which was slow also makes it a good subject of study. US when compared to France has a 100 fold increase in population since the Declaration of Independence(France has only 2 fold increase in the last 200 years), less important inheritence factor compared to Europe, a vast change in geography due to the extensive westward expansion, all suggesting that US case is not generalizable.
Piketty critiques the orthodox system of economists churning out theoretical results without knowing what facts needed to be explained. He maintans that the discipline of economics need to get over the childish passion for abstract mathematical theorems and purely theoretical and highly ideological speculations and should focus on historical research and collaboration with other social sciences. Since Kuznet, there was no significant effort to collect the historical data on the dynamics of inequality, a void filled by Piketty with this work. He has presented the data in the book in such a way that anyone with an interest to dissect the question of inequality can easily understand the economics, history and politics of inequality. He uses some elementary mathematical equations , which can be explained in simple ways and understood without specialized technical knowledge. He condemns the preoccupation of economists with mathematics to acquire the appearance of scientificity without having to answer the complex problems posed by the world. He exhorts the economists to work alongside other social science disciplines and the social science practitioners to take interest in economics of wealth distribution and social class and to take a pragmatic approach to avail ourselves of the methods of historians, sociologists, political scientists and economists .
Noam Chomsky is the author of numerous best selling political books including ‘9-11′, ‘Understanding Power’, ‘Middle East Illusions’, and ‘Pirates and Emperors- Old and New. He is the author of over 100 books. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to parents who were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. A political activist, philosopher, linguist, author and lecturer, he is an Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The creator or co-creator of the Chomsky hierarchy and the universal grammar theory, he had held radical leftist views and identified himself with anarchist and libertarian socialist movements. A staunch critic of foreign policies of US and other governments, beginning with the critique of Vietnam war in 1960’s, he rose to public attention when The New York Times published his anti-war essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals“(https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1967/02/23/a-special-supplement-the-responsibility-of-intelle/) . He was an outspoken opponet of US involvement in Vietnam war. He remains a leading critic of U.S. foreign policy, neoliberalism and contemporary state capitalism, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and mainstream news media. In collaboration with Edward S. Herman(American economist, media scholar and social critic), Chomsky later articulated the propaganda model of media criticism in ‘Manufacturing Consent:The Political Economy of the Mass Media‘ and worked to critique the media coverage of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. Chomsky and his ideas are highly influential in the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements.
His defense of freedom of speech, including Holocaust denial, generated significant controversy in the Faurisson affair of the 1980s. The affair was an academic controversy in the wake of a book, Mémoire en défense (1980), by French professor Robert Faurisson, a Holocaust denier. The scandal largely dealt with the inclusion of an essay by Noam Chomsky, entitled “Some Elementary Comments on the Rights of Freedom of Expression“, as an introduction to Faurisson’s book, without Chomsky’s knowledge or explicit approval. Responding to a request for comment in a climate of attacks on Faurisson, Chomsky defended Faurisson’s right to express and publish his opinions on the grounds that freedom of speech must be extended to all viewpoints, no matter how unpopular or fallacious.
According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index in 1992, Chomsky was cited as a source more often than any other living scholar during the 1980–1992 time period, and was the eighth-most cited scholar in any time period. In 1979, The New York Times called him “arguably the most important intellectual alive today.”Since retiring from MIT, he has continued his vocal political activism, including opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq and supporting the Occupy movement. Chomsky began teaching at the University of Arizona in 2017.
Synopsis ( exactly as from the book, abridged)
In it’s pursuit of hegemony and total world domination, the US foreign policy was shaped, moulded, and tweaked, incorporating punitive and preemptive military occupations and wars and wielding cudgels like economic sanctions and trade wars, thus bringing about catastrophic humanitarian consequences and spawning of a long term threat of international terrorism and proliferation of WMD. The world was shocked to learn how possible terminal nuclear events, triggered by error, were barely avoided at the eleventh hour, the one during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 considered as a shocking example.
The war-mongering Bush administration, despite popular opposition, blocked UN efforts to ban militarization of space, and terminated international negotiations to prevent biological warfare. Warnings of humanitarian catastrophe, long -term emergence of terrorism and WMD proliferation were ignored and preemptive use of force was announced as National Security Strategy to eliminate any challenge to US hegemony. Saddam Hussein was incriminated in 9/11 attacks and in WMD proliferation,that drove public opinion in favor of use of force at will, through propagandas. Climate change and other environmental threats were ignored by the travesty of propositions by the Climate Change Science Programme(CCSP) favouring the narrow interests of the private power sectors and rebuffing multilateral engagement, thus alienating and creating resentment in Europe.
Despite the UN inspection’s failure to find WMD in Iraq, world wide protests against war and a dismally low percentage(scarcely 10%) of international public opinion in support of war, US made it’s intent to use force very clear. Human rights and democracy remained in talks and speeches, not in practice.
To ensure submission of the “great beast” or the masses according to Alexander Hamilton, to not let them stray from the confines, the men in power devised many methods. Coercion or force was the initial method. In the US, Wilsonian idealism(1918) set out international goals to ensure a government in the hands of a few good abroad and a system of elite decision-making followed by public ratification (polyarchy) at home. In the free societies that emerged later, where freedom and rights predominated, coercion lost it’s utility and new devices like control of opinion and attitudes through propaganda were deviced. Thus the beast was tamed by the art of manufacture of consent by institutions of the governement, in essence a Leninist ideal. Wilson’s Committee of Public Information was formed to whip up wartime propaganda. “The resposible men” differed from the masses/ beasts by their decision making capacity. The beasts were spectators and not participants, they do not have a function, but to trample in support of leadership class. Thus the decision making was kept within the confines of institutions with a top down authoritative control. The public areana was limited by neoliberal initiatives to unaccountable private tyrannies. Thus democracy would survive in a reduced form.
Whenever faced with a crisis of democracy, i.e, the public escaping it’s marginalization and passivity, new tools like indoctrination of the young through schools, universities and chiurches, self- censorship or government control of media worked their way to regain control. These methods were devised and propogated with the help of public intellectuals. James Madison held the view that power must be in the hands of a wealthy few, the most capable men, and the role of governement was to protect this opulent minority against the majority( pre- Capitalist). He foresaw that the majority would rebel under hardhsips, for equality and on who will make the decisions.
Control of opinion as the foundation of government
This is true in the most free and most despotic governments. The modern institution of thought control, propaganda originated in free countries where control by force was not possible. In Britain, which pioneered, it was under the name Ministry of Information. US followed with Committee of Public Information.(CPI). Both controlled the thoughts of the world. Participants like Edward Bernays called “the engineering of consent the very essence of democratic process”.The method was imitated by the Nazi Germany, South Africa, Soviet Union and Pentagon. PR industry later dwarfed the propoganda. To carry out policies opposed by the general population, leaders often followed the Office of Public Diplomacy established by the Reagan administration for carrying out it’s murderous policies in Central America. A huge psychological propaganda programme conducted by the military include the Operation Truth (a non-profit veterans’ organization that seeks to “amplify the soldiers’ voice in the American public dialogue” in order to “educate the American public about the truth of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the perspective of the soldiers who have experienced them first-hand) .
In Central America, Reagan administration faced challenges to the traditional violence and repression, from the Church and locals. Soon US responded with the propaganda of ‘war on terror'(1981)/ terrorist war by slaughter, torture and barbarism. In Nicaraugua, the US backed Somoza dictatorship was overthrown by the Sandinista rebels who dismantled the repressive military that had subdued the region’s locals. US then subjected the country to a campaign of state sponsored terrorism and the country was left in ruins. In other Central American countries subjected to the Reaganite war on terror, the military/terrorists trained by the US, controlled, terrorized, tortured, maimed and killed the people and the US citizens remained unaware of these atrocities. During the 1980’s the US backed state terrorist campaigns created societies affected by panic, terror, collective intimidation and ‘internalized acceptance’ of frequent appearance of tortured bodies. The psychological impact on the population from the culture of terror include domesticating their expectations and destroying hope after attaining which democracy is allowed/ preferred. This has been the US methodology not just in Central America, but in the rest of the world too.
Imperial Grand Strategy
By 2002, the most powerful state in history vowed to maintain hegemony through military force and threats. This was the explicit official rhetoric of the National Security Strategy, to dissuade military bulid up by potential adversaries . It sought to maintain a unipolar world without competitors and challenges. The fact is that this declaration renders the Article 51 of UN charter ( international norms of self defense) meaningless,thus spurning international law and istitutions. The problem with this strategy is that, the other states will find ways to work around, undermine, contain or retaliate against US, thus making the world more divided and dangerous and the US less secure.
The grand strategy gives the US the right to preventive war (not preemptive)(The difference is that a preventive war is launched to destroy the potential threat of the targeted party, when an attack by that party is not imminent or known to be planned. A preemptive war is launched in anticipation of immediate aggression by another party). While preemptive war might fall within the framework of international law, preventive war do not. The Central American countries had every right to strike back on the US attacking them, on the grounds of premptive strike, but rights are reserved for the powerful and not the weak. So, preventive war is absolutely unjustifiable since the strike is made on the grounds of an imagined or invented threat, making it a war crime.
The historian and Kennedy advisor, Arthur Schlesinger compared the purported anticipatory self defence claims of US in Iraq invasion to the Pearl Harbor attack by the imperial Japan. He added that the post 9/11 sympathy for US from the world gave way to hatred of American arrogance and militarism. UN Security Council was ignored, UN Charter rules on use of force were rebuffed. When WMD was undetectable, US changed the rule and stance to justify the invasion in terms of discovery of potential equipment to produce the weapons. The bar to use force was lowered as a consequence of Iraq invasion to invading any country that has the ability or intent to produce WMD. Thus the goal of Imperial Grand Strategy was set to prevent any challenge to the power, position and prestige of the USwithout any legal issue arising from this(statement by the liberal statesman Dean Acheson following Cuban missile crisis).
Similarly, Reagan administration invoked Acheson’s doctrine while rejecting the World Court jurisdisction over it’s attack on Nicaragua, reserving to themselves the power to determine it’s own matters. It reserved it’s right to unilateral use of military power and ensured uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources. Though the contempt of international law and instituitions were flagrant during the Reagan- Bush years, even before the WW II ended, planners and strategists began plotting to hold unquestioned power, limiting the sovereignity of others by complete rearmament. The Western Hemisphere, former British empire, far East and later much of Eurasia were included under their wing. A world system open to US economic penetration and political control was constructed, and moves towards independent development by others blocked under the pretext of Cold War.
Basic missions of global management included
Containing other global power centres
Control of world’s energy supplies
Barring independent nationalism
Overcoming crises of democracy
Forms in which these were done
International economic order change from 1970 s
Restoring super power enemy to quasi colonial status from 1990 s
Threat of international terrorism aimed at US from 1990 s
While Acheson and Sofaer only described policy guidelines in the line of Thucydides maxim “large nations do what they wish, while small nations accept what they must”, Dick Cheney- Donald Rumsfield- Colin Powell officially declared en even more extreme policy, one aimed at permanent global hegemony using force whenever necessary. The first two merely described while these three took action, that’s the difference.
New Norms of International Law
The Grand Strategy declaration went on to establish a new norm of internatonal law by actions. First public war fever was whipped up by propaganda, and that was during the same time as mid-term election campaign. The target of the attack should be defenseless, the attack must be worth the trouble and it should be portrayed as evil who was an imminent threat to US survival. Iraq ticked off all these boxes. The propaganda was whipped up by Bush, Blair and colleagues characterizing Iraq as evil, possessing WMD, destroying the people there. The State of the Union address by Bush in January 2003- ” Iraq is assembling the world’s most dangerous weapons to dominate, itimidate or attack and has already used them on whole villeges, leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind or transfigured…..If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning“. The speaker and his colleagues had long supported Saddam in full awareness of his crimes, crimes which US didn’t care at that time.
Punishment after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was sanctions on Iraq. The 1991 war on Iraq was on the basis of a huge Iraqi military build up on Saudi border( of which US still refuses to provide evidence), that was undermined by a journal that investigated them. In Sep 2002, the National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, warned of nuclear threat from Iraq on the US, an outright lie for the propaganda whip up to garner public support , disclaimed by Iraq’s neighbours as well as Israel intelligence and later undermined by UN inspectors( Washingtom opposed the inspections). Saddam was declared as a dire threat, with links to international terrorists and responsible for 9/11 attacks by the government media propaganda assaults. 60 % supported attack on Iraq in self-defence, strongly believing the WMD, and nuclear threats and in Iraqi involvement in Sep 11 attacks. As political analyst Anatol Lieven states, “the systematic mendacity of the propaganda programme has few parallels in peacetime democracies”. A bare majority in midterm elections for Bush was the effect of these propaganda campaigns. In Oct 2002, Congress granted the president authority to go to war ” to defend the national security of US against the continuing threat posed by Iraq”. The same script used by Reagan to declare national emergency in 1985, invoking the threat posed by Nicaragua.
After the 6 week war Bush declared victory, by removing an ally of Al Qaeda. The fact: No alleged link was there between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, who was his bitter enemy. The consequence: The Iraq invasion actually increased the threat of terror on US , as predicted by analysts and intellectuals, by increasing Al Qaeda recruitment. The long term effects: The public even after many years still believed that US forces had found WMD (A THIRD OF POPULATION), 20% believed that Iraq had used them during the war, the effects of many years of intense propaganda inducing fear to tame the great beast, the public. Propaganda continued as the staged ‘Reaganesque’ announcement after the victory aboard USS Abraham Lincoln, clearly aimed at 2004 reelection campaign on the grounds of national security themes. Victors do not investigate their own war crimes, so whatever humanitarian crises or loss that followed was on Saddam, the same principles of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Nuremberg trials, that qualified for trial and punishment only if done by enemies.
Thus, Iraq happened to be the first test case for the Imperial Grand Strategy and the new international norms, with tempting possibilities in Iran, Syria, Libya, Andean region and a lot of others. The intimidation strategy worked and the people and regimes were supposed to change their views from one based on international law and UN to consider their national interests in favour of reflecting American goals. 1990 s also became the decade of the new norm ofhumanitarian intervention in other countries by the US on the grounds of their courage and altruism. Intervention in Kosovo and East Timor were on this basis. Kosovo bombing established the norm of resort to force without Security Council authorization. Though India’s invasion of East Pakistan in 1971 and Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia( against PolPot) in 1978 are also examples of resort to force that put an end to terrible crimes and though the Western interventions in the 1990 ‘s were not even remotely comparable to those, the new norm was not recognized in the 1970’s. The reasons are clear, the 1970’ s interventions were by the wrong people, US was opposed to those ( Vietnam was punished for this by an US backed China invasion on Vietnam and harsher sanctions while US and UK lent direct support to Khmer Rouge).
The International Court of Justice in a 1949 ruling reserves intervention by force to the most powerful states. There are exceptions to this. Israel, a client is permitted to establish norms like ‘targetted killings’ of suspects. Another example is Israel’s bombing of Ozirak reactor in Iraq in 1981. US criticized it at the time as a violation of international law, but as Saddam transformed into a foe, the minor crime became a honored norm that impeded Saddam’s nuclear weapons programme. Though inspections did not reveal any plutonium production at the site in Iraq, all the while the Dimona reactor of Israel was churning out hundreds of nuclear weapons. Later, as a result of the bombing, Iraq went ahead with the decision to nuclearize and supported other Arab states too in the process, a consequence far from closing the nucleariization of Iraq. The norm that Israel established was imitated by Iraq in it’s Kuwait invasion.
The Rule of Law
How the Grand strategy extends to US domestic law?
9/11 was used to discipline the US citizens by the Bush administration. The administration claimed and excercised the right to declare people, including US citizens as “enemy combatants” or ” suspected terrrorists” without any evidence and imprison them without charge or access to lawyers or family indefinitely. Example could be found in Guantanamo prison camp. Suspected people were gagged, hooded, electrocuted, waterboarded, bound and locked , treatments questionable under international law. The humanitarian and medical organisations were prevented from accessing the prisoners in violation of Geneva Convention.
A leaked, confidential plan by the Justice Department, “Domestic Security Enhancement Act ” of 2003 expands state power by assaulting civil liberties, undermining constitutional rights by granting state authority to rescind citizenship on charges of material support to a blacklisted organization, even if the person was unaware of the status of the blacklisted organisation. It also mentions the surveillance without court authorization, secret arrests, protecting the state from scrutiny of people.
International Law and Instituitions
International law and UN charter is not even mentioned in the strategy. The primacy of law over force that has been followed since the end of WW II disappears. Force reigned as US sees it fit. The analysts predicted that the resentment towards US actions would provide the motivation for enemies to find ways to attack at US vulnerabilties. Even since WW II US has been resorting to force to secure it’s national interests, expediently and in line with the interests of domestic sectors influencing the policies. Like Adam Smith condemned the merchants and manufacturers of England as policy architects. Francis Fukuyama, who had served in the Reagan- Bush State Department, observed in 1992 than the UN served as perfect instrument for US unilateralism. UN virtually became an instrument of US power, though the elite disliked UN. On issues of elite concern, if UN fails to support, it is duly dismissed. Vetoes are the most significant examples of US power in the UN, by far the country that has issued the most number of vetoes( Britain follows), which weakens important resolutions taking them off the table (Eg- Washington’s wars in Indo China). For the same kind of SC resolutions, while Saddam was condemned, US rejected those. UN resolution conditions were changed unilaterally by Bush, Clinton and Blair in Iraq, bombing the country in 1998(Clinton) in defiance of UN. UN inspectors( UNSCOM)) were used by Washington to spy on Iraq, and it was clear that diarmament of Iraq was not the goal of US and UK. Vetoes and defiance of UN resolutions by other powers like France were characterized as scandals and failure of diplomacies eroding UN’ s credibility and legitimacy while those from the US were hailed as principled stands.
” UN can meet and discuss, but we dont need their permission” – Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Secratary of State Colin Powell. They were clear that they did not need a UN approval to declare and go to war or use force. The rest of the world was placed in notice, either to join the US or the ‘terrorists’ and suffer the consequences. The UN and the rest of the world were given an ultimatum by the US and UK to either capitulate in 24 hours or that they would invade Iraq and install the regime of their choice irrespective of whether Saddam remained or fled the country. They clearly stated that UN was irrelevant, the rest of the world has no option but to capitulate to their decisions and US had the sovereign authority to use force in assuring it’s national security interests. Bush made it clear that even if Iraq disarmed completely and unconditionally and Saddam disappeared, they would still invade Iraq and install a regime of their choice. The aim was clearly not disarmament or dethroning Saddam, but regime change, not one the Iraqis would prefer, but one that the conqueror would decide calling it “democratic”. The aims shifted back and forth from disarmament to regime change according to the time and audiences, as US saw fit. UN resolutions, inspections, Iraq’s refusal to permit inspections …. all were farces played unilaterally by the US. The message was loud and clear- ‘either be with us and enjoy the fruits or oppose us and suffer the harm’. Mexico and France tried to oppose by telling Washington that people were overwhelmingly against the war, but their pleas were ridiculed. The UN support of resolution 1441( Iraq war) tabled by the US was in reality a submission by the members, a coerced acquiescence invalid in law, but hailed as diplomacy in international law.
Rewards for following US orders included financial handouts and support. Putin was close to Bush and he was given the diplomatic nod in crushing the Chechen separatists. A head of a muslim charity was sentenced in US for funding ambulances in Bosnia and aiding the Chechen separatists, while Clinton was flying AlQaeda and Hezbollah operatives to Bosnia. Turkey was offered incentives to invade Kurdish Northern Iraq, but it did not at first, thus inviting the ire of US announcing punishment for the misdeed.
After the Iraq war, UN was once again deemed irrelevent because the complicated trade system in Iraq( imposed as a part of sanctions by the UN with full support of the US previously) was causing problems for the US companies granted contract under the military rule. Thus US demanded a freehand in the oil trade, and in deploying a government of it’s choice under a democratic facade, even though the rest of the world(except UK), majority of US citizens and a large majority of Iraqis(85%) preferred UN oversight to US control. Thus never in recent history has there been anything remotely resembling the monopoly of use of large scale violence by a free state in pursuit of it’s imperial ambitions.
Elite concern over the imperial ambitions of US reached new levels after Bush declared it as a “revisionist state” . Samuel Huntington, the political analyst, noted that US was becoming a rogue superpower. Many anticipated coalitions to arise to counterbalance the rogue state. The American political scientist, Kenneth Waltz warned of a proliferation of WMD by other states to counter or deter the actions of US, something accelerated by the dismantling of mechanisms to control violence. Examples are the impetus to Iranian nuclear weapon proliferation and nuclear deterrence by North Korea. North Korea proved to be a lesson for the world that witnessed American inability to tame it unlike the defensless and shattered Iraq, the only reason being it’s possession of WMD aimed at Seoul and US military at DMZ.
Coming to the second superpower, “public opinion”, protest was non existent in 1962( when Kennedy announced bombing of South Vietnam), and it increased only years later when the devastation and aggression became significant. There was a steady increase in unwillingness to tolerate agression and atrocities over the four decades and in 2002, protests were large scale even before the Iraq war was officially launched. Reagan administration backed down in Central America following the Kennedy model of South Vietnam in the face of public reaction and resorted to a clandestine model concealed from general public. The strengthened activity movements in the decades since 1960’s made it impossible for the US to use force without vindicating it with propaganda offensives like imminent threat by a genocidal regime and so on. The world public opinion turned against the US. Like the rest of the world, Iraq’s neighbours were also perplexed as to why US was fearing Iraq, already weakened by sanctions with a comparatively lower economy and military expenditures than the neighbours. Powell had referred to the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD on it’s neighbours at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The neighbours, also like CIA and the US Department of Defense knew well that Iraq did not pose any threat to them, let alone the US. The neighbours were actually mending fences with Saddam over US opposition. Most of the formal and informal polls around the world showed Bush as a greater threat to world compared to Saddam.
The fundamental principle behind the imperial grand strategy was Wilsonian Idealism– the noble men , with righteous intent and elevated ideals, as the historical vanguard, for the common good, transforming the global order, perpetuating its own dominance guided by military supremacy projected globally. US foreign policy has been guided by these ideals regardless of party. But for anyone to be assured of the actions as motivated by elevated ideals and altruism( humanitarian inteventions) in the quest of stability and righteousness, they have to adopt a stance called ‘intentional ignorance‘. So the past , as well as the present actions could be justified on this basis and the flaws that were tidied up as inevitable. Wilson himself put the words into deeds by conquest of Philippines and interventions in Haiti and Dominican Republic that left both the countries in ruins.
Europeans failed to understand this idealism and thought of it as mere truism. The Russian- American author and military historian, Max Boot attributed this to the history of European avarice and cynicism. The historian and political commentator, Robert Kagan points to the paranoid, conspiratorial anti- Americanism. Both of them lent their words from John Stuart Mill‘s essay on humanitarian intervention objective of Britain’s conquest of India. It is hard not to think of his essay as a disgraceful example of apologetics for the terrible crimes of Britain. Kagan’s anti- Americanism concept, to defame state policy critics who do not identify society and people with state power, is directly from the totalitarian lexicon.
The language of tyrants and conquerors remain the same throughout. Saddam warned Kuwait of retribution for undermining it’s economy by ‘assuring a world without fighting and with peace and a dignified life‘. The Munich agreement with the Nazis was hailed to bring a world order based on justice and law, but soon later Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia explaining his ‘earnest desire to serve the interests and welfare of the people‘ there. Mussolini’s concern for the liberated populations of Ethiopia, Japans aims to create a paradise for the suffering people in Manchuria and North China defending them from communist bandits, Japan’s New Order to create permanent stability in East Asia are all rhetorical flourishes sugarcoating the militant abuses of the the occupied.
Interventions are justified as humanitarian or in self defense after the war, thus making in in accordance with the UN charter.Thomas Jefferson observed on the world situation of his day- ” we believe no more in Bonaparte’s fighting merely for liberties of the seas, than in Great Britain’s fighting for the liberties of mankind. The object is the same, to draw to themselves the power, wealth and resources of other nations“.
The founder of modern international relations theory, Hans Morgenthau condemns the “conformist subservience to those in power” by having a selective faith in the domestic political leadership, a regular stance of most intellectuals throughout history. The occasional departures were seen in two countries with US aided repressive regimes- Turkey and Columbia. Activists , writers, priests and academics face the constant assassination threats for protesting the atrocities and draconian laws of their regimes. While their Western counterparts veil themselves in intentional ignorance thus contributing to the ongoing crimes.
The New Era of Enlightenment
The final years of the 20 th century marked the idealistic world view of the US on ending inhumanity, using principles and values, an era of enlightenment, benevolence, acting out of altruism and moral fervor. The record of terror and atrocities with the help of reigning super powers and allies was supressed.
The year 1997 was significant for the human rights movement. In that single year the flow of military aid to Turkey surpassed the whole aid for the entire cold war period, for the counterinsurgency programme against the miserably repressed Kurds. Tens of thousands were killed, millions of people were driven from the devastated countrysides. Turkey was the leading recipient of US arms at the time (80% from US) besides Israel and Egypt. In the same year military aid to Colombia began to skyrocket and it replaced Turkey by 1999. The internal conflicts were militarized, people tortured and displaced, guerilla forces strengthened by terrorizing peasants and urban population, political killings rised. Internal displacement of the population due to atrocities of the governments in these countries was augmented by US aid. In Iraq, this was a grave problem that the displaced people saw the Iraq war as a route back to their homes.
East Timor and Kosovo
Indonesia’s genocide of East Timor population, they had occupied reached new heights in 1999, when the ruling generals and paramilitary threatened the people to vote for continuing occupation in the referendum for independence. Indonesia had been receiving aid from US and UK for the past 25 years. Activists and humanitarian agencies widely publicized this in the US. Clinton reiterated the position that his administration did not want to take away the responsibility from Indonesia. After strong international and domestic pressure Clinton stopped the 25 year old support, Indonesia withdrew from East Timor allowing Australian peacekeeping forces to enter. Just a withdrawal from abetting and aiding the crimes would have sufficed which could have been easily done before, but the new achievement was hailed as a new norm of humanitarian intervention.
Kosova was next in line for humanitarian intervention, reportedly based on altruism and moral fervor. Media, journals and scholarships reported the NATO bombing of Kosovo( without UN approval) to be in response to the ethnic cleansing by Serbia in 1999, that drove more than half the Kosovars into exile. The truth was that the bombing preceded the ethnic cleansing and atrocities, that happened as a consequence. The Western documentary evidence provides no significant increase in the killings of Kosovars, numbered at around 2000 before the NATO bombings. UN began registering refugees only 1 week after the bombing and the Milosevic indictment of May 1999, details a series of terrible crimes after the bombing.
The British Defense Minister, George Robertson testified that until the NATO bombing, the CIA- backed Kosovo Liberation Army(Albanian guerillas) was responsible for more deaths than the Serbian authorities had been. The guerillas had frankly told that their goal was to kill Serbs to elicit a public response for NATO intervention in Kosovo. Even befor this the Foreign Secretaary, Robin Cook had told the House that the KLA had committed more ceasefires and more deaths. It is notable that the Racak massacre by Serbian authorities (45 people killed) did not concern US and Uk at the time . In his memoir, ‘Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo. and thr Future of Conflict ‘ by Wesley K Clark, the NATO commander during the Serbia bombing, he mentions that Milosevic’s human rights violations had nothing to do with the bombing nor did the eviction of Kosovars start before the bombing. He had warned the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that if NATO proceeded with the bombing the evictions and killings by Serbians would increase. The only plausible explanation for the bombing was the imposition of NATO’s will on a defiant leader who was undermining the credibility of Western diplomacy and NATO’ s will power. The same interpretation is given by Andrew Bacevich, the American historian in his book, ‘American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy ‘. The plight of Kosovars was of no concern, and the bombing was to preempt the threats to the cohesion of NATO. It’s purpose was to warn Europeans fancying to slip away from the American orbit, affirm US primacy in Europe.
Present day consequences after years of bombing include Kosovars living in abject poverty, radical Islamists taking control of the people’s life giving rise to Taliban phenomenon of Europe. The norm of humanitarian interventions made the UN charters obsolete, giving the US the sovereign right to take military action at will without UN authorization, thus redefining the role of UN.
The Need for Colonization
Columbia, the largest recepient of US military aid in 1999, had the worst human rights record too in the Western hemisphere. Under the guise of a drug war by the US, purportedly to curb the domestic drug use, the poppy fields of poor peasants in Southern Columbia were destroyed through a chemical warfare called fumigation causing deaths, displacement, sickness and injury. Even after they failed to achieve the their goals, they were not discontinued. The rich biodiversity was destroyed, the peasants, indigenous and other people were displaced and live in slums in abject poverty and with people gone , multinationals stripped the mountains of their natural resources. Thus this helped the foreign investors and the Columbian elites in their businesses.
Columbia is an oil-producing region like Chechnya,Western China, Central Asia, and other places where the state terror by military and private paramilitary increased after 9/11 under the pretext of ‘war on terror ‘ expecting a nod from US. In Columbia, as in Turkey, Indonesia and Serbia, the state terror had been carried out by private paramilitary as crimes were also privatized in accordance with the neoliberal practice. In Columbia, fumigation was carried out by private companies, consisting of US military officers under Pentagon contract to evade accountability.
The conscience shocking atrocities in countries were overlooked until they defied US. Turkey’s atrocities against the Kurds by US provided military aid were similarly overlooked even after the extensive reporting by human rights watch organisations, but became significant after it denied the US, permission to attack Iraq from its borders as per the Turkish public opinion. Suddenly Turkey became the villain torturing , killing and disappearing the Kurds and destroying their villages.
Blairs foreign policy advisor, Robert Cooper, put forward a statement for the need for colonisation by the post modern enlightened states in the 20 th century to promote order, freedom and justice. Cooper alludes to the most important change in the world order since WW II, a striking discontinuity in history, that Europe is at peace, a post modern system of law, justice and cilvility. But, while dealing with the uncivilized, Europe and West would revert back to the laws of the jungle- of deception, preemptive attacks and force.
Protecting Naughty Children from Infection
The enlightened states of the late nineteenth century took pride in liberating the savages by violence, destruction and plunder. The Czar and Metternich(Austrian empire) worried of the pernicious contagion of republicanism and popular self rule. Worst was the Monroe Doctrine by the apostles of sedition, “a species of arrogance, peculiarly American and inexcusable” as Bismarck put it. The 1904 Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine asserted the U.S. role as policeman of the Western Hemisphere and its right to involve itself in the affairs of Latin American countries. Although justified under the auspices of limiting European interference in the Americas, the Roosevelt Corollary did more to lay the groundwork for the U.S. in its own interventionist practices in the decades to come. WIlson secured US domination of Carribeans. Britain was forced out of the oil rich Venezuela, trade with British banned, US supported the dictator Juan Vincente Gomez who opened the country to US companies. This was at the same time of the US continuing to demand and secure US oil rights in the Middle East where the British and French had monopoly. Venezuela continues still as an eyesore, remaining poor despite sitting on vast oil resources, yielding wealth to foreign investors and a few of the countries elites.
Wilson compared Latin Americas as naughty children excercising all the privileges and rights of the grown ups and so need a stiff, authoritative hand. He regarded the Filippinos as children who must obey orders. And Italians too were considered so. The Italian people’s hunger for strong leadership and dramatic leadership through democracy, was crushed by supporting Mussolini’s Fascism through the interwar years. In 1948, the democracy was subverted and US withheld food from starving people, restoring the Fascist police. Roosevelt rewrote Haitian constitution to permit US corporations to take over the land and resources after occupation. Similarly Eisenhower sought to overthrow the newly elected Castro government in Cuba.
Iran‘s conservative parliamentary government was toppled by an US aided military coup, when they sought to gain control of their resources. An obedient regime was installed that ruled with terror for 25 years. US feared the economic nationalism, a new sort of nationalism and aspirations for industrialization that would benefit the Latin Americans more and leave out the US investors as the first beneficiaries. Thus the Economic Charter for Americas was imposed to prevent and eliminate this. It should be mentioned here that economic nationalism had always been a key feature of US economy. Communism sought to promote the new nationalism, thus reducing the willingness of Communist countries to serve and support the industrialization of the West. That was the main aim of the analytical framework of policymakers of supporting the right wing dictatorship of European fascists during interwar years, to control the threat of Communism, not the military threat but the threat of economic nationalism . Thus some of the most powerful states were shaped with the private instituitions as their tools.
The rise of fascism during the interwar years that elicited concern was viewed favorably by the US, British, businesses and elites.. The reason was that the fascist version of extreme nationalism permitted Western economic penetration, and destroyed the democracy and labor movements. Mussolini was described as “that admirable Italian gentleman” by Roosevelt. Hilter was also applauded until he launched agressions that infringed on US and UK interests. By 1937, the State Department regarded fascism as a moderate force that must triumph over the Left. The US ambassador to Italy lauded Mussolini as a great human. In 1938, FDR and Sumner Welles approved Hitler’s Munich agreement which dismembered Czeckoslovakia. The business world and elites were also enthusistic of European fascism. Businesses boomed in Italy and Germany because of the stable climate and supressed threats of the masses. In 1939, Britain was more supportive of Germany, due to the Anglo- German industrial, commercial and financial relations. The support for fascism remained even after 1943, after US and UK entered the war. They tried to supress antifascist resistance in many places, to restore the traditional order by supporting some of the worst dictators and war criminals. Even througout the cold war and till the present, the ideological basis of American foreign policy supporting dictators remained much the same , though only the tactics changed.
Reconciling the need to do terrible things with the commitment to democracy and freedom was agonizingly done to create economic policies that would enable US businesses to operate as freely and as monopolistically to create an US dominated capitalist world economy. Secretary of State Lansing warned Roosevelt that the Bolshevik disease might spread. FDR feared that the American blacks returning from war might contract the disease. Anti-capitalism was present among the working class in England too as feared by Lloyd George. The revolutions worldwide were casting a shadow of fear on the west. In US, social unrest was supressed by Wilson’s “Red Scare“. The power of masses was feared by industrialists. Soviet economic development was also a concern until 1960 when it began to stagnate due to the arms race. Russia, Europe’s third- world before WW II, after defeating Germany achieved military might and superpower status. Russian- US conflict in 1917 was justified by John Lewis Gaddis, military historian as self-defense to the virus of revolution, which challenged the survival of capitalist world order. Attack as defense, a “logical illogicality“. The basic policies of intervention and war were the same during pre-war, inter-war and post-war years , all based upon self- defense or preventive attacks, the same policy of the 2002 radical nationalists.
The post war discontinuity in international politics is indicated by US becoming the global actor and Europe attaining democratic peace. While Europe had devoted to slaughtering one another and conquering the world before 1945, a happy combination of liberal norms, representative democracy and market economies changed the picture. The West could still resort to violence against the weak, but not against one another and Cold war equations were also based on this.
The Cuban missile crisis was the most dangerous moment in human history. It was revealed in a Havana conference in 2002, that in 1962, October the world was one step away from nuclear disaster and war, prevented by a Soviet submarine officer, Vasili Arkhipov, who blocked an order to fire nuclear armed torpedoes. The people at the conference, including the historian, Arthur Schlesinger, couldn’t miss the fact that Kennedy chose quarantine as an alternative to military action in 1962, while Bush committed to military action in 2002. Though Kennedy was approbated universally for the decision, he refused publically to withdraw the Jupiter nuclear missiles placed at Turkey on the border with Russia, and refused to not invade Cuba, conducting an active policy to undermine and displace the Castro regime including covert operations against Cuba. Secretly, the Jupiter missiles were replaced with Polar nuclear submarines.
The Soviet deception was unveiled by the UN ambassador, Adlai Stevenson when he exposed a photo of a missile site in Cuba taken by US spy planes. This excercise called “Stevenson’s moment” entered the historical memory.The starkness in that was, the Cuban missiles generated widespread fear in US that the Turkish missiles ostensibly failed to produce in Russia. The moment seemed to upset the balance of terror to less extreme on US side. For an impartial outside observer, the missile placemets would be fair trade by Kennedy and Krushchev. Yet Chomsky calls it an act of criminal lunacy that the missiles were placed in Cuba by Krushchev, fully aware of the posible consequences. He finds it a moral imbecility that those who warned Krushchev of the dangers were condemned and ridiculed when the worst did not come to pass.
Now let us note the asymmetry here. Cuban missiles stealthily placed by the Soviets were dramatically exposed in the UN, while the Jupiter missiles were out in the open, publically placed by the US in Turkey enveloping Russia, a country posing no threat to Turkey and attacked and devastated in the past by Germany, Britain and US (1918). US posed a grave threat to Cuba and the missiles were placed there by Russia for the self-defense of Cuba. Despite this US became the good one, moments like Stevenson’s dramatized and publicized and Russia became the evil. This is the power dynamics, ideological systems subordinated to power that makes sure that any action by the US be deemed as for self-defence, of benevolence or dispatched to oblivion, be it the international terrorism in Cuba, participation in the mass slaughter of the mass-based political party, National Liberation Front in South Vietnam, or the peasant based PKI party in Indonesia (1965)and many others.
The significance of owning a crafted moment in history, like the ‘Stevensons’ was revealed again when Colin Powell addressed the UNSC, with photographs of a truck emptying WMD from an Iraqi site and proclaimed that US would go to war without UN authorization. It was presented as proof that Iraq had deceived the UN inspectors by removing them before they had arrived and that Iraqis had penetrated the inspector team and led to the removal of weapons. Thus he tried to prove that the inspection team was unreliable in providing true data for US proved by the photos. Later the photos were proved unreliable due to the timelapse betwen them and the unreliable site. This is one of a series of stevenson- like crafted moments.
Though Kennedy officials refuse that he ordered an invasion of Cuba, the Secretary of Defense, Robert Mc Namara states the opposite. Cuban crisis became one of the reasons of wariness of European leadership at the liberal multinational end of the political spectrum to the US political leadership. Europe was kept in the dark despite the obvious threat of a nuclear disaster to Western Europe as well. The European Allies were expected to come along, they were accused of making discordant clamor if they knew. Cuban crisis, like the Iraq war was the end result of international terrorism, forceful regime change and quashing of Cuban revolution by violence and economic warfare.
International Terrorism and Regime Change in Cuba
Th 1959, the Batista dictatorship was overthrown by Cuban guerillas and the US tried a regime change by arming the guerillas and CIA- supervised bombing and incendiary raids piloted by exiled Cubans. Instead of a violent response, Cuba appealed the UN to resolve the issue through diplomatic means. Though the US ambassador assured no aggressive purposes in Cuba, plans to overthrow Castro government and preparations for Bay of Pigs invasion were well advanced. Fearing that Cubans might defend themselves, the CIA chief Allen Dulles urged Britain not to provide arms to Cuba. As the British ambassador later revealed, this was done to push the Cubans to seek Soviet help and thus to portray Cuba as a security threat in the region. This was exactly the script used in Guatemala, where a 10 year democracy with popular support and economic and social benefits for a large majority greatly upsetted the US. After US cut off sources of help and threatened an attack, Guatemala appealed to Soviets for arms and this led to a half-century horror in the country evoking it as a security threat.
Arthur Schlesinger, put forth a scheme to trap Cuba warning Kennedy of the political fallouts of a direct invasion. He conceived a black operation in Haiti, which might lure Castro into sending his army there which in turn could be portrayed as an effort to overthrow US supported Haitian regime of “Papa Doc” Duvalier. In 1960, Eisenhower put forward a plan to overthrow Castro in favor of a regime devoted to Cubans( despite the intelligence report that popular support for Castro was high) and acceptable to the US interests including military operation in the island, in a manner as to avoid the appearance of US involvement( to avoid the anticipated reaction in Latin America and home). The debacle of Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba was followed by a crushing embargo by Kennedy, a terrorist campaign, Operation Mongoose overseen by his brother Robert Kennedy (paramlitary operations, economic warfare and sabotage). Operation Mongoose was the centrepiece of American policy towards Cuba until the missile crisis of 1962. Kennedy brothers devoted all the resources to topple Castro. A final military intervention was planned in 1962, when the missile crisis erupted. A sinister covert operation was planned to lure Castro into a hostile reaction to US and developing an image of Cuba as a threat to US and Western hemisphere that would be used as a pretext to attack Cuba, but before it’s involvement with the Soviets, to avoid a direct entanglement with Soviet Union.
Operation Northwoods was a proposed false flag operation against the Cuban government that originated within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of the United States government in 1962. The proposals called for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or other U.S. government operatives to both stage and actually commit acts of terrorism against American military and civilian targets, blaming them on the Cuban government, and using it to justify a war against Cuba. The possibilities detailed in the document included the possible assassination of Cuban immigrants, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes to be shot down or given the appearance of being shot down, blowing up a U.S. ship, and orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities and publishing these in US newspapers to create a helpful wave of indignation. The proposals were rejected by PresidentJohn F. Kennedy.
A plan to engineer internal revolt and terrorism by Kennedy, to be followed with US military intervention, involved speedboat strafing attacks on a Cuban seaside hotel, attacks on British and Cuban cargo ships, contamination of sugar shipments, all carrried out by Cuban exiles permitted to operate freely from Florida. Even after a formal agreement between Kennedy and Krushchev and end of the crisis, terrorist operations continued. A covert action sabotage team from US blew up a Cuban industrial facility killing 400 workers. Ten days before Kennedy’s assassination he approved some US proxy terrorist operations to sabotage Cuban oil refineries, storage facilities, electric plants, sugar refineries, railroads, harbors, docks and ships. On the day of Kennedy assassination, a plot to kill Castro was initiated, and the next president Nixon intensified these acts , peaking in mid 1970’s, after taking office. Attacks on fishing boats, embassies, overseas Cuban offices, bombing of a Cuban airliner killing all 73 passengers on board and other grisly actions by Nixon were carried out directly from the US territory, regarded as criminal acts by FBI. In addition to all these Castro was condemned by NYT editorials for maintaining an armed camp despite US promises of protection .
The machine gun attack against a Spanish- Cuban tourist hotel in 1992 and bombings in 1997 were traced to Miami financed Salvadoran criminals operatng under the international terrorist, Lous Possada Carriles. He was responsible for the Cuban airliner bombing, and was recruied by CIA and financed by Miami business man. He was granted presidential pardon by BUSH I after lobbying by Jebb Bush and Cuban American leaders. iN 1998, US officially declared that Cuba no longer posed a threat. The Russian missiles in Cuba did prevent an US invasion of Venezuela. The economic embargo was harsher under Bush 1 and Clinton, which affected US exporters too, invited criticism from close allies and domestic public and shattered Cuba with severe health effects( managed by the excellent Cuban health care system preventing a humanitarian catastrophe).
Embargo barred food and medicine entirely. Cuba was not eased from sanctions in 1999, while Clinton eased sanctions on all other terrorist states on the list. In 1980, the West Indian Islands were punished by Carter who refused to allow aid after a hurricane, unless Grenada was excluded. The stricken countries refused the clause. Similarly Nicaragua was refused aid in 1988 when struck by a hurricane, causing many deaths from starvation and causing ecological damage. Cuban economic warfare was condemned in all international forums like EU, WTO, OAS and so forth
The reasons for the international terrorism and economic embargo on Cuba is not just a concern over Russian threat.The plans were devised and implemented before the Russian threat that developed as a consequence than cause for the US terrorism. Castro’s Cuba provided a model for the rest of Latin America to oppose ruling authority , encourage radical change and take matters into ones own hands. Land and property privileges of the upperclass was subverted by the demand of decent living by the poor. Russian aid for develpment was also a threat, of Soviets getting an upper hand in Latin America. The real reason of the embargo and terrorism attempts for regime change was Castro’s successful defiance of US hegemony, an impact that could have significant effects on leftist movements of other Latin American countries. This outrage over defiance could be traced back 200 years to Thomas Jefferson who condemned France in holding his coveted New Orleans, inspite of France’s help in liberating British colonies.
The international and domestic law became irrelevant many times in US hegemonic ambitions even before the 9/11. The achievements of international terrorism includes the US aided defeat of the ‘liberation theology’. A conservative Salvadoran Archbishop and Jesuit intellectuals were murdered with US aided security forces. Liberation theology, a religious movement arising in late 20th-century Roman Catholicism and centred in Latin America. It sought to apply religious faith by aiding the poor and oppressed through involvement in political and civic affairs. It stressed both heightened awareness of the “sinful” socioeconomic structures that caused social inequities and active participation in changing those structures.
The achievements of international terrorism were sanitized from history. Defiance was overcome by destroying the structure of socioeconomic privilege by eliminating the political participation of the majority like in Brazil, the US assisted military coup which overthrew parliamentary democracy. Kennedy’s ambassador Lincoln Gordon called it a democratic rebellion, restraining left wing forces to create an improved climate for private investment. The generals left Brazil transfering the wreckage to civilians by 1980 s as in Chile, leaving a country with dismal social welfare indices and inequality and a grand success for foreign investors and the privileged classes.
Fear of democracy and independence from the Western orbit of the small states were driving factors for US to commit international terrorism, subversion and violence. In Indonesia( 1965) the mass based PKI party was slaughtered and Suharto dictatorship installed fearing that the party would unite the nation, free itself from Western influence, stand on its own feet and prove an example to the developing nations and also turn out as a credit to communism.
Cuba’s defiance became immense when it reached to Angola as a Soviet instrument in 1975. It reached new heights when the US backed South African invasion of Angola was defeated by black Cuban soldiers, the most important contribution of Cuba in liberation of Africa . It is interesting to note that the international terrorism campaigns by US and regime changes are scarcely mentioned in literature in it’s naked form, but dismissed with comfortng euphemisms. Cuba is represented as a terrorist state, not a victim. In effect, others perform misdeeds, US correct it. While much of the US population opposed wars on principled ground, the educated elites were concerned with the costs and failure. My Lai massacre is condemned as the blame is pinned on half-educated GI’ s surviving the conditions of the field unlike Operation Wheeler Wallawa, in which the Tiger Forces killed scores of innocent civilians, including two blind brothers, a Buddhist monk, women, children, elderly civilians, and three farmers trying to plant rice. All were reported as enemies killed in action.
Cuba was added to the terrorist list in 1982, replacing Iraq, to make Saddam eligible for US aids.
International Terrorism and Regime Change in Nicaragua
The defiance of Nicaragua and the terror campaign for regime change unleashed on it by US is significant in its scale, and the way it was cast and reshaped in retrospect. It was uncontroversial among the highest international authorities. Nicaragua became the focus of war on state terror of Reagan in 1981 as it was armed by Soviets. The Nicaraguan communists were blamed to carry their revolution into US, and Soviet bases were feared to be established there. It was deemed a national security and foreign policy threat to US. Libya was bombed in 1986 for the arms aid Qaddafi was providing the communsts to bring the war home to US. The Sandinista leader, Tomas Borge‘s speech to become a revolutionary model for others was taken out of the context and transmuted to a design for world conquest by the Reagan diplomats. The State Department document of his speech was interpreted and recast as aggression and terror, while the real threat that US saw was the experiment of successful development that might infect others, like the democratic experiment of Guatemala and defiance of Cuba.
While the Secretary of State, George Schultz warned of the terrorism as war against ordinary people, US was bombing Libya and killing the civilians which was aired through all prime time TV channels for the first time. Negotiation of peace as tried by the Central American governments through multilateral organisations were duly rebuffed and blocked as euphemisms for capitulation. Nicaragua went to economic and social decline after the progress they had acheived following the overthrow of US backed Somoza dictatorship and slid into the poorest country in Western Hemisphere.. Nicaragua’s economic progress, once lauded by the World Bank and improvement in child survival lauded by UNICEF were the real cancer in the eyes of US to be cut off. Since these viruses of revolution would spread to others it should be rooted out.
Like Cuba, Nicaragua did not retribute, it approached the World Court which ruled in Nicaragua’s favor, condemning Washington. The aid to contras were deemed military and illegal, only humanitarian aid was allowed.. US condemned World Court as irrelevant, hostile and close to Soviets. Aid to contras was branded as humanitarian, aid of 100 million dollars was immedietly approved to escalate violence. The court ordered reparation to Nicaragua was dismissed and they were pressured to abandon the claim. In contrast Iraq paid 17 billion dollars to Kuwait, though only a fraction of those were killed there compared to Nicaragua. Vietnamese were denied reparations by telling that the destruction was mutual. Invaders became victims and Vietnam had to pay back the debt incurred by Saigon government that the US had installed as local agent in the Indo China wars. The precedents are China paying it’s foreign masters as reparation for rebelling agianst them( Boxer Rebellion), Haiti paying the French in 1825 for liberating them and the indigenous Iroquois civilization forced to compensate George Washington for resisting their invaders..
Nicaraguans still did not resort to violence against the US, and took the matter to UNSC, that endorsed the court judgement, the US vetoed. Then Nicaragua approached the General Assembly with US and Israel votoing twice. US escalated the war going after soft targets. Nicaragua succumbed under pressure in 1990 and voted to turn the country over to an US puppet. The strategy of soft target attacks were based on US control of Nicaraguan skies and the sophisticated communiications equipment given to US aided terrorists operating from US bases in Honduras. The same strategy in Guatemeala and Cuba was repeated. The allies were told not to aid Nicaragua to force the country to take Soviet aid. But this did not happen. So the Raeganite propaganda fabricated lurid tales of Soviet MiG’s threatening US from Nicaraguan bases, and this was used to call for bombing of the country. The same “logical illogicality“, Nicaraguans are not allowed to defend against their invaders freely operating from their skies since the invader’s action is defense and the victim’s action is aggression.
The country sank more deeply, socially, economically, politically, people left the place. Already battered by the US sponsored terrorism, it was further battered by the globalization, and massive corruption of the US backed govts. Nicaragua was warned by US in 2002 elections against voting for FSLN, an organisation that resisted US crmes in the past. They did not need warnings as history was a good guide. They had elected the wrong government, not supported by US but could not control the election, in 1984 and penalties followed. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere after Haiti, enjoying a world record for concentration of wealth.
Almost all the hawks who coordinated the state terrorism in Latin America were appointed in significant posts by Bush for the war on terror in the Middle East after 9/11. Nicaraguans were lucky initially as they had an army to defend them against the state terrorism. In neighbouring states like El Salvador, the terrorists were US aided military. When aid could not be provided directly to the state military, US resorted to their international terrorist network including Argentinian neo Nazis, Israel and Taiwan in the name of counterterrorism. The Panama invasion and bombing in 1989 by Bush killed thousands to flush out Manuel Noriega, a former CIA informant in the course of Operation Just Cause, for the crimes like drug trafficking committed while he was on CIA payroll. The invasion was condemned as illegal by the UN and other instituitions, duly rebuffed by the US as usual.
The Iraq Connection: International Script
By 2000 the more reactionary people of Reagan- Bush 1 administration regained political power. Their common goal was to eliminate the statebacked international terrorism and the script was already there.. The lines separating terrorism from aggression and resistance was blurred by them. In 1980 s, Central America and the Middle East were the two main foci. The retail terror of these regions were inflated by the propaganda machines and spread through media.
South Affrica received US assistance, support and trade relations by evading the sanctions on the country. South Africa‘s devastation of the newly independent Angola and Mozambique included millions of deaths of adults as well as children. Inside it’s borders, it was defending the people against the ‘terrorist organisation’ ANC, headed by Mandela, which was named one of the most notorious terrorist groups according to the 1988 Pentagon report.
CIA was successfull in 1980 s in recruiting radical islamists and organizing them to military and terrorist force. The goal , as told by Carter and his NSA, was to lure Soviets to attack Afghanistan by secret operations. In the war that ensued the Soviet objectives were defensive ones, while US took to pillorying and bleeding Soviets. After Soviets withdrew, Reagan’s jihadis took over Afghanistan and decades of civil war ensued.
After Russian withdrawal, the terror oganisations including Al Qaeda were recruited, armed and trained by the CIA. They inflammed India- Pakistan conflict with a terrorrist offensive in 1993, planned to blow up WTC from the formulas taught by CIA, the planning of which was traced to Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, who was helped and protected by CIA in US. Saddam was supported and aided by Bush, even after Iran- Iraq war came to an end and after he gassed and killed Kurds, justifying how it would improve human rights, stability and peace. So many other dictators who were protected include Ferdinand Marcos, Duvalier, Suharto and so forth. The Romanian dictator, Ceausescu, who was overthrown after a revolt, was long supported y US. After his deposition, the Washington Post took a dramatic U-turn condemning him and Bush 2 after 12 years spoke dramatically in the Liberation Square in Bucharest, condemning the dictator and praising the revolutionaries who had deposed him.
Reagan- Bush years were marked by stagnant/ declining wages, benefits for rich, widening inequality, and free reign of employers. To maintain political power, fear was inspired on people. The people were frightened into obedience, into voting for a president who bravely fought the enemies. Devils were conjured up one after another. The Libyan hit men out on the streets to kill the president who fought Qaddafi courageouly(1981) was conjured after attacks on Libya killing the people there, hoping Libya would attack back and which could be used to frighten the Americans. Qaddafi was demonised again by framing his plan to attack Sudan to make ground for an attack on him. The subsequent US show of force was to demonstrate that Reagan acted quickly to prevent Qaddafi’s terror. Thus he was lionized by the media that gave him a superhero image making the people worship him. The leader came to the people’s rescue in many other cases like invading Grenada to quell the threat of the Russian airbase, attacks on Nicaraguan threat, bombing of Libya on the basis of preventive war etc…
War on drugs campaign(1989) was another tactic, for which media was used to whip up fear of Hispanic narcotraffickers as menace to society despite evidence to the contrary. Increase in arrest of superfluous people, and Operation Just Cause in Panama to arrest Noreiga due to his involvement with drug trafficking were done to boost up the electoral gains. At the same time, Thailand was being threatened with sanctions if it placed barriers on import of US tobacco. The Panama invasion was justified by invoking Article 51 of UN Charter, that provides the use of armed force to defend own country, interests and people and prevent another territory from being used to traffic drugs to US.
The Bush administration or the Republican administrations in general, followed tax cuts benefiting the rich, increased military spending, and the government fiscal deficits were managed by cutbacks on social welfare programmes. A fiscal train wreck was predicted that seemed like one Republicans asked for, that would offer cuts on social welfare programmes. Tax increase on the rich was an option out of the cards anytime. Beyond concentrations of wealth and power, eliminating social programmes had other goals. Social welfare was supposedly based on evil doctrines which inturn was based on sympathy, which should be driven out. Other benefits of privatization was explained thus. If the working people depended on stock markets for their wages and benefits, it becomes their responsibility to prevent situations that undermine their interests by opposing events that might cut into the profit flow of employers like wage increase, health and safety regulations etc.
The popularity of Bush after 9/11 dropped after some time due too the discontent with their social and economic policies. The mass discontent should be diverted to nationalism somehow to manintain political power as per Anatol Lieven, British author, journalist and policy analyst. National security issue was a good choice. Thus the imminent threat of Iraq was conjured up in 2002(midterm electoral campaign), just in time of the campaigns for the 2004 election. Recognising the vulnerability on domestic issues, the administration campaigned on a policy of international adventurism, new radical preemptive military strategies, and a politically convenient and perfectly timed confrontation with Iraq. Republicans though concerned with large corporations than ordinary Americans were deemed trustworthy on national security issues. Thus a manufactured fear produced enough basis for Iraq invasion. A new norm of aggressive war at will followed, that gave the administration hold on political power that was used to proceed with their harsh and punitive domestic agendas.
There was widespread acknowledgement among US intelligence and military agencies that a war initiated by US on Iraq would lead to proliferation of WMD and Islamic terror, risks considered insignificant and there was little likelihood that Iraq would initiate an attack from it’s side. The real security threats were ignored by US who abandoned a Biological Weapon Convention against germ wars, and vetoed a UN resolution to prevent militarization of space and prohibit the use of poisonous gases and bacteriological methods of warfare. The press coverage of Havana reveleations in 2002 about the Cuban missile crisis, US international terrorism and forced regime change had meagre press coverage. International relations scholars pointed out that the consequences of American adventurism, policies and globalization would be a vertical proliferation of WMD, and terrorist attacks. The study titled”America’s Achiles Heel” concluded a 90% chance of success in smuggling WMD to US by terrorists, made more grave by an attempted, unsuccessful 1993 attack on WTC.
Though a tyrant, Saddam was a rational one, his WMD was under strict chain of command. But an attack on Iraq could collapse this, opening the weapons cache to terrorists and unconventional actors. The risks of a war with Iraq in the name of preventive strike, the possible consequences and the posturing of the “rogue state”as the single most grave threat to world peace and security were unanimously echoed by US and world intelligence agencies and a number of other sources through out the world like the wizards of Davos. This was an unprecedented opposition in history to a war that had not begun. Though the critiques originated in the establishment, the administration ignored it. From a propaganda point of view, US did not need the burden of proof, a declaration of noble intent was enough. The risk of WMD proliferation and terrorism were in turn considered good even, since those could be used to induce fear in US and the world, thus maintain credibility and bolster president’s popularity for short term gains, and make others obey US. Clearly the twin most important goals were maintaining hold on political power and enhancing US control of the world’s energy sources. Roling back the progressive reforms, instituitionalizing a radical restructuring of domestic society and the imperial grand strategy for world domination were the other goals.
The Wild Men in the Wings
The main focus in White House was Iraq’s WMD and terrorism. Democratization/ liberation of Iraq, effect of war on Iraqis were not raised as concerns inside the White House except among the “the wild men in the wings” as Mc George Bundy referred to those who felt more was involved. Warning from other countries, international aid and medical agencies about the humanitarian consequences in Iraq with people already on the edge of survival from punitive sanctions, were ignored. A huge refugee flow and public health crisis was predicted by former asst. secretary of defense, Kenneth Bacon. Altogether the planned relief efforts were not detailed, short of money and hugely controlled by military and there was a studied lack of interest for the warning calls in Washington.
“The Saddam Hussein Reader: Selections from Leading Writers on Iraq” gives a complex pictire of the tyrant Saddam, who turned violence into a state instrument, with a hideous human rights record, but one who hoisted half of Iraq’s population into middle-class, developed it’s instituitions by directing the oil money into development. Arabs world over came to study in Iraqi universities. The infrastructure was purposefully destroyed during 1991 war, US and UK imposed sanctions under the aegis of UN destroyed civilians, food and humanitarian aid was limited, child mortality shot up(from 50 to 133 per 1000 live births), epidemics ensued, with more death under sanctions than from warfare. At a time of drought as well as child mortality from lack of access to clean drinking water, US purposefully blocked water tankers. Vaccination of children was blocked which was strongly protested by UNICEF,and WHO. Dennis Halliday and Haris von Sponek, the respected UN diplomats who knew Iraq well resigned protesting the genocidal character of US-UK regime, by withholding food and medicines . They were prevented from briefing in the UN. Their successor Tun Myat backed US describing the Iraqi food distribution as the best among the World Food Programme. There was general lack of coverage about the murderous sanctions except in a few news papers, discussions were minimal and whatever came to UN notice was kept from public scrutiny. The sanctions devastated the Iraqis, strengthened Saddam, and increased dependency of Iraqi people on Saddam. The International Red Cross concluded that a decade of sanctions tattered the economy, the “oil for food” programme by UN did not halt the collapse of health system and water supply, the two main reasons for the civilian catastrophe.
Coming to some bizzare defense of sanctions by the US. One, that Saddam was being punished for building palaces and monuments by illegal means, defying UN resolutions by crushing the civilians, his victims actually. Two, to bomb and occupy Iraq so as to stop the torture of sanctions. The conventional “studied lack of interest” of likely consequences is not new in case of US. Five days after 9/11, US demanded that Pakistan stop the food and aid supply to Afghanistan’s civilians. aid workers were withdrawn, and millions of Afghans were at the brink of starvation.,a “silent genocide” by US. The aid organization protests recieved no attention in Washington. The policy evaluation must be based on likely consequences, a truism applied for enemy nations , but not for US.
Democracy and Human Rights
The establishment critics restricted their comments on Iraq to disarmament, deterrence and terrorism without any serious references to democratization and liberation. They were aware of the previous administration’s support for Saddam, help given to Saddan to develop WMD when he was a danger, help given to him to crush rebellions that might have unseated him. During this time, Labor Party was in opposition and so they were free to oppose Saddam’s crimes and British support for him. They were absent in protest against the crimes including Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Geoff Hoon and others of New Labor. Things changed and in 2002, Jack Straw, then foreign minister released a dossier of Saddam’s crimes( the timing is significant), from a period of US- UK support, something overlooked before. He failed to give a reason for his conversion from one of support to skepticism of Saddam. Actually, in 2001, as Home Secretary, he had refused to give asylum to an Iraqi fleeing torture and detention in Iraq, justifying the fair trial in Iraq under an independent judiciary of Saddam. Straw’s conversion has shadows in Clinton’s when he suddenly discovered in 1999 that Indonesia had done some grisly thing in East TImor in the past 25 years.
The ovewhelming popular opposition in US was controlled by propaganda campaigns. In Britain public opinion was split 50/50, but it took the position of junior partner, kept reluctantly after WW 2. Germany and France opposed in accordance to majority of their public who opposed war. US condemned them, Donald RUMSFIELD dismissed them as “Old Europe”. New Europe was led by Italy’s Sylvio Berlusconi who stood with US against the majority of its public opposingthe war. The interpretation was that the New Europe( 8 former Russian satellite states, Italy, Spain) stood behind Washington even if Germany and France opposed. Majority of the public in all New Europe opposed war. The public support in the former Communist countries were also low with or without UN support for the war, the leaders’ support was ambiguous, fearing US. Thus the democratic public opinion of the New Europe was jettisoned by the leaders for supporting US. Germany and France were condemned for anti- Americanism, paranoid, drive by avarice and unable to comprehend the strain of idealism that make America tick. Turkey, though depised Saddam, respected the will of 90% of their people to stay out of war. All the countries that opposed the war, were condemned that they followed the pople’s will and not US and lacked democratic credentials. Turkey was coerced by threats of economic sanctions and Erdogan complied with US’s will against overwhelming opposition by his people in a secretly held parliamentary session closed to public. But it did teach a lesson in democracy to West. Parliament in accordance with popular opposition to the war refused US troops to be stationed there. US branded the government too weak in the face of popular opposition. The clear presuppositions are strong governments disregard the public will and obey the ruler, while weak ones succumb to the will of their people. Shocking statement was by the Pentagon planner, leading visionary in democratizing the ME, Paul Wolfowitz, who condemned the Turkish military who failed to play the leadership role by allowing an elected leader to follow the public opinion.
The American political commentator and author, a liberal, Thomas Friedman suggested in NYT, that France should be driven off from UNSC and replaced by India, who was much more serious than the kindergarten France. In essence the French govt. acted in accordance with the popular opinion. India was now a serious player as it was governed by an ultranationalist proto fascist NDA alliance implicated in massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, but handing the resources to MNC’s. So the enthuiasm for Indias wonderful software industry though millions live in abject poverty, women under duress. Remember, the Taliban was also of no concern to US as long as they were cooperative.
These are instructive of the prevailing attitudes of US political and intellectual elites to democracy and freedom. Though dislike to democracy is a traditional stance of those in power with privilege, a stark demonstration of this by a democratic country is beyond real. That is the reason why the establishment critics ignores the democratization rhetoric of the elites. Commentators pointed to the uncomfortable dualism of Bush seeking to democratize the ME, at the same time seeking closer ties with autocrats exactly following Reagan. Reagans model of democracy was a top down form without upsetting the balance of the autocratic regime. A democracy where the people’s involvement was out of question and consequently Latin Americans lost their faith in democracy. The Argentine political scientist, Atilio Boron., in his book, ‘State, Capitalism, And Democracy In Latin America‘ explains the obstacles Latin American countries face in their efforts at democratic reform, including political institutions, a strong authoritarian tradition, the influence of neoliberal economic policies, the shortsightedness of the ruling classes and hopelessness among the poor.
Neoliberalization in 1970 s reduced democratic options by strenghthening investors, with the government facing conundrums against funders’ and voters’ choices. Free movement of the capital, a key feature of globalization turned out to be the greatest obstacle to democratic government as John Maynard Keynes had warned.Harmful consequences of foreign investment was mentioned by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations. Same is true of privatization, another feature of neolibaralization.
Disllusionment with democracy was evident in US in the “stolen election” of 2000. The general public regarded it as a game between large contributors, party leaders and PR industry. Issues were not on agenda, voters were directed to the personal qualities of the candidate.
Liberation from Tyranny: Constructive Solutions
In Iraq, the constructive solution to democracy would have been to end the economic sanctions that strengthened Saddam and made the people more dependent on him than an outright violence against a tyranny long supported by the US. The people of Iraq were denied the democratic choices all along, like in the 1991 uprising when US supported Saddam in crushing it maintaining that the country needs an iron fisted military junta who offered better stability than representatives of people who suffered repression who might have ruled the country independent of US. . Exposure of mass graves of Saddam’s victims of revolution oppressed with US aid, was used as a smokescreen for the 2002 attack evoking his brutal genocide, something ignored in 1991. A popular uprising unlike US instigated coup by groups it controlled would have left US out of it’s influence in Iraq, like the revolts against tyrants supported by US. Sanctions were the best way to prevent a popular revolt and it succeeded. US hegemony over Iraq was strongly opposed in post war Iraq. A Shite Islamic Republic was decided to be objected by US on the grounds that they would mend fences with Iran.
Condolezza Rice stressed that Iraq is not East Timor, Kosovo or Afghanistan. The distinction is clear by the fact that Iraq is a major prize not to be given to UN or Iraqis. So the post war Iraq administration chart topped US personnels with a few Iraqis as advisors at the bottom end of the list. Thus by disturbing the world order Iraq became the “petri dish” for the US experimentation of world order and hegemony and establishing new norms as NYT reported
Dilemmas of Dominance
US support of Eastern Europe was based on the fact that it can drive the modern capitalism by cheap labour and blow apart the welfare state culture. After fall of Berlin wall, rising unemployment and pauperization of working class meant people were willing to work for pittance, for longer hours. Thus Europe could hammer away at high wages, short working hours, corporate taxes, and luxurious labor programmes.Thus the advantages could be brought to the west as well. The market reforms of East Europe were welcomed by US elites since the Western Europes social welfare systems and tax funded health care was very popular in US. Western Europe’s social market system could be a virus that infect others just like the independent social and economic development of the third world thus constituting successful defiance. The demographic consequences of modern capitalism were stark.
European unification received ambiguous support based on the doubt that Europe might go its own way independent of US..Eastern Europe, apart from undermining the social market system of West Europe, acted as a trojan horse for US market interests. In 1973 the share of US in world economy shrunk from its post WW2 peak and a tripolar order came into existence- North America, Europe and Japan based Asia. Later East Asia and China too joined. Before WW2, US was an economic powerhouse only, but after the war it became the leader in global management too as the other powers weakened or were devastated. Industrial production quadrupled and US controlled the whole western hemisphere, oceans and territory bordering it.
Marshall Plan fuelled growth of American MNC’s in Europe. SE Asia was to provide resources and raw materials to their former imperial masters. George Kennan, head of State Departments policy planning, adviced Africa to be split among Europeans to exploit the resources and the prized possession, the Middle East rich in oil was to be under US.
Cauldron of Animosities
Michael Krepon, a co-founder of the Stimson Center and a leading specialist on nuclear threats, raised concerns about the unstable nuclear proliferation belt from Pyonyang to Baghdad. But Israel, a far more nuclear threat is rarely featured in public discussions. Bush and Blair called for Resolution 687 to eliminate WMD from Iraq as a basis for invasion . But they ignored Article 14 of UN, specifying “a goal of establishing a Middle East zone free of WMD” that included Israel too.
Israel’s military capacities are dangerous, it is an off shore US military technology base and the core of economy is a military linked high tech industrial system with ties to US economy. It is now rated second in the western world after US, in terms of social gaps in income , property, capital, education and spending. It’s former social welfare system has eroded. It has close alliance with the other major regional military power, Turkey. 12% of Israeli offensive aircrafts are permanently stationed in Turkey, spying Iran, the main purposes being to partition Iran, separating the northern region, weakening it geopolitically, bar its access to Caspian sea and to expedite a pipeline from Caspian to Mediterranean cutting out Iran.
US-Israel- Turkey alliance extend to Central Asia and India (1998). The nationalist govt of India in 1998 shifted it’s international stance to Israel. The political analyst, Praful Bidwai wrote of the fascination of the Hindu nationalists with Zionism that is rooted in Islamophobia and hypernationalism and jingoism. The alliance of India and Israel , two nuclear powers contributed to proliferation of WMD, terror and disorder.
US- Israeli relations
After WW1, economy shifted from industrial to oil- based and petroleum sources were discovered in the ME. Now, the US policy shifted to controllig ME. British empire had delegated control to Arab ruler clients, a veil of constitutional fiction and cost effective than direct rule. The population did not submit, but airpower was becoming available to bomb civilians , and some like Winston Churchil gassed the recalcitrant Kurds and Afghans. Britain undermined the efforts to prevent the use of airpower against civilians after the war. The statesman, Lloyd George praised the British Govt. for reserving the right to bomb niggers.
US followed the British empire policy and the non- Arab states like Turkey, Shah’s Iran too joined. For US, it was more about control than access. After WW2, North America was the world’s largest oil producer. Later a major exporter to US, was Venezuela. And the US was expected to rely on the Atlantic Basin resources in future and not ME oil. So control over ME, was on the basis of the profits to US-UK energy corporations. The oil wealth recycles to US and UK in many ways like construction projects, military hardwares etc. Thus a global system of military bases were planned in Gulf. Base sites include, in Eastern Europe, Turkey,Afghanistan, Central Asia, British held island of Diego Garcia( inhabitants were expelled). One of the main reasons for invasion of Iraq was to establish a military base at the heart of ME. The 1948 Israeli Arab war showed the Israeli military military prowess that offered Israel as a means to gain military advantage over the Gulf region.
In 1958, the Eisenhower administration identified three major crisis of radical nationalism which could lead to democracy. In North Africa, the Algerian sttruggle for independence, in Indonesia, a peasant based party revolting against Suharto and in ME, Nasser, the new-Hitler of Egypt overthrowing imperial forces leading to independence. A coup in Iraq overthrew British backed government and it was feared that Kuwait and Saudi would follow the same path. Israel helped in supressing the nationalist movement in Jordan and US recognised it’s importance as an ally to thwart Arab nationalism and to hold Persian Gulf oil by force. The threat of independent Arab nationalism was destroyed for ever by thwarting Nasser in 1967 war. Israel also aided by deterring Syrian intervention to protect Palestinians who were being massacred in Jordan. Thus US aid to Israel quadrupled. The tacit alliance of Israel- Iran- Saudi helped US root its power in the ME. In 1979, when Shah fell, Israel-Turkey alliance invited Saddam to join them.
In 1971, Anwar Sadat of Egypt offered peace treaty with Israel in return for complete withdrawal of Israel from its occupied territories. Israel chose confrontation with US aid, not on the grounds of security but on the basis of further expansion. Inhabitants were brutally expelled from Sinai for an all- Jewish city of Yamit. Egypt waged a war in 1973, a near disaster for Israel. Kissinger launched his shuttle diplomacy In Camp David settlement of 1978-79. US and Israel accepted his 1971 offer, but by then Sadat included Palestinian rights too in the peace offer.
Now, Israel moved on to occupt Lebanon by a 1978 and 1982 war, that left many thousands dead. Many pretexts for the planned attack on 1982 failed, and finally the attempted assassination of Israel ambassador in London by Abu Nidal was used as a pretext. The Sabra- Shatila refugee camp was attacked in Beirut killing 200 people. US vetoed attempts to end the war in UN. The war continued for 18 years. The aim of Israel was to weaken PLO and set back its struggle for a Palestinian state. US supported the reason too, by the PR machinery announcing the continous rocket attacks killing innocent Israelis as the reason. An exception, an article by NYT correspondent, James Bennet, who clearly wrote the aim as to destroy Arafat and install a friendly regime in PLO, that would help persuade Palestinians to live under occupation. It is also a textbook description of massive international terrorism tracing back to Washington which provides the economic, military and diplomatic support for Israel’s atrocities. US has continously been vetoing the the two state solution in UN.
Camp David 2 follwed in 2000. US- israeli rejectionism runs through this too. Conventional belief is that Clinton- Barak Yehuda team offered a magnanimous deal rejected by the Palestinians. The map of the deal shows a vrtually divided West Bank into three cantons separated with two Jewish settlements in between, limited access to East Jerusalem, the heart of Palestininan life and an all separated Gaza. The Israeli negotiator, Shlomo Ben- Ami, a dove, outlined the goal of Oslo Peace Process( Yasser Arafat- Rabin, Perez- Clinton in 1993/ The wordings made it clear that there should be a mandate for continuing Israeli settlement process)- to establish a neocolonial dependency for the Palestinians. The same was done in Camp David too. The South African model of Bantustans is being followed until now. Camp David 2 failure led to negotiations at Taba, Egypt in 2001 which also failed due to territorial problems. A territorial divide on 1967 borders with one to one land swap would have solved the problem, something blocked by US and Israel since the beginning. Bush 2- Sharon years were notable for absence of diplomatic solutions and continued settlement expansion with US back up. 42% of West Bank is now under Israeli occupation. Two expanded settlements separate the northern and southern WB from each other and from East Jerusalem and Gaza completely. The humanitarian effect on Palestinians are obstacles, patrols, barricades, prohibitions, isolation, compromising their ability to lead normal lives and impoverishing an entire national community. While there is forceful enforcement of the conditions of peace process on Palestinians, there is nothing like that on the Israelis. US is not stringent on the Israel responbilites on the roadmap, it specifies clauses and conditions on Israel on US subsidy like slashing public sector jobs, wages and lower taxes, favoring businesses and thus enforcing the neoliberal conditions on Israel.
By constructing a wall separating West Bank, ostensibly for security of Israelis, it has annexed agricultural lands(10%) and aquifers from Palestinian side to Israel. The winding path of the wall is designed to encircle parts of Palestinian lands(42% or less) and incorporate it to Israel. In December 2000, Bush administration vetoed an UN resolution advanced by EU, to reduce violence in Palestine by dispatching international monitors, something Israel strongly objects. 10 days before that US boycotted a Geneva conference to revive the situation in occupied territories according to which the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Conventions would constitute US- Israeli actions as war crimes under US law. The conference condemned US-Israeli settlements and the wilful killing, torture, deportation, depriving fair trial and destruction and appropriation of property. By not attending, US succesfully issued a double veto- blocked decisions and the barely reported events being erased from history. The Fourth Geneva Convention, instituted to criminalize Nazi crimes in occupied Europe is the core principle of international humanitarian law. It is clearly applicable to Israeli occupation. Resolutions from UN has adopted the US- backed occupations as flagrant violations of the convention. US and Europe as High Contracting Parties should make sure that other countries and themselves are obligated by solemn treaty to prosecute those responsible for the crimes, but by rejecting their duties US is perpetuationg terror by abstaining from UN during the Clinton years and undermining the resolutions during the Bush 2 years.
The Bush administration endorsed the violent repression by permitting Sharon to continue his offensive during 2002, levelling the Jenin refugee camps, smashing the old city of Nablus, destroying the infrastructure of Ramallah. For the first time, Bush 2 administration opposed the UN resolution opposing annexation of Jerusalem. He also voted against a UN resolution calling for pause in the deteriorating relation between Israel and Palestine, thus continuing to sustain violence and repression. He declared the archterrorist Sharon, “a man of peace” and demanded that Arafat be replaced by a pliable Palestinian leader without popular following. So much for his vision of “democracy”. In a 2003 speech to a far Right American Institute he obliquely remarked that the settlement might end once peace is achieved( unilaterally as per US decisions and terms), an implicit remark to continue settlement, and a reversal of official US policy that settlement is illegal. All these endorsements escaped mentions by the press.
During the first anniversary of 9/11 Bush approved 200 million dollars of aid to the rich Israel, rejecting the 130 million dollar aid to Afghanistan. The UK Foreign Secretary at the time was worried about the ME issues, Saddam and insecurity of Israel. The insecurity of Palestine was not even worthy of mention. The undermining of diplomatic peace porcess is justified on the basis of Palestinian terror against Israeli civilian, which did increase after they had been continually battered by the US and Israel. Israel has always had a culture of using power over peace, despite it’s sacrosanct ethos of aspiring to peace. The instituitionalization of power guided by a military culture intervening by threat or force in politics, using fear mongerng tactics to create anxiety of public and distracting them from domestic issues is a formula enacted by the founding father David Ben Gurion, something familiar in many fascist, proto fascist governments. The IDF is notorious for extreme violence, sometimes disregarding the elected civilian government as was clear during the months of Intifada. The ratio of Palestinians killed is almost 20 times to those of Israelis. US provided bulldozers raze the buildings, houses, fields and olive groves with utter abandon. The resistance from Palestine mostly boil down to stone throwing and rocket firing while the IDF uses US provided highly advanced weapons against them. US provided military helecopters fired at civilians unrestricted, again something that went unreported in US press. Bulldoing and using earthmowers fitted on tanks were used by US in 1991 Gulf war, while they bulldozed live Iraqi soldiers into trenches and killed them. Most were hapless victims of Saddam, the Shiites and Kurds hiding in sand holes or fleeing for their lives. This also was not reported by the press.
These slaughters, an overwhelming show of disparity of force, borders on perversive. Another one is the much lauded object lesson in airpower( recorded in US Airforce study) to all Communists especially to North Korean Communists during the Korean war of 1953. No targets left in a flattened country, the AirForce bombed and destroyed the irrigation dams providing water to 75% of the rice cultivation. The westerners would never understand this means starvation and slow death of people where rice is a staple diet. Such crimes constituted the ones receiving death sentences in Nuremberg trial. Examples of powerful states inflicting wrath upon the powerless and subjugated are many. British atrocities on Indians, and Britain’s repression of Kenyan colonial revolt are two examples. The ferocity and cruelty of the settler forces and IDF ordering collective punishment in Intifada 2 in 2000 forced the Palestinians to strike back. During Intifada 1 the population was terrorized, crushed, beaten, tortured, but they did not strike back. Many have pointed out the dangers to Israeli society by the IDF’s actions, when two thirds of the men in the army internalize the principle of Moshe Dayan that the task of the army is not just to defend the state, but to demolish the rights of innocent people just because they are like dogs, or they are Araboushim(A highly offensive and inflammatory Hebrew term of ethnic bigotry and hatred for Palestinians and other Arabs which is widely used by Israeli Zionists.) living in terrotories promised to the Jews by God. After the second Intifada, the ratio of palestinians to Israelis killed shifted from 20:1 to 3:1. The US was naturally concerned now at the outrageous attacks on their innocent clients, not shown when innocent Palestinians were being mowed, a selective vision with deep roots in the history and culture of conquerors.
Terrorism and Justice:Truisms
The two truisms, actions should be evaluated based on consequences and the same standards must apply for all parties(principle of universality) remain just that, truisms, when it comes to US actions. The defenition of terrorism in US is obscure in the sense that it is the same definition of counterterrorism in the name of war on terror. The revised definitions did nothing to differentiate the two, one of crucial problems. US is not alone in this, all states call their own terrorism as counterterror. Even the Nazi counterterrorism in occupied Europe was claimed to defend the legitimate population and governments from London- funded partisans. The US military modelled its counterterrorism from Nazi manuals analyzed sympathetically with the help of Wehrmacht officers.
By definition US becomes a terrorist state. It’s disregard for the international instituitions and actions in other countries prove this. Defenitions of terrorism get even more complicated when distinguishing between international terrorism and agression and terrorism and resistance. Charter of UN, legitimize actions if resistance is being used for right to self determination, freedom and independence of people deprived of these esp. people under colonial, racist regimes or foreign occupation. US and Israel vetoed, Honduras ( since the phrase colonial, racist regimes would imply their ally South Africa) abstained from the 1987 resolution. US and Israel would definitely not condone the resistance of ANC under Mandela (designated a terrorist group by US ). The term foreign occupation was implying Israel. so that was another reason. US and Israel were the only countries that called this terrorism and not resistance at the time. US designated the term terrorist to Hezbollah because it resisted the Israel occupation of Lebanon and to South Vietnam and Iraq because they resisted US agression.
The sharp disparities of what constitue terrorism for US and Israel and the rest of the world is apparent in historical and documentary records and marginalized critical literature. Latin America was a victim of US counterterrorism from the 1960 s. The LA military was trained to shift from Hemispheric defense to internal security during the Kennedy administration in 1962 by tolerating their military atrocities, complicity and support. Rather than external defense, regular armies were made death squads against perceived and assumed communist revolutionaries who practically included anyone who resisted the regime and military. In 1962, Kennedy sent Special Force Mission to Columbia for this purpose. The National Security aim of army reached Central America, El SALVADOR during the 1980 s. Whenever direct military aid to the army was hampered by human rights isssues as in Guatemala, surrogates took the charge.
The first war on terror declared by Reagan in 1980 s is described by academic specialists as counterterrorism efforts of resistance of US against state sponsored terrorists like Libya, Central America and Iran. US merely responed with a proactive stance to terrorism. The villainy of Vietcong, Nicaraguans, Iranians, Libyans against the US, presents a picture of US as victim. US supported Israeli invasions of Lebanon in 1982, 1993 and 1996. The car bomb outside a mosque in Beirut that killed 80 people was traced back to CIA and British intelligence. Shimon Perez’s bombing of Tunis killing 75 people was US supported. The calculated brutality and arbitrary murder of Lebanese villagers by Perez was US supported. All these fall within the category of state supported international terrorism. But none of this entered the canon of terrorism or press because of wrong- agent fallacy.
The year 1985 is considered peak year of ME terrorism not because of the above atrocities, but two terrorist attacks where two Americans were killed. The Sharon offensive of 2002 on Palestinians when many were killed, buildings buldozed, cultural centres and educational institutions crushed, people maimed, were not terrorism but defense according to US press and administration. The careful disappearance of facts by the press which presented the US version of events made it hard for the public to pursue the truth in these cases. Similar to Israel, Turkish repression of Kurds was praised by US as efforts to counter terrorism , while Turkey had been receiving the means for opression from US the one sponsoring state terrorism. For US and it’s client states the definition of terrorim differs considerably than for other states.
The bombing of Afghanistan was hailed as a ‘just-cause war’ for regime change. An international gallup poll before the bombing showed diplomatic/ judicial methods as preferrable to military action. There was considerable opposition to military action, but the poll was never reported in the US media. At that time US did not know the people behind 9/11 as it made clear 8 months after the war. Eight months after the war US announced who it thought was behind 9/11- Al Qaeda operating from Afghanistan, planned and financed in Germany and UAE. There was no definite proof still. The Bush administration bombed Afghanistan based on mere suspicions. Thus it should come under warcrimes as the bombing was not based on any actual proof, the majority of the world did not support, those who supported did so based on presupposition that US and UK knew the perpetrators well. It was a clearcut example of international terrorism by a powerful state, exactly a kind of jihad by US. The bombing, supposedly against the Taliban regime, ended up destroying the country and killed many innocents and was condemned by all Afghani leaders, religious scholars, tribal elders and also by Abdul Haq, the Afghan opposition leader highly regarded in US and AFGHANISTAN. Even in countries like India and Israel who supported military action ( for parochial reasons), a considerable majority had opposed the bombing. The hawks in US reported that the war had considerable support from a majority except some isolationist, pacifist, lunatic fringe.
The reason given by the US for bombing Afghanistan was that the Taliban reluctance to extradite the 9/11 suspects. But the US did not give any evidence to the Taliban. Contrarily, Haitian requests to extradite Emmanuel Constant , the paramilitary leader responsible for murder of thousands of civilians in the 1990 s with the support of Clinton and Bush were not even given notice in the US. The fact was that US was afraid that he would testify of the connections of US and the state terrorists. The question arises if Haiti was entitled to bomb US based on just- cause war principle. Washingtons( Bush’s) doctrine that if a country, harbours, abets , or aids terrorists, they would be terrorist too and hence bombed to earth could be applied reciprocally to US as a justified and properly calibrated response . Massive bombing of a country in which a suspected terrorist/ terrorists are being hidden cannot form a just- cause war by any means of moral/ ethical or political standards. The hollow legal claims of US commentators justifying the war as the right to self defense against those who attack or threaten one’s country could be applied by Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti or any other country who had been victims of US interventions. Another legal support from an international law expert goes like this- “a state is responsible for the consequences of permitting its territories to be used to injure another state”. This law definitely holds good for Cuba, Nicaragua and many others to justify bombing US in retaliation.
In 1998, Clinton dispatched missile attacks on al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan believed to produce chemical weapons. Many people died, there were many further deaths from starvation due to the postponement of crucial relief efforts for 2.4 million people. A mere suspicion of a pharmacy resulted in massive and dire consequences to the people of Sudan, which the US justified as unintended and absolved themselves of culpability. With such appalling consequences, Sudan is also entitled to a retaliatory strike. The callousness by Clinton and his administration despite knowing that they were destroying a major source of pharmaceuticals and veterinary medicines in Sudan could be viewed under the Hegelian doctrine, Africans being considered mere things with no value of life. One commentator described the 9/11 as by agressors with moral orthodoxy divergent from the West. If so, what sort of moral orthodoxy should be ascribed to the West?
The 9/11 attacks were not entirely unexpected. It is doubtful that the attacks sharply changed the course of history. Even from the 80’s the war on terror was slated to continue and prospects of major terrorist attacks were publicly dscussed . In 1993, a near WTC attack almost happened that was thwarted on time. Even after 9/11 the risk assessments of future attacks did not change substantially. And US definitely had ideas of the radical Islamic terrorism at least from the 1980 s when elements that formed the later Al Qaeda assassinated Sadat of Egypt or a loosely related group that drove US forces out of Beirut, killing troops and civilians. These groups were well understood by the US as they had long been trained, recruited and armed by the CIA for their own purposes(from 1980 s) and continued to work with them even while they were attacking US. A Dutch enquiry into Srebrenica massacre revealed that while the CIA -trained terrorist networks, Mujahidins, were being flown from Afghanistan to Bosnia along with the Iranian Hezbollah fighters and arms by the US, to support the US side of Balkan wars, radical Islamists were planning to attack WTC in1993. Israel, Ukraine and Greece supplied Serbs with US provided arms. The 9/11 just served to topple the assumption that only the rich and powerful had monopoly to international terrorism.
The tendencies in global affairs that have been expected to enhance terrorist threats include neoliberal globalization causing financial volatility, deepening economic stagnation harming the poor more, political instability, and cultural alienation fostering ethnic, ideological and religious extremism. Most of the hatred will be towards US and its policies. To reduce the threat of terror, the terrorist networks should be distinguished from the reservoir from which they draw members, i.e, the poor and oppressed. The poor receives the double whammy from the rich and powerful as well as from the terrorists. Unless the sociopolitical and economic conditions that spawned Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are addressed, US and its western allies will be targeted. Only way is to reduce the pathology of hatred, moderating conditions that breed violence and to wean away the support base by eliminating policies that are a huge recruiting device to terrorists. Might can destroy the terrorists, but the support base could be eroded only by just policies. Even destruction of terrorists will do little unless the underlying conditions that facilitated the groups emergence like political oppression and economic marginalisation are addressed. US support for tyranical regimes has to end as it supports Muslim oppression .
Violence begets more violence. As wars like the one in Iraq, continues, new terrorist jihadis will spawn. As predicted by many observers, the Iraq war catalyzed the recruitment in Al Qaeda and new terrorist groups, there was rise in radical fundamentalism all over the world. This is the greatest setback of war on terror, a terrorist safe haven has been created in Iraq itself. The goals of the terrorists are to drive the infidels out of Muslim lands, overthrow corrupt and brutal governments imposed and sustained by the infidels and to institute an extremist version of Islam. America has been singled out by the groups, according to Laden in 1998, “when it sent its troops to the land of the two Holy Mosques, and its support for oppressive, corrupt, tyrranical regimes”. Delicate social and political problems can’t be bombed and missiled out of existence, but should be addressed.
Two specific issues that inspired hatred against US policies among Muslims were the Israeli Palestinian conflict and US sancions on Iraq along with their support for corrupt governments and autocrats thus denying democracy in the Arab land. The non wealthy Muslims also resent that the wealth from the resources of their countries are being divvied up by the West and the moneyed Arabs, instead of using for their domestic purposes. Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise not just among the poor but among the educated and privileged classes too.
A Passing Nightmare
Before the dust had settled from WTC during 9/11, Republicans professed their aim to use terrorism as an excuse to pursue radical right wing agenda. Staring into the abyss of future was the public, those at the centre of power and privilige were pursuing agendas that ultimately benefited them, using the fear and anxiety of the moment to deepen the abyss. Many others joned the US in the war on terror, Russia eager to oppress the Chechnyans, China the Uighurs and Israel the Palestinians. The threat of terrorism is not the only abyss into which we peer, another one is the nuclear threat which the US and other nuclear states make sure to grow. Clinton’s Strategic Command described nuclear weapons as the most useful in the arsenal. It is the same vision as Nixon’s famous madman theory which he and Kissinger applied during the 1969 nuclear alert that could have gone wrong. The STRATCOM further manintained the right to first use of nuclear power even against those without nuclear weapons, those who have signed the Non Proliferation Treaty. They also adviced to continue to maintain the launch on warning posture for nuclear missiles on hair trigger alert. These were proposals adopted by Clinton. This document is available for the public, but they never knew that, despite the fact that US is unique in allowing the public access to high level planning documents.
Another major nuclear threat was the poorly stored and maintained nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, almost 40,000 of them. They might end up in the hands of wrong people as loose nukes or might be deployed carelessly. The Bush administration cut off a programme to safeguard these nukes and provide alternate employment to the nuclear scientists there. US nuclear proliferation has ripple effects on other nuclear weapon holding countries. Bizarre policies include, Bush administration maintaining that it has no objection in China continuing the nuclear missile proliferation, to gain its acquiescence in dismantling the arms control agreements. Clinton encouraged Russia to adopt a launch on warning strategy, something that might go wrong as the alert systems in Russia has many holes. The grave proliferation risks and threats of accidental or unauthorized strikes are growing . Thousands of nuclear scientists in Russia are mainly unemployed increasing the risk of them accepting lucrative offers for the secret weapon programmes from other countries.
Thus the post 9/11 strategies ignored measures to alleviate the threat of military confrontation and inturn increased proliferation in US thus inviting the adversaries to breed their own proliferation. Bush called for programmes for offensive use of nuclear warheads than as a deterrent. He lowered the nuclear threshold and broke down the firewall separating nuclear weapons from other conventional weapons. Militarization of space was monoplolized . During the Cold War, opportunities to reduce the nuclear proliferation was squandered by the US consistently. ICBM, a potential threat then, was possessed by the US and not by Russia. So Russia could have signed a treaty banning them, but US took no interest. Russian archives show that it’s proposal to unify east and west Germany to reduce East- West tensions and improve economy of Russia, were flatly ignored by US in 1952. Krushchev called for mutual reduction in offensive military forces, Eisenhover ignored this, but Krushchev implemented the reductions unilaterally still, against his military command to concentrate on economic growth. Instead US went on with massive nuclear and military build up thus driving the last nail on the coffin of Krushchev’s agenda for controlling the Soviet military. Soviet Union began seriously building up nuclear weapons after this. Had the US not ignored their request for treaty, Krushchev’s revisionism could have improved the economy of Russia and expedited Gorbachev’s social and economic reforms.
The controversial weapon programmes have been called defense against possible attacks. Missile defense is a moniker for comprehensive space monopolization for offensive military programmes. Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative programmes was an effort to disarm BMD opponents,an antinuclear popular movement by stealing their language of peace and disarmament while advancing offensive military system. It was in clear violation of Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty signed in 1972. BMD is actually not about defense, but for offense. Absolute ownership of space allows US to launch nuclear or non nuclear hypersonic missiles on a perceived threat without warning and before the victim country could even activate its defense. This gives the US hegemony on an unprecedented scale. US remains the only country refusing to sign the treaty on banning militarization of space. Biological and chemical weapons development also has proceeded unimpeded, the US refusing to sign treaties or participate in international conferences. The protection of commercial interests of drug and chemical companies is a reason too here. Just like many industrial establishments develop and prosper in defense and military programmes. Many like Kyoto protocol were undermined as it would harm US economy.
One positive development is the evolution of human rights cuture accelerated in the 1960 s. Solidarity movement development in the 1980 s like the one concerning Central America are notable and unprecedented. The solidarity movements have been exposed to the wrath of repressive states , putting their lives at risk even. Rachel Aliene Corrie was an American activist and diarist. A member of the pro-Palestinian group International Solidarity Movement, she was crushed to death by an Israel Defense Forces armored bulldozer ..The killing of an US citizen by US clients using US provided weapons was not considered worthy of inquiry. Global Justice Movements are also large in scale and entirely new. Thus the planet’s “second superpower”, the masses could no longer be ignored. The gains in human rights were not gifts of enlightened leaders but imposed on states by popular protests. The harmful effects of corporate globalization have led to mass popular protests and activism in the South which slowly reached the rich industrialized countries thus linking and unifying them., making concrete alliances at grassroots level. Effects are in the form of restrain in state terrorism, policy and rhetorical changes. The momentum should be sustained to deepen the global bonds of sympathy and solidarity.
So there are two trajectories in current history- one aiming towards hegemony, acting rationally within a lunatic doctrinal framework which threatens survival and the other challenging the reigning ideological system and seeking alternatives of thought , action and institutions.
Bertrand Russel once expressed somber thoughts on peace:
“After ages during which the earth produced harmless trilobites and butterflies, evolution progressed to the point at which it has generated Neros, Genghis Khans and Hitlers. This however, I believe, is a passing nightmare; in time the earth will become again incapable of supporting life, and peacce will return“
Discontent with US policies intensified after 2002. The war increased the threat of terror and revived the appeal of global Islamist Jihad. Iraq became a terrorist haven. Suicide attacks increased globally. WMD proliferation increased considerably and worrisomely. In 2003, Madrid train bombings killed 200 people, in Europe’s worst terrorist crime. Spanish electorate voted out the government who had gone to war despite popular opposition.
Al Qaeda, a loose array of radical Islamists, for whom Bin Laden was hardly more than a symbol was able to recruit feverishly . It was not well known before 1998, when Clinton bombed Sudan and Afghanistan. This created closer ties between Laden, who was a symbol and Taliban and led to a sharp increase in support, financing and recruitment. Bush’s bombing of Afghanistan in 2002 led to futher growth of Al Qarda and the prominence of Laden. His message spread around the world and recruited many angry young people in a battle between good and eveil, a vision shared by Bush. Every use of force is a victory for Laden, whether dead or alive.
Russia carried out its largest military exercise exhibiting advance WMD in 2004, in response to the development of “bunker busters” by US clearly designed to target the Russian high level nuclear command bunkers that control its nuclear arsenal. Russia was also starting to duplicate hypersonic cruise missiles that would attack from space without warning, something designed by the US to reduce reliance on overseas bases and negotiated access to air routes. Russian military expenditures tripled during Bush- Putin time. Russia adopted the preemptive strike doctrine and warned that it would use the military if the access to places considered vital for its survival is limited.
Flaws might happen in automated response systems leading to nuclear launch. Pentagon had found flaws in it’s computer systems that could allow terrorist hackers to seize control and simulate a launch. Moreover US presidents have been systematically misinformed, just like the one with Iraq, about effects of nuclear war due to lack of oversight by insulated beureaucracies resulting in institutional myopia that can be catastrophic. Though the missile defense systems by the US is thought to be for deterrence, both US planners and potential targets are aware that its main purpose is offensive .
In 2003 US moved to terminate a ban in biowarfare and militarization of space. In 2003, at UN general assembly US along with India voted against steps towards elimnation of nuclear weapons. It voted along with Israel and Micronesia against steps to prevent nuclear proliferation in ME, a pretext for Iraq invasion. Colin Powell explained the NSS(National Security Strategy) in WEF like this- “Washington has the right to use force to defend ourselves from nations that possess WMD and cooperate with terrorists”. Later Bush lowered the bar further, removed the ‘cooperate with terrorists ‘ part and appraised the intent to use force if countries have the intent and ability to possess WMD, that is all the rest of the nations. Powell justified Iraq attack after it was known that the WMD story was cooked up, by explaining that Iraq had the intent and ability to make WMD and had used this against Iran and his own people, actually something done with US help. All these contrived pretexts collapsed on the face of the original reason for Iraq invasion, to secure a military base at the heart of the world’s major energy resources. And this aim has been the only reason and the plan to attack has been much before 9/11 from 1981 at least.
US moved to undermine the democratic government in Haiti by Jean Bertrand Aristide elected in 1990 democratically by the Haitian people against the US backed candidate. He was overthrown a few months later by a military coup by Bush 1. Bush 1 and Clinton supported the military junta and its wealthy patrons. Clinton allowed the president to return but on a crucial condition that he adopt the neoliberal policy of his opponent. Economy was taken over by foreign banks and businesses. Economic sovereignity was undermined, development restricted, political democracy became a shadow, country went to chaos and violence while Bush had already banned international aid before. What the US call “restoring democracy”. It was these kind of enforced economic programmes that created the third world, the imperial powers resorting to the state to protect the rich from market disciplines . The same principle is being followed still.In an election in El SALVADOR, Bush warned that if the democratic process did not come out the right way (by choosing the US supported candidate), the country’s lifeline, remittances from the US would be cut among other consequences.
Iraqis knew this kind of enforced rules better, Iraq was created by the British, the boundaries drawn by them, to ensure that Britain and not Turkey will get control of its resources of the north and Iraq was barred from sea by the US colony of Kuwait. Everything is there in classified British documents, of how an Arab facade was created to rule behind constitutional fictions. The large military and diplomatic presence in Iraq even after US handed over the power to Iraqis is proof enough that the aim was not democratization. The economy was opened for foreign take over.
Norman Gary Finkelstein, a political scientist, is an incisive critic of Israeli policies on Palestine, an activist, author and professor. His parents were survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, his mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto and the Majdanek concentration camp, his father was a survivor of both the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz and later they emigrated to the US. His mother, a pacifist, imbued the sense of moral outrage in him that turned him into a fierce critic of Israeli policies on Palestinians. A follower and fan of Noam Chomski, reading him helped Finkelstein to apply his principles in the critique of Israel and the Jewish organisations. He was in the forfront of the protests against Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and has written many books including about Palestine and the First Intifada( The rise and Fall of Palestine)
Through his book,”The Holocaust Industry, Reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering” he turns tables on the conventionally believed notions of the inner workings of the powerful American Jewish organisations that misappropriated the legacy of the Nazi Holocaust morphing it into a Holocaust Industry that according to him, is culpable of a double shakedown and financial extortion of European countries and Holocaust survivors in cahoots with the Clinton administration and other US administrations.
Synopsis ( The sentences are exactly as they are written by the author under the same titles)
Dubbed the “most controversial book of the year” by the Guardian, this provocative, pugilistic work has torn apart the altruistic facades and intrinsic hypocrisies of the Jewish organisations and laid bare the shocking complicity and abetment of the US government from the top Executive branch all the way down to the lower rungs of the administration. If these allegations are true, it is indeed shocking. The main references include the details of the Senate hearings,Class Action Settlement Agreement text, Claims Resolution Tribunal text, correspondences, newspaper reports, books,articles and essays by acclaimed authors and many others,
A self-professed iconoclastic Jew, Finkelstein has trodden a minefield managing to make enemies at all levels. In the foreword, he has dismissed the ‘conspiracy theory’ allegations of critics and challenges them to refute his claims, that are well researched, documented and out in the open. According to him, apart from lobbing ad hominems and conspiracy theory criticisms, the claims has not yet been discredited by anyone.
He explains the stepwise, calculated approach taken by the American Jewish organisations in succesfully running an extorsion racket, disproportionately milking the Swiss banks and German industrialists in the name of reparations for the Holocaust victims, corrupting the history and intergrity of the Holocaust with little respect for truth or moral rectitude, all the while defending the egregious American and Israeli violence.
Capitalizing the Holocaust
Finkelstein begins the book by incriminating the US as the corporate headquarters of the Holocaust industry and The New York Times as the promotional vehicle. Searingly critical of Elie Wiesel, Jerzy Kosinski( American Jewish novelist, more about him under the header Holocaust literature fraud) and Daniel Goldhagen ( American author of two controversial books about ‘the Holocaust: Hitler’s Willing Executioners‘ (1996), and ‘A Moral Reckoning‘ (2002)), he merits The NYT for having advanced their careers. The historian, Raul Hilberg (the world’s preeminent scholar of the Holocaust, his three-volume, 1,273-page magnum opus, The Destruction of the European Jews, is regarded as a seminal study of the Nazi Final Solution) has repeatedly lent his support to Finkelstein’s claims and arguments. An extensive number of references are attributed to Peter Novick‘s seminal study, ‘The Holocaust in American Life‘.
Between the end of WW II and the 1960’s there were only a handful of books and films on the Holocaust. When Hannah Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963, she could draw on only two scholarly studies in English language- Gerald Reitlinger‘s The Final Solution and Raul Hilberg‘s Destruction of European Jews. No monuments or tributes marked the Holocaust in the US during that time. Though the standard explanation of this silence was the trauma and repression of memory of it, Finkelstein points to the fact that the American Jewry hewed to the US foreign policy then as well as now. By 1949, West Germany had become a crucial post-war American ally. Yet another reason why the Final Solution was a taboo topic among the American Jewish elites was that it had been championed by the leftist Jews opposed to the Cold war allignment of the US with Germany against the Soviet Union. Thus the remembrance of the Final Solution was tagged as a Communist cause. The elite Jewry even collaborated in the Mc Carthy era Communist witch hunt sacrificing the fellow leftist Jews at the ant- Communist altar.
Everything changed after the June 1967 Arab- Israeli war and the Holocaust became a fixture of American Jewry. After Israel was founded in 1948 as a homeland for Jews, many of the Jews, in particular the Eastern European Jews who were Left leaning continued to support the USSR during the Cold War. To avoid the charge of ‘dual loyalty’ from the US, the American Jewry distanced itself from Israel from 1948 until 1967. During this time Israel was never in the orbit of US strategic planning. President Truman and Eisenhower carefully balanced support for Jewish state against the interests of the Middle East, favoring the Arabs. The American Jewish intellectuals as well as the US politicians literally ignored Israel. Ironically, the only two public intellectuals who had forged a bond with Israel before 1967 were Hannah Arendt( critical of Israel and labelled ‘an enemy of Israel’ after her work, Eichmann in Jerusalem) and Noam Chomsky( fiercely critical of US foreign policy). The 1967 Arab Israeli war showcased the overwhelming display of force by the Israeli military routing the Arabs and the US heartily incorporated Israel as a strategic asset. Even before the war , US had moved towards Israel as Syria and Egypt charted an independent course. The US Jewry too now tilted towards Israel. This should be juxtaposed with the 1948 Arab Israeli war( Israel won), when the US had joined a UN arms embargo against Israel and the Arabs had clear edge in weaponry. The Jewish defeat was certain, had it not been for a secret Czech arms deal with Israel.
The mainstream American Jewish organisations like Anti Defamation League( ADL) worked hard to firm up US- Israeli alliance, coverage on Israel shot up in the NYT and the Holocaust industry sprung up. Except for the alliance with the US, Israel remained a pariah state in the international scene. Israel and the organised American Jewry found it politically expedient to revive the Holocaust memories as a weapon to deflate criticisms and a contrived hysteria over anti Semitism came into existence. Sartre observed in his work, ‘Anti-Semite and Jew‘, “the anti-Semite is in the unhappy position of having a vital need for the very enemy he wishes to destroy”. The US Jews enjoyed secular and financial success, they moved to the right of the political spectrum, but remained left-of-center on cultural issues like sexual morality and abortion. Traditionally aligned with Black people against caste discrimation, many Jews opportunistically broke with the Civil Rights alliance in the late 1960’s as the blacks demanded more economic equality . Defending their corporate and class interests, the Jewish elites branded all opposition to their conservative policies as anti- Semitic. The 1968 NewYork teachers strike which pitted the Jewish professional union against Black communty activists is highlighted by the Jewry as an anti-Semitic excercise, though Jewish racism is less often remembered.
Hoaxers, Hucksters, and History
The Israeli writer, Boas Evron observes how the Nazi Holocaust transformed into the ideological, dogmatic Holocaust. He writes, ” the memory of Nazi extermination became a powerful tool in the hands of the Israeli leadership and the Jews abroad”. Two central dogmas of The Holocaust after 1967- one, the event as a categorically unique one and two, the eternal. irrational Gentile hatred of the Jews. Disproving the uniqueness would amount to Holocaust denial. As Novick writes, the main purveyor of the “sacralization of the Holocaust” was Elie Wiesel, who, for his standard fee of $25,000 plus chauffered limosine, lectured that the “secret of Auschwitz lies in silence”, “Holocaust leads to darkness”, “negates all answers”, “lies outside if not beyond history“, and so on. Wiesel in his memoir reprimanded Shimon Perez for speaking of and comparing the “two holocausts of the 20 th century- Auschwitz and Hiroshima“. Similarly, Ken Livingstone, a former Labour Party member was branded anti- Semitic when he incensed Jews in Britain by saying global capitalism has claimed as many victims as WWII. Fiedel Castro was also branded anti- Semitic by the ADL for accusing the capitalist system of regularly causing deaths on the scale of WWII. Thus Jean Michel Chaumont( Belgian sociologist) accuses that the claims of Holocaust uniqueness has come to constitue a form of “intellectual terrorism” where speakers need to be wary of a thousand caveats to ward of accusations of holocaust denial, and anti- Semitism. According to the historian, Peter Baldwin the uniqueness claim adds to the moral and emotional claims that Israel can make over the other nations. For example, Israel’s development of nuclear weapons evokes the specter of the Holocaust. Also Holocaust uniqueness amounts to Jewish uniqueness. According to Elie Wiesel, “everything about us is different, Jews are ontologically exceptional”.
The second tenet is the eternal, millenial Gentile hatred of the Jews. The Jews perished because all Gentiles, be it perpetrators or collaborators, wanted them dead. Incidentally, this theory gives comfort to the anti-Semite, as per the author. In ‘The Origin of Totalitarianism“, Hannah Arendt mentions, ” that the doctrine was adopted by professional anti Semites is a matter of course; it gives the best possible alibi for all horrors. If it is true that mankind has insisted on murdering Jews for more than 2000 years, then Jew killing is a normal and even human occupation and Jew hatred is justified beyond the need of argument. The most surprising aspect of this explanation is that it has been adopted by a great many unbiased historians and by even a greater number of Jews”. According to Finkelstein, this second tenet of eternal Gentile hatred justifies the necessity of a Jewish state, it’s actions- defensive, aggressive, preemptive, offensive, and even torturous and accounts for the hostility directed at Israel.
Hitler’s Final Solution was irrational, which means the eternal Gentile hatred that led to the Final Solution was inductively irrational, means, the irrationality confers a blamelessness on the Jews. Thus the Arab hatred, Black hatred, towardsIsrael and the Jews also becomes irrational, the Jews not to be blamed, ever chastised and ever innocent. According to Chaumont this confers a “radical innocence” on the Jews, thus presupposing a normal status in other killings and persecutions. Thus crimes and persecutions falls into a binary status- unconditionally intolerable crimes and tolerable ones. The uniqueness of eternal Gentile hatred makes the Holocaust unique making the persecution of the non Jews accidental, episodic and non unique. The Gentiles hated Jews from the jealousy, envy, ressentiment of a large number of less accomplished Gentiles to a small number of more accomplished Jews. That is the Holocaust uniqueness due to Gentile hatred of the Jews confirms the chosenness of the Jews. Propounding all the above mentioned tenets, thus Wiesel became the ideological figure of the Holocaust industry, as per Finkelstein.
Holocaust literature frauds
Finkelstein mentions about the cultural milieu that nurtured some Holocaust literature that is nonsense, outright fraud, worthless scholarship. The first major Holocaust hoax was the book ‘ The Painted Bird‘ by the Polish emigre Jerzy Kosinski, who claimed to have written it in English, while he actually wrote it in Polish. The book was supposed to be his autobiographical account of his wanderings as a solitary child through rural Poland during WWII. In fact, he lived with his parents throughout the war. He mentions the sadistic sexual tortures perpetrated by the virulently anti Semitic Polish peasants, but in fact the peasants safely harbored the Kosinski family fully aware of their Jewishness and taking the risks they could face due to that. Wiesel and Cynthia Ozick( Jewish American short story writer, essayist and novelist) heaped praise about it’s remarkability, authenticity, sincerity and sensitivity even after it was exposed as a hoax. The book went on to win many awards, was a best seller, became a basic Holocaust text, translated to many languages, and required reading in high school and colleges. When he was exposed as a fraud, Kosinski was defended by the NYT as a victim of Communist plot. Kosinski commited suicide and near his death, he deplored the Holocaust industry’s exclusion of non Jewish victims and paid tribute to the Polish peasants who sheltered his family during WWII.
Another fraud is the autobiographical book ‘Fragments‘ by Binjamin Wilkomirski. He borrowed the same plot of a lone child survivor, who becomes mute and winds up in an orphanage and belatedly discovers that he is Jewish. Like ‘The Painted Bird ‘, there is an orgy of violence in the book. Aodpted by a Swiss family, he endures torments amidst holocaust deniers, and Gentile anti Semitic school bullies. Fragments wa hailed as a classic Holocaust literature, translated to a dozen languages, won awards. His fraud was exposed later. He had spent the entire war in Switzerland, he was not even Jewish. Still Jewish publishers, editors and authors hailed it as a classic. Wilkomirski fabricated the Holocaust past, but the truth is that the Holocaust industry built on fradulent misappropriation of history for ideological purposes celebrated his fabrication. In 1999, his German publisher withdrew the book from stores, acknowledging that he wasn’t a Jewish orphan, but a Swiss born man named Bruno Doessekker. It took one more month for the American publisher to withdraw the book.
The four volume ‘ Encyclopedia of the Holocaust‘ edited by Israel Gutman gave the Mufti of Jerusalem a significant role in it, though he had nothing to do with the Holocaust. Mufti gets a top billing in Yad Vashem too. Tom Segev (Israeli historian, author and journalist) writes, “the visitor is left to conclude that there is much in common between Nazi plan to destroy the Jews and Arabs’ enimity to Israel“.
History of Holocaust Memorial Museum
There are over 100 Holocaust institutions in the US. Seven major Holocaust museums dot the US landscape. Annual days of remembrance are a national event, all 50 states sponsor commemorations. The main museum is the one in Washington. The author asks a pertinent question, ‘why do we have a federally mandated and funded Holocaust museum in the capital which is incongruous in the absence of a museum commemorating crimes in the course of American history ?’( The annual budget of the museum is $ 50 million, in which $30 million is federally subsidized). The Congressional initiative to build a national African- American museum was aborted many times between 1984 and 1994.
The Washington museum was mired in politics from conception to completion. Jimmy Carter, whose reelection campaign was looming, initiated the project to placate the Jewish voters and contributors galled by the President’s recognition of the “rights of the Palestinians”. Israeli Prime minister Menachem Begin was visiting US at the time and also a Congressional battle was ongoing on the sale of weaponry to Saudi Arabia. The other opportunistic, expedient political make ups of the useum include, 1) Muting of Christiam background to European anti Semitism so as not to offend a powerful constituency 2) Downplaying the discrimatory US immigration quotas for Jews before the war 3) Exaggerating US role in liberating the concentration camps 4) Silently passing over the US recruitment of Nazi war criminals at the war’s end.
The crux of politicization is evident in whom to memorialize and honor. Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat is honored since he rescued thousands of Jews and ended up in a Soviet prison. Fellow Swede, Count Folke Bernadotte is not since he was assassinated by the order of former Israeli PM, Yitzak Shamir for being too pro- Arab, though he had also rescued many Jews. The Nazis systematically murdered half a million Gypsies, their proportional loss roughly equal to the Jewish genocide. Yehuda Bauer of Yad Vashem argued that gypsies did not fall victim to the same genocidal onslaught as Jews, though historians like Hnery Friedlander and Raul Hilberg argued that they did. Elie Wiesel and Yahuda Bauer led the offensive to commemmorate Jews alone. Yet the Communists were the first political victims and the handicapped were the first genocidal victims of Nazism .
The Gypsies were marginalised during the memorialization since the loss of gypsy life was incomparable to the loss of Jewish life. Some like Rabbi Seymour Siegel openly doubted whether gypsies even existed as people. Acknowleding the gypsies meant the loss of exclusive Jewish franchise over the Holocaust and the loss of Jewish moral capital . If it turned out that the Nazis persecuted gypsies and Jews alike then the dogma that the holocaust marked a climax of millenial Gentile hatred of the Jews becomes untenable . The anecdote of Gentile envy spurring the Final Solution also becomes untenable. Therefore the non Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis only get a token representation in the US Holocaust museum.
The Double Shakedown
The term Holocaust survivor is designated to those who had suffered unique trauma of the Jewish ghettos, concentration camps and slave labour camos. The figure was around 100,000 at war’s end, and the number couldn’t be more than a quarter of this now, as per records. There has been a tendency to inflate and sometimes fabricate the numbers and the reasons proposed are material benefit (post war German compensation), sense of martyrdom etc..Questioning this would amount to Holocaust denial, so they were left unquestioned by historians and authors of Holocaust litearature. Finkelstein points to preposterous statements in Holocaust literaure like the one mentioned in Elie Wiesel‘s acclaimed memoir ” I read the ‘Critique of Pure Reason‘ in Yiddish“while Wiesel himself had acknowledged that he was ignorant of Yiddish grammer at the time and also Kant‘s masterpiece was never translated into Yiddish.
Those who had evaded the Nazis were also inclued among the survivor list. This stretches to the limits like Israel Gutman’s (Polish-born Israeli historian and a survivor of the Holocaust, was Academic Advisor to Yad Vashem and Deputy Chairman of the International Auschwitz Council) statement on the fraudster author Wilkomirski “He is a Holocaust survivor because his pain is authentc“. The living survivor statistics was inflated by the Israeli prime minister’s office bearing in mind the reparation claims to be followed. The politics of reparation provides the insight into the inner workings of the Holocaust industry. During the Cold war, Germany aligned with the US, entered into negotiations with the Jewish institutions, signd indemnification agreements, paid $60 billion as compensation and so the Nazi Holocaust was forgotten. Germany compensated with three different agreements, with individual claimants, with Israel and with an umrella of major Jewish organisations, the Claims Conference.
Comparing Germany’s compensation with that of the US, 4 to 5 million died in US wars in IndoChina. Vietnam was shattered economically, demographically, socially after the US war. Millions of acres of farmlands and forests destroyed, millions of farm animals killed, many hamlets disappeared, millions killed, many hundred thousands disabled, maimed, children orphaned, women forced into prostitution, industrial cities badly damaged. Refusing to pay any reparations, President Carter said,”destruction was mutual“. President Clinton‘s Defense Secretary William Cohen opined “Both nations were scarred. They have their scars, we have ours“.
In the agreement with the Claims Conference the German government specified that the monies should go to the survivors solely. The Claims Conference anulled the agreement and used the amount for Jewish communities in general. Many survivors did not receive the compensation, some only a pittance and few got lifetime pension. Rabbis and outstanding Jewish leaders were separtely categorised apart from the victims and paid exorbitant sums. Large sums flowed into the coffers for pet projects, for facilitating Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe, for museums and so forth. The Claims Conference even appropriated denationalized Jewish properties in former East Germany worth millions of dollars that rightfully belonged to living Jewish heirs. While the officials of the Conference drew exorbitant sums as salary and perks.
Coming to Finkelstein’s pertinent accusation, ‘the double shakedown’ of Holocaust industry of both European countries and legitimate Jewish claimants. He accuses the industry to be an absolute extortion racket. Purporting to represent all the world Jewry, living and dead, the industry laid claims on Holocaust era Jewish assets throughout Europe. Starting with the Swiss banks, the saga continued until they raked in a fortune worth billions from the European countries. Comemmorating the 50 th anniversary of WWII, Switzerland’s president formally apologized in May 1995 for denying Jews refuge during Holocaust. A widely reported story had circulated about the Swiss banks holding Holocaust era Jewish accounts worth billions of dollars. The World Jewish Congress(WJC) leapt at this opportunity
Swiss were an easy prey since few would sympathize with with the rich Swiss as compared to the needy Jewish survivors, and the banks were susceptible to pressures from the US. Thirteen branches of six Swiss banks operated in US at that time( 1990’s), they loaned Americaan businesses some 38 billion and also had billions in investments in US stocks and banks. The WJC spawned a new organisation World Jewish Restitution Organization(WJRO) that claimed legal jurisdiction over the claims of the survivors, living and dead. The Swiss bankers declared that they could locate only 775 unclaimed dormant accounts worth a total of $32 million and they offered this sum for the WJC,which they flatly refused. The WJC teamed up with the other Jewish organisations, mobilized the entire US political establishment who denounced the perfidious Swiss. What followed was nothing short of a calculated blackmail cum extortion campaign.
With the help of the US, the Holocaust industry launched a vilification campaign against the Swiss. The credulous press gave banner headlines and propogated the smear campaign. The main charge was”a 50 year Swiss- Nazi conspiracy to steal billions from Europe’s Jews and Holocaust survivors”. Evoking the secrecy legislation enacted by the Swiss banks in 1934 to prevent Nazi shakedown of Jewish depositors, the WJC alleged that heirs of the Holocaust victims were denied access to the bank accounts, deposts were filched and documents destroyed. Another allegation centered on the Swiss purchase of Nazi gold that the Nazis looted from the central treasuries of Europe and from the body of concentraton camp inmates. The allegation was that the Swiss knowingly purchased the “victim gold”, while the Swiss had all the while maintained that they were unaware of the source of the gold. The Swiss were also claimed to have appropriated the accounts of Polish and Hungarian nationals, many of them Jews, in compensation for the Swiss properties nationalized by their governments. An investigative Committee was appointed with six members and an independent commission of experts was appointed by the Swiss.
Playing the card of the “plight of needy victims”, WJC pressed for financial settlement before the commission’s findings were out. The Swiss protested this as extortion and blackmail. The Swiss then offered $ 250 million which was categorically rejected as a pittance by the WJC. The commission’s report would have turned out to be in disfavour with WJC, if only a few dormant accounts were detected. A public hsteria was whipped up. To terrorize the Swiss into submission the threats of class-action law suits and US economic boycott were brought forward. The first and second class action lawsuits were filed in 1996 and a third one in 1997 respectively. The main weapon was the threat of economic boycot by the US. In 1996, both the NewYork City and State comptrollers wrote to Swiss banks threatening sanctions. The then New York Governor George Pataki publically lent his support. During the next months local and state governments of New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Rhode Island tabled resolutions threatening an economic boycott of the Swiss banks. In 1997, Los Angeles imposed the first sanctions by withdrawing hundreds of millions of dollars in pension funds from a Swiss bank. Meanwhile NewYork State banking officials sought to block the newly formed United Bank of Switzerland (a merger of major Swiss Banks) from operating in the US.
Gradually the Swiss buckled under pressure, though did not surrender completely. Through 1997, the Swiss reportedly spent $500 million to fend off the attacks. In 1998, new sanctions were threatened to be imposed on the Swiss and NewJersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan and California joined within days. The Swiss finally caved in. They agreed to pay $1.25 billion in a class action settlement. It covered the claimants of dormant accounts, refugees denied Swiss asylum and victims of slave labour the Swiss benefited from.
Coming to the comparable American record for all the righteous indignation about the perfidious Swiss. Like the neutral Switzerland, US denied entry to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazis before and during WWII. Yet the US hasn’t seen fit to compensate the Jewish refugees aboard the ill-fated ship St. Louis. There were a lot of reasons in both the countries for refusing the refugees, the main ones were economic downturn, xenophobia, anti Semitism ans security concerns. Hundreds and thousands of Haitian refugees were denied asylum in US after they fled US sponsored death squads in Haiti. Though smaller in size and resources compared to US , the Swiss admitted almost 20,000 Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Coming to the hypocritic sentiments of the US politicians. Preisdent Clinton– “We must confront and as best right the terrible injustices of the past”. Bipartisan Congressional leaders– “The past must never be forgotten. It should be made clear”. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright– ” The economic benefits accrued by the Swiss from with held Jewish accounts were passed to subsequent generations and that is why the world now looks to the people of Switzerland, not to assume responsibility for actions by their forebears, but to be generous in doing what can be done at this point to right past wrongs”. Very noble words, actively ridiculed when it comes to compensating the African Americans or Native Americans.
The lawyers who took up the class action suit reaped millions. Plaintiffs and survivors demanded that the money should exclusively go to them. WJC wanted half the money earmarked for Jewish organisations and Holocaust education . The settlemet with the Swiss banks was hastened by evoking the needy Holocaust survivors, though no one was compensated almost a year after that. As per records, by 1999, only less than half of the $200 million was paid to Holocaust victims and the rest flowed to WJC coffers.
By 1998, the BERGIER COMMISSION REPORT published that the Swiss had purchased Nazi gold knowing that it had been plundered from central banks of Europe. The US politicians and Congressmen expressed suprise at the corrupt politicians depositing their ill gotten gains in Swiss Banks ( a true concern since annually an estimated $100 to $200 billion from political corruption is sent across borders worldwide and deposited in private banks). But the illegal deposition of corrupt money equally occurs in US banks too with the complete sanction of US law. The dictators find safe haven equally in US banks as well as Swiss banks. Along with the Swiss banks, the US and UK were also a primary safe havens for transferable Jewish assets in Europe before and during WWII..
The question arises- What happened to the dormant Jewish accounts in the US? Abandoned dormant accounts are automatically transferred to the state under the doctrine of escheat. A rudimentary audit estimated the value of the dormant accounts at $ 6 million, rejected by the Congressmen, further slashed by Committee hearings, and opposed by the Bureau of Budget, and the final proposed limit came to around $250,000. Compare this to the $ 32 million acknowledged by the Swiss banks and $1.25 billion paid even before the inquiry reports. There was no hue and cry over the “perfidious American bankers”. The Holocaust industry didn’t launch a single campaign to pressurize the US banks.Similarly the dormant Jewish accounts in Israeli banks were also left out. The Swiss banks were criticized to have maintained strict requirements of death certificates to access the dormant accounts by heirs, but the same requirement was there in Israeli banks too.
The Holocaust industry deployed the same strategy against Germany after the Swiss settlement. The same legal teams deployed the same tactics and script of slander by whipping up public hysteria through news and economic boycott. They demanded $20 billion as compensation by initiating class action law suits aginst German private industry for Jewish slave labour.( compare with the African American slave labour in the US context). The industry found a new scapegoat , Bayer pharmaceuticals, a German company that was accused to have colluded with Josef Mengele although there was no evidence that Bayer directed his murderous experiments. Sanctions threat and economic boycot worked and German companies too caved in with a substantial compensation. This was over and above the compensation given by Germany after during the Cold war and later. The number of living survivors was inflated for receiving a larger sum.
The shakedown of Swiss and Germany was followed by some of the vulnerable Eastern Europen countries after the Soviet Union collapsed. This turned out to be one of the main reasons for the resurgent anti Semitism in Europe. Apart from extracting compensation monies, the WJRO maintained that the heirless Jewish assets in Europe should go to them. The shakedown of Eastern European countries took place far away from the public eye, since extorting from the already impoverished countries there would definitely be not taken kindly by the public, unlike from rich countries like Germany and Switzerland. This could easily be mistaken for grave robbery. But the Holocaust industry did not need public support when it had the key support of the US officials to break the feeble resistance of the prostrate nations. The bludgeon of US sanctions were evoked to take over the prewar Jewish properties in Poland and Belarus. Holocaust compensation amount was elevated and the prospect of these countries to ascend into multilateral institutions like WTO, NATO, EU and OECD were slowed or blocked accordingly. The complicity and abetment of US is as glaring as the outright hypocrisy concerning compensation for African Americans and Native Indians. Israel has repeatedly denied compensating the Palestinians who were evicted from their homes during the 1948 war.
Many of the needy Holocaust victims never received any money and they had filed suit against the Claims Conference.
Peter Novick in ‘The Holocaust in American Life ‘ argues ” the pretense that Holocaust is an American memory is a moral evasion. It leads to shirking of the responsibilities that do belong to the Americans as they confront their past, present and the futire”. It is easier to see the guilt of others than to look inside us.
Hitler‘s Lebenstraum policy (comprises policies and practices of settler colonialism which proliferated in Germany from the 1890s to the 1940s.) had the ideological and programmatic elements of Manifest Destiny of US (the 19th-century doctrine or belief that the expansion of the United States throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable) . Hitler modelled the conquest of East from the American conquest of the West. During the first half of the 20 th century, a majority of American states enacted sterilization laws and tens of thousands of Americans were involuntarily sterilized. Nazis invoked this when they enacted their own sterilization laws. Nuremberg laws stripped the Jews of franchise and forbade miscegenation between Jews and non Jews. Blacks in the South suffered the same legal disenfranchisement. The Eugenic program in the US preceded the Final Solution in Germany. Unethical, cruel medical experiments were done by the US doctors on American citizens including children before they were appropriated by the Nazi doctors.
In ‘The Origin of Totalitarianism‘, Hannah Arendt notes, “the subterranean stream of Western history has finally come to the surface and usurped the dignity of our tradition”. This vaunted Western tradition is deeply rooted in Nazism as well. To justify extermination of the handicapped( precursor of the Final Solution), the Nazi doctors deployed the concept Lebensunwertes Leben( “life unworthy of life”). Plato states in “Gorgias“- “ I can’t see that life is worth living if a person’s body is in a terrible state”.Plato in “The Republic” sanctioned the murder of defective children. Hitler opposes birth control in ‘Mein Kampf‘ on the ground that it preempts natural selection. Rosseaeu prefigured this in his ‘ Disclosure on the Origins of Inequality‘
Finkelstein asks some pertinent questions towards the end of the book. Invoking the Holocaust is a staple for US while condemning Khmer Rouge bloodbath in Cambodia, Soviet invasion of Afganistan, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait or the Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Question arises, what should we compare the Native American genocide to? Palestinian genocide by Israel to ?
As the Khmer Rouge atrocities were unfolding in Cambodia, the US backed Indonesian government was slaughtering the population in East Timor. What should we compare that to? While the Soviet invaded Afghanistan the indigenous Mayan population in Guatemala was being decimated by the US backed government. Israel was the main weapons supplier for the Guatelaan government. Haitian boat people fleeing US supported death squads were forced back. US led NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 is another catastrophe. Whenever the perpetrators mattered to them, the US had aquiesced and abetted. What should we compare this passive US complicity to ? A million children were killed in the Final Solution. Many millions die from malnutrition and starvation worlwide. After the US invasion of Iraq devastated the country, the US and UK forced sanctions on Iraq to punish Saddam and depose him, a million children have likely perished during that time. Questioned about the death toll, the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright replied “the price is worth it“.
Finkelstein argues that the extremity of the Holocaust limits it’s capacity to provide lessons applicable to our everyday world. It has become the benchmark of oppression and atrocity and as such it tends to trivialize crimes of lesser magnitude. Yet it can also sensitize us to injustices. He maintains, ‘seen through the lens of Auschwitz, bigotry can no longer be taken for granted’. Slavery occupied the same place as Holocaust, previously. Thus it was often used to illuminate and compare evils. John Stuart Mill compared the condition of Victorian women to slavery. Nazi Holocaust is evoked and misused by Israel to deflect criticisms of its own indefensible practices.
Towards the end , the author notes about the fear of subsequent moral complacency that persuades scholars against normalizing the infamies of Nazism. He asserts the all the normal history of humankind is replete with horrifying chapters of inhumanity. The Nazi Holocaust must be viewed through rational lens and the Holocaust industry that makes it irrational for exploitative purposes must be dismantled according to the author. He maintains that to atone the crime by the Nazis, the noblest gesture should be preserve the memory of those who perished, learn from their suffering and let them rest in peace.
‘Stalin is not dead‘ is a poem by the Russian poet Boris Chichibabin(1959)
“It’s early still to celebrate—Let some other oracle shout out That our old wounds will hurt no more . . . That the dead foe’s body won’t be our banner . . . Let him shout, but I know well—Stalin is not dead.“
We know the man Joseph Stalin through books, articles, essays, films and so forth. His name is synonymous with Communism, Gulags, Famine, dicatorship and a whole lot of mostly unappealing, obnoxious terms, ones that we would wish to consign to the dustbin of history. But, burying Stalinism and his cult of personality hasn’t been that easy as burying the body of Stalin, who had died of a stroke in his Volynskoe dacha on 5-th March, 1953, aged 74. Even his body was removed from Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square by stealth at night by Nikita Krushchev in 1961. His successors, Krushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev were equally worried about the problems engendered by his legacy. The American historian Martin Malia in his book, The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1917–1991 quotes, ” Although Stalin no longer lived physically, he still lived, and would continue to live…. The remaining four decades of Soviet history would be dominated by one overriding problem: How to bury Stalin.“
This essay is not about Stalin and his deeds, but a short reflection on how, why and to what extent his legacy had taken root and been cemented among the social and political landscapes of Russia and three other post- Soviet Union States, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. I became interested in his persisting legacy, albeit in different forms and shades,after a visit to Georgia and Armenia two years back. The references include some articles, essays and books on the subject, the links of which I have appended. This is not an all-encompassing essay on the topic, but subsumes a few notable points relevant to the contemporary political and social landscape in these countries, Russia and Georgia in particular.
It all started with a plan to visit Georgia in 2018. I try to read about places that I plan to visit, as much as possible, and suggest to my husband of my choice of places. Stalins Museum in Gori, his birthplace was top on my list. I had read that many people there, the old generation particularly, revere him still. I thought I would be able to hear something good about a cult figure loathed by many and revered by some. No reading would do justice as seeing with one’s own eyes and hearing with own ears. We got a personal guide, Gaby, a short, stout Georgian man, ex- military, in his fifities who moonlighted as a freelance guide, his main job being a military contractor coordinating supply of military personnel to the US led NATO forces stationed at the border. A well-read man, and a treasure trove of information on history, geography and politics, with an eidetic memory and an excellent command of English.( I remember him telling the exact day, date and year of events that I had randomly asked him, rather impromptu ones that he never would have expected). And he knew a handful about my place, Kerala, as a Communist state, about the 100% literacy, female literacy etc.. etc…( possibly from the many Keralites who visit Georgia especially from the ME countries. There is visa on arrival option for many ME resident visa holders).
Since Stalins Museum had state appointed guides, Gaby didn’t come inside with us, mentioning that two guides couldn’t talk at the same time and about the ensuing ‘clash of information’ (stressing the phrase with a seriousness evoking Huntington’s ‘clash of civilization’). For the past two days Gaby had been eloquent in doling out polemics against Georgian politics, economy, constantly swearing against Stalin and Communism all the while eulogizing America, the NATO forces and the US military personnel stationed in Georgia. He was more an American than a Georgian and brusquely confessed his untainted faith in the US military head stationed there( he was working for this ‘head’ whose name he did not divulge). He had been promised ‘a special visa for those military personnel who work for the NATO’, green card later on and subsequently citizenship. I didn’t intend to warn him, but did so seeing the shine in his eyes and sensing his blind belief despite his worldly knowledge. ( I had in my mind a freshly read article about how the US defence department promised visas to some of the Afghan military personnel for risky espionage operations against the Taliban. Later, after the US had had the required data, most of those Afghanis were left out and the Taliban killed many of those volunteers).
Inside the museum, a young Georgian guide started explaining about the exhibits that included among Stalin’s personal items, his death mask. Our group was a disparate one, there were Americans, Russians, Georgians, other Europeans and Indians. We moved as a mass from room to room, the guide delivering lengthy tirades against Stalin and his tyrannies,all of them cliched details available in history books, like an actor repeating the script. Almost one hour passed, no one was asking any questions. It’s not often that we visit these countries. I expected to hear at least some unique, different facts/ stories about Stalin, a balanced account of his deeds and career from his birthplace. I am no fan of Stalin, but he was not born a tyrant. Like the artist and architect inside Hitler, he might have had something good, positive, creative. So I asked the guide to mention something engaging about Stalin, afterall he was Georgia’s son. To which he tersely replied ‘nothing good about him’ .
What I had observed was the sript-like enumeration of the state appointed guide, and the hatred for Stalin among the young Gerogians in our group, and the pro-western esp. pro American and anti- Russian sentiments that Gaby and a lot of others( according to him) harbor. In the capital, Tblisi, Stalin’s footprints are hard to find, but in his birthplace, Gori, you can still find his busts, streets named after him, his pictures hanging on the walls of restaurants and shops, his handsome face etched as wall murals and graffiti, his images in the flea markets.
Post- Soviet legacy of Stalin
A poll conducted by the Carnegie Endowment in 2012, the first ever comparative opinion polls on Stalin in the post- Soviet countries of Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azeraijan suggests a worryingly high level of admiration for him. In Georgia it is 45% and 68% called him a wise leader. He rests in a tomb in Red Square in a prominent site in Moscow. Political rallies carry his portraits still, buses carried his image in Russia during the 2013 anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad and in a poll conducted on great figures of Russian history in 2012, Stalin came first. While, Azerbaijan showed the greatest antipathy towards him, 22% of the population( 39% of young people) didn’t know who Stalin was.
The alarming level of Stalin worship in these countries prompted the pollsters to parse the reasons. It is illogical to think that people want to go back to gulags. Alfred J Reiber, the famous American historian, in his renowned essay, ‘Stalin , Man of Borderlands‘, explains how Stalin as a Marxist revolutionary in the South Caucasus, a borderland of the Russian empire projected himself as an eclectic mix of identities, an ethno-cultural Georgian, dominant class proletariat and a Russian with Great Russia as the center of political power.
The reasons cited for Stalin worship are many in these countries and analysing them are not made easy by concurrent discrepancies. Though 45% of Georgians approved of Stalin, a much higher percentage supported democracy. Those who approved him equally disapprove his brutalities. Thus the worship there assumes a personal touch than a political one. Among the old generation in the Caucasus, Stalin veneration is higher than in Russia, as they tend to evoke the Great Patriotic War when Stalin won over Hitler, though the brunt of the damage was suffered by Russia during the war. While, the main reasons for Stalin worship in Russia are the perceived failure of democracy, Soviet- era nostalgia and love for strongmen who singlehandedly run the country. Putin has strategically revived Stalin worship projecting his image a strong man, reviving Stalin through television and other propogandas highlighting the bright and heroic aspects of the Soviet past and pushing aside the repression and genocide to the margins of the collective consciousness. In effect, an unambigous condemnation of Stalin is almost impossible in the Russian psyche attaching the significance of a great nation to the victory in the Great War, Stalin being the architect of that victory. So the ramping up of victory celebrations of May 9 in Russia, reminiscing the once superpower and compensating for the collapse of USSR.
De- Stalinization or Krushchev’s Thaw begun by Nikita Krushchev following Stalin’s death, involving discrediting Stalin, reforming Russia, dismantling the gulag system and a thaw in the cold war, was not succesful after Krushchev’s removal from power. Gorbachev‘s perestroika to restructure the Soviet state was the second attempt, but that too failed and eventually led to fall of communism and collapse of USSR. Putin too made an effort at de-Stalinization in 2010. The Russian parliament issued a formal statement that the Katyn crime (a series of mass executions of nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia carried out by the Soviet security police in 1940) was committed by Stalin and other Soviet leaders. Kremlin quashed a plan by Moscow city authorities to adorn Moscow with Stalin’s images at the time of the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, in May 2010. An adapted version of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’sGulag Archipelago was published at what was reported to be Putin’s personal initiative, following his meeting with Solzhenitsyn’s widow to discuss how best to teach her husband’s four-volume epic about communist repression. Putin had approved the book for Russian Secondary Schools.
In October 2007, during his second presidential term, Putin visited Butovo, the site of mass executions at the height of Stalin’s terror in 1937–1938. Putin was visibly shaken. “Insanity,” he said. “It is incredible. Why [were they killed]? . . . Those who were executed, sent to camps, shot and tortured number in the thousands and millions of people. . . . We need to do a great deal to ensure that this [tragedy] is never forgotten. Contradictorily, less than two months after the visit, Putin celebrated the ninetieth anniversary of FSB, the successor of KGB and NKVD the perpetrators of these massacres. The main aim of Putin’s de- Stalinization was rapproachment with the West. Not long after the initiation Putin reinstated and revived Stalin. Though Gulag Archipelago and other fiction and nonfiction works of Stalin’s repressions are easily available in bookstores and online, surpassing them are the publications and TV shows glorifying Stalin. Books defending Stalin are displayed side by side with those condemning him, some of these Stalin-supporting books published by Russia’s largest publishing house, Eksmo. Academic research on Stalinism is unrestricted, though access to archives has been increasingly limited. Memorial, a well known NGO conducting archival reasearch documenting Stalin’s crime has been increasingly targetted according to the Carnegie report. Putins Russia was always the Soviet version of centralised, uncontested state power with the help of security forces.
For a new generation in Russia, who do not beleve in symbolism or hero worship, what the state delivers is ultimately the most important query. A significant proportion of young people do not care about the legacy of Stalin according to the Carnege poll. They were the ones in front of the 2011 protests and the recent protests exhorted by Navalny, the opposition leader.
De Stalinization in Georgia is characterized by the contradictory attitudes of Georgians to Stalin and his legacy. For some Georgians the Stalin museum itself is wrong. It was initially called History Museum. But Stalin was prescient to choose it’s location near his birthhouse in Gori. The Georgian president, Eduard Shevardnadze( Communist party leader) in 1995 planned to transform the Stalin Museum a study center of the phenomenon of Stalin. In 2004, when President Mikhail Saakaashvili‘s pro- Western government came to power, he made some attempts at de Stalinization. A banner was strung in front of the museum declaring it a falsification of history, plans were made to convert it to ‘Stalinism museum’ by including the exhibits of Stalin’s victims but opposed by the museum employees at the time, government cranes removed the six meter Stalian memorial in front of the Gori town hall overnight which was reinstated after an angry mob of 5000 people signed a petition supported by the regional parliament. Stalin statues kept popping up after it’s removal. These illustrate the national schizophrenia of Georgians towards it’s famous son. A Museum of Soviet Occupation was opened in Tblisi in 2006, showcasing the history of Soviet rule in Georgia, but excluding the Soviet era and Stalin in particular. School text books do not teach the Soviet era in depth and it is practically absent in universities. One thing was certain, with change in Presidents and government, though the attitude to Stalin changed, for many of the Georgians he is an object of devotion, his samll house in the museum, a shrine. A picture of the powerful cobbler’s son, portrayed as a saint and patron of cobblers, still hangs in a Georgian shoe mender’s workshop next to the icon of the Virgin Mary.
Genre/ Category – Nonfiction/ History , Science and current affairs
About the author
Lapierre was born in France and at the age of thirteen he travelled to the US with his father who was a diplomat. He studied in a Jesuit school and later developed an interest in writing.
I am not sure if he is basically a historian or whether his books be categorized as exclusive history works. He is one of the nonfiction authors I love to read, one among the few whose works are as enjoyable as touching. The plus in his books is that you never feel like you are reading about wars or conquests or scanning through years and periods as in the usual history books. You get the feel and curiosity of ‘what next’ as in some fiction. You never get bored reading history from his books.
He was awarded Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award in 2008.
During 1652, The Dutch East India Company sent a small group of farmers to the southern tip of Africa. The purpose was to establish an encampment to collect fruits and vegetables so as to prevent scurvy, a disease that literally stopped their long sea journeys to the East in search of gold, silk and spices. Their leader was an ardent Calvinist, Van Jan Riebeek. The soil was unbelievably fertile and Riebeek believed that they were the chosen ones, god-sent to the chosen land to Christianize Africa, just like Canaan was gifted to Jacob’s sons by annihilating the races there.
The future generations of Riebeek waged all out wars with the African tribes, whose war tactics and traditional weapons like spears and arrows became ineffectual. The land of the ancient tribes was conquered and the inhabitants transformed to slaves to their ‘white guests’. Ships, Victoria’s armies, merchants from the East and the West in search of gold and diamond mines, and their slaves started reaching the Cape of Hope and in the bloodshed that followed the black soil slowly began to change it’s color.
The Dutch migrants who believed themselves to be the chosen people started to feel these invasions unbearable. These parochial religious people who spoke the ‘Afrikaans‘ language called ‘Africaners’ started migrating to the interiors of Africa in search of the promised land. By the 1830’s this trek made by the future generations of the Dutch by encountering and annihilating the local tribes came to be known as ‘ The Great Trek‘.
Many years passed, many wars were waged with the other inhabitants and during the beginning of 1900’s Boer War was fought with Great Britain followed by a truce. By the time the demarcation and chasm between black and white had widened beyond the unthinkable. The minority whites owned majority of land and wealth and the majority blacks lived in suffocation amidst penury, destitution and diseases.
While the end of world war and Hitler in 1948 saw the new birth of humanity and rules of law around the whole world, South Africa lived up to the name ‘Dark Continent’ and was busy molding a barbaric system. In May 28, 1948, the National Party came to power voted in by the white people. Inspired by Hitler’s pure Aryan concept, the National Party leader and Church minister, Daniel Francois Malan, exhorted in parliament, ” At last God has bestowed South Africa to us“. That was the beginning of the system of apartheid as we know today, robbing the natives of their freedom and basic rights in their birth country forcing them to be prisoners.
Apartheid means ‘the state of being apart‘ in Afrikaans language. The term was translated by it’s prophets to the outside world as an opportunity for the black race to live according to their tribal culture and for others to live with their beliefs without chances of intermingling. But, South Africa was divided in all means and respects into black and white. Public places, religious and educational institutions became unreachable for anyone other than the whites. Blacks were forced out from urban areas and segregated into ghettoes. For those above 18 years of age to walk around, they had to carry a document called passbook. They were not given the citizenship rights or considered as citizens of the country.
Voices of dissent started to rise as the people suffocated under poverty, diseases and police atrocities. African National Congress was born under Nelson Mandela. Gandhism and nonviolence were incorporated, but was pointless. Armed revolution called ‘ spear of the nation’ began. Mandela was jailed for 27 years. Riots, dissents and bans by the world nations and organizations brought the Africaner supremacy to it’s tipping point. Mandela was freed in 1990 and ANC rose to power in 1994 under him led to the official end of apartheid n SA.
Lapierre includes glimpses of humanity, white and black, touching anecdotes of some humans who spread their light when SA had gone dark among the world nations. World’s first heart transplant surgeon Dr Christian Bernard, the white lady, Helen Lieberman who had spread hope in black alleys, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Winnie Mandela, who had suffered torture and led ANC during Mandela’s absence and a few others many of whom we have seen and heard during our own generation.
Lapierre writes about a wagon rally conducted a few years before apartheid officially began in SA to spread Africaner nativeness and greatness reminding the Great Trek of their forefathers. South Africa was able to slowly transform from a white only view to a rainbow of colors. But there are countries now, like India for instance, regurgitating history and excavating a buried past turning the wheels of time to the graveyard of past instead of into a bright future, a trend that we need to worry about.
Jean-Paul Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher and pioneer, dramatist and screenwriter, novelist, and critic. He was a leading figure in 20th-century French philosophy. He is commonly considered the father of Existentialist philosophy, whose writings set the tone for intellectual life in the decade immediately following the Second World War. Born in Paris in 1905, he was brought up by his mother’s family, the Schwitzers ( The Alsatian polymath Albert Schweitzer was his older cousin). His grandfather was the inventor of the Berlitz method of teaching languages. He spent his early years with his grandfather in his library and is later said to have started writing seriously to ward off boredom.
He eventually studied philosophy at French and German Universities and taught at Le Havre, a port in the Normandy region. ‘Nausea‘ was his first full-scale work in which the commune of Bouville is modeled from Le Havre. The book was published in 1938 and was condemned by the academics, but welcomed by young readers of France. In a 1945 lecture, Sartre described existentialism as the attempt to draw all the consequences from a position of consistent atheism.
Sartre entered the army during the second world war, was captured, sent to the prison camp, and released later due to ill health. After returning to Paris, under occupation he wrote several plays and his first major philosophical work, ‘Being and Nothingness‘ (1943). When the war ended, he was widely known as the leader of the entire war-bred generation of Parisian intellectuals.
He has produced novels, plays, short stories, essays, biographies, political and journalistic works, pamphlets, manifestoes etc…. He has been called the most brilliant Frenchman of his time. No one matched him for his wit, argumentative skill, polemical zeal and learning. ‘Nausea‘ is a powerful Existentialist novel and the protagonist Antoine Roquentin, a fictional and real archetype.
Sartre had long been fascinated with the French novelist Gustave Flaubert. Among the last of his many uncompleted projects are a multi-volume study of Flaubert’s life and times, The Family Idiot (1971–1972). In this work, Sartre joins his Existentialist vocabulary of the 1940s and early 1950s with his Marxian lexicon of the late 1950s and 1960s to ask what we can know about a man in the present state of our knowledge. This study, which he describes as “a novel that is true,” incarnates that mixture of phenomenological description, psychological insight, and social critique that has become the hallmark of Sartrean philosophy. He was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in literature, which he famously declined lest his acceptance be read as approval of the bourgeois values that the honor seemed to emblemize. He refused all official honors, stressing that “a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution.“
Sartre was not politically involved in the 1930s though his heart, as he said, “was on the left, like everyone’s.” The War years, occupation and resistance made the difference. He emerged committed to social reform and convinced that the writer had the obligation to address the social issues of the day. He founded the influential journal of opinion, Les Temps Modernes, with his partner Simone de Beauvoir, as well as Merleau-Ponty, Raymond Aron, and others. In the “Présentation” to the initial issue (October, 1945), he elaborated his idea of committed literature and insisted that failure to address political issues amounted to supporting the status quo. After a brief unsuccessful attempt to help organize a nonCommunist leftist political organization, he began his long love-hate relationship with the French Communist Party, which he never joined but which for years he considered the legitimate voice of the working class in France. This continued till the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956. Still, Sartre continued to sympathize with the movement, if not the Party, for some time afterwards. He summarized his disillusionment in an essay “The Communists are afraid of Revolution,” following the “events of May,” 1968. By then he had moved toward the radical Left and what the French labeled “les Maos,” whom he likewise never joined but whose mixture of the ethical and the political attracted him. Sartre had complicated relationships with orthodox Marxism. He believed that violent revolutions would sweep capitalism away. He denounced the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956, and argued that only socialism and not the bourgeis notions of justice and human rights could condemn it.
Politically, Sartre tended toward what the French call “libertarian socialism,” which is a kind of anarchism. Ever distrustful of authority, which he considered “the Other in us,” his ideal was a society of voluntary eye-level relations that he called “the city of ends.” One caught a glimpse of this in his description of the forming group (le groupe en fusion) in the Critique. There each was “the same” as the others in terms of practical concern. Each suspended his or her personal interests for the sake of the common goal. No doubt these practices hardened into institutions and freedom was compromised once more in bureaucratic machinery. But that brief taste of genuine positive reciprocity was revelatory of what an authentic social existence could be.
Sartre came to recognize how the economic conditions the political in the sense that material scarcity, as both Ricardo and Marx insisted, determines our social relations. In Sartre’s reading, scarcity emerges as the source of structural and personal violence in human history as we know it. It follows, he believes, that liberation from such violence will come only through the counter-violence of revolution and the advent of a “socialism of abundance.”
What Sartre termed the “progressive/regressive method” for historical investigation is a hybrid of historical materialism and existentialist psychoanalysis. It respects the often decisive role of economic considerations in historical explanation (historical materialism) while insisting that “the men that History makes are not the men that make history”; in other words, he resists complete economic determinism by an implicit appeal to his humanist motto: “You can always make something out of…”
Never one to avoid a battle, Sartre became embroiled in the Algerian War, generating deep hostility from the Right to the point that a bomb was detonated at the entrance to his apartment building on two occasions by supporters of a French Algeria. Sartre’s political critique conveyed in a series of essays, interviews and plays, especially The Condemned of Altona, once more combined a sense of structural exploitation (in this case, the institution of colonialism and its attendant racism) with an expression of moral outrage at the oppression of the Muslim population and the torture of captives by the French military.
Sartre dealt implicitly with the issue of race in many of his works, beginning with Being and Nothingness. Race relations, especially segregation in the South, figured centrally in his reports from the United States during two visits after the War (1945 and 1946) and were a major topic of his many writings on colonialism and neocolonialism thereafter. It formed the theme of his play, “The Respectful Prostitute” (1946). He claimed that even as a boy, whenever he heard of the French “colonies,” he thought of racial exploitation. He wrote in Black Orpheus about the Africa poets using the colonizers’ language against them in their poems of liberation: “Black poetry in French is the only great revolutionary poetry of our time.” He fulminated against the violence of colonialism and its implicit “justification” by appeal to the sub-humanity of the native population. On several occasions in diverse works, Sartre referred to the cry of the oppressed and exploited: “We too are humans!” as the guiding ideal of their fight for liberty. His existential humanism grounded his critique of the capitalist and colonialist “systems.” He wrote that “the meanness is in the system”—a claim that resonated with liberation movements then and now. His appeal for violence to counter the inherent violence of the colonial system in Algeria reached hyperbolic proportions in his prefatory essay to Franz Fannon‘s ‘The Wretched of the Earth (1961). In his introduction to ‘ The Wretched of the Earth’ he wrote ” it is necessary to kill, to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to eliminate at the same time the oppressor and the oppressed“.( I feel the strange similarity in ” it is necessary to kill“, to the manifesto of the anarchist Unabomber Ted Kaczynsky). Ironical that the celebrated philosopher of freedom, the great atheist maintained a religious faith in the ideology that vandalized freedom.
Some of the images and language of his earlier work were clearly sexist in character. And yet, Sartre always favored the exploited and oppressed in any relationship and he encouraged his life-long partner, Simone de Beauvoir, to write The Second Sex, commonly recognized as the seminal work for the second-wave of the feminist movement. Sartre, in his short work, Antisemite and Jew(1946) on the other hand, argues “synthetically” (concretely) for the rights of the Jew or the Arab or the woman (his examples) to vote assuch in any election. In other words, their “rights” are concrete and not mere abstractions. One should not sacrifice the Jew (or the Arab or the woman) to the “man.” In Michael Walzer’s words: Sartre is promoting “multiculturalism…avant la lettre.”
In his last years, Sartre who had lost the use of one eye during his childhood became almost totally blind. Yet, he continued working with the help of a tape recorder. He was in an open relationship with the prominent feminist and fellow existentialist philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir till his death in 1980. As the headline of one Parisian newspaper lamented his death: “France has lost its conscience.” The relevance of Sartrean existentialism remains as actual today as does the human condition that it describes and analyzes.
by James Wood( the prominent critic, essayist, and novelist, is a professor at Harvard and a staff writer for The New Yorker.)
The protagonist, Antoine Roquentin, a historian living in Bouville, France, has been researching the Marquis de Rollebon, a French aristocrat who lived during the French Revolution. He starts experiencing strange feelings of nausea that result in loss of interest in his work. He begins to write a diary noting down his strange feelings and experiences. He becomes aware of the existence of objects and connects his nausea to to this awareness of essence masking existence. . He fails to communicate these to his ex-lover or the self-taught man in the cafe and finally decides to move to Paris and write a novel.
Existentialists stress artistic creation as a vital aspect of existence. Sartre’s fiction is not allegorical or mythological, but an outline of straightforward philosophical arguments. The ultimate cure to his nausea rests on artistic creation. The main themes are ‘existence precedes essence’ and the differentiation between ‘being in itself’ and ‘being for itself’. He concludes that the essence of objects like color, smell, shape, weight etc. are all facades that mask the fact that the thing exists in first place.
Roquentin seems a real enough character, but his past lacks clarity, there is only ‘nothingness’ when he tries to describe his past. He invokes multiple countries that he had been to, but in a careless manner. There is a fictive quality in his description of the past. In the style of Samuel Beckett and the noveau roman style, Sartre has created a character, an unstable one with no real past outside the creator’s world. Nausea’s subjects are thus the arbitrariness of reality, it’s fictionality, randomness, contingency and superfluity of existence. Thus Roquentin’s existence is contingent as an invented fiction. The novel, unlike the classical ones with definite plot, character, action, narratives, ideas and chronology , comes under the noveau roman style- an individual version and vision of things, subordinating plot and character to the details of the world rather than enlisting the world in their service.
Roquentin is at war with everybody and everything around him. He exhibits Dostoevskyan anger towards the bourgeois. His bouts of nausea emanates from not finding a reason for existence and being simultaneously alienated from and immersed in reality. Still, nothing looked real, things were detached from names. The reality becomes a viscous abundance, a thick heavy existence. Things like a pebble, beer glass, tree, root and his own hands seemed to exist in random, contingent and superfluous. He too was superfluous. Unlike the generous abundance of life from God, as believed by religionists or some scientists, Sartre’s view of abundance was sickly, dismal and encumbered by itself. Roquentin looks at the trees and thinks, they exist since they cannot kill themselves. Likewise the bourgeois exist and does their work unenthusistically. Existence is not a necessity, but a gratuitous, contingent event only. Roquentin realises the randomness of his own life, in a park. At aother moment when he goes out of his home for a walk, he thinks why he should go out. And answers himself, that there is no reason to not go out too. Thus he is unable to choose on eaction over another. He announces that he is free and there is no reason left for living, he even contemplates suicide, since this freedom is rather like death. To be able to do anything could also be taken as to be able to do nothing. He cannot choose between the two. We essentially choose something by nullifying the others that we have not chosen. But we ignore this truth of randomness by canonizing the random decision by flourishes of inevitability or fatalism. For ex: ” made for each other” or “fate picked the two of us out”.
Randomness of existence means freedom to choose or do anything. But it is a mistake to imagine that this is freedom, since Roquentin is no freer than his blind fellow citizens. Means, he can do everything but nothing. This is the terrible paradox of freedom. He is free to do nothing. The fellow citizens of Bouville go abot their mechanical lives ignorant of their randomness, they hide the imprisonment of their existence by doing this. They imagine that they have chosen this form of life, when it has chosen them.
The scene at the local gallery, of Roquentin studying the portraits of the French aristocrats give a taste of the ‘mauvaise foi‘ or ‘bad faith‘. These pompous bourgeois imagine that their lives were meaningful and the paintings would preserve their imperishable achievements, but they conceals their dilemma of existence from themselves. This revolts Roquentin. A couple at the gallery are impressed by exactly what revolts Roquentin in the portraits. Sartre wants us to see this man’s mindless veneration and respect for musty institutions. Wood writes that there is something propagandistic about this mockery of bourgeoisie, a French tradition, something didactic from Sartre, his later novels becoming more and more didactic. There is a similar scene in gallery in Flaubert‘s ‘Sentimental Education’. Sartre later, after WW 2, became more and more political and intolerant to what he perceived as bourgeis or Western softness.
Nausea is not a political novel, still Sartre wants us to register that the town’s notables were myopics of ‘bad faith’ and also right wing representatives. Roquentin lingers over a portrait of Oliver- Martial Blevigne, who broke a town dock- strike in 1898, was an anti- Dreyfusard(conservative or anti- Semitic opponent of Dreyfus’s innocence). Though the novel seems to be set in the 1920’s, Sartre wants us to ponder about the conservative ideology that burgeoned in France and other parts of Europe throughout the 1930’s that would bloom into Nazicism and collaborationism a few years after the publication of Nausea. The Nazified intellectual Robert Brasillach who was executed for his wartime collaboration with the Nazis in 1945 wrote in his 1931 book about Virgil, “ the land we are part of is above all this well-worn landscape, these well- seasoned words, the supreme ease we feel in rediscovering a street corner, the corner of a sentence, the corner of a memory”. These sentences also appear in Maurice Barres‘s novel, ‘ The Soil and the Dead‘. For Brasillach, the France of ancient customs and principles were threatened by atheists. republicans, leftists, Jews. bureaucrats and a writer like Sartre. In Nausea, though Roquentin do not seem to intend a political overtone , his apprehension of life’s randomness has a political charge. His world is unanchored, arbitrary, random. There is no well- seasoned words or pleasure filled old street corners in his world and customs and principle just dissolve into nothingness.
In both Nausea and ‘Being and Noothingness‘ freedom is the issue at the centre. Roquentin believes himself to be free, but his freedom is without value because his sense of randomness has robbed him of a meaningful choice. Only at the climax does he makes a meaningful choice of art and life has meaning. The self wants the unthinking solidity of inanimate things(being in itself), to coincide with it’s unfree, unconscous nature. The , unstable, meaningless, conscious, impermanent self( being for itself) is absolutely free. From this freedom is born anguish and due to this the self will try to hide the liberty from itself(bad faith). So, as per Sartre, bad faith is the proof that we are indeed free and that we knows it.
Sartre’s sense of doom and responsibility of burden was popular in post- war Europe poisoned by war and stupefied by the questions of responsibility and free will. His phiolosophy revvealed that one was just not “acting by orders” for example from the Nazis, but one had the free will to choose action, but acted in bad faith by denouncing the freedom to choose. His thoughts are anguished since we know that we are sentenced and imprisoned by our freedom. Freedom makes us afraid. But also optimistic because we know we are free. Roquentin , like the fellow citizens , is aware of his freedom, but has nothing meaningful to do with it, he runs away from freedom. Thus his freedom is corroded by his own sense of freedom. This paradox is best found in Sartre’s comment “ French were most free while occupied by the Nazis” .
In the final part, Roquentin listens to his favorite song before departing to Paris. first, he scoffs at the idea that ‘ music consoles’ in his bourgeois bating way. Then he thinks about the melody sung by the Black woman and written by a Jew. Even though there is a scratch in the record, the tune plays on and the melody is untouched. Melody stays the same since it does not exist as superfluous. Thus the singer and the author has cleansed themselves of the sin of existing. And he decides he could also do the same by creating art, writing a novel about something that has not existed. There is a little irony here considering Roquentin’s own dismissal of ‘who takes consolation in art’ previously. This is nothing but a bourgeois consolation of art at a slightly higher intellectual level.
Camus and Sartre
Though Camus was dazzled by’ Nausea’ he disliked the philosiphy, though not explicitly. He disliked Sartre’s fatalism . For Camus, when we realise that life is absurd, our stoic battle begins against this absurdity. In his ‘Myth of Sysiphus‘ Camus concluded that the absurd person should not commit suicide, but ‘to live rebelliously with my freedom, my revolt and my passion’ . That was the best way of both acknowledging and rejecting death. Sartre in Nausea thinks of Roquentin weighed in by angst, killing himself in the park. For him life is random, so death by suicide too is random and meaningless. But death too is superfluous, means Roquentin is alreay dead , so why bother killing himself. This seemed too fatalistic to Camus.
Camus argued that we create our meaning after God. Satre’s self- determination is not to be found in him. For Camus, who lived under a religious shadow, the battle was with terms handed to us by the life , a secular version of man’s battle with Gods. Life was a religious sentence for Camus. Sartre found this religiosity frustrating. So this was one of the reasons including political differences that caused a break between the two men in the 1950’s. Camus was a tragic religionist , but Sartre , according to himself, was a ‘providential atheist‘.
But for all their differences, they resemble in their solutions to the meaninglessness of existence. Roqurntin thinks of writing a novel and Camus tells us that we must fight life with our revolt , our freedom andd our passion. Camus in ‘ The Myth of Sysiphus‘ suggests that in an effort to outwit the absurd, we might live many roles , as a writer, a conqueror, a seducer, or actor. Roquentin too fancies himself as a traveller, lover, and writer. Anny tells about the perfect moments of existence as an actor. Thus the proposed modes of salvation seems the same from both authors.
There is a logical contradiction in their conclusions since it is almost impossible to solve the dilemma that existence is not necessary. Thus both have to furnish non- arbitrary, necessary reasons for continuing to live in an arbitrary, non- necessary world. Both come to the conclusion that life must be lived, but could only give suggestions and couldn’t prove that that must be the case. Camus was a deeper thinker, though not an abler philosopher. His philosophy was tinged with theology, so has greater sympathy for failure. Camus always stressed the struggle with life’s terms than our capacity to choose. His philosophy touched and touches more lives than Sartre’s. Paradoxically , though Sartre was not religious, he had a religious faith in man’s ability to choose and be free. This gives a rather unworldly air to Sartre’s philosophy and politics whie Camus was realistic about the tragic, constrained, Sisyphean nature of our ordinary daily imprisonment.. But Sartre just concluded that we could just simply explode the prison.
To understand the deeper meanings of ‘Nausea‘, one needs to go through the basics of Existential philosophy. So adding whatever little I have understood from some essays about the topic. It is not a novel with straightforward indications, guiding lampposts, or thrilling plot twists. But, Nausea is not only a powerful philosophical novel but a crucial event in the evolution of sensibility.
The strategy of “indirect communication” has been an instrument of “Existentialists” since Kierkegaard adopted the use of pseudonyms in his philosophical writings in the early nineteenth century. The point is to communicate a feeling and an attitude that the reader/spectator adopts in which certain existentialist themes such as anguish, responsibility or bad faith are suggested but not dictated as in a lecture. Asked why his plays were performed only in the bourgeois sections of the city, Sartre replied that no bourgeois could leave a performance of one of them without “thinking thoughts traitorous to his class.” And this is what existentialism is chiefly about: challenging the individual to examine their life for intimations of bad faith and to heighten their sensitivity to oppression and exploitation in their world.
Sartre’s early work Nausea (1938) is the very model of a philosophical novel. Its protagonist, Roquentin, works through many of the major themes of Being and Nothingness that will appear five years later. It can be read as an extended meditation on the contingency of our existence and on the psychosomatic experience that captures that phenomenon. In his famous meditation on a tree root, Roquentin experiences the brute facticity of its existence and of his own: both are simply there, without justification, in excess (de trop). The physicality of this revelatory “sickly sweet” sensation should not be overlooked. Like the embarrassment felt before the Other’s gaze in the voyeur example , our bodily intentionality (what he calls “the body as for-itself”) is revealing a reality.
In an introductory note, Hayden Carruth the American poet, literary critic and anthologist explain how the existentialist ideas are not new. He mentions its presence in the myths of Abraham and Job, pre-Socratic philosophies of Greece, dramas of Aeschylus and Euripides, Greek and Byzantine culture of mystery and as a fine thread in the central European tradition: the Church Fathers, Augustine, the Gnostics, Abelard, Thomas. In the Orient, concurrently, the entire development of religious and philosophical attitudes, particularly in the Buddhist and Taoist writings, seems to have been frequently closer to the actual existence of mankind than the rationalist discourses of the West.
Existentialism as we know today springs from philosophers Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Although they lived a generation apart, were contrary in many respects, they shared the same experiences in the concern for the fate of individuals. They influenced Dostoevsky, who expressed the existentialist sensibilities in his novels, especially ‘The Brothers Karamazov‘ and ‘Notes from the Underground’. Carruth mentions that “In literature many, or even most, of the chief modern authors have been, consciously or not, Existentialists; certainly the tradition is very strong in the line of development represented by Kafka, Unamuno, Lawrence, Malraux, Hesse, Camus, and Faulkner“.
The philosophy cannot be defined distinctly as it is a living experience as opposed to the rationalist tradition from the Renaissance. The Ideal Reason of the mind in the rationalist tradition could not account for human experiences like pain and ecstasy, doubt and intuition, anguish and despair as Kierkegaard was aware. The philosophy of Hegel, Hegelianism, described the reality in a unified rational mind of a crowd, submerging the consciousness and giving prominence to the mass instead of the individual. But for the Existentialist, who insists that reality is only what he himself knows and experiences, self and consciousness are not submerged and also they are cruel and coercive. For the Existentialist, the self is present, suffering existent and “A crowd is an untruth”. Only in the self could the truth occur. Focussing on self and consciousness is one of the ideas of existentialism.
The next idea is ‘nothingness as the reality‘. When a person looks back beyond his birth or forwards after his death, there is a void. Similarly, when he looks inside himself, setting aside the memory, knowledge, and sensations, he sees a chasm of formless ego, a nothingness. This nothingness becomes a reality that leads to man’s despair or existential integrity. Nothingness inside self as the new reality makes the human-centric version of the philosophy of Humanism untenable according to existentialists. Thus mankind is an accident in existentialist philosophy, a late and adventitious newcomer whose life is governed by contingency; and the proof, paradoxically, comes from rationalism itself, from the Darwinian idea of evolution. Man, the thinker is a contingent by-product only, a non- essential component of the reality of a world of stars, stones and trees. Thus, man and his works cling to existence by a tenuous hold.
Nothingness and absurdity of existence and the confrontation with anguish and despair are basic ideas of existentialism from which each existentialist philosopher found his own specific ideas of individual existence, Sartre one among them. The idea of confronting existence with anguish and despair has had a huge impact on the minds of the common people as well as intellectuals in a chaotic world as in the post-world war society of Europe. Thus the philosophy flourished in Europe in the twentieth century. Those who lived through torture, uprootedness, or chaos were impacted much by this philosophy. Thus the reason for the pessimistic, nightmarish imagery in Existentialist literature. Though the chaotic world impacted the flourishing of the philosophy, it is also seen in the works of Dickens, Pushkin, and Balzac. Also, neither Kierkegaard nor Nietzsche lived in a turbulent, chaotic external world, too. So, it could be surmised that their inner searchings were deeply rooted than the external chaos in the origins of existentialism.
“Suffering is the origin of consciousness,” Dostoevski.
“Life begins on the other side of despair.” Sartre
Sartre himself is an example and has been at great pains to define and enforce his exemplitude: in journalism, in fiction, in drama, in political activity, and in teaching.
Nietzsche’s remark: “I honor a philosopher only if he is able to be an example.“
Sartre posits the idea that “what all existentialists have in common is the fundamental doctrine that existence precedes essence“, which means that the most important consideration for individuals is that they are individuals—independently acting and responsible, conscious beings (“existence”)—rather than what labels, roles, stereotypes, definitions, or other preconceived categories the individuals fit (“essence”). The actual life of the individuals is what constitutes what could be called their “true essence” instead of there being an arbitrarily attributed essence others use to define them. Thus, human beings, through their own consciousness, create their own values and determine a meaning to their life. This view is in contradistinction to what Aristotle and Aquinas held; they taught that essence precedes individual existence. In his essay, ‘Being and Nothingness‘, he explains the kinds of beings as in-itself (en-soi), for-itself (pour-soi), and for-others (pour-autrui). En-soi refers to the existence of inanimate objects, not conscious, neither active nor passive, and harboring no potential for transcendence. For humans, Sartre defines the for-itself being as one who is conscious, free, transcendent, with multiple roles. Sartre famously states that “humans are condemned to be free”.
One of the problems of human existence is the desire to be en-soi or to attain an absolute identity, full control over one’s destiny or the desire to be God. Sartre gives the example of a cafe waiter to explain these terms. Take the inanimate object, an inkwell for example. It plays the exact role of an inkwell only and so is a being-in-itself. The waiter in the cafe acts the waiter’s part, but his actual identity is that of a man and many other things who happen to be functioning as a waiter. So he is a being-for-itself. In playing the part of the waiter, he reduces himself to a being- in -itself and thus acts in “bad faith”.
The notion of absurd encompasses the meaninglessness or unfairness of the world. Thus it opposes the Abrahamic religious perspective that the purpose of life is to follow and fulfill God’s commandments. Albert Camus states that the world or the human in itself is not absurd, but the absurdity of existence happens when both juxtaposition against each other. The view by Kierkegaard states that absurdism happens by actions and choices of human beings. Any tragic event could plummet someone, good or bad, irrespective to confront the absurd. The notion of the Absurd has been prominent in the literary works of Kierkegaard, Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Eugène Ionesco, Miguel de Unamuno, Luigi Pirandello, Sartre, Joseph Heller, and Camus that contain descriptions of people who encounter the absurdity of the world.
Facticity signifies all of the concrete details against the background of which human freedom exists and is limited. For example, these may include the time and place of birth, a language, an environment, an individual’s previous choices, as well as the inevitable prospect of their death. For example: currently, the situation of a person who is born without legs precludes their freedom to walk on the beach; if future medicine were to develop a method of growing new legs for that person, their facticity might no longer exclude this activity.
In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which an individual’s actions are congruent with his beliefs and desires, despite external pressures; the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures, and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. A lack of authenticity is considered in existentialism to be bad faith.
“Existential angst“, sometimes called existential dread, anxiety, or anguish is a term that is common to many existentialist thinkers. It is generally held to be a negative feeling arising from the experience of human freedom and responsibility. The archetypal example is the experience one has when standing on a cliff where one not only fears falling off it but also dreads the possibility of throwing oneself off. In this experience that “nothing is holding me back”, one senses the lack of anything that predetermines one to either throw oneself off or to stand still, and one experiences one’s own freedom.
Despair is generally defined as a loss of hope. In existentialism, it is more specifically a loss of hope in reaction to a breakdown in one or more of the defining qualities of one’s self or identity. If a person is invested in being a particular thing, such as a bus driver or an upstanding citizen, and then finds their being-thing compromised, they would normally be found in a state of despair—a hopeless state. For example, a singer who loses the ability to sing may despair if they have nothing else to fall back on—nothing to rely on for their identity. They find themselves unable to be what defined their being. What sets the existentialist notion of despair apart from the conventional definition is that existentialist despair is a state one is in even when they are not overtly in despair. So long as a person’s identity depends on qualities that can crumble, they are in perpetual despair
Atheistic existentialism is a kind of existentialism which strongly diverged from the Christian existential works of Søren Kierkegaard and developed within the context of an atheistic world view. It was formally recognized after the 1943 publication of Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre and Sartre later explicitly alluded to it in Existentialism is a Humanism in 1946. His novel Nausea is in some ways a manifesto of atheistic existentialism. It deals with a dejected researcher (Antoine Roquentin) in an anonymous French town, where Roquentin becomes conscious of the fact that nature as well as every inanimate object is indifferent towards him and his tormented existence. The existential angst experienced by the protagonist allows him to eventually understand that meaning exists only when he creates it for himself. Sartre once said, “existence precedes essence”. What he meant was “that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterward, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first, he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is also only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence” Sartre wrote other works in the spirit of atheistic existentialism (e.g. the short stories in his 1939 collection The Wall).
Albert Camus writes of dualisms—between happiness and sadness—as well as life and death. In The Myth of Sisyphus, such dualism becomes paradoxical because humans greatly value their existence while at the same time being aware of their mortality. Camus believes it is human nature to have difficulty reconciling these paradoxes; and indeed, he believed humankind must accept what he called “the Absurd”. On the other hand, Camus is not strictly an existential atheist because the acceptance of “the Absurd” implies neither the existence of God nor the nonexistence of God (compare agnosticism).
Sartre believed in individual freedom of consciousness, a consciousness that results from each person’s subjective and individual experience of the world. He questioned the larger social structures like capitalist exploitation, colonialism, racism, and sexism that systematically objectified people and failed to affirm their individual consciousness and innate freedom. His focus on individual freedom shaped his views on Marxism. Though allied to the French Communist Party, he never joined and opposed authoritarianism especially after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. Sartre always harbored a healthy libertarian or anarchist streak. He wanted the working class to collectively overthrow the capitalist system and believed that any political struggle should affirm and allow for the individual freedom of all human beings. Sartre affirmed that people are always essentially free. No matter how objectified they may be, the gifts of freedom and consciousness mean that they always have the possibility of making something out of their circumstance of objectification. In Sartre’s view, individual freedom of consciousness is humanity’s gift—as well as its curse, since with it comes the responsibility to shape our own lives.
The Burden of responsibility– Sartre believed in the essential freedom of individuals, and he also believed that as free beings, people are responsible for all elements of themselves, their consciousness, and their actions. That is, with total freedom comes total responsibility. He believed that even those people who wish not to be responsible, who declare themselves not responsible for themselves or their actions, are still making a conscious choice and are thus responsible for anything that happens as a consequence of their inaction. Sartre’s moral philosophy maintains that ethics are essentially a matter of individual conscience.
The difficulty of knowing the self– For Sartre, for any individual to claim “that’s just the way I am” would be a statement of self-deception. Likewise, whenever people internalize the objectified identity granted to them by other people or by society, such as a servile woman or dutiful worker, they are guilty of self-deception. Whenever people tell themselves that their nature or views are unchangeable, or that their social position entirely determines their sense of self, they are deceiving themselves. Sartre believed it is always possible to make something out of what one has been made into. This task of self-actualization, however, involves a complex process of recognizing the factual realities outside of one’s self that is acting on the self (what Sartre calls facticity) and exactly how those realities are working, as well as knowing fully that one possesses a consciousness independent of those factors.
Following Hegel, Sartre writes that an individual person, or being-for-itself, can become cognizant of his own existence only when he sees himself being perceived by another being-for-itself. That is, we can formulate a conscious state of being and identity only when we are confronted by others who are also possessed of that consciousness and we apprehend ourselves in relation to them. As Sartre explains, however, the encounter with the Other is tricky, at least initially, because we may first believe that in being perceived by another conscious being we are being objectified or essentialized by that being, who may appear to be regarding us only as type, appearance, or imagined essence. In turn, we may seek to regard others as definable, simple objects not possessed of individual consciousness. The notion of the Other plays a central role in Sartre’s thinking and writing about large-scale systems of social objectification, such as colonialism, racism, and sexism. Such systems enable the Other to be falsely seen as an object, a definable being-in-itself, and not as a free individual, a being-for-itself, possessed of his or her own undefinable, conscious state of being.
‘Lucid Dreams‘ is one of the poems from my collection, ‘Shadows and Shades‘. The kindle edition is a collection of 17 poems, some of which are already on my WP page. The images of the poems range from real to surreal. I have tried to touch the imageries, fantasies, and realities, some of which are in colors and shades, some real, and a few surreal. Some are in prose form and some are really dark. The poems had been written over the past few years from the imageries that had flashed inside my mind from time to time.
For those interested, the collection is available as kindle edition in Amazon.
Stop for a while and take in these spectres a bit more,
Close your eyes and watch them flying inside,
Wake up savouring the whiff of warmness, masked by the dead, frozen layers,
Croon along with the serenading gale, humming a haunted, plaintive tune,
Waltz across with the dreamy shadows as the light sleeps still,
Drink in the frosty moonlight that drips into the inky night.
Wipe off the dust and ashes from the distant mirror,
Sprinkle the dazzling stardust on the flawless surface,
just to gaze into the other self that lives inside.
Are they lucid dreams, webbing the strains of the mind,
blurring the mirage betwixt fact and fancy?
Or enmeshed memories clinging to a cloistered soul?
Some untouched, some crumbled, some flying, some shackled,
Some as light as the milkweed seeds, drifting like wishes unfulfilled,
Some saddling like the rain-bearing clouds about to erupt in fits of flurry,
Some as white as a downy dove cooing in a mellow tone,
Some as sanguine as a rainbow that chases us,
Some like a black hole that sucks in the rhapsodies around,
Some as raw as the dewy-eyed four o’ clock flower,
the fragrance of which embosoms the night in a marvellous embrace,
only to slither away to oblivion in the lambent morning light.
Some as touchy as the touch-me-not that feigns sleep, while wide awake,
and nestling up among the sturdy ones, intractable and hard to root out.
Some languishing in the mildewy dungeons,
oblivious to an extant, caressing, refreshing zephyr.
Some inhumed in the graveyard of time,
with a stygian heart still beating to the music of madness.
I wish I could bridle the pace of the galloping time,
traversing the realms, naive and leery, placid and murky,
halting the eternal flow into the inscrutable destiny.
I wish I could grasp those lucid dreams raging in a fiery blaze,
and meld together the splinters of fragmented memories,
moulding the prismatic glass shards into the iridescent mirror of life.
I wish I could unshackle the chained memories echoing in the stilly dank labyrinths,
baring their plangent melody to the hellish outsideness.
I flow and meander and cascade in the boundless space,
unbroken, unceasing as a rivery wave,
the only travelling companion, the time that trudges along,
where no two moments ever happen to be the same
until draining into the ultimate infinity.
I wish I could glimpse those lucid dreams in there,
nothing but the unshackled memories breathing free,
the euphony of the soul song girding the flow the life,
the effulgent light plucked away from the gyrating shadows,
the vivid colours reaped from the blaring field of light,
drops of moonlight gleaned from the defiant night,
wisps of feathery reflections that soar higher and higher into the clear ether.
I wish I could reach for the horizon,
when the trancey realities tryst with fervid reveries,
where the scarlet faith fire rises time and again, promises flicker in the gloaming,
even as the darkling mystery blindfolds the heaven-born starshine.
I wish I could discern the shape of the dreams from the shades of memories,
blending with each other and masquerading as one another,
like the murmuring waves lapping the solitary shore,
അഞ്ചിലോ ആറിലോ പഠിക്കുമ്പോഴാണ്, ഞാൻ ആദ്യമായി ടീച്ചറിനെ നേരിൽ കാണുന്നത്. നാഷണൽ ബുക്ക് സ്റ്റാളിലെ സ്ഥിരം അന്തേവാസികളെ പോലെ ആയിരുന്നു ഞാനും അനിയനും. അമ്മയുടെ ജോലി രാത്രി എട്ടര വരെ നീളുന്നത് കാരണം സ്കൂൾ വിട്ടു ഞങ്ങൾ അവിടെയാണ് ഇരിക്കാറുള്ളത്.
എപ്പോഴും ചിരി തൂകുന്ന വട്ട മുഖവും, വലിയ മെറൂൺ സിന്ദൂരപൊട്ടും, അലസമായി ഉടുത്ത ഇളം നിറത്തിലെ കോട്ടൺ സാരിയും. ഇതാണ് എന്റെ മനസ്സിൽ ഉള്ള ടീച്ചറിന്റെ രൂപം. ബുക്ക് സ്റ്റാളിൽ പുതിയ പുസ്തകങ്ങൾ എത്തിയാൽ അത് ടീച്ചറെ വിളിച്ചറിയിക്കുന്ന ജോലി എന്റെ അമ്മയ്ക്കായിരുന്നു. ചിലപ്പോൾ പുസ്തകത്തിന്റെ പുറകിലത്തെ ബൈൻഡിൽ എഴുതിയിരിക്കുന്ന ചുരുക്കരൂപം വായിച്ചു കേൾപ്പിക്കാൻ പറയും. ബുക്ക് സ്റ്റാളിൽ വന്നുകഴിഞ്ഞാൽ എല്ലാപേരോടും സംസാരിച്ചിട്ടേ പോകാറുള്ളൂ. പുസ്തകം വാങ്ങി അമ്മയുടെ നേരെ എതിരെ ഉള്ള കസേരയിൽ ഇരുന്നു കുറെ നേരം അമ്മയോട് വർത്തമാനം പറയും.
ആദ്യമായി സ്കൂൾ യൂണിഫോമിൽ അവിടെ ഞങ്ങളെ കണ്ട ദിവസം ടീച്ചർ അമ്മയോട് നെറ്റി ചുളിച്ചു ചോദിച്ചത് ഇന്നും എനിക്ക് ഓർമ്മയുണ്ട്. ” ഇതെന്താ ഇവരെ ഇവിടെ കൊണ്ടിരുത്തിയിരിക്കുന്നതു . പരിചയമില്ലാത്ത എത്ര ആളുകൾ വരുന്ന സ്ഥലമാണ്”. ‘അമ്മ കൊടുത്ത ഉത്തരവും ഇന്നലത്തെ പോലെ ഓർമ്മയുണ്ട്. ” വീട്ടിൽ ആരുമില്ല. അച്ഛൻ വരാൻ രാത്രിയാകും. ബന്ധുക്കൾ അടുത്തുണ്ട്. അവരെ ബുദ്ധിമുട്ടിക്കണ്ട എന്ന് കരുതി.ഇതാകുമ്പോൾ എന്റെ കൺവെട്ടത്ത് ഉണ്ടാകുമല്ലോ രണ്ടാളും”.
ടീച്ചറിന്റെ ചോദ്യത്തിലെ പൊരുൾ എനിക്ക് മനസ്സിലായത് വർഷങ്ങൾ കഴിഞ്ഞാണ്. ടീച്ചറിന്റെ പിന്നീടുള്ള ചില സാമൂഹിക രാഷ്ട്രീയ കാഴ്ചപ്പാടു്ളോട് അതിശയം തോന്നിയിട്ടുണ്ട് എന്ന് ‘അമ്മ പറയാറുണ്ട്.
Bookstall സെക്രട്ടറിയേറ്റിനു നേരെ എതിർ വശത്തായതിനാൽ അക്കാലത്തെ സമരങ്ങൾ ഒട്ടുമിക്കതും കാണാൻ കഴിഞ്ഞിട്ടുണ്ട്. സമരം അക്രമാസക്തമാകുമ്പോൾ bookstall ന്റെ മുൻപിലുള്ള ഗ്രില്ല് താഴ്ത്തും. പോലീസ് വന്നു സമരക്കാരെ നിയന്ത്രിച്ചതിനു ശേഷം മാത്രമേ ഗ്രില്ല് തുറക്കാറുള്ളൂ . ഒരിക്കൽ ടീച്ചർ ഉള്ള സമയത്തു ഗ്രില്ലും ഇട്ടു കുറച്ചു സമയം ഇരുന്നതായിട്ടു ഓർക്കുന്നു. സമരം അടിപിടിയിൽ അവസാനിച്ചു ലാത്തിചാര്ജും മറ്റുമായി, അവസാനം ഗ്രില്ല് തുറന്നപ്പോൾ കണ്ടത് ചിന്നിച്ചിതറിക്കിടക്കുന്ന കുറെ ചെരിപ്പുകളും , രക്തക്കറ പുരണ്ട വെളുത്ത കുറെ മുണ്ടുകളും, കൊടികളും, കല്ലുകളുമാണ്. ഇതിനെപ്പറ്റി ടീച്ചർ പിന്നീട് ഒരു വാരാന്ത്യപ്പതിപ്പിൽ എഴുതിട്ടുണ്ട്.
സാഹിത്യ പ്രവർത്തക സഹകരണ സംഘത്തിന്റെ പരിപാടികളിൽ ചിലതൊക്കെ ടീച്ചർ പങ്കെടുത്തിരുന്നതായി ഓർക്കുന്നു. എം ലീലാവതി ടീച്ചറും( അവർ SPCS ബോർഡ് അംഗമായിരുന്നു അന്ന്) സുഗതകുമാരി ടീച്ചറും അമ്മ അടുത്തറിഞ്ഞ, സഹോദരതുല്യരായ രണ്ടു പേരായിരുന്നു. ടീച്ചറിന്റെ കവിതകൾ സ്കൂളിൽ പഠിക്കുന്നതിനു മുൻപ് എനിക്ക് പരിചയപ്പെടുത്തി തന്നത് അമ്മയാണ്. പിന്നെയും പലപ്പോഴും ടീച്ചറിനെ bookstall ഇൽ കാണാറുണ്ടായിരുന്നു. അവസാനം ഞാൻ നേരിൽ കണ്ടത് മെഡിക്കൽ എൻട്രൻസ് റിസൾട്ട് വന്നു കഴിഞ്ഞു ഒരു ദിവസം ആണ്. അമ്മ എന്നോട് ടീച്ചറിന്റെ അനുഗ്രഹം വാങ്ങാൻ പറഞ്ഞതായി ഓർക്കുന്നു. നല്ല മെലിഞ്ഞിട്ടായിരുന്നു ഞാൻ അന്ന്. ആഹാരം നല്ലവണ്ണം കഴിച്ചാലെ ഇത് പഠിച്ചെടുക്കാൻ ആരോഗ്യം ഉണ്ടാകൂ എന്ന ഉപദേശവും തന്നാണ് ടീച്ചർ പോയത്. അത് 28 വര്ഷങ്ങക്ക് മുൻപായിരുന്നു. കുറച്ചു നാളുകൾക്കു മുൻപ് ‘അമ്മ ടീച്ചറെ കണ്ടിരുന്നു . മരിയ്ക്കുന്നതിനു മുൻപ് ഒന്ന് കൂടെ കാണാൻ കഴിഞ്ഞില്ല എന്ന വിഷമം അമ്മയ്ക്കുണ്ട്. . ഒരിക്കൽ ഞാനും അമ്മയും ടീച്ചറെ കാണാൻ ശ്രെമിച്ചിരുന്നു. അന്ന് അവർ കൊച്ചിയിലോ മറ്റോ ആയിരുന്നു. മരിക്കുന്നതിന് മുൻപ് ടീച്ചറെ ഒന്ന് കൂടി കാണാൻ കഴിഞ്ഞില്ല എന്ന വിഷമം എന്നും ഉണ്ടാകും എനിക്കും.
അമ്മ എന്നെ ഇന്ന് രാവിലെ വിളിച്ചു ടീച്ചറിന്റെ മരണവാർത്ത പറയുമ്പോൾ കരയുന്നുണ്ടായിരുന്നു. എല്ലാ മലയാളികൾക്കും ഒരു അമ്മയെപ്പോലെ ആയിരുന്നു ടീച്ചർ. അടുത്തറിയാൻ ഭാഗ്യമുണ്ടായ ഞങ്ങൾക്ക് അവർ അതിലുമപ്പുറത്തു ആരൊക്കയോ ആയിരുന്നു. എഴുതിക്കഴിഞ്ഞു വായിച്ചപ്പോൾ മനസ്സിലെ വിങ്ങലിനു കുറച്ചു ആശ്വാസം. ടീച്ചറിന് വിട.
കുട്ടിക്കാലത്തെ പുസ്തകക്കൂട്ടത്തിൽ വലിപ്പമുള്ള പുസ്തകങ്ങളിൽ രണ്ടെണ്ണം ആയിരുന്നു ഐതിഹ്യമാലയും വടക്കൻ ഐതിഹ്യമാലയും( children’s version). വായിച്ചാൽ തീരാത്തത്ര കഥകൾ, ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങൾ, പുരാണകഥകൾ, കാല്പനികകഥകൾ എന്നിവ കോർത്തിണക്കിയ ഒരു നീണ്ട മാല. വളരെ പുരാതനമായ ഒരു ക്ഷേത്രത്തിന്റെ തൊട്ടടുത്താണ് എന്റെ അമ്മവീട്. എന്റെ പതിനേഴാമത്തെ വയസ്സ് വരെ ഞങ്ങൾ അവിടാണ് താമസിച്ചിരുന്നത്. ദേവി പ്രതിഷ്ഠയും, യക്ഷി പ്രതിഷ്ഠയും, ഭദ്രകാളി പ്രതിഷ്ഠയും പ്രധാനമായി വച്ച് പൂജിക്കുന്ന ഈ ക്ഷേത്രം ഞങ്ങളുടെ ജീവിതത്തിൽ ഒരു വലിയ പങ്ക് വഹിച്ചിരുന്നു. പുരാതനമായ സർപ്പക്കാവിന്റെ അടുത്താണ് യക്ഷിപ്രതിഷ്ഠ, പാലമരച്ചോട്ടിൽ.
ക്ഷേത്രത്തിനെ ചുറ്റിപ്പറ്റി ഒരുപാട് കഥകൾ ഉണ്ട്. മഹാഭാരരതത്തിന്റെ സമയത്തുള്ള ക്ഷേത്രമാണെന്നാണ് പരക്കെയുള്ള വിശ്വാസം. ഒറ്റക്കല്ലിൽ കൊത്തിയെടുത്ത വൻ തൂണുകളും, ഒറ്റക്കൽ നടപ്പാതകളും , കല്ലിലും തടിയിലും നിർമ്മിച്ചിരിക്കുന്ന അകത്തമ്പലവും കേരള വാസ്തുവിദ്യയുടെ ഒരു നല്ല ഉദാഹരണമാണ്. ഇതിനടുത്താണ് പുരാതനമായ കൈപ്പള്ളി വീട്. ചരിത്രപ്രാധാന്യമുള്ള ഒരുപാട് കൊട്ടാരങ്ങളും അമ്മച്ചി വീടുകളും ഇതിനും ചുറ്റുമുണ്ട്.
സമയം കിട്ടുമ്പോഴൊക്കെ ഞങ്ങൾ കുട്ടികൾ ഈ ക്ഷേത്രത്തിലും കാവിലും ആണ് ചിലവിട്ടിരുന്നത്. അതിനാൽ തന്നെ ഐതിഹ്യമാല പോലെ ഉള്ള പുസ്തകങ്ങൾ ഒരു ഫിക്ഷൻ വായിക്കുന്നതിനേക്കാളുപരി യഥാർത്ഥ സംഭവകഥകൾ പോലെ ആണ് ഞാൻ വായിച്ചിരുന്നതും വിശ്വസിച്ചിരുന്നതും. അടുത്തയിടെ ഈ രണ്ടു പുസ്തകങ്ങളെ പറ്റിയുള്ള ഒരു പ്രബന്ധം വായിക്കാനിടയായി. പുസ്തകങ്ങളിലെ കഥകളിൽ ആഴത്തിൽ ഒളിഞ്ഞിരിക്കുന്ന സമകാലീന പ്രാധാന്യമുള്ള വസ്തുതകളാണ് പ്രബന്ധത്തിൽ വിവരിച്ചിരിക്കുന്നത്. ഇത് വായിച്ചപ്പോഴാണ് പുസ്തകങ്ങളുടെ പുനർവായനകൾ എത്രത്തോളം വ്യത്യസ്തമായ കാഴ്ചപ്പാടുകളാണ് വച്ച് നീട്ടുന്നതെന്നു വീണ്ടും വീണ്ടും ഉറപ്പായത്. കൊട്ടാരത്തിൽ ശങ്കുണ്ണിയുടെ ഐതിഹ്യമാല തെക്കൻകേരളത്തിലേയും, വാണിദാസൻ ഇളയവൂരിന്റെ വടക്കൻ ഐതിഹ്യമാല വടക്കൻകേരളത്തിന്റെയും വ്യത്യസ്ത മിത്തുകളെ പറ്റി പറയുന്നു.
ഭൂതകാലം ചരിത്രത്തിൽ മാത്രം ഒതുങ്ങുന്നതല്ല. പുരാണങ്ങൾ, ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങൾ, ബഹുജനവിശ്വാസങ്ങൾ, സാമൂഹികരീതികൾ, കുടുംബങ്ങളിലെ രീതികൾ , ആചാരങ്ങൾ എന്നിങ്ങനെ പല ഇഴകൾ കൊണ്ട് നെയ്തെടുത്തതാണ് ഭൂതകാലം. ഈ കഥകളിൽ നിന്ന് പല ഉൾക്കാഴ്ചകളും നമുക്ക് ലഭിക്കുന്നു. ഉദാഹരണത്തിന്, ദേവീപൂജയും സ്ത്രീകളുടെ സാമൂഹിക അവസ്ഥയും തമ്മിലുള്ള ബന്ധം, ക്ഷേത്രാചാരങ്ങളും ജാതിവ്യവസ്ഥയും ആ സമയത്തെ മറ്റു രാഷ്ട്രീയ സാമൂഹിക സാമ്പത്തിക വ്യവസ്ഥകളുമായുള്ള ബന്ധം, എന്നിങ്ങനെ. Caste and Gender dynamics നെ പറ്റിയും, കഥകളിൽ ഒളിഞ്ഞിരിക്കുന്ന സാമൂഹിക സാംസ്കാരിക പാശ്ചാത്തലങ്ങളെ പറ്റിയും വ്യക്തമായി നമുക്ക് മനസ്സിലാക്കാൻ സാധിക്കും. ഈ രണ്ടു പുസ്തകങ്ങളിലും ( അധികവും ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ ആണ്) ദേവികഥകളും, യക്ഷിക്കഥകളും വായിക്കാൻ സാധിക്കും. ദേവിയെയും യക്ഷിയേയും മാനവീകരിച്ചാണ് narrate ചെയ്തിരിക്കുന്നത്. ഇതിലെ ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങളിലെ ദേവി പുരാണങ്ങളിലെ പോലെ ഒരു consort അല്ലെങ്കിൽ ഭഗവാന്റെ നല്ലപകുതിയോ അല്ല. മറിച്ചു, കരുണയുടെയും ദയാശീലത്തിന്റെയും രൗദ്രതയുടെയും സമ്പുഷ്ടതയുടെയും ആശയങ്ങൾ ഈ ദേവികഥാപാത്രത്തിലുണ്ട്. ദേവീപൂജ അന്നത്തെ സമൂഹത്തിലെ hierarchical pattern നെ കാണിക്കുന്നു. പൈശാചിക ശക്തിയുള്ള യക്ഷി uncontrollable sexual urge നെ സൂചിപ്പിക്കുന്നു. ഇത് പല വ്യാഖ്യാനങ്ങളിൽ ഒന്ന് മാത്രമാണ്. അക്കാലത്തു പ്രബലമായ ഹിന്ദു ആഖ്യാനങ്ങൾ, ആചാര നിഷ്ഠകൾ എന്നിവയോടു ഇഴുകിച്ചേർന്നു നിൽക്കാതെ സ്വന്തമായി ഒരു വിവരണ രീതി ഉണ്ടാക്കുകയും പ്രാദേശികമായി ഇതിനെ ക്രമീകരിക്കാൻ കഴിയുകയും ചെയ്തു എന്നതാണ് ഈ പുസ്തകങ്ങളുടെ പ്രത്യേകത. നൂറ്റാണ്ടുകളായി കേട്ട് പോരുന്ന വായ്പാട്ടു രീതിയിൽ ഉള്ള നാടോടിക്കഥകൾ തന്നെ ആണ് ഈ പുസ്തകങ്ങളിൽ പറഞ്ഞിരിക്കുന്നത്.
ദേവി അഥവാ ശക്തി പല സമൂഹങ്ങളിൽ വ്യത്യസ്തമാണ്. ഗ്രാമദേവതകൾ, വ്യത്യസ്ത ഗോത്രങ്ങൾ പൂജിക്കുന്ന ദേവികൾ എന്നിവക്ക് പ്രമുഖ ഹിന്ദു സംസ്കൃത ദേവിപൂജാരീതികളോട് പല സാമ്യങ്ങളും വ്യത്യാസങ്ങളും ഉണ്ട്.ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങളിൽ നിന്നും നാടോടിക്കഥകളിൽ നിന്നും ഗോത്ര ദേവി ആരാധനയിൽ നിന്നും കടമെടുത്ത ദേവീസങ്കല്പങ്ങൾ ലക്ഷ്മിയായും , പാർവതിയായും കാളിയായും ദുർഗ്ഗയായും ഹിന്ദുമതത്തിലേക്ക് കയ്യടക്കപ്പെട്ടിട്ടുണ്ട്. ദേവി സദാചാരത്തിന്റെയും സദ്ഗുണത്തിന്റെയും മാതൃകയാകുമ്പോൾ യക്ഷി പൈശാചികശക്തിയോ, തിന്മയുടെയും ദയയുടെയും നിഴലുകൾ ഉള്ള ഒരു അർദ്ധദേവതയോ ആണ്. ഈ ഐതിഹ്യങ്ങൾ വഴി സദാചാരം, മനുഷ്യന്റെ പല കഷ്ടസ്ഥിതികൾ, അജ്ഞാതവും ഗൂഢവുമായ കാര്യങ്ങൾ, ആചാരങ്ങൾ എന്നിവ മനസ്സിലാക്കാൻ കഴിയും.
സ്ത്രീയുടെ ചാരിത്ര്യവും വിശുദ്ധിയും ദേവി / യക്ഷി കഥകളിൽ ആവർത്തിക്കുന്ന വിഷയമാണ്. ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ യക്ഷിക്കഥകൾ ഉണ്ടെങ്കിലും വടക്കൻ ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ അധികവും സ്ത്രീസ്വഭാവരീതികൾ ചാർത്തപ്പെട്ട ദുര്ദേവതകളും ബാധകളും ആണ്. ക്ഷേത്രങ്ങളും കാവുകളൂം ദേവിയുടെയും യക്ഷിയുടെയും വാസസ്ഥലം എന്നതിലുപരി ആ പ്രദേശങ്ങളിലെ സമ്പദ്വ്യവസ്ഥകളിലും കാര്യമായ പങ്ക് വഹിച്ചിരുന്നു. സ്ഥലമായും സ്വര്ണമായും ആനകളായുമൊക്കെ കിട്ടിയിരുന്ന സ്വത്തു, മതവിശ്വാസം ലൗകികമായ കാര്യങ്ങൾ തീരുമാനിക്കുന്നതിന് ഉത്തമ ഉദാഹരണമാണ്.
കുട്ടിക്കാലത്തെ എന്റെ ഓർമ്മയിൽ തെളിഞ്ഞു നിൽക്കുന്ന ഒന്നാണ് ക്ഷേത്രത്തിലെ വെളിച്ചപ്പാട് തുള്ളൽ. ദേവിയും യക്ഷിയും ഈ മാധ്യമങ്ങൾ വഴി സംസാരിക്കുന്നതും, അത്ഭുതങ്ങൾ പ്രവചിക്കുന്നതും ഒക്കെ ഇന്നലെയെന്നത് പോലെ ഓർമയിലുണ്ട്. പല രക്ഷാകർമക്കൾക്കും ഇവർ വിലയിടുന്നത് സ്വര്ണത്തിന്റേയോ സ്ഥലത്തിന്റെയോ രൂപത്തിലാണ്. ചോദിക്കുന്നത് ദേവിയാകുമ്പോൾ ഇതെല്ലാം മറുചോദ്യമില്ലാതെ ക്ഷേത്രത്തിന്റെ കൈപ്പിടിയിൽ എത്തുന്നു. അതുപോലെ തന്നെ അസുഖങ്ങളെയും യുദ്ധത്തെയും ഒക്കെ ദേവീശാപമായി ചിത്രീകരിക്കുന്നത് വഴി നീതിയുടെയും നീതിശാസ്ത്രത്തിന്റെയും ഒരു പ്രബോധനം ആണ് കഥകൾ വഴി നൽകുന്നത്.
യക്ഷിക്കഥകളിൽ ആവർത്തിച്ചു കാണുന്ന ഒന്നാണ് ദേവിയുടെ സഹായത്തോടെ യക്ഷിയെ മെരുക്കുന്ന ബ്രാഹ്മണൻ. ഉയർന്ന ജാതിക്കാരനായ ബ്രാഹ്മണന് അടിമയാകുന്ന യക്ഷി അയാളെ സേവിക്കുകയും, അയാളുടെ കുഞ്ഞുങ്ങൾക്ക് ജന്മം കൊടുക്കുകയും ചെയ്യുമെങ്കിലും ഒരു ഭാര്യയുടെ നിയമപരമായ അവകാശങ്ങൾ അവൾക്കു ലഭിക്കുന്നില്ല. രാത്രികാലങ്ങളിൽ മാത്രം ബ്രാഹ്മണനെ സേവിക്കാൻ അവൾ വിധിക്കപ്പെടുന്നു.
ദേവിയും യക്ഷിയും സൗന്ദര്യത്തിന്റെ മൂർത്തീഭാവങ്ങൾ ആണെങ്കിലും ദേവിസൗന്ദര്യം സ്വർഗാനുഭൂതിയും യക്ഷിയുടേത് നരകത്തിലേക്ക് വശീകരിക്കുന്ന ഉറവിടവുമാണ്. ദേവിയെ പ്രതിഷ്ഠിക്കുന്നത് അകത്തമ്പലത്തിലും യക്ഷിയെ പുറത്തുമാണ്. ഒരു സംസ്കാരത്തിലെ gender role ഈ രണ്ടു കഥാപാത്രങ്ങളിലും നിഴലിക്കുന്നുണ്ട്. രണ്ടു പേരിലും മനുഷ്യ നന്മകളും തിന്മകളുമുണ്ട്. അസൂയ, ആസക്തി, കുരുതിയോടുള്ള താല്പര്യം, മാംസാഹാരം, മദ്യം എന്നിവയുടെ ഉപയോഗം എല്ലാം ദേവിയിൽ കാണപ്പെടുന്നുണ്ട്. യക്ഷിയെ ഒരു erotic force ആയിട്ടാണ് കഥകളിൽ ചിത്രീകരിക്കുന്നത്, consummate and consume ചെയ്യുന്ന ഒരു entity . യക്ഷിയുടെ ഈ രീതിയിലുള്ള ചിത്രീകരണം സ്ത്രീകളുടെ sexuality യെ പറ്റിയും സ്വാതന്ത്ര്യത്തെ പറ്റിയും സമൂഹത്തിനുള്ള ഭയപ്പാടാണ് വ്യക്തമാക്കുന്നത്.
ജാതിവ്യവസ്ഥയും അധികാരക്രമവും ലിംഗക്രമവും എല്ലാം കഥകളിൽ വ്യക്തമാണ്. അകത്തമ്പലത്തിൽ പ്രവേശനം ബ്രാഹ്മണന് മാത്രം, മാരാർക്കു പാട്ടും കൊട്ടും മാത്രം, സ്ത്രീകൾക്ക് മാലകെട്ടലും വിളക്ക് ഒരുക്കലും മാത്രം.. ഐതിഹ്യമാലയിൽ ധാരാളം കാണാൻ കഴിയുന്ന കഥകളാണ് ബ്രാഹ്മണരെ പറ്റിയും നമ്പൂതിരികളെ പറ്റിയുമുള്ളവ. കുഞ്ഞുനീലി എന്ന പുലയപെണ്കുട്ടിയുടെ കഥയിൽ, ഉയർന്ന ജാതിക്കാരായ പുരുഷന്മാർക്ക് വഴങ്ങിക്കൊടുക്കാത്തതു കാരണം അവർ അവളെ വഴിപിഴച്ചവളായി മുദ്രകുത്തുന്നു. നീലിയുടെ അച്ഛൻ അവളെ കുരുതികൊടുക്കുന്നു അങ്ങനെ അവൾ നീലിയമ്മ എന്ന ദേവിയായി മാറുന്നു.
മുടിയേറ്റും കളമെഴുത്തും ഞാൻ ഇന്നും ഓർക്കുന്ന രണ്ടു rituals ആണ് . ഈ പുസ്തകങ്ങളിലെ കഥകൾ ഐതിഹ്യം എന്നതിലുപരി എനിക്ക് യാഥാർഥ്യങ്ങൾ ആയിരുന്നു. ചിലതു ഒരു lived experience ആയിരുന്നു. കഥകളിൽ പലതും ഇന്നും ഒരു മങ്ങിയ film പോലെ ഓർക്കുന്നു. വായനക്കാരെ അവർ സൃഷ്ടിക്കുന്ന മായിക ലോകത്തേക്ക് കൊണ്ടെത്തിക്കാൻ കഴിഞ്ഞു എന്നതാണ് ആ എഴുത്തുകാരുടെ കഴിവ്.
Awards: Booker Prize 2020, National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2020)
The winner of this year’s Booker Prize is Douglas Stewart, a Scottish- American, for his debut novel, Shuggie Bain. An autobiographical novel, this is about the lonely gay son of an alcoholic mother in 1980s Scotland.
After 30 rejections from different publishers, Stuart sold it to Grove Atlantic and Picador, and now, his debut has won the Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world. The novel is gripping, poignant, and dark that would leave deep scars in the readers mind. It is a tribute to Stuart’s mother who died of alcoholism when he was 16. Stuart describes himself as a working class Scottish kid .
The story unfolds in 1980s Glasgow and is centered on the boy Shuggie who takes care of his alcoholic mother. His awareness of being gay and heightened sensitivity to precociousness makes him an easy target of school bullies. Shuggie and his siblings had to take the additional burden of caring for Agnes, their mother who descends into alcoholism. Her husband, a taxi-driver, is a philanderer. Thatcher’s policies force him and the children out of work and the family descends into poverty and substance abuse. Agnes keeps her pride by trying to look good with make-up and and pearly-white false teeth. The older children finally distance themselves from their mother leaving her under the care of young Shuggie. She oscillates between alcoholic binges and sobriety. Though she loves her son, alcohol blinds her and eclipses the love she feels for him. The story is about the relationship between the boy and his alcoholic mother.
The novel includes many themes like abuse, addiction, rape, sexuality, and poverty. In a world where the term sexual consent is absent, Agnes is repeatedly being raped by men including her husband. The plight of the children forced by their circumstance to bear witness to the marks left on their mother’s body after rape, and to religiously wipe the bile and vomit from her body is heart wrenching. Though the read is pretty grim and poignant, the novel draws the reader deep into it and the atmosphere it creates around the reader is hard to shrug off.
Two things that could be off-putting are heavy prose and wide spread use of adjectives.