Finkelstein and the Charge of Anti-Semitism

One hears in the celebration among some in the Jewish community concerning DePaul’s denial of tenure to Norman Finkelstein the term “anti-Semitism.” Finkelstein is an “anti-Semitic Jew.” So what is anti-Semitism?

“Anti-Semitism” is really a misnomer for “anti-Jewish” ideology. When a person is anti-Jewish it is, strictly speaking, incorrect to say they are “anti-Semitic.” The term “Semitic” was originally constructed to denote a language group that covers ancient and modern forms of Akkadian, Amharic, Arabic, Aramaic, Assyrian, Hebrew, Maltese, Syriac, Tigrinya, and so on. The term was later extended to cover the culture and ethnicities of the peoples who spoke or speak these languages, peoples who range over a wide geographical area, including Africa, Western Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. It is from these peoples that the major monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam issue.

Nonetheless, for this discussion, I will keep to the popular usage and employ the term “anti-Semitism” to refer to “anti-Jewish” ideology. So what is “anti-Semitism”? Anti-Semitism is antipathy toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group (put aside for the moment the problematic nature of race as a designation for any group of persons). If I loathe a man because he is a Jew, do not sell my house to a family because they are Jewish, or refuse to employ a woman because she is a Jew, then I am an anti-Semite. This understanding is consistent with the concept “racism”: If I refuse to hire a black person to work for me because that person is black, I am a racist.

However, many supporters of Israel argue that anti-Semitism involves more than prejudice toward or discrimination against Jews (or at least they assume this in accusing others of anti-Semitism). Anti-American and anti-Zionist sentiment and politics, opposition to the existence of Israel as a Jewish homeland, and even criticism and opposition to the policies of the state of Israel constitute anti-Semitism from the perspective of those who see everywhere a “new anti-Semitism.” 

Suppose I assert that the Israeli nation-state currently existing in Palestine is an illegitimate construction and therefore should not exist. Suppose I regard Zionism, which is the ideology and practice of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, as immoral and a form of oppression. Such assertions and arguments would be construed by many people to represent an anti-Semitic position.

Yet, but for the confusion caused by indoctrination, one should see right away that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are entirely separate matters. Taking the extreme case, if I oppose the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine, my opposition has nothing necessarily to do with antipathy toward and discrimination and prejudice against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group. I could oppose the existence of Israel from a pro-Palestinian position, namely, Palestine is the land of Palestinians and Palestinians should therefore govern it. This is not anti-Semitism any more than arguing that my belief that North America is Indian land that ought to be governed by Indians is anti-Europeanism. 

Of course, if I opposed the existence of a Jewish state on the grounds that I hate Jewsn then that I would be anti-Semitic. But if this is not the case, then I am not an anti-Semite. Put another way, a man may be anti-Zionist and anti-Israel without being anti-Jewish if he has other reasons for opposing Zionism and the Israeli state that are not based on antipathy towards Jews.

Skeptical that every fair-minded person who reads this essay will immediately grasp my argument to this point, a simple analogy serves to illustrate my point.

Suppose that the United States were to become a Christian state — that is, suppose US leaders declare North America to be a national homeland for the Christian people. Would I oppose such a thing? Indeed I would, for many reasons, including the fact that, on principle, I oppose theocratic rule. I regard any state declared by those in power to be the state of a particular religious group to be an unjust political and legal arrangement. Not only would I oppose it, but I would struggle to change it. Let me be more bold that that: I would seriously consider taking up arms with the intent to overthrow my government if it officially proclaimed itself to be a Christian state. Does that make me anti-Christian? No, that’s absurd. I grew up in a Christian family and I respect Christians. My father was a Christian minister and some of the men I respect most in history, for example Martin Luther King, Jr., were Christian leaders. Moreover, I know lots of Christians who would take up arms and join me in revolution if ever politicians in Washington officially declared our government to be a Christian state. I suspect that many of you agree with me. 

For those among you who don’t agree with me, consider the reason why so many people oppose theocratic rule. What would a Christian nation mean for other religions, including Judaism? If this designation were religiously observed, then all Christian holidays would be state sanctioned and promoted. Jewish holidays would be tolerated only as long as Christians decided that was okay with them. Same would be true of Islam and every other non-Christian religion. Jews and Muslims would be second-class citizens as a matter of law. They would be official outsiders. If this arrangement strikes you as problematic (and I can’t imagine that it doesn’t), does it not seem logical therefore that Muslims living in Palestine should have a problem with a Jewish state that treats them as second-class citizens? Do Muslims not justifiably see the Jewish state in Palestine as a threat to their existence as autonomous religious and cultural beings?

“But Israel is a democracy and a secular, pluralist society,” supporters often asserted. This is untrue. It is official Israel national policy that the state of Israel exists as an ethnic Jewish homeland. The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, occurring on 14 May 1948, harkened back to Theodore Herzl and the First Zionist Congress, who “proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in what it claimed to be its own country,” a right that “was supported by the British government in the Balfour Declaration” and “reaffirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and Palestine and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home.” 

The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel stated that the Holocaust necessitated “re-establishing in Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the community of nations.” The declaration claimed that the UN General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947, called “for the establishment of a Jewish State in Israel” and that “recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.” 

This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State. Thus members and representatives of the Jews of Palestine and of the Zionist movement upon the end of the British Mandate, by virtue of “natural and historic right” and based on the United Nations resolution [h]ereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel to be known as the State of Israel.

So in Palestine, a place where people of different faiths co-existed, a Jewish state was established that made every other non-Jew a second class citizen — that made every non-Jew a cultural, political, and religious outsider. (And within minutes of the Declaration, the United States, a country founded on religious pluralism and the principle of the secular state, recognized the legitimate existence of the state of Israel.)

In a universe where pure reason (by this I mean universal reason) prevailed, all this would be immediately understood. I would not need to present an argument laying out a defense of the position held by the hundreds of millions of observers of this great dispute. But in the universe in which we live, pure reason is not desired by those wielding power. Such universal reason interferes with the goals of domination and oppression. 

A more concrete reason exists for conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism: at the root of this charge of anti-Semitism lies the objective to stifle speech critical of Israel and advance the cause of Zionism. By equating legitimate criticism of the Jewish state, and criticism and opposition to the broader idea of theocratic government, to antipathy toward and discrimination and prejudice against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group, pro-Israeli voices mean to silence critics by branding them racist.

Normal Finkelstein is not anti-Semitic. It’s a ridiculous charge made by ridiculous people.

Cambodia: The Rest of the Story

Cambodia, like Laos and Vietnam, was emerging from the hegemony of colonial France during the period of US adventure in Indochina. Declaring independence in 1949, domestic elites reestablished the monarchy in 1953. The Cambodians cremated their last king, Norodom Sihanouk, in 1960. His son, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Chief of State, succeeded him. Ninety percent of Cambodian peasants owned their land in what remains today a largely agrarian country. Sihanouk’s source of support was in the rural areas, where he was beloved by the majority of farmers. 

Sihanouk forged alliances with several countries, including state socialist China and non-aligned Indonesian. However, he alienated US elites and capitalists with his strident opposition to American presence in Vietnam. Two things concerned Sihanouk. The possibility of a wider war in Indochina – spreading out from Vietnam – threatened Cambodia’s peaceful existence and the monarchy. Secondly, Sihanouk believed in the principle that a people have the right to self determination. In his view, Vietnam’s transition under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh from capitalist colony to independent socialist country was a matter to be settled by the Vietnamese people. The United States had no moral right to intervene. 

The United States began deploying military forces to South Vietnam in 1954. US military presence in Vietnam would last until 1975. US advisors had been in Vietnam since 1950, assisting French colonial forces in training the South Vietnamese army, which was to defend the Western-backed capitalist state, the Republic of Vietnam, against the communist North, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson escalated US involvement by sending hundreds of thousands of US soldiers to Vietnam. That same year, Johnson ordered the bombing of Cambodia. From 1965 to 1968, 2,565 sorties were flown over Cambodia, dropping 214 tons of bombs. Johnson ordered ground incursions into Cambodia by CIA and US Special Forces, as well. 

Meanwhile, a small group of communist guerrillas living in the forests of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, struggled to spark a revolutionary movement. They were at that time only a marginal group. The greater threat to Sihanouk’s rule grew from inside his own government. Military officers and political and economic elites, covertly organized by the US government, sowed discontent and instability among the population. They plotted to remove the king and form an open alliance with the United States. The US would generously reward cooperation in this endeavor. 

In March of 1969, the newly-elected US president, Richard Nixon, ordered extensive bombing of Cambodia by B-52s. The ostensive purpose of the bombing was to root out the Viet Cong and North Vietnam Army, which were operating inside Cambodia’s borders. The effect of the bombing was the destabilization of Cambodia society and increased popular support for the Khmer Rouge. 

In 1970, a US-backed military coup ousted Sihanouk. Lon Nol, prime minister under Sihanouk, became Cambodia’s new leader (Lon Nol had led the coup). With its man in power, the US poured money into Cambodia’s army, attracting thousands of young men to the anti-communist cause of Western imperialism. 

That summer, the US and South Vietnam invaded Cambodia, but failed in their mission to eliminate the Vietnamese communists operating there. Frustrated by the resistance, Nixon ordered the escalation of the bombing. “They have got to go in there and I mean really go in,” he said, “I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?” With regime change and carpet bombing, the United States had transformed Cambodia, a formerly peaceful country, into a major field of battle in the Indochina war.

From exile in China, Sihanouk established relations with the Khmer Rouge, who had by this time grown considerably, thanks to US bombing and the behavior of Lon Nol’s reactionary regime. With the peasantry demanding Sihanouk’s return, the Khmer Rouge shrewdly enhanced their prestige in the countryside by dropping Sihanouk’s name and exploiting his cherished image. Sihanouk could not have known what the future would bring, and it’s difficult to see what other course of action he could have taken. Communists everywhere had successfully transformed former capitalist colonies into viable socialist societies. In contrast to the Americans, who were blowing the hell out of everything, the Khmer Rogue was the only viable option.

In response to the growing threat of the Khmer Rouge, Lon Nol’s forces went on a rampage, killing and maiming scores of Cambodian civilians and instigating attacks on Vietnamese living and working in Cambodia. The US sent ground forces into Cambodia to assist the effort. When, in 1971, North Vietnam attacked Cambodia, the US ramped up bombing to protect Lon Nol’s regime. United States action antagonized the communists, who grew more determined to push against the US-backed government of Lon Nol. Seeing an opportunity to spread communism and gain the advantage in the war, North Vietnam stepped up to assist the Khmer Rogue.

It was obvious to any sane observer what was driving the peasant masses into the arms of the Khmer Rouge. In 1973 alone, the United States dropped a quarter of a million tons of bombs on Cambodia. Although the bombing raids were of little strategic consequence (since the Khmer Rouge had built bomb shelters and underground installations and were therefore relatively unaffected), scores of civilians were killed and maimed. In total, the United States flew 250,516 sorties, dropping 2,756,941 tons of bombs on 113,716 sites in Cambodia. The estimated numbers of civilians killed by US bombing is 600,000, or 10 percent of the population of the country (CIA). Yet, the toll was much greater on Cambodian society. The bombing internally displaced some two million Cambodians, hundreds of thousands of whom fled to Phnom Penh and other urban areas, where tens of thousands of them starved and died of disease. Furthermore, US bombing killed several hundred thousand draft animals, which dramatically reduced food production (the same thing occurred in Laos). What was Lon Nol doing to stop these atrocities? Hell, he was part of war against the Cambodia people.

In the summer of 1973, with the Khmer Rouge advancing on Phnom Penh and Nixon conducting a massive aerial bombardment of areas surrounding the capitol, Congress finally moved to stop the bombing, slashing funding for the war and calling for Nixon’s impeachment (this was before Watergate). With US military support restricted (though illegal covert action continued), the Lon Nol regime lost its principle source of material means with which to hold off the Khmer Rouge. Without the military option, the US government sought to secure the peasantry’s consent and lure them away from the Khmer Rouge by encouraging Lon Nol to step down and by bringing Sihanouk back to the country. But the die was cast. The Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh in 1975 and declared Democratic Kampuchea.

Ben Kiernan, who has examined the matter perhaps more closely than any other Western observer, writes in his book, The Pol Pot Regime (Yale University Press, 1996), that “Pol Pot’s revolution would not have won power without US economic and military destabilization of Cambodia.” In particular, US carpet bombing of Cambodia “was probably the most significant factor in Pol Pot’s rise.” The evidence supports Kiernan’s argument; there is a strong correlation between the areas targeted by US bombing and the recruitment of peasants by the Khmer Rouge.

The history of the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge is not the stuff of popular American consciousness. The popular story begins in 1975, for this is a moment useful to bourgeois propagandists. Over the next three years, the Khmer Rouge attempted to transform Cambodia into a rural communist society. It depopulated the cities and organized urban dwellers into agricultural armies. The regime abolished religion and the education system, and expropriated all private property. The Khmer Rouge imprisoned and executed officials and intellectuals of Lon Nol’s regime. With urban dwellers unaccustomed to agricultural work, and with resentful peasants unwilling to help them, former residents of Phnom Penh and other cities did not thrive. There are claims that thousands died of starvation (although it’s hard to know how many of these actually died from US bombing and sweeps by US ground forces). Another claim is that the Khmer Rouge returned the traditional medical practices, which likely contributed to the spread of diseases, allegedly killing thousands more.

How many died? It’s unclear. Popular writers base most of their estimates on changes in population counts, which include deaths from all warfare, as well as refugees not in the country. (One must be careful not to attribute population reduction to mass murder.) The best estimates I have seen put the number of those executed at around one hundred thousand, another one hundred thousand dying in prison camps, and several thousands perishing in one way or another. Michael Vickery attributes to the Pol Pot years around 700,000 total deaths above the normal. The CIA, in a demographic study conducted in 1980, concluded that Pol Pot killed 50-100,000 people. The study attributes most deaths in this period to the Vietnamese invasion. However, there is reason to believe CIA’s estimate is in this case shaped by US political interests, as will be shown later on. I note the Vietnamese invasion directly and return to US political interests in the discussion that follows.

In 1979, with the Sino-Soviet split dividing communists, and the Khmer Rouge engaging in aggressions against Vietnam (such as attacks on the Phu Quoc and Tho Chu islands), Vietnam invaded Cambodia and removed the Khmer Rouge, establishing in its stead the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. This arrangement lasted for a decade. Between 1989 and 1993, Cambodia was under UN transitional authority. Cambodia elites restored the monarchy in 1993.

I want to raise two issues with respect to this history: what it means and what has been left out. Observers have widely described the activities of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as genocide. I believe it is inappropriate to characterize this moment as genocidal. Second, following the removal of the Khmer Rouge from power by Vietnam, the United States government, along with other Western governments, supported the Khmer Rouge, demanding the restoration of the political legitimacy and providing them with material support for counterrevolutionary action against Vietnam and beyond.

On the first matter, when I say that what happened in Cambodia was not genocide, I mean that what happened does not fit the definition of genocide. Genocide is the extermination or destruction of a people based on the perception that the target is physically or culturally different than other groups. What happened in Cambodia was the result of class warfare not racism. The peasants, seen as the true proletariat in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge, were at war with those whose lives were bound to the urban system – that is, those whose fortunes rested with global capitalism. The Khmer Rouge saw capitalists, managers, and professionals as enemies of the people. The Khmer Rouge did not exterminate urban workers, but incorporated them into the agricultural army. Whatever you want to call this, it’s not genocide.

How do I feel about what the Khmer Rouge did? I am not in principle opposed to killing one’s oppressors. However, there has to be good reason for doing so. Is the oppressor physically acting to keep you from obtaining your freedom? Then you are entitled to use physical force to overcome that restraint. No moral system is adequate that asks oppressed people to refrain from using violence to achieve their freedom. Violent class struggle in Cambodia is not the sin to be condemned here. What about organizing agricultural armies? There is a rationale for this: Since US bombing had decimated the animal population, more manpower was necessary for sufficient food production. Furthermore, I don’t have a problem with making those who formerly lived off the labor of others to labor themselves. However incompetent the Khmer Rouge were as social engineers, there can be no moral objection to compelling people to earn their keep. As for political executions, I oppose the practice. This is the aspect of the Khmer Rouge that warrants condemnation. The class that seizes power has a moral duty to treat captured enemies with compassion. I understand revolutionary anger and I see the concern with future counterrevolutionary action, but there are ways short of execution to deal with this. Killing is justified only in the cases of self-defense and protection of the innocent. Torture is never justified.

On the issue of material and political support for the Khmer Rouge by the United States after the international community accused the revolutionaries of “atrocities,” this is a matter of public record. The US plan was for the Khmer Rouge to overthrow the Vietnamese-backed government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The US was concerned that, after the fall of Saigon in 1975, Vietnamese forces would be drawn into the Soviet sphere. National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski was instrumental in the early development and implementation of the plan. His own words indict him: “I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. I encouraged the Thai to help the DK.”

The Khmer Rouge used the refugee camps in Thailand (where they had fled during the Vietnamese invasion) as a base of operations. Prince Sihanouk and former prime minister Son Sann organized their own guerrilla armies in the camps. The camps were therefore home to not only the Khmer Rouge, but the Sihanoukist National Army (ANS) and Son Sann’s Khmer People’s National Liberation Front (KPNLF). The US began supporting Sihanouk’s guerrillas in 1979 under the direction of Jimmy Carter.

In 1982, under Ronald Reagan, the US began providing both the ANS and the KPNLF with military aid. That year, the US, China, and ASEAN convinced Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge to form the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK). Hun Sen opposed the plan. The administration portrayed him as an obstructionist. Publicly the administration argued that Sihanouk insisted that the Khmer Rouge be part of the coalition to prevent civil war. Under cover of ANS and KPNLF support, however, the Reagan administration bankrolled the Khmer Rouge. Discovering the deceit in 1985, Congress forbade the use of funds to aid the Khmer Rouge. However, as in the case of illegally funding death squads in Central American, Reagan continued to support the Khmer Rouge, which had infiltrated the ranks of the ANS and KPNLF. Moreover, there is also direct evidence of CIA meetings between the US and Khmer Rouge.

According to John Pilger, the Reagan administration funneled millions of dollars and other material support to the Khmer Rouge from 1980 to 1986 in a variety of schemes. Reagan pressured the World Food Program to divert shipments destined for other refugee groups to the Khmer Rouge. Reagan and Bush channeled weapons to the Khmer Rouge through Singapore. Bush continued the practice despite a 1989 law forbidding it. When the UN Human Rights committee put on the agenda a draft resolution subjecting Khmer Rouge leaders to international war crimes tribunals, the US government intervened and had it removed. The Reagan administration even argued fore the United Nations to allow a Khmer Rouge delegate to sit in Cambodia’s seat, an argument the Soviet Union sharply criticized.

The arguments of the US Executive were remarkable. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Richard Solomon, testifying at a September House hearing on Cambodia, argued, “Should the Khmer Rouge, responsible for genocidal violence of the 1970’s, be totally excluded from the political process with only a military option? Or, should it, less its top leadership, be given a limited stake in a transitional political coalition that would, under international supervision, face elections? We firmly believe that the chances are much better to get this problem under control if you have a structured political settlement than if you just leave a situation that is totally unstructured or constrained, where civil conflict is virtually a certainty.” Thomas Pickering, US ambassador to the United Nations, explained, “The United States Government remains unequivocally opposed to a return to power of the Khmer Rouge. We therefore support the resolution submitted by the ASEAN nations, with nearly eighty co-sponsors, calling for a comprehensive political settlement [that] is aimed at the elimination of the Khmer Rouge threat through the democratic process under stringent international safeguards.” James Baker, armed with officials called the “Baker Formula” argued for acceptable of “minimal participation” of the Khmer Rouge in the transitional Cambodia government because to exclude the Khmer Rouge was unacceptable to China, who could then not be relied upon to stop the fighting.

The Vietnamese left Cambodia in 1989, but the comprehensive peace hit bumps in the road. In 1992, the Khmer Rouge began again armed resistance. In 1993, they rejected the election results. However, over the next several years, the movement fell apart, as members and followers abandoned the party, and fractional infighting weakened its grip on the masses. In 1997, Pol Pot was convicted of crimes against the Cambodian people and imprisoned. He died the next year. Remaining leaders apologized for the killings. Many surrendered or disappeared into the population. The Khmer Rouge ceased to exist in 1999.

Most Americans have heard about the Khmer Rouge, the “killing fields of Cambodia.” The story is one of the most replayed stories in US popular media – the Khmer Rouge is a household name. Pol Pot, like Stalin has come to represent the horrors of communism. (Do you ever wonder why Hitler doesn’t represent the horrors of capitalism?) However, few Americans know about the lead up to the Khmer Rouge story. The reason for this is clear: it’s the wrong story to tell because it represents the horrors of imperialism. Leaving a key part of the story out, bourgeois propagandists are able to paint a lovely and tranquil portrait against which the bloody colors of communism are spattered. Even fewer Americans know about what happened after the Khmer Rouge was removed for power. After talking up the horror of the Khmer Rouge, a story about American presidents bankrolling genocidal maniacs is virtually impossible to tell. It sounds unbelievable. But it’s true.

Laos during its US Indochina Aggression

Laos gained “independence” from French imperialists in 1949. France remained in control of the country until 1954 and in control of the military until 1955, when the United States took over. The government of Laos, a constitutional monarchy led by King Savang Vatthana, served as a bulwark against the communist Pathet Lao. Laos thus played a role in US containment policy.

In the early 1960s, the North Vietnamese, in conjunction with the Pathet Loa, controlled the eastern half of Laos along its border, which included the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and used this control to spread communism and to supply the Viet Cong and Viet Minh fighters with food, medicine, and weapons.

In addition to logistical and material support to the government of Laos, the United States, under the direction of President Kennedy, through US military advisers and the CIA, organized the Hmong (or Miao) to fight the Pathet Lao. (General Vang Pao, a former general in the Royal Army of Laos, who led Hmong counterinsurgents, now lives in the United States and made the headlines today for conspiring with Hmong and US military figures to overthrow the current government of Laos.) Later, the US imported 8,000 Thai mercenaries to strengthen rural forces.

While guerrilla warfare raged on the ground, US warplanes bombed suspected Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese-controlled sites in 1964. US operations eliminated few communists, as they knew how to survive the attacks. However, large numbers of civilians were maimed and killed, and more than a million persons were driven from their homes. For eight years, Laos was the most bombed country in the world. And the killing and maiming didn’t end when the bombs stopped falling. Around 30 percent of all ordnance dropped on Laos failed to detonate on impact. Ordinance dropped on or left in Laos include anti-personnel devices (such as mines), artillery munitions, cluster bombs (which release bomblets or what the Laotian people call “bombies”), grenades, mortar shells, and rockets. Thousands have been injured and much land is unusable by this contamination. 

At the height of US involvement, the Department of Defense was spending tens times more money on military equipment and operations than the entire Laos national budget. The Hmong, ill-equipped for modern warfare, suffered heavy casualties. The ranks of Pathet Lao swelled, thanks in part to the effect US bombing had on radicalizing the rural population.

The Kennedy administration kept the operations secret. Most politicians and diplomats didn’t even know about it. When US reconnaissance and war planes were shot down over Laos, families were told that their loved ones were the victims of equipment malfunction or inclement weather.

In 1971, with the situation growing desperate for the pro-Western Laotian forces, the US government persuaded the South Vietnamese army to invade. Yet, every act of aggression by the United States was perceived – rightly, in my view – as an act aimed at the Laotian population. Every act of aggression by the United States and its puppet government only served to increase support for the communists.

After nearly a decade of civil war, a ceasefire was negotiated in 1973. Two years later Pathet Lao took over the government. King Savang Vatthana was the last king to rule over the Laotian people. Laos has been a socialist republic ever since.

The Six Day War

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 war, known also as the Six Day War, in which the Jewish state of Israeli finally seized control over all of Arab Palestine. Israeli settlers and soldiers have occupied the Palestinian homeland ever since, and under occupation Arabs have been subjected to daily oppressions, often violent, and humiliation of the sort endured by the indigenous population in South Africa under apartheid.

 Israeli army’s Southern Command General Ariel Sharon arrives by helicopter with Generals at an army base in the Negev Desert in southern Israel days before the start of the Six-Day War 

How did it come to this? I will leave to one side the story of Zionism and pick up the thread with WWI and the disintegration of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. After the war, Palestine was one of several Arab territories placed under mandate to France and Great Britain (see Article 22 of the League of Nations for details on administrative territories). The League of Nations gave Great Britain control over the Palestinian Arabs. All of the mandated territories have since become independent states with one exception: Palestine.

Palestine has not become an independent state for a very simple reason—Great Britain committed itself in 1917, in a document known as the “Balfour Declaration,” to “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Of the 689,000 known inhabitants of Palestine as of 1914, 76 percent (or 532,000) were Muslim and 13 percent (or 94,000) were Christian. Just over 10 percent of Palestine’s population was Jews. To effect their commitment to Jewish leaders, Great Britain facilitated the colonization of Palestine by European Jewry during the years 1922 to 1947. By 1947, the Jewish population in Palestine had swelled to 630,000, or 32 percent of the total population of (1,970,000). (Source: Sergio Della Pergola)

Palestinians resisted Jewish colonization, but, with the help of the British, Jewish settlers brutally suppressed them. The Hashomar, and later the Haganah (the Jewish paramilitary that would become the Israeli Defense Force), with its strike force, the Palmach, carried out considerable violence against Arabs. However, the Haganah, in cooperation with the British, had established a defense charter that restricted Jewish military action. Rejecting the charter’s restraint policy, a group of officers broke from Haganah and formed an armed underground organization, Etzel (Irgun Zeva’i Le’umi), aligned with the nationalist Revisionist Movement lead by Vladimir Jabotinsky, who believed that Arabs would have to be pacified and expelled. Etzel carried out repeated terrorist attacks against Arab civilians, as well as against British forces. Another Jewish terrorist group of the day was the Stern Gang or Lehi, which focused on driving the British from Palestine. Indeed, Lehi opposed joining with the British to fight Nazis.

With the founding of the United Nations, Great Britain turned the mandate over to the international community. The United Nations proceeded to partition Palestine into what were supposed to become two independent states, one Palestinian, the other Jewish, with Jerusalem to be an internationalized city (see Resolution 181 of 1947). Arab leaders rejected the plan. Before buying into the line that, therefore, it’s the Arabs’ fault that the violence continued, ask yourself this obvious question: Why should Arabs agree to the colonization of their homelands by European Jews facilitated by Western imperialist? The plan gave 56 percent of Palestine to the Jews, land that included three fertile lowland plains (the Sharon, the Jezreel Valley, and the upper Jordan Valley) and sole access to the Red Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Moreover, the partition placed 36 percent of Arabs—mostly Muslim—inside a Jewish state.

Notwithstanding Arab opposition (their opinion didn’t much matter to the West anyway), the Jewish settlers declared the state of Israel in mid-May 1948. Troops from surrounding Arab countries (Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Transjordan) joined with Palestinian irregulars to challenge the establishment of the Jewish state. Through the ensuring warfare, known as the Arab-Israeli War, Israel came to occupy 77 percent of Palestine, as well as two-thirds of Jerusalem. More than half of the indigenous Palestinian population was dispossessed and driven from their homeland during the fighting (a catastrophe known to Arabs as al Nakba). Egypt and Jordan occupied the remainder of the territory assigned by the partition resolution (Gaza and the West Bank).

This brings us to the Six Day War. The 1967 war began in June, when Israel attacked Egypt. Israel claimed that the attack was an act of “pre-emption,” to prevent a pending attack against Israel by the Egyptian army. It certainly didn’t appear that there was a pending attack. The Arab armies, in disarray, decisively lost the conflict, and Israel came to occupy the remaining territory of Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and annexed all of Jerusalem. In the process, Israel drove an estimated half million Palestinians from their homes, while placing thousands more under direct Israeli control. Moreover, Israel occupied territories in Egypt (the Sinai) and Syria (the Golan Heights).

In 1973, a coalition of Arab armies moved to recapture the Sinai and the Golan Heights. They score several early victories, but, assisted by the United States, the Israeli army gained the upper hand and pushed back the Arab armies. However, the losses sustained by Israel forced its leaders to the realization that they couldn’t continue antagonizing their Arab neighbors, and so Israel was forced to the negotiation table several times and made peace with surrounding countries. In all of this, however, Israel continued to occupy Palestine.

The international community is not on Israel’s side. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967 calls on Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied in the 1967 conflict. Israel refuses to comply with the resolution. In 1973, UN Security Council Resolution 338 called on Israel to implement Resolution 242. It has refused to comply with this and several subsequent resolutions, as well.

Indeed, undeterred by international law and sentiment, Israel continued its brutality against the Palestinian people. In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, its stated goals the destruction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Unprotected by Palestinian forces, which were assured the safety of Palestinians, Israeli troops carried out large-scale massacres of civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. It is estimated that Israeli forces slaughtered more than 3,000 refugees.

In response to Israeli terrorism, the International Conference on the Question of Palestine adopted in September 1983 the Geneva Declaration (see A/AC.183/SR.90 of 28 September 1983 and A/RES/38/58(A-E) of 13 December 1983), which, among other things, condemned the establishment of Jewish settlements in occupied territories and demanded the attainment of the legitimate, inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. With no action on the declaration, Palestinians rose up in December 1987. Israel brutally repressed the uprising, or intifada, killing and maiming scores of civilians.

Again, the international community moved to stop Israeli tyranny, convening the Peace Conference on the Middle East in October 1991 (see A/RES/46/75. International Peace Conference on the Middle East). It based the plan on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, what has been called the “land for peace” formula. An interim government led by the PLO was established in September 1993 and it appeared that, at last, progress was being made. However, in talks held in 2000 and 2001, Israelis and Palestinians failed to achieve a final status agreement. Western observers blame the failure to reach an agreement on the Palestinians; however, the offer the Israelis made to Palestinian negotiators were completely unacceptable and were understandably rejected (see The Myth of the Generous Offer).

It appears now that failing to reach a final status agreement was part of a larger plan. Nationalist politician Ariel Sharon visited the Al-Haram Al-Sharif thereby provoking the second intifada. Israel used the uprising as a pretext for reoccupying those areas under Palestinian self rule. It also began constructing a separation wall, which is located inside the occupied territory. The International Court of Justice ruled the wall illegal in 2004 (see The Court finds that the construction by Israel of a wall in the …). But this ruling hasn’t stopped the Israelis.

This is where it stands today. Palestine, the homeland of the Palestinian Arabs, has become de facto Israel.

Washington DC is safer than Baghdad

Have you seen this bit of nonsense circulating through the web?

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of the U.S. involvement in Iraq, here’s a sobering statistic:

There has been a monthly average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theatre of operations during the last 22 months, and a total of 2,112 deaths. That gives a firearm death rate of 60 per 100,000 soldiers.

The firearm death rate in Washington D.C. is 80.6 per 100,000 persons for the same period. That means that you are about 25% more likely to be shot and killed in the U.S. Capital than you are in Iraq.

Looking at 2005 statistics, the annual homicide rate in Washington DC is 35.4 per 100,000. Even if we double it we don’t get to 80.6. And that is all violent death – beatings, stabbings, etc. Moreover, violent deaths in Washington DC involves civilians. The Iraq statistic is death by guns among only United States soldiers. Apples and oranges. What is the violent death rate among Iraqi civilians? Given the likelihood that more 600,000 (and maybe as many as one million) Iraqis have died since the start of the occupation, it must be extremely high.

Here’s a more realistic comparison: Find out how many police officers – who, along with the Guard, represent the domestic military establishment of the United States – have been killed in Washington DC over the 22 months in question. Do you think it’s 2,112? Well, in 2006, 48 law enforcement officers were killed in the line-of-duty for the entire country. Only seven of them were killed in the entire Northeast!

What’s the murder rate in Baghdad? It’s 195.4 per 100,000 residents. Washington DC? 35.4 per 100,000. How many times more dangerous is Baghdad than Washington DC? Divide the former by the latter to get the result.

Washington DC is safer than Baghdad.

Hidden in Plain Sight

The paragraphs included below come from the introduction of the Trilateral Commissions Task Force Report no. 8, titled The Crisis of Democracy, published in 1975 by the Trilateral Commission and New York University Press. According to the Trilateral Commission web page, where I obtained the text, the report is out of print.

The authors of report are Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, and Joji Watanuki, each from a domain in the theory of trilateralism, which holds that Europe, the US, and Japan are each the centers of spheres of capitalism. At the time, Michel Crozier was found and director of the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, Paris and senior research director of the Centre Nationale de Recherche Scientifique; Samuel P. Huntington was Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government, Harvard University and associate director for the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University; and Joji Watanuki, was a sociology professor at Sophia University, Tokyo.

Three paragraphs are quite important as they identify what the Trilateral Commission, a organization of global elites dedicated to shaping world evolution to their advantage (privilege and wealth needs), believed represented the three greatest threats to democracy. I will summarize the three threats here and then leave you to read the excerpt.

The first threat to democracy were those intellecuals who existed outside the circle of power, as they were critical of that charmed circle and the structural basis for it – in other words, those intellectuals who were advancing another vision of democracy, one not based on state monopoly capitalism and bourgeois democracy (limited republicanism), but one based on popular democracy, which required a different type of economic organization, one in which the workers and their organizations and representatives ran things instead of the capitalists and their managers. In other words, a framework in which the economy was subject to democratic control, not the other way around.

The second threat to democracy were those young Americans who were, because of lives lived largely deviant of and even in rebellion to the goals of the capitalist state, were dangerously less than optimally patriotic. Here the authors were identifying the countercultural movement of the 1960s and early 1970s.

The third threat was democracy itself. Democracy cannot be the framework in which life happens, according to the point of view of elites, because it leads to people believing that they actually control their own lives. Democracy has to be ultimately controlled by an outside force – the economic and military sectors of advanced civilization – in order to avoid self-destruction, i.e., socialism. To clarify, trialterialists see order as a tripartite structure, a balance of military, economic, and government forces. The economy and military are not controlled democratically, but rather keep democracy in check. This is a fundamentally authoritarian construction, which is, of course, why the democratic movement of the 1960s was so threatening to the power elite.

As you read through these carefully constructed paragraphs, crafted mainly by Huntington (a judgment based on familiarity with these author’s respective work), pay close attention to the actual meaning of the argument. The authors are arguing that the greatest threat to bourgeois democracy are those democrats, both intellectuals and workers, who believe that democracy ought to actually fulfill its promise along the lines of C. Wright Mills’ definition of democracy offered in the Sociological Imagination: “Democracy means the power and the freedom of those controlled by the law to change the law, according to agreed-upon rules — and even to change those rules; but more than that, it means some kind of collective self-control over the structural mechanics of history itself.” He summed his views up later in this fashion: “In essence, democracy implies that those vitally affected by any decision men make have an effective voice in that decision.”

Now, without further ado, I give you the Trilaterialists….

At the present time, a significant challenge comes from the intellectuals and related groups who assert their disgust with the corruption, materialism, and inefficiency of democracy and with the subservience of democratic government to “monopoly capitalism.” The development of an “adversary culture” among intellectuals has affected students, scholars, and the media. Intellectuals are, as Schumpeter put it, “people who wield the power of the spoken and the written word, and one of the touches that distinguish them from other people who do the same is the absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs,”3 In some measure, the advanced industrial societies have spawned a stratum of value-oriented intellectuals who often devote themselves to the derogation of leadership, the challenging of authority, and the unmasking and delegitimation of established institutions, their behavior contrasting with that of the also increasing numbers of technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals. In an age of widespread secondary school and university education, the pervasiveness of the mass media, and the displacement of manual labor by clerical and professional employees, this development constitutes a challenge to democratic government which is, potentially at least, as serious as those posed in the past by the aristocratic cliques, fascist movements, and communist parties.

In addition to the emergence of the adversary intellectuals and their culture, a parallel and possibly related trend affecting the viability of democracy concerns broader changes in social values. In all three Trilateral regions, a shift in values is taking place away from the materialistic work-oriented, public-spirited values toward those which stress private satisfaction, leisure, and the need for “belonging and intellectual and esthetic self-fulfillment.”4 These values are, of course, most notable in the younger generation. They often coexist with greater skepticism towards political leaders and institutions and with greater alienation from the political processes. They tend to be privatistic in their impact and import. The rise of this syndrome of values, is presumably related to the relative affluence in which most groups in the Trilateral societies came to share during the economic expansion of the 1960s. The new values may not survive recession and resource shortages. But if they do, they pose an additional new problem for democratic government in terms of its ability to mobilize its citizens for the achievement of social and political goals and to impose discipline and sacrifice upon its citizens in order to achieve those goals.

Finally, and perhaps most seriously, there are the intrinsic challenges to the viability of democratic government which grow directly out of the functioning of democracy. Democratic government does not necessarily function in a self-sustaining or self-correcting equilibrium fashion. It may instead function so as to give rise to forces and tendencies which, if unchecked by some outside agency, will eventually lead to the undermining of democracy.

Judging the Religious

Christ mosaic Clyde Monastery Chapel

I will criticize any candidate for public office who believes in the supernatural. What is more, because some religions are worse than others, I may actually prefer the candidate whose religious views I judge to be less harmful to society. History records JFK’s candidacy as a great trump of civil rights because the nation looked past his Catholicism. But voting against JFK for his Catholicism is not analogous to voting against a presidential candidate because he is black or because she is a woman. Unlike skin color, religion has a substance. If one day the Supreme Court is dominated by Catholics, we will be justified in worrying about reproductive freedom in America. 

Marriage, Equal Protection, and the Separation of Church and State

On Monday, the state supreme court of Connecticut (one of four states that observes civil unions for homosexual couples) became the first in the United States to hear arguments concerning the charge that the establishment of civil unions creates an inferior status for gays and lesbians. The argument moved quickly to the question of whether the doctrine of equal protection covers discrimination against homosexuality. Jane Rosenberg, assistant attorney general for the state, said no. It’s a policy question to be determined by legislators and not court fiat, she argued. Bennett Klein, an attorney representing eight homosexual couples, disagreed. He contends that the question goes to the heart of equal protection doctrine.

The core of the dispute turns on the question of whether homosexuals deserve special legal protections on the basis that they are a suspect class, a categorization requiring evidence of a history of discrimination and political powerlessness. If it were determined by the court that homosexuals constitute a suspect class, then the state would have to present a rational basis or some compelling interest for distinguishing between homosexual and heterosexual couples.

But there is a more important issue here. Should the state be conferring upon anybody, homosexual or otherwise, the status of marriage at all? In arguing his case, Klein noted that “marriage is not just a bunch of legal rights.” Indeed. Marriage is more than this—it’s a religious status. In a country founded on the separation of church and state, what in God’s name is the state doing? To be consistent with the principles of the country, the state should only recognize civil unions—a legal contractual arrangement between two consenting adults. In other words, the problem goes well beyond the state denying couples religious status. The core problem is the state awarding religious status to citizens of any sort.

It’s really quite simple. If a couple wants to get married, then all they need to do is find a church that will marry them and perform the ritual. If they want the state to recognize them as domestic partners, then they need to apply for a civil union and have a justice of the peace join them together. Keep the state out of religious ritual.

Sanitizing an Authoritarian Situation

According to a just released Army study of 1,767 troops, almost half of US soldiers surveyed said that they should be able to use torture to gather information about insurgents and to save the lives of fellow soldiers. More than half said that they would not report a team member for mistreating civilians or for destroying property unnecessarily. “Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect,” the authors of the study report. Around ten percent of soldiers said they had mistreated civilians. These attitudes are contrary to Army rules, not to mention international law, which forbid torture and require the humane treatment of civilians and prisoners.

The capitalist propaganda machine is focusing on the question of training in battlefield ethics, as if further instruction in the value of basic moral conduct can change the mind and behavior of men involved in the nasty business of war and occupation, men who sought a job where the primary task is to kill and maim people and destroy property. In learning how to carry out this task, military training and the battlefield experience stirs and reinforces authoritarian attitudes in men who were, in many cases, drawn to the job by their already-existing sadistic leanings, attitudes learned by living in a capitalist-patriarchal-racist society, a society in which the weak and different are despised and abused, the aggressive and dispassionate are glorified, and violence is taught as a legitimate means for resolving conflict. The problems of brutalization, torture, and vandalism are inherent in the fascist state of mind that inegalitarian and militarist society and organizations amplify and produce. Indeed, the United States is a country in which even leading liberal intellectuals, such as Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, can contend that torture is acceptable and still enjoy their status as authorities in moral matters and civil liberties discourse.

Furthermore, what the state defines as inappropriate behavior legitimates much of the horror of war that state actors assert is appropriate. Condemning the intentional brutalization of civilians and prisoners of war at the hands of individual soldiers whitewashes the intentional brutalization of human beings that occurs under the direction of military commanders and their civilian counterparts. If the US military bombs an apartment building in which civilians are living because there is an “insurgent” or “terrorist” present, an act the state considers appropriate, it is still perpetrating a deeply immoral act. Deft at doublespeak, the military propagandists rationalize the killing and maiming of innocent bystanders, along with the destruction of property and the environment, as “collateral damage,” necessary because there was a “target of opportunity” to be “neutralized” in a “surgical strike” using “smart munitions.” (When off camera, collateral damage is “bug splat.”) As terrible as it is that soldiers use morally-neutralizing language when justifying their own indecent acts, the government uses such language to redefine its immoral actions as morally-upright conduct.

It should shock you that your government labels civilians defending their homeland from invasion and occupation as “irregulars” and “terrorists”; hides the deportation and transfer of prisoners to countries not burdened by international law for the purpose of torturing them under the legalism of “rendition”; puts prisoners of war outside international conventions by labeling them “illegal combatants”; soft sells torture as “interrogation techniques and methods”; permits the bombing of civilians and shooting of journalists, women and children in “free fire zones”; describes the killing of human beings as “neutralizing,” “taking down,” and “taking out” the enemy, as “servicing the target” and “shaping the battlefield,” sometimes requiring “softening the target” to allow for easy “insertion” of military personnel; characterizes unprovoked war — that is, war of aggression — as “pre-emptive action”; describes mercenaries as “security contractors”; and redefines the means by which “collateral damage” is produced — bombs and missiles — as “ordnance.”

All this is the doublespeak of the authoritarian. Accepting and adopting this language — euphemisms designed to clean up the messiness of mass murder and the destruction of land and infrastructure — will change your cognitive stance towards the crimes of war and occupation. Internalizing the doublespeak will make you cold and callus. 

Michel Foucault once wrote, “Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.” This particular society we live in — the United States of America — is fascist in certain of its elements. The complex strategical situation of fascism is one that depends fundamentally on an authoritarian state of mind. Fascism is the “strategic adversary,” Foucault argues; “the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.”

We must struggle against the authoritarianism all around us. But we must also struggle against the authoritarianism inside each of us. We cannot stand for the cleansing of the language of war and occupation. We must refuse to allow corporate propagandists to separate out bad soldiers from the bad venture that employs them.

Buying the War and What I Knew Long Before Then

Bill Moyer’s excellent PBS report Buying the War scrutinizes the media coverage in the run-up to the Iraq war. The five-chapter program is available for viewing on-line. It’s must-see TV. Follow this link:

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/btw/watch.html

On March 4, 2003, I gave a talk, “Bush’s Dream of a Democratic Middle-East,” at the Plea for Peace Teach-in, held on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay. I told a large audience of students and professors that what the Bush administration was telling the world about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s ties to al Qaeda was more than error – it was a pack of lies.

In 2004, I published the study “War Hawks and the Ugly American: The Origins of Bush’s Central Asia and Middle East Policy,” in a German-language book edited by Bernd Hamm. The book has been translated into English as Devastating Society: The Neo-conservative Assault on Democracy and Justice, published by Pluto Press in 2005. My study has also been translated into Arabic and Indonesian.

I had no special access to classified materials. I had worked neither with government organizations nor with media operations. All my information was gathered from reports and news stories, and my conclusions were the result of putting my training as a social scientist to work analyzing facts, studying history, and checking logic.

I am saying this to make the point that nobody who was in a position to know then can now legitimately claim to have been ignorant of the facts in the run-up to the war. So when people who should have known tell you that they didn’t know, you know what to tell them.