From September 1939 to December 1941, Americans debated the role the United States should play in World War II, which was then ravaging Europe. Should America actively support the Allies, especially Britain, by providing direct financial and indirect military aid? Or should America maintain its traditional role of nonintervention? (World War I had been the sole exception.)
In 1941, the dispute intensified into what has been called the Great Debate, although the term is sometimes used to describe the entire discussion. Throughout most of the year, conflict raged in Congress, over radio waves, in print, on soap boxes, in lecture halls, from pulpits, and over kitchen tables.
Those who wanted to intervene had the great advantage of presidential power, but it is not clear which side would have prevailed had the debate continued. But on the morning of December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On December 8, the United States declared war on Japan. On the 11th, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States; America reciprocated. Discussion was effectively over.
Defining the debate
In general terms, those who wanted to intervene argued that American security rested on defeating Germany, and so America should actively assist Britain and the Allied powers, largely through supplying their war needs (few called for military involvement before Pearl Harbor). The other side argued that America had no vital interest in the conflict. Active assistance would draw America directly into the war and, so, deeply damage America economically, politically, and in terms of lives lost.
The debate is often portrayed as “internationalists” versus “isolationists,” but this characterization is misleading. The so-called internationalists were often sympathetic to only a few favored nations. They were often “isolationist” or protectionist in other areas such as trade, where they advocated high tariffs to favor domestic goods and labor. Moreover, their definition of internationalism sometimes devolved to an advocacy of American dominance rather than that of global partnership.
The “isolationists” are even more difficult to fit under one label. In his essay “American Anti-Interventionist Tradition,” Justus Doenecke observed that
So-called isolationists often sought to increase foreign trade, endorsed noncoercive forms of international organization, fostered cultural interchange, and supported relief and recovery. In fact, they might take pains to deny they were isolationists, preferring the name anti-interventionist, neutralist, or nationalist.
What united them was a common opposition to America’s entry into World War II. The reasons for opposition varied as widely as did their political makeup, which spanned from far Right to far Left.
A more accurate description of the debate, therefore, is interventionist versus anti-interventionist.
The timing of the debate was significant in at least two ways.
First: Around the globe — e.g., in Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union — national-security states were consolidating. These were states at perpetual war with “the enemy,” both external (hostile nations) and internal (dissident citizens). America would either be drawn into a scenario created by such states or it would maintain neutrality and, so, remain American. Many noninterventionists believed that war would replace the free American system with government control in the form of labor conscription, monopolies, military-industrial corporations, price controls, and so on.
Second: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) had assumed the presidency (1933–1945) with a clear focus upon domestic policy, especially the economy. Only as fascism spread across Europe and communism across Asia did FDR’s attention significantly shift to foreign policy.
Then, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany. Prior to the invasion of Poland, FDR’s foreign policy had stressed the protection of America’s strategic and economic interests in Europe. Afterward, America’s position remained officially neutral but FDR clearly favored the Allies. For example, in a September 3rd “fireside chat” broadcast, he declared neutrality, but he also waited two days before invoking the Neutrality Acts, so that the Allies could quickly buy the war materials they needed without impediment.
Prelude to the great debate
On September 21, FDR asked a special session of Congress to revise the Neutrality Acts to allow a policy of “cash-and-carry.” The policy allowed America to sell war materials to any belligerent who paid up front and assumed all risk of transportation. In effect, however, cash-and-carry assisted Britain and not Germany because the latter was cash-strapped and unable to travel safely across a British-dominated Atlantic. Thus the policy preserved a veneer of neutrality while aiding Britain and boosting the American economy.
Prominent anti-interventionists openly challenged FDR. Today, the best remembered of these voices may be Senator Robert A. Taft, but back then the one man with sufficient public appeal to counter FDR’s own was the renowned aviator Charles Lindbergh. In September, Lindbergh began broadcasting a series of speeches over the radio. The first, entitled “America and European Wars” argued that “by fighting for democracy abroad we may end by losing it at home.” Lindbergh also published articles in popular print venues such as Reader’s Digest. Although he was far from alone in his advocacy — for example, Senator Gerald P. Nye vociferously opposed the cash-and-carry policy — it was Lindbergh who was its popular voice.
During this time, the conflict in Europe entered a phase now known as the Phoney War. This period of inactivity spanned the winter 1939–1940.
In April 1940, the Phoney War ended when Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. Shortly afterward, Belgium, Holland, and France were invaded. Thus, an urgency suffused the debate.
At the same time, the British had taken huge losses in the materials they were shipping home due to German U-boat attacks; they could no longer afford a cash-and-carry arrangement. At a December 17 press conference, FDR proposed another policy, called Lend-Lease. FDR described Lend-Lease in terms of watching a neighbor’s house burn down. He asked, “What do I do in such a crisis? I don’t say … ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it’ — I don’t want $15 — I want my garden hose back after the fire is over.”
The policy aimed at giving the President broad power to “sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of” war materials. This would have allowed FDR to give war material to Britain (and others) without immediate payment. Instead, the recipients would give the materials back after the war or simply pay for them then in some manner. A September 1940 agreement called Destroyers for Bases provided one precedent; 50 U.S. WWI destroyers were exchanged for leases on several military bases to which Britain held rights.
In his 1941 State of the Union address, FDR reiterated Lend-Lease and confirmed the fears of anti-interventionists who believed war would destroy the free American economy. FDR declared, “To change a whole nation from a basis of peacetime production of implements of peace to a basis of wartime production of implements of war is no small task.”
And, yet, the American people were in favor of actively assisting Britain. What they opposed was any direct entry into the war. A February 1941 Gallup poll found 54 percent of Americans approved of Lend-Lease without qualification; 15 percent approved with qualifications such as avoiding war; and 22 percent were absolutely against Lend-Lease.
In February, 1941, the Lend-Lease bill arrived at Congress, where it faced stiff opposition from Republicans. Nevertheless, the Democrat-dominated House voted along party lines and passed the bill; the Senate also secured passage. On March 11, the bill was signed into law. In April, the program was expanded to include China. America was now what FDR proudly called “the arsenal of democracy.” Neutrality was now a technicality.
The America First Committee
No organization better expresses the anti-interventionist side of the Great Debate than the America First Committee (AFC).
The immensely influential AFC was rooted in a student organization founded in 1940 by Yale Law School student and future CEO of Quaker Oats R. Douglas Stuart Jr., along with several other students, including future Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and future President Gerald Ford. By September 7, the AFC announced its nationwide status and established headquarters in Chicago. It attracted high-profile activists including Lindbergh; Robert E. Wood, the chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Company; Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of former President Theodore Roosevelt; John T. Flynn, a well-known journalist and founder of the New York chapter; Norman Thomas, a prominent socialist and pacifist; as well as Senators Burton K. Wheeler (D), David I. Walsh (D) and Gerald P. Nye (R).
On December 17, when FDR first proposed a Lend-Lease bill, the anti-interventionists were galvanized. The AFC aggressively criticized the policy as well as FDR the man. Calling FDR a liar, it petitioned nationwide for the enforcement of the Neutrality Act and to force FDR to fulfill his earlier pledge to stay out of war. The AFC announced four key principles to ensure America’s neutrality:
- The United States must build an impregnable defense for America.
- No foreign power, nor group of powers, can successfully attack a prepared America.
- American democracy can be preserved only by keeping out of the European war.
- “Aid short of war” weakens national defense at home and threatens to involve America in war abroad.
Passage of the Lend-Lease bill created more debate. For example, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Lend-Lease program was extended to that nation; the AFC protested vehemently that Stalin was no better than Hitler. When FDR attempted to assist British ships in the Atlantic by ordering the U.S. Navy to fire upon German submarines, the AFC accused him of waging war against Germany without a congressional declaration. At every step toward war, the AFC positioned itself as a barrier.
It sponsored rallies in small towns and cities, it promoted lectures and radio broadcasts, it distributed useful data to members of Congress and published rousing literature. One circular asked “Are you willing to give up democracy?” and referred to Lend-Lease as a “war dictatorship bill” that handed “absolute power” to FDR.
With some genuine success, Edgar J. Hoover and the FBI countered the AFC’s momentum; they attempted to smear its members as pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic or subversive. Nevertheless, the organization continued to grow, simply because the majority of Americans did not want to enter the war. At its peak, AFC boasted approximately 800,000 members in several hundred chapters.
And then Pearl Harbor occurred. Popular opinion turned on a dime and favored the rapid declaration of war. On December 11, the same day Germany and Italy declared war on America, the AFC disbanded and released the statement,
Our principles were right. Had they been followed, war could have been avoided. No good purpose can now be served by considering what might have been, had our objectives been attained. We are at war.
Today, it is common to view the anti-interventionists as “isolationists” who naively under-estimated Hitler or espoused Fortress America. But, as Doenecke observed,
They were presenting a competing world vision … that force, separated from abstract principles of international law and self-determination of nations, merely institutionalized chaotic and destructive power politics.
Anti-interventionists were also presenting a competing domestic vision
that lengthy foreign conflicts would only weaken a nation, limiting the freedom and opportunities of Americans in ways that they thought crucial. In short, real dangers were internal, centering on the nature of the American republic as they had understood and experienced it.
Wendy McElroy is the author of The Reasonable Woman: A Guide to Intellectual Survival (Prometheus Books, 1998). She actively manages two websites: http://www.ifeminists.com and http://www.wendymcelroy.com.
Word that the Los Angeles Police, who sent in 1200 officers in riot gear to violently rout a few hundred Occupy Movement demonstrators from their LA encampment last week, had earlier sent 12 young undercover officers into the peaceful occupation camp to spy on the activists should come as no surprise.
Nor should wild and unsubstantiated claims–clearly bogus–that these spies overheard some of the protesters supposedly planning to sharpen bamboo sticks to use as weapons against police, come as a surprise either. Since the national Occupy Movement is by design rigorously non-violent, and since there has been not one example of occupiers using violence against police, even when attacked, if any of the police spies really heard such talk it had to have been coming either from some provocateur on the payroll of the FBI or one of the plethora of other federal intelligence agencies, or from another of the 12 LAPD undercover cops which were so well disguised they didn’t recognize each other. (No such handmade weapons were in evidence during the police assault on the occupation, and no arrests were made of anyone allegedly making such plans.)
The LAPD has a long, sordid history of undercover activity, including provocateur activity, being used against peaceful protesters and anti-establishment groups, dating to the early part of the last century. More recently, the late LAPD police chief Daryl Gates famously operated, first under Chief Ed Davis, when Gates was director of the so-called Public Disorder Intelligence Division (PDID) and later as chief of the department, a massive spying operation that boasted dozens and perhaps over 100 officers working undercover. These cop spies were used not to attack organized or serious crime, but to monitor and gather dossiers on nonviolent political activists, nearly entirely on the left.
In the 1950s, LAPD spies regularly infiltrated leftist labor and political organizations considered to be Communist or “fellow travelers” of the CP, as well as civil rights organizations. In the ‘60s, the PDID was used extensively to infiltrate anti-war organizations and black nationalist organizations.
In the mid-1970s, as the anti-war movement faded away, the PDID spy net widened substantially. I had my own experience with the broad reach of this LAPD’s spy unit, when I was a co-founder of a non-sectarian leftist alternative weekly newspaper, the Los Angeles Vanguard.
The LAPD Red Squad spy operation has a long ugly history of repression
I and my fellow Vanguard members learned, several years after our venture had folded for economic reasons, that the PDID had sent a young officer tasked to it who was just out of the Police Academy to join our staff as a volunteer. The woman, Connie Milazzo, posed as a journalist wannabe, and asked for assignments, which we dutifully gave her. She also often volunteered to answer the phones in our office when we’d go to lunch — which gave her an opportunity to talk to our sources if they called, and also to rifle our files, which of course were left on our desks.
Even worse, the LAPD, we later learned, went to the executive of an ad agency we had hired to sell corporate ad space for us, and used the drug arrest of his son to extort him and get him to have the person assigned to sell ads for us only pretend to be trying to do so, while collecting a significant part of our weekly revenues. This deceitful tactic succeeded in driving us out of business, as we simply concluded that we could not generate enough co-op ads to support the operation, and folded it in 1978.
When we finally learned, long after the paper had been shut down, of Milazzo’s true identity, and it became clear she had also infiltrated a number of other left groups, it led to a lawsuit by the ACLU of Southern California which uncovered the truth that the PDID had sent out 20 such young officers as spies to infiltrate 200 Los Angeles organizations, including such “dangerous” outfits as the National Organization for Women, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, and the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky!
Much of what the PDID did in its heyday was laughable, in retrospect, but much of it was truly horrible. One undercover operative actually wormed his way into membership in a left-wing political party, and became the live-in lover of a woman member of that group for nearly a year–a long sexual and “romantic” relationship which of course was simply a cynical sham and a cover for the operative (with privileges). This is the depth to which the LAPD can sink.
The disclosure that the LAPD, with its long history of abuses, was infiltrating the Occupy Movement should lead to an immediate lawsuit against the department to ferret out exactly what these undercover cops actually did. How much of their activity was simply intelligence gathering — bad enough of a violation of the civil rights and First Amendment freedoms of the activists, who were committing no crimes–and how much was provocateur-type work, trying to set the movement, or people in it, up for planning violence against property or the police? We need to know. Hopefully, in addition to filing a lawsuit, the LA Occupy activists will simultaneously conduct an investigation among themselves to try and ascertain who those cops were and what they were saying and doing as they posed as activists.
But the revelation that the LAPD was spying should also alert the Occupy Movement groups across the country that they too were and probably still are being infiltrated and spied on. The pattern of attacks on occupation encampments around the country over the last two weeks has been so similar, and the information about national coordination so convincing already, that it seems almost certain to me at least that it is as likely that police everywhere were spying and perhaps engaging in provocateur activities as we know it was that they shared strategies like attacking encampments at night, using overwhelming numbers, force and violence, applying weapons like pepper spray, rubber bullets and batons, and keeping the press at bay.
It is all of a piece.
My suggestion at this point is that the Occupation Movement, at least in cities where there is a Federal Reserve Bank, which would include San Francisco, New York, Dallas, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Richmond, Washington, Philadelphia and Boston, move their operations to those federal properties. That puts the onus for future repression out of the hands of local police and directly on the Obama administration. If nothing else, it eliminates any chance of the Democratic Party trying to co-opt the movement, since any attacks on those encampments would be directly tied to the Obama Administration’s “Justice” Department and Homeland Security Department. Federal Reserve Banks are protected by Federal Reserve Police, who after 9-11 were designated by an act of Congress as Federal Law Enforcement officers. As such they are answerable to the Homeland Security Department and ultimately to the White House.
Like other federal and local police, these guys can be heavily armed. They are also authorized to carry pepper spray, which seems to be the popular weapon of choice for the new American gestapo to use against demonstrators against capitalism’s crimes, so demonstrators should be prepared.
But at least by forcing the federal government to be the assailant in confrontations over demonstrations and occupation encampments, the real enemy will be made more clear. It is not, after all, city governments that have been catering to, empowering and fawning on the corporate oligarchy, but rather the federal government–both Congress and the White House.
An additional benefit of adopting the tactic of occupying federal property is that it would make the charges filed against activists federal, instead of local, and would put the cases in federal courts, where there is at least more of a likelihood than in corrupt state and municipal courts of getting a decent judge who respects the Constitution and its protection of the right of assembly, free speech and address of grievances. This is particularly true in relatively liberal districts like San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New York.
Detail of an Israeli map appearing in the Guardian last weekend (full view)
An Israeli tourism map appearing in the Guardian last weekend rendered occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories as part of “Israel”.
The map very much appears to be in breach of UK advertising regulations. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in 2009 upheld complaints against an Israeli tourism bilboard because it included a similar map, ruling the ad “must not appear again in its current form”.
The three-page advertising spread from the Israeli tourism ministry in the Guardian Weekend is part of what increasingly looks like a major new advertising campaign in the UK.
On the map, the occupied West Bank is labeled “Judea” and “Samaria” (names from religious texts used by Israeli colonists). The West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights are delineated only by a faint dotted line. Under international law, all three are occupied territories. The West Bank and Gaza are Palestinian, and the Golan is part of Syria. All three were invaded by Israel in 1967.
“Systems breakdown” at the Guardian
On Monday the Guardian issued a correction stating the ad “did not distinguish clearly between Israel” and the occupied Arab territories.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is encouraging people to complain to the ASA and the Guardian. The *Guardian *has written to a PSC supporter apologizing, saying they usually “carefully check any potentially controversial adverts prior to publication, however in this instance we had a systems breakdown and did not do so”. The Guardian also said the ASA is currently investigating the ad.
The ad is part of what seems to be a major recent campaign in the UK. Large billboards have appeared in public spaces encouraging people to “Think Israel”.
The website to this campaign contains an even more offensive (and racist) map [PDF]. The West Bank appears even more solidly absorbed into “Israel proper” (without even a dotted line), with mysteriously empty pink and yellow blobs appearing where Palestinians live in built-up areas. There is no clue that the Golan is anything more than a part of “northern Israel”.
The website’s home page also offers links to “Christian themes” and “Jewish themes” but no “Muslim themes”, wiping the Islamic heritage of Palestine off the map.
Israeli tourism ministry contempt for ASA
To what extent this is part of the “Brand Israel” strategy is debatable. Whatever the case, the ASA should be asked what action it will take against the Israeli tourist board for continuing to violate its rules.
The campaign has also appeared in brochures distributed on British Airways flights, as discovered by The Electronic Intifada in October.
Last month the ASA also ruled against an ad in the Zionist-slanted Jewish Chronicle that it said was “misleading” and so “must not appear again in its current form”, because it had advertised an illegal West Bank colony as part of “Israel”.
West Bank – Settlers from Avraham Avino targeted Palestinians in the Old Souq in Hebron during the Saturday market on December 3rd 2011. At approximately 11 AM Five unmasked settlers, aged around 20-30, threw concrete blocks down from a roof above the Old City at the booths outside of the shops, and at the people passing. The blocks were of considerable size – each weighing around 5-10 kilos. As they were thrown from a height of eight meters, anyone hit would be severely maimed or killed. Some of the blocks became lodged in the roof above the shops while some landed in the street.
To access the Souq the settlers had to pass over the roofs of several Palestinian families in clear view of the military posts that are stationed on the rooftops. They were standing next to a military post as they threw the concrete blocks – uninterrupted by the military. “If it was a Palestinian (throwing stones from a roof), he [the soldier] would shoot him!” a shop owner said.
A witness identified two of the settlers as people who had taken part in an attack on Palestinians two years ago when the Eawawy family’s home was burned down. The arson was investigated by the Israeli police, as the Old City is in Israeli controlled H2, but the police have failed to take action even though the perpetrators have been identified. The shopkeepers were reluctant to report today’s attack to the police due to the Israeli authority´s failure to investigate settler attacks.
International observers arrived at the area before the military, who arrived after they had been contacted by the Temporary International Presence in the City of Hebron (TIPH). Attacks by settlers who live next to the Old City are frequent and the residents have had to attach netting above shops and streets to protect frequently targeted areas.
Egyptians in the United States staged fresh protests on Friday outside the Combined Systems Inc. (CSI) firm in Pennsylvania, which is believed to be the manufacturer of the tear gas used by Egyptian security forces.
At least 43 protesters were killed in week-long clashes with security forces that erupted on 19 November near the Interior Ministry building in downtown Cairo. Eyewitnesses and medical sources reported that many protesters suffocated due to intensive use of tear gas by police.
The protesters outside CSI, who were joined by Occupy Wall Street activists, laid on the ground and played dead to denounce the export of tear gas to Egypt and other Arab states. Some of the firm’s employees tried to forcibly remove the protesters.
The demonstrators wore eye patches in solidarity with several protesters in Cairo who lost their eyes due to rubber bullets used by security forces during the encounters.
Meanwhile, a number of Washington-based Egyptians and Americans have submitted a memo to the White House in which they call for halting the export of tear gas to Arab states, as it is being used to hurt peaceful demonstrators.
Protests outside the Egyptian consulates in New York and Canada also took place in solidarity with demonstrators in Cairo.
Ankara – The report just issued by the UN Human Rights Council’s ‘independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic’ is now being passed along the line to the UN Security Council, with the recommendation by the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, that the Syrian government be referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.
In its terms of reference the commission describes itself as a ‘fact-finding body’ based on the standard of ‘reasonable suspicion’. Yet if there is anything that characterizes this document, it is the lack of attention to fact. The report is based on accusations, allegations and claims against the Syrian government which it does not even attempt to verify. It repeats the claim that the Syrian government’s security forces are responsible for the deaths of 3500 people – the figure usually given – when there is strong prima facie evidence that a large number of the dead, civilians as well as soldiers, have been the victims of armed gangs operating across the country. It does not even say where it picked up this figure, since increased to 4000 by Navi Pillay, or whether it has any independent evidence that it is accurate.
Two central questions needed to be dealt with if this commission wanted to get at the facts. First, how much truth is there in the allegations being made against the Syrian government and its security forces? Here the commission records the allegations but makes no attempt to verify them. Thus the facts remain unknown. Second, how much truth is there in the allegations made by the Syrian government? Here the commission does not even deal with the allegations. Despite this bias, the result is the same: the facts remain unknown.
The commission says it interviewed 223 victims and witnesses of alleged human rights violations, ‘including civilians and defectors from the military and security forces’. It does not say who these people are, where it got their names from, why they were chosen and who covered the costs of their travel and accommodation. It indicates that other sources of its information include ‘non-government organizations, human rights defenders, journalists and experts’. As this same group is the source of many of the unsubstantiated if not patently false accusations (i.e. dead people who have turned up alive) appearing in the mainstream media, it is obviously important to know precisely which organizations and individuals helped the commission and what the information was that they supplied, but the commission does not say.
The commission regrets that the Syrian government, ‘despite many requests’, failed to engage in dialogue ‘and grant the commission access to the country’. But as the Syrian government points out, in a letter printed as an annex to this report, it had established its own Independent Special Legal Commission, with sub-commissions operating across Syria since the end of March, and therefore would not be able to provide the UN commission with the material it wanted until it had concluded its own inquiries. However, because it could not accommodate itself to the commission’s timetable, it is accused of failing to cooperate.
On September 12 the president of the Human Rights Council (Laura Dupuy Lasserre) appointed three ‘high level experts’ as members of the commission of inquiry: Paulo Pinheiro (chairman), Yakin Ertürk and Karen Koning AbuZayd. They were required to produce their report by the end of November, with an update to be handed in by March, 2012. There is no indication of why the end of November was chosen for the deadline and not December or January, giving the commission more time to investigate the allegations being made. The time frame was extremely constricted given the work load. Within the space of six weeks (end of September to the middle of November), 223 witnesses were interviewed and a report prepared. The commission’s mandated task was ‘to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic, to establish the facts and circumstances that may amount to such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and where possible to identify those responsible with a view of ensuring that perpetrators of violations, including those that may constitute crimes against humanity, are held accountable’. This clearly could not be done in six weeks. The apparent rush to get the report out will raise questions in many minds about timing, given the way in which the net is being closed around the Syrian government by those who want to bring it down.
The commission presents one side of the story throughout. For virtually every claim it makes there is a counter narrative which it ignores. One such claim involves the use of snipers. The commission says or implies that they were state security forces. There is countervailing evidence of armed civilians shooting at demonstrators to throw the blame on to the state. Perhaps there is truth in both versions, but both versions needed to be considered. The fact remains that the identity of these snipers is not known.
The report alleges that roadblocks and security checks were set up to prevent people from joining demonstrations but makes no mention of allegations of roadblocks being set up by armed gangs and the consequent kidnapping and killing of civilians. It refers to killings and arrests at Jisr al Shughur but not the evidence of the massacre of soldiers and civilians around the town in July: even if only prima facie it deserved to be considered. It produces claims of torture and killing ‘reportedly’ taking place in Homs military hospital ‘by security forces dressed as doctors and allegedly acting with the complicity of medical personnel’. Such a serious charge surely needs more to back it up than ‘reportedly’. The report mentions the raid on a mosque in Dar’a early in the protest movement but not the stockpile of weapons found there. It refers to the torture and murder in custody of two teenage boys and claims that up to November 9, ‘reliable sources’ indicated that 256 children had been killed by state forces. This is such a serious accusation that some corroborative evidence was needed but there is nothing, not the name even of one of these children and not the circumstances in which they were allegedly killed.
It quotes a ‘defector’ (no evidence that this person actually is one) as being told by his commander to ‘disperse the crowd or eliminate everybody including children’. There is no supporting evidence for this accusation. The state security forces are accused of rape but there is no mention of the cases of rape reported by the Syrian authorities to have been committed by armed gangs as part of their project to terrorize and intimidate the civilian population. The army is accused of using tanks and heavy weapons against residential buildings. These accusations are denied by the government. Furthermore, if they were used, were the civilians inside those buildings armed and shooting at the army, as seems to have been the case at Homs and probably elsewhere? The commission does not mention the use of heavy weapons by armed men against the army. Apparently it has not seen the videos of the charred bodies of soldiers lying beside burnt-out tanks. The commission’s statement that it is ‘aware of acts of violence committed by demonstrators’ is a minor point beside the violence of the armed gangs. The substantial body of evidence of their crimes surely needed to be considered if the human rights of all Syrians and not just those who have died at the hands of state security forces are to be taken into account.
In short, this report does not even meet its own ‘lower standard of proof’. In fact, and this seems to be the only fact insofar as this report is concerned, there is little proof of anything. The commission perhaps needed to be reminded that the ‘defectors’ and the Syrian National Council do not represent the Syrian people. Bashar al Assad’s personal popularity plays out well for his government amongst a normally skeptical people. His face has been the focal point of demonstrations of support by millions of people in recent months. If anything, sanctions imposed by the US, the EU, the Arab League and Turkey, along with the constant threat of force, seem to have strengthened public support for Bashar and his government. The commission certainly would have had no difficulty in finding Syrians prepared to come to Geneva to tell another side of the story. Apparently there was no room for them and no interest in what they had to say.
We have just seen what has been done to Libya in the name of human rights and the ‘responsibility to protect’. Uncounted thousands of Libyans were killed in eight months of bombing and missile attacks by French, British and American warplanes. There is prima facie evidence that war crimes were committed but there is not even the suggestion that someone will be held accountable. Further back stands Iraq, invaded in 1991 and then subjected to a decade of sanctions which ended the lives of about one million Iraqis, including hundreds of thousands of children. The second war launched in 2003 brought the overall civilian death toll since 1991 to somewhere between 1.5 and two million Iraqis. Again, prime facie evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity without any of the perpetrators being punished. The kind of lies told before the attacks of 1991 (babies being thrown out of their incubators in Kuwait) and 2003 (weapons of mass destruction) were duplicated in the propaganda war which preceded the aerial assault on Libya this year (mass killing and Viagra-fueled rape).
To their eternal shame, the Arab League and governments which sell themselves on their Muslim credentials took part in or came in behind this war on a Muslim country by three non-Muslim governments. Now a third Arab country is being laid out on the chopping board, not in North Africa but at the very heart of the Middle East. The US, France, Britain and their Arab allies can sense that a momentous victory is at hand and they are pushing as hard as they can, using every weapon at their disposal. At the end of the road lies the possibility of armed intervention through the declaration of a ‘no fly’ zone and a cross-border operation to establish a ‘buffer zone’ or what the French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, prefers to call a ‘humanitarian corridor’. These are propaganda phrases, of course. What the advocates of intervention are talking about is war and everything it entails – widespread destruction and the death of thousands of people.
Reconstructed Syria’s future is already being written. A leading figure in the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghaliun, has said that a new government would break relations with Iran and would overturn the present strategic relationship with Hizbullah. The connections of other members of this council with the Gulf States, the US State Department and Israel’s lobbyists in Washington are further evidence of how Syria is to be remolded if the present government can be brought down. Short of the toppling of the Islamic government in Iran, it would be hard to think of a greater triumph for ‘the West’ and its reactionary allies across the Middle East, not to mention the benefits for Israel. Are those Arabs joining the chorus against the Syrian government in the name of human rights even thinking about this?
Jeremy Salt teaches the history of the modern Middle East in the Department of Political science, Bilkent University, Ankara. He previously taught at Bogazici (Bosporus) University in Istanbul and the University of Melbourne. His publications include The Unmaking of the Middle East: A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press, 2008).
I first became aware of Cass Sunstein’s ideas for controlling conspiracy theories after seeing several ads for a web site called America.gov run by the State Department. It’s a complex, well-funded site with more avenues than I’ve cared to examine, but what caught my attention was the section under International Relations: Peace and Security called “Conspiracy Theories and Misinformation” with the astounding caption: “Conspiracy theories exist in the realm of myth, where imaginations run wild, fears trump facts and evidence is ignored.”
I clicked through its pages for a while in amazement. The tone sounded like the writer was talking to a five-year-old, and the content played fast and loose with the truth.
Alarmed, but intrigued, I went to the section called “U.S. Domestic” and read, “Perhaps more conspiracy theories surround Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated President John Kennedy in 1963, than anyone in American history. The Soviet KGB, Cuba, the mafia, the CIA, and others have been blamed for killing Kennedy, but all evidence indicates that Oswald acted alone.”
I found that curious. It’s common knowledge that the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded in 1979 that there had been a probable conspiracy in the JFK assassination. I remember when it happened. That conclusion was reported for one day then dropped. “Oswald acted alone” was a hyperlink, so I clicked it to read a summary of Oswald based on Vincent Bugliosi’s 2007 book on the JFK assassination, Reclaiming History. It was the only source cited. The writer of the summary was a guy named Todd Leventhal, who I later learned is Chief of the Counter-Misinformation Team for the U.S. Department of State. The site describes Leventhal as “the Department’s expert on conspiracy theories and misinformation—stories that are untrue, but widely believed,” adding—and I found this unintentionally comic—that he enjoys reading obituaries….
This link has since been suspended.
Overall, the site seems to employ several basic strategies of deception. It mixes items that aren’t true with ones that are, draws “evidence” from single sources (and not the most credible ones), provides evidence that proves nothing but is presented as if it does, and presents partial information that fails to tell the whole story.
Dan Roggenkamp, an English professor in Taiwan, observed, “I’ve noticed that this government site relies a lot on the ‘it’s simply not true’ line of logic. Maybe if they say that enough, people will believe it.” I note that Hitler believed the same thing about the “Big Lie”.
Shortly after my initial encounter with America.gov, I went to “politicalassassinations.com,” a web site run by John Judge, to check a reference. Judge is a respected researcher, activist and public speaker whose primary focus over many years has been the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “You can call me a conspiracy theorist,” I once heard Judge say, “if you call everyone else a coincidence theorist.”
Judge prefers to call himself “an alternative historian.”
I wrote to him asking if he knew the source of America.gov, and he responded saying the likely source is White House appointee, Cass Sunstein, who wrote about countering conspiracy theories by infiltrating and confusing what he called “extremist groups” that believe in them. Judge quotes Sunstein as having said, “We suggest a distinctive tactic for breaking up the hard core of extremists who supply conspiracy theories: cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, whereby government agents or their allies (acting either virtually or in real space, and either openly or anonymously) will undermine the crippled epistemology of believers by planting doubts about the theories and stylized facts that circulate within such groups, thereby introducing beneficial cognitive diversity.”
That seems to describe the America.gov site pretty well.
“Sunstein said government agents ‘might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action,’” Judge continued. “Sunstein defined a conspiracy theory as ‘an effort to explain some event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.’” Judge said some examples Sunstein offers include “The theory of global warming is a deliberate fraud” and “The view that the Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.”
I should also note that I tried to post a comment to a page about Oswald on the America.gov site, along with only four already there, pointing out the fact that the HSCA had concluded there had been a probable conspiracy in the Kennedy Assassination. According to the site, comments are posted if they are on-topic and respectful. Mine was received but subject to moderation.
Then it disappeared.
I posted another with the same result. I mentioned this to Judge, who explained, “Several JFK researchers I alerted to the site could not post there. That alone should be revealed.”
In 2010 theologian David Ray Griffin wrote a book called Cognitive Infiltration that analyzes Sunstein’s arguments in “Conspiracy Theories,” the formal essay presenting his strange views, and points out their contradictions. Sunstein’s real target, Griffin suggests, is the 9/11 Truth movement. I was late in reading and reviewing his book (my review is #40 of 41 on Amazon.com, called “A Noble Lie,”), but with the help of a political philosopher, I think I got a good sense of what Sunstein is up to. You can also find the review here.
Recently I asked Griffin if he had any comments to make about the general reaction to Cognitive Infiltration. He responded saying he has been astounded that virtually all the reviews on Amazon.com are 5-star reviews —the highest rating. Of the 41 reviews, all had five stars except for one, which gave the book four stars but still praised it. “Moreover, many of the reviews are extremely thoughtful, showing that the 9/11 Truth Movement has attracted some of the best minds in the English-speaking world,” Griffin said, noting that the most important question raised by Sunstein’s essay is the one I discuss in the final paragraph of Review #40. If Sunstein believes, as he purports, that the 9/11 Truth Movement’s central claims are ‘demonstrably false,’ why would he have recommended that this movement should be infiltrated by government agents?
“If Sunstein really considered these claims to be demonstrably false, would he not simply have explained exactly why these claims are false?” Griffin wonders. “If Sunstein believes the leaders of the 9/11 Truth Movement to be laughably ignorant, as his description of them as ‘epistemological cripples’ suggests, would he not expect their movement – like the campaigns of some of the Republican Party’s presidential hopefuls-to self-destruct?”
Griffin also points out that the correctness of the 9/11 Truth Movement’s claims is illustrated by the fact that 9/11 professional organizations continue to grow. “When I published Cognitive Infiltration, there were slightly more than 1,200 professional members of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. Today (November 17, 2011), the number has increased to 1,637,” he said.
I should mention that I wrote a letter to Sunstein in September of 2010 requesting an interview from him or someone in his office. I know his office received it because I registered the letter and someone signed for it. Over a year later, I have received no response, not even the usual polite formality of a cleverly-worded refusal.
If it’s not clear by now, Orwell’s future nightmare has become our present reality. Sunstein’s intellectual antics along with propaganda sources like America.gov serve the intentions of a government agency that, like the Ministry of Truth in the novel 1984, disseminates lies in the guise of protecting truth.
It’s not easy these days resisting the powerful tide of public opinion, especially when those opinions are shaped by deceptive agencies whose agenda is control. At least those who advocate incorrect conspiracy theories believe they are correct even if they’re not. Paid “counter-disinformation” experts know perfectly well when they’re lying.
“There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad” the narrator says in 1984. This is our challenge. We don’t have to accept this kind of manipulation. In fact, it’s our obligation as Americans and global citizens to resist it.
AL-KHALIL — Israeli occupation forces on Saturday afternoon set up a tent on the roof of a house adjacent to the house of liberated captive Randah Shahatit from the village of Abu Seif to the south of Dor in al-Khalil district in the southern Gaza Strip.
Sources close to liberated captive Shahatit told the PIC correspondent: “IOF troops boarding four military vehicles raided the village in the afternoon and they built a tent on the roof of a house belonging to Ismail Shawamra, adjacent to the home of liberated captive Randah Shahatit.”
The sources added that the soldiers were still on the roof at the time of the writing of this report and that when Shahatit went out of her home to visit a friend in the village the soldiers were watching.
Villagers are staying in their homes fearing the IOF have aggressive intentions.
The IOF troops raided the home of liberated captive Shahatit last Sunday and summoned her to Etsion interrogation centre to the south of al-Khalil on Wednesday where she was warned of participating in any activities and that she was being watched by the occupation army.