Thursday, September 28, 2017

2714. The Russian Federation Unilaterally Destroys All Its Biological and Chemical Weapons

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed on 27 September that the verified destruction of those chemical weapons possessed by the Russian Federation has been completed. Pugwash welcomes this important achievement and congratulates the Russian Federation and the OPCW for their efforts, as well as the many countries and experts who have assisted in this program.

The Russian Federation became party to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997 as the owner of the world’s largest arsenal of these weapons of mass destruction. Its complete verifiable elimination under the Convention testifies to the effectiveness of multilateral and cooperative approaches to disarmament, embodied in the carefully negotiated treaty language. Moreover, the fact that Russia decided to bring its chemical arsenal down to zero without waiting for another major possessor – the US – to do the same shows that strong belief in the deterrent role of these weapons, which used to be an important factor during negotiations on the Chemical Weapons Ban in Geneva, can give way to mutual trust, developed step-by-step in the process of treaty implementation.

Now the goal of a chemical-weapons-free-world is much nearer. To achieve it, it is necessary to accelerate the destruction of chemical weapons elsewhere, to ensure the 100% universality of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and to further improve safeguards against any re-emergence of chemical weapons on the basis of traditional and new technologies and against any attempts by any actors to get hold of or to use these prohibited weapons.

Sergio Duarte, President of Pugwash
Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, Secretary General of Pugwash
Sergey Batsanov, Pugwash Council

28 September 2017

2713. Charged in the U.S., American Businessman jailed and raped in Columbian Prison

By Andrew Ross Sorkin, The New York Times, September 25, 2017

“I was ordered down from the slab where I slept. I was wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants. They pushed me down to the floor by my head and shoulders. One of them had a knife at my Adam’s apple. I tried to leave my body, pretend that I wasn’t living it. I wanted to die. I’ve regretted at times since then that I didn’t jerk my head away and let my throat be cut.”
That is the remarkably disturbing story of Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, a former dot-com entrepreneur and Goldman Sachs banker. He faces trial in early October in federal court in Manhattan on charges of conspiracy to commit security and wire fraud but has already spent a harrowing 10 months in a Colombian jail, where, he says, he was abused and, ultimately, raped.

Mr. Tuzman originally made his name starting technology companies: He achieved a degree of fame during the dot-com bust as the founder of, which was chronicled in the documentary film “” But in 2015 he was charged with securities fraud while he was chief executive of Kit Digital, a publicly traded video software and services company that filed for bankruptcy in 2013. He has pleaded not guilty.

The details of those charges are less interesting — and less troubling — than what has happened thus far.

James Margolin, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, declined to comment about Mr. Tuzman’s case. But prosecutors have not challenged Mr. Tuzman’s contention that he was raped or abused. Indeed, they say they told the Colombian authorities about the allegations.Mr. Tuzman says his ordeal began in September 2015. He was on a business trip to Bogotá and was planning to fly back to Philadelphia days later for Rosh Hashana when, he said, half a dozen Colombian officers surrounded him and told him to go with them.

“My heart sank to my stomach because I thought a family member or business partner had been kidnapped and I was being taken to safety,” he told me in an interview. “Later, in a side room at the airport, they told me that actually I was being arrested. I begged to know why. All they would say was that it was at the direction of the U.S. government.”

Mr. Tuzman said he had no idea he had been charged, and, in contrast to many white-collar arrests, the United States government made no attempt to discuss with his lawyer the possibility of Mr. Tuzman’s surrendering voluntarily in the United States.

Mr. Tuzman was put in a cell in La Picota, a notorious prison.

“It had over a hundred people packed in it, stuffed against the walls and the rails, asking those of us in line for food, water, aspirin, whatever,” he said. “The stench of feces and vomit was overwhelming. There were literally people who had defecated in their pants.”

Mr. Tuzman assumed that he would be quickly extradited to the United States. But he soon found himself in “a parallel universe,” he said. “In the beginning, every day I thought: ‘They’re going to let me out tomorrow. They have to realize this is a mistake.’”

But weeks went by. His lawyers asked the United States Embassy to step in, warning that he could be abused or killed. When Mr. Tuzman’s lawyers recommended that he be released into the custody of a United States official and brought home where he could be rearrested, the United States authorities said their hands were tied by legal protocol.

That October, he said, he was raped. Within an hour, he told his lawyer, Amanda Blaurock of Pedley & Blaurock, about it during an in-person meeting. She then went to the United States Embassy.

When the Mr. Tuzman’s imprisonment in Colombia was finally brought to the attention of a federal judge, Paul G. Gardephe, in the Southern District of New York, Judge Gardephe said he was “shocked” by the government’s unwillingness to step in.

“There is credible evidence here that this man is undergoing significant abuse, to the point that there is reason to be concerned about his life,” the judge said. He also challenged the government to “tell me face to face they can’t do anything about the conditions this man is in, and that if he has to stay there for nine months, there is nothing they can do about that.”
Judge Gardephe lashed out at the prosecutors who recommended that, as an alternative to bringing Mr. Tuzman home, they could help him be moved to another prison, known as Cómbita.

“Having sentenced numerous Colombian defendants in this courtroom, and having heard over and over again about the conditions that they were in during the period of time that they were awaiting extradition at Cómbita,” the judge said, “it’s shocking to me that the government’s solution to the problem would be to transfer him to Cómbita. It’s shocking to me.”

In a later hearing, however, Judge Gardephe said: “To the extent that Tuzman has been mistreated in Colombia, there is no contention that the U.S. government engineered, arranged for or induced that mistreatment. Indeed, the evidence before this court is all to the contrary.”

Mr. Tuzman was extradited to the United States in July 2016. Why the prosecutors didn’t move more rapidly once he had been arrested — and why they arrested him in Bogotá instead of waiting until he came home — isn’t entirely clear. The prosecutors have made the case that he was a flight risk — that he might flee to the United Arab Emirates, where he had family and friends.

Still, he was publicly scheduled to speak at a conference in Florida about a month after his arrest. And he was not unknown to federal prosecutors. Mr. Tuzman is a Harvard alumnus and said, “I had been at my Harvard class reunion in Boston a few months before my arrest, and bumped into Preet Bharara,” who was then the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. They have a mutual friend.

Mr. Tuzman is home in New York awaiting his trial. But he said he rarely forgets what happened after the rape: “A few days after the assault, I was put on what they call a prison trial, where the guards purposefully leave their lookout stations and go away. I was put on a table and accused of being a snitch for reporting what had happened to me. That’s the worst thing you can be accused of in prison. My knees were shaking. I thought it was the end of my life. I’m only alive now because I hadn’t given up their names.”

It took some cajoling to get Mr. Tuzman to open up. “It has taken me a very long time to feel prepared to talk about some of this,” he said. “You have to get past fear of reprisals, self-hate, all this other stuff that goes through your head.

“There’s a code of silence on this kind of prison assault, which was reinforced by an official at the U.S. Embassy who visited me in La Picota and told me things could get worse for me if I spoke to the press. But at some point, I guess, I needed to find meaning in all of this.”
The trial he faces in New York is no small matter. A jury will decide his case. But he said he needed to speak out about what had happened to him already.

“The U.S. effectively uses the extradition system and foreign prisons like those in Colombia as ‘black sites,’ even for holding American citizens,” he said. “I simply cannot understand why the United States would let one of its own citizens be subjected to this, and I want to help ensure it never happens again.”

2712. Women and Driving in Saudi Arabia

By Manal Al-Sharif, The New York Times, September 27, 2017

In May 2011, I drove a car in the city of Khobar, Saudi Arabia, to protest the kingdom’s ban on women driving. As a result, I was arrested, taken from my home in the dark of night and jailed for nine days, during which time I was interrogated, strip-searched and accused of being a traitor and a spy. I was released only after my father begged King Abdullah, the ruler at the time, to pardon me.

Many people in my country shunned me afterward. Clergymen called for me to be whipped, stoned, even killed. Within a year, I was forced to leave my job. Then, fearing for my safety, I left the country where I had been born and grew up, and where I had begun to raise a family of my own.

Women before and after me have also been arrested, lost their jobs and been jailed for the simple act of getting behind the wheel of a car.

We protested the ban on driving by women because its effects went far beyond cars and roads. The prohibition meant that we were unable to take our children to school; we could not drive loved ones to a doctor or hospital; we could not commute to a job or go to the grocery store on our own. The ban meant the loss of the most basic form of dignity and control over our lives.

This is why for the women of Saudi Arabia, Sept. 26, 2017, the day the monarchy announced that it plans to overturn the driving ban, will be remembered as our Emancipation Day. It is every bit as monumental for us as Aug. 18, 1920, was for American women, the date the 19th Amendment giving them the right to vote was ratified.

At last, Saudi women will have freedom of movement — and their say. Saudi society will never be the same again. From my friends living inside the kingdom, I hear a mixture of disbelief and joy. My email inbox is overflowing with messages of wonder. On my Facebook feed, I see my friends’ excitement. “Finally come true,” one friend wrote. Another dreamed bigger: “I hope all the laws would be reformed until we observe full equality between the sexes.”

American women fought for their basic emancipation during the heyday of the bicycle. The great women’s rights pioneer Susan B. Anthony said that bicycling “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” The bicycle freed 19th-century women from their homes and from their dependence on men. I hope that in Saudi Arabia, the car will do the same.

In the Saudi system, women are considered inferior. No matter our age, we have male guardians. We must get permission from men to attend school, to work, to marry, to travel overseas — even to have basic medical procedures. My mother gave birth to me on the floor of our apartment in Mecca with only my toddler sister to help her because my father was at work and no male guardian was available to take her to a hospital.

I am certain that some parts of Saudi society will vehemently oppose women driving. In the last six years, official studies commissioned by the government have declared that women will damage their ovaries from sitting in the driver’s seat and will give birth to children “with clinical problems.”

In 2011, the year that I drove, an academic report prepared for the Saudi Legislature, the Shura, concluded that allowing women to drive would lead to societal rot, including “pornography, prostitution, homosexuality, and divorce.” And just last week, a Saudi cleric, warning against women as drivers, claimed that women have only “half the brains of men,” adding that the figure drops to one-quarter “when they go to market.”

This language may be shocking until you consider that 100 years ago, American suffragists peacefully asking for the right to vote were arrested, tortured, beaten, force-fed and locked in mental institutions. But they persisted, and they won. Like their American sisters, Saudi women have persisted, too.

We, Saudi women, have been like birds with clipped wings, full of song, but unable to take flight. That will change. Now we must become the driving force of our own destinies, able to make our own decisions. Our brains are 100 percent strong. We are fully capable of being our own guardians.

When I was forced to leave my country and my family, I dreamed of the day when I might return, not in an airplane, but by driving across the border and up through the desert to my home. Today I no longer have to dream. Next June, when the change in policy comes into effect, I plan to make that drive.

But for now, let us take a moment to appreciate every woman who has done the impossible and gotten behind the wheel.

Manal Al-Sharif is a women’s rights campaigner and the author of the memoir “Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

2711. Film Review: Ken Burn's and Lynn Novick's Vietnam War Series on PBS

By Bob Buzzanco, History News Network, September 21, 2017 

I began my first book on Vietnam (Masters of War) with a poem, Adrian Mitchell’s “To Whom It May Concern”:
You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out.
You take the human being and you twist it all about
So scrub my skin with women
Chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.
When written in 1968, Americans were finally realizing and tiring of the lies they had been told about Vietnam. And the point of the poem was that, against that flood of lies, was some kind of truth, one that a majority of Americans began to understand as they opposed the American war on Vietnam.
“Triangulating” (or Teaching?) the War
Now, a half-century later, America’s best-known documentarians and teachers of popular history, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have produced an 18-hour examination of the war for PBS (a “masterpiece” according to George Will, with sponsorship and promotion from the Koch Brothers, Bank of America, and Pentagon, inter alia) which is getting a huge amount of attention already. Like their documentary on the Civil War, The Vietnam War will surely become a major work of public history and be ingrained in our national consciousness. But what do Burns and Novick do, is it anything new, and what consequences will their work have?hochiminh
Burns and Novick, in their public relations blitz for the show (which debuted Sunday night, September 17th) have stressed that this documentary is different than the studies of Vietnam that have preceded it because they focused on the people who were involved in the war and especially representatives of the enemy (the “North Vietnamese” in their parlance, not the “revolutionaries” or “the NLF”). Their goal was to “triangulate” the telling of the war—speak to people from North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and the United States. Their main purpose is to “honor the courage, heroism and sacrifice of those who served,” and “we have tried to do this by listening to their stories.” They add that they conveyed the tragedy of the war through “good storytelling.”
In addition to telling the stories of Americans who fought in Vietnam, Burns and Novick talk to partisans from the enemy, who talk of battles and tactics and their simultaneous respect and hatred of the Americans they fought. In fact, the documentarians seem to suggest that the Vietnamese were unaware of much about the war until educated by Americans. In Vietnam, Novick was surprised to see “a willingness, an openness” to talk about the war in a way “they never speak about it in Vietnam, which is the human story . . . . The war there is sort of a grand sort of victorious narrative without people in it.” And the people to whom Novick spoke “want the next generation to know how terrible it was, how difficult it was.” (Emphases mine).
diem on timeI haven’t been to Vietnam, so maybe they’re right. But I’m pretty certain the Vietnamese talk about the war and know how terrible and difficult it was . . . I’ve talked to a lot of Vietnamese about the war, in depth . . . the war fought for decades in their country. They lost 2-3 million people in the American phase of their long struggle, which means that virtually every family had an immediate member die. There are cemeteries and memorials all over, constant reminders of the war. There are museums to honor battles fought and soldiers and civilians killed. There is a museum dedicated to the dead at My Lai. A close friend who spent 3 months traveling in the area told me that remembering the war in general and its victims is “one of the most significant parts of their identity, more so than here.” There are tributes to the dead. There is a replica of the Washington D.C. Vietnam “Wall.” And if they’re somehow not aware of how terrible the war was, the continued loss of life, perhaps as many as 50,000 people after hostilities ended, from unexploded bombs, and the continued impact of Agent Orange in high cancer rates and countless deformed babies, would help them remember. Did the Vietnamese really need two Americans, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, to finally teach them about the bloodshed and devastation their own land suffered because of the Americans?
And therein lies the core flaw of the entire project—it’s a series of stories, but not really a history of the war. That’s the Burns-Novick trademark and it’s worked for a long time, making them famous and I suspect wealthy. But it substitutes vignettes for ideas, personal anecdotes for larger structural factors, bathos for analysis. And it ends up providing a misguided view of the war, one that has politically conservative consequences (ironic because Burns himself is openly liberal) by shifting attention away from the historical, material reasons for American intervention and focusing on 79 people interviewed who were directly involved in Vietnam. Instead of an exposé of aggressive militarism, they give us sentimental stories of survival and perseverance.
Burns and Novick, despite their claims of originality, provide a pretty boilerplate liberal examination of the war. It “was begun in good faith, by decent people.” The people of South Vietnam created a state, the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), which was invaded by “North Vietnam” and precipitated the war because of the American mission to prevent Communists from taking over “free” countries. After the partition of Vietnam at Geneva, the conflict became a “civil war” in which the U.S. became involved to save the “free” southern half of Vietnam according to Cold War logic. Americans made anguished decisions to invade and then escalate the war, they kept blundering further along and then couldn’t get out, there were decisive battles at places like Ap Bac and Ia Drang, Americans turned on the war, it was a tragedy, there are only victims, and so on . . . It’s not a bad history, but in no way original and in its pursuit of “all sides” it creates a false equivalency. The intervention into Vietnam was a war crime, and PBS isn’t going to fund a documentary saying that, and Burns and Novick don’t go beyond the liberal consensus to think about it.33 B52-vietnam
More Reconciliation and Healing
Burns and Novick talk a lot about reconciliation and healing, sort of a Vietnam War version of Dr. Phil and Oprah. “For more than a generation, instead of forging a path to reconciliation, we have allowed the wounds the war inflicted on our nation, our politics and our families to fester,” they claim. “ . . . alienation, resentment and cynicism; mistrust of our government and one another; breakdown of civil discourse and civic institutions . . . so many of these seeds were sown during the Vietnam War.” The war wracked American society, pitting generation against generation, even family against family. These are troubling issues to be sure, and Burns and Novick seem to easily pin them on Vietnam. But their explanation is facile and self-serving.
Is America really still divided over Vietnam the way it was in, say, 1968, when Walter Cronkite stunned the White House and Main Street by essentially declaring that the war was unwinnable? Since then, and once the war ended, the U.S. and Vietnam have erased much of the acrimony. Americans withheld reparations aid and prevented Hanoi from getting reconstruction funds from lending agencies, so the Vietnamese began a policy of economic restructuring that eventually led to this “Socialist Republic” joining the WTO, and becoming a major trading partner.
In 2000, trade between the U.S. and Hanoi amounted to a bit over a billion dollars ($821 million in imports). After that, commerce increased significantly, to $15.7 billion in 2008 ($12.9 billion imports), $24.9 billion in 2012 ($20.6 billion imports), and in 2015 and 2016, $45 and $52 billion ($38 and $42 billion imports). Most recently, the U.S. has also included Vietnam in the stalled-Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), its trade alliance for Asia and the Pacific. In addition to that, American tourists are well-received in Vietnam and only Chinese, South Koreans, and Japanese visit more frequently, and among Americans, veterans of the Vietnam War comprise a large number of tourists, often as part of programs to bring together U.S. and Vietnamese soldiers. Inside the U.S., there are hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese-Americans well-integrated into American society, napalmeconomy, and politics.
Reconciliation and healing are always worthwhile and necessary goals, but that process has been well in place long before Burns and Novick arrived. The promotional material for the series boasts that they “unbury the secrets of the Vietnam War.” They also stress they want to let Americans know about Vietnam. But don’t we know a lot already? Many scholars from the U.S., Vietnam, and elsewhere have studied the Vietnam War and Vietnamese history in intricate details which are not a “secret” to us. And we know and understand a lot more about the Vietnam war than Burns and Novick realize, or are willing to admit.
eartha_lbjVietnam was the “living room war.” There has been a huge number of books and novels published about the war. Documentary series have been widely-watched and praised long before the new Burns effort, like “The Ten Thousand Day War,” a Canadian series; “Vietnam: A Television History,” with its companion book by Stanley Karnow; or “Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam,” “Sir! No Sir!,” “In The Year of the Pig,” or the Oscar-winning “Hearts and Minds,” and of course movies such as Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Coming Home, Apocalypse Now, Go Tell the Spartans, and television series China Beach, and Tour of Duty have been widely viewed and popular. Burns and Novick are hardly entering into unknown historical terrain here, their claims notwithstanding.
 Breeding Cynicism
Burns and Novick are also disturbed by the “sea change” in the way Americans view the presidency, how Vietnam eroded faith in our leaders, sowed the seeds for a more-divided society, and how the war and dissent “sort of metastasized into terrible cynicism under Nixon that we cannot trust our presidents, that they don’t tell us the truth, that they are not doing the right thing, and that, you know, just sort of a pox on both their houses.” This liberal myth of a virtuous “American-ness” gone wrong is a hallmark of a Burns-Novick joint, and here again it shows its fangs.
vvawTo begin, Burns and Novick are more than a bit off  on this point. Americans have long distrusted their leaders, as the Civil War (something about which they should know a little) would attest. Or the election of 1896, when plutocrats gave William McKinley a $10 million war chest to beat back the spectre of Populism . . . or the hatred thrown at Herbert Hoover in 1929 when the economy crashed . . . or the ugly virulence with which political enemies went after FDR for the New Deal . . . or the blunt attacks on Truman for knowing little and being an empty suit when he took over after Roosevelt.
They also suggest that the decisions made by American presidents to go to war were based on “domestic political considerations,” a “polite way” of saying “Will I get re-elected?”   I’ve studied Vietnam for a long time and have been as critical of the U.S. administrations which began and fought the Vietnam War as anyone,* but I’ve never seen any suggestion that Vietnam was crucial to one’s election prospects. There were certainly questions raised about American “credibility,” meaning the need to have one’s allies trust you and enemies fear you. These concerns, however, were not simply crude calculations about election prospects, and any concern on behalf of Truman or Eisenhower that Vietnam had even a subatomic role in their campaigns is lacking. There are historians who claim that JFK would have withdrawn from Vietnam after the 1964 election, but almost all scholars have debunked that (see especially Thomas Paterson, ed., Kennedy’s Quest for Victory). In 1964, Vietnam was used to appease doves, invoked only to show that LBJ would not recklessly get involved in a war there, unlike his hawkish opponent Barry Goldwater. And in 1968 and 1972 the war had a big impact on the election, but because Americans were tiring and pessimistic about it not threatening to punish politicians for “losing” there. Suggesting that intervention and escalation was required by domestic politics does not rest on a solid foundation.
But more than that, cynicism and a lack of deference would be seen by many of us as positive outcomes of the Vietnam era. The “trust” Americans had in their government included acceptance, sometimes tacit and often overt, in conditions like racial apartheid, a conformist culture, fixed gender roles, an exaggerated fear of communism that destroyed people’s lives, a terrifying and economically devastating Cold War. If Vietnam did indeed motivate Americans to question authority and assume they were being told lies, then that can be placed in the assets ledger.
Many Truths of Vietnam
To Burns and Novick, “there is no simple or single truth to be extracted from the Vietnam War. Many questions remain unanswerable.”   However, “with open minds and open hearts,” (I wonder if they used that phrase ironically) “perhaps we can stop fighting over how the war should be remembered and focus instead on what it can teach us about courage, patriotism, resilience, forgiveness and, ultimately, reconciliation.” Again, they talk of reconciliation more than Dr. Phil, but simply are unaware that the “fighting over how the war should be remembered” is a political issue. While their goal of “triangulation”—telling everyone’s story—isn’t a bad idea, it is a distraction from the overwhelming reason for the war: American aggression.
If there is indeed a “Vietnam Syndrome,” making Americans more reluctant to intervene abroad (and I’ve always questioned the very existence of such a reticence, but that’s for another day), or whether the “lesson” of Vietnam is to strike early and often, the historical analysis is inherently a political analysis. The lessons of Vietnam can be applied, say, to Syria or North Korea today, but both by partisans of diplomacy and “hands off,” or by advocates of intervention and “bombs away.”   I don’t think Burns has ever realized how immanently political the study of history is, because he and Novick aim to tell the stories of people involved in the war, and there’s no doubt oral history is a vital component of understanding the past, but they do not provide a comprehensive and coherent analysis of the war in the way so many previous books and documentaries have. DBVX1qGUAAABMGo
To be sure, Burns and Novick certainly do tell a truth through their interviews with Vietnamese and Americans who had a direct experience of the war. And if their documentary was titled “Stories of People Who Were in Vietnam During the War”—which would have been compelling and important—there would be little to complain about.
But it’s being advertised as a history of the war, and therein lies the biggest problem. Soldiers’ narratives provide moving ideas and images of the human cost of battle, but they don’t answer the larger questions about why empires attack smaller nations and virtually blow them back to the Stone Age. There are certain elements of the historical episode known as The Vietnam War (or, in Vietnam, “The American War”) that are absolutely essential to understanding the U.S. role in Vietnam from 1945 to 1975, including (and this is a brief listing):
  • The U.S. had no singular interest in Vietnam itself, but put a huge priority on establishing global economic hegemony and, therein, on creating or restoring capitalism in Asia, with Japan (and China before 10/1/1949) as the linchpin and American partner. In that context, a small country like Vietnam was critical to provide an outlet for Japanese capitalism—via markets, consumers, raw materials, and investment. (On this point, see especially Andrew Rotter, The Path to Vietnam, also Lloyd Gardner, Approaching Vietnam, and William Borden, The Pacific Alliance).

  • The U.S. rejected overtures from Ho Chi Minh to develop a modus vivendi and instead sanctioned a return by the French Empire because appeasing Paris and maintaining its role as a Cold War ally in Europe was far more important than a small and unimportant place like Vietnam. It also “invented” a country below the 17th Parallel, put a client, Ngo Dinh Diem, in power, and prevented elections to unify Vietnam from occurring, tolerated and bankrolled the police state that Diem and his family ran, and increasingly sent money, advisors, and weapons to Vietnam to destroy a popular liberation movement.

  • In November 1963, as Diem and his brother Nhu, amid a crisis over repression of Buddhists, were talking to Hanoi about a negotiated, neutralist settlement, the U.S. sanctioned a coup which left the Ngo brothers dead. From that point on, the U.S. facilitated the ouster of several other regimes. From the Diem coup until February 1965, Vietnam had a dozen governments, leaving an exasperated LBJ to finally demand “no more coup shit.” Throughout this time, the politburo in Hanoi was reluctant to act too aggressively in the south for fear of provoking American intervention; it would rather have the RVN implode.

  • The RVN in fact was imploding, as the Americans recognized, and so the U.S. increasingly took over the war, sending billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and dropping 6 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, killing 2-3 million Vietnamese and creating 15 million refugees. They created “free fire zones” and used “search and destroy” tactics and even assassination programs like Operation Phoenix. Americans indiscriminately bombed not just the enemy in the north but the villages of its ally in the south. And American forces committed atrocities at My Lai and elsewhere as a tactic of war (see Nick Turse, Kill Anything That Moves) Hence the “war crime” designation . . .

  • Despite this immense war, the RVN never had a legitimate claim to the loyalty of the Vietnamese and the war, despite huge numbers of enemies killed, never went well for the U.S. By the 1968 Tet Offensive, it was clear that the U.S. had no successful path out of Vietnam, and the war was destroying the global economy.

  • In the aftermath of Tet, it was clear that the U.S. had to get out of Vietnam, but before it left, it intensified the air war against the north and expanded the war into Laos and Cambodia, killing hundreds of thousands more and unleashing the Khmer Rouge.

  • By the time the U.S. finally left Vietnam in 1973, the RVN was in shambles, the U.S. had lost much/most of its global credibility, the economic consequences were significant, 58,000 Americans were dead, and Vietnam was physically devastated.

  • In the aftermath of the war, the U.S. refused to pay reparations to Vietnam and prevented international agencies like the IMF or World Bank to offer reconstruction aid.
True War Stories
 Ultimately, the Burns and Novick series ratifies the liberal ideology which brought on the war and the idea of American exceptionalism which makes such toxic endeavors possible. Sure, the U.S. made mistakes, but they were honestly made by decent men. And the North Vietnamese have their own ghosts to confront. The Vietnamese, Burns and Novick tell us, “have begun to ask themselves whether the war was necessary, whether some other way might have been found to reunite their country.” Well, there was actually a way to reunite their country and in May 1954 at Geneva, the U.S. and other powers denied them that reunification, put the Kato Kaelin of Indochina in power, poured blood and money into an autocratic regime, and waged the largest conflict outside of the two world wars.
The war was necessary because the U.S. made it necessary—the politburo in Hanoi and the NLF in the south would gladly have taken control of Vietnam without getting blown up and killed in apocalyptic numbers by American weapons. Equivalency and objectivity are the tools of liberal apologetics, and Burns and Novick have always used them well to make Americans (and Americans below the Mason-Dixon Line) feel good about themselves. Instead of examining American aggression, they ruminate on Vietnamese irredentism. Love them, they’re liberals.
What Burns and Novick are really looking for is a shot at redemption, for all the decent men who went to war and wiped out large swaths of Vietnam. The war resulted from blunders and mistakes, it tragically divided a country that . . . should be conformist and static? Even in those dark times, like the protests of antiwar activists, there is virtue, as a North Vietnamese soldier told Burns and Novick that America’s opposition to the war was a sign of strength because it showed that the U.S. was a free and democratic society where dissent was okay . . . and apparently so was invading and destroying other countries.
Among the partisans interviewed and featured were Mai Elliott, Bao Ninh, and Tim O’Brien, each of who has also written eloquently about the war. And it seems fitting to end this rumination, one that I began with a poem about the lies of Vietnam, with the powerful words of O’Brien, whom I believe is the greatest novelist of the Vietnam War. In The Things They Carried, he has a short story titled “How To Tell a True War Story,” which concludes
“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”
Burns’s and Novick’s war stories don’t teach us the history of Vietnam, and leave us with myth, contrived patriotism, and nostalgia. Their series surely doesn’t try to convince us that the Vietnam War was a good idea, but nor does it provide a basis for examining the war to help us going forward as “decent men” are ready to “blunder” into wars in the Middle East, the Korean peninsula, or elsewhere. When we’re done, we’re hypnotized by Burns’ heroic war stories instead of being encouraged to take heed of O’Brien’s real ones.
* See, also, my “How I Learned to Quit Worrying and Love Vietnam and Iraq,” Counterpunch, 16 April 2005.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

2710. Kate Millett, Ground-Breaking Feminist Writer, Is Dead at 82

By Parul Sehgal and Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times, September 6, 2017
Kate Millet lent her support to the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran that defended political prisoners of the U.S.-backed Mohammad Reza Shah's dictatorship.  She visited Tehran, Iran, in March 1979 to speak at the International Women's Day in defense of women's rights and participated in a number of feminist meetings and protests until she was deported by the Khomeini-Bazargan government. Above, Millet in a street protest in Tehran. 
Kate Millett’s first and most famous book, “Sexual Politics” (1970), is credited with inciting a Copernican revolution in the understanding of gender roles, but it began life somewhat unobtrusively, as a doctoral thesis. And its author was a somewhat reluctant standard-bearer for the new feminism.
Ms. Millett, who died on Wednesday in Paris at 82, was freshly out of a job, fired from her teaching position at Barnard College for her role in organizing student protests in 1968, and she worked furiously to develop her arguments into a book. She passed with distinction (although one adviser complained that reading her work was like “sitting with your testicles in a nutcracker”), and the book, published by Doubleday, became a sensation.
“Sexual Politics” sold 10,000 copies in a fortnight. Time magazine called Ms. Millett “the Mao Tse-tung of Women’s Liberation” and featured her on the cover, with a portrait by Alice Neel. Along with Ti-Grace Atkinson and Shulamith Firestone, she became a defining architect of second-wave feminism.
“Sexual Politics” combined literary criticism, historical analysis and passionate polemic. In close readings of writers like D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller — the so-called champions of sexual liberation — Ms. Millett traced contempt and outright hatred of women.
Freud’s theory of “penis envy” came in for withering critique; so too did Norman Mailer and his anxious regard for masculinity. (“Precarious spiritual capital in need of endless replenishment and threatened on every side,” Ms. Millett called it.)
Some of her targets fired back. Mailer lampooned her in “The Prisoner of Sex” as “the Battling Annie of some new prudery.”
The “Sexual Politics” project, Ms. Millett told Time, “got bigger and bigger until I was almost making a political philosophy.” From depictions of the sexes in literature, she examined how women were socialized to accept, even defend, their lower status in society, a process she called “interior colonization.”
“It is interesting,” she wrote in “Sexual Politics,” “that many women do not recognize themselves as discriminated against; no better proof could be found of the totality of their conditioning.”
She examined how patriarchy had been developed and then defended, by law, medicine, science, schools.


Kate Millett, left, and Gloria Steinem in New York in 1971.CreditJill Krementz, all rights reserved

“Patriarchy’s chief institution is the family,” she wrote. “It is both a mirror of and a connection with the larger society; a patriarchal unit within a patriarchal whole.”
She added: “As the fundamental instrument and the foundation unit of patriarchal society, the family and its roles are prototypical. Serving as an agent of the larger society, the family not only encourages its own members to adjust and conform, but acts as a unit in the government of the patriarchal state, which rules its citizens through its family heads.”
The New York Times called the book the Bible of Women’s Liberation and “a remarkable document because it analyzes the need and nature of sexual liberation while itself displaying the virtues of intellectual and emotional openness and lovingness.”
But it was also met with fierce criticism, notably by Irving Howe, who, in Harper’s Magazine, described it as “a figment of the Zeitgeist, bearing the rough and careless marks of what is called higher education and exhibiting a talent for the delivery of gross simplicities in tones of leaden complexity.”
The book displayed such scant interest in children, he wrote, that “there are times when one feels the book was written by a female impersonator.”
Ms. Millett died while on vacation with her spouse, Sophie Keir, with whom she had had a relationship of many years; they recently married. Ms. Keir said by email that the cause was cardiac arrest. The two had been going to Paris annually to celebrate their birthdays, she said, adding that Ms. Millett had had long ties to the women’s movement in France.
Ms. Millett was an artist as well as a writer and had established an art colony at a farm in LaGrange, N.Y., splitting time between that home and an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Besides Ms. Keir, she is survived by two sisters, Sally Millett Rau and Mallory Millett Danaher.
Ms. Millett was born on Sept. 14, 1934, in St. Paul. Her mother, the former Helen Feely, sold insurance to support the family after her father, James, had left.
Ms. Millett graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1956 and then went to Oxford. She pursued her art career in Japan and New York, and married the Japanese sculptor Fumio Yoshimura in 1965. (They divorced in 1985.)


Ms. Millett at her home in Manhattan in 1999. CreditSuzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

The attention that came with “Sexual Politics” was not something she adjusted to easily.
“Kate achieved great fame and celebrity, but she was never comfortable as a public figure,” Eleanor Pam, another leading feminist, said by email. “She was preternaturally shy. Still, she inspired generations of girls and women who read her words, heard her words and understood her words.”
The success of the book provoked a backlash among feminists that Ms. Millett found devastating. She came out as a lesbian the year the book was published, but lesbians in the feminist movement denounced her for not coming out sooner.
The personal stayed political for Ms. Millett, who in later years would write memoirs about her career and sudden fame (“Flying”, 1974), her sexuality (“Sita,” 1977), her mental health (“The Loony Bin Trip,” 1990) and her relationship with her mother (“Mother Millett,” 2001).
But her reputation and footing in the world were never secure. “Sexual Politics” stayed out of print for years. In 1998, she wrote an essay in The Guardian titled “The Feminist Time Forgot.” She described her difficulty finding work and the suicides of other prominent feminists of the time. We “haven’t been able to build solidly enough to have created community or safety,” she wrote.
Since the publication of a new edition of “Sexual Politics” last year, there has been renewed appreciation for Ms. Millett and how her work has shaped cultural studies and criticism.
“Her book exploded the tidy conceit in which I had been schooled: that literary criticism and social politics were things apart from one another,” Rebecca Mead wrote in an afterword to the new edition.
Writers like Rebecca Solnit and Maggie Doherty have shown how debates about the sexist depictions of characters owe much to Ms. Millett’s thinking.
“‘Sexual Politics’ may have its intellectual and political flaws, like any text that documents a way of thinking proper to the past,” Ms. Doherty wrote in The New Republic last year. “But what Millett’s work showed were the ways that political action and cultural expression interpenetrate. Both sites of struggle were necessary to bringing about the ‘altered consciousness’ that, for Millett, would mark a sexual revolution and bring ‘a world we can bear out of the desert we inhabit.’
“We’re not out of this desert yet; in some ways we are more lost than ever,” Ms. Doherty continued. “But culture, Millett taught us, may help us find our way to a better land.”
Gloria Steinem said that Ms. Millett and “Sexual Politics” had sounded a call.
“Kate was brilliant, deep, and uncompromising,” she said in an email. “She wrote about the politics of male dominance, of owning women’s bodies as the means of reproduction, and made readers see this as basic to hierarchies of race and class. She was not just talking about unequal pay, but about woman-hatred in the highest places and among the most admired intellectuals. As Andrea Dworkin said, ‘The world was asleep, but Kate Millett woke it up.’ ”