Category Archives: History

The Ken Burns Vietnam War Documentary Glosses Over Devastating Civilian Toll

Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves, writes for The Intercept:

U.S. Marine stands with Vietnamese children as they watch their house burn after an Allied patrol set it ablaze after finding communist AK-47 ammunition, Jan. 13, 1971. Patrol made up of U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese popular forces searched the village, 25 miles south of Da Nang. (AP Photo/HJ)“I think that when Americans talk about the Vietnam War … we tend to talk only about ourselves. But if we really want to understand it … or try to answer the fundamental question, ‘What happened?’ You’ve got to triangulate,” says filmmaker Ken Burns of his celebrated PBS documentary series “The Vietnam War.” “You’ve got to know what’s going on. And we have many battles in which you’ve got South Vietnamese soldiers and American advisors or … their counterparts and Vietcong or North Vietnamese. You have to get in there and understand what they’re thinking.”

Burns and his co-director Lynn Novick spent 10 years on “The Vietnam War,” assisted by their producer Sarah Botstein, writer Geoffrey Ward, 24 advisors, and others. They assembled 25,000 photographs, feature close to 80 interviews of Americans and Vietnamese, and spent $30 million on the project. The resulting 18-hour series is a marvel of storytelling, something in which Burns and Novick take obvious pride. “The Vietnam War” provides lots of great vintage film footage, stunning photos, a solid Age of Aquarius soundtrack, and plenty of striking soundbites. Maybe this is what Burns means by triangulation. The series seems expertly crafted to appeal to the widest possible American audience. But as far as telling us “what happened,” I don’t see much evidence of that.

Like Burns and Novick, I also spent a decade working on a Vietnam War epic, though carried out on a far more modest budget, a book titled “Kill Anything That Moves.” Like Burns and Novick, I spoke with military men and women, Americans and Vietnamese. Like Burns and Novick, I thought I could learn “what happened” from them. It took me years to realize that I was dead wrong. That might be why I find “The Vietnam War” and its seemingly endless parade of soldier and guerrilla talking heads so painful to watch.

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A Requiem for Florida, The Paradise That Should Never Have Been

Michael Grunwald reports for Politico:

17908_grunwald_palmtrees_Getty.jpgThe first Americans to spend much time in South Florida were the U.S. Army men who chased the Seminole Indians around the peninsula in the 1830s. And they hated it. Today, their letters read like Yelp reviews of an arsenic café, denouncing the region as a “hideous,” “loathsome,” “diabolical,” “God-abandoned” mosquito refuge.

“Florida is certainly the poorest country that ever two people quarreled for,” one Army surgeon wrote. “It was the most dreary and pandemonium-like region I ever visited, nothing but barren wastes.” An officer summarized it as “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.” The future president Zachary Taylor, who commanded U.S. troops there for two years, groused that he wouldn’t trade a square foot of Michigan or Ohio for a square mile of Florida. The consensus among the soldiers was that the U.S. should just leave the area to the Indians and the mosquitoes; as one general put it, “I could not wish them all a worse place.” Or as one lieutenant complained: “Millions of money has been expended to gain this most barren, swampy, and good-for-nothing peninsula.”

Today, Florida’s southern thumb has been transformed into a subtropical paradise for millions of residents and tourists, a sprawling megalopolis dangling into the Gulf Stream that could sustain hundreds of billions of dollars in damage if Hurricane Irma makes a direct hit. So it’s easy to forget that South Florida was once America’s last frontier, generally dismissed as an uninhabitable and undesirable wasteland, almost completely unsettled well after the West was won. “How far, far out of the world it seems,” Iza Hardy wrote in an 1887 book called Oranges and Alligators: Sketches of South Florida. And Hardy ventured only as far south as Orlando, which is actually central Florida, nearly 250 miles north of Miami. Back then, only about 300 hardy pioneers lived in modern-day South Florida. Miami wasn’t even incorporated as a city until 1896. And even then an early visitor declared that if he owned Miami and hell, he would rent out Miami and live in hell.

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Antifa: A Look at the Antifascist Movement Confronting White Supremacists in the Streets

Amy Goodman speaks with Mark Bray about one of the groups who confronted the white supremacists in the streets, the antifascists known as Antifa. Bray is the author of the new book titled Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. (Democracy Now!) 

U.S. Cities Step Up Removal of Confederate Statues, Despite Virginia Violence

Photo Essay: The North Korea Washington Doesn’t Want Americans To See

Doug Bandow writes for Forbes:

North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, long has been called “the Hermit Kingdom,” as the ancient Korean monarchy was known. The moniker long irritated DPRK officials, though 25 years ago when I first visited it was more accurate. There weren’t many Western travelers and engaging in common American activities, such a jogging, which I did every day, garnering stares from virtually everyone—though, even more weirdly, virtually no one made eye contact. On this trip, in response to an invitation from the Institute for American Studies of the Foreign Ministry, there were few stares.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration plans to ban travel by Americans to the North as of September 1. That’s a mistake, since U.S. visitors both educate North Koreans and are educated by North Koreans. It is a process that encourages social transformation and long term change in the DPRK, which is desperately needed in a system of monarchical communism which holds an entire population in bondage.

Although more Westerners visit the North today, Beijing remains the primary entry point. You can fly in on Air Koryo, as I did, or Air China, though the latter is known to adjust its service to reflect both economics and politics. Perhaps someday American airports will display Pyongyang as a destination. But not in the near future, since it soon will be illegal for Americans to travel to the DPRK. At least, their passports will be tagged as invalid for travel there. But Pyongyang could accept them anyway. I suspect Americans will continue to visit, just as Americans routinely traveled to Cuba illicitly despite the only recently modified ban.

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Newly Declassified Documents Confirm U.S. Backed 1953 Coup in Iran Over Oil Contracts

Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman speak with Professor Ervand Abrahamian, author of Iran Between Two Revolutions, about the newly declassified State Department documents which show oil contracts played a key role in the U.S.-backed 1953 coup in Iran that led to the overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. (Democracy Now!) 

Washington DC’s Role Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Goes Deeper Than You Think

Matthew Alford, teaching fellow of propaganda theory at University of Bath and the co-author of National Security Cinema, writes for The Conversation:

The US government and Hollywood have always been close. Washington DC has long been a source of intriguing plots for filmmakers and LA has been a generous provider of glamour and glitz to the political class.

But just how dependant are these two centres of American influence? Scrutiny of previously hidden documents reveals that the answer is: very.

We can now show that the relationship between US national security and Hollywood is much deeper and more political than anyone has ever acknowledged.

It is a matter of public record that the Pentagon has had an Entertainment Liaison Office since 1948. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established a similar position in 1996. Although it was known that they sometimes request script changes in exchange for advice, permission to use locations, and equipment like aircraft carriers, each appeared to have passive, and largely apolitical roles.

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How a Racial Theorist Tied to Mussolini and Hitler Influenced Steve Bannon

Amy Goodman speaks with Bloomberg journalist Joshua Green about two men who influenced Steve Bannon’s philosophy: the Italian philosopher Julius Evola, whose ideas became the basis of fascist racial theory, and René Guénon, who developed an anti-modernism philosophy called ‘Traditionalism’. Green writes about Evola and Guénon in his new book titled Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency. (Democracy Now!)

Did Brits Kill New York City Cops to Get U.S. into WWII?

Marc Wortman writes for The Daily Beast:

The sequence of events appears to tell a damning story: On June 4, 1940, Nazi Germany shoved the last British troop off the Continent at Dunkirk. Adolf Hitler moved his forces into position for a final cross-Channel invasion and occupation of England. That same month the new British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, dispatched a shadowy figure, Sir William Stephenson—later most famous as the original of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Agent 007—to set up a spy shop for Britain’s MI6 in Midtown Manhattan. A hero of World War One and self-made multi-millionaire, Stephenson was on neutral ground in America, but he and Churchill shared the conviction that nothing was more important to their nation’s chances for survival than winning American support for the war against Hitler. Then, on July 4, 1940, with throngs of holiday visitors at the New York World’s Fair, a time bomb planted in the British Pavilion exploded, instantly killing two New York City policemen and badly mauling five others. Was Stephenson behind the blast in an attempt to frame Nazis and their American sympathizers? Were these officers sacrificed to win American sympathy and draw a reluctant United States into the Second World War?

This past Independence Day marked the seventy-seventh anniversary of the unsolved crime. “It’s a cold case, but still an open case,” New York City Police Lieutenant Bernard Whalen tells me. He has scrutinized the original bombing case files while researching two books he wrote on the history of the NYPD. “There was a massive investigation at the time. The FBI was involved.” No effort was spared—except to get at those he believes were likeliest to have knowledge of the bomb, the security staff of the British Pavilion itself.

Although the United States was officially neutral, in the midst of a world at war, it was fast becoming a shadowy battlefield. New York teemed with spies, political agitators, and foreign agents, many with violence in mind for their enemies, some desperate enough to go to any length to sway American public opinion. While Whalen won’t pin blame on any single possible culprit, he says after his own studies of the case, “You could draw the conclusion that it was an inside job.” At one point the NYPD suspected as much, but were stopped from getting to the bottom of the case.

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I Feel Love: Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder Created the Template for Dance Music As We Know It

Bill Brewster writes for Mixmag:

It had been a good few months for the gang at Musicland Studios. Deep in the bowels of the Arabella High-Rise Building in Munich’s Bogenhausen district, this pan-European collective of players had been a responsible for a string of hits that had turned disco on its head. Led by co-producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, this team had made a major breakthrough with the Donna Summer’s breathy hit ‘Love To Love You Baby’, which crossed over into the pop charts – but not before being banned by Radio 1 for being too sexy.

Donna Summer was one of a clique of itinerant musicians and performers who’d washed up in Munich at a time when the recording industry there was at its most vibrant. Originally a cast member of the hippie musical Hair in Germany, she swiftly established herself as an in-demand session singer. She was a popular part of the studio set-up. “We became good friends,” says Moroder, “She was an incredibly talented singer, who could improvise but was also very disciplined. As a person she was very funny.” According to Bellotte, one of the reasons she was easy to work with was her lack of interest in the recording process. “The whole time that we worked together there was never the slightest bit of friction. We were so lucky, because she wasn’t interested in the productions at all. So she’d come in the studio, usually at four o’clock in the afternoon, and would chat for hours. Then she’d look at her watch and say, ‘Oh I’ve gotta go!’ and she’d go into the studio and mostly sing it in one take – and be gone.”

The sessions for ‘I Remember Yesterday’, Donna’s fifth album, moved swiftly. “Everything happened so fast,” says Bellotte. “Our engineer Jürgen was fast, and the musicians were too. Albums evolved quickly, we never hung around. We were a working team and we just got on with it.” In stark contrast to their American and British label Casablanca Records, which appeared to be entirely fuelled by blizzards of cocaine, there was little excess going on in the Musicland Studios. Two of the team, Bellotte and engineer Jürgen Koppers, were tee-total, while Giorgio drank modest amounts. There were no drugs.

‘I Remember Yesterday’ was yet another concept album, cooked up by Bellotte and inspired by Anthony Powell’s novel A Dance to The Music Of Time (also the LP’s original title). Each song would evoke a different decade’s mood, from 40s swing to the 1960s with the Shirelles and Supremes, 70s funk and contemporary disco before alighting upon the future with the final track: ‘I Feel Love’.

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What’s Really Behind North Korea’s Nuclear Provocations

Bruce Cumings writes for The Nation:

northkorea_missile_ap_imgDonald Trump was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on February 11 when a message arrived mid-meal, courtesy of Pyongyang: North Korea had just tested a new, solid-fuel, intermediate-range ballistic missile, fired from a mobile—and therefore hard-to-detect—launcher. The president pulled out his 1990s flip-phone and discussed this event in front of the various people sitting within earshot. One of these diners, Richard DeAgazio, was suitably agog at the import of this weighty scene, posting the following comment on his Facebook page: “HOLY MOLY!!! It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan.”

Actually, this missile was aimed directly at Mar-a-Lago, figuratively speaking. It was a pointed nod to history that no American media outlet grasped: “Prime Minister Shinzo,” as Trump called him, is the grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, a former Japanese prime minister whom Abe reveres. Nobusuke was deemed a “Class A” war criminal by the US occupation authorities after World War II, and he ran munitions manufacturing in Manchuria in the 1930s, when Gen. Hideki Tojo was provost marshal there. Kim Il-sung, whom grandson Kim Jong-un likewise reveres, was fighting the Japanese at the same time and in the same place.

As I wrote for this magazine in January 2016, the North Koreans must be astonished to discover that US leaders never seem to grasp the import of their history-related provocations. Even more infuriating is Washington’s implacable refusal ever to investigate our 72-year history of conflict with the North; all of our media appear to live in an eternal present, with each new crisis treated as sui generis. Visiting Seoul in March, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted that North Korea has a history of violating one agreement after another; in fact, President Bill Clinton got it to freeze its plutonium production for eight years (1994–2002) and, in October 2000, had indirectly worked out a deal to buy all of its medium- and long-range missiles. Clinton also signed an agreement with Gen. Jo Myong-rok stating that henceforth, neither country would bear “hostile intent” toward the other.

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Naomi Klein: The Worst Is Yet to Come with Trump, So We Must Be Ready for Shock Politics

Amy Goodman speaks with Naomi Klein, best-selling author and Intercept senior correspondent, about her latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. You can watch the full interview over at Democracy Now’s website(Democracy Now!)

Republican Push to Replace Obamacare Reflects Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

Amy Goodmand and Nermeen Shaikh speak with Duke University historian Nancy MacLean, author of the new book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for Americaabout the radical right’s attempt to reshape the role of the federal government—from healthcare to education to housing. (Democracy Now!)

64 Years Later, CIA Details Long-Hidden Role in Iran Coup

Aaron Maté speaks with Malcolm Byrne of the National Security Archives about the quiet release of long-awaited and long-hidden CIA documents offering key details on how the U.S. and Britain overthrew Iran’s democratic government in 1953. (The Real News) 

The Reichstag Fire Next Time

Masha Gessen writes for Harper’s Magazine:

When each day brings more news than we are used to seeing in a week, and the kind of news that only the most catastrophic imagination can accommodate, we find ourselves talking about the Reichstag fire. Time feels both accelerated and slowed down, and so we imagine that we have been talking about the fire for years. It is the new president’s new clothes: invisible, yet always present in our perception of him.

The Reichstag fire, it goes almost without saying, will be a terrorist attack, and it will mark our sudden, obvious, and irreversible descent into autocracy. Here is what it looks like: On a sunny morning you turn on the television as you make coffee, or the speaker in your shower streams the news, or the radio comes on when you turn the ignition key in your car. The voices of the newscasters are familiar, but their pitch is altered, and they speak with a peculiar haste. Something horrible has happened—it is not yet clear what—and thousands are dead, and more are expected to die. You hear the word “terror.” You feel it.

You reach for your cell phone, but the circuits are busy, and will be for hours—it will take you the rest of the day to check in with your loved ones. They are safe, but changed. And so are you. So are all of us. Tragedy has cast its shadow over every space where you encounter strangers: the subway, your child’s school, your lunch spot. People are quieter, less frivolous, yet they are not subdued. They share a sense of purpose that is greater than their fear. They are experiencing something they’d only read about: War has come to their land. Everyone is a patriot now.

You used to scoff at that word, or argue that dissent was the highest form of patriotism. But now you find that the word expresses what you are. Now is not the moment for dissent. A couple of public intellectuals insist that it is, and you feel embarrassed for them. They quickly fade from the scene, and this serves to underscore an unprecedented sort of unity.

Nowhere is this unity more evident than in Washington. Bills are passed unanimously. These laws give new powers to the president and his security apparatus. The president, unpopular and widely considered incompetent before the attack, now steps up to direct the war effort. His demeanor—which some used to deride as primitive—is well suited for this new black-and-white era. His administration institutes sweeping surveillance to ferret out enemies at home, and wages one war and then another abroad.

American public life is profoundly transformed. The press becomes uncritical of the government. There is no outright censorship; correspondents are part of the effort now, as they were during the Second World War. American casualties pile up, the foreign carnage is enormous and unmeasured, but there is scant domestic resistance. Only at the margins of politics and the media do some people question the usefulness and legality of the war effort.

The government pushes the limits further, cutting off access to the judiciary for those deemed the enemy. The president is no longer unpopular, and he can impose his will on Washington and the country. The country is in a forever war, a state of exception that has taken away many American freedoms, some of which were ceded voluntarily.

That is what we talk about when we talk about the Reichstag fire, and it has already happened. Like sad versions of the characters in The Wizard of Oz, who set off in search of traits they already possess, we are living in fear of an event that will catapult us into a terrifying future, when the event has already occurred—and has given us our terrifying present.

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Why Does the Far Right Hold a Near-Monopoly on Political Violence?

Joshua Holland reports for The Nation:

republicans gunsIn the wake of the mass shooting in suburban Virginia last week that left House majority whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and three others wounded, conservatives have been furiously waving the bloody shirt. With left-wing hate filling half the screen, Sean Hannity blamed Democrats, saying they “dehumanize Republicans and paint them as monsters.” Tucker Carlson claimed that “some on the hard left” support political violence because it “could lead to the dissolution of a country they despise.” Others have blamed seemingly anything even vaguely identified with liberalism for inciting the violence—from Madonna to MSNBC to Shakespeare in the Park.

This is all a truly remarkable example of projection. In the wake of the shooting, Erick Erickson wrote a piece titled, “The Violence is Only Getting Started,” as if three innocent people hadn’t been brutally murdered by white supremacists in two separate incidents in just the past month.

In the real world, since the end of the Vietnam era, the overwhelming majority of serious political violence—not counting vandalism or punches thrown at protests, but violence with lethal intent—has come from the fringes of the right. Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project says that “if you go back to the 1960s, you see all kinds of left-wing terrorism, but since then it’s been exceedingly rare.” She notes that eco- and animal-rights extremists caused extensive property damage in the 1990s, but didn’t target people.

Meanwhile, says Beirich, “right-wing domestic terrorism has been common throughout that period, going back to groups like to The Order, which assassinated [liberal talk-radio host] Alan Berg [in 1984] right through to today.” Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told NPR that “when you look at murders committed by domestic extremists in the United States of all types, right-wing extremists are responsible for about 74 percent of those murders.” The actual share is higher still, as violence committed by ultraconservative Islamic supremacists isn’t included in tallies of “right-wing extremism.”

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The History Channel Is Finally Telling the Stunning Secret Story of the War on Drugs

Jon Schwarz reports for The Intercept:

WD_Ross_Rick_26-1497644731Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa, is known on Twitter for expressing his yearning for the History Channel to finally show some history.

The good news for Grassley, and for everyone else, is that starting Sunday night and running through Wednesday the History Channel is showing a new four-part series called “America’s War on Drugs.” Not only is it an important contribution to recent American history, it’s also the first time U.S. television has ever told the core truth about one of the most important issues of the past 50 years.

That core truth is: The war on drugs has always been a pointless sham. For decades the federal government has engaged in a shifting series of alliances of convenience with some of the world’s largest drug cartels. So while the U.S. incarceration rate has quintupled since President Richard Nixon first declared the war on drugs in 1971, top narcotics dealers have simultaneously enjoyed protection at the highest levels of power in America.

On the one hand, this shouldn’t be surprising. The voluminous documentation of this fact in dozens of books has long been available to anyone with curiosity and a library card.

Yet somehow, despite the fact the U.S. has no formal system of censorship, this monumental scandal has never before been presented in a comprehensive way in the medium where most Americans get their information: TV.

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Why the White House Is Reading Greek History

Michael Crowley reports for Politico:

Image result for ThucydidesThe Trump White House isn’t known as a hot spot for Ivy League intellectuals. But last month, a Harvard academic slipped into the White House complex for an unusual meeting. Graham Allison, an avuncular foreign policy thinker who served under Reagan and Clinton, was paying a visit to the National Security Council, where he briefed a group of staffers on one of history’s most studied conflicts—a brutal war waged nearly 2,500 years ago, one whose lessons still resonate, even in the administration of a president who doesn’t like to read.

The subject was America’s rivalry with China, cast through the lens of ancient Greece. The 77-year-old Allison is the author of a recent book based on the writings of Thucydides, the ancient historian famous for his epic chronicle of the Peloponnesian War between the Greek states of Athens and Sparta. Allison cites the Greek scholar’s summation of why the two powers fought: “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.” He warns that the same dynamic could drive this century’s rising empire, China, and the United States into a war neither wants. Allison calls this the “Thucydides Trap,” and it’s a question haunting some very important people in the Trump administration, particularly as Chinese officials arrive Wednesday for “diplomatic and security dialogue” talks between Washington and Beijing designed, in large part, to avoid conflict between the world’s two strongest nations.

It might seem curious that an ancient Greek would cast a shadow over a meeting between a group of diplomats and generals from America and Asia. Most Americans probably don’t know Thucydides from Mephistopheles. But the Greek writer is a kind of demigod to international relations theorists and military historians, revered for his elegant chronicle of one of history’s most consequential wars, and his timeless insights into the nature of politics and warfare. The Yale University historian Donald Kagan calls Thucydides’ account “a source of wisdom about the behavior of human beings under the enormous pressures imposed by war, plague, and civil strife.”

Thucydides is especially beloved by the two most influential figures on Trump’s foreign policy team. National security adviser H.R. McMaster has called Thucydides’ work an “essential” military text, taught it to students and quoted from it in speeches and op-eds. Defense Secretary James Mattis is also fluent in Thucydides’ work: “If you say to him, ‘OK, how about the Melian Dialogue?’ he could tell you exactly what it is,” Allison says—referring to one particularly famous passage. When former Defense Secretary William Cohen introduced him at his confirmation hearing, Cohen said Mattis was likely the only person present “who can hear the words ‘Thucydides Trap’ and not have to go to Wikipedia to find out what it means.”

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It’s the Russians Wot Done It

Mark Galeotti writes for The Moscow Times:

Last week the online media company BuzzFeed released “From Russia With Blood,” part of a series alleging that 14 people have been assassinated in Britain — a “ring of death” that British authorities reportedly ignored or covered up.

Dramatic stuff. 

Whether or not it is all true (and I have my doubts), it speaks to the current East-West atmosphere, in which Russia can safely be blamed for anything.

The BuzzFeed account is certainly an exciting read. There are cases which definitely ought to have been considered more closely (suicide by slashing oneself repeatedly with two knives? Really?) There are cases where understandably-grieving friends are trotted out to affirm that their loved ones would never commit suicide (as is common in such cases).

Then there are the shockers. Stories airily assuming that suicides could be induced by psychotropic drugs, or cunning Russian agents could mask every sign of murder. Accompanying is a large, anonymous cast of sources casting doubt on official accounts, coroners’ reports, and the government line. Many, incidentally, are apparently U.S. intelligence officers eager to present the Brits as feckless and foolish.

Perhaps the article’s crowning glory is the passage in which “a current senior national security advisor to the British government” is willing to tell BuzzFeed that the government is too scared to act “because the Kremlin could inflict massive harm on Britain by unleashing cyberattacks, destabilising the economy, or mobilising elements of Britain’s large Russian population to ‘cause disruption.’” Somehow a “general war with Russia” crops up in the same paragraph, as if Putin would somehow leapfrog NATO’s European members and drop paratroopers in Milton Keynes if Boris Johnson says something else nasty about him.

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Oliver Stone Interviews Putin on U.S.-Russia Relations, 2016 Election, Snowden and NATO

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak with award winning filmmaker Oliver Stone about his new Showtime TV special, The Putin Interviews. The series is based on more than 20 hours of interviews Stone conducted with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the past two years. (Democracy Now!)

The Kissinger Backchannel to Moscow

Gareth Porter writes for Consortium News:

[…] The Brennan-Clapper line insinuating that the Kushner request for contacts with the Russians was potentially treasonous collapses in light of the well-documented story of how President-elect Richard Nixon’s national security adviser-designate Henry Kissinger established his own personal backchannel to the Soviet leadership in 1968 using a known KGB operative with whom he had been meeting for years as his contact.

Historian Richard A. Moss of the Naval War College recently published an authoritative book-length study of the Kissinger backchannel showing that that Kissinger began setting up his backchannel to the Soviet government leadership through his Soviet contact in December 1968 soon after being named Nixon’s choice for national security adviser.

And it shows that Kissinger seized on the one Soviet government contact he already had to establish the backchannel. That was Boris Sedov, whom Kissinger knew to be a KGB operative. Kissinger had been acquainted with Sedov from the latter’s visits to Harvard. The two continued the contacts after Nixon’s election in 1968.

Moss’s book recounts how Kissinger used the Sedov channel to introduce the concept of “linkage” of different policy issues into negotiations with the Soviets. Sedov gave Kissinger a Soviet government paper on Middle East policy, according to Moss’s account. Only after Nixon’s inauguration did Kissinger and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin agree that all further communication would be through Dobrynin.

Both the Kissinger-Sedov and Kissinger-Dobrynin channels were kept secret from the rest of the Nixon administration’s national security apparatus, as recounted by Moss. Nixon agreed to set up a secure phone line in the White House linking him directly to Dobrynin. The U.S. intelligence agencies, the National Security Council staff and the Pentagon were kept in the dark about these conversations.

And to complete the parallels between the Kissinger backchannel episode and the Flynn and Kushner contacts with the Russians, Moss reveals that Sedov later bragged to a Lebanese-American about his contact with Kissinger –- a boast that was immediately picked up by FBI surveillance of Sedov.

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On Tyranny: Yale Historian Timothy Snyder on How the U.S. Can Avoid Sliding Into Authoritarianism

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak with Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder about his new book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, which draws on his decades of experience writing about war and genocide in European history in order to find 20 key lessons that can help the United States avoid descending into authoritarianism. (Democracy Now!)

The Biggest Bills for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Are Yet to Come

Linda J. Blimes reports for Defense One:

An Afghan National Army Humvee in the Paktika province, Afghanistan in 2011.Each Memorial Day, we pay respects to the fallen from past wars – including the more than one million American soldiers killed in the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.

Yet the nation’s longest and most expensive war is the one that is still going on. In addition to nearly 7,000 troops killed, the 16-year conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost an estimated US$6 trillion due to its prolonged length, rapidly increasing veterans health care and disability costs and interest on war borrowing. On this Memorial Day, we should begin to confront the staggering cost and the challenge of paying for this war.

The enormous figure reflects not just the cost of fighting – like guns, trucks and fuel – but also the long-term cost of providing medical care and disability compensation for decades beyond the end of the conflict. Consider the fact that benefits for World War I veterans didn’t peak until 1969. For World War II veterans, the peak came in 1986. Payments for Vietnam-era vets are still climbing.

The high rates of injuries and increased survival rates in Iraq and Afghanistan mean that over half the 2.5 million who served there suffered some degree of disability. Their health care and disability benefits alone will easily cost $1 trillion in coming decades.

But instead of facing up to these huge costs, we have charged them to the national credit card. This means that our children will be forced to pay the bill for the wars started by our generation. Unless we set aside money today, it is likely that young people now fighting in Afghanistan will be shortchanged in the future just when they most need medical care and benefits.

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The Death of Manuel Noriega, and U.S Intervention in Latin America

David A. Graham writes for The Atlantic:

General Manuel Noriega speaks to Panamanian reporters in May 1989.Old soldiers do die, it turns out, but there’s something incongruous about watching ruthless, formerly swashbuckling military dictators end their lives quietly as frail old men in hospital beds.

It happened to Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean strongman, who returned home and died under house arrest in 2006, at 91. Fidel Castro slowly faded from view, becoming even less coherent, before dying at home in November, as his brother slowly rolled back their revolution. And now Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian leader, has died at 83 following complications from surgery to remove a brain tumor. He had been imprisoned in his home country.

Like nearly every Latin American leader of the late 20thcentury, but more intensely than most of them, the three men had complicated histories with the United States, the dominant power in the hemisphere: Pinochet as American ally, Castro as nemesis, and Noriega, ultimately, as both. The tale of American involvement with Noriega, and what came afterward, suggests humbling lessons about U.S. ability to change the course of history in its southern neighbors.

For most of his career, Noriega was an exemplar of a certain kind of American intervention in Latin America: The lawless, vicious leader whom the U.S. cultivated and propped up despite clear and serious flaws. Noriega got involved with the U.S. at a young age, volunteering to inform on leftist students during the Eisenhower administration. He later attend the U.S Army School of the Americas, a training center in Panama that was run by the American military that produced an impressive dishonor roll of despots and murderers across Latin America, as part of a U.S. effort to train domestic resistance to leftist politics in the region. Noriega began receiving payments from the CIA in 1971.

A coup in 1968 brought the military to power in Panama, and Noriega rose to become intelligence chief under General Omar Torrijos, a fellow School of the Americas alumnus who signed the agreement conveying the Panama Canal Zone over from American to Panamanian control. In 1981, Torrijos died in a mysterious plane crash, which an estranged Noriega aide later claimed was Noriega’s doing. By 1983, Noriega effectively controlled Panama.

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John F. Kennedy Had a Russian Back Channel

Tim Naftali reports for Slate:

John Fitzgerald Kennedy On a day in early December, one of Moscow’s agents in the United States, working undercover as a journalist for Izvestia, reported a private meeting with the president-elect’s “closest adviser.” The adviser, who met privately with the Russian spy, was frank and hopeful about a significant improvement in relations from the previous administration. He “stressed that was not merely expressing his personal opinion but the position of the future president.” The two men met alone, and there was no American record made of the encounter.

This is not a report about Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, whose activities during the transition are now being investigated. Nor it is about Jared Kushner, who, the Washington Post reported on Friday, approached Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last December to propose a secret communications channel. The meeting described above took place in 1960, and the “close adviser” was the incoming president’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy. It is not unusual for the Russians to want to establish contacts with an incoming presidential administration, especially when there is tension between the two countries. It is also not unusual for an American administration to use back channels to probe the intentions of adversarial powers. But December 1960 was not December 2016. The RFK meeting likely came at the request of the Russians, not the Americans. It was not held in secret—it was noted on RFK’s telephone log. And Robert Kennedy, despite general encouraging words, made no promises, suggested no follow-up, and was in no way working against the outgoing Eisenhower administration. The Russians were smart in focusing attention on the president-elect’s brother. He would eventually be involved in historic back channel activity, but well after the inauguration. And all these years later, such communications have been revealed as a canny and patriotic initiative by the Kennedy administration.

This Monday John F. Kennedy would have turned 100, and it has taken nearly this long to develop a full picture of his presidency: The more we learn about it, the more impressive he becomes. Much of the biographical work until recently has been filling in the gaps created by censors—mainly close allies and family members—who did not want the public image of the fallen leader to be tarnished by his addiction to sex and his physical frailties. But what should most dramatically change how we view his presidency is the flood of new information (and some of it not new but underappreciated from Russian records) about how he did his job. JFK had a taping system installed in the White House a decade before Nixon, and these recordings have only been fully opened since late 2012. Unlike the technophobic Nixon, whose taping system would turn on at the literal drop of a hat, Kennedy’s was controlled by a button usually pressed by him alone. The Kennedy tapes, and the increasing release of that era’s national security documents, are revising the picture of a very creative moment in U.S. foreign policy.

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A Murderous History of Korea

Bruce Cumings, the author of several books on the Korean Peninsula, writes for the London Review of Books:

Image result for A Murderous History of KoreaMore than four decades ago I went to lunch with a diplomatic historian who, like me, was going through Korea-related documents at the National Archives in Washington. He happened to remark that he sometimes wondered whether the Korean Demilitarised Zone might be ground zero for the end of the world. This April, Kim In-ryong, a North Korean diplomat at the UN, warned of ‘a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment’. A few days later, President Trump told Reuters that ‘we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.’ American atmospheric scientists have shown that even a relatively contained nuclear war would throw up enough soot and debris to threaten the global population: ‘A regional war between India and Pakistan, for instance, has the potential to dramatically damage Europe, the US and other regions through global ozone loss and climate change.’ How is it possible that we have come to this? How does a puffed-up, vainglorious narcissist, whose every other word may well be a lie (that applies to both of them, Trump and Kim Jong-un), come not only to hold the peace of the world in his hands but perhaps the future of the planet? We have arrived at this point because of an inveterate unwillingness on the part of Americans to look history in the face and a laser-like focus on that same history by the leaders of North Korea.

North Korea celebrated the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army on 25 April, amid round-the-clock television coverage of parades in Pyongyang and enormous global tension. No journalist seemed interested in asking why it was the 85th anniversary when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was only founded in 1948. What was really being celebrated was the beginning of the Korean guerrilla struggle against the Japanese in north-east China, officially dated to 25 April 1932. After Japan annexed Korea in 1910, many Koreans fled across the border, among them the parents of Kim Il-sung, but it wasn’t until Japan established its puppet state of Manchukuo in March 1932 that the independence movement turned to armed resistance. Kim and his comrades launched a campaign that lasted 13 difficult years, until Japan finally relinquished control of Korea as part of the 1945 terms of surrender. This is the source of the North Korean leadership’s legitimacy in the eyes of its people: they are revolutionary nationalists who resisted their country’s coloniser; they resisted again when a massive onslaught by the US air force during the Korean War razed all their cities, driving the population to live, work and study in subterranean shelters; they have continued to resist the US ever since; and they even resisted the collapse of Western communism – as of this September, the DPRK will have been in existence for as long as the Soviet Union. But it is less a communist country than a garrison state, unlike any the world has seen. Drawn from a population of just 25 million, the North Korean army is the fourth largest in the world, with 1.3 million soldiers – just behind the third largest army, with 1.4 million soldiers, which happens to be the American one. Most of the adult Korean population, men and women, have spent many years in this army: its reserves are limited only by the size of the population.

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Eurovision! What a Song Contest Says About a Continent

Stephen Moore writes in his review of Eurovision! A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contest by Chris West for The Guardian:

Image result for Eurovision! A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contesthave always been a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, the 62nd instalment of which takes place in Kiev on 13 May. At least I hope it takes place – this has been one of the more troubled stagings, with the hostility between Ukraine and Russia spilling over into a competition that is supposed to be an expression of European solidarity.

There is one qualification to my fandom: I don’t think I have ever managed to sit through the contest’s entirety, which these days runs to more than three hours. The bit I like is the judging, which usually occupies the last quarter of the show. That’s when the amities and enmities between the nations of Europe – the centuries-old frictions that have always tended to undermine the grand ambitions of the Eurovision project – come to the fore. Cyprus and Greece vote for each other; Belarus backs Russia; the Scandinavian and Balkan countries vote as a bloc; and over the last 20 years, as the UK has increasingly become the odd one out in the EU, no one has voted for us. It was all too much for Terry Wogan, whose mordant commentaries kept the contest afloat in the UK. He quit in 2008, complaining that the event was now about politics rather than music.

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Germany Searches All Army Barracks For Nazi Material

BBC News reports:

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (C) walks with General Joerg Vollmer, General Inspector of the German Land Army (L), and General Volker Wieker, Inspector General of Germany' Armed Forces in Bundeswehr, during her visit to the 291st fighter squadron in Illkirch on 3 May, 2017.Inspections have been ordered at every German army barracks, after Nazi-era memorabilia was found at two of them.

The defence ministry said the command came from the inspector general of the Bundeswehr (Germany’s armed forces).

All barracks will be searched for material linked to the Wehrmacht, the army which served Adolf Hitler.

The move follows a growing scandal over far-right extremism within the army, with an officer accused of plotting an attack disguised as a Syrian refugee.

The army lieutenant, who had expressed far-right views, was arrested in late April.

Prosecutors in Frankfurt said the 28-year-old suspect had a “xenophobic background”.

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The CIA Has a Long History of Helping to Kill Leaders Around the World

Ewen MacAskill reports for The Guardian:

Image result for CIA assassinationsSome of the most notorious of the CIA’s operations to kill world leaders were those targeting the late Cuban president, Fidel Castro. Attempts ranged from snipers to imaginative plots worthy of spy movie fantasies, such as the famous exploding cigars and a poison-lined scuba-diving suit.

But although the CIA attempts proved fruitless in the case of Castro, the US intelligence agency has since 1945 succeeded in deposing or killing a string of leaders elsewhere around the world – either directly or, more often, using sympathetic local military, locally hired criminals or pliant dissidents.

According to North Korea’s ministry of state security, the CIA has not abandoned its old ways. In a statement on Friday, it accused that the CIA and South Korea’s intelligence service of being behind an alleged recent an assassination attempt on its leader Kim Jong-un.

The attempt, according to the ministry, involved “the use of biochemical substances including radioactive substance and nano poisonous substance” and the advantage of this was it “does not require access to the target (as) their lethal results will appear after six or 12 months”.

The person directly responsible was allegedly a North Korean working for the foreign intelligence agencies.

A CIA spokesman refused to comment on the allegations.

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Trump’s Real Sin Is Not Distinguishing Between ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Dictators

Juan Cole writes for Informed Comment:

[…] The Bad Dictators are arguably Bad, and some are war criminals. But Washington tends to deal with the pro-American dictators by just not bringing them up much, or by stressing their friendliness rather than their rapaciousness when they are brought up.

Some of those Washington sees as Bad Dictators, however, are either not dictators or not bad, or not either one. Evo Morales of Bolivia was called “Taliban” by W.’s ambassador, presumably because he represents workers and the indigenous population rather than big business. I’m not aware that anyone has suggested he hasn’t been fairly elected, and he has been a good steward of the economy for workers and the middle classes.

Then of course above all you’re not allowed to bring up that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rules millions of Palestinians by military force, keeping them occupied and stateless and stealing their land while depriving them of the most basic human and civil rights. No Palestinian was allowed to vote for or against Netanyahu even though he rules them with an iron fist.

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