Category Archives: History

Between Crosshairs, a Man, and His Revolution

Imperial proprietorship over the small Caribbean Island of Cuba, from the United States’ perspective, has been from its earliest founding understood as a foredrawn conclusion, a predetermined inexorable; a geographical inevitable. Heads of State, from Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe to John Quincy Adams et al. shared a similar conviction, “[that Cuba’s] proximity did indeed seem to suggest destiny, a destiny unanimously assumed to be manifest.”i Through the mid 19th century, US opinion toward Cuba was made jingoistically evident by Secretary of State John Clayton, “This Government,” he advised, “is resolutely determined that the island of Cuba, shall never be ceded by Spain to any other power than the United States.”ii The Secretary went on to define his nation’s hardened and inalterable commitment to the possession of the island, “The news of the cession of Cuba to any foreign power would, in the United States, be the instant signal for war.”iii These assertions were now foundational, as reiterated by Indiana Senator (and historian) Albert J. Beveridge in 1901,“Cuba ‘[is] an object of transcendent importance to the political and commercial interests of our Union’ and ‘[is] indispensable to the continuance and integrity of the Union itself,’”iv sentiments that were (later) codified into the Cuban Constitution by the US (after the Spanish/American war of 1898) in the form of the Platt Amendmentv ratified in 1903. Which Louis A. Perez soberly describes as, “[An] Amendment [that] deprived the [Cuban] republic of the essential properties of sovereignty while preserving its appearance, permitting self-government but precluding self-determination,”vi in contradiction to (Cuba’s heroic bard of national emancipation) José Martí’s 19th century grand-vision of a truly liberated and self-governing island nation. In fact, this historic outlook permeates US strategy toward Cuba for the next century; merged in a complex web of amicable approbation combined with antagonistic condemnation, defiance, resentment, and ruin – all converging at a flashpoint called the Cuban Revolution of 1959, which not only shocked and bewildered US policymakers, but, for the first time, challenged their historic preconceptions of US hegemonic (i.e., imperial hemispheric) dominance. One man stood at the center of their bewilderment, criticism, disdain, and resentment: Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz. Thus, US policy then directed at Cuba, by the early 1960s, was designed to punish this man, the small island nation, and its people, for his disobedience and defiance; and, as such, was intentionally aimed at destabilizing all efforts of rapprochement, as long as he (Castro) remained alive.

Although US intelligence (throughout the 1950s) provided the Eisenhower administration with a thorough history delineating the dangers of instability looming throughout the island, commanded by then military despot and “strong-man” Fulgencio Batista (who seized his return to power in an army-coup in 1952), the US foolishly continued to provide economic, logistical and materiel support to the unpopular and graft-driven dictatorship.vii US intelligence understood the potential danger posed by “[this] young reformist leader”viii Fidel Castro and his band of revolutionaries. Castro and the 26th of July movement were a defiant response to what they considered a foreign controlled reactionary government.ix This response stood as a direct threat to the natural order of things, i.e., the US’s historic prohibition (beyond legalistic euphemisms and platitudes)x of any genuine vestige of national sovereignty and self-determination by the Cuban people – which undergirded a belief that, like most Latin American states, the Cuban people were innately “child-like,” incapable of true self-governance.xi Beyond that, after the ousting of Batista, and “flush with victory,” a young Fidel Castro, on January 2, 1959 (in Santiago de Cuba), assertively threw down the gauntlet, “this time, fortunately for Cuba, the revolution will not be thwarted. It won’t be as in 1895, when the Americans came in at the last hour ‘and made themselves masters of the country.’”xii Hence, as Jeffery J. Safford makes evident, this existential risk, in the minds of US policymakers, would have to be dealt with, embraced, evaluated, and analyzed (at least initially)xiii in order to maintain the desired outcome – i.e., evading Communist influence and maintaining economic “stability” through the protection of US interests on the island of Cuba no matter the cost.

In March of 1960, while naively underestimating Castro’s success and support on the island, “the Eisenhower administration secretly made a formal decision to re-conquer Cuba … with a proviso: it had to be done in such a way that the US hand would not be evident.”xiv Ultimately, US policymakers wanted to avoid a broader “backlash of instability” throughout the hemisphere by overtly invading the small island nation. That said, Castro and his revolutionaries understood the stark realities and nefarious possibilities cast over them, given the US’s history of flagrant regime change throughout the region. Castro’s accusations as presented at the United Nations, on 26 September 1960, which declared that US leaders were (intending if not) preparing to invade Cuba, were dismissed by the New York Times as “shrill with … anti-American propaganda.”xv Furthermore, Castro was ridiculed, by US representative James J. Wadsworth, as having “Alice in Wonderland fantasies”xvi of an invasion. But Castro’s committed revolutionary coterie knew better, “In Guatemala in 1954 [Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara witnessed] the first U.S. Cold War intervention [in the region] as U.S.-trained and backed counter-revolutionary forces overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz…”xvii In fact, similarly, the imminent Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) orchestrated assault, known as the Bay of Pigs (BOPs) invasion, under the Kennedy administration in April 1961, was heavily reliant upon anti-revolutionary factions, the Cuban people, and the military, rising up to join the invadersxviii – which as history proves, and journalist/author David Talbot underscores, did not come to pass:

To avoid Arbenz’s fate, Castro and Guevara would do everything he had not: put the hard-cored thugs of the old regime up against a wall, run the CIA’s agents out of the country, purge the armed forces, and mobilize the Cuban people … Fidel and Che became an audacious threat to the American empire. They represented the most dangerous revolutionary idea of all – the one that refused to be crushed.xix

This became an epic ideological battle in the myopic mind of US officials: the possible proliferation of an assortment of “despotic” Communist controlled fiefdoms vs. the-free-world! Indeed, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., special aide and historian to President John F. Kennedy in 1961-63, ominously warned the Executive, that “the spread of the Castro idea of taking matters into one’s own hands,xx had great appeal in Cuba (and throughout Latin America), i.e., everywhere that, “distribution of land and other forms of national wealth greatly favor[ed] the propertied classes … [thus] the poor and underprivileged, stimulated by the example of the Cuban revolution, [were] now demanding opportunities for a decent living.”xxi This was the urgent and fundamental threat (or challenge) Fidel Castro and his movement posed to US hemispheric rule.

US media focused heavily on the plight of the “majority middleclass” Cuban exiles, that chose to leave the island as a result of the revolution’s redistributive polices.xxii Cubans, particularly the initial waves, were dispossessed of substantial wealth and position and often arrived Stateside in chiefly worse conditions.xxiii But the essential question as to, “why the [majority of] Cuban people [stood] by the Castro ‘dictatorship’?,”xxiv as Michael Parenti contends, was ignored by public officials and the press alike:

Not a word appeared in the U.S. press about the advances made by ordinary Cubans under the Revolution, the millions who for the first time had access to education, literacy, medical care, decent housing [and] jobs … offering a better life than the free-market misery endured under the U.S.-Batista ancient régime.xxv

Castro’s revolutionary ideals based on José Martí’s patriotic theme of national sovereignty and self-determination, effectively armed the Cuban people through a stratagem of socialist ideology and wealth redistribution meshed in a formula of land reform and social services (i.e., education, healthcare, jobs and housing) which included the nationalization of foreign owned businesses; as such, US policymakers believed, “His continued presence within the hemispheric community as a dangerously effective exponent of ‘Communism’ and Anti-Americanism constitutes a real menace capable of eventually overthrowing the elected governments in any one or more ‘weak’ Latin American republics.”xxvi Fidel Castro was thus wantonly placed within the crosshairs of US covert-action.

American officials assumed that the elimination of Castro was central to the suppression of his socialist principles, as Alan McPherson demonstrates, “In fall 1961, after the [BOPs] disaster, [JFK] gave the order to resume covert plans to get rid of Castro, if not explicitly to assassinate him.”xxvii Earlier in 1960, then CIA director, Allen Dulles’ hardline that Castro was a devoted Communist and threat to US security “mirrored [those] of the business world such as, William Pawley, the globetrotting millionaire entrepreneur whose major investments in Cuban sugar plantations and Havana’s municipal transportation system were wiped out by Castro’s revolution.”xxviii Thus, US officials, the Security State and US business-interests were unified, “After Fidel rode into Havana on a tank in January 1959, Pawley [a capitalist scion] who was gripped by what Eisenhower called a ‘pathological hatred for Castro,’ even volunteered to pay for his assassination.”xxix Countless attempts followed, thus, killing Castro became vital to the idea of US hemispheric “stability,” i.e., capitalist economic and ideological control; and as such, Intelligence Services believed, “[The] political vulnerability of the regime lies in the person of Castro himself…”xxx Hence, the purging of Fidel Castro and the cessation of his ideas, through the punishment of the Cuban people, became not only the strategy of choice for the US, but its incessant authoritative doctrine. Accordingly, as longtime US diplomat to Cuba, Wayne Smith verifies, the US’s two overarching obsessive qualms which it believed required the eradication of Fidel Castro were: the long-term influence of his revolutionary socialist ideals in Latin America and beyond; and, the possible establishment of a successful Communist state on the island which would diminish US security, stature, image, influence and prestige in the hemisphere; and, in the eyes of the world.xxxi

Through 1960-64, Castro had good reason to be on guard, “…the fact that the Kennedy administration was acutely embarrassed by the unmitigated defeat [at the BOPs] -indeed because of it- a campaign of smaller-scale attacks upon Cuba was initiated almost immediately.”xxxii Then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy stated unequivocally, as Schlesinger reveals, that his goal, “was to bring the terrors of the Earth to Cuba.”xxxiii RFK went on to emphasize the point that the eradication of the Castro “regime” was the US’s central policy concern, “He informed the CIA that the Cuban problem carries, ‘…top priority in the United States Government -all else is secondary- no time, no effort, or manpower is to be spared.’”xxxiv Beyond the multifaceted covert actions directed at Cuba under Operation Mongoose, RFK and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, aided by the CIA et al., implemented a long-term multi-pronged plan of punishment, focused on Cuba through Latin America, which included disinformation campaigns, subversion and sabotage (they called hemispheric-defense-policies) that comprised a Military Assistance Program (MAP), which included economic support, subversive tactical training and materiel, devised to terminate “the threat” (i.e., Castro and his ideas) by establishing an Inter-American-Security-Force (of obedient states) under US control.xxxv

With Cuba now in the crosshairs, in the early 1960s, “the CIA … played savior to the [anti-Castro] émigrés, building a massive training station in Miami, known as JMWave, that became the agency’s second largest after Langley, Virginia. In fact, it coordinated the training of what became known as the disastrous landing … in 1961.”xxxvi Conversely, historian Daniel A. Sjursen focuses more on JFK (than the CIA) as the culprit behind the heightened tensions amongst the three principal players. By 1962, with Cuba in the middle, both superpowers (the US and the USSR) stood at a standstill amid the very real possibility of a global conflagration which, Sjursen states, was primarily due to US bravado on behalf of a “military obsessed” young President, “In preparing for a May 1961 summit meeting with Khrushchev [Kennedy stated] ‘I’ll have to show him that we can be as though as he is….’”xxxvii Sjursen argues, “This flawed and simplistic thinking grounded just about every Kennedy decision in world affairs from 1961 to 1963 … and would eventually bring the world to the brink of destruction with the Cuban Missile Crisis; and, suck the US military into a disastrous unwinnable war in Vietnam.”xxxviii And yet, as Smith contends, Kennedy was certainly not without bravado, but ultimately, did make attempts to “defuse” the situation. Kennedy, Smith discloses, ruffled-feathers within the Security State by, 1) his desire to end the Cold War, 2) his starting of a rapprochement with Castro (who was desirous of such — even if indirectly) and, 3) his goal to pull-out of Vietnam.xxxix In fact, with the Kennedy-Khrushchev negotiations finalized by JFK’s promise not to invade Cuba if Soviet warheads were removed from the island – Khrushchev acquiesced, to Castro’s dismay, but tensions did diminish.xl

Be that as it may, Philip Brenner maintains, the crisis did not go-away on 28 October 1962 for either the US or the USSR. The Kennedy-Khrushchev arrangements had to be implemented. On 20 November, the US Strategic Air Command was still on high alert: full readiness for war – with the naval quarantine (i.e., blockade) firmly in place.xli As a result, Castro stayed open to negotiations with the US, but at the same time purposefully cautious. “At this point Castro, like Kennedy and Khrushchev, was circumventing his own more bellicose government in order to dialog with the enemy. Castro, too, was struggling, [but willing,] to transcend his Cold War ideology for the sake of peace. Like Kennedy and Khrushchev both, [he knew,] he had to walk softly.”xlii Nevertheless, Castro stressed the fact that the Soviet Union had no right to negotiate with the US per inspections or the return of the bombers, “Instead, he announced, Cuba would be willing to comply based on [specific] demands: that the United States end the economic embargo; stop subversive activities … cease violations of Cuban airspace; and, return Guantanamo Naval Base.”xliii Of course, the United States security apparatus was arrogantly steadfast in its refusal to agree or even negotiate the matter.xliv

In spite of that, a reproachment (devised by Kennedy diplomat, William Attwood, and, Castro representative to the UN Carlos Lechuga) was surreptitiously endeavored through a liaison, journalist Jean Daniel of the New Republic, who stated that, Kennedy, retrospectively, criticized the pro-Batista policies of the fifties for “economic colonization, humiliation and exploitation” of the island and added that, “we shall have to pay for those sins….”xlv Which may be considered one of the most brazenly honest statements, regarding the island, on behalf of an American President, in the long and complex history of US/Cuban relations. Daniel then wrote, “I could see plainly that John Kennedy had doubts [about the government’s policies toward Cuba] and was seeking a way out.”xlvi In spite of JFK’s pugnacious rhetoric directed at Cuba, during his 1960 Presidential campaign, Castro remained open and accommodating, he understood the forces arrayed upon the President, in fact, he saw Kennedy’s position as an unenviable one:

I don’t think a President of the United States is ever really free … and I also believe he now understands the extent to which he has been misled.xlvii …I know that for Khrushchev, Kennedy is a man you can talk with….xlviii

While in the middle of (an Attwood arranged and Kennedy sanctioned) clandestine meeting with Castro, Daniel reported, that (at 2pm Cuban-time) the news arrived that JFK was dead (shot in Dallas, Texas, on that very same day, 22 November 1963, at 12:30pm), “Castro stood-up , looked at me [dismayed], and said ‘Everything is going to change,…’”xlix and he was spot-on. Consequently, with (newly sworn-in) President Lyndon Baines Johnson mindful of the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald was “proclaimed” a Castro devotee, accommodations with the Cuban government would be much more difficult. As such, the Attwood-Lechuga connection was terminated.l Julian Borger, journalist for the Guardian, maintains that “Castro saw Kennedy’s killing as a setback, [he] tried to restart a dialogue with the next administration, but LBJ was … too concerned [with] appearing soft on communism,”li meaning opinion polls, and their consequences, trumped keeping channels of communication open with the Cuban government. Which obliquely implies the notion that relations with Cuba might have been different if JFK had not been murdered.

With the Johnson administration bogged down in an “unwinnable war” in Southeast Asia and Civil Rights battles occurring on the streets of the US, Cuba and its revolution began to fall off the radar. By 1964, the Johnson administration, concerned with public opinion, as mentioned, took swift and immediate action to stop the deliberate terror perpetrated on the Cuban people. LBJ, in April of that year, called for a cessation of sabotage attacks. Johnson openly admitted, “we had been operating a damned Murder, Inc., in the Caribbean.’”lii Nonetheless, the national security apparatus (i.e., the CIA, the Joint-Chiefs and military intelligence) along with US policymakers (and US based exile groups), remained obstinate, steadfast and consistent in their goal – to punish (if not kill) Fidel Castro and his revolution, by maintaining a punitive program of economic strangulation with the hopes that Castro would be, not only isolated on the world stage, but condemned by his own people who would rise up and eradicate the man and his socialist regime – which did not occur. Of course, the termination of hostilities directive ordered by Johnson did not include economic enmity – which persisted throughout the 1960s and beyond. In fact, a CIA field-agent appointed to anti-Castro operations detailed the agency’s sadistic objectives as expressed through author John Marks, by explaining:

Agency officials reasoned, … that it would be easier to overthrow Castro if Cubans could be made unhappy with their standard of living. ‘We wanted to keep bread out of the stores so people were hungry … We wanted to keep rationing in effect….’”liii

The purpose of the economic blockade remained fixed from the early 60s onward: to contain, defame, discredit and destroy Castro and his experimentation with, what the US considered, subversive Communist ideals.

Finally, the US’s belligerent, if not insidious, hardline-stance toward this small island nation reignited at the end of the 1960s, which included not only an economic strangle-hold, but full-blown underground sabotage operations. The 37th president of the United States, Richard M. “Nixon’s first acts in office in 1969 was to direct the CIA to intensify its covert [Hybrid War] operations against Cuba.”liv Nixon and his then National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, still believed, callously, that military aggression, violence, brutality and intimidation (coalesced by vicious economic sanctions) were the answers to America’s woes abroad. US policy toward Cuba for more than sixty-years is reminiscent of a famous quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.” Hence, Castro’s Cuba (not only America’s nemesis, but also the model of an uncompromising US global order) was the consequence of an even longer and persistent imperial US foreign policy: If the United States had not impeded Cuba’s push for national sovereignty and self-determination in the initial part of the 20th century; if it had not sustained a sequence of tyrannical despots on the island; and, if it had not been complicit in the termination and manipulation of the 1952 election, an ineradicable character such as the young reformist, and socialist, Fidel Castro may never have materialized.lv Ultimately, the headstrong US stratagem of assassination and suffocation of Castro and his socialist revolution failed, not only by bolstering his image on the island, but abroad as well. Ironically, the US helped to create its own oppositional exemplar of resistance, in the image of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and the Cuban people, i.e., the revolution – two men and a small island nation that stood up defiantly to the US led global-capitalist-order and would not relent. The US feared the Revolution of 1959’s challenge to class-power, colonialization; and, its popularity with the multitudes – thus, it had to be forcefully restricted through malicious policies of trade-embargoes, threats of violence and ideological-isolation. In fact, the Cuban rebellion courageously and tenaciously stood up to, and resisted, specific contrivances (or designs) by which the US had customarily, boastfully and self-admiringly delineated its dominant status through the forceful protection of its exploitative-business-practices (aka, the “Yankee boot”) on the backs of the Cuban people, for which, Fidel Castro and his bottom-up-populist-crusade were held ominously, insidiously and interminably responsible….

Image credit: Left Voice

ENDNOTES

i ##Louis A. Pérez, “Between Meanings and Memories of 1898,” Orbis 42, no. 4 (September 1, 1998): 501.#

ii ##William R. Manning, Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States: Inter-American Affairs, 1831-1860 (Washington, 1932), 70.#

iii ##Ibid.#

iv ##Albert J. Beveridge, “Cuba and Congress,” The North American Review 172, no. 533 (1901): 536.#

v ##The Platt Amendment, May 22, 1903.#

vi ##Pérez, “Meanings and Memories,” 513.#

vii ##Allen Dulles, Political Stability In Central America and The Caribbean Through 1958 (CIA: FOIA Reading Room, April 23, 1957), 4–5.#

viii ##Ibid., 4.#

ix ##Fidel Castro, “History Will Absolve Me,” 1953.#

x ##The Platt Amendment.#

xi ##Lars Schoultz, That Infernal Little Cuban Republic: The United States and the Cuban Revolution (Chapel Hill, 2009), 58.#

xii ##Pérez, “Meanings and Memories,” 514.#

xiii ##Jeffrey J. Safford, “The Nixon-Castro Meeting of 19 April 1959,” Diplomatic History 4, no. 4 (1980): 425–431.#

xiv ##Noam Chomsky, Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs (London, 2000), 89.#

xv ##“Cuba vs. U.S.,” New York Times (1923-), January 8, 1961, 1.#

xvi ##Ibid.#

xvii ##Aviva Chomsky, A History of the Cuban Revolution (Chichester, West Sussex, U.K. ; Malden, MA, 2011), 98.#

xviii ##“Official Inside Story Of the Cuba Invasion,” U.S. News & World Report, August 13, 1979.#

xix ##David Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government (New York, 2016), 338.#

xx ##“7. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Schlesinger) to President Kennedy,” in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963.#

xxi ##“15. Summary Guidelines Paper: United States Policy Toward Latin America,” in FRUS, 1961–1963.#

xxii ##“Cuba: The Breaking Point,” Time, January 13, 1961.#

xxiii ##Maria de los Angeles Torres, In the Land of Mirrors: Cuban Exile Politics in the United States (Ann Arbor, 2001), 75.#

xxiv ##Michael Parenti, “Aggression and Propaganda against Cuba,” in Superpower Principles U.S. Terrorism against Cuba, ed. Salim Lamrani (Monroe, Maine, 2005), 70.#

xxv ##Ibid.#

xxvi ##Philip Buchen, Castro (National Archives: JFK Assassination Collection, 1975), 4–5.#

xxvii ##Alan McPherson, “Cuba,” in A Companion to John F. Kennedy, ed. Marc J. Selverstone (Hoboken, 2014), 235.#

xxviii ##Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard, 340.#

xxix ##Ibid.#

xxxPhilip Buchen, docid-32112987.pdf, JFK Assassination Records – 2018 Additional Documents Release, The National Archives Castro, 7.#

xxxi ##Wayne S. Smith, “Shackled to the Past: The United States and Cuba,” Current History 95 (1996).#

xxxii ##William Blum, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II (London, 2014), 186.#

xxxiii ##Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. quoted in Noam Chomsky and Marv Waterstone, Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance (Chicago, 2021), 147.#

xxxiv ##Ibid.#

xxxv ##The Joint Chiefs of Staff and Efforts to Contain Castro, 1960-64, April 1981, 3, Learn.#

xxxvi ##Alan McPherson, “Caribbean Taliban: Cuban American Terrorism in the 1970s,” Terrorism and Political Violence 31, no. 2 (March 4, 2019): 393.#

xxxvii ##Daniel A. Sjursen, A True History of the United States: Indigenous Genocide, Racialized Slavery, Hyper-Capitalism, Militarist Imperialism, and Other Overlooked Aspects of American Exceptionalism (Lebanon, New Hampshire, 2021), 479.#

xxxviii ##Ibid.#

xxxix ##Hampshire College TV, 2015 • Eqbal Ahmad Lecture • Louis Perez • Wayne Smith • Hampshire College, 2016, accessed October 30, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuBdKB8jX3I.#

xl ##Philip Brenner, “Kennedy and Khrushchev on Cuba: Two Stages, Three Parties,” Problems of Communism 41, no. Special Issue (1992): 24–27.#

xli ##Philip Brenner, “Cuba and the Missile Crisis,” Journal of Latin American Studies 22, no. 1 (1990): 133.#

xlii ##James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (New York, 2010), 84.#

xliii ##Brenner, “Cuba and the Missile Crisis,” 133.#

xliv ##“332. Letter From Acting Director of Central Intelligence Carter to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy),” in FRUS, 1961–1963.#

xlv ##Jean Daniel, “Unofficial Envoy: An Historic Report from Two Capitals,” New Republic 149, no. 24 (December 14, 1963): 15–20.####

xlvi ##Ibid.#

xlvii Ibid.

xlviii ##Jean Daniel, “When Castro Heard the News,” New Republic 149, no. 23 (December 7, 1963): 7–9.#

xlix ##Ibid.#

l ##“378. Memorandum From Gordon Chase of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy),” in FRUS, 1961–1963.#

li ##Julian Borger, “Revealed: How Kennedy’s Assassination Thwarted Hopes of Cuba Reconciliation,” Guardian, November 26, 2003.#

lii ##Michael McClintock, Instruments of Statecraft: U.S. Guerilla Warfare, Counter-Insurgency, Counter-Terrorism, 1940-1990 (New York, 1992), 205.#

liii ##John Marks, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control (London, 1979), 198.#

liv ##Raymond Garthoff, Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan (Washington, DC, 1985), 76n.#

lv ##Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (New York, 2007), 91.#

The post Between Crosshairs, a Man, and His Revolution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Moment King was Slain: How Opposition to Capital and Unification of the Poor Sealed his Fate

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights legend and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, is murdered, the evening of April 4, 1968 at 6:01pm by an assassin’s bullet outside his room, #306, on the 2nd floor balcony of the Lorrain Motel in Memphis Tennessee. This brutal act shocks the conscience of the nation and the world. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this photo by Joseph Louw, the only photographer on the scene that day, is taken just minutes after the infamous shot rang loud.

King’s body lies in a puddle of blood caused by a-single-kill-shot to the head, which struck him on the right side of his face splintering his jawbone and severing his carotid artery. Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Vice President at Large for the SCLC, and close friend of King, is standing to the right of a Memphis police officer, having just placed white cloths over King’s wounds in a futile attempt to slow the bleeding. Abernathy is flanked by a panicked group of concerned associates and staff members including the renowned Rev. Andrew Young, Executive V.P. of the SCLC; and, Jesse Jackson. The young woman in the photo is turned back toward Louw with an expression of shock, fear and bewilderment, which encapsulates the horrors of this historic moment frozen in time.

In March 1968, after months of traveling the country gathering support for his Poor People’s Campaign, MLK arrives at the behest of his friend and fellow civil rights activist, Rev. James Morris Lawson, pastor of The Centenary United Methodist Church, in Memphis Tennessee. King then leaves Memphis to address the concerns of poor people in Mississippi. By this point, MLK had dedicated years of his life to the struggle for civil rights in the United States: From the 1956 marches in Montgomery Alabama to desegregate city-buses; to the 1965 marches in Selma for the right to vote.

On April 3, the day before his murder, King returns to Memphis to deliver the now famous I’ve Been To The Mountain Top speech, arguably one of the most profound and prophetic sermons of his life. In the speech, King seemingly prophesizes his own death: “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned with that now.” King had spent months of exhaustive travel, crisscrossing America, fighting for the rights and dignity of poor people of all colors. This issue, the defense of the poor and their dignity, has always been problematic: the unification of the poor and demands for social-justice have historically stood as a threat to the establishment in the United States.

MLK and his movement of non-violent-civil-disobedience had come to symbolize that very threat. In fact, the movement demanded that Pres. Lyndon Baines Johnson end the Vietnam War and use the money domestically, by giving it to those that need it the most: America’s poor. MLK quickly becomes, in the eyes of America’s power elite, i.e., government officials and American business interests, a very dangerous man. In 1964, LBJ, under pressure from MLK and his movement, ends segregation with the Civil Rights Act and institutes a Voting Rights Act in 1965. That said, under both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI tracks King’s every movement for years, up until the moment of his death.

By the time King delivers his address in Memphis, on March 18, at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple, more than a thousand African-American sanitation workers walk off the job – after being savagely underpaid, brutally mistreated and forced to work in filthy conditions. To a rousing crowd, MLK calls for a general work-stoppage using non-violent-civil-disobedience. King states: “Don’t go back on the job until the demands are met.” On March 28, Memphis sanitation workers strike and thousands march alongside them bearing the slogan: “I Am A Man!” After The National Guard is brought in, and brutal and aggressive tactics by police are unleashed on demonstrators, Mayor Henry Loeb dismisses the workers’ demands and refuses to recognize their union. Fifty-seven-days after the strike began; Loeb is finally willing to talk. On April 16, just weeks after King’s murder, the workers’ demands are ultimately met.

This photo of MLK dead on the ground represents the loss of one of the greatest proponents of human rights in world history – not only for his people, but for all people of conscience. The SCLC was like an aggrieved family that had lost its father. Rev. Ralph Abernathy poignantly states: “I’m not concerned with who killed MLK, I’m concerned with what killed MLK,” referring to America’s long and brutal history of violence and racism. On April 8, 1968, a symbolic march takes place in Memphis, a profound gathering of resilience, homage to King’s life and struggle, led by his widow Coretta Scott King and their children. That struggle continues to this day.

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Vito Marcantonio Gets Da Biziniss

I have stood by the fundamental principles which I have always advocated. I have not trimmed. I have not retreated. I do not apologize, and I am not compromising.”

— Socialist New York City Congressman Vito Marcantonio
(Dec. 12, 1902-Aug. 9, 1954)

I say these words, but who hears me? … Do I know what I say? … I can’t tell anymore. … I’m haunted by the reality that a man was killed because he opposed me. Is that my sin? Will that bring my downfall?… I’m dizzy … weak. … Will I die with this on my soul?”

“Vito. We have to talk. Now!”

“Talk? I don’t know how this is talk. It’s a command,” Carlo. “I know what you want.”

“Vito, please. For my sake, and my family. Meet with this guy. Granted, he’s a member of a certain Italian-American subculture, but he only wants his son in West Point. That’s all. The kid goes to Mount Saint Michael’s Academy in the Bronx, and is an honor student and athlete.”

“But, Carlo, he’s from the Bronx. Not East Harlem!”

“That’s the point, don’t you see? I’m from the Bronx, and he knows I support you because my restaurant is in your district, and the appointments in his Bronx district are all taken. You come. You meet. You give him what he wants. And, we all go away happy. And, alive! There’s a lot of tough paisons in the Bronx. You don’t want to mess with this one.”

I leave this meeting. Like I don’t have enough to worry about. Italians, Jews, Puerto Ricans, Negroes, Irish and Germans. They call each other wops, kikes, spicks, jigs, micks and krauts, and I have to make them into one. To stick together for our common good. And, now this inappropriate, no, illegal, West Point business.

The phone at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia political club in East Harlem rings. It’s Mayor LaGuardia, for Vito, who runs the place: “Vito, how are you and our Gibboni? All going well, I hope.?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, not really. You lost the Republicans to this silk stocking guy with the big name: Frederick Van Pelt Bryan. Maybe we make you a Van Pelt? You do better with such a name. Ha, ha.”

“We can win without the Republicans.”

“Maybe. But, you see today’s Mirror?”

“That bad?”

“Get this: ‘The chief pro-Communist of the House has skinned through the primary by the scum of his political teeth.’ ”

“So, what else is new?”

“You’re kind of calm, considering that all the papers are against you, including the Daily News, Governor Dewey, Dubinsky and the Garment Workers.”

“I’m a son of East Harlem. I can speak to my 18th Congressional District constituents in their own tongues, English, Italian, Spanish and Yiddish. And, Mayor, always remember: It is the duty of government to provide for those who through no fault of their own have been unable to provide for themselves.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“That was my speech at Dewitt Clinton. When, you took me out of high school, and set me on the road I’m now traveling. Anymore questions?”

“No! That’s my boy!”

It was the night that I walk a few blocks to the restaurant, Basilicata. It’s named for the region to the deep south of Italy, where my parents were born. Carlo takes me to a table in the back, and I meet my new “constituent,” Mingo Indelicato, and his son, Scott (Scott? Gimme a break). Mingo is huge, the kid huger, if that’s a word. Both with wall-to-wall smiles. The kid is a top student at The Mount. Bright, athletic. And, I have to get him into West Point. “OK,” I say. “But, you don’t have an address in my district.” Mingo says, “Don’t worry. I got that covered. I’m gonna use the address of Carlo’s restaurant.” Then, this that troubled me: “And, also, don’t worry. I’ll be watching you, to see that you’re safe and OK, and if there’s anything I can do to help your campaign?” He didn’t want me to lose my congressional seat, or die, before I could get the kid into the Point!

The public focus in 1946 went to the general election in the 18th Congressional District, where what the Mirror called the “miserable pip-squeak who pipes the tunes from Moscow” faced Bryan. Time magazine said the “little padrone” … boss of this verminous, crime-ridden slum” — was seeing his grasp threatened. But, Vito ignored the print media and went on radio. His broadcasts mainly stood on his record, support by LaGuardia, two housing projects he helped build, fight for a more liberal G.I. Bill, civil rights and price controls.

The 18th District gave Vito a plurality of 6,500 out of 78,000 votes cast, for the defeat of Bryan. Presenting the American Labor Party, and a fusion of other parties, a victory over the GOP in a strong GOP year.

Vito served his East Harlem constituents, listened to them and acted. Such as when a delegation of residents enters the LaGuardia social club. Vito is seated up front, ready to greet and help constituents of his district, 5th Avenue to the East River and 98th Street to the Harlem River. The group, comprising mainly Italians, Puerto Ricans and blacks, is led by an Italian woman, Florie Di Piona, who has a high school diploma, and is a swim teacher in the city public schools.

“Vito,” says Florie, with a big smile, “this river, the East River, is our river. Vito, it’s our home, but the Americones want to take it. Can you imagine, Vito, luxury apartments on the banks of our river. This is where we learned to swim. In these waters I found my future as a swim teacher. I was called the only ‘broad’ who could swim the river to Brooklyn. Be that as it may, broad, or whatever, luxury apartments are not welcome here, and neither are the wealthy who would own them. These people, these Americones, they use tomato soup for spaghetti sauce. Can you imagine? Tomato soup!”

Then, shaking her right forefinger right to left: “No! I say no!”

Within days, Vito rallied his forces, his “Gibboni,” and suggested a site for public housing along the river: “We do not want in our community penthouses and Silk Hats alongside tenements of people on relief budgets. We do not want Dead Ends. The East River is our River. We were born on its banks. We learned to swim in that river. We have lived and suffered alongside this river. We have had to smell it on the hot summer days. Now that the river has been cleaned, and now that the land along side it is available, we want that river for ourselves.”

Vito got his way. The federal government announced plans for a major housing project in East Harlem, the East River Housing Projects, with rents in line with Vito’s suggestion, $5 a month. The first opened in the late 1940s.

Then, the killing. A Republican district captain, Joseph Scottoriggio, was beaten to death on his way to the polls. Case never solved, but an opening against Vito. Dewey and Bryan said the killing was done by left-wing thugs in the 18th District. News stories sought to show a connection between Vito and hoodlums, and that he be punished. A crime reporter said the killing was likely an “accident,” when the “muscle men” failed to follow orders “to just give it to him once over lightly.”

Life magazine ran a story with pictures showing Vito “with bold, cynical eyes,” and several well-known gangsters of the time such as Joey Rao, Trigger Mike Coppola and Frank Costello. It said that the killing exposed Vito’s crime-ridden district, but the attacks on Vito also produced the Citizens’ Investigating Committee to ensure Fair Political Reporting. Its leader, William Jay Schieffelin observed: “To my mind there is no precedent in recent years for the deliberate venal propaganda campaign conducted by various newspapers against Congressman Vito Marcantonio during the past several months.”

I got this, now. A stone in my shoe. I’m not only a Communist, but a racketeer. How do you succeed in politics in the 18th District without including everybody, including the Mafia. Could it be Mingo? Did he in some cockamamie way see Scottoriggio as a problem for me, and take him out? … Democrats, Republicans and others think I don’t see their attacks coming, but I know they’re ganging up on me because of the Communist thing; political parties, the Catholic Church people and the government. …But, I keep thinking my deal with Mingo brought this on. My sin. I’m carrying a Crucifix and a Rosary around with me now. Why? Am I trying to get straight with the big fella upstairs?

Democrats, Republicans and Liberals did, indeed, gang up on Vito to make Democrat James Donovan their 18th District candidate. Donovan also tried to tack onto Vito the attempted assassination of President Truman because the attackers were Puerto Rican, a primary Marcantonio constituency. Vito lost 50,391 to 35,835 in this 1950s race.

Vito, the New York University law graduate, continued as a champion of unpopular causes. Counsel to Marxist W.E.B. Dubois and the Communist-dominated Peace Information Center. Also, Hollywood stars fighting the House un-American Activities Committee, and seeking clemency for the would-be Truman assassins. Then, in 1954, he reentered politics with the creation of the Good Neighbor Party. The Daily News, alarmed, sought “fast action on Marc,” and a plan to close the political ranks against him. He thought about running for governor, but settled on his old congressional seat.

I know it will be the same old forces of reaction against me. And, the Scottoriggio killing will be blamed on me. And, the church, and Cardinal Spellman against me. And, the newspapers against me. But, I know how to fight. To prevail in this contest. What I don’t know is how to get up these subway steps. I’m so weak, dizzy.

On Aug, 9, 1954, Vito died of a heart attack at age 51. Francis Cardinal Spellman, a strong anti-communist, overruled local Catholic clergy, and Vito wasn’t granted burial in a Catholic cemetery. He was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery, a nonsectarian site in the Bronx, not far from the grave of his patron, LaGuardia. Vito’s gravestone said, “Defender of the People.”

Thousands in East Harlem said farewell to Vito, and he was eulogized by many.

* Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker publication: “He lived Matthew {of the Bible}. And did the work of mercy. … Crowds came to him, and he always listened. He always tried to help.”

* Puerto Rican leader Gilberto Gerene Valentin: “Without Vito we are politically orphans.”

* Black leader, W.E.B. Dubois said Vito was one of the clearest thinkers in Congress … “a politician in the finest sense of the mutilated word.”

*At Vito’s services, a black man raised up his son to the casket and said, “I want you to say goodbye to the best friend the Negro people ever had.”

*Power broker Robert Moses and his wife, Mary, said Vito was “one of the kindest people we had ever met, and while his philosophy was quite beyond us, we will still miss him very much.”

* Then there was TV star Ed Sullivan, an East Harlem product: “Marcantonio’s squandered life should spell out to other Communist fronters … that when you hitch your wagon to a star be certain it isn’t the Red Star of the Kremlin.”

*And, Mingo: “Too bad I didn’t know Vito was gonna check out so soon. I would a told him to tell Scottoriggio I was just trying ta send a message. Nothin’ personal. Just business. Like my father would say, ‘Da biziniss.’“

Mingo, at an Arthur Avenue, Bronx, cafe, takes another sip of his espresso, with a twist of lemon:

“Yeah. Da biziniss.”

The post Vito Marcantonio Gets Da Biziniss first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Palestine is a Loud Echo of Britain’s Colonial Past and a Warning of the Future

[This is the transcript of a talk I gave to Bath Friends of Palestine on 25 February 2022.]

Since I arrived with my family in the UK last summer, I have been repeatedly asked: “Why choose Bristol as your new home?”

Well, it certainly wasn’t for the weather. Now more than ever I miss Nazareth’s warmth and sunshine.

It wasn’t for the food either.

My family do have a minor connection to Bristol. My great-grandparents on my mother’s side (one from Cornwall, the other from South Wales) apparently met in Bristol – a coincidental stopping point on their separate journeys to London. They married and started a family whose line led to me.

But that distant link wasn’t the reason for coming to Bristol either.

In fact, it was only in Nazareth that Bristol began occupying a more prominent place in my family’s life.

When I was not doing journalism, I spent many years leading political tours of the Galilee, while my wife, Sally, hosted and fed many of the participants in her cultural café in Nazareth, called Liwan.

It was soon clear that a disproportionate number of our guests hailed from Bristol and the south-west. Some of you here tonight may have been among them.

But my world – like everyone else’s – started to shrink as the pandemic took hold in early 2020. As we lost visitors and the chance to directly engage with them about Palestine, Bristol began to reach out to me.

Toppled statue

It did so just as Sally and I were beginning discussions about whether it was time to leave Nazareth – 20 years after I had arrived – and head to the UK.

Even from thousands of miles away, a momentous event – the sound of Edward Colston’s statue being toppled – reverberated loudly with me.

Ordinary people had decided they were no longer willing to be forced to venerate a slave trader, one of the most conspicious criminals of Britain’s colonial past. Even if briefly, the people of Bristol took back control of their city’s public space for themselves, and for humanity.

In doing so, they firmly thrust Britain’s sordid past – the unexamined background to most of our lives – into the light of day. It is because of their defiance that buildings and institutions that for centuries bore Colston’s name as a badge of honour are finally being forced to confront that past and make amends.

Bath, of course, was built no less on the profits of the slave trade. When visitors come to Bath simply to admire its grand Georgian architecture, its Royal Crescent, we assent – if only through ignorance – to the crimes that paid for all that splendour.

Weeks after the Colston statue was toppled, Bristol made headlines again. Crowds protested efforts to transfer yet more powers to the police to curb our already savagely diminished right to protest – the most fundamental of all democratic rights. Bristol made more noise against that bill than possibly anywhere else in the UK.

I ended up writing about both events from Nazareth.

Blind to history

Since my arrival, old and new friends alike have started to educate me about Bristol. Early on I attended a slavery tour in the city centre – one that connected those historic crimes with the current troubles faced by asylum seekers in Bristol, even as Bristol lays claim to the title of “city of sanctuary”.

For once I was being guided rather than the guide, the pupil rather than the teacher – so long my role on those tours in and around Nazareth. And I could not but help notice, as we wandered through Bristol’s streets, echoes of my own tours.

Over the years I have taken many hundreds of groups around the ruins of Saffuriya, one of the largest of the Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel in its ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948, the Nakba or Catastrophe.

What disturbed me most in Saffuriya was how blind its new inhabitants were to the very recent history of the place they call home.

New Jewish immigrants were moved on to the lands of Saffuriya weeks after the Israeli army destroyed the village and chased out the native Palestinian population at gunpoint. A new community built in its place was given a similar Hebrew name, Tzipori. These events were repeated across historic Palestine. Hundreds of villages were razed, and 80 per cent of the Palestinian population were expelled from what became the new state of Israel.

Troubling clues

Even today, evidence of the crimes committed in the name of these newcomers is visible everywhere. The hillsides are littered with the rubble of the hundreds of Palestinian homes that were levelled by the new Israeli army to stop their residents from returning. And there are neglected grave-stones all around – pointers to the community that was disappeared.

And yet almost no one in Jewish Tzipori asks questions about the remnants of Palestinian Saffuriya, about these clues to a troubling past. Brainwashed by reassuring state narratives, they have averted their gaze for fear of what might become visible if they looked any closer.

Tzipori’s residents never ask why there are only Jews like themselves allowed in their community, when half of the population in the surrounding area of the Galilee are Palestinian by heritage.

Instead, the people of Tzipori misleadingly refer to their Palestinian neighbours – forced to live apart from them as second and third-class citizens of a self-declared Jewish state – as “Israeli Arabs”. The purpose is to obscure, both to themselves and the outside world, the connection of these so-called Arabs to the Palestinian people.

To acknowledge the crimes Tzipori has inflicted on Saffuriya would also be to acknowledge a bigger story: of the crimes inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people as a whole.

Shroud of silence

Most of us in Britain do something very similar.

In young Israel, Jews still venerate the criminals of their recent past because they and their loved ones are so intimately and freshly implicated in the crimes.

In Britain, with its much longer colonial past, the same result is often achieved not, as in Israel, through open cheerleading and glorification – though there is some of that too – but chiefly through a complicit silence. Colston surveyed his city from up on his plinth. He stood above us, superior, paternal, authoritative. His crimes did not need denying because they had been effectively shrouded in silence.

Until Colston was toppled, slavery for most Britons was entirely absent from the narrative of Britain’s past – it was something to do with racist plantation owners in the United States’ Deep South more than a century ago. It was an issue we thought about only when Hollywood raised it.

After the Colston statue came down, he became an exhibit – flat on his back – in Bristol’s harbourside museum, the M Shed. His black robes had been smeared with red paint, and scuffed and grazed from being dragged through the streets. He became a relic of the past, and one denied his grandeur. We were able to observe him variously with curiousity, contempt or amusement.

Those are far better responses than reverence or silence. But they are not enough. Because Colston isn’t just a relic. He is a living, breathing reminder that we are still complicit in colonial crimes, even if now they are invariably better disguised.

Nowadays, we usually interfere in the name of fiscal responsibility or humanitarianism, rather than the white man’s burden.

We return to the countries we formerly colonised and asset-stripped, and drive them back into permanent debt slavery through western-controlled monetary agencies like the IMF.

Or in the case of those that refuse to submit, we more often than not invade or subvert them – countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Iran – tearing apart the colonial fabric we imposed on them, wrecking their societies in ways that invariably lead to mass death and the dispersion of the population.

We have supplied the bombs and planes to Saudi Arabia that are killing untold numbers of civilians in Yemen. We funded and trained the Islamic extremists who terrorise and behead civilians in Syria. The list is too long for me to recount here.

Right now, we see the consequences of the west’s neo-colonialism – and a predictable countervailing reaction, in the resurgence of a Russian nationalism that President Putin has harnessed to his own ends – in NATO’s relentless, decades-long expansion towards Russia’s borders.

And of course, we are still deeply invested in the settler colonial project of Israel, and the crimes it systematically inflicts on the Palestinian people.

Divine plan

Through the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain gave licence for the creation of a militarised ethnic, Jewish state in the Middle East. Later, we helped supply it with atomic material in the full knowledge that Israel would build nuclear bombs. We gave Israel diplomatic cover so that it could evade its obligations under the international treaty to stop nuclear proliferation and become the only nuclear power in the region. We have had Israel’s back through more than five decades of occupation and illegal settlement building.

And significantly, we have endlessly indulged Zionism as it has evolved from its sordid origins nearly two centuries ago, as an antisemitic movement among fundamentalist Christians. Those Christian Zonists – who at the time served as the power brokers in European governments like Britain’s – viewed Jews as mere instruments in a divine plan.

According to this plan, Jews were to be denied the chance to properly integrate into the countries to which they assumed they belonged.

Instead the Christian Zionists wanted to herd Jews into an imagined ancient, Biblical land of Israel, to speed up the arrival of the end times, when mankind would be judged and only good Christians would rise up to be with God.

Until Hitler took this western antisemitism to another level, few Jews subscribed to the idea that they were doomed forever to be a people apart, that their fate was inextricably tied to a small piece of territory in a far-off region they had never visited, and that their political allies should be millenarian racists.

But after the Holocaust, things changed. Christian Zionists looked like much kinder antisemites than the exterminationist Nazis. Christian Zionism won by default and was reborn as Jewish Zionism, claiming to be a national liberation movement rather than the dregs of a white European nationalism Hitler had intensified.

Today, we are presented with polls showing that most British Jews subscribe to the ugly ideas of Zionism – ideas their great-great-grandparents abhorred. Jews who dissent, who believe that we are all the same, that we all share a common fate as humans not as tribes, are ignored or dismissed as self-haters. In an inversion of reality these humanist Jews, rather than Jewish Zionists, are seen as the pawns of the antisemites.

Perverse ideology

Zionism as a political movement is so pampered, so embedded within European and American political establishments that those Jews who rally behind this ethnic nationalism no longer consider their beliefs to be abnormal or abhorrent – as their views would have been judged by most Jews only a few generations ago.

No, today Jewish Zionists think of their views as so self-evident, so vitally important to Jewish self-preservation that anyone who opposes them must be either a self-hating Jew or an antisemite.

And because non-Jews so little understand their own culpability in fomenting this perverse ideology of Jewish Zionism, we join in the ritual defaming of those brave Jews who point out how far we have stepped through the looking glass.

As a result, we unthinkingly give our backing to the Zionists as they weaponise antisemitism against those – Jews and non-Jews alike – who stand in solidarity with the native Palestinian people so long oppressed by western colonialism.

Thoughtlessly, too many of us have drifted once again into a sympathy for the oppressor – this time, Zonism’s barely veiled anti-Palestinian racism.

Nonetheless, our attitudes towards modern Israel, given British history, can be complex. On the one hand, there are good reasons to avert our gaze. Israel’s crimes today are an echo and reminder of our own crimes yesterday. Western governments subsidise Israel’s crimes through trade agreements, they provide the weapons for Israel to commit those crimes, and they profit from the new arms and cyber-weapons Israel has developed by testing them out on Palestinians. Like the now-defunct apartheid South Africa, Israel is a central ally in the west’s neo-colonialism.

So, yes, Israel is tied to us by an umbilical cord. We are its parent. But at the same time it is also not exactly like us either – more a bastard progeny. And that difference, that distance can help us gain a little perspective on ourselves. It can make Israel a teaching aid. An eye-opener. A place that can bring clarity, elucidate not only what Israel is doing but what countries like Britain have done and are still doing to this day.

Trade in bodies

The difference between Britain and Israel is to be found in the distinction between a colonial and a settler-colonial state.

Britain is a classic example of the former. It sent the entitled sons of its elite private schools, men like Colston, to parts of the globe rich in resources in order to steal those resources and bring the wealth back to the motherland to further enrich the establishment. That was the purpose of the tea and sugar plantations.

But it was not just a trade in inanimate objects. Britain also traded in bodies – mostly black bodies. Labour and muscle were a resource as vital to the British empire as silk and saffron.

The trafficking in goods and people lasted more than four centuries until liberation movements among the native populations began to throw off – at least partially – the yoke of British and European colonialism. The story since the Second World War has been one of Europe and the United States’ efforts to reinvent colonialism, conducting their rape and pillage at a distance, through the hands of others.

This is the dissembling, modern brand of colonialism: a “humanitarian” neocolonialism we should by now be familiar with. Global corporations, monetary
agencies like the IMF and the military alliance of NATO have each played a key role in the reinvention of colonialism – as has Israel.

Elimination strategies

Israel inherited Britain’s colonial tradition, and permanently adopted many of its emergency orders for use against the Palestinians. Like traditional colonialism, settler colonialism is determined to appropriate the resources of the natives. But it does so in an even more conspicuous, uncompromising way. It does not just exploit the natives. It seeks to replace or eliminate them. That way, they can never be in a position to liberate themselves and their homeland.

There is nothing new about this approach. It was adopted by European colonists across much of the globe: in North America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as belatedly in the Middle East.

There are advantages and disadvantages to the settler colonial strategy, as Israel illustrates only too clearly. In their struggle to replace the natives, Israel’s settlers had to craft a narrative – a rationalisation – that they were the victims rather than the victimisers. They were, of course, fleeing persecution in Europe, but only to become persecutors themselves outside Europe. They were supposedly in a battle for survival against those they came to replace, the Palestinians. The natives were cast as irredeemably, and irrationally, hostile. God was invoked, more or less explicitly.

In the Zionist story, the ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinians – the Nakba – becomes a War of Independence, celebrated to this day. The Zionist colonisers thereby transformed themselves into another national liberation movement, like the ones in Africa that were fighting after the Second World War for independence. Israel claimed to be fighting oppressive British rule, as Africans were, rather than inheriting the colonisers’ mantle.

But there is a disadvantage for settler colonial projects too, especially in an era of better communications. In a time of more democratic media, as we are currently enjoying – even if briefly – the colonisers’ elimination strategies are much harder to veil or airbrush. The ugliness is on show. The reality of the oppression is more visceral, more obviously offensive.

Apartheid named

The settlers’ elimination strategies are limited in number, and difficult to conceal whichever is adopted. In the United States, elimination took the form of genocide – the simplest and neatest of settler-colonialism’s solutions.

In the post-war era of human rights, however, Israel was denied that route. It adopted settler colonialism’s fall-back position: mass expulsion, or ethnic cleansing. Some 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and outside the new borders of Israel in 1948.

But genocide and ethnic cleansing are invariably projects that cannot be completed. Some 90 per cent of Native Americans died from the violence and diseases brought by European incomers, but a small proportion survived. In South Africa, the white immigrants lacked the numbers and capacity either to eradicate the native population or to exploit such a vast territory.

Israel managed to expel only 80 per cent of the Palestinians living inside its new borders before the international community called time. And then Israel sabotaged its initial success in 1948 by seizing yet more Palestinian territory – and more Palestinians – in 1967.

When settler populations cannot eradicate the native population completely, they must impose harsh, visible segregation policies against those that remain.

Resources and rights are differentiated on the basis of race or ethnicity. Such regimes institute apartheid – or as Israel calls its version “hafrada” – to maintain the privileges of their own, superior or chosen population.

Colonial mentality

Many decades on, human rights groups have finally named Israel’s apartheid. Amnesty International got round to it only this month – 74 years after the Nakba and 55 years after the occupation began.

It has taken so long because even our understanding of human rights continues to be shaped by a European colonial mentality. Human rights groups have documented Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians – the “what” of their oppression – but refused to understand the “why” of that oppression. These watchdogs did not truly listen to Palestinians. They listened to, they excused, Israel even as they were criticising it. They indulged its endless security rationales for its crimes against Palestinians.

The reluctance to name Israeli apartheid derives in large part from a reluctance to face our part in its creation. To identify Israel’s apartheid is to recognise both our role in sustaining it, and Israel’s crucial place in the west’s reinvented neocolonialism.

Being ‘offensive’

The difficulty of facing up to what Israel is and what it represents is, of course, particularly stark for many Jews – not only in Israel but in countries like Britain. Through no choice of their own, Jews are more deeply implicated in Israel’s crimes because those crimes are carried out in the name of all Jews. As a result, for Zionist Jews, protecting the settler colonial project of Israel is identical to protecting their own sense of virtue.

In the zero-sum imaginings of the Zionist movement, the stakes are too high to doubt or to equivocate. As Zionists, their duty is to support, dissemble and propagandise on Israel’s behalf at all costs.

Nowadays Zionism has become such a normalised part of our western culture that those who call themselves Zionists are appalled at the idea anyone could dare to point out that their ideology is rooted in an ugly ethnic nationalism and in apartheid. Those who make them feel uncomfortable by highlighting the reality of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians – and their blindness to it – are accused of being “offensive”.

That supposed offensiveness is now conflated with antisemitism, as the treatment of Ken Loach, the respected film-maker of this parish, attests. Disgust at Israel’s racism towards Palestinians is malevolently confused with racism towards Jews. The truth is inverted.

This confusion has also become the basis for a new definition of antisemitism – one aggressively advanced by Israel and its apologists – designed to mislead casual onlookers. The more we, as anti-racists and opponents of colonialism, try to focus attention and opprobrium on Israel’s crimes, the more we are accused of covertly attacking Jews.

Into the fire

Arriving in the UK from Nazareth at this very moment is like stepping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Here the battle over Zionism – defining it, understanding it, confronting it, refusing to be silenced by it – is in full flood. The Labour party, under Jeremy Corbyn, was politically eviscerated by a redefined antisemitism. Now the party’s ranks are being purged by his successor, Sir Keir Starmer, on the same phony grounds.

Professors are being threatened and losing their jobs, as happened to David Miller at Bristol university, with the goal of intensifying pressure on the academy to keep silent about Israel and its lobbyists. Exhibitions are taken down, speakers cancelled.

And all the while, the current western obsession with redefining antisemitism – the latest cover story for apartheid Israel – moves us ever further from sensitivity to real racism, whether it be genuine prejudice against Jews or rampant Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism.

The fight for justice for Palestinians resonates with so many of us precisely because it is not simply a struggle to help Palestinians. It is a fight to end colonialism in all its forms, to end our inhumanity towards those we live alongside, to remember that we are all equally human and all equally entitled to respect and dignity.

The story of Palestine is a loud echo from our past. Maybe the loudest. If we cannot hear it, then we cannot learn – and we cannot take the first steps on the path towards real change.

The post Palestine is a Loud Echo of Britain’s Colonial Past and a Warning of the Future first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Everyone Can be a Poet Under Just the Right Moment of Epiphany: April is Poetry Month

I could write a book on why I believe poetry can heal, engage our inner soul and give young and old a voice from which to sing ourselves into being.  Even out here on the coast, we have poets gathering at dawn after a long day and night catching fish.

It’s not just another month. National Poetry Month (first organized in 1996) celebrates poetry to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry.

2022 National Poetry Month Poster

It’s not just a Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman or Maya Angelou time of remembrance of past laureates. Poetry is for the masses, and written by the working class.

For example, since 2013 Astoria has organized the FisherPoets gathering celebrating poetry, stories, song and art of fishermen and fisherwomen.

There’s even an anthology titled, Anchored in Deep Water.

One of my students in the memoir class I teach reminded me of his own walkabout on earth as a man, a father, husband and someone who has survived many a travail. “We all can’t live large and do great important things, but . . . .” He then quoted Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver:

May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream. May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest respect.

Mary Oliver in The New Yorker | The New Yorker

A great illustration of this simplicity of observation and self reflection is seen in Patrick Dixon’s poem, “Boat Puller.” Again, a tiny nail in the universe, but he’s harvesting wisdom as he’s taught by a Norwegian how to fish in Alaska:

While I was picking fish with you,
stunned at the sight of the sea so near
and the mountains filling the western sky,
I thought of dry midwestern cornfields,
and of lost, empty days filled with a wish to leave
…..but nowhere to go.

You bent over a red to show me how to use a fish pick,
never realizing what was happening to me,
how you were stripping away the web of my past life,
pulling me through to solid ground.

Fisher poet publishes memoir about his years in Cook Inlet

I walked aged stones over a bridge made famous by an 18th Century poet.

Brig o' Doon - Wikipedia

One side of my family came from Ayr, where Robert Burns was born. Scotland’s National Poet immortalized the bridge in his poem “Tam O’Shanter“. Tam and Meg (his horse) escape the clutches of the witch Nannie by galloping over the Brig O’Doon. This escapade left Nannie with nothing more than Meg’s tail.

I was a kid then, crossing the river Doon many times, and I am so old I saw plenty of salmon run the currents. I have since graduated into a panoply of world poets. One big thing for me as a poet was running my gift of gab in front of a crowd at a Poetry Slam in El Paso.

Purely fun, as we were lubricated with tequila and mescal, the poets went head to head to claim the loudest crowd applause. It’s a literary ruckus; in the parlance of my literary world, those folk are called performance artists.

The Undressing”: Poetry of Passion Laid Bare | The New Yorker

One of my favorite poets, Li-Young Lee, was born in Djakarta, Indonesia, in 1957 to Chinese political exiles. I’ve heard him read twice live. Here, a slice of his poem, “Immigrant Blues”:

People have been trying to kill me since I was born,
a man tells his son, trying to explain
the wisdom of learning a second tongue.

It’s an old story from the previous century
about my father and me.

The same old story from yesterday morning
about me and my son.

It’s called “Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation.”

It’s called “Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons,”

called “The Child Who’d Rather Play than Study.”

Practice until you feel
the language inside you, says the man.

For Lee, his work is acclaimed for its use of silence and “near mysticism” which is nonetheless “fully engaged in life and memory while building and shaping the self from words.”

That is the universality of poetry, really, to become tied to life and construct oneself through words, as if the power of poetry is an electrical cord of life pulsating through the artist to be read and celebrated by an audience. We should always find a universal connection to a poet’s lamentations.

Teaching poetry in El Paso and in Spokane, I’ve found even the most hardened souls can lift light or soft shadow from scabbed-over souls and hardscrabble lives.

One of my teachers, Tucson poet Richard Shelton, took us undergraduate and graduate students to the Arizona State prison to help facilitate writing workshops with men behind bars. He ended up doing it for 30 years, and wrote the book, Crossing the Yard.

Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer: Shelton, Richard: 9780816525959: Amazon.com: Books

I’ve taught poetry and photography to gang-influenced youth in El Paso. We’re talking about some students who were huffers, that is, they sniffed gas and glue to get high. The summer session pulled from these young men and women the stories of their neighborhood, El Segundo Barrio. The old people and merchants were captured in film, essays and poems.

We held a huge event with youth showing snapshots and others reading poems. Eighty-year-old grannies (abuelas) were bawling their eyes out. Some told me, Nadie piensa que vale nada, pero escúchalo ahora.

The hardened youth gave luminescence to their families. Translated above: “No one thinks he is worth anything but look at him now.”

Pablo Neruda | Poetry Foundation

Heck, we see my favorite poet, Chilean Pablo Neruda, depicted in the 1994 film, l Postino (The Postman). Even recently, Adam Driver played a bus driver-poet in Jim Jarmusch’s film, Patterson, inspired in part by William Carlos Williams.

William Carlos Williams | Poetry Foundation

Teaching poetry and encouraging anyone to learn to listen to their own songs, I believe a great healing could take place if we all stopped our social media-fueled lives and lend pause to our inner voices. And to harvest life and nature around us: the simple things, which in poetry are that tiny nail we all should pound into our collective creative home. William Carlos Williams:

4th of July

I
The ship moves
but its smoke
moves with the wind
faster than the ship

— thick coils of it
through leafy trees
pressing
upon the river

II
The heat makes
this place of the woods
a room
in which two robins pain

crying
distractedly
over the plight of
their unhappy young

III
During the explosions
at dawn, the celebrations
I could hear
a native cuckoo

in the distance
as at dusk, before
I’d heard
a night hawk calling

 

The post Everyone Can be a Poet Under Just the Right Moment of Epiphany: April is Poetry Month first appeared on Dissident Voice.