William Ayers: “extreme vandalism”

Walter Shapiro has posted a fine interview with the notorious William Ayers at Salon.com.

Ayers supports Barack Obama’s claim that the two men were merely casual acquaintances, not close friends. But I am more interested in Ayers’s recollection of the Vietnam War era, and the circumstances that drove the Weather Underground to bomb American buildings.

The New York Times headline on the morning of Sept. 11 was “No Regrets for a Love of Explosives; In a Memoir of Sorts, a War Protester Talks of Life with the Weathermen.”

That headline “No Regrets” was also the headline of the Chicago magazine article a week earlier and it was the headline of several articles. And remember all these interviews were done before 9/11. What I have said continually, and I still say, that while I regret many things (you can’t be 63 years old and not have many, many regrets), what I don’t regret is opposing the war in Vietnam. A murderous, violent, terrorist war against an entire population. I don’t regret resisting that war with every ounce of my being. […]

By 1968, when we really had won the argument about Vietnam, we thought that the war would really come to an end. Especially when [then President] Lyndon Johnson announced that he would step down. […]

What I remember [about the night of Johnson’s announcement] was this great feeling that we had brought about this phenomenal substantive change. And that peace would come. Four days later, King was dead. Two months later Kennedy was dead. And a few months after that, Henry Kissinger emerged with a secret plan to extend the war. And, at that point, the question that pressed itself on us, was how do you end this war?

William Ayers, Bernardine DohrnAyers and his wife, the founder of the Weather Underground, Bernardine Dohrn
Chicago Tribune photo by Chris Walker

This is where we probably part company. One of the reasons, in my view, that Nixon got away with pursuing the war was that, in part, the violence of the Weather Underground — and some of the other extreme parts of the antiwar movement — discredited the overall antiwar movement. And that led to a further polarization of American life, which led to the first round of demonology involving yourself.



Lest we forget

World War 2 Death Count

(reposted from Nov. 11, 2005 … because it bears repeating)

Military Civilian Combined
USSR 13,600,000 7,700,000 21,300,000
China 1,324,000 10,000,000 11,324,000
Germany 3,250,000 3,810,000 7,060,000
Poland 850,000 6,000,000 6,850,000
Japan — —  — —  2,000,000
Yugoslavia 300,000 1,400,000 1,700,000
Rumania 520,000 465,000 985,000
France 340,000 470,000 810,000
Hungary — —  — —  750,000
Austria 380,000 145,000 525,000
Greece — —  — —  520,000
USA 500,000 none 500,000
Italy 330,000 80,000 410,000
Czechoslovakia — —  — —  400,000
Great Britain 326,000 62,000 388,000
Netherlands 198,000 12,000 210,000
Belgium 76,000 12,000 88,000
Finland — —  — —  84,000
Canada 39,000 none 39,000
India 36,000 none 36,000
Australia 29,000 none 29,000
Albania — —  — —  28,000
Spain 12,000 10,000 22,000
Bulgaria 19,000 2,000 21,000
New Zealand 12,000 none 12,000
Norway — —  — —  10,262
South Africa 9,000 none 9,000
Luxembourg — —  — —  5,000
Denmark 4,000 none 4,000
Total 56,125,262

World War 2 death toll in perspective

  • First World War (1914-18):  15,000,000
  • Russian Civil War (1917-22):  9,000,000
  • Stalin’s regime (USSR, 1924-53):  20,000,000
  • Mao Zedong’s regime (China, 1949-1975):  40,000,000

Seven years later, 9/11 just makes me angry

Like most people, I vividly remember “where I was” on September 11, 2001. The day’s events plunged me into a near depression that lasted a week or so. I had to consciously force myself to turn away from the horror for the sake of my mental health.

I had flipped on the TV early in the morning, after the first plane had struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. All the TV stations were covering it. But at that point, everyone assumed it was merely a tragic accident.

Next came the images of the second plane, which struck the south tower. The screams of onlookers, watching in horror from the streets below. That perfect, gut-wrenching video of the plane turning on an angle before it sliced into the tower like a hot knife through butter.

There came the profound realization that this was no accident, but a deliberate act of terrorism, on an unimaginable scale.

A little later, I was standing in line at a bank. (I had “important” business to do:  something about a student loan.) A TV was turned on in the corner, with the sound down. Standing in line, I saw the third stunning visual of the day:  the shocking, devastating collapse of the south tower.

A bank employee called for me at just that moment, but I didn’t register it at first. My mind was spinning wildly, trying to make sense of this abomination. I can only imagine what my face looked like. The first lucid thought to pass through my mind was, “The USA will soon be at war with someone.”

Terrorism on such a large scale must surely have a state sponsor:  someone who could be held accountable for it.



Seven years later, 9/11 just makes me angry. The collapse of the twin towers (plus the attack on the Pentagon, plus the crash of United Airlines Flight 93) are no longer isolated events in my memory. They are inextricably linked with the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, torture, extraordinary rendition, Maher Arar, the bald-faced lies of the Bush Administration (yellowcake uranium; "America does not torture" ), disregard for the Geneva Conventions and the American Constitution, the suspension of habeus corpus, the no-fly list, widespread surveillance of U.S. citizens.

To use a trite metaphor, these things are two sides of the same coin. On one side, the inexcusable evil of Osama bin Laden and the puppet men who surrendered their will to him. On the other side, the disproportionate reaction of President Bush and the neoconservatives who egged him on. I cannot pull these things apart, intellectually or emotionally.

They ought not to be pulled apart.

9/11 was tragic. And yes, it was evil. But the American response to 9/11 made things much worse, and on a global scale.

Events did not have to spiral out of control as they did. Cooler heads could have made wiser decisions (e.g. to keep the focus on Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden — a single theatre of war). The cost of that misguided, disproportionate response has been enormous:  in “blood and treasure”, and in making the world a more anxiety-ridden place than it needed to be.

Such a tragic, senseless waste. And it goes on and on, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Pakistan. Meanwhile, some “hawks” (including John McCain … though McCain assures us that he hates war) are rattling their sabres in the direction of Iran and Russia, and ratcheting up the rhetoric against China while they’re at it.

Those were my thoughts yesterday, on the seventh anniversary of 9/11.

Make it stop, please. It didn’t have to turn out this way, and it doesn’t have to continue.

RNC protestFreedom on the march, last week, outside the Republican National Convention. Read a reporter’s eyewitness account via Andrew Sullivan.

Foreign policy excellence

The Republicans are known for their foreign policy excellence. The Democrats suck at that stuff.

Who says so? Why, everyone does:  that’s the conventional wisdom.

Sometimes the conventional wisdom is wrong. Consider this article in Slate, which argues that the Bush Administration is partly responsible for Russia’s invasion of Georgia:

Regardless of what happens next, it is worth asking what the Bush people were thinking when they egged on Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s young, Western-educated president, to apply for NATO membership, send 2,000 of his troops to Iraq as a full-fledged U.S. ally, and receive tactical training and weapons from our military. Did they really think Putin would sit by and see another border state (and former province of the Russian empire) slip away to the West? If they thought that Putin might not, what did they plan to do about it, and how firmly did they warn Saakashvili not to get too brash or provoke an outburst?

It’s heartbreaking, but even more infuriating, to read so many Georgians quoted in the New York Times — officials, soldiers, and citizens — wondering when the United States is coming to their rescue. …

Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly called Saakashvili on Sunday to assure him that “Russian aggression must not go unanswered.” We should all be interested to know what answer he is preparing or whether he was just dangling the Georgians on another few inches of string. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the Security Council, “This is completely unacceptable and crosses a line.” Talk like that demands action. What’s the plan, and how does he hope to get the Security Council — on which Russia has veto power — to approve it? …

The sad truth is that — in part because the Cold War is over, in part because skyrocketing oil prices have engorged the Russians’ coffers — we have very little leverage over what the Russians do, at least in what they see as their own security sphere. And our top officials only announce this fact loud and clear when they issue ultimatums that go ignored without consequences.

Note the last phrase:  “ultimatums that go ignored without consequences.” Isn’t that how the Republicans typically pillory the United Nations?

The Telegraph comments:

Mr Saakashvilli may also have banked on support from his closest ally, US president George W Bush, whose administration is said to have given tacit support for a Georgian assault on South Ossetia in the belief that the territory could be recaptured within 48 hours. (emphasis added)

But the mess in Georgia can’t be the Republicans’ fault! The Republican party is known for its foreign policy excellence! It must be the Democrats’ fault.

I know:  let’s blame that unamerican celebrity, Barack Obama, for the mess in Georgia!

Disproportionate response

Q. How many people died in the 9/11 attacks?
A. 2,974.

Q. How many American military personnel have died in the war on Iraq?
A. 4,000 — a milestone reached on Sunday.

Q. How many Iraqis have died as a result of the war?
A. That’s a hotly-contested statistic. But here’s one answer:

A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred.

That was the calculation as of October 2006 — seventeen months ago.

9/11 was used as a pretext for the war on Iraq. Can you say “disproportionate response“, children?

The Hopeful Khadr

An appalling introduction to an otherwise uplifting article:

Intelligence documents accidentally released to journalists by U.S. officials [emphasis added] at a military hearing have cast further doubt on U.S. allegations against Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, the youngest prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. An unusual mix-up by U.S. officials resulted in the distribution of top-secret documents to courtroom reporters attending Omar Khadr’s hearing in February 2008.

New revelations outlined in intelligence documents have led lawyers for the Canadian citizen to call for all charges against Khadr to be dropped. U.S. officials have charged Khadr with murder, claiming that Khadr – 15 years old at the time – threw a hand-grenade that killed a U.S. soldier during a firefight occurring in the context of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2002.

Documents accidentally released include an interview with a U.S. intelligence agent who was at the scene of the battle, revealing that Khadr was shot twice – in the back – by the U.S. soldiers, a striking new detail in the case. An anonymous U.S. agent whose interview appears in the document additionally outlines that Khadr wasn’t witnessed throwing the grenade and that – contrary to previous claims by U.S. military officials – Khadr was not the only person alive at the time U.S. forces stormed the building in Afghanistan.

I don’t know how much of an issue the Omar Khadr case is in American media. From a Canadian perspective, it’s one of the many downplayed issues that could come to haunt our current government’s legacy if the majority of the population were ever to wake up and smell the (certainly not fair-trade) coffee.

When I saw this article on Rabble, I was both overjoyed and disgusted. The disgust hit first, resulting in small part because of the fact that it took an “accident” for the US government to finally come clean about the  situation, and in large part because this means that Khadr has quite possibly been sentenced to a half-dozen years in the horror-filled Guantanamo detention facilities for nothing. Not only is it now an issue of morality — whether it is just to detain a minor for throwing a hand-grenade — but an issue of facts. If Khadr has been through this without even having thrown the grenade that killed a US soldier, then what can we trust from our governments?

It’s not mentioned in the article whether or not the Canadian government knew about the information held by the Americans. But their lack of zeal in attempting to free Khadr thus far points to complacency or conspiracy — neither of which look good on Stephen Harper’s Conservatives (or  the Liberals, who were in power for the first portion of Khadr’s imprisonment).

The uplifting information contained in the article is that the new information may force the Canadian government into action. At least there’s hope for the young man! Hopefully Harper really didn’t have the information, and steps up to the plate to bring this whole issue home. I don’t know if I believe it’ll happen… but crossing one’s fingers never hurt!

Some reflections on John McCain

It looks as if John McCain will be the Republican nominee. He has fewer than 100 delegates at this point, out of the 1,191 he needs to win the nomination. But McCain looks likely to emerge from Super Tuesday with approximately 750 delegates to Romney’s 325. (The source of the calculation is a Romney supporter.)

McCain_flight_suit.jpg  On the war in Iraq, McCain comes out as the obvious successor to President Bush:  he claims that America should stay in Iraq for as long as it takes, even if that means 100 more years.

But McCain is hard to pigeonhole. He adamantly opposes torture. He is extremely compelling on this topic because he speaks from personal experience:

“One of the things that kept us going when I was in prison in North Vietnam was that we knew that if the situation were reversed, that we would not be doing to our captors what they were doing to us,” he said.

When Mr. McCain brings up the issue of torture, he is often met by a complex response. Many of the Republican voters he courts do not agree with his opposition to aggressive interrogation techniques that many have condemned as torture. But they are often captivated by his discussion of the issue, in some cases even moved to tears, as was the case in Boone.

On the campaign trail, Mr. McCain does not dwell on the personal details of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war, the “torture ropes” in which he was bound day and night, or the beatings he endured. But as he speaks, the physical reminders of his wounds are there for all to see, from the stiffness of his arms, which to this day he can only painfully raise above his head, to the shortness of his stride, a result of injury and subsequent beatings.

(Note, in passing, how mealy-mouthed the New York Times is on this issue: “aggressive interrogation techniques that many have condemned as torture”. The USA is doing worse things to detainees than the “torture ropes” and beatings that McCain endured. Does the Times seriously deny that McCain was tortured? But I don’t mean to pick on the Times, because the US media in general equivocates like this.)

The other shocker is McCain’s position on climate change. He’s a believer:

He was co-sponsor of the 2003 McCain-Lieberman legislation, a failed attempt to achieve a cap on U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. And there’s no doubt that McCain is much more serious about taking mandatory action than other Republican hopefuls, like Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney–who has been bashing the Arizona senator repeatedly for being too strong on the climate issue.

Imagine John McCain vs. Barack Obama in the presidential campaign. Both candidates will be committed to end torture and to take real action on climate change. No matter who wins, we’ll see an end to American torture.

On climate change — I’m not so sure. The US economy is tilting toward recession, and both McCain and Obama have other spending priorities. McCain will continue to finance American military operations in Iraq; Obama has promised to introduce a universal health care program. If the economy continues to stutter, action on climate change may be deferred, yet again.

How likely is a Republican victory at this point? Not long ago, I would have said it was extremely unlikely. But with McCain as the Republican nominee?

I’m convinced that McCain would beat Clinton. McCain can appeal to the right on military issues, and appeal to moderates on torture and climate change. Meanwhile, nearly 50% of Americans will never vote for Clinton under any circumstances. She can’t afford to bleed many votes to her Republican opponent.

And what would Clinton’s platform be? “I voted for the Iraq war, too”? “I’m enough of a hawk to stare down the terrorists”? “I am the candidate of experience”? Those have been the main planks of her campaign against Obama. But Clinton stands in McCain’s shadow at all three points.

Clinton can’t even reach out to immigrants, because McCain is to her left on that issue. Her appeal will be limited to core left-wing issues like abortion and health care.

Whereas Obama will present a clear contrast to McCain. One is pro-Iraq; the other has been outspoken in his opposition to the war. One represents experience and continuity with the Bush administration; the other represents a new generation and a dramatic change of course. And McCain’s “straight talk” will be a foil to Obama’s soaring rhetoric.

Andrew Sullivan is confident that Obama would beat McCain. I’m not so certain. McCain’s appeal is obvious to me, and a downturn in the economy may work in his favour. But Obama can successfully appeal to moderate, “swing” voters, and that may be enough to put him over the top.

I wouldn’t venture any rash predictions. The Republican race has been fascinating. The Democratic race will continue to be fascinating, even after Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Tuesday. And the presidential race itself may be just as compelling.

This is quite a year for anyone who enjoys politics! (I extend my sympathies to the rest of you.)

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