Monday, December 17, 2012

Neil Macdonald: Death and delusion in a nation of assault rifles

 from December 17, 2012

Neil Macdonald
Senior Washington Correspondent
Yet another "national discussion" about guns is under way here, and it's so anti-rational, so politically cowardly, so …unbearably stupid that you have to wonder how a nation that has enlightened the world in so many other ways could wallow in this kind of delusion.

Twenty children are dead, and journalists and politicians have assumed those breathy, semi-hushed tones that have become so much the norm in covering tragedies.

Everywhere, there is talk about "the grieving process," with pious asides thrown in about the need to "go home and hug your children," or pray.

As if that is going to accomplish anything.

The American audience is a giant emotional sponge looking for distraction from its collective gun craziness, and the media obliges, broadcasting endless montages of victims, with sombre, hymnal piano music playing underneath.

After the state medical examiner had finished talking about multiple bullet wounds in each young victim, all inflicted by the same Bushmaster rifle, one reporter asked the man to talk about how much he'd cried — "personally" — while performing the autopsies.

To repeat: the 20-year-old shooter used a Bushmaster .223 assault rifle, a commercial model of the military M-16, and the reporter wanted to talk about crying.

The weapon is designed for war, firing ultra-destructive bullets that travel at 3,000 feet per second. It is designed to destroy human life as efficiently as possible, causing maximum internal damage.

As a colleague of mine so bitterly remarked, just perfect for a kindergarten operation.

The shooter's mother, apparently the first victim in this rampage, is being described in media reports here as "an avid sporting enthusiast" who "enjoyed the independence" of shooting.

She reportedly trained her disturbed son (whom she had once yanked out of the system and home-schooled) at the firing range.

When he left home for the elementary school on Friday, he chose the Bushmaster and a few semi-automatic pistols, leaving behind his mother's slower, conventional rifles, along with her dead body.

Terrifying logic


Now, as the so-called national conversation proceeds, politicians and pundits talk sternly about the importance of remembering that gun ownership is a constitutional right, practised responsibly by millions of Americans.

In this country, people actually speak about "enjoying" shooting something like a Bushmaster, as if that were some sort of normal activity.

Jason Chaffetz, a Republican congressman from Utah, proclaimed on Sunday that the real problem underlying these kinds of incidents is the mental health issue: "I am a concealed carry permit holder. I own a Glock 23, I've got a shotgun, I'm not the person you need to worry about."

Well, sorry, senator, but you are certainly one of them, at least in my (admittedly Canadian) book.

If I understand properly, you live in an urban area, and carry around a .40-calibre pistol with up to 17 bullets in the magazine, capable of firing up to five a second, just like one of the pistols the Connecticut shooter toted.

In other words, you pack the means to kill more than a dozen people in moments if you choose, and we just have to trust you to be sensible and hold your temper.

Chaffetz's position is, basically, the core of the pro-gun message in this country: The destructive power of the weapon is not the issue. It is all about personal responsibility. And personal freedom.

The logic is terrifying. You could extend it to hand grenades or flame-throwers. Some people here do. (Though grenades are actually illegal here).

Flame-throwers don’t incinerate people, people incinerate people, to paraphrase a favorite gun-lobby aphorism.

The 'child-killing lobby'


For the moment, politically powerful pro-gun groups — "the child-killing lobby," as the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, another Canadian, called them Friday — and most of their lawmaker allies are silent, save for the occasional declaration that this is a time to mourn, or to denounce "the gun control vultures already circling the corpses."

The National Rifle Association's website contains not a single word about the Connecticut massacre.

But just watch. Soon enough will come the talk about how the Newtown school shooting just underlines the need for even more ordinary Americans to arm themselves in self-defence.

And the weird, horrible reality here is that there is some truth to that. The NRA has helped ensure it.
There are currently about 300 million guns in this country, and gun laws are looser every year. The high courts have slapped down states that have tried to restrict gun use.

It is now quite normal to see people carrying pistols on their hips in shops and restaurants. Plenty more carry concealed weapons.

And many of these are criminals. Police are overwhelmed.

At the same time, it's a safe bet that if Sarah Dawn McKinley, of Blanchard, Okla., didn't have a gun last January, she'd be a statistic, too.

Alone with her toddler as intruders tried to break in, she called 911. The operator told her to do what she had to do.

She killed one intruder with her late-husband's shotgun long before police arrived. He was armed with a 12-inch hunting knife.

The new normal


There are, of course, other good reasons to own guns, especially in isolated rural areas. There always have been.

I remember a large dog, obviously rabid with foam on its muzzle, staggering toward our farmhouse in Ontario when I was a child.

My dad shooed my brothers and me inside, fetched his bolt-action rifle from the bedroom, slipped in a single round, and shot the beast dead. (He was a pretty good shot).

Another time, he walked out with that rifle in the middle of the night and faced down a car full of menacing, drunken, hoodlums in our lane.

Years later, a neighbour on a nearby farm was murdered by the "Ottawa Valley killer," while watching TV. The nearest police station was an hour's drive from our rural gravel road.

But my father never owned a Bushmaster. Or an Uzi. Or a sniper rifle. Or a flame-thrower.

What's taken hold here in America is lunacy. There have been 16 mass shootings in the U.S. just this year alone, leaving 88 people dead. It's the new normal.

Some of the killers wore body armour and fired weapons that scare Marines.

President Barack Obama has tearfully called for "meaningful action" on guns, just as he did after another mass shooting during his last term, and followed up by doing, well, nothing.

Perhaps he will try something this time, now that his last election is behind him and the history books beckon.
But what, exactly? His first election sent gun lovers racing to stock up on ammo and new weapons, for fear Obama would take their guns away. He had to assure them he wouldn’t.

Now, one of Obama's congressional allies, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, is mulling the notion of restricting weapon clips to 10 bullets. "We need a new paradigm," declared Schumer.

How about this instead: Start by taking weapons of war away from people who aren't soldiers or police.

Fuck Guns!

from The New York Times
December 16, 2012

In Town at Ease With Its Firearms, Tightening Gun Rules Was Resisted

People in the rural, hilly areas around Newtown, Conn., are used to gunfire. In one woodsy stretch, southeast of downtown, the Pequot Fish and Game Club and the Fairfield County Fish and Game Protective Association, where members can fish in ponds and hunt pheasant, lie within a mile of each other, and people who live nearby generally call them good neighbors. 

But in the last couple of years, residents began noticing loud, repeated gunfire, and even explosions, coming from new places. Near a trailer park. By a boat launch. Next to well-appointed houses. At 2:20 p.m. on one Wednesday last spring, multiple shots were reported in a wooded area on Cold Spring Road near South Main Street, right across the road from an elementary school. 

Yet recent efforts by the police chief and other town leaders to gain some control over the shooting and the weaponry turned into a tumultuous civic fight, with traditional hunters and discreet gun owners opposed by assault weapon enthusiasts, and a modest tolerance for bearing arms competing with the staunch views of a gun industry trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has made Newtown its home. 

The place that witnessed one of the worst mass killings in United States history on Friday, leaving 20 schoolchildren and 8 adults dead, is a bucolic New England town comfortable with its firearms, and not an obvious arena for the nation’s debate over gun control. But the legislative battle right here shows how even the slightest attempts to impose restrictions on guns can run into withering resistance, made all the more pointed by the escalation in firepower. 

“Something needs to be done,” said Joel T. Faxon, a hunter and a member of the town’s police commission, who championed the shooting restrictions. “These are not normal guns, that people need. These are guns for an arsenal, and you get lunatics like this guy who goes into a school fully armed and protected to take return fire. We live in a town, not in a war.” 

The gunman’s mother, Nancy Lanza, had collected several weapons, including powerful handguns and a semiautomatic rifle that she and her son, Adam, were fond of shooting, and it remains unclear where they took their target practice. Much of the gunfire and the explosions reported by residents to the police in recent months came from a spot less than three miles from their house. Police logs identified the spot as one of the town’s many unlicensed gun ranges, where the familiar noise of hunting rifles has grown to include automatic gunfire and explosions that have shaken houses. 

“It was like this continuous, rapid fire,” said Amy Habboush, who was accustomed to the sound of gunfire but became alarmed last year when she heard what sounded like machine guns, though she did not complain to the police. “It was a concern. We knew there was target practice, but we hadn’t heard that noise before.” 

Earlier this year, the Newtown police chief, Michael Kehoe, went to the Town Council for help. The town had a 20-year-old ordinance aimed at hunters that included a ban on shooting within 500 feet of occupied dwellings, but the chief complained that the way the law was written had left him powerless to enforce the rules or otherwise crack down on the riskiest shooting. 

The police department logged more than 50 gunfire complaints this year through July, double the number for all of 2011, records show. Some of the complaints raised another issue. Gun enthusiasts here, as elsewhere in the country, have taken to loading their targets with an explosive called Tannerite, which detonates when bullets strike it, sending shock waves afield. A mixture of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder, Tannerite is legal in Connecticut, but safety concerns led Maryland this year to ban it. 

Mr. Faxon, the police commission member, who is a lawyer, said he wrote the new ordinance, which would have imposed additional constraints on shooting, including limited hours, and a requirement that any target shooting range, and the firearms that would be used there, be approved by the chief of police to make sure they were safe. This was no liberal putsch, Mr. Faxon said; three of the five commission members are Republicans, and two members are police officers. 

“I’ve hunted for many years, but the police department was getting complaints of shooting in the morning, in the evening, and of people shooting at propane gas tanks just to see them explode,” Mr. Faxon said.
The proposal was submitted to the council’s ordinance committee, whose chairwoman, Mary Ann Jacob, would play a heroic role on Friday. Ms. Jacob is a librarian aide at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where she is credited with protecting many lives by throwing two rooms crowded with children into lockdown as the gunfire erupted. 

“We’re growing,” Ms. Jacob said in an interview on Saturday, describing a town where hikers and mountain bikers now compete with gun owners for use of the many trails and wooded areas. “The police chief is not looking to change behavior or go after a group of people, but rather he’s trying to give his officers the ability, if an incident occurs, to react appropriately. Right now, if you’re standing on your property and my house is 20 feet away, you can shoot.” 

The first meeting took place on Aug. 2, with about 60 people crowding into the room. Some spoke in favor of the new rules, the meeting minutes show. But many voiced their opposition, citing the waiting lists at established gun ranges. Among the speakers was a representative of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, who was described as saying he believed there was a greater danger of swimming accidents. “No privileges should be taken away from another generation,” he said. 

The president and spokesman of the group did not respond to messages left Sunday. Citing the continuing investigation, the group said on its Web site it would not be commenting on the massacre, but that “our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community.” 

A second committee gathering in September drew such a large crowd that the meeting was moved into a high school cafeteria, where the opposition grew fierce. “This is a freedom that should never be taken away,” one woman said. Added another, “Teach kids to hunt, you will never have to hunt your kids.” 

“No safety concerns exist,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation spokesman said, according to the minutes. 

The proposed ordinance was shelved, and Ms. Jacob said the committee was in the midst of researching a more limited rule, perhaps one restricted to making the existing ban on firing weapons within 500 feet of an occupied building more enforceable. 

“Five hundred feet!” Mr. Flaxon said in an interview. “A BB gun can go that far.” 

Newtown residents said many of the ranges in the area have long waiting lists of people eager to join, which has led to the profusion of informal ranges. 

On High Rock Road, where many gunfire complaints originated, what appeared to be three or more gun ranges were set back from the road. 

The owner of one, Scott Ostrosky, said he and his friends had been shooting automatic weapons since he bought the 23-acre property more than 12 years ago. It is safe, he said, because his land is sandwiched between two other gun ranges, the 123-acre Pequot hunting club and the 500-acre Fairfield club. 

The explosions his neighbors hear are targets that are legally available at hunting outlets. “If you’re good old boys like we are, they are exciting,” he said. He said he was distraught at the school massacre but said guns should not be made the “scapegoat.” 

“Guns are why we’re free in this country, and people lose sight of that when tragedies like this happen,” he said. “A gun didn’t kill all those children, a disturbed man killed all those children.” 

Reporting on the Connecticut shootings was contributed by Alison Leigh Cowan, Robert Davey, Joseph Goldstein, Kia Gregory, Raymond Hernandez, Thomas Kaplan, Randy Leonard, Andy Newman, William K. Rashbaum, Michael Schwirtz, Michael D. Shear, Ravi Somaiya and Vivian Yee.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

An Oil & Gas Haiku

The video below shows oil and gas PR apologists pretending to have the best interests of the people of Fort Chipewyan in mind.
From the film, White Water, Black Gold (2011)

the following is a haiku written by the 2007 VegNewsletter haiku contest winner, Lucy:

when you're dying of
cancer, fried chicken is not
really the answer

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Launch Legal Challange Against Tar Sands


Alberta Tar Sands Illegal under Treaty 8, First Nations Charge 

by Kristen Moe 
YES Magazine/News Report 
Published: Saturday 20 October 2012

 In 1899, First Nations in northern Alberta signed a treaty with Queen Victoria that enshrined their right to practice traditional lifeways. Today, it’s the basis for a legal challenge to Shell Oil’s mining of tar sands.
Fort Chipewyan is a small indigenous community on the edge of vast Lake Athabasca in Alberta’s remote north, accessible only by plane in summer and by snow road in winter. The town is directly downstream from the Alberta tar sands—Canada’s wildly lucrative, hotly debated, and environmentally catastrophic energy project.

Residents say that tar sands mining is not only dangerous but illegal because it violates the rights laid out in Treaty 8, an agreement signed in 1899 by Queen Victoria and various First Nations. Their legal challenge to the tar sands project could have a powerful impact on the legal role of treaties with First Nations people.
It should come as no surprise that Fort Chip’s relationship to the tar sands industry is a contentious one.

Being first in line downstream means that residents are the first to feel the effects of pollution: poisoned waterair, and animals. The deformed fish with bulbous tumors that residents pull from Lake Athabasca are legendary, as are the stories of Fort Chip’s abnormally frequent cases of rare forms of cancer.

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), many of whose members live in Fort Chip, responded on October 1 with a landmark constitutional challenge to Shell Canada’s expansion of its Jackpine tar sands mine. The challenge states that the expansion would be a further assault on their rights as First Nations people, which are federally protected under Treaty 8.

The Jackpine expansion, which will be reviewed at the end of the month, would destroy over fifty square miles of land and begin mining portions of the Muskeg River in Canada’s most important watershed. AFCN members point out that both the federal government and Shell have ignored their legal duty to consult with them. This time, they’re going to fight back.

“As long as the sun shines”

As indigenous people, the relationship with the land sustains the Chipewyan: the plants and medicines they gather, the moose and fish that form the basis of the traditional diet, the water from the lake, and the deep spiritual connection with this particular place. Land is the basis for culture and identity; when the land is destroyed, so are the people.

When the threats to health and traditional ways of life associated with tar sands mining are lamented, what’s often missing is the recognition that the mining is also in violation of Treaty 8. The Treaty, which covers an area twice the size of California within northern Alberta and neighboring provinces, guarantees basic rights such as health care and education, as well as the right to pursue traditional ways of living, including trapping, hunting, and harvesting. If the government does decide to reduce the amount of land used for these activities, it has a duty to consult with and accommodate the affected First Nations. According to the treaty itself, this agreement will remain valid “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows, and the rivers flow.”  So, forever—in theory.

Treaty 8—along with the ten other treaties that were signed a hundred years ago and supposedly guarantee the continuation of native ways of life—isn’t supposed to have an expiration date. But the treaty’s language begs the question: what happens when the sun no longer shines because it’s obscured by smog? When the grass has been turned into an open pit mine, and when the rivers no longer flow because that water is siphoned off for bitumen processing? If the original signatories had known that this remote outpost would be turned into a smoke-belching Mordor, it would probably have raised some eyebrows. On both sides.

Wide repercussions for native land rights

Chelsea Flook of the Sierra Club, which works closely with AFCN, is hopeful about the case. No constitutional challenge based on Treaty 8 rights has ever been fully argued before a judge, she says. It’s a test case that, if successful, could set a precedent for stricter enforcement of treaty rights and change the way industrial development is regulated. More importantly, though, it would embolden indigenous groups all over the Canada to fight abuses by both industry and government.

For those of us in the United States, the gains and losses of a tiny native community, closer to the Arctic circle than most of us will ever get, may seem remote. But what’s at stake here isn’t just a few hundred people’s ability to hunt moose and conduct ceremonies in a particular spot. Both the U.S. and Canada share a history of colonizing what is essentially stolen land; our societies were built on a common system of disenfranchisement.

Honoring the treaties means honoring the most basic of agreements: the protection of a way of life—and, by extension, life itself. In the years since that day in 1899 when Treaty 8 was signed, every attempt to erase or assimilate indigenous people has been made, regardless of any commitment on paper. Native language and culture have been criminalized, children have been relocated to residential schools, and genocide has been a government policy. Industrial destruction of land is one final assault.

It’s a brutal and violent history, one that’s not taught in school. Coming to terms with our own past—as Canadians, as Americans, as colonizers—is unpleasant. It means seeing ourselves, here and now, in an unflattering light. Honoring agreements such as Treaty 8 means acknowledging all the ways these documents have been violated.

With this constitutional challenge, ACFN is forcing the Canadian government to look in the mirror. It’s a small step with huge implications, and a starting point for redressing more than a century of broken promises.

Kristin Moe wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Kristin is a writer and climate justice activist from the U.S., spending three months in Alberta writing about the social and cultural impacts of the tar sands.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hunter Attacked By Grizzly

from the edmonton journal 09-19-2012

By Mariam Ibrahim

A 48-year-old man is in hospital with potentially life-threatening injuries after he was attacked by a grizzly while hunting alone Tuesday near Swan Hills.

The man was in a forested area about nine kilometres northwest of Swan Hills when the bear attacked him from behind sometime before 10 a.m., STARS air ambulance spokesman Cam Heke said.

The attack continued until the hunter was able to reach his gun, Heke said.

“The patient said he was able to fire off a round, which scared the bear away,” he said.

The hunter then walked several kilometres looking for a cellphone signal before he could call for help.

STARS was dispatched to the scene shortly before 10 a.m. and landed just under an hour later. Emergency crews used an all-terrain vehicle to transport the man from the forest to the helicopter, Heke said.

He was later flown to the QEII Hospital in Grande Prairie in serious condition.

The man’s identity was not released.

Swan Hills RCMP did not release any information on the attack and could not be reached for comment.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

hunter attacked by grizzly. all i can say is yippee and boo-fucking-hoo. suddenly the hunter has become the hunted. pity the bear didn't kill the piece of shit redneck. be kind to animals and leave nature be, you cunt!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fuck Alberta Rednecks

just saw a story on cfrn news about some fucking asshole who hit two bison last night at elk island national park with his dodge vehicle and just took off. he hit the first animal, left the scene, then a short while later hit and killed the second one and then sped away.

how fast must this piece of shit have been going? the speed limit is 60 km on the road going through the park which gives a person plenty of time to stop, day or night, if there are buffalo on the road. elk island is supposed to be a safe haven for these animals, it is their place. i am so fucking sick of ignorant, thoughtless alberta rednecks killing wildlife, destroying nature or defacing cultural heritage sites. fuck 'em all!

update 09-19-2012

A man who struck and killed two bison while driving through Elk Island National Park Wednesday morning will not be charged, according to RCMP.

Const. Shane Kitzman says the man was driving through the park at around 6:30 a.m. when his Dodge Ram hit the animals on the main road.

Kitzman says the park can be a dangerous place for drivers, especially in the early morning or late night.

"We always suggest for people driving through the park to obviously drive with caution as the buffalo do move slow,” he said.

how fast was this man driving? the posted speed limit gives motorists ample time to stop for animals on the road. clearly, the pickup truck owner was driving too fast and recklessly in a national park and now two buffaloes are dead because of his careless and thoughtless actions.

slow down in our national parks and have respect for the wildlife who live there is the message that needs to get through to people.

Alberta Makes Me Sick To My Stomach

Alberta aboriginal rock etchings defaced with drill, power washer, acid

From the National Post September 18, 2012 by Adrian Humphreys

CHRIS DAVIS/PINCHER CREEK VOICE One of two spots where drills were used to eradicate images that were carved into rock.


Historians are comparing it to the Taliban’s destruction of massive Buddhist statues in Afghanistan: Ancient aboriginal pictograms and petroglyphs on an Albertan rock formation have been systematically destroyed by cultural vandals using a rock drill, acid and a power washer.

The obliteration of the etchings on the Glenwood Erratic near Pincher Creek in southern Alberta was discovered last week, just as an historian was about to photograph and test the markings.

“The site is part of the earliest heritage of Canada,” said Michael Dawe, Curator of History at Red Deer Museum. “It looks like an ancient ceremonial/religious site at Glenwood, Alta., was deliberately destroyed. If true, this is a shocking and appalling incident.”

The carvings formed a large face on the top surface of the stone, facing the sky, and also included evidence of early syllabic writing, said Stanley Knowlton, head of interpretive services at Head Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

“It is almost like someone wants to block this kind of research,” said Mr. Knowlton, who discovered the destruction. The attack is a mystery, he said.

“Why? Well, that’s the big question. If you find out why, you might be able to find out who.”

He wonders if someone wants to destroy evidence suggesting the Blackfoot First Nations had a written language before European migration. The damage is the latest destruction of aboriginal pictograms and petroglyphs in Alberta, he said.

News of the loss is perplexing and troubling archaeologists and historians in the province.

“As in the case of the deliberate destruction of early Buddhist carvings in Afghanistan and saints tombs in Timbuktu, any attempt to deliberately ‘erase’ an irreplaceable part of Canada’s ancient cultural and/or religious heritage is outrageous and inexcusable,” said Mr. Dawe.

Dark discolourations mark where petroglyphs and pictographs existed before they were destroyed.

“If this has happened in Canada, it should be denounced and those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Mr. Knowlton has been visiting the Glenwood Erratic for more than a decade, partly as a historian and partly as a member of Piikani First Nation.

“This group of rocks are very revered by the native peoples,” he said.

The presence of red ochre signified the rock was a sacred ceremonial site, perhaps thousands of years ago, he said, leading him to pause his examination out of cultural respect.

Starting about five years ago, he oversaw tobacco ceremonies and other aboriginal rites to prepare the way for a thorough examination and survey of the symbols, including plans to take samples from the ochre paint in the grooves of the carvings to determine how old they might be.

When the thick lichen that covered many of the symbols began to shrivel and flake after the hot, dry summer, he took that as a sign the site was prepared to give up its secrets.

“When the lichen started to come off, that was the signal that we were allowed in,” he said. He planned his survey for the fall.

Mr. Knowlton arrived on the morning of Sept. 9 and noticed tire tracks leading toward the almost five-metre high rock that has vertical sides. Around its base, which is about eight metres wide with a similar length, the long prairie grass had been flattened by activity.

He placed his ladder and climbed to the top where he stood in dismay.

“To my absolute horror, I could see what kind of damage had been done. I just couldn’t believe it.”

The attack likely took place at night, to avoid being seen by nearby Hutterite farmers on whose property the rock sits, after being dropped there by a retreating glacier in the prehistoric past.

A power washer was apparently used to strip off the lichen to reveal the carvings and stained symbols. It appears acid was then sprayed to scorch off the painted images and destroy its value for date testing, Mr. Knowlton said.

A rock bore or hammer drill was used to repeatedly drill out the rock to obscure the carvings.

To do all of that would have required more than one person, a power generator, a pressure washer with a 100-litre water tank, a 1-1/2-inch electric hammer drill, appropriate bits, access to acid or a similar industrial-strength chemical, lights, ladders and a heavy truck, he said.

“It seems a deliberate effort,” said Mr. Knowlton. “This isn’t a theft or simple vandalism.”

Another Alberta site containing aboriginal pictograms and petroglyphs was recently filled in with epoxy cement, while another blown up for use as gravel.

In a different type of incident, a rare dinosaur skeleton found near Grande Prairie was destroyed by vandals who had “smashed indiscriminately” the fossilized bones of the Hadrosaur, scientists involved in the dig said.

© Copyright (c) National Post

almost makes you wonder if the oil and gas industry isn't somehow involved in the destruction. there is so much drilling and fracking going on in the province, with 10 - 15 thousand new wells being drilled each year, that if something gets in the way of accessing those fossil fuels, it will be destroyed.

trouble is however, if that something is culturally significant, people might make a stink about it and try to protect it...but only if they are aware of its existence. so why not go into the area in the dark of night and eradicate any remnants of petroglyphs or pictographs. then all you're left with is a big rock that most people probably don't give a damn about. you can then bust it up and drill away.

maybe all this sounds a little conspiratorial, but government and industry have lied so many times to the people of this province, that the only thing they have demonstrated for certain is that they cannot be trusted. and quite frankly, when it comes to making money in alberta the environment, wildlife or cultural heritage does not stand a chance.


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Canadian Democracy: Death by Pipeline

By Andrew Nikiforuk
August 27, 2012

Shipping dirty tar sands oil could rip apart Canada’s wilderness -- and its democracy

You should know a few things about the Gitga’at people. They live in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, just south of Alaska, and speak the Tsimshian language. They dance and sing like spirited Maori warriors. The women speak softly to living cedar trees when they harvest a single strip of bark for basket or hat making. Every summer the Gitga’at greet returning schools of pink and chum salmon with smiles and shouts of "Ayoo, ayoo." Each member of the Gitga’at nation possesses a traditional name -- Gu thlaag, for example, means "the very instant that lightning hits a tree and the tree splits apart." For the past 10,000 years the Gitga’at have set their dinner tables with bounty from the sea, including salmon, cockles, crab, and halibut. In recent years they have struggled as commercial fisheries have declined in the region, yet the Pacific Ocean still defines them.

About one-quarter of the 750 or so Gitga’at people live in Hartley Bay, a picturesque village that lies in a mist-shrouded forest just west of the mighty Quaal River, near the mouth of a fjord called the Douglas Channel. The community is 120 miles south of Alaska and a two-and-a-half-hour boat ride from the port of Kitimat. But Hartley Bay may soon lose its remoteness as well as its ocean bounty. Enbridge, the giant Canadian pipeline company that spilled more than 20,000 barrels of toxic bitumen into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010, now wants to build two pipelines from Alberta’s tar sands to Kitimat. The import line would take 193,000 barrels of foreign condensate (a gasoline-like substance) brought in by supertankers and pump it more than 700 miles to the tar sands to dilute the heavy crude, which has the consistency of molasses. The export line would then carry 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen back to the coast -- every day.

The twin pipeline proposal, known as Northern Gateway and funded largely by Chinese state-owned oil companies, would bring about 220 tankers to Hartley Bay’s doorstep every year. But for the past six years the Gitga’at community and its coastal neighbors have politely but steadfastly informed Enbridge executives that they have no intention of putting their food supply at risk from tanker spills, just so that tar-sands developers can put more cars on the road in smoggy Shanghai. Nor are they willing to exchange their views of rising humpback whales for supertankers eight times larger than the Exxon Valdez.

The Gitga’at belong to Coastal First Nations (CFN), an alliance of 10 nations and 20,000 people whose territory occupies about two-thirds of the British Columbia coastline. Under the Canadian constitution, the federal government (as well as private corporations) has a duty to consult with First Nations on projects like Northern Gateway, especially with those nations that have not relinquished by treaty their title or right to their homelands and waters. Officials from Enbridge originally promised to respect the wishes of these coastal dwellers. But in September 2011 Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel admitted to First Nations leaders that his company had done a poor job of consultation. "We don’t want to build this project with strong opposition...we want to listen and understand," he added.

Yet the CFN sees only a trail of broken promises. "They want a battle with First Nations and we are up for the challenge," says Art Sterritt, the alliance’s 64-year-old executive director and a member of the Gitga’at. "We fight best when we have a common enemy."

Eighty-six-year-old Helen Clifton is the matriarch of the Killer Whale clan of the Gitga’at nation. Her Gitga’at name, Gwula Nax Nox, means "always seeing." In the quiet of her living room, she calls the megaproject a threat to her people’s food, which, she says, has been blessed by the Creator. "There has got to be a time when you say no and a time to step back," she says. "You can’t challenge Mother Nature."

The Gitga’at are not alone in what is shaping up as an epic battle for the future of Canadian democracy. The ruling Conservative Party, headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has based its economic strategy on an aggressive push for hydrocarbon development, hoping to turn Canada into an "emerging energy superpower" akin to Saudi Arabia. Over the past decade, many of the world’s richest corporations, including ExxonMobil, Shell, and China’s state-owned refining giant Sinopec, have poured tens of billions of dollars into the controversial tar sands project, responding in part to Canada’s low taxes and royalties. A chunk of forest and muskeg the size of the state of Delaware will be excavated in the process. Bitumen, a dirty fuel that requires a huge amount of energy for conversion into synthetic crude, is now Canada’s most profitable export to the United States, dominating refining markets in the Midwest. Currently the tar sands produce about 1.6 million barrels a day, but Northern Gateway and its Asian tankers would increase that almost threefold by 2035.

However, there’s a problem. Unfettered development of the tar sands has already produced a bitumen glut in North American markets at the same time that demand for oil on the continent has peaked and is now steadily declining. As a consequence, Canada can’t become a global petro-power without getting its bitumen to tidewater ports.

To get a million barrels of bitumen a day to the Gulf of Mexico at Port Arthur, Texas, the Harper government strenuously lobbied politicians in Washington on behalf of the Keystone XL pipeline. When that project became bogged down in public protests and regulatory delays, Harper abandoned a 2008 policy that restricted bitumen shipments to China and became an outspoken cheerleader for Enbridge and Northern Gateway. Putting bitumen on supertankers bound for Asia "will require some significant infrastructure projects to go forward," Harper said recently in Bangkok. "And we’re obviously…looking at taking steps necessary to ensure we can get timely regulatory decisions."

There is nothing subtle about Harper or the "necessary steps" he has taken. His government has been characterized by the Economist as "intolerant of criticism and dissent," with a penchant for rule-breaking. Early in 2012 it branded First Nations and environmental groups opposed to Northern Gateway, including the Canadian office of the U.S.-based nonprofit ForestEthics and the David Suzuki Foundation, as foreign-funded "radicals" opposed to economic prosperity. Environmental groups with charitable status that have challenged bitumen mining have been subjected to federal investigation. And to make sure that Enbridge’s pipeline experiences none of the delays that have beset Keystone XL, the Harper government launched a concerted attack in March and April on most of Canada’s main environmental laws.

"The debate is no longer about a pipeline," says Robyn Allan, an economist and former CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. "It’s about an energy strategy designed in the boardrooms of Big Oil that’s being forced on the Canadian public."

Enbridge already moves more than two million barrels of oil a day through some of the world’s longest pipelines. Like the Harper government, it portrays Northern Gateway as Canada’s "path to the future." Janet Holder, the company’s executive vice president for western access, told a crowd of Toronto business leaders last May that the pipeline may be Canada’s single most important infrastructure project, given that oil has become the nation’s most lucrative export, worth $67 billion in 2011. Yes, Holder admitted, the project might be controversial, but only because it was being proposed "in a region where oil pipelines have not existed for decades, which naturally gives rise to concerns among local residents about the local environment."

That, to put it mildly, is an understatement. Enbridge’s pipeline is a technically challenging piece of engineering that would cross more than 700 salmon-bearing waterways fed by snowcapped mountains in Canada’s most spectacular geography: the Great Bear Rainforest. The forest supports surprising gatherings of white spirit bears, black bears, and grizzlies, which assemble at the mouths of clear-running rivers in the fall, together with countless eagles, to feed on some of the world’s greatest salmon runs. These ancient river oases, located at the base of some of the deepest fjords on the planet, are a reminder of what the earth once was: a wild place.

The rainforest, covering a protected area twice the size of Yellowstone, is home to about 30,000 people and 28 distinct First Nations. Their flamboyant aboriginal culture created such a wealth of remarkable wood-based art in the form of totem poles and facial masks that it helped inspire the European Surrealist movement. The rainforest also represents a novel economic vision. In 2006, after a decade-long conservation battle, First Nations, the logging industry, and environmental groups, including ForestEthics and the Natural Resources Defense Council, forged an unprecedented agreement to protect both the forest and its island-studded coastline. More than $100 million, some of which came from U.S. foundations, was raised to manage the rainforest under a plan that called for (and still does call for) ecotourism, renewable energy, sustainable forest products, shellfish aquaculture, and the restoration of First Nations’ access to fisheries. It is about making a living -- as opposed to a killing -- and not being dependent on one industry, says Sterritt, who logged and fished in the region as a young man.

The Harper government initially signed on to the ambitious plan. Together with Tides Canada, an environmental and social justice organization, it proposed to fund a large protected area, known as the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area, off the coast of the Great Bear, stretching from Alaska to Vancouver Island. But then Enbridge officials came calling with their $5.5 billion plan for pipelines and tankers. They even showed up in Hartley Bay and offered the Gitga’at the chance to run an oil-spill cleaning company, recalls Marven Robinson, a 43-year-old local First Nation official and ecotour guide. Robinson told the officials that the Gitga’at weren’t interested. (Later the company came back with another offer: he could own and operate the tugboats needed to guide supertankers through the Douglas Channel. The answer was the same: no thanks. "It’s just crazy what they think money can buy," says Robinson, whose Gitga’at name, Maan Giis Heitk, means "one step higher.")

When Enbridge officials approached the Coastal First Nations with their pipeline proposal, Sterritt asked if they genuinely intended to respect aboriginal sovereignty. Enbridge said yes, and even gave the CFN $100,000 to do its own research on pipelines and tankers. The group spent much of the money gathering information in Alaska, finding out what it could about the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and the Exxon Valdez disaster.

In many respects the 800-mile-long pipeline, which zigzags from Prudhoe Bay to the Port of Valdez, Alaska, and at its peak pumped two million barrels of oil a day (today it moves only a quarter of that amount), mirrors the complexity and scope of the Northern Gateway project. The Alaska pipeline crosses tundra and more than 800 rivers and streams, while Northern Gateway would have to traverse the Rocky Mountains as well as those 700 fish-bearing waterways. In Valdez, native people and commercial fishermen told their visitors that the consortium managing the Alaska pipeline, including ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips, had promised a spill-proof system. But according to federal records, the project suffered an average of 480 spills a year between 1977 and 1999. In 1991 the Government Accountability Office described regulatory oversight of the Alaska pipeline as inadequate, and recent ruptures and accidents suggest that little has changed. One independent study in 2009 by the petroleum consultant Richard Fineberg noted that problems of management, engineering, and lax government oversight continued to plague the system.

The Alaskans also told their Canadian visitors about the Exxon Valdez. Although the ship’s owners blamed the 257,100-barrel spill on an alcoholic captain, the disaster, as noted by Steve Coll in his book Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, was "abetted by inadequate regulations and corporate safety systems." The tanker didn’t have a large enough crew to navigate the hazards of Prince William Sound, and the Port of Valdez didn’t have enough equipment to respond to the spill. As a consequence, the oil contaminated 3,200 miles of shoreline and spread almost 1,200 miles from the accident scene. It caused the collapse of the herring industry, badly damaged the pink salmon fishery, and halved seafood harvests for aboriginal groups. It killed more than 100,000 seabirds and 3,500 sea otters. Communities sank into alcohol and despair. "The Alaskans told us that the industry will break every covenant and promise they make," says Sterritt.

Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist and former commercial fisher who has written two books on the disaster, warned that a tanker accident off the Great Bear Rainforest could be worse than the Exxon Valdezcalamity. For a start, the Douglas Channel and Hecate Strait offer more narrow passages and hairpin turns than Prince William Sound. In addition, diluted bitumen would behave much differently from crude oil in a tanker spill. While the gasoline-like condensate would rapidly evaporate, the heavy bitumen would sink into the ocean like a rock (something not mentioned in Enbridge’s application for Northern Gateway). "So how do you clean it up?" asks Ott. "It’s more toxic than conventional oil because it contains more polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are really long-term bad actors on human health." Ott’s basic message was simple: "As long as we drill it, we are going to spill it."

In 2009, after three years of debate, the CFN told Enbridge that no good could come from the pipeline or tankers. Ever since then, the company and the First Nations have been on a collision course. In January 2012, the alliance issued a report warning that, given the intended volume of tanker traffic, as many as three spills of at least 10,000 barrels were likely to occur during the 30-year lifespan of the project. Enbridge’s Pat Daniel has acknowledged that it’s impossible to guarantee that there will be no spills (although he notes that Enbridge wouldn’t in any case be liable -- that would be the concern of companies such as China’s Sinopec). As for pipeline leaks, Enbridge says it is under no obligation to quantify the risk, boasting only that its safety standards will be "world class" and challenging the public to "judge us by what we’ve done -- year in, year out -- through our 60-year history."

That’s a problematic invitation. Since 2000 Enbridge pipelines have spilled 132,715 barrels of crude, and in 2010 the company experienced a major disaster in Michigan, when Line 6B, which moves about 190,000 barrels of crude a day, ruptured and leaked 840,000 gallons of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands, contaminating 38 miles of the Kalamazoo River. It was the largest onshore spill in U.S. history, and the cleanup has so far cost more than $800 million. A damning report by the National Transportation Safety Board in July 2012 condemned Enbridge for its "culture of deviance," comparing the company’s chaotic management of the Kalamazoo spill to the Keystone Kops. (Months after the incident, Enbridge executives all got sizable pay raises.)

By the beginning of this year the Canadian government realized that its aspirations to become an energy superpower were in trouble. The Obama administration had delayed Keystone XL; the Kalamazoo spill had become a public relations disaster for Enbridge; and light oil production from the Bakken field in North Dakota had weakened U.S. demand for Canadian bitumen. And the First Nations had made their opposition to Northern Gateway clear.

The Harper government went on the offensive. Already, in the fall of 2011, it had withdrawn abruptly from the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area, explaining that it was no longer "practical" to manage 39,400 square miles of whale and salmon habitat and that it needed to "streamline" the process. (Just six months earlier Enbridge lobbyists had argued that the conservation plan could be used by the First Nations to limit tanker traffic off the coast and kill Northern Gateway.) Harper, speaking on national television, denigrated the very idea of a special conservation area in the Great Bear Rainforest. "Just because certain people in the United States would like to see Canada be one giant national park for the northern half of North America," he said, "I don’t think that’s part of what our review process [for Northern Gateway] is all about."

In January, one day before federal hearings on the environmental impacts of Northern Gateway were set to begin, Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver accused critics of the project, such as the Gitga’at and environmental groups, of using funding from U.S. charitable foundations -- which he characterized as "foreign special interest groups" -- to "undermine Canada’s national economic interest" and block a historic opportunity "to diversify our trade." He vowed to stop them with new regulations. When asked about the nearly $20 billion in foreign money poured into the tar sands projects by state-owned Chinese companies, he replied that this was different. "They’re helping us build infrastructure to help us diversify our market," he said. "Other groups are trying to impede…economic progress."

In March the Harper government attached to a routine budget bill, Bill C-38, dozens of legislative changes to the country’s environmental laws. The bill passed without a single amendment. Laws that might stand in the way of pipelines, tankers, or bitumen mining were rewritten or amended. Science-based agencies were axed. Even Canada’s most conservative newspaper, the National Post, was shocked by Harper’s actions, calling them in an editorial "unacceptable and inexplicable."

The short title of Bill C-38 was the Jobs, Growth, and Long-term Prosperity Act, but it may go down in history as the Enbridge Enhancement Act. Enbridge had lobbied hard for changes to Canada’s Fisheries Act, one of the nation’s oldest and most powerful pieces of environmental legislation, arguing that the provisions protecting fish habitat were "too onerous." The new version of the act aims to prevent "serious harm" only to those fish that are deemed commercially important. All protections for amphibians, reptiles, mussels, crayfish, and other aquatic creatures have disappeared. The Harper government acknowledges that these changes may make it much easier for the Northern Gateway pipeline to cross hundreds of waterways.

This gutting of the Fisheries Act appalled not only environmental groups but several former federal fisheries ministers, including the Conservative John Fraser, who told the Vancouver Sun, "I say this as a lifelong conservative. People who want to eliminate the appropriate safeguards….aren’t conservatives at all, they’re ideological right-wingers with very, very limited understanding, intelligence, or wisdom."

The 425-page omnibus bill didn’t stop with fish. It also amended the Navigable Waters Protection Act so that pipelines are no longer subject to its provisions. Cabinet ministers can now grant exemptions from the Species at Risk Act, which covers 15 species along the pipeline route, putting at increased risk woodland caribou in bitumen mining areas as well as threatened birds like the short-tailed albatross.

As Oliver had promised, the government rewrote the country’s Environmental Assessment Act, which controls federal review of projects such as Northern Gateway. The changes to the law reduce the number of projects subject to review, limit public involvement, and narrow the definition of "environmental effects." As a consequence, says the Toronto environmental law firm Willms & Shier, "the list of eligible intervenors… will be slashed, the timeline will be compressed, and the Cabinet will be given the authority to overrule the Review Panel’s final recommendation if it sees fit."

In addition, the bill set aside $8 million for the Canada Revenue Agency to investigate the political activities of registered charities such as environmental NGOs and Tides Canada. Without producing any evidence, Environment Minister Peter Kent accused such organizations of "money laundering" of U.S. funds. (None of the nation’s top 10 foreign-funded charities are environmental groups, and Canadian law clearly permits charities and NGOs to receive foreign foundation funding and also to conduct political advocacy, provided this does not exceed 10 percent of their charitable activities.) In response to this witch hunt, the environmentalist David Suzuki resigned from his own foundation to retain his freedom to speak out on energy issues, and Forest Ethics split into two separate organizations, one of which will focus solely on advocacy work. "This smearing of environmental groups, this undermining of the role of environmental organizations in the environmental debate, is blatant and aggressive and gratuitous," said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada, in a recent magazine interview. "This is not something we’ve ever seen before."

The bill also slashed funding for critical environmental research programs. Federal science teams working on air pollution and marine toxicology were disbanded. The world’s most famous freshwater research station, the Experimental Lakes Area in Ontario, was closed down. That scientific jewel, which studied the behavior of pollutants in whole lake systems for 44 years, had produced research that drove global public policy on pollution from phosphates, acid rain, and mercury. Scientists from around the world expressed dismay at its closure. The distinguished marine ecologist Ragnar Elmgren of Stockholm University called it "an act of wanton destruction...the kind of act one expects from the Taliban in Afghanistan, not from the government of a civilized and educated nation."

While it has removed most legislative and scientific obstacles to Northern Gateway, the Harper government has failed to bolster waning public support for the project. The scathing indictment by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board of Enbridge’s bungled response to the Kalamazoo River spill created a political uproar in Canada. Nor has the Harper government yet extinguished the constitutional land claims and rights of the Gitga’at and other First Nations. Art Sterritt of the Coastal First Nations warns that legal action is imminent and could drag on for years, perhaps going all the way to the Supreme Court. Harper’s own former environment minister, Jim Prentice, who left the administration in 2010 to become a senior bank official, fears that the government’s open cheerleading for bitumen, combined with its failure to respect aboriginal ownership of lands along the pipeline route, could spell a greater political calamity for the tar sands. "The real risk is not regulatory rejection but regulatory approval, undermined by subsequent legal challenges and the absence of 'social license' to operate,"Prentice wrote in June in the Vancouver Sun.

At Enbridge’s annual meeting in May, Pat Daniel, who has announced that he will step down as CEO this fall, vented his frustration at the opposition to Northern Gateway. How can people say no to it, he asked, while saying yes "to lights, cooked food, school buses, warm homes, and diesel-powered trains? It’s a glaring disconnect in society."

Indeed it is. In February I traveled to Prince Rupert, an old salmon cannery town of 12,500 people, 45 minutes north of Hartley Bay by air. Nearly 2,000 people, both white and aboriginal, had gathered for a peaceful march. At a rally, scores of chiefs and elders representing as many as 40 First Nations from across British Columbia voiced their fierce opposition to the Enbridge pipeline in a variety of aboriginal languages. Dancers from Hartley Bay pounded their drums and sang ancient songs about salmon, ravens, and whales. An 11-year-old girl from the Sliammon First Nation, Ta’Kaiya Blaney, silenced the crowd with a composition called "Shallow Waters." "Come with me to the emerald sea," she sang,
 "where black gold spills into my ocean dreams." She got a standing ovation.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

We Need Psychological Maturity

 Mitt Romney said in his speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa Florida last Thursday,
President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. [Pause. Laughter.] MY promise … is to help you and your family.
"Quick show of hands, how many of your families live on the planet?", asked Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report, "Oh, then it seems a lot less funny, now." 

The following is from an essay entitled The Psychology of Peak Oil and Climate Change from Richard Heinberg's book Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines, which points out the mental and emotional underpinnings of Romney's short-sighted statement and the moral immaturity of those who would agree with him,
Why are Peak Oil and Climate Change so hard for many people to understand? There are probably many reasons.One often cited (and discussed brilliantly and at length by Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich in their 1989 book New World New Mind) is that humans are hard-wired via the reptilian brain for fight-or-flight responses to adversity or danger, but have an innate inability to respond effectively to slowly developing problems that are hard to personalize. Ornstein and Ehrlich suggest that our species, if it is to survive, must quickly improve its capacity to understand and deal with systemic crises.

Another possible reason why so many people can't “get” Peak Oil and Climate Change has to do with psychological maturity — which often does not correlate particularly well with chronological age. Psychological maturity might be defined as the ability or tendency to think of not just one's own welfare but that of larger groups ...and to think in terms of long time horizons in addition to short ones. This includes thinking about consequences of present behavior that will be felt only by future generations.
You won't get very far helping someone's family if they don't have access to clean air, clean water and clean soil to grow food. On a planet where increasing pollution has already destroyed much of these vitally important necessities for our continued existence, we need to start undoing the damage we have caused to our natural ecosystems and begin to preserve them now for everyone, and for all those future inhabitants who will be around long after we have perished.

If we do not show the will and make the effort to take care of our planet responsibly, and reorganize our economic and social systems to function in a more equitable fashion, then our planet will take care of us...and the consequences will be none to pleasant. There is a very real possibility that our species, with the proud, self-appointed name homo sapiens, may become extinct because of our own sweeping ignorance and rampant greed. I'm sure the rest of creation who remain to flourish in our wake will rejoice at our long overdue fate and exclaim, "Good riddance!"

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Compliance - Why We Like to Follow the Leader

Film highlights the temptations and perils of blind obedience to authority

Indie film Compliance recalls notions that the past decade's worst events are explained by failures to oppose authority

by Glenn Greenwald
from, Sunday 26 August 2012

One can object to some of its particulars, but Frank Bruni has a quite interesting and incisive New York Times column today about a new independent film called Compliance, which explores the human desire to follow and obey authority.

Based on real-life events that took place in 2004 at a McDonalds in Kentucky, the film dramatizes a prank telephone call in which a man posing as a police officer manipulates a supervisor to abuse an employee with increasing amounts of cruelty and sadism, ultimately culminating in sexual assault – all by insisting that the abuse is necessary to aid an official police investigation into petty crimes.

That particular episode was but one of a series of similar and almost always-successful hoaxes over the course of at least 10 years, in which restaurant employees were manipulated into obeying warped directives from this same man, pretending on the telephone to be a police officer.

Bruni correctly notes the prime issue raised by all of this: "How much can people be talked into and how readily will they defer to an authority figure of sufficient craft and cunning?" That question was answered 50 years ago by the infamous experiment conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram, in which an authority figure in a lab coat instructed participants to deliver what they were told were increasingly severe electric shocks to someone in another room whom they could hear but not see. Even as the screams became louder and more agonizing, two-thirds of the participants were induced fully to comply by delivering the increased electric shocks.

Most disturbingly, even as many expressed concerns and doubts, they continued to obey until the screams stopped – presumably due to death (subsequent experiments replicated those results). As the University of California's Gregorio Billikopf put it, the Milgram experiment "illustrates people's reluctance to confront those who abuse power", as they "obey either out of fear or out of a desire to appear co-operative – even when acting against their own better judgment and desires".

Bruni ties all of this into our current political culture, noting one significant factor driving this authoritarian behavior: that trusting authority is easier and more convenient than treating it with skepticism. He writes:
As Craig Zobel, the writer and director of 'Compliance,' said to me on the phone on Friday, 'We can't be on guard all the time. In order to have a pleasant life, you have to be able to trust that people are who they say they are. And if you questioned everything you heard, you'd never get anything done.' It's infinitely more efficient to follow a chosen leader and walk in lock step with a chosen tribe.
He suggests that this is the dynamic that drives unthinking partisan allegiance ("What's most distinctive about the current presidential election and our political culture [is] … how unconditionally so many partisans back their side's every edict, plaint and stratagem"), as well as numerous key political frauds, from Saddam's WMDs to Obama's fake birth certificate to Romney's failure to pay taxes for 10 years. People eagerly accept such evidence-free claims "because the alternative mean[s] confronting outright mendacity from otherwise respected authorities, trading the calm of certainty for the disquiet of doubt".

This authoritarian desire to pledge fealty to institutions and leaders is indeed the dynamic that resides at the core of so many of our political conflicts (the 2006 book by Canadian psychology professor Bob Altemeyer, The Authoritarians, is a superb examination of how this manifests in the right-wing political context).

One of my first posts when I began writing about politics back in 2006 was an examination of the blindly loyal, cult-like veneration which the American Right had erected around George Bush; as Paul Krugman was one of the first to observe, that same disturbing thirst for leader-worship then drove followers of Barack Obama (Krugman in February, 2008: "the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We've already had that from the Bush administration – remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don't want to go there again").

There is always much to say about this topic, as its centrality in shaping both individual and collective behavior is more or less universal. But I want to highlight two specific points about all of this which relate to several of the topics I wrote about in my first week here, as well as some of the resulting reaction to that:

First, there are multiple institutions that are intended to safeguard against this ease of inducing blind trust in and obedience to authorities. The most obvious one is journalism, which, at its best, serves as a check against political authority by subjecting its pronouncements to skepticism and scrutiny, and by acting in general as an adversarial force against it. But there are other institutions that can and should play a similar role.

One is academia, a realm where tenure is supposed to ensure that authority's most sacred orthodoxies are subjected to unrelenting, irreverent questioning. Another is the federal judiciary, whose officials are vested with life tenure so as to empower them, without regard to popular sentiment, to impose limits on the acts of political authorities and to protect the society's most scorned and marginalized.

But just observe how frequently these institutions side with power rather than against it, how eagerly they offer their professional and intellectual instruments to justify and glorify the acts of political authority rather than challenge or subvert them. They will occasionally quibble on the margins with official acts, but their energies are overwhelmingly devoted to endorsing the legitimacy of institutional authority and, correspondingly, scorning those who have been marginalized or targeted by it.

Their collective instinct on any issue is to rush to align themselves with the sentiment prevailing in elite power circles. Most denizens in these realms would be hard-pressed to identify any instances in which they embraced causes or people deeply unpopular within those circles. Indeed, they judge their own rightness – they derive vindication – by how often they find themselves on the side of elite institutions and how closely aligned they are with the orthodoxies that prevail within them, rather than by how often they challenge or oppose them.

It is difficult to overstate the impact of this authority-serving behavior from the very institutions designed to oppose authority. As Zobel, the writer and director of Compliance, notes, most people are too busy with their lives to find the time or energy to scrutinize prevailing orthodoxies and the authorities propagating them. When the institutions that are in a position to provide those checks fail to do that, those orthodoxies and authorities thrive without opposition or challenge, no matter how false and corrupted they may be.

As much as anything else, this is the institutional failure that explains the debacles of the last decade. There is virtually no counter-weight to the human desire to follow and obey authority because the institutions designed to provide that counter-weight – media outlets, academia, courts – do the opposite: they are the most faithful servants of those centers of authority.

Second, it is very easy to get people to see oppression and tyranny in faraway places, but very difficult to get them to see it in their own lives ("How dare you compare my country to Tyranny X; we're free and they aren't"). In part that is explained by the way in which desire shapes perception. One naturally wants to believe that oppression is only something that happens elsewhere because one then feels good about one's own situation ("I'm free, unlike those poor people in those other places"). Thinking that way also relieves one of the obligation to act: one who believes they are free of oppression will feel no pressure to take a difficult or risky stand against it.

But the more significant factor is that one can easily remain free of even the most intense political oppression simply by placing one's faith and trust in institutions of authority. People who get themselves to be satisfied with the behavior of their institutions of power, or who at least largely acquiesce to the legitimacy of prevailing authority, are almost never subjected to any oppression, even in the worst of tyrannies.

Why would they be? Oppression is designed to compel obedience and submission to authority. Those who voluntarily put themselves in that state – by believing that their institutions of authority are just and good and should be followed rather than subverted – render oppression redundant, unnecessary.

Of course people who think and behave this way encounter no oppression. That's their reward for good, submissive behavior. As Rosa Luxemburg put this: "Those who do not move, do not notice their chains." They are left alone by institutions of power because they comport with the desired behavior of complacency and obedience without further compulsion.

But the fact that good, obedient citizens do not themselves perceive oppression does not mean that oppression does not exist. Whether a society is free is determined not by the treatment of its complacent, acquiescent citizens – such people are always unmolested by authority – but rather by the treatment of its dissidents and its marginalized minorities.

In the US, those are the people who are detained at airports and have their laptops and notebooks seized with no warrants because of the films they make or the political activism they engage in; or who are subjected to mass, invasive state surveillance despite no evidence of wrongdoing; or who are prosecuted and imprisoned for decadesor even executed without due process – for expressing political and religious views deemed dangerous by the government.

People who resist the natural human tendency to follow, venerate and obey prevailing authority typically have a much different view about how oppressive a society is than those who submit to those impulses. The most valuable experiences for determining how free a society is are the experiences of society's most threatening dissidents, not its content and compliant citizens. It was those who marched against Mubarak who were detained, beaten, tortured and killed, not those who acquiesced to or supported the regime. That is the universal pattern of authoritarian oppression.

The temptation to submit to authority examined by Compliance bolsters an authoritarian culture by transforming its leading institutions into servants of power rather than checks on it. But worse, it conceals the presence of oppression by ensuring that most citizens, choosing to follow, trust and obey authority, do not personally experience oppression and thus do not believe – refuse to believe – that it really exists.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Howard Zinn - There are No "Good Wars"

howard zinn - historian, author, social activist - would have been 90 years old today. the following video is from democracy now! and features howard zinn in one of his last speeches on november 11, 2009 given at boston university. howard died on january 27, 2010 in santa monica, california. he was 87.

Three Holy Wars

HOWARD ZINN: Three Holy Wars. I only started recently talking about this. You know, very often, if you’re a speaker, there’s a topic you’ve been speaking on for twenty or thirty years, you know. And there are topics that I’ve been speaking on for twenty or thirty years, but it’s only in the past year that I decided I would speak on “Three Holy Wars.” And when I tell people the title, very often they’re a little puzzled, because they think I’m going to speak about religious wars. No. I’m speaking about three wars in American history that are sacrosanct, three wars that are untouchable, three wars that are uncriticizable.

And I think you’ll probably agree with me. I’m not always sure that people will agree with me, but I think you will agree with me that nobody criticizes the Revolutionary War. Right? Especially here in Boston. No, not at all. The Revolutionary War is holy. The war against England, here in Boston, wow! Paul Revere and Lexington and Concord and Sam Adams and all the Adamses. And all of that. No, the Revolutionary War, the great war, win independence from England, heroic battles, Bunker Hill. Oh, yeah, brings tears to my eyes. No, not only in Boston, but elsewhere. The Revolutionary War, you don’t criticize that. If you did, you’d be a Tory; they’d deport you to Canada. Which might be good.

And then there’s the Civil War. Notice the quiet? You don’t criticize the Civil War. And it’s understandable. Why would you criticize the Civil War? Slavery? Freedom? No. Civil War, slaves are freed. Abraham Lincoln! You can’t criticize the Civil War. It’s a good war, a just war. Emancipation.

And then there’s World War II. Again, “the Good War,” except if you read Studs Terkel’s oral history called “The Good War”, in which he interviews all sorts of people who participated in World War II — military, civilians. When he adopted the title of this oral history, “The Good War”, his wife suggested, after reading the book — reading the manuscript, reading the interviews — suggested he put quotation marks around “The Good War”, suggesting that, well, maybe there’s a little doubt about how good that war is. But very few people have doubt about “the Good War.” You turn on the History Channel, what is it all about? “The Good War.” World War II. Heroism. Iwo Jima. D-Day. The Greatest Generation. No, World War II is — it’s the best, the best of wars, you know. I was in it.

And now I’m going to subject all three of those “good wars” to a kind of examination, which is intended — yeah, I’ll tell you frankly what my intention is — to make us reexamine the idea of a good war, to make us reexamine the idea that there’s any such thing as a good war. Even the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II, no. It’s not easy to do, because, as I said, these three wars are holy. And all three wars accomplished something. No one would doubt that. I mean, that’s why they’re considered holy. They all accomplished something: independence from England, freedom for the slaves, the end of fascism in Europe, right? So, so to criticize them is to — is to undertake a heroic task. I only undertake heroic tasks.

But the reason I think it’s important to subject them to criticism is that this idea of “good wars” helps justify other wars which are obviously awful, obviously evil. And though they’re obviously awful — I’m talking about Vietnam, I’m talking about Iraq, I’m talking about Afghanistan, I’m talking about Panama, I’m talking about Grenada, one of our most heroic of wars — the fact that you can have the historic experience of “good wars” creates a basis for believing, well, you know, there’s such a thing as a good war. And maybe you can find, oh, parallels between the good wars and this war, even though you don’t understand this war, but, oh, yeah, the parallels. Saddam Hussein is Hitler. Well, that makes it clear. We have to fight against him, because he — right? To not fight in the war means surrender, like Munich. There are all the analogies. I remember Lyndon Johnson. World War II is a perfect setup for analogies. You compare something to World War II, you immediately infuse it with goodness. And so, during the Vietnam War, I remember at one time Lyndon Johnson referred to the — to the head of South Vietnam, Ngo D├Čnh Diem, whom we had set up in power of South Vietnam, so independent was he — but Lyndon Johnson referred to Diem as “the Winston Churchill of Asia.” I really like that. So, yes, I think we ought to examine these wars.

Let’s start with the Revolutionary War. Let’s do it in chronological order, because, after all, I’m a historian. We do everything in chronological order. I eat in chronological order. All-Bran. We’ll start with All-Bran. We’ll end with Wheatena.

Anyway, the Revolutionary War. Balance sheet. I don’t want to make it too mathematical, you know, I’ll be falling in line with all these mathematical social scientists. You know, everything has become mathematical — political science and anthropology and even social work. You know, mathematical — no, I don’t want to get that strict. But a rough moral balance sheet, let’s say. Well, what’s good about the Revolutionary War? And — oh, there’s another side? Yes, there’s another side to the balance sheet. What’s dubious about the Revolutionary War? And let’s — yeah, and let’s look at both sides, because if you only look at, “Oh, we won independence from England,” well, that’s not enough to do that. You have to look at other things.

Well, let’s first look at the cost of the war, on one side of the balance sheet. The cost of the war. In lives, I mean. Twenty-five thousand. Hey, that’s nothing, right? Twenty-five thousand? We lost 58,000 in Vietnam. That’s — 25,000 — did you even know how many lives were lost in the Revolutionary War? It’s hardly worth talking about. In proportion to population — in proportion to the Revolutionary War population of the colonies, 25,000 would be equivalent today to two-and-a-half million. Two-and-a-half million. Let’s fight a war. We’re being oppressed by England. Let’s fight for independence. Two-and-a-half million people will die, but we’ll have independence. Would you have second thoughts? You might. In other words, I want to make that 25,000, which seems like an insignificant figure, I want to make it palpable and real and not to be minimized as a cost of the Revolutionary War, and to keep that in mind in the balance sheet as we look at whatever other factors there are. So, yes, we win independence against England. Great. And it only cost two-and-a-half million. OK?

Who did the Revolutionary War benefit? Who benefited from independence? It’s interesting that we just assume that everybody benefited from independence. No. Not everybody in the colonies benefited from independence. And there were people right from the outset who knew they wouldn’t benefit from independence. There were people from the outset who thought, you know, “I’m just a working stiff. I’m just a poor farmer. Am I going to benefit? What is it — what difference will it make to me if I’m oppressed by the English or oppressed by my local landlord?” You know, maybe one-third of the colonists — nobody knows, because they didn’t take Gallup polls in those days. Maybe one — various estimates, one-third of the colonists were opposed to the Revolutionary War. And only about maybe about one-third supported the Revolutionary War against England. And maybe one-third were neutral. I don’t know. I’m going by an estimate that John Adams once made. Just a very rough.

But there obviously were lots of people who were not for the Revolution. And that’s why they had a tough time recruiting people for the Revolution. It wasn’t that people rushed — “Wow! It’s a great crusade, independence against — from England. Join!” No, they had a tough time getting people. In the South, you know, they couldn’t find people to join the army. George Washington had to send a general and his troops down south to threaten people in order to get them into the military, into the war.

And in fact, in the war itself, the poor people, the working people, the farmers, the artisans, who were in the army, maybe some of them were there for patriotic reasons, independence against England, even if they weren’t sure what it meant for them. But some of them were there for that reason. Others were there — you know, some of them had actually listened to the Declaration of Independence, read from the town hall. And inspiring. You know, liberty, equality, equality. We all have an equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You know, it can make people — some people were inspired, and they joined.

Other people joined because they were promised land at — you know, they were promised at the end of the Revolution — you know, they were promised, you might say, a little GI Bill of Rights, just as today recruiting offices make promises to young guys that they want into the Army. They give them bonuses, and they promise them maybe a free education afterward. No, people don’t naturally rush to war. You have to seduce them. You have to bribe them or coerce them. Some people think it’s natural for people to go to war. Not at all. No.

Nations have to work hard to mobilize the citizens to go to war. And they had to work in the Revolutionary War, especially, well, when they found out that, although there was a draft, there was a kind of conscription that the rich could get out of the conscription by paying a certain amount of money. But the young, the farmers who went into the Revolutionary Army and who fought and who died and who were wounded in the war, they found that they, the privates, the ordinary soldier in the war, that they weren’t treated as well as the officers who came from the upper classes. The officers were given splendid uniforms and good food and were paid well. And the privates very often did not have shoes and clothes and were not paid. And when their time was supposed to be up, they were told, no, they had to stay. There was a class difference in the Revolutionary War.

You know, in this country, we’re not accustomed to the idea of class differences, because we’re all supposed to be one big, happy family. One nation, indivisible. We’re very divisible. No, we’re not one nation. No, there are working people, and there are rich people, and in between, yes, there are nervous people. So, yeah, the conditions of the ordinary farmer who went into the Revolution, the private, the conditions were such that they mutinied — mutinied against the officers, against George Washington and the other officers. And when I say “mutinied,” I mean thousands of them. Ever hear about this in your classrooms when you discuss — when you learn about the Revolutionary War? When you learn about Bunker Hill and Concord and the first shot heard around the world — right? — do you ever hear about the mutinies? I doubt it. I never learned about it. I didn’t learn about it in elementary school or high school or college or graduate school. You find very often that what you learn in graduate school is what you learned in elementary school, only with footnotes. You see. No, I never learned about the mutinies.

But there were mutinies. Thousands of soldiers mutinied, so many of them that George Washington was worried, you know, that he couldn’t put it down. He had to make concessions, make concessions to what was called the Pennsylvania Line, the thousands of mutineers. However, when shortly after he made those concessions and quieted down the mutiny by saying — promising them things, promising them he’d get them out of the army soon and give them pay and so on, soon after that, there was another mutiny in the New Jersey Line, which was smaller. And there, Washington put his foot down. He couldn’t handle the thousands in the Pennsylvania Line, but he could handle the hundreds in the New Jersey Line, and he said, “Find the leaders and execute them.” You hear about this in your classrooms about the Revolutionary War? You hear about the executions of mutineers? I doubt it. If I’m wrong in the question period, correct me. I’m willing to stand corrected. I don’t like to stand corrected, but I’m will to be stand corrected. And yeah, so they executed a number of the mutineers. Their fellow soldiers were ordered to execute the mutineers. So the Revolution — you know, not everybody was treated the same way in the Revolution.

And, in fact, when the Revolution was won, independence was won, and the soldiers came back to their homes — and some of them did get bits of land that were promised to them, so, yeah, many of them became small farmers again. And then they found that they were being taxed heavily by the rich, who controlled the legislatures. They couldn’t pay their taxes, and so their farms and their homes were being taken away from them, auctioned off. “Foreclosures” they call them today, right? It’s an old phenomenon.

So, there were rebellions. I think everybody learns about Shays’ Rebellion. They don’t learn much about Shays’ Rebellion, but they learn it enough to recognize it on a multiple choice test. Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts. Thousands of farmers gathered around courthouses in Springfield and Northampton and Amherst and Great Barrington around those courthouses. And they stopped the auctions from going on. They prevent the foreclosures. It’s a real rebellion that has to be put down by an army, paid for by the merchants of Boston. It’s put down. But it puts a scare into the Founding Fathers.

Now, there’s an interesting chronology there. Shays’ Rebellion takes place in 1786. The Founding Fathers get together in 1787, for the Constitutional Convention. Is there a connection between the two? I don’t remember ever learning that there was a connection between Shays’ Rebellion and the Constitution. What I learned is that, oh, they got together with the Constitution because the Articles of Confederation created a weak central government, that we need a strong central government. And everybody likes the idea of a strong central government, so it was a great thing to have a Constitutional Convention and draft the Constitution.
What you were not told, I don’t think — I wasn’t told — was that the Founding Fathers on the eve of the Constitutional Convention were writing to one another before the Constitutional Convention and saying, “Hey, this rebellion in western Massachusetts, we better do something about that. We better create a government strong enough to deal with rebellions like this.” That’s why we need a strong central government.

There was a general, General Henry Knox of Massachusetts, who had been in the army with George Washington, and he wrote to Washington at one point. And I don’t have his letter with me. I do have it somewhere, you know. I’ll paraphrase it. It won’t be as eloquent as him. You know, they were eloquent in those days. Take a look at the language used by the political leaders of that day and the language of the political leaders in our day. I mean, really, it’s, you know — yeah. So when Knox writes to Washington, it says something like this. It says, “You know, these people who fought in the Revolution, these people who are rebelling, who have rebelled in west Massachusetts” —- and other states, too, not just in Massachusetts -—


HOWARD ZINN: In Maine, too. Yeah, you know that, Roger. You were among the rebels, I’m sure. You were there, I know.

Knox says to Washington, says, “These people who have rebelled, you know, they think that because they fought in the Revolution, they fought in the war against England, that they deserve an equal share of the wealth of this country.” No. Those were the kinds of letters that went back and forth. “We’ve got to set up a government that will be strong enough to put down the rebellions of the poor, slave revolts, the Indians, who may resent our going into their territory.” That’s what a strong central government is for, not just because, oh, it’s nice to have a strong central government. The reason’s for that. The Constitution was a class document written to protect the interests of bondholders and slave owners and land expansionists. So the outcome of the Revolution was not exactly good for everybody, and it created all sorts of problems.

What about black people, the slaves? Did they benefit from the winning of the Revolution? Not at all. There was slavery before the Revolution; there was slavery after the Revolution. In fact, Washington would not enlist black people into his army. The South, Southern slave owners, they were the first with the — for the British, doing it for the British. The British enlisted blacks before Washington did. No, blacks didn’t benefit.

Hey, what about Indians? Should we even count the Indians? Should we even consider the Indians? Who are they? Well, they lived here. They owned all this land. We moved them out of here. Well, they should be considered. What was the outcome for them when we won the Revolution? It was bad, because the British had set a line called the Proclamation of 1763. They had set a line at the Appalachians, where they said, no, the colonists should not go beyond this line into Indian territory. I mean, they didn’t do it because they loved the Indians. They just didn’t want trouble. They set a line. The British are now gone, and the line is gone, and now you can move westward into Indian territory. And you’re going to move across the continent. And you’re going to create massacres. And you’re going to take that enormous land in the West away from the Indians who live there.

These are some of the consequences of the Revolution. But we did win independence from England. All I’m trying to suggest, that to simply leave it that way, that we won independence from England, doesn’t do justice to the complexity of this victory. And, you know, was it good that we — to be independent of England? Yes, it’s always good to be independent. But at what cost? And how real is the independence? And is it possible that we would have won independence without a war?

Hey, how about Canada? Canada is independent of England. They don’t have a bad society, Canada. There are some very attractive things about Canada. They’re independent of England. They did not fight a bloody war. It took longer. You know, sometimes it takes longer if you don’t want to kill. Violence is fast. War is fast. And that’s attractive — right? — when you do something fast. And if you don’t want killing, you may have to take more time in order to achieve your objective. And actually, when you achieve your objective, it might be achieved in a better way and with better results, and with a Canadian health system instead of American health system. You know, you know.

OK, all of this — I won’t say anything about the Revolutionary War. I just wanted to throw a few doubts in about it. That’s all. I don’t want to say anything revolutionary or radical. I don’t want to make trouble. You know, I just want to — no, I certainly don’t want to make trouble at BU. No. So — yet I just want to — I just want to think about these things. That’s all I’m trying to do, have us think again about things that we took for granted. “Oh, yes, Revolutionary War, great!” No. Let’s think about it.

And the Civil War. OK, well, Civil War is — Civil War is even tougher, even tougher to critically examine the Civil War. Slavery. Slavery, nothing worse. Slavery. And at the end of the Civil War, there’s no slavery. You can’t deny that. So, yeah, you have to put that on one side of the ledger, the end of slavery. On the other side, you have to put the human cost of the Civil War in lives: 600,000. I don’t know how many people know or learn or remember how many lives were lost in the Civil War, which was the bloodiest, most brutal, ugliest war in our history, from the point of view of dead and wounded and mutilated and blinded and crippled. Six hundred thousand dead in a country of 830 million. Think about that in relation today’s population; it’s as if we fought a civil war today, and five or six million people died in this civil war. Well, you might say, well, maybe that’s worth it, to end slavery. Maybe. Well, OK, I won’t argue that. Maybe. But at least you know what the cost is.

One of the great things about the book by the president of Harvard, which she — you know, recently a book she wrote about the Civil War, she brings home, in very graphic detail — Drew Gilpin Faust, President Faust of Harvard, wrote a remarkable book about the Civil War. And what she concentrates on is the human consequences of the Civil War, the dead, the wounded. I mean, you know, that was a war in which enormous number of amputations took place, without anesthetic. You know, I mean, so it’s not just the 600,000 dead; it was all those who came home without a leg or an arm.

I’m trying to make the cost of the war more than a statistic, because we have gotten used to just dealing with statistics. And the statistics are dead. The statistics are — you know, become meaningless. They’re just numbers. Six hundred thousand — just read it and go quickly past it. But no, I don’t want to go past the cost of these wars. I want to consider them very, very, very closely and rack it up and don’t forget about it, even as you consider the benefits of the war, the freedom of the slaves.

But you also have to think, the slaves were freed, and what happened after that? Were they really freed? Well, they were, actually — there was no more slavery — but the slaves, who had been given promises — you know, forty acres and a mule — they were promised, you know, a little land and some wherewithal so they could be independent, so they needn’t be slaves anymore. Well, they weren’t given anything. They were left without resources. And the result was they were still in the thrall, still under the control of the plantation owner. They were free, but they were not free. There have been a number of studies made of that, you know, in the last decade. Free, but not free. They were not slaves now. They were serfs. They were like serfs on a feudal estate. They were tenant farmers. They were sharecroppers. They couldn’t go anywhere. They didn’t have control of their lives. And they were in the thrall of the white plantation owners. The same white plantation owners who had been their masters when they were slaves were now their masters when they were serfs.

OK, I don’t want to minimize the fact that it’s still not slavery in the old sense. No, it’s not. It’s better. It’s a better situation. So, I want to be cautious about what I say about that, and I want to be clear. But I want to say it’s more complicated than simply "Oh, the slaves were freed." They were freed, and they were betrayed. Promises made to them were betrayed, as promises made during wartime are always betrayed. The veterans are betrayed. The civilians are betrayed. The people who expected war to produce great results and freedom and liberty, they are betrayed after every war.

So I just want us, you know, to consider that and to ask the question, which is a very difficult question to answer, but it’s worth asking: is it possible that slavery might have ended without 600,000 dead? Without a nation of amputees and blinded people? Is it possible? Because, after all, we do want to end slavery. It’s not that we’re saying, well, we shouldn’t have a bloody war because — "Just let people remain slaves." No, we want to end slavery, but is it possible to end slavery without a bloody civil war?

After all, when the war started, it wasn’t Lincoln’s intention to free the slaves. You know that. That was not his purpose in fighting the war. His purpose in fighting the war was to keep Southern territory within the grasp of the central government. You could almost say it was an imperial aim. It was a terrible thing to say, I know. But yeah, I mean, that’s what the war was fought for. Oh, it’s put in a nice way. We say we fought for the Union. You know, we don’t want anybody to secede. Yeah. Why no? What if they want to secede? We’re not going to let them secede. No, we want all that territory.

No, Lincoln’s objective was not to free the slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation came. And by the way, it didn’t free slaves where they were enslaved. It freed the slaves that the national government was not able to free. It declared free the slaves who were in the states — in the Confederate states that were still fighting against the Union. In other words, it declared free the slaves that we couldn’t free, and it left as slaves the slaves that were in the states that were fighting with the Union. In other words, if you fought — if you were a state that was a slave state, but you were fighting on the side of the Union, "We’ll let you keep your slaves." That was the Emancipation Proclamation. I never learned that when I learned it. I thought, "Oh, the Emancipation Proclamation is great!"

But then, yes — no, slavery was — and, yes, Congress passed the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth Amendments. Thirteenth Amendment ends slavery. The Fourteenth Amendment declares equal rights, you can’t deny people equal protection of the law. Fifteenth Amendment, you can’t prevent people from voting because of their color, their race, no. These are — however, these promises of equality in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments — the promise, a right to vote — they were honored for a few years when there were federal troops in the South who enforced them, and then they were set aside. And black people in the South were left at the mercy of the white plantation owners. So there was a great betrayal that took place, a betrayal that lasted a hundred years, those hundred years of segregation and the lynching and of the national government looking the other way as the Constitution was violated a thousand times by the white power structure in the South.

And, you know, it took a hundred — and, you know, the Congress passed those amendments. Why? Not because Lincoln or Congress itself initiated them. They passed those amendments because a great movement against slavery had grown up in the country from the 1830s to the 1860s, powerful anti-slavery movement which pushed Congress into the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Very important thing to keep in mind, that when justice comes and when injustices are remedied, they’re not remedied by the initiative of the national government or the politicians. They only respond to the power of social movements. And that’s what happened with the relationship between anti-slavery movement and the passage of those amendments.

And, of course, then those amendments, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, had no meaning for the next hundred years. The blacks were not allowed to vote in the South. Blacks did not get an equal protection of the laws. Every president of the United States for a hundred years, every president, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, every president violated his oath of office. Every president, because the oath of office says you will see to it that the laws are faithfully executed. And every president did not enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, collaborated with Southern racism and segregation and lynching and all that happened.

So, the Civil War and its aftermath, you know, have to be looked at in a longer perspective. And yes, the question needs to be asked also: yeah, is it possible if slavery could have been ended without 600,000 dead? We don’t know for sure. And when I mention these possibilities, you know, it’s very hard to imagine how it might have ended, except that we do know that slavery was ended in every other country in the western hemisphere. Slavery was ended in all these others places in the western hemisphere without a bloody civil war. Well, that doesn’t prove that it could have been ended, and, you know, every situation is different, but it makes you think. If you begin to think, "Oh, the only way it could have been done is with a bloody civil war," maybe not. I mean, maybe it would have taken longer. You know, maybe there could have been slave rebellions which hammered away at the Southern slave structure, hammered away at them in a war of attrition, not a big bloody mass war, but a war of attrition and guerrilla warfare, and John Brown-type raids.

Remember John Brown, who wanted to organize raids and a slave rebellion? Yeah, a little guerrilla action, not totally peaceful, no. But not massive slaughter. Well, John Brown was executed by the state of Virginia and the national government. He was executed in 1859 for wanting to lead slave revolts. And the next year, the government goes to war in a war that cost 600,000 lives and then, presumably, as people came to believe, to end slavery. There’s a kind of tragic irony in that juxtaposition of facts. So it’s worth thinking about, about the Civil War, and not to simply say, “Well, Civil War ended slavery, therefore whatever the human cost was, it was worth it.” It’s worth rethinking.

Now we come to World War II. Looking at my watch, I don’t mean it.

TIME KEEPER: You’re on a roll tonight. You’re good.

HOWARD ZINN: No, I don’t mean it.

Well, World War II, “the Good War,” the best. Fascism. I mean, that’s why I enlisted in the Air Force: fight against fascism. It’s a good war, it’s a just war. What could be, you know, more obvious? They are evil; we are good.

And so, I became a bombardier in the Air Force. I dropped bombs on Germany, on Hungary, on Czechoslovakia — even on a little town in France three weeks before the war was to end, when everybody knew the war was to end and we didn’t need to drop any more bombs, but we dropped bombs. On a little town in France, we were trying out napalm, the first use of napalm in the European theater. I think by now you all know what napalm is. One of the ugliest little weapons. But trying it out, and adding metals. And who knows what reason, what complex of reasons, led us to bomb a little town in France, when everybody knew the war was ending? And yes, there were German soldiers there, hanging around. They weren’t doing anything, weren’t bothering anybody, but they’re there, and gives us a good excuse to bomb. We’ll kill the Germans, we’ll kill some Frenchmen, too. What does it matter? It’s a good war. We’re the good guys.

One thing — and I didn’t think about any of this while I was bombing. I didn’t examine: oh, who are we bombing, and why are we bombing, and what’s going on here, and who is dying? I didn’t know who was dying, because when you bomb from 30,000 feet, well, this is modern warfare; you do things at a distance. It’s very impersonal. You just press a button, you know, and somebody dies. But you don’t see them. So I dropped bombs from 30,000 feet. I didn’t see any human beings. I didn’t see what’s happening below. I didn’t hear children screaming. I didn’t see arms being ripped off people. No, just dropped bombs. You see little flashes of light down below as the bombs hit. That’s it. And you don’t think. It’s hard to think when you’re in the military. Really, it’s hard to sit back and examine, ask what you’re doing. No, you’ve been trained to do a job, and you do your job.

So I didn’t think about any of this until after the war, when I began to think about that raid on France. And then I began to think about the raid on Dresden, where 100,000 people were killed in one night, day of bombing. Read Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse Five. He was there. He was a prisoner of war and there in the basement, you know, a kind of meat locker, a slaughterhouse. And then I became aware of the other bombings that had taken place. But, you know, when you’re in a war, you don’t see the big picture, and you don’t — you really don’t — I didn’t know until afterward, 600,000 German civilians were killed by our bombing. They weren’t Nazis. Well, yeah, you might say they were passive supporters and that they didn’t rebel. Well, a few rebelled. But how many Americans rebel against American wars? Are we all complicit for what we did in Vietnam, killing several million people? Well, maybe we are, but there was a kind of stupid, ignorant innocence about us. And the same thing was true of the Germans. And we killed 600,000. If some great power, while we were dropping bombs on Vietnam, had come over here and dropped bombs on American cities in retaliation, it would’ve been — and they say, “Well, these are imperialists, we’ll kill them all" — no, the American people were not themselves imperialists, but they were passive bystanders, until they woke up, yeah.

So I began to think about it, as I began to think about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I had welcomed the bombing of Hiroshima when it took place, because I didn’t know. I didn’t know what it really meant. We had finished our bombing missions in Europe, we had won the war in Europe, and my crew and I, we flew our plane, the same plane we had flown missions on, we flew that same plane back across the Atlantic, and we were given a thirty-day furlough. And then the idea was we were going to go on to the Pacific, because the war against Japan was still going on. And during this thirty-day furlough in early August, my wife and I decided, because we had been married just before I went overseas — my wife and I decided we’d take a little vacation in the country. And we took a bus to go into the country. And at the bus stop, there was a newsstand, and there was a newspaper and the big headline "Atomic Bomb Dropped on Hiroshima." Well, oh, great! Didn’t really know what an atomic bomb was, but it was sort of obvious from the headlines, oh, and it was a big bomb. Well, I had dropped bombs. This was just a bigger bomb.

But I had no idea what it meant until I read John Hersey’s book on Hiroshima. John Hersey had gone into Hiroshima after the bombing, and he had talked to survivors. Survivors? You can imagine what those survivors looked like. They were kids and old people and women and all sorts of Japanese people. And they were without arms or legs, or they were blinded, or their skin could not be looked at. John Hersey interviewed them and got some idea and reported — he was a great journalist — he reported what the bombing of Hiroshima was like to the people who were there. And when I read his account, for the first time, I understood. This is what bombing does to human beings. This is what my bombs had done to people.

And I began to rethink the idea of a "good war," of our world war against fascism. "Oh, well, it’s OK, because we did defeat Hitler.” That’s just it, just like we did get independence from England, we did end slavery. But wait a while. A lot of other — it’s not that simple. And World War II is not that simple. “Oh, we defeated Hitler, therefore eveything is OK. We were the good guys; they were the bad guys." But what I realized then was that once you decide — and this is what we decided at the beginning of the war, this is what, you know, I decided — they were the bad guys, we were the good guys, what I didn’t realize was that in the course of the war, the good guys become the bad guys. War poisons everybody. War corrupts everybody. And so, the so-called good guys begin behaving like the bad guys. The Nazis dropped bombs and killed civilians in Coventry, in London, in Rotterdam. And we drop bombs and kill civilians, and we commit atrocities, and we go over Tokyo several months before Hiroshima.

And I’ll bet you 90 percent of the American people do not know about the raid of Tokyo. Everybody has heard about Hiroshima. I’ll bet 90 percent of the American people — I don’t you know if you have — know that several months before Hiroshima, we sent planes over Tokyo to set Tokyo afire with firebombs, and 100,000 people died in one night of bombing in Tokyo. Altogether we killed over half a million people in Japan, civilians. And some people said, “Well, they bombed Pearl Harbor.” That’s really something. These people did not bomb Pearl Harbor. Those children did not bomb Pearl Harbor. But this notion of violent revenge and retaliation is something we’ve got to get rid of.

So I began, yeah, reconsidering all of that, rethinking all of that, investigated the bombing of Hiroshima, investigated the excuse that was made — “Oh, you know, if we don’t bomb Hiroshima, well, we have to invade Japan, and a million people will die.” And I investigated all of that, found it was all nonsense. We didn’t have to invade Japan in order for Japan to surrender. Our own official investigative team, the Strategic Bombing Survey, which went into Japan right after the war, interviewed all the high Japanese military, civilian officials, and their conclusion was Japan was ready to end the war. Maybe not the next week, maybe in two months, maybe in three months. "Oh, no, we can’t wait. We don’t want to wait. We’ve got these bombs. We’ve got to see what they look like." Do you know how many people die because of experimentation with weapons? We were experimenting. We were experimenting on the children of Hiroshima. “Let’s see what this does. Hey, and also, let’s show the Russians. Let’s show the Russians we have this bomb.” A British Scientist who was an adviser to Churchill called the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima "the first step of the Cold War." Soviet Union was in the mind of the people around Harry Truman — James Burns, Forrestal and others.

So, yes, I began thinking about "the good war" and how it corrupts and poisons. And then I looked at the world after the war. Oh, yeah, what were the results? Yeah, I said bad things about the war. I’m sorry, all those casualties, but it ended — it stopped fascism. Now wait a while. Let’s look closely at that. Yeah, it got rid of Hitler, got rid of Mussolini. Did it get rid of fascism in the world? Did it get rid of racism in the world? Did it get rid of militarism in the world? No, you had two superpowers now arming themselves with nuclear weapons, enough nuclear weapons that if they were used, they would make Hitler’s Holocaust look puny. And there were times, in fact, in the decades that followed when we came very, very close to using those nuclear weapons.

So the world after World War II — and this is so important — you don’t just look at, “Oh, we won.” No, what happens after that? What happens five years after that? What happens ten years after that? What happens to the GIs who came back alive, five or ten years later? And maybe one of them will go berserk at Fort Hood. Think about that. Think about all the superficial comments made of “Oh, let’s examine this guy psychologically and his religious [inaudible], and let’s not go deeper into that and say these are war casualties.” Those people he killed were war casualties; he was a war casualty. That’s what war does. War poisons people’s minds. So we got rid of Hitler. But what was the world like?

When I was discharged from the Army, from the Air Force, I got a letter from General Marshall. He was the general of generals. He was sending a letter, not a personal letter to me — "Dear Howie..." No. A letter that was sent to 16 million men who had served in the Armed Forces, some women, too. And the letter was something like this: “We’ve won the war. Congratulations for your service. It will be a new world.” It wasn’t a new world. And we know it hasn’t been a new world since World War II. War after war after war after war, and 50 million people were dead in that war to end all wars, to end fascism and dictatorship and militarism. No.

So, yes, I came to a conclusion that war cannot be tolerated, no matter what we’re told. And if we think that there are good wars and that, therefore, well, maybe this is a good war, I wanted to examine the so-called good wars, the holy wars, and — yeah, and take a good look at them and think again about the phenomenon of war and come to the conclusion, well, yes, war cannot be tolerated, no matter what we’re told, no matter what tyrant exists, what border has been crossed, what aggression has taken place. It’s not that we’re going to be passive in the face of tyranny or aggression, no, but we’ll find ways other than war to deal with whatever problems we have, because war is inevitably — inevitably — the indiscriminant massive killing of huge numbers of people. And children are a good part of those people. Every war is a war against children.

So it’s not just getting rid of Saddam Hussein, if we think about it. Well, we got rid of Saddam Hussein. In the course of it, we killed huge numbers of people who had been victims of Saddam Hussein. When you fight a war against a tyrant, who do you kill? You kill the victims of the tyrant. Anyway, all this — all this was simply to make us think again about war and to think, you know, we’re at war now, right? In Iraq, in Afghanistan and sort of in Pakistan, since we’re sending rockets over there and killing innocent people in Pakistan. And so, we should not accept that.

We should look for a peace movement to join. Really, look for some peace organization to join. It will look small at first, and pitiful and helpless, but that’s how movements start. That’s how the movement against the Vietnam War started. It started with handfuls of people who thought they were helpless, thought they were powerless. But remember, this power of the people on top depends on the obedience of the people below. When people stop obeying, they have no power. When workers go on strike, huge corporations lose their power. When consumers boycott, huge business establishments have to give in. When soldiers refuse to fight, as so many soldiers did in Vietnam, so many deserters, so many fraggings, acts of violence by enlisted men against officers in Vietnam, B-52 pilots refusing to fly bombing missions anymore, war can’t go on. When enough soldiers refuse, the government has to decide we can’t continue. So, yes, people have the power. If they begin to organize, if they protest, if they create a strong enough movement, they can change things.

That’s all I want to say. Thank you.