Teaching and Living Totalitarianism in a World Heritage Site

by Ayanna Yonemura

On Saturday, July 8, the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO, added Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, to its list of World Heritage sites. Despite the wars that have plagued Eritrea’s short history, Asmara’s modernist and art deco architecture remain amazingly well-preserved. For six months in 2002, from the moment I woke up, during my walks through town to teach at the University of Asmara and while I ran errands on its main avenue, Asmara’s architecture dazzled me. However much I admire it though, this extraordinary aesthetic beauty doesn’t prevent me from thinking of my Fulbright months in Eritrea as my time of teaching and living totalitarianism.

Living in the Italian totalitarian era-constructed environment added a bizarre twist to my surreal and disturbing experience of Eritrea’s totalitarian political environment. Teaching about Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin’s regimes as part of a modern world history course was part of my unplanned participant observation of living under a totalitarian regime; as was lodging for four months in a government-owned hotel, the Emba Soira. Experts describe much of Asmara’s notable architecture with words like “futurist” and “bold” and, while the hotel hasn’t garnered the same amount of attention, they would be similarly impressed with the Emba Soira’s interior.

The hotel interior’s main feature is streamlined, light, wood furniture coordinated in every room throughout the hotel from the restaurant, lobby and bar on the main floor to the two stories of guest rooms. Pastel-trimmed Italian linens and modern light fixtures gently accent the furniture. Visually, it was like living in a dream. While the phones were tapped, at least the hotel staff let me know if I had gotten phone messages—a courtesy I did not enjoy when I rented an apartment and shared a phone line with my landlady.

Located on the Horn of Africa and with a lengthy Red Sea coastline, Eritrea is the world’s third youngest country after East Timor and South Sudan, and government officials have spent many years of the nation’s short history lobbying UNESCO for Asmara’s World Heritage site status. Italian architects and Eritrean laborers built most of Asmara’s remarkable architecture in the 1930s during Italy’s totalitarian years under Mussolini (1922-1943) and while Eritrea was an Italian colony, 1889-1941. Italy lost Eritrea in WWII.

After Ethiopia annexed Eritrea in 1962, Eritrean guerrilla fighters waged a thirty years war for independence that ended in 1991 when they defeated Ethiopian forces. In 1998, Eritrea fought a border war against Ethiopia. I set off for the Fulbright on New Year’s Eve of 2001, a year after this latest war’s ceasefire, having postponed my original departure date after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001.

I had postponed my trip, because while most of the world focused on New York in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Eritrea’s President Afewerki seized the opportunity to crackdown internally. Students of the University of Asmara, his nation’s only university, were among the groups whom he targeted. The university students spent several months under armed guard in an Eritrean desert, literally one of the hottest places on earth, doing forced labor. Teaching at the university was a condition of receiving a Fulbright in Eritrea, and I had looked forward to it. I delayed my departure until the President released the students.

Once I reported at the University of Asmara, I was given the assignment of teaching modern world history to former guerrilla fighters who were, then, government employees at the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs. I knew that my students could quickly report every word I said during lectures to the authorities. Following my predecessor’s syllabus as the department chair had instructed, we spent weeks on the German and Italian totalitarian governments of the 1930s. As I lectured about these historical European regimes, I could not help but think of that I was living in a very similar moment. While I described the characteristics of totalitarianism, the parallel examples of Eritrea immediately came to mind. Each time I mentioned “totalitarianism,” I preceded it with “German” “Italian” or “European” making an effort to implicitly but, consistently, stress that I wasn’t talking about Eritrea. I’m sure that at least some my students made the connection but, of course, we never discussed it or anything that was happening in Eritrea.

 

Eritrea Pics 2002
The author (center) with Dr. Gordon Sato (right), the founder of a non-profit dedicated to aiding Eritreans, and one of Sato’s staff members (left) along the Eritrean coast of the Red Sea.

 

Having been a German Studies major as an undergraduate, East Germany was my only reference point for navigating Eritrea. I had learned about its secret police and its state-controlled economy and propaganda through East German literature and some day trips into East Germany, but my studies were limited. As an American who had grown up in West Germany and California, my understanding of anything like a police state was superficial. Still, that limited knowledge gave me some context, some framework, for understanding when the Eritrean government banned Ethiopian music, listened to my phone calls, and I strongly suspect, sent a spy to chat with me at a cafe. Even in friends’ homes and cars, we whispered any unflattering comments we were brave enough to make about the president. I even averted my eyes the time I had to walk right by him to get to the restroom at a restaurant.

My research agenda suffered. The paranoia of librarians kept me out of the main archive for most of my stay and, trained to take copious ethnographic notes, I wrote down almost nothing, aware that government agents had showed up at the home of a previous foreign researcher and confiscated her notes. My notes, in the wrong hands, could lead to the imprisonment or death of Eritrean friends or colleagues. A U.S. security officer had warned me, “Perception is reality.”

For years, fear for friends and colleagues prevented me for publishing anything about Eritrea. Now, it seems that almost every Eritrean I know has escaped. My graduate school buddies successfully sought political asylum long ago and recently, while living in Kenya, I met young Eritreans whose affluent parents had bought their escape and bribed their way into Kenya. Still, during their flights, they were beaten up. In Kenya, they ran businesses but had no legal rights to own a business as they didn’t have legal papers to live or work there.

Since its people voted for Independence in a 1993 referendum, Eritrea has been a one party state and has had the same president, President Afwerki. In 2015, the UN accused the Eritrean government of pushing its people to migrate in order to flee human rights abuses yet also punishing those who try to leave the country without government permission. Then as now, Eritrea is high among the countries of origin for people applying for political asylum in Europe, in the US and, even more so, in East African nations like Ethiopia. Eritreans also make up a disproportionate amount of the African refugees crossing the Mediterranean and in many European camps.

“Cynical political travesty” is how the Eritrea government characterized the 2015 UN report. In 2016, the UN released another report on Eritrean human rights violations to which a New York Time’s opinion piece responded with, “. . .things aren’t as bad as the report claims.” In June 2017, Newsweek published an article on Eritrea called “Africa’s North Korea” citing the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index.

The UNESCO decision to place Asmara on the World Heritage list is rare positive publicity for the Eritrean government, which responded with a celebratory press release. I doubt if anyone who has been to Asmara would argue about its incredible beauty. Recalling it, I feel in awe of how architecture and design can lift the human spirit, but my strongest memories are of living and teaching totalitarianism.

Ayanna Yonemura holds a Ph.D. in Urban Planning, a M.A. in African Studies and a B.A. in German Studies from the University of California. She has been honored with two Fulbright Fellowships and a Civil Liberties Public Education Fund National Fellowship. Currently, she teaches Ethnic Studies at California State University Sacramento.

Welcoming Martha and the Slave Catchers — Harriet Hyman Alonso’s Books

My new book, Martha and the Slave Catchers will be published on November 7, 2017, by Seven Stories Press. It is available for pre-ordering at several on-line stores. I know that it has been quite a while since I’ve written anything for this blog, but I’ve been hard at work preparing my first children’s novel […]

via Welcoming Martha and the Slave Catchers — Harriet Hyman Alonso’s Books

Nebraskans and “The Ribbon” for Peace

by Megan Brookhouser

August 4, 1985 was an unremarkable date for many Americans. A normal summer day in the nation’s capital, in other words, scorching hot. However, amid the heat, some 15,000 men, women, and children created a 15-mile chain of banners threading through the tourists and politicians going about their day. The members of the chain knew the significance of the date, for it was the 40th anniversary of the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With it, destroying thousands of civilian lives, decimating entire cities, and wiping away the natural beauty of the land. An event should never have happened, and should never be repeated. That is what these peaceful protesters were advocating through their contributions of time, money, and, most importantly, fabric to the grassroots project simply entitled, “The Ribbon.”

The brainchild of a Colorado grandmother, Justine Merritt, The Ribbon was meant to send a message of peace in an era brimming with the constant threat of violence. Several years before the actual event, Merritt mailed letters to 100 of her closest friends. The pamphlets explained her idea for a nationwide demonstration of peace. She asked each individual to create an 18 x 36-inch banner depicting the things that each person could not “bear to think of as lost forever in a nuclear war.” Each banner was to include small ribbons sewn to all four corners in order to tie the finished products together. Merritt hoped to receive enough banners to surround the entire Pentagon. The mission spread rapidly throughout the nation.

 

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The Ribbon’s organizer, Justine Merritt

 

The idea was especially popular with women’s religious groups. It utilized a stereotype in a productive way, giving old church ladies a purpose for their sewing circles. Bible schools, religious orders, and community organizations joined the cause, creating unique banners through every artistic medium imaginable. Dedicated women created intricate images of needlework. School children painted watercolor landscapes. Each banner contributed a new perspective on the beauty of the world.

As the project grew in popularity, it gained structure. State chairmen were appointed to recruit new participants and collect all the banners at the appropriate time. Rev. Sharee Kelly, a pastor from Loup City, took on the position of Nebraska’s state chairman. With her help, Nebraska contributed an impressive 350 banners to the demonstration in Washington D.C. With the slogan “sew to speak,” Kelly garnered support all across the state. She hosted a Ribbon Dedication Ceremony on July 21, 1985 at St. Josaphat’s Catholic Church in Loup City, NE. Following the dedication, the banners traveled to Lincoln, NE for a state-wide peace demonstration and Ribbon Ceremony on July 24. Governor Bob Kerry presided over the event, contributing his own banner to the chain with the handwritten quote, “We cannot make peace with or as machines.” As the ribbon surrounded the state capitol, Kerry proclaimed August 4th National Peace Day. The next stop for Nebraska’s banners was the nation’s capital.

 

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Nebraska’s chairman, Rev. Sharee Kelly of Loup City, NE

 

Around forty-two Nebraskans make the trip to Washington D.C. for the culminating ribbon ceremony. Local churches volunteered to host out-of-town participants and Nebraskans were generously taken in by Calvary Baptist Church. On August 3, all the project’s participants gathered for a religious service at the National Cathedral. The non-denominational service featured two guests of honor: Fumimaro Maruoka of Hiroshima and Teru Morrimoto of Nagasaki. They spoke of their experiences as survivors of the bombings and of their hope for a peaceful future. Their moving testimonies stayed in the participants’ minds that next day as they prepared for the long-awaited demonstration.

The demonstration was an international effort. The ribbon included banners from twenty different countries, including a 130-foot long section sent from the Soviet Union. It took about 3 hours for the 25,500 panels to be tied together. They stretched for 15 miles. Far exceeding Justine Merritt’s expectations, the ribbon strung from the west steps of the Capitol, to the Lincoln Memorial, and around the Pentagon. The impressive display stopped traffic for several minutes as it crossed the Potomac. Nebraska’s banners generally hovered around the Lincoln Memorial. When the final banner, Justine Merritt’s own, successfully connected the ribbon, balloons were released from the steps of the memorial.

 

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Map of The Ribbon’s route published in The Washington Post

 

The Ribbon effort deserves more recognition than it has received. Few people today even know of the event. However, in a time of protests for gender equality and peaceful law enforcement, The Ribbon is unbelievably relevant. These elderly church ladies used their talents and their stereotypes to their advantage. They created an amazing display of international solidarity and exhibited the power of a peaceful demonstration. The program for the National Ribbon Ceremony included a quote from Albert Einstein, saying, “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” While this is true for many reasons, I believe that recognizing and remembering the significance of a date like August 4, 1985 is a good starting point for this new manner of thought.

The Nebraska ribbons are cataloged at the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Remembering the U.S. Entry into World War I

The First World War was a tragic and unnecessary conflict.” These are the first words of British historian John Keegan in his book The First World War.” In a war that lasted over 4 years, 1914-1918, 10 million died, 20 million were injured, and 50 million died of Spanish flu, incubated and made worse by war time conditions.

Today a 100 years ago on April 6, 1917 the USA entered World War I. It is a fateful day in human and American history. It was not the war to end all wars that President Wilson promised. World War II followed WWI, then came the Cold War. The map of the Middle East was redrawn in and after WWI and is a cause of grave difficulties today in Iraq and Palestine/Israel for example.

Our World War I Muted Voices Symposium, October 19-22, 2017, will remember those who resisted, dissented, and conscientiously objected to the Great War. The Symposium is being held at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City.

We have had over 80 paper proposals from the USA and internationally – a wonderful response. Proposers will be hearing by June whether their submission has been accepted. Also attached is an advert that you are welcome to use with your constituency.

Our keynote speakers will challenge. Our panels will inform. The gathering company of scholars, activists, and those just interested, will be rich and encouraging.

Registration is now open. Go to: theworldwar.org/mutedvoices for registration and the conference program. Early Bird registration discount ends September 8. Information on hotels and transportation is also available with registration.

We look forward to joining with you at this event.

Sincerely

Andrew Bolton

Should We Keep Wasting Money on Missile Defense―or Invest in Something Useful?

By Lawrence Wittner

When Americans criticize wasteful government spending, they often fail to realize that the biggest sinkhole for public funds is what’s described as “national defense”―a program that, all too often, does little or nothing to defend them.

Take national missile defense, a program begun with much fanfare during the mid-1980s, when President Ronald Reagan realized that U.S. nuclear weapons could not prevent a nuclear attack upon the United States. According to the President, his Strategic Defense Initiative (lampooned as “Star Wars” by Senator Edward Kennedy) would safeguard Americans by developing a space-based anti-missile system to destroy incoming nuclear missiles. Most scientists doubted its technical feasibility, comparing it to using one speeding bullet to destroy another speeding bullet. Critics also pointed out that development of such a system would simply end up encouraging hostile nations to build more missiles to overwhelm it or, if they wanted to avoid the additional cost, to use decoys to confuse it. In addition, it would create a false sense of security.

Although “Star Wars” was never built, the fantastic dream of a missile shield took hold in Congress, which began to pour billions of dollars into variants of this program. And, today, more than thirty years later, the United States still lacks an effective missile defense system. The U.S. government, however, ignoring this dismal record, continues to lavish vast resources on this unworkable program, which has already cost American taxpayers over $180 billion.

One of the major components of the missile defense program is the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. Better known as GMD, it is designed to use ground-based “kill-vehicles” to destroy incoming nuclear missiles by colliding with them. In 2004, before any indication that GMD would work, President George W. Bush ordered the deployment of its interceptors. Today, there are four located at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base and 26 at Ft. Greely, Alaska, and the Obama administration has given orders to increase the total to 44 by the end of 2017. The GMD cost thus far is $40 billion.

All of this might be viewed as water under the bridge―or perhaps water down the drain―were it not for the fact that a third GMD site is now being considered. Military contractors are ferociously lobbying for it, communities in New York, Ohio, and Michigan are actively competing for it and, given long-time Republican enthusiasm for missile defense, this expansion seems very likely to be implemented by the Trump administration. The cost? An additional $4 billion.

Is this a good investment? GMD, it should be noted, was designed to defend against a nuclear attack by Iran or North Korea. But, thanks to the Iran nuclear agreement, its nuclear program is frozen until 2030 or later. North Korea is also not a nuclear threat to the United States, for it does not possess long-range missiles. Of 14 North Korean missiles tested during 2016, some failed to clear the launch pad while others traveled distances ranging from 19 miles to 620 miles. Naturally, as a small-scale system, GMD would be of no value against Russia’s enormous nuclear arsenal.

In fact, at this point GMD is of no value against anything. Thus far, the Pentagon has conducted 17 tests of GMD interceptors since 1999―all in conditions that should produce success. In a situation quite unlike armed combat, the people conducting the tests knew the speed, location, and trajectory of the mock enemy missiles ahead of time, as well as when they would be launched. Nevertheless, the GMD system failed the tests eight times―a 47 percent failure rate.

Nor has the GMD test record been improving in recent years. Quite the contrary. GMD has failed six of its last 10 tests and three of its last four. In mid-2016, a report written by three physicists and released by the Union of Concerned Scientists declared that the GMD system is “simply unable to protect the U.S. public.” Indeed, they concluded, “the system is not even on a path to achieve a useful ability” to do so.

Why, then, despite the enormous cost and the lack of useful results over many years, is this project continuing? One factor is clearly the U.S. fear of hostile governments. Beyond this, however, as David Willman―a journalist who has done extensive investigations of GMD―has reported, lies “the muscle wielded in Washington by major defense contractors, which have billions of dollars of revenue at stake.” Three of them, in fact―Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman―donated $40.5 million to congressional campaign funds from 2003 through October 2016.

GMD “will not work,” U.S. Representative John Garamendi, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Willman. “Nevertheless, the momentum of the fear, the momentum of the investments, the momentum of the industry” carry it forward.

A key factor keeping billions of U.S. tax dollars flowing to this ill-conceived project is the desperation of declining American communities, anxious to attract the jobs a GMD installation would provide. The three communities vying to house the third GMD site are all in the hard-hit Rust Belt, and their public officials are eager to secure it. “Our community has been dying a little bit at a time,” an Ohio mayor explained. “So we’re hoping that the [local] site is selected.”

But if the only good reason for missile defense is that it provides a jobs program, why not invest those billions of dollars in jobs doing useful things? Why not invest in factories turning out solar and wind power components, high-speed rail cars, and inexpensive medicines? Why not invest in health care clinics, day care centers, libraries, schools, job-training facilities, community centers, concert halls, bridges, roads, inexpensive housing, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes?

This country has made useful investments before. With the political will, it could do so again.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark? An earlier version of this article was posted to the History News Network.

The Great American “Welcoming” Break-Out: What’s Not to Like?

By Jerry Lembcke

My hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts is dealing with the sanctuary city issue. Officially, Worcester is not a sanctuary city but its Mayor, Joe Petty, has declared that it will not cooperate with federal law enforcement efforts to identify undocumented residents. One disgruntled city counselor, aching for a fight, is demanding that the city either formalize the Mayor’s position or get in step with federal practice; other council members, some openly supportive of the Mayor, seem content to leave the matter as is.

A February 1 rally at city hall turned out one of the largest public demonstrations I’ve seen here in twenty-five years. Despite the 6:00 pm darkness, 20 degree temperature, and falling wet snow, a thousand-plus people voiced their support for the mayor, loudly and stridently announcing that Worcester welcomes immigrants, refugees, and Muslims—Worcester is a “Welcoming City” shouted speaker after speaker.

Placards reading “Welcome Immigrants”; “We are all Immigrants”; “No Hate, No Fear, Everyone is Welcome Here”; and “Who would Jesus Deport” speckled City Hall Plaza. Many of the signs had American flag images or phrases associating Worcester with the best of America’s tradition of being a “welcoming” nation.

I went to the rally generally supportive of the Mayor trying to do the right thing, and in solidarity with my immigrant friends. My mood began souring when the first speaker invoked Worcester’s revolutionary legacy as the site of a first-reading of the Declaration of Independence. Wait a minute, I wondered, what’s that connection? Before I sorted through the issues of conquest and the genocide of indigenous people underway in the 18th century, that he seemed to have glossed over, he confected something about the first Thanksgiving that seemed (at my distance from the podium) to imply that it’s a holiday celebrating a great American tradition: welcoming immigrants.

As it progressed, much else in the rally was discordant with my sense of history, politics and political culture. There were numerous invocations of Christian religion—as in “welcoming” is the Christian way-to-be—with no recognition of the thirteenth-century Crusades against Islam as a legacy in the politics of the present. One speaker feared the besmirching of Worcester’s reputation as a City on the Hill were it not to welcome all who come. Another, channeling the old IWW slogan that an-injury-to-one-is-an- injury-to- all, declared that “A Ban on One Religion is a Ban on All Religions.” Hmm, I thought, banning all religions—how about that?

With the weekly city council meeting set to begin at 7:00, the assembly pressed into the building to pack the hallways in support of the Mayor who would uphold Worcester’s reputation as a city that welcomes everyone. My sense of their being something off-key about the event was additionally confirmed when a trumpet player standing high on the stone abutment to the City Hall entrance began playing the Star Spangled Banner—and then repeated it as the crowd moved slowly into the building. Standing now with toes and fingers that felt like icicles, I commented to the man next to me that I usually did not stand for the national anthem—with no sign from him that he got the sarcasm.

Something off-key, but what was it? It wasn’t until thawing-out that I remembered Yen Le Espiritu’s 2014 book Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees in which she calls-out the narcissism threading ways that Americans remember their wars. Using the war in Vietnam as a case study, she reassessed the “refugee” narrative of migrants’ resettlement in the United States. Viewing them as refugees, she argues, extends into the present the mythology that the ten-year U.S. military presence in Vietnam was a response to the fledgling nation’s request of assistance in repelling the foreign aggression of communism. In that narrative, the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 was a noble “rescue” mission by Americans to “save” helpless South Vietnamese from the communists. Framed that way, she says, the story of Vietnamese Americans is really code for the heroic altruism of Americans—a story-line she rejects.

Body Counts provides a template to help interpret events like that in Worcester that are being staged throughout the country. We are cast in these demonstrations as the principle actors, the welcoming good-people, hierarchically positioned as the providers and protectors for refugeed-subordinates subject to our discretionary goodwill. The script elides our previous role as participants—and it is a democracy in which we participate, a fact the same narrative proclaims—in the foreign and military policies that created the refugees in the first place. Most gratingly, the good-democrats, as cast in the performance as refugee-friendly humanitarians, are often the very politicians who marched lockstep with their party’s neoliberal regime-change policies that tossed millions of people into the streams of global migration. Can we really not see through their theatrics?

And ala the Vietnam case, the present story-line makes no distinction between the migrants displaced by the U.S. invasion, and the local mercenaries who served the occupation forces as flunky translators and informants. When the helicopters lifted off for the last time from Saigon in 1975, they carried mostly the comprador South Vietnamese who had sold themselves to the Americans—a fact obscured in the popular 2015 film Last Days in Vietnam. Now, we see the crocodile tears of liberal democrats attacking the anti-immigrant, anti-refugee character of the Trump administration as it, sniff, sniff, abandons the Iraqis and Afghanis who were bribed, err, promised eventual passage to the U.S. in return for their services.

The “militarized refugees” in Espiritu’s title refers to their use as props in pro-war propaganda, which is to say that even mere immigrants imaged as refugees help demonize the parties said to be responsible for their displacement making them targets of additional U.S. military strikes—a course leading to more refugees, of course. More perniciously, the sympathy for refugees that often translates into a righteous anger for their mistreatment that gets redirected from the Euro-American centers of power—which are, after all, viewed as refugee-rescuers in Espiritu’s decoding of the refugee narrative—to the post-colonial settings where it can only inflame the conflicts.

The instinct to welcome immigrants and refugees is a good one but the welcomings now underway across the land fit perfectly into the pattern of easily-exploited humanism described by Espiritu. The anti-war movement needs to approach the immigration issue more politically with a tactical approach designed to enhance its capacity to end U.S. wars of expansion and occupation that generate refugees—how does that rethinking begin?

Jerry Lembcke is Associate Professor of Sociology at College of Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He is the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of VietnamCNN’s Tailwind Tale: Inside Vietnam’s Last Great Myth and more recently Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal. He can be reached at jlembcke@holycross.edu

This article originally appeared in Common Dreams.

A Peace Agenda for the New Administration

By Lawrence Wittner

The looming advent of the Trump administration in Washington threatens to worsen an already deeply troubling international situation. Bitter wars are raging, tens of millions of refugees have taken flight, relations among the great powers are deteriorating, and a new nuclear arms race is underway. Resources that could be used to fight unemployment, poverty, and climate change are being lavished on the military might of nations around the world―$1.7 trillion in 2015 alone. The United States accounts for 36 percent of that global total.

Given this grim reality, let us consider an alternative agenda for the new administration―an agenda for peace.

One key ingredient is improving U.S. relations with Russia and China. This is not an easy task, for these countries are governed by brutal regimes that seem to believe (much like many politicians in the United States) that a display of military force remains a useful way to deal with other nations. Even so, the U.S. government has managed to work out live-and-let-live relationships with their Soviet and Chinese predecessors―some of which were considerably more bellicose―and should be able to do so again. After all, the three countries have a good deal to gain by improving their relations. This includes not only avoiding a catastrophic nuclear war, but reducing their spending on useless, vastly expensive weapons systems and cooperating on issues in which they have a common interest: countering terrorism; halting the international drug trade; and battling climate change.

It is not hard to imagine compromise settlements of their recent conflicts. Behind the hard line Russia has taken in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea and military meddling in what’s left of that country, lies NATO’s expansion eastward to Russia’s borders. Why not show a willingness to halt that expansion in exchange for a Russian agreement to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and other nations in Russia’s vicinity? Similarly, when dealing with the issue of war-torn Syria, why not abandon the U.S. government’s demand for the ouster of Assad and back a UN-negotiated peace settlement for that country? The U.S. government’s growing dispute with China over the future of islands in the South China Sea also seems soluble, perhaps within a regional security framework.

The three nations could avoid a very dangerous arms race and, at the same time, cut their military costs substantially by agreeing to reduce their military expenditures by a fixed percentage (for example, 10 percent) per year for a fixed period. This “peace race” would allow them to retain their current military balance and devote the savings to more useful items in their budgets.

A second key ingredient in a peace agenda is moving forward with nuclear arms control and disarmament. With over 15,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of nine nations, including 7,300 held by Russia and 7,100 by the United States, the world is living on the edge of nuclear annihilation.

Although the Kremlin does not seem interested right now in signing further nuclear disarmament agreements, progress could be made in other ways. The President could use his executive authority to halt the current $1 trillion nuclear “modernization” program, take U.S. nuclear weapons off alert, declare a “no first use” policy for U.S. nuclear weapons, and make significant reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. An estimated 2,000 U.S. nuclear warheads are currently deployed and ready for action around the world, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff have concluded that only 1,000 are necessary. Why not cut back to that level?

The new administration could even engage in international negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Peace and disarmament organizations have pushed for the opening of such treaty negotiations for years and, this October, the UN General Assembly rewarded their efforts by passing a resolution to begin negotiations in 2017. Why not participate in them?

A third key ingredient in a peace agenda is drawing upon the United Nations to handle international conflicts. The United Nations was founded in 1945 in the hope of ending the practice of powerful countries using their military might to bludgeon other countries into accepting what the powerful regarded as their national interests. National security was to be replaced by international security, thereby reducing aggression and military intervention by individual nations. Critics of the United Nations have argued that it is weak and ineffectual along these lines and, therefore, should be abandoned―except, perhaps, for its humanitarian programs. But, instead of abandoning the United Nations, how about strengthening it?

There are numerous ways to accomplish this. These include eliminating the veto in the Security Council, establishing a weighted voting system in the General Assembly, and giving General Assembly decisions the force of international law. Two other mechanisms, often discussed but not yet implemented, are creating an independent funding mechanism (such as an international financial transactions tax) for UN operations and establishing a permanent, all-volunteer UN rapid deployment force under UN jurisdiction that could act to prevent crimes against humanity.

Of course, at the moment, little, if any, of this peace agenda seems likely to become U.S. government policy. Donald Trump has promised a substantial increase in U.S. military spending, and his new administration will be heavily stocked with officials who take a hardline approach to world affairs.

Even so, when it comes to peace, the American public has sometimes been remarkably active―and effective. In January 1981, when the Reagan administration arrived in Washington, it championed an ultra-hawkish agenda, highlighted by a major nuclear weapons buildup and loose talk of waging and winning a nuclear war. Ultimately, though, an upsurge of popular opposition forced a complete turnabout in administration policy, with Reagan joining the march toward a nuclear-free world and an end to the Cold War. Change is always possible―if enough people demand it.

[Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://www.lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press). A different version of this article appeared recently in the magazine Democratic Left.]

Call for Papers – Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance, and Civil Liberties in World War I through Today

During this year’s centennial of the U.S. entrance into World War I, the Peace History Society is cosponsoring a symposium dedicated to “the muted voices of those who resisted the Great War and the implications of these stories for today.” Entitled “Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance, and Civil Liberties in World War I through Today,” the symposium will be held from October 19-22 at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. Those interested in attending or participating can check out the full call for papers online or check out the following flyer.

Interested participants can send a 1-page proposal focused on the theme of the conference by March 20, 2017 to John D. Roth at johndr@goshen.edu. For more information, contact Andrew Bolton at abolton@cofchrist.org.

Teaching Peace and Ethical Memory with Voices of Vietnam

By Patrick Chura, University of Akron

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., a black granite wall listing the names of all 58,286 American war dead, is 150 yards long; if a similar monument were built with the same density of names listing the three million Vietnamese who died in the same war, that wall would be four and a half miles long. The beautifully designed Veterans Memorial in Washington—a place of reflection and reckoning about a national atrocity—speaks profoundly to Americans, insisting that the United States search its conscience and confront the truth about itself. The fact that it does not acknowledge the Vietnamese is not surprising, but it reminds us that remembering only “one’s own” as narrowly defined by national borders leaves room for more cosmopolitan forms of memory.

During a five-week Fulbright lecturing grant at Ho Chi Minh City Open University in May-June 2016, I taught a course on American Literature of the Vietnam War for 22 Vietnamese undergraduates. In the first stage of our work, we read and discussed American literature and music. (The students loved Pete Seeger, by the way.) The second stage of the course shifted the focus, requiring the students to conduct oral history interviews with parents, grandparents or other Vietnamese who remembered the war, and to translate those interviews into English. These interviews were used immediately in the final stage of the class: the creation and performance of an oral history “memory play” about the conflict referred to in Vietnamese history books as The American War.

Realizing that this plan asked a lot of the students, I devised a short rationale to provide clarity and motivation (for them and for me), as we began. After holding up a copy of Viet Than Nguyen’s recent study, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of the War and explaining that Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American whose novel The Sympathizer had just won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, I recited a statement I had silently rehearsed a few days earlier on the flight from Hong Kong to Saigon: “Nguyen says that Ethical Memory of war remembers one’s own, but does not fail to remember others as well,” I said. “This course asks you to remember others—Americans. It also asks you to remember your own—Vietnamese—in order to help Americans remember others.”

The play we made together, Voices of Vietnam, in War and Peace, is the product of their interviews and translations, and my editing and scripting. The play promotes Ethical Memory by speaking the truths of the Vietnamese people while evoking the humanity, and inhumanity, of soldiers and civilians on all sides of the conflict. It was performed in June 2016 in an on-campus auditorium at Ho Chi Minh City Open University, using a minimal set and simple staging, by student-actors who had been rehearsing for only a few days.

At the opening of the play, each student carried a single white flower onstage and placed it in a vase that remained in view throughout the performance. The six scenes that followed offered perspectives perhaps unfamiliar to Americans, describing viewpoints that have not been acknowledged by the English-speaking “memory industry” epitomized in American war films. Voices heard include those of a Vietnamese draft resister, a female doctor who worked for the Viet Cong, and a grandmother who kept books for the American military at the Saigon airport from 1956 until 1973. Voices of Vietnam explores striking cultural differences but also confirms that the prevailing American view of the war—a political and moral failure that left a young generation scarred and stripped of illusions—is largely shared by the Vietnamese.

At the end of the play, the students retrieved their flowers, presented them to an invited guest and led that guest forward. I gave this explanation of the play’s Epilogue: “You have been listening to the students speak your voices, the voices of Vietnamese who remember the war. Now you will speak the students’ voices. Please don’t be shy about coming up on stage.” As their own words became our text, I could see pride on the students’ faces. When they said, “This is my voice,” there was strong emotion, made stronger by the fact that speaking out is still closely monitored in Vietnam. Also lending power were the words themselves, the student-written “appeals to ethical memory.” Here is a sample of those appeals; words about war from Vietnamese 20-year-olds:

Thảo Quy: I did not comprehend the war until I talked to my parents about it. Its brutality is beyond imagination. There are still misunderstandings and untold stories. War has no heroes and no right side. War is wrong. War does not bring peace. The young must understand so as not to repeat. Silence explains nothing.

Le Thanh Tan: The husbands, wives, fathers, sons and daughters who lie beneath us can’t rise again to tell untold stories. But we can find them again in your voices, your stories. Some now want to go to war again; both the young and the old can be childish and naïve. So open your hearts and tell us your stories.

Hồng Loan: War is loss—friends, family, dream, and hopes. We are still affected after 41 years. Agent Orange victims suffer and leftover bombs have killed thousands. Teach the young the value of human life. Whether you are soldiers or farmers, from North or South, Vietnamese or American, we need to hear your voices, for a better future.

Gia Hân: Why did the U.S. fight here? They killed many, including my grandfather, and the consequences of dioxin remain. My father’s house was burned 3 times by bombs. My grandparents had nowhere to turn, they were poor and hungry. History books are not enough. Talk to your elders. Sympathize with them. Problems aren’t solved by fighting but by talking.

Watching the students perform and seeing the audience captivated by how openly they were speaking remains my favorite Vietnam memory. I was grateful to the students for stepping out of their comfort zone to do something in an academic setting that went beyond what they thought was possible. I had told the Vietnamese students that their play would “help Americans remember others,” which meant that U.S. students would perform it also. When some of my Akron undergraduates came down with acute cases of stage fright, I used the bravery of the Vietnamese students as motivation.

We performed the play in Akron on November 9. In a discussion with the audience afterward, someone asked the cast how it felt to speak the voices of Vietnam. Several students said that the experience was “eye-opening.” One remarked thoughtfully, “When you have to present someone else’s story, someone else’s feeling, there is a seriousness to it.” Another said, “This — performing this play — has been a way for us to go back and trace a dark part in our nation’s history and also grow more empathy.” I shared these responses by email with a Vietnamese colleague I’d met during my stay in Ho Chi Minh City. He wrote back, “I’m very moved to learn that the U.S students found performing Voices of Vietnam ‘eye-opening’ and that is has developed a mutual understanding between seemingly old enemies.”

A key defining trait of oral history is how effectively it countermands state-sponsored narratives that glorify war. At our June 2 performance in Vietnam, an audience member stopped me during intermission. “Do you know what you’re doing is strictly forbidden in this country?” he asked. Then he said that the play wasn’t “true.” I said something like, “It’s the truth of the people affected by the war. All we’re claiming to do is to express what people said, so it’s automatically the truth. We’re speaking the words of people interviewed and the play is about what they said.” That automatic truth, I think, is what Viet Thanh Nguyen has in mind when he writes, “telling family war stories . . . is an important way to treat the disorder of our military-industrial complex.”

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Image courtesy of Patrick Chura

Perhaps projects of this type can help students see history from another angle and teach peace for the future. Fundamentally about words, oral history plays embrace simple staging and are adaptable to groups of almost any size and composition. Young people may speak the voices of the elderly, males may speak female voices and vice versa. In our production, a Vietnamese grandmother was played successfully by a young man of 19. By allowing students to imaginatively inhabit the Other—especially those of differing ethnicities, nationalities, gender identities and age groups—oral history readings foster social awareness and cultural sensitivity.

Educators who are interested in using Voices of Vietnam in the classroom may write me for a copy at jpc@uakron.edu.

The Future of Peace under Trump

Doug Rossinow

No one knows what the foreign policy of President Donald J. Trump holds in store for the world. Who could have predicted the course of US foreign policy under Barack Obama or George W. Bush? Obama, it is true, went far toward fulfilling his pledge to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq, and he has scaled down the US war in Afghanistan as well (something he did not promise to do in 2008). He has failed, however, to consistently press for a closure of the extra-constitutional Guantánamo Bay detention facility for accused terrorists. The persistence of the US military presence in Iraq is largely due to the rise of Daesh, which Obama did not anticipate and which, basically, is traceable to Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. That disaster, of course, was predicted by exactly no one in 2000, and it was only made possible by the shocking 9/11 attacks on America.

In light of this recent history, we can only expect the unexpected from foreign affairs during the coming four years.

From a peace perspective, the campaign of 2016 was rather dismal. The Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, was so hawkish — enamored of Henry Kissinger and proud of pressing President Obama toward armed intervention in Libya — that she allowed a right-wing nationalist, in the person of Trump, to campaign as the peace candidate. Trump cogently criticized the policy of armed overthrow of Middle Eastern dictatorships. Trump pledged to maintain Obama’s resistance to deeper US military intervention in the Syrian civil war. Trump astounded everyone by declaring, before the South Carolina Republican primary no less, that Bush had deceived the country by waging war against Iraq based on phony claims about weapons of mass destruction. He declared that the US would be better off with Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi still in power. The GOP voters of the Palmetto State rewarded Trump’s eerie echo of standard peace movement talking points with victory. Once he secured the Republican nomination, Trump had the antiwar lane all to himself. The corrosive effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on the authority of America’s customary political elites have been more profound and widespread than many analysts understand. The collapse of confidence in US leadership has opened a path to power for a business tycoon who styles himself an outsider. Activists will mobilize to protest abuses of Americans’ rights and of the planet in the coming years. Whether they will need to protest new US wars is something we cannot know. If Trump turns his back on his antiwar campaign, he will spurn not only peace activists, but many who supported him as well. In that event, the peace movement will do well to reach out to disaffected Trump voters who inhabit the America where the wars of our century have taken a terrible toll.

Doug Rossinow is a former president of the Peace History Society and author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s. He currently writes from Oslo, Norway