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.

Peace History and U.S. Foreign Policy

Image courtesy of Roger Peace

Is it possible to cultivate a peace perspective while studying American wars? I think it is, if value-based questions are asked and a corresponding framework for analysis is offered.

The peacehistory-usfp.org website, which I am developing with the support of the Peace History Society and Historians Against the War, asks whether each foreign war fought by the United States was just and necessary. This is the entry point for critically evaluating U.S. wars and foreign policies.

The standards for evaluating wars are situated outside of Washington but within the real world. They are rooted in the developing moral architecture of international norms, including prohibitions against national aggression written into the Charter of the United Nations (1945), human rights guidelines as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and subsequent human rights treaties, and humanitarian laws governing the conduct of war as set forth in the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Having taught many U.S. history survey courses at the community college level, including 35 “U.S. in the World” courses, I have struggled to find appropriate resources that offer alternative perspectives to the dominant nationalistic viewpoints that infuse undergraduate textbooks and popular websites. Wars are typically evaluated on the basis of whether American power and interests were advanced, with little concern for “just war” principles or the harm done to others.

The goal of the website is to fully examine every U.S. war and major foreign policy orientation over the course of 240 years. Thus far, four of the eighteen planned entries have been completed: War of 1812, U.S.-Mexican War, War of 1898 and U.S.-Filipino War, and Korean War. Each entry comprises a short book of 28,000-32,000 words (roughly 85-95 pages), supplemented with images.

I invite educators to utilize the website by assigning sections for student reading. Feedback is welcome. I also invite scholars to participate in developing new entries, whether by suggesting resources, creating outlines, writing sections, or reading drafts.
The website does not purport to reveal an “untold story,” but rather to parlay critical perspectives commonly found at higher levels of academia into accessible narratives for non-history majors and the general public (history majors will benefit as well). In the War of 1812 entry, for example, I relied on the authoritative accounts of historians Donald R. Hickey, Carl Benn, and Alan Taylor, experts on the subject, among others. The perspective put forth is “new” only in the sense that U.S. textbooks and popular history have privileged the official (Madison) administration viewpoint, minimizing or excluding British, Canadian, and Native American views, and treating dissenting Federalists and peace advocates as losers. It will nonetheless appear new to many.

Peace scholars have added much to our understanding of the role of peace movements and antiwar voices in policy debates and protests. The intent of the website is not to fashion the story around these movements and individuals, but to give them more prominence and highlight their critiques. Readers and students should become thoroughly familiar with the idea that the prospect of war has typically engendered intense debate and opposition, that U.S. leaders have often resorted to underhanded methods to push the nation into war, and that militant patriotism has been used to intimidate and silence antiwar voices.

Apart from historical entries, there are two other parts of the website that have yet to be developed. One is a subsection in “Resources” to be titled “For Educators,” which might include lesson plans and curricula/syllabi for courses. Another is the “Connections” section, which I envision as highlighting recent newspaper and website articles connecting past and present.

To take one example, the New York Times (9/7/16), in covering President Obama’s visit to Laos, reported that “the United States had dropped more than two million tons of bombs on this country during the height of the Vietnam War, more than it dropped on Germany and Japan during World War II.” Obama offered $30 million to help clean up the still-unexploded bombs, which “lie buried under fields and forests, killing and maiming thousands of children, farmers, and others who stumble on them.” The war has not ended for Laotians.

In the end, I hope that the website leads students and citizens to intelligently question both current and past U.S. foreign policies, and to consider alternative international arrangements that build on international cooperation, mutual security, and common problem-solving. More immediately, I hope it serves as an outreach vehicle for the Peace History Society and Historians Against the War.

 


Roger Peace earned his doctorate in American Foreign Relations from Florida State University and taught U.S. and world history courses for 17 years. Prior to teaching, he worked as a local peace organizer and foundation director for nearly two decades. He is the author of A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012). Contact him at rcpeace3@embarqmail.com.

RMCLAS 2016

slide4

This past week I attended the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Rocky Mountain Conference for Latin American Studies hosted by the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies (RMCLAS) in Santa Fe, NM. While at the conference, I attended a number of panels and roundtables that presented scholarship and teaching practices that might prove interesting to peace and activist scholars.

Transnationalism proved a popular topic at the conference with three panels and a roundtable discussion dedicated to the theme. It is also not surprising that I attended these panels considering that I examine transnational networks. One particular panel, titled “Without Passports: International Solidarity in the Cold War,” presented a different views on international cooperation between North American and Latin American activists. In “International Agents: Locating Transnationalism in the Chicano Movement,” University of New Mexico graduate student Victor Andrew Oneschuck detailed the connections between the Chicano movement and political movements in Cuba and Nicaragua. Taylor Perk, also a graduate student at the University of New Mexico examined the often contested relationship between U.S. and Chilean Maoists with his paper titled “A World to Win: Chile, the United States, and the Formation of Maoism.” Finally, Griselda Jarquin, a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, discussed the transnational activism of The Berkeley-Leon Sister City Association during the Nicaraguan Revolution.

Sprinkled among the various panels were a number of other papers that addressed activism in Latin America. Claudia Rueda, a professor at Texas A&M at Corpus Cristi, detailed the relationship between Nicaraguan students and U.S. diplomats in the 1960s with her paper, “Unlikely Bedfellows: Nicaraguan Students and their Allies in the 1960s.” In a look at more contemporary Latin American protest, Cheryl Jiménez Frei, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, examined monuments and memorials as sites of political protest and contestation in modern Buenos Aires in her paper, “Public Protest, Performance, and Participation: Shaping Historical Memory and the Monumental Landscape in Buenos Aires.”a. In the same panel, Sarah Cline, a professor of history at University of California, Santa Barbara, highlighted the importance of Wikipedia as a space for academics to participate in public history, arguing that creating content for the digital encyclopedia would reach far more readers than is possible with traditional scholarly publications.

One panel that might be particularly interesting to the readership of Peace and Change addressed the current legal struggles of Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States. Elizabeth Hutchison (ehutch@unm.edu) and Kimberly Gauderman (kgaud@unm.edu), both faculty at the University of New Mexico, joined Maria Baldini-Poterman and Natalie Hansen (natalie@hansentaylor.com), both lawyers specializing in asylum cases, to discuss the experiences of and difficulties faced by those fleeing Central America out of fear for their own safety. For many fleeing Central American violence, their experience in the United States is little better than the one the left, with many being held for months, and sometimes years, in squalid detention centers along the border. If denied asylum, many refugees are deported back to their home country where a majority fall victim to the violence they fled. In response, the presenters highlighted the need for scholars as “expert witnesses” and issued a call to action, asking that those interested provide their emails in order to join a growing database of academics and other experts willing to help those seeking asylum. Although the database itself is still being created, the panelists advised those interested in joining the list of expert witnesses to contact them and to visit the University of California, Hastings College of Law’s Center for Gender and Refugee Studies or the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Finally, in a roundtable discussion of gaming and history education, of which the author was a participant, participants engaged in a discussion of various interactive teaching methods. A subject of significant discussion was Reacting to the Past (RTTP), a role-playing experience in which students assume the role of a historical figure in a historical scenario. Scenarios can be found at the RTTP website, along with guides for instructors. Many of participants in the discussion had used Reacting to the Past in their classrooms and had significant praise for the gamified learning experience.

In sum, RMCLAS 2016 was once again a fantastic experience. There is a significant and growing study of Latin American activism, particularly in the transnational twentieth century, and significant spaces for scholars to engage in public discourses on pedagogy and politics. Ultimately, it was encouraging to find the places where are others are engaging the intersections between peace history and Latin American Studies.

HathiTrust

In the world of digital collections and archives, few organizations compare to the HathiTrust. The multi-institutional library brings together the individual collection of its more than 100 partner institutions to create a digital clearinghouse of nearly 14 million total volumes, including books, journals, magazines and other print material. For scholars of interested in peace research, HathiTrust includes documents from a number of peace organizations, including the American Peace Society and the National Council for Prevention of War. It also includes numerous documents related to the U.S. government and a large catalog of digital books. In fact, roughly 39% of the works hosted by HathiTrust are in the public domain.

Below is an example of the type of documentation that can be found in HathiTrust. It is a program for the Fourth Annual American Peace Congress held in St. Louis, Missouri between May 1 and 3, 1913.

HathiTrust also creates digital tools and software designed to facilitate researchers’ navigation through the library’s massive amounts of digital text. HathiTrust is a valuable resource for educators and researchers, housing numerous documents while generating better tools to access them with.

EDIT – An earlier version of this article claimed that HathiTrust houses 39% of the works in the public domain. This is incorrect. The accurate claim is that 39% of the materials held HathiTrust are in the public domain.

PHS News, January 2016

Happy New Year! And what a better way to start 2016 than with the most recent issue of PHS News. The January issue, which is edited by Robert Shaffer and available at the Peace History Society website, recaps the events of the biennial Peace History Society Conference held at the University of St. Joseph. The issue also includes memorials to George Houser and Julian Bond, who both passed in August 2015, as well as articles by Marc Becker and Ian Christopher Fletcher.

StoryMap JS

Later this week we will have the first post from Alisha Baginski (follow her on Twitter at @BAGINS_), Peace and Change’s student intern, who will be unveiling a digital project she created using StoryMap JS. Before the post debuts, I thought that I would introduce our readers to the digital tool that she is using and its applications in the classroom and beyond.

StoryMap JS is an open-source tool that allows users to create web-based, multimedia-rich narratives that emphasize the importance of geography. Developed at Northwestern University’s Knight Lab, the tool can be used by those looking for a simple means of telling a story ground in space. Built using Knight Lab’s Gigapixel, StoryMap JS also allows for the creation of media rich stories that incorporate videos as well as photographs, maps, works of art and any other image file.

Numerous news organizations, such as The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, and CNBC, have used StoryMap JS maps to report on events around the globe. However, the tool is not intended for journalists alone and has seen significant use in the classroom. At Colorado State University, students under Dr. Robert Jordan have created impressive projects using StoryMap JS, such as this student project that tracked indigenous language in North and South America.

Because of the relative ease of access and engaging interface, StoryMap JS is a tool with potential for both educators and professionals. We at Peace and Change are excited by the opportunity to publish using the tool and introduce it to our readership.  

FoundSF

I recently came across a unique, and very useful, digital archive documenting the history of San Francisco called FoundSF. The archive is a wiki – a website that is maintained and edited through the collaborative processes of its users – that catalogs and presents historical artifacts from the San Francisco area. It contains digitized newspapers, videos, and pictures of San Francisco and the communities that call it home. The themes of the collection found on FoundSF range from broad discussions on race, gender, and the area’s ecology, to remembrances of San Francisco theme parks and attractions.

Perhaps to the surprise of few, there is much space dedicated to the various protest movements that rocked San Francisco over the latter half of the twentieth-century. In fact, a certain rebelliousness pervades the entire archive, with many of the conventions of impartiality ignored. As the curators point out, “FoundSF does not have a mission to present a ‘neutral point of view.’ Instead, we are focused on presenting real artifacts of history, and some of the best of these are highly biased and provocative.”

Although one should not take what is written on FoundSF as the gospel truth – and let’s be honest, most of the readers of Peace and Change are used to giving their sources a careful inspection – the documents held in the archive are fascinating.

For example, there are interviews with activists that highlight the intersection of the Gay Rights movement with pro-FSLN activism in the 1970s and 1980s.

Video interview: Chris Carlsson, edited by Joe Caffentzis

There are also remembrances of the 1968 San Francisco State student strike, accompanied by pictures of the unrest.

Photo: Lou de la Torre via FoundSF

Although admittedly tendentious, FoundSF is a treasure trove of documents detailing the turbulent history of San Francisco and is a valuable source for both researchers and educators.

Swarthmore College Peace Collection

In our efforts to better understand the width and breadth of peace scholarship, we at Peace and Change will begin a regular series of posts in which we examine the digital resources available to students, teachers, scholars, and activists. We will shine a spotlight on those tools and archives that forward our understanding of peace studies by either cataloging resources, facilitating student learning, or providing a unique lens through which to view the subject. Through these posts, we hope to introduce readers to resources that may help them improve their scholarship, enhance student learning outcomes, and strengthen their activism.

We chose to begin our series with the Swarthmore College Peace Collection (SCPC), an archive at Swarthmore College, obviously, that houses thousands of documents, including those from the Peace History Society.

The SCPC was founded as a library and archive for the books and papers of Jane Addams, as well as the files for Women’s Peace Party and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Over half of the collections documents pertain to women, and cover subjects related to “pacifism, women and peace, conscientious objection, nonviolence, civil disobedience, progressivism, the Vietnam era, African-American protest and civil rights, feminism, civil liberties, the history of social work, and other reform movements.” The website also houses a number of digitized photographic collections and links to peace organizations and their history.

The SCPC website provides finding aids to help navigate the archives large collections, as well as links to other online collections.

For those interested in the intersection of race, gender, and class with peace history, the Swarthmore College Peace History Collection is a useful hub that will satisfy the needs of scholars, the teachers, and students.

Peace History Society Conference 2015

Prue Moylan and I (program co-chairs), along with Kevin Callahan (PHS President and local site coordinator) are looking forward to a great Peace History Society Conference at The University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut. The conference opens Thursday October 22nd and runs through Saturday October 24th.

Our theme this year is “Historical Perspectives on War, Peace, and Religion” and we have 15 excellent panels of papers on topics ranging from the writing of the history of American Zionism to a comparison of Jane Addams and Gandhi to an examination of the role religious traditions have played in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.

We also have two superb plenary sessions. In the first, “Supernaturalism and Peace Activism: Expanding the Boundaries of Peace History,” Leilah Danielson will explore the role of religion and culture in shaping peace activism in the 20th century. She will argue that attention to these factors can help to set a new agenda for peace history, one that will be more fully engaged with historiographical trends and will up possibilities for a truly international peace history.

In our second plenary session, “American Catholic Peace Movement: Past and Present,” scholars will participate in a round table discussion on the Catholic peace movement in the United States during the 20th-century. Papers will be presented on Ben Salmon, one of only four U.S. Catholic conscientious objectors in World War I; Dorothy Day, a co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement in 1933 who has been dubbed the “Mother of the American Catholic Peace movement;” and Fr. Carl Kabat, a Catholic priest and anti-nuclear weapons activist during the Cold War.

We believe that the theme of this year’s conference is appropriate not only because we will be gathering on the campus of a Catholic college, but also because the connection between violence and religion is one which has recently been coming under increased scrutiny by scholars. For instance, William Cavanaugh has argued that the “myth of religious violence”—the notion that religion is inherently violent and so needs to be controlled by state—has a history that coincides with the rise to of modern nation-state. Likewise, Karen Armstrong has noted that what is regarded as religiously-motivated violence is almost always depicted as fanatical, while violence at the service of the state—war—is usually presented as rational and necessary.

Our hope is that many of the conference papers—as well as those to be included in the special issue of Peace & Change—will not only address such historiographical questions, but will also offer alternative historical perspectives on the role faith traditions and individuals within those traditions have played in countering war and building peace.

Again, we are looking forward to a great conference and look forward to seeing you all in West Hartford!

-Ben Peters

Coming Soon in Peace and Change

It’s hard to believe that the end of the year is approaching, but the October issue of Peace & Change is the last one for 2015. We’re wrapping up the year on a high note with two articles on draft resistance, gender, and citizenship in the United States and Israel. Donald W. Maxwell looks at the meaning of U.S. citizenship for men who resisted or deserted from the American War in Vietnam, while Merav Perez and OrnaSasson-Levy analyze a series of original interviews with Israeli men on their feelings about military service in “Avoiding Military Service in a Militaristic Society: A Chronicle of Resistance to Hegemonic Masculinity. Each essay is very rich on its own, but the parallels that run between the two—as well as the contrasts—are downright intriguing. We won’t blog any spoilers, but will promise a truly worthwhile read.

If that weren’t enough, the October issue also features a special forum edited by Kathleen Kennedy and Kathleen Z. Young marking the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Elaine Scary’s The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (1985). Scarry’s multi-disciplinary analysis of the experience, expression, and representation of pain, and the processes by which people create and “unmake” their worlds (and those of others) has shaped numerous works of history and cultural studies on the politics of embodiedness and creativity. The contributors to this forum on The Body in Pain at Thirty—Nicole R. McClure, K. Frances Lieder, and Jason Springs—honor Scarry’s deeply influential work by raising new challenges to it. To quote the editors, the essays “focus her Universalist theoretical framework to address issues of race, gender or the particularities of historical circumstances” in a manner that simultaneously “embraces both the methodological and ethical challenges offered by Scarry’s work while demonstrating that the specifics of her argument need to better account for historical diversity. The result is a host of fresh perspectives on questions that are central to the work of peace studies scholars. There is something for everyone in this forum of innovative essays.