Civil War

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Americans Afraid of Violence at Election Buying Guns and Ammunition

There was a report in this weekend’s I, for 10 – 11th October 2020, that the sales of armaments in the Land of the Free has gone up as people are afraid of violence breaking out between the supporters of Joe Biden and Donald Trump at the election. According to the report, ‘Fears it could all turn ugly fuel boom in arms sales’ by Andrew Hay, some are even afraid the violence could lead to civil war or social collapse. The article runs

Americans worried about possible violence after the presidential election are forming community watch groups or even taking up arms.

A common fear is that the 3 November contest between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden remains undecided, leading to protests that could escalate into civil unrest, or even sectarian conflict.

For Americans like financial adviser David Powell, the greatest worry is that they could be forced to take sides to protect civil rights, private property and even lives. “I’m not part of any group, don’t want to be part of a group, I’m your regular guy who is watching the news and is getting really concerned,” said Mr Powell, 64, or Raleigh, North Carolina. He said he worries about “Antifa thugs”, a term conservatives use to describe left-wing anti-fascist activists. He said he is prepared to “stand guard”. Some people are planning foreign vacations around election day or heading to rural retreats. Others have bought guns. Firearm sales hit a monthly record of 3.9 million in June, according to FBI data.

In Portland, Oregon, left-wing activist Dre Miller has reached out to leaders of the right-wing Proud Boys to set up a line of communication to resolve conflicts. “We need to be able to call a ceasefire when things get out of hand,” said Mr Miller, 37, an organiser with a Black rights group. “As a black man I cannot stand back. I’m standing up and standing by.” (p.13).

I’m not surprised. Although the Black Lives Matter protests have been described as mostly peaceful by the mainstream media, conservatives have posted videos on the internet showing violence and intimidation by BLM protesters, as well as mobs and individuals chanting racist slogans against Whites. This strikes at the racial and political fears that led to the emergence of the survivalist and militia movements in the ’80s and ’90s. They were formed by right-wing Americans afraid of social collapse and violence from Communists, the extreme left, and Blacks. There was a report on YouTube that Black Lives Matter protesters and a White militia faced off against each other a month or so ago. I’ve also seen reports that four members of a White militia have also been arrested for trying to kidnap the mayor of a town in Minnesota in order to start a civil war.

I don’t doubt that some of the fears of social collapse have been provoked by the emergence and collapse of CHUD, the autonomous anarchist commune in Seattle a few months ago. This lasted all of several weeks before it collapsed due to violence and lawlessness and the police moved in. But I’ve also no doubt that some of the fears also go back to some of the inflammatory, racist gibberish that the ultra-conservative right spewed against Obama. The conspiracy theorist Alex Jones ranted about Obama being the antichrist, and he and other members of the far right claimed that he was a Nazi, or communist, or militant Muslim, or atheist, filled with a genocidal hatred of White Christians. A couple of pastors running a church radio station told their listeners that he would start a ‘White genocide’ that would kill more people than Chairman Mao. Jones also claimed that Obama was plotting against the American people. America’s first Black president was going to declare an environmental emergency in order to imprison America’s people in FEMA camps as part of the globalist agenda to take over the world and turn us all into transgender cyborgs controlled by the evil, Satanic one-world government. Well, Obama’s been and gone for four years now, and Americans are as free as ever. But my guess is that those fears of a radical Black takeover are still lingering, and have been stoked by the BLM protests.

And there are parts of the American far right that would welcome a civil war before White and non-White, leftists and conservatives. The right-wing blogger Vox Day, aka Theodore Beale, posted a piece years ago expressing his view that America was going to disintegrate as the non-White areas split away from the White. I think he might have been looking forward to it, like many other extreme right-wingers, in the hope that it would mark the establishment of a White ethno-state.

So far tensions haven’t quite gone that far over this side of the pond. Britain has its fair share of gun freaks and shooting enthusiasts, but there isn’t the gun culture there is in America and paramilitary organisations like the militias are very definitely illegal over here. The NF/BNP used to organise weekend ‘self-defence’ courses, but these were shut down very quickly when the cops found evidence of weapons manufacture. When the contents of a garden shed was examined, the found a can of weed killer with its name crossed out and ‘Jew Killer’ written instead. Since then the BNP has collapsed and a slew of extreme right-wing, neo-Nazi organised proscribed as terrorist organisations.

Moreover, the Black Lives Matter protests over here have also been mostly peaceful, although this is challenged on YouTube by right-wing counterprotesters. The protests, like those in America, have been composed of both Blacks and Whites. One of the speakers at the protest in Cheltenham was a cute little girl, whose father was White. Black Lives Matter, or at least the branch in Bristol, also put out a statement that they weren’t trying to start a race war, but stop one. Whether these protests and the response to them would have remained peaceful had Sasha Johnson and her Black militia been active is highly debatable. As it is when the clip of her rallying her troops appeared on YouTube there were calls for government action from Alex Belfield amongst others. A right-wing backlash is now taking place against Black Lives Matter. Priti Patel and other members of the government have apparently denounced them so there is the potential for similar racial and political violence over here.

I honestly don’t know what can be done about the tense situation in America, except hope that the people with cool heads prevail and the protests, counter-protests and political rhetoric are toned down. The racial supremacists are going to be disappointed, as America is too old and stable for there to be a civil war. But there is the potential for serious violence and damage to people’s businesses and property, and obviously that needs to be avoided.

Let’s hope common sense and decency prevails against those seeking to provoke intolerance and violence.

Book Review: Quagmire in Civil War by Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/09/2020 - 9:09pm in

Contrary to popular belief, quagmires in civil war are made, not found. This is the argument of Quagmire in Civil WarJonah Schulhofer-Wohl‘s new account of the phenomenon of quagmire in civil wars that outlines how particular interactions and strategic choices can lead to this political trap. This is an essential theoretical study of international-domestic strategic interactions and their consequences for civil wars, writes Jacob Fortier.

Quagmire in Civil War. Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl. Cambridge University Press. 2020.

When one thinks of foreign interventions in civil wars, one immediately considers the spectre of quagmire. To get bogged down in a civil war is indeed the outcome that foreign interveners seem to fear the most. It is also one of the main justifications for not intervening in a civil war: think of former US President Barack Obama warning Russia that it would get stuck in a quagmire in Syria, or European leaders’ reluctance to send troops into Rwanda in 1994 because ‘active involvement could lead them into a bloody quagmire’. But what exactly is a quagmire? How does it happen? Is there any escape from this political trap or is it the inevitable fate of all foreign interventions in civil wars? These questions have so far remained largely unanswered, even though they are crucial to understand the unfolding of civil conflicts and the impacts of foreign engagement.

Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl fills the conceptual vacuum around this phenomenon in Quagmire in Civil War. Quagmires, he claims, emerge from the strategic structure of the conflict. More precisely, a civil war will experience quagmire when at least one of the belligerents undergoes an entrapment situation in which the costs of fighting exceed the expected benefits, but withdrawing will increase rather than avert those net costs (4). The ‘mired’ belligerent therefore continues fighting past the point at which fighting can generate strategic gains and subsequently becomes unresponsive to its opponents’ war-fighting strategies. Consequently, the quagmire ends up spreading and affecting all warring factions, since each actor’s decision-making calculus is embedded in the decisions of others. One belligerent’s entrapment thus impacts on the fate of all actors involved in the conflict (5).

The causes of quagmire in civil war are multiple. Schulhofer-Wohl lists several characteristics of a conflict that might shape the balance between the costs of fighting and the additional costs of withdrawing. Domestic politics and asymmetry in a belligerent’s time horizon can generate quagmires, as can guerrilla strategies that seek to exhaust the political capital of a stronger opponent by ‘bogging down’ the conflict (Andrew Mack, 1975). The author wishes, however, to demonstrate that quagmire ‘is made, not found’. It is not intrinsic to a certain type of conflict, but rather related to the belligerent’s decisions that interact to produce the trap. Contrary to popular belief, one does not simply stumble into a quagmire; one generates it.

The book’s central theory thus identifies how external support affects the belligerent’s costs structure and decision-making, thereby making quagmire more likely to occur. The model presents two mechanisms to account for the risk of quagmire. The first illustrates how foreign assistance can expand the conditions under which belligerents are likely to carry on fighting, since external backing subsidises the costs of ongoing participation in the war. Foreign assistance thus pushes the belligerents to continue fighting despite rising costs and the declining stakes of conflict.

The second mechanism similarly predicts that belligerents facing increased costs are likely to move from territorial warfare to non-territorial warfare rather than withdraw from the conflict since foreign backers partially absorb the cost of their combat operations. By the end, belligerents find themselves mired in a situation in which either escalating the conflict in order to achieve victory or withdrawing from it are less attractive than pursuing foreign-backed, non-territorial and low-cost warfare. In other words, foreign assistance provides just enough to convince the belligerents to keep on fighting, but the belligerents do not strategically benefit from the continuation of hostilities, and neither, obviously, does the country at war – ‘quagmire compounds the tragedy’ (210).

In order to test the theory with an empirical case, the author dedicates the third and fourth chapters to an analysis of the Lebanese Civil War (1975 to 1990). He underlines how the belligerents’ strategic interactions with their respective foreign backers and opponents plagued any peace agreement for more than a decade. The analysis, supported by field interviews with former combatants, highlights some turning points in the war during which weakened factions chose to continue fighting due to foreign assistance and the possibility of de-escalation to non-territorial warfare. For instance, despite a clear trend of losing ground to their opponents, rightist factions decided in January 1976 to deepen their participation in the war by relying on external support and moving between types of warfare. The same phenomenon occurred on many occasions during the following decade, thus leading Lebanon down a path of long-lasting and inextricable conflict.

Always scrupulous in doing good social science, the author adds some external validity to the book’s theory in Chapter Five where he conducts a cross-country statistical analysis of 140 civil conflicts between 1944 and 2006.  Having identified the civil wars that experienced quagmires as those that lasted longer than would be expected according to a comprehensive analysis of war duration, the author tests whether foreign interests, the cost of escalation in fighting and the stakes of conflict are associated with the presence of quagmires across civil wars. The results provide evidence that the two main mechanisms of the theory are positively correlated to the presence of quagmire.

Despite the originality of the research design, one can nevertheless raise some criticisms concerning the operationalisation of the dependent variable (the presence of quagmire). The operational definition expects quagmires to occur in wars whose actual length exceeds the duration predicted by the analysis. However, the duration model omits important variables, such as the technologies of rebellions (Stathis N. Kalyvas and Laia Balcells, 2010), United Nations arbitration (Karl De Rouen and David Sobek, 2004) and third-party interventions (Patrick M. Regan, 2002). These are all factors that are likely to affect conflict duration.

Moreover, the concept of foreign support is somehow ill-defined. Particular strategies for intervening might have different effects on the expected length of a conflict and the likelihood of quagmire. For instance, does providing shelter to rebels increase the risk of quagmire as much as providing them with arms and financial resources?

Another gap in the quantitative model concerns the power asymmetry between the state and the rebels, and the strategic equilibrium that results. For example, an aggressive and powerful government may force weaker rebels into hiding, paradoxically increasing the duration of the war since it raises the costs of escalation and forces the rebellion to move between types of warfare. In this case, the prolongation of hostilities is neither due to a quagmire situation nor to the duration factors identified in the model. Finally, a chapter on how quagmires end could have been interesting. Is the model able to explain how the strategic impasse is somehow resolved? Are the mechanisms accounting for quagmire also central in explaining conflict resolution?

Quagmire in Civil War is nevertheless of great academic relevance. It lays out the foundations for a completely new research agenda concerning the incidence of quagmire in civil wars and provides us with the first definition of quagmire. The richly evidenced sixth chapter condenses all of the arguments of the book into a very convincing comparative analysis, and the author compensates for the limitations of the quantitative analysis by taking into account more explanatory factors. Quagmire in Civil War is an essential theoretical work for the study of international-domestic strategic interactions and their consequences for civil wars.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Image by skeeze from Pixabay. 


Robin Lindley Talks with Historian Adam Domby about The False Cause

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 8:59am in


Civil War, history

Adam Domby, an award-winning historian and specialist on the Civil War and Reconstruction, examines the role of lies and exaggeration in the Lost Cause narratives and their celebration of white supremacy in his timely and groundbreaking new book The False Cause: … Continue reading

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The Problem with Portland

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/09/2020 - 1:20am in

Trump is clearly trying to change the national narrative from his disastrous response to the coronavirus and the economic crash to the idea that he alone can protect white Americans from their dangerous Black neighbors. Continue reading

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Decades Later, America’s Meddling in Colombia is Still Costing Lives

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 29/08/2020 - 2:29am in

On a warm Tuesday morning earlier this month in Llano Verde, an eastern suburb of the city of Cali, five Afro-Colombian children decided to leave their homes to take advantage of the fine weather to spend some time outside. They would never return. Only a few hours later, they were found dead; their bodies burned, cut to pieces with machetes and riddled with bullets, dumped in public for all to see.

The residents of Llano Verde are no strangers to violence; the majority of them are refugees, displaced from the fighting in Colombia’s civil war. The local press reported that the boys, Luis Fernando Montaño, Josmar Jean Paul Cruz Perlaza, Álvaro Jose Caicedo Silva, Jair Andrés Cortes Castro, and Leider Cárdenas Hurtado, were members of the vibrant local art scene and had gone to fly kites — such an innocent activity in a land of the guilty.


A violent history

The incident has shocked the people of Cali, but not surprised them. Last week alone there were five massacres across the country. Cali is not even the most recent one; on Tuesday, the bodies of three young men were found on a roadside in Ocaña, a city near the Venezuelan border. That was the country’s 46th massacre in 2020 to date, according to local human rights group Indepez, who notes that 185 people have been killed this year — more than one person per day.

“Every massacre is a message,” said Manuel Rozental, a physician and longtime activist living in Cauca, in the country’s southwest. “Young, indigenous, Afro-Colombians are being murdered en masse in different regions of the country…The massacres are methodic, systematic. It is a job being done as planned,” he told MintPress.

James Jordan, the National Co-Coordinator of the Alliance for Global Justice, appeared to agree, stating that:

We have been watching with alarm as enemies of peace in Colombia have continued to escalate threats and assaults against human rights defenders, social movement leaders, and ex-insurgents participating in the peace process. Also targeted have been their family members, including, in some cases, children and even infants. As always, the most affected by political violence are rural farming, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities.”

The government, led by President Ivan Duque, blamed leftist rebel groups for the killings, particularly the FARC. The majority of the latest massacres have indeed occurred in rural areas controlled by the rebels until the historic 2016 peace accords, where the FARC agreed to demobilize and enter the political arena instead. Yet the experts MintPress spoke to were skeptical of Duque’s claims. “Who in Colombia, after the FARC dismantled has the capacity to locate, threaten and murder social leaders and now proceed with massacres with such precision? The answer is obvious, there has to be military intelligence involved,” said Rozental. Certainly, throughout Colombia’s recent history, the majority of atrocities have been carried out by government-linked paramilitaries, who have enjoyed virtually free rein to impose their will on the country.

Cali murders

Jorge Ivan Ospina, the Mayor of Cali, visits the crime scene where the bodies of five young men were found. Photo | Twitter via Jorge Ivan Ospina

Duque visited Cali on Saturday, and ordered national police chief General Oscar Atehortua to take charge of the investigation, and instructed his forces to be “relentless” in their pursuit of justice, aggressive language which worried many he was trying to calm. At the same time, he has attempted to downplay the recent upsurge in violence, describing the massacres as merely “collective homicides.” Today, the government announced it had arrested two suspects, although their affiliations, let alone their guilt, are still unclear at this point.

Professor Mario A. Murillo of Hofstra University, author of “Colombia and the United States: War, Terrorism and Destabilization,” was profoundly agnostic about the perpetrators of the violence, but believes the broader situation stems from failures in government. “The recent wave of massacres hitting predominantly rural communities in Colombia, at first glance, appears to be part of a random lawlessness which authorities are deliberately finding difficulty in attributing responsibility to, but is actually the direct result of the failures of the current government to fully implement the 2016 peace agreement signed with FARC rebels by the previous administration,” he said.

The bottom line is if President Duque had not taken the lead from the right-wing base of his Democratic Center Party in dismantling every important provision of the peace accord — from land reform to justice for the victims of the decades-long war, from sustainable rural development, to guarantees for social movements and demobilized guerillas in a post-conflict Colombia — the country would not be reliving this kind of terror, reminiscent of the horrors of the late 1990s and early 2000s.”


Don’t vote for Petro

Ivan Duque came to power in 2018 in a hotly contested and highly questionable election that pitted him against former leftist guerilla Gustavo Petro. This was the first time that the left appeared to have a shot at power since the assassination of presidential candidate Jorge Gaitan in 1948, an event that sparked decades of civil war. Right-wing paramilitary death squads sprung into action, announcing generalized death threats against those who attempted to vote for Petro. Petro himself narrowly survived an assassination attempt in the run-up to the election. Some of his supporters were less lucky. American human rights lawyer Daniel Kovalik, an election observer, said he was mistaken for a voter and offered money to vote for Duque. There were over 1,000 official electoral fraud complaints. Jordan explained to MintPress his experiences with the questionable vote

During the Summer of 2018, we took an election observation team to Colombia. That election season was, historically, the first in which former insurgents from the FARC participated as a legal political party after laying down arms. It was also marked by organized threats and assaults by paramilitary actors against left and center-left campaigns, and against various popular movements. And it was marked by massive electoral fraud and irregularities, some of which our teams witnessed directly.”


Plan Colombia

Duque is the protege of the strongly conservative president Alvaro Uribe, who ruled the country between 2002 and 2010. Uribe worked closely with the United States government to implement the Bush administration’s “Plan Colombia,” a massive push to militarize the drug war, leading to huge death and destruction in the nation’s countryside and resulting in widespread social dislocation and upheaval. However, many observers saw Washington’s move as a veiled attempt to ply a favored government with weapons so they could defeat Colombia’s leftist rebels once and for all. Of note is that Uribe himself was named as an important player in the narco-trafficking trade in a 1991 U.S. government document.

Largely unknown outside the country, Colombia’s civil war, which began in 1964 and has never fully stopped, has caused massive social upheaval, including some 7.4 million currently displaced people, according to the United Nations. By comparison, the conflict in Syria generated 6.2 million displacements. Afro-Colombians were particularly hard hit.

Uribe also oversaw a years-long series of extrajudicial murders and massacres that resulted in over 10,000 deaths. Dubbed the “False Positives Scandal,” government forces would murder anyone they wished, later claiming their victims were members of the FARC. This allowed Uribe to impose his rule on the country, intimidating opponents into silence. Colombia became, according to Amnesty International, the “most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist,” with more unionist murders occurring inside the country than in all others combined.

Even today, right-wing paramilitaries linked to the government have been using the COVID-19 lockdown to go after activists, with more than 100 murdered in the first half of 2020 alone. “Our enemies are still killing us and it’s not difficult for them during the pandemic because we are all at home, complying with the mandatory quarantine which means nobody can move,” one Afro-Colombian activist wrote for Amnesty. “Being at home 24 hours a day is a death sentence because the gunmen know where to find us.”

Rozental was of the opinion that drugs, violence and the state were all fundamentally intertwined in Colombia, telling MintPress,

The relationship with drug trafficking and cartels…no-one can ignore or deny the evidence and the knowledge of the fact that the Colombian state, at the highest level, the Armed Forces, the judicial system and the congress are all involved in drug trafficking mafias and the business of drug trafficking. The personification of this is Alvaro Uribe.”

Yet this is largely ignored in the West, with corporate media often presenting the country as an emerging democracy, and Uribe as a beloved statesman, with some even describing him as the “savior” of a nation and a “beacon of hope” for the world.

Uribe’s past may have finally caught up to him, however, as the former president was charged and placed under house arrest earlier this month for allegedly attempting to bribe a witness in a case involving members of a paramilitary group. He also stands accused of being a founding member of a right-wing death squad. He faces up to eight years in prison if convicted. Could it be the man who was once considered untouchable is about to feel the wrath of the state he helped build?

Murillo believed that there could be a connection between his arrest and the explosion of violence in the past few weeks, saying:

It is most likely not a coincidence that this current wave of massacres, which were part of daily life in Colombia when Duque’s benefactor, former President Alvaro Uribe, took the reigns of power in 2002, are occurring just as Uribe sits through house arrest, facing justice for his involvement in witness tampering and paramilitary activity. Are they designed as a distraction? Or worse yet, retribution for Uribe’s detention? Unfortunately, in Colombia, we will most likely never get to the bottom of it.”


Who benefits?

So who is responsible for the upsurge of massacres? Is it the FARC, as the government alleges? Or were right-wing paramilitaries to blame? Or perhaps one of the myriads of narco-trafficking groups operating in the region? Or a combination of many factors? If history is any judge, we will probably never get a definitive answer. Colombia is a country of so much beauty and so little justice.

A man walks his dog next to a mural depicting former President Alvaro Uribe, in Bogota, Colombia. Fernando Vergara | AP

For Rozental, even asking that question can be unhelpful. Instead, he says, we must simply “recognize who the beneficiaries are.” Then it becomes easier to understand. “The intention is to consolidate an articulation between transnational corporate financial and extractive interests with drug trafficking mafias,” he said, noting that marijuana grown in his home department of Cauca and bought for $3-$5 is sold in the U.S. for $5,000. Cocaine production is a similar story, with the area under coca cultivation more than tripling between 2013 and 2018, according to the U.N.

There is a massive transfer of wealth flowing north with drug trafficking, and the entire violent mafia-type organizations that produce and transform, open spaces for extractive transnational interests, for geo-political initiatives and for the displacement and destruction of social movements and organizations that generate alternatives from below. One needs a different mindset to look at what is happening here. The massacres are means to ends. Victims call upon the government for help, which provides the pretext for militarization, which has in every case led to more drug trafficking and more violence,” Rozental told MintPress.


The American connection

For Jordan, the actions of the United States government have also played a part in the surge in violence, telling us that the Trump administration has leaned on Duque to abandon his government’s commitment to rural communities and its crop substitution policy, which allowed poor farmers the opportunity to make an honest living, rather than growing illicit crops. Instead, as they did during Plan Colombia, the U.S. government has favored empowering the military to intervene and to eradicate crops around the country, efforts that have strengthened their hand and emboldened paramilitaries to act like all rural farmers are mortal enemies engaged in criminal activity. Jordan also alleges that Trump has “eagerly pushed” Colombia to abandon its truth and reconciliation program and the rehabilitation of former guerilla fighters back into polite society. To understand the situation fully, he said, “we have to look beyond Colombia, toward the US and NATO Empire.”

Colombia, of course, has for nearly 200 years been considered by those in Washington to be America’s “backyard,” with the nation proving to be among the U.S.’s most loyal allies in the hemisphere. Even during the wave of left-wing governments that came to power in Latin America during the 2000s and 2010s, Colombia held firm, being a vital American foothold on the continent, from which it continued to destabilize neighboring states like Venezuela.

The U.S. has always been deeply involved in the drug trade. Investigative journalist Gary Webb detailed how, during the 1980s, the CIA helped flood America’s black communities with crack cocaine, allowing the far-right Nicaraguan Contra death squads to profit from the practice, aiding them in their fight to overthrow the leftist Sandinistas. Webb was found with two bullets in his head in 2004. Officials ruled it a suicide, although some remain skeptical. To this day, Webb is still despised in elite journalist circles; corporate media outlets having worked overtime to contain the story and stop his reporting going mainstream. Today, some of the Iran-Contra squad is back in the White House, with Elliott Abrams appointed special advisor to Trump on Venezuela and Iran. In 1991 Abrams pleaded guilty to lying to congress about how, behind the scenes, his associates were selling arms to Iran to fund their regime change project in Nicaragua.

Ultimately, as long as Americans continue to pay top dollar for illicit drugs, Colombians will continue to pay in blood. The identities of most of the country’s killers remains a mystery, but the violent context in which the massacres are happening is not.

Feature photo | Jorge Ivan Ospina, the Mayor of Cali, visits the crime scene where the bodies of five young men were found earlier this month. Photo | Twitter via Jorge Ivan Ospina

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Decades Later, America’s Meddling in Colombia is Still Costing Lives appeared first on MintPress News.

Book Review: Women’s War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War by Stephanie McCurry

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/08/2020 - 12:00am in

In Women’s War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War, Stephanie McCurry challenges the tendency to position women outside of histories of conflict, examining the roles played by different groups of women during the US Civil War and its aftermath. The study collapses the gendered separation of war and women by positioning women as an integral part of military history, writes Ben Margulies, and it expands the scope of the political in ways that inform our understanding of today as much as they do our knowledge of the US Civil War.

Women’s War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War. Stephanie McCurry. Harvard UP. 2019.

Women’s Wars and Wars Over Women

Recently, a fragment of the COVID-19 culture wars caught the attention of Twitter. R.R. Reno, editor of the US religious journal First Things, wrote: ‘By the way, the WWII vets did not wear masks. They’re men, not cowards. Masks = enforced cowardice.’ The analogy falls somewhere between feeble and failed, but it is revealing. (It is also deleted, which doesn’t strike me as a profile in courage – but I digress. Reno apologised for his comments here.)

Note that Reno equated World War II veterans with ‘men’. The assumption is that in general only men fight, and specifically that only men fought in World War II. As Stephanie McCurry writes in her excellent book, Women’s War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War, women have been combatants in most human conflicts. Addressing World War II in the epilogue, McCurry notes that ‘somewhere between 800,000 and 1 million women fought in the Soviet Army’ during World War II, ‘and many more in partisan forces’ (211). McCurry’s aim, in part, is to address the sort of wilful neglect of women’s military participation that we see in Reno’s misconceived tweet.

McCurry’s recent research focuses on the US Civil War, and more specifically on how certain ‘subaltern’ groups are, in fact, central to its history. In her last book, Confederate Reckoning, she discussed how women and enslaved people were central to the Confederacy’s politics and survival, even though the Confederate political order denied them the status of citizens.

One of the primary goals of Women’s War is to excavate the history of women in war, and specifically women’s agency in the US Civil War. McCurry writes that historians, and society more generally, try their best to ignore women’s participation in war, both during and especially after wars have concluded: ‘The fact that women are perpetrators and active participants in war is a disturbing truth acknowledged only reluctantly and under duress in the midst of conflicts’ (13-14). Legal theory in the nineteenth century treated the category of ‘woman’ as nearly synonymous with ‘non-combatant’.

McCurry’s book demonstrates how artificial and unfounded this distinction is. She reveals the dense intertwining of women and the making of war, revealing their activities as spies, couriers, activists and conquered foes. She also attacks the distinction between military and social affairs, and between ‘public’ and ‘private’ or ‘family’ life:

Women’s accounts of military conflicts are not easily confined to the battlefield, the war room or the treaty table but range onto unfamiliar ground. Their views necessarily include the impact of war, social collapse and postwar reconstruction in personal as well as military and political realms. Women pull into the record allegedly ‘private’ but highly consequential matters of marriage and the family, revealing the way war disorders even these fundamental relations of social and political life (10)

McCurry’s work focuses on three key episodes in the US Civil War. The first relates directly to women – in this case, white women – as combatants. She gives an account of the evolution of US military law during the Civil War, as the Union Army confronted irregular warfare in the border states and the Upper South. The existing laws of war did not cover what to do with non-combatants who were also disloyal citizens, and jurist Francis Lieber set to work on a new code of military law and new definitions of treason. In doing so, he had to confront – as the Union Army had to confront – the existence of women combatants. McCurry reveals how the Union Army’s general-in-chief, Henry Halleck, introduced the idea of women’s legal liability for treason, in response to the many women serving as spies, saboteurs, couriers and auxiliaries for the Confederate forces.

The second part of the book focuses on enslaved women and their struggle for liberty. Here, McCurry recounts the history of military emancipation, which was predicated on a) depriving the Confederacy of African American enslaved labour; and b) from 1862, encouraging African American men to join the Union forces. This story was capably told by James Oakes in Freedom National, but McCurry opens up a new angle by examining the plight of enslaved women. Their liberation could not be justified by military necessity, so it was unclear what legal right the Union had to deny slaveholders’ ‘property rights’.

The solution was to make the women ‘soldiers’ wives’, using marriage as an administrative category to justify emancipating the dependents of Union soldiers. From the perspective of the Union forces, this had the added benefit of disciplining African Americans to white bourgeois social norms – enslaved people had been unable to legally marry or maintain families, and McCurry describes federal officials trying to counter free people’s ‘false ideas about chastity’ and instil ‘the obligations of the married state in civilized life’ (94). This presumption about marital status applied even when the women clearly came into Union lines without any men accompanying them and ignored that many enslaved women had been active in plantation rebellions themselves.

The final part of the book centres on the role of women in the South’s dominant class, the white planter elite. Here, McCurry uses the diaries of one woman, Gertrude Clanton Thomas of Georgia, to examine how women adjusted to the defeat and decline of their class. Thomas watched as war and a particularly feckless husband drove her family into destitution, increasingly aware but largely disempowered by law and habit.

What McCurry does very well – and this was also a signal feature in Confederate Reckoning – is to draw out how structures of slavery and patriarchal marriage ran in parallel to one another. McCurry argues that these largely limited the political world to white men, while subjecting everyone else to the private rules and individual caprice of those same white men. The enslaved became their property, while white married women became their husbands’ wards, with limited control over their assets, which could include enslaved people before the Civil War. ‘Women had […] a secondhand relationship to the state’ (24); though they played a role in the private government of white households and enslaved people, white Southern women had little real control over their property. Though Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers argues that married women in the South had significant property rights during slavery in They Were Her Property (‘the doctrine of coverture was a legal fiction, and an imperfect one at that’ (28)), it is fair to say that married women’s legal and social control over their assets was inferior to that of their husbands.

This lack of legal and economic autonomy continued after the war. McCurry observes that even as emancipation destroyed one form of private white government, it extended patriarchy in the family: ‘An act as radical as emancipation was unthinkable without that anchoring order, yoking men to the responsibilities of husbands, and subjecting women to the authority of particular men’ (119). She quotes ‘proslavery sociologist George Fitzhugh’, who said ‘Marriage is too much like slavery not to be involved in its fate’ (119). Even when Georgia passed a married women’s property law and a homestead exemption (from debt claims), ‘the laws themselves did not suggest that women could do anything with their property other than possess it’ (179).

McCurry shows how the patriarchal family structure allowed Clanton Thomas’s husband to dispose of his wife’s property freely in the post-war period, using his informal authority as husband to compel Gertrude Clanton Thomas to surrender what property rights she possessed: McCurry observed that she in fact had ‘legal title’ to the bulk of the marital property, ‘but she was his wife, and when he asked her to sign them [her property rights] away, she could not refuse’ (187).

By broadening her scope to the political structure of the family, McCurry also contributes to ongoing debates about whether emancipation and Reconstruction represented a real departure in the workings of white supremacy and capitalism, or merely a reconfiguration of these systems. Citing Clanton Thomas’s diaries, McCurry contends that, at the level of family relations and family economies – where women did have a good deal of power – Reconstruction was a revolution. It dissolved white claims that those they enslaved were members of their ‘families’, while allowing millions of African Americans to form legal families for the first time.

Women’s War unearths a number of interesting parallels with twentieth- and twenty-first-century political debate. For example, McCurry discusses Charles Sumner’s early proposal for what became the 13th Amendment, which began ‘All persons are equal before the law…’ (120). This amendment failed precisely because it risked granting women legal equality and overturning husbands’ legal power over their wives. The epilogue recounts Elizabeth Cady Stanton giving a speech in the New York State Capitol stating that ‘Reconstruction must begin at home’ (206) – neatly anticipating ‘the personal is political’.

Women’s War is a short book, focused on certain themes, and as such, it leaves some matters unexamined. McCurry notes that one reason for making women legal minors was to make their husbands – not the government – responsible for their welfare (23). It would have been helpful to have a better understanding of nineteenth-century attitudes towards, and fears regarding, poverty and poor relief.

Another theme in McCurry’s work is the relentless white monitoring of African American sexuality and family; Union authorities worried about the morals and constancy of black ‘soldiers’ wives’, and Clanton Thomas feared liaisons between white men and African American women. McCurry doesn’t find time to connect this to the long post-Civil War history of policing the personal lives of African Americans, like the Moynihan Report published in the 1960s. She also doesn’t connect Clanton Thomas’s worries with contemporaneous racist fears regarding sexual relations between African American men and white women.

However, McCurry’s work remains immensely valuable. Women’s War forces us to confront and accept the role of women at the centre of military history, collapsing the gendered separation of war and women. Perhaps more importantly, it develops on McCurry’s earlier work, continuing her anatomy of how the United States uses a wide variety of legal and social mechanisms, public and private, to enforce inequality and privilege. She expands the scope of the political in ways that inform our understanding of today as much as they do our knowledge of the US Civil War. I highly recommend it – even to R.R. Reno.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Image Credit: Photograph entitled ‘Staff of Gen. Sherman accompanied by ladies’, taken by Mathew Brady. Local item identifier: 111-B-1964 (US National Archives, No Known Copyright Restrictions).


Cole Morton Names the MPs and Lords Describing Desperate Channel Migrants as ‘Invaders’

The Tory campaign to divert us all from the horrific mess they’ve made of Britain and their mass killing of its people continues. Once again, it’s all about illegal immigrants. Mike and Zelo have put up several excellent articles this hate campaign, with Zelo Street pointing out that the number of these asylum seekers coming to this country is trivial: 4,000 compared to 40,000 applications for asylum last year, and 677,000 people immigrating to the UK in 2019. Nevertheless, the Tories are describing it as an invasion. Zelo Street today has posted an excellent Tweet from the author Cole Moreton, who has named these disgraceful bigots. Moreton writes

Here are the names of 23 MPs and Lords who claim the desperate men, women and children risking their lives to cross the Channel in tiny rubber boats in search of peace are “invading”. Anyone here on the coast who has met them knows how obscenely ludicrous that is.

They are

Sir John Hayes CBE MP, South Holland and the Deepings

Sir David Amess MP, Southend West

Lee Anderson MP, Ashfield

Gareth Bacon MP, Orpington

Scott Benton MP, Blackpool South,

Rob Blackman MP, Harrow East

Philip Davies MP, Shipley

Nikc Fletcher MP, Don Valley,

Sally-Ann Hart MP, Hastings and Rye,

Tom Hunt MP, Ipswich,

David Jones MP, Clwyd West,

Daniel Kawczynski MP, Shrewsbury and Atcham

Pauline Latham, OBE MP, Mid-Derbyshire

Jonathan Lord MP, Woking,

Sir Edward Leigh MP, Gainsborough

Karl McCartney JP MP, Lincoln,

Stephen Metcalfe MP, South Basildon and East Thurrock,

Craig McKinley MP, South Thanet,

Lia Nici MP, Great Grimsby,

Andrew Rosindell MP, Romford

Alexander Stafford MP, Rother Valley,

Henry Smith MP, Crawley,

Martin Vickers MP, Cleethorpes

Lord Horam

Lord Lilley,


And Mike’s also named a few names in a piece in his blog.

Mike notes that Priti ‘Vacant’ Patel was told back in November that her policy was forcing migrants to use more dangerous routes into the UK. She ignored the report because it recommended establishing more legal routes into the UK, as well as doing something about the reasons they were leaving their home countries in the first place. Patel’s innate ruthless caused her to reject all this. She just wants to stop them, and so is determined to make this route unviable. Mike notes that she uses the word ‘shameful’ in her Tweet about this, to divert attention from the fact that the real disgrace here is her.

Mike then goes to cite a Beeb report on one of the boats, where they were forced to use a plastic container to bail it out. When asked where they came from, the migrants replied ‘Syria’. In 2018 the UK voted to bomb Syria following reports that its government had bombed its own people. But the materials used to manufacture the bomb were supplied by Britain. Mike writes

Now, I don’t know the personal situations of the people on that boat, but it seems entirely likely that the UK is the reason they have been fleeing their own country.

If you approve of this behaviour by your country’s leaders then you are a jingoistic, sabre-rattling racist.

Fortunately, the evidence I’ve seen suggests that few people do. Most of us appear to have reacted with disgust – both at the government and at the BBC. 

He then provides a few tweets by people disgusted with this contemptible hate-mongering.

One of them is by Richard Murphy, who points out

We can apparently put the RAF over the Channel today to needlessly spot dinghies but have only allocated £5 million for emergency relief for Beirut. In terms of humitarian crisis management haven’t we got almost everything wrong?

Kerry-Ann Mendoza:

I’d like to say “I can’t believe England is calling for the extra-judicial murder of displaced people in dinghies” but I can believe it. There are great & compassionate communities in England. But others seem bent on regressing it into a spiteful, cold, grim little island.

Zarah Sultana MP:

People fleeing war, famine and persecution shouldn’t be confronted by gunships and hostility, but instead offered safe, legal routes to asylum. Our common humanity demands nothing less.

Carole Hawkins contrasted the attitude with Lebanon, which has accepted 1.5 million refugees

Lebanon with all its problems has accepted 1.5 MILLION REFUGEES & Spaffer/Patel going loopy over a few hundred so much so that Spaffer wants to change or make new laws. This is Trump politics – executive directives which Spaffer is also doing. Totally non democratic.

Mike points out that this demonisation may not stop if you vote for Labour, because of the right-wingers who voted to bomb Syria. According to Ben, they were

Stella Creasy

Liz Kendel

Yvette Cooper

Neil Coyle

Hilary Benn

Margaret Hodge

Margaret Beckett

Maria Eagle

Angela Eagle

Lucy Powell

Harriet Harmen

Bridget Phillipson

Alison McGovern

He concludes ‘This lot chose to destroy these migrants homes’. Yes, yes, they did. Not because they were outraged at a government killing its own people, but because they’re bog-standard Blairite neocons. The Likud-Republican alliance has a list of seven countries, whose governments they want overthrown because they’re a threat to Israel and an obstacle to American imperial interests. One of these is Syria, because the ruling class and government are a Shi’a sect and allied with Iran.

And he starts his piece with this brilliant meme:

Wise words from Tony Benn. And its exactly right. Food banks originally appeared under New Labour, when Blair and Brown passed legislation forbidding illegal immigrants from claiming benefits. Then the Tories decided that it would be a wizard system to inflict on the native, British population – by which I mean all Brits, who have been here for generations, Black and Asian as well as Brown – as they cut away the welfare state. The result is mass starvation.

Counterpunch and the late critic of the American empire, William Blum, have published several articles pointing out that what the west does to the rest of the world supporting Fascist dictators ultimately comes back home. Those same governments then set about militarising the police force and stripping back people’s civil rights, all in the name of protecting us from terrorism, of course.

After Patel has finished rounding up desperate men, women and children fleeing real war and violence in their countries of origin, she will try to turn to the guns on us. And scumbags like Hillary ‘Bomber’ Benn, Margaret ‘F***ing Anti-Semite’ Hodge, Angela ‘Gentler, Caring Politics’ Eagle and the rest will help her.

What did Orwell say the future was? ‘A jackboot stamping on a human face. Forever’. It’s in 1984. And Patel, the 23 Tory MPs and their New Labour collaborators are all ready to polish it.



































Bill Talks with Heather Cox Richardson About ‘How the South Won the Civil War’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/07/2020 - 9:04am in

Yes, the Civil War brought an end to the slave order of the South and the rule of the plantation oligarchs who embodied white supremacy. But the Northern victory was short lived — Southern ideals spread quickly to the West. It's all about America’s ongoing battle between oligarchy and democracy. Continue reading

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Black Soldiers Win the Battle of Fort Wagner, July 18, 1863

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/07/2020 - 1:17am in

The men of the 54th knew they were not like other soldiers; they were symbols of how well Black men would fight for their country. Were they men? Or had enslavement destroyed their ability to take on a man's responsibilities? The whole country was watching... and they knew it. Continue reading

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Public Seminar Presents | Lincoln on the Verge, with Historian Ted Widmer

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/07/2020 - 6:36am in

Join co-executive editor Claire Potter as she talks to historian Ted Widmer about a nation cracking apart in “Lincoln on...

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