Vietnam War

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Book Review: Saigon At War: South Vietnam and the Global Sixties by Heather Marie Stur

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 03/02/2021 - 10:58pm in

In Saigon At War: South Vietnam and the Global Sixties, Heather Marie Stur challenges the conventional depiction of South Vietnam as a ‘pawn rather than an actor’, examining its wartime experience by focusing on its civil society, its social groups and activists who demanded a democratic form of government and breathed life into democratic citizenship and national politics. Rather than position this short-lived nation as the backdrop for other actors’ accounts of the wartime era, this book provides a welcome look at an understudied topic and uses vivid anecdotes and portraits to examine South Vietnam’s interior life, writes Ben Margulies

Saigon At War: South Vietnam and the Global Sixties. Heather Marie Stur. Cambridge University Press. 2020.

Find this book (affiliate link): amazon-logo

There is always something fascinating about a divided nation. A single ‘imagined community’ is split due to some internal conflict or external force, and for a time this produces two distinct versions of the same polity. This is part of what makes the US Civil War so compelling, and why German television and film have so often turned to East Germany for dramatic content.

The Vietnam War, a part of that Cold War, has also continued to engage scholars and popular culture. The war has been the subject or setting of several classic films in the late twentieth century, and it continues to find purchase today. Spike Lee released a new film about the African-American experience of the war, Da 5 Bloods, in 2020 (which marks one of the last performances of the late Chadwick Boseman). Watchmen, the much-lauded 2019 HBO miniseries, draws on a 1986-87 graphic novel that imagines a superhero winning the Vietnam War for the US.

However, as Heather Marie Stur explains in the introduction to her new book, Saigon At War, few in the US engage with Vietnam’s experience as a divided country, or with Vietnam’s experience at all. ‘For much of the past forty years, Americans have written about the war as an American experience’, she writes, adding that ‘Historians and others have told it [the history of the war] as a story of American imperialists against Vietnamese nationalists’ without discussing South Vietnam’s domestic politics (14-15). Though the US went to war to preserve South Vietnam as a separate political entity, few historians have much interest in South Vietnam itself, which merely serves as a stage for a tale of US folly and suffering. Nor does contemporary Vietnam have much reason to consider the short-lived Southern state (officially called the Republic of Vietnam, or RVN): Stur describes her time teaching in Vietnam, where students were largely ignorant of the South, though its memory survived in Vietnamese-American communities in the US (268).

Stur’s book is a rare attempt to examine South Vietnam and its politics. She places herself alongside a small group of scholars who ‘have challenged the conventional wisdom that casts South Vietnam as a pawn rather than an actor’ (15). Focusing on the period between the 1963 coup that toppled Ngo Dinh Diem and the fall of the RVN in 1975, Stur shines a rare light on South Vietnam’s leaders and civic activists. She describes a vibrant civil society, albeit one with a limited social base, struggling to position itself between an authoritarian government, the overweening power of the US and the Northern regime and its allies in the National Liberation Front (NLF, aka the Viet Cong). She also ties South Vietnamese activism to global trends. Stur’s primary focus is South Vietnam’s civil society, the social groups and activists who demanded a democratic form of government and breathed life into democratic citizenship and national politics. These were mostly elites, focused mainly in and on the RVN’s capital, Saigon. Stur examines student unions and their leaders; activist lawyers, like Columbia-educated Ngo Ba Thanh; Buddhist and Catholic groups (the latter often seen as pro-government, the former anti-); and the NLF, which was active both in democratic politics and urban terrorism.

Stur’s book takes a partly chronological and partly subject-based approach. Saigon At War devotes chapters to the chaotic aftermath of the Diem regime, when South Vietnam endured four unstable years of military rule; the Tet Offensive of 1968; and the period after the Paris Peace Accords, when the beleaguered Republic entered its final years amid declining US interest, growing political discontent and a sagging economy.

Other chapters take a more topical approach, examining the student movement; links between South Vietnamese civil society and external actors; the interaction between South Vietnamese citizens and their state; and the Catholic minority, which moved into a critical position vis-à-vis the government of Nguyen Van Thieu, president from 1967 to 1975. The chapter on citizen-state relations is noteworthy as Stur examines how South Vietnamese citizens made claims on their state, often seeking compensation for war damages, exemptions from military service or transfers to bring relatives in the forces closer to home.

Saigon at War also looks at the era’s international relations, focusing on how the various Vietnamese governments (North, South and NLF) all sought legitimacy and support on the international stage, and how South Vietnam struggled to field competent interlocutors, despite ties with the international anti-Communist movement. Stur demonstrates how key international trends and movements influenced and interacted with South Vietnamese activism, discussing the influence of liberation theology in South Vietnam and the role US groups played in publicising the Thieu regime’s human rights abuses.

Saigon at War makes a strong argument about how Washington and Saigon mishandled their relations with South Vietnamese civil society, and how this ultimately prevented South Vietnam from developing into a viable democracy. Because South Vietnamese civil society was so fragmented, and because the NLF made liberal use of front organisations, it was difficult for US or South Vietnamese officials to tell whether the activists marching in Saigon’s streets were Communist or not. They could not identify a loyal opposition. ‘Americans’ inability to pinpoint the political affiliations of the elite Saigon activists led them to work on establishing a solid head of state first, en route to building a democratic government’ (56). South Vietnam’s leaders had the same problem telling friend from foe. The upshot was a consistently authoritarian approach to the opposition, which in time grew so alienated that it was willing to risk a Communist takeover to end the war.

Saigon At War is full of vivid portraits and anecdotes, and it gives a good overview of how South Vietnamese politics functioned in the latter half of the RVN’s short existence. The focus is admittedly narrow: Stur is very clear that her work deals with the urban bourgeoisie, and the peasant population is mentioned relatively briefly, as generally hostile to governments of all types. The book is also not a military history, making relatively few references to the conduct of the war, aside from the Tet Offensive.

Perhaps the most substantive shortcoming is that Stur does not delve deeper into an idea that she brings up more than once: that of ‘contested nationalism’. She takes this concept from Nu-Anh Tran, who argued that ‘Vietnamese above and below the seventeenth parallel [the border between the two Vietnams] battle for the right to claim themselves as the true heirs of Vietnamese nationalism’ (13). Saigon at War provides an excellent overview of certain segments of South Vietnamese politics, but it does not spend much time talking about how the RVN government or opposition activists conceived of a specifically national project. There’s a brief discussion of the country’s news agency promoting traditional performing arts and exemplary citizens (240-44), but the book is more concerned with the battle over South Vietnamese democracy and defence policy than it is about a Southern nationalist narrative.

The biggest problem with Stur’s work is less substantive than editorial. The book is badly edited – sometimes shockingly so. For example, a lengthy section of text beginning ‘The South Vietnamese government, like the communists, tried to argue that under its new way, women’s lives would become modernized and changed from the old patriarchal ways’ appears on page 155-56, and is then repeated verbatim on page 160-61. The book introduces a wire-service feature on page 241, and again two pages later. A fist fight is described three times in the course of about a page (218-19). There are also spelling errors. In some places, acronyms are introduced without explanation, and references are made to institutions (like III Corps) without any discussion of what is being described. Given increasing pressures on the publishing industry, it is not uncommon to find spelling or grammatical errors in academic texts (which, given their dense prose, are not easy to edit). However, the editing of Saigon at War seems to have been botched at several points.

Through a combination of US insularity, Vietnamese politics and perhaps academic fashions, South Vietnam has been lost to history and popular culture. It survives as a backdrop for other people’s narratives. Saigon at War is a welcome look at an understudied topic, which makes some clear, interesting judgments about South Vietnamese politics. While it is not a comprehensive history of the long-defeated Republic of Vietnam, it does provide an examination of its interior life, a portrait of a society rather than a backdrop for other actors’ accounts of the wartime era.

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. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

Image Credit: 1967 photograph of Saigon Opera House, used as the Lower House of the Republic of Vietnam between 1955 and 1975 (Peter Stevens CC BY 2.0).

 


‘Sometimes to Tell the Truth, You Have to Take a Stand’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 23/01/2021 - 5:44am in

I have a story I want to share with my fellow journalists. It’s essence is: sometimes telling the truth requires taking a stand (though it must be done rarely and carefully) and neutrality is not necessarily objectivity. Continue reading

The post ‘Sometimes to Tell the Truth, You Have to Take a Stand’ appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Afghanistan: US Supported Islamist Fighters in order to Provoke Russian Invasion

Here’s another piece of US myth-making that William Blum skewers, the story that America only started funding the Islamist fighters, the Mujahideen, after the Russians invaded. America supported them as a resistance movement against Soviet occupation. In fact, the truth is almost the direct opposite. The Russians invaded the country because the US was conspiring with the Mujahideen to overthrow its secular, but pro-Russian, government. Blum writes in America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy

The Russians were not in Afghanistan to conquer it. The Soviet Union had lived next door to the country for more than sixty years without any kind of invasion. It was only when the United States intervened in Afghanistan to replace a government friendly to Moscow with one militantly anti-communist that the Russians invaded to do battle with the US-supported Islamic jihadists; precisely what the US would have done to prevent a communist government in Canada or Mexico. (p. 83).

In fact America supported the Islamist insurgency against the Afghan government in order to provoke the Soviets to invade. In his book Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (London: Zed Books 2014), Blum states

Consider Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to Jimmy Carter. In a 1998 interview he admitted that the official story that the US gave military aid to the Afghanistan opposition only after the Soviet invasion in 1979 was a lie. The truth was, he said, that the US began aiding the Islamic fundamentalist moujahedeen six months before the Russians made their move, even though he believed-and told this to Carter, who acted on it-that “this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.”

Brzezinski was asked whether he regretted this decision.

“Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving the USSR its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

Besides the fact that there’s no demonstrable connection between the Afghanistan war and the breakup of the Soviet empire, we are faced with the consequences of that war: the defeat of a government committed to bringing the extraordinarily backward nation into the 20th century; the breathtaking carnage; moujahideen torture that even US government officials called “indescribable horror”; half the population either dead, disabled or refugees; the spawning of thousands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, who have unleashed atrocities in numerous countries and the astounding repression of women in Afghanistan, instituted by America’s wartime allies. (pp.5-6).

It’s ironic that one of the countries that became a victim to Islamist terror was America itself. The Soviet withdrawal convinced the terrorists that they could defeat America, just as they had defeat its rival superpower. And so they plotted the attack launched on 9/11.

Blum also makes it very clear that the subsequent American invasion of Afghanistan also wasn’t in reprisal for the attack, which was the overwhelmingly the work of Saudi nationals with deep connections to the Saudi secret services. It wasn’t done to free the Afghan people from the repressive Islamist government that the Americans had actually helped to install. No, the Americans had been on good terms with the Taliban. When the Taliban was willing to cooperate with them over the construction of an oil pipeline. When talks stalled over that, the Americans threatened them with military action and then invaded six months later.

America’s wars in Afghanistan are all about geopolitics and protecting American oil interests, nothing more. And the Afghan people, not to mention everyone else killed and maimed by the Islamist terror groups those wars have produced, are the real victims. And that includes our brave boys and girls, who have been sent in kill and die for the profits of western multinationals.

And America’s legacy of terror in the Middle East naturally worries people from the region. I’ve spoken to people from those countries, who told me they were worried about Joe Biden. They weren’t impressed with Trump, but they were worried about Biden, because of his connection to Carter. Carter was the US president at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. I don’t think you can blame him for that, as you can the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The Americans really didn’t see the Iranian revolution coming, and when the Ayatollah Khomeini did arrive, they completely failed to realize what would happen. The CIA believed that he would lead a peaceful revolution like Gandhi. If only. However, America did support the Shah, who by the time of the Islamic revolution was a bitterly hated absolute monarch who ruled through terror.

It seems everything we’ve been told about Afghanistan is a lie, a lie that is continually told by the lamestream media and the western political-industrial establishment.

And the broader message is that just as you can’t believe what you’ve been told about Afghanistan, so you shouldn’t believe anything else about the supposed benign actions of the American empire and its allies either.

Robot Takeover Comes Nearer as Britain Intends to Employ 30,000 Robot Soldiers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/11/2020 - 9:31pm in

If this is true, then the robot revolution that’s been haunting the imagination of Science Fiction writers ever since Frankenstein and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots just got that bit nearer. Monday’s edition of the I for 9th November 2020 carried this chilling snippet:

Robot soldiers will fight for Britain

Thirty thousand “robot soldiers” could form a key part of the British army within two decades. General Sir Nick Carter, head of the armed forces, told Sky News that “an armed forces that’s designed for the 2030s” could include large numbers of autonomous or remotely controlled machines.

This has been worrying many roboticists and computer scientists for decades. Kevin Warwick, the professor of cybernetics at Reading University, begins his book with a terrifying prediction of the what the world could be like three decades from now in 2015 in his 1990s book, March of the Machines. The robots have taken over, decimating humanity. The few humans that remain are desexed slaves, used by the machines to fight against the free humans that have found refuge in parts of the world difficult or impossible for robots to operate in. Warwick is absolutely serious about the threat from intelligent robots. So serious in fact, that he became a supporter of cyborgisation because he felt that it would only be by augmenting themselves with artificial intelligence and robotics that humans could survive. I went to see Warwick speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Science years ago. When it came to the time when he answered questions from the audience, he was naturally asked whether he still believed that robots could take over, and whether this could happen as soon as 2050. He replied that he did, and that the developments in robotics had brought it forwards by several decades.

There have been a series of controversies going back decades when a country has announced that they intend to use robot soldiers. When this happened a few years ago, it was received with denunciations by horrified scientists. Apart from the threat of an eventual robot revolution and the enslavement of humanity, a la the Matrix, there are severe moral questions about the operation of such machines. Robots don’t have consciences, unlike humans. A machine that’s created to kill without proper constraints will carry on killing indiscriminately, regardless of whether its targets are a soldiers or innocent civilians. Warwick showed this possibility in his book with a description of one of the machines his department has on its top floor. It’s a firefighting robot, equipped with sensors and a fire extinguisher. If there’s a fire, it’s programmed to run towards it and put it out. All well and good. But Warwick points out that it could easily be adapted for killing. If you replaced the fire extinguisher with a gun and gave it a neural net, you could programme it to kill people of a certain type. Like those with blonde hair and blue eyes. Set free, it would continue killing such people until it ran out of bullets.

Less important, but possibly also a critical factor in the deployment of such war machines, is popular reaction to their use against human soldiers. It’s been suggested that their use in war would cause people to turn against the side using them, viewing them as cowards hiding behind such machines instead of facing their enemies personally, human to human, in real combat. While not as important as the moral arguments against their deployment, public opinion is an important factor. It’s why, since the Vietnam War, the western media has been extensively manipulated by the military-industrial-political complex so that it presents almost wholly positive views of our wars. Like the Iraq invasion was to liberate Iraq from an evil dictator, instead of a cynical attempt to grab their oil reserves and state industries by the American-Saudi oil industry and western multinationals. Mass outrage at home and around the world was one of the reasons America had to pull out of Vietnam, and it’s a major factor in the current western occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Popular outrage and disgust at the use of robots in combat could similarly lead to Britain and anyone else using such machines to lose the battle to win hearts and minds, and thus popular support.

But I also wonder if this isn’t also the cybernetics companies researching these robots trying to find a market for their wares. DARPA, the company developing them, has created some truly impressive machines. They produced the ‘Big Dog’ robot, which looks somewhat like a headless robotic dog, hence its name, as a kind of robotic pack animal for the American army. It all looked very impressive, until the army complained that they couldn’t use it. Soldiers need to move silently on their enemy, but the noise produced by the robots’ electric motors would be too loud. Hence the contract was cancelled. It could be that there are similar problems with some of their other robots, and so they are waging some kind of PR battle to get other countries interested in them as well as an America.

I’m a big fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, about a band of former war robots, led by Hammerstein, who are now employed fighting interplanetary threats and cosmic bad guys. When not remembering the horrors they experienced of the Volgan War. These are truly intelligent machines with their own personalities. In the case of Hammerstein and his crude, vulgar mate, Rojaws, a moral conscience. Which is absent in another member of the team, Blackblood, a former Volgan war robot, and ruthless war criminal. I really believe that they should be turned into a movie, along with other great 2000 AD characters, like Judge Dredd. But I don’t believe that they will ever be real, because the difficulties in recreating human type intelligence are too great, at least for the foreseeable future. Perhaps in a centuries’ time there might be genuinely intelligent machines like C-3PO and R2D2, but I doubt it.

The war robots now being touted are ruthless, mindlessly efficient machines, which scientists are worried could easily get out of control. I’ve blogged about this before, but the threat is real even if at present their promotion is so much PR hype by the manufacturers.

It looks to me that General Carter’s statement about using 30,000 of them is highly speculative, and probably won’t happen. But in any case, the armed forces shouldn’t even be considering using them.

Because the threat to the human race everywhere through their use is too high.

‘I’ Article on Revelations about Police Unit Set Up to Infiltrate Protest Groups

Tuesday’s I, for 3rd November 2020, also carried a story by Margaret Davis, ‘Secretive police unit ‘infiltrated a range of groups’, about information about the Special Demonstration Squad and its activities that has come out in the Undercover Policing Inquiry. The article runs

A shadowy and controversial Metropolitan Police unit was originally set up amid protests over the Vietnam War in the late 60s, a public inquiry has been told.

The Undercover Policing Inquiry, which has cost £30m so far, began hearing evidence yesterday about undercover policing in England and Wales between 1968 and 2008.

The counsel to the inquiry, David Barr QC, said that the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was set up because there were official concerns that public anger over the conflict and unrest in Europe, particularly in Paris, signalled that far-left groups in England and Wales were planning disorder in the UK.

It has emerged that for decades undercover police officers infiltrated a significant number of political and other activist groups, in deployments which typically lasted for years.

“The information reported by these undercover police officers was extensive. It covered the activities of the groups and their members. It also extended to the groups and individuals with whom they came into contact, including elected representatives.

“Groups mainly on the far left but also the far right of the political spectrum were infiltrated, as well as groups campaigning for social, environmental or other change.”

The-then home secretary, Theresa May, set up the inquiry in 2015 after widespread condemnation of the tactics used by secret units. “The inquiry will be seeking out the truth,” Mr Barr said. “Publicly wherever that is possible, so the full facts become known and appropriate recommendations can be made for the future conduct of undercover policing.”

Some of the methods employed included using names of dead children as undercover identities without their families’ consent.

A number of women, including at least one who had a child with an undercover officer, were deceived into sexual relationships.

Initially the SDS, also known as the Special Operations Squad and nicknamed “the Hairies” because of undercover officers’ hippie appearance, targeted only far-left groups and those associated with Irish civil rights campaigns.

Now it was quite right for the state to set up groups to infiltrate some of these groups. The late 60s were the time when the Weathermen were blowing up things across America and in Europe there were radical, ‘Maoist’ Marxist organisations also committing terrorist outrages. I still remember the Bader-Meinhof Gang in the 1970s in Germany. Over here, apart from the IRA and other Northern Irish terrorist groups, there were other, smaller groups that were taking up violence. One of these was the Angry Brigade, who blew the door off the house of a Tory MP with a bomb. Although no-one was fortunately killed, they were arrested before they could go further. The One Show a few years ago had an item on them and their bombing campaign, and in the opinion of one of the cops interviewed on the programme, they would have gone on to kill people.

The problem isn’t that the cops infiltrated and disrupted genuinely extremist, violent groups but that they also infiltrated other, mainstream left-wing organisations in order to destroy them and smear their members. And as the scandal over the wretched Institute for Statecraft and the Democracy Initiative shows, the British state is still determined to smear the left, and recent Tory legislation trying to define what is a subversive group includes even some of the most innocuous organisations.

The SDS and similar organisations are out of control and a real threat to democratic left-wing politics and organisations, and they’ve been seeking to disrupt and undermine them for a very long time. It will be very interesting to see what else comes out about this branch of Met during this inquiry.

Sargon of Gasbag on Black Lives Matter’s Material for Schools’ Day of Action

I’m no doubt going too far in some people’s eyes by reblogging this. After all, this is Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, the Sage of Swindon and the man who broke UKIP. Sargon’s a true-blue Libertarian Tory. He supports Boris Johnson’s Tories, Donald Trump and was formerly a member of UKIP. He passionately supports Brexit, capitalism and doesn’t believe that the Tories are privatising the NHS on the grounds that he thinks no-one would buy it. Although he is anti-racist and has debate the Alt Right, his own nationalist views are so extreme that he himself has been accused of racism. He has very conservative views on women and gender. When he was adopted by the Kippers as one of their candidates in a Euro election a few years ago, it became a national scandal. There were protests against him when he tried speaking in Bristol and Cornwall. People threw milkshakes and buckets of fish over him, and he was banned from a local restaurant here in Bristol. There were letters of protest against his candidacy from the other Kippers. The Gloucestershire branch dissolved itself in disgust, and a very large proportion of the party’s membership resigned.

I don’t share his political views and strongly disagree with him about Brexit. It’s destroying Britain. As is Johnson’s free trade Thatcherism. And the NHS is most definitely being privatised.

But I’m reblogging his post about the materials Black Lives Matter had put together for a proposed day of action in schools this summer because I believe that while he misses the point and is wrong about many of the issues BLM raise with their teaching materials, there are others that he is right to tackle and criticise.

Someone leaked the school syllabus Black Lives Matter had put together onto the web, and Sargon makes it clear that it’s a full-one attempt to indoctrinate children. He then goes on to critique some of BLM’s proposals one by one.

He begins with BLM’s call for a week of action in schools. This declares itself to be a national uprising that affirms the lives of Black students, teaches and families. This week centres classroom lessons on structural racism, intersectional Black identities, Black history and anti-racism through the thirteen guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sargon declares that this is an attempt to indoctrinate children with a one-sided view of history, politics and moral philosophy without their parents’ presence or even knowledge, in order to turn them into activists. Sargon naturally states that this not something he would like them to do to his children.

He then goes through Black Lives Matters’ Guiding Principles. They are

Restorative Justice: We intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a peaceful struggle that is restorative, not depleting. This strikes Sargon as like a cult, like some of those he read about a while ago, where they interrogated each other in order to form a tightly-knit community in which they were emotionally connected in a weird and unfriendly way.

Diversity: We respect and acknowledge differences and commonality. Sargon doesn’t comment on this, but this seems to be the standard attitude now being taught in schools and promoted as the norm throughout society.

Empathy: We practice empathy. We engage comrades with intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.

Loving Engagement: We embody and practice justice, liberation and peace in our engagements with one another.

Queer Affirming: We foster a queer-affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual unless s/he or they express otherwise. Sargon doesn’t comment on this either, but at one level it’s also unremarkable. Schools have also come under pressure to tackle homophobia and promote gay tolerance and equality. There are problems with this when it comes to what is age appropriate. Homophobia is certainly not confined to the Black community, but it does seem to be particularly strong there. A few years ago back in the 1990s BBC Radio 4 broadcast a documentary, The Roots of Intolerance, in which the Black British gay presenter went across Britain and the Caribbean seeking to understand where the deep hatred of gays in Black society came from. This was a particular issue at the time, as there was a spate of extremely homophobic songs emerging from Black artists. That controversy has now died down somewhat, but I don’t believe the situation has altered in the past 25+ years. I disagree with this part of BLM’s manifesto because the attack on heteronormativity is too extreme and should not be taught and encouraged.

Transgender Affirming: We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women, who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence. We particularly make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead. Sargon states that if he caught a school teaching his children this, he would take them out. He even says he’d send them to a Catholic school – and he was a militant atheist. This radical stance is aimed particularly at the Black community, but seems to be part of the general trend throughout American and British society. Trans activists are campaigning for this to be taught in schools. Again there are problems with what is age appropriate, and also the indoctrination of the vulnerable. Some children are being taught by the medically unqualified that they are transgender, while in fact they may simply be mentally ill. There is particular concern that those convinced that they are transgender may be simply autistic. Girls are being particularly affected, and so some opponents of the radical trans movement feel that it is an anti-feminist ideology.

Unapologetically Black: We are unapologetically Black in our positioning. In affirming that Black Lives Matter we do not need to qualify our position to love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a prerequisite for wanting the same for others. Sargon makes the point that this also validates the idea that White lives matter as well. In fairness, Black Lives Matter has never said that they didn’t, although some of their members, like Sasha Johnson, almost certainly don’t believe they do. But Sargon also argues that their statement about being unapologetically Black means that their opponents can also argue that they are unapologetically White. Their stance legitimates White nationalism. The only way they can combat this is by adopting Robin Di Angelo’s tactic of stating ‘it’s rules for me but not for thee’.

Black Women: We build a space that affirms Black women and is free of sexism, misogyny and environments in which men are centred. Sargon doesn’t mention it, but this seems to be just another approach Black Lives Matter shares with other radical groups and which reflects the anti-sexism campaigns in general society.

Black Families: We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work double shifts so they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work. This confuses Sargon as he says that he thought patriarchy wanted women in the home, barefoot and pregnant. But I think he’s failed to reaslise that this section appears to written for those poorer families, where the absence of a father means that the children aren’t supported by the second income that is now required to support a family. This situation is particularly acute among the Black community, but certainly isn’t unique to it. It is also found among the White poor.

Black Villages: We disrupt the western prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and villages that collectively care for one another, especially our children to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable. Sargon states that this is a fantasy world.

He has a point in that it appears to be a racialised view, that idealises the African model of communal childcare. For example, in many traditional African cultures the women of the village also breastfeed each other’s children. And then there’s that supposed African proverb about it taking a village to raise a child. But no-one has ever been able to find such a saying in traditional African lore.

However, there is a general principle here that is perfectly acceptable. When my parents were settling down to raise us, they had the support of relatives and neighbours. People at that time did look out for each other, giving poorer friends items they had no longer use for, doing each others’ shopping and looking after each other’s children in sickness and emergencies. That hasn’t completely vanished, but it was done much more than is now common. That sense of community has been damaged by the extreme individualism that is atomising society.

Globalism: We see ourselves as part of a global Black family and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as Black people who exist in different parts of the world. This seems to follow the pattern of much Black activism. Black civil rights campaigners have seen the struggle of western Blacks as part of a general, global struggle of Black nations for independence from White domination since at least W.E.B. DuBois, who moved to Ghana after it gained independence.

Intergenerational: We cultivate an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, show up with the capacity to lead and learn. Sargon believes that this erases children, but thinks this is good for the kind of people this would attract. This is wrong. The statement simply means they value older people. Again, it’s in line with the general, mainstream attack on ageism.

Collective Value: We are guided by the fact that all Black Lives Matter regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status or location. This, Sargon declares, is the endpoint of the radical left’s thinking in race. Or it could be an attempt to create a united Black community with its own sense of pride in order to combat some of the real issues plaguing the Black community, like drugs and Black on Black violence.

Sargon on BLM’s ‘Talking to Young Children

Sargon then moves on to the section about Talking to Young Children about the Guiding Principles of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Sargon states that this section uses phraseology, that could only be by people who don’t have children. He then singles out the sections on ‘diversity’, ‘globalism’ and ‘transgender-affirming’. The last says that ‘everyone get to choose their own gender through listening to their heart and mind. Everyone gets to choose whether they are a girl or a boy or both or neither or something else, and no-one gets to choose for them’. Which Sargon sarcastically warns will leave children rather confused. And I believe that is one of the dangers of adopting such a radical stance when it comes to gender identity. I don’t doubt that some people do feel that they are in the wrong body, and that after very careful thought and medical advice they should be able to transition. But this is something rather more complicated than saying people choose their own gender identity.

‘Collective value’ – Sargon thinks this is the same as individual value.

‘Unapologetically Black’. This section states that there are lots of different kinds of people and one way that we are different is through the colour of our skin.’ Sargon believes that this highlights the issue of race, and will turn children into a generation of racists. The section goes on ‘It’s important to makes sure that all people are treated fairly, and that’s why we, and lots of other people all over the country and the world, are part of the Black Lives Matter movement.’ This tells children that they are going to be a race warrior for the Black Lives Matter movement. But this section also connects with what the movement was saying in their thirteen principles about also valuing people from other races, but that it had to start with Black people’s own first. It therefore does not mean that they necessary disparage other races.

Plans for Week of Action

He then goes on to critique their plans for a week of action, which is a week of activism. This is simply to train children how to be activists. The programme includes sections like ‘Show Solidarity’, ‘Post on Social Media’, ‘Teach a Lesson’, ‘Attend an Event’, create things. He believes this document is real, because it has too many graphics to be otherwise. He points out the contradiction between their statement that they embody and practice justice, liberation and peace in their engagements with each other with a raised fist, a representation of violence.

The materials also include abstracted posters that can be used. Sargon believes that the consistency of the messages shows that this was planned in a central committee. He then goes on to discuss their suggestions for what should be taught at elementary school. Which includes youth activism. The plans for their week of action include ‘Day 1 kick-off: using your voice for a cause; Day 2: past and present youth activism’; guiding questions like ‘what is a cause?’, ‘what does it mean to use your voice for a cause? ‘, ‘why is it important to stand up for what you believe in?’, ‘what are the different ways we can create change?’, ‘home issues and the home community’, a project day. Sargon criticises this on the grounds that they are training children who are unable to think critically about what they are being taught, nor do they know any of the facts of the matter behind it. Sargon does not assume that they will give them a fully informed picture either. He calls it indoctrination.

Postmodernism and Afro Futurism in High School

Moving on to the material for high school, he says that this is where it gets really good. Like ‘Afrofuturism’ and ‘Postmodern Principles’. Sargon asks rhetorically whether he wants a group of radical race warriors, who consider everything about our society racist, to indoctrinate his children into a postmodern education? He says ‘No’, and adds that it’s only because he doesn’t want his child to come out of school believing that the world around him into which he’s been born and raised is evil and that he has to do everything in his power to tear it down. And that he himself, as a White person, is going to be part of the problem. And that every Black person he meets is some kind of inferior species, that needs his help and guidance to be saved. He doesn’t agree with that kind of worldview at all, nor with postmodernism as the kind of lens to view things with.

Sargon is absolutely right about Postmodernism. I extensively criticised it earlier when this blog was centred on Christian Apologetics. Postmodernism and cultural relativism are entirely inadequate as the basis for morality because of their rejection of the idea that it is objective. This was also the attitude of the Italian Fascists and Nazis. Mussolini took over Nietzsche’s idea that there was no objective morality, and the Nazis believed that morality and philosophical values differed from nation to nation according to race and ethnicity. Hence the Nazis’ insistence on Aryan science, maths and other racist nonsense. But the idea of racial and gender equality, for example, demands an objective morality that applies to all humans and is universally valid. Postmodernism, despite its pretensions to do this, actually doesn’t support such universal and objective values.

He believes this comes out in the section on Afro Futurism. This begins with a section on ‘Utopia’, which defines it as ‘an imagined place where everything is perfect, and asks the reader to define their utopia.’ It asks people to dream about their perfect place, a consistent theme throughout the documents. It asks the students what problems they could solve with their superpowers and what they would look like in this imaginary world. Sargon responds with ‘Who cares? You live in the real world’ and points out that they have limited resources at hand and limited options. So they should stop talking about an imaginary freedom of the will, as if the will is something separate to the physical world and gets to decide everything for it. He doesn’t want them thinking about superpowers, but asking how they can get good grades, how can they get a good job, how can they be healthy and stable, how can they raise children of their own, how can they form a family and be a healthy person.

This is a fair criticism. From what I can see, Afro Futurism simply means Black science fiction and particularly the imagining of Black advanced technological societies, like Wakanda in the film Black Panther, based on the Marvel comic books. There’s nothing wrong with such dreams, but schools should be teaching more immediate and achievable goals and aspirations to their students.

High School Materials

From this he moves on to the high school section, where there is more interesting stuff. Like ‘the BLM High School: the Black Panther Party’; ‘Social Justice Mathematics Materials’; ‘Black Lives Matter Haiti’, ‘Chicago Race Riots’, all of which Sargon describes as full-on Black Lives Matter propaganda. Sargon states that this doesn’t mean that they’ll get the opportunity to pump this out, but the fact that they’ve prepared it shows that there is time, money and materials behind it and it will get somewhere.

Then on to their reading materials. These include the Black Panther’s Apologia. This is the Panther’s 10 point programme, which were:

  1. We want freedom. We want the power to determine the destiny of our Black and oppressed communities.
  2. We want full employment for our people. They believed that the federal government had the responsibility and obligation to give everyone either a job or a guaranteed income. Sargon shows his libertarianism here by saying that it shows that they believed that they were the serfs of the state. This part of their manifesto is certainly radical. If you read it, it says that if businessmen are not willing to provide employment, the technology and means of production should be taken away from them and placed in the hands of the people, so that they can do so. It’s certainly a communist demand. But at the time this was written, in Britain the social democratic post-war consensus was still governing British politics. This meant that the government believed it had the responsibility to create full employment. This was through a mixed economy and state economic planning. Attlee only nationalised a very small number of industries, and so it did not necessarily mean that the state would employ everyone, only that it would help create the economic framework for everyone to be able to get a job. As for a guaranteed income, this could just mean proper unemployment benefit. This was part of the minimum welfare provision set up by Roosevelt’s New Deal, but I don’t know how far it extended. Like the British unemployment benefit before the creation of the welfare state, it may have only reached certain sections of the working class. In which case the Panther’s demands are entirely reasonable.
  3. We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our Black and oppressed communities. Sargon questions this by stating that if they believe the state is robbing them, why do they want it to provide them with a job, as they wouldn’t be free. This section goes back to the old promise of 40 acres and two mules. Sargon asks what they would do with this if they were dumped in the middle of the Midwest. They wouldn’t be able to take care of two mules. He knows he wouldn’t know what to do with them, and that they wouldn’t know either. Again, if you actually look at what they’re proposing, they also say they would accept the monetary equivalent. They’re talking about reparations for slavery, and for the slaughter of 50 million Black people they believe America has committed worldwide.
  4. We want decent housing, fit for human beings.
  5. We want decent education for our people. This also includes the statement that it should expose the true nature of decadent American society. They want to be taught the true history of their people and role in present-day society. Which looks like the origin of Black History Month.
  6. We want completely free healthcare. Sargon reads this out, but makes no comment. But it’s a reasonable request, and is behind the NHS in Britain, now under attack from the same forces of capitalism that the Panthers saw as oppressing Black Americans.
  7. We want an end to police brutality and murder of Black people, and all other people of colour, all oppressed people inside the United States. From what little I know of the Black Panthers, it was the casual police killing of Blacks that provoked the rise of the Panthers in the first place. They believed the only way they could protect Black people was to take up guns and shoot back. Hence Sasha Johnson’s bizarre fantasy of setting up a Black militia here in the UK, despite this country’s rather different history.
  8. We want an immediate end to all wars of aggression. This was obviously written during the Vietnam War, but it’s still applicable now.
  9. We want freedom for all Black and oppressed people. Sargon skips over this, omitting that it’s about freeing people in jail, and that they also want trial by a jury of peers for everyone charged with so-called crimes under the country’s laws. This is a central cornerstone of western justice.
  10. We want bread, housing, education, justice, peace. Sargon declares that these are flights of fantasy that sound like radical communist agitation, and for the Black Panthers, a militant, murderous party. Certainly the Panthers do seem from this to have been very radical left, and influenced by communism. But the demand for decent housing, full employment and free healthcare could be solved simply through a social democratic mixed economy welfare state. Horrifyingly radical to Americans, but the norm in Britain at the time.

Social Justice Maths

Sargon goes on to other topics, which he thinks are very weird. Like materials for social justice mathematics, a copy of Oakland police statistics for 1st July 2013, and Stanford university’s big study of racial disparites, and the stats for New York police’s stop and frisk.

Sargon’s Concluding Criticisms

Then there’s the Teaching Tolerance Guide, subtitled ‘Discussing Race, Racism and other Difficult Topics with Other Students’. There are also videos. Sargon once again describes it as a social justice package – which is quite correct – and states that the same talking points are repeated over and over again throughout it. He states that it is to present a one-sided narrative on all these points in order to construct the belief that American and other societies are uniquely evil, encouraging children to go into flights of fantasy about what might be, instead of being pragmatic, responsible and trying to build a better world one step at a time.

Sargon says that this should be resisted at all costs. If you’re a parent, you should enquire at your local school if they have any Black Lives Matter teaching materials that they will be teaching your children and request a copy of them. And if they don’t, you should kick up a stink, threaten to pull your child out and tell other parents to do so, because this is racial indoctrination. He even says that you could send the other parents this video to show what these materials look like.

He then ends the video by plugging his merchandising, based on Orwell’s statement that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. And with Black Lives Matter we have entered that time of deceit. Our societies are not evil. They are good societies. Black Lives Matter is a malign cult, which he believes has spread through our societies because they are good, decent and people do not want to be racist. This is partly right. Black Lives Matter exists because society does treat Black people unfairly, but it has spread because people do not want to be racist as the mixed race crowds of their protests show. He believes it has spread through a postmodernist education establishment with a deconstructionist agenda which says that if things are looked at in a certain way, White societies are uniquely evil when they aren’t.

Here’s Sargon’s video.

The materials Sargon analyses and critiques in this video seem to show that in many ways Black Lives Matter is unremarkable. It has much in common with other left-wing movements demanding racial and gender equality and promoting gay and now trans rights. It also seems to follow much previous Black activism in connecting the deprivation of Blacks in the west with White western imperialism and colonialism. I don’t dispute either that its view that Blacks are particularly disadvantaged in America is due to institutional racism, as certainly legislation has been used to disqualify Blacks from opportunities, jobs and services, including welfare provision, that has been reserved for Whites.

This is not the whole story, however, and such a view should not be taught in school. What is appropriate as voluntary community activism becomes dangerous indoctrination when taught in the classroom. The idealisation of the Black Panthers is a particular problem. While much of their demands were reasonable and entirely justified, they were a violent paramilitary terrorist organisation. It’s intoxication with the Panthers and their violence that has inspired Sasha Johnson to style herself as a Black Panther and try to set up her own, similar Black paramilitary organisation.

I also share Sargon’s objections to teaching children that western society is uniquely evil and persecutes Blacks, who always require particular assistance. And that Whites are responsible for this, and somehow intrinsically racist unless taught otherwise. This is only part of the story, and the reality can be far more complex.

Despite its careful wording about tolerance and diversity, the materials for BLM’s proposed day of action would only create more racial hostility, division and resentment. They should definitely not be taught in schools.

Trump and the Troops

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 2:24am in

The Atlantic published a story detailing Trump’s contempt for military service and the self-sacrifice of those killed in the line of duty. Trump is reacting with panic. Continue reading

The post Trump and the Troops appeared first on BillMoyers.com.