Issue 236 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
In the course of the 19th century the Catholic Church emerged as one of the most powerful institutions in Ireland. Whereas elsewhere in Europe the bourgeoisie had to fight its way to power against an alliance of great landowners and Catholic bishops, in Ireland the fact that both the great landowners and the colonial state were Protestant provided the basis for an alliance between the church and the emerging Catholic middle class. Indeed, the history of the Irish Catholic Church in the 19th century is the history of its remaking by the Irish middle classes in their image and to serve their interests. They paid for it with their contributions, staffed it with their sons and daughters and made up the respectable core of its congregation. The harsh puritanical guilt-ridden morality the church enforced was their morality. The church supported and legitimised the new social order they were in the process of creating. A crucial dimension of this process was the disciplining of the lower orders. This was achieved by handing education over to the bishops--the men in black.
Today the church has been seriously weakened, undermined by social and economic change and rocked by scandal. In this extremely welcome collection of his 'religious' journalism, Eamonn McCann brilliantly chronicles this decline. Dear God is a literary assault on the men in black that they will not soon forget.
Eamonn explains the contemporary vulnerability of the Irish church as a product of 'the steady and unstoppable incorporation of Ireland into the global US-dominated economy'. Catholicism flourished as an ideological reflection of an earlier stage of development and is now being superceded. As he puts it, its 'hocus pocus has begun to lose its allure', with the result that the church is beginning to have trouble finding new recruits 'to train up as witch doctors'. Today Coca-Cola salesmen and Burger King franchise barons 'are the high priests of the new ideological order'.
The irrationality and superstition at the heart of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular are relentlessly satirised. The discussion of Jesus as the first test tube baby is particularly interesting. But there is always a deadly serious intent behind Eamonn's ridicule. He condemns the church's stand on Aids in terms of outraged disbelief with thousands of people becoming infected every day, the church still proclaims that the problem should be dealt with 'with piety and prayer beads'. The Vatican is using its position as a member of the World Health Organisation to condemn thousands of people to death.
While the church in Ireland might have been forced onto the defensive, internationally it is waging an ideological offensive. The current pope has so far canonised 280 saints--a remarkable increase in holy productivity when compared with the 303 canonised by all his predecessors since 1588. As Eamonn insists, this gush of saints has taken place for straightforward political reasons--as an ideological support for the forces of the right.
In Ireland the church is trying to recover from the child abuse scandals that overwhelmed it, attempting to mount its own counter-attack, and determined, at all costs, to keep control of education. Eamonn is particularly scathing of the failure of the liberals to take the church on. They are allowing the bishops to get away with the biggest scandal in years.
The bishops knew for years about the abuse that was taking place in Catholic schools and children's homes. Everyone else knew but was intimidated into silence by the respect (in the Mafia sense of the word) in which the clergy was held. What is new is that people are at last prepared to talk about it openly, to complain of their treatment and to demand justice. This is itself testimony to the church's weakening hold. The response of the bishops has been to cover up, to carry out a damage limitation exercise. Eamonn's catalogue of abuse (physical, mental and sexual) is both shocking and heartbreaking. Incredibly, he thinks the church might be getting away with it. Dear God is a powerful, passionate attempt to prevent this, to ensure that the power of the church does not recover, and to help hasten the day it is finally broken.
Fourth Estate £16.99
Maria Celeste had just turned 13 when her father placed her in a closed convent. Her story is bleak--long hours of prayer in a freezing cell; poverty and illness dominated the small world that was the San Matteo convent at the beginning of the 17th century. What makes her story extraordinary though is her close relationship with Galileo, her father, who was already a world renowned scientist at the time of her birth in 1600. It is his story, despite the essentially misleading title, which is the meat of this fascinating book.
Sobel's Longitude was one of the great surprise best sellers of the last few years and many have copied her style, though rarely with the same success. Galileo's Daughter manages to live up to expectations in that it weaves a personal story into a wider picture of a world that was undergoing fundamental change.
The contrast between the lives and the ideas of father and daughter comes to epitomise this change as the contradictions in Italian society, and across Europe at the time, are played out. A new society of commerce and science was challenging the long held beliefs and practices of the old, and Galileo was to become centrally associated with this challenge, a role for which he would pay dearly.
Galileo opened up the heavens to scrutiny with the first telescope, discovered previously unknown stars, and made the startling observation that the moon had an uneven physical landscape much like that of the earth. But it was his assertion that the earth was not the centre of the universe, that it moved around the sun rather than the other way around, that was to incite the wrath of the church authorities and lead to his eventual trial by the Holy Inquisition.
Galileo was not the first to point out this fact--Dominican friar Giordano Bruno did the same and was burned at the stake in Rome in 1600 for his trouble. So Galileo could have been under little illusion that the hierarchies of Italian society were going to accept his ideas willingly. City states like Florence and Rome each had their own 'royal' dynasties on whom people like Galileo relied for a living. He was himself sponsored by the Medicis of Florence. Such families often had one foot in the past but also an eye to the future. The Medicis, for instance, created popes and were central to the church establishment, but they also amassed great material fortunes, sponsored the studies of the likes of Galileo, and encouraged intellectual debate.
But Galileo's ideas went far beyond the ruling courts. Printing presses ran out copies of his work, which were sold across Europe and, unlike those who wanted to keep knowledge in the control of the elite, Galileo did not write in Latin. This was something which was used as evidence against him: 'He writes in Italian, certainly not to extend the hand to foreigners or other learned men, but rather to entice to that view common people in whom errors very easily take root.'
Yet Galileo did not want to challenge the whole foundation of the church and its power. In fact Sobel shows that he often spoke of his work reflecting even greater glory on god, as 'his' universe was greater and more complex than had hitherto been believed. Galileo was a product of his time and also of its contradictions.
Sobel's account of Galileo's transformation from revered and learned mathematician and philosopher to dangerous heretic draws on his personal life, how he earned money, supported his daughters and conducted endless patient experiments. The regular correspondences from Maria Celeste give an insight into their ordinary lives. Trapped inside the convent Maria had to ask Galileo to pick up some fabric for her sewing or some medicinal ingredient she couldn't grow in the garden. She in turn helped him write out his manuscripts.
But these details are always seen against the backdrop of the forces of change that were sweeping through wider society at the time, which is what makes this book such a good read. The church was hanging on to its power in society and the ideology that underpinned it. Sobel tells of the Inquisition trial of this frail old man, who was forced to deny the evidence of his own eyes. The offending work, 'Dialogue of Galileo Gaillei', went on the Vatican's Index of Prohibited Books in 1664 where it was to remain for another 200 years.
This marvellous book is beautifully produced with illustrations of some of Galileo's own drawings. It brings to life this turbulent period.
'23 August 1942, the 16th Panzer division raced eastward over the steppe from the river Don. The same evening it halted on the bank of the Volga. The tank crews gazed towards Asia... Messerschmitt fighters performed victory rolls above their heads... the war was won.'
So says Antony Beevor in his compelling new book, Stalingrad, that has been one of the year's best sellers. He recognises the importance of what happened at Stalingrad to the outcome of the Second World War, and how it shaped the future of Europe over the coming decades.
By the summer of 1941 Hitler was the master of Europe. The German Blitzkrieg had smashed Poland (with Stalin's help) and defeated France in ten weeks. A non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany seemed increasingly fragile. Over 3 million German and allied troops waited to attack the USSR. With 3,000 tanks, 7,000 guns and 2,000 aircraft it was the greatest invasion force in history, codenamed Barbarossa. This was a new kind of war, a Rassenkampf, race war. Special orders were issued to deal with Jews, Communists and partisans. Hitler described the attack as a 'battle of annihilation'. Army commandos were working hand in hand with the SS death squads.
On 22 June 1941 German troops swarmed across the Soviet border. The effect was devastating. In nine hours most of the Red Airforce was destroyed. Within days huge battles of encirclement developed with whole Soviet armies surrounded.
Hitler stated, 'smash in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crushing down.' Indeed, the Red Army had been greatly weakened by Stalin's purges. Leading military thinkers had been the first victims of the purge. Many Soviet commanders were too terrified to show initiative. Stalin's orders led to massive defeats as army groups were outflanked, surrounded and annihilated.
By November Leningrad was under siege and Moscow was under threat. Zhukov, the great Soviet commander, organised the defence of both cities and the Germans were eventually halted by a combination of resistance and the Russian winter. But it had been a close call. Panic gripped Moscow, and Stalin contemplated flight The NKVD (Russian secret police) used terror to restore order.
Soviet counter-attacks caused havoc, but Hitler's orders for all out defence were to have massive ramifications at Stalingrad. He believed his orders to stand and fight had saved the German army in the past. He was to believe it again with disastrous results at Stalingrad.
By the summer of 1942 German troops were again advancing, driving towards the Caucasian oilfields. By August they reached Stalingrad. It was obvious that if Stalingrad fell, and with it the oilfields, further Russian resistance would prove difficult. The Red Army was ordered to hold the city at all costs. Resistance was inspired by a mixture of patriotism, self sacrifice and fear of the NKVD. The defence included popular mobilisation, desperate courage and mass executions of those who wavered. In the first week of the battle 40,000 civilians were killed by German bombing and the ruined city was turned into a fortress.
Two whole Soviet armies were battered to the point of collapse. At times the Russians were within yards of being driven into the Volga. Factories, parks and apartment blocks changed hands time after time as tanks and artillery fired at point blank range. Whole battalions were cut down to just a handful of men.
On 19 November Operation Uranus, the Soviet counter-attack, was launched. Within days the Sixth Army was surrounded. Stalin had drip fed reinforcements into Stalingrad while raising a huge army to trap the Germans. Hitler ordered Paulus, his commander, to sit tight and wait for air supplies or relief. Such orders had proved successful outside of Moscow but were disastrous at Stalingrad. As ammunition and fuel ran low, breaking out of the encirclement became impossible and relief attempts finally failed.
Life in the surrounding area, the 'Kessel', was terrifying. There were constant Russian attacks, cold and starvation. German troops made pathetic attempts to celebrate Christmas while Nazi die-hards dreamed of the Fuhrer's relief columns coming to their rescue. Hitler wanted the Sixth Army to fight to the last man. But by the end of January resistance broke down and the sixth army surrendered. Paulus preferred a dacha in Moscow to suicide (much to Hitler's disappointment). Thousands of German troops fared worse than their generals. Only a tiny percentage survived captivity.
Stalingrad proved to be the turning point of the Second World War. Antony Beevor's important book is also a turning point in historical analysis of that war. Historical research shaped by the Cold War grossly underestimated the Soviet contribution to Hitler's defeat.
The Wehrmacht was defeated, not on D-Day, but at Stalingrad and Kursk. Tens of millions of Russians died in a truly genocidal war. The after-effects of the victory at Stalingrad shaped Europe for the next 50 years.
Beyond the Pale £8.99
Many people see Portadown as the crucible of the Irish conflict. It's where Billy Wright founded the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force. It's where a Loyalist mob kicked Robert Hamill to death while RUC officers sat in a Land Rover and did nothing. It's where the Orange Order was formed 200 years ago, and where the Drumcree stand off has become an annual event. It's where David Trimble danced down Garvaghy Road holding hands with Ian Paisley to secure leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party. In doing so he trampled the rights of his own Catholic constituents.
This book, put together by the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, is in two parts. The first is a collection of diaries kept by people living on the road, the second a useful, concise and interesting history of the Orange Order in Portadown. The diaries were written during the marching seasons of the last few years. Anyone who thinks the residents' groups are a slick PR operation should be forced to read these accounts. It is impossible to overstate the depth of hurt, fear and humiliation felt by this community. These people have not been persuaded to feel offended, they have suffered years of subjugation. Even for readers who feel they have a good political grasp of the issues, this chance to step inside ordinary people's thoughts is invaluable.
Perhaps most moving is the way some of the diarists feel guilt when the three Quinn children are burnt to death by Loyalists in 1998. Of course, that is exactly the reaction Loyalism has sought from Nationalists--the feeling that maybe it's best to keep your head down to avoid the random retribution that can be meted out upon anyone of any age.
The accounts are very personal. Some of the diarists are very active in the Residents' Coalition and some are not. The compilers have not sought to ensure a consistent line of determined resistance running through the diaries. That spirit is much in evidence, and I know it to be present from the brief times I have spent with that community. But the book also opens up the doubts and demoralisation which constant abuse has wrought among people.
The most heartbreaking account comes from that of the mother of Darren Murray, the young mixed race boy who was run over during the last of many incidents when he was taunted by Protestant children for being 'The Fenian Nigger'. Darren's mother concludes, 'I wish there was no more parading and no more protesting and no more police. And most of all I wish Darren had not died for the so called "Drumcree cause".'
Nonetheless, there is much that is uplifting in the testimonies. The defiance, courage, humour, organisation and solidarity are completely inspiring, and it is cleat that these people cannot be cowed by Loyalism or used in the horse-trading of the peace process. It is possible that by the time you read this review many of the diarists will have been battered off Garvaghy Road as Blair uses the RUC to force an Orange march through. But it will take more than batons and boots to break the spirit of these people.
The second part of the book puts the marching issue of today perfectly in context. It sets out the Coalition's opposition to sectarian marches, giving a full account of their history. The authors' focus on this one area is a strength rather than a weakness. Even people who feel they need no persuading might find themselves surprised by the extent of the mayhem the marches have brought with them for 200 years. The book also shows that at various times the British state felt forced to make half-hearted attempts to contain Orangeism, but that Unionist politicians, Loyalist terrorists and the Orange Order have consistently worked as a single bloc.
For its part, the Order is shown to have all the deluded attitudes of other ultra-conservative and supremacist movements. Its members depict themselves as victims of oppression, simply trying to stand up for their own rights and traditions. But its traditions involve the control of power and wealth at the expense of those it seeks to subjugate.
The Politics of English
Anyone studying history, sociology, literature. education, politics or linguistics will come across a teacher who asks you to consider one version or another of the axiom that reality is made by language. The core of this book is a sustained attack on this view. Starting out from Marx, in particular with ideas best expressed in The German Ideology, Marnie Holborow goes on to use the works of the first and best known Marxist linguists: Voloshinov and Vygotsky. Her main areas of concern are the relationship between language and social existence; whether English is becoming a world language; is there such a thing as female language?; and what is standard English?
For anyone coming from a Marxist tradition it is unthinkable that any part of the words and sounds we make might be seen as existing separately from the human beings who think them, say them, hear them, write them or read them. Yet this is precisely how many linguists past and present view one or other aspect of language. Holborow shows how users of language change language and always operate in a specific time and place, always in relation to other language users and always within actual relations of production. However, these are all very abstract ideas about something that most of us take for granted--talking, thinking and writing--and there are times here when it would have been useful if Holborow could have given a few more concrete examples from everyday language use.
In the chapter on English as a world language she tries to walk a path between triumphalists ('Hooray, English is the best, English is everywhere') and nationalist resistance ('English is the voice of the oppressor--only our native language will do') (my paraphrasings, not hers). Very carefully, she avoids the argument that makes any claims for a language over and above its actual use, in a real situation. So Kipling's If, often taken to support some kind of gritty, militaristic morale-booster for colonising troops and civil servants, meant something very different in the mouths of anti-imperialists fighting the British in Kenya.
A particularly closely argued , chapter on feminists and language gives Holborow a chance to refute the gender-linguists who have 'discovered' how women are oppressed by male language. She unmasks the project as a new kind of determinism: people's lives, activity and consciousness are determined and trapped by the words they use. What starts out as a radical critique of power ends up as a prison of powerlessness. Holborow traces the existence of these ideas to specific social formations in universities in the space left by the downturn of the 1970s and 1980s.
Her fourth chapter takes an historical look at how Standard English arose as the dialect of a specific class of people at a particular moment in its existence, but then she distances herself from linguists who would make any claims for its intrinsic superiority, or indeed for any clear linguistic borders between speakers of Standard and non-Standard English. However, she shows how these borders are patrolled, mostly by education, armed with tests, exams, inspectors and assessment procedures.
As I'm sure Holborow would say herself, this is a book rather confined to academic life. It is, for all its strengths and closely argued analysis, a piece of campus Marxism. No harm in that, we might say, as postmodernism in universities needs confronting at source on its own terms. Holborow does this fulsomely and I can heartily recommend it to any students and lecturers trying to confront these ideas. However, I found myself thinking that we need another book called The Politics of English that confines its attack to the most populist ideas about English, with a special emphasis on the ludicrous regime being enacted in schools. Holborow quite rightly dismisses the radicals who think that the real political struggle is the one waged over language, so surely this means that we could do with an alternative focus: some signposts on ways in which a revolutionary change in society can be aided by particular kinds of language use.
This is a highly detailed and beautifully written account of the period after the surrender of Japan on 15 August 1945. It traces the impact of defeat and the interplay between the US occupation, the Japanese ruling class, the mass radical movements and the population in general. It deals not only with political events and the economic and physical condition of the country, but also with the reflection and expression of the times in culture, sexual relations, the media and even children's street games.
A fascinating section of the book deals with the panpan--Japanese girls who became prostitutes, mainly servicing American soldiers and officers, and who had an exciting and in some ways emancipated image. Anyone who has studied other periods of potential or actual revolutionary upheaval will recognise the mixture of the progressive and reactionary elements which emerge in sexual relationships in such situations.
But central to the book is the examination of, on the one hand, the paradox--and the limits--of the US occupation and its introduction of democratic reforms from above, and, on the other hand, the embrace and extension of those reforms from below by ordinary Japanese people which, rapidly went beyond what the US was prepared to tolerate. Dower spells out the role of the US occupation very clearly as a 'neo-colonial military dictatorship', but he also clothes that description with some fascinating details about the way in which the occupation operated on a day to day level.
For example, MacArthur apparently spoke to only 16 Japanese people more than twice in his whole time as Supreme Commander in Japan, and all of those were members of the ruling elite. The senior Americans lived in the wealthy area of Tokyo (which had been left largely undamaged by the massive bombardments of the capital) and were fed with American food, while all around them ordinary Japanese were struggling to survive. Meanwhile, much of the Japanese elite looted war stocks, sabotaged production and profited massively from the dislocation. The US at no stage contemplated direct rule of the country--partly because it lacked officials who could speak Japanese and therefore ruled via the very bureaucrats it denounced. The Americans were also at pains to isolate the emperor from direct responsibility for the war--whereas many ordinary Japanese felt very strongly that he should accept personal responsibility.
The American reforms did stimulate many groups to begin taking direct action. Dower describes the effects of declarations of equal rights for women, for example. What startled and ultimately frightened the Americans was the speed with which such ideas were taken up by ordinary Japanese people. The Americans were thoroughly imbued with racist notions about their defeated enemy being completely passive, indoctrinated and (according to many American 'experts' on Japan) incapable of democratic self rule. Many of their ideas about Japan were strikingly redolent of British colonial views of the 'white man's burden'.
Dower does not skate over either the brutalities of the Japanese 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere' or the terrible neglect that returning Japanese veterans, war orphans and war widows suffered at the hands of other Japanese.
Two chapters of the book deal with the upsurge of workers' struggles, including the production control movement, where workers took over factories, mines and also some of the leading newspapers and ran them, making links across workplaces to barter goods, and in some cases carrying out workplace trials of management. The book traces the 'reverse course' followed by the Americans (culminating in massive purges and anti-Communist witch hunts in Japan in the period from 1947 to 1952) who were happy to translate US labour laws and constitutional freedoms to Japan as long as workers remained passive. Meanwhile the Soviet Union, via the Japan Communist Party leadership (although not necessarily all its activists) in practice facilitated the defeat of the workers' movement. For many years the JCP had espoused the theory that Japan was still a feudal country, requiring a staged approach of democracy, followed only in the distant undefined future by socialism. This chimed exactly with the foreign policy interests of the Soviet Union.
The events described by this book were paralleled in many other countries defeated in the Second World War, where discredited ruling classes faced insurgent workers' movements--the outcome was ultimately and tragically decided by the weakness of the organised revolutionary alternative to Stalinism.
But this book shows that Japan is not the strange unfathomable place many have been led to believe--its history is perfectly explicable and the struggles of its workers are just as inspiring as those with which we may be more familiar.
Charles Shaar Murray
Even if you know almost nothing about blues music, you can't help but recognise the music of John Lee Hooker. Born in Mississippi, the state with 'the richest land and the poorest people in the US', his unparalleled career has made him one of the greatest and most enduring musicians of the 20th century.
In 50 years of recording, Hooker has gone from fame to utter obscurity and back again several times. His first single in 1949 was number one on the rhythm and blues charts for three months. Forty years later--at the age of 70--his first album for three years became a million seller. In between he's had smaller bursts of fame, and has spent almost all his life on the road playing small bars and halls, usually for next to nothing. When he had a recording contract, which wasn't always, the record companies either swindled him or simply didn't pay him.
In all that time, Hooker's music has never fundamentally changed. It's an incredibly personal music, simultaneously chilling and utterly humane, powered by his unique and compelling guitar sound. Above all, it's suffused with an absolute honesty and authenticity that's undoubtable.
Some of the best parts of this marvellous book are where Murray describes what he calls 'Hookerisation', the process by which artists take material from the most unlikely sources and transform it into their own vision, their style simply becoming what they do.
Some of the funniest parts are Murray's demolitions of blues purists' notions of what 'authenticity' means. In the early 1960s Hooker's career revived in both Britain and the US. But in the US he was touted as an acoustic folk-blues musician, which he has never been, while in Britain he was acclaimed as part of the electric rhythm and blues boom, which was no more accurate.
Much of Hooker's genius comes from the fact that he unites the most ancient and modern aspects of the blues. The great Malian musician Ali Farka Toure, when he first heard Hooker, said he was convinced that Hooker was African because of the ways that Hooker's style evoke the earliest black American musics. At the same time, Hooker has almost always been an electric guitar player, with a style that's developed to use the power of the electric guitar to maximum effect.
Early on in his account of Hooker's career, Murray argues, 'What the blues tells us is that humanity is indestructible.' That is the core of the blues, and indeed of all black American music--in the teeth of the most vicious, soul destroying racism, the blues, jazz and gospel asserted the humanity of the musicians and their audiences, which is why even today they still hold the power to move us deeply. The blues is one of the most individual of musical forms, but its beauty lies in stressing what we have in common with each other. In his explanation of how Hooker's music works, Murray ends up with the title track of Hooker's comeback album: 'Blues is a healer... it healed me, it can heal you.'
Boogie Man is a respectful but clear eyed, critical and above all readable book, which anyone with a love of the blues will enjoy. Although Murray is clearly obsessive about the music, he understands that his audience may not be, and his concern throughout is to explain and to entertain. Along the way he drops in endless nuggets of blues and rock history that other writers would have worked to death. I can't resist quoting what seems to me like a perfect one line definition of Tamla Motown's genius: 'To build a new music; one which would profit simultaneously from tapping into black America's need to move on up, and white America's need to get on down.'
The book begins with Hooker's own foreword, where he insists, 'Nobody know John Lee Hooker. They know as much about my cat as they know about me. It was a hard road.' You're left at the end of this book marvelling at Hooker's amazing life and feeling the force of his experience, but also feeling that Charles Shaar Murray comes as close to it as anyone is ever likely to get.
The New Military Humanism
The Nato bombing of Yugoslavia was hailed by Blair and Clinton as an act of humanitarianism. Noam Chomsky's meticulously researched book exposes the hypocrisy, lies and hidden agendas associated with their latest military adventure. What prompted the war? It certainly wasn't the number of victims. According to Nato, in the year before the bombing about 2,000 people were killed in Kosovo and several hundred thousand people were internally displaced. Yet in the same period in Colombia between 2,000 and 3,000 people were killed and 300,000 new refugees were created. And in East Timor in April, as the bombs were raining down on Yugoslavia, hundreds of people were massacred and tens of thousands internally displaced by the Indonesian military and their militias. Did the new humanist governments intervene in Colombia and Indonesia at this time? Yes--by continuing to arm the killers.
Some of the worst ethnic cleansing of the 1990s, well beyond anything ever attributed to Milosevic, was taking place within Nato itself. Armed by what Chomsky describes as the enlightened states (the US and its western allies), Nato member Turkey has repressed its Kurdish minority. Thousands of Kurds have been massacred, up to 3 million have become internal refugees and an unknown number have fled.
Clinton and Blair replied to charges of inconsistency by pleading that they could not respond to every human rights disaster. That seems fair enough, until you look at the pattern of intervention. The key to that pattern, demonstrated by Chomsky, is the difference between 'state terror conducted with the approval and avid support of the enlightened states... and state terror that is villainous and must be severely punished because it conflicts with their demands.'
Iraq provides the perfect example: 'Thus Saddam Hussein was a friend and ally and proper recipient of substantial military and other aid from the US/UK (and other enlightened states) while he was only gassing Kurds, torturing dissidents, and otherwise committing the worst crimes of his career. But he instantly became a reincarnation of Attila the Hun when he disobeyed orders in August 1990 [by invading Kuwait], then regained his favoured status after the Gulf War in March 1991 when he was tacitly authorised by the US to conduct the murderous suppression of the Shi'ite uprising in the south and a Kurdish uprising in the north.' Iraq also exposes the hollowness of our leaders' claim to new humanism. In the past five years US-led sanctions have killed half a million Iraqi children.
Does the west's inconsistency mean that its intervention in Kosovo was wrong? Chomsky makes a compelling case to show that it was.
The Kosovan Albanians turned to armed struggle only after they had been ignored for years by western governments and were then effectively sacrificed to Milosevic in the Dayton peace agreement over Bosnia. In February 1998, when the Kosovo Liberation Army had become a significant fighting force. The US government denounced it as 'an evil terrorist group', giving the green light to Milosevic to suppress it. Serb forces obliged, obliterating the KLA headquarters as well as committing other atrocities.
This sparked a mass uprising by the KLA, which by mid-1998 controlled 40 percent of Kosovo. Milosevic responded with a major offensive, confident that no one would object--after all, the US had supported previous ethnic cleansing of Krajina by Croatian forces and of Srebrenica by Serb forces.
Chomsky shows that as the crisis in Kosovo deepened, the enlightened states had three options: act to escalate the catastrophe; do nothing; try to mitigate the catastrophe. Option three, clearly the most preferable, pointed to a negotiated solution.
The enlightened states deliberately scuppered this with the Rambouillet agreement, which called for complete military occupation and substantial political control of Kosovo by Nato. It was a formulation that guaranteed rejection.
The decision to launch cruise missiles was option one. Chomsky demonstrates not only how the war escalated the killings and terror in Kosovo to a scale that would have been impossible without the bombing, but also that US officials 'predicted' that this would be the case. The real purpose of the war was to establish the credibility of Nato. Chomsky writes that the importance of 'credibility' can be explained by any Mafia Don: 'When a storekeeper does not pay protection money, the goons who are dispatched do not simply take the money; they leave him a broken wreck, so that others will get the message.' The Don does not need the storekeeper's money itself, but he needs all the others to know the price of disobedience. The argument that the intervention in Kosovo must have been humanitarian because Kosovo has few natural resources misunderstands the nature of superpower politics. The strategic location of the Balkans makes it of key interest to the western powers.
It can only be hoped that many people, particularly the newly converted warmongers on the left, read this book and pledge never again to fall for the lies of our rulers when they next tell us they are deploying weapons of mass destruction in the name of humanitarianism.
Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism
Michael Jordan is probably one of the most recognisable individuals on earth--even in China school children ranked Jordan as one of the greatest shapers of the 20th century, alongside Zhou En Lai, the founder of the Communist Chinese state. Walter LaFeber's new book, Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism tells the story of late 20th century capitalism.
LaFeber shows how three threads have intertwined in the 1980s and 1990s to produce a recognisable worldwide phenomenon that has helped stamp the era we live in: Michael Jordan and his incredible athletic prowess which has dominated his sport, basketball, for a decade; the growth and internationalisation of sport, most typified by basketball; and the growth of multinationals, such as Nike.
The story of Michael Jordan is seemingly the confirmation of the American Dream. Born in 1963 to relatively affluent parents at a period when the cauldron of civil rights burned most hot, his family avoided the worst of the struggle, and when it cooled Michael Jordan would go on to be one of its greatest beneficiaries.
Until Michael Jordan came on the scene most sponsors would not back black basketball players--they were seen as unprofitable. Then enters Nike, one of the new type of firms conceived during the 1960s which went on to become important and powerful multinational companies.
LaFeber clearly shows how a game such as basketball, which was invented by an overworked teacher threatened with the sack in the 1890s, was then played overwhelmingly by working class children with working class spectators looking on. It grew in popularity to become one of the most popular sports today. Basketball was then seized upon by a burgeoning multinational--Nike--which enhanced the greatest talent the game has thus far produced--Michael Jordan. However, Jordan, unlike Mulhammad Ali, only protested once in his career and that was when Nike was not endorsed in a game in which he was playing.
This book dribbles easily from the specific to the general--from the historic to the present and from the individual to society without losing the reader's interest. In a way it is the literary equivalent of Michael Jordan when he plays--in the way it moves easily towards its target, all the while mesmerising the eye. However, there is one difference--whereas Michael Jordan rarely misses his target, this book fails to understand that the millions of working class spectators who watch this game will become players in a much greater game themselves in the future. This will not be televised or endorsed, as companies like Nike will be the targets.