If Jesus lived in Galilee in recent decades he would live in a world alive with Palestinian traditions clinging to a long-rooted history but struggling through the aftermath of the never-ended ethnic-cleansing operation that spiked in 1948.
Hatim Kanaaneh has written a fictionalized account, Chief Complaint: A Country Doctor's Tale of Life in Galilee, based on his experiences as a village doctor during the past half-century, a doctor who traveled to the United States for his education and returned to Palestine to practice his craft. His dialogue-heavy stories reach back to before 1948, merging folklore with myth and legend, featuring in the opening vignette a larger-than-life comedic but sensitive giant as short on wits as he is strong of muscle and heart.
Often in this wonderfully entertaining book a straightforward account will quickly become a rumor, a legend, an event infused with more meaning than might have been expected. After learning, for example, that multi-level homes are a sign of wealth, and that the top level is the most prestigious, we read that in one case a steep hill made it easiest to enter one home from the top floor. "That is why Isa housed his two oxen and his donkey in the 'alali -- the penthouse -- for the first winter after it was built. . . . And, that dear reader, is how it came to be rumored in these parts that Isa had sworn a pact of brotherhood and equality with his work animals and accorded them the level of reverence reserved for the head of a family. 'If only our cousins, the Jews, would treat us that humanely!' neighbors would joke."
Chief Complaint is a bit like the accounts of the British veterinarian's tales in All Creatures Great and Small. One doctor treats non-human animals, the other human, but both treat families. A great number of Kanaaneh's patients require placebos and other psychological rather than medical assistance. Gradually one begins to gather that the lot of them, who form a tight community, are to various degrees traumatized. They are in love with land, with the agriculture of that land, with the history of that land. And the land has been stolen, is being stolen, and is being desecrated. This is a more intimate portrait of people than one would be likely to gain on a trip to Palestine/Israel, and the unifying theme at the bottom of their ailments seems to be land loss. A character is describing a wedding of the past:
"Groups of men and women from all the other clans in the village would arrive every night, singing on their way over just after sundown and with many bagfuls of coffee beans, rice, sugar, and bulgur wheat as presents. Or they would have a boy dragging a lamb or a goat ahead of them. And the women would bring bundles of wood on their heads for the fire, which was lit up every night and around which the group dance and songfest were held. There is nothing like it today; since Israel occupied the Galilee, people bear only ill will and jealousy toward each other."
The narrator asks his father to sell beloved land in order to send him to the U.S. for medical school. His father throws a shoe at him. He picks up the shoe and returns it. It is thrown again. He repeats this until his sister speaks to his father who finally laughs and agrees, hopelessly, despairingly perhaps, but understanding the need to proceed.
People have been modernized out of their land, overwhelmed by Western military technology and organization. But those people are more than catching up in the area of communication — assuming that is that anyone in the West still reads.
Disclaimer: The author does work for the publisher of this book, but that work does not include book reviews.
The Nation magazine recently republished an old column by Jean Paul Sartre in which he described the myths he had been told about Americans by American culture, and compared those with what he observed. He was supposed to see eternal happiness, but instead, as he wandered around New York, he saw "the most pathetic visages in the world, uncertain, searching, intent, full of astonished good faith, with appealing eyes." "[A]nd we know," he wrote, "that the most beautiful generalizations are of very little service: they permit us to understand the system but not the people."
Sartre was once described as one of the last great writers willing to expound at length on a subject without bothering to learn anything about it. As a frequent practitioner of the same practice which is far from dead, whether it's done greatly or not, I think something can be said in Sartre's defense. Of course he could not accurately detect astonished good faith based on faces, and of course he had confused New York with the United States. But he could recognize human beings, and he knew some things that were true of just about every human being he'd known. Based on that, he could consider carefully the possibility that American propaganda accurately depicted real people, and he could reject the idea. In fact, he could conclude:
"Perhaps nowhere else will you find such a discrepancy between people and myth, between life and the representation of life."
Sartre could have discovered that about the United States without leaving France, as he discovered most things. It's possible there's still something to it.
I used to live in New York and now just visit, recently quite a number of times. I was also recently in Cuba where I had a hard time convincing one man I spoke with that any U.S. street had potholes. The representation of life in New York is often not that of what I see: third-world infrastructure, trains so slow you expect the mayor will have kept a campaign promise by the time you ever get somewhere, medieval inequality of wealth, racial segregation surrounded by inter-racial advertisements, environmentalism with hardly a hint of the natural world in sight, an unnatural world so unremittingly ugly that the beauty of its human inhabitants stands out.
And of course the people and their incredible mix of cultures and personalities have next to nothing to do with the world they live in, and in fact notice it less and less the longer they've been in it -- hearing the cacophony of noise pollution only through its absence when having left the city. In New York one finds friendliness, neighborliness, the shattering and the upholding and the skewing of every stereotype. And, I think, despite the endless dissatisfaction of a consumerist society, one finds here a certain satisfaction not always present elsewhere in the United States and born of a belief in lying at the center of the universe.
We would know much less about what our governments do were it not for those who are part of our governments until something becomes too horrible for their moral threshold, and who see a means available to inform the public. What this fact says about the proportion of governmental activity that is shameful is worth considering.
Whistleblowers in general have the broad support of the public. Even their biggest enemies got into office by falsely promising to defend and honor them. But individual whistleblowers are often effectively demonized by the corporate media while being persecuted and prosecuted by the government they have assisted.
There may be something of a trend toward recognizing that Edward Snowden and Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning have done us all a service, but they remain in prison or exile or effectively under house arrest. Jeffrey Sterling followed the steps through proper channels that whistleblowers are advised they should take, and now he's in prison, and what he informed Congress of (information critical to U.S. self-governance) remains largely unknown to the public.
Sterling's conviction on the basis of metadata (whom he called, for how many minutes, but not what was said) also sends a message to potential whistleblowers that even the appearance of acting on their moral and legal responsibility to uphold the law could land them in prison. And of course Congress's failure to act on Sterling's information sends the message that "proper channels" lead nowhere.
What's needed is a global movement that tells whistleblowers and potential whistleblowers that we've got their backs, that we will spread awareness far and wide of what they have risked their necks to reveal, that we will celebrate and honor their courage, and that we will do everything in our power to defend them against government retribution and misguided public condemnation.
So, here's the plan. During the week of June 1-7, all over the world, we stand up for truth by joining in the events and using the resources created at StandUpForTruth.org. The organizations and individuals behind this plan include ExposeFacts, Freedom of the Press Foundation, International Modern Media Institute, Networkers SouthNorth, RootsAction.org, and Daniel Ellsberg.
People around the world are being invited, individually or as a group, to participate in any of a series of public webcasts / phone calls with whistleblowers and their supporters. (Click the names for full biographies.)
The webcasts will each last 60 minutes. To listen and type in questions, just point your web browser to http://cast.teletownhall.us/web_client/?id=roots_action_org and turn up your volume. Everyone is encouraged to use the webcast and to type in questions there. If you can't use a web browser, you can phone in. Just call 1-844-472-8237 (toll-free in U.S.) You can also ask these whistleblowers and truth tellers questions beforehand or during the webcasts by tweeting them to @Roots_Action -- You can even start asking questions right now.
Also check out the events planned for Europe with Thomas Drake, Dan Ellsberg, Jesselyn Radack, Coleen Rowley, and Norman Solomon. They will deliver this petition in Berlin. If you sign it now your name and comment will be part of the presentation.
StandUpForTruth is encouraging everyone to plan your own events, during the first week of June or any other time. Here are some resources, some ideas for what to do:
- Watch and discuss Shadows of Liberty.
- Watch and discuss Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Government Surveillance.
- Watch and discuss this video profile of William Binney.
- Watch and discuss Invisible Man about CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling.
- Set up a photo booth and add a photo of every person at the event to this FaceBook page while they're each holding a piece of paper reading "Stand Up For Truth."
- Hold a public forum to discuss issues of whistleblowing, surveillance, civil liberties and truth-telling.
- Consider rallies, picket lines, vigils and other nonviolent protests at appropriate government buildings and corporate offices.
- Try to out-do the magnificent giant chalk drawing they're making in Los Angeles.
Here are some ways to get started. Like this FaceBook page. Then add your photo to it holding a piece of paper reading "Stand Up For Truth." Or retweet this tweet. It all helps to spread the word, which seems like the least we can do.
What happens when a bunch of lawyers intent on distinguishing combatants from civilians discover, by interviewing hundreds of civilians, that it cannot be done?
Does it become legal to kill everyone or no one?
The Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) has published a report called The People's Perspectives: Civilian Involvement in Armed Conflict. Researchers, including from Harvard Law School, interviewed 62 people in Bosnia, 61 in Libya, 54 in Gaza, and 77 Somali refugees in Kenya. The lead author of the report is Harvard Law School Fellow Nicolette Boehland.
One might ask why Iraq and Afghanistan were left out, or any number of other countries, but the report says the researchers went where they were able. And the result is a valuable contribution that I'm willing to bet would not have found fundamentally different results by looking elsewhere.
"The laws of war prohibit the intentional targeting of civilians," the report begins.
But then, so do the laws that forbid war, including the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the U.N. Charter, and nation-specific laws like the U.S. Constitution and the War Powers Resolution -- the laws that professors of "the laws of war" resolutely ignore, as does this report.
The researchers found that many people who have lived where wars are fought have taken part in those wars in one way or another, and that they have no clear understanding (not that anyone else does) of when they have been civilians and when combatants. Said one interviewee, highlighted as typical: "What I think is that there is no line at all. . . . Civilians can turn into fighters at any time. Anybody can change from a fighter to a civilian, all in one day, in one moment."
The interviewees made clear that many are forced into participation in war, others have very little choice, and others join in for reasons not too different from those expressed by the Pentagon: primarily self-defense, but also patriotism, prestige, survival, civic duty, social standing, outrage at the targeting of peaceful protesters, and financial gain. Bizarrely, not a single interviewee said they joined in a war in order to prevent Americans from going shopping after church or otherwise continuing with their lifestyle or freedoms.
The report stresses the legal implication of the finding that some civilians are forced into roles as combatants and aides to combatants, because "civilians who directly participate in hostilities forfeit their legal immunity from direct attack even if their participation is involuntary," -- except of course that we all have immunity from war because -- although most lawyers steadfastly ignore this fact -- war is a crime.
"To regulate behavior effectively, law must be clear and predictable," CIVIC tells us. But all the so-called laws of war are incapable of being made clear or predictable. What's "proportionate" or "justified" under this so-called body of law? The answers are all necessarily in the eye of the beholder. In fact, shortly later the report makes this admission: "Civilian participation in armed conflict has been and will likely continue to be a controversial issue." This is because the report has identified an eternal problem, not a solution, and not a problem capable of a solution.
Distinguishing civilians from combatants can never cease to be a controversial issue, but lawyers pretend it is a problem worth "working on," just as philosophy professors "work on" the problems of epistemology as if they might one day be solved. As a result of highlighting a permanent problem rather than solving one, a bit later, the report states explicitly that it "does not call for the revision of the law . . . Neither does it intend to push the debate in any particular direction." Well, I hate to be rude, but what then is the point? At best, perhaps the point is to sneak awareness of an internal contradiction under the noses of believers in "the laws of war," perhaps unbeknownst even to the report's authors.
A "civilian" quoted in the report said, "I saw myself like a man who took a rifle in his hands to defend innocent people. I thought at leasty I have guts to do that." He also saw his chances of survival as much greater if he joined in. But how do such "civilian" combatants differ in action or motivation from the "non-civilian" combatants?
Another explained that, "you're never enlisted as a rebel. You can go in and fight, get out and go home, take a shower, eat some breakfast, play PlayStation, and then go back to the front. You can switch from one to the other in a moment, really." Just like a drone pilot. But not like most U.S. combatants who travel far from home to kill near other people's homes. Understanding those other people's situations erases the outmoded distinction between civilian and combatant, which brings legal theory into touch with reality. But the choice is then to allow the killing of all or allow the killing of none. No wonder the report has no recommendations! It's a report written within the field of war studies, a field within which one does not question war itself.
So-called civilians told the researchers that they had fought, provided logistical support, driven cars, provided medical services, provided food, and provided media coverage including social media coverage. (Once you've recognized media coverage as a contribution to a war, how do you restrain the expansion of that category? And how do Fox and CNN and MSNBC avoid prosecution?) The sea in which the fish called combatants swim (to put civilians and combatants into Mao's terms) can also be killed by the logic of war, something many occupying troops realize and act on. The choice that must not be named would be to allow the sea and the fish to live.
The people interviewed had no coherent, consistent definition of "civilian" or "combatant" -- just like the people interviewing them. After all, the interviewers were representatives from the "legal community" that justifies drone murders of people all over the earth. The idea of people switching back and forth between roles as civilians and combatants runs against the grain of U.S. thinking in which evildoers are, like child molesters or Lord Voldemort or members of another race, permanently and irredeemably evil whether or not engaged in evil activities. Nuance and war are awkward partners. The drone blows up a family when Daddy gets home rather than aiming only to blow Daddy up in the act of doing something undesirable. But if one drop of combatant blood makes you a combatant forever, then it's open season on the general population of the areas under attack -- something that hardly needs to be explained to Gazans or others who've lived through its reality.
"An employee of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina believed the categories did not apply easily to the complexity inherent in the Bosnian conflict," CIVIC writes. "If you look at the Geneva Conventions, everything looks beautiful, but if you start to apply it, everything falls apart." Interviewees said the distinctions that end up mattering are those of ethnicity and religion, not civilian and combatant.
Of course that sounds to lawyers of "the laws of war" like a bad case of primitive war in need of civilizing. But it's war that is barbaric, not its degree of legal refinement. Imagine the idea that providing food or medicine or other aid to a combatant makes you a combatant worthy of being murdered. Should you not provide food or other services to other human beings? Providing such services is something conscientious objectors used to do during wars instead of going to prison. Once you've demonized treating a group of people as people, you're not dealing with law anymore at all, just with war -- pure and simple.
The time has come for war lawyers to join Rosa Brooks in throwing out peacetime and along with it any participants in peace, or with opponents of barbarism in throwing out wartime and with it any participation in war or war preparation.
Some weeks back I got a call from Al Jazeera wanting me to be on a show, but insisting that I couldn't do it from a local studio via satellite or from my computer via Skype. No, I would have to fly to New York and back, and they would pay for the flight and pay a "per diem" as well (they didn't specify how much). I was not eager to take a whole day out of my life to fly to New York and back, but they sold me on it. This, they told me, would be the premier edition of a new Sunday morning news program to compete with the existing ones. And it would include different perspectives.
"This week, we are producing a debate on whether or not the 'American empire is on decline', and I would love to have you on the show to share your thoughts on the issue on this very exciting debate," wrote a woman who turned out to be one of many producers, in an initial email. We exchanged emails and spoke by phone. I provided brief responses on several subtopics. I even wrote and published a column on the topic and sent it to them. Various Al Jazeera staff got in on the email thread. I also spoke by phone with executive producer Robert Lilly.
At the studio in New York, I found out just before the taping who I would be debating. She had apparently known about me as her debate opponent for some time. Her name was Tara Maller and she worked at the Aspen Institute with General Stanley McChrystal. She and some of the producers sitting in the waiting room seemed to compete with each other in dropping the names of horribly blood-soaked and ridiculously over-wealthy people they knew. It reminded me of waiting to go on Fox News more than, say, theRealNews.com.
The debate turned out to be something like 15 minutes. Host Imran Garda veered away from the declining empire topic to focus on the question of war. I found that shift welcome. I was delighted to explain my views on war in general and various specific wars, to the extent that one can do so in a few teeny sound bytes. Garda seemed surprised, however, that someone could actually oppose all wars. There may have been a memo he missed on that. Maller, for her part, did fine, but told me afterwards that I talked faster than she did, and remarked to one of the gaggle of producers how absurd it was for her to have played the role of war supporter. Of course, her views were her own and I would have welcomed it had she chosen to oppose war, but she was clearly more comfortable debating someone to her right who wanted more war than she did.
I thought the taping went well, such as it was. There were no glaring problems, and all sorts of executives and bigwigs shook our hands and thanked us. I thanked one of them for airing (I thought that the show would in fact be airing) something that the other networks would never air, and the look I got back disturbed me. I wondered whether they actually found that idea unpleasant. I flew back home on their dime. I started telling people that Al Jazeera was going to air something different from the norm of Sunday political TV.
I heard little from the Al Jazeera folks for some weeks. They'd been eager to know when I'd be back in New York, but when I told them they didn't seem so interested anymore. I asked them about paying my "per diem" and they weaseled out of it with a claim that they would only pay for food and cabs with receipts. I'd given them a receipt for a cab when their car hadn't shown up at La Guardia. They'd never hinted that I needed to get receipts for food or that that was what they meant by "per diem." In the same email that included that weaseling, the out-of-the-loop producer who'd first contacted me said "I hope you got to watch the premier this past Sunday!"
That was odd. Nobody had told me it was going to be on or that they'd seen it. What good was this show if nobody saw it? I asked where the clip was online and got no response. Some days later I found a website for the show. Here it is: http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/third-rail.html The show is called The Third Rail, but it's not exactly electrifying. It's the same old, same old, with Judith Miller and Alan Dershowitz and such types. The guests fit with the attitude I picked up on in the studio of wanting to be CNN. These videos don't make for something worth announcing to the world as new and different from the usual gang of corporate hacks regurgitating talking points. The show I taped is not there.
I emailed the original producer who had been my main contact and CC'd a colleague she had been CCing. "I see you now have the show here http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/third-rail.html with no sign of any debate that might question war," I emailed. "On the contrary Judith Miller's smiling face front and center. What's up? I took an entire day out of my life to debate a war-proponent in teeny little sound bites and then you killed it? Your plan is to compete with Meet the Depressed and such shows by imitating them?"
The CC'd colleague, Senior Interview Producer Katy Ramirez Karp, wrote back saying let's talk tomorrow.
"Sure," I replied. "Why did you kill a program supposedly aimed at being different and including an anti-war point of view in order to air the same old slop from Alan Dershowitz and Judith Miller and all your typical Meet The Depressed style warmongering hacks? Was the other guest happy or upset to have the show killed? Did you tell her? Were you planning on telling me? Do you intend to ape the lousy existing shows but just have fewer viewers, or are you hoping to create something different?"
Wait sixty seconds.
The phone rang. It was Katy. "If you have something to say . . . !" She quickly accused me of "badgering" and "threatening." Whom was I threatening with what, how, and when? I asked her four or five times before she said "I'm not accusing you of threatening. I'm objecting to your tone." (Picture someone screaming "I'm objecting to your screaming!"). Ignoring her tone, I asked her why they had killed the program and if they had intended to tell me. Her response: "It was a practice run, my dear. We thought we might use part of it." She went on to say something about how they fully planned to include points of view from "your kind of advocates and causes." You got the sense she was holding something at arm's length with her nose pinched.
When I pointed out that I never would have come to New York for a practice run and had, needless to say, never been fed that line prior to this moment, she said she would have to speak with her colleagues about that. She ranted for a while about how she was a professional, and when I tried to say something she hung up.
Now, I don't seriously think they flew people in for a practice run and lied to them about it. I think quite obviously they decided after filming the program, for whatever reason, that they preferred to air the stuff you'll see on their website.
Was my performance or
Muller's Maller's unsatisfactory in some sort of technical way? I doubt it. I was just like I was in the clips of me they'd seen before inviting me on.
Did I say the wrong things about Syria or the weapons industry or something else in particular? I doubt it.
My best guess is they didn't want to be the show that premiers by doing something as laughable as opposing mass murder -- you can't touch such a third rail when you've already got the name Third Rail! But of course I'm just guessing. They won't tell me. They would rather claim that they lied to me for weeks and couldn't find anyone in the entire city of New York who could sit in for a "practice run."
You're invited to three Left Forum panels on May 30:
10am - 11:50am in Room 1.89: War Normalized or War Abolished - Drones, Nukes, and the Choice Before Us: A discussion of war now and in the future with David Swanson, Alice Slater, Joe Scarry, Nick Mottern, and Amanda Bass.
12pm - 1:50pm in Room 1.89: U.S. Wars of Aggression & Islamic Jihad: What is the Bigger Danger and How Should the Antiwar Movement Respond? - with Debra Sweet, William Blum, Alan Goodman, and David Swanson.
3:15pm - 5:00pm in Room 1.108: Strengths, Weaknesses, Challenges in Online Activism: How Can It Advance a Progressive Agenda: A discussion with David Swanson of RootsAction.org, Sarah Arnold of The Nation, David Segal of Demand Progress, and other online activists, of the state of online activism, successes, failures, interaction with offline activism, and plans going forward.
Tim Wright is the Australian Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. There are now 107 nations committed to legally banning the possession, production, or use of nuclear weapons. Wright discusses the strategy of this abolition movement. See also:
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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By David Swanson
The history of catastrophically murderous and stupid warfare that the United States can memorialize on Memorial Day dates back to Day 1 and earlier, begins with the genocide of the native inhabitants of the land, the invasions of Canada, etc., and from that day to this too many deadly escapades to list.
But one way in which the U.S. government gets itself into major crusades of mass killing is by hearing what it wants to hear. It even goes to the extent of allowing top U.S. government officials, sometimes briefly out the revolving door of public "service," to work in the pay and service of foreign nations pushing war propaganda on the U.S. public.
James Bradley's new book is called The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in China. It's well worth a read. For years leading up to World War II, the China Lobby in the United States persuaded the U.S. public, and many top U.S. officials, that the Chinese people all wanted to become Christian, that Chaing Kai-shek was their beloved democratic leader rather than the faltering fascist he was, that Mao Zedong was an insignificant nobody headed nowhere, that the United States could fund Chaing Kai-shek and he would use the funding to fight the Japanese, as opposed to using it to fight Mao, and that the United States could impose a crippling embargo on Japan without any Japanese military response.
For years leading up to at least the brink of World War III, the Israel Lobby in the United States has persuaded the United States that Israel is a democracy rather than an Apartheid state with rights based on religious identity. The United States, which has just derailed plans at the United Nations for a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free Middle East, and done so at the behest of nuclear Israel, has been following Israel's catastrophic lead in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and the rest of the region, chasing the mirage of a democratic law-abiding Israel that is no more real than that of the Christian-Americanized China that eventually had the U.S. identifying the little island of Taiwan as "the real China."
The mirage that contributed to the "new Pearl Harbor" of 911, in other words, is not entirely unlike the mirage that contributed to Pearl Harbor itself. The U.S. thinking of China as an extension of the United States, while knowing nothing about China and actually forbidding anyone Chinese from entering the country, did more harm to the world than imagining Israel as the 51st state has yet accomplished. Give it time.
Bradley's new book, in the early sections, covers more quickly some of the same ground as his remarkable The Imperial Cruise, still very much worth reading -- including the U.S. militarization of Japan and Theodore Roosevelt's encouragement of Japanese imperialism. The new book covers, better than I've seen anywhere else, the history of how many of the wealthiest individuals and institutions of the East Coast United States in the 19th century got their money -- including Franklin Delano Roosevelt's grandfather's money -- by illegally selling opium in China. The opium trade led to the opium wars and to the British and U.S. attacks on and occupation of pieces of China, making use of early versions of what the U.S. now calls in most nations on earth "Status of Forces Agreements."
The U.S. flooded China with drug dealers, traders of other commodities, and Christian missionaries, the latter far less successful than the others, converting very few people. A leading missionary admitted that in 10 years he had converted 10 Chinese people to Christianity. With an eye on Chinese and Southeast Asian trade, the United States built the Panama Canal and took over the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. With an eye on keeping Russia away from profitable Pacific trade, President Theodore Roosevelt supported Japanese expansion into Korea and China, and negotiated "peace" between Japan and Russia while secretly consulting with Japan every step of the way. (Another echo of the Palestinian "peace process" in which the U.S. is on Israel's side and "neutral.") T.R. was given a Nobel Peace Prize for the deed, about which award presumably not a single Korean or Chinese person was consulted. When Woodrow Wilson refused to meet with non-white Hoh Chi Minh in Paris, he also took part in handing over to Japan the colonies previously claimed by Germany in China, enraging the Chinese, including Mao. The seeds of future wars are small but perfectly discernable.
The U.S. government slant would soon shift from Japan to China. The image of the noble and Christian Chinese peasant was driven by people like the Trinity (later Duke) and Vanderbilt educated Charlie Soong, his daughters Ailing, Chingling, and Mayling, and son Tse-ven (T.V.), as well as Mayling's husband Chaing Kai-shek, Henry Luce who started Time magazine after being born in a missionary colony in China, and Pearl Buck who wrote The Good Earth after the same type of childhood. TV Soong hired retired U.S. Army Air Corps colonel John Jouett and by 1932 had access to all the expertise of the U.S. Army Air Corps and had nine instructors, a flight surgeon, four mechanics, and a secretary, all U.S. Air Corps trained but now working for Soong in China. It was just the start of U.S. military assistance to China that made less news in the United States than it did in Japan.
In 1938, with Japan attacking Chinese cities, and Chaing barely fighting back, Chaing instructed his chief propagandist Hollington Tong, a former Columbia University journalism student, to send agents to the United States to recruit U.S. missionaries and give them evidence of Japanese atrocities, to hire Frank Price (Mayling's favorite missionary), and to recruit U.S. reporters and authors to write favorable articles and books. Frank Price and his brother Harry Price had been born in China, without ever encountering the China of the Chinese. The Price brothers set up shop in New York City, where few had any idea they were working for the Soong-Chaing gang. Mayling and Tong assigned them to persuade Americans that the key to peace in China was an embargo on Japan. They created the American Committee for Non-Participation in Japanese Aggression. "The public never knew," writes Bradley, "that the Manhattan missionaries diligently working on East Fortieth Street to save the Noble Peasants were paid China Lobby agents engaged in what were possibly illegal and treasonous acts."
I take Bradley's point to be not that Chinese peasants are not necessarily noble, and not that Japan wasn't guilty of aggression, but that the propaganda campaign convinced most Americans that Japan would not attack the United States if the United States cut off oil and metal to Japan -- which was false in the view of informed observers and would be proved false in the course of events.
Former Secretary of State and future Secretary of War Henry Stimson became chair of the committee, which quickly added former heads of Harvard, Union Theological Seminary, the Church Peace Union, the World Alliance for International Friendship, the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, the Associate Boards of Christian Colleges in China, etc. Stimson and gang were paid by China to claim Japan would never attack the United States if embargoed -- a claim dismissed by those in the know in the State Department and White House, but a claim made at a time when the United States had virtually no real communication with Japan.
The public's desire to stop arming Japan's assaults on China seems admirable to me and resonates with my desire that the U.S. stop arming Saudi Arabia's assault on Yemen, to take one example of dozens. But talking could have preceded an embargo. Setting aside the racist and religious filters in order to see the reality on the ground in China would have helped. Refraining from the threatening moves of the U.S. Navy, moving ships to Hawaii and building airstrips on Pacific Islands could have helped. The anti-war choices were far wider than economic antagonization of Japan and non-communicative insults to Japanese honor.
But by February 1940, Bradley writes, 75% of Americans supported embargoing Japan. And most Americans, of course, did not want war. They had bought the China Lobby's propaganda.
FDR and his Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau set up front companies and loans to Chaing, going behind the back of Secretary of State Cordell Hull. FDR, it seems, was not just catering to the China Lobby but truly believed its story -- at least up to a point. His own mother, who had lived in a U.S. bit of China as a child with her opium-pushing father, was honorary chairwoman of both the China Aid Council and the American Committee for Chinese War Orphans. FDR's wife was honorary chairwoman of Pearl Buck's China Emergency Relief Committee. Two thousand U.S. labor unions backed an embargo on Japan. The first economic advisor to a U.S. president, Lauchlin Currie, worked for both FDR and the Bank of China simultaneously. Syndicated columnist and Roosevelt relative Joe Alsop cashed checks from TV Soong as an "advisor" even while performing his service as "objective journalist." "No British, Russian, French, or Japanese diplomat," writes Bradley, "would have believed that Chaing could become a New Deal liberal." But FDR seems to have believed it. He communicated with Chaing and Mayling secretly, going around his own State Department.
Yet FDR believed that if embargoed, Japan would attack the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) with the possible result of a wider world war. Morgenthau, in Bradley's telling, repeatedly tried to slip through a total embargo on petroleum to Japan, while FDR resisted. FDR did move the fleet to Pearl Harbor, impose a partial embargo on aviation-fuel and scrap, and loan money to Chaing. The Soong-Chaing syndicate also worked with the FDR White House to create a U.S.-funded, U.S.-trained, and U.S.-staffed air force for China to use in attacking Japanese cities. When FDR asked his advisor Tommy Corcoran to check out the leader of this new air force, former U.S. Air Corps captain Claire Chennault, he may have been unaware that he was asking someone in the pay of TV Soong to advise him on someone else in the pay of TV Soong.
Bradley says that FDR kept his Asian air war scheme secret from the U.S. public. Yet, on May 24, 1941, the New York Times reported on U.S. training of the Chinese air force, and the provision of "numerous fighting and bombing planes" to China by the United States. "Bombing of Japanese Cities is Expected," read the subheadline. This may have been "kept secret" in the sense in which Obama's kill list is secret despite appearing in the New York Times. It's not endlessly discussed because it doesn't fit well into happy little narratives. The "first draft of history" is always very selectively entered into history books that survive into future decades.
But Bradley is right that this was no secret from Japan. And he includes something I don't remember knowing before, namely that Chennault admitted that when a ship carrying his pilots left San Francisco for Asia in July 1941, his men heard a Japanese radio broadcast boast, "That ship will never reach China. It will be sunk." Also in July, FDR approved a Lend-Lease program for China: 269 more fighters and 66 bombers, and froze Japanese assets. All of this was part of longer and wider trends that Bradley could have developed more fully. But he offers some interesting details and a curious interpretation of them, concluding that Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson catapulted the United States into World War II by maneuvering to deny any U.S. oil to Japan for a month, beginning while FDR was off conspiring with Winston Churchill on a boat and creating what would be called the Atlantic Charter.
In Bradley's account Hull learns of the embargo, a month in, on September 4, 1941, and informs FDR that day. But they elect to leave it unchanged as somehow undoing it would somehow be seen as allowing Japan to get "more" oil than before. The embargo had by this point been public news in Japan for a month. FDR had access to reports on Japanese news, as well as to decoded secret Japanese government communications, not to mention that he met with the Japanese ambassador in the interim. Were communications really not advanced in 1941 beyond what they were when Texas took so long to learn that slavery had ended?
In any case, when Japan saw the embargo lasting, it did not move toward moderate democracy as the China Lobby had always said would happen. Instead it became a military dictatorship. Meanwhile Time magazine was publicly hoping that a U.S. and British war on the side of China would persuade the Chinese to convert to Christianity. The parallel in the Israel Lobby is of course the Christian fanatics who believe that Israel is leading the way toward some magically prophesied future of desirable catastrophe.
Mayling Soong's speech to the U.S. Congress in February 1943 rivaled Bibi Netanyahu's of 2015 for mass adoration, delusion, and devotion to a fraudulent foreign power. The delusion would continue for generations. The Catholic Vietnam Lobby would get in on the game. The U.S. wouldn't recognize Mao's China until it had been reduced to making Richard Nixon its president. For the full account, I recommend Bradley's book.
Yet I think the book has some gaps. It doesn't seek to touch on FDR's desire for war on Germany, nor on the value to him and his administration of a Japanese attack as the key to entering both the Atlantic and the Pacific wars. What follows I have written about before.
What Was FDR's Game?
On December 7, 1941, FDR drew up a declaration of war on both Japan and Germany, but decided it wouldn't work and went with Japan alone. Germany, as expected, quickly declared war on the United States.
FDR had tried lying to the American people about U.S. ships including the Greer and the Kerny, which had been helping British planes track German submarines, but which Roosevelt pretended had been innocently attacked.
Roosevelt had also lied that he had in his possession a secret Nazi map planning the conquest of South America, as well as a secret Nazi plan for replacing all religions with Nazism.
As of December 6, 1941, eighty percent of the U.S. public opposed entering a war. But Roosevelt had already instituted the draft, activated the National Guard, created a huge Navy in two oceans, traded old destroyers to England in exchange for the lease of its bases in the Caribbean and Bermuda, and secretly ordered the creation of a list of every Japanese and Japanese-American person in the United States.
On April 28, 1941, Churchill wrote a secret directive to his war cabinet: "It may be taken as almost certain that the entry of Japan into the war would be followed by the immediate entry of the United States on our side."
On August 18, 1941, Churchill met with his cabinet at 10 Downing Street. The meeting had some similarity to the July 23, 2002, meeting at the same address, the minutes of which became known as the Downing Street Minutes. Both meetings revealed secret U.S. intentions to go to war. In the 1941 meeting, Churchill told his cabinet, according to the minutes: "The President had said he would wage war but not declare it." In addition, "Everything was to be done to force an incident."
From the mid-1930s U.S. peace activists -- those people so annoyingly right about recent U.S. wars -- were marching against U.S. antagonization of Japan and U.S. Navy plans for war on Japan -- the March 8, 1939, version of which described "an offensive war of long duration" that would destroy the military and disrupt the economic life of Japan.
In January 1941, the Japan Advertiser expressed its outrage over Pearl Harbor in an editorial, and the U.S. ambassador to Japan wrote in his diary: "There is a lot of talk around town to the effect that the Japanese, in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course I informed my government."
On February 5, 1941, Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner wrote to Secretary of War Henry Stimson to warn of the possibility of a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor.
As noted, as early as 1932 the United States had been talking with China about providing airplanes, pilots, and training for its war with Japan. In November 1940, Roosevelt loaned China one hundred million dollars for war with Japan, and after consulting with the British, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau made plans to send the Chinese bombers with U.S. crews to use in bombing Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
On December 21, 1940, China's Minister of Finance T.V. Soong and Colonel Claire Chennault, the retired U.S. Army flier who was working for the Chinese and had been urging them to use American pilots to bomb Tokyo since at least 1937, met in Henry Morgenthau's dining room to plan the firebombing of Japan. Morgenthau said he could get men released from duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps if the Chinese could pay them $1,000 per month. Soong agreed.
By July, the Joint Army-Navy Board had approved a plan called JB 355 to firebomb Japan. A front corporation would buy American planes to be flown by American volunteers trained by Chennault and paid by another front group. Roosevelt approved, and his China expert Lauchlin Currie, in the words of Nicholson Baker, "wired Madame Chaing Kai-Shek and Claire Chennault a letter that fairly begged for interception by Japanese spies." Whether or not that was the entire point, this was the letter: "I am very happy to be able to report today the President directed that sixty-six bombers be made available to China this year with twenty-four to be delivered immediately. He also approved a Chinese pilot training program here. Details through normal channels. Warm regards."
The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force, also known as the Flying Tigers (logo later designed by Walt Disney, as Bradley notes), moved ahead with recruitment and training immediately and were provided to China prior to Pearl Harbor.
On May 31, 1941, at the Keep America Out of War Congress, William Henry Chamberlin gave a dire warning: "A total economic boycott of Japan, the stoppage of oil shipments for instance, would push Japan into the arms of the Axis. Economic war would be a prelude to naval and military war."
On July 24, 1941, President Roosevelt remarked, "If we cut the oil off , [the Japanese] probably would have gone down to the Dutch East Indies a year ago, and you would have had a war. It was very essential from our own selfish point of view of defense to prevent a war from starting in the South Pacific. So our foreign policy was trying to stop a war from breaking out there." Reporters noticed that Roosevelt said "was" rather than "is." The next day, Roosevelt issued an executive order freezing Japanese assets. The United States and Britain cut off oil and scrap metal to Japan, whether Acheson actually sneaked this past Roosevelt or not. Radhabinod Pal, an Indian jurist who served on the war crimes tribunal after the war, called the embargoes a "clear and potent threat to Japan's very existence," and concluded the United States had provoked Japan.
On August 7, 1941, the Japan Times Advertiser wrote: "First there was the creation of a superbase at Singapore, heavily reinforced by British and Empire troops. From this hub a great wheel was built up and linked with American bases to form a great ring sweeping in a great area southwards and westwards from the Philippines through Malaya and Burma, with the link broken only in the Thailand peninsula. Now it is proposed to include the narrows in the encirclement, which proceeds to Rangoon."
By September the Japanese press was outraged that the United States had begun shipping oil right past Japan to reach Russia. Japan, its newspapers said, was dying a slow death from "economic war."
In late October, U.S. spy Edgar Mower was doing work for Colonel William Donovan who spied for Roosevelt. Mower spoke with a man in Manila named Ernest Johnson, a member of the Maritime Commission, who said he expected "The Japs will take Manila before I can get out." When Mower expressed surprise, Johnson replied "Didn't you know the Jap fleet has moved eastward, presumably to attack our fleet at Pearl Harbor?"
On November 3, 1941, the U.S. ambassador sent a lengthy telegram to the State Department warning that the economic sanctions might force Japan to commit "national hara-kiri." He wrote: "An armed conflict with the United States may come with dangerous and dramatic suddenness."
On November 15th, U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall briefed the media on something we do not remember as "the Marshall Plan." In fact we don't remember it at all. "We are preparing an offensive war against Japan," Marshall said, asking the journalists to keep it a secret, which as far as I know they dutifully did.
Ten days later Secretary of War Stimson wrote in his diary that he'd met in the Oval Office with Marshall, President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Admiral Harold Stark, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Roosevelt had told them the Japanese were likely to attack soon, possibly next Monday.
It has been well documented that the United States had broken the Japanese' codes and that Roosevelt had access to them. It was through intercept of a so-called Purple code message that Roosevelt had discovered Germany's plans to invade Russia. It was Hull who leaked a Japanese intercept to the press, resulting in the November 30, 1941, headline "Japanese May Strike Over Weekend."
That next Monday would have been December 1st, six days before the attack actually came. "The question," Stimson wrote, "was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves. It was a difficult proposition."
The day after the attack, Congress voted for war. Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin (R., Mont.) stood alone in voting no. One year after the vote, on December 8, 1942, Rankin put extended remarks into the Congressional Record explaining her opposition. She cited the work of a British propagandist who had argued in 1938 for using Japan to bring the United States into the war. She cited Henry Luce's reference in Life magazine on July 20, 1942, to "the Chinese for whom the U.S. had delivered the ultimatum that brought on Pearl Harbor." She introduced evidence that at the Atlantic Conference on August 12, 1941, Roosevelt had assured Churchill that the United States would bring economic pressure to bear on Japan. "I cited," Rankin later wrote, " the State Department Bulletin of December 20, 1941, which revealed that on September 3 a communication had been sent to Japan demanding that it accept the principle of 'nondisturbance of the status quo in the Pacific,' which amounted to demanding guarantees of the inviolateness of the white empires in the Orient."
Rankin found that the Economic Defense Board had gotten economic sanctions under way less than a week after the Atlantic Conference. On December 2, 1941, the New York Times had reported, in fact, that Japan had been "cut off from about 75 percent of her normal trade by the Allied blockade." Rankin also cited the statement of Lieutenant Clarence E. Dickinson, U.S.N., in the Saturday Evening Post of October 10, 1942, that on November 28, 1941, nine days before the attack, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., (he of the catchy slogan "Kill Japs! Kill Japs!" ) had given instructions to him and others to "shoot down anything we saw in the sky and to bomb anything we saw on the sea."
General George Marshall admitted as much to Congress in 1945: that the codes had been broken, that the United States had initiated Anglo-Dutch-American agreements for unified action against Japan and put them into effect before Pearl Harbor, and that the United States had provided officers of its military to China for combat duty before Pearl Harbor.
An October 1940 memorandum by Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum was acted on by President Roosevelt and his chief subordinates. It called for eight actions that McCollum predicted would lead the Japanese to attack, including arranging for the use of British bases in Singapore and for the use of Dutch bases in what is now Indonesia, aiding the Chinese government, sending a division of long-range heavy cruisers to the Philippines or Singapore, sending two divisions of submarines to "the Orient," keeping the main strength of the fleet in Hawaii, insisting that the Dutch deny the Japanese oil, and embargoing all trade with Japan in collaboration with the British Empire.
The day after McCollum's memo, the State Department told Americans to evacuate far eastern nations, and Roosevelt ordered the fleet kept in Hawaii over the strenuous objection of Admiral James O. Richardson who quoted the President as saying "Sooner or later the Japanese would commit an overt act against the United States and the nation would be willing to enter the war."
The message that Admiral Harold Stark sent to Admiral Husband Kimmel on November 28, 1941, read, "IF HOSTILITIES CANNOT REPEAT CANNOT BE AVOIDED THE UNITED STATES DESIRES THAT JAPAN COMMIT THE FIRST OVERT ACT."
Joseph Rochefort, cofounder of the Navy's communication intelligence section, who was instrumental in failing to communicate to Pearl Harbor what was coming, would later comment: "It was a pretty cheap price to pay for unifying the country."
The night after the attack, President Roosevelt had CBS News's Edward R. Murrow and Roosevelt's Coordinator of Information William Donovan over for dinner at the White House, and all the President wanted to know was whether the American people would now accept war. Donovan and Murrow assured him the people would indeed accept war now. Donovan later told his assistant that Roosevelt's surprise was not that of others around him, and that he, Roosevelt, welcomed the attack. Murrow was unable to sleep that night and was plagued for the rest of his life by what he called "the biggest story of my life" which he never told.