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Resisting Racism and Militarism in 2013

12:25 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

January 21st will be an odd day in the United States.  We’ll honor Martin Luther King Jr. and bestow another 4-year regime on the man who, in his Nobel peace prize acceptance speech said that Martin Luther King Jr. had been wrong — that those who follow his example “stand idle in the face of threats.”

Cover of We Have Not Been Moved

We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America

I plan to begin the day by refusing to stand idle in the face of the threat that is President Barack Obama’s military.  An event honoring Dr. King and protesting drone wars will include a rally at Malcolm X Park and a parade named for a bit of Kingian rhetoric.

That evening I plan to attend the launch of a new book called We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America.

The Martin King I choose to celebrate is not the mythical man, beloved and accepted by all during his life, interested exclusively in ending racial segregation, and not attracted to activism — since only through electoral work, as we’ve all been told, can one be a serious activist.

The Martin King I choose to celebrate is the man who resorted to the most powerful activist tools available, the tools of creative nonviolent resistance and noncooperation, in order to resist what he called the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.

Taking that seriously means ending right now the past five-year-long ban on protesting the President.  At Obama’s first inauguration we held Good Riddance to Bush rallies because pressuring Obama to mend his militaristic ways was not deemed “strategic.”

It turns out that refusing to push people toward peace does something worse than offending them.  It ignores them and abandons them to their fate.

But pushing is not exactly the verb we should be looking for as we strive to build an inclusive peace movement.  Nor is peace exactly the adjective.  What we need is a movement against racism, materialism, and militarism.

To build that, those working to reduce spending on the Pentagon’s pet corporations need to also work against the prison industrial complex.  And those working against police violence need to work for higher taxes on billionaires.  And those working to protect Social Security and Medicare need to oppose the murdering of human beings with missiles and drones.

We need to do these things not just because they will unite a larger number of people.  We would need to do them all even if nobody were already working in any of these areas.  We need to do them because we are taking on a culture, not just a policy.  We are taking on the mental habits that allow racism, materialism, and militarism.  We cannot do so with a movement that is segregated by policy area any more than we can with a movement that is segregated by race.

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Did Roosevelt’s Racism Cause WWII?

10:20 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

That was the argument made in a U.S. bestseller in 2009 written by a WWII historian whose father had raised the US flag on Iwo Jima. And the Roosevelt he had in mind was Teddy, not Franklin.

Needless to say, although countless people will say it quite angrily in my Email inbox in response to this article, you cannot simply blame an event on actions that occurred years before. A war is started by the people who start that war, in that instant, and there is no way for them to wiggle out of that responsibility. But, as everyone is eager to recognize when the context is more comfortable, all actions have consequences, and those consequences have further consequences. (As a warning that may further temper the vitriol, I would like to point out that Teddy was not a Democrat.)

When the McKinley-Roosevelt ticket won the White House campaigning on a platform of humanitarian war and benevolent overseas empire, and William Jennings Bryan’s opposition to all imperialism did not carry the day, that event had consequences. And actions that Roosevelt took in his later career, legal and illegal, public and secret, had devastating consequences.

That Teddy Roosevelt, along with McKinley (see magazine cover), Taft, and much of the country were racists is not exactly news. Teddy Roosevelt supported the slaughter of Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, Cubans, Filipinos, and Asians and Central Americans of nearly every variety. He believed only whites capable of self-rule (which was bad news for the Cubans when their U.S. liberators discovered them to be black). He created a display of Filipinos for the St. Louis World’s Fair depicting them as savages who could be tamed by white men. He invented the notion of illegal immigration by blocking the entry of Chinese, who — darn them — were just not as lazy or unhealthy as white workers.

But we tend to think of racism as a secondary defect. Someone is first and foremost a politician or a lawyer or a fireman or a novelist and only secondarily a racist. Roosevelt, we imagine, was driven by personal interest, family relationships, economic influences, and so forth, and his actions were only to some degree, large or small, influenced by racism. This appears to be wrong. The major guiding force in Teddy Roosevelt’s life seems to have been the advancement of the Aryan race over all other races. His machismo and his playing dress-up in Brooks Brothers designed uniforms was racial machismo; he was promoting himself as a model for the advancement of the world’s most superior race.

The Aryans had supposedly come from the Middle East to Germany and from there to England in the form of the Anglo-Saxons. America’s Manifest Destiny was understood by many from the beginning as global in scope. The Anglo-Saxons had come west to the New World, would move west to the Pacific (slaughtering/benefitting anyone in the way) and proceed west through the Pacific and Asia (slaughtering/benefitting anyone in the way) until coming full-circle to the birthplace of the race near an area that Washington still very much wants to conquer, a nation whose name derives from Aryan: Iran.

The same race theories maintained that the process of warmaking and conquering was necessary for the health of the race. When the Aryans had reached the Pacific, the mission had to continue, not just to fulfill a prophecy or to open markets or to win elections, but so that the race might not degenerate in the dangerous luxury of peace. General Arthur MacArthur, whose son Douglas would later effectively rule Japan, start a war in Korea, and do his best to get World War III going, was himself — for a time — the benevolent ruler of the Philippines, and explained to a U.S. Senate committee:

“Many thousands of years ago our Aryan ancestors raised cattle, made a language, multiplied in numbers, and overflowed. By due process of expansion to the west they occupied Europe, developed arts and sciences, and created a great civilization, which, separating into innumerable currents, inundated and fertilized the globe with blood and ideas, the primary basis of all human progress, incidentally crossing the Atlantic and thereby reclaiming, populating, and civilizing a hemisphere. As to why the United States was in the Philippines , the broad actuating laws which underlie all these wonderful phenomena are still operating with relentless vigor and have recently forced one of the currents of this magnificent Aryan people across the Pacific — that is to say, back almost to the cradle of its race.”

Incidentally, more Filipinos died in the first day of fighting off their American benefactors than Americans would die storming the beaches at Normandy. American soldiers in the Philippines sang a pleasant little song about waterboarding Filipinos. Here’s a verse:

“Oh pump it in him till he swells like a toy balloon.
The fool pretends that liberty is not a precious boon.
But we’ll contrive to make him see the beauty of it soon.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.”

In a 1910 lecture at Oxford, Teddy Roosevelt argued that recent white gains might be more temporary than those of the past, because modern Anglo-Saxons had allowed captive races to (partially) survive, whereas “all of the world achievements worth remembering are to be credited to the people of European descent . . . the intrusive people having either exterminated or driven out the conquered peoples.” Roosevelt praised this as “ethnic conquest” and it seems to have been his driving force.

Roosevelt was not different in this regard from many of his contemporaries. He is to be singled out only because he was a vice president and president who advanced this agenda. This meant death and suffering for millions of people, but what does that have to do with starting World War II decades after the man here accused had been dead?

This is the central argument, among many others, in James Bradley’s “The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War.” In 1614 Japan had cut itself off from the West, resulting in centuries of peace and prosperity and the blossoming of Japanese art and culture. In 1853 the U.S. Navy had forced Japan open to U.S. merchants, missionaries, and militarism. The Japanese studied the Americans’ racism and adopted a strategy to deal with it. They sought to westernize themselves and present themselves as a separate race superior to the rest of the Asians. They became honorary Aryans. Lacking a single god or a god of conquest, they invented a divine emperor borrowing heavily from Christian tradition. They dressed and dined like Americans and sent their students to study in the United States. The Japanese were often referred to in the United States as the “Yankees of the Far East.” In 1872 the U.S. military began training the Japanese in how to conquer other nations, with an eye on Taiwan.

Charles LeGendre, an American general training the Japanese in the ways of war, proposed that they adopt a Monroe Doctrine for Asia, that is a policy of dominating Asia in the way that the United States dominated its hemisphere. Japan established a Bureau of Savage Affairs and invented new words like koronii (colony). Talk in Japan began to focus on the responsibility of the Japanese to civilize the savages. In 1873, Japan invaded Taiwan with U.S. military advisors. And Korea was next.

Korea and Japan had known nothing but peace for centuries. When the Japanese arrived with U.S. ships, wearing U.S. clothing, talking about their divine emperor, and proposing a treaty of “friendship,” the Koreans thought the Japanese had lost their minds, and told them to get lost, knowing that China was there at Korea’s back. But the Japanese talked China into allowing Korea to sign the treaty, without explaining to either the Chinese or Koreans what the treaty meant in its English translation. In 1894 Japan declared war on China, a war in which U.S. weapons carried the day. China gave up Taiwan and the Liaodong Peninsula, paid a large indemnity, declared Korea independent, and gave Japan the same commercial rights in China that the U.S. and European nations had. Japan was triumphant, until China persuaded Russia, France, and Germany to oppose Japanese ownership of Liaodong. Japan gave it up and Russia grabbed it. Japan felt betrayed by white Christians, and not for the last time.

In 1904, Roosevelt was very pleased with a Japanese surprise attack on Russian ships. As the Japanese again waged war on Asia as honorary Aryans, Roosevelt secretly and unconstitutionally cut deals with them, approving of a Monroe Doctrine for Japan in Asia. Bradley observes:

“If Congress had been aware of the president’s alliances, perhaps a senator would have challenged Roosevelt to think through the consequences of the United States’ carving out a chunk of Asia for Japan to nibble on. Perhaps a congressman might have inspired Roosevelt to imagine a Japan that later would chafe at Teddy’s leash.”

Or just maybe, ever so barely conceivably, Congress would have acted as more than a royal court and altered U.S. policy. But Teddy wrote to his son Kermit, whose own son Kermit Jr. would indeed later conquer Iran by overthrowing its democratically elected president — talk about actions that had lasting disastrous consequences! Teddy wrote to Kermit Sr.,

“I have of course concealed from everyone — literally everyone — the fact that I acted in the first place on Japan’s suggestion . . . . I have kept the secret very successfully, and my dealings with the Japanese in particular have been known to no one.”

Here Teddy was explaining that his moderation of peace negotiations between Japan and Russia had all been previously worked out in secret with Japan . . . or almost all.

Roosevelt handed Korea over to Japan, betraying the Korean people, and yet managed to enrage the Japanese. He backed Russia’s refusal to pay Japan a dime following their war, betraying and outraging the Japanese people. He then refused to go public with his support of the Japanese Monroe Doctrine, betraying a promise he’d made to Japan’s representative in the United States.

Japan had fought two wars victoriously and then been betrayed twice. When no indemnity was paid by Russia, the Japanese burned 13 Christian churches in Tokyo and threw stones at Americans. Roosevelt’s daughter, greeted as a celebrity on her previous visit, stopped briefly in Tokyo in September 1905 and remained incognito for her safety. Japan was now an armed and imperial nation with a deep grudge against the United States.

Did that situation guarantee the Pacific war of WWII? Of course not. Either the United States or Japan could have altered its imperialist trajectory. Another generation of neither party doing so is what guaranteed WWII. After which Japan became again, and remains to this day, if not exactly our honorary Aryans of Asia, at least the territory where we base great masses of soldiers and weaponry with which to “civilize” other locations.

David Swanson is the author of “War Is A Lie”