Category Archives: History

Rest In Peace, Frank Buckles

Paul Duggan at WaPo:

Frank W. Buckles died Sunday, sadly yet not unexpectedly at age 110, having achieved a singular feat of longevity that left him proud and a bit bemused.

In 1917 and 1918, close to 5 million Americans served in World War I, and Mr. Buckles, a cordial fellow of gentle humor, was the last known survivor. “I knew there’d be only one someday,” he said a few years back. “I didn’t think it would be me.”

Mr. Buckles, a widower, died on his West Virginia farm, said his daughter, Susannah Buckles Flanagan, who had been caring for him there.

Flanagan, 55, said her father had recently recovered from a chest infection and seemed in reasonably good health for a man his age. At 12:15 a.m. Sunday, he summoned his live-in nurse to his bedroom. As the nurse looked on, Flanagan said, Mr. Buckles drew a breath, and his eyes fell shut

Mark Thompson at Swampland at Time:

There used to be a newsletter for American veterans of World War I. When I first saw it some two decades or more ago, it noted there were some 4,000 of them still alive. I haven’t seen it in many years — I don’t recall its name, but it might have been The Torch. Amazing that any were still alive, given that their war began in this decade a century ago. Alas, its subscriber base dwindled to zero over the weekend with the death of Frank Buckles of West Virginia at 110.

Will Rahn at The Daily Caller:

The last American veteran of World War I has died.

At first, it didn’t seem like the like the Missouri-born Frank Buckles would ever go to war. He was repeatedly turned down by military recruiters on account of his age (he was only 16 when the war broke out) but successfully enlisted when he convinced an Army captain he was 18.

“A boy of [that age], he’s not afraid of anything,” said Buckles, who had first tried to join the Marines. “He wants to get in there.”

“I went to the state fair up in Wichita, Kansas, and while there, went to the recruiting station for the Marine Corps,” he told the AP in 2007. “The nice Marine sergeant said I was too young when I gave my age as 18, said I had to be 21.” A week later, Buckles returned to tell the Marine recruiter he was 21, only to be informed that he wasn’t heavy enough.

Buckles then tried for the Navy, but was turned down on account of his flat feet. Finally, he tried for the Army. When a captain asked for his birth certificate, Buckles said they weren’t issued in Missouri at the time of his birth, but that there was a record in the family Bible. “I said, ‘You don’t want me to bring the family Bible down, do you?’” Buckles remembered with a laugh. “He said, ‘OK, we’ll take you.’”

bk at Redstate:

After leaving the Army as a Corporal, he ended up getting a job with a shipping company and traveling all over the world. As luck would have it, he was in Manila when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor a few hours before bombing and invading the Philippines. He ended up in Japanese POW camps until 1945 when his was liberated.

He got married several years later and moved to a farm in West Virginia, where he still drove his own car and tractor until he was 102. His wife died in 1999, the same year he was awarded the French Legion of Honor.

In 2008 he became the oldest surviving WWI vet, which of course got him some attention in Washington (including a visit to the White House with George W. Bush) and beyond. George Will wrote a nice column about him. Not everything in WV is named after Robert C. Byrd – then-Gov Joe Manchin named a section of WV Route 9 in his honor at the time.

RIP Corporal Buckles!

Moe Lane:

Sounds like he was a good-natured, amiable sort who did not take his status as the last remaining US WWI veteran as being anything except a testament to his longevity… and as an opportunity to push for refurbishing and rededicating DC’s WWI memorial as a national one.

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The Blogosphere Wrestles With The Confederacy Again

Katharine Q. Seelye at NYT:

The Civil War, the most wrenching and bloody episode in American history, may not seem like much of a cause for celebration, especially in the South.

And yet, as the 150th anniversary of the four-year conflict gets under way, some groups in the old Confederacy are planning at least a certain amount of hoopla, chiefly around the glory days of secession, when 11 states declared their sovereignty under a banner of states’ rights and broke from the union.

The events include a “secession ball” in the former slave port of Charleston (“a joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink,” says the invitation), which will be replicated on a smaller scale in other cities. A parade is being planned in Montgomery, Ala., along with a mock swearing-in of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy.

In addition, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and some of its local chapters are preparing various television commercials that they hope to show next year. “All we wanted was to be left alone to govern ourselves,” says one ad from the group’s Georgia Division.

That some — even now — are honoring secession, with barely a nod to the role of slavery, underscores how divisive a topic the war remains, with Americans continuing to debate its causes, its meaning and its legacy.

“We in the South, who have been kicked around for an awfully long time and are accused of being racist, we would just like the truth to be known,” said Michael Givens, commander-in-chief of the Sons, explaining the reason for the television ads. While there were many causes of the war, he said, “our people were only fighting to protect themselves from an invasion and for their independence.”

Not everyone is on board with this program, of course. The N.A.A.C.P., for one, plans to protest some of these events, saying that celebrating secession is tantamount to celebrating slavery.

“I can only imagine what kind of celebration they would have if they had won,” said Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina N.A.A.C.P.

He said he was dumbfounded by “all of this glamorization and sanitization of what really happened.” When Southerners refer to states’ rights, he said, “they are really talking about their idea of one right — to buy and sell human beings.”

Oliver Willis:

God, these people are absolute morons. The Confederacy was an act of war against America, no better than Al Qaeda – probably worse because these people were American citizens. There are those who wish for the history books to expunge their vile legacy, for future generations to lose the collective memory of the people who ripped America apart. They want the future to be ignorant of the confederacy’s love of free labor on the backs of enslaved blacks.

We can’t let that happen.

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

In Montgomery, Alabama — at one time, a hotbed of violence in defense of apartheid — neo-Confederate sympathizers are celebrating the anniversary with a parade, as well as a “mock swearing-in” of Jefferson Davis, the sole president of the Confederacy. Incidentally, this is what Davis — senator from Mississippi — had to say about the prospect of secession, in the final months of 1860, shortly before his state left the Union in rebellion:

“The recent declaration of the candidate and leaders of the Black Republican Party must suffice to convince many who have formerly doubted the purpose to attack the institution of slavery in the states. The undying opposition to slavery in the United States means war upon it, where it is, not where it is not.”

A few weeks later, on January 9, 1861, Mississippi issued its ordinance of secession:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

t really annoys me the that Times used someone who they felt they had to ID as a “liberal sociologist” to counter Antley. Far better to simply quote from the founding documents which those 170 people authored. In that way we can get some sense of precisely what they were risking their lives for, and the exact nature of the fortune they were protecting:

We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof. The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”
This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.
The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States. The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.
The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution.
The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions.

The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor. We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States.
Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself.
A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety. On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.
I think we need to be absolutely clear that 150 years after the defeat of one of the Confederacy, there are still creationists who seek to celebrate the treasonous attempt to raise an entire country based on the ownership of people.

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

On one level, however, the people who say that the war was about “states’ rights” are correct, if we use revealed preferences to define “states’ rights” as “federal enforcement of the rights of racial minorities is illegitimate, while federal powers that might serve or protect the interests of wealthy southern whites should be interpreted as expansively as possible.” I think Ulysses S. Grant’s acid response to the idea that Southern opposition to Reconstruction reflected a principled resistance to the use of federal military authority characterizes actually existing doctrines of “states’ rights” nicely:

During my two terms of office the whole Democratic press, and the morbidly honest and “reformatory” portion of the Republican press, thought it horrible to keep U.S. troops stationed in the Southern States, and when they were called upon to protect the lives of negroes — as much citizens under the Constitution as if their skins were white — the country was scarcely large enough to hold the sound of indignation belched forth by them for some years. Now, however, there is no hesitation about exhausting the whole power of the government to suppress a strike on the slightest intimation that danger threatens.

Lizardbreath:

I think what gets to me is the Orwellian nature of it all; that it’s a power play. If Confederate-worshippers can make it seem aggressively impolite to insist on straightforwardly, obviously true historical facts, then we can’t rely on facts to establish anything, which is exactly how politics has been feeling lately. Not, of course, that stamping out Civil War revisionism solves anything, but it’d make me feel better.

Steven L. Taylor:

I can’t imagine that most people, in the south or not, will be commemorating secession.  I will, however, state that many of these sentiments are held in at least a vague way by a lot of people in the Deep South.  To wit:   the notion that the war was about “states rights” and self-defense.  I, for one, think that that is a lie that many Americans tell themselves* about the war because they don’t want to fully face up to the notion that the most fundamental right in question was the right for one set of human beings to hold another set of human beings as property.   There is a great deal of pressure to want to find some mental gymnastics to allow for pride about one’s heritage, and it is far easier to cleave to the notion that one’s forbearers were principled about the rights of their states than it is to admit that they were defending a specific political economy that required slave labor.  If anyone has doubts that slavery was central to secession, I would point the reader to a post I wrote on this topic earlier this year:  Confederate Heritage and History Month.  It really is impossible to argue from the facts that the main reason for secession was anything other than slavery.

I will further say this:  there is far too little shame associated with the CSA than there ought to be.  The continued popularity of the Confederate Battle Flag as an adornment on automobiles and clothing attest to that fact.  Or, for that matter, the notion that many politicians still extol things like Confederate Heritage Month and the aforementioned battle flag.**  Certainly I know plenty of people, including students and people I know in various walks of life, who adhere to the notion that there is a “real history of the South” that is not properly taught.

One of the weirder aspects of all of this discussion to me is that the South is also the part of the country that considers itself the most patriotic vis-à-vis the United States of America and which venerates the US flag and the Constitution as near sacred items.  As such, one would think that such deep belief in exceptional nature of the USA would translate into some reevaluation of the meaning of secession and the Civil War.***  Indeed, one would think that any given Southern patriot would look back on the history of 150 years ago and have a profound sense of relief that the entire CSA experiment failed.  And, further, that the notion of dividing the United States was a horrible idea.  And yet, I don’t think much thought goes into it.

Alex Eichler at The Atlantic with more.

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Everything You Thought You Knew Was Wrong

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up.

Christophe Chatelot at Le Monde:

Sur près de 600 pages, ce document, dont Le Monde a obtenu une version quasi définitive, décrit les “violations les plus graves des droits de l’homme et du droit international humanitaire commises entre mars 1993 et juin 2003 en RDC”.

Derrière l’intitulé se cache une décennie de meurtres, viols, pillages auxquels prirent part plusieurs pays de la région. Des conflits qui firent un nombre indéterminé de morts, mais qui se chiffrent au bas mot en centaines de milliers.

La compilation des rapports existants et la collecte de nouveaux témoignages menée par le HCDH fournissent une base pour des poursuites judiciaires à venir contre les auteurs de ce que le HCDH qualifie de “crimes contre l’humanité, crimes de guerre, voire de génocide” après des années d’impunité.

“CRIMES DE GÉNOCIDE”

Depuis des semaines, le Rwanda déploie ses réseaux et son énergie pour tenter d’étouffer ce rapport qui risque d’atteindre le cœur du régime du président Paul Kagamé, l’homme fort du Rwanda depuis 1994.

Le document estime en effet que “les attaques systématiques et généralisées [contre des Hutu réfugiés en RDC] révèlent plusieurs éléments accablants qui, s’ils sont prouvés devant un tribunal compétent, pourraient être qualifiés de crimes de génocide”.

Il reste à savoir quel tribunal se chargera de cette œuvre de justice alors que la plupart des crimes sortent du champ de compétence de la Cour pénale internationale.

Fisher:

A leaked United Nations report on the Rwandan genocide makes the explosive charge that the Rwandan Army, long credited with helping to end the infamous 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsis, committed hundreds of acts of genocide against ethnic Hutu refugees in 1996-1997. The document, first reported by French newspaper Le Monde, states, “The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.” The report implicates much of Rwanda’s current government, including President Paul Kagame, in joining with Congolese rebels to slaughter Rwandan refugees who had fled to the Congo. Rwanda is challenging the accusations, saying they only attacked members of the Hutu militias responsible for the 1994 genocide. The UN report risks seriously complicating the always-tenuous politics of Central Africa, where Rwanda has become a beacon of stability.

Baobab at The Economist:

Many countries’ armies, militia groups and rebel groups were involved in the killings, and all get dishonourable mentions in the report. But attention will focus on the Rwandans, partly because they started Congo’s collapse by invading the country in 1996, but also because the present regime of Paul Kagame has been most vigorous in denying that its forces did anything wrong at all during that awful conflict, despite many peoples’ suspicions to the contrary. Indeed, Mr Kagame has generally taken a “holier than thou” attitude to the whole Congolese imbroglio, arguing that his soldiers alone had the right to act in eastern Congo, to hunt down the Hutu genocidaires who had fled there after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

But the UN report will prove deeply embarrassing reading for Mr Kagame and his Western allies as it alleges that far from merely finding and killing genocidaires, Mr Kagame’s army and allied militias knowingly committed wholesale killings of Hutus, often “mostly children, women, old and ill people”. Indeed, the report goes on to say that some of the attacks could have amounted to a genocide, “if proved before a competent court.”

Human-rights activists have often pointed out that whereas most of the Hutu ringleaders of the 1994 Rwandan genocide have been brought to trial, no one has been found responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Congo wars. This UN report will provide powerful ammunition to prosecutors.

But its more immediate effect will be to further damage the reputation of Mr Kagame. It will be very interesting to see the reaction of Western governments to the report. Some Western politicians have become increasingly queasy about giving Mr Kagame so much aid and diplomatic help. These UN allegations could turn that queasiness into decisive action.

Nicholas Kristof at NYT:

I traveled in eastern Congo during 1997 and saw truckloads of Hutu men being rounded up, apparently for execution. One commander, apparently a Rwandan, was busy organizing such a campaign east of Kisangani and detained me when I came across his soldiers, who acknowledged that they were killing Hutus. (The soldiers noted, correctly, that many of the men they were killing had blood on their hands not only in Rwanda but also in Congo.) Likewise, other reporters have written about the mass graves and killings from that period. But the report goes far beyond anything I saw or was aware of. Most striking, the report suggests that the brutality unfolded there was systematically aimed at Hutus, including women and children. An excerpt:

31.       The scale of the crimes and the large number of victims, probably several tens of thousands, all nationalities combined, are illustrated by the numerous incidents listed in the report (104 in all). The extensive use of edged weapons (primarily hammers) and the systematic massacres of survivors after the camps had been taken show that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage.[1] The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.[2] Numerous serious attacks on the physical or mental integrity of members of the group were also committed, with a very high number of Hutus shot, raped, burnt or beaten. The systematic, methodological and premeditated nature of the attacks listed against the Hutus is also marked: these attacks took place in each location where refugees had been screened by the AFDL/APR over a vast area of the country.[3] The pursuit lasted for months, and on occasion, the humanitarian assistance intended for them was deliberately blocked, particularly in the Orientale province, thus depriving them of resources essential to their survival.[4] Thus the systematic and widespread attacks described in this report reveal a number of damning elements that, if proven before a competent court, could be classified as crimes of genocide.

32. It should be noted, however, that certain elements could cause a court to hesitate to decide on the existence of a genocidal plan, such as the fact that as of 15 November 1996, several tens of thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees, many of whom had survived previous attacks, were repatriated to Rwanda with the help of the AFDL/APR authorities and that hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees were able to return to Rwanda with the consent of the Rwandan authorities. Whilst in general the killings did not spare women and children, it should be noted that in some places, particularly at the beginning of the first war in 1996, Hutu women and children were in fact separated from the men, and only the men were subsequently killed.

The report goes along on that vein, describing specific examples that are devastating to read. It describes Congolese civilians packed into rail cars that became “coffins on rails,” with air supply cut off or petrol bombs thrown in. It also describes the role of conflict minerals in sustaining the warfare and chaos in eastern Congo — an issue that the Enough Project in particular has focused on.

I’m still absorbing the report, and it’s worth emphasizing that it’s a draft rather than a final version. And the truth in Congo is always hazy, so this mustn’t be taken as gospel. My main hope is that the report will get more attention to the humanitarian disaster of eastern Congo. One lesson I’ve learned over the years is that it’s very difficult to solve a humanitarian problem unless it is in the spotlight, and Congo’s problem has been that it rarely gets much global attention. No country has suffered so many millions of deaths and received so few column inches of coverage. There are signs that that may be changing, and maybe this report will be part of the process.

Jason Stearns at Congo Siasa:

The striking conclusion is that the crimes committed by the RPA/AFDL against Hutu refugees and Congolese Hutu could constitute a crime of genocide. This will be a bombshell for Paul Kagame’s government, which prides itself for having brought an end to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and has built its reputation and its appeal to donors on its promotion of post-genocide reconciliation. This report will rock the internet for months and years to come. Its political importance is hard to overstate.

A few words of caution. The report was not based on the standards of a judicial investigation; it was intended to provide a broad mapping of the most serious human rights abuses between 1993 and 2003. Indeed, the report says that an international court will have to be the final arbiter of whether the RPA/AFDL did actually commit acts of genocide. Verbatim: “The systematic and widespread attacks described in this report, which targeted very large numbers of Rwandan Hutu refugees and members of the Hutu civilian population, resulting in their death, reveal a number of damning elements that, if they were proven before a competent court, could be classified as crimes of genocide.”

Nonetheless, the mapping team’s mandate was to documents crimes of genocide, and it was rigorous: In total, the team gathered evidence on 600 incidents of violence between 1993 and 2003. Their standard was two independent sources for each incident. They interviewed 1,280 witnesses and gathered 1,500 documents. Many of the reports of killings of Congolese and Rwandan Hutu civilians were corroborated by eyewitnesses. While we always knew that there had been large massacres of Hutu refugees in the Congo, this is the first rigorous investigation, and the first time an international body has thrown its weight behind charges of genocide.

Another word of caution: This is the preliminary draft. The report is due to be released on Monday, but it has been leaked, I gather because Secretary General Ban Ki Moon – or othr UN officials – has pressed for the charges of “acts of genocide by the RPA/AFDL” to be removed. The Rwandan government has reportedly threatened to withdraw its troops from the AU mission in Darfur and the UN mission in Haiti. I imagine that it is to prevent such editing that the report was finally leaked.

Philip Gourevitch at The New Yorker:

The U.N. has so far refused to comment on the leak, except to say that the draft is not the final version of the report. The Rwandan government has rejected the report, but not said much more.

But earlier this month in Kigali, top Rwandan officials spoke freely and on the record about their efforts to have the draft report quashed. Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, came to power in 1994 at the head of a rebel army that brought the extermination of Rwandan Tutsis by Hutu extremists to a halt. This army today is the chief contributor of troops to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur—and last month, after Rwanda received the draft report, Kagame met with the U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, in Madrid, and told him that if the report came out, Rwanda would withdraw from all of its commitments to the U.N., starting with Darfur.

“I was in the meeting,” Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, told me in Kigali a few weeks ago. Mushikiwabo followed up with Ban by letter (pdf), elaborating her government’s complaint and reiterating its threat.

Picture 1.png

In our conversation, she insisted that Rwanda wasn’t bluffing. She described the draft report as a disgrace, methodologically and politically, and she told me, “If it is endorsed by the U.N. and it’s ever published, we used very, very strong words—if the U.N. releases it as a U.N. report, the moment it’s released, the next day all our troops are coming home. Not just Darfur, all the five countries where we have police”—she mentioned Haiti, Liberia, and South Sudan—“everybody’s coming home.”

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Ten Years After…

Peter Finn at Washington Post:

The Obama administration has shelved the planned prosecution of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged coordinator of the Oct. 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, according to a court filing.

The decision at least temporarily scuttles what was supposed to be the signature trial of a major al-Qaeda figure under a reformed system of military commissions. And it comes practically on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the attack, which killed 17 sailors and wounded dozens when a boat packed with explosives ripped a hole in the side of the warship in the port of Aden.

In a filing this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department said that “no charges are either pending or contemplated with respect to al-Nashiri in the near future.”

The statement, tucked into a motion to dismiss a petition by Nashiri’s attorneys, suggests that the prospect of further military trials for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has all but ground to a halt, much as the administration’s plan to try the accused plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in federal court has stalled.

Thomas Joscelyn at The Weekly Standard:

Is it taking this long to prepare for Nashiri’s trial – nearly ten years after the Cole was attacked and 17 American servicemen were killed?

That’s hard to believe. And the Post talked to some “military officials” who “said a team of prosecutors in the Nashiri case has been ready [to] go to trial for some time.” Here is the kicker:

“It’s politics at this point,” said one military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss policy. He said he thinks the administration does not want to proceed against a high-value detainee without some prospect of civilian trials for other major figures at Guantanamo Bay.

A White House official disputed this, but the Post did not offer any other good reason for the delay.

Is the Obama administration really holding up Nashiri’s trial because they want to make sure civilian trials for other detainees (i.e. the 9/11 co-conspirators) don’t lag behind?

That’s not so hard to believe, unfortunately. The administration has tried to please left-wing human rights groups by (initially, anyway) pushing forward with a federal criminal trial for top al Qaeda terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If Nashiri’s trial by military commission moves faster than KSM’s trial by federal court, then the administration may have a PR problem.

The Post reports the usual caveat: Nashiri was waterboarded (one of only three al Qaeda terrorists who were subjected to that treatment) and this complicates things “because any incriminating statements Nashiri might have made are probably inadmissible under the 2009 Military Commissions Act.” As a result, prosecutors will be relying heavily on the statements of two Yemeni detainees, both of whom implicated Nashiri during interviews with the FBI.

But here’s the catch. When Nashiri testified before his combatant status review tribunal (CSRT) at Gitmo he made all sorts of admissions. Those concessions cannot be easily dismissed because they weren’t part of an interrogation. Nashiri was free to say whatever he wanted in response to the allegations, and he did.

Nashiri did not admit outright that he conspired with Osama bin Laden. Instead, Nashiri offered implausible explanations for his sordid history. In particular, Nashiri admitted that he met with Osama bin Laden often, but said this was in the context of his fishing business.

Andy McCarthy at The Corner:

None of this is terribly surprising. Prosecuting the Cole case by military commission sticks in the Left’s craw because it shows the incoherence of the Obama/Holder position. They want to treat the war like a crime and endow our enemies with all the rights and advantages of civilian courts; yet, they went military in the Cole case, despite the fact that there is a pending Justice Department civilian indictment addressing that attack. There can be only one explanation for that: they are afraid the case against Nashiri is weak and might not hold up under (slightly) more exacting civilian court due process. That is, the Obama/Holder position is not principled — for all their “rule of law” malarkey, they are willing to go where they have the best chance to win. But there were no military commissions when the Cole was bombed, so what is the basis for trying it militarily? Answer: the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing war . . . except the Left doesn’t accept that it’s a war and the administration wants to prosecute the 9/11 plotters in civilian court. None of it makes any sense.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Pretty unconscionable stuff, isn’t it? And a final decision on KSM has also been delayed, it is widely assumed, so that the administration need not disclose its intentions before the election. In an administration with plenty of both, this ranks near the top when it comes to hypocrisy and politicizing the administration of justice.

Michelle Malkin:

Before there was 9/11, there was 10/12. Do you remember? We are nearing the 10th anniversary of the USS Cole bombing that took the lives of these American heroes on Oct. 12, 2000:

Electronics Technician 1st Class Richard Costelow
Mess Management Specialist Lakina Francis
Information Systems Technician Tim Guana
Signalman Seaman Recruit Cherone Gunn
Seaman James McDaniels
Engineman 2nd Class Mark Nieto
Electronics Warfare Technician 3rd Class Ronald Owens
Seaman Recruit Lakiba Parker
Engineman Fireman Joshua Parlett
Fireman Apprentice Patrick Roy
Electronics Warfare Technician Kevin Rux
Petty Officer 3rd Class Ron Santiago
Operations Special 2nd Class Timothy Sanders
Fireman Gary Swenchonis Jr
Ensign Andrew Triplett
Seaman Apprentice Craig Wibberly
Hull Maintenance Technician 3rd Class Kenneth Clodfelter.

In another disgraceful act of the Obama Department of Social Justice, the Washington Post reports that the feds are “shelving” prosecution of a major USS Cole bombing suspect at Gitmo. Why? Because of bad optics.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit

Weasel Zippers

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Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT, History, Middle East

“Good Morning America How Are You? Don’t You Know Me I’m Your Native Son.”

Joel Achenbach at WaPo:

I was in Toyko, my first and only trip to Asia, when Katrina hit, and rather than wander that exotic place I spent many hours in the hotel room, watching CNN and monitoring Web sites, rapt and horrified like everyone else. The hurricane was awful enough, but the aftermath was shattering — the incompetent response, the rapidly deteriorating conditions at the Superdome, the people dying in wheelchairs. Bush looking out the window of Air Force One, a politically fatal fly-over. There were those rumors (untrue) of roving gangs of rapists, as ugly racial fears surfaced. We all saw poverty and desperation like we hadn’t seen before. This can’t be America, is what a lot of people thought.

I remember we had a lot of great commentary on the Achenblog during the crisis. Unfortunately, they’re no longer live on The Post’s Web site, though maybe they’re stored somewhere. Here’s what I wrote, filing from Japan, one week into the crisis:

Katrina has become a story about race in America. Most affluent and semi-affluent Americans rarely see poor people — they live on the other side of town. The poor of the Deep South, largely black, haven’t been front and center in American consciousness since the 1960s. Katrina has changed that. Even though it’s a painful and rancorous issue, maybe some good will come out of it (predictable upbeat happy note). [A minute ago I caught myself on the verge of using the phrase “well-meaning whites” and had a Dave B. thought: “The Well-Meaning Whites” would make a great name for a rock band.]

There are many types of racism, including the type that says there’s no racism in America anymore, and the situation would be precisely the same if the victims all looked like Macauley Culkin. Then there’s institutional racism: We have to ask whether the government would have been better prepared for this sort of situation in New Orleans if the most vulnerable communities hadn’t been, for the most part, black neighborhoods. (Like, were the levees considered good enough for “the black part of town?”) [The Chicago Tribune ran a graphic showing elevation and demographics in New Orleans; to a striking degree the areas below sea level are predominantly African American.] This will likely wind up in congressional hearings — full-blown postmortems, with testimony from folks high and low, the rescuers and the not-quickly-rescued, that will be far more dramatic than the Supreme Court confirmation hearings (now plural).

In the meantime, there are a couple of good stories in The Post today on the racial dimension of Katrina and the slow response by the government. One is by Wil Haygood, who has been filing daily from the scene of the disaster, and who explains today why so many poor people didn’t evacuate before the storm hit. The second is an essay by Lynne Duke and Teresa Wiltz in the Style section, and one passage jumps out:

“In the Chicago Fire of 1871, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, minority groups (Germans, African Americans and Chinese) were rumored to be preying on white women by chewing on their fingers to steal their jewelry. It’s not such a stretch to see parallels in the unconfirmed reports of roving bands of rapists in New Orleans.”

In Japan, at the Memorial Hall for the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, there is a separate monument to the Koreans who were killed because of rumors that they had caused the quake and were poisoning the water supply. There was no truth to it, of course. But in times of crisis, people turn on minorities. It will be interesting to see if some of the early news reports about gangs of armed thugs, about people shooting on rescue helicopters, hold up. Rumors are thick in a whirlwind.

I’ve been to New Orleans a few times this summer, and it still shows the effects of the Big One. At least that’s my impression, for what it’s worth. Bourbon Street is as rowdy as ever (the destiny of all iconic American locales is to become parodies of themselves), and the Garden District has charm to burn, but I still had the sense of a place damaged not just by water but by an exodus of people and capital.

Howard Steven Friedman at The Huffington Post:

I was working in Accra, the capital of Ghana, when the Katrina disaster occurred. The immediate reaction of one of my Ghanaian coworkers was to state, “America will rebuild New Orleans in no time!” With my natural cynicism, I asked, “Why are you so confident that American will react quickly?” My Ghanaian coworker countered, “America is the richest, most powerful country in the world. You even put a man on the moon. If America can spend billions of dollars on wars in Iraq, it can certainly rebuild a city in no time.” He then proceeded to challenge me:

Of course, America is a very corrupt country with a dirty history of oppression, injustice and slavery. While America likes to lecture Ghana about corruption, every African knows all about Halliburton’s no-bid contracts and their connections to your vice president.

He then qualified his initial statement by saying, “America could rebuild New Orleans in no time, if it wanted to.”

When our conversation ended, I walked away with many thoughts spinning in my head. I remembered how outside the United States, people are often more aware of other countries, cultures, history and news than Americans. Perhaps this is a reflection of America’s educational system, America’s embedded self-perception of exceptionalism or merely a negative side-effect of America being so powerful. I remembered the launching of the 2003 Iraq invasion and how pathetic Colin Powell appeared trying to defend the upcoming invasion with “evidence of weapons of mass destruction” that wouldn’t convince most schoolchildren, let alone the rest of the world. I remembered the feelings of helplessness as the American government insisted on waging a war, with virtually no debate or discussion in Congress or in the media, while public protests were actively suppressed. Finally, I remembered my grandfather’s collection of newspaper cover pages. His favorite was the 1969 moon landing as he insisted that the manned moon landing was the greatest event in all of history, not merely U.S. history. Mankind, he argued, had been staring at the moon throughout history, and America will always be known as the first country to place a human there.

Five years later, I dread running into that same Ghanaian coworker. He would undoubtedly remind me of the government’s poor response to those suffering during Hurricane Katrina. He would point out the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failures, FEMA’s issues, the needless death and the slow recovery of many parts of the city. He would soon swing the conversation to talk about more recent events. He would cite how the US government can find so many billions of dollars to support banks, bankers and other financially and politically elite, as well as pay for wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan but how America is torn apart arguing about providing basic health care to all its citizens. He would point out that the ugly reality of American inequality raised its head in the government’s reaction to Katrina. He would remind me of the media’s obsession with race-based stories about chaos and hooliganism, prominently displaying images of armed national guards. Lastly, he would conclude that “A person, group or even a country’s priorities are reflected in how they spend their time and money. America could have rebuilt New Orleans in no time, if it wanted to.”

Michael D. Brown at The Daily Beast:

This still “minor” Hurricane Katrina struck Florida at 7 p.m. All responders were prepared yet there were still nine Floridians dead almost immediately. The next day would be worse.

August 26, 2005: As we expected from our exercise involving Hurricane Pam, Hurricane Katrina’s wind speed momentarily dropped to 75 miles an hour by 9 a.m. The change was not as encouraging as it might seem. It was like a long-distance runner slowing briefly around the curve before increasing speed for an all out race to the finish, in this case Louisiana. And as our experts predicted, eight hours later, the storm had regained its momentum and become Category 2. Hurricane Katrina was now ripping along the gulf at 100 miles per hour.

Hurricane Katrina swept through Florida, traveled along the Gulf Coast, and continued picking up speed. Unless it shifted direction, it would strike New Orleans with a minimum speed of 115 miles per hour—Category 3. The mayor knew this. The governor knew this. The city’s first responders, along with first responders in those nearby communities that maintained mutual assistance pacts, all knew this. That was why we expected the same call for assistance Jeb Bush had made. That was why we also expected a mandatory evacuation order within New Orleans. Instead I felt we were confronted with denial, delay, and poor choices.

Tom Diemer at Politics Daily:

With the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, a central figure in the botched response, then-FEMA administrator Michael Brown, says the Bush administration made a “fatal mistake” in churning out facts and figures about its efforts instead of explaining the wider picture and the obstacles the government faced in dealing with the catastrophe.

All of the numbers “were factually correct, but weren’t in context,” the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency told CNN Thursday. “We’re moving all of this stuff in. We have teams here. Rescue teams are doing this. But we never explained to the people that it’s not coming as fast as we want it to, and it’s not enough, because of the number of people that were left behind in the aftermath of the storm.”

Brown said he winced when President Bush told him on Sept. 2, while chaos reigned in New Orleans, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” “I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That’s the president’s style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place.”

Ten days later Brown, who had little experience in dealing with natural disasters, was out as FEMA chief. He now criticizes his boss at the time, then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, for his handling of the situation. Chertoff was an avian flue conference during part of the unfolding catastrophe. “Whether it’s a natural disaster or man-made disaster, you need to have one person in charge. And that person needs to be on the ground with the team, understanding what’s going on,” Brown said.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

I do recommend Spike Lee’s two-part HBO documentary, which touches on this. There, you see public housing projects in New Orleans torn down despite having no flood damage. You see Charity Hospital, one of the largest in the country and servicing the poor, unopened, while a new sprawling medical campus that would cater to a higher-class clientele gets planned. You see the racial and ethnic makeup of the population, and particularly the socioeconomic makeup, change. And you see a Republican Governor in Mississippi get much more attention and funding at the outset of the recovery, with the Bush Administration in office, than a Democratic Governor in Louisiana.

That said, there are bright spots, particularly Brad Pitt’s home-building project. But the disparities exist, as they have always existed. And, the money was available to reduce those disparities.

More than a quarter of the $20 billion in Housing and Urban Development relief funds that were earmarked for Gulf Coast states after Hurricane Katrina remains unspent five years after the storm, a fact noticed by at least one congressional leader who’s eager to spend it elsewhere.

(Sen. Tom) Coburn suggested some of these funds could be used to help cover federal budget deficits and said that “serious questions need to be asked about whether this money was appropriately designated as emergency funding.”

Officials in Mississippi, however, said that the unspent money is earmarked for needed recovery projects and that they are moving as fast as federal red-tape, litigation and arbitration and other hurdles will allow.

I think you can call the recovery in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast uneven and unfinished. And driven, as ever, by money.

Ron Futrell at Big Journalism:

Since we are now five years beyond the hurricane, let me tell you what the true disasters of Katrina were, and these are the things that the media will likely intentionally miss in their anniversary analysis. Some of us spotted these at the time, but now that the media now has the advantage of hindsight (which is supposed to be 20/20) so they only way they get it wrong now is if they want to get it wrong.

1) Government cannot save us.

The American left and its media believes that it is government’s job to save us all. I don’t care whether we’re talking about local, state or national government—it rarely has the power to save us. This is the most devastating fallout from Katrina, the fact that people think government is there to save us. The message was loud and clear from the media—“it is government’s job to save us.”  Yes, I think Mayor Ray Nagin should’ve used the buses to save his people, but he didn’t. Yes, I think Governor Kathleen Blanco should’ve called in the National Guard sooner, but she didn’t, and yes, I wish Bush would’ve responded faster with the recovery days after the Coast Guard was called in to pick people off their roofs, but he didn’t. Wait for government to save you, and you may never be saved.

2) Failure of the Welfare State.

Three generations of Democrat promises to the people of New Orleans were exposed when the levees broke. Democrat “leaders” in New Orleans had promised these good people that they would care for them from cradle to grave, just vote Democrat when you are bused to the polling places (the buses worked fine on Election Day.) The Democrat Welfare State was exposed on those rooftops that day.

It took at least 70 years to falsely teach those Americans that government would save them (see #1.) When they needed government most, it was not there for them. Imagine that? The media missed the real story behind those on the rooftops. Why were they still there? They were waiting for government to save them as promised.

3) Failure of the media to be accurate.

The media got as many stories wrong with Katrina as it got right. The headlines of the day shouted “Tens of Thousands Dead, Thousands Dead in the Superdome, Superdome Destroyed, Toxic Soup Floods New Orleans, Bush Hates Black People” (Oh, that was Kanye West, but the media helped him spread that message.) The tragedy is that more than 1,800 people died,  1,400 of those in New Orleans. Of those who died in New Orleans the large majority died because the levees (promised to be secure by all levels of government—see #1) broke. Had the money dedicated to the levees been spent where it was intended, they would’ve held and perhaps the number dead would’ve been in the dozens, not the hundreds. It was the levees’ breaking that caused the major damage, not the hurricane itself—the media seemed to blow by that fact in 2005.

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Another Week, Another Ross Douthat Column

Ross Douthat at NYT:

There’s an America where it doesn’t matter what language you speak, what god you worship, or how deep your New World roots run. An America where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims.

But there’s another America as well, one that understands itself as a distinctive culture, rather than just a set of political propositions. This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic. It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well. It draws its social norms from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora — and it expects new arrivals to assimilate themselves to these norms, and quickly.

These two understandings of America, one constitutional and one cultural, have been in tension throughout our history. And they’re in tension again this summer, in the controversy over the Islamic mosque and cultural center scheduled to go up two blocks from ground zero.

The first America, not surprisingly, views the project as the consummate expression of our nation’s high ideals. “This is America,” President Obama intoned last week, “and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.” The construction of the mosque, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told New Yorkers, is as important a test of the principle of religious freedom “as we may see in our lifetimes.”

The second America begs to differ. It sees the project as an affront to the memory of 9/11, and a sign of disrespect for the values of a country where Islam has only recently become part of the public consciousness. And beneath these concerns lurks the darker suspicion that Islam in any form may be incompatible with the American way of life.

This is typical of how these debates usually play out. The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes. The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.

But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

The same was true in religion. The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream. Nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.

So it is today with Islam. The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.

Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Granted, the “conservative spot” on the Gray Lady’s op-ed pages comes with plenty of caveats and handcuffs. So if a conservative columnist is going to last more than a year, he will have to suppress his harshest impulses toward the left and a great deal of his critical faculties. The result is likely to be condescending columns like today’s by Ross Douthat.

He posits two Americas: “The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes.” The first cares about the Constitution, and the second is composed of a bunch of racist rubes, it seems. “The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Yes, you can guess which are the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque. (I was wondering if he was going to write, “The first America helped little old ladies across the street; the second America drowned puppies.)

I assume that this is what one has to do to keep your piece of turf next to such intellectual luminaries as Maureen Dowd, but it’s really the worst straw man sort of argument since, well, the last time Obama spoke. But he’s not done: “The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.” OK, on behalf of the rubes in Second America, enough!

Second America — that’s 68% of us — recognizes (and we’ve said it over and over again) that there may be little we can do legally (other than exercise eminent domain) to halt the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t suspend our powers of judgment and moral persuasion. Those who oppose the mosque are not bigots or constitutional ruffians. They merely believe that our president shouldn’t be cheerleading the desecration of “hallowed ground” (”first America’s” term, articulated by Obama) or averting our eyes from the funding sources of the imam’s planned fortress.

E.D. Kain at Balloon Juice:

Leaving aside the obvious fact that Muslims have actually been migrating here for many years and sprouting up second and third and seventh generations in the United States, this use of a specific instance – the Cordoba Center – to segue into a larger framework in which American Muslims writ large are not doing enough to assimilate is, to put it bluntly, nonsense. (And are no American Muslims a part of Second America? Then they must all be part of First America…unless we’re working on creating a Third America. That’s possible, too.)

He goes on:

Too often, American Muslim institutions have turned out to be entangled with ideas and groups that most Americans rightly consider beyond the pale. Too often, American Muslim leaders strike ambiguous notes when asked to disassociate themselves completely from illiberal causes.

I wonder what exactly qualifies as ‘too often’? What percentage of Muslim institutions fit this criteria? Furthermore, what bearing does this have on the question of the Ground Zero Mosque?

For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.

They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.

Leaders like this guy, perhaps? I mean, if we’re going to just lump everyone of a particular faith together and cherry-pick the ‘leaders’ who we feel best represent them, why not pick the loudest of the bunch?

And if we can identify the group’s leaders, then we can pigeonhole the entire population’s motives. We can attribute the words of the few to the motives of the many. We can rile up “second America” against the fearful Other. And we can do it all quite nicely by calling into question the sincerity of the group’s desire to properly integrate into mainstream culture. It’s their fault, after all, that they haven’t made it all the way. Why would any real American want to build a mosque so near ground zero?

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

But this is bad history; the nativists of 19th-century America weren’t much interested in having “new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture,” rather, the nativists of mid-19th-century America wanted to keep immigrants off of American shores. In its 1856 platform, the American Party — otherwise known as the “Know-Nothing Party” — pushed for the mass expulsion of poor immigrants, and declared that “Americans must rule America, and to this end native-born citizens should be selected for all State, Federal, and municipal offices of government employment, in preference to all others.”Likewise, nativism in the late 19th century was preoccupied with keeping foreigners out of the United States. Here is a passage from the constitution the Immigration Restriction League, formed in 1894 by a handful of Harvard graduates:

The objects of this League shall be to advocate and work for further judicious restriction or stricter regulation of immigration, to issue documents and circulars, solicit facts and information on that subject, hold public meetings, and to arouse public opinion to the necessity of a further exclusion of elements undesirable for citizenship or injurious to our national character.

This seems completely obvious, but nativists and xenophobes have never been interested in seeing immigrants join our nation and culture as Americans. Our modern-day nativists — as represented by the previously mentioned Tea Party activists — see “undesirable” immigrants as pests to be dealt with, not potential Americans:

“Instead of finding bugs in our beds, we’re finding home invaders,” said Tony Venuti, a Tucson radio host who attached a huge sign to the fence that told immigrants to head to Los Angeles, where they will be more welcome, and even offered directions for getting there.

Contra Douthat, nativists and xenophobes have never been integral to assimilating immigrants. That distinction goes to the assimilationists of American life who understood — and understand — that “American-ness” can be learned and adopted. Different assimilationists had different approaches to bringing immigrants into American life, but they were united by a common view of America as an open society.

Jonathan Bernstein:

Jamelle Bouie has a great post up this morning about assimilation and immigration, riffing off of Ross Douthat’s column.  Douthat’s claim is that the America of high-minded ideals is at odds with cultural protectionism, and while the latter is bigoted and small-minded, it also winds up having the virtue of forcing newer immigrants and minorities in general to conform to American cultural norms (including those high-minded ideals).  I think Bouie is a bit harsher than necessary to Douthat, who isn’t exactly warm towards those who he says use discrimination and persecution to get their way.  But I also think Bouie is correct: Douthat’s claim that it’s the nativists who have indirectly encouraged assimilation through intimidation may not be entirely wrong, but it’s a somewhat strained reading of history — the nativists didn’t want assimilation, they wanted (and often got) exclusion.  And Bouie is right that Douthat’s history ignores that those in Douthat’s “first” America (the one with the high-minded ideals) have almost always supported and worked to achieve assimilation.

But I think both of them are missing the main actors here: the immigrants themselves, who in almost all cases have been pretty desperate to assimilate as quickly as possible.  That was true of the great immigration waves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it’s true of the great immigration wave now.  Of course, each group has had various cultural bits and pieces they keep with them (bits and pieces which generally are gobbled up by the larger American culture, so that everyone eats tacos and bagels), and each group has minorities within their minority who resist assimilation, keeping the old language and practices alive (although often radically altered, sometimes without anyone realizing it) even as most of the community drifts — runs — towards America.

Matt Welch at Reason:

Such John Edwards-style reductionism inevitably sends off alarm bells, but this paragraph in particular smelled funny to me:

[B]oth understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

Is this true? To find out I asked an old college newspaper buddy of mine, the immigration historian Christina Ziegler-McPherson, who is author of a recent book called Americanization in the States: Immigrant Social Welfare Policy, Citizenship, and National Identity in the United States, 1908-1929. She e-mailed me back 2,500 words; thought I’d pass along a few of them:

Douthat is full of crap in several ways:

1. […] [F]or much of the 19th century, except in the big cities like New York, immigrants and natives had little contact and less competition with one another, because the country was growing and was so physically big. […]

This is not to discount the nativism (i.e. the Know Nothing party) of the mid-1850s but that was a city phenomenon and was driven mostly by anti-Catholicism inspired by famine Irish immigration. Some people didn’t like “clannish” Germans but as long as they weren’t Catholic, no one complained as much. Nativism in the mid-19th century was basically an anti-Irish phenomenon. AND, in some ways, it wasn’t anti-immigrant, just anti-Catholic, and sought to slow down the integration of immigrants into the polity (i.e., by requiring a much longer period of residency before naturalization, and this was as much an elite anti-machine politics idea as anti-Irish or anti-immigrant).

Also, there was no real “national” culture until after the Civil War (and this developed gradually with industrialism and the spread of a mass media and eventually mass consumption) so there could be no “insistence” on immigrants assimilating. Who the heck is he talking about? […]

2. Nativism, and some aspects of the Americanization movement of the WWI period (especially the more coercive stuff) has always had the effect of making immigrants cling more tightly to their cultures, their languages, traditions. This is both basic psychology and is historically accurate and can be documented for many groups.

Any attack on religion (which frankly, is what anti-Muslim talk is, it’s not anti-ethnic, because there’s no ethnic group called “Muslim”) encourages more orthodoxy, not less, and is totally counter-preductive, because of the 1st Amendment. The American Catholic Church became the authoritarian institution that it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries in large part because of Anglo-American Protestants insisting that Protestantism and Americanism were synonymous and attacking Irish Catholics. […]

[T]he harder you push for “assimilation”…the more you get orthodoxy, extremism, alienation.

3. Post-WWI restrictions were separate from the Americanization movement and were not designed to encourage assimilation (although a few people did realize that assimilation might happen if immigrants were cut off from rejuvenating contact with their home cultures). The 1924 and 1929 restrictions were explicitly racist (and I mean that in the 19th century biological sense, as in, we don’t want our blood being contaminated by alien blood which is different and is incompatible with ours.)…Eugenics heavily influenced the 1924 and 1929 acts and eugenicists were the statisticians who determined the specific quotas for each group. […]

The problem of course with Douthat, besides that he has no idea about what he’s talking about, is he’s so vague. When in the 19th century? Which groups? Where? What created these “persistent ethnic divisions”? Are these institutional, cultural, created by policy? Who the heck can tell?

Alex Knapp:

First off all, you’ll note that Little Italy’s and Chinatowns still exist all over the country. There are neighborhoods on the East Coast where you’re lost if you don’t speak Italian, and neighborhoods on the West Coast where you’re lost if you don’t speak Chinese. There are people living in these neighborhoods who are still hostile to outsiders, and lots of different ethnic neighborhoods share this characteristic.And it’s important to realize that these ethnic enclaves, with their insularity and hostility to integration, not only failed to “swiftly assimilate”, they failed to swiftly assimilate because of discrimination. Because of the law and because of cultural prejudice, Italians, Chinese, Irish, Slavs, Jews and other immigrants were very often not hired by their neighbors. As a consequence, Italians hired Italians, Chinese hired Chinese, Irish hired Irish, etc. Immigrant neighborhoods were often either ignored by the police or shaken down by them for protection money. In either case, in a desperate desire for order, immigrants turned to organized crime for protection from criminals or the police. While the Mafioso were brutal, greedy and ruthless, they also kept order on the streets and took care of widows, etc. (You can actually see a similar pattern in Palestine, where Hamas was voted into power as not only a reaction against Israel and the PLO, but also because while Arafat’s government was growing rich and corrupt on foreign aid payments, Hamas was building schools and medical clinics for the destitute.)

Indeed, the combination of the rise of organized crime and the hositility from “second America” more likely delayed the integration of immigrant communities. That integration really didn’t start to happen until various immigrant populations simply became numerous enough to vote their preferred candidates into office, such as the experience of the Irish in Boston.

Another example of Douthat’s willful glossing over of history comes in his discussion of the Mormon experience:

The same was true in religion. The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream.

This is a great example of how to write something that’s factually true, but rhetorically false. Given his tone, you’d think that Mormon families were getting some glares and “tsks tsks” at PTA meetings. The reality, of course, is that Mormons were violently persecuted, first by their neighbors in Illinois and Missouri, and then by the U.S. Army after they moved to Utah. The Mormons weren’t “persuaded” to abandon polygamy, they were forced to after the United States Congress disincorporated the Church and seized all Mormon assets. Mormon leaders fought the Act in the Courts, but the Supreme Court ultimately upheld Congress’ Act. It was only then that the Mormons capitulated to the government. And it was a long time before Mormons got over that and became more assimilated into every day American life. And even at that, there was considerable hostility among quarters in the Republican Party against Mitt Romney because of his religion.

I definitely agree that, as a culture, Americans should encourage the integration of immigrant populations into every day life. But that integration isn’t built on fear and peer pressure. It’s built on tolerance, a shared ideal of freedom, and the embrace of new cultures into the rich tapestry of American life. Integration comes from delicious foods at Indian buffets and the required learning about American government before an immigrant takes his oath of citizenship. It certainly doesn’t come from protesting Mosques or putting up No Irish Need Apply signs on the door of your business.

UPDATE: Conor Friedersdorf at Andrew Sullivan’s place

Douthat responds to Friedersdorf

Razib Khan at Secular Right

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Filed under History, Immigration, Mainstream, New Media, Religion

All The President’s Libraries

Adam Nagourney at NYT:

The sign at the entrance to the largest exhibition room devoted to a single subject at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum reads “Watergate.” But on Friday, the exhibit was nearly empty, dominated by a 30-foot blank slate of a wall that is testimony to a new battle set off by this still-polarizing former president: how to mark the scandal that forced him from office 36 years ago.

Officials at the National Archives have curated a searing recollection of the Watergate scandal, based on videotaped interviews with 150 associates of Richard M. Nixon, an interactive exhibition that was supposed to have opened on July 1. But the Nixon Foundation — a group of Nixon loyalists who controlled this museum until the National Archives took it over three years ago — described it as unfair and distorted, and requested that the archives not approve the exhibition until its objections are addressed.

The foundation went so far as to invoke Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, noting that those presidents surreptitiously taped White House conversations before Nixon stepped on the scene.

Bob Bostock, a former Nixon aide who designed the original Watergate exhibit and has been enlisted by the foundation to challenge the installation, filed a 132-page letter of objection to the archives last week, claiming that the exhibit lacked the context needed to help young visitors learning about Watergate to understand exactly what Nixon did.

“Taping and wiretapping go back as far as F.D.R.,” Mr. Bostock said. “It lacks the context it needs: that Nixon was not the first president to do some of these things and that some of these things had been going on with many of his predecessors, in some cases, much more than he did.”

The Nixon Foundation does not have veto power and by law serves in an advisory role. The final ruling will be made by officials of the National Archives within the next few weeks.

Jeff Neumann at Gawker:

Uh, sure! It’s pretty hard to argue with someone like that. The Times also interviewed the director of the museum, Timothy Naftali, who offered this:

Think about it,” he said. “I am not a Nixon loyalist. I am not even a Republican. I am gay. I am from Canada. I was 12 years old when Richard Nixon resigned. I have no skin in the game.”

Mr. Naftali spoke in his basement office, where – with no apparent appreciation of the irony – he flinched when a reporter took out a tape recorder for an interview, saying that he would not agree to taping of an interview in his office in the Nixon museum.

For years the National Archives has been trying to add the Nixon Library to the presidential library system. But the Nixon Foundation, apparently unwilling to accept facts, has held the process up with protests like this latest one involving the Watergate exhibit. Bostock adds:

Definitely the president did things that were wrong. He said so himself. The real question always comes to, ‘Did the actions that he took that were wrong, did they merit impeachment and removal from my office?’ My view is that they did not reach the level of offenses for which he could be impeached and convicted.”

Yeah, seriously. Watergate wasn’t that big of a deal. But getting blow jobs and ruining perfectly good cigars in the Oval Office, well…

Also, looking for a picturesque, meaningful setting for your wedding? Try the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California! They can offer you and your guests “an unparalleled experience.”

Matthew Yglesias:

I was invited to do a book talk at the Nixon Presidential Library a couple of years ago, and while out there I naturally saw the museum itself. It was at the time a fascinating project in a state of transition from being run by an organization of Nixon loyalists to one being run by real historians from the National Archives. Adam Nagourney has a really interesting piece in the NYT about the latest battles playing out as the new management unveils their version of the exhibit on Watergate.

Jonathan Bernstein:

In case you’re wondering whether Richard Nixon was a crook, imagine the following:

Suppose that Barack Obama was convinced that Marc Thiessen, John Bolton, and Paul Wolfowitz had removed important secret files from their various government offices when they left the Bush administration, files that revealed embarrassing, and perhaps illegal, actions by the administration.  Suppose further that Obama believed that Wolfowitz et al. had secured those files at AEI.

With me so far?  Now suppose that Obama repeatedly ordered Rahm Emanuel and other top White House officials to break into AEI in order to get those files back, either in order to leak them to embarrass the Republicans or, perhaps, to blackmail George W. Bush.  That is, suppose that Emanuel suggested to the president that perhaps they could blackmail Bush, and Obama responded by continuing to order the break-in.

That’s one of the things that happened in Watergate (substituting Nixon for Obama, Haldeman for Emanuel, and Brookings for AEI).  The orders, that is; as it turned out, the president’s men never quite did get around to breaking into Brookings, although they did hire and assign people to do it, and scheme and plot about it quite a bit.  The president’s men, sometimes at Nixon’s instructions, sometimes with his knowledge, and sometimes perhaps without his direct instructions or knowledge but always in keeping with his general orders to his stop staff, also planted spies in the camp of Democratic campaigns; broke into Democratic headquarters, photographed documents, and planted bugs; broke into the the office of a Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in order to learn things that could be used to destroy his image in the press; attempted to plant left-wing materials in the home of the guy who shot George Wallace; planned to (and perhaps did) selectively leak classified materials about foreign policy in order to hurt the Democrats; forged materials about foreign policy (the death of South Vietnam’s President Diem) in order to plant false stories in the press that would hurt the Democrats; wiretapped government officials; paid a private investigator to tail Ted Kennedy; performed other dirty tricks such as forged letters intended to manipulate the Democratic presidential nomination process (efforts that may indeed have been successful); and other illegal, abuse and unethical actions — this is not a comprehensive list.

Those were the original crimes.  What followed was obstruction of justice as the White House, with the active leadership of the president, lied to FBI investigators and grand juries, destroyed evidence, suborned perjury by prearranging false testimony; suborned perjury by paying off witnesses and either promising or at least hinting at the promise of presidential pardons in exchange for false testimony, and using the authority of the presidency to derail and undermine FBI investigators and prosecutors.  Again, the president was personally actively involved in all of those things.

(And that’s not counting other important abuses of power such as waging war without the authorization of Congress and illegally disrupting the legal disbursement of government funds, and also not counting the president’s purely personal possible crimes involving his taxes).

Oh, and for what it’s worth…Nagourney writes that Nixon resigned “in the face of likely impeachment.”  That’s too weak.  It was certain impeachment, and virtually certain conviction.  The House Judiciary Committee had voted in favor of impeachment while Nixon was still fighting against turning over several (additional) tapes of White House conversations; when those tapes were released, each of the Republicans on the Committee declared that he would now flip and support impeachment on the House floor.  As far as the trial, Nixon’s congressional liaison estimated that only seven Senators still supported the president.  I can’t imagine any combination of circumstances that would have prevented impeachment, and while there’s always uncertainty in human affairs, it’s very difficult to imagine how Nixon could have escaped conviction.  It’s worth mentioning too that all of that was the case even though plenty of incriminating evidence was still unknown to Congress at the time.

Richard Nixon announced his resignation on August 8, 1974, so it’s been 36 years.  The paper of record should do a better job of getting these things right.

Mark Kleiman:

If you’re a scientist offended by the right-wing war on science, please don’t take it personally. The wingnuts hate history, too.

Every form of reasoned discourse has the same liberal bias. The whole notion that there is a world of facts subject to investigation, rather than merely competing assertions, is deeply offensive to the unreality-based community.

Are there illiberal, anti-rational forces on the left? Of course there are. But they’re aberrational. Even the mainstream right now seems to have adopted Nineteen Eighty-Four as an operations manual, rather than a warning.

Anne Laurie:

The anti-Fidelistas in Little Havana, the Japanese soldiers who hid out in the New Guinea brush for forty years after their emperor surrendered, are mere hobbyists compared to the ferocious defenders of all things GOP. Although one can’t blame the surviving CREEPsters—monsters such as Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz—for strenuously resisting any exposure of the true “Nixon legacy”. A hundred years from now, I believe the decision to allow Nixon to escape a full accounting will be considered possibly the greatest political tragedy of its era.

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