Fat Steve's Blatherings

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The St. Onge/Monaco Dialogue continues: on Outrage and Obsession

Summary:

        Jerry Monaco of New York has been leaving long, thoughtful, rather impassioned comments on this blog.  You can find the previous ones here, here, and here.  My response to that last contribution ran so long, I've decided to break it up by subject.  Of course, this neat separation won't last, but I expect that, and don't mind it.

Jerry:

        Are you familiar with the works of Arthur Koestler?  In his autobiography, he tells of being down and out in Palestine in the mid 1920s, till he literally wondered how he'd keep himself fed.  Why, he might starve to death — and then, suddenly, it occured to him that in his entire life, he'd never read or heard of someone being found dead of starvation.  Therefore, he concluded, it must not happen, and he'd find a way of making ends meet.  He did, and within a few years he was fairly well to do.

        But Koestler suffered from "chronic indignation," as he put it.  Around 1929-'30, said indignation was aroused at a capitalist world that destroyed food to keep up prices, at a time when people were broke because the world was in the Great Depression.  Forgetting that this outrageous system still managed to keep people from starving to death, he decided it had to be destroyed.  So he became a secret Communist Party member, and spy for the USSR against Germany, where he then lived.

        In 1932 -'33, he was in the Soviet Union, now deceased (and thank Heaven).  While there, he passed through Ukraine, where around seven to eight million people were dying in what is probably the second worst famine in human history, and certainly the worst in Russian/Ukrainian history.  Stop and considers God's grim irony here -- the man who found the prospect of the poor missing meals because the price of food was too high (as a result of the intervention into the market of liberal governments), now becomes an eyewitness to seven million people or so dying of starvation, as a result of the deliberate policy of the Communist government.

        Koestler's reaction to all this?  He didn't allow himself to see what was happening in front of his eyes.  He passed through Ukrainian train stations where people were holding up small children, offering them to any passerby who would just take them out of there.  But, as he said years later, allowing himself to know what was happening, to realize how bad things must be if parents were trying to give their children to random, anonymous strangers, would have been too disturbing.  Koestler's emotional rejection of the capitalist society he'd been born in was so strong that he forced himself to believe the enemies of capitalism were not what he could see they were, some of the worst tyrants the human race had ever produced.  He couldn't, then, face a world where the capitalist countries were making people go hungry — and were still the good guys, to be supported at all costs.  It took years, and being under sentence of death, before he found that courage.

        I was reminded of all this by your comments on Latin America, and the atrocities the U.S. government is allegedly responsible for; also by the story (which may even be true, though I'm skeptical) of the college student visited by Homeland Security agents when he tried to borrow Mao's 'Little Red Book.'  I've been stopped in the street and questioned by the police perhaps a dozen times in my life (long story, short: I used to act strangely in public, at least as the cops saw it).  The experience hurt me not at all.  I spoke politely, they lost interest in me in a few minutes, and I was never kidnapped and dragged off to a secret prison cell somewhere.

        I think you'd do well to consider the possibility that you're so upset about the our country's failure to behave the way you'd like it to, that, like Koestler, you've fooled yourself concerning the nature of its opponents.  That you're so upset about theoretical dangers that you've blinded yourself to the real ones.

        In the next post, I'll reply to the substance of your comments about Latin America.

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THE HOUSE OF SAUD MUST BE DESTROYEDAND WILL BE!

5 Comments:

  • In high school I read all of Arthur Koestler's books. I found him politically naive both in his Stalinist period and his "anti-Communist" period. His books on science and philosophy I found more interesting.

    I met Arthur Koestler not long after I first came to New York and not long before he committed suicide. He genuinely was helpful to young writers. I asked him about the Spanish Civil War and he refused to talk about it. My main interest at the time was in philosophy of science so I politely switched topics.

    He didn't want to talk about the Spanish Revolution for good reason I think. Koestler was an apologist for Stalinist atrocities during the Spanish Revolution. He gave aid to those atrocities through his journalism at the time. The fact that he also opposed the atrocities of the Fascists does not absolve him for supporting the Stalinist slaughter of peasants and workers who were actually fighting for a democratic and socialist Spain.

    He was thrown into prison by the Francoists and was released through the machinations of the British foreign office. It was actually some of the Communist moles in the Brit foreign office that engineered his release, or so Kim Philby once wrote.

    You should stick to the point of view of George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia" if you want to learn something about how truth can be told in hard times. I am no great fan of Orwell but at times he could tell the difference between the murderers and the murdered, which is not something I can say for Arthur Koestler and "The God that Failed" crowd.

    When he thought that he might be lifted to the top by the Stalinist he was a commissar for the Stalinist. When he thought he might be lifted to the top by supporting the other side he was a commissar for the that side. And so it always goes with the secular priesthood of intellectuals who justify mass murder or simply ignore it.

    It is you my friend who can't see what is before your eyes. There is no competition for atrocity. But the proportion of the population murdered in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua as a result of the policies of liberal Democrats (mostly) and
    Republican ultra-reactionaries (beginning with Reagan) matches anywhere in the world including Stalin's Russia and Mao's China.

    And what if it didn't? Does it matter? Why would you want to support anyway. Yes, Steve, your mindset at the moment is very much like Arthur Koestler's was before he gave up politics and went on to study other things. (The best thing he ever did for himself was giving up politics.) He was a sycophant of power, an intellectual commissar.

    No matter whose atrocities you justify it doesn't make them any less atrocious.

    Your history is very selective and you are the one who is not able to see that you are acting like Koestler in the Ukraine. The good guys? Do they wear the white hats. Is that how you are able to tell that the people you support are the good guys? Please try to think things through outside the standard ideologies.

    Jerry Monaco

    By Anonymous monacojerry, at 3:08 PM  

  •         "Koestler was an apologist for Stalinist atrocities during the Spanish Revolution.  He gave aid to those atrocities through his journalism at the time.  The fact that he also opposed the atrocities of the Fascists does not absolve him for supporting the Stalinist slaughter of peasants and workers who were actually fighting for a democratic and socialist Spain."

            Well, duh!  He was a member of the Communist Party, and all CPs had to support whatever the Party did.

            As his autobiography makes clear, it was only over the course of the months following his release from prison that he stopped supporting Stalinist or Fascist atrocities, and his break with the CP wasn't complete until the Hitler-Stalin pact.

            "I am no great fan of Orwell but at times he could tell the difference between the murderers and the murdered, which is not something I can say for Arthur Koestler and 'The God that Failed' crowd."

            And your evidence that Koestler, or others like him, couldn't tell the difference between murderers and murdered after breaking from the Party is . . . ?

            "When he thought that he might be lifted to the top by the Stalinist he was a commissar for the Stalinist.  When he thought he might be lifted to the top by supporting the other side he was a commissar for the that side.  And so it always goes with the secular priesthood of intellectuals who justify mass murder or simply ignore it."

            I know of no evidence that Koestler expected to be "lifted to the top" by supporting Stalin.  In fact, he gave up a lucrative journalistic career to volunteer for the Communist cause.  And opposing the Popular Front and Communism when he did, starting in 1938 or '9, was bad for most writers' financial health.  I know of no reason to believe that Koestler ever acted self-interestedly in his political activities.  Do you have any evidence for this assertion?

            "There is no competition for atrocity.  But the proportion of the population murdered in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua as a result of the policies of liberal Democrats (mostly) and
    Republican ultra-reactionaries (beginning with Reagan) matches anywhere in the world including Stalin's Russia and Mao's China."

            Using Rummel's figures, from here, and revising the Red Chinese figure to include the famine totals, which Rummel does here, we get the following figures for percentage of population killed and annual average percent of population killed:

    El_Salvador_2.001 .024 (1900-1984)
    El_Salvador_0.059 .016 (1984-1987)
    Guatemala___2.255 .071 (1956-1987)
    Nicaragua___1.344 .032 (1937-1979)

    China_______9.330 .249 (1949-1987)
    USSR_______29.640 .422 (1917-1987)

            As can be seen, the worst of the authoritarian regimes, Guatemala, murdered at about 28% of the rate of China, and 17% of the rate of the USSR.  Did you just make it up as you went along, or were you misinformed?

            "And what if it didn't? Does it matter? Why would you want to support anyway. . . .

            No matter whose atrocities you justify it doesn't make them any less atrocious."

            I keep asserting, and you keep ignoring, something I consider to be a basic truth: sometimes, you face horrible choices.  Given a choice between 16 to 71 out of every hundred thousand murdered every year, and 249 to 422 per hundred thousand, I support the former, as it results in 178 to 406 people per hundred thousand NOT murdered every year.

            Yes, I would definitely prefer that no one get murdered at all, but that choice isn't always available.  When it isn't, my position is, choose the path of least body count.  Your position seems to be 'Choose the path of zero U.S. body count, and ignore the total body count, no matter how high.'  That's a fundamental difference between us.  In the case of Russia and China alone, murders at Guatemala's rate, instead of the actual rates, would have resulted in about one hundred five million (105,000,000) less murders.  I think that would have been a distinct improvement over actual history.

            It is not I who ignore mass murder, but you, and those like you, who would have let totalitarians conquer the world as long as your own hands stayed clean.

    The House of Saud Must Be Destroyed!

    By Blogger Stephen M. St. Onge, at 1:59 AM  

  • The number of dead in Guatemala as a direct result of violence was approximately 200,000. This does not include excess deaths caused by economic privation. This is according to the Guatemalan Truth Commission. I don't know where your figures come from. I was personally involved in Central American Human Rights work during these years. These figures are not disputed by rational people on either side in Guatemala today.

    Here are the sites and some extra:

    On the death toll in Guatemala in the 1980s, see Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification (C.E.H.), Guatemala: Memory of Silence, 1999 (quotations are from paragraphs 1, 2, 15 and 82). This report of an international human rights investigatory panel administered by the United Nations concludes that "the number of persons killed or disappeared as a result of the fratricidal confrontation reached a total of over 200,000" in Guatemala since 1962, with 91 percent of these violations occurring between 1978 and 1984. The Commission found that "state forces and related paramilitary groups were responsible for 93% of the violations documented by the C.E.H., including 92% of the arbitrary executions and 91% of forced disappearances."

    For additional sources, see for example, Susanne Jonas, The Battle for Guatemala: Rebels, Death Squads, and U.S. Power, Boulder, CO: Westview, 1991, p. 149; Piero Gleijeses, "The Reagan Doctrine and Latin America," Current History, December 1986, pp. 401f at p. 435; Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America, New York: Norton, 1993 (revised and expanded edition). An excerpt (p. 362):

    [T]he years from 1979 to 1991 turned out to be the bloodiest, most violent, and most destructive era in Central America's post-1820 history. The number of dead and "disappeared" varies according to different sources. The minimum is 200,000 (40,000 in Nicaragua, 75,000 in El Salvador, 75,000 in Guatemala, 10,000 in Honduras and the frontier fighting in Costa Rica), but this is only an estimate. Millions have been displaced or made refugees. If a similar catastrophe struck the United States in proportion, 2.5 million North Americans would die and 10 to 20 million would be driven from their homes.

    See also, Amnesty International, Guatemala: A Government Program of Political Murder, London: Amnesty International, February 1981. An excerpt (pp. 5-6):

    The bodies of the victims have been found piled up in ravines, dumped at roadsides or buried in mass graves. Thousands bore the scars of torture, and death had come to most by strangling with a garrotte, by being suffocated in rubber hoods or by being shot in the head. . . .

    By far the majority of victims were chosen after they had become associated -- or were thought to be associated -- with social, religious, community or labor organizations, or after they had been in contact with organizers of national political parties. In other words, Amnesty International's evidence is that the targets for extreme governmental violence tend to be selected from grass roots organizations outside official control.


    I am trying to be honest here.

    As for Koestler - he made his fame on "The God that Failed" stuff before he decided that there was more interesting things in life than being a shill for one ideology or another and moved on to do some interesting work. His level of cynicism was not as high as say Bertram Wolf, James Burnham or Sydney Hook because he didn't have the stomach for it. Good for him. The fact is he was always blind to the murders of his side when he was involved in politics.

    I admire people with decent politics. Very few intellectuals do anything more than justify the powers that they happen to support at the time. Almost by definition that is what the member of the intelligentsia does.

    By Blogger Jerry Monaco, at 8:22 PM  

  • As I already responded the amount deaths in El Salvador mostly due to U.S. supported forces is about 80,000 from 1980-87. Comparable figures in Nicaragua during the same period were about 300.

    On repression in El Salvador and Guatemala versus that in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas, see for example, Americas Watch, Human Rights in Nicaragua 1986, New York: Americas Watch Committee, February 1987, chs. 1, 2 and 6. An excerpt (pp. 140-141, 158-159):

    "One illustration of the Reagan Administration's employment of human rights rhetoric in its war against the Sandinistas is a joint State Department-Defense Department document that was distributed to those who attended the White House ceremony on December 10, 1986 marking International Human Rights Day. Printed on glossy paper with a silver cover and with four color illustrations (a format that stands out in contrast to U.S. government documents on human rights in other parts of the world) it is titled "The Challenge to Democracy in Central America." At page 28, it cites the following statement approvingly: "In the American continent, there is no regime more barbaric and bloody, no regime that violates human rights in a manner more constant and permanent, than the Sandinista regime." Whatever the sins of the Sandinistas -- and they are real -- this is nonsense. . . .
    "Between 40,000 and 50,000 Salvadoran civilians were murdered by government forces and death squads allied to them during the 1980s. A similar number died during [the U.S. client] Somoza's last year or so in Nicaragua, mostly in indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population by the National Guard. The number of civilian noncombatants killed by the armed forces in Guatemala during the 1980s cannot be known, but it is probably the highest in the hemisphere. . . . As to Nicaragua, taking into account all of the civilian noncombatant deaths attributable to government forces in the more than seven years since the Sandinistas consolidated power, it is difficult to count a total of more than 300 . . . of which the largest number of victims were Miskito Indians on the Atlantic Coast in 1981 and 1982. . . .

    "[Furthermore], Americas Watch knows of two cases of [Nicaraguan] political prisoners in the sense in which that term is used in the United States . . . [one of these] had been arrested for evading the military draft. . . . He was subsequently released without charges and is not presently serving in the military. . . . Also at this time, Amnesty International has no currently adopted "prisoner of conscience" in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas."

    Again your figures are absolute nonsense.

    By Blogger Jerry Monaco, at 8:28 PM  

  • The ability to call things by their proper names is a measure of political honesty. It is a measure of how much you can liberate your mind from ideological systems.

    So here is a press clip from the time I was involved in Central America.

    "Gen. John Galvin, leader of the U.S. southern command, told a House subcommittee yesterday that the contra rebels fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government have a better chance of winning than they did just a few months ago and attributed his growing optimism to the contras' new strategy of attacking civilian targets instead of soldiers.

    "Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere subcommittee, Galvin said, "The contras have a fighting chance if we sustain them" with continued military aid. "It's getting better. In the past few months, I'm more hopeful than I was before." Asked after the hearing what the contras have achieved the past few months, Galvin replied, "Lots of victories. They're going after soft targets. They're not trying to duke it out with the Sandinistas directly.""

    from Fred Kaplan, "U.S. general says contra chances improving," Boston Globe, May 20, 1987, p. 9.

    This is terrorism. If another country was doing in the U.S. what the U.S.G. instructed the Contras to do in Nicaragua it would be called terrorism. So the U.S. is by its own admission is a terrorist state.

    What distinguishes the terrorism that you support from the terrorism that you oppose? The global war on communism or some other global war, no doubt, is justification enough. The other country is "communist" so it is just fine to sponsor terrorism over there. This is justification enough. The facts on the ground don't matter at all. Torn limbs from children and bombed schools and clinics don't matter at all. All the actual history of places like Central America must be ignored. Forget the fact that the U.S. invaded Nicaragua several times before there were any communists around and that U.S. policy goals in Latin America were the same before 1917 as it they were after 1989. The U.S. war against the people of Central America had little to do with the war against Communism, except on the level of ideological delusions. What it had to do with was the threat of independent development in those countries.

    The internal planning of the National Security Council openly states these goals of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. The fact that you think it was about "fighting communism" only shows that you have bought into the ideological justifications that all states need in order to justify their expansion of power. (Notice I said "all states". It is an historical universal that all states justify their actions by their good intentions. It is the responsibility of the moral individual to see through those justifications and call things by their proper names. But apparently you want to believe that the U.S.G. is an exception to this historical universal.)

    I quote N.S.C. [National Security Council Memorandum] 144/1, "United States Objectives and Courses of Action With Respect to Latin America," March 18, 1953.

    "There is a trend in Latin America toward nationalistic regimes maintained in large part by appeals to the masses of the population. Concurrently, there is an increasing popular demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses, with the result that most Latin American governments are under intense domestic political pressures to increase production and to diversify their economies."

    The memo does mention Communists, but only because they may take advantage of "the popular demand for immediate improvement in the low living standards of the masses." The Memorandum then lists the objectives and proposed courses of action for the United States, which include "Adequate production in Latin America of, and access by the United States to, raw materials essential to U.S. security"; "The ultimate standardization of Latin American military organization, training, doctrine and equipment along U.S. lines"; and "convincing them that their own self-interest requires an orientation of Latin American policies to our objectives."

    The memo simply assumes that a "popular demand" for improvement in low living standards is illegitimate and must be opposed. Why must it be opposed? Because it interferes with U.S. exploitation of natural resources and the need to maintain business profits. I want you to notice one thing, the liberals on the N.S.C. think like Bolsheviks, except they reverse all the signs. The documents along this line are abundant and I can provide more if you need proof. It was this thinking that was behind U.S. terror in Central America and the imposition of U.S. gangster regimes in Chile and Brazil, etc.

    So why do you support a global war on terror and still refuse to try to stop the terror that we are directly responsible for? Because you, suffer from the same kind of blindness that you describe in Koestler during his trip through the Ukraine. You can't even see terrorism when it is committed by our national state but only when it is committed by our enemies.

    What it amounts to is this: The U.S. can do what it does because 1) by definition our "national interests" are good (the 'national interest' being defined as equivalent to the business interests and the interests of increased state power); because 2) the U.S. is a very powerful state and can get away with terrorism in other countries, where as other countries are weaker and cannot get away with it here (in other words 'might makes right'); and because 3) we judge ourselves on a different moral scale than we judge others (in other words, a system of intellectual delusions first propounded by State Department liberals and later accepted as standard indoctrination by former conservatives blinds us to our own hypocrisy.)

    Jerry Monaco

    By Anonymous Jerry Monaco, at 1:05 PM  

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