A Deafening Silence
V. R. Berghahn
In 1963, the German dramatist Rolf Hochhuth published "The Deputy," a play about Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust that was quickly translated into some 20 languages and performed around the globe. Highly controversial in its time, the work marked the beginning of a heated and continuing debate on the Vatican's silence in the face of the mass murder of Europe's Jews in World War II. Hochhuth dedicated "The Deputy" to two Roman Catholics: the Rev. Maximilian Kolbe, who died in place of a Polish fellow prisoner at Auschwitz and was canonized in 1982, and Bernhard Lichtenberg, the provost of St. Hedwig's Cathedral in Berlin, who repeatedly spoke out publicly against Nazi anti-semitism and criminality and, jailed in May 1942, died in October 1943 on his way to the Dachau concentration camp.
Possibly, the most powerful scenic in Hochhuth's historical drama is the encounter between an SS doctor on the Auschwitz selection ramp and Riccardo, a Catholic priest who was plucked from the line of Jewish victims shuffling toward the gas chambers. In the ensuing dialogue, the doctor sadistically challenges Riccardo's faith in God and his church, cynically arguing that if God existed he would surely have intervened to stop the industrialized murder of millions of innocent people, and adding, in reference to the inhumanity of the Inquisition: "And what gives priests the right to look down on the SS? We are the Dominicans of the technological age. It is not chance so many of my kind have sprung form good Catholic backgrounds."
While many clerics and a ordinary Catholics were indeed killed or tortured for their anti-Nazi beliefs and activities, Pope Pius XII, the head of their church, was living in relative safety in Rome, protected by the Vatican's extraterritoriality, which neither Mussolini not Hitler ever dared to revoke. More distressing, the Pope could never bring himself to publish a clear message of condemnation of the enormous crimes against Europe's Jews and other minorities who were earmarked for physical annihilation, although ample and reliable information about Hitler's genocidal policies was reaching him from all over Europe from early 1942 on, and although a variety of people who had access to him repeatedly pleaded with him to speak out. The Pope agonized in private, but was held back by his lifelong training in and dedication to the Curia, the Vatican's administrative branch. He tolerated convents and monasteries clandestinely sheltering Jews and made vague statements, but issued no encyclical or similarly authoritative message.
By combining the painstaking research of other scholars with his own new documentation on Pius's knowledge and behavior during World War II, John Cornwell, a British journalist and research associate of Jesus College, Cambridge, makes a case in his book Hitler's Pope that is very difficult to refute.
Cornwell is a Catholic, and did not expect at the start of his work to be ending up in the camp of those who have highlighted the Pope's sad moral failure and his fallibility as a human being. But reluctantly, he concludes that a loud and widely disseminated statement from Rome would have made a difference to the fate of European Jewry. The least it would have done was to warn the Jews of western Europe that deportation meant certain death, resulting in more of them fleeing or going into hiding. Furthermore, it would have told millions of Catholics that they were involved, as bystanders or even as perpetrators, in a fundamentally evil program, and this recognition would in turn have encouraged resistance and a greater willingness to help their Jewish neighbors.
It is likely that a papal condemnation would have resulted in the arrest, imprisonment or even death of Pius XII, which in turn might have triggered widespread popular unrest. That the Nazis feared this possibility became evident when, following the fall of Mussolini, the SS appeared in the Eternal City in October 1943 to round up Rome's Jews. Again people urged the Pope to denounce the transport of men, women and children to Auschwitz. Although it was by then obvious that Hitler was losing the war and that the liberation of Rome by the Allies, advancing from the south, was merely a matter of time, the Vatican remained passive, much to the relief of the local German occupation authorities.
Cornwell's explanation for Pius's behavior is no less explosive than his description of it, and seems calculated to ignite a public debate on the evolution of Catholicism in the decades ahead, using John Paul II's current moves for Pius's canonization as a fuse. To be sure, Cornwell shuns monocausality. He believes that religious anti-Semitism, with its ancient roots in the church, constituted but one motive for the Pope's silence. Another was Rome's deep-seated fear of Communism.
But Cornwell devotes most space to his argument concerning the changing internal organization and power structure of the church itself, which is why his study begins in the mid-19th century with the Vatican's confrontation with the forces of modernity. During this period, the Curia came to believe that rallying the faithful behind a centralized papacy was the only way to secure the survival of Catholicism in a hostile world. The Vatican Council of 1869-70, which proclaimed the dogma of papal infallibility, was a major step in asserting the Pope's unchallengeable spiritual as well as administrative leadership. With the further evolution of canon law, the author continues, another stage in the consolidation of autocratic rule was reached by 1917, when a young Vatican bureaucrat, Eugenio Pacelli, later Pius XII, earned his first laurels as a promoter of centralism.
That the forces of modernity had by then infiltrated Catholic laity merely reinforced this quest for control. Catholic political parties were becoming powerful voices in the parliamentary assemblies of Europe. As elected representatives, they demanded a greater say in the councils of the church. Lay communities persisted in organizing their own associational life and pushed for liturgical reform, while the indigenous hierarchy tried to uphold the principle of "collegiality" against rulings from Rome. In this clash of two very different conceptions of institutional relations and the societal role of Catholicism, the negotiation of concordats - international treaties with secular governments - became a key instrument in the hands of the Vatican, not only to regulate its relations with often unfriendly nation-states but also to assert its primacy over those who dreamed of vibrantly pluralist national churches.
If the 1929 Lateran Treaty with Fascist Italy was, as Cornwell puts it, "designed to cripple political and social Catholicism," the "super concordat" with Germany, brought to a successful conclusion by Pacelli, the Vatican's secretary of state, in secret negotiations with the Nazis in July 1933, seemingly marked the greatest triumph of this strategy. With Hitler solemnly recognizing Rome as the exclusive voice of the church, the treaty destroyed the independence of German Catholicism. The Catholic Center Party was brutally pushed into self-liquidation; the German bishops who had hitherto staunchly opposed Nazism were silenced; the faithful were told that it was all right for them to serve a dictatorship that many of them had previously voted against. In Cornwell's eyes, this outcome was an unmitigated disaster in that it removed a major center of resistance to Nazism. Ultimately, he believes, the Vatican's centralist strategy, coolly pursued by its chief negotiator, Pacelli, was crucial to the rapid consolidation of the Hitler dictatorship. What he underestimates at this point is that many German Catholics were themselves ready to make their peace with the Nazis, whether out of fear or latent sympathy with many of Hitler's political and economic promises.
By 1940-41, the Axis partners, buoyed by their rapid conquest of the European continent, were powerful enough to destroy the centralized papacy if, instead of appeasing the dictators, the Vatican had begun to oppose them. Silence, punctuated by a few generalized warnings against the ravages of total war, now seemed to be the only guarantee for the preservation of an institution and its command structures that Pacelli had so laboriously built in previous decades. The arrest of the Pope by Hitler, Cornwell implies, would have destroyed it all. Worse, the unrest that such a move would have created among the faithful would not only have cost many Catholic lives but, with the Axis defeat on the horizon by 1942-43, would also have resulted in a renewal of precisely those forces of autonomy inside the church that had once challenged the Vatican's quest for autocracy.
The benefits of Pius XII's strategy of survival became very visible during the rest of his papacy: Until his death in 1958 he "presided over a monolithic, triumphalist Catholic Church in antagonistic confrontation with Communism both in Italy and beyond the Iron Curtain." Cornwell does not think this achievement was worth the moral failure of the Pope's wartime silence.
But the ferment that had been building for a more participatory church since the 19th century could not be quelled in the postwar world. The demand for greater diversity re-emerged during the Second Vatican Council, having found a supporter in Pope John XXIII. However, his early death in 1963, Cornwell contends, restrengthened the authoritarian traditions of the Vatican bureaucracy. It continued to pursue a model of Catholicism that is strictly led from the top, in which "pluralism and collegiality are characterized as antagonistic to central authority," and that is based on an unquestioning popular piety and acclamation by the "masses." We may not quite be back to where we were in the 1950's, but the pendulum has swung back pretty far under Paul VI and John Paul II, Cornwell says, even if, "in an era largely hospitable to religious freedom it is difficult to assess the full extent of the moral and social enfeeblement of the local churches."
Hoping for a different future, Cornwell is depressed by the prospect of the canonization of Pins XII, who "has become the icon, 40 years after his death, of, those who read and revise the provisions of the Second Vatican Council from the viewpoint of an ideology of papal power." Knowing that canonization will offend many people, he concludes, "'If better relations are to be built between the Catholic Church and Jews, it will result not from blind faith in the single oracular voice of Catholic apologetics, but from Catholics heeding unflinchingly the pluralist narratives of history. "For he is convinced "that the cumulative verdict of history" shows Pius XII "to be not a saintly exemplar for future generations, but a deeply flawed human being from whom Catholics, and our relations with other religions, can best profit by expressing our sincere regret."
Chances are not particularly bright that the ferment of liberal reformism that is again stirring Catholicism in Europe and North America will prevail. The Vatican - immovable, though equipped with the latest communication devices of the technological age - still looks the way it looked a century ago: a fortress built against the tide of time.
V.R. Berghahn is a professor of European history at Columbia University. Published with permission of the author. First published in The New York Times Book Review, 26 September, 1999.
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Does Selencio = Muerte?
Notes on transplanting the AIDS epidemic
Dr. Rafeal Campo
Palomita chatters in one of my clinic exam rooms in Boston, her strongly accented voice filling the chilly institutional chrome-and-vinyl space with Puerto Rican warmth. SheÍs off on another dramatic monologue, telling me about her new boyfriend.
"Edgar, he loves me, you know, he call me mamacita. He want me to be the mother of his children someday, OK? I ainÍt no slut. Mira, I donÍt need to use no condom with him."
Even the way she dresses is a form of urgent communication„the plunging neckline of her tropically patterned blouse, whose tails knotted above her waist also expose her flat stomach, the skin-tight denim jeans, the gold, four-inch hoop earrings, and the necklace with her name spelled out in cursive with tiny sparkling stones. Her black hair is pulled back tightly, except for a small squiggle greased flat against her forehead in the shape of an upside-down question mark.
"People think bad of him ïcause they say he dealing drugs. I tell them, ïNo way, you shut your stupid mouths. He good to me and beside, he cleaner than you is.Í Sure, he got his other girls now and then, but he pick them out bien carefully, you know what I mean. That his right as man of the house. No way he gonna give me la SIDA. We too smart for none of that shit. We trust each other. We communicate. We gonna buy us a house somewhere bien bonita. Someday we gonna make it."
She is seventeen years old, hasnÍt finished high school, and cannot read English. I have just diagnosed her with herpes, and IÍm trying to talk to her about AIDS and "safer sex." Her Edgar, who is also a patient of mine, tested HIV-positive last week. ItÍs clear they have not discussed it.
Latinos are dying at an alarming rate from AIDS. And for all our glorious presence on the worldÍs stage„in music, literature, art, from MacArthur grants to MTV to Sports Illustrated„this is one superlative no one can really boast about. Few Latinos dare even to mention the epidemic. The frenetic beat of salsa in our dance clubs seems to drown out the terrifying statistics, while the bright murals in our barrios cover up the ugly blood-red graffiti, and that "magical realism" of our fictions imagines a world where we can lose our accents and live in Vermont, where secret family recipes conjure up idealized heterosexual love in an ultimately just universe unblemished by plague.
Here, loud and clear, for once, are some of the more stark, sobering facts: In the U.S., Latinos accounted for one-fifth of all AIDS cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control last year, while making up only one-tenth of the U.S. population; AIDS has been the leading cause of death since 1991 for young Latino men in this country; in areas with especially high numbers of Latinos, such as Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Los Angeles, and New York, AIDS deaths among Latina women were four times the national average since 1995. While the infection rate among whites continues to decline, today, and every day, 100 people of color are newly diagnosed with HIV infection. Behold our isolated and desperate substance users, the most marginalized of the marginalized, our forsaken impoverished, and our irreplaceable young people.
I do not have to wonder at the reasons for the silence among Latinos about the burgeoning AIDS epidemic that is decimating us. Though I stare into its face every day in the clinic where I work, there are times when even I want to forget, to pretend it is not happening, to believe my people are invincible and can never be put down again. I want to believe Palomita is HIV-negative, that Edgar will stop shooting drugs and someday return to get on the right triple combination of anti-viral medications. I fervently hope that C³sar, a twenty-year-old Colombian man who keeps missing his appointments, is taking his protease inhibitors so that his viral load remains undetectable. I do not really know who pays for his drugs, since he is uninsured, but my thoughts do not dwell on it. In the end, I want to go home and rest after a long day in the clinic, to make love to my partner of fourteen years and feel that IÍll never have to confront another epidemic. I want to look into his dark, Puerto Rican eyes and never have to speak of AIDS again.
But I know better. I know we must speak out„about the ongoing disenfranchisement of Latinos despite our much-touted successes, about the vicious homophobia of a machista Latino culture that especially fears and hates gay people whom it believes "deserve" AIDS, about the antipathy of the Catholic Church so many Latinos pray for guidance they donÍt receive, about the unfulfilled dream of total and untainted assimilation for so many Mexicans, Dominicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans who came to America with nothing.
To break any of these silences is especially tempting, since together they allow me to blame most of the unusual targets of my rage and frustration. Others are more difficult to penetrate, such as the persistent lack of access in Latino communities to lifesaving information about AIDS. Still others make almost no sense to me at all. Rosa, another patient of mine, tells me she knows she should not have sex without condoms, but continues to do so anyway because she is afraid her drug-dealing boyfriend would think she no longer loves him. Yet she hardly imagines that he might be using drugs, or wonders whether he has other sexual partners.
Our silence, in all its forms, is killing us. I wince at the familiar ring of this realization. I canÍt help but remember my patient Ernesto in his hospital bed with his partner JesÏs sitting quietly at his side, a tiny statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe keeping its mute vigil, no other family or friends around. Ernesto died years ago of AIDS. It is not pass³ or trite or irrelevant to ask why we remain silent. It is absolutely imperative. We must understand the causes of our silencio.
Most of the Spanish-speaking patients who come to my clinic do not much resemble Ricky Martin of Daisy Fuentes or Antonio Sabato Jr. They are "the working poor," janitors or delivery boys or hotel laundry workers or high school dropouts or dishwashers„people with jobs that pay subsistence wages and provide no health benefits. Still, they consider themselves fortunate because so many have no jobs at all.
Many of them are illiterate, and many more speak no English. They have come to Boston mostly from Puerto Rico, but some are from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Some sleep on park benches when the weather is warm enough and in shelters during the winter. Some live in crowded apartments. Some are undocumented immigrants. Some have lost their welfare benefits, some are trying to apply for temporary assistance, and almost none have enough to feed themselves and their families.
Older couples too often have lost children to drugs, street violence, and AIDS. Young people too often blame their parents and their teachers for their problems. Some know very little about AIDS and fault homosexuals, injection drug users, and prostitutes for poisoning the community. Some view la SIDA with resignation and see it as inevitable, part of the price some must pay for a chance at a better life.
But the vast majority of Latinos in the U.S. remain shortchanged, despite the glittering success of a few. For every Federico Peøa, many more anonymous "illegals" are deported to Mexico each day, never given the chance to contribute to our society at all. For every Sammy Sosa, a makeshift boat full of Dominicans is lost at sea. And even more noxious than the large-scale efforts to dismantle affirmative action or to deny basic social services (including health care) to undocumented immigrants are the daily insults and obstacles that prevent Latinos from sharing fully in our nationÍs life. Lack of economic opportunities pushes Latinos toward criminal activities as a means to survive. Discrimination and rejection breed the kind of despair that drug use and unsafe sex only temporarily ameliorate. The despair and the apathy, heightened by what the very few who are successful have achieved, numb the soul.
ItÍs a common litany, yet I canÍt help but see how this imposed demoralization is manifest in the behavior of so many of my patients. Why leave an abusive relationship, they say, when all that awaits is the cold streets? Why insist on a condom when itÍs much easier not to and the reasons to go on living are not so clear anyway? It doesnÍt seem farfetched to me that this cumulative hopelessness is fueling the AIDS epidemic.
But the causes, the subject of so many lefty social work dissertations, do not get at the entire problem. We remain ourselves a culture in which men treat women as icons„or as powerless objects of our legendary sexual passions. Our wives must be as pure as we believe our own mothers to be, and yet we pursue our mistresses with the zeal of matadors about to make the kill. Brute force is excused as a necessary means by which Latino men must exert control over weak-willed women, and it is by no means secret that in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic lurks another senseless killer, the domestic violence that too often goes unreported.
Could Palomita and Rosa fear more than just losing the financial support of their boyfriends? For Yolanda, another patient of mine with HIV infection, it was the beatings from her husband that finally drove her onto the streets, where prostitution soon became her only means of making a living. Now she is dying.
SexismÍs virulent hermano is homophobia. AIDS has long been considered a disease exclusively of homosexuals„especially in Spanish-speaking communities, where not only is HIV strongly associated with gayness, it is further stigmatized as having been imported from the decadent white world. Since we cannot speak calmly and rationally of homosexuality, we certainly cannot bring up AIDS, perhaps the only affliction that could be worse.
Latinos are allowed to be gay only outside the confines of their families and old neighborhoods. Indeed, many Latino men who have sex with other men would never even consider themselves "gay" at all, a derogatory term that they would apply only to those whom they consider to be their "passive" partners. Even those who take pride in their homosexuality are not immune to this hatred. I have many gay Latino friends whose parents will not allow their partners to visit during holidays, friends who go to great lengths to (literally) "straighten out" their homes when family is coming to visit by creating fictitious separate bedrooms and removing anything suggestive of homosexuality (which can get difficult, when one gets down to the joint Andy Garcia fan club application, the Frida Kahlo shrine, or the autographed and framed Gigi Fernandez poster).
Hand in hand with both sexism and homophobia goes Catholicism. Latinos are overwhelmingly Catholic, and the Catholic hierarchy remains overwhelmingly not only anti-gay, but also opposed to the use of condoms as a means to prevent HIV transmission. (The only time I have ever heard AIDS mentioned in a Catholic church was at a wedding service, when it was invoked as a reminder of what punishments lay in store for the fornicators and homosexuals who scorned marriage.) While on the one hand preaching about the sanctity of life, our religious leaders have abetted the deaths of countless Latinos by refusing to endorse the use of condoms as a means to prevent AIDS transmission.
No one disagrees with the monotonous message that abstinence is the safest sex of all. Yet in todayÍs ascendant moment, when young Latinos must party„we drink our Cuba libres followed by caf³ con leche, dance the merengue provocatively with shiny crucifixes dangling around our necks, and later engage in sultry, unsafe sex, even if always (supposedly) with partners of the opposite sex„such teaching is utterly impractical.
Then there are the people like me, the Cuban doctors and Chicano lawyers, the Nuyorican politicians and the displaced Argentine activists„those who mean well but who have allowed the silence to engulf us, too. The thick warm blanket of our insularity and relative power comforts us. We are a small, tightly knit group; we work hard and hope to send our children to Harvard or Stanford or Yale, praying that they stay out of trouble. We increasingly vote Republican, elated that George W. Bush tosses out a few words in halting Spanish, and fearing that a liberal government might take away too much of what we have struggled to make for ourselves„and might allow too many others in for a share of our pie. We would hardly acknowledge Palomita and Edgar if we passed them in the street, and we might even regret their very existence, the way they bring all of us down by their ignorance and poverty. Full of our quiet self-righteousness, gripping our briefcases just a bit more tightly, we might not even feel sorry for them if we knew they were being afflicted with AIDS.
Mario Cooper, a former deputy chief of staff for the Democratic National Committee, knows firsthand about a communityÍs indifference to AIDS. Black, gay, and HIV-positive, he spearheaded an initiative sponsored by the Harvard AIDS Institute called Leading for Life. The summit brought together prominent members of the African American community to talk frankly about their own AIDS epidemic„just as uncontrolled, just as deadly, and until last yearÍs summit, just as silent as the one ravaging Latinos.
"The key is to make people understand this is about all of us," Cooper says, as we brainstorm a list of possible invitees to another meeting, to be called Unidos para la Vida. Inspired by his past success in Boston, where the likes of Marian Wright Edelman, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Dr. Alvin Poussaint eventually heeded his call to action, Cooper is now intent on tackling the same issue for Latinos.
"What came out of the Leading for Life meeting was incredible," he says. "Suddenly, everyone was paying attention, and things started happening for young African Americans. They started to learn more about AIDS." He is beaming, and we add Oscar de la Renta, Cristina, and Edward James Olmos to the list. "We have the chance to do the same thing here."
But after a few weeks of working on the project with him and others at the Harvard AIDS Institute, it became clear to us that we might be facing even greater obstacles than those he encountered in the black community. We had hardly even gotten started when conflicts over terminology almost sank the entire effort. "Latino" competed with "Hispanic," while all of us felt that neither term fully articulated the rich diversity and numerous points of origin of those who undeniably formed some kind of a community. Some of us secretly questioned whether a shared vulnerability to AIDS was itself enough to try and unify us. Was a Puerto Rican injection drug user in Hartford, Connecticut, really having the same issues as a Salvadoran undocumented immigrant selling sex in El Paso, Texas? Was loyalty to the Venezuelan community, or Nicaraguan community, imperiled by joining this larger group? At times, we saw evidence of the kind of pecking-order mentality (in which certain nationalities consider themselves superior to others) that has since the days of BolÕvar interfered with efforts to unify SpainÍs colonies in the New World.
If these mostly suppressed internal divisions were not enough to surmount, we also battled the general lack of interest in AIDS„yesterdayÍs news, no matter how loudly we shouted the latest statistics, no matter how emphatically we pointed out the lack of access for Latinos to the new treatments.
"DonÍt they have a cure for that now?" remarked one person I called, exemplifying precisely the sort of misinformation we were working to correct, her breathy laugh further revealing both the kind of distancing from„and absence of comfort with„the entire issue that surely reinforced her lack of knowledge.
Others were simply fatalistic. "You canÍt change the way these kids think and behave," said one person who declined the invitation to attend the summit, "so why bother?"
"Tell them to stop having sex," came one memorably blunt response, before the phone crashed down on the other end.
"I pray for them," said another pious woman. "I pray that they will renounce their wicked ways and find peace in Christ." She then regretted to inform me that she would be unable to attend the summit.
The special insight I thought I could bring to the effort, as a gay Latino poet doctor who writes both poems and prescriptions, seemed to be of less and less use, as more and more "no" answers, accompanied by their usually polite excuses, filtered back to us. Weeks later, when the situation grew bleakest, Cooper only urged us to redouble our efforts. "WeÍre dealing with a situation that is almost unfathomable to most of these people," he said. "ItÍs an epidemic no one wants to believe exists. Latinos are supposed to be the rising stars of the next millennium, not the carriers of a disease that could wipe out humanity." What was on one level a glaring public health crisis had to be understood more radically. "We have to ask ourselves why this message isnÍt getting out. WeÍre kidding ourselves if we think weÍre the magic solution. In fact, we may be part of the problem."
The work of Walt Odets, the Berkeley psychologist who shook up the safer sex establishment, immediately came to my mind. Odets observed young gay men at the height of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, noting a pervasive hopelessness in the face of a belief that infection with HIV was inevitable. Behind the apathy and denial, might not the same thing exist in this second-wave epidemic among inner-city Latinos? The stupidity of our early efforts at sloganeering, which tried to encapsulate a myriad of complex issues under a single bright banner, suddenly became so utterly apparent to me. What faced us was not simply a matter of speaking out, of breaking a silence so many Latinos already living with HIV had already renounced. What we had to do was learn to speak their language, to incorporate in our every effort an entirely new mode of expression.
I knew right then that we had a lot more work to do.
PalomitaÍs mood is decidedly less cheerful today. She is three-and-a-half-months pregnant, but thatÍs not why she starts to cry. ItÍs the end of January, and my office is just as cold as ever. A thin crust of ice is gradually forming on everything outside. Last week, while PalomitaÍs HIV test was being run, a storm knocked out power to most of New England. My heart feels as empty and dark as one of the houses caught in the blackout now that IÍve read out her result.
"I donÍt believe you. You mean, IÍm gonna die of AIDS?" A leaden moment passes before the inevitable next question. "And what about my baby?"
Looking at Palomita, I wonder again at how AIDS does not get prevented, hot it seems to have a terrible life of its own. I want to answer her questions, explain to her that AZT lowers the risk of maternal fetal transmission, that the new triple combination anti-retroviral regimens, if she takes them exactly as prescribed, could buy her many years with her child. But I canÍt. Instead I keep thinking about her name, which means "little dove," and trying to imagine the innocence her parents must have seen in her tiny face when they named her, trying to feel that boundless joy at the earliest moment of a new life. I am looking at Palomita as she cries, framed by a window from which she cannot fly. I am imagining peace. In her beautiful brown face, mirror of a million souls, I try to envision us all in a world without AIDS.
Dr. Rafael Campo teaches and practices internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is the award-winning author of several books, including "The Poetry of Healing" (W.W. Norton, 1997) and the forthcoming collection of poems "Diva" (Duke University Press, 1999). The "Unidos para la Vida" summit was held one year ago, sponsored by the Harvard AIDS Institute. None of the prominent Latinos mentioned in this article attended.
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The War Trap: Africa in Turmoil
Alex de Waal
The Cold War was never cold in Africa. Militarisation, repression and outright war during the Cold War decades condemned Africa to a cycle from which it seems unable to escape.
The commonest cause of war is war. Since the end of the Cold War, the number of armed conflicts in Africa has remained stubbornly high. Today it is about the same as in 1989, or 1979 - that is, outrageously high. In some areas, conflicts have even got worse. During the 1990s there have been perhaps 15 new or renewed wars across sub-Saharan Africa, dashing the hopes of those who believed that the end of superpower antagonism would see the emergence of a new peace across the continent. The weakness of African states, political and ethnic divisions, competition for scarce resources: all have played their role in sparking and sustaining conflicts. But, taking a broad look at these conflicts, a single factor stands out. All but one of these wars have erupted in a country that was at war in the previous decade, or had a neighbour at war.
Metaphors mislead. War does not 'erupt' like a volcano or 'spill over' like a flooded river. It is not akin to a natural disaster. War is begun by individuals, usually men, who at the very minimum are not averse to fighting, and often are eager to do so. They may not calculate the outcomes of their actions-in fact, it is probable that no war in modern history has had the consequences predicted by those who launched it - but they are ready for the gamble. Moreover, often it is a small group of individuals, perhaps just one, who plays this critical role. Understanding contemporary war in Africa means looking both at the big picture, and focusing on the men who start wars.
The war trap means that the proxy wars fought by the superpowers from the 1960s to the 1980s continue to work their deadly logic on the African continent. Exactly how that logic works varies from case to case - and there are important exceptions to the general rule - but there is a common reality. The Cold War introduced so much organised violence into the African continent that it may be a generation before its consequences die away.
The saddest and most archetypal war is Angola. Beginning as anti-colonial struggle in the 1960s, this war metamorphosed into a Cold War hot war, as each superpower chose its client. Internal rivalries were exploited by the Americans and Soviets for their geo-strategic interests - and the Cold War confrontation was exploited by their local clients in pursuit of their ambitions. A moment of hope for peace occurred with an agreement followed by elections in 1991-2. But this was dashed when Jonas Savimbi was denied his ambition of taking the presidency and resumed his insurrection. Since then, successive rounds of fighting have been ever-more destructive and ever-more pointless - and, unlike Mozambique, Liberia or Somalia, Angola's immense mineral wealth (oil and diamonds) means that each side can finance a high-technology war, apparently ad infinitum. Ideology has become an irrelevance. Angolan citizens are weary of this war, not so their leaders.
Today, the most destructive war in Africa, if not the world, is between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In massive assaults on one another's fortified positions along their common border, tens of thousands of young people have been killed and maimed, and two near-destitute countries have bought tanks, artillery and jet fighters to pound one another. And for what? The stated war aims of each side are a few miles of disputed scrubby land, scarcely big enough to be a graveyard for all those who have died trying to win it. In May-June 1998, a border skirmish escalated into a full-scale confrontation with air strikes, followed by months of rearming and then immense ground battles beginning in February this year.
An analysis of the rights and wrongs of this immense and tragic conflict is beyond the scope of this article. The war has nothing to do with ideology. The only obvious Cold War legacy is that both sides are utilizing - in large part - arsenals provided by the Soviets to the former Ethiopian government in its communist days. Unfortunately, the Soviet preference for manufacturing simple and sturdy tanks and artillery pieces means that equipment from the 1940s and 1950s has outlasted the state that made it.
But a major factor in the rapid ratcheting up into full-scale war was that both leaderships were ready to threaten, and use, military force, and neither was ready to back down in the face of threats. This is surely related to the fact that both leaderships emerged from sustained armed struggles themselves just seven years earlier, and were still partly on a war footing facing down armed threats from neighbours including Sudan and Somalia. Their threshold for starting a war was alarmingly low - one manifestation of the war trap.
Meanwhile, this civil war has rekindled the flames in Somalia, with Eritrea arming certain groups and Ethiopia launching a full-scale invasion and backing its own clients.
The internationalised war in Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo is another case. What might appear to be a wholly new war is in fact a direct bequest of the Cold War. For decades, US patronage enabled a fantastically venal dictator to hold onto power, achieving a measure of 'peace' at the cost of decay and fragmentation. But the internal conflicts in Zaire were merely frozen, while the government - or to be precise, the factions around the president - lavishly sponsored conflicts in neighbouring countries including Rwanda and Angola. These were ultimately self-defeating strategies. By the mid-1990s, Mobutu's readiness to destabilise his neighbours backfired, as an array of antagonised neighbours (led by Rwanda) and their friends combined to overthrow him. Then, no-one in Zaire would stand up and fight for the discredited despot - but neither would they unite around an alternative.
Meanwhile, the inheritance of years of armament, and the presence of so many foreign armies on Congolese soil, has made a solution to the DR Congo's plight exceptionally elusive. The conflict, too, has generated its own destructive logic. The vicious internal war in Congo (Brazzaville) in 1997, the resumption of fighting in Angola, continuing destabilisation of Rwanda and Uganda, and threats to the stability of Zambia and Zimbabwe can all be traced directly to the lack of any form of security in DR Congo. The one positive thing that can be said is that at least this war demonstrates the impossibility of a piecemeal solution: the wars are all interlinked and must be resolved together.
There is a single African exception to the 'wars before' rule: Liberia. Here, instead of opting for the customary coup, Charles Taylor sought to fight his way to power through rural insurrection. A political-military entrepreneur par excellence, Taylor deployed low-cost social technologies, including conspicuous atrocity and the recruitment of child soldiers, to sow violent discord and mobilise fighters. His manipulation of ethnicity destabilised Liberia, belatedly and perversely demonstrating the logic of Che Guevara-style focoism used for purely cynical ends. Frustrated in his ambitions by the Nigerian-led West African intervention force, Taylor then ignited war in neighbouring Sierra Leone as well. Once started, such wars generate their own logic. In their own way, they are total wars: the social technologies involved are all-encompassing and bring all of society to the battle front. Unlike conventional, state-mobilised wars, which may have spin-off benefits in terms of social cohesion and state consolidation, these wars are purely destructive, a form of primary annihilation.
Taylor's invasion of Liberia has, therefore, plunged a large area of West Africa into its own war trap. This is unusual in Africa because it is not of Cold War vintage, but the implications are the same.
The war trap is not new, nor unique to Africa. Warmaking is a profession, a career. However disparate the natures and aims of war, soldiers have much in common. In societies at war, soldiers are given esteem and reward; afterwards, countries are faced with the challenge of demobilisation. After every major war this century, the world has been flooded with unemployed soldiers. The post-Cold War demobilisations are no exception. Military Professional Resources Inc. soaks up retired US army officers; Executive Outcomes and the network of companies it has spawned have given jobs to many otherwise unemployable former South African soldiers and intelligence operatives; the dispersal of the international brigades of the Afghan mudahidin has provided trained terrorists and guerrillas to every Islamist cause from Kashmir to Algeria. Serbs and Croats are among the latest additions to this market; some are merely plying their destructive trade for money alone, others still nurse political or ideological agendas.
The same problem is replicated in every country or district where there has been a war. Schools are often the largest sources of recruits for guerrilla armies: students join up with the dream of resuming their education when their land is liberated. Others join from economic frustrations: their land is seized, their chances of employment eliminated. Return to civilian life can be a rude awakening - especially when international donors insist that economic 'adjustment' be implemented at the same time as peace and reconciliation, so that tens of thousands of hopeful ex-soldiers enter the labour market and demand education just at the moment when their prospects are poorest. Little surprise that banditry or mercenarism are attractive options.
The human residues of former wars provide the raw material for political entrepreneurs wanting to return to the bush. But leaders are needed to turn frustrations into organised insurrection. Unfortunately, war, like politics, throws up more potential leaders than there are positions to fill. War always leaves unmet promises and armouries of grievance. So there are likely to be former officers ready to return to leading an army in the field.
The war in Sudan started in precisely this way in the 1980s as ambitious and frustrated commanders of the first civil war in Sudan (concluded in 1972) remobilised disgruntled veterans and youth and launched a civil war that has brought ruin to southern Sudan. Their cause may have been just, but the sheer devastation that has followed was surely not in the minds of the mutineers 16 years ago. The Sudan People's Liberation Army was founded with the aim of creating a united, secular socialist Sudan - all three aims more distant now than when the war started. The government of Sudan fights for an Islamic State, but it, too, is finding that the longer the war continues, the more remote its goal. At the beginning of the war, the US supported the pro-West Khartoum government; by the late 1990s, it was verbally supporting the opposition. Irrespective of US alignment, the war seems insoluble.
Similarly, the war in Somalia, another Cold War orphan: veterans of the failed invasion of Ethiopia in 1977 provided a ready-mobilised army for a military entrepreneur such as General Mohamed Aidid to pursue his ambitions. When Aidid was killed in 1996, the democratic and prosperous Somalia on whose behalf he had launched his insurrection was further away than ever.
The infamous mercenary corporation Executive Outcomes(EO) is a variant on the story: its directors seek only profit, not political power. EO began life as an arm of the clandestine South African destabilisation strategy, working for the Civil Cooperation Bureau(CCB) that organised covert activities such as the assassination of ANC leaders. After the CCB was closed and apartheid's counter-insurgency and destabilisation strategies abandoned, EO simply moved into the commercial sphere, landing contracts with the governments of Angola and Sierra Leone. EO's reputation is probably out of proportion to its actual activities, but it is the most flamboyant member of an extensive network of private military companies that includes MPRI and Defence Systems Limited. EO was formally closed in January 1999, but its numerous offspring, such as Sandline, continue in business.
The 'blowback' from the CIA's massive support to the Afghan mudahidin is even more immense and equally serious for Africa. The likes of Osama bin Laden are the direct legacy of the US policy of pouring arms into Afghanistan and training all comers in the most sophisticated and deadly techniques of destruction. The extremist Islamist government in Khartoum is a cousin of this US misadventure. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the State Department encouraged the Sudanese National Islamic Front as an acceptable, modern, conservative force; a reliable ally in its regional anti-communist strategy and one that gave a more liberal gloss to political Islam than the Saudis and Iranians. Frustrated with the inept leadership of Sudan's elected government (1986-9), Washington also sent clear signals that it would not oppose a military coup in that country. But what it got, in June 1989, was a military-Islamist coalition that quickly became one of its favourite objects of hate, a relationship that culminated in the cruise missile attack on the al Shfa pharmaceutical plant in August 1998. (In a remarkable display of state-of-the-art intelligence, the US neatly destroyed an innocent factory, leaving the actual chemical weapons installations - whose location was known to every Khartoom taxi driver- unscathed.) Meanwhile, Sudanese citizens have laboured under a vile dictatorship for the entire post-Cold War period.
Perhaps the most significant legacy of war is that it legitimises violence as a form of political activity. Nobody starts a long war: all long wars are short wars that did not stick to the script. But for those who have engaged in war before, fighting can still appear legitimate, not to mention fulfilling. Those who won the previous war believe they can do it again; those who failed believe that they can remedy their own or their superiors' mistakes next time round. As the Eritrea-Ethiopia war demonstrates, the smallest spark can ignite a conflagration that can consume whole nations. As Liberia shows, a single able ambitious man, determined to ruin or rule a state, can do both.
Once started, war has its own monstrous dynamic: escalation, prolongation, dragging in other countries, degrading morality. The logic of war consumes everything. It poisons normal political discourse and human rationality. The fear for contemporary Africa is that the inflammable legacies of so many ongoing or suspended conflicts will create more destructive wars in the decade to come.
The African continent witnessed so much armed conflict during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s that it produced an entire generation for whom organised violence was a way of life and a normal means of political mobilisation. The goals and ideologies associated with these conflicts were secondary to the simple fact of warfare itself, so casually started by the superpowers and their clients. The repercussions of this extraordinary level of armament, division, destruction and socialisation into war live on in Africa's contemporary war trap. It will take many years, and a concerted effort by Africans and the international community, to reverse this state of affairs.
Alex de Waul is the director of Justice Africa. He has been a writer on war, famine and human rights in Africa for 15 years. He lives in London. Copyright, Index on Censorship.
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Faith in Labor
Are AmericaÍs unions doing GodÍs work? This fall, labor stalwarts are devoting a good deal of time and resources to making that case to the faithful. On the Sunday before Labor Day, union activists fanned out to some 700 churches and synagogues around that nation to advocate a living wage and the right of workers to choose a union free from harassment by their employers. In October, the AFL-CIO, during its national convention in Los Angeles, will cosponsor a five-day meeting with religious leaders and seminary students (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) under the rather innocuous rubric "Forging Partnerships: A National Religion-Labor Conference." Federation president John Sweeney, a devout Catholic, has been vigorously urging religious bodies to use their investments and political influence to aid union organizing campaigns, particularly among immigrant, minority and female workers who are "least able to defend themselves."
This is hardly the first time American unionists have sought and found help from what Sweeney respectfully calls "institutions of faith." A century ago, some of the liberal Protestant clergy who formulated the Social Gospel defended striking workers beset by arrogant employers and the National Guard. The CIO unions, which emerged during the Great Depression, won the endorsement of many priests familiar with the wretched conditions endured by their parishioners, who toiled in steel mills, stockyards and coal mines. Sweeney himself is a disciple of the Catholic critique of unfettered capitalism that both Pope John Paul II and the American bishops have continually reaffirmed. In the sixties a veritable rainbow coalition of Christian and Jewish clergy gathered to support the United Farm Workers and its charismatic and openly pious leader, Cesar Chavez. But the current effort is the best planned and most inclusive in laborÍs history.
Why is it happening now? While Sweeney and his allies seem to be hopping onto a "faith based" bandwagon already crowded with presidential contenders, the coalition theyÍre trying to build has a decidedly progressive slant. Since taking over from their sclerotic predecessors four years ago, reform-minded national union leaders have sought and found "partners" throughout the ranks of the broad, if inchoately organized, American left. Previously, AFL-CIO officials reached out to progressive academics and spoke at campus teach-ins; now they are bringing their message to liberal rabbis, ministers and imams. An additional spur is the fact that many of the immigrant wage earners and workers of color who lack unions are members of churches and other faith-based institutions. Labor activists want to break with the defensive, suspicious posture of the recent past that left unions isolated before their enemies in government and business. "We have to build strong connections to religious communities before a strike occurs," explains Marilyn Sneiderman, director of field mobilization for the AFL-CIO and a leader of the new initiative.
Strategic considerations dovetail with the need for a vision grander than just shoring up the vulnerable ramparts of existing unions. Labor officials are painfully aware of how widespread remains the image of their movement as a "special interest" driven by a desire for power and privileges unavailable to the nonunion majority. For a public whose cynicism about politicians climbs even higher, the task of articulating ethical claims in the public sphere seems to fall largely on clergy relatively untainted by the fever for celebrity and the main chance. This benefits preachers who condemn abortion and homosexuality as well as fellatio in the Oval Office. But it also my increase the credibility of people like Rabbi Frank Dobb of Rockville, Maryland, who maintains that the living wage is "a major moral issue," and of ministers and priests who back the right to organize and who invited unionists to speak from their pulpits on the first Sunday in September.
Of course, the emerging bond between clergy and labor will rile critics on both the right and the left. Conservatives have often criticized religious liberals for involving themselves in issues that pit employees against their bosses. A few years ago, the late Roberto Goizueta, then CEO of Coke, chastised a group of nuns who challenged the increases in executive pay. For secular progressives, the issue is not conflict but pandering. Why cloak perfectly rational demands for fair treatment in the language of faith?
But the idea of making a sustained overture to the pious did not spring from union apparatchiks, whether opportunistic or sincerely devout. In 1996 Kim Bobo, a former community organize who direst the choir at her United Church of Christ in Chicago, founded a group dedicated to linking low-wage workers with potential allies in churches, temples and mosques. Her National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, which maintains informal but close links with the AFL, sports a board studded with names of such veterans of progressive causes as Monsignor George Higgins, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and the retired Methodist bishop Jesse DeWitt.
Bobo and her staff, spreading outward form their Midwestern base, have brought their belief in unionism to churches and temples few of whose members regard labor as a moral cause. One Interfaith Committee pamphlet urges congregations to investigate how building contractors treat their works instead of just accepting the lowest bid on a project ("Getting the cheapest price may not reflect the congregations values"); another candidly address worries about union corruption and violence. The groupÍs emphasis on minority and immigrant wage earners fits the liberal slant of most of the churches and temples it has contacted. But Bobo claims she has also received a friendly hearing form Christian Coalition churches with large white working-class congregations. A self-described fundamentalist in her youth, she has no fear about taking her pro-union message to any religious gathering. Her groupÍs most successful initiative to date has been the national pre-Labor Day event, dubbed Labor in the Pulpits.
The enthusiasm of good organizers like Bobo, however, needs to be tempered by entrenched realities. In contemporary America the most vital congregations—of any faith—are hose that feed the spiritual longings of individuals and families. From the late sixties throughout he eighties, white liberal denominations that stressed "social responsibility" lost member, while evangelical and charismatic churches were booming. Black churches, long accustomed to mingling the spiritual with the social, held their own. But as motivation for regular attendance at a house of God, the impulse to do good still runs behind the pursuit of answers to, or solace about, the puzzles of existence. Philosopher Richard Rorty has neatly (albeit in a different and Christian context) summed up the message unionists seek to bring to the devout: "We should read the New Testament as saying that how we treat each other on earth matters a great deal more than the outcome of debate concerning the existence or nature of another world." But most houses of worship would gradually empty out if their leader took such advice to heart.
Unionists have to compete with the many ways religious institutions already perceives and proactive a version of the Social Gospel. Most thriving churches and synagogues offer a menu of altruistic options—from feeding and clothing the homeless to aiding victims of earthquakes and war to protesting repression of co-religionists in China and Sudan. To convince them to devote more than one annual service to promoting democracy on the job will probably require a series of well-publicized outrages—and a surging movement among immigrant and minority workers who have a hard time mobilizing without external assistance. Otherwise, the volunteers who nurture social-concern committees wonÍt feel much pressure to adjust their crowded agendas.
Another problem is that issues unions care most about are more controversial, even among religious reformers, than John Sweeney and his colleagues allow. This August, the elected council that governs Montgomery County, Maryland, defeated a living-wage ordinance that a majority of its members had earlier pledged to support. Labor activists had expected local businesses to resist the bill and denounced them for doing so. But they were particularly frustrated by the opposition of Community Ministries, and umbrella group of 109 congregations that runs shelters, a clothing center and an education program about "social justice." Rebecca Wagner, executive director of the influential body, says she objected to what she regards as the divisive language and tactics of living-wage proponents as well as their lack of a more comprehensive (some might say politically utopian) solution to the problems of the working poor. The result, according to living-wage organized Chris Gralock, was that the "larger churches would up sitting it out."
But a setback like that only argues for earlier, more skillful efforts on the part of laborÍs faithful. The millions of Americans who worship every week in a collective manner are probably more open to hearing appeals to their better nature then than at any other time in their daily lives. And, after decades in which labor loyalists essentially stopped talking to anyone but each other, the publicÍs ignorance about their concerns is appalling. This September, after a unionist spoke form the pulpit of a Presbyterian church in Indiana, congregants told him they had never realized there was any connection between Labor Day and unions. The uphill struggle of warming a religious nation up to the gospel of unionism has only just begun.
Michael Kazin teaches history at Georgetown University. Copyright The Nation. Reprinted with permission.
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Peace Studies: One Student's Victory
At Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, nearby 40 students are taking an academically credited course called Peace Studies. A year ago the course wasn't offered. How this change came about is a story of practical idealism and gritty persistence as practiced by a member of last spring's graduating class, Jeremy Fischer.
Creating a foothold for peace education - whether in elementary, middle or high schools, or colleges and universities - almost always is traceable to one singularly resolute person who says, "This will happen and I'll make it happen." The peace movement is more than marching in antiwar rallies or denouncing militarism. It also includes the lone lover of long shots - sometimes a student, teacher, principal, school superintendent, or parent - who sees the value of studying nonviolence as the sane, moral and effective alternative to violence - in all its forms, from governmental wars among nations to living-room wars among spouses and families.
Somewhere along the educational way, Jeremy Fischer came across the writings of Peter Kropotkin - the early 20th-century Russian pacifist, communitarian and author of Mutual Aid - who advised students: "Think about the kind of world you want to live and work in. What do you need to build that world? Demand that your teachers teach you that."
So Jeremy Fischer became a demander - as a sophomore, three years ago - when he embraced the idea and ideal that the kind of world he wanted was peace-based, not violence-based. He didn't see that as overbearingly too much to ask of his teachers, considering that all human hearts yearn for peace and all governments keep claiming they seek only peace.
Jeremy didn't realize it then, but he was about to learn the oldest lesson of social reform: The trouble with a good idea is that it soon degenerates into hard work. His degeneracy began quickly.
"Save for a few idealists," he wrote in an essay about waking up and shaking up his school, "most people took the idea of a peace studies course to be fine in principle but unworkable and unimaginable for our school. Many students were apathetic. Counselors and administrators seemed busy enough without another goal to pursue. The faculty told me that if this course was to be created, I would have to organize support for it."
That he did. Jeremy wrote articles for the school newspaper. He wrote letters and made phone calls to school officials. He endured brushoffs, runarounds, frowns, yawns and countless can't-you-see-I'm-busy looks from big desk rajahs. But he didn't go away. He had leaned to hang on, hang in, hang out - everything but hang it up. The peace education he wasn't getting in the classroom was acquired by his own reading of such books as Gandhi's autobiography and Nonviolence in America, edited by Stanghton and Alice Lynd. He embraced the philosophy of pacifism, quickly understanding that pacifism is not passivity or appeasement but is talking direct nonviolent action to prevent or stop violence.
"Violence is not only physically attacking others," he has written, "but is also leaving the poor unassisted, allowing racism to flourish, and imprisoning those who are most in need of assistance. Pacifism does not seek merely to end all violent international conflicts. It seeks to transform our everyday world into a compassionate family, void of racism, hatred, violence and misunderstanding. I know I can't do it alone, but this means I must keep trying to persuade others to help."
A payoff came: In the spring semester of his senior year at Walter Johnson - his 9th inning - Jeremy found Ty Healey, a sympathetic faculty member ready to teach the course. About 30 students enrolled, far more than scoffers had predicted
As happens, education reform came from below, not above. It took one student's energy at one school to get one course in place. For all the opposition, it was as if his proposal was for a course in bookmaking, not peacemaking.
Healey, 26, is in his second year at Walter Johnson, after earning a master's degree in education at George Washington University. He isn't surprised by the high enrollment numbers: "Feedback from last year's students has been very positive. They saw the benefits, both in their personal lives and in having the rare opportunity to discuss contemporary issues involving peace and justice."
In all his 18 years of education, Healey had never taken a class similar to the one he now teaches. "This course," he says, "has been a worthwhile experience for me, to begin learning about something truly important."
When the course ended last spring, the students collectively wrote a letter to their schoolmates, hailing peace studies as "one of the most beneficial experiences of our high school careers." They said peace studies is "one tangible solution to the problem of violence in our community and schools."
In nearly 20 years of working in the field of peace education - including classroom teaching of more than 5,000 students, running a nonprofit, conducting teacher training workshops in conflict resolution, lecturing at schools and colleges - I've seen more than a few reformers laboring the way Jeramy Fischer did.
Customarily, they come up against two brick walls thickly laid by conventional educators. The instinctual reaction of a school administrator when someone proposes that a course be offered in peace studies is, "What's the cost?" and not, "What's the benefit?" Money decides. When school shootings occur, and the inevitable call goes out "to do something" dollars are spent on metal detectors, hallway police or ID badges for the kids - not textbooks on nonviolence or salaries for potential peace studies teachers. An unimaginative school administrator is like a prison warden: Why improve the place, a steady population is guaranteed.
The second objection to broadening curricula to include nonviolence is the alleged one sidedness of peace education: Students need exposure to both sides. I have heard this argument from many of my own students after they have been assigned to read essays by Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Jane Adams, Tolstoy, Gene Sharp or Joan Baez. "Why doesn't this course give us the other side?" they ask.
The answer? This course is the other side. Most history texts - with such exceptions as Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States - showcase the events and makers of war, not of peace.
Through their actions and speeches, political leaders are teachers - routinely instructing the young that governmental violence is necessary and good, from the waging of wars to death row executions. Children from dysfunctional families have been ably taught by example the ways of violence.
Still another non-classroom teacher is the television. With more than 90 percent of Saturday morning TV cartoons having violent themes - former senator Paul Simon of Illinois has reported this - children are educated early by media violence. Got a problem? Belt somebody.
From these multiple sources, students in the nation's 78,000 elementary schools, 32,000 high schools and 3,000 colleges are steeped in violence education. They deserve an intellectual rest in a class on peace education. Even then, it's usually minimal: one course, at most, in 12 years of primary and secondary education, and perhaps another in college.
Some school officials are grandiose in their claims to be peace educators. A principal who invited me to speak on nonviolence at a student assembly said afterward that his commitment was strong: Every year he organizes "peace day." Impressive, I said. But a question: Do you have math day once a year? Literature day? Science day?
To have any chance at all for a long-term decrease in violence - in whatever form - academic, for-credit courses in peace studies, mediation and nonviolent conflict resolution need to be offered every year of schooling. Every gunman mass-killing people in schools or workplaces, every spouse abuser, every street thug: They were all in first grade somewhere at sometime, then second grade and on up. Had they been exposed to the literature, methods, history, theories and practitioners of nonviolence, perhaps they would have had second thoughts - rejecting thoughts - about violence.
Every semester, I call on my students to go beyond merely asking questions. Do something bolder and braver. Instead of asking questions, question the answers - those given by anyone who says the answer is violence. That requires courage, because it means taking on nearly an entire culture whose leaders justify war-making, gun-owning, arms-selling and other forms of legal institutionalized violence that exploits whole social classes.
It also can mean, as it did for Jeremy Fischer, taking on a school. I met him three years ago when I had been invited to speak at Walter Johnson. Jeremy hung around after the talk. He wanted a reading list for books on nonviolence. He wanted to know about groups I had praised in my speech - the War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Peace Education Foundation. He asked about courses he might take. I invited him to enroll in one of my summer courses, which he did - consecutive summers, and bringing along his father both times. I gave Jeremy full support as he labored to bring peace education to his school.
Jeremy Fischer - every high school in America has a few students of firm resolve like him - is attending Guilford College this fall on a full, four-year scholarship. Guilford, a peace-aware school well known for campus activism, had a slot for a student with proven talents to agitate, not merely cogitate. It found one.
Coleman McCarthy founded and directs the Center for Teaching Peace, 4501 Van Ness St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20016. He lectures periodically at Notre Dame.
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Has any one else noticed how often the narcissistic personality diagnosis is being bandied around these days? Diana, Princess of Wales, is now said to have had one, and in a profile of British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, a psychotherapist suggests that Blair's mother was another casualty. This would explain, says the shrink, why Tony is so indecisive, wanting to please everyone. That women are being branded with the diagnosis more frequently than men, is somewhat menacing. Men, apparently, are protected by the y chromosome, which is very odd considering that the diagnosis is named after the original Narcissus, a man.
Since we haven't the time or the inclination to pore over the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to find a clinical description of the narcissistic personality, common sense will have to suffice. Obviously it indicates habitual self-absorption and a reduced capacity to care about the welfare of others. In some individuals this may shade into something more disturbing, such as not feeling remorse or guilt when one's actions affect other people adversely. The diagnosis seems designed for the troublesome ubermensch , or so I thought after reading the umpteenth review of Dutch: A Memoir, Edmund Morris' unconventional biography of Ronald Reagan. The same thought occured while watching a two and a half hour documentary on "The Millennial Pope, John Paul II," broadcast on PBS in late September.
While the two men, President and Pope, are very different on the surface - the optimistic monoglot, philistine American, and the pessimistic, polyglot philosopher Pole - underneath they share a similar narcissistic personality. Self created and hugely self-absorbed, both men have been single-minded about their own destiny. Neither appears to have been connected to a community of friendship of the sort that can offer wise correction to the inflated ego. Reagan was not steadied by a cheerful, secure childhood, and soon gravitated to Hollywood where narcissism is de rigueur. He had the indelible characteristic of the successful narcissist - he could charm people into believing him. A divorced man, he became the family values President. And he was inattentive to his children; Nancy's son, Ron Jnr., reports never having had a real conversation with his father. Most of the reviews of the Morris biography have picked up on Reagan's non-recognition of another son, Michael, at the boy's high school graduation.
Morris says that in private Reagan was mind-numbingly boring but the moment he moved on stage a performance persona took over. However, the chilling revelation about Reagan the genial communicator, is Morris' unshakable conviction that the President was a stranger to compassion - that capacity to put oneself in another's shoes. Poor people were of no consequence; apparently he believed poverty was something the weak-willed brought upon themselves. Certainly he had no grasp whatsoever of politics as an instrument to ameliorate inequality and injustice. The sole purpose of government during the Reagan presidency was piracy - to help the rich get richer. In what we are pleased to call a Judeo-Christian country, greed was finally removed from the catalogue of deadly sins.
The case for Reagan's heartless narcissism becomes more compelling when we move into the foreign policy arena. He didn't care tuppence about misery in third world areas of the globe. Abroad was the place where American corporations went with a license to make vast profits without OSHA, the FDA or any other regulatory body to monitor their conduct, for instance in the use of child labor or pollution of the environment. In El Salvador, where "abroad" was unlucky enough to be in the United States' backyard, he supported the moral degenerates who ran the country and the death squads. However, Morris argues that Reagan could be equally indifferent to the safety of the rank and file in the US military. He was apprised of the dangers of sending those Marines to a barracks in Beirut; but because the country was in collusion with the narcissist it had elected, Reagan was never held accountable when, predictably, the barracks were blown up with terrible loss of life.
The Pope's narcissism isn't quite as obvious as that of the former President; it has been somewhat obscured by the constant hype of a world that yearns, blindly, for moral heroes. No longer in the realm of ordinary mortals, he is given a pass on those rather alarming aspects of his personality. John Paul II has revealed some of the grandiosity associated with the narcissistic personality in the way he has exercised the role of Christ's Vicar on Earth for the last twenty years. He perceives everything through the lens of his own experience. Defining these as the worst of times, he has assumed the identity of the religious warrior extraordinaire , waging a chiliastic battle for the soul of the world. A very big job. Absolutising evil in this way, he has acquired an awful certainty that permits him to deal harshly with critics - they are all heretics in his book. One of the ironies of the age is the way the world condemned Leninism in the Soviet Union but winked at it in the Vatican. John Paul II's personality meshed naturally with the culture of the Roman Catholic Comintern. At the same time he tried to impose a very Polish piety on Catholics. We have all to become honorary Poles in his Church, which, according to one commentator in the documentary, means glorifying suffering, brooding on history and finding grandeur in catastrophe.
The Pope is an angry, melancholic man who does not listen and cannot bear being contradicted (further indications of narcissism). The novelist Robert Stone translates this attitude as: "I'm Pope and your not." Such a judgmental sense of his own correctness excludes a sympathetic understanding of others. When a theology emerged in Latin America which put the Church on the side of the poor, John Paul II did his best to stamp it out. It threatened his vision of a hierarchical Church working with an all-powerful upper class to create a society in which noblesse oblige would replace the struggle for equality and justice-seeking democracy. His treatment of the beleaguered Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, was shockingly callous at a time when Romero was in the fight of his life. When Romero visited John Paul II at the Vatican, just weeks before he was assassinated, the Pope instructed him to build bridges with the murderous thugs who must have already been plotting his elimination. Romero died a martyr's death, yet it took the Pope more than fifteen years to even visit his grave.
Where does all this anger and willfulness come from? A gaping narcissistic wound inflicted by his mother's death when he was eight years old, may explain a lot. John Paul II was the adored center of her life, and by dying she abandoned him to a disciplinarian father, a military man. (A teacher, not the father, had to tell the young boy that his mother had died.) The only way he could cope with her death was to see it as God's will. The next step was to find an incorruptible mother, one who would never abandon him. The Virgin Mary fitted the bill perfectly. The documentary confirms that on the way to hospital after he had been shot in St. Peter's Square, it was to the Virgin that the Pope prayed, not to God. To understand his difficulty with mortal women and why he is never going to let them anywhere near the sanctuary, we have to untangle these bleak, pre-adolescent obsessions.
Inevitably, he would eventually choose the seminary and refuge in the solipsistic drama of his own soul. He wrote poetry during this period. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were carrying out their evil purpose, yet none of the poems give any indication of the horrors going on in the world just beyond the seminary's gates. Long after he had become Pope, an Italian Jewish film-maker would thank him for helping the Jews. The Pope had to respond truthfully: "I did nothing," he said. What this troubled man needed was help, not the papacy.
Alpha males with narcissistic personalities are a dangerous breed and they should not be running things. Reagan's legacy continues to haunt this country; we can see his palsied imprint everywhere, from the way we treat organized labor, the mother on welfare and nuclear test-ban treaties. John Paul II inherited a Church in which there was an historic opportunity for transformation in the direction of ecumenism, full equality for women, a re-thinking of the birth control issue, and a commitment to a theology which could stand up to the depredations of capitalism. He has given us instead, a fortress Church which reflects his own neurotic belief that the world is nothing but a vale of tears - where our only protection lies in obedience to his absolute authority.
Ann Pettifer is an alumna of Notre Dame.
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My father disapproved of the "Sensation" show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. He thought it was bad for the Jews. Who owned the art, including Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary - the elephant dung-decorated representation of the Madonna surrounded with cutouts from porn magazines that thanks to Mayor Giuliani has become the most famous religious painting since The Last Supper? Charles Saatchi. And who is in charge of the Brooklyn Museum? Arnold Lehman. Two Jews. "Anti-Semitism's just gone underground," my father warned, "but it's still there, and this will bring it out." I felt as if I had wandered into a Philip Roth novel - and my dad's a Protestant!
A prescient one at that. "Why are a Jewish collector and a Jewish museum director promoting anti-Catholic art?" asked Camille Paglia in a subhead since deleted from herSalon column, adding a Nixonian touch to her usual insinuating boorishness. Um, I don't know Camille. Because they killed Christ? Because they think they're so smart? Because they want to make a fast buck? Like most pundits who've inveighed against "Catholic-bashing" art in the show - Peggy Steinfels on the New York Times Op-Ed page, Terry Golway in the New York Observer, Cokie Roberts ("its yucky"), George Will, not to mention John Cardinal O'Connor, William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and the Mayor himself - Paglia hasn't bothered to make the trip to Brooklyn, but she knows "Catholic Bashing" when she reads a one-sentence description of a painting in a newspaper. Besides, she saw Lehman on TV and found him to be "a whiny slug."
Well, I saw the "Sensation" show and guess what? It's pretty interesting. True, thanks to the Mayor, my sensibilities were heightened by having to go through a metal detector, and the presence of a pair of chic Italian journalists interviewing each other in the museum's entranceway no doubt further piqued my sense of anticipation. Still, I've seen a fair amount of trendy contemporary art, and I was prepared to come away with gloomy thoughts about what Milan Kundera calls the Uglification of Everything. Hadn't a wonderful novelist friend said to me just the other day, I am tired of defending bad art? But, then, my friend hadn't seen the show either.
The Holy Virgin Mary is a funny, jazzy rather sweet painting in which the Virgin Mary is depicted as a broad-featured black woman in a blue dress shaped like a leaf. The porn cutouts - mostly too small to distinguish - swarm around her like flies or butterflies, and one of her breasts is represented by that celebrated lump of pachyderm poo, decorated, as is much of the painting's surface, with beads of paint for a Byzantine mosaic effect. Its absurd to call it anti-Catholic - Chris Ofili, an Englishman of Nigerian extraction, is himself a practicing Catholic, and the Virgin Mary was not Catholic and isn't even a uniquely Catholic symbol. To me, the painting suggests the cheerful mother goddess of an imaginary folk religion - an infinitely happier image of female strength and sexuality than the pallid plaster virgins and Raphael copies on display at St. Marys of the Intact Hymen. As for the elephant droppings, there are four Ofili paintings in the show and everyone employs it. Afro-dizzia, an hommage to black pop culture, features balls of dung emblazoned with the names of Miles Davis, James Brown and other figures, and no one has said that Ofili meant to insult them. Holy Virgin Mary may not be a painting for the ages - elephant dung biodegrades pretty quickly - but its fun to look at, even behind bulletproof glass.
Once again, the people of New York have proved their superiority to the pundits. While phony populist commentators label the show "elitist," people are flocking to see it. Teenagers, not usually caught dead in museums, are going. Black people - for whom an Africanized Madonna does not automatically signal blasphemy - are going. While Steinfels warns that provocative art risks rousing anti-First Amendment beasts and may end in major cuts in arts budgets - a point made also by William Safire, who hadn't seen the show - in fact Giuliana's play for votes has backfired. A Daily News poll showed that only one in three New Yorkers supported him on this. There is no outraged vox populi in this story - there are only headline-seeking politicians and power brokers, and opinion mongers too lazy to get out of their chairs.
Is there awful, even repellent, art in the "Sensation" show? Yes, although there won't be much agreement about which works those are. I, for example, found Jake & Dinos Chapman's mutilated and deformed mannequins truly disturbing - but they haven't even been mentioned in news accounts. Too hard to reduce to a sound bite, perhaps. Damien Hirst's shark in formaldehyde makes a better target. Its the sort of conceptual art that unimaginative people think that they could have thought up themselves, the way they think their 4-year old's finger paintings are as good as Jackson Pollock. If Hirst palls, one can always profess oneself grossed out by Marc Quinn's sculpture of his own head made from his own fronzen blood. In fact, those works bear almost no relation to the mental picture conjured up by the sneers. The shark is eerily beautiful, lonely, fragile, strange; the sculpted head has the dignity of a Roman death mask.
Aesthetic and political conservatives have been complaining about modern art ever since there was any: It's not uplifting, or patriotic, or healthy; it's the work of fakers, perverts and commies; it's promoted and paid for by elitists (i.e., people who actually know something about art) and, as Paglia points out, by Jews. The history of this critique should give us pause - it's certainly led more often to bonfires than to artworks of lasting interest - and it's irritating that it evokes so much automatic sympathy in the bien-pensant media. On the positive side, though, the strain of holding such patently ridiculous views seems to be driving Mayor Giuliani over the edge: In the October13 New York Times he's quoted ranting against putting "human excrement" on walls because "civilization has been about trying to find the right place to put excrement." I guess the Mayor still hasn't been to the show.
Copyright the Nation.
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Her name is TINA
The media really love to dig into the sleazy personal affairs of politicians, but when it comes to President Clinton's most influential mistress, they want us to believe that the bedroom curtain is always drawn tightly shut. Her name is TINA, and unlike Monica, Jennifer or Paula, she is a grave threat to the ideals of this nation and to the promotion of democracy and human rights the world over. Yet the mainstream media do not have the zest to hound Clinton on this affair as they have on many less consequential flings. Who is she? Well, TINA is the acronym for her longer name: There Is No Alternative. The nick-name once given to Margaret Thatcher is now Clinton's, most of Washington's and the corporate world's motto. It professes that the only viable economic system in this age of rapidly developing technology, communications and capital mobility is the deregulated "free market." (Notice that this "free market" is dependent on government regulation and policies that advantage corporate American interests, at home and abroad).
The foulest aspect of this sordid situation is that Clinton's long-standing affair with TINA, unlike the others, has dire consequences for the entire population of the world. It has spawned the gross usurpation of authority over governmental functions by such publicly unaccountable bodies as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) - the arbiter of world food safety standards. Moreover, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) was nearly instituted with no public input. It would have sacrificed much of the remaining power of erstwhile sovereign nations to investors and financial institutions. Fortunately, it was stalled when a tremendous effort by public interest groups, environment organisations, and progressive activists of all stripes exposed the agreement for the unaccountable and dictatorial structure that it is.
Not only is TINA the libido of corporations, investors and political leaders; it can also be seen as the ideology of an incipient "New Fascism," the central tenets of which are: 1) suppression of progressive movements worldwide, especially in poor nations, by aligning with brutal regimes; 2) dismantling government regulations, the encouragement of takeovers by large corporations, and the elimination of resistance from organized labor; 3) the concentration of assets in the hands of large private interests. These goals are carried out in various ways, both legal and illegal, but all are unethical for they pay no attention to social consequences and the public good - only to profits and monetary power for transnational corporations. For instance, the IMF was legally chartered in 1947 to provide short-term loans to countries with trade-related financial problems. In the past two decades, however, it has switched to making long-term loans and imposing harsh Structural Adjustment Programs on debtor nations (including the poorest on our planet), being concerned essentially with repayment. These requirements include sharp cuts in social services (for example, education and preventative medicine), a heavy emphasis on exporting, and the sale of public assets to private interests.
At the end of November, the WTO is holding its Third Ministerial Round of trade negotiations in Seattle. As things stand, it looks as though WTO protesters will outnumber WTO trade ministers - of which there will be about 5,000 - by at least three to one. The reason for this growing resistance is that the WTO has the power to overrule laws passed by any member nation if they are seen as barriers to trade. In this process, according to The Sunday Independent of London, the WTO has consistently "struck down measures to help the world's poor, protect the environment, and safeguard health in the interests of private - usually American - companies." The article continued: "The way it has used these powers is leading to a growing suspicion that its initials should really stand for World Take Over." In practice member nations relinquish a great deal of sovereignty to the WTO. They essentially lose control of labor, environmental, food, and safety standards. They are unable to act decisively in the development of sustainable local economies, and communities cannot legislate in a democratic manner- free from fear that their laws will be overturned by an unaccountable body with the power to destroy economies and the livelihoods of billions.
Those who are crafting the New World Order seek the subversion of the most powerful human impetus: hope. Nothing excites those who stand to gain the most from worldwide "deregulation" and "open markets" more than the thought that there will be no concerted action to oppose their efforts - that the world polity has bought into their lie that TINA must inevitably rule supreme. To counter her effects, a renewed commitment to egalitarian values must be fostered and the old concept of the common good dusted off and brought back to the center of our political life. Only in this way will it be possible to build new political movements able to sustain the long haul against tremendously powerful organizations and the well financed public relations campaigns that seek to undermine all opposition.
We need to keep in mind, then, that current policies and structures are not natural inevitabilities in a democratic and civilized society. Rather, they are the consequences of a long history of government support for big business - and big business supporting Congressmen and Presidents. On this point, Howard Zinn wrote in the April edition of The Progressive that big government was established specifically to protect rising capitalist interests: "For all of [this] nation's history, . ..government would defend the interests of the wealthy classes. It would raise tariffs higher and higher to help manufacturers, give subsidies to shipping interests, and 100 million acres of land free to the railroads. It would use the armed forces to clear Indians off their land, to put down labor uprisings, to invade countries in the Caribbean for the benefit of American growers, bankers and investors. This was very big government." But when this big government began to support the vast majority of the nation - the middle and lower classes - with New Deal and Great Society legislation, there were howls from corporations and conservatives about government waste. As Zinn writes, "Surely, with only a bit of reflection, it becomes clear that the issue is not big or little government, but government for whom? Is it the ideal expressed by Lincoln - government "for the people"- or is it the reality described by the Populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease in 1890: "a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street?" Reflecting on this, it becomes apparent that what activists against corporate dominance must champion are the rights and efforts of citizens to demand that government "for the people" subordinate the uncontrolled desires of business for private economic gain to the well-being of the citizenry at large - and to the public institutions which put the "civilized" in any civilization. A start must be made by sending TINA packing, putting some shackles on the World Trade Organization, and defeating the drive to establish the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.
Paul Ranogajec is a sophomore architecture major.
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Act of Conscience: The Case of Mordechai Vanunu
It is impossible to speak of the prisoner of conscience Mordechai Vanunu without speaking of Israel's recent history and the ideas that guided his action.
On December 20, 1960, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion announced to the Knesset that Israel was building an atomic reactor in the Negev. He denied that nuclear bombs could be produced at this reactor, and claimed that it was for research purposes only. Ben Gurion said: "This research reactor, which we are now building in the Negev, will not be finished for three or four years, and it would be redundant to emphasize that this reactor is intended only for peaceful purposes. It is being built under the supervision of Israeli experts, and when it is finished, it will be open to researchers from other countries" (the Israeli paper Maariv, 21/12/60).
Even then, everyone with eyes knew that Ben Gurion was lying and that the reactor was designed for military purposes. In the very same issue of Maariv in which the initial report appeared, Israeli atomic scientists were quoted as saying that "in three or four years Israel would be in a position to join the atomic club, whose members are limited at the moment to the four big powers."
In 1960, even the United States had apprehensions about Israel's intentions with regard to the reactor at Dimona. Today we know that in the1960's the ericans did not try hard enough to stop the building of the reactor, and failed in their attempt to prevent the development of an Israeli atomic bomb. Over the years, the U.S. reconciled itself, even if not formally, to Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.
Israel's entry into the age of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, but also biological and chemical) did not come to pass after a public and parliamentary debate, but was rather the result of a decision made by a tiny group of political and security leaders, numbering no more than ten to twenty persons. From this perspective, there was no difference between the decision-making process in Israel and that, for example, of Iraq under Saddam Hussein on the same subject. In the debate now taking place in Israel with regard to the "danger of Iranian and Iraqi" nuclear weapons, one "marginal and petty" point has been utterly ignored: it was neither Iran nor Iraq that introduced the nuclear arms race to our region.
The Israeli government has suggested that Dimona is necessary to defend Jews from another Holocaust. There is nothing like the Holocaust to mobilize the emotional support of Jews. And there is no better means than the Holocaust to neutralize the Christian countries which indeed have reservations about Israel's nuclear weapons, but which find it difficult to voice them forcefully.
The brainwashing around the slogan of "not allowing another Auschwitz here" has in fact silenced any real opposition to the Dimona reactor, and no one has asked in astonishment: "Wait a minute, how do you intend to prevent a second Auschwitz by enwrapping us in the danger of the outbreak of a nuclear Auschwitz?" And one must not forget that Israel also helped the apartheid regime in South Africa to develop atomic bombs.
Inside Israel, the policy of nuclear ambiguity was supported by a wall-to-wall national consensus. Left and Right closed ranks in order to defend the atomic reactor at Dimona. The policy of all governments was that the public had no right to know about this matter of life and death. The academic establishment also mobilized to defend Dimona and nuclear ambiguity. Writers and researchers praised this policy in glowing terms.
Israel's whoops of joy over the bombing of the Baghdad reactor in 1981 were as primitive and depraved as the dancing of the brainwashed citizens of India and Pakistan who went out into the streets in an ecstatic daze after their countries conducted nuclear tests.
It is astonishing to what extent the blindness to the nuclear danger afflicts even the circles of the somewhat more radical Left. In Israel the various peace movements not only completely neglected the nuclear issue, but many of its members were even counted among the supporters of nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that Israel presented a unique bird to the world peace movement: the nuclear dove.
A Cog In The Big Machine
Here is where Vanunu enters the picture, a man who escaped from the nuclear trap in which the majority of Israel's citizenry still finds itself. Mordechai Vanunu - a student at the University of Beer Sheva, a teaching assistant in the Philosophy Department, a history buff, a music fan, an activist in groups attempting to bring Jews and Arabs closer together and to foster mutual understanding between them - earned his living as a technician at the atomic reactor in Dimona.
Vanunu was a cog in a big machine. His supervisors were satisfied with his work. He fulfilled his role with dedication and efficiency, without asking questions. In the course of time, to the disgust of the disciples of the nuclear Mafia, Mordechai Vanunu deviated from the consciousness expected of an isolated bolt.
This was the beginning of the crisis. He raised his head, and gradually a terrible picture emerged: he was part of an annihilation machine. He was participating in the preparation of a nuclear holocaust. He began to ask questions: Did the citizenry know what was going on behind the walls of the Dimona reactor? Did they know that Israel was producing atomic bombs in lunatic quantities? Did they know about the accumulating nuclear wastes that endangered the water sources and the land?
Would it not be proper for citizens in Israel and the world to be first given reliable information about what was happening? What to do when the Israeli press has no legal possibility, because of the censor's scalpel, to publish essential information?
Citizen Vanunu felt he had no choice. He had to outfox the government. He managed to sneak a camera inside the reactor, to photograph it, and to go abroad with the rolls of film in his possession.
Vanunu traveled the world with information in his backpack that numerous intelligence agencies around the world would have paid a million to obtain. But he did not want to be a spy. He wanted to convey information to the citizens and thus, mobilize them to struggle against nuclear weapons. Vanunu met with the editors the London Sunday Times, a respected newspaper, and conveyed the information to them, without receiving payment. It was an act of principle.
At the beginning of October 1986, the Sunday Times published a report that astonished the world: Israel was a nuclear power on the magnitude of France, Britain and China. The report was accompanied by a photograph of the internal structure of the reactor, which proved Israel's ability to produce atom bombs. Vanunu supplied the proof that Israel possessed in its small territory hundreds of atomic weapons. Israel's nuclear madness was greater than anyone had guessed.
The Likud-Labor rotation government under the leadership of Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir decided to send a group of "Mossad" agents to Europe to kidnap Vanunu. They succeeded in capturing him in Rome, they bound him in shackles, gave him a shot which put him to sleep, and packed him into a naval vessel waiting off the coast of Italy.
We learned about the kidnapping from what was written on Vanunu's palm, which he displayed from the window of the police van which brought him to court for his trial - since then he has been transported in completely closed vehicles. At first the Israeli government denied that Vanunu was in its hands, but when international pressure increased, Israel admitted that Vanunu was in an Israeli prison. Subsequently, the Israeli press began a well-orchestrated campaign - clearly supported by the Israeli secrete service (Shin Bet) - to discredit and besmirch Vanunu.
The newspapers published distorted items of information leaked to them by the Shin Bet, without checking or attempting to confirm them. Vanunu's image was distorted in a way recalling the manner the 1930s Soviet press dealt with defendants in the show trials.
Admiration abroad, jail at home.
As much as he is hated by the citizens of Israel drowning in a sea of nuclear pollution, Vanunu has won admiration and thanks abroad. Since his imprisonment, he has been a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize each year. In March 1998, 36 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to President Clinton asking him to urge Israel that Vanunu be released. A similar effort is underway signatures in the Senate.
Vanunu's 1986 trial, held in secret, was a kangaroo court. If the judges had fulfilled their task according to the values of democratic law and human rights, the prosecution's case should have been dismissed and Vanunu returned to Italy, from where he was kidnapped in violation of international law. The three district court judges, however, and later the three supreme court justices who heard the appeal, acted as agents of the Shin Bet.
There is nothing more absurd than to convict a person of espionage for conveying information to the free press. Doing so was a legal procedure copied from dictatorships like Stalin's.
It should be noted that two of the judges in Vanunu's trial, Tzvi Tal in the district court and Dov Levin in the supreme court, were also part of the panel of judges in the case of Ivan Demanjuk, who was accused of genocide. While they convicted Vanunu for obeying the dictates of his conscience in order to save humanity from a nuclear holocaust, Demanjuk was convicted for not acting in accord with the dictates of conscience and not saving human beings from extermination. The judges did not even sense the contradiction. Perhaps because in their trying of Vanunu, they became subject to the syndrome which Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil.
Mordechai Vanunu was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for an act which almost every Israeli journalist participates during the course of his work. True, Vanunu signed a promise not to reveal information obtained at work. Every state employee signs the same promise, but there is hardly a state employee, high or low, who has not broken this promise in his contact with journalists.
In the situation in which Vanunu found himself, he was forced to violate the law to reveal the government's negligence and crimes. His transgression is equivalent to driving through a red light while bringing an injured person to the hospital. No reasonable judge would be severe with a driver who did that.
Time Does Not Stand Still.
Israel's rulers did not find the draconian punishment of 18 years imprisonment sufficient. The Shin Bet and the prison authorities imposed an additional punishment on Vanunu, absolute solitary confinement. The formal reason, that he needed to be isolated because he possesses secret information, was baseless. Everything Vanunu knew, he told to the Sunday Times. Even the story of his kidnapping had been published in detail all over the world.
The solitary confinement was an act of revenge on the Shin Bet's part, which was unwilling to forgive him for his having succeeded in making a mockery of all the security precautions at the most sensitive location in Israel.
The isolation is, I believe, a cold calculated move intended to bring about the loss of Vanunu's sanity. This was a punishment in the style of the intimidation practiced by the Soviets regime, which customarily locked up its political opponents in mental hospitals. The irony of fate is that among the heads of the Israeli government who approved this barbaric punishment were immigrants from the former USSR, such as Natan Sharansky, who was himself a victim of this style of punishment. They too have not drawn the proper conclusions with regard to human rights.
Vanunu's ongoing solitary confinement led to an international campaign. Nobel prize winners, artists, scientists, and parliamentarians, from New Zealand and Australia, from Japan and Europe, and from the American continent, protested his cruel imprisonment. Amnesty International issued a statement that found that the conditions of isolation under which Vanunu was imprisoned for years were "cruel, inhuman and degrading."
Even if it moves slowly, some changes in the attitude to Vanunu have recently become discernible. An increasing number of students are writing academic theses on Vanunu and on the atomic issue, and in a number of these, the reader discovers understanding, or even support for Vanunu's act. The play, Mister V, about Vanunu, also led to a different, more balanced way of looking at the man and his deed.
The ongoing struggle bore fruit when, at the beginning of 1998, after 11 years in solitary confinement, Israel partially relaxed the isolation conditions under which Vanunu was being held. He still is not allowed to enjoy visits from friends and supporters, but he is allowed contact with other prisoners. We note with satisfaction that despite the barbaric conditions of his imprisonment, Vanunu has not been broken and remains firmly committed to the struggle against atomic weapons.
In 1998, Mordechai Vanunu completed 12 years of his sentence, two-thirds of the term of imprisonment imposed on him. He is entitled to early release. Nonetheless, the Prison Services's Parole Board rejected his application for release due to the Shin Bet's opposition.
The Nuclear Volcano.
The international struggle for Mordechai Vanunu's release continues. So too the struggle against nuclear weapons in Israel must continue. As long as Israel possesses a frightening quantity of nuclear bombs, those few people who are not addicted to the nuclear opium are obligated to enlighten and arouse their fellow-citizens, and explain to them the risks of the annihilation they can expect if the nuclear volcano erupts in front of their doorstep. We have to confront the official positions constantly expressed by the entire media - that the Israeli atomic bomb is Israel's guarantee of safety against doomsday - with an arsenal of counter-arguments, both on the level of ethical principles and on the practical level.
On the level of principle, we must emphasize that weapons of mass destruction are inherently immoral. The International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled in 1997 that atomic weapons are illegal. Recent years have been witness to increased international activity on behalf of nuclear disarmament. The recognition that after the use of nuclear weapons, no victors will remain, but only losers, is penetrating the consciousness of humanity.
But not in Israel. The state whose people were the principal victims of the Nazi Holocaust is today a paradise for the manufacturers of a potential nuclear holocaust. Accordingly, there is no choice left but to prove that, speaking pragmatically, nuclear weapons contribute more to national suicide than they do to national defense.
The existence of the nuclear reactor in Dimona has turned it into a military target. Even if we make the ridiculous assumption that Israel will maintain its atomic monopoly, one cannot dismiss the possibility that in the future a hostile state will manage to acquire new, sophisticated missiles, capable of penetrating the defensive walls of the reactor, thus polluting Israel with a radioactive cloud.
Moreover, Israel's possession of nuclear weapons inevitably means a regional nuclear arms race, which will end with most of the region's countries in possession of nuclear arms. The more nuclear weaponry proliferates, the greater the danger of its use -- owing to human error as well, or to misinterpretation of the intentions of the other side.
During the Yom Kippur War, Israel declared a nuclear alert, planes armed with nuclear weapons were ready for take-off, and a fearful macabre atmosphere of the "Third Temple's destruction" set in, almost bringing Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan to a miscalculation leading to the use of atomic weapons. If that had happened, the Soviet Union would have launched a nuclear counter-attack to defend its allies in the Arab world. Israel would have been destroyed.
Mordechai Vanunu Deserves the Israel Prize.
A wise nuclear policy on the part of Israel would require a 180 degree change, including, among other things: admitting the existence of a pool of nuclear weapons in Israel, while accurately advertising the number of bombs; announcing the complete cessation of the production of nuclear weapons in Israel; willingness to open the reactor at Dimona to international inspection; calling for a regional conference which would discuss a treaty for the gradual elimination of weapons of mass destruction, while creating mutual supervision mechanisms; as a gesture of good will, Israel would announce the unilateral disarming of 50 out of its existing pool of hundreds of atomic bombs. Such a policy change would drastically change the entire atmosphere in the Middle East, and would arouse hope for a different future.
The elimination of Israel's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons would be in the category of national salvation. A lifesaver. In the wake of India and Pakistan's nuclear tests, the Indian author Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things) wrote an inspiring article for the Guardian, and I cannot conclude this essay without quoting one or two things said by Roy, which are extremely relevant to the Israeli case as well: "If protest against planting nuclear bombs in my brain is anti-national., then I quit. I hereby declare myself as a wandering independent republic, I am a citizen of the world. I have no territory. I have no flag. My policy is simple. I am willing to sign any nuclear non-proliferation treaty, or any prohibition of nuclear testing. Immigrants are welcome."
And she also wrote: "Who the hell is the prime minister that he can decide that somebody should put his finger on the nuclear button, which could turn everything we love - our earth, our skies, our mountains, our plains, our rivers, our cities and villages - to dust in a moment? Who the hell is the person who promises us no accidents will occur? How does he know? Why should we trust him? What has he ever done that we should trust him? The atomic bomb is the most anti-democratic, anti-national, anti-human thing there is that humanity has ever devised - pure evil. If you are religious, you should remember that this bomb is humanity's challenge to God, laid down and formulated in the simplest terms: we posses the power to destroy everything You created. If you are not religious, then look at it this way: our world is 4,600 million years old. It could be brought to an end in one afternoon."
The name Mordechai Vanunu, as much as it has been pushed aside by the State of Israel, will be engraved in gold letters in human history as one of the most important fighters against nuclear weapons. If we succeed in preventing a nuclear holocaust, then after Israel's atomic bomb addicts disappear into the black hole of the universe, Vanunu's story will be told from generation to generation, as an example of sacrifice and determination for the sake of a sane and healthy world, free of weapons of mass destruction.
I believe that if Israel survives the nuclear hallucinations of its rulers, and succeeds in entering an era of freedom and humanism, it will award, even if belatedly, Mordechai Vanunu the Israel Prize.
Gideon Spiro is one of the founders of the Committee for a Middle East Free of Atomic, Biological and Chemical Weapons. He can be reached at: Post Office Box 7323; Jerusalem, Israel.
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"No one gets the best of Fred C. Dobbs..."
Humphrey Bogart, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
They'd turned the headless trunk inside-out, and found nothing,
not a centavo. An expired driver's license in the name of Fred C. Dobbs.
For sure, another crazy gringo. Two starving burros were all
they'd ever get from him. How they laughed to see the yellow dust
spilling out of the bags, blowing back into the mountains
for some other fool to discover, and think himself lucky.
After they'd gone, he sat beside his grave and waited. Was he lucky
to still be there, or was it just another trick that would eventually amount
Three days and nights he sat there, then went back to the mountains,
to retrieve the goods he'd lost. Over and over he whispered the name,
Fred C. Dobbs,
to remind him who he was. Sometimes too, he'd kneel down and caress
excited now to catch a glimmer, a schist of burning gold--
reminding him of what he'd lost. That clotted gold
was rightfully his, having slaved so hard. It wasn't luck,
but being wise to those other two. He stared into the blowing dust,
and there was his fortune taking shape. Twenty grand was nothing
compared to this. Behind him, a shadow whispered, "Dobbsie."
It was Howard's voice calling him deeper into the mountains.
And there it was, their secret place, a knife cut in the mountains,
but this time he didn't have to work at all. Knuckle-size nuggets of gold
came rumbling down, each bearing the name of Fred C. Dobbs.
"Well, look at this, look at this," he stopped to marvel at his luck.
Here was the moment he'd imagined back when he had plenty of nothing.
So delighted he threw off his clothes, and painted his body with dust.
Just then a glimpse of his two friends, walking in the shifting dust--
as if they too had been summoned back into the mountains.
But how could that be when he'd ended them both. Nothing more
than his mind playing tricks. Yes, the eternal curse of gold
that can change a man's soul in a second. That was unlucky
Howard talking. but Howard was dead, and he was still Fred C. Dobbs.
The crack of a gunshot echoing, then a voice: "You there, Dobbs,"
and he turned. It was those three tramps again, their faces seared
"Tiene un cigarete, por favor," one of them asked. They could smell
his failing luck
like hungry men smell food. When he turned again, the mountains
were gone, vanished. They didn't especially care about the gold,
but came at him with their machetes. How well he knew the faces of men
to lose. But nothing, not even death, could convince Dobbs he wasn't
lucky. Let them bury the dusty head, like gold, somewhere in those
He had all the time there was to find it. Grubbing with the bones
of his one good hand.
Max Westler teaches in the English Department at Saint Mary's College.
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