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Douglas Card on Lincoln and Obama

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Douglas Card, eloquent bane of the Holocaust denialists commenting on this blog, has just had an interesting piece published on the historical parallels between Lincoln’s opposition to the US invasion of Mexico and Obama’s criticisms of the war in Iraq.

From the Eugene Register-Guard

What does history tell us about the proper role of American politicians during wartime? Supporters of President Bush like to compare his leadership in pursuing the unpopular Iraqi war to the steadfastness of Abraham Lincoln in his own prosecution of the difficult Civil War.

They believe, as Charles Krauthammer wrote in a recent column, that “history will be kinder than today’s polls,” noting Bush’s “sense of calm and confidence in eventual historical vindication.”

Trouble is, Lincoln had quite a different attitude toward another war, the little-known Mexican War of 1846-48. For this Whig freshman congressman from Illinois, it was a bad war that, as with our current war in Iraq, was begun on a false premise — the claim that Mexican forces had attacked our troops on U.S. territory. Though the war was almost over by the time Lincoln took his seat in Congress, he proceeded to make a controversial name for himself attacking President James Polk’s justification for the war.

In fact, Lincoln led his party’s opposition, denouncing Polk in a series of resolutions that demanded to know at what exact “spot” the war had begun. These resolutions earned Lincoln the derogatory nicknames of “Spotty Lincoln” and even “the Ranchero Spotty.” In a flight of oratory, Lincoln charged that our army had begun the war in a wild attack on a Mexican village, driving out the inhabitants in fear for their safety. Though Lincoln, like most Whigs, voted that the war was not begun in legally, he also voted for whatever war supplies were needed.

Liberals have never found it easy to criticize an American war, and Lincoln’s speeches brought him massive hostility and charges of being unpatriotic. His old friend and law partner Billy Herndon wrote Lincoln that his supporters in Illinois were disgusted with him. Some modern historians have characterized his outspoken opposition to the war as his biggest political mistake — that his attacks were foolish, embarrassing and politically inspired by Eastern Whig leaders…

Lincoln struggled to recover from his tarnished “unpatriotic” reputation, and had a special difficulty in resurrecting his political career in Illinois. When he ran for the Senate as a Republican in 1858, his opponent Stephen Douglas frequently brought up the old “Spotty Lincoln” charges. Lincoln was left on the defensive, repeating that while he had opposed Polk’s reasons for starting the war he had always voted for any necessary military supplies and, afterwards, for the relief of veterans.

Click here for the full article

Written by Richard Wilson

January 7, 2009 at 9:16 pm

A little bit of history repeating itself… George Monbiot on the lies told in the run-up to the First World War

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From The Guardian

Another anniversary, almost forgotten in this country, falls tomorrow. On November 12 1924, Edmund Dene Morel died. Morel had been a shipping clerk, based in Liverpool and Antwerp, who had noticed, in the late 1890s, that while ships belonging to King Leopold were returning from the Congo to Belgium full of ivory, rubber and other goods, they were departing with nothing but soldiers and ammunition. He realised that Leopold’s colony must be a slave state, and launched an astonishing and ultimately successful effort to break the king’s grip and free Congo’s enslaved people. For a while he became a national hero. A few years later he became a national villain.

During his Congo campaign, Morel had become extremely suspicious of the secret diplomacy pursued by the British Foreign Office. In 1911, he showed how a secret understanding between Britain and France over the control of Morocco, followed by a campaign in the British press based on misleading Foreign Office briefings, had stitched up Germany and very nearly caused a European war. In February 1912, he warned that “no greater disaster could befall both peoples [Britain and Germany], and all that is most worthy of preservation in modern civilization, than a war between them”. Convinced that Britain had struck a second secret agreement with France that would drag the nation into any war which involved Russia, he campaigned for such treaties to be made public; for recognition that Germany had been hoodwinked over Morocco; and for the British government to seek to broker a reconciliation between France and Germany.

In response, British ministers lied. The prime minister and the foreign secretary repeatedly denied that there was any secret agreement with France. Only on the day war was declared did the foreign secretary admit that a treaty had been in place since 1906. It ensured that Britain would have to fight from the moment Russia mobilised. Morel continued to oppose the war and became, until his dramatic rehabilitation after 1918, one of the most reviled men in Britain.

Could the Great War have been averted if, in 1911, the British government had done as Morel suggested? No one knows, as no such attempt was made. Far from seeking to broker a European peace, Britain, pursuing its self-interested diplomatic intrigues, helped to make war more likely.

Germany was the aggressor, but the image of affronted virtue cultivated by Britain was a false one. Faced, earlier in the century, with the possibilities of peace, the old men of Europe had decided that they would rather kill their children than change their policies.

Jenni Russell on the UK government’s crisis of trust

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From Jenni Russell in The Guardian:

Only four months ago, when Smith gave a speech to the Smith Institute on the necessity of parliament’s shoving through the imminent plans for 42-day detention, the tone was much more disdainful. Then we, the audience, were given an imperious lecture that amounted to: We know what the threat is and you don’t, so we must be given whatever powers we need. I said at the time that listening to the speech was like wrestling mentally with jelly. Other than “trust us, we’re the government”, there wasn’t much of an argument involved.

Now, of course, thanks to the Lords, the opposition, the Labour rebels and vociferous opponents around the country, No 10 and the Home Office have had to learn a little humility. Bullying and threatening hasn’t been enough to get the key measures it sought, like 42 days and secret coroners’ inquests, past parliament. And since the government now plans a surveillance project that will dwarf anything that has gone before – a giant database that will track every call, text, email and web visit that we make – they have been forced, belatedly, into attempting to persuade us a little more and hector us a little less.

On the evidence of this speech, the strategy is not having much success. Persuasion is all about emotion backed up with argument, and the emotion was still reserved for “we know best; we truly do!” while the arguments still weren’t there.

Since the last few years of Tony Blair’s time in Downing Street there has been much agonising from the Labour leadership over the decline of public trust in politicians. This is a problem, we are told, because without our being able to take the government at its word on at least some things, the effective functioning of the state becomes impossible. The public therefore ought to be more trusting of politicians, and the current mood of scepticism is clearly – according to Alastair Campbell – the fault of the media.

The very fact that the government seriously expects us to be swayed by this kind of argument seems, to me, to illustrate the real problem with painful clarity. Democracy is clearly in trouble when voters feel the need to be suspicious of every public statement that their government makes on any remotely controversial issue – just as your relationship with your doctor or dentist would be under considerable strain if you felt that you were dealing with a mendacious quack trying to rip you off at every turn.

It seems that the government is asking us to believe that the solution to our democratic crisis is simply for voters to set their doubts aside and trust in the political class again – despite all the examples of state mendacity we’ve seen in recent years. But this seems akin to expecting a patient who’s repeatedly been juiced by their dentist to deal with their concerns simply by suppressing them – and then handing over their money for yet another appointment.

It seems to me the wiser course of action would be to start looking around for a better dentist – and perhaps also seek to get the old one struck off, to stop him from doing more damage in future…

Written by Richard Wilson

October 18, 2008 at 10:31 am

Radio days

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I’ve had an interesting few days doing radio interviews about “Don’t Get Fooled Again” – starting on Thursday with BBC Radio Oxford, Ireland’s RTE, and Talk 107 in Edinburgh, looking at some of the 911 conspiracy theories. The same day I did a pre-record interview for BBC Shropshire, due to be broadcast in a couple of weeks, and spoke to Radio Europe Mediterraneo, who had also featured Titanic Express when it came out on 2006. Then on Friday morning I had a chat with the very affable Tom Dunne on Newstalk Ireland.

But the highlight so far was Saturday’s interview on Talksport with George Galloway, who said some very nice things about the book, and who talked about the headaches he’s had with conspiracy theorists who accuse him of being a Zionist stooge, and of making secret Masonic signals during his TV appearances. We also discussed Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction, the ease with which corporate-funded pseudo-scientists can get their bogus ideas into the media, and the general problem of ‘pseudo-news’. 

The full interview can be heard roughly one hour into the show via this link.

MacArthur’s classic PR industry exposé – and a little bit of history repeating itself

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Ben H Bagdikian’s 1993 foreword to John R MacArthur’s classic PR industry exposé, “Second Front”, nowadays reads somewhat poignantly.

“A lesson we should have learned in the 1960s and 1970s is that when governments… become desperate over a failing policy, they are tempted into that historic folly of nations, self-delusion… Bad news is filtered out before it reaches the top. In the end, as always, the propagandistic government becomes the victim of its own propaganda… In democracies, the self-destructive process of governmental delusion and deception is supposed to have a remedy in independent news… The basic premise is that democracy succeeds to the degree that government has an outside source of information about its own weaknesses and the public has sufficient valid information to judge government performance and reports…

For years the main body of our democratic balancing forces in Vietnam failed… The price of that national tragedy has been painfully high. For the news media, it was supposed to be The Great Lesson. Never again would journalists look the other way or accept at face value official civil and military claims without careful examination.

But the lesson failed. Something went terribly wrong. The military learned its own lesson from Vietnam: keep wars short and keep the news media completely controlled in the opening days of the engagement… By severely limiting reporting by journalists, the government can prolong that controlled public image of a military action until the media move to something else and lose interest in the event…

John MacArthur in this book has laid out in enormous detail how all this happened in the Gulf War… One hopes that, as a result, our major media, four times burned, will be four times shy in accepting future official releases and briefings at face value…”

Written by Richard Wilson

August 2, 2008 at 9:04 am

Mayhem at Hay as Monbiot attempts citizen’s arrest on “war criminal” John Bolton

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The former Bush administration official John Bolton narrowly escaped a citizen’s arrest last night at the Hay book festival, when a crack team featuring writer George Monbiot and comedian Marcus Brigstocke tried to apprehend him on war crimes charges. Bolton reportedly fled the festival tent behind a cordon of security guards, with Brigstocke in hot pursuit, as Monbiot was bundled from the scene, and 20 placard-waving protestors denounced Bush’s former arms control under-secretary as a “war criminal”. 

“I’ve made what I believe is the first attempt ever to arrest one of the perpetrators of the Iraq War”, Monbiot later told the BBC. “I believe that is a precedent and I would like to see that precedent followed up”. 

The Telegraph has published Monbiot’s charge sheet against Bolton here.

This latest development brings to two the number of Comment is Free contributors who have attempted citizen’s arrests on high-profile political figures in recent years…

Written by Richard Wilson

May 29, 2008 at 8:36 am