Monday, January 20, 2014

Martin Luther King, Slavery and the Joseph Knight case

The American Revolution was as much about slavery (keeping it, not ending it) as anything else. I realized that as a young man back in the 1970's when I came across the Somersett Case*, a ruling by Lord Mansfield in England in 1772. Slavery could not exist on English soil, according to English law. Hence a Virginia slave who set foot on English soil became free. This led a bunch of slave owners in Virginia to set up their Committees of Correspondence to join in the independence movement started in Boston for other reasons.

Most Americans still have not heard of the Somersett case, but at least among academic historians the Mansfield ruling is better known, though of course many are still in denial about its role in motivating Washington, Jefferson and their crew.

I only recently learned (from How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman, published in 2001) about a case ruling in Scotland (part of Great Britain, but with a separate legal system). In the year following the Declaration of Independence, 1777, Lord Kames and colleagues ruled that an African-born man, Joseph Knight, who had been a slave in Jamaica (then a British colony; sugar grown by slaves was a major source of British wealth) was free once he was brought to Scotland. The court wrote "The dominion assumed over the negro, under the law of Jamaica, being unjust, could not be supported in this country to any extent."

It is important to distinguish between the Somersett ruling and the Knight ruling, although they both resulted in slaves being set free. Lord Mansfield made his ruling as a point of law: slavery (serfdom) had been abolished in English law. Since there was no basis in law for slavery, a slave coming from the Americas or elsewhere became free in England.

The Scottish notion was more radical. Due to work already done by Lord Kames and others, the judges believed that slavery was against nature and human nature. They believed that any law allowing for slavery was itself invalid. They prized justice and liberty over mere legal precedence and rulings by parliaments and kings.

Sadly, rather than learning from the Knight ruling (which the many lawyers who led the independence movement in the U.S. would have known about), the new ruling class in the former colonies allowed slavery to continue. When the U.S. Constitution was written, they wrote slavery into it.

Which leads us to the question of racism. Ethnic groups belief in their own superiority goes back to pre-history, but modern racism is a modern phenomena, and it was developed in the United States. Slavery was a product of greed and the use of force. Once the slaves became an essential part of the economy of the U.S., and of the owned wealth of the southern aristocracy, there was a an incentive to keep slavery in place. The flowery words of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights of the new Constitution indicated that the Enlightenment doctrines of liberty and equality were well known in the U.S.

To keep the slave system intact a new doctrine, an aristocrats' trump card, was needed. That was the inferiority of non-white humans; racial inferiority. In fact, the racist theory of southerners for the most part denied that Africans were human. They were at best sub-human. Hence they could not have human rights. Hence the reasoning of the Knight case could not apply in the U.S. Hence slaves were property, a theory confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Dred Scott Decision.

All the evidence to the contrary did not matter. It is important to keep in mind that when people have an economic interest at stake, they can become purposefully blind to questions or justice or even of factual reality.

The Democratic Party was founded explicitly as a racist, pro-Slavery party by the slave trader and eventually President Andrew Jackson and his friends. The party did not truly reject racist doctrines until after Lyndon Johnson became President in 1964.

After the Civil War and the anti-slavery amendments to the U.S. Constitution the myth of racial inferiority continued to damage people and society. Segregation of the races was substituted for liberty and equality.

When we celebrate Martin Luther King day it is important not to forget that many, many people fought to end slavery and racism. It was a process that started long before the American Revolution. It had many heroes and heroines, but in the long run what mattered was changing the hearts and minds of the vast majority of Americans.

The Somersett and Knight cases should be added to the texts on civics and history used in American public schools. As far as I know this has not happened, and it shows how false patriotism and phony history still misshape our society.

*not a consistent spelling; also mentioned as Somerset and Sommersett in texts and law books.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Yasukuni Shrine and Arlington National Cemetery

Chinese nationalists get upset when Japanese government figures visit the shrine to Japan's war dead at Yasukuni. China got into a war with Japan over control of Korea in 1894. To everyone else's surprise, Japan won that war. This led to increasing predation on China by other imperialist powers, cumulating in the Chinese trying to defend themselves in what we in the West call the Boxer Rebellion. Japan, the U.S., and a number of other Western powers invaded and established that China was no longer a sovereign nation, despite diplomatic niceties to the contrary.

Japan did establish an independent state in Manchuria (aka Manchukuo), the alternative being Russian dominance there. China descended into bickering regions ruled by warlords. Asserting the Japanese equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine, in the 1930's Japan intervened in China proper. The Japanese called it a policing action to restore order to China; the Chinese called it a war of aggression.

By any reasonable measure, the Japanese were invaders and committed war crimes. They should have let the Chinese muddle through their own mess. The Chinese tend to forget their own long history of military aggression (which is why China is the size it is today) and grow outraged when they think of the Japanese invasion. Yasukuni has become a symbol of Japanese militarism for the Chinese.

But the Japanese (with the exception of a few ultra-right wing nut jobs) say they are just honoring their ancestors. They are not celebrating the age of Japanese imperialism.

Meanwhile, no one seems to get upset about the honoring of America's war dead at the Arlington National Cemetery. Even though more than a few war criminals are buried there, including Americans who fought against various Asian nations including China, the Philippines, Japan, and Vietnam.

Not every soldier is a war criminal. Some are lucky enough to live in times of peace. Others are unlucky enough to be ordered to commit war crimes. But in addition to committing war crimes under orders of Class A war criminals (typically political leaders), some soldiers commit war crimes despite explicit orders against doing so. Such individual war crimes typically are killing civilians and killing prisoners of war. The traditional don't ask, don't tell policy about these extra-legal killings means almost anyone buried at Arlington could be a war criminal.

In the probably-not-a-war-criminal category at Arlington, but worth discussion in the Japan v. China context, we have Claire Lee Chennault. Retired U.S. Air Force Captain Chennault arrived in China in 1937 and began working for the war lord Chiang Kai-shek as chief air force advisor. In 1941 President Roosevelt provided Chennault and Chiang with fighter planes and former U.S. Air Force personnel to fight the Japanese in China. They were flying in China at least as early as November 1941, well before Pearl Harbor, thus showing the U.S. was engaged in an undeclared war. One might ask the Communist Chinese: is Chennault a scoundrel for aiding Chiang Kai-shek, or a hero for fighting the Japanese? In either case, his body lies in grave 873-3-4, Section 2.

From the U.S. war on China aka the Boxer Rebellion, or Yihetuan Movement, we have Vice Admiral Clark H. Woodward, who also served in the Philippine-American War. He is in grave 699-A-B, Section 1. Given the number of soldiers the U.S. sent to attack the Chinese, quite a number of them are likely to be buried at Arlington.

As to the atrocities of the Philippines, several soldiers directly connected to them are buried at Arlington (and given the genocidal nature of the conflict, probably most U.S. soldiers who served there were complicit or participants in war crimes). We have the leader, General Arthur MacArthur himself, in grave 856-A, Section 2. Colonel William Henry Bisbee, who was told not to report his destruction of civilians to his superiors, lies in grave 1872, Section 3. Edwin Glenn, convicted by a courts martial of torturing civilians, suspended from duty for one month, and fined $50, lies in 3103-ES. For more on war crimes by the U.S. in the Philippines see Honor in the Dust.

Harry Truman, who by ordering the atomic bombing of Japan committed the most famous war crime in history, is not burried at Arlington, but likely research would put some of the men who fire bombed Japanese cities in graves there.

Skipping the U.S. war against Korea, which was not without its issues, we have the honoring of the Vietnam War criminals. Among those buried at Arlington is General Creighton Abrams, who supervised the slaughter (and who was a proponent for the war, not someone just carrying out orders), in grave S-33, Section 21.

A thorough search could probably find thousands of soldiers buried at Arlington who gave offense to some nation.

I would argue that the problem is not Americans honoring our war dead, but our failure to hold ourselves to a high standard of accountability. The dead can do no further wrong to anyone, but the living can. Both Japanese and American war criminals shared the belief that what they were doing was right and necessary. We should be clear they were wrong.

But you should not ask people not to visit the graves of their ancestors. The Chinese do it, and the Chinese are not exactly a nation of innocents.

Every responsible person should work to tone down nationalist sentiments that could lead to military conflict. Don't forget the past. Don't dismantle Yasukuni or close Arlington. But work for peace. Because what the Chinese are really complaining about is a past breach of their peace and sovereignty. All nations should pledge to respect each other's sovereignty. All nations should maintain a knowledge of their past crimes to help them stay on a peaceful path.

Agree? Disagree? Comment on this post.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Somalia Gets U.S. Military Advisors

Without asking or informing the American People, the Barack Obama administration has ordered American professional gunmen to Somalia. There are not many of these "advisor" soldiers, we are told, just three so far. But since the U.S. has long had a network of CIA operatives in Somalia, has frequently sent in special forces to assassinate local leaders, and has used various forms of aerial bombardment. The U.S. also pays for Somalia to be occupied by multiple African nations' armies of U.S. trained gunmen. Given the context, this new development should be taken seriously.

This new secret of a long-simmering secret war was released by Tom Davis of the United States Africa Command, on Friday, January 10.

Somalia is not so much a nation as an area defined by European imperialist powers. Within the area of Somalia are many ethnic groups, which get along or conflict with each other in ever-shifting patters. During the Cold War the Communist Block got the upper hand in Somalia, but then the U.S. encouraged the overthrow of the one stable government the area has ever seen, that of Mohamed Siad Barre, in 1991. The U.S. tried to install a puppet government, and invaded along with other U.N. forces, only to suffer a disastrous military defeat in the Black Hawk Down battle (aka Battle of Mogadishu) in 1993. The massive, purposeful, and well-documented slaughter of civilians by U.S. Special Forces in that battle has never been brought before a War Crimes tribunal.

Following a period of clan and war lord rule (which the CIA manipulated as best it could) the people of Somalia got fed up and established a moderate, multi-ethnic form of governance usually called the Islamic Courts Union in the West. The idea that people could govern themselves according to common sense without a strong central government or war lords terrified the U.S. government, business, and defense establishments.

So we (U.S. citizens should bear some responsibility for what our government does ... don't you think?) smashed up the Court system, paid Ethiopia to invade, re-invigorated certain war lords, and set up a puppet "national" government of Somalia that seldom controlled more than the backyards of the "ministers" in its "Cabinet."

As a natural reaction, moderates in Somalia were shoved aside and the most radical Islamic military faction, Shabaab, came to represent the vast majority of people in Somalia (whether they liked it or not). For a few years Shabaab defeated everything the U.S. could pay to have thrown at them, but invasions from multiple U.S. "partners" eventually pushed the Shabaab out of Mogadishu and some other major towns. Some ethnic groups that did not like Shabaab also managed to expel them, though that has not translated into loyalty to the U.S. puppet government.

In the usual fashion U.S. taxpayer money has flowed to the puppets, who have mostly just lined their pockets with it.

Unless they are laying the groundwork for a more massive U.S. intervention, it is hard to see how 3 U.S. military advisors in Mogadishu are going to change the situation.

If a pro-U.S. regime did rule Somalia, and anti-U.S. troops from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda had invaded the nation, every news outlet in the U.S. would be letting you know that a great war crime was being committed.

To see how the rest of the world really views our nation, take a look a look at what Sri Lanka has to say about war crimes. By the way, the CIA is now working on how to overthrow the government of Sri Lanka and place U.S. puppets in control there. Yippee! Another Asia War. All we need now is to draft all those young American boys living at home with nothing to do into the Army.

[This first appeared as an editorial at]

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014, A Crowded New Year

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people living in the United States of America today is around 317.3 million. That is up 0.7%, or 2.2 million, in the year.

When the U.S. had genocided the natives and filled up the continent, in 1870, the population was 38 million. Today California alone has 38 million residents.

On a dollar basis the U.S. no longer produces enough food to feed its own population. This is a major historical change. For centuries we were one of the breadbaskets of the world. While we still export large quantities of grain, we import more than enough food to make us a net importer. There are many reasons for that, but the main reason is population growth.

America could be more self-sufficient in food production. We could forbid raising corn for ethanol production, but that would mean we would have to cut back on driving or import more oil from abroad. We could import water from Canada and grow food in the western deserts, but pumping water also takes energy and the cost of the infrastructure would probably dwarf the cost of conquering Canada.

Americans have never experienced a nationwide famine. During the Great Depression many went hungry because they could not afford food, so farmers had to cut back on production, but it was not a famine. During World War II there was rationing so we could feed the British, but again that was nothing like a famine.

In many ways American food production now more resembles a factory than a field. The bulk of crops are on constant intensive care. Water is sucked from where ever it can be found. Fertilizer is manufactured and applied by the trainload. Enough pesticides are pumped in to exterminate every bug that lived in this world in 1900: but 2014 bugs (insects, fungus, weeds, even rodents) have evolved to meet the challenge. Just trucking the food to market requires enough petroleum to suck oil fields dry. Even "organic" food requires fracked oil to get it to market.

Take away any aspect of this intensive care, and we will have food shortages, perhaps famine. Or we can do what the Brits did in World War II: confiscate (or buy) food in less economically fortunate nations (See Bengal Starvation).

At the same time the native flora and fauna of North America are largely in danger, with extinction a likelihood for many species. Farms, cities, and suburbs have crowded out wildlife.

Wouldn't it be easier to just stop breeding so much? [I'll leave the issue of immigration, both legal and illegal, to another day.]

We don't need authoritarian methods like forced sterilization or hard limits on the number of children a woman can birth. We need to take away incentives to have children; we need to reward those who have 2 or less children.

In addition to providing free birth control and abortions, we need to stop subsidizing families with children. First, take away the tax benefits of having children. Take away the welfare benefits too. These changes should be done in a reasonable way, not ex post facto. Eliminate the standard deductions for children after the first child. Starting with children born a year after the law is passed.

To get the human population in the U.S. and on earth back to a sustainable level culture can be more important than government. It is important for people to understand, from various sources that they can trust, that for the sake of themselves, their child, and the world:

One And Done

is the new social standard. And None And Done people should get a bonus, like a special tax deduction for women while they are in the fertile age category, and extra Social Security for childless men and women upon retirement.