Archive for the 'History' Category

The Matthew

Replica of The Matthew, ship sailed by John Cabot from Bristol to North America in 1497. (Photo from BBC.)




An eternal golden braid

Thomas Harriot (1560-1621)

Robert Southwell SJ (c.1561-1595)

Kit Marlowe (1564-1593)

Henry Wriothesley (1573-1624)

Charles Diodati (c.1608-1638)

Nicolas Fatio de Duillier (1664-1753)

Edward Francisco Burney (1760-1848)

Alexander d’Arblay (1794-1837)

Eduard Rietz (1802-1832)

Arthur Hallam (1811-1833)

Matthew Piers Watt Boulton (1820-1894)

Henry Horton McBurney (1843-1875)

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904)

Jan Letzel (1880-1925)

Lucien Carr (1925-2005)




Courage, honour, valour

For as long as I can remember, I have had to endure lectures from men in uniforms – policemen, soldiers, teachers, clerics – about courage and honour.  I recall a particular egregious lecture from a cleric on the cowardice of men who had long hair. (For next millennium readers, this was part of a larger argument accusing anyone not supporting US and Australian involvement in the second Indo-Chinese war of cowardice.  Of course, it required great courage for a 17-year-old conscript to openly confront such logically specious, and morally tendentious, nonsense.)   The forces of conservatism always accuse those who confront them of cowardice, it seems.

The Hillsborough coronial verdict shows just what true courage and valour and honour are:  It is fighting for justice against all odds, against the overwhelming sentiment of those in authority and of society in general, against friend and peer, as well as journalist and foe, against recalcitrant judges and lying policemen.  But courage is also admitting when one has made a poor decision, and bravely facing the consequences of that decision.  South Yorkshire police have spent 27 years and millions of pounds lying about what they did at the stadium before and on and after that day, and lying about who was responsible, and maligning the dead and their families.  It is not too late for these men in uniform to finally reveal some courage and accept the consequences of their negligence, their lack of preparation, and their poor judgment.  For valour and honour, however, they lost any opportunity to show those long ago.




Historic compromises

Polish-Round-Table

After the coup in Chile in 1973 which overthrew the democratically-elected administration of Salvador Allende (and which killed him and many others), the Eurocommunist left in Western Europe spoke of the need to have a grand “historic compromise” before entering Government: enjoining the centre and centre-right to support a coalition of national unity, so as to preclude, or at least inhibit, the right from undermining an elected government of the left.  One of the ironies of history was that it was the left in government – the communist regimes of Eastern Europe – which were forced to forge such grand compromises, by conducting negotiations and sometimes forming coalitions (albeit, short-lived) with their non-communist opponents in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and even Zimbabwe.




Ends and Means

I have just read the memoir of Michael Hayden, USAF General and former head of both NSA and CIA. The book is interesting and mostly well-written.  It appears, as much as such a memoir could be, honest and truthful.

The torture of detainees undertaken by CIA personnel took place before Hayden was Director, so he could absolve himself of it completely.  But, as he did while Director and subsequently, he defends strongly and bravely his CIA staff, who acted under what they believed were legal orders and within what they believed to be constitutional limits.  This defence is admirable.

How one could imagine that torture would be legal under a constitution which prohibits cruel or unusual punishments remains one of the great mysteries of our age.  Hayden, however, also defends the torture itself.  He does so on grounds of effectiveness, grounds which are demonstrably, and which have repeatedly been demonstrated to be, spurious.  It is no good Hayden, or any other official paid by the public purse, saying “trust me, I know”.  We live in a democracy, and we need, ourselves, to see the evidence.  It has not ever been provided, at least not definitively and uncontestably.

Such a defence is essentially that the end justifies the means.  As a Roman Catholic, Hayden should appreciate the counter-argument that rebuts this defence: that certain means may vitiate, or irredeemably taint, the ends.   So, even if using torture were to be more effective than not using it, we still should not use it.   We should not because torture is contrary to our values as a humane, civilized, society, respectful of  human dignity, and using it undermines any claims we may have to moral superiority over our terrorist enemy.

Like players cheating in sports, support for torture shows what sort of person you are, and what values you consider important. Hayden seems like an intelligent, thoughtful, and humane person, so it is a great pity that he, and others in the Bush 43 administration, came to view torture as acceptable. Not everyone in CIA thought so, which was, indeed, how we citizens came to learn about the secret detention camps and the torture in the first place.

Reference:

Michael V Hayden [2016]: Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror.   New York: Penguin Press.




ARM Members

The African Resistance Movement (ARM) was an underground movement engaged in sabotage and violent resistance to the South African apartheid regime. Formed in late 1960, it just predates MK and Poqo, the armed wings of the ANC and PAC, respectively (although its public announcement occurred 5 days after that of MK). The founders of the ARM were members of the non-racial Liberal Party, whose leaders had been arrested, detained, and banned in the state of emergency declared in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre in March 1960.  Both the ANC and PAC were declared banned organizations in that same period.  These government actions led many reasonable people to believe that peaceful, democratic protest was no longer possible in South Africa.  The ANC, after all, had been engaged in peaceful public protest since its formation in 1912 and still found itself declared illegal.

The ARM operated between 1960 and mid 1964.  According to South African History Online, ARM members came from three distinct groups:  members of the Liberal Party, who were mostly white;  former members of the Transvaal ANC Youth League who had defected to form the African Freedom Movement, who were mostly black;  and, former members of the South African Communist Party, some of whom were Trotskyites who had been expelled from the party.  Jonty Driver estimates that the ARM had 58 members: 17 in Cape Town, 27 in Johannesburg, and 14 elsewhere (Durban, PE, Grahamstown, Europe and Canada).  I can find no list of members online, so decided to compile my own.  My sources are given below.

The clear policy of the organization was to not undertake any actions in which people could be hurt. All but one of the 25 actions undertaken adhered to this rule. Most involved attempts to bring down power pylons or similar state-owned infrastructure.  The final action, a bomb left in a suitcase on Johannesburg Railway Station on the afternoon of 24 July 1964, sadly killed one elderly lady, Mrs Ethel Rhys, and maimed several others, including her teenage grand-daughter.  Warning calls had been placed to the police and to two newspapers, but no efforts were made by the authorities to clear the platform.  It is still not known whether this inaction was deliberate or not.

The planting of a bomb in a station was contrary to ARM policy and practice, and was undertaken when almost all ARM members had been arrested or had fled into exile. It was the solo work of John Harris, who was subsequently tried and executed for murder. Harris was the only white person tried and executed by the apartheid regime for a political crime (although others, such as Rick Turner and Ruth First, were assassinated without judicial process).  Several ARM members received gaol terms, and I note these below.  Members of ARM also bravely assisted in spiriting people out of the country, both fellow ARM members and others wanted by the security police,  as did the  underground railroad that operated later in Rhodesia. One ARM member, Michael Schneider, went on to help spirit Jewish people out of various countries, including Bosnia, Ethiopia, Iran, Syria and Yemen.

The decision by any individual to embark on a campaign of violent resistance cannot have been an easy one, even given the already-evident violence of the state and its organs in South Africa.  Moreover, with organisations such as the ANC declared illegal,  ARM membership would likely have led to arrest, and arrest to torture or worse, as indeed it did.  Thus, ARM membership would have required considerable courage.

  • Monty Berman (co-founder)
  • Myrtle Berman
  • Alan Brooks (1940-2008) (4 years, 2 suspended)
  • Eddie Daniels (15 years)
  • Johannes Dladla
  • Raymond Eisenstein (2 years)
  • David Evans (5 years)
  • John Harris (1937-1965) (executed)
  • Dennis Higgs
  • David de Keller (10 years)
  • Baruch Hirson (1921-1999) (9 years)
  • Bernice Kaplin
  • Stephanie Kemp (5 years, 3 suspended)
  • John Lang (co-founder)
  • John Laredo (5 years)
  • Adrian Leftwich (1940-2013)
  • Hugh Lewin (7 years)
  • John Lloyd
  • Ruben Mowszowski
  • Hillary Mutch
  • Ronnie Mutch
  • Samuel Olifant
  • Rhoda Prager
  • Lynette van der Riet
  • Neville Rubin
  • Diana Russell
  • Michael Schneider
  • Stephen Segale
  • Milton Setlhapelo
  • Willie Tibane
  • Antony Trew (4 years, 2 suspended)
  • Rick Turner (1942-1978)
  • Randolph Vigne (1928-2016)
  • Robert Watson
  • Ernest Wentzel
  • Rosemary Wentzel.

I welcome any updates or corrections.

Sources:

CJ ‘Jonty’ Driver [2002]: Used to be great friends. Granta, 80:7-26.

CJ ‘Jonty’ Driver [2015]: The Man with the Suitcase: The Life, Execution and Rehabilitation of John Harris, Liberal Terrorist. Crane River.

Simon Finch [2016]: The Good Terrorist. TV Documentary, Channel 4, UK.

Adrian Leftwich [2002]: I gave the names. Granta, 78:9-31.

Hugh Lewin [2011]: Stones against the Mirror: Friendship in the time of the South African Struggle. Cape Town, RSA: Umuzi.

Gideon Shimoni [2003]: Community and Conscience:  The Jews in Apartheid South Africa.  Waltham, MA, USA:  Brandeis University Press.

South African History Online: African Resistance Movement

 

Postscript (Added 2016-01-17): In his apologia, the late Adrian Leftwich describes his behaviour as “shameful, harmful and wrong” (2002, page 25).  It is not clear to me if he is referring to his membership of ARM as a whole (which is the focus of the preceding part of that section of the memoir) or just his fast collapse under police interrogation, a collapse in which he gave up the names of his fellow members.  In either case, he was mistaken. Everyone in such circumstances will eventually succumb to torture and so there is no shame and no wrong in giving up names.  There was harm, but this arose from the speed of his collapse (he held out just a day, it seems) and the extent of his prior knowledge.  Membership of ARM was certainly neither wrong nor shameful – quite the reverse, in fact – and only for one action harmful. Where Leftwich appeared to have erred, at this distance of time and morality, is in tradecraft: he should not have known so much about the organization, nor its membership (ie, he should have had fewer names to give up); he should not have saved a field guide for selecting targets in a book in his flat; his girlfriend should not have stored explosives in her flat; he and the other members should have made plans to alert one another, via coded or secret means, of any arrests; they should each have had well-practised plans and places for hiding, or plans for escape abroad; etc.  In a sense, the poor tradecraft was an indication of integrity of intentions: anyone engaged in armed struggle for its own sake, or for the thrills it provided, would have been more professional in undertaking it. Leftwich, like his colleagues, remains a hero.




Metaphorical weathermen

Weather Underground Logo

On 14 January 1965 in New York City, Bob Dylan recorded the song “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, and the single was released on 8 March 1965.  The song includes the lines:

You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows.

The metaphor expressed in these lines was very influential.  For instance, the main left-wing armed terrorist movement in the USA, formed in 1969, called itself Weatherman, or The Weathermen, later calling itself The Weather Underground.

Was the metaphor originally due to Dylan?  We can answer NO to that question.   On 18 March 1957, Time magazine reported on political events in Poland, where the ruling Polish United Workers Party had recently seen some liberalization of its earlier Stalinism (and the return to power of reformist communist Wladyslaw Gomulka), followed by something of a reversal back to hard-line policies.  The Time article began:

There is usually one Communist who knows the way the wind is blowing long before the official weather vanes swing into line. In stormy Poland he is a longtime Stalinist timeserver named Jerzy Putrament. When Wladyslaw Gomulka broke with Moscow last October, Comrade Putrament was so enthusiastic in Gomulka’s support that Pravda publicly rebuked him for saying that he preferred “imperialist Coca-Cola to the best home-distilled vodka.” Last month Weatherman Putrament held up a moist forefinger and got the feel of a new breeze blowing through Poland.

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John Curtin Memorial Lecture Series at ANU

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For some years starting in 1970, the Australian National University in Canberra hosted a public lecture series named for war-time Labor Prime Minister, John Curtin. As the list of eminent speakers below indicates, this lecture series honoured Curtin and the labour movement. In 1979, the chosen speaker was the prominent right-wing journalist, Alan Reid. Although he had known Curtin and Curtin’s successor as PM, Ben Chifley, Reid had worked as a journalist in the Packer stable, had played a part in the Labor split in the 1950s, had privately advised Menzies and Holt, and had deplored the Whitlam government.  Even Liberal PM John Gorton thought Reid despicable, famously saying once that while he, Gorton, had been born a bastard, Reid had become one through his own efforts.   Reid was an entirely inappropriate person to give a lecture in a series honouring Curtin.

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London life

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St. Paul’s Cathedral from Borough (HT: WP).

I was reminded of Thomas Jones’ Houses in Naples (about 1782, now in the National Museum of Wales):

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St Margaret, Liberator of all the Russias

Here is Philip Henscher, writing in The Spectator (in a review of Volume 2 of Charles Moore’s biography of Mrs Thatcher):

“There is no question that Mrs Thatcher, by boldness and conviction, in large part initiated the process that brought freedom to millions in Eastern Europe.”

This is nonsense. The denizens of Eastern Europe were bravely and publicly protesting their confinement from the late 1940s, at a time when Mrs Thatcher was so junior she was still a chemist. The actual liberation of the Comecon countries began in Poland in the 1950s (and again in the 60s and 70s and 80s), in Hungary in the 1950s and 60s, in the CSSR in the mid 1960s, and the USSR in the 1950s under Khrushchev, and the 1980s, under Andropov. Mikhail Gorbachev was a brave member of the verligte wing of the CPSU, but he was not the first to seek to reform communism, not even in the USSR.

Gorbachev was university friends in the 1950s with Zdenek Mlynar, later one of the architects of the Prague Spring, which Gorbachev followed closely. See here. It is ridiculous to imagine that it took a weekend lunch with Mrs Thatcher at Chequers to persuade him to embark on reform. What next? Did she also invent the Internet?

That her supporters should seek to award the odious Mrs Thatcher the credit for the downfall of communism is also hugely insulting to the brave people who did initiate the changes, and who, with their courageous actions, brought them about.