Archive for the 'History' Category

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.




Oh cry, the beloved country

The truly criminal destruction by the Troika of the Greek economy and Greek society that we have witnessed these last five years may have one good outcome: it may bring down at least one of the organizations responsible, according to this scathing indictment by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the London Telegraph today. An excerpt:

The International Monetary Fund is in very serious trouble. Events have reached a point in Greece where the Fund’s own credibility and long-term survival are at stake.

The Greeks are not withholding a €300m payment to the IMF because they have run out of money, though they soon will do.

Five key players in the radical-Left Syriza movement – meeting in the Maximus Mansion in Athens yesterday – took an ice-cold, calculated, and carefully-considered decision not to pay.
They knew exactly what they were doing. The IMF’s Christine Lagarde was caught badly off guard. Staff officials in Washington were stunned.

On one level, the “bundling” of €1.6bn of payments due to the IMF in June is just a technical shuffle, albeit invoking a procedure last used by Zambia for different reasons in the 1980s. In reality it is a warning shot, and a dangerous escalation for all parties.

Syriza’s leaders are letting it be known that they are so angry, and so driven by a sense of injustice, that they may indeed default to the IMF on June 30 and in so doing place the institution in the invidious position of explaining to its 188 member countries why it has lost their money so carelessly, and why it has made such a colossal hash of its affairs.

The Greeks accuse the IMF of colluding in an EMU-imposed austerity regime that breaches the Fund’s own rules and is in open contradiction with five years of analysis by its own excellent research department and chief economist, Olivier Blanchard.

Greece’s public debt is 180pc of GDP. The loans are in a currency that the country does not control. It is therefore foreign currency debt. The IMF knows that Greece cannot possibly pay this down by draconian austerity – the policy already implemented for five years with such self-defeating effects – and the longer it pretends otherwise, the more its authority drains away.

It is has pushed for debt relief behind closed doors but only half-heartedly, unwilling to confront the EMU creditor powers head on. Objectively, it is acting as an imperialist lackey – as Greek Marxists might say.

Indeed, it has brought about the worst possible outcome. The Fund’s man on the ground in Athens – Poul Thomsen – has pushed the austerity agenda with a curious passion that shocks even officials in the European Commission, pussy cats by comparison.

This would be justifiable (sort of) if the other side of the usual IMF bargain were available: debt relief and devaluation. This how IMF programmes normally work: impose tough reforms but also wipe the slate clean on debt and restore crippled countries to external viability.

It is a very successful formula. On the rare occasion when the IMF goes wrong it is usually because it tries to prop up a fixed-exchange rate long past its sell-by date.

All of this went out of the window in Greece. The IMF enforced brute liquidation without compensating stimulus or relief. It claimed that its policies would lead to a 2.6pc contraction of GDP in 2010 followed by brisk recovery.

What in fact happened was six years of depression, a deflationary spiral, a 26pc fall in GDP, 60pc youth unemployment, mass exodus of the young and the brightest, chronic hysteresis that will blight Greece’s prospects for a decade to come, and to cap it all the debt ratio exploded because of the mathematical – and predictable – denominator effect of shrinking nominal GDP.

It is a public policy scandal of the first order. One part of the IMF has issued a mea culpa admitting that its own analysts misjudged the fiscal multiplier badly. Plaudits to them.

Another part of the Fund continues to push new variants of the same indefensible policies, demanding a combined fiscal squeeze from pension cuts and VAT rises equal to 1pc of GDP this year and 2pc next year even as the economy lurches back into recession.

Ashoka Mody, former chief of the IMF’s bail-out in Ireland, refuses to criticise his former colleagues on the European desk, but the meaning of the words I quoted last night are clear enough.
“Everything that we have learned over the last five years is that it is stunningly bad economics to enforce austerity on a country when it is in a deflationary cycle. Trauma patients have to heal their wounds before they can train for the 10K.”

“I am frankly shocked that we are even having a discussion about raising VAT at all in these circumstances. We have just seen a premature rise in VAT knock the wind out of a country as strong as Japan.”

“Syriza should recruit the IMF’s research department to be their spokesman because they are saying almost exactly the same thing as Syriza on the economics of this. The entire strategy of the creditors is wrong and the longer this goes on, the more is its going to cost them.”

The IMF’s Original Sin in Greece was to allow the urbane Parisian Dominique Strauss-Kahn to hijack the institution to prop up Europe’s monetary union and the European banking system when the crisis erupted in 2010.

The Fund’s mission is to save countries, not currencies or banks, and it certainly should not be doing dirty work for a rich currency union that is fully capable of sorting out its own affairs, but refuses to do so for political reasons.

It was of course a difficult moment in May 2010. The eurozone was spinning out of control. There were no backstop defences – due to the criminal negligence of Europe’s leaders and banking regulators – and fears of a euro-Lehman were all too real.

Yet leaked minutes from the IMF board meetings showed that all the emerging market members (and Switzerland) opposed the terms of the first loan package for Greece. They protested that it was intended to save the euro, not Greece.

It loaded yet more debt onto the crushed shoulders of an already bankrupt country, and further complicated the picture by allowing one large French bank and one German bank – no names please – to offload much of their €25bn combined exposure onto EMU taxpayers.

“Debt restructuring should have been on the table,” said Brazil’s member. The loans “may be seen not as a rescue of Greece, which will have to undergo a wrenching adjustment, but as a bailout of Greece’s private debt holders, mainly European financial institutions”.

Arvind Virmani, India’s member, was prophetic. “The scale of the fiscal reduction without any monetary policy offset is unprecedented. It is a mammoth burden that the economy could hardly bear,” he said.

“Even if, arguably, the programme is successfully implemented, it could trigger a deflationary spiral of falling prices, falling employment and falling fiscal revenues that could eventually undermine the programme itself.” This is exactly what has happened.

The Fund might have atoned later by acknowledging its special duty of care towards Greece and softening the terms. It did not do so. We should hardly be surprised if Syriza is now on the warpath.
The IMF needs to be careful. It has itself become an emblem of bad governance. Mr Strauss-Kahn was caught in flagrante delicto, only to be replaced instantly in a political stitch-up by another French finance minister (of quality and integrity – but that is not the point). Mr Strauss-Kahn’s predecessor was recently indicted in Spain for fraud.

The institution cries out for reform. There is no justifiable reason why the job of managing-director should go by divine right to a European, nor why the Europeans still control eight seats on the IMF board.

. . .

These anomalies should have been sorted out at the time of the Strauss-Kahn debacle – along with quota reform blocked by the US Congress – all the more so since China and a host of rising reserve powers were already bursting onto the scene by then.

Leadership failed. The West disgraced itself. No wonder Asia is now going its own way with a rival set of bodies.

Greece’s firebrand government is bringing matters to a head for an institution already in trouble, but one with a superb staff and still worth saving.

Mrs Lagarde must stop playing the role of a diplomat. She must take off her European hat and speak instead for the organisation she leads and for the world.

She must confront the EMU creditors head on and in public. She must tell them, in blunt language, that they share much of the blame for the current impasse.

She must make it clear to them that Greece needs sweeping debt relief – as a matter of economic science, whatever the morality – and that the refusal of the creditors to face up to this elemental fact is now the chief impediment to a solution. And she should tell them that the IMF will no longer play any part in their deceitful charade.

If she does not do so, and if the lack of leadership by Europe’s political class leads to a catastrophic denouement on every level, then let it be on her head too.




The second time as tragedy

Yanis Varoufakis, Greek Minister for Finance, speaking at a press conference in Berlin on 5 February 2015:

“As finance minister in a government facing from day one emergency circumstances caused by a savage debt deflationary crisis, I feel that the German nation is the one nation in Europe that can understand us better than anyone else.

No-one understands better than the people of this land how a severely depressed economy, combined with a ritual national humiliation and unending hopelessness can hatch the serpent’s egg within its society.

When I return home tonight, I will find myself in a parliament in which the third-largest party is not a neo-Nazi party, it is a Nazi party.”

West Germany received debt relief in 1953, yet now deny it to the rest of Europe. The hypocrisy and economic negligence of the German government of Mrs Merkel reminds me of the British Government’s hypocrisy in the Great Depression: insisting that Australian Federal and State Governments continue to pay all interest and loans owed to British lenders, while at the same time seeking debt relief for British loans from American creditors. Every Australian economist, including no doubt the very impressive former Sydney University academic Dr Varoufakis, knows the name of Sir Otto Niemeyer, bullying representative of colonial rapacity. The unspeakable Mrs Merkel and her condescending ilk will, like Niemeyer, live long in the memory of Greeks.

Niemeyer came first in the 1906 British Civil Service entrance examination in which John Maynard Keynes came second, according to Richard Davenport-Hines’ fine new biography of Keynes.