11.11.2019

11.11: there is no glory in war

Eleven people, on war.

*  *  *  *

Imprisoned for opposing U.S. involvement in the
war in Europe, Debs ran for President from jail.
He garnered 1,000,000 votes, at a time when
the US population was 103,208,000, and
only men could vote.
These are the gentry who are today wrapped up in the American flag, who shout their claim from the housetops that they are the only patriots, and who have their magnifying glasses in hand, scanning the country for evidence of disloyalty, eager to apply the brand of treason to the men who dare to even whisper their opposition. . . . No wonder Sam Johnson declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” He must have had this Wall Street gentry in mind, or at least their prototypes, for in every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people. . . .

Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages when the feudal lords who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine concluded to enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war. The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another’s throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt.

And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose—especially their lives.

-- Eugene V. Debs, from the Canton, Ohio speech, June 16, 1918 (Speech here; context here.)

*  *  *  *

War is methodical, organized, gigantic murder.

-- Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet, 1916
Rosa Luxemburg travels into the twenty-first century like a great messenger bird, spanning continents, scanning history, to remind us that our present is not new but a continuation of a long human conflict changing only in intensity and scope. Her fiery critical intellect and ardent spirit are as vital for this time as in her own. 
-- Adrienne Rich


*  *  *  *


Mohandas Gandhi, 1869-1948
What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?

-- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

This photo is from the Salt March, a pivotal moment in the history of civil disobedience.

*  *  *  *

And Göring said, "Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war? But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy. The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they're being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism. It works the same way in any country."

I was interested in that last line: "It works the same way in any country." I mean, here, these are the Nazis. That's the fascist regime. We are a democracy. But it works the same way in any country, whatever you call yourself. Whether you call yourself a totalitarian state or you call yourself a democracy, it works the same way, and that is, the leaders of the country are able to cajole or coerce and entice the people into war by scaring them, telling them they're in danger, and threatening them and coercing them, that if they don't go along, they will be considered unpatriotic. And this is what really happened in this country right after 9/11. And this is happened right after Bush raised the specter of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and got for a while the American people to go along with this.

But the question is, how did they get away with it? What about the press? What about the media? Isn't it the job of the press, isn't it the job of the media, isn't it the job of journalism to expose what governments do? Don't journalists learn from I.F. Stone, who said, "Just remember two words," he said to young people who were studying journalism, he said, "Just remember two words: governments lie"? . . . .

Howard Zinn, 1922-2010
And the question is, why still did the people believe what they read in the press, and why did they believe what they saw on television? And I would argue that it has something to do with a loss of history, has something to do with, well, what Studs Terkel called "national amnesia," either the forgetting of history or the learning of bad history, the learning of the kind of history that you do get, of Columbus was a hero, and Teddy Roosevelt is a hero, and Andrew Jackson is a hero, and all these guys who were presidents and generals and industrialists, and so on. They are the great -- they are the people who made America great, and America has always done good things in the world. And we have had our little problems, of course -- like slavery, for instance, you know -- but we overcome them, you know, and, you know. No, not that kind of history.

If the American people really knew history, if they learned history, if the educational institutions did their job, if the press did its job in giving people historical perspective, then a people would understand. When the President gets up before the microphone, says we must go to war for this or for that, for liberty or for democracy, or because we're in danger, and so on, if people had some history behind them, they would know how many times presidents have announced to the nation, we must go to war for this reason or that reason. They would know that President Polk said, "Oh, we must go to war against Mexico, because, well, there was an incident that took place on the border there, and our honor demands that we go to war."

They would know, if they knew some history, how President McKinley took the nation into war against Spain and Cuba, saying, "Oh, we're going in to liberate the Cubans from Spanish control." And in fact, there was a little bit of truth to that: we did go in, we fought against Spain, we got Spain out of Cuba, we liberated them from Spain, but not from ourselves. And so, Spain was out, and United Fruit was in, and then the American banks and the American corporations were in. (It goes on... you should keep reading.)

-- Howard Zinn

*  *  *  *

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

A quote from a POTUS in an approving context: this may be a first -- and an only -- for wmtc. This man had great insight: he gave us this.

*  *  *  *

I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.

Selma to Montgomery, 1965
King came to believe that the civil rights movement
and the anti-war movement were inextricable.
It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.

Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese people when we have not even put our own house in order. And we force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home that can’t hardly live on the same block together.

-- Martin Luther King, Jr., from Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, sermon on March 31, 1968, National Cathedral in Washington, DC

*  *  *  *

Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac. . . .

All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

-- George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.

-- George Orwell, 1984

*  *  *  *

For his refusal to be drafted, Ali was stripped of
his heavyweight title, his boxing license, and his passport.
He had no idea if he would ever box again. 
My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father.

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

No. I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.

-- Muhammad Ali, 1968

*  *  *  *

I no longer feel allegiance to these monsters called human beings, despite being one myself. I think that Peeta was onto something about us destroying one another and letting some decent species take over. Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences.

-- Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

Collins: I was flipping though images on reality television where these young people were competing for a million dollars, then I was seeing footage from the Iraq war, and these two things began to fuse together in a very unsettling way.

*  *  *  *

He wrote the greatest anti-war novel of all time.
But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony. Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?

-- Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, 1929

*  *  *  *

Historically, the most terrible things -- war, genocide, and slavery -- have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.

-- Howard Zinn

11.03.2019

what i'm reading: the birth of the pill by jonathan eig

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig was a fascinating and very readable look at how oral contraceptives -- otherwise known as The Pill -- came to be.

The Pill changed the world. It was the first contraception that was nearly 100% effective, easy to use, did not interrupt or alter sex, and crucially, controlled by the woman who used it. It was also the first option to be both effective and reversible; pre-Pill, the only completely effective birth-control was sterilization. The advent of oral contraceptives, and later, the availability of safe and legal abortion, liberated millions of women from the fear of unwanted pregnancy, and in doing so, lifted millions of children out of poverty, by giving women the ability to limit the size of their families.

Eig tells the story through the lens of four people -- all iconoclasts, all rebels, and none of them saints.

Safe, effective, reversible, female-controlled, non-barrier birth control was the dream and lifelong quest of Margaret Sanger. Sanger had dual motivations. She saw the effects of unlimited conception all around her, in families forced into poverty by the burden of too many children, and above all in women who were physically and mentally exhausted from breeding, women dying from too many births or unsafe abortions. Women from around the world begged Sanger to help them.

The ill effects of too-large families was a prime motivator, but Sanger wanted more than a limit to pregnancy. She wanted women to be able to fulfill their sexual potential, by freeing sex from the fear of unwanted pregnancy, and freeing birth-control from dependence on the male partner. She wanted women to know the liberating powers of joyful, consensual sex. She wanted women to be able to enjoy sex just because they could.

Contraception and sex for pleasure: both goals put Sanger directly in the crosshairs of the government and the Catholic Church. In 1950, when Eig's story begins, it was illegal to distribute birth control, or even to share information about it, in the U.S.

Sanger was arrested more than once, and served jail time for founding the United States' first birth-control clinic, in Brooklyn in 1916. Yet for all her feminism, Sanger is a hero. She found common cause with eugenicists, and favoured sterilization of "undesirable" people, which could mean people with disabilities or brown people -- or whatever else. Eig doesn't shy away from this, or try to sugar-coat it, but he keeps it in perspective. Sanger is a hero with a dark side.

Gregory Pincus held a similar position in the scientific community -- a passionate outsider. A biologist, Pincus had been bounced out of Harvard University for his experiments in in vitro fertilization. He founded his own foundation on a shoestring, going door-to-door in Worcester, Massachusetts for tiny donations.

Pincus was a cowboy scientist, with reckless ethical standards, a flare for public relations, and an ego that wouldn't quit. Eig's portrait of Pincus is amusing and head-shaking by turns.

The third iconoclast in the rebellious quartet was Katharine McCormick, a brilliant woman with a scientific background (she was one of the first women to graduate from MIT), an unshakable feminism, and a ton of money to give away. She spent vast sums on the project, without so much as a formal grant proposal. When Pincus said he needed funds, McCormick opened her checkbook.

McCormick figures in to the one of the book's best anecdotes, which gives a nice taste of Eig's lively writing.
"...Demand [for diaphragms] far exceeded supply. Diaphragms were smuggled into the country from Canada, but still the Bureau [the birth control clinic] couldn't get enough. Katharine proposed bringing in more from Europe and developed a plan for doing it. In May 1923, she sailed across the Atlantic with eight pieces of luggage, including three large trunks. While there, she bought more large trunks, explaining that she intended to purchase many of the "latest fashions" during her trip. She met with diaphragm manufacturers, placed her orders, and had the devices shipped to her chateau. Then she hired local seamstresses to sew the diaphragms into newly purchased clothing, put the clothing on hangers, and packed the exquisite dresses and coats in tissue. Eight large trunks were loaded, sent through customs, and carried aboard the ship as Katharine sailed for home, handing out generous gratuities at every station. Katharine McCormick, aristocrat, smuggler, rebel, arrived at the clinic by taxi trailing a truck containing the most exquisitely packaged diaphragms the works had ever seen -- more than a thousand in all, enough to last the clinic a year.
The fourth pillar in this odd quartet was, to me, the least interesting, but he played a key role that no one else could have filled. John Rock, a gynecologist, was the epitome of the trusted physician -- tall, silver-haired, elegant, formal, charming. He was also a devout Catholic. Rock had deep faith, but he didn't believe the institutional Church was infallible. He believed that a woman’s health was more important than that of her fetus. He believed that sex within a marriage, not necessarily for procreation, was a good and healthy thing. He believed in the potential of science to improve lives, and that, as he put it, "religion is a very poor scientist".

Rock became the public spokesman for The Pill. He wanted to convince ordinary Catholics -- and the Catholic Church -- to embrace birth control. Rock was never able to persuade the Church, but he helped soothe public fears, and he helped The Pill get FDA approval despite massive pressure from the Vatican.

Researching a bit for this post, I noticed several reviewers took exception to Eig's storyline. One thought he glossed over Sanger's involvement in eugenics. The book definitely does not do this, but it's also not a book about Sanger or eugenics. Another writer felt Eig didn't properly expand on the changing social mores that The Pill helped bring about. I thought he made a good case for that, but again, the book isn't about the "sexual revolution" itself. It's about, as the title says, the birth of The Pill.

As that, The Birth of the Pill is an entertaining and very readable account of a hidden history that deserves to be known.