[sixties-l] purity, Nader, and ... crimes

From: Ted Morgan (epm2@lehigh.edu)
Date: Thu Jun 22 2000 - 16:15:29 CUT

  • Next message: Sorrento95@aol.com: "[sixties-l] WW II, Vietnam, & War Crime"

    Trying (foolishly perhaps) to comment on three threads at once here...

    Bill Mandel (and someone else who referred back to the Gitlin/Gulf War
    controversy) continued the discussion re. 'purity' and organizing, the
    thread that goes back to the abolitionists & civil war. Bill made the
    wise comment:

    >"Pure" leaps forward simply do not occur. If one waits for
    consciousness on any issue >to reach that level, nothing will ever

    If we on the Left (those of us who are) are ever going to take advantage
    of increasingly favorable organizing circumstances (rich-poor gap,
    ecological erosion, market society mania, sprawl, privatization &
    exclusivity of health care, social security, education, etc., etc.) to
    organize a world-wide people's pro-democracy movement, we must (in my
    humble opinion) get beyond the old purity hangups of the past and
    realize that we must work with people who will support the right things
    even if they do so for the wrong reasons. I'm not sure where it came
    from --perhaps the Movement's basis in an ideological perspective rather
    than a community-based "interest" (e.g., labor)-- but we fought, and
    continue to fight, over what's in people's heads. It makes sense to
    keep working on this via powers of persuasion, etc. --which in a way we
    do here-- but not to the point of letting that get in the way of
    organizing & mobilizing a pro-democracy force. We have to get past the
    factionalism that has (always?) plagued the Left.

    That being said, there are reasons for drawing a line. I do so with the
    Democratic Party (at least the Democratic Party that is in hock to
    corporate money, elites, and globalization policy). Stew comes back to
    the argument that Gore is 5% better than Bush. Given (a) the state of
    the world and the direction it is going, with considerable (probably
    dominant) assistance from the Clinton-Gore team, (b) the considerable
    structural obstacles built into the current (so-called) 2-party system
    (campaign finance, fund-raising, media attention, election laws,
    Congressional organization, etc.), (c) the Democratic Party's conscious
    move to the center in the post-McGovern 1970s (with considerable help
    from corporate money --cf. Ferguson & Rogers' "Right Turn"), and (d) the
    Democratic Party's central, on-going contribution to the problems
    outlined above, 5% "better" totally fails to persuade me to pull a
    Democratic Party lever (though, if there is a true Progressive running
    locally, with no progressive 3rd Party opposition, I'd surely vote for
    her/him). I can't see it as rational behavior. Sorry.

    Bill Mandel suggests that the "best" reason for voting for Nader is that
    the next Dempub candidates may "see the light" and move to the Left.
    Well, long term, this is one conceivable outcome: a growing progressive
    3rd Party may well cause some leftward drift among the Democrats; there
    are other potential outcomes, too --a 3rd Party eventually emerging as
    the alternative to the DemPubs, and/or structural reforms (multi-seat
    districts, proportional representation (or "cumulative") voting, etc.
    which opens up the opportunities for real participation by a Left party
    (which might also help open up the media to a Left point of view
    --something that is entirely lacking today. But let me suggest
    another. Nader got 5.5% in a national poll (vs. c. 3.5% for Buchanan)
    right around the time he announced his candidacy --with no national
    campaign in place. He has pledged to campaign in every state (assuming
    he gets on the ballot --push, push). If the Green Party (assuming they
    nominate him this weekend in Denver) gets 5% of the vote for President,
    they will qualify for federal funding in the next election (as the
    Reform Party --Buchanan's-- has for this election). That is a crack in
    the system of structural obstacles, that may contribute significantly to
    a serious Progressive challenge (which I see, ultimately, as being based
    on a coalition of existing Left 3rd Parties: Greens, Labor, New & others
    --cf. also the organization IPPN, "Independent Progressive Politics
    Network, contact at: indpol@igc.org for information; you might also get
    information via www.igc.org). So, that's another reason to vote (and
    work) for Ralph. Check his web page: www.votenader.com.

    Finally, I followed with interest Jerry West's response to Jeff
    Blankfort & Bill Mandel re. war crimes, including the discussion of the
    Enola Gay. It seems that Jeff draws the line re. war crimes at the
    wrong place: i.e., whether or not the actor in question "knows" exactly
    what he is doing. E.g.:
    <Remember, the question here is not whether the bombing of Hiroshima was
    right or <wrong, we probably agree on that, but whether the pilot was
    wrong and a war criminal <if he truly believed that he was saving lives
    by doing so.

    I don't think that "truly believing one is saving lives" in carrying out
    an act that is a crime against humanity makes the act less than a crime
    against humanity. We may view the actor with much greater understanding
    and compassion, but the actor has done a horrible wrong. Would we
    excuse Nazis who believed the propaganda about being threatened by
    Jews? Or even by neighboring Czechoslovakia? Do we excuse the guy who
    broke into a family's home in Seattle some years back (featured in Sam
    Keen's excellent film "Faces of the Enemy") and slaughtered the family
    because he was brainwashed that they were communists seeking to take
    over the world (and responsible for him losing his job!). No, of course
    we don't. In terms of punishment, the action is what is crucial.
    [Often the actor's guilt, grounded in some subconscious recognition of
    doing wrong, is further evidence of the 'wrong-ness.' This sometimes
    gets taken into account with respect to severity of punishment, but it
    doesn't mean the actor is not guilty of doing something criminal.]
    Now I'm not at all sure I'd go where Jeff Blankfort seems to go with
    respect to punishment re. various actors in Vietnam. But I guess I come
    down something like this. For actions that violated "military morality"
    as constrained by the Geneva protocol for "crimes against humanity" and
    "war crimes," (e.g., My Lai), some form of criminal punishment is called
    for --right up the line. But for carrying out "essential military
    actions" that do not violate the Geneva protocol, I have a different
    kind of response. I view the soldiers as non-criminals, forgivable if
    you will for their actions that caused the deaths of adversaries, though
    in effect complicit in a larger state action (the war against Vietnam)
    that violates morality (and not even pacifist morality). The war was an
    act of state aggression and state terrorism --not unlike, though far
    more extensive & damaging, many other such acts by the United States.
    Quite clearly, political leaders deserve "punishment" for their role in
    creating this war of aggression --criminal punishment for war crimes
    they are linked to; political punishment for the war, period. When it
    comes to this, I agree with Joe that we're all at least somewhat
    complicit, and we have to look within to see if we did all we could have
    to bring an end to the war (I suspect no one did, really; I know Noam
    Chomsky has said he clearly didn't). At this level, we're talking about
    politics and political action and its link to our values, our
    morality.... Which, in a way, brings me back full circle.


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