Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Nixon and Vietnam

Today is the anniversary of Richard M. Nixon's announcement that an accord had been reached to end the Vietnam War--"peace with honor" had finally been reached. Of course, this was much the same "peace" agreement that Henry Kissinger reached in October 1972, when he raced back from Paris in time for the fall election claiming that "peace is at hand." Only the "government" in South Vietnam was adamant that the agreement reached was unacceptable, since it left the National Liberation Front (popularly known as the "Viet Cong") intact and in place throughout the south.

Bargainers from North Vietnam with incentive to return to the bargaining table (they expected the US government to prevail upon their puppet regime in the south to accept the deal cut in Paris, and refused to re-negotiate the terms they initially agreed to), "Operation Linebacker II" dropped 15,237 tons of ordnance on the People's Republic of Vietnam between December 18 and 29--which is why the mission is popularly known as the "Christmas Bombing." Both Operation Linebacker I and II are used to justify the concept of "strategic bombing," military operations with "minimal" civilian casulties. Plus, the civilian casulties that result are the fault of the hostile government (in the American view, and the American view is the only one that counts) placing civilian installations too close to military targets.

The end result of this carnage was that the United States got the People's Republic to agree to the same terms they agreed to the previous October, and Nixon then prevailed upon the president of the Republic of Vietnam (the official name for the US-supported government in the south) to accept the terms agreed to by the US and North Vietnam the previous October.

The video above poses the question as to whether Henry Kissinger (and by extension, his boss, Richard Nixon), is a war criminal. The synchronicity between the events in Vietnam, and the largely ignored other news of today are always of interest to those persons looking for such connections.

Birthday greetings ...

... go out to Robin Zander, singer for the Rockford's greatest rock 'n' roll band.

Monday, January 14, 2008

...Segregation Forever

Today is the forty-fifth anniversary of George Corley Wallace's swearing-in for his first term as governor of Alabama. After being defeated in the 1958 governor's race by John Patterson, Wallace, according to some--and largely corroborated by Dan T. Carter in his excellent political biography of Wallace, The Politics of Rage--stated that he would never be "out-niggered" in another election. To this point, Wallace had been a protege of "Big Jim" Folsom, governor of Alabama in the 1950s notable for his progressive racial politics. With the rise of "massive resistance" throughout the South in the wake of Brown v. Board of Ed., racial tolerance was no longer tolerated in the white South. At his inauguration on this date, Wallace's speach ended famously, "...segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segegation forever!"

In June of 1963, Wallace made his famous "stand in the schoolhouse door," orchestrated by Wallace and the federal government so that Wallace could make good on his campaign promise, while avoiding the violence that swept the University of Mississippi the previous fall, when US Marshalls had accompanied James Meredith to register for classes at Oxford (the recently retired senior Mississippi senator, Trent Lott, was attending Ole Miss at the time, by the way--no doubt leading cheers). The man standing in front of Wallace in the photo is Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach (with his arms folded, looking impatient), assigned by Attorney General Bobby Kennedy to see that the two students--Vivian Malone and James Hood--were allowed to register; after Wallace made his speech, he stepped aside and the two were allowed through the schoolhouse door.

Wallace is a seminal, if often overlooked, political figure in the 1960s. In his Presidential campaigns in 1964 and 1968, Wallace was the lightening rod for what we have come to call "white backlash." Nixon was fearful in 1968 that Wallace's run as an independent would siphon off enough votes from white voters to throw the election to Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey. The photo above, by the way, is of Wallace speaking at a Barry Goldwater campaign function. As Dan Carter argued in his book, Wallace and the path he blazed in national politics played a vital part in the resurgence of conservative politics--a role that you won't find mentioned in Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism(no link--you can find it on the remainder table at your local bookstore in a couple of weeks), even though Wallace's politics is perhaps the closest we have come to fascism in this country.

Wallace was particularly effective in courting white working-class voters, not only for his racial stance, but because of his economic populism and his derisive put-downs of "pointy-headed intellectuals." Both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (and their handlers), learned much from the two Wallace camapaigns in the Sixties. Wallace's national political career when he was shot and paralyzed by a demented loner from Milwaukee, Arthur Bremer. Wallace spent the rest of this life in a wheelchair, most of it in pain. He attempted another Presidential run in 1976, but the press concentrated on his poor health, and the try was quickly aborted. he was elected governor of Alabama again in 1982 as a born-again Christian, who had made amends with civil rights leaders in the state--and won. Wallace died on September 13, 1998, just weeks after his 79th birthday.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The French Bastard

No, not Nicolas Sarkozy--William the Conqueror. Today is the 232nd anniversary of the publication of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, the little 46-page pamphlet that presented a philosophical underpinning for casting off the bonds monarchy, since "A French bastard landing with an armed Banditti and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original." And those terms could not be expressed much more plainly than that.

A failed stay-maker (in the age of corsets), and an unsuccessful tax collector, Paine made his way to "the colonies" after a meeting with bon vivant Benjamin Franklin, who provided him with a letter of introduction. Paine arrived in Philadelphia late in the fall of 1775.
Using Franklin's letter, Paine quickly obtained a position with one of Franklin's printer friends. Paine rather quickly absorbed the rebellious spirit of the "lower sort" in the city, who were eager to throw off the yoke of monarcial repression; many of their "betters," then in session in the city as the Continental Congress, were more circumspect in this regard.

Paine's little pamphlet, published on this date in 1776, both distilled the sentiment on the street, and persuaded enough members in the Congress that seven months later, a majority of the members of congress were willing to sign a Declaration of Independence.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Flint Sit Down Strike, Part III

Mich. governor Frank Murphy
Photo courtesy of Detroit News
Murphy's refusal to use the Michigan National Guard to remove the strikers meant that GM officials could not count on the government to assist them in breaking the strike, but was not enough to bring the corporation to the bargaining table. In order to accomplish that, the union had to prove not only that they could hold the factories that they already occupied, but that they had enough support among autoworkers in Flint to seize other plants.
Aerial view of the Chevrolet complex along the Flint River, ca. 1937
Photo courtesy of Detroit News

The difficulty in accomplishing this was that the membership of the union in Flint was rife with spys. In the LaFollete hearing after the strike, it was discovered that GM spent thousands of dollars on maintaining its spy network in the plants that it operated; while having no idea of the size of the operation, its was evident to those union officials running the strike in Flint that GM was aware of most things the union planned. In response to this situation, Bob Travis devised a plan to bait the corporation into protecting the wrong strike target. At a strike strategy meeting, it was made known that the next target for a strike attempt was Chevrolet Plant 9. After the committee broke up, Travis called back several trusted associates to fill them in greater detail--that the real target was Chevrolet Plant 4, which made nearly all the engines for the Chevrolet Division.

The next day, a large contingent from the union attempted to take Plant 9. They were met with an even larger contingent of GM security. While engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the plant, a second union contingent arrived at Chevrolet Plant 6, and were met my a detachment of security personnel from Plant 9, with backups from the security force at Plant 4--leaving the real strike target only lightly guarded. The union was able to occupy the plant with minimal resistance, and production of engines was shut off.

Bowing to reality, the corportation finally began negotiating with the union in good faith, and on February 11, 1937--a month after the Battle of Running Bulls--GM and the UAW signed their first contract agreement.